Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Arming Iraq: King Air reconnaissance planes

BAGDHAD (AP) — Iraq has bought 12 new U.S.-built reconnaissance planes, the Defense Ministry said Monday, a small and early step in the country's attempt to reassert itself in air space now controlled by U.S.-led forces.

Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari said six King Air planes have been delivered, with six more expected to arrive soon.

The King Airs are small aircraft equipped with advanced aerial video technology enabling them to cover wide areas and send live feed to ground control centers, the Defense Ministry says. The twin-turboprop aircraft are produced by U.S. manufacturer Hawker Beechcraft Corp., based in Wichita

(USA Today)

The story includes a photo, but here's a link to another photo that shows the plane (a similar model, anyway) outfitted with its toys.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Bailout fizzles, markets sink, Hoyer blames (Updated)

Though Democrats in the House could have passed the bailout plan without any Republican support whatsoever, Democrat Steny Hoyer thinks he's figured out whom to blame:
"As I said on the floor, this is a bipartisan responsibility and we think (Democrats) met our responsibility," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
(AP, via Yahoo! News)
Apparently the spirit of partisanship is not entirely dead.

I was looking for a video of the Nancy Pelosi speech that Republicans credited with helping to kill the compromise bill.

Pelosi's speech is remarkably partisan, and completely ignores the role of inept government regulation, dating back to President Carter, that helped sink the lending market.

Hat tip to Ed Morrisey and Hot Air for coming up with the video link and embed.

Polish troops in Afghanistan to get MRAPs on loan

About a week ago, site traffic received an interesting bump. I was suddenly seeing Polish visitors inquiring about MRAPs. I figured that the pattern had something to do with Polish troops and MRAPs but I had no specific clue as to what it was--despite doing a few exploratory searches--until a few days ago:
September 26, 2008: The U.S. is loaning Poland 40 Cougar MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles for use in Afghanistan. These will enable the 1,900 Polish troops there to conduct patrols and convoys more safely, in the face of increasing Taliban use of roadside bombs. Polish troops will receive 30 Cougars next month, and the rest early in 2009.
(Strategy Page)
Mystery solved.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Bucs down Packers 30-21 at RayJay

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers topped the Green Bay Packers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

The Bucs' running attack paced the offense, while the defense stymied Green Bay running back Ryan Grant. Both defenses were able to take advantage of the other team's turnovers. Jermaine Phillips turned a fumble into a Buccaneers touchdown and Rod Woodson canceled Phillips' TD with one of his own after picking off a Brian Griese pass intended for Warrick Dunn.

Though the Packers took took an early 7-0 lead on their initial offensive possession and took the lead 21-20 late in the game on Woodson's score, the Bucs had the best of play generally. One of the Fox game announcers said something to the effect that the Bucs were poised to "steal" the game as they had the previous week in Chicago. The statement was ridiculous. Chicago seized momentum in last week's game with a sustained drive and tough second half defense. The Packers scratched back into the lead on the Woodson return and a third-and-long pass to Greg Jennings that split the zone and resulted in a touchdown. Phillips appeared to take a bad angle to tackle Jennings on the play. Aside from those two plays the Packers had little success at all in the second half.

As the Packers went deep into last year's playoffs and have been a favorite to reach the playoffs this year as well, the victory is a big one for the Bucs.


I have some gripes about the officiating.

1) The refs missed the Bucs defense lining up in the neutral zone. At least twice. That's just to show that I'm not entirely biased.
2) Earnest Graham probably scored at the end of his touchdown run. I don't know why the officials marked the ball down outside the one yard line. If he didn't score then it should have been first and goal from the three inch line at the worst.
3) Tramon Williams' interception of Griese appeared to feature a fairly blatant block in the back during the return (about the 10 yard line).

No biggie on the officiating, though. I get aggravated when the penalties seem to perhaps have had a good chance of affecting the outcome. As I mentioned above, the Bucs outplayed Green Bay. The best team won.


I'm working on a method to rate the team rushing attack, somewhat like the "passer rating." But hopefully more useful.

Bailout deal reached for real this time

The Wall Street Journal reports a real deal on the bailout plan, with the major players in both parties confirming.

The deal doesn't mean that the bill automatically sails through the House and Senate to land on President Bush's desk, of course. Lawmakers still need to vote on it, and negotiators have not necessarily sold their respective parties on the deal. But they at least expect enough Republicans to vote for it to provide coverage for Democrats who won't go out on a limb without member of the other party inching out on the limb with them.

Voters don't seem to like the idea of the bailout.

I'm not crazy about it in principle, either--but the alternative to passing an effective bill (even if substantially flawed) is the worse of two evils.

Grin and bear it. With luck the debt purchased by the government will end up worth a good bit, and Republican leadership will have helped earmark (do I have to use that word?) the profits for debt reduction instead of new government spending.

And hopefully Obama won't get the chance to dig the hole deeper.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Devil*Rays claim AL East crown

The Tampa Bay Devil*Rays staked a strong claim to the best story in baseball for 2008 by staving off the big-payroll Red Sox and Yankees to win their first-ever divisional championship.

USA Today shows the following payroll numbers for the AL East:
Yankees: $209 million
Red Sox: $133 million
Blue Jays: $98 million
Orioles: $67 million
Devil*Rays $44 million

You can buy a championship, but you don't necessarily have to spend more than anybody else. The Rays got theirs at a good price.

The division championship would have confirmed my expected matchups for the American League playoffs, except that the Chicago White Sox have stumbled into a virtual tie with the Minnesota Twins. The White Sox are a classic AL team, relying on pitching and three-run homers. The Twins more resemble the Rays, relying on pitching and defense. Tampa Bay has an edge on either opponent.

Should the Rays make the second round, they will face either the Angels or the Red Sox. The winner of that series should be the favorite to represent the AL in the World Series, but either is vulnerable to an upset by the upstart Rays.


I named Evan Longoria as series MVP more than any other player, I believe. But Longoria missed a key stretch in August while the Rays kept distance between themselves and the Red Sox. The most difficult player to replace in the lineup was shortstop Jason Bartlett, obtained in the offseason from the Twins. Bartlett was a vacuum cleaner at short and showed himself able to handle a bat, as his average crept up and up over the course of the season to .286 as of today (prior to the third game in the series against Detroit).

Though Bartlett has driven in under 40 runs, he has been the defensive glue for the club. I call him the team MVP for the regular season.

Longoria gets honorable mention, and would have taken my award if not for time lost to injury. His batting numbers were too gaudy to ignore, and his defense was spectacular. Quite a campaign for the rookie.

Pakistanis keeping tabs on Obama

Apparently Senator Obama reiterated his position on Pakistan's sovereignty--that is, his willingness to violate Pakistan's sovereignty in pursuit of high-value terrorist targets.

Pakistan is watching.

An Obama presidency will begin with a smoldering political fire to put out just east of Afghanistan.

I've yet to view the debate, but I'll surely pay close attention to the portion that produced this reaction. You take a hard stance with your enemies, Senator Obama. With friends you use carrots until the friend proves intransigent.

The big problem with Palin?

Pulled this from the Center For Inquiry message board. The CFI types are predominantly liberal. No additional comment seems necessary beyond pointing out that it's cut-and-paste without any editorial modifications.
Yup! Ms. Palin was in a beauty pagent. Don’t know if she won or not, don’t even care really, but she still sounds like a beauty pagent participant. She also doesn’t know sh**. She’s an airhead!

Friday, September 26, 2008

A classic case of projection at The St. Petersburg Times (Updated)

Headline on a brand-new editorial in The St. Petersburg Times:

Why millions are angry

If I had to guess, I'd say that Robyn "Blumñata" Blumner wrote this one on behalf of the editorial board. It's a classic case of projection and follows the Blumner pattern of focusing on corporate villainy.

On with the screed:
Here's why many Americans are having a tough time digesting spending $700-billion in tax money to prevent an economic disaster triggered by bad mortgages and greed.
For the sake of space I'll give away the three-paragraph punchline. Washington Mutual was once a profitable bank. Recently they hired a new CEO, but after only a few weeks on the job WaMu was possessed by the feds and sold. The CEO stands to gain millions from a signing bonus and more millions from a severance package.

Personally, I don't see why anyone would be angry over that situation unless the new guy was responsible for piloting WaMu into failure. Was three weeks enough time to accomplish that task? I doubt it.

But there's more to the tale. The proposed Bush administration plan will provide credit lines that both enable banks to keep from folding and continue to pay high executive salaries. That strikes many of us as unfair even if we don't exactly get angry about it. Supposedly the bailout plan is set to be modified to limit the weight of golden parachutes. I've got mixed feelings about that. After all, it isn't really the CEO's responsibility that their banks are failing. It's a failure of government regulation dating back to the Carter administration. Allow me to re-post a YouTube video from my previous post:

If you don't have time to view the whole thing, here's the takeaway: The government started penalizing banks if they didn't start lending money to high-risk borrowers. The government created the market for sub-prime loans. The banks, to avoid penalties, had to create financial products for those high-risk customers. Such products feature the potential for greater profits if the payments are made, since high-risk borrowers get charged for the risk involved. Those are now called "predatory loan practices" around the editorial table at The St. Petersburg Times.

Did lenders mislead borrowers regarding the terms of their loans? Probably, at least in some cases. Were banks implicitly pressured into selling the loans by the threat of penalities? I don't know for sure about that. But I suspect it is the case. As the video demonstrates, the stimulation to the housing market created by the easy money appears largely responsible for the housing bubble. And the deflation of that bubble led to the defaulted loans that ended us in the current pickle.

So, this Times editorialist apparently has no clue about economics (one indicator of Blumñatification) and some misdirected anger at the innocent, albeit overpaid, temporary CEO of Washington Mutual.

It's hard for most Americans to grasp the size and importance of the Bush administration's proposed bailout, even if urgent action is necessary to free up credit and protect the mortgages, businesses and retirement accounts for everyone who has managed their own affairs responsibly. But everyone gets this math: less than three weeks of work at a failing savings and loan for more than $19-million.

That is outrageous — and it explains why so many are so mad
It explains why the editorialist is mad, if we forgive the fact that the anger is focused on a guy who apparently had nothing to do with causing the conditions that created the need for the bailout. I don't think Americans are mad about the bailout. They're concerned that CEOs don't make off with taxpayer money under the proposed bailout plan. I don't think Americans are mad about Alan H. Fishman's signing bonus or potential severance package. Jealous, yes. Mad, no. I think the editorialist is mad, and projects that feeling onto people who don't really understand the financial crisis but who do not want taxpayers to foot the bill for CEOs whose companies failed--particularly if their leadership was to blame.

The blame, in this case, falls largely on the government. And that's you and me, once we get past the dingbat representatives who bollixed up the mortgage industry.


Democrats (such as Robyn Blumner?) who were upset at the amount of money received by Alan H. Fishman can console themselves with the apparent reality that Fishman is a Democrat who tends to give generously to the Democratic Party.

Aside from one donation to Mitt Romney ($2,300 and the only donation to a presidential candidate this cycle), Fishman has given consistently toward the Democratic side of the aisle. That includes a $2,000 donation to Barack Obama's campaign in 2004.

Charles Schumer (D, NY) has received the largest share of Fishman's donations.

Explaining the subprime mess

A GenX-style video explanation of the subprime mortgage crisis

Hat tip to Power Line.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Election law for Iraq

In the Better Late Than Never department, Iraq's parliament approved the long-delayed provincial elections law.

I'd have been a few hours ahead of the curve on this one, except my Iraqi news source, Aswat Aliraq, was out of action when I checked late last night.

BAGHDAD / Aswat al-Iraq: The Iraqi parliament on Wednesday unanimously voted on the provincial council elections law, MP Ahmed Anwar from the Kurdistan Alliance (KA) said.

The head of the Fadhila party Hassan al-Shemri had said earlier that the parliamentary bloc reached into an agreeing formula on the article 4 of the law regarding the lections in Kirkuk.
On July 22, the Iraqi Parliament, with the approval of 127 deputies out of 140 who attended the session, passed the law on provincial council elections, which includes an article postponing the elections in the city of Kirkuk.
Lawmakers from the Kurdistan Coalition (KC) had withdrawn from the session in protest against Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani's decision to have a secret balloting over article 24 of the law, pertaining to the status of Kirkuk. Balloting over all the other paragraphs of the law, however, was open.

(Aswat Aliraq)

The reporting on this story is interesting for the fact that Parliament "unanimously voted."

Such phrasing arises from the tendency of voting blocs to walk out on the assembly if things aren't going their way, and some may end up with the initial false impression that the law passed unanimously. While that was not the case, deputies approved the measure with an extremely solid 91 percent majority.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Bucs edge Bears in OT 27-24

I'll admit that I saw little hope of winning the game as the clock slipped under 5:00 to go in the fourth quarter. The Bucs' offense simply had not provided enough consistency to think they could come back from 10 points down.

The win was sweet, and there were plenty of great plays to talk about by both sides. Chicago fans can stew over the fact that the officiating significantly affected the outcome of the game. I certainly know how that feels, but it's a better feeling when you have the win in the books.

I'll just focus on two aspects of the game.

First, people may make a big deal about Chicago's success running the ball on the Buccaneer defense, having chalked up a total of 158 yards and a 4.3 ypa average.

That's an illusion. The Bucs gave up a total of seven first downs rushing, and one of those first downs skewed the stats. Those who saw the game know where I'm going with this.

Late in the game, the Bears fake a punt and Garrett Wolfe reeled off a 38 yard gain, giving Chicago an important first down deep in Buc territory. Adjust the stats for Wolfe's run and they look quite a bit different: 120 yards rushing on 36 carries for a 3.3 ypa average. The best average other than Wolfe's eye-popping 38.0 yards-per-attempt came from quarterback Kyle Orton, who averaged 3.5 yards per carry.

Orton wasn't supposed to rush except on one of those plays, where he gained one yard on a sneak to pick up a first down. So Chicago was picking up about 3.3 yards per rush on average--not the kind of average that leads to consistent first downs.

In short, not much to worry about regarding Tampa Bay's rush defense. Minus Orton's scrambles and the fake punt the defense gave up just 100 yards rushing to Chicago.

So that brings us to the slightly bigger concern: The Bucs gave up 268 yards passing, and quite a few of those came against Ronde Barber.

Again, not a big concern.

The hits against Barber came late in the game with the Bucs on the short end of time of possession. Barber's coverage was decent in each case, but credit goes to the Bears for making the plays. Gruden called Barber the least of his worries during his Monday press conference.

True, that.

Did Mrs. Obama notice this?

Though this borders on the type of gossip for which I have little patience, my research the other day on various interviews of Barack Obama caused me to stumble over something ... a little weird.

The incident concerns an interview of Obama by Alexis Glick, working at the time for Fox News.

clipped from www.foxbusiness.com
Alexis Glick
blog it

I think we can grant that she's easy on the eyes.

The tail end of the interview has Glick setting up a basketball "date" with the senator. Here's the transcript following that exchange:

OBAMA: Let me see your nails, though. The...

GLICK: Oh, they're horrible. They have serious problems.

OBAMA: You're going to have to clip those before we get on the court.

GLICK: Yes, but next time, it's a date?


OBAMA: Let's go.

GLICK: Is that a deal?

OBAMA: It's a deal.

GLICK: All right.

Senator Obama, thanks so much for joining us.

OBAMA: Thank you very much.

GLICK: I really appreciate it.

OBAMA: I appreciate you.

So, Glick sets up the basketball "date" and then briefly discusses her fingernails with Obama (Obama either concerned about injury or doubtful of Glick's ability to dribble, I suppose). Glick appreciates Obama sitting for the interview. The transcript has Obama appreciating Glick.

My first thought is, "Did Michelle Obama give Barack what for over this one?"

I should note that Obama has some wiggle room regarding what appears to be a flirtatious exchange at first blush. The video version of the interview ends quite abruptly with the word "you." Thus it is conceivable that he said more than that, such as "I appreciate you doing the interview." Those inclined to view Fox News as a shadowy and malevolent operation can let their imaginations run wild with the implications. Or "I appreciate you" could just be some sort of Dale Carnegie interpersonal affirmation thing that just happens to sound strange to those who don't talk that way.

If the exchange is what it appears, that doesn't mean there is reason to class Obama with W. J. Clinton. But there is reason to wonder whether Michelle Obama took umbrage.


As for Glick--what were you thinking? Pressing Obama for a "date"? Do news producers encourage that type of fluff in order to inject human interest into dry political interviews? Please, no.

What if interviewers asked Obama about striking Iranian nuclear facilities?

Interviewers have asked Obama questions somewhat similar to that Charles Gibson posed to vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. But it hasn't occurred often, and a collective memory hole seems to have eradicated the recollection that Obama's answers haven't been much different from Palin's in substance.

Here's a rundown on many of the Obama interviews, along with portions relevant to the Iranian problem.

Melissa Block
greets Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention with softballs on behalf of NPR (July 27, 2004). No mention of Iran; not much reason for it in 2004.

Larry King interviews Barack Obama on CNN (Mar 19, 2007). No questions about Iran at all.

Newsweek interviews Barack Obama (July 8, 2007). No mention of Iran at all.

Charles Gibson interviews Barack Obama for ABC (Nov 1, 2007). No mention of Iran at all.

Jeff Zeleny interviews Barack Obama for The New York Times (Nov 1, 2007). No question about backing Israel, but this pair of questions end up in the ballpark:

Q. When Vice President Cheney said we cannot allow Iran to become a nuclear weapon state, do you agree with that?

A. What I believe is that we should do everything in our power to prevent that in the broader context of our long-term security interests.

Q. And if we fail to prevent it?

A. I’m not going to speculate on whether we’re going to fail.

How about speculating on your reaction to Israel doing everything in its power to prevent that? No? Credit to Obama on this one. With the second question his savvy was comparable to Palin's.

Linda Douglass interviews Barack Obama for National Journal (Nov 6, 2007). No questions about Iran at all.

Tim Russert interviews Barack Obama on NBC's "Meet the Pres" (Nov 11, 2007). Russert asks about Iran, and Obama reiterates that he favors diplomacy and will not take military action off the table.

George Stephanopoulos interviews Barack Obama for ABC News (Jan 27, 2008). No mention of Iran at all.

Politico interviews Barack Obama (Feb 12, 2008). No questions about Iran at all.

The Chicago Sun Times editorial board interviews Barack Obama (Mar 15, 2008). No mention of Iran at all.

Gwen Ifill interviews Barack Obama for PBS (Mar 17, 2008). No questions about Iran at all.

Terry Moran interviews Barack Obama for ABC News (Mar 19, 2008). No mention of Iran at all.

Maria Bartiromo interviews Barack Obama for CNBC (Mar 27, 2008). No mention of Iran at all.

James O'Toole interviews Barack Obama for the Pittsburg Post-Gazette (Mar 31, 2008). No mention of Iran at all.

Chris Wallace interviews Barack Obama for Fox News (April 27, 2008). No questions about Iran.

Wolf Blitzer interviews Barack Obama for CNN (May 8, 2008). No questions about Iran.

Jake Tapper interviews Barack Obama for ABC News (June 16, 2008). No mention of Iran at all.

Alexis Glick interviews Barack Obama for Fox News (June 26, 2008). The mention of Iran is brief.

GLICK: Iran.

OBAMA: Threat.

Katie Couric gets the goods during her interview with Obama (July 22, 2008).
Couric: If they reject negotiations, how likely do you think a preemptive military strike by Israel against Iran may be?

Obama: I will not hypothesize on that. I think Israel has a right to defend itself. But I will not speculate on … the difficult judgment that they would have to make in a whole host of possible scenarios.
C'mon, Katie! Do a follow up! Repeat the question until he answers it!

David Horovitz interviews Barack Obama for the The Jerusalem Post (July 24, 2008), and asks a question very like the one asked of Palin.

You told AIPAC that the Israeli strike on Syria last year was "entirely justified to end that threat." Would you support an Israeli strike at Iranian facilities in the coming months if Israel felt it had no choice but to act?

My goal is to avoid being confronted with that hypothetical. I've said in the past and I will repeat that Israelis, and Israelis alone have to make decisions about their own security. But the grave consequences of either doing nothing or initiating a potential war with Iran are such that we want to do everything we can, to exhaust every avenue to avoid that option.

Sounds almost like Obama wouldn't second guess the Israelis if they felt they needed to take out Iran's nuclear sites, doesn't it?

Candy Crowley interviews Barack Obama for CNN (July 25, 2008). No questions about Iran at all.

Stars and Stripes interviews Barack Obama (Aug 11, 2008). Iran comes up, but nothing specific about striking Iranian nuclear facilities.

Q: The other big issue in the region is Iran. You spoke about that earlier today. Is there a military role in that that you see, or is it all a diplomatic role?

I think, I’ve said before that we never take military options off the table. And Iran poses a grave threat to the region. One of the constant refrains during my travels in the Middle East, not just from the Israelis but from a number of Arab observers as well, is that Iran’s possession of a nuclear weapon would be a game-changer. It would probably trigger a nuclear arms race in the region. At the very least, it would change the balance of power so significantly that Iran would be much more aggressive in some of its activities like supporting Hezbollah and Hamas.

So we need to prevent Iran from possessing a nuclear weapon. I believe our strongest tools at the outset have to be strong diplomacy, big carrots and big sticks that can change their calculus. We’ve tended to have vague carrots and inadequate sticks in dealing with them. So they just keep on blowing through red lines that this administration has set. If we’re serious, then we’re going to have to mobilize the international community, and I think reaching out to Russia and China more than we’re doing is going to be real important.

Q: How effective do you think that will be? There have been efforts to reach out to them that have been unsuccessful.

Part of what we have to do is look at our broad, strategic relationship with the Russians and the Chinese and prioritize what are the issues that are most important in our relations with those two countries. I think that Iran ranks as high as anything. We have to listen carefully to determine what are their interests in order to secure their support.

Keith Olbermann interviews Barack Obama for MSNBC (Sept 8, 2008). No mention of Iran at all.

Bill O'Reilly interviews Barack Obama for Fox News (Sept 10, 2008).
SEN. OBAMA: Here's where you and I agree. It is unacceptable for Iran to possess a nuclear weapon. It would be a game changer, and I've said that repeatedly. I've also said I would never take a military option off the table.

MR. O'REILLY: But would you prepare for one?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, listen --

MR. O'REILLY: Answer the question, Senator. Anybody can say options. Would you prepare for it?

SEN. OBAMA: Look, it is not appropriate for somebody, who is one of two people who could be the president of the United States, to start tipping their hand in terms of what their plans might be with respect to Iran. It's sufficient to say I would not take the military option off the table and that I will never hesitate to use our military force in order to protect the homeland and United States interests.
Another prop for Obama--he's starting to learn from his mistakes. Now he keeps his mouth zipped when there's a downside to talking specifics. Too bad he didn't do that with respect to Pakistan or Israel's intentions toward Iran.

Palin has demonstrated the better application of judicious silence, on balance.

Sept 22, 2008: Fixed a handful of typos where I substituted "Iraq" for "Iran."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Tale o' the Twister

I'd start out by saying that Robyn "Blumñata" Blumner continues to disgrace the editorial chair at The St. Petersburg Times, only there seems little indication that the Times regards fact-twisting leftist diatribes as anything other than exactly what it expects from its editorial staff.

We join Blumner on the springboard as she prepares to perform a triple-twist dive into the tank for the Democratic Party:
Women will decide this presidential election — so say the political experts. We vote in greater numbers than men and when we even marginally abandon our Democratic-leanings, Republicans win.

The big question is whether Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's two X chromosomes and morning-anchor mien will be the thing that drives women to the McCain-Palin ticket this November.

If women decide elections then the question really ought to be why Republicans win so many of them. That perspective would give us a rational basis for concluding what type of appeal would make Palin a difference maker in the 2008 election.

But those would be rational thoughts. Blumner is in her customary polemic mode where rational thought appears to routinely give way to political spin geared toward exalting Blumñata's herd of sacred cows. So let's just follow the spin and calculate the twists and turns.
In Palin's now well-dissected interview with Charlie Gibson of ABC News, her answers were shallow and at times barely cogent. On Iran's nuclear ambitions, Palin said three times that she wouldn't "second-guess" Israel if it attacks Iran to eliminate its nuclear facilities.
This editorial tornado overlooks the fact that Palin's answers represent wise diplomacy. Palin would be stupid to pre-judge an action by U.S.-friendly Israel against U.N.-flauting Iran. The contrast with foreign policy neophyte Obama is instructive. Obama answers questions from journalists with foreign policy specifics when he should offer something non-committal.

Two examples suffice.

When asked if he would meet with hostile foreign leaders like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez without preconditions, Obama answered that he would. In relatively short order, Obama backtracked to the point that "preconditions" was redefined to apparently mean nothing at all; Obama would only meet without preconditions if certain preparations had occurred--preparations that appear to amount to preconditions. That makes Obama's statement idiotic, and odds are that you will never hear Blumner acknowledge it if she had 3 billion years.

Second, during a time in the campaign when Obama felt the need to appear strong on pursuing terrorists, the artful Obama blurted out that he would violate Pakistan's sovereignty if Pakistan failed to move against known high-value terrorist targets. That statement helped result in a diplomatic dust-up with Pakistan, and Obama was portrayed in the Pakistani press as advocating an invasion of Pakistan if their government did not dance according to Washington's tug on its strings. Obama damaged U.S. relations with Pakistan with his comment.

Sarah Palin's performance with the press has been superior to Obama's with respect to foreign policy. She knows when to wisely keep her mouth shut, though it took Charlie Gibson three clues to take the hint.

If Blumner realizes the importance of guarded language with respect to the actions of international friendships, she sells out that knowledge for the sake of her political spin:
This is probably the most significant national security issue the next administration will face, yet her answer was devoid of the slightest depth.
For real depth, I suppose you need to obtain Obama's position:
"He has advocated tough, direct engagement, backed by stronger sanctions to pressure Iran. And, he has made it perfectly clear that Teheran should not wait for a new administration to reach agreement to end its program," she said.
Wow. Deep. And just look at the nuance!

Obama's statements, in actuality, paint a picture not unlike that of Palin. Both refrained from prejudging Israel's actions and both implied a firm stance against Iran's possession of nuclear weapons.

But the question of Israel's response to Iranian nukes was not Blumner's only problem with Palin:

On our sputtering economy and how she would diverge from President Bush's economic policies, she said: "We have got to make sure that we reform the oversight also of the agencies, including the quasi-government agencies like Freddie and Fannie, those things that have created an atmosphere here in America where people are fearful of losing their homes."


If she wanted to discuss the foreclosure crisis, Palin could have talked about an end to predatory lending practices or the need to assert regulatory authority over the investment banking sector.

Uh, Ms. Blumner, hasn't Bush already proposed those things? And aren't they just as platitudinous as what Palin mentioned?

As for the economy, the question Gibson asked Palin included a questionable and needless premise. That is, the implied notion that Bush policies in particular are responsible for economic problems currently facing the nation. Palin was asked to distinguish the McCain-Palin approach from the Bush approach. Gibson should simply have asked how McCain and Palin would address economic problems. Gibson's question implied interviewer bias. Palin's response, I think, properly ignored the questionable premise and addressed the question that Gibson ought to have posed.

Was Palin's response light on detail? Certainly. That is normal in politics, and Obama is second to none in using platitudes to represent his agenda.

Another complaint from Blumñata:
On Iraq, Palin has conflated what happened on 9/11 with going to war there. Is she really still confused about this?
Blumner is the one manifesting confusion (charitably supposing that Blumñata is not willingly telling a lie).

Though Blumner offered no specifics, she most likely wrote in reference to a Palin speech reviewed by Anne E. Kornblut for the Washington Post:
FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska, Sept. 11 -- Gov. Sarah Palin linked the war in Iraq with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, telling an Iraq-bound brigade of soldiers that included her son that they would "defend the innocent from the enemies who planned and carried out and rejoiced in the death of thousands of Americans."
Kornblut's story is a bad enough example of journalism, as exposed by Bill Kristol among others.

Palin was entirely justified in linking Al Qaeda Iraq with the Al Qaeda that planned the airliner attacks on 9-11. American troops defend Iraqis from terrorists under the same organizational umbrella.

Kornblut's reporting was a disgrace, but Blumner adds an extra twist by implying that Palin said the reason to go to war in Iraq in the first place was to combat the same terrorists who were responsible for the 9-11 attacks. That is hogwash. Palin was saying that the reason for troops to continue to serve in Iraq was to defend Iraqis from the same terrorist group.

Have I already mentioned that Blumner's editorials represent a disgrace to journalism?

Blumner devolves to the point of foundationless personal attacks in the remainder of her column:
I'm not a school snob. You don't need an Ivy degree to be qualified as vice president. Bush has an undergraduate degree from Yale, an MBA from Harvard, and yet he's one of the dimmest bulbs to live in the White House.
Doesn't it warm the heart to know that an editorialist can keep the fires of disinformation burning through her work at one of the nation's 10 best newspapers?
But it took Palin six years at six different schools to finally secure an undergraduate degree in journalism at the University of Idaho.

That's indicative of someone who either can't cut it in the academic world or doesn't want to. Either way it's a problem for a potential vice president.

The false dilemma posed in the second paragraph is indicative of someone who can't cut it in terms of logical thought or doesn't want to. Either way it's a problem.

There are many factors that may have contributed to Palin's unusually varied college experience. Some of them will reflect neither an inability to cut it in the academic world nor a lack of desire. And on top of that there is no good reason why either inability of lack of desire to make it in the academic world should serve as a handicap when it comes to serving in executive office.

What we have here is a person trained in law (Blumner) doing what lawyers do: Arguing their case based on whether they think it will convince others of their point rather than whether the argument really makes any sense.

It's the tale of the Twister*.

*Yes, phrase inspired by the Chagall Guevara tune of the same name.

State of the Rays

The Tampa Bay Devil*Rays clinched a playoff spot on Saturday after beating the Minnesota Twins 7-2 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.

The Rays have overcome injuries and stiff competition in the AL East to make the Major League Baseball playoffs for the first time.

How does this team stack up with the regular season winding down and the playoffs approaching?

The Rays are a young team, and make some of the mistakes associated with youth. Though the team has played solid defense all year, atleticism leads to some spectacular plays while lack of seasoning leads to occasional fielding gaffes.

And though the Rays have also relied on solid pitching throughout the season with each starter earning over 10 wins, the starters are young. Each of the starters is likely to set a personal record for innings pitched in a season. Some arms may tire.

On the more positive side, the batting order has started to produce late in the season. Last year's surprise power source, first baseman Carlos Pena, has largely returned to last year's form following the All-Star break. A platoon of outfielders has made up for injuries and subpar batting from speedsters Carl Crawford and B. J. Upton. Crawford may not be ready to return to the lineup until after the regular season. His inclusion on the postseason roster is not assured.

What does the future hold?

I don't know. Baseball is tough to predict, though I was successful enough in predicting that the Rays were likely to stay in the playoff hunt all year based on pitching and defense (I made that prediction after the Rays had already demonstrated competitiveness early in the season). Each of the teams in the AL playoffs has had to deal with injuries, though the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have perhaps had it the easiest. The Angels finish the regular season with four games at Seattle, so they're a good bet to maintain their inside track for home field advantage.

The Chicago White Sox figure to win the AL Central, though the Twins continue to lurk nearby. Chicago fields a solid team, with pitching a notch below the other three most likely playoff teams but a batting lineup that features oodles of extra base power.

In the AL East, the Rays head into Sunday with a 2.5 game lead on the Boston Red Sox. I like the Rays to win the division, though it figures to be a razor-thin margin. Winning the season series over Boston (and gaining the tiebreaker edge) may end up the deciding factor between the two clubs.

So, if I understand the playoff implications correctly, the Red Sox figure to face the Angels and the Rays should face the White Sox. The Angels deserve the role of slight favorites to represent the AL in the World Series, though they have a bad history facing Boston.

The Rays should have an edge on the White Sox if the young pitchers keep throwing strong innings and the Rays continue to bat and field with a composure belying their inexperience.

I think either the Angels or the Red Sox have the advantage over the Rays, even though the Rays may possess home field advantage over the Sox. Tampa Bay has defied reasonable expectations that the lack of experience will cost games. Could that pattern endure for the entire season? Sure, but it would buck the odds.

All that being said, there's no reason the Rays can't beat any team they face from here on out. The Rays won the season series against each of the three other teams as well as as sweeping a three game series against the team with the best record in the National League, the Chicago Cubs.

This 2008 season has been terrific for Rays fans just for posting a winning record. The length of the playoff road simply determines how sweet the gravy will taste.

And then next year we expect a championship. Not that I'm making a prediction or anything.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

War correspondent Dexter Filkins on the Hugh Hewitt Show

The New York Times' Dexter Filkins sat for an absolutely riveting interview with Hugh Hewitt on Hewitt's radio program. Those unlucky enough to miss it owe it to themselves to read the transcript in full.

Here's a teaser:

HH: …who among with other fearless people, “they went to the slaughter, thousands and thousands of them, editors and pamphleteers, judges and police officers, and women like Widjan Quzay. The insurgents were brilliant at that. They could spot a fine mind or a tender soul wherever it might be, chase it down and kill it dead. The heart of a nation, the precision was astounding.” Are there any of them left?

DF: I think there are. I mean, remarkably, remarkably. But you know, it’s funny, because people, I used to get e-mails from people, you know, friends, whoever, and people would say why can’t they govern themselves? What’s wrong with them? How come they’re not, how come they don’t get with the program? How come they’re not grateful? And there’s your answer. I mean, every person who stepped forward to try to make a difference was killed. I mean, and it just happened over and over and over again. But what I think is remarkable, what’s really remarkable, is that they’re still coming.

And we had politicians here who wanted more Iraqis to stand up by withdrawing our troops.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A little update on electricity in Iraq

The electricity shortfall meant many Baghdadis had to buy their own generators in 2004, and by 2006 the people of some neighbourhoods had banded together and subscribed to large collective generators bought by entrepreneurs.
For five years, Iraq's state power group has provided an intermittent service of between four and eight hours of electricity a day, depending on the area and the season.

Electricity production in Baghdad now meets just 55 percent of the total demand of 8,898 kilowatts, according to US State Department statistics.

Iraqi electricity experts said meeting the shortfall is unlikely to happen soon, citing technical problems in three phases of supply: production, transmission and distribution due to sabotage or corruption.
(Aswat Aliraq)
The infrastructure situation for electricity has been awful for years in Iraq, dating back to the Gulf War. It will take time to remedy the situation effectively, but with the security situation coming under control and Iraq's government flush with oil money the situation can be expected to improve at a reasonable pace. In the meantime, I am encouraged by the entrepreneurship of the Iraqis who find their own constructive solutions.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

What happened at that library in Iowa, John Deeth?

Curious about a post at Hot Air detailing an aborted media version of Kathleen Sebelius' campaign appearance at an Iowa library, I decided to contact an attendee other than the AP reporter to find out if the original version of the AP story was accurate.

John Deeth of the Iowa Independent had attended and reported on the event. His e-mail address was easy enough to find, so I sent him a message asking for his assessment of the AP story.

Before too long, Deeth had replied with two messages that did little to address the content of the AP story.

I'm now awaiting a response to the following message:
Thanks for the prompt reply.

I blog at "Sublime Bloviations."

I was hoping you would be able to provide some insight into the (cached version of the) AP reporting. Was the AP reporter perhaps part of the GOP outrage machine? Or do you believe that the cached version is a phony?


Associated Press Writer

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius accused Republicans on Tuesday of injecting race into the presidential campaign, arguing that they are using "code language" to convince Midwesterners that Democrat Barack Obama is different from them.

"Have any of you noticed that Barack Obama is part African-American?" Sebelius asked with sarcasm. "(Republicans) are not going to go lightly into the darkness."

Sebelius was responding to a question from the audience at the Iowa City Public Library about the tenacity of Democrats and whether they would fight for victory as hard as Republicans in the closing weeks of the election.

She did not elaborate on her comment.

Did Sebelius make the statement attributed to her above ("(Republicans) are not going to go lightly into the darkness")? Was it fair to juxtapose that quotation with the preceding one?

Deeth blogs at The Huffington Post, so it may be that ideology will influence his willingness to address the issue.

Deeth's own account of the Sebelius appearance is about as sanitized as the updated AP version.

AP selective with story details regarding "Troopergate"

Those who are following the twists and turns in an investigation of Governor Sarah Palin's dismissal of Alaska's public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan know that the Democrat Hollis French denied at least one key subpoena request made by the independent counsel.

The AP reporter following the case apparently remains totally unaware, judging by an AP story today that reports on the politization of the legislative investigation. All the details concerning politization point toward Republicans in the story, apart from the help Republicans are getting from the chairman of the Legislative Council:

The chairman of the council, Democratic state Sen. Kim Elton, said he would poll other council members on whether to meet.

Elton had previously refused to call such a meeting before panel investigator Steven Branchflower issued his report. In a letter Wednesday to House Speaker John Harris, Elton said circumstances had changed.

He said the situation had become so politicized it was difficult to imagine it could get any worse. Elton said he used to fear that any debate without a report would be "run through the prism of presidential politics and focus on motives." But now, he added, the debate is "taking place through press conferences and lawsuits."

If the mainstream media forgets a detail or two you can sometimes get it from the Blogosphere:
As the investigation known as Troopergate gets into full swing with 13 subpoenas being issued by the Alaska State Legislature on September 12, questions are being raised as to who is actually in charge. On Friday, Alaska lawmakers held a hearing concerning the subpoenas and asked independent investigator, Steve Branchflower, why Governor Palin’s former chief of staff, Mike Tibbles was not on the list to receive a subpoena. This was in spite of the fact that Tibbles had called a meeting of Palin aides to discuss the firing of Mike Wooten, the Alaska State Trooper in question. In the ensuing conversation, Branchflower admitted it was his list but was under the control and direction of Senator Hollis French, a Democrat who has strong ties to the campaign of Barack Obama. You can click here to listen to the audio of the conversation.
(by "Larry" at My Take)
The news coverage this election cycle is so biased that "corrupt" might be the proper adjective to apply.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Does science suggest that fighting smears is futile?

A news story I picked up through Michelle Malkin's Hot Air has piqued my interest, given the amount of time I spend trying to sort through media disinformation for the truth.

The story, by Shankar Vedantam, concerned experiments conducted by political scientist John Bullock and other experiments by political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler. The experiments, according to Vedantam and the researchers, suggested that a smear successfully affected perception even after the smear was debunked. Further, the research by Nyhan and Reifler supposedly suggested that conservatives were more prone to accept a smear despite having access to information that falsified it.

But there are problems with this type of research, as I shall demonstrate.

I will deal with the experiments in the order Vedantam presents them.

Roberts and NARAL

The first concerned a smear of current Supreme Court Justice John Roberts produced by NARAL.
clipped from www.factcheck.org

NARAL Pro-Choice America TV Ad:
"Speaking Out"

Announcer: Seven years ago, a bomb destroyed a women's health clinic in Birmingham, Alabama.

(On screen: Footage of bombed clinic)

(Tex on screen: New Woman/All Women Health Clinic; January 28, 1998)

Emily Lyons: When a bomb ripped through my clinic, I almost lost my life.

Announcer: Supreme Court nominee John Roberts filed court briefs supporting violent fringe groups and a convicted clinic bomber.

(On screen: Footage of Roberts; image of April 11, 1991 brief from Bray v. Alexandria)

(Text on screen: Roberts filed court brief supporting clinic protesters)

Emily Lyons: I'm determined to stop this violence so I'm speaking out.

Announcer: Call your Senators. Tell them to oppose John Roberts. America can't afford a Justice whose ideology leads him to excuse violence against other Americans.

blog it
Picking up with Shankar's story:
Bullock then showed volunteers a refutation of the ad by abortion-rights supporters. He also told the volunteers that the advocacy group had withdrawn the ad. Although 56 percent of Democrats had originally disapproved of Roberts before hearing the misinformation, 80 percent of Democrats disapproved of the Supreme Court nominee afterward. Upon hearing the refutation, Democratic disapproval of Roberts dropped only to 72 percent.
On the face of it, this looks bad. The data appear to suggest that 16 percent of the Democrats in the study allowed a plainly refuted smear to color their opinions. But how solid is that conclusion?

I suggest that the conclusion only follows if the ad provides no damaging information that is not thoroughly and unambiguously countered by the refutation. That is a tall order, and one that seems well outside the reach of Bullock's experiment. Shankar's version of the experiment fails to do it justice:
Near the end of the experiment, treatment-group subjects received this information:
Recall the ad transcript you read about earlier in this survey. The ad was strongly criticized by many people, some of whom were prominent supporters of abortion rights.
Walter Dellinger, an ally of the group that aired the ad and an important attorney in the Clinton administration, called the ad “unfair and unwarranted.” He added that “It is unfair to suggest that John Roberts, in advancing a somewhat narrow interpretation of [the anti-discrimination law], was supporting ‘violent fringe groups and a convicted clinic bomber’—as unfair as it would be to suggest that the six Justices who were part of the majority in Bray joined a decision supporting violent fringe groups.”
Arlen Specter, a Republican senator and supporter of abortion rights, called the ad “blatantly untrue and unfair.”
Stung by these criticisms and many others, NARAL Pro-Choice America withdrew the ad from television.
(Bullock, "The Enduring Importance of False Political Beliefs," p. 39)
The supposed refutation itself contains information that might influence the test subjects to change their opinion of Roberts for the worse, given that he supported a "narrow" interpretation of an anti-discrimination law. That is aside from other obvious factors, such as a general familiarity with NARAL, which might influence test subjects to think that even if the ad was false, the organization would not have aired it if Roberts presented no worries for a pro-choice voter.

This phase of the experiment does not significantly support the notion that a refuted smear continues to affect attitudes.

Guantanamo, Koran, Toilet

The second smear involved the false reports of Guantanamo guards flushing a copy of the Koran down the toilet.
Volunteers were shown a Newsweek report that suggested a Koran had been flushed down a toilet, followed by a retraction by the magazine. Where 56 percent of Democrats had disapproved of detainee treatment before they were misinformed about the Koran incident, 78 percent disapproved afterward. Upon hearing the refutation, Democratic disapproval dropped back only to 68 percent -- showing that misinformation continued to affect the attitudes of Democrats even after they knew the information was false.
The construction of this experiment was more complicated than the other, and it seems that Shankar misinterpreted the results. No baseline attitude toward detainee treatment occurred prior to exposure to the texts used in the experiment. The 56 percent of Democrats who disapproved of detainee treatment were part of a control group who read an account of detainee mistreatment with the Koran-flushing episode excised. The 78 percent figure Shankar presents as disapproval in the (Democratic portion of the) control group appears to be a figure actually related to approval for congressional hearings on detainee treatment. I located no pre-refutation figure for the treatment group, which leads me to believe that the control group was intended to provide the baseline (contrary to the picture painted by Shankar). The refutation would have been meaningless and irrelevant to the control group, since Newsweek would be retracting a part of the story they had not read.

Apart from Shankar's difficulty in reporting the experiment, did it support Bullock's thesis? Since 68 percent of the treatment group disapproved detainee treatment even after the refutation compared to 56 percent in the control group, perhaps so. The key variable is the text of the Newsweek retraction, which was not included in Bullock's paper.

If the retraction was similar to the following, however, there is good reason to doubt:
Last Friday, a top Pentagon spokesman told us that a review of the probe cited in our story showed that it was never meant to look into charges of Qur’an desecration. The spokesman also said the Pentagon had investigated other desecration charges by detainees and found them “not credible.” Our original source later said he couldn’t be certain about reading of the alleged Qur’an incident in the report we cited, and said it might have been in other investigative documents or drafts. Top administration officials have promised to continue looking into the charges, and so will we. But we regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst.
(Outside the Beltway, quoting from Mark Whitaker's "From the Editor's Desk")
A "retraction" like that above tends to feed into the level of trust one feels for the media source as opposed to the government source, which provides a natural and potentially reasonable alternate explanation for the belief perseverance effect Bullock was exploring.

Hussein and WMD

The next example in Shankar's story comes from Nyhan and Reiffler.
Political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler provided two groups of volunteers with the Bush administration's prewar claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. One group was given a refutation -- the comprehensive 2004 Duelfer report that concluded that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction before the United States invaded in 2003. Thirty-four percent of conservatives told only about the Bush administration's claims thought Iraq had hidden or destroyed its weapons before the U.S. invasion, but 64 percent of conservatives who heard both claim and refutation thought that Iraq really did have the weapons. The refutation, in other words, made the misinformation worse.
I don't imagine it was an easy matter to find volunteers willing to read the Duelfer report (not the work of mere minutes).
While the future size and direction of the Iraq Survey Group are currently under review, the requirement remains to collect further information related to threats posed by residual elements ofthe former Regime’s WMD programs. There will also be new information from individuals and sources, which will come to light. Moreover, certain defined questions remain unanswered. For example, we cannot express a firm view on the possibility that WMD elements were relocated out of Iraq prior to the war. Reports of such actions exist, but we have not yet been able to investigate this possibility thoroughly.
It should be obvious merely from the above excerpt (and there are many similar caveats in the report) that the Duelfer report did not unequivocally refute the notion that Iraq possessed WMD. Indeed, though the report emphasized the lack of solid evidence supporting the notion, it also emphasized the devious intent of the Hussein regime along with some of its success in deceiving the West.

At this point it is proper to ask: Why was the Duelfer report chosen as a refutation of the notion that Iraq had WMD during the lead-up to the invasion in 2003? Were the authors of the study victims of the phenomenon under investigation?

From Shankar again:
Bullock, Nyhan and Reifler are all Democrats.
So, if the findings suggested by Bullock, Nyhan and Reifler are legitimate then we have additional reason to regard their judgment of a proper refutation with suspicion.

The apparent solution is found in the combination of Shankar's misleading report and researcher bias. Nyhan and Reifler evidently did not use the Duelfer report as the refutation but a New York Times distillation of the Duelfer report. From the appendix:
Study 1 (WMD): News text
Wilkes-Barre, PA, October 7, 2004 (AP) -- President Bush delivered a hard-hitting speech here today that made his strategy for the remainder of the campaign crystal clear: a rousing, no-retreat defense of the Iraq war.

Bush maintained Wednesday that the war in Iraq was the right thing to do and that Iraq stood out as a place where terrorists might get weapons of mass destruction.

“There was a risk, a real risk, that Saddam Hussein would pass weapons or materials or information to terrorist networks, and in the world after September the 11th, that was a risk we could not afford to take,” Bush said.

While Bush was making campaign stops in Pennsylvania, the Central Intelligence Agency released a report that concludes that Saddam Hussein did not possess stockpiles of illicit weapons at the time of the U.S. invasion in March 2003, nor was any program to produce them under way at the time. The report, authored by Charles Duelfer, who advises the director of central intelligence on Iraqi weapons, says Saddam made a decision sometime in the 1990s to destroy known stockpiles of chemical weapons. Duelfer also said that inspectors destroyed the nuclear program sometime after 1991.
Something in the minds of Nyhan and Reifler is able to overlook the ambiguities in the Times' attempt to quash the notion that Hussein had WMD.

The question asked by the researchers hardly even has anything to do with the refutation:
Study 1 (WMD): Dependent variable
Immediately before the U.S. invasion, Iraq had an active weapons of mass destruction program, the ability to produce these weapons, and large stockpiles of WMD, but Saddam Hussein was able to hide or destroy these weapons right before U.S. forces arrived.
-Strongly disagree [1]
-Somewhat disagree [2]
-Neither agree nor disagree [3]
-Somewhat agree [4]
-Strongly agree [5]
Duh, if Hussein hid the weapons in Syria (for example) then "Saddam Hussein did not possess stockpiles of illicit weapons at the time of the U.S. invasion in March 2003, nor was any program to produce them under way at the time." The refutation needs to match the assertion in question or else the results mean little.
Note: The study included two different versions of the question, and the second, though still problematic, is less flawed than the one discussed above. Indeed, the researchers found strikingly different results with the second version, as I discovered after making my assessment of the material in the appendix:
Model 1 indicates that the WMD correction again fails to reduce overall misperceptions. However, we again add an interaction between the correction and ideology in Model 2 and find a statistically significant result. This time, however, the interaction term is negative – the opposite of the result from Study 1.
So when conservatives read a refutation that actually addresses the issue, the response does not reflect any increase in the supposedly false belief. My take, not necessarily that of the researchers, though they do touch on the possibility.

We should note the irony in Shankar offering the Duelfer report as a refutation of what turns out in the reseach paper to be an implication that it is known that Hussein did not hide WMD (for example) in Syria.

Tax Cuts Increase Revenue

Shankar's presentation of the next case, offered again by Nyhan and Reifler, borders on the bizarre:
A similar "backfire effect" also influenced conservatives told about Bush administration assertions that tax cuts increase federal revenue. One group was offered a refutation by prominent economists that included current and former Bush administration officials. About 35 percent of conservatives told about the Bush claim believed it; 67 percent of those provided with both assertion and refutation believed that tax cuts increase revenue.
It is no easy feat reconciling the above account with the details of the experiment:
[New York Times/FoxNews.com]
August 6, 2005
President George W. Bush urged Congress to make permanent the tax cuts enacted during his first term and draft legislation to bolster the Social Security program, after the lawmakers return from their August break.

“The tax relief stimulated economic vitality and growth and it has helped increase revenues to the Treasury,” Bush said in his weekly radio address. “The increased revenues and our spending restraint have led to good progress in reducing the federal deficit.”

The expanding economy is helping reduce the amount of money the U.S. government plans to borrow from July through September, the Treasury Department said on Wednesday. The government will borrow a net $59 billion in the current quarter, $44 billion less than it originally predicted, as a surge in tax revenue cut the forecast for the federal budget deficit.

The White House’s Office of Management and Budget last month forecast a $333 billion budget gap for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, down from a record $412 billion last year.

However, even with the recent increases, revenues in 2005 will remain well below previous projections from the Congressional Budget Office. The major tax cut of 2001 and further cuts in each of the last three years were followed by an unprecedented three-year decline in nominal tax revenues, from $2 trillion in 2000 to $1.8 trillion in 2003.
Last year, revenues rebounded slightly to $1.9 trillion. But at 16.3 percent of the gross domestic product, last year’s revenue total, measured against the size of the economy, was the lowest level since 1959.
The main problem should be immediately apparent upon reading the question posed to the test subjects:
President Bush’s tax cuts have increased government revenue.
-Strongly disagree [1]
-Somewhat disagree [2]
-Neither agree nor disagree [3]
-Somewhat agree [4]
-Strongly agree [5]
See the disconnect? Bush claims that his tax cuts "helped" increase government revenue. The test subjects are apparently supposed to conclude from that statement that the tax cuts increased revenue. The question alters the cause and effect relationship suggested by the president's words. That should account for the low number who agreed without reading the "correction." As the researchers noted, the subjects were probably more likely to think deeply about the issue after the correction, in part because the correction doesn't really address what Bush said in the first place. I've dealt with this tax issue at Bad Blogs' Blood, by the way.

Once conservatives start thinking about whether or not a tax cut increases revenue, they are likely to consider that a robust economy brings in more revenue than a weaker economy, all other things being equal. A tax policy that strengthens the economy is thus obviously increasing revenue, though the issue is complicated by the fact that higher tax rates also produce more revenue with everything else (including the strength of the economy) being equal. When both the tax rate and the strength of the economy vary, the comparison proves difficult. That simply spells trouble for researchers who provide an oversimplified picture to test subjects and subsequently try to draw conclusions from their findings.


Ideological bias makes it difficult for political scientists to construct valuable experiments.

Shankar's concluding paragraph had me wearing a wry smile:
Reifler questioned attempts to debunk rumors and misinformation on the campaign trail, especially among conservatives: "Sarah Palin says she was against the Bridge to Nowhere," he said, referring to the pork-barrel project Palin once supported before she reversed herself. "Sending those corrections to committed Republicans is not going to be effective, and they in fact may come to believe even more strongly that she was always against the Bridge to Nowhere."
At the risk of making you believe all the more that conservatives believe that Palin "always" opposed the Bridge to Nowhere, Mr. Reifler, check this out.

Grading PolitiFact: If you're fine with equivocation then McCain requested earmarks

Apparently there are some stubborn folks over at PolitiFact.

PolitiFact recently floated again the suggestion that McCain has requested earmark spending, contrary to McCain's claims on the campaign trail. But there are different types of "earmark" spending, and one class in particular that represents an ethical problem in Washington.

I wrote about that distinction here, and PolitiFact/CQ notes and dismisses the objection.

McCain, meanwhile, has mostly eschewed earmarks, even if the Arizona senator should learn to never say “never” as he has claimed, erroneously, many times throughout the campaign.

As Politifact writer John Frank pointed out earlier this year, McCain has rarely sought pork but he has on a few occasions, such as his 2006 legislation that asked for $10 million for an academic center at the University of Arizona to honor the late Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Or McCain’s 2003 effort to use federal funds to buy property to create a buffer zone around Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, or his 1992 request that the Environmental Protection Agency provide $5 million toward a wastewater project in Nogales, Ariz.

While McCain advocates have argued in the past that these projects don’t meet the definition of pork barrel spending, pork critics disagree. “If it doesn’t meet the technical term of earmark, it would probably meet the public idea of one,” Pete Sepp, a vice president at the conservative, anti-pork National Taxpayers Union, told the New York Times in reference to the Rehnquist center request.

(Congressional Quarterly, via PolitiFact; bold emphasis added)

The PolitiFact analysis, as I pointed out before, represents a fallacy of equivocation. PolitiFact, in effect, is quote-mining Pete Sepp in order to attack McCain. And the technique is obvious given a close look at the final paragraph.

Sepp admits the existence of a technical meaning for "earmark" as well as a "public idea of one." And by implication they aren't the same thing, even as presented by PolitiFact. And given PolitiFact's association with Congressional Quarterly, the distinction cannot be wholly unknown to their writers and editors, either.

Here's what Pete Sepp would say if given enough space:
I do wish there were more room for appreciating the complexities of earmarking in the fact check piece. My point is that the average voter may or may not agree with Senator McCain's assertions on earmarking, depending upon what bothers that voter the most about the issue. If the voter's primary objection to this process is that lawmakers introduce too many spending bills that benefit only narrow local interests, then that voter may not be all that impressed with McCain's stance (even though there are many more prolific practitioners of this art in the Senate than McCain). If, on the other hand, the voter's primary objection is that earmarking circumvents public debate and other budget processes, then they would likely be quite satisfied with Senator McCain's philosophy.
(Pete Sepp e-mail, first published here)
Nobody should be satisfied with a fact-checking outfit that engages in the fallacy of equivocation, however.

The St. Petersburg Times frolics in the tank (for Obama)

In addition to smearing Sarah Palin, the mainstream press has stepped up attacks on supposedly false ads from the McCain campaign. Thus we get the following byline-less editorial from the Times:
This nation is facing real challenges on the economy, health care, jobs and the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are significant differences between how Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain would address them. But McCain's recent campaign ads suggest the most vital issues are whether Obama wanted to teach sex education to kindergarten children and whether he derided the Republican's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, by talking about lipstick on a pig.
Interesting that the Times weighs in on the issue with its own lie. How would the ads suggest that those specific issues were the most important? Each contributes to the picture of Barack Obama, a man presenting himself as an agent of change, the man who transcends old politics and yea, the symbol of America returning to its best traditions. The McCain campaign is continually releasing ads. Is it the least bit fair to single out two as narrowing the scope of relevant campaign issues?

When I first heard the McCain ad concerning Obama's support for a sex education bill including kindergarteners, I was dismayed and suspected that the ad was a misrepresentation. But it turns out that the ad is fundamentally accurate even if it does play on viewers' fears in a manner that might exaggerate the truth--but that is normal in political advertising, for better or worse. Byron York has the skinny on that ad over at National Review.

The mainstream media have gone overboard with credulity in refusing to believe that Obama could have had Palin in mind as a subtext when he talked about putting lipstick on a pig. The analysis at PolitiFact (associated with the Times) puts that credulity on full display. The author notes the public buzz regarding the Palin line about the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull and then proceeds to analyze the Obama remark as though that cultural meme was nonexistent. It is likely that Obama meant the comment to cue his listeners to think of Palin, and his subsequent reference to an "old" fish wrapped in newspaper was probably meant to cue his listeners to think of McCain. Obama's handlers are probably chuckling to themselves over the gullible media defense they've received.

You can still view the McCain ad here, at least for a time (YouTube has taken it down), and I take down the PolitiFact judgment on Obama's "lipstick on a pig" comment here.

Inside the political football: The subprime mortgage crisis

"Sharon" over at Common Sense Political Thought (she also blogs at Gold-Plated Witch on Wheels) has a nice summary of the subprime mortgage crisis and the etiology of blame. Click the link and read the rest once your appetite is whetted.
As Ed Morrissey of Hot Air points out, the collapse of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae happened on George W. Bush’s watch, and for that, Democrats will try to pummel him. And he certainly didn’t pursue any regulatory solutions wholeheartedly, but it’s not like this was unpredictable. Indeed, the New York Times ran a story on this five years ago.
(read more)


Hey, "Inside the political football" garners no Google hits. It's nice to think up something first for a change, especially after I discovered that "Elastic Waste Band" had already been used by a Grateful Dead tribute band.

Though I suppose somebody could have thought of the football thing and dumped it for something much better ...

Iraq to pass election law on Wednesday?

BAGHDAD, Sept.16 (VOI) - The chief of Parliament's legal committee on Tuesday said blocs have overcome most of controversial issues for the provincial elections law, expecting the law to be passed tomorrow.
(Aswal Aliraq)
Better late than never, and I'll believe it when I see it.

But great news if it's true.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Mid-month Iraq fatality update, September

The news remains good for the United States and bad for those invested in a U.S. defeat in Iraq.

The mid-month daily average of coalition fatalities stands at what would be a record low if the number holds up through the end of the month. Of course there's no way of telling whether or not that will happen. All we really know is that the number cannot sink below 0.2 per day without a revision in the individual fatality reports.

Recently I've been making a distinction between hostile and non-hostile deaths, based on the notion that hostile deaths provide a better measure of the degree of enemy activity directed against coalition troops. At this stage, only two of the six fatalities were classified as "hostile."

Report: Obama tried to influence U.S. foreign policy during Iraq trip

Power Line has details and analysis:

Amir Taheri lays out Barack Obama's sorry record of double-dealing on Iraq:

WHILE campaigning in public for a speedy withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, Sen. Barack Obama has tried in private to persuade Iraqi leaders to delay an agreement on a draw-down of the American military presence.

According to Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Obama made his demand for delay a key theme of his discussions with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad in July.

"He asked why we were not prepared to delay an agreement until after the US elections and the formation of a new administration in Washington," Zebari said in an interview.

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