Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Surprise, Surprise....

After accidentally telling the truth, President Bush has quickly recanted.

So, anybody care to venture a guess as to when we will "win" the "war on terror" - that is, when "terror" will cease to exist as a possible state of mind? [Insert Eyeroll Here]

Straight Talk

Today, Richard Cohen explains that if only John Kerry would be more candid, in the manner of John McCain, he might do as well against Bush as McCain did four years ago. Well, he might have said that had he remembered how well McCain's candor worked for him at the polls, as opposed to in person....

Monday, August 30, 2004

"... Except For All The Others"

The New Yorker helps explain what inspires a particular subset of voters, including many of "the undecided", to ultimately pick their candidates.

"This Is Not Your Father's Oldsmobile"

Today's Times brings us an editorial by a retired Republican Senator, who apparently hasn't adjusted to the fact that the Republican Party he remembers no longer exists.

Better than Appeasement?

Today's Washington Post brings us an editorial suggesting that, believe it or not, the present strategy of appeasement is not the best tactic for resolving the world's concerns about North Korea, and dares to suggest that human rights should be placed back on the agenda.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

So Bush Is Prepared To Invade Iran and North Korea

Just when I'm getting used to pundits telling us, without any real analysis, that Kerry's military policy is almost indistinguishable from Bush's, along comes George Will. First, Will describes how one of Kerry's advisors, Graham Allison, has authored a book describing the potential dangers of nuclear terrorism. Will describes a "worst case scenario" for a "dirty bomb" exploded in Manhattan. He then points out that Bush is still calling for a "missile shield".
President Bush recently said that Democratic critics of rapid development of ballistic missile defenses are "living in the past." Perhaps. Some missile defense is feasible and, leaving aside costs, desirable. But costs cannot be left aside. Kerry, were he politically daring and intellectually nimble, might respond:

"The president is living in 1983, when Ronald Reagan proposed missile defenses to counter thousands of Soviet ICBMs. A nuclear weapon is much less likely to come to America on a rogue nation's ICBM -- which would have a return address -- than in a shipping container, truck, suitcase, backpack or other ubiquitous thing. So allocating vast amounts of scarce financial and scientific resources to missile defenses rather than other security measures is imprudent."
Oh, what a cute little slam on Kerry. Will doesn't mention what a more politically daring, honest, or intellectually nimble pundit might acknowledge - that Joe Biden made that very argument on CNN in early September, 2001.

But leaving that aside for a moment, the Kerry analyst describes the two most likely terrorist sources of fissile material - North Korea and Iran. I am not sure if this was an intentional sleight of hand by Will, or if he is simply ignorant of the fact that the dirty bomb he had previously described can be built without any fissile material. But Will ignores this important distinction, suggesting that Kerry is not credible to threaten military force against Iran and North Korea because "the candidate Allison is advising has opposed virtually every use of U.S. force in his adult lifetime".

Um... Right. We should support the candidate who has taken the approach of appeasement with North Korea, has announced a significant troop reduction from South Korea, and has our troops so bogged down in Iraq that it is unlikely that Iran would take seriously a threatened invasion - as if we want to occupy a nation that is not only larger than Iraq, but has an intact military, and which has already announced that it will follow Bush's model of "preemption" if it believes that it or its nuclear facilities will be the subject of attack. We should support the candidate who has been ignoring the likes of Allison since before 9/11, and who still demands an overpriced missile shield which will provide no defense against terrorism.

One might have thought that the argument Will was presenting left him with no real means of attacking Kerry, whose position on this threat is pretty much in line with Will's, or endorsing Bush, whose position is pretty much in conflict. But as they say, where there's a Will, there's a way.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

The Times on Israel-Palestine

The Times, as it occasionally does, today ran a column critical of Israel's settlement policy. It concludes,
No one step by Israel would be likely to do more to restart peace talks and isolate Palestinian terrorists than announcing a genuine freeze on all settlement construction.
Oh? I would have thought that, perhaps, an announcement along the lines of, "After years of soul searching, we have determined that the interests of peace are best advanced by the withdrawal of our settlers from occupied Palestinian lands, and we are beginning a phased withdrawal from both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank" would be a bit more likely to achieve that end....

He Brought It On Himself?

How many times should I expect to read a moronic assertion such as,
The attacks on John Kerry's military service in Vietnam were politically risky, coming from supporters of a Republican candidate who didn't serve in that war. But it must be said that Kerry invited this sort of scrutiny by making his Vietnam exploits the centerpiece of last month's Democratic convention.
While it could be said that Kerry's bringing his military record into his campaign opens it up for legitimate scrutiny, nothing about his use of his record justifies this type of smear campaign. And does Ignatius truly believe that these attacks weren't in the making long before the convention?

This type of comment makes it seem like the media is trying to cover for its pathetic failure to shoot the "Swift Boat Liars" out of the water the moment they launched their barrage of lies. As CJR Campaign Desk recently noted,
In a campaign season where the candidates have demonstrated a willingness (even eagerness) to misinform voters, it's the responsibility of the press to inform the public about who's enlightening us with fact and who's misleading us with fiction.

Monday, August 23, 2004

The Example That Changes Minds?

In today's Guardian, a columnist suggests that an incident in Italy, when an immigrant drowned while rescuing an Italian swimmer, could transform the nation's anti-immigrant sentiments. Sure it could....

The example that arguably should change minds seems often to be quickly relegated to the status of "the exception that proves the rule".

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Being Judged By The Company You Keep....

When I was in Costa Rica, one of my tour guides for a sea kayaking trip was a nice young lady who recounted that she could no longer fly in the United States without being taken out of the security line to be questioned, and to have her bags hand-searched. She confessed to having been a participant in the infamous Seattle protests against the WTO, and (although she did not engage in any inappropriate conduct and was not arrested) it seems quite possible that she was on a "terrorist watch list" due to that protest activity. The only "danger" she poses in real life is that she makes an absolutely killer squash soup, and her marinated tuna is to die for.

One wonders whether Sen. Ted Kennedy and Rep. John Lewis (or at least his namesake) were also guilty of making ill-timed visits to Seattle?

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Wouldn't It Have Been Appropriate....

In today's Times, there is an editorial defending charter schools despite their mediocre performance as compared to public schools:
And in the end, are these statistics really so damning? After 100 years, and with all of the conveniences and advantages they enjoy, the teachers' unions and traditional schools have only 30 percent of 4th graders reading and doing math at grade level. After just a few years, charter school students are slightly worse, at 25 percent. No, neither standard is acceptable - but the first number is a strong argument for allowing parents to sample charter schools and other innovative options.
I wasn't personally aware that charter schools were starting from ground zero, or that they would need a century to reach the same level of performance as public schools. I had thought that the promise of charter schools was that they could implement policies and curricula which would allow them to quickly surpass their public school "competitors". And why am I not surprised that the author proposes that the magic answer is "more money"?
Unfortunately, the professional advocates for public education are trying to block that choice. They send lobbyists to Washington and their state capitals to ask for levels of funding for charter schools that they would find intolerable in other areas of public education.
The author of this piece is described by the Times as follows:
Floyd H. Flake, a former Democratic member of Congress, is the pastor of the Allen A.M.E. Church in Queens.
That's a pretty good mini-biography, but in this context, would it not have been appropriate to have mentioned that he is also the former President of Edison Charter Schools, with a continuing role in that organization?

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Does he know something or...

Hot air, or inside information? George Will today writes about what he sees as a continuing war in Iraq, concluding with,
[The U.S. presence will become] Untenable even before what may be coming before November: an Iraqi version of the North Vietnamese Tet offensive of 1968. To say that the coming offensive will be by "Baathists" is, according to one administration official, akin to saying "Nazis" when you mean "the SS" -- the most fearsome of the Nazis. Such an offensive could make Sadr's insurgency seem a minor irritant. And it could unmake a presidency, as Tet did.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Modern Militaries and Free Riders

While, thanks to occasional editorial coverage, a small but presumably growing number of people are aware of developments in Darfur, the world still seems disinclined to act to stop the carnage. (Let's see... an tyrannical regime with a history of supporting terrorism, now engaged in the slaughter of its own people, and creating a refugee crisis which could destabilize the region? What were Bush's criteria for intervention, again?) The "big news" perhaps is that Sudan has permitted a 300-member "African Union protection force" into the region to, um... observe? As Paul Craddick recently noted,
The Economist finally alights on the idea of a force of African troops, "under the auspices of the AU [African Union]," acting in effect as proxies for "Western powers" (which ones?). The last sentence persists in its cosmopolitan assumptions by noting again that "the world has already dithered too long to save tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of lives." Indeed ... if anything is going to be done about Darfur, the U.S. and U.K. will lead the charge. I don't say this out of any kind of "patriotism" - it just seems obvious.
That comment brought to mind the cynical view of a friend of mine, about a proposed E.U. "rapid response force" which would ostensibly be able to respond to crises such as Darfur apart from NATO or the United States. He noted that it was highly unlikely that such a force could be "rapidly" deployed without the United States, as European nations lack the necessary fleet of high-capacity cargo planes and (in his opinion) were extremely unlikely to acquire such a fleet.

The U.S. has been critical of its allies for their comparatively low investment in their militaries. Yet even the United Kingdom seems inclined to reduce its military rather than maintaining its present capacity, and the rest of Europe (and Canada) seems disinclined to increase military spending. This seems to emerge both from domestic spending priorities, but also from a changing perception of the world and of the role of a military. Most developed nations seem content to have a basic defensive capacity, perhaps with the ability to lend soldiers to an international effort or peacekeeping force, but without the capacity to engage in any significant unilateral actions. They have also seemingly concluded, based on its actions, its conduct and voting record in the U.N. Security Council, and probably also its hostility to the notion of a European rapid response force, that while the U.S. claims it does not want to be an "international policeman" it does not want other nations to individually or collectively take that role. At least, not with regard to any situations it deems to be of geopolitical import.

Whatever the cause, most nations of the developed world have apparently decided that, to the extent that U.S.-style military might is required, they can ride on the coattails of the U.S. military. And they seem to have also determined that if a situation is not of sufficient geopolitical import for the U.S. itself to intervene, it probably is't a situation where they wish to commit their own troops.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Revitalizing the Economy

In an unsigned editorial (and who would want to sign it), the Washington Post presents a rather peculiar essay on economic growth.
What could President Bush do to boost growth? His officials argue that tax cuts will contribute, but this seems unlikely. Lower tax rates on wages do boost the labor supply; lower tax rates on investment may boost savings; more labor and more capital mean more economic output. But Mr. Bush's tax cuts also have an offsetting consequence. Because they have not been accompanied by spending cuts, government borrowing has gone up, nudging everybody's cost of borrowing higher than it would be otherwise.
Wait - you mean, interest rates have been higher for the past few years than they were in previous years, such that the cost of borrowing has increased? How did I miss that.... If only those darned interest rates had come down, we could have had a true economic miracle, like back in the 90's when interest rates were, um, higher.

Needless to say, I also liked this:
Another option is to tackle the absurd tort system, which claims a far higher share of GDP than in any other advanced country. Reform, if it ever could pass Congress, would boost growth by reducing litigation costs, freeing money that might fund innovation and research, and -- by reducing companies' propensity to withhold products from the market -- eliminate the needs to order unnecessary safety tests and waste time on defensive strategies that are more about reducing legal exposure than about safety. But how much extra growth would this yield? Robert E. Litan of the Brookings Institution puts the answer at just 0.1 percent of GDP per year.
Our "absurd" tort system is based on the common law tort system, which exists in other nations including England and Canada. The biggest difference is not that the system is "absurd" here and somehow not "absurd" in those other nations - it is that those other nations have national health care plans, and thus verdicts and settlements don't include large sums to cover future medical care. As for this pretended reluctance of companies to release products to the U.S. market... what, exactly, is available in Canada and England that manufacturers are afraid to sell in the U.S.? And as much as some people like to whine about it, I don't think that the pressure that the tort system places on companies to make sure that their products are safe is a bad thing - it seems to be a pretty good cost shift: from people who would otherwise be injured by inferior products, to those capable of producing safer products and preventing the injuries. Typical of this type of "tort reform" rant, there is no substance provided to back up the claims made.

And then we are told that regulatory agencies - you know, like the FDA, OSHA and the CPSC, which impose safety rules on business, industry, pharmaceutical products and consumer goods - have a negligible impact on economic growth. I'm sure Daisy Manufacturing would like to know how exactly they are more at peril from tort lawyers than from regulatory agencies. Microsoft might ask that question as well. But either way, despite its anti-tort, anti-regulatory harping, the essay concedes that neither "tort reform" nor "regulatory reform" would have any appreciable impact on economic growth.

Other suggestions? Maybe increased worker education would help. Maybe government funded research would help. Maybe "fully liberalized global trade" would help - albeit through what the author proposes to be a one-time boost in the GDP....

Sometimes it is painfully obvious why editorials are unsigned - because nobody (but the paper itself) wants to be associated with such mind-numbing mendacity.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Judicial Activism & Conservativism

Although the case can be presented in a much more compelling manner, today's Times editorial on "conservative" judicial activism brought to mind a recent decision of the Michigan Supreme Court. The editorial proposes,
We can disagree about outcomes, but we have, at least as a matter of political language, internalized the fiction that liberal judges "make" law, while conservative judges "interpret" it.

A modest proposal, then: Let's invent a new term right here, today, for judges or judicial nominees on the right, who claim to be merely "interpreting" the Constitution, even when they are refusing to impose settled law; law they deem unsettled because it was invented by "liberal activist judges." And while I am open to better suggestions, here's a tentative offering: "Re-activist judges."
In Michigan, for a number of years we have had a "conservative" majority on the Supreme Court, which fashions itself in large part after the philosophies of Justice Scalia - to the point where the Chief Justice has publicly recommended Scalia's "A Matter of Interpretation" for guidance as to how the Court may rule. This "conservative" court has not been at all reticent about reversing precedents, no matter how old, which they deem to be inconsistent with legislative intent. (This, of course, raises the question of why the legislature would let stand a wholly wrong-headed interpretation of a statute for a decade or more, when they could remedy the "error" within the space of a single legislative session - as they have often done.)

This can remedy what many view as bad decisions, but it can also lead to general confusion. For example, for many years it was possible to bring a highway defect claim on the basis of defective or inadequate traffic signs or signals, but the Michigan Supreme Court opted to reverse a prior Supreme Court decision which had stood for ten years, and to hold that the legislature did not intend traffic controls or signs to be part of the "highway". That is not an unreasonable interpretation of the statute, but it is legitimate to observe that the legislature itself appeared untroubled by the prior interpretation, and that a typical lay reaction to being informed that traffic lights are not part of an intersection is an incredulous, "What are they, then?"

In its advancement of legislative intent, the Michigan Supreme Court recently held that judges could no longer interpret a statute so as to avoid an absurd outcome. This principle of construction is that where applying a statute as written creates a particularly absurd or unjust outcome, a court may interpret the statute to avoid the outcome. No more, in Michigan - even if the outcome that results was obviously not anticipated or not intended by the legislature when it drafted the language.

Needless to say, this has created some tension in the court. In another recent decision, in which the Supreme Court modified another long-standing interpretation of state law, there was an associated loss of decorum. The majority opined about the dissenting justices,
It must be pointed out that the dissent's approach leads to the rather dismaying conclusion that the intent of the Legislature in 1995 was, in effect, to pull down the no-fault temple and produce an auto insurance catastrophe for the state's drivers. That is, the dissent concludes that the 1995 amendment, despite no words to this effect, was designed, as the thrust of his argument makes clear, to undermine the great compromise (no-fault benefits in return for limited tort remedies) that all previous Supreme Court decisions have recognized as existing in the no-fault legislation and that is an indispensable requirement to make no-fault viable. We decline to join him in this calculated exercise predicated on what we believe is a studied ignorance of what the Legislature intended.
(emphasis added). The author of the dissent retorted,
The majority suggests that my approach is sacrilegious to the "no-fault temple" and is an exercise predicated on "studied ignorance." Ante at 35. While admittedly unaware that I was required to worship the no-fault insurance gods, I believe that my "studied ignorance" is more properly labeled as "judicial restraint." If ignorance comes from applying this unambiguous statute as written and not substituting my own view for that of the Legislature, I must say that ignorance is bliss. If so-called wisdom comes from rewriting this unambiguous statute to comport with my own preference on how the statute should be written and applied, in this instance I must choose "ignorance."
The fact is, reasonable minds can differ as to how statutory language is best interpreted. I don't believe it is a "studied ignorance" to suggest that one reasonable interpretation, which the legislature has long permitted to stand, somehow undermines the statute at issue. Nor do I believe that another interpretation, not unreasonable, dictates that those holding the opinion are sell-outs to the insurance industry.

I do believe that there is something to be said for respecting precedent, for respecting the capability of the legislature to correct mistakes of judicial interpretation on its own initiative, and for preserving comity and collegiality among the justices of the state's highest court. In the past, would not all three of those factors be deemed "conservative" in nature?

Thursday, August 12, 2004


So a group called "People of Color United" is running attack ads against the Kerrys:
Another ad attacks Teresa Heinz Kerry, who, at the Democratic convention last month cited her birth and upbringing in Mozambique and who has described herself as African American. In the radio commercial, the announcer says: "His wife says she's an African American. While technically true, I don't believe a white woman, raised in Africa, surrounded by servants, qualifies."
Surprise - the person spearheading this group and ad campaign is a white Republican, and...
"I have a long history of involvement with and support of the black community," Rooney said. "For 21 years I have gone to an all-black church. They finally elected me over other black people to their church board. I'm one of them."
So a woman from Africa can't call herself African-American, but a white millionaire Republican who attacks her on that basis can call himself a 'person of color' (or was he actually claiming to be black - it's a bit ambiguous)? Only in America....

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Criminal Prosecutions & Lawsuits

In most criminal prosecutions, civil lawsuits aren't a significant concern for the prosecution. As criminal prosecutions almost always involve intentional acts, and as insurance policies rarely cover either intentional or criminal acts, there is little incentive to sue. Most criminal defendants lack the personal resources to compensate their victims, and absent insurance there is no realisic means by which the victim can recover damages through a civil suit.

Where civil suits may be filed, prosecutors typically pressure the complainant to delay filing the suit until after the criminal case has been resolved, either through trial or plea. The idea is that, if a complainant testifies that she has filed a civil suit against the defendant, the defendant will be able to impeach the complainant's credibility by asserting that she is pressing false charges in order to reap a financial windfall. Mind you, defendants will put this thought into the jury's head anyway, with the difference being that if a suit has not (yet) been filed, the complainant can respond, "I have no intention of filing suit", or "I don't know if I will file suit."

Despite her denials on the witness stand, after the criminal verdict was returned, I doubt a single juror was suprised when the complainant in the Mike Tyson rape case reconsidered her testimony about her intentions to file suit. I also don't think a modern jury is likely to be offended by the fact that a civil suit is pending, or that the prosecution will be much harmed if the complainaing responds, "Of course I have filed a suit. Why shouldn't I seek compensation for what he did to me?" Greed? "No amount of money can undo what he did." Does it really bolster the credibility of the complainant for the suit to be delayed - are juries so much more credulous than the population at large that they believe the denials? Personally, I don't think juries are that stupid.

An acquittal in a high profile "he said - she said" case can have a devastating impact on a civil trial. Even though the burden of proof is lower in a civil trial, the publicity surrounding a high profile acquittal can make it difficult or impossible to relitigate the issues in a civil case. By way of example, no civil suit was filed following the acquittal of William Kennedy Smith.

So now we have the "Kobe Bryant case", with a trial court that leaks confidential information like an sieve, and with the complanant now filing her civil suit in advance of the criminal trial.
Legal experts said the suit would severely complicate the prosecution's efforts, if only by giving Mr. Bryant's lawyers another means to challenge the woman's credibility. They can now strongly suggest to the jury, for example, that she has financial reasons to lie, since a criminal conviction would help her win in civil court.
But isn't this a dilemma of the prosectution's own making? Not the prosecution in this case, alone, but of prosecutors across the nation who have encouraged complainants to delay their civil suits and lie about their intentions? With a bit more prosecutorial candor, this issue would be old hat.

What is interesting is that the filing of the civil suit seems to be an intentional gambit by the complainant's lawyers, to bring the criminal prosecution to a premature close. That is, it sends the impression that she had hoped to end up like the complainant in the Tyson case, getting a large settlement following conviction, but now fears ending up like the complainant in the William Kennedy Smith case, humiliated with no civil recovery. But even if she is playing a game to get the prosecutor to drop the criminal case, it remains the collective fault of prosecutors that the game is viable.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

He May Not Know How, But...

Kerry has reportedly promised to reduce U.S. troop levels in Iraq by next August.
Under pressure to offer a clear alternative to US President George W. Bush, Mr Kerry promised last week to "significantly" draw down the 138,000-strong US force in Iraq within eight months of taking office.

The Massachusetts senator said that using diplomacy to raise more international help and accelerating the training of Iraqi security forces, "it is appropriate to have a goal of reducing our troops over that period time"
The Bush Administration's response is simultaneously true and, given its own artificial (and missed) deadlines for troop reductions, risible:
Bush campaign spokesman Terry Holt said the president had the same goals of replacing US troops with other multinational contingents and beefing up local forces.

But Mr Holt added: "To put an artificial time frame on it is to reveal it as a campaign promise and no more."
Meanwhile, Bush will halve the deficit by the time he leaves office, produce a Palestinian state by 2005, and... Whatever.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Were They All Armed Gunmen?

A friend of mine with a long military background commented on the new government policy of giving snipers the authority to select their own targets in Iraq. He expressed that at one level, it makes sense that a sniper who identifies a potential attacker should have the liberty to shoot before the attacker disappears, and getting authority to shoot might cause undue delay. On the other hand, in a country where many of the men carry arms, this can make the selection of targets arbitrary - when looking through a sniper's scope, what makes one man with a gun a legitimate target, and another "just" a civilian with a gun?

He suggested that a more effective policy would be to announce that anybody who was seen in public with a gun would be treated as a legitimate target, and to let the snipers enforce that rule. However, he noted that the resulting body count (before people started heeding the new rule) would probably be unacceptable in the eyes of the international community (and possibly in the U.S., as well).

Today's Guardian asks:
Whether the US troops killed 300 or 30 in Najaf, does anyone believe that they were all armed gunmen?
All "gunmen"? Perhaps not. But all armed? Quite possibly.

We Have To Test....

That seems to be the new standard response to any who question or challenge the notion of standardized national testing of grade school children. And while Kerry has suggested some additional approaches - better funding, training, and testing for teachers, and looking beyond the test when evaluating the performance of kids - these suggestions are not innovative, nor are they likely to either receive the type of funding or implementation that would actually result in improvement.

The biggest complaint about standardized tests - and it is valid - is that schools teach to the test. In some cases, teachers have even been shown to have obtained the test in advance and to have literally taught from it. This used to be the biggest problem in "failing schools", where school administrators and teachers assumed that too many kids would fail or do poorly if they focused on teaching their subjects rather than transforming the school into a test preparation center. But with "No Child Left Behind", even a good school can be defined as "failing" based upon whether or not its standardized test scores "improve" from year to year.

The biggest failing of "No Child Left Behind" is probably its focus on rote learning. It seems that the Bush Administration defines "reading" as "being able to decode words on a page", and "learning" as "being able to recite lessons taught in class". Schools which want to teach broader language skills and critical thinking can suffer as their kids, who will be far more capable thinkers in the future, compete against kids who have spent a school year focused primarily on standardized test performance.

So what to do.... Here's one that will make school administrators and teachers who are gaming the system blanche: Give the test at the start of the new school year, rather than during the course of the prior school year. Give the teachers a couple of weeks to bring the kids back up to speed from their near-inevitable summer backsliding, then administer the test. Kids who really learned their lessons the year before will do well. And that's what the testing is really supposed to measure.

Isn't it?

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Juvenile Justice

Today, Colbert King suggests that had the police been more diligent about picking up a 20-year-old for having fled from a juvenile group home more than two years earlier (that is, when he was 17 and still a juvenile), he might not have committed a recent murder. King also assumes that any offender (including a juvenile) with a lengthy criminal record should be held in a highly secure institution, not a group home. King misses, oh, a few important factors....

First, when a juvenile offender absconds shortly before his maximum release date (which is often the offender's 18th birthday), there may be little that can be done to the offender if he is recaptured. This can make the recapture of such an offender a low priority - if, for example, all the state would do is hold a hearing to discharge the offender and close the juvenile file, the police and courts generally have better things to do with their time.

Second, picking up abscondees is typically low priority work, even when adult offenders are involved. Manhunts are usually reserved for those believed to pose imminent danger; most offenders who fail to appear in court or take off from a half-way house or group home do not merit that type of law enforcement effort and expense, and they are picked up when stopped for a traffic violation or in association with a different offense or investigation.

Third, group homes do not automatically result in huge escape rates, as King suggests. Even without his disclosing how many thousands of offenders are in the system, King's own figures, that there are presently only 56 youths who have absconded from District of Columbia group homes, suggests that this is not a huge problem.

Fourth, group homes are not necessarily inappropriate environments for kids with lengthy records. In fact, for some, a group home and structured environment can be a positive step toward rehabilitation. For others who may have been in a more secure institution, they provide a necessary and beneficial step in the transition from a secure facility to freedom. It is easy to whinge about how group homes and transitional facilities are not sufficiently tough on crime, but it is inappropriate to do so without looking into the contributions of those programs toward rehabilitation and reduction of recidivism. The "lock 'em up" approach sounds good, particularly when looking at an individual case with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, but you have to try to remember the big picture.

The focus of King's editorial also brings to mind the following: However the state may have failed, it was not the state which pulled the trigger in this case. Even assuming that had the District picked up the killer shortly after he absconded, and even assuming that it had the authority to detain him past his eighteenth birthday, he would most likely have been released within the past two years, and quite likely that he would have made the same bad choices. It wasn't his placement in a group home at the age of seventeen, or his low priority status as an abscondee from the group home, which made him pull the trigger and kill a fifteen-year-old girl.

Babbling Brooks

Today, David Brooks laments that neither the Kerry campaign or the Bush campaign have outlined what they are going to do for the country in the next four years. (In his usual partisan style, although his point is ostensibly the same for both candidates, he is far more critical of Kerry than of Bush.) But then he illustrates what can only be characterized as shocking ignorance or outright dishonesty - he suggests that the candidates should enunciate a new health care policy. You know, like Kerry did:
At the center of Kerry's ideas is his proposal to have the federal government reimburse employers 75 percent of medical bills over $50,000 that a worker runs up in a year. The reimbursement would, in effect, make the government a secondary insurer and ease costs for employers, workers and private insurers.

In exchange for the benefit, Kerry would require employers to offer insurance to every worker and to provide health programs that detect and manage chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure early enough to prevent the diseases from worsening.
The plan also includes the opportunity for uninsured Americans to buy into the same group insurance offered to federal employees, with subsidies for the working poor. Brooks has had about two months to pick up on this fact. I guess he's a bit slow on the uptake, as further evidenced by his remaining comments....

First, without getting into detail, Brooks recites a proposal that health care competition occur not "among health plans, networks and hospital groups - which just leads to zero-sum cost shifting. It should occur at the level of individual treatment, which would encourage not shifting costs, but improving value." This idea sounds positively Gingrichian - and it sounds a lot like eliminating health insurance. Brooks also endorses a proposal by Bill Frist for what he seems to believe is something new - the health savings account (which both exist, and simply update an old idea) - and for a insurance risk pooling plan which sounds both a lot like a watered down version of Kerry's reinsurance plan, and even more like the shuffling of costs Brooks just got through suggesting was such a bad idea.

The health savings accounts described above used to be available under a slightly different name, and were available to people who chose high deductible insurance plans. While there can be a benefit to that type of savings plan for somebody who is young, healthy, and not planning to have children - factors which would permit them to build, as opposed to rapidly deplete, their medical savings - public response was underwhelming. The Gingrich/Frist proposal is not an improvement.
The individual accounts provide a tax “subsidy” for health care at the marginal tax rate which results in health care funding that is inversely proportional to income, the poor paying more for health care than the rich.

That alone should cause us to reject this model of health care “reform.” The health policy literature is replete with other examples of the fundamental flaws of these medical savings accounts.

Of perhaps greater concern is the flexibility that will be allowed in the design of the high-deductible plans. Although the plans would limit out-of-pocket expenses for families at $10,000, this does not include payments made for outside-of-network services. To keep premiums affordable, insurers will fail to provide adequate reimbursement increases for providers, limiting the numbers of providers who are willing to sign the contracts. Also, to provide options with lower premiums, insurers are deliberately diminishing the number of providers available thus saving costs by limiting access. Those families that purchase plans with affordable premiums will find that they do not have the protection of the $10,000 stop-loss limit when they are forced in urgent circumstances to accept available but non-contracted providers. A person with major trauma or an acute myocardial infarction cannot ever be an informed shopper of health care services. Those with high-cost, chronic problems may also find that restricted provider lists could significantly impair accessibility.

The claim that the catastrophic plans will take care of all costs after the HSAs are depleted is a fraud. The managed care PPO products will prove to be severely deficient for those with significant health care needs, but with modest or meager resources. Traditional indemnity catastrophic plans have almost disappeared already and, in the future, will surely not be an affordable option for the average-income individual.

Splitting the health insurance pool into millions of segregated accounts will adversely impact only those who have significant needs by depleting their accounts: the very individuals for whom insurance was designed. Providing catastrophic coverage by marketplace plans that compete on premium pricing (by reducing benefits and increasing cost-sharing) can only result in financial disaster and impaired health care access for the average individual with significant needs.
So, in short, Brooks bashes Kerry for not making, say, a bold health care proposal, even though he has made one. He then sympathizes with Bush for his not having made any new proposals, even though it would be nice if he did so. He then mentions proposed health care "reforms" which not only would fail to extend insurance to the uninsured, but would likely make it even more costly and difficult for the uninsured and self-employed to obtain insurance. Sheesh.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Malapropisms and Neologisms

With Bush's latest gaffe,
Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.
, The Guardian offers a couple of quizzes to test your familiarity with Bush's misstatements. But a more relevant inquiry comes from CJR's Campaign Desk, which queries why CNN ran a clip of Bush making that statement without any reaction or commentary by its reporters.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004


Today, Anne Applebaum complains that the Kerry campaign is using simplistic "lift the ban" rhetoric to explain its position on a complex issue - stem cell research. She asserts that no real "ban" exists, and laments that the Kerry campaign is not going into excruciating detail about present federal research and funding policies, and explaining precisely how its approach will differ from the Bush Administration's. Applebaum states,
The question now is whether we want, as a nation, to continue to have long-winded and complicated debates about complicated issues, or whether we want to resort to slogans such as "lift the ban" and "unleash the wonders of discovery."
Leaving aside for a moment the fact that a speech from Kerry on the intricacies of federal policy on stem cell research would be ignored by the news media and public, while providing endless fodder for the late night comedians (as was Ron Reagan's effort to get into the details in his convention speech), I wasn't aware that we were having those "long-winded and complicated debates" beforehand. I am not aware that Bush has ever given a "long-winded and complicated" explanation of his position on stem cell research, or that Applebaum has ever complained that he substitutes lines such as "respecting the sanctity of human life" for such an exposition.

After complaining about the role of sick people and pollsters in presenting this simplistic view, Applebaum continues her lament,
At some point we also need to make some distinction between science and "magic." It is true that funneling more money into biological research will produce more breakthroughs and more cures. It is also true that even with unlimited funding, Reeve might never walk again. This is research, not abracadabra. Talk of "magic" doesn't do much to reverse widespread scientific illiteracy either, which remains a far greater obstacle to scientific progress than the president.
That's quite a magnification of Ron Reagan's comment about the promise of stem cell research sounding "like magic" - and it seems more than a bit disingenuous of her to attribute that position to the Kerry campaign itself. But perhaps this is the only way that Applebaum can avoid addressing the real conflict, which is not of "hard science" versus "science as magic", but is about whether we should permit religious groups to strongly influence or dictate our national policies on science and public health.

Applebaum may be a little bit slow this morning, but isn't that how most voters see the question?

Um... And Then What?

Gotta love unsigned editorials, this one from the Times. After telling us, "the government in Tehran has clearly concluded that it has little to fear for now from an American government whose diplomatic credibility has been damaged and whose military capacities have been stretched by the war in Iraq", the editorial concludes,
For want of a better alternative, Europe is right to give Iran a little more time to change its mind. But the world cannot afford to wait long. Once the new centrifuges are completed, Iran's ambitions will become much harder to contain. If no agreement is reached soon, this apparent drive to build nuclear weapons should be recognized as a threat to international peace and security and taken up by the United Nations Security Council later this year.
Let's see.... Unlike Iraq, Iran has a real military, and while we are trying to prevent its acquisition of the "A" (atomic) in what were formerly known as "ABC Weapons", it apparently already has the "B" (biological) and "C" (chemical). It is quite likely that the post-war occupation of Iran would be substantially more difficult than that of Iraq. So this goes to the Security Council with the Times' premise that the U.S. and Britain are too bogged down to Act, and Europe (which probably couldn't even effect the necessary troop transport and military transport without U.S. help, even if it could muster a couple hundred thousand troops to invade) will... do what, exactly?

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Addiction As A Public Health Problem

To one who has long argued that addiction should be viewed as a public health issue, and that we should remove the impediments to researching treatments and medications for addiction, this sounds like progress.

Other People Should Shape Up....

In his conclusion to today's lecture on the military, like so many hypocritical faux-conservatives, David Brooks expresses,
My own instinct is that we need an ambitious national service program to demystify the military for the next generation of Americans. It also seems clear, looking at our history, that combat heroism is not an essential qualification for a wartime leader. It's much more important to have the political courage that Lincoln had and Kennedy celebrated. But don't listen to me. I never served.
At least he had the honesty to admit his hypocrisy - he thinks other people would benefit from being forced to take a path he chose to forego.