October 2006, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Democratic Candidate Keith Ellison:  Minnesotans are proud — with some reason — of their state's clean politics.  Minnesota Democrats have a long history of opposing racism and anti-Semitism.  Despite this reputation, despite this history, Minnesota Democrats have nominated for Congress Keith Ellison, who has many blemishes on his personal record.
Ellison's record also includes a multitude of embarrassments of the traditional kind.  He fell afoul of the IRS after failing to pay $25,000 in income taxes; he ignored fines that he had incurred for parking tickets and moving violations so numerous that his driver's license was suspended more times than he can remember; he was fined for willful violation of Minnesota's campaign finance reporting law.  It amounts to a striking pattern of lawbreaking since he undertook the practice of law in 1990.
(Ellison is the Democratic candidate in the 5th district, the most Democratic district in Minnesota, so he will almost certainly win election this November — and will, most likely, stay in Congress as long as he wishes.  The current congressman in the district, Martin Sabo, is a very liberal Democrat, but a decent man, who, as far as I can tell, has always followed the laws he helps make.)

But those blemishes are minor compared to Ellison's long association with the Nation of Islam, a group that has, as Wikipedia delicately puts it, "been criticised for being racist, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, homophobic and sexist", perhaps because it is all of those things.

Ellison has tried to minimize his connections with the Nation of Islam, and to deny his own anti-Semitic statements, but he is on record too many times, in too many places, for his denials to be believed.

Ellison has also had strong connections to a violent gang.
Perhaps the lowest moment in Minneapolis's history was the September 1992 execution-style murder of police officer Jerry Haaf.  Haaf was shot in the back as he took a coffee break at a restaurant in south Minneapolis.  The murder was a gang hit performed by four members of the city's Vice Lords gang.  The leader of the Vice Lords was Sharif Willis, a convicted murderer who had been released from prison and who sought respectability as a responsible gang leader from gullible municipal authorities while operating a gang front called United for Peace.

The four Vice Lords members who murdered Haaf met and planned the murder at Willis's house.  Two witnesses at the trial of one of the men convicted of Haaf's murder implicated Willis in the planning.  Willis was never charged; law enforcement authorities said they lacked sufficient evidence to convict him.

Within a month of Haaf's murder, Ellison appeared with Willis supporting the United for Peace gang front.  In October 1992, Ellison helped organize a demonstration against Minneapolis police that included United for Peace.  "The main point of our rally is to support United for Peace [in its fight against] the campaign of slander the police federation has been waging," said Ellison.
Will Minnesota's 5th district Democrats make Ellison a congressman?  Almost certainly.   Will the national party repudiate him?  There's almost no chance of that.  But they should.

(Minnesota's most important newspaper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, has not thought that Ellison's personal record, or his long association with an "anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, homophobic and sexist" religious cult, or his association with violent gang members, deserves much coverage.   And our "mainstream" newspapers wonder why they are losing readers.

(Minor technical point: The Democratic party in Minnesota is officially the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party.  It was formed in the 1940s by a fusion of the Democrats with the Farmer-Labor party.)
- 6:59 AM, 8 October 2006   [link]

Civil War In France?  That's what a police union calls it.
Radical Muslims in France's housing estates are waging an undeclared "intifada" against the police, with violent clashes injuring an average of 14 officers each day.

As the interior ministry said that nearly 2,500 officers had been wounded this year, a police union declared that its members were "in a state of civil war" with Muslims in the most depressed "banlieue" estates which are heavily populated by unemployed youths of north African origin.
(Multiply by five to get the proportional casualties for the United States.)

Top authorities say the attackers are criminals; some police on the scene say they are Muslims.   Both could be true.  As I have said many times, Muslims in the West have much higher crime rates than the average.

If you want to understand this problem — and are not intellectually crippled by political correctness — I suggest reading this Paul Belien post.  For example:
Those media that tell us that the rioting "youths" want to be a part of our society and feel left out of it, are misrepresenting the facts.  As the insurgents see it, they are not a part of our society and they want us to keep out of theirs.  The violence in France is in no way comparable with that of the blacks in the U.S. in the 1960s.  The Paris correspondent of The New York Times who writes that this a "variant of the same problem" is either lying or does not know what he is talking about.  The violence in France is of the type one finds when one group wants to assert its authority and drive the others out of its territory.  [...] The Muslims resent the outsiders paternalizing them and interfering with their way of life in the suburbs of all Western Europe's major cities.  Their message is: get out of our way, get out of our territory, and: you act like you think you're the boss but we'll show you who really is.
I would differ with Belien on one point:  American gangs have often tried to establish control of turf, driving out both rival gangs and the police.  But most of our gangs have not belonged to entirely different religions from the majority.

(These "banlieu estates" have no exact American equivalent.  But you can get a rough idea of what they are like by imagining our worst housing projects plunked down in rural areas, making instant, and very nasty, suburbs.)
- 7:04 AM, 6 October 2006   [link]

Is The Foley Scandal Even Less Important Than I Thought?  Here's Matt Drudge's latest scoop.
According to two people close to former congressional page Jordan Edmund, the now famous lurid AOL Instant Message exchanges that led to the resignation of Mark Foley were part of an online prank that by mistake got into the hands of enemy political operatives, the DRUDGE REPORT can reveal.

According to one Oklahoma source who knows the former page very well, Edmund, a conservative Republican, goaded an unwitting Foley to type embarrassing comments that were then shared with a small group of young Hill politicos.  The prank went awry when the saved IM sessions got into the hands of political operatives favorable to Democrats.
Is Drudge right on this?  Probably.  He claims to have two sources, and this version does explain some of the odd aspects of the story.  And there's nothing implausible about it.   Guys that age sometimes do play cruel jokes, as anyone who has been a guy that age, or known some, can tell you.

By the way, if this story is true, then Foley is more victim than victimizer.   That doesn't mean that Foley behaved well, but even creeps don't deserve to be entrapped this way.
- 2:53 PM, 5 October 2006   [link]

Worth Reading:  Patterico's interview with a man who served at Guantánamo as a psychiatric nurse.  What you will learn about the terrorists and their treatment will suprise you — if you have been getting your news from the "mainstream" media.  Here's a small sample:
I think it's appropriate to end with this.  I asked Stashiu: what was the most surprising thing about your life at GTMO? He replied that, while you might think it would be something about the detainees, to him the most surprising thing was actually the behavior of the Navy Master-at-Arms — the guard force for Guantánamo.  Stashiu said that these guards are generally 18 to 20 years old, and are consistently showered with human waste products thrown at them by detainees — yet as a general rule, they stay remarkably professional and do not allow themselves to be antagonized.  Stashiu found their behavior the most impressive part of his stay at Guantánamo.
There will be five parts to the interview; here are the first four, part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.   I look forward to part 5, which will give the man's opinion of the "mainstream" media coverage of Guantánamo.
- 7:32 AM, 5 October 2006
More:  Here's part 5 of the interview.
- 2:28 PM, 9 October 2006   [link]

Mark Foley Began His Political Career As A Democrat:  Almost certainly.  Here's the key passage from the 2006 Almanac of American Politics.
The congressman from the 16th district is Mark Foley, a Republican first elected in 1994.  Foley was born in Massachusetts, moved to Florida at age 3, dropped out of Palm Beach Community College, and opened the Lettuce Patch restaurant in Lake Worth at 20.  He was active in politics, working for Democratic Congressman Paul Rogers; he was a real estate broker and served on civic boards.  Foley was elected to the Lake Worth City Commission in 1977, at 23, to the state House as a Republican in 1990, and to the state Senate from a democratic district in 1992.
It is rare for an activist to support a candidate of the other party, so I think it likely that Foley began his political career as a Democrat.

The Almanac provides no explanation for his (apparent) party switch, though I should note that Congressman Rogers was, like most Southern Democrats of that era, conservative on many issues.  Foley may simply have moved to the party that was, by then, a better ideological fit.

For some Republicans, this Democratic background may be all they need to know to explain Foley's behavior, but I will resist that temptation — though it takes a little effort to do so.
- 6:37 AM, 5 October 2006   [link]

Have They Ever Looked At A Map Of Election Results?  That was my reaction to this article, aptly titled "Bush stumps rare red areas of a blue state".  The reporters even quote a political scientist, Larry Gerston, as saying that districts friendly to Bush are "red islands in a blue sea", in support of their argument that California areas friendly to Bush are rare.

It is true that Bush lost California in both 2000 and 2004, though he did markedly better in 2004.  But it is also true that he carried most of the rural areas in California in both years, as you see in the USA Today maps for 2000 and 2004.  In both maps, red areas predominate, and it is the support for Gore and Kerry that shows up as islands in a sea.

Have these two staff writers for the San Francisco Chronicle never seen those maps, or similar maps?  One would have to think so.  (Political scientist Gerston has a little more excuse, since he is talking about congressional districts, but even there I suspect that the California Republican congressmen represent more area than their Democratic counterparts.)
- 10:57 AM, 4 October 2006   [link]

Congressman John Murtha might lose.
Ms. Irey rolled up her sleeves and got to work.  She has gained some recognition on her own as a staunch supporter of the armed forces, the mission in Iraq, an advocate for rigorous immigration policies and a fiscal conservative.  She has also been drawing attention to Mr. Murtha's many failings.   And she's producing results.  The campaign has just commissioned another poll by Public Opinion Strategies and Ms. Irey has closed the gap to ten points as the race now stands at 55%-45%.  She gained ten points and brought Mr. Murtha down ten--and the momentum is all in her favor.
We should be cautious about accepting the results of polls commissioned by campaigns at face value, but there are other reasons to think that Murtha might be vulnerable.  As I said in June, I think Diana Irey has a real chance to win, and if I lived in Murtha's district, I would contribute to her campaign — even though I don't have the kind of money that George Soros does.

(How big a chance?  Right now I would say about ten percent, up from five percent in June.)
- 5:25 AM, 4 October 2006   [link]

A New Record for the Dow.
The Dow Jones industrial average leaped into record territory Tuesday, highlighting Wall Street's long recovery from the popping of the technology bubble, the 2001 terrorist attacks and a wave of corporate scandals.

The new closing high of 11,727.34 highlights how much things have changed.  In January 2000, it was all technology all the time.  Internet firms without real business plans and pajama-clad day traders were the glamour kids.  Then the bubble burst, Enron Corp. and WorldCom Inc. collapsed, and small investors ran for the hills.
But the small investors have come back, and have done well in recent years.  Especially those smart enough to avoid fads and conventional thinking.  (Speculators can do quite well on fads and conventional thinking, but most investors are better off not even trying to be speculators.)   For example, one of the components of the Dow that has done especially well in recent years is Caterpillar.   Maybe the United States hasn't stopped making things after all, despite the conventional wisdom.

Naturally, we should blame President Bush for this new record, even though neither the Washington Post, nor the New York Times even mentions his name in their stories on the new record.  It is curious, by the way, that former President Clinton gets so much credit for managing the economy.  Clinton came into office during an economic recovery, followed polices in his first years that slowed the recovery slightly, ignored the dangers of the Internet bubble, and left as the economy was going into a recession.   These facts are not exactly secret, but they do seem to be unknown to most "mainstream" journalists.
- 4:56 AM, 4 October 2006   [link]

Some News Is Important:   For example:
Speaker J. Dennis Hastert faced intensifying questions on Monday about why Republicans had not reacted more assertively to Representative Mark Foley's messages to a teenage page, as members of his party, fearing a political debacle, demanded a strong response.
Some news is unimportant.   For example:
North Korea is to conduct a nuclear test "in the future", the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The move would "bolster" the country's self-defence in the face of US military hostility, official agency KCNA said.
How do I know the first story is important while the second isn't?  Many ways.  For instance, when I look at the current posts at memeorandum, I see many, many posts on the first story, and only a few on the second story.  And I have gotten the same message from most news organizations, and from talk radio.

Maybe I am weird, but I think the second story is more important than the first.

(I suppose that I will say a little about the Foley story some time, but not much, unless more facts surface.  What we now know is that he was interested in male pages and that in one case he exchanged dirty instant messages with one of the pages.  The page was, at that time, a minor, but above the age of consent.  And that's about all.  What Foley did was disgusting, but as far as we now know, not illegal.  And he has resigned, as he should have.

An example from my own experience may help you understand why I am not terribly excited about the Foley story.  Years and years ago, when I was a college student, I did a lot of hitch hiking.   Once or twice, when I got a ride, I discovered that the man giving me the ride was interested in something else.  I made it clear that I was not, and that ended the matter, and sometimes the ride.  It did not occur to me at the time to call the police, and I haven't seen any reason to change my mind on that since.  The approaches were annoying, but no more, and not nearly as worrisome as the rides I got, once or twice, from drunks.)
- 9:49 AM, 3 October 2006   [link]

Don't Know Much About History:  Somehow, this op-ed made it into the pages of the New York Times, in spite of the fact that it begins with this absurd paragraph.
In the autumn of 68 B.C. the world's only military superpower was dealt a profound psychological blow by a daring terrorist attack on its very heart.  Rome's port at Ostia was set on fire, the consular war fleet destroyed, and two prominent senators, together with their bodyguards and staff, kidnapped.
What's wrong with this?  Almost everything in the first sentence.  To begin with, the pirates who attacked Ostia were a far more serious menace than Robert Harris implies.  (You can find an account of their depredations here.)  At that time, Rome was already dependent on imported food.  An attack on Rome's port of Ostia threatened Rome's food supply.  It's as simple as that.

But that's not all that's wrong with the sentence.  The term superpower was first used during World War II for Britain, the United States, and the USSR; after the end of the British empire, it was used exclusively for the last two.  There were no superpowers before these three.  Rome, to state the obvious, did not have a global reach; they could not, for instance, have attacked Cuba, even if they had known where it was.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that we grant that Rome was a superpower for its time.  Was it the "only military superpower" then?  No, of course not.  Harris must have heard of China, though he seems not to be aware of the Han dynasty, which governed an empire that has at least as good a claim to be a superpower as Rome does.  And then there is Rome's eastern neighbor, Parthia.   Though Parthia was usually less powerful than Rome, it was strong enough to limit Rome's eastward expansion and, from time to time, inflict severe defeats on Rome, such as Carrhae.

In sum, by the usual definition, Rome was not a superpower.  If we extend the definition, it was certainly not the only superpower in 68 BC.  So why did Harris say differently?   Because — and I will bet that many of you have already guessed this — he wanted to use this bit of history to attack President Bush.  Or, to be more exact, he wanted to misuse this bit of history.

Standards have fallen at the Times, but I would have thought that someone there could see how absurd that first sentence is.  (And if you bother to read the entire op-ed, you will find many more absurdities.)
- 3:01 PM, 2 October 2006   [link]

Bill Clinton's Eruption On Fox News:  Though I was on my second disaster area tour when the former president erupted at Chris Wallace, I could not escape hearing about it.  Clinton's explosion in response to some basic questions about his record in fighting terrorism drew two main reactions, as far as I could tell.  Partisan Democrats were delighted that Clinton had, as they saw it, struck back — and were indifferent to his casual way with the facts.  (For an example of that reaction, see this E. J. Dionne column.)

Others mostly wondered whether Clinton's outburst was spontaneous, or whether this was something Clinton had planned to do, if he got the right question.   Paul Greenberg probably has the right answer to that question.
It was an operatic performance.  All the Sturm und Drang was there, if not the art.  But what impressed most was the practiced quality of the "spontaneous" explosion.  It sounded about as impromptu as one of the Three Tenors' great arias.  Maybe Pavarotti's "Fuor del Mar" from "Idomeneo."

Full of emotion but never really out of control.
But a performance spoiled — from Clinton's point of view — by Wallace's cool reaction.

We can reconcile these two points of view.  I believe that Clinton's outburst was staged and that his feelings were genuine (sort of).  While Clinton was president, he received regular lessons from a drama coach, a fact that has received less attention than it should have.  Here's what Roger Simon learned from that drama coach.
For a book I did this year on Clinton called "Show Time" (published by Times Books -- how many copies have you bought so far?), I spent several sessions with Clinton's speech and drama coach, Michael Sheehan, who is a graduate of the Yale Drama School.

"He is like an improvisational actor," Sheehan said of Clinton.

An improvisational actor immerses himself in his role, becomes his role.

"You feel the part, and you see what comes out," Sheehan said.
And, most likely, Clinton's emotions in his interview with Wallace were real — even though Clinton put them on for the occasion.

(Even Clinton's enemies have become so accustomed to his casual way with the truth that his misstatements (at best) in the interview drew little attention.  Perhaps too accustomed.  To his credit, Jake Tapper of ABC News did correct Clinton on one point, but not many others did the same kind of basic fact checking.)
- 10:44 AM, 2 October 2006   [link]

What Are The Democrats Hiding?  Senator Charles Schumer is heading the Democratic effort to gain control of the Senate.  Senator Schumer believes that voters should not know what the Democrats would do if they won a majority.
Inside Friday's Wall Street Journal was a highly illuminating article in which Mr. Schumer, the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which raises and allocates huge amounts of campaign cash, described himself and his counterpart on the House side, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, as "trying to be the generals." Quoth General Schumer: "This is a war."

His metaphor was a dagger aimed at the heart of those many moderate and independent-minded Americans who want to fight a war on Islamic extremist terrorists, a war on cancer, a war on poverty — but not a war on Republicans.  Mr. Schumer is described further in the article as among those arguing that the Democratic Party should keep its agenda secret from the voters.  "For more than a year, Democrats debated what platform to have for 2006, or whether to have one at all.  Mr. Schumer was among those mostly content to bash Mr. Bush," the Journal reported.The newspaper quoted General Schumer as saying, "For us to put out a big range of ideas gives Republicans a target and gets the message off George Bush."
But we can guess what the Democrats would do, from past experience and from recent votes.  And I don't think anyone would be foolish enough to predict that they would work with President Bush to solve our problems, though a few might.

(This odd interactive graphic from the New York Times may help explain why the Democrats don't want to tell us what they would do if elected.
The voters of the Republican party have been fractious, with cultural conservatives vying with antitax and antispending blocs for the president's attention.

But the G.O.P. is a portrait of unity compared to the Democratic electorate.  Democrats have been called a collection of interest groups.  Rathe than the donkey, perhaps the cat, notoriously resistant to herding, would make a better symbol.
Most students of American politics would agree that Democratic voters are more divided than Republican voters.  For example, during the 2004 campaign, polls showed that about half of Democratic voters thought the United States was basically a good nation with some flaws — and about half of the Democratic voters disagreed.  Kerry had to appeal to both groups, which helps explain some of his straddles and flip flops.

The more specific the Democrats are in their campaigns, the more likely they are to alienate some group in their coalition.  So, clever tacticians such as Schumer — and he is a superb political tactician — prefer to keep their plans secret.

(The graphic did not display correctly for me.  But then I am using the Firefox browser under Linux.  It may be easier to see for those using a more common operating system and browser.))
- 6:01 AM, 2 October 2006   [link]