Wednesday, January 30, 2008

There are some worrying trends I see among Americans and especially conservatives. On many key issues having to do with free market, trade, and economics people seem to be mimicking old liberal arguments (many debunked long ago) and (often inadvertently) end up calling for more government intrusion into their daily life and livelihood.

Much of this, of course, is due to noneducation of the subjects at hand. While I don't profess to be an expert on these matters I am well-read enough to understand that government intervention has both seen and unseen, often unintended, consequences on my family's bottom line. But because the "reforms" are packaged as populism -- things that create a division or dichotomy between "the people" and "the elite" -- in this case "the elite" usually being auto-makers, oil companies, drug companies or politicians and lobbyists.

After all...

Who would be against strengthening campaign finance laws?
Who would be against forcing auto-makers to make more fuel efficient vehicles?
Who would be against protecting the environment?
Who would be against cheaper pharmaceuticals or Canadian drug imports?

But each of these things has often unintended but very bad consequences for the individual consumers and citizens whom have been fooled into believing they need government protection. Each of the "reforms" often more harm individual liberty than they do "reform" anything.

Each new set of campaign finance reform laws, for example, attempt to correct the overreach and consequences of past campaign finance reform laws. The McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill was created to correct problems created by the Watergate-era campaign finance reform bills. In it's wake, McCain-Feingold ended up curbing free speech guaranteed to us by the First Amendment (in the form of prohibiting broadcast advertisements that name a federal candidate within 30 days of a primary or caucus or 60 days of a general election). This created a vacuum, explained by Reason's Jonathan Rauch, "filled by private groups that are unaccountable to the voters," also known as "527s." To date, there is more money in politics than before, but like damming water running downhill, the law simply shifted the path to groups with anonymous and often very powerful backers whom do not have to answer to voters.

Next, forcing auto-makers to make more fuel efficient vehicles by raising CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards really only does two things: increased the number of highway deaths due to auto-makers making lighter, smaller cars, and increase the price of cars whose engines really do become more fuel efficient. You'll save at the pump but never enough to make up for the extra money you paid to purchase the more expensive fuel-efficient car.

Protecting the environment? On an almost daily basis I cite article after article showing that the cause of global warming and defining of carbon dioxide as a pollutant has little to do with the environment and much to do with continuing grant funding, justifying new taxation schemes, and empowering those few corporate-NGO blocks who have devised way to make money off the red-herring issue (and faulty science at that).

Finally, I'm going to post Megan McArdle's recent commentary as someone who understands the consequences of the continued demonization of pharmaceutical companies and "progressive" populist demand for cheaper drugs. Socialist medicine, single-buyer healthcare, national healthcare, etc., are really just repacked descriptors by our politicians for a monopsony -- the opposite of a monopoly, a monopsony is one buyer to many sellers.

[McCardle:] Yesterday I wrote:

So the most probable outcome of introducing monopsony power here [in the U.S.] is that the market for drugs shrinks to the point where it will support few-to-no new drugs.
Not to put too fine a point on it, Tom responded:

This seems crazy.
He is not the only one for whom this seems a little nuts. But it is not. Let me explain.

People who think that there will be continuing R&D in the pharmaceutical industry are basically thinking of it as a budgeting problem. They think of the pharmaceutical industry's gross income as a budget to be allocated between various functions, such as marketing and R&D. They may concede that by changing the size of the budget, you may shrink the amount of money to fund R&D, because there will be less money in the kitty. (Though many or most hope that shrinking the size of the pie will force pharmaceutical companies to transfer money from the advertising budget to R&D1). But, their reasoning goes, there will still be money in the kitty; if you allow pharmaceutical companies 1/3 as much gross income, you will get 1/3 as much R&D. Or perhaps they will cut their advertising budgets to zero, and then you will get 2/3 as much R&D. But still, you will get something.

I don't think of R&D as a budgeting problem; I think of it as an investment problem. After all, even if the pharmaceutical industry has no profits right now, they can borrow the money in the financial markets at fairly attractive rates.

The main obstacle to R&D, then, is not the current state of pharmaceutical industry profits; it is the potential return on the investment in R&D. After all, Merck doesn't have to make drugs; it could generate a nice, safe return of 5% a year in government bonds. Or it could get into some other business, such as making soap. If you drive down the profits on new drugs too far, it stops making sense to invest in new drugs, even if there is a small profit to be made on current production.

Developing new drugs is very, very risky. Depending on what you think constitutes a drug candidate, somewhere between one in one thousand, and one in ten thousand drug candidates makes it from a lab bench to clinical trials. Each of the failed drugs was very expensive, particularly if it got partway through clinicals, which run about $500 million per course.

The problem is, once you've developed a drug, it's easy to copy. It's also usually trivially cheap to produce. And your patent is rapidly running out. This gives a monopsony buyer a lot of leverage to force down your price--you're almost always better off taking something. This is particularly true if the monopsony buyer has the power to break your patent and license its generic manufacturers to turn out cheap but near-perfect imitations of your product2. This is, in fact, what Europe has done; they make pharmaceutical firms sell to them at cost plus. The lion's share of the profits on any drug come from the United States; what they get in Europe and Canada and the rest of the world is (thin) gravy, a price that is just a little bit better than not selling any drugs there.

Now imagine that America drives drug prices down to that sort of "cost+10" or "cost+20" level. The pharmaceutical firms will keep making the drugs they already have, because there will still be a little profit there. But they would have to be psychotic to invest billions of dollars over a 20 year time horizon in exchange for a one in a thousand chance of making that small a profit. Would you put 20% of your income now into an investment that might yield a profit of 10% of your income--in thirty years?

But they have to invest in R&D, say my interlocutors; otherwise they won't have any drugs to sell! This makes the odd assumption that they can't do anything else. But history is full of companies that used to do something else entirely--and also, of companies that went out of business when their market collapsed.

1 This belief is wrong, for reasons I will explain in another post.

2 The patent threat seems to be the most plausible reason that pharmaceutical firms do not raise Canadian prices to US levels.

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With 10 percent unemployment and 19 percent inflation there's no doubt that Ahmadinejad's blatant threats are devised in part to deflect Iranian scrutiny away from his failed domestic policies. Even so, there's nothing he's saying here that the Ayatollah -- the ultimate power in Iran -- disagrees with.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called on the West Wednesday to acknowledge Israel's "imminent collapse."

Speaking to a crowd on a visit to the southern port of Bushehr, where Iran's first light-water nuclear power plant is being built by Russia, Ahmadinejad further incited his listeners to "stop supporting the Zionists, as [their] regime reached its final stage."

"Accept that the life of Zionists will sooner or later come to an end," the Iranian president said in a televised speech.

He added, "What we have right now is the last chapter [of Israeli atrocities] which the Palestinians and regional nations will confront and eventually turn in Palestine's favor."

Iran does not acknowledge Israel and Ahmadinejad has in the past sparked international outcry by referring to the systematic murder of six million Jews in World War II as a "myth" and calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map."

Iran is currently also mediating in the crisis over the Gaza Strip, where Israel has imposed a blockade on border crossings into the coastal territory, barring the entry of supplies into the already impoverished area. Last week, Palestinian militants blew holes in the barrier separating the Gaza Strip from Egypt, prompting hundreds of thousands of Gazans to pour into Egypt in search of supplies.

Ahmadinejad also urged the Western powers to help build nuclear power plants in his country saying it will be too late if they do not decide to do so immediately.

"If you will not come, this nation will build nuclear plants based on its own resources and when you come some four years later it will reject your request and not then give you any opportunity," he said.

"I am addressing leaders of two or three powers; do you remember I sent you message and told you to stop be stubborn? If you think that you can block the movement of Iranian nation, you are wrong," the Iranian president continued.

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On the sixth anniversary of the murder by Islamic extremists of WSJ reporter Daniel Pearl, his father, Judea Pearl, opines on the responsibility of media.

One of the things that saddens me most is that the press and media have had an active, perhaps even major role in fermenting hate and inhumanity. It was not religious fanaticism alone [that killed Daniel Pearl].

This was first brought to my attention by the Pakistani Consul General who came to offer condolences at our home in California. When we spoke about the anti-Semitic element in Danny's murder she said: "What can you expect of these people who never saw a Jew in their lives and who have been exposed, day and night, to televised images of Israeli soldiers targeting and killing Palestinian children."

At the time, it was not clear whether she was trying to exonerate Pakistan from responsibility for Danny's murder, or to pass on the responsibility to European and Arab media for their persistent de-humanization of Jews, Americans and Israelis. The answer was unveiled in 2004, when a friend told me that photos of Muhammad Al Dura were used as background in the video tape of Danny's murder.

Al Dura, readers may recall, is the 12-year-old Palestinian boy who allegedly died from Israeli bullets in Gaza in September of 2001. As we now know, the whole scene is very likely to have been a fraud, choreographed by stringers and cameramen of France 2, the official news channel of France. France 2 aired the tape repeatedly and distributed it all over the world to anyone who needed an excuse to ratchet up anger or violence, among them Danny's killers.

The Pakistani Consul was right. The media cannot be totally exonerated from responsibility for Daniel's murder, as well as for the "tsunami of hate" that has swept the world and continues to rise.

Ironically, the increase of independent news channels in the Arab world, a process which is generally considered a positive step forward, has contributed significantly to this spread of hatred and violence. On the one hand, this process has led to the democratization of the media, for it allows viewers to examine alternative viewpoints, occasionally opposing the official party line. On the other hand, democratization has led to vulgarization. Competition has forced news channels to echo, rather than inform, viewers' sentiments -- to reinforce, rather than examine, long-held prejudices.

Eager to satisfy their customers' appetite for self-righteousness, these channels have not thought through the harmful, in fact lethal, long-term effects of choreographing victim-victimizer narratives as news coverage.

Surely they have an obligation to expose villainy and excess. This is what journalism is all about. But in a world infected with fanatics who run around with lit matches, journalists cannot simply pour gasoline into the street and pretend they bear no responsibility for the inevitable explosion.

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[Front Page Magazine] Charles Enderlin is the France 2 Jerusalem correspondent who broadcast the incendiary account of the death of 12-year-old Muhammad al-Dura at the hands of Israeli troops operating in the Gaza Strip in September 2000. Based on film footage provided by a Palestinian cameraman, Enderlin's report has become infamous among students of Arab propaganda both for its destructive effects and for its probable falsity. The al-Dura affair now bids to join the Dreyfus affair in the French hall of shame.

Flogging his new book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (The Lost Years) at Harvard's Center for European Studies on January 17, Enderlin himself exposed a probable Palestinian media hoax in which he had no involvement. The story exposed by Enderlin involved widely circulated reports by the Associated Press, Reuters, and the BBC. As Joel Pollak recounted online at the site Guide to the Perplexed, Enderlin told his Harvard audience "that Yasser Arafat had faked his blood donation to the victims of the September 11th attacks. Enderlin said the event had been staged for the media to counteract the embarrassing television images of Palestinians celebrating in the streets after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks."

The story of Arafat's blood donation was reported around the world in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, usually accompanied by photographs depicting Arafat in the apparent act of giving blood at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. Enderlin elaborated on his contention that the scene depicted in the photographs was staged. According to Pollak's account of Enderlin's remarks, "Arafat didn't like needles, and so the doctor put a needle near his arm and agitated a bag of blood. The reporters took the requisite photographs."

The BBC, Reuters and AP, apparently all willing participants in deceiving their readers and viewers. Who will watchdog the so-called "watchdogs"? Thank heavens for the Internet is all I can say.

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Ken Green (oh, the irony) lists a series of criticisms regarding the proposed Warner-Lieberman Climate Security Act of 2007 (S. 2191), which would "cause economic harm without producing any environmental or climate-protective benefits." Yeah, well what else is new in the irrational global warming world?

First, let's look at the likelihood that the legislation's goals can be met. Economist Margo Thorning observed in Congressional testimony, "In order to meet the emission reduction targets in S. 2191, U.S. per capita emissions would have to fall by a total of 13.8 percent over the 2000-2012 period, an additional 20.2 percent from 2012 to 2020 and a further 27.6 from 2020 to 2030. In other words, the required reductions in per capita emissions are about 25 to 35 times greater than what occurred from 1990 to 2000. The technologies simply do not exist to reduce total (and per capita emissions) over the next 17 years by the amounts mandated in S. 2191..." Thorning is not alone in this belief: in a 2004 Science article, a team of 18 prestigious scientists observed that meeting projected growth in energy demand while sharply curbing greenhouse gas emissions requires carbon-free technologies that "do not exist operationally or as pilot plants."

Now, let's look at the costs. Economist Anne Smith testified to Congress that her state-of-the-art economic modeling estimates that Warner-Lieberman would cause net reduction in 2015 GDP of 1.0% to 1.6% relative to the GDP that would otherwise occur. That loss rises to the range of 2% to 2.5% after 2015. Smith found that the annual loss in GDP would increase to the range of $800 billion to $1 trillion, which is serious money. By 2020, Smith estimates losses of 1.5 to 3.4 million jobs -- and that is net jobs, after adjusting for the new "green" jobs that might be created by the bill.

None of this is surprising as experience has shown cap-and-trade schemes are fundamentally flawed. Here are four reasons. First, capping carbon essentially puts a regulatory drag on economic growth. When the economy grows, energy demand rises, which means the demand for the limited number of carbon permits would rise, strangling growth in its cradle.

Second, everyone involved in a cap-and-trade system has incentives to cheat. Companies have incentives both to overstate historical emissions, and to exaggerate the benefits of new technologies to generate bogus emissions that become ready cash. Experience in both the US and Europe shows that firms usually get away with it: validating historic emissions is nearly impossible. And governments won't look very hard - wanting to appear green, they have strong incentives to turn their eyes away from carbon credit malfeasance.

Third, cap-and-trade creates a perpetual group of rent-seekers - those raking in profits in new carbon trading - who will call for ever-tighter caps, and who will staunchly oppose any other approach to dealing with greenhouse gas emissions. Once a company holds millions of dollars in carbon credits, they can be expected to spend large sums of money lobbying against anything that would devalue their new currency.
Finally, carbon cap-and-trade will raise the costs of energy, goods, and services. If that does not happen, there is no incentive for anyone to cut back on energy use, and the attendant emissions it produces. This could be offset, in theory, if the carbon permits were all auctioned off, and the revenues used to lower other taxes.

But no emission trading system has ever auctioned off a majority of permits, and Warner-Lieberman is no exception: at first, it auctions only a trivial share of emission permits, and even when that ramps up decades hence, the revenues are used as a wealth-redistribution tool focused mainly on funding dubious energy research schemes rather than protecting the overall economy from the impact of higher energy prices.

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If unrestricted federal education grants are kosher for college students, why not for grades K-12 too? That's the question President Bush is asking with his cheeky proposal Monday to create Pell Grants for Kids, a program to offer $300 million in scholarships that low-income students could use to attend the school of their choice.

Pell grants for college are among the most popular ways to spend money in Washington. Over the past seven years, Members from both sides of the aisle have lined up to expand the number and size of these grants that students can use to attend the college or university of their choice, public or private. Last year, 5.3 million students received a total of $14 billion in Pell grants, up from 4.3 million students receiving $8.8 billion at the start of the Bush Presidency. However, what no one wants to admit is that Pell grants are essentially "vouchers," with the decision about where to spend the money in the hands of parents and students.

Mr. Bush's proposal would give Pell grants to students stuck in public secondary and elementary schools that have failed to meet federal testing benchmarks for five years running or that suffer high drop out rates. The bulk of that money would go to inner-city students who otherwise have little chance of going to college or even finishing high school. In the same way, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program has given 2,600 of the poorest students in Washington a better chance at a good education.

Neither of these programs is getting anywhere in the current Congress, however, and the new Pell grant proposal was immediately denounced by Democrats. The reason, as ever, is because K-12 education is dominated by a union monopoly that can't abide parental choice. Lucky for students the same unions don't yet run American universities.

-- Wall Street Journal

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I guess I should consider going easier on McCain as it's starting to look like come November I'll be voting for him...

But, for now, here's an important point to make regarding John McCain's Clintonesque revision of what Romney said of Iraq and timetables last year, brought to you by George Willl .

St. John of Arizona's crooked-talk claim in Florida that Mitt Romney wanted to "surrender and wave a white flag, like Senator Clinton wants to do" in Iraq because Romney "wanted to set a date for withdrawal that would have meant disaster."

Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, the Clintons should bask in the glow of John McCain's Clintonian gloss on this fact: Ten months ago Romney said that President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki should discuss, privately, "a series of timetables and milestones." That unremarkable thought was twisted by McCain, whose distortions are notably clumsy, as when Romney said, accurately, that he alone among the candidates has had extensive experience in private-sector business. That truth was subjected to McCain's sophistry, and he charged that Romney had said "you haven't had a real job" if you had a military career. If, this autumn, voters must choose between Clinton and McCain, they will face, at least stylistically, an echo, not a choice.

Ouch babe.

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This continues my thoughts from a few days ago.

Brazil's Not Peaking
By INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY Posted Friday, December 14, 2007 4:20 PM PT

Energy: Global warming doomsayers have a mirror canard of doom in the peak oil theory, suggesting that the world is running out of oil. So is it? Not with countries like Brazil still not even done discovering it yet.

Last week came news that Brazil may be sitting on even bigger oil deposits than the huge Tupi field discovered just last month. According to Bloomberg News, if a geological formation beneath a two-mile layer of salt in Brazil's Santos offshore basin is oil-bearing, it may hold "significantly more" crude, says Gustavo Gattass, an analyst with UBS Pactual in Rio de Janeiro.

That's no small thing — Tupi alone almost doubled Brazil's oil reserves and may raise Brazil to the rank of 10th biggest oil producer from 17th currently. Awed at the good fortune, Brazil's president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva sighed: "God must be Brazilian."

Wait a minute. Wasn't oil supposed to be running out? Wasn't all the oil out there already discovered? If this new "Sugar Loaf" field in Brazil pans out, the world oil picture won't be the same.

Brazil will become an even bigger exporter in a decade or so than projected and could put pressure on the club of petrotyrants that now has a monopoly on resources. Best of all, it throws doomsday assumptions about oil "peaking" on its head.

The world produces about 85 million barrels of oil a day, according to the International Energy Agency. Global energy demand is expected to rise 55% from 2005-2030. Peak oil theories abound that new discoveries are not keeping up with oil usage. But it's significant that the new demand also is fostering big new discoveries, largely from the very countries where demand is growing most.

Peak oil advocates claim that the world is running out of oil unless the West gives up its energy-consuming lifestyle. Like global warming and population-bomb Malthusianism, it's essentially junk science because it operates on a static model. Crucially, it leaves out the politics of whether oil companies are allowed to discover or not.

Might the recent shortage of new oil on the market have something to do with bans on offshore drilling, as in the U.S.?

Might this lack of new oil have something to do with the fact that less-efficient state oil ownership has grown globally to 80% of all reserves, while countries such as Venezuela have begun seizing private oil properties?

Might the fact that big emerging markets need oil badly and don't know where to get it motivate them to find more themselves?

Believing in their potential and determined to get rich, these countries are the ones making some of the most dramatic new energy discoveries this year. Besides Brazil, China has made 10 major new discoveries this year alone. Its Bohai Bay discovery last May, its largest in four decades, added 7.35 billion barrels of reserves. India, once viewed as an energy no-hoper, is also finding energy offshore, and Russia already is a major producer making itself bigger.

Meanwhile, last year Mexico made a huge offshore discovery it has yet to tap. And in the tiny area where U.S. energy companies are permitted to drill offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, Chevron, Statoil and Devon Energy made the biggest discovery since the Alaska Prudhoe find decades ago, called "Jack 2." It's so big it could add 50% to the U.S.' 29 billion barrels of domestic energy reserves.

"The world is not running out of oil," said Daniel Yergin, head of Cambridge Energy Research Associates and one of the world's leading oil experts, in a recent interview with Les Echos in Paris.

Yergin noted that technological breakthroughs also are enabling the production of more energy. Not only can new technologies recover resources from old wells previously thought tapped out, it can create oil from formerly useless resources, like tar sands. It also can recover oil and natural gas from previously impossible geography, like the deep blue sea miles beneath the surface — which will be Brazil's challenge.

Brazil's discovery isn't just wonderful news for Brazil — it's a lesson for the West. Not only is there more oil out there than doomsayers claim, but it takes political will to ignore the naysayers and get out there and discover more.

The best part about Brazil's will to drill is it exposes the peak oil crowd for what it is: a group with a radical agenda that has less to do with science than with expounding "Western guilt" about its economic success, which is built on oil. Emerging Brazil has no such qualms, and shows just how useless such hang-ups are.

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TEHRAN, Iran -- It is election season here, too, and the big issue may sound familiar: the economy. That is bad news for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who came to power in 2005 promising to bring the country's oil wealth to the people. With Iran's economy in a tailspin, many of his onetime allies are criticizing him for failing to deliver. That has weakened his base among the conservatives who dominate the legislature, as the country heads toward parliamentary elections in March.

Iran's opposition reformist parties aren't likely to gain, however. Many reform candidates learned last week they had been disqualified under a vetting system controlled by Iran's conservative establishment. Those disqualifications can be appealed and reversed, but party members don't hold out much hope for election victory.

Sheesh! Talk about the understatement of the year! This Wall Street Journal reporter, Chip Cummins, defines the perpetually-ruling, omnipotent, veto-bearing, illiberal and unelected group of 12 mullahs, headed by an Ayatollah, as "Iran's conservative establishment" -- as though they're no different than the RNC or some Republican voting bloc.

Maybe that's being a bit paranoid of me, but even so it does liberal democracy (or freedom of the press for that matter) no favors to water down the fact that Iranian democracy is a sham and a fraud under the control of an imperial ruling council of religious fanatics (one suspects all in the name of "fair" political correctness).

"Disqualifying reform candidates? Well that's just Iran's way... who are we to judge? You know, diversity and all!"

Our Western press force, if they TRULY believed in our freedoms and civil liberties (even as they claim our US president violates them) would miss no opportunity to point out that any decision or ruling that originates from any Iranian politician, whether legislative, judicial or executive, whether local, parliamentary or even from "President" Ahmadinejad himself, is subject to override by 12 unelected religious clerics.

Do you think Mr. Cummins would have an issue if the Catholic Pope could override, say, a President Clinton or Obama decision? Do you think Mr. Cummins would miss any opportunity to point out the flaws of that system were it a reality?

Then why the kid gloves on Iran's "democracy"?

Every report on Iranian rule should include a footnote describing their definition of democracy, so best summarized by author Mark Bowden in his book Guests of the Ayatollah:

The term "republic" is double-talk. The elected government is run by a small group of privileged clerics who decide what candidates and what laws are acceptable, who control the military and the secret police, and whatever else they wish, and who stifle dissent, beating up or locking up those they don't like.

... All laws and candidates for any public post must be approved by him [the Ayatollah] and the Guardian Council, a twelve-member body of clerics and judges that he appoints. The elected government of Iran is a kind of toy democracy that serves at his pleasure. It consists of an elected president, currently the populist ultraconservative former mayor of Tehran, Ahmadinejad, the Majlis, and a judiciary. The mullahs tolerate just enough of a semblance of democracy and freedom to maintain the pretense of a democracy.

... [After Khatami's 1996 election] There was a brief blossoming of free speech and debate, opposition newspapers sprang up, and Iran began to smell the prospect of real freedom. There was heady talk of Iran "evolving" peacefully toward democracy. Khatami encoded the hopes of many in the legislation that would have freed Iran's lawmakers from the veto power of the Guardians Council.

The mullahs stopped that fast. Ayatollah Khamenei vetoed the legislation, which provoked some rioting on college campuses in 2003 and some spontaneous heretical Pro-American displays, but such outbursts were quickly subdued. Early in 2005, the Guardians Council simply crossed all reform candidates off the ballot.

... Writers and artists must be licensed to work for any of the major news outlets, or for their work to be published or shown. A jury representing the ministries of information and culture weighs applicants and decides which pass political and religious muster.

... In the current crackdown more than a hundred reform newspapers and magazines have been banned. Many formerly tolerated journalists are out of work. To attempt any unlicensed work means risking being hauled in to chat with a polished but unyielding middle-management Information Ministry zealot with the power to fire, arrest, torture, and even execute enemies of the state, although in the Land of the Bordbari [Iran], such measures are no longer frequently required. Some writers are silenced by threats to keep their children from acceptance at universities, a critical path to future success.

Without a free press it is hard to know how most people feel about progress toward the umma [community of Muslims].

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But when it comes to winning in the war in Iraq, Obama's message has been and remains one of relentless despair; in that same South Carolina speech, he lamented "a war that should never have been authorized and never been waged." The Iraq "surge," he still insists, "has failed," and why we need to begin "not just talking to our friends but talking to our enemies, like Iran and Syria, to try to stabilize the situation there" by an American withdrawal. Indeed, Obama was among those who believed the surge a failure even before it began: he voted in March 2007 to remove all U.S. combat forces within a year.

Three simple words: No. We. Can't.

When it comes to the fight for the future of Iraq and the Middle East, Obama's sense of possibilities and beliefs in America's goodness and greatness desert him. And that makes him, despite what Caroline Kennedy writes in the New York Times, fundamentally not like her father, President John Kennedy. It is almost impossible to imagine that staunch Cold Warrior and hero of PT 109 giving up the current fight in Iraq, particularly at a moment when victory again seems possible. John Kennedy's "American Dream" was not simply of a just society at home but a more just international order and, crucially, of the exercise of American power, including military power, to make that dream a reality. "Let any nation know," Kennedy declared in his inaugural address, "whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty." There won't be any similar phrase in an Obama inaugural address.

-- Tom Donnelly

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The header is stolen from Michelle Malkin, who noted an article that finds a coorrelation between foreclosures and abandoned pets. The article claims that according to anecdotal data "forsaken animals are becoming a problem wherever foreclosures are climbing."

Irresponsible homeowners are irresponsible pet owners. Are you shocked? I'm not shocked. Despite being collectively cast as unassailable victims of predatory lenders who were tricked into buying homes they couldn't afford, word is getting out that sainted subprime borrowers are not all so sainted after all. Turns out that many of them are not only abandoning their houses upon foreclosure. They're abandoning their pets, too:

The house was ravaged—its floors ripped, walls busted and lights smashed by owners who trashed their home before a bank foreclosed on it. Hidden in the wreckage was an abandoned member of the family: a starving pit bull.

The dog found by workers was too far gone to save—another example of how pets are becoming the newest victims of the nation's mortgage crisis as homeowners leave animals behind when they can no longer afford their property.

Pets "are getting dumped all over," said Traci Jennings, president of the Humane Society of Stanislaus County in northern California. "Farmers are finding dogs dumped on their grazing grounds, while house cats are showing up in wild cat colonies."

In one such colony in Modesto, two obviously tame cats watched alone from a distance as a group of feral cats devoured a pile of dry food Jennings offered.

"These are obviously abandoned cats," Jennings said. "They're not afraid of people, and they stay away from the feral cats because they're ostracized by them."

The abandoned pets are overwhelming animal shelters and drawing fury from bloggers, especially as photos of emaciated animals circulate on the Internet.

The first people to enter an abandoned house, such as property inspectors and real estate brokers, have discovered dogs tied to trees in backyards, cats in garages, and turtles, rabbits and lizards in children's bedrooms.

No one keeps track of the numbers of abandoned pets, but anecdotal evidence suggests that forsaken animals are becoming a problem wherever foreclosures are climbing. Stockton and Modesto have some of the nation's highest foreclosure rates.

Despite months of warning before a foreclosure, many desperate homeowners run out the clock hoping to forestall an eviction. Then they panic, particularly if they are moving to a home where pets are not permitted.

The situation has become so widespread that the Humane Society urged home owners faced with foreclosure to take their animals to a shelter.

But it's all someone else's fault, of course.

Maybe Hillary will propose federal subsidies for animal shelters as part of her grand housing rescue next.

On a related note, I just filed my column on the politics of foreclosure and mentioned these very illuminating blog posts at the Los Angeles Times and Calculated Risk that report on an increasing number of homeowners simply choosing to walk away from their mortgages.

Look for more of that to happen. And more hell to break loose.

Abandoned pets are the least of the problem of a no-consequences culture.




Every so often the truth behind the global warming cult is revealed in blatant manner -- it's got everything to do with generating revenue and votes, and nothing to do with "saving" the environment.

Ed Morrissey has the despicable details.

As government waste goes, $89,000 will barely register on the meter. However, it did provide a relatively inexpensive demonstration on the costliness of political fads and the vacuousness of carbon-offset markets as a solution for purported anthropogenic climate change. It also, once again, demonstrated the connection between contributors and policy:

The House of Representatives has presumably learned that money cannot buy love or happiness. Now, it turns out it's not a sure solution to climate guilt, either.
In November, the Democratic-led House spent about $89,000 on so-called carbon offsets. This purchase was supposed to cancel out greenhouse-gas emissions from House buildings -- including half of the U.S. Capitol -- by triggering an equal reduction in emissions elsewhere.

Some of the money went to farmers in North Dakota, for tilling practices that keep carbon buried in the soil. But some farmers were already doing this, for other reasons, before the House paid a cent.

Other funds went to Iowa, where a power plant had been temporarily rejiggered to burn more cleanly. But that test project had ended more than a year before the money arrived.

Congress, in effect, burned $89,000 for no reason at all. Of course, I speak figuratively; had they actually burned the money, it could have at least heated a home for a low-income family, although it would have produced unacceptable carbon emissions. Not a single molecule of carbon emissions got avioded, but a lot of Democrats emitted smug into the DC political atmosphere (apologies to South Park), and perhaps more than $90,000 worth of it.

So Congressional Democrats didn't reduce carbon emissions, but they did manage to increase their contributions. Brian Faughnan at the Weekly Standard did a little checking on the efforts by the Chicago Climate Exchange in the political arena, and discovered that one of its directors has a special connection to the Democrats.

Stuart Eizenstat served in both the Carter and Clinton administrations, and he did his part for 2007's candidates, too. Fourteen donations went to Barack Obama, Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton -- in fact, all of the Senatorial candidates in the race. They received over $10,000, and the DCCC got another $1000.

Let's recap. The Democrats got five figures from Eizenstat, who then got $89,000 in federal money to provide exactly nothing to Congress. It's the Emperor's New Clothes all over again.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

[ABC News] An undated photo of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and her husband posing with Chicago landlord, and former Obama fundraiser Tony Rezko, raised eyebrows today. But will the photo blunt the effectiveness of one of Clinton's most recent attack points against rival Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.?

The photo, which first appeared on the Drudge Report, and was carried by several media outlets, shows Rezko — who awaits trial next month on federal corruption charges — flanked by the Clintons. The date, the context and the source of the photo are unclear.

In the Democratic debate, earlier this week in South Carolina, Clinton called out Obama for taking part, while he was an Illinois state senator, in a land deal with the man she described as a "slum landlord."

Although Obama has severed ties with the businessman, Rezko's trial, on charges of attempted extortion and money laundering, starts next month, just as the primary season heats up.

Asked about the photo on NBC's "Today" show, Clinton said, "I probably have taken hundreds of thousands of pictures. I don't know the man. I wouldn't know him if he walked in the door."

It's certainly true that a president and first lady pose for hundreds of thousands of photos, and most people would give Hillary the benefit of the doubt were her last name not, you know, Clinton. These are people who have time and again proven they will say or do anything, no matter how outrageous or unbelievable, to acquire or retain power.

The article goes on to quote a UVA poly-sci expert who says it kills the Rezko issue but raises "Clinton fatigue." The latter half of this statement is certainly true, but the former may not be. After all, people -- even those who back them -- already know the Clintons are slimey, but that's not so of Obama, who is running as this reincarnation of JFK political character. Obama can't much further paint the Clintons as unscrupulous, but the Clintons certainly can drag Obama down to their level.

Frankly, the Rezko issue was already a dead issue and didn't seem to be hurting Obama much. So the raising of this photograph just brings up the issue some more -- it's an opportunity for the Clintons to subtly say, "See, Obama's no different than us." Whether it's fair or true is irrelevant. The point is that Obama is running as something that transcends typical politics. Keeping Rezko in the news thus harms Obama far more than Hillary Clinton.

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Reasonable people can debate whether crude oil supplies are of a peak or abiotic (i.e., petrolium formed from nonorganic means) nature.

On the latter, a few years ago researchers witnessed "the production of methane under the conditions that exist in the Earth's upper mantle for the first time." According to Physics World, "The experiments demonstrate that hydrocarbons could be formed inside the Earth via simple inorganic reactions -- and not just from the decomposition of living organisms as conventionally assumed -- and might therefore be more plentiful than previously thought."

Similarly, NASA's Hasso Niemann found that "abundant methane of a non-biologic nature is found on Saturn's giant moon Titan..." giving rise to the thought that not only might our oil worries be for naught but that there's certainly far more about energy that we don't understand. These discoveries, if fully validated, would undercut political movements that rely on the doomsday theories that oil is finite and we're close to capping its production.

As with all neo-environmental movements, however, some persons practice it to the extreme.

Meet the Wissners.

MIDDLEVILLE, Mich. -- It was around midnight one evening in November when Aaron Wissner shot up in bed, jolted awake by a fear: He wasn't fully ready for the day when the world starts running low on oil.

Yes, he had tripled the size of the garden in front of the tidy white-clapboard house he shares with his wife and infant son. He had stacked bags of rice in his new pantry, stashed gold valued at $8,000 in his safe-deposit box and doubled the size of the propane tank in his yard.

"But I felt panicky, like I needed more insurance," he says. So the 38-year-old middle-school computer teacher put on his jacket and drove to an all-night gas station, where he filled three, five-gallon jugs with gasoline.

"It was a feel-good moment," says his wife, Kimberly Sager. "But he slept better."

Okay, first off, this guy is a moron. The only thing worse than when stupid people make the news is when stupid people make the news on the false implication that they're smart.

There is something to be said for economic laws of scarcity: artificial scarcity (thanks to the dim-witted, panic-sparked actions of "normal" Americans like the Wissner-Sagers) will drive prices up, and the very energy-based corporations, industries, lobbyists and politicans whom one would expect to be hurt by said scarcity would actually profit the most from it.

But, even so, let's entertain this Hollywood B-movie plot line and suppose that the Wissner-Sagers are right -- and oil production will suddenly peak. Exactly how far do the Wissner-Sagers expect 15 gallons (i.e., one gas tank) of fuel and $8,000 to get them before they're stuck with the rest of us? All this schmuck did was lose a night's sleep.

Besides, if things really did go that sour there's only one thing that will be worth a damn -- a gun and a lot of ammunition.

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File under "Give me a break!"

In a Washington Post article titled "Family in Economic Peril Is Looking to a Republican for Relief" -- as though the Washington Post considered that fact alone (i.e., citizen seeks Republican) -- to be newsworthy, one is reminded that there is no government solution to an individual's poor decision making.

RIVERVIEW, Fla., Jan. 25 -- Piece by piece, as the economy has faltered and as the subprime mortgage crisis has taken hold, Ivan Toledo's grasp on his job, his house -- his entire middle-class life -- has come undone.

Eight months ago, he was no longer able to afford mortgage payments that rose by hundreds a month. Four months ago, he was laid off from a job at an auto body shop. Somewhere in between, five credit cards were maxed out, the car and power bills went unpaid, and the cable TV was cut off. He and his wife worry about their 18-month-old son's runny nose, but without health insurance there will be no visit to the pediatrician.

..."This country is in a bad hole, and we need someone to help us get out of it," he said. "This country needs a president that can deliver. If not, things are going to get worse. We just hope and pray it will get better."

Toledo once thought of himself as a Democrat, but it is the Republicans whose talk of turning around the economy speaks to him now. He plans to vote in Tuesday's Republican primary here and is deciding between former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who he sees as a tax-cutter who turned around that city, and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, whose business credentials he admires.

Toledo agreed with the Republican candidates last week when they said during a debate that the $150 billion economic stimulus package forged by President Bush and congressional leaders, which includes cash payments aimed at helping people like Toledo, does not go far enough.

"It's all fine and dandy that it is coming, but in our case we need it now," Toledo said. "When the economy was starting to go bad, [Bush] should have done that then."

"Oh, woe is me! It's all Bush's fault!"

Cry me a river!

Think I'm being insensitive?

Well, the reporter waits until paragraph 12 to mention that Mr. Toledo made his own bed:

But it all began to fall apart two years ago, when Toledo quit his job as an ironworker because he wanted something more interesting and less physically draining. About the same time, the couple learned Evelyn was pregnant and soon she was out of work, too, because of complications. They refinanced their mortgage and took out $17,000 in home equity to pay down some credit card debt and keep their finances afloat until Toledo found a better job. [emphasis mine]
Got all that? TWO YEARS AGO this dude QUIT his job -- not "laid off," but quit, apparently because he was bored -- THEN knocked up his wife, THEN refinanced his home on a bad variable interest loan, and THEN borrowed a bunch of cash off that loan. Now he has the audacity to blame the government!

Give me a break.

"Falling into this situation can happen to anyone," Toledo said.

Yeah, anyone who doesn't practice a little caution and common sense, Mr. Toldeo. Layoffs we can all sympathize with. Maybe the loan thing too. But the guy quit his job. He gambled. He lost.

What the government does next for the economy is irrelevant, because there is no government solution for poor decisions.

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Charles Krauthammer delivers a scorching criticism of John Edward's lack of apparant principles. In short, he stands for nothing but the moment.

Then there is John Edwards. He's not going to be president, either. He stays in the race because, with the Democrats' proportional representation system, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton might end up in a very close delegate race -- perhaps allowing an also-ran with, say, 10 percent of the delegates to act as kingmaker at the convention.

It's a prize of sorts; it might even be tradeable for a Cabinet position. But at considerable cost. His campaign has been a spectacle.

Edwards has made much of his renunciation of his Iraq war vote. But he has not stopped there. His entire campaign has been an orgy of regret and renunciation:

* As senator, he voted in 2001 for a bankruptcy bill that he now denounces.

* As senator, he voted for storing nuclear waste in Nevada's Yucca Mountain. Twice. He is now fiercely opposed.

* As senator, he voted for the Bush-Kennedy No Child Left Behind education reform. He now campaigns against it, promising to have it "radically overhauled."

* As senator, he voted for the Patriot Act, calling it "a good bill . . . and I am pleased to support it." He now attacks it.

* As senator, he voted to give China normalized trade relations. Need I say? He now campaigns against liberalized trade with China as a sellout of the middle class to the great multinational agents of greed, etc.

Breathtaking. People can change their minds about something. But everything? The man served one term in the Senate. He left not a single substantial piece of legislation to his name, only an endless string of votes on trade, education, civil liberties, energy, bankruptcy and, of course, war that now he not only renounces but inveighs against.

John Edward's flipflopping would make even John Kerry blush.

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Here's an interesting but unpropagated fact of the War in Iraq:

[WSJ] The small list of Iraq's missing is a big change from previous American wars. In Vietnam, Pentagon officials designated some 2,600 soldiers either as a Prisoner of War or as Missing in Action. Their plight became a symbol of that conflict's deep wounds for decades to come. There are still efforts to recover missing remains from World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam.

The reasons for the smaller numbers in this war are straight-forward: There are fewer troops on the ground in Iraq, and U.S. commanders largely have control over the battlefield. Technological advances like satellite phones and imagery help make tracking troops easier. And commanders can deploy big search parties and offer rewards. Countless lost soldiers in Iraq have been found within hours or days of going missing.

For the record the numbers of MIA/POWs have dramatically decreased with every war in the last century. Indeed, given how the issue is reported one would expect that MIA/POWs were at their highest levels during the Vietnam War. But, in fact, they were highest during the Second World War:

World War II: 78,000
Korean War: 8,192
Vietnam: 2,646
Cold War: 138
Gulf War: 1
War in Iraq: 4

One would expect to see similar proportions for fratricide (friendly fire).

This article, by the way, regards the frustration that the family of one of those 4 soldiers, Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Matthew Maupin, are feeling. When it's your kid, naturally, the statistics don't matter much.

Even so, I was struck by this...

Military officials, meanwhile, have quietly dropped the emotionally charged designation for Iraq's military missing. Following Vietnam, "POW" and "MIA" became acrimonious acronyms as veterans' supporters accused the government of doing too little to find and bring home missing soldiers. Behind the new designation -- "missing/captured" -- is the Bush administration's argument that terrorist captors don't warrant the use of terms recognized by the Geneva Convention.

The families of the four soldiers missing in Iraq say the new designation, while accurate and inoffensive, is so unfamiliar that the public doesn't understand it. "Nobody knows what 'missing-captured' means," says Carolyn Maupin, Sgt. Maupin's mother. "We always call Matt a POW. People understand that."

Nobody knows what "missing-captured" means? Really? Isn't it obvious? That complaint strikes me as a reach.

Anyway, the Maupins are just another example of one of our countless exemplary military families. We ask so very much of them.

According to the article, "The Maupins opened the Yellow Ribbon Support Center in a strip mall on the outskirts of Cincinnati. They've raised thousands of dollars for scholarships and computers for troops in Iraq." That, my friends, is above and beyond for a family that has lost their son.

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Question: If Spain's 2004 elected government pulled troops from Iraq in order to appease Islamic militants who bombed their rail stations, why did a new batch of Islamic militants plan to do the same two weeks from today?

To repeat: Islamic militants don't hate us for our policies, but for the liberties of religion, assembly and speech and others upon which our democracies are based.

MADRID (Reuters) - Islamist extremists were planning attacks across Europe, especially against public transport, before their arrests in Barcelona last weekend, a Spanish paper reported on Saturday, citing a would-be attacker's testimony.

The Al Qaeda-inspired cell planned to attack the Barcelona metro and other targets in Spain, Germany, France, Portugal and the United Kingdom, said the bomber turned police informant.

In testimony that led to the arrest of 14 South Asians last Saturday, the informant told police the group had a preference for attacks on public transport, especially metro systems, El Pais newspaper reported.

"If we attack the metro, the emergency services can't get there," the informant said he was told by a fellow suicide bomber, El Pais reported.

Two pairs with explosive-filled bags were to enter separate Barcelona subway stations and other members of the group were to detonate their bombs by remote control, said the witness.

On Friday, Spain's government said the Barcelona cell was preparing to carry out the metro attack either last weekend or in the following 15 days.

Two other pairs of suicide bombers had been assigned targets elsewhere in Spain, another was to attack Germany, three were given objectives in France and two more were to strike Portugal.

The informant said the Barcelona cell had six suicide bombers and other members responsible for preparing explosives and planning attacks in other European states. Four of those arrested have since been released due to lack of evidence.

Al Qaeda was to take responsibility for the Barcelona attacks through Baitullah Mehsud, a Taliban commander the Pakistani government says was behind the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, El Pais said.

"Only the leadership of the organization knows what requests the emir (Baitullah) will make after the first attack, but if they are not carried out, there will be a second attack, a third in Spain. And next Germany, France, Portugal, United Kingdom," the head of the cell told the police informer, El Pais reported.

The Barcelona bombings could have taken place less than two months before Spain's March 9 general election.

Islamic militants attacked Madrid commuter trains days before Spain's last general election in March 2004, killing 191 people and wounding 1,800. They said the attacks were made in revenge for Spain sending troops to Afghanistan and Iraq.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008



Thursday, January 24, 2008

[AFP] Climate change is occurring far more rapidly than even the worst predictions of the UN's Nobel Prize-winning scientific panel on climate change, Al Gore said on Thursday.

Recent evidence shows "the climate crisis is significantly worse and unfolding more rapidly than those on the pessimistic side of the IPCC projections had warned us," climate campaigner and former US vice-president Gore said.

There are now forecasts that the North Pole ice caps may disappear entirely during summer months within five years, he told a gathering at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Oh really..? Seems to me just glancing at today's climate headlines would lead one to believe that no matter how much Al Gore claims there's a consensus backing catastrophic global warming, well, there just isn't.

Let's start with "Snow Accumulating at "Amazingly High Rate" in Antarctica," brought to you by none other than John Tierney of the NY Times! (I guess I can't tag this post with "media bias" today, heh heh heh.)

There's new evidence from an Antarctic ice core that the popular image of the melting poles doesn't quite fit reality at the southern one. Elizabeth R. Thomas of the British Antarctic Survey and colleagues report in Geophysical Research Letters that snow accumulation has doubled since 1850 in the western Antarctic peninsula, and that the trend has accelerated in recent decades.
Next, from Reuters, "Warming may reduce hurricanes hitting U.S." So, even if one believes the Earth is warming as part of some unnatural cycle (I do not), there are those who can demonstrate that it certainly won't increase hurricanes in quantity or veracity, as Mr. Snakeoil Gore would have you believe.

I'd urge all readers (all three of you) to check out the Canadian National Post's "The Deniers" series by Lawerence Soloman. "When I began," Soloman wrote, "I accepted the prevailing view that scientists overwhelmingly believe that climate change threatens the planet. I doubted only claims that the dissenters were either kooks on the margins of science or sell-outs in the pockets of the oil companies... Somewhere along the way, I stopped believing that a scientific consensus exists on climate change."

[Lawrence Soloman:] A great many scientists, without doubt, are four-square in their support of the IPCC. A great many others are not. A petition organized by the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine between 1999 and 2001 claimed some 17,800 scientists in opposition to the Kyoto Protocol. A more recent indicator comes from the U.S.-based National Registry of Environmental Professionals, an accrediting organization whose 12,000 environmental practitioners have standing with U.S. government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy. In a November, 2006, survey of its members, it found that only 59% think human activities are largely responsible for the warming that has occurred, and only 39% make their priority the curbing of carbon emissions. And 71% believe the increase in hurricanes is likely natural, not easily attributed to human activities.

Such diversity of views is also present in the wider scientific community, as seen in the World Federation of Scientists, an organization formed during the Cold War to encourage dialogue among scientists to prevent nuclear catastrophe. The federation, which encompasses many of the world's most eminent scientists and today represents more than 10,000 scientists, now focuses on 15 "planetary emergencies," among them water, soil, food, medicine and biotechnology, and climatic changes. Within climatic changes, there are eight priorities, one being "Possible human influences on climate and on atmospheric composition and chemistry ( e.g. increased greenhouse gases and tropospheric ozone)."

Man-made global warming deserves study, the World Federation of Scientists believes, but so do other serious climatic concerns. So do 14 other planetary emergencies. That seems about right.

Make sure you check out the series, it's a great debunker to the climate scaremongers.

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Yesterday I noted that Steve Forbes is backing Giuliani for president. Speaking of, in today's Wall Street Journal, Mr. Forbes calls Giuliani's tax policy "the largest tax cut in modern American history and a dramatic simplification of the tax code."

That's a good start. Gotta love the first two paragraphs.

Mr. Giuliani's proposal is a remedy for a quintessentially Washingtonian problem: bloated bureaucracy. When the income tax was introduced in 1913, Congress adopted a one-page filing form and a maximum rate of 7%. The Office of Management and Budget estimates Americans now spend 6.5 billion hours a year filling out tax forms.

Our Founders drafted the Constitution with fewer than 5,000 words; with later amendments it is about 8,000 words. The federal tax code is more than 9 million words. So the document that created the government is less than 0.1% as long as the tax code that funds it. Such is the state of Washington today.

Mr. Giuliani understands how the tax code frustrates and confuses many Americans, and that's why he will give every taxpayer the option of using a one-page "Fair and Simple Tax Form." Under the FAST Form, there will be only three rates: 10%, 15% and 30%. Taxpayers who prefer to use the existing forms will remain free to do so. Prized deductions for mortgage payments, state and local taxes, charitable contributions, and child tax credits will all be preserved on the FAST Form.
Moreover, taxpayers can choose each year which plan works best for them. For instance, a small business owner might take advantage of the deductions in the current tax code one year, but choose the FAST Form the next.

For many families, the FAST Form will be an easy choice. A family of four earning $80,000 per year could see their estimated federal income tax burden reduced by $2,207 -- 24%. A single person earning $35,000 -- who pays approximately 10% using the 1040 Form -- will save 13%.

The FAST form is the centerpiece of Mr. Giuliani's tax plan, but it contains many other advantageous features. He will make the Bush tax cuts permanent. He will cut the corporate tax rate, currently second-highest in the industrialized world, to 25% from 35%, helping American businesses compete while protecting and creating American jobs. He will reinstate the Research and Development Tax Credit, a spur to American innovation that Democrats recently let expire. He will repeal the death tax, which unfairly forces relatives of the recently deceased to sell small family farms or businesses to pay the tax collector. He will cut the capital gains tax to 10% from 15%, sparking private-sector investment and economic prosperity. And he will index the Alternative Minimum Tax for inflation and put in on the course to eventual elimination.

Mr. Giuliani's reforms also include a trio of tax-free savings vehicles to encourage middle-class saving: a retirement savings account; a general-purpose lifetime savings account; and a lifetime skills account (for training and education). All three would function as Roth-style accounts (funded with after tax income, but subject to no taxes upon withdrawal), and would be available to all Americans, regardless of income level.

The retirement savings account and the lifetime savings account would have $5,000 annual limits per individual, and the lifetime skills account would have a $1,000 annual limit, with an available employer match. Mr. Giuliani also champions a health-care tax exclusion of $15,000 annually for families ($7,500 for individuals) to increase Americans' access to affordable, portable, privately controlled health care.

Rudy Giuliani knows self-government, not centralized government, makes America great. His proposals demonstrate an opposition to centralized power and a commitment to a growth society. He'll have to work with congressional Democrats to make such proposals a reality, but he has done so before in New York, an overwhelmingly Democratic city.

In the presidential race, the Democrats' idea of "change" is in reality more of the same -- more power and more money for Washington. Mr. Giuliani has another idea. It begins by fixing the complicated mess of our tax code by offering something simpler, flatter and fairer.

Mr. Forbes is president and CEO of Forbes Inc. and editor in chief of Forbes Magazine.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

On many key policies by Congress, John McCain has partnered up with some very disconcerting bedfellows. Summary by Investors Business Daily:

Consider Michigan, home of the beleaguered American auto industry. McCain, together with Democrat John Kerry, were initial co-sponsors of the 35-mpg Corporate Average Fuel Economy mandate that just passed Congress. Estimates are that it will cost the domestic auto industry $85 billion over a decade and imperil thousands of jobs.

McCain's campaign says he has never voted to increase taxes. Yet General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz says the bill will add an average of $6,000 to the price of a new car, in effect a 21.4% tax hike on current average car prices.

It gets worse. McCain supports an energy tax in the form of a bill co-sponsored with Joe Lieberman that would cap the amount of carbon dioxide that energy-producing companies could emit. It is essentially an energy-rationing scheme not unlike Bill Clinton's infamous BTU tax.

Companies wishing to increase energy production above the cap would have to purchase unused emission credits from other companies. In a letter to McCain in July 2007, the EPA estimated that the "tax" would amount to 26 cents per gallon by 2010 and 68 cents by 2050. The EPA says the McCain energy tax would increase electric bills by 22% in 2030. This is hardly the way to avoid a recession.

It gets worse. In April 2002, McCain joined John Edwards and Hillary Clinton in defeating a measure to open an area the size of Washington-Dulles Airport in the frozen tundra of ANWR to energy production.

He has voted against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge no fewer than four times. In expressing his opposition, McCain equated ANWR with the Grand Canyon, a national monument. But as we have said repeatedly, the drilling area is in fact what hell would look like if it froze over.

Aside from supporting higher taxes and energy dependence, McCain shares the disdain of Democrats for America's pharmaceutical industry. Never mind the miracles it has produced.

In ABC's New Hampshire debate. McCain asked: "Why shouldn't we be able to re-import drugs from Canada?" He blamed high drug costs not on regulation and litigation, but on "the power of the pharmaceutical companies." When Mitt Romney argued that they weren't "the big bad guys," McCain replied, "Well, they are."

McCain has joined forces with Ted Kennedy to support amnesty for illegal aliens and with Russ Feingold to restrict political speech. He also backed the Sarbanes-Oxley monstrosity that makes American business less productive and competitive.

"John McCain was not only against us, but leading the charge on the other side," former Sen. Rick Santorum noted recently. "There's nothing worse than having a Democratic Congress and a Republican president who would act like a Democrat in matters that are important to conservatives." And to all Americans.

McCain supporters say he's the only one who could beat Hillary Clinton, but that might be a distinction without a difference.

Yeah, that's not good, is it.

I suppose McCain could surprise us once elected. None of these guys are that exciting, really. It's just -- as most career Senators/Congressmen -- McCain has a long history to scrutinize.

Along those lines, Rich Karlgaard, managing editor of, was on Bill Bennett's radio show this morning and said something I can relate to: "My head tells me to vote for Romney but my heart can't get behind him." He added that there's just something "too calculating" and "not genuine" about him, much in the same way people feel Hillary Clinton is not genuine.

Karlgaard actually had some pretty interesting takes regarding the election, and for conservatives most of the scenarios, at least from an economic standpoint, are pretty encouraging, even if it's Romney.

He acknowledged that people are hesitant on McCain, but countered that he has several true-blue conservatives serving as his advisors, including Phil Gramm and Jack Kemp -- these guys are some of the founding fathers of supply-side Reaganomics. He said that Giuliani comes from the Steve Forbes thought of business and economics, which is also good and supply-side driven. Karlgaard added that all of the republicans have run "flawed campaigns," and found it bizarre that none of them have said anything supportive of the small-business community, a huge traditionally-conservative voting block.

He brought up the flak from Obama's citation of Reagan, among other things, and wondered if Obama might not be as liberal as the left expected.

So, really the worst things for us (us being those who aren't nanny-state liberals) would be John Edwards, or, of course, Hillary Clinton. Karlgaard expects Clinton to slowly knock Obama out of the race, but I'm not so sure. People just don't like her, even people prone towards liberalism. Even a conservative has to acknowledge that Obama just has a charisma that Edwards (swarmy) and Clinton do not have.

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Michael Stroup, a professor of economics and associate dean of the Nelson Rusche College of Business at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas, shows that the U.S. tax code has in reality grown more progressive after every major tax bill over the last 15 years.

In a study for the National Center for Policy Analysis, Stroup shows that from 1986 to 2004, the total share of the income tax burden paid by the top 1% of income earners grew by nearly half, rising from 25.8% to 36.9% . Over that same time, the burden of the bottom 50% of earners was almost halved, falling from 6.5% to 3.3%.

... More telling, though, is the group's contention that the 58 million U.S. households — out of roughly 115 million total — that have no tax liabilities or simply don't have to file would get nothing.

Seems to us that if Washington is having a hard time finding taxpayers who are eligible for tax rebates, then a lot of Americans must have been wiped off the tax rolls.

And if they're not paying the taxes, then who is? Despite fewer taxpayers, the flood of tax revenues into the capital hasn't abated. In 2008, personal income tax receipts will have increased for four straight years following a recession-caused dip in the early 2000s.

The shrinking of the tax rolls is no secret. The Tax Foundation has noted that in 2000, a year before the first tax cuts under Bush, roughly 30 million tax returns had no income tax liability; every dollar those earners made they kept. By 2004, a year after the second round of cuts was passed, 43 million returns had no tax.
In all, the Tax Foundation says, more than 25 million Americans have been wiped off the federal tax rolls. Thanks to President Bush.

No honest person could look at the data and say that the system favors the rich over the poor. So that leaves two possibilities for those who continue to say the Bush tax cuts foster inequality: They are lying for political gain, or they are ignorant.

Either way, those who hold such divisive and plainly wrong views disqualify themselves from political office by failing to live up to even minimal standards.

-- Investors Business Daily

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The greatest media story of 2007 was the one you never read (unless you read The Post): The year was a strategic catastrophe for Islamist terrorists - and possibly a historic turning point in the struggle against al Qaeda and its affiliates.

While al Qaeda in Iraq can still launch suicide missions, such acts now serve only to further alienate the Iraqi people, who've come to hate the grisly foreign interlopers with a passion you have to encounter first-hand to appreciate.

That fundamental change in outlook, especially among Sunni Arabs, may well mark last year as Islamist terrorism's high-water mark, the point at which fellow Muslims by the tens of millions publicly rejected the message and methods of self-styled holy warriors who revel in the slaughter of the innocent.

Tens of thousands of fellow Muslims, previously allied with al Qaeda, turned their weapons against the fanatics. It was the biggest global story since 9/11. And it was buried on Page 14, if mentioned at all.

-- Ralph Peters

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Via John Podhoretz, some interesting comments by Sly...

Sylvester Stallone has made a fourth Rambo movie, which will be released later this month, in which Rambo helps Burmese rebels. This would be a matter of no interest — Stallone is 60 years old, after all, the scandalously successful second Rambo was released 22 years ago, and an afterthought Rambo III came out in 1988 — except that Stallone's sixth Rocky movie, released last year, was surprisingly decent. The movie-idolator audience of the website Aint It Cool News interviewed Stallone in connection with the new film, and he gave a quite remarkable answer to a quite remarkable question.

The question:

In the eighties, John Rambo took on villains who were the real villains of the day: ruthless, invading Russian commie b—-rds hellbent on global communism. So I always assumed that if Rambo returned he'd be taking on the real villain of this day: extreme, radical Islamist b—rds hellbent on worldwide jihad. It seems like all of today's movies have [wimped] out on making Islamofacists the bad guys even though they are clearly the bad guys in the real world right now. Why is Rambo [wimping] out on this mission? Has he become politically correct?

Stallone: I thought the idea of Rambo dealing with Al-Qaeda, etc. would be an insult to our American forces that are actually dying trying to rid the world of this cancer. To have at the end of a 90 minute movie the character of Rambo seizing Osama bin Laden in a choke hold then dragging him into the Oval Office then tossing him in the President's lap declaring "The world is now safe, Chief" would be a bit insulting.

We've seen today every film that deals with the Middle Eastern situation has failed because it is a subject people find incredibly painful to sit through while it is ongoing. Maybe ten years in the future a good film will be produced on the subject. Right now I believe revealing a situation like the ongoing genocide in Burma provides a compelling story simply because it is true and is the longest running civil war in the world.

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The authors of the surge (notably former Gen. Jack Keane) urge the US not to pull troops from Iraq too soon:

Iraq's parliament this month passed a new de-Baathification bill, which awaits only expected approval by the five-member presidency council before becoming law. Much remains to be done, but this is an important step toward political reconciliation -- and it further strengthens the case for America to remain committed to its crucial mission in Iraq in the months and years ahead.

During Saddam Hussein's day, if you wanted a professional job in Iraq you basically had to join the Baath Party. For most of the 1 million-plus who did so, this hardly implied direct involvement or even complicity in crimes of the state. Hussein was so paranoid that only his very inner circles were entrusted with information on the dictator's plans and policies.

Appropriately, the new legislation will punish only former Baathists who were in the three highest circles of the former regime's power structure. That probably amounts to a few thousand people. Others will generally be allowed to rejoin Iraqi society, regain their access to jobs and federal pensions where available, and avoid prosecution for previous crimes of the state. Under earlier rules, dating to edicts issued by Paul Bremer during his early weeks as Iraq's administrator in 2003, the four highest circles had been effectively ostracized. This meant tens of thousands of individuals were directly affected -- and hundreds of thousands indirectly, including family members. That precluded many of Iraq's most talented professionals and politicians from helping rebuild their nation -- and it created widespread bitterness among Sunnis, who constituted the bulk of Baathist Party members, that the current Shiite-led government would never accord them fair rights in the new Iraq.

The legislation is imperfect, of course. Most notably, the law could keep all former Baathists out of Iraq's security and legal institutions. While understandable as a way to alleviate Shiite worries about a possible Baathist-Sunni resurgence, this goes too far. Taken literally, it would interfere with efforts to bring Sunni volunteers into Iraq's security forces (unless waivers are issued). This possible problem will have to be cleared up. But if that happens, a major step will have been taken toward building sectarian trust.

The reformed de-Baathification legislation is one of half a dozen key political issues codified into American law last year by President Bush and Congress as "benchmarks" we expected Iraqi leaders to address. Other matters so identified are hydrocarbon legislation; a provincial powers act (clarifying the roles of Iraq's 18 provinces vis-a-vis the central government); a provincial election law to facilitate the next round of local elections; a process for holding a referendum on the political future of Kirkuk, the disputed northern oil city (and for compensating individual property holders and sectarian groups who lose out in such a vote); and a more transparent and trustworthy process for purging sectarian extremists from positions of government authority.

These benchmarks are reasonable goals. It is regrettable that insufficient progress has been made on the others (with the exception of the long, slow progress of purging extremists from official positions). What really matters, however, is that Iraqis come to view themselves as a single people working together to build a new nation, and address their inevitable differences legislatively rather than violently. As such, to the extent that benchmarks are employed, we would advocate using a longer list -- and include Baghdad's sharing of oil revenue with the provinces, the hiring of Sunni volunteers into the security forces and into the civilian arms of government, improvements in the legal and penal systems, and, over time, reform of the electoral system to weaken the role of the sectarian parties. In all but the last of these considerable progress has been made in the past year.

This political progress resulted from a year's worth of substantial effort to reduce violence in Iraq. Proponents of the surge always said that getting violence under control was an essential prerequisite to reconciliation, not the other way around. The full surge has been in place and operating for just over six months, and already violence has fallen dramatically across the country. The achievement in such a short time of significant legislation that requires all sides to accept risk and compromise with people they had been fighting only a few months ago is remarkable. It would have been unattainable without the change in strategy and addition of American forces that helped bring the violence down.

The progress of the past year also required American political pressure. The ongoing engagement of Ambassador Ryan Crocker, Gen. David Petraeus and others in cajoling and compelling Iraqi political leaders into making compromises across sectarian lines has been crucial -- not only in passing the reformed de-Baathification law but in purging Shiite extremists from government and persuading Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to gradually, if begrudgingly, hire Sunni volunteers into the security forces. American politicians of both parties have sometimes applied useful pressure too -- when they have made clear that they are focused on Iraq, that they are determined to insist that Iraqi leaders behave responsibly, and that the United States will not underwrite sectarian violence or oppression. But they have acted harmfully when threatening to withdraw U.S. forces rapidly, without regard to conditions, without regard to whether Iraqi leaders are trying to make compromises across sectarian lines.

As Crocker said last spring, "The longer and louder the debate gets, the more danger there is that Iraqis will conclude that we are going," leading to "a hardening of attitudes" among sectarian factions." Iraq's institutions are too weak, and its sectarian wounds still too raw, for us to expect the gains of the past year to endure in the face of a quick and nearly complete American withdrawal.

The number of American forces in Iraq matters. Although the change of U.S. strategy announced last January and the change in attitude among Sunni Arabs were critical to the successes achieved in 2007, the addition of five Army combat brigades and three Marine battalions was also critical. Petraeus and Gen. Ray Odierno know the strains the surge has placed on the military and believe that we can reduce our forces to pre-surge levels by this summer without compromising our gains. Considering the big steps taken by Iraqi security forces over the past year, as well as the tremendous damage our forces and Iraqi forces, together with the Iraqi people, have done to al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Sunni Baathist insurgency, Iranian-backed special groups and the fighting elements of the Jaish al-Mahdi, this belief is probably justified. But we cannot be sure.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq is working hard to regroup, and our soldiers are fighting hard to prevent that. Activities of Iranian-backed special groups continue to be worrisome. And much remains to be done politically at the local and national levels to secure the gains we have made.

Some in Washington are already calling for a commitment to additional reductions, resulting in force levels below pre-surge levels, even before we have finished the current drawdown. Such calls are unwise. America has made this mistake in Iraq before -- withdrawing too soon, attempting to hand security responsibilities over to Iraqi forces unable to accept them, and assuming that the best-case scenarios will play out. We must not make that mistake again. It is inappropriate to try to evaluate the possibility of reductions beyond pre-surge levels before we have had time to examine the situation after the completion of that drawdown. Therefore, Congress, the president and the American people should not expect Petraeus to report in March on the feasibility of still further reductions but, rather, on the sustainability of the reductions already in progress.

The strain on the U.S. military is great, and we are all concerned. But sustaining 15 brigades in Iraq for six more months or another year will not break the force. Reducing forces in Iraq too rapidly, however, even by one or two brigades, might seriously jeopardize the tenuous success we are seeing. We should not take that risk.

Frederick W. Kagan is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Retired Gen. Jack Keane was vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army from 1999 to 2003. Michael O'Hanlon is a senior scholar at the Brookings Institution.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

From the Weekly Standard's weblog, Michael Goldfarb recounts a recent blogger teleconference with Sen. John McCain. It's pretty much the same old story though... every time McCain displays excellence in leadership and conservativism he turns around and turns me off by advocating unconservative principles, whether aversion to supply-side tax cuts, support of McCain Feingold or kowtowing to global warming.

Today it was warming.

All in all not one of the more exciting calls we've had with the senator, but when I asked him about his support for cap-and-trade regulation of greenhouse emissions and his opposition to drilling in ANWR--specifically whether these were "no surrender issues" for his campaign--things did get a bit...heated:

Always open to discussion but I don't know how any conservative could not support cap-and-trade. We did it with acid rain, the Europeans are doing it now. It's a capitalist, free enterprise oriented process that encourages green technologies and improvement of our atmosphere. Suppose that we are wrong and all we've done is adopt green technologies...and then try to give our kids a cleaner planet. I'm glad that the debate goes on on climate change, but it is a fact that the majority of the scientific opinion in the world indicates that greenhouse emissions are affecting our planet. Now whether and how serious it is, is an excellent question. But frankly, I do not understand an argument against--we did it with acid rain.

As far as ANWR is concerned, I don't want to drill in the Grand Canyon, I don't want to drill in the Everglades, and this is one of the most pristine and beautiful parts of the world. So we have a disagreement there. And I'll tell you what, if we want to win a general election, from my encounters with young Americans, we better do a better job on the environment.

I followed up by asking whether a carbon tax wouldn't be a more transparent method of reducing emissions and allowing Americans to see directly the costs. McCain responded:

How could a conservative advocate that when it's a regressive tax on the poorest Americans. That's a gas tax...I don't get that could an increase in taxes possibly be something that conservatives would favor.
I think the conservative argument here is that if people knew what all this was going to cost, they'd opt for no regulation at all and take their chances with mother nature. But McCain wasn't buying that.

Goldfarb is spot on: A conservative would never look for "solutions" -- no less government-induced solutions -- to a problem that doesn't exist. Period. McCain trying to package government interference as "free enterprise" should fool nobody. If it were truly free enterprise, and such a great deal, I assure you readers that the private sector would long ago have found a way to make a buck from it.

McCain's line about "improve our atmosphere" is pure garbage. The comparison between acid rain and carbon dioxide is beyond silly. Ever hear of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, Senator? Shall we cap every volcano on the planet? Cork every cow butt? Stop solar flares? Those things produce far more warming than our automobiles.

McCain goes on to say that "Suppose that we are wrong and all we've done is adopt green technologies... and then try to give our kids a cleaner planet." Ah, the children! Do it FOR THE CHILDREN! Boy, he's sounding more and more like a Democrat. But the Europeans are doing it...? That's the argument of a conservative? What's next, advocating single-payer healthcare because Sweden has it?

McCain's "suppose we are wrong" argument is known as the Precautionary Principle, long ago shown as folly by Marlo Lewis. In essence, precautionary principle -- to take measurable action as a better safe than sorry policy -- is an insurance policy, but a bad one at that. Sell me a life insurance policy for $50 a month, perhaps I'm game. Offer me one for $1000 a month...? I'll take my chances.

As Lewis said in 2000, "In the global warming debate, the precautionists admonish us not to gamble with the only planet we have. Yet they are more than willing to gamble with the only economy we have."

There's a direct relationship between a nation's energy consumption and its health and wealth. There's a reason why starving Ethiopians don't have any nuclear powerplants. Thus, capping energy consumption leads to less health and wealth. That's like choosing slow suicide. It makes no sense.

It's idiocracy to take action to prevent an hypothicized doomsday scenario when taking said action will produce a proven and real one!

They tell us to go slow -- or just plain stop -- when it comes to building power plants, producing genetically engineered crops, or expanding suburban neighborhoods. Yet they rush to judgment and demand immediate action to solve a problem that science has not yet shown to exist.

They cannot have it both ways. Precautionists cannot consistently say that "safety first" trumps all other considerations in the realm of private action but has no application in the realm of government action.

I am not for a moment suggesting that the precautionary principle would be beneficial were it applied even-handedly, to bureaucrats and businessmen alike. Inflating "safety first!" from a mere rule of thumb into a categorical imperative -- an absolute overriding duty -- is a recipe for paralysis and stagnation, perhaps the riskiest conditions of all.

Or take reformed Greenpeace member and self-titled Skeptical Environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg's word for it: "For the cost of Kyoto for just one year we could solve the world's biggest problem: we could provide every person in the world with clean water. This alone would save two million lives each year and prevent 500 million people from contracting severe disease."

For the cost of John McCain's so-called "market solution by government badgering" we could instead have our government stick to capturing and killing those who would hijack our planes and fly them into our buildings, and combat other tangible dangers.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I'm reading a book by Vincent Bugliosi titled Reclaiming History. If you don't know the name, Bugliosi was the chief prosecutor of the Charles Manson gang back in the 70s and the author of the corresponding novel Helter Skelter and many other true crime books. Reclaiming History is a 20 year research work, 1500 pages long, in which Bugliosi debunks just about every imaginable conspiracy theory regarding the JFK assassination, including an entire chapter devoted to Oliver Stone's JFK. I'm a little over a hundred pages into it and beyond the storyline it's filled with lots of fascinating footnotes, including this one regarding "that the job of the president of the United States is the most dangerous elected job in the world cannot be too vigorously contested."

Bugliosi concludes this saying, "so starting with Lincoln in 1865, approximately one out of every three presidents American presidents either has been assassinated or had an attempt on his life."

In addition to the two attempted assassinations of President Gerald Ford in 1975 (by Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme in Sacramento on September 5, 1975, and Sara Jane Moore in San Francisco on set number 22, 1975), the attempted assassination of President Richard Nixon by Samuel Joseph Byck on February 22, 1974, and the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan by William Hinckley in Washington, DC, on March 30, 1981, to other presidents were attacked before Kennedy, but the attempts failed. Additionally, attempts were made on one president elect and even one former president. On January 30, 1835, an English born house painter, Richard Lawrence, fired two pistols, both of which misfired, at President Andrew Jackson. Like William Hinckley, Lawrence was found by a jury to be not guilty by reason of insanity and died in a mental hospital 16 years later. On November 1, 1950, two Puerto Rican nationalists, Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola, attempted to shoot their way into a Blair House, where President Harry Truman and his wife were temporarily residing while the White House was being repaired. Torresola was shot to death by White House guards in a hail of gunfire (one of the guards was also killed). Collazo was seriously wounded and sentenced to death, the Truman commuted his sentence to life imprisonment. President elect Franklin D. Roosevelt was shot at in his car five times at a political rally in Miami Bayfront Park on February 15, 1933 by Giuseppe Zangara, a 32-year-old brick layer and stone mason. All five of Zangara's shots missed Roosevelt. However, one of them hit Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, who was riding with Roosevelt. Cermak died of his wounds on March 6, and Zangara was electrocuted on March 20, only 33 days after his attempt on Roosevelt. The former president who escaped was Theodore Roosevelt, who is running for president again as the candidate of the progressive or bull Moose party. On October 14, 1912, a German born New York bartender, John Schrank, fired one shot at Roosevelt as he entered his car outside a hotel in Milwaukee. The bullet hit Roosevelt in the chest, but a folded manuscript of the speech he was about to make in the metal case for his eyeglasses absorbed part of the bullet's thrust, and he survived. The Schrank was found to be insane and died in a mental hospital in 1943.

So starting with Lincoln in 1865, approximately one out of every three presidents has either been assassinated or had an attempt on his life.

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