Libel and rumors

One of the ways news organizations thread the needle on libel laws is to report what other people say. For instance, Richard Jewell had a horrible time winning in court against newspapers because they reported that police suspected him in the Olympic park bombing in 1996. Which was true. Police did suspect him.

Just recently, the New York Time has done something similar to John McCain, a politician I don’t really like. The Times wrote that McCain campaign staffers in 2000 suspected an affair with a lobbyist. Which is probably true.

But in both thee cases, the intent of the reporting is not to report that there are rumors. The intent is that just maybe possibly the rumors are true. And there’s little a target can do about it, particularly if they are a public figure like courts ruled Jewell was (I disagree) and McCain obviously is.

I think it sucks that news organizations can avoid liability for the harm this causes to the targets. They get to say we didn’t report that this happened. we reported that there’s a rumor. It particularly sucks when the news uses anonymous sources. don’t sue us, sue the people who actually aid it. That is nearly impossible when the sources are anonymous. The mainstream media clams up and says we can’t tell you who it is to sue though we were integral in spreading the libel.

There’s something to be said for protecting the media from suit. We want a free media. However, I think we need a way to keep such libels in check. Perhaps open them up to lawsuit with a safe harbor if they report every investigative step they took to verify the truth of the allegations. I.e., if they actually include something like we did X, Y, and Z, and after all that we found no evidence to back up the rumor. Current law allows them only to be sued for failure to check the truth only on first level facts. That needs to be expanded to facts reported by reference for want of a better term.

Or perhaps there’s another way. But it’s clear to me that the current limitations allow much more smearing than is healthy.

Clinton vs. Obama: Iraq

When the war in Iraq started, I wasn’t particularly for it or against it. I questioned the need to rush into it, but I do believe that some credible threat would have been needed to force Saddam Husein from power. Eventually. But I do think that the Bush administration rushed into it, and botched the war badly. I’ve read of proposals by Hussein to step down which were discarded. Paul Bremer’s initial management of Iraq pretty much blew it and put us behind the 8-ball for the rest of our engagement.

Obama opposed the war from the start. Clinton voted to authorize it, but wasn’t exactly for it. My views at the time match more closely with Clinton’s, though it’s a stretch to say we agreed. I would not have voted to authorize were I a senator. But I wasn’t exactly against the war either. In retrospect though, despite not agreeing with Obama’s position that we should never go there, his position would have kept us out of this mess.

Both Clinton and Obama want to remove our troops quickly, and in a staged fashion. Obama would keep forces nearby for counter-terrorism. Clinton has said forces might be left in the country for counter-terrorism.

On how to resolve the crisis there, Clinton would convene a group of our allies to propose a solution. Obama would call a convention involving the United Nations to work out a political solution to things like an oil law. Clinton’s plan seems a bit fuzzier on it’s goals, and a little too expansive on its participation.

Overall, the nod on Iraq goes to Obama for me.

Obama vs. Clinton: Immigration

This one should be interesting. I’m not nearly so liberal on the topic as I am in other areas.

Pointing liberal, I am for sanctuary cities, providing services irrespective of immigration status (mostly, see next paragraph) such as fire departments, courts, child health care, schools, etc., and giving driver’s licenses to everyone who passes the tests. I am against English-only laws. In other words, I am liberal on the aspects of immigration that concern human rights.

Pointing conservative, I am against amnesty, against guest-worker programs, and for reducing H1-B visas. In addition, I am philosophically against “green cards” or permanent resident alien status. If folks are coming here to live permanently, they should be here on a citizenship track. Illegal immigrants should not receive welfare or unemployment benefits. In short, I am generally conservative with regard to the economic issues of immigration.

Pointing neither way, I am ambivalent on a border wall/fence. And I am for measured immigration as well as additional funding for the INS (or whatever it’s called today) for processing and handling immigration applications.

On human rights issues of immigration, Obama supports drivers licenses for immigrants, is against English-only and has a muddled position on sanctuary cities. Clinton is against rivers licenses, but matches up with Obama in other respects.

On to economic aspects of immigration. Both are for increasing H1-B visas. Both are for a guest worker program. Both are for crackdowns on employers (not the immigrants themselves) who exploit undocumented workers, though I’m not sure where that leaves them on employers who don’t exploit.

Overall, mostly a wash, with a slight nod to Obama.

Sources for this are: Barack Obama on Immigration, Hillary Clinton on Immigration, Barack Obama’s web site on immigration, and Hilary Clinton’s web site on immigration.

Clinton vs. Obama: Health Care

Both Clinton and Obama are proposing making changes in how we pay for health care. I’d love to see single-payer, but we aren’t going to get that.

The best piece of information I know of regarding their two plans is a blog entry by Paul Krugman. Both candidates propose subsidizing health insurance. Clinton would force people to sign up for insurance, though how people would be forced is not clear. Obama would not. While it is bad for freedom to force people to get health insurance, economically speaking there’s a free rider problem if you don’t. Only sick people would get insurance. Insurance costs would be way up there. Basically, mandated insurance is a tax. Without the tax, it falls apart.

One other big health care issue that I care about is stem cell research. My mother has fairly advanced ALS. She will likely die before stem cells cures could do anything for her. She also is probably against opening up funding for stem cells, as many stem cell lines are the results of abortions. I, however, am strongly in support of opening up stem cell research. I’d hate for anyone to go through my mother’s illness unnecessarily.

Both Clinton and Obama are strongly for opening up stem cell research beyond the limits imposed by the Bush administration.

One thing that has driven up health care costs is the high prices of drugs, imposed through patent monopolies. Dean Baker has proposed that we fund drug innovation differently, rather than through monopolies. I don’t know if that would work well or not, but no candidate will get on board that right now. However, we could import drugs from Canada. We could also allow medicare to negotiate drug prices, which they are currently forbidden from doing.

Both Obama and Clinton have supported these ideas.

Advantage: Clinton.

Obama vs. Clinton: Technology

Net neutrality is the term used to describe a policy where internet service providers and backbone providers may not discriminate based on content. They could charge based on volume, on bandwidth, on service levels, etc, but not on content. In addition, I’d love to see the networks opened up. For along time, DSL was governed by common carrier laws, meaning that they had to lease their lines at wholesale rates. Cable is not a common carrier, and so you could be forced to get bundled services if your internet access came that way. I don’t know the current status of DSL as a common carrier, but I know that the Bush dominated FCC isn’t fond of it. Common carrier status increases broadband use because it puts lots of smaller companies into competition. The wire-line provider doesn’t get to recoup it’s investment by bundling services, it has to charge for the connection on it’s own, essentially. It reduces the barriers to entry for their competitors.

According to C|Net’s technology voter’s guide, both Clinton and Obama support strong Net Neutrality legislation. Neither of them have said anything about common carrier status for DSL or cable. Clinton supports tax incentives to increase broadband use. Obama wants to use the Universal Service Fund to expand broadband.

In the early 1990s, the U.S. opened up patents to software. It’s not a bad idea, in and of itself. If it takes a lot of money to create some sort of new software technology, it makes sense to let the innovator have exclusive use of their invention for a period of years. The problem is that there really isn’t a lot in software that requires patent protection in order to get people to invent the software. If there are 10 companies that are fighting for it anyway, it doesn’t make sense to give the first one just over the filing line the ability to keep anyone else from using the technology for 17 years. On top of that, the Patent office does not have the ability to screen out bad patents in software. Hence, we get patent trolls: companies that get bogus patents for simple easy technology and use legal means to extract rents (look out, economic term) from others.

Obama supports reforming the Patent Office at least, though his web site doesn’t mention changing the patent law for software. Hillary Clinton does not mention patent reform on her site that I can find.

Copyright reform. One of the things that has hurt internet use is the concept of contributory negligence in copyrights. This is what allows record companies to shut down file sharing networks. Rather than sue thousands of users and hundreds of companies, there are other possible solutions that still encourage creativity. For instance, radio can play any song. And when you buy digital tapes (not that anyone does) a small piece of the price you pay goes to record companies to offset possible copying. File sharing applications and networks could charge similarly.

Neither candidate seems to have much of a position on reforming the DMCA or copyright.

Overall, slight advantage to Obama.

Clinton vs. Obama: Iran

This one should be a short comparison. Both Clinton and Obama have been vociferous in their criticism of the Iraq war. However, when it comes to something that may get us into another war, neither of them seem to have a clue.

For a number of years, the Bush administration has hyped a supposed threat of nuclear proportions from Iran. Namely that Iran is actively trying to acquire nuclear weapons with which to attack us. I’m highly skeptical. First, even if they obtain nuclear weapons, I suspect that Iran will turn out something like Pakistan, smart enough not to use them. But beyond that, I haven’t seen any evidence from groups in which I put any stock.

Nevertheless, both Clinton and Obama have used language such as every option should be on the table. I’m very worried that we make it into us vs. them by implying we might use force. This unites Iranians against us, rather than provides support for moderates. Instead, it turns moderates into militants.

Again, a wash between the two candidates.

Obama vs. Clinton: Education

Well, Super-Tuesday did not resolve the Democratic nomination. Saturday is the Democratic caucuses here in Washington State, so I better bone up on my candidates quick.

First up, education. This isn’t a pushed issue by either candidate. Here’s Hillary Clinton’s education page, and here’s Barack Obama’s education page.

Despite being a liberal, I generally like the idea of charter schools, at least in a limited fashion. Neither addresses the issue. Tha’s too bad.

Standardized testing. It’s accept dogma in liberal circles that standardized testing should be limited. Obama subscribes to this view: Obama believes teachers should not be forced to spend the academic year preparing students to fill in bubbles on standardized tests. Clinton doesn’t say anything on the subject. Neither candidate gets good marks from me.

Recruiting teachers. One of the things I’ve seen in the one Seattle high school I’ve been too is that some of the teachers just seem to be filling space. The best and brightest are going to other fields. Obama wants to give some incentives to go into teaching. Not sure if those incentives will do much though, since they are limited to paying off school debts. Clinton’s approach is more vague, but something along the same lines. I don’t really see this approach as sufficient. Not sure what is though.

Both want to expand access to college, but again I don’t think the problem is there. I think the biggest problem is from middle school through high school.

One approach that I think has promise that hasn’t been tested out enough is simply paying students and families to get better grades. Kids don’t really have the best judgment comparing short term fun vs. long term advancement. School is a drag. I know it was for me. $100 for every A, $25 for every passed class, something like that. Give it directly to the students. Perhaps limit it to low-performing high schools. Sure, not fair to students in other high schools, but that gives them an incentive to move to those high schools. And I’m a believer that having a culture of success around you helps. Anyway, no points to either camp for not talking about this.

End result: a wash. Ah well.

My ballot

Initiative measure 960: requiring 2/3 vote to approve tax increases or a vote.
No. Some things need super-majorities to get by. Normal functioning of the government does not.
Referendum measure 67: setting treble damages for unreasonably denying certain insurance claims.
Approved. I’m not sure this is the best thing actually, but we can repeal or modify it if it doesn’t work. Right now, there’s no penalty if a claim is denied wrongfully. The insurer just pays the claim. Meanwhile the patient is out all the time and expense to force the insurer to pay.
Senate Joint Resolution 8206: 1% rainy day fund
Rejected. I’m in favor of a rainy day fund. I’m not in favor of it being mandated by the state constitution. I’m also not in favor of the kinds of restrictions on it’s use. And since it’s a constitutional amendment, if it doesn’t work as planned it can’t be repealed by the legislature.
Senate Joint Resolution 8212: authorizing inmate labor for private companies
Rejected. I don’t see a driving need for this.
House Joint Resolution 4204: approval of school levies by majority.
Approved. This eliminates super-majority voting requirements for school levies. Right now not only does a levy require a super-majority, but you have to have beat turnout from previous elections. As I noted above, regular functioning of the government shouldn’t be by super-majority. Now, if we could get this to be applied to all levies.
House Joint Resolution 4215: allowing investment of higher education permanent funds
Approved. Not that it will necessarily make the universities a lot of money. I think adequate safeguards against gambling can be written by law or regulation. It’s not necessary to tie the hands via the constitution as currently written.
King County Initiative 25: electing the director of elections
No. This doesn’t make the director of elections elected. This merely puts another item on the ballot next year to make the director of elections an elected position. I’m generally in favor of manager positions like this being appointed. It allows such things as an executive search with multiple candidates.
King County Proposition No. 1: renewal of Medic One property tax levy
Approved. Medic One. ‘Nuff said.
King County Prosecuting Attorney
Bill Sherman. Both have experience. Dan Satterberg though voted to approve Laurie Sotelo’s illegitimate challenges to voters.
King County Assessor
Scott Noble. He’s the incumbent, and I haven’t heard of him. That’s what you want in an incumbent assessor.
King County Council District No. 4
No vote. I don’t vote when someone is running unopposed, unless I’m putting in a write-in for some reason.
Port of Seattle Commissioner Position No. 2
Gael Tarleton.
Port of Seattle Commissioner Position No. 5
Alec Fisken.
Sound Transit and RTID Proposition No. 1
No. I’m torn here. Ultimately though, I think there’s too much emphasis on roads in the package. If that money was spent to repair roads rather than build new ones, perhaps. Also, I’m not a big fan of extending light rail into rural areas since I think that encourages sprawl. It ought to be spread through existing urban locations to encourage even greater density. Places like Ballard, West Seattle, or an I-5 route. Even Bellevue. But not I-90 generally.
Seattle City Council Position No. 1
Jean Godden. She’s turned out to be a decent councilperson.
Seattle City Council Position No. 5
No vote. Tom Rasmussen is unopposed.
Seattle City Council Position No. 3
Venus Velázquez. Don’t know much about either candidate. I like Peter Steinbrueck (the outgoing councilperson) and he’s endorsed Velázquez.
Seattle City Council Position No. 7
Tim Burgess. Burgess is somewhat of an opportunist, disavowing some of his previous work with right-wing causes now that the wind is blowing liberal again. I’ve met him and he’s pretty smart. And really, the opportunity to do a lot of right-wing damage (should he turn out to be a stalking horse) is pretty limited as a councilperson. Meanwhile he’ll be the type that gets into the nitty-gritty of city business.
Seattle City Council Position No. 9
Sally Clark. Haven’t really seen a lot out of Clark, but Fenton is a right-wing gadfly who is running on public morals and says little about day to day things.
Seattle Charter Amendment 17: adds a preamble to the city charter
I don’t care.
Seattle Charter Amendment 18: the mayor’s state of the city address
Yes. This is mostly a pissing match between Mayor Nickels and the City Council. He did his state of the city address to some other group and they got peeved that the official audience (them) didn’t get it in person. I don’t care that much, but it probably should be given to the council at least.
Seattle School District Position No. 1
Peter Maier.
Seattle School District Position No. 2
Darlene Flynn.
Seattle School District Position No. 3
Harium Martin-Morris.

Seattle School District Position No. 6
Steve Sundquist.