Gibson, Anti-semitism, Police Favoritism

July 31, 2006

People have decided that Gibson’s anti-semitic comments prove that the Passion of the Christ must be anti-semitic. The comments were pretty sick, but consider the general reaction after Woody Allen married his step-daughter. The thought was that we must separate his art from his rather disgusting personal life. Now I think that this idea is generally correct, and if before these comments “The Passion” wasn’t anti-semitic then afterwords it doesn’t change in character.

Another interesting thing is that what Mel Gibson said is pretty standard for Europe, except there they are sober enough to remember to say Israel or Zionists rather than ‘f-ing Jews’. Again the left-wing would applaud a statement like that made in a PC way by Woody Allen or some other actor.

The most disturbing thing about the case is that the police were almost able to cover this story up. There is no reason that non-undercover cops shouldn’t have a webcam on their uniform which uploads to the web on a 5-10 minute delay. The costs are none and the benefits are enormous. For example, do you think the Rodney King beating would have happened with the police knowing it would be immediately discovered. Wouldn’t it have been useful during the O.J. trial to know with certainty that Fuhrman hadn’t (or had) planted the evidence. We have the technology so why don’t we use it?

John Bolton’s Day in the lights.

July 28, 2006

John Bolton is trying to gain his well deserved full term appointment as ambassador to the UN and he faced some harsh criticism from certain Senators. Here are the highlights.

BIDEN: I understand. I read Senator Dodd’s statement. I happen to agree with it. And my statement is not substantially different, so I’ll not take the time to do that. But I thank you. And by way of explanation to my colleagues and to the ambassador, I was at the signing of the Voting Rights Act.
BIDEN: It’s been the only constant in my entire political career. That’s what got me involved in politics and, quite frankly, I didn’t see how I couldn’t be there. And I apologize for the tardiness.

Biden has got to be one of the biggest blowhards in the Senate. You don’t have to try score political points for being late all the time. Dodd was late and probably because of the vote but he didn’t mention it.

CHAFEE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Welcome, Ambassador. As you said, we have a crisis and tragedy unfolding in the Middle East. And without a doubt, this is an extremely important area in the world: energy-rich, all the religious areas that are important. And in addressing that, you said that, “We are actively engaged in New York in identifying lasting solutions to bring about a permanent peace in the Middle East. To do so, however, requires that we have a shared understanding of the problem. The United States has a firm view that the root cause of the problem is terrorism, and this terrorism is solely and directly responsible for the situation we find ourselves in today.” And you’re a brilliant man. That statement doesn’t make any sense. Terrorism is a device. There’s got to be something deeper for the root case. Can you go a little deeper?

Lincoln Chafee, the Republicans Zell Miller was trying to get Bolton to say that the real problem in the Middle East wasn’t terrorism. Bolton backed down to saying that the cause was that the leaders of the other countries hated Israel. Chafee was also saying how he thought the real problem was no contigous Palestinian State. The obvious problem is that you can either have a contigous Israel or a contigious Palestine, having both is infeasible.

SARBANES: Now, the U.S. is very substantially in arrears with respect to peacekeeping dues at the United Nations. Is that correct?
BOLTON: I wouldn’t say “very substantially in arrears.” I think part of this — part of the calculation comes from the way in which our budget cycle operates, where we will pay the bulk of our assessments in what’s called the CIPA account, Contributions to International Peacekeeping Activities, at the end of this year, because of the congressional and administration budget cycles. So that as the U.N. defines arrearages, which become arrearages 30 days after the bill is paid, there are outstanding balances which hopefully will be — when Congress is able to act on the appropriations bill, which I’m sure they will, will be paid before the end of this calendar year.
SARBANES: Well, I have figures that indicate that we’re almost a trillion dollars in arrearage on peacekeeping operations at the United Nations.
BOLTON: I can’t believe that’s right.
SARBANES: $1 billion, I’m sorry, not $1 trillion. $1 billion.
BOLTON: Right.
SARBANES: Yes. $966 million.
BOLTON: Right. I think that’s in part due to the nature of the budget process, as I’ve just described it.
SARBANES: What part of it is due to that, in your opinion?
BOLTON: I would have to get you that exact figure.
SARBANES: Well, how important do you think it is that we be abreast of our — how can we go in and ask or push for the U.N. to assume peacekeeping operations when we’re not paying out for our peacekeeping assessments? BOLTON: Well, I think we are attempting to pay up for our peacekeeping assessments. The nature of the way the assessments come in, the way the budget cycle works in the United States don’t mesh. That’s a problem with other countries, as well. And I don’t think, I would have to say, in my experience, that our situation with the arrearages in the peacekeeping account has not been a factor in the discussions in New York on rehatting the force currently in Darfur and making it a U.N. peacekeeping mission. I think everybody’s aware of the arrearages, but I don’t think that’s a factor in any of the negotiations. At least, I have not encountered it myself, and I’m not aware that anybody else has raised it.

Senator Sarbannes was somehow trying to blame Bolton for the fact that Congress pays bills on a different timetable than the UN. Sarbannes knows this, he knows that this isn’t a new problem but he figures the sound clip will sound good; the message of the sound clip is relatively simple, how dare we criticize the UN for not doing enough when we aren’t paying the money. Also it is a desperate attempt to shift the blame for Darfur from the UN to Bush.

DODD: Well, then, why don’t you explain — let me ask you this: What was so important in that information that you needed to know the names of those individuals in addition to the actual content of the conversations?
BOLTON: Let me just say, as I said at the beginning of the hearings 15 months ago, I guess they were, from my personal point of view, I’d have all of this in public. Because, frankly, I think if all of these — if all of these things were out in the open, they would be a lot easier to explain. I feel a little constrained now even talking about the intercept issue in public, but I will try and answer your question to the best I can.
DODD: I’m not going to ask you to reveal any names…
BOLTON: I understand. I know you would not do that. But let me just explain how this works. And every day — usually twice a day, sometimes more than that — I get packages of intelligence material, and I did in my previous job — as do senior officials in State and Defense and the NSA. I’m a voracious consumer of intelligence. I read as much as I can, I make no bones about it. I, in my previous jobs, and lots of other senior officials see the results of intercepts. And they’re written up in various different ways. But it is the policy of the NSA not to put in the intercepts the names of Americans,
Dodd: OK…
DODD: Correct.
BOLTON: … and that includes American entities…
DODD: Correct.
BOLTON: … companies as well as individuals. They follow different patterns, and I couldn’t begin to explain why. Sometimes it’ll say that material is going on, and then it will say “a named American person.” Sometimes it says “a named government official.” Sometimes, and I’ve seen this for myself, it will say “the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations” — not hard to figure out who that is. But there are times when as you’re reading along the material, trying to understand what it really means, it can be enhanced if you know the name of the American involved. So what I did on 10 occasions — you’re quite right; 10 occasions — four times in 2003, three times in 2004, and three times in 2005 — following procedures that are set up for precisely this purpose, made a request of the INR bureau of the State Department to receive the names of the — what is called the minimized names. That’s the whole process — this is called “minimization.” The INR, pursuant to procedures, passed that request along to NSA, which pursuant to their procedures, I believe in all 10 cases, agreed to provide the name.

Sending requests for the names in certain intelligence briefs sounds pretty standard. For example, if he got intelligence about a certain UN ambassador he would want to know which one it was to do his job properly, in act if he didn’t make these requests it would seem that his intelligence work wasn’t being done very well. The fact that these requests were approved indicates that he wasn’t making demands on a casual basis to get back at someone.

Byron Dorgan is the biggest threat to our economy

July 27, 2006

Byron Dorgan represents the largest threat to our economy. Not terrorists, not multi-national companies, not even outsourcing, but economic protectionists like Dorgan. He has a new book out and had an interview on the Michael Medved show in just a half-hour he demonstrated that there is no subject of economics he isn’t 300 years out of date on. Also he demonstrated a shocking amount of arrogance and short-sighted thinking. I felt that the best way to demonstrate this stupidity would be to examine his website.

The website’s home page is a ‘clever’ parody on oil prices with a meter showing how much profits the oil companies have made during your visit. He continues with his windfall tax proposal. His tax is one half of all the cost of a barrel over $40. His tax excludes profits put back into oil exploration and refinery development or research into renewable resources. It isn’t clear to me if he wants 10 Enrons a year or if he is too stupid to see that the obvious course of action is to overpay your subsidiaries for these exploration and research jobs. Also he thinks that they will stay in America because they love it so much they’ll pay tens of billions to stay here.

The rest is divided into 3 major issue categories: Building North Dakota, Improving the Quality of Life for our Families, and Strengthening our Economy.

His major program in, Helping North Dakota, is 3.9 billion dollars of pork spending to help farmers hit by a drought. The idea that the government should protect against bad weather is one only a farmer could support.

As I go through these proposals one by one I am continually surprised by each one’s increasing stupidity. The New Homestead Act is a bill for the government to give money to people who are willing to move to places so lousy that nobody wants to live there anymore. Why our country is threatened by a lack of North Dakotans is beyond me.

After a standard wind energy pork proposal. He comes up with a plan to put price controls on pesticides. Of course, he frames it as levelling the playing field with Canada. This is a farm version of the prescription drugs from Canada idea. The thing is that pesticides aren’t life savers so the only possible (not to say good) rationale is removed. Of course, he is also in favor of that plan.

In his section on strengthening our economy he starts with a plan to make trade relations with China renewable every year by the Senate. This will probably be an opportunity for some of his stupider ideas. He favors a seal on the trade deficit to be enforced by ever increasing tariffs. The costs of this plan are largely ignored by him as well as the incursion of freedom it imposes. Also he favors demanding that China should adopt all of our labor laws (including presumably our minimum wage laws) ignoring the Chinese deaths his plan would cause which would probably be numbered in the millions. Also when asked about how it would affect the quality of life if trade from China was curtailed, he made a surprisingly arrogant statement, “Does it really matter if people can buy multiple pairs of underwear for a low price.” How very plebeian of you Mr. Dorgan, I’m sure you earn enough to buy off your conscience by buying overpriced American goods.

Senator Dorgan show that his ignorance doesn’t stop at economics. He talks about the monopoly power the railroads have over farmers. His world is one of Rockfellers and Carnegies and Potters controlling the poor George Bailey until he contemplates suicide. Mr. Dorgan, around 80 years ago the truck was invented. His proposal to make prices fair is to have a government commission. Yes, that proposal was tried until the 80s and the elimination of the commission just happened to coincide with the end of their monopoly.

I support expanded foreign trade, but only if it is fair and mutually beneficial trade. This sentence alone demonstrates how incredibly misunderstanding of the economy he is. Why any two people would make a trade which each didn’t believe benefited him is beyond me. Also he deals with tariffs as if our tariffs benefit us but theirs hurt us. He’s half right. Our tariffs hurt us severely as our farm subsidies demonstrate. Also the fake humanitarianism of these anti-sweatshop crusaders sickens me. Their morality is so skewed that they would rather let the poor in Africa starve instead of letting them do labor which requires little skill and pays well by their standards.

His next program is to increase hydrogen fuel-cell research. My criticism of this isn’t directed at Dorgan specifically. Even if you agree, which I don’t, that the government should fund research hydrogen fuel-cells are a worthless technology without good nuclear fission or fusion technology. To provide the electricity needed by burning coal would cost around as much as oil eventually and would release more pollution. So hydrogen is viable but only with cheap energy.

He also has the traditional, ending waste is government section. Some of the proposals are good but consider his attack on the Pentagon terrorism betting website. This was an 8 million dollar a year program which could have been better at coordinating intelligence than the intelligence overlord. It had a low chance of success but at 8 million dollars it was relatively inexpensive. This plan could have provided a great way of evaluating threat levels and could have been a valuable tool. Of course Dorgan voted 453 million for the ‘bridge to nowhere’ so he loses a bit of credibility.

Does anybody else think the country would be better off if economics were taughtin schools instead of foreign languages.

You say you want to have an investigation. Ok.

July 27, 2006

Kofi Annan has come out strongly in favor of having an investigation on the bombing of a U.N. bunker in Southern Lebanon. The UN says that they repeatedly asked Israel to stop the bombing and Israel refused. A key quote in the article is that Hezbullah didn’t fire on the bunker. Of course, the UN representative who said this meant it to cast blame on Israel, but it does the opposite. The UN bunker was right in the middle of the terrorists. Suppose Israel does nothing within a radius of 300-500 meters of the bunker (a reasonable error for an airstrike or artillery bombing). How are they supposed to clear the terrorists out of Lebanon if they don’t bomb an area of 300,000-800,000 sq. meters around each UN bunker. Maybe the Israelis could let the UN deal with these terrorists? I mean if you can’t trust the UN who can you trust? In fact the possibility that this is a mistake is much greater than any other possibility. The other three possibilities are:

  1. A single pilot acting on his own bombed the bunker out of his contempt for the UN. This is technically possible, but it is unlikely that any pilot would take the high chance of life in prison just to satisfy a personal vendetta. Also Annan doesn’t want this because it allows Israel to punish the pilot and suffer no loss of reputation.
  2. Israel authorized the bombing of the bunker and the near misses were put there to fool the world into thinking it was an accident. This is implausible because there is no motive for Israel to bomb a random UN bunker. It is possibly the one action Israel can take which would turn the US against them.
  3. Israel bombed the UN bunker because the UN was sheltering Hamas. Given the UN reputation it isn’t implausible, but even so Israel probably wouldn’t bomb the bunker directly.

The UN bunker was unfortunately destroyed, but if you’re going to send UN observers into the middle of the enemy army you shouldn’t be shocked if you get accidentally hit.

Somebody should tell Russia they lost the Cold War

July 26, 2006

Russia decided that giving advanced weaponry to an insane, despotic, third world, Communistic, ‘President’ is a good idea. Chavez hates the U.S. and is probably the most dangerous man in South America. Putin apparently is forgetting that this isn’t the 70s anymore and Russia shouldn’t be setting up client states against their only ally in the U.N. on Chechnya.

The Democrats’ new plan

July 25, 2006

The DLC has come up with a plan for victory in ’06 the basic idea is that the Democrat party must win back the middle class. I’ll be examining their ideas in this post.

Higher education block grants — $150 billion over 10 years — to states, based in part on the number of students who attend and graduate from college. States would have to promise not to raise tuition higher than inflation.

Another of the many proposals to lower the cost of college. This one does add to the general idea by capping tuition increases at inflation rate. The real problem with this idea is that colleges have many ways of raising costs and tuition is just one of the ways for them to raise costs. Also with about 10,000,000 college students a year even this plan falls 200 billion dollars short of matching the rate of inflation for college costs. Of course the one proposal which would help is usually rejected out of hand. The proposal is to let student sell a portion of their wages in exchange for a college education. This is done in poor countries where the college educated students provide for their family. In the U.S. this could be done by insurance companies or some other firm on the open market.

• $3,000 college tuition tax credits to help families pay for college.

The same goes for this proposal which has an even more obvious effect than the first one. Tuition will go up $3,000 and only the colleges gain.

• A permanent “saver’s credit” aimed at helping low-income families build equity by having the government match 50% of their savings, up to $2,000 a year.

This proposal is government at its most paternalistic. In general low income families should be spending their free money on some form of education rather than saving the money. This proposal would likely have the effect of reducing education levels and would cost the government large amounts of money.

• Greater disclosure and oversight of pension fund investments and greater disclosure of executive compensation in publicly held companies.

Greater disclosure is in general a good thing and these seem like good ideas. It seems to me that they are trying to solve a problem which doesn’t really exist. Employees generally know where their pension money is going and executive compensation is usually given in the form of retirement bonuses which cannot be revealed ahead of time since they are frequently decided at retirement time.

• “Pay-as-you-go” budgeting and tighter congressional caps on discretionary spending.

These are good proposals but any Congress would put enough caveats into these rules to make them meaningless. Also discretionary spending is a small problem compared to Medicare and Social Security which the Democrats are staunchly against reforming.

• $500 savings bonds for each of the 4 million children born annually in the United States and letting families with income under $75,000 augment the bonds by putting existing annual tax credits in them.

Thi proposal is so pointless that it’s hard to see how any rational person could support it. Why spend 2 billion a year on the people who need it least. These children are going to be far more prosperous on average 30 years from now than 30 year olds today. Also the second proposal is redundant. People are allowed to buy bonds for their children without governmnt action in their favor. 2 billion dollars could be far better spent as a benefit to 30 year olds today rather than those in 2036. My feeling is that this bill is meant to reduce the ‘problem’ of foreign ownership of American bonds.

• Pooling small businesses into a single national insurance purchase pool to augment bargaining power and streamline administrative costs.

Small buisnesses can do this on their own if they want to. In addition this pooling would be unnecesary if interstate insurance sales were allowed.

• Universal health care for children. The DLC says 9 million Americans under age 18 are uninsured.

Again the government wants to cover those who need it least. This is an expensive plan which would do little and tax money from those who need the insurance more leading to less coverage for the middle-aged.

• Setting up an independent commission to crack down on business subsidies, which Clinton, Vilsack and their compatriots believe save the government $250 billion over 10 years.

Fair, but if you do this it would take the utmost hypocrisy to complain about outsourcing. Of course, Congress still will whine but what can you do? Also Clinton and Vilsack’s estimate is based on buisnesses changing nothing based on these changes, an unrealisti idea.

• Tax credits for employers that offer employee housing assistance programs, especially for public employees, and a $5,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers.

Why should we encourage employees to pay salaries in ways less valuable than cash to their employees. If the worker wants a house he can pay for it out of his wages and if he doesn’t want to buy a house part of his salary is wasted. Also if you offer a $5,000 subsidy to house buyers then houses will cost about $5,000 more. (I’m not sure if this means 5,000 less in taxes or taxable income 5000 less if the latter than home’s will cost around 1,000 more.)

• Reducing by 100,000 the number of federal consultants and contractors, which the DLC estimates at 5 million. The group says that would save $50 billion over 10 years.

A good idea indeed.

Reuters’s fair and balanced’ reporting

July 24, 2006

Reuter’s posted a headline about an airstrike in Gaza. The headline was ‘airstrike kills 8-medics’ now this headline is ambiguous and may be the standard way of quoting a person but would it be that hard to put the headline in quotes or to say according to medics. This may not be bias but it is a case of people not caring about people’s misconceptions about the story.