Croker Sack

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." — Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956)

Friday, December 31, 2004

Democrats admit to cooking the books

As reported in The Sun today, a spokesman for Governor-elect Gregoire compared the King County vote-counting process to baking cookies:

In all, King County tallied 899,199 votes Nov. 2, while the preliminary list the county gave Republicans and others who had requested it credited only 895,660 people with voting.

"If they never explain this adequately, that's a huge bombshell in this race," state GOP Chairman Chris Vance said.

Gregoire's spokesman Morton Brilliant said Republicans were acting like children watching a batch of cookies baking, reaching in too early, then complaining that they're still gooey.

How could King County have avoided counting the extra, illegal votes of people who voted twice -- once by mail and once at the polling places -- if they didn’t maintain a correct, up-to-date record of the voters whose ballots had already been counted?

It is now almost two months after election day, but King County claims to be unable to produce a correct list of voters who voted in the election.

Perhaps it is fair to describe what they’re doing as similar to baking cookies, except that it’s the voting records that require more time in the oven to complete the cooking process.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Special? Yes. But was it by design?

As reported today, the evolution of the human brain was unique among the creatures of Earth.

Note the scientists’ apparent focus on the role of natural selection as the driving force behind this “special event.”

Human Brain Evolution Was a 'Special Event'

Genes that control the size and complexity of the brain have undergone much more rapid evolution in humans than in non-human primates or other mammals, according to a new study by Howard Hughes Medical Institute researchers.

The accelerated evolution of these genes in the human lineage was apparently driven by strong selection. In the ancestors of humans, having bigger and more complex brains appears to have carried a particularly large advantage, much more so than for other mammals. These traits allowed individuals with “better brains” to leave behind more descendants. As a result, genetic mutations that produced bigger and more complex brains spread in the population very quickly. This led ultimately to a dramatic “speeding up” of evolution in genes controlling brain size and complexity.

“People in many fields, including evolutionary biology, anthropology and sociology, have long debated whether the evolution of the human brain was a special event,” said senior author Bruce Lahn of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of Chicago. “I believe that our study settles this question by showing that it was.”

Lahn and his colleagues reported their data in a research article published in the December 29, 2004, issue of the journal Cell.

It seems clear that the advantages which are associated with having a better brain would probably contribute to more frequent success in surviving to procreate, but those advantages would be enjoyed by any creature that had a better brain.

Why would the apparently rapid mutation rate have occurred only in humans?

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Bring back racial and sexual discrimination, says The Seattle Times

In today’s editorial, The Seattle Times advocated a return to arbitrary discrimination against people based on race and sex.

Will the Democrats, now that they will soon control the state’s legislative and executive branches, answer the call of The Seattle Times and repeal the civil rights guarantees approved by the voters through Initiative 200?

According to the editorial, the Democrats would be on the side of the angels:

Virtually every court has now spoken. Affirmative action can be used to craft thoughtful policies of inclusion and equal opportunity. Everywhere, that is, except this state. I-200 remains the mean-spirited law in Washington. [Emphasis added.]
With neither facts, logic nor morality on its side, The Seattle Times stoops to doublespeak. Racial and sexual discrimination are called “affirmative action,” and described as “thoughtful policies of inclusion.” While some people would be given preferential treatment on the basis of race or sex and others would be discriminated against on the same arbitrary bases, the result is called “equal opportunity.”

Intellectual honesty was apparently in short supply while this editorial was being written, since the actual policy of equal opportunity – put into state law by I-200 – was called “mean spirited.”

Washington’s state law now requires that the government shall neither grant a preference to nor discriminate against any person based on that person’s race or sex, but The Seattle Times sees this policy as a “barrier” standing in the way of women and minorities:

With significant court rulings on their side, it is time for the state Legislature to dismantle the law.

I-200 is a barrier blocking women and minorities from the aspirations most of us take for granted. Two years after the initiative became law, minority attendance at schools across the state was down. Most significant was the reduced presence of people of color at certain professional schools, including the UW's School of Law.

The same trend holds in state construction contracts.
According to the editorial, women and minorities are incapable of competing with “most of us.” Of course, it didn’t say that exactly – people who use doublespeak rarely say exactly what they mean.

Sounding a clarion call, the editorial concludes:

The courts have spoken. What says the Legislature?
Yes, the federal courts have – to their everlasting shame – perverted the meaning of our federal constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law so as to allow the denial of equal protection.

The citizens of Washington have also spoken – through I-200 – to restore that guarantee.

Is this editorial an indication of what we can expect from the Democrats once they take hold of all the reins of power in January?

If we are fortunate, this nightmarish prospect of a return to arbitrary discrimination in favor of some and against others will turn out to be an editor’s pipe dream.

Update: Some people obviously believe that racial discrimination is a necessary means of helping some “ethnic groups,” but perhaps the result is to harm the ones they seek to help. Today’s Power Line notes the debate surrounding an upcoming law review article by Professor Richard Sander. How sadly ironic it would be if advocates of racial discrimination under the guise of “affirmative action” have brushed aside civil rights guarantees and accomplished the opposite of what they intended. The end surely wouldn’t justify the means, if the chosen means accomplishes the opposite end.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Rossi's Last Day

We asked earlier: How many "last" days are there?

There are as many “last" days as there are counts and recounts. Footnote 2 of today’s supreme court opinion stated:

While RCW 29A.60.210 requires recanvassing prior to certification of an election, and RCW 29A.60.190 speaks of certification occurring on the fifteenth day following a general election, it is clear to us that whenever a recount occurs, amended abstracts are certified that supersede any prior abstract of the results. RCW 29A.64.061. The statute does not define “certification,” but the regulations promulgated by the Secretary of State make clear that certification involves the preparation and transmission of abstracts of votes to the Secretary of State. See WAC 434-262-010, -020, and -080.

There’s one other “last" day – today is the last day on which Dino Rossi is the governor-elect. While the job isn’t complete until the paperwork is finished, Rossi’s slim lead is finished beyond a shadow of a doubt, now that several hundred more King County ballots can be included in the final tally.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

EU Can Do It!

What a relief! According to BBC News the 15 countries which were members of the European Union before this year can possibly meet their Kyoto Protocol commitments.

Europe 'can reach Kyoto target'
By Alex Kirby
BBC News website environment correspondent
Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 December, 2004, 11:27 GMT

The 15 states which were members of the European Union before 2004 can reach their promised greenhouse gas target, the European Environment Agency says.

It says the EU should manage emission cuts slightly larger than those which the Kyoto Protocol requires it to make.

This depends on states living up to all their promises, and on some countries making bigger cuts than they agreed.

Even so, the EEA says, some individual countries will still overshoot their Kyoto targets, some by a large amount.

It says the EU will cut its greenhouse gas emissions by slightly more than required under the Kyoto Protocol, the global climate change treaty, on one condition.

This is that member states implement all the policies, measures and third-country projects they are planning, and that several cut emissions by more than they have to. [Emphasis added.]

So, which countries may not be able to do all they had promised?

The EEA's projections show that at present Denmark, Italy, Portugal and Spain are on course for above-target emissions, some by a wide margin, even with use of the Kyoto mechanisms and additional measures planned.

Portugal is projected to be emitting 53.1% more by 2010 than it did in 1990, and Spain 48.3% more. Greece (38.6%) and Ireland (29.4%) are not far behind.

Germany is in danger of slightly exceeding its emission limit on the basis of existing policies and measures.

The agency says: "This means the EU-15 may reach its 8% reduction target only if the projected failure of these member states to respect their targets is compensated by others making bigger emission cuts than required. [Emphasis added.]
If the “EU-15” can find the right combination of technology, economic recession and dislocation, and purchasing of “emissions credits,” they can accomplish what the Kyoto Protocol demands by 2012.

Then, they simply have to figure out how to do something which would actually have a noticeable effect on “global warming” – as predicted by the computer models which have led the EU to believe that these first steps are needed.

Monday, December 20, 2004

How Many "Last" Days Are There?

As reported in The Olympian, the state supreme court will hear arguments Wednesday morning (Dec. 22) on the question whether to allow King County to add ballots during the recount which were previously not considered to be valid votes.

Democrats hope that the state supreme court will allow King County to “recanvass” several hundred mail-in/absentee ballots which were previously determined to be invalid because of a purported mismatch between the signatures on the ballot security envelopes and the signatures on file in voter registration records.

Democrats (along with Secretary of State Sam Reed, a Republican) argue that the last few words of the last sentence of this part of the supreme court’s December 14 ruling allow such a recanvassing of ballots to correct errors that have come to the attention of the county canvassing board:

.... Nonetheless, we must reject petitioners’ arguments.

In this context, a “ballot” is a physical or electronic record of the choices of an individual voter, or the physical document on which the voter’s choices are to be recorded. RCW 29A.04.008(1)(c),(d). “’Recount’ means the process of retabulating ballots and producing amended election returns....” RCW 29A.04.139 (emphasis added). The procedure for recounts is set forth in RCW 29A.64.041, and starts with the county canvassing board opening “the sealed containers containing the ballots to be recounted.” See RCW 29A.60.110. Thus, under Washington’s statutory scheme, ballots are to be “retabulated” only if they have been previously counted or tallied, subject to the provisions of RCW 29A.60.210.
“[S]ubject to the provisions of RCW 29A.60.210” – Democrats argue – means that the recanvassing provisions in that section of the Revised Code of Washington would apply during a recount.

The trouble with that argument is that RCW 29A.60.210 establishes a deadline for the recanvassing – a deadline which passed November 17, 2004, namely 15 days after the election:

The canvassing board shall conduct any necessary recanvass activity on or before the last day to certify the primary or election and correct any error and document the correction of any error that it finds. [Emphasis added.]
The “last day to certify the primary or election” can be identified by looking to see what is required by RCW 29A.60.190 (1):

On the tenth day after a special election or primary and on the fifteenth day after a general election, the county canvassing board shall complete the canvass and certify the results.
Democrats who make this argument assert that the “last day to certify the primary or election” is actually not a day which anyone can identify until after the number of recounts is determined. That is, they argue that the first deadline may have been November 17, but the first recount and now the second recount each have their own “last day.”

We’ll soon see whether the supreme court tossed in that “subject to” phrase with such a construction of the law in mind.

It’s possible that the justices only intended to rule on December 14 that a general “fishing expedition” through the previously disqualified ballots couldn’t be done as part of a recount. They might have intended to allow corrections of specific mistakes which had caused ballots to be erroneously disqualified – provided those mistakes were brought to the canvassing board’s attention by a qualified voter, candidate or political party, rather than being discovered through a general recanvassing of all previously disqualified ballots.

But if that’s what they intended, they surely could have used plainer language to say so.

Plain language or not, we should know by Christmas whether Gregoire will be the accidental governor rather than Rossi.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Hot Air in Gotham

There’s an interesting contrast between the news reported by BBC News and that reported by The New York Times regarding the recently concluded “COP 10” conference on global warming.

According to The New York Times, the U.S. is obstructing things. In an AP story published on December 18 and in a bylined article published on December 19, The New York Times portrayed the U.S. as having prevented agreement on future discussions of what will follow the Kyoto Protocol’s commitments after 2012.

Here are excerpts from the AP story, published by The New York Times on December 18:
U.N. Climate Talks Yield Little Progress
Filed at 1:53 p.m. ET
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Long nights of backroom wrangling and a last-minute tangle produced a deal Saturday that opens a small door to international talks about what comes ``beyond Kyoto'' as the world grapples with the threat of global warming.

Bush administration envoys to a U.N. conference, allied with some developing countries, including oil producers, blocked any more ambitious effort to cap fossil-fuel emissions after reductions mandated by the Kyoto Protocol, the climate pact rejected by President Bush, expire in 2012.


Even this U.S.-European compromise [a proposal to meet in May 2005 for informal discussions of a range of issues], brought to the open floor for routine adoption at the end of the two-week conference, was stalled for hours Saturday morning by India, China and others -- as the sun rose over Buenos Aires and convention-hall workers began dismantling temporary office walls.

``Developing countries and the U.S. didn't want to see a wider opening for new commitments,'' Chinese delegate Gao Feng explained to a reporter. With Argentina's mediation, new language was inserted on the floor saying the seminar ``does not open any negotiation leading to new commitments.'' [Emphasis added.]

It’s possible to see that countries other than the U.S. were disagreeing with the proposal for a meeting in May – apparently because they didn’t want any discussion of future commitments to reduce “greenhouse gas” emissions.

Here’s The New York Times article’s explanation of the same events in the next day’s edition:

U.S. Waters Down Global Commitment to Curb Greenhouse Gases
BUENOS AIRES, Dec. 18 - Two weeks of negotiations at a United Nations conference here on climate change ended early Saturday with a weak pledge to start limited, informal talks on ways to slow down global warming, after the United States blocked efforts to begin more substantive discussions.

The main focus was to discuss the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, which goes into force on Feb. 16 and will require industrial nations to make substantial cuts in their emissions of so-called greenhouse gases. But another goal had been to draw the United States, which withdrew from the accord in 2001, back into discussions about ways to mitigate climate change after 2012, when the Kyoto agreement expires.

Governments that are already committed to reducing emissions under the Kyoto plan used diplomatic language to express their disappointment at the American position. Environmental groups, however, were more critical of what they characterized as obstructionism.

"This is a new low for the United States, not just to pull out, but to block other countries from moving ahead on their own path," said Jeff Fiedler, an observer representing the Washington-based Natural Resources Defense Council. "It's almost spiteful to say, 'You can't move ahead without us.' If you're not going to lead, then get out of the way."
Why weren’t China, India, and the other developing countries mentioned by The New York Times in the subsequent article?

Why didn’t either article in The New York Times state clearly what objection was raised by China, India and the other developing countries?

Here’s how BBC News reported the end of the conference:

BBC News
Last Updated: Saturday, 18 December, 2004, 12:57 GMT
Compromise seals climate meeting
Delegates at the UN climate change conference in Buenos Aires have reached agreement on ways to address the issue of global warming.

They approved a compromise proposal on the format of future discussions agreed by the US and the EU overnight.

Some developing countries had threatened to derail the deal, insisting on guarantees that they would not be subjected to emission cuts. [Emphasis added.]

But the demand was rejected by the EU and a new compromise emerged.


The agreement seemed in trouble when India - supported by China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia - called for an amendment at the start of the final session on Saturday.

They insisted on a written guarantee that the deal would not lead to imposition of carbon reduction commitments on developing nations.

The EU opposed this, saying the outcome of future talks should not be prejudiced.

The differences between the EU and the US centred on talks on emission cuts when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

The Europeans insisted on a series of informal meetings. In the end the US won its demand for one meeting, next May, but agreed it would be held over several days.

The meeting will be held in Germany and "promote an informal exchange of information" on cutting harmful emissions and adapting to climate change, according to the draft text.
The bottom line seems to be: The U.S. says it is too early to be discussing actions that may follow the limits required by the Kyoto Protocol; while India, China, and other developing nations say, in effect, “you can take those ideas of limits on us and shove ‘em.”

It is obvious who the obstructionists are – assuming for the sake of discussion that’s a fair characterization of any country that objects to being subject to the impractical and ineffective idea of imposing limits on carbon dioxide emissions. They are India, China, and the unnamed others. [Saudi Arabia wanted to be paid for the loss of profits that would result from reduced petroleum use – ha-ha. Pakistan’s objection wasn’t stated.]

Why wouldn’t The New York Times clearly state the position of India and China? It seems obvious that the paper’s purpose is to bash Bush, not to inform the American public of the pertinent facts.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Place Your Bets

At the trial court level, the Democrats lost in their bid to include King County ballots which had been mistakenly omitted from the vote tabulation during the first count and recount.

What are the odds? I'm no bookie, but I wonder whether the state supreme court justices will consider it to be a denial of due process to refuse to correct the mistake made by King County employees.

The supreme court earlier ruled that county canvassing boards cannot reconsider their earlier decisions to treat some ballots as invalid.

That ruling makes sense. The voters, candidates, and political parties got their one bite at the apple -- and the canvassing boards made the decision that had to be made before the initial tabulation could be completed.

But, what if low-level employees don't follow the instructions of the canvassing board? What if those employees set some ballots aside as invalid even though the employees ought to check to see if the paper copies of registration data could fill a gap in the computer database? The canvassing board instructed those employees to compare signatures to determine if absentee ballots were genuine, but the employees stopped upon seeing that no signatures were in the database.

If the canvassing board wasn't asked to decide whether those ballots were actually genuine and valid, has there been a literally arbitrary exclusion of those votes from the count? There was no reason justifying their exclusion (assuming a comparison of the signatures on file and on the envelopes shows they are done by the same people).

If the legislation could be read as the trial court judge read it -- as requiring the canvassing boards to ignore the discovery of mistakes which precluded the boards from exercising their discretion in the first place -- is that legislation constitutional as applied to the facts of this case?

I wonder if the concept of due process has been applied in any similar circumstances to decide whether the board ought to get a chance to decide, rather than have its authority disappear as a result of employee negligence and the passage of time.

Obviously, at some point the election process has to end, so some mistakes would necessarily never be corrected; but the process isn't over yet.

Update: If this article in The Seattle Times is accurate, the canvassing board in King County rarely examines ballot envelopes to determine whether the signatures match voters’ signatures that are on file in voter registration records – they leave that job to employees working on their behalf. If the canvassing board members don’t personally exercise their discretion in any case, it seems difficult to argue that their employees’ mistake deprived the board of an opportunity to make a decision on those 735 absentee ballots.

Another discrepancy among the counties is how many steps they take in reviewing signatures. Some counties require a canvassing board to review all signature problems, while others rely on election staff. There is no state standard.

In King County, where about a third of the state's voters reside, election workers — not the three-person canvassing board — usually make the final call on whether a ballot signature is valid.

County Elections Director Dean Logan pointed out that the county processed more than 560,000 absentee and provisional ballots this year.

"Given that volume, it doesn't make sense that the canvassing board would go through each of those," said Logan.

The county this year rejected 1,976 absentee and provisional ballots due to signature problems. Of those, 735 are absentee votes still in dispute after they were incorrectly set aside.

It looks as though Mr. Logan missed the point. The canvassing board members don’t need to examine all 560,000 signatures. They can rely on their employees to do the initial screening. The board members only need to examine personally those ballot signatures which their employees believe to be illegitimate or questionable. Looking at 1,976 signatures wouldn’t have been an insurmountable task for those three canvassing board members. But, they chose not to do that job – so should they now get the chance to go back and do it during the second recount?

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Hens' Teeth Discovered in Bellevue

As reported by The Seattle Times:

Bellevue business leaders call it The Disaster That Wasn't: three traffic interchanges rebuilt and a new mass-transit overpass added in the city's commercial heart without fatally clogging its arteries with gridlock.

And doing it millions of dollars under budget and a year ahead of schedule to boot.

That second paragraph isn’t even a complete sentence. It should have said:

And doing it millions of dollars under budget and a year ahead of schedule to boot is as rare as hens’ teeth.

So many old sayings, so few chances to use them, and that reporter missed one!

Monday, December 13, 2004

You go first

The state of Washington needs to amend its election laws, so everyone outside King County can have faith in the outcome of elections.

The laws should be amended to require three things:
  • King County must count their ballots in every statewide election three times before certifying the result – by machine twice, then by hand.
  • King County must then stop counting until hell freezes over.
  • All other counties must await the certification of King County’s results before beginning their ballot counting.

Then, at least King County would have to guess how many votes for their preferred candidates they need to find.

As things now stand, King County has a pretty good idea how many votes they need to find, because virtually all other counties finish counting and certify their results before King County does so.

Events which otherwise might be perceived as innocent mistakes don’t look so innocent under the current procedure.

  • King County surprised everyone by underestimating the number of votes left to be counted almost two weeks after the election. (Apparently, the Postal Service transported those ballots to the King County elections office by donkey over long distances, since they wouldn’t have been valid unless postmarked on or before election day.) What had appeared to be a Rossi victory turned into a slight edge for Gregoire on November 15 with those additional 10,000 King County votes. That slight edge disappeared by November 17, when Rossi appeared to win by 261 votes.
  • Today, King County discovered that 561 ballots had been ruled invalid even though no actual attempt had been made to see whether the signatures on the ballot envelopes matched voters’ signatures on file. Since their signatures weren’t in the digitized database, election workers were either too ignorant to know of the paper file copies that should be retrieved to examine the signatures, or too lazy to bother checking. Of course, King County now wants to include those votes in their “final” tally – assuming the voter registration signatures can be found and do match the signatures on the envelopes.

In the future, we should simply tell King County: “You go first.” Then we can maintain that perception of innocence when they make their inevitable mistakes.

“Hat tip” Sound Politics (see "update")

Update: Hindrocket at Power Line cannot maintain the perception of innocence after reading a news report of King County's latest ballot "find." The urge to suspect the worst has spread beyond our state's borders.

Sunspots: The Sun’s Anti-Bush Bias Shows in Headline

As reported in an Associated Press story on Saturday, the administration stated that enactment of air pollution laws would be a top priority early in the second term of President Bush:

"The president decided to make a strong push at the start of next year to complete his clean air and clean energy agenda," said EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt, who met with Bush to discuss the strategy earlier in the week. "And we now have a framework under which we will proceed."
The story goes on to explain that the administration will delay issuing an EPA regulation until no later than March to give Congress an opportunity to hold hearings and pass a bill which would do much the same thing as the regulation.

Why not just go with the regulation now? As noted in the AP article, Leavitt and James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, explained:

Leavitt and Connaughton said they believe legislation is superior to a regulatory approach, by cutting down on the possibility of lawsuits that could delay rules from going into effect from opponents who say they do too little or require too much.
Without acknowledging the AP as the source of the story, The Sun of Bremerton, Washington, published a substantial part of it under this headline:

Clean Air
Critics say proposed bill
weakens other regulations
Note the different headline used by ABC News in publishing the entire article:

AP: Bush Will Make Air Pollution Priority
AP Exclusive: Bush Will Make Air Pollution a Top Priority in Congress Next Year, Officials Say

Headlines tend to influence how a reader understands the article. Some people skim the newspaper, reading the headline and the first couple of paragraphs to get the gist of the story. Even those who read the entire article often keep in mind the headline’s statement and construe what they read in that light.

Consider, then, the clear bias of The Sun’s editorial staff. Nothing in the part they published said anything negative about the administration’s proposed course of action – until the last sentence, which was a summarization of two paragraphs from the AP story:

Critics say the existing Clean Air Act would be weakened.
So, one must read all the way to the end to find nothing more than what the headline said at the beginning.

Someone naive enough to believe that The Sun would surely not allow editorial opinions to appear anywhere other than on the editorial page might suppose that space limitations kept the editors from including more information about the critics’ view of the proposed law.

This supposition would be wrong. The AP story included this brief statement of a critic’s opinion:

Environmentalists say, however, that Bush's legislative proposal carried by Inhofe goes farther than the rule, by also weakening parts of the Clean Air Act.

"The Bush administration is now staking its money on a bill in Congress that weakens and delays public health protections already provided under the current Clean Air Act, while forcing the EPA to delay public health protections under current law," said John Walke, director of clean air programs for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The delay would be no more than three months – hardly a terrible thing.

Whatever the “environmentalists” believe to be a weakening of the current law isn’t stated.

But, The Sun did what it could to influence its readers’ opinions of the Bush administration by trying to convey the idea in the headline that the evil Bush intends to make them breathe dirty air.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Agricultural Boom in Brazil Affects Us

Having figured out how to farm tropical lands that were thought to be useless for agriculture only 25 years ago, the Brazilians are enjoying a boom.

As reported in The New York Times, their productivity in some areas is greater than ours:

One of the last places on earth where large tracts are still available for agriculture, the region, led by Brazil, has had an explosion of farm exports over the past decade. The growth has been fueled by a combination of market-friendly economic policies and advances in agronomy that have brought formerly unusable tropical lands into production and increased productivity levels beyond those in the United States and Europe, challenging their traditional dominance of the global farm trade.

Our response to this competition has included attempts to offset its effects with subsidies:

To counter the South American advances, the United States and Europe have increased subsidies to their own beleaguered farmers. But in a pair of landmark decisions, the World Trade Organization recently ruled that such subsidies for cotton and sugar are illegal and must be phased out.

The boom allows the people of South America an opportunity to prosper – and forces us to consider whether some of our agricultural areas produce too little at too great a cost to make the effort worthwhile.

Will we see the prosperity of others as something that is good for everyone even though our less productive activities must be curtailed?

Saturday, December 11, 2004

NY Times Urges Bush Veto of Intelligence Reform

The editors of The New York Times have changed their minds. Having urged passage of the intelligence reform bill earlier this week, they now criticize the bill as a threat to our civil rights.

On Monday, the editorial in The New York Times joined in the Democrats’ effort to pressure President Bush and House Republicans to pass the intelligence reform bill. In the editors’ view, any further delay would have been an embarrassing political defeat for Bush and proof that House Republicans were unwilling to act in the nation’s best interests.

It seems surreal that after winning a majority of voters on the point that he is the strongest anti-terrorism leader, President Bush must fairly beg House Republicans not to embarrass him any further by bottling up the badly needed reform of the intelligence agencies. Yet this is the ludicrous scenario as Congress returns for a two-day session with the president's political clout on the line and the intelligence overhaul bill blocked from a floor vote by a few G.O.P. committee chairmen. Voters are entitled to wonder who really won in November. Mr. Bush with a pressing national agenda? Or a few House lions determined to pander to Pentagon power eddies and fire up anti-immigrant animosities? [Emphasis added.]

As urged by The New York Times, President Bush put on the pressure, and the House passed the bill on Tuesday. The Senate then passed it on Wednesday.

Today, The New York Times lambasted President Bush and the recently passed bill:

As much as the nation needed to overhaul its badly flawed intelligence system, it hardly needed more surveillance and detention powers to invite federal agencies to abuse civil rights even further in the name of tracking terrorism suspects. But, alas, the new powers, which make it easier for judges and law enforcement officers to deny bail and get surveillance warrants for such suspects, survived the horse-trading that created a powerful new national director of intelligence, as recommended by the independent 9/11 commission.

Based on the Bush administration's record of trampling on individual rights, Americans can have little faith that the new police powers will be used with proper discretion by the Justice Department. [Emphasis added.]

One might wonder if The New York Times belatedly discovered the threat to civil liberties, but Monday’s editorial indicated that the editors were aware of the bill’s provisions and still were adamant about the need for Bush to pressure House Republicans to pass it.

There has been more than enough compromising already by Senate and House negotiators. Some key civil liberties provisions were sacrificed to maintain the powers of the intelligence director. There is little doubt that the compromise bill would be passed if House leaders had the courage to submit it to an open floor vote with the nation watching.

The president shouldn't offer more concessions. Even G.O.P. lawmakers say he could seize victory by more bluntly confronting the House Republican conference. That level of leadership seems needed. But the focus must be kept on an up-or-down vote on the two-house compromise, or House Republicans will find new ways to shirk their responsibility. [Emphasis added.]

Newspaper opinion pages don’t need to be nonpartisan, but staggering from pillar to post on important issues in this manner is a disgraceful display of partisanship.

If it was a good idea for President Bush to pressure members of Congress to pass the bill on Monday, then it cannot have become a bad idea by Saturday.

The only rational explanation for this turnabout by The New York Times is that the editors desire to embarrass the president in particular and Republicans in general. (Either that, or The New York Times is now urging Bush to veto the legislation – having belatedly realized the dangerous nature of its provisions and being ashamed to come right out and say the word “veto.”)

If passage of the reform bill had been delayed until the next session of Congress, the editorial on Monday would have set the stage for blaming everything on Republicans who shirked their responsibility.

Since the bill passed, the editors now treat its provisions as a threat to civil liberties, especially with Bush in office – thereby setting the stage for continuing to state the leftist canard about Bush’s record on civil rights.

They probably think this sort of “heads I win, tails you lose” gamesmanship proves how intelligent they are, but the editors have abdicated their own responsibilities in order to play their game.

Citizens of a republic leave much of the detail work to their elected representatives, and ordinarily speak up only when they believe their representatives are about to take the wrong path.

To a great extent, citizens rely on the free press to inform them when matters under consideration by the legislature require their attention. When so informed, citizens may at least attempt to persuade their representatives not to make a dumb move.

The New York Times apparently doesn’t care whether citizens are informed in a timely fashion – unless, of course, the only time that matters to the editors is the date of the next election.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Social Security Offers No Old Age Retirement Security

Noting that the “old age” part of the Social Security pension system has a huge unfunded liability, President Bush stated today that he opposes tax increases to make up the difference.

The present value of that unfunded liability is between 10 and 11 trillion dollars – a fact often ignored when critics note that borrowing to finance a transition from the current system may total between 1 and 2 trillion dollars.

Since the taxes which would be needed to eliminate the unfunded liability are clearly much higher than what would be needed to repay the sums borrowed to finance a transition, the magnitude of the borrowing wouldn’t seem so daunting if it were always accompanied by an acknowledgement of the unfunded liability. (Could that be why those who oppose borrowing the necessary transition funds almost never say what the unfunded liability is?)

President Bush favors allowing younger workers to invest part of their earnings in their own retirement accounts, rather than into the Social Security system.

Since virtually all of those younger workers would receive no return on their “investment” in the Social Security system, the risk they would run by investing in private accounts pales in comparison to the certainty that Social Security taxes would earn them no return. (For lack of a better term, I use “investment” to refer to taxes paid into the system, but put the word in quotes to denote the fact that it isn’t a true investment. The people paying those taxes purchase nothing, not even a legal claim to some return on their money.)

Critics of private accounts always point out the risks involved in private investing, but rarely admit the lack of return on the younger workers’ taxes. (Could it be that the critics know they cannot persuade anyone unless they omit from their arguments the lack of return that would result from the current system?)

Social Security’s old age retirement system will – under current projections – need general tax revenue to meet its obligations beginning in approximately 2018. That means surplus Social Security taxes collected between 1983 and 2018 and loaned to the federal government’s general fund must be paid back by that general fund from regular tax revenue. (The surplus loaned to the general fund is the “Social Security trust fund” that is often mentioned.)

By approximately 2042, that Social Security “trust fund” will be gone, leaving the system able to pay only about 75 percent of the benefits retirees expect under current law.

Anyone born after 1975 take note: If the retirement age stays at 67, you will be eligible to receive full Social Security pension benefits in 2042 – but your benefits must be cut by 25 percent, or someone’s taxes must be raised to avoid that cut. How big a return on your “investment” do you think you’ll get from Social Security? When you consider all the facts, does investing your own earnings in your own accounts seem so risky in comparison to what you face under the current Social Security retirement system?

People born before 1975 take note: The problem has absolutely nothing to do with waste, fraud or abuse. People now collecting retirement pensions from Social Security got a terrific return on their “investment,” because there were fewer retirees whose benefits needed to paid by those who were still working. They paid less into the system, because less was needed. As the number of retirees grows in the near future, there will be fewer workers per retiree paying the benefits of those retirees. Not one dime of the taxes current retirees paid into the system was set aside to pay their benefits later – all their benefits have been paid by people who were still working. That’s the way it has always been.

Whether future retirement income is derived from taxes or privately owned investments, the biggest constraint on making those payments to retirees will be the availability of earnings with which to pay.

Private investments make it more likely that the economy will be sufficiently productive to pay those future retirees, but tax increases make it less likely that the economy will grow enough to pay them.

The unfunded liability of the Social Security old age retirement system is the reason change is necessary.

The need for economic growth to support people in their old age is the reason why the change must include private investment accounts as a substitute for a substantial part of the current Social Security system.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

A Plain-spoken Diplomat

Dr. Harlan L. Watson seems to be a relatively plain-spoken person.

His official title is a mouthful: Senior Climate Negotiator and Special Representative and Alternate Head of the U.S Delegation to the tenth session of the Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change (which is being held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, December 6-17, 2004).

In his opening remarks and during the question and answer session on December 7, Dr. Watson stated:

I want to close my opening remarks by referring to President Bush’s commitment he made in June 2001 to develop with friends and allies and nations throughout the world an effective and science-based response to address climate change. The United States supports the development of an integrated approach to partnerships among governments, the private sector and NGOs that promotes economic growth, improves economic efficiency and productivity, enhances energy security, increases the availability of cleaner, more efficient energy resources and, of course, reduces pollution – all in ways that have the effect of reducing nations’ greenhouse gas intensity.

We believe that economic development is absolutely key to addressing this issue, because without economic development and economic growth around the world we are not going to be able to afford the new technologies that we need to address the problem in the long term. [Emphasis added.]
During the Q&A session, one questioner wanted to skip ahead to the period after the initial stages of the Kyoto Protocol’s process. Since the U.S. withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, the reporter apparently wanted to get a headstart on discussing the next possible occasion when the agreement of the U.S. might be sought.

German Radio: Can you please tell us how would an international climate change protection regime from the time after 2012 have to look so it could be ratified by the U.S.?
Dr. Watson: Quite frankly, we don't believe it's time to address the post-2012 time frame. We are very focused on implementing the President's program domestically. We think there are many lessons that will be learned from that process, which can inform the international process. We believe the same is true for those who will be working to implement the Kyoto Protocol. Of course, what is still to be decided among the Kyoto Parties is the type of compliance regime that will be agreed to; whether, of course, the Kyoto mechanisms - exactly how all those will work out. Of course, European trading systems and other trading systems under development still have to be implemented. Again, we will learn many, many lessons from that. And, quite frankly, whether or not the Kyoto Parties will be willing to take on what we believe would be non-growth economic policies; [they will be] required to meet the targets. So, for all of these reasons, we do not believe that it is the appropriate time to talk about post-2012 negotiations. [Emphasis added.]

A little later, a questioner wondered if the U.S. considered the Kyoto Protocol to be a “science-based response.” Quite correctly, Dr. Watson noted that the protocol was a political agreement among the parties who chose that particular way to address the problem.

Energy Daily: You mentioned the President's statement in June 2001 committing to a science-based response to the problem of global warming. Can we infer that the U.S. does not consider the Kyoto Protocol to be based on sound science?
Dr. Watson: The Kyoto Protocol was a political agreement. It was not based on science.
It remains to be seen whether journalists can understand the distinction between agreeing to follow one path, rather than another, and using science to determine what paths are available.

Then came the “have you stopped beating your wife” question:

German Press Agency: You've been telling us all the efforts the U.S. is making concerning climate change. Can you tell us when the world can expect that GHG emissions will really decrease? In which year will this be - in 2020 or when would that be? And a second question, if you allow me, what went wrong in American way of life that you have almost doubled GHG emissions in comparison to countries in Europe with the same living standard, more or less? What went wrong in the States? [Emphasis added.]
Dr. Watson: Let me address the last part first, and I'll turn to my colleague in the Department of Energy to perhaps provide some more detail on some of our technology programs. Nothing went wrong in the U.S. We are blessed with economic growth. In most developed countries and developing countries economic growth implies more energy use, which typically implies more emissions. I might say, by the way, that your sweeping statement about European reductions does not hold across-the-board, because you should know there have been substantial increases in a number of countries in Europe. I'm not going to name any countries, but I think you all know who they are. [Emphasis added.]

This was the closest Dr. Watson came to answering a question without being plain-spoken – perhaps because he didn’t want to get into a discussion about the severe recessions that followed the collapse of the Soviet empire and the reduced emissions which resulted from that event.

If there has been less growth in emissions in Europe as a whole compared to the U.S., it may be a safe bet that the difference stemmed from the factor which Dr. Watson pointed out – economic growth. The U.S. economy has ordinarily grown at a faster pace compared to Europe since 1990, while several European countries have suffered from economic stagnation and recession during that period.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Really Central Intelligence Agency

Legislation intended to reform the federal government’s “intelligence community” is on its way to the Senate and then, presumably, to the President for signature – the House having passed a compromise version of the bill today.

It seems odd that so many people believe that the intelligence community -- which suffered from “group think” on important issues regarding the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq -- could be improved by greater centralization of control under a new official known as the National Intelligence Director.

Perhaps there is less to the centralization than meets the eye, since compartmentalization of access to classified information will still be necessary to protect important secrets.

If so, the probability of being worse off because of “group think,” lost secrets, and an absence of competition among the different agencies may not be so great.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Cost is no obstacle unless you pay it

An editorial in today’s New York Times offers a typically adolescent argument against the federal government’s recent policy choices related to protecting salmon in west coast states.

Here is the concluding paragraph:

The administration offers endless justifications for its proposals, chiefly the insupportable claim that both dam removal and habitat protection would exact an unacceptable economic price. It also promises mitigating measures, including technological fixes to help the fish over and around the dams, and more "focused" habitat protection, albeit in a much smaller area than the fish's historical range. But clearly the administration's heart isn't in it. The underlying message here is that commercial interests come first, salmon second, even if history suggests that the two can comfortably coexist.

If one lives in the eastern states, destroying dams used to enable river navigation, to produce electricity, and to irrigate farmland in the Pacific Northwest probably does seem to be an acceptable economic price to pay. When you don’t pay the price, cost is no obstacle to achieving what you want.

Likewise, one whose property is unaffected by restrictions on its use may believe that greater restrictions are acceptable. When the property isn’t yours, and you aren’t required to compensate the owner for taking his property for use as a public nature preserve, hardly any restrictions would seem unreasonable.

The really odd thing about this editorial’s conclusion is in its last sentence. Having criticized the federal government for giving priority to economic development rather than preservation of salmon stocks, the editorialist claimed “history suggests that the two can comfortably coexist.”

What history could he be talking about? The very dams he wants to destroy are part of the commercial development which he claims can comfortably coexist with the salmon.

The economic development of land in the west is the very thing the editorialist wants to prohibit in the name of saving the salmon. He might be comfortable with his preferred policies, but then he doesn’t live in the areas which would be affected.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Firearms, Burglars and the English Experience

The British may be taking a small step back toward reasonableness after their decades-long movement to disarm law-abiding citizens.

For a good discussion of the lengths to which the British have gone in disarming their citizens, see Guns and Violence: the English Experience by Joyce Lee Malcolm (Harvard University Press, 2002) and To Keep and Bear Arms: the Origins of an Anglo-American Right also by Malcolm (Harvard University Press, 1994).

Here in the U.S.A., gun control advocates usually claim not to have any intention to eliminate the use of firearms for hunting and sport, but they either remain silent about their use for self-defense or claim that the use of firearms in self-defense is not effective and thus not a worthwhile reason to permit such use.

They appear to want what the English have attained – a society in which law-abiding citizens are easier prey for criminals.

Anyone who thinks such a description of American gun control advocates’ motivation is unfair should read Malcolm’s books, compare what has occurred in Great Britain to what has occurred or has been advocated in the U.S., consider the laws already enacted in places like New York City and Washington, D.C. – then think again.

Since 1967 the law has allowed residents of Great Britain to use “reasonable” force to defend themselves when confronted by burglars, but the opinion of government officials about the reasonableness of force used in self-defense in any given situation has often diverged from the view of the great masses of the plain people.

As noted in
The Times today, it appears the law will be amended to authorize the use of force against burglars so long as the victim of the burglary doesn’t use force which is “grossly disproportionate.”

The government’s application of the law has reached a point at which the scales are tilted in favor of the burglars rather than the victims. The increase in burglaries of occupied homes probably results in part from the perception that the victims must acquiesce in the burglars’ crimes or face prosecution – making the burglar’s criminal choice a relatively safe one while making the victim’s predicament more dangerous.

Perhaps a change in the law and in the way the law is applied in Great Britain will provide yet more evidence in support of the proposition that recognizing the natural right of citizens to use firearms in self-defense is not only the correct thing to do, but is also an effective method of reducing the number of crimes committed against those citizens.

Gun control advocates are free to invite harm to themselves by notifying criminals of their defenseless condition, but they have no right to impose their irrational beliefs on others.

The English have apparently learned from their experience, but certain areas of the U.S. are populated by people who seem unable to learn.

Fortunately for most of us, gun control advocates are usually found in large urban areas and represent the minority, so they have not yet been able to force the rest of us to suffer the consequences of their dangerously silly ideas.