OpinionMeister

Monday, January 31, 2005

Typhoon is a Dud

UK-based Scotsman.com reports on the new European fighter, the Typhoon. Link.
THE seriously delayed and massively over budget Eurofighter Typhoon is so unreliable it is barely airborne, according to the German government, which has just taken delivery of a squadron of the £60m planes.

The new fighter-bomber, being jointly built by the UK, Germany, Spain and Italy, also lacks some of the most basic systems to protect it over the modern battlefield and has been plagued with technical problems.

A report prepared for the defence committee of the German parliament said that the eight aircraft bought for the air force spent an average of just one hour a week in the air because components had to be replaced so frequently.(...)

They also lack one of the most basic defences against missile attack - decoy flares.

The flares, which are often made from magnesium, are fired from aircraft and used to fool heat-seeking missiles.

The reason that the lack of decoy flares is so much of a concern is the fact that many terrorist organisations have access to shoulder-launched heat-seeking missiles which are easy to carry and use and can destroy an aircraft.

I don't see what the problem is. In a total-welfare-state EU , the only reason for defense procurements is to create jobs. If the weapon system actually works, this is just a freebie extra. In this case, there was no freebie extra.

Democrats Oppose Base on Social Security

Donald Lambro has a column in The Washington Times entitled "Minorities support Bush's plan, polls find" Link.
Political pollsters say Democratic leaders risk alienating strategic parts of their party's base who support President Bush's plan to let workers invest a portion of their Social Security payroll taxes in stocks or bonds.(...)

(P)ollsters who closely track how Mr. Bush's Social Security investment proposal plays with the American people say that his reform cuts across every demographic and political line, appealing especially to many Hispanics, blacks and Asians who make up a large part of the Democrats' political base of support.
"Democrats are missing the boat on a number of issues that can be of appeal to their own base. On Social Security reform, you are looking at younger voters, union members and minorities that find this idea popular," said pollster John Zogby, who has done numerous polls on private Social Security investment plans over the past several years.
"The Democrats are very busy turning 48 percent of the vote into a free fall, and that's not easy to do. They are not talking to their own base, let alone to the rest of middle America," he said.
Numerous polls over the years, and Mr. Zogby's latest national poll released last week, show that the core of the president's plan is popular among many traditionally Democratic voting blocs. Last week's poll by Zogby International found that 30 percent of all Democrats like the idea.
Support among minorities is even greater. An Annenberg poll in December showed that 54 percent of Hispanics supported the concept of "allowing workers to invest Social Security funds in the stock market."
More than 51 percent of black voters, the Democrats' most loyal constituency, say they would like to privately invest as much as half of the payroll tax in individual accounts, according to Mr. Zogby.

In today's pay-as-you-go Social Security system, workers who die young overpay to subsidize workers who live long. When they die, all claims die with them, and nothing of their lifelong payments into the system is passed on to their children. Check the actuarial tables. Blacks, especially Black males, die a lot younger on average than whites.

Is this a coincidence? When FDR was designing the program, the largest constituency in the Democratic Party, and one whose support was absolutely needed to get the program passed, were the Jim Crow Southerners. It was a lot easier to get their votes with a program that amounted to a wealth transfer that, on average, taxed Blacks to give money to Whites.

Arab Media and the Election

The New York Times has an article entitled "Arab Media Focus on Voting, Not Violence". Link.
Sometime after the first insurgent attack in Iraq on Sunday morning, news directors at Arab satellite channels and newspaper editors found themselves facing an altogether new decision. Should they report on the violence, or continue to cover the elections themselves?

After nearly two years of providing up-to-the-minute images of explosions and mayhem, and despite months of predictions of a blood bath on election day, some news directors said they found the decision surprisingly easy to make. The violence simply was not the story on Sunday morning; the voting was.

Overwhelmingly, Arab channels and newspapers greeted the elections as a critical event with major implications for the region, and many put significant resources into reporting on the voting, providing blanket coverage throughout the country that started about a week ago. Newspapers kept wide swaths of their pages open, and the satellite channels dedicated most of the day to coverage of the polls.(...)

For many Arabs, the strong turnout on election day proved a unique opening, one that made the debate on television screens more nuanced. On Al Jazeera, especially, many Iraqis lauded the process even as analysts from other Arab countries and Iraqis tied to the former government of Saddam Hussein denounced the elections for having occurred under occupation, and for having been centered on sectarian issues.(...)

Perhaps the most ambitious effort came from Al Arabiya, which had eight satellite trucks broadcasting from across Iraq, as well as numerous video phone links from Mosul, Baquba, Ramadi and elsewhere, and live feeds from neighboring countries. To give emphasis to elections coverage, Al Arabiya also built a special studio at its headquarters in Dubai for the event. Al Arabiya executives did not disclose the cost for the effort but said it was significant.

"We think this is a very important event, not just in Iraq but in the Arab world," Mr. Hage said. "It's the first real democratic event in the whole region and it deserved the attention." Giving the event such special attention, Mr. Hage said, would help build Al Arabiya's brand as a critical news source, if not expand its viewership.

Can you believe it? A debate with both sides represented on Al Jazeera.

Here is a thought experiment for you. Try to imagine this article appearing in an alternate universe where Al Gore, or any other Democrat, had won the 2000 election, or even one in which John Kerry had won the 2004 election. It cannot be imagined. It could not have happened. George W. Bush has caused the World to change incredibly for the better.

Welfare Reform - German Style

The London Telegraph reports:

Under Germany's welfare reforms, any woman under 55 who has been out of work for more than a year can be forced to take an available job – including in the sex industry – or lose her unemployment benefit. Last month German unemployment rose for the 11th consecutive month to 4.5 million, taking the number out of work to its highest since reunification in 1990.

The government had considered making brothels an exception on moral grounds, but decided that it would be too difficult to distinguish them from bars. As a result, job centres must treat employers looking for a prostitute in the same way as those looking for a dental nurse.

As all Europeans know, Americans are just a bunch of religious fanatics, so we should not be expected to understand their progressive legislation. Unfortunately, many northeast liberals look to Europe for inspiration. Maybe this will be Ted Kennedy's next big project.

HS Students and Freedom of the Press

USA Today reports on a survey of high school students that I find hard to believe. Link.
One in three U.S. high school students say the press ought to be more restricted, and even more say the government should approve newspaper stories before readers see them, according to a survey being released today.

The survey of 112,003 students finds that 36% believe newspapers should get "government approval" of stories before publishing; 51% say they should be able to publish freely; 13% have no opinion.

At least a majority stood by the First Amendment, but it is a pretty small majority. I have done substitute teaching in high school, and this report just does not sound right to me. Maybe the kids I taught were atypical, but I suspect there was something wrong either with the sampling methodology or with the wording of the questions. At least I hope there was something wrong with one of those, which resulted in a case of "garbage in, garbage out."

Great Quote on Social Security Reform

PoliPundit comes up with a great quote. Link. Despite the link, it is short enough that I am giving the entire quote here.

Today, Social Security is strong. But by 2013, payroll taxes will no longer be sufficient to cover monthly payments. And by 2032, the trust fund will be exhausted, and Social Security will be unable to pay out the full benefits older Americans have been promised.

The best way to keep Social Security a rock-solid guarantee is not to make drastic cuts in benefits; not to raise payroll tax rates; and not to drain resources from Social Security in the name of saving it.

* * *

Specifically, I propose that we commit 60 percent of the budget surplus for the next 15 years to Social Security, investing a small portion in the private sector just as any private or state government pension would do. This will earn a higher return and keep Social Security sound for 55 years.

– President . . . William Jefferson Clinton, January 19, 1999. (Emphasis added.)

President Clinton is correct that the only viable, long-term solution to the Social Security problem/crisis is to invest the contributions (a polite word for the taxes) at market rates. I disagree with him as to who should make those investments. Experience shows that when any level of government is investing in equity markets, the temptation to chose investments for political reasons, to reward friends and harm enemies, is usually too strong to resist forever. That is not a good way to get a fair return for those for whom you are supposed to have a fiduciary responsibility. When individuals are investing for their own retirement, priority number one is to get a good return at a moderate level of risk.

How "Successful" Were the Terrorists?

Paul Boutin's blog puts election-day attacks in context. Link.

Number of people killed in Iraq on election day: 35 (source: The New York Times, 1/31/05)

Average number of Americans killed daily by drunk drivers: 47 (source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2003 data)

Context helps a lot. Think of how US media coverage of Iraq compares with your local TV news. If it's like most local TV news, it follows the rule, "If it bleeds, it leads." If some alien on another planet picked up those signals, he (naturally that is the gender of the alien with control of the remote) would think that life in your city consisted of rapes, murders, robberies and fires. He has no context to shape his view. You live there, so you know that the reports are covering the rare exceptions, not normal life there. It is the same with Iraq. You are only seeing the car bombs, but those are the rare exception, not normal life there.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Time to Fix Social Security

An op-ed in the Washington Post, titled Democrats in Denial, tells us that it doesn't matter whether you call it a "problem" or a "crisis", Social Security has to be fixed. Link.

In his 1998 State of the Union address, President Bill Clinton waved his pen at the assembled Congress and declared that we must "save Social Security first." Democrats have since generally clung to that vision.

But now, in an ill-conceived effort to derail President Bush's privatization initiative, many prominent Democrats are suddenly dismissing the notion of a Social Security crisis or even a Social Security problem. Instead of offering sensible alternatives to the president's flawed proposals, Democrats are devoting their energies to attacking both the president's ideas and any notion of altering the Social Security construct.(...)

Let's not forget that virtually every state and local pension plan -- as well as plans for Federal Reserve agencies and other government entities -- is invested in assets that Democrats brand as risky. For Social Security, we could limit investments to broad market indices rather than individual stocks or bonds, thereby providing greater safety and eliminating political complications.

I wrote in favor of private accounts on January 19. Rather than repeat myself, I have a link to that post.

THE Election

With the polls closed, CNN reports that the turnout was 72%. Powerline comments how Iraqis in Syria are voting, while Syrians never get that chance. Iraq the Model reports:
We woke up this morning one hour before the alarm clock was supposed to ring. As a matter of fact, we barely slept at all last night out of excitement and anxiety.

The first thing we saw this morning on our way to the voting center was a convoy of the Iraqi army vehicles patrolling the street, the soldiers were cheering the people marching towards their voting centers then one of the soldiers chanted "vote for Allawi" less than a hundred meters, the convoy stopped and the captain in charge yelled at the soldier who did that and said: "You're a member of the military institution and you have absolutely no right to support any political entity or interfere with the people's choice. This is Iraq's army, not Allawi's".
This was a good sign indeed and the young officer's statement was met by applause from the people on the street.

The funniest comment on the MSM came from ScrappleFace, with the headline "Iraqi Voting Disrupts News Reports of Bombings"

The New York Times reported :
After a slow start, voters turned out in very large numbers in Baghdad today, packing polling places and creating a party atmosphere in the streets as Iraqis here and nationwide turned out to cast ballots in the country's first free elections in 50 years.

American officials were showing confidence that today was going to be a big success, despite attacks in Baghdad and other parts of the country that took at least two dozen lives. Agence-France Presse reported that the Interior Ministry said 36 people had been killed in attacks.

Little Green Footballs reports on a protest in Madrid, protesting the holding of elections in Iraq.

The Washington Post reports on two interviews.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the Iraqi elections went "better than expected" Sunday, despite conflicting reports about the extent of voter turnout in areas plagued by intimidation and violence.

She also called insurgents "terrible thugs" who will not succeed in stopping voting and the progress of democracy in Iraq.

"Every indication is that the election in Iraq is going better than expected," Rice said on ABC's "This Week."

But Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., sounded a note of caution in an interview on NBC's "Meet The Press."

"It is hard to say that something is legitimate when whole portions of the country can't vote and doesn't vote," Kerry said.

The London Times reports on reactions around the World. The most interesting part was that dealing with Iran.

Meanwhile in Iran, a leading MP said that Iraq's elections represented a "great step" towards the country's independence.

"The organisation of the elections in Iraq constitute a great step for Iraqis towards an independent and popular regime," Alaeddin Boroujerdi was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.

Thousands of Iraqi exiles living in Iran have funded a lavish advertising campaign on Iranian state television in favour of the United Iraqi Alliance, a 224-strong candidate list of Shia parties running in Sunday's general elections.

Iranian state TV has also been carrying adverts for "List 169", a Shia grouping backed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and led by Abdel Aziz Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Mr Hakim's party has close ties with the Iranian regime.

But most Iranian officials appeared to be staying quiet while voting was underway, with state television reporting only a strong turnout and minimising the impact of a series of militant attacks. Iran has been accused of meddling in Iraq and backing insurgents, charges the clerical regime in Tehran have denied.

Al Jazeera had a headline, "Iraqis show mixed response to polls":
A number of Mosul's Kurdish residents have defied death threats and an unstable security situation and headed towards the polls, but in some other Iraqi cities no one is voting.

As polls opened across the country, early signs showed a poor turnout of voters in Mosul. US soldiers were seen driving around city blocks asking why residents were not voting.

Despite a heavy US and Iraqi National Guard presence and no civilian vehicular traffic, six explosions rocked the city. The general hospital had no immediate word on casualties.

Voter turnout was heavy in Al-Qadisiya district of the city, however. A polling station for the city's Kurdish population is located in the heart of the district.

Meeting a deadline before the polls opened, Mark Steyn wrote:

But look beyond the numbers. When you consider the behavior of the Shia and Kurdish parties, they've been remarkably shrewd, restrained and responsible. They don't want to blow their big rendezvous with history and rejoin the rest of the Middle East in the fetid swamp of stable despotism. The naysayers in the Democratic Party and the U.S. media are so obsessed with Rumsfeld getting this wrong and Condi getting that wrong and Bush getting everything wrong that they've failed to notice just how surefooted both the Kurds and Shiites have been -- which in the end is far more important. The latter, for example, have adopted a moderate secular pitch entirely different from their co-religionist mullahs over the border. In fact, as partisan pols go, they sound a lot less loopy than, say, Barbara Boxer. Even on the Sunni side of the street, there are signs the smarter fellows understand their plans to destroy the election have flopped and it's time to cut themselves into the picture. The IMF noted in November that the Iraqi economy is already outperforming all its Arab neighbors.

You might not have gained that impression from watching CNN or reading the Los Angeles Times. The Western press are all holed up in the same part of Baghdad, and the insurgents very conveniently set off bombs visible from their hotel windows in perfect synchronization with the U.S. TV news cycle. But, if they could look beyond the plumes of smoke, they'd see that Iraq's going to be better than OK, that it will be the economic powerhouse of the region, and that the various small nods toward democracy going on in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere suggest that the Arab world has figured out what the foreign policy ''realists'' haven't: that the trend is in the Bush direction. When Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, warned that the U.S. invasion of Iraq would ''destabilize'' the entire region, he was right. That's why it was such a great idea.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Thanking Hollywood for Their Help

Human Events Online reports that Citizens United has purchased three billboards to run adds thanking Hollywood liberals for helping to reelect President Bush. Link. The article further shows visuals of the two billboards.
The advertisements feature the faces of liberal Hollywood icons Michael Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, Ben Affleck, Martin Sheen, Chevy Chase, Barbara Streisand, and Sean Penn, and offer thanks to Hollywood (for) their help getting President Bush reelected.(...)

Billboard creator Citizens United, a group that advocates a return to traditional American values, has purchased the use of three billboards near the Kodak Theatre (home of the Academy Awards) for the month of February, which includes Oscar Night, Sunday, February 27.

These thanks are certainly deserved, but I would like to suggest an extension to the ad campaign. Buy some billboards in San Francisco to thank Mayor Newsom for his help. He delivered more votes to George W. Bush than all of those Hollywood icons combined.

How Many Times Should an Author Get Royalties?

The London Times reports that British authors are arguing for a law change to require second-hand-book stores to pay them royalties for subsequent sales. Link.
Online book-selling is now so efficient that readers can easily find second-hand copies from bookshops all over the country.(...)

Authors fear that the ease with which readers can find second-hand copies is shortening the shelf life of new books.

Dame Antonia Byatt has called for new rules to protect novelists using a system known as droit de suite, which guarantees artists a payment for each subsequent sale of their work. The rule is already scheduled to be introduced for visual art next year to ensure that painters receive a payment for second-hand sales of their work.

The comparison with visual arts is not a good one. Paintings often go up sharply in price over time, so the first sale can prove to be very low. Books rarely appreciate in value, so the first sale got the best price. On the other hand, if you compare their situation with song writers and composers, they receive a royalty every time their song is played on radio, TV or in a movie. Perhaps the authors need an industry association to collect additional royalties whenever more than one person reads a book.

Sharon-Abbas Summit

The Jerusalem Post reports that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas will hold their first summit during the second week of February. Link.

Talks are slated to begin later Saturday in a meeting between Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and former PA security minister and senior Fatah leader Muhammad Dahlan.

In another step toward a truce with the Palestinians, Mofaz is to discuss with Dahlan a PA request for security control over certain West Bank towns.(...)

In a major policy reversal in the Gaza Strip after more than four years of fighting, IDF Chief of General Staff Moshe Ya'alon ordered the army on Friday to reduce offensive operations in Gaza to a minimum in order to enable PA forces to carry out their mission.

The IDF will reportedly halt all offensive missions in areas where Palestinian policemen have deployed to prevent the launchings of Kassam rockets and mortar shells at southern Israel and Gaza settlements

The death of Yasser Arafat does not guarantee peace in the Middle East, but, combined with the fall of Saddam, it sure has increased the odds.

Decline of Non-Governmental Unions

Over at EconoLog, Arnold Kling asks why unions have been so unsuccessful in moving from the manufacturing sector to the service sector of the private economy. Link.
I think that the answer might start with Gary Becker's distinction between specific human capital and generic human capital. Specific human capital is capital that is built up in a particular company, so that you cannot take it with you. Generic human capital is general knowledge, which is portable.(...)

In manufacturing, workers develop specific human capital. As someone who actually worked in a factory for a couple of summers, I can attest to this. You learn to operate the particular machinery in the plant, but that knowledge is of no value in a different plant.

In the service sector, skills are often transferable. You may have a license (to be a teacher, a nurse, or what have you) that makes you transferable. Or you may have a skill set (sales, general management, computer programming) that is transferable.

With specific human capital, there is mutual bargaining power. The company values your experience, but your opportunity cost is low, so they could try to keep your pay low and exploit you. So a union helps you out.

With generic human capital, you do not need bargaining muscle. If you are way underpaid, you simply take another job. So a union helps less.

The article does not get into the question of why unions have been so successful among local, state and federal government workers, but I think this same analysis fits. How many skills that a government civil-service employee picks up at work could possibly be transferable to the private sector.

Bipartisan Call for a Larger Military

The Weekly Standard published an open letter from a bipartisan group to Congressional leaders to increase the size of the military. Link. They address it to the Congressional leaders, rather than to the President, because:
Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution places the power and the duty to raise and support the military forces of the United States in the hands of the Congress. That is why we, the undersigned, a bipartisan group with diverse policy views, have come together to call upon you to act. You will be serving your country well if you insist on providing the military manpower we need to meet America's obligations, and to help ensure success in carrying out our foreign policy objectives in a dangerous, but also hopeful, world.


The administration should be calling for this too. President Bush has repeatedly stated that this is a long struggle. Iraq is merely a battle, not the war. Under such circumstances, we have a need for a large standing Army. Relying on Reserves and National Guards is for short-term emergencies. A long war should be fought by permanent military forces, not "weekend warriors."

Freedom of Speech vs. Freedom of Speech

Deadlines can be a problem for newspapers. By the time their story is published, it may be obsolete. Here is the story of two news reports from Oregon, one from a newspaper and one from a local TV news web site, both dated January 28.

The The Salem Statesman Journal reports that:

Marion County has allowed a Portland-area skinhead group to adopt a rural Salem road as part of a volunteer litter clean-up program.

The signs proclaiming that Sunnyview Road NE between Cordon Road and 82nd Avenue is sponsored by the American Nazi Party NSM were installed Monday.

County officials say they were legally advised that excluding the organization would violate a constitutional right to free speech. Their choices, they said, were: allow the group to join the program, remove all of the signs from the program or refuse the group and risk a lawsuit.

That same day, KATU News in Portland reported:
Two controversial road signs that were put up in Marion County have already been ripped down.

The road signs read, "The American Nazi Party has adopted a two mile stretch of Sunnyview Road" and were put up by Marion County officials one week ago.

It seems that people driving along the road have some freedom of expression too.

Reuters = CBS Sixty Minutes

There is a fascinating analysis over at The Obsidian Order of a series of photos from Reuters, shot by three stringers. Link. The captions all state that the "car bombs" were in front of a school or voting location, but no school or voting location is visible in the photos. The pictures are all obviously shot within a second or two of the explosion, with the photographer always in the best location to catch this "unexpected" event. There usually are Iraqis walking around in the picture, close enough to the "car bomb" that shrapnal, almost always found in a real car bomb, would be dangerous or deadly. "The fire looks like petrol, probably in cans in the back of the vehicle, set off with an incendiary WP shell (White Phosphorus - the white smoke and sparks).."

Follow the link, examine the photos, then read the analysis and go back and look at the photos again. By then they should look as phony as Dan Rather's Texas Air National Guard memos.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Washington's Governors Election

The editors of The National Review have reluctantly come to the conclusion that a new election is needed if we are to know who truly won the governor's election in Washington state. Link.
We have generally decried the recent trend toward attempts to settle elections after the fact in the courts. But the voting controversy in Washington State is a special case. As Byron York reports elsewhere in [the Feb. 14 issue of NR], it is impossible to know who truly won the Washington gubernatorial race between Republican Dino Rossi and Democrat Christine Gregoire. Gregoire has just taken office, having overtaken Rossi in a second recount. Her winning margin: 129 votes out of 2.8 million votes cast. Rossi had won the initial post-election-day count by 261 votes, and the first machine recount by 42 votes. Throughout the process, Gregoire has been helped by the ability of heavily Democratic King County (home to Seattle) to produce new batches of uncounted votes, including 573 supposedly mistakenly disqualified ballots that gave Gregoire her winning margin.(...)

He is right. The painstaking precinct-by-precinct analysis of blogger Stefan Sharkansky at soundpolitics.com shows that in King County alone, there are 3,700 unaccounted-for ballots or voters. Some precincts have more ballots than voters, for a total of 2,900 "extra" ballots. Other precincts have more voters than ballots, for a total of 800 "extra" voters. These mystery voter-less ballots and ballot-less votes obviously are enough in themselves to put Gregoire's 129-vote margin in serious doubt.

Other irregularities abound. The Seattle Times has reported that 129 felons voted in King and Pierce counties. At least 348 provisional ballots — which are supposed to be closely inspected to see if they are legitimate — were directly fed into machines and counted in King County. Some 55,000 optical-scan ballots (ballots on which the voter marks a bubble) in King County were "enhanced" so that the voters' supposed intent could be determined, with no uniform standard governing the process. Roughly 500 voters used the address of the King County Administration building as their home address.

There is no question that the number of erroneous, disputed or downright illegal votes far exceeds the margin of victory. Rossi won the original count and the machine recount. It was only the second, hand recount that declared Gregoire the winner. By its very nature, a hand recount is subject to significant human error and is not, and probably cannot be as accurate as a machine recount. Add to that the question of new ballots continuing to be "found" in heavily-Democratic King County (Seattle), and the possibility of intentional fraud cannot be excluded.

I would add one further conclusion to those of the editors. I believe there is sufficient suspicion of fraud by election officials, which is a federal civil rights violation, for the FBI to be sent in to investigate. Maybe it was just incredible incompetence, but I would prefer if all of those involved had to testify before federal officials under oath, before a conclusion is reached.

Corporate Tax Rates

The Wall Street Journal reports that countries all across Europe have been slashing corporate tax rates, and the US now has higher corporate tax rates than any in the EU. Link. (requires subscription)
Following the lead of Ireland, which dropped its rates to 12.5% from 24% between 2000 and 2003, one nation after another has moved toward lower corporate rates with fewer loopholes. The Netherlands, the second most popular European target for U.S. investment, recently joined the movement, lowering its corporate rates by three percentage points to 31.5% and simplifying its tax structure.

The corporate-tax cutters of recent years stretch from Portugal, where the rate has dropped 10 points to about 27%, to Austria, down nine points to about 25%. Even Germany, which has Europe's highest rate and has bitterly opposed the plummeting tax rates elsewhere in the region, has done some dramatic trimming -- from as high as 56% six years ago, according to data from KPMG LLP, to 38.3% last year.

Germany's trims leave the standard U.S. rate -- about 40% including average state taxes -- above that of every country in Europe, according to separate studies by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development and KPMG.(...)

The upshot is that Europe, long known for steep and complex taxes on corporations, is more and more likely to prompt U.S. companies to expand there rather than at home, tax experts say. Shifting revenue -- and some of their operations -- to lower-tax countries is the single biggest way American companies avoid paying U.S. rates, bringing down their effective taxes.

"We are living in a global economy and we compete in a global economy, and if our corporations are competing against societies that don't tax their corporations as much, we have to consider that," says John Breaux, a former Democratic senator from Louisiana and the co-chairman of a new White House-sponsored tax-reform panel, in an interview.

A lot of politicians and commentators are obsessed with the "threat" of low-labor-cost countries, such as India and China. However, labor is only one cost of doing business, and the most attractive place to build a new plant is where the overall cost is lowest. The US has an advantage in the costs of security, corruption, and eratic law enforcement vs. many of the countries with the lowest wages, but not vs. Europe.

There is little that politicians can do to improve our wage competitiveness, but they hold absolute control over the competitiveness of our corporate taxes.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

New News on Shroud of Turin

BBC News reports on a new study of the Shroud. Link.
The Shroud of Turin is much older than suggested by radiocarbon dating carried out in the 1980s, according to a new study in a peer-reviewed journal.

A research paper published in Thermochimica Acta suggests the shroud is between 1,300 and 3,000 years old.

The author dismisses 1988 carbon-14 dating tests which concluded that the linen sheet was a medieval fake. (...)

Raymond Rogers says his research and chemical tests show the material used in the 1988 radiocarbon analysis was cut from a medieval patch woven into the shroud to repair fire damage.

This was responsible for an invalid date being assigned to the original shroud cloth, he argues.

"The radiocarbon sample has completely different chemical properties than the main part of the shroud relic," said Mr Rogers, who is a retired chemist from Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, US.

I have no expertise to comment one way or the other on this news, but it certainly made interesting reading to this layman.

China Replaces US as Japan's Top Trade Partner

The Japan Times reports that in 2004, China became Japan's top trading partner. Link.

Finance Ministry data released Wednesday show that Japan's exports to and imports from China, including Hong Kong, amounted to 22.20 trillion yen in 2004 -- the highest since records began in 1947 -- outpacing the 20.48 trillion yen in trade with the U.S.

China represented 20.1 percent of Japan's trade in 2004, compared with 18.6 percent for the U.S., a ministry official said. In 2003, the U.S. had 20.5 percent and China 19.2 percent.

Exports to China came to 11.83 trillion yen and imports reached 10.37 trillion yen, giving Japan a 1.46 trillion yen customs-cleared trade surplus with China.

Exports to the U.S. came to 13.72 trillion yen and imports to 6.76 trillion yen, for a 6.96 trillion yen trade surplus for Japan.

Joining the WTO certainly has improved China's trade. Keeping the economic engine growing will require increasing economic liberty , and this has to be a plus for the Chinese people. It is very difficult to keep increasing economic liberty while maintaining political authoritarianism. Don't expect real democracy anytime soon, but the economic forces there will be pushing the country in that direction.

Vote Fraud on Milwaukee

I was glad to read in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal that the feds have entered the investigation of vote fraud in Milwaukee. Link. I have been following the story, but had given up hope that the authorities would look into it. Wisconsin went to Kerry by 11,000 votes, but that was not enough to decide the presidential election. I feared that lack of consequence would push the story under the rug.

Wisconsin allows voters to register at the polls on election day. Earlier Journal Sentinal articles reported that 17% of all votes cast in heavily-Democratic Milwaukee were registered at the polls. Their investigations revealed that many of them had ficticious addresses, many were too illegible to check up on, and many were repeats of voters who were registered in other districts. They also found absentee ballots from voters who had died before the absentee ballots were mailed out.

Milwaukee County District Attorney E. Michael McCann said he and U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic agreed to investigate potential problems together. The effort will also include the Milwaukee Police Department and the local office of the FBI.

McCann told the newspaper the group of prosecutors and investigators, including one with computer expertise, will try to "see if there was voter fraud or not. That's the major thrust."(...) >

The group will have access to original documents and materials the newspaper has not been able to see. There is no specified timetable for completing the review.(...)

And a new Journal Sentinel review of the city's voting records shows the system is so flawed that more than 300 people are listed as voting twice from the same address, even though each apparently was given only one ballot.

That increases the size of a gap, already at more than 8,300, between the number of ballots cast and the number of people who can be identified as voting in the presidential election, which in Wisconsin was determined by about 11,000 votes.

At least part of the solution seems simple. Stop allowing people to register at the polls. That is the source of much of the fraud. Election officials need time to check the validity of a new registration before the election is held.

Congressmen and Senators Flout Pay Law

An article by the National Taxpayers Union documents how the House and Senate ignore the law in making full payment to members who miss many sessions to campaign for higher office. Link.
According to 2 U.S. Code 39, “The Secretary of the Senate and the Chief Administrative Officer of the House of Representatives, respectively, shall deduct from the monthly payments (or other periodic payments authorized by law) of each Member or Delegate the amount of his salary for each day that he has been absent from the Senate or House, respectively, unless such Member or Delegate assigns as the reason for such absence the sickness of himself or of some member of his family.” Under 2 U.S. Code 48, the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House are responsible for certifying the salary accounts of their respective chambers, and so must make an inquiry into whether Section 39 deductions are in order.

They further quantify the cost to taxpayers:
  • The chronically absent list is filled with Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates, including John Kerry (D-MA), John Edwards (D-NC), Bob Graham (D-FL), Joe Lieberman (D-CT), Richard Gephardt (D-MO), and Dennis Kucinich (D-OH). But House Members bidding for Senate seats were also prominent on the list, including Brad Carson (D-OK), Mac Collins (R-GA), Jim DeMint (R-SC), Pete Deutsch (D-FL), Joseph Hoeffel (D-PA), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Chris John (D-LA), Denise Majette (D-GA), George Nethercutt (R-WA), and Patrick Toomey (R-PA).
  • From January 2003 to the October 2004 recess, John Kerry missed 146 days of votes without being granted leave. Total salary overpayment: $90,932.68. His running mate, John Edwards, compiled 102 days of unexcused absences during that period, for an overpayment of $63,543.16. Both Senators missed every vote during the months of July, September, and October.
  • On the House side, Dick Gephardt’s failed bid for the Presidency cost taxpayers $81,362.53 in excessive pay. Gephardt was absent for 85 of the 109 days the House cast votes in the year 2003 alone. Combined with 2004, Gephardt had the highest unexcused absence rate in the House, at 131 days – still short of Kerry’s record total.
  • Then-Rep. Jim DeMint’s successful 2004 bid for South Carolina’s Senate seat could help to explain some or all of his 37 unexcused absences, and an apparent $23,305.56 salary overpayment. In 2003, now Kentucky Governor and former Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R) missed 27 session days, for a total salary overpayment of $16,640.91. Three Georgia lawmakers who were locked in tight contests – Collins, Isakson, and Majette – racked up 55 days of unexcused absences and $34,643.40 of potentially illegal salary among them during 2004.

This seems so typical of men who are used to spending billions of other people's money, but rarely give a dime of their own money to charity. Someone should have told John Kerry that Teresa could have upped his allowance so he wouldn't have had to rip off the taxpayers.

New Jersey Jihad - continued

JihadWatch has posted a press release from The American Coptic Union, decrying a report from the Hudson County Prosecutor Office entitled “No Proof of Religious Hatred in JC Family Slaying “ Link. The release begins by listing many of the facts that point to a religious hate crime. It then states a series of requests: (rather than plaster it with (sic)s, I will just state that it obviously was not written by a native English speaker.)
• We call upon Hudson County Prosecutor Office not to rushing, and exclude religion hatred, or terrorism. This time the massacre is rehearsal targeted a Christian family, member of a small community, next time would be against any other community.
• This massacre should be seen as a wake up call for all American. Terror is knocking the door, thus we seek the support of Christian, Jewish, and Islamic organizations, as well as Human Rights organizations requesting Hudson County Prosecutor Office an independent investigation.
• We request the Newspapers, TV stations, and all news media, keep asking questions, and follow up with the investigations.
• We request more involvement from the Federal Government in the case.

It is hard to disagree with any of those requests. They all seem imminently fair. My July 18 post said that the Feds should be in there.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

A Federal Car Administration?

Cafe Hayek has an interesting new argument on the question of whether we need an FDA. Link. It asks whether consumers would stand for a Federal Car Administration, that treated cars the way the FDA treats drugs. More people die of car accidents than bad drug reactions, so it is not that nonsensical a comparison.
The FCA would test new vehicle designs for safety and efficiency. That way, car shoppers could be assured that they would be getting safe cars and cars that did what they were supposed to do. A car advertised as a family mini-van would be tested to make sure that families could use these cars comfortably. An off-road vehicle would be tested off-road. A performance sedan would be taken on long trips to make sure it could handle winding roads without reduced driver comfort. The FCA would also make sure that there weren't too many "me-too" cars, cars that simply added another choice to a pre-existing niche.

Such tests would be extremely thorough. After all, cars are dangerous and a major expenditure for most families. It would take a decade of test-driving to make sure that cars fulfilled the claims made by their makers. Of course, this process would make cars very expensive. You'd have to charge a lot for a car that survived such a rigorous process to make up for the foregone earnings from tying up all that capital for so long without any return. And some cars wouldn't be approved. That would also tend to push up the price of cars that did get approved.

Choices would be few. Because of the high costs of the approval process, only cars that appealed to large numbers of consumers would receive attention from the manufacturers. On the plus side, the cars that did survive the process would be very safe and very good cars. They'd have to be. Manufacturers would want to reduce the odds of failure to avoid a ten year approval process that resulted in rejection.

This only goes to the problem of why drugs are so expensive. There is another, and larger, problem with the FDA. Other federal agencies, by delaying or denying choices for us, cause inconveniences. The FDA causes the deaths of tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of Americans, by denying us useful, often life-saving drugs for years.

And they do not do it by requiring tests for safety, Phase I tests. These are cheap and quick. The big bucks and long years are for testing efficacy. The FDA was established to assure the safety of food and drugs sold in the U.S. That lasted until the early 1960s. In the 1950s, a sedative named thalidomide was sold in Europe, but was never approved in the U.S. under the then-existing FDA standards, which only tested for safety. It developed that, when taken by pregnant women, thalidomide could cause horrendous birth defects in their children. When the news broke, newspapers had a feeding frenzy, running front-page pictures of children with withered arms for weeks. As happens when there is such comprehensive news coverage, the cry went up to Congress to "Do Something!"

The problem was that there was nothing to do. Thalidomide was never approved in the U.S. The old FDA standards had worked. But facing the public outcry, Congress decided to do something, even if it was totally irrelevant to the problem in the news. They passed a new law requiring the FDA to approve efficacy as well as safety. This added 8-10 years and hundreds of millions of dollars to the process of each drug's approval. Since then, the number of new drugs has gone down drastically and the cost has gone up astronomically. The money that once was spent on discovering new drugs is now spent getting existing ones approved.

Although you can never prove what would have been, I have no doubt that we would today have cures for most cancers and for AIDS if Congress had not felt compelled to do something. And with the need only to prove efficacy to doctors, who have an interest in finding as many good drugs as possible, rather than to FDA bureaucrats, who have an interest in never approving a potential thalidomide, the costs of drugs would be pennies on the dollar of what they are today.

Chirac: Tax International Finance to Fight AIDS

Reuters reports the French President Jacques Chirac called for a new, international tax to fund the fight against AIDS. Link.

The experimental levy, which could be raised on international financial transactions, could generate $10 billion a year, Chirac told the World Economic Forum.

His appeal for a radical rethink of AIDS funding comes at a time when the roll-out of antiretroviral therapy (ARV) in the developing world is finally gathering momentum.

The number of people receiving treatment in poor countries has jumped 75 percent in the past year, U.N. agencies said. ARVs are now getting to 700,000 patients, up from 440,000 six months ago, meeting the World Health Organization's interim target.

I have a better idea for Jacques. Tax the French people to carry out the programs you like. Under President Bush, the American people are paying tax for a major effort to fight AIDS in Africa. France, and any other country, is free to do the same. It is amazing how French leaders can always come up with ideas for terrific programs that others would pay for. The rest of the EU pays billions to French farmers under the Common Agricultural Policy.

Bush Meets with Black Leaders

Bill Sammon reports in the Washington Times that President Bush met with Black clergymen yesterday and will meet with the Congressional Black Caucus today. Link.
Instead of granting an audience to black activists who have been strongly critical of the administration, Mr. Bush huddled yesterday with a group of black ministers and executives described by the White House as "committed to improving the lives of African-Americans."
Today, the president will meet with the Congressional Black Caucus, which planned to present Mr. Bush with a legislative wish list.
"We will lay out a succinct agenda for the president which addresses the actual disparities that exist today in health care, education, economic opportunity, justice, retirement security and foreign policy," said Rep. Melvin Watt, North Carolina Democrat and caucus chairman.
"When we disagree with the president, we will stand up and do so," Mr. Watt added. "However, it is my hope that we will find common ground that will benefit all Americans."

The MSM keeps saying that the president never meets with Black "leaders," because he does not meet with Julian Bond and Jesse Jackson. What sense does it make to waste your time meeting with people whose minds are completely closed. These men have careers to protect. By shuffling hat-in-hand before Democrats, they receive millions of dollars. They would be left in the cold if Blacks were to become economically secure, as Bush's programs hope to achieve. They only are important when their "followers" are on the government dole.

This administration wants to give an ownership stake in America to all Americans. The Black clergy would love for their members to have such a stake. The Black "leaders" fear this like they fear Jim Crow. The members of the Congressional Black Caucus do not like the president, but they have a stake in getting whatever they can for their constituents, so there is a chance that they will work with him. These meetings should be far more productive than the sort that the MSM crave.

Turner: Fox = Hitler

Drudge reports on an address Ted Turner made before a standing-room-only crowd before the National Association for Television Programming Executives. Link.
While FOX may be the largest news network [and has overtaken Turner's CNN], it's not the best, Turner said.

He followed up by pointing out that Adolf Hitler got the most votes when he was elected to run Germany prior to WWII. He said the network is the propaganda tool for the Bush Administration.

"There's nothing wrong with that. It's certainly legal. But it does pose problems for our democracy. Particularly when the news is dumbed down," leaving voters without critical information on politics and world events and overloaded with fluff," he said.

A FOXNEWS spokesperson responded: "Ted is understandably bitter having lost his ratings, his network and now his mind -- we wish him well."
Should we be surprised that statements like that draw loud applause from a room full of TV executives. I'm sure that, if the room had been filled with TV reporters, or even print-press reporters, it would have drawn the same loud applause. The MSM is in denial. The more Fox News eats their lunch, the more they tell each other that they have nothing to learn from "that pack of Nazis."

War on Terror = War on Poverty

Over at OpinionJournal.com, Claudia Rosett writes that defeating tyranny is the surest way there is to raise the world's poorest to greater prosperity. Link.
Yet to whatever extent Mr. Bush's agenda plays out in practice, one of the main results would be a richer world for all--with the most dramatic benefits reaching those who are now among the poorest. One of the truths wrested at great cost from the grand social experiments of the 20th century was that the prerequisite for prosperity--if we are speaking of wealth for the many, not just for a ruling few--is freedom. It is not only by smothering free speech or jailing loyal opposition that dictators keep control. It is also by decreeing--in ways that suit the pleasures of the ruler, not the ruled--the rules and conditions under which people may seek work, earn money, own property and buy what they need to feed their families and otherwise pursue happiness. With every reasonable choice that gets cut off by dictatorial rule, with every payoff that must be made to authorities who exist for no other purpose than to please themselves and collect tolls, more human energy and talent and knowledge goes to waste.(...)

The real answer to poverty is the creation of systems of government that let ordinary citizens help themselves, and require them to take responsibility for what they then do--rather than hoping for handouts and blaming their troubles on forces beyond their control, whether by way of quietly hating the local despot, or loudly and more safely denouncing such stand-in targets as the U.S. It is no accident that among the tyrannies most vociferously protesting Mr. Bush's speech were some of the poorest countries on earth. These included Zimbabwe, once breadbasket of Africa, now a country where the thuggish and increasingly lawless rule of Robert Mugabe has left millions on the edge of famine. Or North Korea, whose Stalinist dictatorship holds the world record for starving people to death over the past decade--an estimated two million.

It has often been observed that rankings of liberty and rankings of wealth follow each other very closely. Wealth requires economic liberty, and, over the long run, economic liberty requires political liberty. Since 1980, the number of free or largely free countries has more than doubled, and global poverty has shrunk. Free countries are now found in Latin America, Asia and Africa. Only the Arab world remained a monolithic block of authoritarianism and tyranny. Iraq will be the first crack in that monolithic block. The most noticeable change will be the lack of rape- and torture-chambers, but the next few years should also see an incredible growth of wealth for the average Iraqi.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Europe Commemorates the Holocaust

Mark Steyn, one of my favorite columnists, has a column on the European commemoration of the holocaust. Link.
According to a poll by the University of Bielefeld, 62 per cent of Germans are "sick of all the harping on about German crimes against the Jews" - which is an unusually robust formulation for a multiple-choice questionnaire, but at least has the advantage of leaving us in no confusion as to how things stand in this week of panEuropean Holocaust "harping on". The old joke - that the Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz - gets truer every week.(...)

If most Germans don't feel guilty about the Holocaust, there's no point pretending they do. And that's the problem with all this week's Shoah business: it's largely a charade. The European establishment that has scheduled such lavish anniversary observances for this Thursday presides over a citizenry that, even if one discounts the synagogue-arsonists and cemetery-desecrators multiplying across the Continent, is either antipathetic to Jews, or "sick of all the harping on", or regards solemn Holocaust remembrance as a useful card to have in the hand of the slyer, suppler forms of anti-Semitism to which Europe is now prone.
It was even worse when I saw a clip on Fox News last evening of a half-empty General Assembly of the United Nations holding a commemoration of the holocaust. Given the history of the United Nations, a celebration may have been more appropriate than a commemoration. If there were an anti-semitism contest between the Arab League and the United Nations, it probably would be a toss-up.

A Secular Iraq

The New York Times reports that the Shia in Iraq do not want "turbans" in the government. Link.

The senior leaders of the United Iraqi Alliance, the coalition of mostly Shiite groups that is poised to capture the most votes in the election next Sunday, have agreed that the Iraqi whom they nominate to be the country's next prime minister would be a lay person, not an Islamic cleric.

The Shiite leaders say there is a similar but less formal agreement that clerics will also be excluded from running the government ministries.

"There will be no turbans in the government," said Adnan Ali, a senior leader of the Dawa Party, one of the largest Shiite parties. "Everyone agrees on that."

The decision appears to formalize the growing dominance of secular leaders among the Shiite political leadership, and it also reflects an inclination by the country's powerful religious hierarchy to stay out of the day-to-day governing of the country. Among the Shiite coalition's 228 candidates for the national assembly, fewer than a half dozen are clerics, according to the group's leaders.(...)

The secular tilt comes as Shiite leaders prepare for what they regard as a historic moment: after decades of official repression, the country's largest group now seems likely to take the helm of the Iraqi state. Mindful of that opportunity, and of previous opportunities missed, the Shiite leaders running for office say they are determined to exercise power in a moderate way, which would include bringing Sunnis into the government and ignoring some powerful voices in their own ranks that advocate a stronger role for Islam in the new constitution.

So much for the pessimists' (a polite term for the blame-America-first leftists) prediction that, having ignored their demands to keep Saddam in power, all we would get for our effort, blood, and money is a Shiite theocracy that allies with Iran in its support of terror against the West. However, no matter how many times these people are 180-degrees wrong, the MSM keeps quoting them as "experts."

Interstate Health Insurance

An op-ed in the Wall Street Journal proposes a wonderful idea, allow people to buy health insurance from other states. Link. (subscription required)

Insurance premiums vary greatly from state to state. Last month, eHealthInsurance, a leading online insurance brokerage, compared the cost of a standard family insurance policy ($2,000 deductible with a 20% co-insurance) across the nation's 50 largest cities, involving some 4,000 insurance plans and 140 insurance companies. Some results are startling. Consider: a non-employer-based family policy for four in Kansas City, Mo., costs about $170 per month while similar coverage in Boston tops more than $750 a month. (...)

Why the price difference? Many states dictate the type of services and providers. New York, for instance, requires that the services of a podiatrist be covered. (...)

Some states have gone further. Laws force insurers to sell to any applicant (guaranteed issue) and at the same price, regardless of age or health (community rating). Faced with higher premiums for insurance they seldom use, the young and healthy drop their coverage, leaving an insurance pool of older, sicker people -- and even higher premiums. After a decade of such political meddling, the average monthly cost of a family policy in New Jersey bests the monthly lease of a Ferrari. (...)

A remedy? Some suggest massive tax credits and other subsidies, an unlikely possibility in light of the budget deficit. An alternative would be to allow out-of-state purchases of health insurance. The federal McCarran-Ferguson Act of 1945 empowers states to regulate "the business of insurance." Nothing prevents Congress, however, from allowing interstate sales. The foundation of such a bill would be the Constitution's Commerce Clause. Individuals and small businesses would then be able to shop around and find a low-cost policy -- an affirmation of free-market principles since interstate restrictions now leave many Americans at the mercy of a small number of local health insurance carriers.

Where I live, I have a choice of Blue Shield, Blue Cross or Health Net. That's it. I would love to be able to shop around more broadly for health insurance, which is obscenely expensive, partly due to the lack of competition. True, we also have to bring down the cost of the health care that the insurance is paying for, but the introduction of health savings accounts, by introducing some market forces into health care, should go a long way on that score.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Libraries in Herculaneum

When Mt. Vesuvius blew in 79 AD, it did not only bury Pompeii. It also buried Herculaneum. If you visit both locations, as my wife and I did last year, you quickly see that Herculaneum was much higher class than Pompeii. However, a new city (Ecrolano) grew up over its buried corpse, so while all of Pompeii has been excavated, only a small part of Herculaneum has been. Included in the excavated area is a great house that is now called the Villa of the Papyri. Yet there is modern news, not just ancient history here, as the London Sunday Times reports. Link.

All knowledge of the great house was lost until 1738, when workmen sinking a well shaft encountered a mosaic floor. It was too deep to excavate; instead, over the next 20 years under the supervision of Karl Weber, a Swiss military engineer, a network of tunnels was hewn through the debris clogging the great peristyle, the atrium and the Olympic-sized swimming pool. Cartloads of treasures were brought to the surface, destined for the art collection of the King of Naples.

Throughout this time, mingled with the sculptures and glassware, workmen retrieved what looked like lumps of coal which they unthinkingly dumped in the sea. It was not until 1752 and the discovery of an intact library lined with 1,800 rolls of papyrus, that the excavators realized that what they had been throwing away were carbonised books. The site has since been known as the Villa of the Papyri.

Once the villa had been stripped, 200 years ago, the tunnels were sealed. But last week a group of the world’s leading classical scholars gathered in Oxford to demand that the site be reopened. They believe that there is a better-than-evens chance — “quite likely”, is how Robert Fowler, professor of Greek at Bristol University, puts it — that the villa may have possessed at least one other library still to be uncovered.

These are scholars, cautious by nature. Their optimism is therefore worth taking seriously. It follows the first detailed analysis of the 1,800 papyri, now largely unrolled and deciphered thanks to a technique known as multi-spectral imaging (MSI). What appear to the naked eye as jet-black cinders are transformed by MSI into readable text. Thirty thousand images are now legible on CD-Rom; suddenly poems and works of philosophy are speaking again, 2,000 years after they were sealed in their cedar-wood cabinets in the summer of AD79.

The author chiefly represented in the collection is Philodemus, an Epicurean philosopher of the 1st century BC who taught Virgil, the greatest Latin poet, and probably also Horace. He may indeed have given lessons to both beneath the porticoes of the Villa of the Papyri, for it is known that Philodemus was employed in the household of a powerful Roman senator, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, father-in-law of the dictator Julius Caesar. And it is now regarded as almost certain that Piso — who died more than a century before the eruption of Vesuvius — was the original owner of the Villa of the Papyri.

Apart from the texts of Philodemus, hundreds of other lost works of Greek philosophy — including half of Epicurus’s entire opus, missing for 2,300 years — have been rediscovered. Among them is a treatise by Zeno of Sidon, who Cicero saw lecture in Athens in 79BC. According to Richard Janko, professor of classics at Michigan University: “This is the first copy of Zeno’s writings to come to light; they had all been lost in later antiquity.”

A few hours spent in the Archeological Museum in Naples reveals the incredible finds from what has been excavated. The unique occurrence of two thriving communities suddenly being buried, left behind archeological treasures that just are not found at sites that were abandoned over many years. Two millennia buried under volcanic ash does not leave high hopes for the conditions of any remaining books, but if the technology now exists to read them, it should be worth an investment to try to find them. There are plenty of foundations with more money than they know what to do with that can be approached for financial backing.

Inaugural Speech Analysis

I have read more analyses of President Bush's inaugural speech than I would care to remember, but probably the best I have seen so far is the one by William Kristol in The Weekly Standard. Link. He does an excellent job of putting it in historical context. No short excerpt will do it justice, so I recommend you link to it and read the whole article. It is not very long.

Mass Suicide Stopped

The Sydney Morning Herald has an article titled "Mass suicide at Guantanamo revealed. Link.

Twenty-three terror suspects tried to hang or strangle themselves at the US military base in Guantanamo Bay during a mass protest in 2003, the military confirmed today.(...)

Between August 18 and August 26, the 23 detainees tried to hang or strangle themselves with pieces of clothing and other items in their cells, demonstrating "self-injurious behaviour"(sic, actually it's the British spelling not an error), the US Southern Command in Miami said in a statement.

The slant of the article is that harsh interrogation techniques drove these men to suicide, but I read a very different slant into it. The fact that the men were able to coordinate shows that they are not exactly rotting in solitary confinement. Islamic extremists have long demonstrated their ability to find ready volunteers to kill themselves for the "good of the cause." Usually the suicide is done to kill numerous innocent people, but creating bad press for the American anti-terrorism effort also serves their purposes. We know that several terrorist organizations including Al Quida have become very sophisticated in manipulating the Western media. If these men had succeeded, imagine the furor in the MSM. Add to this the near certainty that when the terrorists claimed that the men had been murdered, much of the Western media would have believed them rather than the denials by the Bush administration. It's a good thing that they were stopped.



How Many Palestinians Are There?

It appears that the whole world has accepted the "fact" that there are 3.8 million Palestinians lining in Gaza and the West Bank. Joel Mowbray reports on a new demographic study that finds that number very exaggerated. Link.

An eight-person team has found that the actual number of residents in Gaza and the West Bank is nearly one and a half million fewer than the published population of 3.8 million—and they derived much of that number from Palestinian figures.

By any standard, the official tally of 3.8 million Palestinians is a breathtaking number. Both Israel and the then-new Palestinian Authority (PA) agreed in 1996 that the population was roughly 2 million—which would mean that the number of people living in Gaza and the West Bank has nearly doubled in eight short years.

During the same time frame, however, birth rates have declined all across the Arab world—except for Palestinians. Standard of living for ordinary Palestinians is easily among the highest in Arab world, which should mean that their birth rates would be among the lowest in the region, not the highest.

As improbable as the official PA population figures are, they have not been challenged until now. The United States, the European Union, the United Nations, and even Israel have all accepted the claim that 3.8 million Palestinians live in the territories. And all have used that “fact,” to varying degrees, to argue that Israel needs to have a separate Palestinian state and pronto.

It seems the only ones who knew that the population figures were bogus were the Palestinian leaders themselves. It was from analyzing numbers released by various Palestinian agencies, in fact, that the researchers discovered that the published count of 3.8 million was severely inflated.

I'm not sure what impact this knowledge will have on the so-called "peace process" in the area, but having correct information rarely if ever hurts.

Just Carry the Groceries in Your Pockets

My Way News picked up an AP story that reads like it should be in The Onion. The deadline: San Francisco May Charge For Grocery Bags. Link.

The city's Commission on the Environment is expected to ask the mayor and board of supervisors Tuesday to consider a 17-cent per bag charge on paper and plastic grocery bags. While the goal is reducing plastic bag pollution, paper was added so as not to discriminate.

"The whole point is to encourage the elimination of waste, not to make people pay more for groceries," said Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste.

Environmentalists argue that plastic bags jam machinery, pollute waterways and often end up in trees. In addition to large supermarkets, other outfits that regularly use plastic bags, including smaller grocery stores, dry cleaners and takeout restaurants, could eventually be targeted.

The whole article belongs in The Onion, but the most ludicrous part if the anti-discrimination bit. I can just picture the Commission's lawyers warning them that it they only tax plastic bags, the paper bag manufacturers could file a complaint with the Civil Rights Commission demanding that they be taxed too.

However, the city probably has nothing to lose by adding a new tax. The voters there always support the candidate that wants the highest taxes and the most spending. If million-dollar, one-room shacks don't drive people out of San Francisco, I doubt that 17 cents per bag will do the trick.

How the Media Crushed Dean in Iowa

The Washington Times has a interesting analysis of the systematic campaign of the MSM to tear down Howard Dean in Iowa. Link.

The article describes a three-step process. Step One was to run "Dean is dropping and Kerry is rising" articles when it wasn't true and Dean was up by 30 points. The point was to create a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Step Two: Eleven days before the caucus, NBC News ran a feature on Dean's appearances on a Canadian TV show. They chose to feature the segment in which he criticized the Iowa caucus. In the debate a few days later, the other candidates attacked Dean for insulting the voters of Iowa. His lead, which step One had already dropped to 11 points, dropped further to one point.

Step Three was the piling on that continued for days following the "scream speech.
"The media, not the voters, chose the winner of the 2004 Democratic primaries. Not only was this action unprofessional and completely unethical, but it had a direct impact on the general election.

Sadly, while the media is quick to go after others for mistakes, it erects a wall of "No Comment" when it comes to its ethical lapses. As Dan Rather and CBS News President Andrew Heyward conveniently disappeared during their public flogging, so too do most media people when asked about the robbing of Mr. Dean.
They didn't do it because they hated the left-wing of the Democratic Party, their natural constituency, but because they came to believe that Bush would handily beat Dean, but Kerry, also from the left but better at hiding it, could be a winner.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Another Chance to see King Tut

The Times of London reports that the Treasures of Tutankhamun will travel to the West again, for the first time in more than twenty years. Link.

His gold crown, engraved dagger and a canopic coffinette containing his mummified internal organs are among 55 new items from the burial chamber to be shown in London for the first time.

The treasure will be put on show in the dome in 2007(...)

The exhibition, which will tour America before arriving in Britain, marks the first time in more than 20 years that the Egyptian government has allowed Tutankhamun’s artefacts to leave the country. The display will include a further 80 objects from other royal graves in the Valley of the Kings, including items from the tomb of Tutankhamun’s great-grandparents.

I attended the 1972 show at the British Museum, and, to quote a recent loser, it is "seared, seared in my memory." It was one of the only times in my life I was willing to wait on line for significantly over an hour to see a museum exhibit, but it was more than worth it. The death mask along was worth the wait. I stood transfixed and stared at it for almost as long as I had stood on line.

It sounds like it will be in the U.S. in 2006 or 2007. Check for news when it gets closer to find out where it will be shown here. Then make plans to visit the exhibition city nearest you. IT WILL BE WORTH THE TRIP.

Elian

I was surprised to read on NewsMax.com that there is litigation going on concerning the Elian Gonzales affair. Link.
A federal judge has set a Monday trial date for the claims of a dozen people who said they were wrongly assaulted by federal officers during the raid that removed Elian Gonzalez from his family's home.

The plaintiffs say they were innocent bystanders who were gassed and beaten outside the home during the early morning raid on April 22, 2000.
The government action in this raid was so over the top that this suit is certainly deserved. I only am sorry that it did not come to trial while the Attorney General who ordered the military-style invasion of the Gonzales relatives' home and the President who approved it were still in power. At least they did not burn the house down and kill nearly everybody in it, as that Attorney General's previous military raid managed to accomplish.

The Empire Strikes Back

As part of his program to streamline state government, Governor Schwarzenegger proposes to eliminate 88 boards and commissions. The Sacramento Bee reports:

Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, said the shakeout among the boards and commissions suggests to him that Schwarzenegger "is becoming the biggest corporate-interest, special-interest governor in the state's history."

"He's surrounded himself with big business interests, and he is basically implementing their programs," Pulaski said. "That is not a good balance for California."

Gubernatorial spokeswoman Ashley Snee disputed the notion of the governor working as a front man for an alleged corporate agenda. She said the functions of the boards and commissions proposed for elimination will continue within various executive-level agencies and that they were evaluated solely on the basis of whether they are performing on behalf of the populations they were designed to serve.

This sounds like the Left's typical broken record. Anything they do not like is a payoff to big business. I don't know much about the commissions pegged for elimination (all right, I don't know anything about them), but just seeing who is doing the yelling is enough to convince me that Arnold probably is on to something good.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Cervantes

We are living through the 400th aniversary of the publication of Don Quixote. For all of more than you ever wanted to know about Cervantes and Don Quixote, you can check out this article in cyberspain.com. Not exactly current events, but an interesting read.

Will Hubble Survive?

The Washington Post reports that NASA's 2006 budget request eliminates funds for servicing the Hubble Space Telescope. Link.

NASA is scrapping plans to service the Hubble Space Telescope, either with the space shuttle or with a robot repairman, a decision likely to set up a fresh confrontation with Congress over the fate of the orbiting observatory.

Sources said that the White House, in consultation with NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe, had decided to eliminate the Hubble funding from the 2006 federal budget because the cost of servicing is expected to exceed $1 billion.

The sources said the administration made the decision despite its intention to ask Congress for a 4.6 percent budget increase for NASA to $17 billion. The request is expected to focus on plans to reorient NASA's priorities toward President Bush's "Vision for Space Exploration" to the moon and Mars.

This would be a shame. Many NASA programs are wasted money, but the Hubble has been incredibly productive.

My guess is that this represents bureaucratic games. The NASA people are asking for as large a budget increase as they are likely to get. My bet: they are hoping that Congress will leave in what is already in the budget and then add in the money to service Hubble, a very popular program in Congress.

It's like a description I once read of how the various services approach appropriations for a new base. The Marines will build all of the military facilities first. When they run out of money, the go to Congress an tell them, "We have run out of money, and we still haven's built the golf course." They are turned down. The Air Force builds the golf course first. When they run out of money, they go to Congress and tell them,"We have run out of money, and we still haven's built the runways." They get the extra money.

Municipal Unions and Municipal Politics

In The Agora has a post on the growing influence of municipal unions on municipal politics. Link.
The growing, or at least persistent, power of municipal governments has the effect of turning naturally Blue cities even more azure. Most private-sector employees in New York City backed Mike Bloomberg; most public employees voted for Democrat Mark Green. Bloomberg's anti-tax, anti-spending campaign was a direct threat to the jobs of many city workers, who feared having to find new ways of earning their living. Because their jobs are on the line in every election, government workers are especially mobilized in politics: Although they account for only a third of the workforce in New York, Malanga notes, public sector employees represented 37 percent of the electorate in 2001.
I grew up in New York City, very politically aware, and I now live in a rural area of over-bureaucratized California. My county consistently votes Republican. My mother was a teacher and a member of the teachers union there (the UFT, now part of the AFT). I can remember when the UFT president was an ex-teacher and the union was equally concerned with teacher pay/benefits/conditions and improving education. I'm afraid that the second half of that concern is now totally gone. Teachers unions have become no different than factory unions. They are only concerned with member pay and benefits, and have no concern with output. The other municipal unions were that way even when I was young.

Government employee unions now make up a majority of the AFL-CIO membership. This is not healthy for the economy, and it certainly is not healthy for our local, state and national politics.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Did Bush's Inaugural Meet Kerry's Global Test?

The Christian Science Monitor has a summary of press reaction to the speech from around the world. Link. It makes interesting, but not especially surprising, reading.

Universal Phone Service

Government Bytes has an interesting post concerning government efforts to expand phone service in rural areas. Link. It quotes a story in USA Today about a businessman in South Dakota whose cell phone worked fine where he worked in Sioux Falls, but he lost service when he commuted home to a small town. He and others complained, and the federal government kicked in $245,000 from the Universal Service Fund to build a tower.
I wonder if a single mom living in Detroit knows that the USF tax she's forced to pay on her phone bill is providing "salvation" for considerably wealthier farmers in South Dakota.

"The $3.5 billion fund, financed by a 10.7% fee on every long-distance bill, goes mostly to rural phone incumbents to keep basic home service affordable. That's because it's costly for companies to string wires to rural areas with few customers."

Can somebody please point me to the line in the Constitution that says all citizens shall have a right to affordable phone service?
This is a common problem. I would love to hear some president say in his State of the Union Address that he will veto any bill that does not contain a citation to that portion of the Constitution that authorizes the government to do whatever the bill is having the government do. If such a policy were enforced, we probably could get along with a part-time Congress, there would be so few bills for it to consider.

More on the New Jersey Jihad

Little Green Footballs has additional information of the brutal murder. Link. It is not very long, and no few sentences would do it justice, so just kink over there and read the whole thing.

This story just keeps getting scarier and scarier.

The Klan Rides Again

CNN reports about the Democratic effort to delay the approval of Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State.Link. Even the Democrats know that they cannot stop the approval, but it seems they have fallen in love with obstructionism. The most unbelievable element:
Aides said Democrats Barbara Boxer of California and Robert Byrd of West Virginia plan to give long speeches opposing the nomination in an effort to extend the debate until 7 p.m., when the inaugural balls begin.
Do the Democrats know absolutely nothing about appearance and public relations. To co-lead the effort against the first female African-American to be nominated as Secretary of State (and only the second African-American of either sex) the Democrats have chosen a former Grand Dragon of the Klu Klux Klan. Perhaps during the hearing, they should have invited David Duke to appear and speak against her.

What Biased Media?

You know that the media stress the negative in Iraq, but you might be surprised by just how one-sided the coverage is. Arthur Chrenkoff, who every two weeks gives us some of the only coverage of the good news there, spent some time counting up the negative and positive stories found in a Google search. Link. It only covers a limited amount of time, but there is no reason to believe that a similar count over a longer period would have looked any different. The ratio of bad-to-good is not just disappointing, it is truly staggering.

A New Anti-American Alliance?

Charles Krauthammer points out the growing closeness between Russia and China and its shades of anti-Americanism. Link.
Putin's Russia, already moving decisively back to traditional Czarist authoritarianism, then suffers political defeat in Ukraine, which it considers its natural patrimony. This only compounds and embitters the feeling of alienation from the West in general, and from the United States in particular.

It is no accident that Russia then begins hinting at making common cause with China. This is potentially ominous because of China's rising power and its status as the leading have-not nation on the planet, the Germany of the 21st century. In December, during the week of the rerun Ukrainian election that finally brought the pro-Western Viktor Yuschenko to power, Russia made two significant moves toward China. First was the announcement of intensified economic cooperation in developing Russia's vast energy resources. More ominous was the Russian defense minister's Dec. 27 announcement of, ``for the first time in history,'' large joint military exercises on Chinese territory.

China in turn is developing relationships with such virulently anti-American rogue states as Iran. Add such various self-styled anti-imperialist flotsam as Syria, North Korea, Cuba and (Chavez's) Venezuela, and you have the beginnings of a significant ``anti-hegemonic'' bloc -- aimed at us.

Russia and China each have their own reasons for cooperating with us to some degree when it comes to the war on terror. However, they have even stronger reasons for seeking each other's help in opposing the spread of democracy, which is becoming the central theme of American foreign policy under the Bush presidency.

I just hope they do not find another ally in the U.S. State Department below the secretaries. I think in Condi Rice we will have a Secretary of State who will come down very hard on any department factions who actively try to fight the spread of democracy.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Spyware Making It To Business Computers

ZDNet has a scary story about the growth of spyware. Link. It is catching up with viruses as security threat to corporate computer networks.
Many analysts and administrators agree that while spyware's impact is rising, its definition remains elusive. The umbrella term most commonly refers to a wide range of unethical software, from difficult-to-uninstall toolbars to home-page hijackers and pop-up window generators. In a new poll of security administrators and IT managers, conducted by security firm WatchGuard Technologies, 50 percent of respondents said the vast majority of users don't know what spyware is.(...)

Regardless of how a PC gets infected, the results can be serious: compromised company security, overloaded networks, and significant user downtime and inconvenience. Although the symptoms of a system that's overwhelmed with spyware vary, the primary indicators include sluggish performance, broken Internet connections, and possibly even an unusable PC.

"We've seen individual issues ranging from hijacked home pages and pop-ups to aggravatingly slow performance to completely unstable platforms," said Nick Twentyfive, senior network analyst for CTG, an IT and outsourcing solutions company in Buffalo, N.Y. "Back doors installed by spyware can be used by third parties for more serious security breaches. Lost network bandwidth and computer performance reduces productivity. Basically, spyware costs money."

And the problem isn't going away anytime soon. "Spyware's getting harder and harder to remove," he said. "Some of the spyware variants out now have forced anti-spyware companies to make targeted plug-ins to properly deal with them. That's just evil."

If you are not very familiar with spyware, and especially if you are not using protection for it, I recommend you read the entire article. One alteration I would make. The article speaks highly of Ad-Aware, which I did not find to be very effective. I now use Spybot Search & Destroy and Spyware Doctor, both of which are available free at various software sites, like Download.com.

Did Soros Violate Election Laws?

NewsMax.com reports that a complaint against George Soros has been filed with the Federal Election Commission. Link.
The NLPC alleges that Soros failed to disclose a series of expenditures stemming from his October 2004 speaking tour to several swing states, where he called for the defeat of President Bush. Soros is a major financier of liberal causes.

"This is possibly the largest off-the-books independent expenditure ever run. It's especially important that the FEC look at it, because [his media tour] occurred the month before a very close election in key swing states," Ken Boehm, chairman of the NLPC, told Cybercast News Service.(...)

"Disclosure is the absolute heart of campaign finance law, and Soros' anti-Bush campaign could have potentially shifted the outcome of the presidential election," Boehm added.

McCain-Feingold is a disaster. Instead of soft money going the the political parties, which are answerable to their menbers, to their elected officials and to the public, the law shifts it to the 527s, which in many cases are only answerable to their billionaire funders. And this besides the fact that the law clearly violates the First Amendment (no matter what the Supreme Court says). Let us hope that Congress soon returns to this topic, to replace attempts to cut off funding to campaigns (an imposible task) with strict reporting requirements.

Republican Majority For What?

Paul Gigot is wonderful, as usual, as he discusses whether the Republicans will use their majorities to actually change things basically in Washington. Link. The history of Republicans in Congress does not give a lot of room for hope, but maybe a determined Republican President can give them the backbone they will need for real changes to occur. At least the inaugural speech lets them know that he means business.