Built on Facts

Yet More Rape Smears

You’re probably more tired of politics than I am, but somebody has to be the voice of reason around here. I apologize to my physics-loving nonpolitical readers and urge those of you fitting that description to avoid anything I write with the politics tag. It will all be over soon.

Maybe it’s because McCain now leads Obama on Intrade, but the hysteria just grows louder and louder. Take Effect Measure, here on ScienceBlogs, discussing McCain on rape. Here’s the charges:

Charge: “In 1994, John McCain voted against legislation — pushed through Congress by Joe Biden — that helped put an end to the practice of charging rape victims for sexual assault exams.”

Truth: Yes, he did. But the bill in question wasn’t anything like a “Financial Help For Rape Victims Act”, it was H.R.3355, the “Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994”, an omnibus crime bill that ran to thousands of pages

The rape-kit payment provision is one section fitting on one page. The bill is better known for one of its much longer and more notable sections, which was the Federal Assault Weapons Ban that expired in 2004. It was a true travesty of legislation, making the lives of responsible gun owners much more difficult by banning purely cosmetic features and magazines of more than 10 rounds. It proved to be ineffective against crime, as demonstrated by the complete failure of anything bad to happen after its expiration. I’d have voted against the bill in a heartbeat myself.

There’s liberal reasons to have opposed the bill as well. It massively increased the number of death penalty offenses and eliminated inmate education. The Violence Against Women sections were largely admirable, but the ACLU expressed concern about some provisions, and indeed some parts of the bill were in fact found to be unconstitutional in US v. Morrison.

If you oppose McCain or Obama, do so because of the issues and positions they actually hold. Don’t do it on the basis of the high-frequency feedback squeal of misinformation that is the political blogosphere.


  1. #1 Becca
    September 11, 2008

    Well this is the major reason seasoned senators- of any political persuasion- rarely run for president successfully. You make too many votes and too many enemies.

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    September 11, 2008

    OK, but McCain is still a poopy faced Republican.

  3. #3 PalMD
    September 11, 2008

    It’s pretty hard to hold a legislator responisble for line items in a larger bill, if they haven’t spoken about it directly.

    The Palin/Wassila/rape kit issue is interesting in that she has said little about it. As a statement to her character and her future decisions, I’d like to know what her retrospective views of the events are.

  4. #4 revere
    September 11, 2008

    OK, Matt. I’ll grant your point. You believe that McCain is in favor of rape kit payment by government but he’s for assault rifles so he voted against assault rifles, not rape kits. Of course he voted against two different bills with rape kit funding in it but I’ll grant you your point ad argumentum, which apparently is that when it comes to rape kits, John McCain is not as insensitive as Governor Palin. Is that what you are saying here comes down to?

  5. #5 revere
    September 11, 2008

    Of course I meant “voted against an assault rifle ban”

  6. #6 Matt Springer
    September 11, 2008

    My argument is that regardless of the perfectly admirable rape kit payment provision, the bill was unredeemable for other reasons. In my reactionary opinion, a stand against a major gun control expansion is easily reason enough alone to have voted against the bill, other good provisions aside. But this is an actual issue, and your support for gun control is certainly a good reason you might want to vote for Obama. Breathless innuendo about how McCain really wanted to punish rape victims is not.

    The other bill you mention (H.R.3093) is another omnibus bill, funding everything from coastal salmon recovery to the “weed and seed program fund”. I don’t know why specifically McCain opposed this bill, but my guess would be earmarks. When a budget bill passes overwhelmingly and Coburn votes against it, that’s usually the reason.

  7. #7 Carl Brannen
    September 11, 2008

    Half the problem with our bloated government is the tendency to write laws that are thousands of pages long. They should put the individual items up for separate votes. If I were president I’d simply veto anything that I couldn’t understand in a 30 minute read.

    In a certain sense, the computer has destroyed our government because it has allowed the possiblity of such complicated “tit for tat” laws. None of this was possible back in the days of typewriters or before.

    They should require that all federal laws be written the way they were written in the 18th century, long hand, by the members of congress itself, using a pen (that is, a bird’s flight feather) dipped in an ink well.

  8. #8 MartinB
    September 12, 2008

    you misunderstand who’s calling the shots here: It is the state officials who do this and who thus in effect run the state. Recommended reading: “Yes, Minister” and “Yes, Prime Minister” from the BBC. Takes place even before the computerised age, but the methods are the same…

  9. #9 Oldfart
    September 12, 2008

    I’m sick of the whole “earmark” issue. You could eliminate 100% of earmarks and NOT MAKE A FUCKING DENT IN THE FEDERAL BUDGET. McSame uses the term “Earmark” because it is something that is easy to say. Making earmarks transparent is a good idea. Eliminating them is meaningless except that some pretty good earmark targets will be lost. Targeting earmarks as the root of all evil in the Federal Budget is nonsense. I feel sorry for that part of Arizona represented by McSame. They probably could have used a few earmarks for infrastructure development and support for their National Guard troops and probably for dozens of other things that McSame doesn’t consider important. The fact of the matter is that most earmarks simple designate more detailed distribrution for funds ALREADY COMMITTED. It’s a non-issue designed to distract people from real issues such as the huge debt engendered by holding a war and not having the balls to fund it with taxes.

  10. #10 clasli
    September 12, 2008

    This is why senators ought to have Line Item Votes in large bills.

    Oh I know it would completely disrupt “The Game” of getting some stuff for that guy, so he’ll vote for my stuff. But is that something that’s really working in our interests anyway?

  11. #11 Chris P
    September 12, 2008

    I’m sorry, politics is not about facts because people lie.

    Before Bush was elected the first time my brain was telling me this guy is a liar and could not be trusted but he managed to fool millions. When I see McCain or Palin speak my brain tells me the same thing.

    Apparently Americans still fall for snake oil salesmen.


  12. #12 qubit
    September 12, 2008

    Matt, you call your blog “Built on Facts,” and yet, aside from one valid point about omnibus bills, what you have been saying on this is nothing of the sort. I won’t presume to speculate on why that is, so I’ll simply provide you with some actual facts (primary sources, or newspapers — reports, not op-eds by career partisans — when those are not available) you can build on.

    1993 – Wasilla Police Department founded. Police chief Irl Stambaugh includes a $15,000 “Contingency,” of which $9,097 is spent in FY1994 (PDF page 58, document page 52). This is where external law enforcement expenses like reimbursing hospitals for forensic medical exams gets paid from. The exact amount fluctuates up and down from year to year through Stambaugh’s tenure as chief. In his final year, FY1997 (during which he was replaced — see below), he asked for $13,000 and spent $11,625 (PDF page 76).

    1997 – As the newly elected mayor of Wasilla, Sarah Palin fires Irl Stambaugh for “not fully supporting her efforts to govern.” (cite) She picks DuWayne Charles “Charlie” Fannon to replace him.

    1997-1999 – In the FY1998 budget, the police department is given $9,338 more (PDF page 10), though Chief Fannon decreases the contingency request to $7,298 and spends only $3,454 (PDF page 57). One could hypothetically chalk this up to small number statistics of crime in such a small town. However, in FY1999, Chief Fannon requests a only $3,000 and spends a mere $205 (PDF page 65), less than one rape kit. (This is not due to an overall shortage of funds, as the police department got an increase of $151,487 (PDF page 14).) The official crime stats (they don’t say if these numbers are reported, investigated, or convicted) indicate that this would not be due to a lack of crimes in need of investigation, and specifically not a complete lack of sexual assault (more on this below). By FY2000 the contingency fund is completely eliminated from the police department budget (PDF page 56), while again the total police budget is increased, this time by $129,429 (PDF page 12).

    2000 – The Alaska state legislature passes HB 270: “An Act relating to sexual assault and sexual abuse and to payment for certain medical costs and examinations in cases of alleged sexual assault or sexual abuse.” The minutes from the committee discussion of this bill are available on the Alaska legislature’s website. Read the whole thing, but here are some choice bits (emphasis added):

    While it is the ordinary police practice to pay for these evidence-gathering exams, some victims now report that they have been asked to pay for the cost of the forensic exam through their medical insurance. To victims of sexual assault, this is a third victimization.
    Representative Croft explained that when a house is burglarized and law enforcement takes photos or fingerprints of evidence, the victim is never sent the bill, directly or indirectly, or asked to have their homeowners’ insurance billed. There is faith that most law enforcement agencies take responsibility for victims’ needs and appropriately pay for evidentiary exams as needed.
    Representative Croft concluded that with the passage of HB 270, victims would be assured that they could not be required to pay for evidentiary forensic exams.

    Some interesting information is buried in there. For instance, Wasilla (that would be “Mat-Su” in the testimony) was not the only jurisdiction in Alaska to have done this, though the budget documents seem to indicate that they were not a jurisdiction where this was due to “tight budget times.” One specific instance of direct billing of a victim in Juneau is read into the record. According to Chief Fannon, Wasilla’s policy was to “[charge] the cost of exams to the victims [sic] insurance company when possible.” (Since you are apparently unaware, Matt, insurance tends to have something called a deductible.) Additionally, the committee minutes note “concern that law enforcement would not bring forward all the cases because they would not be able [willing? — ed.] to pay for the exams.” With the support of the Department of Public Safety, the committee reported the bill to the house with no objections and a “do pass” recommendation. It passed the house with 37 yeas and 3 absent.

    Some addenda and remarks…

    In USA Today, a former staffer for Representative Eric Croft, who introduced the bill, cites Wasilla specifically as motivating the legislation:

    It is not known how many rape victims in Wasilla were required to pay for some or all of the medical exams, but a legislative staffer who worked on the bill for Croft said it happened. “It was more than a couple of cases, and it was standard practice in Wasilla,” Peggy Wilcox said, who now works for the Alaska Public Employees Association. “If you were raped in Wasilla, this was going to happen to you.”

    Either Palin was somehow blissfully unaware of this whole issue, or it didn’t bother her, since she chaired Fannon’s campaign for Mat-Su Borough mayor in 2003 (she changed her support to his opponent, Curt Menard, in 2006).

    Finally, I was going to say something about the absurdity of the insistence that this doesn’t matter unless a victim actually was billed directly under Palin, but instead I’ll just note the incentive it creates to simply not investigate and let John Cole say the rest:

    As far as I am concerned, while going through with actually charging them is pretty perverse (even more so when justified as a savings for taxpayers), it is the thinking that even led to someone suggesting that the victim pay for the kit that is the problem. That is downright crazy. My dad was the mayor (and by nature of the position, chief of police) of our small town for 20+ years, and he would have shit an absolute brick if someone had suggested something like that. Can you think of a situation in which the victim is charged for services?

  13. #13 Zifnab
    September 13, 2008

    Ok, so on the off chance this thread is still live, I’d like to throw this last link out here.


    Palin signed a budget that specifically overrode previous previsions delegating the cost of rape kits to the municipality. You can cut her some slack and call it oversight. You can throw up your hands and bemoan generic penny-pinching at the mayoral level. You can play coy and insist she never would have signed such an unpopular piece of legislation if she thought it would have actually forced an individual to pay for her own rape kit.

    But you can’t say Palin had no hand in the matter. Her office. Her budget. Her signature. Whether by fiendishness or folly, she allowed this disgraceful policy to become the law of the land in her town. I’d say that reflects badly on her, and I think it damages her credibility as a voice for women in government.

  14. #14 Matt Springer
    September 13, 2008

    On reading the article, it looks quite the opposite:

    However, it seems he began the “victim pays” policy in the 1998-1999 fiscal year. That year, he requested $3,000 but spent only $205.

    So in fact the Mayor’s budget did include the money, the Police Chief just didn’t spend it. In fact, looking through the documents this whole Huffington Post screed falls apart in a pretty embarrassing way. Let me quote the actual document line in its entirety:

    “Public Safety – Police
    Contingency: Budget $3000 Actual $205”

    That’s it. Nothing about rape, nothing about any applications of the contingency fund at all. And from one line item on page 65 indicating that the police chief spent less than he was allocated in the “contingency” category, we’re to believe Sarah Palin is a rape-promoting sociopath. Good grief.

  15. #15 qubit
    September 13, 2008

    $205. Less that one rape kit. Compared to >$10,000 the year before. And the following year, the budget included nothing (though the police department as a whole got an increase of over $100k), at which point the legislature took action to intervene. You’re shamelessly arguing from the alternative here, Matt, shifting your critiques in mutually inconsistent ways and supporting your arguments with political op-eds, rhetoric, and sneering. This whole sad episode has made it abundantly clear that you couldn’t give two flips about facts, especially when they might either make you admit you were wrong or get in the way of whatever axe you have to grind.

    Of course, I already meticulously documented the whole chain of events in detail and posted it here, gullibly granting you the benefit of the doubt that you were coming at this in good faith. But it mysteriously never made it through moderation. Funny that.

  16. #16 Matt Springer
    September 13, 2008

    I don’t moderate comments at all – the system blocked your comment automatically because the large number of links tripped its spam filter. I rarely check the spam filter because false positives are rare. At any rate, your comment is now posted. Should something like that happen in the future to any reader, I’d much prefer they email me and ask what’s up rather than accusing me of censorship.

    But again, you’re missing the point – which is that you have not posted facts. You have insinuation built on implausibility built on bureaucratic conspiracy built on an eight-year-old quote and the word “contingency” on the sixty-somethingth page of a budget – one year before the state law made the entire thing irrelevant. It’s beyond absurd and bordering on self-parody. This kind of thing is currently costing Obama the election – just look at the polls.

    No one denies that charging rape victims is bad. Least of all me or Sarah Palin. But even if it were true there is still no reason to believe that Palin would have known of it – especially since the entire budget documentation for it is the single word “contingency”. And that’s if it happened in the first place, for which we have at best indirect evidence in the form of politicians’ quotations. It’s enough evidence to question the Police Chief’s judgment pending further investigation, though unfortunately as you point out it was SOP (sadly and very wrongly) in numerous places throughout the US at the time.

  17. #17 qubit
    September 14, 2008

    Apologies for the snark about the held-up post. I didn’t email because I know people get busy and it might take a while for you to even notice, only reposting after I saw another comment with a link go through. Now I know how the moderation system works. There — facts, and modification of opinions based on them.

    Regarding your other comments, fair enough. I’m willing to buy the argument that as mayor she was too uninformed and incompetent to either read the local papers or know what her hand-picked police chief was doing, though her stated policy of not letting any city official talk to the press without approval makes this a stretch. Just like the poor Czar, if only he knew what his ministers were doing. (yes, that’s snark, but I’ll grant that it is a real possibility)

    What the funding indicates is not that the policy existed. In fact, I thought that wasn’t in question since the police chief himself said it publicly, but that’s what you seem to be arguing in your last two posts. Rather, the funding helps show that this policy was *new* in Wasilla, implemented by the new police chief after Palin fired his predecessor. It also shows that this was not implemented due to a shortage of funds.

    I must say, you’re making it more and more difficult to assume any good faith on your part in this. When Neurotopia and Effect Measure made their original posts, I thought myself that they may be jumping the gun and casting unwarranted accusations — after all, it could have been a long-standing policy and maybe the police department was really hurting for money under a legacy chief who simply didn’t care. But as evidence has accumulated, it has shown that they were entirely right, while your vehement denial has grown in direct proportion to the accumulating evidence. I’d go point-by-point through your last denial and dissect the mess of illogic and bullshit (in the sense Harry Frankfurt uses the word), but I really don’t have the patience.

    FWIW, I couldn’t care less how anything I say affects Obama. I’m not Obama and I’m not an Obama partisan, though the fact that you insinuate that this is relevant or that I’ll care in your last post speaks volumes about your own motives (as does your completely fact-free inference from polls). That’s it, I’m done wasting my time. At least until someone else gives me a bad case of SIWOTI syndrome.

  18. #18 Matt Springer
    September 14, 2008

    Well, heated though we occasionally were, I’d say by internet argument standards we did pretty well. At this point our disagreement seems to lie mostly in what level of detail a mayor ought to supervise her department heads, especially given the rarity of the crime and the obscurity of how a particular part of an investigation is funded.

    We do still have disagreements on what the known facts imply, I don’t believe that they in themselves imply that anyone ever had to pay. The budgetary data we have only gives 1 year between the end of the contingency fund and the passage of the state law mooting the whole issue. This is what I’m most likely to be wrong about, though as per the first paragraph I don’t think it would say anything about Palin either way.

    On the meta-issue of polling, it’s certainly true that Obama is the overwhelming favorite here at ScienceBlogs. As such, I think people ought to take notice of the fact that Obama’s drop in the polls just happened to come at the same time as these ill-sourced and far-fetched Palin attacks. Attacking her experience or policy issues is likely to produce better results than insinuating she’s a promoter of rape, or faking pregnancies, or truncating her quotes, or saying she’s a statutory rapist herself, or whatever else the hysteria of the day happens to be. I’m not impartial, and that’s why I’ve tried to link to primary sources where possible.

    Anyway, it’s always good to have both sides represented so readers can make up their own minds, and I thank you for doing so in a reasonable way.

    Edit: This comment itself got held by the anti-spam system for too many links. I had to go in and let it out. 😉

  19. #19 Freemon Sandlewould
    September 14, 2008

    To correct a previous commentors comment: The real reason why senators rarely run is because they rarely make good presidents. In this case we get to choose between 1 senator and another. Oh Joy.

    I like many with the ticket was Palin / McCain. Likely if he looses it will be Palin / SomeBody next go round.

    That is if the country survives the socials of Barrack Obummer.

  20. #20 Oldfart
    September 18, 2008

    Best look at the polls again. Obama has pulled ahead of McSame according to CNN last night. Of course, you picks your polls, you takes your choice.

    And, Freemon, just how well are you surviving the “socials” of Bush/McSame?

    Matt, correlation does not mean causation. Obama’s “drop” in the polls started with the RNC and with McSame’s choice of a MILF as a running mate. Moreso than any attack by Obama/Biden on Palin. In fact, I don’t remember any video attack on Palin that suggested she was in favor of rape – just in forbidding rape victims abortions.

  21. #21 Carl Brannen
    September 24, 2008


    I think the drop in McCain polling is mostly due to people assuming that the Republicans caused the mortgage crisis and the collapse of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. You might be interested in knowing which lawmakers were bribed the most. It should probably be added that since Fannie and Freddie are government monopolies, it is illegal (or ought to be) for them to contribute to political campaigns.

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