Wotka World Wide

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Al Franken steals an election. Don't expect me to call him Senator. More:

The Minnesota Supreme Court yesterday declared Democrat Al Franken the winner of last year's disputed Senate race, and Republican incumbent Norm Coleman's gracious concession at least spares the state any further legal combat. The unfortunate lesson is that you don't need to win the vote on Election Day as long as your lawyers are creative enough to have enough new or disqualified ballots counted after the fact.

Mr. Franken trailed Mr. Coleman by 725 votes after the initial count on election night, and 215 after the first canvass. The Democrat's strategy from the start was to manipulate the recount in a way that would discover votes that could add to his total. The Franken legal team swarmed the recount, aggressively demanding that votes that had been disqualified be added to his count, while others be denied for Mr. Coleman.

But the team's real goldmine were absentee ballots, thousands of which the Franken team claimed had been mistakenly rejected. While Mr. Coleman's lawyers demanded a uniform standard for how counties should re-evaluate these rejected ballots, the Franken team ginned up an additional 1,350 absentees from Franken-leaning counties. By the time this treasure hunt ended, Mr. Franken was 312 votes up, and Mr. Coleman was left to file legal briefs.

Wow, that didn't take long. Barney Frank is already advocating for loosening standards at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, since they tightened them after the collapse of the credit markets nine months ago. It's like he has no idea what helped cause the collapse in the first place...
Spring Cleaning in Washington, from Philip K. Howard at The Atlantic:
Just a few months ago, members of Congress took turns wagging their fingers at CEOs of the automakers for not making tough choices--not shedding "legacy costs," not making products consumers wanted, not cutting bloated bureaucracies. Detroit had become self-referential, unable to compete because it was unwilling to deal with its internal constituents.

Now Washington faces a series of domestic crises that will shape the health of our society for decades--unaffordable healthcare, balkanized financial regulation, and a mind-boggling deficit, to name three. But Washington will likely fail--indeed, may even make the problems worse--unless it deals with its own "legacy costs" and bloated bureaucracies, which currently make it impossible to achieve new focus and efficiencies.

Detroit is Google compared to Washington. Year after year, Congress makes laws but almost never repeals them. Washington is like a huge monument to legacy costs. Laws from the Depression will send tens of billions in unnecessary subsidies this year to farmers, organized labor and other groups thought to be in need--80 years ago. Bloat is also notorious--it's nearly impossible to fire anyone under civil service laws, so layers of middle management have grown exponentially. Professor Paul Light found 32 levels in some agencies (compared to 5 levels in most well-run enterprises).

All this accumulated law--about 300,000 pages of federal statutes and regulations--operates as a form of central planning. It bogs people down in bureaucracy. In healthcare, the labyrinthian requirements of Medicare, Medicaid, HIPAA, plus the equally dense, and often conflicting requirements of 50 states, plus the insurance company red tape, make it impossible for people to deliver care efficiently. Add to that bureaucratic nightmare the ever-present fear of being hauled into court whenever a sick person gets sicker, and you have a system that looks like it was designed for frustration and waste. (See here for principles needed to climb out of this rut.)

The inertial forces that make it hard to achieve change in Washington, in the best of circumstances, become a kind of invincible fortress when reinforced by thousands upon thousands of pages of binding law. Each of those provisions is zealously guarded by special interest groups, and changing any word of a statute requires the votes of 218 members of the House and (generally) 60 senators.

Faced with legions of special interests, Congress is trying to fix healthcare by piling new requirements on top of the old ones. But this won't address the underlying problems of efficiency, any more than it could in Detroit. To restore focus and efficiency, Congress must first clean out what's there--not to eliminate the goals of existing regulation but to put them in a coherent framework that real people can understand and internalize.

Dealing with the sclerosis of accumulated regulation, however, is not something our leaders have any experience with. Most of the historic legal reforms of the past century were written on a new slate. The Progressives at the turn of the 19th century imposed worker safety and food safety laws to fill the regulatory void of laissez-faire. Roosevelt's New Deal provided social safety nets where there were none, and job programs in agencies that didn't exist before. The civil rights movement led to laws against discrimination where there were none.
Read the whole thing. Via Instapundit.

Monday, June 29, 2009

US announces shift in Afghan drug policy. They will be encouraging alternate crop growth instead of just trying to eradicate opium growth. It will be interesting to see if this shift works, as the old policy had lost effectiveness and a different strategy was needed.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A shocking tally from the AP regarding the "winners and losers in the climate bill." I don't really see any winners from their analysis, other than possibly a few select utilities that worked hand in hand with Congress to craft provisions that don't hurt them too bad. Consumers will just have all the costs passed on to them, with higher fuel prices, higher food costs, higher energy costs and higher costs for any item that requires manufacturing and/or transportation:

Anyone who pays an electric bill would likely feel the impact of climate legislation. Utilities will try to raise rates as they invest in cleaner-yet-more-expensive energy sources. Some have already announced plans to do so. Petroleum companies also may try to import more of their refined gas and heating oil from countries with no carbon law, which will raise costs.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and the Environmental Protection Agency both issued estimates of how the climate bill would affect energy costs.

The CBO estimated the cost at $175 a year for the average household. The EPA forecasts $80 to $110 a year.

The American Petroleum Institute disputed both estimates, saying the bill could cost the average household up to $3,300 by 2020.

"That is more than a few postage stamps," API President Jack Gerard said in a slap at Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass. Markey has compared new energy costs to a postage stamp per day.

The WSJ does a nice job of demonstrating the sheer ridiculousness of the CBO estimates here:

The biggest doozy in the CBO analysis was its extraordinary decision to look only at the day-to-day costs of operating a trading program, rather than the wider consequences energy restriction would have on the economy. The CBO acknowledges this in a footnote: "The resource cost does not indicate the potential decrease in gross domestic product (GDP) that could result from the cap."

The hit to GDP is the real threat in this bill. The whole point of cap and trade is to hike the price of electricity and gas so that Americans will use less. These higher prices will show up not just in electricity bills or at the gas station but in every manufactured good, from food to cars. Consumers will cut back on spending, which in turn will cut back on production, which results in fewer jobs created or higher unemployment. Some companies will instead move their operations overseas, with the same result.

These costs will be borne disproportionally by lower income earners, and these costs constitute a large portion of their total expenditures. All for a system that has not achieved any significant reductions wherever it has been implemented, (for example the UK), and has even been rescinded due to the burdens imposed on everyday people and businesses (in Australia and New Zealand). And who is getting the helping hand from Congress? Not the poor, that is for certain. Instead, multi-billion dollar utilities are getting the breaks. So that they can pass their cost increases on to consumers.

This issue isn't even about science anymore, it is about advocacy. You have the EPA suppressing their own studies that don't fully support their political objectives. Many of the scientists behind the UN climate change study have noted that their work was misrepresented. The world temperature has fallen for two straight years, so it was imperative for Democrats to ram this legislation through before the consensus against it grew too large. Hopefully the Senate will be able to put the brakes on what will otherwise be the largest tax increase in American history.

All this for a feel good solution that hasn't worked anywhere it has been tried. And to directly financially benefit major players in the new carbon offset industry like Al Gore and Nancy Pelosi, who each stand to make millions. Meanwhile, businesses that will suffer the most under this tax scheme, notably refiners, will simply shift production offshore, where they can pollute even more under looser environmental regulations abroad, while raising their cost to consumers of petroleum products here. All this matches the long term goals of Obama and the Democrats, which is to drastically raise the price of gasoline so consumers are forced to buy the new high mpg cars that GM and Chrysler will be forced to produce. This is what America gets when they give a blank check to socialist Democrats like Obama and Pelosi. Hopefully when our economy still sucks in 2010 and 2012 they will realize the error of their ways. Still, that is a long way off... The Republicans would do well to demonstrate that they are turning into the real advocates for the lower classes in this country.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The WSJ has a great look at recent developments in the Iraqi oil industry, particularly the auctioning of contracts to oil companies to help boost oil production. Also a strong refutation of the war for oil hypothesis, as these are open bids with a range of international companies.

The history of the head of the Iraqi Oil Ministry, Mr. Shahristani, is especially interesting and heart-wrenching. Apparently, the guy was originally a nuclear scientist, but refused to help Saddam develop nukes, even after torture, and was locked up in solitary confinement for ten years, until he managed to escape during Gulf War I. Now, he serves to help his country, and the biggest knock on him is "he is too straight and clean." Sounds like the perfect man for the job. Read the whole thing.
One man's experience with Canadian government run health care. He got cancer at age 30, but has been fighting the system to get the treatment he needs because of mistakes and cost-cutting measures enacted by the health care bureaucracy. Hopefully some of these Democrats in Congress will continue to maintain their sanity, or we could be facing similar measures here in a short while, if Obama has his way.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A report on the differing media takes on the golfing habits of our current President, versus his predecessor, who was mercilessly lambasted for the enjoying same hobby that Obama currently enjoys about once a week (and even more so when he gave it up). But there is absolutely no media bias in this country!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Why is the Obama Administration firing Inspector Generals? Especially one charged with making sure the stimulus money is properly spent. Cover-up, anyone?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A prime example of slanted reporting from Reuters: "Climate change blamed for Caribbean coral deaths." The piece cites a study that blames man-made climate change for the destruction of Caribbean reefs, then goes on to list a variety of other factors that account for the majority of the coral loss. Among them:

The degradation of Caribbean reefs is not entirely linked to climate change, with disease killing about 90 percent of Elkhorn and Staghorn Corals in the 1970s, but a second period of coral destruction is now under way.

New damage is typified by "coral bleaching," which occurs when the tiny organisms that build coral reefs become stressed and abandon their colonies.

"We suggest that the last period of decline is partly due to climate change, but also due to several other human impacts such as over-fishing and coastal development," Alvarez said. "In future, we'll need to change our behavior and reduce the stress on the reefs."

Never let the facts get in the way of a sensationalist headline though.

The Myth of Cuban Health Care, from Jay Nordlinger. This piece is from 2007, but is a good reminder of what utter and complete b.s. Michael Moore's film is. An excerpt:
To be sure, there is excellent health care on Cuba — just not for ordinary Cubans. Dr. Jaime Suchlicki of the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies explains that there is not just one system, or even two: There are three. The first is for foreigners who come to Cuba specifically for medical care. This is known as “medical tourism.” The tourists pay in hard currency, which provides oxygen to the regime. And the facilities in which they are treated are First World: clean, well supplied, state-of-the-art.

The foreigners-only facilities do a big business in what you might call vanity treatments: Botox, liposuction, and breast implants. Remember, too, that there are many separate, or segregated, facilities on Cuba. People speak of “tourism apartheid.” For example, there are separate hotels, separate beaches, separate restaurants — separate everything. As you can well imagine, this causes widespread resentment in the general population.

The second health-care system is for Cuban elites — the Party, the military, official artists and writers, and so on. In the Soviet Union, these people were called the “nomenklatura.” And their system, like the one for medical tourists, is top-notch.

Then there is the real Cuban system, the one that ordinary people must use — and it is wretched. Testimony and documentation on the subject are vast. Hospitals and clinics are crumbling. Conditions are so unsanitary, patients may be better off at home, whatever home is. If they do have to go to the hospital, they must bring their own bedsheets, soap, towels, food, light bulbs — even toilet paper. And basic medications are scarce. In Sicko, even sophisticated medications are plentiful and cheap. In the real Cuba, finding an aspirin can be a chore. And an antibiotic will fetch a fortune on the black market.

A nurse spoke to Isabel Vincent of Canada’s National Post. “We have nothing,” said the nurse. “I haven’t seen aspirin in a Cuban store here for more than a year. If you have any pills in your purse, I’ll take them. Even if they have passed their expiry date.”

The equipment that doctors have to work with is either antiquated or nonexistent. Doctors have been known to reuse latex gloves — there is no choice. When they travel to the island, on errands of mercy, American doctors make sure to take as much equipment and as many supplies as they can carry. One told the Associated Press, “The [Cuban] doctors are pretty well trained, but they have nothing to work with. It’s like operating with knives and spoons.”

And doctors are not necessarily privileged citizens in Cuba. A doctor in exile told the Miami Herald that, in 2003, he earned what most doctors did: 575 pesos a month, or about 25 dollars. He had to sell pork out of his home to get by. And the chief of medical services for the whole of the Cuban military had to rent out his car as a taxi on weekends. “Everyone tries to survive,” he explained. (Of course, you can call a Cuban with a car privileged, whatever he does with it.)

So deplorable is the state of health care in Cuba that old-fashioned diseases are back with a vengeance. These include tuberculosis, leprosy, and typhoid fever. And dengue, another fever, is a particular menace. Indeed, an exiled doctor named Dessy Mendoza Rivero — a former political prisoner and a spectacularly brave man — wrote a book called ¡Dengue! La Epidemia Secreta de Fidel Castro.

Read the whole thing.

George Will tells the dirty little secrets of government run health care:
"[T] this is now a single issue argument about whether or not we’re on a slippery slope to a single-payer system. That is, it’s about the so-called public option. And the president has said, “If you are starting from scratch” -- he said this very recently -- he would go to a single payer. That is, government as the single provider of health care.

Now, there are four arguments for the public option. One is, in the president’s words, it will keep them honest. To try to preserve the government as a lagoon of honesty, you can argue, refuted by anybody who reads any budget of any administration.

Second, he says, it will play by the same rules as the private insurers, and therefore, won’t drive them out of business. If you play by the same rules, as you said to the secretary, what’s the point?

Third, it’s necessary to give what Secretary Sebelius said a choice to the consumers. There are 1,300 entities offering healthcare plans in this country. Another one isn’t going to change that.
[Y]ou talk about the 46, 47 million uninsured. Fourteen million of them are already eligible for other government programs and haven’t signed up. Ten million are in households with household incomes of $75,000 a year and could afford it if they wanted to.

Furthermore, an enormous number in that 47 million are not American citizens. Sixty percent of the uninsured in San Francisco are not citizens."

Thanks George.

Monday, June 15, 2009

America's 'Bermuda solution' for some Uigher detainees angers Britain. I thought we were supposed to be repairing all those damaged ties abroad? Look for more of this as the government sends Guantanamo prisoners all over the world.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Minnesota woman who lost an RIAA lawsuit goes back for seconds. This time with a bad-ass new legal team. Sounds like fun to me! An example of their tactics:

But the defense did manage to create at least a headache for the music labels by demanding that they produce certified copies from the U.S. Copyright Office of the copyrights on the 24 tracks in question, to prove they really do own the songs.

The industry's lawyers were caught by surprise, having gotten by with uncertified copies during the first trial. Although music companies told Davis this past Monday they weren't sure they could get certified copies in time for the new trial, Davis reminded them that they had the burden of proving they owned the copyrights. Camara said he'll seek dismissal of the case if the plaintiffs fail that test.

Wish these guys had been around when this all started.

The AP has a look at some of the conflicts of interest for Senators writing the health care reform bill and their ties to the industry. Most notable is Chris Dodd, D-CT:
The wife of Sen. Chris Dodd, the lawmaker in charge of writing the Senate's bill, sits on the boards of four health care companies.

Jackie Clegg Dodd, wife of the Connecticut Democrat, is on the boards of Javelin Pharmaceuticals Inc., Cardiome Pharma Corp., Brookdale Senior Living and Pear Tree Pharmaceuticals.

Dodd is filling in for ailing Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which will soon start work on a health care bill.

Other publicly available documents show Mrs. Dodd last year was one of the most highly compensated non-employee members of the Javelin Pharmaceuticals Inc. board, on which she has served since 2004. She earned $32,000 in fees and $109,587 in stock option awards last year, according to the company's SEC filings.

Mrs. Dodd earned $79,063 in fees from Cardiome in its last fiscal year, while Brookdale Senior Living gave her $122,231 in stock awards in 2008, their SEC filings show. She earned no income from her post as a director for Pear Tree Pharmaceuticals but holds up to $15,000 in stock in Pear Tree, which describes itself as a development-stage pharmaceutical company focused on the needs of aging women.

Also of note is Jay Rockefeller, D-WV:

Rockefeller is honorary chairman of the Alliance for Health Reform, a Washington nonprofit whose board includes representatives from the UnitedHealth Group health insurance company; AFL-CIO labor union; the AARP, which sells health insurance; St. John Health, a nonprofit health system that includes seven hospitals and 125 medical facilities in southeast Michigan; CIGNA Corp., an employer-sponsored benefits company; and the United Hospital Fund of New York.

They try and finger some of the Republicans in the Senate, but their ties consist almost entirely of small stockholder stakes in health care and pharmaceutical companies. Oh, and Tom Coburn is a practicing physician. Seems to me a bit different order of magnitude from Dodd and Rockefeller and their connections to industry boards, and the fact that Dodd is basically writing the bill. Hasn't Dodd screwed up enough of our country already? 2010 can't come soon enough for me!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Backward steps in the War on Terror: Reading terrorism detainees their Miranda rights. We really have moved back to a pre-9/11 mentality.

Best line: "[T]he administration has also made a rhetorical shift that signals the war is not viewed the way it once was. It refers to the battlefield as the "overseas contingency operation" and officials often refrain from using the term "terrorism" in public addresses."

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Skepticism about Obama's job claims, at the WSJ:

Mr. Obama's comments yesterday are a perfect illustration of just such a claim. In the months since Congress approved the stimulus, our economy has lost nearly 1.6 million jobs and unemployment has hit 9.4%. Invoke the magic words, however, and -- presto! -- you have the president claiming he has "saved or created" 150,000 jobs. It all makes for a much nicer spin, and helps you forget this is the same team that only a few months ago promised us that passing the stimulus would prevent unemployment from rising over 8%.

It's not only former Bush staffers such as Messrs. Fratto and Mankiw who have noted the political convenience here. During a March hearing of the Senate Finance Committee, Chairman Max Baucus challenged Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on the formula.

"You created a situation where you cannot be wrong," said the Montana Democrat. "If the economy loses two million jobs over the next few years, you can say yes, but it would've lost 5.5 million jobs. If we create a million jobs, you can say, well, it would have lost 2.5 million jobs. You've given yourself complete leverage where you cannot be wrong, because you can take any scenario and make yourself look correct."