Tuesday, July 27, 2004
Fear of Fraud
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Published: July 27, 2004
It's election night, and early returns suggest trouble for the incumbent. Then, mysteriously, the vote count stops and observers from the challenger's campaign see employees of a voting-machine company, one wearing a badge that identifies him as a county official, typing instructions at computers with access to the vote-tabulating software.
When the count resumes, the incumbent pulls ahead. The challenger demands an investigation. But there are no ballots to recount, and election officials allied with the incumbent refuse to release data that could shed light on whether there was tampering with the electronic records.
This isn't a paranoid fantasy. It's a true account of a recent election in Riverside County, Calif., reported by Andrew Gumbel of the British newspaper The Independent. Mr. Gumbel's full-length report, printed in Los Angeles City Beat, makes hair-raising reading not just because it reinforces concerns about touch-screen voting, but also because it shows how easily officials can stonewall after a suspect election.
Some states, worried about the potential for abuse with voting machines that leave no paper trail, have banned their use this November. But Florida, which may well decide the presidential race, is not among those states, and last month state officials rejected a request to allow independent audits of the machines' integrity. A spokesman for Gov. Jeb Bush accused those seeking audits of trying to "undermine voters' confidence," and declared, "The governor has every confidence in the Department of State and the Division of Elections."
Should the public share that confidence? Consider the felon list.
Florida law denies the vote to convicted felons. In 2000 the state hired a firm to purge supposed felons from the list of registered voters; these voters were turned away from the polls. After the election, determined by 537 votes, it became clear that thousands of people had been wrongly disenfranchised. Since those misidentified as felons were disproportionately Democratic-leaning African-Americans, these errors may have put George W. Bush in the White House.
This year, Florida again hired a private company - Accenture, which recently got a homeland security contract worth up to $10 billion - to prepare a felon list. Remembering 2000, journalists sought copies. State officials stonewalled, but a judge eventually ordered the list released.
The Miami Herald quickly discovered that 2,100 citizens who had been granted clemency, restoring their voting rights, were nonetheless on the banned-voter list. Then The Sarasota Herald-Tribune discovered that only 61 of more than 47,000 supposed felons were Hispanic. So the list would have wrongly disenfranchised many legitimate African-American voters, while wrongly enfranchising many Hispanic felons. It escaped nobody's attention that in Florida, Hispanic voters tend to support Republicans.
After first denying any systematic problem, state officials declared it an innocent mistake. They told Accenture to match a list of registered voters to a list of felons, flagging anyone whose name, date of birth and race was the same on both lists. They didn't realize, they said, that this would automatically miss felons who identified themselves as Hispanic because that category exists on voter rolls but not in state criminal records.
But employees of a company that prepared earlier felon lists say that they repeatedly warned state election officials about that very problem.
Let's not be coy. Jeb Bush says he won't allow an independent examination of voting machines because he has "every confidence" in his handpicked election officials. Yet those officials have a history of slipshod performance on other matters related to voting and somehow their errors always end up favoring Republicans. Why should anyone trust their verdict on the integrity of voting machines, when another convenient mistake could deliver a Republican victory in a high-stakes national election?
This shouldn't be a partisan issue. Think about what a tainted election would do to America's sense of itself, and its role in the world. In the face of official stonewalling, doubters probably wouldn't be able to prove one way or the other whether the vote count was distorted - but if the result looked suspicious, most of the world and many Americans would believe the worst. I'll write soon about what can be done in the few weeks that remain, but here's a first step: if Governor Bush cares at all about the future of the nation, as well as his family's political fortunes, he will allow that independent audit.
Thursday, July 22, 2004
Today is my brother's birthday
Oh Joy, Oh Rapture!
Last night I got my Airport Express (2), and my Nvidia Gforce FX 6800 GT.
First, the Airport Express (Check out the product page). It's a really cool device with a couple caveats. First, the good:
The streaming to the stereo is REALLY COOL! The sound quality is better than any of the similar products I've used (iPod Dock, Audiotron, and Airport Express). I suspect it may have something to do with the optical connection.
The devices got onto my network quickly and easily. No problems.
And the bad:
What I wanted to do was run WPA encryption and have the TiVo in our bedroom and living room connected via the airport express. Now, logically (this is the first error), since I can have this thing plug into my network, and share a printer (via USB) or connect to my stereo, doesn't it make sense that I should also be able to use the Ethernet port (making the Airport Express a bridge)? Well, you'd think it would, but you, like me, would be wrong.
In order to get the ethernet port active in other than an access point context, you need to enable WDS (Wireless Distribution System). This means that the Airport Express is cloning the MAC address of my Airport Extreme wireless access point. Here's the problem: When you have both airport express' cloning the same MAC address, it seems like the throughput from one Airport Express to the other Airport Express. Why, might you ask, is this important? Well, remember I mentioned the TiVo's? Transferring files (i.e., programming) between the TiVo's is pretty bandwidth intensive. Sigh. Maybe in the next firmware update.
Epilogue: If you change the multicast rate, it seems to up the transfer rate significantly. Still seems like a hack to me...
OK, the NVidia Geforce 6800 GT. I can say, unqualified, that this is the single best video card I've ever bought. It's amazing. This card was built for Farcry! I've got the game completely maxed out, raised my resolution, and it still runs faster. Freaking cool.
More than any of that, I think the reason why I'm as excited about the card as I am is that it seems to have solved the persistent crashes I was having with my machine. The thing just runs better - maybe my ATi card really was dying. Oh well, at this point, I'm just really happy with it, and it doesn't go much deeper than that :)
Tuesday, July 20, 2004
Where oh where have you gone, Militant Liberal, keeper of the flame, purveyor of truth?
Thursday, July 15, 2004
There's Signal in That Noise: The White House, the Reality Principle and the Press
Not engaging with opponents' arguments, not permitting discordant voices a hearing, not giving facts on the ground their proper weight, not admitting mistakes-- all are of a piece with not letting the "liberal media" cloud your thinking. This is the Bush way. And disengaging from the press has been a striking innovation of this White House. It's time to connect these dots.
I won't begin to try to summarize the very legnthy article, but it's very well worth the read - among the things it dicusses is the mea culpa that some news agencies are doing (or not doing and why) over their support for the war. Interesting stuff...
Tuesday, July 13, 2004
Elected Dictatorships -or- We now know where the Iraqi governement got its idea for its emergency measures bill
Homeland Security Confirms Election Delay Talks
12 Jul 2004, 18:24 UTC
The Department of Homeland Security has confirmed that the Bush administration has discussed possibly delaying the November presidential election if there is a new terrorist attack.The report, in Newsweek magazine and confirmed Monday, says the discussions were spurred by a letter from U.S. Election Assistance Commission chairman DeForest Soirees.
Newsweek says Mr. Soaries wrote Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge to suggest asking Congress for emergency legislation to allow postponing the election after any attack.
California Congresswoman Jane Harman, the Senior Democrat on the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, called the plan excessive.
But the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, California's Christopher Cox, told CNN Sunday the request was a prudent effort to plan for what he called "doomsday scenarios."
Does anyone else trust the administration after the last set of election antics?
Lest we forget, we had an election in 1864. For those of you that are history challenged, that was the 4th year of the civil war. It's disgusting to think that the current administration trusts "we the people" so little...
Machine at Work
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Published: July 13, 2004
From a business point of view, Enron is a smoking ruin. But there's important evidence in the rubble.
If Enron hadn't collapsed, we might still have only circumstantial evidence that energy companies artificially drove up prices during California's electricity crisis. Because of that collapse, we have direct evidence in the form of the now-infamous Enron tapes — although the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Justice Department tried to prevent their release.
Now, e-mail and other Enron documents are revealing why Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, is one of the most powerful men in America.
A little background: at the Republican convention, most featured speakers will be social moderates like Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger. A moderate facade is necessary to win elections in a generally tolerant nation. But real power in the party rests with hard-line social conservatives like Mr. DeLay, who, in the debate over gun control after the Columbine shootings, insisted that juvenile violence is the result of day care, birth control and the teaching of evolution.
Here's the puzzle: if Mr. DeLay's brand of conservatism is so unpopular that it must be kept in the closet during the convention, how can people like him really run the party?
In Mr. DeLay's case, a large part of the answer is his control over corporate cash. As far back as 1996, one analyst described Mr. DeLay as the "chief enforcer of company contributions to Republicans." Some of that cash has flowed through Americans for a Republican Majority, called Armpac, a political action committee Mr. DeLay founded in 1994. By dispensing that money to other legislators, he gains their allegiance; this, in turn, allows him to deliver favors to his corporate contributors. Four of the five Republicans on the House ethics committee, where a complaint has been filed against Mr. DeLay, are past recipients of Armpac money.
The complaint, filed by Representative Chris Bell of Texas, contends, among other things, that Mr. DeLay laundered illegal corporate contributions for use in Texas elections. And that's where Enron enters the picture.
In May 2001, according to yesterday's Washington Post, Enron lobbyists in Washington informed Ken Lay via e-mail that Mr. DeLay was seeking $100,000 in additional donations to his political action committee, with the understanding that it would be partly spent on "the redistricting effort in Texas." The Post says it has "at least a dozen" documents showing that Mr. DeLay and his associates directed money from corporate donors and lobbyists to an effort to win control of the Texas Legislature so the Republican Party could redraw the state's political districts.
Enron, which helped launch Armpac, was happy to oblige, especially because Mr. DeLay was helping the firm's effort to secure energy deregulation legislation, even as its traders boasted to one another about how they were rigging California's deregulated market and stealing millions each day from "Grandma Millie."
The Texas redistricting, like many of Mr. DeLay's actions, broke all the usual rules of political fair play. But when you believe, as Mr. DeLay does, that God is using you to promote a "biblical worldview" in politics, the usual rules don't apply. And the redistricting worked — it is a major reason why anything short of a Democratic tidal wave in November is likely to leave the House in Republican hands.
There is, however, one problem: a 100-year-old Texas law bars corporate financing of State Legislature campaigns. An inquiry is under way, and Mr. DeLay has hired two criminal defense lawyers. Stay tuned.
But you shouldn't conclude that the system is working. Mr. DeLay's current predicament is an accident. The party machine that he has done so much to create has eliminated most of the checks and balances in our government. Again and again, Republicans in Congress have closed ranks to block or emasculate politically inconvenient investigations. If Enron hadn't collapsed, and if Texas didn't still have a campaign finance law that is a relic of its populist past, Mr. DeLay would be in no danger at all.
The larger picture is this: Mr. DeLay and his fellow hard-liners, whose values are far from the American mainstream, have forged an immensely effective alliance with corporate interests. And they may be just one election away from achieving a long-term lock on power.
"Although we have not found stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, we were right to go into Iraq," Mr. Bush said. "We removed a declared enemy of America who had the capability of producing weapons of mass murder and could have passed that capability to terrorists bent on acquiring them. In the world after September the 11th, that was a risk we could not afford to take."
What capability? Where were the contacts? Was Saddam going to pass them to Hamas? We now have two Senate reports that have said that there was no collaborative link between Saddam and Al Qaeda. When will President Bush stop lying to the American People?
Quickie: Global AIDS Conference
Monday, July 12, 2004
Sgt. Reggie Butler is in the 1st Cavalry, patroling Sadr City. I feel like his story is the rule, rather than the exception:
On the morning of June 28, the Coalition Provisional Authority announced the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq, dissolving itself. It didn't amount to much beyond a political abstraction for Butler. The only development that matters to him is the cease-fire. Nothing else has changed -- he still has to take his platoon out on patrol, he still has to worry about an armed insurgency and ambushes. "They just don't want us here," Butler said. "I hope that all of us make it back. I pray that we all do, but I don't think it could get any worse. This is worse. I'll do everything I can to bring all the soldiers back. Anything."
Just so everyone is clear, the "they" mentioned in the bolded quote above is Iraqis, not terrorists, not insurgents, Iraqis.
Happy birthday Lizzie!
Friday, July 09, 2004
The outcome led to angry recriminations from House Democrats, who accused Republicans of "vote-rigging" by holding the vote open for an extra 23 minutes to get enough colleagues to switch votes. Frustrated Democrats shouted "Shame, shame!" and "Democracy!" as the voting continued, but Republicans defended their right as the majority party to keep the vote open to "educate members" about the dangers of scaling back government counterterrorism powers.
Could Tom DeLay be any more slimy? Does the "educate members" quote give anyone else the hebejebes? These people are unpatriotic slime.
Another scary quote from the same article:
"People are waking up to the fact that the government can walk into their libraries, without probable cause, without any particular information that someone was associated with terrorism, and monitor their reading habits," Representative Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who sponsored the measure, said in an interview.
Set aside the fact that what was cited above doesn't have anything to do with reading habits or purchase habits at libraries and bookstores.
The vote was held open for 23 minutes after the deadline so the Republican leadership could have extra time to vote. Set aside the procedural crap (which really annoys me - the rules are there for a reason, after all, just because you don't like the vote doesn't mean you can change them), I want to talk about a bigger contradiction here:
The argument that the government can come into my home secretly and search with a secret search warrant is that it is necessary in a time of terrorism. The treat of terrorism is so great that we must all sacrifice some of our liberties because a library or book store habit might possibly be used by terrorists.
In some sense we have all been criminalized by this: Rather than going after the real terrorists / criminals, we must all now operate under the watch of the government.
The contradiction comes when this approach is considered relative to gun ownership. Wouldn't this be a better place to start? I think every one can agree that a gun is a bit more immediately deadly than a book. Working with Republican Leadership in the house, the Bush Administration and the NRA have pushed through rules that require gun ownership records be destroyed one day after they've been created. That's a great system. At a higher level however, whenever gun restrictions are proposed, the NRA et al always raise the call that gun owners are being criminalized. Does the PATRIOT act criminalize book readers?
LUNTZ: That's a good question. But the way that I look at it is not to convince the voter what to think, it's to convince the voter that what they think is correct. Some of this is not a matter of re-educating them. Some of this is a matter of just explaining that their gut instincts are correct.
That they should not be fooled by either what they see or what they hear. That what they feel is what is correct. And that's a lot of it, by the way. It's not just language. It's style, it's presentation.
My problem with this is that it's raising apathy to a virtue. It's encouraging ignorance as well as discouraging intellectual curiosity. If Mr. Luntz had been around in the nineteenth century, would we still be teaching evolution in schools (Kansas excepted - ok, a small joke)? If Mr. Luntz had been around in the 60s, would the Civil Rights movement have ever happened, or would he have encouraged white Americans to continue to believe in racist beliefs because that's what their gut told them?
Mr. Luntz's approach is completely antithetical to a democracy. A democracy requires that its participants be involved and intellectually curious. Mr. Luntz is insulting. What bugs me even more than Mr. Luntz is that his approach seems to work. sigh...
Check out this little gem from 2000
Frank Luntz's bio on NOW
Wednesday, July 07, 2004
Free Pass From Congress
By Henry A. Waxman
Tuesday, July 6, 2004; Page A19
In the past four years there has been an abrupt reversal in Congress's approach to oversight.
During the Clinton administration, Congress spent millions of tax dollars probing alleged White House wrongdoing. There was no accusation too minor to explore, no demand on the administration too intrusive to make.
Republicans investigated whether the Clinton administration sold burial plots in Arlington National Cemetery for campaign contributions. They examined whether the White House doctored videotapes of coffees attended by President Clinton. They spent two years investigating who hired Craig Livingstone, the former director of the White House security office. And they looked at whether President Clinton designated coal-rich land in Utah as a national monument because political donors with Indonesian coal interests might benefit from reductions in U.S. coal production.
Committees requested and received communications between Clinton and his close advisers, notes of conversations between Clinton and a foreign head of state, internal e-mails from the office of the vice president, and more than 100 sets of FBI interview summaries. Dozens of top Clinton officials, including several White House chiefs of staff and White House counsels, testified before Congress. The Clinton administration provided to Congress more than a million pages of documents in response to investigative inquiries.
At one point the House even created a select committee to investigate whether the Clinton administration sold national security secrets to China, diverting attention from Osama bin Laden and other real threats facing our nation.
When President Clinton was in office, Congress exercised its oversight powers with no sense of proportionality. But oversight of the Bush administration has been even worse: With few exceptions, Congress has abdicated oversight responsibility altogether.
Republican Rep. Ray LaHood aptly characterized recent congressional oversight of the administration: "Our party controls the levers of government. We're not about to go out and look beneath a bunch of rocks to try to cause heartburn."
Republican leaders in Congress have refused to investigate who exposed covert CIA agent Valerie Plame, whose identity was leaked after her husband, Joe Wilson, challenged the administration's claims that Iraq sought nuclear weapons. They have held virtually no public hearings on the hundreds of misleading claims made by administration officials about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and ties to al Qaeda.
They have failed to probe allegations that administration officials misled Congress about the costs of the Medicare prescription drug bill. And they have ignored the ethical lapses of administration officials, such as the senior Medicare official who negotiated future employment representing drug companies while drafting the prescription drug bill.
The House is even refusing to investigate the horrific Iraq prison abuses. One Republican chairman argued, "America's reputation has been dealt a serious blow around the world by the actions of a select few. The last thing our nation needs now is for others to enflame this hatred by providing fodder and sound bites for our enemies."
Compare the following: Republicans in the House took more than 140 hours of testimony to investigate whether the Clinton White House misused its holiday card database but less than five hours of testimony regarding how the Bush administration treated Iraqi detainees.
There is a simple but deplorable principle at work. In both the Clinton and Bush eras, oversight has been driven by raw partisanship. Congressional leaders have vacillated between the extremes of abusing their investigative powers and ignoring them, depending on the party affiliation of the president.
Our nation needs a more balanced approach. Congressional oversight is essential to our constitutional system of checks and balances. Excessive oversight distracts and diminishes the executive branch. But absence of oversight invites corruption and mistakes. The Founders correctly perceived that concentration of power leads to abuse of power if unchecked.
The congressional leadership is wrong to think that its current hands-off approach protects President Bush. In fact, it has backfired, causing even more harm than the overzealous pursuit of President Clinton. Lack of accountability has contributed to a series of phenomenal misjudgments that have damaged Bush, imperiled our international standing and saddled our nation with mounting debts.
Asking tough questions is never easy, especially if one party controls both Congress and the White House, but avoiding them is no answer. Evenhanded oversight is not unpatriotic; it's Congress's constitutional obligation.
The writer is a Democratic representative from California and ranking minority member of the principal House oversight committee.
The arguement that Saddam was part of the war on terrorism
2) Saddam hates us
Therefore Saddam and Osama Bin Laden must be working together.
So set aside the stunning lack of sophistication in this position, it's also creating an undifferentiated "them." Can we please at least pretend that we're going to rigorously think about out the actions of our country?
Tuesday, July 06, 2004
Interesting thoughts, courtesy of "Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity, a platform for designing Business Architecture"
To dissolve a conflict is to discover new frames of reference in which opposing tendencies are treated as complimentary in a new ensemble with a new logic of its own. It requires reformulation or, more precisely, reconceptualization of the variables involved. Finally, to dissolve a conflict is to redesign the system, which contains the conflict, in its totality, creating "a feasible whole from infeasible parts." -Page 69, Systems Thinking
I think that one of the problem that we face as a liberals / progressives is that the framing of the conversation (right versus left) is obsolete. I'm not sure how to sound bite what the new construct is, but I know that the existing one is worse that useless - it actively makes it more difficult for us to advance a progressive, liberal agenda.
We, as progressives, need to find a way to get beyond the old "rich versus poor" or "this versus that." I think that the path we need to take is first to identify synergies between seemingly opposing groups, and second (and this may be the *really* hard part), figure out a way to sound bite it.
For me, possibly the most fundamental issue facing the American democracy, is the ever growing divide between rich and poor. Our middle class is shrinking. The poor are forgotten, and it becomes only the rich that reap the benefits of our society. My fundamental issue with this (and for disclosure sake, I should say that in my current socio-economic class, I'm a beneficiary of Bush's economic policies) is that it's a profoundly short-sighted outlook. If wealth becomes concentrated only in the upper echelons of our society, then where are the markets for our goods and services? Moreover, since no one will say that Social Security, Medicare, or even something like the military are a bad thing, where will the funding come from for our incredibly advanced (and expensive) weapons systems.
We need to move beyond the idea that regulations are somehow a competitive disadvantage. Regulations are a feature of any market - the way to think about regulations is how can they make our businesses more competitive in our world marketplace. Hemming and hawing about fuel economy is cutting off our nose to spite our face. Fuel economy, or better technology is a competitive advantage in the rest of the world. Our businesses should embrace this, rather than fight it. Moreover, our government should incent companies for actions that are in their best interests. The market economy is incredibly good at allocation of resources, but it depends on entirely on the definition of the marketplace. Our marketplace should be defined such that our businesses are better positioned. This does not mean letting them do whatever the hell they want to.
I think there are several pieces to this. More on those later.