June 2007, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Fit For Service?  Most young people aren't.
"We are all victims of our own past success.  We all have a conscript mentality that there's a never-ending supply of perfect high school graduates that are over the horizon coming at us to fill every job we have," said Vice Adm. John Cotton, commander of the Navy Reserve.  "I'll tell you what, we're about to be shocked, because they are not there."

Cotton spoke on a panel on recruiting and retention with officers from the Marines, Army and Air Force at a conference on "transformation warfare" hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute and the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association in Virginia Beach.

Seventy-two percent of American youth between 17 and 24 years of age are not eligible for military service for fitness, academic and law enforcement deficiencies, Cotton said, citing national statistics that some 30 percent of male youths drop out of high school.
More are ineligible for service now than ever before, but large proportions of men were unfit for service in earlier wars, even World War II.  Here's a description of the standards used at the beginning of that war, taken from Rick Atkinson's An Army at Dawn:
Physical standards remained fairly rigorous; soon enough, the day would come when new recruits claimed the Army no longer examined eyes, just counted them.  A conscript had to stand at least five feet tall and weigh 105 pounds; possess twelve or more of his natural thirty-two teeth; and be free of flat feet, venereal disease, and hernias.  More than forty of every hundred men were rejected, a grim testament to the toll taken on the nation's health by the Great Depression.  Under the rules of conscription, the army drafted no fathers, no felons, and no eighteen-year-olds; those standards, too, would fall away.  Nearly two million men had been rejected for psychiatric reasons, although screening sessions sometimes went no farther than questions such as "Do you like girls?"  The rejection rate, one wit suggested, was high because "the Army doesn't want maladjusted soldiers, at least below the rank of major." (p. 9)
Those are not high standards, and still more than forty percent of the draft-eligible men could not meet them.  The one I find most surprising is the minimum weight.  How often do you even see a man who weighs less than 105 pounds?

(Current standards by way of Joanne Jacobs.)
- 6:59 PM, 24 June 2007   [link]

More From Reverend Redding:  Or should that be Imam Redding?  Or something else that better reflects her confusion?

Whatever the title, you can find her answers to some reader questions here, some reader reactions to the original story here, and a letter in support from a Sufi minister here.  I found this bit from Redding entertaining:
My experience is somewhat similar to that of the apostle Paul, who didn't think about leaving behind his Judaism when he accepted his calling from Jesus.  I never thought that I was leaving Jesus when I entered Islam.  Jesus is in Islam.  In fact, Jesus was the one who led me into Islam.
But then I have odd tastes.

(For context, here's my original post.)
- 2:58 PM, 24 June 2007   [link]

What Was Ross Perot's Effect On The 1992 Election?  In the middle of this Michael Barone column on the possible effects of a Bloomberg candidacy, I found this conclusion:.
I think there's one other factor to be considered.  Would a Bloomberg candidacy change the dynamic of the race?  I have long thought that if Ross Perot had been run down by a bus in 1991, George H. W. Bush would have been re-elected by a small and uninspiring margin (which might have led to a successful Bill Clinton candidacy in 1996).  I remember that at the 1992 Democratic National Convention, the late Paul Tully, then deputy Democratic national chairman, told me that in the spring of 1992 "Perot departisanized the critique of Bush."  He was able to lower Bush's numbers in a way that Bill Clinton at the time could not possibly have done.
That's the same opinion I have had ever since 1992.

(When people try to resolve this question, they usually do a simple analysis, and just look at the second choices for Perot voters.  As it happens, the Perot voters were closely split in their second choices, so it looks as though he did not change the outcome of the race.

But that's incomplete, because it neglects the dynamic argument that Barone (and I) have been making, that Perot's attacks hurt Bush more than Clinton.  Perot himself seemed to believe in our argument because he came back into the campaign when Bush began to gain.

There are ways to test this dynamic argument, but they require more than ordinary polling data.

A similar dynamic argument applies to the effects of Ralph Nader's 2000 run; since we don't know for certain how Nader affected the dynamics of the race, we can not be sure that Gore would have won if Nader had stayed out.)
- 11:33 AM, 24 June 2007   [link]

Worth Reading:  Dorothy Rabinowitz, who has seen one or two irreponsible prosecutors in her career, takes on two more, Mike Nifong and Patrick Fitzgerald.
It was a noteworthy week on the justice front.  Even as Mr. Nifong was facing ethics hearings in North Carolina, Scooter Libby's attorneys came before trial judge Reggie Walton, in Washington, to plead for a delay in the beginning of the 30-month sentence the judge had handed down.  Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's project--the construction of a major case of obstruction of justice out of a perjury rap against Mr. Libby--had come to a satisfactory conclusion.
. . .
However it comes out, both the case mounted against Mr. Libby, and the sentence delivered, have plenty of parallels.  It is familiar stuff--the fruits of official power run amok in the name of principle and virtue--and it's an ugly harvest.  Mr. Libby is another in the long line of Americans fated to face show trials and absurdly long sentences--the sort invariably required for meritless prosecutions.

There was at least one bright spot in the events of the last week, specifically, Mr. Nifong's removal from office--a case, at long last, of a prosecutor called to account.  It will be some while we can guess, before any such wheels of justice grind their way to the special prosecutors.
Those wheels are unlikely to get even close to Patrick Fitzgerald while he is so useful to the "mainstream" media, and their allies in the Democratic party.
- 1:12 PM, 22 June 2007   [link]

Rewarding Terror:  That's what we, and our European allies, have been doing with the Palestinians.  Consider, for instance, just this one fact from a Wall Street Journal editorial.
n 1973, the National Security Agency recorded Arafat's telephoned instructions to PLO terrorists to murder Cleo Noel, the U.S. ambassador in Sudan, and his deputy George Curtis Moore.  Yet in 1993, Arafat was welcomed in the White House for the signing of the Oslo Accords with Israel.  That same year, the British National Criminal Intelligence Service reported that the PLO made its money from "extortion, payoffs, illegal arms-dealing, drug trafficking, money laundering and fraud."  Yet over the next several years, the Palestinian Authority would become the largest single recipient of foreign aid on a per capita basis.
And much of that aid went right into Yasser Arafat's secret accounts, though exactly how much we will probably never know.

We have been rewarding the Palestinians while they teach their children to become terrorists, while they continue to make terrorist attacks on Israel, and while they make it clear that they are our enemies.  Not all Palestinians celebrated the 9/11 attack, but many did.

Now one can make a real politic argument for promising aid to the Palestinians, in order to please some of our Muslim allies, but if we care about the Palestinians themselves, we must realize a grim truth: The aid we have given them has, in the long run, made their lives worse.  The aid kept them under the control of Yasser Arafat's kleptocratic tyranny for years, and now leaves them prey to two ruthless gangs, Hamas and Fatah.
- 12:40 PM, 22 June 2007   [link]

What Can You Do With A Journalism Degree?  You can become a hip-hop artist who advocates the assassination of President Bush.

Sage Francis never flinches when discussing the instigative ingredients he sometimes uses to season his edgy raps.

Well, almost never.

Questioned about a potentially controverisal [sic] line in the penultimate track of his new album, "Human the Death Dance," he audibly wavers during a phone interview from his Rhode Island home.

The source of his discomfort comes about three-fifths of the way through "Hoofprints in the Sand": "There's been too much murder and not enough martyr/Why is it no one else wants to impress Jodie Foster?" he asks, after cataloging, with increasing disgust, the many social and political ills facing this country — anti-intellectualism, drug abuse, disregard for the environment, racial turmoil and intrusive government.

Of course, to impress Jodie Foster is the reason cited by John W. Hinckley Jr. in a letter to the actress explaining his assassination attempt on President Reagan in 1981.

Potentially controversial?  If I were to advocate the killing of "Sage" Francis, or the reporter who wrote this piece, Len Righi, would that be just "potentially" controversial?

What if I were to advocate the killing of the executive editor of the Seattle Times, where I found this article.  Would that be just "potentially" controversial?

I certainly hope not.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 5:08 PM, 21 June 2007   [link]

It's A Rather Large Object To Misplace:  A New York Times article on Northwest gardens includes this mistake.
In another garden, a tiered fountain made from an old electrical transformer rose out of a giant round concrete planter, full of tall Oriental lilies, not yet in bloom, and a cloud of blue nigella.

"I think it's from the Hoover Dam in eastern Washington," said Johanna Nitzke Marquis, an assemblage artist and gardener, who is a collector at heart, be it red shoes or tree peonies, buttons or potatoes (a passion).
And the reporter, Anne Raver, just let that pass by.  And at least one editor must have missed the mistake, too.

Hoover Dam, as any high school student should know, is some distance south of eastern Washington.

Sometimes you wonder if reporters are ignorant, and sometimes they make a mistake that ends any doubt you may have had on the question.  (Though Ms. Raver may know all about gardens, I suppose.)

(Marquis is probably thinking of a different large dam in eastern Washington, perhaps this one.)
- 4:45 PM, 21 June 2007   [link]

Follow The Money:  Often good advice, and when MSNBC's Bill Dedman did that, he found the usual pattern. identified 144 journalists who made political contributions from 2004 through the start of the 2008 campaign, according to the public records of the Federal Election Commission.  Most of the newsroom checkbooks leaned to the left: 125 journalists gave to Democrats and liberal causes.  Only 17 gave to Republicans.  Two gave to both parties.
Many were breaking the rules of their own news organizations when they made the donations.

Dedman collected some funny excuses, for example:
Or we could ask Randy Cohen, who writes the syndicated column "The Ethicist" for The New York Times.  The former comedy writer gave $585 to in 2004 when it was organizing get-out-the-vote efforts to defeat Bush.  Cohen said he understands the Times policy and won't make donations again, but he had thought of as no more out of bounds than the Boy Scouts.
Wonder what he would say if he weren't an ethicist?  (And if I were Cohen, I would claim that he said that, not as an ethicist, but as a comedy writer — because what he said is pretty funny.)

Fans of NPR will be pleased by these contributions from employees of NPR or, in the last case, one of NPR's affiliates: Corey Flintoff, newscaster, $538 to Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean in December 2003; Michelle Trudeau, correspondent, $500 to Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean in two contributions in September 2003, and $500 more to Dean in May 2004; and Susan Goodman, reporter, $450 to Judy Feder, Democrat, in a congressional campaign in 2006; and $1,000 to the Ben Cardin for Senate campaign, Democrat, in 2005.

That shouldn't surprise anyone who listens to NPR, even occasionally.

Finally, there is one intriguing pattern, not discussed in the article, at the end of the list.  Dedman found five donations from journalists who worked for non-English-language news organizations, La Stampa, New Delhi Television, The Korea Daily News, Pakistan TV, and Oriental Daily.  Journalists at the first four contributed to Hillary Clinton, and a journalist at the fifth contributed to the Democratic party.

(By the way, I once had an interesting email exchange with Cohen.  I suggested that he take up this ethical problem:  Is it ethical to conceal information that would cause another person to act differently?  And the example I used was the "mainstream" media's hiding of Bill Clinton's promiscuity during the 1992 campaign.  Cohen agreed that it was an interesting problem, but somehow never got around to writing about it.)
- 2:24 PM, 21 June 2007   [link]

Half:  When I asked the owner of a local Taco Del Mar how many of his customers paid with debit or credit cards, that was his answer.  Those familiar with the fast food chain will know that Taco Del Mar's meals are inexpensive, that it would be unusual for a single customer to spend more than ten dollars for a meal there.  And checkers at a local grocery store have told me that more than half of their customers use plastic.

So I was not surprised by this Samuelson column describing the replacement of cash by plastic money.
It's one of those vast social upheavals that everyone understands but that hardly anyone notices, because it seems too ordinary: The long-predicted "cashless society" has quietly arrived, or nearly so; currency, coins and checks are receding as ways of doing everyday business; we've become Plastic Nation.  In the tangled history of American money -- from tobacco receipts to gold and silver coins to paper money and checks -- this is a seismic shift.  Time to pay attention.
Is this a good change, on the whole?  Samuelson doesn't know, and neither do I.  Electronic payments are much cheaper to process than checks.  But are cards cheaper to process than cash?  I've never seen a study on that question, and the answer is not apparent, at least to me.  (I am fairly sure that credit card payments are more expensive to process than cash, but am not sure about debit card payments.)

I suspect that the police love this change, because it gives them a powerful way to track people, both suspects and victims.  But for the same reason, we have less privacy than we had before plastic money became so common.

It is strange, as Samuelson says, that we have made this enormous change without much public discussion.

(For the curious, I will just say that I use cash for almost all purchases smaller than a few hundred dollars.  Partly I do that for privacy, but mostly out of habit.)
- 7:42 AM, 21 June 2007   [link]

Congratulations To Speaker Pelosi And Majority Leader Reid:  (And, in Washington state, to Congressmen Inslee, Larsen, Baird, Dicks, McDermott, and Smith.)  This was fast work.

The percentage of Americans with a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in Congress is at 14%, the lowest in Gallup's history of this measure -- and the lowest of any of the 16 institutions tested in this year's Confidence in Institutions survey.  It is also one of the lowest confidence ratings for any institution tested over the last three decades.

Pelosi and Reid's ideological allies in the "mainstream" media are not doing very well, either.

Americans have relatively low levels of confidence in the Fourth Estate.  Just 23% of Americans have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in television news, and only 22% express the same sentiment for newspapers.  Neither of these two entities has done exceedingly well in Gallup's history, but both are particularly low this year.

It is only fair to add that confidence fell for almost all the institutions Gallup asked about, and that it is low in the presidency (25 percent), as well.

But the decline in the Congressional ratings does lead naturally to two questions:  President Bush's opponents in Congress and the "mainstream" media often cite his low ratings as evidence of failure.  If they make that argument, should they admit that they have failed, too?  And, if they judge by these ratings, shouldn't they conclude that they are worse failures than President Bush, since they have even lower ratings?

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Just so there is no misunderstanding, I will add that I do not think that popularity ratings are a good way to judge any of these institutions, and that I do not share the general pessimism found by the survey.  But I also think that the Democratic Congress deserves its low ratings.)
- 5:45 AM, 21 June 2007   [link]

Isn't It Time For Carter's Family And Friends To Do An Intervention?  When someone we love shows that they are no longer in full control of their mental faculties, we don't let them wander about causing harm to themselves and others.  If we can — and this isn't always possible — we tell them they are behaving destructively and that they must change.  And we offer them help to make that change.

It is time for the family and friends of the former president to do just that.  And if there was any doubt that Carter needs help, he erased it yesterday.
The United States, Israel and the European Union must end their policy of favoring Fatah over Hamas, or they will doom the Palestinian people to deepening conflict between the rival movements, former US President Jimmy Carter said Tuesday.

Carter, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who was addressing a conference of Irish human rights officials, said the Bush administration's refusal to accept the 2006 election victory of Hamas was "criminal."
Yes, that's right, he said "criminal".

When delusions are that deep, we have to seek a cause.  Drugs?  Alcoholism?  Mental illness?  Senility?  All are possibilities.

Whatever the cause, it is time for those who love Carter — and there must still be a few that do — to rescue him from these delusions.

(You can find more here, here, and here.)
- 11:09 AM, 20 June 2007   [link]

Heresy Is Never Welcomed By The Orthodox:  After John Tierney criticized Rachel Carson and the ban on DDT, we should have expected that the orthodox environmentalists at the New York Times would reply.  Last week, they ran a set of letters attacking Tierney, and today they ran another letter attacking him.

To top it all off, today the Times also ran this odd "interview" with Barry Commoner.

Here's the most significant part:
Q. There's also been some reconsideration of using DDT selectively against malaria, rather than as a mass-quantity pesticide.  Have you rethought this?

A. Well, you know, I had something to do with the ban.  I think there are situations in which you could use DDT surgically.  I don't want to put anybody into a position of avoiding the use of something in a particular life-and-death situation.  But there are many ways of solving the malaria problem, including reparations.  Malarial regions ought to be given more money by wealthy countries.  Until we get to the point where there is no other way to do it, I don't see any sense in it.
Because there is no follow-up question, it is easy to miss the horror of Commoner's position.  He concedes, implicitly, that the ban on DDT caused unnecessary deaths from malaria.  (Millions of deaths by some estimates.)  Though he hedges slightly, Commoner still favors that ban in practice — but is willing to pay "reparations" to the nations that have suffered from it.

A real journalist, unlike Thomas Vinciguerra, would have noticed that and would have asked Commoner a few more questions on the subject.  But that would have required questioning a tenet of the environmentalist religion, and Vinciguerra did not want to join Tierney in heresy.
- 7:35 PM, 19 June 2007   [link]

Worth Reading:  What's the best way to help Africa?  For decades, the most popular answer was to provide foreign aid.  More recently, some have argued that we should drop barriers to trade that often hit poor African countries especially hard.  And, of course, the fashionable have long favored concerts as the best way to help Africans.

But maybe the best way to help Africans is to encourage entrepreneurs, who will sell things to Africans that they need.  That's the lesson I take from this New York Times article.   The reporter, Jason Pontin, meanders, but half way through the article, gets to the story of a remarkable Congo businessman, Alieu Conteh
In 1997, Mr. Conteh recalled in an interview, he heard Laurent D. Kabila, then the country's president, deliver a speech in which he called upon his countrymen to rebuild Congo's infrastructure after the 30-year dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko.  Mr. Conteh, who had no experience in telecommunications, said he was inspired.  He decided to build the nation's first GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) digital network.
. . .
Mr. Conteh said he went, cap in hand, to the minister of communications to ask for the country's first GSM license.  In January 1998 he got it — but he first had to pay the government a license fee of $100,000.  Over the years, and with little explanation, he said, the government, which is often terribly short of money, increased the license fee, first to $400,000, then $2 million.

Since, at first, no Western investors had any faith in the country's mobile market, Mr. Conteh said he wrote the first checks to the government.  And he paid $1.5 million to Nortel, the telecommunications equipment provider, to help create his network.  To help raise the money, he had to sell his coffee trucks.  In February 1999, Mr. Conteh introduced the Congo Wireless Network, with just 3,000 subscribers.

In 2001, he sold 51 percent of the company to Vodacom, South Africa's largest mobile service provider, to get the capital to expand the mobile network to millions of Congelese.

By the middle of 2006, Vodacom Congo had more than 1.5 million subscribers, according to Vodacom's annual report.
And they now have more than 3 million subscribers, according to Conteh.  Before he began his business, about 25,000 people in all of Congo had phones.

How much difference can a cell phone make to a poor villager?  Some months ago, Thomas Friedman gave an example from Kenya.  A poor rural village had banded together to get a cell phone which they shared.  As a result, they were able to check prices and were no longer being cheated by the middle men who bought their goats for sale in the city.

(For more along the same lines, see this 2005 interview with libertarian economist, James Shikwati.   (By way of David Fleck.))
- 3:19 PM, 19 June 2007   [link]

Here's the picture of the Iraqi boy hiding behind an American soldier that I mentioned in this post.  (The second photo in the series is the one that appeared on the front page of the New York Times.  If you look at that photo and the preceding photo carefully, you can see why I said there were two Iraqi boys seeking protection from the soldier.

Thanks to Alec Baldwin for telling me about this picture.
- 1:35 PM, 19 June 2007   [link]

Here's one side:
When it's hot, you lose at gas pump

As the temperature climbs, you get a worse deal at the service station.  It's simple physics, and some consumers and members of Congress want changes made.
Here's the other side:  When it is cold, you gain, for the same reason.  Gasoline, like most fluids, expands — and shrinks — with temperature.  When you buy a gallon of gasoline in the summer, you get a little less energy from it; when you buy a gallon of gasoline in the winter, you get a little more.

Some "consumer advocates" consider these facts scandalous, and want to put in temperature regulators on gas pumps — which would drive some small businessmen out of business, and would slightly increase gas prices, overall.
- 7:08 AM, 19 June 2007   [link]

What a great line:
With the benefit of hindsight, it should have been obvious that the first female imam would be an Episcopalian. . . .
And I suspect more than one long-suffering Episcopalian would agree with the point Mark Steyn is making.
- 3:57 PM, 18 June 2007   [link]

Worth Reading:  Gabriel Schoenfeld reviews George Tenet's record, and gives the former head of the CIA mostly negative grades.  Judging by Schoenfeld's piece, Tenet is a decent manager, who might have done well in a less challenging position.

Some samples:
Even if the CIA enjoyed the technological resources and fielded the professional expertise to track and understand all of its potential targets—a very big "if"—some of its analyses might still be invalid.  In particular, bureaucratic tendencies can warp judgment.  These tendencies include mirror imaging, the belief that one's adversaries operate much like oneself; group-think, the natural proclivity of an organization to embrace an internal consensus and to suppress dissenting views; and stove-piping, the inability of different departments to communicate vital information to one another.   On some occasions, the information the CIA collects might be worse than worthless—as when the agency falls victim to deliberate deception, or when its own employees turn out to be working for America's adversaries as double-agents or moles.
. . .
The year before Tenet became director, only a dozen or so new officers had been inducted.  "[W]e learned later," Tenet writes ruefully, "that while we were training a handful of case officers each year, al Qaeda was training literally thousands of potential terrorists at its camps in Afghanistan, the Sudan, and elsewhere."  The CIA of 1997, writes Tenet, putting the case mildly, was thus "not a well-oiled machine with an abundance of resources or an organization that ran with crisp precision"; were it otherwise, he modestly concedes, "plenty of other people would have been vying" for the job of director and he would have been unlikely to get it.
. . .
In 1998, however, the focus abruptly changed with attacks on American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the onset of the era of al-Qaeda sponsored terrorism.  By the latter part of that year, writes Tenet, "I was aggressively seeking additional resources from our government to fight terrorism."  But his pleas yielded nothing: "For the most part I succeeded in annoying the administration for which I worked but did not loosen any significant purse strings."
. . .
It was only after a great deal of congressional and administration prodding that, nearly a year after September 11, the CIA finally began to look seriously at Iraq's links to al Qaeda.
There's much more, including Tenet's agreement with a suggestion I have made: The CIA overestimated Saddam's WMDs after 9/11 partly because the agency knew how badly it had underestimated them before the first Gulf war.
- 3:39 PM, 18 June 2007   [link]

Was The Secret Ballot A Bad Idea?  We have been using secret ballots in the United States for more than a century, and very few Americans want to go back to open voting.  But there are exceptions.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has decided to hold a vote this Wednesday on perhaps the most unpopular element of the Democratic agenda.  The Employee Free Choice Act has already passed the House, but now it faces real hurdles in the Senate because, contrary to the name, it undermines workplace democracy.

Under the so-called card-check bill, a company would no longer have the right to demand a secret-ballot election to certify a union, thus stripping 140 million American workers of the right to decide in private whether to organize.
We moved to secret ballots to make it more difficult to bribe and intimidate voters.  Surely union organizers don't want to do either, which makes their motivation on this measure difficult to fathom.  And it is just as difficult to fathom why the Democrats would be backing this unpopular bill.
- 2:54 PM, 18 June 2007   [link]