March 2008, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Clarke Versus Power:   Samantha Power has resigned from the Obama campaign, following her gaffe in calling Hillary Clinton a "monster".  So I am a little bit late in writing this post, but I think the point is still worth making.  Power became famous with her book on genocide, A Problem From Hell.   It would be going too far to say that her book makes Richard Clarke a villain of the Rwandan genocide, but it is fair to say that her picture of him is not complimentary.  She portrays him as a skillful bureaucrat, indifferent to the deaths in Rwanda, as long as he can stay in power.   And since Clinton wanted to avoid another African intervention, Clarke was happy to make one impossible — and even to make it hard for others to intervene.

Given their opposite views on the issue of genocide (and presumably, on other subjects), it is hard to see how both Clarke and Power could be advisors to the same candidate, Obama.  Does Obama think Clarke was right about Rwanda?  Or Power?  As far as I know, Obama has never answered that question, and I can't think of any direct evidence on the question.  (He did say that massacres in Iraq might be a cost of his proposal to withdraw, and seems to believe that would be an acceptable price, as long as he gets to be president, of course.)

There is an explanation, a cynical explanation, for Obama having two foreign policy advisors, with such opposing ideas.  At least one is not an advisor, but a campaign supporter; Obama sees at least one as a useful supporter in an election campaign, rather than a source of ideas.  Or, and this is my guess, he sees both as useful campaign supporters, and doesn't plan to rely on either one for advice on foreign policy.  (And it is a fact that what he says in campaign speeches is not really consistent with either "advisor's" views.)

If that explanation is true, then Obama has been duping Clarke and Power in order to dupe the voters.   That's a crude way to say it, perhaps too crude, but the more I see of Obama, the more cynical I become about him.

(Here's my own portrait of Clarke, whom I described as a "bureaucratic skunk".  At the end of that post, I wondered whether Clarke had any victories in the war on terror.  According to George Smith, Clarke has many failures.   I still don't know of any victories.

And if you want to know more than anyone ought to about Clarke, you can start with this link-filled post   And don't miss this 2002 interview, in which he tells a very different story than he told later.

Power does not inspire confidence either, after you look at even a few of her strange ideas.)
- 2:23 PM, 7 March 2008   [link]

Worth Reading:  James Willbanks reviews the lessons of the Tet offensive.  Two samples:
This winter is the 40th anniversary of the Tet offensive, which proved to be the turning point of the Vietnam War.  By the time it was over, the American strategy in Vietnam switched from pursuing victory on the battlefield to finding a way to disengage.  It is instructive to recall that the American and allied armies actually turned back the attackers and inflicted heavy casualties.
. . .
To dampen antiwar sentiment, Johnson and Westmoreland encouraged what turned out to be false expectations about our prospects in Vietnam, and this colored Americans' perception of the Tet offensive, stretching the president's credibility gap to the breaking point.  A tactical victory became a strategic defeat and led to the virtual abdication of President Johnson.  General Tran Do of North Vietnam acknowledged that the offensive failed to achieve its objectives, but noted that the public reaction in the United States was "a fortunate result."
An American victory, a great American victory, became a defeat in the eyes of many because Johnson and General Westmoreland had been too optimistic in what they told the public.  And also because many journalists covering the war did not recognize that victory, though Willbank does not say so.

Most serious historians would agree that journalists were too optimistic in the early years of the war, and too pessimistic after Tet, that they got the big story wrong both times.  But I don't know of any journalists who have learned from those twin failures.
- 12:32 PM, 7 March 2008   [link]

Best Friends Forever?  Obama supporter Samantha Power reveals her feelings about Hillary Clinton.
Hillary Clinton has been branded a "monster" by one of Barack Obama's top advisers, as the gloves come off in the race to win the Democrat nomination.

In an unguarded moment during an interview with The Scotsman in London, Samantha Power, Mr Obama's key foreign policy aide, let slip the camp's true feelings about the former first lady.
(I don't think Power can recover by saying that she meant a nice monster.)

Clinton supporter Howard Wolfson is more specific.
Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson, taking the campaign a bit meta on a conference call today, attacked Obama for attacking Clinton, and compared him to a notorious Clinton foe.

"When Sen. Obama was confronted with questions over whether he was ready to be commander in chief and steward of the economy, he chose not to address those questions, but to attack Sen. Clinton," Wolfson said.   "I for one do not believe that imitating Ken Starr is the way to win a Democratic primary election for president."
Many Democrats think that Kenneth Starr is something of a monster.  (Though most Republicans would disagree.)

Will Clinton and Obama even be on speaking terms by the August convention?  Maybe not.   Certainly some of their supporters won't be.
- 6:14 AM, 7 March 2008   [link]

Need A Briefing On Tony Rezko And Barack Obama?  You can find a brisk one from the Times of London here, and a more discursive one, with links, from Rick Moran, here.
- 5:13 PM, 6 March 2008   [link]

Need A Quick Summary Of The Democratic Delegate Race?  I found one in the graphic, "Paths to Victory", accompanying this article.

Here are the key paragraphs from the graphic:
If the candidates split the remaining pledged delegates, Mr. Obama would need the support of 35 percent of the superdelegates whose preference is unknown.  Mrs. Clinton would need 65 percent.

If Mr. Obama wins 60 percent of the remaining pledged delegates, he would need 16 percent of the outstanding superdelegates.

If Mrs. Clinton wins 60 percent of the remaining pledged delegates, she would need 46 percent of the outstanding superdelegates.
Assuming, of course, that the already pledged delegates do not shift, net, from one candidate to another.

Next week, I'll have to take a look at the remaining states to see which candidate is the favorite in each state.
- 12:58 PM, 6 March 2008   [link]

Are Republicans People?  Not to Harold Meyerson, leftist columnist at the Washington Post.
In "The Exterminating Angel," a 1962 film by Luis Buñuel, the great Spanish anarcho-surrealist director, the guests at a dinner party find that, mysteriously, they cannot leave.  Though there are no external constraints to their exiting, none can cross the threshold of the music room to which they've adjourned.  For days and days they stay, some growing to hate one another, some lapsing into despair and most eventually determining to sacrifice their host in the hope that killing him will set them free.  (They manage to get out before the host has been dispatched.)

Democratic voters awoke yesterday to find themselves living out a primary season alarmingly like Buñuel's mordant fantasy.  Nobody wished for a process that would roll on through summer or envisioned a contest in which the party's constituencies were arrayed against each other, in nearly equal force and with only minor variations, in state after state after state.  Nobody anticipated that two candidates with no great policy differences would battle it out to no readily apparent resolution.  Yet that's exactly what has happened.  The Democrats are stuck.
Nobody?  If Meyerson knew any Republicans, listened to any Republicans, or read any Republicans, he could find a great many people who are delighted by this development.

I admit to being a little pleased by it myself, because I think that either Clinton or Obama would be a be a disaster as president, and I think a prolonged fight will lessen the chances that either can be elected.  Mr. Meyerson may have trouble understanding that some of us have that view — but we do.  Really.

(I hesitate to give advice to someone with Meyerson's credentials, but perhaps he should spend a little less time seeing art movies, and a little more time studying elementary logic.)
- 7:34 AM, 6 March 2008   [link]

They're Both Right:  Hillary Clinton has been criticizing Barack Obama for ethical lapses and foreign policy inexperience.  Now, Obama is planning to reply in kind.
Barack Obama yesterday went on the attack against Hillary Rodham Clinton, vowing to be more aggressive hammering her ethical and foreign-policy weaknesses.

Obama unveiled the get-tough approach after saying that Clinton's "kitchen sink strategy" of "very negative" late attacks had an impact in her winning Tuesday's Texas and Ohio primaries.

"She has made the argument that she is thoroughly vetted, in contrast to me," Obama told reporters on his campaign jet as it was leaving San Antonio, Texas, for Chicago yesterday morning.

"I think it's important to examine that argument, because if the suggestion is somehow that on issues of ethics or disclosure or transparency, that somehow she's going to have a better record than I have and will be better able to withstand Republican attacks, I think then that's an issue that should be tested."

Obama scoffed when told Clinton again yesterday was touting her experience over Obama's, particularly in foreign policy and national security.
I'm feeling bipartisan this morning, so I am happy to say that I agree with both sets of criticisms.   Both candidates do have ethical problems in their records, and neither has significant foreign policy experience.

And, while I am on the subject, Obama has zero executive experience, while Clinton's executive experience is limited to running the first lady's office and the health care task force.  (Some have been unkind enough to suggest that the latter was not a complete success.)

(Should one count running a national campaign as executive experience?  Perhaps, but most don't.   For what it is worth, Bill Clinton ran a brilliant campaign in 1992, but floundered as president.   His political fortunes improved after the 1994 election when he, as I like to say, gave up being president and went back to running for president almost full time.)
- 5:59 AM, 6 March 2008
More:  An adviser to Barack Obama, Susan Rice, says that neither Clinton nor Obama is ready to be commander in chief.
"Clinton hasn't had to answer the phone at three o'clock in the morning and yet she attacked Barack Obama for not being ready," Ms. Rice said.  "They're both not ready to have that 3 a.m. phone call."
Maybe she's a secret McCain supporter.

(There is some reason to be dubious about Rice as a foreign policy adviser, given her big mistake.)
- 2:59 PM, 6 March 2008   [link]

Four For Four?  Maybe.  If the numbers don't change, all four of the predictions I made Tuesday afternoon will be correct.
Projections released Wednesday afternoon by the Texas Democratic Party based on still-incomplete caucus returns indicated that Obama would receive 98 delegates elected Tuesday to Clinton's 95.

Clinton led Obama in delegates selected as a result of primary voting, 65 to 61, while Obama appears headed for a 37-to-30 edge among delegates selected through the caucuses.
But these are preliminary and partial results, so I am not saying that I was right in my fourth prediction, that Clinton would win the popular vote in Texas, but that Obama would win the most delegates.   Not yet, anyway.
- 5:35 AM, 6 March 2008   [link]

Bring Back Tammany Hall!  From time to time, I have argued that most leftists are actually reactionaries.  That would explain, for instance, their support for 19th century forms of transportation, such as rail transit and trolleys, or their support for the kind of government welfare schemes pioneered by Bismark in 19th century Germany.

But I had not realized that some leftists have gone even farther and want to bring back the bad old days of political machines.  Or, to be more exact, I had not realized that they admit this openly.

For many activists already involved in Democratic politics, the permanent campaign is an extension of their enthusiasm for Howard Dean's reformist candidacy in 2004.  But the emergence of another organization named Blue Tiger Democrats shows that the new efforts actually hearken back to Tammany Hall.

That 19th-century New York political machine may be known for corruption, but it drew its true strength from being a service organization.

(Those who actually know something about Tammany Hall will recall that it was an important political organization until the 1960s.)

But now that David Sirota brings this up, I can see why Tammany Hall appeals to him.  Political machines, such as Tammany Hall, allow insiders to make a living from politics, often a very good living.  The machines subvert elections in many ways, including, from time to time, by ballot stuffing.  But most of all, they try to make voters clients, dependent on the machine for favors, large and small — instead of independent citizens who can fend for themselves.  They try to keep issues out of politics, and discourage voters from paying attention to how the machines enrich those who run them — at the expense of the taxpayers.  A political machine run by leftists would let people like Sirota be supported by the public, without ever really answering to the voters on important issues.

So I can see why David Sirota, and similar reactionaries, would want to bring back political machines.  But I can't see why any voter, who has even a little self respect, would want to help these reactionaries take us back to the bad old days.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(There are, of course, still political machines, though they are far less important than they once were.

If you want to know about the better side of Tammany Hall, you might want to read that little classic, Plunkitt of Tammany Hall, which you can buy here, or download free, in many places, including here.  And I would recommend that everyone read my favorite political novel, Edwin O'Connor's The Last Hurrah, which describes the last campaign of a political boss.

Fun fact:  Speaker Nancy Pelosi's father was an old-fashioned boss in Baltimore.  I have been arguing since 2002 that you can understand her best if you assume that she is imitating her father.  Here's an example, for those who wonder why I came to that conclusion.)
- 2:08 PM, 5 March 2008   [link]

Good Point, Actually:  Even if it comes from a source most Republicans don't trust.
Mrs. Clinton has been enjoying her first real burst of momentum lately, thanks to her new advertisements and speeches questioning Mr. Obama's abilities in a crisis, raising the fact that he has not convened his Senate subcommittee to hold hearings on the Afghanistan war.
No hearings on the Afghanistan war?  Presumably Obama is too busy passing out water bottles at his campaign events to be bothered with such pedestrian matters.

(Obama is chairman of the European Affairs subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations committee.  That would be an excellent place to review what our NATO partners have done — or not done — in Afghanistan.)
- 10:30 AM, 5 March 2008   [link]

Predictions:  First, a caveat.  These predictions are not based on any formal analysis; I just glanced at the Real Clear Politics web site.  But then, as I have been saying all through this primary season, I don't think that the polls in primaries are very good, so there is not much point in doing such an analysis.

First, the two easy ones.  Obama will win yuppified Vermont, and Clinton will win traditional Rhode Island.  (Probabilities 80 percent for each prediction.)

Ohio is more difficult, but her lead there looks big enough to cover any last minute changes.   (Probability 60 percent.)

Texas is the most difficult, and there I am predicting a split decision, Clinton winning the popular vote, and Obama winning the most delegates, as happened in Nevada.  I will not try to explain the system Texas Democrats use to allocate delegates, because I don't understand it, along with at least 99 percent of the country.  But I do think it favors Obama, if only because some of the delegates are allocated in caucuses.  (Probability 55 percent.)

I am not placing any bets on these predictions, and — in my opinion — you shouldn't either.
- 4:07 PM, 4 March 2008
One right so far, according to CNN's projection — but Vermont was the easiest call of the four.
- 4:52 PM, 4 March 2008
In Texas, Obama's lead has shrunk in the last hour.  Ohio has reported too few votes for me to say anything about developments there, though I have seen reports saying that the exit polls showed that Clinton would win the state.
- 6:12 PM, 4 March 2008
Two right so far, as Fox and CNN call Rhode Island for Clinton.  Again, a relatively easy call.
- 6:33 PM, 4 March 2008
Real men don't vote in Democratic primaries?  This evening we are seeing the the same pattern we have seen in earlier primaries:  According to exit polls, women far outnumber men in the Democratic primaries, 59-41 percent in Ohio and 57-43 percent in Texas.  (The corresponding numbers for the Republicans show a closer balance, as they have in previous primaries, with men having the edge 54-46 in Ohio and 51-49 percent in Texas.)  It would be interesting to know how much of that imbalance comes from single women, who are the most Democratic bloc of the four groups, by far.
- 6:46 AM, 4 March 2008
It's McCain in all four states, not that there was any doubt about that result.  Huckabee has conceded.
- 6:57 PM, 4 March 2008
Late deciders for Hillary in Texas?  That's what John Hood says at the National Review.   Those results don't show up at the CNN site, but the results that do would make me hopeful, if I were a Clinton supporter.  For instance, at a glance it looks like Clinton is winning whites and Hispanics by big enough margins to overcome Obama's massive lead among blacks.  Similarly, Clinton is beating Obama among women by about the same margin that he is beating her among men.  But far more women voted in the Texas Democratic primary.  All that that assumes that we can trust the exit polls, which hasn't always been true in the past.
- 7:35 PM, 4 March 2008
Independents voted heavily in all four Democratic primaries.
The primaries in Ohio, Texas and Vermont were open to all voters, while in Rhode Island registered independents could choose which party's primary to vote in.  In the Democratic primaries, independents were about one in five voters in Ohio, one in four in Texas, a third in Rhode Island and four in 10 in Vermont.
Of course, some of those "independents" may actually have been . . . . Republicans.
- 7:45 PM, 4 March 2008
Clinton has taken the lead in Texas.  Maybe those exit polls were roughly right this time.
- 7:59 PM, 4 March 2008
Three right, as CNN is projecting Ohio for Clinton.  About time, too, considering how large her lead there is.
- 8:07 PM, 4 March 2008
Central cities for Obama, the rest for Clinton.  That's the general pattern in both Ohio and Texas, with the rest giving Clinton an easy win in Ohio and, currently, a narrow margin in Texas.  (Exception: Cleveland.  As I write, Clinton has a narrow lead in Cuyahoga County, which contains Cleveland.  But I think her lead in that county will disappear as more of the predominately black precincts are counted.  Cuyahoga County is almost 30 percent black, and I would expect blacks to make up at least 50 percent of the Democratic vote in that county.
- 8:31 PM, 4 March 2008
Late Deciders and the Clinton gains in Texas.  If you have been following the results, you know that Obama jumped out to a large lead in Texas, and then saw that slip away steadily as the evening went on.  In fact, as I write, Clinton has built a lead of almost 60,000 votes.   One possible explanation for this pattern is that Texas precincts mostly counted the early votes first, and then began counting the votes cast on election day.  If that is correct, and these later votes have not mostly come from Clinton strongholds, then Clinton should win the popular vote easily in Texas.   (I glanced over a map of the results and decided that I did not have enough time or knowledge of Texas politics to judge whether the votes were now coming mostly from Clinton strongholds.)
- 9:05 PM, 4 March 2008
CNN calls Texas for Clinton.  If they are right, then I guess I can say I got 3.5 of four predictions right — and we may not know for some time whether I am right on the last .5, that Obama will get more delegates than Clinton in Texas.
- 9:55 PM, 4 March 2008
Morning Updates:  Cuyahoga County did go for Obama, but not by as large a margin as I expected.  The race may have been closer there than I expected because of a sharp racial split in the voting.

Obama is leading in the Texas caucuses, but the count is incomplete and close.  According to CBS, Clinton won 78 delegates in the Texas primary, Obama 70.  Obama still could win a majority of the Texas delegates, though I think that a little less likely than I did last night when I went to bed.
- 5:47 AM, 5 March 2008   [link]

The NYT Thinks We Are Winning In Iraq:  I know that because they just published an article describing the overthrow of Saddam as a liberation.
For that reason, the American liberation tasted sweetest to the Shiites, who for the first time were able to worship freely.
A liberation that brought freedom of worship.  Sounds like a good thing to me.  And it is sweet to see this in a New York Times article.

(The whole article is worth reading, for its description of changes in Iraqi attitudes, changes that bode well for a future Iraq.)

By way of James Taranto.
- 1:24 PM, 4 March 2008   [link]

Innumeracy At The Seattle Times:  Yesterday's newspaper had an op-ed by Gary Locke and Sue Donaldson with an astonishing mistake.

Low-wage workers pay a disproportionate share of their incomes to taxes.  Even if they don't pay any federal income taxes, they pay sales taxes and other consumption taxes such as the gas tax.

Consider that a family balancing its budget on $17,000 a year pays about 18 percent of that income in taxes, while the highest-income family pays only about 3 percent.

(For those not from this area, I should add that Gary Locke was the governor of Washington state from 1997 to 2005, and that Sue Donaldson served on the Seattle city council.  Both are Democrats.)

Put simply, the first number, 18 percent, is plausible; the second number, 3 percent, is completely implausible.

To see why, take a look at the chart accompanying this post.   The lowest income quintile now pays less than 5 percent of their income in federal taxes.  The top quintile now pays more than 25 percent of their income in federal taxes.

Now let's put those numbers together with Locke and Donaldson's numbers.  For the family earning $17,000 to pay a total of 18 percent in all taxes, they would have to pay about 13 percent of their income in state and local taxes.  That sounds a little high to me, but not implausible, since our sales tax rate is about 9 percent almost everywhere in the state.  (Localities add different percentages, which is why there is no single tax rate for the state.)  Food is generally exempt from the sales tax, but cigarettes, beer, wine, and liquor are all heavily taxed.

(If that poor family was a working family with children, they would probably have a negative overall federal tax rate.)

Locke and Donaldson do not define the "highest-income family".  If we take the top quintile to mean the highest-income families, we see that highest-income families in this state must be getting more than 22 percent of their income in tax rebates from the state and local governments!  If by "highest-income" families they mean the top 5 percent or 1 percent, then the rebates must be even larger.

I had no idea that Washington state — which has had Democratic governors since the 1984 election — was so generous to the well off.  Strangely, these massive rebates have been concealed from almost everyone in the state, until now.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(When I saw this op-ed, I thought that the 3 percent might a typo, though it fits the argument Locke and Donaldson are making.  I didn't blog on this yesterday because I thought that the number might be corrected today.  But I couldn't find any corrections in a quick search through today's paper.

Locke and Donaldson do not say where their numbers come from, so it is hard to guess how they made this enormous error.  Most likely, they are cribbing from some leftist study.  Either they did not read the study carefully, or the original analysis was flawed, to say the least.

Even so, the editors at the Seattle Times should have caught this mistake.  And they should print a correction — prominently — right away.)
- 10:46 AM, 4 March 2008   [link]

Ecoterrorists Or Anti-Sprawl Activists?  The New York Times can't make up its mind on the right label for those who set destructive fires just a few miles from where I live.   Here's how the article on the fires describes the likely suspects:
Five luxury homes in a subdivision marketed as "built green" near here were destroyed or severely damaged by fire early Monday, and evidence at the scene suggested the fires might have been started by radical environmentalists who viewed the homes as violating rather than complementing the wooded wetlands in which they were built.
. . .
The message on the [bed] sheet [left at the site] was signed with the letters "E.L.F.," the infamous initials of the Earth Liberation Front, a loosely organized group that has been linked to multiple bold acts of ecoterrorism across the Northwest and elsewhere for two decades.  Banners have claimed E.L.F. responsibility for arsons at other housing developments in the region in recent years, and the fires on Monday came as jurors deliberated in a case involving an arson in 2001 at the University of Washington that was linked to E.L.F.
In contrast, this blog post by John Holusha took a more benign view.
For people who are anti-sprawl activists — or have baser motives — a new-built house sitting empty in a previously rural area evidently makes a ripe target for an attack by fire.

It happened again today north of Seattle, where three of six model homes on a so-called Street of Dreams burned to the ground and a fourth was damaged.  Fire officials said the blazes were deliberately set, and that a sign was found at the scene claiming responsibility and signed E.L.F., which stands for a shadowy group or movement called the Earth Liberation Front.
The "or have baser motives" is meant to imply that the fires may have been insurance fraud, not ecoterrorism.  If you read the comments, you will see that many prefer that explanation to the more obvious one.

Those who set these fires were arsonists and — probably — ecoterrorists.  Their crimes should disgust us, whether the fires were set to protest "sprawl", or, as unlikely as that is, to collect insurance money.  That a journalist at the New York Times does not understand this shows something sad about the newspaper.
- 9:17 AM, 4 March 2008   [link]

The View From Last June:  While cleaning up the bookmarks in my main browser, I came across this opinion piece from just nine months ago.

The author, Christopher J. Fettweis, has credentials; he is an "assistant professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College".  His prediction about the war is clear.
The endgame in Iraq is now clear, in outline if not detail, and it appears that the heavily favored United States will be upset.  Once support for a war is lost, it is gone for good; there is no example of a modern democracy having changed its mind once it turned against a war.  So we ought to start coming to grips with the meaning of losing in Iraq.
And he ends with this grim paragraph:
Either way, the Iraq syndrome is coming.  We need to be prepared for the divisiveness, vitriol, self-doubt and recrimination that will be its symptoms.  They will be the defining legacy of the Bush administration and neoconservatism's parting gift to America.
Fettweis was not alone in this prediction.  David Ignatius, who is more open minded than many journalists, said, at the same time, that we were losing the war.
The photographs gathered by The Post each month in a gallery called Faces of the Fallen are haunting.   The soldiers are so young, enlisted men and women mostly, usually dressed in the uniforms they wore in Iraq and Afghanistan.  What's striking is that most of them were killed by roadside bombs known as improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.

The United States is losing the war in Iraq because it cannot combat these makeshift weapons.  An army with unimaginable firepower is being driven out by guerrillas armed with a crude arsenal of explosives and blasting caps, triggered by cellphones and garage-door openers.
Though he blamed IEDs, not neoconservatives.

Although Fettweis may have been extreme in the way he said it, last June he was almost certainly in the majority in his assessment of the war.

As all of you know, we are now winning the war in Iraq.  As most of you know, the turn in the war came just as the "surge" began, in June of last year.  As some of you know, public opinion has begun to turn around on the war, as the success of our forces become harder and harder to ignore.

We succeeded by doing the opposite of what Fettweis and Ignatius recommended.  Will they, and others who erred in their assessments of the war, admit their mistakes?  Will they credit President Bush for making the correct decisions about strategy?  Probably not, and almost certainly not.

(If you would like a good summary of the trends in the war, with many graphs, you can find it here.

For the record, in January, 2007, I was still predicting an American victory in Iraq.)
- 2:38 PM, 3 March 2008   [link]

Alfred E. Obama?  Not really, but if you look at this picture, and then this picture, I think that you will agree that there is a general resemblance.

No political point, but I thought you might find this resemblance amusing.

(Digression:  years ago, on either my first, or second visit to the Louvre, I came across some painted royal caskets from Lebanon.  The faces on them were dead ringers for Mad magazine's famous star, except, of course, for the missing tooth.)
- 11:12 AM, 3 March 2008   [link]

Will The Democratic Nomination Be Decided In A Non-Smoke-Filled Room?   Looks like it.  I haven't checked Mark Hyman's arithmetic, but his main conclusion has a lot of margin for error.
There is only one thing the public can be certain of regarding the Democratic presidential nomination: without a miracle, there will be a brokered convention.  Senator Barack Obama was leading Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in the delegate count going into the Super Tuesday II primary elections on March 4.   Obama held 1,193 primary delegates to Clinton's 1,038.  The status of the super delegates is meaningless because their pledges today may not carry any meaning come the Democratic nominating convention in Denver during the last week of August.

A Democratic candidate needs to reach a minimum of 2,025 delegates to clinch the nomination outright.   Clinton will not reach that figure before the last primary election is held in Puerto Rico on June 7.   Neither will Obama.  The Illinois senator needs 832 more delegates to reach the magic number of 2,025.  There are only 981 remaining primary delegates that are up for grabs.
Democratic party rules do not allow winner-take-all primaries — a fact some Democrats may be regretting just now.

And, of course, just to make things more complicated, there is the fact that Hillary Clinton would have a slim lead if you counted the delegates from Michigan and Florida.  As I have said before, I can't see any solution to that dispute which does not alienate half of the Democratic party.

(I once stayed at the Blackstone Hotel, which is where the phrase "smoke-filled room" originated.  Alas, I did not think to ask them to show me the actual room.)
- 10:12 AM, 3 March 2008   [link]

Theologian Barack Obama discovers something new in the Sermon on the Mount.
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) told a crowd at Hocking College in Nelsonville, Ohio, Sunday that he believes the Sermon on the Mount justifies his support for legal recognition of same-sex unions.  He also told the crowd that his position in favor of legalized abortion does not make him "less Christian."

"I don't think it [a same-sex union] should be called marriage, but I think that it is a legal right that they should have that is recognized by the state," said Obama.  "If people find that controversial then I would just refer them to the Sermon on the Mount, which I think is, in my mind, for my faith, more central than an obscure passage in Romans."  (See video here)  St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans condemns homosexual acts as unnatural and sinful.
Something almost everyone else had missed for more than two thousand years.

Right now, religious leaders from Pope Benedict to Billy Graham are probably slapping themselves on the sides of their heads and wondering why they didn't think of Obama's interpretation.

This little episode will lead the cynical to suspect that Obama doesn't have any religious beliefs (other than, possibly, a vague deism), that he has been posing as a Christian all these years for political reasons.

(If that intepretation is correct — and I think it is, though I can't prove it — then it shows that Obama is a smarter politician than John Kerry, who ignored the church except during election campaigns.  Smarter, or even less honest, or both.)
- 5:32 AM, 3 March 2008   [link]

Are GM And Ford Making A Comeback?  Maybe.  They do seem to be making better cars and trucks.  Consumer Reports, which is not generally a fan of US car makers, made the Chevrolet Silverado a "top pick" this year, the first time a US manufacturer had broken into that group since 2005.

Consumer Reports also likes the Cadillac CTS sport sedan, rating it third in that category, after the Infiniti G37 and the Acura TL.  And they like the Chevrolet Malibu, giving it a tie for fourth place in the family sedan category, a tie with the Toyota Camry.

Consumer Reports says in their current auto issue that Ford is one of the better brands for reliability, not as good as Honda and Toyota, but better than most other makes.

Consumer Reports isn't the only one to like the 2008 Malibu.  So do journalists who cover the auto industry; they voted it Car of the Year.   Kenneth Chang of the New York Times took several out for long test drives, and loves the way they handle. .
Over all, the Malibu rides more comfortably than the Honda Accord and is far more fun to drive than the standard Toyota Camry.
Individual buyers at Edmunds give the Malibu a remarkable rating for a family sedan, 9.5.

It is too soon to say that they are back, but Ford and GM do seem to be doing the most important thing, improving their cars and trucks.  Maybe the threat of bankruptcy has concentrated their minds.
- 4:40 PM, 2 March 2008   [link]

Some People Are Hard To Satisfy:  For instance, Michelle Obama.   Consider her recent lament, while she was campaigning in Ohio.
Michelle Obama is sitting with a group of six women around a table in the basement playroom of the Zanesville Day Nursery, here in economically troubled central Ohio.  Her talk is of struggle — her own struggle, the women's struggles, the struggles of women across the country.  There are struggles over money, over kids, over jobs, over husbands and ex-husbands.  And perhaps most of all, there is the struggle inside.
. . .
But there are still problems.  As she has many times in the past, Mrs. Obama complains about the lasting burden of student loans dating from her days at Princeton and Harvard Law School.  She talks about people who end up taking years and years, until middle age, to pay off their debts.  "The salaries don't keep up with the cost of paying off the debt, so you're in your 40s, still paying off your debt at a time when you have to save for your kids," she says.
But Michelle Obama has done pretty well, in spite of those student loans
What she doesn't mention is that the helping industry has treated her pretty well.  In 2006, the Chicago Tribune reported that Mrs. Obama's compensation at the University of Chicago Hospital, where she is a vice president for community affairs, jumped from $121,910 in 2004, just before her husband was elected to the Senate, to $316,962 in 2005, just after he took office.  And that does not count the money Mrs. Obama receives from serving on corporate boards.
Unlike the women she was talking to.
So her struggle appears to be somewhat different from the struggles of the women sitting at the table.   In addition to its below-average median household income, Muskingum County's unemployment rate has risen in recent years.  And it is not filled with Harvard-educated lawyers.  According to census data, just 12.2 percent of adults in the county have a bachelor's degree or higher — well below the Ohio and national average.  About 20 percent don't even have a high school degree.  They won't face the wrenching choice of whether to go into hedge fund management or the helping industry.
Michelle Obama — by herself — is earning about ten times as much as the median family income in Muskingum County.  And she is complaining to a group that includes, among others, a hairdresser whose husband has had to commute sixty miles to find work.

The women in the group were polite, but I do wonder what they thought when they heard Michelle Obama complaining about her difficult life.  Byron York's article only includes feedback from one of the women in the group, the hairdresser, who was polite to a fault, just happy that Obama came out and listened to them — even if she spent most of the time complaining.

I am not, and never have been, as wealthy as the Obamas.  But I wouldn't dream of complaining to that group of women.

(Would the University of Chicago Hospital pay her that much if she weren't the wife of a rising young black politician?  I doubt it, just as I am reasonably sure that Hillary Clinton would not have gotten a job at the Rose law firm in Arkansas, had she not been married to Bill Clinton.)
- 2:32 PM, 2 March 2008   [link]

Boys Just Want To Have Fun:  Even if the boys come from a famous family.
It's good fun to be with just a normal bunch of guys, listening to their problems, listening to what they think.  And especially getting through every day, its not painful to be here, but you are doing a job and to be with such fantastic people, the Gurkhas and the guys I'm sharing a room with, makes it all worthwhile.
Prince Harry said that.  And he made it clear in that interview, and other interviews, that he would rather be in the front lines in Afghanistan than in Buckingham Palace.

We are so aware that war is terrible that we forget that some men, some of the time, enjoy it.   As Prince Harry did.
- 1:56 PM, 1 March 2008   [link]