July 31, 2006

The Iraq “No WMD” Lie: Game, Set, Match

Game: The press reported plenty of WMD findings during 2004 and 2005. No one has successfully refuted the content of ALL the sourced stories, which is the standard that has be met for anyone to claim “no WMDs.”

Set: More WMD findings were reported in June. No one has claimed that the 500-plus “sarin- and mustard-filled projectiles” didn’t exist. Some have tried to claim that they were all inert. Common sense and Rick Santorum’s interview with Hugh Hewitt (at RadioBlogger.com) have shredded that argument.

Match: John at Powerline reports the translation of a document showing that Iraq shipped WMDs to Syria shortly before Operation Iraqi Freedom commenced in 2003. More such reports appear to be forthcoming.

The alternative ideas that the entire world intelligence community convinced itself of the existence of WMDs in Iraq despite their absence, or that the sleuths somehow knew that WMDs were absent but were afraid to contradict the Bush “party line,” have always been absurd. Their absurdity was proven late last year to anyone willing to simply read what the press had covered over time. Even ignoring that, it should now be obvious to anyone that the “no WMD” argument was a canard raised by an intellectually dishonest opposition movement desperate to find something, anything, to discredit the logic behind the invasion.

They’re going to have to find something else.


August 2: Conservative Culture Open Trackbacks participant.

August 12: Commenter Free Stinker at NewsBusters.org has a comprehensive list with links to WMD items and statements, and other casus belli support.

Good News and Bad News about Car Accidents, and What You Should Know to Keep Your Insurance Premiums Down

Filed under: Business Moves,Economy,Money Tip of the Day — Tom @ 1:26 pm

Good News: Crain’s Chicago Business reports (HT Instapundit) that vehicle accidents reported to insurance companies are falling:

American drivers are reporting fewer crashes to their insurance companies than ever before, and nobody knows precisely why.
Insurers can’t explain the drop in auto claims. And while theories abound, the lack of a clear, identifiable reason is unsettling in an industry that relies on sophisticated statistical modeling to predict its claim payouts. Those predictions are used to set premium rates, to decide whom to insure and to provide earnings guidance to Wall Street.

With no explanation for the drop in claims, insurers can’t tell if the trend will continue, leaving many at a loss.

….. Industry-wide, auto-collision claims fell from 6.91 claims per 100 insured vehicles in 2001 to 5.91 claims per 100 insured vehicles in 2005, according to the Property Casualty Insurers Assn. of America.

Bad News: As noted, insurance companies don’t like things they can’t explain. The companies are therefore not lowering rates as much as might be expected in a competitive environment, for fear of being blindsided by a sudden spike in accidents.

The possible factors in reported accidents cited in the article, and my take on them, are these:

  • High-end technology in some vehicles is preventing many accidents. The trouble is, there aren’t very many such vehicles on the road, so at best this is a minor influence. As these wonder cars are extremely high-end and costly vehicles, it may be that their owners are on average be safer drivers anyway. The article did not mention that the non-wonder vehicles coming off the assembly lines today probably are safer than the ones produced five years ago.
  • The aging of the Baby Boom generation. This one makes sense. Drivers tend to improve with age (up to a certain point), and the 1946-1954 Boomer population bubble is now between ages 52 and 60, with their most accident-prone years behind them.
  • Maybe there are fewer reported accidents because there are fewer ACTUAL accidents. The trouble is, as noted in the article, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) believes that the decline in accidents reported to the police is a function of changing standards for reporting accidents and drivers choosing not to report them in non-injury situations.
  • More drivers are choosing higher deductibles, meaning that more fender-benders might be below the deductible threshold. I’m not buying this one, because it doesn’t take much of an accident to get above even a $1,000 deductible threshold any more.
  • Tougher standards for teenage drivers. I’d rate this one as a pretty important contributor. This link, though relating to fatalities, would seem to confirm that Graduated Drivers License programs have on average created safer teen drivers. Perhaps the accidents teens do get into are also on average less serious and less damage-producing.
  • Tougher drunk-driving laws. This 2006 NHTSA report relating to 2004 (PDF) shows that alcohol was involved in 39% of vehicle fatalities that year, continuing a long steady downward march from the 50% level many years ago. It would follow that in general fewer drivers are driving while impaired and are therefore getting into fewer accidents.

Although some of the factors noted would be arguments that the number of accidents really has gone down, let’s accept the skepticism of the insurance industry and NHTSA as a given.

With that assumption, I believe the industry and the government are missing one VERY important thing: People, perhaps with the help of their insurance agents, are getting better at figuring out whether a given accident will trigger a big premium increase. Since moving into a high-risk driver category can often mean that premiums will triple or quadruple, they are doing everything they can to avoid reporting accidents that will cause that trigger to be pulled.

Please keep in mind that I can’t predict what every insurer will do with a given set of facts. Having said that, there are some general points I can make about how insurers tend to handle things.

First, there is the combination of number of at-fault accidents and moving violations during the past three years. A person with a good long-term driving record will often get a “freebie” and won’t be penalized for their first at-fault accident in the absence of more than one moving violation. Such a driver should be very reluctant to report a second accident, especially one where the damage involved is not very far above the deductible threshold.

Note that I said “often get a ‘freebie’” in the previous paragraph. There is a category of driver that is likely to get moved into high risk in just their first at-fault accident — those with low credit scores.

The industry’s logic is that people with low credit scores are too busy thinking about the financial mess they are in to concentrate as much as they should when they are behind the wheel. Although this discrimination seems unfair, the industry claims to have the statistics to support their contention. I believe there are states that have outlawed the practice of considering credit scores in underwriting, but at most it would only be a few.

The point is that more drivers with “less than perfect” credit have come to learn that their situation makes any at-fault accident they are involved in a potential financial disaster. So of course they avoid reporting accidents to their insurance company if they can avoid it.

I believe the industry is going to figure out that the decline is probably for real and here to stay, and as that happens rates will come down, or at least won’t increase as much as general inflation. Insurance customers can “drive” this process to occur more quickly by shopping their coverage or getting competitive quotes and asking their agents to match them.

If you didn’t know about the influence your credit score can have on your vehicle insurance premium, now you do, so you have another reason to keep your score high if it already is, and another incentive to improve your score if yours is in the low 600s or below.

Illegal Alien Trash

Filed under: Economy,Environment,Immigration,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 10:15 am

No, not the people, of course (who are all God’s children).

I’m referring to what those entering this country illegally are leaving behind as they cross the Arizona desert (HT Return of the Conservatives):

After three years of cleanups, the federal government has achieved no better than a 1 percent solution for the problem of trash left in Southern Arizona by illegal border-crossers.

Cleanup crews from various agencies, volunteer groups and the Tohono O’odham Nation hauled about 250,000 pounds of trash from thousands of acres of federal, state and private land across Southern Arizona in 2002 to 2005, says the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

But that’s only a fraction of the nearly 25 million pounds of trash thought to be out there.

The estimated tab for cleanup is $62.9 million over 5 years (roughly $13 million a year, a number that will come in handy later). It’s not stated, but it would appear that the estimate naively assumes that there will be no new trash. Otherwise, I would expect scene descriptions such as these to continue even if consistent full-scale cleanups commence and continue:

Most of the garbage is left at areas where entrants wait to be picked up by smugglers. The accumulation of disintegrating toilet paper, human feces and rotting food is a health and safety issue for residents of these areas and visitors to public lands, a new BLM report says.

“It’s particularly serious in areas where there are livestock,” said Robin Hoover, pastor of the First Christian Church in Tucson and president of Humane Borders, a group that puts water tanks in the desert for the entrants and coordinates monthly cleanups of Ironwood Monument and other sites.

“I’ve even found injectable drugs in the desert,” he said. “It’s rare when we find that kind of stuff, but there’s tons of over-the-counter medication out there. If some cow comes along and eats a bunch of pills, that would be a real sick cow.”

Mr. Hoover (or Rev. Hoover, as he might prefer it) doesn’t seem to get the connection: As word of his “compassionate” group’s water tanks spreads, more illegals attempt to gain entry into this country through the desert. More illegal leave more trash behind, increasing the cleanup costs and exacerbating the ongoing environmental disaster, and making the potential livestock industry problems he described more likely.

This means Mr. Hoover and others are aiding and abetting at least two crimes: illegal entry and littering. Oh, littering is not a “real” crime? Think again — If any of us got caught even once in the act of doing what illegals crossing the desert are clearly doing routinely, we’d be lighter in the wallet by as much as $500, and in some states would face jail time.

The silence of environmental groups who have certainly watched this systematic spoilage take place over many years is very telling. There’s no big, bad industry to blame for this, so I guess to them it must not be an important problem.

Ah, but there is a big country directly and indirectly encouraging its citizens to enter the US illegally, and they should be sent the bill. Better yet, since the bill won’t be paid, arrange to have the roughly $13 million in annual cleanup costs noted earlier deducted every year from what that country, Mexico, would have received from the United States Agency for International Development. USAID said that it planned to send $33 million (5th paragraph at link) to Mexico in 2004, so in a typical year it looks like the money is there to be collected. And it should be.

Bizzy’s AM Coffee Biz-Econ-Life Links (073106)

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 7:59 am

Free Links:

  • The following, which was incorporated into an e-mail to me from a Mac direct-mail dealer, has to be a sign of the apocalypse (you can see a similar ad at the dealer’s home page)–

  • This isn’t a sign of the apocalypse, it’s a sign of sanity

    Hard rockers Metallica, who long refused to make available individual songs from its albums for sale online, has begun doing so on the iTunes Music Store.

    ….. Fans may buy tracks a la carte for 99 cents or purchase the albums, starting at $9.90.

    ….. The group, which in the early part of the decade led the charge against the original Napster online file-sharing service, has previously made its albums available for purchase online through retailers and its own website.

    I’m still waiting for the Beatles’ music to become available, as was “promised” several months ago (3rd item at link).

  • Would it be too much to hope that Nevada Senator Harry Reid’s recent victimization by an identity thief could get legislators off their rear-ends and pass meaningful identity-theft protection legislation, including the right to free no-questions-asked credit freezes?

  • Direct mail credit card offers reached an alltime high last year of 6.06 billion pieces last year, CardTrak reports. The response rate, which has been plummeting for years, was a dismal 0.3%. So why does the barrage continue? If you want to reduce the number “pre-approved” offers for credit you receive, you can call 1-88-5OPTOUT. When you do that, all three credit bureaus will be notified that you do not want information from your credit file released to credit card and other solicitors, such as home-equity lenders and insurance companies, who usually look at the information to decide who to mail out offers to. You won’t get offers from those firms any more, but you will still get offers from firms who use other criteria, such as zip codes, to target their offerings without getting credit information.

  • Plenty of folks have weighed in on the misguided “living wage” law passed last week in the City of Chicago that targets only “big-box” retailers (“S.O.B.ers” NixGuy and Porkopolis, to name just two), particularly Wal-Mart. But I can’t leave it until commenting on the opening paragraph of the New York Times story Porkopolis linked to:

    After months of fevered lobbying and bitter debate, the Chicago City Council passed a groundbreaking ordinance yesterday requiring “big box” stores, like Wal-Mart and Home Depot, to pay a minimum wage of $10 an hour by 2010, along with at least $3 an hour worth of benefits.

    The ordinance is “groundbreaking,” all right. Wal-Mart has already indicated that there will indeed be a whole lot of groundbreaking from now on — at new store sites in suburban Chicagoland, but certainly not in the city. Other Bix Boxsters like Home Depot and Lowe’s will probably do the same.

Positivity: Man Meets His Rescuers

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:01 am

He didn’t get to meet them when they did the rescuing:

Meeting the men that saved his life
Man from ice fishing accident expresses gratitude at fundraiser

The Reporter Staff July 23, 2006

MAYVILLE — When Dwayne Langsdorf tells a joke these days, it’s not just to be funny. It’s to help improve memory skills he lost as a result of a nearly fatal ice fishing accident in January.

“As a personal effort to improve my memory, I try to remember jokes,” said Langsdorf, 45. “At first, my memory was poor, but now I can remember detailed jokes.”

One thing Langsdorf doesn’t joke about is the fact that he’s lucky to be alive. He suffered a massive head injury after falling Jan. 20 while ice fishing on Fox Lake. Although he doesn’t remember details of the accident, he’s been told that two young men, Bradly Vetter of Adell and Jon Boedeker of Kewaskum, heard him drop his ice auger and came to his aid.

In the midst of a snowstorm, the men called 911 and took Langsdorf to a nearby tavern and restaurant. He was first taken by ambulance to Waupun Memorial Hospital, and a short time later was taken via ambulance to Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital in Milwaukee.

The blow to Langsdorf’s head from the ice caused a large wound and a blood clot on his brain. Surgeons cut open a large portion of Langsdorf’s skull to relieve the pressure the clot had put on his brain. He has been recovering well with the help of therapists since being released from the hospital two months after the accident.

“It’s been a tailspin,” Langsdorf said of the past year. “Everything has come back to me with the help of therapy.”

Langsdorf said he has no memory problems anymore but is still receiving therapy related to lost peripheral vision in one eye. He regains his sense of humor when talking about his recovery.

“Now I have X-ray vision and I’m psychic, so it was a good trade-off,” he joked.

Langsdorf turned serious again when talking about everyone who has aided in his rescue and recovery over the past several months.

“I’m eternally grateful to the two men who saved me,” he said. “I thank all my family and friends for helping me through this, and I give a lot of credit to the surgeons at Froedtert and the therapists at Columbia (Hospital in Milwaukee).”

He was able to express his gratitude during a fundraiser held July 15 in Mayville when he met the two men who rescued him. Langsdorf’s wife, Jacquie, described meeting the men as “very emotional.”

“How do you ever begin to thank someone for that?” Jacquie said. “There’s no words for it.”

July 30, 2006

Weekend Question 4: Why Is Living in the Congressional District You Represent Such a Difficult Concept?

Filed under: OH-02 US House,Taxes & Government,TWUQs — Tom @ 2:09 pm

First, it was Bob McEwen wanting to represent Ohio’s Second Congressional District after buying a condo in the district one month before June 2005′s special primary, after having his principal residence the previous 12-plus years in Northern Virginia and his “sort of” residence in Ohio in Hillsboro during much of that time (Hillsboro is NOT in the Second District).

In 2006, McEwen’s further offenses against common sense were revealed when the Enquirer reported that that he and his wife (and, revealed later, his voting-age children) voted in Highland County (Hillsboro is the county seat) in the late 1990s through 2002 or 2003 , even after he stopped having any kind of residence there, and while still having his principal residence in Virginia. He and his family members obstinately continued voting in Highland County until they were disenfranchised by that county’s Board of Elections. Anyone who is so cavalier about complying with basic voting law is not a candidate who deserves anyone’s vote, even if he or she is otherwise the reincarnation of Ronald Reagan (if you’re a Republican) or FDR (if you’re a Democrat).

Then there’s Tammy Duckworth, who has taken non-residency to a new level, believing that she can represent Illiniois’ Sixth District even though she doesn’t currently live in it, and has no intention of moving into it (of course, she’s a war hero and I honor that; that doesn’t change the fact that she needs to reside where her constituents live to deserve their vote).

Shortly after I posted about Duckworth, I learned that Charlie “Green Card” Wilson (nickname created by Lincoln Logs) does not live in Ohio’s Sixth District and, like Duckworth, has no intention of moving into it.

I can think of no other public office where someone could even dream of trying to represent an area in which he or she doesn’t live. Why should serving in the House be any different?

Parachuting into a district shortly before an election and expecting to represent it knowledgeably is insufferably arrogant and unacceptable. Running for a congressional seat in a district you don’t live in shouldn’t even be legal.

Bob McEwen’s two hijacking attempts have already been repudiated. It’s time for Duckworth and Wilson to suffer the same fates. As far as I’m concerned, in situations like these, there’s no need to get to get to a discussion of “the issues.” The candidacies I’ve covered here didn’t, or don’t, deserve to exist, nor do any others that might be occurring elsewhere in the country.

Weekend Question 3: Why Shouldn’t Companies Have to Reveal What Their Highest-Paid Employees Get Paid?

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government,TWUQs — Tom @ 10:12 am

Maybe you thought that publicly-traded companies are already required to do this.

They are not. They ARE required to disclose the salaries and perks of their highest-paid executives, but not of any non-executive employees.

The Securities and Exchange Commission considered requiring disclosure of how much at least some of the highly-compensated non-execs make, but backed off:

SEC Drops Celebrity Pay Proposal
July 27, 2006

Tom Cruise can rest easy. Unless he suddenly assumes a policy-making role at Viacom, the movie star won’t find his salary listed in a proxy statement — even though his work for the company’s Paramount Pictures subsidiary has netted him a pretty penny.

That’s because the Securities and Exchange Commission voted unanimously on Wednesday to jettison a proposal — known widely as the “Katie Couric rule” after the handsomely paid CBS news anchor — that would have required a company to list up to three non-executive employees if their pay packages were heftier than those of the executive officers named in financial statements.

Instead, the SEC will go back to the drawing board and to public opinion with a new proposal to add to the revised executive-pay disclosure rules it unanimously voted to install at an open meeting on Wednesday. The new rules, most of which will have to be spelled out in plain English, will affect compensation disclosure in proxy statements, 10-Ks, and registration statements.

I think some degree of disclosure is necessary for two reasons:

  • To give some context to executive pay; If shareholders know what othere non-execs are making, they can better think through whether certain prima donnas are overpaid, execs are underpaid, or both.
  • To shine an occasional light on the artificial distinction in the tax code relating to companies’ ability to deduct executive salaries and others’ salaries for income tax purposes. A little-remembered (except in executive suites) “legacy” of the Clinton Administration was the 1993 tax package’s $1 million limitation on executive salary deductibility. Companies can and often do pay certain individual execs more, but they can’t deduct the amount over $1 million on their corporate income tax returns. This deductibility limitation was supposed to act as a hindrance to “excessive” executive compensation. It obviously didn’t work. It also led to a greater use of susceptible-to-abuse stock options instead of cash as a form of compensation. Meanwhile the pay of top stockbrokers, movie stars, athletes and others is fully deductible, no questions asked, and no disclosure required.

If shareholders really want to know where large chunks of their companies’ money are going, it only seems right that they know what the bigwigs earn, whether they happen to hold executive positions or not.

Positivity: “The Boy from Rice’s Landing” Celebrates 50 Years as a Priest

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 7:22 am

In Uniontown, Franciscan priest Matthew Brozovic looks back on an accomplished life — and he’s not done:

July 30, 2006
Local friar to mark 50th anniversary
By Frances Borsodi Zajac , Herald-Standard

As he celebrates his 50th jubilee, the Rev. Matthew R. Brozovic commented, “This has been one fantastic life. It’s hard to describe. In my 50 years as a Franciscan priest in trying to serve God, I’ve had more Tabors than Calvaries – more joys than sorrows.
“Life here at St. Anthony’s Friary in Uniontown has been one wonderful life – to steal a line from Jimmy Stewart,” he continued with a smile.

….. Brozovic, 75, will celebrate his jubilee at a Mass at 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 6, hosted by St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, Old Walnut Hill Road, Uniontown, under the direction of the Rev. Alexander L. Pleban, pastor. A display of accomplishments in Brozovic’s life will be set up in the social hall, called “The Boy From Rices Landing.”

Brozovic chose Aug. 6 for the celebration because it commemorates the Transfiguration of Christ at Mount Tabor in the presence of Apostles Peter, John and James. He also had the honor of celebrating Mass at Mount Tabor in the chapel of Moses while working in the Holy Land in 2000, which the Catholic Church observed as a Jubilee Year – a trip that Brozovic lists among the highlights of his life as a Franciscan.

“The greatest one, of course, is being ordained and doing my priestly work to the best of my ability,” he commented during a recent interview at St. Anthony Friary. “On a par was the blessing (I call it a blessing) of being one of four American Franciscans serving as an English confessor in the Holy Land during the millennial year 2000. I was a confessor at the Basilica of the tomb during the time I was there. I met people from I don’t know how many countries and was part of the official greeting company for Pope John Paul II.”

Brozovic was born on Nov. 18, 1930, in Brier Hill, the son of the late Emily L. (Yelinek) and Albert E. Brozovic and baptized in the former St. Hedwig Parish there. He grew up in Rices Landing and attended Sacred Heart Parish.

Brozovic remembers being in summer catechism at Sacred Heart when he was in the fourth grade and Sister Bernardine, a Vincentian nun, asking if any of the boys wanted to become priests.

“What made me put my hand up, I don’t know,” Brozovic said.

But he stayed true to his decision, consulting with his pastor, the Rev. Paul J. Simko, who would later become a monsignor, when it was time to register for high school. Simko recommended Brozovic become a Franciscan and, at age 13, he was enrolled that fall in St. Bonaventure High School/ Minor Seminary in Sturtevant, Wis.

“It was thrilling. I cried myself to sleep every night for two weeks,” Brozovic said. “I talked to the rector and he said you’ve got to give yourself a chance. Wait until Thanksgiving and see me a week before if you want to go home. Well, here I am and I never told my parents.”

He would remember this later as a teacher.

“I would talk to my senior students about going away and seeing the world and how they would be homesick and, believe it or not, miss Mom and Dad. That’s normal and natural. I went through it,” he said. “But if you want that dream of yours, within a couple of months, everything would be OK. I would meet them at reunions and they would tell me, ‘It was just like you said.”’

Although he would tease at his 25th anniversary Mass at Rices Landing that he decided to become a priest because he liked Simko’s Chrysler New Yorker, Brozovic said of his call to serve God, “It’s hard to describe. I just felt that’s what I wanted to do with my life. When the going is tough, demanding the best of you, always hold your own. This is the price you have to pay so you can move on to the next level.”

….. Brozovic spent his first 10 years as a priest teaching and received the George Washington Medal from The Freedom Foundation at Valley Forge for a program that was a 1960 model political convention that involved 26 schools. Through the years, he’s preached in 14 archdiocese and 25 dioceses around the country and has been to all the major shrines in Europe, Canada and the Holy Land.

He compiled a list called “Father Matthew’s Memorable Masses Around the World” that includes, in part, St. Francis of Assisi Altar in the Basilica of Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart), Paris, France; Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine, Lourdes, France; Our Lady of Fatima Shrine, Portugal; St. Thomas the Apostle Altar in the Basilica of St. Peter, Vatican City; Tomb of St. Francis in the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi; Annunciation, Nazareth; Nativity, Bethlehem (one privately and again concelebrated with Pope John Paul II); Calvary; The Holy Sepulcher; Garden of the Apparition (Risen Christ Appeared to Mary Magdalene); Mount Tabor, Site of the Transfiguration; Site of the Ascension; Chapels at the Fifth and Seventh Stations of the Via Dolorosa; Basilica of St. Anne on the reputed home site of Ss. Joachim and Anne; The Our Father Church in the Garden of Olives; Friary Chapel in Garden of Olives where Christ wept over Jerusalem prior to His Passion; and Oratory of St. Joseph in Montreal, Canada.

Although called upon to serve out of the area, Brozovic has been assigned to St. Anthony’s since 1978, where the friars provide service to the greater Catholic community. Last year, he became superior/guardian of the friary, which was established on Oakland Avenue in Uniontown in 1956. The members belong to the Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist with provincial headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Brozovic commented, “I would say another factor for the community’s goodness to the friars flows from the 27 years that the late Father Marion Herrick gave spiritual assistance to the sick – Catholic or not – at Uniontown Hospital. To this day, I meet people – Catholic or non-Catholic – when they find out I’m a Franciscan from St. Anthony’s Friary, they will have genuine kind words to say about Father Marion, and, to me, he is one of the factors in Franciscan’s promise being fulfilled here in our community. And all we can do to show our appreciation is to be the best Franciscans possible and serve the people to the best of our abilities.”

And he plans to continue that service. “From Day One of my priesthood, I have prayed that I can die with my boots on, doing priestly work in honor of God and for the good of his people,” Brozovic said.

July 29, 2006

Weekend Question 2: How Out of Your Mind Do You Have to Be to Do This?

Filed under: Business Moves,TWUQs — Tom @ 2:14 pm

Just when you think you’ve seen it all…..

This is really ill (HT Michelle Malkin):

Photographer Jill Greenberg has whipped up a storm of controversy with her new exhibition, End Times. The pictures in the show, for which she deliberately provoked tearful outbursts from children by taking away lollipops she had just given them, have been described by some as tantamount to child abuse.

I don’t give a damn what the topic was; it happened to be (surprise-not) an attempt at an anti-warChristian “statement” (thanks to Amy Ridenour for the clarification; the war in Iraq is just part of a larger objection to fundamentalist Christian beliefs.–Ed). What Greenberg did is not “tantamount” to child abuse, it IS child abuse. And it should be actionable child abuse.

And, yes, this post is in the “Business Moves” category, because Greenberg’s exhibit is a cynical version of exactly that, expressed thusly: “She utilizes this uncomfortable image as a way to break through to the pop mainstream and begin a national dialogue.” — Which is why I’m not linking to the exhibit.

Weekend Question 1: How Many More Legislators Could Porkopolis Bust for Exxon Mobil Hypocrisy?

Filed under: Business Moves,Economy,Taxes & Government,TWUQs — Tom @ 10:10 am

Answer: Probably quite a few. So far he’s up to two, and he hasn’t even worked up a sweat.

His first find is Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA), whose House web site had this announcement on Thursday:

“On the eve of the first anniversary of the passage of the Bush Energy plan, Exxon Mobil said it earned over $10 billion this quarter, the second largest quarterly profit ever recorded by a publicly-traded U.S. company. While American families get tipped upside down and have their savings shaken out of their pockets at the gas pump, the Bush-Cheney team devises even more ways to line Big Oil’s pockets. The country is demanding a new direction, starting with tough fuel economy standards that will save them from more pain at the pump; unfortunately, the President is at the economic and diplomatic wheel of this country and is heading for a brick wall.”

His second is alleged GOP Senator Mike DeWine, who was noted by NewsBusters’ Mark Finkelstein as saying on ABC that “there’s something wrong when we’re paying record prices at the pump while oil companies are making record profits.” Finkelstein says, “He didn’t tell us just what was wrong, but I guess the message for folks back in Ohio was clear: ‘I care.’”

Why the charge of hypocrisy? Because, as Porkopolis notes, in both legislators’ home states, government-run pension funds have substantial investments in Exxon Mobil, and have benefitted from the huge runup in Exxon Mobil’s share price (3-year chart). If these two gentlemen were doing more than trying to score cheap political points, they would be demanding that their states’ government-sponsored retirement plans immediately divest themselves of ownership in Exxon Mobil and other (presumably evil) oil companies.

It just so happens that it might be a good strategy to dump oil stocks, because they may have peaked, but that’s beside the point. Pension funds hire professional managers to try to maximize returns; any other objective besides attempting to maximize returns (consistent with safety) is considered a breach of fiduciary duties under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974. As can clearly be seen from the linked chart, what’s good for Exxon Mobil has been good for the states and their employees.

In terms of energy policy and national security, Mr. Markey and Mr. DeWine would be well advised to cast votes supporting drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, so that its supply can perhaps have an impact on worldwide oil prices, and so that the oil fields’ existence can provide at least a degree of protection against overseas supply disruptions.

Positivity: The Run of His Life

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 7:09 am

Though injured himself, 12 year-old Australian Jack Joseland ran over three miles through the outback to save his teacher’s life:

Run of his life
MODEST bush hero Jack Joseland was reunited with his proud parents yesterday insisting he didn’t know what all the fuss was about.

The 12-year-old schoolboy has been hailed as a hero after running 5km to save the life of his teacher critically injured in an outback car crash.

Speaking exclusively to The Sunday Mail yesterday, he insisted: “I just did what I needed to do.

“I don’t mind being called a hero but it’s a bit embarrassing. I don’t know what all the fuss is about.”

Paramedics say his quick actions saved the life of his tutor Wendy Blumson, 65, after Thursday’s accident about 10.30am left her trapped with massive chest injuries on a remote road.

It was Jack’s mercy run that got medical personnel on the scene in time to save his teacher’s life.

Jack and Mrs Blumson hit a series of ditches in a dirt road south of Longreach while driving 160km to Noonbah homestead from his home at Newhaven Station, 12km east of Yaraka.

“When Wendy hit the first one she managed to regain control, but then we hit the second and the third and were shunted sideways over the drain,” Jack said.

“We were airborne, then we slammed into a tree.”

After the smash Jack fought shock to take stock of the situation.

“I could see that the steering wheel was all mashed up and it was pushed up against Wendy’s chest,” he said. “She looked like she was in a fair bit of pain but she was able to say that I needed to go and get help.”

Jack kicked open the stuck door and squeezed out.

“Then I started to run.”

Jack was cut and seriously bruised in the accident, which police say happened at 100km/h.

But he ignored the pain.

“I was a bit frightened and it hurt a bit but I’ve known Wendy pretty much all my life and I needed to help her,” he said.

“I knew Noonbah wasn’t too far away. I don’t think I’ve ever run that far before.

“After a while I took my coat off and threw it on the ground. I was pretty tired but I had to keep going.”

Police say Jack arrived at Noonbah homestead less than half an hour later.

Karen Emmott, a qualified nurse, opened the door to the exhausted boy.

“He was pretty bashed up. But he is a typical bush boy. A tough little man,” she said.

“We called an ambulance and then went to the scene to do what we could.”

Thanks to Jack’s mercy dash, paramedics arrived on the accident scene a little over an hour after the crash.

“(Mrs Blumson) was in a critical condition,” Longreach paramedic Brian Masters said. “There’s no doubt Jack’s actions saved her life.

“He is a hero.”

Mrs Blumson had crushed ribs and sternum, damaged lungs and badly cut knees.

….. “We are very proud of him,” his mum said. “He’s a very independent young man.”

July 28, 2006

Column of the Day: On the Devolution of NOW

Filed under: General,Quotes, Etc. of the Day — Tom @ 2:08 pm

Charlotte Hays, senior editor at the Independent Womens Forum, attended the 40th birthday celebration of the National Organization of Women (NOW) in Albany, NY last weekend.

It was such an inconsequential event that Hillary Clinton didn’t deign to be there.

Here’s Hays on what has happened:

NOW is to young women today as the suffragettes must have been to NOW founders–deserving of respect, but oh so old. NOW’s irrelevance was further emphasized by a film celebrating its “40 fearless years.” It honored past presidents with recognizable names like Betty Friedan and Molly Yard. Each new face on the screen generated wild applause. Nostalgia is to be expected at a birthday party, but what of the future? Eleanor Smeal, another former NOW president, gave a rousing speech insisting that the “best is yet to be.” Looking ahead, Ms. Smeal called for . . . passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Yes, that Equal Rights Amendment, the one Phyllis Schlafly defeated in 1982.

….. A member of the Veteran Feminists of America, a NOW offshoot, spoke of the days in the 1960s when NOW could call the New York Times and, instead of requesting a meeting with top brass, simply dictate the time and place–and know that reporters would show up. Those days are gone. The reason may be that there are now many other organizations with similar agendas. But some of the decline is simply that there is no new blood there. One of the founders, a former holy terror, who was instrumental in the creation of Catholics for a Free Choice, currently devotes herself to animal rights. “Help the animals,” she stood up to say, apropos of nothing, after one of the sessions.
It is hard to say how big NOW’s influence is today. The organization currently claims 500,000 members. But who knows? Muriel Fox, a NOW founder, admitted at the meeting that the organization fudged its numbers upward when dealing with the press in the early days.

There’s no new blood and litle influence at NOW because:

  • First, the feminist agenda hasn’t been updated in at least 20 years.
  • Second, NOW long ago allowed itself to become a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party. Look at the agenda items on its home page, and try to tell me I’m wrong.
  • Third, and this should not be underestimated, NOW leaders defended (and did not merely tolerate) the conduct of Bill Clinton that led to impeachment, when it would not have tolerated similar conduct by virtually every other man on earth.

It didn’t have to be this way. The legitimate interests of women around the world have been ill-served by NOW for well over a generation.

Wizbang Weekend Carnival participant.

Preliminary 2nd Quarter GDP Growth Comes in at 2.5%

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 8:56 am

That’s what the Bureau of Economic Analysis says.

The key factor in the overall second-quarter growth result was that Uncle Sam was spending less (yes, you are reading that right):

The deceleration in real GDP growth in the second quarter primarily reflected downturns in PCE (personal consumption expenditures) for durable goods and in equipment and software, decelerations in exports and in PCE for nondurable goods, a downturn in federal government spending, and a larger decrease in residential fixed investment that were partly offset by a deceleration in imports, an acceleration in PCE for services, and an upturn in private inventory investment.

….. Real federal government consumption expenditures and gross investment decreased 3.4 percent in the second quarter, in contrast to an increase of 8.8 percent in the first. National defense decreased 1.0 percent, in contrast to an increase of 8.9 percent. Nondefense decreased 7.8 percent, in contrast to an increase of 8.5 percent. Real state and local government consumption expenditures and gross investment increased 3.0 percent, compared with an increase of 2.7 percent.

That’s a 12.2% downward swing (from plus 3.4% to minus 8.8%) in the federal government element of GDP, which is roughly 20% 7% of all consumption (transfer payments like Social Security and welfare are excluded). Also note that the state/local government element didn’t change much. So for overall GDP growth to have come in at 2.5%, the rest of the economy (i.e., the private sector) had to have chugged along pretty nicely at a 5%-plus at a bit over 3% (see Update below) growth rate. Not stellar, but given the oil-price situation, I’ll take it.

I suspect that the two revisions that will take place in August and September will move 2nd quarter GDP growth closer to 3%.


UPDATE: An early AP report starts thusly, and quotes overall government spending stats instead of just the federal element –

The economy’s growth slowed sharply in the second quarter, logging just a 2.5 percent pace as consumers tightened their belts and spending on home building dived. Inflation, however, shot up.

….. Government spending also was more subdued, growing at a pace of just 0.6 percent in the second quarter, compared with a 4.9 percent growth rate in the first quarter.

Very “clever,” reporting by AP, which chose to report the change in consumption by all governments (federal, state, and local) instead of the element (federal spending) that had the big change.

Even using the AP’s diluted numbers — If the increase in government consumption was only 0.6%, and ALL government consumption is about 20% (7% federal and about 13% state/local) of all consumption in the economy, how much did the other 80% of the economy have to grow? Answer: 3%.

Bizzy’s AM Coffee Biz-Econ-Life Links (072806)

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 8:34 am

Free Links:

  • The Toledo Blade objects to a per-mile tax on driversYou won’t believe why.
  • The Big Oil profit-per-second calculation I noted in a New York Times piece at yesterday’s AM-Coffee post (third item) is all of a sudden pretty popular. Here’s what I received in a CNN e-mail yesterday:

    $10.36 billion dollars in three months. That’s about $1,317 a second. That’s a lot of money … enough to drive a Hummer H3 from Los Angeles to New York three times, at current gas prices. It’s what ExxonMobil reported this morning for last quarter’s profit. Our energy writer was groaning this morning about writing the story. That’s because nobody who reads it will be happy. There’s the obvious and usual criticism of Big Oil and ungodly profits and exploitation and yaddayaddayadda. But then there are also those who write in to say this is a company reaping a proper investment after years of work and that we’re “sensationalizing” their windfall. Whatever. $1,317 a second is still pretty impressive.

    What’s even “more impressive” is the over $78,000 per second our federal government spends with it’s $2.466 trillion dollar budget (2005 figure, according to the 2006 CIA Factbook, which is downloadable as a Zip file at this link).

  • Google, which I am sure is sensing major pressure over this, comes clean over clicks:

    For the first time, the Internet search giant is disclosing to advertisers the number of bogus clicks it detects but doesn’t charge for.

    Google hopes the disclosure will ease advertisers’ concerns and blunt critics who say the company isn’t doing enough to address the problem. Advertisers have sued the company, which is awaiting approval for a $90 million click-fraud settlement that opponents say lets the company off too easy.

    Click fraud poses a big risk to Google’s $6 billion-a-year advertising business, because advertisers can’t be sure that someone is looking at their ad.

    A company that buys an ad on Google or its partner sites pays each time someone clicks on their advertised link.

    Fraudsters undermine this system by repeatedly clicking on an ad or using a computer program to do it. The fake clicks create bogus traffic and burn through ad budgets.

    ….. Google contends it does a good job of detecting fake clicks and that fears are overblown. The company blames inflated estimates on firms that promise to root out the problem and get refunds for advertisers.

    “These reports have flawed methodologies,” said Shuman Ghosemajumder, Google’s business product manager for trust and safety. “They also have a financial incentive.”

    Whatever the reality, Google added to the debate by refusing to provide its own figures, with the excuse that fraudsters could use the information to mount further attacks.

    Google said the new information it is releasing to advertisers will break out the number of clicks it deems “invalid” on their regular statements. This includes clicks that are accidents or arise from a few situations other than fraud.

    Because Google automatically excludes these clicks, many advertisers had little or no idea how many bogus clicks the company was filtering out – until now.

    Speaking of pressure, I would guess that Yahoo! and others are now under the gun to do something similar.

  • People who are into Legos, and that includes a lot of adults these days, should be pretty excited about this.

Positivity: 16 Year-Old Helps Save 31 from Blaze

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:01 am

On the Isle of Man, an island off the West Coast of England, a teenager saved dozens from being trapped by a fire:

July 24, 2006
MODEST teenage ‘hero’ Steffan Hoy has played down his role in saving 31 people from a serious blaze.

Steffan, 16, raised the alarm as flames ripped through the Adelphi Hotel, in Douglas, in the early hours of Friday morning.

He ran through the hotel knocking on doors to wake sleeping guests.

Steffan, who lives across the street from the Adelphi, called the fire brigade and set off the alarm at the hotel, in Stanley View, where 13 holidaymakers were staying.

He also activated the alarm at a neighbouring property.

Before firefighters arrived on the scene he had started the evacuation of residents and he, along with another man, used fire extinguishers to soak an oil tank at the back of the Adelphi, in an attempt to prevent it catching fire.

Civil Defence emergency planning officer Martin Blackburn – called to the scene to find alternative accommodation for the hotel’s guests – said Steffan was the ‘hero of the moment’.

The sentiment was echoed by hotel owner Lenny Carr. But Steffan, a lighting technician at the Villa Marina, said: ‘I just reacted on instinct. I just did what anyone should do really.’

He explained he was watching a film at home in Waverley Terrace when he heard a fire alarm coming from the Claymore House Apartments, next door to the Adelphi.

He shot across the road and activated the Adelphi’s alarm.

‘I then ran through the building, knocking on doors to make sure everyone would get out,’ said Steffan, who has just finished his GCSEs at St Ninian’s High School.

He said it was difficult to breathe because of the smoke. ‘Some of the guests were shocked, but some gathered they needed to get out,’ he said.

All escaped unharmed.