Thursday, October 28, 2004

Don't Ask, Don't Tell....

Urgent Message from Jonathan Garthwaite of - "Vets Want To Expose Kerry, Need Your Help".

Minor Distractions

Emma Katherine Larson
Born October 28, 2004
9:40 A.M.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Of Presidents and IQ

Why the obsession with GW's IQ? For the past five years, there has been one feeble "analysis" after another intended to assure us that he's actually pretty bright. Whether it is the analysis of his SAT scores or, more recently, his Air Force Officer Qualifying Test score.

A friend of mine once commented that what he found surprising is that it is quite easy to tell when somebody is not as smart as you are, but it is a lot harder to tell when somebody is smarter than you are. That's not to say that you cannot identify a situational brilliance - most will concede that Stephen Hawking can outdo them in the field of theoretical physics. But there's another side to this - even with his physical limitations removed from the equation, few would thereby conclude that Stephen Hawking was highly qualified to be President.

That's not to say we don't want a smart president - we obviously do. And obviously a great number of Bush supporters are sufficiently obsessed with "proving" that their candidate is sufficiently smart that they pore over dusty academic records and apply mathematical formulae they, well, seemingly make up, to prognosticate that when Bush was at one young age or another his IQ was somewhere in the mid-120's. A respectable IQ, although probably not particularly remarkable for Capitol Hill, which (whether or not you like the way they apply their intelligence) has more than its fair share of bright people.

We can easily get past the "IQ is meaningless" argument - it is apparent that IQ is quite meaningful within a broad range of common contexts. Bush's IQ is extrapolated from his SAT score - what, then, should we make of Paul Allen's combined 160, or Bill Gates' combined 1590 SAT scores? Is it a mere coincidence that two men whose SAT scores were "perfect" and "near-perfect" are co-founders of Microsoft (even if we wouldn't necessarily want either as President)?

But IQ isn't everything. A person can have a very high IQ but lack the social skills or even the thinking skills which make the IQ relevant. A high IQ score, of itself, doesn't make you conscientious or motivated. Of itself, it doesn't make you honest or trustworthy. Of itself, it doesn't make you a good or creative thinker. Of itself, it doesn't make you realize what every truly "smart" person knows - that learning is a lifelong experience, and that you will never have all of the answers. That is, life answers more questions than answers - and that the more you learn, the more you realize you do not yet know. And, of course, the measure of few IQ points one way or another is more likely to tell you something about the test and its margin of error, or how tired or bored the subject was when tested, than it is to tell you about any given individual.

President Bush may well have an IQ in the mid-120's. But if he does, he doesn't apply it well. He gave up on the journey of learning a very long time ago, apparently before he even got to college, and in many ways his campaign is effectively centered on his concrete operational thinking patterns - those which make him so certain that he is right and so unwilling to reconsider his mistakes. His more intelligent supporters who recognize these patterns - and recognize that they are indicative of a lower intelligence - obsess over proving he is "smart". And they keep going back to the same tired issue, over and over, because they know that Bush's public statements suggest that by Capitol Hill standards, whatever his IQ, Bush is at best a middling intellect.

Those supporters should remember two things. The reason that candidates like Clinton, Gore and Kerry aren't defensive about their intelligence is that they are confident of their intelligence - and their supporters share that comfort. And they should also remember that bragging that your friend is a few IQ points, or a few percentage points, higher than somebody else is a playground taunt, without any real world significance.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Well, That Settles That!

Rupert Murdoch on Fox News:
We're not in the least bit biased, we're a fair and balanced company.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

The "Integrity" of the Election

Believe it or not, despite his legendary (some might even say "mythic") balance, George Will has somehow managed to editorialize that the elections must be saved from evil Democrats and their trial lawyers - you know, like the ones who worked so vociferously for GW to block the 2000 Florida recount - and informs us of a shocking case in St. Louis, where they got a liberal judge to keep the polls open late such that more people could vote, but somehow forgot to mention the recurring problem of efforts to suppress the vote, or even recent criminal indictments surrounding a Republican vote suppression effort and redistricting effort.

But then, perhaps it's only worthy of mention if the questionable conduct might allow more registered voters to access the polls and cast lawful ballots.

Still, one wonders how he can comment on fraud associated with the use of absentee ballots, without even breathing a word about the legendary vote whores of Texas.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Jon Stewart & Crossfire

Okay... The Washington Post ran a puff piece, addressing the Crossfire criticism at the end - and 'doesn't get it'. The New York Times tried a serious commentary, and really 'doesn't get it'.

Fortunately, although you have to travel all the way to Phoenix, not all is lost - this guy gets it.

The Flu Vaccine

One of the prevarications that Bush is presently spreading, to avoid taking any responsibility for the flu vaccine shortage, is that vaccine manufacturers are afraid to produce the flu vaccine because of litigation. Fascinating, then, that we have no shortage of, say, DPT vaccine, MMR vaccine, chicken pox vaccine, polio vaccine, hepatitis vaccine... heck, even yellow fever vaccine.

It is also interesting that, not being aware of any litigation over the flu vaccine, all I could find on the Internet were a handful of apparently unsuccessful lawsuits - three between 1976 and 1990 - alleging that the flu vaccine caused Guillain-Barre Syndrome (a form of peripheral polyneuritis characterized by pain and weakness and sometimes paralysis of the limbs, cause unknown).

Meanwhile, why no mention of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act, or the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, which have removed most vaccine-related injuries from the courts?

So it does not appear that there is any appreciable litigation over the flu vaccine, some very effective "tort reform" measures are already in place to protect both manufacturers and consumers, so... could Bush be "making stuff up"? Um... yeah. that would be it.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Kerry's Most Contentious Statement on Vietnam

In 1971, John Kerry made the following statement:
It is impossible to describe to you exactly what did happen in Detroit [in a meeting with 150 Vietnam veterans], the emotions in the room, the feelings of the men who were reliving their experiences in Vietnam, but they did. They relived the absolute horror of what this country, in a sense, made them do. They told the stories at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, tape wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the country side of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.
The Swift Boat Liars and affiliated groups like to misrepresent that quote, as if Kerry is attributing the atrocities to all veterans as opposed to describing stories from individuals who were confessing to have committed atrocities. We know, both from military records and from extensive photojournalism, that at some level the described atrocities did occur. And while in retrospect I'm sure Kerry would have tacked on a whole host of disclaimers, I think he made pretty clear that he was relating individual confessions and was not accusing the average G.I. of having beheaded civilians.

When Life, Look, and other publications of the time published large format, black and white photographs of the atrocities Kerry described, nobody of consequence pretended that they were depicting the conduct of every soldier, or even the average soldier. And while I understand why nobody wants to dredge up those photographs (save, perhaps, for Vietnam - they are prominently featured in the War Museum in Ho Chi Minh City), would the Swift Boat Liars and their ilk make similar accusations at those publications if the images were brought forward by the mainstream media?

And for "documentaries" such as "Stolen Honor", which speak of prisoner mistreatment at the infamous "Hanoi Hilton", what was the greater sin? Kerry's testimony, which doesn't seem to relate to the conduct of the soldiers held at that prison, or Life's photo spread, carefully orchestrated by the North Vietnamese to make it appear that the prisoners were exceptionally well fed, housed and treated. When a prisoner, Lieutenant Paul Galanti, tried to convey a message, "This is all B.S.", by posing for a picture with his middle fingers extended, Life opted to edit out the middle fingers before publishing the picture - so as not to offend its audience.

A Presidency By Popular Vote?

David Broder today complains, with some basis, that if states apportion their electors in accord with the popular vote it is likely to result in a significant number of elections being decided in the House of Representatives. He defends the electoral college on the basis that it provides disproportionate voice to less populated states:
When Congress debated it after George Wallace threatened electoral deadlock with his third-party candidacy in 1968, opposition came from small states, whose senators feared they would be overlooked by the candidates, and from urban constituencies, who feared diminution of their power to swing big blocs of electoral votes through the unit rule.
But it is not at all clear from his comment why small states should have that type of veto power, even if rarely manifested in an effect on the election result. Even less compelling is his complaint about the possibility of run-off elections:
Most proposals for direct election specify a minimum percentage for victory -- usually 40 percent or 45 percent -- with a runoff between the top two contenders if no one reaches that threshold. But as soon as you introduce the possibility of a runoff, you create an incentive for minor parties to form, in hopes of bargaining for favors or policy concessions from the runoff opponents.
It seems easy enough to, say, not hold a run-off election, or (if people insisted) to put the threshold much lower (e.g., 34%) such that it would rarely if ever be a factor. Another response? Why is it "good" in Broder's mind that small states can bargain for favors or policy concessions due to their overrepresentation in the Electoral College, but not for "minor" parties (who carry enough clout to deliver a candidate a majority of the popular vote) to do the same?

Most voters in this nation are effectively told, well in advance of a Presidential election, "Your state is solidly blue or solidly red, so your concerns won't factor into the upcoming election unless they correspond to what a 'swing state' wants to hear. Oh - and you might as well stay home, because your vote for President doesn't actually count." I somehow doubt that's what the Founding Fathers had in mind, even if Broder is satisfied.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Kristof is Perplexed

Poor Nicholas Kristof today declares, "I understand the painful ethical choices of Abdelrahim's family, of Mr. Hassan and of the international aid agencies. But what I can't fathom is our own moral choice, our decision to acquiesce in genocide".
We in America could save kids like Abdelrahim and Muhammad. This wouldn't require troops, just a bit of gumption to declare a no-fly zone, to press our Western allies and nearby Arab and African states, to impose an arms embargo and other targeted sanctions, to push a meaningful U.N. resolution even at the risk of a Chinese veto, and to insist upon the deployment of a larger African force.

Instead, President Bush's policy is to chide Sudan and send aid. That's much better than nothing and has led Sudan to kill fewer children and to kill more humanely: Sudan now mostly allows kids in Darfur like Abdelrahim to die of starvation, instead of heaving them onto bonfires. But fundamentally, U.S. policy seems to be to "manage" the genocide rather than to act decisively to stop it.
Well, Nicholas, if you can convince Karl Rove how doing more will translate into votes for Bush (and not for Kerry), perhaps Bush will have a moral awakening.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Is It Really That Simple

Jonathan Freedland suggests that the Presidential election represents a conflict between faith and reason. While Freedland may overstate that conflict, even in his expression of grave concern he may well be understating the effect of a second Bush term on the United States.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

An American Crybaby In London

I had no idea Americans were so easily reduced to tears.

After going on at considerable length about how rude Londoners hate and attack Americans (something Paul Craddick forgot to mention in his recent travelogue), we're informed that the British are even worse than anti-American...
Here is what I perceive as the explanation: Europe has always been a seething hotbed of anti-semitism. England, sadly, has the distinction of being the very first country to expel its Jews and initiate the blood libel. The Jews were not allowed back into England until the time of Cromwell, and feel to this day that they worship by the grace of the sovereign.
Um... do I sense a slight bias in the author's perceptions?

When the author whines, "I cannot conduct business or even take a taxi ride in Britain without a scathing tirade about the scurrilous Yanks", I can't help but wonder if her London is even on the same planet as the one which holds the London that I vist from time to time. On my last trip, the most memorable taxi conversation involved a driver who, upon learning that I had lived in Manchester when I was five, started querying the extent of my expected resultant devotation to Man United. Ah, this crazy post-9/11 world....

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Past Presidential Races

First off, you have to remember that my opponent is a trial lawyer. A trial lawyer. Can we really afford to elect a president who is a trial lawyer?

Second, I have to say that my opponent doesn't talk straight. He uses complicated words to weave around the issues. I talk about my parents, he's talking about his "forefathers". I say "eighty-seven years ago", he's going on about "four score and seven years ago". What's up with that?

Third, and this is a big one, he's a flip-flopper. One day slavery is morally wrong, the next day he wants to keep it in place. Which one is it? This isn't a little issue, folks, whatever you think of that Dred Scott decision. I offer moral clarity.

Did I mention he looks funny? Does he even look like a President?

Should Debates Have Background Music?

These are dangerous times. I believe I offer tested, strong leadership that can calm the waters of the troubled world. And I believe that we can together do things that are within the grasp of Americans.
Perhaps this?

[Caution - that link will automatically play a .wav file.]

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Stupid Questions, And How They Might Be Answered

The New York Times today permitted political partisans to pose "questions" that they would like to ask the other party's candidate (Questions for Bush; Questions for Kerry). I guess this is the power of celebrity - they got low-caliber "questions" which the letters editor would have trashed, and printed them anyway. Let's take 'em on.....
Charles Murray - Five percent of Americans pay 54 percent of all personal income taxes. They do not use more government services than other Americans; they use fewer. Why is this fair?
Mr. Murray, as you certainly know, the tax figure you present ignores payroll taxes. Yet payroll taxes, which are another form of income tax, take a huge bite out of the paychecks of working men and women. As you also know, you are ignoring sales taxes, state and local taxes, property taxes, gas taxes, so-called "sin" taxes, and many other taxes which fall on the shoulders of this nation's working men and women. You are also ignoring user fees and license fees. But you know all of that. You wish to distract people from tax realities in order to justify even more tax cuts for the richest of the rich. I favor a system of taxation that is fair to all people, Mr. Murray, rich and poor, not one that favors any particular group of people, and that is what I will work for.
Charles Murray - Would you be willing to sponsor tort reform that requires plaintiffs to have used common sense before being eligible for damages?
Mr. Murray, do you mean a calculus whereby the judge or jury deciding the case would allocate a percentage of fault to the victim, and adjust the verdict in proportion to the parties' fault - or even eliminate an award where a plaintiff was more than 50% responsible for his own injury? Such adjustments already occur, Mr. Murray, and they have existed for hundreds of years at common law. I am surprised you don't know that.
Charles Murray - You promise to create millions of jobs, but many people who run businesses say that nothing in your life has taught you how much effort, risk and sometimes heartbreak goes into creating one real job. Could you describe your experiences when you last had to meet a payroll, or when your boss had to meet a payroll?
Mr. Murray, as a Senator I have an office staff, which I manage, and for which I have a budget. This is not really different from any other mid-management position. In terms of "making payroll", during the Clinton Presidency the government made payroll and turned a tidy profit - call it an enormous budget surplus. Under Bush, the government cannot make payroll, and has borrowed astronomical figures to make ends meet. Call it a record-breaking budget deficit. If you are suggesting that President Bush's dubious record in business is a qualification as President, the facts suggest something completely different.
Christie Whitman - You have been critical of President Bush's rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, yet in 1997 you joined 94 of your Senate colleagues in effectively rejecting its terms. What has changed to make you accept now what you then rejected?
Christie, as you know, President Bush has done far more than reject Kyoto. He has politicized the EPA, rejected scientific opinion, buried official reports, and has otherwise taken a very non-scientific approach to the issue of climate change. Meanwhile, evidence of climate change is all around us, perhaps nowhere more strikingly than in the President's brother's state of Florida. You ask what has changed? What hasn't changed? Whatever disagreement may exist as to its cause, climate change is very real and it would be a priority for any competent President.
Christie Whitman - The president's Clear Skies proposal calls for a 70 percent reduction in some of the worst air pollutants, including mercury, over the next decade. While the current Clean Air Act has made a difference, it is cumbersome, it almost always involves lengthy litigation that delays any benefits, and it doesn't set any specific level for the reduction of mercury. Why haven't you led the fight to avoid lawsuits and instead demand the results the president has advocated?
Christie, it is almost comical that you mention mercury levels, given that one of President Bush's first acts when he took office was to attempt to raise the acceptable level of mercury in drinking water - water than the men, women and children of this nation trust to be safe and clean. And while portions of the President's proposal would diminish harmful emissions, independent analysis indicates that it will be less effective in doing so than the existing legislation. You should also know from your extensive experience in government that "simpler" is not always "better". The President has attached a pretty name to a proposal which is in many ways a license to pollute. It is better to fix the existing legislation, flawed though it may be, than to replace it with a pro-industry bill - which is I guess what people like you would have us call "results" - that will damage our environment, and endanger the health of the people of this nation.
Stephen L. Carter - During the long period it would take to carry out your plan to improve the public schools, would you, in the interest of racial justice, support a system of vouchers to enable the parents of poor inner-city children to pay for private schooling to cover the transitional years? Throughout the five or more years that your plan envisions, many inner-city children will continue to receive substandard educations, and to suffer in other material and spiritual ways.
Stephen, I would of course encourage states to develop the systems they deemed necessary to ensure that inner city children get quality education during the transition, and states may well choose to use vouchers. But as you surely realize, you cannot "fix" a system by emptying it of its best students, nor can you transfer students into private schools and charter schools which don't exist. A voucher system does not magically create additional space in existing schools - that takes years, and as you have implicitly stated we can't wait. Unfortunately, opportunists who latch on to voucher and charter school programs can create cataclysmic failures for parents and students, as occured in California this fall when a single "charter school" provider failed, shuttering sixty schools around the state, and leaving 6,000 students scrambling to enroll elsewhere. You don't fix an educational system by diverting resources to untested programs and profiteers.
Stephen L. Carter - If the answer to the first question is no, would you call on well-to-do Democrats to show their support for public education, and for the poor, by voluntarily sending their children to the schools that the inner-city parents are required to use? After all, a sudden influx of middle-class families might force a cure for many of those schools' deficiencies.
Stephen, as you know, that is a ridiculous question. I want to ensure that all parents, rich or poor, receive quality education. I don't begrudge President Bush his years at Andover, Yale and Harvard, even though his well-connected family might have pressed for serious improvement in any public schools he might have instead attended, because they wanted to provide him with the best education and opportunities. That, as you know, is achieved by making the system better, not through absurd stunts such as the one you propose. I wouldn't ask you to send your children to the worst school you could find, merely to prove a point, and if I did I would fully expect you to reject my invitation. Where did your kids go to school?
Stephen L. Carter - If the answer to the second question is no, are there any sacrifices that you would call upon middle-class Americans to make for the sake of improving the condition of the worst-off among us?
Stephen, perhaps you aren't aware of this, but the middle class pays a tremendous price to fund the public education system. States like Michigan have enacted elaborate systems to create fairness in educational funding, such that the City of Detroit has funding per pupil which exceeds the state average. Again, I am very surprised that you don't know this, but the middle classes are already contributing.
David K. Shipler - You speak of "compassionate conservatism," yet you rarely talk about the poverty that afflicts millions of Americans, including many who work hard at low-wage jobs. Your administration has inadequately financed or reduced the budgets of housing, child care, job training and other programs vital to helping the working poor. What do you see as government's proper role, and how would you change policies in a second term to demonstrate true compassion?
David, there is a difference between being "compassionate" and giving handouts. If I see a vagrant on a street and give him change, I may subsidize a sandwich, or perhaps a bottle of booze, but I do nothing to lift him out of his situation. I see the government's role as being to help people climb the ladder, not to subsidize them so that they are comfortable sitting on the floor when they could be climing. Not that I like to resort to the cliche, but compassionate conservativism is a hand up, not a handout. It's teaching a man to fish. There's no compassion in keeping poor people poor, even if you make their poverty somewhat more comfortable. You display compassion by helping them to achieve.
David K. Shipler - The federal government has begun to finance "faith-based initiatives." Previously, religious groups had to create separate, secular entities to receive federal money for services for the poor. Now, grants go to religious organizations that can discriminate against people of other faiths in hiring. Some will inevitably use tax dollars to promote their religious beliefs. Are you trying to break down the First Amendment's wall separating church and state?
No. Further, the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the boundaries between church and state, and to the best of my knowledge my proposals have been held constitutional. What I will not do is put arbitrary hurdles in front of an organization that wants to help people, merely because it is affiliated with a religious organization.
David K. Shipler - Using the Patriot Act and other means, you have tried to evade the courts and minimize the rights of those accused of terrorism. Your administration has conducted searches without warrants, obtained gag orders on those forced to turn over records, monitored conversations between lawyers and their clients, employed unverified intelligence reports in criminal proceedings, and claimed the power to imprison Americans indefinitely without indictment or trial. Now that a couple of major cases have collapsed, what proof exists that these measures are actually being used against the right people? How many terrorist plots have they foiled?
David, you have asked a lot of questions there, perhaps because you are aware that your questions don't stand on an individual basis. On September 11, 2001, our nation faced a terrorist attack on an unprecedented scale, and it became obvious that we needed to root out sleeper cells which might be planning additional attacks on our people. Congress passed the legislation required to achieve that necessary end. How many terrorist plots has this foiled? So far, on the home front, all of them. But we can't drop our guard, because while we have to succeed 100% of the time the terrorists only have to succeed once. Congress is presently revisiting provisions of the Patriot Act which are due to expire under the sunset provisions of that legislation, and if provisions are deemed unnecessary Congress will presumably permit them to expire.
Alice M. Rivlin - According to your former Treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, Vice President Dick Cheney believes that "deficits don't matter." Do you agree with the vice president? If so, why promise to cut the deficit in half in your next term? If not, what dangers do you think large sustained deficits pose for our economy? Do you worry about burdening your daughters and their children with rapidly growing federal debt and interest payments?
Alice, I have expressed that deficits matter, and I have expressed that I intend to halve the deficit over the next four years. It is not always bad to have a deficit - sometimes it is necessary to stimulate the economy, and sometimes it is the necessary result of national emergency, sometimes both. And that's what we faced after 9/11. But I have consistently advocated for eliminating the deficit.
Alice M. Rivlin - You say that you want to allow young workers to put part of their Social Security taxes into personal accounts. They could invest these accounts in stocks or bonds and leave them to their heirs. At the same time, you promise not to reduce scheduled benefits for current and soon-to-be retirees. But taxes paid by working people are used to pay benefits to current retirees. If the taxes paid by younger workers are diverted to their personal accounts, where will the money come from to pay those benefits? Would you try to borrow the additional money (estimated to be at least $1 trillion)? Would you take money from other programs? Would you raise taxes?
Alice, obviously the plan would be for a savings program that also permits Social Security to continue to self-fund. That would not require any new taxes or debt.
Alice M. Rivlin - In a recent open letter, 169 economists and business school professors, including 56 professors from Harvard Business School, your alma mater, sharply criticized your economic policies. They said your proposals for Social Security and making the tax cuts permanent "only promise to exacerbate the crisis" and that "your tax policy has exacerbated the problem of inequality in the United States." Do you dismiss these critics as uninformed? If not, what would you say to persuade them they are wrong?
Alice, if you have ever tried to have a discussion with a group of economists, you would know that they rely upon theoretical models, and they frequently disagree over the most basic of economic projections, and it just so happens that they disagree with this Administration's economic advisers. For every fifty six economists who are adamant that their projections are 100% right, there are countless others who are just as certain that they are 100% wrong. The classic joke about an economist, stuck at a bottom of a hole, is that his solution for escaping is "first, we assume a ladder". With all due respect to Harvard's economists, life gets more complicated outside the ivory tower.
Alan Ehrenhalt - As a candidate in 2000, you argued in favor of compassionate conservatism and a restoration of decency and moderation to the national government. Those of us who voted for you took this seriously. But your personal demeanor as president has been belligerent and dismissive of virtually anyone who opposes your policies. You state flatly that anyone who is not with you is against you, and at least imply that disagreement is equivalent to disloyalty. You refuse to admit making mistakes, even when it is obvious that you made them. You all but invite attacks on the country with "bring it on" taunting that makes you sound more like a gang leader than a responsible head of state. What happened to your promise of compassion? Have you concluded that moderation and decency are not useful qualities in a president?
How can I respond to your question without first observing that, as you caricature and misrepresent my statements and record, you engage in the very conduct you are supposedly criticizing me for having done. I have already addressed the compassion my Administration seeks to bring, and I am sorry that it is not the welfare state you want. There we disagree, and there, presumably, despite all evidence of the failures of the welfare state, you will stick adamantly and without reflection to your desire for the expansion of the failed welfare state. Moderation and decency are very useful qualities in a President. But adhering to a failed welfare policy is not moderate, is not decent, and is just plain wrong.
Alan Ehrenhalt - When you were governor of Texas, you complained about the long list of mandates that Washington was imposing on the states without supplying the money to pay for them. You criticized the Republican Congress for ignoring legitimate state complaints. "Mandates are mandates, regardless of the philosophical bent of the person doing the mandating," you said in May 1998. "It starts at the White House." But your administration has imposed billions of dollars in mandates without even a pretense of offering sufficient money for states to meet them. Did your concern for fairness to Texas and the 49 other state governments simply evaporate when you moved into the White House?
Alan, I am not sure what you are trying to criticize. You don't appear to have a problem with unfunded mandates, just the fact that I have in the past criticized them. I think if you had a problem with any particular mandate I have created, or had evidence that it was unfunded, you would have presented it as an example. The usual example people bring up of a supposedly "unfunded" mandate is "No Child Left Behind". Yet that Act brought billions of dollars of federal revenue to the states. While you seem to think that we can tax and spend, tax and spend without regard to consequences, we face real world budget constraints. You surely aren't proposing that we eliminate "No Child Left Behind", so are you asking me to raise taxes? People who want to pay more taxes already know who to vote for, and it's not me.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Things I "Learned" In Law School

Over on mythago's blog, there is a brief discussion of the insurance industry-sponsored venture known as "tort reform", and the extent to which the insurance industry distorts facts - or just plain fabrications - in their effort to advance industry-friendly litigation. A couple of example fabrications, described in the Washington Monthly, brought back fond memories of law school....
In 1977, the venerable insurance company Crum & Forester sponsored one of the first print ads that included what would become a staple of anti-lawsuit rhetoric: the fictional lawsuit horror story. The ad told the story of a guy who collected a $500,000 jury verdict after he was injured using a lawnmower as a hedge clipper. The agency later conceded that it had no factual basis for the story, but that didn't keep it from circulating widely in the media and in conservative political speeches.
More than ten years later, my torts professor related this story as being about a man who had cut off his thumbs while using a lawn mower as a hedge trimmer. (Think about that for a minute - even if you were to try to cut a hedge with a lawn mower, how could you hold it such that it would be your thumbs which were injured?) A quick Nexis search confirmed the story to have been a fabrication. Another example came from a different professor, I believe in Civil Procedure:
Back in 1986, [60 Minutes] profiled the owner of a ladder manufacturing company who claimed his company had been hit with a $300,000 jury verdict in a suit by a man who fell off a ladder because he set it in a pile of manure. The business owner claimed the lawsuit alleged the company should have warned buyers of the dangers of setting ladders in dung. The real lawsuit had nothing to do with manure; the ladder had broken with less than 450 pounds on it, even though it had a safety rating that said it could support up to 1,000. Tedesco says the show never ran a correction.
That story, also, was recounted as fact.

Another portion reminded me of a recent effort to discuss issues of malpractice with doctors. One kept bringing up the claim that the medical industry wastes $100 billion per year on "defensive medicine" - never mind that not one doctor in the discussion would admit to having ever engaged in defensive medicine, and not one could explain why an HMO or other managed care organization would pay for medical care it did not deem necessary. One claimed that an example of "defensive medicine" was the provision of pregnancy tests to infertile women before certain radiological procedures - although, given that infertile women cannot conceivably suffer fetal injury, it is not at all apparent how this could be classified as "defensive" as opposed to "stupid" or "profit-maximizing". Obviously, if we include profiteering and stupidity in the definition of "defensive medicine", it will be possible to derive an exhorbitant price tag. But generally, it is easier to just fabricate the price, and get it embedded in the public consciousness:
Take the idea of a "tort tax," the financial hit allegedly taken by every citizen because of the legal system, which Taylor raised in his December Newsweek article. It dates back to 1988, when Manhattan Institute fellow Peter Huber coined the term in his book, Liability, and claimed that the tort system cost Americans $300 billion a year. Three years later, the figure made its way into a speech given by Vice President Dan Quayle, who blamed lawyers for wrecking the economy. After the speech, several researchers examined the methods Huber had used to arrive at that figure. Huber, they found, had simply made it up. As The Economist observed in 1992, "the $300 billion figure has no discernible connection to reality."
What was also interesting was seeing that the doctors had no conception of the actual cost of medical malpractice, which the insurance industry estimates at 2 - 3% of the health care dollar, subject to being reduced by approximately 0.4 - 0.5% if all current "tort reform" measures are implemented. And the current "reforms" would have no effect on "defensive medicine", because they are uniformly aimed at limiting the recovery of the most injured victims of malpractice in the most meritorious cases.

Meanwhile, the same doctors who obsessively whinge about trial lawyers, malpractice liability, and the "need" for the tort reform measures which will "save" at most a half-percent of health care costs... yawn at the notion of eliminating bureaucratic inefficiency that results in the outright waste of 10 - 20% of every health care dollar.

My own experience supports the article's observation that most tort recoveries are small, and many tort victims are undercompensated. I also have experience receiving inquiries from people who have come to see the tort system as a slot machine, where an inconsequential or effectively self-inflicted injury can return millions. This, as the Washington Monthly points out, is an impression created largely by the insurance industry's own, decades-long disinformation campaign.
Some academic researchers suspect that all the hype about the litigation crisis might actually be making Americans more litigious by giving them the erroneous impression that compensation is available through the courts for most injuries. As McCann says, "Tort reformers may have produced more frivolous claims while making legitimate claims harder to bring."

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Executing An Innocent (But Unsavory) Person?

The New York Times today gives a cursory cry of "injustice" to the case of Paul Gregory House, who appears to be on death row for a murder he did not commit. The Times notes that the en banc Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit split down partisan lines (according to which party appointed them), with the Republican appointees voting to keep Mr. House on track for execution and the Democratic appointees voting for acquittal or a new trial. The Times opines
It's hard to dismiss the thought that the Republicans voted as a show of support for capital punishment, not on the merits of the case.
More likely, it was a vote for "finality" - literally for form over substance - although not as explicitly stated as in some other cases. (Read the opinions - PDF Format)

The majority opinion is not unconvincing, until you read the dissent and learn the facts the majority conveniently omitted to make its rendering seem plausible. It is difficult to justify not granting at least a new trial if you actually look to the facts. But the Republicans in the House and Senate, and the Rehnquist Supreme Court, have long been pushing for "reforms" of the appellate process and the right of habeas corpus which place a near-exclusive emphasis on "procedural due process" and diminish the importance of "substantive due process". That is to say, if all of the procedural rules were sufficiently followed, and a conviction resulted, the preference of many "conservatives" is to uphold the conviction in the name of "finality". Arbitrary deadlines and restrictions have been imposed on the use of exculpatory evidence discovered after conviction.

And if a some innocent people rot in prison, or perhaps even suffer execution at the hands of the state, our conscience can be clean - because whatever the facts, we know that the I's were dotted and the T's were crossed, and the need for "finality" must sometimes be placed ahead of facts establishing innocence. Right? (And as any good fascist can tell you, if you're innocent and in prison, you probably deserve to be there for some other crime anyway.)

Friday, October 08, 2004

A Closing For Kerry

If you recall the Presidential debates eight years ago, you will recall the friendly presence of a President who was not angry and combative, who did not feel a need to continually insult his opponent. A President unafraid to admit his mistakes, but confident in his accomplishments. A President who was comfortable with his record, and had no need to be hostile and angry. Today, you have a President who is hostile and embittered, insulting and angry, because he knows his record cannot withstand scrutiny.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Non Sequitur

On the VP debate,
But Ken Mehlman, Mr Bush's campaign manager, told the Guardian the vice-president had made clear the fundamental philosophical differences between the two tickets. "He was saying in a world where 19 people with boxcutters can kill 3,000 Americans in the course of 20 minutes, allowing to remain in power a brutal dictator who defied the world, who had a weapons of mass destruction capability... wasn't acceptable and wasn't safe.
Does that follow? Maybe we should have invaded China, as that is probably where the boxcutters were made....

This Is Sad....

A Bush supporter penned a blog entry for the Racine, WI "Journal Times", entitled "The vice president strikes back".
Cheney easily quoted facts and figures, names and situations, voting records and current trends with the ease that some of us quote "Simpsons" episodes. (Or "Star Wars" movies.)
Um... Leaving the fact-checking to others for the moment, the author expects us to be impressed that Cheney's abilities parallel her uncanny ability to quote "Star Wars"? So she is telling us that we should cast our votes for Senator Palpatine? (Does that put GW in the role of Darth Vader?)

The Vice Presidential Debate

What to me was perhaps the most significant result of the VP debate was the fact that, as combative and pointed as it often was, it had no estimable impact on my opinion. That is, nothing about the Vice Presidential candidates or their respective performances had an appreciable impact on how I view the heads of their respective tickets. That might not have been the case, had one of them had an on-stage meltdown, but obviously that didn't happen.

If I were to declare a "winner" in the context of which candidate looked most Presidential, it would be Edwards. If I were to declare a "loser" in the context of which candidate clung most desperately to a pathetic lie, it would be Cheney and his continued advancement of an Iraq-Al Qaeda nexus with an implied link to 9/11.

If I were to give a candidate bonus points for refusing to bend his personal convictions to the will of his party, they would go to Cheney for his silence on the issue of rights for domestic partnerships. Certainly it isn't bravery to sit in silence, rather than speaking one's conscience, but it demonstrated that there are lines Cheney will not cross with respect to his family and his party. When Cheney's boss was put to a similar test, and could have spoken out against the smear campaign over Kerry's war record, he failed - that is, unless his claimed personality traits of courage and credibility exist only as fiction. I am not sure that similar tests have yet been put to Edwards or Kerry.

At the same time, if I were to give penalty points for stubborn idiocy, it would be for Cheney's insistence that he would handle Iraq in exactly the same way if he were to do it again. That simply can't be true.

The "Zap Them With A Cattle Prod And Wake Them Up" award goes to Babbling David Brooks and Narcoleptic Mark Shields, who provided some post-debate commentary on PBS. They found the Iraq material exciting, but were bored by the domestic issues. Thus, declared Brooks, this election really does turn on Iraq. What a pathetic way to prioritize the many important issues this nation faces.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

David Brooks On Crack

No, not that type of crack.
The coming elections and the battles for the cities will either put Iraq on a path to normalcy or introduce us to some new hell. Yesterday, Rumsfeld said Iraq had "a crack" at being a success. At least he's not overhyping.
Mr. false dichotomy strikes again.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

A Detailed Plan For Iraq?

Throughout the campaign, the media have demanded that John Kerry detail a strategy for dealing with Iraq. Never mind that the situation has changed dramatically, month-by-month, throughout the campaign. Never mind that even if it were possible to propose a "perfect solution" for today's situation, that solution would be hopelessly out-of-date by January. Never mind that, no matter what the plan, the Bush Campaign would ridicule any element that it could not coopt. (That led to the recent pecularity, following Kerry's first clear speech on an Iraq plan, in which the unreflective Bush Campaign declared through parallel statements to the media, "His ideas are the same as ours" and "He's advocating 'defeat and retreat'".) Never mind that no similar demand has been made of the Bush Campaign.

I'll give David Ignatius this much - at least he's breaking with the nonsensical pattern of demanding the challenger to outline precisely what he would do in Iraq while failing to make any similar demand of the Bush Campaign. But any person who can assert,
The coming offensive in Fallujah could be the bloodiest combat that U.S. forces have faced yet in Iraq. Worse, it could push interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's fragile interim government toward the breaking point. One early warning sign was this week's comment by interim President Ghazi Yawar, a Sunni Muslim, criticizing recent U.S. airstrikes on Fallujah as "collective punishment." It was Yawar's threat to quit the interim government last April that helped halt the previous U.S. offensive in Fallujah.
has to also know that a strategy for the present situation in Iraq, let alone an exit strategy, could be dramatically changed by the success or failure of such a venture - and that even a military success could result in a profound setback if it inspires the collapse of the Allawi government, broadens the "resistance", or prevents elections.

Ignatius continues,
If you try to put yourself in the boots of a U.S. soldier in Iraq, what you want to know from the candidates is: Can we win this thing, and if not, how can we get out? Unfortunately, the debate didn't really illuminate those essential questions. The most difficult days in Iraq may well lie ahead, but neither candidate has leveled with the country about how severe that test will be, or what fallback plans he has if his assumptions prove overly optimistic.
The questions are not entirely unfair, but Ignatius again ignores the fact that what might work today might not work tomorrow, let alone next month. The answer to "can we win this thing" seemed a bit different when Bush was strutting beneath his "Mission Accomplished" banner than it does today - and the colossal mistakes made since that time make it much less likely that we will achieve the results we most desire. Then, "winning" was defined as creating a stable nation with a secular, democratic government. Today, "winning" seems to be defined as achieving stability, preventing civil war, and creating a government that is not hostile to western interests. Would Ignatius call a plan to achieve that end a plan for victory?

Bush, the person in the best position to provide the type of answers Ignatius demands, won't provide them. His answers would be an admission of the failure of his central promises in the "liberation" of Iraq, and would also reveal that he has no "exit strategy". And his campaign can't simultaneously accuse Kerry of "defeat and retreat" while simultaneously proposing Bush's plan for doing precisely what he ridicules.

Bush would love for Kerry to paint a strategic picture on Iraq that addresses the present realities. "See how negative and pessimistic he is. Defeat and retreat. He's setting back our interests in the region." Columnists like Ignatius need to place the onus on the Bush Administration to announce its plan - to which the Kerry camp could then be called upon to respond with what it would do differently. And Bush knows that had he clearly enunciated his plan for Iraq and "exit strategy", he would have had to update the plan so frequently as to be (in his parlance) the quintessential flip-flopper, or would have had to repeatedly admit failure. Or both.

Perhaps, before being allowed to write columns like this, columnists like Ignatius should be required to propose their own plans to achieve victory in Iraq, and their ideas of a viable exit strategy. Perhaps such a demand would be the only thing that would wake them up to the realities of the situation, and why their demands are rather silly.

Leading Them By The Nose....

When I hear criticisms of Kerry as the Democratic candidate, I am often left wondering what it is that inspires those criticisms. That is, the speakers will declare something silly like, "Kerry doesn't excite me", or "He was picked because he was considered the most electable", as if... as if either statement has any significance, or as if parties should pick unelectable candidates. Or "Bush reminds me of a guy I'd drink a beer with", or "I like his swagger and confidence - he's like me" (which is pretty much what a blue collar attendee at a Nascar event said a few months back - as if Bush is anything like him). When you hear something more substantive, such as "Kerry flip-flops", and press for details, you're lucky if you get any. In my experience, pressing for details reveals these comments to be inspired not by the candidate, but by news coverage of supposed voter ambivalence and of the other side's attack ads.

I am often left to wonder what these people want in a candidate. Whose idea is it that you should want a candidate you would drink a beer with, or that you shouldn't want a candidate who instead drinks wine and likes fancy food? Or that you should have an (unelectable) candidate who excites you, rather than a staid, intelligent, and competent candidate who seems, well, staid, intelligent, and competent instead of "exciting". The media, I suppose, started to buy into the packaging and selling of a candidate, over the substance and competence of a candidate, after the Nixon-Kennedy debates. So "Dukakis looks silly in that helmet"-type nonsense often becomes the media's central focus, as opposed to the candidates' positions on the issues. (The media's distractability was very well highlighted by their response to the "Swift Boat Liars" nonsense - and the effort of even the New York Times to blame a candidate for its poor work. Sure, Dukakis didn't have to put on the helmet and get into the tank, but was that really a story?)

If you were "surprised" by John Kerry's performance at the first Presidential debate - which he is widely regarded as having "won" - here's some news for you: If you had been paying attention to the candidate as opposed to the spin, you wouldn't have been surprised.

You want a candidate who thinks in simple terms and speaks in pre-packaged sound bites, instead of one who understands the world's complexities and whose comments reflect thought and abstraction? Perhaps, then, you should do us a favor and limit yourself to voting for the county dog catcher. If you want more from a candidate, stop regurgitating the media's latest spin, and start listening to what the candidates are actually saying.