Saturday, January 19, 2008

About that Fred Surge...

Jim Geraghty notices that the ARG poll shows a dramatic increase in support for Fred Thompson over the last few days:

Well, after yesterday's brouhaha over whether Thompson was really surging... American Research Group does show what I would all a real surge, rising from 13 percent in the poll taken January 15-16 to 21 percent in the poll taken January 17-18.

A finish like that - behind McCain with 26 percent and Huckabee with 36 percent, but beating Romney by 9, would be plenty reason to stay in the race.

So in Fred's favor, there's that.

On the other hand, I wrote yesterday about the potential value of online searches in telegraphing voter preference. If that predictor turns out to be accurate in South Carolina today, it may be Mike Huckabee who winds up the beneficiary. That's because looking at Yahoo buzz today shows the Huckster surging dramatically, while Romney and Fred fall off. Here's a clip of what it looked like at 11:15 eastern today. If it's too small to read, Huckabee has seen an increase of more than 9 percent over the last 24 hours in number of searches by South Carolina residents. In the same time period, Thompson and Romney have fallen significantly.

We'll know in a few hours whose packing it in -- if anyone.

Another thought: is this more proof of the influence of Patrick Ruffini?

Can a Robot Commit War Crimes?

The question has already been broached. And it has led to a session called 'When Robots Commit War Crimes: Autonomous Weapons and Human Responsibility,' at Stanford University's Technology in Wartime conference. The io9 blog -- whose blogger is also an organizer of the conference -- describes the question like this:

Now that the military is using autonomous surveillance/combat robots created by iRobot, the company behind the Roomba robot vacuum, a strange question emerges: What do we do if a robot commits a war crime? This isn't idle speculation. An automated anti-aircraft cannon's friendly fire killed nine soldiers in South Africa last year, and computer scientists speculate that as more weapons (and aircraft) are robot-controlled that we'll need to develop new definitions of war crimes. In fact, the possibility of robot war crimes is the subject of a panel at an upcoming conference at Stanford.

One of the participants in the panel has written about a study he's conducting to help better understand the ethical questions associated with the use of robots in warfare:

If the military keeps moving forward at its current rapid pace towards the deployment of intelligent autonomous robots, we must ensure that these systems be deployed ethically, in a manner consistent with standing protocols and other ethical constraints that draw from cultural relativism (our own society’s or the world’s ethical perspectives), deontology (right-based approaches), or within other related ethical frameworks.

We need to avoid mistakes like this guy:

Perhaps if all robots were programmed with three laws...

Flood the Grand Canyon?

Interesting. This is the first time I've ever heard of this:

Interior Department agencies want to release a high volume of water from Glen Canyon Dam in Page, Ariz., into the Colorado River in early March in hopes that higher water flows will move sand out of the riverbed and restore sandbars throughout Grand Canyon National Park.

Sandbars throughout the 277-mile length of the park provide critical habitat for wildlife and protect archeological resources. High water flows also create backwaters needed by native fish, including the endangered humpback chub. Since the dam began blocking water in the early 1960s, a number of native fish species have died off and non-native plants have taken root, significantly disrupting the canyon's delicate ecosystem.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Will John Kerry Face a Serious Challenge in 2008?

Read it at the Standard.

Soft Power?

Read it at the Standard.

IMF: Iraqi Economy Growing Strong

Read it at the Standard.

Chertoff Gets Around Congress to Enforce Immigration Law

Read it at the Standard.

All Ron Paul, All the Time

This recording of a call by a Ron Paul supporter to Senator Roger Wicker's office is amusing:

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Carbon Nano Tubes?

Laura W has the story:

US researchers say they have made the darkest material on Earth, a substance so black it absorbs more than 99.9 per cent of light.

Made from tiny tubes of carbon standing on end, this material is almost 30 times darker than a carbon substance used by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology as the current benchmark of blackness.

And the material is close to the long-sought ideal black, which could absorb all colours of light and reflect none.

How much more black could this be? And the answer is none -- none more black.

Is Ron Paul Deceiving His Donors?

It doesn't seem that Ron Paul is running radio or television ads for his presidential campaign -- which is surprising, since he's raised $19 million in the last quarter.

Strangely though, he IS running ads for his run for re-election to the House of Representatives:

But Paul has a vast stockpile of campaign cash at his disposal, thanks to his fundraising success in this year’s presidential bid. He raised about $19 million in the last quarter, and, if he chooses to, he can transfer that money into his congressional treasury.

Paul campaign spokesman Mark Elam indicated that Paul was planning on spending money from his presidential campaign on his House reelection bid. He went up on the airwaves Tuesday with his first advertisement, a radio spot touting his biography and legislative accomplishments.

How about it Ronulans? Did you donate to Ron Paul so he can get re-elected to the House of Representatives? Seems like a big waste of money.

I wonder what he'll do with the other $15 million, once his Congressional race is over...

Note: I wrote about Paul's Congressional race at the Weekly Standard a few days ago.

Update: Soren Dayton points out that Ron Paul did indeed, run ads in New Hampshire -- if I receive word that he's running ads in any other states, I'll add that.

Nevertheless, it's clear that Ron Paul is not running a presidential campaign. The presidential candidates are spending all that they raise -- and more, in some cases. Ron Paul is different. He's still raising money -- nominally for the presidential campaign. But it won't be spent on his presidential run; it will be spent either on his current House race, or some other cause yet to be determined.

But since he's not using the donations to pay for a presidential campaign, he ought to be up front about it.

Update II: I hope I don't have to retract this completely. A commenter reports:

He did a huge media buy with Clear Channel here in Central Florida. His ads are being played 3-5 times an hour on all 7 CC station in Orlando. It started a couple of weeks ago.

That led me to this:

Beginning this week, Republican Texas Congressman Ron Paul's presidential campaign will begin running a series of radio ads in Alabama, California, Colorado, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Maine and North Dakota in anticipation of the states' upcoming primaries and caucuses.

This demonstrates that Paul is indeed, spending his receipts on ads. It's also true however, that you have to buy A LOT of radio ads to spend $19 million. I suspect campaign filings will ultimately show a lot more spent on his Congressional campaign than his presidential bid.

A Lot Can Change in a Year

Read it at the Standard.

Truthers Taking Over Japan?

Read it at the Standard.

Time to Triple the Gas Tax?

Read it at the Standard.

Mommy, Where do Earmarks Come From?

Read it at the Standard.

And if you're interested in earmark reform, be sure to check out this encouraging item from the Club for Growth.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Will Democrats Bet on MUCH Bigger Government?

As Congress and the president are trying to figure out how to approach negotiations over an economic stimulus package, Rahm Emanuel is floating a trial balloon: a 'New Deal for the New Economy:'

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) proposed today a far-reaching "New Deal for the New Economy" that includes a requirement that every American get another year of education after high school.

In a speech to the Commercial Club of Chicago, the Emanuel outlined a plan to expand health care, energy incentives, and savings as a way to respond to the economic pinch caused by globalization...

He said he supported universal health care but, short of that, he said Congress should build on recent efforts to expand health-care coverage. He put in a plug for an expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance program that President Bush vetoed. And he called for expanding the Medicare program so retirees from age 58 to 64 could qualify.

And he made a strong push for more government investment in energy that he said would create new markets and new jobs.

Emanuel said Americans must increase their savings, although many do not have the wherewithal. He supported universal savings accounts, which would supplement not replace Social Security. Employees and employers would each contribute 1 percent of paychecks into these accounts. The contributions would be tax deductible.

Emanuel is very influential within the House Democratic caucus. While his personality and ambition rub many the wrong way, his political instincts are widely respected. Plus, he gets a lot of credit for heading the DCCC in the cycle when Democrats took control of the House.

That said, it's clear that this proposal is not going to be enacted as a stimulus plan in the weeks ahead. It's unlikely to become the official Democratic position. Rather, Emanuel is setting a marker for the Democratic presidential campaign this year. He's clearly decided on a populist message, which offers new government programs for health care, education, and energy.

Interestingly, his plan includes a new tax-free, employer-matched retirement savings plan. While this sounds somewhat like the 'private accounts' favored by many Republicans as an option within Social Security, this one would be above and beyond the current Social Security system. Depending on how the program is structured, it could be superior to the private account--if for example, workers were allowed to save more, or had more flexibility to direct their investments.

It will be interesting to see which candidates--if any--latch on to Emanuel's plan. While it's likely to be costly, so are the current economic plans of the Democratic candidates. Plus, the plans for tax increases are already on the table.

Schumer Pushes DHS to Speed Up Naturalizations Before Election

Interesting -- this is the first that I've heard of this:

The Bush administration has authority to rehire retired workers to reduce a backlog of immigration applications that is preventing thousands of people from becoming U.S. citizens in time to vote in November's elections, a Democratic senator said.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., had pressured Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of the Homeland Security Department, to seek permission to rehire the retirees. The permission was granted Thursday by the Office of Personnel Management...

Citizenship and Immigration Services announced during Thanksgiving week that naturalizations of anyone who applied after June 1 would take 15 to 18 months. Without additional hires, many immigrants could not become citizens, giving them the right to vote, until after the Nov. 4 elections...

The backlog coincided with efforts by immigration groups and others to help legal U.S. residents naturalize and register to vote in time for November's elections. Some of the groups and those awaiting to be citizens have questioned whether the delays are politically motivated, which the agency denies.

According to the article, there's been a flood of new applications for naturalization as those eligible rush to file before fees rise. That said, backlogs are a common feature of the naturalization process. The National Immigration Forum for example, complained in 1998 that the naturalization backlog was requiring applicants to wait a year and a half for naturalization. More recently, a lengthy backlog was apparently eliminated in 2006--just months before the election.

What is the 'normal' wait for naturalizations? And does the current move to rehire retirees represent an effort to return the naturalization process to normal, or to change it? Naturalization can be politically controversial, for obvious reasons, and it doesn't help the process to have a partisan like Schumer as the lead proponent. And it doesn't add much confidence that the only Republican cosponsor of his backlog reduction bill is Chuck Hagel.

I'll stipulate that I can't find any indication that this is a political effort by Democrats to rush naturalizations so they can benefit from voting by new citizens. I can't find any objections from the Bush administration, Republicans in Congress, or party officials. As far as I can determine, the move is noncontroversial among leaders of both parties.

That said, this is clearly a very sensitive issue. It's important that the naturalization process not be changed to ensure that applicants can vote in a given election. Rather, it's essential that the process remain as much as possible the same as it has been, unless there's good reason to change it.

Earmark Debate Splits Hill Republicans

I wish I could say that this is a surprise:

The leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee are calling on President Bush to back away from threats to kill funding for lawmakers’ pet projects.

The pre-emptive warnings from the top Democrat and Republican on the panel are the clearest signs yet that President Bush could face a bipartisan backlash if he uses his executive authority to wipe out the more than $7 billion in earmarks...

[Senator Jim] DeMint said that “nobody should act surprised” if Bush issues the order, noting it is consistent with the president’s 2007 State of the Union address to slice earmarks in half.

“I’ve yet to read the part of the Constitution that gives Congress the right to secretly waste billions of tax dollars on a bridge to nowhere and hippie museums,” DeMint said. “The president has the authority and the backing of millions of taxpayers to end the earmark favor factory, and I think he’s going to do it...”

Dyer worked as a deputy assistant for legislative affairs to President Ronald Reagan in 1988 when then-OMB Director Jim Miller sent a memo to all federal agency heads saying they did not have to spend money on the earmarks included in committee report language...

“All hell broke loose,” said Miller, now a senior adviser at the law firm of Blackwell Sanders. Within weeks, he backed down.

Bush would be swamped with objections from lawmakers as well. Nevertheless, Miller argues that Bush should pull the trigger and issue such an order.

“The extent of earmarks is much greater today. … It is obvious Congress cannot do it on their own,” said Miller. Citing the public distaste for the projects, the former OMB director said he believes it would be a political “win” to issue such an order.

I don't think there's any question that it would be a political 'win' for the President, for the Republican 'brand,' and for Republican candidates more generally. That said, Members would be angry about losing on some of their political priorities, and would take criticism from the small number of constituents who care about the projects. On the balance, it would be a net win for Republicans and conservatives, but it's conceivable that one or two marginal incumbents might lose their seats.

My bet is against the President doing this, but I hope I'm wrong.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Amputee Sprinter Disqualified From Olympics

IAAF Rules He Has a Clear Advantage

Oh, how quickly the world is changing before our eyes:

All his life, Oscar Pistorius has confronted obstacles. The double-amputee sprinter from South Africa now faces another one -- a decision barring him from the Olympics.

Track and field's governing body ruled Monday he is ineligible to compete this summer in Beijing -- or any other sanctioned able-bodied competitions -- because his "Cheetah" racing blades are "technical aids" that give him a clear advantage...

Brueggemann found that Pistorius was able to run at the same speed as able-bodied runners on about a quarter less energy. The professor said that once the runners hit a certain stride, athletes with artificial limbs needed less additional energy than other athletes.

The professor determined that the returned energy from the prosthetic blade is "close to three times higher than with the human ankle joint in maximum sprinting." The IAAF adopted a rule last summer prohibiting "technical aids" deemed to give an athlete an advantage.

How long before some prosthetics engineer develops artificial legs that do perfectly mimic the human leg -- at least with regard to performance? When that happens, we might see an amputee gold medalist.

Will he look like this guy?

Fred on the Move in South Carolina

The South Carolina Republican primary is this Saturday, January 19. The latest poll in the state shows John McCain with a big lead over Mike Huckabee, and with Fred Thompson having dramatically increased his level of support:

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey shows McCain at 28%, Huckabee at 19%, Mitt Romney at 17%, and Fred Thompson at 16%. Rudy Giuliani and Ron Paul are tied with 5% support. Giuliani is betting his entire campaign on a strong showing in Florida, where he is now tied for the lead with three others.

The current results show McCain getting some breathing room in South Carolina. The previous South Carolina poll, conducted the night after McCain’s victory in New Hampshire, had McCain at 27% and Huckabee at 24%. Before the New Hampshire vote, Huckabee was leading McCain by seven points. McCain and Huckabee are pulling away from the field nationally in the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll.

So in the four days between this poll and the previous one, Huckabee fell 5 points, Fred rose by 4, and McCain rose by just 1 point.

In other words, Fred Thompson is the only candidate with momentum in the state. In fact, he scored higher in this poll than in any other South Carolina poll in about 6 weeks.

Correction: Mike Huckabee has momentum as well; it's just that he's heading in the wrong direction.

There are 5 days between now and the vote. If Fred can move into second place -- difficult, but not impossible -- he will have achieved quite a lot in a very short time.

Clearly, if you want Fred to win the nomination, or if you've ever thought about donating, this is the time. A strong showing in South Carolina is essential to success in the contests that follow. And now you can see clearly that he has momentum. There's not been a moment in the race like this one for Fred, and there may not be later. If you want to help him succeed, then donate now and help ensure a big day in South Carolina this Saturday.

Fred's latest message:

Update: Also read Captain Ed, who notes that Thompson will need to cut into McCain's lead:

Thompson saved almost all of his ammunition for Mike Huckabee in that debate, but avoided criticizing his friend and mentor, McCain. That strategy may haunt him if he cannot gain more traction against McCain in South Carolina. He needs a strong finish in this state in order to gain credibility for his Super Tuesday run, especially since he's falling off the pace in Florida.

I'm not sure if he needs to carve a chunk out of McCain in South Carolina; it may be enough to be the story from the state. That is, if McCain finishes around 28 percent -- where he's polling now -- but Thompson can crack 20 percent and finish in second -- then Thompson will be the singular story of note. Particularly if Romney wins Michigan, McCain's campaign will have to answer questions about underperforming -- as Rich Lowry notes here.

Update II: Also read Sean Hackbarth, and Bob Krumm -- who has this to say:

The three latest polls as of a week ago today showed Huckabee up an average of 23 points over Fred (Insider Advantage +28, Rasmussen +17, and Survey USA +25). Today, the latest two polls show Huckabee’s lead over Fred has diminished to +5 and +3. In just five days since the Myrtle Beach debate Fred Thompson has gained an astounding 20 points on Mike Huckabee. No wonder Huckabee is lashing out at him.

Bush Considers Canceling Earmarks; Using Proceeds for Economic Stimulus

Read it at the Standard.

Buy a Blow Dryer for a Republican Senate

Read it at the Standard.

Twenty Questions with... Ayman Al Zawahiri

Read it at the Standard.

Do New York Times Editors Read their Own Paper?

Read it at the Standard.

Mafia Brought Down by the Internet

The internet: what can't it do?

The Mafia has a history of bouncing back from defeat, but this time it is up against something entirely new: a Web site where businessmen are finding safety in numbers to say no to the mob...

The number of rebels on the Web site is still tiny compared to Palermo's businesses overall, but their movement has helped to chip away at the Mafia's psychological hold on Sicilians long conditioned to believe that defiance would bring ruin or a death sentence. And any consistent crumbling of that culture of fear could ultimately lead to Cosa Nostra's undoing.

The businesses are openly defying the Mafia by signing on to a Web site called "Addiopizzo" (Goodbye Pizzo), which brings together businesses in the Sicilian capital that are resisting extortion.

The campaign was launched in 2004 by a group of youths thinking of opening a pub. They started off by plastering Palermo with anti-pizzo fliers, reading "An ENTIRE PEOPLE WHO PAYS THE PIZZO IS A PEOPLE WITHOUT DIGNITY," and eventually brought their campaign online where it struck a profound chord with Sicilians fed up with Mafia bullying.

Confindustria, the industrialists' lobby, has also boosted the movement with a threat to expel members who pay protection money. Its Sicilian branch has gone through a list of pizzo-paying companies found in a raid on a top Mafia boss' hideout, and this month began summoning heads of those companies to demand to know if they indeed had been paying and should be drummed out of the politically influential lobby.

It reminds me of the Sopranos episode 'Johnny Cakes,' which features some of Tony's goons trying to shake down the new Starbucks in the neighborhood. The manager explains that the corporate offices track every item in the inventory, so there's no way for him to pay protection money. Tony's boys lament that there's no longer any room for 'the little guy.'

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Another Reason Not to Bail Out those Mortgages

From the New York Times:

IT’S NOT JUST THE LENDERS There has been plenty of talk about “predatory lending,” but “predatory borrowing” may have been the bigger problem. As much as 70 percent of recent early payment defaults had fraudulent misrepresentations on their original loan applications, according to one recent study. The research was done by BasePoint Analytics, which helps banks and lenders identify fraudulent transactions; the study looked at more than three million loans from 1997 to 2006, with a majority from 2005 to 2006. Applications with misrepresentations were also five times as likely to go into default.

Many of the frauds were simple rather than ingenious. In some cases, borrowers who were asked to state their incomes just lied, sometimes reporting five times actual income; other borrowers falsified income documents by using computers. Too often, mortgage originators and middlemen looked the other way rather than slowing down the process or insisting on adequate documentation of income and assets. As long as housing prices kept rising, it didn’t seem to matter.

In other words, many of the people now losing their homes committed fraud. And when a mortgage goes into default in its first year, the chance is high that there was fraud in the initial application, especially because unemployment in general has been low during the last two years.

When Congress and the Executive Branch figure out exactly how much taxpayer money to devote to people who made poor financial decisions, can we at least agree to rule out assistance to those who made material misrepresentations in their loan applications?

That's not the behavior the federal government ought to be encouraging.

US-China Space Race Ahead

Congress Daily takes a look at concerns in Congress over China's space program:

A space race between the United States and China will emerge in the next five to 10 years and could jeopardize U.S. national security, a key House lawmaker said Friday.

Floridian Tom Feeney, ranking Republican on the Science and Technology Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, made the comment after the Congressional Research Service produced a report on China's space program last month.

The report concluded that the nations currently mistrust one another's space goals. The nervousness is partly due to a surprise anti-satellite weapons test that China executed last January. The test, which destroyed an inactive Chinese weather satellite, polluted the cosmos with debris that will endanger space structures owned by a couple dozen countries, including China, for years.

The report looks at the prospects for cooperation on space between the US and China, and the possibility of lowering costs and improving outcome. The clear and obvious problem however, is the potential transfer of sensitive technologies:

"I would be opposed to transferring any technology to the Chinese that could potentially be used against us," Feeney said. "Almost anything that can help them launch into space and control how a vehicle operates can be used against us."

The People's Liberation Army continues to play a role in both military and civilian space operations. Feeney added: "The stakes are enormous and the Chinese know it. They teach their generals that whoever dominates space dominates the world..."
The referenced CRS report is here. It's a fairly brief read and, typical of many CRS documents, gives the novice a quick overview. It implies that US unilateralism may have prompted China to test its anti-satellite weapon:
How was the decision made to conduct a test that would contradict Beijing’s publicly-held position on the peaceful use of outer space, and that would almost certainly incur international condemnation? Some speculate that the United States’ unilateral positions encouraged China to conduct the test to demonstrate that it could not be ignored. In particular, the U.S. National Space Policy issued in September 2006 declares that the United States would “deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to U.S. national interests."

It also cites some possible ways to improve coordination with China, and test whether substantive cooperation may be possible, without risking transfer of sensitive technologies:
  • Information and data sharing. Confidence building measures (CBMs) such as information exchange on debris management, environmental and meteorological conditions, and navigation, are widely considered an effective first step in building trust in a sensitive relationship. NASA has done some of this with CNSA in the past, but more is possible.
  • Space policy dialogue. Another area of potential exchange could begin with “strategic communication,”an attempt for each side to more accurately understand the other’s views, concerns, and intentions. Dialogue on “rules of the road,” a “code of conduct,” or even select military issues could be included.
  • Joint activities. This type of cooperation is more complex and would probably require strong political commitments and confidence building measures in advance. Bi- and multi-lateral partnerships on the international space station, lunar missions, environmental observation, or solar system exploration are potential options. A joint U.S.-Soviet space docking exercise in 1975 achieved important technical and political breakthroughs during the Cold War.
I don't believe that the United States and China are fated to face off in a hostile or semi-hostile manner any time soon. I remain optimistic that the gradual opening of China to western idea will continue, and that as the country grows wealthier it will become more 'normal.'

That said, it seems to me that increased cooperation is a no-brainer, even if you have a very negative view of the PRC. In that case, it has to fall under the 'keep your friends close and your enemies closer' doctrine, right? Given the potential for conflict between the two nations, it makes sense to make every effort to understand them better.