Monday, February 27, 2006

I'm leaning towards supporting the Dubai ports deal

As my post below indicates, I had an open mind about the Dubai ports deal (that is, the deal to sell British company Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co. to UAE-owned DP World). I haven't given it much thought, though.

However, this AP article caught my attention. In its usual zeal to discredit all things Republican- or Bush-related, the AP headlines its article (written by Liz Sidoti) "Paper: Coast Guard Has Port Co. Intel Gaps." Yahoo!'s news link to the article is titled "Coast Guard warned of port security intel gaps." Well, what does the article say?

Here's the first paragraph: "Citing broad gaps in U.S. intelligence, the Coast Guard cautioned the Bush administration weeks ago that it could not determine whether a United Arab Emirates-based company seeking a stake in some U.S. port operations might support terrorist operations."

Sounds pretty bad, eh? Because of "broad gaps" in intelligence, the Coast Guard is unable to determine whether DP World supports terrorists. How could the Bush administration approve the deal with these "broad gaps" in our intelligence? Apparently, Bush just likes to rush into things with faulty or absent intelligence.

That is clearly the jist of the AP article's headline and first few paragraphs. However, seven paragraphs into the article, we learn this:

"The Coast Guard said the concerns reflected in the document [me: apparently, these Coast Guard concerns were set forth in a document released by Sen. Susan Collins discussed at some hearing today] ultimately were addressed. In a statement, the Coast Guard said other U.S. intelligence agencies were able to provide answers to the questions it raised."

Get that? All of the Coast Guard's concerns - the "gaps" in the Coast Guard's intelligence (and, really, what kind of intelligence repository is the Coast Guard anyway?) - were adequately addressed by other U.S. intelligence agencies before the deal was approved.

What's worse, read this paragraph, buried way down in the AP article: "The Coast Guard indicated to The Associated Press that it did not have serious reservations about the ports deal on Feb. 10, when the news organization first inquired about potential security concerns."

In other words, the AP knew the Coast Guard has no present security concerns as of February 10. The AP's headline is therefore false and misleading by using the present tense word "has" when describing the Coast Guard's long-since resolved and no-longer-harbored intelligence questions. A more accurate headline for the disclosure of the Coast Guard document by RINO Susan Collins would be "Coast Guard's security concerns over Dubai port deal were adequately addressed prior to the deal's approval." Such a headline would never run in the AP because it does not fit the conventional liberal wisdom that Bush is a liar, ignores or manipulates intelligence, all to enrich his oil business buddies.

Importand first-hand information on the Dubai ports deal from Citizen Smash

When I first heard about the Dubai ports deal, unlike many of my conservative brethren (and liberal opportunists), I had no immediate gut reaction pro or con. (That's because I'm a Bush appologist, you say? Two words: Harriet Miers.) When I stopped to think about it, I realized that there was no way such a deal would not be vetted for its political impact unless the Bush administration was truly incompetent. Not even the left believes the Bush administration is that incompetent (oh sure, they say so, but then claim Karl Rove routinely pulls off the most complex, evil genius conspiracies since Pinky and the Brain).

In short, there has to be some reason Bush is defending the Dubai ports deal. What could that be? I will say that Bush has done a poor job of explaining his support (or a poor job of getting the message out). Regardless, after reading this post by Citizen Smash, I think I understand Bush's support for the deal. You should read the post, too, before making up your mind.

Friday, February 17, 2006

I love it when showboaters fail

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy watching players celebrate victories, touchdowns, home runs, KOs, etc. What I hate is when they celebrate before the play is over. This I cannot stand. I have seen too many instances of a showboater caught from behind to fumble or fall down while drag-stepping, a sure triple end up a single because the batter watched his supposed "shot," slam dunks missed, etc. Were I a sports coach, I would ban all my players from showboating while the play is ongoing. One violation of this rule would mean being cut from the team.

Which is why I am heartened to see this. In the Olympic games, while way out in front, U.S. snowboard-cross racer Lindsey Jacobellis decides to catch a little air and do a rail grab right before the finish line. What happened? She fell. And only won Silver. Ha! Ha!

Showboat on your victory lap - that's what it's for. Never, ever during the game. Not only do you risk losing, but it is disrespectful to your opponents. Miss Jacobellis deserves all the scorn she receives.

I must disagree with National Review over Cheney's press relations

For some reason, even conservatives are parroting the thought that Cheney should have immediately contacted the media after 5:30 p.m. (when his shooting accident happened) rather than at 11:00 a.m. the next morning, when the ranch owner contacted the local press. I think Cheney was a little busy in the immediate aftermath of the shooting so let's asusme that at around, say, 7:30 p.m. things calmed down (i.e., the medical condition of Mr. Whittington was stable and known to be so). What to do?

Eat dinner, have a cocktail, go to sleep, call the media in the morning. This wasn't life or death nor was the Veep himself injured. The story is interesting, but there was absolutely no urgency to its publication, except to the media-obsessed media who think the world revolves around them.

So why does National Review's Window on the Week say this:

"Nonetheless, the vice president also probably erred in not reporting the information sooner. His actions are defensible and, on the merits, sound. But the vice president is also a politician, and politicians — particularly conservative ones — should understand that an unfair media climate comes with the territory, and that ignoring this reality on principle often creates even bigger problems."

Does the existence of a hostile, irrational, partisan media mean that the Veep should cow-tow to them? I have yet to hear any rational argument that the public needed to know about this accident sooner than they did. That is the only legitimate basis to criticise Cheney for not reporting the accident sooner.

The only way Cheney could have made a "mistake" is in the pure, crass political calculation sense. But it wasn't. If the unfounded speculation (e.g. Cheney was drunk) was bad with the, well I won't say "delay" because there was no delay, imagine how bad the unfounded speculation would have been if the accident was reported earlier. Cheney killed a man! No wait, he seriously wounded a man, probably an illegal alien - oops, undocumented guest worker - trying to cross the border! Man Cheney shot clings to life, death could come at any moment! Etc.

Cheney did not make a mistake, objectively or politically, in notifying the press when and how he did. Cheney's only mistake, politically and objectively, was the shooting itself. National Review should know better. Perhaps because they are also in the media biz, they are blinded by this obvious reality.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Weekly Standard propagandizes for Big Media

I like the Weekly Standard, often described as the fountainhead of neoconservatism. So I was taken aback when I read this essay by contributor Andrew Keen. The argument he makes is that Big Media is good, and bloggers collectively are bad, because Big Media provides a better system of producing elite artistic and intellectual achievement. Here's the money paragraph:

"Is this a bad thing? The purpose of our media and culture industries--beyond the obvious need to make money and entertain people--is to discover, nurture, and reward elite talent. Our traditional mainstream media has done this with great success over the last century. Consider Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece, Vertigo and a couple of other brilliantly talented works of the same name Vertigo: the 1999 book called Vertigo, by Anglo-German writer W.G. Sebald, and the 2004 song "Vertigo," by Irish rock star Bono. Hitchcock could never have made his expensive, complex movies outside the Hollywood studio system. Bono would never have become Bono without the music industry's super-heavyweight marketing muscle. And W.G. Sebald, the most obscure of this trinity of talent, would have remained an unknown university professor had a high-end publishing house not had the good taste to discover and distribute his work. Elite artists and an elite media industry are symbiotic. If you democratize media, then you end up democratizing talent. The unintended consequence of all this democratization, to misquote Web 2.0 apologist Thomas Friedman, is cultural "flattening." No more Hitchcocks, Bonos, or Sebalds. Just the flat noise of opinion--Socrates's nightmare."

Bunk, bunk and more bunk. Nonsense cubed, too. Mr. Keen is using anecdotal evidence - the success of Hitchcock, U2 and an obscure writer - to justify Big Media's virtual monopoly in an industry that used to have much higher barriers to entry. What about all those outsiders who started outside the Big Media of their day? Motown, Chess, Sun Records ring a bell?

Mr. Keen laments that barriers to entry in the media market have been reduced to virtually nothing (witness this blog). What he wholly discounts is the effect of the consumer's choice. All the big blogs of today were started by individuals or small groups with nearly no notariety, but through their skill and hard work gained the trust and support of readers who came back for the quality of the product. Bloggers like me who post infrequently (though my quality is first rate) don't get the traffic. This is what Capitalism does. This is why markets are better than central planning. When consumer choice determines what succeeds, rather than the central planners who thrust product upon the powerless masses, that is what produces more elite achievement. The more centralized and planned a system is, the less it maximizes the talent pool.

Here's the real history of Big Media. For every genius it has nurtured and given voice to, it has turned away another genius. The key point is that a small, insular industry (especially one dominated by people of the same philosophical/political persuasion) could effectively keep out talent for reasons unrelated to talent. When any and all individuals, including talentless individuals, have the same playing field, the talent will rise to the top as it will be rewarded quickly and efficiently by consumers. We do NOT need a filter of Big Media deciding for us in movie exec offices, recording studios or book publishing offices, what is "good." We can do that for ourselves, thank you very much. What is good gets rewarded easier with better technology and access to the market than the old dinosaur ways.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Are diversified investments safer than non-diversified? Or, another AP misrepresentation?

I have a 401(k) plan. 401(k) is the section of the tax code that lets me contribute money into an account tax free (i.e., the money I put in each month is off the top, and not taxed), is allowed to grow tax free (i.e., no capital gains tax) which will eventually be taxed when I decide to take it out. My 401(k) money is invested in several mutual funds that generally invest in the stock market. I'm relatively young, and historically the stock market has produced higher returns than any other investments, so the bulk of my money is there for now. When I get older I'll start moving my 401(k) money into safer investments, with lower returns. When you are young, you can endure short-term swings in volatile, yet higher producing, investments. When you are older, your timeframes are shorter and you are less able to endure volatility.

This is all common sense. This should be taught in 8th grade. Diversifying your investments is safer than putting all your eggs into one basket. It is not always the best choice in hindsight - I would love to have put all my money in Google at the IPO price, then sold it for gold at the high end just before Google's latest earning report - but it is definitely the safest.

So why is the AP reporting that the growth in 401(k) funds, now with more aggregate money than "traditional" pension funds, is "a dramatic change that will force younger workers to plan more carefully for retirement"? A "traditional" pension fund is one where an employee puts all his eggs in one basket - the basket of your employer, ala Enron. This is, and has always been, foolhardy non-diversification.

United Airlines recently emerged from bankruptcy. As part of its Chapter 11 reorganization, "drastic cuts were made to the pension plans." If every employee had invested their money in a 401(k) instead of United's traditional pension plan, they would still have all their money because, surprise surprise, it would be their money, not some future promise of a pension. Worse, United's employees' union almost surely bargained for this form of compensation. It doesn't matter one whit to your employer how he compensates you - all cash, a mix of cash and health benefits, a mix of cash, health benefits, pension plan, etc. It's all the same to the employer. Anyone who can take all of their compensation in cash, but doesn't, is an idiot. (When I say "cash" I include anything that one has a present property interest in, which is not subject to some future promise.)

This is essentially why we need to privatize Social Security. It is a simple legal principal - title to my retirement money should be mine. Social Security is a mere unenforceable promise by today's politicians that tomorrow's politicians will pay you back something resembling what you are being taxed today - or in other words, a Ponzi scheme. Since the age demographics in this country will not support such a Ponzi scheme in the very near future, you (and me) can all kiss our "promised" Social Security goodby - just as United employees kissed their "pensions" goodby.

Both Social Security and United pensions suffer from the same basic problem - lack of diversification. Both plans are utterly dependent upon one, and only one, enterprise succeeding indefinitely. Social Security's Ponzi scheme cannot survive indefinitely. Though ignorant leftists once thought big corprations like United could never fail, this is obviously not true (TWA, Pan Am, Enron). The only way to keep your money is to keep your money - i.e., get it all under your legal control. This will not guarantee that you'll keep all of your money, as certainly your mutual funds will occasionaly invest in stinkers like Enron. But it is far better than Social Security or a "traditional" pension.

To sum up: The AP article leads with scaremongering that 401(k)s are somehow more difficult to manage or riskier than "traditional" pensions, which is not true. From this I discern that the AP reporter is either reflexively liberal (most likely) or an ignoramus (what's the difference? you say). 401(k)s are obviously better than "traditional" pensions, as any diversified investment plan is better than a concentrated plan. This is simple stuff, and shows why Social Security should be wholly privatized.

UPDATE: Even though no one reads this blog, I thought I should clarify one point made above. As the United bankruptcy demonstrates, employers actually do care about how they structure their compensation of their employees. Pension plans have been favorites because they allow the employer to keep the money (essentially by requiring the employees to "invest" their pension-allocated money in the employer rather than elsewhere) and are dischargeable if the employer ever files for bankruptcy. If an employer can give you a (potentially unenforceable) promise of payment later instead of cash now, well, it doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that it'll do the former. Social Security works on the same principal, except Social Security is 100% unenforceable.

My boycott of France is officially over

When France actively sabotaged the U.S.'s war effort in Iraq because it wanted to preserve its lucrative oil contracts with Saddam, I rightfully began boycotting all things French, as did many millions of Americans. Fortunately, since their motivations were so transparent, France's hostility did relatively nothing to prevent the U.S. from deposing Saddam. France and other European countries have been a continual annoyance since then by publicly spouting such nonsense as deposing Saddam was "illegal," as if 18 UN resolutions calling for just that if he failed to comply with his cease-fire agreement after Gulf War I meant nothing.

Apparently, France has had a wake-up call (as perhaps have Germany and Canada in electing conservative governments recently). 40 days of muslim rioting seems to have convinced France that radical islam really is a threat. Hence, after the muslim world erupted in outrage at relatively innocuous pictures and cartoons of Muhammad being printed in Denmark, France and other european countries reprinted the cartoons.

Good for France, Germany, Italy, Spain and all the other publishers who would not be intimidated by radical islamists. When France tried to sabotage our eforts to depose Saddam, that was about money more than anything. Here, the stand is not about money but about standing up to thugs France has now apparently realized need to be stood up to. Don't expect France to send any troops to Iraq any time soon (and, really, would we be better off with French troops?), but for this act of courage and defiance, I'll start drinking French wine again.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

AP continues to screw up, this time in science writing

I like to pick on MSM reporters because of their general sanctimoniousness and superiority complex. I also love to read blogs by non-journalists in professional fields because those are the people who generally know what they are talking about - as one would prefer that one's teacher actually majored in the subject being taught, and not in "Education" or some other such non-subject.

That's why it is all the more fun to point out mistakes from specialized journalists who are supposed to have special knowledge in a particular field. I have no idea who Alicia Chang from the AP is, but I do know she screwed up big time in her story about the 10th "planet" recently discovered.

The basic story is fascinating - an astronomer at Cal Tech, Michael Brown, discovered an object in orbit around the Sun that is both larger and further away than Pluto. For now, it is called UB313, but Mr. Brown named it Xena. Now, the prior debate about whether Pluto is really a planet, and hence, whether Xena is also a planet, is heating up.

But then, Ms. Chang drops this bomb at the end of her article: "If it is determined to be the 10th planet, it would be the farthest-known body in the solar system."

Uh, no, unless she meant "body" to mean "planet" and "solar system" to only include planets.

You see, both Pluto and Xena are Kuiper Belt objects. The Kuiper Belt has many thousands of relatively large "bodies" (larger than 100km in diamater) and many more thousands of smaller bodies. I highly doubt that Xena is the furthest Kuiper Belt object.

But even if it is, there is another class of objects much further out than Kuiper Belt objects - long period comets. These comets spend most of their lives in the Oort Cloud. These Oort Cloud comets are the "farthest-known bodies in the solar system," not Xena.