Archive:

March 2010, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Are Greens Less Virtuous?  That's what a Canadian study found.
Do Green Products Make Us Better People is published in the latest edition of the journal Psychological Science.   Its authors, Canadian psychologists Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong, argue that people who wear what they call the "halo of green consumerism" are less likely to be kind to others, and more likely to cheat and steal.  "Virtuous acts can license subsequent asocial and unethical behaviours," they write.

The pair found that those in their study who bought green products appeared less willing to share with others a set amount of money than those who bought conventional products.  When the green consumers were given the chance to boost their money by cheating on a computer game and then given the opportunity to lie about it — in other words, steal — they did, while the conventional consumers did not.  Later, in an honour system in which participants were asked to take money from an envelope to pay themselves their spoils, the greens were six times more likely to steal than the conventionals.
So if you think that Prius drivers are, on the average, less polite than the average driver, you may be right.

The authors of the study were surprised by this finding.  They speculate that behaving well in one area gives some people licenses to misbehave in other areas.  I am more inclined to think that a higher percentage of Greens are unpleasant people, as James Taranto argues.  Both could be true, of course.

(Perhaps in their next study the psychologists will compare the Greens to devout Christians and Jews.)
- 2:35 PM, 16 March 2010   [link]


Robert Samuelson Is Getting Exasperated With Obama:  Samuelson shows that exasperation in this column, where Samuelson accuses Obama of peddling simplicities and distortions.

Samuelson ends with these three paragraphs:
Unless we change the fee-for-service system, costs will remain hard to control because providers are paid more for doing more.  Obama might have attempted that by proposing health-care vouchers (limited amounts to be spent on insurance), which would force a restructuring of delivery systems to compete on quality and cost.   Doctors, hospitals and drug companies would have to reorganize care.  Obama refrained from that fight and instead cast insurance companies as the villains.

He's telling people what they want to hear, not what they need to know.  Whatever their sins, insurers are mainly intermediaries; they pass along the costs of the delivery system.  In 2009, the largest 14 insurers had profits of roughly $9 billion; that approached 0.4 percent of total health spending of $2.472 trillion.  This hardly explains high health costs.  What people need to know is that Obama's plan evades health care's major problems and would worsen the budget outlook.  It's a big new spending program when government hasn't paid for the spending programs it already has.

"If not now, when?  If not us, who?"  Obama asks.  The answer is: It's not now, and it's not "us."  Pass or not, Obama's proposal is the illusion of "reform," not the real thing.
And the provisions that Pelosi and company are cooking up in secret may make it even worse.

(Samuelson's colleague at the Post, Fred Hiatt, should study this column to see if he can find any evidence that Obama has formulated a rational solution to our complex problems of health insurance.)
- 10:34 AM, 16 March 2010   [link]


The Washington Post believes that the "Health-reform vote deserves a reasonable process".  The Post doesn't like the "Slaughter solution", and they are even more unhappy about the haste and secrecy.
More worrying is that Congress and the country have yet to see the changes, for which Democrats hope to win quick House approval and which they then hope to speed through the Senate under a procedure that would bar filibusters.  These changes -- the so-called reconciliation bill -- are not all minor "fixes"; some could have far-reaching consequences.  Such changes deserve to be fully understood and debated before they are voted on.  The speaker's office says the week-long "conversation" that Nancy Pelosi promised to have with members is taking place and that they are waiting for the final word from the Congressional Budget Office before releasing the package; in any event, they say, lawmakers and the public will have 72 hours to consider the changes.   But why be so secretive about it?  Any number of measures -- including versions of the health-care bill itself -- have been unveiled without CBO scores.
It's as if Pelosi and company have something to hide.

(Not to be obsessive about it, but I think a better description for ObamaCare is health insurance "reform".  It's "reform", rather than reform because it takes what is worst about our current system, the high costs, the elaborate controls, and makes them worse.)
- 10:01 AM, 16 March 2010   [link]


Fred Hiatt Had A Bad Day:  that's the best explanation I can come up with for this strange column.

Three gems from the column:
Here's a theory about why President Obama is having a tough political time right now: He doesn't seem all that happy being president.
. . .
He did ask for this job; we didn't make him take it. And so it seems fair to ask: What part of it does he enjoy?  Formulating rational solutions to complex problems, for sure.
. . .
And here's what makes this so complicated:  The fact that Obama doesn't get a kick out of adoring throngs is one of the qualities that made him so appealing in the first place.  Unlike with Clinton, we never felt as though he needed us; he's a secure, self-confident adult.
The first and third are almost self-explanatory.  Obama is unhappy because he has a job which he can't do well, for all the reasons I gave last year.  He is so attached to those adoring crowds that he almost never misses a chance to appear before one.

The second requires more comment.  Hiatt, who is sharper than the average journalist, shares a belief common to many, probably most, "mainstream" journalists.  He thinks that Obama likes "Formulating rational solutions to complex problems, . . ."  There is almost no evidence for this widespread belief.   I can not, offhand, think of a single rational solution to a complex problem that Obama has formulated.  And I can think of many cases in which he has refused to see the complexity of a problem.  For example, and Hiatt should be familiar with this one, Obama has managed to botch, badly, relations with Israel — without getting anything in return from Israel, or even from its enemies.

There are many reasons for this failure, but one of the largest is Obama's refusal to take the time to study this problem and understand it thoroughly.  Like many adolescents, Obama would much rather play basketball and party than study, though he likes to pose as a cool intellectual.
- 7:11 AM, 16 March 2010   [link]


Turkish Anchor Babies:  Thousands of them every year.
If Bruce Springsteen's 1982 hit "Born in the USA" were to become popular again, the title might now refer to thousands of Turkish children whose parents are increasingly traveling to the United States to give birth.

According to tourism expert Gürkan Boztepe and media sources, 12,000 Turkish children have been born in the U.S. since 2003.  The numbers are significant enough to draw the attention of tourism companies and inspire them to pursue "birth tourism."
And that is in spite of the costs, which range from $25,000 to $40,000 for complete packages.

The number of Turkish anchor babies appears to be growing.  Apparently, many Turkish parents agree with the Turkish mother who says, "American citizenship has so many advantages."  True enough, but it would be better if those advantages were earned.

According to the last three paragraphs in the article, Britain and Australia had similar birthright citizenship laws, but gave them up in the 1980s.  India gave theirs up in 2004, because so many Pakistani and Bangladeshi parents were taking advantage of it.

(For the record:  I have long favored eliminating this kind of birthright citizenship, but fear that doing so would require a constitutional amendment.

The article doesn't say so, but I suspect that some of those families are doing this because they fear the increasing strength of Turkish Islamists.  An Islamic party, Justice and Development, came to power in 2003.)
- 2:42 PM, 15 March 2010   [link]


Fauxmomentum?  Tom Maguire thinks that Speaker Pelosi and company are bluffing about having enough votes to pass ObamaCare, bluffing even about being sure they will have the votes this week.
This is a transparent fauxmentum strategy.  The Dem leadership is looking at a small group of hard-core "No" votes, a large group of committed "Yes" votes (who will later feign surprise when the reconciliation effort falls apart in the Senate), and a swing group that does not want to vote on this at all because they don't want to lose their jobs, offend the leadership, or torpedo the Obama Administration.
I agree with Maguire, and want to add a note about the complexities of the negotiations now going on.   Consider a Democrat in that swing group.  Let's suppose that he won narrowly last time, while his district was voting for John McCain.  Let's further suppose that this congressman would like to stay in Congress but would be willing, even it meant his defeat, to vote for ObamaCare — if his vote was the final vote required to pass the measure.

The swing congressman is likely to reason as follows:  His best strategy is not to vote for the bill unless his is the 216th vote, unless his vote is absolutely necessary to pass the bill.  (And he will not want to commit early because the best payoffs will probably go to the congressmen who provide final few votes.)

If that were all there were to it, the congressman would wait until the very end of the voting (or until the issue is decided) to cast his vote.  If there are 215 votes for ObamaCare and he is the only congressman who hasn't voted, he votes yes; otherwise he votes no.

But that isn't all there is to it.  There will be other congressmen — we don't know how many — in exactly the same position he is in.  All would want to vote for ObamaCare only if necessary, but only one of them can be last.  If this were an ordinary vote, they might be able to resolve it by making a compact, by agreeing to act together, but it isn't an ordinary vote, and almost all of them are likely to believe that it would be better if the other congressmen sacrificed their political careers.

I don't see any simple way out of this dilemma, though I am sure that Pelosi and company are working hard to find one.  (And it is possible that many Democratic congressmen do not yet realize this vote may mean the end of their careers.)
- 1:30 PM, 15 March 2010   [link]


Your Premiums Could Fall By As Much As 3000 Percent:  Today, President Obama, trying hard to sell ObamaCare, made that promise.

Let's try an example to see how this would work.  If Obama were correct, and you were currently paying, for example, $10,000 a year for family coverage, a 100 percent cut would reduce your premiums to zero.   A 1000 percent cut would, I assume, mean that you would get a refund of $90,000 each year.  And a 3000 percent cut would give you a refund of $290,000 each year.

Like Michael Medved, who has been having some fun with this story, I would vote for Obama if he could actually deliver on that promise.

As I have said before, I'm not sure that Obama is very good with large numbers.

(To be fair, Obama is not saying that everyone, or even most people, would get such reductions.  But it is still amusing to hear him say that some people would.  It would be more amusing, of course, if he weren't president.)
- 12:36 PM, 15 March 2010
Here's the context:
Now, so let me talk about the third thing, which is my proposal would bring down the cost of health care for families, for businesses, and for the federal government.  So Americans buying comparable coverage to what they have today -- I already said this -- would see premiums fall by 14 to 20 percent -- that's not my numbers, that's what the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says -- for Americans who get their insurance through the workplace.  How many people are getting insurance through their jobs right now?  Raise your hands.  All right.   Well, a lot of those folks, your employer it's estimated would see premiums fall by as much as 3,000 percent [sic], which means they could give you a raise.  (Applause.)
Obama obviously meant to say 3000 dollars, not 3000 percent.  It is still odd that he didn't catch his mistake, and judging by the applause, few in the crowd caught it, either.

Obama's claim that his plan would cut insurance premiums is, to say the least, implausible.
- 7:56 AM, 16 March 2010   [link]


Worth Reading:  Debra Burlingame and Thomas Joscelyn have some essential background on the behavior of the "Gitmo" lawyers.

Samples:
We obtained Justice Department accounts of some of those incidents under a Freedom of Information Act request.  Examples included an incident in which a lawyer sent his detainee client the transcript of a virulently anti-American speech that compared military physicians to Joseph Mengele, the Nazi doctor of Auschwitz, called DOJ lawyers "desk torturers" and suggested that the "abuses carried out by U.S. forces at Abu Ghraib . . . could involve the President in the commission of war crimes."

Other incidents listed in the FOIA material included: a lawyer who was caught in the act of making a hand-drawn map of a detention camp's layout, including guard towers; a lawyer who sent a letter to his detainee client telling him that "we cannot depend on the military to do the right thing" and conveying his message of support to other detainees who were not his clients; lawyers who posted photos of Guantanamo security badges on the Internet; lawyers who provided news outlets with "interviews" of their clients using questions provided in advance by the news organization; and a lawyer who gave his client a list of all the detainees.
. . .
Ultimately, the government would reach a settlement with the Paul, Weiss lawyers.  Ms. Mason and her team were allowed to resume their trips to Guantanamo in May 2006.  But the DOJ's surrender emboldened the Gitmo bar even further.   Last August, the Washington Post reported that three lawyers defending Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his 9/11 co-conspirators showed their clients photographs of covert CIA officers in an attempt to identify the individuals who interrogated them after they were captured overseas.  Lawyers working for the John Adams Project, formed to support the legal team representing KSM and his cohorts, provided the defense attorneys with the photographs, according to the Post.  None of the attorneys under investigation were identified in the Post report.
It's lucky we aren't at war, or some people would consider some of those lawyers' actions treasonous.
- 10:04 AM, 15 March 2010   [link]


Another Diplomatic "Success" For The Obama Administration:  Our relations with Israel are the worst they have been in decades.
Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, has told the country's diplomats there that U.S.-Israeli relations face their worst crisis in 35 years, despite attempts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office to project a sense of "business as usual."

Oren was speaking to the Israeli consuls general in a conference call on Saturday night.
The Obama administration has managed to offend our Israel allies, while disappointing our Palestinian enemies.   Polls show that both sides now distrust him.  We are told, again and again, how intelligent Obama is — especially as compared to that dunderhead (and bookworm) George W. Bush.  But when you look at what Obama has done, in the Middle East, and elsewhere, you begin to wonder just how intelligent this man is.

(What should Obama have done?  Not raised Palestinian expectations, for one thing.  And not tried to negotiate in public for another.  And he should at least have considered the possibility that the Palestinians need to change more than the Israelis do.

For some examples of those polls, see here, here, and here.)
- 9:35 AM, 15 March 2010   [link]


Is The "Slaughter Solution" Constitutional?  Former federal judge Michael McConnell says no.  (You may have to get to the Wall Street Journal article indirectly, as I did.  Searching on "Michael McConnell" + "Slaughter solution" should take you there.  Or you can just buy a copy of the Journal, as I intend to do, later today.)
Democratic congressional leaders have floated a plan to enact health-care reform by a procedure dubbed "the Slaughter solution."  It is named not for the political carnage that it might inflict on their members, but for Rep. Louise Slaughter (D., N.Y.), chair of the powerful House Rules Committee, who proposed it.  Under her proposal, Democrats would pass a rule that deems the Senate's health-care bill to have passed the House, without the House actually voting on the bill.  This would enable Congress to vote on legislation that fixes flaws in the Senate health-care bill without facing a Senate filibuster, and without requiring House members to vote in favor of a Senate bill that is now politically toxic.

The Slaughter solution cannot be squared with Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution.
For a bill to become a law, it must be passed, in identical words, in both the House and the Senate.  The "Slaughter solution" attempts to bypass that fundamental requirement.

That minor problem may not deter the Democratic leaders from using the "Slaughter solution".  Many of our current Democratic leaders share the attitude of Tammany leader Tim Campbell, who once asked, rhetorically, "What's the constitution among friends?"

(By way of Jonathan Adler.   If you feeling a bit obsessive, you can also read this earlier discussion at the Volokh site.)
- 8:51 AM, 15 March 2010   [link]


Spring Forward:  But be a little more careful, because there is a little extra risk in the next few days from heart attacks and traffic accidents.

As I have said before, I think we ought to get rid of Daylight Savings Time.  The change in the spring imposes small costs on us, net, as far as I can tell.  (And we should make it easier for most people to set their own schedules, so those who benefit, or think they benefit, from Daylight Savings Time could have the advantages, if any, from it, without the rest of us paying the costs.)

Daylight Savings Time was imposed on the United States during World War I.  The war is over (we won), and we can afford to drop this particular war-time measure.
- 9:21 AM, 14 March 2010   [link]


Attorney General Holder Has The Memory Of A Donkey:  He forgot some of his Supreme Court briefs.
During his confirmation last year, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. failed to notify the Senate that he had signed several briefs urging courts to reject President George W. Bush's claim that he had the power to imprison an American citizen as an "enemy combatant," the Justice Department acknowledged Thursday.
The administration says the omission was inadvertent, but Republicans are suspicious.
But at a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which held the confirmation hearing, Republicans signaled that they were likely to attack Mr. Holder over his joining the briefs — and his failure to list them, along with other public documents, on a routine confirmation questionnaire — when he testifies before them later this month.

"Are we expected to believe that then-nominee Holder, with only a handful of Supreme Court briefs to his name, forgot about his role in one of this country's most publicized terrorism cases?" asked Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona.
Well, we all forget things from time to time, but one would think that most lawyers would remember their Supreme Court briefs.  That said, incompetence seems a more likely explanation for the omission than deception, if only because the omission was almost certain to be spotted, eventually.

(At 59, Holder is a little young to be suffering from Alzheimer's disease, though it sometimes strikes early.)
- 6:41 AM, 14 March 2010   [link]


Soon You'll Be Able To Buy Gecko Tape At Your Local Hardware Store:   Scientists long wondered how geckos could do tricks like the one shown on the right. gecko  Now that the scientists have figured it out — geckos have hair-like setae that use van der Waals forces to stick to almost everything — the scientists are planning to produce "gecko tape", not tape made out of geckos, but tape that uses the same trick geckos use.

The tape has some useful qualities:
Mr. [Kellar] Autumn and scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, were responsible for the research that enabled Mark Cutkosky, a professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford, to develop a prototype for a tape based on gecko adhesion. The tape, which is reusable, was so strong, Mr. Autumn said, that when they tested it, he was able to stick his 50-pound, 8-year-old daughter to a window with it.

That was a little more than two years ago; there are now at least 50 patent applications pending in gecko-adhesion technology, Mr. Autumn said, and he holds several patents himself.

"Imagine hanging a picture on the wall with reusable gecko tape that doesn't leave a residue or damage the wall — it's like a thumbtack, but doesn't leave a hole," he said.  "The technology is ready to move from research to development.  I think we are no more than three to five years from the first commercial products."
Gecko tape has many potential uses.  It might even be used in surgery.

(More here, including some videos.

And I should mention that the New York Times article is a useful guide to the kinds of tape that you can buy right now.)
- 12:55 PM, 13 March 2010   [link]


How High Would Income Tax Rates Have To Be To Cover The Obama-Pelosi-Reid Deficit?  The Tax Foundation did a quick static analysis and came up with an answer.  Individual income tax rates now range from 10 to 35 percent.  If you increased them proportionately enough to cover the OPR 2010 deficit, they would range from 24.3 to 84.9 percent, almost 2.5 times higher.  If you accept the Obama administration assumptions, the tax burden could slowly decline after 2010, but even in 2020, the tax rates would still have to be more than 1.4 times as high as they are currently.

That analysis assumes, of course, that these higher rates would not slow down the economy, and that individuals would not change their behavior, to earn less or to shelter more of their income from taxes.

By way of the Tax Prof.
- 10:26 AM, 13 March 2010   [link]


Driving In The US Is Safer Than Ever:  Trafic deaths fell nearly 9 percent last year.
The Transportation Department said Thursday that its projections show total traffic deaths declined nearly 9 percent in 2009 -- to 33,963.  That's the lowest toll since 1954.   In 2008, an estimated 37,261 people died on the roadways.

The newest numbers fit into a trend of steady decreases since 2005, when an estimated 43,510 people were killed.
. . .
The number of miles traveled by American drivers in 2009 grew by 6.6 billion, or 0.2 percent, according to preliminary data from the Federal Highway Administration.  But this follows a dip in vehicle miles traveled in 2008 and 2007, when the economy was tanking.

Still, safety officials say the rate of deaths per 100 million miles traveled also dropped to a record low.  It fell to 1.16 in 2009, compared with the previous record low of 1.25 the year before.
I blame George W. Bush.

More seriously, I wonder whether this story will get one tenth as much coverage as the Toyota gas pedal story has.  I doubt that it will.
- 1:04 PM, 12 March 2010   [link]


You Shouldn't Do This while driving.   (Warning: This story may be hard to explain to younger sprogs, but is so weird I just had to pass it on.)
- 9:30 AM, 12 March 2010   [link]


The Versatile HP D7560 Printer:  It isn't often that I recommend a product that I had to replace.  But I like this printer well enough so that I would recommend it in spite of having to replace the first one I bought.

The printer isn't for everyone.  If you want the very best quality photo prints, you are going to have to spend more money.  (Or take your memory card to a photo store.  I would rate the photos from the printer as having about 95-98 percent of the quality that you would get at a photo store)  It isn't an all-in-one, so if you want a scanner with your printer, you should look for a different model.  But if you want a budget printer that does a number of things very well, this would be a good choice.

Let me bring in an imaginary Jones family to show you how you can use the printer.  Mr. Jones gets up a little early on a weekday because he is driving to a business appointment with a new client.  He boots up the computer, uses a mapping program like the one in Bing, and then prints out the directions and the map.  (If you do use Bing, be sure to use the print button on the bottom left to prepare the map for printing before you print.)  Mrs. Jones is meeting a friend for lunch and wants to show off a few pictures she took at a family gathering.  She turns the printer on, plugs in her camera's memory card, and uses the little color LCD to crop and print the pictures.  That evening, after supper, Jenny Jones sits down to write her grandmother a thank-you letter for a Christmas sweater.  At her mother's suggestion, Jenny prints a picture of herself in the sweater to go with the letter.  (By the way, Jenny did not need to change paper to print the photo, since the printer has two paper trays, one a dedicated photo paper tray which can hold 4x6 or 5x7 photo paper.)  Johnny Jones has been waiting impatiently for Jenny to finish, because he wants to print another copy of his music CD.  He writes the music to the CD, prepares a label using the somewhat clumsy HP software, puts the CD in a tray, pulls down the CD/DVD holder, slides the tray in, and prints his label, which includes a flashy picture of his band.

I don't have any band pictures to show you, but I can show you four samples which will give you an idea of what the D7560 can do with printable CDs and DVDs.

HP D7560 CDs

(Three of them show scenes from Mt. Rainier; the fourth was an experiment using one of the templates supplied by HP.)

Many users say that the HP software that comes with the printer is clumsy.  I would agree, since I found that it was dumbed down a little too much for my tastes.  (And to make fancy CD labels, you may have to get another program.)  But it is usable, especially for those who want to do a little bit of everything with one program.

The price for the printer is quite reasonable; Newegg has been selling it for $79.99 since just after Christmas.  You'll have to buy a printer cable, if you don't have a spare, since it doesn't come with one.  Newegg is not a good place to buy paper for the printer, except for this combo, which includes 150 sheets and the four photo inks.  (The printer also has a separate, larger black cartridge for printing text.)

One last tip:  According to a number of users, the printer will often tell you it is out of ink in a cartridge when it isn't.  So, you might want to just keep printing until it actually runs dry.

(The first printer worked fine, except that it would not print centered on CDs and DVDs.  It wasn't off by a lot, about a millimeter, but it was off by enough to spoil the looks of a CD.  Searches at Amazon and Newegg didn't find anyone else with the same problem, so I assume that I was just unlucky.

Incidentally, I may have hit on a good way to resolve similar problems.  I first explained what had happened to HP support in an email — and then realized that I could attach a picture to the next email so they could see the problem.  That got me a fairly fast replacement.

HP offers four kinds of paper to use with printer, "every day", "premium", "premium plus", and "advanced".  I would avoid the first, except for proofs.  Premium plus is supposed to be higher quality than premium, and should last many years.  I can see just a little difference in quality between the two, but I have to look for it.  The "advanced" paper has about the same quality as the "premium", but dries much more quickly.)
- 8:02 PM, 11 March 2010   [link]


Obama's Politically Correct Charities:  The Los Angeles Times describes the groups that are getting Obama's Nobel Prize money as "an almost perfectly balanced list of PC charities".

That's a little snarky, but correct.
- 4:22 PM, 11 March 2010   [link]


The Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change Eliminated The Medieval Warm Period:  In this post, I mentioned that the Medieval Warm Period was once uncontroversial.  What I did not realize when I wrote the post is that the IPCC once accepted it, too.

This Frank Lanser post shows how the IPCC's views on the subject evolved.  (Or perhaps I should say, devolved.)
A brief check indicates a "warm MWP-consensus" before IPCC published the Mann hockey stick graph in 2001.  But after 2001, results on MWP seems to approach the IPCC viewpoint.
Lanser has some good questions about how and why the IPCC changed its mind on the MWP.  The change was convenient, to say the least, for their main argument, that climate change is a great threat.
- 3:25 PM, 11 March 2010   [link]


Does Toyota Really Have An Accelerator Problem?  Regular readers know that I have my doubts about that.  And so does an expert in such matters, retired psychology professor Richard Schmidt.   Schmidt is dubious because he has seen all this before.
But based on my experience in the 1980s helping investigate unintended acceleration in the Audi 5000, I suspect that smart pedals cannot solve the problem.  The trouble, unbelievable as it may seem, is that sudden acceleration is very often caused by drivers who press the gas pedal when they intend to press the brake.
Here's why Schmidt thinks that:
I looked into more than 150 cases of unintended acceleration in the 1980s, many of which became the subject of lawsuits against automakers.  In those days, Audi, like Toyota today, received by far the most complaints.  (I testified in court for Audi on many occasions.  I have not worked for Toyota on unintended acceleration, though I did consult for the company seven years ago on another matter.)

In these cases, the problem typically happened when the driver first got into the car and started it.  After turning on the ignition, the driver would intend to press lightly on the brake pedal while shifting from park to drive (or reverse), and suddenly the car would leap forward (or backward).  Drivers said that continued pressing on the brake would not stop the car; it would keep going until it crashed.  Drivers believed that something had gone wrong in the acceleration system, and that the brakes had failed.

But when engineers examined these vehicles post-crash, they found nothing that could account for what the drivers had reported.  The trouble occurred in cars small and large, cheap and expensive, with and without cruise control or electronic engine controls, and with carburetors, fuel injection and even diesel engines.   The only thing they had in common was an automatic transmission.  An investigation by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration found no electro-mechanical defects to explain the problem.  Nor did similar government studies in Canada and Japan or any number of private studies.
(Emphasis added.)

Consider just the point I highlighted in bold.  There were no cases of sudden unintended acceleration in cars with manual transmissions.  Granted, cars with stick shifts are less common than cars with, as we used to call them, slush boxes.  (At one time, young folks, it was widely considered unmanly to drive a car with an automatic transmission.)  Even so, there are enough of them so that, if there were some general problem with gas pedals, then we would expect some cases in cars with stick shifts.   (I believe that in some car models identical gas pedals are used with both stick shifts and automatic transmissions.  Real car guys are invited to correct me, if I am wrong about that.)

And there are more reasons to think that driver error may explain most of the incidents of sudden unintended acceleration in the rest of the op-ed.

(More thoughts on this subject from Michael Fumento.)
- 12:36 PM, 11 March 2010   [link]


Fewer Americans Rode Buses In 2009 Than In 2008:  After several years of increases, ridership fell by 5.15 percent in 2009.

(Two agencies in Washington state had bus ridership increases in 2009.  One of the two, Sound Transit, may have gained at the expense of another agency, King County Metro.)

Here, as in most of the United States, bus transit has a small share of passenger trips.

The number of passenger trips taken on buses is extremely low when compared to total passenger trips in the region.  On average, there are about 14 million passenger trips per day in the Puget Sound region.   According to the APTA, regional buses serve only about 420,000 passenger trips per weekday.  This means buses only carry about 3 percent of all daily trips in the Puget Sound region.

Those numbers got me wondering how much we use mass transit now, as compared to the past.   Following the links to the American Public Transportation Association, I found this Fact Book.  According to Table 1 in the Fact Book, passenger trips by bus, heavy rail, light rail, and trolley-bus peaked in 1944-1946, with about 64 million passenger trips, per day.

At that time, the US population was less than half as large as it is now.  (For 2007, the latest year for which the historical table has data, there were about 28 million passenger trips per day by bus, commuter rail, para-transit, heavy rail, light rail, trolley bus, and other (Ferry boat, aerial tramway, automated guideway transit, cable car, inclined plane, monorail, et cetera).  Buses were used for more than half of the trips, but less than half of the miles traveled.)

The 2009 decline is mildly surprising, considering all the subsidies for bus travel, and all the public efforts to get more people to ride buses.  But it may be less surprising if we remember how far mass transit ridership has fallen since World War II.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 9:18 AM, 11 March 2010   [link]


Does Pelosi Have The Votes To Pass ObamaCare?  Michael Barone, who has counted a vote or two in his time, says she doesn't, and may not be able to get them.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indeed shown mastery at amassing majorities.  But it's hard to see how she'll do so on this one. The arithmetic as I see it doesn't add up.

The House passed its version of the health bill in November by 220-215.  Of those 220, one was a Republican who now is a no.  One Democrat who voted yes has died, two Democrats who voted yes have resigned, and one Democrat who voted no has resigned as well.   So if everyone but the Republican votes the way they did four months ago, the score would be 216-215.

But not everyone is ready to vote that way.  The House bill included an amendment prohibiting funding of abortions sponsored by Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak.  The Senate bill did not.   Mr. Stupak says he and 10 to 12 other members won't vote for the Senate bill for that reason.  Others have said the same, including Minnesota's James Oberstar, chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and Dan Lipinski, a product of the Chicago Democratic machine.
And there are more difficulties, as Barone goes on to say, including the distrust almost all House members feel toward the Senate, and the fact that so many Democratic congressmen are vulnerable in November's election.   Forty of them hold districts that McCain carried last November, and many more hold districts that Obama carried narrowly.

These difficulties probably explain why Pelosi and company have floated the idea of skipping a direct vote through the "Slaughter rule"
House Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter is prepping to help usher the healthcare overhaul through the House and potentially avoid a direct vote on the Senate overhaul bill, the chairwoman said Tuesday.  Slaughter is weighing preparing a rule that would consider the Senate bill passed once the House approves a corrections bill that would make changes to the Senate version.
(Though she represents an upstate New York district, Congresswoman Slaughter was born and raised in Harlan County, Kentucky, a place famous for violence and fraud.)

The "Slaughter rule" solves one problem for the Pelosi team; they can pass the fixes to the Senate bill at the same time they pass the Senate bill.  It strikes me as a completely illegitimate rule, though I am no expert on House procedures.  It may be a sign of desperation.

All that said, the InTrade bettors are, as I write, giving ObamaCare a 52 percent chance of passing.

Intrade ObamaCare June contract

  Many bettors must believe that Pelosi will be able to accumulate the necessary 216 votes with gentle persuasion, and perhaps a few bribes and threats.
- 6:36 AM, 11 March 2010   [link]


The Euro Has A "Fundamental Flaw"  So says Der Spiegel.
The notion that the European common currency is based on nothing but a series of lies is now taking its toll.  All of the founders of the euro knew that the new currency could only be stable if all member states committed themselves to sound financial policy and, in the long run, spent only as much as they collected in tax revenue.  But many ignored this principle right from the start.
The writers of the American Constitution assumed that political leaders would often misbehave.  That's more realistic than assuming that majorities in every member of the European Union will always behave prudently.

What is puzzling is that the European leaders who established the euro didn't understand this point when they set up the currency.  Europe does not lack for examples of governments, even very popular governments, behaving badly.

As far as I can tell, there isn't any easy way out of this mess.  The best solution would probably be to go back to national currencies, but that is unacceptable to most European elites.
- 11:08 AM, 10 March 2010   [link]


Mat Welch Goes Through A Series Of Obama Fibs:  And ends by wondering whether Obama believes what he says.
And yet it smacks of something worse still.  When a politician cannot fathom opposition to his policies except as the manifestation of wicked manipulation by bad guys, remediable only by more thorough "explanations" from the good guys, it indicates an unseemly paternalism.  And if he cannot take the hint that Bush-Obama bailout-and-spend economics are deeply and increasingly unpopular, that indicates something immovable about his core economic ideology.  With those two factors as backdrop, it's hard to say which would be worse: if the president didn't really believe what he said, or if he did.
I've been wondering about that myself and finally came to the conclusion (for example, here) that Obama does not care whether what he says is true.

Everything else being equal, most of us would rather tell the truth; Obama — if I am right in this diagnosis — doesn't care whether he is telling the truth, just whether he is having the desired effect on his audiences.

This example is telling.  During the primary campaign, Obama opposed insurance mandates, in order, I have speculated, to differentiate himself from Hillary Clinton.  Now he favors them, but has never really explained why he switched.  Did he believe what he was saying then about mandates, or does he believe what he is saying now?  My answer, paradoxical as it may seem, is that then and now he said what he thought his audiences wanted to hear, without spending much time thinking about what he actually believes.
- 10:44 AM, 10 March 2010   [link]


David Brooks Gives Us a chuckle. (Or possibly a guffaw, depending on your tastes.)
Then there is the larger issue of exploding federal deficits.  A few Democrats are genuinely passionate about this, President Obama among them.  He has fought tenaciously to preserve a commission that might restrain Medicare spending.  But 90 percent of the people in Congress have no emotional investment in this issue.
(Emphasis added.)

Right.  And Hugh Hefner is genuinely passionate in his support for celibacy outside of marriage.

(It is still a mystery, at least to me, why Brooks has not noticed that Obama is not a moderate conservative like Brooks, and that Obama's actions do not always match his words.  Brooks' childish faith in this Chicago politician would be touching if the object weren't so unworthy, and if the faith weren't shared by so many supposedly serious journalists.

To be fair, I should add that most of the column is sensible — which makes this slip even more mysterious.)
- 8:34 AM, 10 March 2010   [link]


In Enriching Uranium, The First Step Is The Hardest:  And the Iranian regime has already made that first step.  That's the discouraging lesson in this New York Times article.
Four years ago, Iran began enriching uranium on an industrial scale with centrifuges, machines that spin extraordinarily fast to separate uranium 235 from the more common form of the element, uranium 238.   Uranium 235 is a natural rarity that splits easily in two, or fissions, in bursts of atomic energy, either in a reactor or a bomb.  Reactor-grade fuel is usually defined as uranium 235 of about 4 or 5 percent, and bomb-grade as 90 percent or higher.

The desert complex, the Natanz nuclear facility, raised the level of uranium 235 to roughly 4 percent from its natural concentration of 0.7 percent.  Over time, the facility produced two tons of concentrated material, enough, if further enriched, to make about two atom bombs.

Then, on Sunday, Feb. 7, Iran announced it would begin enriching its stockpiled uranium to 20 percent — ostensibly to make fuel for a research reactor in Tehran.  Nuclear experts said that although this might sound like a leap, moving to 20 percent from 4 percent was actually a fairly easy step — not at all as demanding and time consuming as raising the level to 4 percent from 0.7 percent.  And the ease of further enriching uranium once it is already enriched made the world take notice.
. . .
A practical illustration of nonlinearity is that Iran — or any other nuclear hopeful — needs increasingly few centrifuges to make uranium 235 increasingly potent. For instance, one industry blueprint features 3,936 centrifuges for enriching up to 4 percent, 1,312 centrifuges to 20 percent, 546 centrifuges to 60 percent and just 128 centrifuges to 90 percent — the level needed for a bomb
I keep thinking that the news from Iran can't get any worse — and then it does.  As of now, I think it unlikely that either we or the Israelis have any practical way to prevent Iran from getting the bomb.
- 5:44 PM, 9 March 2010   [link]


Pelosi Has A Novel Argument for health insurance "reform".
"You've heard about the controversies within the bill, the process about the bill, one or the other.  But I don't know if you have heard that it is legislation for the future, not just about health care for America, but about a healthier America, where preventive care is not something that you have to pay a deductible for or out of pocket.  Prevention, prevention, prevention—it's about diet, not diabetes.  It's going to be very, very exciting.

But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy."
(Emphasis added.)

You can sort of see what her speechwriter was trying to say with that line, but I don't think that the speechwriter found the best way to say it.  (Or were those Pelosi's own words?)
- 1:33 PM, 9 March 2010   [link]


Some Are Beginning To Miss George W. Bush:  Stanley Fish, who predicted this, takes a victory lap, and infuriates the commenters at the New York Times, once again.
I know you're not supposed to, but I just love to say I told you so.

What I told you back on Sept. 28, 2008, was that within a year of the day he left office George W. Bush would come to be regarded with affection and a little nostalgia. The responses (over 300 before the comments were closed) to that prediction were overwhelmingly negative; even the very few who agreed with me attributed what they took to be a sad fact to the stupidity of the American people.  The other 290 or so said things like "No way" ; "Are you kidding?"; "Are you mad?";"What a ridiculous and insulting premise!"; "I'll miss him like a rash"; "This must be a satire"; "Bush is a sociopath"; "George Bush has destroyed this country"; "History won't forgive him"; and (a popular favorite) "I hate the man."

Well it's a bit more than a year now and signs of Bush's rehabilitation are beginning to pop up.  One is literally a sign, a billboard that appeared recently on I-35 in Minnesota.  Occupying the right side (from the viewer's viewpoint) is a picture of Bush smiling genially and waving his hand in a friendly gesture.  Occupying the left side is a simple and direct question: "Miss me yet?"  The image is all over the Internet, hundreds of millions of hits, and unscientific Web-based polls indicate that more do miss him than don't.
Some formal polls have found the same thing; though a majority of the public still rates Bush's performance poorly, he is doing better in recent polls than he did at the end of his second term.

Just to infuriate the Bush haters further, Fish ends by arguing that historians will have a "nuanced" view of our 43rd president.
- 8:21 AM, 9 March 2010   [link]


Actor Sean Penn doesn't understand, or doesn't respect, our 1st Amendment.

(For the record:  I would not — yet — call Chavez a dictator, though he is a friend to many dictators, and he has taken some actions that can fairly be called dictatorial.  But there is still some chance that he can be ousted in a fair election — and might be since his policies have been disastrous for Venezuela.)
- 7:55 AM, 9 March 2010   [link]


Trillion Dollar Deficits Forever?  That's what the Congressional Budget Office is projecting if Congress passes Obama's programs.

Trillion dollar deficits

(Red bars that went down would have been more appropriate to this subject, but I am not going to take the time to rework the bar graph.)

According to the CBO estimates, the deficit would fall to a mere $724 billion in fiscal year 2014, and then begin to grow again, passing a trillion in 2018 and continuing to rise, probably forever.

Note that matters are already bad (the dark blue bars) without expanding government spending as Obama wants to do.

By way of Greg Mankiw, who links to the CBO letter, for those who want a closer look at the numbers.
- 7:33 AM, 9 March 2010   [link]