Saturday, December 31, 2005
Here’s Duncan Currie in the Weekly Standard with “2005: A Tipping Point?”
But if the coming decades do in fact witness a democratic reformation in Middle Eastern politics, historians will likely trace its roots back to the events of 2005--namely, to the purple fingers of Iraqi voters. Just listen to what longtime Egyptian democracy activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim told columnist Jim Hoagland a few weeks ago in Washington. Ibrahim, who initially opposed the Iraq War, now believes U.S. intervention "has unfrozen the Middle East, just as Napoleon's 1798 expedition did."Still, given the resiliency of democracy in the 20th century, there’s good reason to hope that Iraq will prove an example for the wider Middle East.
Friday, December 30, 2005
Macs Mind has a multi-updated post on the Justice Department probe into the NSA leak, complete with (ironically?) double-secret background information from a “source.” A very comprehensive review. Meanwhile, James Taranto is almost giddy while noting that the New York Times, which gnashed and writhed over Valerie Plame, will be hoisted by its own petard over its report on the NSA leak.
James Lileks, writing from the future, looks back on 2006:
The New York Times, fresh from reporting the self-destruct codes for the American spy satellites that had inadvertently listened into 15 pay-per-view porn orders from cable subscribers in Omaha, revealed that U.S. subs have been violating Chinese territorial waters to monitor military communications. The Times named the boat, the captain, his home address and posted his credit report online. The boat was never heard from again and was presumed sunk.Don’t tread on the Times’ first amendment rights to threaten national security, you fascists!
All the cool kids are doing it (NRO, B4B, Anchoress, Red State) so I might as well throw in my WAGs:
The Democrats will pick up a handful of seats in the House and Senate, but not enough to regain control in either body. Regardless, Howard Dean will trumpet this as a major realignment in the body politic causing the Democrats to become even more obstructionist (if such a thing is possible). This will be evident when yet another Supreme Court seat opens up and the Senate Republicans are forced to trigger the “nuclear/constitutional” option to override a filibuster.
After some grumblings over a handful of decisions over his long career, Samuel Alito will be confirmed; he’ll receive votes from a single-digit number of Democrats (as opposed to the 22 votes that John Roberts got).
The New England Patriots will win the Super Bowl yet again. The astonishing fact that QB Tom Brady has never lost a playoff game will take its place among the greatest sports achievements.
The 19th century game of baseball will continue to shed fans while NASCAR ascends. American high school cliques will re-form based on favorite drivers.
Having plumbed the depths of classic TV and video games, Hollywood will turn to television commercials for ideas. That “Yes I Am” guy from the Bud Light commercials gets his own feature film.
After (yet another) assassination attempt almost takes the life of president Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan seeks wider coordination with the U.S. in the fight against radicals. Osama Bin Laden is killed by his own men as U.S. forces close in.
Running on his father’s name, Tom Kean Jr. is elected
Israel v. Iran – it’s going to happen and it will be ugly. Despite the fervent wishes of some, there will be no overthrow of the mullahs.
An uneasy coalition government forms in Iraq as nationalism (barely) edges out religious factionalism. After a successful re-drafting of the Iraqi constitution, Joe Biden will move the goalposts again about what “success” means.
Hugo Chavez will stage a one-week freeze of petroleum exports to the United States, causing another price spike and illuminating America’s overdependence on foreign oil supplies. However, absolutely nothing will be done to increase domestic supplies or refinery capacity.
Regretfully, there will be no action on Social Security, Medicare, or tax reform.
ESPN will launch an all-Texas Hold’em channel. Air America will fold.
General Motors will go through a massive restructuring, more seismic than the breakup of Standard Oil, in an effort to stave off bankruptcy.
Another unexpected expense for the Big Dig will rob millions more from Massachusetts citizens.
President Bush will settle into a 50-50 approval-disapproval holding pattern, unless some dramatic event in the GWOT pushes him up (e.g. capture of Osama) or down (e.g. another terrorist attack).
After a year of dismal ratings, the New York radio station WCBS-FM switches from the insipid “Jack” format back to oldies. Cousin Brucie reboots with “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra.
The “original recipe” Amazing Race starting in February will the longest and best Race yet.
More predictions from GOP Bloggers and Jay Reding
Thursday, December 29, 2005
Today’s Wall Street Journal had an article about changing attitudes towards labor in Japan. There’s a mounting worry about “NEETs” – young Japanese who are “not in education, employment or training.” And although they account for only a minor fraction of the workforce, Japanese officials are worried that this is a trend that could set off an economic spiral. From “In aging Japan, young slackers stir up concerns”:
But NEETs could exacerbate a demographic problem that’s starting to plague Japan and will soon affect other nations, too: an aging society, combined with a shrinking work force.The preceding, by the way, was faithfully re-typed by yours truly, since I don’t have a subscription to the Journal online. But I view this as a harbinger of things to come in America. If younger workers lose the incentive to work, due to crushing payroll taxes to support skyrocketing entitlement spending, how can the system possibly continue? Ironically, salvation may come from massive immigration from other countries (Japan & Europe) where the demographic bomb will go off only slightly before the reckoning in the United States.
Unlike the U.S., Japan doesn’t want to rely on immigration to boost its work force. That means it needs to make use of every Japanese of working age, especially young people, if it wants to prevent its economy from shrinking in the long term.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
BBC journalist James Bone writes in the Wall Street Journal about a run-in he had with United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and the simple question over a Mercedes purchased by Annan’s son Kojo:
The cause of Mr. Annan's ire was a question I put to him about a Mercedes car that his son Kojo had imported into Ghana (and which cannot, now, be traced). The facts indicate that Kojo had bought the car in his father's name, thereby obtaining a diplomatic discount and a tax exemption totaling more than $20,000. The question about the car--to which Mr. Annan again refused to give a satisfactory answer--is part of the wider probe into his role in the U.N.'s Oil for Food scandal. Despite months of investigation, important questions about the integrity of public officials remain unanswered. If we are serious about U.N. reform--as Mr. Annan claims to be--they must be resolved.IIRC, the reason the United States refused to allow another term for Boutros-Boutros Ghali is he was thought to be unwilling to take necessary steps to reform the United Nations. In exchange, we now have Kofi Annan’s U.N. and the multi-billion dollar scandal of Oil-for-Food.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvaia, Virginia. I'm in the Keystone State today, just relaxing and watching James Bond movies on Spike. I hope everybody had a great holiday. My big gift was a creme brulee kit based on a throwaway comment I once made about liking creme brulee. I think this indicates how desperate everybody is to find presents for Christmas. Me, I gave out 20 packs of double-A batteries and gift cards.
Sunday, December 25, 2005
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.Merry Christmas, everybody. I sincerely hope that everyone has a wonderful holiday season. May God bless you and keep you. All the best – Eric
Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
Saturday, December 24, 2005
Remember that chilling story about a UMass student who was visited by two homeland security agents after he tried to check out Mao’s Little Red Book? I called it a hoax right off the bat and asked “How gullible do you have to be to post on Daily Kos?”
Apparently, no less gullible than a certain drunk Senator from Massachusetts, who used the tall tale in the conclusion of his opinion article condemning the Patriot Act:
Just this past week there were public reports that a college student in Massachusetts had two government agents show up at his house because he hadgone to the library and asked for the official Chinese version of Mao Tse-tung's Communist Manifesto. Following his professor's instructions to use original source material, this young man discovered that he, too, was on the government's watch list.Now the student admits it was all a hoax:
The professor, Brian Glyn Williams, said he went to his former student's house and asked about inconsistencies in his story. The 22-year-old student admitted it was a hoax, Williams said.The poor bastard probably thought he was going to be subpoenaed by a federal grand jury. To its credit, Daily Kos has posted an update admitting the story was make-believe. Don’t hold your breath waiting for a correction from Ted Kennedy.
''I made it up," the professor recalled him saying. ''I'm sorry. . . . I'm so relieved that it's over."
Extra – Sean at American Mind has more on this story.
From the Boston Globe – “Big Dig costs may rise by millions”:
The US Department of Transportation's inspector general has drafted an internal memo that says the Big Dig's cost may rise by tens of millions of dollars, according to state, industry, and federal officials.Of course, that extra $75 million is absolutely the final amount of money the Big Dig needs. There will be no further surprises down the road, you can bet.
One of the officials pegged the estimated increase at $75 million. If the estimate proves accurate, the project would cost $14.7 billion instead of the current $14.625 billion, an increase that Massachusetts taxpayers or tollpayers would have to absorb, because the federal government has capped its contribution to the controversial megaproject.
Friday, December 23, 2005
OK, I just got back from seeing the “Chronicles of Narnia” and I have to say that it reminded me of another parable about a disciple named Peter who overcomes great adversity to destroy evil. I think it was “Office Space.”
"I saw this in a movie about a bus that had to speed around a city, keeping its speed over 50, and if its speed changed, it would explode! I think it was called, 'The Bus That Couldn't Slow Down.'" – Homer Simpson
From the Boston Globe - “Census estimate a concern for state – Seats in Congress, US funding at risk”:
Massachusetts lost residents for the second year in a row, new federal Census estimates show, underscoring an accelerating population shift from the Northeast to the South and West that threatens to erode the state's political and economic clout.The article specifically cites the exodus of young professionals to warmer states with lower living costs. I very much doubt that Massachusetts will take the necessary steps to keep that demographic in place here in the Bay State.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
From a Frontline report on the lucrative credit card industry: “Eight things a credit card user should know”
One interesting tidbit: author/actor/know-it-all Ben Stein was on this PBS special and he claimed that he pays off his credit card bill every month. According to him (via a conversation he had with somebody in the credit industry), people who pay off their balances every month, thereby avoiding the finance charge, are referred to as “deadbeats.” People who carry over a balance from month-to-month are “revolvers.” Credit card companies love revolvers.
Movie extra – Some people have a weird opinion of Scarlett Johansson.
Patriot Act extra – The BBC rubs it in: “Bush suffers Patriot Act defeat.”
From the WashPost – “A flat out winner on tax reform”:
The flat-tax revolution in Eastern Europe is particularly compelling. Nine nations from the old Soviet bloc have adopted the flat tax -- which taxes income at one rate -- and others are poised to. In an ironic twist, these countries are rejecting the class-warfare politics of yesteryear and building tax systems specifically designed to attract investment, fuel economic growth and treat all citizens fairly.We’ll never see a flat tax in America due to the conspiracy among accountants and lawyers to keep the tax system unnecessarily complicated.
Russia, for instance, enjoys the benefits of the 13 percent flat tax it adopted in 2001. The tax quickly yielded positive results. Revenue poured into government coffers as tax evasion and avoidance became much less profitable. Inflation-adjusted personal income tax revenue has more than doubled since the flat tax was implemented.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Sometimes I think the oldest political party in America has completely lost it. First, nod your head at this indisputable fact from Jayson on Polipundit:
When national security is a major issue in an election cycle, Democrats lose. It’s that simple.Boxed in between their MoveOn supporters and voters concerned about terrorism, Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats (along with a handful of RINOs) have hedged on renewing the Patriot Act. They don’t want to upset the base, but they also don’t want to appear weak on security. So what do they do? In an effort to claim partial victory, they agree to extend the Patriot Act by six months, bringing the whole issue back to the forefront right before the 2006 midterm elections. Brilliant! Even before tonight’s vote, Hotline was claiming that 2006 is looking less like Newt’s 1994 and more like 2002 when the GOP defied history and expanded its majority in Congress:
In '02, the prevailing assumption heading into the midterms was that the Dems, as the opposition party often does, would pick up seats. And then, like now, there was a potent political issue over national security.If the economy continues to steam along at 3-4% growth and national security remains the top issue going into 2006, Howard Dean is going to be out of a job by next Christmas.
More video fun - The DOPEST rap evah: Two white guys watching the Chronicles of Narnia, eating cupcakes, and debating which Internet map utility is the best. Word!
Correction - Whoops, that was Max Boot writing in the Los Angeles Times. Although I found it on Powerline, here's the original article.
Here’s Thomas Lifson on Real Clear Politics with “The Liberal Bubble”:
To a remarkable degree, America’s liberal elites have constructed for themselves a comfortable, supportive, and self esteem-enhancing environment. The most prestigious and widest-reaching media outlets reinforce their views, rock stars and film makers provide lyrics and stories making their points, college professors tell them they are right, and the biggest foundations like Ford fund studies to prove them correct.Meanwhile, Robert Samuelson calls the White House “bubbly” :
It has been a disaster for them.
Good stuff. The White House's bubbly appraisal isn't just fluff. If today's economic performance continued forever, we'd all be blessed. The trouble (for the White House, at least) is that many Americans don't seem impressed.And, for good measure, here’s a list of 2005 quotes from that ultimate media bubble – The New York Times.
Economic performance (now good) and economic psychology (now mediocre) have, to some extent, become disconnected. Why? One reason is that Americans have developed perfectionist standards. We expect total prosperity and are disappointed by anything less.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Here’s Ross on Andrew Sullivan’s site:
Let's suppose, for the sake or argument, that John Dean is right, and Bush just became "the first President to admit to an impeachable offense." The Democrats aren't going to try impeaching him for it - they aren't that stupid, are they? - so all that the offense does, in the public mind, is add to the existing perception of the GOP as the party that sometimes goes too far and skirts the law in the pursuit of national security objectives. And it's almost always better to be tagged as "the party that might go too far" than as "the party that won't go far enough" - which is how the Democrats are perceived these days.Writing on the Hill, Dick Morris sounded a similar theme in “Spy story could bite Dems.” The Wall Street Journal is more direct with an editorial titled “Thank you for wiretapping” while Bill Kristol and Gary Schmitt deem the spying as “Vital Presidential Power.”
One additional thought – During his press conference yesterday, I was struck by how forcefully President Bush called for the renewal of the Patriot Act. Usually politicians shy away from legislation that appears to be heading to defeat, but Bush obviously feels that there’s no downside standing for too much national security. John McIntyre expands on this in “Have the Democrats walked into a trap again?” on Real Clear Politics.
From the Boston Globe – “Initial tally shows a sectarian split among Iraq voters”:
The Shi'ite Islamist coalition won a commanding share of seats in Iraq's new Parliament as Iraqis apparently voted overwhelmingly along religious and ethnic lines in Thursday's election, according to partial results released yesterday.Although this has been trumpeted (correctly) as the “freest election in the Arab world” it would have been better if the secular parties gained more seats. We’ll have to wait and see if nationalistic feelings can overcome religious sectarianism.
The preliminary results offered an early indication of the shape of Iraq's first democratically elected parliament under a new constitution adopted following Saddam Hussein's ouster.
The initial results suggest that a government that was heavily secular and nationalist under Hussein will become far more religious and sectarian in character, with Shi'ite and Sunni Muslim parties dominant, raising the chances of sectarian tension for years to come.
Monday, December 19, 2005
From a September 2005 Boston Globe - “Report rates Boston most expensive city”:
The high cost of living is prompting many residents, especially younger ones who can't afford to buy into the housing market, to decamp for other states, the report said. It is the latest to warn that such an exodus could have dire consequences for Massachusetts, which was the only state to lose population last year.From today’s Boston Globe – “Job growth stalled in 7 of state’s key sectors”:
''The competition is realizing these are very important areas for fueling growth," he said. ''Massachusetts suffers from high housing costs. That's one of the detriments in recruiting talent."It’s the old Sim City paradox.
True story: when I was attending a technical conference in Boston this past October, one of the presentations was from a professor from the University of Texas-Austin (IIRC) who had developed a portable, optical tester that could quickly and cheaply count white blood cells. The device was being used in central Africa and was particularly useful for detecting the presence of HIV before it became full-blown AIDS. At the very end, he acknowledged that the project was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
So it was appropriate and pretty cool that Bill Gates was awarded as one of Time magazine’s “Persons of the Year” along with wife Melinda and rocker Bono for extraordinary charitable work.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
The transcript is on the Corner and Glenn Reynolds notes that by taking responsibility for the war, Bush is laying down a marker to take credit in the future. It was a good speech, if only because it’s the kind of address Bush should have been giving on a more regular basis, especially this part:
I also want to speak to those of you who did not support my decision to send troops to Iraq: I have heard your disagreement, and I know how deeply it is felt. Yet now there are only two options before our country — victory or defeat. And the need for victory is larger than any president or political party, because the security of our people is in the balance. I do not expect you to support everything I do, but tonight I have a request: Do not give in to despair, and do not give up on this fight for freedom.Captain Ed and Michelle Malkin live-blogged the speech while Mark Steyn has some related thoughts. (Lorie Byrd, too).
More speech reaction: MacsMind says “fantastic and masterful” while The Revolution will be Blogged writes “Sober, strong and soaring.”
Saturday, December 17, 2005
Mark Kilmer notes that Nancy Pelosi knew about the NSA eavesdropping and “expressed her strong concerns.” Tom Maguire isn’t buying it:
Oh, she had expressed strong concerns at the time! That's why she was asking for Congressional hearings, and sending cryptic letters to the White House and the Justice Department, letters she will no doubt produce in due course. (No, I can't think of a reason in the world she has not produced them already - maybe her staff has been busy with their holiday shopping).Former Senator minority leader Tom Daschle used to have an affection for the adverb “deeply” – he was “deeply disappointed” or “deeply concerned” all the time. South Dakota voters expressed their strong concern over this empty blather by booting him from office. Now he’s deeply unemployed.
How gullible do you have to be to post on Daily Kos? Today, they linked to this story about a senior at UMass-Dartmouth who allegedly was visited by two Homeland Security agents after he tried to check out Mao’s “Little Red Book.”
Rigggggght. Look at all the glaring signs of a hoax:
1.) The student’s name is not given. Instead the entire episode is related by two UMass history professors.
2.) The “incident” happened “two months ago.”
3.) The book wasn’t available at the UMass-Dartmouth library (unlikely) so, for an interlibrary loan, he had to leave his name, address, phone number, and Social Security number. Anything else? Why not a DNA sample to round out this wildly complicated request process?
Either the student or these professors (read their paranoid statements) are cooking up this fabrication as a way to knock the Patriot Act. If this story is remotely true, I’ll leave a $15,000 diamond ring in the first unlocked car I find.
After my hard drive crashed a couple months back, I’ve been slow to pick up on ITunes again since I lost about 30 downloaded songs. However, since I’m backing up songs on my USB Flashdrive now, everything’s cool again. Yay technology.
“Radiation Vibe” – Fountains of Wayne
“Love will keep us together” – Captain & Tennille
“Chuck E’s in Love” – Rickie Lee Jones
“Groove is in the Heart” – Deee-Lite
“Without Love (There is Nothing)” – Clyde McPhatter
“Here’s where the story ends” – The Sundays
“Video killed the radio star” – Presidents of the United States
“Atlantis” – Donovan
“It would take a strong, strong man” – Rick Astley
“(There’s) No gettin’ over me” – Ronnie Milsap
Friday, December 16, 2005
The Democrats make it official: “[Nancy] Pelosi said Democrats will produce an issue agenda for the 2006 elections but it will not include a position on Iraq. There is consensus within the party that President Bush has mismanaged the war and that a new course is needed, but House Democrats should be free to take individual positions, she sad.”
By the way, that’s not a typo (by me). The Washington Post story actually referred to Nancy Pelosi as “she sad.” Check the link.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
From Brit Hume’s interview with Condi Rice:
BRIT HUME, HOST: Characterize, if you will, how well or badly voting has gone in Iraq today.Cool. (Apologies to Nino Tempo and April Stevens).
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: From what we know so far that this has been a historic and triumphant day for the Iraqi people. All of the reports are that they're turning out in large numbers, that Sunnis are turning out in large numbers. The violence has been minimal. There has been some violence, but it's been sporadic and minimal to this point.
Iraqis are going to the polls. I read one story of people going with their children and letting their children dip their fingers in the inkwells to show that they understand the meaning of freedom and democracy.
George Will writes about the unserious debate over ANWR and the collectivist cult of environmentalism in “Our fake drilling debate”:
Nevertheless, opponents say the environmental cost is too high for what the ineffable John Kerry calls "a few drops of oil." Some drops. The estimated 10.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil -- such estimates frequently underestimate actual yields -- could supply all the oil needs of Kerry's Massachusetts for 75 years.Here in Massachusetts, a group called Cape Wind has been trying for years to erect a series of wind turbines off Martha’s Vineyard. However, they’ve been blocked by legal maneuvers, tacitly approved by John Kerry and Ted Kennedy, who don’t want the “aesthetic quality” of the Bay affected. If you’re not going to make even the slightest concession for even alternative energy sources, how can we have an honest debate about the black liquid that drives our economy? Every barrel of oil that is produced in Alaska is one fewer barrel we have to buy from the Saudis or crazy Hugo Chavez.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
My governor, Mitt Romney, has announced he will not run for re-election in 2006, fueling speculation that he’s gunning for the 2008 Presidential nomination:
"Frankly there was very little to do for a second term that I could realistically accomplish. ... There is no reason to sit in the chair if the things you want to accomplish are done."By the way, Stuart Rothenberg notes that Romney is not running for re-election because “he could possibly get beat.” No way. The reason that Massachusetts has had a string of Republican governors for a good 15 years or so is because it’s the only check against an overwhelmingly Democratic state house (where they never saw a tax they didn’t like).
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Here’s how tonight’s two-hour finale went down, after the requisite review of the season:
Teams left from Montana in the middle of the night, heading for the next stop in Montreal, Canada. While teams were provided with tickets leaving in the morning, they are allowed to trade up for better flights. The Bransen family found a flight leaving from Minneapolis that arrived in Montreal 10 minutes ahead of the original flight plan, but the Linz and Weaver families both grabbed an Air Canada flight that arrived almost an hour before that one. At the airport, Rolly Weaver and one of the Linz men get into a minor scuffle; Megan Linz says “things are getting personal.” Well, a million dollar prize will do that to people.
Once in Montreal, teams must search the extensive tunnels in what is known as the “Underground City” for a clue under the CDP building. The Weavers grab the first taxi out of the airport, arrive first, and grab the clue in first place. We see the Linz family close behind, but unable to find the clue. Meanwhile, the Bransen family who gambled on an earlier flight are actually an hour behind…then their flight is delayed another 25 minutes.
The clue under Montreal is a Detour: Slide it or Roll it. Teams must find an ice rink at McGill University and do some curling (each team member must put the stone into the target) or travel to an arboretum and roll four logs over a 100-ft. track. The Weavers and the Linzes both do curling while the Bransens roll logs. Team Florida finishes first and head off to the next clue at the American Pavilion on the site of the 1967 World Expo. Here they are directed to the unglamorous location of a shipping bay somewhere in Montreal where they must find Door J. (Huh???) Team Cincinnati is close behind while the late-arriving Bransen family struggles with log rolling.
At Door J, the Weavers discover the Roadblock: one team member must perform a flip on a trapeze. Young, light (and male) Rolly Weaver performs this task on his very first attempt and Team Florida heads out. They’re followed by the Linz family who allow Alex to give it a try; he struggles after a couple of attempts and suddenly there’s the Bransen family, all caught up and waiting for their turn. While these teams are flying through the air without any ease, the Weaver family is heading off to Parc Olympique where they must use a golf cart to find the entrance to the stadium.
(Running back to my computer after the last commercial break).
OK, Alex Linz finishes his trapeze act on the third attempt and Beth Bransen is close behind after one try. Essentially, all teams arrive simultaneously at the stadium and they discover that they must search among the 56,000 seats for three clues which will determine their departure time on a charter flight the next morning. This is just a sheer luck draw since teams finding a clue will take it and not search for a better time. The Linz family strikes first, claiming the flight leaving at 5:50 the next morning. Team Cincinnati tells their allies in Team Powerpuff that the clues are located on the back of the seats and the Bransen family finds the next ticket for a flight leaving at 5:45. As we go to commercial, the Weaver family appears to have given up, with Mama Weaver sound asleep on a cot on the football field. Nevermind: after the commercial break, the Weavers find their tickets for the 5:55 flight.
With three flights leaving within 10 minutes, this is essentially a “bunching” moment as all teams arrive at the “mystery destination” of Toronto, Canada within a couple minutes of each other. At the airport, they find the clue directing them to the CN Tower where they must take an elevator up 346 meters to an observation deck and use a pair of binoculars (one per team) to find a yellow-and-white Amazing Race flag somewhere on the ground. All three teams scan the ground and (eventually) one of the Bransen girls finds the flag, followed closely behind by the Linz family. As the other teams leave the tower, Mama Weaver starts in with her “help us God” bit which is sooo tiresome. Eventually, they find the flag. Praise Jebus!
Teams are now racing to the flag they just found on a pier and this is another Detour: Ship or Shoe. They may either take a sailboat to a larger ship (the Kajama) and climb 100 ft. up to grab a flag, or find a shoe museum and then do a Cinderella routine by finding one woman among 100 who can fit into a particular shoe. This seems like a no-brainer, but the Bransens do the shoes while the other teams take the straightforward ship Detour. Well, who can tell? In any case, the Linz family gets to the ship first and grabs the flag while the Weavers watch them from across the harbor. The next clue directs the teams to Queenston, below Niagara Falls, where they must take another boat trip and grab the next clue from a buoy below the Falls.
The Detour completed, the Linz, Bransen, and Weaver families are racing to Queenston (in that order) to find the boat launch. Team Cincinnati asks for directions from a jogger and then several minutes later the same jogger is pestered by the Bransens. (He says: “I just told your friends.” If he only knew). Teams take a speedboat to the buoy and there’s little surprise here: Linz, Bransen, then Weavers several minutes behind the pack. The clue on the buoy directs teams to tell their boat captain to take them to Lewiston, New York which is the “final destination.” Is it a race to the mat?
No! After teams land on shore, there’s a Roadblock: one team member must complete a huge jigsaw puzzle of North and Central America before heading to the finish line. Nick Linz starts out for Team Cincinnati and Papa Bransen is only seconds behind. Although the editing was surely slanted to make this look closer, it appears to be a real horserace. We’re briefly reminded that the Weavers are still on the river before Nick Linz slams his last piece into place, dislodging another piece, which he then puts back. Team Cincinnati sprints to the mat where Phil is waiting to announce that the Linz family is the official winner of the Amazing Race.
Epilogue: the Linz family says nice things about the Bransens and vice versa. The Weavers arrive in third place to perfunctory applause and their statements are mercifully short.
Best of all: coming attractions for the next Race indicate there will be eleven teams of two racing over 60,000 miles in strange lands (I see Russian flags) while bungee jumping. Sweet.
Extra – This space reserved for fellow TAR fans Kris and Pat. Hooray!
What can be said about this "Family Edition" of the Amazing Race? It wasn't awful, but it lacked some of the qualities that has made TAR a cult favorite. The two that immediately spring to mind are:
1.) Four family members instead of two team members = less drama. Part of the fun of the Race is watching two friends or family members thrown into situations beyond their control and watching the results. The family-friendly tasks on this season lacked the "oomph" of climbing down a pyramid or skydiving. Plus, there's a different tenor while racing with family members (esp. young kids) than racing with your best friend.
2.) North and Central America is not "a trip around the world." Somewhat related to above, every previous season of the Race has featured clueless, non-English-speaking taxi drivers who send Racers completely over the edge. (Remember Colin's meltdown because an African cabbie was driving around on a donut?) But the Race is also great for the travelogue side, revealing to viewers places both familiar and exotic. The Panama Canal? Eh.
Anyway: my hope for tonight is anybody but the Weavers. In early recaps of this season I defended them, but week after week they've amply demonstrated why they're disliked by the other teams. Then let's get back to dueling duos for Amazing Race 9.
Extra – The Calgary Sun is less circumspect but echoes my sentiments: “To say The Amazing Race: Family Edition has been a disappointment is a great understatement. Not only have the exceptionally easy detours and roadblocks been a bore to watch, the teams have left the U.S. only once, making it more of a dreaded family vacation than an amazing adventure.”
James Lileks wraps up the events of 2005:
The President makes a pitch for Social Security reform in his State of the Union speech. The reform would allow some workers to direct a miniscule percentage of their mandatory, government-run pensions into private funds. Within 48 hours, Bush foes have many citizens convinced his plan will force all seniors to exchange their checks for vouchers good at Cat Food Distribution Centers run by the Enron corporation.They were mistaken, of course: it was Halliburton. (Hat tip: Betsy)
Brendan Miniter discusses the fight over pensions and how unions are conspiring to keep you poor: “For Whose Benefit? How governors deal with their pension crises will affect the course of Social Security reform”
But the fight over pension reform isn't limited to states, and increasingly the private-account genie is getting out of the bottle. And that has broad implications for how powerful labor unions will remain in the coming years. Surprisingly perhaps the opening skirmish in this more parochial fight is already under way in Congress. The president is pushing legislation that would force companies to put enough money aside to fully fund their pension plans--a no-brainer for most Americans and something the Senate has already passed.It’s not bad enough that taxpayers will soon be saddled with huge public obligations, but they’ll be forced to pay off the pensions at private corporations also.
There is trouble, however, in the House, where, The Wall Street Journal reported last week, the United Auto Workers union has teamed up with General Motors to oppose any move to force companies to put more money aside for pension plans. UAW and other union leaders are worried that such a mandate will compel more companies to drop their defined benefit plans altogether and instead offer 401(k) plans, in which the company makes a defined contribution to an employee's personal investment account.
The problem with that, of course, is that 401(k)s give workers greater flexibility to change jobs and more power over their own finances--neither of which is good for increasing union membership. Rather than joining the new economy and finding ways to offer employees portable, self-directed benefits, the UAW is fighting to keep old pension plans in place, and in the process making it more likely that taxpayers will eventually pick up the tab when companies go bankrupt and flip their pension plans to the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp.--for which GM, Ford and union-heavy airlines are all prime candidates. When that happens, maybe we should all start looking for the union label on our tax bills.
Monday, December 12, 2005
Yesterday, the Sunday Boston Globe magazine ran an article titled “Is UMass pricing out kids like Joe Drury” about how the escalating price tag of a year at Massachusetts’ flagship university is increasingly beyond the means of low-income families. But I found this list of the most and least expensive public universities to be most interesting (costs are tuition and fees only; room and board are separate). Color coding has been added as an extra hint.
1. Penn State, University Park: $11,508
2. Rutgers, New Brunswick, New Jersey: $11,051
3. University of Vermont, Burlington: $10,748
4. University of New Hampshire, Durham: $9,778
5. University of Massachusetts, Amherst: $9,278
1. University of Florida, Gainesville: $3,180
2. Florida State University, Tallahassee: $3,208
3. University of Wyoming, Laramie: $3,426
4. University of Alaska, Anchorage: $3,497
5. University of Nevada, Las Vegas: $3,532
Extra – Will Franklin was kind enough to find a post I requested about the relation between tax rates and state economies: “states that lacked an income tax saw stronger economic growth, stronger personal income growth, stronger population growth, and stronger job growth, than states with the highest income tax rates. States without income taxes also, shockingly enough (not!), had less budget problems than the states with the highest income taxes.”
Sunday, December 11, 2005
For as long as I’ve been running this blog, I’ve been hammering away on the issue that mounting costs of entitlement spending will swamp the federal budget, forcing either massive tax hikes, benefit cuts, or enormous deficits. But the problem of our aging population is compounded by benefit spending on both the state and local level. From the NY Times, here’s a snapshot of the problem in Duluth, Minnesota – “The Next Retirement Time Bomb”:
Since 1983, the city of Duluth, Minn., has been promising free lifetime health care to all of its retired workers, their spouses and their children up to age 26. No one really knew how much it would cost. Three years ago, the city decided to find out.The intractable dilemma here is that there are fiscal and political realities at odds: younger workers in America cannot be asked to pay an estimated 50% (or 100%) more in taxes, yet the massive Baby Boomer demographic will not allow politicians to cut benefits. If reasonable steps for reform started now, there might be hope for armistice between the generations; otherwise, runaway entitlement spending can only result in growing resentment among workers supporting a relatively affluent elderly population.
It took an actuary about three months to identify all the past and current city workers who qualified for the benefits. She tallied their data by age, sex, previous insurance claims and other factors. Then she estimated how much it would cost to provide free lifetime care to such a group.
The total came to about $178 million, or more than double the city's operating budget. And the bill was growing.
"Then we knew we were looking down the barrel of a pretty high-caliber weapon," said Gary Meier, Duluth's human resources manager, who attended the meeting where the actuary presented her findings.
Mayor Herb Bergson was more direct. "We can't pay for it," he said in a recent interview. "The city isn't going to function because it's just going to be in the health care business."
Duluth's doleful discovery is about to be repeated across the country. Thousands of government bodies, including states, cities, towns, school districts and water authorities, are in for the same kind of shock in the next year or so. For years, governments have been promising generous medical benefits to millions of schoolteachers, firefighters and other employees when they retire, yet experts say that virtually none of these governments have kept track of the mounting price tag. The usual practice is to budget for health care a year at a time, and to leave the rest for the future.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Jane Galt has a great post about financial planning, especially for younger workers but really for everybody. Naturally, I gravitated towards this section:
My 401(k) savings are not quite that high, but since I started contributing right out of college, I’ve built up a reasonable nest egg for my age, substantially more than the American average of $50,000 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (And I have at least 20 more years of work/contributing ahead of me). For younger workers, I cannot understate how important this book was to getting my financial house in order: “Get a Financial Life” by Beth Kobliner. I know it’s hard to think about retirement and rainy day funds when you’re young, healthy, and carefree but the decisions made when young mark a critical direction for the future.
Retirement savings should 15-20% of your income.
Yes, I said 20%.
"20%!!!!!" I hear you screech. "I can't afford it!" Well, then you'd better start developing a taste for cat food. Home equity is going to be a bad way to save for retirement in a country with a stagnating population, as the US will have when I get around to retiring. And Social Security benefits may be slashed, means tested, or otherwise legislated out of your pockets. If you're putting 3% of your salary into your 401(k) every year and hoping that will cover you you're in big trouble.
Victor Davis Hanson laces into my senator and the Democrats in general on his Private Papers web site:
Not long ago, John Kerry was on a Sunday talk show. Without much of a warm-up, he was soon alleging that Americans were terrorizing Iraqis in their homes. Apparently such unproven criticism was meant as a critique of U.S. policy by a former (and future) candidate for president — but it unfortunately came just days before a critical election that may at last smooth the way for democracy in Iraq. One can imagine Sunni rejectionists hoping to derail the elections by proclaiming that even a former American presidential candidate admits that the infidels are “terrorizing our women and children.”I was a little shocked when Kerry accused American soldiers of “terrorizing Iraqi kids and children” – golly, I hope he runs for President again.
Like Dean, Kerry appears insensitive about the irony: He just lost an election in part because too many Americans recalled his Vietnam-era record of trying to score cheap political points by trashing brave American troops in the field, thanks to his own constant evocation of Vietnam on the campaign trail.
Friday, December 09, 2005
From Editor and Publisher: “'NY Times' Sunday Preview: Conservative Blogs Rock!”
In an argument sure to be challenged in certain sectors of the blogosphere, a story in The New York Times magazine coming up this Sunday declares that conservative blogs continue to best liberal blogs in political and electoral influence.Back during the 2004 campaign, when I was contributing to Blogs for Bush, it was pretty obvious that every word I wrote was affecting the election. But did I get a “thank you” from the White House? Well, I did get a Christmas card.
The title of the piece by Michael Crowley in the magazine’s 5th Annual Year in Ideas cover package says it all: “Conservative Blogs Are More Effective.”
Extra - Well, as usual, I'm late for this story. Many, many links to commentary over at Memeorandum.
Charles Krauthammer is livid about the Saddam Hussein trial because the Iraqis are giving him far too much deference. From “Man for a Glass Booth”:
This is absurd. If anything, Hussein should be brought in wearing prison garb, perhaps in shackles, just for effect. And why was he given control of the script? He shouts, interrupts and does his Mussolini histrionics unmolested. Instead of the press being behind a glass wall, it is Hussein who should be. Better still, placed in a glass booth, like Eichmann, like some isolated specimen of deranged humanity, symbolically and physically cut off from the world of normal human values.In other words, the former dictator must be reminded that he’s no longer in charge.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
Eh, it probably is but I can dream. Just remember that if you control your own money, you’ll never have to worry about headlines like this: “Seizure of Social Security upheld Court OK's US effort to collect loan debt” In the case, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that a 1996 law designed to recoup defaulted student loans applied to government benefits including Social Security. Yet for years opponents of reform have argued that Social Security is a “sacred trust.” The truth is that the government can reduce or rescind the benefit at any time.
Would you rather leave your retirement money in the hands of the government or in your own hands? Think carefully.
Extra – Will Franklin has his Thursday Social Security post: “Demographic Wave” Or as the Pixies might sing: “Wave of Mutilation.”
Hua Hsu on Slate, today: "This is what makes "My Humps" such an inscrutable pop moment. It's not Awesomely Bad; it's Horrifically Bad. The Peas receive no bonus points for a noble missing-of-the-mark or misguided ambition ... "My Humps" is a moment that reminds us that categories such as "good" and "bad" still matter. Relativism be damned! There are bad songs that offend our sensibilities but can still be enjoyed, and then there are the songs that are just really bad—transcendentally bad, objectively bad."
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
That’s what Ed Morrissey writes in the Weekly Standard with “Rally ‘round the white flag, boys”:
The good news for the Democrats is that their leadership has settled on an electoral strategy for 2006. The bad news is that they have cribbed their game plan from one of the most disastrous campaigns in their history. The Democratic leadership has decided to elevate surrender to a party platform for the upcoming elections, with their national chairman, House leader, and last presidential nominee all running up the white flag as the Democratic war banner.Ouch. The WashPost is more measured with “Democrats fear backlash at polls for antiwar remarks” but Ankle-Biting Pundits wonders whether the Dems are more concerned about political strategy than national security. John Kerry tried this tactic during the Presidential campaign when he betrayed his own beliefs by voting for the war in Iraq (to look strong on foreign policy) then voting against funding (when Howard Dean was leading in the primaries.) Everything in his political and personal life indicated that he would have voted in the opposite on those two issues, but he let his ambition override his principles. The Democratic Party as a whole wants to win elections, but they can’t by appeasing the anti-war Left and appearing weak on national security. Thus the descent into doublespeak and ambiguity punctuated by moments of sincerity quickly withdrawn.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
Tonight’s leg is actually a continuation from last week’s show, and it’s been a solid three weeks since a team has been Phil-liminated. In other words, somebody’s gotta go tonight. We’re down to the Final Four: the Linz family, the Bransen family, the Weaver family and the Godlewski family.
The Bransen (Team Powerpuff) and Weaver (Team Florida) teams were last seen accepting clues from Phil at a ranch in Wyoming and tonight they started out (again) for Turtle Ranch in Dubois, Wyoming. The Linz (Team Cincinnati) and Godlewskis (Team Scream) follow soon after and we discover that the Ranch doesn’t open until 7am, so all the teams settle into their campers for the night.
[Side note: I fully predicted that there would be a “bunching” moment in this episode to give the Linz family to catch up after their production-related problems last week.]
In the morning, teams all sprint out to some vans parked across a field which then take them to a plateau and the Detour: Pioneer Spirit or Native Tradition. Teams must either put together a wagon and a team of horses, or build an Indian teepee. The Linz and Bransens do the wagon and the other build a tent. Team Cincinnati finishes the wagon very quickly and vaults into first place, with Team Powerpuff close behind. As the Linz family goes by the Weavers, Megan makes the mistake of waving which is construed by Widow Weaver as a taunting gesture. Of course, if the Linz family made no gesture at all, it would have been interpreted as a snub. The Weavers have the martyr complex down cold.
After completing this task, teams head to Cody, Montana to find the bar named after Buffalo Bill’s daughter. Everybody in town knows it’s the Irma and when teams arrive they must dress in period clothing and take a souvenir photo with Buffalo Bill. This is another “stop and do something fun” byway but there’s one bonus: when the Godlewski sisters start getting flirty with the Buffalo Bill character, the hostess at the bar flashes a look of impatience that is just hilarious.
Next teams head for Red Lodge, Montana where they must find the 10th tee of a golf course. This is the Roadblock: two teams must head out onto the back nine and find four colored golf balls that match the flag of the golf cart they choose. The Linz team starts out first but the Bransens pass them and head on to the Pit Stop; following up are the insufferable Weavers and the bickering Godlewskis.
Teams are heading to the Pit Stop at the Green Mountain Lodge, somewhere in Montana. Unfortunately, there’s not much suspense because it looks like teams are going to arrive in the same order they left the golf course. After all, this isn’t like driving from midtown Manhattan to JFK; in Montana, there’s probably only one road to take you to your next destination. Even when the Weaver family gets pulled over for speeding, there’s not much hope the Godlewskis will pass them. In the end, the sisters defeated themselves by failing to work as a team. Team Scream comes in last and are eliminated from the Race.
#1 – Bransen family - Team Powerpuff (and Wally) – Prize: brand-new Buick
#2 – Linz family – Team Cincinnati
#3 – Weaver family – Team Florida
#4 – Godlewski family – Team Scream – PHIL-LIMINATED
Next week: The two-hour finale as the final three teams race for $1 million. If the Weavers win, will they be graceful and gracious in the end, or will they lash out at the other teams? Let’s hope this is a question we’ll never need to know the answer to.
Extra – This space reserved for Kris at Dummocrats and Pat at Brainster. Check out their recaps of this penultimate episode. Kris warns: “If the Weavers somehow manage to fulfill God's plan for them and win, I might not be able to write a recap. I apologize in advance.” I’m with you, soul sister.
Steve Spruiell writing on Media Blog believes DeLay will be ultimately cleared of all charges:
Tom DeLay will be eventually exonerated, no question. Ronnie Earle has no evidence. In order to prove the money-laundering charge that Judge Pat Priest let stand, he will have to prove that DeLay and his co-defendants obtained corporate soft-money donations and sent them to the RNC in Washington with the intent of converting them into hard-money donations. But when asked to produce the central piece of evidence referenced in the indictment, Earle couldn't. Even if this goes to trial in Austin and some crackpot liberal jury convicts DeLay, he will win out on appeal. This is still a trumped-up charge, regardless of how Priest ruled yesterday.The bad news is that the House GOP is planning to elect a new majority leader in January if DeLay doesn’t have the charges dropped by then.
Monday, December 05, 2005
Speaking of which, Powerline notes today’s silliest headline: “U.S. missle, Al-Qaeda death, may be linked” Didn’t the Associated Press see this picture? Sheesh!
For quite some time now, I’ve been writing that the Democrats’ failure to articulate a position on Iraq is an abrogation of leadership. Now the WashPost acknowledges as much in “Democrats find Iraq alternative is elusive”:
Around the country, many grass-roots Democrats are clamoring for a quick withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. On Capitol Hill, Democratic politicians have grown newly aggressive in denouncing the Bush administration's war strategy and outlining other options.The Post identifies Zbigniew Brzezinski as the one with an “unambiguous alternative” of (surprise!) rapid withdrawal. Over at InDC Journal, Dorkafork reviews the “National Security Vision” cooked up by some Democratic congressmen and concludes: “This is the same as the Republican plan. Except the Democrats are going to train Iraqi units faster, somehow. Maybe with magical troop training rays.” Also, be sure to read the simultaneous endorsement/condemnation of the United Nations.
But among the Democratic foreign-policy elite, dominated by people who previously served in the top ranks of government, there are stark differences -- and significant vagueness -- about a viable alternative.
In interviews, veteran policymakers offered no end of criticism about how President Bush maneuvered the United States into its present predicament, but only one had a clear vision of what he would do if the Iraq problem were handed over to a Democratic administration tomorrow. Several accept Bush's premise that a rapid withdrawal anytime soon would leave Iraq unstable and risk a strategic disaster in the broader Middle East.
Sunday, December 04, 2005
Well, maybe you can, but if Brian Riedl’s analysis “Entitlement-Driven Long-Term Budget Substantially Worse Than Previously Projected” is packed with graphs, tables, and figures to demonstrate that the burden of Medicare and Social Security will swallow whole the federal government over the next half-century. From the executive summary:
More realistic assumptions show that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid costs will leap from 8.4 percent of GDP to 18.9 percent of GDP by 2050. Unless lawmakers reform these programs, they will have to fund their costs by:In one graph titled “The Spending Cut Option” (scroll halfway down) Riedl shows that without tax increases or additional deficit spending, the “big three” entitlement programs will take up 100% of government spending. I’ve tried to make this clear for Democrats who oppose entitlement reform: if they value the idea that the government should play an active role in governing, it will be impossible when discretionary spending drops to zero. Without European-size tax rates, the U.S. government will slowly morph into a way station for tax dollars, transferred from younger workers to senior citizens. (Hat tip: Conspiracy to Keep you Poor and Stupid)
Raising taxes every year until federal taxes are 57 percent ($11,000 per household, adjusted into today’s economy) above the current levels;
Eventually eliminating every other federal program, including spending on defense, education, anti-poverty programs, and veterans benefits, by 2045; or
Running massive budget deficits (the status quo option). This is the most expensive option because it would cause the federal debt to increase from the current level of 40 percent of GDP to 500 percent of GDP. Beginning in 2025, just a small interest rate response would push federal spending to 44 percent of GDP by 2040 and 73 percent by 2050—levels twice as high as previous projections.
Saturday, December 03, 2005
Steve makes some good points (that I can empathize with) about how political blogs tend to be echo chambers which are drowned out anyway by Instapundit and the other “professional” bloggers. But, hey, what are you gonna do?
While down in Orlando last week, we stopped into Disney Quest which is essentially a huge arcade. For a flat fee, the games are rigged such that you can play them continuously. While the kids played racing games where the seats tip as you turn, I found the classic arcade game section. What a blast from the past: Berzerk! Donkey Kong! Robotron 2084! And then my all-time favorite: Spy Hunter. I promptly achieved the high score on Spy Hunter, besting all the teenagers in central Florida. Still got it!
Find you favorite classic arcade games here: Classic arcade game locations
Friday, December 02, 2005
Charles Krauthammer notes the under-appreciated developments in Israel:
Because we Americans tend to gauge Middle East success by White House signing ceremonies complete with dignitaries, three-way handshakes and pages of treaty provisions, no one seems to have noticed how, in the absence of any of that, there has been amazing recent progress in defusing the Arab-Israeli dispute.That maturation was indisputably helped along by the passing of Nobel Peace Prize winner Yassir Arafat.
How did this come about? Israel unilateralism and Palestinian maturation.
Follow-up – Sadly, this doesn’t feel like progress: “Ten Marines killed in attack near Fallujah.”
Thursday, December 01, 2005
Noted recluse Senator Joe Biden was on Paula Zahn yesterday, making the same amorphous points on Iraq he’s been repeating for a year now. Here’s the transcript of the show where he details the Democratic position, skipping right over point #4:
ZAHN: You would have to agree, Democrats are all over the place on this issue. Does that hurt you...Let’s recap the Biden/Democratic plan:
ZAHN: ... for the upcoming presidential election?
BIDEN: By the way, the truth of the matter is, the Democrats are not all over the place on this issue.
ZAHN: There's not a unified voice on this.
ZAHN: In 30 seconds tonight, can you tell us what the Democratic position is...
BIDEN: The Democratic position...
ZAHN: ... on the further prosecution of this war?
Mr. President, number one, get the rest of the countries in on the deal to put pressure on the Sunnis and the Shias and the Kurds to have a consensus constitution, because they don't have one yet. If you don't get a political settlement, we're in trouble.
Mr. President, take up other countries on their offer to help train Iraqi forces. Number three, Mr. President, get the donor countries to come forward with the money to supply the Iraqis, so they have the capability of going in and doing the job we're doing now.
Number five, Mr. President, make sure you go out there and you reach in, have a regional conference, so that you get a regional solution here, like you did in Afghanistan, Mr. President.
Mr. President, you can do this. Thanks for telling us the truth now. But now get on with the business of not doing this alone.
ZAHN: Senator Biden, really appreciate your dropping by tonight.
Point #1 – “get the rest of the countries”
Point #2 – “take up other countries”
Point #3 – “get the donor countries”
Point #4 - ???
Point #5 – “have a regional conference”
You would think that a Senator with Presidential aspirations would be embarrassed to offer nothing more than “let somebody else do it.”