November 2007, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Hope this ends peacefully.
A man claiming to have a bomb walked into a Hillary Rodham Clinton campaign office Friday and took at least two hostages, police and witnesses said.  Clinton was not in the state at the time.
According to some news reports, he is demanding to talk to Clinton directly.
- 12:37 PM, 30 November 2007
More:  Fortunately, it did end peacefully.
- 12:34 PM, 1 December 2007   [link]

This Conclusion Isn't A Surprise:  But the person making it is.
U.S. Rep. John Murtha today said he saw signs of military progress during a brief trip to Iraq last week, but he warned that Iraqis need to play a larger role in providing their own security and the Bush administration still must develop an exit strategy.

"I think the 'surge' is working," the Democrat said in a videoconference from his Johnstown office, describing the president's decision to commit more than 20,000 additional combat troops this year.   But the Iraqis "have got to take care of themselves."
Wonder if he has told Speaker Pelosi?

(The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette promises more on this video conference tomorrow.  I'll check tomorrow, on the off chance the reporter asked him whether President Bush was right to order the surge.)
- 6:25 AM, 30 November 2007
More:  Politico has a whole set of earlier Murtha comments for comparison.  They end their post with this distressing quote:
But Pelosi, who is scheduled to speak to a Democratic National Committee event in Virginia on Friday, will surely face tough questions from reporters regarding Murtha's statement on the surge.

"This could be a real headache for us," said one top House Democratic aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity.  "Pelosi is going to be furious."
Think about that.  The anonymous aide thinks that Pelosi will be furious because we are gaining in Iraq, and because John Murtha said so.  Furious because gains for the United States (and the Iraqis) might mean political losses for the Democrats.
- 7:35 AM, 30 November 2007   [link]

Planted Questioners At Last Night's Republican "Debate":  Michelle Malkin is making a list.

(She attributes the plants to CNN incompetence.  I don't have any evidence, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that one or more CNN employees knew about the background of, for instance, Retired Brigadier General Keith H. Kerr.  In other words, I don't rule out the possibility that someone at CNN knew about these plants, or may even have put one or more of them on the show.)
- 7:56 AM, 29 November 2007
More here and here, including this summary from John Fund: "Almost a third of the questioners seem to have some ties to Democratic causes or candidates."

CNN promised that the questioners would be ordinary citizens, but either didn't bother to check or deliberately picked many Democratic activists.  (I seem to recall that they promised, at the corresponding Democratic "debate", that the questioners would be undecided Democrats, which is reasonable during this part of the campaign.  I'm not sure whether they made the same promise for the Republican debate.)

CNN has apologized for the choice of General Kerr.  But they have also explained why they chose him; they thought he had a great question.  But it is a great question only if you believe that the current "don't ask, don't tell" policy on homosexuals in the military is a great injustice that should be exposed.  But the question would do nothing to show differences among the Republican candidates, since they mostly agree with the policy.

Jon Podhoretz believes that some of the other questioners were picked for similar reasons:
It's easy to see why CNN's producers liked their questions.  It's because those questions echoed the partisan prejudices of CNN producers.
Sounds about right to me.  But they should have known they would get caught.  Perhaps, like many partisans, the CNN producers don't realize they are partisan.
- 1:20 PM, 30 November 2007   [link]

Strange Bedfellows:  Really, I'm not making this up.
Call it the liberal-libertarian ticket, where left meets right and Democrat Dennis Kucinich picks Republican Ron Paul to be his vice president.

Kucinich, the Cleveland congressman running in a longshot bid to become president, suggested it himself Sunday.

"I'm thinking about Ron Paul" as a running mate, Kucinich told a crowd of about 70 supporters at a house party here, one of numerous stops throughout New Hampshire over the Thanksgiving weekend.  A Kucinich-Paul administration could bring people together "to balance the energies in this country," Kucinich said.

It would create a stunning, if dizzying, blend of beliefs, wedding two politicians who hold different views on abortion rights, the role of government in providing health care, and the use of government in fostering -- or hampering -- the public's greater good.  Those are among the reasons it would never work, said a spokesman for Paul, a Texas congressman and doctor.
(Maybe Congressman Paul wants a Paul-Kucinich ticket, instead.)
- 6:35 AM, 29 November 2007   [link]

The French Riots:  The best description I have seen is from Nidra Poller.  She has the advantage of not being handicapped by political correctness, unlike "mainstream" reporters.   Here's her lead paragraph.
Fires raged and mobs rioted in the Paris banlieues (suburbs) Monday night for the second night in a row, after two boys, aged 15 and 16, died when their mini-motorcycle hit a police car a day earlier, Nidra Poller reports.  At least sixty policemen have been injured, and a school gym has gone up in flames.
The New York Times article on the riots is better than the Washington Post's, but the Post does have this intriguing bit:
"The kids have one frozen idea about the police.  The police are just the devil, and there's no solution," said Pierre Tap┬┐, pastor at a local Baptist church who moved to the town from Ivory Coast six years ago.  On the other hand, when police see the young people, they see only black and immigrant youths, even though many are French, he said.  "The responsibility for the situation has to be shared.  The kids are at fault, and so are the police."
A Baptist pastor from the Ivory Coast!  Living in an area with many Muslims.  I'd love to know more about this man, but the Post reporters don't say any more.

The New York Times article stresses something that may be of great importance
And while the scale of the unrest of the past few days does not yet compare with the three-week convulsion in hundreds of suburbs and towns in 2005, a chilling new factor makes it, in some sense, more menacing.  The onetime rock throwers and car burners have taken up hunting shotguns and turned them on the police.

More than 100 officers have been wounded, several of them seriously, according to the police.  Thirty were hit with buckshot and pellets from shotguns, and one of the wounded was hit with a type of bullet used to kill large game, Patrice Ribeiro, a police spokesman, said in a telephone interview.  One of the officers lost an eye; another's shoulder was shattered by gunfire.
More than 100 officers injured, many of them from gun shots.  At least a few "youths" must have decided to procur weapons since the riots in 2005.  (Shotguns can be bought legally in France, which explains the choice of weapons.)  Or, they are now more willing to use possibly deadly force against the police than they were in 2005.

As of the time of this article, there had been "more than 30" arrests, which is not many for a riot this large.

¡No-Pasarán! has videos here and here, though I won't promise that you will be able to learn much from them.  But they may give you some feeling for what is happening on the streets of these suburbs.

The worst coverage I have seen is from the BBC, though they do have some dramatic photographs here.  For example, this article presents the claims of the rioters about the triggering incident first, though there is little reason not to believe the police account.   And this this article includes a remarkable pair of paragraphs:
This time - unlike in 2005 - guns were fired from deep in the crowd - hunting rifles normally used for killing deer or boar.

With this level of tension, it would take one small over-reaction from a police-officer to leave a rioter dead or injured.  And then what?
Many police have been shot and some seriously wounded.  That doesn't bother the BBC reporter, but Hugh Schofield is worried that the police might shoot back.
- 4:41 PM, 28 November 2007   [link]

Chuckle:  Iowahawk takes on the movie industry with this parody.  Here's his lead paragraph.
Los Angeles - Despite critical acclaim and massive promotional budgets, a wave of anti-Santa holiday pictures floundered at the box office over the Thanksgiving opening weekend, leading some entertainment industry analysts to question whether Hollywood had overestimated the American public's loathing for the Claus administration and a seemingly endless shopping season.
And it gets better from there.
- 1:00 PM, 28 November 2007   [link]

Tukwila's Truant Teachers:  Here's the story.

Students in Tukwila are rallying around a group of teachers in trouble with the school district for taking part in an anti-war protest.

That war protest turned into a full-fledged controversy at Foster High School in Tukwila.  Should teachers have encouraged students to walk out of class to protest the war in Iraq?  The civics lesson is now under the microscope.

Students at Foster High School rallied outside a Tukwila School Board meeting Tuesday night and rallied to the defense of their teachers.

The Tukwila School Board is sorting out whether anyone should be punished over the issue.  A Foster High School social studies teacher remains on paid administrative leave after the district says he participated with students in a walkout and protest of the war.

(For those not familiar with this area:   Tukwila is a poor suburb of Seattle.   It is not famous for having outstanding schools.)

This strikes me as, if you will pardon the phrase, a "teachable moment".  Firing the teacher who walked out of his job, in order to indulge in a political protest, will help these students learn how to be responsible adults.  You are free to demonstrate, but on your own time, not your employers'.  The teacher who didn't know that is in the wrong profession.

And the teachers who encouraged students to be truant?  They may be right about the value of their own classes, but they should realize that other classes may be worth attending, even at Foster High.   Some punishment would be appropriate, but I don't know what is possible, especially in this state.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(This morning I saw one of the protesting students on another television station.  She seemed to think it was mean to punish some one who was just expressing their feelings.  Sigh.

Here's a story on the "anti-war" protest.)
- 10:27 AM, 28 November 2007   [link]

Here's The Big Hillary rumor, just in case you missed it.

It got out in the usual way Clinton rumors do.  It was much talked about, and then a British paper published an article saying that people were talking about it.  (The article, is, by the way, terrible.  South Carolina is not particularly noted for dirty campaigns, nor was the late Lee Atwater especially "venal".)

From there it was spread by Drudge and, thinks Mickey Kaus, will eventually be spread by the late night comics — as soon as the writer's strike is over.

Is it true?  Probably not.  Nor would it matter much to me if it were true, although I have the feeling that Hillary, like her husband, would have no compunctions about putting a lover on the public payroll.  If that happened, it would matter to me, and should matter to everyone.   (Incidentally, I thought the Republicans erred by not making that an important part of their case against Clinton.  The Defense Department (!) jobs that the Clinton White House found for Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp were not given to them because of their exemplary performance in their day jobs, but to hush them up, and, in Lewinsky's case, to move her away from Clinton.  There is no reason to think that Lewinsky did much for the taxpayers while she was at the Defense Department.  The Defense Department job for Tripp had an interesting twist; she received a big pay raise, but was removed from the civil service protection of her previous job.)

Would it make a difference, politically, if it were widely believed?  Probably.  But not necessarily.  When Linda Chavez tried to use Barbara Mikulski's affair with an Australian lesbian against her in the 1986 senate election, she had little success.  (The Australian woman, whose name I forget, was on Mikulski's staff, and disrupted it seriously, so I think the issue was legitimate.)  On the other hand, news organizations essentially refused to cover the story, so it is hard to know how many Maryland voters knew about it.

(Here's much more gossip on the story, if you are curious.  Eric Scheie says, if true, the rumor would make him more likely to vote for Hillary, and then discusses Huma's odd job title, "body person".  To me, she sounds like a servant, and reminds me of John Kerry's Marvin.   James Lewis says the rumor is Hillary disinformation, designed to distract us from other, real Clinton scandals.  That's a bit too conspiratorial for my tastes, though I won't say it is impossible.)
- 8:40 AM, 28 November 2007   [link]

Do You See A Temperature Trend?  Here's a graph showing world temperatures for the last nine years.

World temperatures, 1998-2006

(Graph taken from this Investor's Business Daily editorial.)

Just eyeballing the data, I would have to say that I do not see a trend.  1998 was an exceptionally warm year, 1999 and 2000 much less so, and the years after that seem stable, if anything.

The IBD editorial is not as detailed as one would like on the source of this data.  From this BBC article, I am led to think that the source is "observations from satellites and balloon radiosondes".  In principle, I would expect those to be the cleanest data sources, but I don't know whether they are in practice.  (And I am fairly certain that some satellite data had to be adjusted for errors not that long ago.)

The BBC article is a summary of points made by climate skeptics, and counters.  Here's what the two sides say in point 2:
Skeptic: Since 1998 - almost a decade - the record, as determined by observations from satellites and balloon radiosondes, shows no warming.

Counter: 1998 was an exceptionally warm year because of the strong El Nino event.  Variability from year to year is expected, and picking a specific warm year to start an analysis is "cherry-picking"; if you picked 1997 or 1999 you would see a sharper rise.  Even so, the linear trends since 1998 are still positive.
Just looking at the graph, I would have to say that the skeptic has the better of the argument — but that there is not enough data to say that either side is correct.

But I think we can go this far.  If the world temperatures continue to be about the same for the next five years or so as they were last year, then the climate modelers who are now predicting global warming will have some explaining to do.  (Assuming, of course, that the graph above is an essentially accurate description of global temperatures.)

As always when I discuss global warming, I urge you to read my disclaimer, if you have not already done so.
- 7:47 AM, 27 November 2007   [link]

Getting Closer:  The snow, that is.
Eastbound lanes of Interstate 90 near North Bend were closed for over an hour Monday night as snow caused dozens of collisions and a traffic backup for miles.

State Patrol Trooper Jeff Merrill described the weather as "a raging blizzard" near milepost 34, where eastbound lanes were closed about 6:45 p.m.  One lane reopened about 8:15 p.m., but semi-trucks were not permitted.
That's about an hour away from where I live.

Good thing I bought my new cross country skis when I did, though I may not get a chance to use them again until this Friday.

(How is the new equipment?  I'm still deciding.  The new bindings are definitely better than the old three pin bindings.  They allow more extension and are more stable from side to side.   I haven't experimented with adjusting the position of the binding on the skis yet, but plan to do so.

The boots were a little less comfortable around the ankles than I expected.  That may be because I did not have them adjusted correctly.  The boots have three closure systems, laces with a locking pull tab, a zipped snow cover, and a Velcro loop at the top.  I probably tightened the last one too far.

Haven't formed an opinion on the skis yet, since I didn't ski hard enough last Friday to really test them.)
- 6:23 AM, 27 November 2007   [link]

Targeted Marketing:  There are computer programs that know a lot about my buying habits — and probably yours, too.  As I surf the net, I notice that I see a lot of ads for inexpensive motels, no doubt because I did a lot of searching for such motels last summer.  And since I was looking for cross country skis last week, I am not surprised to see ads from REI and L. L. Bean.

But what I find most interesting of all are the targeted price breaks.  For example, I now regularly receive email coupons from Borders, which I use, sometimes.  But I have begun to wonder whether the Borders' computer program will send me better offers, if I only respond to the best ones.  A week or so ago, I received a 30 percent off coupon, good on most regularly priced books.  I didn't use it.  Yesterday I received a 40 percent off coupon, which I will probably use.  Will disdaining the one and using the other help me get better offers from now on?  I really don't know, but I do intend to experiment a little.

Or, consider what happened with Lands' End.  A couple of weeks ago, I received an offer of free shipping — which I didn't respond to.  Four or five days ago, I received an offer of free shipping plus a twenty dollar coupon good on the next order.  I used that offer today, but can't help wondering whether they would have sent me an even better offer had I not used this one.

(Free shipping is probably best skipped, from what I have read.  Many consumers prefer free shipping to discounts that are actually worth more — which makes me think that smart consumers will almost always do better by waiting for a better offer, or a sale.)
- 4:28 PM, 26 November 2007   [link]

No One To Blame:  As usual.  This Seattle PI editorial on conditions at the county jail is scathing.

Last week's Justice Department report blasting conditions and treatment of inmates at the King County Correctional Facility is infuriating.

While the DOJ commends the jail's staff for fully cooperating with its investigations, the report's findings are plainly, brutally clear.  It concludes that conditions at the jail "violate the constitutional rights of inmates," and enumerates shortcomings and flaws across the board in the jail's system.  There are problems with inmate intake; inmates are "routinely subjected to" unnecessary use of serious force; the jail fails to protect inmates from harm and to provide them with medical assessment and care.

Scathing, but incomplete.  As you will see if you read the whole editorial, no one is to blame for these conditions, or at least no one the PI wants to name.

Who should be blamed?  The King County Council has a Democratic majority.  More important, the King County executive is Ron Sims, Democrat.  If the PI were willing to name and shame those reponsible for these deplorable conditions, they would have to start with Sims — which may be why they didn't name anyone in that editorial.

Unlike the editors at the Seattle PI, I believe that elected Democrats are (mostly) sane adults, who can be held responsible for their actions, and for the actions of those who work for them.  And I think that improvements at the jail (and elsewhere) are unlikely unless officials are held responsible for failures.  Even if those officials are Democrats.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(The PI doesn't give credit, either.  The DOJ in the first line is, of course, the Department of Justice, which works for George W. Bush, Republican.)
- 1:54 PM, 26 November 2007   [link]

Did You See Redacted This Last Weekend?  If so, you were almost alone.
It's hard for Hollywood pacifists like Brian De Palma to capture the hearts and minds of America if Americans won't see their movies.  While the public is staying away in droves from "Rendition," "Lions for Lambs" and "In the Valley of Elah," audiences are really avoiding "Redacted," De Palma's picture about US soldiers who rape a 14-year-old Iraqi girl, then kill her and her family.  The message movie was produced by NBA Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who insisted on deleting grisly images of Iraqi war casualties from the montage at the film's end.  Cuban offered to sell the film back to De Palma at cost, but the director was too smart to go for that deal.  "Redacted" - which "could be the worst movie I've ever seen," said critic Michael Medved -took in just $25,628 in its opening weekend in 15 theaters, which means roughly 3,000 people saw it in the entire country.
Setting aside the pro-terrorist politics of the movie for a moment, it is hard to see why any of the people who usually see movies would go to see this one.  It's not a date movie, not a "chick flick", not an adventure movie for adolescent males, and definitely not a family film.  Political movies, even documentaries, can succeed in the market, but they must make their points indirectly, usually through humor.

This movie may not even do well overseas, judging by its opening in Spain.

Coming back to the pro-terrorist politics of the movie, we can be fairly certain that this movie will be popular with our terrorist enemies, since it makes exactly the arguments against our soldiers that they want made.  Will this movie make our fight against the terrorists longer and harder?   Probably.  Was it intended to?  You'd have to know more about De Palma than I do to even guess at the answer to that question.

(The Post article goes on to say that the movie had received "high praise" in the New York Times.   Actually, one of their leftist reviewers, A. O. Scott, said, more or less, that he wanted to like the movie, but couldn't.  Judging by this post, the NPR reviewer, David Edelstein, had roughly the same reaction to the movie.  Edelstein was frank enough to call the movie agitprop, which he seems to think is a compliment.

As the article says, Michael Medved didn't much like the movie.  And bad movies are a subject where he has some expertise.  The "golden turkeys" were the fifty worst movies of all time.   He and his brother Harry have done follow-ups to that book; perhaps they will have to do one more, in order to include Redacted.)
- 11:28 AM, 26 November 2007   [link]

Will Chavez Lose?  That's what the latest poll says.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has lost his lead eight days before a referendum on ending his term limit, an independent pollster said on Saturday, in a swing in voter sentiment against the Cuba ally.

Forty-nine percent of likely voters oppose Chavez's proposed raft of constitutional changes to expand his powers, compared with 39 percent in favor, a survey by respected pollster Datanalisis showed.
The number who plan to vote is surging.
Leon said the number of Venezuelans who say they will not vote has shrunk from a majority of voters to around 40 percent -- a change expected to boost the turnout of the opposition.
Which is probably bad news for Chavez.

And he hasn't been helped by his mismanagement of the economy.  In spite of the enormous oil revenues, there are shortages in Venezuela.
But this year, Chavez has hurt his standing by shutting an opposition TV station and failing to end some food shortages.

Amanda Aguilar, 17, was in line at 5:30 a.m. waiting for a food store to open to buy her single, rationed carton of milk.
Under the current laws, Chavez would have to leave office in 2013.  (Interestingly, his plan does not repeal term limits for other officials.)

(To follow this story, I will be looking at Venezuela News and Views regularly.)
- 7:27 AM, 25 November 2007   [link]