Making Second-Place Votes Count
Ralph Nader still hasn't lived down the charge that his third-party candidacy in 2000 swung the election to George W. Bush. It's the perennial problem for third-party candidates: too often they serve merely as spoilers, siphoning votes from candidates their supporters might otherwise back. But a little-noticed proposition approved last month by San Francisco voters offers a glimpse of how democracy may look in the future. Instead of casting their ballots for just one candidate, San Franciscans will now rank the candidates in most local races according to their first, second and third choices. If no candidate gets more than 50%, the last-place finisher is dropped, and his or her second-place votes are allocated among the remaining candidates. The process is repeated until one candidate eventually reaches a majority.
The system, known as instant-runoff voting, has also been endorsed by most communities in Vermont. In Utah, where 40 candidates are vying for three congressional seats, the Republican Party decided to use instant runoffs at its May 11 convention to nominate candidates for the state's G.O.P. primary. And in heavily Republican Alaska--where Democratic Governor Tony Knowles was elected in 1994 by a mere 536 votes in a four-way race--voters will decide in August whether to adopt the instant-runoff system for nearly all its state offices.
Third parties support instant-runoff voting because they believe it will dispel the notion that a vote for their candidates is wasted. "It would make voters feel better about themselves, make the election more meaningful, draw more voters to the polls," says John Anderson, the 1980 third-party candidate for President. Other reformers argue that it is a truer expression of voter will than runoff elections, which are costly and typically attract a much smaller voter turnout. San Francisco approved the change after last year's runoff for city attorney drew an abysmally low 16.6% of registered voters. And as political races grow more crowded and fringe candidates proliferate, instant runoffs can encourage candidates to appeal to as wide a constituency as possible.
The system is being tried only in local elections for now. But if it works, it could spread to national contests--even someday, perhaps, to the presidential election. "I'm in favor of trying it," says Nader. "But nobody knows whether it will really work."
How We Vote Now
ONE CHOICE No matter how large the field, you vote for your favorite
1. RANK EACH CANDIDATE Voters list their preferences from first to last
2. TRANSFER VOTES If no one tops 50%, the two highest vote getters divide the second-place votes
3. MAJORITY WINS The process is repeated until one candidate tops 50%; no runoff is necessary
FBI Blundering Didn't Stop with Hanssen
A blue-ribbon commission chaired by former FBI and CIA Director William Webster lists a stunning array of FBI security lapses that enabled agent turned spy Robert Hanssen to steal U.S. government secrets. What has escaped notice, however, is that the bureau's blunders didn't stop with Hanssen's arrest--and, according to the commission and Senate investigators, could compromise post-Sept. 11 counterterrorism investigations. At a hearing on Tuesday, Senate Judiciary chairman Patrick Leahy plans to grill top FBI officials about an Oct. 10, 2001, order lifting "need to know" restrictions on highly sensitive information about U.S. intelligence sources and methods. In the post-Sept. 11 frenzy, senior bureau hands had all terrorism case files uploaded into the Automated Case Support System, a massive database widely used by FBI personnel. The move was meant to speed urgent counterterrorism investigations. But the unintentional effect, the commission found, was to place in general bureau circulation a large amount of sensitive data collected by covert electronic listening devices and searches under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Not only did this make the data more accessible to potential FBI turncoats, but failing to flag the data as especially sensitive also opened the possibility that agents in far-flung venues might inadvertently disclose bits and pieces as evidence in court filings, thus compromising crucial intelligence penetrations of terrorist groups. On Oct. 12, FBI lawyers realized the blunder and ordered that all FISA data be tagged for special handling. But since the data were already scattered all over the agency's computer system, the Webster report derided this gesture as like "putting toothpaste back into a tube."
23 Years Ago in TIME
More than two decades ago, women who had trouble conceiving were given a boost when Lesley Brown gave birth to the first TEST-TUBE BABY, in Oldham (pop. 227,000), England. The advance launched a debate over its ethical and biological implications.
Is in vitro fertilization to be applauded as a humanizing technique, allowing some infertile couples the joy of procreation? Or is it dehumanizing, a step that is to be condemned because it puts the moment of creation outside the body into a mechanical environment? To some thinkers, the Oldham experiment poses no problems. Says Rabbi Seymour Siegel, professor of ethics at Manhattan's Jewish Theological Seminary: "The Browns were trying to obey the commandment to have children. When nature does not permit conception, it is desirable to try to outwit nature. The Talmud teaches that God desires man's cooperation." For many others, in vitro fertilization is fraught with moral dangers. British Geneticist Robert J. Berry, a consultant to a board set up by the Church of England to consider issues like the one raised by the Brown baby, accepts the procedures for couples who want a child, but he is still troubled. "We're on a slippery slope," he warns. "Western society is built around the family; once you divorce sex from procreation, what happens to the family?"
--TIME, July 31, 1978
A Trendy Fish Gets Snubbed
It's a marketing stunt that may just have worked too well. In the 1980s, the largely unknown Patagonian toothfish was plentiful in deep Antarctic waters. After a name change to the menu-friendly "Chilean sea bass," the catch became a staple at upscale restaurants, popular for its mild flavor, which allows chefs to show off their sauces. But this week a Chilean sea bass boycott organized in February in San Francisco by the environmental group National Environmental Trust moves to its fifth city--Philadelphia--and high-profile restaurateurs in New York City, Los Angeles and Washington will probably add their names to the growing list of 300 eateries that won't serve the fish. The boycotters, including Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., say aggressive overfishing in recent years has depleted stocks. U.S. Customs efforts to enforce a 24-nation treaty preventing pirated fish from reaching market are not working, they say. Chilean sea bass can grow to 10 ft. and as much as 200 lbs., but poachers are known to harvest the high-profit fish at just 7 lbs. Wholesale prices for sea bass have doubled over the past four years, and U.S. Customs last year seized more than 35 tons of the fish caught by poachers. But the U.S. State Department, responding to the boycott, issued a release last week reassuring the public that most Chilean sea bass imported to the U.S. is caught legally. Industry groups say the boycott will probably hurt lawful wholesalers the most. The campaign mirrors a boycott of Atlantic swordfish launched by environmentalists in 1998. That species recovered after temporary fishing limits were imposed. Until the Chilean sea bass is back in good graces, environmentally minded diners can switch to turbot, grouper or striped bass. Put on a good sauce, and you probably won't know the difference.
Child Sexuality: Challenging the Taboos
Weeks before it hits store shelves, a book on America's anxieties about children and sex is already tapping into those very feelings. The book, Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex, has been the target of vitriol on talk radio and conservative websites, and was denounced by the majority leader of the Minnesota house of representatives as promoting the "disgusting victimization of children." Due later this month from the University of Minnesota Press, the book details what author Judith Levine calls "the sexual politics of fear." Drawing on interviews with families and researchers, Levine, a journalist, argues that adults harm children by associating sex with danger--warning kids about pedophiles, for instance, but not acknowledging that children and teens are capable of a measure of sexual pleasure. Getting abducted by a stranger is a less likely danger for most children than the chance that a teenager will catch a sexually transmitted disease, she says. "My aim is to sort out the real perils from the exaggerated ones."
The book contends that the concept of children as nonsexual beings is a relatively modern one and says forms of "sex play" considered harmless 25 years ago--such as masturbation before puberty--are now regarded by some psychologists as signs of abuse. Levine interviews family members who have been separated from one another when social workers made dubious claims of sexual abuse. She talks to a 21-year-old man sent to jail for up to 24 years for having sex with his 13-year-old girlfriend and wonders whether justice was truly served. The very fact that an author might ask such questions led many publishers to pass on the book. Levine says one publishing house called her manuscript "radioactive"; another told her it lacked the "comforting messages" of a parenting tome. The book's timing, coming as the sex-abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church unfolds, has not helped its cause. Robert Knight, director of Concerned Women for America's Culture and Family Institute, calls it an "academic cover for child molesters." Though the University of Minnesota said in a statement that it stands by the book as an "honest discussion about adolescent and children's sexuality," it responded to the outcry by creating a new external review policy for its books.
Going Slowly with The 20th Hijacker
Have prosecutors managed to get any information out of Zacarias Moussaoui, the accused "20th hijacker"? In the weeks since he was charged with conspiracy, it appears they have hardly tried. Sources close to the case tell Time that federal prosecutors haven't pressured the alleged terrorist, who is now behind bars in Alexandria, Va., to find out what he knows about the Sept. 11 terror plot. Capital punishment is often used as a threat to extract information, but the government has not played that card since charging Moussaoui in December, the sources say. "They know there are others out there who were involved in planning the attacks and that they haven't solved this case," says a lawyer. "They should be talking to this guy." A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment. To be sure, there might be a public outcry if the government offered Moussaoui some kind of deal. But the government's strategy could change now that al-Qaeda operations boss Abu Zubaydah has been captured--if prosecutors believe Moussaoui has more to tell them.
Meanwhile, prosecutors have begun turning over mountains of discovery material to Moussaoui's lawyers. Among the items: 250 CD-ROMS containing items like a photo of gum wrappers, gathered from someplace Moussaoui had been; an 80-gigabyte hard drive from the University of Oklahoma (Moussaoui sometimes sent e-mails from computers there, but rather than just his e-mails, the entire student-union hard drive was delivered), and 13 hard drives from other locations. It's just a fraction of what defense lawyers will have to sift through by the time the trial starts next fall.
Eight out of 10 Americans say a LACK OF COURTESY is a serious problem for society, according to a study by Public Agenda. Nearly half of all 2,013 surveyed say they have walked out of a store in the past year because of BAD SERVICE; 66% say they are bothered "a lot" by reckless drivers; and 56% are annoyed by people who use VULGAR LANGUAGE in public. The respondents weren't just pointing fingers at others: 41% said they themselves have behaved disrespectfully. Americans may be making some strides in civility, however; most surveyed said Americans are MORE POLITE to minorities and people with disabilities than they used to be.
"I think most people in Israel will realize they don't have two greater friends in the world than the United States of America or Britain." TONY BLAIR, British Prime Minister, at a press conference with President Bush
"I felt extremely used by the Bush Administration." OPRAH WINFREY, complaining that the Bush White House was blaming her for canceling its tour of Afghanistan schools, after Oprah said she couldn't go
"I don't want to go to your funeral." PRESIDENT BUSH, to Karen Hughes, after deciding to cancel the Afghan trip, not because of Oprah's absence but because of new threats to Americans, a White House source tells TIME
"I'm here to tell you this morning that, yes, I will be seeking another term...April Fool's." JESSE VENTURA, Governor of Minnesota, who has still not decided whether he will seek re-election
"Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters cross back and forth, and we cannot stop them. On this side, there are mountains. On that side, there are mountains. What can we do?" SHAH WALI, commander of an Afghan post on Pakistan's border
Sources: AP, New York Post, TIME's John Dickerson, AP, New York Times