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Friday, June 14, 2002
Let's start by drug testing legislators
Hoping to cash in on the recent publicity, a jackassCalifornia state senator plans to introduce a bill which would mandate that Major League Baseball test its players for steroids.
"We will use the powers of the state to notify any professional sport -- we're not singling out baseball -- that they must have policy and they must show evidence that their athletes are tested once a year," Perata said.

Teams would be required to file a steroid-testing plan with the state Athletics Commission. Athletes would be tested for the presence of steroids, which are illegal without a doctor's prescription.

The Athletics Commission was founded in 1924 to look out for the welfare of boxers and has expanded to include martial arts but has no role over baseball.

The bill states that professional athletic associations could not hold events in the state without an approved steroid plan, but details on how that provision would be enforced are still be developed.
Words fail me. California has a huge deficit, the legislature has screwed up energy regulation beyond repair, and their governor is corrupt. And yet this moron, who has apparently never worked in private industry in his life, feels the need to "solve" MLB's "problems."

Aside from the sheer stupidity, it seems to me that there's a constitutional problem here; if the state can't drug test people without probable cause -- and in general, that's the case under the fourth amendment -- then can they mandate that it be done by a sports league? This is framed as a regulation of an industry, but I don't know that the state should be able to circumvent the constitution by so doing.

I don't generally go in for promoting specific action on this site, but in this case, I'll make an exception. Go to this moron's website and fill in his feedback form to tell him what you think of him and his idea (which you can track here).

And since I'm being critical, I suppose I ought to give kudos where they're appropriate:
Sen. Rico Oller, R-San Andreas, called the idea "clearly bad public policy."

"I would go for it if also all public officials -- including the Legislature, the attorney general and the governor -- were required to submit to drug testing," Oller said. "This is a tremendous overreach. These people are not even California citizens. There is a certain arrogance to not only regulate every aspect of California citizens' lives, but also to regulate those who are not citizens of the state."
Wow, a legislator who actually sounds sane.

Denial is a river in Holland
From the Washington Post:
"Obviously, we cannot envisage circumstances under which the United States would need to resort to military action against the Netherlands or another ally," the statement said.
Sure, keep telling yourselves that, if it makes you feel better.

Is that how it works?
From a Letter to the Editor in the New York Times:
To the Editor:

Re "Global Warming Follies" (editorial, June 8):

The main reason President Bush rejects the Kyoto Protocol is based on faulty reasoning; he believes that it would hurt the American economy. In fact, the opposite is true.

What is bad for Exxon is not necessarily bad for the United States economy. Ratifying Kyoto would spur new technologies and create millions of new jobs. This is just what our economy needs.
I see. So really, what Bush ought to do to end the present economic slowdown is just start banning industries right and left. If shutting down factories and increasing the cost of cars creates "millions" of jobs, then I wonder what outlawing computers would do. Or farming. Think of all the new technologies that would spring up.

Thursday, June 13, 2002
Death and Taxes
The Senate voted down President Bush's proposal to make the estate tax repeal permanent. The vote was 54-44 in favor of repeal. Of course, the vote isn't very important right now, since it wouldn't have any effect until 2011, but the Republican plan is to lock in the repeal now, in case the Democrats are back in power then. And failing that, to be able to use this as a campaign weapon.

But what I want to know is, when did this sort of "virtual filibuster" come into existence? A bill, of course, needs 50 votes to pass, which this one had; it needed 60 votes only because that's the total needed to end a filibuster. But what happened to the Good Old Days, when a Senator who wanted to block a particular bill had to actually stand up on the Senate floor and read from a phone book for hours, until 60 Senators voted for cloture or until supporters of the bill gave up? Now, they don't even bother going through the motions; if the proponents can't get the 60 votes, they simply stop trying. What happened to accountability, where the public could see who was being obstructionist?

Can you imagine Mr. Smith Goes To Washington being shot today? Jimmy Stewart would just say, "Oh yeah? Where's your 60 percent?" and sit down. It might not have been quite as dramatic.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell
An airplane dispatcher who works for American Airlines is claiming that she was ordered not to report the Shoe Bomber.
The American Airlines dispatcher who was monitoring a trans-Atlantic flight when the captain reported that a passenger had a shoe bomb said today that her supervisor tried to prevent her from notifying the authorities.

The supervisor worried that law enforcement officials would delay the plane on the ground, the dispatcher said. In a complaint filed with the Federal Aviation Administration, the dispatcher said her supervisor "instructed me to hold off informing the authorities because the flight would be remotely parked, and `it would be forever before we could get the plane out of there.' "
It seems that the airline may be trying to fire her, so it's possible she's making this accusation to save her job. But if it's true, it's horrifying -- and it's not entirely implausible. I've run into bureaucrats who really do think that way.

Stop me before I bomb... again?
Richard Cohen doesn't like John Ashcroft. At least he's open and honest about that. Still, it might be nice if he tried something resembling objectivity.

First, he explains that John Ashcroft is just like J. Edgar Hoover. (Which is, of course, one of the worst insults a liberal can throw.) How is John Ashcroft just like J. Edgar Hoover? Well, they both like publicity. This clearly sets these two apart from all other denizens of Washington, D.C. -- including, of course, Richard Cohen, who shuns publicity, keeping his name out of the paper as much as possible.

But the conspiracy theorizing is the best:
But Ashcroft's incessant grandstanding makes me wonder if sometimes some of what goes on is more about politics than national security. He personifies the suspicion that terrorism alerts, even arrests, are being timed and manipulated for the nightly news. It seems every revelation of some FBI or CIA screw-up is followed by yet another terrorism alert of one color or another.
So when the government is criticized for not revealing information, they respond by revealing information? Alert the media! (Oh, wait.)
It was supposedly sheer coincidence that the testimony of FBI agent Coleen Rowley was virtually obscured by the announcement that the new homeland security Cabinet post was being proposed. Maybe so, but the announcement was clearly rushed and made with insufficient consultation.
Virtually obscured? So it being televised, and on the front page of every newspaper, doesn't count?
I wonder, too, why al Muhajir was busted at O'Hare International Airport and not followed to see what he did and whom he talked to. (He was a long way from getting a bomb of any kind.)
How close, exactly, is the FBI supposed to allow him to get before they arrest him? Perhaps it would make Cohen happy if he actually detonated it before they arrested him?

What exactly is Cohen's real complaint here? Oh yeah: nothing John Ashcroft does could possibly be correct. Hey, there are plenty of things to criticize the government over so far -- but arresting someone before he gets a bomb?

Being specific
Colin Powell announced that the United States was considering the idea of supporting an interim Palestinian state. I've read the story three times, though, and I can't figure out how this differs in any substantial way from current U.S. policy. Perhaps the problem isn't my reading skills, but the fact that Powell doesn't really know what he's talking about.
He repeatedly said it was premature to talk about who would lead such a state, what its borders or capital would be, or whether it would be viable on land already under Palestinian control. All are questions that could lead to a breakdown in negotiations, as ultimately happened when the parties reached agreement on broad outlines for peace in the 1993 Oslo accords, then foundered on details
But it will definitely be in the Middle East, right?

I shouldn't mock him too much; he does have some thoughts on the matter:
But he noted: "If it's going to be a state, it will have to have some structure. It will have to have something that looks like territory, even though it may not be perfectly defined forever. And it will have to have institutions within it to be a state."
Yeah. Plus, they need to come up with a state flower, a state fish, and a state motto.

Wednesday, June 12, 2002
Peace for our time
Apparently it's not quite as easy to win the drug war as some might have you believe:
Mexico's attorney general said today that the country's largest drug gang remained strong despite the arrests of more than 2,000 of its members, including its operations chief, and the death of its fearsome enforcer.

Speaking at the 12th annual National Attorney Generals meeting, which is attended by top state prosecutors, Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha said the Arellano Félix organization's business holdings also appeared intact.
I wonder if there's any level of objective evidence that will convince committed drug warriors that a violent solution -- police or military -- to the (so-called) "drug problem" simply won't work?

Axis of Evil update
Either it's just getting more press coverage than it used to, or it's actually happening more frequently: North Koreans are seeking asylum in South Korea, by way of various western embassies in Beijing. Now, nine more North Koreans managed to evade the Chinese police and reach the South Korean embassy.
Because of economic policies and bad weather, North Korea has suffered a famine since 1995, during which as many as 2 million people, or 10 percent of its population, have died from hunger-related problems, according to Western aid organization estimates. Western countries, including North Korea's biggest donor, the United States, have provided thousands of tons of food. But much of the aid, distributed by the World Food Program, UNICEF and other agencies, is believed to go to members of the ruling Workers Party, soldiers, and workers and families deemed useful to the government.

Several Western aid agencies, including Doctors Without Borders and Medecins du Monde, have pulled out of North Korea because they said the North Korean government did not allow them to serve North Korea's most vulnerable citizens.


The North Korean government punishes illegal emigration harshly, sometimes with execution or incarceration in brutal labor camps. Refugees have described harsh conditions, beatings, starvation and hopelessness in the camps.
It's a shame that human rights groups waste time with phony issues like the Jenin "massacre" or the treatment of Al Qaeada prisoners at Guantanamo, or a potential death sentence for Zacarias Moussaoui, when they could deal with a real tragedy. The thing is, it's difficult for them to monitor North Korea,and they have no influence over the North Korean government -- and no influence means no victories, which means that donors might question their effectiveness. So they focus on easy, Western targets.

It depends on what the meaning of "is" is
A federal judge threw out one of the charges against the Alleged Shoe Bomber, Richard Reid, on the grounds that the judge is absolutely senile.
A judge threw out one of nine charges Tuesday against a man accused of trying to blow up a jetliner with explosives in his shoes, ruling that an airplane is not a vehicle under a new anti-terrorism law.

The charge — attempting to wreck a mass transportation vehicle — was filed under the USA Patriot Act, which was passed by Congress after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

U.S. District Judge William Young said that although an airplane was engaged in mass transportation it is not a vehicle as defined by the new law.
That ought to provide fodder for standup comics and television talking heads for a few weeks. It's true that the statute doesn't explicitly state that an airplane is a vehicle. But it doesn't say otherwise, and given the context in which the law was passed -- i.e., in response to the 9/11 attacks -- it would take an awfully strange interpretation to argue that Congress didn't mean to include attacks on airplanes.

Tuesday, June 11, 2002
What war?
Having defeated terrorism, eliminated poverty, cured AIDS and cancer, and eliminated illegal narcotics, Congress is ready to tackle the pressing national issue of steroids and Major League Baseball.
Congress is going to look into steroid use in baseball, following the recent disclosure that two former most valuable players used the muscle-building drugs.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said Monday he plans to hold a hearing that also will look at steroid use in the Olympics and among college athletes. Dorgan is chairman of the consumer affairs, foreign commerce and tourism subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee.
And people wonder why libertarians complain that the government is too big and has too much money? For a libertarian, these sorts of stories epitomize ambivalence. On the one hand, Congress has no business getting involved here; it's a private matter between employer and employee, not an issue of federal concern. On the other hand, maybe it will keep Congress busy, and slow down the pace of government growth. I'd rather have them legislating over steroid use in sports than trying to nationalize the entire health care system.

On balance, this will probably turn out to be harmless -- a politician trying to get his name in the headlines by jumping on a safe, noncontroversial issue which is already in the news. And yet, the mere fact that the government has the time and taxpayer money to waste on such hearings, and that nobody is upset about that, is extremely depressing.

I'm not dead yet
With all due respect to Max Power, his evidence that the death penalty is a deterrent seems awfully unconvincing to me.
In my mind, the proof that it does deter (at the margins) is the habeas litigation levels in the United States. The ratio of convicted murderers on death row who litigate like the dickens to have a death penalty commuted to a life sentence to the convicted murderers who give up appeals and accept their execution must be at least 100:1. Even if you include suicides and indirect suicides by murderers who get into shootouts with police rather than surrender (though if you include death row and jailhouse suicides, you should also include the thousands of life-without-parole prisoners who don't commit suicide in the ratio), and discount some to account for the costlessness of death sentence appeals thanks to tireless "pro bono" efforts by attorneys to nullify the death penalty through litigation, the ratio is sufficiently huge to suggest that the vast majority of murderers prefer life imprisonment to an execution.
Of course most people prefer life imprisonment to an execution. But that's answering a question that wasn't asked. That's the choice faced by someone who has already been caught, not the choice faced by a potential murderer (with the exception, perhaps, of those who are already in prison for life.)

That doesn't mean that I don't think that the death penalty can have a deterrent effect; I just don't think that the behavior of those already facing guaranteed punishment tells us much about the behavior of those who haven't committed a crime yet.

Monday, June 10, 2002
And speaking of politically correct
When an appeals court ruled last month in Grutter v. Bollinger that the University of Michigan's affirmative action/quota policy was constitutional, a basic rationale was the need to promote diversity. But as the dissent noted, "diversity," as used by the university, simply meant that more black people were needed to fill a quota.

Unfortunately, if predictably, that's what the word "diversity" seems to have evolved to mean, in public as well as in legal contexts. In an otherwise bland story about my hometown, the Baltimore Sun provided this little gem:
Diversity is lacking at River Hill High School, where 78 percent of the students are white, 6 percent are black, 15 percent are Asian and 1 percent are Hispanic.
Twenty-two percent non-white doesn't constitute "diversity?" Well, clearly it does, unless diversity is simply defined to mean "many black people." (Asians simply do not count, in this calculus.)

Sunday, June 09, 2002
Something's missing...
New York City agencies are helping to train landlords as to what to look for in identifying potential terrorists. Or at least, that's the theory.
Landlords should be suspicious of tenants who insist on first-floor apartments, have little furniture, use cash, prefer pay phones and try to hide their identities, New York Police Department officials said yesterday at a briefing on fighting terrorism.
Somehow I think there's an even more important element in identifying terrorists, though. What's the most obvious thing that the 9/11 hijackers, as well as the Cole bombers and the embassy bombers, had in common? Hint: it wasn't a lack of furniture. Either the New York Times is being politically correct in not reporting the obvious, or law enforcement is still not being serious in fighting this war on terrorism.

Nobody is suggesting rounding up all Arabs and Arab-Americans into internment camps. But as long as the government continues to pretend that the single most important identifying characteristic isn't religion/ethnicity, we're going to be faced with the spectacle of 90-year old grandmothers and 5-year old kids being randomly screened at airports, while civil servants ignore Arab immigrants who talk about blowing up American cities.