Kilroy Was Here
February 26, 2003
Acceptable Proof and Jealous Boyfriends
In Slate today, Timothy Noah waxes hysterical about French's claim that they have seen no evidence of U.N. violations.
I have to admit that I have been confused by this whole 'indisputable proof' and 'PI' line of argument that Tim Noah's been posting over the last week or so.
However, the following line strikes me as logically fallacious. Noah writes:
Chatterbox was also forwarded a Feb. 5 piece in the Guardian in which U.N. inspections chief Hans Blix said he'd found no evidence of mobile biological weapons labs in Iraq and that two suspected labs turned out to be "food-testing trucks." But Powell never said in his U.N. presentation that such trucks had been found, and Blix's failure to find any hardly proves they don't exist.
This puts to mind the jealous boyfriend who demands proof that his girlfriend isn't having an affair. You have to ask, what would constitute proof? What would satisfy the boyfriend that his beloved isn't making him a cuckold?
Note, that there is a difference between proving that something doesn't exist (i.e. logical impossibility) and something doesn't exist any more.
The claim that something no longer exists presupposes a proof that that thing existed at some time in the past.
Back to the jealous boyfriend example, if Jealous Boyfriend has pictures or letters of a prior relationship with the Other Man, then Jealous Boyfriend might be justified into asking Cheating Girlfriend for some sort of show of faith (or faithfulness).
However, if Jealous Boyfriend only suspects Cheating Girlfriend of cheating with the Other Man and has no proof, it would be unfair of Jealous Boyfriend to demand such proof from Cheating Girlfriend. For if Cheating Girlfriend denies any relationship with the Other Man, what can Jealous Boyfriend say? And how can respond to Cheating Girlfriend's claim that he's just being paranoid?
Back to Iraq, since I have seen no proof that 'mobile biological labs' ever existed, it's unfair of the U.S. to force Iraq to prove that these labs don't exist now.
February 25, 2003
Why I Am Against the War: Part 1 - Preventative War is Morally Dubious
I have been giving a great deal of thought to the impending war in Iraq, and even though I've listened patiently to Kevin Pollack and Thomas Freidman, as it stands now, I am against any non-UN sanctioned military action by the United States in Iraq.
Over the next week, I will be posting a series of short articles on why I am against the war. Our first stop is on the notion of preventative war.
Many people who argue for the war do not comprehend the depth of change in the United States policy that the upcoming war in Iraq represents. For example, Rush Limbaugh, in his Feb. 17th show, compares the upcoming war with Iraq with similar actions in Bosnia, or Somalia.
However, as the PBS show Frontline so thoroughly documented, the upcoming war with Iraq represents a serious departure from the policy of containment that has guided United States policy for over fifty years.
The policy of containment is one where the United States prevents rival nations from exercising any aggressive intentions through a complex dance of diplomacy and deterrence. During the Cold War, containment allowed us to eventually overwhelm the Soviet Union and peaceably remove it from the list of enemies to the United States.
While containment was messy and dangerous, it surely was less messy and less dangerous than World War III with the Soviet Union and its hegemony.
Preventative war, on the other hand, is the attempt to avert future risk by invading another sovereign state now. As Michael Walzer states in his article Inspectors Yes, War No:
The general argument for preventive war is very old; in its classic form it has to do with the balance of power. "Right now," says the prime minister of country X, "the balance is stable; each of the competing states feels that its power is sufficient to deter the others from attacking. But country Y, our historic rival across the river, is actively and urgently at work developing new weapons, preparing a mass mobilization; and if this work is allowed to continue, the balance will shift, and our deterrent power will no longer be effective. The only solution is to attack now, while we still can."
Preventative war is not ‘preemptive’. Preemptive strikes, such as the Israel strike on Iraq in 1981, are aimed at well documented impending threats to a states actions.
Preventative war, on the other hand, is aimed at more distant threats with harder to calculate risk. It’s not the case that Iraq is an imminent danger to the United States now. Best CIA estimates put an uncontained Iraq’s production of a nuclear device at five years away, and this does not take into account the development of a delivery vehicle.
As Walzer notes in his article:
International lawyers and just-war theorists have never looked on this argument with favor because the danger to which it alludes is not only distant but speculative, whereas the costs of a preventive war are near, certain, and usually terrible. The distant dangers, after all, might be avoided by diplomacy, or the military work of the other side might be matched by work on this side, or country X might look for alliances with states possessing the deterrent power that it lacks. Whether or not war is properly the last resort, there seems no sufficient reason for making it the first.
In other words, we do not know whether or not Saddam Hussein can attain nuclear weapons. Even if he can, we cannot accurately estimate the costs in lives and resources it would take to deter Saddam Hussein or even the cost if he was able to exercise his new capability.
However, we the costs of a preventative war in terms of civilian casualties, military casualties, and economic resources more easy to estimate. Current estimates of civilian casualties to Iraq number in the hundreds of thousands, and estimates in economic resources number in the billions of dollars.
Not to mention the unknown outcomes of a preventative war in terms of terrorism blowback aimed at the United States, goodwill costs among other allies, and the cost of setting a precedent for the justification of preventative war.
(As an aside, some number that continued rule by Saddam Hussein will have costs in civilian casualties. However, those costs are surely far less than open war. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that future regimes in Iraq might not entail similar costs, and the United States.)
So, on the one hand, we have a nebulous potential risk to American national security with an impact on Americans we cannot calculate.
On the other hand, we have guaranteed losses of civilians, including women and children, with no guarantee that national security for Americans will be increased, and even the potential that American security will be decreased by seeing a rise in terrorism and a weakening of our alliances.
With this choice, I am reminded of the famous short story by Shirley Jackson, The Lottery. In this story, an innocent is picked at random in order to insure the continued prosperity of the town.
Is America prepared now to submit Iraqi children to a new lottery, where we will insure many of their deaths and disfigurement for a chance of increased security? A chance that has never been rationally explained or defended?
What if our children were placed in this lottery? Would we be willing to go to war then?
The Evolution of Cooperation in NASCAR
I've often been intrgued by traffic. In many ways, I find it a beautiful thing. With just a few rules, some social conventions, and each driver trying to get to their location as quickly as possible, a well-choregraphed ballet emerges where brake lights, banking, and merging emerge.
In Social Science at 190 MPH on NASCAR's Biggest Superspeedways, David Ronfeldt details the mechanisms for this emerging cooperation from competition in NASCAR. For those of us who are fans of game theory, such as the Prisoner's Dilemma, and emerging cooperation from individual competition, this, along with Axelrod's Evolution of Cooperation are must reads.
Here's the abstract from the article:
In aerodynamically intense stock-car races like the Daytona 500, the drivers form into multi-car draft lines to gain extra speed. A driver who does not enter a draft line (slipstream) will lose. Once in a line, a driver must attract a drafting partner in order to break out and try to get further ahead. Thus the effort to win leads to ever-shifting patterns of cooperation and competition among rivals. This provides a curious laboratory for several social science theories: (1) complexity theory, since the racers self-organize into structures that oscillate between order and chaos; (2) social network analysis, since draft lines are line networks whose organization depends on a driver's social capital as well as his human capital; and (3) game theory, since racers face a "prisoner's dilemma" in seeking drafting partners who will not defect and leave them stranded. Perhaps draft lines and related "bump and run" tactics amount to a little-recognized dynamic of everyday life, including in structures evolving on the Internet.
February 21, 2003
Dean in 2004
OK, I've decided. I'm for Dean.
This is tough decision for me. I think that the Democratic field looks pretty good this cycle. I would very easily support Kerry, Edwards, Graham, or Clark. But I just watched Dean on CSPAN's site (you can see Dean speak if you go to the 2:00:00 mark), and I was impressed with his fire, honesty, and issues.
This is who the Democrats need. Go Howard go!
Hydrogen Car Bomb: Part II
Gregg Easterbrook has eviscerated Bush's Hydrogen Car proposal in the latest version of The New Republic.
Easterbrook argues that in order to manufacture hydrogen in the amounts needed to replace the gasoline economy would not reduce dependence on fossil fuels. In fact, hydrogen in that amount can only be produced by "steam forming" natural gas in nuclear reactors. "But that means our miracle zero-emission hydrogen will be produced from fossil fuels via an intermediate stop at a nuclear reactor--not exactly what the Sierra Club had in mind."
Which leads us to Easterbrook's main point:
Which brings us to the downside of Bush's hydrogen proposal. The announcement makes the president sound interested in dramatic future action regarding petroleum imports and greenhouse gases, while distracting attention from the reform that is practical and affordable using technology that exists right now: higher miles-per-gallon (MPG) standards for cars, pickup trucks, and SUVs.
As Easterbrook notes, we currently have the technology today to make SUVs 25-35 percent more fuel efficient, but we, as a country, are unwilling to make the sacrifice to do so.
Our grandfather's suffered Depression and World War; they gave lives, labor, and love to preserve our country.
We are unwilling to give up our Cadillac Escalades.
A communist and a libertarian wanted to get some honey from a hive of bees.
The communist approached the hive and said, "Comrades, under the system of communism we believe that 'from each according to one's abilities, to each according to one's needs' is the law of life. Once you have achieved the proper revolutionary consciousness, you will realize that it is your moral obligation to give me your honey, as I need it. I will give you a party card so that when you approach your comrades with your needs they can give them to you."
The libertarian approached from the other side of the hive. "Don't listen to that statist. You have no obligation to him, nor me. However, under free market capitalism, I can pay you for your honey with this 20 dollar bill, a very fair price, and with this 20 dollar bill, you may determine for yourselves what your needs are and who you should buy them from, instead of relying on others to determine them for you."
The libertarian and the communist argued and argued over their philosophies and which one the bees should accept. "There's only one thing to do", the libertarian said, "we will see whether they accept my 20 dollar bill or your party card for the honey."
Each tried to place his token into the beehive to let the bees decide. At this point, the bees came out of their hive and proceeded to sting the crap out of both of them.
(Originally posted on Kuro5in by pyramid termite.)
February 20, 2003
What If You Do Not Look American
This is a great column in the San Francisco Gate's website by Annie Nakao. I can't add to it, so here it is.
What if you don't 'look American'?
Thursday, February 20, 2003
I used to keep a black-and-white photo of Fred Korematsu on a wall of my cubicle at the old Examiner. He was an old man by then but dapper in his herringbone suit. I kind of liked him watching over me.
Fred's now 84 years old. He won my high regard years back, in 1983, when he stood up in a San Francisco federal courtroom seeking to throw out his then 41- year-old conviction for defying World War II military orders removing Japanese Americans from the West Coast -- a conviction upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1944. This is what he said:
"According to the Supreme Court decision regarding my race, being an American citizen was not enough. They say you have to look like one, otherwise they say you can't tell a difference between a loyal and a disloyal American. I thought that this decision was wrong, and I still feel that way. As long as my record stands in federal court, any American citizen can be held in prison or concentration camps without a trial or a hearing. That is if they look like the enemy of our country."
Judge Marilyn Hall Patel threw out the conviction on finding that the U.S. Justice Department suppressed evidence that there was no military necessity for the internment.
I reread Korematsu's statement in a slim softcover book I had sitting on my shelf for a few years. I had been thinking a lot about the profound impact Sept. 11, 2001, has had on the country and wondered if the book had any useful history. The 209-page volume, "Race, Rights and the Asian American Experience, " by civil rights attorney Angelo N. Ancheta, turned out to be both revelatory and disturbingly instructive in these times.
It's not a legal text but a historical overview of how immigration laws and the legal system played a central role in the racialization of Asian Americans as outsiders, foreigners and "unassimilable masses," and how high-court decisions, including the upholding of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the internment of Japanese Americans in 1942, have never been overturned or modified. They are still on the books today as legal precedents.
"Foreigner racialization," wrote Ancheta, "is clearly most dangerous during times of war, when the 'national interest' can trump any interest in protecting civil rights. Arab Americans and others who may be racialized as 'terrorists' face the greatest threat from star-chamber procedures that seek to protect national security -- paralleling the experiences of Japanese Americans who were interned in the interest of wartime national security." He wrote this in 1998.
But here's the scarier part. Ancheta writes that the federal government's power is near absolute when it comes to immigration policy. That is because national sovereignty is regarded as an overriding governmental interest. Through its "plenary power" doctrine, the Supreme Court has deferred to the decision-making powers of Congress and the president in matters of immigration.
But the basis of that doctrine are high-court decisions that upheld racist exclusion laws that barred Asians from immigrating and becoming citizens.
Ireached Ancheta at Harvard University Law School's Civil Rights Project.
He fears that the current registration program "targets specific ethnic groups." Yet, such policies, he said, are "virtually immune to review by the courts. There are notions of the nation-state and the right to defend itself. But the basic question is power unchecked. It's like all power -- I don't think it should go completely unchecked."
In the end, we're left with Judge Patel's ruling.
"Korematsu remains on the pages of our legal and political history. It stands as a caution that in times of distress the shield of military necessity and national security must not be used to protect governmental actions from close scrutiny and accountability."
In Descartes's Mediations, Descartes loses sleep by forcing himself to doubt the existence of reality:
12. I will suppose, then, not that Deity, who is sovereignly good and the fountain of truth, but that some malignant demon, who is at once exceedingly potent and deceitful, has employed all his artifice to deceive me; I will suppose that the sky, the air, the earth, colors, figures, sounds, and all external things, are nothing better than the illusions of dreams, by means of which this being has laid snares for my credulity... [Descartes, Mediations, Meditation 1]
Studies may now show that this "malignant demon" is in fact our own mind. Consider the following from Michael Schemmer
Five centuries ago demons haunted our world, with incubi and succubi tormenting victims as they lay asleep. Two centuries ago spirits haunted our world, with ghosts and ghouls harassing sufferers during all hours of the night. This past century aliens haunted our world, with grays and greens abducting captives and whisking them away for probing and prodding. Nowadays people are reporting out-of-body experiences, floating above their beds.What is going on here? Are these elusive creatures and mysterious phenomena in our world or in our minds? New evidence adds weight to the notion that they are, in fact, products of the brain. Neuroscientist Michael Persinger, in his laboratory at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, for example, can induce all these perceptions in subjects by subjecting their temporal lobes to patterns of magnetic fields. (I tried it myself and had a mild out-of-body experience.)
As I wrote in December, while some may think that atheism is merely a negative position decrying lack of proof in some supreme being, more and more scientific evidence is being proposed to actual describe 'religious' and 'supernatural' human experiences in purely natural ways. The best positive arguments for atheism may lie in human being's understanding of the brain and its workings as well as the understanding of evolution on the human species development.
Descartes would appreciate this. It was from his own attempt to understand the workings of his own mind that precipitated his belief in the mind-body duality, and, from there, his belief in God.
If science can show us more reasons for why this mind-body duality does not exist and how the architecture of our brain developed through evolution lead us to an illusory belief in God, then, I'm sure that Descartes would reexamine his position, and may find himself with more uncertainty in his life, but also more truth.
Stuffing the Electronic Ballot Box, Part II
Salon has picked up the story about black box voting.
It's all been here before, but it's nice to see fringes of the mainstream media are picking this up.
February 17, 2003
Interesting Alternative Tax Proposal
Here's an interesting proposal on how to replace all tax current tax vehicles with an Automated Payment Transaction Tax: Dreaming Out Loud: One Tiny Little Tax
You can read Dr. Feige's paper on this tax here: http://netec.mcc.ac.uk/WoPEc/data/Papers/wpawuwppe0106002.html
February 15, 2003
Cuts for the Street; the Street for the Poor
From the New York Times editorial page:
There is one impressive quality to President Bush's budgeting plan, with its outsized tax cuts and deficits: His social planners still manage to keep their eye on the sparrow out there, aiming to squeeze a rent rise from some of the poorest Americans who live in public housing. The proposed increase amounts to mere budgetary breakage in comparison with the big numbers for the rolling red ink and the second wave of upper-bracket tax cuts at the heart of the Bush plan. But it is a striking example of the administration's range of priorities: to be further easing the tax burden at the high end while pointedly ratcheting up the revenue for shelter required from the least of us.
Under the proposal, present local options for charging the lowest-income residents zero to $25 a month rent would be replaced by a mandated minimum of $50, or higher in some cases. The poor will not be able to seek an exemption from local authorities as they now can when threatened by illness, job loss or eviction. Instead, in an outrageous case of federalization by an administration that preaches the virtues of state control, the poor could seek a hardship exemption only by appealing to the secretary of housing and urban development.
Thousands of families now paying an average of 30 percent of their income in rent would face the danger of eviction, and local housing authorities who try at all costs to avoid an increase in homelessness could do nothing to help. The housing proposal has the same retrogressive edge as the president's welfare renewal bill approved this week by the Republican House. This requires that welfare mothers work 40 hours a week instead of the present 30, even as available aid shrinks for transportation and child care.
The House bill does have $300 million for "marriage promotion" and $50 million to encourage sexual abstinence. This is budgeting theory for the poor rooted in President Bush's recent observation before a conference of religious broadcasters: "Welfare policy will not solve the deepest problems of the spirit."
Of course not, but that is hardly reason to retreat from the problems of the body. We can only hope that the Senate has enough spirit to defeat the welfare renewal bill, as it did last year, and kill this mean-spirited public housing rule.
Zen and the Art of Geo-Politics
The impending War in Iraq has had me wondering about the best course of action. Of course, I believe that Sadaam is a bad guy. But on the other hand, I don't necessarily believe that military force is the most effective way to deal with him (or with any other tyrant.)
Recently, I’ve been giving considerable thought to the fundamental advantages of well-functioning democracies over other forms of government: non-violent transfer of power.
While other types of governments may be more effective in the sort term (see Singapore), these governments ultimately rest upon the personality of their ruling class. The weakest link in these types of governments is the frailty of the human body and mind.
Thus, whenever debilitating illness or death stalks these governments, the entire system is pushed to the brink of violence and overthrow.
Western-style democracies, by contrast, go through transitions of power easily, rarely provoking revolution, coup, or civil war.
Given that Western-style democracies can easily outlast petty tyrannies, dictatorships, and oligarchies, wouldn’t long-term policies of containment and aid make be more secure and more effective than the short-sighted war, invasion, and empire being considered by the United States government today?
In more blunt words, shouldn’t we do our best to aid the people of Iraq while we wait for Saddam to die of old age or coup?
I’m reminded of America’s own Civil War, where we rose up in arms against each other over the dying idea of slavery. Even though I admire the bravery of those soldiers who fought for the Union and for emancipation, I can’t help but think of the waste.
Most of the other Western democracies of the time were able to shed their slavery habit without losing so many lives. For the British, slavery is just a footnote; a bad habit they grew out of. America, on the other hand, still suffers from the fissures of our Civil War today.
In the end, I feel that the Iraq conflict is based upon the mistaken fears of the near future, and neglects our long term advantage. Because of our impatience and desire to immediately solve problems we see, we are provoking a period of bloodshed whose ripples will echo for the next generation.
In the end, maybe we should learn that sometimes the best thing to do is to do nothing.
February 14, 2003
Corporate Weasel Watch Update: Tax Evasion and Large Corporations
Yesterday, NPR's All Things Considered had three stories on Tax Evasion and large corporations. Here's some interesting notes I took from these reports.
In ATC's Enron story:
- Enron paid no taxes on over $2 billion dollars of reported income.
- Enron had 12 separate tax shelters set up.
- These shelters allowed Enron to count losses twice as well as count depreciation on assets that would normally not be counted.
- None of these tax shelters had any legitmate business purpose.
- Enron's tax department was run like a profit center with revenue targets.
- Enron claimed attorney-client privelege in order to hide important documents from government auditors.
- 200 of Enron's top executives earned over $1.4 billion dollars in 2000 alone!
- These executives evaded their tax responsibility by structuring this income as deferred income.
- These executives accellerated the use of this deferred revenue as they saw the impending doom of Enron approaching.
In ATC's Sprint story:
- Instead of a flat fee, tax advisers often charge a percentage of what their clients avoid in their tax responsibility.
- Favorite Quote: "It's pretty ugly, because you really don't expect or want tax advisers getting paid on how much they cheat." (Robert McIntyre, Citizens for Tax Justice)
Most importantly, ATC had a great short segment on the growing gap between the income reported to the markets (book income) and the income reported to the IRS (tax income). Corporations keep two sets of books: one which emphasizes their income to justify higher stock prices from capital markets, and one which limits their income as much as possible to limit their tax responsibilty.
The IRS estimates a gap between reported book income and reported tax income of over $155 billion dollars in the last year. As the chart to the left shows, most of this gap is created by the largest companies. This is because the largest companies are able to take advantage of some of the differing rules (i.e. options). Also, since evading your tax responsibility can be complicated, it takes a significant amount of money to structure these complex tax shelters.
If we eliminated the different tax and book accounting rules and just had corporations report one set of books, we could have more credibility and more oversight on the finances our public companies report to the street.
Something we desperately need these days.
Here's a link to a paper by Harvard's Mihir A. Desai on the growing gap between book and tax income: (http://www.people.hbs.edu/mdesai/divergence.pdf).
From Slate's discussion of this paper:
In 1993, at firms with more than $250 million in assets—which pay the overwhelming majority of corporate income taxes—the two figures were rather close. Such companies claimed $1.12 in book income for every dollar in tax income. But Desai shows that the ratio rose in each of the following five years so that by 1998 large companies were reporting $1.63 in book income for each dollar of tax income. That year, in fact, tax income fell 10.8 percent while book income rose 0.8 percent. In dollar terms, the gap between the two figures rose from $37 billion in 1993 to $172 billion in 1996 to $247 billion in 1998.
Corporate Weasel Watch: Sprint and Ernst and Young
Molly Ivins comments on a sad state of affairs at Sprint It seems as if the executives at Sprint used corporate money to pay auditors at Ernst and Young to set up tax shelters for them. According to the New York Times, Sprint's auditor, Ernst and Young, sold Sprint executives tax shelters so that they can avoid paying taxes on over $100 million dollars of income gained on stock options.
From the New York Times article:
In the transaction that Ernst & Young advised the two Sprint executives to invest in, Sprint may have given up certain tax advantages itself. That would harm investors, said Mark Gardy, a plaintiff-side securities lawyer at Abbey Gardy in New York. Lawyers at his firm are working to determine exactly what kind of lawsuit can be filed on behalf of Sprint shareholders and what damages they could claim, for the lost tax benefits, for harm to Sprint's reputation, or for the fees paid by the company for the tax advice to the executives. "I don't know if it's winnable," Mr. Gardy said of such a lawsuit. "But I'm really of a mind that it should be brought."
Molly Ivins expresses the outrage that's been hammering inside my head.
What is it with rich people that 60 percent of a $100 million is not enough? What kind of sickness is that? You make $100 million on stock options, do you honestly think you earned it? Did you work 10,000 times harder than a guy who gets $10,000 a year for digging ditches? Even a thousand times harder? A hundred? Ten?
Unfortunately for the unpatriotic and greedy William T. Esrey, Sprint's former chief executive, and Ronald T. LeMay, Sprint's former president, their tax dodge didn't work. Sprint fired them, and now they are facing bankruptcy.
So what do they do? The sue of course. They're suing Ernst and Young, they're suing their lawyers, and, most egregiously of all, they're suing Sprint! This has to be the height of hypocracy. It's like those carjackers you hear about suing their victims for accidentally running over them while the victim tries to escape.
Molly Ivins has the right idea.
If some Democratic presidential candidate really wanted to distinguish him or herself from the pack, he could try running on a platform of closing down offshore tax shelters and having everybody pay the taxes they owe. And be sure to use the word patriotism when you do it.
February 13, 2003
Senator Robert Byrd Calls Out the Administration
Today Robert Byrd took to the Senate Floor to condemn the administrations record and beseech the Administration to change its ways. The full text of his speech is here below:
Floor Speech by Senator Byrd
To contemplate war is to think about the most horrible of human experiences. On this February day, as this nation stands at the brink of battle, every American on some level must be contemplating the horrors of war.
Yet, this Chamber is, for the most part, silent -- ominously, dreadfully silent. There is no debate, no discussion, no attempt to lay out for the nation the pros and cons of this particular war. There is nothing.
We stand passively mute in the United States Senate, paralyzed by our own uncertainty, seemingly stunned by the sheer turmoil of events. Only on the editorial pages of our newspapers is there much substantive discussion of the prudence or imprudence of engaging in this particular war.
And this is no small conflagration we contemplate. This is no simple attempt to defang a villain. No. This coming battle, if it materializes, represents a turning point in U.S. foreign policy and possibly a turning point in the recent history of the world.
This nation is about to embark upon the first test of a revolutionary doctrine applied in an extraordinary way at an unfortunate time. The doctrine of preemption -- the idea that the United States or any other nation can legitimately attack a nation that is not imminently threatening but may be threatening in the future -- is a radical new twist on the traditional idea of self defense. It appears to be in contravention of international law and the UN Charter. And it is being tested at a time of world-wide terrorism, making many countries around the globe wonder if they will soon be on our -- or some other nation's -- hit list. High level Administration figures recently refused to take nuclear weapons off of the table when discussing a possible attack against Iraq. What could be more destabilizing and unwise than this type of uncertainty, particularly in a world where globalism has tied the vital economic and security interests of many nations so closely together? There are huge cracks emerging in our time-honored alliances, and U.S. intentions are suddenly subject to damaging worldwide speculation. Anti-Americanism based on mistrust, misinformation, suspicion, and alarming rhetoric from U.S. leaders is fracturing the once solid alliance against global terrorism which existed after September 11.
Here at home, people are warned of imminent terrorist attacks with little guidance as to when or where such attacks might occur. Family members are being called to active military duty, with no idea of the duration of their stay or what horrors they may face. Communities are being left with less than adequate police and fire protection. Other essential services are also short-staffed. The mood of the nation is grim. The economy is stumbling. Fuel prices are rising and may soon spike higher.
This Administration, now in power for a little over two years, must be judged on its record. I believe that that record is dismal.
In that scant two years, this Administration has squandered a large projected surplus of some $5.6 trillion over the next decade and taken us to projected deficits as far as the eye can see. This Administration's domestic policy has put many of our states in dire financial condition, under funding scores of essential programs for our people. This Administration has fostered policies which have slowed economic growth. This Administration has ignored urgent matters such as the crisis in health care for our elderly. This Administration has been slow to provide adequate funding for homeland security. This Administration has been reluctant to better protect our long and porous borders.
In foreign policy, this Administration has failed to find Osama bin Laden. In fact, just yesterday we heard from him again marshaling his forces and urging them to kill. This Administration has split traditional alliances, possibly crippling, for all time, International order-keeping entities like the United Nations and NATO. This Administration has called into question the traditional worldwide perception of the United States as well-intentioned, peacekeeper. This Administration has turned the patient art of diplomacy into threats, labeling, and name calling of the sort that reflects quite poorly on the intelligence and sensitivity of our leaders, and which will have consequences for years to come.
Calling heads of state pygmies, labeling whole countries as evil, denigrating powerful European allies as irrelevant -- these types of crude insensitivities can do our great nation no good. We may have massive military might, but we cannot fight a global war on terrorism alone. We need the cooperation and friendship of our time-honored allies as well as the newer found friends whom we can attract with our wealth. Our awesome military machine will do us little good if we suffer another devastating attack on our homeland which severely damages our economy. Our military manpower is already stretched thin and we will need the augmenting support of those nations who can supply troop strength, not just sign letters cheering us on.
The war in Afghanistan has cost us $37 billion so far, yet there is evidence that terrorism may already be starting to regain its hold in that region. We have not found bin Laden, and unless we secure the peace in Afghanistan, the dark dens of terrorism may yet again flourish in that remote and devastated land.
Pakistan as well is at risk of destabilizing forces. This Administration has not finished the first war against terrorism and yet it is eager to embark on another conflict with perils much greater than those in Afghanistan. Is our attention span that short? Have we not learned that after winning the war one must always secure the peace?
And yet we hear little about the aftermath of war in Iraq. In the absence of plans, speculation abroad is rife. Will we seize Iraq's oil fields, becoming an occupying power which controls the price and supply of that nation's oil for the foreseeable future? To whom do we propose to hand the reigns of power after Saddam Hussein?
Will our war inflame the Muslim world resulting in devastating attacks on Israel? Will Israel retaliate with its own nuclear arsenal? Will the Jordanian and Saudi Arabian governments be toppled by radicals, bolstered by Iran which has much closer ties to terrorism than Iraq?
Could a disruption of the world's oil supply lead to a world-wide recession? Has our senselessly bellicose language and our callous disregard of the interests and opinions of other nations increased the global race to join the nuclear club and made proliferation an even more lucrative practice for nations which need the income?
In only the space of two short years this reckless and arrogant Administration has initiated policies which may reap disastrous consequences for years.
One can understand the anger and shock of any President after the savage attacks of September 11. One can appreciate the frustration of having only a shadow to chase and an amorphous, fleeting enemy on which it is nearly impossible to exact retribution.
But to turn one's frustration and anger into the kind of extremely destabilizing and dangerous foreign policy debacle that the world is currently witnessing is inexcusable from any Administration charged with the awesome power and responsibility of guiding the destiny of the greatest superpower on the planet. Frankly many of the pronouncements made by this Administration are outrageous. There is no other word.
Yet this chamber is hauntingly silent. On what is possibly the eve of horrific infliction of death and destruction on the population of the nation of Iraq -- a population, I might add, of which over 50% is under age 15 -- this chamber is silent. On what is possibly only days before we send thousands of our own citizens to face unimagined horrors of chemical and biological warfare -- this chamber is silent. On the eve of what could possibly be a vicious terrorist attack in retaliation for our attack on Iraq, it is business as usual in the United States Senate.
We are truly "sleepwalking through history." In my heart of hearts I pray that this great nation and its good and trusting citizens are not in for a rudest of awakenings.
To engage in war is always to pick a wild card. And war must always be a last resort, not a first choice. I truly must question the judgment of any President who can say that a massive unprovoked military attack on a nation which is over 50% children is "in the highest moral traditions of our country". This war is not necessary at this time. Pressure appears to be having a good result in Iraq. Our mistake was to put ourselves in a corner so quickly. Our challenge is to now find a graceful way out of a box of our own making. Perhaps there is still a way if we allow more time.
Ah, the Fresh Smell of Logic
Michael Kinsley is right on today regarding the Estrada fillibuster. Estrada defends his evasiveness on his judicial views with the the following line: "I'm very firmly of the view that although we all have views on a number of subjects from A to Z, the job of a judge is to subconsciously put that aside and look at each case … with an open mind."
But as Kinsley rightly puts it:
Potential judges should not reveal their views on legal issues because a judge should have an open mind? Hiding your views doesn't make them go away. If the problem is judges having views on judicial topics, rather than judges expressing those views, then allowing people to become judges without revealing their views is a solution that doesn't address the problem. And if the problem is judges who fail to put their previous views aside, rather than judges having such views to begin with, then allowing judicial nominees to hide those views until it's too late is still a solution that is logically unrelated to the problem.
The Law should be based upon logical reasoning. You think that a qualifed judge would find this logical flaw in this argument about judicial pre-judging.
Unless, of course, their "real reason for evasiveness is the fear that if some senators knew what his views are, they would vote against him."
Then, using this 'judicial prejudice avoidance' obfuscation would indicate a good lawyer, but not a good judge.
Corporate Weasel Watch: Enron
When the Income Tax was first proposed, it was proposed as a 2% tax on those making more than $10,000 a year. When confronted with this, Presidential-candidate William Jennings Bryant said something along the lines of, "You know, I've said bad things about people, but I've never said something so bad as a man's patriotism only went 2% deep."
Yet here we are with the major corporations of this country doing everything they can to avoid their patriotic duty and help support the very government that enables their wealth. Enron is the latest in a long line of corporations that avoid their patriotic duty at the expense of their tax payers. The New York Times today cites a new report given to Congress:
"The report paints quite a shocking picture of Enron's tax gimmicks and structured transactions and executive compensation," Mr. Baucus said. "Bad as Enron is going to come out, the deeper concern is this is just not Enron alone. It involves lots of other companies and how they inundated the I.R.S., out-complexed the I.R.S. The I.R.S. just cannot handle the complexity of some of these transactions."
Enron created 881 offshore subsidiaries, 692 of them in the Cayman Islands, as part of its strategy to avoid taxes.
Shame on these corporations who use the loopholes to avoid doing their fair share. But the real devil in this is the large accounting firms that enable this type of behavior.
Tax shelters are sold primarily to the very biggest companies because they can pay the largest fees to the accounting and law firms and investment houses that design them and sell them on the condition of confidentiality. The I.R.S. has stepped up efforts to find tax shelters, but the agency lacks the resources to address the problem fully, Charles O. Rossotti, the former I.R.S. commissioner, warned last fall in his final report to his oversight board.
Well, you may think that Enron is the primary offender and that we're getting them. But check out this frightening statistic from the same New York article:
The 10,000 or so largest companies paid 20.3 percent of their 1999 profits in federal income taxes, while the next tier of companies paid at a 30.9 percent rate, according to an I.R.S. analysis of corporate tax returns for the year. The largest companies had 26 times the profits of the second tier of companies, which paid income taxes at a rate 50 percent higher than the largest companies, the I.R.S. data shows.
It's disheartening to find out how shallow these people's patriotism actually is.
February 12, 2003
Media Bias is In the Eye of the Beholder
With all of this discussion about media bias (see What Liberal Media? or Slate's The Varieties of Media Bias), one should at least consider that perhaps the perception of bias isn't in the media product, but in those who consume the media.
In fact, social psychologist's have done several studies that concern just that. One of the more famous studies was published in 1985 by Vallone, Ross, and Lepper. In this study, groups of pro-Israeli and pro-Arab students each viewed one of the same six segments about the Beruit Massacre of 1982. After viewing the videotape, the students were asked whether the report was biased, and, if it was, in what way was it biased. The results were quite interesting.
Each side saw the segments biased in favor of the other side. Some of the items stress that the partisans actually saw different news programs. Partisans reported that the program referred to the other party in more favorable ways, and they believed that the programs would lead undecided viewers to become more hostile to their side. But even when holding constant their perceptions about the content, the differences in perception of bias were still significant.
Even more interestingly, the more knowledgeable the partisan, the deeper their perception of bias. As if they had more facts at their command to confirm their suspicion.
So, if you want to stop media bias, to quote Michael Jackson, you better start with the man in the mirror.
The Artist as a Young Prisoner
Nelson Mandela, a hero of mine, has recently turned to art. From the New York Times:
[Mandela] spent about three months working with a tutor last year on drawings that reflect his memories of his 18-year imprisonment on this bleak prison island during the apartheid years. He sketched in charcoal and lively pastels and the works were unveiled and auctioned here to raise money for charity before an elegant crowd of businessmen, artists and cabinet ministers.
Here's a sample of his work:
Again, from the NY Times:
Mr. Mandela has used riotous colors to soften the bleak images and to hint at his triumph over age and adversity.
February 11, 2003
And Now For Something Completely Different
Taking a break from our normal political and social dialogue.
This was sent to me in email. I laughed so hard, I had to post it here.
My sister-in law is from Oklahoma and has a slight accent. She has cats and when she lived in the south she would take them to the groomers and have what is called a Line Cut. To her a line cut is when all of the fur hanging down below the cat's tummy is taken off (because it gets matted or snarled).When she moved to Chicago with my brother, one of the cats fur got all tangled up during the move so she took it in for a line cut. She was quite surprised when she heard the price as it was twice as much as it was down south. She confirmed with the groomer that he understood what a line cut was and he said "yes, I know what a LION cut is." It seems her accent came out sounding like LION not LINE and this is how her cat was returned to her.
February 10, 2003
Stamp Out Spam!
Dear Yahoo (and Hotmail and MSN and AOL),
Your free email services have been a God-send to many people on the Internet. Now people can have a single email account for personal use that they can check from anywhere. It's helped me out. My father, brother, and sister all use your services to send pictures of my nephew to me, or let me know how my uncle is doing. You should be proud; it's a good service you provide.
Unfortunately, as James Gleick notes in the yesterday's NY Times Magazine:
Early Internet users reacted so angrily to commercial mass mailings that fake return addresses became a necessity. America Online and other large service providers began closing accounts used for spam. The next big step -- indispensable to the spam epidemic -- was the rise of free mail services: Hotmail, now owned by Microsoft, and Yahoo. Two features of the modern Internet (both more or less accidental) make spamming easy: service providers desperate for market share at all costs; and an architecture of relatively open and insecure mail gateways. Together these enable hit-and-run e-mailers to create quick, disposable, false identities.
And I'm sure you're team of bright people have been thinking about how to resolve this issue. I've seen places that try to prevent the automatic creation of these free accounts, and I'm sure that does some good, though it's probably a little while coming, and I'm sure there might be a way for spammers to prevent it.
But I found the germ of an idea in this same article that may help you and help us. James Gleick reports:
E-mail marketers, from the sleazy to the near-legitimate, defend their behavior by citing postal junk mail and unsolicited telemarketing. These irritate consumers but are tolerated, up to a point. Spam is different. It is intrusive because, in the nature of e-mail, it arrives round the clock, demanding attention. It lacks even the modest checks and balances of traditional marketing: to print letters and send them through the post costs money; likewise to make telephone calls. A direct mailer can't afford a pitch so shabby and fruitless that it will produce a one-in-a-thousand rate of return. A spammer can, because sending a million more copies is practically free. [emphasis mine]
So here's my idea germ, ready to infect your brain. My friend AOL, and Yahoo, and MSN, and Hotmail, charge people to send mail. Receiving mail can still be free, but when you send, you have to pay.
You don't have to charge all mail. Say the first 25 letters a day go for free. But after that, you have to pay. The same way that direct-mail marketers have to pay. You can make it easy on folks. From 25-100 letters a day, have that cost 1 cent per letter. Or a buck to get your extra hundred letters out. After that, have the prices go up exponentially. $2 for the next 100. $4 for the next one hundred.
Make it economically disadvantageous for spammers to use Hotmail and AOL and Yahoo and MSN to send spam.
Otherwise, you may find your free services no longer worth the trouble. From that same NY Times article:
People get frustrated and overcompensate, putting all of hotmail.com and yahoo.com and aol.com on their blacklists. ''Am I likely to miss important e-mail?'' writes Michael Fraase, a Minnesota Web consultant who goes to these extremes. ''Probably, but I have no way of knowing. Unfortunately the spam problem has become so bad that it's on the verge of rendering e-mail useless.''
And if no one reads any mail from the free services, then why have the free services?
Electronic Voting on NPR
NPR does a great overview of the problems with electronic voting.
February 09, 2003
Or go see it here.
February 08, 2003
Shirky: Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality
While I don't necessarily want to blog about blogging, this particular link (.Shirky: Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality) is quite good, and I'd like to read more about the Power Law.
If you want to know why I'm writing this log, it's mostly as a journal to myself. A way to link to important pages and vet my own thoughts about politics, philosophy, and ethics. Also, it's a place to make sure I don't forget about some of the more neat thoughts I run across.
Shirky's Power Law thoughts belongs here.
Computer Scientists Fear Voting Via Computer
When the experts raise an alarm, we should listen. And as reported by by the San Jose Mercury News, the experts are weighing in.
More than 100 computer scientists and experts have signed a petition asking that any electronic voting system include a way for voters to receive a paper copy that will verify the vote they recorded electronically.
With the proposed Sequoia system, ``there's no assurance that the vote that appears on the screen is the one that's recorded,'' said Peter Neumann, principal scientist at SRI International in Menlo Park.
David Dill, a professor of computer science at Stanford University, originated the petition. His statement is simple:
This statement is intended be a message from technologists to the rest of the public, the gist of which is: Do not be seduced by the apparent convenience of "touch-screen voting" machines, or the "gee whiz" factor that accompanies flashy new technology. Using these machines is tantamount to handing complete control of vote counting to a private company, with no independent checks or audits. These machines represent a serious threat to democracy. Much better alternatives are available for upgrading voting equipment.
If you are interested in this issue, you should take a look at Cal Tech-MIT Electronic Voting Project.
However, David's critique reminds me of another computer scientist's critique of the security system in airports. Bruce Schneier, author of the classic book Applied Cryptopgraphy, points out a major flaw in security thinking in an Atlantic Article entitled Homeland Insecurity by Charles C. Mann :
The way people think about security, especially security on computer networks, is almost always wrong. All too often planners seek technological cure-alls, when such security measures at best limit risks to acceptable levels. In particular, the consequences of going wrong—and all these systems go wrong sometimes—are rarely considered. For these reasons Schneier believes that most of the security measures envisioned after September 11 will be ineffective, and that some will make Americans less safe.
Bruce Scheier gives an illustrative example of this when he encounters security troubles at the local airport:
A couple of months after September 11, I flew from Seattle to Los Angeles to meet Schneier. As I was checking in at Sea-Tac Airport, someone ran through the metal detector and disappeared onto the little subway that runs among the terminals. Although the authorities quickly identified the miscreant, a concession stand worker, they still had to empty all the terminals and re-screen everyone in the airport, including passengers who had already boarded planes. Masses of unhappy passengers stretched back hundreds of feet from the checkpoints. Planes by the dozen sat waiting at the gates. I called Schneier on a cell phone to report my delay. I had to shout over the noise of all the other people on their cell phones making similar calls. "What a mess," Schneier said. "The problem with airport security, you know, is that it fails badly."
For a moment I couldn't make sense of this gnomic utterance. Then I realized he meant that when something goes wrong with security, the system should recover well. In Seattle a single slip-up shut down the entire airport, which delayed flights across the nation. Sea-Tac, Schneier told me on the phone, had no adequate way to contain the damage from a breakdown—such as a button installed near the x-ray machines to stop the subway, so that idiots who bolt from checkpoints cannot disappear into another terminal. The shutdown would inconvenience subway riders, but not as much as being forced to go through security again after a wait of several hours. An even better idea would be to place the x-ray machines at the departure gates, as some are in Europe, in order to scan each group of passengers closely and minimize inconvenience to the whole airport if a risk is detected—or if a machine or a guard fails.
Similarly any electronic voting scheme must "fail smartly." If after election day, fraud is suspected at a polling place, there must be a way for human beings to first, verify that there was fraud, and, more importantly, verify the true count.
A system that only stores votes in a single, proprietary, computer-readable format would have no way to verify the count. A system that stored votes in a variety of formats, including a human readable one, would not only have checks and balances, it would have an easy to verify and official way of hand-counting votes, should a manual recount be necessary.
My idea of an ideal voting system would be one that looks like the following:
- People would use a touch-screen (a la ATM) to be easily prompted through a ballot. This touch screen could handle different types of elections (Instant Run-Off, etc.), and could tabulate votes electronically as a check.
- The machine would then print out a ballot on heavy card stock. On one side of the ballot would be a citizen's vote in an easy to read format. On the other side would be a vote that could be read by an optical scanning machine. Like optical scanning ballots today, the optical scanning format should be easy to verify by the voter.
- A human being could then verify that their vote is correct.
- The paper ballot would be fed into an optical reading machine. This machine would tabulate the first official count.
- At the end of the election day, the optical reading machine would spit out a report on the votes and its tabulation. This could be compared against the check count in the elctronic machine. If an error exceeded a certain amount, an automatic manual recount could be ordered.
At least this would fail better than say, a system that has no accountability and may allow a candidate with strong ties to the manufactor of voting machines to stuff an electronic ballot box and fradulently win an election.
Facts and Recommendations on Electronic Voting
From the Cal Tech-MIT Voting Technology Report:
- The election process lost 4 to 6 million presidential votes in 2000
- An estimated 1.5 million presidential votes were not recorded in 2000 because of difficulties in using voting equipment.
- Up to 3.5 million Senate and governor votes were lost because of technology over the last election cycle for these offices.
- According to the US Census Bureau, in the 2000 election, 7.4 percent of registered voters who did not vote (approximately 3 million) reported that trouble with their registration was the main reason they did not vote.
- According to the US Census Bureau, in the 2000 election 2.8 percent of registered voters who did not vote (approximately 1 million) reported that long lines, inconvenient hours, or polling place locations were the main reason they did not vote.
Electronic voting will change how we vote in the near future. To capture the full potential of electronic voting, a substantial change in the development and evaluation of equipment is required. The federal government should develop a coherent national approach to the development of this technology.
- A standard equipment platform must be developed to guarentee that voters can verify their votes and that voters can create a copy of their votes that can be used in the event of a recount (full auditability). We recommend that this platform consist of modular voting equipment, whcih allows for the separate development of equipment for generating votes and of equipment for casting and for counting votes. This will allow for the development of very secure equipmetn for casting and counting votes and for continual improvement in the ballto of interface design.
- We must build to the best of breed in other sorts of electronic technology. The federal government must establish and fund an election technology research program for the development of equipment. This program will focus on ballto and interface design, on security, and on handicap accessibility.
- The federal government must create and fund a system for evaluating equipment, based on lab and field testing of equipment. This will be more efficient than the curretn system, whcih, at best, relies on demonstration projects run by the firms that develop and sell equipment.
- New standards must be developed focusing on appropriate standards for security, human usability, and handicap accessibility. These standards must evolve, based on the lessons learned through research and evaluation program.
- Many election officials know little about voting systems used elsewhere in the country. The federal government should fund a clearinghouse for information about election equipment, election administration costs, and voter registration and polling place practices. This clearinghosue will act as a sort of "Consumer Reports" for countries.
February 07, 2003
What does it say about America when our our children sue for grades? What does it gain for a student to become so concerned with honors and accolades that he does not pursue education for its own sake?
Perhaps, Mr. Delekta and his parents should learn from Robert Samuelson. In his article in 1999's Newsweek, Samuelson reports of a study by Dale and Krueger on the impact of an Ivy League education on a person's earning power:
Dale and Krueger examined the 1976 freshmen of 34 colleges. They ranged from Yale, Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore (highest in SAT scores) to Penn State and Denison University (lowest in scores). The SAT gap between top and bottom was about 200 points. Dale and Krueger knew which colleges had accepted and rejected these students as well as their future earnings. By 1995, male graduates with full-time jobs earned an average of $89,026; women earned $76,859.
Dale and Krueger then compared graduates who had been accepted and rejected by the same (or similar) colleges. The theory was that admissions officers were ranking personal qualities, from maturity to ambition. Students who fared similarly would possess similar strengths; then, Dale and Krueger compared the earnings of these students -- regardless of where they went. There was no difference. Suppose that Princeton and Podunk accept you and me; but you go to Princeton and I go to Podunk. On average, we will still make the same. (The result held for blacks and whites, further weakening the case for race-based admission preferences. The only exception was poorer students, regardless of race; they gained slightly from an elite school.)
So it is that the successes accorded to a person in life originate from within, from their own ambition and discipline and maturity, and not from the near meaningless accolades accorded to them from without.
Or as Mr. Samuelson puts it:
The explanation is probably simple. At most colleges, students can get a good education if they try. "An able student who attends a lower tier school can find able students to study with," write Dale and Krueger. Similarly, even elite schools have dimwits and deadbeats. Once you're in the job market, where you went to college may matter for a few years, early in your career. Companies don't know much about young employment candidates. A shiny credential (an Ivy League degree) may impress. But after that, what people can or can't do counts for more. Skills grow. Reputations emerge. Companies prefer the competent from Podunk to the incompetent from Princeton.
In 75 years, will Brian Delekta lay on his death bed and bemoan his fate that he did not make valedictorian at 18? Or will other regrets and successes, the loss of love, the love of children, the fellowship of friends, be foremost on his mind?
By suing over something that is as ultimately unimportant as a grade in a work-study program, even if it means that you don't get to make the big speech at graduation, is abandoning the chance to learn something that may have a stronger impact on the quality of a young man's life than some arbitrary title or an Ivy League degree. Again, Mr. Samuelson says it best:
How to motivate students to do their best? How to make high schools demanding while still engaging? How to transmit important values (discipline, resourcefulness, responsibility) to teenagers, caught in life's most muddled moment? These are hard questions for parents and society as a whole. If the answers were self-evident, we'd have already seized them. But going to college -- even Harvard -- is no shortcut.
And if Ivy League educations are not shortcuts to success, then neither are lawsuits.
If only his parents would let him learn that lesson.
Stuffing the Ballot Box in the Digital Age?
Common Dreams reports that Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel was head of, and continues to own an interest in, a company that installed, programmed, and ran the vogintmachines used by most Nebraska citizens.
Now while I'm usually not one for consipiracy theories, this type of thing actually frightens me a bit. And with exit polling silently fading away under the cloud of the 2000 Presidential Election, there seems to be no way to verify whether electronic maliciousness is occurring.
Bev Harris of www.talion.com and www.blackboxvoting.com has looked into the situation in depth and thinks Matulka may be on to something. The company tied to Hagel even threatened her with legal action when she went public about his company having built the machines that counted his landslide votes. (Her response was to put the law firm's threat letter on her website and send a press release to 4000 editors, inviting them to check it out. www.blackboxvoting.com/election-systems-software.html)
"I suspect they're getting ready to do this all across all the states," Matulka said in a January 30, 2003 interview. "God help us if Bush gets his touch screens all across the country," he added, "because they leave no paper trail. These corporations are taking over America, and they just about have control of our voting machines."
I have a good solution for this, but I'll save that for a future post.
February 06, 2003
Corporate Weasel Watch: Tyson Foods
The NY Times today has a story on Tyson Foods. Tyson is believed to have smuggled illegal immigrants into US in order to suppress worker wages.
The government, which presented its opening argument in Federal District Court in its case against Tyson, also accused the company of flouting immigration laws by helping illegal immigrants to obtain false identification documents like Social Security cards and driver's licenses and by hiring a large number of the immigrants from temporary employment agencies to bypass the Immigration and Naturalization Service's electronic employee eligibility database.
According to Tyson's 2002 annual report, Tyson had approximately $1.8 billion in gross profit and $355 milliion in net income, it's best year in the last 10 by far.
John Tyson, Chariman and CEO of Tyson foods, made $1 million in salary, $3.5 million in bonus, and another $3.1 million in stock, options, and perks. You think an man who made nearly $8 million dollars last year alone wouldn't have to go to such lengths to keep the men and women of his company from making an addition $2 an hour.
To quote the prosecuting attorney for this case:
"This trial is about corporate greed," said John P. MacCoon, an assistant United States attorney. "It's about what happens when a corrupt corporate culture makes the bottom line the all-consuming priority."
February 05, 2003
Hydrogen Car Bomb
"In this century, the greatest environmental progress will come about, not through endless lawsuits or command and control regulations, but through technology and innovation. Tonight I am proposing $1.2 billion in research funding so that America can lead the world in developing clean, hydrogen-powered automobiles." GWB, State of the Union, 1/29/2003
At first glance, you might think that Bush is showing some environmental vision, for a change. Fuel-cell cars seem to be the most likely replacement for our current internal combusion engines, and for Bush to make this one of the centerpieces of his State of the Union... Well, let's just say, Bully for him.
Unfortunately, this proposal is all cotton candy and no steak.
First of all, the $1.2 billion dollar funding for fuel cell cars is not new funding. According to the LA Times, 500 million dollars of this proposal was already approved in last year in the Freedom Car program.
But $720 million over five years is still a good chunk of change, right?
Well, not really. Ford spent over $2 billion dollars to design the Ford Taurus. And that was primarily a body redesign and didn't touch the powertrain issue. To create a car with a new powertrain would be far more expensive.
More importantly, in order to create the fuel delivery network (think of all those hydrogen stations necessary to fill up your new hydrogen car) is estimated to cost over $500 billion dollars.
In fact, there are proposals that could dramtically decrease our reliance on foreign oil and benefit the environment using technology that is already available. All that would need to be done is to hold SUVs to the same standard for fuel-efficiency as cars. In 1975, the congress implemented the CAFE standards for cars and light-trucks. Since at that time light trucks were used primarily for business and represented a fairly small portion of the entire automotive market, different standards for light-trucks were put in place.
Today, light trucks are only required to meet an average MPG standard of 20.7 mpg while passenger cars must meet a standard of 27.5 mpg.
With the boom of SUVs and the classification of SUVs as light trucks, a much larger percentage of our automotive population falls under the light-truck standard. Currently, nearly 50% of the entire fleet is built on truck chassis. By removing the light-truck loophole, we could dramatically reduce our dependence on foreign oil as well as help the environment. By using technology that exists today to increase that standard, we could do even more.
But why doesn't the Bush administration propose this simiple common-sense approach to improve our national security and our environment? Well, as Jeff Greenblum pointed out on the Daily Show, this type of initiative runs the risk of angering the powerful oil lobby as well as the automaker lobby. An insignificant and uneffective $720 million dollars for hydrogen car lobby is just a defensive move on Bush's weak environmental flank while he continues to pander to the corporations that put him in office.
February 03, 2003
The Space Shuttle Must Be Stopped
Gregg Easterbrook is one of those members of think tank organizations (aka "thinkers") that I always try to read when I run accross them. In the latest Time Magazine, Easterbrook makes a compelling and complete argument for why The Space Shuttle Must Be Stopped.
Easterbrook argues that NASA (and by proxy Congress) has used an inefficient, obsolete, and dangerous delivery vehicle, purely as a way to fund pork in their own districts. As Easterbrook points out:
Capitalism, of course, is supposed to weed out such inefficiencies. But in the American system, the shuttle's expense made the program politically attractive. Originally projected to cost $5 million per flight in today's dollars, each shuttle launch instead runs to around $500 million. Aerospace contractors love the fact that the shuttle launches cost so much.
Easterbrook argues that the best course of action would be to can the space shuttle program and to replace it with unmanned throw-away rockets to push cargo into space and a small space plane for the few times that humans are really needed.
Will this happen? Probably not. As Easterbrook points out, Congresses reaction to the earlier Challenger tragedy was disingenous.
Large manned-space-flight centers that depend on the shuttle are in Texas, Ohio, Florida and Alabama. Congressional delegations from these states fought frantically against a shuttle replacement. The result was years of generous funding for constituents—and now another tragedy.
Perhaps it's time to write my congressman and senators on the issue. I mean, if we can close down military bases in the name of a more efficient military, I am sure that we can close down the space shuttle in the name of a more efficient and safe space strategy.