Election Time: Republicans Win

It’s silly season again in America: a Presidential election year.  If you don’t know that, you must really be living under a rock.

As I did four years ago, I’ll post my thoughts about how I vote online for all the elections I can participate in: national, Congressional, Indiana-wide, and local.  That way, you can do more than curse the ignorant Americans for their choices; you can possibly influence at least one.

Local races look to be more boring than usual this year, because neither of Indiana’s Senators is running this year.  Fishers trends strongly Republican, too, which makes a lot of the other local races uncompetitive.

But that’s not why I said the Republicans win.  I figured I’d be able to watch the speeches from the conventions at my own convenience online, so just now I tried both sites.  Here’s what the Democratic convention site told me:

We’re sorry, but the Democratic Convention video web site isn’t compatible with your operating system and/or browser. Please try again on a computer with the following:

Compatible operating systems:
Windows XP SP2, Windows Vista, or a Mac with Tiger (OS 10.4) or Leopard (OS 10.5).
Compatible browsers:
Internet Explorer (version 6 or later), Firefox (version 2), or, if you are on a Mac, Safari (version 3.1) also works.

That’s because the Democrats chose Microsoft as their official technology provider, and Microsoft chose to deliver all video using their Silverlight technology, which doesn’t work on Linux (yet).

And what are the Republicans using?  Good ol’ YouTube.

Yes, I’ll probably be able to find the important Democrat speeches on YouTube.  But how easy will that be?  And how many of the obscure Democrat speeches will I be drawn into watching just out of curiosity?  I’ve already listened to portions of Fred Thompson’s and Joe Lieberman’s speeches–because it was so easy.

Advantage: Republicans.

Unintended Consequences in China

The Los Angeles Times has a story on a the unintended consequences of government meddling in China.

To sum up, Renhe is a small, formerly rural town on the edge of Chongqing, a rapidly growing commercial center. To accomodate growth, the government is in the habit of seizing small farms for development, compensating the small farmers by giving them small apartments in the new city. Most people there are not stupid; they recognize that they are being taken for a ride, and thus do not hesitate to cheat the government in return.

And, it seemed, an opportunity presented itself: married couples got one two-bedroom apartment, while singles got one one-bedroom apartment. So, if a married couple fakes a divorce, they can get two apartments instead of one, and make some money off the second apartment once they remarried. The divorce rate in Renhe soared to 98% after the government seizure.

Of course, the government was not stupid, either; they cut the second apartment out of the deal. Couples who want to divorce can no longer do so, since separation inevitably means one of the partners will become homeless. Farm families who secured their right to a second apartment before the rule change ended up on a waiting list, since too few apartments had been built to accomodate all those people. The promised development is still in progress, so there are no jobs for all the displaced farmers, who are not able to pay for food and utilities. Worse, they have found that not all the divorces were shams:

Meanwhile, most of the former marriages are in tatters. Considering the prospect of a future without financial security, remarrying now simply seems too much of a hassle. Promises are souring. Stunned villagers are watching their life partners drift off. Some have found new love. Others are deciding to try out freedom from a marriage they never thought they wanted to leave.

Arguably, the whole process started with state seizure of the farms without adequate compensation, but the state is playing coy about the problem they caused:

“In the face of the law, there is no such thing as a fake divorce,” said Xue Xiang, an officer at the local marriage registry who oversaw the wave of divorces. At its height late last year, up to a hundred couples showed up at the office every day. “Every citizen has the right to marry and divorce. As long as it’s voluntary, we have to follow the rules and grant them their wish. We can’t help it if some people have ulterior motives.”

Much has been made of China’s liberalization and resulting success. Few recognize that China has been dragged kicking and screaming into these policies, and that the Chinese leadership still resists loosening their grasp of power. Incidents like this one may be small, but they illuminate just how fragile Chinese society is. Will the single-parent children of Renhe become the criminals and dissidents of China’s future? Time will tell.

“A Flag Has To Be Worth Torching”

Mark Steyn:

I’m a Canadian and one day, during the Kosovo war, I switched on the TV and there were some fellows jumping up and down in Belgrade burning the Stars and Stripes and the Union Jack. Big deal, seen it a million times. But then to my astonishment, some of those excitable Serbs produced a Maple Leaf from somewhere and started torching that. Don’t ask me why — we had a small contribution to the Kosovo bombing campaign but evidently it was enough to arouse the ire of Slobo’s boys. I’ve never been so proud to be Canadian in years. I turned the sound up to see if they were yelling ”Death to the Little Satan!” But you can’t have everything.

I tend to oppose regulation against flag-burning. I understand why this issue trips some triggers; most people don’t, I think, outside of the ranks with military experience or an acquaintance with American history beyond what the public schools teach. And I can’t quite get beyond the hypocrisy: burning a flag is protected speech, but telling radio listeners why they should vote for you isn’t?

Still, I tend to prefer to err on the side of liberty on this issue. Mark’s essay highlights two advantages of legal flag-burning. First, it’s definitely an act which makes someone’s position on a lot of things clear; don’t you appreciate knowing? Second, being reviled by evil people is honorable, not shameful.

(Via Don Sensing.)

“Indiana Rejoins the Union”

That’s the very apt headline on my boss’s blog today, as Indiana passed a law putting the state on Daylight Savings Time. This will hopefully be the last year that we have to change our entire schedule to keep in sync with the rest of the country.

Amazingly, this happy outcome is not certain, as some lawmakers are vowing to try and repeal the bill before next April, when we change our clocks for the first time.

Most of the people unhappy are Democrats. That’s because a significant number of Democrats who are on record as supporting the DST move have voted against it in order to try and pressure the Republicans into passing other legislation they want. Consider this quote:

Indiana, he said, has too many children who need help from the state, and too many people out of work. Instead of focusing on those problems, he said, the legislature had become absorbed in daylight-saving time. He’d supported the issue before, he said, but now he would vote no.

“I will always choose children over clocks,” [Democratic Rep. from Indianapolis William] Crawford said.

Of course, the problem is not that we are forced to choose between clocks and children; the problem is that the two issues can now be separated and considered on their own merits. The Democrats pulled this stunt two months ago, when they walked out over unrelated issues.

There are people in the state not happy with the change, although there’s hope their concerns can be satisfied without repeal. In particular, the governor will now ask the federal Department of Transportation whether the time zone boundary needs to be moved, putting some objecting western counties into Central time. But I suspect that the majority of support for repeal will come from Democrats seeking to link their pet causes to the issue, and not from principled opposition to the change. It would be nice to get a list of legislators like Rep. Crawford, who supported DST before the general election last November but who voted against it yesterday.

Buying Consensus

The recent buzz has been about powerful moneyed interests buying laws banning the free speech of other powerful moneyed interests, and how that same law might be applicable to private citizens who oppose those same groups.

So now we learn of professional protesters who don’t know anything about the issue they’re protesting. That’s not hyperbole, either; it’s the phrase the protesters used to describe themselves. They even admitted to not knowing who the object of their protest was.

Short-term, these kinds of things work. But long-term, they only have an effect as long as people continue to have faith in the institutions being manipulated, and as time passes, the secret becomes harder and harder to keep under wraps. Once the secret does come out, the damage can be quite serious; just ask Dan Rather.

To use another example, can anyone claim to take The American Prospect seriously anymore, after learning that they allowed an entire issue to be bought by a special interest group without disclosure? How is this any better than the Armstrong Williams fiasco? (For extra irony, note that the previous condemnation of Williams comes from The American Prospect itself.)

Dialog and Dissent on Left2Right

If you haven’t heard about Left2Right, go check it out. It’s a blog written by a lot of high-powered thinkers who self-identify as “left” and who want to preach to someone else besides the converted. Some people call it “the Volokh Conspiracy of the left” (another blog you should read if you aren’t already).

After a bit of a shaky start, the blog has carved out a rather impressive niche for itself: a place where the so-called “right-wing” can read and learn what the so-called “left wing” thinks without some of the slander, innuendo, and sloppy thinking that so often permeates highly partisan sites. And the ideas are hard-hitting: with many of the posts, you cannot sustain dissent without some serious thinking about your own position.

In particular, let me recommend these posts: Elizabeth Anderson on diversity, patriotism, and the abortion debate (parts one and two); Don Herzog on the media and the meaning of equality, Gerald Dworkin on domestic security and perception (one and two), and David Velleman on values and the election.

It’s also worth looking at the site’s original mission statement, and their reactions to success that have modified that mission.

(Why the scare quotes around “left” and “right”? Maybe I’ll write about that sometime, but basically I think the categories have no meaning.)

Electronic Voting Incompetence

The long-awaited debut of electronic voting came in our just-completed election. Despite the initial controversy, things seemed to go well; the few fraud rumors floating around seem to be motivated out of partisan fanaticism rather than evidence.

The actual evidence, or lack thereof, is dealt with in this column. It’s a good justification for the legitimacy of the election, but it also sounds an important caution about electronic voting. For example:

Broward’s central vote-counter was not programmed to expect more than 32,000 votes in any single precinct.

With the limit exceeded, the running totals in four races (all constitutional amendments) did, indeed, start declining.

Observers quickly noticed it. It got fixed. The accuracy of the individual voting machines was never in question. Nobody’s vote was a “negative” that subtracted from the vote totals.

An experienced programmer will immediately notice the vote count at which things started going in reverse. The 32,000 figure is almost certainly a rounded or estimated figure; the real number is certainly 32,767 votes. Why? That’s the highest number a 16-bit signed integer (signed: able to store negative as well as positive numbers) can hold.

One of the most common bugs in programming is the mistake of treating a signed integer as unsigned. Most of the time, this works, since signed positive integers are stored in memory the same way as unsigned integers–up to a point. But if you’re making this mistake, and (with 16-bit integers) you add 1 to 32,767, you get -32,768 instead of 32,768. This may seem odd, but it’s an artifact of how negative numbers are stored in signed integers. After that, adding 1 does what you’d expect: makes the result less negative (-32,767, -32,766, and so on). By stripping off the negative sign before displaying it (which isn’t terribly uncommon either), you get counts that appear to be going down.

So what does all this tell us? It tells us that the vote-counting system was not tested nearly well enough, either by the manufacturer or the county. The manufacturer should have been technically competent enough to test for this very common bug, and the county should have made sure the counting system could handle the expected turnout long before Election Day.

Bruce Schneier, one of the leading experts on information security, discusses some of the continuing problems with electronic voting here. It’s important to note that Schneier’s essay assumes basically competent manufacturers and customers (election authorities). If it’s difficult to get proper counts when everyone is competent, imagine the state of affairs when everyone shirks basic quality assurance responsibilities.

It’s easy to see this as a partisan issue, especially after the CEO of one e-voting vendor confessed his involvement in Republican politics. The problems with getting accurate and undoubtable results from elections, though, is only a Democratic issue by accident this election. Republicans should be able to assert the basic soundness of this election while acknowledging how easily things could have been otherwise.

Besides Schneier’s recommendations, I would add that we should require that test results be made public. Had such results been made public in the case above, an outside observer could have noticed the above shortcoming of the tests and drawn attention to them, thus possibly averting the issue entirely.

The Unstoppable Dan

I live in the 5th Congressional District, currently served by Republican Dan Burton. He is being opposed by Democrat Katherine Carr and Green candidate Clark Field.

Dan is a pretty typical conservative Republican, with all (good or bad) that implies. His positions are pretty much what you’d expect. Carr, on the other hand, is clearly on the liberal side of the Democratic Party.

Much of her rhetoric on the issues page is extreme, simplistic, and just unrealistic. At times, she seems to be running more against the President than against Dan Burton. But then there are the places where she descends into the depths of insanity:

The way we have removed Saddam Hussein from power is similar to buying a new car for a million dollars. Is the new car better than our old car? Certainly. Was it worth a million dollars? Probably not, because we’ve now found out that our old car’s engine isn’t blown like the salesman said, it just needed an oil change.

This analogy is disgusting. Killing hundreds of thousands of people and dumping them in mass graves isn’t anything like buying a car.

I suspect you can gather by now how I plan on voting in this race.

Hint to the Democrats: if you want to run in a more-or-less conservative district, run a moderate-to-conservative Democrat. You managed to figure this out with Senator Bayh. Is this just another example of resource allocation, or are there no non-moonbat Democrats in the 5th District?

The Invisible Candidate

Imagine my surprise a few weeks ago when I learned that there is, indeed, a Senate seat up for election in Indiana.

Months have passed since any awake citizen could have been confused about the elections for President or Indiana Governor. Signs, stickers, and buttons have been everywhere, candidate news has been on the front pages and top stories lists of every news outlet, and there have been several debates each for both offices. I remember seeing “My Man Mitch” (Daniels, the Republican candidate for Governor) signs long before I saw my first Bush sign, to say nothing of Kerry signs. So, I assumed that, given the visibility of these campaigns, we must be in a lull year for the Senate, where neither candidate is up for election.

Not so! Senator Evan Bayh’s seat is in play this year, at least in theory, and there are candidates opposing him: Republican Marvin Scott (link not working for me as of this writing) and Libertarian Al Barger. Barger’s invisibility is understandable, but Scott’s? Certainly the Republicans, with such a slim Senate majority, would be sure to contest every race vigorously. Or, at least, so I thought.

I first heard of Scott through a single radio ad he played, criticizing Bayh for not being as supportive of the President as he could have been. I’ve heard Bayh’s response far more than I heard the original ad. Bayh was allowed to kill the only debate, which would have been a major opportunity for Scott to raise his poor visibility. I have yet to see a Scott sticker, poster, or sign; while Bayh paraphernalia have also been scarce, his Senate seat has given him ample free publicity over the years.

You can see the IndyStar.com questionnaire here, while more rigorous analysis can be found at OnTheIssues.org for Bayh and Scott. Based solely on these reports, I would tend to favor Scott over Bayh. Yet the reports are very simplistic, and in some cases overly so (see, for example, how OnTheIssues.org links personal retirement accounts, a “pro-senior” position, and privatizing Social Security here). To what extent should such surveys be trusted?

Ultimately, my vote in this election is decided by several issues:

  • Visibility. Who is Marvin Scott? So far, I only have two surveys and a single radio ad to tell me. His Web site is down. There have been no debates. He spoke at the Republican convention, but no copies of his speech seem to be available, even at the official Republican Convention site. Even the press has noticed his inaccesibility. If he cannot recognize his disadvantages in this election and work against them, why should I believe he will not show similar ineptitude when doing the work of a Senator?
  • Balancing effects. Right now, Senator Bayh is a highly respected centrist Democrat. We need more, not fewer, centrist Democrats in political office. When I have heard of Democrats supporting the President’s overall vision in foreign policy, Bayh’s name has often been prominent. This is behavior that, in my opinion, needs to be encouraged and rewarded.
  • Support for minority Republicans. Rightly or not, the Republicans have been painted as “the racist party” for a while now. Candidates like Scott (who is black) are a welcome counter to that presumption.
  • The judiciary. This is Bayh’s main negative. His votes on judicial nominees, most notably cloture votes, have been (as far as I can tell) party-line votes. Whatever his beliefs on the candidates, he is participating (however mildly) in the continued suppression of votes on candidates solely based on his party’s recognition that they would lose such votes. That’s not how the democratic process is supposed to work; you may not like the choices the people have made in the legislature, but that doesn’t give you the right to subvert those choices.

On balance, Bayh seems to take the trophy, despite his judiciary votes. I simply cannot get past Scott’s inability to get his message out; I want to hear his message directly from him or his campaign. Even the Libertarian candidate has him beat on that score.

Perhaps Bayh was destined to win anyway. There is something to the idea that wasting resources on “sure thing” elections is a poor strategy. But Scott’s poor showing will not just be the result of Republican resource allocation, but of Scott’s own poor decisions which hamper his ability to communicate with voters.

The Opposition’s Missed Opportunity

Considering the President’s faults, he is indeed fortunate to be facing the modern Democratic Party.

Not that the Democratic Party is entirely shiftless. On the major issue of the day, several of the primary candidates and several other prominent Democrats can maintain strong and credible positions. I continue to believe that Senator Joe Lieberman, as the nominee, could have outmatched Bush on the foreign policy front: strong support for the broad outlines of the Terror War, along with credibility in criticizing the President for his mistakes. Given this Administration’s rather lackluster communication ability, this could have been fatal.

But, alas, this is not the way things turned out. For whatever reasons, Senator John Kerry was the candidate who managed to survive the primary process. Polls afterwards suggested that Kerry was seen as “the electable candidate” of the field, a position I find puzzling given Kerry’s anti-war background in the Vietnam era and his subsequent political career.

Kerry is a mass of contradictions. A decorated war hero, he turned unconfirmed rumors concerning Vietnam atrocities into Senate testimony, which was later used against our prisoners of war. Having campaigned against and voted against strengthening our military time and again, he now proclaims that he will “restore” American strength. The supposed diplomat has uses his campaign stops to ridicule our current allies, all the while pinning his hopes on countries with long histories of opposing us who reject his overtures in advance. He proclaims his ability to bring more international help into the Iraq situation, even as he denigrates the effort generally, thus alienating any world leaders from participating. While he has said before that the Iraq elections will not be able to be conducted on time, he brushed off and insulted the current UN-approved government when its leader visited, despite the fact that he would have to work with this leader as President if the elections are postponed or if the current Iraqi leadership were to win.

(For a recent example of John Kerry’s diplomacy in real life, read this account. In sum, Kerry’s proclaimed support for Haiti’s former leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, has encouraged pro-Aristide guerillas, causing an upswing of violence in Haiti that the Brazilian peacekeepers are now complaining about.)

In non-war issues, he isn’t much better. He would reverse the “tax cut for the rich” while preserving it for everyone else; charges that this would hit small businesses as well, possibly costing jobs, go unanswered in favor of class warfare rhetoric. And the money gained by repealing that tax cut is spent many times over: on defense, education, veteran’s benefits, health care, Social Security, and so on. This “chicken in every pot” mentality has caused him to overpromise: his domestic policies now contradict each other, and as President he will be unable to fulfill them all. Which promises will remain unfulfilled by President Kerry? It’s hard to say.

If Bush’s signature weakness is communication, Kerry’s is confusion. Bush seems to know what he wants to do, but can’t seem to get his message across; Kerry, on the other hand, seems to have no message besides “Bush screwed up” and “I have a plan”. Given all that’s at stake, I’d rather have a poor communicator than a poor decision-maker.

All the President’s Problems

I, and many other supporters of the President, am reluctant in my support. Why? If there is a one-word response, that word is communication.

Much has been made of the President’s hesitant command of the English language–too much, if you ask me. The President’s personal speeches are not the sum total of the Executive Branch’s responsibility to the people, and focusing on a personal weakness ignores the other areas where the Administration falls short.

In general, it’s hard to judge what the Administration’s position really is on some issues. The war? Yes, that’s clear. But fiscal responsibility? Well, we do have a lot of spending to do in the wake of September 11, but Medicare drug benefits isn’t part of that. How does Medicare fit in the picture of promising fiscal responsibility, proper war priorities, and so on? The President’s rhetoric on tax cuts suffers here, but not because of a clumsy tongue; rather, the Adminstration has not done an adequate job of explaining the place for Medicare spending in the context of all the other new ways we’re spending tax money these days, and it’s not hard to wonder if “the rich” couldn’t spare a little more change to get over the hump. The same could be said for increased spending on the AIDS crisis in Africa and No Child Left Behind, both worthy causes that might not be the best idea with the pressures the country faces.

(Note: I am not saying anything about the policies themselves here. The point is not that the policies themselves are objectively wrong, but that the Adminstration has not made the case for them.)

Even on issues such as the war, the Administration has at times seemed at odds with itself, and has not made the case as well as it could be made. In particular, French and UN perfidy was not emphasized enough, and the consequences of inaction were not hammered on early. Instead, they have left themselves open to nitpickers, who can point to the mess in Iraq and talk about how much better things would have been had they been in charge. Never mind that most of the nitpicking is fantasy; no one will notice if you don’t tell them.

To a degree, this isn’t the Administration’s fault. The CBS forged memo incident shows just how little objectivity remains in the press these days; even the press themselves are admitting their pro-Kerry bias in public. So there’s an extent to which the Bush message has been actively obfuscated by the press: magnified when mistaken, buried when not. But this has been a problem for other Administrations. Reagan certainly was able to overcome it, at least, and even Bush the Elder seemed to get his message out better than his son has.

Many of the people opposed to Bush are well aware of his policies, and better communication would not change their position. But nearly everyone, even Bush supporters, lean away from Bush to some degree, and in many cases this can be traced to a fundamental uncertainty that they have the whole story about his policies. Too many times, there’s a good story to tell; how many votes would be won by simply telling those stories? We may know in hindsight, years from now, but that won’t help the President in November.

Vietnam Syndrome

It seems to me that most of the underhanded tactics being employed in this election center around the Vietnam War, and how each candidate served his country during that war. Most of that is wasted effort (or should be, and at least is for me).

To see why, let’s assume the worst for each candidate. Let’s say Bush pulled family connections to get into the Air National Guard, was lazy and/or incompetent and/or insubordinate for his entire time in the Guard, and again pulled strings both to whitewash his record and get himself out early. So? Isn’t Bush’s ill-spent youth, and his subsequent turnaround, a part of his story? Certainly one would think a proven DUI conviction would be a lot more damaging than controversial and ill-sourced allegations over his diligence in military service.

Similarly, what if Kerry tried to avoid military service, used a little (unsuccessful) savvy to dodge dangerous duty, and embellished his war record to take advantage of a loophole and get out after only four months? It’s a part of his story, and speaks to his credibility to a degree (if all this is true, why hasn’t he been honest with us?), but it’s also water under the bridge. Kerry may not be making the case for his own ill-spent youth, but he certainly deserves as much consideration as Bush does on that score. More importantly, it seems clear to me that Kerry did deserve at least some of the honors bestowed on him during that time, which makes the endless nitpicking at his record all the more distasteful.

Both candidates have thirty years of activity separating them from their Vietnam duties, which should be plenty of time for either candidate to make up for any blemishes on his military record. If the indiscretions of three decades ago are all the negatives we have to judge each candidate, then we have two very fine candidates indeed. In the real world, the more relevant negatives that do exist (and they do, for both candidates) should be consuming the bulk of the time currently being spent on Vietnam.

Breaking Political Silence

I’ve been hesitant to discuss politics here, if only because the impending election has consumed all the available political attention, and most of that attention has been inane and nasty. I’ve also tried to avoid being too strident too early. I don’t think now–the eve of the first Presidential debate, two days after the Indiana governor’s debate, and little more than a month before Election Day–is “too early”.

For the record, this election is leaning heavily Republican for me. In particular, my vote for George W. Bush as President is pretty much sewn up. I’m also leaning Republican in the Indiana governor’s race, and I have little doubt that my U. S. Representative (Dan Burton) will be reelected whatever my vote (though I still plan to research that one).

Still, I pride myself on my independence, and plan to explain my position in future posts. Neither party has distinguished itself recently in my opinion, and I certainly do not despise those whose political calculus leans more towards the Democratic party. But I do not lean that way. And given the amount of misinformation blowing around, I feel that defending my position may help to clarify things for others.