June 2007, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Great Blue Heron:  Last week, while I was bicycling, I spotted this great blue heron.  There were four or five other herons near by, but only this one was close enough for a detailed picture, even at 10X telephoto.

Great Blue Heron with Fish

After I copied the pictures to my computer, I realized that the heron had a minnow in its beak — or something that looks exactly like one to me.  If it was a minnow, the heron was taking its time about swallowing it, because it kept it in its beak for the minute or two that I was there.

The presence of these birds, right in the middle of the Seattle metropolitan area, shows the progress we have made against pollution.  They are near the top of the food chain, but seem to be doing quite well in this urbanized area.  I haven't seen a formal study, but I have the impression from newspaper articles that their population is limited by their nesting areas — and by predation from bald eagles, which sometimes take heron chicks.

(More on the species here.)
- 2:29 PM, 8 June 2007   [link]

"Trenchant"?!  The BBC called Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a "trenchant critic" of Israel — immediately after admitting that Ahmadinejad desires Israel's destruction.

That's like describing Ted Bundy as a "trenchant critic" of women.

By way of Mick Hartley, who has much more to say about the strange choice of words in this BBC article.

(My American Heritage dictionary says that trenchant means "keen, incisive".  But perhaps the BBC uses a dictionary that gives a different meaning for the word.

I should add that the Iranian regime does not limit itself to "trenchant" criticism, or even apocalyptic warnings.  For decades, the regime has supported terrorist enemies of Israel, and of Jews generally.  For example, many believe that Iran backed the 1994 attack on a Jewish center in Buenos Aires, Argentina)
- 7:33 AM, 8 June 2007
Apparently the BBC agreed that "trenchant" is not quite the right word to describe Ahmadinejad's criticism of Israel; they have done a stealth edit on the article and changed the adjective to "outspoken", which is neutral or close to neutral, while "trenchant" is positive.   (For example: I hope that I am, from time to time, a "trenchant" critic of the BBC.)
- 4:06 PM, 11 June 2007   [link]

Good Question:  The New York Times won't ask it (probably), but the Investor's Business Daily will.
Sen. Hillary Clinton's fans suggest that her brilliance outshines her character flaws.  But if she's so smart, how did she flunk the D.C. bar exam, one of the easiest in the nation?
Did she fail to study for it?  Is she not, after all, that smart?  Or some combination?

(The editorial says that President Bush released his Yale transcripts.  I am not sure that is right, as I seem to recall them being leaked.  But it is true that Senator Clinton has not released her transcripts from either Wellesley or Yale.  Suspicious people might conclude that she has not released them because she is not proud of them.)
- 5:04 AM, 8 June 2007   [link]

Hard Facts About War:  Victor David Hanson celebrated the D-Day anniversary by reminding us of some hard facts about war.
Sixty-three years ago this week, we landed on the Normandy beaches.  As on each anniversary of June 6, 1944, much has been written to commemorate the bravery and competence of the victorious Anglo-American forces.

All true.  But as we ponder this achievement of the Greatest Generation that helped lead to the surrender of Nazi Germany less than a year later, we should remember that the entire campaign was, as Wellington said of Waterloo, a near-run thing.

Our forefathers made several mistakes.  They attacked nonexistent artillery emplacements.   Planes dropped paratroopers far from intended targets.  Critical landing assignments on Omaha Beach were missed.
And the blunders continued in the weeks and months afterward — as they do in nearly every war.

Hanson concludes in his column that wars are "won by the side that commits the least number of mistakes".  That's likely to be true only if the sides are equally matched.  If one side has far stronger forces, then it will almost certainly win, even if it makes many more mistakes than the other side.

There's an example of that from the Pacific side of World War II.  Most Americans know about the great Midway victory, where we sank four Japanese fleet carriers, losing only one of our own, the Yorktown.  But not many know that we had lost a fleet carrier, the Lexington, at an earlier battle, Coral Sea, and that soon after the battle of Midway, we lost two more fleet carriers, the Wasp and the Hornet.

Despite what looks like a tie score, four fleet carriers lost on each side, it is still true that Midway marked the end of Japanese dominance in the Pacific, because we could build new carriers far more quickly than Japan could.  And because we could train carrier pilots far more quickly than Japan could.  The expert pilots that Japan lost at Midway were almost as great a loss for them as the carriers.

(The Japanese lost a light carrier, the Shoho, at the battle of Coral Sea, but that was not an even trade for the Lexington.

For blunders on our side, it is hard to beat the battle of Savo Island, which came after Midway — and was even more one-sided.)
- 7:44 AM, 7 June 2007   [link]

Can Nothing Be Done About Illegal Immigration?  The analysis in the post just below may seem discouraging.  Almost everyone agrees that the status quo (which is, as we all know, Latin for the mess we are in) is unacceptable.  But it also seems impossible to change because there is no comprehensive bill that can pass both the House and the Senate, and be signed by the president.

Although I agree with Cost that the odds are against the Senate bill — and most other likely comprehensive bills — I do think we can do some things to reduce the problem of illegal immigration.  We can continue to do more to protect the border, as we have been, however tardily.

We can also target particularly objectionable classes of illegal immigrants, such as those who have committed crimes here in the United States.  A prosecutor in southern California, "Patterico", has begun a campaign to name some of the worst of those cases; you can see his first six here, here, here, here, here, and here.

I think Patterico's idea is both good policy and good politics.  And I have been puzzled that the Bush administration did not see the value in his proposal that we work harder to deport illegals who have committed crimes.  (But I have not been totally puzzled because, unlike some others, I have never thought that Karl Rove was the political genius who would ensure a Republican majority for decades to come.)

Could a bill that made it easier to deport these criminals pass both House and Senate, when both are controlled by Democrats?  Maybe, maybe not.  But if it didn't pass, it would be a great issue for the Republicans next year.

(I discussed another of these cases, the murder of Rachel Griego, here.  The murderer, Jonathan Rowan, was protected from deportation in part because the city of Seattle has an official sanctuary policy, which forbids police officers from checking on the immigration status of those they arrest.)
- 12:56 PM, 6 June 2007   [link]

Worth Reading:  Jay Cost's analysis of why the Senate immigration bill is unlikely to pass the House.
Meanwhile, the bill's Senate strengths seem to be entirely absent in the House.  Not only is the leadership on both sides in the House not supportive of the bill, the preferences in the House seem to be aligned in a way, and sufficiently intense, that we can expect a left-right coalition that kills it.  This is why Rahm Emanuel — chairman of the Democratic Caucus — has indicated that the President needs to provide 60 or 70 Republican votes in the House.  Only about 150 Democrats in the House could support the Senate bill — not just because of the provisions for guest workers, but also the change in policy on how visas are awarded.  Meanwhile, Republicans have responded that this amount of Republican support is unlikely to be found.

Thus, we can expect the following: the House (a) agrees that the status quo is unacceptable, (b) disagrees about what alternative to the status quo is preferred, (c) agrees that the Senate's alternative is unacceptable.   While nobody likes the status quo, it wins.
His analysis is a bit speculative, and some will find it a bit technical, but you will not waste your time if you read it.

(And I will let you speculate on which side in the House, the left or the right, is correct in their judgment about the bill.  Since they disagree so strongly on where they want the nation to go on immigration, at least one side must be wrong in their opposition to the bill, but I am not sure which.)
- 10:35 AM, 6 June 2007
More:  Or even the Senate, judging by the test vote last night.  One reason the bill failed in the test vote, and may be dead, is that it required Republican senators to trust Ted Kennedy — which is an unnatural act for most Republicans.
- 5:26 AM, 8 June 2007   [link]

Need A Chuckle?  You'll find one in today's Michael Ramirez cartoon — unless you are a fanatical supporter of John Edwards.
- 7:04 AM, 6 June 2007   [link]

Chuck Hagel May Be The New York Times' Favorite Republican:  Which helps explain why he may be in trouble with Nebraska Republicans.
The attorney general of Nebraska, Jon Bruning, stopped by our office yesterday to let us know that tomorrow he will announce he will challenge Senator Hagel in the Republican primary, which is in May of 2008.  A poll conducted for Mr. Bruning shows him leading Mr. Hagel among likely Republican primary voters by 9 percentage points.   Mr. Bruning assails Mr, Hagel for being, "The Republican that talks like a Democrat," pointing to Mr. Hagel's support for a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq, as well as his discussion of impeaching President Bush.  "He's become arrogant and out of touch," Mr. Bruning said.  "His constituent services are very poor."
Candidate polls are not necessarily to be trusted, but it would not surprise me to see Hagel face a serious challenge in the primary next year.

(The origins of Hagel's dovish views on foreign policy, which are out of the Republican mainstream, are not entirely clear, at least to me.  Some think they came from his Vietnam experience.  He served with his younger brother, Tom, in Vietnam and in 1968 rescued his brother from their APC, after it had been hit by a mine.   The 2006 Almanac of American Politics believes that Hagel was influenced by his business career; he founded Vanguard Cellular Systems and then sold cell phones all over the world.  And I suppose that it could be a combination of the two.)
- 6:12 AM, 6 June 2007   [link]

Worth Reading:  John Tierney gently exposes the mostly negative legacy of Rachel Carson and her most important book, Silent Spring.
If students are going to read "Silent Spring" in science classes, I wish it were paired with another work from that same year, 1962, titled "Chemicals and Pests."  It was a review of "Silent Spring" in the journal Science written by I. L. Baldwin, a professor of agricultural bacteriology at the University of Wisconsin.

He didn't have Ms. Carson's literary flair, but his science has held up much better.
. . .
While Ms. Carson imagined life in harmony before DDT, Dr. Baldwin saw that civilization depended on farmers and doctors fighting "an unrelenting war" against insects, parasites and disease. He complained that "Silent Spring" was not a scientific balancing of costs and benefits but rather a "prosecuting attorney's impassioned plea for action."
Tierney may be too kind; I would argue that, at least at lower levels, using Silent Spring in a classroom, even with something for balance, would be a mistake.  It might profitably be read in a college science class, or a high school honors class — if it is used as an example of bad scientific thinking.

Though Carson did not call for the complete banning of DDT, her arguments against the pesticide heavily influenced those who did, and there her legacy is dreadful.
The human costs have been horrific in the poor countries where malaria returned after DDT spraying was abandoned.   Malariologists have made a little headway recently in restoring this weapon against the disease, but they've had to fight against Ms. Carson's disciples who still divide the world into good and bad chemicals, with DDT in their fearsome "dirty dozen."
To put it bluntly, millions may have died because of the ban on DDT.  And we should not forget that when we remember Carson, some one hundred years after her birth.

(In the article, Tierney notes that scientist Bruce Ames found that carcinogens are just as common among "natural" chemicals as among manmade chemicals.  If I recall correctly, Ames found that about half of the chemicals in each group could cause cancer in large doses.  Despite this we don't invariably get cancer because we have natural defenses that work against these carcinogens, defenses that work well against low and even moderate levels of most of them.

Tierney goes even farther in the extra he links to.  He hints that we should drop the ban on DDT in the United States — and that one reason for doing so would be to protect birds against the West Nile virus.)
- 12:57 PM, 5 June 2007   [link]

Some Kind Words For Newegg:  Just placed another order at Newegg, which sells "computer hardware and software, consumer electronics and communications products".  I have been ordering from them regularly for more than a year now, and have never been displeased by their prices or their service.   (I would like it if they had a larger selection of software.)

Their user reviews are often quite informative, better generally than Amazon's for the same products.  (Though if you are not a computer geek, you may have to correct a little for that factor.)  Their site is easy to use and, as far as I can tell, very secure.   Newegg generally beats the prices of Fry's, which has a store about 20 minutes from here.

Their deliveries have all been prompt.  And when I had one problem, they solved it in less than a day.  I had ordered a Viewsonic LCD monitor from them, partly because they had a 30 dollar rebate on it.  When it came time to apply for the rebate, I couldn't find the invoice.  (My filing system is, shall we say, a little disorganized.)   I sent Newegg an email explaining the problem, got an email with a copy of the invoice the next day, sent off the application for the rebate, and received it a week or so ago.
- 10:36 AM, 5 June 2007   [link]

The Other Shoe Finally Dropped:  A grand jury just indicted Congressman William "Cold Cash" Jefferson.
Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., was indicted Monday on federal charges of racketeering, soliciting bribes and money-laundering in a long-running bribery investigation into business deals he tried to broker in Africa.

The indictment handed up in federal court in Alexandria., Va., Monday is 94 pages long and lists 16 alleged violations of federal law that could keep Jefferson in prison for up to 235 years.  He is charged with racketeering, soliciting bribes, wire fraud, money-laundering, obstruction of justice, conspiracy and violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Jefferson is accused of soliciting bribes for himself and his family, and also for bribing a Nigerian official.

Almost two years ago, in August 2005, investigators raided Jefferson's home in Louisiana and found $90,000 in cash stuffed into a box in his freezer.
Not that this indictment was a surprise, considering the FBI had videotaped Jefferson accepting a bribe.

(More:  You can find an amusing reaction from a New York Times reporter, Kate Phillips, here.   She seems genuinely surprised that Democrats might be corrupt, as well as Republicans.  In fact, as any serious student of American politics can tell you, Democrats have had more problems with corruption than Republicans for decades.  She need only look across the Hudson river to New Jersey for examples.

And you find some background on Jefferson's re-election last fall here.   Odd fact:   Though the race mostly followed racial lines, Jefferson got much of his margin from a predominately white suburb, Jefferson Parish.)
- 2:13 PM, 4 June 2007
Curious:  A later version of the AP story omitted Jefferson's party affiliation.  My copy of the AP Stylebook says that party affiliation should be included in stories on political figures "if the readers need it for understanding or are likely to be curious about what it is."  I would guess that nearly all readers are curious about party affiliation in corruption cases.  But perhaps the 2007 edition of the AP Stylebook has a different rule.   (By way of Newsbusters.)
- 7:36 AM, 5 June 2007   [link]

Indoctrinate U:  Is that an apt nickname for some American colleges and universities?  Linda Seebach thinks so.
A friend of mine did a round of campus visits with his son earlier this year before the son decided where to enroll in the fall.  When they came back after one particularly unsatisfactory visit my friend explained why that college was definitely crossed off his son's list.

As I wrote to someone I know who is a professor emeritus there, "He found the insularity and the pervasive groupthink stifling.  All the 'chalking' was left wing; he went to a history class and the professor claimed that capitalism was responsible for the Holocaust (and refused to let a student who disagreed finish speaking)."

There was more, but you probably know this story by now — many colleges and university campuses are pervasively left wing, to the extent that any student not on the left is likely to be marginalized or worse.
And so do the creators of the film by that name.

And almost anyone familiar with our colleges and universities would agree with that conclusion.  There is much truth in Abigail Thernstrom's quip that our colleges and universities are "islands of repression in a sea of freedom".  And, if anything, matters have gotten worse in the decades since she said that.

(There is an even worse scandal: Nearly all American colleges and universities have no idea what, if anything, their students are learning.  That isn't just my opinion; that's the opinion of Harvard president Derek Bok.  And he has considerable data to back up that opinion.   So, much of the money we spend on our colleges and universities is wasted, most likely.)
- 7:25 AM, 4 June 2007   [link]

Worth Reading:  Michael Young explains the crisis in Lebanon.
Meanwhile, a more subtle battle is taking place over interpretation of what is happening in Lebanon.  This is especially important because there are those in Washington who still insist that something can be gained from dealing with Syria.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi thought so in April when she visited Damascus, did the Gertrude Bell tour of the Hamadiyyeh souq, and capped it all with a visit to President Bashar Assad, all for precisely nothing in return.

The Iraq Study Group also thought Syria could be a useful partner in Iraq, even as all the signs suggest that Damascus has little real influence there and is sowing dissension to compensate.  That's why understanding what is going on in Lebanon is vital for a sense of what can be gained from Syria elsewhere.  Yet something is amiss when the most obvious truths are those the pundits won't consider.
. . .
When Syria is systematically exporting instability throughout the region, you have to wonder whether its regime can be a credible partner to the U.S.
Unless, of course, you are Nancy Pelosi, or one of her allies.  In that case, no amount of evidence is likely to change your mind.
- 4:34 PM, 3 June 2007   [link]

Sign Of The Times?  Today's New York Times came with a forty page advertising supplement for the "super lawyers" of Washington state.  I would be a lot happier about this if the supplement were advertising super farmers, engineers, scientists, builders, executives, or even investors — instead of lawyers.
- 2:39 PM, 3 June 2007   [link]

Another Foiled Terrorist Plot:  And, given our success in foiling them since 9/11, it would be easy to be complacent about foiling this attempt to blow up the fuel lines at the JFK airport.

Easy, but wrong.

On October 12, 1984, the IRA attempted to assassinate Margaret Thatcher by blowing up her Brighton hotel room.   Though they killed five people, and injured others, some of them permanently, they just missed the prime minister.  And, soon after, the IRA gave this chilling warning:
Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once.  You will have to be lucky always.
Whether we were lucky (or competent enough) to foil this latest terrorist plot, we have to recognize that we will not always be lucky (or competent).  Which implies that, in the long run, we have a choice between accepting a certain level of terrorism here — or fighting the terrorists over there.
- 2:12 PM, 3 June 2007   [link]