Jefferson's democracy

Franklin Jefferson's thoughts on the world

Monday, October 30, 2006

The mainstream gathers to where I already was


In many ways the Bush administration and Republican Congress have abandoned principled conservatism and deserve to be punished by conservatives more than liberals. When they took over in 2000, the long-term fiscal liability of the federal government was $20 trillion. It now stands at $43 trillion. They have increased government spending at a faster rate than any Democratic Congress since the 1930s. They have generated deficits after four years of strong growth.

This kind of spending has made sleaze and de facto bribery inevitable. The number of lobbyists in Washington has doubled in five years. As for pork barrel spending, a simple comparison tells the tale. In 1985, Ronald Reagan vetoed a motorway-construction bill because lawmakers had stuffed into it 150 pet projects for their constituencies. Reagan thought that was unconservative. Last year George W Bush eagerly signed a similar bill with 6,000 such projects. In plain English, they are bribing the voters with the public purse.

For years, it seemed like I was the only conservative in America who though George Bush was harming America. It feels very very odd to hear a chorus of conservative voices now saying the the Bush administration and Republican Congress have abandoned conservatism. Yes, I agree-- I'd said that long ago.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Why I hate Democrats, too

An interesting essay at

"...perhaps explaining the strange absence of any real response to the Iraq war and its unbelievable mistakes and losses, a study by Ohio State University found that many voters were becoming timid and apprehensive about participating publicly because of the polarization of politics.

"Politics has become the arena for screamers," Robert Lichter of the Center for Media and Public Affairs says of the trend. "It's understandable that people withdraw when 50 activist groups are yelling about their single pet issue. Ordinary people don't want to get caught in partisan crossfire."

Another element that comes soberly into play in elections, as well as everyday life, is the effect of out-of-control "diversity," pushed avidly by the Democratic Party in the 1970s, '80s and '90s. Harvard's influential political scientist Robert Putnam's recent research shows that the more diverse a community is, the less likely its inhabitants are to trust anyone.

"They don't trust the local mayor," Putnam said recently, "they don't trust the local paper, they don't trust other people, and they don't trust institutions. The only thing there's more of is protest marches and TV watching."

So, what is one to make of all of this? One could easily take the negative position that nothing will change after Nov. 7, because, as military analyst William Lind says cynically, "In reality, both parties are one party, the party of successful career politicians."

One could worry, as I do, that America has lost faith in, or even knowledge of, the central core principles, unifying ideas and noble virtues of citizenship that inspired our formation -- and that today there is little to hold us together except the coarseness of popular culture and our imperial wars."

I can agree with a lot of that. Why has America become a nation of screamers, and of divisiveness?

This is why, in essence, I hate Democrats as much as the current batch of Republicans. Dump them all!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Another Conservative Voice

Here's Christopher Buckley-- you know, the son of William F. Buckley; former speechwriter for George H. W. Bush.

Who knew, in 2000, that “compassionate conservatism” meant bigger government, unrestricted government spending, government intrusion in personal matters, government ineptitude, and cronyism in disaster relief? Who knew, in 2000, that the only bill the president would veto, six years later, would be one on funding stem-cell research? A more accurate term for Mr. Bush’s political philosophy might be incontinent conservatism.

Holding my nose and voting

Interesting article, Holding my nose and voting Republican, by Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez writes
I'm angry at Republicans for abandoning their principles. This Republican president, aided and abetted by Congress, has increased federal spending at a reckless rate, even when the costs of the war in Iraq are taken out of the equation. I'm embarrassed by the scandals that have plagued some Republicans and by the abject failure of the leadership to do anything meaningful on lobbying reform.

I'm sickened by the cronyism that protected former Congressman Mark Foley and put children at risk. I'm disappointed that after years of claiming to be the party of colorblind equal opportunity, Republicans have actually expanded racial preferences in federal programs. I'm disheartened by the demagoguery on immigration and the refusal to do the one thing guaranteed to stop illegal immigration, namely, enact a broad guest worker program.

I have to admit agreeing to many of the points, but doing exactly the opposite: I'm holding my nose and voting Democrat. I don't actually like most of the platform of the Democrat party (and for most of the same reasons), but at the moment they look like the least-worst choice.

I do, however, disagree with this sentence of hers:
Democratic control of Congress also worries me when it comes to the economy.

Republican control of Congress has turned out to be far worse a disaster, since the Republicans are spending taxpayer money like drunken millionaries on an expense account and racking up trillion-dollar debts. This is simply because the Republican president won't rein in Republican spending bills. The country desperately needs to get out of this situation we're in where the presidency, house of representatives, and senate are all from the same party, which has eliminated all semblanace of checks and balance, and all restraint on spending.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Voting machines need paper trail

Not just a paper trail, but also software that is verifiable-- the software that counts the votes and reports the results should not be secret.

This shouldn't be a partisan issue-- both sides should be concerned that elections need to be open, and verifiable. Once the election is over, there should be no grounds for one party to claim that the results were fraud; it is in everybody's best interest to make sure that this does not happen, by making sure that the vote counting-- and the vote counting software-- is completely open and above-board.


Voting machines need paper trail
September's primary illustrates the problems with new voting technology

fter two consecutive presidential elections ended in contention - most dramatically the 2000 election, because of ballot irregularities - many states and cities have switched to new voting technology to help ensure "hanging chads" never again enter American political discourse. But, in doing so, many have rushed ill-prepared into a system without fail-safes to guarantee that every vote is counted properly.

The primaries in Ohio, Arkansas, Illinois and Maryland reported serious malfunctions in the new machines. Some rebooted for no apparent reason, others recorded votes for a candidate different than they were cast.

A study by Princeton University discovered that AccuVote, a product of Diebold Election Systems - on which as many as 5 percent of Americans will vote this fall - was easily broken into and contaminated with a virus that would manipulate vote totals.

Representatives of Diebold have tried to silence these reports with legal action and have refused to submit their products to additional testing, but by now it is clear their products are deplorably inadequate and don't come close to the security guarantee that is necessary to justify their use.

About 40 percent of registered voters will use some kind of electronic voting system this fall. Some states, Minnesota included, require voting machines to create a paper trail, to provide assurance against fraud or failure. There is no good reason not to institute such a policy nationwide. Physical records of votes would be invaluable in a contested election.

Updating voting technology to reduce irregularities is necessary, as proved by the 2000 and 2004 elections. Indeed, electronic voting can generate results faster and more accurately than previous systems. But this paperless electronic system isn't good enough, especially considering the fundamental flaws of some machines that have been exposed in this year's primaries. We shouldn't substitute one bad system for another.

Some attribute this quote to Josef Stalin: "He who votes decides nothing; he who counts the votes decides everything." Let's be sure we count correctly.

see also

"Electronic Voting Machines Could Skew Elections."

Oct. 22, 2006 — Cheryl Kagan, a former Maryland Democratic legislator, was shocked when she opened her mail Wednesday morning.

Inside, she discovered three computer discs. With them was an anonymous letter saying the discs contained the secret source code for vote-counting that could be used to alter the votes cast through Maryland's new electronic voting machines.

"My understanding is that with these disks a malicious person could skew the outcome of an election," Kagan said.

Diebold, the company that makes the voting machines, told ABC News, "These discs do not alter the security of the Diebold touch-screen system in any way," because election workers can set their own passwords.

But ABC News has obtained an independent report commissioned by the state of Maryland and conducted by Science Applications International Corporation revealing that the original Diebold factory passwords are still being used on many voting machines.

The SAIC study also shows myriad other security flaws, including administrative over-ride passwords that cannot be changed by local officials but can be used by hackers or those who have seen the discs.

The report further states that one of the high risks to the system comes if operating code discs are lost, stolen or seen by unauthorized parties — precisely what seems to have occurred with the discs sent to Kagan, who worries that the incident indicates the secret source code is not that difficult to obtain.

"Certainly, just tweaking a few votes in a couple of states could radically change the outcome of our policies for the coming year," she said.

Worry That Elections Could Be Hacked

Computer experts and government officials have voiced serious concerns that if these machines malfunction, no paper record will exist for a recount. Even worse is the fear that an election could be hacked.

Princeton University researchers using an Accuvote TS — a touch screen version of the Diebold machine — showed how easy it would be to deploy a virus that would, in seconds, flip the vote of any election.

"We're taking the vote-counting process and we're handing it over to these companies — and we don't know what happens inside these machines," said Edward Felten, a professor and a researcher at Princeton's Center for Information Technology Policy, which ran the study.

Diebold called the Princeton study "unrealistic and inaccurate."

But many computer scientists, including cyber-security expert Stephen Spoonamore, disagree, pointing out that the Accuvote TS was used in the 2004 presidential election and is still used in at least four states — including all machines in Georgia and Maryland. Spoonamore said the hack attacked the operating system layer of software and would affect any touch screen machine built by Diebold.

Diebold argues that the software from the 2004 elections has been updated to fix any possible security problems. But Spoonamore is not convinced, saying Diebold's "system is utterly unsecured. The entire cyber-security community is begging them to come back to reality and secure our nation's voting."

There is also the matter of computer glitches. In primary elections and test runs this year, there were glitches with electronic voting machines from Diebold and other companies.

Machines malfunctioned in Texas, where 100,000 votes were added.

In California, directions for voters with vision problems came out in Vietnamese.

And in Maryland, screens froze and memory cards went missing.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich, a Republican running for reelection, advised residents to vote by absentee ballot because he had no confidence in the machines.

"I don't care if we paid half a billion dollars or $1 billion," Ehrlich said. "If it's going to put the election at risk, there's no price tag for a phony election or a fraudulent election."

Many are concerned about how the confusing technical issues will be handled by poll workers, who tend to be senior citizens and who are not necessarily tech-savvy.

Electronic voting machines were supposed to be the solution to the paper ballot problems from the 2000 presidential election. But to many critics, America's voting system has gone out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

National Debt clock

Right now:


$28,500 per person, at the moment.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Conservative Soul

" In his new book, The Conservative Soul, Andrew Sullivan examines how the Republican Party has changed and the tensions between two forms of conservatism: historical conservatism and what he calls fundamentalism.

"Sullivan argues for getting back to the basics of conservatism: limited government, balanced budgets, individual liberty, rule of law. He says today's Republican-controlled U.S. government has strayed from these fundamental tenets.

"'I am asking for a conservatism … that gets back to understanding that we have to restrain government, not empower it, and that faith and politics need to be kept apart for the sake not only of politics, but also of religion, which is being poisoned by partisan politics,' he says."

Not too much I can add to this-- it's exactly my point. Conservatism has lost its focus with the existing "conservative" politicians, who seem to use conservative jabber as a tool for grabbing power, but seem to have no real interest in actual conservative ideas or beliefs.

Bryan Burrough states
( )
"The party I grew up in, which stood for fiscal discipline and strong defense and avoided the sloppiness and stained dresses of so many good-hearted Democratic administrations, seems to have been conquered by people who think stem-cell research is murder, who want to ban unpopular sex acts and who have proven incapable of managing such basic government tasks as disaster relief and a war."

I will argue once again (am I getting tedious here?) that the whole problem is power-- with Republicans in the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives, they have no checks on power, and unlimited power has fundamentally damaged them.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Interesting essay on "Common Conservatism"

Interesting essay on "Common Conservatism"

A lot I agree with, but I have to object to:
"Though the economy is the best that it’s been since the late 90s, it still remains the most underreported story of the last five years."

...well, to be brutally specific, the economy is the best it's been since the end of Clinton's term. That when the budget was running a surplus, and George Bush said he would take that surplus and "put it in a lock box."

"...Budget deficit lower than expected ($111 billion less)?"

I don't see how this is anything to crow about. "We're spending the country into trillions of dollars of debt, but we're not spending it quite as fast as we expected last year, so we will call that a gain!" I mean, even if you ignore the debt accounting that's so fuzzy that it's basically a con game, it's hard to see how "our budget deficit is 'only' a quarter of a trillion dollars" is "fiscal conservatism".

I have to say, thought, that I'm no longer even sure that “vote GOP, because the alternative is even worse than we are" even works for me any more. I've lost track of why the Repubicans call themselves conservatives-- they seem to have abandoned all the principles that I would call the core of conservatism, and have turned into the party that spends tax money like a kid in a candy store.

I'm still chewing on the fact that a Democrat president can balance the budget and even make a surplus, but a Republican president, with a Republican congress, can't. Who are these people, and what did they do with the actual Republicans?

(to be fair, though, I have to admit being more of a libertarian than a conservative. For while, during the Reagan revolution, there wasn't much difference, but that's no longer true; the younger Bush doesn't seem to have any interest in libertarian principles-- or liberty, for that matter.)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The End of the Republican Revolution

Interesting link forwarded from Jafo on Usenet, on the end of the Republican revolution. I was a fan of the Republican revolution-- at least I was back when it really did look like some good ideas coming into Washington, and not the same old shit.

"...after controlling both houses of Congress and the White House for most of Bush's six years in office, the party has a governing record that has come unmoored from those Grand Old Party ideals. The exquisite political machinery that aces the elections has begun to betray the platform. To win votes back home, lawmakers have been spending taxpayer money like sailors on leave, producing the biggest budget deficits in U.S. history. And the party's approach to national security has taken the country into a war that most Americans now believe was a mistake and that the government's own intelligence experts say has shaped "a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives."

"One of the problems is that after the Republicans got into power, the system began to change them, not just the other way around. Among the first promises the G.O.P. majority broke was the setting of term limits...."

Frank Luntz, one of the strategists of the G.O.P. takeover, wrote:
"The Republican Party of 2006 is a tired, cranky shell of the aggressive, reformist movement that was swept into office in 1994 on a wave of positive change. I worked for them. They were friends of mine. These Republicans are not those Republicans."

No, these are "big government" Republicans. I want the old Republicans back!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Eight trillion dollars in debt

NEWSWEEK, Sept. 18, 2006 issue

D.C.'s Deficit Math Doesn't Add Up

By Allan Sloan

Next month the White House and its congressional allies will be taking victory laps when the deficit for fiscal 2006 is announced.

The stated deficit for the year, which ends Sept. 30, will be $260 billion or so.

[a quarter of a trillion dollars new debt, and they're talking victory laps? They should be talking sepuku!]

That will be down $58 billion from 2005 and a whopping $77 billion below what the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicted in January.

The White House says this is happening largely because tax revenues have surged--which they have.

It sure sounds great.

But let me share a dirty little secret with you:

the real federal deficit isn't $260 billion.

It's more than double that.

And when you calculate what I consider the real deficit--hold on to your hats, it's $558 billion--you come out with slightly more than last year's real deficit, which I put at $551 billion.

Revenue surge, shmevenue surge.

Things are getting worse, not better.

To be sure, that $558 billion is better than the $635 billion implied by January's CBO numbers.

But it's nothing to crow about, considering that not long from now, baby boomers will begin to retire en masse and put huge pressure on the budget.

We know that numbers in Washington tend to be big and sometimes murky.

But how can the official deficit be only $260 billion while mine is $558 billion?

Am I taking strange pills?

Drinking funny water?


It's the difference between Washington Math--the unique way that the federal government accounts for itself--and real-world math.

Here's the deal.

The stated deficit is the difference between the cash that the government takes in and the cash it spends.

That's $260 billion--the number most analysts use to measure the deficit.

But Uncle Sam will also borrow almost $300 billion from federal trust funds:

$177 billion from Social Security, and an additional $121 billion from "other government accounts" such as federal-employee pension funds.

Some $78 billion of this total comes from the Treasury's taking Social Security's cash surplus this year and spending it.

Most of the rest comes from the government's paying what it owes the trust funds--primarily for interest on their $3.6 trillion of Treasury securities--with I.O.U.s, not cash.

(All my numbers, by the way, are based on public budget documents.)

If a company tried to keep books this way, its accountants would scream faster than you can say Sarbanes-Oxley.

But we're playing by the rules of Washington Math.

I readily concede that if you want to measure the deficit's effect on financial markets, using $260 billion makes sense.

After all, that's how much the government is borrowing from "public investors" such as banks, foreign governments and you and me.

But if you want to see how much deeper the fiscal hole is getting for taxpayers present and future--which is how I think we should measure the deficit--you have to include the almost $300 billion of trust-fund I.O.U.s.

Unless, of course, you expect Uncle Sam to default on his promises.

I've written about the differences between Washington Math and real-world math since the Clinton administration.

The budget situation was improving then and got to be pretty good--though not as good as the Clintonist as wanted us to believe--thanks to fiscal responsibility, a surge in revenues and partisan gridlock that reined in spending.

Now things are heading the wrong way.

Not enough people seem to care that we're hocking ourselves to the eyeballs and borrowing heavily from foreign lenders--such as Asian central banks--whose future national interests may differ from ours.

"There's a disconnect from reality," says Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad, a longtime deficit hawk who is one of the few people who calculates the budget shortfall the way I do.

"It's utterly reckless," Conrad told me.

"The debt load and our growing obligations to foreign creditors are weakening us. We're running risks we shouldn't run."

I agree.

So when the budget victory song is sung in Washington next month, I'll curb my enthusiasm.

If you're worried about our country's financial future, you'll curb yours, too.