Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

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This blog translated:


Two wrongs don't make a right, but three lefts do.

"There are three types of lies - lies, damn lies, and statistics." - Variously attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, Alfred Marshall, Mark Twain and many other dead people.

Currently reading:

Songbook by Nick Hornby

The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

You should read:

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby

Bobos In Paradise by David Brooks

Madam Secretary: A Memoir by Madeleine Albright

Damned Lies and Statistics by Joel Best

Books written or edited by my professors (well, only the good ones)

Nick Barr

The Economics of the Welfare State

The Welfare State As Piggy Bank

Chris Dougherty

Introduction to Econometrics

David Gewanter

The Collected Poems of Robert Lowell (ed. with Frank Bidart)

In the Belly

The Sleep of Reason

Meredith McKittrick

To Dwell Secure

John McNeill

The Human Web (with William H. McNeill)

Something New Under the Sun

Max-Stephan Schulze

Western Europe: Economic and Social Change Since 1945

Greater Blogtopia

Abu Aardvark
Across the Atlantic
Asparagus Pee
Bohemian Mama
Brazos de Dios Cantina Carl with a K
Chip Taylor
Conceptual Guerilla
D-Squared Digest
Dilettante's Guide to Life
Egotistical Whining
Enemy of the People
Equilibrismi ridanciani Fester's Place
Fleeting Impulse
Funny Farm
Grammar Police
Head Heeb
I Know What I Know Interesting by Association
Impolite Company
Internet Activism
Jacqueline Passey
John Hoke
John Lemon
John Scalzi
Kick the Leftist
Kids Korner
Kieran Healy
Liquid List
Loopy Librarian
Mark Maynard
Martin Stabe
More White Teeth
No More Mr. Nice Blog Notes on the Atrocities
Open Source Politics
Passenger Pachyderms
Peevish...I'm Just Saying
Politics and Policy
Quantum Skyline
Radical Review
Random Points
Risa Wechsler

Sha Ka Ree
Sick of Bush
Signifying Nothing
Something's Got to Break
Talking Dog
Tom Runnacles
Truth is a Blog
Vaguely Right
Vast Left Wing Conspiracy
Vulgar Boatman
We Report... You Deride

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2004 ESPN Information Please Sports Almanac

"Everything to Everyone" by Barenaked Ladies

"In Between Evolution" by The Tragically Hip

"Phantom Planet" by Phantom Planet

The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell

"One Plus One Is One" by Badly Drawn Boy

"Sultans of Swing" by the Dire Straits

"Best of the Talking Heads" by the Talking Heads

How Shareholder Reforms Can Pay Foreign Policy Dividends, James Shinn, ed.

Weaving the Net, James Shinn, ed.

Fires Across the Water, James Shinn, ed.

Panasonic ES8017SC Men's Triple Blade Pro Curve Rechargeable Linear Shaver

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Tuesday, June 29, 2004
Indulging in a little Canuck-o-philia

Looking at the results from yesterday's general election in Canada, a few things are obvious.

1. Paul Martin got punished for a variety of things. Part of this was his divisive struggle to take over the party, but a large part was the advertising scandal in Quebec inherited from Chretien.

2. The minority government probably isn't likely to last too long. With a bare majority in hand when combined with the NDP, the government might hang on for a little while, but anything longer than two years seems rather unlikely.

Less obvious, however, is the fact that the Conservatives didn't gain too much out of this. They clearly took on the Liberals at the latter's nadir, barring something spectacularly stupid (see McGuinty, Dalton, for ideas). They managed to pull in 99 seats, which looks like a rather impressive gain over the 72 they finished the last parliament with. What it ignores, however, is that the Parliament increased by seven seats due to (strictly non-partisan) redistricting. More importantly, the Tories didn't really finish with 72 - another 10 right-wing-leaning former members of the Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance refused to join the merged party. So the increase of 27 seats is something closer to half as large, in reality. Which looks a lot more impressive. Stephen Harper may be a fine politician, but the Tories will never get close to winning with the likes of Stockwell Day - who scares the bejeezus out of a large segment of the population - likely to take over a major Cabinet post after the voting.

Indeed, about two-thirds of the seats lost by the Liberals were lost in Quebec, where they took a beating to the Bloc Quebecois. In no small part this was due to the sponsorship scandal, a one-off move. Still, it hurts nonetheless. And it will make governing a lot harder. A 55-seat Bloc is going to be a lot harder to deal with than a 32-seat Bloc. About the best thing that can be said is that at leas they're not the official opposition again.

The results are likely to push the country towards using proportional representation voting over the first-past-the-post system that has been used since independence in 1867. The NDP is likely to push for the institution of the system as a condition of its support for major legislation. Proportional representation would have nearly doubled their number of seats in parliament (if a national list were used, which probably won't occur). The number of Liberal, Tory and Bloc seats would have been slightly cut in return. The Greens probably would've picked up a few seats, depending on the threshold. The Liberals aren't likely to be terribly opposed to the change, since they can no longer play off of a divided conservative opposition. The result of instituting PR voting would pretty much be to replace a long-term Liberal hold on 24 Sussex with long-term hold of a Liberal-NDP coalition (presumably, it would shift more towards a coalition system rather than the usual use of minority governments, though this is not certain).

On one hand, I can't say I have a strong feeling on favoring one system over the other. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. FPTP voting distorts the voting results far more - as is regularly cited, Margaret Thatcher never won a popular majority, but won three large majorities in Parliament. On the other hand, PR voting can cause real problems if the entry threshold is set too high - see Turkey, where the 10% threshold in the election meant that only two parties, together not garnering anywhere near half of the votes, entered parliament - or too low - see Israel, where there are normally dozens of parties in the Knesset, producing a spectacularly chaotic and unwieldy form of government.

On the other hand, I can say that I feel profoundly uneasy about the idea of getting rid of a voting system, a rather fundamental cog in the Rube Goldberg machine that is democracy - that has worked quite adequately over the past 137 years in favor of a new one just because it is politically favorable for the near future. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. And even if it is broken but working, it might not be best to start swinging a monkey wrench at the thing.

(bad, bad metaphor ... ugh)

Monday, June 21, 2004
John Rowland has resigned.

Look, some of the charges laid against him were clearly not reason to remove him - I mean, whether the man was taking the spare change from a poker game is not exactly a high crime.

Nor do I think it's a great idea to try and add up a bunch of small misdeeds into one big charge and lay it at the feet of the official, as is often done.

On the other hand, Rowland had clearly committed a number of serious infractions of the law, in accepting cut-rate and free contracting work from politically-connected individuals, and in selling a Washington apartment at well above-market prices from a another friend. And such apparent influence trading is clearly unacceptable, and more than reason enough for his removal.

Er ... don't look now ...

But, divorce papers indicate that the Republican candidate for the Senate in Illinois apparently pressured his now ex-wife to perform a sex act on him in a public place on multiple occasions.

OK, so he was already trailing in the polls. And it's probably wildly inappropriate for me to be taking any pleasure in this. Then again, with the conservative punditry looking at Bill Clinton's My Life as an excuse to dredge up old sex scandals, I'll have to take what I can get as this trickles out into the mainstream media.

Friday, June 18, 2004
I haven't been here much lately, having been rather pre-occupied with other things - most notably with moving my stuff across a few states and trying to get things in order before I start work in a few weeks. Something resembling more regular posting should return at the beginning of next week, more or less.

Looking at Rumsfeld's admission that he signed off on a plan to keep an prisoner in Iraq unregistered and thus keep the Red Cross from accessing him - apparently in violation of international law - I find myself struck by the lack of an outcry calling for the resignation of the Secretary of Defense by the Democratic leadership, John Kerry, and just about anyone else with any real standing.

I suppose that, to a certain extent, this is just the result of fatigue with the willingness of members of the Bush administration to violate the legal codes that they are sworn to protect whenever it seems expedient.

I suppose, what I'd ideally like to see, is a Democratic member of the House or Senate descend onto the floor and quote from Cromwell's speech dismissing the Long Parliament:

"You have sat too long for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!"

Then again, it probably ain't gonna happen. Dramatic moments in American politics are all too few, it seems.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004
Also, this article, explaining that the Kurds are thinking of pulling out of the Iraqi constitution process out of a fear that the Shiites might limit their veto power is entirely frightening when you think about the possible consequences.

UPDATE: Er, crisis apparently averted.

Ashcroft is refusing to release the 2002 White House memo justifying torture. Er, how is he able to justify refusing to release the memo to Congress, and is there some FOIA-esque way of forcing it out?

Robert Samuelson notes that Ronald Reagan's (wait, didn't I say I wouldn't be writing about him ... er, oh well) popularity was in large part a result of the taming of high inflation during his time in office.

The problem, as Samuelson finally notes in the ninth paragraph, is that most, if not all, of the credit belongs to Paul Volcker, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve from 1979 to 1987 (he was, incidentally, appointed by President Carter). Volcker's high interest rates were the primary culprit in bringing down high inflation rates (Volcker, incidentally, also deserves much of the credit for the early 1980's recession as well), beginning in the months before Reagan actually took office. Reagan's tax cuts did also play a role, but the deflationary impulse of the cuts was somewhat limited by the inflationary impulse of the resulting limited expansion (a good chunk of the tax cuts were rolled back in any eventuality later in Reagan's term when it became clear that such heavy borrowing was unsustainable - not that the remaining high borrowing was sustainable either, playing a large role in the first Bush recession.

More pointless sports questions:

Doesn't it kinda undermine the point of the 15-day disabled list when a team (the Toronto Blue Jays) are allowed to put a player (Carlos Delgado) on the 15-day DL, retroactive by 10 days?

(the rule is that a player may be placed on the DL retroactive to the day after the last time he played ... but there doesn't seem to be any limit to the retroactivityness)

Tuesday, June 08, 2004
The good news:

Only two weeks until Bill Clinton's My Life comes out.

The better news:

By then, the NBA playoffs will be over, and I won't have to listen to that damn Black Eyed Peas song during the ABC promos over and over and over again.

The good news:

Colorado Republicans have lost in their effort to enact a mid-decade redistricting that would have remapped Congressional districts in favor of the Republicans. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of the State Supreme Court's decision barring the intervention.

The bad news:

The ruling was based on the Colorado state constitution rather than the U.S. constitution.

This country really needs non-partisan redistricting. Really.

There's going to be a backlash, I would suspect, against the plans announced today to pull a third of the American troops (12,500 out of the 37,000 total) out of South Korea. One would think that such anger might come both from hawkish types and from Democrats looking to score a few points against the failure of Bush's policies on North Korea.

And there are plenty of failings there. This isn't one of them, though.

The American force in South Korea is famously referred to as a 'tripwire.' Which it pretty much is at this point.

The American force is already pretty small, particularly in comparison with the South Korean force. The South Korean armed forces have about 2/3 as many soldiers as the North Koreans - but South Korea is much, much better armed than North Korea. Indeed, should fighting break out, the South Koreans would actually be doing the bulk of the fighting, particularly on the ground. The Americans would probably still be called upon to help in the air and sea, but each of these could just as easily be coordinated from Okinawa nowadays.*

The American forces have been pulled back from forward areas and the Seoul metropolitan area in recent years (this was, in part, due to Korean outrage at misbehavior by American soldiers and a road accident during joint military exercizes). Thus, most of the American soldiers still in the country are now farther south, and not in harm's way. Only a very small part of the DMZ, indeed, is still patrolled by American soldiers rather than their South Korean counterparts.

Basically, these soldiers aren't really needed in the Korean peninsula right now. Moreover, given the lack of popularity of the American soldiers in Korea right now, the pullback could probably actually help relations between the American and South Korean governments - though the conservative opposition won't like it - particularly at a time when the U.S. is trying to get the South Koreans to send troops to Iraq.

*Of course, there are questions as to how long the Okinawa base will be around, for that matter.

I've been wondering about something lately -

Who might win the Stanley Cup next year.

Of course, this season just ended. And the NHL is pretty damn likely to either go on strike or get locked out next year, and the possibility of there being no season whatsoever next year is a distinct possibility.

The thing is, though, that Lord Stanley's Cup actually predates the NHL. For the first few decades, it was awarded in open competition between amateur and professional teams, more similar to the FA Cup in British football (soccer) than anything in American sport (Lord Stanley was, after all, British). For a little more than a decade in the 1910's and 1920's, it was awarded through a competition between the champions of a couple of professional leagues. All but the NHL went out of busines over time, and the cup ended up getting awarded to the NHL champion.

So, of course, I'm left to wonder if there's some provision in Lord Stanley's trust - or any other body that has control of the cup above that of the NHL - that would decide if the cup can be awarded to some other champion next year. I dunno if minor league hockey teams, university teams, amateur teams, or anyone else can compete. It sure is one hell of a question mark, though.

Monday, June 07, 2004
This (with the usual, if true, caveat), is extremely disturbing, and just one more reason to vote for John Kerry in November.

I'm seeming to have some problems viewing this site with a rather old version of Netscape, mostly in the sidebar (and particularly with anything that was italicized). Can someone please confirm if this is just my computer, or a broader problem that I need to figure out how to fix?


Sunday, June 06, 2004
Anyone willing to take a guess as to how long until she surpasses Elizabeth Taylor?

For the record, I don't think I'm going to be writing about the death of Ronald Reagan because I really, really, don't care. I'm not interested debating about the legacy of his presidency, something which I was alive for part of and remember very, very little of (though it did get my picture in the New York Times, which ought to be worth something, I guess). And I'll leave it up to the pundits, historians and the people who were actually cognizant of something other than You Can't Do That On Television at the time to argue about it.

Saturday, June 05, 2004
Marion Barry says that the U.S. Park Police planted illegal drugs in his car in 2002.

Uh, I guess I have to thank the former DC Mayor. I haven't laughed like that in a long time.

Friday, June 04, 2004

It looks as if George W. Bush might get kept off the ballot in Illinois by an (apparently accidental) technicality. Yeah, well, it won't happen, I know, but it's still funny.

Seek and ye shall receive?

Well, ask a question, and you might get it answered. I was wondering yesterday why Chalabi hasn't been arrested, and the Washington Post answers the following:

"FBI spokeswoman Debbie Weierman said the investigation is still at its early stage. Noting that Chalabi is a British citizen, she said law enforcement officials are trying to determine "to what extent he is covered by U.S. law barring disclosure of U.S. classified information."

Basically, it's a jurisdictional thing.

Thursday, June 03, 2004
Speaking of Sid Blumenthal's The Clinton Wars, which I finally got through (it helps to have a long car ride or three in which you're not doing much of the driving), I was extremely surprised by the book. Not so much by what Blumenthal had to say - though it certainly clarified a lot of what was going on by the 'scandals' that was lost in the day-to-day business during the Clinton years - but by the fact that it really wasn't a true memoir in the sense of the word. Blumenthal spent the first two chapters detailing Clinton's first term, in which he was not involved in the administration at all, still working as a journalist, and only a few pages on his own personal history. Thus, the book produced a rather odd juxtaposition between a third-person history of the Clinton administration from 1993 to 1997, a few pages of first-person personal history, a first-person history of the Clinton administration from 1997 to 2001 that seemed oddly detached in places, and a third-person evaluation of the Clinton presidency after the fact. Really weird. Really good, but really weird.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't?

Writing in the comments section of this Matt Yglesias post (luddite that I am, I can't figure out how to link to the comments section), one of the commenters, John Thullen, writes about the prospect of a Kerry victory in November:

"They'll be interrupted early on by the most savage attacks in history on a U.S. President by the losing scum of the Republican Party -- who wouldn't know a good winner if it were their own mother and will be the worst and most dangerous losers a polity has ever had to put out of commission."

(I should note that the "they" actually refers to liberal bloggers ... but that's neither here nor there)

This is one of the thing that frightens me about the possibility of Kerry winning.

It increasingly seems that when the Democrats lose an election, Democratic politicians and the leadership try to figure out where they went wrong and how they can fix things. When the Republicans lose an election, however, Republican politicians and the leadership try to figure out where the people went wrong and how to change them.

Before people get antsy, I should note that this is a critique of the politicians and leadership figures - but not of the members of the parties themselves (though it's been true of the wingut parts of both parties for a long time).

This type of behavior was one of the things that came across in Sidney Blumenthal's The Clinton Wars The prospect of such behavior after the election by the Republican leadership and media machine is an entirely frightening thought, not just because of the ability to choke up the airwaves and annoy people to no end, but also because of the possibility that it might well grind the legislative process to a halt and make it far more difficult to carry out basic policies at home and to prosecute the interests of the country abroad. Something to look forward to I guess.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

Ah, yes, it's Canadian election season again. The Globe and Mail has a good round-up here. Hopefully this time I'll actually be able to watch the results come in on the TV in English in a few weeks (three years ago, I found myself watching the only channel available on Georgetown's cable system that was broadcasting the results - which happened to be a Quebec CBC feed intended to teach French students).

Background: Paul Martin, having recently replaced Jean Chretien - who stepped down after a decade in office - called elections two years early in the hope of winning a large mandate of his own. Faced with a resurgent Conservative Party (which was itself recently formed out of the merger of the more centrist Progressive Conservatives and the right-of-sanity Canadian Alliance), and inheriting a scandal based on US$75 million of do-nothing contracts handed out in Quebec by the Chretien government, has sunk in the polls. It seems that the Grits (Liberals) might lose their majority and be forced into a minority government. It should be noted that the scandal occurred under Chretien's watch and that Martin immediately called for an independent investigation.

Now, a couple of things - while the Chretien government did a good job of pulling the country back together after the separatist efforts in Quebec and in dealing with the economic problems that the Mulroney government left it with, after 10 years of unquestioned dominance, having one national party was clearly becoming problematic. And it's good to see the Grits forced to campaign with fresh ideas rather than simply as the only alternative to four other discredited groups.

Second, I can't see why Martin looks likely to go it alone in a minority government rather than a formal coalition after the election (the difference is that a minority government only hands out Cabinet seats to the plurality party, where a coalition government will divy up the seats). Admittedly, Canada doesn't have much of a history of coalition governments, pretty much only doing so during wartime. On the other hand, there's nothing prohibiting them from doing it now. Coalition governments would seem more stable, since any upheaval by the junior parter would not just be tied to their seats in parliament, but also their ability to hold the coalition together.

If the Liberals were looking for a coalition, they would seem likely to turn to the left-wing NDP. A Liberal-NDP coalition would probably pull the centrist Liberals a little to the left, but not overwhelmingly so. Depending on the Conservatives - either by coalition or minority government - might be tougher to swallow, since it would certify the Tories in the mainstream, where the Liberals would rather point to the continuance of the Alliance in the new Conservative party, making them look like a wolf in sheep's clothing. And a Liberal-Bloc Quebecois coalition would be even tougher to swallow given the historical animosity between the two.

Then again, if the polls cited by Collin May at are to be belived, it might well be that the Conservatives could actually enter government as the senior party, possibly in coalition with the Bloc, which is an entirely frightening prospect. Of course, the Tories could also turn to the Grits as a possible junior partner in their own right. The Tories might even turn to the NDP - assuming the Alliance faction isn't too dominant in the Conservative Party - though the polls seem to indicate this to be an unlikely prospect.

Speaking of the Tenet resignation, let the speculation begin:

Constant criticism from the talking heads?
9/11 Comission report?
Senate Intelligence Committee report on Iraq intel failures?
Gore's speech?

The official line is that Tenet is retiring to spend time with his family. Almost certainly, with the upcoming reports due out both on the 9/11 commission and the Iraq intel failures, this was probably a good time to leave.

The question is also whether Tenet decided to go on his own, or got pushed (or for that matter, just nudged) by the White House. Which, really, there's no way of telling with any certainty right now.

(Also, watching CNN right now, Ahmed Chalabi is criticizing Tenet as responsible for pretty much every American failure in Iraq in the past decade - some of which Chalabi himself might well have had a hand in fomenting, particularly the attempted coups. Jesus, why haven't we arrested this guy already?)

(On a wholly tangential note, I have to hope that my alma mater will strongly try to get Tenet to join the faculty in the near future. Georgetown has done an absolutely horrible job of attracting the famous alumni back to the hilltop in recent years. I realize that Bill Clinton would've been a lightning rod - though far more so in 2001 than now - but the university has done a spectacularly poor job of getting the likes of Tenet back. From what I understand, the university had a very hard time getting Madeleine Albright back, and got back few other Clinton Administration officials)

I've been watching CNN's coverage of the George Tenet resignation-fest, and I have to say the following:

Suzanne Malveaux really needs to lay off the tanning beds and creams for a while. She's starting to look like a slightly more effeminate version of George Hamilton.

Yep, really tackling the tough issues here.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004
Glenn Reynolds engages in a bit of semantic hackery over on his MSNBC site.

Speaketh Reynolds:

"We've heard a lot about the Geneva Conventions over the past couple of years. And some people -- noting, among other things, that the United States hasn't fought against an enemy who applied the Geneva Conventions to our troops in nearly 60 years -- are wondering if we should scrap the Conventions.

"Now Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz is joining those voices, with a column in the Baltimore Sun."

There's only one problem ... no one whom the good Prof. cites is arguing to scrap the conventions. Actually, he only notes Dershowitz (who argues for a number of fairly reasonable alterations to the Geneva Conventions, but has never appeared to have supported scrapping them).

Scrapping the conventions, of course, would be incredibly foolhardy. Not so much because it would change the rules of the current wars (it wouldn't, either way), but because it would might change the rules of future wars for the worse, and would certainly worsen the standing of the United States in the eyes of the rest of the world, already seemingly at an all-time low.

Moreover, simply put, two wrongs don't make a right - just because those whom we fight do not follow the Geneva Conventions and our moral idea of a war does not mean that we should therefore debase them.

There is, as Dershowitz argues, a solid case for altering the Geneva Conventions (the oldest of which is 140 years old, the youngest of which is 55 years old) to reflect the current nature of war and to close the large gaps left in fighting terrorist groups and terrorism. No reasonable person, however - including Dershowitz - seems to be advocating scrapping them entirely, as Reynolds wants.

(Reynolds also criticizes Amnesty International for criticizing U.S. policies. Now, again, I'm not going to claim that Amnesty is a wholly perfect organization - the move last year by the leadership of Amnesty to criticize the U.S. government for using its reports on human rights abuses in Iraq was a spectacular blunder - but if you're going to criticize it, you had might as well do it on valid grounds. Reynolds suggests that Amnesty focus its energy on the Darfur conflict in Sudan. Well, er, they're already doing that, and it's linked to on the Amnesty homepage, admittedly one step below a call for an independent investigation into Abu Ghraib.)

The primary election in Virginia's 8th district is coming up next Tuesday (a Washington Post summary is here). This might seem like just another unimportant primary, but it may be one of the most important this year for the Democratic Party.

Because it gives them a chance to rid themselves of one of their most embarrasing politicians.

Jim Moran is, in the words of an acquaintance "almost certainly bought by the Republican party for the express purpose of embarrassing the Democrats."

Well, OK, maybe not, but you get the point. Last year Moran was caught making rather inappropriate remarks about the fact that many prominent neo-conservatives were Jewish (this wouldn't have been so problematic but not for the fact that Moran had been accused of anti-Semitism in the past). Moran was stripped of his minor position within the House Democratic leadership as a result. Moran also took a rather huge and unusual loan from MBNA a few years ago to refinance his rather sizable debts, apparently in return for his vocal support of a bill that would have made personal bankruptcy proceedings more favorable to the banks.

Moran, however, has never faced a truly serious challenge, despite his endless string of gaffes. The 8th district is one of the country's most Democratic districts (it's not really a gerrymandered district, given the geographic compactness), and a Republican stands no chance of getting elected.

His challenger, Andrew M. Rosenberg, unfortunately, is the first serious Democratic challenger that Moran has faced off against. The costs of running in the district, based in the Arlington and Alexandria suburbs of DC, are rather high, and Rosenberg has mostly had to run based on mailings and door-to-door campaigning.

Truthfully, Rosenberg is a little too connected to the DC lobbying community, and not quite as progressive, as I'd like to see. Then again, in going up against such a despicable character, I'd probably support a ham sandwich for the Democractic nomination over Jim Moran.

William Safire is suggesting that the U.S. government eliminate the penny.

Er, no.

The government will never eliminate the penny (nor does it make sense to) as long as the seignorage revenues are significant. Assuming that it costs a half-cent to make a penny (something I seem to recall as being about right), at 1 billion cents per month, the government earns about $50 million per month, or about $600 million per year on the penny, nothing to sneeze at. In any case, if the costs of making a penny rise too high, the Mint can just debase the coin by using cheaper metals - a number of countries have ended up using coins made of aluminum in part by the end - as it has done in the past (pennies are mostly zinc, not copper, nowadays).

Eliminating smaller denomination coins, in any case, makes a lot more sense in countries that have VAT-style sales taxes - as most European countries do - that get built into the price beforehand, rather than U.S.-style sales taxes that get added on afterwards, increasing the need for rounding up and down. In other words, rounding makes a lot more sense when after-tax prices are going to end in a 0 or 5 regardless of whether a 1-cent coin exists. Thus, eliminating the 1-cent Euro coin makes a lot more sense in terms of efficiency than eliminating the 1-cent USD coin.

As for Safire's actual points, if the penny were eliminated, $9.98 would actually get rounded up to $10 ($9.97 would get rounded down to $9.95). Also, I don't know why he cites Britain, which still uses their own penny (Britain didn't actually get rid of the haypenny - half-cent coin - until the early 80's, by which time it was almost never circulated.


The mayor of Crawford, Texas is publicly supporting John Kerry for President.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004
A federal judge in San Francisco today issued a ruling striking down the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act. This should come as a surprise to, oh, about three people.

The bill was clearly unconstitutional from the start, which is why it remains so mindboggling why the Congress and White House acceded to it (political brownie points with the extremist crowd, well, obviously). Carhart v. Stenberg (or was it Stenberg v. Carhart was decided by a 5-4 vote at the Supreme Court. The marginal vote came from Sandra Day O'Connor, who issued a ruling clearly stating under what circumstances she would find a late-term abortion ban constitutional - it would necessitate allowing for exceptions in cases where the doctor felt that such an abortion would be necessary to preserve the health or life of the mother.

Such an exception, of course, would leave a rather large hole in the ban - pregnancy presents dangers to a woman's health regardless of whether an abortion ever occurs or not. So the Congressional Republicans, wanting to close off any possibility of late-term abortions, whether a necessary medical procedure or not, tried to summarily issue a finding in the bill that such circumstances never occur (which is flat-out false - by all measures, late-term abortions are fairly rare, but are occasionally necessary).

Anyhow, the San Francisco case, along with other cases that were recently argued but have not yet had decisions issued in New York and Nebraska, will go on through the appeals process, and head on to the Supreme Court either next year or the year after. Where it seems almost certain to be found unconstitutional (unless one of the Carhart majority retires beforehand and gets replaced by someone opposed to Roe v. Wade.