Shallow Thoughts : : politics

Akkana's Musings on Open Source, Science, and Nature.

Sat, 26 Apr 2008

Republicans fight to preserve gender pay gap

Dahlia Lithwick wrote a terrific article in yesterday's Slate about the shameful behavior of the Republicans in the Senate in blocking a bill that would have allowed women to sue for pay discrimination.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was written in response to the case brought by Lilly Ledbetter against the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. Courts had found that she was definitely the subject of discrimination: her pay was as much as 40% less than men doing a similar job (despite her excellent reviews), one year she was actually paid below Goodyear's own minimum threshold for that position, she had been explicitly barred from discussing salary with her coworkers (this is apparently legal, at least in Alabama), and she had been told explicitly by a manager at Goodyear that that the "plant did not need women, that [women] didn't help it, [and] caused problems."

No one at any level has disputed that Ms. Ledbetter was discriminated against -- even the Supreme Court. However, the Supremes threw out her appeal last year on the basis that the statute of limitations had run out and she should have filed her case within 180 days of receiving her first paycheck. In other words, as long as you don't know when you're hired that your pay is discriminatory, it doesn't matter if you find out later; it'll be too late then, so forget it. Pay discrimination is fine, and not actionable, as long as you can delay the victim's finding out about it for a few months.

Senate Republicans believe so strongly in a company's right to discriminate that they not only argued against the bill, they actually filibustered against it!

For more gory details of the case, read Lithwick's excellent Slate article. But even if you don't, be aware if you're considering voting for John McCain in November that although he was campaigning instead of voting on this bill, he proclaimed agreement with the rest of his party in opposing the Fair Pay Act.

So if you're against pay discrimination ... or if you're a woman and might be the victim of such discrimination ... be aware that John McCain is not on your side.

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[ 19:26 Apr 26, 2008    More politics | permalink to this entry ]

Wed, 20 Feb 2008

Obama's too good a speaker

In election news today, we have the report Wounded Clinton eyes big contests on Barak Obama's widening lead over Hillary Clinton:
Mrs Clinton continued to try to depict Mr Obama as a man of fine words but little action.

"It's time that we move from good words to good works, from sound bites to sound solutions... This campaign goes on!" she said

Hey, wait ... isn't that a sound bite against sound bites?

McCain joined in the fun, saying "I will fight every moment of every day in this campaign to make sure that Americans are not deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change."

So let's see if I have this straight: the worst that either Clinton or McCain can think of to say about Obama is that ... he's a really good speaker.

Hmm. Time was when people thought being a good speaker was actually a good thing to have in a president. Isn't that something presidents are called upon to do now and then?

[ 18:43 Feb 20, 2008    More politics | permalink to this entry ]

Mon, 04 Feb 2008

Indian Gaming Props 94 through 97

Finally home from Melbourne and with a good night's sleep behind me, I finally had to take a look at the Indian gaming propositions on tomorrow's ballot: Propositions 94 through 97.

There are a bunch of issues here which I'm not going to try to write about: you can read the legislative analyst's summary and the pro and con arguments in the Supplemental Voter's Handbook. But the really interesting part of the is the section at the back of the SVH: the TEXT OF PROPOSED LAWS section. It's always good to take a look at a law's actual text before making a decision. Sometimes they surprise you. Especially in this case.

Ready to follow along? Okay, we'll start with Prop 94. Open your SVH to page 44 (or use the PDF or Google's HTML translation) and start at SECTION 1. (Presumably there's some way to get to these links via but I didn't have much luck finding it.)

SECTION 1. Section 12012.49 is added to the Government Code, to read:
12012.49. (a) The amendment tothe tribal-state gaming compact entered into in accordance with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 (18 U.S.C. Sec. 1166 to 1168, incl., and 25 U.S.C. Sec. 2701 et seq.) between the State of California and the Pechanga Band of LuiseƱo Mission Indians, executed on August 28, 2006, is hereby ratified.
(b) (1) In deference to tribal sovereignty, none of the following shall be deemed a project for purposes of the California Environmental Quality Act (Division 13 (commencing with Section 21000) of the Public Resources Code):
(A) The execution of an amendment to the amended tribal-state gaming compact ratified by this section.
(B) The execution of the amended tribal-state gaming compact ratified by this section.
(C) The execution of an intergovernmental agreement between a tribe and a county or city government negotiated pursuant to the express authority of, or as expressly referenced in, the amended tribal-state gaming compact ratified by this section.

... hey, wait a minute, where are the details? The proposed law continues in this fashion, referencing "the amended tribal-state gaming compact ratified by this section" over and over. Remember, this is the actual wording that would become part of California law if these propositions are approved.

Dave looked into this more. Turns out these Indian gaming compacts are complicated by an amusing legal problem: since each reservations is technically a foreign government, negotiation has to be done by the Governor's office, not legislated by the state legislature. But the agreements the Gov makes have to be ratified by the legislature or the voters.

Okay, so what we're voting on is whether to ratify the agreement the Governator reached with the set of tribes under discussion (mostly along I-10 in Riverside County, plus one down near San Diego).

Great. So ... where are these agreements we're voting to ratify?

Not in the Supplemental Voter's Handbook, that's clear enough. So where can we find them?

Dave went to Google, and thought he found something -- wait, no, it turns out it's even more complicated than that. See, there are lots of earlier revisions of the compacts, too.

Apparently when the time comes to get it ratified, how it generally works is: Someone writes up a bill that sounds harmless and has nothing to do with the actual issues being discussed ("Proposed: that we will provide the Pachenga Indians with educational information on tooth decay prevention for their schools"). This is made public, and sits in the public place for bills under consideration until the last minute, when it is amended to add whatever the real subject of discussion is. Then everybody votes on it (probably without reading the amendments), and the agreement is ratified.

But something went wrong in the process this time, and somehow the agreements weren't ratified and ended up getting sent to the voters.

Okay, that's all very entertaining, but meanwhile we still need the text of the agreements we're being asked to ratify. Where are they?

After much searching, Dave thought he had a lead: Denise Moreno Ducheny's page has a link for SB 174 - Tribal gaming: compact ratification. which supposedly corresponds to Prop 95. That link doesn't work for me (I get "The connection has been reset: try again later" -- either it doesn't like Firefox on Linux or it wants cookies or something) but it worked for Dave in Safari, and it turns out it was one of these pre-amended versions, not the version we're actually being asked to vote on.

But he finally found what apparently are the final versions of the compacts, linked from a press release on the governor's site. Note that you can't get there by actually searching the Governor's site (searching for tribal compact gets you three press releases that don't include that one). Here's a direct link to the Pechanga agreement and the San Manuel agreement. You're on your own for the rest.

Anyway, the PDFs on the Governor's site do appear to say pretty much what the legislative analyst says they say. So the analysis in the Supplemental Voter Handbook is probably fine and you cat vote on that basis. That's assuming you believe that those PDFs, findable only through google and not through any official link, are the real ones that are being voted on. The filenames both include the word "final" -- isn't that all you need to know?

Me, I'm not too happy about being asked to vote on a basis of "We won't show you the actual text, just trust us". I don't like the idea of laws that reference unknown other documents, stored in an unspecified place and possibly subject to who knows what sorts of revisions. I'll probably vote no for that reason.

[ 16:54 Feb 04, 2008    More politics | permalink to this entry ]

Fri, 16 Nov 2007

An ironic juxtaposition

I can't stop thinking about the woman in the Chinese restaurant the other night.

It was one of those conversations you try not to overhear, but they're so loud and distracting that you just can't avoid it.

In the middle of a long declamation on conspiracy theories and politics, the man made a comment about how we're in the middle east shooting Iraqis who never hurt anyone. (I didn't say his politics were all wrong, just loud).

The woman, who had been relatively quiet up to now, interrupted, "But they hurt us in 9/11!"

In the next booth, facing away from them, my mouth dropped open. The man quickly countered that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, but then was off onto other topics, sharing with the room his theories on war in the middle east in general, Israel, and people trying to wipe out the Jews. This caught the woman's interest -- "They already tried that, Hitler." After a pause, she added thoughtfully, "You know, the strangest thing about that is how people there just went along with it."

That came barely a minute after the 9/11 comment. She clearly had no idea of the irony of juxtaposing the two. I wanted to turn around and say, "Perhaps they went along for the same reason that you're going along with killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, when even the president who started the war admits that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11?"

[ 21:24 Nov 16, 2007    More politics | permalink to this entry ]

Mon, 06 Aug 2007

Votes on the Warrantless Wiretapping Act

All the news media carried stories on how our (US) legislators voted in a bill on Friday night that greatly eased the rules on wiretapping. The House followed through and passed the bill on Saturday.

The new updates to FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, will allow the NSA or the attorney general to authorize monitoring of telephones or email, without a warrant, if the comunications involve people "reasonably believed to be outside the United States".

The story reported in most of the papers is that Democrats were against the bill and wanted a version which required warrants in more cases. But the President threatened to hold Congress in session into its scheduled summer recess if it did not approve the changes he wanted -- and that was enough, apparently, for the Senate to vote for warrantless surveillance of Americans. (I confess I don't quite understand why the president can hold Congress in session indefinitely until he gets the vote he wants. Can't they just vote No?)

What I couldn't find in any of the stories was a breakdown of the votes. What about our presidential candidates? Did they support warrantless wiretapping -- or, perhaps worse, just not care about the ramifications of a bill if further consideration of it might cut into their vacation time?

Finding out

Finding Senate votes is very easy. Googling for senate votes takes you right to the breakdown of recent votes by Senator name or by state. Here are the results for S.1927.

The House is harder. They don't seem to have a nice "recent votes" page like the Senate does, or any obvious way to find bills (I had little luck with their site search), though a story gave a link to the bill on, which links to an official vote count.

In the absence of's help, the easiest way to find House voting records is to use the Washington Post Votes Database.

How did they vote?

I was happy to see that all the major Democratic candidates in Congress voted against the smarmily named "Protect America Act", including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Christopher Dodd, and (in the House) Dennis Kucinich. John Kerry (who is not an official candidate) didn't vote.

On the Republican side, candidate Sam Brownback voted for the bill, while candidates John McCain, Tom Tancredo and Ron Paul didn't vote.

Of course, I was also interested in my local legislators. California Senator Dianne Feinstein voted for passage (why do people keep voting her back in?) while our other senator, Barbara Boxer didn't vote. In the House, my representative, the always sensible Zoe Lofgren, voted against the bill. In fact, she spoke out against it, saying "This bill would grant the attorney general the ability to wiretap anybody, any place, any time without court review, without any checks and balances. I think this unwarranted, unprecedented measure would simply eviscerate the 4th Amendment." Hurray, Zoe! House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also voted against.

How did your legislators vote?

[ 13:20 Aug 06, 2007    More politics | permalink to this entry ]

Thu, 06 Jul 2006

Was the 2004 Election Stolen?

Anyone following the voting machine controversy in the last presidential election -- or, even more, anyone who wasn't following it and might not be aware of the issues -- should check out Robert F. Kennedy, Jr's article in Rolling Stone, Was the 2004 Election Stolen?

The article is long, detailed and well researched article, and it will make you question whether we really live in a democracy.

Apparently Kennedy is considering filing whistleblower lawsuits against two of the voting machine companies. This won't do anything to change our national elections, but at least it might help get the word -- and the evidence -- out into the public eye.

[ 11:36 Jul 06, 2006    More politics | permalink to this entry ]

Thu, 06 Jan 2005

Boxer to Support Conyers in Protest Over Ohio Vote

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has signed a protest launched by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) regarding irregularities in the Ohio vote, as reported this morning by the AP (via Yahoo, via ABC News).

Conyers' report can be found on the House Committee on the Judiciary's page, including the PDF report and some supplementary documents (all PDF except the video): a film by Linda Byrket called "Video the Vote", text of a fundraising letter Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, and Eyewitness Accounts of Ohio Voter Disenfranchisement. Conyers' report is described in this Fox News story.

John Kerry has not joined the protest.

This is not expected to alter the outcome of the 2004 election; both houses are expected to certify the election tomorrow. But it will force both houses to break from election certification tomorrow, and have a public discussion of up to two hours on some of the problems seen in the election. Perhaps it will pave the way for changes in future elections.

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[ 10:29 Jan 06, 2005    More politics/election04 | permalink to this entry ]

Tue, 14 Dec 2004

Programmer alleges FL congressman commissioned vote altering code

This story has been floating around for a few days now, but I've hesitated to write about it because it sounds potentially fishy and I was hoping some of the questions would get answered.

In a nutshell: Florida programmer Clint Curtis has filed documents with the FBI claiming that while he was working for Yang Enterprises, Tom Feeny (then a FL state representative and lobbyist for Yang, now a US Congressman) asked him to develop prototype software in order to rig the vote in Florida. (story in Wired) (story on Blue Lemur)

All rather suspicious, but there are lots of questionable aspects to the story. Why did Curtis wait so long to come clean? He claims that he assumed any such software would be easily detectable through source code inspection, and it was only after recently reading that voting software was proprietary that he had the shocking realization that perhaps there wasn't much source code review going on. It's hard to believe that a programmer who had worked on such a project would have been able to miss this point for so long.

Curtis has apparently also been to the FBI complaining about Yang's ethics before, on an unrelated charge. Details are skimpy about what that charge was, or what the resolution was, but until those details are available, one has to be slightly skeptical.

On Curtis' side, the fact that Yang nor Sweeney are willing to comment on the story suggests that there may be some truth to it. If his past allegations against Yang, or other aspects of the case, cast doubt on his claims, wouldn't they be pointing to that?

That the FBI is unwilling to comment is not surprising: investigation is ongoing, and I wouldn't expect any comment from investigators at this point.

It seems unlikely that Curtis' actual code was used, in any case. He had no access to the voting machine software, and simply wrote some scripts in Visual Basic as a proof of concept. But we'll likely never know for sure, since the public hasn't had access to the voting machines for quite some time and it would be quite easy for any such evidence to have been long since wiped from memory. (Though perhaps forensic analysis of the disks might reveal something?)

Still, it's an interesting story, and it'll be fun to see how it resolves.

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[ 13:20 Dec 14, 2004    More politics/election04 | permalink to this entry ]