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.”