Tuesday, September 30, 2003

I'm not a copycat! 

I just realized that The Volokh Conspiracy has a color scheme similar to mine. I didn't copy them! Honest!

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California Recall Election Update 

If the Gallup poll released yesterday has any predictive value, it appears that a week from tomorrow California will have a new governor, most likely Arnold Schwarzenegger. No guarantees, mind you -- Gray Davis has demonstrated his ability to pull together the votes he needs and his willingness to fight dirty when he deems it necessary. Now that Arnold has been identified as the clear front-runner, this last week is when we can expect Davis' media blitz against him. I expect to be astounded at how much ad hominem manure can be slung in one week.

Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico was on Fox News' Dayside this morning, making the point that Davis is experienced and Arnold is not. Davis is definitely experienced in milking special interest groups for money and in bestowing special favors on those who support him. Based on where that experience has got the State of California, I say bring on the inexperienced!

Whatever else you can say about this recall election, it has certainly generated a lot of interest in California politics, which I think is a good thing. One of the reasons Davis has been able to pander to the special interests so successfully is that California is for all intents and purposes a one-party state. That needs to be fixed, and if Arnold (who is the only candidate who is likely to even think about taking on the task) can do that one thing his time in office will have been successful. Getting the voters interested is a necessary condition to reform.

The underlying problem with politics in California, as well as in many (most?) other states, is that the legislative districts (including Congressional districts) are gerrymandered as much as possible to ensure the reelection of the incumbent. As a result, only a small minority of seats are truly up for grabs in each election cycle.

This breeds voter apathy and cynicism. It also leads to the hyper-polarization of political parties that we experience here, because only the blood-in-the-eye partisans are interested at all. If you doubt the truth of this, look at how the current free-for-all (which the fat cats cannot control) has awakened interest in California politics, both inside and outside of the state.

Given a political climate in which a majority of the seats are actually in play in any given election, I think people will be a lot more interested in voting and as a result will become much better educated on the issues and the candidates' positions. And the politicians will be a lot more responsive to the electorate, because they will realize that their reelection is not to be taken for granted. All in all, a lot better than the status quo.

California and other states tried to solve the problem with term limits, but it hasn't worked, because a district designed to ensure incumbent reelection does a pretty good job of ensuring that a member of the same party is elected when the incumbent is term-limited out. I think what is needed is for redistricting as much as possible to be a completely apolitical process, conducted by an appointed body that is specifically chosen not to favor any particular ideology.

Iowa provides a model of how this could work. Their redistricting plan is based entirely on population, with strict limits on how much the population of any district can vary from the ideal or from other districts. That's not rocket science, especially with the sophisticated computer programs that are used today in the gerrymandering process. But the following, which I believe is the key provision of the Iowa redistricting law, is downright revolutionary:
A district shall not be drawn for the purpose of favoring a political party, incumbent legislator, or member of Congress or other person or group or for the purpose of augmenting or diluting the voting strength of a language or racial minority group. In establishing districts, no use shall be made of the addresses of incumbent legislators or members of Congress, the political affiliations of registered voters, previous election results, or demographic information other than population head counts.

An initiative putting similar language in the California Constitution would be one I could get behind 100%. I expect neither major party would support it, however. The Dems wouldn't because it would destroy their lock on California's government, and the GOP wouldn't because they'd be afraid of becoming an even smaller minority (or, alternatively, the far right's influence on the California GOP would have to drastically diminish to permit the party to field electable candidates). I'm pessimistic -- it won't happen unless and until the State hits rock bottom and the people realize that drastic measures are required.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Agriterrorism Threat 

This article at Scientific American's website discusses the vulnerability Americal's agricultural sector to terrorist activity. Scary. I sure hope the Department of Homeland Security is thinking about this stuff.

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We Didn't "Create" Bin Laden 

This piece debunks the oft-repeated meme that the United States supported Osama Bin Laden during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, thus giving him his start as a terrorist leader.

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Wesley Clark for President? 

Here's a really interesting comment from a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs about Gen. Clark.
Hat tip to Tim Blair.

UPDATE: Maybe this explains why the Clintons like him so much?

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Now, this is funny!

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Baghdad City Cop 

There's a great op-ed with that headline in today's Wall Street Journal (sorry, I don't have a link) by Bernard Kerik, a former chief of the NYPD. Mr. Kerik recently returned from four months in Baghdad, where he was a senior advisor to Ambassador Bremer. Excerpt:

To those who claim that we're not doing enough, fast enough, it helps to put matters in perspective. We're doing a hard job to the best of our abilities, in postwar circumstances, with really scarce resources and a clock ticking above our heads. In my four months there, I oversaw the setting up of 35 police stations in Baghdad. Try setting up 35 police stations in New York in four months!

New Yorkers will remember that it took the Giuliani administration eight years to create the safest large city in the world and that was with every resource under the sun. Five months ago in Iraq, we adopted a country of 24 million, with no electricity, water, technology, Internet, telephones or radio communications, etc. There was nothing, and yet the critics are saying that it's taking too long. One would think that they themselves have the answer, or the magic pill that will fix it all, but unfortunately, there isn't one! It's always easier to criticize -- as some Congressional delegations in Iraq are prone to do -- when you have no operational involvement, insight, authority or responsibility.

This is the kind of message that needs to get out a lot more than has been happening.

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Telemarketers Win a Skirmish 

Fox News is reporting that a federal court in Oklahoma has ruled that the FTC does not have the authority to create a national do-not-call list. Congressmen Billy Tauzin (R-LA) and John Dingell (D- MI) say they believe that Congress did confer the necessary authority on the FTC and are confident that the ruling will be reversed.

Here's the line that I find interesting: "The telemarketing industry estimates the do-not-call list could cut its business in half, costing it up to $50 billion in sales each year."

Now, these bozos who delight in interrupting our dinners claim that they don't want to bother people who don't want to be called (links to .pdf file - see first comment by Volner). If that's true, how does the above quote from the story make any sense at all? It can only mean that many people who claim that they don't like telemarketers actually listen to their pitches, and get sucked in. Be tough, people!

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Monday, September 22, 2003

Say wha??? 

By now everyone's heard about Sen. Teddy Kennedy's over-the-top rant about the Iraq war being a "fraud" ... made up in Texas." But now it looks like Uncle Walter has also been sipping a bit too much from the same bottle. Excerpt:

In his two and a half years in office, Attorney General John Ashcroft has earned himself a remarkable distinction as the Torquemada of American law. Tomás de Torquemada, you might recall, was the 15th-century Dominican friar who became the grand inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition. He was largely responsible for its methods, including torture and the burning of heretics - Muslims in particular.

Now, of course, I am not accusing the attorney general of pulling out anyone's fingernails or burning people at the stake (at least I don't know of any such cases). But one does get the sense these days that the old Spaniard's spirit is comfortably at home in Ashcroft's Department of Justice.

Speaking of Sen. Kennedy, he probably has a lot of experience with made-up stories. I seem to remember something from a loooong time ago about a bridge .... (No, Senator, you never will live that down.)

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California Recall 

I don't understand how the opponents to the California recall election can claim it's "antidemocratic". Anti-Democrat, maybe, in its current incarnation, but not antidemocratic. Whether you think it's a good or a bad policy to be able to recall a governor in mid-term for no reason other than the people now want him out, putting the issue to a public vote is not antidemocratic.

The recall provision has been in California's Constitution for about 100 years, and was originally enacted by progressives who wanted to make sure that the railroad barons couldn't put their puppet in the governor's mansion. Over the years, about a dozen attempts have been made to recall California governors other than the current campaign, most recently Pete Wilson in 1992 and before that his predecessor, George Deukmejian. The Davis recall is the only one to have made it to the ballot.

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National Politics 

I'm not too impressed with the Democratic candidates for President so far. They all are reading from the same script, which is to bash Bush without saying much about what they would do differently, except raise taxes on "the rich" by repealing Bush's tax cuts. Oh, and they all would have waited for the UN to get its act together before invading Iraq, but don't have any ideas on what to do about Iraq going forward that haven't been voiced by our friends and allies the French. Domestically, most of them differ from Bush in degree rather than kind, and would spend even more on domestic programs than Bush has. Being beholden to Big Labor, most of the Dems would be a disaster for freer international trade. I don't even want to think about the kind of judges they'd appoint. Boring! And bad policy to boot.

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Sunday, September 21, 2003

Go Green! Go White! 

Michigan State beat Notre Dame yesterday! I like it when Notre Dame loses and don't care much who does it to them, but it's especially sweet when the Spartans do it.

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Thursday, September 18, 2003

Welcome to Out of the Race! 

I am an at-home dad, retired from two successful careers, first as an engineer and then as a lawyer. Being retired, I am no longer a participant in the rat race, hence the title of this blog and my nom de blog, ExRat. My purpose here is to provide an outlet for my comments, rants, attempts at humor, and whatever else I damn well please. I expect this will be a boon to my dear wife, who has patiently (mostly) listened to whatever I have to say for many years. I hope it will also be entertaining and thought-provoking to visitors.

This is my first endeavor at writing for recreation. I will not be anywhere near as prolific as Glenn Reynolds, nor as passionate as Charles Johnson, nor as analytical as Steven Den Beste, nor as good a writer as Lileks (could anybody be all of those things?) but with practice I hope to get better in all of those areas.

Let's see where this thing takes us!

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