Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Electronic Voting

This CNN story, Gaffe casts doubts on electronic voting, is a bit dated but important. In a nutshell, Diebold Election Systems Inc. is the leading vendor of electronic voting machines, particularly touch-screen voting machines. Diebold’s machines have already been hacked (not in an actual election) and, as CNN reports, Diebold recently posted the results of absentee votes for an election in San Louis Obispo, CA hours before the polls were closed.

The odd part in all this is that Diebold, for some reason I’ve never heard explained, is opposed to having its system keep a paper record of the votes-for example, a simple step like having the machines print and store a hard copy of each voters’ selections (or maybe the voter would review the hard copy and drop it in a box, though that increases the likelihood of a discrepancy). At the end of the day, the number of hard copies at each machine should equal the number of recorded electronic votes. If so, then electronic tabulation can proceed. If not, then the print-outs are counted manually. ATM machines have been doing something similar for decades. Has anyone heard why voting machine makers oppose this?

The Diebold FAQ does not address this question. However, it does say that “[The Diebold software’s] process eliminates the need for the generation and storage of paper ballots for use with provisional voters,” which leads me to suspect that the Diebold marketing people fear that states and municipalities would see little reason to buy Diebold machines if they still produce paper. I think that’s misguided because, paper or not, touch-screen voting would still prevent over and under votes while also dramatically increasing the speed and accuracy of the count. But if a hacker breaks into the system, or even alleges to have done so, there needs to be a hard copy of all the ballots. It’s so common sensical that it’s sure not to happen.


Comments (0) | |


Dick Cheney on Sunday (from the Washington Post):

“If we’re successful in Iraq . . . then we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11,” he said in an hour-long interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Iraq was the “geographic base” for 9/11? Here’s another rather egregious statement:

Asked about his earlier dismissal of Gen. Eric K. Shinseki’s prewar view that an occupation force would have to be “on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers,” Cheney replied: “I still remain convinced that the judgment that we will need, quote, ‘several hundred thousand for several years,’ is not valid.

In fact, Shinseki had not mentioned “several years” in his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 25.

But wait, there’s more. After speculating for a while about Iraq/al Qaeda links, Cheney refused to speculate about Saudi Arabia:

“I don’t want to speculate,” he said, adding that Sept. 11 is “over with now, it’s done, it’s history and we can put it behind us.”

Also, this exchange did not make the Washington Post story, but it’s in the transcript of the Russert interview:

MR. RUSSERT: Democrats have written you letters and are suggesting profiteering by your former company Halliburton and this is how it was reported: “Halliburton, the company formerly headed by Vice President Cheney, has won contrast worth more than $1.7 billion under Operation Iraqi Freedom and stands to make hundreds of millions more dollars under a no-bid contract awarded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, …Were you involved in any way in the awarding of those contracts?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Of course not, Tim. Tim, … when I ran Halliburton for five years and they were doing work for the Defense Department, which frankly they’ve been doing for 60 or 70 years, I never went near the Defense Department. I never lobbied the Defense Department on behalf of Halliburton. … And since I left Halliburton to become George Bush’s vice president, I’ve severed all my ties with the company, gotten rid of all my financial interests. I have no financial interest in Halliburton of any kind and haven’t had now for over three years. And as vice president, I have absolutely no influence of, involvement of, knowledge of in any way, shape or form of contracts led by the Corps of Engineers or anybody else in the federal government…


UPDATE: To see the president in action, click here.

Comments (0) | |

It’s Your Children’s Money. Quick, Take It!

When it comes to the federal deficit, there are few free lunches. What we don’t pay for today, we and our children will pay for tomorrow, with interest–the birth tax:

When President Bush informed the nation last Sunday night that remaining in Iraq next year will cost another $87 billion, many of those who will actually pay that bill were unable to watch. They had already been put to bed by their parents.

How big is the Bush Birth Tax overall? Roughly $7.9 trillion and counting:

The $5.6 trillion surplus once predicted for the 10 years ending in 2011 is now a $2.3 trillion cumulative deficit under the best-case prediction issued by the Congressional Budget Office two weeks ago.

That’s right, when a child is born in the currrent decade, she starts out $28,000 more in the hole than she would have without the Bush deficits. (Presumably “best case” means “if tax cuts that are scheduled to sunset really do, and if the economy grows very rapidly–the latter is unlikey, and the former is a thousand-to-one longshot).

And it’s not just Republican tax cuts that are to blame, there’s also Republican spending:

The conservative Cato Institute noted tartly last month that Mr. Bush had never vetoed a spending bill, had advocated huge farm and Medicare programs and had presided over double-digit increases in spending each year of his term. Barely a month goes by when House Republican leaders do not propose a new form of tax cut, and Congressional Republicans join the administration in saying they fully intend to extend the tax cuts that are now scheduled to expire in 2005, which would add another $1.6 trillion to the cumulative deficit by 2013.

If taxing and spending is bad, and it often is, not taxing and still spending is worse. At least when spending is financed by tax hikes, there’s a political price to be paid and the dollars have to be justified, so there’s a check built into the process. When the government finances spending with deficits the bill comes due later–after the next election–so there’s much less of a political cost and thus much less restraint.

Another nugget from the Times story, which gives a good summary of how we got to where we are now:

“Once the gridlock was broken, it was hard when staring at the surplus to argue that there shouldn’t be a tax cut,” said Mr. Reischauer, now president of the Urban Institute. “Of course there was debate about who should get what share of it. But because there seemed so much certainty about the persistence of these surpluses, there wasn’t a proper caution that would have led lawmakers to say, `We don’t know what the situation will be in the next downturn, we don’t know the priorities of future Congresses, so we should not have a set of tax cuts that phase in over a 10-year period.'”

I seem to recall one candidate in the 2000 election making the exact argument (underlined) that Mr. Reischauer says lawmakers were not led to make. Here’s a (Hint: Gore’s economic plan called for “[Setting] aside $300 billion of the surplus as a reserve in case rosy projections do not materialize.”)

Bush will surely try to blame his deficits on the economy and the war on terror, but while it’s been a jobless recovery, the economy has not been in a recession as traditionally measured (by GDP growth). GDP growth has been modest, meaning that without tax cuts, tax revenue growth would have been positive. Instead, the government now spends more and collects less. For more numbers, see this post, where I also did a ballpark allocation of responsibility for the deficit and conservatively estimated the Bush administration’s share of that blame at two-thirds.


Comments (0) | |

The Consequences of Tax Cuts

Paul Krugman has a piece in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine about the long-term consequences of the Bush tax cuts. His argument is one that has been made elsewhere, but is nevertheless compelling: the Republican tax cuts have intentionally set the US on the path that will lead to the end of the social safety net. Here’s an excerpt:

The advocates of tax cuts are relentless, even fanatical. An indication of the movement’s fervor — and of its political power — came during the Iraq war. War is expensive and is almost always accompanied by tax increases. But not in 2003. ”Nothing is more important in the face of a war,” declared Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, ”than cutting taxes.” And sure enough, taxes were cut, not just in a time of war but also in the face of record budget deficits. Nor will it be easy to reverse those tax cuts: the tax-cut movement has convinced many Americans that everybody still pays far too much in taxes.

A result of the tax-cut crusade is that there is now a fundamental mismatch between the benefits Americans expect to receive from the government and the revenues government collects. This mismatch is already having profound effects at the state and local levels: teachers and policemen are being laid off and children are being denied health insurance. The federal government can mask its problems for a while, by running huge budget deficits, but it, too, will eventually have to decide whether to cut services or raise taxes. And we are not talking about minor policy adjustments. If taxes stay as low as they are now, government as we know it cannot be maintained. In particular, Social Security will have to become far less generous; Medicare will no longer be able to guarantee comprehensive medical care to older Americans; Medicaid will no longer provide basic medical care to the poor.

It’s an extreme scenario, but Krugman may have a very good point. Could the Bush tax cuts really be part of a deliberate plot to dismantle Social Security and Medicare? After all, the Republicans no longer even pretend to have any idea about how to balance the budget anytime in the next 10 years. I’d love to hear someone ask President Bush how and when he expects the budget to be balanced. While they’re at it, I’d love it if they also asked President Bush how much tax revenue he thinks the government should collect. According to some of the things he’s said in the past, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s zero.

Which is why he is sure to continue appealing to the voters of Alabama.


Comments (0) | |

Bush’s Popularity

Here’s a new bit of polling data from Gallup:


PRINCETON, NJ — President George W. Bush’s job approval rating has dropped significantly over the last two weeks, and now, at 52%, is at its lowest point since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and within one point of the lowest rating during his presidency. The percentage of Americans who disapprove of Bush’s performance, 43%, is the highest measured since he took office. Bush’s job approval rating on his handling of the situation in Iraq has dropped from 57% to 51%, and a slight majority of Americans say Congress should not authorize Bush’s request for $87 billion in additional funding for Iraq and the war on terrorism.

This is simply one example of a dramatic decline in Bush’s approval numbers over the past month. (See Pollkatz for a great graphic.) As people realize that the emperor has no clothes, one wonders: what will Rove think of to give Bush his next bump in popularity? A war would work well, but all of the easy targets are now gone…

Does anyone have any suggestions?


Comments (0) | |

Aid to Cows

I love this image from the BBC’s Cancun coverage:

It’s a nice graphic depiction of the oft-cited comparison (slightly specious, but still good for making the point) that the annual dairy subsidy in the European Union in 2000 was $913 per cow, average income in sub-Saharan Africa was $490 per capita, and the EU’s annual aid to sub-Saharan Africa was $8 per person. There’s nothing like giving something with one hand and taking away with the other…


Comments (0) | |

Proposal for a 2004 Campaign Theme

Picking up where AB left off with this post, here’s my proposal for the theme of the anti-Bush 2004 campaign:

Time after time, George Bush’s policies fail to work. The Bush presidency has been a complete failure.

You probably recognize this as an elaboration of Gephardt’s excellent “miserable failure” line from the Democratic debate in New Mexico. But the real fun comes with the specific examples you can play with. Here’s how to play: Simply take any of Bush’s policies, and then couch it in terms of how his policies have failed to do what he said they were intended to do.

Here is the beginning of a list of specific failures:

1. The job market: Bush has repeatedly said that his economic plan, consisting exclusively of tax cuts that go largely to the wealthy, would help the economy; it has not. The White House said that the 2001 tax cuts would create millions of new jobs “and provide a foundation for economy-wide recovery in 2002” – but nearly two years later, no improvement in the job market is evident, and jobs continue to disappear month after month. His economic plan to has utterly failed.

2. The budget: Bush promised that “he would not burden future generations with the nation’s pressing domestic problems.” He has failed, and instead will run up record deficits not just now, but as far as the eye can see. Bush has repeatedly talked of the need to “restrain government spending.” Yet government spending during the Bush administration – with the help of a Republican Congress – has risen at a faster pace than any time since the 1960s. His management of the US budget has been an abject failure.

3. Osama bin Laden: On Sept. 13, 2001, George Bush said “The most important thing is for us to find Osama bin Laden. It is our number one priority and we will not rest until we find him!” After two years of somewhat distracted searching, he has failed to find him.

4. Afghanistan: Bush vowed to eliminate al Qaeda and the Taliban, to create a “stable Afghanistan” that would no longer harbor terrorists, to relieve the country’s oppression by religious fundamentalists, and to “eradicate narco-trafficking out of Afghanistan.” But both al Qaeda and the Taliban are still alive and well, Afghanistan is not stable, religious oppression is still rampant, much of the country is still a safe-haven for terrorists, and the country has flooded world markets with cheap narcotics over the past two years. Another huge failure.

5. Iraq: You don’t need my help with this one.

6. Korea: Clinton had successfully gotten North Korea to cease its nuclear weapons program and allow UN inspectors into the country, and was on the verge of getting North Korea to give up its long-range missile program. Bush failed to finish the deal on long-range missiles, however, and North Korea now has a vibrant long-range missile program. Bush also tried to keep them from restarting their nuclear weapons program; he failed. Since then, he has tried to get them to give up their nuclear program. But North Korea continues developing nuclear weapons, is on the verge of testing one, and is more dangerous than ever before. His North Korea policy is a spectacular failure.

7. The Middle East: Bush tried to let the Israelis and Palestinians work out an agreement on their own. When that strategy failed, he tried to design a roadmap to peace, and hoped that the roadmap would work with minimal American intervention. But the cycle of violence seems to get continually worse rather than better. Yet another Bush failure.

8. Political discourse: Bush promised to be a uniter, not a divider, and to change the tone of politics in Washington. However, he has failed (I wouldn’t be writing this otherwise), and US politics are more divisive and partisan than they have ever been in recent history.

9. Add your own favorite examples! It’s fun for the whole family!


Comments (0) | |

Negotiating Tactics in Cancun

Right now an important meeting of trade ministers is happening in Cancun, Mexico, where they are discussing possible changes to WTO rules. I’ve been worried that the US was going to get taken advantage of in the negotiations, though. So I was glad to read this story from the BBC reporting that US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick knows how to play hard ball with those greedy, selfish developing countries. I’m tired of those poor countries constantly bullying the US and getting their way. It’s about time that we stop them — so don’t give them an inch, Bob!

Rich and poor clash over farm aid

Europe and the United States have been accused of trying to break up a powerful new alliance of poor states bent on rewriting global trade rules.

The Group of 21 (G21), which includes China, India and Brazil, has threatened the traditional dominance of rich countries during world trade talks in Cancun, Mexico.

The G21 is demanding the complete abolition of subsidies paid by rich countries to their farmers which, they say, locks the developing world out of international markets.

But aid agency Action Aid has accused the US delegation at Cancun of attempting to alternately cajole and bully poor nations into leaving the G21 – an accusation the Americans have denied.

The charity claims US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick attempted to bribe some countries into dropping out of the group with trade incentives.

It said Costa Rica, El Salvador and Guatemala had been offered increased trade quotas if they quit the alliance.

The BBC has lots of great coverage of the goings-on there, for those who are interested. Stay tuned…


Comments (0) | |

, and DC, Northern Virginia, and Shanksville, PA

Since then, we’ve failed to capture Osama bin Laden, and the president now no longer mentions his name, invaded a country with no documented ties to bin Laden or the attacks, allowed bin Laden’s family members to vacate the country (apparently without first questioning them), lied to first responders about the health risks they faced at ground zero, and allowed an erosion of civil liberties. On the plus side, the TSA seems to be functioning fairly well so far (though apparently that could change).

UPDATE: For a poignant yet depressing reminder of how the world felt about the United States two years ago, visit the When Words Fail Us photo collection. (Via TBogg).

Comments (0) | |

Mike Allen: Noted in The Building?

Thursday’s Washington Post has an article, Bush Cites 9/11 On All Manner Of Questions, sure to upset Karl Rove. The punchline of the story is that, regardless of what the topic is, Bush will almost invariably make reference to 9/11:

…President Bush paused in his Labor Day remarks about jobs and told his audience of union members, “I want you to think back to that fateful day, September the 11th, and what happened afterwards …[snip]… In the past six weeks, Bush has referred to “9/11” or Sept. 11, 2001, in arguing for his energy policy and in response to questions about campaign fundraising, tax cuts, unemployment, the deficit, airport security, Afghanistan and the length, cost and death toll of the Iraq occupation.

I suppose the innnocent explanation, cited in the article, is that 9/11 is always on Bush’s mind. I’m even prepared to accept that as true, but that doesn’t make it appropriate–and probably makes it inapproptiate–to use the tragedy as a smokescreen whenever the topic turns to something Bush would rather not discuss. For example, here’s my favorite:

“Every day, I’m reminded about what 9/11 means to America,” Bush said when asked in July about the $170 million budget for his primary campaign, where he has no opponent. “We’re still threatened,” he said, explaining that he wants to “continue doing my job, and my job will be to work to make America more secure.”(*)

There’s a lot more, read the whole thing.


(*) Even I doubted that Bush would really answer a question about fundraising thusly, so I did some Googling and eventually found the transcript, from July 30th, 2003. In fairness to Bush, he did address the question; in fairness to the Post reporter, Bush immediately segued to 9/11 without ever mentioning his primary war chest or the $2000 contributors:

QUESTION: Mr. President, with no opponent, how can you spend $170 million or more on your primary campaign?

BUSH: Just watch. Keep going.

QUESTION: And with 15 fund-raisers scheduled for the summer months, do you worry about the perception that you’re unduly attentive to the interests of people who can afford to spend $2,000 to see you?

BUSH: I think American people, now that they’ve realized I’m going to seek re-election, expect me to seek re-election. They expect me to actually do what candidates do.

And so you’re right, I’ll be spending some time going out and asking the American people to support me.

But most of my time, as I say in my speeches — as I’m sure you’ve been bored to tears listening to — is that there’s a time for politics, and that’s going to be later on. I’ve got a lot to do and I will continue doing my job. And my job will be to work to make America more secure.

Steve asked the question about this al-Qaeda possible attack. Every day I am reminded that our nation is still vulnerable. Every day I’m reminded about what 9-11 means to America.

That’s a lesson, by the way, I’ll never forget, the lesson of 9-11, because, and I remember right after 9-11 saying that this will be a different kind of war, but it’s a war. And sometimes there’ll be action and sometimes there won’t, but we’re still threatened.

Comments (0) | |