Father Knows Best

Bear with me. It seems the rest of the world has just recently discovered that electronic voting may not save democracy from oblivion after all, that sending personal information overseas may not be a good idea, that Congress may inadvertently make most networks illegal to prevent illegal file sharing (putting Time-Warner in the uncomfortable position of either defending their media copyrights or defending AIM and AOL chatrooms), and just because President Bush can dish out the Bible verses doesn’t mean he can take it.

But today, I’d like to talk to you about the patronizing attitude the current administration has about darn near everything. It has gone far beyond for-us-or-against-us my-way-or-the-highway attitudes about everything from Social Security to condoms. Outside input is neither solicited nor desired. Public statements have stopped just short of “Now, now, these are the advisors your elected President has selected and they know best.”

Would you like examples? We can go back to Dick Cheney’s claim that he does not have to release information about those Energy Task Force meetings because of executive privilege. If you’d like something more recent, try Condi Rice refusing to publicly testify under oath about September 11. This last instance is particularly hypocritical in light of her appearance on the news TV show 60 Minutes.

The Administration is even telling Republicans what they should say about the environment on the campaign trail. And it would seem they don’t like it. After all, they are elected officials too.

If you are unfamiliar with the ideas of George Lakoff, now is as good a time as any to become acquainted. One of his central theories is that conservatives in general work on a “strict father” model. The Boss/Dad/President is in charge, he knows best, you should do what he says. You wouldn’t dream of questioning items on Dad’s credit card bill; nor should you question your leaders who say we need to spend money on the special important project of the day. If you would like to learn more about this controversial fellow and his ideas, here is his official faculty page at UC Berkeley, assorted articles and interviews, and his Amazonography.

Do you hear what I hear?

The “fat lady” is not singing.

Not yet anyway.

But that sound you hear is her accompanist’s overture.

John Kerry had a fabulous “Super Tuesday,” winning 9 of the 10 races. His closest opponent, John Edwards, has scheduled a 4 PM press conference at which he is almost universally expected to drop out of the race. Kerry is expected to be the Democratic Presidential Candidate. He is starting to talk about how he will pick the Vice Presidential Candidate. The international press is reporting that Kerry has won the candidacy.

But here’s the thing. Kerry hasn’t actually got the necessary delegates yet. As of this writing, he only has 1361 of the 2162 he needs to be officially anointed. It is true that the remaining candidates have less than 100 delegates combined. However, it is also true that before yesterday’s contests, Howard Dean still had more delegates than John Edwards. Dean, you probably recall, dropped out of the race weeks ago. At least he keeps his blog current. And speaking of Dean, guess who won the one Primary that Kerry did not take yesterday? Yes, that would be Howard Dean.

In fact, by my read of CNN’s handy chart of delegates, Kerry isn’t even quite the winner if all the delegates earned by candidates no longer in the race are released to support Kerry. Edwards and Dean are still in a position to force some of their opinions into the Party Platform.

This also means that Bush will have to actually spend time worrying about campaigning, spending from his vast war-chest, as opposed to “looking presidential” in the Rose Garden. The TV blitz starts right about….. now.

Kerry had better be ready to talk about job creation, offshoring, the weak dollar, Social Security, and schools.

Oh, and he’d better be ready to go on Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show,” “Where more Americans get their news than probably should.” Maybe even consider a blog.

Pork and Beans

There is still time to write your Senator. If you are too lazy, use this handy form.

It seems that the Omnibus Spending Bill has yet to pass the Senate, let alone be signed by the President. How ironic that our elected officials can let something as important as funding most non-military functions of the United States slide until after the holidays. No rush, after all, this spending bill is for the 2004 fiscal year — which started October 1, 2003. The irony is that this spending bill would effectively eliminate overtime as we know it, allowing your boss to make you work as long as he likes, only pay you for 40 hours per week, and make a vague promise to give you some free time within the next year or so at his whim. Anybody who says this is good for families is either lying or not thinking about it. This isn’t even good for the economy, since it provides disincentive to hire more workers, and doesn’t put any more money in the pockets of the existing workers who are theoretically boosting productivity.

But wait! There’s more! As a bonus, 80,000 people would stop receiving unemployment benefits effective December 21, 2003. Merry Christmas. Scrooge would indeed be proud.

Don’t like beans? Sample some of the pork then. There is plenty to go around. Start with hundreds of millions for FBI information technology, prison construction, and a “classified defense department project.” There are tens of millions of dollars for such projects as a voucher system for Washington, DC public school students to attend private school (you know what I think of that), an indoor rain forest in Iowa, and increased border patrols. Mere millions for youth golf programs, a police athletic league, the “International Fertilizer Development Center” and “an international narcotics control law enforcement academy in Roswell, NM.” Hundreds of thousands are made available for lubricant research, shopping centers, traffic lights, museum construction, special interest groups, documentary film production, “streetscaping,” trout genome mapping, a ballet school, and similar projects you would think could raise money on the local level. This enterprising Congressman managed to rake in $34 million for one county alone. That’s over 25% what the entire State of Utah managed to haul in. I guess pork is only bad when it’s in somebody else’s district.

Of course, Senator Reid is quick to point out that part of the problem is the various measures that the President insisted must be in this bill. Pardon me for pointint out that the President does not write legislation, he just signs or vetoes it. Oh wait, Mr. Bush has yet to veto a single thing.

This thing is so bad nobody likes it. Unions don’t like it. School administrators don’t like it. Liberals don’t like it. Fiscal conservatives don’t like it. And the ink is barely dry on the darn thing. If past legislation is any example, yet more egregious abuses of tax dollars may yet be discovered in its pages.

I bet the best job this bill creates will be as a golf pro.

Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain!

If I could please direct your attenion away from The Saddam Hussein Show for a few moments? We can talk about whether this really means closure for the Iraqi people and better security in Iraq and maybe even actual democratic process once the dust settles. Give it a few weeks to see whether we have struck the head of the snake or created a rallying point.

Instead, I’d like to point out something that has broad implications for the future of government right here in the United States of America. Everybody remembers what a mess the 2000 Presidential elections were, particularly in Florida, right? And everybody remembers that despite the screams for abolishing the Electoral College, the one reform that really had any momentum was updating actual voting equipment. Never mind poorly laid out ballots, ignore people whose right to vote was taken away because they were wrongly put in a database of known felons. These people probably still have problems getting on a commercial aircraft.

To make a long story short, electronic voting systems are effectively mandated. Doesn’t that sound great? No guesswork, simple, almost effortless vote tallying, final results available within 5 minutes of the polls closing. What could be better?

Well unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. With traditional voting there are several points where things can go wrong: verifying that the person in the polling place is a legal, registered voter as opposed to a felon or someone voting on behalf of the dead; making sure one votes as one has intended; making sure all the ballots make it into the system and are counted properly; you get the picture. Some of these things can be fixed with an electronic system and some cannot.

There are 3 separate points of potential security and integrity failure that are peculiar to electronic systems: veracity of votes (the system is not “stuffing the ballot box”); security of the hardware (it cannot be “hacked” or otherwise altered); auditability of the system (ability to recount). Ability to recount independently of hitting the “count votes” button on the system is important so we can double check the first two points of potential failure. We cannot count on the computer to give us complete, comprehensible information.

All of these factors have come under scrutiny and been the subject of much debate both among political types and technical types. One of the easiest, although not the cheapest, is for the system to provide a printed voter receipt, which the voter checks for accuracy, then puts in the same locked ballot box that they have always used for the paper ballot. This obvious step, however, has encountered resistance. Sorry to say it, but the paperless ballot is no more practical than the paperless office.

If you ever want to be confident that your elected officials have indeed been elected, you must support legislation proposed on the state and federal level to mandate paper receipts. A particularly good one appears to have been proposed by Senator Graham of Florida (how’s that for irony) which would ban black box systems, ban wireless systems, require random surprise recount/audits, and have everything in place by next November’s Presidential elections. Senator Barbara Boxer appears to have other ideas about what a paper receipt for voting machines act would encompass.

You know what to do.

Context Is Everything

“Context is Everything.” That was the favorite saying of a former professor and academic advisor I had. The first day I met him, my first day on campus as a fresh-faced youngster, he attempted to talk me out of my major. I rather resented it at the time. I gradually came to understand his thinking, and wish that instead of something so heavy-handed, he’d suggested a minor in another subject.

So please consider the context when you read that Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force discussed Iraqi oil-field contracts (as well as some in Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E.) when they met in early 2001. The subject of much debate and legal wrangling, these records were formally requested by Congress on April 19, 2001. That happens by sheer coincidence to be the 8th anniversary of the Branch Davidian Fire in Waco, and the 6th anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing. More than two years after the fact, after a great deal of moaning about executive privilege and more than one court date, some of the requested information has finally surfaced. The fact that there were records to subpoena means the meetings took place before April 19, 2001, two years before the American led invasion and “liberation” of Iraq.

Remember early 2001? That was before there was a Department of Homeland Defense. Indeed, that was before the New York City skyline met with violent change. Iraq was, despite occasional grumbling, a dead issue. We were officially in a recession (but be of good cheer, it’s supposed to be over now). Seattle was cleaning up from a magnitude 6.8 earthquake. Bush finished his first hundred days in office at the end of April. Indeed, people were still wondering if, in the end, he was duly elected. The big chair in the Oval Office wasn’t even warm yet when the subpoena arrived. No Child Left Behind was still a pipe dream. An American spy plane was captured by China. It would be most of a year before Ashcroft spent $8000 of taxpayer money to cover a statue entitled “Spirit of Justice” allegedly because it displayed bare bosoms, forcing the civilized world to wonder if he had ever so much as driven past an art museum. It was still acceptable to have no revenues and give product away for free, or even sell product at a terrible loss, as long as your company had “.com” in its name. Indeed, that was before the California energy crisis, resulting in astronomical prices and rolling blackouts — please pay in advance for unreliable power. Enron was considered a nice, stable, energy company despite the fact that they would declare bankruptcy by the end of the year. British cattle herds were being decimated by “foot-and-mouth disease.” Kids sucking down sugary sodas was linked to obesity. The human genome was newly mapped. The Code Red virus was months away.

So, if I may be so bold as to ask, why exactly were Dick Cheney, Ken Ley, and their handpicked crew of cronies talking about divvying up Iraqi oil contracts? And should King Fahd worry that his people are to be “liberated” next?