May 2011, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Happy Mother's Day!  To all the mothers out there.

Mothers Day duck,  2010

We need our mothers most in stormy times.

Recycled from last year.
- 7:56 AM, 8 May 2011   [link]

This Woman Warrior Has the right attitude.
"I feel proud to be the Navy's first female maritime patrol pilot," Lee said.  "I'd like to locate enemy subs and sink them with my own hands."
Lt. Jg. Lee Joo-yeon will be flying a South Korean P-3 Orion.
- 3:30 PM, 7 May 2011   [link]

Good Grief!  I wasn't expecting the Germans to be unanimous in approving the death of bin Laden; in fact I was pretty sure that they would be less happy about it than most Americans are.  (Most, but not all.  Michael Moore — no surprise — is one of the exceptions, and there are others you may have heard of.)

But I wasn't expecting this:
A Hamburg judge has filed a criminal complaint against Chancellor Angela Merkel for "endorsing a crime" after she stated she was "glad" that Osama bin Laden was killed by US forces.  Meanwhile a new poll reveals that a majority of Germans do not see the terrorist's death as a reason to celebrate.
Now I suppose that Germany has a few nutty judges, just as we do, but this is still pretty amazing.
- 12:44 PM, 6 May 2011   [link]

More Salt Might Be Good For You?   Here's the story:
Doctors have long encouraged patients to slash their salt intake for good heart health.  The American Heart Association advises people to consume no more than 1,500 milligrams a day of sodium to reduce their risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke and kidney disease.  This is less than half of what people consume now.
. . .
But a European study coordinated in Belgium raises questions about sodium's effect on the heart.

Researchers followed 3,681 people, average age 40, for about eight years, testing sodium excretion in the urine.  They found that systolic blood pressure (top number) was slightly lower in those who excreted less sodium, but that didn't translate into a lower risk of cardiovascular death.  In fact, those with lower sodium excretion had an increased risk of cardiovascular death.  The findings were consistent in participants younger and older than 60.
Even the researchers who did the study aren't sure if they believe their results, so consider yourself warned.

I understand, in a general way, why it is so hard to get definitive results on what we should eat — and what we shouldn't eat — but I can't help wishing the nutritionists would get more consistent results.
- 12:19 PM, 6 May 2011   [link]

Four Out Of Five For Mark Blumenthal On The Birther Controversy:  I have been meaning to recommend the pollster's analysis of polls on the belief that President Obama was born outside of the United States.  I particularly liked his first point:
1) "Birtherism" not widespread and often not a hard belief

Polls on this have produced a consistent finding over the last year or so: Roughly one American in four reports the mistaken belief that the President was born outside the United States.  But as former ABC News polling director Gary Langer argues, "[m]any people are expressing their opinion rather than an assertion of factual reality."  For some, he writes, that opinion amounts to an "'expressed belief' -- a statement intended to send a message, not claim a known fact."

The polling results support his argument: An ABC News/Washington Post poll a year ago found that 20 percent believed Obama was born outside the United States, but half of that group said their answer was "suspicion only" (10 percent) rather than a belief based on "solid evidence" (9 percent).
(And will have some more to say about his 4th point.)

But I hadn't gotten around to it since, as you may have noticed, there have been one or two more important stories in the news, during this last week.

Luckily for me.  Because, as it turns out, the Washington Post published a poll that, in my opinion, contradicts Blumenthal's last point:
5) These Attitudes Are Unlikely to Change

Will the release of Obama's long form birth certificate this week change any of these attitudes?  "The odds aren't good," says Brendan Nyhan, pointing to a series of experiments that he conducted with fellow political scientist Jason Reifler.  Their experiments, Nyhan writes, "found that corrective information in news articles often fails to reduce misperceptions among the ideological or partisan group that is most vulnerable to the false belief" and, in some cases, made those misperceptions worse.
When I read that, I didn't see anything implausible about Blumenthal's conclusion; people often are reluctant to change their minds when they get new information.  (The Democratic party can be grateful for that.)  But then today I saw this poll result:
In interviews following the public release the president's "long-form" birth certificate last week, fully 70 percent of Americans say Obama was born in Hawaii, a big bump-up from the 48 percent who said so a year ago.  Even more say he was U.S.-born, or call that their best guess, for a total of 86 percent.

Overall, 10 percent of Americans say Obama was likely born abroad, down from 20 percent in an April 2010 Post-ABC poll.  Almost all those who now say Obama was born in a foreign country say that it's only their "suspicion;" just 1 percent claim "solid evidence" that the president was born elsewhere (9 percent said so last year).

The drop-off in the mistaken belief that Obama was not-U.S.-born has come most prominently among his sharpest critics.
So, exactly what Blumenthal said probably wouldn't happen, did.  (Unless, of course, the SurveyUSA poll he links to is right, and the Post poll is wrong.)

Assuming that the Post poll is correct about the change, is there an obvious explanation for the shift?  There may be.  If many Americans wondered about Obama's birth because he wouldn't release the long form, then they would be reassured when he finally did.  I have always thought that he was an American citizen, but I have wondered, more than once, why he didn't release the long form, and even speculated that there might be something embarrassing on it.

And Blumenthal's 4th point?  He argued, correctly in my opinion, that the issue divided Obama's opponents and united his supporters.  Which is why his smarter opponents wanted the issue to go away.  In any campaign, even the permanent one we are now in, you want to emphasize the issues that divide the other party and unite yours, not the other way around.
- 3:38 PM, 5 May 2011   [link]

Welcome, Congressman Kucinich:  You have probably heard that Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich is thinking of moving west.

Ohio Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich may be considering a move.  The eight-term Cleveland congressman is rumored to be interested in moving out of Ohio to seek re-election to Congress from Washington State's new 10th district.

According to Kucinich's communications director Nathan White, "After people found out that Congressman Kucinich's district could be eliminated or substantially altered in congressional redistricting by the Ohio Legislature's Republican majority, Congressman Kucinich received requests from people in twenty states, including Washington State, encouraging him to move and run in their area."

You might not expect this from a cross-country-skiing Washington state conservative, but I would welcome this move.  (Even though he doesn't appear to be a cross country skier.)

I believe that a Kucinich campaign here would be entertaining.  And instructive.

Entertaining for many reasons.  His term as Cleveland mayor was such a success that he narrowly escaped recall, and was defeated by Republican George Voinovich in 1979.   (The election was officially non-partisan but most voters must have known which party each man belonged to.)  In 1982, he declared an income of $38.  He chose Shirley MacLaine, a close friend, to be a godmother for his child.  He has been a shoe shine boy, a professional politician, a talk show host, and has spent time in New Mexico on a "quest for meaning".  (No word on whether he found it.)  He and his lovely English wife, Elizabeth, have a slight height mismatch.  (Apparently, his third marriage is successful, unlike his first two.  And I suppose I should add that I admire the two for making a success of a relationship that many outsiders thought was a joke.)

Best of all, Congressman Kucinich has claimed that he received directions from a flying saucer.  (Fortunately, he wasn't driving at the time.)

Instructive for several reasons.

Congressman Kucinich has made one of the biggest flip-flops in American history, moving all the way from being completely pro-life (and even vegan) to being pro-choice.  Oddly enough, he made that little trip shortly before he ran for the presidency.  Would Democratic voters in this area forgive his earlier views, or would they distrust his well-timed conversion?

On other issues, Congressman Kucinich has been more consistent; he was in favor of impeaching President Bush, and he's in favor of impeaching President Obama.   Would Democratic voters in this area admire his consistency on that issue, or would they think that he is carrying that consistency just a little too far?

Finally, that Kucinich would consider moving here tells us something about the strength of the Democratic bench here in Washington state.  The party has dominated the state for decades but currently has, with a few exceptions*, unimpressive leaders, something even Kucinich has noticed, apparently, all the way from Ohio.  That Kucinich would consider moving here is an implicit criticism of the Washington state Democratic party.  Do Democratic voters in this area agree with that criticism?

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(*The exceptions?  Washington state auditor Brian Sonntag, of course, perhaps 9th district congressman Adam Smith, and probably some others in lower offices.)
- 10:30 AM, 5 May 2011   [link]

John McCain Attacks Janet Napolitano Over Lax Border Security:   Specifically, "spotters" on the Arizona border
Arizona Sen. John McCain has never been a bashful critic of the Obama administration's border security policy. But today he unleashed an unusually spirited attack on Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, whom he accused of deliberately failing to root out dozens of mountaintop "spotters" that help Mexican smugglers sneak into his state.

"There's between 100 and 200 spotters sitting on mountains in southern Arizona, inside the borders of the Untied States of America, spotting for drug cartels who then get the drugs up to Phoenix," said an agitated McCain during a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing today.  "We're supposed to believe that the administration is serious about securing our borders?  Well, I don't think so."

Napolitano strongly disputed McCain's declaration as not factual.
Which Arizona politician is right on the spotters?  If I had to bet, I would bet on McCain.

But I am not certain that either actually knows, for sure.

McCain says he getting his information from "law enforcement people", presumably law enforcement people who disagree with current policies — but they would have reason to exaggerate.   Napolitano says she is getting her information from the Border Patrol — but like all bureaucrats, they would have reason to cover up their failures.

(If you have seen more facts on this issue, please share them with me.)
- 8:42 AM, 5 May 2011   [link]

Why Is The Justice Department Interfering with college football?
The Department of Justice has sent a letter to NCAA President Mark Emmert asking why the association does not have a major-college football playoff and it wants to know if Emmert believes some apsects of the Bowl Championship Series system do not serve the interests of fans, schools and players.
The excuse, of course, is that the current system violates antitrust laws.

I have no opinion on whether the current system is better than having playoffs, but even if I did, I would want our Justice Department to spend their time on other, more important problems.

Some people favor a limited federal government; some people don't.  Eric Holder, I fear, is in the second group.

(Is the current system unfair in some ways?  I am sure that it is — and all alternate systems would also be unfair, though perhaps in different ways.  The question the NCAA — and not the Justice Department — should consider is whether an alternate would be less unfair.)
- 6:55 AM, 5 May 2011   [link]

Worth Reading:  John Yoo on the bin Laden raid.

Two samples:
President George W. Bush, not his successor, constructed the interrogation and warrantless surveillance programs that produced this week's actionable intelligence.  For this, congressional Democrats and media pundits pilloried him for allegedly exceeding his presidential powers and violating the Bill of Rights.

As a candidate in 2008, then-Sen. Obama held Mr. Bush and Sen. John McCain "responsible for the most disastrous set of foreign policy decisions in the recent history of the United States."  These decisions, he said, allowed bin Laden and his circle to establish "a safe-haven in northwest Pakistan, where they operate with such freedom of action that they can still put out hate-filled audiotapes to the outside world."
. . .
Mr. Obama's policies now differ from their Bush counterparts mainly on the issue of interrogation.  As Sunday's operation put so vividly on display, Mr. Obama would rather kill al Qaeda leaders—whether by drones or special ops teams—than wade through the difficult questions raised by their detention.  This may have dissuaded Mr. Obama from sending a more robust force to attempt a capture.
And so we lose intelligence, while making it easier, politically, for the Obama administration.
- 2:08 PM, 4 May 2011   [link]

Four* Football Teams In One Game:  I was trying to come up with a way to explain the complexities of the Canadian party system, and thought of that metaphor an hour or two after I wrote that long post on Monday.

You probably want to think of the teams as playing what the rest of the world calls "football", and we call soccer, since politics, like soccer, is a continuous game.

The teams in such a game would cooperate and compete, depending on the scores.  For example, we would expect that the three teams that were behind would often gang up on the team that was ahead — and that happened, to some extent, during the Canadian campaign.  The other three major parties often spent most of their time attacking the governing Conservatives.

And the outcome of such a game would be exceptionally hard to predict because it would depend on the shifting alliances during the game, as well as the strengths of each team.

(Those who know even a little game theory will find this discussion unsurprising.  There are many games that have formal solutions as long as there are just two players, but do not, as soon as another player is added.)

If we are willing to stretch the metaphor — but not, I think, break it — then we could describe the Canadian political system as a four-team soccer game in which one of the teams, the Bloc Québécois, plays on only part of the field.

So there you are.  If you want to understand the complexity of the Canadian party system, picture four soccer teams playing a single game.  the Conservatives would be in dark blue uniforms, the Liberals in red, the NDP in orange, and the Bloc in light blue.

It would be entertaining to watch, but it would not be easy to follow.

(*Technically, five teams, since the Greens did win one seat, in British Columbia.)
- 1:47 PM, 4 May 2011   [link]

Should We Have Kept The Bin Laden Raid Secret?  If possible, yes.  (The loss of the helicopter might have made it impossible, depending on how much help Pakistan — which is probably not inclined to give us much help right now — would have given us.  But if we could have worked out a story that would have made the government there look better, we might have been able to get some cooperation.)

Obviously, we couldn't keep it secret forever.  But if we could have kept it a secret for even a week, we might have been able to reel in some more terrorists, using the material we have captured.

Granted, the terrorists in bin Laden's network would have immediately become suspicious when they didn't hear from him.  But if he was really using human couriers to carry important messages, then they must have been used to not hearing from him for days at a time.

And I am absolutely certain that we should not have announced that we had captured all that material; in fact, I will go further and say that we might have done well to put out a cover story — or if you want to be blunt, a lie — denying that we had captured the material.

It's an elementary principle in military intelligence:  You almost never tell your enemies what you know about them.

There are people in that odd group photograph who know that principle — but they aren't in charge, and those who are in charge aren't listening to them.
- 12:59 PM, 4 May 2011
More:   Andrew McCarthy and Donald Rumsfeld came to similar conclusions.

I understand how government works, and this is an ancient tension between the political actors who want to take credit (after all, they get the blame when things go wrong), and the investigators who want to act on the information in the small window they have while it is still actionable.   I can't help thinking, though, that the government could have kept the bin Laden operation quiet for a few days.  If they hadn't announced it for, say, a week, they'd still get just as much credit . . . and maybe more credit if the intel haul had led to other kills/captures.
"I thought to myself, why in the world would they be talking about that [the "trove" of information they found].  It ought not be talked about, there ought to be . . . just go about their business, gather any intel you can, and leave in doubt the people out there who feel vulnerable as a result of this," he told 630 WMAL.
I'll repeat:  There are people in that odd photograph who understand these things.  Either Obama isn't listening to them, or he isn't taking their advice.
- 4:59 PM, 5 May 2011   [link]

Bill Clinton Comes In Second To Charlie Sheen:  But a close second, in a poll on who should replace Hugh Hefner as head of Playboy.

(Golf fans will be distressed, but not surprised, by the third place finisher.)
- 8:04 AM, 4 May 2011   [link]

Vice President Biden is amazed.
At the beginning of remarks this evening to the Atlantic Council, an international policy group, Vice President Joe Biden voiced amazement that the plans for the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound remained secret.

"There was such an absolute overwhelming desire to accomplish this mission that although for over several months we were in the process of planning it and there were as many as 16 members of Congress who were briefed on it - not a single solitary thing leaked."
I'm pleasantly surprised — but if I knew those people as well as Biden knows them, I might be amazed, too.

We are not as good as we should be in keeping secrets.  Democratic nations almost always find it harder to keep secrets than their enemies do, but at times we have been better at keeping secrets than we are now.
- 7:26 AM, 4 May 2011   [link]

Michael Ramirez's Cartoon On The Death Of Bin Laden Isn't Subtle:   But it is effective.
- 2:54 PM, 3 May 2011   [link]

A "Commanding Commander-in-Chief"  Former CNBC host Donny Deutsch gushed over Obama's performance Sunday night.

Ordinarily, I wouldn't pay any attention to Deutsch's gushing, except for this curious photograph from the White House.  It's hard to interpret that expression on Obama's face, but I wouldn't call it "commanding".  (And what kind of organization can't even provide chairs for most of the watchers?)

(That photograph makes me wonder, as I did after I saw the by-now famous mirror picture, whether the White House photographer was a Republican.  Because neither picture exactly flatters Obama.)
- 9:50 AM, 3 May 2011   [link]

The Canadian Election Results in a single page.

One sentence summary:  The New Democrats won Quebec and the Conservatives won everything else, British Columbia, the prairie provinces, the Atlantic provinces, and, most of all, Ontario.

(That's a wonderful set of graphics, by the way.  They show the essentials clearly and omit almost everything inessential.)
- 8:01 AM, 3 May 2011   [link]

The President Credits Pope John Paul II For The Killing Of Bin Laden:   The president of Peru, that is.

And Alan Garcia says this victory "vindicates" George W. Bush.

(So far, Garcia's second term as Peruvian president has been far more successful than his first.)
- 7:22 AM, 3 May 2011   [link]

Canadian Conservatives Win!  And, unless I am missing something important, they will form a majority government.  (They had formed minority governments after the 2006 and 2008 elections.)

As I write, the CTV has them leading in 164 ridings.  (They need 155 for a majority.)

Stephen Harper and his Conservative party have had a remarkable run since the party was formed in 2003, by the union of the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservative parties.
- 7:53 PM, 2 May 2011   [link]

Exciting Canadian Election Today:  All right, even the Canadians don't seem all that excited by their latest federal election.

But it is an important election, and for election geeks like me, a fascinating election.

It's important because Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has done a generally good job, especially in managing the Canadian economy.  So it will be interesting to see whether Canadian voters recognize that, and give him more time to continue his center-right policies.  (And, in the United States, we can hope that he will be able to continue his generally pro-American policies.)

It's fascinating because the complexities of the Canadian party system make predicting election outcomes there difficult.  And, during this campaign, a perennial also-ran party, the New Democrats, has surged into second place, for reasons that are not obvious to this outside observer.  Which makes predicting the outcome this time extremely difficult.

(As usual, I look to the bettors for insight.  But the InTrade contracts that I found are so thinly traded, as you can see here and here, that I can't get very excited about them.)

Before I explain, as best I can, some of the complexities of predicting the results, a very quick score card for anyone who needs it:  The New Democrats are on the left, the Liberals are center-left, and the Conservatives are center-right.  And the Bloc Québécois?  They're in favor of the province of Quebec, as the name suggests, or, to be more precise, of the French-speaking people in that province.

(There is also a Green party, which won 6.78 percent of the vote in the last election but no seats, and there are usually a few successful independents.)

We can use the Bloc to show some of the complexities of prediction.  In the last federal election, in 2008, they ran candidates in only Quebec ridings (districts), and won 49 seats of the 75 Quebec seats.   So, did they win a majority of the popular vote in their province?  Not even close.  They won just 38.1 percent of the vote, but most of the seats, because the three other parties split the vote, with the Liberals getting 23.7 percent, the Conservatives getting 21.7 percent and the New Democrats, 12.2 percent.

According to recent polls, the New Democrats have been making gains in Quebec.  But even knowing which parties have been losing votes to them in Quebec (mostly the Bloc), you couldn't necessarily tell which party would lose the most ridings to them.  You need polls of individual ridings to predict winners.

Moreover the opinion polls differ, drastically.  For example, Ekos research is predicting that the Conservatives will win 34 percent of the popular vote while Compas is predicting that they will win 46 percent.  You can't explain differences that large with sampling error.  (And I don't know anything about the Canadian polling firms, so I can't guess which ones are more reliable than the others.)

Just to confuse you further, if that is possible, here's an experimental math model, and here are some thoughts from the always interesting Colby Cosh.)

In a couple of hours, I'll start looking at the returns.  (Canada staggers the voting hours from time zone to time zone, so that the polls close about the same time across Canada, which means that I should have lots to look at by 8 or 9 PM, my time.)
- 6:13 PM, 2 May 2011   [link]

Was Osama Bin Laden Killed On Sunday Or Monday?  Yes.

Sunday, our time, early Monday, Pakistani time.

(This may explain some of the wild stories that he had been killed a week ago.  Those who saw the Monday date may have forgotten about the time difference and guessed it happened last Monday.)
- 1:09 PM, 2 May 2011   [link]

Lawrence Wright Broke Into Song When He Learned of bin Laden's death.

Which song?  One that you often hear near the end of American football and basketball games.
- 10:13 AM, 2 May 2011   [link]

The Early Stories On Bin Laden's Death Were Often Wrong, In Part:   Last night, I considered writing a post on his death, but decided not to because, by my usual bed time, the basic facts were still not clear.  (For some examples of the confusion, read through this Hot Air thread.)

My favorite example — so far — of the journalistic confusion comes from Seattle Times editorial writer Joni Balter.

Years from now, friends and famiy members will look at one another and ask: "Where were you when they captured Osama bin Laden?

(Emphasis added.)

That's right; she did say we captured him.  (I wish we had; I suspect that he would have talked and talked and talked if we had been able to take him alive.)

Well, we all make mistakes, but I do hope she corrects this one some time today.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(The rest of the post is worth reading if you want to better understand how many journalists think.   Last week, Balter would have used our failure to capture or kill bin Laden as evidence that the war in Afghanistan is futile; now she uses this success — which she attributes, improbably, to President Obama — to argue that the war in Afghanistan is futile.)
- 7:23 AM, 2 May 2011   [link]

Congratulations To The CIA Analysts And The Navy Seals:  The first for locating Osama bin Laden's hideout, the second for killing him.

Intelligence agencies are better known for their failures — which often become public — than for their successes — which often must be kept secret for decades.  The CIA, for all its faults, has had some successes in the war on terror and this appears to be one of them.

And congratulations to those superb warriors, the Navy Seal team who planned and executed the mission without any casualties.  (And I liked the detail they shared with us, that one of the terrorists tried to hide behind a woman.)

Here are some pictures from the celebration in New York.  I wish I could have joined them.

(So far I haven't seen any reports on computers and documents that the team must have tried to collect, or on the prisoners who were captured.  We can only hope that we found material that will give us many leads, and that the women and children who were captured can tell us more.)
- 6:30 AM, 2 May 2011
Our forces retrieved a "large trove" of documents from the mansion.
- 1:25 PM, 2 May 2011
That detail, that one of the terrorists tried to hide behind a woman, was wrong, the White House has now admitted.  And many other details in the initial White House stories were also wrong.

Andrew Malcolm has some fun listing their "missteaks" — and he probably missed a few.  Jim Treacher gets brutal, in a post titled "Obama Administration takes victory lap in clown car".

These mistakes would be funnier if they hadn't been made by the people who are in charge of our nation's defense.
- 7:40 AM, 5 May 2011   [link]

Royal Wedding Hats:   Here.

(Somewhat to my surprise, I found myself enjoying them as I looked through the collection.  Instead of calling them silly or impractical, I think I'll call them fanciful.)
- 3:33 PM, 1 May 2011   [link]