September 16, 2006

Post of the Day — Anchoress on the Pope, the President, and 1981

Filed under: Quotes, Etc. of the Day,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 8:41 pm

As the press stokes the Muslim fires, a suggestion that one should “Be careful what you wish for” is indeed timely:

….. what has struck me today is this talk of Benedict being assassinated in Turkey. There is a best-selling book predicting it, and it is apparently the big topic of conversation in certain chat rooms.

I can’t remember a time when the assassination of presidents and popes was so openly discussed by so many, and so clearly considered a desirable event by people who have lost their moral compasses.

All I can say to these folks is: be careful what you wish for.

In March of 1981 an attempt was made on the life of Ronald Reagan. Only a few months later, in May of ’81, an attempt was made on the life of Pope John Paul II. Payback was a bitch.

Even though the attempt on Reagan’s life was born from a sick celebrity-obsession (quite unlike the attempt on John Paul’s life, which was political), those two very hated men, once recovered, ended up being enormously effective tools in the beating back of an evil ideology whose tentacles were vastly flung. Who knows if those two seemingly unrelated assasssination attempts, and the fortitude and courage with which the targets endured them, didn’t create a cosmic shift of sorts.

I remember. I would say they created quite the “cosmic shift.”

Flood Insurance Leads to Building and Rebuilding That Shouldn’t Occur

Filed under: Taxes & Government — Tom @ 4:43 pm

The existence of federal flood insurance, and the government’s willingness to compensate owners of washed-out properties after disaster strikes (either at highly-subsidized flood insurance rates, or sometimes in cases where properties weren’t even covered in the first place), gives the rich (and, yes, many non-rich) the ability to rebuild their shoreline or riverfront playgrounds at taxpayer expense as often as the disasters hit.

Logical question: If a private insurer isn’t willing to underwrite the risk of flooding at a reasonable fee, doesn’t that tell you that the hazards of building or rebuilding are too great?

Porkopolis, who has done a lot with the topic, has more.

Weekend Question 2: David Strom Asks “Whatever Happened to the Greed?”

Filed under: Business Moves,Economy,Taxes & Government,TWUQs — Tom @ 2:32 pm

ANSWER: It was always there, but “it” isn’t greed, it’s “maximizing shareholder value while dealing with prices THEY DON’T CONTROL.”
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Strom elaborates at Townhall:

Just a few months ago, you couldn’t open a newspaper or turn on the television without being bombarded with angry denouncements of the greed of oil company executives.

….. The thread that held together all this nonsense was based on a couple of obvious falsehoods: first, that our use of or dependence upon oil in this economy is something unnatural or created, an “addiction” that needs to be treated by massive government intervention in the economics of energy; and second, that the run-up in the price of oil was driven by the avarice of oil company executives who discovered that addiction and exploited it to their benefit.

Both of those assumptions are silly, and based upon a fundamental misunderstanding of basic economics.

Consider the first misunderstanding, that America is “addicted” to oil. It is as correct to say that America is addicted to oil as it is to say that America is addicted to corn and soybeans. Oil happens to be, on balance, an extremely economical and flexible way to generate and transport energy. It is, or at least has been, relatively cheap to use compared to other energy sources, and it is pretty much unsurpassed as a motor fuel.

In other words, Americans use so much oil simply because it is relatively cheap, abundant, and convenient to use. Pretty much the same could be said of our use of corn and soybeans. We grow so much and use so much of them because they serve our purposes well and economically.

….. Now consider the second misunderstanding, that oil prices rose so quickly due to the greed of oil companies bent on exploiting “oil-addicted” Americans. This assertion is even sillier than the first. While I have no doubt that oil company executives have their share of greed and avarice in their hearts, I can’t for the life of me explain why these executives were less greedy last November when gas prices averaged $2.10 than they were September 5th, when they topped out at $3.03, or today, when gas is back down to about $2.60 a gallon or less. I just bought some gas at $2.27 a gallon at my local station.

If greed were the driving force behind gas prices, why the huge swings in price? Are oil company executives less driven by greed today than 2 weeks ago?

The simple fact is, gas prices, just like the price of corn, soybeans, or any other commodity item are driven largely by supply and demand on a worldwide scale. These prices are subject to huge swings depending upon many things, including of course the worries investors have over supply shocks due to political conditions such as the Iraq war, Iranian nuclear ambitions, the whims of Venezuela’s dictator Hugo Chavez, and any number of other considerations.

Nobody expects the average politician to be a profile of courage, calmly explaining to irate citizens why price swings are a normal and expected occurrence in a volatile marketplace. But when the politicians begin proposing price controls, windfall profits taxes, huge tax breaks to ethanol producers, or even mandatory profit controls on oil companies, it’s time to put on the brakes.

Time and again, experience has shown us that the best response from government is to let the market work. The oil price shocks of the 70’s didn’t give us gas lines, government supply and price controls did. Market conditions and geology didn’t reduce oil drilling in the US, the Carter-era windfall profits taxes and ongoing government restrictions on oil drilling did.

In short, rather than seeing politicians as providers of solutions to our oil price woes, Americans could rightly see them as part of the problem. Almost every solution they offer would make things worse, not better.

Thankfully, the declining price environment put the brakes on government’s temptation to control things this time. Unless our politicians don’t get a grip on how markets really work, heaven help us if there’s a situation of continual price increases for a couple of years.

Weekend Question 1: When Will the E-Voting Vulnerabilities Get the Attention They Deserve?

Filed under: Taxes & Government,TWUQs — Tom @ 10:02 am

Yes, there are some hysterics at this post, and yes I’m a bit suspicious, but given what is being claimed, it shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand (video is here):

The scientific study has revealed, for the first time, that a computer virus can be easily implanted on an electronic voting machine which could, in turn, result in votes flipped for opposing candidates. The virus, as well, could be written to then spread itself from one machine to the next resulting in a stolen election. The malfeasance would likely never be discovered, the scientists have said.

Though the concept of stolen votes via electronic voting systems has been widely regarded as theoretically possible by experts up until now, a top-secret four-month long hands-on study of an actual touch-screen voting system, by the scientists at Princeton, has confirmed the worst nightmares of elections officials and American voters…not to mention a voting machine company known as Diebold.

….. Working directly with a Diebold AccuVote TS touch-screen voting system, the computer scientists have been able to implant a nearly-undetectable virus onto a touch-screen voting system, managing to successfully alter a voter’s ballot — after it’s already been confirmed and cast — in order to flip the vote so that it is recorded for a candidate other than the one the voter had intended.

According to the study’s team leader, Edward W. Felten, a professor at Princeton’s Department of Computer Science, the report confirms – and records in a video-taped demonstration – that such a malicious virus could be easily inserted onto a Diebold touch-screen voting system by a single individual “with just one or two minutes of unsupervised access to either the voting machine or the memory card” used with the system to store ballot definitions and vote tabulations.

The virus, as programmed by the Princeton team, could then spread from one voting system to the next depending on the way the machine in use is configured, or the way in which votes are tabulated in any particular jurisdication (sic).

A YouTube demo is here. SOB Alliance member Joab tells Ken Blackwell “Thanks for nothing.” There’s a long line of people who should be told that.

Someone who knows more than I needs to tell why I shouldn’t care. Good luck.

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Cut-the-Bullcrap Update (HT Techdirt; the quote is from Techdirt):

Diebold, in typical fashion, has responded not by admitting to any problems, but by attacking Felten’s report — claiming that his test (done on a machine acquired just a few months ago) was based on older software.

(So how many elections have been conducted using obviously vulnerable “older software”? — Ed.)

….. What’s most amazing of all is that Diebold continues to act defiantly about this, despite overwhelming proof that their machines have tremendous fundamental problems. Given the importance of secure and accurate elections, Diebold’s continued denial of problems and attitude that there’s no problem at all should concern just about everyone. Yet, it seems like they’re being used almost everywhere.

Am I the only person thinking that Diebold is going to use real elections as their Beta tests?

Positivity: 3 Year-Old Gets Heart and Liver Transplant

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 7:01 am

Jessica Nichols is surviving a one-in-a-million disease (HT Good News Blog):
North Texas Girl Survives ‘Miracle’ Transplant

3-Year-Old Finds Heart And Liver Transplant
September 7, 2006FORT WORTH Jessica Nichols is a little girl with a big smile — and some big problems.

She was diagnosed with a one-in-a-million disease.

Her liver couldn’t process cholesterol and her cholesterol level soared to 1,000, nearly 10 times normal levels.

“There was no cure for it, only treatments,” explains Roy Nichols, Jessica’s father.

“We were looking at a five-year life span.”

Medical personnel said the girl’s arteries were clogging and at 3 years old, her time was running out.

“Eventually it was either going to cause her a heart attack or a stroke. And the heart won. It was the heart,” her father recalls.

When she was 3, Jessica suffered a near-fatal heart attack.

The girl needed a miracle — a heart and liver transplant. She was placed on a donors’ list and her parents told it could be a long a wait.

Roy Nichols says 48 hours later they got the miracle.

“Sunday at six o’clock I looked at the beeper and I just said to myself, ‘why don’t you just go off?’ And, the beeper went off. So it kind of freaked us all out,” he recalls.

Doctors found an organ donor for Jessica and she survived the transplant.

“I have no words to explain it. It’s just unreal. You can’t explain the joy, the relief … How your faith all of a sudden just gets even bigger than it was before,” Ray Nichols muses.