Saturday, August 30, 2008

The St. Petersburg Times weighs in on Palin

Ugh. How predictable. The opening:
John McCain can forget about trying to make a campaign issue out of Barack Obama's relatively thin foreign policy resume.
First, Obama's foreign policy resume is not "relatively thin." It's just plain thin. Second, the selection of Palin keeps Obama's inexperience in the mind of anyone who would question Palin's inexperience. Even the anonymous editorial writer led off with a sugar-coated version of that bitter pill.
In an effort to blunt Obama's postconvention momentum, McCain made history Friday by choosing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, the first woman to be nominated for vice president by the GOP. It is a risky move that stunned even some party leaders who fear that voters will have trouble imagining the former beauty queen as commander in chief, if it should ever come to that.
Well, the "former beauty queen" has already served as the commander of Alaska's National Guard as the governor of that non-contiguous state, abutting Canada and a stone's throw from Russia. One wonders what happened to the Times editorial noting what a "risky move" it was for the Democrats to nominate a freshman senator with "relatively thin" foreign policy experience and no apparent understanding of economics.

After a paragraph intended to paint Palin as out of her league compared to Joe Biden, the Times editorial gets to its real point:
McCain is betting the farm on gender. He is gambling that his choice will appeal to women voters, particularly disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters, and create an air of excitement at this week's Republican National Convention in St. Paul. But party leaders are concerned that the choice of Palin could complicate McCain's central attack line against his Democratic opponent — Obama's lack of experience on national security issues.
Gender was undoubtedly a part of Palin's selection, given the lousy treatment Hillary Clinton received from the Democratic Party and to some extent from the mainstream media. Democrats sour on the fact that Obama passed up his strongest running mate (Clinton) in favor of one of the all-time Washington insiders to back up his claims of new politics might give McCain some consideration based on that alone.

But Palin represents far more than just a female candidate. She is a Washington outsider who helps sharpen McCain's image as the true agent of positive change in the federal government. She also has that feature that is so important in national electoral politics. She is eminently likable, and that represents a minefield for Biden. Biden, of course, is the guy who hitched his wagon to "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." In short, Biden can stick his foot in his mouth even when he's trying to praise his opponent.
Although McCain is a familiar figure to most Americans, he has muddled his political identity this year by changing long-held positions to appeal to his party's conservative base.
What long-held positions has McCain changed other than his willingness to drill on the transcontinental shelf? The Times apparently has no time for examples.
The presumptive Republican nominee for president has his work cut out for him. Obama landed some hard blows against him at the Denver convention. Somehow, McCain has to recognize the Bush administration and then distance himself from an unpopular two-term president who led the country into an unnecessary war, presided over a soaring federal deficit triggered in part by irresponsible tax cuts for the wealthy, and disregarded fundamental constitutional protections.
Biden thought the war was necessary (it was, given intelligence reports at the time), the federal deficit was triggered by responsible tax cuts for the wealthy that helped revive the 2001 economy. The irresponsible part was in allowing entitlement spending to continue its balloon pattern, though Bush gets credit for at least attempting to fix the Social Security mess by making private accounts a Social Security option.

Did any of the editors at the Times ever figure out that former presidential nominee Al Gore's Social Security lockbox notion would have had the same type of effect on the budget as Bush's Social Security plan--only much worse? Color me skeptical.
If the Democrats achieved anything last week, they wrapped the last eight years around McCain and warned he would bring more of the same. This is McCain's opportunity to break out of that straitjacket and reassert the independence and wit that once made him such an attractive candidate to a wide swath of voters that included independents and conservative Democrats.
That success was achieved dishonestly:

Mr. Obama used the spotlight to denounced the “Bush-McCain foreign policy” that has squandered international goodwill and undermined long-term American interests in the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

“If John McCain wants to follow George Bush with more tough talk and bad strategy, that is his choice – but it is not the change we need,” Mr. Obama said, and “if John McCain wants to have a debate about who has the temperament, and judgment, to serve as the next commander-in-chief, that’s a debate I’m ready to have.”

Mr. Obama also blasted Mr. McCain as out of touch with ordinary Americans’ economic struggles, invoking the quip that got Phil Gramm ousted as an official McCain adviser.

“A nation of whiners?” Mr. Obama said, drawing boos from the crowd without naming the Texas senator behind the assessment. “I don’t believe that Sen. McCain doesn’t care what’s going on in the lives of Americans. I just think he doesn’t know. Why else would he define middle class as someone making under $5 million a year

Other than that the point is granted.

The advice offered to McCain is hilarious.
This may be odd advice for a Republican convention, but it would be a mistake to spend this week offering up the usual sound bites against abortion, taxes and activist judges. McCain has an opportunity to lure away some Democrats who aren't sold on Obama or are disappointed Hillary Clinton is not their party's nominee. Throwing red meat to Republican conservatives could drive away those voters.
Judges are the key to the abortion issue; it won't have to be emphasized. Americans favor judges like Alito, Roberts, Scalia and Thomas when they understand the issue, as with the Kelo decision. Taxation is the key to the economy, though neither Obama nor the Times editorialists appear to have a clue about that. The McCain ticket probably just needs to appeal to voters on what voters perceive as the two most important issues facing the country. Palin helps McCain steal the thunder from Obama's rhetoric of change. McCain doesn't need your advice.
McCain, an American hero and former prisoner of war, can be expected to emphasize his foreign policy experience and qualifications to be commander in chief. But polls already show most voters believe he is more qualified than Obama in those areas. A better strategy would be for the candidate who cannot remember how many houses he owns to show some empathy for Americans struggling to make ends meet and offer concrete solutions beyond extending tax cuts for the wealthy. That would be of particular interest in Florida, where job losses in July ranked the highest in the country and the unemployment rate is the highest in 13 years. Fighting to eliminate congressional earmarks in the federal budget, however commendable, does not resonate with homeowners behind on their mortgages.
The Times goes low in bringing recycling the team Obama talking point on McCain's real estate holdings.

What "concrete solutions" to the housing crisis does the Times recommend, other than simply having "the rich" foot the bill (in the grand Democratic tradition of economic fairness, of course)?

If the federal government doesn't reign in its high-spending ways then home foreclosure will be the least of our worries--along with the risk of a deep recession based on Obama's proposed protectionist policies (the same type that helped deepen and prolong the Great Depression).

If only newspapers were willing to help educate people about economic realities in their editorials instead of merely shilling for their preferred political party ...

Bucs trim roster to 53

The Bucs said goodbye to a few former stalwarts like Chris Simms and Ryan Nece. The Bucs kept tailback Michael Bennett, whose enduring presence on the roster I doubted some hours ago. Bennett's performance at tailback apparently increased his value to the team enough to bump better special teamers off the roster.

Elbert Mack, the free agent cornerback from Troy (formerly Troy State), won a job with the team, at least for now. Geno Hayes, the late round draft pick at linebacker from Florida State, made the team along with every 2008 draft pick except for Dre Moore (waived) and Cory Boyd (injured/waived).

Dre Moore, a defensive tackle from Maryland, showed some flash in college but had conditioning issues. Moore remains a good bet to make the practice squad.

Maybe Michael Bennett doesn't make the Bucs' roster

The thought struck me after watching a replay of the Texans game. Maybe Michael Bennett gets cut.

Why would that happen, given that Bennett has performed well in Gruden's offense?

Well, the Bucs hinted at the reason already by affirming that they would keep the best team rather than the best players. If Bennett were considered better than Earnest Graham or Warrick Dunn then Bennett would not have played so much during the preseason.

Bennett is in Earnest Graham's role of the last several years by getting the bulk of preseason rushes. But with one important difference.

Graham played special teams. Graham really played special teams.

Bennett can return kicks. But the Bucs have a number of players that can return kicks and one in particular, Dexter Jackson, who was added to the team at the cost of second round pick in order to fill that role.

As a result, I see Bennett on the bubble.

It's worse for Bennett because backup running back Kenneth Darby has shown an ability to catch and block--things that gave him problems as a rookie. Free agent running back Clifton Smith has also flashed in camp and during preseason games, showing off good hands, nifty running and a willingness to block.

Bennett has outperformed both as a running back. But if either Darby or Smith projects as an important part of special teams, Bennett may get the visit from the Turk.

Iraq casualties: Separating non-hostile deaths from hostile ones

As promised, I have begun to delve into the reporting of coalition troop deaths. I noticed how troop deaths categorized as "non-hostile" by the Pentagon were included without differentiation in most reporting unless one digs into the reporting., though it reports the raw numbers without differentiating between one and the other, is thorough enough to provide the information for those willing to look.

Including non-hostile deaths tends to give an inflated perception of the level of violence faced by our troops, though it is also fair to question whether the Pentagon always accurately categorizes each fatality.

Note that even during peacetime the military encounters a substantial number of fatalities. See page 10 ("Table 4") here. The lowest number of casualties among U.S. troops for any given year was 758 during President Clinton's final year in office. Obviously it is not entirely fair to count military deaths that would likely happen regardless of the circumstance of the Iraq War as a result of the war.

The graph, without further ado:

The blue represents total coalition casualties (deaths).
The black represents the number of deaths classified as "non-hostile."

I don't guarantee the accuracy of my count, by the way. My eyes tend to bug out when I count while scrolling. If it's not accurate it should be close, however.

Minus increased operations that result in an increased risk of non-hostile fatalities one would expect a relatively constant rate of those fatalities. The spike in numbers for August and September of 2007 counts as a bit of a surprise. Of course, accidents that result in multiple/many fatalities will result in exactly that type of phenomenon.

More on the Blackwater JLTV

blog it

The accompanying story includes general information about the development process.
Over the past 18 months, Blackwater has been discretely (sic) building a very credible manufacturing capability. They now have two manufacturing facilities in North East North Carolina. The timeline on the JLTV contract is tight. There are just 27 months to complete the design, production and testing of three models of the JLTV. Blackwater has just completed designing, testing and producing five models of its MRAP in less than 18 months.

"The Daily Show" Obama biography

I keep getting the impression that many in the studio audience detect blasphemy. They end up cheering the semi-sarcastic statements like "He completes us" but seem unsure whether they should be laughing jokes that poke fun at Obama.

Updated embed 1/29/2012

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hugh Hewitt on Democratic unease

The Dems are nominating the most radical major party candidate in history, whose thin record is relentlessly hard left, and whose rhetoric of change and hope cannot cover the fact that he has never worked across the aisle, has never sought to reform the deeply corrupt Chicago or Illinois political machines, and that he is hopelessly out of his depth on foreign policy and national security issues.
The momentum toward complete victory in Iraq pulled the carpet out from under Barack Obama's centerpiece campaign issue, which was at least enough to convince anti-war types that Obama's judgment was sound. Minus that, Obama has foundered in his attempts to flesh out a specific vision for hope and change--that is, one that represents something other than hard left radicalism.

This week's convention represents a pivotal point in the Obama campaign. If he can't turn substantive at the convention while at the same time describing policies with wide appeal then there is presently no good reason why McCain can't win the presidency.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Blumner: Thou shalt not gore my sacred cow

That Wheel of Fortune style spinner came up "Abortion" this week when it came time for Robyn "Blumñata" Blumner to write her weekly editorial.

If you're looking for a new twist don't get your hopes up. Same old same old.
I had a conversation with a seemingly smart woman recently who thought that Roe vs. Wade would never be overturned regardless of who wins the presidency. Though deeply pro-choice, she said she has voted for a Republican as president in the past since she likes the concept of local control and thinks Republicans represent that ideal better.
If one is concerned about Roe v. Wade suffering rejection by the SCOTUS, then McCain certainly fuels that concern more than Barack Obama. But that outcome isn't particularly likely even if McCain wins simply because adherence to stare decisis gives Roe v. Wade a degree of protection, whether deserved or not.

You can probably file this week's column under "Vote for Obama if for no other reason than to protect a woman's right to choose!"

A President McCain, if given the opportunity to nominate a justice to the Supreme Court, would have to get his choice through a Democrat-dominated Senate. Who's to say that McCain's choice won't be more Souter (George H. W. Bush appointee) than Scalia (a Reagan pick)?

But back to Blumner's little tale:
Now, had she said that she's willing to forgo abortion rights for other Republican political values, that would be one thing. (Although President Bush's imperial presidency stands starkly inapposite to her stated interest in decentralized power.) But she couldn't even contemplate a world without Roe's protections. She was horrified by the prospect, and yet through determined denial she was willing to be an instrument of the ruling's demise.

Blumñata's pal should take heart in the conservative principle she favors. Let's suppose that Roe v. Wade was overturned. That leaves legislating abortion law to state legislatures, where there is a good chance that abortion would remain legal in most instances. In short, there's no good reason for her to quake in fear respecting the demise of Roe v. Wade.

And what of the decision itself? Many liberal legal scholars admit that Roe is bad law since it stands as the creative invention of the SCOTUS rather than as a solid extrapolation of Constitutional principles. Blumner's dealing with the issue tend to make clear that she has long regarded the Supreme Court as just another political organ. And in this case she prefers that it remain outside the reach of the will of the people. If there is no mass appeal to legalized abortion in the United States then let the cloistered minority in the Supreme Court chambers proclaim it. For all her criticism of the "imperial Bush" Blumner herself favors an imperial arrangement with liberal justices proclaiming the law of the land.

Blumñata shows greater concern for McCain's supposed inconsistency, however:

In case you missed his recent appearance before the evangelical audience of pastor Rick Warren's Saddleback Church, McCain was asked: When is a baby entitled to human rights? His emphatic response: "At the moment of conception." (Add wild applause here.)

Think about this.

Were this view to come to pass and a single-cell zygote were imbued with 14th Amendment rights to life, liberty and property, not only would abortion rights go away, but infertile couples would lose the option of in vitro fertilization. It would also mean the end of all embryonic stem cell research.

Blumner notes that McCain's view on using existing embryonic stem cells for research appears to trample human rights. That's a fair observation in some respects, but it oversimplifies the issues since rights often come into conflict in our system of law. A constitutional ban on in vitro fertilization no more follows from the Constitution itself then does the right to abortion, albeit the former would constitute a stronger argument in legal terms. Rather than leading to a constitutional prohibition on in vitro fertilization, the McCain view leads in the right direction: leaving the issue for democratically elected legislators.

The concluding paragraph contains some nifty weasel-language:

Pro-choice Republican voters are deluding themselves if they think Roe is eternal no matter who wins the White House. If McCain is president he promises to grant human rights to microscopic cells and he very well may succeed.
McCain did pledge to act as a pro-life president, but as Blumner notes he is not radically pro-life as evidenced by his stance on stem-cell research. There is no "promise" from McCain as Blumner describes, leaving us to suppose that she may be using "promises" in a sense other than as a type of explicit pledge from McCain, akin to "This August day promises to be a scorcher." But even that is a stretch worthy of Reed Richards, since the most likely scenario in terms of limiting the currently recognized right to abortion is the aforementioned unlikely reversal of Roe v. Wade.

It's been a while since Blumner regaled us with a tale of the Republican tendency to use scare tactics with an election approaching, by the way. Expect the spinner to give us one of those very soon.

Sports weekend

I had a light posting week because of the preparations for a high definition television set. The Bucs game against Jacksonville looked beeyootyful.

And that goes beyond the visuals provided by the new telly. Yes, the Bucs lost to the Jags, but there were many positives to draw out of the game aside from some sloppy play (particularly from a rusty Jeff Garcia).

The Bucs ran the ball on Jacksonville. The Bucs pass-protected well against Jacksonville. The defense let the Jags do very little offensively aside from the traditional first-string vs. second string thing that the Jags like to do in the preseason. In this case, that was the first drive of the second half.

A few player notes:

Jeremy Zuttah filled in nicely for injured right guard Davin Joseph.

The Bucs are stacked at tailback. I like Cadillac Williams, who remains on the PUP list, but I don't think he'll be seriously missed in terms of production. Each of the backs the Bucs have in camp appears to catch the ball and block better than Williams. That's a pleasant surprise coming from Michael Bennett, second year RB Kenneth Darby and rookie free agent Clifton Smith. Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn figure to get most of the touches come regular season.

Wide receiver Maurice Stovall edged Michael Clayton for the best performance. Clayton notched a TD catch during the game, which was nice to see even if it was only preseason. Antonio Bryant sat with a swollen knee.

The pass rush looked good against Jacksonville, continuing the trend from the first two games of the preseason. The Bucs are getting a good rush off the edges from Gaines Adams and free agent signee Jimmy Wilkerson. The defensive tackles so far are doing a good job of squeezing the pocket with the inside rush. Plus the run defense has looked pretty solid despite an occasional blown assignment.

The defensive backfield looks to turn in a whole bunch of splash plays this year. Aqib Talib continues to excel and I'm getting on the Elbert Mack bandwagon. Mack had an INT last week along with a bone-jarring hit. He continued with stellar play this week, showing great athleticism in defensing a pass. He was also called for pass interference, which may have been a bad call (I initially agreed with the call but questioned it after the replay). Safety Sabby Piscitelli continued to show up around the football.

Cuts will be tough at One Buc Palace this year. Clifton Smith has outperformed Dexter Jackson on kick returns thus far, and the competition is spirited at quite a number of positions. This team will improve from last year if the coaches make the right roster picks.

Devil* Rays

The Rays still haven't lost a series since the All-Star break, which is making life delightfully miserable for Yankeefan and Red Sox fan. The team has continued to rely on team play spearheaded by strong pitching and solid defense while stars Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria and Troy Percival continue to mend. Willie Aybar has had a notable August, which merits him a two-weektime achievement award instead of a series MVP award.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Blumner attacks Wal-Mart (again)

Sometimes I think that St. Petersburg Times editorial columnist Robyn "Blumñata" Blumner has a board-game style spinner that she uses to choose her editorial topic for the week. Instead of categories like "$1000," "Bankrupt" or "Lose a Turn" as you get with Wheel of Fortune, the Blumner wheel would feature "President Bush," "Abortion" and perhaps "Wal-Mart."

If the spinner gets caught in-between, we get an editorial on the wonders of buckwheat groats or Robyn's parents. Last week we got Wal-Mart.

What's wrong with Wal-Mart, you might wonder? Well pull up a chair, you poor slob, and let Blumñata explain it to you.
Always low-price Wal-Mart is also always low wage, low benefits and low ethics when it comes to its workers, here and abroad.
Are we supposed to be upset about low wages or benefits? Is Wal-Mart paying below minimum wage in the United States? Low ethics sure sounds bad. But it doesn't sound that bad without any concrete example.
The company that insiders claim encouraged employees to seek taxpayer-funded health care for the poor is back in the news. This time the retail giant is accused of encouraging its store managers and department supervisors to vote Republican come November.
What???!!! Well, if they're doing that, then revoke their not-for-profit status right away!

Oh, wait. Wal-Mart isn't a not-for-profit operation. So what is Blumñata's problem?
If those employees do so they'd be committing electoral hara-kiri. It is hard to fathom an act more inimical to their economic interests.
Is it hard to fathom that voting would be an act significantly inimical to their economic interests? Seriously?

Wouldn't we have to be as economically cluesless as, say, Blumñata herself in order to believe that? The unspoken premise seems to be that Wal-mart is morally responsible for paying its employees enough to ensure that they sit comfortably in the midst of a prosperous middle class. Any notion the company might have of providing low-cost goods to consumers should be set aside or at least dropped way down on the list of priorities--otherwise achieving the Blumneriffic goal of universal well-being may prove nigh well impossible.

The anti-capitalist droning continued:
According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, Wal-Mart made it clear in mandatory meetings around the country that a Democratic victory would be a disaster for its anti-union business model.
If a company is interested in establishing itself as a low price leader, chances are that it can't afford unionized workers. Modern unions result in such lovely innovations as idle worker work areas and extravagant union benefits.

Let us readily concede that labor unions have helped achieve some benefits for society on the whole over time. Let us regard with suspicion the suggestion that labor unions have provided a benefit on balance over time.

What is it about the Democrats that make Wal-Mart so desperate that it risks its not-for-profit status? Blumner touches on the issue without giving the reader any truly useful information:

The focus of the meetings was legislation known as the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow employees to unionize without a formal union election if more than 50 percent sign certification cards. Sen. Barack Obama is a co-sponsor of the measure while Sen. John McCain opposes it — a fact that Wal-Mart drove home to its supervisors.

Of course, Wal-Mart is right about the Employee Free Choice Act making it easier for employees to unionize. The measure is designed short-circuit the campaign of intense antiunion intimidation and coercion that so many employers unleash in the months leading up to a union election.

In a wild twist of coincidence, the same measure that is designed to short-circuit the supposed "campaign of intense antiunion intimidation and coercion" makes it exceptionally easy for unions to employ methods of intimidation and coercion. The signed certification card is a form of voting, but not the type of voting that democracies tend to treasure. Democracies favor anonymous voting precisely because of the otherwise risk of intimidation and coercion. Power Line featured a nice post on the "Employee Free Choice Act" last year.

Blumñata thus apparently favors a law that will allow unions to form based on potentially coercive public voting. And the unions, to her undoubted delight, will use union dues from Republicans and Democrats alike to fund Democratic candidates. And that's the way things ought to be in Blumner's eyes. After all, the Repubicans in the union are supposedly too stupid to know which candidates will serve their economic self-interest.

See where this leads?

I'm reminded of the quotation listed as an all-time political favorite recently at Power Line:
"If you rob Peter to pay Paul, you can always count on the support of Paul."

Once again, Robyn Blumner proves that she knows next to nothing about economics and that she is willing to sacrifice informing readers for the sake of indoctrinating them with her empty-headed leftist views.

Raise wages at Wal-Mart and the prices rise. Rising prices probably mean decreased sales and a decreased market share--less demand for Wal-Mart stores, and less demand for Wal-Mart labor. Bottom line: Lost jobs.

Ideologues like Blumner can't seem to wrap their minds around the implications, unless they're just blatantly dishonest about it. Take, for example, Blumner's complaint about Wal-Mart advising employees to take advantage of government assistance programs (for which the employees are legally qualified, I might add). These are the kinds of programs that Blumner favors in order to distribute income more equally. Yet even though she sees the Wal-Mart employees as just the sort who need the assistance she's still outraged that Wal-Mart dares to recommend the program!

It apparently doesn't matter how much Wal-Mart pays in taxes. Blumner advocates a form of class envy and class warfare regardless.


Blumner seems to suffer a milder case of the same type of thinking that infects the advocates of the two day work week. They claim to be serious.

These nutcases advocate decreasing the work week to two eight hour days. Worried about income if you only put in eight hours of work per week? Don't sweat it. According to this plan you'll be paid the same as you were for forty hours. Everyone supposedly gets more money, and since leisure activity generates economic activity the economy will keep right on humming.

They claim to be serious.

These characters seem to have absolutely no clue that money represents labor and the value we place on labor. If you pay the same amount for less labor across the board, the market will adjust until your 16 hour pay under the two day work week is worth the same as the 16 hour pay you would have made working part-time, assuming equal productivity.

Minimum wage laws have a similar overall effect (encouraging inflation and the loss of jobs).

Wal-Mart knows how it works. Robyn Blumner apparently does not.

Iraq's national government pledges roles for Sahwa members

BAGHDAD, Aug. 23 (VOI) – The Iraqi government will not turn its back on the Sahwa tribal fighters, according to the official spokesman for the Baghdad Operations Command (BOC), adding applicable Sahwa fighters are still being incorporated into the Iraqi security agencies.

"The Iraqi government has set up an ad hoc committee from the BOC and the Committee on Implementation of National Reconciliation to incorporate the Sahwa recruits into security authorities. Administrative orders were given to include 13,000 Sahwa recruits into the interior ministry agencies," Maj. General Qassem Atta told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI).
Sahwa councils formed up in a number of Iraqi provinces like al-Anbar, Diala, Ninewa and Salah al-Din with the aim of mustering political and local tribal powers to fight armed groups, particularly al-Qaeda network, in those areas.

(Aswat Aliraq)

Either the government is belatedly telling the whole story, or belatedly realizing that cutting off Sahwa (Sunni Awakening) fighters would be politically stupid.

The government's reluctance to employ former Sunni insurgents is perfectly understandable on the one hand. After all, how do you know they can be trusted? On the other hand, the Sunni Awakening itself represented a commitment to a united Iraq. The government made the right move in looking to incorporate the Sahwa fighters into the general Iraq security forces. Some of them will end up being rejected, but that's OK. The effort--which Iraq can certainly afford as a result of its oil revenue--will serve the same sort of notice as al-Maliki's willingness to confront the Sadrist militias.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Trouble for Sunni-Shiite reconciliation in Iraq?

BAGHDAD — The Shiite-led government is cracking down on U. S.-backed Sunni Arab fighters in one of Iraq’s most turbulent regions, arresting some leaders, disarming dozens of men and banning them from manning checkpoints except alongside official forces.

The moves in Diyala province reflect mixed views on a movement that began in 2007 among Sunni tribes in western Iraq who revolted against al- Qaida in Iraq and joined the Americans in the fight against the terrorist network.

U. S. officials credit the rise of such groups, known variously as Awakening Councils, Sons of Iraq and Popular Committees, with helping rout al-Qaida.

(Buffalo News -- AP)

On its face, a move like this feeds sectarian mistrust, particularly Sunni fear of unbridled Shiite power in the national government. If the move is balanced with some acceptance of Sunni peacekeepers, such as encouraging their inclusion in police forces, then it may work out OK in the end after a few hiccups.

I do not detect any of the latter in this AP story. But it is an AP story, after all.

The technological innovation we've been waiting for: BARACKSTAR

Actual simulated BARACKSTAR call:
Obama: BARACKSTAR. May I help you?
Woman: Oh, thank goodness. I've locked my keys out of, out of my car.
Obama: What kind of car is it, ma'am?
Woman: It's a Suburban. Oh, I see my purse in the front seat.
Obama: We can't drive our SUVs as much as we want.
Woman: Huh? What do you mean?
Obama: We can't expect other countries to just stand by and say it's OK for you to drive your SUV as much as you want.
Woman: Uh, thanks BARACKSTAR.
The world confronts Americans with a dizzying array of choices. It's understandable that one might feel confusion occasionally. That's why we developed BARACKSTAR. Ideally, every person inside the United States, whether documented or not, will receive a BARACKSTAR transceiver surgically grafted to the left chest area. The device is so small that you will hardly even know it's there*!
Obama: BARACKSTAR. May I help you?
Man: Thank goodness you're there. I'm trying to order lunch and this employee doesn't seem to speak a word of English!
Obama: We need to teach our children to speak Spanish.
Man: What?
Obama: Approach the counter and repeat after me: "Merci beaucoup, amigo."
Man: OK, I guess it's worth a try ...
BARACKSTAR. Making America good again. That is, if America was ever good in the first place.

* Ten percent of test subjects were no longer be able to perform jumping jacks without falling over after receiving the graft procedure, while 49 percent reported hearing continuous NPR broadcasts after installation.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Barack the uniter? About those Supreme Court justices ...

I visit Hot Air mostly for Ed Morrissey's writing, but Allahpundit is breathing the flames of truth on this one:
I actually like the fact that McCain voted to confirm Ginsburg and Breyer, not because I have any use for either of them but because his vote was obviously based on legal qualifications, not an ideological litmus test. Conservatives have suffered grievously from the politicization of the confirmation process (a point I made in the earlier post) and will only have it worse as Congress turns a deeper blue. Having clean hands in this regard gives President McCain moral leverage with the Senate vis-a-vis his own nominees and political leverage over Obama right now as proof that he was being the true bipartisan pol while Barry O was busy voting against someone as ostentatiously qualified as John Roberts.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Mid-month Iraq casualty update

First the graph:

Again the caution: The mid-month numbers are somewhat useful since we are dealing with a daily average. However, the number could still drop down near .5 deaths per day (if no more occurred this month) for August or could increase substantially if a great number of troop deaths occur later in the month.

What do the numbers mean?

Generally, the graph suggests that Iraq was slightly more dangerous for coalition troops in August (so far) than in July--about as dangerous as June.

On one hand, a mild increase in the numbers could perhaps be expected because of the upcoming provincial elections. The enemy may be expected to try to disrupt that process. Even though it might make more sense for the enemy to try to foment sectarian violence rather than attack foreign troops, our troops will tend to have more engagements when the enemy attempts a greater number of attacks.

On the other hand, the numbers have grown so small at this point that what might look initially like a trend may well be simply fluctuation around a fairly stable level of risk. Separating non-hostile troop deaths from those resulting from hostile action will help make the numbers more meaningful as well. I will begin to keep track of separate columns for those differing stats and provide an update at a later time.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Al Qaeda "Mata Hari" captured

MIT graduate and Al Qaeda radical. What a combination.
Her name reportedly rolled from KSM's lips when he was captured and interrogated by US intelligence officers. She has also been linked to Adnan El Shukrijumah, a pilot and suspected al Qaeda member also on the Ashcroft-Mueller list.
(ABC News)
KSM=Kalid Sheik Mohammed. That's one of the people the CIA subjected to waterboarding in order to extract information. As I recall, KSM was treated with waterboarding because he wasn't talking. I wonder if any mainstream media source will make the direct connection between this woman's identification and subsequent capture with the successful use of waterboarding as an interrogation technique. ABC stops short of that connection.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Hitchens on Iraq's budget surplus

Christopher Hitchens wrote in response to the same impetus that prompted my post yesterday blasting an editorial in The St. Petersburg Times with an "upside-down Iraqi headline."
One day I will publish my entire collection of upside-down Iraq headlines, where the true purport of the story is the inverse of the intended one. (Top billing thus far would go to the greatest downer of them all: the tale of Iraq's unemployed gravediggers, their always-insecure standard of living newly imperiled by the falling murder rate. You don't believe me? Wait for the forthcoming anthology.) While you wait, you might consider last week's astonishing report about the Iraqi budget surplus and the way in which the report was reported.

Read it all the way through to the bottom at Slate.

Blumneconomics VIII: Let's copy the economy of Spain

From the title of this week's piece from Robyn "Blumñata" Blumner, I thought I might get the week off by ignoring another human interest editorial.

Old World of Spain can teach us how to live

She's tricky. Her column morphs from a travel log into a woe-is-the-American-economy screed in short order.
My new Spanish relatives-in-law regaled me with stories of their health care system, where no one has to worry about bankrupting themselves to receive top-flight treatment.
The new relatives probably heard through the grapevine that Blumñata would eat up stories like that.
The majority of the Spanish population thinks the health system needs to be changed. The problems cited relate mostly to long wait times to get health-care. Nevertheless, over the last 15 years, the proportion of people who have very negative views about the health system has decreased by half.

("Public trust in the Spanish health-care system")

The Spanish system has public and private health side-by-side, by the way. It is not a national single-payer plan, but the public system has the traditional problems of third-party payment.

More good stuff:

Yet even with such attractive national and cultural priorities for its workers and citizens — ones that undoubtedly have the side effect of tamping down worker productivity and wealth accumulation — Spain's currency, the euro, is trouncing our dollar.

In November 2000, the euro was worth about 84 cents. Now, it takes around $1.58 to buy a euro. For me that meant getting punched in the wallet at every meal and hotel.

You want a small plate of pasta for lunch? That will be a reasonable 12 euros — that is if you get paid in euros — or a pricey $19.

It's horrible being an American, isn't it? But hold it for a moment. What's the average salary in glorious Spain?
According to a report published yesterday by the Inland Revenue Office in Spain about the Spanish labor market and pensions, men earn salaries which are on average 30 percent higher than those of women. The average annual salary of men in 2004 was 17,964 euros, compared to 12,464 for women - a difference of 5,500 euros per year.
Hmmm. Doesn't sound all that impressive. How about a comparison?
(W)e found that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the average annual wages in the U.S. as $36,764 for 2002.
Even if the Euro was worth $2 the average Spanish salary would be less than the average salary in the U.S. (the U.S. salary numbers were from 2004). Despite Blumner's whining she would probably have less to spend if she held her job in Spain as opposed to St. Petersburg, FL. So much for the advantage of being paid in Euros.

Blumner spends a paragraph or two wringing her hands about the weakening dollar. Apparently she wants to make more than her Spanish counterpart and have her dollar go further. She cites economists who associate the weakening dollar with the U.S. trade deficit. No doubt that's true to a point, but the weakening dollar is also an inevitable result of the global economy. We get to have a dollar that is worth a zillion Bolivian pesos essentially because things are rotten in Bolivia compared to the United States. As conditions elsewhere improve (which is what ought to happen as a result of the benefits of trade) the dollar will lose its relative value. Yes, that's bad in a way but it's also good in a way.

I do get a kick out of seeing Blumner come out implicitly in favor of American exceptionalism in the midst of extolling Spain, of course. Yes we must always make more than those in other countries! That sounds fair!

There may also be a psychological aspect to our current fix. Note that the dollar's decline has been concomitant with the fall of America's international stature.

Why bet on the growth and stability of a nation that is a spendthrift debtor, hubristic bully and unapologetic torturer if there are reasonable alternatives like the European Union?

More of that patented brain-dead economic analysis. As noted above, the decline of the dollar is pretty much inevitable in a global economy that isn't rigged to keep Americans as the top dogs. And while that certainly doesn't mean that we need to speed the process artificially, it at least leads to Blumner's latter point(s).

Spendthrift debtor? Not in relative terms, yet, but give the Democratic Congress time to expand on already crippling entitlement spending and then maybe we can talk.

Hubristic bully? Yeah, you do bet on the hubristic bully if you expect a good return on your investment. If the hubris is not reasonably in proportion to ability, then you hedge your bets. And you don't bet on ability in the lack of self-confidence, either. When the more athletic fighter is a soft coward then think about betting on the other guy. Wasn't Blumner one of those who was sure the hubristic bully would inevitably lose in Iraq? Did you lose your shirt on that bet, Blumner?

"(U)napologetic torturer." Apparently eyes are closed to the global war on terrorism as well as to the aggressive surveillance methods the Europeans have sometimes used in recent times. If the European Union does not aggressively stand up to Islamo-nazi terrorism then bet on the terrorists.

Note to Blumner: Facts are stubborn things.

And one more thing about the grand Spanish economy. Try an unemployment rate of about 10 percent.

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blog it

If Bush had led the United States to a 10 percent unemployment rate we might expect Blumner to call for a revolution. That isn't the only weakness to the economic picture in Spain, by the way.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Bucs top Dolphins in preseason opener

Football has returned. Sort of.

The Bucs led off their NFL preseason with a 17-6 victory over the Miami Dolphins. And the substitutes got plenty of work for both teams.

Neither team's likely regular season starting quarterback took a snap in the game, as injured Jeff Garcia and newly acquired Dolphin (former Jet) Chad Pennington sat out.

A few notes on those who did play.

Ricky Williams, RB, Dolphins: Williams was the first player to stand out. He looked fast, had good moves and followed his blockers well.

Luke McCown, QB, Bucs: The Bucs preseason starter displayed the same traits that he demonstrated last year as the second string quarterback behind Garcia: good athletic talent and game-time inconsistency. McCown made some nice plays and counterbalanced those with some questionable plays. McCown simply missed on a pass that would have resulted in a touchdown for Michael Clayton. Speaking of whom ...

Michael Clayton, WR, Bucs: Clayton had a nice game. He looked fast, got open and made some nice catches. But he had one drop, which leads to the suspicion that his demons of the past two season have not been entirely left behind.

Aqib Talib, CB, Bucs: The rookie corner made an excellent open field tackle on Ricky Williams.

John Gilmore, TE, Bucs: The blocking tight end the Bucs acquired from Chicago can catch. An Anthony Becht with hands?

Paris Warren, WR, Bucs: Warren had one catch against the Dolphins. He looks as fast as ever (not particularly, in other words). Bucs fans are rooting for this guy because of his heart combined with his heart-wrenching season-ending injury at the end of last year's preseason.

Brian Griese, QB, Bucs: Griese looked composed and effective.

Chris Simms, QB, Bucs: Simms threw accurately and led the team on some good drives, but his passing stats leave out part of the story. Simms was sacked twice. It is his propensity for giving up sacks that makes him a mismatch for Gruden's offense. McCown suffers the same weakness but not as severely.

Josh Johnson, QB, Bucs: It was nice to see Johnson get in a few snaps. He completed the lone pass he threw--a precise rope for a 15 yard gain. The Bucs must plan to keep Johnson on the practice squad, so it will be interesting to see how much playing time he gets in the preseason.

Dexter Jackson, WR/KR, Bucs: Jackson's speed is for real, and it looks like he has the ability to translate his speed into effective football. Jackson had a nice return as well as one pass reception that hinted at justifying the premature comparison to Steve Smith of the Panthers. Jackson caught the ball near the sideline and darted upfield with authority. He's doubtless nowhere near Smith in terms of physical strength at this stage, but speed and moves seem legit.

Clifton Smith, RB, Bucs: I didn't even know about his guy until reading a story about him yesterday. He looks fast, and he has a good sense of the field around him. If it weren't for Dexter Jackson I could see him sticking as a kick returner.

I did not watch the game closely enough to grade out linemen individually.

Bucs offensive line: The yards-per-carry average for the running backs was modest against the Dolphins 3-4 defense. Dan Buenning spent a good bit of time at center.

Bucs defensive line: Marques Douglas made a few splash plays at DE; overall the line looked ready to carry on from last year--hopefully improving as the younger players come into their own.

Overall, the Bucs looked good for this stage of the season.

The St. Petersburg Times: Why isn't Bush following the Plan?

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Time for Iraq to pay up

Here we are spending billions of dollars we don’t have toward Iraq’s reconstruction, while the Iraqi government is sitting on tens of billions of dollars in surpluses. Oil’s been very good to Iraq, and it’s only destined to get better. Why then are Iraq’s oil billions piling up in the Federal Reserve Bank in New York, earning interest, while America has gone into debt to provide Iraqis with electricity and water?
Obviously it's time for the Iraqis to fork over the money. The war was about oil, therefore according to Bush's Plan (TM) that money is ours anyway.

Seriously, this type of complaint strikes me as hilarious on a certain level. A certain number of people (this Times editorial is safely anonymous) will decry the avaricious nature of the war and at the same time expect the folks they consider the victims to foot the tab.

What I do not expect to see is any acknowledgment from the ideological left that Iraq possessing excess millions of oil revenue serves as at least some indication that Iraq was not invaded so that the U.S. could seize Iraqi oil.

The Iraqis get the oil. The Iraqis sell it at market price. The Iraqis get the money from the sale of the oil.

The Times cries foul:
There is no good answer to that question beyond the fact that we're getting rooked.
Perhaps not in the eyes of underinformed Times editors, anyway. Iraqis, Times editors apparently believe, live in an idyllic world free of government partisanship as well as free of the risk of corruption.

The opposite's true.

Iraq is slow to spend its oil profits because the government has not yet agree to a plan for sharing oil revenue. Doesn't even the casual observer of events in Iraq realize that? The government is doing the only responsible thing it can do at present: Avoid blowing the cash until they can do so fairly and effectively.

It will likely take time to Iraq's many political factions to hammer out a revenue sharing plan. And even then corruption is likely to color the process.

But as for the United States and expenditures in Iraq there are more important thing to worry about than pressuring the Iraqi government to spend on infrastructure. Things like pressuring the Iraqi government to arrive at a revenue sharing plan (imagine that!) and making sure that the nation is strong enough to provide for its own security.

I find it frankly shameful that the Times can omit such concerns from its editorial.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The media angle on the Edwards affair (Updated)

The media coverage of John Edwards' affair provides far more interest than the affair itself. On that point The New York Times appears to agree with me. The Times published a story about the media coverage of the Edwards affair. A key excerpt:
“These kinds of allegations fly around about just about every candidate,” said Leonard Downie Jr., executive editor of The Washington Post, which had not written about the affair until Friday. “We checked them out and we asked questions, and at no time did we have any facts to report.”
Aren't allegations facts? The Times appeared to think so when it covered suspicions about a John McCain affair. In Edwards' case at least there was a suspicious business relationship to sniff around. Rielle Hunter, the woman who drew Edwards' amorous attentions had a job with the campaign and apparently did not produce anything. The business relationship lasted through 2007, according to the Huffington Post.

But back to the current story by the Times:

The New York Times looked into the Enquirer reports last fall, though none too aggressively, editors said.

Bill Keller, the executive editor, said in an e-mail message that Mr. Edwards’s dark-horse status and the “added hold-your-nose quality about The Enquirer” contributed to the lack of interest by The Times and the mainstream media generally.

That one has the ring of truth to it. The reporting on suspicions regarding McCain came only after McCain had pretty much sealed the Republican nomination. If Edwards had similarly sewn up the Democratic nomination and the Times had remained silent then we'd have a good reason to suspect the exercise of a double standard.

Just a touch of sarcasm, there.

One other graph from the story drew my attention:
In the months since then, Mr. Friedman said, CBS kept track of the story but did not actively pursue it. “We saw no reason to make his life or the life of his family any worse, until it became well-documented or he admitted it, which is what happened today,” he said.
Now CBS sees a reason to make his life and the life of his family worse.

You didn't mean it to sound like that, did you, Mr. Friedman?

The Times' public editor, Clark Hoyt, thinks his paper blew it. Check out the comments of Bill Keller and Richard Stevenson regarding the comparison between the Edwards story and the McCain story:
Keller and Stevenson said it was wrong to equate the McCain and Edwards stories, as so many readers and bloggers have. The editors saw the McCain story as describing a powerful senator’s dealings with lobbyists trying to influence government decisions, including one who anonymous sources believed was having a romantic relationship with him. “Our interest in that story was not in his private romantic life,” Keller said. “It was in his relationship with lobbyists, plural, and that story took many, many weeks of intensive reporting effort.”
Hoyt, to his credit, repeats his difference of opinion regarding the McCain story. Hoyt is on solid ground, for the excuse offered by the Keller and Stevenson doesn't hold up. If the story was that involved without the unproven allegations of an affair, then run that part of the story without those allegations just like Hoyt suggested. The notion that the Times could not come up with a story angle on Edwards that would similarly support inclusion of the allegations regarding his infidelity simply doesn't fly. Edwards, after all, emphasized his character as a selling point during the Democratic primaries, analogous to McCain's emphasis on political independence from lobbyist influence. Given that Edwards pushed that emphasis after news that his wife's cancer was expected to prove fatal, pursuing that story would have doubtless have resulted in some harm. I'm betting the moral calculus was more than what Hoyt relates from Keller and Stephenson.

MaxxPro Plus pic

The MaxxPro Plus. Allegedly.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Racism may be good? Interpreting Michael Gerson

Things that make you say "Huh? What?":
But race in America is anything but simple, and polls seem powerless to measure its political influence. There is clearly an undercurrent of prejudice in parts of the electorate, evident even among some Democratic primary voters. There is also massive enthusiasm among younger voters to break the color barrier in the Oval Office, coupled with large increases in African American primary turnout. These unpredictable factors may well balance in Obama's favor, which would speak well of the country.
(Washington Post)
"There is clearly an undercurrent of prejudice ..."--maybe some people don't like Obama because he's black. Let's agree that is racism and it is bad.

"There is also massive enthusiasm among younger voters to break the color barrier in the Oval Office, coupled with large increases in African American primary turnout." How does one explain either of those phenomena without finding racism at its core?

I agree with the numerous commentators and pundit who have noted that the race of a candidate should never be a sufficient reason for voting either for or against a candidate. The vote must come down to policy issues and character. If McCain and Obama switched races and my vote followed from one to the other on that basis then I am a racist regardless of which way I flip-flopped. Repeated from Gerson:
These unpredictable factors may well balance in Obama's favor, which would speak well of the country.
It would speak well of the country if if racism in favor of blacks was more popular than racism against whites? Please, let us recognize the ridiculousness of that proposition. It would speak well of the country if both types of racism diminish.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Grading PolitiFact: Obama right about tire inflation and tune-ups? Part 2

Give me a break!

Michael Goldfarb of the McCain campaign contacted PolitiFact and challenged one of their key numbers. PolitiFact updated their entry. And the rating stayed the same. The PolitiFact folks think Obama is right that inflating our tires and tuning our cars will save all the oil McCain wants to obtain by drilling.

Goldfarb may have done more than challenge just one of PolitiFact's numbers, actually, but it's hard to tell so long as the link to Goldfarb's letter leads to a "The page you requested is currently unavailable" message.

Did PolitiFact get it right this time after the appalling ineptitude manifest in the first attempt?

Update: After we published this item, McCain spokesman Michael Goldfarb called to dispute it, citing a Government Accountability Office letter of Feb. 9, 2007 that says tire inflation wastes 1.2 billion gallons of gasoline instead of the 2.8 billion estimate we used.

The letter says: "The Department of Energy’s designated economist on this issue indicated that, of the 130 billion gallons of fuel that the Transportation Research Board estimated were used in passenger cars and light trucks in 2005, about 1.2 billion gallons were wasted as a result of driving on under-inflated tires."

That estimate falls just under the estimated 1.4 billion gallons a year from increased offshore drilling.

Not to mention the fact that it is less than half the estimate PolitiFact used the first time around. And don't you love the way the 14% shortfall (200 million gallons a year) is "just under"?
But that doesn't persuade us to change our ruling, for three reasons.
This has got to be good.
First, 1.2 billion gallons in possible savings from proper tire inflation is still in the ballpark of the 1.4 billion gallons from drilling. Given that all of these numbers are estimates, it's hard to say the difference between these two numbers constitutes a falsehood.
If it is "in the ballpark" then Obama is justified in saying that it's more [Correction: Obama did not say "more" though PolitiFact did paraphrase him that way--Obama's statements were "just as much" and equivalents]? Who are they kidding? If you don't know then don't rate it as "True." Doing otherwise is lying. This is the logic gullible readers are expected to apply:

If what A said could be true then what A said cannot be called a falsehood.
Therefore, what A said is True.

Would PolitiFact stick with their judgment based on that reason alone? Who knows?
Second, it would take years of work to start producing 1.4 billion gallons of gasoline from oil pumped offshore -- the Energy Information Administration estimate contemplates production beginning in 2017. And the oil reserves would not be bottomless. Conceivably, the savings from tire-pressure correction could begin immediately and last indefinitely, thus easily overcoming the marginal difference in the estimates provided by the McCain campaign.
This is priceless. Even if offshore drilling produced an infinite amount of oil, Obama's statement could still be true via the automotive equivalent of Hilbert's Hotel. An infinite amount of tire inflation savings could definitely save an infinite amount of gasoline, according to infinite set theory.

This rationale is hogwash.

First, Obama did not specify offshore drilling. That qualification came from the PolitiFact author in an apparent attempt to capture Obama's underlying argument--as I've noted previously. It is nothing less than silly to suppose that Obama's underlying argument was an appeal to infinite set theory, thus the reference to the offshore oil reserves not being "bottomless" is a patently ridiculous justification. Even the identification of Obama's underlying argument as a comparison between annual saving and annual production is a stretch and that argument is not supported by the data under any fair evaluation. "Could be" isn't enough where the possibility is supported by assumptions. Obama's statement cannot be fairly rated "True" based on so much supposition.
And finally, none of this takes into account the impact of tune-ups, which Obama mentioned as part of his claim. If Department of Energy estimates of 4 percent mileage improvement for better-tuned cars are true, that alone would push the total savings above the estimated drilling yield.
Let's review that Department of Energy estimate.
Fixing a car that is noticeably out of tune or has failed an emissions test can improve its gas mileage by an average of 4 percent, though results vary based on the kind of repair and how well it is done.
It looks to me like PolitiFact is punting while insisting that their "True" rating is correct. We received no analysis from PolitiFact regarding the annual gasoline savings from tuneups based on the Department of Energy estimate. It is all too easy to imagine that the media professionals at PolitiFact took the total amount of fuel burned in motor vehicles and took four percent of that
total as the savings that make Obama ultimately "True."

But that is not what the Department of Energy estimate suggests. The entry specifically refers to "a car that is noticeably out of tune or has failed an emissions test." Without any attempt to quantify the number of cars that meet those criteria, the PolitiFact entry looks more like a stubborn refusal to admit error rather than a careful reconsideration of the issue.

Aug 8 2008: Corrected an incorrect paraphase

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

What a win! Rays grab rubber game to take series from Tribe

The Tampa Bay Devil* Rays managed a home series win against the pesky Cleveland Indians, scoring 6 runs in the bottom of the 9th inning to seize a 10-7 victory and the 2-1 series win. Cleveland had convincingly won its previous five matchups against the Rays.

Carlos Pena takes my series MVP award for the second straight time. Pena had 5 walks, 3 hits and 4 RBI for the series including the walk off home run in the finale. Ben Zobrist and Jason Bartlett receive honorable mention for good performances in the series.

Congressional porker in Lockheed Martin's corner for JLTV?

Disclaimer: I have no realistic idea of how much or how little influence Congress has over specific military purchases. I do know that a plausible argument may be made that the Pentagon over-purchased MRAPs because of congressional meddling.
Murtha didn’t just get to observe the vehicle in action, he drove it to and from JWF’s facilities to a testing ground the company has constructed in hills above the plant. Murtha said the heavily armored vehicle “drove like an SUV.”

Of Murtha and pork. Runnerup porker Bill Young (Republican) is my congressman.

Tracking the political animal

Ed Morrissey highlights the Obama problem with an excellent post at Hot Air. Captain Ed notes the laudably vigorous questioning Obama received from journalist Jon Ralston as well as Obama's typically vacuous response:

SEN. OBAMA: John, don’t put words in my mouth or anticipate what I am going to do. I’ve been opposed to Yucca Mountain from the start so if the suggestion is that John McCain who is in favor of Yucca right now should get a pass on that.

He was opposed to telecom immunity at the start, supported public financing at the start, thought the surge would create more violence at the start, and so on, and so on. “Don’t anticipate what I am going to do?” No one can anticipate what he will do — that’s the problem.

People are catching on, and that probably explains Obama's eroding poll numbers.

Grading PolitiFact: Obama right about tire inflation and tune-ups? (Updated)

Just moments after I read the Power Line challenge to Time Magazine's defense of Obama's underinflation blowup I ran across PolitiFact's own attempt to rehabilitate the Obama gaffe.

Alexander Lane produced the entry, with Scott Montgomery serving as editor.
Sen. Barack Obama injected a startling claim into the debate on energy, asserting in a Missouri town hall meeting that the country could save more gas from inflating its tires and tuning up its cars than would be gained from drilling more off its coasts.
"(O)ff its coasts"? I don't remember Obama saying anything about coasts. In fact, here is how PolitiFact reproduced the quotation:
"We could save all the oil that they’re talking about getting off drilling, if everybody was just inflating their tires and getting regular tune-ups."
The folks at PolitiFact sometimes deal with the literal text and sometimes with the underlying argument. Apparently Lane plans to deal with the underlying argument. Obama, in Lane's eyes, meant to refer only to offshore drilling, not ANWR or oil shale deposits similarly under government moratorium.

Fine. Let's allow Lane to run with it and see where he goes.
The best estimate available, by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is that at least a quarter of drivers are cruising around on under-inflated tires. In April, the Rubber Manufacturers Association, the Auto Club, the California Highway Patrol and Yokohama Tire Company used those statistics, along with Department of Transportation and Automobile Association of America data, to extrapolate that 2.8-billion gallons of gas are lost every year due to under-inflation of tires.

That’s an estimate, to be sure, and not one from a published, peer-reviewed study. But remember, Obama said we “could” save all the oil available from offshore drilling in the protected areas — not we “would” — so if the claim is merely plausible he’s on solid ground.
Lane makes a quick transition from the NHTSA estimate on tire underinflation--a reasonable estimate with some research data in support--and the supposed group effort extrapolation of the data. The fact that it isn't from a published, peer-reviewed study is the very least of its problems. Lane, if the references provided along with his analysis are any indication, drew the estimate from an automotive message board. I cannot tell how he was able to firmly identify the aforementioned organizations as the source of the estimate.

We may have been misled as to the source of the data. I found the same data here minus the attribution suggested by Lane. And here is the key statistic:
● According to the AAA Gas Watchers Guide, there could be up to a 10 percent loss of gasoline from vehicles with tires underinflated from 7-10 psi.
I can't find this information in either the 2004 or the 2007 version of the AAA Gas Watcher's Guide, and even if I could the statement is too ambiguous to be of much help. It mentions "tires" plural might lead to that 10 percent loss. How many tires? Two? Three? Four? It's relevant because the bulk of the NHTSA survey's 27 percent of cars with underinflated tires had one tire underinflated (by 8 pounds psi or more). Yet Lane presents this apples-and-oranges guessedimate as though it is not simply a load of hooey. Please note that the 10 percent figure is presented as the ceiling figure ("up to a 10 percent loss"), and then that figure is used as the basis for the extrapolation that gets us to the key estimate of "28 billion gallons of gas" per year (assuming the "per day" version near the end was simply an oversight).

Here is what the AAA Gas Watcher's Guide says in both the 2004 and 2007 versions, by the way:
Inflate tires according to manufacturer recommendations. Under-inflated tires are a safety hazard and can cut fuel economy by as much as 2 percent per pound of pressure below the recommended level.
This figure can easily get us above the 10 percent figure that Lane ends up touting, but once again it remains unclear how many tires would have to be low for the estimate to apply. The federal government figures, fortunately, shed some light on that picture:
You can improve your gas mileage by around 3.3 percent by keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure. Under-inflated tires can lower gas mileage by 0.4 percent for every 1 psi drop in pressure of all four tires. Properly inflated tires are safer and last longer.
While the government Web site helps make clear that the fuel economy loss estimates are for low pressure in "all four tires" and varies substantially from the AAA estimate, even this information has a flaw that inhibits our ability to use it effectively. What is the baseline? Where does the 3.3 percent figure come from? If we use the government's .4 percent estimate, the figure of 3.3 percent appears to come from assuming all four tires inflated 8 psi below the recommended level (o.4*8=3.2; a close match). But the NHTSA estimate for tire underinflation absolutely will not support the extrapolation that Lane accepts on behalf of PolitiFact. Lane ends up using the government figure in this entry, but omits that it applies to underinflation of all four tires.

Click to enlarge the image below for additional analysis of Lane's poorly chosen source. Added comments have red emphasis.

Let's pick up now with Lane's argument:
So how much oil is available offshore? According to the latest assessment from the Minerals Management Service, the mean estimate of undiscovered technically recoverable crude oil in the Outer Continental Shelf areas that are currently under moratorium is about 18-billion barrels (see here.)
Without ANWR and domestic oil shale, then, in just 18 years tire inflation in our still overly optimistic scenario could save about 18 billion gallons of gas. At 19 gallons of gas per barrel of oil, that sounds pretty much like a drop in the bucket.

But it couldn’t all be extracted immediately. The agency estimates that if the moratorium were lifted production could start by 2017, and by 2030, oil companies could be producing 2.4-million barrels of oil instead of 2.2-million. That’s 200,000 more barrels per day.

After refining, a barrel of oil can produce up to 19.5 gallons of gasoline, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. So that’s 3.9-million more gallons of gasoline per day, or 1.4-billion gallons of gasoline per year.

And remember, an estimated 2.8-billion gallons of gas are lost annually due to under-inflated tires.

As Hinderaker points out, higher oil prices tend to lead to more aggressive extraction of easily accessed resources. The 2.4 million barrels figure is probably low unless oil prices drop way below present levels. And the true comparison is not to 2.8 billion gallons of gas saved but to under 1 billion. Offshore drilling minus ANWR and other sources should top maximal tire inflation saving annually by a long shot.
All of the numbers in this analysis are estimates, we should emphasize. Oil industry experts told us estimates of the amount of oil offshore and how fast it could be extracted vary widely, and the Energy Information Administration’s number is fairly optimistic. Likewise, it’s highly unlikely any public awareness effort could change behavior enough to save 2.8-billion gallons of gasoline per day.
"(P)er day." Did you catch that?

I'd like to see Lane's notes as to what exactly was optimistic about the EIA estimates.

But I'll tell you one thing that was optimistic. PolitiFact's grading of Obama's statement as "True." Lane showed himself inept by accepting the figures he found online. Editor Scott Montgomery should have buttonholed Lane until he located the supposed report that everyone from AAA to Yokohama Tire cooperatively produced. The source report should have accompanied the story, not a link to a message board page. Because the numbers fared so poorly under scrutiny, it seems likely that Lane was fooled into thinking the analysis came from people who know what they're talking about when that almost certainly was not the case.
But it’s clearly within the realm of possibility that tire inflation and tune-ups could save more than offshore drilling could produce. So we find Obama’s claim to be True.
What an embarrassment to journalism.

Correction: Made that 3.2 instead of 3.4 in the equation I used to recreate the thinking process behind the 3.3 percent loss in fuel economy. To paraphrase Xander Harris, to add makes our doing math good.

PolitiFact updated their entry, and I posted a response.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Obama on your shoulder, Part 2

I'll second the call from Power Line for the Hams to update their merry little jab at Barack Obama. Scott Johnson noted that a new scene featuring the helpful reminder to check tire pressure would fit the theme seamlessly.

Though the Hams apparently have no children at this point, I can easily imagine a tiny little elf reminding parents to teach their children Spanish.

Watch it again and just imagine all the possibilities.