Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The House that Gore Built

Al Gore wants every one to cut back on their carbon usage. It's easy, he assures us. Gore himself already lives a carbon-neutral lifestyle. Nothing to it. You just switch to compact fluorescent bulbs, buy a hybrid, and pay for a few carbon credits.

How's that working for Al? A group called the Tennessee Center for Policy Research put out a press release showing exactly how Gore actually lives. It seems that his house uses a lot more energy than you would expect. Last year he burned up 221,000 KWHs (up from 19,000) compared with an average of 15,600 for the area. And this isn't even his only house.

Gore's supporters point out that the Tennessee Center for Policy Research is a conservative group and therefore biased against Gore. This is irrelevant if the information is accurate. They also say that you can't expect someone who is rich to live like the rest of us. While this is true, there are a lot of energy-savings technologies available to the rich that the rest of us cannot afford. President Bush has a geo-thermal system at his house in Crawford and uses only 20% as much energy as the average home.

Others insist that Gore's work is so valuable to the world that he should be exempt from the sort of restrictions that the rest of us need to follow. This might be a valid point when talking about his world travels in the service of carbon emissions reduction, it does not give him a free pass at home. Someone who insists that we should all switch to compact fluorescent bulbs should replace the gaslight burning along his driveway. This confusion about public goals and private actions is what put Clinton into an impeachable position.

The big excuse that the Gore people give is that he pays for carbon credits. He pays an additional $400/month surcharge for green energy plus he gives money to other groups to offset his carbon usage.

There is even some question about the groups that he gets his carbon credits from. It appears that he is an officer and investor in the company. Regardless of this, let's assume that they work. This still means that he is buying his way to carbon neutrality.

This gives us a real measure of the man.

In the war against global warming, Al Gore is a chickenhawk. Rather than make changes to his lifestyle, he pays others to do it for him. The problem is that everyone cannot buy credits. Someone must make actual cuts. In order for the cuts to mean something and have enough left over for Gore and the other chickenhawks, most people are going to have to make cuts.

In the brave new world that Al Gore advocates, most of us will be living in conditions worse than our parents but Gore will be unaffected. He and the other rich will continue as they always have. It will just cost a bit more.

As long as Gore is telling the rest of us how important it is to cut carbon emissions, I expect him to live like Ed Begley Jr. Lead by example or shut up.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Parable of the President and the Neocons

Slate repeats this story from a recent book:

[...], Bush 43 still sometimes drew on his father's wide knowledge of the world. Though he refused to read newspapers, he was aware of criticism that his administration had been excessively beholden to a particular clique, and wanted to know more about them. One day during that holiday, according to friends of the family, 43 asked his father, "What's a neocon?"

"Do you want names, or a description?" answered 41.


"Well," said the former president of the United States, "I'll give it to you in one word: Israel."

Supposedly the author heard this story from several sources which meant to him that it must have really happened. Did it? I am really skeptical. It sounds too much like a political parable. It reinforces several points that everyone "knows" to be true.

First there is the image of Bush, the clueless president. He wants to know something but he can't go to a newspaper to look it up. Why? Because he refuses to read newspapers to the point of enforced ignorance. Never mind that he and his wife have said that he does read the news - it's the opinion pieces that he doesn't read. This detail is there to show that Bush is both ignorant and stubborn.

So who does he go to for information? His father. This is also part of liberal dogma. They hold that Bush is an ignorant party boy who only got to be president through his father's connections and who could barely dress himself without people from his father's administration.

So Bush 43 asks Bush 41 what a neocon is. The answer, Israel, is also part of liberal dogma. The left ascribes many motives to Bush for the invasion of Iraq - oil, revenge for an attempted assassination of his daddy, more money for Haliburtan. On the other hand they only ascribe one motive to the neocons - Israel. They are written off as a Jewish cabal intent on hijacking American foreign policy for the benefit of a foreign nation.

While it is true that some of the neocons are Jewish, many are not nor have any of them shown any indication that they are anything but loyal Americans.

So the whole purpose of the parable is to discredit the President, his advisers, and the war. Pretty convenient for a true story but typical for a parable.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Partisanship and Global Warming

Last weekend two different people posted to the Huffington Blog asking why Global Warming has become a partisan issue? Each of them answered the question in the next sentence when they continued, "Why don't conservatives just accept what we tell them and do what we say?"

The question is worth a closer look. Why is the political debate between liberals and conservatives?

One reason is that a group that I will refer to as the eco-alarmists tend to be on the far left. There are several traits that make up this group, many of them shared with liberals in general.

The really distinguishing trait is alarmism. They are always alarmed over something, it is always humanity's fault, and something drastic must be done immediately to prevent future catastrophe. Their track record on this is poor. I remember hearing Paul Harvey tell us in the mid-1960s that the world would run out of food by 2000. This was later adjusted to the mid-1970s. The air was going to be so polluted that people would live in domed cities with filtered air. The ozone would also be gone by 2000 causing everyone who ventures out to get skin cancer. Those who stayed in would probably all get AIDS. Our cities will run out of water. And, of course, we were supposed to run out of natural resources, especially oil, in the 1980s.

Global Warming is just the latest in a long string of predictions.

Conservatives tend to be, well, conservative about this sort of thing.

Where the ecco-alarmists share traits with the rest of the left is in their love for authoritarian governments. It doesn't matter if the government is promoting social good or ecological good. In both cases, a government that knows better than the masses dictates how people will live.

Then there is the convenient overlap between agendas. The left hates cars and most forms of personal transportation. They want us in crowded cities, walking most of the time and taking public transportation the rest. Once you control how people can move around you control their lives. The left hates suburbs, cars, and soccer moms. Strange how all of that will have to go to stop global warming.

The right, especially the Libertarian right, thinks that people should have choices.

Then there is the left's view of business. Much of it is shaped by Marxism and folk-Marxism. They tend to view big business as an endless supply of money that is going to undeserving capitalists. The same mindset that argues that raising the minimum wage will not affect any other part of society thinks that you can limit industry without ruining the economy.

Where liberals see black and white, conservatives see trade-offs.

There is one other trait about the eco-alarmists - many of them are satisfied with symbolic action. Mandating low-flush toilets nationwide did very little to affect water-use in the Southwest. Switching car air conditioners from freon didn't affect the hole in the ozone. The Kyoto Protocols rank among these. Even its supporters admit that it will not significantly affect global warming but it will hurt industry.

Then there are the solutions to problems that never were. The Bald Eagle was saved by stopping farmers from hunting them rather than by banning DDT Legislation to stop acid rain had to be rushed through Congress in 1990 before a report commissioned by Congress could be published because the report said that acid rain was not a threat. Is global warming another non-problem? Eco-alarmists say that the threat is too great to wait and find out. I've heard that one before.

Conservatives have long memories about these things. We will not disregard the eco-alarmists' track record and assume that this time they got it right.

That's why it is partisan.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The HPV Vaccine

For the first time there is a vaccine against a form of cancer. This cancer is unusual because it is caused by Human Papilloma Virus which is a sexually transmitted disease.

The impulse, fed by a major lobbying push by Merck who makes the vaccine, is to give it to every woman and to give it to them before they can possibly catch the virus. This means 10-13 year olds.

Many conservatives worry that this sends the wrong message about sex. I am not among them. I realize that, no matter what they are taught, some of these girls will grow up and have promiscuous sex.

I do have several objections.

First, the immunization is expensive - nearly $400. Currently, insurance companies will not pay for it so the parents will have to pay. That is a fair chunk of money.

Then there is the risk factor. I suspect that this is why insurance companies are unwilling to pay for the immunization. The type of cancer that the vaccine prevents is fairly rare. On a cost-justification basis, the expenditure is a poor investment. I know that some people will argue back that if it saves only one child... This is an emotional appeal. The same justification could be used to insist that everyone have an annual cat scan, just in case something shows up. In both cases, billions would be spent to save a disproportionately small number of women.

The immunization is not perfect. It is around 70% effective so the chance that girls who are immunized will be spared the cancer is only reduced by 2/3s, not eliminated. That hurts the cost justification.

There have not been any long-term clinical trials and the tests that have been made have been on grown women, not preadolescences. It wouldn't take a lot of bad reactions to make the immunizations a bigger health risk than the disease.

Finally, the effectiveness of some immunizations fades over time. Is this one of them? What if the effectiveness starts fading after a decade. Given the ages involved, that would mean that women in their early 20s who thought that they were protected would be at risk. In the absence of long-term studies there is no way to say for certain that this will not happen. [Update - I just read that it only lasts for 5 years and no booster currently exists.]

The entire issue seems like marketing being sold as public policy. Strangely, the people most suspicious of pharmaceuticals, the liberals, are for it. I suspect that this is a combination knee-jerk pro-feminist reaction fueled by the desire to do the opposite of religious conservatives.

If families think that their daughters should be protected then they should be free to have them immunized but it should not be forced on the population.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Campaign Mis-steps

Even in the last presidential campaign, no one paid any real attention to the candidates until the Dean surge at the end of 2003. In today's accelerated campaign, people are already hanging on the candidates' every actions. Look at Biden. Just complimenting Obama was enough to cause an uproar because he was not sufficiently respectful of previous black candidates. In the last few days other candidates have had problems.

There is John Edwards and the bloggers. A couple of experienced bloggers were brought on board without properly checking their writings. It seems that, in addition to being vulgar (a job requirement) they are also anti-Christian, and specifically anti-Catholic. In a series of mis-steps, Edwards appeared to fire them, then he released a statement that he had talked with them and would be keeping them on, then they resigned. The Left is in an uproar with contributors to the Huffington Post insisting that the Catholic League violated campaign law by interfering with an election.

Sidebar - assume that a Republican had hired a blogger who was found to have made anatomical references to Muslims and CAIR objected. Would the Huffington Posters be defending the bloggers or CAIR?

The Edwards campaign is better off without these bloggers. Had they remained it would have given the impression that he agreed, or at least sympathized with, their views. Democrats already have problems with the religious, especially the pro-lifers. Having people who despise the pro-lifers as campaign spokespeople means that he will not have a chance with these voters.

The whole thing could have been avoided if the person who hired the bloggers had reviewed their word with an eye to how it would reflect on the campaign. What actually happened left a bad taste in everyone's mouth.

This is fairly mild compared to what Barack Obama did. In one of his first campaign appearances after announcing his candidacy, he had this to say:
We ended up launching a war that should have never been authorized, and should have never been waged, and to which we have now spent $400 billion and have seen over 3,000 lives of the bravest young Americans wasted.
He tried to retract this statement almost immediately and in later statements:
I was actually upset with myself when I said that, because I never use that term.
No matter what he says now, that is not the sort of thing that just slips out when you don't mean it. This is his private opinion, something that he has probably said to friends and staffers. He knew that this would be an unpopular view so he meant to keep it to himself.

This statement will probably haunt him. It is on level with Kerry's "Stuck in Iraq" statement. No matter what the candidate says, it sounds so much like his real views that he cannot disown it. Also, like Kerry, he is insulting the troops.

Since this came directly from the candidate and since Obama is getting so much more coverage than Edwards, this is a significant error. It also shows that Obama has not learned to weigh every word before he speaks. This is ironic considering his reaction when Biden made a milder slip of the tongue.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Southern Son

For a presidential candidate with no credentials except for an undistinguished career in the Senate and limited campaign resources, the southern strategy seems like a good bet. The idea is that you you skip Iowa, New Hampshire, and the other New England primaries and concentrate on Super Tuesday. This is when five southern states have a primary. A convincing win here can vault you over the other candidates into front-runner status allowing you to do some serious fund-raising.

The drawback is that the early primaries may not account for many delegates but they can give a candidate an unstoppable momentum. In practice, the most a senator can get from the southern strategy is a shot at the number 2 position on the ballot and credibility for a future run.

That's how things worked for Al Gore in 1984. He failed to do well in Super Tuesday and his candidacy was over before the Doonesbury cartoons lampooning him as Prince Al had a chance to run.

John Edwards followed Gore's lead in 2004 and, like Gore, could not stop the Kerry juggernaut. Edwards did strike a chord with his "two Americas" speech. Between that and his status as the last challenger standing he got on the ticket.

Now he's back with a new image. He now says that he was too timid and paid too much attention to the advice of consultants. Like Hillary, he says that we don't know the Real Edwards.

The main differences are that he is now very anti-war and he has moved to the left of what was already a pretty liberal platform. Also, by now we know that he is the son of a mill-worker so he no longer reminds us hourly.

When Edwards ran in 2004 he was seen as under qualified with only a single term in the Senate. Now, with Obama running after 1/3 of a term, the bar has been lowered. Between that and his run along side Kerry, he seems more qualified, even if he is not. His main qualifications continue to be that he is young and articulate (there's that word again).

While he is running as the friend to the working man, there is little in his past to suggest that he would be an effective leader. He made his millions as a trial lawyer to the detriment of regular people. If you know a woman who had a C-section in the last few years you can thank Edwards. His class-action suit tippled the number of C-sections performed annually with no improvement in infant health.

In many ways, Edwards is running on a platform that FDR would have liked. He is for universal health care and against free trade.

Edwards appeals to labor and traditional liberals but is trailing Hillary and Obama badly in the polls. His main chance at capturing the nomination would be if the party rejects a white woman and a black man as too risky and goes with a southern white man.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Inevitable Candidate

Hillary Clinton has been preparing herself to be a presidential candidate longer than anyone else in modern times. She has been following a course of actions that she and Dick Morris worked out in the 1990s. This includes her stint in the Senate and even the sort of committees she has served on. It was important to her to be on the Armed Forced committee in order to establish her credentials as a tough leader who could handle foreign affairs. It is assumed that her most visible votes were calculated as part of this strategy.

Hillary is easily more qualified than her main competition. She has more time in the Senate than Edwards (one term) or Obama (1/3 term). She also has an inside view of how the White House works. Not even her Republican competition can claim that. As First Lady, Hillary had unprecedented power. She interviewed potential cabinet appointees and had veto power over them. She even selected the Attorney General. She has often been referred to has half of Bill's brain.

Hillary has spent years building up her campaign apparatus. She has a full campaign organization complete with rapid-response unit. She has already been courting potential donors and has a campaign fund many times her competitors'. More important, she likely has access to George Soros and his shadow organizations. In 2004, the Soros-affiliated organizations, headed by former Clinton people, spent more money on the election than the candidate, John Kerry.

For all of this Hillary has some significant negatives. Her name recognition has peaked. She has been in the public eye for 15 years. While she leads the polls, this might be due to name recognition more than anything else.

The last two Democrats to win the presidency were southern governors who ran as Washington outsiders. After eight years in the White House and more than six years in the Senate, Hillary is the ultimate insider. She also abandoned any claim as a southerner when she ran for the Senate from New York. That leaves the outsider roll available for Obama and the Southerner roll for Edwards.

There are real questions about what she actually stands for. Did she vote for the war out of real conviction, was she misled by the President, or was it a cool calculation to make her look stronger? Saturday Night Live did a parody of this saying, "I wouldn't have pretended to care about the war if I had known it would be unpopular." When SNL goes after a Democrat you know that she has screwed up. (In January, 2001, SNL did a dead-on bit about the last few Clinton scandals saying, "What did you expect, we're the Clintons.")

While Hillary's time in the Senate has been scandal-free, there is still a lot in her closet from her years with Bill. Many of the worst Clinton scandals were also linked to her. Whitewater was actually about the possibility that Bill, as governor of Arkansas, tried to use his authority over the banks to minimize his loss in an investment. Hillary's close friend Vince Foster killed himself and his files vanished. Weeks later they appeared in the living quarters of the White House. How could they get into one of the most heavily guarded homes in the world and what was cleaned out of the files before they appeared? In 1993 the White House travel staff was fired and replaced with Clinton campaign workers. There were rumors that Hillary did the firing even though she had no authority to.

Bill and Hillary survived all of these scandals by stonewalling investigators. People went to jail rather than testify about the Clinton's roll.

Then there were Bill's last-minute pardons. A couple of these directly benefited Hillary's relatives. This was also mentioned in the 2001 SNL sketch.

For all her background and experience, Hillary has never actually been in charge of anything larger than the First Lady's staff. Her one attempt at legislation, a monster of a health care bill, died in committee.

Hillary has several personal problems, also. She comes across as cold and humorless and her voice goes shrill when she speaks up. She hasn't lived with her husband in nearly a decade and speculation is that the only reason she is still married to him is politics.

Recently Hillary said, "I've known evil men." The crowd erupted in laughter. She insists that she meant Osama bin Laden. Some on the far left think she meant George Bush. The rest of the country assumed that she meant her husband.

There is a good chance that a new scandal about Bill will come up. He has been seen often with a member of the Canadian Parliament and it is assumed that they are having an affair. The specter of Bill as First Man carrying on with a member of a foreign government will not help Hillary.

Currently Hillary is trying to move to the left in order to make it through the primaries. The anti-Bush left has not forgiven her for voting in favor of the war. She is trying to find a course short of an apology and admission of error that will not hurt her in the general election. So far this has not worked.

Hillary claims to be the best-known person that no one knows. Her campaign is currently based around the idea that people don't know the real Hillary. After 15 years in public it is hard to believe that there is anything more to know. More likely we are asked to be introduced to the new, re-invented Hillary.

In order to minimize her negatives, Hillary is positioning herself as the inevitable candidate. Why worry when she is going to be the winner, anyway?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The "A" Word

I am going to start giving my take on the presidential frontrunners. Barack Obama seems like a good place to start.

Last week Senator Biden got in a lot of trouble for praising Obama. The word that most people seem to have the most trouble with is "articulate". It seems that, by calling Obama articulate, Biden implied that other blacks are not.

There is more to it than that. Yes, Obama can speak without substituting "axe" for "ask" and he forgoes rhyming couplets but there is more to it than that.

Right now Obama is either first or second in the race for the Democratic nomination. Why? He has very little experience. He has only served two years in the Senate and before that he was in the Illinois legislature. That's not much of a record to run on. As far as I know, he has not distinguished himself as an international expert. He has a book out but his name was topping the polls before it went to the printer. He doesn't have any signature issues. I doubt that most people can say where he stands on any issue except for the war (surprise - he's against it).

So why is he rocketing to the top of polls?

It's mainly because he gave kick-ass keynote speech at the 2004 convention. He connected with the crowd in a way that Kerry and Hillary can only dream of. He is one of the few Democrats who can speak of God without sounding like he is pandering.

In other words, he is articulate.

This isn't an insult. It is a rarity.

Nether Bush, father or son, is articulate. Gore (lockbox) sounds like a university professor. Kerry (I voted for it before I voted against it) manage to make Bush look polished.

So Obama is in the race because he is articulate. He just hasn't figured out what to articulate, yet. He is currently trying to create a campaign that will preserve his status as a fresh, young, outsider - the first post-boomer candidate.

None of this tells us what he would be like as President. Given his total lack of executive experience, I suspect that his first years would be a learning experience. It took Clinton two years before he really got a handle on the job and he was a former governor. Carter never did figure it out and he was also a governor.

Does today's world allow time for on-the-job training for a president?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

And the Nobel Prize for Dishonesty...

Can you win the Nobel Prize for telling exaggerations if it is in a good cause? we will soon see. Al Gore has been nominated.

Keep in mind that it doesn't take much to get a nomination. Still, the reason for the nomination is telling. One of the people making the nomination explained why he nominated Gore and Canadian Inuit activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier:

"Al Gore, like no other, has put climate change on the agenda. Gore uses his position to get politicians to understand, while Sheila works from the ground up," Brende said.

"I think climate change is the biggest challenge we face in this century," Brende said.

The way that Gore put climate change on the agenda is by a presentation that is somewhere between exaggeration and outright lies. One point that he frequently makes is that the ocean levels will rise 20 feet by the end of the century and he presents this as a hard fact.

The truth is that at the time he filmed his presentation the estimate was more like 20-50 inches. The current estimate (unless it is revised by tomorrow's release) is 5-22 inches. That's between 12 and 48 times the level that Gore gave.

All of Gore's arguments are like this. Gore, like many who worry about global warming, worry that the public is not taking the issue seriously enough. Their solution is to exaggerate the consequences, silence debate, and gloss over the cost of mitigating CO2 emissions.

It probably says something that the nomination came from a socialist but I'm not sure what.

Biden and Barack

Senator Joseph Biden said this to a reporter about Barack Obama:
"I mean, you've got the first sort of mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a story-book, man,"
Abama later released a statement:
"I didn't take Sen. Biden's comments personally, but obviously they were historically inaccurate," Obama said. "African-American presidential candidates like Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton gave a voice to many important issues through their campaigns, and no one would call them inarticulate."
Ok, they are articulate, but no one would call them mainstream. Jackson was the only one to win any states in the primaries. The others ran vanity campaigns - they knew that they had no chance but they ran because it got them into the debates with the real candidates. To seize on the word "articulate" without acknowledging the weakness of these other candidates is also historically inaccurate.

While Biden seems to be the one who took the initial damage, it opens some questions:

  1. Is Obama really so thin-skinned and race-conscious that he would take a compliment and turn it into an insult against previous black leaders?
  2. Is Obama really just trying to curry favor with black leaders who previously haven't cared for him?
  3. Is Obama fighting dirty by making an opponent's remark seem racially unaware?

None of these questons reflect well on Obama's canidacy.