May 2004, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Want To See Some Positive Pictures From Iraq?  I thought you might.  Here's a whole set taken by Robert Alt, with lots of cute kids with American soldiers.  (Via Orrin Judd, who got it from Kevin Whited.)
- 8:02 AM, 8 May 2004   [link]

Sometimes Our Intelligence Operatives Succeed:  As they did, apparently, in the case of the arrested Oregon lawyer.
A lawyer and former Army officer who converted to Islam was arrested as a material witness in the deadly train bombings in Spain after his fingerprints were found on an item related to the attack, federal authorities said.

Brandon Mayfield was taken into custody Thursday by FBI (news - web sites) agents, who also searched his home in the Portland suburb of Aloha.
I don't think they just happened to check for Mayfield's fingerprints.  They must have had some intelligence already connecting him to the Madrid bombings.  What kind of intelligence?   Phone records, possibly.  We may not find out what led them to Mayfield even at the trial, if the authorities have enough other evidence to convict him.

(I saw one of his supporters (a relative, perhaps?) claiming that Mayfield was being arrested because he dislikes President Bush.  No doubt Mayfield does dislike Bush, but so did the Madrid bombers, and so do the men who planned that atrocity.  Disliking Bush is not proof of innocence.)
- 7:37 AM, 8 May 2004
More:  Newsweek says that I am wrong, and that it was just the fingerprint.  I still think our intelligence organizations may have had other evidence.  And there is something very disturbing in the story: the FBI had Mayfield under surveillance but cut that short because they feared that press leaks would blow their cover.
-6:10 AM, 10 May 2004   [link]

Another Good Jobs Report:  April was not, after all, the cruelest month.
Employers added 288,000 jobs to their payrolls in April as the nation's unemployment rate slipped to 5.6 percent, reinforcing hopes for a sustained turnaround in the jobs market that had lagged for so long.

Payrolls have risen now for eight straight months, with 867,000 new jobs created so far this year, the Labor Department (news - web sites) reported Friday.
. . .
The nation's struggling factories also appear to be turning around.  Based on Labor Department revisions, the manufacturing sector added jobs for three straight months, including 21,000 in April.  For the year, manufacturing payrolls are up by 27,000 overall.
. . .
Revisions to payrolls also showed a stronger jobs market than previously reported.  Last month's 308,000 payroll gains were revised up to 337,000.
I have seen evidence of this in my own area, just walking around, with more and more establishments posting help wanted signs in their windows.

As I have been saying since I started my election predictions, I am assuming that the economists are correct in predicting that we will have solid growth this year.  This is more evidence that, for now, they are.  If this job growth continues, it is hard to see how Bush could be defeated in November.

(This evening I may watch Peter Jennings on ABC, just to watch him grit his teeth as he reads this story.)
- 7:20 AM, 7 May 2004   [link]

Iraqis Must Free Iraq:  That has always seemed obvious to me, and so I have been puzzled by some of our policies before and after the war to remove Saddam.   We were slow to organize a military force from the millions of Iraqi exiles, a force which could have provided significant practical help and enormous symbolic help.  Imagine how much propaganda gain we would have gotten from a force of Iraqi exiles marching into Baghdad, under an old Iraqi flag, when the city fell.  This need for a "Free Iraqi" army seemed so obvious to me that I thought its absence showed that, prior to 9/11, the Bush administration had no real plan to remove Saddam.   Planning to free Iraq without a force of Iraqis on our side seemed to make as much sense as planning a dinner party without plates.

Now, I have found this explanation of our policies.   The article, by Michael Rubin, who worked for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, claims that the State Department blocked that force, and many other efforts to give authority to Iraqis who wanted to work with us.  Rubin is giving the Pentagon's side of a struggle between the State Department and the Pentagon, but I think the broad outlines of what he says may be correct.

State Department Arabists have long thought that Arabs were not suited for democracy, and were best managed by indirect control through traditional leaders.  Now that policy may make sense in some Arab countries where the tribes control everything and the level of education is low, Yemen, for instance, but it may be wrong for Iraq.  (In general, for a country to be a successful democracy, its citizens should have more than a minimal level of income and education.)  Bush's policies in Iraq may be being sabotaged by State department officials who look down on Arabs and despise Bush.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Ryan Crocker became both Garner and Bremer's governance director.  He handpicked the political team, staffing it almost exclusively with career Near Eastern Affairs diplomats and members of the Policy Planning Staff.  I have worked on the Iraqi issue for several years, and knew many of the diplomats and analysts from de-briefings following the academic year I spent teaching in Iraqi Kurdistan.  Few supported Bush administration policy.   In a seminar I attended before joining government, one U.S. diplomat spoke about the fallacy of regime change in Iraq.  Several diplomats openly disparaged President Bush.  One high-ranking career diplomat spoke of his affection for Howard Dean.  I was surprised to see that a particular British analyst had joined the governance group.  Shortly before the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, he had argued that any Saddam replacement would be "as illegitimate as Israel."  Rather than promote democrats and liberals, the Crocker team sought to stack the Governing Council with Islamists, Arab nationalists, and tribal leaders; they largely succeeded.
. . .
The State Department's war against Iraqi democracy is long, and often goes untold as reporters trade objectivity for access to colorful "unnamed senior State Department officials."  There is a history of making the wrong decisions.  The U.S. military's civil-affairs units generally did a stellar job of setting up provincial and town councils.  These councils became the locals' receptacle for complaints about everything from property restitution to decrepit infrastructure to the failure to implement de-Baathification.  But Bremer's office refused to give local councils budgetary authority to address their constituent's concerns.
Let me repeat that this is a salvo in a bureaucratic war; I would like to know more before I decided that Rubin was entirely right about the State Department's culpability.  But it does fit what I know about the Arabists in the State Department, and it does explain some of the policy fumbles.

(There is a legitimate argument about whether democracy is possible in Iraq, or whether, as John Kerry has said, we should strive for stability instead.  I may come back to that if I can find a good review of the comparative politics studies of the question.)
- 6:15 AM, 7 May 2004   [link]

Atrocities In World War II:  I was going to leave discussion of the months old story of the abuses, and perhaps worse, at the Abu Ghraib prison to others.  I have no special expertise in prisons, and, despite the enormous publicity, the story did not seem as important to me as many others, where I do have more to say.  But the media storm has gotten so violent that I thought I should try to give some historical perspective.  (And, unfortunately, put off some posts that I would rather do.)

Now when you try to give historical perspective, you run the risk of sounding like an apologist for abuses, perhaps torture, and possibly even killings.  So let me start by saying that, from what I have read, much went on in the prison that was wrong, that prisoners were treated in ways that can not be condoned.  And there may be worse to come, as we learn more about what happened.

From what we know so far, it appears that the military did the right thing as soon as the abuses were brought to the attention of the authorities.  Here's a brief summary from a Wall Street Journal editorial.
For a sense of proportion, let's rehearse the timeline here.  While some accusations of abuse go back to 2002 in Afghanistan, the incidents at Abu Ghraib that triggered this week's news occurred last autumn.  They came to light through the chain of command in Iraq on January 13.  An Army criminal probe began a day later.  Two days after that, the U.S. Central Command disclosed in a press release that "an investigation has been initiated into reported incidents of detainee abuse at a Coalition Forces detention facility."  By March 20, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt was able to announce in Baghdad that criminal charges had been brought against six soldiers in the probe.
Anyone familiar with bureaucracies will know that internal bad news does not always produce swift investigations.

Having said that the abuses were wrong, but that so far the military response seems to have been correct, let me turn to my historical point.  Everyone is familiar with the atrocities committed by the Nazis, many are familiar with the atrocities committed by the Japanese, and some know about the atrocities committed by the Soviets, but not many realize that American troops committed atrocities, too.  Not on anything like the scale of those others, but atrocities nonetheless.  To show what happens when you send large numbers of armed young men into a foreign country, I will take some examples from Rick Atkinson's fine history of the North African campaign, An Army at Dawn.  

General George Patton understood what soldiers might do, and so when he first addressed the officers before the expedition left, he began by telling them that he would shoot any soldier who molested a Moroccan woman. (p. 37)  And he and other generals followed that policy.  During the war, 140 GIs were executed for rape or murder. (p. 463)

During the North African campaign, many American soldiers came to despise the Arabs, because of their constant thievery and the support, by some Arabs, of the Nazis.
"We became ruthless with the Arabs," a 1st Division soldier wrote.  "If we found them where they were not supposed to be, they were open game, much as rabbits during hunting season."
Arab villages were burned when the villagers were suspected of helping the Germans.  One man got drunk and shot three Arabs, killing two.  He was given a dishonorable discharge and sentenced to 20 years at hard labor.  Others, however, were able to escape any punishment at all.  American soldiers ravaged the village of Le Tarf but escaped punishment entirely, as far as Atkinson can tell. (pp. 462-463)

American soldiers did not always accept surrenders, instead killing those who came forward.   This was especially likely to happen after a feigned surrender, in which a German soldier pretended to surrender in order to get close enough to attack Americans.  Or after an especially bitter fight. (pp. 509-510)

By the end of the campaign, the allies had captured about a quarter of a million German and Italian prisoners.  Many were treated horribly, especially by our French allies and the Arab and Senegalese guards they employed.  The prisoners received little to eat, had no blankets or shoes for months, were threatened with homosexual rape by their Arab guards, and were used to clear minefields.   At one camp, when Americans began to turn over prisoners to the French, the prisoners begged them not to, one even asking to be shot instead.  (We know all this in part because of an official investigation, by the way.)

Now to say all this is not to excuse the abuses at Abu Ghraib.  But we should understand that they are far smaller than those committed by our own troops in World War II, and that military authorities, again from what we now know, reacted quickly and appropriately to the abuses committed by a small number of soldiers.
- 4:32 PM, 6 May 2004
More:  Here's an AP story with more examples of prisoner abuse from other wars.  Curiously, the article doesn't mention the abuse of prisoners on the Eastern Front in World War II, which occurred on a scale that still boggles the mind.
- 5:21 AM, 7 May 2004   [link]

President Bush, I have argued for some time, is a natural politician.   Here's an example of him reaching out, and touching some one.
Lynn Faulkner, his daughter, Ashley, and their neighbor, Linda Prince, eagerly waited to shake the president's hand Tuesday at the Golden Lamb Inn.  He worked the line at a steady campaign pace, smiling, nodding and signing autographs until Prince spoke:

"This girl lost her mom in the World Trade Center on 9-11."

Bush stopped and turned back.

"He changed from being the leader of the free world to being a father, a husband and a man," Faulkner said.  "He looked right at her and said, 'How are you doing?' He reached out with his hand and pulled her into his chest."

Faulkner snapped one frame with his camera.

"I could hear her say, 'I'm OK,' " he said.  "That's more emotion than she has shown in 2 1/2 years.  Then he said, 'I can see you have a father who loves you very much.' "
I think Bush was genuinely touched, as the best politicians often are.  Certainly the Faulkners think so.
"The way he was holding me, with my head against his chest, it felt like he was trying to protect me," Ashley said.  "I thought, 'Here is the most powerful guy in the world, and he wants to make sure I'm safe.'  I definitely had a couple of tears in my eyes, which is pretty unusual for me."
. . .
"I'm a pretty cynical and jaded guy at this point in my life," Faulkner said of the moment with the president.  "But this was the real deal.  I was really impressed.  It was genuine and from the heart."
It is easy to be cynical about politicians, but not always right.
- 9:04 AM, 6 May 2004   [link]

Remember Joseph Wilson, IV?  He's the former diplomat who made a farcical investigation into the possibility that Saddam had tried to buy uranium from Niger.   After that, when many wondered why he had been chosen for this delicate task, Robert Novak was told by an official that old fashioned nepotism was the reason; Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.   Since she was technically an undercover operative, Novak's column broke her cover.  (There is some dispute about how many knew that she worked for the CIA, which is why I say "technically".)

After the column came out, Wilson threw a tantrum, accusing Bush officials of leaking her cover in order to get back at him for his silly investigation.  He was quite specific in his accusations, naming "Scooter" Libby of Dick Cheney's staff and Karl Rove as a prime suspects.  I didn't follow the matter closely, but I recall being bothered by the fact that Wilson seemed to have no evidence for his accusations.  Now his book is out, and here's what Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times says about that question.
The book, however, serves up little but Mr. Wilson's own speculation and a rehash of material familiar from newspaper and magazine articles.

He asserts that in retaliation for his criticism of the administration's war plans and rationales, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, and Mr. Bush's political guru Karl Rove played key roles in orchestrating attacks against him, and suggests that Mr. Libby was "quite possibly the person" who exposed his wife's identity.  He adds that Elliott Abrams, a Reagan administration official who was involved in the Iran-contra affair and who now works in the National Security Council, might have been involved as well.

No solid evidence is served up to support these charges.  All three men had been the object of speculation in the press, and a White House spokesman said last fall that none had been involved in the leak.
So, if Wilson has any "solid evidence" for his slanderous charges, he has kept it to himself.  Some might think that just a tad irresponsible.

(Kakutani repeats an almost universal error, saying that President Bush alluded to possible uranium purchases from Niger in his 2003 State of the Union speech.  Not so, as I have explained more than once.  Just scroll down for the most recent post.)
- 8:01 AM, 6 May 2004   [link]

German Apprenticeship Systems are something I have admired for a long time, possibly, I must admit, because I don't know much about them.  But sometimes, in their thorough way, the Germans may go too far.
German brothels are to be ordered to offer work experience and trainee posts if they want to continue doing business.

According to a draft bill that has been agreed by the coalition government, all companies with more than 10 staff members must provide work experience and training places.

And brothels are no exception, says the German Ministry for Education, Training and Research.
Some Green party members are objecting, but not for the reasons that you might expect.  No, what bothers them is the possibility that the brothels might keep their staffs smaller than 10 in order to escape the regulation.

To be fair, the government is not actually proposing training systems for prostitutes.
The Ministry added that because prostitution was not a profession as such, the trainee and work experience posts offered by brothels should be for people working alongside the prostitutes as waiters and waitresses, book-keepers or sales and marketing staff.
Apparently, the idea that prostitution is the oldest profession is not common in Germany.
- 2:59 PM, 5 May 2004   [link]

Third Election Prediction:  Two months ago, I made my first formal election prediction.  Last month, I repeated the prediction, again saying that George Bush would win re-election with 59 percent of the two party vote — given two assumptions:
First, my assumptions.  I am going to assume that the consensus among economists is correct and that the next 8 months will show solid economic growth and gains in employment.  I am also going to assume that there will not be anything dramatic like another massive terrorist attack on the United States or a war somewhere that involves the United States.  To some extent these two assumptions balance each other.  If the economy does not perform well, Bush will be hurt; if something dramatic happens, Bush will probably be helped.  (Almost all dramatic foreign events, even disasters like the Bay of Pigs invasion, help the president at least in the short term.)
So, my prediction is conditional.  I think the assumptions are probable, but not certain.  The latest gains in employment give me more reason to think that the first is correct.

This month, I am changing my prediction, very slightly.  I am now predicting — given those two assumptions — that Bush will win 58 percent of the two party vote.  I am lowering my estimate because of the recent events in Iraq.  Those who want Bush to lose, from the heads of most terrorist networks to the heads of most broadcasting networks, understand that they can hurt Bush's prospects by making the situation in Iraq worse, or look worse.  They have begun to do so.  Everything else in my analysis is unchanged.

(Some argue that terrorists do not want Bush to lose since he is such a wonderful propaganda target for them.  I don't doubt that a few terrorists feel this way, but am sure that most simply want to defeat Bush, if they can't kill him.  Terrorists celebrated the defeat of the pro-American government in Spain, even though that removed another propaganda target for them.  In a later post, I will have more to say about the awkward position Bush's political enemies are in.  They know that they will benefit from bad news from Iraq, but can not cheer bad news openly.)

(As before, let me review some of the other predictions.  Ray Fair has updated his economic model and is now predicting that Bush will win 58.74 percent of the two party vote, up from 58.68.  The Tradesports betters gave Bush a 62.2 percent chance of winning last time; when I checked this morning, they were giving him a 59 percent chance, slightly lower.  Ron Faucheux of Campaigns and Elections has lowered his prediction, and now gives Bush a 52.9 percent chance to win, down from 54.5.  The options market run by the University of Iowa has improved slightly for Bush; as of this morning, Kerry has a 46 percent chance to win, down 1 percent from last time.

Finally, here's Scott Elliot's current election projection, which is not a prediction but a measurement of where we are currently. His latest still puts Bush ahead in the electoral college, but behind in the popular vote.)
- 8:54 AM, 5 May 2004   [link]

Almost Unfit To Print:  The attack on John Kerry's service in Vietnam by all his former commanders and many others who had served in Swift boats got no coverage at all in the Seattle PI this morning, only this story in the Seatle Times, limited to a discussion of his disputed Purple Heart, a soft story in the New York Times, and a somewhat better one in the Washington Post.

In this March post, I noted that there were three narratives about Kerry and Vietnam, the one he tells about his service, a more critical one about his service there, and one about his anti-war activities later.  At that time, I was inclined to believe Kerry's version of his Vietnam service.  Now, I think the evidence favors the competing narrative, a much less admirable story.  It is not, I think, chance, that led the newspapers to skip or downplay this story.  Kerry has based so much of his campaign on his own narrative.  Shouldn't journalists tell us that there is doubt about the truth of that story?

What should newspapers include?  The key sound bite, for one thing, that his former commanders believe that Kerry is "unfit to be commander in chief".  The fact that every commander signed the letter.   The questions about Kerry's first Purple Heart.  And, most of all, the questions raised about his character then, and perhaps now.

The third narrative, about John Kerry's years of anti-war activism, during which he slandered American troops many times, is of more interest to me.  But of almost no interest to journalists, from what I can tell.

(I should add, as I usually do, that I believe that service as an enlisted man or low ranking officer does not tell us much about a man's fitness to be president.  It is, I think a plus, but a small plus, just as running a small business would be a small plus.)
- 7:45 AM, 5 May 2004
More:  Still no story in either Seattle paper.  I'll try sending each a letter with the facts.  Maybe I am paranoid, but I don't think the letters will be published.
- 6:43 AM, 6 May 2004   [link]

Newspaper Circulation Down, Again:  In general, you would expect newspaper circulation to grow with growing population and with the higher levels of education.   Instead, it has been declining for years, and in the latest half year it continued to decline.
The Newspaper Association of America said that when it combined circulation statistics from 836 newspapers that are tracked by the audit bureau, the average daily circulation was 50,827,454 for the six-month period ended March 31, a slight 0.1 percent loss over the period a year ago.  The audit bureau tracks Sunday circulation for 659 newspapers, and their average circulation was 55,075,444 for the period ended in March, a 0.9 percent loss over the period a year ago.
The exceptions, the newspapers that gained, may shed some light on why most lost circulation.  USA Today, a moderate newspaper, gained 2.2 percent in daily circulation.  The New York Post, a conservative newspaper, gained 9.2 percent in daily circulation.  The Daily New, a liberal newspaper, gained 1.4 percent in daily circulation.  With the exception of the Wall Street Journal, which began counting on line subscriptions, no other newspapers in the top 20 gained as much 1 percent in circulation, which is about what one would expect from population growth alone.  Several liberal newspapers, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution lost more than two percent of their daily circulation in the last six months.  (The Arizona Republic lost 4 percent of its circulation, but I am not sure where it is on the ideological spectrum.)

The number that stands out is the gain for the New York Post.  Operating in a famously liberal city, the Post has almost caught its tabloid competitor, the Daily News.  Is this because the Post carries a strongly conservative message?  I think that's part of the reason.

Some smaller numbers are interesting, too.  The New York Times did eke out a gain of .3 percent in daily circulation.  Perhaps firing executive editor Howell Raines, a man loathed by most conservatives, helped.  In this area, the Seattle Times, a moderate left newspaper, lost 1 percent of its daily circulation and the Seattle PI, a far left newspaper, lost 3 percent, just what one would expect if ideological mismatch was driving readers away.

(Here are the circulation numbers for the top 20 newspapers and here's the Seattle Times article with the local numbers.)
- 1:29 PM, 4 May 2004   [link]

"Unfit To Be Commander In Chief":  There is another puzzling aspect about Kerry's constant harping on his Vietnam service.  It reminds Vietnam veterans of what he did after his service.  Many think that Kerry slandered them as an anti-war activist.  (And it doesn't help with Vietnamese-Americans, either.)  Most political tacticians would, I think, advise Kerry not to reopen those wounds.

Today, a group of those veterans are releasing a letter condemning John Kerry.
Hundreds of former commanders and military colleagues of presumptive Democrat nominee John Kerry are set to declare in a signed letter that he is "unfit to be commander in chief."  They will do so at a press conference Tuesday in Washington.

"What is going to happen on Tuesday is an event that is really historical in dimension," John O'Neill, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Navy as a PCF (Patrol Craft Fast) boat commander, told  The event, expected to draw about 25 of the letter-signers, is being organized by a newly formed group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

"We have 19 of 23 officers who served with [Kerry].  We have every commanding officer he ever had in Vietnam.  They all signed a letter that says he is unfit to be commander in chief," O'Neill said.
I feel safe in predicting that this will not receive much news coverage from the "mainstream" media.   The group claims, by the way, that Kerry has not released all his military records.

(Here's the group's site, a Wall Street Journal op-ed by John O'Neill, who organized this protest, and a reply from . Joe Conason in Salon, written before the letter was released or O'Neill's op-ed appeared.  Conason seems to think that he can refute their arguments by showing that some of those signing the letter are — Eek! — Republicans, which may work with Salon readers, but is unlikely to appeal to independents and fair minded people generally.)
- 9:25 AM, 4 May 2004   [link]

Those Puzzling New Kerry Ads:  John Kerry has just started a new and very expensive ad campaign, trying to convince the voters that he served in Vietnam.
"We really have just begun to introduce him," said Kerry strategist Tad Devine, explaining why the campaign is investing so heavily in publicizing such oft-repeated facts as Kerry's decorated service in Vietnam.  The 60-second spots, touting "a lifetime of service and strength," will air on national cable channels and in 19 contested states -- expanded to include Louisiana and Colorado.
I find the ads puzzling because they say little about what Kerry has done as a political leader, or would do as president.  The first problem may be inescapable, since his record of political achievements is so thin.  (Although it is strange that the ads, at least the one I saw, do not even mention his one executive office, Massachusetts Attorney General.  I'd love to know more about how he performed there.)  Though his achievements are thin, he is still free to make promises, freer in fact as a challenger than he would be as an incumbent.  But the ads contain no promises.

Perhaps what motivates these ads is Kerry's DYKWIA problem.  According to talk show host and columnist Howie Carr, Kerry often claims privileges by asking: "Do you know who I am?"  Kerry seems to believe that, if we know who he is, we will let him go to the head of the line, or become president, or whatever.  It is an odd aristocratic sentiment for a democratic politician in modern times.  And it explains the curious line in one of the ads, mentioning that Kerry was born in an Army hospital in Colorado.  Claiming credit for where you are born — however bizarre that may seem to most of us — makes sense to a man who sees himself as entitled to office because of who he is, not what he has done or promises to do.
- 8:15 AM, 4 May 2004
More:  I found the ads puzzling; William Saletan and Jacob Weisberg, writing for the mostly liberal Slate web site, think the ads are misleading.
Of course, everything I've absorbed about Kerry from these ads is basically false.  His dad wasn't an Army guy from the Rocky Mountains.  He was a patrician diplomat from the East Coast, who raised his family in suburban Boston; Washington, D.C.; and Europe.  John wasn't a scholarship kid at Yale.  He was a privileged preppie from St. Paul's.  He was opposed to Vietnam before he even went and volunteered partly, as he says, out of an idea service to country but also out of evident political ambition.  When he got home, he was an antiwar activist, who threw his own or someone's else's medals or ribbons on the steps of the Capitol.  He's not a conservative or even a centrist.  In fact, he has a voting record as liberal as that of anyone in the Senate.  He and McCain weren't trying to find lost POWs and MIAs in Vietnam.  They were trying to prove there weren't any and thereby put the Rambo fantasy to rest.  He voted for Clinton's 1993 economic plan, but to say that this act was responsible for creating 20 million jobs is an enormous leap, as is Kerry's contention that he cast the deciding vote (so did 50 other people).  His daughter isn't related to his wife, and his wife is a tart-tongued jet-setter worth $500 million.

In other words, these ads are masterpieces of indirection.  They paint an almost entirely fictitious portrait of Kerry without saying anything that is explicitly untrue.
"Almost entirely fictitious portrait".  That's harsh.  (To be fair, I should add that Saletan and Weisberg say that the Bush ads against Kerry are equally misleading.)
- 9:31 AM, 5 May 2004   [link]

George Bush Didn't Say that Saddam bought uranium in Niger, or even sought it there, but former ambassador Joseph Wilson IV, who has criticized Bush for inflating intelligence, especially on Niger, did say that.   It's even in his new book.
It was Saddam Hussein's information minister, Mohammed Saeed Sahhaf, often referred to in the Western press as "Baghdad Bob," who approached an official of the African nation of Niger in 1999 to discuss trade -- an overture the official saw as a possible effort to buy uranium.

That's according to a new book Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former ambassador who was sent to Niger by the CIA in 2002 to investigate reports that Iraq had been trying to buy enriched "yellowcake" uranium.
(In Friday's "Best of the Web", where I found this, James Taranto seems to think that Wilson has changed his story.  But I am fairly sure that Wilson has said this before, more than once.)

So, Wilson goes farther than Bush did, but accuses Bush of exaggerating intelligence, for saying something similar, but less specific.

What exactly did Bush say in his   2003 State of the Union speech?   Here's the key paragraph.
The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in the 1990s that Saddam Hussein had an advanced nuclear weapons development program, had a design for a nuclear weapon and was working on five different methods of enriching uranium for a bomb.  The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.  Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production.  Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities.  He clearly has much to hide.
Note the qualifiers, note the attribution of many of the claims to other organizations.  Bush is not saying "we know", but "we have been told".  You'll see that all through the parts of the speech that discuss Saddam's weapons.  It was a much more — pardon the term — nuanced speech than many on the left seem to think.
- 2:57 PM, 3 May 2004   [link]

An Apology And Thanks:  My apologies for not posting much in the past few days and for getting behind in my email.  I have been busy with the photo work, mentioned below, and searching for a new car, something I find considerably less pleasant than root canal surgery, since it lasts longer.

(One of the most aggravating parts of the car search, for me, is the lack of good information.  For instance, Consumer Reports does a yearly customer survey.  I buy it whenever I start thinking about a buying a car and am annoyed by its defects every time.  They get a very large number of replies from their subscribers (more than 675,000, they say), but I am certain that those replies are biased in a number of ways, and misleading in others.

They are biased, I think, for several reasons.   For example, would you be more likely to fill out the questionnaire if you had problems or did not?  I think that most of us would be more likely to take the time if we had problems.  And then people are more likely to fall in love with some models, which would make them understate the problems on those cars.  (I think that has happened with Subarus, for instance.)  People bring different expectations to different models, expecting, for example, higher quality from luxury models than cheaper cars.  A Lexus owner might be outraged by a defect in finish that an Aveo owner would ignore.

The reports are misleading because, just as owners bring different expectations to different brands, they treat them differently.  I am almost certain that cars with high reputations for reliability, such as the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord, get those reputations in part because they attract owners who care for them diligently.

Now I can make guesses to correct for factors like those, but it is not like having the data from, for example, a fleet of cars, all cared for by the same mechanics.

And Consumer Reports makes it worse by not reporting their raw data.  They get more than 675,000 responses, but do not tell you how many they get for each brand and year.  They do say, for some brands and years, that they don't have enough replies to make a rating, but I have never seen them say what their cut off is.

This time the decision is even worse, because I don't really have to have a car. Since I commute to work by walking from my kitchen to my study, I don't have to make the qualities of the car in commutes the center of my decision, which means I have many more choices than in the past.   Right now I am looking at the Honda Civic, the Ford Focus, and similar cars, and have begun to think about the Honda CR-V (most likely used).  But I can imagine buying an older boat of a car or small pickup or van, too.)

On Saturday, I forgot to mention that April set another monthly record for traffic at the site.   Thanks to all who visit.
- 10:06 AM, 3 May 2004   [link]

Immigration And Pay For Unskilled Jobs:  On Saturday, while I was unsuccessfully trying to take pictures for another photo essay on Seattle problems, I ran across a small May Day demonstration.

(The demonstration drew more people than the picture suggests, perhaps 100-150.  There were more people to the left of the picture, and there was a row of tables with books and pamphlets to the right.)

The demonstration was sponsored by a far left group or groups, probably including the Workers World Party.  Much of the program was in Spanish and so I was not entirely sure what they were advocating, but two things came through.  They wanted open borders ("Justice") and a much higher minimum wage, or a "family wage" as they called it ("Jobs").  The problem is that those two are, by themselves, incompatible.   Allowing unskilled workers to flood into the country cuts the incomes for those already here.   Supply and demand works in labor markets, just like other markets.  There are ways to have both, but those ways require stringent controls.

It is strange that the effect of immigrants, legal and illegal, on the pay of those already here has drawn so little public discussion.  "Outsourcing" is already a hot political issue, but what one might call "insourcing", the displacement of poor American workers by even poorer immigrants, many of them illegal, has not.  (I know that "insourcing" has another meaning, but used it here for the parallel, and because I don't know of another word for this.)  It is hard not to think that "outsourcing" has drawn attention because it sometimes affects middle and upper class people like journalists and politicians, while "insourcing" does not.

This indifference is not because the public is unconcerned; polls show very high levels of unhappiness with the flood of immigration into the country, but elite opinion leaders are not willing to say much about it beyond platitudes.  Fear of being tagged as racists may be one reason for their silence, but I do think that class prejudice plays a part, too.

(If you are wondering what I had planned to photograph, I was looking for signs of Seattle's failures, especially the large number of homeless in many of the downtown parks.  They were there, but I did not see the pictures that I wanted.  I'll try again some time, maybe on a week day.)
- 7:48 AM, 3 May 2004
More:  An expert on the effects of immigration on wages has some numbers.
Two decades of growth in the supply of immigrant workers cost native-born American men an average $1,700 in annual wages by 2000, a top economist has concluded.

Hispanic and black Americans were hurt most by the influx of foreign-born workers, says a report by Harvard University's George Borjas, considered a leading authority on the impact of immigration.
. . .
His study of two decades of wages concluded that U.S.-born high school dropouts suffered the most -- a 7.4 percent drop in annual wages by the year 2000.  For high school graduates and workers with some college, the loss was a little more than 2 percent.  And for college graduates, wages were held back an average 3.6 percent.
. . .
"The reduction in earnings occurs regardless of whether the immigrants are legal or illegal, permanent or temporary," said Borjas, an immigrant from Cuba.  "It is the presence of additional workers that reduces wages, not their legal status."
Economists disagree on the amounts, but most, from what I can tell, agree on the direction.   American wages are lower, especially for those with less education, than they would be if we had less immigration.
- 7:32 AM, 4 May 2004   [link]

Did You Get An Income Tax Cut?  You did if you paid income taxes.   (There may be a few exceptions.  You'd have to know more about tax law than I do to be sure.  Long ago, I decided that I could have a deep understanding of tax law, or have a life, but not both.  I chose the second.)

The first set of Bush tax cuts established a new 10 percent bracket at the bottom.  Last year that bracket was expanded from $6,000 to $7,000 for single filers and from $12,000 to $14,000 for joint filers.  That change alone meant tax cuts for all (or nearly all) of those who paid income taxes, as compared to the rates in 2000.

But many voters don't think they received a tax cut.
The Bush administration cut the federal income tax rates across the board last year, but try getting taxpayers to believe that.

Most of them seemed less than grateful in an April poll by the National Annenberg Election Survey at the University of Pennsylvania.  Only about one in 10 said they were paying less in federal taxes this year than last because of the cuts.  When The New York Times/CBS News Poll in March asked respondents how Bush policy affected their federal tax bills, only 22 percent said it lowered them; 46 percent reported no change, and 25 percent actually blamed Mr. Bush for higher taxes.

Those answers may seem bizarre, but they're not unexpected.  Voters routinely refuse to believe they've received tax cuts.  Many don't know how much they pay in federal income tax, and many don't notice the effects because they're partly offset by higher local taxes or Social Security payments.  The conventional wisdom among pollsters is that voters can get incensed at increases but don't get correspondingly excited about cuts.  They hate losses more than they appreciate gains.
Some taxpayers, mostly with low incomes, did not receive tax cuts, because they were already paying no income taxes.  That group is growing, partly because of the Bush tax cuts.
Tax Foundation economists estimate that for tax year 2004, a record 44 million tax returns will be correctly demanding the return of every dollar (or more) that is being withheld from their paychecks during the year.  In other words, after taking all the available credits and deductions, they will owe no income taxes and Uncle Sam may well owe them.  Of course, this is quite different from the situation of people who have paid a great deal in income taxes throughout the year but are getting a small refund because the government withheld even more than the amount due.

The group of zero-tax filers is growing rapidly because of the Bush tax cuts.  It was 29 million in 2000, and it will be 44 million in 2004, a 50 percent increase. (See Table 1.)
At a guess, perhaps 1 in 5 of those who filed in 2004 did not receive a tax cut from the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, because they were already exempted from taxes by the previous laws.  Now since peoples' incomes can shift markedly from one year to another, many of those would have benefited from the Bush tax cuts in earlier years or will in the future.  Guessing again, perhaps 1 in 10, at most, received no income tax cuts at all in the last three years.  Compare that to the poll results and you'll see that very large majorities are confused about the actual effects of the Bush tax cuts.

Karl Rove and company can read these same polls.  It is a bit puzzling that the Bush campaign has not run more ads with examples of working class families benefiting from the Bush tax cuts.   Maybe we'll see them later.
- 6:22 AM, 3 May 2004   [link]

Outsourcing Prayers?  Apparently, it has been going on for years.   And for the same reasons that other jobs are being outsourced, to save money and to make up for a shortage of professionals in wealthy nations.  For example:
It is the 6.30 a.m. in Kerala [India], God's Own Country.

A Holy Mass at the St Joseph Catholic church in Kochi is being conducted. The language is Malayalam, but the intentions are dedicated to a departed soul in Germany.

At the end of the mass, the Catholic parish that conducted it will be richer by 50 euros because it was a memorial service that a German couple had 'outsourced' for their son who died of cancer two years ago.
I'll leave the theological implications of this practice to others, though I must admit it sounds strange to me.
- 8:13 AM, 2 May 2004   [link]

Congressman McDermott's Religious Beliefs:  When Seattle's "Congressman for life" Jim McDermott omitted "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance, he delighted Republican tacticians and horrified Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who called him in for a scolding.   Pelosi, who would like to be Speaker some time, understands that McDermott's stunt will not help in many swing districts.  (Uncharacteristically, McDermott claimed that he had just slipped and used the old version of the pledge that he learned as a child, before "under God" was added.  Usually, he is more honest.)

Most of the news stories followed the usual script, but there was this odd bit at the end of the Seattle Times story that I found fascinating.
"I was a 6-year-old boy when I gave my heart to Jesus Christ," said McDermott, a member of St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle.  "I went to Wheaton College with Billy Graham.  But religion shouldn't be worn on your sleeve.  I don't wear my religion on my sleeve.  I don't think my relationship with God has any place in this."
Those who want to can insert an Episcopalian joke here, but what interests me is that McDermott seems to be implying that, even now, his religious beliefs are not that different from George Bush's.   There's nothing more in the article on the subject, and I suspect that the Seattle Times reporter did not ask follow up questions.

(As it nearly always does when he has misbehaved, the Seattle Times rushed to defend McDermott with an op-ed arguing against including God in the Pledge, and this editorial commending McDermott for backing free trade with poor African countries.  On that, I agree with McDermott and the newspaper, but am amused to see them rush to point out something useful that he has done.  Given how Democratic his district is (Bush got just 21 percent of the vote there in 2000), McDermott is in no danger of losing his seat, but the Seattle Times gets terribly nervous whenever he is criticized.  I have no idea why.)
- 8:04 AM, 1 May 2004   [link]