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Sunday, October 31, 2004

October Surprise?: With the polls opening tomorrow, time is running out for the oft-predicted October Surprise. Talkleft isn't ready to give up, though:
  We won't be suprised if Osama turns up between now and Monday night. Particularly if he turns up dead. The [recent bin Laden] tape is too strange. In addition to the physical and situational differences we pointed out [earlier], the text of the tape reads like a campaign ad. His reference to Michael Moore's film is strange. . . .
  Maybe he was captured months ago and told he would be killed if he didn't make this tape. Maybe he will be killed after making the tape. Between Pakistan and Karl Rove, there's no telling what Hollywood ending may be in store for us.
  The absence of a last-minute October Surprise won't convince anyone of anything, of course. Bush supporters will see its absence as proof of the Administration's good faith; Bush opponents will suspect that the drumbeat of critical attention to a possible October Suprise persuaded the Administration to shelve it.
The Bin Laden Tape May Have Threatened States Not to Vote for Bush.--

[UPDATE. Yigal Carmon of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) has a new translation of the Bin Laden tape, an interpretation that he also confirms by quoting from a similar analysis on an Islamist website that favors Bin Laden. This MEMRI news release was posted on NRO.] According to a shocking story on NRO, an Islamist website is claiming [as is MEMRI] that the Bin Laden tape did carry a threat against any U.S. state that voted for Bush (tip to INDC). NRO [reprinting MEMRI] quotes the site and argues:

The tape of Osama bin Laden that was aired on al-Jazeera on Friday, October 29 included a specific threat to "each U.S. state," designed to influence the outcome of the upcoming election against George W. Bush. The U.S. media in general mistranslated the words "ay wilaya" (which means "each U.S. state") to mean a "country" or "nation" other than the U.S., while in fact the threat was directed specifically at each individual U.S. state. This suggests some knowledge by bin Laden of the U.S. electoral-college system. In a section of his speech in which he harshly criticized George W. Bush, bin Laden stated: "Any U.S. state that does not toy with our security automatically guarantees its own security."

The Islamist website Al-Qal'a explained what this sentence meant: "This message was a warning to every U.S. state separately. When he [Osama Bin Laden] said, 'Every state will be determining its own security, and will be responsible for its choice,' it means that any U.S. state that will choose to vote for the white thug Bush as president has chosen to fight us, and we will consider it our enemy, and any state that will vote against Bush has chosen to make peace with us, and we will not characterize it as an enemy. By this characterization, Sheikh Osama wants to drive a wedge in the American body, to weaken it, and he wants to divide the American people itself between enemies of Islam and the Muslims, and those who fight for us, so that he doesn't treat all American people as if they're the same. This letter will have great implications inside the American society, part of which are connected to the American elections, and part of which are connected to what will come after the elections."

Another interesting aspect of the speech is the fact that while bin Laden makes his specific threat to each U.S. state, the speech also offered an election deal to the American voters in an attempt to influence the election by these means, rather than influencing it through terrorist attacks. This peace offer is a theme that follows up on his April speech directed to Europe, in which he offered a truce. The Islamist website Al-Islah explains: "Some people ask 'what's new in this tape?' [The answer is that] this tape is the second of its kind, after the previous tape of the Sheikh [Osama bin Laden], in which he offered a truce to the Europeans a few months ago, and it is a completion of this move, and it brings together the complementary elements of politics and religion, political savvy and force, the sword and justice. The Sheikh reminds the West in this tape of the great Islamic civilization and pure Islamic religion, and of Islamic justice...."

Not being able to translate the passages myself, I can't evaluate them. But perhaps a Volokh Conspiracy reader can enlighten us about whether the US media's translation is the better one or whether the Islamist website has the better translation.

UPDATE: OK, things are clearer to me now. The new translation is not just from an Islamist website, but more importantly from the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which describes itself as "an independent, non-profit organization that translates and analyzes the media of the Middle East." I have read their translations before, but didn't recognize the acronym. The NRO article I quoted is not written by NRO, but rather is a press release/alert sent out by MEMRI and written by its president, Yigal Carmon. So MEMRI is asserting the same translation of the relevant passage as an Islamist website that MEMRI also translates and quotes. Here is Bin Laden as translated by MEMRI:

"Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or Al-Qa'ida. Your security is in your own hands, and any U.S. state that does not toy with our security automatically guarantees its own security."

This interpretation makes sense of Bin Laden's statement that your security is not in Bush or Kerry's hands, but in your own. In short, here is the interpretation of both MEMRI and the Islamist site: Bin Laden is threatening that if your state votes for Kerry, your security will be respected by Bin Laden, but if your state votes for Bush, your state's security will not. As the Islamist website quoted above suggests, this is similar to the truce offer made to European countries that were willing to drop their opposition to Al Qaeda.

The rest of the Bin Laden tape.--

The New York Post is reporting that the unaired portions of the Bin Laden tape make clearer his opposition to Bush, the success of the Afghan election, and the success of the US military in restricting Bin Laden's actions. Bin Laden also follows the Michael Moore-Teresa Kerry line that it's all about oil:

Osama bin Laden's newest tape may have thrust him to the forefront of the presidential election, but what was not seen was the cave-dwelling terror lord talking about the setbacks al Qaeda has faced in recent months. Officials said that in the 18-minute long tape — of which only six minutes were aired on the al-Jazeera Arab television network in the Middle East on Friday — bin Laden bemoans the recent democratic elections in Afghanistan and the lack of violence involved with it.

On the tape, bin Laden also says his terror organization has been hurt by the U.S. military's unrelenting manhunt for him and his cohorts on the Afghan-Pakistani border.

A portion of the left-out footage includes a tirade aimed at President Bush and his father, former President George H.W. Bush, claiming the war in Iraq is purely over oil.

The tape also sparked some concern that an attack aimed at disrupting Tuesday's election may be planned.

But those who have seen the tape have said there was no specific information regarding an attack.

"We are taking this very seriously," said one counterterrorism official. "This is cause for great concern and we are certainly going on higher alert because of this."

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Massad Update:

Professor Joseph Massad of Columbia, accused in a film by one student who approached him after a lecture of an overtly hostile attitude toward the student as an Israeli, and by another student of responding obnoxiously when the student tried to defend Israeli policy in class, has responded: "Massad called the documentary 'a propaganda film' and claimed it was a part of a 'racist witchhunt of Arab and Muslim professors.'" This response hardly inspires confidence. Anyone can cry racism about anything, but there are important issues at stake.

So I'll ask the relevant questions again: (1) did these incidents actually occur?; (2) If so, were they momentary lapses, or part of a pattern of behavior? (3) If these incidents did happen, when you combine them with the incredibly strident rhetoric, and innacurate factual assertions, present in Massad's writings about Israel (e.g., this one), are pro-Israel opinions welcomed, or at least accepted, in his classes? Can students with such opinions expect fair treatment? Can Israeli students expect fair treatment in his classes?

These are substantial questions, ones that can't be brushed off with (yes, there's that word again) strident accusations of racism.

UPDATE: More details from the Jerusalem Post, revealing other alleged incidents involving Massad: "Massad, who teaches modern Arab politics and intellectual history, told a class, 'The Palestinian is the new Jew, and the Jew is the new Nazi.' In a separate discussion, he allegedly yelled at a Jewish student, 'I will not have anybody here deny Israeli atrocities.'"

Glenn Reynolds' better looking brother

joins the blogosphere. Jonathan Reynolds, a history professor at Northern Kentucky, has joined Ralph Luker's excellent history group blog, Cliopatria. Cliopatria has been on a roll lately, particularly Luker, KC Johnson, and Jonathan Dresner.

Glenn Reynolds is back at Instapundit.com, after a brief absence covered by a remarkably good trio of guest bloggers--Ann Althouse, Megan McArdle, and Michael Totten. Glenn says that the three will also be continuing to post some over the next few days because of some important event coming up that is generating news (I'm not quite sure what that might be).

The Internet and Democratic Debate:

A new study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project concludes that "[w]ired Americans hear more points of view about candidates and key issues than other citizens. They are not using the internet to screen out ideas with which they disagree."

Friday, October 29, 2004

Interview with Josh Rushing:

Former Marine Captain Josh Rushing, known for his appearance in the recent documentary Control Room, has left the Marines and sat down for an extensive interview with NPR. It's pretty fascinating stuff, even if you haven't seen the movie. Ted Barlow blogs a helpful summary of Rushing's commentary here.

Will They Believe Bin Laden?: According to this site, 26% of Palestinians believe that Israel was behind the 9/11 attacks. The theory, apparently not uncommon in the Arab world, is that Israel attacked New York and DC to trick the United States: they wanted the U.S. to think that it was Osama bin Laden in order to trigger a backlash against him that would help Israel.

  According to news reports, the new tape of bin Laden includes a section where he admits his responsibility for the 9/11 attacks. Al Jazeera quotes bin Laden as saying, "We decided to destroy [the] towers in America." I wonder, will the conspiracy theorists claim that bin Laden is lying? Or will they just say that the man in the tape isn't bin Laden?
Supreme Court Betting Pool:

Over at Crooked Timber, Henry links to a political science paper on a 1992 document discovered in the Blackmun papers. The document reveals a betting pool among the Justices about the outcome of the '92 presidential election; in case you're wondering, Justice O'Connor won. The 4-page long paper also offers some tongue-firmly-in-cheek analysis of the importance of the betting pool.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

More on Ohio absentee ballots:

My student Sean Hayes writes:

Just read your post on the absentee ballot in Ohio. I voted yesterday by absentee for Ohio--I'm from Dayton, which is in Montgomery county. The same complaints from Cuyahoga are present on the Montg. County ballot.

Your student is right: the ballots are not confusing. Yes, the numbers don't line up, some candidates are deleted, and in my voter booklet, the senate candidate race wasn't even part of the book, but just a loose sheet of paper.

Overall though, the concept is simple: find your candidate, find their number on the ballot; punch the hole. It blows my mind that people smart enough to complain about the ballot being a violation of their rights are too stupid to figure out what amounts to a voting inspired version of Chuck E. Cheese's Whack-A-Mole Game.

This is nothing more than the press feeding its need to have a story, and "Florida could happen again!" is much more exciting than "Voting Procedures Understood By People of Average Intelligence."

I think well-designed ballots should be understandable even by people of below average intelligence -- there are quite a few voters like that, and one doesn't want them to be confused, either. More to the point, ballots should be understandable by people who are intelligent but who are distracted, or who don't invest much time in following directions closely (especially on matters, such as voting, where there's little tangible personal benefit at stake).

Still, it sounds like the ballots might well not be very confusing even to the distracted or easily confused. I'm happy to trust Sean Hayes' and Patrick Lewis's judgment on this, since they saw the complete ballots from a voter's perspective, and I didn't.

Birdbrains: Talkleft links to this story about thieves who came back to the scene of a crime to silence a talking parrot:
  Fearing a parrot named Marshmallow could identify them, three thieves returned to the scene of the crime to silence the bird -- only to be caught by police.
  After making off with a booty of DVD players, computers, radios, TVs and other electronic gear _ one of the suspects realized a parrot in the home had heard him using the nickname ``J. J.'' and was repeating it.
  ``They were afraid the bird would 'stool' on them,'' police Maj. Billy Garrett said. ``They actually believed he could identify them.''
  They decided to go back for the bird, loading it into the getaway car as police arrived on the scene. The chase ended in just a few blocks, with the men crashing their car.
Slow news day?

One of the items in today's Slate begins:

Bush Speech Bush Speech Popping a spring in Saginaw. By Timothy Noah Posted Thursday, Oct. 28, 2004, at 12:37 PM PT

President Bush gave a speech today in Saginaw, Mich., in which, judging from the White House transcript, he repeated whole paragraphs twice, like a malfunctioning Stepford wife.

The column then goes on to give four examples -- but then, the author continues:

I'm told by a reporter who was there that this was some sort of hiccup in the White House transcription, and that Bush did not actually give lengthy portions of the same speech twice. The repetitions do not appear in the transcript prepared by the Federal News Service, a private company.

What I can't figure out, though, is why the botched White House transcript shows occasional slight differences in the first and second versions of the repeated text. "The issues vary, the challenges are different every day" becomes two (more grammatical) sentences on the second go-round: "The issues vary. The challenges are different every day." The phrase "blow in the wind" becomes "blow in the winds." The line, "A President must follow the—must not follow the path of the latest polls" gets applause the first time, and no applause when it's repeated. The same thing happens with "A President must lead based on conviction and conscience."

This isn't machine error. It's human error. Did a White House transcriber pop a spring?

I'm not sure I quite get it. The column begins by speculating that President Bush is behaving mightly oddly. Yes, it does say "judging from the White House transcript," but certainly my first impression was that the author thinks the transcript was indeed accurate. And otherwise the matter hardly seems terribly newsworthy, no? (Yes, I know that I blog about pickled herring and who knows what else, but Slate for obvious reasons tends to stick to more generally interesting items.)

But then it turns out that the eyewitness account suggests that President Bush wasn't remotely "like a malfunctioning Stepford Wife," but that there was a transcription glitch. I suppose there's some innuendo that perhaps the transcript is accurate, but, boy, this is mightly slim evidence, especially when one has squarely contrary testimony from someone who was actually present (and presumably a trustworthy professional, who probably would have noticed the speaker repeating four separate paragraphs). Where's the news about that?

Of course, if the original Slate piece simply ended after the four quotes, and then the article was updated based on the eyewitness's account, that would explain why the original story seemed newsworthy (Bush is coming undone) but the revised version is not really newsworthy (some transcriber erred) and the second half is inconsistent with the suggestion in the first. But wouldn't it have been nice to make clear (if this is indeed what happened) that the second half was an update to the first, rather than a single story, and perhaps also explicitly take back at the outset the "malfunctioning Stepford Wife" item? Or am I being too picky here?

The Economist switches from Bush to Kerry:

The Economist magazine, which endorsed Bush in 2000, has endorsed Kerry in 2004. This strikes me as more significant than most endorsements, both because they endorsed Bush in 2000 (and endorsed Dole in 1996) and because they are very smart small-government types. And it is particularly striking because they supported the decision to invade Iraq. The Economist's editor, Bill Emmott, said

"It was a difficult call, given that we endorsed George Bush in 2000 and supported the war in Iraq. But in the end we felt he has been too incompetent to deserve reelection."

The endorsement adds that

"America needs a president capable of admitting to mistakes and of learning from them. Mr Bush has steadfastly refused to admit to anything."

Yogi Berra:

Dan Gifford passed along a link to a funny and sweet OpinionJournal.com article about a recent appearance by Yogi Berra; here are some particularly nice lines:

It's a lucky few who get to visit a museum and talk with the person it's named after. As Yogi Berra himself said at the 1998 dedication of the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center here: "This is a great honor. Usually you have to be dead to get something like this." . . .

Q: "Yogi, what did Ted Williams say to you when you tired to distract him by talking?"

A: "He'd say, 'Shut up, you little Dago.'" ("But," adds Yogi, "Ted was a great guy.") . . .

"Yogi," someone asked toward the end of the evening, "is this going to become an annual event?"

"Well, yeah," replied the Hall of Famer, "if we do it every year."

Speech restriction in public university dorms:

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, whose factual accounts I've always found trustworthy reports the following:

The University of New Hampshire has evicted a student from housing for posting fliers in his residential hall joking that freshman women could lose the "Freshman 15" by walking up the dormitory stairs. The public university found him guilty of violating policies on affirmative action, harassment, and disorderly conduct, and has sentenced him to mandatory counseling and probation along with his eviction. See the flier here.

In appealing his sentence, student Timothy Garneau explained that the flier was intended to make light of the common frustration with people who delay the elevator by taking it for just one or two floors instead of taking the stairs. UNH rejected his appeal, and Garneau was ordered to move out of his dormitory. Garneau reports that he is currently living out of his car. . . .

The "offensive" flier included a cartoon picture of a woman in outdated workout gear and the following message:

9 out of 10 freshman girls gain 10 - 15 pounds. But there is something you can do about it. If u live below the 6th floor takes the stairs....Not only will u feel better about yourself but you will also be saving us time and wont be sore on the eyes. [sic]

Garneau posted copies of the flier in the elevators of his dormitory, Stoke Hall. According to Garneau, a resident assistant had removed all of the fliers within less than two hours. When Garneau was approached by the Stoke Hall Director and accused of hanging the fliers, he initially denied responsibility, fearing that he would be punished harshly and embarrassed in front of his peers. However, Garneau soon admitted to posting the flier and was charged with offenses including: "acts of dishonesty"; violation of "affirmative action" policies; "harassment"; and "conduct which is disorderly, lewd."

Within a week of the incident, and prior to his hearing, Garneau posted a written public apology for unintentionally offending others in his residential hall and apologized in person to students that he knew had complained.

At an October 8 hearing, the university found Garneau guilty of all charges. Despite Garneau's offers to voluntarily atone for his actions through community service, social awareness projects, and other activities, the university sentenced him to immediate expulsion from student housing and disciplinary probation extended through May 30, 2006. He was also required to meet with a counselor to discuss his "decisions, actions, and reflections" about the incident, to write a 3000-word reflection paper about the counseling session, and to submit an apology letter to the residents of Stoke Hall to be published in the hall's newspaper. . . .

The flyer is juvenile -- I can certainly see why some people might be offended. And the university would be entitled, I think, either to (1) ban all posting of flyers in elevators and corridors (which are in the category of government property that is a "nonpublic forum," in which the government may impose reasonable, viewpoint-neutral restrictions), or (2) impose a viewpoint-neutral though content-based ban on fleyrs that are genuinely "lewd" (if those terms were defined precisely enough). It could also punish students for being dishonest when questioned about flyers they posted, if it is doing so solely because the student was being dishonest, and not actually because of the flyer's viewpoint.

But here it's pretty clear that the university banned the flyers precisely because they expressed a viewpoint that the university found offensive -- likely that women ought to care about losing weight and not being "sore on the eyes" by being somewhat overweight, or (less plausibly) that women ought to take the stairs while men take the elevator. Pretty clearly a First Amendment violation. This particular speech is hardly momentous or deeply important; but if such speech may be banned from university dorms because of its viewpoint, then it's hard to see how other offensive viewpoints would remain protected.

Whoops!

Rick Hasen (Election Law blog) notes the following:

Electoral-Vote.com notes the following:

Stupidity news: One of Kerry's electors in Ohio, Rep. Sherrod Brown, is a congressman. Unfortunately, the constitution forbids federal office holders from being electors. It is possible that if Kerry wins Ohio, Brown's right to cast an electoral vote will be challenged in court. Whoever picked a constitutionally ineligible elector needs to get his or her mental software ungraded to the latest release.

Brown is indeed listed as a presidential elector: see here on page 11.

I assume that this would be an issue to be taken up, if necessary, in Congress when it counts electoral votes. . . .

UPDATE: A reader writes: "My understanding (from Rep. Brown's office) is that Rep. Brown has resigned and that the chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party will be able to appoint another elector." I'll let you know if I receive confirmation of this report.

If you wonder how clear the prohibition is on Representatives being electors, check out article II, section 1, clause 2 of the Constitution:

[N]o Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

UPDATE: Pepperdine lawprof Mark Scarberry writes (some paragraph breaks added):

3 U.S.C. section 4 provides: "Each State may, by law, provide for the filling of any vacancies which may occur in its college of electors when such college meets to give its electoral vote." I suppose Rep. Brown could resign (or be removed?) [FURTHER UPDATE: it turns out that he has resigned], and then Ohio could fill the vacancy, if Ohio has provided for filling vacancies in its election laws. A very quick Westlaw search suggests that Ohio has so provided, in Ohio Revised Code section 3505.39. That section treats an elector's failure to show up in the state capitol to vote as creating a vacancy. The electors who do show up can choose the replacement elector, who must be of the same party as the elector who did not show up. Here is the statutory language . . .: ". . . [Each] elector shall give notice to the secretary of state before nine a.m. of that day whether or not he will be present at the appointed hour ready to perform his duties as a presidential elector. If at twelve noon at the place selected by the secretary of state presidential electors equal in number to the whole number of senators and representatives to which the state may at the time be entitled in the congress of the United States, are not present, the presidential electors present shall immediately proceed, in the presence of the governor and secretary of state, to appoint by ballot such number of persons to serve as presidential electors so that the number of duly elected presidential electors present at such time and place plus the presidential electors so appointed shall be equal in number to the whole number of senators and representatives to which the state is at that time entitled in the congress of the United States; provided, that each such appointment shall be made by a separate ballot, and that all appointments to fill vacancies existing because duly elected presidential electors are not present shall be made before other appointments are made, and that in making each such appointment the person appointed shall be of the same political party as the duly elected presidential elector whose absence requires such appointment to be made. In case of a tie vote the governor shall determine the results by lot. "The electors making such appointments shall certify forthwith to the secretary of state the names of the persons so appointed and the secretary of state shall immediately issue to such appointees certificates of their appointment and notify them thereof. All of the state's presidential electors, both those duly elected who are then present and those appointed as herein provided, shall then meet and organize by electing one of their number as chairman and by designating the secretary of state as ex officio secretary and shall then and there discharge all of the duties enjoined upon presidential electors by the constitution and laws of the United States. . . ."
The NYT's Politics:

Here's the abstract to an intersting statistical study by Riccardo Puglisi of the London School of Ecnomics analyzing New York Times issue coverage from 1946-1994.

I analyze a dataset of news from the New York Times, from 1946 to 1994. Controlling for the incumbent President's activity across issues, I find that during the presidential campaign the New York Times gives more emphasis to topics that are owned by the Democratic party (civil rights, health care, labour and social welfare), when the incumbent president is a Republican. This is consistent with the hypothesis that the New York Times has a Democratic partisanship, with some watchdog aspects, in that it gives more emphasis to issues over which the (Republican) incumbent is weak. Moreover, out of the presidential campaign, there are more stories about Democratic topics when the incumbent president is a Democrat.