|Man Without Qualities|
Friday, August 15, 2003
Davis Descending XXVIII: He's Not Dead Yet
Poor Gray Davis. The media longs to consign him to the grave more hurriedly than greedy heirs ringing a miser's bed. The Los Angeles Times today runs the breathless headline: Poll Shows Growing Support for Davis Recall:
The number of Californians supporting the effort to recall Gov. Gray Davis has grown over the last month, results of a statewide poll released today show. The nonpartisan Field Poll found that 58% of likely California voters want Davis out of office, up from 51% last month.
The only problem is that it may not really be true. Last month an internal poll by the California teachers union already showed him losing the recall vote by a 57-43 margin. Poll methodologies differ - and that could account for at least some of the discrepancy. But it is also arguable that even with all the Arnold hooplah and all the Democratic cannibalism and all the general kvetching --- that Gray Davis' recall poll numbers have, in fact, stabilized, even if his approval rating has continued to fall.
Further, this stabilization has occurred - if it has occurred - before the Governor has spent any money on a real campaign. Arnold Schwarzenegger's assumption of the role of Mr. Davis' de factor sole opponent means that Mr. Davis' customary demonization campaign strategy can now be employed.
Even the East Coast power outage may help him by reminding Californians that power troubles are everywhere now, and allowing him to minimize his role in the 2000 disaster. He's already seeing the opportunity for redemption: Davis told CNN's Larry King Live show on Thursday that the power crisis may return as an issue in the special election. "People may try and go back and second-guess what we did, but I would like to know what they would do when Enron had manipulated the market," Davis said. "We had a problem of not enough capacity plus the energy companies were ripping us off big time."
Of course, Mr. Davis is in very big trouble: "Movement is always the most significant element of a poll like this, and we are seeing continued movement toward the recall," said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll. "And attitudes toward the recall are very firm, since people have come to their judgments of Davis over a long period of time."
But last month's internal poll by the California teachers union shows that there may not be as much "movement" against the Governor as this Field poll suggests.
He's not dead yet, and anyone who thinks he is just doesn't understand Gray Davis' real capabilities.
ON ANOTHER POINT: Don Luskin is right on target condemning Arnold Schwarzenegger's terrible decision to engage Warren Buffett as his advisor. That and Mr. Schwarzenegger's other terrible decision of embracing Pete Wilson's old team, raises real questions about Mr. Schwarzenegger's judgment and his usefullness in solving California's multiple crises.
Thursday, August 14, 2003
Krugmanian Shell Game II: Krugmania- Pottsylvania Anschlus
Paul Krugman posts on his personal website an oddly distracted reply to criticisms of his preposterous broadside which, among other things, purported to find a "pattern" of Bush Administration pathology in every discomfort experienced by American troops serving in Iraq and the now decades-established use of private companies to provide services once performed by soldiers. As a textual matter, the posting at first misrepresents itself as providing mere helpful answers to routine enquiries: Some people have asked me for the source of the letter about water shortages in Iraq. It's not Hackworth's site ... Then there is the extensive FT quote, introduced with only: And here's an excerpt from the Financial Times story on 8/11: Yes, yes - the kindly professor from Whattsamatta U dolls out the details at the request of some fan mail from some flounder.
But after lulling us with the chipper "Hey Rocky! Watch me pull a rabbit outta my hat! Nothin' up my sleeve! Presto!" act, Herr Doktorprofessor pulls out the snarling lion he's had there all along and addresses the audience he's really had in mind from the git-go:
Critics, do your homework!
That is what I call a message! None of that "I still never jumped the shark" here. No-sir-ree. Well, Jawohl, Herr Doktorprofessor, Fearless Leader! We know who's in charge here - because you tell us!
Just one question, Herr Doktorprofessor: Can we make a deal where the critics agree to do more homework if you agree to prepare more for your classes? The FT fragment you provide (Again without link! Not even a link for the article that requires a subscription.) doesn't support your column. It does confirm that the privatization you condemn is not a Bush Administration innovation - so it would be pretty hard for it to be part of your silly, paranoid "pattern." And to the extent it addresses Iraq, the part of the article you quote is just a reflection of the same old Newhouse News Service article that your column already misused and the FT article quotes.
And, yes, there have been soldier deaths from the heat (over 115 F degrees - to as high as 140 F degrees - three thousand people have died from the same heat wave in France) in Iraq. But nobody at the Washinton Post is talking about those deaths being related to any water shortage or privatization issues, although the Post devotes an entire article to investigating the deaths and the heat. Your misuse of those deaths and the soldiers' letters is pretty horrible. Your phony posture of "concern" for the soldiers' well being, where your real agenda is transparently nothing more than scoring the usual points against the President, is just indecent. The Post says that sleep is all but impossible with the heat in Iraq, but the same effect can be created by the kind of conscience you should be developing about this.
MORE: Don Luskin actually spoke to an army colonel about this. He said that there is no water shortage, in fact the soldiers are under “forced hydration.” The only “shortage” is a limit on bottled water, as Mr. Carter says. Luskin points out that the demand for such bottles means soldiers are in favor of privatization, at least of water.
STILL MORE: Phil Carter answers. Mr. Carter's gracious effort to find at least something in Herr Doktorprofessor's screed worth respecting is further evidence that many US servicemen (and ex-servicemen doing time in law school) have very big hearts and very generous spirits. But asking whether the use of private companies in war zones can have problematic aspects is not what Herr Doktorprofessor's column is about - that question has been raised and worried over extensively by military planners for decades, planner who really do care about soldiers. What Herr Doktorprofessor seeks to add to the mix is his perceived "pattern" of pathology in the current Administration, including a supposedly completely new emphasis on privatization: The U.S. military has shifted many tasks traditionally performed by soldiers into the hands of such private contractors as Kellogg Brown & Root, the Halliburton subsidiary. The Iraq war and its aftermath gave this privatized system its first major test in combat — and the system failed.
Herr Doktorprofessor's cites to logistics troubles and soldiers' letters are highly abusive and don't support his claims even though there have been logistics problems and the troops have had to endure punishing conditions. His abuse of such reports for cheap political gain is still horrible. Herr Doktorprofessor might want to do something in the nature of old fashioned penance after reading Mr. Carter's generous, good hearted reply, something like writing a nice big check to the USO or some other private soldiers-aid-oriented outfit.
UPDATE: Tom Maguire has more - including the keen observtion that Brad DeLong quietly yanks the rug out from under Herr Doktorprofessor on this one. That must be the workings of some ingrained self-preservation instinct on DeLong's part.
Wednesday, August 13, 2003
Davis Descending XXVII: Warren The Nebraskan(0) comments
Verily it is written in Conan the Barbarian:
"At first we thought they were just another snake cult, but now their towers are everywhere."
Well, Arnold Schwarzenegger's is not just another star cult, and now his towers are everywhere - even on the lawn of Warren Buffett, billionaire and plutocrat opportunist extraordinaire who was a life-long Republican but changed his nominal political affiliation during the Clintonian era, and who is uproariously described by the Associated Press as "a Democrat" who has been "hired" by the would-be governor.
The able Mr. Buffett always has a new, undisclosed agenda - and this time it's not picking up a few extra bucks as a political "advisor." As I noted in a prior post:
In this year's letter from Mr. Buffett to the Berkshire-Hathaway shareholders ... we find that Berkshire-Hathaway's largest non-insurance source of revenue is a commodity company. A natural gas pipeline company, to be exact - and one which for which Berkshire-Hathaway has little voting control:
Berkshire also made some important acquisitions last year through MidAmerican Energy Holdings (MEHC), a company in which our equity interest is 80.2%. Because the Public Utility Holding Company Act (PUHCA) limits us to 9.9% voting control, however, we are unable to fully consolidate MEHC’s financial statements. Despite the voting-control limitation – and the somewhat strange capital structure at MEHC it has engendered – the company is a key part of Berkshire. Already it has $18 billion of assets and delivers our largest stream of non-insurance earnings. It could well grow to be huge. Last year MEHC acquired two important gas pipelines. The first, Kern River, extends from Southwest Wyoming to Southern California. This line moves about 900 million cubic feet of gas a day and is undergoing a $1.2 billion expansion that will double throughput by this fall. At that point, the line will carry enough gas to generate electricity for ten million homes. ... When 2001 began ... I had no idea that Berkshire would be moving into the pipeline business. But upon completion of the Kern River expansion, MEHC will transport about 8% of all gas used in the U.S.
I noted in that prior post that missing from this benevolent discussion of MEHC's prospects is any discussion of how a company largely in the business of transporting a commodity plans to maintain the kind of profit margin that Mr. Buffet and his shareholders expects. But natural gas pipeline companies are subject to many layers of regulation and service markets in which competition is often low because of political considerations. And there is little dispute among economists that a major source of barriers to entry is regulation.
I also raised the possibility that Mr. Buffet's gas pipeline revenues may depend on Berkshire Hathaway being able to continue to overcharge customers relative to an efficient, competitive market, and therefore on Mr. Buffett's and Berkshire Hathaway’s political influence. Of course, gas pipeline markets can be made efficient, or close to it. But would one expect Mr. Buffett and Berkshire-Hathaway will favor or disfavor regulatory reforms that would tend to make markets efficient? How about in California, for example, a major area served by Mr. Buffett's new pipeline?
I further asked what would a dependency on supra-competitive profits do to one's understanding of what one commentator has called "Warren Buffett's growing network, a formidable collection of corporate heads, financiers, money managers and celebrities, ... profitable connections that have been one key to Mr. Buffett's success."
With all that in the hopper, it really is a lot easier to understand why Mr. Buffett - who until recently held himself out as a serious, if somewhat recently arrived, Democrat - would support an apparent winner like Arnold Schwarzenegger, even as Mr. Buffett's supposed buddies Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton are reported to be preparing to campaign for Gray Davis.
Hey, it's just business!
Neither Reuters nor AP even mentions that Mr. Buffett has a huge financial stake in California natural gas - even though it is direct and ongoing. But don't the indirect, non-ongoing, non-financial connections some public people have with the Texas oil business just seem to pop up all over the place with these two newswires?
Like the Blaster and SARS viruses, the nonblog (the "flog"?) is ravaging the higher reaches of the Democratic Party. John Kerry and Howard Dean and Tom Daschle and Dennis Kucinich and Bob Graham ... and even Gary Hart have been struck.
And Maureen Dowd, gets it almost all down in fine style. Recent research has demonstrated that Big Mo is energized by the peculiar oscillating political force fields emitted by top Democrats in the decay of faux-personal display. She is then sustained as if by some mysterious power induction akin to the processes of toy railroad transformers. Sadly, the reliable electrifying current of issues raised by how Bill Clinton's pelvic region is garbed and where it has been whilst ungarbed no longer flows as it did - and Ms. Dowd has correspondingly declined. But Democrats' self-trivializing spectacle of substituting pre-processed cant for the highly personal views of the blogosphere gives her column a jolt.
As criticism of her effort, I can offer naught but a quibble. Yes, Ms. Dowd is correct to write that these Democratic candidates are crowding into the blogosphere — spewing out canned meanderings in a genre invented by unstructured exhibitionists. How quickly things change now. Before the blogosphere, such candidates could only spew out their canned meanderings by crowding into the first available genre invented by unstructured exhibitionists: the mainstream media.
How could Maureen Dowd, the nation's leading unstructured exhibitionist, have missed such a point?!
Get me re-write!
But what the heck! Big Mo's column is what the Times runs because the paper doesn't have a comics page. She is "presented" by the Times as a political columnist. But, see, that's all part of the big, inside joke. For example, "The Washingtonian" magazine found that Maureen Dowd missed nine of 12 elections from 1994 to 2000! Some people who sleep on Canal Street sidewalks must do better than that. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been criticized for missing 5 of 11 - even though he wasn't even involved in politics at the time, never mind hilariously "masquerading" as a political analyst as Big Mo does.
MORE: Simon, Hobbs and Reynolds. STILL MORE: Drezner, Yglesias, Andersen, and Farrell. And Taranto points out that Big Mo is just lifting his column of last week! That's true - at least for the better parts of Big Mo's effort. STILL MORE: The fully monty.
UPDATE: Take the Antler challenge!
Tuesday, August 12, 2003
The Administration - even Donald Rumsfeld - agrees that the American military forces in Iraq are lean. Others argue that those forces are not now and never have been sufficient even for basic military needs in Iraq.
But, incredibly, Paul Krugman writes in today's column that in his opinion American military forces in Iraq aren't being given enough to do. It is not enough that soldiers do soldiering, Herr Doktorprofessor thinks they should be doing more reconstruction, rebuilding, engineering - in short, more of all of the things that private American corporations are now doing. As Herr Doktorprofessor puts it:
There's also another element in the Iraq logistical snafu: privatization. The U.S. military has shifted many tasks traditionally performed by soldiers into the hands of such private contractors as Kellogg Brown & Root, the Halliburton subsidiary. The Iraq war and its aftermath gave this privatized system its first major test in combat — and the system failed.
As usual with Herr Doktorprofessor's more striking complaints, there's not much provided to back them up - and the sources that are cited in context don't say what the quotes he chooses from them at first seem to say. He quotes the Newhouse News Service as reporting: U.S. troops in Iraq suffered through months of unnecessarily poor living conditions because some civilian contractors hired by the Army for logistics support failed to show up. But he omits the Newhouse article's qualification: conditions have improved. Worse, although Herr Doktorprofessor serves up this article to support his contention that it is Bush Administration officials who intervened to "privatize" something that the Army wanted to keep for itself, the article seems to say that it was the Army, not Bush Administration officials, who misjudged the logistics: "We thought we could depend on industry to perform these kinds of functions," Lt. Gen. Charles S. Mahan, the Army's logistics chief, said in an interview. No evidence is provided to support Herr Doktorprofessor's insinuation that the relevant Army policies of the Bush Administration differ from those of the Clinton Administration. But, even if the Bush Administration has moved further into privatization, there is no evidence adduced that the SNAFU's are anything more than new systems being worked out. Herr Doktorprofessor's argument seems to be: There were some problems, therefore the military should do everything for itself. Without evidence that privatization is being persued for extra-military purposes, he is simply absurd. [UPDATE: It appears that Brown & Root was providing substantial military "privatization" support under the Clinton Administration in the Balkans at least as far back as 1996, to the considerable satisfaction of the Army at that time:
Troops used to carry everything, build everything, do everything. If it wasn't in their packs, they didn't have it. They peeled potatoes, hauled trash, ran the laundry, dug latrines and rigged showers. Today, much of that falls to private sector. Wherever American troops go in the Balkans, Houston-based Brown and Root Services Corporation is close by providing whatever life support services that U.S. Army Europe decides the troops need but can't provide for themselves. "We are reengineering the way the Army supports the deployed force during military contingency operations," said Col. Anthony Nida, commander of Transatlantic Programs Center. Nida recently returned from the Balkans where the Corps of Engineers is managing the Army's Logistics Civil Augmentation Program contract.]
More importantly, there is no reason to believe - and constant complaints of military understaffing in Iraq give lots of reason not to believe - that there are enough soldiers available to do this construction work, no matter how much money and supplies Congress sends them. There just aren't enough "boots on the ground" to do what those already overworked guys are already being asked to do - never mind construction projects. I realize that Herr Doktorprofessor writes from the airy reaches of his Princeton Elfenbeinturm, but surely even he knows our guys in Iraq don't have time and men to spare.
But maybe our military isn't supposed to be doing everything after all! Herr Doktorprofessor also cites to the Baltimore Sun (the Bill Keller newspages of the New York Times seem to have chosen not to invest credibility in this set of stories) for the proposition: the Bush administration continues to use American corporations to perform work that United Nations agencies and nonprofit aid groups can do more cheaply. Hey, there's an idea! Let's get the UN and nonprofit aid groups to do it cheaper! Who knew that the UN had a reputation for being thrifty and making sure money goes where it is supposed to go? Is that the history of the UN handling of the UN's Iraq Oil-for-Food money, for example? I don't seem to remember it that way. Well, even the UN must be able to do some things right if UN politics don't get in the way. That's what you need a Princeton economics professor to tell you!
Well, maybe not. The first tip-off is that it doesn't seem all that likely that United Nations agencies and nonprofit aid groups would have spent a lot of time and energy building housing and facilities for US troops - so Herr Doktorprofessor never does tie up that loose end, and we are left wondering just how the troop housing and facilities for US troops should have been built. Too bad.
But it gets worse - as it usually does when one actually reads a Krugmaniacal "source." What the article actually says is:
The administration is paying hundreds of millions of dollars to U.S. corporations not only for major infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges, but also for harbor dredging, repairs to electrical systems and buildings, and health services. The smaller jobs are all tasks that the United Nations and nonprofit groups have broad experience performing in Iraq and other nations recovering from wars. In fact, they are performing some of them, funded by the international community, alongside U.S. contractors in Iraq.
So it's only the smaller jobs that are tasks that the United Nations and nonprofit groups might perform - not the major infrastructure projects. Herr Doktorprofessor just leaves that part out. And the article also quotes Frederick Schieck, deputy administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development as standing by the administration's extensive use of American companies in Iraq: "The private sector will always be capable of responding more rapidly" and offers "easier decision-making," said Schieck, whose agency has a leading role in rebuilding Iraq. The United Nations' bureaucracy is "frequently slow to move," he said.
O, dear me. Didn't Herr Doktorprofessor seem to indicate above that the biggest problem in his mind with the construction of the Iraq housing and facilities for US troops was that it wasn't fast enough. Yet, here, Mr. Schieck is quoted in the very article Herr Doktorprofesor cites saying he avoids the UN and non-profits for infrastructure projects because they aren't fast enough. Speed has stopped mattering? Herr Doktorprofessor just leaves that part out, too. And that's not all he leaves out, because the article continues:
The Bush administration wants to show the Iraqi people that benefits are flowing to them from the United States, something that wouldn't happen if the United Nations and private aid groups played a leading role. Schieck said nonprofit groups often fail to highlight the fact that their work is subsidized by the U.S. government. "This is taxpayers' money. There should be some recognition that resources of the U.S. government are making this happen," Schieck said.
Actually, I, personally, don't want the people in Iraq thinking that the UN rebuilt their country. So Mr. Schieck seems pretty on point here, too.
It's worth mentioning that Herr Doktorprofessor's criticisms of the "privatization" in Iraq follows his incoherent argument that American forces are not being given enough money and supplies for what they are already being asked to do - an argument based almost entirely on quotes from military men (mostly in the field) who want more. It appears we are supposed to be horribly embarrassed by an anecdote that some Italian soldiers had food that was "way more realistic" than MRE's ("meals ready to eat") - and that the food situation is supposed to be evidence of the pathology of the Bush Administration. Please.
Is a Krugmaniacally-detected "pattern" of pathological Administration penny-pinching insensitive to troop living facilities really consistent with the Newhouse article's admission: The Army has invested heavily in modular barracks, showers, bathroom facilities and field kitchens, ...? Setting aside the preposterous significance that Herr Doktorprofessor chooses to invest in troops eating MRE's, if there has ever been a military force which did not want more of nearly everything - men, supplies, rest, time - I have not heard of it. In fact, I have always more or less had the impression that a good officer always has a duty to the men in his command to claim that they have been undersupplied and underappreciated - but performed brilliantly and with valor, anyway.
I would. Let the guys with the desk jobs figure out the rest.
[No Comment: Atrios just quotes the Krugmania passage including the cite to the Newhouse News article, but Atrios provides no link to the Newhouse News article nor any other indication that he has read any other part of it than the bit Herr Doktorprofessor shoplifts.]
In any event, Herr Doktorprofessor's suggestion that troops - not companies - should do more, and his description of troop conditions, don't seem to square easily with a news article in today's New York Times, which both points out the long rotations troop shortages have caused and describes the current conditions the troops have to endure:
Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus, wrote of his efforts to fly the soldiers back to the United States for up to two weeks of leave after they are midway through a 12-month deployment. .... Approval of the proposal and its financing would have to come from senior Army leadership, Pentagon officials said. ....
"Dear Screaming Eagle Families," the letter began, a reference to the division's famous shoulder patch. "Greetings from northern Iraq."
The general described procuring a division's worth of supplies in the field, and noted that "buying for a `family of 20,000' is not easy." Every day the division buys 100,000 pounds of ice from local merchants and consumes the entire output of a large bread factory.
"We've got just about every one of our soldiers on a cot now," he wrote, and fresh socks, underwear and T-shirts arrived recently.
"During the past couple of weeks, each brigade has also apprehended other important former regime leaders, pre-empted several attacks on our forces, trained and patrolled with new police officers, uncovered arms and ammunition caches, and assisted in a vast number of reconstruction projects, security tasks, and other missions to improve the situation for the citizens of northern Iraq."
The division lost six soldiers in those operations in three ambushes, and the general described the memorial service held in the field. ... The Army recently announced yearlong rotations for soldiers in Iraq. ....
In writing his letter, General Petraeus was no doubt aware that some families of soldiers from the Third Infantry Division had publicly complained about the long deployment and the delayed return of their troops, who were among the first to arrive in the region. Troop morale is of increasing concern to the Pentagon's senior civilian and military leaders .... To ease the separation of his troops from their families at home, General Petraeus wrote, each battalion will soon set up a computer center for Internet access and e-mail, and the number of telephones available to the troops will be increased. Over 200 satellite dishes should be installed in time to watch the fall football season, he wrote.
But reliable electricity remains a challenge, he wrote, which especially complicates efforts to cool the sleeping quarters.
MORE: Good things from Phil Carter.
STILL MORE: David Hogberg does the math on the column - and concludes that takes Krugman to a new low. Don Luskin (and also on NRO) does the round-up, and receives some troubling go-along-get-along feedback from someone who should know better.
Monday, August 11, 2003
Davis Descending XXVI: John Fund Hits A Homer(0) comments
A very impressive analysis of the current state of the California recall election - from OpinionJournal's John Fund.
In 2001 both CNN and Fox News held about 600,000 viewers. Last month, Fox News drew 1.3 million viewers while CNN drew about 700,000 viewers. In other words, Fox News is now drawing almost twice as many viewers as CNN - which was for a very long time the leading cable news network.
That development is for some reason not emphasized in this New York Times article - which dryly notes that Fox News is not following the declining trend of other television news outlets.
Perhaps there is some problem with the Times' charts. The article text reads: the average daily audience at Fox News grew to 753,000, compared with 612,000 during last summer's two-month period. But the chart on the right clearly shows 1.3 million viewers for the 2003 period. Similarly, the text reads: CNN's daily audience during June and July was, on average, 413,000 people, down from 502,000 last summer, where the chart shows 900,000 last summer and 700,000 this summer. But, text or chart, Fox News now has almost twice as many viewers as CNN (753,000-Fox v. 413,000-CNN, if one goes by the text).
There's some fatuous speculation in the Times article as to why CNN is dying relatively. But that speculation does not include any consideration of a rather obvious probability: CNN is serving up product to a niche which is already vastly oversupplied by other market players - and a lot of that is the nearly always left-leaning, Democrat-friendly, Republican-hostile, US-critical slant of CNN news coverage.
People like Eric Alterman can rant and rave about different ways "slant" might be measured and deny that the liberal media exists - but Rupert Murdoch is laughing all the way to the bank by filling his distinctive news niche. And it looks like things are just going more and more his way.
Davis Descending XXV: Obstructions To The Rise Of The Machines(0) comments
Some people say:
We know that punch-card voting has a much higher error rate than other means of casting ballots, such as paper ballots or optical scanning machines.
All very trim and neat and ready to be served up on some judicial platter. But as I noted in a prior post, a court relying on such simplifications to obstruct an election is looking for trouble, because reality is much more complicated than such trim and neat platitudes:
[A] recent report by Johns Hopkins University computer scientists ... has sent shock waves across the country. Some states have backed away from purchasing any kind of electronic voting machine ... "The rush to buy equipment this year or next year just doesn't make sense to us anymore," said Cory Fong, North Dakota's deputy secretary of state. ....
The report has brought square into the mainstream an obscure but increasingly nasty debate between about 900 computer scientists, who warn that these machines are untrustworthy, and state and local election officials and machine manufacturers, who insist that they are reliable.
"The computer scientists are saying, 'The machinery you vote on is inaccurate and could be threatened; therefore, don't go. Your vote doesn't mean anything,' " said Penelope Bonsall, director of the Office of Election Administration at the Federal Election Commission.... Still, even some advocates of the new system are thinking twice. The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, which pushed for electronic machines to help visually impaired and disabled voters, says the Hopkins report has given them pause. ... "We have become concerned about these questions of ballot security," said Deputy Director Nancy Zirkin.
... "Some of these hacking scenarios are highly improbable. But it's not completely out of the question," said Larry J. Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia who has written about political corruption. "When the stakes are high enough in an election, partisans and others will do just about anything. So this is a worry."
Bugs, Glitches Can Abound Computer scientists note that computers are unreliable, subject to bugs, glitches and hiccups as well as the more remote possibility of outright hacking and code tampering.
They warn of a hostile programmer inserting what they call Trojan horses, Easter eggs or back doors to predetermine the outcome. They point to a number of errors in the 2002 elections, from poll workers -- like some in Montgomery County -- unfamiliar with how long it takes to warm up the machines to mysterious vote tallies.
In Georgia, where Diebold machines are used, a handful of voters found that when they pressed the screen to vote for one candidate, the machine registered a vote for the opponent. Technicians were called in and the problem was fixed, state officials have said.
In Alabama, a computer glitch caused a 7,000-vote error and clouded the outcome of the gubernatorial race for two weeks. But more critically, computer scientists charge that the software that runs the machines is riddled with security flaws.
"Whoever certified that code as secure should be fired," said Avi Rubin, technical director of the Information Security Institute at Johns Hopkins and co-author of the report.
Rubin analyzed portions of [Electronic voting machine manufacturer] Diebold software source code that was mistakenly left on a public Internet site and concluded that a teenager could manufacture "smart" cards and vote several times. Further, he said, insiders could program the machine to alter election results without detection. ... Because there is no paper or electronic auditing system in the machine, there would be no way to reconstruct an actual vote, he said.
Diebold dismissed the findings. ... That doesn't satisfy some critics. "The most important thing about the Hopkins report is not the security holes they found, but irrefutable proof that all this stuff that the machines are secure is hot air," said David Dill, a computer scientist at Stanford University who has turned the debate over electronic machines into a national crusade.
State and local election officials, however, say the checks and balances -- the poll workers and judges, the thick manuals of procedures -- ensure the sanctity of elections. .... Doug Jones, a computer scientist in Iowa, said ... [that five] years ago, he found the identical security flaws cited in the Hopkins report. "They promised it would be fixed," Jones said. "The Hopkins group found clear evidence that it wasn't. Yet for five years, I had been under the impression that it was fixed." Diebold's Radke said the code has been fixed. ....
In the end, however, with experts still at loggerheads and the 2004 election looming, voters are left wondering which side to trust. Howard A. Denis (R-Potomac-Bethesda), a Montgomery County Council member, was so shaken by the Hopkins report that he is considering asking for a waiver to stop using electronic machines.
"The more I look into this, the more serious I think it is," he said.
A New York Times editorial cluelessly notes: One proposed change to the A.B.A.'s Model Rules of Professional Conduct permits, but does not require, lawyers to speak up when they see a client committing fraud, or other crimes, that could substantially injure the financial interests of another party.
Let's see. Will a lawyer considering whether to use this right - keeping in mind that there is no obligation - consider whether the lawyer gets lots of money from the client? YOU BET THAT LAWYER WILL.
Will a client who knows the lawyer is aware that the client has been committing fraud or other crimes think twice about firing the lawyer? YOU BET THAT CLIENT WILL - BECAUSE THE LAWYER WILL HAVE THE RIGHT TO SEND THE CLIENT TO JAIL.
This proposed change will give lawyers a huge new helping of power. Under current rules, lawyers are prohibited from making this kind of disclosure without client approval. In effect, the information and the privilege belong to the client. Under the proposed changes, the information and the privilege would in effect belong to the lawyer. MEANING THAT SUCH A CLIENT WILL BE ESSENTIALLY "OWNED" BY THE LAWYER, WHO WILL HAVE A PERFECTLY LEGAL AND ETHICAL BLACKMAIL POSITION AGAINST THE CLIENT UNDER THE PROPOSED NEW RULE. Isn't that nice.
Of course, the Times is so witless there isn't even a trace that the editorialist understands what the American Bar Association is up to, as the editorial intones: The initiatives deserve the support of the A.B.A.'s House of Delegates because, in the post-Enron era, the legal profession should be holding itself to higher ethical standards. Nor is there a trace of understanding that a lawyer who could reveal such information but doesn't has a huge conflict of interest with respect to a client - especially a rich, paying client - with respect to whom the lawyer is supposed to have an intense fiduciary duty. Every time.