Monday, October 31, 2005

Confusing Economy

The economy seems to be confusing economists lately.

      Here are five recent examples of how tough it is getting to correctly forecast economic activity in a global marketplace: the GDP exceeded expectations; consumer confidence fell instead of rising; housing starts rose instead of falling, orders for durable goods took a larger than expected drop, and retails sales grew at a slower than expected rate

Not surprised, with all the catastrophes that have been happening.  However, the economy has been doing better than the pessimists have been predicting for the last 5 years.

One other thing they mentioned as a factor was “surging gasoline prices”  and “worries about the job market.”  Funny how those things are all about perception due to what the press is saying or not saying.  The job market isn’t nearly as bad as people think it is, and has anyone noticed that gas prices, far from surging lately, have actually dropped 20-30 cents a gallon in the last month?  No?  It’s just me?

Friday, October 28, 2005

Plame Game

I have not been planning on blogging the Plame affair for a while.  It’s just a load of hogwash in my eyes and a big national distraction.  I noted, though, that today there was an indictment of Scooter Libby for some things that look pretty serious. 

Lacking in that indictment was anything about Rove or anyone else in the administration.  And if Rove doesn’t get indicted or even become a major part of this investigation, then the administration is probably not going to get burned by this.

Also lacking was any mention of leaking the name of a covert agent.
The reason that I think this is all nonsense is that for all the hoopla, the press continues to ignore the main question:  was Plame’s name in fact protected by the Intelligence Identities Protection Act? 

Because if she wasn’t covered, and there some pretty good argument that she wasn’t, then this whole shootin’ match is for nothing.  Like taking a swing at fog. 

Really this is about Bush, and it’s about the war in Iraq

      It's obvious too that the Plame Affair is not at all about some minor not-so-covert CIA official, but about Iraq. It is a replaying of the war on other turf.

Roger Simon sums all this up nicely on why there is such a hoopla over this affair, it’s because of course that WMD played a major role in the administrations argument to invade Iraq.  Not that it was the only reason.

      As the for the run-up to the war, in looking back I think it was a big game of charades that everybody understood. Despite what was said, the obvious US motivation was geo-political. We wanted the despot Saddam out of the Middle East and replaced by a democracy. The French and the Russians - never particularly interested in democracy in the first place - desperately wanted to keep their cash cow in office. Everybody knew this, so the dreaded WMDs had to be emphasized in front of the UN. Never mind that whether Saddam had nuclear and other such weapons now or later was essentially irrelevant as long as he was in power and able to use them, never mind the supposedly missing weapons could be hidden at this moment in Syria, Lebanon or Iran (or even Iraq of course), never mind that there actually is a fledgling democracy in Iraq seemingly applauded by a vast majority of Iraqis, the weapons have been pronounced non-existent and the war a mistake.

And Wilson is the pivot of one of the left’s arguments that Bush misled the public by claiming that Iraq was going for Yellowcake in Africa and Wilson, who was assigned to find that out, is saying that that wasn’t the case.

Never mind that his report to the CIA said that Niger believed that Iraq was indeed out to buy yellowcake from them.

But you aren’t seeing that in the press either.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

I take offense

Michael Totten is wondering why we condescend to minorities about things that we “think” will offend them.  He notes that a teacher in Britain are banning books with stories about pigs from their classrooms.  This is while he is living in Lebanon, and reports that there is pork EVERYWHERE!  At the local Muslim-run supermarket, in restaurants, on pizza.

This is just one example, and a small one, but indicative of the way that portions of our society have their heads up their butts about offending sensitive minority feelings. 

Oppressing minorities, or denying them access to things because of their status, is something that we must guard against in this country.  Offending them is something that we have to live with, because trying to control the things that offend them offends the rights of offenders.

Cool new armor technology

A friend alerted me to this.  It's right out of Star Trek 4, if you are a Trekkie geek like us, you'll know what I'm talking about.  The boys go back in time to San Francisco circa 1986 and in the midst of their trials, Scotty teaches some industrialist to create this transparent aluminum that's stronger than steel.  It's supposed to be futuristic.

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFPN) -- Engineers here are testing a new kind of transparent armor -- stronger and lighter than traditional materials -- that could stop armor-piercing weapons from penetrating vehicle windows.
The Air Force Research Laboratory's materials and manufacturing directorate is testing aluminum oxynitride -- ALONtm -- as a replacement for the traditional multi-layered glass transparencies now used in existing ground and air armored vehicles.

Traditional transparent armor is thick layers of bonded glass. The new armor combines the transparent ALONtm piece as a strike plate, a middle section of glass and a polymer backing. Each layer is visibly thinner than the traditional layers.

ALONtm is virtually scratch resistant, offers substantial impact resistance, and provides better durability and protection against armor piercing threats, at roughly half the weight and half the thickness of traditional glass transparent armor, said the lieutenant.

In a June 2004demonstration, an ALONtm test pieces held up to both a .30 caliber Russian M-44 sniper rifle and a .50 caliber Browning Sniper Rifle with armor piercing bullets. While the bullets pierced the glass samples, the armor withstood the impact with no penetration.

Mr. Hoffman also pointed out the benefit of durability with ALONtm.

    "Eventually, with a conventional glass surface, degradation takes place and results in a loss of transparency," Mr. Hoffman said. "Things such as sand have little or no impact on ALONtm, and it probably has a life expectancy many times that of glass."
    The scratch-resistant quality will greatly increase the transparency of the armor, giving military members more visual awareness on the battlefield.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Senatorial response to pork

I finally got a letter back from one of our fine Oregon Senators the other day, in response to my Email to their office detailing my displeasure about the fat they scraped off the top of the barrel for unimportant projects here.

Interestingly, it was a snail mail response to an Email.  I realize that what you are about to read here is obviously a form letter from the Senator’s office, but you’d think that they would have a form Email ready for all those who Emailed them.  And instead of printing on recycled paper, as the note at the bottom reveals, they could print it on NO paper.

    Dear Mr. L’esperance  (ed. Note: they got my name wrong, but at least they remembered the apostrophe)
            Thank you for contacting me with your thoughts regarding the federal budget.  I agree that Congressional oversight of the budget should only support responsible spending.

            With new financial challenges such as rebuilding the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, our charge is now to avoid unnecessary additional spending increases and carefully watch new expenditures to ensure they are responsible and affordable.  The current budget deficit is not the largest the United States has ever faced, nor is it unmanageable.  In my years on the Senate Budget Committee I carefully scrutinized the budget and all of its revisions.

            Through smaller government, disciplined spending and continued tax reform, I believe that our economy will continue to expand, enabling us to reduce the deficit and pay down the federal debt, while at the same time lessening the tax burden for America’s families.  Please know that I will always fight to keep taxes low and work to stimulate and sustain a dynamic economy in Oregon and the entire nation.

            As Thomas Jefferson once said, “to preserve the faith of the nation by an exact discharge of its debts and contracts, expend the public money with the same care and economy we would practice with our own, and impose on our citizens no necessary burden…are the landmarks by which we are to guide ourselves in all our proceedings.”

            Thank you again for contacting me regarding spending.  I assure you that I will continue to work for prudent responsible government spending.  It is my hope that you will continue to share your views with me in the future.

    Warm regards,
    Gordon H. Smith
    United States Senate

OK, Gordon.  Working for “smaller government, disciplined spending and continued tax reform” means not earmarking spending for projects that obviously have no value outside of their community, let alone the state of Oregon or the United States.  Most people refer to that as “pork.”

The original idea of a federal government was that it was to provide for the “Common good” not the local good.  Therefore all the spending coming from the federal government should be used for projects that benefit the nation as a whole, and nothing else.  That’s the idea of limited government.

You, as a member of the budget committee, didn’t scrutinize the budget one iota if things like the Bridge to Nowhere, or the sculpture garden in Washington made it through.

And to quote Jefferson when the practice I’ve described above is not expending the public money “with the same care and economy we would practice with our own” is disingenuous at best.  Certainly the budget deficit is not yet out of control, but it doesn’t have to be nearly as big as it is, and how many more pet projects do you need to fund before it does get out of control.

That's entertainment

Did anyone see that great World Series game last night?  Longest game in World Series history, and tied for most innings.  Game went to 14, and was won on the bat of Geoff Blum, who until that point had not played in the Series, he came off the bench in the top of the 14th and on his first ever at-bat in a World Series he smacked it over the right field fence.  The run scored on walks later in the innings was meaningless.   Both teams went through their entire bullpen, and the last pitcher was the starter from the previous game.  He got one of the only saves in his career. 

Just great drama.

Also in the news, the college football season isn’t half over and someone is already talking about the BCS rankings.  And it’s not exactly to laud it’s accuracy.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Hey, a friend noticed that on the Truth Laid Bear’s blog ecosystem that I have evolved from a Slimy Mollusk to a Flippery Fish.  I’m so proud!

Fighting on a different front

The ability of the public in the United States to generate private money for relief efforts appears to have a limit.  It’s a BIG limit, however after two hurricanes decimating our own coasts and the big tsunami last year, we have been running rather thin. 

Some might have said the same about our troop effort in disaster relief, but I think that Bush understands what good PR lots of aid can bring in that part of the world.  So…

      Some 1,400 people died in Indian Kashmir because of the recent quakes, and over 140,000 were made homeless. Across the border in Pakistani Kashmir, over 50,000 died, over 70,000 were seriously injured and over three million are homeless. The American relief effort has involved thousands of troops, several dozen helicopters and navy ships carrying relief aid and military equipment for rescue and reconstruction work.

Al Qaeda noticed, and issued a press tape urging Muslims to rush aid to earthquake victims, otherwise all the rescue effort will be seen as dominated by infidels.

We've got HOW much to spend?

OK, while we’re all going barking mad because of the movement to curtail pork in the federal budget, and while also hearing calls from all over the ideological map to take some of that money being spent on pet projects and give it to the disaster relief allocation that congress and Bush decided on, we should all sit back and remember that just throwing a number out, like say 62 billion dollars, is not really that productive for a few reasons.

One is that you need to come up with the money somehow.  This isn’t chump change.  It’s almost twice the budget of the entire Homeland Security Department.  You either take the funds from other programs, you raise the taxes, or you borrow it.  The latter two being the less desirable options.

Two is that with that amount of money, you can't just spend it in a few weeks, so perhaps you can allocate money in pieces instead of all at once.  You say you are going to spend 62 billion dollars because politically it sounds generous and leader-like, but there's no way you can spend it right away.  You ever tried to spend 62 billion dollars?

Three is that you may not really need all that money, and even then aid workers and government officials are going to struggle to find ways to spend it.  Take this report from the Wall Street Journal (hat tip Instapundit) about how much of the money has been spent or allocated already.  About a quarter of it.

      "When you look at the $62 billion and how much is actually making it to the state, it's such a small percentage that it's really disappointing," says Denise Bottcher, a spokeswoman for Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

Oh, yeah, it’s really disappointing that so much money isn’t being spent on you, whether you need it or not.  I wonder what’s going to become of the rest of that 62 billion.  Will it get spent?  How will it get spent?   Will anyone be paying attention by the time it does get spent?

People working in the government tend to spend up to their limit, regardless of need, just to prove that they needed the money in the first place (and often to justify more money next time).  This is not a good precedent to set, and the feds should think a bit harder about how much money they really need to reconstruct the gulf coast and New Orleans.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Coburn in flames

Update on the Coburn amendments from yesterday.  I noted that Instapundit was a bit confused about Senators shooting down the amendment in question.  Apparently there are several amendments up for discussion.  The one mentioned in my previous post has not come up yet.  Three of them just got shot down.

      The U.S. Senate voted 86-13 against three anti-pork spending amendments offered by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK. The Coburn amendments would have repealed $500,000 previously authorized for a sculpture park in Seattle, Washington, $200,000 to build an animal shelter in Westerly, RI, and $200,000 to build a parking lot in Omaha, Nebraska, and re-directed the funds to help pay instead for Hurricane Katrina recovery.

Tapscott also has a list of all the Senators voting Yea (shooting down the amendments) and nea.
Sadly, both of my Senators are on the Yea list.

Update:  AP article reporting that the amendment to divert the money from the Alaska bridge to the New Orleans repairs was defeated 85-15.

This was also interesting:

      The Senate later rejected the Coburn measure, 82-15. It also turned down a Stevens counterproposal to hold up spending for all bridges around the country until the Louisiana bridge is funded, by 61-33.

So I guess there’s no option that the majority of Senators like that takes money away from their states, even if only temporarily.

Senator Stevens speaks:

      But in the tradition-bound Senate, Coburn was taking on an unwritten rule that one senator does not attack the projects sought by another.

      "I've been here now almost 37 years," Stevens said. "This is the first time I have seen any attempt of any senator to treat my state in a way different from any other state."

      "I don't kid people," he said. If the Senate decides ... to take money from our state, I will resign from this body."

No great loss if you do though.  Basically, what I’m hearing in that first statement (above unwritten rule) is that Senators idea of what is important to them is not subject to the scrutiny of their peers in the Senate.  Even if that goal is not beneficial to the nation as a whole? 

So the federally funded sculpture park in Washington is necessary just because Patty Murray says it is?

      (Coburn) riled his fellow Republicans earlier in the day when he went after several far smaller projects, one a $500,000 sculpture park in Washington, the home state of Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the subcommittee overseeing the spending bill.

      "We have very different philosophies on how we serve our country," Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., the chairman of the subcommittee, said in reproaching Coburn for questioning the decisions of other senators on what projects are important to their states. The Senate voted 86-13 against that amendment.

Apparently so.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Coburn Amendment

I am very interested in the Coburn amendment that was voted on in the Senate.  The amendment would have steered the money away from the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska to repairs on infrastructure in Louisiana.

If you follow the link above, the person there says that the amendment passed.  But today Instapundit declares that the Senate rejected the amendment!  Who is correct here?

Why is it that Google has NO NEWS about this whatsoever?  Is the press really ignoring this completely?

Meanwhile, it seems that Powerline is claiming that Sen. Patty Murray (whom the link above has as voting no for the amendment) said that any Senators who vote for the amendment, we on the Appropriations Committee will take a “long, hard look” at any projects in your state.

Doesn’t that sound like mafia racket talk to you?

Also, note in the link above, where it claims that the amendment passed, the variety of Republicans AND Democrats opposed to it.  Definitely a bi-partisan crime.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Truth in Legislating

In the heat of the battle over pork in congress (or rather, the battle is between those outside of congress and those inside), the suggestion comes again that we should have some amendments under consideration.  One being a balanced budget amendment and one being a Truth in Legislation amendment.

The balanced budget amendment is unfortunate.  Like all people and companies there are times when you absolutely must spend more than you have.  Emergencies, buying a house, making that critical investment on infrastructure.   It’s unfortunate that our congressmen and women, over the past several decades, have abuse that need so that we have perpetually been in debt.

Some of that debt is not a bad thing.  There always will be a bit of debt in the form of government bonds, and bonds are one of the things that keeps the stock market from careening off in one direction or another.

Credit agencies determine part of your score by what percentage of your credit limit is currently in use.   How much debt are you in vs. how much space there is on your card.  Another measure might be: how much money do you owe vs. how much you make.

How’s the fed doing on either of these standards?
And considering that their “income” is actually your money and mine, frivolous spending even within a sensible budget is irresponsible. 

So, as I said, a balanced budget amendment might be necessary, but it’s unfortunate.
However, a truth in legislation amendment might be more useful, and has no real downsides that I can determine.  It might not, however, stop pork in its tracks, just make it easier to see the frivolous spending.  For instance, the transportation bill that just passed, if all the spending was for roadways and transportation related projects, then it would all be one subject and allowed in the bill.  However some of those transportation projects are things that the fed shouldn’t be doing.  And some are patently useless.

Jon Henke has some interesting ideas for controlling government spending.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Condi Rice - World Tour

This week she was in Central Asia, and apparently took their leaders to task publicly.

      U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stops the Kazakh leader in his tracks and gestures to reporters during their press conference in Astana, October 13, 2005. Condoleezza chased down Nazarbayev after their opening remarks. She stopped him in his tracks and brought him back to the stage to answer questions!... Not exactly the sort of thing Nazarbayev is used to,... on many fronts!

One of the questions was regarding the Nazarbayev’s tendency to put relatives in offices and arrest opposition members.  The question was, “What evidence is there that you are anything more than a dictator?”  I’m certain he was running from stage because of this possibility.

I’m impressed with Condi, though, that she would take the initiative to put this guy in his place by not letting him get away.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Totten v. Hezbollah

Michael Totten, astute Portland blogger, has been working in Lebanon for a week or so now and plans on living and writing from there for the next few months.  If you are interested on how things are going generally there, you should read the posts.  It’s kind of like having a Michael Yon in Beirut.

He recently took a trip into Hezbollah country and found, not a bloodthirsty den of chaos for any non-Palestinian entering there, but an English press office.

He promises a full account of that encounter later, so be tuned.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Spamming my blog

I added the extra security, provided by Blogger, on my comments section. People leaving comments should have to enter the text string shown in order to leave a comment.
Every comment I get is forwarded to my Email, so I get to hear from you all. Don't think you are leaving stealth comments! But lately my inbox was full of comments saying things like, "Really enjoyed your blog! Come check out mine at" Usually their sites had something to sell. Got real tiring, real fast.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Open Primaries

Once again, you all have probably noticed that I haven’t been too active, verbally.  I tend to come hot and cold, especially if I’m busy and/or out of town a lot.  It’s been a bit of both lately, but I’ve kept up a bit on reading. 

Sometimes when I don’t post for a while, it’s because I have a topic that I really want to consider for a while, and I can’t post on other things while I’m into that moment.

This week it’s been the upcoming debate and political push for open primaries in Oregon. 

I read this article in Willamette Week called Come One, Come All last week and it set my marbles working.

      Under the current system, your party registration determines which ballot you receive. Republicans get a ballot listing Republican candidates; Democrats choose among Democrats. If you're an independent, you can't choose in partisan primaries. An open primary would eliminate the notion that each party can select one candidate to advance to the general election. In an open primary, all voters receive an identical ballot that lists all candidates of any party. Voters can vote for whomever they want, with the top two vote-getters advancing to the general election.

I have been registered as an independent for as long as I can remember.  I really have felt that I didn’t want to identify myself with any one party, and in truth I try to listen to all candidates and keep my mind open.  I have occasionally voted Democrat, Libertarian and even others.  But I tend to vote Republican, and I finally broke down and registered as such, because I HATE not being able to vote and affect the primary election. 

More than once in the last 10 or 15 years I’ve uttered the cliché where I’ve felt like I was voting the lesser of two evils, not the candidate I really liked.  Mostly that’s because the primaries deliver candidates that the more extreme portions of each party can identify with, but the majority of Americans cannot.

Enter open primaries.  Brainchild of a Democrat, no less.

      The Open Primary campaign is a pet project of former Oregon Secretary of State Phil Keisling. "I think the current system is broken," Keisling says. "The problem is an excess of partisanship that is amplified through a system that is of our own choosing and making."

      The fact that it's the party faithful who turn out for primaries, he says, means general-election voters are often left choosing between what he calls representatives of "the passionate periphery."

What I just said.
Who doesn’t like this idea?

      Neel Pender, the state Democratic Party chair, wrote in postings on Blue Oregon that open primaries are" a gimmick," and he disputes the idea that it will generate more moderate general-election candidates.

Actually, I challenge Mr. Pender to prove that it won’t produce more moderate candidates.  I’ll definitely be choosing the more moderate candidate from either party.  What happens when all those independents finally get to choose who they like from the entire field of Democrats or Republicans?

       Critics say open primaries would only raise the already-growing price of campaigns because candidates would face the additional expense of getting their message out to all voters, not just party members, in the primary. They say that reaching out to everyone also would produce watered-down policy stances, designed to appeal to everyone but satisfying no one.

Whatever, and you think that doesn’t happen now?  The candidates have to appeal to the broader market at some point, this just forces it a bit early.  Call it sharpening your principles for the primary, and you don’t look like such a flopper come general election time.

The folks at BlueOregon don’t seem to like it.
And this editorial over at the Oregonian thinks that it will promote apathy or something.  But I’m not convinced at either of the arguments.

How to: for Democrats

Haven’t thought about what Democrats need to do to get back control of Washington for a while now.  In some ways I don’t care if they figure it out or not, but I don’t think that I’ll be voting Republican forever, so I observe the other parties, with emphasis on the Dems, and wonder when that time will come.  After all, the Democrats were the party of the evangelical Christian back in the 60s, why not again 30 years from now?

But for now they have some things to get over.

      Instead of arguing from principles, and letting policies emerge, liberals tend to want to argue policy. I think this is partly institutional - liberals tend to come from places where policy is actively studied, argued, or practiced. Ideas are usually expressed in policy - it's not concrete otherwise.

      As soon as Kevin & I started discussing it, his issue was: "What would the winning policies be?" (and my responses, when pinned down like that, were relatively lame - as you can see on his blog).

      It's the wrong question.
      The issue in politics ought to be "what are the principles" and "why do I trust you to carry them out?"

Voters don’t respond well to large policies, as we can see where that has gotten us in the past.  They respond well to principles, however, and you can see that in election campaigns where candidates that win usually have very simple, but value driven, principles.   Bush is like that, but it doesn’t limit itself to any party or ideology.

      The arcane and complex policies we suggest - like the 'kludge' that Hillarycare represented - are suspect by the American people, not because they aren't smart enough to understand them, but because they are smart enough to be suspicious of this kind of effort. The track record for grand policy just isn't very good. And average people may want more accessible health care, but they also don't like the idea of Tom DeLay or Hillary walking into the Congressional clinic while they fill out the fiftieth copy of a nine-page form for the third time in order to see a specialist.

Oh, yes.  And stopping the constant barrage of criticism of the Bush administration for long enough to get those principles out would be a pre-requisite.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Not a car add, really (unless you read the comments)

Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t posted on anything for an entire week, which has got to be a record.  Most of you probably haven’t, as I don’t think all but a handful of people even read this blog with any regularity (self degrading statement requirement, sorry).

And don’t be fooled by the sudden prevalence of comments in my more recent posts.  I seem to be getting comment spam!  Is there nothing lower than spamming one’s blog comments?!?

But just in case you were wondering, I have been out of town at a conference designed to enlighten those in my profession, that of a GIS Analyst, what the heck is being done by other GIS folks in the northwestern US of A. 

Note:  Don’t go to the conference site above unless you enjoy perusing the websites of technical user groups to find out what they do at small out of the way conferences.  I wouldn’t want you falling asleep at your desk.  I would feel responsible for all the bruises from heads hitting the keyboards.

On the way I rented a car to transport me toward the east side of the Cascades, and I have been impressed by the engineering within.  It was Dodge’s newest Charger, muscle car reborn. 

Now, this is not an official review of a car, I am not an engineer (and don’t play one on TV), so I couldn’t tell you about the engine, other than it was a V-6, nor the other components.  But I can tell you that it drove wonderfully.  I haven’t had as comfortable ride since I rented an Infinity (got lucky at Enterprise that time), and the steering and handling rivaled most cars I’ve tried out as well.

The power was not what I would have expected from such a high powered engine (250 hp says the official site), but one thing I’ve seen with American trucks and sedans is that they are heavy, not built with that pansy fiberglass and metal, but solid.  The engine felt powerful, like I could pull a trailer with the thing and not feel it, but it wasn’t really evident off the line.

I had no trouble going up and over the passes on Hwy 26.  Didn’t even feel the up-hills.  The cabin is pretty quiet too.  Gas mileage is comparable to the Nissan Altima we own currently.

All for about $25 grand.  If I wasn’t in a serious way going to get a truck next, and if I was having a mid-life crisis, I would totally consider this car.