Sunday, December 31, 2006

Here comes 2007 - Happy New Year to everybody from all of us at Viking Pundit.

Extra - Sister Toldjah has an end-of-year link-a-palooza roundup.
Best James Brown quote – From the movie “The Commitments” about a Dublin group playing American soul:

Dean Fay: [watching video of James Brown performing] Do y'not think, uh -- we're a little white for that sort of thing?
Help that man! He’s giving us too much, too much soul!
The NYT on Social Security: All must suffer equally

I’m not sure where to begin on the New York Times’ final editorial for the year of 2006, which attacks Social Security reform because it has “failed” in Chile. In that country, people have the option to place up to 10% of their salaries into private retirement accounts and those who do have seen healthy returns on their investments, far above what the government could provide in a state-run program. But – hold onto your hats – those who choose not to participate, won’t have enough to retire:

The overarching problem for Chile — and the real lesson for the United States — is that private savings are not a substitute for a guaranteed core tier of old-age support. The first measure of success of a retirement system is not how much certain individuals manage to sock away, but whether the system as a whole provides basic dignity for all. By that measure, Chile’s privatized system has failed and Social Security has succeeded.
Well, the half of Chileans who are saving enough would argue convincingly that private accounts are a dandy way to save for retirement. But since societies from Chile to France to the United States will always produce citizens who can’t or won’t save, we’re all to be condemned to a socialist system that takes thousands in taxes now for a government-approved pittance later. Oh, I mean, “dignity for all.”

But now, after years of reflexive opposition to all mention of reform, the NYT is ready to embrace changes to save Social Security. What shall they be?

Getting there would require sacrifices from both political parties. Republicans would have to give up on their privatization efforts.

And the Democrats would have to control their knee-jerk tendency to preface any discussion of Social Security with a pledge never to cut anyone’s future retirement benefits.
That will never happen.

President Bush will also have to go further if there is to be any chance of progress while he is still in office. Tax increases must be a part of any plausible Social Security reform mix. Unfortunately, the president appears unalterably opposed even to something as overdue as raising the cap on earnings that are subject to Social Security tax.
Shocker: the NY Times wants a tax increase. When Social Security started it only asked that Americans pony up a lousy 1% of their paycheck for long-term retirement security. What a deal! Then it crept and crept up to the current 6.2% - or 12.4% if you consider that your employer is just going to cut back on wages to pay for the corporate contribution. So now, 80% of Americans pay more in payroll taxes than do for federal taxes. As for the cap on earnings: when FDR started Social Security, it was understood that the very rich would not receive a benefit proportional to their income which is why the taxable earnings and the maximum benefit are capped. Lifting the cap, aside from placing a new burden on high earners, would upset the egalitarian apple cart.

As long as tax increases are off the table, severe benefit cuts become unavoidable. If the gap in Social Security’s finances were closed through benefit cuts only, the average worker’s payout would equal only about 10 percent of preretirement earnings. Such bare-bones benefits would signal the end of Social Security, as surely as would privatization.
Unavoidable benefit cuts? Wow, that sounds like somebody very familiar. But pick your poison: increased payroll taxes, bare-bones benefits or a combination of both. Any of these pathways will erode the popular support for Social Security especially when Americans look to what they could have saved with their 401(k)s or just a simple savings account. If reform was embraced by the NY Times when the Republicans first delineated the long-term problems of the program, the pain might not be so deep. But now that the Democrats are in charge of Congress, the Times wants to ring the fire bell.

We don't need no water, let the entitlement program burn.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Reality sets in

From San Luis

As he faced the gallows Friday, Saddam Hussein told his lawyers that he was prepared to die and his supporters in Iraq would view him as a martyr. The former dictator "believes in his destiny," one of his attorneys said.

But Iraqi government officials who are close to the case described a very different Saddam, one who was extremely nervous Friday evening when U.S. officials reportedly handed him over.

"He is in a state of shock," said Mithal Alusi, a parliament member who sat in on the government's daylong meetings Friday about Saddam's fate. "He came apart. He realized he couldn't escape this."

Saddam was executed around 6 a.m. Baghdad time (10 p.m. EST) on Saturday.
Yes he was.
Saddam’s last mile - Here’s the link to the “live” thread over at Free Republic. Fox News has a timeline of Saddam’s life. Waiting for updates now.

Update - He’s gone.
Life and death in the Kalahari desert - Wow, that was a brutal season finale on Meerkat Manor tonight. Mozart’s pups were killed by the Commandos while she was out searching for food.

Oh, yeah, and they’re going to execute Saddam tonight. Sic semper tyrannis
Quote of the Day - From Larry Sabato on John Kerry and John Edwards: “Edwards is obviously the more serious of the two candidates, but the two do have one thing in common: They’re both losers.” Hey, it’s not 2007 yet.
Leaving Taxachusetts - From the Boston Globe “Massachusetts may lose seat in Congress”: “Mounting population losses are all but certain to cost Massachusetts one of its 10 congressional seats after the 2010 Census, two new studies have projected.”
And now Joe Lieberman

He has an opinion piece in the WashPost today that seems primarily designed to drive the Kos Kids insane: “Why we need more troops in Iraq

On this point, let there be no doubt: If Iraq descends into full-scale civil war, it will be a tremendous battlefield victory for al-Qaeda and Iran. Iraq is the central front in the global and regional war against Islamic extremism.

To turn around the crisis we need to send more American troops while we also train more Iraqi troops and strengthen the moderate political forces in the national government. After speaking with our military commanders and soldiers there, I strongly believe that additional U.S. troops must be deployed to Baghdad and Anbar province -- an increase that will at last allow us to establish security throughout the Iraqi capital, hold critical central neighborhoods in the city, clamp down on the insurgency and defeat al-Qaeda in that province.
Memeorandum has the roundup of responses.
Rutgers wins first bowl game!

From the NY Times: “Red letter day for the Scarlet Knights

The trophy is made of granite, not crystal. It has a star on the top, not a rose or an orange. It is emblazoned with a logo most fans have never seen before.

At many universities, the Texas Bowl trophy would be hidden in the back of an awards room. At Rutgers, it will have the room all to itself.

School officials better start redesigning the lobby of the Hale Center, because the Scarlet Knights are coming home with their first bowl victory, and they need a place to put the proof.

Rutgers beat Kansas State on Thursday night at Reliant Stadium, 37-10, in a game that was not as competitive as the fight to get it televised in New Jersey. In the end, 10,000 Rutgers fans watched in person and others watched on the NFL Network.

The Scarlet Knights, who hoped to be at the Rose Bowl or the Orange Bowl, wound up in a fitting spot — they won their first postseason game at a bowl being played for the first time. Rutgers and the Texas Bowl, forever linked, should both grow from here.

Regardless of where the Scarlet Knights finished this season, they reveled in the way that they finished it. They won 11 games for the second time in school history and will pr0bably be ranked among the top 15 in the final polls.

Their new trophy is a replica of the San Jacinto Monument, widely regarded as the birthplace of Texas. From now on, the birthplace of Texas will live in the birthplace of college football. Rutgers, after 137 years on the gridiron, has an award that is not a consolation prize.
A friend of mine from work was one of the 10,000 fans on hand in Texas. Congratulations, Scarlet Knights!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Saddam-free in 2007 - Via Macsmind, MSNBC is reporting that Saddam Hussein will be hung by sundown Sunday. Somehow I doubt it. Get Ramsey Clark on the phone.
New Year’s resolution - I resolve that in 2007 I will not post a single thing about John Kerry or John Edwards. Despite their self-delusion, neither of them is getting into the White House unless it’s with a tour guide. Ridiculing them has lost all its mirth.
For those of you who ever wanted to wield a Light Saber for real

This seems like it has to be a hoax, but there he is with a fluorescent bulb. From the Boston Herald:

A North Attleboro man faces financial ruin because he built a new home so close to dangerous high-voltage transmission lines that fluorescent bulbs inside the house light up without even being plugged in.
The electric currents running through the two-story home are considered so potentially harmful that the town’s fire department has strung “caution” tape around the house while an electrical inspector has refused to issue a final permit out of fear someone might get electrocuted.
Alternative headlines considered for this post:

“Current” events
Cut back on the caffeine, dude
He was “charged” with building too close to power lines
He’ll never turn to the Dark Side

And my personal favorite: “Ohm is where the heart is.”

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Bay State SC to Beacon Hill: “You stink - From the LA Times “Massachusetts court admonishes lawmakers over gay marriage”: “Massachusetts' highest court on Wednesday chastised the state's legislators for failing to vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, but said the court does not have the power to force lawmakers to act.”

Well. Isn’t this a fine mess the Massachusetts Supreme Court has gotten us into? It begs the question: if the Mass. SC knew the legislature would willingly block the right of citizens to petition the government, would they have voted for gay marriage in the first place? Apparently, the answer is to turn out the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature…in Massachusetts. Allegedly there’s another political party here; I think it’s the Whigs.
Retirement security - Bull Dog Pundit asks: “What’s not to like about Sessions’ Social Security reform plan?”

Only this: the plan, as I understand it, is not a reform plan but rather an “add-on.” That is, it’s roughly a federal 401(k) which would allow Americans to save money strictly for retirement tax-free. Washington probably couldn’t afford some kind of matching contribution, like corporations, but the tax advantages would still make it an attractive plan especially for younger workers. Sessions’ proposal wouldn’t touch Social Security but, once Americans realize the difference in return rates between the two programs, it might serve to cut off Social Security’s political support.
Gerald Ford passes - I’ve been out and traveling all day, but I just had to say that I voted for Gerald Ford in my 2nd grade classroom poll. If I recall, he was edged out by Carter in both our classroom and the 1976 election. Rest in peace.

Extra - Tons of memorials over on the Corner. Here’s the official White House response.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Let's all save together - Senator Jeff Sessions proposes a national savings plan modeled on the successful Thrift Savings Plan used by federal employees. Here's a mind-blowing statistic from the WashPost article: aside from a primary residence, half of Americans have less than $25,000 in savings. Considering that the savings rate has gone negative for the first time since the Great Depression that number doesn't look like it's going to improve. If you're approaching retirement with only 25-large in hand, get used to the taste of cat food. Sheesh.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas to all

From Isaiah 9:6-7

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.
I’ll be traveling around the Eastern seaboard over the next week so posting may be spotty, but I wanted to wish everybody a happy holiday season. Take care - see you soon.
My first book

After a year of waiting, my first book is now available for sale; the title is “Specialty Optical Fibers Handbook.”

OK, I didn’t write the book, but I wrote the chapter on “Hermetic optical fibers: carbon-coated fibers.”

OK, so I co-wrote the chapter with a guy who got his PhD from MIT while I have a B.Sci. from Rutgers, so you can probably guess on how the separation of labor split up. But, hey, I’m just happy they spelled my name correctly.

(BTW, if you decide to purchase the Handbook as a late Christmas present, I receive no royalties whatsoever. My “payment” for a couple solid days of writing and re-writing is…one book.)
Merry Christmas, we’re broke - The Comptroller General of the United States writes a letter to the WashPost: “The largest employer in the world announced on Dec. 15 that it lost about $450 billion in fiscal 2006. Its auditor found that its financial statements were unreliable and that its controls were inadequate for the 10th straight year. On top of that, the entity's total liabilities and unfunded commitments rose to about $50 trillion, up from $20 trillion in just six years.” That unfunded commitment number is made up almost entirely from promises made to Social Security and Medicare.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

I got a friend in Jesus

There’s a great story in today’s NY Times (use Bugmenot to get past annoying registration) about one-hit wonder Norman Greenbaum who hit the charts in the early 70s with “Spirit in the Sky.” Even though Greenbaum spent a period of time working as a chef in California restaurants, he’s become that rare artist who can essentially live off his single hit:

At last count, “Spirit in the Sky” has been featured in 32 movies (including “The Longest Yard,” “Ocean’s 11,” “Superstar,” “Apollo 13” and “Wayne’s World 2”) and more than a dozen national television ads (for companies like Nike, HBO, American Express and Toyota). “Spirit in the Sky” has also appeared on at least 50 compilation CDs and in more than a dozen television shows, and has spawned innumerable cover versions, two of which were major international hits in their own right.
Even though Greenbaum signed away his publishing rights long ago, he still gets a $10,000+ check every time that fuzzy guitar riff is used in a movie or commercial. Groovy.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Sunday morning roundtable lineup – A little religion on MTP and FLOTUS Laura Bush on Face the Nation. Garland will be playing a supporting role.
Holiday funSimon Sez Santa
Congressional hubris and Detroit's slide

From the WashPost: “Toyota expects to be #1 automaker next year

Toyota said yesterday that it was on track to become the world's largest automaker next year, dethroning General Motors and underlining how far auto manufacturing has fallen from its once-pivotal place in America's economy and politics.

The Japanese automaker's potential dominance will sharpen the spotlight on the industry's problems when Congress reconvenes in January. Members from Michigan, led by Rep. John D. Dingell, have pledged to use Democratic control of Congress to help U.S. automakers.

"If Toyota's worldwide production surpasses General Motors', it will simply provide further evidence of the need for the U.S. government to pursue policies that maintain and strengthen the U.S. industrial base," Dingell said yesterday.
Wow. Just wow. So Congress is going to – by fiat – make American cars stop sucking? It seems much more likely that they’ll simply ratchet up the tariffs on automobiles that Americans do want to drive. Meanwhile, the American auto makers will continue their slow spiral down until they reform their bloated union contracts forged in the fifties and start making quality products.
Confirmation would be nice – I’ve seen so many false reports about Osama/Zawahiri/Zarqawi/Castro and so on but the coalition forces claims they have word from multiple sources. From CNN – “Top Bin Laden associate killed”: “A top Taliban military commander described as a close associate of Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar was killed in an airstrike this week close to the border with Pakistan, the U.S. military said Saturday.”

Friday, December 22, 2006

Out of the sand – This month’s National Geographic has an amazing story about the rise of Dubai: “Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum has led the transformation of his realm from a drowsy fishing village to a tax-free business haven and world capital of glittering excess.” Most remarkable are the palm-shaped manmade islands designed to provide beachfront homes for everyone; the Palm Jumeirah has doubled the coastline of Dubai.
A Christmas favor – My sons decided to dive into the world of blogging but they’re a little disappointed at their traffic. If you could just click over to “The Cheese Doodles Website” and “Where the Ninjas Hide” I’d be most appreciative. It would give ‘em a big thrill. There’s some quality content over there, much better than the dreck you’ll find on this sorry site. (Fellow bloggers: throw ‘em a quick link, too). Thanks!
Let free speech reign! – NYT: “Court Overturns Limits on Political Ads, Part of the Campaign Finance Law
Walking in an air-pump wonderland

From the NY Times – “Those inflatable Santas: Eyepoppers to Eyesores

On a recent quiet afternoon, with few witnesses around, Homer Simpson, Santa Claus and a penguin perched on an igloo suddenly appeared here on the Long Island landscape as if from nowhere, unfolding slowly like Frankenstein monsters lurching to life on the table. As Homer’s extremities reached full size, his pink nylon fist puffed into Mr. Snow Man’s face — an involuntary attack, to be sure. Bop.

Such is the phantasmagoric, Disney-esque experience of the new Christmas custom sweeping the suburbs.

Whatever else Christmas in America means — the birth of Jesus, holly wreaths, the Chipmunks, cultural tension — it now also includes these gargantuan, inflatable outdoor decorations, called “Airblowns” by their chief manufacturer.
There’s a guy down the street who must have 30 of those balloons in his front yard.
The American divide – From the Weekly Standard: “The Peace Party vs. the Power Party
Meanwhile, at the other axis of evil

CNN: “Six party talks end, no agreement

The first six-nation arms talks in the wake of North Korea's nuclear test ended Friday without any agreement on getting the communist nation to move toward disarmament, and negotiators weren't even able to schedule a date for more meetings.
How unsurprising. These meetings are useless because the “negotiator” for North Korea has no power whatsoever. He’s only a proxy for the “Dear Leader” who has no intentions of disarming, regardless of how many North Koreans die from famine. The six-party talks are a farce: only China has the power to stop crazy Kim now.
Why is this news? – “Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Calls President Bush 'Most Hated Person' in the World” And you’re going to continue uranium enrichment…we get it already.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Still with Social Security – Yeah, it’s a low-level issue right now. Nevertheless, the appropriately-named Conspiracy to Keep you Poor and Stupid has an analysis of the latest half-baked proposal which ignores some of the hard choices ahead.

Extra – Super-scary entitlement graphs over at Willisms.

Even more - From Business Pundit: "Is the U.S. insolvent?" The comptroller general of the U.S. says, yes! Yes, we are!
Despite improvement in both the fiscal year 2006 reported net operating cost and the cash-based budget deficit, the U.S. government’s total reported liabilities, net social insurance commitments, and other fiscal exposures continue to grow and now total approximately $50 trillion, representing approximately four times the Nation’s total output (GDP) in fiscal year 2006, up from about $20 trillion, or two times GDP in fiscal year 2000.

As this long-term fiscal imbalance continues to grow, the retirement of the “baby boom” generation is closer to becoming a reality with the first wave of boomers eligible for early retirement under Social Security in 2008.

Given these and other factors, it seems clear that the nation’s current fiscal path is unsustainable and that tough choices by the President and the Congress are necessary in order to address the nation’s large and growing long-term fiscal imbalance.
Unsustainable?! Don't just do something, stand there Congress!
Right hand on the Koran – I’m not so much concerned about Keith Ellison taking the Congressional oath of office on the Koran than he’d put Islamic law above American law. For example (as I’ve noted) the Koran dictates that anybody leaving Islam is an apostate who must be put to death. Clearly this is a violation of our Constitutional freedom of religion. Maybe Virgil Goode’s statement was over the top, but it would be nice if we knew where Ellison’s allegiances lie.

Update – “Virginia Rep. Goode Defends Letter Criticizing Incoming Muslim Congressman
Iraq and the election defined by Iraq – Via the Boston Globe: “Top stories of 2006
Because we’ve benefited so much from the Big Dig

From the Boston Globe: “Patrick opposes Pike toll removal

Patrick, who previously said he would support removing the tolls if the state could afford it, said yesterday that recent financial briefings have convinced him that the turnpike cannot be maintained properly without the $114 million in revenue generated by tolls from Route 128 west to Springfield. Tolls from Springfield to the New York border were removed in 1996.
That was during the election, this is now.

The tolls were supposed to be eliminated when the bonds floated to build the highway were paid off, but new bonds were issued to help pay for upgrades to the highway and to pay for the escalating costs of the Big Dig.
Oh, people in Western Massachusetts love saving ten minutes off their yearly commute to Logan airport. And there's the lesson for you: always oppose "temporary" tax increases. Without fail, the government will discover it can't afford the revenue loss.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

President Dinner Jacket rebuked – From Gulf News: “Although it would take several days before the full results of twin elections held in Iran last Friday are officially established, it is already clear that the electorate have dealt the ultra-radical President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad his first significant political defeat.” (HT: Real Clear Politics)
Get on with it! - OMG, is "Identity" the most dragged-out show in history? Every choice takes about five minutes, breaking for multiple commercial breaks and a text-message contest. Let's go already.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I’m pretty and people like me

The Superficial on Tara Conner’s retention of the Miss USA crown: “But the real moral of the story? You can do anything when you're pretty. Want to punch a fireman in the face? Go for it. Eat a bald eagle? Sure, why not. You've earned it.

And when in doubt, go for the tears. Gets ‘em every time.
Consumers gotta consume – PBS has an interesting Frontline special tonight about the shifting trends in advertising. Since Americans are blasting Internet ads and TiVo-ing past commercials, marketers need to invent creative ways to get eyeballs on their products.

A couple weeks ago on my favorite show “The Office”, Kevin was offered a pile of documents to shred, a task he took on with much enthusiasm. He just happened to be using a Staples shredder and, in his zeal, destroyed his own credit card (very effectively!) At the next commercial break, there was a Staples spot for the shredder.
Witness for the defense – Dick Cheney is being called by the Libby defense team in the Plame case; Tom Maguire has all the details. The Lefty blogs are already deep into their cross-examination fantasies but, since this case is complete foolishness, Cheney’s testimony will only serve to highlight that fact.
The socialist dream lives in Zimbabwe – Robert Mugabe’s land distribution experiment has led to this – “Living off rats to survive in Zimbabwe”: “This is a story about how Zimbabwe, once dubbed southern Africa's bread basket, has in six short years become a basket case. It is about a country that once exported surplus food now apparently falling apart, with many residents scrounging for rodents to survive.” Sad.
The rising

From the WashPost: “WTC steel rises at Ground Zero

Two 25-ton steel columns _ one bearing signatures of American steelworkers who helped make it _ rose at ground zero Tuesday, a milestone in prolonged efforts to build the skyscraper that will replace the World Trade Center.As construction workers, politicians and architects applauded, a massive crane lifted the first, 31-foot-high column, which was painted with an American flag and the words "Freedom Tower," and set it over steel bars on the southern edge of the tower's base.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Bay State banana republic

Joe Kennedy is supplying heating oil to needy Bay Staters at 40% off “with help from our friends in Venezuela.”

From Publius Pundit: “Chavez resurrects slavery

It’s all the same slavery. Chavez has vowed to accelerate the Cubanization of his country with his ‘election,’ and this is a significant step toward it. Chavez calls it ‘revolutionary democracy and here’s who Chavez got the idea from: his own mentor, Fidel Castro, who regularly forces Cubans to donate one day a week in unpaid labor for the glorification of Castro’s island carcel. The place looks like hell, and is known as Cuba.
Unsurprisingly, the Kennedys are happy to hobnob with crazy Chavez and take his oil. I can only imagine that mentioning Citgo and "our friends in Venezuela" must have been a pre-condition set down by Chavez himself. Glob on that lipstick for your man, Joe.

Flashback – From Gateway Pundit: “Massive anti-Chavez protest in Caracas.”

Extra – And here’s a reminder from Polipundit: Ted Kennedy loves oil from Chavez, hates renewable wind power.
Mel Gibson makes #5 – From Right Wing News: “The 40 most obnoxious quotes of 2006

Is it too late for this entry? “Joy Behar of 'The View' Likens Rumsfeld to Adolf Hitler
Follow the law - Jeff Jacoby looks at the Massachusetts’ legislature’s refusal to follow the state law in “The Constitution’s guardrails.”

Saturday, December 16, 2006

It’s about time – Time magazine names me as the 2006 “Person of the Year.” Well, me and some others.
Sunday morning lineup – It’s a “past present future” review starting with Ted Kennedy and Newt Gingrich before finishing up with Iraqi veep Tariq al-Hashimi.
The best thermodynamic article today – From an Economist article on microrefrigeration The technology of cooling things, ignored for many years, suddenly seems important—especially for electronics.”
Suddenly speechless - Some kind of tipping point has been reached where Jimmy Carter, who used to be seen as a washed-up gadbout, is now perceived as an anti-Semitic jerk and some people aren’t taking it in stride. First, there was this caller to C-Span and now Alan Dershowitz wants to debate the ex-President about his new book. No thanks, said Carter, gotta polish my Nobel prize that night.

Extra – From Betsy: “Carter is an intellectual coward
South of the border - There’s some hot babes in this anti-communist march in Bolivia. That’s all I’m saying.
The fragile Iraqi democratic experiment - From InDC Journal: “A process not an event.”
The new new plan for Iraq

You’re going to hear it on the Sunday morning news shows: “The Keane-Kagan plan.” From Fred Barnes in the Weekly Standard with “We’re going to win – The president finally has a plan for victory”:

Why would the Keane-Kagan plan succeed where earlier efforts failed? It envisions a temporary addition of 50,000 troops on the ground in Iraq. The initial mission would be to secure and hold the mixed Baghdad neighborhoods of Shia and Sunni residents where most of the violence occurs. Earlier efforts had cleared many of those sections of the city without holding them. After which, the mass killings resumed. Once neighborhoods are cleared, American and Iraqi troops in this plan would remain behind, living day-to-day among the population. Local government leaders would receive protection and rewards if they stepped in to provide basic services. Safe from retaliation by terrorists, residents would begin to cooperate with the Iraqi government. The securing of Baghdad would be followed by a full-scale drive to pacify the Sunni-majority Anbar province.

The truth is that not all of Iraq needs to be addressed by an increased American presence. Most of southern Iraq and all of the Kurdish north are close to being free of sectarian violence. It's Baghdad that has become the "center of gravity" for the insurgency, according to Keane. And it could be brought under control by the end of 2007.
“Could” being the operative word. Plus, I’m skeptical that Americans would support another injection of troops into Iraq. Of course, a new show of force could also send the message that we’re in this fight for the long run which could demoralize the insurgency and serve notice to other terrorist groups. Once again, “could.”

Friday, December 15, 2006

Another victim of O.J. – From Fox News: “O.J. Simpson's would-be publisher, Judith Regan, was fired, with her sensational, scandalous tenure at Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. ending with a terse announcement.”
An Irish girl, drinking? What’s the world coming to!? - The rumor about town is that Miss USA Tara Conner is about to be stripped of her throne. Phineas G says she was doomed from the start: “Sure the reigning Miss USA, Tara Conner, may be too young to have been named after Tara Reid or Tara Patrick, but in The Big Book of Names 1985 edition* it clearly states any girls named Tara will have a 99% chance of being drunken harlots.” Ouch.
It can’t be denied: people like stuff. Even Che wants his IPod.
Honeymoon’s over – From the Boston Globe “Travaglini publicly rebukes Patrick”: “Senate President Robert E. Travaglini yesterday publicly scolded incoming governor Deval Patrick, telling a breakfast audience that he had warned Patrick to cooperate with the Legislature or Travaglini would withdraw support for Patrick's agenda.” Hooray for gridlock.

More – On our new governor from New England Republican.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The abridged Viking Pundit

My neighbor dragged me away for some last-minute Christmas shopping advice so I don’t have much to go on tonight. But here are some stories that piqued my interest today:

A country of Chief Wiggums: “US officer spells out Iraq police training woes Tour diary shows unready recruits
Futility watch: “Kerry prepares for tour of Mideast
Our friends the Saudis: “Saudis Warns it Could Back Sunnis if U.S. Pulls Out of Iraq
General Barry McCaffrey: “Beyond Baker-Hamilton - One Approach to a Last Try at Stability in Iraq
Kerry on top again: “Top 10 funniest political quotes of 2006

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Checking out – I’m packing in tonight because Blogger’s acting up again; comments may be affected. Oh, and Castro may be dead. Who knows? Goodnight.
All I need is the air that I breathe – The air is significantly cleaner and Will sez: “Economic growth is supremely good for the environment, and for mankind. Let's encourage it.”
TV party - DJ Drummond writes that “The Amazing Race” jumped the shark and TV in general stinks. Well, “Lost” has definitely drifted silly, but I still love “The Office.”
Won’t be fooled again…eh, probably will - From Fox News: “Looking deeper into the Social Security cookie jar
The not-so-simple answers in Iraq

Me, the other day: “I don’t know what I can add to the billions of electrons spilled on this topic, but from what I’ve read about the ISG report the problem is that the Maliki government isn’t strong enough and the answer is to tell them: “Be strong!”

From Opinion Journal today, it’s “Captain Obvious to the Rescue”:

The problem in Iraq is that we can't withdraw U.S. troops because the Iraqi military is not adequately trained to maintain security on its own? Well then, the ISG tells us, all we need to do is to train the Iraqi military so that they can maintain security on their own, and then we can withdraw our troops.

The problem in Iraq is that the Iraqi government won't approve a crackdown to dismantle the Shiite militias? Well then, all we have to do is to convince the Iraqi government to approve a crackdown to dismantle the Shiite militias.

The problem in Iraq is that Iran and Syria are arming, funding, and encouraging Sunni and Shiite insurgents? Well then, all we have to do is to convince Syria and Iran to stop supporting these insurgents.
Fortunately, President Bush is getting additional advice from former military commanders: “The three retired generals and two academics disagreed in particular with the study group's plans to reduce the number of U.S. combat troops in Iraq and to reach out for help to Iran and Syria, according to sources familiar with the meeting, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the session was private.”
Who’s the boss?

There’s a story in the WashPost today about the Saudi ambassador abruptly flying back to the Kingdom, possibly to replace the ailing foreign minister. This sentence in the article almost certainly could have been written better:

King Abdullah summoned Vice President Cheney after Thanksgiving for talks on Iraq and other Middle East flashpoints.
Summoned”? Somehow I don’t think so.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Second quote of the day – From Oliver Cromwell who must have foreseen the unaccountable tenure of Kofi Annan: “You have sat here too long for any good you have been doing lately ... Depart, I say; and let us be done with you. In the name of God, go!

More - A translation from Jules Crittenden.
Quote of the day – Clear Channel’s talk radio operations manager Bill Hess on Air America’s Randi Rhodes: "She's got unbridled passion, which is good, but my ears are going to bleed after 15 minutes. Man, how about a laugh now and then?" Brian, call your office!
Drug buyer beware – The danger of counterfeit prescription drugs is detailed in Business Week’s “Bitter Pills - More and more people are buying prescription drugs from shady online marketers. That could be hazardous to their health
This sounds like something out of “Stargate – From the WashPost: “Computer provides more questions than answers Scientists mystified by 2,100-year-old device.”
Unrest in Tehran? – From Fox News: “Iranian students disrupt speech by President Ahmadinejad” – “Iranian students staged a rare demonstration against President Mahmamoud Ahmadinejad on Monday, lighting a firecracker and burning his photograph in the audience as he delivered a speech at their university, the state news agency said.” Gateway Pundit has pictures and much, much more. Interesting.
Not them again

First I lost my NASCAR fantasy league and then the Republicans lost Congress. But this is just pouring salt into the wound: the ubiquitous and annoying Rob & Amber will appear on “The Amazing Race: All-Stars

A CBS spokesman confirmed the all-star nature of the next "Race" but declined comment on which past cast members will return.

However, insiders said Rob and Amber -- who appeared on "Race" after appearing on two editions of "Survivor" -- will be given another shot at the top prize.
As I said last night, I condemn this stunt. Part of the fun of the Race is that new teams have to navigate their way through foreign locales and strange situations. Everybody on All-Stars will have been through this already, while sucking up spaces that could have given new teams a chance. It’s wrong on so many levels.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Peace in our time, pt. 2 – Mark Steyn is not a fan of the ISG report: “If they're lucky, this document will be tossed in the trash and these men and women will be the laughingstocks of posterity. But, if it's not shredded and we embark down this path, then the Baker group will be emblematic of something far worse. The "Support Group" is a "peace conference," and Baker wants Washington to sue for terms. No wonder Syria is already demanding concessions from America. Which is the superpower and which is the third-rate basket-case state? From the Middle Eastern and European press coverage of the Baker group, it's kinda hard to tell.”
Amazing Race 10 finale – Tyler & James win the Amazing Race

For the first time since I-don’t-know-when, the Amazing Race finale is only one hour tonight instead of the usual two-hour extravaganza. In previous seasons, they went to the final leg with four teams and one was eliminated halfway through. Tonight, we’re starting with just three teams: Team Rehab, Team Alabama, and Team Bicker. I’m going to have to grudgingly root for Tyler & James of Team Rehab because I just can’t stand the other two.

The final three teams start out from Barcelona, Spain late at night to find a church and the next clue which is simply a picture of the Eiffel Tower. It’s after midnight, so everybody is bunched up waiting for the Barcelona airport to open up at 4am in the morning. Team Bicker gets tickets on the first flight to Paris and the other teams need to scramble for the next flights, over an hour later. Once in Paris, teams need to make their way to the third floor of the Eiffel Tower. Team Alabama arrives first, followed quickly by Team Bicker. This clue directs teams to take a train to the Caen airport; everybody’s on the same train, bunched up again.

At Caen airport, it’s the standard TAR tandem sky dive Roadblock. One team member is going to parachute behind Omaha Beach just like a WWII paratrooper; after this is done, the teams meet up again at the train station. It’s back to Paris to find the Place de le Concorde and the next clue. Everybody’s on the same train into Paris, so this is not exactly the Amazing Race but the Amazing Hurry-up-and-Wait. What’s the point of rushing around if all teams need to hold up for the next plane, bus, or train? Ugh.

At the Place de la Concorde, it’s the Detour: Art or Fashion. Teams may either carry a painting to an artist or make a jacket by cutting and pinning some fabric. The Art seems more straightforward, but everybody picks the Fashion task. Former models Tyler & James know their Project Runway and finish first: teams now need to head to New York City and find the news building with the giant globe.

Team Alabama goes to Orly Airport but (as my Francophile wife notes) you cannot take a direct flight to New York from Orly, only via Charles de Gaulle. Team Rehab gets a morning flight to Newark since they cannot get on the first direct flight to NY. Meanwhile, Rob & Kimberly totally beg their way onto the first flight to the States. I’m not fond of Team Bicker but they went the extra mile to get on that flight and (going to commercial) they look like the prohibitive favorite to win tonight.

But then! The wait-listed Tyler & James get on the 8:25am flight with Rob & Kimberly while Team Alabama is left behind – they’re done. Two teams are now racing for the Daily News building; Team Rehab knows where to go while Team Bicker just says “follow that taxi.” But at the toll, Team Rehab’s taxi driver has EZ Pass (to travel quickly through toll booths) while Team Bicker’s driver has to pay cash. Tyler & James arrive first and find the next clue: run two miles on foot to the East Village and find a sculpture known as “The Alamo.”

Once at the sculpture, a woman in a yellow cap hands the next clue: drive to Garrison, New York, some 56 miles away and find St. Basil’s Academy. So now it’s a long taxi drive up into New York state and the Finish. Who has the better driver? It’s Team Rehab, Tyler & James who arrive on a rainy patch of grass to win the Race and the $1,000,000 first prize. Yay!

Final standings:

#1 – Team Rehab – Tyler & James – Winners of the Amazing Race
#2 – Team Bicker – Rob & Kimberly
#3 – Team Alabama – Lyn & Karlyn

Next season – Starting in February, it looks like Amazing Race All-Stars. Previous teams get a second chance to win the Race. I condemn this stunt in advance.

Extra – This space reserved for recaps from Pat & Kris.
Time to modernize and globalize – Time magazine: “How to bring schools into the 21st century
It’s New Orleans, after all – From Fox News: “Democratic Incumbent William Jefferson Wins House Runoff Election Despite Federal Bribery Probe” Just because the FBI found $90,000 in marked bills in Jefferson’s freezer means nothing.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

That’s a really cool picture

The space shuttle Discovery took off tonight in a nighttime launch for the ISS: “Night became day on Saturday as the shuttle Discovery muscled its way off of the launching pad with a shuddering roar on a mission to rewire the International Space Station.”
Sunday morning lineup – It’s Baker and Hamilton everywhere.
Let’s impeach! – Cynthia McKinney finally introduced legislation. Q&O: “Last gasp of a departing loon
Meanwhile at Gitmo – The American Mind notes a report that suicides at Gitmo were a misguided attempt to shut down the prison. And now: “I don’t think it will happen again.”
Not encouraging

Jane Harman wasn’t good enough for Nancy Pelosi, so we’re stuck with Texas Democrat Silvestre Reyes heading up the House Intelligence Committee. Judging by this interview with Congressional Quarterly, Reyes thinks we’re fighting a global war on terror against some guys, maybe Muslim, from sandy places:

The dialogue went like this:

Al Qaeda is what, I asked, Sunni or Shia?

“Al Qaeda, they have both,” Reyes said. “You’re talking about predominately?”

“Sure,” I said, not knowing what else to say.

“Predominantly — probably Shiite,” he ventured.

He couldn’t have been more wrong.

Al Qaeda is profoundly Sunni. If a Shiite showed up at an al Qaeda club house, they’d slice off his head and use it for a soccer ball.
Just great.

Extra - Captain Ed: "Wasn't he on the Intel committee already?"

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Economist to President Bush on ISG: “Just say no

Using the term “wise men” with a British tongue-in-cheek, the Economist (UK) writes: “Don’t do it - The Baker-Hamilton group wants to set a date for leaving Iraq. George Bush should say no

What will not help is scuttling from Iraq before exhausting every possible effort to put the country back together. The Baker-Hamilton group is right to say that America should neither leave precipitously nor stay forever. Leaning harder on Iraq's politicians is an excellent idea. But setting an arbitrary deadline of early 2008 for most of the soldiers to depart risks weakening America's bargaining power, intensifying instead of dampening the fighting and projecting an image of weakness that will embolden enemies everywhere. On this recommendation, Mr Bush needs to insist on his prerogatives as custodian of America's foreign policy and just say no.
As usual, a balanced and incisive analysis from the Economist. Read the whole thing.
And the name of the latest (would-be) terrorist is….

My name is Talib Abu Salam Ibn Shareef. I am 22 years of age. I am from America, and this tape is to let you guys know, who disbelieve in Allah, to let the enemies of Islam know, and to let the Muslims alike know that the time for jihad is now.”
Paycheck protection and freedom of expression – Betsy has a very interesting post up about the fight in Washington state over whether unions can spend money on candidates and causes their members do not support.
R.I.P. – America’s Iron Lady, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, passed away yesterday.
The Bay State’s new governor

Massachusetts has elected its first Democratic governor in nearly two decades and he’s putting on a show for the (well-heeled) people. From the Boston Globe: “Deval’s coronation

Deval L . Patrick has planned a five-day extravaganza for early January costing anywhere from $1 million to $1.6 million, a state record, and perhaps twice what Mitt Romney spent. Exact details haven't been released, but Patrick apparently plans to ride a hand-carried chariot from Boston to the Berkshires as a collection of serfs throws rose petals.

Just kidding, but barely. There will be parties here, parties there, parties everywhere, including a private event for big-ticket donors who are footing the bulk of the bill. The big gala, which is supposed to be accessible to the average Joe, costs $50 a head. I don't know of a lot of working couples ready to spend $100 to watch their governor and the first lady waltz.
Five days? Whatever happened to a speech and a ball?
Why do we keep picking on John Kerry?

He keeps providing us with great material:

Kerry, who desperately wants to run again for president, had a dozen big-bucks Democrats to his Georgetown townhouse for pot roast and butternut squash.

According to a source who knows one of the attendees, Kerry started off by asking guests if he should run or not: "When no one answered, he launched into a speech about why he was the best candidate."

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Speak and write gooderThe Vocabula Review, found via Opinion Journal’s article “Language Guardian.”
He’s doneGallup Poll: “A number of people don't like, trust, or respect Kerry.” A list of characteristics for John Kerry starts with “Already lost/had his chance” and doesn’t improve much from there.
How is Harry Whittington?Top 10 funniest political moments of 2006
Breyer vs. Scalia in a SCOTUS smackdown! – From Slate, it’s “Justice Grover versus Justice Oscar.”
The view from Baghdad

From the WashPost: “Threats wrapped in misunderstandings

Iraqis also expressed fear that the report's recommendations, if implemented, could weaken an already besieged government in a country teetering on the edge of civil war.

"It is a report to solve American problems, and not to solve Iraq's problems," said Ayad al-Sammarai, an influential Sunni Muslim politician.
I don’t know what I can add to the billions of electrons spilled on this topic, but from what I’ve read about the ISG report the problem is that the Maliki government isn’t strong enough and the answer is to tell them: “Be strong!”

Pressure the Iraqi government to take more responsibility and threaten to reduce US military, political, and diplomatic support if it fails to do so.
Stop sucking or we’re outta here! Great, great advice.

More – And here’s George Will with “A report overtaken by reality.”
Free speech for all some at Columbia

Here’s the quote of the day from Iranian ambassador Javad Zarif in “Iranian ambassador makes inflammatory remarks about Holocaust, Fox News at Columbia University”:

A number of students attending his talk, hosted Wednesday evening on campus by a Columbia University international studies group called Toward Reconciliation, loudly voiced their disagreement with his statements.

"Do I have a right to freedom of expression?" Zarif challenged. "I'm answering. If you want to stifle the right of people to freedom of expression, that's your problem, not mine."
Ha-ha! But of course Holocaust deniers will always have a place at Columbia. It’s these guys who don’t have the right to free speech, dagnabbit.

Extra – Free speech guy Nat Hentoff on Columbia’s disgrace:

On October 4, at a Columbia University event sponsored by the College Republicans, Jim Gilchrist, leader of the anti-immigration Minutemen—as has been reported far and wide—was physically and furiously prevented from speaking by a mob of righteous gauleiters, some of whom were roaring, "He has no right to speak!"

To again bring into the conversation Mr. Orwell—who did not benefit from a Columbia University education—he had the heretical belief that "if liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear."
There’s some irony for you: students at the premiere journalism school in America were lectured on free expression by Ahmadinejad’s puppet.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Me, two weeks ago: “Well, I would prefer one precondition: if the White House is going to drop private savings accounts, the Democrats should agree to no additional FICA taxes.”

National Review, today, with “Divided we reform – What to do about Social Security”: “Two years ago, Bush was so eager to enact personal accounts that he signaled his openness to tax increases to get them. If personal accounts are off the table, the tax increases should be, too.”
Wrong, wrong, wrong!

I was forced to watch William Shatner’s game show “Show me the money” tonight and one of the questions alleged that the Beatles covered a Rod Stewart song titled “Maggie Mae.” Unless there’s been some secret recording I’m not aware of, I believe the question writers for this silly show have mistaken Stewart’s signature song for a 30-second ditty off of “Let it Be.”

Anybody else catch this? It's not like they have to write 61 questions a show like Jeopardy! You'd think they'd get a handful of questions functionally correct.
ISG - Via NPR, here’s the Executive Summary of the Iraq Study Group report. Will it change anything? Probably not.

Extra – Jeff Jacoby doesn’t think much of the ISG’s suggestion of working with Iran and Syria: “The danger of engaging with the enemy” – “The war against radical Islam, of which Iraq is but one front, cannot be won so long as regimes like those in Tehran and Damascus remain in power. They are as much our enemies today as the Nazi Reich was our enemy in an earlier era. Imploring Assad and Ahmadinejad for help in Iraq can only intensify the whiff of American retreat that is already in the air. The word for that isn't realism. It's surrender.”
Congress to work like everyday people – From the WashPost: “Culture shock on Capitol Hill: House to work five days a week” Is Steny Hoyer reading the venerable Viking Pundit, since this has been an ongoing gripe of mine. The Captain agrees in “Changing the work ethic.”
Religion of peace update – It’s a two-fer today: “Somalia town threatens to behead people who don’t pray 5 times daily” and “Hezbollah said to use civilians as shields.”
This sounds like a bad idea to me – From the Boston Globe: “Death rates per doctor to be listed – State to release data on heart surgeons

The reason why is in paragraph four: “In New York, where mortality data for individual cardiac surgeons have been released since 1991, state officials credit the program with lowering death rates, but surgeons in Massachusetts are worried that public reporting could hurt care by discouraging doctors from taking high-risk patients who are more likely to die.”

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The vanishing point

From the CATO Institute: “Social Security reform is not just about solvency

Social Security taxes are already so high relative to benefits that Social Security has quite simply become a bad deal for younger workers, providing a low, below-market rate of return. In fact, many young workers will end up paying more in taxes than they receive in benefits.

They will actually lose money under the program. While the tax increases and benefit cuts envisioned by Hoyer and Baucus would restore Social Security to solvency, they would also make Social Security an even worse deal for younger workers, who would end up paying more and receiving less.

But the single most important problem with the current Social Security system remains that workers have no ownership of their benefits.

This means that workers are left totally dependent on the goodwill of 535 politicians to determine what they will receive in retirement.
Personal accounts or not, this is a point I keep driving on Social Security: it’s an increasingly bad deal for younger workers and when the bottom falls out, the political support for the program will evaporate.
Even a stopped clock is right twice a day – Paul Krugman predicts a recession is coming. And coming. And coming.
The next SecDef - It seems ages since there’s been an anonymous anything in Washington, but everybody seems to agree on Robert Gates: “Robert Gates, President Bush's nominee for defense secretary, won unanimous approval Tuesday from the Senate Armed Services Committee, forwarding the nomination to the full Senate for a vote.”

Extra – Powerline reviews some of Gates’s critical responses.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Now that is one cold case

National Geographic reports that King Tut died of a broken leg, not murder: "A CT scan of King Tutankhamun's mummy has disproved a popular theory that the Egyptian pharaoh was murdered by a blow to the head more than 3,300 years ago."
Even more on the “Flying Imams – From Pajamas Media: “It was almost as if they were intentionally trying to get kicked off the flight.”
Bolton resigns – Here’s the roundup from Stop the ACLU. Andy McCarthy reads my mind with “We don’t need an ambassador at the UN”: “Why are we so hot to preserve this international racketeering enterprise? What's in it for us?”

Seriously, though, does President Bush have to pick another nominee to fill John Bolton’s seat at the United Nations? What happens if he doesn’t? This may be a good question for the Explainer.
Shut up, they explained – Senators (one D, one RINO) send a remarkable letter to Exxon telling them to submit to the cult of global warming. Debate is for chumps, say members of the “greatest deliberative body in the world.”
Big drug roundup - Wow, I must be psychic. Only a couple of hours after my lengthy post on pharmaceutical companies, we have “Specialty drugs seen driving up premiums” and “Pfizer Shares Sink After Key Drug Halted.” Lipitor for everyone!
Why the Republicans were kicked out

Besides the war in Iraq, the GOP-led Congress failed to perform the fundamental duty of government by passing federal budgets. OMB Watch saw it coming back in February 2006:

Each year the congressional leadership is responsible for setting Congress' legislative calendar, and this year that calendar will be tightly packed with the smorgasbord of issues Congress must tackle in the coming months. The legislative work Congress fails to finish, however, may be what makes headlines in 2006. This year boasts the fewest legislative days for Congress in twenty years, and this compressed election-year schedule is sure to make finishing appropriations bills before the end of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, a task lawmakers find difficult even with more ample time, next to impossible.
Spot on. And here’s the main editorial in today’s WashPost:

One of the basic functions of Congress is passing spending bills to fund the operations of government. Congress regularly fails to complete this work in a timely way, but the 109th Congress is set to leave on an especially negligent note. Unless something dramatic changes, it will limp to a close having completed work on just two spending bills for fiscal 2007, which began Oct. 1. The upshot is that, at best, the fiscal year will be nearly one-third over by the time the 110th Congress finishes the work left incomplete by the 109th.
So nobody wanted to work a four-day week and (almost) nothing got passed. That equals a recipe for termination. Great job, guys.
Conservative Grapevine is back!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The assault on Big Pharma and the unintended consequences

Everybody loves to hate those durn pharmaceutical companies, the ones that provide life-saving drugs for millions of Americans, what with their profit seeking. Writing in the libertarian-leaning Reason, Katherine Mangu-Ward wonders what the Democrats might do to make Medicare’s prescription drug benefit worse (HT - Decision08):

When the Republicans passed Medicare part D, I—like many libertarians—despaired of the GOP. The only thing worse than a massive new entitlement ushered in by Republicans? A passel of aggressive Democrats promising to "fix it." By allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices with pharmaceutical companies and permitting more importation of pre-price controlled drugs from Canada, Democrats will add another command-and-control component to our already monstrosity of a health care system.

There's the old familiar song and dance about how if you decrease Big Pharma's prospective profits on new drugs, they will (reasonably) retaliate with less spending on research and development. According to the author of a new study from the Manhattan Institute: "Prices would be driven down by over 35 percent by 2025. The cumulative decline in drug R&D for 2007-2025 would be about $196 billion in year 2005 dollars, or $10.3 billion per year. Because R&D costs for new medicines are about $1 billion, the loss would be about 196 new drugs."

But to really understand the havoc a Democratic "fix" could wreak, warily eyeball the Department of Veterans Affairs, which already negotiates for its drugs and has been cited by Democrats as a model for Medicare. At the VA, prices for drugs are very low. But one way that the VA keeps overall prices down is by making it tough to get new, expensive drugs. Their formulary includes about 1400 drugs, and they refuse to consider a drug for inclusion until it has been on the market for three years. Compare that with the 4,300 drugs currently listed at (the privately negotiated) Part D formularies. Right now, a third of VA seniors say they would rather be on Part D. If Dems have their way, at least these vets won't have to bother with the paperwork for switching.
The Boston Globe also had an analysis in the similar vein today titled: “What’s good for Pharma is good for America

The huge profits of major drug firms are often tied to one or two drugs, such as Pfizer's Lipitor or Viagra -- profits that evaporate when their patents expire and generics enter the marketplace. The Standard & Poor's review of pharmaceuticals thus starts somberly, noting that products with $21 billion in US drug sales are going off patent in 2006, with another $24 billion to follow over the next three years -- a sharp dent for an industry that today generates about $250 billion in revenue. All the while, the pharmaceutical houses also must absorb the legal and business risks needed to identify, patent, test, license, and market any new drug.

These trends should worry us all. Pharmaceuticals are not tobacco. There is no reason to rejoice in putting pharma on the ropes if its business reversals hurt the very consumers they are trying to serve. The medical advances of the past 30 years are not just a matter of dumb luck. They are very heavily dependent on the patent law, pricing freedom, and marketing strategies that have allowed these firms to bring a wide variety of vital products to market.

The champions of further regulation argue that their efforts won't limit innovations or curtail the widespread use of new drugs. But there are no free fixes. Too often ill-designed regulation gives us the worst of both worlds -- slower innovation and more limited drug use.
I’m no fan of the prescription drug benefit since it’s yet another entitlement heaped on the back of taxpayers without much regard to spiraling long-term costs. But by nearly every account, it’s been an effective and popular program. Why mess with success?
Amazing Race 10 update – Blonde Ambition

The final four teams started out in Morocco and drive through the Atlas Mountains to the city of Casablanca. With only a handful of teams remaining, there’s a lot of chatter about getting to the final three for the final leg of the Race. Once in Casablanca, it’s the Roadblock: one team member must prepare and eat a pound of camel meat. Team Blonde picks up a guide and they arrive at the Roadblock just behind Team Rehab. Dustin & Kandace need to come in first on this leg or they’ll incur a 30-minute penalty at check-in for coming in last on the previous leg.

Tyler & James finish the Roadblock and head to the next stop: Barcelona, Spain. Meanwhile, Team Bicker and Team Alabama can’t find the Roadblock even though they’re getting advice like “where the other Americans are.” As usual, Rob is flipping out and he catches a glimpse of the Blondies running down the street; assuming they’re heading for the Roadblock, he follows them. Unfortunately for him, they’re done with the Roadblock and he follows them back to their car. Sucka! Team Alabama finishes the camel meat next while Rob harangues Kimberly.

None of this matters: everybody is bunched up on the same flight to Spain. At Barcelona, the teams need to search a hedge maze for the next clue. So it’s rush rush rush to the maze…which doesn’t open until 10:00am the next morning. The Blondies arrange for a taxi to arrive in the morning with one of them speaking pretty good Spanish; the other teams follow suit in English. This next clue is the Detour: Lug it or Lob it. Teams may either don giant costumers and walk a mile down the street, or search a pile of tomatoes for the next clue while locals toss tomatoes at them. After the teams emerge from the maze, Team Blonde and Team Bicker grab taxis but there are no cabs for Team Rehab and Team Alabama. They stand in the street waving their hands at passing cars.

The Blondies go for the giant costumes and it doesn’t look especially difficult, and it appears there’s a “spotter” to help them along. Meanwhile, Rob & Kimberly go for the tomato pile in what can only be called the funniest Detour ever: Rob is whipping tomatoes back at the Spaniards pelting them and Kimberly is having a complete meltdown. She is totally freaking out and gives up twice and Rob is screaming at her to toughen up. They give up to try the other Detour but when they find it’s a long drive away, they head back to the tomato pile. Eventually they find the clue head to the Pit Stop. Team Alabama also finishes the tomato clue and heads off. Team Blonde and Team Rehab are still racing in the giant costumes.

It’s not looking good for the Blondies since they’re neck and neck with Team Rehab and they’re going to get a 30-minute penalty at the mat. Sure enough, they get some bad directions to the Pit Stop and end up in last place anyway.

Final standings:

#1 – Team Bicker – Rob & Kimberly – Prize: Travelocity trip to Barbados
#2 – Team Alabama – Lyn & Karlyn
#3 – Team Rehab – Tyler & James
#4 – Team Blondie – Dustin & Kandace – PHILIMINATED

Next week – The Race finale.

Extra – This space reserved for recaps from Pat & Kris.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Funny reads – From Opinion Journal, here’s a top 5 list of humorous American books. I must admit that the funniest book I’ve ever read is “Right Ho, Jeeves” by British author P.G. Wodehouse. Especially good is the telegram battle between Wooster and his aunt: “Am taking legal advice to ascertain whether strangling an idiot nephew counts as murder. If it doesn't look out for yourself. Consider your conduct frozen limit.”

Friday, December 01, 2006

Apparently he’s unemployed – John Kerry took time out from campaigning, giving speeches in Iowa, and sending fundraising letters to assess impact of ‘botched joke’ on ‘08 prospects. His seat in the Senate is being used as an ottoman by Ted Kennedy.
Get bent, Boston Globe: “Jack Frost, call home

No, please don’t. The longer I can avoid snow-shoveling and massive heating bills the better.

More - Pat Hynes: “Three cheers for global warming

Thursday, November 30, 2006

No new FICA taxes – Personal savings accounts have been abandoned, and now the fear is President Bush is going to raise taxes to strike a deal on Social Security reform. The Wall Street Journal calls that “Not so Grand Bargain.”

More SS fun – From Greg Mankiw, in a survey of economists “85.3 percent agree that "the gap between Social Security funds and expenditures will become unsustainably large within the next fifty years if current policies remain unchanged.”
The future is now

From “Sleeper,” two doctors from the future discuss the diet of a recently re-animated Woody Allen:

Dr. Melik: [puzzling over list of items sold at Miles' old health-food store] ... wheat germ, organic honey and... tiger's milk.
Dr. Aragon: Oh, yes. Those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life-preserving properties.
Dr. Melik: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or... hot fudge?
Dr. Aragon: [chuckling] Those were thought to be unhealthy... precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.
Dr. Melik: Incredible!
From the Boston Globe: Red wine and dark chocolate protect the heart.
Quote of the Day

From an article in the Boston Globe about a man suing the Scotts company because they caught him smoking:

Rodrigues said he decided to file suit because, "What's to make them stop at just cigarettes? If they're a Republican company, can they try and figure out who you vote for and if you vote for the Democrats, they'll fire you?
And I say: why not!
I’ll see your hyperbole and raise

George Will had a column in today’s WashPost, suggesting that incoming Virginia Senator Jim Webb may have been indecorous to President Bush during a courtesy meeting with incoming Congresspersons. However, Will’s characterization of the exchange omitted some words, leading to this post from Greg Sargent:

This is one of the rankest displays of journalistic dishonesty I've seen in some time. In today's Washington Post column, George Will assails Dem Senator-elect Jim Webb over his now-well-known confrontation with President Bush at a White House reception. To do so, Will badly distorts the reporting his own paper did on the episode, and it's quite clear his distortions were entirely deliberate.
Emphasis added. Wow, take a breath junior. It was worse than Dan Rather’s “fake but accurate” TANG memos, or CNN’s soft-pedal of Saddam Hussein’s regime, or the NY Times' Abu Gharib whiff? C’mon already. In fact, I’m tempted to say that this post was the worst thing ever written in the history of the English language and – why not? – the author is worse than Hitler.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Let’s see the plan, Charlie

From the Daily News: “We must alter Social Security, Rangel says

Raising retirement age or reducing benefits can't be ruled out if the Social Security system is to be saved from going bust, Rep. Charles Rangel said yesterday.

"All of these things are on the table to find some way to make certain that Social Security is solvent," said Rangel, who is poised to take control of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.
But Paul Krugman told me everything was fine! Somebody’s fibbing.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Hard to believe, but this ruling did not come from the 9th Circuit: “Judge Orders Treasury Department to Make Paper Money Recognizable to Blind People

Here’s the lineup of scents proposed for each denomination:

$1 – Virginia baked ham
$5 – Kentucky bluegrass
$10 – Sawdust
$20 – Old Hickory
$50 – Jack Daniels
$100 – Um, you don’t want to know
The third shoe to drop

Right about the time that the bill comes due for Social Security and Medicare commitments, state pension programs are going to discover that the, um, “unique” accounting used to calculate liabilities has left government workers in the lurch. So writes Thomas Healey in the Boston Globe with “The ticking time bomb in state pensions”:

At first glance, state plans seem to be nearly as healthy as their corporate counterparts: they face a shortfall of $348 billion under current accounting rules, according to the National Association of State Retirement Administrators . This implies they are 86 percent funded, versus 90 percent for corporate plans.

However, these projections are misleading. The real shortfall of state-defined benefit pension programs is closer to $1.3 trillion, which translates into the plans being 64 percent funded. This alarming gap could set off a crisis whose magnitude would dwarf the $200 billion government bailout of the savings and loan industry in the 1980s. Just as disturbing, this threat is largely ignored because of opaque accounting.
Something’s gotta give.
The news from Iraq: all bad

WashPost: “Civil war in Iraq near, Annan says
WashPost: “Bush to Press Iraqi PM on Sectarian Violence
NY Times: “Hezbollah Said to Help Shiite Army in Iraq
WashPost: “Anbar Picture Grows Clearer, and Bleaker

Even the conservative commentators are discouraged:

Christopher Hitchens: “The objectionable thing about the proposed Baker-Hamilton "talks" is not that they are talks but that they give the impression of looking for someone to whom to surrender.”

Stanley Kurtz: “I’m afraid the notion that elections were bringing us democracy has been largely wish fulfillment. Purple fingers notwithstanding, voters weren’t thinking nationally, much less liberally. They were voting communally. And with armed non-governmental militias at large, this amounted to voting for quasi-secessionist entities.”

And Mark Levin: “Nobody is talking about victory. We had many very severe setbacks during all of our major wars, from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars to World Wars I and II. Our country brought together the greatest minds NOT to devise ways to hold discussions/negotiations with the enemy, but to develop strategies to defeat them. That doesn't exist today, or if it does, those voices are drowned out by a variety of "I told you so" claims.”

Radical groups like Hezbollah and Hamas gain popular support because they often provide services that national governments cannot (or do not). The weakness of the Malaki government is that it can't do anything right, even with the strength of the U.S. military behind it. Forget about "standing up" - they haven't learned to crawl yet.
Playing the victim – From the Boston Globe: “Imams protest at airport pray-in Urge apology after clerics were barred from jet” If half of what Power Line reveals in “The Flying Imams” is true, US Airways acted prudently and correctly.

Extra - Rick Moran writes that the flying imams "may just take the prize for Best Original Performance by a Put-Upon Minority."
The legends are true – “Women talk three times as much as men, says study” (HT: Pajamas Media)
Boeing isn’t flying high – From Fox News “Durable goods order plunge in October by most in 6 years”: “The Commerce Department reported Tuesday that demand for durable goods fell a larger-than-expected 8.3 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted $210 billion, reflecting a big drop in demand for commercial airplanes, a category that had soared in September.”

Monday, November 27, 2006

Selective projections and trends

Compare and contrast:

Disco Stu: “Did you know that disco record sales were up 400% for the year ending 1976? If these trends continue... A-y-y-y!”

Maxspeak: “The chart shows the program levels for the next 20 years, the official MaxSpeak correct Federal budget planning time horizon.”

Dean Baker: “The Post is more honest than usual in today's column, noting that the program is solvent for the next 35 years according to President Bush's Social Security Trustees (40 years according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office) and that the projected explosion in health care costs implies that Medicare is a much bigger problem, but then argues that workers need time to plan for their retirement. While time for planning is great, one might think that 20 years is plenty.”

So, you see, there’s no need to reform Social Security; there’s plenty of funds for twenty or thirty years. Just don’t look beyond that horizon where the Social Security Trust Fund drops off like Village People record sales in 1982:

From the 2006 Social Security Trustee Report on “Projections of future financial status”:

The year-by-year relationship between income and cost rates shown in figure II.D2 illustrates the expected pattern of cash flow for the OASDI program over the full 75-year period. Under the intermediate assumptions, the OASDI cost rate is projected to decline slightly during 2006 through 2008 and then increase up to the current level within the next 2 years. It then begins to increase rapidly and first exceeds the income rate in 2017, producing cash-flow deficits thereafter. Despite these cash-flow deficits, beginning in 2017, redemption of trust fund assets will allow continuation of full benefit payments on a timely basis until 2040, when the trust funds will become exhausted. This redemption process will require a flow of cash from the General Fund of the Treasury. Pressures on the Federal Budget will thus emerge well before 2040. Even if a trust fund's assets are exhausted, however, tax income will continue to flow into the fund. Present tax rates would be sufficient to pay 74 percent of scheduled benefits after trust fund exhaustion in 2040 and 70 percent of scheduled benefits in 2080.
The inescapable fact about Social Security is that demographics is destiny. When Social Security was formed there were sixteen workers for every retiree; now there are three and in 30 years there will be two. This is why a team of actuaries at the Social Security Administration has extrapolated this less-than-rosy fiscal scenario. Some would say we should reform a system borne out of the Great Depression and drag it into the 21st century. Others warn that it’s all just a right-wing trick to dismantle the cornerstone of the New Deal. But only one of us has math on our side.

Extra - From today's editorial in the Washington Post:
Some Democrats dispute the urgency of the problem, arguing that the notional assets in the Social Security trust fund are sufficient to pay all the benefits promised to retirees for the next 40 years. But a retirement system needs to make credible promises that last longer than that: A worker who is 30 can't entrust her retirement to a program that will run short of money as she turns 70. Moreover, a solvency fix for Social Security requires a long lead time. Cuts in benefits must be signaled years ahead so that workers have time to plan for them. Any increase in the payroll tax needs to be implemented soon in order to keep the size of the increase to an acceptable level.
And Sebastian Mallaby makes the case for personal/add-on accounts with "A Fix for Social Security? How personal accounts could please both sides."