Archive for October, 2004

Via the Althouse-Totten-McArdle-powered Instapundit Blog-Flavored Substitute Product™, Will Wilkinson makes a point about voter fraud that I’d been meaning to make myself — I can be disenfranchised just as effectively by someone else voting fraudulently as I can by a gang of thugs blocking my way into the polling station.

Will thinks he can predict my party preference by whether I think vote fraud or voter intimidation is more serious. He may be right, in that my party preference leans Republican and I think vote fraud is more problematic than voter intimidation (although both are serious problems and should not be permitted). My reasons for thinking so don’t have anything to do with the traditional association of vote fraud with Democrats and voter intimidation with Republicans, though.

I think vote fraud is a more pernicious problem because it’s less salient. If somebody intimidates me into not voting, it’s going to be very obvious to me, and likely obvious to other people as well. Voter intimidation works by creating a climate of fear in the minds of potential voters. That does not and cannot have a significant effect unless significant numbers of voters notice and respond to the intimidation attempts.

Vote fraud, though, is more subtle. I can go to the polling place, cast my ballot, and go home blissfully unaware that three hours before I even voted someone else cast a fraudulent ballot in the name of John Q. Unreal. My vote can be neutralized — rendered as ineffective as though I’d never cast it — and I won’t even notice.

After this election, no matter who wins, I’m going to start trying to figure out how to tighten the system’s protections against vote fraud — which seem dangerously weak in many ways. The obvious question, which has been asked by other bloggers, is “Is there any reason why voters shouldn’t be required to present a photo ID before casting their ballot?” I think the answer is obviously “No”, and that’s probably the first place to start in shoring up the vote system’s protections against fraud.

At lunch today, a friend and I started trying to figure out what the worst possible outcome of the election would be, leaving aside snide partisan quips like “A Bush victory” or “A Kerry victory”. Here’s what we came up with.

Our ‘nightmare’ scenario is a combination of several possiblities:

  1. It is possible that Bush could win the popular vote by a fair margin (say 52-48) while still not gaining a majority in the electoral college. This could happen because Bush is beating Kerry like a rented mule in many of the red states while trailing by a slim margin in several battleground states.
  2. There is a plausible scenario in which Bush and Kerry wind up tied at 269 electoral college votes each, in which case the election would be thrown into the House of Representatives.
  3. There is an amendment on the ballot in Colorado which, if it passes, would result in Colorado’s 9 electoral college votes being allocated proportionately instead of winner-take-all. The constitutionality of this amendment is debatable, particularly the question of whether it can modify the allocation of electoral college votes in the same election in which it itself is adopted.
  4. Supreme Court Justice Rehnquist has just undergone surgery for thyroid cancer.

Put all these elements together and what do you get? Bush wins 53% of the popular vote, but winds up in a 269-269 tie with Kerry in the electoral college. But the Colorado amendment passes, and if its terms apply then Kerry picks up 4 of Colorado’s votes, thus winning the election. Republicans file a constitutional challenge against the Colorado initiative, which makes its way to the Supreme Court. With Rehnquist unavailable due to his illness, the Court threatens to deadlock 4-4 on the constitutionality of the Colorado initiative.

In reaction to this, Rehnquist resigns from the court. Bush makes a recess appointment to replace him, thus breaking the logjam. The Court finds the Colorado intitiative unconstitutional by a 5-4 vote. With the electoral college balance now back to 269-269, the election moves into the House.

At that point, I’m pretty confident that no matter what the House wound up deciding, a really massive chunk of the public would never accept it. A Bush win would be viewed as illegitimate due to the perceived packing of the Supreme Court overturning the Colorado initiative. A Kerry win would be viewed as illegitimate due to the margin of victory in the popular vote and the perceived attempt to ‘change the rules’ in Colorado mid-election. And we haven’t even considered the mutual and inevitable accusations of fraud and voter intimidation.

Update: Last night I dug out a copy of the Constitution to double-check on what happens if nobody gets a majority in the Electoral College. I learned something I didn’t know which could make the outcome even more bizarre. It turns out that the House selects the President, but the Senate selects the Vice-President! So in the Evil Scenario above, it would only take one Senator bolting from the GOP to result in a tie for selecting the VP — a tie which would have to be broken by, well, the VP. Two bolting and we’d wind up with Bush-Edwards in the White House.

Also, from my quick reading, it wasn’t entirely clear whether the votes are supposed to be done by the outgoing Congress or the incoming one, or if it depends on when the vote is actually taken. That could make for a whole new level of fun.

Today I received my Social Security statement in the mail. If this thing is supposed to give me warm fuzzies about Social Security, it failed miserably. I got curious, you see, and decided to run a few numbers.

According to the statement, if I retire at age 62, my monthly benefits will be $1431. Retire at age 67, they’re $2069. At 70, $2566. Sounds pretty good. But what are the opportunity costs?

The Social Security payroll tax rate is 12.4% of earnings up to $87000 annually (as of 2003). In 2003 my income was over that. Let’s assume my income, the tax rate and the tax cap don’t change. (Unlikely, but the ways they probably will change all make Social Security an even worse deal.) So Social Security is taking 12.4% of $87000 from me annually. That’s $10788 a year.

Currently, I’m 33. So if I retire at age 62, those taxes will come to a total of $312852. If I retire at 67, the tax bite is $366792. And if I hang on until 70 before I quit working, $399156.

But wait! I forgot the miracle of compound interest. If I were free to take that money and invest it in, say, my 401k, it would be earning interest over the next 30+ years, and that adds up. How much does it add up to?

Assuming I can make 4% annually (not an unreasonable average rate over a period of decades), my nest egg on retirement at age 62 would actually be $594256. At age 67 it would be up to $783772. And at 70 it would have climbed to $916659.

If after I retire I start living off that 4% income stream instead of reinvesting it, my monthly income at age 62 would be $1980. At age 67, it would be $2612; at age 70 it would be $3055. That’s more than $500 extra per month from interest income alone. If I also decided to draw down the principal those monthly income numbers would be even higher. And if I didn’t draw down the principal I would be able to pass it on to my heirs when I die — something I can’t really do with my Social Security benefits.

And these calculations are ignoring the taxes I paid into Social Security over the past 14 years, and the money I could have earned from investing them as well, while including those payments for purposes of computing my Social Security benefits!

So, summarizing: Social Security in its present form is robbing my future self of $500 a month in retirement income, robbing my future heirs of between roughly half a million to a million dollars in inheritance after I die, and claims while doing so that it is helping me provide for my future.

Bah. Privatization can’t happen fast enough.

A few months ago, I posted a link (which no longer works) to a story about a gas station convenience store that arranged to have police officers perform a fake burglary in order to test how employees responded. The store manager (who was not informed beforehand) was extremely traumatized by the incident, not to mention the fact that it was a stupid stunt in the first place.

Well, apparently, she’s suing the store and the City of Schuyler. You can read a recap of the original incident there.

Today Anne, myself and two of our friends were accosted by a woman outside Barnes & Noble. Apparently she saw Anne’s “Bush/Cheney 2004” bumper sticker and it pushed her over the edge. She asserted, in a very hostile tone, that she “couldn’t comprehend” how women could support Bush or Cheney. Anne tossed back some quick one-liner and we continued into the store to do our shopping. There was no discussion of the incident at the time, but I’ve been thinking about it a bit since then.

Leaving aside the propriety of attacking the politics of a complete stranger in such a manner, two things struck me. First, there are roughly a hundred million voters in the United States. About half are women. Of those, polls indicate at least 40% are Bush supporters — that’s about 20 million people. I think if you’re sufficiently passionate about your politics that you would impose them verbally on strangers in parking lots, you should be willing to make the effort to comprehend why so many people disagree with you. That doesn’t mean you have to change your own mind, but as a simple matter of tactics and strategy you can’t be an effective salesperson for your own views if you don’t understand why other people think differently. Not everybody who thinks differently from you is stupid, ignorant, evil or insane. (And yes, this cuts both ways on the political spectrum, and yes I’ve been guilty of the same error myself. It’s still an error.)

The second thing that struck me was the sense of fear and anger that was rolling off this woman in waves. It was utterly inappropriate to the circumstances. It almost seemed like the fact that a woman might choose to support the reelection of the President struck at some basic psychological support pillar in this woman’s mind. Or perhaps she was just not very confident in a Kerry victory, and the presence of a Republican woman somehow concretized her fear of a Bush win, leading her to lash out against the present symbol of the distant man she really fears and hates. I dunno.

In any event, it was an interesting encounter.

This is one of the most extraordinary things I’ve read in a long time. I had to order the DVD from CNN so I can see it for myself. Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show (sharp political satire using real facts), was invited onto CNN’s Crossfire tonight. It’s apparent that they invited him in order to be funny, to be a lightweight guest to provide some levity and entertainment for their audience.

Stewart refused to play. He wanted to have a serious debate, and started tearing them a new asshole when they evaded serious conversation in favor of what Stewart described as “partisan hackery”:


STEWART: But the thing is that this — you’re doing theater, when you should be doing debate, which would be great.

BEGALA: We do, do…

(CROSSTALK)

STEWART: It’s not honest. What you do is not honest. What you do is partisan hackery. And I will tell you why I know it.

CARLSON: You had John Kerry on your show and you sniff his throne and you’re accusing us of partisan hackery?

STEWART: Absolutely.

CARLSON: You’ve got to be kidding me. He comes on and you…

(CROSSTALK)

STEWART: You’re on CNN. The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: What is wrong with you?

(APPLAUSE) CARLSON: Well, I’m just saying, there’s no reason for you — when you have this marvelous opportunity not to be the guy’s butt boy, to go ahead and be his butt boy. Come on. It’s embarrassing.

STEWART: I was absolutely his butt boy. I was so far — you would not believe what he ate two weeks ago.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

STEWART: You know, the interesting thing I have is, you have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably.

CARLSON: You need to get a job at a journalism school, I think.

STEWART: You need to go to one.

Ouch. Perhaps one of the most cringe-inducing aspects of this show was that Carlson and Begala didn’t seem to be aware of the meta-level Stewart’s criticism was operating on. Or if they were, were doing their best to pretend it wasn’t happening so that the true extent of their worthlessness wouldn’t become too obvious. The video will probably tell me more, and it will become available on ifilm fairly soon, so I am told. More later.

UPDATE: I just watched a video of the show on ifilm. It looked to me like Stewart was being quite serious. The audience got it, and it sounded like they agreed with a lot of what he had to say. Carlson looked like he wished the earth would open up and swallow him, and tried desperately to change the subject or the mock Stewart’s criticism. Just extraordinary.

Hat tip to Fark for picking up this story.

This is one of the more idiotic things I’ve read about in a while. This “zero tolerance” thing is really pissing me off.


Joshua Phelps had been at a reenactment with his Civil War costume, including a musket last week. He threw the uniform and equipment into his truck and forgot about it. Tuesday a security guard at the Pine Bush High School saw it and called police.

Phelps was sitting in study hall when the security guard told him to go to the assistant principal. When he was told they saw the rifle he wasn’t concerned, thinking they would understand it was part of his costume.

But it didn’t happen that way. Town of Crawford Police were called and Phelps was cuffed and charged with a misdemeanor charge of criminal possession of a weapon.

Phelps used the costume when taking part of the reenactment of the Battle of Chancellorville which was staged by the 124th New York State Volunteers. The reenactors say they are models of the unit that came from Orange County and fought in the Civil War. High school students were recruited to take part in the reenactors club. Phelps’ mother questions why the students are given fake guns if they can be arrested for having them.

The way I’m reading this is: high school students are recruited in this town to participate in a Civil War reenactment that is part of the town’s history. They are given a fake musket as part of their costume. Said student forgets the stuff is in the trunk of his car and happens to be on school property when a security guard notices.

Town police arrest him and charge him with criminal possession of a weapon (no specifics on whether it matters that the weapon is a replica). What the hell? If it’s criminal possession, why is the acting troupe handing them out? If they’re not illegal (since they’re replicas), why is this kid being charged with gun possession?

Can we please, PLEASE inject a little common sense into this? The musket is non-operational. It’s a replica that has never been operational and cannot be made operational. There’s no reason that a musket as part of a costume shouldn’t be something you can just transport without having to adhere to ridiculous laws about actual guns.

I'm Nicola Tesla! Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzt!
Which Historical Lunatic Are You?
From the fecund loins of Rum and Monkey.

My favorite part of the summary included with this:


Moving to Colorado Springs, you created a machine capable of sending ten million volts into the Earth’s surface, which even while being started up caused lightning to shoot from fire hydrants and sparks to singe feet through shoes all over the town. When calibrated to be in tune with the planet’s resonance, it created what is still the largest man-made electrical surge ever, an arc over 130 feet long. Unfortunately, it set the local power plant aflame.

Muwahahahahahahaa!!!

This Liberal victory, for example, makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

The USS Clueless may be in dry dock, but Bill Whittle is back with a new two-part essay. This time he’s flensing John Kerry. Kerry supporters would do well to consider what he has to say; the questions are important even (or perhaps especially) if you disagree with Whittle’s conclusions.

Why are you still here? Go read.