Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

There Are Things More Perverse Than "Hate"

The enactment of laws creating many so-called "hate" crimes has been a priority of many liberals in recent years. The standard model of the type of situation that supposedly must be addressed by such laws projects back to the days of the civil rights movement and beyond: Helpless members of racial minorities (generally but not always African-American) attacked by members of the racial majority motivated by "hate" (often, racial bias). Of course, "hate" crimes are not always limited to racial motiation as the required "hate." Gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity and religious affiliation can also the focus of the "hate." Obviously, private infliction of physical violence against anyone on the basis of any of these grounds is perverse.

But there are more perverse things. One of them is the grossly perverse consequences of the way these "hate" crime laws are actually enforced. That enforcement often (actually, usually) most seriously afflicts members of the very groups the "hate" crime laws were supposedly enacted to protect. Today's news presents a particularly vivid example of this perversity:
A judge sentenced a man to 240 years in prison Wednesday for taking hostages in a bar and telling patrons that "white people are going to burn tonight." State Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley told Steven Johnson, 39, who is black, that he had forfeited his "right to live in society."Johnson, 39, was convicted March 1 of attempted murder, assault and other charges, including some designated as hate crimes.

Isn't it quite enough to punish Mr. Johnson and his ilk for attempted murder, assault and other charges, without designating any of them as hate crimes and bringing in the entire racial mess? Obviously, "hate" crimes cannot just enhance the severity of punishment for crime committed by members of a racial majority against members of a racial minority without running into serious Constitutional problems. That means the laws have to be phrased in facially "neutral" fashion. But that very "neutrality" results in a disproportionate number of members of racial minorities running afoul of these laws (if for no other reason than the statistics of their being in a minority). It's hard to imagine a more perverse result.

(33) comments

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

About That Poll

According to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, "being over the age of 72, a Mormon, twice divorced or a smoker all are bigger drags on a candidate's support than is gender or race." What's most striking about the poll is that it asks about such unusual topics in the first place. Race and gender are pretty standard things to poll about, but the peculiar categories of "over 72," "a Mormon," "twice divorced" and "smoker" seem pretty obviously keyed to what intuition suggests might be weaknesses in the candidacies of McCain, Romney, Giuliani and Obama, respectively. Of course, there's no reason to avoid such topical questions - after all, these people are running for the presidency right now.

But why does this poll avoid every obvious potential specific weakness of Hillary Clinton's candidacy? Is the point to make Senator Clinton look good, or "inevitable?" Or are the pollsters just dense? For example, John Fund today scribes a pointed and astute analysis of why Mrs. Clinton's biggest problem may be voters' unease with dynastic politics. While Mr. Fund's particular take is clever and characteristically his personal style, the general topic of voter sensitivity to dynastic politicians such as Senator Clinton is hardly obscure or subtle or novel, and it is certainly a more respectable voter concern than a candidate's religious orientation, for example. It comes up automatically and constantly and appropriately whenever Jeb Bush is discussed even in passing. So why does the Washington Post-ABC News Poll avoid this topic?

How about asking about candidates who have never explained large commodities trading profits that beat the market so much that any option-back-dating corporate officer would be green with envy? And isn't it more than a bit odd that a poll including so many topical, candidate-specific questions omits to ask about the voters' take on a candidate whose brother seems to have sold a presidential criminal pardon just before the candidate herself cleared out of the White House? Would it be too delicate for a poll asking about religion, marital history and age to include a question or two regarding a candidate who never denounced her husband's pardon of, say, Marc Rich? It wouldn't be too hard to come up with a slew of other such topical, specific questions pertaining to Senator Clinton the same way the Washington Post-ABC News Poll question specifically pertain to her competitors.

But there are no such specific questions in that poll. Strange that is. Passing strange.

(188) comments

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Another Step Beyond

It seems that Ms. Royal has trouble learning from even her serious mistakes, a very dangerous trait in a high level politician. The Wall Street Journal Reports:
Days after her remarks on Quebec sovereignty, a famous French comedian called Ms. Royal pretending to be Quebec's prime minister. During the call, which he recorded and then aired on French radio, he compared her comments to supporting independence for the French Mediterranean island of Corsica, where sovereignty also is a divisive issue. Ms. Royal joked that the French wouldn't mind, but then hurriedly added: "Don't repeat that. It will create another incident in France." It did, prompting derision from the Sarkozy camp.
My post immediately below on this topic was intended as tongue-in-cheek parody. What does it say about Ms. Royal that she seems to effortlessly move beyond parody while seeking the presidency of France?

(4) comments

Monday, January 22, 2007

One Step Beyond

For some reason known only to her, French presidential candidate Segolene Royal, who has never even visited Quebec, has been mindlessly asserting in public (!) that the province and France have "common values," including “sovereignty and Quebec’s freedom.” That bizarre and pointless provocation (what's she got against Canada anyway?) has drawn a rebuke from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Quebec Premier Jean Charest. The incident of course recalls a low point of French President Charles de Gaulle career when he declared "Vive le Quebec libre" (Long live free Quebec) during a visit to Canada in 1967. He is said to have been surprised to have to cut short his visit after making the comment. One wonders if he planned next to visit New Orleans and spice things up by shouting "Les Sud monteront encore" (The South will rise again!) in Jackson Square.

In any event, since this kind of thing keeps happening, perhaps the Canadian government should consider going one step beyond the predictable expressions of astonishment at the destructive stupidity of the meddling French politician de jour. Perhaps the time has come for Canada to really get behind some or all of the really amazing number of French regional separatist movements. Why should the Canadian government be deterred from finding "common values" including “sovereignty and Corsica's freedom” with, say, the National Front for the Liberation of Corsica just because that organization practices bombings, aggravated assault, armed bank robbery and extortion through "revolutionary taxes?" After all, their attacks are mostly aimed at public buildings, banks, touristic infrastructure, military buildings and other symbols of French control - usually not against persons. Maybe Ottowa should announce that it will consider making financial contributions to Corsica Nazione and Partitu di a Nazione Corsa, political parties advocating Corsican separation from France? Why not? Or maybe it would be more interesting for the Canadians to stimulate the ambitions of separatists seeking to break off some other piece of France with a (sometimes violent) separatist movement, such as Alsace-Lorraine or French Basque Country or Brittany or Nice or Normandy or Northern Catalonia or Savoy or (my favorite) Occitania?

Of course, one might reasonably ask what business does Canada have to foment the break up of France? But, then again, why the heck do French politicians think they have a role in stimulating the breakup of Canada? I guess it's just fun for some people to watch the scramble, the way some kids like to burn ants with a magnifying glass.

(5) comments

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Taking Bill Richardson Seriously

Democratic Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico has just announced that he is taking the first step toward an expected White House run in 2008. It may be difficult for many people to take him seriously. After all, none of the things Terry McAuliffe listed about Hillary Clinton can be said of the New Mexico Governor: “She has the name recognition, the money, the glitz, she’s got it all.” John Edwards has all that plus really good teeth and a cash-in-the-bank silver tongue! And while Mr. Richardson can make a claim in the identity-politics game ("He seeks to become the first Hispanic president!"), the whole Obamarama type thing is missing. Heck, Senator Obama is said to be so fat-free than he is worthy of mention as a beach-babe in the same breath as the sainted Catherine Zeta-Jones, Penelope Cruz, Jessica Alba and Hugh Jackman - while the good Governor (how to say this politely) is probably best advised to stay out of saltwater.

So why take Bill Richardson seriously?

One should take Bill Richardson seriously for the same reason that one would have done well to have taken Jimmy Carter, Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton and even the preposterous Howard Dean seriously at this stage of the campaign:

Bill Richardson is a successful governor.
He has real public chief executive experience, and he sounds like it and looks like it. None of Clinton, Obama or Edwards has ever run anything beyond a political campaign. That doesn't seem to matter to some chattery people. For example, according to Mr. McAuliffe Senator Clinton "has it all" - but for some reason Mr. McAuliffe fails to note that at this point she doesn't seem to have the voters. Maybe she and he have a plan to bypass the voters based on some clever adverse possession argument arising from Hillary's eight years in hostile, open and notorious occupancy of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Isn't that why one goes to Yale Law School?

There is a basic political fact here that is normally and foolishly forgot as often and as soon as it is said: The Senate is poor training ground or launching pad for a presidential bid, while the governorship of even a small state is terrific as both. Yes, the dull, incompetent, unpleasant Senator Kerry eventually beat back fiery Governor Dean. But Howard Dean is from a tiny, unrepresentative state, is personally and obviously completely unsuited to serve as president and, on top of all that, is a nut. Given his limitations, it is really remarkable that Howard Dean did as well as he did ... and his governorship is much of what carried him as far as he went, which was pretty far. So the obvious advantages enjoyed by Senators Clinton, Obama and Edwards may swamp Governor Richardson's executive experience.

But don't count on it as a certainty. Bill Richardson could be a serious contender.

(3) comments

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Things Change And Yet Are Not The Same? II: "Ô Français, faites des enfants!"

As noted below (Things Change And Yet Are Not The Same?), France is cooing over its fertility rate reportedly rising to 2.0 with the media rather mindlessly repeating French politicians' claims that government economic incentives have made the difference. Maybe. Other analyses suggest that politically feasible benefit reforms can move fertility up or down by about 5% - far less than the French politicians and their silly media troops are claiming. In fact, the politicians' explanation seems about as likely as the theory that the French have taken to heart the Poulenc surrealist opera Les mamelles de Tirésias ("The Breasts of Tiresias"), which ends with the ringing and stern command "Ô Français, faites des enfants!" ("O Frenchmen, make babies!") And why not?

Whatever it is that drives the French fertility rate, it sure has changed a lot over time. Between 1950 and 1965, the total fertility rate in France remained above 2.7 children per woman, but later dropped by 40 per cent, from 2.85 in 1960-1965 to 1.72 in 1990-1995. Some claim the rate reached as low as 1.63 in 1998. A change from 1.72 to 2.00 is about a 16% change in fertility - or more than three times the 5% maximum that has been estimated to be obtainable from government economic incentives. Where did the other 11% (more, if one accepts the 1.63 rate) change come from?

Well, I don't know. But I'd like to posit a possible "Roe Effect" here.

Oral contraception became common just about the time the French fertility rate hit its 1960's peak. So it wouldn’t be too surprising if the availability of contraception allowed for a big new measure of control of pregnancy, and therefore fertility, than was previously available. In other words, it seems reasonable that many French births prior to the late 1960's were "unwanted" - and thereafter "avoided" -resulting in the drop in fertility to 1.72 by 1990.

It seems reasonable that children whose parents want to have children will themselves be more likely than the average person to want to have children. Of course, such "wants" mean little until one can separate sex from the possibility of children on the choice level. In other words, absent contraception and abortion, the decision to have sex will pretty much determine the question of whether there will be children. That means that prior to wide scale contraception and abortion (before, say, circa 1965), people became parents once they had sex regardless of whether they wanted to have children. After abortion and contraception became elective, only people who wanted to have children had children.

So what?

Well, after one post-1965 generation France should be populated only with the children of people who wanted to have children - and we've posited that such children will want to have children more than others. In other words, it seems reasonable that the availability of abortion and contraception will after one generation increase the percentage of people in the population who actually want to have children. That should boost the fertility rate - perhaps enough to account for the increased fertility rate.

Such effects are everywhere. It is said that such effects are making the United States more conservative and Republican, for example. Such "Roe Effects" have famously been charged with reducing the crime rate and many, many other things. Would it really be all that surprising if Roe Effects caused the French to rise to Mr. Poulenc's challenge and embrace Les mamelles de Tirésias?

I'm not asserting that Roe Effects are the best explanation for the recent apparent uptick in French fertility rate - only that such Effects are worth studying in this regard. Of course, all of this suggests that one ask about the fertility rates and histories of other countries. Indeed, the French fertility rate has attracted some rather curious criticism over the years. In 1990, for example, Herve Le Bras, one of the directors of research at France's national institute of demographic studies, was dropped from the editorial board of the institute's journal, Population and Society, and from his functions as a scientific adviser. He claimed that the institute had been "telling whoppers for the past 15 years" by using a method of calculation which leads to a figure of 1.8 births per woman, even though it admits that the total number of children born to women of one generation stands at 2.1.

Odd, that.

(2) comments

Friday, January 19, 2007

And The Alternative Behind Door Number Two Is ...?

Yesterday we learned that Nancy Pelosi will not seek to cut off funding to block Mr. Bush's "troop surge." Indeed, the new Speaker said that "Democrats will never cut off funding for our troops when they are in harm's way" - which, of course, is exactly what another Democratic Congress did to force an end the Vietnam War.

There is no question that general discontent with the Iraq situation, and with the Administration's handling of it, is high and getting higher. Indeed, there is no real question that such discontent is the overwhelming reason why Democrats now have a tenuous majority in both Houses of Congress. But it's one thing to tap into public discontent with the direction of the Iraq incursion to win an election, and quite another thing to come up with a viable alternative. Coming up with a satisfactory alternative is now on Ms. Pelosi and her troops and the clock is ticking. But the political difficulty involved is apparent in the public's confused (to say the least) answers to this question in a recent Los Angeles Times Poll:
Q: What issue should be the first priority for the newly elected Congress to address? (top three responses; up to two responses accepted)
Only 20% of respondents said that "Set a timetable" should be top priority, 9% said "Oppose Bush plan" should have that priority, while a mere 7% thought that coming up with an "Alternative plan" should be tops. Healthcare drew 20% and Stronger immigration laws drew 10%.

That kind of grossly confused public sentiment may be a key reason Ms. Pelosi is taking no definitive action against the Bush move, while making inflamatory but highly ambiguous comments such as her assertion on Friday that the President is wading too deeply into Iraq and said it should not be "an obligation of the American people in perpetuity."

I'm not sure what the effect of a policy of super heated rhetoric coupled with feckless activity will be in the large - and I doubt if Ms. Pelosi does either. But I'm fairly sure that such a policy carries pretty big risks for the Speaker personally - and I think she does, too. The fact that she is prepared to take that risk is some indication of how volatile the crrent situation in Washington really is.
(6) comments

McCain-Feingold, Dead By Independence Day?

The Supreme Court today agreed to review McCain-Feingold to "see" if it violates the free speech rights of advocacy groups by prohibiting them from running ads mentioning specific candidates before an election. Of course, this is pretty similar to the Supreme Court granting review of a law to "see" if it violates the free speech rights of advocacy groups by, say, allowing the government to keep the members of the group bound and gagged for the sixty days before an election. The answer is obvious, but only if one actually cares about the First Amendment. The Washington Post reports:
The Supreme Court three years ago upheld the constitutionality of McCain-Feingold, which was enacted to reduce the influence of campaign spending by wealthy individuals, corporations, unions and special interest groups. But Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who was part of the 5-4 majority that issued a complicated, nearly 300-page ruling, has retired. She has been replaced by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. After O'Connor's departure, the court last year told the lower court to take another look at Wisconsin Right to Life's petition.
When the Court - any court - hands down a complicated 300 page split opinion, you know its got to be wrong, and they know it, too. One doesn't have to be a veteran Court watcher to figure out that the old-4-vote-minority-plus-Alito is eyeing that opinion foolishly upholding McCain-Feingold with approximately as a highway partol officer eyes a red Porsche doing a ton-and-twenty-five that got away from him the week before.

Done by July. With lots of summertime left to reach right up and touch the sky!

UPDATE: The usually clueless Linda Greenhouse weighs in true to form, grossly underplaying the error made by those (including the FEC and Ms. Greenhouse) who "had regarded the constitutionality of the provision as settled." In fact, the Court made clear in a later unanimous opinion that it had merely upheld the statute "on its face" (as Ms. Greenhouse notes but without commenting on the Court's astonished tone). Even upholding McCain-Feingold on its face was technically already serious Court error, as indicated by Justice O'Connor's tortured opinion. But that error was almost nothing in substance and practice, especially given Justice O'Connor's intensely fact-and-application-based opinion. Look for the Court to either reverse itself and declare McCain-Feingold flatly unconstitutional on its face, or (more likely) to overturn its old decision sub silentio by holding that the statute is unconstitutional in virtually all applications - especially where the statute's advocates most want it to apply!

(5) comments

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Things Change And Yet Are Not The Same?

Some things have changed in France:
France has overtaken Ireland to become the European nation with the highest birthrate ... taking the fertility rate to two babies per woman for the first time since 1974.... [H]alf the children are born outside marriage. ... The birthrate among immigrants generally matched that of native-born French. ...

Parents are helped by a system of allowances, free daycare and universal nursery schooling, cut-price transport and generous income tax reductions. .... France is on course to become the most populous country in Europe by 2050, overtaking Germany. ... Germany introduced French-style incentives last year for couples to produce children. Its population is expected to drop from today’s 82 million to under 70 million unless women can be encouraged to have more [children].
It would be particularly interesting to see at least one additional bit of statistical breakdown in this data: How does the birthrate of native-born French women whose parents were immigrants to France (especially from Africa) compare to the birthrate of other native-born French women? There is a clear social divide in France between more recent immigrants and their children on the one hand, and other French. The article states that birthrate among immigrants generally matched that of native-born French, which suggests that reproduction pattern of the children of immigrants is not that different from that of other French people, but that conclusion is far from logically compelled.

The article is also rather blasé about its assumption that the increased French birthrate is mostly attributable to government economic incentives. Other estimates place the cost elasticity of the demand for children to be about 0.2 and go on to suggest that politically feasible benefit reforms can change the cost of children by about 25% and move fertility up or down by about 5%. The current French results as reported in this quoted article may be well beyond that 5% range. Italy, for example, has a birth rate of about 1.2 to 1.3, far outside the 5% envelope.

It's interesting to see this assumption that economic incentives profoundly affect reproductive decisions at work without apparent friction, even to the point of possible serious exaggeration, where the similar proposition that the economic effects of the American welfare system dramatically affected the reproductive choices of welfare recipients has long been an incendiary element in American political discussion. Perhaps a measure of that incendiary potential can be seen in the article's demur announcement that "half the children are born outside marriage," with no discussion at all as to whether that figure is also attributable largely to those same government economic incentives. Then there is the possible elephant in the corner that goes completely undiscussed: The likely quality of the additional French children. If one is counting on the new births to help pay for social programs - as the article indicates is happening in France now - it would be a good idea to first determine whether the new children are really going to be making a significant contribution, or whether they will act more like the children of American-style "welfare dependency."

As an interesting aside, Post-World War II French income tax policy was highly unusual and regressive, and was enacted to increase fertility. Most countries provide a fixed income tax deduction for each child. For forty years following WWII, French policy provided a deduction increasing with family size - creating a tax advantage of having children that increased with wealth. That French policy was unique in providing a monetary incentive for fertility that was large and greatest among the rich.

(1) comments

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Creme de la Creme

One of the more intense and peculiar politically correct crusades is the drive against "obesity" - especially "childhood obesity." It's not that obesity shouldn't be avoided or isn't generally a bad thing. But as with many PC obsessions, many of the most intense participants in the anti-obesity drive often seem to be motivated by an entirely different agenda, one that often seems to be obscure to such participants themselves. That agenda seems to have something to do with a deep disapproval of fast food, unfettered personal choice and a whole consumerist attitude towards life.

Perhaps nowhere is this confused and obscure agenda suggested more strongly than in the drive against certain milk products, especially full-fat milk served in school. We are often told in the highest political decibels that schools that serve full-fat milk are all but guilty of child abuse. Yet there is no evidence whatsoever that serving non-fat milk to school children would even correspond to a likely weight loss, still less that serving non-fat milk would actually cause or result in weight loss or control. Yet the PC brigades soldier on.

Now comes Stockholm's Karolinska Institute, which now reckons that daily consumption of full fat dairy products will lead to a reduction of obesity:
The startling result was based on interviews with almost 20,000 women whose dietary habits have been tracked since 1987.

When the study began, the women had an average body mass index (BMI) of 23.7. Ten years later, the women who had regularly consumed full fat milk or cheese had a lower BMI than the rest of the group.

A glass of full fat milk every day will, according to the researchers, result in 15 percent less weight gain. But full fat cheese was an even more effective slimming product: one portion a day resulted in 30 percent less weight gain.

"The surprising conclusion was that increased consumption of cheese meant that overweight women lost weight," said Alicja Wolk, professor at Karolinska Institute, to Svenska Dagbladet.

Actually, the result is far from "startling" or "surprising" given that we know very little about obesity other than that it results over time from eating more calories than one metabolizes - and especially given the pre-existing lack of any scientific correlation between consumption of skim milk and weight control. How can one be rationally "startled" or "surprised' when one had no idea what to expect in the first place?

Will the anti-fat-milk PC brigades back down now on the drive to eliminate full-fat dairy products from school menus and children's diets? Or, better yet, will the brigades now lobby for serving full-fat milk ad dairy products in public schools? Probably not. And their not backing down would make their agenda seem even more obscure and confused, wouldn't it?

POSTSCRIPT: New York City — the nation's largest school district — has famously decided to cut whole milk from its school menus in response to criticism from the anti-milk-fat brigade. Moreover, current federal government nutrition guidelines suggest drinking 3 cups of fat-free or lowfat milk a day. If the Swedes are correct, following those guidelines should help anyone - including children - swell up nicely. And New York City school children should have an advantage over children from the rest of the country in swelling to ever more Brobdingnagian proportions! (Perhaps a misuse of the term, since the Brobdingnagians were just really big - not fat, actually. But, then the term has come to mean "gigantic" or a "size problem" generally - at least in some quarters.)

(5) comments

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Associated Press Botches Execution, Morality, Journalism (So What Else Is New?)

Do reporters and editors have to go to some special school, or have some exotic surgery performed on their brains to remove the moral center, to run an article about a "botched" execution without a single mention of the name of the killer's victim or the circumstances of the murder, and without any mention of any attempt on the reporter's part to obtain the views of the victim's family?

Does it matter that the killer is fully named in the article, described by his named relatives in the most sentimental terms possible ("God chose my uncle to change history!") and that his irrelevant ethnicity is specified, while his victim is dismissed as a nameless "manager of a Miami topless bar 27 years ago?" Does it matter that the article is without any mention of the hideous aggravating circumstances of the victim's murder that warranted imposition of the death penalty?

Here is an entire article from the Associated Press - a very sick place:

Family denounces botched Fla. execution

Fri Dec 22, 11:54 PM ET

A Puerto Rican man whose botched execution in Florida renewed opposition to the death penalty in the United States and this island territory was buried Friday in a ceremony attended by about 100 people.

Angel Nieves Diaz, a career criminal condemned for killing a manager of a Miami topless bar 27 years ago, was given a second dose of deadly chemicals as he took more than half an hour to die on Dec. 13.

At the funeral in suburban Rio Piedras, family members said they hoped the notoriety of Diaz's case would boost the international campaign against capital punishment.

"God chose my uncle to change history," said Jackeline Nieves. "Now the death penalty isn't seen as something normal. It's seen as the worst, most inhumane method."

Medical experts said the 55-year-old convict could have experienced severe pain as needles that were supposed to inject drugs into his veins were instead pushed all the way through the blood vessels into surrounding soft tissue.

The case prompted Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to suspend all executions in the state as a commission examines its lethal injection process.

The U.S. Caribbean territory abolished capital punishment in 1929. However, federal prosecutors can seek the death penalty in some cases because Puerto Rico is subject to U.S. federal law.

The Associated Press doesn't think the victim is worth his name, but I'll publish it here: Joseph Nagy. I never heard of Mr. Nagy before, but I have known some Hungarians by that name - and since the AP saw fit to belabor his killer's ethnicity, I'll mention this groat of evidence concerning his victim's possible heritage. The AP tells us that about 100 people attended the killer's funeral (but no mention as to how many attended for larger political purposes). But neither the AP nor the public court records available online provide a clue as to how many people showed up to see Mr. Nagy off this earth - or what his family had to say at the time or now.

Even in the flush of advancing its political agenda in an article like this, the AP has an obligation to remember that the life of a long-dead manager of a Florida topless bar had value, the man who harbored that extinguished life had a name, and the circumstances of his death have meaning. So here - reproduced from an Eleventh Circuit opinion rejecting one of the killer's appeals - are the aggravating circumstances of the murder on which the death penalty was imposed:

The four ... aggravating circumstances were "Diaz was under sentence of imprisonment, had previously been convicted of another capital felony, ... committed the murder during a kidnapping, and committed the murder for pecuniary gain.
It's also worth noting the Florida Supreme Court's direct-appeal opinion had noted that the killer's "prior record in this instance includes an armed robbery, two escapes, the assault and battering of correctional officers, and a conviction for murdering the director of a drug rehabilitation center by stabbing him nineteen times while he slept."

I wouldn't wish unnecessary pain on anyone, even a killer in the course of his execution. But unnecessary pain sometimes happens. And if it has to happen to someone, it couldn't happen to a more appropriate person that someone like the killer described in this AP article.

(2) comments

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Mr. Rago Dissents

Is it odd that having run an article subtitled "Wow, Time magazine really is out of touch with the Internet age" (reproduced from American Spectator) only yesterday, Opinion Journal today carries an article by the Journal's editorial staffer Joseph Rago proving that Wall Street's own can at least match Time magazine on that particular out-of-touch front?

Mr. Rago's effort will doubtlessly attract lots of Blogosphere commentary, so I will indulge in but a few observations. I leave it to the reader to determine if she agrees that Mr. Rago comes dangerously close to ignoring many of the enormous differences among blogs - starting with the title of his article (which he may or may not have chosen): The Blog Mob. I also ask the reader to consider whether the best blogs have any of the characteristics Mr. Rago purports to identify.

For example, does Mickey Kaus's blog, Kausfiles, ever show serious signs of the mob mentality Mr. Rago conjures? Please. Is it true, as Mr. Rago insists, of even the better reaches of the Blogosphere - again keeping Kausfiles in mind as but one example - that "Every conceivable belief is on the scene, but the collective prose, by and large, is homogeneous: A tone of careless informality prevails; posts oscillate between the uselessly brief and the uselessly logorrheic; complexity and complication are eschewed; the humor is cringe-making, with irony present only in its conspicuous absence; arguments are solipsistic; writers traffic more in pronouncement than persuasion . . ." And if Mr. Rago's criticisms are to be limited to the less well done portions of the Blogosphere (taking that "by and large" escape hatch), they would amount to the nearly tautological observation that the not-well-done is not well done, on the Blogosphere as everywhere. Yes, indeed. And it is also true that a man is liked by his friends, Mr. Rago.

But it is with respect to the Blogosphere's relationship with the mainstream media that Mr. Rago's errors are most interesting - perhaps because he considers no examples at all (other than Henry James and his arthritis). He is certainly correct that the Blogosphere draws heavily on direct reporting of the mainstream media. But the mainstream media - in the past often working in far less than fully competitive environments - have developed many ways of distorting the products of their own reporting. One need look no further than Rathergate to see the valuable role played by the Blogosphere in blocking an election-distorting gambit practiced by CBS News repeatedly for many years. So is Mr. Rago correct that "The blogs are not as significant as their self-endeared curators would like to think. ... Instead, they ride along with the MSM like remora fish on the bellies of sharks, picking at the scraps." Perhaps that is a question best asked of now minimally employed "sharks" such as Dan Rather and Mary Mapes.

Mr. Rago apparently considers himself to be a "shark." My guess is that his own belly is bound to be nipped by lots of his "remoras." Somehow I think he's about to find out how insignificant their bites really are.

(74) comments

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Gloria Wise Boys and Girls Club? What's That?

This New York Times article by Elizabeth Jensen and Lia Miller purports to recount what the article calls the "short but contentious history of Air America." Many odd characters and twists are recounted in a history where "business and politics always mixed, and that was the problem, critics contend." Tart recriminations are now reportedly flying.

But none of those reported recriminations has anything whatsoever to do with the Gloria Wise Boys and Girls Club. Indeed, the Times article make no mention of that organization at all. Its name is not mentioned. Not even an allusion to this worthy organization made.

All of which is more than passing strange, because Air America has an extensive history and economic relationship with the Gloria Wise Boys and Girls Club, as the New York Post summarized:
Six officials of the Gloria Wise Boys and Girls Club stole $1.2 million from the group, money meant for needy kids and seniors, a city probe has found. Investigations Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn calls it "disgusting" - the worst case of wrongdoing by a non-profit contractor she's seen since taking office.
Thank goodness the thieves will be going to jail for a very long time - and paying back every cent, and then some.
Well, actually, that's not quite true.
In fact, nobody is going to jail.
Not even for a single day.
And the crooks get to keep most of the cash they stole. Four weren't even charged, and after a few brief years, the two who were charged can return to nonprofit work - to loot again, perhaps.
For that wrist tap, thank Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, whose office prosecuted the case.
Something is wrong with this picture.
Hearn was right to label the shenanigans "disgusting." Her report said fraud "was an accepted way of doing business" for these execs. "Rather than reflecting actual events," the group's records "were made to say whatever suited the executives' purposes." Want details?
* Under their direction, the group improperly gave $875,000 to left-wing Air America radio (which features comedian Al Franken) while a Gloria Wise exec maintained a financial stake in it.
There's plenty more. For example, the New York City Department of Investigation has commented:

DOI asked Air America to repay the $875,000 to an escrow account controlled by DOI. Thereafter, Air America repaid only $50,000 to an escrow account that is not controlled by DOI. DOI is pleased that Piquant LLC, the current owner of Air America, has agreed to DOI's request that, in lieu of making $50,000 quarterly payments, Piquant transfer the full $875,000 to the escrow account.
And lots more.

But all of that escapes Elizabeth Jensen and Lia Miller. And apparently nobody at Air America cares enough to hurl any recriminations on this topic. But, then, if the ever-opportunistic, pseudo-crusading Mr. Sptizer doesn't care, why should the Times?

(2) comments

Friday, December 08, 2006

Some Questions Regarding Herr Doktor Professor Paul Von Krugman's Wages Theory

What Herr Doktor Professor Paul Von Krugman wrote in his October 6, 2006 column The War Against Wages:
So what's keeping paychecks down? Major employers like Wal-Mart have decided that their interests are best served by treating workers as a disposable commodity, paid as little as possible and encouraged to leave after a year or two. And these employers don't worry that angry workers will respond to their war on wages by forming unions, because they know that government officials, who are supposed to protect workers' rights, will do everything they can to come down on the side of the wage-cutters.
What the New York Times reports on the front page today:
After four years in which pay failed to keep pace with price increases, wages for most American workers have begun rising significantly faster than inflation. .... The average hourly wage for workers below management level - everyone from school bus drivers to stockbrokers - rose 2.8 percent from October 2005 to October of this year, after being adjusted for inflation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only a year ago, it was falling by 1.5 percent. .... The fall in unemployment to 4.4 percent and the recent surge in wages, however, raise the prospect that the job market could be on the brink of another strong run, much like the one that lifted incomes in the late 1990s.

Of course, "wages" are just one component of overall compensation, which includes a variety of other expensive and valuable benefits. "Wages" and "paychecks" matter more than they should to Herr Doktor Professor and the Times generally; indeed, they are drawn to "wage" and "paycheck" arguments like moths to flames. There is, for example, no disclaimer or distinction made between of "wages" or "paychecks" and "overall compensation" in either Herr Doktor Professor's October column or in today's "news" article. On the other hand, nobody seems to have a good grasp on what is happening to true worker compensation in the United States - including people who focus on overall compensation. So although one can go far criticizing Herr Doktor Professor and the Times broadly on this count, I prefer to ask a far narrower question today:

If, as Herr Doktor Professor says, what had been keeping paychecks down was major employers like Wal-Mart having decided that their interests are best served by treating workers as a disposable commodity, paid as little as possible and encouraged to leave after a year or two, then does the recent rise in paychecks reported today in the Times mean that major employers abandoned or softened that approach? Have those major employers decided since October 6 that their interests are not best served by treating workers as a disposable commodity? If so, why? Why now?

And, most importantly of all: Why does the Times' "news" article, which takes up plenty of column inches with various analyses of why wages have fluctuated, not even mention Herr Doktor Professor's key theoretical insight into the main cause of wage stagnation?

Sheesh, you'd almost think that the economic reporters at the Times don't care a bit about what Herr Doktor Professor has to say on this topic. Surely that can't be true. Can it?

Just asking.

(0) comments

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The New York Times Sinks Into A Florida Swamp

Even by the low standards of New York Times economic reporting, David Leonhardt's article in today's edition surely reaches a new low in breathlessly announcing:

The truth is that the official numbers on house prices — the last refuge of soothing information about the real estate market on the coasts — are deeply misleading. ... In reality, homes across much of Florida, California and the Northeast are worth a lot less than they were a year ago.
Unlike Mr. Leonhardt, the Man Without Qualities takes no position on what the "truth" or "reality" of the current residential real property market may be. I have no idea what the real estate market is doing right now, and (again unlike Mr. Leonhardt) I have no idea where to look for that "truth" and "reality" other than in those admittedly imperfect statistics reporting actual sales that he finds so unworthy.

But I do know this: Auctions of houses of the type described in this article generally produce prices quite a bit lower than what could be obtained if the house were marketed in the usual way. That's why the "usual way" is "usual." So it is nothing short of idiotic for Mr. Leonhardt and the Times to look to such an auction in Naples, Florida for the "truth" and "reality" of the housing market in the "finding" that "on average, the houses that changed hands at the auction had fallen about 25 percent in value since 2005."

Here's a hint for Mr. Leonhardt and his handlers at the Times: Pretty much any competent realtor or probate or bankruptcy attorney will tell you that an auctioned house brings in about 25% less than the then-current market value of the home - although the statistical spread can be wide. This effect is not a secret. Many home buyers look to buy homes from probate sales, for example, even in the absence of an auction. But "normal buyers" generally don't go to such auctions - only speculators and bottom fishers normally go. One reason for that is that unlike normal real property sales such auctions allow for no financing or any other contingencies. In other words, don't even think about making a bid at such an auction and then going to your bank for the appraisal and loan and detailed home inspection. At an auction, you pretty much just write the check for the full purchase price on your way out the auction house door. That kind of thing tends to push prices down - and a 25% reduction on usual market prices is a pretty good result in a house auction.

Since the auction described by the Times yielded prices about 25% off year-ago prices, the auction appears to actually suggests that the Naples single family home market has not changed much over the last year. But Mr. Leonhardt completely misses all of that.

Of course, Mr. Leonhardt does not just rely on this one auction for his conclusion that the "truth" and "reality" is that home prices are in free fall. No, no, no. He also quotes a few realtors, who opine that in their local markets the "truth" and "reality" is that home prices are in free fall without any supporting data whatsoever, and despite government and other statistics to the contrary. And, despite his reliance on realtor oracles, Mr. Leonhardt apparently never asked his realtor contacts what the normal relationship is between the prices of auctioned homes and homes sold in the usual way - an enquiry that would have deflated his Naples example.

So economic reporting in the New York Times has come to relying on what realtors tell the reporter. No support required. No follow up questions. Just like that.

Could the Times go any lower?

(33) comments

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Is The Court Planning To Excise The Religion Exception?

The New York Times reports regarding a federal court challenge to some aspects of the President's faith-based initiatives:
Judge John C. Shabaz of Federal District Court dismissed the lawsuit for lack of standing, finding that the officials activities were not sufficiently tied to specific Congressional appropriations. Taxpayers objections to the use of general appropriations could not be a basis for standing, he said. The president's Faith-Based and Community Initiative was created through a series of executive orders and not by Congress, he noted.

The decision was overturned, and the lawsuit reinstated, in a 2-to-1 ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in Chicago. Writing for the majority, Judge Richard A. Posner said the distinction cited by Judge Shabaz made no difference. Judge Posner said the plaintiffs were entitled to challenge the conferences as propaganda vehicles for religion even if they were neither financed through a specific Congressional appropriation nor made grants directly to religious groups.

As a general matter, people do not have standing, based solely on their status as taxpayers, to challenge the expenditure of federal money. The Supreme Court's precedents have carved out religion cases as an exception to this general rule.

In its appeal, Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation, No. 06-157, the administration is arguing the exception is a narrow one, designed to prevent the specific historic evil of direct legislative subsidization of religious entities, a definition that the administration says does not apply to the conferences. For the federal courts to permit such a lawsuit, its brief asserts, would upset the delicate balance of power between the judicial and executive branches and open the courthouse door to anyone with a generalized grievance.
The Administration's position may be insufficiently ambitious. The exception that the Court has carved out for religion cases to the general rule that plaintiffs do not have "standing" based solely on their status as taxpayers to challenge the expenditure of federal money is all but indefensible. There is no good reason to treat religion as a special case. Indeed, the Court's exception runs quite contrary in spirit to the growing body of Court precedent affirming that generally applicable rules may not carve out religious exceptions. Moreover, there are many signs that at least the conservatives on the Court view the Court's "standing" rules as needing tightening. That was, for example, much in evidence during the Court's recent hearing regarding "global warming." Federal court "standing" requirements are essential to upholding the Constitution's requirement that federal court jurisdiction be limited to "cases and controversies." There is no good reason to suspend or weaken that requirement just because religion is involved. And there are plenty of indications that the Court is fed up with the annual deluge of religion cases brought on what often seem like general policy grounds by plaintiffs with no real connection to the issues supposedly driving the action. (One can almost hear the annual wails from the great white palace on Capitol Hill: "What, yet another damn slew of annual creche cases!?")

Looking at the matter from another perspective, one might ask: Why has the Court accepted review of a Seventh Circuit case written by one of the most able judges in the country, Richard Posner, where there is no split in the Circuits, and Judge Posner's opinion itself is probably correct - and certainly not seriously wrong? It is highly unlikely that Judge Posner needs "correcting" - he knows how to construe existing Supreme Court precedent better than almost any other person in the world. Moreover, the "exception to the exception" his opinion overturned has little independent merit if one accepts the Court's existing precedent. So why did the Supreme Court agree to review Judge Posner's decision?

Well, if the Court wants to reverse its own precedent and abolish the exception that the Court has carved out for religion cases, one would expect the Court to accept an appeals court decision that gets the existing law (that is, existing the Supreme Court precedent) right - and then reverse. (UPDATE: In fact, that appears to be just what the Court is doing to reverse its own recent decision permitting the limited use of racial criteria in public education.) Is that what the Court is up to now?

We'll just have to wait and see.
(0) comments

The Two Misters Webb

The "icy exchange" between President Bush and Virginia Sen.-elect James Webb has occassioned a great deal of comment (here and here and here and here, for example). We are told that perhaps the exchange has turned Webb into something of a folk hero among critics of the president, who have longed for someone to challenge his bravado, or that maybe his refusal to play "gentlemanly political games" has renewed questions about how well Mr. Webb fits in Congress, where compromise is almost always key. Others assert that Webb was a "jerk" - or perhaps, on the contrary, that it was Mr. Bush who made sounds of the "rattling little aggressions of our day" (this last take seems particularly far fetched).

With all respect to the many commenters, the copious commentary may be missing the most likely root of this exchange: Senator-elect Webb's son probably does not agree with his father's anti-war stance. If that's true, then the elder Webb has very good reason to fear being drawn into a conversation with the President that a more customary response to "How's your boy?" would have occassioned. If the Senator-elect had been drawn into the conversation that the President invited, Mr. Webb père might well have faced the need to either admit that his son supports the war or to dissemble to the President. It's not surprising that the new Senator would choose to evade that choice after his original plan - completely avoiding the President at this gathering - was frustrated by Mr. Bush's attempt to be friendly.

And a serious difference of opinion between father and son probably does exist on this point. How likely is it that Mr. Webb fils - who volunteered as a marine, is now serving in Iraq, and who grew up in a Republican household - is as opposed to the Iraq incursion as the Senator-elect or his supporters? Not very, in my opinion. Moreover, "I'd like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President," is not the same thing as "He and his buddies would like to get out of Iraq, Mr. President." And the ultimate response of Mr. Webb père, "That's between me and my boy, Mr. President," suggests that father and son may not see eye-to-eye. (According to an anonymous source in The Hill, Mr. Webb confessed that he was tempted to slug the President.) Similarly, another high profile war critic, Cindy Sheehan, has never been deterred by the fact that her son, now-deceased Charlie, re-enlisted after the launch of the Iraq incursion, knowing that his unit would be sent to Iraq. Of course, we don't (yet) know the opinion of Mr. Webb fils, and one would expect him to decline public comment if he does forcefully disagree with his father (although the son's marine buddies may be willing to say more than he would if some enterprising reporter were to ask them). This entire line of thought may therefore be validly criticised as "mere speculation" or "just a guess," at best speculation or guessing supported by general evidence of no great substance. But then, the many other commenters on this "icy exchange" are speculating and guessing no less where they pronounce on what the elder Webb was thinking at the time, or how the President might react in the long run, or how other Senators might take to someone apparently so out of sync with their long established ways (or "gentlemanly games") or how the public might or should respond. The line of thought presented here has at least as much supporting it as do any of those pronouncements.

(1) comments

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Reasonable As The Irrationally Vague And Now The Urgently Utopian?

In the years before 1974's 55 mph National Maximum Speed Limit and three years after its 1995 repeal, Montana had a non-numeric "reasonable and prudent" speed limit during the day on most rural roads. Montana Code Annotated (MCA) Section 61-8-303 said "A person . . . shall drive the vehicle . . . at a rate of speed no greater than is reasonable and proper under the conditions existing at the point of operation . . . so as not to unduly or unreasonably endanger the life, limb, property, or other rights of a person entitled to the use of the street or highway." Montana law also provided a few numeric limits in some narrowly defined circumstances.

The phrase "reasonable and prudent" is found in the language of most state speed laws. Never the less, in 1998 the Montana Supreme Court held that the law requiring drivers to drive at a non-numerical "reasonable and proper" speed "is so vague that it violates the Due Process Clause ... of the Montana Constitution".

But some European traffic theorists have essentially the opposite idea:

European traffic planners are dreaming of streets free of rules and directives. They want drivers and pedestrians to interact in a free and humane way, as brethren -- by means of friendly gestures, nods of the head and eye contact, without the harassment of prohibitions, restrictions and warning signs. ....

The utopia has already become a reality in Makkinga, in the Dutch province of Western Frisia. A sign by the entrance to the small town (population 1,000) reads "Verkeersbordvrij" -- "free of traffic signs." Cars bumble unhurriedly over precision-trimmed granite cobblestones. Stop signs and direction signs are nowhere to be seen. There are neither parking meters nor stopping restrictions. There aren't even any lines painted on the streets. .... "Unsafe is safe" was the motto of a conference where proponents of the new roadside philosophy met in Frankfurt in mid-October.
Of course, many German Autobahns have no specific speed limits.

Are we reaching a point where a lot of European driving could be less regulated than that of Montana? Is it really possible that the Montana Supreme Court that held a simple, well-established "reasonable and proper" standard of speed was "irrationally vague" could tolerate the urban free-for-all contemplated by European traffic planners as safer than the alternative of written specifics?

In short, are we really reaching a point where much European driving, both inside and outside of cities, could be conducted under a system deemed unconstitutionally and irrationally vague by American courts? What would that say about American judicial arrogance?

(1) comments

Monday, November 06, 2006

A Word Of Caution

Barry Casselman from RealClearPolitics makes some good points:
A word of caution to Republicans: Even if there is a GOP surge in the closing days, most of the critical House and Senate races remain too close to call. If some candidates who were written off only a few days ago now have their races "at play," there is no guarantee that Republicans will actually win many or most of these races, or many of the "battleground" contests so important to control of each house of the Congress. In spite of the apparent surge, it might not be a good night for Republicans when the votes ar counted. ....

The Democrats have perhaps taken the greatest risk by allowing a "fellow-traveling" media and even non-partisan pundits to create the expectation of an historic Democratic victory that will restore their party to congressional power and rebuke President George W. Bush. A landslide could happen, but the only "objective evidence" of this has been a myriad of volatile political polls, few of which may have been accurate or instructive. Political polling has become a lucrative industry as we begin the 21st century, but the quality of polls has been in decline for decades.

John Podhoretz has recently said that most political polls this year are "garbage," and that the pollsters know it. The low initial response to pollsters by the public is one of the reasons why the "margin of error" is much larger than pollsters will admit. With hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, it is no wonder that most pollsters maintain a cabal of silence about the true value of their product. In virtually all of the contested major races this year, there are numerous polls which have attempted to measure voter sentiment. There are local and state polls (mostly by newspapers and universities), and national polls conducted by consultants and pollsters for cash and for media attention that promotes their polls. ...

I am convinced (and believe it can be undeniably demonstrated) that the so-called margins of error in most political polls is not the usual three to five points, but really ten points or more. If that is so, the dependence on polls by the media and politicians is not only unjustified, but is likely to misinform the public. This year the evidence is rather overwhelming in that similar polls taken at the same time with similar samples have come up with such divergent results. Who is to be believed? ....
I agree with Barry on this as far as he goes. But I think the new problems with the polls are far worse than their concealed margins of error. Many public polls appear to have acquired, perhaps fromtheir media paymasters, a new concealed bias towards the left. Barry points out that at least one poll (the Star Tribune private poll) has confessed to such a naked bias in the past. But there is lots of evidence that other pollsters-for-hire are giving the left-wing media what it wants and pays for: Left-leaning polls that support left-leaning articles in left-leaning media outlets. For example, how else does one convincingly explain a Washington Post/ABC News Poll from a polling company (Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.) in the aftermath of the Foley pseudo-scandal - a survey whose sample base included 41% more Democrats than Republicans? Of course, pollsters delivering biased results have a problem close to election day: The vote will expose the bias unless the pollster finds a "last minute surge." Gee, that seems to be happening now. Zogby has been particularly embarrassed by this kind of trickery in the past.

Hey, it's a cheap way to fill newscolumns as long as the suckers don't catch on!

I have some serious issues with another of Barry's comment from the same column
:It has been observed by some that in the closing days of this year¹s elections the Republicans appear to be surging. If this is so, it is because most of the undecided voters this year were those who usually vote Republican, and they are coming home to vote for their party on Election Day.
What does this analysis do for one's understanding? Attributing causation to some voters "coming home" to their historical party affiliation is not very useful, especially in this election where putative shifts in party affiliation in the past 2 years seem to be a highly controversial aspect of the polls themselves. Why were normally GOP voters disaffected in the first place? - have those factors changed? If they were so disaffected, why are they "coming home" now instead of not voting at all? After all, "not voting" is what many pollsters and media had emphatically predicted for these putatively disaffected voters. Why does that prediction seem to be failing? For example, some fiscally conservative voters were supposedly disaffected by a Republican Congress spending too much. Have those voters suddenly realized that Congress has not been spending so much after all? I don't think so. Were they really so disaffected in the first place? Attributing causation to historical party affiliation is accounting or history, not causation - and it certainly does nothing to help one make predictions even one day in advance.

(3) comments

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A Likely Slide Towards the GOP From Now To Tuesday

I think there is a very good chance that undecided voters will break disproportionately towards the GOP in this race - especially in Congressional races. By common admission, the putative appeal of the Democrats is limited to essentially one issue: Discontent with progress in Iraq. It is worth noting that that discontent has not been enough to beach Senator Lieberman in his deep blue state, but such is supposedly the Democratic advantage.

But problems in Iraq have been absolutely pounded by the media for a long time now. The information is all out, and has been force-fed for weeks to virtually every voter. Anyone who is going to make a decision to vote one way or the other on the basis of that issue has almost certainly done so already. The rest of the major issues favor the GOP: nearly historic low unemployment, historic stock market highs, stabilized low interest rates, historic high home ownership rates, declining gas prices. Then, of course, there is Karl Rove's famous "get-out-the-vote" machine, for which the Democrats have no real counterpart.

I therefore see the race likely sliding towards the GOP in the next three days, even as the mainstream media proclaim that the Democrats are "taking new territory" and "opening new fronts." This race has some dynamics similar to those of the build-up to the 2004 Democratic Convention: The media played Kerry up prior to the Convention, just as the media have saturated the political marketplace with pro-Democratic Iraq negativism this time around. The result in 2004 was that the Democratic Convention itself could produce little or no "bounce" - in fact, Kerry may have experienced a "negative bounce" from his own Convention. Similarly, most new information and considerations entering the campaign and voters' thinking in the next 3 days will probably of necessity favor the GOP because the Iraq issue has done all it can do already.

The first signs of such a GOP slide may already be evident, as in this article from the Washington Post that purports to sound a death knell for the GOP's election prospects, but contains this overlooked pearl:

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows some narrowing in the Democratic advantage in House races. The survey gives the Democrats a six-percentage-point lead nationally among likely voters asked which party they prefer for Congress. It was 14 points two weeks ago, but this remains a larger advantage than they have had in recent midterm elections.

Omitted from the WP "analysis" is the historical fact that when the GOP trails in the generic ballot by 5% or less, the GOP tends to gain seats in the House. So can 6% easilly correspond to a likely Democratic sweep? Now we are, admittedly, well past the point in the campaign where the focus should be on the generic ballot in calling individual races. But this is a very troubling sign for what is likely to happen among late deciders. Then there is this curious development from Rhode Island:

Mason-Dixon 10/31 - 11/01 Chafee +1.0

Reuters/Zogby 10/24 - 10/31 Whitehouse +14.0

That's quite a slide towards the GOP in a few late days - at least in the smallest state.

This election may yet prove to be a GOP disaster. But I don't think that is the most likely outcome. Not at all.

MORE (from DRUDGE): PEW: Republicans Cut Democratic Lead in Campaign's Final Days... ("A nationwide Pew Research Center survey finds voting intentions shifting in the direction of Republican congressional candidates in the final days of the 2006 midterm campaign.") Pew finds the generic ballot gap to have narrowed to an almost statistically insignificant 4%.

STILL MORE: The above analysis assumes that the public polls are correct - or at least as correct as they usually are. However, I personally think the polls are skewed much more in this race by erroneous sampling and bad likely voter models than usual.

Here are some reasons why I think the polls may be seriously wrong:

Most of the public polls are assuming that GOP party affiliation dropped between 5% to 12% since 2004. Maybe that's true, but if it is its a historic first. There is also a now-hugely disproportionate GOP/conservative "hang up" reaction to pollsters, which is likely resulting in undercounted conservatives.

Then there is what to me seems the bizarre assumption that seems to be built into the pollsters' "turnout models" that Democrats are "enthusiatic." For example, I live in one of the most Democratic neighborhoods in Los Angeles. But I have seen almost no new Democratic bumper stickers or yard signs. Ditto for other pro-Dem neighborhoods, such as Beverly Hills. But in GOP neighborhoods I am told there are lots of GOP yard signs out, and personal anecdote seems to bear that out. Cars owned by Dems sprouted lots of Kerry/Edwards bumper stickers in 2004. (For a while GOP cars have had very few bumper stickers, so this is not a measure of any shift in GOP interest). Then there are the multiple reports suggesting that African Americans (a huge chunk of the Dem base) are likely to sit this one out, and that jewish Americans (a highly important part of the Dem base) are deeply conflicted. What does that leave for a generally "impassioned" Dem base? Something is deeply wrong with this assumption.

Similarly, I think assumptions that conservatives (especially Christians) are going to sit this one out are nonsense. For God's sake, the replacement GOP candidate in Foley's own district is now running dead even with the Dem. And the GOP get-out-the-vote effort is clearly way ahead of the Dems. There there is the big lead the GOP is seeing in early voting - which suggests that GOP enthusiasm and organization is better than that of the Dems.

And I think the Kerry "study hard or end up in Iraq" flap is a much bigger deal than the media want to admit. Kerry has largely derailed a main Dem approach: Try to get voters to believe that a conclusion that things are not going well in Iraq is the same as the incorrect conclusion that Dems would do better. By being such an obvious idiot and speaking his mind (even as he unconvincingly tries to argue that he "flubbed the joke"), Kerry has single handedly refocused that decision in a way highly unfavorable to the Dems - and that's the Dem's one issue in this race.

Other signs that the polls are off-base: the Michigan Senate race is suddenly competitive, but was previously thought to be a Dem certainty, NJ is competitive, all of the GOP congressional reps in CT are leading now, and this squib from Dick Morris: Among independents, the percent that plan to vote Republican has risen from 15 percent on Sept. 22 to 23 percent on Oct. 11 to 26 percent on Oct. 24. While independents are still voting for more Democrats, it’s only by 38-26 compared with 38-15 last month. "Independents are turning to the Republican Party while Republican base voters are leaving it?" That poll is way out of wack somewhere - and I don't think it's the part about the independents.

People who know more than I are not ascribing a lot of effect to the factors listed above. But they seem important to me. Tuesday will tell.

It is, in fact, quite possible to view the current polling data as much more consistent with a Democratic disaster than a Republican one.

AND STILL MORE: (E-mailed by a friend quoting an unknown source):

On the Right, Republicans can’t stand the pollsters, who are blamed for their constant push-polls on behalf of the Left. Their predictable reaction is to avoid pollsters like the bird flu that never quite met the media hype. Today you would almost have to waterboard a lot of conservatives, one by one, to get them to talk to pollsters. You can’t get a random sample if one of your target groups won’t answer. So the data will be wildly skewed.

Indeed, I wonder if a declining interest in this election among Democrats might create an illusion of an increase in Democratic likely-voter "passion" if the only Democrats who will answer pollsters' calls now are the party's wing nuts - since the wing nuts presumably will talk to the pollsters and all say they plan to vote and always have voted. Just a thought.

AND YET MORE: McIntyre and Kaus are on the scent. No surprise there. Latest USA Today/Gallup: Dems +7. That's three generic ballot polls that show dramatic slides towards the GOP. My guess is that the slide will continue and accelerate.

LOTS MORE GOOD THINGS: From Minuteman Maguire.

THE LATEST FROM DRUDGE: Rahm Emmanuel on Republican upswing in the polls: 'This is making me nervous'...'I don't know what to make of it'... Well, Rahm, do you think maybe it has something to do with having too many mainstream media friends who maybe made you peak too soon the way they stole the bounce and momentum from your 2004 convention? Just asking!

BRITISH PRECEDENT? Since june, GayPatriotWest has been expecting a late convergence of the electorate towards the incumbent Republicans based on analogies with the 1992 British election.

GayPatriotWest blogs from West Hollywood, an even more Democratic area than my own Los Feliz, and confirms by e-mail the nearly complete absence of "Angelides" yard signs in his environs.

Here in California the ballot is led by the race for governor - a race in which political insiders tell me Arnold may well be leading by more than twenty points (not the smaller numbers in the public polls). Arnold has also constructed what is said to be a get-out-the-vote machine that makes Rove's models seem obsolete and underfunded. The effects of Arnold's efforts in California could be spectacular - although that is far from guaranteed. In that regard, it's worth remembering that on Tuesday even the race for the US Senate in California will be down ballot. Nothing is impossible, but nothing has been made public that proves that Arnold's lead or machine are as big or powerful as they are rumored to be.

(0) comments

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Listening To Bill

Bill Clinton says this about what he characterizes as the Republican strategy for this November:
The Republican strategy is weak, he said. "Let’s forget about global warming and talk about flag burning and gay marriage,” Clinton said. “I don’t know how long you can milk that old cow.”
So Mr. Clinton wants the Democrats to campaign and talk about issues such as global warming, although he personally never bothered to ask the Senate to ratify the Kyoto Accord after (July 25, 1997) the U.S. Senate sent then President Clinton the Byrd/Hagel Resolution condemning the Kyoto Accord by a vote of 95 to 0, with Senator Kerry (for example) voting with the majority against the Accord.

In the mean time, Howard Dean, the New York Times and lots of others on the left are running around condeming the New York Court of Appeals for refusing to impose judicially-mandated gay marriage on that state - thereby making it crystal clear that many Democrats would like to install federal judges who will impose judicially-mandated gay marriage. Republicans are bringing all that up. But Mr. Clinton says that Democratic candidates shouldn't talk about any of that because he doesn't "know how long you can milk that old cow."

Bill Clinton has a great record of electing Democrats to Congress, one that has been said warrants him a prominent statue in the lobby of the Republican Party headquarters. In 1992 he was elected with actual net losses for Congressional Democrats. Then, in 1994, he helped the Democrats lose both houses of Congress - from which they have never really recovered, despite picking up a few seats here in 1996. If they listen to him this year, they'll surely extend that pattern.

Frankly, I hadn't fully realized just how bad the Democratic position is going into the fall elections until Bill Clinton made it so clear.

(2) comments

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Pellicano Case And The New York Times Just Keep Getting Stranger

From the New York Times:

What has not been publicly disclosed are the details of the single recording in the government's possession that it says is an illegal wiretap. According to written summaries of F.B.I. interviews seen by The New York Times, the recording concerns events that led to the divorce of a Los Angeles billionaire, Alec E. Gores, from his wife, Lisa A. Gores, in 2001.

If the government fails to crack Mr. Pellicano's passwords and turn up other direct evidence of wiretaps, that means the prosecution's star witnesses could be forced to make their painful private drama public.

Mr. Gores, principal of the private equity firm Gores Technology Group, admitted hiring Mr. Pellicano in 2000 to investigate his suspicions that his wife was cheating on him with his younger brother, Thomas T. Gores, another billionaire investor, according to summaries of F.B.I. interviews with all three family members. (A third brother, Sam Gores, runs the Paradigm talent agency.)

Mr. Pellicano installed wiretaps on both Lisa and Tom Gores's telephones, the summaries show, and confirmed Alec Gores's suspicions that the two had become inappropriately involved. Alec Gores admitted to the F.B.I. that he listened to Mr. Pellicano's wiretaps on several occasions, the summaries show. Alec Gores has not been charged, and has been assured he is only a witness in the case, said his lawyer, Louis Miller, who is also known as Skip.
So, let's see. A man (who happens to have made a billion dollars or so for himself) hires Anthony Pellicano to bug the telephones of his wife and brother - a serious and straightforward felony. He listens to the recordings. He pays Mr. Pellicano lots of money. And he has not been charged, and has been assured he is only a witness in the case?!

Boy is that weird. But there is no indication whatsoever that the New York Times thinks it's weird, or that they've asked Skip Miller or anyone else why Mr. Gores, a man who according to the Times admits that he hired and paid Mr. Pellicano to commit serious felonies, has been "assured" - apparently by the same prosecutors who have indicted Terry Christensen for allegedly doing exactly what Mr. Gores admits he did - that he is only a witness.

And if the Times doesn't find any of that worth asking about, how about this:

Why is billionaire Alec Gores relying on Skip Miller for legal advice in this case? Skip Miller is a highly competent and aggressive attorney who as late as 1994 was still claiming "white collar criminal defense" as a practice specialty. But the most recent description of Mr. Miller's practice provided by the firm he recently left to Meritas (now deleted from the web, but still available in cached form) does not even mention criminal defense as an area of Mr. Miller's practice at all:
His practice is varied and diverse and includes antitrust, securities, employment, energy, defamation/First Amendment, entertainment (motion pictures, television and music), copyright, toxic tort, civil rights, construction, real estate, inverse condemnation and other areas of the law.

Miller defended the City of Los Angeles in a series of cases arising from the operations of the LAPD including: the Rodney King civil rights action; First Amendment litigation brought by the then-Assistant Chief of Police; a dozen lawsuits brought against the Mayor, City Council members, Police Commissioners and City Attorneys arising from the LAPD's Special Investigation Section, culminating in two victories (1996 and 2000) in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals; a $100 million inverse condemnation/civil rights case brought by Southern Pacific Railroad; and has handled energy litigation for private and publicly-owned utilities including the City's Department of Water and Power.

Clients from all walks regularly seek out Mr. Miller's services including artists and actors such as Rod Stewart, Elton John, Nick Nolte, Bob Dylan and a member of the Eagles, as well as domestic and foreign entertainment companies and prominent local politicians including the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. His practice also includes representing the investors who put a billion dollars into Internet incubator Indealab; winning a $7 million judgment against musician Michael Jackson in a four-month jury trial in Santa Maria; defending the City of Riverside in the nationally prominent Tyisha Miller civil rights case; prosecuting trade secret/unfair competition for the maker of 7 Jeans and on behalf of an investment bank and for a manufacturing conglomerate; and representing the Patron Tequila brand in a dispute with Seagram.

Other prominent cases handled by Miller include prevailing on behalf of a director of Executive Life Insurance Co. after a three-month trial in a multi-billion dollar claim arising from the largest insurance failure in California history; winning sexual harassment trials on behalf of the City of Pasadena and Rose Bowl and a Los Angeles City Council member and the City of Los Angeles; prevailing on behalf of the City of Anaheim in a $50 million dispute with its telecom provider; prevailing in the Ninth Circuit and in two district courts in a series of civil rights cases brought against the City of Beverly Hills and its Mayor, Chief of Police and Councilmembers; defending Beverly Hills against toxic tort claims in connection with Beverly Hills High School; and defending inverse condemnation and contractual disputes against the cities of Carson and Monterey Park.
Did the reader detect anything of a criminal defense nature in any of that? I don't think so. Maybe it's in that "other areas of law." Is that what Mr. Gores is paying for in a case in which the New York Times says he admits he hired Mr. Pellicano to commit felonies on his behalf? Is there some reason why Mr. Gores isn't looking for advice mostly to someone with more criminal defense experience - and having that special someone speak on his behalf to outfits like the New York Times? It's not as though Mr. Gores can't afford whoever he likes.
(29) comments

Contra 1994 V: Democrats Don't Do Libraries Anymore?

James Taranto comments:

E.J. Dionne, a liberal Washington Post columnist, is unhappy about last week's California election results. No, not the Republican victory in the special House election (though he's none too pleased with that), but the defeat of a pair of ballot measures (emphasis his):
The truly sobering news for liberals was in the statewide voting. Proposition 82, the ballot measure that would have guaranteed access to preschool for all of California's 4-year-olds, went down to resounding defeat, 61 to 39 percent.

Not only that, voters also rejected a $600 million bond measure for the state's libraries. A vote against libraries? Yes, the bonds went down 53 to 47 percent.

And bear in mind that these spending measures appeared on a primary ballot at a time when Democrats were holding a fierce contest for their gubernatorial nomination, while Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger faced only token Republican opposition. There were roughly 500,000 more Democratic than Republican primary votes--meaning that a significant number of Democrats voted against both propositions.

Progressives can find plenty of alibis. Instead they need to deal with the sources of voter skepticism about public spending.
... [T]he column got us to thinking about broader trends that may be feeding public skepticism about government.

It has been widely noted that congressional Republicans have failed to live up to their billing as the party of small government, especially since George W. Bush became president. ....

In sum: Republicans favor small government but embrace big government when they have the power to control it. Democrats favor big government but insist that it can work only when they have the power to control it. ...
Taranto makes a lot of sense, of course. But I think the observations in my previous post in this series regarding Prop 82 apply equally well to the failure of Prop 81 (the library bond measure): Republicans (at least those out of government) are less enthusiastic about more debt and public spending on "small government" grounds, preferring such things to be handled more by private means. And perhaps, as Dionne argues, liberals (or "progressives") ought to favor more library spending on principle or political consistency grounds. But there is good reason to think that relatively fewer Democrats care about or have children now (Taranto has, of course, noted this fact in other contexts), and children would be the main users of those libraries, as USA Today reports:
In Seattle, there are nearly 45% more dogs than children. In Salt Lake City, there are nearly 19% more kids than dogs. ... It's not that people in a progressive city such as Seattle are so much fonder of dogs than are people in a conservative city such as Salt Lake City. It's that progressives are so much less likely to have children.

It's a pattern found throughout the world, and it augers a far more conservative future — one in which patriarchy and other traditional values make a comeback, if only by default. Childlessness and small families are increasingly the norm today among progressive secularists. As a consequence, an increasing share of all children born into the world are descended from a share of the population whose conservative values have led them to raise large families.
The news is even worse for Mr. Dionne and his pro-library funding sympathies because some studies have found that the children of liberals read less than children of conservatives, with the liberal children playing more computer games and watching more television than their conservative counterparts. Worse, some studies also suggest that children who play computer games to excess are more disposed to violence than their parents - with the effect on the children apparently detectable in their brains.

(2) comments

Monday, June 12, 2006

A South American Analogue To Zarqawi and Post-Insurgency Iraq?

In 1990 Peru was being savaged by its own "insurgency." That "insurgency" took the form of the neo-Maoist terrorist organization called "Shining Path" - which was at the time busy demolishing as much of Peru's infrastructure and urban fabric, and killing as many middle-class Peruvians, as it could manage. The Shining Path meant by such methods to bring down the reasonably democratic government of Peru. The parallels with Iraq, at least on the surface, are clear.

Alberto Fujimori, a son of Japanese immigrants, was an academic and university president when he scored a surprise victory over novelist Mario Vargas Lhosa and became Peru's president. Fujimori has said that Peru was "an interesting challenge": Cocaine was a $1 billion a year export, inflation was at 7,500 percent and the use of violence as a political tool by the Shining Path and MRTA tore Peru up pretty thoroughly and had come close to tearing it completely apart into social chaos. The Shining Path is believed to have killed more than 10,000 people. In some respects Peru was worse off than Iraq is today.

Nobody seems to dispute that Alberto Fujimori's government extinguished the Shining Path - although there are those who claim the biggest steps were accomplished by "ordinary police work" and not the thuggish, admittedly uber-violent, and perhaps murderous methods of Vladimir Montesinos. Montesinos was Fujimori's de facto head of Peruvian security (MRTA) who was ultimately disgraced and found to have been highly corrupt. Whatever the ways and means, most observers agree that the biggest step in terminating the Shining Path was the celebrated capture of its founder Abimael Guzman - himself a murderous academic who directed and had essentially created the Shining Path.

The death of Zarqawi is not a perfect analogue to the capture of Guzman. For one thing, the Shining Path was essentially the only "insurgency" challenging the Peruvian state. There was no good replacement for Guzman. Some have argued that Zarqawi will simply be replaced as head of al Qaida in Iraq, and his war will go on. But as far as I can see, such speculation is not supported by any real evidence one way or the other. Moreover, there have been reports that Zarqawi's particular ultra-violent and promiscuous form of insurgency was by no means favored by his al Qaida generally. It certainly rankled lots of fellow Arabs - including Jordanians - who otherwise might have been inclined to look the other way. So Zarqawi's vision may have been rather personal, and (if that is so) eliminating Zarqawi may be a better analogue to capturing Guzman than at first meets the eye.

Two documentaries have recently been created about Fujimori's confrontation with Guzman and his Shining Path: The Fall of Fujimori and State of Fear. The Fall of Fujimori shows some real efforts at balance by its maker - although the maker's own beliefs do seem to show through (which is not all bad, since she's a nice person). And it's very well done in most respects, especially the interviews with Fujimori himself and his daughter and the use of archival film. In contrast, State of Fear is a ludicrous piece of agitprop and an attempt to equate current American anti-terrorism efforts with Peru's excesses under Fujimori. But the films are in agreement with the conclusions that taking a single man - Guzman - from the field made a huge difference in the course of the Peruvian anti-terrorist effort. Less comforting, they also both persuasively argue that after the Shining Path was in fact defeated the exceptional powers assumed by the Peruvian government were put to increasingly pernicious use.

Contrary to these film makers (especially the second), I do not believe there is much of a parallel with the US here. But there may be a very important parallel with respect to what we might expect from a post-insurgency Iraq, one forged in the smithy of counter-terrorism politics. That picture is not pretty at all. But at least one has to assume the extinction of the Iraq insurgency before having to contemplate the form of post-insurgency Iraq. In any event, Peru has today largely recovered.

UPDATE: Brett Stephens has some very interesting observations on how the nature of the insurgency may change, and some further information as to how Zarqawi had become estranged from many people one would think have to be on the side of a successful "insurgent" in Iraq.

(13) comments