November 22, 2006

Thanksgiving Eve Wrap-up

Filed under: News from Other Sites,Positivity,US & Allied Military — Tom @ 5:26 pm

Go read “Thanksgiving at Home” at A Rose by Any Other Name.

Tomorrow’s post will be Washington’s Thanksgiving proclamation. Blogging will resume on Friday.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Carnival Barking (112206)

Filed under: News from Other Sites — Tom @ 4:35 pm

Newshound’s 49th on Ohio politics is here.

Boring Made Dull’s 21st on Econ and Social Policy is here.

Schmidt Wins: A Look at Fantasy v. Reality

Filed under: OH-02 US House,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 1:45 pm

Fantasy:

Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Congrats to our new Congresswoman Victoria Wulsin
By Nate Noy

Victoria Wulsin WILL be the next congresswoman from OH-2.

Reality (Note: OH02 accurately points out that it is technically not a “clinch.” But it is an insurmountable lead — also see Update below):

Republican Clinches Re-election to House

Two years after a heartbreaking recount loss in a state Senate primary left her future in doubt, Schmidt has gained re-election to Ohio’s 2nd District by again holding off a fast-closing Democratic challenger. This time, her race went into overtime, but absentee and provisional ballots counted Tuesday in Warren County gave her a clinching 3,200-vote lead.

Schmidt, who gained national attention last year with her harsh House floor attack on a Democratic veteran, had 51 percent of the vote compared with 49 percent for Victoria Wulsin, according to unofficial results.

Schmidt expressed thanks Tuesday to her supporters and also workers at the seven county boards of elections who are counting remaining votes this week.

“I’ve worked hard in Congress for the people of southern Ohio and I look forward to continuing that work thanks to the confidence that the voters of the 2nd District have shown in me,” Schmidt said in a statement.

Wulsin, who got little help from national Democrats until the campaign’s final weeks, says she’s in no hurry to concede and wants to make sure all votes are counted.

Fantasy:

(Wulsin) says she could have won if the party gave her more support.

Reality:

Wulsin essentially stole 10,000 votes in the district’s easternmost counties by lying (Whiskey Tango post; BizzyBlog post), with the active complicity of the Cincinnati Enquirer, about the possibility of Piketon becoming the site of a “nuclear waste dump.”

Regardless of what she did or did not get from “the party,” Wulsin received plenty of money from the party’s wholly-owned subsidiaries, i.e., her locally invisible endorsers from NOW, NARAL, and Emily’s List. During the final weeks of the campaign, that money was more than enough to carpet-bomb the airwaves with the false “dump” claim, the false claim that Schmidt opposes stem-cell research (not true, Vic; Jean likes the kind that’s actually accomplishing something, and opposes the type that not only hasn’t gone anywhere, but also terminates human life in the process), and even the laughably bogus plagiarism charge.

Wulsin had every conceivable and contrived advantage, not only from what I just mentioned, but also:

  • A local media that thought “malariotherapy” was too big of a word for readers to understand.
  • Free help from an antiwar PAC whose sponsoring parent supports “immediate withdrawal” from Iraq while pretending to support a “timetable” during the campaign.
  • The added benefit of that Schmidt-harassing “right-wing” attack poodle endorsed by the America First Party of Ohio.
  • An area electorate that was as disinclined to support Republicans as it has been in 30 years.

But yet, what I said just after the election to all who have tried to take her out during the past 17 months still holds — “Jean Schmidt’s still standing. You ….. aren’t.”

Vic Wulsin should cherish this moment. Her 2006 performance will more likely than not come to be known as “her high-water mark.”

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UPDATE: This may surprise some, but I respect Wulsin’s insistence that all votes be counted, and that she won’t formally concede “until the outstanding votes are fewer than the difference between her and me.” Though there’s really no doubt that she lost, her insistence on the formalities is as it should be.

Someday, I hope to see reciprocation in cases like Virginia GOP Senator George Allen’s nail-biter of a situation, instead of relentless pressure to concede before the counting is completed. But I’m not holding my breath — It still seems that when a Dem holds out, it’s “respect for the process” and “courageous”; when a Republican does it, it’s “sour grapes,” “bad manners,” and “refusal to bow to the inevitable.”

UPDATE 2: Commenter Kevin fairly notes that Schmidt’s spokesperson is going too far in essentially demanding a concession, and I agree. As I noted in my comment to Kevin, the press has been giving Wulsin a (deserved) pass on holding out that a Republican in identical circumstances would never get.

Wal-Mart: THAT Was Fast, and THIS Is More Like It

Filed under: Business Moves,Economy — Tom @ 12:19 pm

The folks in Bentonville faced a holiday-season disaster — and blinked …. and apparently went further into a thorough reexamination of where they are and what they are all about.

About 24 hours after Don Wildmon’s American Family Association called for a Friday-Saturday boycott of Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club (fourth item at “Couldn’t Help But Notice” link earlier this morning), the company formally backed off, with astonishing comprehensiveness:

Respect for the individual is one of the core values that have made us into the company we are today. We take pride in the fact that we treat every customer, every supplier and every member of our individual communities fairly and equally.

….. Wal-Mart will not make corporate contributions to support or oppose highly controversial issues unless they directly relate to our ability to serve our customers.

Wal-Mart does not have a position on same sex marriage and we do not give preference to gay or lesbian suppliers. Wal-Mart does have a strong commitment to diversity among our associates and against discrimination everywhere.

The AFA has called off the boycott, and is urging its members and other to send a note of thanks to Wal-Mart.

Say what you will about the propriety or impropriety of gay-agenda causes, the point that Wal-Mart finally seems to get, after spending a large portion of 2006 losing (and losing, and losing, and losing) its way, is that its primary mission is to be a money-making business enterprise providing a fair return to its shareholders. It finally seems to realize that it will achieve that return by aggressively competing, while in the process pleasing its customers and providing employment and career opportunities for its employees.

Of course, how the company behaves over the long-term is the real test, but if the company’s other announcement yesterday is any indication, all I can say is “That’s more like it!”:

Wal-Mart Slashes Food Prices, Targets Grocers Ahead of Thanksgiving

CHICAGO — Two days before Thanksgiving, Wal-Mart (WMT) slashed prices on hundreds of grocery items, a welcome break for consumers but the first shot in what is sure to be a price war between mainstream grocers and the largest seller of food in the United States.

Wal-Mart, also the world’s largest retailer, has already cut prices on toys, appliances, electronics and apparel to attract more holiday shoppers. The retailer also recently initiated a $4 generic prescription drug program that threatens pharmacy chains.

Now, it is trimming prices on hundreds of fresh and dry food items.

The retailer said that the price of many food items would be lowered by as much as 20 percent. Some items were discounted more heavily.

The company appears to have returned to being the “always low prices” retailer (almost) all of us know and love. Milton Friedman, who understood that “The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits,” is surely smiling down on all of this.

_____________________________

UPDATE: I have had my differences with Wildmon’s AFA in the past, as I think the boycott weapon is best used more selectively than it is employed by AFA (Wildmon also occasionally makes really dumb choices in backing political candidates). But there’s no denying the Friday-Saturday boycott threat hit the bullseye. I realize this wasn’t AFA’s intent, but with their apparent success at shaking Wal-Mart to its core, Wildmon and his group may have done more to lengthen the economic prosperity we’re in than any other single entity, including the government, has done in all of 2006.

UPDATE 2: How important is it that the Wal-Mart economy-stimulating express keeps running? From today’s OpinionJournal.com, in a column about free trade by Pete DuPont:

A recent Global Insights analysis concludes that Wal-Mart’s 1985-2004 expansion of sales resulted in a 9.1% drop in the price of food at home, a 4.2% drop in the price of other goods and commodities, and a 3.1% decline in consumer prices overall, saving the average working family about $2,329 per year. And with that came a net increase of 210,000 Wal-Mart jobs in 2004 alone.

Excerpt of the Day: John Fund on the Reax to the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative

Filed under: Education,Quotes, Etc. of the Day,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 10:09 am

From Fund’s column Monday at OpinionJournal.com (bolds are mine):

From the outraged cries of affirmative action diehards, you would think the dark night of fascism was descending with the passage of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative. Mary Sue Coleman is president of the University of Michigan, which has already spent millions of taxpayers’ dollars defending its racial preferences in courts. She addressed what Tom Bray of the Detroit News called “a howling mob of hundreds of student and faculty protestors” last week. “Diversity matters at Michigan,” she declared. “It matters today, and it will matter tomorrow.” Echoes of George Wallace, who in 1963 declared from the steps of Alabama’s Capitol: “I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

Ms. Coleman isn’t the only Michigan official to employ Wallace-style rhetoric against MCRI. Detroit’s Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick told a fundraiser last April that the measure would usher in an era of racial prejudice. “Bring it on!” he bellowed. “We will affirm to the world that affirmative action will be here today, it will be here tomorrow, and there will be affirmative action in the state forever.”

Another leader in Michigan’s massive resistance is Karen Moss, the executive director of the state ACLU. “I do think it’s necessary for the courts to slow this thing down and . . . interpret some of the language,” she told the Washington Post. That “thing” is an amendment that simply states: “The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.” As the blog Discriminations.us notes, “What part of that language does the ACLU find vague or unclear and in need of “interpretation’?”

Jeez. Even Sandra Day O’Connor said in the University of Michigan law school case that affirmative action should be gone in 25 years — well short of Mary Sue Coleman’s and Kwame Kilpatrick’s “timelines.”

________________________

UPDATE: Stephen Bainbridge at TCS Daily goes into how California’s university system has been working to get around that state’s Prop. 209 initiative passed a decade ago. The lengths to which these people will go to do the illegal (and wrong) thing are amazing.

Couldn’t Help But Notice (112206)

Filed under: Business Moves,Economy,General,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 8:13 am

Just in time for Ted — Ohio’s seasonally adjusted October unemployment rate was down to 5.1%, and total employment increased 75,000 in the past year. The not-seasonally-adjusted numbers (what should be thought of as the raw data) show an unemployment rate of 4.7% and a 92,700 increase in jobs. Too bad for Bob Taft and his party that he didn’t start looking at business-tax reform and cutting the state’s indivdual income tax sooner. The cloud on the horizon is the phase-in of the Commercial Activities Tax (CAT), which should be killed before it does the inevitable damage any gross receipts-based tax does.
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A Wall Street Journal survey of economists (requires subscription) says that “The worst of the housing bust is over, economists said by nearly 2-to-1 in the latest WSJ.com economic forecasting survey. But they still predict that the average selling price of a house will fall next year ….. by 0.5%.” I think the economy can handle that, but I’ll betcha that 2007′s number ends up positive. Check back in March 2008, when the final Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO) report is issued.
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I have to apologize for being a poor role model to the world. I do NOT have the patience for this (requires subscription) when it comes to getting children to eat a new food:

(Penn State researchers) discovered it can take up to 15 exposures to a new food before a child will accept it.

Only saints need apply; I’m not one.

______________________

Don Wildmon’s American Family Association is calling for a two-day boycott of Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club on Black Friday and the day after over the company’s recent deliberately visible support of gay-community causes. This active embrace of political correctness is, in my opinion, yet another example of how “Wal-Mart Has Lost Its Way” (follow-ups here, here, and here). It will do nothing to satisfy its opponents in groups like Wake Up Wal-Mart, but has the potential to alienate a broad cross-section of its customer base. If Wal-Mart and Same’s have a bad weekend while everyone else does fine, you’ll know why. For both its sake and the overall economy’s, the company needs to get back to basics (“always low prices”), and cut away the distractions — all of them.

______________________

Was there any economic growth in France in the third quarter? Non.

______________________

Hillary Clinton, who could have won re-election without setting foot in her adopted “home state” of New York, spent more money ($30 million) than any other US Senate candidate. Incredibly, “that leaves Mrs. Clinton with little financial advantage over her potential rivals for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination — and perhaps even trailing some of them.” Shameless plug: Someone should have sent her here before the campaign began.

E-Voting Disaster May Have Struck in Florida, and Few Seem to Care

Filed under: Business Moves,Consumer Outrage,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 8:08 am

Robert Schneier, whose blog has been on the blogroll here for well over a year, tells us what happened at Forbes.com (may require subscription; hence the longish excerpt):

Last week in Florida’s 13th Congressional district, the victory margin was only 386 votes out of 153,000. There’ll be a mandatory lawyered-up recount, but it won’t include the almost 18,000 votes that seem to have disappeared. The electronic voting machines didn’t include them in their final tallies, and there’s no backup to use for the recount. The district will pick a winner to send to Washington, but it won’t be because they are sure the majority voted for him. Maybe the majority did, and maybe it didn’t. There’s no way to know.

Electronic voting machines represent a grave threat to fair and accurate elections, a threat that every American–Republican, Democrat or independent–should be concerned about. Because they’re computer-based, the deliberate or accidental actions of a few can swing an entire election. The solution: Paper ballots, which can be verified by voters and recounted if necessary.

….. Much of our election security is based on “security by competing interests.” Every step, with the exception of voters completing their single anonymous ballots, is witnessed by someone from each major party; this ensures that any partisan shenanigans–or even honest mistakes–will be caught by the other observers. This system isn’t perfect, but it’s worked pretty well for a couple hundred years.

Electronic voting is like an iceberg; the real threats are below the waterline where you can’t see them. Paperless electronic voting machines bypass that security process, allowing a small group of people–or even a single hacker–to affect an election. The problem is software–programs that are hidden from view and cannot be verified by a team of Republican and Democrat election judges, programs that can drastically change the final tallies. And because all that’s left at the end of the day are those electronic tallies, there’s no way to verify the results or to perform a recount. Recounts are important.

This isn’t theoretical. In the U.S., there have been hundreds of documented cases of electronic voting machines distorting the vote to the detriment of candidates from both political parties: machines losing votes, machines swapping the votes for candidates, machines registering more votes for a candidate than there were voters, machines not registering votes at all. I would like to believe these are all mistakes and not deliberate fraud, but the truth is that we can’t tell the difference.

….. This is both new and terrifying. For the most part, and throughout most of history, election fraud on a massive scale has been hard; it requires very public actions or a highly corrupt government–or both. But electronic voting is different: a lone hacker can affect an election. He can do his work secretly before the machines are shipped to the polling stations. He can affect an entire area’s voting machines. And he can cover his tracks completely, writing code that deletes itself after the election.

And that assumes well-designed voting machines. The actual machines being sold by companies like Diebold, Sequoia Voting Systems and Election Systems & Software are much worse. The software is badly designed. Machines are “protected” by hotel minibar keys. Vote tallies are stored in easily changeable files. Machines can be infected with viruses. Some voting software runs on Microsoft Windows, with all the bugs and crashes and security vulnerabilities that introduces. The list of inadequate security practices goes on and on.

….. We shouldn’t–and don’t–have to accept voting machines that might someday be secure only if a long list of operational procedures are followed precisely. We need voting machines that are secure regardless of how they’re programmed, handled and used, and that can be trusted even if they’re sold by a partisan company, or a company with possible ties to Venezuela.

Sounds like an impossible task, but in reality, the solution is surprisingly easy. The trick is to use electronic voting machines as ballot-generating machines. Vote by whatever automatic touch-screen system you want: a machine that keeps no records or tallies of how people voted, but only generates a paper ballot.

….. A stack of paper is harder to tamper with than a number in a computer’s memory. Voters can see their vote on paper, regardless of what goes on inside the computer. And most important, everyone understands paper.

….. Voting is as much a perception issue as it is a technological issue. It’s not enough for the result to be mathematically accurate; every citizen must also be confident that it is correct. Around the world, people protest or riot after an election not when their candidate loses, but when they think their candidate lost unfairly. It is vital for a democracy that an election both accurately determine the winner and adequately convince the loser. In the U.S., we’re losing the perception battle.

The current crop of electronic voting machines fail on both counts. The results from Florida’s 13th Congressional district are neither accurate nor convincing. As a democracy, we deserve better. We need to refuse to vote on electronic voting machines without a voter-verifiable paper ballot, and to continue to pressure our legislatures to implement voting technology that works.

Yes, the Kos crowd is following this, but (sorry, kids) they’re doing it because their candidate is behind; the silence would be, and actually has been, deafening when their folks are ahead (see Missouri US Senate, Virginia US Senate). Meanwhile, Taranto at Best of the Web ridiculed the problem this past Thursday because Kos initially incorrectly identified the voting machine vendor, as if it matters what brand of machine is eating votes (if that’s what has occurred). There seems to be some dispute as to whether the 18,000 votes represent valid electronic votes that disappeared into thin air and were not counted, or are simply trackable “undervotes” where a voter expressed no preference.

Me? I want to know which candidate got the most votes, and be able to prove it. To admit that this appears to be asking too much of the current e-voting regime is to acknowledge that either Schneier’s paper-based recommendation has to be adopted, or that e-voting machines should be sent to digital graveyard — NOW.

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UPDATE: Schneier’s blog post from Nov. 13 has many more details and links.

UPDATE 2: Yesterday, the GOP candidate was certified as the winner and the Democrat loser has sued. Calling this sour grapes is a too-easy cop-out; the lack of a paper trail has opened up the process to this kind of dispute. What in the world is the problem with the people who don’t want to solve this?

UPDATE 3, Nov. 22: Techdirt’s take

Two days after the election, despite claims in the press that there were “no major problems” with e-voting systems, it became clear that Sarasota County in Florida had a pretty serious problem to deal with as somewhere between 8,000 and 18,000 votes on e-voting machines appeared to have gone missing. There were various explanations, but it seems like the machines just didn’t record the votes when people hit the touchscreen. levi stein writes in to let us know that the Congressional candidate who lost that election by a mere 369 votes, Christine Jennings, is challenging the election and demanding a new election.

Higher Minimum Wage with at Least Minimal Service?

Filed under: Business Moves,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 8:03 am

Scrappleface engages in humorous but wishful thinking.

Global Warming Skepticism Roundup

Just read Amy Ridenour’s posts (here, here, here, here, here), excuse the occasional spousal fawning, and you’ll have all you need to fend off the globalarmist enviros.

All kidding aside, here’s the agenda-revealer of the day (near the end at this link):

The Stern panel also included a presentation by an environmental specialist from the Peoples Republic of China by the name of Pan Jiahua who made one comment that drew gasps from the audience.

Mr. Jiahua asserted that reducing greenhouse gas emissions requires more than technological advancements. It requires, he said, reducing demand, which can be achieved, in part, by limiting population growth. He went on to say that China’s one-child policy has reduced energy demand by 300 million people.

The comment drew gasps from some in the audience. Under China’s one-child policy, millions of baby girls have been put to death by parents seeking male offspring.

Charming.

Here’s a Term That I Hope Doesn’t Catch on in the USA

Filed under: Business Moves,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 7:53 am

From Expatica:

Positive discrimination employed in public transport company
16 November 2006

Brussels – Flemish public transport company, De Lijn, has announced plans to introduce a quota system to increase the number of women and people from ethnic minorities among its staff.

At present, the firm has just 193 members of staff of foreign extraction, or 2.9 per cent of its workforce.

Bosses at De Lijn think that the number of ethic minority employees is too low and that more needs to be done to help make the company´s workforce more accurately reflect the composition of Flemish society as a whole.

Hilde Lieten, the head of De Lijn, said that “too few women and people from ethnic groups respond to our job adverts. This means that we are going to have to change the way we publicise vacancies and how we recruit people.”

“Positive discrimination” — that’s quite the doublespeak term for what is openly described as a quota system. How Orwellian.

Positivity: The Interstate Highway System Turns 50

Filed under: Positivity,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:02 am

It’s one of the rare examples that the government has done well, at least in its mostly-final result. Here’s the story, from Ralph Kinney Bennett at TCS Daily:

As you prepare to head out to join with family and friends for that Thanksgiving turkey, give thanks right now for one of the most magnificent engineering feats of all time.

The Interstate.

Or, as it is more formally known, The Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways.
It’s 50 years old this year. And it was in this very month, November, 1956, that the first eight-mile stretch of what would eventually be more than 42,000 miles of limited access highway lacing the states together was opened in Topeka, Kansas.

Give thanks because the Interstate is going to make your holiday trip, this week, and at Christmas, immeasurably faster and easier than it used to be. Only those who drove or rode as children in automobiles in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s can fully appreciate how much faster and how much easier.

Long distance auto trips back then meant stop and go driving through a maze of dangerous intersections with and without traffic lights; through railroad crossings, perilous curves and steep grades on which motorists too often found themselves crawling along behind heavy trucks. Most main routes led directly through cities and towns and there were few by-passes. For every charming little roadside restaurant now remembered through the haze of nostalgia, there were scores of dirty joints of decidedly uneven quality. If you were lucky you might find a good motel, but often you were left with a grim, run-down tourist cabin.

The system that would change all that was born on June 29, 1956, when an ailing President Eisenhower, without fanfare or photographers, signed the Federal Highway Act of 1956 into law in his room at Walter Reed Army Hospital, Washington, D.C., where he was recovering from surgery for an inflamed intestine.

The signing received little notice in the newspapers (he put his signature to 26 other bills that day). Both press and public were more interested in whether Ike, who had suffered a heart attack the previous September, was too sick to serve as President or run for a second term that year.

President Eisenhower, looking gaunt and small inside his double breasted suit, left the hospital the next day, June 30th, and headed north to his Gettysburg, Pa., farm to recover and go on to win a second term in a landslide that November. Even he did not fully sense at the time that the highway bill was one of the greatest political triumphs of his career, setting in motion one of the most profound economic, cultural and social changes in the nation’s history.

But there was never any doubt in Ike’s mind that he had done the right thing. He had campaigned incessantly throughout his first term for a “grand” system of high speed highways linking the nation from sea to sea. And he got what he wanted.