March 2010, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Rip-Off Or Public Service?  It's hard to tell from this article.
The Post in recent days has revealed how Harlem street hustlers are paid by city dental clinics to round up Medicaid cardholders and bring them in, often by van, to undergo exams and other procedures.

The dentists routinely pay the shills $10 per patient they bring in, while the patients themselves say they are paid $15 or $20 by the dentists.
This is, of course, illegal, but I am not sure that it is bad public policy.

Many poor people do not get routine dental care — which can result in much higher dental (and medical) costs later on.  If the dentists are giving reasonably good routine care, then the public may be ahead as the result of the work of these hustlers, since we will probably be paying for these patients' dental and medical care in any case.  (Perhaps the hustlers could be renamed "community organizers" to make their work legal, or at least look legal.)

(Few states have this problem, because few states pay much for Medicaid dental treatments.  Dentists in two different states have told me that they prefer to do charity work, rather than take Medicaid, because the payments are so low, and the paper work is so high.  From what I can tell, those two states — Pennsylvania and Washington — are typical.)
- 2:39 PM, 31 March 2010   [link]

What A Great Seed for conspiracy theories!
A Danish study suggests drinking a lot of cola regularly could men's lower sperm count by almost 30 percent.   The culprit does not appear to be caffeine, since coffee did not have the same effect, even though it contains even more caffeine than cola.
Especially in the Middle East, naturally.

(By way of the Instapundit.)
- 1:58 PM, 31 March 2010   [link]

Obama Is Opening Some Off-Shore Areas For Oil Drilling:  Though he promised not to early in the 2008 campaign.  But, as Jake Tapper points out, Obama's position has "evolved".   (Which is a much nicer way to say it than to say that Obama is about to break an early campaign promise.)
In June 2008, then-Sen. Obama told reporters in Jacksonville, Florida, "when I'm president, I intend to keep in place the moratorium here in Florida and around the country that prevents oil companies from drilling off Florida's coasts.  That's how we can protect our coastline and still make the investments that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and bring down gas prices for good."

In July 2008, he said, of lifting moratoriums on offshore drilling, that "if there were real evidence that these steps would actually provide real, immediate relief at the pump and advance the long-term goal of energy independence, of course I'd be open to them.  But so far there isn't."

But his Republican opponents -- Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and perhaps even more so, his running mate, then-Gov. Sarah Palin, with her "drill, baby, drill" chant -- used the issue to paint Obama as a stubborn ideologue.

But by August, then-Sen. Obama signaled that he was willing to support legislation that included off-shore drilling as part of a bipartisan compromise.
(The speed of Obama's evolution on this subject is impressive.)

Why did the Obama administration make this announcement now?  I think you can find the answer in this graph from the Energy Information Agency.

US gasoline prices, 9/24/2007-3/24/2010

Especially if you remember that gasoline prices almost always rise during the summer — right when many voters start paying more attention to politics.
- 10:55 AM, 31 March 2010
At lunch, I glanced through the New York Times and found this Clifford Krauss article which claims that gas prices "have stabilized along with oil prices".  It is true, as you can see in the graph, that gas prices have risen more slowly since the middle of last year, but it is not true that they have "stabilized" — unless you consider an increase of 12 percent ($2.50 to $2.80) stability.  And that increase came after an increase of 56 percent ($1.60 to $2.50) in the first half of the year.

Incidentally, the print article is accompanied by a graph of oil prices, which shows almost exactly the same pattern as the graph of gas prices above.
- 12:45 PM, 31 March 2010   [link]

Toads Can Predict Earthquakes?  Great news, if true.  But what we now know is that one species of toads appears to have predicted one earthquake.
Common toads appear to be able to sense an impending earthquake and will flee their colony days before the seismic activity strikes.

The evidence comes from a population of toads which left their breeding colony three days before an earthquake that struck L'Aquila in Italy in 2009.

How toads sensed the quake is unclear, but most breeding pairs and males fled.
There's some speculation in the article about how the toads might have detected the earthquake, but it is no more than speculation.

If these toads can detect earthquakes (some earthquakes?), then they might be used widely, since Bufo bufo is, as the name suggests, a very common toad.

At least for now, you can read the scientific paper, on which the article is based, here.
- 9:11 AM, 31 March 2010   [link]

Fox Surges, CNN Fades:  Grim numbers for the Cable News Network.
CNN continued what has become a precipitous decline in ratings for its prime-time programs in the first quarter of 2010, with its main hosts losing almost half their viewers in a year. The trend in news ratings for the first three months of this year is all up for one network, the Fox News Channel, which enjoyed its best quarter ever in ratings, and down for both MSNBC and CNN.
The directions of the shifts are not surprising, but the extents are.  When the Democratic party takes control of the government, people turn more to news sources critical of that party.  And the reverse is true.  For example, George W. Bush's presidency was good for the Nation magazine and for Keith Olberman.

Even so, it is surprising to see how many viewers CNN and MSNBC have lost since Barack Obama took office.  One can think of many reasons that might be so, but given Fox's surge, I think the most likely reason is the obvious one:   Many viewers don't think they are getting the whole story from CNN.

CNN says they don't plan to change — which probably means that they are desperately trying to figure out how to change.
CNN executives have steadfastly said that they will not change their approach to prime-time programs, which are led by hosts not aligned with any partisan point of view.
(Polls show that many viewers don't agree with CNN's self-assessment on partisanship.)

(As I recall — and correct me if I am wrong about this — Fox News gained viewers while George W. Bush was president.  If I am right about that, then Fox was swimming against the current for eight years.

Kate McMillan has a graph showing market shares for the cable news networks.)
- 8:42 AM, 31 March 2010   [link]

ObamaCare Will "Lower the Costs of Being a Woman"  That's the absurd claim made by New York Times reporter Denise Grady.
Being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition.  That's the new mantra, repeated triumphantly by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senator Barbara A. Mikulski and other advocates for women's health.  But what does it mean?

In the broadest sense, the new health care law forbids sex discrimination in health insurance.   Previously, there was no such ban, and insurance companies took full advantage of the void.
Those evil insurance companies!

Those are the same evil insurance companies who charge women less for life insurance, and less for car insurance.   If you forced them to charge the same rates to men and women for life insurance and car insurance, you would not lower the costs of being a man, you would shift some of those costs to women.  And the same is true, in reverse, for health insurance.

Is that idea too complicated to understand?  For ace reporter Denise Grady it is.  And for many of the commenters on the article.

(Most likely, ObamaCare will raise the costs for everyone.  The young, who are generally poorer than older people, will see the biggest increases.

Credit where due:  The commenters at Lucianne understand the basic principles of health insurance better than the commenters at the New York Times.)
- 7:01 AM, 31 March 2010   [link]

Duke University Reconsiders, Says Discussing Motherhood Is OK, After All:  Here's the story.
Yesterday we learned the stunning news that Duke University considered the topic of motherhood too traumatic for discussion at its Women's Center . . . at least if people who support pro-life positions are having the discussion.   After the free-speech activist group FIRE exposed the decision to cancel an event at the Center sponsored by Duke Students for Life, which wasn't even about opposition to abortion, the Duke University Women's Center abruptly reversed course, offering a terse apology to the DSFL.
I predict that Duke will, reluctantly, come out in favor of baseball and apple pie, too — eventually.

Kudos to FIRE for putting the heat on Duke.
- 2:56 PM, 30 March 2010   [link]

What Actually Happened On The Capitol Steps?  Jack Cashill thinks it was a "conspiracy" — against the demonstrators.
Here is what happened.  Rather than use the tunnel from the Cannon Office Building to the Capitol, a contingent from the Black Caucus chose to walk through a crowd of protesters.  In none of the videos shot that day, including those by the members of the Caucus themselves, has anyone identified a single audible racial slur.

What the videos show are protesters booing the black congressmen as lustily as they did their white counterparts.  The one thing they do scream is the racially neutral "Kill the bill."  The caucus members pass without incident until they reach the Capitol steps.  There, an inattentive Representative Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), flanked by a police officer, walks right in front of a man who has been screaming "kill the bill" through cupped hands for at least the last ten seconds.
So Cashill thinks that the contingent was trying to provoke a confrontation.

He goes farther than I would in suggesting that a reporter, William Douglas, and a congressman, Emanuel Cleaver, lied about what the demonstrators were saying.  As any detective can tell you, eye witnesses (or, in this case, ear witnesses) are notoriously unreliable.  Psychologists who have studied eye witness testimony would add that what we see or hear is strongly influenced by what we expect to see and hear.  It is possible that Douglas and Cleaver honestly believe they heard what they say they heard.  (Or some of it.  They might be exaggerating, rather than outright lying.)

Even though no recording supports them, and some of the other congressmen with them do not appear to have heard the slurs.
"They were shouting, sort of harassing," Lewis told Douglas.  What they shouted, Douglas reports, is "kill the bill, kill the bill."  House majority whip James CIyburn, who walked with the contingent, heard no racist remarks, either.  "I experienced some of [the anger]," Clyburn told Keith Olbermann on March 22.  "I didn`t hear the slurs."
Probably because there weren't any slurs.
- 12:46 PM, 30 March 2010   [link]

Washington State Lost A Big Employer To Idaho:  Kate Riley explains how that happened — and who is to blame:

Gov. Chris Gregoire took umbrage at the audacious overture her Idaho counterpart made recently to Washington businesses, inviting them to pick up and move across the border.  In a news conference, she feistily asserted Idaho has nothing on Washington.

But just two years ago, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter easily lassoed a $3 billion plant that would have brought as many as 400 permanent jobs to the Tri-City area in Southeastern Washington — right out from under Gregoire's nose.  People close to the deal said the project was Washington's to lose — and place the blame squarely on Gregoire.
. . .
But Gregoire let a big one get away.  The company was the nuclear giant Areva and the project was a uranium-enrichment plant that prepares uranium to be made into nuclear fuel.  It would have complemented Areva's existing Tri-City fuel-fabrication plant, which provides fuel to 25 percent of the nation's 104 electricity-producing reactors.

Riley is not sure why Gregoire failed to fight for the plant, but suspects that Gregoire was opposed to nuclear power, and hence to the plant.  It was an election year and Gregoire may not have wanted to irritate the Greens, who in this state, as elsewhere, generally have a superstitious fear of nuclear power.  And the Greens are an important voting bloc, especially for Democrats.

(Gregoire now claims to be in favor of nuclear power.)

Most likely Gregoire didn't back the plant because she doesn't like nuclear power, and because she knew that many of her supporters hate and fear it.

Her decision, or, if you prefer, her non-decision, is instructive in many ways.  It illustrates, once again, the opposition to sound science on some subjects in the Democratic party.  It shows the reluctance of leading Democrats, who once were proud to represent working men, to accept proposals to create jobs — if those jobs are politically incorrect.  (It is no accident that Texas, where the Republican party has been gaining for decades and political correctness is weak, creates so many jobs.)  It shows the indifference of many Democrats to jobs in areas outside the party's urban core.  (In this area, Democrats often oppose jobs even in the exurbs.)

Above all, it shows a failure to think rationally about problems.  (Some would say that Gregoire's budgets suffer from the same defect.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(On one point, Riley and I disagree, mildly.  She describes Barack Obama as "pronuclear".  I have been trying for several years to figure out what his position is on nuclear power, and am still undecided.  In 2008, I analyzed his record and his platform and concluded that he was for nuclear power in principle, but against it in practice.   Like many other Democratic politicians, Obama said — and may have believed — that nuclear waste was an unsolved problem.

When a political candidate uses nuclear waste to object to nuclear power, they reveal one of two things about themselves:   Either the candidate does not understand the science — which is not that difficult to grasp — or the candidate is a demagogue who does not care about the scientific facts.  But the position is enormously convenient for a candidate who wants to appear reasonable about nuclear power, while blocking it in practice.  (But not, and this is important, closing any current nuclear power plants.)

Since he took office, Obama has blown hot and cold on nuclear power, working to close the Yucca Mountain waste depository and backing financial guarantees for several new power plants.  (There's an interesting contrast between Obama and his predecessor on the Yucca depository.  Bush said that he would follow scientific advice on the facility, and did.  Obama promised to close it, even though the majority of nuclear scientists have backed it for years.)  As so often happens with Obama, we are left wondering what, if anything, he actually believes.  Given this ambiguity, I wouldn't call him "pronuclear".  (Incidentally, yesterday's Seattle Times had a fine article on the decision to close Yucca.))
- 10:43 AM, 30 March 2010   [link]

Walmart Crime Fighters:  Save a woman from the "grandparent scam".

Businesses often fight crime — but don't always get credit for their efforts.

(It's interesting that this scam operates out of Canada, at least in the cases I have heard about.  I suppose that opportunity explains most of that, since you can't find that many people who can imitate an American voice everywhere in the world.  And, of course, the border protects them from our prosecutors.)
- 8:03 AM, 30 March 2010   [link]

Jim Geraghty Has A Little List:  Of expired Obama promises.   (All right, it's not so little.)

Here's the first one in the list, and the one that I find most interesting:

STATEMENT: "We've got a philosophical difference, which we've debated repeatedly, and that is that Senator Clinton believes the only way to achieve universal health care is to force everybody to purchase it.  And my belief is, the reason that people don't have it is not because they don't want it but because they can't afford it.  Barack Obama, speaking at a Democratic presidential debate, February 21, 2008.

EXPIRATION DATE: On March 23, 2010, Obama signed the individual mandate into law.
To the best of my knowledge, Obama has never explained why he opposed individual mandates during the nomination fight with Hillary Clinton, and then accepted them without a struggle in the Senate version of ObamaCare.  (They were in the House version, too, and he didn't object to that part of the House bill, either.)

Did he see the light, and decide that Clinton was right after all?  Did he think that no plan without individual mandates could get by Pelosi and Reid?  Or something else?  (Incidentally, a plan without individual mandates might have picked up some Republican support.)  Some enterprising journalist should ask him why he switched.

(My own tentative explanation for the switch:  Obama had not thought much about health insurance problems, and chose to oppose mandates, not because he has a "philosophical" objection to limiting our freedoms, but to create a contrast with Hillary Clinton.  I don't claim to have any direct evidence for that explanation, but it is consistent with his political behavior.  Since he was not really committed to the position, he found it easy to accept what the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate came up with.)
- 6:50 AM, 30 March 2010   [link]

James Taranto Does A Nice Analysis of a Harris poll that has gotten a lot of attention.  Taranto shows that the poll has serious methodological problems; among other things, Harris didn't question a random sample.  Harris also used leading questions, which, as pollsters know, often lead respondents to give answers they wouldn't have given otherwise.

Taranto's conclusions:
It's hard to avoid the conclusion that the survey was designed to make Republicans, and only Republicans, look unhinged.  The press release states: "The very large numbers of people who believe all these things of President Obama help to explain the size and strength of the Tea Party Movement."  This presupposes that the tea-party movement centers on crazy beliefs about Obama, a view that the poll provides no evidence to support.

For balance, such a poll might have included a series of crazy statements about polarizing Republican figures like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney or Sarah Palin.  This would at least give some indication of whether Republicans have a greater propensity than Democrats to believe "scary" things.

Further, this is a test not of belief but of assent, which is to say that these are leading questions.  Those of us whose jobs require that we be knowledgeable about politics are well aware of the crazy ideas that bubble around on the fringes, and we typically know enough to reject them.  Avlon, who has written a whole book on the subject, is deeply aware of them.  But how much thought does the average American give to such questions as whether President Obama "is a domestic enemy that the U.S. Constitution speaks of" or whether he "wants to turn over the sovereignty of the United States to a one world government"?
Not much, as honest pollsters know.
- 4:58 PM, 29 March 2010
More criticism of the Harris poll from pollster Mark Blumenthal.

In those two pieces Taranto and Blumenthal provide good lessons in the difficult art of devising poll questions.
- 8:56 AM, 30 March 2020   [link]

How Much Does Obama Know About The Economy?  Not much, according to an anonymous CEO.
"Most of these people [in the Administration] have never had a real job in their lives.  They don't understand a thing about business, and that includes the President," says a senior lobbyist for one of the companies that announced the charge.  "My CEO sat with the President over lunch with two other CEOs, and each of them tried to explain to the President what this bill would do to our companies and the economy in general.  First the President didn't understand what they were talking about.  Then he basically told my boss he was lying.  Frankly my boss was embarrassed for him; he clearly had not been briefed and didn't know what was in the bill."
And other supporters of ObamaCare appear almost as surprised as Obama as they learn what their bill will do to business.
Neither Waxman or Stupak -- who betrayed the pro-life community by negotiating for more than a week with the White House to ensure his vote on the health care bill -- had anything more than a cursory understanding of how the many sections of the bill would impact business or even individual citizens before they voted on the bill, says House Energy Democrat staff.  "We had memos on these issues, but none of our people, we think, looked at them," says a staffer.   "When they saw the stories last week about the charges some of the companies were taking, they were genuinely surprised and assumed that the companies were just doing this to embarrass them.  They really believed this bill would immediately lower costs.  They just didn't understand what they were voting on."
Of course, they weren't spending their own money when they voted, which must have made it easier for them to avoid learning what is in the bill.

(This may seem like a strange thing to say, but ignorance and misinformation can be an advantage for a politician.   Obama, Stupak, and Waxman could make grand claims for ObamaCare more easily, precisely because they didn't know what the bill would actually do.)
- 1:18 PM, 29 March 2010   [link]

Mildly Good News On Test Scores:  Our latest national report card, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, showed small gains.  But the aggregate test scores conceal larger gains for each of the main sub-groups of our population.  Chad Aldeman explains:
So, because NAEP has gradually included more black and Hispanic students, and black and Hispanic students score lower, on average, than white students, the total score doesn't reflect the true gains made by each group.  The chart below shows scores taken from the same testing years, this time disaggregated by race.

Each group has actually made greater gains over time than the overall total.  White students increase 11 points, one more than the national average.  Black students scored 23 points higher, and Hispanic students were scoring 24 points higher in 2008 than they were in 1975 despite quadrupling in size.  In other words, the white-black and white-Hispanic gaps are closing and every group is scoring higher, but the national score is showing more modest improvements because of demographic changes.
(I had noticed this pattern several years ago, but never got around to writing about it, mostly because I didn't take the time to create the graphs.)

Let me add a small, partisan point to Aldeman's analysis.  There were almost no gains for any of the three groups while Clinton was president, but there were gains while George W. Bush was president.  (Note that I did say that either man caused those test scores.  That said, I suspect that when a serious analysis is finally done George W. Bush will be shown to deserve a little credit for improving our schools.)

By way of Joanne Jacobs.
- 12:58 PM, 29 March 2010   [link]

Western Universities Are Places Where People "Run Free"  And where professors are "bastions of free thinking".   Travel writer Rick Steves said those things, while contrasting our universities to one in Iran.

Some might see those ideas as more evidence that Rick Steves is not the sharpest observer of our contemporary scene.  I prefer a more charitable explanation:  Rick Steves is a would-be satirist.

Anyone who has followed our campuses in recent decades knows the truth of Abigail Thernstrom's quip, that they are "islands of repression in a sea of freedom".  You are more likely to find speech codes on campuses than anywhere else.  Some controversial conservative speakers can not speak on many campuses without armed guards (and sometimes not even then).  Many professors actively repress dissent.

So what Steves is doing in that sly little post is satirizing our colleges and universities, implying that they have as little freedom as those in Iran.  And there are some good touches in his satire, for example when he jokingly describes the University of California at Berkeley as an especially free place.

His satire isn't perfect.  It needs more examples, and the writing could be improved.  It is odd, for instance, to describe people, even professors, as "bastions".  But it's a good first effort, and I hope Steves tries again since, as every informed person knows, our colleges and universities desperately need criticism, especially satirical criticism.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 8:43 AM, 29 March 2010   [link]

And If Iran Won't Back Down?  You may have heard Valerie Jarrett's remarkable claim that the Iranian regime would back down on its efforts to obtain nuclear weapons.  It seemed so extraordinary to me — though apparently not to Jake Tapper — that I had to look at the complete transcript to see if there was anything I had missed.
TAPPER: Good morning. I want to get to the president's big accomplishment in a second, but first, front-page headlines right now about Iran.  What can you tell us about the reports that Iran is suspected of preparing to build two nuclear sites, defiantly against international law, and what is the Obama administration prepared to do about it?

JARRETT: Well, what I can tell you is what the president has said consistently, which is that we're going to continue to put pressure on Iran.  The fact that the president and Russia are about to sign the START Treaty is a good sign that we're making cooperation and good progress with countries such as Russia.  We're going to have a coalition that will really put pressure on Iran and try to stop them from doing what they're trying to do.

TAPPER: You're talking about we're going to have a coalition that will do that.  The President Obama set a deadline for President Ahmadinejad of Iran of the end of 2009.  We're now about a quarter of the way through 2010, still no major international cooperation putting pressure on Iran.  You know a little bit about Iranian culture.  Don't you think that this in some ways conveys weakness or the inability to rally international support?

JARRETT: Quite the contrary.  In fact, over the last year, what we've seen, when the president came into office, there was a unified Iran.  Now we're seeing a lot of divisions within the country, and we're seeing steady progress in terms of a world coalition that will put that pressure on Iran.  So no, I think that we have a strong force in the making, and Iran will back down.

TAPPER: When are we going to see sanctions in the United Nations?

JARRETT: Well, we'll see.  As I said, we have a START Treaty that's good progress.   We have a number of countries, 44 countries coming to the United States at the request of the president to focus on nuclear proliferation, and as we begin to forge those relationships and they strengthen, that will enable us to put the pressure we believe is necessary on Iran.
(Emphasis added.)

That's the whole exchange.  Tapper, having been reassured that the Iranian theocracy will suddenly see reason and give up the nuclear weapons they have been trying to obtain for years, goes on to the next subject.  (Tapper is not the worst journalist in Washington, but this was not his finest moment.)

Tapper could have asked Jarrett about the latest bipartisan effort to get the Obama administration to impose real sanctions on Iran.
Frustrated lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are intensifying their push on President Barack Obama to impose "crippling" sanctions on Iran.

A letter signed by seemingly unlikely allies -- Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) and Mike Pence (R-Ind.) -- is being recirculated and rapidly gathering support.
. . .
As of 5 p.m. Friday, 76 Democrats and 138 Republicans had joined Jackson and Pence by signing on to the letter.
This letter is the latest in a series of bipartisan congressional efforts to get the Obama administration to act against the Iranian regime.  So far, these efforts have gained wide support in congress — and have had no discernible impact on the Obama administration.

Tapper could have asked Jarrett whether the administration now had the support of Russia and China.  (The answer to that question is no, unless there are secret agreements.)

Tapper could have asked Jarrett why she believed that the Iranian regime would back down.  (Few Iranian experts would agree with Jarrett on that point.)

Finally, Tapper could have asked Jarrett what we would do if the Iranian regime did not back down.  Does the Obama administration even have a Plan B?

(Neo-neocon makes an interesting argument that Obama is inclined to over-value personal experiences, even childhood personal experiences.  That would explain why he values Jarrett's thinking on Iran, since she spent the first five years of her life in Iran.)
- 7:49 AM, 29 March 2010   [link]

North Korea Observed Earth Hour yesterday.

As usual.

(In the Seattle area, Earth Hour came just as the weather turned colder.  I confess that I did not celebrate by shivering in the dark.  Some chose a different celebration yesterday, Human Achievement Hour)
- 4:38 PM, 28 March 2010   [link]

When The Big One Hits Seattle . . .  Many new buildings in Seattle will fail.   That's what the head of an earthquake consulting firm, Peter Yanev, concludes, after studying the damage from the February earthquake in Chile.

We engineers and seismologists need to gather and study as much data as we can from Chile's quake.  But one thing is already clear: based on the kind of damage that buildings suffered in Chile, tall structures in the earthquake zones of the United States appear to be at much higher risk than we thought.  This lesson should be of obvious concern to San Francisco and Los Angeles.  But it is actually the Pacific Northwest that is most vulnerable to a mega-quake like Chile's.
. . .
Construction codes are based on the probability of earthquakes striking a region.  That means Seattle's buildings, for example, are designed for roughly half of the earthquake loads of buildings in San Francisco or Los Angeles, because earthquakes occur roughly half as often in Seattle as in California's cities.  But the result is that Pacific Northwest cities are full of buildings with slender structural frames and fewer and smaller shear walls.  In a mega-quake, many of the region's iconic tall buildings would probably collapse.  The loss of life and property from such a disaster would be far worse than the damage and death suffered in Chile.

Geologists believe — with good reason, as far as I can tell — that a mega-quake is inevitable in this area.  Probably not soon, probably not even in my lifetime.  But it will happen.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(More on the Cascadia fault here.)
- 10:01 AM, 28 March 2010   [link]

Payoffs To The Stupak Bloc?  Well, they haven't received many that we know about, but they are asking for payoffs.
A day after Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., and ten other House members compromised on their pro-life position to deliver the necessary yes-votes to pass health care reform, the "Stupak 11" released their fiscal year 2011 earmark requests, which total more than $4.7 billion--an average of $429 million worth of earmark requests for each lawmaker.

Of the eight lawmakers whose 2010 requests were available for comparison, five requested more money this week than they did a year ago: Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Ill., Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper, D-Pa., Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., Brad Ellsworth, D-Ind., Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, and Rep. Charles Wilson, D-Ohio.
. . .
Stupak requested more than $578 million in earmarks, including $125 million for a replacement lock on the Sault Ste. Marie, $25.6 million to build a federal courthouse in Marquette, Mich., $15 million to repaint the Mackinac Bridge and $800,000 to preserve the Quincy Mining Company smelter near Hancock in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
I wonder if they could be satisfied with thirty pieces of silver?

(Simple arithmetic problem:  There are 435 House members and 100 senators.  If each of them receives $578 million in earmarks, how much would the earmarks cost the taxpayer, total?)
- 12:38 PM, 26 March 2010   [link]

Now Horsey Tells Us:  Left wing cartoonist David Horsey drew a pretty good cartoon showing one of the minor defects of ObamaCare — its fanciful financing.

And when was this cartoon published?  March 23rd, two days after the decisive House vote.   Too late, in other words, for it to have an effect.

We are going to see more such admissions from lefties soon, I suspect

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Only pretty good because, as nearly everyone on the right knows, Obama uses unicorn dust, not "fairy dust".)
- 12:15 PM, 26 March 2010   [link]

If You Have Been Following The Climate Debate Closely, you'll like this sober summary of recent news stories.  (Anthony Watts did.)
- 7:08 AM, 26 March 2010   [link]

Courtland Milloy Versus The Cro-Magnon:  The Washington Post columnist got a little hot under the collar in his latest column.
I know how the "tea party" people feel, the anger, venom and bile that many of them showed during the recent House vote on health-care reform.  I know because I want to spit on them, take one of their "Obama Plan White Slavery" signs and knock every racist and homophobic tooth out of their Cro-Magnon heads.
Milloy was reacting to the reports that some protesters called congressmen nasty names during the fight over ObamaCare.   As far as I can tell, those reports are, mostly, false.

After reading that, I began to wonder whether Milloy knows what the Cro-Magnon were (and are).
Today, the term "Cro-Magnon" falls outside the usual naming conventions for early humans and is often used in a general sense to describe the oldest modern people in Europe, while remaining, anthropologically speaking, a specific (but very frequent) subtype among the fossil remains.  In more recent scientific literature the term "European early modern humans" (EEMH) is used instead of "Cro-Magnon".
. . .
Cro-Magnon were anatomically modern, only differing from their modern day descendants in Europe by their more robust physiology and slightly larger cranial capacity
So, Cro-Magnon are early modern Europeans.  We can turn that around and make my point clearer:  Modern Europeans, and those descended from them, are late Cro-Magnon.

Put that way, Milloy's last sentence sounds just a little bit racist now, doesn't it?

(For the record:  Many tea party protesters are not descended from Europeans.  I don't know whether Milloy want to knock their teeth out, too.)
- 4:37 PM, 25 March 2010   [link]

Obama Criticizes the Castro regime.
Cuban dissidents applauded U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday [the 18th] for denouncing their ill treatment by the Cuban government and said it had helped their cause.

They praised him for standing by them in what appeared to be a new, tougher turn for the president who has said he wanted to improve U.S.-Cuba relations that went bad after Fidel Castro took power in a 1959 revolution and installed a communist system.
Castro gets back at him, by praising ObamaCare.
It perhaps was not the endorsement President Barack Obama and the Democrats in Congress were looking for.

Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro on Thursday declared passage of American health care reform "a miracle" and a major victory for Obama's presidency, but couldn't help chide the United States for taking so long to enact what communist Cuba achieved decades ago.

"We consider health reform to have been an important battle and a success of his (Obama's) government," Castro wrote in an essay published in state media, adding that it would strengthen the president's hand against lobbyists and "mercenaries."
Even if you despise Castro, as I do, you have to admit that he made a clever counter-attack.

(I have no idea why Obama criticized the Cuban regime for its human rights record now — but I am glad that he did.)
- 1:12 PM, 25 March 2010   [link]

Oil Prices And Economic Growth:  I have said this before, but it needs repeating from time to time:  Economic growth can be slowed, stopped, or even reversed by high energy prices.   That's something we learn from time to time when energy prices are high — and then forget when energy prices fall.

Take a look at this graph of oil prices.

Oil prices, 1987-2008

The spike after the first Gulf War was followed by a recession, which helped make Bill Clinton president.  Clinton then benefited from years of stable or falling oil prices, prices made possible by George H. W. Bush's defeat of Saddam.

The increase in oil prices after 2000 slowed the recovery during Bush's presidency, and the spike in 2008 must have been one of the principal causes of our current recession.

So what is likely to happen to energy prices in the near future?  The gas pumps are telling you.
Gas prices have risen $1 since just after President Obama took office in January 2009 and are now closing in on the $3 mark, prompting an evaluation of the administration's energy record and calls for the White House to open more U.S. land for oil exploration.

The average price per gallon across the U.S. hit $2.81 this week, according to the Energy Information Administration.  That was up from $1.81 the week of Jan. 26, 2009, just after the inauguration, and marks the highest price since Oct. 20, 2008.
The Obama administration favors higher energy prices, if the energy comes from fossil fuels — though they may deny that, publicly, from time to time.  The administration has done nothing to encourage greater oil production in the United States, and some things to discourage it.

These higher energy prices will slow, and perhaps even reverse, our recovery.

(You can see higher resolution versions of the graph here, along with the credits for the graph.)
- 11:20 AM, 25 March 2010
More:  The price of a barrel of oil was about $50 at the beginning of 2009, so it has risen about 60 percent since Obama took office.
- 1:28 PM, 26 March 2010   [link]

Maxi-Billionaire Backs Mini-Nukes:  (Couldn't resist the tabloid headline.)   Bill Gates is negotiating a partnership with Toshiba to build a new kind of nuclear reactor.  The first models would be small.
Bill Gates has been singing the praises of nuclear power lately—specifically the efforts of TerraPower, a project he's backing that is developing a new type of nuclear reactor.  Now, a Japanese newspaper reports that TerraPower is teaming up with Toshiba, one of the big players in nuclear power, to advance its reactor plans.

That would be a big step forward for TerraPower, which has until now been a small research effort hosted at Intellectual Ventures, an invention and patent aggregator firm headed by former Microsoft chief technology officer Nathan Myhrvold.
(According to Reuters, Gates and Toshiba do not have a partnership, but are discussing one.)

The "new type" is a "traveling-wave reactor".
A traveling-wave reactor, or TWR, is a kind of nuclear reactor that can convert fertile material into fissile fuel as it runs using the process of nuclear transmutation.  TWRs differ from other kinds of fast-neutron and breeder reactors in their ability to use little or no enriched uranium, instead burning fuel made from depleted uranium, natural uranium, thorium, spent fuel removed from light-water reactors, or some combination of these materials.  The name refers to the design characteristic that fission does not happen in the entire TWR core, but takes place in a fairly localized zone that advances through the core over time.
The design concept sounds great, but we should note that TWRs have been studied since the 1950s — but no one has actually built one, not even a prototype.

Good luck to Gates in this venture.

(Here's TerraPower, if you are curious about the company.)
- 8:25 AM, 25 March 2010   [link]

Kathleen Parker Doesn't Have A Great Column On Bart Stupak:  (And, to be fair, it is hard to imagine one on Michigan's 1st district congressman.)  But she does have a great ending.
After the Sunday vote, a group of Democrats, including Stupak, gathered in a pub to celebrate.  In a biblical moment, New York Rep. Anthony Weiner was spotted planting a big kiss on Stupak's cheek.

To a Catholic man well versed in the Gospel, this is not a comforting gesture.
I can't help wondering whether Stupak paid for his own drinks at that celebration.
- 7:30 AM, 25 March 2010   [link]