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Thursday: Elections have consequences (with a long digression on Jon Huntsman and research in China)

Russians protest election fraud

Vladimir Putin is accusing Hillary Clinton of inciting insurrection.  “Occupy Russia” seems to have taken to the street in protest over fraud in the last election.  Here’s what we’re talking about in case you haven’t already seen it:

Isn’t that amazing?  Looks like punch card optical scan paper ballots are the way to go.

Throngs of young Russians hit the streets in protest.  And who was to blame for this?:

MOSCOW — With opposition groups still furious over parliamentary elections that international observers said were marred by cheating, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin on Thursday accused Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton of instigating protests by baselessly criticizing the vote as “dishonest and unfair” and he warned thatRussia needed to protect against “interference” by foreign governments in its internal affairs.

Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin of Russia spoke in Moscow on Thursday.

Follow@nytimesworld for international breaking news and headlines.

“I looked at the first reaction of our U.S. partners,” Mr. Putin said in remarks to political allies. “The first thing that the secretary of state did was say that they were not honest and not fair, but she had not even yet received the material from the observers.”

“She set the tone for some actors in our country and gave them a signal,” Mr. Putin continued. “They heard the signal and with the support of the U.S. State Department began active work.”

Damn, she’s good.  All she has to do is say it’s “dishonest and unfair” and the entire Russian nation answers to her call.  She’s wild and crazy.  She can’t be stopped.  I’m telling you, if she had been elected as our president, she would have bent Congress to her will, tamed the restless oceans, stopped the planet from spinning on its axis…

Huh?  Oh, she couldn’t stop the DNC from stealing (blatantly on television with no hidden cameras) the Democratic primary away from her and fraudulently awarding delegates from Michigan to a guy who wasn’t even on the ballot?  Well, at least here in the US, we’re not sneaky about our election fraud.

But if anyone would know how it feels to be on the losing end of dishonest and unfair election procedures, it would be Hillary.  So, you know, there’s that.

It’s not like elections have consequences or anything.  After all, the Democratic party loyalists have been telling us for the last three years that Obama and Clinton were indistinguishable from one another.  I’m sure Hillary’s Secretary of Health and Human Services would have overruled her FDA administrator on the sale of the Morning After Pill, just like Kathleen Sebalius did:

The statements from the two camps pretty much stick dryly to issues of whether minors are mature enough to decide such matters. FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said today “there is adequate and reasonable, well-supported, and science-based evidence that Plan B One-Step is safe and effective and should be approved for nonprescription use for all females of child-bearing potential,” but noted that Sebelius had disagreed. Sebelius, in a statement, writes:

“It is common knowledge that there are significant cognitive and behavioral differences between older adolescent girls and the youngest girls of reproductive age. If the application were approved, the product would be available, without prescription, for all girls of reproductive age.”

NPR notes that today’s decision is “likely to prolong a fight that has raged for more than eight years,” so stay tuned.

That’s like saying, “we’re not going to let young, immature females have access to this pill to prevent the them from getting pregnant because they might use it”. And restricting access to Plan B so they end up having to get abortions at their tender young ages, exposing them to a bunch of wild-eyed crazies as they run the gauntlet from the car to the door of the clinic, accomplishes *what*, exactly?  Did you know that some of those crazies take pictures of the patients as they run that gauntlet and then publish those pictures?   Well, that’ll learn’em.  Young girls have to be taught very early that there is no age that is too young to be shamed, humiliated and punished for an infraction that her boyfriend will slide away from scott free.  I guess we should thank Sebelius for affording these girls an opportunity to mature.

I smell incense and old, celibate men with red beanies in this story somewhere.  Or, maybe it’s just more campaigning.  Obama needs the anti-choice vote now, since many women in his own base have his number.  The last thing he needs is a bunch of fundagelicals occupying Walmart’s ‘over the counter’ departments.  Because then, he would have to send out the goon squads to pepperspray them and drag them off to retention facilities where they wouldn’t be able to use the bathroom for hours and hours.  And one of them might have a cell phone and know how to use the video camera.  It would only be fair.  You can’t treat religious fanatics who want to impose their authoritarian worldview on the rest of the country differently than a bunch of non-violent, regular people who are just protesting economic injustice. (go read that link, it will make your blood boil) Some of us might see it as unfair that the fanatically religious are treated with greater consideration and respect. It might start a whole new round of protests and Obama and DHS think they just nailed the lid on the last round of protests.  Better to just let the ban stand.  It’s too messy in an election year.

Hmmmm, elections, fraud, protests.

There is one bright spot this week though.  Hillary’s speech in Geneva on Gay Rights are Human Rights was very well received worldwide. Of course, her State Department has been proactive about this from the minute she took office.  If you really believe it, you need to lead by example, which she has.  But the credit for the policy goes to Obama, who invited an gay rights are *not* human rights preacher to have a prominent role in his inauguration.  Well, this is an election year and he’ll take credit from whomever he can and wherever he can get away with it.  It worked so well in 2008. Did I mention that Hillary previously gave a speech on Women’s rights are Human Rights over a decade ago?  Oh, how quickly we forget that when we have to approve a controversial pill.  Let’s remember that Obama appointed Sebelius.

Speaking of appointments, remember Jon Huntsman?  He’s the Republican that some Democrats say they could reconcile themselves to vote for.  He was appointed as ambassador to China by Barack Obama.  He’s also the wealthy scion of a family who owns a company that makes chemicals.

My tin-foil antenna are twitching.  Be patient because this is going to be long.

It started with the layoffs.  Massive layoffs.  Thousands and thousands of people in the research industry being laid off since 2008.  For example, the company I used to work for, Wyeth, was bought by Pfizer in 2008.  In 2009, Pfizer laid off the vast majority of Wyeth scientists and support staff. 19,000 jobs including every one of my former colleagues.  Gone.  Let’s not pretend that 19,000 people had poor performance reviews.  I know for a fact that most of them were very competent scientists.  A few people that filled  a need in Pfizer’s labs were retained and sent to Groton, CT, where they live in constant anxiety as Pfizer capriciously rejiggers its reorg.  But Pfizer’s is just the most notorious of the recent bunch of layoffs.  There have been many, many others.

Then there were the very clear and unmistakable signs that the pharmaceutical company CEOs and Barack Obama were scratching each other’s backs in 2009.  Maybe they couldn’t get all they wanted from the healthcare insurance reform bill, and they didn’t.  But what if they could get Obama to look the other way while they dismantled research operations in the US and shipped them to China?  Derek Lowe posted yesterday about the last holdout, Merck, finally giving in and laying off scads of scientists (reports vary from 17,000 to 34,000 worldwide with the bulk coming from the US) only to plan to open a new facility in China that will employ 600 people.  There’s a very good reason why the shareholders should look skeptically at this new arrangement but I won’t go into that now.  Suffice it to say that this all about money and not about science.

But to get to the stage where the Mercks and other big pharmas could conduct research in China, there would have to be substantial negotiations and understandings with the Chinese government because it is the entity that can make or break your intellectual property agreements.  And big pharma is all about intellectual property.  They’re so secretive with their data that they don’t even let all of the scientists see it.  It’s strictly “need to know”.  Up until now, China’s research industry has been pretty good at making knock-off drugs based on what’s already published.  It’s a whole different animal when you have to do “first to market” research all on your own with biological systems that insist on doing their own thing.  But shareholders will find out.

Anyway, I found the passage in Barack Obama’s Osawatomie speech about science and research very disturbing.  He only mentioned encouraging “young” people to go into science.  And of course, that would make sense if you think you can raise a whole generation of mini-human calculators who never sleep because they have to finish their overwhelming load of math homework.  What I can’t figure out is how they’re going to turn those kids into scientists.  In China, there’s a certain amount of coercion involved.  You get tested and the government narrows your career choices.  Here, it’s not so easy.  You can force young people to spit out the answer to what is the derivative of sin(x), but you can’t make them like it.  Yes, we have a lot of Chinese scientists here in the US and some of them are brilliant.  Some of them.  Some of them are excellent technicians.  And some of them look like they were horribly miscast.

But back to the “young people” comment in his speech.  That was a tell to the those of displaced research workers. If you listened to Obama and the rest of the “serious people”, you’d think that there was a huge shortage of scientists.  And in some respects, they would be right.  I’ve never worked at a lab that wasn’t under some kind of hiring freeze.  The last lab I worked at had many unoccupied labs and offices.  Beautiful, new facilities with state of the art hoods and workflow and lots of natural light and very few chemists.  We just didn’t hire that many.  Projects were always fighting for the chemists that we had.  This was the result of mergers and re-organizations.  If anyone is curious as to why scientists have been less productive, this is part of the reason.  In the last decade, the shortage has become severe but it’s an artificial shortage.  There are plenty of chemists around.  They’re just out of work.  The chemistry has gone to China.  The chemistry isn’t any easier and the biological systems are the same.  But the workers are cheaper there.

So, we have a generation of scientists in their prime wage earning years sitting around not doing  chemistry.  So, why all of the focus on the young?  Obama has all of the talent he will ever need, including some excellent American trained Chinese scientists, right here, right now.  Do the business leaders really have him convinced that the average American kid can be force fed math and science and then lead a monastic existence because business won’t pay for the expertise?  What planet are they on?  Water seeks the path of least resistance.  Unless our government starts restricting career choices here as well, it’s not going to happen.  I suppose you could send all of the talented kids to college for free so they graduate without debt but if you don’t provide a decent living at the end of those 4, 6, 10 years, you’ll just end up with a lot of miserable drones in the lab instead of bright, creative thinkers whose brains are working optimally because they are doing what they love and they are compensated well for doing what most Americans can’t do.

And then I saw Paul Krugman’s blog post yesterday about how at a debate he had on Tuesday night, one of his fellow debaters made a point that our country was going through an unavoidable deleveraging process:

I continue to find Carmen Reinhart’s fatalist view puzzling. She agrees with me that we’re facing a demand-side problem — but insists that this problem can’t be solved quickly, that we need to go through many years of painful deleveraging that leave millions of potentially productive workers idle.

I agree that this is probably what will happen, given the political realities. But surely this is a huge failure of policy, not something we should accept as inevitable. It’s truly bizarre, if you ask me, to say that our economy suffers from too little spending, and that nothing can or should be done to increase that spending.

I happen to agree with Krugman.  There’s no need to do this.  It’s an artificial deleveraging created by the political and business class.  With respect to the research industry, it has to be. The demand for new drugs is certainly there, even if they are ridiculously expensive in this country. If you need it, you find a way to pay for it.  The discovery of new drugs can always be done more cheaply (don’t expect the savings to be passed on to you) but it can’t be done more quickly, not in this day and age when we are learning so much about biological systems and they continue to thwart us.  And business people are all about quick turnaround.  They need something to sell.  Big pharma is going off the patent cliff en masse this year and in the next several years.  The drugs that will be turning generic were discovered in the 90’s.  And right now, as a result of very poor management and mergermania, there’s very little in the pipeline to replace them.  The MBAs can try cracking the whip on Chinese scientists but the rate limiting step is the biological system which tends to stymie the FDA approval process.  You can’t get around that.  Plus, the Chinese need to learn how to do A-Z research and that’s going to take time.  Even if they’re brilliant, learning interdisciplinary problem solving skills takes years to develop.  So, why dismantle your US research apparatus?  Once it’s gone, and the present generation of scientists goes away, you’ll be no better off than the Chinese when the fantasy horde of young American uber scientists takes over.

It seems to me that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of what it takes to do research and that the policy makers have bought into this misunderstanding.  Maybe the MBAs have made presentations with lots of numbers and made it look like a facile thing.  Just up the number of eager young geeks in this country that will work for a pittance and in the meantime, they’ll drink the milkshakes of the Chinese and voile!  Drugs galore.  But to do it, they need the cooperation of the Chinese government.  And that’s where Jon Huntsman comes into the picture.

Obama appoints the scion of a chemical company, who presumably has some inkling of how his industry works since he was raised in the family business.  And off he goes to make sure that what happened to Fellowes business machinery corporation joint venture with China doesn’t happen to Merck.  Do we have any proof?  I welcome any information that readers can send me but I think we can make an educated guess based on past statements and actions of Huntsman.  For example:

Huntsman Money made in China tests Obama’s Envoy’s 2012 Hopes, which features this nugget:

Huntsman Corp.’s revenue in China surged 57 percent from 2009 to 2010 during his ambassadorship, almost two decades after its entrance there, data compiled by Bloomberg shows. Its expansion in the world’s second-largest economy offers a target for rivals when U.S. unemployment is shaping the 2012 presidential race.

China has become a bigger and bigger issue in recent elections, especially exporting jobs to China,” said John Feehery, a Republican strategist in Washington who isn’t working with any of the presidential campaigns. “If I were an opposition researcher, I would have a field day with this.”

A Republican strategist says this.  But wait!  There’s more:

This is from Huntsman’s own issues pages on his campaign website:

America’s strength lies in our creative class, our entrepreneurial spirit, and in governance wise enough to allow our great companies to compete in the international marketplace. The countries that lead in defining the new trading system will be the countries that benefit the most. If we don’t assume the mantle of leadership, our economy will be relegated to competing in a marketplace defined by our competitors.

And who would those competitors be, Jon?  The US practically owns the pharmaceutical market.

Then there’s this:

Jon Hunstman on China- in his own words:

  • On How U.S. Companies can enter the Chinese market:

“I think the first step is getting to know and understand the China market. That means investing time, and it means investing one’s self, as a manager or a corporate leader in the fact you will be doing business together.It means at some level one has to develop a lao pengyou (old friend) relationship, if you will. You’ve got to develop some level of guanxi (interpersonal relationship) as they call it, if you’re to be taken seriously in China.

This takes time and sometimes unwestern-like patience. Regardless of which product you’re looking to sell or market in China, an early step should be to develop relationships and establish yourself as a credible business representative.” (Source: China Daily’sBusiness Weekly on October 22, 2002.)

Jeez, I wonder if he put that on his resumé when he sent it to Obama.

And then:

The Trouble Lurking Offshore for Jon Huntsman

But I’m not worried about Jon Huntsman’s prospects for election.  He hasn’t achieved frontrunner status yet, one of the few Republican candidates who hasn’t.  The irony is thick because if there was ever a politician who would warm the cockles of a businessman’s heart, it would have to be Jon Huntsman.  The problem for rabid Republican voters is that he was appointed by that “socialist” Obama.  And *that*, IMHO, is a problem for Obama.

Because, it is becoming increasingly clear to me that Obama’s passivity at the prospect of losing virtually all of his US research infrastructure is intentional.  This is the policy thing that Krugman was referring to.  It doesn’t have to be this way but Obama is letting it happen on purpose.  The biz guys want to lower their costs.  They could be making a decent profit like they did in the 80s and 90s but those are not the obscene profits they have become used to in the 2000s.  They are unwilling to lower their own expectations so we must lower ours.  They tell Obama that the reason their pipelines are empty is because US scientists are stupid and lazy and he probably believes that.  If you’ve never worked in a lab, you’d have no idea how false and unfair that is.  For one thing, labrats work like dogs.  For another thing, many of those labrats are Chinese.  Many of those Chinese labrats are the cream of the crop who came to study here after Tienammen Square and have no desire to go back to China.  So, in a sense, the biz guys are undercutting their own argument.  If they already have the cream of the Chinese crop, and they still have an empty pipeline, why do they think that going to China is going to help things?  Oh, they’re cheaper there.  Oh, Ok.  Well, alright then, let’s rip research right out of America.  Oh, sure, there will be a generation that will suffer but so what?  In the big scheme of things, a hundred thousand scientists are a drop in the bucket.  The economy will never even miss them.

Well, it’s not like I’m ever going to vote for Obama.  But it won’t take too long for my friends to put it all together.  And there goes New Jersey.  Did I ever mention how we have a nasty habit of electing Republican governors here?  Reliable states are only reliable until you impoverish their middle class.  And then those people who you called voters 4 years ago get all angry at the fact that they can’t pay their COBRA and their children are on reduced price lunches and their houses are underwater and they can’t sell and they don’t turn up for you when the election rolls around.  They say, “Fuck him, he’s an incompetent opportunist that sold our jobs to China and ruined our careers.  It can’t get any worse with a Republican because we have nothing left to lose. I’m staying home on election day.”

By the way, since there is nothing in the pipelines and the older drugs are going off patent, expect the costs of generics to start spiking.  You heard it here first.

Elections have consequences.

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Matt Taibbi and the Invisible Americans

Part of my problem as we go forward towards a progressively bleak future, is that back in 2008 some of the best progressive writers exposed themselves as pretty horrible thinkers.

For example here’s Matt Taibbi then:

The New Nixon

Moreover, like Nixon, her “invisible Americans” deal is carefully couched to appeal to the fears of her own version of the silent majority — fears about energy prices, layoffs, health care, terrorism. It’s a conscious decision to contrast her approach to Obama’s hokey-inspirational politics — hence the relentless emphasis on the part of stooges like Penn on her “preparedness” and leadership, as opposed to Obama’s airy “vision” and “hope.”

Was Taibbi serious when he dismisses Hillary’s platform issues (and by implication the depth of her knowledge of those issues) as an appeal to Nixon’s silent majority?  And he goes on throughout the piece quoting virtually every classic distortion regarding  Hillary: Continue reading

Book Review: The Big Short

In the last couple of months, I have started to receive mail from “Wealth Management” financial advisors like Merrill-Lynch.  This is funny for two reasons: 1. I have no wealth to manage and 2. after reading the book, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, by Michael Lewis, the last people in the world I would give my money to is Merrill-Lynch.  They were one of the last companies to figure out how to make money during the subprime housing bubble.

The Big Short is about those esoteric “instruments” that Wall Street developed to suck money out of America, the rampant fraud that signified a bubble and some ragtag outsiders who accurately predicted the bursting of that bubble and made a lot of money in the process.  Our cast of characters, the good guys, if this tale has any heros at all, includes Michael Burry, a one-eyed neurologist with Aspberger’s syndrome who liked to read prospectuses for fun, Steve Eisman, an iconclastic hedge fund manager at Frontpoint, and a “garage band” hedge fund called Cornwall Capital consisting of Charlie Ledley, Jaimie May and Ben Hockett.  With the exception of Eisman and Hockett, the rest were amateurs, just dabbling in money markets and placing bets on unlikely events.

For each of these three groups of people, there was something unique about their approach to the financial market.  Michael Burry was discovered by investors who read some of his blog posts about where to put their money in the stock market.  He was persuaded to manage other people’s money and started Scion Capital.  But unlike other financial managers, Burry told his investors that they had to be in it for the long haul.  The Cornwall Capital guys started with $100,000 and the crazy idea that if you want to make money in the financial world, you have to bet against conventional wisdom.  Steve Eisman was raised on Wall Street.  He came from a family of analysts that seemed to think the Wall Street investment companies had a fiduciary responsibility towards their investors.

The Big Short follows our outliers throughout the last decade as they discover the subprime housing market and start to wrap their heads around the concept of collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps.  As they wander their way through the complexity and deliberate opacity of the bond market, they start to realize that it is fueling a bubble.  Eisman quickly sees that the subrpime mortgage business is encouraging fraud when his Jamaican baby nurse tells him she is over her head in debt from the 5 townhouses she’s bought in Brooklyn.  Wall Street firms were writing teaser rate loans for people who didn’t have the income to pay when the balloon rate would kick in.  Then they bundled the loans, sliced them up and sold them to unwitting investors who didn’t read the prospectuses.  Michael Burry was one of the few who did read them.  With his sharp analytical mind, he calculated when the bubble would burst and was one of the first people to place a bet on the losses when he asked for custom credit default swaps from Morgan-Stanley and Goldman-Sachs.  Charlie Ledley and Jamie May thought the subprime market was too good to be true so they bet against it too.

The book takes us through the complicated maze of the financial world from Wall Street to Las Vegas and Berkeley and introduces us to a bunch of colorful characters.  There’s the almost allegorical investment fund manager who just passes his investors money through the CDO market, the salesman from Deutsche Bank who lays out how the whole Ponzi scheme works and the Morgan Stanley guy who loses more money for his accounts in the meltdown than anyone  in history.

Our good guys start to get more alarmed as the enormity of the coming armageddon starts to take shape.  Well before the crash, they challenge the ratings firms and bankers in public, write letters to their investors describing what’s happening and even have a social conscience when they make a trip to the SEC and try to explain it to a clueless government official.  When the proverbial $hit starts hitting the fan, they’re as anxious and distressed as everyone else even though they each made a ton of money.  In Burry’s and Cornwall’s case, the events were so unsettling that they gave up managing money.

There were a couple of take home messages for me.  For one thing, I absolutely do not trust Wall Street after reading this book.  There may be some honest brokers out there but not nearly enough to handle the trillions of retirement dollars that pass through their Bloomberg terminals every day.  Another disturbing thing is how disconnected Wall Street bankers and brokers seem to be with the lives of average Americans.  They don’t take care of the money they’ve been entrusted with.  It’s almost like it’s not real to them.  They might as well be manipulating poker chips or Monopoly scrip.  And it didn’t seem to occur to them that the vast number of Americans who got trapped into teaser rate loans were not going to be able to pay their mortgages when the loan readjusted.  Just where did these geniuses think the money was going to come from in a decade when wages were essentially flat and made more difficult to come by due the short term thinking of the institutional investors?  One curious thing is the timing of the bubble burst.  It started in March of 2007, well before the primaries of 2008.  The guys at Cornwall Capital started to get concerned that they were going to be exposed financially when the government came to the rescue of strapped mortgage holders.  But that never happened.  As we all know, Hillary was the one in favor of a homeowners bailout; Obama was not.  It makes Obama’s “win” even more suspect.

As you guys might know, I listen to books on my iPhone and rate my them by sponge count.  That is, the book has to be engrossing enough that I won’t even notice that I’m cleaning the kitchen.  I give this one 4.5 sponges.  It was easy to get engrossed in the book, so much so that I was laughing out loud while I was walking around Ikea.  But I was about 2/3’s of the way through the book before sentences like “And so it was that Ben Hockett found himself sitting in a pub called the Powder Monkey in the city of Exmouth in the county of Devon England, seeking a buyer of $205 million dollars of credit default swaps on the AA tranches of mezzanine sub-prime CDO’s” didn’t make me stop the audio and rewind.  So, if you’re new to mezzanine subprime tranches, expect some confusion at first.  Lewis does an excellent job of parsing it for the uninitiated but it’s still dense material.

I recommend the audible version in particular because it includes a 10 minute interview with the author at the end.  Lewis is pretty tough on the Obama administration.  He says it has made financial reform harder by hiring the guys who were most responsible for letting it the subprime bubble happen in the first place.  He has no respect for Geithner.  Lewis also thinks that Obama blew it when he took office.  He could have used the momentum and mandate he had in early 2009 to clean up the mess.  He’s now wasted his political capital on a lousy health care reform bill and has let the financial mess simmer, ready to boil over in another meltdown.  From what I can tell, it ain’t over yet, folks.

Highly recommended.

Note: I bought this book on my own and wasn’t asked to review it.

Stealing Iran . . . Stupidly

The statistics don’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. The stealing of the Iran’s June 12 election has been obvious from the start. But that’s the nature of statistics; it’s real value is telling you that you what don’t know, it’s eliminating false positives. Walter Mebane of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor has done the work to show that this disgraceful event really is a fact. I saw his article (pdf) when it first came out in mid-June, but seeing it again in Science News jogged me to talk about it. From SN:

“[Iranian election data] suggests that the actual outcome should have been pretty close,” says Mebane…. The official results showed Ahmadinejad getting almost twice as many votes as his closest rival.

Mebane cautions that the anomalous statistics could imaginably have an innocent explanation, that limited data is available, and that he is not himself an expert on Iranian politics. Nevertheless, he concludes that “because the evidence is so strikingly suspicious, the credibility of the election is in question until it can be demonstrated that there are benign explanations for these patterns.”

[A couple of paragraphs follow discussing the distribution of numbers in real data, known as Benford’s Law.]

When Mebane studied polling station-level data from Iran, he found that the numbers on the ballots for Ahmadinejad and two of the minor candidates didn’t conform to Benford’s Law well at all.

In any fair election, a certain percentage of votes are illegible or otherwise problematic and have to be discarded. When people commit fraud by adding extra votes, they often forget to add invalid ones. Suspiciously, Mebane found that in towns with few invalid votes, Ahmadinejad’s ballot numbers were further off from Benford’s Law — and furthermore, that Ahmadinejad got a greater percentage of the votes.

“The natural interpretation is that they had some ballot boxes and they added a whole bunch of votes for Ahmadinejad,” Mebane says.

Mebane also received data from the 2005 Iran election that aggregated the votes of entire towns…. If Ahmadinejad fared poorly in a particular town in 2005, you wouldn’t expect him to do especially well there in 2009 either. …

The best relationship the model found produced 81 outliers out of 320 towns in the analysis, a strikingly high percentage. Another 91 fit the model, but poorly. In the majority of these 172 towns, Ahmadinejad did better than the model would have predicted.

“This is not necessarily diagnostic of fraud,” Mebane says. “It could just be that the model is really terrible.” But since the first analysis gives evidence of fraud, the cities the model flags as problematic are the sensible ones to scrutinize.

For me, the new bit of data in all that is just how bad they were at faking it. That gives watchdog groups a big opportunity if they can somehow get at the raw data before it’s destroyed.

I only regret that we in the US, with our long string of elections-as-theater, don’t have the Iranian opposition’s fire, and that we do have much more polished cheaters.

Update, Jul 24, 2009. I see today that there was another excellent article on the BBC on this topic, providing yet more examples of voting anomalies.

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