October 2008, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Pre-Debate Syndrome:  Yesterday, I was feeling a little bit down and realized that I was not looking forward to last night's "debate".  That may seem strange for a political junkie, but in fact I have despised these "debates" for years.

My objection to these debates is simple:  I think they are a really stupid way to evaluate presidential candidates.

Part of the problem is that the "moderators" usually don't ask good questions.  And they often omit entire areas that should be discussed.  For example, in the Palin-Biden debate, moderator Gwen Ifill asked just two questions about taxes, these two:

IFILL:  OK, our time is up here.  We've got to move to the next question.  Sen. Biden, we want to talk about taxes, let's talk about taxes.  You proposed raising taxes on people who earn over $250,000 a year.  The question for you is, why is that not class warfare and the same question for you, Gov. Palin, is you have proposed a tax employer health benefits which some studies say would actually throw five million more people onto the roles of the uninsured.  I want to know why that isn't taking things out on the poor, starting with you, Sen. Biden.

Not very impressive questions, are they?

And Ifill did not ask a single question about the budget.  Not one.

(What questions should she have asked on taxes and the budget?  At least the obvious questions.  She should have added up their promises on lower taxes and more spending, and asked them how they were going to pay for their tax cuts and program increases.  And she should have displayed the main budget categories, and asked Biden and Palin where they thought there should be increases — and where they thought there should be cuts.)

Both candidates did mention taxes — many times — and both did mention budgets.  But their discussion was not particularly coherent, since they were not responding to the same question about taxes.  (Biden mentioned Obama's "tax cuts" so many times, that he convinced me that almost all of us will be seeing tax increases, should Obama be elected.  In fact, I began to suspect that the Obama campaign already has two task forces working on the problem, one designing the tax increases, and one planning the PR campaign to justify the increases.)

But even with better questions and better moderators, these "debates" would not tell us much about what a candidate would do as president, or vice president.  For that, the best guide is still their records — to the extent that they have records.  And there are other ways we could evaluate candidates, as I suggested somewhat fancifully in this post.  It would be fascinating, for instance, to know which of the four candidates knows the most about basic statistics.  (Probably McCain.)

Most journalists — and most talk show hosts — like the debates because they make their living with words, and tend to value words too highly.  For instance, almost all journalists, and most talk show hosts, are terribly impressed by Churchill's speeches during World War II.  And so am I.  But we should recognize that those speeches would have been useless if Churchill had not gotten the basic strategic decisions right.  Mostly.  Here's John Gooch's summary from The Oxford Guide to World War II.

His success as a war leader rests on the fact that he was enormously gifted amateur strategist — and that, ultimately, he acknowledged as much. (p. 188)

Or, to choose a more homely metaphor, we should not make a man our football coach just because he makes great half-time speeches.  If we can, we should look for a man with a winning record.  And, if we really understand football, we would want to inquire into a coach's thinking on strategy.

Enjoy the "debates" if you can, but don't take them seriously.  And don't use them to decide which candidate to vote for.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(For the record:  Both presidential candidates are making combinations of promises on taxes and spending that are impossible to keep.  But then I came to the same conclusion in 2000, and still preferred Bush's combination because it was less irresponsible than Gore's.  And for the same reason this year I prefer McCain's combination to Obama's.

Also for the record;  I did listen to a little of the debate last night, and followed some of it on line.  And I will read the transcript.  Eventually.)
- 2:27 PM, 8 October 2008   [link]

Knowing Your Enemy:  Has gotten much easier in the last few years — if your enemy happens to be a virus.   Thanks to Joseph DeRisi and his ViroChip.

A. My colleague Dave Wang and I were sitting around the office one day in 2000 asking, "How were viruses discovered in the past?"

We knew that it had always been a laborious and time-consuming effort.  When an epidemic struck, what researchers generally did was go to electron microscopes and try to figure out what they were seeing.  Sometimes, it took 10, 20 years to find a virus they knew had to be in there.

Earlier, when I was a Stanford graduate student, I'd worked on developing DNA microarrays, which are often called DNA chips.  They allow a researcher to do many biological tests at once.  The chips are now widely used in gene discovery, cancer detection, drug discovery and toxicology.  So Dave and I reasoned that these DNA microarrays would be perfect for viral discovery.  I said, "We can build a similar device representing every virus ever discovered, and it could simultaneously look for them."


A. It's a glass slide onto which we've printed little DNA fragments of every virus ever discovered — about 22,000 different viral sequences.  I designed the robot that made the chip.  I then built that robot and wrote all the software to automate it.  I've always been a serious computer nerd, as well as a biologist.  Now is really the right moment for a scientist with that combination of interests. The way the chip works is this: If we are looking at a virus and trying to figure out what it is, we take some DNA and some RNA from a patient and we tag it with a fluorescent dye.  Then we put that material onto the virus chip.  Because matching genetic sequences stick to each other — the double helix — if there's a match between what's on the chip and our biological sample, a particular spot on the chip will glow.  That tells us which virus the sample is.  And, thanks to computers, we can do this with thousands of viruses at one time.
Not magic, but pretty darn close to it.

DeRisi believes that we will be able to identify the viruses in any epidemic "within a few days".  And knowing the virus, and who has the virus, will tell us how to fight the epidemic.   At the worst, we will be able to isolate those who are infected, and stop the spread of the epidemic that way.

The ViroChip can be used with unknown viruses to locate their relatives, to place them in a family tree.  And DeRisi has developed a similar product to identify active genes in our ancient enemy, malaria.

(Here's his lab's web site, if you are wondering what he has done for us lately.)
- 12:57 PM, 8 October 2008   [link]

How Bad Are The ACORN Registrations In Nevada?  So bad that their offices were raided.
Nevada state authorities seized records and computers Tuesday from the Las Vegas office of an organization that tries to get low-income people registered to vote, after fielding complaints of voter fraud.

Bob Walsh, spokesman for the Nevada secretary of state's office, told the raid was prompted by ongoing complaints about "erroneous" registration information being submitted by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, also called ACORN.
. . .
Walsh said agents from both the secretary of state's office and Nevada attorney general's office conducted the raid at 9:30 a.m. local time, and "took a bunch of stuff."  Miller's office reported seizing eight computer hard drives and about 20 boxes of documents.
By the Nevada secretary of state, Bob Miller, a Democrat.  (As far as I know, he is no relation.)  Apparently, his office just got tired of the junk that ACORN was sending him.

Their canvassers did not all have clean records; according to this article, ACORN had hired "59 felons through a work release program".  As you would expect in a group like that, not all of them were great employees.

As I mentioned in this recent post, I have come to the conclusion that ACORN intentionally encourages illegal registrations.  ACORN officials have denied that, over and over, on the record, but a few might admit it — off the record.  In the first edition of Stealing Elections, John Fund passed this on from Larry Sabato and Glenn Simpson's Dirty Little Secrets:
Some liberal activists that Sabato and Simpson interviewed even partly justified fraudulent behavior on the grounds that because the poor and dispossessed have so little political clout, "extraordinary measures (for example, stretching the absentee ballot or registration rules) are required to compensate." (p. 7)
In short, some activists — let me repeat, some — think that it is OK for the poor to cheat a little in elections.
- 9:29 AM, 8 October 2008   [link]

Jonah Goldberg explains Senator Joe Biden.
Biden has no excuse. He's been in the majors for nearly 40 years, and yet he sounds like a bizarro-world Chauncey Gardner.  The famous simpleton from Jerzy Kosinski's "Being There" (played by Peter Sellers in the film) offered terse aphorisms that were utterly devoid of specific content but nonetheless seemed to describe reality accurately.  Biden is the reverse: He offers a logorrheic farrago of "specifics" that have no connection to our corner of the space-time continuum.

In short, he just makes stuff up.  But he does it with passionate, self-important intensity.   He's like a politician in a movie with a perfect grasp of a world that doesn't exist.  He's not an expert, he just plays one on TV.
And plays one well enough to stay in the Senate since 1972.

Most of us have known people like Biden.  Often we call them, putting this as delicately as I can, BS artists.  These artists aren't bad people, usually, but you can't trust what they say.  They are too attached to the immediate effect of their words to be bothered by such abstract concepts as the truth.
- 6:22 AM, 8 October 2008   [link]

CNN Commits Journalism:  Granted, they reveal nothing new, nothing that hasn't been seen on conservative web sites, notably the National Review, or even conservative blogs, including my own, but they do ask the right questions about Obama's ties to unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers.
Ayers is now a university professor who lives on the South Side of Chicago, where Obama cut his political teeth.  The nature of their relationship has been the subject of discussion all year in the blogosphere, but was dismissed by Obama during a Democratic primary debate earlier this year.

Obama confirmed during that April debate that he knew Ayers "as a guy who lives in my neighborhood."
. . .
But the relationship between Obama and Ayers went deeper, ran longer and was more political than Obama -- and his surrogates -- have revealed, documents and interviews show.

A review of board minutes and records by CNN show Obama crossed paths repeatedly with Ayers at board meetings of the Annenberg Challenge Project.
And there is much more in the article.
- 5:19 AM, 8 October 2008   [link]

Classy:  The junior senator from Missouri teaches a lesson in manners.  
[Senator Claire] McCaskill was stepping out of her chair at the end of an MSNBC interview, and Romney was up next.  She and a staffer unplugged her various wires, and she handed Romney the earpiece the guests use to hear the host.

"I spit on this before I put it in," she said to Romney, with a sweet smile.
What's almost as interesting is that the reporter, Politico's Ben Smith, appears to admire McCaskill for saying this.

(Oh, and though I haven't heard much of McCaskill, I wouldn't describe her as a deft surrogate for Barack Obama.)
- 4:59 AM, 8 October 2008   [link]

Worth Reading:  Even though nothing in it is original.  John Tierney explains, once again, why we should go nuclear.  Some highlights:
Today about 20 percent of electricity in America is generated by nuclear power, which is about 20 times the contribution from solar and wind power.  Nuclear power also costs less, according to Gilbert Metcalf, an economist at Tufts University.  After estimating the costs and factoring out the hefty tax breaks for different forms of low-carbon energy, he estimates that new nuclear plants could produce electricity more cheaply than windmills, solar power or "clean coal" plants.

The outlook could change, of course, if new nuclear plants turn out to be more expensive than expected, or if engineers make breakthroughs in other technologies.  (To debate these possibilities, go to  Given the uncertainties, Dr. Metcalf cautions, it would be risky to bet everything on nuclear power as the answer to global warming.

But it seems even riskier to bet on just the soft path, as so many greens are doing, either by flatly opposing nuclear power or by setting so many conditions that no plants could be built for decades, if ever.  (Mr. Obama says nuclear power is necessary but should not be expanded until security and safety issues are addressed.)
(Tierney gives Obama a little too much credit in that last line. As I noted in June, Obama favors nuclear energy in principle, but opposes it in practice.  He uses a common trick, calling nuclear waste an unsolved problem:
When a political candidate uses nuclear waste to object to nuclear power, they reveal one of two things about themselves: Either the candidate does not understand the science — which is not that difficult to grasp — or the candidate is a demagogue who does not care about the scientific facts.  But the position is enormously convenient for a candidate who wants to appear reasonable about nuclear power, while blocking it in practice. (But not, and this is important, closing any current nuclear power plants.)

I do not know whether Obama does not understand the science — though he has no significant training in the sciences — or whether he is just being a demagogue.  But his position is, on this issue, profoundly anti-scientific.
It's a common trick because it has been so successful.  The trick would not succeed as often as it does, if so many journalists were not scientifically illiterate.)

Part of the problem — in my opinion — is that many on the left have as their unspoken slogan:  "Power from the people."  They want ordinary people, though almost never themselves, to use less energy, whether or not that results in less global warming, or a cleaner environment.

(More on Tierney's article from Tom Maguire and the Instapundit.)
- 3:48 PM, 7 October 2008   [link]

Canadian Election:  In just one week.  Haven't seen many stories on the Canadian election in American newspapers, have you?

To some extent, that's understandable.  We're having a much noisier campaign ourselves.   American news organizations seldom pay as much attention to Canada as they should.  And whoever wins will probably not make large changes in Canada, at least in the short run.

But I think there is one more reason that our "mainstream" news organizations are paying so little attention to the Canadian election:  Currently, Stephen Harper's party, the Conservatives, are leading in the polls, and are likely to win the most seats in Canada's parliament, though perhaps not an absolute majority.  Harper has been more friendly to the United States and President Bush than his predecessors in the Liberal party.  So, unless there is an upset, this election can not be interpreted as a repudiation of George W. Bush.

Therefore, it isn't a real story.

(I'm not saying that American "mainstream" journalists are doing this deliberately, just that when they choose stories to cover, they are influenced by their biases, often unconsciously.)

It is unfortunate that American journalists are not interested in this election, because it is fascinating story.  Almost exactly five years ago, the Canadian Conservative party was formed by combining the Reform Conservative Alliance and the Progressive Conservative party.  In its second election in 2006, the new party won the largest number of seats, helped by series of scandals in the ruling Liberal Party.  Next week, in its thirdd election, it may increase its share of the seats in the Canadian parliament.

Much credit for this success should be given to their leader, Stephen Harper, an economist by training, and a canny political tactician.

As I said, it's an interesting story — but it doesn't have a moral that would attract many "mainstream" journalists, and so you may not have seen much about it.

(Here are the web sites for the four most important Canadian parties, the Conservatives, Liberals, the Bloc Québécois, and the socialist NDP.  (New Democratic Party)  The Green party may also influence the election, by taking votes away from the Liberals and the NDP.

I don't know how significant tactical voting is in Canada, though with four significant parties, you would expect some voters to vote for their second, or even third, choices in order to defeat the party they dislike the most.)
- 9:57 AM, 7 October 2008   [link]

Bank Regulation, British Style:  In yesterday's post, I linked to an article describing how Britain's Financial Services Authority regulated, or, most would say, did not regulate, Northern Rock.  Here's a list of failures, just in case you didn't follow the link:
The raft of failures uncovered by the regulator's internal auditors were:

— For 12 months Northern Rock was monitored by supervisors with expertise in insurance, not banking;

— Over the 2 years, three department heads had responsibility for Northern Rock. The FSA's review found that only one other bank had experienced such a high turnover in the same period;

— Formal records of supervisors' meetings with the FSA's risk assessment panel to discuss Northern Rock were not kept, nor did supervisors give the panel any "developed financial analysis" on the bank;

— The panel agreed to allow the supervisors to lengthen the period between the bank's assessments from 24 months to 36 months;

— Northern Rock's supervisors did not understand what close and continuous (C&C) supervision entailed and kept only one partial record from eight C&C meetings with the bank;

— The supervisors failed to enter any details into the FSA's database on the risks presented by the bank, or how those risks were worsening;

— The supervisors and the panel did not issue the bank with a risk-mitigation programme (RMP) that would have forced it to address its risks.  Northern Rock was the only bank monitored by the FSA without an RMP.
You don't have to be a CPA to realize how badly the regulator failed.  It is simply amazing, by the way, to learn how many formal records are missing.  Bureaucracies, for all their faults, are usually good at keeping records.

(Incompetence is by far the most likely explanation, but this series of failures is so bad that British authorities should investigate the possibility of fraud, investigate the possibility that regulators were paid to protect the bank from regulation.)
- 8:15 AM, 7 October 2008   [link]

How Do "Mainstream" News Organizations Help Democrats?  Jeffrey Lord explains, using the New York Times coverage of the 2004 presidential election.  Example:
Reporter: Carl Hulse
Message: A warning to Democrats who would spurn Kerry for Bush as did Georgia Senator Zell Miller.   (Did you see any stories like this in 2008 about former GOP Representative Jim Leach after he spoke at the Democrat's Convention for Obama?  Me neither.)
Discouraging, but instructive.
- 6:42 AM, 7 October 2008   [link]

Northern Sand:  Some news accounts are describing the current financial crisis as something that started in the United States, and then spread to Europe.  There are a number of objections to that, including the fact that the first large bank to get bailed out was a British bank, Northern Rock.   And their failure was mostly caused by their British management.
The list of people to be indicted for the failure of Northern Rock, and the ineptitude of its rescue, is long.  Adam Applegarth, the former chief executive of the Newcastle lender, is the chief culprit.  He and his team of top managers ran Northern Rock into the ground.  They used methods that were foolish and risky.  Northern Rock managers borrowed too much from the financial markets, and lent too much to loan-hungry homebuyers.  Northern Rock was left disastrously exposed to the danger that materialised in August when the world's financial system hit the buffers.  Banks should manage risk.  Mr Applegarth and the other Northern Rock managers put far too many eggs in one, wholesale money-market, basket.
The failure was detected later than it should have been because the British regulator, their Financial Services Authority, failed to supervise Northern Rock properly.

When the failure was finally recognized, dithering by the Labour government delayed a solution.
When the crisis broke, the Government had three broad options.  It could have allowed Northern Rock to go under, to the cost of its lenders and its larger depositors (smaller savers being protected by existing legislation).  It could have moved to immediate nationalisation.  Or it could have allowed the Bank of England quietly to facilitate a takeover.
. . .
Why was none of these options pursued?  Because Labour had its eye on an October general election and was determined to defer the crisis.
(The third option, the Telegraph says, was excluded by European Union regulations.)

The aid given to this one bank, £55 billion, is about as large, relative to the British economy, as our $700 billion bailout.

At some point, the bank should have been renamed "Northern Sand", to give the public a hint.

(Here's a Northern Rock time line.  Note that the public first learned about the problem September 13th of last year.

There are accusations that Northern Rock received special treatment because of its links to the Labour party.   I don't know whether that is true, but it would not be surprising if it were.

Finally, one irony:  The British government guaranteed deposits in Northern Rock.  As a result, worried customers are now rushing to deposit money in the bank.  That damages banks that compete with Northern Rock.
- 4:49 PM, 6 October 2008   [link]

Russians Are Sick:  And they aren't having enough babies.  Unless those change, then Russia will inevitably decline, says Murray Feshbach.
According to U.N. figures, the average life expectancy for a Russian man is 59 years -- putting the country at about 166th place in the world longevity sweepstakes, one notch above Gambia.  For women, the picture is somewhat rosier: They can expect to live, on average, 73 years, barely beating out the Moldovans.  But there are still some 126 countries where they could expect to live longer.  And the gap between expected longevity for men and for women -- 14 years -- is the largest in the developed world.

So what's killing the Russians?  All the usual suspects -- HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, alcoholism, cancer, cardiovascular and circulatory diseases, suicides, smoking, traffic accidents -- but they occur in alarmingly large numbers, and Moscow has neither the resources nor the will to stem the tide.
. . .
On the other end of the lifeline, the news isn't much better.  Russia's birth rate has been declining for more than a decade, and even a recent increase in births will be limited by the fact that the number of women age 20 to 29 (those responsible for two-thirds of all babies) will drop markedly in the next four or five years to mirror the 50 percent drop in the birth rate in the late 1980s and the 1990s.  And, sadly, the health of Russia's newborns is quite poor, with about 70 percent of them experiencing complications at birth.
What you will notice about that list of suspects killing Russians is that they are all, at least in part, consequences of behavior.  Or, as an earlier generation would have said, a consequence of character.  Russsians, especially Russian men, are dying because they behave badly.

Feshbach criticizes, with reason, Russia's public health failures, their failure, for example, to provide decent TB hospitals.  But I am struck more by the collapse of Russian character, by the unwillingness of so many Russians, especially men, to take care of themselves.

It is unfortunate that, with these problems, Russia is ruled by Vladimir Putin, who cares more about dramatic confrontations than the hard work of reclaiming the Russian population.

(In the 19th century, under the Czars, Russia had the largest population gain of any large European nation between 1870 and 1910, 88 percent.  The population grew under Soviet rule, though not as rapidly.  It is hard not to think that most of their current troubles are a result of the horrible damage done decades of Soviet rule — and their recent exposure to some new temptations.

Putin has tried to increase the birth rate, and may have had a little success in his efforts.)
- 2:31 PM, 6 October 2008   [link]

It's Time To Repeat this joke.
Can Obama laugh at himself?

Of course not.  That would be racist.
It's time because Douglass Daniel of the Associated Press made a complete fool of himself by raising charges of racism, where there is none.

And because Daniel is not the only one to make these absurd charges of racism.

I expected this kind of nonsense, ever since Barack Obama began running for president.  But I did not expect that it would be quite this bad.  Or that one of the worst examples would come from the Associated Press.

(Would Douglass Daniel get that joke?  I doubt it, and I am sure that he would not find it funny.)
- 1:16 PM, 6 October 2008   [link]

Is Obama Clueless, Rather Than A Leftwing Extremist?  That's David Bernstein's tentative conclusion in this much-linked post.
But what is interesting to me is that not only did Obama not personally find anything especially obnoxious about Wright's radicalism, anti-Americanism, ties to Farrakahn, and so on, or Ayers' lack of regret for his terrorist past, he apparently didn't expect that much of anyone else would care, either.  How else do you explain why he didn't jettison these individuals from his life before they could damage his presidential ambitions?  How else do you explain how his campaign seemed to be caught flatfooted when Obama's ties to Wright and then Ayers became campaign issues?  And, perhaps most tellingly, how else do you explain that when Obama was asked in a debate with Clinton about his ties to Ayers, he analogized his friendship with Ayers to his friendship with Senator Tom Coburn, as if being friends with a very conservative senatorial colleague is somehow analogous with being friends with an unrepentant extreme leftist domestic terrorist?

In short, Obama's ties to Ayers and Wright suggest to me NOT that Obama agrees with their views, but that he is the product of a particular intellectual culture that finds the likes of Wright and Ayers to be no more objectionable, and likely less so, than the likes of Tom Coburn, or, perhaps, a Rush Limbaugh.  Not only that, but he has been in his particular intellectual bubble so long that he was unable to recognize just how offensive the views of a Wright are to mainstream America, or how his ties to Ayers would play with the public, especially post-9/11.
Like me, Bernstein is not certain what Obama actually believes.  And I would agree with Bernstein that Obama may not have realized how ordinary Americans would react to his pastor and his political allies, including Ayers.  In other words, Bernstein thinks that Obama is more clueless than a leftwing extremist.  But that's a false dichotomy since a person can be both clueless and on the far left.  I can say that with confidence because, over the years, I have met a number of people who are both.

And that, I think, is a fair way to describe Obama — with some qualifications.  He is BOTH clueless and on the far left.  (With some qualifications:   From what I have read, he seems to have been a decent constitutional law instructor.  And he is not a bad writer.  But there is nothing in his career, or even in the speeches that have been written for him, that suggests that he has a deep understanding of this nation and its current problems.)

My own tentative opinion is that, were Obama to be elected president, he would govern as a leftist, specifically "as close to his leftist ideas and values as he can get away with".  That is what Obama has done as an elected official, and I see no reason to expect him to change, as president.

(Obama's choice of Coburn is easy to explain; Coburn is very pro-life.  And for some on the left, that is unforgivable, far worse than having tried to blow up a few buildings and policemen during the Vietnam war.

"Farrakhan" not "Farrakahn", but we know who Bernstein means.)
- 8:43 AM, 6 October 2008   [link]

Brazil Expels Undocumented Aliens:  Claiming, naturally, to be doing it for humane reasons.  But, just possibly, those penguins prefer the beaches of Bahia to the wastes of Patagonia.  (Even if they are a little over-dressed for Brazilian beaches.)
- 6:49 AM, 6 October 2008   [link]

Bad Ideas Never Die:  They just get recycled.   Floyd Norris makes a strong argument that raising the insured limit on deposits is a bad idea.
The raising of the deposit guarantee limits in 1980 to $100,000, from $40,000, made depositors less concerned about the health of their institution, and made it easier for dying institutions to attract deposits.   Raising the figure to $250,000 now could have the same effect.
I suspect he's right.  He's certainly right that raising the limit in 1980 made the savings and loan crisis worse, as depositors shopped around for the highest rates, without worrying about safety.

The increase to $250,000 drew almost unanimous approval, but it is, just as he says, probably a bad idea.  In any case, should we really be providing financial security for those wealthy enough to keep $250,000 in cash?

(Norris thinks he has spotted several other recycled bad ideas.)
- 9:36 AM, 5 October 2008   [link]

Fellow Traveler Alice Palmer:  Barack Obama was a supporter of Illinois state senator Alice Palmer.  When she ran for Congress, he backed her and she, in turn, backed him, at least informally, for her state senate seat.  When she lost the Congressional primary, she came back to try to keep her seat in the Illinois senate.  Obama refused to withdraw, and got Palmer thrown off the ballot.  All that is well known to those follow politics closely.

But Palmer herself has drawn less attention.  There has been much less coverage of this woman, who was an ally of Obama for years.  In this post, I noted that she was on the far left.  Now Joshua Muravchik adds more documentation for my argument:
Mr. Obama's target was a legislative seat held by Alice Palmer, who had decided to make a run for the U.S. Congress.  She introduced Mr. Obama in Democratic Party circles as her anointed successor.   (After a later falling-out, the two would dispute whether her support had amounted to a formal endorsement or merely, as she claimed, "an informal nod.")  Like others among his mentors or patrons, Ms. Palmer, too, was a radical, a member of the executive body of the U.S. Peace Council, the least disguised of Soviet front organizations.  She had made multiple pilgrimages to the Soviet Union, and in 1986 attended the 27th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party, telling the party paper on her return that the Soviets "plan to provide people with higher wages and better education, health and transportation, while we in our country are hearing that cutbacks are necessary in all of these areas."  According to a later story in the same paper, Ms. Palmer visited Moscow again the following year to attend the World Congress of Women sponsored by another Soviet front organization.
At the very least, Alice Palmer is a fellow traveler, a Communist sympathizer.  (Or was.  It is possible that she has changed her views since she and Obama were allies, though I have seen no evidence that she has.)  Possibly, she is a Communist, though I think that unlikely.

Did she think that Barack Obama shared her political beliefs?  That seems almost certain.  Did he?  That is harder to tell, as it often is with Obama.  But it is true, as Muravchik shows in the rest of his piece, that Obama has had a long history of working with people on the far left, including fellow traveler Alice Palmer.
- 7:54 AM, 5 October 2008   [link]

Some Bad News, And Some Good News:  The economies of the advanced industrialized nations have been slowing down.  Some may even have entered recessions.  That's the bad news.

That slowdown has decreased demand for oil, and so the price of oil is dropping.

Oil prices, 3 Oct. 2008

That's the good news.

This New York Times article gives us an idea just how good that news is.
"The fall in oil prices is equivalent to a new stimulus package for consumers," said Lawrence J. Goldstein, an energy analyst at the Energy Policy Research Foundation.  He calculated that each drop of $10 a barrel in the price of oil lowered the nation's annual bill by about $70 billion.  That is $230 for every American.
Goldstein is just calculating the direct benefit, which since oil has now dropped about $50 dollars a barrel from its peak, would be about $350 billion for the nation, and more than a $1000 for each American.  But there are indirect benefits, too.  For example, many of our exports go to oil importers.  When the price of oil drops, they have more to spend on our airplanes, computers, and agricultural products.

How low will the price go?  Hard to say, but some are saying that it could fall to $50 a barrel.  That would be a great stimulus package.
- 5:10 PM, 4 October 2008   [link]

Well, They Would Say That, Wouldn't They?  In this long New York Times article, Scott Shane does what he can to minimize the ties between Barack Obama and unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers.  (Though Shane concedes that Obama has "played down his contacts" with Ayers, which is a nice way to say that Obama has been deceptive on this subject.)

Shane, again and again, accepts the explanations given by Obama and his supporters — without making any real effort to check them.  For example, there is the continuing mystery of Barack Obama's chairmanship of the board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge.  Here's how Shane describes that appointment:
That project was part of a national school reform effort financed with $500 million from Walter H. Annenberg, the billionaire publisher and philanthropist and President Richard M. Nixon's ambassador to the United Kingdom.  Many cities applied for the Annenberg money, and Mr. Ayers joined two other local education activists to lead a broad, citywide effort that won nearly $50 million for Chicago.

In March 1995, Mr. Obama became chairman of the six-member board that oversaw the distribution of grants in Chicago.  Some bloggers have recently speculated that Mr. Ayers had engineered that post for him.

In fact, according to several people involved, Mr. Ayers played no role in Mr. Obama's appointment.   Instead, it was suggested by Deborah Leff, then president of the Joyce Foundation, a Chicago-based group whose board Mr. Obama, a young lawyer, had joined the previous year.  At a lunch with two other foundation heads, Patricia A. Graham of the Spencer Foundation and Adele Simmons of the MacArthur Foundation, Ms. Leff suggested that Mr. Obama would make a good board chairman, she said in an interview.  Mr. Ayers was not present and had not suggested Mr. Obama, she said.
There are two strange facts that do not interest Shane.  First, Ayers started this project, but we are to believe that he had nothing to do with choosing the man who would run his board.  Second, Obama was obviously unqualified to be chairman of the board.  At the time he had no experience in education, other than being a student.  He was just a few years out of law school.  He did not have, despite his time as a community organizer, deep roots in Chicago.  He had no executive experience.

A person with even an ordinary amount of curiosity would want to know why Obama was chosen, and would not accept Leff's explanation without evidence.  But Shane just goes on to next subject.

(One reason for choosing Obama is obvious, though a New York Times reporter might not want to mention it: affirmative action.  But the Chicago area has thousands of black professionals, many of them with far better credentials than Obama.  Affirmative action might explain the race of the chairman, but it doesn't explain why Obama was chosen, rather than one of the many better qualified blacks in Chicago.)

Several Obama supporters say that Ayers had nothing to do with Obama's appointment.  Well, they would say that, wouldn't they?  And it might even be true, but I doubt it.
- 3:23 PM, 4 October 2008
Much More:  I said that the claim that Ayers did not help choose Obama was implausible; Steve Diamond provides detailed evidence showing just how implausible it was.  Key point:
Thus, while Ayers may not have suggested the Obama name directly to Leff, only Ayers could approve of the appointment of Obama.  No one else possessed the legal power to do so.
Scott Shane apparently had access to this evidence — he has talked to Diamond several times — but ignored it when writing his story.
- 4:20 PM, 5 October 2008   [link]

Chuckle:  Unless you are a supporter of Joe Biden, you'll love this.
- 1:31 PM, 3 October 2008   [link]

Bailout Bill Passes:  In this post, I noted that House leaders seldom lose votes that they really want to win, since they control the schedule.  (That doesn't mean they win all votes; if they don't have enough votes to win, they often will not schedule a vote.)  Today's vote illustrated that point, and another point.
After the remarkable defeat of the bailout package on Monday, Congressional leaders took no chances on Friday.  Democrats had said they would not bring the bill back to the floor unless they were certain of victory.

The revolt earlier this week by the House's rank and file was quelled both by fears of a global economic meltdown, and by old-fashioned political inducements added to the deal by the Senate.

And just to be sure, the leaders had a backup plan, giving them the option to interrupt the proceedings and debate an increase in unemployment benefits, so that they could round up additional votes.  In the end, it was not needed.
And the additional point?  The parties in the House are so distrustful of each other that the leaders in each party switched enough votes to change the outcome — without any help from the other party.
On Friday, 91 Republicans joined 172 Democrats to support the bill, while 108 Republicans and 68 Democrats opposed it.  Twenty-five Republicans and 33 Democrats switched their votes from "no" to "yes."  One Democrat who supported Monday's version, Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington, opposed the bill Friday.  One Republican who didn't vote Monday, Rep. Jerry Weller of Illinois, voted "yes" on Friday.
Incidentally, I thought the two houses of Congress each showed characteristic weaknesses this week.   The House showed that coalitions of left and right can defeat the middle; the Senate showed that it will add pork to any bill, any time.
- 1:20 PM, 3 October 2008   [link]

Aaron Burr?  Last night, Joe Biden gave a most remarkable answer on the vice presidency.  Here's the complete exchange:
IFILL: Vice President Cheney's interpretation of the vice presidency?

BIDEN: Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president we've had probably in American history.  The idea he doesn't realize that Article I of the Constitution defines the role of the vice president of the United States, that's the Executive Branch.  He works in the Executive Branch.  He should understand that.  Everyone should understand that.

And the primary role of the vice president of the United States of America is to support the president of the United States of America, give that president his or her best judgment when sought, and as vice president, to preside over the Senate, only in a time when in fact there's a tie vote.  The Constitution is explicit.

The only authority the vice president has from the legislative standpoint is the vote, only when there is a tie vote.  He has no authority relative to the Congress.  The idea he's part of the Legislative Branch is a bizarre notion invented by Cheney to aggrandize the power of a unitary executive and look where it has gotten us.  It has been very dangerous.
Many others have noted that Biden "mangled" the Constitution.  And one of his mistakes was a real howler; a high school student should know that Article 1 establishes the legislative branch, not the executive branch.  (The Instapundit has more, including the interesting fact that the vice president's budget was, until Spiro Agnew, part of the Senate's budget.)

Biden attended a respected high school.  He is a lawyer.  He was elected to the Senate in 1972.  He has served on the Judiciary Committee for many years, and was chairman from 1987 to 1995.  He is running for vice president.  And he apparently does not know that the vice president can preside over the Senate full time — not just in case of ties.  (Vice presidents usually don't preside over the Senate, because it is such a boring job.)

But there's more.  Biden claimed that Vice President Cheney has been the "most dangerous vice president" in history.  He must have forgotten Aaron Burr, who, among other things, killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, and was tried for treason.  (Burr was acquitted, but the actions that led to his trial would not be suitable for a pocket book of patriotism.)  By any reasonable historical standard, Burr was far more dangerous than Cheney.

If Republican Sarah Palin had made this many mistakes in the answer to a single question, our "mainstream" media would be full of stories about poorly informed she is, how she isn't ready for the job.

It is hard to know just what to make of Biden's answer, hard to believe that he really is that confused about the Constitution and our early history.  I am inclined to think that it shows that Biden does not care whether what he says is true, that like some used car salesmen, Biden will say whatever he thinks will give him an immediate edge.
- 9:01 AM, 3 October 2008   [link]

What Would Tammany Hall Do?  That's the question I ask myself whenever I try to explain Speaker Pelosi's actions.  Ever since she became the leader of the House Democrats I have been saying that she can be best understood as a machine politician like her father.  That explains, for example, why she is so willing to accept corrupt subordinates, such as John Murtha and Alcee Hastings.    And I think the Tammany Hall explanation helps us understand why Pelosi lost the first bailout vote.

To understand what a machine politician like a Tammany Hall leader or Speaker Pelosi will do, you have to discard some civics class ideas.  For a machine politician, politics is their business, and it is often a business that they inherited from the parents.  So when someone threatens their position, in their party or in public office, the machine politician sees it as a threat to the family business.   Like most of us, machine politicians do not take threats to their family businesses lightly.

That doesn't mean machine politicians will do anything to keep their positions; they might stuff a ballot box or rough up opponents at the polls, but very few of them resort to murder.  Partly, of course, because such actions are counterproductive, because such actions might ruin the family business.

But it does mean machine politicians see campaign promises, not as promises, but simply as ways to keep their family businesses going.  And they are perfectly willing to make whatever promises they need to make in order to keep their positions — while having no intention of keeping them.

There's a small example in that wonderful book, The Last Hurrah.  At one in point in his campaign, Mayor Skeffington appears to promise a plaza statue to many groups: The Knights of Columbus, the Sons of Italy, supporters of Monsieur Tancredi, supporters of Roosevelt, and so on.  He lets each group think they will get the statue they want, all the while planning an adroit compromise, which he explains to his nephew:
"And what is the compromise?" Adam asked, curious.  "Who is it to be?"

Skeffington chuckled, "Mother Cabrini," he said.

"Mother Cabrini?"

Skeffington nodded.  "Italian born and the first American saint.  Let's see them get out of that.  The first man, woman, child or monsignor who objects will be stoned out of town.   That's what I mean by compromise." (p. 270)
A machine politician will do what they have to do in order to stay in office.  And who is threatening Pelosi and the Democrats right now?  John McCain.  The defeat of the bailout vote hurt McCain politically, and I think Pelosi knew that it would.

Leaders in the House of Representatives rarely lose a vote that they really want to win, because they control the schedule.  The way to win on this vote was obvious.  Pelosi, or more likely her representative, would ask the Republican leadership how many votes they could supply.   They would then use their whip organization to see how many Democrats were planning to vote for the bailout.  If they did not have a majority, they would postpone the vote until they did have a majority.  (And they would have promises from a few members to vote for the bill, if necessary, just to provide a cushion.)  If they found it hard to get enough votes just from Democrats, they would ask Bush and the Republican leadership for help.  As far as I can tell, Pelosi did none of these things.

At the very least, she and her whip organization were incompetent.  (A competent House whip organization should be able to predict the outcome of a vote very closely, usually within two or three votes.)  But it is more likely that they knew they might lose, and were not displeased by that because they expected a loss would hurt McCain.

(Some Republicans say her hyperpartisan speech also cost some Republican votes.  It may have.   If so, those Republicans may have fallen into a trap.)

Is Pelosi indifferent to the possible effects of this crisis on the nation?  Probably not, but she takes the same view that most owners of family businesses do.  First preserve the business, first find a way to stay in power, and then worry about your neighbors.

(Here's my post on how machine politicians and foreign policy.  Typically, they do not even consider whether a particular foreign policy stance is in the best interests of the nation.

One general point:  Machine politicians often prefer to avoid issues, especially issues of performance in office.  They prefer to win votes with ethnic appeals and personal favors.   And they are delighted to have voters dependent on them.

Here's more on Tammany Hall, if you are curious about that famous political machine.)
- 4:04 PM, 2 October 2008   [link]

Distributed Campaign Finance Fraud:  In 2004, I argued that we had a growing problem of distributed vote fraud, vote fraud committed not by a party or candidate, but by individual voters, mostly operating independently.  I argued that a party could increase the amount of "distributed vote fraud" by getting rid of the usual checks, for instance, by allowing voters to register and vote on election day — without setting aside their ballots for a later check to be sure they were properly registered.  (That example is not random; voters could do just that in recent Wisconsin elections.)

This year we may be seeing what I would call "distributed campaign finance fraud".  The fraud is not committed by the candidate or his party, but by individuals, most of them operating independently.  The candidate's organization can make this fraud easier by getting rid of essential checks.

And that, it appears, is exactly what the Obama campaign has done.

More than half of the whopping $426.9 million Barack Obama has raised has come from small donors whose names the Obama campaign won't disclose.

And questions have arisen about millions more in foreign donations the Obama campaign has received that apparently have not been vetted as legitimate.

Timmerman goes on to give many examples of dubious donations, and a few examples of obviously illegal donations, from here and abroad.

Any campaign with a large number of donors will receive a few illegal donations.  But a candidate can choose to check donations carefully, so as to keep those to a minimum, as McCain has done, or he can choose to facilitate illegal donations, as Obama has done.  Their choices show much about each man's integrity.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(If you are interested in the subject of distributed vote fraud, you may want to read my disclaimer.

The Federal Election Commission may get interested in these dubious donations to Obama, though, according to this report, they haven't so far.)
- 11:03 AM, 2 October 2008   [link]

Novice And Airhead:  That's how Emmett Tyrrell describes the Democratic ticket.
What they are doing is bringing to the presidency in time of war and financial crisis, a total novice.  That would be Senator Barack H. Obama.  Oh yes, and his running mate is Senator Joe Biden, a total airhead.
Harsh, but fair, I would say.

And Tyrrell predicts that, should they win, the Democratic party won't like the results.
In the case of the Prophet Obama, it is apparent that he has almost no experience governing anything.   Are Democrats going to vote for such a novice in time of war and financial crisis?  If they do and he spends the next few years learning on the job, the Democratic Party could end up in the wilderness for a long time.
Which is similar to the prediction I made a few days ago.
- 10:03 AM, 2 October 2008   [link]

"Mainstream" Media Taking On Biden:  Gingerly.  For instance, the Associated Press notes that what Biden says isn't always true.
Biden has made a number of questionable statements recently that, viewed in isolation, might not amount to much.  But this is a man whose first presidential campaign collapsed 20 years ago after he told a story about coal miners in his family that he lifted without credit from a British politician.
And he continues to make questionable statements.

The New York Times notes that Biden lives a privileged life, and has received much help from companies with an interest in legislation.  For example:
The real estate deal was just one facet of a close relationship between Mr. Biden and MBNA, which donated more than $200,000 to his campaigns.  The Delaware-based company gave a job to Mr. Biden's son Hunter; flew Senator Biden and his wife to the Maine coast, where Mr. Biden spoke at a company retreat; and its former chief executive, Charles M. Cawley, donated at least $22,500 to a nonprofit breast cancer fund started by Jill Biden.

MBNA also was an aggressive advocate of bankruptcy reform legislation before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Mr. Biden was a senior member and its former chairman.  The legislation would make it harder for consumers to escape credit card debts.
It's good to see even these small efforts, I suppose.  But I can't help wonder about two things, the motives for these stories, and the lack of similar stories on Barack Obama.

Perhaps I am too cynical, but these two stories don't show much digging.  (I'd seen almost everything in them weeks ago.)  They read as if the reporters (and their editors) are trying to demonstrate that they are not completely in the tank for the Obama ticket, but at the same time the stories have a gentle tone, as if they are warning Biden to be more careful, not upbraiding him for dishonesty and corruption.

More important is the lack of similar stories on the Democratic presidential candidate.  And I don't expect to see many from "mainstream" reporters before November, although there are many, many things that they could investigate.
- 5:57 AM, 2 October 2008   [link]

Have Annoying Neighbors?  Here's a possible solution, though it isn't cheap.
- 5:11 AM, 2 October 2008   [link]

Worth Study:  This Associated Press article on potential gains for the Democrats in the Oregon legislature.  The article's central argument is this:  If the Democrats gain a few seats in the Oregon House, they will have a big enough majority to raise taxes.

(I am not quoting anything from the article because the Associated Press is getting tough on bloggers.  They really don't want us to post excerpts from their articles, considering how much they charge for that privilege.  I'll be linking to the AP a lot less in the future if they continue this policy.   I am not a lawyer, so I won't try to guess whether their policy violates "fair use" principles.)

Some observations:

  • Oregon Democrats will raise taxes if they can.  (And in that they are like Democrats in most of the country.)
  • The anonymous reporter who wrote this story thinks that raising taxes is a good idea.  (I infer that from the tone, and the fact that he or she does not give any reasons against raising taxes.   Nor, interestingly enough, any reasons for raising taxes.  It is as if the reporter thinks that raising taxes is good in itself.)
  • The surge in support for Obama in some areas may result in higher state and local taxes.   (The reporter attributes gains in Democratic registration to enthusiasm for Obama.)
  • Unlike the reporter, Democratic candidates are not being open about their desires to raise taxes.  But they are keeping the option open.

Oregon and Washington are similar states in many ways.  Both are — compared to the rest of the country — socially liberal and prone to tax revolts.  It is no accident that in this state Governor Gregoire, who raised taxes, is talking so much about social issues — and so little about what those extra taxes bought — if anything.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 5:12 AM, 1 October 2008   [link]

Personal Incomes Near Record High In August:  And they would have been at a record level, except for the stimulus payments earlier this year.  You can see both points clearly in the graphic accompanying this relentlessly negative article.  You get the feeling that the Associated Press reporter was gritting their teeth when they conceded that there was some good news in the BEA report.
Personal incomes were up a better-than-expected 0.5 percent, a rebound after a 0.6 percent drop in July.  
Correct me if I am wrong on this, but I suspect that your daily newspaper did not use the same headline that I did — if they even mentioned this gain.  And I doubt that many TV news programs mentioned the gain.

In some ways, that's understandable.  We have had so much growth (and such weak recessions) since the early 1980s that it is easy to lose perspective, to see near-record personal incomes as bad news.

You can see just how steady that good news on personal incomes has been at this interactive table provided by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.  For example, in constant 2000 dollars, per capita disposable income has risen while George W. Bush has been president from $25,620 to $29,274.  (Beginning in the first quarter of 2001 and ending in the second quarter of this year.)   In other words, on the average, each of us has about $3600 more to spend each year than we did at the beginning of 2001.  And that in spite of the mild Clinton recession, the 9/11 attack, and a number of serious business scandals, including the collapse of Enron.

You probably won't see that in "mainstream" news sources, either.

(If the trend continued, personal incomes did hit a new record in September.  We'll know in about a month.)
- 11:31 AM, 1 October 2008
More fun with that BEA table:  If you look at yearly gains going all the way back to 1929, you will find that the last time that there was a decrease in US disposable personal income in an entire year was — 1974.  And that came after a very strong increase in 1973.   And before that?  You have to go all the way back to the end of World War II.

This doesn't mean there were per capita gains in all those years, just that the United States as a whole had gains.  But sometimes income didn't grow as fast as population,  The last time there was a year-to-year fall in per capita disposable personal income was 1993.

Oh, and take a look at the per capita real personal income, starting in 1929, to get a rough idea of just how miserable the Great Depression was.
- 4:29 PM, 1 October 2008   [link]

Looks Like an obvious conflict of interest to me:
On Thursday, PBS anchor Gwen Ifill will serve as moderator for the first and only vice presidential debate.  The stakes are high.  The Commission on Presidential Debates, with the assent of the two campaigns, decided not to impose any guidelines on her duties or questions.
. . .
In an imaginary world where liberal journalists are held to the same standards as everyone else, Ifill would be required to make a full disclosure at the start of the debate.  She would be required to turn to the cameras and tell the national audience that she has a book coming out on Jan. 20, 2009 — a date that just happens to coincide with the inauguration of the next president of the United States.

The title of Ifill's book? The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.
Michelle Malkin goes on to give examples from this year's campaign that suggest that Ifill is not exactly neutral in this race.

Not every journalist agrees that Ifill should not be the moderator.

But then it is always easier to see another person's mote than your own beam.

Ifill should not have accepted when she was asked to be a moderator.  It is simply a fact that she stands to make a lot more money if Obama wins than if he loses.  No matter what she does now, at least one side (and probably both) will have doubts about her performance.  
- 9:41 AM, 1 October 2008   [link]

Math Is Hard:  Too hard for many journalists, according to a British panel.
Too many journalists lack the basic numeracy skills required to report on business and the economy, according to a group of senior broadcasters, financial experts and journalism tutors gathered at a Radio Academy debate in London last night.
Most of the participants think the answer is better training for journalists.  I think a better answer would be for news organizations to hire a few people who have "basic numeracy skills", and give them training in journalism techniques.

Discouraging, isn't it?  Just when we would especially like accurate reporting on the economy, we get more evidence that many journalists "lack basic numeracy skills".  But I suspect most of you guessed that long ago.

(As some of you may recall, the title paraphrases an expert on academics, Barbie, who once said that "Math class is tough."  When that Barbie came out, I was planning to get one until I learned that I might have to buy many dolls before I got one that said that bit of wisdom.

Math classes are tough for most of us, and it is better to accept that and work a little harder in those classes.)
- 6:49 AM, 1 October 2008   [link]