Wednesday, July 25, 2007

John Edwards and RFK

Edwards is duplicating Robert Kennedy's poverty tour and wondering why no one is paying attention. I can think of four reasons.

1) Poverty in 2007 is not what it was 40 years ago. People were shocked to discover extreme poverty in their midst. One famous photograph showed children with their stomachs swollen from starvation within sight of Congress. Today the poor are more likely to be suffering from obesity.

2) The poverty tour didn't do that much for RFK, either. When he was assassinated, the nomination for the Democratic candidacy was still in question. Kennedy was in real danger of losing to Humphrey. Why duplicate a campaign that wasn't a winner the first time it was tried?

3) RFK was no JFK. Many people wanted to believe that Bobby had grown into his brother's shoes. Much of his support came from people who felt the loss of his brother. If he had been Bobby Smith he never would have gotten as far with his campaign.

4) Swiping another politician's shtick never works. Even if the poverty tour had propelled RFK into the White House it would not work now.
The 1960s were a different era. Voters expect a modern campaign and they want something original. The poverty tour is neither.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Sicko is ailing

After the war, Democrats are counting on health care to be the big issue of 2008. Every presidential candidate has some plan for universal coverage. Even more important, Michael Moore released a new "documentary" showing the problems in the current system and pushing for a French-style system.

The Dems and universal health care are in trouble. Moore's Sicko is bombing at the box office. In five weeks it has taken in less than $20 million. That's not bad for a documentary but it is terrible for a grassroots movement. Moore's last movie, Fahrenheit 911 was supposed to drive George Bush from office and it set box office records for a documentary. It turned out that the only people who went to see it were the true believers. The people whose minds Moore wanted to change stayed away from the movie.

The same is happening here except even the already-converted are staying away, also. It turns out that this is not the pressing issue of the day. The irony here is that Moore toned down his usual approach in order to make a more persuasive movie.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Democrat's Dance

Seven and a half month into the new Democratic control of Congress and their new strategy on ending the war is a sleepover. Are the Democrats really serious about ending the war?

No. Granted it is difficult to push through controversial legislation with a razor-thin majority but there are reasons that the Democrats do not want the war to end.

Democratic strategists are sure that the war is why they won control of Congress in 2006. They hope to leverage the same voter anger in 2008. If the war ends before 2008 then it will be ancient history. This means that Democrats will dance around the issue but will never force Bush to withdraw the troops. At the same time, Democrats will use the issue as a fund-raiser. Their all-nighter was accompanied by action parties which mainly raised funds.

This is also being used as a wedge to try to defeat marginal Republicans. I've gotten two anti-Pryce phone messages in the last two of weeks. These are similar to the anti-Pryce calls I was getting just before the 2006 election when Pryce was almost defeated.

All of this means that the Democrats have to make war support a Republican issue. According to a Newsweek article, Democratic leaders are discouraging alliances with wavering Republicans. A bipartisan effort to end the war would ruin the Democrats' plans.

This will also cause problems for the Republican presidential candidates. It is unlikely that an anti-war candidate will win the primaries but that means that the winner of the nomination will be running on Bush's record. Most of the Republicans want to distance themselves from Bush right now.

While the Democrats have every reason to want the war to continue, they have to appear against it. If the public senses that the Democrats have been continuing the war on purpose then they lose their advantage.

They also have to keep the anti-war left from calling for their heads. Cindy Sheehan already realized that the Democrats betrayed her and announced that she will run against Pelosi. This trickle could turn into a gusher as the Democrats' most active supporters bleed away.

Maybe this is why Nader is running again. As usual, he insists that there is no difference between the parties. If the Democrats have no intention of ending the war then he is correct and he could siphon off enough support to give the election to the Republicans.

Stunts like the all-nighter are supposed to make the anti-war left think that the Democrats really are opposing Bush. In the movie Chicago, the defense lawyer is shown doing a dance as he dodges difficult questions and eventually gets two clients freed. The Democrats are trying to do this dance now - distracting people with fancy footwork while approaching their real goal.

They may well fail. There are a lot of stumbling blocks. I can't imagine the anti-war left having enough patience to wait until after the 2008 election for the war to end. They expect success by the end of the year.

A worse nightmare for the Democrats is that Iraq might stabilize. Most of the frustration against the war comes from the nightly death toll. The networks tell us how many troops died in the last 24 hours. If none died or were injured then they list Iraqi fatalities. They never mention terrorists or insurgents killed.

What if that turns around? What if the tribes continue to make peace with the US and to turn against al Qeada?

The ultimate nightmare would be for Bush to fold and start withdrawing the troops. Everyone except John Murtha is sure that this will bring an increase in violence. This could turn public opinion around. The Republican presidential candidate would not be supporting the war, he would be running against genocide.

The Republicans may own the war but the Democrats would own the defeat and its aftermath. This could lead to a Republican sweep.

So the Democrats have to make a show of being against the war but they cannot afford to actually stop it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

What Should Al Do?

Al Gore wants the developed world to cut CO2 emissions by 90% by 2050. My feeling is that I want to see Al go first. I'm serious. We just had a huge rock concert attended by celebrities who have no intention of cutting back on their lifestyle but want to send the rest of us back to the stone age. Gore made the news last Winter when his power bills came out. He burns more energy than a block of regular folks. His apologists say that he is a rich man (currently estimated as being worth $100 million) so he is entitled to live like the rich do.

I disagree. Someone who asked millions of people to pledge to push for a 90% cut in CO2 should be willing to lead the way. Here are some steps I would like to see Al make. All are doable.

Turn off the air conditioning. It makes life pleasant but people lived without it for thousands of years. Heck - I grew up without it and Al certainly didn't have air conditioning when he plowed fields behind his uncle's mules.

Turn off most of the heat. Al has a huge house but he can only occupy one room at a time (even if he has put on weight). Put in zone heating so that the room he is in has a little heat. Do the same for his wife and maybe some of the staff. He can heat the rest of the house enough to keep the pipes from freezing in the Winter but otherwise don't waste power heating rooms that aren't used. This is how the rich lived for centuries. Al can survive. He can afford heavy clothes and he's put on some natural insulation of his own.

Turn off the lights. Forget Compact Fluorescents. Our forefathers often lit a room with a single candle. Al could use one or two white LEDs per room that would more than equal a candle. He could use an LED-based book light for reading. Oh - and don't light empty rooms.

Scrap a jet. I don't know if Al owns a private jet or just leases one. If he owns one he should have it cut up for scrap. If he doesn't own one then he should buy one and cut it up. The idea is that private jets are one of the biggest emitters of CO2 that an individual can have. It's not enough to sell one so that someone else can use it. Al has to take one off of the market - maybe two.

Cut back on travel. Al travels a lot. He jets all over the world telling people to stop creating CO2 even as his travels dwarf their own emissions. Al should do more teleconferencing. If he has to travel he should be driving a Prius or a Smart Car. He should also install a governor on his cars so that they cannot be driven faster than 50 MPH. A Prius loses its advantage over other cars as it goes faster. At 100 MPH it will get terrible millage. While he's at it, Al should plan his speaking trips so that he can do one long road trip across the country per year.

Switch to Windows 98. A modern Intel dual-core chip with two gig RAM and a high-end graphic card uses a lot of power. A PC or MAC made ten years ago can do just about everything the newer PCs can do and not much slower. They just don't look as flashy doing it.

Condemn the Kennedys. At Live Earth RFK jr proclaimed that anyone who denies global warming is a traitor and should be treated as such. These are strong words coming from someone who opposes a major wind farm. His uncle Ted is against the wind farm, also. Why? Because they don't want to see it in the distance from their expensive properties. This makes them bigger hypocrites than Gore (although consorting with RFK jr raises Al's hypocrisy points). If Al is serious about cutting emissions then he should condemn anyone standing in the way of a wind farm.

Until Al does something from this list (or something similarly radical), I'm not going to alter my lifestyle. Why should I?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Losing to the Terrorists

In the next three years we could see al Qaida make a major come-back. By my count, four different countries are at risk of takeover by a Taliban-style government that is friendly to al Qaida. In order of increasing probability, these are:

Recently the New York Times ran an editorial admitting that a troop pull-out from Iraq would lead to increased violence, possibly even genocide. They called for a pull-out anyway. Even if Bush manages to hold against congressional Democrats, there is a good chance that the next president will order a pull-out. Al Qaida is hoping that they will be able to use the ensuing chaos to create a new Islamic government. They have invested a lot of time and effort in this project.

This has been a failed state for decades. The closest that they have come to stability since the US pulled out was the establishment of the Islamic Courts. While some on the left insisted that this was not what it sounds like, a; Qaida says that it is. They have officially aligned themselves with the Islamic Courts and hope to re-establish themselves there.

This is supposed to be the "good war" but it is dragging on. The left is beginning to call for a pull-out from here, also. All of the reasons for pulling out of Iraq can be applied here. There is a direct link between Afghanistan and 9/11 but this is often forgotten. Michael Moore insisted that we are only there to build an oil pipeline.

Worse, the left has been announcing that we already lost Afghanistan except for a small area around the capitol as part of the drum-beat calling for a withdrawal. If we leave the Taliban will be back.

The reason the Taliban is still active in Afghanistan is that they have a safe harbor in Pakistan. The government has ceded two provinces to them. Comparing the current government tot he Shaw of Iran, the New York Times is calling for us to withdraw our support. No good can come of this. Pakistan is a nuclear-armed nation.

Regardless of our support, the government in Pakistan might not be able to hold on much longer. There is a very real danger that the Taliban will take over. This is the ultimate nightmare. Pakistan has come close to a nuclear exchange with India already. It has also shared nuclear secrets with Iran. and both of those happened under a moderate government. A radical Islamic government in Pakistan will threaten world stability.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Just Sick

A few weeks ago Andrew Speaker learned that he had a rare form of tuberculosis while in Italy. Warned that he would be barred from flying back to the US, he went to Germany where he caught a flight to Canada and drove back to the US.

Square this with Michael Moore's new film Sicko which quotes a WHO study showing that the US is ranked number 37 in health care, between Costa Rica and Slovenia (and two spots ahead of Cuba). This means that Speaker left Italy (#2), and went through Germany (#25) and Canada (#30) before coming back to the US( #37). Speaker was quoted as saying that he was sure he would die if he didn't get back to the US.

Was he crazy? Or does he know something that Moore doesn't want you to know?

Well... It turns out that the WHO studies are not really based on a nation's health. There are other factors including "fairness" and payment method. In fact, the same study that ranks the US #37 overall puts us at #15 for overall health attainment. This WHO paper admits that, given the uncertainty factor, Switzerland (#2) could be doing worse than the US (#15). We lose points overall because we are ranked #54 in "fairness" (defined as government payments to health care). On the other hand, we are first in responsiveness and expenditure by a wide margin!

We are only ranked #32 in equality of child survival but this is misleading since it depends on member countries to define live birth. In the US, we rank many babies as premature live births where other countries would rank the same child as a miscarriage.

We are ranked #25 for live expectancy but, again, the uncertainty interval is big enough that we could actually be higher.

None of this is really meaningful in a policy debate. By including fairness of financial contribution as 25% of the total score, the people writing the report assured that countries with socialized medicine would score high, regardless of the quality of medicine received.

One thing that should be addressed in the US is the cost. We pay more than anyone else. While this results in high-quality care, much of this cost is wasted. Personally, I blame trial lawyers whose baseless suits have caused innumerable unneeded tests. Presidential candidate John Edwards personally raised the number of Caesarian Sections through class-action suits. Unfortunately, there has been no corresponding rise in health so this is wasted pain and money.

The last thing in the world that is likely to improve health care is a government take-over. This was tried in England 60 years ago. The result is that their medical system is overloaded and 40% of their doctors are from overseas (including a few jihadists). Canada tried this a couple of decades ago. When a bi-partisan panel looked into health care during Bush (41), they liked the Canadian system. A couple of decades later, it is showing its cracks. The waits for treatment, including life-saving treatment, are legendary. Many doctors living near the border have a thriving practice treating Canadians who don't want to wait (or cannot wait) for their number to come up at home. since health insurance is illegal in Canada, these people are paying for treatment out of their pockets.

My father was a doctor and I grew up with stories about how difficult it was to file with Medicare. Their reporting requirements are much worse than insurance companies. This is to be expected. The insurance companies have to process the paperwork on the other side so they also suffer financially if there is too much paperwork. The government has no such limitations. Converting everyone over to a single-payer system would mean putting everyone on Medicare.

The British have recently discovered something else about government-run health care. In the US we look at someone with an unhealthy lifestyle and assume that it is between him and his insurance company. When the government becomes the insurance company then this equation changes. The government has power than no insurance company will ever wield. Just look at some of the excesses done in the name of public health in the last year. New York City banned trans-fats on shaky grounds. Imagine how much more of this we will see if government officials think that it will save public funds.

A few months ago a medical center in England announced that it would stop doing certain procedures on overweight patients. They are strapped for cash and someone needed to be cut. So much for universal health care.

Tort reform and easing testing requirements for new drugs would do more for people than socialized medicine.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Why are they so upset about Libby?

The Huffington Post is buzzing. Keith Olbermann is calling for Bush's resignation. Why? Because he commuted the unusually harsh sentence given to Scooter Libby. Why so much anger?

By the standards used to excuse Clinton (everybody lies), Libby didn't do anything. Even the special prosecutor on the case admitted that no crime had been committed but he still charged Libby with having obstructed the investigation of the non-crime.

Again, why does this upset the left so much?

The left seems to be suffering from a combination of collective amnesia and an extra case of Bush Derangement Syndrome.

The facts of the case - Former ambassador Joseph Wilson was sent to Niger to investigate reports that Saddam Husein was trying to buy yellow cake (unprocessed uranium) to restart his nuclear program. Months later Wilson wrote a column for the New York Times saying that he had been sent by the Vice President, that he found the reports were false, and that he immediately knew that a separate report was a forgery. This ignited a firestorm. Along the way, it slipped out that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. Wilson cried foul - his wife was classified undercover and exposing her identity was a crime. Wilson went on to write a best-seller claiming that the Bush administration deliberately exposed her identity in order to put her life at risk and as a warning to others.

This is all that the left remembers. What they have forgotten is that Wilson later admitted under oath that his report indicated that he had been sent at his wife's suggestion, that Iraq was inquiring about yellow cake, and that he had never even seen the report he claimed was a forgery. It also eventually turned out that the leak came from a Bush critic in the State Department, not from the White House.

What is more, since the whole thing involves Iraq and WMDs, the left sees this as the thin edge of the wedge that will pry open the secrets about the run-up to the war.

During the investigation they were convinced that the leak must have come from Cheney or Karl Rove. They were in ecstasy over Easter weekend, 2006 when it was rumored that either Cheney or Rove was about to be arrested. The left-wing bloggers couldn't wait for one of these men to be frog-marched out of the White House.

Of course it didn't happen. The investigation ended. No charges were filed except against Libby for giving conflicting dates.

But the left wants blood. Someone has to go to jail to satisfy them. Plus some of them are under the impression that an investigation is still going on and that Libby will cut a deal if he has to serve jail time.

Yesterday Olbermann went on about Libby's victim (how can there be a victim if there was no crime?). Today he went further:

And now, when just one cooked book gets corrected by an honest auditor, when just one trampling of the inherent and inviolable fairness of government is rejected by an impartial judge, when just one wild-eyed partisan is stopped by the figure of blind justice, this President decides that he, and not the law, must prevail.
Again - Libby was convicted of knowingly giving the wrong dates for when he first found out what Wilson's wife did for a living and in a very unusual move, was told that his jail sentence would not be suspended while he appealed. This hardly counts as a "cooked book" or a "wild-eyed partisan". But Olbermann's rants raise the ratings so NBC encourages him.

Then there is Hillary. When asked about the pardon she insisted that it was much worse than the 140 that her husband made in his last days in office. These were unrepentant felons and at least one got on the pardon list by making a substantial donation to the Clinton Presidential Library and two more hired Hillary's brother to defend them.

This alone should disqualify Hillary from the presidency but the left has selective outrage. They don't care what the Clinton's did, only what Bush did.

Update: I had forgotten that Clinton pardoned his own half-brother who had a drug conviction.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Gore's assault on truth

Al Gore wrote an editorial for sunday's New York Times. In it he makes this claim:

Consider this tale of two planets. Earth and Venus are almost exactly the same size, and have almost exactly the same amount of carbon. The difference is that most of the carbon on Earth is in the ground — having been deposited there by various forms of life over the last 600 million years — and most of the carbon on Venus is in the atmosphere.

As a result, while the average temperature on Earth is a pleasant 59 degrees, the average temperature on Venus is 867 degrees. True, Venus is closer to the Sun than we are, but the fault is not in our star; Venus is three times hotter on average than Mercury, which is right next to the Sun. It's the carbon dioxide.

A lot of environmentalists make this comparison but there is a major flaw hidden in it. When Gore says that Earth's carbon was deposited in the ground over 600 million years he implies that prior to that it was in the atmosphere and that Earth had Venus-like temperatures.

Now - here's the thing. Live developed in the oceans. Without life, according to Gore, the Earth was like Venus. But if the temperature was 867 degrees, or even 300 degrees, then there would be no oceans and therefore no life. There's just no way around this.

This may not be what he meant but it is what he said. either Gore himself doesn't understand that Venus was always different from the Earth or he is willing to make mis-statements in order to scare people. Neither option is very comforting.

Scooter Libby

Obama has this to say about the pardon:

"This decision to commute the sentence of a man who compromised our national security cements the legacy of an Administration characterized by a politics of cynicism and division, one that has consistently placed itself and its ideology above the law. This is exactly the kind of politics we must change so we can begin restoring the American people's faith in a government that puts the country's progress ahead of the bitter partisanship of recent years."

Obviously presidential pardons should be reserved for major campaign contributors and clients of the First Lady's brother. The presiding judge wanted to make an example of Libby so the sentence was disproportionate and the insistence on jail time while the appeal is being filed was just mean. That Bush would reduce Libby's sentence down to something more proportionate is fair but the left cannot see that. For example, tomorrow MSNBC's Keith Olberman plans to call for both Bush and Cheney to resign (conveniently leaving President Pelosi).

Sunday, July 01, 2007

CAFE Craziness

Last week the Senate reached an agreement on raising the CAFE standards by 40%. This is the average fuel economy ratings of all cars and light trucks that a manufacturer sells. I mentioned this in a previous post but I want to go into more detail.

Currently the standards are different for cars and trucks with trucks getting a slight break. Also the definition of a truck is loose enough that, for CAFE purposes, my PT Cruiser is classified as a truck. This offsets Chrysler's bigger SUVs.

The new standards will establish a single standard for everything - cars, trucks, vans, and hybrids.

There are some serious problems with the new standard. There is no way to wring much more efficiency out of the gasoline motor. The only way to increase fuel economy is to make the car lighter or to give it a weaker motor.

Note - hybrids do not change this equation. Most of the hybrids on the market disguise the smaller gasoline engine by giving a short-term boost from an electric motor. The electric motor is powered by batteries which are charged by the gasoline motor. The net result is a fuel savings but nowhere near the new CAFE standards. The exception is the Prius which does average substantial fuel savings but mainly for city driving. The Prius runs on its electric motor and uses the gasoline engine to charge the batteries. During stop and go driving which is the worst for fuel economy, the gas motor doesn't even run much of the time. The Prius is not for everyone. It is slow and its expected life is half of conventional cars. Also, all of those batteries are heavy and take up a lot of room. In addition, on the highway, the Prius's economy drops and it is comparable to any other under-powered car.

This is the big problem. Current fleet economy is what it is because of consumer choices. If everyone put economy at the top of their priorities then no one would be buying SUVs.

The new standard is pretty high - 35 MPG. I just saw a Honda ad promoting their fuel economy being 34 MPG. Car makers will have trouble raising cars past 35 MPG. That means that they will have to cancel the less-efficient models.

I'm sure that ecologists are thrilled with this news. They would like nothing more than to outlaw the SUV. But they speak for a small minority of car-buyers.

Congress is dictating the the car manufacturers will have to make cars that the consumers do not want to buy and will fine the car makers if consumers buy too many of the wrong car.

This is not how a free economy works.

Worse, it probably will not save much fuel. By raising fuel efficiency, Congress is lowering the cost of driving. simple economics says that when the cost of something goes down, the demand goes up.

If Congress really wants to increase fuel economy, they should raise gas taxes. If people were paying $6/gallon they would reevaluate their car-buying priorities and driving habits. The Democrats would probably lose the next election but they would have the satisfaction of knowing that they made a real, direct difference.

Instead, the most likely result will be the death of the American car manufacturer.