Monday, September 29, 2008

In which Barney Frank takes down the notion that Republicans would have voted for the bill if only Pelosi hadn't hurt their feelings

Actually, um, Obama won the debate

Hendrik Hertzberg sets the record straight.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

When will it stop???

Yet another emu has been tasered. That's right, a third emu tasering in less than six weeks. This one was in Clark County, Washington; the Columbian has the story.
The emu tale began Saturday, when Garrison reported his big bird missing from his home in the 200 block of Southeast Everett Road. The day before, he and his wife, Svetlana, had sold two other emus and three llamas, leaving the emu by himself.

Lonely, he escaped his pen to search for his friends.

And that's when the trouble began. Eventually the poor guy ended up on a road, "slowing traffic and pecking vehicles." And then he was tasered, and brought back home. The good news is he is apparently doing fine now.

I told a colleague about this and he noted that there was actually another emu tasering earlier this year (you know, before this blog started tracking the epidemic). It was in New Hampshire, in May.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Live from DC, it's Wednesday night

I should say, I'm now living in DC.

A few observations:

Everywhere! I mean, it helps a lot if you're further out. But I swear, I heard some on U Street.

Beer: The good news is that Turbodog is not too hard to find. And the Yuengling is plentiful.

Pupusas: Mmmm! Need to try some more! Delish.

In people's apartments and houses! How crazy? And since so many people have laundry, there are very few laundromats. You could be stuck going pretty far to get to one if you had to.

Famous people sightings: Placido Domingo.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The 12th ammendment scenario

What if there's a tie in the electoral college?

It's quite possible, polling guru Nate Silver says. The most likely scenario would be that "Obama wins the Kerry states plus Iowa, New Mexico and Colorado, but loses New Hampshire." And then the House of Representatives (with each state's delegation getting one vote) would choose the president, and Obama would win.

Well, maybe. The thing is that if there is a tie, McCain might very well be ahead in the popular vote. In which case, who knows.

Overall, McCain is doing much better in the popular vote than in the electoral college. So there's a chance he will win the popular vote and Obama will win the electoral college (the other way around is much less likely, at least at this point).

Friday, September 19, 2008

Chavez fails PR 101

At a press conference in Caracas on Thursday morning, Human Rights Watch released a report critical of Venezuela. It got solid press. Then on Thursday night Venezuelan authorities went to the hotel of the two HRW guys, detained them, took them to the airport and put them on a plane out of the country (they arrived in Sao Paulo Friday morning).

And so what would have been a 1-day story is now a 2-day story, with a government first denying that it is at all repressive and then kicking out its critics.

Bad move. That has to be about the stupidest thing ever. This stuff is PR 101.

I have mixed feelings about Chavez. But kicking these guys out and claiming they are tools of the US Govt is a move that just stinks of recklessness. What they did Thursday night could only lead to bad PR for themselves, and yet they did it. Yes, I'll say it, it's like they were asking for trouble. And it's surprising to me, because the Chavez administration had been trying to work the press somewhat in recent years, setting up an office in Washington and trying to influence the debate a bit in the United States and elsewhere.

There was actually one sort-of legitimate reason Venezuela had for kicking them out -- that, reportedly, HRW had entered on tourist visas, which is not what they were doing. Who knows what the back story is -- presumably HRW was denied entry through official channels, or would have been, and had no choice but to enter as 'tourists'. But Venezuela could have focused on this issue only, saying "we are kicking them out not because of what they said but because they entered the country on false terms, therefore breaking our law. Any other country would similarly enforce such laws."

Instead, they helped build the report's case that the Venezuelan government is, in some cases, punishing dissent. Which is ironic, because the Venezuelan government punishes dissent relatively minimally on the scale of things.

The Venezuela Information Office responds to the report.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Chicago Police update

An AP story out of Chicago today says that officers there are "working the streets less aggressively out of resentment toward their new chief and fear of being second-guessed by him."

This is, on balance, probably not good.

Jody Weis is the new head of the police. He was brought in as an outsider to "clean up" the mess and legacy of abuse that is the CPD. I don't know much about him, but I'm on the optimistic side, and certainly skeptical of resistance to him from the police union. Are there actually cases they can point to where an officer acted within guidelines, was criticized somewhere, and was then not supported by the boss? Not that I know of, and I doubt there are any.

These people are used to impunity. That's what there has been for decades. These things are going to take a long time to change, and only through intense opposition. The CPD is worlds apart from, say, the comparatively sophisticated, disciplined and accountable NYPD.

The tricky thing here is what to make of these officers "working the streets less aggressively." To the extent that that means not putting people in jail for drug crimes, that's probably a positive thing. But not enforcing gun laws, that's probably a bad thing. The article didn't explain enough about what has actually changed in what they do; that will be something interesting to watch in the coming months and years. I wonder if this guy will keep the mayor's support or not.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Enhanced Interrogation Techniques

With the 9/11 anniversary last week, there was some news analysis on the current status of "counter-terrorism" policy, and on where the presidential candidates stood. There seemed to be this notion that actually they're pretty similar on this stuff -- including on the matter of torture. Here are the quotes specifically on torture:


"Both McCain and Obama have called for ... more humane interrogation procedures for suspects."

"They pledge to stop the torture of terrorism suspects."

This is, of course, true to the word, but not true in fact. In February of this year, the Senate held a vote on barring all U.S. agencies (incl the CIA) from using interrogation techniques not approved by the Army Field Manual. Obama voted for it, and McCain voted against it (roll call).

At the time, McCain argued that this wasn't a pro-torture vote, but in reality it left the door rather wide open. (see Marty Lederman)

The other thing to go back to is the Detainee Treatment Act (back in Dec 2005). This was the big thing that McCain engineered, where he 'outlawed' torture, and made the president sign it. But the loopholes (and Bush's signing statement) made it relatively worthless, and in fact there's a healthy argument that it was actually institutionalizing torture as legitimate policy, as it removed the means for possibly enforcing the anti-torture rules (see Alfred McCoy, "Invisible in Plain Sight: CIA Torture Techniques Go Mainstream").

In the end, almost all of the Senators voted for the 'compromise' bill (incl McCain and Obama). But the important history of it is that McCain, along with fellow Republicans and Carl Levin, are the ones who caved into what Bush wanted -- effectively gutting the law.

Let's not lose that history.

People who are wrong can sometimes be real stupid

Shankar Vedantam's latest political psych piece is a good read, and utterly frustrating. He writes about what happens to people when they believe something that is incorrect (for example, that Sarah Palin fought against the "Bridge to Nowhere"). One might think that if you provide them clear information to show that the information is incorrect, their general view of the broader subject (say, their overall feeling on Palin) will return to where it was before they had that bit of misinformation.

And that's what we'd hope, what with everything the McCain campaign is saying (and now, to a limited extent, the media is finally starting to challenge a bit more, sort of).

But the research apparently shows that people like to believe what they believe, truth or not. (I know, I know -- classic example of social psych telling us obvious stuff. And stuff that lawyers who do jury trials have known forever. But still). So the news media saying "actually, she supported the bridge" will only help part way.

Or it may not help at all; it may hurt. Sometimes people will have the "backfire effect", in which they'll actually become more attached to an incorrect idea after being shown that it is wrong (and apparently this happens with conservatives, but not with liberals, according to the research so far). Anyway, it's an interesting read. And frustrating.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What caused the relative decrease in violence in Iraq?

One of the assertions in the new Bob Woodward book is that the decrease in violence in Iraq in 2007 and 2008 was not caused 100%, or necessarily at all, by the troop increase. I know, crazy. Because clearly a decrease in violence that began, oh, five months or so after the troop increase was because of that troop increase, and no other factors should be considered.

Anyway, Woodward spelled out his argument in an article on Monday accompanying the series of book excerpts.

Woodward's case, based on his new information, is that the decrease in violence may have been largely because of U.S. targeting of certain individual group leaders:
Beginning in the late spring of 2007, the U.S. military and intelligence agencies launched a series of top-secret operations that enabled them to locate, target and kill key individuals in groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Sunni insurgency and renegade Shia militias, or so-called special groups."
a number of authoritative sources say the covert activities had a far-reaching effect on the violence and were very possibly the biggest factor in reducing it.

Ok, so that's not the argument I would necessarily believe, but who knows. I don't think assassinations, even in a war context, have all that good a record of leading to peace and security in the longer term.

But I am happy that Woodward is supporting the idea that maybe the decrease in violence wasn't caused by the increase in troops -- even if I'm skeptical of his alternative reasoning.

The idea that the troop increase wasn't the only cause is nothing new; the left has been pushing it, Obama and other Democrats gently suggest that maybe it was just one part of the reason, and Juan Cole has made the case, and I think he probably knows what he's talking about.

I'm optimistic that Woodward, a figure of the mainstream, might help mainstream this idea.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Maverick maverick maverick

There's an idea that if you hit someone over the head with something over and over and over it will stick. And if John McCain keeps calling himself a 'maverick' (nevermind voting with Bush more than 90% of the time) most of the traditional media will keep going with it.

And so it was with the VP pick, as FAIR nicely lays out. While McCain was reportedly very close to picking Lieberman, he instead went with someone that is conservative on nearly every issue. That's energizing the conservative base. And that's not mavericking we can believe in.

While some print media use the term "maverick image" or some other construction to not say "McCain is a maverick" outright, the Washington Post had no such qualms. As they had it, "Fellow Maverick Survived McCain's Thorough Vetting Process, Aides Say."

Friday, September 05, 2008

Emus being tasered, part deux

"Give a reporter two points and he'll draw a line."

There have now been two cases of emus being tasered in as many weeks. The new case, this week, involves an emu wandering the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which, I'll admit, is probably not a great situation.

Reports the Daily American: "Turnpike police were notified about the bird roaming near the 72.4 mile marker in Westmoreland County at 11:36 a.m. Five troopers from the New Stanton station and turnpike maintenance workers responded to the incident, said Lt. James McFadden."

In this case, unlike the one I mentioned the other week, the poor emu died.

Here's the article, from the Daily American, of Somerset County -- complete with comment from a spokeswoman from the AEA (American Emu Association).