Saturday, December 31, 2005

No Respect - cartoon

Zarqawi and his therapist. Via No Pasaran! a French blog I recommend.
Click on the cartoon for a larger version.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Sovereign Canada?

For a nation to be sovereign it has to defend its borders. Canada is a very large country, but it hasn't been protecting its vast northern territory. The US announced that one of our submarines went to the North Pole from Alaska then traveled east to the Atlantic Coast. The most likely route would go through waters Canada considers to be their territory, though the channels are so wide that other nations consider them to be international waters. Covered by the National Post - Map But, more importantly, Canada doesn't know where and when the USS Charlotte went. Canada does not patrol the northern area. You would think that they have some listening posts or something. I suppose they would keep quiet about it. But I see that Canada has cut their military so much that they don't have much. I don't recall where I saw it, but Canada has cut its military spending by 25% and its personnel by 25% as well. And the article quotes the past commander of Canadian armed forces for the north that there are seldom any patrols up there. I know one thing they are doing instead. On our early November trip to the Caribbean we saw a Canadian Navy ship at port in Nassau, Bahamas.
Prof. Byers said potentially lucrative oil and gas resources off the Queen Elizabeth Islands could slip out of Canadian control if foreign navies are operating in the Arctic without our permission. "The fact of the matter is that we've spent nothing on Arctic sovereignty over the past 20 years."
There is a brief mention at PeakTalk. And Red Tory doesn't think there is anything Canada should want to defend. But Canada has defended one tiny island. Hans Island is more than 80 degrees north in the channel between Canda's Ellesmere Island and Greenland. Last July Canada's defense minister traveled there to renew Canada's claim to it in a dispute with Denmark. Denmark protests that the two countries have agreed to disagree over the island - to work it out later. Why they defend one little island while they do nothing to vast stretches baffles me. If you don't protect it you should expect to lose it.

Competitiveness and high-tech jobs

Quote: With China’s successful launch into orbit of its second manned spaceship, claims and worries that America is losing its edge in many high-tech industries will no doubt increase. Democrats just love to hit the airwaves proclaiming the myth we are becoming a nation of hamburger flippers, as our best jobs get outsourced to Asia. For the past thirty years, the American people have been treated to warning after warning of our impending mass servitude behind the McDonald’s counter. In the 1980’s it was Japan and the Asian Tigers that were stealing our good jobs. Then came Ross Perot talking about that giant sucking sound from Mexico. Today, everyone seems worried about China and India....... But in recent months, evidence coming out the Middle Kingdom continues to paint a slightly different picture. While it is undeniably true that China’s rise creates a major challenge for the Western economies, it is important for us to keep this major power shift in perspective. While it is true many labor-intensive industries elsewhere have been hit hard by growing Chinese exports (with textiles as a prime example), the reality is quite different from what many on the mainstream media would like readers to believe. Brian Schwarz at American More on the "engineering crisis" As I noted here last week, a new study from Duke University suggests the so-called engineering gap between America and its Asian rivals China and India is a myth. Now BusinessWeek has uncovered some possible reasons behind this “propaganda” and the detrimental effect it is having America’s current high-tech workers. After discussing the sensitive issue with the author of the Duke study Dr. Vivek Wadhwa, Mr. Pete Engardio writes: The bottom line is that America’s engineering crisis is a myth, Wadhwa argues. Both sides in the globalization debate are “spreading propaganda,” he contends. India and China are using inflated engineering numbers because they want to draw more foreign investment, while fearmongers in the U.S. use dubious data either to support their case for protectionism, to lobby for greater government spending on higher education and research, or to justify their offshore investments. Brian Schwarz again

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The future of America - In Iraq!

"IF YOU WANT to meet the future political leaders of the United States, go to Iraq. I am not referring to the generals, or even the colonels. I mean the junior officers and enlistees in their 20s and 30s. In the decades ahead, they will represent something uncommon in U.S. military history: war veterans with practical experience in democratic governance, learned under the most challenging of conditions" So writes Robert Kaplan in the LA Times
For several weeks, I observed these young officers working behind the scenes to organize the election in Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city. They arranged for the sniffer dogs at the polling stations and security for the ballots right up to the moment Iraqi officials counted them. They arranged the outer ring of U.S. military security, with inner ones of Iraqi soldiers and police at each polling station, even as they were careful to give the Iraqis credit for what they, in fact, were doing. The massive logistical exercise of holding an election in a city of 2.1 million people was further complicated by the fact that the location of many polling stations changed at the last minute to prevent terrorist attacks. Throughout Iraq, young Army and Marine captains have become veritable mayors of micro-regions, meeting with local sheiks, setting up waste-removal programs to employ young men, dealing with complaints about cuts in electricity and so on. They have learned to arbitrate tribal politics, to speak articulately and to sit through endless speeches without losing patience.
This is news to me. Read the original source. Again no internet access at the beach. That's OK. We had rain, wind-driven rain and sun! It's great to get away.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

That's what Christmas is all about

Then Linus said.... "And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them! And they were sore afraid ... And the angel said unto them, "Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all my people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ, the Lord." "And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger." And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising God, and saying, "Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, and good will toward men. That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

Great news for Iraq from IMF

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) issued a large loag guarantee for Iraq, and it's bad news for those who want the US to lose - Pelosi, Murtha and Jim McDermott. Iraq is stable! The IMF says so as reported in the Washington Times
The loan... reflects the lending agency's judgment that Iraq's government is doing its best to revive the war-torn economy. The loan clears the way for major debt relief from Western nations. "The Iraqi authorities were successful in promoting macroeconomic stability in 2005, despite the extremely difficult security environment," said IMF Deputy Managing Director Takatoshi Kato. He noted growth slowed in 2005 after a strong spurt in 2004. "The medium-term outlook for Iraq is favorable, but subject to many risks," he said
This is news, not opinion.
The IMF's action is a victory for the Bush administration, which is counting on the IMF and World Bank to supply a significant portion of the funds needed for Iraq's reconstruction. "This arrangement will underpin economic stability and help lay the foundation for an open and prosperous economy in Iraq," said U.S. Treasury Secretary John W. Snow... IMF loans normally are considered a green light for private investors to start doing business with a country. But Iraq continues to have trouble attracting investments from major Western companies, particularly in its critical oil sector.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Movies - the excellent and the unacceptable

We saw The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It is as excellent as I expected it to be. It's is well staged and acted. The characters are well done. The witch is not what I expected, but is still a good combination of being good looking while you can see there is something wrong with her. Go see it. But don't waste your time on Munich. I trust Michael Medved on movies. Here is his key sentence:
its underlying theme that terrorists and those who try to defeat them are morally equivalent makes it impossible to endorse.
It's hard to believe that Steven Spielberg would find those fighting to stop the terrorists to be as evil as tghe terrorists who plotted to kill the Israli athletes, then hunted and murdered them in cold blood. Oh, I am sure he puts it in much nicer terms. But he does the same thing - he considers those trying to avenge murder to be equivalent to the murderers. Medved's current reviews are at Eye on Entertainment. It's best to listen to the mp3 file, rather than read, because there are audio clips that are missing from the text version.

Remember those who made our peaceful Christmas possible

Men who gave their lives to preserve our freedom. The 172.5-acre Normandy American Cemetery has 9,387 burials of US service men and women from World War II.
This scene has pleasant Christmas color, but I don't know its location or history.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Americans DONATE a lot more than Canadians

"The most striking finding of the Generosity Index is the dramatic difference in charitable giving that exists between Canada and the United States. These differences are most marked when comparing the depth of charitable giving in the two countries. In 2003, the United States donated 1.57 percent of aggregate income to charity, more than twice that of Canada (0.70 percent). " More than double. Source: The Fraser Institute in Vancouver, BC (I don't recall who lead me to this.)

US Savings Rate is Close to 10%

It has been widely reported that US households are spending so much - that's good, right? - that they have cut their savings rate to less that zero. Michael K Evans in Industry Week doesn't believe them. Because a respected authority says that this analysis is incorrect - Alan Greenspan in a working paper and the US Labor Deptment as well.
For example, recently the Federal Reserve Board issued an important working paper, co-authored by none other than Alan Greenspan himself. It estimates "gross equity extraction" from homes on a quarterly basis from 1990 to the present. As I read through the numbers, they suggest that the personal savings rate is about 9%, not less than zero. They are not the only numbers we can look at. The U.S. Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes a comprehensive consumer expenditure survey on an annual basis. The personal saving rate, calculated from that survey, increased from 3% in 2000 to a whopping 12% in 2003, the latest year for which data are available. I don't think the saving rate is that high, but the point is that the BEA measure of personal saving is far from the only measure available, and in my opinion is irrelevant.
Why the disparity? Because of different methods of looking at consumption, particularly housing.
The main difference occurs in housing. Suppose, for example, that the typical mortgage rate declined from 7% to 5%, and many homeowners refinanced. They would then spend less on their mortgage payments, which would leave more money for either other purchases or an increase in saving. Note that this development is independent of the extraction of home equity, which increases the actual cash saving rate even more. The Fed's paper has gone far to resolve the conundrum that consumers keep buying other goods and services at the same rate even when energy prices rise and even though the personal saving rate is reportedly negative. The personal saving rate is nothing of the sort. It is probably about 10% when refinancing at lower rates and extraction of home equity are taken into account.
I admit that this souce doesn't go into sufficient detail for me fully understand. But it appears that much of this is a conversion of savings in a home to cash savings by refinancing and extracting equity. But I do understand that two respected sources find the data say the news is good.
As a result, real consumer spending will grow at the same rate in 2006 as it did in 2005. BEA will continue to report that the personal saving rate continues to become even more negative, but those figures can be safely ignored.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Progress at TSA

I have been concerned with airline security since long before 9/11. It seems to be bothering lots of people but accomplishing little. Long ago I heard that Israeli security avoids concentrating its attention on weapons, but looks for the dangerous people. Our airline security has concentrated on weapons; it seems to think that the more people are bothered will cause terrorists to just give up. And Norm Minetta has turned a boyhood grudge into "a law" against protecting us against people from certain places. Now the new head of TSA - Transportation Security Administration - is using his head. Kip Hawley is responsible for the rule going into effect this week that will allow scissors and screwdrivers. He is doing this to free up the TSA screeners to do more flexible screening - to look for the terrorists, not the scissors. US News and World Report reports this week:
A Man On A Big Mission ... Many will see changes in security--changes engineered by Hawley, who's now the head of TSA. Hawley was behind the recent decision to allow passengers to carry small scissors on board, but he's far from done. He has vowed to increase the variability of the screening process, increase intelligence gathering, and generally shake things up. In just five months at the helm, Hawley has acquired a host of admirers and an imposing group of critics. ... In a recent speech, Hawley said he was embracing more "flexible thinking" at TSA. Not everyone, however, is a fan of such thinking, or even agrees on what it is. And so Hawley's announcement that he was taking small scissors and tools off the list of prohibited items immediately drew fire from lawmakers like Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who introduced a bill to reverse the changes. Unfazed, Hawley is pressing on. Now he wants to expand a program in which screeners monitor fliers for signs of agitation, like subtle facial tics, which might indicate a passenger is concealing a weapon or intends to cause some other kind of trouble. "Passengers with illegitimate, violent agendas don't act normally when passing through checkpoints," says Rafi Ron, a former security director at Israel's Ben-Gurion Airport, "if you know what to look for."
Good for Hawley. The TSA will be able to search broader and be thorough when necessary. This also adds uncertainty: it makes it easy for terrorists when the routine is always followed. Give them some surprises and throw them off. We will be safer.

Protect the US against Al Qaeda

President Bush is defending us against the 9/11 attackers - Al Qaeda. Who is against him? The New York Times and every Democrat that can be found. Telephone calls are tapped if they involve international terror group members or people they are in contact with. I am in favor of that. President Bush informed Congress. The New York Times lied and says Bush did it in secret. Ed at Captain's Quarter says "People have the impression that FISA requires warrants from the FISA judge, but that isn't what FISA says at all." Read it. Powerline Blog is glad that "Bush noted both the legality of the NSA program and the illegality of the leaks that exposed the program to the terrorists." Why do we expect the NYT to not provide our enemies with tools to attack us? Low expectations.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

China continues to repress town

The government of China attacked the people of Dhongzhou and killed 20. They were protesting against the taking of their properties for a new power plant without compensation. China is doing everything they can to supress talk of what the government did. The New York Times reports:
Now, a stilted calm prevails, a cover-up so carefully planned that the small town looks like a relic from the Cultural Revolution, as if the government had decided to re-educate the entire population. Banners hang everywhere, with slogans in big red characters proclaiming things like, "Stability is paramount" and "Don't trust instigators." Many facts remain unclear about the police crackdown on a Dongzhou demonstration on Dec. 6, which residents say ended in the deaths of 20 or more people, but one thing is certain: The government is doing everything possible to prevent witnesses' accounts of what happened from emerging. Residents of Dongzhou, a small town now cordoned off by heavy police roadblocks and patrols, said in scores of interviews on the telephone and with visitors that they had endured beatings, bribes and threats at the hands of security forces in the week and a half after their protest against the construction of a power plant was violently put down. Others said that the corpses of the dead had been withheld, apparently because they were so riddled with bullets that they would contradict the government's version of events.
And there is a reward for telling the government's lie.
And residents have been warned that if they must explain the deaths of loved ones - many of whom were shot dead during a tense standoff with the police in which fireworks, blasting caps and crude gasoline bombs were thrown by the villagers - they should simply say their relatives were blown up by their own explosives. "Local officials are talking to families that had relatives killed in the incident, telling them that if they tell higher officials and outsiders that they died by accident, by explosives, while confronting the police, they must make it sound convincing," said one resident of the besieged town in an interview. "If the family members speak this way they are being promised 50,000 yuan ($6,193), and if not, they will be beaten and get nothing out of it."
Should the world reward China with the spotlight of the 2008 Olypmics? It will be a spectacular show. But the show is being built on the deaths of - who's counting? - thousands of their own people. One historian is counting. RJ Rummel at the University of Hawaii has spent decades counting "Deaths by Government." This does not count wars. He only counts when a country kills its own citizens. It is available at His website at U of Hawaii Freedom, Democracy, Peace; Power, Democide, and War covers the facts for quck reference. And I just discovered his blog "Democratic Peace." In a recent entry he updates the number of people the Communist government of China has killed: 77,000,000. This number does not include the actions of the previous governments. On December 6, 2005 the Communist government of China added at least 20 to the 77,000,000 of its own people it has killed. Note: "This exceeds the 61,911,000 murdered by the Soviet Union 1917-1987, with Hitler far behind at 20,946,000 wiped out 1933-1945. For perspective on Mao's most bloody rule, all wars 1900-1987 cost in combat dead 34,021,000 -- including WWI and II, Vietnam, Korea, and the Mexican and Russian Revolutions. Mao alone murdered over twice as many as were killed in combat in all these wars." Quoting Rummel's web site.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Tax Cuts Delayed

Bad news. Congress isn't getting it done until they take another 3-week vacation... 4-week? The Wall Street Journal reports
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R - Tenn) told reporters earlier this week that it is very doubtful whether Congress will pass a key tax cut bill before the Christmas holiday recess, as lawmakers rush to complete a number of other important legislative items before the year's end. The bill will contain a number of important tax cut items, such as an extension of the dividend and capital gains tax cuts beyond their present expiry date of December 31, 2008, and the renewal of various other tax incentives for businesses and individuals. However, because the House and Senate have yet to resolve differences in their respective bills, the legislation is unlikely to be enacted before February 2006. The delay means that lawmakers will be unable to apply a one-year patch to the Alternative Minimum Tax before the preset fix expires at the end of this year. Consequently, an additional 15 million Americans face being dragged into the AMT net in 2006, although Republicans have indicated that they will apply the patch retroactively to the beginning of 2006.
Yes, 15 million tax payers will have their income taxes increased by the Alternate Minimum Tax. I hope they will succeed on the spending reduction they are working on. And keep control on throwing money at New Orleans.
In the meantime, lawmakers are expected to turn their attention to a $45 billion deficit reduction bill and federal funding legislation. They are also likely to vote on a $7 billion tax incentive package designed to help the reconstruction effort in the areas of the Gulf Coast hit by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita earlier in the year.

Let's work with our closest allies - F35

US export restrictions have put our relationship with the British at risk. We rightly control the export of military technology. But the controls are so tight that our close ally the United Kingdom can't work with us on the F35 Joint Strike Fighter. That's ridiculous. And it is Republicans who are doing the damage. Winds of Change blog reports
Trouble has arrived. Senior Ministry of Defence officials have confirmed to The Sunday Times of London that Britain is considering its options and contemplating a pullout from the multinational, multi-billion dollar F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program (JSF). It's a 10-nation program: USA, Britain, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Turkey); but Britain is the program's only Tier One partner with the USA. They've invested about $2B to develop the F-35B STOVL version that was intended to fly from Britain's future Queen Elizabeth Class carriers - and will also form the future backbone of US Marine Corps aviation.
Come on, Congress. Fix it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Iraq Insurgents Want to Talk

Great news from Iraq! Insurgents who have tried to disrupt Iraq are starting to change their mings. They want to talk to the US and the new government of Iraq. They fear being left out of the future of Iraq; they want in. It's not the US winning, but the people if Iraq. From the Chicago Tribune via
BAGHDAD, Iraq - As Iraq moves toward crucial legislative elections Thursday, homegrown Iraqi insurgent groups are reaching out to the United States in the hope of launching a dialogue that would draw them into the political process and end their 2 1/2-year rebellion, according to U.S. officials and Iraqis close to the insurgency. Spurred by fears of the growing influence of Iran and encouraged by signals from Washington that the United States will start drawing down troops next year, insurgents who see themselves as fighting for an Iraqi nationalist cause are looking for ways to distance themselves from the religious radicals and the hard-core Baathists who have dominated the insurgency in the public eye, with a view to establishing a foothold in Iraq's political landscape, the Iraqis say.
But the US is cautious and of course we do not negotiate with terrorists....
At the same time, U.S. officials also have indicated that they are willing to open a dialogue with people representing insurgent groups, as long as they have not been directly involved in violence. "We're not going to talk to people with blood on their hands," said Gen. George Casey, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, in a recent interview. "We talk to others who talk to them." A number of exploratory meetings have taken place between U.S. officials and people who claim to represent insurgent interests, Iraqis and Americans say, though there have been few tangible results. "They haven't got very far," said Casey. "There's too much mistrust." But the signals from both sides point to a building momentum toward negotiations that could help ease the violence as U.S. forces prepare to start reducing troops next year. Insurgents also have been reaching out to the Iraqi government. Since President Jalal Talabani told the National Reconciliation Conference in Cairo late last month that he was prepared to "listen" to "any armed group" that wanted to talk, his office has been contacted by a number of people who claim to be leaders of the insurgency offering to negotiate, his officials say.
Read the whole thing! Great news!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

China represses dissent with 20 killed

China handled political dissent with deadly force in Dongzhou in southern China near Hong Kong. The town people were protesting the lack of compensation for land taken for a wind power project. The Seattle Times reports:
Police started firing into the crowd, killing as many as 10 people, mostly men, and wounding up to 20, villagers reached by telephone said Friday. On Saturday, Hong Kong's Apple Daily newspaper raised the death toll to nearly 20, citing villagers. There was no explanation for the discrepancy. Hong Kong's South China Morning Post newspaper today quoted villagers who said authorities were trying to conceal the deaths by offering families money to turn over bodies. "They offered us a sum but said we would have to give up the body," an unidentified relative of one slain villager, Wei Jin, 31, was quoted as saying. "We are not going to agree."
It's not surprising that the government of China cannot handle dissent by its political process, because there are no political processes in China. The government is a Communist dictatorship. The dictator doesn't want to look bad in the eyes of the world. But he knows only one way to rule - by pure power. Should China be given the world's spotlight with the honor of hosting the Olympics? They can't even rule their own country. There is a solution, but it's messy - elections. If China were a democracy people would elect their leaders and would be able to have some influence over them. It's messy and it takes years to make the conversion. And the powerful have to give up their positions. In Russia they started this process, but the people at the top couldn't wait for the bottom and middle to build the political infrastructure, particularly since the end of Communism brought about huge economic disruptions.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Cato Unbound

Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank that does first-class work. I am not a libertarian, but a conservative. I don't accept their whole world view, but it's close enough that I can use the work they do. Cato has a new combination magazine and blog: Cato Unbound - This issue's feature is a proposal to add 3 rights to the Bill of Rights in the US Constitution.

Nuclear for Kyoto Fears

The world's environmentalists gathered for 10 days in Montreal, Canada to sing the praises of the Kyoto accords on global warming even though few countries are on-target for their greenhouse gas emissions targets and those that are cannot expect to continue
Kyoto requires developed nations to bring their total greenhouse-gas emissions to 5% below their 1990 levels by 2012. Yet in 2003, emissions were above the 1990 baseline by more than 10% in Italy and Japan, more than 20% in Ireland and Canada, and more than 40% in Spain. Germany and Britain have met their Kyoto targets, but this is the result of one-time events: the collapse of British coal and the shuttering of much of the former East Germany's industrial base. Given Germany's anemic economy and Britain's reduced growth forecasts, the appetite in either country for costly environmental virtue is not likely to increase. Wall Street Journal
There was interesting discussion of nuclear power. German greens made the case that the targets can be met without substantial new nuclear power generation. And the industry can't build enough. And, besides, the nuc industry depends on government subsidies. And researcher Felix Christian Matthes added the ultimate insult: "nuclear power has failed the "market test" because the industry depends on government subsidies in the form of caps on liability and funding for long term waste disposal of high level radioactive wastes." The nuclear industry was there to talk back and did. And James Glassman's sent Ron Bailey there to report
First, Colin Hunt from the Canadian Nuclear Association dismissed the activist implication that the number of power plants needed to offset 5 GtCO2 of emissions cannot be built fast enough. "Building enough nuclear facilities to produce 25 GWs of additional power each year is equal to the construction worldwide in the 1970s and 1980s," he said. .... So what about the subsidy claims made by Matthes and other anti-nuclear activists?
There are two parts to the subsidy question, first insurance. The discussion is too long to quote here. The industry insures itself in the US up to $10 billion per incident. There is a federal cap on liability payments. Maybe the greens are right that this cap provides an artificial support to the industry. The second part on subsidies is the disposing of nuclear waste.
What about the claim that the government subsidizes the disposal of nuclear wastes? Here the activists are wrong. The nuclear industry people point out that taxpayers do not subsidize nuclear waste disposal; ratepayers do. The 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act requires electricity consumers to pay into the Nuclear Waste Fund a fee of one-tenth of a cent for every nuclear-generated kilowatt-hour of electricity consumed. That fund now totals $24 billion. It may be government mandated, but it is not government financed.
And in conclusion: "Finally, it certainly should not be the case that nuclear power is pre-judged and excluded by international treaties dealing with climate change. If the activists are so sure that they are right that nuclear power will fail the market test, then they ought to give the market a chance to prove them right." Also, Greenie Watch has some comments from ex-Green Peace founder Patrick Moore on Kyoto and nuclear power. They don't link to individual items, so you have to scroll or search down. Greenie Watch

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Christmas is a national holiday

My friend Matt Rosenberg corrects those who think that because Christmas is a national holiday that it is a national holiday - those who are dismayed that saying "Merry Christmas" is being outlawed, and not just by Ron Sims. He posts both at Sound Politics and at his own Rosenblog, which I recommend because he finds and writes up interesting observations every day. He doesn't accept comments at his blog (due to comment spam) so I sent Matt this email:
Dear Matt, re entry on Sound Politics and Rosenblog: I wouldn't be surprised or bothered by Ramadan signs and displays if I lived in Saudi Arabia or Malaysia. But I live in the United States of America. Our country was founded on Judeo-Christian virtues and principles. Here is one example; there are dozens more. The resolution of Congress giving instructions re the inauguration of George Washington said: "Resolved, that after the oath shall have been administered to the President, he, attended by the Vice President, and the members of the Senate, and House of Representatives, proceed to St. Paul's Chapel, to hear divine service, to be performed by the Chaplain of Congress already appointed." Our nation was founded by Christians with the intent that Christianity be part of public life. That is a fact of history. When I was in school they taught us that the founding fathers were deists, not Christians. But that is not true. Benjamin Franklin proposed daily prayer when the Continental Congress was making little progress and he knew the prayers would be Christian; he might be the one deist, but he took part in the practice of Christianity. The other person people cite is Thomas Jefferson. It is true that Jefferson's Christianity was unusual - he wanted to edit the Bible to improve it - but he was a Christian. The December holiday that is a national holiday and is publicly celebrated in our country is Christmas. It began that way and it has continued for over 200 years to today. At Sound Politics you say: "Freedom of religion also encompasses freedom FROM religion in the public square." Wrong. There is no basis for that in this country. And I wish you a very pleasant Hanukkah, please note the spelling! Sincerely, Ron Hebron

Monday, December 05, 2005

Three Huge Automatic Tax Increases

James Glassman warns of 3 tax increases that will take effect automatically - without action of Congress - unless Congress acts soon. Capitalism Magazine Dividend tax requires action this month. Captial Gains tax requires action this month. Death tax aka Estate Tax can wait a month or two.
Academic research has found that the dividend cut, by increasing what America's 57 million investing families can keep after taxes, boosted stock prices considerably. A paper for the prestigious National Bureau of Economic Research by Alan Auerbach and Kevin Hassett concluded that the cuts "had a significant impact on equity markets" -- a broadly positive impact. Take the cuts away, and stocks will almost certainly head in the opposite direction.
Read the whole thing.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

School Choice - 50 years

Milton Friedman was the first to propose that parents be able to choose the school their child goes to, rather than elected or unelected bureaucrats. In 1955 he published an article titled "The Role of Government in Education." The original article - PDF file. His first concern was freedom, not quality or cost. Indeed schools were better then than now and at a much lower cost. Education is a first concern of our society and government. So there are laws for compulsory schooling; out governments finance free schooling; and they have a monopoly on running them. Why the monopoly? The issue was quiet until the quality of schooling deteriorated while the cost increased dramatically. Friedman says that a big change occurred in 1965 when the National Education Association converted itself from a professional association to a trade union. Since then there has been increased concern about the effectiveness of schooling in the US. And the quality has gone done while the spending has doubled. Milton and Rose Friedman have formed a foundation to provide information about school choice, to promote it and to a limited degree fund it. Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation

Saturday, December 03, 2005

44-acre Collapse in Hawaii

Hawaii's Big Island is one of my favorite places in the whole world. It has three major volcanoes - dormant Mauna Kea; "not active right now, but expect it" Mauna Loa - both close to 14,000 feet high and very active Kilauea. A lava flow recently formed by Kilauea collapsed to no one's surprise. The lava solidified at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, so parts of it were over the water and it was clearly unstable. The photo above is the result - a 60-foot cliff (others say 30-meter) with a lava "waterfall." A close-up of the fall. My Way News has the story. Here is the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park's page about viewing the lava flows. How close you can get varies - of course, because the flows change daily. It's dangerous. It looks like right now a short walk gets you to where you can get a distant view of the lava entering the ocean. During the day you see mostly steam; at night you can see the red flow or more likely a red glow. But you have a hike over a mile to get close to the flow. And it's a rough mile; the new pahoe'hoe lava is like glass; in case you stumble you want to be wearing boots and long pants; it's nasty. And they don't let you close if it's not safe. In 1999 we did this trip when it was a 3-mile hike! About one screen down there is a "before" photo of the shelf that collapsed. Here is the more detailed Hawaii Volcano Observatory web page(s). They don't directly describe the collapse. I guess they assume it was news and everyone knows it. Turns out it happened 8 days ago on 11/28! They show the "after" in the first photo in the 12/1/2005 section and the "before:" if you scroll down the November 1 it is the fourth photo. My Big Island page

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Fox guarding the hen house - Sen. Dorgan

I sent this to Senator Patty at her email form: Senator Murray, We have a big problem with Honorable Senator Byron Dorgan leading the investigation of Jack Abramoff's lobbying. Senator Dorgan is part of the very same mess. $11,500 worth. From Yahoo News today Abramoff Investigator Aided Mashpee Tribe
The top Senate Democrat investigating Jack Abramoff's Indian lobbying met several times with the lobbyist's team and clients, held a fundraiser in Abramoff's arena skybox and arranged congressional help for one of the tribes, records show. Sen. Byron Dorgan (news, bio, voting record), D-N.D., acknowledges he got Congress in fall 2003 to press government regulators to decide, after decades of delay, whether the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe of Massachusetts deserved federal recognition. Dorgan met with the tribe's representatives and collected at least $11,500 in political donations from Abramoff partner Michael D. Smith, who was representing the Mashpee, around the time he helped craft the legislation, according to interviews and documents obtained by The Associated Press.
Please get Dorgan off the case and get a senator not involved. It's ridiculous. Ron HebronVia Instapundit

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Creative Destruction and Sustained Growth

Established blue-chip companies are posting major losses - $1.3 billion for a quarter for both GM and Ford and $1 billion for Kodak. Airlines are going bankrupt. There are losses a plenty. But there are gains too. Irwin Seltzer reports in the Weekly Standard
That destruction of the value of existing assets and businesses is, fortunately, only half the story. The other half was long ago pointed out by Joseph Schumpeter. Schumpeter is said to have remarked, "Early in life I had three ambitions. I wanted to be the greatest economist in the world, the greatest horseman in Austria, and the best lover in Vienna. Well, I never became the greatest horseman in Austria." Not having access to the historical records in Vienna, I have no way of knowing whether Schumpeter achieved the final of his three goals. But he has a valid claim to having achieved the first, or at least to ranking right behind Adam Smith. Over 60 years ago, when the American economy was still in the early phase of a war-induced recovery from a decade of stagnation and depression, and the future of capitalism was in doubt, Schumpeter wrote, "Capitalism . . . is by nature a form or method of economic change and not only never is but never can be stationary. . . . . The fundamental impulse that sets and keeps the capitalist engine in motion comes from the new consumer goods, the new methods of production or transportation, the new markets, the new forms of industrial organization that capitalist enterprise creates." This process "incessantly" destroys the old economic structure, and creates a new one. Schumpeter concluded : "This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism. . . . Every piece of business strategy acquires its true significance only against the background of that . . . perennial gale of creative destruction . . . " That is the process that is now accelerating in the U.S. economy. The future of newspapers is threatened by new technologies that multiply the methods of delivering news and advertising to consumers. Hardest hit are those, like Knight Ridder, that relied for their profits on monopolies of local advertising. If Google, its share price soaring as media companies' shares languish, succeeds in creating a jobs market that replaces classified advertising, which accounts for over half of the revenue of local newspapers, the old method of spreading ink on dead trees will face an even greater threat.
Today's giants are trying to adapt. But the changes required are fundamental.... Telecoms... Blockbuster....
As for airlines, deregulation freed innovators to negotiate more reasonable contracts with employees, develop point-to-point service as an alternative to the hub-and-spoke business model of the traditional, legacy carriers, and offer low, load-increasing fares. Whether the old-line carriers, several in or emerging from bankruptcy, can adapt is uncertain (although United says there is black ink in its future). What is certain is that creative and profitable newcomers Southwest and Ryanair know something that busted Delta, US Air, and others have to learn if they are not to join Pan Am, Eastern, and other once-mighty carriers in the dustbin of history.... Which brings us to General Motors, which is in the process of being destroyed by a combination of what Schumpeter called "new consumer goods" (higher-quality and more attractive imports), "new methods of production" (the lower-cost plants of Toyota and others), and "new type[s] of organization" (shorter drawing-board-to-production-line times)--not to mention inept management and the cost of benefits lavished on workers when those costs could be passed on to consumers. Investors responded to the company's survival plan by selling off its shares, already down 42 percent in the past year. Fortunately, it is not the case that what is bad for General Motors is bad for the country. Competition of this sort, wrote the man who never succeeded in becoming Austria's greatest horseman, "strikes not at the margins of the profits . . . of the existing firms but at their foundations and very lives." Good news for creative destroyers and consumers, bad news for hidebound managers and their shareholders.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

France is in very bad shape says philosopher

Paul Belien, one of about 20 contributors to the blog The Brussels Journal, quotes news sources and concludes:
The Soviet Union suddenly collapsed in 1989, when owing to the inability of communism to create wealth, the state went bankrupt, was unable to maintain its army and hold its empire together. In France, the same thing might be happening. The socialist welfare state is no longer able to maintain law and order and is abandoning entire neighbourhoods to anarchy. Is there a way out? If one is to believe the French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut there is not. In an interview in the Parisian conservative newspaper Le Figaro last Tuesday (November 15), he said that it is not the French Republic that is failing. “The school of the Republic died a long time ago. It’s the post-Republic model of super-sympathetic educative community immersed in social activism that’s sinking.
The story at Le Figaro is in French. Read Belien's post at The Brussels Journal. I am not happy about this at all. But I think we can learn from the French - to avoid what they did!!

Specter too busy to do his job

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania was entrusted by President Bush and the Republicans to lead the Senate Judiciary committee and oversee the confirmation of judges. Specter is too busy meddling where powerful senators have no business to do his job. He is defending football player Terrell Owens. Who else will?
PHILADELPHIA - Sen. Arlen Specter accused the National Football League and the Philadelphia Eagles of treating Terrell Owens unfairly and said he might refer the matter to the antitrust subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he chairs. Specter said at a news conference Monday in Harrisburg it was "vindictive and inappropriate" for the league and the Eagles to forbid the all-pro wide receiver from playing and prevent other teams from talking to him. "It's a restraint of trade for them to do that, and the thought crosses my mind, it might be a violation of antitrust laws," Specter said, though some other legal experts disagreed.
"Other legal experts"? Like he is one? But what is he doing with his resonsiblities with "his" Judiciary committee? His schedule was too busy to have confirmation hearings for Judge Samuel Alito for Supreme Court before Christmas. He has allowed the Democrats plenty of time to test their attack strategy on Alito and to perfect it. How about the judicial nominees that Specter left to hang? Brett Kavanaugh for 28 months and Terrance Boyle since 2001! You have a job to do, Honorable Mr. Specter. It's time to get to it. Stop meddling.

Monday, November 28, 2005

One Hand Clapping - Cindy Sheehan

The national media have given Cindy Sheehan free publicity daily for months. She has attracted a large following as you can see here. This is her book signing. She is waiting for the crowd... Attendance: zero. Source: Yahoo News Update 11/19. Sheehan's handlers are saying that the photo was taken before, not during the book signing. But the photographer disagrees.
"Photographer Evan Vucci, queried about the incident today said that he was present at the book signing from about 10 a.m. to about 11 a.m. During that time, he said, people were coming in to have their books signed in small groups of a few at a time.
"At the time the photos were taken 'maybe 5 people had come in,' Vucci says, and Sheehan was waiting for more to stop by, which they did individually as well as in very small groups. Therefore the wording of the caption is accurate in that Sheehan was waiting for people to show up at her signing."

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Progess in Iraq - James Q. Wilson

Another day and a half offline at the beach. James Q. Wilson is one of the most respected researcher/commentators in the US. I wish he would write more. But his output is low because he doesn't just comment on what other people come up with. He researches stories himself. He is kind to President Bush. He wrote a speech for him in Monday's Wall Street Journal; this link is free, but might require registration. Instead of fighting the battle of who know what and when, let's look to the future, Wilson suggests. The American people want to know that our present day efforts have value for the future. So let's see what the present situation in Iraq tells us about its future prospects.
"My fellow Americans: We are winning, and winning decisively, in Iraq and the Middle East. We defeated Saddam Hussein's army in just a few weeks. None of the disasters that many feared would follow our invasion occurred. Our troops did not have to fight door to door to take Baghdad. The Iraqi oil fields were not set on fire. There was no civil war between the Sunnis and the Shiites. There was no grave humanitarian crisis. Saddam Hussein was captured and is awaiting trial. His two murderous sons are dead. Most of the leading members of Saddam's regime have been captured or killed. After our easy military victory, we found ourselves inadequately prepared to defeat the terrorist insurgents, but now we are prevailing. Iraq has held free elections in which millions of people voted. A new, democratic constitution has been adopted that contains an extensive bill of rights. Discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, or politics is banned. Soon the Iraqis will be electing their first parliament. An independent judiciary exists, almost all public schools are open, every hospital is functioning, and oil sales have increased sharply. In most parts of the country, people move about freely and safely. According to surveys, Iraqis are overwhelmingly opposed to the use of violence to achieve political ends, and the great majority believe that their lives will improve in the future. The Iraqi economy is growing very rapidly, much more rapidly than the inflation rate. In some places, the terrorists who lost the war are now fighting back by killing Iraqi civilians. Some brave American soldiers have also been killed, but most of the attacks are directed at decent, honest Iraqis. This is not a civil war; it is terrorism gone mad. And the terrorists have failed. They could not stop free elections. They could not prevent Iraqi leaders from taking office. They could not close the schools or hospitals. They could not prevent the emergence of a vigorous free press that now involves over 170 newspapers that represent every shade of opinion. Terrorist leaders such as Zarqawi have lost. Most Sunni leaders, whom Zarqawi was hoping to mobilize, have rejected his call to defeat any constitution. The Muslims in his hometown in Jordan have denounced him. Despite his murderous efforts, candidates representing every legitimate point of view and every ethnic background are competing for office in the new Iraqi government. The progress of democracy and reconstruction has occurred faster in Iraq than it did in Germany 60 years ago, even though we have far fewer troops in the Middle East than we had in Germany after Hitler was defeated. We grieve deeply over every lost American and coalition soldier, but we also recognize what those deaths have accomplished. A nation the size of California, with 25 million inhabitants, has been freed from tyranny, equipped with a new democratic constitution, and provided with a growing new infrastructure that will help every Iraqi and not just the privileged members of a brutal regime. For every American soldier who died, 12,000 Iraqi voters were made into effective citizens. Virtually every American soldier who writes home or comes back to visit his or her family tells the same story: We have won, Iraqis have won, and life in most of Iraq goes on without violence and with obvious affection between the Iraqi people and our troops. These soldiers have not just restored order in most places, they have built schools, aided businesses, distributed aid, and made friends.
And ...
Our success is not confined to Iraq. Libya has renounced its search for nuclear weapons. Syria has pulled out of Lebanon. Afghanistan has produced a democratic government and economic progress for its people. Egypt has had the beginnings of a democratic vote. In an area once dominated by dictatorships, the few remaining ones are either changing or worrying deeply about those that have changed. We know now that some of our information about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was wrong. But we also know now what we have always believed: That Saddam Hussein, who had already invaded both Iran and Kuwait, had the money, authority and determination to build up his stock of such weapons. When he did, he would have become the colossus of the Middle East, able to overwhelm other countries and rain rockets down on Israel. We have created a balance of power in the Middle East in which no regime can easily threaten any other. In doing this, we and our allies have followed a long tradition: We worked to prevent Imperial Germany from dominating Europe in 1914, Hitler from doing the same in 1940, and the Soviet Union from doing this in 1945. Now we are doing it in the Middle East. And we are winning. Soon Iraqi forces will be able to maintain order in the few hot spots that still exist in Iraq. We will stay the course until they are ready. We made no mistake ending Saddam's rule. We have brought not only freedom to Iraq, but progress to most of the Middle East. America should be proud of what it has accomplished. America will not cut and run until the Iraqis can manage their own security, and that will happen soon.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Mayor Nagin is still spinning

Mayor Ray Nagin, who made a mess of his own city by not following his own plans for a category 3 hurricane, is in Jamaica this week blaming President Bush and racism. The record shows that Nagin was not prepared for what everyone knew was coming and did not provide the needed leadership when he was needed. The Jamaica Observer showcases his sorry performance:
"I think that if this (New Orleans) was Orange County, California or South Beach in Miami, I do think the response would have been different," Nagin said. "I think it's a combination of racial issues and a combination of class," the mayor added.
So I wrote the following letter to the newspaper:
Jamaica Observer, 11/24/05 Mayor Ray Nagin is making a transparent attempt to defend his lack of preparation and performance when hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. 11/22/05 "Mayor Nagin blames racism, class bias for slow Katrina response" FEMA responded in the following days because that's what it's supposed to do, not due to racism. Everyone but him knows that FEMA is not the first responder. FEMA is intended to provide back-up support the day after and subsequent days. FEMA can't provide first response because people from Washington, DC or any other place in the US don't know the streets, alleys, power lines, sewers and levees of New Orleans. Mayor Nagin knows his city and has staff who know it inside out. He can plan for his city's unique needs that don't fit Cincinatti or Buffalo or Sacramento. FEMA can't do that. So FEMA sees what unfolds and responds after. Nagin was supposed to have plans in place. He had nice plans - we saw them online a week later - but he didn't follow his own plans. His plans called for using all school buses to evacuate people. You can see the satellite photos of hundreds of those buses marooned by flood waters. The lesson that Nagin just learned about being prepared was there for him to learn years before Katrina hit. In fact his web site said that the city was prepared. But he was not. And Governor Blanco did no better. Nagin should stop looking for someone else to blame. He should look in the mirror. I spent 15 days in Spanish Town and Kingston in 2001 and 2003 and look forward to returning. Ron Hebron, Seattle, WA
Hat tip to Sweetness & Light who says that his Nagin's host Butch Steward is a casino operator who wants to expand his operations in New Orleans. And to The American Thinker.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Progress in Iraq - Rep. Mark Kennedy

Congressman Mark Kennedy of Minnesota has visited Iraq 3 years in a row and has seen huge progress there. Rep. Kennedy reports via Powerline Blog:
In August, 2004, we landed at a military-controlled Baghdad International Airport controlled in a cork screw pattern to avoid being fired at. This time we landed straight on at that same airport, which is now under civilian control, and has not experienced an attack for a year. As we flew on Blackhawk helicopters over Baghdad this year, I saw school yards filled with young students and streets throughout the city choked with traffic. Last visit, General Petraeus introduced us to the first Iraq battalion to graduate from the then new Iraqi Military Academy the day after they engaged the enemy for the first time. Today, 40 Iraqi battalions (750 men each) can take the lead and Lt. General Dempsey said that nearly 100,000 more Iraqi Security Forces will be on hand for December’s elections than were on hand for January’s election. Since August 2004, the Iraqi people gave the terrorists an ink stained finger as they voted in January with a high turnout among all voters, including Sunnis, and approved a constitution last month. On December 15, they elect a permanent government under that constitution. In August 2004, we had to fly in and out of Iraq every day, this year we spent the evening in Baghdad. General Casey said that day by day, progress is not always easy to see. I told him that year by year, thanks to the great work of America’s military and Foreign Service, it is evident and remarkable.
Skipping details about training security forces...
Al Qaeda in Retreat American commanders say that we have never been better positioned against Al Qaeda in Iraq, not just because of the victories we are achieving cutting off their supply lines along the Euphrates River with Operation Steel Curtain, but because of their recent attacks turning the Iraqi people against them. Recent Al Qaeda attacks against everyday Iraqis – Sunni and Shia alike, the Zawahiri letter to Zarqawi, capped off with the Amman, Jordan bombing have undermined their support. Saddam on Trial U.S. liaison to the trial of Saddam said that it was important for the Iraqi people to create a record of the atrocities that Saddam inflicted on his people and to ensure justice is done by holding the perpetrators to account. He said that if you asked an Iraqi, who in their family was one of the 300,000 still missing, or was held without trial, tortured or killed by Saddam, “a cousin would be as far away as they get.” One of the cases brought against Saddam was 135 women and children holding their toys, each with a small arms bullet to their head, lying side by side in a mass grave. It is inconceivable to me that some would say that we should not have overthrown this brutal tyrant and have let this suffering go on.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Good News - Strong Economy

Last year our economy grew by 4.2%. That is a great number for any mature economy. Only developing nations do better. The 3d quarter of 2005 our economy grew by 3.8%. That is strong growth and it's good for everyone. (Blame Bush.) And it is the period where we suffered through major hurricanes that greatly reduced our oil production, transportation, and refining. That had the double cost - the direct costs of damage and huge costs of the disruptions to our economy, includuding oil above $70 a barrel. The generic Open Source Media has the story:
Despite turbulence from hurricanes and high energy prices, the economy is expected to log respectable growth this year and next, business economists say. The economy, as measured by gross domestic product, is projected to grow by 3.6 percent for all of 2005 and 3.3 percent in 2006, according to the National Association for Business Economics.
And this growth is also despite the Fed raising interest rates, which tend to slow things down.
To tamp down inflation fears, the Fed in early November raised a key interest rate by one-quarter percentage point to 4 percent, the 12th increase of that size since June 2004. Another quarter-point bump-up is expected on Dec. 13, the Fed's last scheduled meeting of this year. Economists expect more rate increases to follow in 2006. The still-solid economic growth expected for this year and next should help the national employment climate, which was rocked by the hurricanes. The nation's unemployment rate, which stood at 5.5 percent in 2004, should drop to 5.1 percent this year and then dip to 5 percent next year, according to the group's projections.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Progress in Iraq

Al-Zarqawi has been our primary nemesis in Irag - the organizer of foreign insurgents attacking Iraq's institutions and people and Americans. But his sins are coming back on him. PowerlineBlog reports:
..the war in Iraq is steadily being won. And, since the terrorists in general and al Qaeda in particular have chosen to make conquering Iraq their number one priority, the victory is far more important than the original ousting of Saddam and his Baathists. The latest evidence that things are going our way appeared today in the form of advertisements in three Jordanian newspapers, paid for by 57 of al-Zarqawi's relatives, including his brother:
The family of al-Zarqawi, whose real name is Ahmed Fadheel Nazzal al-Khalayleh, reiterated their strong allegiance to Jordan's King Abdullah II in half-page advertisements in the kingdom's three main newspapers. Al-Zarqawi threatened to kill the king in an audiotape released Friday. "A Jordanian doesn't stab himself with his own spear," said the statement by 57 members of the al-Khalayleh family, including al-Zarqawi's brother and cousin. "We sever links with him until doomsday." The statement is a serious blow to al-Zarqawi, who no longer will enjoy the protection of his tribe and whose family members may seek to kill him. "As we pledge to maintain homage to your throne and to our precious Jordan ... we denounce in the clearest terms all the terrorist actions claimed by the so-called Ahmed Fadheel Nazzal al-Khalayleh, who calls himself Abu Musab al-Zarqawi," the family members said. "We announce, and all the people are our witnesses, that we - the sons of the al-Khalayleh tribe - are innocent of him and all that emanates from him, whether action, assertion or decision. The statement said anyone who carried out such violence in the kingdom does not enjoy its protection.
Time is on our side in Iraq, if the American people have the patience to see the job through to the end. A big "if."

Saturday, November 19, 2005

A Tiny Bite of Spending Control

Congratulations to the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives and Majority Leader Roy blunt, in particular. The US House of Representatives in the middle of the night Thursday made a small reduction in the increase of spending. It was a bold step and vigorously opposed. It passed by one vote. A new source Pajamas Media has the story from Friday morning. These were not reductions in spending, only a slow-down in the increase in spending.
The broader budget bill would slice almost $50 billion from the deficit by the end of the decade by curbing rapidly growing benefit programs such as Medicaid, food stamps and student loan subsidies. Republicans said reining in such programs whose costs spiral upward each year automatically s the first step to restoring fiscal discipline. "This unchecked spending is growing faster than our economy, faster than inflation, and far beyond our means to sustain it," said Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa. Both bills are part of a campaign by Republican leaders to burnish their party's budget-cutting credentials as they try to reduce a deficit swelled by spending on the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina.
A dastardly attempt to increase the copay for doctor visits by Medicaid from $3 to $5 was beaten back. That is not a misprint - $3 copay because $5 is too high. A provision denying Medicaid nursing home benefits to people with home equity of $500,000 was modified by raising the cap to $750,000. We are trimming 6-foot weeds here, not cutting them. But it is progress. Update. Here is the honor roll of Democrats who voted for this spending restraint. You didn't see it? Mathematicians call it The Null Set. The set with length zero.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Bergeson "We gave diplomas to kids who couldn't read"

Terry Bergeson, our Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction, said it herself. KIRO TV reports from Olympia
"We can't hide the fact that we gave diplomas last year to kids who couldn't read," Bergeson said.
She has lead our public school system since 1996, as I recall. How did we get into such a mess? Should we continue doing what got us here? According to KIRO:
Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson hopes to give those students an opportunity to spend five weeks of their summer break in the classroom, trying to learn the reading, math and writing skills they will need to graduate from high school in 2008. At the top of her 2006 Legislative agenda is money to pay for her voluntary statewide summer school program. "I want to make sure that any kid who needs help that we can supply an extended learning opportunity for those kids," Bergeson told The Associated Press in an interview previewing her State of Education speech on Thursday. The part-day summer program she's proposing would carry over into the school year as a class for students who need extra WASL support.
Ms. Bergeson could have done that last year or the year before. And why did she give diplomas to kids who couldn't read?

A Different War

Another Viet Nam? Not by a long shot. Our enemy is much less organized. Our army is volunteers, not draftees. There are alternate news channels to bypass the stranglehold the big 3 TV networks had on information flow in the 1960s and 70s. Michael Medved was an anti-war protester during the Viet Nam war. He wrote the summary at his web site. He highlights 9 differences. But there is one huge similarity - the American people want stability in the world and know it's not free and support the war effort.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Honoring Peter Drucker

Peter Drucker, the dean of all management consultants and professors, was active nearly until his death last week at age 95. Drucker had incredible impact. If there were a Nobel prize for business thinking he would have won it long ago. He best articulated the value of people to the organization. And not just business organizations, but nonprofits, as well.
Management is about human beings. Its task is to make people capable ofjoint performance, to make their strengths effective and their weaknesses irrelevant.
Two of my favorites: - You should never promote an employee on the basis of his or her potential, but based only on performance. - Managers should make a decision "no later than you need it, but as late as possible, because you always have more information." And he asked more questions than he answered, since his students had to act on their own. Here is Claremont Graduate University's statement. This Wall Street Journal link should work for 7 days: Peter Drucker's Legacy Includes Simple Advice: It's All About the People

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Caribbean and back

I took off for a cruise of the Eastern Caribbean the past week. On Holland America Line's ship Zuiderdam. First, Half Moon Cay is Holland America's private island in the Bahamas. Pretty nice. Mediocre snorkeling with dead-looking coral, but very safe for beginners and we had one with us. Holland America doesn't have a decent web page about it; only one selling land tours, which you don't need. But someone built this page. St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. We loved the VIs - both US and British. The town of St. Thomas was crowded and voracious for tourist dollars. Then we got away by boat to St. John - the next island - to snorkel at Trunk Bay. Outstanding fish, coral and seeing conditions. Tortola is the main island of the British Virgin Islands. We took off to Virgin Gorda (yes, it means "fat virgin") to see the unique Baths - a beach area of huge boulders. More excellent snorkeling. Wow. Nassau, Bahamas was the lower point, not "low," but lower. Commercial times 3. We visited a unique small zoo - Ardastra Gardens - that features marching flamingos; that's right, marching flamingos. And the first Starbucks that we found in four ports. (Funny moment: We saw the Starbucks sign and went inside... a liquor store. Back outside and checked the sign... the standard green circle with the strange mermaid. Went inside... a liquore store. Strange city, this Nassau. Not until we went across town and back did we discover the Starbucks was upstairs.) Others complained of poor beaches and poor snorkeling at Nassau.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Sailing Away

I have been gone for 6 days now. I wouldn't pay 75 cents per minute to get internet access courtesy of Holland America Line. An Eastern Caribbean cruise for 7 days. We loved the Virgin Islands - both US and British. And get this - in the US they drive on the wrong side. In the British they use the US dollar for their currency!! Back posting on Sunday or Monday.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Zimbabwe Confession

I have been following the suffering of the people of Zimbabwe under cruel Robert Mugabe for over 5 years. President-for-life Mugabe kicked out the farmers who were feeding the people. His country was a net exporter of maize mainly to neighboring countries, except during the drought years of 1984, 1992 and 1993, when large quantities of maize were imported. The maize exports peaked at 731 000 tonnes in 1990 and averaged around 250 000 tonnes per year from 1993 to 1998. Source: UN FAO Mugabe kicked the productive farmers off their land because they were white. And he gave the land first to his friends and those he favored. Did his friends intend to farm? No. They wanted to have country estates on free land. We have watched this develop over the past five years or so. We knew that the food production would drop because huge areas of farming were being taken out of production. And the inevitable result is people are starving. reports:
International aid agencies estimate that some 4.3 million people out of Zimbabwe's population of 13 million require food assistance.
'Zim black farmers to blame' News reports says that a government agricultural official is finally speaking the truth. At least the most important part of it - the deputy minister for Agriculture, Sylvester Nguni.
Zimbabwe launched its strongest criticism of black farmers who benefited from its controversial land reforms, saying their apathy was responsible for a serious food crisis. "We have a few people that are really committed to production while many others are doing nothing on the farms," deputy minister for Agriculture, Sylvester Nguni was quoted as saying by the state-owned Herald newspaper. "The problem is that we gave land to people lacking the passion for farming and this is why every year production has been declining." Nguni's remarks at a congress of the Zimbabwe Farmers' Union came on the heels of warnings by the country's two vice-presidents that the government would reclaim under-utilised farms.
And they are talking about doing something about it.
"We will not hesitate to reclaim all the under-utilised farms and allocate (them) to other farmers," Vice President Joseph Msika was quoted as saying two weeks ago. "We do not want people who simply build homes at their new farms without using the land for productive purposes and we want people to work the land to avoid chronic food shortages."
Thank God something is happening.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The bad old days of airline regulation - now in Europe

Bill Virgin of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer gives reader feedback to the question "Was it really better in the good old days of airline regulation?" He does a journeyman's job of reciting what readers wrote. But he lets some light-weight analysis stand without comment. In the good old days the airlines could print money: the fares were high; service was limited; the Civil Aeronautics Board set the fares. They treated their customers pretty well, because there were few of them. But look at how high fares were then. When I was doing job-interview trips in 1968 a round-trip ticket from Seattle to New York City was $300. That was a lot more money in 1968 than the fare now. The job I got that year with a BS in mathematics paid me $9,000. A similar graduate today would get at least $35,000 and pay $450 for that trip. He makes 4 times more but pays only 50% more. That means the fare is 3/8 now compared to 1968. That's 37%. Because deregulation allowed competition and fares to drop to less than half, the number of people traveling sky rocketed. I haven't seen an informed calculation of how many more people travel how many more miles. But it's at least a doubling or tripling due to deregulation. That is a lot more of us going on more trips every year. He gives [his readers give] short shrift to this huge advantage. Oh, one reader likes that everyone paid the same. Monopolies are so nice; everything is so ordered. Ignore the fact that they stifle competition and cause all the airlines to provide the same service. And different people pay different fares because the trip has different values to them. Of course the airlines found a way to take advantage and make some money from it. The gas station would charge the Mercedes E500 driver more if they could. But, again, he is giving reader feedback. He covers some of the very real problems of bankruptcy giving airlines huge advantages: they can walk away from lease commitments (Northwest has permission to return 210 leased aircraft!!); they can abrogate employment contracts. The competition is hugely unfair when a few players can violate their commitments to their huge advantage. This is a case of government interference causing problems. Now it is his column, so I assume the conclusion is his own, even though he puts the words in a reader's pen.
And this closing thought sums up the thorniness of the issue: "The U.S. airline industry has been allowed to mortgage its future through destructive competition and unrealistically low fares. Reregulation isn't the answer, but finding a competitive model that protects the consumer and allows the industry to achieve growth sustaining profits must be found. Otherwise, the U.S. domestic industry will die."
Come on! It is naive to assume that all the airlines will respond to the structural problem of bankruptcy undercutting competition by all dying! One or two will close or merge; they should. This will reduce the overcapacity we now have and cause fares to rise. But not to triple! More like 15 to 25% And the stronger lines will survive and thrive. American Airlines has controlled its costs. Continental has done pretty well. And we will travel almost as much as we do today. Europe If you want regulation go to Europe. Aviation Week's October 17, 2005 issue "Agenda Acrimony" covers one new regulation and several proposed ones that make the industry sick and angry: - Required compensation for denied boarding, long delays or cancellations is already in place. The airlines have to compensate their customers for these inconvenience. But if the air traffic controllers cause the very same problems by going on strike they don't have to provide compensation. - The airports, not the airlines will be in charge of provisions for handicapped passengers. I have seen airlines give good and poor service. But I've never seen an airport provide any service that I noticed. - The EC is proposing an emissions-trading scheme that is not described. But the low fare carriers claim it would cost 4 billions Euros per year and 60,000 jobs. - And the best for last: Both European nations and the EC are proposing to tax airline fares to provide poverty relief to Africa. Michael O'Leary, CEO of Ryan Air, proposes that, instead, France should tax cheese. Instead, the airlines want the European governments to concentrate on getting a new "Open Skies" agreement with the United States - a deregulation the will increase flexibility for the airlines and lead to more travel. (I don't know an on-line source for this article.)

Monday, October 31, 2005

Saving people from death by Malaria

There is increased interest in fighting malaria, which kills about 1,000,000 people per year, mostly in Africa. The "Kill Malarial Mosquitoes Now" coalition insists, "We will fight furiously for every human life now hanging in the balance as a function of current, myopic, errant and unconscionable U.S. malaria control policies." And the weapon of choice is the old one that we stopped using: DDT. Marvin Olasky reports at Town Hall
The KMMN coalition says that none of that money goes for the most effective weapon: the insecticide DDT, which eradicated malaria in Europe and the United States more than half a century ago, but was banned in the United States in 1972 because of its supposed environmental effects. Soon, the World Health Organization and the U.S. Agency for International Development cut out DDT from its programs. Author-physician Michael Crichton described the results of the DDT ban this way: "It has killed more people than Hitler." That's because trying to stop every human-stinging mosquito is a dead man's game. They will find a way in. And during the three decades since DDT disappeared from the disease-fighting weapon rack, we've learned that the insecticide does not thin birds' eggshells dangerously or cause cancer among humans. Infants nursing when there's been heavy DDT spraying may gain weight a little more slowly than others, but that's a lot better than dying from malaria.
But Bill Gates is taking a different route with $258 million in grants announced today - Puget Sound Business Journal. Not the field-proven DDT, but new approaches:
The biggest of the three grants, $107.6 million, goes to Seattle-based Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) to develop a vaccine for malaria, which kills an estimated 2,000 African children a day. PATH's Malaria Vaccine Initiative will work with Belgium-based GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals, a unit of pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline Inc., to test vaccine candidates. The other two grants go to Geneva, Switzerland-based nonprofit Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) and the Innovative Vector Control Consortium (IVCC). The IVCC, led by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, will use the money to fast track development of insecticides and other mosquito control methods.
Let's do both - use the proven insect killer and look for new methods. Good work.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Great Economy

The story of the day is the US economy. Well, it should be. Our economy grew at 3.8% during the third quarter. That is great. Without hurricanes Katrina and Rita the rate would have been .5 to 1.0% higher; incredible! The growth was led by consumer spending. And the LA Times reports:
The Commerce Department's index of personal consumption expenditures — an inflation measure favored by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan — rose at an annual rate of 3.7%. But without energy and food, the increase was only 1.3%, down from 1.7% in the second quarter.
There is bad news - wages didn't keep up; they lagged behind the low inflation by 1.5%. And personal savings went below zero! But the overall news is good. And inventories are declining, which indicates that production shouldn't decline. So another good quarter is expected.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Circular Firing Squad

I oppose conservative who take aim and shoot at their own. Wait for the hearings. It's one thing to have doubts about nominee Harriet Miers; to ask questions. But it's quite another to raise the bar. Since Judge Robert Bork was "Borked" in the 1980s we have asked for the nomination process to be fair. We have opposed the groups who focus only one getting rid of court nominees. People against the American Way; they say "for." NAARL National Abortion Rights League. To add injury and insult to the debate, our conservative pundits/leaders have joined the dirty campaign. David Frum formed an interest group and raised $300,000 to take out ads against Miers. Better Justice I expect their website to disappear now that they have defeated President Bush. Borkers Here is the list of people I have respected that I will now watch out for. What other self-inflicted wounds to they have for us?
  • Stephen M. Bainbridge
  • Mona Charen
  • Linda Chavez
  • David Frum
  • Heather MacDonald
  • Virginia Postrel
I don't have direct knowledge of these people: E.C. Birg, Ephraim (Fry) Wernick, Roger Clegg, George Conway, Michael Dokupil Go your own way. You have used up the credibility you had earned with me. I might trust your research, but I don't trust your judgment. This list is only those who raised $300,000 to take out ads. I have no problem with Robert Bork, John Fund and others who spoke. And Linda Chavez rejects email to the address she gives on her site. And they claim that they will force President Bush to nominate a Boston-Washington elite judge. Which seem to be their criteria of a qualified candidate, in others words a better nominee. But they handed a victory to Senator Chuckie Schumer and his gang. They didn't know there are politics in this process; Bush did. After defeating the president we will get a worse nominee.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Europe or Growth

I am amazed at the contrast of Europe. How it can be such a beautiful place that's a joy to visit, to live in also, I presume. But its countries are suffering from self-inflicted wounds of the welfare state. High taxes cause low growth, few jobs created and unemployment rates in the double digits. James Glassman analyzes the situation:
Europe, or at least the parts I go to, is a wonderful place to live and to visit. It's beautiful; the food is great; the people are generally warm and relaxed. If there is a greater pleasure than eating a plate of Insalata Caprese (tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil) on a sunny terrace on the Amalfi Coast with the islands where the Sirens lured Ulysses in the distance, then I haven't found it yet. But, when it comes to public policy, Europe has taken a wrong turn.
And he asks if the US is going the way of Europe.
I worry that we are beginning to see the initial signs of just such a turn for the worse. A distinguished 20-member panel of experts convened by the National Academies, America's top science advisory group, has warned in a new study that the U.S. "could soon lose its privileged position" as the world's top innovator and growth engine. With competitors "who live just a mouse click away," we stand to lose high-paying jobs, especially to Asia

Sunday, October 23, 2005

A Bass Lesson

My time for blogging is limited because I am taking a bass playing lesson. Music Dojo has online lessons for guitar players and bass guitar players of all levels. It's not a lot of time, but I have to put in time every day.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Pork or New Orleans

We have expenses and even though our budget is trillions it isn't unlimited. Our US budget was already in deficit before hurrican Katrina hit Mississippi and Louisiana. But the destruction was huge and we need to rebuild. We agree that it is right to rebuild New Orleans, other parts of Louisiana and Mississippi and the cost is at least $100 billion. Should we pretend there is a free lunch and just take on the expenditure of over $100 billion without a serious look at its impact on our budget? Only a government monopoly gets to spend like a drunken sailor. That is, the distinguished senators are very generous with your money, not theirs. Senator Tom Coburn led the adults in the Senate who said "Let's get serious. We have to prioritize our needs. What can we cut?" Senator Patty of Washington, that is Patty Murray, led the adolescent opposition. Indeed, it is reported that she threatened the responsible senators with retribution against their states. John at Powerline Blog reports:
Mrs. R. reports that Patty Murray is now speaking against the Coburn Amendment, and has just issued a threat against any Senators who vote for the amendment: we on the Appropriations Committee will take a "long, hard look" at any projects in your state. Can anyone say, "culture of corruption"?
And what spending was Patty so boldly protecting? According to Tapscott's Copy Desk
a sculpture park in Seattle, Washington, $200,000 to build an animal shelter in Westerly, RI, and $200,000 to build a parking lot in Omaha, Nebraska.
I deplore the immature irresponsibility of my state's senator. We tried to get her out. What's worse, the vote was 86 for irresponsibility and 13 for biting the bullet. Here are the 13, which includes one Democrat:
Allen (R-VA), Burr (R-NC), Coburn (R-OK), DeMint (R-SC), Ensign (R-NV), Feingold (D-WI), Graham (R-SC), Hagel (R-NE), Kyl (R-AZ), McCain (R-AZ), Sessions (R-AL), Sununu (R-NH), Talent (R-MO)
I am going to remember this. Maybe Patty can stay in her cushy job with the support of people who don't care, but we won't let this die. (Some reports say Coburn had 15 votes. Apparently he had three proposals. So the 15 votes for a different proposal of Coburn's.)

Sunday, October 16, 2005

WiFi in OR for Productivity

The largest WiFi "cloud" is in rural Oregon. 700 square miles of eastern Oregon has continuous wireless access. This is the area of Umatilla and Hermiston, Oregon. It's where the Columbia River becomes the border between Washington and Oregon. I am very familiar with the area, having lived the first 10 years of my life 25 miles away in Richland and Kennewick, Washington. But why there? There are only 11,000 people there. Sure, it's nice to be able to web surf on a deserted road in semi-desert country. So? There are a bunch of remote applications that are valuable and companies and government agencies are paying for. Breitbart carries the Associated Press story:
While his service is free to the general public, Ziari is recovering the investment through contracts with more than 30 city and county agencies, as well as big farms such as Hale's, whose onion empire supplies over two-thirds of the red onions used by the Subway sandwich chain. Morrow County, for instance, pays $180,000 a year for Ziari's service. Each client, he said, pays not only for yearly access to the cloud but also for specialized applications such as a program that allows local officials to check parking meters remotely. "Internet service is only a small part of it. The same wireless system is used for surveillance, for intelligent traffic system, for intelligent transportation, for telemedicine and for distance education," said Ziari, who immigrated to the United States from the tiny Iranian town of Shahi on the Caspian Sea. It's revolutionizing the way business is conducted in this former frontier town. "Outside the cloud, I can't even get DSL," said Hale. "When I'm inside it, I can take a picture of one of my onions, plug it into my laptop and send it to the Subway guys in San Diego and say, 'Here's a picture of my crop.'"
Productivity!! .... And about the technology. The WiFi we have in our homes has a range of 30 feet or so, more with an antenna, but still not very far. For longer distances there is "Wi-Max," which makes the rural coverage practical.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Iraq - their Constitution - Good News

The big story is that the people of Iraq are rid of their murderous dictator and now they are adopting their own constitution. Is it obvious? The people, male and female, have a say about their government. It is a government of the people! The news media aren't saying much about it. But this is huge. They control their own collective future. Knight-Ridder reports:
JADIDAH, Iraq - Mohammed Hamed al-Obadi doesn't like the proposed constitution that Iraqis will vote up or down on Saturday. When he walks through the dusty streets of his Sunni Muslim neighborhood, very few people have much good to say about it. But, unanimously, they agree they'll vote to make it law. "It's time for the Sunni people to get involved in the democratic process," said the 50-year-old son of a Sunni tribal sheik. "We boycotted the vote last January, and we lost because of it. This time, we must show our support for one Iraq by approving this constitution, then we must make it work for us, from the inside." That attitude, to the extent that it's shared by other members of Iraq's Sunni minority, suggests a hopeful turn in Iraq's struggling democracy. Sunnis, roughly 20 percent of the population, were in control of the country under Saddam Hussein and they're now the backbone of the insurgency. U.S. and Iraqi leaders hope that broad Sunni participation in the constitutional vote and subsequent parliamentary elections will sap support for the insurgents.
Yes, this vote undercuts the Islamist murderers. Especially the votes of the Sunnis.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The French discover "petrole contre nourriture"

The United Nations' Iraq Oil for Food program is huge. Saddam Hussein was allowed to control billions of dollars that was supposed to feed his people; he was able buy almost anyting. And he was allowed to control people - to buy influence - with the money. It is clear that Kofi Annan allowed this misuse of the program. His highest diplomat Benon Sevan was involved. Kofi's son was involved. Now a high French displomat has been arrested. Claudia Rossett reports in the National Review.
Even the French have finally discovered the United Nations Oil-for-Food scandal. With the arrest in Paris this week of a former French ambassador to the U.N., Jean-Bernard Merimee, alleged to have received illicit and lucrative contracts to buy oil from Saddam Hussein's U.N.-sanctioned regime, the French newspapers are now aflutter over "petrole contre nourriture." The funny thing is, while France had plenty to do with Oil-for-Food, Merimee's main trail leads not to the Quai d'Orsay, but to the doorstep of the U.N. secretary general.
Rossett has done an outstanding job on this. It is by far the largest scandal ever in the humanitarian area. No one paid attention. But Rossett, working for the Wall Street Journal, kept following the crumbs without a big story for years. Then she fouhd the cake! Don't pay attention to the Pulitzer prize awards. They passed her over in favor of some reporter scandalizing President Bush. And why are we US taxpayers paying to keep corrupt Kofi in office?

Religion of Peace?

Someone is counting and you won't believe the numbers. Islam extremists are killing people every day in many countries. You can't blame George Bush for this. The bombings in Iraq count, because they are done by Islamists intending to disrupt the conversion of Iraq from a ditactatorship to a democracy. But even taking out Iraq there are killings every day. Some days multiple lethal attacks. In the past 2 days there were attacks in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Phillipines. The list for the past year must have 1,000 attacks. Many attacks are against Christians or secular people. But some are within factions of Islam. Algeria is 99 plus per cent Muslim. But look at this:
On May 15, 2005 in Khenchela, Algeria all eleven members of a water supply convoy are blown up or machine-gunned by the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat.... On May 9 in Chakka, India - The Mujahideen open fire on civilians exiting a mosque, killing three and injuring an unknown number.
These were Muslims killing Muslims. Look at the list for the past 365 days. It is astonishing. Update. 10/14/05 - Thailand The BBC reports that Thailand has major problem. Their southern provinces that adjoin Malaysia are being attacked by Islamists and killed almost every day.
The continuing unrest in Thailand's Muslim-majority south has led to the deaths of about 950 people since the beginning of 2004, and shows no signs of abating.
950 deaths in less than 2 years; that's an average of about 2 people every day!
Some of the insurgents blamed for a spiral of violence in southern Thailand were trained in Libya, a senior Thai defence official has claimed. General Pallop Pinmanee said the militants then used this training to teach many others in the south. But Thailand's defence minister said there was still no concrete evidence any insurgents had been trained abroad.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Does China have too many People?

China has viciously attacked the growth of its population during the past 20 years, I guess. The "One Child" policy has been vigorously carried out. Women have to report monthly. They have IUDs forcibly inserted and an Xray every 3 months to make sure it is still in. And forced abortions for violators. So China dodged the feared population bullet, right? But China is on a program of economic growth. And the two policies have collided. A shortage of labor is emerging in some industries in some parts of China. Even the government's Xinhua News Agency says so:
China’s population is expected to peak at 1.44 billion by 2033 while the labor population is expected to no longer increase by 2011. However, the peak time came much earlier than expected thanks to that [sic] the national policy of family planning has worked and that the old-age population grow. As a result, the decline of the increase rate of the labor population has materialized in recent years. Statistics show the proportion of jobs and job hunters is increasing year by year in 117 cities nationwide, climbing as much as 95 percent in the second quarter in 2005 when compared with 65 percent in the first quarter of 2001. Xie believes the domestic labor force has already been driven from the stage of "limitless supply" into "limited surplus," and resulting labor supply gaps among some regions might occur throughout the country. Though employees consequently could receive higher pay, labor shortages may pose a new thorny problem, causing some economic growth slowdowns, Xie said.
Brian Schwartz at the American Thinker provides analysis: