Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Hello Project

Remember Lionel Richie's 'Hello' video -- the one where he stalks a blind girl, who ends up sculpting his perfect likeness -- though she's never seen him?

How would that work in real life?

Andrew Roth found a video that shows exactly how. Answer? Not all that well.

O, Brave New World!

A scientist predicts that within 50 years people will be marrying robots. And earlier than that, people will be having... relations with robots. I am skeptical -- as in, I hope I'm not around when it happens -- but I can't argue with one prediction: It will happen in Massachusetts:

"My forecast is that around 2050, the state of Massachusetts will be the first jurisdiction to legalize marriages with robots," artificial intelligence researcher David Levy at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands told LiveScience. Levy recently completed his Ph.D. work on the subject of human-robot relationships, covering many of the privileges and practices that generally come with marriage as well as outside of it.

Her name was Pris...

Friday, October 12, 2007

OMB Director Talks Deficits, Budget Busting

Read it at the Standard.

Democrat Hypocrisy: Why Doesn't Hillary Fire Berger and Albright

Democrats have complained at length that President Bush hasn't fired people when things went wrong on their watch. Rumsfeld, Tenet, Michael Brown, and others were all allowed to remain at their posts when Harry Reid and Howard Dean felt they had failed the people and deserved to be fired.

Well, if that's the case, why is there so little attention to Hillary Clinton's having brought Madeline Albright and Sandy Berger back to choreograph her national security and anti-terror strategy? This is the team that turned a blind eye to the gathering storm of international terror, and left Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden more powerful than when Clinton took office.

And not only that, but Berger still has not answered questions about the destruction of classified material -- which cost him his security clearance:

Fund is absolutely right -- reporters should be asking Clinton why she relies for national security advice on a man who has no security clearance because he stole and destroyed classified documents.

And Democrats should be concerned that Obama and Edwards are refusing to hit Hillary with attacks she will get from Giuliani (or Romney, or Thompson) in the general election. Are Democrats getting ready to nominate a candidate with a glassjaw?

What Really Happened to the Life Size X-Wing

This is pretty stupid. And by stupid, I mean funny:

Al Gore Wins the Nobel Peace Prize.

Gosh. I hope he doesn't get all arrogant and holier than thou. People might not like him so much if he loses that warm 'everyman' quality.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Thanks Walter, But no Thanks...

Earlier today Jim Geraghty looked at the endorsements some current candidates are getting that they would be better off without:

Door Number One: NARAL’s statement that electing Rudy Giuliani ‘would help’ their movement?

Door Number Two: The Log Cabin Republicans’ ad praising Mitt Romney’s ‘Massachusetts Values’?

Door Number Three: Mike Huckabee’s kudos from Andy Stern's Change to Win union group?

What, no formation of a 527 group called “Hollywood Elites for Fred Thompson”?

Who would have thought the next item on that list would come from the Democratic side?

Mondale to Endorse Clinton

Former Vice President Walter Mondale, the 1984 Democratic presidential nominee, is planning to endorse Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), The Hill has learned.

Mondale’s endorsement could prove especially valuable in Iowa, which borders his home state of Minnesota. Mondale won Iowa overwhelmingly in the ’84 primary.

Remember though, Walter Mondale's last foray into politics was his embarrassing loss to Norm Coleman in the 2002 Senate race in Minnesota -- a race he entered only after the death of Paul Wellstone. Running as a legacy candidate -- and as someone who agreed with just about everything Wellstone stood for -- few thought Mondale could lose -- but he did.

Further, doesn't this serve to reinforce the idea that Hillary is little more than a throwback, tax-raising, big-government-loving liberal in the mold of well, Walter Mondale? And is that a good thing, when it's starting to become clear -- more than a year before the election -- that today's Democratic party is beginning to look a lot like the Mondale/Dukakis party?

It’s obvious from watching congressional Democrats and the party’s presidential candidates that they have decided the political environment has changed dramatically since Bill Clinton told the country that the era of big government was over.

They are again offering spending programs and calling for measures that would lead to tax increases of the type that they began shying away from after the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress.

They changed their ways after 1994 for some time, of course, because voters had made clear that they thought government was doing too many things with too much tax money. It was that realization that led a contrite Clinton to make clear in his annual State of the Union address that he, and his party, understood.

But, clearly, times have changed. Democrats are not only offering up programs that would enlarge the reach of the federal government and collect more money from taxpayers, but they’re doing so enthusiastically, confident the American people are on their side.

It's nice of Hillary to bravely embrace the 1970s style liberalism.

Netroots Strategize Holding on to Power Once Gained

Chris Bowers of OpenLeft pens a post on the legislative reforms and statutory changes that would contribute to the creation of a more progressive society:

...I am referring to those key areas of legislation and Democratic Party behavior that have the potential to build progressivism itself. As Matt as discussed in recent length pieces such as Emergence Politics and Rush Limbaugh, and The Broken Market for Democratic Primaries, what progressives need are the creation and institutionalization of "positive feedback loops" that will make America a more progressive place, and thus make all other progressive policy more likely to be enacted...

* The Employee Free Choice Act...
* Clean Election Laws...
* Reversing Corporate Media Consolidation...
* Progressive Immigration Reform...
* Colonial Reform... [full voting rights for districts and territories -- the Editor]
* Re-locating government spending...
* Voting Reform...
As a conservative, this ought to scare you. I don't know of anyone on the right putting together a corresponding agenda: the reforms that conservatives support for their own sake, which would simultaneously reinforce a conservative direction for government.

Of these reforms, which ones do Democrats back because they're the right thing to do, and which do they support because they promise to cement the progressive hold on power? Does it call into question the legitimacy of a political movement to taint their agenda for the betterment of the human condition, by associating it with tightening the grip on the levers of power?

As a conservative, I think it's good to expand the ownership society. If I point out that expanding the ability of workers to invest for their retirement, also creates more pressure for government policies that promote business generally, is it a 'conflict of interest?'

What other policies would make it onto the corresponding list for free-market advocates?
  • School choice: Allows kids trapped in bad schools -- often the poor -- to get a superior education, while simultaneously weakening teachers' unions.
  • Contracting out of government services: If the government used more private contractors to deliver services, it would weaken government unions while also saving taxpayer money.
  • Restraining federal spending increases to some combination of inflation & population. (Which would prevent the federal government from doing something new, without simultaneously giving up something it currently does).
What else would make the list?

See also Riehl World View

Fred Thompson: Master of Detail

The dominant image that critics of Fred Thompson have noted and/or created is one of a half-hearted candidate, not particularly interested in the rigors of a presidential campaign. It's therefore worthy of note that the Annenberg Center's gives him high grades for accuracy on the specific claims he made during the recent presidential debate.

Thompson: Just the Facts

Thompson stuck to the facts in his rookie outing. A number of his statements attracted our interest, but they all checked out.

Corporate Taxes 2nd Highest in the World: Thompson was correct when he said of the U.S., "We have the second highest corporate tax penalty in the world." According to a study produced by the global consulting firm KPMG, the U.S. top corporate tax rate of 40 percent is just slightly below Japan’s 40.6 percent. The United States is resisting a worldwide trend that has seen most nations reduce corporate taxes during the last decade. As of Jan. 1, 2007, the German rate was 38.36 percent; the Italian rate was 37.25 percent; and the Canadian rate was 36.1 percent. The average for the 30 major industrial democracies was 27.8 percent.

WMDs in Iraq: Thompson corrected moderator Chris Matthews, who wrongly implied that the former senator had said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction "right before" the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq:
Matthews: You made a statement a couple of days ago, I believe, that alluded to the fact you believed that there were such weapons [WMDs] in Iraq. Do you believe they were there right before we got in – they were moved out somewhere? ...

Thompson: No, I didn't say that. I was just stating what was obvious and that is that Saddam had had them prior. They used them against his own people – against the Kurds.
Thompson was correct. Matthews referred to remarks the senator made to about 60 persons in Newton, Iowa, last week. Both MSNBC and the Des Moines Register quoted him as saying, "We can’t forget the fact that although at a particular point in time we never found any WMD down there, he clearly had had WMD. He clearly had had the beginnings of a nuclear program..."

Economic Growth: Thompson erred – but on the safe side – when he said, "We're enjoying 22 quarters of successive economic growth." Actually, the U.S. economy has grown for 23 successive quarters, according to the most recent figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. And when preliminary figures on gross domestic product for July, August and September are released later this month, the official total is expected to reach 24.

Restraining Future Social Security Benefits: Thompson also was correct about the effect of restraining growth of Social Security benefits for future retirees:
Thompson: And then, lastly, one of the other things that could be done would be to index benefits to inflation. Index benefit to inflation for future retirees. It would not affect current or near retirement people. [It] would be indexed to inflation instead of wages, as it is today. And it would solve the problem for several years; it wouldn't solve it indefinitely, but it would give us a window of opportunity to get our arms around the problem. It would be a major step in the right direction.
The Social Security actuaries calculate that it would require a tax increase of 1.95 percent of taxable payroll to pay benefits promised under current benefit formulas for the next 75 years. But most of that "actuarial imbalance" would disappear under various proposals to peg benefits of future retirees to inflation rather than to wage growth. One form of so-called "progressive" indexing would allow future retirement benefits for the lowest 40 percent of wage earners to keep growing under the current formula, which is pegged to wage growth, but slow down the growth of benefits for higher-income workers retiring after 2012 according to a sliding scale. Benefits for those at the very top would rise only enough to keep pace with inflation. Actuaries calculated that this would remove 1.21 percentage points from the 1.95 percent actuarial imbalance...
Playing devil's advocate, I could point out that it doesn't actually require a lot of intellectual heft to memorize three or four talking points. A critic might suggest that's what Thompson has done here.

But his point about Social Security -- as well as comments he's made on the program in other venues as well -- demonstrates an interest in it, and a depth of understanding that speak well of him.

They also contrast with the other candidate I like in this race -- Mayor Giuliani. In particular, I am disappointed that he has apparently been misattributing a quote to Senator Clinton that she hasn't said:
Misquoting Hillary: Giuliani wrongly attributed a quote to Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton, and he got the quote wrong as well:

Giuliani: And the leading Democratic candidate once said that the unfettered free market is the most destructive force in modern America.

Sen. Clinton, the "leading" candidate in public opinion polls, never said that. The quote is by Alan Ehrenhalt, author and executive editor of Governing magazine. Furthermore, Ehrenhalt didn't call the free market "destructive" but used the somewhat softer term "radically disruptive."

I'd prefer if she said the free market was destructive; to say it's extremely disruptive is merely accurate. Joseph Schumpeter coined the term 'creative destruction' to describe the dynamic process of eliminating outdated and inefficient economic arrangements in favor of ones that serve consumers better. I'm disappointed at the suggestion that Hillary understands this.

Oh well.

McKinney, Nader as Third Party Candidates

While a lot of attention has been focussed lately on the possibility of a third-party challenge on the Republican right, it appears that there are several potential third-party challenges on the Left.

In particular, Cynthia McKinney -- who will reportedly seek the Green Party nomination -- and Ralph Nader, who is on the California ballot as a candidate for both the Green and Peace and Freedom nomination.

Nader has made clear that he is undecided on a 2008 run. McKinney on the other hand, is apparently committed to the race.

Will the Democratic candidate sufficiently alienate the anti-war Left, to drive votes to a nut like McKinney?

Federal Deficit Falls Further in 2007

Congressional Quarterly reports:

For the third straight year, the federal budget deficit diminished in fiscal 2007, dropping to $162.8 billion, according to figures released Thursday.

During the early years of the Bush administration the deficit grew steadily, peaking in fiscal 2004 at $412.7 billion, or 3.6 percent of gross domestic product. Since then it has declined each year, with the fiscal 2007 figure standing at 1.2 percent of GDP, which economists say is the best way to measure the relative size of the deficit.

The deficit for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 was down 34 percent from the $248.2 billion deficit in fiscal 2006.

Why do Democrats want to dramatically change fiscal policy, when the trend line is so positive?

Hillary's Arrogant Foreign Policy

Read it at the Standard.

Four House Democrats No Longer Support the War

Read it at the Standard.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Sign of the Times

A Republican Congressional candidate tying his Democratic opponent to George Bush:

It’s gotten so bad for President Bush that a fellow Republican is using him as a punching bag to to attack a Democrat opponents — in Massachusetts, nonetheless.

Republican hopeful Jim Ogonowski, running for the open seat in Massachusetts’ 5th District, today criticized Democrat Niki Tsongas for sharing the same beliefs as Bush on immigration reform.

If Bush is as unpopular next year as he is now, expect to hear more of this. It might even come from the presidential nominee (though perhaps not quite in so straightforward a form as this).

Rangel Prepares Trillion Dollar Tax Bill

Read it at the Standard.

What Does Speaker Pelosi Have Against the First Amendment?

Read it at the Standard.

Ron Paul Fever: Catch It!

A level of seriousness befitting the candidacy of a man seemingly dedicated to making Rudy Giuliani the Republican presidential nominee in 2008:

Seriously -- don't Giuliani and Ron Paul remind you of Biff and McFly?

Pelosi: We Drained the Swamp. DoJ: Looks Full to Us

Curious timing. Glenn points to a post of Don Surber's on Speaker Pelosi's claim that Democrats have cleaned up Washington. Surber says:

Having had the worst 10 months for a House speaker in recent memory, Nancy Pelosi is patting herself on the back — to a fawning press. She told the Swamp blog (irony alert) at the Baltimore Sun:

“We have drained the swamp. We have passed historic legislation.”

Well, if you mean by draining the swamp declaring it a wetland and moving on, sure.

Not only does Jack Murtha’s Earmarks Inc. continue, but it welcomed a new franchisee: House Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, whose brother set up a PAC in March that quickly collected money from the clients of the Murtha-connected PMA lobbying group.

Last time I looked, Congressman Paul Kanjorski, D-Pa., still headed a committee even though he steered $10 million to a company headed by his nephews and daughter.

Surber is right of course. From Murtha to Kanjorski, Mollohan, Jefferson, Reyes and others -- Democrats are abusing their authority and linking donations to official actions. They have passed toothless ethics legislation and claimed it represented a great step forward. And now comes word that the Department of Justice is preparing to crack down on a whole range of abuses by Members of Congress, their staffs, and their campaigns:

Federal investigators are hinting that a fresh wave of campaign-related theft and corruption investigations of Members of Congress are moving through the pipeline, signaling that indictments may be on the horizon.

According to multiple sources and independent confirmation from agency officials, the Justice Department currently is honing in on the possible misuse of campaign money by Members and political candidates for personal country club dues, health club fees, non-campaign-related travel costs and other expenses that candidates are prohibited from paying out of their campaign war chests.

The Federal Election Commission also confirmed that it currently is investigating 10 embezzlement cases involving federal campaign committees — four more than its entire caseload in half a decade.

Officials from both agencies declined to name the Members or candidates involved in the investigations, which were first revealed at a legal seminar for the Practicing Law Institute in Washington, D.C., late last week by Craig Donsanto, head of the Justice Department’s election crimes branch, and David Mason, the FEC’s Republican-nominated vice chairman. A Justice Department spokesman confirmed Tuesday that corruption cases involving lawmakers and other public officials remain “a high priority for the Department of Justice.”

The piece mentions one specific Republican -- a former Congressman -- and a current sitting Democratic Congressman. Clearly there will be more.

One thing I'm curious about: these stepped-up investigations follow fairly closely on the successful effort of Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress to shield their offices from DoJ searches. I wonder if federal investigators decided that they needed to demonstrate that Members of Congress can't use their elected positions to cover up their lawbreaking. If so, it would be a fitting response.

Update: There's a good summary of Democratic ethics trouble over at Right Voices.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Ogonowski for Congress

Congressional Quarterly notes that the Ogonowski/Tsongas special election race is closer than it's supposed to be:

The advantages that Democrat Niki Tsongas was expected to enjoy in her campaign for the Oct. 16 special House election in Massachusetts’ 5th Congressional District have come together for her. She has a widely recognized name, as the widow of the late Democratic Sen. Paul Tsonagas, who began his congressional career as the 5th District’s representative. The consistent, if not overwhelming Democratic lean in the district — which links suburbs, exurbs and old industrial cities west and north of Boston — has helped Tsongas draw campaign help from influential friends such as former President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

On top of these factors is Tsongas’ big money edge over the Republican nominee, retired Air Force officer Jim Ogonowski. Tsongas’ latest campaign finance report for activity through Sept. 26, filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) by Thursday’s deadline, showed she had raised a total of $1.9 million since entering the race to succeed Democrat Martin T. Meehan, who resigned July 1 during his eighth House term to become chancellor of University of Massachusetts at Lowell. She raised $670,000 just within the reporting period of Aug. 16 to Sept. 26 — exceeding Ogonowski’s $434,000 in receipts for his total campaign.

Yet there are some other numbers that suggest that Tsongas will not be able to let up over the final week of the campaign if she is to maintain her favored status. The Democrat’s heavy spending — including on the five-candidate Sept. 4 special election primary in which she outlasted Eileen Donoghue, a Lowell city councilwoman, by a 4 percentage-point margin — left the candidates nearly even in remaining cash with three weeks to go before the general election. Tsongas reported $241,000 in cash on hand as of Sept. 26, while Ogonowski, who had token opposition in the Republican primary, had $221,000.

Go make a donation.

Buried further down in the article is a demonstration of just how big the Democratic edge is in Congressional races -- and why your donation is needed:

Ken Spain, press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Campaign, confirmed that the GOP’s national House campaign unit had donated $5,000 to Ogonowski’s underdog campaign.

A year ago, the NRCC would have spent $100,000 on the race. Clearly their resources are dramatically reduced.

Good News from the New Mexico Senate Race

Soren Dayton points out that in the latest New Mexico poll, each of the two potential Republican Senate candidates leads each of the three potential Democratic candidates.

On the Debate -- Trade Follies

I enjoyed the debate today. I think the major Republican candidates acquitted themselves very well. Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani still seem to me to be the class of the field, although Mitt Romney came across to me as more impressive than he has before. Among the leading candidates, only John McCain hurt himself in my eyes -- and not because of any substantive mistake -- but because of his repeated problems in hearing questions from Maria Bartiromo. I understand the acoustics were tricky and all the candidates had problems hearing her, but it still reinforced his age to me.

On that point, Kathryn Jean Lopez has the line I wish I thought of:

I really wish John McCain didn't have that hearing problem! Maria B. looked like his granddaughter reading him the menu.
On the substance, I'll limit my comments to a policy area in which I have actually worked -- trade.

Governor Romney was pretty forcefully pro-trade -- which I like -- but I had to chuckle at his suggestion for greater involvement by businessmen in trade negotiations:
Well, I believe in trade, but I believe in opening up markets to American goods and services. And it's been calculated that the average family in America is $9,000 a year richer because we have the ability to sell products around the world.

And a lot of people in this country make their living making products that go around the world. But it's also true that the people who negotiate these agreements -- the people who sit down with the Chinese and sit down the Mexicans and others are people, by and large, who spent their life in politics.

And the politicians come together and try to understand how the economy works. I think I'm probably the only guy on the stage who spent most of his career in the business world. I understand how the economy works. I understand how if you make a certain adjustment in the agreement, it's going to have a huge impact on the United States.

And so if, for instance, we agree to sit down with China, I understand that if we don't get real careful and protect patents and designs and technology, that what we tend to sell the most of, those kinds of things -- intellectual property -- is going to get stolen by the Chinese or by others; that we have to recognize agreements have to be in our benefit, not just in their benefit.

And so as I look across the agreements we've made, I recognize we're going to have to do a better job. We're going to have to have people who understand how the business world works, how the economy works, and make sure that the playing field really is level by having people who know something about the economy and that understand the business world being part of that effort.
The point of trade negotiations is to expand trade -- to ensure that consumers and producers in the US and abroad can make the deals that they think are best for them, without undue taxation or government interference. By eliminating barriers to trade, we give consumers the best deal and encourage competition and efficiency.

But businesses don't want that. Businesses want to enhance profits --by maximizing their sales opportunities and by shutting out their competitors. Look at the lobbying of the US agricultural sector: the goal is to open foreign markets while 'protecting' our own. If American companies truly had their way in trade negotiations, the US market would be closed to foreign competitors whenever possible.

Romney's line sounds good -- and it's critical to have negotiators who understand the sectors they're negotiating. But it wouldn't be an especially good idea to have company people taking the lead in trade negotiations.

Duncan Hunter is -- as always -- highly critical of US trade agreements. He argues that the US has made bad deals, and he wants us to maintain the same tariff rates as our foreign trading partners. He blames China's exchange rate and bad trade deals for the loss of many high-paying jobs (transcript here):
But let me tell you, Chris, what is missing from this economy: 1.8 million jobs that have moved to communist China from the United States, including over 54,000 jobs from Michigan...

And I would say to my colleagues and Senator Thompson and the other senators, you all voted for "most favored nation" trading status for Communist China. That set the groundwork for 1.8 million high- paying manufacturing jobs moving offshore, going offshore, some of them never to return.

And what I would do is pass the Hunter-Ryan bill which would put countervailing duties on the Chinese when they cheat. They are cheating on trade right now. I'd bring those jobs back home to the United States and I would connect up the middle class of America with the Republican Party one more time...

And to all my colleagues who talk about the joy of free trade, that requires one thing: good business deals.

We've made the only business deal in the world with 132 other competitors where they get to have a rebate on their taxes and then put a block up of 15 to 20 percent tariff against our goods and we don't get to do the same thing.

That's why we have a trade deficit with countries that have higher labor rates than the United States.

So we're short on good businessmen, and I would junk those bad trade deals, bring them back to the table. And I'd practice mirror trade. If a country wants to put a 15 percent tariff against the United States, they're going to see that reflected back at them. If they want to take it down to 1 percent, we'll take it down to 1. But there's not going to be a one-way street any longer.
Trade skeptics always complain about jobs lost in the US. The US unemployment rate is 4.7 percent. If we had these jobs back, who would do them? Which jobs would we get rid of -- so that people could return to the factories where Duncan Hunter wants them to work?

And if some country wants to impose a 15 percent tariff on imports from the US -- effectively denying their consumers the right to purchase US goods at market prices -- why should the US deprive our consumers in the same way? Put another way, is the American economy stronger if products imported from China cost 30 percent more than today? Which Americans are returned to high-paying jobs here in the US?

A last point on Hunter's contentions: Hunter blames both bad trade deals and China for the problematic trade deficit. The National Association of Manufacturers has done yeoman work on the value of Free Trade Agreements. They note that the US trade deficit in manufactured goods is consistently lowest among the nations with which we have Free Trade Agreements.
“Geographically, our free trade partners and the EU continued to show the largest reductions in the manufactured goods trade deficit,” said Frank Vargo, the NAM’s vice president of international economic affairs. “Free trade agreements are a proven key to reducing the trade deficit and Congress has four agreements awaiting approval. It’s time for lawmakers to unlock these market opening agreements.”

In 2007, the deficit with U.S. free trade partners is 10 percent smaller than a year ago, while the deficit with the EU is 14 percent smaller. Overall this year, the January to July U.S. deficit in manufactured goods stood at an annual rate of $489 billion, compared to $505 billion for the same period of 2006.
According to the NAM, the trade balance with FTA partners has improved by $10 billion in the last two years, while it has deteriorated by $82 billion with the rest of the world. Experience suggests that if balance of trade is your concern, then the trade deals that we have are working well.

Also check out CQ.

Some debate highlights here. Count me among those who would rather hear from Fred Thompson -- who understands the free market -- than from Chris Matthews:


LiveBlogging the GOP Debate

The Thompson campaign's Jon Henke will be liveblogging today's GOP debate in Michigan. Follow the action here -- especially if you're trapped at work.

Mahmood: U R SO KEWL!!!!!

Read it at the Standard.

Netroots Doing the Work of the NRCC -- A Continuing Saga

Read it at the Standard.

RadioHead Makes a New Fan

I don't even know what kind of music Radiohead makes -- but this is the first time I've ever rooted for a specific business model:

The rock band, Radiohead, will be releasing their new album next week, but instead of finding it in record stores or on iTunes, it will be posted on the band's website. The best part is that you can pay whatever you want for it.

I like this idea a lot. Record labels currently made the bulk of a single album's selling price. Cutting them out of the picture means all the money goes to the band directly.

Here's one of Radiohead performing one of their most popular songs -- Paranoid Android:

High-Tech Weapon of the Day

It's a two-fer: a cool weapon, and something to excite the Star Trek geeks. It's Boeing's Bird of Prey:

Regrettably, it's not new. In fact, it's a museum piece:

The airplane incorporated many new innovative concepts to reduce radar, infrared and visual signatures. Designed to represent a platform that would fly operationally during the daytime, it featured exterior markings that blended with the sky and reduced telltale shadows from components such as the engine inlet. Bird of Prey was among the first aircraft to incorporate large single-piece composite structures, low-cost disposable tooling, and three-dimensional virtual-reality design and assembly processes to ensure affordability and high performance...

After completion of the test program the Bird of Prey was placed in storage, and may have been destined for the scrap yard. Fortunately, however, it was saved for posterity. On July 16, 2003, the Bird of Prey and its cousin, the X-36, both were placed on permanent display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

If you're a Star Trek geek here because you googled 'Bird of Prey,' this is probably more up your alley.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Real Hillary Clinton

McQ takes a look at her -- and the view is not pretty.

More importantly, it indicates that Ms. Clinton's paranoia is still alive and well. Now obviously everyone is somewhat paranoid and to some degree I'm sure that's healthy. And politicians should probably be granted a little slack on that anyway because there are certainly people out to get them. But Ms. Clinton, of VRWC fame, is more than just a little paranoid.

And, if the rumors are true, she's really more like what we saw in this little incident than the public persona she's trying to project during the campaign. Don't you love it when a politician is out asking for your vote, and then when you ask an honest question, your integrity is questioned and your premise is declared "wrong".

Bailing Out Ethanol Plants?

I thought ethanol was the heaven-sent solution to all our energy problems!

Has MoveOn Jumped the Shark?

Read it at the Standard.

CBO: 2007 Was a Very Good Year

According to the Congressional Budget Office, fiscal year 2007 (which ended on September 30) saw dramatic improvements in the nation's fiscal picture:

CBO estimates that the federal budget deficit was about $161 billion in fiscal year 2007, $87 billion less than the shortfall recorded in 2006. Relative to the size of the economy, that deficit was equal to 1.2 percent of gross domestic product, down from 1.9 percent in 2006.
You may say 'no big deal -- so what if the federal deficit was down dramatically -- we expected that.' You want to know about the bigger picture, right?

Well, income taxes and payroll taxes were up significantly -- as were wages and salaries:
Receipts of individual income taxes, the largest tax source, increased by an estimated $118 billion (or 11 percent), and receipts of social insurance (payroll) taxes, the second largest source, rose by an estimated $32 billion (or 4 percent). Receipts from withheld individual income and payroll taxes, the largest source of income and payroll taxes, grew by $107 billion—or 6.7 percent. Those receipts grew at similar rates of 6.9 percent in 2006 and 6.3 percent in 2005. Those gains in withholding reflect continued growth in wages and salaries.
What about corporate taxes? They were up too -- but because of slow growth in corporate profits, they weren't up as much as in previous years:
CBO estimates that receipts in 2007 from corporate income taxes grew by about $18 billion (or 5 percent). That represents a substantial slowdown from the growth in the prior three years, which averaged 39 percent per year. Receipts slowed progressively through 2007, with gains in the first three quarters of 22 percent, 11 percent, and 4 percent, respectively, followed by a decline of 11 percent in the fourth quarter—reflecting slowing growth in corporate profits.
All this is according to the Congressional Budget Office.

In light of all this, does it really seem wise for Congress to consider huge tax increases -- in particular on corporate profits? Wouldn't a wiser course of action be to continue current policies -- which are yielding significant economic growth, increasing wages and salaries, and increased corporate tax receipts?

Happy Original Sin Day

Read it at the Standard.

Walk in 385,000 Year Old Footsteps

Cool story:

Want to walk in the footsteps of the early humans? Tourists in Italy can do almost just that starting this weekend, after footpaths believed to have been left up to 385,000 years ago were opened to the public.

The fossilized footprints, which Italian scientists say are among the oldest anywhere, extend along six trails at the edge of the Roccamonfina volcano in southern Italy.

There is also a handprint, made when one of the primitive humans slipped on the soft earth.

The fossilized footpaths were known locally as the "Devil's Trails" for centuries because they were thought to be supernatural. Scientists first identified them properly in 2003, and had kept the area off-limits to the public until Saturday.

The article notes that you're not actually permitted to walk in the footsteps; you must keep a distance.

It's interesting to me however, how different the practice is in the US from in other parts of the world. When I traveled to Ireland, I was stunned that tourists are permitted to walk all the way back into the Newgrange passage tomb, which has such little passage space that there's no way you can avoid rubbing against the sides and top of the passage. In the US, I would imagine such a site would be off limits -- due to the certainty that the entry of thousand or millions would, over time, wear down the site. Similarly, in Mexico, there are few restrictions on tourists at many historic sites -- such as the pyramids at Teotihuacan. Tourists are allowed to walk all over the pyramids, and there are no guardrails or other safety improvements to speak of. In the US, I suspect that no one would be allowed to walk on such ancient constructs. And in the event that one could, there would almost have to be improvements in place to guard against lawsuits.

I guess Italy at least, is more like the US.

Democrats Keep Dirty Money

Norman Hsu, Peter Paul, William Lerach.. all big criminal donors to Democratic candidates. In the case of Lerach's cash at least, the DNC has decided not to return his contributions:

A spokesman for the Democratic National Committee said more than $1 million in donations from attorneys who pleaded guilty or have been indicted on federal charges for an alleged $11.8 million kickback scheme will not be returned.

The donations, according to Federal Election Commission and state campaign finance databases, come from William S. Lerach, totaling $600,000 between 1998 and 2002, and from Melvyn Weiss, for a total of $25,000 in 1997.

Lerach pleaded guilty in mid-September to one felony count of conspiracy stemming from a seven-year federal investigation into the kickback scheme that began in 1981 and netted the New York law firm Milberg Weiss more than $200 million from verdicts and settlements in an estimated 150 cases.

The sad thing is, the DNC would probably love to rid themselves of this dirty money -- it's just that it's against the darn rules!

A standing policy of the DNC prevents money accepted and vetted under previous chairs to be returned, said press secretary Stacie Paxton. Dean has held his title since early 2005.

However, a recently discovered $5,000 contribution from Weiss to the DNC could be returned, depending on what verdict is reached in the attorney’s case, Paxton said.

Officials with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee declined to comment on contributions their committees received from the firm and its partners.

What would Dean, Schumer, and the rest of the Democrats say if the RNC tried to use such a lame excuse for keeping ill-gotten money?

Just another lesson in how the Democrats have 'drained the swamp' in DC.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Why Tom Cole is Optimistic About 2008

David Broder talks to Tom Cole:

I think that is a tough sell politically. But I'm more persuaded by his argument that Republicans have little to fear from a Hillary Clinton candidacy. "That is no landslide election," he said. "The Republican nominee, whoever he is, wins at least 43, 44, 45 percent against her, and that gives us a base for congressional races.

"She is not going to carry Georgia or Kansas or Texas, and we have good candidates running against shaky Democrats in every one of those states. There are Democrats sitting in 61 districts that Bush carried; 47 that he carried twice. We are on the offensive in those districts," he said.

That may seem implausible, but Cole has history on his side. In 1992, as he notes, incumbents were hammered, 24 of them losing in November, 17 others failing in their primaries. The Republicans achieved a net gain of 10 House seats that year, a feather in the cap of the executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Tom Cole. Now, no longer a hired staff man but the chairman, Cole faces a familiar challenge. In 1992, the Democrats nominated Bill Clinton for president -- and he won. But his party, nonetheless, lost House seats. Cole is out to make history repeat itself.
In essence, Cole is arguing two things:
  1. The Republican candidate will not lose a blowout; and,
  2. Turnout will be high in Red states where there are important House races.
Those are important points.

Analysts frequently note the large number of swing seats in 'purple' states, or in states that lean Democratic. It's argued that unless the Republican candidate wins in a landslide -- which no one thinks will happen right now -- that there won't be big GOP gains in those seats. But some forget that there are many Republican targets in conservative states, where a nominee like Hillary will likely lose badly.

For example, Indiana is home to three freshman Democratic incumbents in marginal seats -- Joe Donnelly (R+4), Brad Ellsworth (R+9), and Baron Hill (R+7). In Florida, Tim Mahoney (R+2) won only because of the Mark Foley scandal. in Georgia, Representatives Marshall (R+8) and Barrow (D+2) both won close races in 2006, and will have tough races in 2008. In Texas, Nick Lampson (R+15) is a likely loser next time out, while Ciro Rodriguez (R+4) could be as well. Nancy Boyda (R+7) in Kansas is also likely to be defeated, if the GOP can settle on a good candidate. In North Carolina, Heath Shuler sits in a seat with a 7 point GOP edge.

That's ten potential pickups, just in strong conservative areas in strong conservative states. The margin of House control is just 15, so a gain of six more in the rest of the county -- along with no other GOP losses -- would give House control to the GOP. And we haven't yet talked about Republican-leaning districts in moderate (and even liberal states). There are plenty of those as well (eg, McNerney in CA, Bean in IL, Hall & Gillibrand in NY, Mitchell and Giffords in AZ, Space in OH, Altmire and Carney in PA, Tim Walz in MN). After all, it's simply not possible for Democrats to hold forty-seven seats that George Bush won twice, without there being plenty of potential targets for the GOP.

I'm not saying the Republicans will win back control of the House, I'm just saying that it's likelier than people now acknowledge. In fact, in any scenario where the Republican nominee wins the White House, it might actually be a likelihood.

Read also Prairie Pundit and BCB.

Iraq Surrender Becoming Less Popular for Democrats

This is an interesting milestone: a key backer of Governor Bill Richardson in an early primary state has flipped to the Biden camp -- because he can't abide Richardson's proposal to quit Iraq:

Gov. Bill Richardson's proposal for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq has won him accolades from the anti-war left and in the blogosphere, but it lost him a key supporter in primary state South Carolina today. State Rep. Fletcher Smith of Greenville County, formerly a co-chair for Richardson's South Carolina campaign, announced this morning that he is endorsing Sen. Joe Biden instead.

Smith told NBC News/National Journal that he became concerned about his support of Richardson after hearing the governor advocate for a six-month timeline to for withdrawal from Iraq.

"Those of us who have had some idea about military evacuations understand that you cannot redeploy troops, or take troops out, or evacuate them within a six-month period of time," he said, adding that Richardson's plan could bring about the same morale-damaging image evoked when Americans were airlifted from Saigon in 1975. "We do not need a Vietnam-style evacuation.”

Richardson's support for quick withdrawal is not new; he's been pushing it for months. It IS new that key Democrats are forcefully rejecting that idea, in favor of a long-term commitment. Of course, South Carolina is a conservative state, but it's a sign that the center of gravity on Iraq in the Democratic party is moving to the right.