Public Nuisance

Random commentary and senseless acts of blogging.

The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Thursday, October 31, 2002
That Had Best Be Dixie You're Whistling

Sam Heldman notes that Alabama will appeal the recent court decision legalizing vibrators in the Yellowhammer State.
Mark Kleiman has good explanations of some common errors made in interpreting poll data and margin of error. William Burton takes on the myth that Reagan won the Cold War. Junius points to this alarming report on the French underclass, interesting because, unlike many recent reports widely cited in the blogosphere, it discusses the appalling reality of immigrants in France without much attention to Islam as a dominant factor.
Wednesday, October 30, 2002
Mid Term Corrections

With less than a week to go, I stand by the prediction made here previously that the Democrats will hold the Senate, and very probably gain 2 seats or more. The forecast: Democrats are likely to pick up seats in Colorado, New Hampshire, and Arkansas. Republicans have only one probable pickup, in Missouri, and that one is looking less probable now, due perhaps to a rebound sympathy vote for Carnahan after the death of Paul Wellstone. Another potential Republican gain is South Dakota, where the race is pretty much a toss up. Democrats have a shot at gaining seats in Tennessee, Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, and possibly Maine, but none of these is worth betting on. Along with their two good shots, Republicans have outside chances at Democratic seats in Georgia, Louisianna, New Jersey, Minnesota, and Iowa. However, Ganske in Iowa and Lautenberg in New Jersey are looking safer all the time. Mondale should be able to hold Minnesota, and I think Wellstone, had he lived, would have won there. Only Cleland of Georgia from that list is in real danger, and I think he will pull through.

In the Governors' races, Tuesday will be a disaster for the GOP. Democrats might, if things really break their way, pick up as many as 10 states. Democrats will pick up Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Kansas(!) and Maine (currently independent). Already an impressive list, but voters may add Florida, Texas, Arizona, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Minnesota. Few states are likely to go in the other direction, and the candidates are mostly smaller states: Alabama, Maryland, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Hawaii are the most likely. On Wednesday morning, it's possible that among the 10 largest states, only Ohio will have a Republican governor who fits into the national party. (Pataki is very much a RINO, well to the left of many Democrats, including, on some issues, his opponent.)

New Democratic governors in swing states like Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and New Mexico could make the difference in ousting Bush if 2004 turns out to be close. Obviously Bush could not have 'won' in 2000 if Florida had been in Democratic hands.

As for the House, it's hard to call, but Republicans probably have the advantage. Republicans were able to use Governorships in several states that added seats to rig several new districts in their favor. However, numbers for the last few weeks show Bush's popularity dropping and, worse for Republicans, consumer confidence sinking to a 10 year low. It's very hard to figure out - there is little polling for most races, but I think control of the House is very much in play.

Note: Daily Kos agrees with me in looking for a gain of 10 - 11 seats in governorships, and explains why it matters. He corrects me on Arizona, which I had listed as a possible Republican gain, but is yet another swing state that is a probable Democratic gain.

The Armed Liberal looks at the California ballot and has some persuasive posts arguing for a No vote on Prop 50 (Water Bonds) and Prop 51 (Transportation Improvements). Prop 51 is particularly egregious and richly deserves to lose; however, relatively few California voters will have studied the ballot closely enough to be aware of the dirty dealing in which various interests contributed to the Yes on 51 campaign in return for large projects that would benifit them being written into the proposal.

AL hasn't addressed so far another interesting point. There are 3 bond issues (46, 47, 50) on the current CA ballot. Proponents of each insist that their bonds have nothing at all to do with raising taxes.

Q: Where will the money come from?

A: Proposition 46 is a $2.1 billion general obligation bond that will be paid through existing funds in the state general fund. Funding for Proposition 46 will not require a new tax.

Proposition 50 is a fiscally sound opportunity to make necessary investments in our infrastructure. The bond will be paid back through existing resources in the state general fund, NOT through new taxes.

What these proposals all do is to require new expenditures without specifying where the money will come from. So in that sense they 'don`t raise taxes'. But the money to pay for the bonds won`t fall out of the sky. The bonds will have to be paid off and that means (duh) taxes. Of course when and if voters pass these proposals, the Legislature will have to scrape up money to pay about $35 bn in new obligations (assuming all pass) over the next few decades. And voters will wonder why those damned politicians are raising their taxes again.

Two other initiatives simply require the state to pay for certain proposals out of existing funds. According to Yes on 51:

Proposition 51 accomplishes all these goals by establishing a new transportation trust fund, using money from the existing sales tax on motor vehicles. Proposition 51 does not raise taxes.[Emphasis in original.]

However, if 51 does pass, important projects not mentioned in the initiative will go unfunded, or else taxes will have to be raised. It's the same thing as the bonds, except that the bonds require you to pay twice - pay for the actual project and pay for interest on money borrowed to finance it.

Prop 49 works in much the same way as 51, but it deserves a posting of its own. It's the most interesting initiative on the state ballot, primarily because it is also the opening shot of a probable Schwarzenegger 2006 gubernatorial campaign.

Friday, October 25, 2002

Paul Wellstone
1944 - 2002

Paul Wellstone with Sheila Ison, Marcia Wellstone, and other family members

Of whom shall we speak? For every day they die
among us, those who were doing us some good,
who knew it was never enough but
hoped to improve a little by living.

W. H. Auden

On the Verge

The Giants have been playing in San Francisco for 44 years. To say there have been great stars would be an understatement; arguably the two greatest players in the history of the game were San Francisco Giants, both playing in San Francisco in the peak years of their careers. But in those years there has never been a World Series title.

For only the second time that title is one game away, and for the first time the Giants have two shots at that one game. It will be tough; the Angels feature amazing hitting, excellent defense, and strong pitchers. When a team takes a 6 - 0 lead in baseball, I normally fell the game is essentially over. I never felt that in last night's game; not until the lead was stretched late to 12 - 4 did I really feel the game was a done deal.

Getting the last win I think may come down to the pitching; another 16 run explosion seems unlikely. How to stop the Angels isn't so mysterious - the Giants recorded 23 strikeouts and yielded 10 runs in their 3 victories. In the 2 defeats, there were only 5 strikeouts, and 21 runs given up. Ortiz and Hernandez, who were hit hard as starters in games 2 and 3, seem to be the planned starters. With the Giants bullpen working heavily in recent games, one of them probably has to come through with a strong start.

A more counter-intuitive formula for a Giants victory is proposed by Byzantium's Shores, which notes that the Giants are 7 - 0, now 8 - 0, in postseason games in which Barry Bonds doesn't go deep, but only 2 - 5 when he does.

Daily Dis

Some notes on the latest wit and wisdom of Sully:

There's yet another post, actually a pretty good one, on Orwell. It's fine that Sully is noting that Orwell was not, in truth, a neocon - but the very fact that this transcendently obvious point has to be explained shows how bizarre our politics has grown. Anyone with the most casual familiarity with Orwell knows how deeply anti-imperialist and anticapitalist he was, but these points tend to be missed in many recent Orwell discussions. I suppose once you can cite Christ without noticing that he wasn't exactly a huge fan of wealth and privilege, making Orwell into an enthusiast for the free market becomes easy.

Andrew also has an explanation for why the Maryland sniper was difficult to catch. His 'explanation' is racial profiling. His evidence is a story that the sniper may have been stopped by police on October 8, but let go because "`Everyone was looking for a white car with white people,` said one high-ranking police source."

How did Sullivan conclude that the reason the snipers weren't caught was racial profiling? He offers only that one quote to support his claim that police were particularly looking for white suspects. A number of other accounts seem to contradict that, such as this one:

No descriptions of possible suspects have been released....

The only descriptions "we have are those of the white vehicles, and we're not even sure how solid those descriptions are," says Sgt. Kim Chinn, a Prince William County, Va., police spokeswoman. Chinn, who attended an internal police briefing Sunday morning, said investigators did not mention any video or suspect description. "We're all sharing information, but I'm not aware of any videotape with a suspect," she said.

What we do know is that police were looking for a white van. And the car the alleged snipers were actually using was neither white, nor a van, nor stopped near a crime scene. "And yet the cops let a man go because of his race", says Sullivan. Apparently the fact that there was no evidence or even real cause for suspicion had nothing to do with it.

It's a genuine mystery to me why Sully would have so little interest in his credibility as to blog such nonsense. His readers know the police were looking for a white van. With the publicity this case got, headhunters in the Amazon know the police were looking for a white van, and that that was the main clue repeated in the media for weeks. And yet Sullivan blithely writes as if this fact doesn't exist or has no importance. Who on earth does he think he's fooling?

Another Sullivan correspondent is eager to attack Dana Milbank for daring to say anything remotely critical of George Bush:

Finally, he closes with a basic error in arithmetic: "Other times, the president's assertions simply outpace the facts. In New Hampshire earlier this month, he said his education legislation made "the biggest increase in education spending in a long, long time." "In fact, the 15.8 percent increase in Department of Education discretionary spending for fiscal year 2002 (the figures the White House supplied when asked about Bush's statement) was below the 18.5 percent increase under Clinton the previous year. . ."
In fact, a 15.8 % increase is "bigger" than a previous year's 18.5 % increase (115.8 x 118.5 = 137.22; 137.22 - 118.5 = 18.72% ). Dana might wish to define an "increase" as a multiplicative factor, but dictionaries, math books, and common usage all refer to addition.

This gentleman is simply wrong in claiming to have proven an inaccuracy in Milbank's numbers. He says the 2002 increase is 1.2% greater than the 2001 increase, but hasn't included the 1.9% inflation in 2001, which wipes that out. He has also ignored the fact that the numbers he's dealing with are approximations, not exact. But if he wants to find a real incidence of playing decpetive tricks with the difference between percentage increases and absolute increases, he can always check out the home page of the Bush Department of Education.

Thursday, October 24, 2002
Tapped notes that Bush is turning the federal government into a campaign tool. One detail in the story is the e-mail sent to all employees, not only political appointees, of the EPA, reminding them that they were welcome to "express support for the president and his program" when off duty.

One major block against abuses of this sort is Civil Service rules. And those are exactly the rules Bush wants to abolish in the new Homeland Security Department, opening up 170,000 potential jobs for GOP patronage. It has nothing to do with politics, of course. He only wants to protect you.

The article also mentions that Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans yesterday went to Iowa to present an award at a food processing plant, where he was introduced by Greg Ganske, currently in a close race to unseat Senator Tom Harkin. That appearance is being promoted on the DoC home page. By a remarkable coincidence, Evans will appear today with Senator Tim Hutchinson, who is losing his race for re-election. On Tuesday, he was in Las Vegas with Republican Representative Jim Gibbons, who represents essentially all of Nevada except for Vegas. For some mysterious reason, the Congressman who actually represents Las Vegas and is a Democrat wasn't invited. But Las Vegas just happens to be the base of Nevada's new 3rd District, which is an open seat in this election.

By pure happenstance, Evans will be in 3 states in 3 days for public appearances with Republicans involved in 3 key races. Since all of these trips are being promoted on the DoC web site, it's reasonable to assume that taxpayers are paying the full cost of this purely non-political activity.

Sniper Arrests

Arrests this morning may possibly have ended the DC sniper case. It's important not to jump to conclusions - remember that only a few days ago police made an arrest that was thought to be a breakthrough and turned out to be just two illegal aliens in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The primary suspect is John Muhammad, an Army veteran (not trained as a sniper according to early reports) and Muslim convert. Although an al Qaeda sympathizer, he seems to have no direct ties to terrorist groups. If he is the killer it is likely that he's a freelance terrorist not unlike Hesham Hadayet, the terrorist who attacked the El Al terminal on July 4. This article (link from Daimnation) has some information on his background and that of the stepson arrested with him.

Update: Police now seem increasingly confident that these men are the sniper and his driver, although a final announcement is waiting on ballistics tests on the rifle recovered from their car.

Wednesday, October 23, 2002
Jane Galt links to this table to discuss Paul Krugman's noted "Gilded Age" article. The table shows US income by quintile as a percentage of the poverty level from 1967 to 1994. Her comment on it is:

Well, Krugman is right that inequality is increasing. But it seems to deny his assertion that it is increasing because the bottom 4 quintiles have basically stayed stat, with all the increase in GDP since 1970 accruing to the very rich.

It seems to me that the table actually underlines and confirms Krugman's point that the increase in income levels under current policies goes only to the highest earners. There have been increases for other quintiles since 1967, but those increases were almost entirely in the pre-Reagan era.


From 1967 until 1979, all quintiles did well and there was little increase in inequality. From 1979 until 1994, the lowest dropped drastically, the second dropped moderately, the third had no real change, and the fourth rose moderately. Only the top quintile really did well. Broadly speaking, the graph seems to confirm that in the Reagan/Bush years inequality grew substantially, while living standards were largely stagnant for most.

This table carries the data further than Jane's does. It shows that all groups did well in the Clinton boom, while the top still did best. The bottom quintile finally got back to the level of 1979, while the other quintiles all hit unprecedented numbers.

The table also shows data by race, which has some interesting implications. Blacks, except for the underclass of the bottom quintile, did substantially better than Hispanics, while the number of Hispanic families being counted grew far faster proportionally, suggesting that immigration is a major factor in keeping the lower quintiles low. Blacks overall did extremely well in the Clinton years, again excluding the bottom quintile, which shows that Clinton's enormous personal popularity among blacks has a real basis.

Tuesday, October 22, 2002
Foreign Affairs

Being Secretary of State isn't all limo rides and state dinners. Here's former Secretary Madeleine Albright in an interview on "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me" discussing one of the lesser known hazards of the job:
I have a whole new thing that I can give lectures on, which is the art of diplomatic kissing.... I travelled and every country had a different custom. In Latin America, they give a kiss on one or the other cheek, but I could never figure out which counties did on the right and which on the left, and so there were a lot of bumped noses. And then, in Europe the French kiss on both cheeks, and the Dutch and the Belgians kiss three times. And then the Botswanans kiss four times.

And then Arafat, just the thought, right? And he is kind of, you know, an aggressive and unpredictable kisser, kissing on both cheeks and sometimes the forehead.

Q: Really. So how did you approach Chairman Arafat?

Well, you tried to figure out, you know, what was gonna happen and duck.

This may well explain why Colin Powell has so far insisted on handing over the task of meeting Arafat to subordinates.

I didn't find this Doonesbury offensive. In fact, I figured it as flattering evidence that Garry Trudeau reads this blog. But Instaman seems to have gotten a bit irate over it. (So did Jim Treacher, whose take was unfair but funny.)

Glenn used today's weaker strip as an occasion to bring up this critique of Doonesbury that I discussed months ago. Advantage: Nuisance!

Tom Tomorrow has also noticed that the new strip is unimpressive.

Update: Jim Treacher thinks that the term 'irate' is an excessive description of his Doonesbury satire linked above, and on reflection I agree. Also Dan Drezner has been commenting on the strips. Oddly, although Dresner seem to lean to the right, our tastes in strips, even those with political interests, is fairly close. Like me, he admires Boondocks and the late, great Calvin and Hobbes, seems to like the emphatically liberal Bloom County, and finds Zippy incomprehensible.

As Republicans announce their impending election victory, the pundits are starting to fall in line agreeing. But before you take this too seriously, take a moment to recall the last midterm elections. Here's what those same pundits were saying days before the 1998 elections:

The Senate: Conventional wisdom among the opinion mafia is GOP gain of two seats (George Will, Stephanopoulos, and Sam Donaldson, This Week; Eleanor Clift, The McLaughlin Group; Margaret Carlson and Al Hunt, CNN's Capital Gang). Cokie Roberts (This Week) expects a GOP gain of only one seat; Mark Shields (Capital Gang) expects no net gain for either party. On the other side, a few prognisticators expect GOP gains of three seats (Gwen Ifill, NBC's Meet the Press; Michael Barone, The McLaughlin Group), four seats (Tony Blankley, The McLaughlin Group; Bill Kristol, This Week), or more (John McLaughlin and Pat Buchanan, The McLaughlin Group; Robert Novak, Capital Gang). A gain of five seats would give the GOP a filibuster-proof majority in the senate, which everyone agrees would be a very important victory.

14 out of 15 predicted Republican gains. In fact, there was no Senate change in 1998.

The House: Conventional wisdom is a GOP gain of seven to ten seats (Kate O' Beirne, Capital Gang; Blankley, Hunt; Barone; Novak; Margaret Carlson; Donaldson; Stephanopoulos, Charles Cook, Meet the Press). Clift and Shields expect GOP gains of less than six seats; Buchanan, McLaughlin, and Kristol expect GOP gains of over 12 seats. Borger predicts that if the GOP gains less than five to eight house seats, Republicans will attempt to unseat Newt Gingrich as top Republican in the house.

Every pundit predicted a Republican gain in the House. Voters inexplicably failed to listen to their betters and produced Democratic gains instead.

It was the same story in 2000, when pundits before the election predicted a popular vote victory for Bush, and even predicted that Hillary Clinton was in danger of losing to Rick Lazio. The truth is that pundits are like anybody else - they see what they want to see. And since they are Republicans, they see evidence of Republican victories. Democrats did better in both the 1998 and 2000 elections than pundits predicted. The 2001 off year elections were misreported even after they had taken place - what was actually a major Democratic victory was reported as a draw. Expect the same pattern this year.

Atrios now lives here. Since it's only temporary digs, the blogroll still points to the permanent location.
Friday, October 18, 2002
OK., odds are you already read Talking Points. And if you don't, why not? But this story of how the Thune Senate campaign in South Dakota whipped up a phony vote fraud story out of a minor and innocent mistake is not to be missed.
Thursday, October 17, 2002
Jeff Cooper used the New Jersey ballot controversy as a starting point for an excellent post on how judges interpret laws.
Tbogg (link from Atrios) suggests "Operation Inigo Montoya" for the new Iraq war. It's pretty good, but too obscure. From a marketing viewpoint, and we know that's the key one for this administration, I think it's a better move to update a classic. I would propose "Operation Just Bomb It".
White Elephants

With all the talk about Chafee possibly switching parties, the question that strikes me is: why not? I truly can't think of a single good reason for any centrist/liberal - and Chafee, with an ADA rating of up to 70% is quite liberal - to remain in the current Republican Party. Liberal Republicanism, generally northeastern or midwestern, is a great American tradition, but it's gone and not coming back.

Moderate/liberals have no noticable influence in determining their party's legislative agenda - even though the party would have no chance of a majority in either house without them. The centrists lack even token representation in the party leadership, either in House or Senate. That leadership now openly backs the "Alliance For Growth", whose function is to run right-wing candidates against moderates in Republican primaries. A President of their own party snubs them systematically, even though he needs, expects, and actually gets their votes.

No moderate Republican has been on a national ticket since 1964. The last one to actually head a Republican ticket was, I believe, Wilkie. The last who had a real shot at winning, instead of being a sacrificial lamb, may well have been Teddy Roosevelt. It's literally inconceivable that a Chafee or Snowe, or even Specter, could win the Republican nomination today; none has even bothered trying for years. No moderates other than Colin Powell have been seriously considered for the second slot in recent years, either. Powell gets consideration for his military background and race, and in spite of his actual beliefs.

By contrast, moderate or fairly conservative southerners have been on all recent Democratic tickets except for 1984 and 1972 - and 1972 was only because the border state southerner nominated for VP by the Convention hid a history of mental illness. Southerners have headed 7 of the last 10 Democratic tickets, and not improbably will head the next one.

Bill Clinton appointed two moderate northeastern Republicans to visible, prestigious posts, William Weld and Bill Cohen. Weld was blocked for confirmation - not by Democrats but by his own party. George Bush hasn't given a single good appointment to a moderate Republican. Christine Whitman is cited as an example, but other than being pro-choice she's pretty much orthodox on the rest of the party line. And her job, where she apparently isn't allowed to set policy and has to be the public face of some of Bush's least popular moves, is no great plum.

That's hitting the real bottom rung of the ladder in American politics. To have any hope, even a remote one, of a decent appointed job, you first have to hope that your party loses.

The major national organization for moderate Republicans, the only one that I know of, is the Ripon Society. I literally can't remember the last time I've seen a representative of theirs appearing as a talking head, or even seen a mention of them in the media. It's probably been over 25 years. Their web site looks barely active.

So go ahead and ride the donkey Lincoln, Marge, and the rest of you. What on earth have you got to lose?

Tapped In

The Tapped blog has a redesign and a new url. This would seem to indicate that Kausfiles' Tuesday scoop that the blog was out is a load of something that often gets scooped. No indication that the pink slip party Kaus predicted for Tuesday took place either.

The new Tapped definitely looks better. I've been a nice guy and updated my link, even though their this-is-not-a-blogroll blogroll has at least one (actually, rather more than one) conspicuous absence.

Divestment and Double Standards

DSquared is critical of a recent Friedman column in the divestment movement. Friedman wrote:

Memo to professors and students leading the divestiture campaign: Your campaign for divestiture from Israel is deeply dishonest and hypocritical, and any university that goes along with it does not deserve the title of institution of higher learning.

You are dishonest because to single out Israel as the only party to blame for the current impasse is to perpetrate a lie. Historians can debate whether the Camp David and Clinton peace proposals for a Palestinian state were for 85, 90, or 97 percent of the West Bank and Gaza. But what is not debatable is what the proper Palestinian response should have been. It should have been to tell Israel and America that their peace proposals were the first fair offer they had ever put forth, and although they still fell short of what Palestinians feel is a just two-state solution, Palestinians were now prepared to work with Israel and America to achieve that end. The proper response was not a Palestinian intifada and 100 suicide bombers, which are what brought Ariel Sharon to power....

You are also hypocrites. How is it that Egypt imprisons the leading democracy advocate in the Arab world, after a phony trial, and not a single student group in America calls for divestiture from Egypt? (I'm not calling for it, but the silence is telling.) How is it that Syria occupies Lebanon for 25 years, chokes the life out of its democracy, and not a single student group calls for divestiture from Syria? How is it that Saudi Arabia denies its women the most basic human rights, and bans any other religion from being practiced publicly on its soil, and not a single student group calls for divestiture from Saudi Arabia?

Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction — out of all proportion to any other party in the Middle East — is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest.

Dsquared in response:

I would guess that the reason that there is no campaign for divestiture from Syria is that it doesn't have a stock exchange.

[Snipped paragraph describing the lack of major publicly traded companies in Arab states in detail.]

In fact, on the basis of the above research, I would hazard a guess (and perhaps award a small prize to anyone who can gainsay me with proof), that the major American university endowments have no investments at all in Egypt, Syria or Saudi Arabia, making it rather fucking pointless to campaign for them to "divest".

It is considered traditional at this point to fulminate about the kind of individual who makes this sort of pig-ignorant blanket assertion without bothering to spend five minutes on google to check the facts, but I'm scared of the blowback from that one.

Dsquared's argument is based entirely on the claim that divestment is aimed at companies based in Israel. If Dsquared him/herself had bother to spend five minutes checking the facts, it would have become clear that this isn't true, and that Friedman is completely correct in saying that the divestment campaign singles out Israel while ignoring other countries with far greater violations of human rights.

There isn't a single national divestment petition, but this one being circulated at what are arguably America's two most prestigious universities, can be taken as a fair instance.

As members of the MIT and Harvard University communities, we believe that our universities ought to use their influence - political and financial - to encourage the United States government and the government of Israel to respect the human rights of the Palestinians. We therefore call on the US government to make military aid and arms sales to Israel conditional on immediate initiation and rapid progress in implementing the conditions listed below. We also call on MIT and Harvard to divest from Israel, and from US companies that sell arms to Israel, until these conditions are met:

Already Dsquared's argument is falling apart. Egypt is a major recipient of US military aid. In addition to arresting political dissidents and homosexuals, Egypt heavily persecutes its minority population of Coptic Christians. Copts have been murdered by Muslims with impunity (the police arrested other Copts and tortured them into signing confessions) and children have been forcibly taken from their parents to be raised as Muslims. American weapons are sold in large quantities to Saudi Arabia, and to Bahrain, which has no elections or legal political parties.

Pakistan also receives American weapons and has a notably poor human rights record. By law, Pakistanis who are members of the Ahmadiyya sect, regarded by most Muslims as heretical, are not Muslims, therefore not permitted to own Korans or be buried in Muslim cemeteries. They are barred from holding public assemblies. They can even be arrested for saying the traditional Muslim greeting when they meet each other. Numerous Pakistanis are serving prison terms for blasphemy, and members of the Shia, Ahmadiyya, and Christian minorities have been murdered. There are also arms sales, much smaller, to Lebanon, which is largely a puppet government under Syrian occupation. The circulators and signers of the petition don't seem to see any problem with these human rights abuses.

Israel is in compliance with United Nations Resolution 242 which notes the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war, and which calls for withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from occupied territories.

Resolution 242 doesn't call for unilateral withdrawal, but for withdrawal in a context of "termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force". Israel is not in violation of the resolution more than other parties, including the PA. In fact, since Israel has withdrawn from most of the territories occupied in June 1967, and offered withdrawal from almost all of them, it is arguably the only state in the area in compliance with 242.

Israel is in compliance with the United Nations Committee Against Torture 2001 Report which recommends that Israel's use of legal torture be ended.

Israel does use torture, as does every other Middle East state. Unlike other states, Israel doesn't torture (or even hold) nonviolent political prisoners, nor does it use torture to obtain phony confessions.

In compliance with the Fourth Geneva Convention ("The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into territories it occupies"; Article 49, paragraph 6), Israel ceases building new settlements, and vacates existing settlements, in the Occupied Territories.

Israel is in violation of international law in the sattlements, and I have long felt that most West Bank settlements and all Gaza settlements should be removed. However, China has violated this rule far more extensively than Israel.

Israel acknowledges in principle the applicability of United Nations Resolution 194 with respect to the rights of refugees, and accepts that refugees should either be allowed to return to their former lands or else be compensated for their losses, as agreed by the Palestinians and Israelis in bilateral negotiations.

Reslution 194 was a non-binding resolution which has long been obsolete. The petition cites it for one paragraph on return of refugees, while ignoring other provisions in it such as access to holy sites in Jerusalem (which was denied until Israel captured Jerusalem in 1967) and placing a significant portion of the West Bank under UN control.

This resolution, like the divestment movement, fantasizes that the situation of Palestinian refugees is unique. Jews were driven out of Arab countries after 1948, and have never been offered compensation for the destruction of their communities and the theft of their property. Non-Muslim refugees fled what became Pakistan in 1948 and their former homes have been destroyed or occupied. Several Central Asian nations are deliberately making life harder for Russian nationals to encourage them to return to the Russian Republic. There are refugees from many other conflicts all over the world - Korea, Indochina, Rwanda, Bosnia, Sri Lanka, Algeria, and more who haven't excited the interest of the United Nations or the divestment movement.

Although the petition calls explicitly for divestment only from companies that sell weapons to Israel, the web site shows that "divestment from Israel" is intended to be understood much more broadly. The Harvard list includes companies that own shares of Israeli companies, companies that have Israeli subsidiaries, companies that have plants in Israel, and even McDonalds, for opening restaurants in Israel. The MIT list is described as "companies that have investments in Israel" and includes Pepsico, McDonald's, Weyerhauser, Pfizer, and Manpower, Inc. By the standards that the divestiture movement itself uses, every major American university almost certainly has investments in Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.

Update: Meryl Yourish ran into the same post and had some similar responses. Matthew Yglesias also has some sharp words on the Harvard divestment campaign.

Tuesday, October 15, 2002
Buy Bonds

Continuing today's trend of number-heavy posts, I note that it's time for those who have questioned the post-season play of Barry Bonds to eat their words. In the 10 games of the Giants' post-season, Bonds has batted a relatively modest .286. But his 4 home runs kicks his slugging percentage up to an impressive .786, 2nd highest of all players with 10 or more at bats on the 4 teams that played in the ALCS or NLCS. (Anaheim's Kennedy had a surreal slugging % of 1.000.) Bonds tied with several others for most home runs in the league playoffs. He was walked 14 times in 10 games, a pace that was actually above his all time major league record for the regular season, and gave him an on-base % of .500, 3rd among all LCS players. He score 10 runs and drove in 10, played key offensive roles in both of the two home victories that clinched the title for SF, and made no errors in 10 games.

Bonds' strong bat performance in the playoffs doesn't change the fact that Jeff Cooper is right. The Cardinals, especially in the fourth game, walked Bonds in situations where you have to pitch to opposing players, one of several reasons they deserved to lose.

Warm San Francisco Right

Lowell Ponte, writing in the always reliable Horowitz mouthpiece Front Page, asserts that San Francisco is moving to the right and Glenn Reynolds asks if it's true. Putting the headline into the lead graf: no.

If San Francisco, or the Bay Area region as a whole, are now tilting conservative, it's a phenomenon that doesn't show up at the polls. The Republican party is nearly uniformly unsuccessful in local elections. This page listing local congressmen shows 11 Democrats and 2 Republicans. To find those Republicans, the list had to go far afield from the Bay Area. They are Wally Herger (District 2) whose district covers the northeastern state and comes nowhere near to the Bay Area, and Doug Ose whose district is centered in the Sacramento Valley, but includes a chunk of Solano County. Solano County does touch on the Carquinez Strait, part of San Francisco Bay, but Ose's district doesn't.

In the California legislature, it's the same pattern. This page shows 25 Democrats and 3 Republicans. Of the Republicans, one lists his office in Redding, far outside the Bay Area, while Bruce McPherson's district includes major chunks of Monterey and San Benito counties. That leaves Lynn Leach as the only Republican, along with 30+ Democrats, whose district is entirely in the Bay Area.

Is there a historical trend towards Republicans? Comparing the Gore vote in 2000 with the votes in the last close election of 1976 shows the opposite. I used the data on the excellent presidential elections page of Dave Liep.

Presidential Election Comparison
County Gore Carter
San Francisco 76% 52%
Alameda 69% 58%
Contra Costa 58% 48%
Marin 64% 43%
San Mateo 64% 44%
Santa Clara 61% 47%
Santa Cruz 61% 51%
Solano 57% 45%
Sonoma 60% 48%

Carter, who fought hard for California, didn't carry most Bay Area counties, and he lost the state. Gore took California for granted and decided to focus on closer states. Bush spent millions on TV ads here which Gore never countered. Gore won the state by 1.3 million votes, beat Carter's percentage in every Bay county by 10% or more, ran up almost a 5 - 1 victory in San Francisco itself, and had landslide margins throughout the Bay Area. Nader won almost half as many SF votes as Bush.

Ponte also finds evidence in some propositions on the San Francisco November ballot. But these propositions come more from local business and landlord lobbies than the grassroots, and their support is unclear until they have been voted on. Furthermore, in spite of Ponte's claim that they represent a radical shift to the right, a claim echoed by the left-wing SF Bay Guardian, the content of the propositions doesn't seem to justify such language. According to the Department of Elections summary, Proposition R would allow about 85,000 apartments to undergo condo conversion over 25 years, if landlords wishing to convert met all of the following tests:

  • Tenants were offered the option to buy their apartments;

  • Tenants or resident owners from 25% to 40% of the units agreed to buy their apartments. The percentage would depend upon the total number of units in the building;

  • Tenants who did not wish to buy would receive a lifetime lease - if the unit remained the tenant's primary residence - with annual rent increases limited to 60% of any increase in the regional consumer price index; and

  • There had been no "owner move-in" eviction in the building during the past five years, and no eviction to remove apartments from the rental market in the past ten years.

Prop N, aimed at homelessness, looks harsher. It reduces the obviously problematic practice of giving cash payments to homeless persons, most of whom are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, but seems to offer only existing services, rather than improved ones, as a substitute.

Ponte has observed one final trend that he claims must make California liberals shudder:

The liberal San Francisco Chronicle trembles and prays for forgiveness of its faults to San Andreas as it reports more and more signs that Northern California’s tectonic rightward drift seems irreversible. California’s demographics are realigning the Golden State’s political polarization from north-south to east-west and leaving its politics fragmented along new fault lines that threaten to shake the Leftist establishment down.

The trend is real, but the very article Ponte cites shows that it's conservatives who should be shuddering. The broader trend that Ponte tries to twist into a conservative story is outright catastrophic for Republicans. Previously Democratic rural areas in the the northern regions of the Central Vally and Sierra Nevadas now have gone Republican. (Gun control is probably the biggest factor.) But the Democratic majority in suburban parts of the Bay Area that were once competitive has become huge, while even worse news for Republicans is that urban and suburban regions in more heavily populated Soutern California have gone Democratic.

What does that mean in statewide electoral terms? Going back to to Gore-Carter comparison, Gore won only 9 counties that Carter lost. Carter won 17 counties that Gore lost, and Bush won several of those former Carter counties by lopsided margins. But 10 of those 17 counties cast 25,000 total votes or less, ranging all the way down to Sierra's 1,847 votes. Only Fresno cast over 130,000. Five of the six counties switching columns that cast 150,000 votes or more went to Gore. The largest counties that switched, Contra Costa, San Mateo, and Santa Clara, had a combined total of almost 1.2 million votes, and a combined Gore margin of over 300,000. (San Mateo and Santa Clara are incidentally the heart of the supposedly more conservative Silicon Valley.) Carter's 30,000 vote San Francisco margin became Gore's 190,000, while the Democratic margin in LA increased from 50,000 to 850,000 - that 800,000 vote increase being roughly the same as the total munber of votes cast in all of the 17 counties that switched Republican. In Orange and San Diego, the two most populous counties that went Republican each time, Gore lost by much smaller margins than Carter did.

So Ponte's citation of a poll showing that SF is now more conservative on many issues than LA means not that SF is moving to the right, but that LA, which casts roughly 25% of the vote for the state and almost 3% for the entire US, has tilted decisively to the left. At the same time, most of the rural counties of Northern California are moving to the right, and some of the already right-tilting rural areas are moving farther right. The North/South divide left the state as a whole leaning mildly to the right. The new East/West division puts both of California's most populous regions on the same side and means a heavy tilt to the left.

This November, California will elect leaders in 7 statewide partisan offices, including Governor. At one point in the Reagan years, Republicans held all but one statewide office. Even getting pounded in 1998, they held on to two of them. This year, neither incumbent Republican is up for re-election and I predict they will be shut out, something that may have happened in the New Deal era, but hasn't in my lifetime.

Monday, October 14, 2002
The new blog Nitpicker points to Reason's article on this remarkably Orwellian logo for a new War on Terrorism agency.

Update: I may have to take back the word "Orwellian" According to a Latin expert quoted by Atrios, the motto on the seal is far more honest than I at first thought.

Andy Sullivan is delighted that:

The polls show that Americans get the president's arguments about Iraq in a post-9/11 world. According to a Pew Center poll, reported by ABCNews,

86 percent of those surveyed believed Saddam had nuclear weapons or was close to acquiring them, and 66 percent believed he was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

What's interesting about this is that the president's arguments that so many people agree with are backed by almost no evidence. Iraq is certainly attempting to produce a nuclear weapon, but has no facilities to create enriched uranium or plutonium. The one attempt to show that Iraq was close to actually acquiring nuclear weapons backfired when the report that supposedly proved the threat didn't say any such thing. And no credible analysts believe in a connection betwee Iraq and 9/11. In fact, Bush made neither of these claims in his speech:

We know that Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network share a common enemy: the United States of America. We know that Iraq and al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade.

Some al Qaeda leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq. These include one very senior al Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks.

We've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases. And we know that after September the 11th Saddam Hussein's regime gleefully celebrated the terrorist attacks on America....

Satellite photographs reveal that Iraq is rebuilding facilities at sites that have been part of his nuclear program in the past.
Iraq has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes and other equipment needed for gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.

If the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy or steal an amount of highly enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball, he could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year.

It would seem then that the media has thrown enough of a scare into the public that they now believe conservative arguments for going to war, even those that conservatives are unwilling to make directly due to lack of proof. And unsurprisingly, Sullivan feels that this is good news.

Friday, October 11, 2002
Max Sawicky has printed a letter allegedly from a professional Secret Service sniper on the recent Maryland sniper murders. Max's correspondent and Susanna are agreed on at least one alarming point: both think the killer is likely to attack one or more policemen.
Thursday, October 10, 2002
The Marine and the Terrorist

Max Sawicky has taken some heat for asserting that warbloggers 'hail [Ollie North] as an American hero.' Ted Barlow came to Max's defense, noting that if not specifically among conservative bloggers, North clearly has a large following in the US right. And it is important to remember that bloggers are a relatively small and insignificant group, on both left and right.

Along with the evidence Ted offers, another interesting example is a popular right wing myth, in which North is the hero. One thing which North was criticized for in Iran-Contra was accepting the gift of an expensive security system for his home. North did create such a system, and he seems to have financed it illegally from Iranian arms sale funds, forging some documents in the process. In his defense, it should be noted that there was a plausible basis for believing that North really was a target of terrorists, and the US took the threat seriously enough to move his family out of their home onto a military base. The terrorist North claimed was after him was the notorious and recently deceased Abu Nidal.

In the myth, North replied by saying that he was under attack by "the most evil person alive", Osama Bin Laden. North was laughed at by his audience for being so worried about a man they had never heard of, and mocked by the Senator questioning him, who in most versions is Al Gore.

Almost all of this is a fabrication. The questioning about the security system was actually conducted by John Nields, an attorney working for the committee. Gore never asked about that or anything else, because he wasn't a member of the committee. North never mentioned Bin Laden, who at that time was an American ally fighting against the USSR in Afghanistan and had never carried out or even threatened any attacks on Americans.

This tale of how Ollie North prophesied while Al Gore and America slept promptly spread all across the Internet. Its popularity shows that North is indeed a folk hero, if not specifically among bloggers, at least among some portion - you might even call it the 'idiotarian' portion - of the right. Of course pulling in Al Gore from left field shows that he, along with Bill and Hillary, is equally iconic as a villain. It's especially amusing since it's the right that loves to claim Gore makes up stories about his past.

You Say You Want a Trickle Down Monetary Policy

Andrew Northrup and Charles Kuffner had some fun with this list from Bruce Bartlett of the Top 40 conservative songs. That inspired me to look it up, and the list was even sillier than I had thought.

For starters, #1 is Paul Anka's 'Having My Baby'. Now I'll grant that it does have some conservative tendencies - and the right can have it. How hard up for material do you have to be to make this number 1? It's sugary tripe, one of the very few hits of the era that makes 'Seasons in the Sun' sound good by comparison. Bartlett cites the anti-abortion reference in the lyrics to claim it for conservatism, but that's dubious since nothing in the lyric says that abortion is morally wrong. The real conservatism is in Anka's sexism - the phrase 'my baby' appears 12 times in the recording, the phrases 'our baby' or 'your baby', 0. (Incidentally, to make that count, I had to actually download and listen to the damn song. Never let it be said that the Nuisance won't bear any burden and pay any price to give my readers accurate information.)

Number 2 is 'Revolution' from the Beatles. This song, written as the Weather Underground was being born and the Black Panthers were in their prime, is certainly critical of revolution as a means of changing society, but it seems to be supportive of the basic goals. I can't see how it belongs in any real list of conservative tunes.

Bartlett also cited two anti-war song's, Pete Seeger's 'Turn, Turn, Turn' and Kenny Rogers' "Ruby, Don`t Take Your Love to Town', a song about a man whose life was ruined by being crippled in Vietnam. Another one making the cut is Ray Davies's 'Sunny Afternoon'. Here are some of the lyrics Bartlett cites for their supposed anti-tax message:

The taxman's taken all my dough
And left me in my stately home
Lazing on a sunny afternoon
I can't even sail my yacht
He's taken taken everything I've got
All I got's this sunny afternoon...

My girlfriend's gone off with my car
And gone back to her ma and pa
Tellin' tales of drunkenness and cruelty
While I'm sittin' here
Sippin' at my ice-cool beer
Lazin on a sunny afternoon

Isn't Bartlett aware that the taxes the song refers to were originally passed largely on the argument that they would be paid by people exactly like the speaker? With his tin ear for irony, I'm amazed that Bartlett didn't also include Randy Newman's 'Political Science'.

Approximately 1/3 of the list are religious songs, many from the great tradition of African-American gospel music, taken on the apparent belief that religious faith is inherently conservative, which I guess explains the long association of Rev Jesse Jackson with the Republican Party.

After all these, the biggest howler comes at the end, when Bartlett declares: "I frankly think it would be much harder to put together a companion list of the most left-wing songs." Bartlett's #1, as noted above, is a dreadful song, and his number 2 doesn't legitimately belong on the list. His top 10 also includes two utterly forgettable and largely forgotten songs, 'The Three Bells' and 'God, Country, and My Baby', the protest song 'Turn, Turn, Turn', and a song (Neil Diamond, 'America') which was prominently played at the 1988 Democratic Convention.

If I were to put together a similar left-wing list, my top choice would be between 'Blowing in the Wind', 'Imagine', and 'I Shall Be Released'. Competition for spots in the top ten would include 'American Pie', 'War', 'Born in the USA', 'Society`s Child', 'The Revolution Will not be Televised', 'Sounds of Silence', 'After the Gold Rush', 'Me and Bobby McGee', 'Sympathy For the Devil', 'Living for the City', 'Mother`s Little Helper', 'Sixteen Tons', 'Give Peace a Chance', 'Feel Like I`m Fixin` to Die', 'Subterranean Homesick Blues', 'The Star Spangled Banner' (Hendrix version), 'Fortunate Son', 'Everyday People', and 'American Song'. That's off the top of my head. Every single song in the above list and a bunch of others I either forgot or didn't list are way the hell better than 'Having My Baby'. I really don't think Bartlett wants to put his list up against mine.

Update: Max Sawicky also posted on the list, and his remarks drew a blizzard of comments. But none of Max's commenters seemed to have mentioned that Max described the lyrics of 'Turn, Turn, Turn', taken from Ecclesiastes 3, as 'Jesus material'. Holy Moses, Max! Who knew you were such a schlemiel?
My remarks above on certain songs are very close to some made by Charles in the post linked to.

This metafisking from Calpundit is likely to become a classic.
Susanna at Cut on the Bias has put up numerous good posts on the Maryland sniper killings, becoming pretty much sniper central for the blogosphere. This statement in today's post, though, makes no sense to me:

It looks like two may be involved, which I think makes it a little less of a white supremicist thing although I still think it's a factor. And I also still think there is a dominant personality, the shooter, and an acolyte, the driver.

I'm assuming that the last person killed was a random victim. Without ballistic evidence to prove a link to the earlier killings, there's a possibility that somebody with a grudge went after this specific guy, but since he wasn't a local, that seems improbable. And the witness report of two people leaving the scene seems to make a white supremacist motive more, rather than less, likely.

Criminals act from a vast array of motives, but criminal conspiracies are much narrower. The vast majority are formed by an expectation of mutual profit, a motive clearly not present in the sniper killings. In the absence of financial gain, the list of motives that can form and maintain a criminal conspiracy is very short indeed, and some kind of political/religious fanatacism is at the top of the list. While there are many varieties of nut causes, the undeniable expertise of this shooter with firearms is a trait characteristic of the extreme right white supremacist/militia type.

Sociopaths generally act alone. Almost by definition, their links to others are weak, and they rarely have spouses or even close friends. Where you have them acting together to kill, there's generally some connection to a political or religious cause. The only exception I can think of offhand for serial killings is the Lake/Ng murders, murders of young women which had a sexual motive.

Wednesday, October 09, 2002
There are some areas that technology should just leave alone. Link from boingboing.
News Item: Physical Laws Still Intact

Avedon Carol posted an item questioning whether fire from the burning planes could have melted the steel columns of the WTC. On one point, the questions were right. The fire wasn't hot enough to actually melt steel, and even if it had been, weakening of the steel from heat would have led to the columns failing to hold the weight above them (probably over 100,000 tons) well before the steel actually liquified. As Carol noted in an update, the towers collapsed mostly because heated steel loses strength. It begins to lose strength at only 425°C, which is about 800°F and actually lower than the temperature of a strong blaze in your fireplace.

The other major factor was that the heat from the fire was very uneven. Heat expands steel, so the uneven fire caused some columns to expand more than others, increasing structural stress. A detailed but not overly difficult account can be found here, (Link courtesy of RRE.)

Tuesday, October 08, 2002
Legalize It

That's just what seems to be happening increasingly, particularly in the western states. Voters in Arizona are likely to approve by a large margin an initiative which legalizes medical marijuana according to a poll cited by MyDD. Talk Left notes that the same initiative also decriminalizes possession of less than two ounces of marijuana, even without medical permission.

Meanwhile, voters in Nevada seem ready to approve the actual legalization of marijuana. This would seem to be in Nevada's great tradition of living off the vices of Californians. Now that residents of the San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego areas all have Indian casinos closer than the Nevada border, not to mention sports books and various forms of gambling on the internet without leaving home, making Nevada a pot center is a logical step.

Pro-marijuana initiatives seem to pass almost invariably when put to voters, which makes it interesting that they rarely do well in legislatures. Legislators still seem to fear the 'soft on drugs' label, however often the voters show that they are soft on marijuana. Very few Congressional candidates of either party that I've seen are talking about weakening federal marijuana law, or allowing state medical marijuana laws to override the federal laws, even when the state laws have been passed by their constituents.

Conservative candidates should be backing state's rights to legalize medical marijuana as a matter of principle, but I see no evidence of that going on either. Libertarian Party candidates do, obviously, but if Republicans or conservative Democrats who have a serious chance to win are supporting state's rights in marijuana law, I haven't heard of it. Nor are courts, which have recently overturned several federal provisions on the grounds that they exceed the constitutional right to regulate interstate commerce, shown any skepticism of the claim that growing a plant in your yard and selling it to somebody else living in the same city constitutes interstate commerce.

The hard right conservative that I used to car pool with a few years ago routinely denounced any governmental anti-tobacco action as an intrusion of the Nanny State, but invariably considered any weakening of laws against marijuana, homosexuality, or pornography as further proof that the US was imitating the decadence of the late Roman Empire. My attempts to get an explanation of how these theories were consistent never got very far.

Mark Kleiman has looked at the argument overseas New Jersey voters will be harmed by the ballot change, and agrees with me that it's bogus in the midst of a long post. (I read a similar argument on another blog yesterday, but am no longer sure where I saw it.) Another Kleiman post takes a particularly hard shot at the Bush team: "As far as I can tell, the biggest difference between the Bush White House and a pre-school is that the pre-school has adult supervision."

I haven't seen anything from a right-wing blogger which tries to give a clear demonstration of actual harm to voters done by the switch, but if anybody can point me to a coherent argument, I will link to it.

Monday, October 07, 2002
I caught most of the first California Gubernatorial debate today. I would rate it as having no clear winner. Simon was better than might have been expected, given his lack of political experience. He was forceful and did a good job of answering the questions he wanted to answer, rather than those actually asked, without being overly obvious about it.

On substance he was less impressive, not that that usually matters in these events. When asked about solving traffic congestion, he spoke only of building more freeways. The problem is that that never solves traffic problems. When you build freeways and reduce the amount of time to get from a suburb to a main employment center, the result is consistently creation of new and more distant suburban sprawl. On gun control, he announced that he would have vetoed several existing gun laws, but doesn't intend to repeal them and thinks that they should be more strictly enforced.

Davis had a few struggles with his tongue, notably boasting that his administration reduced the number of 'insured children'. He seemed to be aiming for self-deprecating humor when he spoke of going on Leno, but only hit strange. Davis, like Simon, ducked a question on how he will handle next year's budget, which, in the absence of an unexpectedly strong recovery, will probably require either a tax increase or heavy cuts in popular programs.

Simon tried several times to attack Davis for receiving questionable contributions; Davis aimed several shots at Simon associating him with Enron and other businesses involved in gouging California during last years energy crisis. Neither seemed to have new info or score sharp hits. Davis found multiple opportunities to mention that he is a Vietnam veteran, while Simon liked to remind us of his numerous children and siblings.

Since Davis continues to have a solid lead, the lack of any major edge in the debate probably goes to his overall advantage. I remain confident that he will win by a hefty margin.

Legal Notes

Dahlia Lithwick has an excellent article on the excesses of the prosecution of Winona Ryder.

The fact that there were felony charges filed at all is astonishing in its own right, as an exposé conducted by the entertainment tabloid Extra, Celebrity Justice (dogged friend to celebs everywhere!) revealed that in court records of all 5,000 grand theft felony cases filed in Los Angeles County last year, not one defendant was facing penalties as harsh as Ryder's. In fact, in all cases involving theft exceeding the amount alleged in Ryder's case, the defendants received standard misdemeanor plea deals. The district attorney's office has refused to accept a plea for anything less than a felony in Ryder's case.

In fact, the district attorney's office has refused to accept Saks' own multiple requests to drop the charges against Ryder. In a recent article in the National Review online, Joel Mowbray writes that the Los Angeles district attorney's office warned Saks that if they didn't cooperate in the Ryder prosecution, their attorneys would no longer prosecute shoplifting cases at the Beverly Hills location. Hey, that will send a message to shoplifters!

Instead of pleading this case out and getting on with the business of prosecuting murderers and rapists, Cooley's office has now diverted at least eight attorneys to work full time on this case, with a deputy district attorney having to reschedule a murder prosecution so she can convict Ryder.

According to Lithwick, even the drug charges against Ryder are essentially phony. Ryder was in possession of a generic version of a brand medication for which she had a legitimate perscription. And the videotape makes the shoplifting charges look questionable as well. Eight attorneys in the DA's office dealing with this case which could have been pled down to a misdemeanor, as similar cases with no prior criminal record routinely are, means eight attorneys not going after murderers, rapists, or major white collar fraud.

Charles Kuffner notes that, in Nebraska, a victim has a legal right to appear at a parole hearing - but only to say what the prosecution wants. A victim who wishes to speak for clemency has no right to be heard: "The case went to Nebraska's highest court, which reached this conclusion: Victims who testify for the defendant are not legally victims. "

Aside from the bizarre legal conclusion, I really suspect that drawing the victim or victim's family into a long-running role in the drama as speakers for revenge, something which can last for a decade or more in a capital case, does make it harder for the family to genuinely recover from a catastrophe and get on with their lives. It would be very interesting to see real data on whether these `victim's rights` laws do actually contribute to anything except longer sentences.

Whose Franchise?

The petition of the New Jersey Republicans to the Supreme Court bases a substantial portion of its argument on the claim that changing the ballot would disenfranchise overseas voters.

Whether the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution prohibits the disenfranchisement of American military personnel and citizens by replacing candidates on the ballot after these citizens have already cast their vote?...Because the actions of the Supreme Court of New Jersey retroactively change the law passed by the legislature, and because it threatens to disenfranchise thousands of overseas voters, a stay of its order should issue immediately.

But who is being disenfranchised and in what way? The petition repeatedly asserts that this disenfranchisement will take place. I haven't read the whole document, but I can't see that it ever explains why.

The petition makes a great deal of ballots which have already been sent out; but there are fewer than 2,000 of these on a close reading. (The petition is deliberately worded to make it appear, on a casual reading, that there are more.) All others can be sent the new ballot, as can those who were already sent the old.

We know that, aside from pious declarations, the only persons whose franchise the Republicans really want to protect is Republicans. But those who want to vote for Forrester are clearly not being injured, since his name is on both ballots and they can vote for him either way. The same is true for those who want to vote for 3rd party candidates. So apparently the only voters who are endangered are Democrats, or at least those voting for Democratic candidates.

But those who have received ballots with Torricelli's name can still write in Lautenberg if they so choose. Indeed, there seems to be no problem for anyone except those who have already sent in their absentee ballots, certainly a subset and probably a small subset of those who were mailed ballots.

Those who have already voted for Torricelli are pretty much out of luck, since he has removed himself as a candidate. (Republicans continued to call for Torricelli to resign his candidacy after the first absentee ballots had been mailed out, in spite of all risks of disenfranchising overseas voters.) Those who have already voted for other candidates and don't want to change their vote are unaffected. Those who have already voted for Forrester and now would rather vote for Lautenberg are denied the ability to vote for the candidate of their choice, but they presumably would prefer to see their candidate on the ballot so that others can vote for him.

The only group I can see that is legitimately harmed by this is those voters who already voted for Torricelli but now would prefer to vote for Forrester. This can be assumed to be a small group, since all polls indicate that the replacement of Torricelli by Lautenberg has significantly reduced, rather than increased, Forrester's support. In fact, there is no evidence that a single voter is in this category.

A great deal is also made of the theory that any delay in the mailing of ballots to overseas voters is in itself a disenfranchisement of those voters. But in fact the delay is now being caused by the Republicans continuing to litigate the case, which does lead to a real threat that the ballots won't get out in time for overseas voters.

This is not the most audacious reason given by the Republicans for preventing New Jersey voters from exercising a choice. The following line (I could never make this up) appears on page 9: Prompt action from this Court is required to prevent growing public cynicism regarding evenhanded application of election law rules. Remember, this application is being filed on behalf of a candidate who, in this very election, has already requested, and obtained, a ballot change within the 51 day limit of New Jersey law. But it's essential that the same privilege be denied to his opponent "to prevent growing public cynicism" and demonstrate that laws are equally enforced.

Note: Also blogging on the same subject, Eugene Volokh asks a rhetorical question to which the answer is, "George Bush".

Saturday, October 05, 2002
I like Hesiod, but I have to wonder what the point of this entry is. Hesiod seems to be upset that Rusty Yates isn't spending enough to aid the defense of his wife Andrea. Hello - those kids she murdered weren't only hers. Just how much loyalty are you expected to feel for someone who kills your children?
Here's a little something for the surprisingly large number of people who have come to this site on searches for Firefly star Morena Baccarin. Baccarin is now ahead of Ann Coulter, Arthur Andersen, and even my beloved banana slug as a search subject, and likely soon to overtake Dick Cheney, who doesn't look nearly as good in an evening gown.
A major problem in building any more functional society in Iraq, as in Palestine, is that a substantial number of the potential leaders have been murdered. The Sunday Herald has quick profiles of some of Saddam's would-be successors. They're all better than Saddam, and, after that, there isn't a great deal to say in their favor. On the plus side, the Kurdish factions in northern Iraq seem for the present time to have settled their differences.
Friday, October 04, 2002
If you can notice any of the subtle signs that this isn't an authentic report of Al Qaeda terrorism, you're way ahead of the cops who didn't.
Tuesday, October 01, 2002
That Was Then, This Is Now

Atrios points out that Dubya recently signed a bill ordering the US to move its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, but doesn't intend to comply with it. He says it, "impermissibly interferes with the president's constitutional authority to conduct the nation's foreign affairs", and intends to treat it as only advisory.

Which is actually OK by me, both as to the Constitutional authority and the substance of the policy, The only odd part about it is that Bush actually supports moving the embassy to Jerusalem. Or at least he did, back when he was stumping for Jewish votes in 2000.

The really funny part of this is that Bush rather cleverly managed to play simultaneously to Jewish and Afab voters by mixing that promise for Jews with a promise for Arabs to end Clinton's practice of using secret evidence in INS hearings. That promise got him the endorsement of the American Muslim PAC. And once he got in, he broke both.