This page is from the original Don't Let Me Stop You blog. We have moved to a new site: Visit DLMSY on WordPress.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Oil Price Bubble

Now might not be the time to "lock in" your winter heating fuel prices:
OpinionJournal - Hot Topic: "We keep hearing the word 'bubble' to describe industries with rapid and unsustainable rising prices. Hence, the Internet bubble, the telecom bubble, stock market bubble, and now, some analysts believe, a housing bubble. Yet for some mysterious reason no one speaks of the oil bubble--though prices have tripled in two years to as high as $70 a barrel."
Prices will drop and stay down from current levels.

The Real Prizes

Those would be the Ig Nobel Prizes, including the Biology Award for Creating Fake Dog Testicles, the Chemistry Prize for sniffing frogs, the Peace Prize for showing Star Wars to bugs, and a very special prize for Literature.

New Standard for Nobel Peace Prize

In a way you almost have to admire the Nobel Committee's efforts with the "Peace" Prize. Afterall, they've already awarded it to the likes of Yasser Arafat, Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, UN "Peacekeepers" and the entire UN. At a certain point you begin to ask yourself, "How can they ever top this one?" Yet despite the odds, the Committee manages to set the bar lower and lower year after year:
ABC News: U.N. Nuke Watchdog Wins Nobel Peace Prize: "VIENNA, Austria -- Oct 7, 2005 Mohammed ElBaradei and his International Atomic Energy agency won the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize Friday, leaving the chief U.N. nuclear inspector strengthened in a job he nearly lost because of a dispute with the United States over Iran and Iraq.

ElBaradei suggested winning the world's most prestigious award vindicated his methods and goals using diplomacy rather than confrontation and defusing tensions in multilateral negotiations that strive for consensus."
If this keeps up, soon it will be easier for an ant to jump over the bar than to crawl under it. We can almost hear the Committee casting about for some way to offer Kofi and the Boys a little pick-me-up. They've been so down with this nasty Volcker witch hunt. No doubt they considered the Oil For Food program itself for the "Peace" Prize, but you have to keep something in reserve for the future.

Spineless Invertebrates

Those would be the gutless Republican "majority" in the US Senate. Thomas Sowell says don't blame GWB for the Miers nomination. It could well be the best he can do under the circumstances:
Harriet who?: "When it comes to taking on a tough fight with the Senate Democrats over judicial nominations, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist doesn't really have a majority to lead. Before the President nominated anybody, before he even took the oath of office for his second term, Senator Arlen Specter was already warning him not to nominate anyone who would rile up the Senate. Later, Senator John Warner issued a similar warning. It sounded like a familiar Republican strategy of pre-emptive surrender.

Before we can judge how the President played his hand, we have to consider what kind of hand he had to play. It was a weak hand -- and the weakness was in the Republican Senators.

Does this mean that Harriet Miers will not be a good Supreme Court justice if she is confirmed? It is hard to imagine her being worse than Sandra Day O'Connor -- or even as bad.

The very fact that Harriet Miers is a member of an evangelical church suggests that she is not dying to be accepted by the beautiful people, and is unlikely to sell out the Constitution of the United States in order to be the toast of Georgetown cocktail parties or praised in the New York Times. Considering some of the turkeys that Republicans have put on the Supreme Court in the past, she could be a big improvement."
It does seem the Dems have practically no chance to defeat her nomination, and they may even be relieved that they don't have to try. So if the Republicans don't bring her down, she's a lock. As Sowell points out, the most important thing is how she will vote, and there is reason for optimism on that score. For one thing she's been directly involved in selecting all the great Appeals Court nominees that the Left Wing interest groups have been scared to death of. That's A Good Thing.

Technorati: , , , ,

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Ramadan Offensive in US?

Is there an attempt to "celebrate" the start of Ramadan with a wave of terrorist attacks in the US homeland?
Tapscott's Copy Desk: "First, Joel Henry Hinrichs blows up himself Oct. 1 just outside of the Oklahoma Memorial Stadium and the 84,000 fans watching the Sooners play the Kansas State Wildcats. Packed football stadiums are prime targets for terrorists.

Second, first fasting day of Ramadan is Oct. 5. Anti-terrorist experts and indeed millions of Muslims around the world fear potential terrorist attacks designed 'to make a statement' during the most significant holiday on the Muslim calender.

Third, a credible threat to place 19 briefcase bombs in the New York City subway system is uncovered and apparently foiled."
Tapscott's blog is an excellent source for information on the bombing at the OU vs. KSU game that killed only the bomber. There hasn't been much play on this in the national media, but the local media in Oklahoma, as well as the blogosphere, are on the story. Ryne has a rundown on things, as does Michelle Malkin. Zombie has a satellite photo of the scene and a bunch of good links.

As Ryne asks, who builds a bomb just to blow themselves up? It seems self-evident that this was a failed (or aborted) terrorist action. The only real question is: Was he acting alone or were others involved? And, if it's the latter, there are followup questions.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Noonan on the Miers Appointment

Peggy Noonan views the nomination as a clear misstep by the President. She writes in the free OpinionJournal site:
"The headline lately is that conservatives are stiffing the president. They're in uproar over Ms. Meirs, in rebellion over spending, critical over cronyism. But the real story continues to be that the president feels so free to stiff conservatives. The White House is not full of stupid people. They knew conservatives would be disappointed that the president chose his lawyer for the high court. They knew conservatives would eventually awaken over spending. They knew someone would tag them on putting friends in high places. They knew conservatives would not like the big-government impulses revealed in the response to Hurricane Katrina. The headline is not that this White House endlessly bows to the right but that it is not at all afraid of the right. Why? This strikes me as the most interesting question.

Here are some maybes. Maybe the president has simply concluded he has no more elections to face and no longer needs his own troops to wage the ground war and contribute money. Maybe with no more elections to face he's indulging a desire to show them who's boss. Maybe he has concluded he has a deep and unwavering strain of support within the party that, come what may, will stick with him no matter what. Maybe he isn't all that conservative a fellow, or at least all that conservative in the old, usual ways, and has been waiting for someone to notice. Maybe he has decided the era of hoping for small government is over. Maybe he is a big-government Republican who has a shrewder and more deeply informed sense of the right than his father did, but who ultimately sees the right not as a thing he is of but a thing he must appease, defy, please or manipulate. Maybe after five years he is fully revealing himself. Maybe he is unveiling a new path that he has not fully articulated--he'll call the shots from his gut and leave the commentary to the eggheads. Maybe he's totally blowing it with his base, and in so doing endangering the present meaning and future prospects of his party.

Whatever the answer, history is being revealed here by the administration every day, and it's big history, not small."

Nobel Prizes

Well, the Nobel Prize for Chemistry has been announced. Once again, inexplicably, the committee has ignored our stellar contributions in this field:
"Stockholm, Oct. 5 (AP): France's Yves Chauvin and Americans Robert H. Grubbs and Richard R. Schrock won the 2005 Nobel Prize in chemistry on Wednesday, for their discoveries that let industry produce drugs and plastics more efficiently and with less hazardous waste.

The trio won the award for their development of the metathesis method in organic synthesis _ a way to rearrange groups of atoms within molecules that the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences likened to a dance in which couples change partners.
The process is used daily in the chemical, biotechnology and food industries to make stronger plastics, better drugs and improved food preservatives."
Now we feel the pain of Edgar Escultura when the Physics Prize was announced on Tuesday. The Peace Prize is to be announced on Friday, and we are anxious to see President Reagan finally get the recognition he deserves for bringing down the Communist Evil Empire that had enslaved millions and held the West Hostage for 50 years. Unfortunately, our chances of getting the Chemistry Prize are probably considerably better.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Miers Nomination

We're still not quite sure where we stand on Miers for SCOTUS. Given that so little is really known about her, it's hard to form a sound opinion.

Randy Barnett, writing in OpinionJournal charges cronyism and lack of qualifications for the US Supreme Court job. It's like sending a high school or college quarterback to play in the NFL, says Barnett:
OpinionJournal - Extra: "Ms. Miers would be well qualified for a seat on a court of appeals, where she could develop a grasp of all these important issues. She would then have to decide what role text and original meaning should play in constitutional interpretation in the context of close cases and very difficult decisions. The Supreme Court is no place to confront these issues for the very first time.

Given her lack of experience, does anyone doubt that Ms. Miers's only qualification to be a Supreme Court justice is her close connection to the president? Would the president have ever picked her if she had not been his lawyer, his close confidante, and his adviser?"
Barnett compares her to LBJ's appointment of his buddy, Abe Fortas, to the court, including the failed attempt to elevate Fortas to Chief Justice. Pres. Johnson actually persuaded a sitting justice to resign to create a seat for Fortas. Once on the court, Fortas used to brief LBJ on the court's secret deliberations, and he lobbied senators on behalf of LBJ's proposals. That's cronyism on a whole different level.

George Will argues strenuously against the Miers pick in a similar vein. In Will's view she's not the best candidate, not even a good one, and Bush's arguments for her amount to little more than "Trust me." Will is not inclined to do so:
"He has neither the inclination nor the ability to make sophisticated judgments about competing approaches to construing the Constitution. Few presidents acquire such abilities in the course of their prepresidential careers, and this president, particularly, is not disposed to such reflections. [...]

In addition, the president has forfeited his right to be trusted as a custodian of the Constitution. The forfeiture occurred March 27, 2002, when, in a private act betokening an uneasy conscience, he signed the McCain-Feingold law expanding government regulation of the timing, quantity and content of political speech."
We must agree that GWB has been disappointing in defending the right of free political speech against "campaign reform." We're also quite concerned that a much needed national debate about the proper role of the courts has just been ditched. Whether this is political expediency, a sign of weakness, or just an unwillingness to take any risks with a winning hand, it is still a lost opportunity. We never got the issues out in the open with the Roberts nomination, and now it seems we either won't have the debate at all, or we'll be using the JV team instead of the first string.

James Taranto in Best of the Web makes the best case he can for the Miers nomination, quoting others' comments along the way, but he doesn't seem to quite convince himself.

Sen. Cornyn (R-TX) does better
, having the advantage of actually knowing the nominee. He points out that 41 of 109 SCOTUS justices to date had no previous judicial experience when nominated (including Rehnquist):
"Furthermore, Harriet Miers's background as a legal practitioner is an asset, not a detriment. She has spent her career representing real people in courtrooms across America. This is precisely the type of experience that the Supreme Court needs. The court is full of justices who served as academics and court of appeals judges before they were nominated to the bench. What the court is missing is someone who understands the consequences of its decisions on the American people.

This experience gap is a real one. With the exception of the newly confirmed chief justice, John Roberts, no justice on the court has been an advocate in a court of law in the past 25 years, and Chief Justice Roberts was involved only at the appellate level.

Harriet Miers, by contrast, has a long and successful career as a lawyer representing corporate and individual clients in a variety of state and federal courts. I am confident that this background provides her with an understanding of the burdens of modern litigation, a recognition of the problems with frivolous lawsuits and an appreciation for tort reform."
This is not a recap of Nebraska Sen. Roman Hruska's infamous defense of "mediocre" nominee Harold Carswell. The SCOTUS is out of touch with normal people (c.f. Kelo).
"Anyone who has followed the Supreme Court in recent years knows that what the institution needs most is a dose of life beyond Washington. Last year, the court permitted a public display of the Ten Commandments in Texas, but not in Kentucky. It took nine justices on the court 10 different opinions to explain why this was so. The court is dangerously out of touch with America. Ms. Miers will help bring it back down to earth."
This is a good argument for appointing an "outsider."

Lot's of good commentary on both sides at Confirm Them.

Technorati: , , , ,

Monday, October 03, 2005


On Friday night Viper and I went to see the new Joss Whedon movie, Serenity, at our local cinema. It was opening night, and we had been waiting to see it since we first heard a movie was in the works. The film is based on Whedon's TV series Firefly. The series was cancelled (by Fox) without even airing all the episodes, but developed a strong following after the DVD release. Firefly has been described as a sort of "space western," and that does give you an idea of what it's like.

We really loved the film, as did Viper's two friends who were not familiar with the TV series. It also got two "Thumbs Up" from Ebert and Roeper, so don't miss it.

Harriet Miers

Color us "underwhelmed" by the choice of Harriet Miers for the second SCOTUS spot. There are so many other great candidates that could have been chosen. There are so many reasons that now was the time to fight hard for someone worth fighting for. Instead we get Harry Reid's choice as the nominee? Is this how the Bush presidency effectively ends: not with a bang but a whimper?

Let's try to put the most optimistic face on this development:
  1. Perhaps the Dems will fight her anyway from force of habit and block her. She may not get an ABA "well-qualified" rating. Forced to choose again, Bush may make a better choice.
  2. Perhaps she'll be confirmed and actually turn out be a good justice. (We have to ignore the history of Souter, Kennedy, and O'Connor to buy this one, but it might happen.)
  3. Perhaps because of this, Justice Ginsburg will decide that now is a better time to retire than she thought.
... and here's another SCOTUS problem.

Understatement of the Year

We always love a good understatement. "'The circumstances around the game dictated that we throw a little bit more,' said Huskers coach Bill Callahan."
"A little bit more," as in 36 of 55 for 431 yards. At one point in the first half 24 of 25 consecutive plays were passes.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Senator Bill Frist

We've been frustrated that the filibuster/obstruction of judicial nominees by the Senate Democrat minority was allowed to continue for so long. This has led us to question Senate Majority Leader Frist's leadership and toughness.

We may have to change our view. Manuel Miranda, former counsel to the senator, argues in his OpinionJournal column, The Next Justices, that Frist's work is largely responsible for breaking the logjam.
"Sam's father urged me to speak to his remarkable son because Sam has another hero, the senator who caused him to notice Senate politics and the battle for the courts: Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee. Mr. Frist deserves credit not only for Sam's awareness of the third branch of government and the Senate's stewardship of the judiciary, but also for the success of the Roberts nomination.

Yesterday Chief Justice John Roberts was confirmed on time by the Senate and sworn in. At any moment, the president will nominate a replacement for Justice O'Connor. Hearings for that nominee will likely begin in early November, with a final vote just before or after Thanksgiving. While the Roberts process was a dud as far as national controversies go, live fire is expected in the next fight, whether the nominee deserves it or not. With his next pick, President Bush will gamble the future of his party. But the freedom to nominate whoever he wishes, that he will exercise or squander, was preserved for him first by Americans who elected a Senate Republican majority, and second by Mr. Frist, who made that election have consequences when he put the judicial filibuster tiger back into its cage earlier this year."

Husker Game Report

We were at the Iowa State - Nebraska football game yesterday. The Huskers won it in double overtime 27-20, so there was a lot to like. After slumbering for the first three games, the West Coast Offense came alive in huge way. Quarterback Zac Taylor racked up over 400 yds passing, a new school record. He showed great poise and leadership, and the protection greatly improved. The defense continued to play well against an excellent ISU offense.

There's still plenty of room for improvement in some areas, particularly in terms of getting touchdowns when in the red zone. However, the team showed great character, and we're a lot more optimistic about this season than we were last week.

P.S. The radio announcers claimed the crowd was not into the game. I don't know what game they were watching. It was mighty noisy where I was sitting.

Krugman Goes for the Record

We don't know if they give a Pulitzer for the most corrections in a single, opinion column, but if so, Paul Krugman* must certainly be leading the pack. It just shows that for the New York Times, where arrogance and politically-driven coverage meet, the sky is truly the limit.

And what more can you say about Krugman? The man isn't satisfied to rest on his laurels with a hat-trick of corrections. He's pushing the envelope into the fourth dimension. As Editor & Publisher reports:
'NY Times' Finally Runs Full Correction on Krugman Column: "NEW YORK
Just days after it ran an editors' note--under pressure from outside and within--that sort of admitted it had erred in a blast at Fox News' Gerald Rivera during the Katrina tragedy, The New York Times finally ran a full correction on Sunday, on its editorial page, for a miscue by columnist Paul Krugman, while announcing a new policy on noting errors on that page.

Krugman had three times previously admitted getting wrong part of his Aug. 19 column about media recounts of the 2000 Bush-Gore race, but critics kept claiming that he still hadn't gotten it quite right. Editorial Page Editor Gail Collins wrote on Sunday that it had turned into a 'correction run amok.'"

* Former Enron advisor.


Last month we traveled to Lisbon on a business trip. The Portuguese I met were warm and friendly to foreigners, and the part of the city where I was staying seemed to be booming. There was a lot of construction going on, and much had been done previously for Expo 98. A large shopping center, named for Vasco de Gama, was full of stores and customers.

Appearances can be deceiving, especially on a short visit when you don't speak the language. Matthew Kaminiski reports in the Wall Street Journal, in this (unfortunately) subscription-only link. The Portuguese economy is not healthy:
"Arriving here, my first thought is that the mood must be brightening. New EU-subsidized highways crisscross the land. Shabby and a bit backward on my last visit, Lisbon now looks no different than any other European capital -- no, better.

This first impression is wrong. Why it is so tells a lot about European 'unification' and its limitations. 'The Portuguese are now very pessimistic, all negative,' says Rui Constantino, chief economist at Santander Negócios Portugal. 'The infrastructure has changed [in the last 15 years] but in the mind, there hasn't been enough change. This country really needs to be shaken up.'

Portugal isn't supposed to be in this deep a funk almost a generation after joining the European Union. Next door, Spain thrives. After a troubled decade or two in the EU, Greece recently got its act together. The 'New Europeans,' those 10 new countries who joined a year ago, are shaking up the club. Not Portugal."
Simply joining the EU and/or adopting the Euro is not sufficient to produce economic health. The problems are rooted in government taxation and spending policies.
"It's all about the policies. A generation ago, Ireland invested heavily in education. Portugal didn't. In the last decade, Spain carried out a second wave of economic reforms, principally to straighten out the budget and loosen up labor market regulations. Portugal's rulers opened the spending spigots.

The hangover from the 1990s party won't pass quickly. As Portugal met the Maastricht criteria to join the euro zone, interest rates converged with the rest of the Continent. The Portuguese people and government felt richer than they in reality were. The borrowing craze took household indebtedness as a share of disposable income from under 50% in the early 1990s to over 120% today.

The then-Socialist government directed spending at job-creating public works and threw the budget deep into the red. In 2001, the fiscal deficit hit 4.1%, breaching the Stability and Growth Pact limits and bringing EU censure (back then, those rules were enforced). Today, the fiscal deficit is 6.2% and the government eats up half of GDP. In the last decade, Portugal grew without improving productivity or building the foundations for future development. As one former finance minister quipped, 'We spend like the Germans, but we produce like Moroccans.'

This debt-induced consumption came to a brutal halt when the global economy imploded in 2001. In the years since, the world has recovered, but Portugal hasn't. The infrastructure built up in the 1990s -- the pride of the EU structural aid program -- stands around underused. What good are all these highways when there aren't enough trucks moving cargo on them?"
It's not possible for a country to borrow, spend, and devalue its way to prosperity, although there are no shortage of governments willing to try that route and stay on it until they drive off the cliff. Mayor Abe Beame of the New York City default springs to mind.

Massive government spending on "infrastructure" projects can create the illusion of prosperity, but if the projects aren't economically sound on their own merits the illusion vanishes when the smoke clears. Since government spending is always based on political rather than economic considerations, there is little chance of a real rate of return from such "investments."
"The work force is one of Europe's least well-educated. The country also produces too many sociologists and not enough engineers. The labor market isn't flexible nor are wages competitive. The judiciary and bureaucracy are notoriously slow: to start a business, expect to wait a month alone to gain government permission to use your preferred name. The tax system is too complicated."
Without knowing any more than this, we'll bet that tax rates are too high, as well. It's noteworthy that Ireland also cut taxes as they were "investing" in education.
"The current Socialist rulers are raising the retirement age to lessen the load on the budget. In response, retired military officers and their families went out on the streets. While Mr. Frasquilho credits the Socialists for standing up to vested interests, he thinks Portugal really needs to embrace eastern European-style 'shock therapy,' a blend of fiscal tightening, deregulation and liberalization.

With everyone so glum, one finds it hard to imagine a 'Portuguese miracle.' Yet it is equally puzzling why this beautiful nation isn't flourishing. Portugal's comparative advantages lie in tourism and services, cork and (yes) plastic moulds -- enough for a country of 10 million. 'We can't rely on consumption anymore to grow,' says Mr. Andrade. 'What we need is a different growth pattern based on global competitiveness.' No one but the Portuguese themselves can make this happen."
We'll also reiterate that "fiscal tightening" must be in the form of government spending cuts and restraints not tax increases that would further damage the productive parts of the economy. Couple that with deregulation and liberalization of the economy, and we could be talking about a "Portuguese Miracle" in ten years.

Technorati: ,