November 2007, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Hotel California:  In an old railroad town, Dunsmuir.

Hotel California, 2007

All right, it's a theater, not a hotel, but seeing this seedy building did make me think immediately of the Eagles song.   (Which I have always liked, though I am not sure exactly what it means.)

We stopped in Dunsmuir briefly, and for a longer time in Mount Shasta on the day after visiting Lassen.  We spent most of our time seeing art galleries, taking a cultural break from the disaster area tour.

(You can find the previous 2007 disaster area tour posts here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

You can find the last posts, with links to earlier posts, for the 2006 and 2005 tours here and here.)
- 10:45 AM, 16 November 2007
More:  After looking at the post again last night, I realized that, with that name, the theater must have been part of a chain.  A quick search found another California Theatre in San Jose.  It's fancier, but so similar that I am sure that the two theaters belonged to the same chain.  A look inside the restored San Jose theater makes me wish I had taken a closer look at the Dunsmuir building.
- 9:06 AM, 18 November 2007 theater must have   [link]

What Rules Does Mexico Have On Drivers Licenses?  Sensible rules.
The question of whether to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants has ignited a national debate in the United States.

Yet in Mexico, the biggest source of immigrants to the USA, there's no debate: If you're not in the country legally, you can't get a driver's license.

All of Mexico's 31 states, along with the federal district of Mexico City, require foreigners to present a valid visa if they want a driver's license, according to a survey of states by USA TODAY.
Perhaps New York Governor Spitzer should go down to Mexico to learn why they have these rules — in spite of having many illegal immigrants.
- 10:02 AM, 16 November 2007   [link]

Who Are Those "Anti-War Protesters"?  The Port of Olympia has had a long series of protests, targeting the movement of military equipment.  Our local news organizations commonly refer to the often violent demonstrators as "anti-war protesters", as you can see in this example.

Five anti-war protesters were arrested Thursday after trying to block the movement of military equipment out of the Port of Olympia.

Several semi-trucks moved at least a dozen military vehicles, including Stryker vehicles used in Iraq, out of the port and back to the Fort Lewis throughout the day without incident.  In the afternoon, five protesters sat down in the intersection in front of the port and were pepper sprayed by police before being arrested.

If you read the whole article you will see that the Associated Press does not name any of the "anti-war protesters", even though five were arrested, does not name the organization running these protests, nor does it tell us what the "protesters" want.  I picked that article because it is typical; our local news organizations have shown almost no curiosity about these "protesters", not even asking the standard questions: who, what, and why.  (They have no trouble telling us where and when.)

There are sometimes hints in the articles.  This Seattle PI article names two of the "protesters", and notes that they are members of the far left Students for a Democratic Society.   (At least I think that's what the SDS in the article stands for.)  There is some reason to think that this shadowy organization is coordinating the often violent protests.   The name, Olympia Movement for Justice & Peace, is suggestive.  In the past those on the hard left have often included "peace" and "justice" in the names of their front organizations.  (By "peace" they usually meant victory for communism, by "justice" they usually meant killing those who disagreed with them.)  But the name may just be a coincidence.

We can guess part of what the "protesters" want.  By their actions they show that they want an American defeat in Iraq, and a victory for our terrorist enemies.  Beyond that?  It's hard to say, though I think it more likely that they are on the hard left than that they actually back the radical Islamists (or, as some call them, the Islamo-fascists).

So, here's a challenge for our local journalists:  Commit journalism.  Find out the answers to those basic questions.  Tell us who these "anti-war protesters" are, and what they want.   And if you want to be a real reporter, you might even ask them why they desire an American defeat — and a victory for the terrorists.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(At least one journalist has been threatened by the protesters.

Michelle Malkin has been covering the protests extensively; here's her latest post on them.)
- 8:20 AM, 16 November 2007   [link]

Could American Schools Be Terrorist Targets?  Jack Kelly says they might be.
On Sept. 1, 2004, Chechens affiliated with al Qaida seized a middle school in Beslan, Russia.  In the three day siege, 334 people — most of them children — were killed.

Could something like that happen here?

• U.S. forces seized in 2002 an al Qaida training tape of a practice assault on an abandoned school in Mir Bach Kot in Afghanistan.  The terrorists were barking commands in English.

• U.S. forces in Iraq found on a captured al Qaida computer building plans for schools in six states.
Kelly has two more bullet points, but that's enough to give you an idea.

Which schools?  An authority on terrorism thinks he knows:
Al Qaida prefers middle schools because the girls are old enough to rape, but the boys aren't big enough to fight back, says retired Army LtCol. Dave Grossman, who runs a private security firm.
Think that's going too far?  Then read this account.

Why would terrorists attack an American school?  To provoke an extreme reaction from us, which they could use as a recruiting tool.

(Here's a similar (and earlier) post.

Here's the Wikipedia article on Beslan, which says less about the atrocities than it might.)
- 6:38 AM, 16 November 2007   [link]

Polar Bears, Poster Bears:  Bjorn Lomborg uses polar bears in his latest book, Cool It, to illustrate how to think about the problem of global warming.

Whether or not you agree with the general argument made in the book, his illustration is powerful.   Lomborg begins by giving the other side of the argument.  He has several examples, including this one:
The World Wildlife Fund actually warns that polar bears might stop reproducing by 2012 and thus become functionally extinct in less than a decade. (p. 5)
And then Lomborg gives the facts:
Over the past few years, this story has cropped up many times, based on a World Wildlife Fund report in 2002 and later on the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment from 2004.  Both relied extensively on research published in 2001 by the Polar Bear Specialist Group of the World Conservation Union.

But what this group really told us was that of the twenty distinct subpopulations of polar bears, one or possibly two were declining in Baffin Bay; more than half were known to be stable; and two subpopulations were actually increasing around the Beaufort Sea.  Moreover it is reported that the global polar bear population has increased dramatically over the past decades, from about five thousand members in the 1960s to twenty-five thousand today, through stricter hunting regulation.  Contrary to what you might expect — and what was not pointed out in any of the recent stories — the two populations in decline come from areas where it has actually been getting colder over the past fifty years, whereas the two increasing populations reside in areas where it is getting warmer. (p. 5)
And if we really want the polar bear populations to increase?  Then we should stop hunting them.

Lomborg uses this powerful illustration as an example for the general argument of the book.

But the polar bear example deserves some attention just for itself.  The individuals (for example, Al Gore) and groups (for example, the World Wildlife Fund) who use polar bears as poster bears know or could know these same facts, without much effort.  But they have chosen to ignore the facts because they understand the powerful emotional appeal of charismatic megafauna, including polar bears.  The best explanation of their actions is that they have not taken the time to get the facts straight.  But it is likely that some of those who use the polar bears as poster bears for the dangers of global warming know the facts — but prefer to mislead the public in order to help their cause, their fund raising, or both.
- 12:50 PM, 15 November 2007
Note:  I added a clarifying phrase, "who use polar bears as poster bears" to the last paragraph.
- 5:53 AM, 16 November 2007   [link]

The Corrupt European Union:  Daniel Hannan, a member of the European parliament, summarizes the problem.
The shocking thing is that we're no longer shocked.  Yesterday, for the thirteenth consecutive year, the European Court of Auditors refused to approve the EU budget.

If this happened to a government department, it would be front page news.  If it happened to a private corporation, directors would be facing prison terms.  But, because it's Brussels, we flex our shoulders in a shrug so disdainful as to be almost Gallic.  Yup, the EU is corrupt.  Et alors?

It's true that the story has become familiar: the Court of Auditors has never once signed off on the accounts.
Never once.

If you read the rest, you will find that he thinks that corruption is not a bug in the EU, but a feature, and an essential feature at that.

Nevertheless, European elites are, for the most part, determined to give more and more money (and power) to the EU, despite this corruption, and regardless of what European citizens may think.

(More here and here.)
- 5:51 AM, 15 November 2007   [link]

Hard To Believe:  Obama's story about his records.
Barack Obama, who's been scolding Hillary Rodham Clinton for not hastening the release of records from her time as first lady, says he can't step up and produce his own records from his days in the Illinois state Senate.  He says he hasn't got any.

"I don't have — I don't maintain — a file of eight years of work in the state Senate because I didn't have the resources available to maintain those kinds of records," he said at a recent campaign stop in Iowa.  He said he wasn't sure where any cache of records might have gone, adding, "It could have been thrown out.  I haven't been in the state Senate now for quite some time."
What Obama is saying might be true — but I wouldn't bet that way.  And I can't help wondering whether he is hiding something.
- 5:11 AM, 15 November 2007   [link]

Ignorant Or Dishonest?  While searching for vote fraud cases, I found this column by Deborah Leavy, a "policy consultant who contributes regularly to the [Philadelphia] Daily News".  In the column Leavy attacks the proposals for solid voter IDs.  Near the end of the column, she makes this astonishing claim:
Non-citizens occasionally attempt to register to vote, usually out of confusion, but mistakes have been caught and actual voting by non-citizens has never been documented.  For a non-citizen to vote would involve four counts of federal crimes risking 20 years in prison, $40,000 in fines and deportation, all for one measly vote.
(I added the bold for emphasis.)

Never?  Apparently she has never heard of, for example, the 1996 Dornan-Sanchez election, where an investigation by the House of Representatives found that hundreds of non-citizens voted.  Were any of those illegal voters deported, fined, or even reprimanded?  Not as far as I can tell.  And an organization responsible for many illegal registrations that year, Hermandad Nacional Mexicana, is still receiving government grants.

I know of only two serious attempts to find non-citizens who had voted, the Dornan-Sanchez election, and the 1998 Hawaii gubernatorial election.  Each investigation found that hundreds of non-citizens had voted — and we can be nearly certain that neither investigation found all the non-citizens who had voted.

(Those who want to know more about the 1998 Hawaii election can read the chapter on Hawaii, titled "Tropical Tammany", in John Fund's Stealing Elections.)
- 2:50 PM, 14 November 2007   [link]

What Happens After You Are Convicted Of Vote Fraud In East St. Louis?  You serve time in prison, and then are rehired.
Two people who spent time in federal prison in an East St. Louis vote-fraud scheme are back on the job for that city, and two council members aren't happy about it.

Sheila Thomas apparently has been hired recently as a part-time city secretary, and Jesse Lewis was brought on as an inspector in the city's Department of Regulatory Affairs.

Both were sentenced last year to prison for their roles in a scheme to pay local voters to cast ballots in the 2004 general election.
Apparently, the city government doesn't think they did anything wrong.

Though the article doesn't mention their party, I know that both are Democrats, from earlier stories.

(East St. Louis is infamous for vote fraud and corruption generally, and has been for many, many years.  If a modern day Diogenes were to search there for an honest man, he might search in vain.  Interestingly, it's the home town of the senior senator from Illinois, Dick Durbin.   I can't help but wonder what he may have learned growing up there.)
- 2:05 PM, 14 November 2007   [link]

No Sensationalism Here:  Even when there should be.  Yellowstone is swelling.
Yellowstone National Park, once the site of a giant volcano, has begun swelling up, possibly because molten rock is accumulating beneath the surface, scientists report.

But, "there is no evidence of an imminent volcanic eruption," said Robert B. Smith, a professor of geophysics at the University of Utah.
. . .
Smith and colleagues report in Friday's issue of the journal Science that the flow of the ancient Yellowstone crater has been moving upward almost 3 inches per year for the past three years.

That is more than three times faster than ever observed since such measurements began in 1923, the researchers said.
The AP reporter who wrote this story has no idea just how dangerous Yellowstone is, because later on they say, blandly:
The volcano at Yellowstone produced massive eruptions 2 million, 1.3 million and 642,000 years ago, all larger than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.
Just how much larger you can see in this post and this post..
- 12:57 PM, 14 November 2007   [link]

John Edwards' Demagoguery:  Here, by way of Mickey Kaus, is the text of his latest ad:
"When I'm president, I'm going to say to members of Congress, and members of my administration, including my Cabinet, I'm glad that you have health care coverage and your family has health care coverage.  But if you don't pass universal health care by July of 2009, in six months, I'm going to use my power as president to take your health care away from you."
Does a president have the power to do that?  Of course not.  And Edwards must know that.   So why is he saying this?  Because he thinks he can fool some of the people for a while — and that will be enough.  (Incidentally, Democrats, who are the main target for this ad, should be especially offended by Edwards' demagoguery.)

(Howard Kurtz asked the Edwards camp for an explanation; you can see the lame answer in Kaus's post or, directly, here.   Kurt also has the ad, in case you want to check it for yourself.

Would we even want a president to have this much power?  I think not.)
- 8:09 AM, 14 November 2007   [link]

Is George W. Bush A Big Spender?  Not particularly.  One of the best measures of spending is percentage of the Gross Domestic Product.  Here's a simple graph that shows the trends in taxes and spending for the last forty years, with projections for the next ten years.

Federal taxes and spending, 1966-2017

(My apologies for the quality of the graph.  To make sure that it would fit on most monitors, I had to compress it.  You can find the original, uncompressed version, along with much more data, here.)

As you can see in the graph, the percentage of GDP spent by the federal government has been below the the 1966-2006 average all through George W. Bush's presidency.  And the biggest spender during the same period?  The graph shows that, too; it's Ronald Reagan.

The graph also shows that, at the end of Clinton's two terms, tax receipts were at record levels for the period.  (And the level of taxation may well have helped cause the recession that began about the same time.)

What you may not realize is that this relatively constant level of spending by the federal government during this period is something of a political miracle.  Take a look at the table graphic accompanying this New York Times article to see why I say that.

You'll see that, between 1975 and 2006, the percentage of the GDP in the US going to all taxes rose from 25.6 percent to 28.2 percent.  (Those numbers include state and local taxes.)  Only three of the twenty nations surveyed, Greece, Japan, and South Korea, still pay a smaller share of their GDP in taxes than we do.  Only one nation, the Netherlands, actually paid a smaller share in taxes in 2006 than it had in 1975 (39.5 versus 41.2).  Only three nations, Britain, Germany, and Canada, had smaller increases than we did.

By now, you will probably have figured out that all the increase in US taxes between 1975 and 2006 came from state and local governments.  In a world in which democracies with advanced economies generally increase taxes and spending, sometimes by enormous amounts, the near constant level of spending by our federal government is remarkable.
- 11:05 AM, 13 November 2007
Correction:  In the third paragraph, I meant to say "GDP spent by"; I originally wrote "GDP going to".  I have corrected the text.
- 8:18 AM, 14 November 2007   [link]

Lower Child Mortality Rates In Iraq, Too:  At least according to the United Nations.   Engram has the story, along with an estimate:
In Iraq, there are roughly 935,000 births per year.  If the child mortality rate were still 125 per 1000 births, that would translate into 116,875 deaths of children under the age of 5 per year.  But with the reduced figure of only 50 per 1000 births, it is more like 46,750 deaths of children under the age of 5 per year.  That translates into about 70,000 lives saved per year compared to the Saddam Hussein era.  Against this are perhaps 35,000 violent deaths per year in Iraq (unless you believe that widely discredited report in Lancet, in which case there is no talking to you) -- a number that has suddenly plummeted, so the totals may be much lower from here on out.  Thus, about twice as many lives are being saved from improvements in health care as are being lost due to violence.  And this does not even take into consideration the number of violent deaths that occurred at the hands of Saddam Hussein.
Given the weakness of the UN, and the Iraqi government, we should understand that such estimates are rough, but they do give us some idea of what the Iraqis have gained from their liberation.

(Similar post on Afghanistan here.)
- 8:18 AM, 13 November 2007   [link]

Is John Edwards Using Code Words?  Roger Simon thinks so.  And he is not the only one who has come to that conclusion.

(Simon says:
Generally speaking, most of us think it is OK to make appeals for votes based on race or sex — just as long as you are in a minority group or are a woman.
I am not in that most, thinking such appeals are wrong no matter who makes them.)
- 7:53 AM, 13 November 2007   [link]

I Could Understand It If His Target Had Been A Computer Monitor:  But this seems foolish.
A man trying to loosen a stubborn lug nut blasted the wheel with a 12-gauge shotgun, injuring himself badly in both legs, sheriff's deputies said.
He might have gotten better results with penetrating oil and, perhaps, a cheater bar.  A good mechanic could probably add half a dozen suggestions to those two.

(I didn't pick that example at random.  There have been a number of cases in which someone shot their computer, usually targeting the monitor.  That's wrong, dangerous, but understandable.)
- 6:25 AM, 13 November 2007   [link]

Vos Savant Goofs:  Marilyn vos Savant's column in yesterday's Parade magazine had a surprising mistake.  She passed on this puzzle from reader Will Zens:
What is so special about these three words: hawk, ion, plume?
And then, after saying it was a hard puzzle, she gave this hint: "But residents of our westernmost state might crack it."

I wondered for about thirty seconds what those three words have to do with Alaska, and then read the answer at the bottom of the column: "They comprise the twelve letters of the Hawaiian alphabet."

In fact, Alaska is our westernmost state and our northernmost, and, in one way of looking at it, our easternmost state.  (Hawaii is our southernmost state.)
- 4:42 PM, 12 November 2007   [link]

Crime Doesn't Pay Very Well:  That was one of my reactions to this story.
An American computer security consultant on Friday admitted using massive botnets to illegally install software on at least 250,000 machines and steal online banking identities of Windows users by evesdropping on them while they made financial transactions.

John Kenneth Schiefer, 26, of Los Angeles, pleaded guilty to four felonies, including accessing protected computers to conduct fraud, disclosing illegally intercepted electronic communications, wire fraud and bank fraud.  He faces a maximum sentence of 60 years in federal prison and a fine of $1.75m, according to documents filed Friday in federal court.
And how much did he earn from all this effort?  They don't say — they may not know — but he has agreed to pay restitution of $19,128.35.  If he is any good at all as a computer security consultant, he probably could have earned that much honestly, in three or four months — without the risk of prison.

In the past I have read that, on the average, criminals have shorter time horizons than most of us; they live more in the present.  Which helps explain why they do so many things that seem, not just wrong, but foolish as well.  They just don't think far enough ahead to see the likely consequences of their actions.

(Incidentally, I have also read that children who can "defer gratification" are much more likely to succeed as adults than children who can't.

And, if you want to protect your computer from criminals like Schiefer one of the best things you can do is not store passwords on it.  Keep them in your head, or in a locked file cabinet.)
- 3:10 PM, 12 November 2007   [link]

Battening Down The Hatches:  This morning, I spent some time getting ready for the wind storm that is supposed to hit this area today.  So far, the wind has been more of a tabby than a tiger, but we still have almost four more hours before we can relax, according to the forecasters.
- 12:25 PM, 12 November 2007
Update:  No noticeable problems in my neighborhood, but scattered power outages in the region, and very high winds in some places, especially north of here.
- 7:40 AM, 13 November2007   [link]

Veterans Day.   Remembrance Day.  Armistice Day:  The last has been displaced by the first in the United States, and by the second in some other countries.

But I have to say, with all due respect to our veterans — and to our allies' veterans — that I prefer the original, with its direct link to the end of World War I.

(Here's what I had to say about that end in 2002.

And here are Wikipedia articles on Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, and Veterans Day.)
- 2:18 PM, 11 November 2007   [link]

Manzanita Lake:  It's a fine place to stop on a tour around Lassen Peak, especially on a hot day.

Manzanita Lake, 2007

The lake, as I mentioned last week, was created recently, when a landslide from the volcano damned up a creek.  And there's an even newer feature in the picture.  The dark streak on the top right of Lassen is a 1915 dacite lava flow.  It was part of the series of eruptions that began in 1914 and continued until 1921.

There are many other lakes formed by lava flows or landslides from volcanoes; one of the most famous is Lake Tahoe.

(You can find the previous 2007 disaster area tour posts here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

You can find the last posts, with links to earlier posts, for the 2006 and 2005 tours here and here.)
- 1:41 PM, 9 November 2007   [link]

Worth Reading:  David Brooks corrects the record.
Today, I'm going to write about a slur.  It's a distortion that's been around for a while, but has spread like a weed over the past few months.  It was concocted for partisan reasons: to flatter the prejudices of one side, to demonize the other and to simplify a complicated reality into a political nursery tale.

The distortion concerns a speech Ronald Reagan gave during the 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, Miss., which is where three civil rights workers had been murdered 16 years earlier.  An increasing number of left-wing commentators assert that Reagan kicked off his 1980 presidential campaign with a states' rights speech in Philadelphia to send a signal to white racists that he was on their side.  The speech is taken as proof that the Republican majority was built on racism.

The truth is more complicated.

In reality, Reagan strategists decided to spend the week following the 1980 Republican convention courting African-American votes.  Reagan delivered a major address at the Urban League, visited Vernon Jordan in the hospital where he was recovering from gunshot wounds, toured the South Bronx and traveled to Chicago to meet with the editorial boards of Ebony and Jet magazines.
And, yes he did visit Mississippi, and did speak approvingly of states rights briefly, in that same week.  But it is clear, from the rest of his schedule, that Reagan was actively trying to win black votes in 1980.

I've seen that slur many times, and have to admit that I believed it, that I never thought to check whether it was true, even though I knew that Reagan had made a major effort to win black votes in 1980.

Did Brooks have any of his colleagues at the New York Times in mind when he wrote this column?   Perhaps.  Here's one possibility.
- 12:40 PM, 9 November 2007
More:  Here's another possibility.

And you can see similar reactions to Brooks' column from Jon Henke and Tom Maguire.
- 4:57 PM, 11 November 2007   [link]

CBC Bows To China:  Story here.
CBC Television abruptly cancelled a featured Falun Gong documentary just hours before it was to air on Tuesday night, prompting complaints that the network bowed to pressure from Chinese government officials.
. . .
"If there is re-editing that's required, we're going to do that," CBC spokesman Jeff Keay said.  He confirmed the network had been talking with Chinese diplomats who had expressed concerns about promotions the CBC had aired in the runup to this week's broadcast.

"I was actually contacted myself by a gentleman who is a cultural consultant with the Chinese embassy," Mr. Keay said.  "He was very polite."  CBC will run a new version of the documentary "sooner rather than later," the spokesman added, but couldn't say precisely when.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation took a different position last September, when they "commemorated" 9/11 by running Michael Moore's propaganda film, Fahrenheit 9/11 — twice.

More here, and a funny spoof here, by Kate McMillan.  (Who just won an award.  And deserved it, as far as I can tell.)
- 9:42 AM, 9 November 2007   [link]

Boise State Backs Down:  Veterans had planned to do a 21 gun salute there as part of a Veteran's Day commemoration, and the university at first told them they couldn't, that the gunfire would frighten the kids.  Someone must have realized how silly that was, because they have changed their position.
Boise State spokesman Frank Zang said today that a 21-gun salute will occur at Bronco Stadium during Veterans Day activities that begin at 12:30 p.m. Monday.

Boise State officials had told campus veterans they couldn't include the salute in their activities Monday because it might alarm students or staff who didn't know the shooting was part of a ceremony.  The veterans had hoped to have the salute on the campus Quad.
The person who made the original decision almost certainly had a college degree, and probably earned a PhD, at some time in their life.
- 9:00 AM, 9 November 2007   [link]

Worst Or Best?  The headline for this article says "Retailers post worst October sales in 12 years".  The article's second paragraph begins with this sentence:
Retailers' sales at stores open at least a year rose 1.6%, the worst October result since 1995, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.
Let's decode that.  Sales rose 1.6 percent, but the article doesn't say since when.  From context, I infer that they mean since last year.  So, another way to say this is that sales in October set another record for that month, in a string that has continued for at least twelve years.  But that needs a qualifier.  What they are actually talking about is what is usually called "same store sales".  So, the headline could have been: "Same store sales set another record in October".   In this area, more new stores have been built than old stores have been closed in the last year, so the total sales gain is probably greater than 1.6 percent, perhaps 1.8 or even 2 percent.

Is that a good result?  We can't tell without more data, in particular whether the gain last October was average or not.  If last October had an exceptional sales gain, then a 1.6 percent gain may just show a return to trend.

So I don't know for certain what headline should go on that article.  But I do know that the one they used is wrong.
- 8:29 AM, 9 November 2007   [link]