Thursday, August 31, 2006

What was in the koolaid at MSNBC?

Last night Keith Olbermann offered a homage to Edward R. Murrow. It was a pale homage but a homage none-the-less. His six and a half minute rant against a speech that Secretary Rumsfeld gave to the American Legion was bizarre. He accused Rumsfeld of all types of sins. He suggested that Rumsfeld is trying to stop any dissent. Olbermann's conclusion is that Rumsfeld should be compared to Chamberlain not Churchill. Chamberlain, in the lead up to the war, tried to assail Churchill in all sorts of ways. And he thought the secretary's criticisms of opponents of the war was Chamberlainesque.

Olbermann raised the specter of Rumsfeld benefitting "personally" and professionally from his policy decisions. So he got us into the war to gain personally? Isn't that a bit over the top? He also raised the specter of Nixon, McCarthy and Curtis LeMay as a harbinger of what Rumsfeld was like. He used grainy photos of Hitler and a whole bunch of images to present a picture of sinister evil. I am not sure what brought about this vitriolic response. Perhaps it was koolaid on the set, or as Dickens suggested an underdone piece of potato.

Rumsfeld, I believe correctly, raised questions about two areas in the speech about the opponents of the Middle East policy. From my perspective he was presenting his beliefs and not questioning the patriotism of the opponents. He asked why the coverage of the war in Iraq has missed some major stories? Their coverage, to a lot of observers, seems one sided - accentuating negative aspects of the policy (and there are many) and ignoring positive developments. That is a legitimate question that a senior official should ask. He also asked whether those who want to get us out of Iraq immediately, have a legitimate plan and whether they recognize the threat that the country faces. Those are questions that should be raised. They do not question the patriotism of people who disagree. Yet, Olbermann for some reason decided to present a false picture of Rumsfeld's speech. Is it that he believes that judgments about what should go on MSNBC are not subject to question? Is this the arrogant authority that Olbermann attributes to Rumsfeld?

I think there are many reasons to question the President's policies in Iraq. But there are also many reasons to question the judgment and coverage that the mainstream media has chosen to offer to the American people on issues in the middle east.

There is, and in my opinion there should be, a vigorous debate about the appropriate historical analogy we should use to confron the perils of these times. What can we learn from history? Chamberlain did indeed attack Churchill. But at the same time he had no idea or even a willingness to confront Hitler and his moves at a time when it could have been accomplished. Olbermann's attempt to shift the focus was absurd. But then when he so obviously tries to copy the work the hackneyed phrases out of Good Night and Good Luck (which in my opinion was a hackneyed view of the times of Edward R. Murrow) his criticisms sound like so many harpies chattering.

I had the experience of seeing Olbermann's rant before I read the speech. When I read the speech I was amazed at Olbermann's outrageous claims. Presented below, in its entirety, is Rumsfeld's speech to the American Legion. You judge whether Olbermann was off his meds last night.

Text of Secretary Rumsfeld's speech to the American Legion -

Tom [American Legion Commander Tom Bock], I understand that your son is flying a Chinook in Iraq -- following in his dad's proud tradition of military service. Our country is deeply grateful to him -- and to all of you who have children or relatives serving in our nation's military.

They are in our thoughts and prayers. Please tell them we appreciate all they do for our country.

I thank each of you for the love and support you provide for our troops every day.

No one is more proud of those young people than their Commander-in-Chief. I know that President Bush is looking forward to being with you on Thursday.

We are truly fortunate to have a leader of resolve at a time of war. Through all the challenges, he remains the same man who stood atop the rubble of lower Manhattan, with a bullhorn, vowing to fight back; the leader who told a grieving nation that we will never forget what was lost; and the determined President who works every day to fulfill his vow to bring the enemy to justice or to bring justice to the enemy.

Our nation is so fortunate to have the American Legion standing up for all those who are serving our country in this time of testing.

About a year ago, I participated in the dedication of the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. And when I looked out into the audience, I could see a great many American Legion caps. It was a reminder of the millions who sacrificed for our country, so many of whom did not come home.

And it was also a reminder of all that American Legionnaires do to for our servicemen and women. Indeed, through nearly nine decades of service, the American Legion continues to find new ways and to undertake new initiatives to embody their motto: "For God and Country."

The Department of Defense is proud to be a partner with you in the "Heroes to Hometowns" program, which is helping severely wounded veterans with job searches, their homes, and other activities to aid the transition to civilian life. Your partnership with the "The America Supports You" campaign helps communities, organizations, and individuals across this nation express their appreciation to our troops, and to their families.

And, on a personal note, I commend the American Legion for its sponsorship of the Boy Scouts. I know there are some places where Boy Scouts are a subject of scorn.

Well, I was a proud Cub Scout, then a Boy Scout; then an Explorer Scout; an Eagle Scout; and, in 1975, a Distinguished Eagle Scout. The Scouts represent some of the best qualities in our great country -- and they certainly deserve our support!

The American Legion has achieved a great deal for our country since its founding in the months following World War I, when those folks came together in a hotel in Europe to find a way to help some of their fellow veterans who would be coming home soon.

Indeed, that year -- 1919 -- turned out to be one of those pivotal junctures in modern history -- with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and the creation of the League of Nations -- a treaty and an organization intended to make future wars unnecessary and obsolete.

Indeed, 1919 was the beginning of a period where, over time, a very different set of views would come to dominate discourse and thinking in the west.

Over the next decades, a sentiment took root that contended that if only the growing threats that had begun to emerge in Europe and Asia could be appeased, then the carnage and destruction of then-recent memory of World War I might be avoided. It was a time when a certain amount of cynicism and moral confusion set in among the western democracies. When those who warned about a coming crisis -- the rise of fascism and Nazism -- were ridiculed and ignored.

Indeed, in the decades before World War II, a great many argued that the fascist threat was exaggerated -- or that it was someone else's problem. Some nations tried to negotiate a separate peace -- even as the enemy made its deadly ambitions crystal clear.

It was, as Churchill observed, a bit like feeding a crocodile, hoping it would eat you last.

There was a strange innocence in views of the world. Someone recently recalled one U.S. Senator's reaction in September 1939, upon hearing that Hitler had invaded Poland to start World War II. He exclaimed:

"Lord, if only I could have talked with Hitler, all this might have been avoided."
Think of that!

I recount this history because once again we face the same kind of challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism.

Today, another enemy -- a different kind of enemy -- has also made clear its intentions -- in places like New York, Washington, D.C., Bali, London, Madrid, and Moscow. But it is apparent that many have still not learned history's lessons.

We need to face the following questions:

* With the growing lethality and availability of weapons, can we truly afford to believe that somehow vicious extremists can be appeased?

* Can we really continue to think that free countries can negotiate a separate peace with terrorists?

* Can we truly afford the luxury of pretending that the threats today are simply "law enforcement" problems, rather than fundamentally different threats, requiring fundamentally different approaches?

* And can we truly afford to return to the destructive view that America -- not the enemy -- is the real source of the world's trouble?

These are central questions of our time. And we must face them.

We hear everyday of new plans, new efforts, to murder Americans and other free people. Indeed, the plot recently discovered that would have killed hundreds -- possibly thousands -- of innocent men, women, and children on planes coming from Britain to the United States should have demonstrated to all that the enemy is serious, lethal, and relentless.

But this is still -- in 2006 -- not well recognized or fully understood. It seems that in some quarters there is more of a focus on dividing our country, than acting with unity against the gathering threats.

We find ourselves in a strange time:

* When a database search of America's leading newspapers turns up 10 times as many mentions of one of the soldiers at Abu Ghraib who was punished for misconduct, than mentions of Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith, the first recipient of the Medal of Honor in the Global War on Terror;

* When a senior editor at Newsweek disparagingly refers to the brave volunteers in our Armed Forces as a "mercenary army";

* When the former head of CNN accuses the American military of deliberately targeting journalists and the former CNN Baghdad bureau chief admits he concealed reports of Saddam Hussein's crimes when he was in power so CNN could stay in Iraq; and

* It is a time when Amnesty International disgracefully refers to the military facility at Guantanamo Bay, which holds terrorists who have vowed to kill Americans and which is arguably the best run and most scrutinized detention facility in the history of warfare, as "the gulag of our times."

Those who know the truth need to speak out against these kinds of myths, and lies, and distortions being told about our troops and our country.

The struggle we are in is too important -- the consequences too severe -- to have the luxury of returning to the old mentality of "Blame America First."

One of the most important things the Legion has done is not only to serve, and assist, and advocate as you've done so superbly for much of the past century -- but also to educate and speak the truth about our country and our military.

Not so long ago, an exhibit on the Enola Gay at the Smithsonian during the 1990s seemed to try to rewrite the history of World War II by portraying the United States as an aggressor. Fortunately, the American Legion was there to lead the effort to set the record straight.

This watchdog role is even more important today in a war that is to a great extent fought in the media on a global stage -- to not allow the lies and the myths be repeated without question or challenge -- so that at least the second and third draft of history will be more accurate than the quick first allegations.

You know from experience that in every war there have been mistakes and setbacks and casualties. War is, as Clemenceau said, a "series of catastrophes that results in victory."

And in every army, there are occasionally bad actors -- the ones who dominate the headlines today -- who don't live up to the standards of their oath and of our country.

But you also know that they are a small percentage of the hundreds of thousands of honorable men and women in all theaters in this struggle who are serving with humanity and decency in the face of constant provocation.

And that is important in this "long war," where any kind of moral and intellectual confusion about who and what is right or wrong can severely weaken the ability of free societies to persevere.

Our enemy knows this well. They frequently invoke the names of Beirut and Somalia -- places they see as examples of American retreat and weakness. And as we have seen most recently -- indeed, this month -- in Lebanon, they design attacks and manipulate the media to try to demoralize public opinion. They doctor photographs of casualties, use civilians as human shields and then provoke an outcry when civilians are accidentally killed in their midst.

The good news is that most of the American people, though understandably influenced by what they read and see in the media, have inner gyroscopes and good centers of gravity.

And I am confident that over time they will evaluate and reflect on what is happening in this struggle and come to wise conclusions.

In Iraq, a country that was brutalized and traumatized by a cruel and dangerous dictatorship is now undertaking the slow, difficult, and uncertain steps to secure a new future, under a representative government -- one that is at peace with its neighbors, rather than a threat to their own people, their neighbors, and to the world.

As the nature of the threat and the conflict in Iraq has changed over these past three years, so have the tactics and deployments. But while military tactics have changed and adapted to the realities on the ground, the strategy has not -- which is to empower the Iraqi people to defend, govern, and rebuild their own country.

The extremists themselves have called Iraq the "epicenter" in the War on Terror. They mean it. And our troops know how important completing the mission is.

A Soldier who recently volunteered for a second tour in Iraq, likely captured the feelings of many of his peers. In an e-mail to friends he wrote:

"I ask that you never take advantage of the liberties guaranteed by the shedding of free blood, never take for granted the freedoms granted by our Constitution. For those liberties would be merely ink on paper were it not for the sacrifice of generations of Americans who heard the call of duty and responded heart, mind and soul with 'Yes, I will.'"
Someday that young man may be a member of the American Legion, attending a convention such as this. I hope he will be. And one day, a future speaker may reflect back on this time of historic choice -- remembering the questions raised as to our country's courage, dedication, and willingness to continue this fight until we have prevailed.

I believe the question is not whether we can win. It is whether we have the will to persevere.

I believe that Americans do have that steel. And that we have learned the lessons of history, the folly of turning a blind eye to danger, and of ignoring our responsibilities. These are lessons you know well -- lessons that your heroism has taught to generations of Americans.

May God bless each of you. May God bless the men and women in uniform and their families. And may God continue to bless our wonderful country.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Giddyyup going and went

This was the next to the last home game for the Rivercats. Had things been different it would have been an exciting end to a tumultous season. The Cats, about a week ago, were closing in on 5 games down, playing the hapless Fresno Grizzlies. The Sidewinders were in first, but their lead was diminishing. Now a little more than a week later Tuscon has won 9 in a row and we've lost the first three of the last home series. Tacoma also faded. For the games in this series the Cats have been listless. I guess I can understand the feeling. A minor leaguer has two options at the end of the season. If the team goes into playoffs they and the player is not called up they continue to get their monthly pay (which is less than $2200 per month). There may be some side payoffs for winning but not much. If the player does not go to the bigs on the September 1 call up date (and this year the As are likely to call a couple of Cats up - ideally Thomas, McClain, Johnson, and Flores and Windsor) then a couple of days after the start of the month they are done and can go home or to the Fall leagues in sunnier climes. So for most of these three games the Cats seem to have had their mind on other things.

As I think I said earlier in the season, when they were far behind. This has been a season for character building. Their lack of pizazz in the last few games has been pronounced. Tonight, the umpires sucked. No other word for it, they sucked. The homebase guy who should be doing the judging for dog shows, had a strike zone that was variable. Sometimes it was about six feet wide at other times it was less than two - what's more he could vary his zone by pitch not by batter. The first base guy was even worse. In one call that went against the Cats, our guy beat out a throw to first, the Sidewinder first baseman actually stepped off the base and the moron still called him out. The crowd in our section was downright surly to that call. Officiating in this season has not been ideal - but then as I commented, this has been a character building season and even without those lousy calls, the Cats did not have enough moxie to produce runs and stop the opponent's runs.

The picture, by the way, is earlier in the season,before Dan Johnson made his trip to the bigs. The white spot at the right side of the picture is the ball coming to him.

How to win elections

It is rare that I would write about the wisdom of James Carville and Paul Begula. They run something called the Democracy Corps and published a note today about the Virginia election and why James Kilgore did not win. Their suggestion - it comes down to a positive campaign, and mobilize your base. An addition is that the internet - much as it has been touted - at least for the 2005 election - is not a magic bullet. Carville was one of the authors of "It's the economy stupid" - While I do not agree with how he used the issue (I think he fell into the trap discussed below about optimism and pessimism) - the message is the right one.

Then comes something from the Democratic Strategist which frets about the democrat's alienation of the middle class. That idea has always been an elusive one. It certainly tripped up Jimmy Carter in his presidential race - where he wanted to increase taxes on all people above the median income. They have two suggestions which are powerful. First, think a bit more carefully about who the middle class really is. When one looks at all of the incomes in society one happy group. Indeed, if you look at the economy in those terms the median family income is about $45,000. But if you separate out the people who are most likely to work and contribute to society (29-59) the median jumps to $63,000. That is a big difference. The strategists also look at five key issues where the democrat message is not on track with the vast majority of voters. #1 - pessimism versus optimism. The American people are optimistic. 80% of the American people think it is possible to start and poor and end up rich. That is why the campaign to end the "death tax" was so profound. Pessimism implies passivity and helplessness. That is not where we are as a people. #2 - Economic decline v. strength. When 70% of the American people own their homes it is hard to convince them that we are in fundamental decline. #3 - Economic security versus individual opportunity - while this is not an absolute Americans want to be concerned with opportunity. Security is a good issue, opportunity is a better one. #4 - Most progressive ideas don't benefit the middle class - one need only look at the way the Alternative Minimum Tax has begun to hit those taxpayers. Pell grants - average $19,460 income. 2.7% of the employees in the country earn the minimum wage. #5 How to characterize the conservatives - is the problem big corporations or big government? 61% chose big government to 27% for big business. High percentages of workers like their jobs. Less than 25% of all Americans identified themselves as either upper or lower class - that is a very big middle.

Both threads are things which would help both parties be more successful with voters. They might also get us back on more important issues of public policy. In the end it might also reduce the role of spinmeisters in the political process. All of those trends would be positive.

A Challenge

I have one shot that was posted on my blog several months ago of Naolinco. It is part of my Flickr site which has almost 6000 photos. But this one consistently comes up and people seem to click into it a lot. This is another shot taken the same day.

Naolinco is a colorful town in the state of Veracruz. It has a rich history and is one of the best leather industries in Mexico (great bootmakers). and an martyr (Fr. Dario) from the Christero period. The story of Fr. Dario is compelling. He was a new priest after the enactment of the Tejeda law - which was named after the governor of Veracruz who wanted to reign in the church. The decree was designed to reduce the number of priests in the state. Soon after it was promulgated, soldiers entered the small church where Fr. Dario was and they opened fire and in the melee killed him and gravely wounded several other priests. When I first saw his picture it looked amazingly like a Chilean friend I have who works at a university in Mexico City.

But I wonder why that photo gets clicked through so many times. I am interested not concerned about this. Can anyone who has clicked through the photo explain it to me?

Kudos to Autowest Honda

In February I bought a Honda S-2000 - which is a great car - fun to drive, with lots of pep - exactly what a sportscar should be. It was described to me, at the time of delivery, as a "swiss watch" - with all the precision that implies. And, with one minor exception, that is exactly how the car has performed.

The one minor exception was the Honda Ipod link. I purchased it when I bought the car. For whatever reason, the device was unreliable. I would take it back to the dealer (I think in the end four times) and they would be able to get it to perform for about a day. The sound quality was always inferior. So last week, I went back to the dealer. I spoke with the service person and said I was dissatisfied with this accessory. We talked about whether it could be repaired. I said after the several times I had had it in the shop, I thought it could not. I asked them to pull the unit and wanted a refund. Yesterday, Autowest sent me a refund check to cover the cost of the unit and the installation.

One of the reasons I switched from a Mustang to a Honda (besides the design changes in the Mustang which made it a lot less nimble) was some real problems I had with my Ford dealership. When I was in college I worked as a mechanic and I decided upon graduation that I did not want to spend my free time working on cars. So when I buy a new car, I am also buying service. The Ford dealership would follow up each service call with a questionnaire which asked about the quality of service (which in this particular dealership declined rather markedly from the time I bought the car to the time I sold it). But in the case of the iPod link and Autowest what I found was two things different. First, they genuinely tried to solve the problem I had with the device. But second, when it became clear that the device would not work to standards, they stood behind it and promptly refunded my money. In the long term, any business can maximize their short term profits by extracting as much as they can out of each customer or they can choose to try to meet their customer's needs for the longer term. Autowest seems to have chosen the second course. It is refreshing to find an auto dealer who understands that kind of service, which will ultimately build better brand loyalty.

Developments in Higher Education

There is a news service called Inside Higher Education which is very good. For years the sector has had something called The Chronicle of Higher Education which is our supposed "trade" paper but in recent years it has been taken up in selling ads for positions and in political correctness which has diminished its utility. The founders of Inside Higher Education came from the Chronicle. But their attention to finding stories which are current and interesting puts them in a different league.

In this morning's news digest there were two very interesting stories. First, about James Madison University and the orange band initiative. James Madison has instituted this new program for students to be able to signal to other students that they are prepared to engage in civil dialogue. What a wonderful idea, a tag to indicate civility. Universities should be places where those kinds of deep discussions are common. But in today's overheated environment, that is not the norm. The idea should spread. Think of the possibilities! On political talk shows people show up with orange ribbons or bands and then begin the kind of discussions about the key issues of the day instead of shouting matches. Politicians in even numbered falls don an orange band to show that they are serious about the jobs they are running for instead of simply trying to pander to part of the electorate.

The second story is a bit more troubling. The Alliance for Excellent Education has published a report of the costs of remedial education in community colleges across the country. Their estimate, $1.4 billion. The Alliance's estimates do not include the costs associated with remedial courses or work in four year institutions so the authors think the number is conservative. One validation of the estimate came from an official in Alabama who did their own statewide estimate and came up with a figure which was twice the size of the Alliance estimate for their state - so the total number could be considerably higher. Assume for a moment that the total size of the enterprise as a part of the American economy is in the range of $30-40 billion, even a doubling of the estimate for these programs does not seem unreasonable. Sure it is easy to blame K-12 education - and there should be some blame. But the costs of remediation also include the discontinuities of people who make changes in their plans (for example a person who is 30 and decides to change careers and needs to go back for some basics). The strength of the American higher education system is its ultimate flexibility. Regardless, it is interesting to have an estimate of that part of the system.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The new concept of democracy - According to AMLO - Mexican Election Post #22

The head of the election tribunal came close to the final determination on the Mexican election by suggesting that save about 4000 votes Mr. Lopez Obrador failed to win (he lost). But wait.....

#1 - AMLO has suggested that he will give his own Grito on independence day (September 16) and declare himself president. but #2 - Polling is turning against this self styled messiah. In a poll released in the Wall Street Journal the following responses were reported -

a) Do you agree with AMLOs resistence to the election results - NO 68%, b) Based on what you know who do you think won the July 2 election - Calderon 62%. c) If the election were held today who would you vote for Calderon 54% (on July 2 37%), AMLO 30% (on July 2 36%), Madrazo 12% (on July 2 23%) - thus support for Calderon has come at the expense of both Madrazo and AMLO.

Finally, (based on a 10 point scale with 10 being high) - How would you rate the following - The voters in the July 2 election (8.2), The electoral tribunal after the election (7.1), Calderon's conduct after the election (7.1), AMLOs conduct after the election (4.1).

The Wait

With the win by the Sidewinders on Sunday the hunt for the division championship was over. Last night's game with the Sidewinders had a certain anti-climactic feeling to it. Adam Pettyjohn pitched a reasonably good game except for a disastrous first inning where the Sidewinders scored 6 runs. For the rest of the game we scored 4 runs they scored 1 - but those first six put the game out of reach. There are three games left at home with the Sidewinders and then a weekend series against Colorado.

Last night involved a lot of chatter in the stands. In our area there was wonder about whether the Keystone Kops of Boulder, now that Mr. Karr has been found to not have been involved, would be flown back to Thailand and whether the papers would cover his meal as closely as they did on the trip east. There was also some excitement on Baseball Bingo - had they run one more inning I would have won - for the first time ever - Jeremy Brown got a single in the eighth. But like the rest of the season, the two grass seats for a future game (which is the prize bestowed on winners) was not to be.

After Thursday night, which coincidentally is also the last night of the legislative session, the wait for April's opening night comes again. There are the playoffs - and if Tuscon plays like they have all season, they should win. They could conceivably win 90 games this year (which was where the Rivercats were in one of their PCL championship seasons).

Monday, August 28, 2006

Interesting economic facts

In today's NYT there is a story which I found a bit strange. The title was "Real Wages Fail to Match a Rise in Productivity." The story comments "The median hourly wage for American workers has declined 2 percent since 2003, after factoring in inflation." After discussing some data about how wages have changed over time in relation to productivity changes the article quotes Jared Bernstein, who is at the (liberal) economic policy institute. (The Times notes that by the way.) He says “If I had to sum it up,” said Jared Bernstein, a senior economist at the institute, “it comes down to bargaining power and the lack of ability of many in the work force to claim their fair share of growth.” If the trend is indeed true, if I had to sum it up I might look at a lot of other factors. The decline of unions (bargaining power) may not be one of them - although it is a frequent topic of the Institute. There are lots of alternative explanations.

In rapid fire succession the Times then presents a series of conclusions that seem to contradict Bernstein's spin "Nominal wages have accelerated in the last year, but the spike in oil costs has eaten up the gains. Now the job market appears to be weakening, after a protracted series of interest-rate increases by the Federal Reserve." (Comment - the relative importance of oil in the economy is considerably diminished in recent years - so Bernstein's conclusion may not be true.)

"Unless these trends reverse, the current expansion may lack even an extended period of modest wage growth like one that occurred in the mid-1980’s." (Comment: but only if these trends are a) real and b) continuing.)

"The most recent recession ended in late 2001. Hourly wages continued to rise in 2002 and peaked in early 2003, largely on the lingering strength of the 1990’s boom." (Comment: but nominal wages increased in the last year - presumably that is beyond 2003 and average family income adjusted for inflation (see below) has advanced at a good clip.)

"Average family income, adjusted for inflation, has continued to advance at a good clip, a fact Mr. Bush has cited when speaking about the economy. But these gains are a result mainly of increases at the top of the income spectrum that pull up the overall numbers. Even for workers at the 90th percentile of earners — making about $80,000 a year — inflation has outpaced their pay increases over the last three years, according to the Labor Department."

It then goes on to fret whether there is substantial movement in the electorate about this set of issues.

Then comes something from economist James Galbraith. He suggests that the seeming changes in wage inequality can be substantially discounted by eliminating the data from only five counties in the US (Manhattan, King's County(WA), San Mateo, Santa Clara and San Francisco. That suggests, at least for me, that the quick rise in incomes for computer entrepreneurs and some financial managers has distorted our understanding of what the whole economy is doing. That should give us greater caution when looking at a bunch of other statistics - for example, do we have a firm understanding of the part of a family's income wages make up? Has that changed in all income classes over the last couple of decades? Have consumption patterns for families changed over time? (for example, is gas really less important to the family budget?)

What is the point here? Is the economic position of the average wage earner declining, holding steady or advancing? In this case the common logic may not be correct.

Was Larry Ellison right? Network computing.

About a decade ago, when Larry Ellison was trying to buy Apple for a song, he was interviewed by Wired or Red Herring about the future of applications. He commented that he thought that network applications and appliances would be the thing of the future. At the time Microsoft was in full swing and the increasingly complex suite of Office products was being updated frequently. Individual productivity seemed to be the trend of computing - create it on your own desktop and then collaborate using the features in the program that allowed one to share.

With Google's introduction of a credible word processing and spreadsheet, which follows earlier versions of similar products in an open source environment, Ellison's vision may be coming true. What makes all of this possible is two things which most people did not recognize at the time. First, the ubiquity of bandwidth continues to expand. As faster and faster connections become not just possible but consistently available, the need to carry all of your stuff together becomes less critical. Second, is the declining price of storage. In the early 1990s a local computer vender was going out of business and was selling 20 megabyte hard drives for $1 per megabyte. I recently decided to install a media storage device in my home network which will, when fully loaded, contain all of my photos (which currently number about 10,000 and increase by 4-5000 per year). I went to my local Fry's and bought a half a terabyte drive for a couple of hundred dollars. Think of a megabyte as 1,000,000 pieces of information - not photographs but individual units of information. A terabyte is 1,000,000,000 pieces. To give you an idea about how much is in a terabyte - 20 of them would be enough to house the printed text contents of the Library of Congress. So I just bought a disk drive to store my photos and other media which is equal to about 1/40 of the Library of Congress. recently housed all of the US Census records on its system from 1790 to 1930 and that consumed 600 terabytes.

Where I think Ellison was not on the mark comes from the inherent human need to add something. The default spreadsheet software for the last decade or more has been Excel by Microsoft. It has a range of great functions and capabilities. But it also has some annoying habits and is visual capabilities - telling a numbers story in a way that non-number oriented people can be comfortable with is limited. When Excel was getting going there was a great competitor called Wingz, it is one of those footnotes of computing that should not be forgotten. Wingz had wonderful capabilities to convert dry numbers into rich pictures. But the product ultimately failed. In the presentation arena there is Microsoft Powerpoint. Again it does a reasonable job at putting together presentations. But it fails in several areas. Along comes Keynote - which is available only for the Macintosh market at this point - which does all sorts of fancy things that Powerpoint could never dream of. As computing begins to migrate out of closed operating systems like Windows toward more Unix based systems (in the Mac world as the company has moved from its Motorola chips to Intel it has created an operating system based on Unix that produces "universal" applications - which can run on a couple of platforms) the possibility for smaller applications that meet individual creativtity needs and are accessible over networks becomes more of a reality.

Ellison based his thoughts on Oracle being the center of the new universe. For a lot of reasons (thankfully) that has not come to pass. But the idea that networks would offer the kind of flexibility that they do today and that they promise in the future seemed quite fantastic just a decade ago.

The worst President of the 20th Century Yaps again, and again

In yesterday's Sunday London Telegraph Saint Jimmy commented "Tony Blair's lack of leadership and timid subservience to George W Bush lie behind the ongoing crisis in Iraq and the worldwide threat of terrorism." Carter seems to have no understanding of the role of former presidents. But that should not be surprising, he had no clue about the role of current presidents, when he was one.

Perhaps his next step is to journey to New Hampshire and join up with a soon to be former professor there named William Woodward who believes an " 'elite' group within the federal government orchestrated the September 11th attacks on America." according to the Manchester Union Leader. New Hamshire is a public institution and the political leadership of the state is grumpy about professor Woodward's rantings. Unfortunately, for us, there is no such lever on former presidents.

Carter completely missed the origins the spawning of militant Islam, so it is not surprising that he would be so consistently wrong on how to deal with the current problems we face. Carter's handling of the transition of power in Iran during his administration helped to create the militants that we face today. Feckless would be a kind characterization for his foreign policy. After he unceremoniously dumped the Shaw of Iran he then allowed the new regime to hold a group of Americans hostage. He tried one attempt to rescue them in April of 1980 where the kindest of analysts suggest he screwed up. Yet he continues to comment on lack of leadership. Perhaps he is commenting from the distinguished chair of studies for bumbling leadership that he could occupy at any academic institution.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

A response to a post on the election

Last night my August 24 post on the election in Mexico drew the following response -

The issue in Mexico is not the numbers, but a distrust that no matter how hard the IFE has tried to separate itself from politics and look only at the technical aspects of the election, there is a significant number of people who believe the election results were manipulated.

It is not about logic, it is about emotion. The history of the country, starting from the first hand over of power in Post-Spanish Mexico, and repeatedly in the 19th and 20th centuries, has shown that Presidents stay in power not by election but by designation. Some of the greater presidents....Juárez, even the controversial Díaz, Lázaro Cárdenas, López Mateos, De la Madrid and I would argue even Zedillo came to power by designation rather than by clean elections.

I agree with you, Calderon will have to move away from his hard core supporters and garner coalitions with the legislature and with State Governors. Your post on region states by Ohmae is a way to go. Calderón should focus on Justice and coordination and let the economic development of the country be squarely in the hands of the governors and more local organizations.
Vperez | 08.27.06 - 1:16 am |

I agree with a good deal of the comments. But I also have a couple of additional thoughts. First, I recognize the emotions in a group of people who are skeptical about the election. Ultimately, even if the election was done to the highest international standards, based on the history of elections in the past (see my post about which year this is 1988,1994 or 2006) the Mexican people have a lot to be skeptical about. Mexico's electoral system is an evolving one. I believe that the 2006 election held to the highest standards. One election does not make a trend - but the direction, in my opinion, was positive.

Second, in my opinion, regardless of whether the objective reality confirms a good election, Mr. Lopez Obrador has tried to exploit the underlying skepticism of some people about elections in Mexico to his own advantage. The best example of that was the "stuffing" allegation. Soon after the election Lopez Obrador made a claim, when the election official came forward (his own PRD official) and presented a good explanation of what was going on in the video, AMLO said the guy had been "bought off." AMLO wants to return to the old system where elections were designated. There once was a joke in Mexico about the moving finger - the next president was chosen by the previous one. Until the 2000 election, that happened with varying degrees of designation. But 2000 broke that trend. I believe 2006 - where Mr. Fox wanted another candidate to be the PAN candidate - continued the trend begun in 2000.

Third, and most important. The Mexican constitution is a federal system. Under the PRI, like many other provisions in the document federalism was a fiction. All power resided in the national government. But in the last several years that has begun to change in some areas of the country. I have worked with a couple of governors, most notably Luis Armando Reynoso Femat in Aguascalientes, who understand the benefits of a federal system and have made major strides to try to move their states toward a more federal reality. Luis Armando has worked hard to make his administration into a world class team working for the state. His key secretaries could do their jobs in any region of the world. In the states around AGU similar things are happening, even though they are not PAN states. I got the same feeling from speaking with key officials in Zacatecas, a PRD state. Like the transition in the electoral system this is not an instantaneous transition. It will require some strong willed governors regardless of who is president. But as I see the evolution of the Mexican political system that is happening.

When Magic Numbers no longer count then miracles do

Last night the Rivercats lost to a team they have dominated all season for the third time in a row. At the same time the Tuscon Sidewinders won their fifth straight in three days against the Tacoma Raniers. (Actually the number of the Raniers losses is six but the two double header wins in a row plus one last night is impressive enough on its own!) With 9 games left we are nine games out. That means Tuscon who is playing .622 ball must lose 9 straight and Sacramento must go on a 9 game winning streak - which would be the longest of the season. None of that is impossible, just very, very highly improbable.

All season in our section we have been commenting about how this has become a "character building" season for fans. In the first six seasons we won a lot of championships. This year at many times it did not look possible to repeat. The last four home games will be fun none-the-less. Although now the stakes are different.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Ranking Congress

The last post about Ohio's second and the candidates and accusations brought an interesting comment. There is a company called Knowlegis that has produced a ranking of members of congress based on criteria which evaluate legislative activity as well as position in the house or senate. Unfortunately, my poster did his work anonymously or I would credit him.

Any ranking system, be it colleges or members of congress, involves some subjective factors and the creators of acknowledge that. They explain how the rankings were created here. Fundamentally the ranking system depends on position, influence and activity. Having worked in the legislative process for almost 40 years that sounds about right. Over a two year session of Congress there are literally millions of transactions so getting the right balance among all of them is tough. But the ranking system seems to have put more weight on legislative committees with gravitas than most of the leadership positions - and that is a right decision. Puffers like John Doolittle who author nothing in the House but trumpet that they are X in the leadership chain, should be lower than people like Ways and Means Chair Bill Thomas who actually move bills through Congress.

A map of the states is available which charts the relative influence of each state. On the natural, the ranking system makes smaller states have more influence than larger states. All of the largest states are in the 16-17 range while places like Nevada are twice that. When you think about a state like California, with the Chair of Appropriations (#2), Ways and Means (#6) and Minority Leader (#7) that seems not to make sense. But when you think about it California's large delegation includes a lot of other members who are there but no that important - so the rankings may actually make some sense. I am not sure about the relative ranking of leadership (Hastert and Frist are granted high nineties while the Appropriations Chair Jerry Lewis gets a 60) - the value and influence of leadership positions is considerably diminished compared to what it once was. But that is an issue for a much larger discussion, perhaps over an Irish Whiskey at the Dubliner (one of my favorite pubs near the Capitol). One other thing which seems intuitively correct - senators get a higher ranking than representatives - the divisor is smaller although the leadership positions of each house are ranked about the same.

There is one problem with the site at this point. Many of the links are non-functional. From looking at the site it looks like it will be a part of Capitol Advantage (a service that many lobbying firms use - including my Association). But the key links to explore the site simply do not work. I will be an interested observer as this develops further.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Candidates who need to get a life....

Jean Schmidt represents a district in Ohio. On one blog there is a lot of chatter about whether Representative Schmidt faked a 1993 photo of her finishing the Columbus marathon. She serves on Transportation and Infrastructure, Agriculture and Government Reform. She hails from Clermont county which is around Cincinati. Schmidt is a first term member who defeated a democrat to go to congress. She is 100% for Prolife, 90% for Americans for Tax Reform, 100% for the farm bureau, 100% for the sand and gravel association, she seems to be a pretty consistent 0% for the loon left.

Here is what we know about this twitterpation around the photo. #1 - Representative Schmidt is a long distance runner who has completed a lot of marathons. #2 - Her opponent Nate Noy who is running a write in campaign for her seat has accused her of faking a photo of the finish of this particular race. He argues that Ms. Schmidt is the 433 most powerful person in the House. I am not sure how he came up with that ranking but that is what he argues. He also accuses Rep. Schmidt of lying about a degree - actually a certificate in secondary education. That is still listed on her biographical statement at vote smart. #3 - Ms; Schmidt's democrat opponent is a classic liberal. Daily Kos ignores the photogate issue but still thinks she is not a nice person. Kos spent a lot of time checking out whether she ran a dynamic 3:19 in the race and then concludes "Not only is the shadow thing easily explained by the crop of the photo, but I have confirmation that she did, in fact, finish the race at her claimed time…. It’s a non-story. Let’s focus on her other [sic] unsavory characteristics." Gee I wonder which blogger is a bit too impressed with himself (not the guy who claims to be the Lieberman vexer - yes the very same one).

So what do you have here? A whole bunch of hyperventilation about whether this member of congress actually ran a mediocre time in a marathon and whether her write in opponent has a couple of screws loose. We also have a conventional race - she is not ranked in the top 50 races in the National Journal rankings.

The dual edges of immigration issues

In 1994, Californians passed Proposition 187 which attempted to restrict access to a range of benefits for immigrants who were in the state illegally. The issue created a lot of emotion in California. I was in Oaxaca soon after the vote and out fishing with a couple of friends and the kid who was driving the small boat I was on commented when he found that two of us were from California that "Californians hate Mexicans" - which I quickly responded "No yo!" (Not me) But that drove home to me both the importance and the complexity of the issue. Here in this small fishing village a young kid had already formed opinions about a California issues. Governor Wilson was in a tight re-election race and the state was spending billions of dollars paying the expenses of immigrants in schools and hospitals and prisons. I argued with one friend at the time that the short term benefit of supporting the proposition would be offset by the longer term alientation that would be created with Hispanic voters. But Wilson forged ahead. Clearly, the state was bearing an unreasonable burden based in part on the requirement to follow and pay for unfunded federal mandates.

But in this year, immigration has become a national issue. California's rate of immigrant influx has slowed considerably, just as it has risen in other states not so close to the border, like North Carolina. Politicians, recognizing the potentcy of the issue, are having a lot of pictures taken near cactus to demonstrate their expertise in the area. Jack Kingston R- GA commented in an article in today's Arizona Republic - "It's like any other issue: You spend a half a day in the hospital with a doctor and you know more about health care, but you're not an expert," he said. "There are all types in Congress, and there are those types who will go for a photo op, and I don't think either party has a monopoly on them." A truer statement has not been said.

Some observers start with an ideological bias. For example a UC San Diego official thinks the issue is a creation of the majority party for short term political advantage (quoted in today's Christian Science Monitor) "It's mainly because of a strategic choice made by the Republican Congressional leadership to make immigration their party's wedge issue du jour for this election year," writes Wayne Cornelius, director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California at San Diego, in an e-mail interview. "Exploiting anti-immigration hostility is ... an effective and efficient way to mobilize their base."

Despite Mr. Cornelius' comments there is a much larger set of issues. And despite the pandering on the issue that comes from all sides of the political spectrum (driver's licenses or offering in state fees for public universities are not an example of the left trying to create a wedge issue?) the issue deserves some serious thought. In spite of the picture it presents for some on the right, the country is not going to ship back the 12 million plus illegals to their home countries. And despite the rhetoric on the left, borders are not going to come collapsing down.

So what are the issues that our political class should be reflecting on? I think there are several. First, what are the effects of this pretty large influx of new people to our shores? We know something about these trends from prior waves of immigration although the previous waves did not have the strong possibility of returning? But clearly the infusion of large number of people with different cultures will have an effect on our social and political systems. Before we can figure out how we should react we should have a pretty good idea of what we know about trends. Just as there was in earlier immigration waves, there is a lot of idle and sometimes malicious chatter about these issues.

Second, how do we preserve the essential elements of the American system with this infusion of new people? Those are philosophical questions that would be aided by a lot more data and some strategic analysis of how public policies affect both of the trends. The American system has some unique aspects, what are the elements we should try to preserve and where are we enriched by the additions? In California, the influx of all sorts of cultures has aided our cuisine. Governor Wilson once quipped the typical California lunch was a fish taco with a side of kimchi. Again, this would take us some time to think about how things should work.

Third, what are the economic effects of the wave? Some in the community have argued that this influx has created an "exploited" class of workers that degrades the wave structure in the economy while others have argued that the vast majority of these workers take jobs Americans will not do. The truth, as far as I have seen the data, lies somewhere in the middle.

Fourth, what should be our obligations to the illegals in terms of serving them with services? How much of the extension of services is done for humanitarian motives and how much for public health and safety? Would we be safer if Illegals were granted driver's licenses? How much eligibility for health care should be offered? What are the consequences of offering education to children who come here and at what level is it appropriate to curtail the offerings? This relates to two kinds of protections - the things like wage and hour guidelines but also the public health and safety issues.

Then, and only after there is a bit more thought on these broader issues should one begin to think about appropriate public policies. Does the President's proposal for a guest worker program help or hinder the useful flow of labor across borders? What role should employers have in border enforcement - should they be sanctioned heavily or left alone? Does our current systems of things like social security taxes help or hinder the free flow of workers? (One could make a strong case that changing the social security system from a government run program to one of private accounts would promote less exploitation (to the extent there is any) by employers.)

Unfortunately, for us, both the left and the right have chosen to treat this issue as political theater not an important issue. One area where the kind of debate and discussion that should be taking place on this issue is actually progressing is in the Cato Institute. Their monthly magazine, Cato Unbound, has an excellent set of articles on the issues. Included in the issue are a series of comments and reacions from people like Richard Rodriguez and Victor Davis Hanson as well as an early edition of something that grew into a very good book by Maryland economist Julian Simon. Also included is an interesting essay from the director of the Mexican Migration project at Princeton - which seems to be doing some very interesting work in the area. On this type of issue it is easy to be knee jerk either as the UCSD person commented or as people like Tom Tancredo has been. But that kind of behavior won't help us think out what the right set of responses to this issue should be.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Sometimes Magic Numbers are not that Magic

Tonight made the job of the Rivercats a lot harder. Tuscon won both games in their double header and did not go to reserve pitchers in either game. That quickly moved us from 5 games down to 6. But then for the first time in a lot of games, the Fresno Grizzlies took a game from us. That means we moved from 5 to 6 1/2 games with 11 games left. The magic number in one day dropped to six.

When is an election "legitimate"? Mexican Election #21

In an article today in the Washington Post Fred Rosen a columnist for El Universal, one of Mexico City's larger papers, commented "Will a less-than-legitimate Calderón presidential term be marked by an on-going disruption of civic and economic activity?"

The quote raises a fundamental question in logic. When the standard for an election is a majority and a candidate achieves that is the election result less legitimate because of a closer percentage? Obviously, a close election suggests a smaller or more narrow mandate for the winner. But does the smaller percentage make the election less legitimate?

Think about this for a moment. In one party states the election percentage is 100%, are those elections are more legitimate than an electoral victory in a pluralist society where the winner gains barely a majority or a plurality among many candidates? Of course not.

Outside observers have consistently commented that the Mexican election followed the highest international standards. One would think with that record, the election was legitimate. The problem facing Calderon is not legitimacy but mandate. In close elections, the winner needs to think about building support from supporters of the defeated candidate by reaching out in areas like positions in the cabinet and in other demonstrations of attempting to rule from the center. Calderon seems to have attempted that kind of coalition building in many ways - by speaking with many senior PRD officials and others who had supported Lopez Obrador - that may build his mandate a bit, over time, but it will not change the legitimacy of his election.


Last night the Rivercats defeated the Fresno Grizzlies 8-3 and the Tuscon Sidewinders were rained out in Tacoma. That leaves the Sidwinders 5 games up.

But the rest of the season becomes interesting. Tuscon has 14 remaining games - six of those are at home including two back to back double headers (tonight and tomorrow) against Tacoma. We have 12 more games - four more against the Grizzlies, all away and then four against Tuscon in Sacramento and then four against the Sky Sox (there) who actually, because of the relative poppiness of the field in Colorado Springs, have a worse record at home. (43% vs. 47%)

The Cats have had a pretty good season against the Grizzlies. They have won 9 straight against them and dominate both the season standings between the two clubs and the lifetime record. They have been 31 of 41 for the games after the All Star break. But Tuscon cannot be discounted. They have played a very strong season.

At the end of the season, the Sidewinders have won an unbelievable 66% at home. Their away percentage is 55%. Sacramento, owing to a pretty lousy streak at the start of the season has a worse percentage at home (43%) than away (57%). Tuscon's magic number stands at 9. The games next week at Raley Field could be very important for both clubs. The Raniers, by the way, are 4 1/2 games behind Salt Lake. The Bees are mostly at home against Colorado Springs, Tacoma and they end against the Portland Beavers.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The relative importance of Mr. Karr's loopy Ls

Evidently last night Larry King is Alive had a long segment on whether the ransom notes that were received by the Ramsey family conformed to a writing sample in a high school yearbook that was once owned by the suspect. Is that an important issue or what? Before the extensive coverage of the ins and outs of handwriting analysis, we heard, in lurid detail, about the quality of the cuisine that Mr. Karr consumed when returning, in business class from Asia. It seems also that the traditional media has also thought it important to inform us of Mr. Karr's sartorial preferences - he likes those short sleeved shirts rather than the prison jump suits. Admittedly, all of those issues are of monumental importance to the American people. But for my preference, there might be some things which the media could cover that would be even more important.

Were television doing the things they should be doing, the following stories might be considered of higher interest or impact -

#1 -Three prominent African Americans in the country - social critic Shelby Steele , NPR correspondent Juan Williams and comedian Bill Cosby have raised serious questions about the leadership of the African American community. They have come to surprisingly common conclusions even though they didn't start from the same philosophical position. But the networks have not done any coverage about the issue and the ramifications of alternative policies. What would happen to the relative economic position of African Americans if the prescriptions of those false reverends like Jackson and Sharpton were ignored? Several policy analysts have concluded that the decade since welfare reform has produced positive changes. But has any network looked at the substance of the changes? Of course not.

#2 - The economic performance of the country is not well understood. There is plenty of evidence that the economic divisions in society are widening. But there is also a lot of evidence that the economy has had a pretty good run since the tax cuts at the start of the administration. How much is economic growth and what does it matter? How do we compare to Europe and other developed countries? What are the key indicators that every American should understand?

#3 - The Cato Institute has done a series of informative essays about the effects of immigration. There should be an interesting discussion about how a democracy deals with a massive influx of immigrants. But the networks deal in photos and bizarre drive by stories.

#4 - The situation in Iraq is being portrayed in one context only. What are the experts - who are actually in Iraq saying about our policies there. There is a rich discussion about both what we should do next and how we should deal with the challenges of a more assertive Islam. University of San Diego Professor Vali Nasr and Lawrence Wright have written two interesting books to get Americans to consider the ramifications of the Islamic revolutions. Shouldn't the media help generate a substantive discussion about alternatives?

#5 - Al Gore's movie on Global Warming has generated a lot of discussion but MIT professor Richard Lindzen has an alternative view about the importance of the issue - he questions whether the data on global warming is real. Isn't this an important enough issue to have some kind of public discussion?

#6 - The budget deficit seeming expanded in dramatic ways and then has begun to shrink. Any ideas about why that happened? What are the possible policies that produced those changes? How do we compare to other developed nations in terms of deficits, unemployment, tax policies?

But what is the media concerned about? Those loops in handwriting samples which might put some psycho in jail. Ultimately, whether Mr. Karr is guilty can be discovered and no matter how many "experts" are brought in the results will not change. Even with the Keystone Kops of Boulder running the investigation and evaluating the evidence - the trial process will eventually come to a conclusion.

Would the networks and the main stream media be as profitable if they took their job of reporting the news seriously? They might even be more profitable. Look only to the success of the blogosphere to understand that reality - but what do they care about those silly loops. That is clearly loopy!

It's Fall, where is your TV?

Normally, election idiocy remains in hiding until after Labor Day - not this year. The blogs are alive with all sorts of twitterpation about the range of political ads in this Fall's elections. I am most interested in the California Governor's race and today the democrat candidate, State Treasurer Phil Angelides released one of the least effective ads I have ever seen. The ad is a cut from a speech that Governor Schwarzennegger gave for Bush in 2004. The ad, which was released by the Democrat party of California ends with the tagline - Arnold Schwarzennegger is for George W. Bush, is he for you? I am not really sure how tying Bush to Schwarzennegger makes Angelides a better candidate. I would expect that those people who already hate Bush have decided how they will vote. Immediately, the Schwarzennegger campaign released an ad with the opening line of "Where does Phil Angelides live?" It then goes on to reinforce the view that the Governor has been successful in renewing the state. Thus, the two ads contrast with each other - Angelides' makes no claims about what he will do as Governor and Schwarzennegger reviews what he thinks he has done. In my mind trying to tie a politician to another is a tough enough job. Voters are intelligent enough, except those motivated by unreasoning hatred of Bush, to make a distinction. They know the GOP politicians will help to elect other GOP candidates.

Then there is the race in Washington. Democrat Darcy Burner is challenging Republican Dave Reichert in Washington's 8th Congressional District. Burner released an ad today that tried to reinforce values and a couple of key and staple democrat issues. The left side of the blogosphere had a fit. The ad (which is available on Real Clear Politics) is a soft sell ad and I thought it was pretty good. I do not know what her opponent has done. His website does not have his ads posted - although he is endorsed by firefighters and cops (he was one). So I cannot tell how this one is going. But I suspect Ms. Burner's ads will play pretty well in Washington.

Many in the blogosphere expect absolute purity on issues. If a liberal can see anything positive about George Bush - then he isn't one of us. Ditto for conservatives and their pet issues. Most voters are a lot more realistic.

As I said, it is early in the campaign season. Angelides could develop a message and Burner may have missed with the ad which touts her thoughts on some issues that seem to show up in polls across the country. But if this is the level of introspection and thought that will go into campaign commentary for 2006 - this will be a very long year.

Magic Numbers

The Rivercats have had a good run in the last several days - they are currently 5 1/2 games out of first with 13 games to go. Last night we were trying to figure out what the magic number for Tuscon is. That is something which everyone talks about but I for one did not know how to compute. Turns out it is simple -

Take the total number of games in the season (144)
Add one
Subtract the number of wins by the leading team - in this case Tuscon at 79
and then Subtract the number of losses by the second place team - in this case the Rivercats at 57

Thus, with 13 games left the Tuscon magic number is 9 (any combination of wins by Tuscon or losses by the Rivercats means the Sidewinders go to the playoffs).

The Rivercats have a shot at this. Tonight they begin a five game series with the Fresno Grizzlies at Fresno. So far this season the Cats have swept two series with the Grizzlies. Then on Monday, they come back to Raley Field for the last four games - against Tuscon. Then they finish out the season against the Colorado Springs Sky Sox in Colorado. That is five in Fresno, four in Sacramento and four in Colorado Springs.

The Sindewinders play five against Tacoma in Tuscon and then four against us and then complete the season in Tacoma. Tacoma is five games behind Salt Lake. Salt Lake has a magic number of 10.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Thinking about the Future of Sacramento

Tom Sullivan is a radio talk show host in Sacramento and usually is pretty intelligent. In an ad for the station he works on (KFBK) he is quoted as saying "we are the 18th largest area in the country and we need to decide about what we want to do." I think that is correct. But I disagree with his conclusion about how we should think about our future.

Sullivan would argue that part of the long term plan for our area is to accept the bogus deal to build an arena in the former rail yards near downtown.

As I thought about Sullivan's basic premise I looked at the data of where we are in terms of size. The city of Sacramento is the 37th largest city in the country. But the SMSA is the fourth largest metropolitan area in the state. Clearly, if you look at the 36 cities ahead of us there are a lot with which we will never compete - we are not going to be New York, or LA or Chicago. By the way, Fresno is larger as a city than Sacramento - although the SMSA of Sacramento is considerably larger. But there are a whole lot of other city areas that are larger than ours without an NBA franchise. We are the 28th (not the 18th) largest metropolitan area in the country. So while it is great to do a checklist of things a big, or moderately big city needs to have, every city does not need every item.

Ultimately, there are a number of things that make a city or a metropolitan area more desirable. An NBA franchise is certainly an amenity that some people would like to have. But if this is a metropolitan asset then why only apply the financial requirements to the city and county of Sacramento? The deal we have been offered applies only to that political subdivision. The mix of issues and opportunities in an area all contribute to the reputation of the area. But in any decision like this there are opportunity costs - if we don't take a bad deal are we better off. In this case the Maloofs are portrayed by the supporters of the deal as public minded. Why should the citizens of Sacramento be forced to pay for the Maloof's public mindedness. They are in this business for the money and they stand to make a lot of it in this transaction. I am not against profits, but here the balance between the the socialization of risk and the privitization of gain is so off that anyone with a calculator can see how truly bad this deal is.

On the weekend I had the opportunity to speak with one of our political leaders in the region who is a good friend. He argued that it was too late for us to think about whether the deal that was negotiated in our behalf is a good one (he admitted it is a lousy one.) He also argued that if we do not accept this deal we will not get another opportunity to have another NBA franchise.

I am not sure about the logic. He did suggest that if we think the deal is not a good one - that we can always vote it down - but with the consequences that if the thing goes down, we won't get a second chance. The fallacy of that logic of both premises is huge. First, franchise owners are business owners. They will ultimately make economic decisions to improve their business. If Sacramento is a good place to operate then they will come back to the table and negotiate a better deal. If they think they can get a better deal somewhere else (either now or later) they will move the franchise. Sacramento, since the Kings have been here, has been a very good venue. For a long time the successive owners claimed that we had continuous sellouts. That is not true any more. In the couple of decades that the Kings have been here, their leadership has almost continuously made bush league decisions on how to build a winning franchise. The civic prestige of being an also ran franchise escapes me.

Second, why should we be forced to accept a poorly negotiated deal simply because the people who "represented us" did such a poor job? The financial structure of this deal is lousy - even for a second tier market.

The supporters of the deal also argue that using the railyards is a brilliant stroke that will not happen without this form of financing. There are two problems with that logic. First, one need only look at an aerial map of the region to recognize that the natural path of development would extend into that venue very quickly. The area is a big tract of land close to a downtown that has grown very quickly. The downtown towers project (which sold out very quickly) and the vitalization of West Sacramento are indicators of the potential popularity of that area. But the area is not without problems - the expected toxic issues are going to be pretty large. The way this deal has been structured ALL of the costs to mitigate those problems will be borne by the taxpayers. A more evenly structured deal would spread some of those costs around.

In the end, I am hopeful that the Sacramento Taxpayers Association or some other public minded group will file suit and be successful in challenging the absurd notion that this new tax is a general purpose tax and thus subject to the 50% rule - this is clearly a tax proposal to do one thing. Ultimately, if the projections for building the arena are optimistic (and they will be) the remaining tax revenues will be used to do things like toxic waste cleanup or cost overruns. The 2/3 vote, which supporters are trying to avoid, is the appropriate standard here. If a suit is successful, voters are likely to reject the idea in huge numbers - but that might encourage the Maloofs (if they want to think creatively) to begin serious negotiations where a blank check is not offered to them. If not, they leave and the region continues to grow, albeit without a second rate basketball franchise that is subsidized by mounds of tax dollars.

Saint Jimmy

One wonders why anyone would listen to a guy who was arguably the worst president of the 20th Century. But German magazine, Der Speigel, did and published his rantings in an interview with former president Jimmy Carter. Before wading through his comments one should remember what Jimmy Carter did for the country. He failed as a president in all sorts of ways. He produced the highest interest rates in the country, while driving up inflation and unemployment. So much for the Phillips Curve. He looked feckless internationally both during the origins of the war on terror and against the soviets. Cardigan sweaters were substituted for energy policy. His greatest skill was to schedule the use of the White House tennis courts. He simply did not understand how to do his job. His activities in the White House were complemented by a traqi-comic cast of characters who seemed to think they were still back on the farm.

There is plenty to raise issue with on this president. His happy talk early in the war in Iraq set the American people up to think that the war would be like Gulf 1 or Greneda. In reality, the president could have been more forthright about how tough this set of battles will be. One could also make a strong case that we could have concentrated our resources in other ways (in other countries or in trying to clean up Afghanistan before moving to Iraq. There are lots of arguments that could be made - but Carter's interview rolls back to his moral hectoring. He seems intent on restoring his reputation for his failed presidency by second guessing all of his successors. He has been especially virulent on his GOP successors.

Carter's biggest triumph in his presidency , the Camp David accords, have kept at least one nation out of the fray in the Middle East, but one wonders whether all of the hype could have been followed up in subsequent administrations. Or whether with some more effort Carter and his team could have produced more. Carter's record on the domestic scene and his record during his presidency in foreign affairs should yield some humility. But it does not. Carter parades with sanctimony but drips of vengence. His comments in the interview suggest that he has no understanding of virtues like charity, or God forbid that there might be alternative ways to achieve American objectives. Besides the killer rabbit, one of Carter's finest moments (and remember the mythology that he was a pretty smart guy - an engineer afterall) was during the campaign in 1976. At one point he argued that we should significantly increase taxes on all people in the country "above the median income." When he was informed that a person of median income had pretty modest resources - he replied (with a straight face) "I did not mean THAT median."

Carter and his types ignore the key role of Israel. Again Israel is not perfect, but they should be a key part of our strategy in the middle east. But here Saint Jimmy ignores a couple of key details. He forgets (or ignores) that Hezbollah has as an objective the destruction of Israel. Yet he talks in terms of moral equivalencies between the Isrealis and the Syrian/Iranians/Hezbollah. Of course, there is room for disagreement about how one sovereign nation deals with another and the campaign in Lebanon probably could have been run better. But does Carter believe that the UN would have responded evenly to the incursions that Hezbollah and its allies mounted without some form of Israeli response?

The interview meandered through the Middle East and this President's role in the war on terror. Carter, who appointed U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor, the judge who wrote the incoherent opinion on the NSA program telephone intercept program, made the absurd argument that civil liberties are absolute. Most of what Carter said is what he has always said. As he did in his presidency he thinks talk and action are the same things. Cardigan sweaters do not create energy, and yakking mostly does not solve big problems. Force is a legitimate tool in foreign policy - it should be used with care but it is no less viable. Sure Mr. Carter has built some houses and made some other contributions to our society that are more valuable than the kinds of financial exploitation that Clinton has done from his retirement. But his real contribution over his post presidential period has been to support people like Hugo Chavez (and a couple of other two bit dictators).

The pointer to the interview is above - but it is really not worth reading.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Fall and College Rankings

This is the time of the year when college rankings begin to appear. You can find a raft of them and they seemingly tell you different stories. For example, the US News Rankings- which are among the oldest - seem to confirm the usual suspects. But the Washington Monthly Rankings use a completely different set of rankings and come up with some surprisingly different results.

US News rates, in good measure, by reputation. It surveys academics and asks the question to them - they come up with some predicatable answers. In recent years they have also added a series of other indicators to look at things like who sends the most students abroad or who has the highest percentage of transfer students. So if you want your student to study abroad or join a fraternity (and that is the greatest criteria for going to college) you can find a ranking.

Washington Monthly looks at things like social mobility (is the university doing something that seemingly adds value to the students who enter?) - under the presumed assumption that a university which only offers admission to silver spoon kids and then has a bunch of wildly successful graduates has not done much. They also look at indicators like social service components. They make a pretty bold statement at the start of their guide which suggests the broader public responsibility of colleges and universities - they should contribute to our national well being. The magazine's opening article in its guide is one with which I would argue with on some of their basic points. But their approach is no less valid than any of the other college guides.

The point here comes back to an issue raised by some in Congress during the reauthorization of the higher education act. Senior Members of Congress and people like the leader of the Spellings Commission comment that we need more information about colleges. They argue that parents and students do not have enough information with which to make intelligent choices. In reality, the amount of information about colleges and universities is diverse and difuse. A person, with a modicum of interest, can find a bevy of information which explains how colleges work in a number of ways. Want to find the colleges with the highest percentage of merit (non-need based) aid? US News. Want to find a college with a high commitment to social service? Washington Monthly. Want to look at another more obscure indicator? The point is that as the Economist pointed out in their survey of higher education last fall - American universities are the strongest in the world because of the diversity of their offerings, and governance and financing schemes. Those politicians who want to make this rich market entirely uniform are missing the point.

The people who created No Child Left Behind (the Elementary and Secondary monstrosity created to make those educational systems more uniform) operated under the absurd belief that a single set of national standards would improve performance. The law will not be successful, except in the perpetuation of mediocrity. A more creative legislative process would have built on the strength of diversity in the country. It would have recognized that uniformity does not create excellence. But small minds have small thoughts. Now the same people are trying to impose the same kinds of uniform standards on higher education. As the recently released guides suggest - there is both a lot to be proud of in American higher education and a lot to strive for - but neither the pride nor the quest will be improved by uniformity.

CNET on HP and Dell

CNET had a reporter's roundtable on the problems in Dell and the apparent rebirth of HP since Carly Fiorina was dumped. They had a couple of conclusions - after a reasonable period of time the HP-Compaq deal was not really all that great. Their conclusion - HP overpaid for a company that was basically failing. They got nothing for the deal - they bought some additions to the server business - although what they got was into the server market that is increasingly commoditized. The opportunity cost was failing to pick up the consulting business that was almost laid in their laps. All of those conclusions (and the recognition that HP had a good printer business) were things that opponents of Carly suggested at the time of the merger.

Dell has had a series of problems this year based on a bit of arrogance and then also because of a couple of problems like the battery recall. And indeed their problems are some of the same things that critics of the merger suggested for anyone in the commodity side of the PC business would face. When you sell boxes that are fundamentally vanilla and based almost solely on price the chance of making a big advance are limited - to make the profit one needs to trim the supply chain (which Dell did and HP at the time did not, even with the Compaq addition which was better). Walter Hewlett argued at the time that HP's primary business which was printers was one where they could make a good profit because unlike the PC, printers require constant refurbishment of supplies. With some maintenance of a PC business including a reasonable server business and the consulting (which Carly ignored) HP could have been a very profitable business. Compaq added weight not flexibility.

One should note that "since Fiorina's departure from HP, HP stock has approximately doubled in value and employee confidence is back in force under the direction of Mark Hurd. In 2006, as part of what some see as a de-merger process, many of the original Compaq services have been outsourced." (Wikipedia) Thanks again Carly.

The Bay Area in Perspective

Garciapara and Drew Score, originally uploaded by drtaxsacto.

Tonight we missed the Rivercats game and went to AT&T Stadium to see the Dodgers whoop the Giants - 14-7 (The Cats won but the Sidewinder's lucky number is down to 10 - any combinations of Sidewinder wins or Cats losses puts us out of the playoffs).

There are a couple of things about the rivalry. When you go to Chavez for game you don't hear the intensity of fervor that you do in SF. All through the game there was the chant BEAT LA (They did not). Bank of America (initially a quintessential San Francisco financial institution) gave out free hats to the kiddies - Beat LA (by the way B or A is now Charlotte NC based - sorry SF).

The first two innings SF looked like SJ (the San Jose Giants are the Giants Single A Club) - two errors on one play. By the second inning the "Giants" were down double digits. The Giants had a couple of innings where they began to catch up. Barry Bonds got in for a short period and did zip.

Vin Scully, whose broadcast career began with the Dodgers in 1950, was there tonight and I also got a picture of him. As I wrote earlier in the year, I met Scully a couple of years ago. It was a real experience. He remains the prime radio voice of baseball. Scully succeeded the legendary Red Barber and actually broadcast with him for his first three years. Barber gave Scully some advice about how to be a good broadcaster - he suggested that the younger anouncer do all of the following - remain quiet and let the crowd noise be heard in a particularly dramatic moment; don’t get too close to the players; remain unbiased and fair; give the score of the game on a regular basis as listeners are constantly tuning in and out; and be yourself on the mike. Scully added a phenomenal knowledge of baseball history to add color to his commentary. He is truly an American treasure.

One other comment about the game. Tonight's game had 42,000 fans. The traffic into SF was horrible. Coming home it was better. AT&T is an expensive evening. Their big hotdog was expensive, so was the beer. There is a great variety of food types and lots of different types of beer. But Raley Field is about as good and much easier to get in and out of. Parking, close to the field (instead of $5) is $30.

For my money, the quality of the baseball in Sacramento and the cheaper evening and easier in and out - makes it a much better venue.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Shadow (Lamont)

Polls this week confirm that Ned Lamont is going to be an also ran. But then so is his GOP opponent (what was his name again?).

Lamont, while he garnered support from the Democratic Senate Caucus, seems to have already lost the support of all of the GOP in the state (what was the name of the GOP candidate in the race?). A good portion of the democrats in the state are also supporting Lieberman as are the independents. When Lieberman goes back to the Senate, he will still be a reliable liberal vote - but let's hope he will remember all of his colleagues who abandoned him.

Who is the GOP person in the race? The shadow knows, but that is about all.

Campaigning for the hearts and minds of North Carolina

This morning as I was surfing the web I found the campaign site for a guy who is running against Brad Miller who is a democrat from North Carolina. Miller is running for re-election and seems to be a pretty traditional democrat. The 13th district looks a lot like any other gerrymandered district in the country. It has pieces of Greensboro and Raleigh and goes north to the Virgina border. I suspect it is what most political people call a "lock." He is a lawyer.

Mr. Miller's opponent is a guy named Vernon Robinson. Robinson seems to have a lot of dough to run ads. Two are especially interesting. One, a radio ad, set to the tune of the Beverly Hillbillies is a rant about immigrants. North Carolina is one of the second tier states in the country that has experienced a significant influx of Mexican immigrants in recent year. Robinson's ad is catching but it is also xenophobic. It makes a series of charges against Miller which suggest that he (Miller) supported extending benefits to illegal aliens beyond any reasonable measure.

The second ad rips the Twilight Zone and suggests that Brad Miller's positions on a number of issues including abortion and gay rights and supporting illegals are in the Twilight Zone. The ad uses the theme music from the original show.

I have two comments - first, these ads are interesting parody. I suspect at some point that some intellectual property attorney will get all hot and bothered about the use of copyrighted material - although this certainly seems to be within the bounds of the standards for parody. Second, I wonder whether these commercials will be effective. Clearly, Mr. Robinson thinks Miller is not in touch with his district. And, indeed, he may not be. But I am fundamentally concerned about how Mr. Robinson phrases his issues. In the 1840s we had the Know Nothings - which was a nativist movement to respond to the big influx of Irish Catholic immigrants. In the next couple of generations we had a series of movements that resisted the influx of various groups of immigrants. In each of those movements there was a subtle mix of racism and xenophobia. The difference with the most recent wave of immigrants is the level of public subsidy that goes to this group. The concern about the level of subsidy is based in part on the actual cost and in part as a way to respond to significant new influxes of people. But if you look at the data - this generation of immigrants is doing what prior ones did - except a bit faster. They are simultaneously assimilating into our culture and in some subtle and non-subtle ways changing it. Change is tough but the tradeoffs are mostly worth it. As Julian Simon pointed out in his ground-breaking study on the economics of immigration - the net tradeoff on immigration in the country is positive. That does not mean there are not strains. It also does not mean that we should not re-look at the policies in this country designed to either support or deter immigrants.

One would wish that there would be a more thoughtful discussion about the appropriate level of support and the appropriate level of interdiction that we as a society should offer to these immigrants instead of using charactures of either the noble hard working immigrant or the lazy freeloader.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Opportunities in the improbable

Tonight's Rivercats game was an interesting one. Charles Thomas got two homeruns. The Cats won 6-2 (That makes their post allstar break record 25-8). Tuscon lost. With 20 games left, that leaves Sacramento 7 games out - 7 games remaining against the Sky Sox (3 here/4 there), 9 against Fresno (5 there) and 4 against Tuscon, all here. Our season then comes down to the last place Grizzlies - 25.5 games out but a pretty good record against the Cats. At the same time, we need to have Tuscon fall off its monumental pace from the rest of the season (currently .633).

A Mexican Joke

In Spanish the party of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is the PRD (Party of Revolutionary Democracy or the Pay Err Day) but in the last couple of days there is a joke going around Mexico which is very funny -

Como sé llama la partidad de AMLO?

Perdedor. (Which sounds a lot like the phoenetic pronounciation of the party in Spanish but means loser). (Could also be perderre)

AMLOs tactics are increasingly looking like just that. A recent poll shows that even his supporters are declining in their support. That does not mean that Calderon will not need to exercise significant leadership - but it does mean that AMLO, if he keeps up these disruptions will find himself even less relevant.

What is wrong with this picture - Where is Micawber when we need him?

The National Conference of State Legislatures released a report on state revenues and expenditures for the current fiscal year. Last year revenues surged by 7.7% - that is a pretty healthy rise. With an underlying inflation rate less than one third of that that should mean good things. But there is a cloud in that silver lining. Expenditures rose 8.4%%. Next year expenditures are expected to grow by a bit less 7.6%.

In California the surge in revenues came as a result of a system which relies heavily on capital source income taxes - capital gains and options contributed heavily to the surge in revenues this year - including one set of payments from Google employees that amounted to more than $400 million.

Legislators should remember the advice of Micawber in David Copperfield - his principle was a simple one ""Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."

Except in this case, the misery goes to the taxpayer.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Pathetic lapdog journalism - Mike Wallace and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

On Sunday 60 minutes aired an "interview" between Mike Wallace and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran. At one point in his career, Wallace was a pretty skilled interviewer. But this had all the elements of a Larry King special. I got to see it on C-Spann where it was rebroadcast without interruption. There were no tough questions. Wallace looked like a pathetic puppy. He kept an obsequious smile that was disconcerting. But more troubling was his complete unwillingness to follow up on anything. At one pointAhmadinejad laid down some baloney about Iran's belief in valuing all people. Wallace asked about the reality of the holocaust - the Iranian president has repeatedly suggested that it was made up - when the President commented that he needed more evidence - Wallace should have commented on the myriad documentation of those terrible events - but he did not. The whole interview was like that. Ahmadinejad commented that the US "owns" the UN and the Security Council, he repeatedly failed to confirm or deny his outrageous statements about Israel. Iran's nuclear ambitions are entirely peaceful. Hezbollah is a peaceful people's movement. In each instance those comments were simply allowed to stand - or Wallace would come up with his silly smile and then let the President go on to another unresponded to soliloquy.

Were Wallace a journalist he would have asked the president some real questions - but in his school those questions are reserved only for people like George Bush. Wallace is likely to claim that part of his problem was the translation and part of it was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's almost book like responses - clearly Amadinejahd relished this role to give his pat answers. But that is nonsense. Wallace would have treated a different subject differently. CBS was so desparate for ratings that is sacrificed integrity. It is clear that he would have used the old approach that he made famous on 60 minutes. If Wallace's interview with Ahmadinejad is an example of journalism, then Ned Lamont lost the Connecticut primary last week.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Is it real or is it memorex

In today's NYT a German tourist returning from a trip to Canada is quoted in the following way after being delayed in her flight home in Heathrow. She said

“It’s a very bad end to a holiday,’’ she said. “It feels just like the war. It’s like a really bad movie.’’

I was struck by her comments. We are in a war, this is not a movie. Yet, a lot of us treat this like a movie. It isn't.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Looney Ideas

There is no denying that participation in American elections is on the decline. The percentage participating in the recent California primary was the lowest in several decades. This is in spite of efforts to loosen the franchise. Efforts to assure probity in voting are decried - so identification at polling places is limited or not at all. Registration is as ubiquitious as credit card offers or emails promising Nigerian riches. And yet voting continues to decline.

In today's New York Times, Norman Ornstein, who is otherwise known as sane, makes an odd suggestion. Ornstein believes as I do that legislative bodies spend a lot of their time on silly issues. In his oped he reels off several of the nutty ideas that took front and center in the Congress. He also believes that the influence of campaign consultants is negative. He is also bothered by a decreasing ability of elected officials to figure out how to come together on an issue. For the US system, politics is no longer about reasonable solutions but debating points. So with all those points of agreement (and I agree with each of the points above) Orenstein comes to the following conclusion -

"If there were mandatory voting in America, there’s a good chance that the ensuing reduction in extremist discourse would lead to genuine legislative progress. These days, valuable Congressional time is spent on frivolous or narrow issues (flag burning, same-sex marriage) that are intended only to spur on the party bases and ideological extremes. Consequently, important, complicated issues (pension and health-care reform) get short shrift."

Ornstein argues that Australia is a good example of the positive consequences of such a move. He writes -

"In the Australian system, registered voters who do not show up at the polls either have to provide a reason for not voting or pay a modest fine, the equivalent of about $15. The fine accelerates with subsequent offenses. The result, however, is a turnout rate of more than 95 percent. The fine, of course, is an incentive to vote. But the system has also instilled the idea that voting is a societal obligation."

There are a couple of obvious questions. FIrst how does Australia compare to the US? Yes, both are immigrant nations - although with a very large land mass (the sixth largest country) the continent has but 20 million inhabitants (or about half the size of California). Contrary to what most Americans think about Australia, almost a third of the people are from either first or second generation immigrant families. (6 million) Current migration rate is just under 4/1000 and population growth is 0.85%, it is also 92% Caucasian. (The comparable US numbers are about 3.18/1000 for migration, population growth of 0.91% and 82% Caucasian. The US numbers on immigrants are about 33 million total(Census numbers in 2002) but that does not suggest whether those are only first generation.) Interestingly, the official language of Australia is English - although that is by custom not by law. One could make the case that, although the country is much smaller in terms of population, there are similar demographics.

Why does he believe that the addition of even less interested voters would tend toward the center - toward moderation? Would univolved voters be even more likely to simply vote on a whim? There is a rich body of literature on voting behavior (especially in public choice economics) that would suggest that his proposal might make American politics even more wacky. The influence of money would still be there. With our loose registration system - where records are only occasionally purged, and with the casual nature of some voters - what you might get to is more of the "passions of the people" that Madison talked about in Federalist #10. The founders created a series of checks and balances in the federal system to reduce the influence of public policy whims. But those devices, like the electoral college and the indirect election of Senators, have either been abolished or are under serious pressure.

There is one other point here. Can Ornstein demonstrate that any mandatory expression builds civic responsibility? Do we really care more about what our government spends because taxes are mandatory? Were politicians more responsibile in exercising the war power when there was a mandatory draft? There are many observers of politics that are worried about the increasingly extreme nature of the political discourse and the loss, not of a center (I am not sure what a moderate is - Goldwater said it best when he commented in the 1964 election - "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice; moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." ) but of politicians who are willing to consider other points of view. The nonsense in this morning's blogs by some of the looney left - that the terror alert increase is a result of LIeberman losing the primary on Tuesday - is but one example. Campaign finance laws, that tried to regulate political speech and "soft money" only to create more soft money is an example of unexpected consequences. All of us would support an increase in civil discourse - but forcing citizens to vote is not the way.