Political MoJo

Antitrust Law Aims at Apple

Tue Mar. 21, 2006 7:13 PM EST

A new bill was approved today in France that could force Apple to share previously protected technology in order to open the market. Currently, Apple products are only compatible with one another, meaning that if a user buys a song on Apple's music service iTunes, it can only be played on an Apple iPod. Since its inception, Apple has been able to thwart competition and dominate the online music market partially because of this technology. The iPod accounts for two out of every three portable music devices on the market, a fact obvious to anyone who takes public transportation amongst swarms of white-earphone wearers.

If this French law is adopted, it could effectively weaken Apple's global dominance. Even if the law doesn't pass, it should cause a commotion among users, all of whom would rather have the ability to share their music with more playing devices. Undoubtedly, the media will latch on to the story, opening Apple up to scrutiny for being user unfriendly.

In the long run, Apple may have no choice but to share the secrets of their format. By choosing to keep their designs compatible only with other Mac products, users likely will perceive Apple as a bully, a similar image problem facing computer conglomerate Microsoft. Because Apple's entire brand is aimed at a youth-dominated audience, it is too image-conscious to become alienated from its users. But unless Apple can brush this growing commotion under the rug, Apple's digital player dominance likely will be harmed.

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The Osirak Fallacy

| Tue Mar. 21, 2006 5:11 PM EST

Every now and again, the dinner-table conversation will turn to Iran (well, not my dinner table, but some…). And then on to Iran's nuclear program. And then on to how we must not let Iran go nuclear. And then perhaps on to how Israel did pretty well for itself by bombing Saddam Hussein's Osirak reactor—and setting back Iraq's nuclear program for years—back in 1981. You see where this is going.

Well, before the conversation ever does reach that point, read Richard K. Betts' piece in the National Interest, which notes that the Osirak bombing didn't really set back the Iraqi nuclear program in the 1980s, as everyone thinks. In fact, it may have even accelerated Iraq's nuclear program by making Saddam Hussein extra-determined to get the bomb, and in any case, Betts notes, attacking Iran isn't really a good thing to do. That doesn't mean the Bush administration won't try it—common sense hasn't stopped this crew yet—but Betts at least lays out the argument in one nice, neat place.

The Times' Abortion Coverage

| Tue Mar. 21, 2006 2:47 PM EST

Most of the studies that have come out over the years "proving" that newspapers slant one way or the other ideologically seem pretty vague to me. How much does it really affect the coverage, for instance, if the vaguely liberal Brookings Institution is quoted a shade more frequently than the center-right American Enterprise Institute? Is reporting really distorted if most reporters happen to be registered Democrats? And who's helped by the hugely moronic "he said, she said" format of most news stories? I don't know, those all seem like decently complicated questions that aren't answered by easy statistics. Intuitively, my hunch has always been that the coverage in major newspapers tips somewhat to the left on social issues and strongly to the right on economic issues—especially on labor issues. But that's not always easy to quantify.

Or at least that's what I would've said before reading Garance Franke-Ruta's piece in the American Prospect today, looking at the New York Times abortion coverage on its editorial page. Franke-Ruta found that over the last two years—at a time when abortion rights have come under serious attack—the Times has printed 124 op-eds mentioning abortion. Of those, 83 percent have been written by men, and more of them have been written by pro-life men than by women on either side. Most strikingly, over the past two years, the Times hasn't invited a single "reproductive-rights advocate, a pro-choice service-provider, or a representative of a women's group" to write an op-ed about abortion. Not one. And this from a nominally pro-choice newspaper.

The Times' unsigned editorials themselves tend to be strongly pro-choice, but one guesses that these receive somewhat less attention than the op-eds themselves. Moreover, a Times op-ed tends to elevate its author to prominence. So the disparity is a huge problem. The Times op-ed page is supposed to foster debate rather than disseminate propaganda (in theory, at least), so granted, it's bound to print pro-life op-eds from time to time, but nothing excuses a swing so far to the other side—to the point where women, especially pro-choice women, have basically been shut out of the debate. Hey, perhaps the newly skewed Times explains why we've seen the rise of the "thoughtful" male liberal ready to compromise on abortion if it will help the Democratic Party. (Which is, at any rate, a totally flawed electoral strategy.)

That lizard's mighty cute, but does he earn six figures?

| Tue Mar. 21, 2006 1:37 PM EST

Yesterday, the Consumer Federation of America charged that Geico Corp. uses customers' educational backgrounds and career information as criteria in setting auto insurance rates. According to the CFA, Geico has utilized rating methods and underwriting guidelines in 44 states that are directly tied to education and occupation.

Geico responded that the charge was "an offensive attempt to link fundamentally fair and actuarially sound industry practices with invidious discrimination." However, Robert Hunter, the CFA's director of insurance, said that under Geico's rating method, "a New Orleans factory worker without a high school education would pay $2,636 for insurance, 91 percent more the $1,382 that a white-collar worker with a graduate degree would pay for the same vehicle and location."

The CFA also said that other insurers, including Liberty Mutual and Allstate, were starting to use Geico's methods, and it asked the National Association of Insurance Commissioners to intervene.

In Afghanistan, "becoming a Christian is against our laws"

Mon Mar. 20, 2006 5:30 PM EST

In a key test of religious freedom in post-Taliban Afghanistan, reports the Times of London, a court in Kabul is trying 41-year-old Abdul Rahman and could sentence him to death. His crime? Being a Christian. Rahman was arrested last month after his family accused him of having renounced his Muslim faith, an offense punishable by hanging under the Afghan constitution. The judge in the case, Alhaj Ansarullah Mawlawy Zada, called his country's constitution perfect, and said Rahman deserved punishment for "teasing and insulating his family by converting."

Though the Afghan constitution enshrines Islam as the national religion, it includes human rights safeguards forbidding inhumane punishments. Even so, the prosecutor in the case is pretty sure he'll get a conviction. Rahman "would be forgiven if he changed back," to Islam, he said, but not otherwise. "We are Muslims and becoming a Christian is against our laws. He must get the death penalty." After this verdict, Rahman will have two shots at an appeal.

McCain hires player in DeLay money laundering scheme

| Mon Mar. 20, 2006 4:53 PM EST

In 2002, Terry Nelson was the deputy chief of staff for the Republican National Committee. That same year, Sen. Tom DeLay and two of his colleagues allegedly tried to dance around a Texas law which makes it illegal for corporations to fund candidates. According to the indictment against DeLay, John Colyandro, and Jim Ellis, illegal money was laundered through the Republican National Committee via the Republican National State Elections Committee.

There is no doubt that Nelson was directly involved in the scheme, though he has not been indicted. In 2003, Nelson was named political director of Bush-Cheney '04, Inc., and yesterday, the Washington Post reported that Nelson has been selected by Sen. John McCain to be a senior advisor to McCain's Straight Talk America political action committee. One supposes that, with this hiring, Nelson is somehow unindictable with regard to the DeLay money laundering affair. His addition to McCain's team "will be maximize the organization's influence and effectiveness in the 2006 midterm elections, but his hiring also makes a major mark on the 2008 landscape."

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Krugman on the failure of a movement as well as a man.

| Mon Mar. 20, 2006 3:30 PM EST

Paul Krugman from behind the Times Select paywall writes:

Mr. Bush, of course, bears primary responsibility for the state of his presidency. But there's more going on here than his personal inadequacy; we're looking at the failure of a movement as well as a man. As evidence, consider the fact that most of the conservatives now rushing to distance themselves from Mr. Bush still can't bring themselves to criticize his actual policies. Instead, they accuse him of policy sins — in particular, of being a big spender on domestic programs — that he has not, in fact, committed.

The actual polices conservatives can't bring themselves to criticize are the Iraq war (which they supported), the wartime tax cuts (an article of faith impervious to reality), and the "systematic dishonesty" of Bush's budgets (They knew he was lying about the budget "but they thought they were in on the con.")

So what's left? Well, it's safe for conservatives to criticize Mr. Bush for presiding over runaway growth in domestic spending, because that implies that he betrayed his conservative supporters. There's only one problem with this criticism: it's not true.

It's true that federal spending as a percentage of G.D.P. rose between 2001 and 2005. But the great bulk of this increase was accounted for by increased spending on defense and homeland security, including the costs of the Iraq war, and by rising health care costs.

Conservatives aren't criticizing Mr. Bush for his defense spending. Since the Medicare drug program didn't start until 2006, the Bush administration can't be blamed for the rise in health care costs before then. Whatever other fiscal excesses took place weren't large enough to play more than a marginal role in spending growth.

So where does the notion of Bush the big spender come from? In a direct sense it comes largely from Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation, who issued a report last fall alleging that government spending was out of control. Mr. Riedl is very good at his job; his report shifts artfully back and forth among various measures of spending (nominal, real, total, domestic, discretionary, domestic discretionary), managing to convey the false impression that soaring spending on domestic social programs is a major cause of the federal budget deficit without literally lying.

But the reason conservatives fall for the Heritage spin is that it suits their purposes. They need to repudiate George W. Bush, but they can't admit that when Mr. Bush made his key mistakes — starting an unnecessary war, and using dishonest numbers to justify tax cuts — they were cheering him on.

So there.

Civil War? Who you gonna believe - me or your lyin' eyes?

| Mon Mar. 20, 2006 1:02 PM EST

From the annals of perception-management (WP):

"What we've seen is a serious effort by them to foment civil war, but I don't think they've been successful."
--Dick Cheney on CBS's Face the Nation

"We are losing a day as an average 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more. If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is."
--Former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi (who is of course no more a disinterested party than is Cheney, but who does seem to have the evidence rather more on his side) talking to the BBC.

Arizona citizens mobilize to defeat factory farm control

| Fri Mar. 17, 2006 9:37 PM EST

Arizona is a major factory-farming state. At some hog-breeding farms, gestation crates are used. These two-foot wide crates keep the hogs confined to a tiny space their entire lives, much the same as hen battery cages and veal crates.

The Humane Farms Initiative was proposed in Arizona so that crates such as these would be outlawed. A similar initiative was successful in Florida, making it the first state to enact such a ban. Arizona factory farm interests fought back with Senate Concurrent Resolution 1035, which would have placed on the November ballot a constitutional amendment to require that all laws dealing with agriculture in the state of Arizona be adopted by an unnamed executive agency only. Passage of SCR 1035 would have made it impossible for the legislature to enact any control over the agricultural industry. The Humane Farms Initiative, even if it passed, would be become void by passage of SCR 1035.

Last month, the Arizona Rules Committee passed SCR 1035, but after a large number of Arizona citizens called, faxed, and emailed their senators, the resolution failed this week in the Committee of the Whole.

Surprising though it may be that Florida has led the way in banning certain of factory farming's more horrific practices, now that the citizens of Arizona have picked up the campaign, there is every reason to believe that soon, other states will begin campaigns to stop at least some of America's institutionalized cruelty against millions of farm animals.

The emotional toll of Katrina: "We are so definitely not OK."

| Fri Mar. 17, 2006 4:17 PM EST

Today's LA Times has a disturbing eye-opener on the emotional toll of Hurricane Katrina. About half a million people need some form of mental health service, at a cost to the federal government of more than $200 million.

In New Orleans, even those trained to offer solace break down easily and often: A hospital nurse, a school psychologist, a paramedic, a counselor all lose composure as they talk about Katrina.

"The truth is, we are not OK. We are so definitely not OK," said Burke Beyer, 31, who leads a federally funded team of counselors in New Orleans.

...The half-year mark should be a milestone; many locals expected recovery to be well underway. Instead, their lives are still a mess, their city is still in ruins, and they can see no end to the chaos.

"You try to adjust but you can't," said Walter L. Collins Jr., 30, a truck driver.

The article says that, nationally, calls to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline are up 60 percent since Katrina, and it has these excerpts from a recent survey of second- and third-graders, who were asked to write down their fears:

"I'm worried that I will never see my family again."

"Katrina threw my house somewhere."

"My cat is gone."

"My friends are gone forever."

"What will we do? Where will we go?"

Meanwhile, hurricane season is fast approaching, with the levee system, under repair by the Army Corps of Engineers, "susceptible to flooding with a category two [hurricane]." (At its height, Katrina was a category five.)