October 2010, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Men Are Back In Fashion:  Even as fashion models, according to the New York Times.  They are displacing boys, or men who look like boys:
On catwalks and in advertising campaigns the prevalent male image has long been that of skinny skate-rat, a juvenile with pipe-cleaner proportions.  Designers as unalike as Raf Simons and Miuccia Prada developed so pronounced an appetite for the jailbait type that at some model castings in Milan and Paris the new faces often showed up chaperoned by Mom.
Those models sound like a strange way to sell clothes to men, but perhaps that wasn't their goal.

(It shows how little attention I pay to such things that, not only did I miss this shift back to men, I missed the earlier trend.  I did notice when so many women models looked as if they were strung-out drug addicts, which shows, I suppose, that I pay more attention to women than men.)
- 4:27 PM, 17 October 2010   [link]

There Are Disadvantages To Louis Vuitton Luggage:  Apparently, it gets stolen a lot.

So you may not want to buy it — unless you know your pieces will always accompanied by reliable bodyguards.

(This should give airport security an idea on how to cut down on luggage theft, since it shouldn't be hard to put tracers in luggage.)
- 2:37 PM, 16 October 2010   [link]

The More You Know, The More Likely You Are To Back Republican Candidates?   David Paleologus, director of Suffolk University's Political Research Center, thinks he's found a pattern in this year's polls.
Unfortunately, on closer inspection the deck appears to be stacked against Democrats far higher than it may appear.

For example, in recent Illinois poll, Republican Mark Kirk (42%) edged Democrat Alexi Giannoulias (41%) by just 1 point, and within the statistical margin of error.  However, of voters who said they knew both candidates the race broke for Kirk by a full 8 points.

We've found this pattern repeated in all of our surveys this fall.  Among the likely voters who are familiar with both candidates in the race, the Republican had a statistical advantage every time.   This says a lot about what could happen on election day, as it may foreshadow how undecideds will break over the next few weeks as they finally "meet" the candidates.
(Emphasis added.)

Although he and I would disagree about that "unfortunately", I don't see anything implausible in his analysis.  But I would add this caution for my Republican friends:  The voters who do not yet know the candidates are different in many ways from those who do, so we should not be certain that they will make the same choices when they finally get around to learning about the candidates.  (If they do.  I can see why many Democrat-leaning voters might want to avoid new information this year.)
- 7:03 AM, 15 October 2010   [link]

She Proved That She Needed that anger management class.  But this incident might make skeptics might wonder just how effective the class is.
- 4:59 AM, 15 October 2010   [link]

How Modern Precinct Captains Bribe Voters:  On Indian reservations in South Dakota.
Democrats in South Dakota are holding three early-vote rallies on reservations this week that will feature "feeds" to attract potential voters.

That activity continues a long tradition of pairing food with voter rallies in areas of the state where Democrats garner as much as 95 percent of the vote.
. . .
The practice of offering food at voting rallies can come close to violating the law.
In fact, judging by the paragraphs that follow, it certainly violates the law, but Republicans find it hard to complain too much, because that would open them to "racial accusations".
- 1:15 PM, 14 October 2010   [link]

Where Do Voters In Battleground Districts See Extremists?  In both parties, but more in the Democratic Party.
Likely voters in battleground districts see extremists as having a more dominant influence over the Democratic Party than they do over the GOP.

This result comes from The Hill 2010 Midterm Election Poll, which found that 44 percent of likely voters say the Democratic Party is more dominated by its extreme elements, whereas 37 percent say it's the Republican Party that is more dominated by extremists.
One striking detail:
More than one in every five Democrats (22 percent) in The Hill's survey said their party was more dominated than the GOP by extreme views.  The equivalent figure among Republicans is 11 percent.
That suggests to me that Democratic voters will be more likely to defect in these battleground districts.
- 8:46 AM, 14 October 2010   [link]

Fraser Robinson Was A Precinct Captain In The Old Daley Machine:   So were tens of thousands of other people, but only one of them was Michelle Obama's father.
Well, you know, my parents were always conscientious folks.  I mean, my father was a precinct captain for a while, and that was just something we always knew you had to do.  It was never a question.  And we have to be at that place again.
To be fair, Michelle Obama is trying to explain why it is important for people, especially black people, to vote.

But anyone familiar with political machines will see another possible interpretation of what she said.   At that time, Democratic precinct captains in Chicago almost all had patronage jobs.  To keep those patronage jobs, not only did they have to vote, but they had to get others in their precinct to vote for the machine candidates.  Almost certainly, Fraser Robinson's job in a Chicago water plant depended on him getting out the vote for the machine candidates in his precinct.

How he got out the vote was mostly up to him.  But it was common, in the poorer areas of Chicago, for precinct captains to use illegal tactics, including bribing voters.  (To be sure they stayed bribed, they were often "assisted" in voting by a party worker.)

I am not condemning Fraser Robinson for the choices he made.  At that time, blacks faced such severe discrimination that he may have believed that joining the machine was the best that he could do for his family.  But I do wish that Michelle Obama sounded a little less nostalgic when she discusses her father, and the choices he made.

(In the same interview, Michelle Obama had some odd things to say about prayer circles and spirits.   I'm inclined to attribute what she said to awkward phrasing, rather than pagan beliefs, especially since she sounds awkward all through the interview.  A better interviewer might have gotten her to clarify what she was trying to say after some of her answers, rather than just going on to the next question.)
- 8:12 AM, 14 October 2010
Her father might be proud of her non-stop campaigning, even in places where campaigning is illegal.
First Lady Michelle Obama reportedly violated Illinois election laws by encouraging voters to support President Obama at a polling place in Chicago Thursday morning.
- 6:23 AM, 15 October 2010   [link]

Maybe I Am Missing Something, But Obama doesn't look Palinish to me.
- 5:26 PM, 13 October 2010   [link]

Movies Versus Reality:  Suppose that you wanted to understand the great world financial crisis.  What would you do, look for a book or some articles on the subject, or go see a movie?

If you are Kathleen Parker, you go see a movie.
If you haven't been humming tunes from "Les Misérables," you haven't seen "Inside Job," the new documentary about how our economic crisis evolved.
(Is the movie an accurate documentary?  Probably not, judging by this review.  If the movie tells us anything about the parts Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Congressman Barney Frank played in the meltdown, it did not strike A. O. Scott as important enough to mention.)

Suppose that you want to study the Plame affair.  What would you do, look for a book or article on the subject, or even read some of the congressional committee reports?  If you are Maureen Dowd, you go see a propaganda movie.
Republicans are also gearing up to start re-sliming Valerie Plame Wilson and Joe Wilson when "Fair Game," the movie based on their memoirs, opens next month.
Now I won't say that there aren't good documentary movies, or even that you can't learn something from biased movies, or even completely fictional movies, but I would say that — if you want to know the facts on a subject — a movie is rarely the best place to start.

(I probably could have added some movie examples from Frank Rich without much effort, but I find his poor writing so annoying that I have been avoiding his columns for a long time.)
- 2:04 PM, 13 October 2010   [link]

Party Loyalty In The House:  It's higher than you might guess.
These scores represent the percentage of votes on which a lawmaker agrees with the position taken by a majority of his or her party members.  The scores do not include missed votes.  All lawmakers who served during this congress are included.
The average for Democrats is 92.2 percent; the average for Republicans is 88.3 percent.

Two Democrats, Bobby Bright of Alabama 2 and Walt Minnick of Idaho 1, had the lowest party loyalty.   They voted with their party 71.6 percent and 70.8 percent of the time, respectively.

The lowest Republican was that well-known RINO (Republican in name only), Ron Paul, but even he voted with his party 76.7 percent of the time.

(For the record:  Yes, I know that Ron Paul ran for president as a Libertarian in 1988, that is, against the Republican candidate.  And that he was very critical of President Reagan during his campaign.)
- 10:43 AM, 13 October 2010   [link]

Greg Mankiw Catches Barney Frank revising the historical record.

(Will reporters let Congressman Frank get away with this?  Probably.)
- 10:21 AM, 13 October 2010   [link]

Rodney Tom Drops By, And We have A Friendly Chat:  Well, mostly friendly.

Yesterday, Washington state senator Rodney Tom knocked on my door, and we had a spirited discussion of his record.  (It would have been even better if I had been expecting his visit.  Instead, I was just about to go for a bicycle ride and was dressed in an unfashionable, and rather grubby, outfit.)

Tom, who is now a Democrat, claims, in his brochure, to be "principled" and "independent", and to have delivered "results".

When pressed, he agreed with me that Democrats have mostly been in charge of education policy in this state — and that we have mediocre public schools.  When pressed, he agreed with me that the state's budget problems were less severe when Republicans last controlled the state senate.

I am not sure whether he understood one point I tried to make.  Legislators who vote for reckless-spending party leaders like Speaker Pelosi, or, in Tom's case, Washington state senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, are partly responsible for that reckless spending — even if they oppose some spending measures.

Choosing such leaders almost guarantees failure on controlling spending, regardless of how "independent" an individual legislator might be.  You can vote for Pelosi or Brown, or you can be fiscally responsible — but it is almost impossible to do both.

Fortunately for the 48th district, and for Washington state, we have a fine alternative to Tom, Gregg Bennett.  (You may want to look at his video critique of Tom's record, which is quite funny, and, as far as I know, entirely accurate.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Tom switched parties for reasons that are still partly obscure.  He describes himself as what I would call a Dick Cheney Republican, disciplined on fiscal policies, open to innovation in education, and moderate on social policies — and says that he was no longer able to stay in the Republican party.  Which doesn't make sense to me, though it may to him.  When he switched parties, our local journalists did not press him on the reasons for the switch, perhaps because most of them see it as natural to be a Democrat, and unnatural to be a Republican.

There are alternative explanations for his switch, political ambition, for instance.  He may simply have decided to go with the district, which was becoming more Democratic.  Or, he may have seen himself as blocked from moving up in the Republican party.

There are also less pleasant possible explanations.  For example, prejudice against evangelicals and traditional Catholics, which is quite common in this area.  Tom may have been uncomfortable belonging to a party that has, mostly, welcomed them.)
- 9:33 AM, 13 October 2010   [link]

President Obama Learns That There Are No "Shovel-Ready" Projects:   And much else, if he was telling the truth, in his latest New York Times interview.
In the magazine article, Mr. Obama reflects on his presidency, admitting that he let himself look too much like "the same old tax-and-spend Democrat," realized too late that "there's no such thing as shovel-ready projects" and perhaps should have "let the Republicans insist on the tax cuts" in the stimulus.
About two decades ago, I read an article (probably in Public Interest) surveying the failure of every single post-World War II president, including Reagan, to find "shovel-ready" transportation projects.   All of them tried to accelerate transportation projects in order to stimulate the economy; none of them succeeded.

(It's been a while since I read the article, so I am a little hazy on why they all failed, but I do remember that the reasons were not terribly surprising, mostly the usual bureaucratic inertia.  It is possible to accelerate transportation projects in emergencies, as California Governor Pete Wilson showed after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, but you have to suspend many regulations to do so.)

There are experienced people in Congress, and in the Department of Transportation, who could have told Obama what I learned from that article.  Either he didn't ask them, or he didn't listen to their answers, when he promised "shovel-ready" projects.

(I'll have to look at the full article when it comes out, but that little bit makes me think that Obama does not think of himself as a "tax-and-spend Democrat", in spite of considerable evidence for that view.)
- 6:50 AM, 13 October 2010   [link]

Pork Barrel Spending In Sicily:  If this article is correct, Sicilian politicians could give much of the world lessons in wasteful spending.
Can we spend money?  And how, the Sicilian authorities tell the EU inspectors who've come from Strasbourg.   And not just peanuts.  Because we do things big here or we don't them at all: after all, we're spiritual heirs to the munificent, magnificent (Holy Roman Emperor) Frederick II, the Stupor Mundi (Wonder of the World), whose palace of velvet and gold is now the seat of the island's parliament.  So there's nothing left of the €8.5 billion that Europe lavished on the area from 2000 to 2007 to stop the development gap, not even the crumbs, as the regional authorities insist on pointing out.

Pity that in the same report that concludes Agenda 2000 — the rain of gold from Brussels that nurtured the island in those bumper years — the administration candidly admits that the money served no purpose at all.  €700 million to improve the water supply?  In 2000, the water supply was "stop-and-flow" for 33% of Sicilian households, now 38.7% have water worries.  Incentives to entice off-season tourists?  Cost €400 million, enough to buy up an airline.  And yet the ranks of those thankless tourists haven't swelled, but petered out: from 1.2% in 2000 to 1.1% in 2007.  And as to the €300 million invested in alternative energy projects great and small: it's true, there isn't a single hillock without its windmill now, but Sicilian output is stuck at 5% of total consumption, as against an average 9.1% for Southern Italy as a whole.
Not that many of us want them to give those lessons, of course.  But we should recognize that a few politicians will see this example as something to emulate, not avoid, and will see all those projects as good ways to buy the votes they need.

And we should recognize that the best money of all to waste — from the point of view of a pork-barrel politician — is someone else's money.  There would have been less wasted in Sicily if the money had come from Italy, rather than the whole European Union, and even less wasted if the money had come from the places where it was spent.

(Not so incidentally — and we Americans should pay attention to this — wind and solar projects have been plagued by fraud in much of Europe.  The enormous subsidies attracted crooks, and we should expect the same thing to happen here.

Sicily has about five million people, so those EU subsidies would be roughly $2,000 for every man, woman, and child in the island.)
- 10:11 AM, 12 October 2010   [link]

Democrats And Foreign Money In Elections:  It's a bid odd to hear the Democratic party complaining about foreign money influencing our elections, considering their record.   After all, it was a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who brought us Chinagate.  If you've forgotten, or are too young to remember that scandal, here's a quick summary:
From its earliest stages, the Committee's investigation uncovered instances of political contributions made with foreign money.   Either contributing or soliciting this money have been individuals with business or political ties to the PRC, who have escorted PRC officials and businessmen to meetings with President Clinton and Vice President Gore, and who have otherwise facilitated efforts to shape United States policy towards China.  The intelligence portion of the Committee's investigation sought to determine whether the foreign contributions and the PRC ties were mere coincidence, or if the PRC was in some way behind any foreign political contributions.
. . .
Although hampered by time constraints and spotty cooperation from some federal agencies, the Committee has gathered significant information.  The Committee determined from U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies and open sources that the PRC government fashioned a plan before the 1996 elections and that its goal was to influence our political process, ostensibly through stepped-up lobbying efforts and also funding from Beijing.  Over time, the plan evolved and the PRC engaged in much more than simply "lobbying."  Indeed, discussions took place and actions were taken that suggest more than the original plan was being executed, and that a variety of PRC entities were acting to influence U.S. elections.  What follows is a discussion of the Majority staff's work and the Committee's findings in this area.  The discussion first provides context for why the Committee pursued this subject, by describing early media accounts of alleged foreign activities and briefings provided in 1996 by the FBI to Members of Congress and the White House.  Next, it addresses in abbreviated form some of the significant connections between the campaign finance investigation and the Greater China area, including the ties specific figures have to the PRC government.  It then lays out what the Committee learned about the existence of a "China plan," and about other, possibly-related activities undertaken by the PRC government, as well as information regarding the implementation of the plan.
In short, the People's Republic of China sent millions to the Clinton campaign in an effort to change our policies, an effort that appears to have succeeded at least in part.  (During the 1992 campaign, Clinton criticized President Bush for not being being tough enough on China.  But he dropped that rhetoric soon after he became president, and even allowed, through the Commerce department, the Chinese access to much of our technology — including technology with direct military applications.)

Perhaps the Obama administration has learned from the Chinagate scandal?

Well, no.  In fact, they named one of the peripheral figures in the scandal, former Washington governor Gary Locke, Secretary of Commerce.  Michelle Malkin, who covered Locke extensively while at the Seattle Times, summarizes his connections to the scandal.
In the same time period that Huang was drumming up illegal cash for Clinton-Gore at the federal level, he also organized two 1996 galas for Locke in Washington, D.C. (where Locke hobnobbed with Clinton and other Chinagate principals); three fundraisers in Los Angeles; and an extravaganza at the Universal City, Calif., Hilton in October 1996 that raised upward of $30,000.  Huang also made personal contributions to Locke — as did another Clinton-Gore funny-money figure, Indonesian business mogul Ted Sioeng and his family and political operatives.
It's almost as if the Obama administration doesn't mind foreign campaign contributions — as long as they go to Democrats.
- 7:55 AM, 12 October 2010   [link]

Seattle Ambiance:  In a review of a Pho Bac restaurant, Seattle Weekly writer Jason Sheehan made this argument:

Often the sketchier an area is, the more interesting the cuisine.

The first time I went to Pho Bac, two guys were smoking crack in the bus shelter on the sidewalk.  You could smell its burnt-plastic stink from the parking lot, but I was there for soup, and had a bowl of pho tai that was just amazing.  I finished my late lunch about the same time they finished their rock.  When I came back outside, the two were still there, pacing the length of the shelter and slapping at their pockets like they were expecting the crack fairy to make a special delivery and wanted to catch her before she got away.

If Sheehan's description of the neighborhood doesn't make you want to visit that Pho Bac, I don't know what would.

More seriously, does Sheehan have a point?  Do the low rents at such locations make it possible for restaurants there to offer better food for the money, as he goes on to argue?  Or does a certain, shall we say, nervousness, make ordinary food taste better?

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 8:33 PM, 11 October 2010   [link]

Gallup Gets An "Unrealistic" Generic Vote Estimate Again:  This week's poll had almost the same numbers as last week's.
Gallup's latest election update shows that if all registered voters were to turn out, 44% of voters would favor the Democratic candidate in their district and 47% would favor the Republican candidate.  The race has been close since the beginning of September, suggesting there has been little structural change in Americans' broad voting intentions in recent weeks.

Among voters Gallup estimates to be most likely to vote at this point under either a higher- or lower-turnout scenario, Republicans maintain substantial double-digit advantages.  In Gallup's higher-turnout scenario, Republicans lead 53% to 41%.  In Gallup's lower-turnout scenario, Republicans lead 56% to 39%.  These likely voter estimates are based on respondents' answers to seven turnout questions, with the results used to assign a "likelihood to vote" score to each registered voter and, in turn, to create hypothetical models of the electorate based on various turnout scenarios.
Jay Cost called last week's numbers "unrealistic", and I agreed with him then.  I still have my doubts about the Gallup results, but am not quite as ready to write them off as I was a week ago, partly because the gap between Gallup and Rasmussen has shrunk, though the two are still some distance apart, with Rasmussen's latest estimate at an 8 percent gap, but mostly because Gallup got roughly the same estimate this week.

Some perspective from 1994:  That year, the Republicans won the two-party House popular vote by 7 points, 53.5-46.5.  If Gallup is anywhere close to being right, you would have to go back to 1946, or even earlier, to find a comparable Republican win.

(For the record:  I thought — and should have said — that Rasmussen's Republican margin last week struck me as too low, since there was no obvious reason for the race to tighten that much.)
- 7:15 PM, 11 October 2010   [link]

Staples P-Touch Labeler Bargain:  I've been quite pleased with my Brother 1880, and would recommend it to most people for home use.  (For office use, you might want a fancier model; Staples has two of those on sale, too.)

I especially like using it to put labels on those anonymous power supplies that come with so many electronic devices.

The labeler puts too much blank space at the ends of each label, but that's easy to fix with a pair of scissors.
- 10:38 AM, 11 October 2010   [link]

Incompetent And Partisan:  It wouldn't be surprising to hear that verdict on Obama from a Republican operative; it is a little surprising to hear it from Mark Halperin.
With the exception of core Obama Administration loyalists, most politically engaged elites have reached the same conclusions: the White House is in over its head, isolated, insular, arrogant and clueless about how to get along with or persuade members of Congress, the media, the business community or working-class voters.  This view is held by Fox News pundits, executives and anchors at the major old-media outlets, reporters who cover the White House, Democratic and Republican congressional leaders and governors, many Democratic business people and lawyers who raised big money for Obama in 2008, and even some members of the Administration just beyond the inner circle.
. . .
But Obama has exacerbated his political problems not just by failing to enact policies that would have actually turned the economy around, but also by authorizing a series of tactical moves intended to demonize Republicans and distract from the problems at hand.  He has wasted time lambasting his foes when he should have been putting forth his agenda in a clear, optimistic fashion, defending the benefits of his key decisions during the past two years (health care and the Troubled Asset Relief Program, for example) and explaining what he would do with a re-elected Democratic majority to spur growth.
You could extend Halperin's verdict, with trifling changes, to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Harry Reid.  All three Democratic leaders have shown that they can win elections and count votes in Congress; none of the three has shown any great competence at governing, or any willingness to work with Republicans — even when it would be in their interest to do so.
- 7:32 AM, 11 October 2010   [link]

Projection?  President Obama has been attacking the Chamber of Commerce, and other groups opposed to his reckless spending, by hinting that they may be getting the money for their ads from foreign sources.  Almost no one believes his slurs; the New York Times, which is not a Republican newspaper, said there is "little evidence" for his charges, and said that they were part of the "spin cycle", which is a nice way of saying that Obama is not telling the truth.  Even Bob Schieffer thinks the charges are dubious.  After a skeptical interchange with David Axelrod on the subject, he ends by asking Axelrod, whether these charges are "the best you can do".

So, why are Obama and other Democrats making these charges?  First, because desperate times call for desperate measures.  With the polls looking so bad for congressional Democrats three weeks and one day from the election, they are grabbing any issue that might work.

Second, because Obama really does want to regulate political speech, and is genuinely unhappy with the recent Supreme Court decisions that have restored some of the original meaning to the 1st Amendment.

Third, it's likely that Obama and his supporters are projecting, that they are accusing their opponents of doing what the Obama campaign did in the 2008 campaign.  His campaign violated the letter and spirit of the campaign finance laws in many ways, including accepting some illegal foreign donations.

(Here's the Wikipedia article on psychological projection.)
- 6:59 AM, 11 October 2010   [link]