September 2007, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

He Gets It, Partly, But It Took Him A While:  Seattle PI columnist Robert Jamieson notices something about the American left.

Whatever your answer, it seems we've lost the fine art of polite disagreement.  People are unwilling to hear something that jousts with their point of view.  They just can't offer a levelheaded reply without a clash of words or knee-jerk reaction.
. . .
It comes as a surprise to see that a lot of the meanness in the above cases comes from the political left, which is often quick to point out that those on the right have the big mouths and bad attitudes.

Well, no, it doesn't come as a surprise, at least not to anyone who has been paying attention during the last three or four decades.  I would say that the left became meaner than conservatives about 1972, when the McGovernites took over the Democratic party.

You can find mean people anywhere along the ideological spectrum, but sheer nastiness has mostly come from the left for decades.  When, for example, a speech is suppressed, it usually happens on a college campus and it is usually done by leftist demonstrators.  (Though some Muslim groups are trying to join that nasty game, often as allies of leftist groups.)  Or, if Jamieson needs another example, let me suggest that he compare what President Bush has said about Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid, with what they have said about him.

I can't give Jamieson credit for catching on quickly, but I do give him credit for finally catching on, at least in part.  And I encourage him to keep following the evidence, even when it takes him to conclusions that surprise him.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(It would be unfair to suggest that he take a look at the work of some of his colleagues at the PI, but those in this area will be able to think of one or two mean leftists at his newspaper, without much effort.)
- 4:13 PM, 8 September 2007   [link]

Osama Back From The Grave?  Here's the BBC story on the latest video tape.
A new video tape purportedly made by al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden has urged the American people to embrace Islam in order to stop the war in Iraq.

Date references suggest it may have been made as recently as this summer, US officials studying the tape said.

US intelligence officials have yet to confirm the authenticity of the latest 30-minute tape, a short excerpt of which was aired by al-Jazeera TV on Friday evening.
Note the "purportedly".

I haven't had a chance to read the transcript yet, but those who have find parts of his argument all too familiar, as you can see here (comment 254) and here.   I suspect they are right, since I have seen this strange convergence between anti-American leftists such as Noam Chomsky and Osam Bin Laden before.
- 4:48 PM, 7 September 2007
David Brooks has similar thoughts.
No, ludicrous.  I mean, on one hand, he's a malevolent guy who killed 3,000 Americans.  But you read this thing, and it's like he's been sitting around reading lefty blogs, and he's one of these childish people posting rants at the bottom the page, you know, Noam Chomsky and all this stuff.
It is hard to know how seriously Osama and company take these leftist criticisms of the United States.  Are they just trying to appeal to allies on the left, or do they actually believe much of what they say?  I am inclined to think that the first is closer to the truth, that Osama includes this stuff to appeal to suckers on the left.  (In the past, he has also used moral critiques of the West that are similar, in part, to conservatives critiques.  He may well have believed those parts of his argument.)
- 1:55 PM, 9 September 2007   [link]

The Worst Clinton Era Scandal?  Unquestionably, Chinagate.

The 1996 United States campaign finance controversy was an alleged effort by the People's Republic of China (PRC) to influence domestic American politics prior to and during the Clinton administration and also involved the fund-raising practices of the administration itself.

While questions regarding the U.S. Democratic Party's fund-raising activities first arose over a Los Angeles Times article published on September 21, 1996,[1] the PRC's alleged role in the affair first gained public attention when Bob Woodward and Brian Duffy of The Washington Post published a story stating that a United States Department of Justice investigation into the fund-raising activities had uncovered evidence that agents of the PRC sought to direct contributions from foreign sources to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) before the 1996 presidential campaign.  The journalists wrote that intelligence information had shown the PRC Embassy in Washington, D.C. was used for coordinating contributions to the DNC[2] in violation of United States law forbidding non-American citizens or non-permanent residents from giving monetary donations to United States politicians and political parties.  A Republican investigator of the controversy stated the Chinese plan targeted both presidential and congressional United States elections, while Democratic Senators said the evidence showed the PRC targeted only congressional elections.  The Chinese government denied all accusations.

Twenty-two people were eventually convicted for fraud or for funneling Asian funds into the United States elections.  A number of the convictions came against longtime Clinton-Gore friends and political appointees.
. . .
Congressional investigators said that the investigations were hamstrung due to lack of co-operation of witnesses.  Ninety-four people either refused to be questioned, pled the Fifth Amendment, or left the country altogether.

And there is much that is still mysterious about the scandal, most of all, how much Bill Clinton knew about the matter.

Why mention this now?  Because of the current Hsu scandal, which looks, at first glance, so similar.  And because it might, just might, inspire some "mainstream" journalists to ask a few questions, especially of Hillary Clinton and Bill Richardson, inspire the journalists, as I like to say, to commit journalism.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(A local journalist, whom I will identify only by his initials, had a great opportunity to help break this story in 1996.  JC interviewed Clinton shortly after the scandal broke.  It would not be unfair to call the interview sycophantic.  JC did not ask a single question about Chinagate.  It was a sad performance, because JC has the ability to be a real journalist, the ability to commit journalism.  But he often chooses not to, as he did in that interview.)
- 11:00 AM, 7 September 2007   [link]

The Plastic Turkey Story* Never Dies:  And Tim Blair is doing us all a favor by keeping track of the "mainstream" journalists who repeat this fake story.  I note with some pleasure (and some exasperation) that he caught the Hartford Courant, the St. Louis Post Dispatch, and the Portland Oregonian in his latest haul.

(*Just in case you missed it, here's the story:  On Thanksgiving, 2003, President Bush made a surprise visit to the troops in Iraq.  He saw them at the traditional Thanksgiving meal and helped out at the meal by bringing out a turkey and by working at the serving line in the cafeteria.  Almost immediately, the story went around the "mainstream" media that the turkey was plastic.  Actually, it was a "display" turkey, cooked to be a centerpiece, but not served to those in line because that would slow the line down.  But it was eaten later, perhaps by the cooks.)
- 10:22 AM, 7 September 2007   [link]

Wisdom From A Mexican Day Laborer:  (And, almost certainly, illegal immigrant.)  The Seattle PI interview (through a translator) with Ricardo Boiso Franco included this judgment on his adopted city.

Would you like them to come live in Seattle?

"No, I don't want my children here because here people just go bad."

What do you mean?

"I know a woman here who has a daughter, and when she comes back from work, she finds her drugged up, or drunk, or gone away with her friends somewhere.  So, she just went bad."

The Seattle mayor and city council could learn something from Mr. Franco.

Thanks to Orbusmax.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 7:13 AM, 7 September 2007   [link]

"Overlawyered"  That's one way to describe how we are fighting the war on terror.
As I've said before, this war has been overlawyered, which is not to say it has been well-lawyered.   [author Jack] Goldsmith notes that the Defense Department alone has over 10,000 lawyers, not including reservists.
That's close to a division.

For a historical contrast, see this recent post.  World War II was not"overlawyered" — and we won it.
- 7:12 AM, 6 September 2007   [link]

The New Blogging Camera Arrived Today:  It's a Panasonic FZ8.  I call it a blogging camera because I bought it to improve my photos when I play cub reporter and cover political events, as I hope to do more often.  The little Olympus C-765 that I have been using takes decent pictures, but is a little slow at times.  (And I am not quite ready to splurge on a DSLR; prices are still a little high for the feature mix that I need — or think I need.)

That said, I do expect the Panasonic to take better pictures, on the whole, than the Olympus.  It has more pixels, a longer zoom, a more powerful flash, and a sharper lens.  Naturally, it cost less than the Olympus did, especially when you allow for inflation.

And it has some fun features, a tiny joystick for setting parameters, a very simple mode marked with a heart on the mode dial, and a whole set of "scenes", a few of which I may actually use.  The menus seem better organized than those on the Olympus, not a small advantage when a camera is this complex.

(Note to camera manufacturers:  Consider making your camera names have some relationship to your cameras.  The Z in FZ8 may stand for "zoom", but the rest means nothing to me.  And it is a bit odd to name a six megapixel camera the FZ7 and then name a seven megapixel camera the FZ8.   Similarly, nothing in the C-765 matches any of the camera's specifications, to my knowledge.)
- 8:03 PM, 5 September 2007
Sample Picture:

rose taken with KZ8 2007

Cropped and much reduced, of course.
- 9:43 AM, 7 September 2007   [link]

Worth Reading:  Robert Samuelson explains why poverty statistics are misleading.  The problem is immigration.
The government last week released its annual statistical report on poverty and household income.   As usual, we -- meaning the public, the press and politicians -- missed a big part of the story.  It is this: The stubborn persistence of poverty, at least as measured by the government, is increasingly a problem associated with immigration.  As more poor Hispanics enter the country, poverty goes up.   This is not complicated; but it is widely ignored.

The standard story is that poverty is stuck; superficially, the statistics support that.  The poverty rate measures the share of Americans below the official poverty line, which in 2006 was $20,614 for a four-person household.  Last year, the poverty rate was 12.3 percent, down slightly from 12.6 percent in 2005 but higher than the 11.3 percent in 2000, the recent low.  It was also higher than the 11.8 percent average for the 1970s.  So the conventional wisdom seems amply corroborated.

It isn't.  Look again at the numbers.  In 2006, there were 36.5 million people in poverty.   That's the figure that translates into the 12.3 percent poverty rate.  In 1990, the population was smaller, and there were 33.6 million people in poverty, a rate of 13.5 percent.  The increase from 1990 to 2006 was 2.9 million people (36.5 million minus 33.6 million).  Hispanics accounted for all of the gain.
Put simply, what is happening is this:  Native born Americans are, on the average, improving their incomes steadily, lifting many out of poverty.  Immigrants, many of them illegal, are moving here and improving their incomes greatly, but are often still poor by our standards.  Combine those two improvements and you see the poverty level stuck where it was thirty years ago.

Samuelson believes that we should change our immigration policies so that we take more skilled, and fewer unskilled, immigrants.  I don't disagree, but think we also need to pay more attention to their values than we have in the recent past.
- 4:41 PM, 5 September 2007   [link]

An Open Letter To James Vesely*  

Dear Mr. Vesely:

Today's column by journalism professor Floyd McKay contains much nonsense.  Here's the worst paragraph:

At home, the president has often stated that he pays little attention to the news.  He reads little and is known for taking one-page summaries of important matters.  What information reaches him is vetted thoroughly by senior staff and Vice President Dick Cheney.  The vice president has his own political agenda, and wields more influence with his nominal boss than any vice president in American history.

Let me take this sentence by sentence.  A little thought will show you that the first sentence is implausible.  (President Bush did once say that he pays little attention to editorials in the New York Times, which shows good judgment on his part, given how absurd many of their editorials are.)  If Professor McKay is certain that Bush "often stated" that he pays little attention to the news, then Professor McKay should easily be able to find some quotations to back up that absurd claim.  Ask him to do just that.  (Note to "mainstream" journalists: Paying little attention to stories from "mainstream" journalists is not the same as paying little attention to the news, especially for presidents, who have many sources of news.)

Professor McKay is apparently unaware that President Bush reads more than most presidents, more, as far as I know, than any president since Teddy Roosevelt.  In fact, Bush has had contests with former presidential adviser Karl Rove, to see who can read the most books in a year.  If Floyd McKay were as well read as President Bush, he would know that.  All presidents, and nearly all busy executives, take "one-page summaries of important matters".  A little bit of thought will show you that almost all busy executives should do exactly that.

Of course the information President Bush gets is vetted by his staff.  A little bit of thought will show you that the alternative is absurd.

That Vice President Cheney has a real job, and has contributed substantially to this administration, should be a matter for congratulations, not implied reproof.  Too often, our vice presidents have been left to languish, with little to do.  McKay put that sentence in to imply that there is something sinister about Cheney's hard work, rather than something commendable.

Though that is the worst paragraph, the column contains much else that is dubious, including some examples of poor writing, such as this one:

The frustration level of Americans is at fever pitch, revealed not only in polling but also in such safety-valve outlets as letters to editors, which are as angry as I have seen in years.

As I have before, I will offer my services as a metaphor checker to local journalists.   But just fixing the metaphors wouldn't save that sentence.  (And, of course, if you are going to claim that "polling" shows something, you should cite a specific poll or two.)

Let me suggest, Mr. Vesely, that you ask Professor McKay to go over that column and correct his mistakes, publishing the corrections in a future column.  And if he is willing to correct his errors, I would be glad to help him by sending him a more complete critique.  (I would ask McKay to correct these errors myself, but have had no success in getting him to even reply when I have sent him polite emails noting errors in his columns.)

If he is not willing to correct his mistakes, what should readers conclude about him?  (And, what should they conclude about the Western Washington journalism department?)  If you are not willing to correct his errors, what should readers conclude about you?  (And, what should they conclude about the Seattle Times?)


et cetera

PS - The Times says that McKay is a "journalism professor at Western Washington".  Wouldn't it be more accurate to say that he is a former or emeritus professor?  (Unless, of course, his status there has changed again.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(*Editorial page editor for the Seattle Times.

You can find earlier critiques of McKay's work here and here.  And I have jokingly suggested that Vesely publishes columns by McKay and other academics, in order to discredit professors.  Vesely says that's not so, but I am beginning to wonder if there isn't some truth in my joke.)
- 1:46 PM, 5 September 2007   [link]

Another Reason To Distrust The State Department:  A former State Department diplomat has been working for the terrorist PLO — and is now defending the terrorist Hamas organization.
A former U.S. diplomat spoke in glowing terms Tuesday about the Palestinian charities supported by the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF).  Edward Abington, a former counsel general at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, was the first defense witness in the terror-support trial of the Richardson Tex.-based foundation and five of its former officers.

Prosecutors spent the past six weeks detailing links between the Palestinian charities, known as zakat committees, and HAMAS, a designated foreign terrorist organization.  While much of the money went to humanitarian relief, anything that went to benefit HAMAS violated U.S. law, the government contends.
. . .
During cross examination, prosecutor Barry Jonas noted that Abington earned $750,000 a year during seven years as the chief lobbyist for the PLO, which led the Palestinian Authority, after leaving the State Department.  Prior to resigning from the government in 1999, Abington negotiated a $400 million deal between the State Department and Yasser Arafat.
Working for the PLO, you will have noted, after he helped them get a big aid deal.  Was he working for the PLO, rather than the American government, all along?  Quite possibly.

By way of Little Green Footballs.

(Some at the State Department being on the other side is nothing new.  See the FDR quip at the end of this post for another example.)
- 9:57 AM, 5 September 2007   [link]

This Procedure Probably Isn't in the Boeing manuals.
Officials at Nepal's state-run airline have sacrificed two goats to appease Akash Bhairab, the Hindu sky god, following technical problems with one of its Boeing 757 aircraft, the carrier said Tuesday.
But I do have to note that the airplane is now working again.
- 8:38 AM, 5 September 2007   [link]

Are Special Interests Bad?  Almost all American politicians condemn special interests; almost all American politicians cater to special interests.  Consider, for instance, what Barack Obama did on Labor Day.
The campaign day began with Obama voicing support for labor unions, employment benefits and universal health insurance to address an estimated 47 million Americans without coverage.  He and Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd spoke to the annual Labor Day breakfast hosted by the AFL-CIO, a union with 45,000 active and retired members in New Hampshire.
And, later that day:
Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama vowed yesterday to defend national interests against special interests, a fight he said is foreign to his Washington insider rivals.
And foreign to Obama, judging by what he said just that morning.

(Be fun if some reporter would ask him whether he considered unions to be "special interests", as almost everyone who studies politics does.)
- 2:04 PM, 4 September 2007   [link]

Why Did Larry Craig Have To Go?  Fred Barnes explains.
Republicans are so intent on pushing scandal-plagued members of Congress out of office and far from the media spotlight that the entire party--from the White House to congressional leaders to the Republican National Committee to various campaign committees--was instantly united last week in the effort to force Senator Larry Craig of Idaho to resign.

At another time, Republicans might have cut Craig some slack, allowing him to finish his term and not seek reelection.  But after suffering crushing losses in last year's midterm election--spurred in part by highly publicized GOP corruption in Congress--Republicans are not in a mood to tolerate another nasty scandal.  The common expression among leaders is that they must "clean house."
Which will be good for the party and good for the country.  (Though not necessarily always fair to individual Republicans.)

Republicans must understand — and most now do — that the "mainstream" media will cut them no slack and that every scandal involving a Republican will be the subject of endless stories, stories that always tie the scandal to the party.  That may not be fair, but it is a fact of political life.

(Incidentally, I don't recall any similar efforts to clean up the Democratic party after the 1994 election.)
- 6:49 AM, 4 September 2007   [link]

China Continues To Probe Our Defenses:  And sometimes succeeds in penetrating them.
The Chinese military hacked into a Pentagon computer network in June in the most successful cyber attack on the US defence department, say American officials.

The Pentagon acknowledged shutting down part of a computer system serving the office of Robert Gates, defence secretary, but declined to say who it believed was behind the attack.

Current and former officials have told the Financial Times an internal investigation has revealed that the incursion came from the People's Liberation Army.
The network did not, according to the article, contain classified material, but this is still disturbing, both because of the failure of our security measures, and because of what it shows us about the persistent (and often very successful) Chinese campaign to learn out secrets.

(Both the New York Times and the Washington Post missed this story, but they did have space for the Chinese denials, as you can see here and here.)
- 6:13 AM, 4 September 2007   [link]

Bill Clinton Says that he is "shocked".
Former President Bill Clinton said he was "shocked" by revelations that a top fundraiser for his wife is a fugitive from justice and claimed he didn't even know what "HillRaiser" Norman Hsu did for a living.

"You could have knocked me over with a straw, especially when I heard the L.A. people had been allegedly looking for him for 15 years when he was in plain view," he told Newsday while touring a county fair in rural New Hampshire Sunday.
It would have been funnier if Clinton had said that he was "shocked, shocked".
- 7:38 AM, 3 September 2007   [link]

Bossy Fellow, Isn't He?  Here's John Edwards' latest.
Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards said on Sunday that his universal health care proposal would require that Americans go to the doctor for preventive care.

"It requires that everybody be covered.  It requires that everybody get preventive care," he told a crowd sitting in lawn chairs in front of the Cedar County Courthouse.  "If you are going to be in the system, you can't choose not to go to the doctor for 20 years.  You have to go in and be checked and make sure that you are OK."

He noted, for example, that women would be required to have regular mammograms in an effort to find and treat "the first trace of problem."
And if you feel fine and prefer not to go?  Would you be fined?  Imprisoned?  Deprived of medical care?  The article doesn't say.  But there must be some penalty for refusing to get these examinations, or they wouldn't be "required".

As always with proposals from Edwards, one must ask how this would affect trial lawyers.  My guess — and it is just a guess — is that it would create all kinds of new business for them.  Routine examinations often fail to find problems, through no fault of the doctor.  When these problems show up later, the doctor who gave the original exam can always be blamed and, best of all from a trial lawyer's point of view, sued.

(Incidentally, in the article he promises not to buy any more SUVs — but not to get rid of the ones he already has.  That will remind some of St. Augustine's desire to be virtuous, but "not yet".)
- 5:45 AM, 3 September 2007   [link]

Does The Democratic Party Oppose Victory In Iraq?  See for yourself.

Amazing.  Even as practical politics, without considering the ethics of their counter-demonstration.

Of course there are many Democratic leaders who disagree with that stance, and some have even said so openly.
- 10:34 AM, 2 September 2007   [link]

Sometimes The Unexpected Happens:  And if you don't believe me, just ask the Michigan football team.
What was supposed to be a tuneup turned into a stunner: Appalachian State 34, No. 5 Michigan 32. Julian Rauch's 24-yard field goal with 26 seconds left put the Mountaineers ahead of the Wolverines and Corey Lynch's blocked field goal in the final seconds sealed one of college football's biggest upsets.
(It was supposed to be such a mismatch that the Las Vegas bookies did not have a betting line on the game.)

Which is one reason why I would never say a candidate has a lock on a party's nomination, almost a year before the convention.

(If you are like me, you vaguely knew the name, but not much about the school, not even where it was located, Boone, North Carolina.   Seems to be a decent school, judging only by their own web site.)
- 10:07 AM, 2 September 2007   [link]

Lava Butte:  After stopping in Bend, Oregon over night, I took Route 97 south toward California, and made a brief stop just ten miles south of Bend at Lava Butte, which I described last year as one of the ugliest sights in Oregon.

Lava Butte 2007

Ugly, and perhaps a portent of danger.  Though geologists do not expect another eruption from Lava Butte itself, it appears to be part of a trend.
Lava Butte is one of several very recent cinder cones and lava flows aligned along a fissure that extends about 20 miles northwest from the caldera of the Newberry volcano.  Eruptions seem to have worked their way northwestward along this line during the last 6000 years with Lava Butte being the most recent of the series.  The next eruption will presumably occur several miles northwest of Lava Butte if the trend of the recent past continues into the future.
The latest lava flow, which you can see in this Google Earth picture, extends about six miles from the base of the cone.

Google's Lava Butte 2007

And when the lava flow occurred, it rearranged the local landscape on a large scale, as Wikipedia explains.
Like the other cinder cones in the area, Lava Butte only experienced a single eruption, dated by geologists in 1977 to 6,150 carbon-14 years, equivalent to about 7,000 years ago.  The eruption began with a fissure spewing hot cinders to form the cone.  In the next phase, a river of hot basalt flowed from the base of the small volcano to cover a large area to the west with a blocky lava flow which remains largely free of vegetation.  The lava flows reached the Deschutes River about 2.5 mi (4 km) to the west of the cone, burying its former channel under over 100 ft (30 m) of lava and damming the river to form a lake, known as Lake Benham.  The river eventually overflowed the lava dam and eroded down into it, draining the lake and forming Benham Falls.
If a similar eruption occurs "several miles northwest", then the lava flow would almost certainly reach Bend.

(Incidentally, according to the popular geology books I have been reading, cinder cones tend to be one shot affairs, erupting only once.  I have no idea why that might be so.

You can find my previous 2007 disaster area post here, the last 2006 disaster area tour post, with links to earlier posts, here, and the last 2005 disaster area tour post, with links to earlier posts, here.)
- 2:44 PM, 1 September 2007   [link]