June 2008, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

The New York Times Gives Secrets To Our Enemies:   Again.
Late last year, top Bush administration officials decided to take a step they had long resisted.  They drafted a secret plan to make it easier for the Pentagon's Special Operations forces to launch missions into the snow-capped mountains of Pakistan to capture or kill top leaders of Al Qaeda.

Intelligence reports for more than a year had been streaming in about Osama bin Laden's terrorism network rebuilding in the Pakistani tribal areas, a problem that had been exacerbated by years of missteps in Washington and the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, sharp policy disagreements, and turf battles between American counterterrorism agencies.

The new plan, outlined in a highly classified Pentagon order, was intended to eliminate some of those battles.  And it was meant to pave a smoother path into the tribal areas for American commandos, who for years have bristled at what they see as Washington's risk-averse attitude toward Special Operations missions inside Pakistan.  They also argue that catching Mr. bin Laden will come only by capturing some of his senior lieutenants alive.
Note the key words in those three paragraphs: "secret" and "highly classified."  The New York Times didn't just publish this story on the plan, they put it on their front page.  In fact, it's the lead story, just in case our Al Qaeda enemies might miss it, if it were back among the obituaries.

Here's a small suggestion for the New York Times:  The next time the newspaper publishes another story revealing our secrets in the war on terror, they should accompany it with an estimate of the number of deaths that will result from the story.  American deaths, allied deaths, and bystander deaths.

They should let us know, in other words, how much their actions will cost us, and others.

One absolutely inevitable consequence of this story will be to cause problems for us with Pakistan, possibly terrible problems.  The bureaucrats who leaked this story, the reporters who wrote it, and editors who decided to publish it all know that.  But for some reason all are willing to antagonize an important Muslim ally, an ally with nuclear weapons.
- 3:41 PM, 30 June 2008   [link]

Some Of Them Are Lying:  And some of them are ignorant about oil production.
"I want you to think about this," Barack Obama said in Las Vegas last week.  "The oil companies have already been given 68 million acres of federal land, both onshore and offshore, to drill.  They're allowed to drill it, and yet they haven't touched it — 68 million acres that have the potential to nearly double America's total oil production."

Wow, how come the oil companies didn't think of that?

Perhaps because the notion is obviously false — at least to anyone who knows how oil and gas exploration actually works.  Predictably, however, Mr. Obama's claim is also the mantra of Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, John Kerry, Nick Rahall and others writing Congressional energy policy.
Read the rest if you want to see why they they are wrong.

Is Obama lying or ignorant?  Good question, to which I do not have a definitive answer.  But at the very least we can say that Obama was reckless to make this argument.
- 12:45 PM, 30 June 2008   [link]

Violent Leftists For Obama:  There are more of them than you might think.   You probably have read about Obama's ties to unrepentant Weatherman Bill Ayers, but Ayers is only one of many.
Progressives for Obama resembles a Who's Who of SDS luminaries.  In addition to Hayden, Rudd, and Davidson, the group includes Bob Pardun, SDS's education secretary during the 1966-67 school year; Paul Buhle, a radical professor who has recently attempted to revive SDS; Mickey and Dick Flacks, red-diaper babies who helped craft 1962's Port Huron Statement, a seminal New Left document; and SDS's third president, Todd Gitlin.  Age and experience have mellowed some of the SDSers in Obama's camp.  Gitlin, for instance, has evolved into a respected Ivy League professor and milquetoast liberal.  But others still glory in a past that can only damage Obama's future.  The aging New Left still practices a therapeutic politics that places a higher value on feelings of personal liberation than on restrained pursuit of political aims.
Or, to be blunt, most are still willing to substitute direct action for elections.  Regardless of the consequences.

Why are they are backing Obama?  Because they think his campaign is a step toward bringing about the radical change that they still want.  They might be wrong, but we shouldn't dismiss the possibility that they are right.

(For some background on the Students for a Democratic Society, you could look at this Wikipedia article.  It's written from the left but is not actively dishonest, though this article, on the latest version of SDS, may be.)
- 12:18 PM, 30 June 2008   [link]

Did Think Progress Lie About McCain?  That's what "Patterico" thinks.
This Think Progress post is a lie.  At best, the story is that McCain doesn't remember the last time he pumped his own gas.  Even that is a non-story, since nobody pumps their own gas while on the campaign trail.  Someone ask Obama when he last pumped his own gas.
But I think it more likely that the author of the piece is just careless (and probably biased).  For the post to be a lie, the writer would have to have known what he was writing was false.

Patterico thinks the writer is malevolent; I think it more likely that the writer is incompetent (and possibly) malevolent, since such mistakes come more easily to those who are prisoners of their own bigotry.
- 8:12 AM, 30 June 2008   [link]

George Orwell And Dishwashers:  In the last week or so, I have been mining Orwell's collected essays again, and have found much gold in that rich lode.  Along with the gold is some worthless rock, and a few strange chunks such as this solution to a daily chore:
If one thinks of simply in terms of saving trouble and plans one's home as ruthlessly as one would plan a machine, it is possible to imagine houses and flats which would be comfortable and would entail very little work.  Central heating, rubbish chutes, proper consumption of smoke, cornerless rooms, electrically-warmed beds and elimination of carpets would make a lot of difference.  But as for washing-up, I see no solution except to do it communally, like laundry.  Every morning the municipal van will stop at your door and carry off a box of dirty crocks, handing you a box of clean ones (marked with your initial, of course) in return.  This would hardly be more difficult to organise than the daily diaper service which was operating before the war.  And, though it would mean that some people would have to be full-time washers-up, as some people are now full-time laundry-workers, the all-over saving in labour and fuel would be enormous.  The alternatives are to continue fumbling about with greasy dishmops, or to eat out of paper containers. (p. 828)
When I read this passage, I immediately wondered when dishwashers had been invented.  A quick search showed me that the first practical one was invented by a remarkable American woman, Josephine Cochrane, and shown at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.  Most were used in hotels and restaurants until the 1950s, but it would not have taken a big leap of imagination for Orwell to realize that home models might be available, and relatively soon.

(Orwell was right about electric blankets and heating pads, but they have been around since the early early 1900s.

He probably got his aversion to doing dishes from his time as a plongeur in Paris.)
- 9:08 PM, 29 June 2008   [link]

Why Was Tony Rezko Broke?  Long time Obama friend and supporter Tony Rezko has declared bankruptcy, after years of help on business deals from government insiders, and after receiving immense loans from dubious sources.  That's like a gambler stacking the deck — and losing the card game anyway.

That metaphor may be appropriate, considering one of the reasons Rezko is bankrupt.
Even as Antoin "Tony" Rezko's fate continued to hang in the balance at his political corruption trial Thursday, his legal peril grew with the revelation that he's wanted in Las Vegas for skipping out on large gambling debts.

The insider in the administration of Gov. Rod Blagojevich has been charged with passing bad checks written to cover debts at two casinos, authorities said. A warrant has been issued for Rezko's arrest, they said.

Officials in Nevada said Rezko bounced $450,000 in checks at Caesars Palace and Bally's Casino in a four-month stretch in 2006, a period when he was known to be under investigation in Illinois and at a time when his financial empire had crumbled.
. . .
But the Las Vegas development is the first indication that gambling is part of his financial trouble.   In addition to the criminal charges accusing him of writing the bad checks between March and July of 2006, another casino, the Bellagio, filed a civil complaint that year saying he owed them $331,000.
(Rezko was convicted, as you almost certainly know.  And now the prosecutors are trying very hard to persuade him to talk.)

Obama is said to be a poker player, but, as far as I know, did not join Rezko in these sprees.   But they do give us one more reason to wonder about the ties between the two.

(More questions about Rezko and his gambling problem here.   And an interesting coincidence (?) here.)
- 6:58 PM, 29 June 2008   [link]

Another Policy Success For Pelosi?  When the Democratic Congress passed an increase in the minimum wage, opponents argued that the increase would make it harder for kids to find jobs, especially minority kids.  That appears to have happened.
The summer job market for teens is suffering along with the rest of the economy.  And those jobs will be harder to find this year for the poorer kids who need them the most as laid-off adults compete for work at the lowest rung.
Though you won't find a word about that minimum wage increase in this AP article.
- 3:46 PM, 29 June 2008   [link]

High Technology:  From the late 1400s.

the Nina

Last Sunday afternoon, I went over to the Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle to look at this replica of the Niña.  For its time, the Niña was very high technology.  The development of caravels, and similar ships, made the voyages of Columbus, and other early discoverers, possible.

The original Niña was remarkably reliable; it sailed at least 25,000 miles in Columbus's voyages of discovery and survived a hurricane.

Those tourists on the ship make the ship look crowded, which it was.
On Columbus' first expedition, the Niña carried 24 men, captained by Vicente Yáñez Pinzón.
But that's not all.  On long voyages, ships of that era often carried live animals for food.  So to those tourists, you should add some sheep, or chickens, or goats, if you are trying to picture the ship as it looked early in a voyage.  I'll leave the conditions on the ship to your imagination.

(Picture notes: That's a crow flying just to the left of the mainmast.  On the mainmast is the Spanish cross flag; on the foremast is the flag of Castile and Leon.)
- 2:05 PM, 27 June 2008
More:  Colin McEvedy says that the Portuguese developed the caravel:
The Portuguese also launched a new design of ship, the caravel.  It was much smaller than the Chinese ocean-going junks — usually displacing no more than 200 tons — but it was just as seaworthy and a lot cheaper to run. (p. 66)
With the caravel, the Portuguese were finally able to pass the fearsome Cape Bojador in 1434 and, by 1460, sail to what is now Sierra Leone.  There they could trade for gold, bypassing the Muslim middlemen in the Sahara.
- 1:32 PM, 29 June 2008   [link]

Maybe Obama should just change his middle name.
In the primary, aides to Mrs. Clinton referred to their rival as B.H.O. — initials of Barack Hussein Obama, including his middle name, which has been a politically sensitive issue — while Mr. Obama's team simply referred to him as B.O.  The B.H.O. shorthand is frowned upon inside Mr. Obama's campaign headquarters, a warning for any Clinton staff members coming aboard.
This is a tad surprising; I expected him to go with "Barack Obama" and BHO, despite the inconsistency.

But I do think if he is that sensitive about his middle name, he should just go ahead and change it.   (And I can't help noting that my suggestion produces a set of initials, BAS, that look innocuous, at least at first glance.)
- 10:27 AM, 27 June 2008   [link]

Life, Liberty, And The Pursuit Of Happiness:  For apes.
Spain's parliament voiced its support on Wednesday for the rights of great apes to life and freedom in what will apparently be the first time any national legislature has called for such rights for non-humans.

Parliament's environmental committee approved resolutions urging Spain to comply with the Great Apes Project, devised by scientists and philosophers who say our closest genetic relatives deserve rights hitherto limited to humans.
Reuters calls this change "liberal"; others may think less flattering adjectives would be appropriate.

One of the "philosophers" who has backed this is Peter Singer, who likes apes, but doesn't care much for babies, especially handicapped babies.

I don't think we should mistreat apes — but I have no trouble telling them apart from my own species.
- 10:10 AM, 27 June 2008   [link]

One Win For Free Speech In Canada:  But the war is not over.
The Canadian Human Rights Commission has dismissed a complaint against Maclean's magazine over a controversial article on the future of Islam, magazine officials said yesterday.

Meanwhile, a decision from the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal over the same issue isn't expected for several months.

The Canadian Islamic Congress launched the dual complaints over an article by Maclean's journalist Mark Steyn.  The article, The Future Belongs to Islam, came under fire by Muslim critics who claimed it spreads Islamophobia.
Here's Maclean's reaction:
Maclean's magazine is pleased that the Canadian Human Rights Commission has dismissed the complaint brought against it by the Canadian Islamic Congress.  The decision is in keeping with our long-standing position that the article in question, "The Future Belongs to Islam," an excerpt from Mark Steyn's best-selling book America Alone, was a worthy piece of commentary on important geopolitical issues, entirely within the bounds of normal journalistic practice.

Though gratified by the decision, Maclean's continues to assert that no human rights commission, whether at the federal or provincial level, has the mandate or the expertise to monitor, inquire into, or assess the editorial decisions of the nation's media.  And we continue to have grave concerns about a system of complaint and adjudication that allows a media outlet to be pursued in multiple jurisdictions on the same complaint, brought by the same complainants, subjecting it to costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars, to say nothing of the inconvenience.  We enthusiastically support those parliamentarians who are calling for legislative review of the commissions with regard to speech issues.
If I understand this correctly, the plaintiffs can continue bringing this case, even if they lose in British Columbia, in every other Canadian province.

So, it's a win, but a defensive win, and an expensive win that most private Canadian citizens could not afford.

(Two tidbits that strike me as significant:  The radical Islamists who are compaining in this case were particularly offended by a quotation, an accurate quotation, from a Muslim leader in Norway.   A minority of Canadian Muslims are guilty of hate speech, but none, to the best of my knowledge, has ever been charged in one of these kangaroo courts.

By way of Small Dead Animals, which is very sluggish this morning.)
- 6:52 AM, 27 June 2008   [link]

5-4:  That was the vote in the Heller decision.
The Supreme Court declared for the first time on Thursday that the Constitution protects an individual's right to have a gun, not just the right of the states to maintain militias.

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority in the landmark 5-to-4 decision, said the Constitution does not allow "the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home."  In so declaring, the majority found that a gun-control law in the nation's capital went too far by making it nearly impossible to own a handgun.
The five justices who voted in the majority were all appointed by the last three Republican presidents.   The two justices appointed by President Clinton voted in the minority.  Elections matter.

Senator McCain has promised to appoint judges like those in the majority.  Senator Obama, though claiming to favor the decision, has promised to appoint judges like those in the minority.  (The Republican National Committee gives us more reasons to doubt Obama's statement on the decision.)  This election will matter, too.

(But appointments are tricky.  President Bush thought that Justice Souter, who voted in the minority, was a stealth conservative.  And judges change.  When Anthony Kennedy was appointed to the court by President Reagan, he was expected to be a solid conservative vote.  And he was, in his early years on the court.)
- 12:38 PM, 26 June 2008   [link]

Here's A Job For John Kerry:  He should give bicycle safety lessons to Democratic politicians.  For example, to Barack Obama.  No gloves, no straps holding cuffs in.  (The seat position looks wrong, too.)  Or to these four, who are doing almost everything wrong.

The Democrats are promising to provide "free" bicycles during their Denver convention.  That should add something to the atmosphere of the convention, since Denver can be quite warm in the summer.
- 6:10 AM, 26 June 2008   [link]

Hindu Monkey God For Obama?  Apparently.

The jokes should almost write themselves.

More seriously, this is another example — granted, an extreme example — of Obama supporters seeing in him what they want to see, regardless of the evidence.
- 5:43 AM, 26 June 2008   [link]

Can We Laugh At Barack Obama?  Jon Stewart says it's OK.  (You'll want to watch the whole video, just to listen to the audience.  As "Allahpundit" says, the laughs are often nervous, as if the audience isn't sure they can laugh at the junior senator from Illinois.)

Obama supporter Joseph Palermo says, at Huffington Post, says Jon Stewart can't laugh at Obama.  His reasoning is entertaining, and Tom Maguire doesn't miss the chance for a chuckle.  (All right, a whole bunch of chuckles, and perhaps a guffaw or two.)  The "Jammie Wearing Fool" finds a possible explanation for Palermo's thinking; Palermo is a professor at UC-Santa Cruz.
- 4:25 PM, 25 June 2008   [link]

Gasoline And Diesel Fuel Are Cheaper in Mexico:  Which has led, according to yesterday's Wall Street Journal, to many Americans crossing the border to fill up.  And led a few Americans to install additional, extra-large gas tanks, so they can really fill up.   (Gasoline is much cheaper in Venezuela, but as far as I know, no Americans are driving there to fill up.  Yet.)

As the article went on to say, Mexico is subsidizing these American drivers.  Mexico exports large amounts of oil, but, because it is short on refineries, imports much of its gasoline — from the United States.  At American prices.
- 3:33 PM, 25 June 2008   [link]

Medicare Pays Too Much For Some Kinds Of Equipment:  It's the fault of Congress.
On Wal-Mart's Web site, you can buy a walker for $59.92.  It is called the Carex Explorer, and it's a typical walker: a few feet high, with four metal poles extending to the ground.  The Explorer is one of the walkers covered by Medicare.

But Medicare and its beneficiaries aren't paying $59.92 for the Explorer or any similar walker.  In fact, they're not paying anything close to it.  They are paying about $110.

For years, Congress has set the price for walkers and various medical equipment, and it has consistently set them well above the market rate, effectively handing out a few hundred million dollars of corporate welfare every year to the equipment.
On July 1, Medicaid is set to switch to a system of bidding, which should bring the costs of these walkers, including delivery, down to about $80.  Naturally, the suppliers are fighting the change.  Equally naturally, some in Congress are helping them, including two Democratic chairman, Pete Stark and John Dingell, and the Republican leader, John Boehner.

As columnist David Leonhardt goes on to say, this shows how difficult health care reform is.

(Incidentally, Leonhardt is often worth reading, unlike Paul Krugman.  Leonhardt may not always be right, but he is not consumed by Republican Derangement Syndrome.)
- 3:16 PM, 25 June 2008   [link]

Blame The Candidate:  As you may recall, on Sunday, the Seattle Times editorial page editor, James Vesely, said that you should not blame the candidates, for breaking a promise to use public financing for the general election, and other sins.  (I may be too suspicious, but I thought he really meant that we shouldn't blame the junior senator from Illinois, Barack Arugula Obama.)

Today, in an editorial, the Seattle Times tells us that we can blame the candidates; in fact, we can blame a candidate for what one of his aides says, even if the aide was speaking for himself.  First, some background:

But Charlie Black, one of McCain's most trusted political advisers, took the point too far, telling Fortune Magazine a new terrorist attack "would be a big advantage" to McCain.

The Times leaves out an important point.  Black did not bring the subject up; he was answering a question from a reporter from Fortune.  No doubt Black committed a Kinsley gaffe by saying what he actually thinks, even if it wasn't politically wise*.  But it is hard to quarrel with his conclusion.  I think that almost any decent political analyst would say the same thing.  And I'll go farther.  I think most political reporters would agree with Black.

But saying what Black thinks is true — and what almost every political analyst thinks — is very wrong according to the Seattle Times.  And the senior senator from Arizona, John McCain, can be blamed.

Some statements should be off-limits.  Using and abusing public fears of a fresh attack is a prime example.  Using fear to sway voters is too low.
. . .
McCain handled himself well, but he owns Black's mistake.  It is a blot on the McCain campaign.

This combination leaves me puzzled.  On Sunday, Vesely said that we can't blame a candidate for breaking a promise; today the editorial page (run by James Vesely) says that we can blame a candidate for what an aide said — even if what the aide said is true.

There may be some principle that would contain both this editorial and Vesely's column, but I can't think of one offhand**.  And I don't think Vesely changed his mind between Sunday and today.

The editorial is even more puzzling when you remember that most voters (and some journalists) generally prefer that candidates and their aides tell the truth.  (Exception: Some Obama supporters are convinced that Obama is lying to them — and are pleased by that.  But this is an unusual year.)  But the Times seem to be telling us that aides and candidates should not tell us the truth, at least on some issues.  Perhaps the Times can do a follow-up editorial and tell us on which issues candidates and their aides should tell the truth, and on which issues they shouldn't.  I doubt that I would agree with such an editorial, but I would like to see it, if only for the novelty.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(*What should Black have said?  He should have refused to answer the question, saying that Senator McCain would do everything he could to protect the country from attacks.  And then Black should have added that he would leave speculation about such matters to others.

**There is one possible explanation, but it is weird.  Vesely, because of his position, must have met many Democratic candidates.  Perhaps those meetings have led Vesely to conclude that most Democratic candidates are not responsible adults.  I wouldn't agree with that, but I have to admit that Vesely knows the Democratic candidates better than I do.)
- 1:23 PM, 25 June 2008   [link]

Think Global Warming Is A Problem?  Then you'll want to go nuclear.   That's the conclusion most will draw from the work of Cambridge physics professor David MacKay.   After considering solar, biofuels, and wind power, MacKay looks at less politically correct options:
MacKay also takes a look at the somewhat less right-on options.  The biggies here are "clean" coal, in which coal power stations are modified so that the carbon they emit is captured and stuffed away somewhere, perhaps in old gas fields.  For a man of his leanings — MacKay is a fairly hardcore pacifist, and more than a bit of a tree-hugger — he's refreshingly open-minded.
We must not let ourselves be swept off our feet in horror at the danger of nuclear power.  Nuclear power is not infinitely dangerous.  It's just dangerous, much as coal mines, petrol repositories, fossil-fuel burning and wind turbines are dangerous.
MacKay concludes that nuclear scales up easily, and does so without dominating the country the way wind, solar, tidal and biomass do.  The scale of engineering required, in terms of megatons of steel and concrete or areas of land and sea taken up, is enormously down on that needed by useful amounts of renewables.
MacKay does his analysis for Britain, but his broad conclusions probably apply to the United States — with one great exception.  Unlike Britain, the United States has vast deserts which could be used to generate electricity, which would then be exported to the rest of the nation.  (MacKay believes that Britain could achieve something similar by importing electricity on a grand scale from North African countries such as Libya.)

A bit of irony:  President Bush has backed nuclear energy and has, at least on one occasion, given global warming as a reason to switch to nuclear energy.  Nobel prize winner Al Gore does not currently back nuclear power.

(You can download MacKay's draft here, if you want to look at his numbers yourself.  Or, if you don't want the whole thing, you can read his four page executive summary, though it mostly describes his approach to the problem.)
- 7:26 AM, 25 June 2008   [link]

Often The Best Way To Study Input:  Is to look at output.
Which city uses more cocaine: Los Angeles or London?  Is heroin a big problem in San Diego?  And has Ecstasy emerged in rural America?

Environmental scientists are beginning to use an unsavory new tool -- raw sewage -- to paint an accurate portrait of drug abuse in communities.  Like one big, citywide urinalysis, tests at municipal sewage plants in many areas of the United States and Europe, including Los Angeles County, have detected illicit drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana.
It seems almost certain that such tests would be far more accurate than our current ways of measuring drug use in our cities, surveys and hospital admissions.  Although calibrating the tests might be tricky.

There's much more in the article, including this:
For now, this new drug test remains anonymous.  Wastewater from thousands, sometimes millions, of people is pooled at treatment plants, so it cannot be tracked to any individual or specific location.

But because waste also can be tested in local sewers, questions about privacy have been raised.

"You could take this down to a community, a street, even a house," [chief of environmental chemistry at the EPA's National Exposure Research Laboratory Christian] Daughton said.  "You can do all kinds of stuff with this.  It's sort of unlimited."
Would doing such tests, especially at the level of a single house, trouble the ACLU?  Probably.   Even if the tests were done entirely in a city's portions of the sewage pipes.

(Be interesting to know whether these tests could be automated and made really cheap.)
- 6:39 AM, 25 June 2008
More:  Daughton doesn't mention this, but it would probably be easy to do these tests in a single school.  And some schools will certainly find the idea attractive.   If you were a principal, wouldn't you like to really know whether your school had a drug problem?
- 1:05 PM, 30 June 2008   [link]