May 2010, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

39 Percent Isn't A Majority:  Which should worry the Obama administration, but doesn't seem to.
Voters have lost faith in Obama to craft solutions to the country's economic challenges.  Just 39% say they trust Obama more than GOPers in Congress, while 32% say they believe the GOP has the right ideas.  That 7-point gap is down from a 29-point Obama advantage in the April '09 poll.

Only 39% of voters said they would vote to re-elect Pres. Obama if the election were held today, while 50% say they would vote for someone else.   A quarter of voters would definitely vote to re-elect Obama, while 37% would definitely vote for someone else.
Any president would be in trouble with the public with this level of unemployment.  It may be unfair to blame our presidents for business cycles, but many of us do.

But I think that Obama is suffering with the public for other reasons, too.  As do professional pollsters Rasmussen and Schoen.  They were writing last year, but their analysis applies today.

(I do think that Obama and his political team have a plan for 2012, and I'll be speculating about it soon.   Hint:  I think that Obama dislikes Gordon Brown, but will follow the strategy Brown used in recent years.)
- 1:23 PM, 7 May 2010   [link]

So Much For Mindless Extrapolation:  The BBC exit poll seems to have been quite accurate.  (One election was delayed after a candidate died.  It's a strong Conservative constituency, so they will probably win that seat.)

And the British polls generally seem to have done well &mdash with one great exception:  They over-estimated the vote for the Liberal Democrats.
The sharpest difference with the final result is seen in the ratings for the Liberal Democrats, with every pollster over-estimating them by between 3-6%.

The discrepancy with the Conservative vote was the smallest of all three parties.  Two of of the polling companies - ComRes and Populus - were bang on the button.

But Labour's ratings offer the second biggest surprise of election night.

For at least two decades the polls have tended to over-estimate the Labour share at general elections.  But this time, in every case, they have under-estimated it.
Did the pollsters over-correct this time?  Or did they just miss a last-minute swing away from the Liberal Democrats to the Labour?  Or some combination?

(And I learned this morning why about 20 constituencies didn't report last night.  They didn't count the votes until today.  Why the delay in these constituencies?  I have no idea.)
- 8:13 AM, 7 May 2010   [link]

Mindless Extrapolation Of The British Results:  As I write, 454 seats have been decided, and the Conservatives have won 224 of them.  If that were to continue, the Conservatives would win 321 total, just short of an absolute majority.

But they may do a little better.  The early wins were almost all for Labour, or the minor parties, and the Conservatives have been gaining slightly all night since then.  If that were to continue, and I have no strong reason to think it will, the Conservatives might win an absolute majority.  (The BBC has been telling me that there will be a hung parliament, but they haven't backed that claim with any analysis.)

(I do have a weak reason for thinking that the Conservatives might continue to gain.  The Conservative constituencies may be reporting later, on the average, than the Labour constituencies, because they have more votes to count.)
- 9:00 PM, 6 May 2010   [link]

Immigration And The British Election:  I've been watching the BBC coverage of the election for hours now, and they have not mentioned the immigration issue once.

It isn't that the issue isn't important; it was, after all, an objection to the levels of immigration that led Gordon Brown to call long-time Labour supporter Gillian Duffy bigoted.  And British voters are clear enough about what they want, fewer immigrants.
More than three out of four British people think fewer foreigners should be allowed to move to the country, a new poll by YouGov for CNN found Wednesday.

Some 77 percent of the British people questioned say net immigration should decrease or that no immigration should be allowed at all, according to the poll of more than 4,000 people.
That puts them in opposition to the governing Labour party, which, stealthily, vastly increased immigration, in order to change the nature of Britain.  (Why they thought that would be a good idea is unclear; after all, the English, Welsh, Scots, and Irish have been living in close proximity for some time — and don't always get along with each other.  Or so I have heard.)

The Liberal Democrats were open in their desire for more immigration in this election.  And that is no surprise to anyone familiar with their rhetoric, or with Nick Clegg's background.  His mother was Dutch, his paternal grandmother was Russian, and he is married to a Spanish woman.  He has spent much of his working career in Europe and seems, despite his acting ability, more European in some general way, than English.  (As far as I can tell, he has spent little time in the United States, and probably doesn't want to.)

But for the BBC, as for our "mainstream" journalists, any questions about the desirability of more immigration marks one as a racist, and out of the bounds of civilized debate.  Since that position is unpopular with ordinary British citizens, they prefer not to talk about it at all.
- 7:52 PM, 6 May 2010   [link]

Tactical Trivia From The British Elections:  The main British parties actually rate their opponents' seats in order, as targets.  You can see examples in this list, which is sorted, unfortunately for my purposes here, by likely reporting times.

(I don't know why the reporting times vary so much, or so predictably.  The election officers only have one election to count, and the constituencies are roughly the same size, so I would expect most of them to report within an hour or so of each other.)
- 6:40 PM, 6 May 2010   [link]

Election Confusion In Britain:  At some polling places in Britain, voters were rejected at 10 PM, some after standing in line for hours.  And in at least one polling place, they rejected voters because they had run out of ballots.

Elections in Britain are run, at the top level, by a nonpartisan bureaucracy, the Electoral Commission.  At present, I could not give them high marks for their planning for this election.
- 4:13 PM, 6 May 2010   [link]

Two More British Election Predictions:  One from the bookies at Ladbrokes, and one from the statisticians at the "Fink Tank".   (Use the tab on the map to switch between them.)  The "FinkTank" estimate is the most optimistic for the Conservatives that I have seen.

Incidentally, I love those British election maps, partly, I admit, because they use the correct color coding for the main parties.  The Conservatives are blue, Labour red, and the Liberal Democrats, yellow.

(I will admit, reluctantly, that the versions of the maps that use equal-area hexagons for each seat, rather than actual seat boundaries, give a more accurate picture of the party balance.  More accurate, but less fun.)
- 2:44 PM, 6 May 2010   [link]

The BBC/Sky/ITV Exit Poll predicts that the Conservatives will win, but not an absolute majority.
David Cameron will fall 19 seats short of a Commons majority, according to a joint BBC/Sky/ITV exit poll.

The Conservatives would have 307 MPs, up 97 on 2005, Labour would have 255, down 94, and the Lib Dems 59, down 4.  Nationalists and others would have 29.

That means Labour and the Lib Dems together could not have a majority.
American exit polls have been consistently biased in recent elections.  I don't know whether that is true of exit polls in Britain, but I can imagine some of the same factors operating there, as here.

There is one mildly surprising result in the poll.  Recent polls have consistently shown the Liberal Democrats doing better in the popular vote in this election than in the last.  It is not impossible that the party would gain in the popular vote but lose seats, but it seems unlikely.  Or, there may have been a last-minute swing against the Liberal Democrats.
- 2:26 PM, 6 May 2010
Update:  The BBC has changed their prediction slightly, after adding in more exit polls; they are now saying that the Conservatives will win 305 seats, and the Liberal Democrats 61.  (I'm not sure whether I missed the fact that the first results were incomplete, or whether the BBC didn't put that in their first version.)
- 3:28 PM, 6 May 2010   [link]

A Very Quick And Dirty British Election Prediction:  I was interrupted several times today, and interrupted myself several more times, so I don't have time to do a full election prediction, what with the polls closing less than ten minutes from now.

But I will point you to a collection of predictions, almost all of them from people knowing more about British elections than I do.  And I will use those predictions to make my own, very rough prediction.

As I mentioned in this post, in recent elections, the polls have been consistently biased against the Conservatives.  The polling organizations are aware of the bias, and have tried to eliminate it.  I think, judging from Nick Sparrow's discussion, that the organizations have made an honest effort to eliminate that bias, with some success.  But I was not convinced that they really understood the origins of the bias, and so I am expecting them to underestimate the Conservative vote, by a little, again.

I also think that the events of the last few days, definitely including the Greek crisis, have probably helped the Conservatives, a little.

Combining those two, I will guesstimate that the Conservatives will win 38.5 percent of the popular vote, and that they will capture 317 seats, not counting the seats of their allies.  You should not take either of those estimates too seriously because (1) I am at best semi-informed about British politics, (2) the likelihood of tactical voting in three-way races makes it especially hard to predict outcomes, (3) there is good reason to think that many voters are conflicted, so you may have a last-minute swing to one party, and, most important, (4) I simply haven't spent enough time on the problem.

(As always, I have tried to allow for my own bias in making the predictions, but will not promise you that I succeeded.)
- 1:51 PM, 6 May 2010   [link]

InTrade Bettors Are More Optimistic About Conservative Chances In Britain:   Slightly.  One week ago the bettors gave the Conservatives "more an 82 percent chance of winning the most seats in Parliament — but less than a 37 percent chance of winning an outright majority of seats."

As I write, the InTrade bettors give the Conservatives more than a 92 percent chance of winning the most seats in Parliament — but less than a 42 percent chance of winning an outright majority of seats.

(On the second, the bettors are more optimistic about Conservative chances than most of the experts I have seen.  I should have more on election predictions later, hopefully before the polls close in Britain, at 10 BST.)
- 10:43 AM, 6 May 2010   [link]

No American Flag T-shirts On Cinco De Mayo?  (Or Drinko de Mayo, as I like to call it.)  That is, for the moment, the policy of the school administration in Morgan Hill, California.
Five Live Oak High School students' First Amendment rights were challenged this morning when they were asked to leave school because they donned American flag T-shirts on Cinco de Mayo.  Officials at the school chose not to comment on the situation, but one student said an official called the T-shirts "incendiary."

"They said we were starting a fight, we were fuel to the fire," said sophomore Matt Dariano.
That's the view of some students at the school, including Annicia Nunez.

This incident is, in my opinion, a chance for the high school to learn — and perhaps to teach — something about freedom of speech, and the appropriateness of displaying American flags in an American school.  On any school day.

(Cinco de Mayo is an odd holiday, not much celebrated in Mexico, but somehow important in the United States, partly as a chance to celebrate past (or present?) allegiance to Mexico, but mostly as a chance to drink Mexican beer.

Morgan Hill is near Gilroy, home of the famous garlic festival.)
- 8:57 AM, 6 May 2010   [link]

Does Barack Obama Practice The Civility He Preaches?  During the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama was caught, at least twice, surreptitiously giving the finger to his opponents Hillary Clinton and John McCain.

(What happened in each case is that Obama put his hand to the side of his face away from his opponent, with his middle finger extended.  And smiled while he did it.  Some in the audiences understood the gesture the way most of us would, and laughed.  It is possible that he did not mean to make obscene gestures in those debates, but, having watched the videos, I think it unlikely.)

After his election, he chose for his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, whose coarse language and behavior are so well known that even Obama jokes about them.  (A chief of staff is more likely to set the tone for an administration than any other official.)

In his public statements, he again and again questions the motives of his political opponents.

One might think that, with this record, Obama would not be giving us lectures on civility.  But you would be wrong.  Whatever else you may say about him, he does not lack for audacity.  (He has even lectured us on controlling spending.)

Last Saturday, President Obama made civility one of his themes in a commencement speech.  Karl Rove thinks that the speech would have been better if Obama would practice what he preached.  Here are some of Rove's many examples:
For example, last week Mr. Obama suggested that Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell was "cynical and deceptive" in arguing that the administration's financial regulation bill would allow more bailouts "when he knows that it would do just the opposite."  Does implying the Senate GOP leader is a hypocrite and a liar make reaching compromise easier?

Mr. Obama even draws on the Bible for political attacks.  In a teleconference with religious groups supporting health-care reform, he accused opponents of the legislation of "bearing false witness."   Or take last September when, in a health-care speech to Congress, the president—in a single paragraph—accused his critics of spreading "bogus claims" and "lies" and of being "cynical" and "irresponsible."
I am not naive enough to expect anyone, especially a professional politician, to always live up to their own words.  But I do think Obama could do better — if he wanted to.
- 7:45 AM, 6 May 2010   [link]

The Sun Gives British Voters One More Reason To Vote For The Conservatives:  The newspaper doesn't want its Page 3 girls forced on to the dole.
Sixteen Page 3 Girls in all their glory represent the very image of freedom in this country.

But if Labour or the Lib Dems win the election, this could be the last time they are allowed to pose together

MPs Harriet Harman and Lynne Featherstone will move swiftly to change the law and ban Page 3 forever.  Our national treasures - who even enjoy the Royal seal of approval from our future King Prince Charles - will be no more.  And at a stroke the very liberties that put the Great into Great Britain will be torn asunder.
I hadn't realized this was a problem, but as I study the group picture — very carefully, and only for the political message — I can appreciate the argument.

(According to the Guardian, the print version is even better, with all the girls wearing Tory blue.)
- 7:34 PM, 5 May 2010   [link]

How Many Seats Do The Conservatives Have To Win To Form The Next Government In Britain?  Oddly enough, there is no single answer to that question, though you will often see one, even in British papers.

Let's start with the simplest case and work toward the more complex cases.  There are 650 seats at stake in tomorrow's election.  This leads some to say that the Conservatives need to win 326 seats to have a majority.

This is incorrect because, as I mentioned in this post, the Speaker ordinarily does not vote.  So an absolute majority would appear to be 325 seats.  Except, there are currently five Sinn Fein MPs, who refuse to take a loyalty oath, and so are not allowed to vote in the House of Commons.  (They do draw their pay, and have exploited their expense accounts quite, shall we say, skillfully.)

So that gets us down to 644 active seats, making an absolute majority 323 seats.  One of the minority parties, the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party, may support the Conservatives.  They would provide nine or ten seats.  Let's say nine, to be conservative, as seems appropriate.  In that case, Cameron and the Conservatives would have to win 314 seats.

(The DUP has not, according to the Telegraph, set a high price for their votes.  They want public spending in Northern Ireland kept up, no doubt because many of their supporters rely on it.)

So, without the support of the DUP, Cameron and the Conservatives need to win 323 seats; with them, they need to win 314 seats.  Those are the two easy cases.

Now, for the harder ones.

Let's suppose that the Conservatives win a solid popular vote victory, say 40 percent of the total vote, but only 310 seats.  If that happened, Cameron might be asked to form a minority government.  The stability of a minority government depends on the actions of the other parties; in principle, they can always bring it down with a vote of no confidence; in practice they often choose not to, because the voters tend to punish the parties responsible for forcing them to go through another election, especially shortly after the first election.  And, in the British case, because the smaller parties are often at war with some of the other parties in the opposition.  In Scotland, for example, the Scottish National Party sees its main enemy as Labour, followed by the Liberal Democrats.  They might prefer to keep Conservatives in power, rather than join with their main enemies.

Minority governments are common in parliamentary systems, or, perhaps I should say, not uncommon.   And they can be quite successful; for an example, see Canada's Stephen Harper.  But they are usually stop-gaps, while a nation figures out which party it really wants in power.

Now suppose that the Conservatives win a narrow popular vote victory, and the most seats in parliament, but fewer seats than the other two major parties, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, combined.  In that case, almost anything could happen.

In my semi-informed opinion, the most likely outcome would be an alliance of some kind between Labour and the Liberal Democrats.  The least likely would be an alliance between Labour and the Conservatives.  (The Liberal Democrats would want proportional voting as the price of their support to either party; Labour would be more willing to pay that price than the Conservatives.)  It is also possible that the Liberal Democrats would give Cameron tacit support, with some conditions.  Or, and Gordon Brown would hate me for saying this, they might agree to support Labour — if Labour chooses a new leader.

If party leaders were unable to forge an agreement, then Queen Elizabeth might be forced to act, and to ask one of the leaders to become Prime Minister, if only as a caretaker.   As she is well past the ordinary age of retirement, that seems an unfair burden to put on that nice lady.
- 4:57 PM, 5 May 2010
Update:  Lewis Baston agrees with my general argument, and extends it, adding some details.  Here's his conclusion:
A more nuanced idea of where the winning post is on election night is therefore 326 for a technical majority, 320 for an effective majority, 310 for a single party government without agreements with other parties, and around 300 for an undisputed, if provisional, right to govern.
(I should add that I am not sure about the argument in his last two paragraphs, which follow the one I quoted.  Baston admits that it is "perhaps odd" to conclude that a Conservative victory with 300-340 seats would be more likely to result in an early election than victories above and below that.  He may be right, but I will have to think about the second part of that argument for a while before I decide.)
- 10:13 AM, 6 May 2010   [link]

If You Want To Look At The British Polls Yourself, you may want to try this widget developed for the Telegraph.

(I won't guarantee that it will work with your browser.  So far, I have gotten it to work with Internet Explorer and Windows, but not with any other combination of browser and operating system.)
- 2:02 PM, 5 May 2010   [link]

David Cameron Is Promising A "Bonfire" Of Labour Laws:  In fact, he is promising to start with that "bonfire".
The centrepiece of the Tories' Queen's speech, to be held within the next month if the party forms a government, would be a "great repeal bill".

This would scrap ID cards, home information packs and dozens of rarely enforced criminal offences introduced by Labour over 13 years.
That promise warms my heart.

By way of William Jacobson, who heartily approves.

(Cameron is also promising to decentralize the British government by providing for elected mayors in all large cities.)
- 1:32 PM, 5 May 2010   [link]

What Do Nick Clegg And The Liberal Democrats Stand For?  As Britain's perennial third party threatens to become its second (in popular vote, not in parliamentary seats), that question becomes far more important than in previous elections.  Guido Fawkes says that you get one picture from Clegg's appearances on television — and quite another — if you look at the party's manifesto.  The two pictures illustrating his post will make the point clear enough to any American reader.  (I have almost no idea which picture is more accurate, but I will note that Clegg has had considerable experience on stage, so we shouldn't necessarily trust the picture he presents to the public.)

(As you probably guessed, a British party's "manifesto" is roughly equivalent to an American party's "platform".  You can read a summary of the Liberal Democrat manifesto here, or the whole thing here.

Americans will note that the Liberal Democrats do not put much emphasis on getting along with the United States.  In fact, I get the impression that they would be happier in a world that did not include the United States.)
- 9:52 AM, 5 May 2010   [link]

How Good Are The British Polls?  That's the first question that anyone attempting to predict the results of tomorrow's election will want to ask, because the polls are our best source of current data.

In recent elections, as I learned from Mark Blumenthal, the polls have been lousy.

Bias in British polls,  1950-2005

Here's how Nick Sparrow describes his graph:
Chart one shows the average error in the final polls going back to 1950.   The white bar shows the closest estimate and the red bar shows the most inaccurate final poll.  To the right of zero indicates a pro Conservative bias and to the left a pro Labour bias.  A prefect prediction, as achieved by MORI in 1983 and NOP in 2005 means no white bar appears on the chart.  Overall, while the polls show biases both to Labour and the Conservatives, we have to look back to 1983 to find an election when the final polls proved to be too generous to the Conservatives.  Since that time only one final poll, by ICM in 1997 has erred slightly in favour of the Conservatives.
(Emphasis added.)

If that was all we knew, then, in attempting to predict the results of the election, we would simply estimate the bias in the polls, and use that to "correct" their results.

But, as Blumenthal explains briefly in this column, and as Sparrow explains at more length in his paper, the British pollsters have been trying to correct the bias in their polls.  With some success.

Which leaves me in a quandary.  I can assume that there is still bias in the polls and allow for that in my prediction.  Or, I can assume that these professional pollsters have fixed the bias, and just use the polls directly.  Or, I can assume that the pollsters, having been embarrassed time after time, have over-corrected, and are predicting too good results for the Conservatives.  All of those are, in my opinion, reasonable positions.

Having read Blumenthal's column, and skimmed Sparrow's paper, I am not convinced that the British pollsters fully understand why they have been biased in recent elections.  So I am going to assume that there is still a little bias in the polls, perhaps a percent or two.  But I wouldn't quarrel with anyone who wants to assume that they have fixed the bias problem, or even that they have over-corrected.

(Incidentally, the Blumnethal column and the Sparrow paper will give you a good idea of some of the ways political pollsters attempt to correct their raw results.  I have no general objection to such corrections — as long as the pollsters tell us what they are doing.)
- 8:44 AM, 5 May 2010   [link]

In The Rest Of The World, Foreigners Get Asked For Their Papers All The Time:   Travel writer Paul Theroux explains the facts of life to those offended by Arizona's effort to enforce our immigration laws.
These people who are protesting being asked for identification by Arizona cops—have they been anywhere lately, like out of the country?  Like Mexico, or Canada, or India, or Italy, or Tanzania, or Singapore, or Britain—places where people in uniforms have routinely demanded my papers?  Chicago White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen is offended ("as a Latin American") by the Arizona law and recently claimed that all illegal immigrants are "workaholics."  Has he been back to the land of his birth lately, Venezuela, and expected not to be asked for his papers?  Ozzie, tell the police in Ocumare del Tuy, "I"m a Latin American," and see if that will end the interrogation.  And spare a thought for the policeman two days ago who was gunned down in the desert by a workaholic drug dealer.

The request for papers is not just a line in Casablanca.  I have been hearing the question my whole traveling life.  I had an Alien Registration Card in Britain and got occasional visits from the police at my home, to make sure I was behaving myself.  Seventeen years in Britain as an alien: papers.   Six years in Africa: "Where are your papers, bwana?"  Three years in Singapore: another alien identity card and immense red tape in that fussy, litigious bureaucracy.
And in the United States, as everyone here should know:
As for the U.S., it is annoying, but understandable, especially in a country with 12 million illegal immigrants using the public services.  "Who are you?" is a routine question:  The necessity to identify yourself to authority is something that happens every day.  You present a credit card at the supermarket and they want to see your license to make sure you"re not a grafter.  All over the place, renting a car, at the bank:  "I"ll need to see two forms of ID."
This ordinary bureaucratic requirement can be omitted only in small towns (and a few city neighborhoods that operate like small towns) where most people know you personally.

(North Dakota is the only state that does not require voters to register.  They can skip voter registration because:
North Dakota is a rural state and its communities maintain close ties and networks.  North Dakota's system of voting, and lack of voter registration, is rooted in its rural character by providing small precincts.  Establishing relatively small precincts is intended to ensure that election boards know the voters who come to the polls to vote on Election Day and can easily detect those who should not be voting in the precinct.  This network of small precincts reduces the need for voter registration.
People in North Dakota are much less likely to asked to show their papers than people in New York, for similar reasons.)
- 7:33 AM, 5 May 2010   [link]

Not Enough Day Care Centers in Connecticut?  Many of our "mainstream" journalists seem puzzled by the Times Square suspect's motives.  Here, for instance, is a story from the Associated Press, with this headline: "NY car bomb suspect cooperates, but motive mystery"

Perhaps these mystified journalists should take a clue from Washington's wise (though non-Latina) senior senator, Patty Murray.  As you may recall, before her last election, she told a group of high school students that Osama bin Laden had gained support by, among other things, building day care centers for the people.  (Her handlers have been more careful about her public appearances since then.)

The Associated Press, like most "mainstream" news organizations, has fewer people than it once did, but surely they can find someone to check on the availability of day care centers near Faisal Shahzad's home in Connecticut.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 6:37 AM, 5 May 2010   [link]

Vera Baker And Barack Obama?  I had heard, of course, about the gossip that linked the two, may even have heard about it before the National Enquirer published their story.

But I didn't take the story very seriously because there didn't, at least so far, seem to be much evidence, and because such stories always pop up around political campaigns.

But then I saw this denial from semi-official Obama spokesman Marc Ambinder, who assures us at great length that there is nothing to the story.  And then adds this:
It's appropriate to ask the "So what?" question.  So what if Obama did have an affair six years ago?  Well, it's gossip.  It has no bearing on his job as president, but it would tell us something about his life at a critical juncture.  Part of Obama's mainstream appeal, which is code for saying that Obama doesn't scare working class white voters, is that his family is picture perfect.  He does not represent a stereotype.  But Obama didn't falsely create this image.  Whatever happened or did not happen six years ago, his family life is extremely solid today.  All of this discussion is moot, though, because there's absolutely no evidence to suggest that there was an affair.
In short, there was no affair, and it wouldn't matter if there were, and anyway there was no affair.


After reading that, I decided I will have to pay a little attention to the rumor and will be looking, in the British papers naturally, for more evidence one way or another.
- 10:27 AM, 4 May 2010   [link]

Joel Mowbray Thinks We've Been Lucky That So Many Terrorist Attacks Have Failed:  He's right.
The combination of aggressive law enforcement and plain luck have prevented any major, successful attack in the United States since Sept. 11, 2001, but we cannot expect our good fortune simply to continue indefinitely.

Even though the Pakistani Taliban has claimed credit for the car bomb, there is no evidence as yet to substantiate their boast. It should be of greater concern, however, if a "lone wolf" had come that close to wreaking havoc on perhaps the most instantly recognizable neighborhood in America, if not the world.

Consider that Times Square is the hardest of hard targets, with highly trained police officers on every corner. Not only that, but it's in the center of a city protected by the New York Police Department's counterterrorism unit, which is easily the best in a local police force, and arguably even more effective than the FBI's.

Yet, had the bomb been made correctly and detonated as presumably intended, a "significant fireball" could have claimed dozens or even hundreds of lives on the busiest night of the week in Times Square.
As any gambler can tell you, every lucky streak must come to an end, and ours will, some time.

Mowbray makes a crucial point about the threats we will face for decades; lone terrorists can be a worse problem than organized terrorists.

To understand that, think about the problem abstractly.  If one terrorist joins with another, they can pool resources and knowledge, giving them some advantages.  If another joins them, they can get still more advantages.  The larger the organization grows, the more resources and expertise it will have.

So far, the advantages for the terrorists are just like the advantages a nation has in conventional war; the larger the nation, the more powerful it will be.

But for terrorist organizations, there is another side to the problem.  Except in extremely rare circumstances, terrorist organizations will be far weaker than their enemies.  The terrorists can be relatively safe from their enemies only if they have some sanctuary, or if they can stay hidden.

But, the larger the organization, the harder it will be to hide it — and the more it must rely on communications that might be intercepted.  As the size of the terrorist organization increases, it becomes almost certain than one or more of the terrorists will be an enemy agent, or a traitor.  A single agent or traitor can completely destroy a terrorist organization simply by revealing the locations of its members.  (No doubt, many of these organizations attempt to limit that kind of damage by enforcing need-to-know rules, and cell organizations, and so forth, but those damage-limiting efforts are expensive, and make it harder for the terrorist organization to act.)

In short, ten individual terrorists may be more of a threat to us than an organization of ten terrorists, working together.  Even worse would be a situation in which terrorist organizations, based in some overseas sanctuary, provide resources to individual terrorists.  We have already seen a few examples of that kind of cooperation, and I expect that we will see many more.
- 9:46 AM, 4 May 2010   [link]

It Wasn't Just Couric And Bloomberg:  Yesterday morning, I thought it reasonable to be cautious about concluding that the man who planted the Times Square bomb was a Muslim terrorist, with foreign backing.  The amateurish aspects of the crime made it more likely, I thought, that it was a lone terrorist without help.  (I probably should have recalled that many acts of terrorism, or attempted acts, have been amateurish, even when they had foreign backing.  And that this plot had marked similarities to a London attack.)

But I also thought that a Muslim terrorist was the most likely suspect, by far.

That common sense conclusion, available to anyone who has followed the news for the last two decades, eluded some famous people, including Mayor Bloomberg and Katie Couric, and Nancy Pelosi's daughter, Christine, and law professor Timothy Jost, and probably many others.

If you see your real enemies as being American moderates and conservatives, then it will be harder to come to that common sense conclusion, I suppose.
- 8:07 AM, 4 May 2010   [link]

Swingometers And Calculators:  British news organizations are fond of "swingometers", simple devices that show how many seats will be gained by a uniform shift of a percent of the votes from one party to another.  The first swingometers were mechanical devices, but those have been replaced, sadly, by computer programs.   (You can see an example here.)

With three major parties, calculations are more complex, but the BBC has a calculator that will let you play with vote shifts among all three major parties, and the minor parties.  You should not take the results too seriously for a number of reasons, notably the unlikelihood of a nationwide uniform shift and the prevalence of tactical voting, but playing with it will show you one thing:  The British electoral system is currently unfair to the Conservatives.  (I am not sure why that is so, perhaps because Labour supporters are less likely to vote or because people have been moving out of Labour constituencies.)

Move the boundary between Labour and the Conservatives back and forth to verify that basic point for yourself.  This is why, even though the Conservatives have substantial leads in most recent polls, the bettors are not sure whether they will win an absolute majority.

(The electoral system seems even more unfair to the Liberal Democrats.)
- 3:45 PM, 3 May 2010   [link]

International Link To Times Square Bomb?  That's what the Washington Post says.
The failed car bombing in Times Square increasingly appears to have been coordinated by more than one person in a plot with international links, Obama administration officials said Tuesday.

The disclosure, while tentative, came as the White House intensified its focus on the incident Saturday in New York City, in which explosives inside a Nissan Pathfinder were set ablaze but failed to detonate at the tourist-crowded corner of Broadway and 45th Street.
The rest of the article has no more details, though there is a brief hint about "international communications".

I had thought that such links were unlikely because descriptions of the bomb made it sound so amateurish.  And I would have thought that, by now, our terrorist enemies would know how to make bombs.  It is possible, I suppose, that they gave the would-be bomber a good design, but that he didn't follow directions carefully.
- 2:50 PM, 3 May 2010   [link]

Bicycle Break:  Just came back with a new bicycle, specifically this new bicycle.  I knew that I wanted a "comfort" bicycle, something suited for easy riding, most of it on roads.   I chose a Giant model because I had had such good luck with my old bicycle, a Giant Iguana.  My Iguana had lasted since 1984, with minimal upkeep, but finally had accumulated enough problems so that it made sense to get a new one, even if I didn't now live in an area where trails are much less common than roads.

I checked the weather radar and thought that I had enough time to take quick test ride at the bicycle shop, do the paper work, and get it back here before rain came.  I was wrong, but did get a chance to learn that the bicycle works well in the rain.

(I have had good experiences with the bicycle shop over the years, and would recommend them without hesitation to anyone in this area looking for a bicycle, or needing repairs.)
- 2:00 PM, 3 May 2010   [link]

News Athletes Can Use:  In hot weather, you can improve your performance with slushies.
But now, a New Zealand endurance athlete and exercise researcher says he has found a method that is.  All you have to do is drink an ice slurry, also known as a slushie, before exercising.  In a new study, he reports that young male recreational athletes who drank a syrup-flavored ice slurry just before running on a treadmill in hot room could keep going for an average of 50 minutes before they had to stop.  When they drank only syrup-flavored cold water, they could run for an average of 40 minutes.
And not just athletes.  In heat waves, vulnerable people (mostly the very young and the very old) might consider using this remedy.

(If you are wondering — I was — "slushie" is a generic name.  Naturally, you can buy a small appliance, if you want an easy way to make your own, and don't already own a blender or food processor.)
- 8:55 AM, 3 May 2010   [link]

Another Disaster Avoided:  John Kass explains.
A distinguished federal judge ruled Friday that President Barack Obama will not have to testify in the political corruption case against former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

And a nation sighs with relief.

Just last week, Hopium heads and Democratic pols shuddered at the prospect of a president from Chicago testifying in a corruption case involving a Chicago politician.

Obama's presence at the Blagojevich trial might have given some people the strange idea that Obama's hope-and-change White House was chock-full of Chicago politicians.
And we certainly don't want anyone thinking that.
- 8:22 AM, 3 May 2010   [link]

That Failed Car Bomb In Times Square?  For now, Mayor Bloomberg's reaction seems about right.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg reiterated Monday that there is no "legitimate" evidence that foreign terrorists were connected to a car bomb found in a smoking sport utility vehicle in Times Square, adding that there is a "high probability" that law enforcement would capture whoever was behind it.
With approximately a zillion cameras in the area, there is a good chance the FBI and the police will find some useful clues.
- 8:01 AM, 3 May 2010
Having been sensible when he first spoke, Mayor Bloomberg became silly when he talked to Katie Couric about the Times Square suspect.
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: If I had to guess -- 25 cents -- this would be exactly that, somebody-


BLOOMBERG: Home-grown, maybe a mentally deranged person or somebody with a political agenda that doesn't like the health care bill or something.  It could be anything.
(Was Bloomberg telling Couric what he knew she wanted to hear?  Maybe.)
- 6:13 AM, 4 May 2010   [link]

The British Are Worried About A Surge In Vote Fraud:  Because of a surge in the number of mailed ballots, or as they call them, "postal ballots".
Police have received at least 50 complaints about serious voter fraud in advance of this week's elections amid warnings that the rapid rise of postal voting is making the system vulnerable to abuse.

Accusations range from political activists putting pressure on people to mark their party's box on the postal vote form, to phantom voters being registered by candidates and their supporters to farm votes.   The problems have emerged before most postal votes have been returned.

Most of the alleged abuses relate to the council elections in England, which coincide with the general election.
. . .
John Turner, chief executive of the Association of Electoral Administrators, said the system was vulnerable because people did not have to provide identification when they registered for postal votes.  "If someone is intent on fraudulent activity they can do that either by making up a name or using erroneous addresses.  It's not a properly verified system and it should be," said Turner.
To anyone who has followed the American experience with absentee ballots, it all sounds drearily familiar.

With one exception:  So far, the left in Britain, unlike the left in the United States, seems willing to oppose election fraud.  Far too many on the left in the United States simply deny that election fraud exists, publicly, anyway.  (At least a few justify it privately, since most vote fraud is committed by poor people, often minorities.)
- 8:32 PM, 2 May 2010   [link]

Josef Joffe Destroy's Tony Judt's Book:  While explaining the facts of life to Judt, and other naive leftists.  In, of all places, the New York Times Book Review.

You'll want to read the entire review — especially if you are on the left — but here are two key paragraphs to get you started..
But enough of the fact-slinging.  The central problem with "Ill Fares the Land" is a classic fallacy of the liberal-left intelligentsia, more in Europe than in the United States.  Call it the "Doctor State Syndrome."  The individual is greedy, misguided or blind.  The state is the Hegelian embodiment of the right and the good that floats above the fray.  But the state does not.  It is a party to the conflict over "who gets what, when and how," to recall Harold Lasswell's definition of politics.  It makes its own pitch for power; it creates privileges, franchises and clienteles.  This is why it is so hard to rein in, let alone cut back.  The modern welfare state creates a new vested interest with each new entitlement.  It corrupts as it does good.

It also invites corruption of itself because the more the state distributes and regulates, the more it tempts its citizens to outflank the market and manipulate public power for private gain.  The founding fathers grasped this hard truth, and hence they hemmed in government.  Even the most moderate of social democrats tend to ignore this insight, and so does Tony Judt.
The evidence for those conclusions can be found in almost any daily newspaper.  The conclusions were understood, as Joffe says, by the founding fathers.  But the evidence is ignored and the conclusions are now somehow beyond the grasp of many, perhaps most, on the left.

(Honorable exception: Mickey Kaus.)
- 7:14 PM, 2 May 2010   [link]

Byron York Has Ten Winners:  In the "Who Can Say the Dumbest Things about the Arizona Immigration Law" contest.  Here's number 1.
1. "The statute requires police officers to stop and question anyone who looks like an illegal immigrant."

- New York Times editorial
Didn't know there was a contest going on?  Then you must not have been following the news during this last week.

(If you don't know why that one was wrong, read this.)
- 4:31 PM, 2 May 2010   [link]

Why Are We Spending So Much On Mass Transit?  The Onion explained, way back in 2000.

A study released Monday by the American Public Transportation Association reveals that 98 percent of Americans support the use of mass transit by others.

It really is that simple.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(By way of Carl, who is one of the Chicago Boyz.)
- 4:10 PM, 2 May 2010   [link]

The May 1 Riots In Berlin have become so routine that they have attracted a tour guide.
The May 1 riots in Berlin's Kreuzberg district have become an annual ritual in the German capital.   Now an American anti-capitalist activist has started giving tours of the neighborhood's hot spots to foreign visitors.

He calls himself Bill, though it goes without saying that it's not his real name.  And he doesn't want any photos taken of his face.  He is, after all, a left-wing extremist.
"Bill" may call himself an "anti-capitalist" — but he is charging for those tours.  And I think most of us would rather have him give tours, despite the misinformation he passes out, than throw rocks at the police, or worse.
- 3:15 PM, 1 May 2010   [link]

What Kind Of People Write For The New York Times?  Some of them, at least, have unusual, yes, that's the word, unusual, tastes.
A must-see for coprophiliacs and spanking enthusiasts, "The Human Centipede (First Sequence)" may be the year's first mainstream fetish movie.  Whether its writer and director, Tom Six, has more on his mind than mere titillation is debatable; either way this twisted, hammy bio-horror is sufficiently original to lure even the most satiated genre fans.
The movie is not rated, but does not sound like a family movie to me, though the reviewer at the Times, Jeannette Catsoulis, may have a different opinion on that point.

(I will resist the temptation — for now — to use this review to make political points at the expense of the old Gray Lady.  But you should know that resisting that temptation isn't easy.)
- 7:49 AM, 1 May 2010   [link]