February 2007 Archives

Herbert Meyer, former special assistant to the Director of Central Intelligence and Vice Chairman of the CIA’s National Intelligence Council during the Reagan Administration, has written a brilliantly concise essay titled "A Global Intelligence Briefing For CEOs" in which he describes the four major transformations going on in the world today.

  1. The War in Iraq
  2. The Emergence of China
  3. Shifting Demographics of Western Civilization
  4. Restructuring of American Business

I highly recommend reading the whole thing for an excellent overview of what's going on in the world today.

I'm no financial guru, so take this with a grain of salt, but people who make frequent long-term investments into the stocks or mutual funds shouldn't be worried by yesterday's dip in the market. First off, the drop was pretty minimal.

For some investors, this type of sharp decline can be jarring. That's probably much more so right now than usual, simply because we've had a stretch of almost unprecedented calm in the markets in recent years. Despite the pullback last summer, the major market indexes haven't had a correction — that is, a drop of 10% or more — in almost 4 years. That's the 2nd longest streak of all time.

When the markets steadily rise, day after day, month after month, year after year, it's easy to get sucked into thinking that's normal. It's not. Stocks typically move higher in a two steps forward, one step back fashion. It's unusual to get multiple years without a significant correction. In fact, it's perfectly normal to get about one 10% correction per year. That's the long-term average.

I don't report all this to scare anybody off. Quite the contrary. If you know that it's normal for stocks to pull back by 10% or so roughly once per year, it's a lot less rattling when it happens. Knowing that 2% market moves in a single day really aren't that unusual helps us stay calm when it happens for the first time in nearly a year.

Second, people who invest regularly and don't plan to withdraw their money from the market soon will actually benefit from these dips. Why? Because if you assume that the market will reach some particular height in the future, it's better for an investor if it stays low for as long as possible until that future point, that way we can keep buying stocks cheaply for as long as possible.

A growth trend of (1%, -5%, 3%, 21%) will be more profitable than a growth trend of (5%, 5%, 5%, 5%) for an investor who puts money into the market over time. The investor who puts in a lump sum at the beginning of the trend will get the same results either way, but those of us who make monthly contributions into our 401(k) will do better in the first case than in the second. A person who has to withdraw their money after the third phase of the trends above would prefer the second trend, but an investor with a long-term horizon would prefer the first trend.

Bettors on Intrade, the new non-sports incarnation of Tradesports, think that John McCain's chances of winning the Republican nomination have fallen below Rudy Giuliani's.

mccain-giuliani-070226.gif

I personally don't think the nominee will be either of these men.

The wife and I rarely eat pizza, but last night we ordered a Cheesy Bites Pizza from Pizza Hut and it was the best thing ever. Ever. You'd think the cheesy bites would be just like the stuffed crust, but you'd be wrong because they're covered in garlic butter. We only managed to eat half a pizza between us before collapsing into a satiated puddle of greasy goo.

Pizza Hut: send me coupons.

I have probably perused The Daily Kos fewer than a handful of times in my life, but I had a hunch that the lefties would have a "too bad they missed" response to the failed attempt to assassinate Vice President Cheney by Taliban rebels in Afghanistan. I wasn't disappointed as the oh-so-wittily-named "Dood Abides" mocks Cheney for not thwarting the attack. (Or something... the article is labeled "satire", but that normally requires some modicum of irony or humor.)

Hours after touching down aboard Air Force two following what the White House has described as a extremely successful Asian trip, Vice President Dick Cheney was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Bush in recognition of his heroism in surviving an assassination attempt by a suicide bomber yesterday in Afghanistan. Mr. Cheney was recognized for his unprecedented valor and calm demeanor in the aftermath of the explosion which Taliban forces in Afghanistan have claimed responsibility for in an attempt to assassinate the vice president.

"'Is everyone okay, are we still alive?', These were the first words that came from the mouth of this self-sacrificing American patriot," stated President Bush. "After he made sure that he and everyone around him were okay, he insisted that the dead and wounded be taken care of immediately by the Afghan government."

And instead Cheney should have done... what? One of the tragedies of the left is that they've ruined the comedic value of "edginess" by assuming it as their everyday modus operandi. Edginess is only funny when when it stands out, when the "edge" is typically respected and only rarely crossed. When everything that comes from the left is "edgy" there's really just no point anymore. It's not funny, it's just disgusting and disgraceful.

Update:

My wife tells me that Sean Hannity's radio show today was exactly the same as this post. Ergo: someone should give me a radio show.

I've always been fascinated by roads and traffic management. Optimizing traffic flow is quite a difficult problem, and well-suited to the fuzzy Artificial Intelligence domain. My wife sent me an article about some construction on the Highway 94/ Interstate 70 interchange that said that the new design will be a single-point urban interchange, also known as a SPUI.

spui-detail.gif diamond-detail.gif

In contrast to the more traditional diamond interchange, also shown above, the SPUI allows "opposing" left turns to happen simultaneously. The blue arrows in the diagrams show the left turns required to get onto the interstate, and the red arrows show the left turns required to get off of the interstate. As can be seen, the diamond interchange requires traffic following the two red arrows or the two blue arrows to cross each other, meaning that both arrows of the same color can't be given green lights at the same time. Thus, when the straight-through traffic is added in, the diamond interchange requires five light phases to give everyone a chance to go.

In contrast, the SPUI allows both red arrow turns to happen simultaneously, and likewise both blue arrow turns. With a phase for straight-through traffic, the SPUI requires only three light phases, thereby allowing up to 40% more capacity than a traditional diamond. Cool, huh?

In another outrageous statement from Mexico's government, Mexico's congress has complained about alleged border crossings by American workers building our wall.

Mexico's Congress has condemned what it says is a border violation by US workers building a controversial barrier between the two countries.

Legislators say workers and equipment building a section of the barrier have gone 10 metres (yards) into Mexico. ...

Mexican legislators said they had photographs and video, taken on Monday, of the workers and heavy-duty construction equipment that showed them about 10 metres inside Mexico near the border city of Agua Prieta and the town of Douglas, Arizona.

No word yet from Mexico's congress on the bazillions of Mexicans living millions of yards over our side of the border.

The most ridiculous part of the story though is that America actually apologized for the "incursion". Our leaders are pathetic, spineless wussies. That wall can't get built high enough, long enough, or fast enough to suit me.

Apparently a "preference for sons" is creating a gender imbalance in some regions of the world, though the New York Times neglects to mention how this could be happening.

More and more South Korean men are finding wives outside of South Korea, where a surplus of bachelors, a lack of marriageable Korean partners and the rising social status of women have combined to shrink the domestic market for the marriage-minded male. Bachelors in China, India and other Asian nations, where the traditional preference for sons has created a disproportionate number of men now fighting over a smaller pool of women, are facing the same problem.

Sounds like there's a story just begging to be reported! How can a "preference" for one gender actually result in a population imbalance? I've written about using abortion and infanticide for gender selection in the past, but perhaps the barbarity is more widespread that I had previously imagined. I expect that the left-wing media shies away from the story because they want to avoid any incriminating the blessed sacrament of abortion in any way.

(HT: James Taranto.)

I hate doing taxes. I spent more than five hours yesterday afternoon transferring numbers from one form to another, and it would have taken a lot longer if not for TaxACT. I really resent the complexity of determining how much money I've got to hand over to the government, and I'm always left with the nagging feeling that I did something wrong that's going to land me in jail.

Let me just say to any potential future auditor: I did my best. I try very hard to be as accurate as possible, and I err on the side of the Treasury. I attested at the end of the filing process that all the numbers were true and accurate to the best of my knowledge, and that's right. The fact of the matter is that after five hours of crunching numbers everything was a haze and I don't fully understand all the fields the software wanted me to fill in. I took line 934 from form 1040-WTF and put it in field XJ-09 like the software told me to, so I hope it's right.

There's got to be a better way to fund the government, no?

Update:

Nope, we're going to have to file an amended return for federal and both states. Yay. I filled out our moving expenses form wrong, thinking that lines 1 - 3 were for our moving expenses above what my employer reimbursed, not including. So most of the reimbursed moving expenses were wrongly counted as income. At least we'll get some additional money back. Good grief, could this be more complicated?

The United States' ambassador to Iraq has apologized for the arrest of a leading Iraqi politician's son who was held by American soldiers who were suspicious of his travel between Iraq and Iran.

U.S. troops detained the son of Iraq's most powerful Shiite politician Friday as he returned to the country from Iran, keeping him in custody for nearly 12 hours before releasing him, Shiite officials said. The U.S. ambassador apologized for the arrest.

Amar al-Hakim, son of Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, was taken into custody at a crossing point and was transferred to a U.S. facility in Kut, according to the elder al-Hakim's secretary, Jamal al-Sagheer. ...

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the arrest was being investigated but stressed that Washington did not mean any disrespect to al-Hakim or his family.

"I am sorry about the arrest," he said. "We don't know the circumstances of the arrest and we are investigating … but he is being released."

The specifics may not be out yet, but the general circumstances are pretty clear:

U.S. authorities have complained about Iranian weapons sales and financial aid to major Shiite parties in Iraq, especially the Mahdi Army of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Both Washington and Iraqi leaders have vowed that no one would be exempt as a major security operation is under way in Baghdad.

President Bush should retract the ambassador's apology and issue a statement supporting the American soldiers doing a dangerous job protecting the Iraq-Iran border. Even if the arrest turns out to have been unnecessary, we don't need to apologize for vigorous border enforcement. Our troops aren't in Iraq fighting and dying so that Amar al-Hakim can shuttle back and forth to Iran uninspected.

I found this story rather amusing. Hat tip: KNIGHTofKNEE.

A newly prominent group is working to keep atheists out of government.

Annie Laurie Gaylor speaks with a soft voice, but her message catches attention: Keep atheists out of government.

Gaylor has helped transform the Freedom From Atheists Foundation from obscurity into the nation’s largest group of nondenominational Christians, with a fast-rising membership and increasing legal clout. ...

“What’s at stake is our culture's heritage of spirituality in our civic institutions,” Gaylor said. ...

Its leaders say the surge in membership reflects a U.S. population that is becoming more religious and growing conservative alarm since Democrats' midterm election victory.

“There was a feeling that there was almost a near secular-left takeover of our government and that we better speak up now,” Gaylor said. ...

“We’ve applied some very needed pressure to keep atheists and non-believers out of government office,” said the elder Gaylor, 80. “We hope we’ve done some educating that will be lasting.”

I'm not sure what I think about this.

Anyone with an interest in the gritty details of the planning behind the 9/11 attacks should read Edward Jay Epstein's summary of Spanish Judge Baltazar Garzon's investigation into the connection between the hijackers and a Spanish al Qaeda cell.

In an interview, Mr. Garzon explained to me through an interpreter that the support of the Spanish cell began in the early days of the plot and continued up until the attack. He described evidence that ranged from video tapes that Spanish police had confiscated from the home of one of the Spanish conspirators, which methodically surveyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center from five different angles in the late 1990s, to a phone call intercepted by Spanish intelligence in August 2001 (at a time when the hijackers were buying tickets on the planes they planned to commandeer), in which an operative in London informed Yarkas that associates in "classes" had now "entered the aviation field," and were beheading "the bird." After drawing a diagram for me on a blackboard of how the Spanish cell connected to Atta's and Binalshibh's recruiters in Germany, he said it was "supporting the operation at every level."

As with most of what the 9/11 Commission's work, their investigation into the planning behind the hijackings is turning out to be woefully inadequate. We may never know the whole picture, but it's naive to accept on faith that the 19 hijackers were acting in isolation from America's other enemies.

Here's a claim that America has a de facto flat tax. News to me, but perhaps Ben Bateman or others can comment.

In a study for the National Bureau of Economic Research, Boston University economists Laurence J. Kotlikoff and David Rapson have found that our all-in marginal tax rate is 40%, give or take a bit. Yes, you read that right: 40%.

Most workers will pay about that much on each dollar of income when all taxes -- federal and state income taxes, sales taxes, taxes for benefit programs, etc. -- are considered.

As a consequence, a 30-year-old couple earning only $20,000 a year has a marginal tax rate of 42.5%, while a 45-year-old couple earning $500,000 pays at 43.2%. There are some exceptions: A 30-year-old couple earning $50,000 a year, for instance, pays 24.4%, and a 60-year-old couple making $150,000 a year faces a tax rate of 47.7%.

The average marginal tax rate on incomes between $20,000 and $500,000 is 40.3%, the median tax rate is 41.8%, and the standard deviation of all of those rates is 5.3 percentage points. Basically, most of us pay about 40%, plus or minus 5.3 percentage points.

There's a table with a bit more data at the bottom of the article.

The only thing surprising about Jason Whitlock's report from the All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas is that a major sports writer has the nerve to call out the NBA on the rapid degeneration of its fans.

NBA All-Star Weekend in Vegas was an unmitigated failure, and any thoughts of taking the extravaganza to New Orleans in 2008 are total lunacy. ...

All weekend, people, especially cab drivers, gossiped about brawls and shootings. You didn't know what to believe because the local newspaper was filled with stories about what a raging success All-Star Weekend was. The city is desperately trying to attract an NBA franchise, and, I guess, there was no reason to let a few bloody bodies get in the way of a cozy relationship with Stern.

Most journalists depend on maintaining good relations with their subjects in order to keep their access privileges, so the situation must be bad indeed for the truth to be leaking out everywhere.

I was there. Walking The Strip this weekend must be what it feels like to walk the yard at a maximum security prison. You couldn't relax. You avoided eye contact. The heavy police presence only reminded you of the danger. ...

David Stern seriously needs to consider moving the event out of the country for the next couple of years in hopes that young, hip-hop hoodlums would find another event to terrorize. Taking the game to Canada won't do it. The game needs to be moved overseas, someplace where the Bloods and Crips and hookers and hoes can't get to it without a passport and plane ticket. ...

All-Star Weekend Vegas screamed that the NBA is aligned too closely with thugs. Stern is going to have to take drastic measures to break that perception/reality. All-Star Weekend can no longer remain the Woodstock for parolees, wannabe rap artists and baby's mamas on tax-refund vacations.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure much of this behavior is under the NBA's control. Many of its players are thugs, so they naturally attract that sort of fan.

My respect for Apple's CEO shoots up a notch as Steve Jobs blasts American teachers unions and echoes many of my own positions.

Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs lambasted teacher unions Friday, claiming no amount of technology in the classroom would improve public schools until principals could fire bad teachers.

Jobs compared schools to businesses with principals serving as CEOs.

"What kind of person could you get to run a small business if you told them that when they came in they couldn't get rid of people that they thought weren't any good?" he asked to loud applause during an education reform conference.

"Not really great ones because if you're really smart you go, 'I can't win.'" ...

"I believe that what is wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way," Jobs said.

"This unionization and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the-charts crazy."

At various pauses, the audience applauded enthusiastically.

Jobs is right: labor unions can be valuable institutions, but their power needs to be balanced by the private property rights of employers. The employers of public employee union members often have little power to reward or punish bad employees, and the result is widespread mediocrity.

Wired's Leander Kahney doesn't get it, and the examples he comes up with to counter Jobs' positions actually do just the opposite.

Jobs argues that vouchers will allow parents, the "customers," to decide where to send their kids to school, and the free market will sort it out. Competition will spur innovation, improve quality and drive bad schools (and bad teachers) out of business. The best schools will thrive.

It sounds great -- for the successful schools. But what about the failing ones?

Jobs thinks even the low end of the market will be hotly contested, like the market for inexpensive cars. Not everyone can drive a Mercedes, but there's lots of competition for cheap Toyotas, Kias and Saturns.

But Jobs is using the wrong analogy. It'd be more like the market for the low-end food dollar -- rich kids would have lots of choice, but for poor kids it'd be Burger King or McDonald's.

Or Jack-in-the-Box, or Subway, or KFC, or Quizno's, or Baja Fresh, or Taco Bell, or.... Many of which offer quite good and healthy menu items, in addition to being cheap. The fact of the matter is that free markets work in almost any industry other than so-called "natural monopolies", which the education industry certainly is not.

(HT: The Pirate.)

Here's a move by Democrats that I can support: requiring shareholder approval of executive pay packages. I would definitely be against government regulation of executive pay, but I do believe that many boards of directors don't exercise proper oversight of their executives. Plus, the relationships between boards and executives are often incestuous, with a board member A setting the pay of executive B at one company while B sits on the board of another company where A happens to be an executive. The problem to me isn't income inequality per se, but the fact that shareholders don't have a way to ensure that they get their money's worth.

One person who wants to do something about it is the new chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Barney Frank of Massachusetts. Democrat Frank is confident that the House this year will approve his legislation to give shareholders the chance to vote on compensation and golden-parachute packages for top executives at publicly traded companies. ...

The most specious argument is that legislation is unnecessary because the CEOs add so much value to the company. Shareholders that are reaping big returns surely won't complain about pay packages.

``The same green eyeshade should be applied here as any other asset allocation,'' Minow says. ``You don't hear complaints about Bill Gates.''

There are other shareholders that would and should complain about indefensible compensation packages, says Warren Buffett, America's foremost investment guru. ``Too often, executive pay in the U.S. is ridiculously out of line with performance,'' he wrote in his annual report.

Golden parachutes for non-performing CEOs especially rankle the Sage of Omaha: ``Getting fired can produce a particularly bountiful payday for a CEO,'' he wrote. ``Indeed, he can earn more in that single day while cleaning out his desk than an American worker earns in a lifetime of cleaning toilets. Forget the old maxim about nothing succeeding like success: Today, in the executive suite, the all-too-prevalent rule is that nothing succeeds like failure.''

Examples abound, starting with Home Depot's Nardelli. Pfizer Inc.'s Henry McKinnell, dumped by his board last year, walked away with a $180 million package. Hewlett-Packard Co. shareholders got off comparatively easy; Carly Fiorina's severance package -- after she was ousted -- was valued at about $42 million.

The role of government in a capitalist economy is to guarantee a flow of truthful information and to protect contracts and private property rights. Shareholders own corporations, and we should have a say in how much our executive employees get paid.

I've got a cold. Weak. The progression of cold symptoms is:

Days 1-3: Sore throat
Days 3-4: Thin nasal discharge, congestion
Days 4-5: Thick nasal discharge, congestion
Days 5-7: Cough, gradually fading away

Ugh. The sore throat is my least favorite part.

New Orleans is a hellhole, and the solution is obvious!

The homicide total for a still-young 2007 climbed to 27 on Saturday with the dead of a man shot at a nightclub on Friday. ...

"If they don't get crime under control, if they can't convince people it's safe to be here, it doesn't matter how much money they get from the federal government, nobody's going to stay," Tulane University criminal justice instructor Ronnie Jones said.

Before Katrina struck on August 29, 2005, there was little public pressure to do something about the number of murders, which peaked in 1994 with 425 killings. ...

The basic complaint was that too many criminals are arrested and then returned to the streets due to poor police work and lax prosecutors and judges.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune found that 3,000 arrested suspects were released in 2006 because prosecutors failed to indict them within the required 60 days. In January 2007, 580 were released for the same reason, the newspaper said. ...

Even before Katrina, a local study found that in 2003-2004 only 12 percent of those arrested for murder went to prison. ...

A recent murder encapsulated the difficulties. After a 17-year-old was beaten up, his mother gave him a gun and told him to get revenge, and he killed the boy he fought with.

When police went to his home to investigate, they found the mother with cocaine and a family photo on display of the son with a gun in one hand and a fistful of cash in the other.

Anyone familiar with politically correct American blinders knows how the article ends:

"For us to correct this, we have to look at the root of the problem. The root of the problem is our education system," Police Superintendent Warren Riley said in an interview.

The first time education is mentioned in the article is in the last line, and in a quote from the police superintendent. Hmmm... all the stats earlier in the piece suggest that bad law enforcement bears a lot of the blame, but no, the police superintendent passes the buck and says the problem is education! How much education does it take to know not to give your son a gun and encourage a revenge killing?

Some of the least educated people I've known have also been the most moral, and some of the most immoral people I know are the best educated. Blaming evil on a lack of education is the politically correct stance because it avoids any mention of morality, personal responsibility, and objective goodness.

Steven Rattner identifies many of the reasons why print newspapers are failing and then comes up with an absolutely horrible idea: government-funded newspapers.

So perhaps it's time to think about new models for the news business.

Not-for-profit status might be one possibility. Instead of having billionaire moguls as proprietors, we could try to turn them into philanthropists who found nonprofit organizations to buy and operate their local papers. At least one such example exists: the St. Petersburg Times, owned by the Poynter Foundation as a result of a bequest by Nelson Poynter.

Purchasing major newspapers would be costly and perhaps impractical, so a hybrid model may make more sense. We could create a pool of money (possibly from a license fee similar to how the BBC is funded). News organizations with an expensive but important project in mind could apply for funding, much the way producers in the public television world have for the last 40 years. Philanthropy could also play a role here, as Joan Kroc did when she left NPR a $200 million kitty.

We've had experience in the past--the New York City subways come to mind--with businesses that began as conventional, for-profit corporations, and, for one reason or another, were later rendered unprofitable while still being viewed as essential services. It's time to apply some creative thinking to newspapers and, for that matter, to serious journalism in other media. Then we need to convince Americans that they should pay attention to it--and pay for it.

Everyone knows the BBC is a model of impartiality! Instead of using government power to coerce the public into paying attention and money, the print newspaper industry should probably die off as did the town criers of old. Government funded media is just about the worst conceivable conflation of roles.

I'm not sure why I feel more pity for Britney Spears than for Paris Hilton, but maybe it's because Spears' perpetual public breakdown feels emblematic of our culture in a way that Hilton's consistently horrendous behavior never has.

TORMENTED BRITNEY SPEARS has been driven to the brink amid fears she could lose her kids, it was claimed last night.

Sources close to the singer — who bizarrely shaved her head BALD at the weekend — say she is struggling following the breakdown of her marriage to KEVIN FEDERLINE.

Her story captures the best of the modern American dream -- not hard work, respect, and success, but a rapid ascent to inconceivable fame and wealth -- and her ongoing crash is intertwined with all the vices our culture permits: divorce, drugs, "partying", and public spectacle. Celebrity obsession has stolen many historically valuable institutions from our culture, but perhaps the one I miss the most is the one that's least Politically Correct: shame. No one is ashamed of anything anymore, no matter how abhorrent. The downside of "tolerance" is that everyone thinks that no matter what they do or how they feel, "it's ok". Well guess what, it's not ok, and Britney and her family should be ashamed of how she's behaving.

I suppose Presidents Day should be a celebration of the leaders who have directed our country over the centuries, but to me it just highlights the weakness of our new Democrat majority in Congress. The modern Left has never known boldness of action, resolve in the face of setback or -- God forbid -- contrary poll numbers, or a passionate reverence for the American citizen. The generation of Leftists who matured in the 60s is the foundation for perhaps both the most pathetic and the most dangerous cohort of politicians America has ever known.

The mediocre success in Iraq is the pinnacle of President Bush's originally bold foreign policy to protect America in an age of Islamofascism, but the continual nay-saying and self-flagellation of the Left has slowly bled the will to win from the American people. Thanks to the relentless repetition of "Iraq is Vietnam!" the Left is finally getting its wish and making it so. Just as Congress defeated the American military in that war, the new Democrat majority is hamstringing our soldiers in Iraq and ensuring their eventual withdrawal in disgrace and defeat. It's easy to imagine George Washington and Abraham Lincoln rolling over in their graves.

Bush himself has certainly made enough mistakes during the past six years to deserve criticism of his own, but at least he's trying to make America secure and prosperous. I don't have much more to say on the matter, because it grows so tiresome to continually point out the sedition and cowardice of the Left. The spineless "non-binding resolution" that the House passed last Friday is a perfect illustration of the Democrat's uselessness. They inched to victory last November by promising to "end" the military action in Iraq, but instead of defunding the military and forcing the President to bring them home they could only muster the courage to make an empty gesture. If I had voted for a Democrat last year I'd be incredibly angry: the resolution won't bring the troops home any sooner, but will undermine their morale and embolden our enemies, thereby increasing the loss of life. As usual with the Left, they made a way to get the worst of both worlds.

Sometimes I get scared that I take politics too seriously. Am I off my rocker to consider Democrats evil for their resolution? Maybe I should look at it like most of our politicians apparently do: it's just a game! Let's see who compromises and twists enough to trick the voters into electing them in 2008! Woo!

Bah.

My brother sent me an interesting and probably little-known fact about artificial sweeteners. If you look up Splenda, Equal, and sugar on the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference you will discover that the sweeteners have the almost the same number of calories per gram as does sugar.

Splenda (per 100g):
-calories (kcal): 331
-carbohydrate: 89.97g
-sugar: 80.33g
-starch: 9.64g

Equal (per 100g):
-calories (kcal): 365g
-carbohydrate: 89.08g
-sugar: 80.70g
-starch: 8.36g

Granulated sugar (per 100g):
-calories (kcal): 387
-carbohydrate: 99.98g
-sugar: 99.91g

The only reason the artificial sweeteners are listed as "zero calories" on food items is because they are used in very small quantities, which is possible because they are much sweeter than sugar.

The Heritage Foundation has a nice piece describing how Social Security works, and my favorite part is their description of the "trust funds".

The Social Security trust fund consists only of spe­cial-issue Treasury bonds. These bonds are special in that they can only be issued to and redeemed by the Social Security trust funds. They cannot be sold in the open market. ...

Because these are special-issue bonds that are payable only to the Social Security Administration, the SSA cannot sell them to a third party to raise money to pay benefits. This reinforces the fact that these bonds are really nothing more than IOUs from one branch of government to another. They are not a real financial asset.

Until relatively recently, these bonds existed only as entries in a record book. Now, however, when a new bond is issued, it is printed on a laser printer located at the Bureau of the Public Debt office in Parkersburg, West Virginia. The bond is then carried across the room and put in a fireproof filing cabinet. That filing cabinet is the Social Security trust funds. ...

According to the OMB, there are only four ways that Congress can repay these bonds: raise other taxes, authorize the Treasury to borrow the needed funds from the public, reduce spending on other federal programs and use the savings to redeem Social Security’s bonds, or simply reduce Social Security benefits. None of these options is easy or attractive.

Social Security is doomed, and the longer we take to recognize it the worse the fallout will be.

Despite being in favor of capital punishment for some crimes, I think China might be going too far by executing people for fraud, even when on such a massive scale.

A Chinese business executive was sentenced to death for swindling $385 million from investors in a bogus ant-breeding scheme, a court official said Thursday.

Wang Zhendong, chairman of Yingkou Donghua Trading Group Co., had promised returns of up to 60 percent for buying kits of ants and breeding equipment from two companies he set up, the reports said.

Ants are used in some traditional Chinese medicinal remedies, which can fetch a high price. Wang sold the kits, which cost $25, for $1,300, the Xinmin Evening News and other newspapers reported.

It's hard for me to justify executing a person who caused no direct physical harm to anyone else, but if you aggregate the indirect harm caused by Wang Zhendong's crimes he certainly must have ruined a great many lives. People like Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling of Enron stole billions from investors and employees and left thousands of people broke... what kind of punishment can fit that crime?

So hundreds of JetBlue passengers were stranded on a plane for 10 hours at JFK Airport yesterday, but I don't understand why they didn't just get off.

We have pictures from inside JetBlue Flight 751 on its way to Cancun. One hundred and 34 passengers sat on the plane for more than nine hours today. Passengers didn't get off until 5 p.m. And as you would imagine, all that time never getting to Cancun had passengers furious.

"There was no power and it was hot. There was no air. They kept having to open the actual plane doors so we could breath," a passenger on the flight told us.

"Nobody gave us any answers. They kept telling us we know as much as you do. And I said, I don't work here, you work here, give me answers," another passenger said.

"Everybody is incredibly tired and frustrated and we didn't expect to be in New York tonight, so it's ridiculous. Just sitting there and sitting there and them saying they were going to pull us into the gate and they never did. There was very little food. It was just a nightmare," a passenger told us.

So why didn't the people just leave? Was someone holding a gun to their heads? Just get up, get off the plane, and walk to the terminal. Alternatively, use a cell phone to dial 911 and get the the police to come. This isn't rocket science. Some people are sheep.

I've posted about some of Dubai's eccentric and excessive construction projects, and reader JV sent along this article that describes Dubai's Sheikh and culture.

As a sweepstake in national pride—Arabs versus Chinese—this frantic quest for hyperbole is not of course, unprecedented; recall the famed competition between Britain and imperial Germany to build dreadnoughts in the early 1900s. But is it an economically sustainable strategy of development? The textbook answer is probably not. Architectural gigantism has always been a perverse symptom of economies in speculative overdrive, and each modern boom has left behind overweening skyscrapers, the Empire State Building or the former World Trade Center, as its tombstones. Cynics rightly point out that the hypertrophic real-estate markets in Dubai and urban China are the sinks for global excess profits—of oil and manufacturing exports, respectively—currently being pyramided by rich countries’ inability to reduce oil consumption and, in the case of the United States, to balance current accounts. If past business cycles are any guide, the end could be nigh and very messy. Yet, like the king of the enigmatic floating island of Laputa in Gulliver’s Travels, al-Maktoum believes that he has discovered the secret of eternal levitation.

The lodestone of Dubai, of course, is ‘peak oil’ and each time you spend $50 to fill your tank, you are helping to irrigate al-Maktoum’s oasis. Fuel prices are currently inflated by industrial China’s soaring demand as well as growing fears of war and terrorism in the global oil patch. According to the Wall Street Journal, ‘consumers will [have paid] $1.2 trillion more in 2004 and 2005 together for oil products than they did in 2003’. [15] As in the 1970s, a huge and disruptive transfer of wealth is taking place between oil-consuming and oil-producing nations. Already visible on the horizon, moreover, is Hubbert’s Peak, the tipping point when new petroleum reserves will no longer offset global demand, and thereafter oil prices will become truly stratospheric. In some utopian economic model, perhaps, this windfall would become an investment fund for shifting the global economy to renewable energy while reducing greenhouse gas output and raising the environmental efficiency of urban systems. In the real world of capitalism, however, it has become a subsidy for the apocalyptic luxuries that Dubai is coming to epitomize.

Take it with a grain of salt!

This robot arm looks like it's having a lot more fun than the one in the GM Super Bowl commercial.

(HT: Reader JV.)

Happy Valentine's Day. I'm working from home again today due to snow, and I'm getting a lot more done than I do when I go into the office. Go figure.

Are any of you doing anything special tonight? Jessica and I had our Valentine's Day yesterday because we're having some friends over tonight to watch Lost. Most of the married people we know aren't planning to do anything fancy tonight... maybe that's more for daters?

Barack Obama first declared that the lives of American soldiers lost in Iraq were "wasted", but then scrambled to take the statement back.

During his first press conference as a presidential candidate at Iowa State University, Obama, discussing his opposition to the Iraq war, said the war "should have never been authorized, and should have never been waged, and on which we've now spent $400 billion, and have seen over 3,000 lives of the bravest young Americans wasted.'' ...

Obama, in an interview with the Des Moines Register right afterward, told the paper, ''I was actually upset with myself when I said that, because I never use that term,'' he said. ''Their sacrifices are never wasted. . . . What I meant to say was those sacrifices have not been honored by the same attention to strategy, diplomacy and honesty on the part of civilian leadership that would give them a clear mission."

Waste:

1. to consume, spend, or employ uselessly or without adequate return; use to no avail or profit; squander: to waste money; to waste words.

Perhaps Senator Obama will soon explain to us how the returns we've gotten in Iraq for the lives of our soldiers have been useful, adequate, and profitable.

Daniel Henninger has a great story about how an energy trader, a blogger, a small software development company, and a non-profit troop-support group developed and deployed a prototype terrorist network identification system to Iraq in a single month. Why can't our military-industrial complex duplicate this feat?

To build the device, they approached a small California company, Computer Deductions Inc., which makes electronic systems for law-enforcement agencies. Over the Dec. 15 weekend, CDI went to work building a machine for Iraq.

Tom Calabro, a CDI vice president, assembled a team of six technicians. Its basic platform would be a handheld fingerprint workstation called the MV 100, made by Cross Match Technologies, a maker of biometric identity applications. The data collected by the MV 100 would be stored via Bluetooth in a hardened laptop made by GETAC, a California manufacturer. From Knowledge Computing Corp. of Arizona they used the COPLINK program, which creates a linked "map" of events. The laptop would sit in the troops' Humvee and the data sent from there to a laptop at outpost headquarters. ...

And so, a month from inception, Bill Roggio handed the electronic identification kit to Maj. West.

On the night of Jan. 20, Maj. West, his Marine squad and the "jundi" (Iraq army soldiers) took the MV 100 and laptop on patrol. Their term of endearment for the insurgents is "snakes." So of course the MV 100 became the Snake Eater. The next day Maj. West emailed the U.S. team digital photos of Iraqi soldiers fingerprinting suspects with the Snake Eater. "It's one night old and the town is abuzz," he said. "I think we have a chance to tip this city over now." A rumor quickly spread that the Iraqi army was implanting GPS chips in insurgents' thumbs.

This effort highlights the fact that our society is capable of effectively fighting an asymmetric war; we'll have an easier time defeating Islamofascism if we bring our full civilizational might to bear than if we rely solely on the military.

The name says it all: Fashion4Nerds. I figured all these points out for myself, by the way....

Points I disagree with:

- They say not to wear white socks unless you're doing something athletic, but c'mon, everyone wears comfy white tube socks in casual settings.

- They say not to wear hats because they're effeminate. Uh, hats are cool. I don't like baseball caps, and my head is too big for most hats, but lots of men wear them and look plenty good.

- They say not to wear large, fancy belt buckles, but I say that those can be fine in less formal settings.

If you slay an online dragon and receive virtual treasure that has "real world" value, the Internal Revenue Service might decide that you owe the government taxes on your "profit".

So if virtual loot can be sold for real money and therefore has real value, what's to stop the government from concluding that every time a fallen virtual monster gives up its prize, or a fistful of Linden dollars is traded for a virtual hair weave, a taxable event has occurred?

Don't ask the IRS. Pressed for an official opinion on the taxability of virtual trades, IRS spokesperson Nancy Mathis would say, via e-mail, only that "whether exchanges constitute bartering depends on the facts and circumstances of each case." As to whether that magic helmet won from a slain dragon is a taxable prize, the answer was similarly noncommittal. "[The] bottom line," Mathis wrote, "is this: You can receive income in the form of money, property, or services. Generally, your income is taxable unless it is specifically exempted by law."

Translation: The IRS is keeping its options open. And according to former IRS lawyer Bryan Camp, now a professor of tax law at Texas Tech, those options definitely include taxing virtual gold. "Section 61 of the Internal Revenue Code says that gross income is any income received from any source," says Camp. "And if someone in the IRS thinks that a [virtual-world] transaction represents the receipt of either cash or services or property, and that has a fair market value, then yes, that's going to be income."

I guess what would make the taxability of virtual "profit" strange is that the context within which this "wealth" is created is completely artificial and self-contained. Unlike, say, ore mined out of the ground, a virtual magic sword has no intrinsic usefulness aside from the virtual context in which it was won. The game company that controls that context could manipulate the scarcity or properties of that treasure at will, or even shut down the entire game overnight.

The value is illusory... but is it any more illusory than value attached to rare baseball cards? Those at least can't be as easily manipulated by their creators as can virtual items. Furthermore, when it comes to baseball cards at least the holders of the cards actually own them. Virtual treasure exists only within a game company's computer database, so who really owns that virtual magic sword? The player whose character currently controls its in-game use, or the game company that owns the database that holds the bytes that constitute the sword's material existence?

Nice juxtaposition by Reuters.

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Students at San Francisco State University are in hot water with the school administration for burning and stomping on several flags during a political rally. No, not American flags:

This story starts with an "anti-terrorism rally" held last October on campus by the College Republicans. To emphasize their point, students stomped on Hezbollah and Hamas flags. According to the college paper, the Golden Gate (X)Press, members of Students Against War and the International Socialist Organization showed up to call the Republicans "racists," while the president of the General Union of Palestinian Students accused the Repubs of spreading false information about Muslims.

In November, the Associated Students board passed a unanimous resolution, which the (X)Press reported, denounced the California Republicans for "hateful religious intolerance" and criticized those who "pre-meditated the stomping of the flags knowing it would offend some people and possibly incite violence." ...

But wait -- there's more. A student filed a complaint with the Office of Student Programs and Leadership Development. OSPLD Director Joey Greenwell wrote to the College Republicans informing them that his office had completed an investigation of the complaint and forwarded the report to the Student Organization Hearing Panel, which will adjudicate the charge. At issue is the charge that College Republicans had walked on "a banner with the world 'Allah' written in Arabic script" -- it turns out Allah's name is incorporated into Hamas and Hezbollah flags -- and "allegations of attempts to incite violence and create a hostile environment," as well as "actions of incivility."

At an unnamed date, the student panel could decide to issue a warning to, suspend or expel the GOP club from campus.

Hard to imagine the same reaction if the flags being desecrated were American. Fortunately FIRE is on the case as are plenty of bloggers.

The greater St. Louis area is experiencing phenomenal economic development and has benefited from "missing" the real estate bubble that hit the rest of the country. Residential real estate in the St. Louis area only climbed about 30% from 2000 to 2006, compared to an 80% national average, and the prices are continuing to crawl upwards rather than receding like many other areas. These steady prices have encouraged a lot of commercial and residential development in the suburbs, as well as industrial development outside the city core, and downtown itself is also in the throes of "revitalization".

Cordish is seeking to build six blocks of signature restaurants, specialty stores, entertainment venues and office space next to the new Busch Stadium. The developer, which has built similar projects around the country, is partnering with the Cardinals organization, which owns the land.

In the midst of the World Series, the city and Cordish announced, to much fanfare, they had reached a deal in principle. Since then, a flurry of last-minute discussions pose potential changes to the project's scope.

In the first phase of the project, Cordish is now committed to 324,000 square feet of space for stores, restaurants and entertainment. That's about 10 percent less than the firm committed to originally. It would still build 100,000 square feet of offices and add 1,200 parking spaces.

They might also build a ton of condos, depending on market conditions (there are already hundreds of new condos going up in the city, and it's not clear how the market will look in 2009). The biggest strike against the city itself is the 1% city earnings tax on residents, workers, and businesses, but there's talk of eliminating it.

Anna Nicole Smith just dropped dead, and I wouldn't care at all except that my entire office is now buzzing with the news. I've never seen any other news story spread through my office this quickly, and it's really bizarre.

All the hubbub about Nancy Pelosi's private Air Force jet is ridiculous.

The Department of Defense yesterday sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that puts limits on the size of the plane she may use to travel across the country and restricts the guests she can bring, The Washington Times has learned.

A congressional source who read the letter signed by Assistant Secretary of Defense Robert Wilkie said it essentially limits her to the commuter plane used by former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, which requires refueling to travel from Washington to Mrs. Pelosi's San Francisco district. A second source, in the Bush administration, confirmed the contents of the letter.

The Washington Times first reported last week that Mrs. Pelosi's staff was pressing the Department of Defense for an Air Force aircraft large enough to fly nonstop to San Francisco. She also has pressed to be able to include other members of the California congressional delegation, her family members and her staff on the plane.

"It's not a question of size. It's a question of distance," Mrs. Pelosi told reporters yesterday. "We want an aircraft that can reach California."

Look, she obviously needs a jet that can get her from California to DC without stopping. If there's another terrorist attack or a war and she needs to get to work she can't be stopping to refuel. She should also be restricted from bringing non-work-related passengers onto the plane, because it's not her own personal jet.

This whole topic of conversation is stupid. ABC News reports that an Air Force C-37A is probably available that could fly coast-to-coast without the excessive cost of the C-32.

So I'm trying to cut back on caffeine, reducing my intake from two to three diet sodas a day to just one in the morning. I'm not sure why I'm doing it, but people have told me that when they've quit caffeine they feel great and full of energy, etc. I've been down to one soda a day for a few weeks now, and I don't have any "cravings" for caffeine, but I also don't feel great or energetic. The afternoons seem especially slow and tend to drag on forever, and I don't feel as sharp as I used to after drinking a soda. So, I'm not sure this caffeine-free existence is for me.

One of the reasons that I would find it very hard to support Senator John McCain for president is that he keeps coming up with really dumb legislative ideas. First there was the campaign finance reform debacle that severely restricts Americans' political speech, and now there's his plan to compile a federal database of child pornography.

A forthcoming bill in the U.S. Senate lays the groundwork for a national database of illegal images that Internet service providers would use to automatically flag and report suspicious content to police.

The proposal, which Sen. John McCain is planning to introduce on Wednesday, also would require ISPs and perhaps some Web sites to alert the government of any illegal images of real or "cartoon" minors. Failure to do would be punished by criminal penalties including fines of up to $300,000.

Great idea! How long will it take for this database to leak out into the hands of the general public, flooding the world with a huge collection of child porn?

I've long heralded the imminent end of intellectual property restrictions when it comes to consumed media and now it looks like Steve Jobs is on the same page.

Steven P. Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, jolted the record industry on Tuesday by calling on its largest companies to allow online music sales unfettered by antipiracy software. ...

Instead, he proposed that labels could shed digital rights management altogether. Mr. Jobs pointed out that only 10 percent of all music sold last year was through an online store and that music is already easily loaded onto digital players from CDs, with no antipiracy features. Attaching digital rights management to music bought online has only limited the number of online music stores, he wrote.

“This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat,” he wrote.

Mr. Jobs’s move comes as the music industry appears to be facing a crisis. Sales of its mainstay product — the album — continue to sink, and sales of digital music, including individual songs, have not increased fast enough to offset the decline.

I was skeptical of iTunes from the start, but it looks I was wrong and it has turned into a significant revenue stream for Apple. However, the music industry needs to learn from the pornography industry and quit living in the past, because online music sales aren't profiting them much.

Jobs may look radical in calling for an end to digital rights management software, but he's really just advocating the inevitable (which is a great position to be in).

The practice was wrong and evil, but it's stupid for Missouri to consider issuing an "apology" for slavery as proposed by State Representative Talibdin El-Amin, a Democrat.

JEFFERSON CITY | Missouri would be one of the first states to apologize for a history of slavery under a resolution introduced by a St. Louis lawmaker.

The resolution details more than 140 years of slavery and says “an apology for centuries of brutal dehumanization and injustices cannot ease the past, but confession of the wrongs can speed racial healing and reconciliation.”

An acknowledgment of the wrongness of slavery is certainly not out of place, but that acknowledgment has already been written into our Constitution with the blood of hundreds of thousands of Union soldiers. What better "apology" can be made now, when both the perpetrators and the victims of slavery are long since dead?

It's utter nonsense until you realize that this call for an apology is really just the opening salvo in the legal battle for "reparations". (Sorry for putting quotes around everything, but it's hard to take the ridiculous vocabulary seriously.) Those who advocate taking money from white Americans and giving it to black Americans as some sort of payment for slavery handily ignore a myriad of facts: there are no living ex-slaves; there are no living ex-slave-owners; many American whites' ancestors had no involvement with slavery or even fought to end it; many American blacks' ancestors had no involvement with slavery or even sold slaves to the slave traders. If you overlook those critical points, the proposed reparation equation is:

(1) reparations = (average white American wealth) - (average black American wealth)

But that equation is ridiculous on its face! Why should the ancestors of slaves compare their wealth to the wealth of white Americans, when without slavery they would never have left Africa? Why isn't the proper equation:

(2) reparations = (average black African wealth) - (average black American wealth)

Under equation (2), the reparations would be negative. That's right: as horrible as slavery was, those who have benefited most from it are modern black Americans. This doesn't mean that slavery was a good thing, but it does illustrate that calls for "apologies" and "reparations" are foolish and reflect a complete ignorance of history.

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Forever and ever....

Stories of post-Katrina stupidity and wastefulness come in bursts, and the government's own incompetence is compounded by the seemingly limitless greed and dishonesty of Katrina victims as a group. (I'm sure there are many honest Katrina victims, but they're sure overshadowed by the fraudsters who stole taxpayer money and the bums who are still living in government housing.)

The Federal Emergency Management Administration has determined nearly 70,000 Louisiana households improperly received $309.1 million in grants, and officials acknowledge those numbers are likely to grow.

In the chaotic period after two deadly hurricanes, Katrina and Rita, slammed the Gulf Coast in 2005 - Katrina making landfall in late August, followed by Rita in late September - federal officials scrambled to provide help in hard-hit areas such as submerged neighborhoods near the French Quarter.

But an Associated Press analysis of government data obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act suggests the government might not have been careful enough with its checkbook as it gave out nearly $5.3 billion in aid to storm victims. The analysis found the government regularly gave money to more homes in some neighborhoods than the number of homes that actually existed.

The pattern was repeated in nearly 100 neighborhoods damaged by the hurricanes. At least 162,750 homes that didn't exist before the storms may have received a total of more than $1 billion in improper or illegal payments, the AP found.

Blaming the government for incompetence is easy and right, but we shouldn't hesitate to condemn the fraudsters who stole our money in the name of victimhood.

Western Missouri and Oklahoma have been without power for weeks and buried under ice, and yet the residents of those areas are somehow managing without FEMA or fat government checks. Maybe the people of Louisiana could learn a lesson by turning their gaze northward.

Hillary's threat to take Exxon's profits is completely antithetical to the American dream, and even downright unpatriotic if you think about it. Consider it: the federal budget this year is $2.9 trillion, none of which was earned. Exxon made money for its owners by actually running a business, not by sticking a gun to our collective head and taxing us. What's more, their profit isn't abnormally high by any stretch of the imagination.

Factual omissions by the reporter op/ed writer, total revenue. $377.64 billion for the year. For those who can’t calculate percentages, and percentages are critical when you look at profits, income statements, little things like that. The way you do it is to divide the profit number by the revenue and then move the decimal point over a few places. See what I mean? All of a sudden that $39.5 Billion is a mere 10.46%

If you owned a business that had revenue of a million dollars yet showed a profit of $104,600, would you feel elated or more like you had an off year?

Another omission, Exxon paid $27.9 billion in income taxes last year.

Hillary is quick to seize the profits of well-run companies, but what about Ford's $12.7 billion loss? Why not take some of Exxon's profits and pay off the losses of Ford's owners? Ridiculous? Of course it is! The government produces nothing and earns nothing, and it has no right or power to condemn the companies that do. Every American should be applauding Exxon for running such a successful business that contributes so much to our society.

Hillary's proposal to seize Exxon's profits is worse than what Hugo Chavez is doing by nationalizing Venezuela's oil industry. At least if the company is nationalized the government bears the potential losses as well as the potential profits. Hillary just wants the profits and intends to let the owners hang if the company posts a loss! She's not only a thief, she's a fool, because who would bother running any sort of company under those conditions? This is the idiocy of socialism.

The profits of Exxon -- and every other "evil corporation" -- belong to its owners: investors, mutual funds, pension funds, and so forth. Neither Hillary nor the government earned that money, and it doesn't belong to them.

My brother pointed me to this story about a Missouri family who rescues enslaved children from around the world. I love these examples of private charity by American Christians that get completely ignored when the international community denounces American "imperialism" or "selfishness".

Two weeks ago Cope returned from Ghana, where she had financed the rescue of seven children who were working as indentured servants on fishing boats for as little as $20 a year. The youngest of them, a 6-year-old named Mark Kwadwo, had labored in dire conditions under a brutal fisherman who beat him when he failed to get up at midnight to bail out canoes.

Working with a small Ghanaian charity, Cope paid $3,600 to free the children and found them a new home in an orphanage near the Ghana capital of Accra. After months and years of privation, the children were dumbstruck by a plentiful breakfast, caregivers said.

Cope's trip to Ghana followed journeys to Vietnam and Cambodia, where she and her husband help finance shelters for needy children and their families, and where the Copes adopted two Vietnamese children.

The little hair salon is a dim memory. Cope is now a fund-raiser and executive of Touch a Life Ministries , an organization she and her husband started to help desperate children in faraway places. By their calculations, the group has spent about $150,000, mainly in Cambodia and Vietnam, on such tasks as financing shelters for children who are abused, handicapped, living on the street or orphaned by AIDS.

This is God's work, and it's just too bad the masters of these enslaved kids get paid for the kids' freedom rather than being tossed into jail.

Despite the continuing decline of America's primary and secondary education system, teachers' pay keeps going up and up... the average public school teacher made $36.06 per hour in 2005.

Who, on average, is better paid--public school teachers or architects? How about teachers or economists? You might be surprised to learn that public school teachers are better paid than these and many other professionals. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, public school teachers earned $34.06 per hour in 2005, 36% more than the hourly wage of the average white-collar worker and 11% more than the average professional specialty or technical worker.

In the popular imagination, however, public school teachers are underpaid. "Salaries are too low. We all know that," noted First Lady Laura Bush, expressing the consensus view. "We need to figure out a way to pay teachers more." Indeed, our efforts to hire more teachers and raise their salaries account for the bulk of public school spending increases over the last four decades. During that time per-pupil spending, adjusted for inflation, has more than doubled; overall we now annually spend more than $500 billion on public education.

And what do we get for all that money? Less and less every year.

It would also be beneficial if the debate touched on the correlation between teacher pay and actual results. To wit, higher teacher pay seems to have no effect on raising student achievement. Metropolitan areas with higher teacher pay do not graduate a higher percentage of their students than areas with lower teacher pay.

In fact, the urban areas with the highest teacher pay are famous for their abysmal outcomes. Metro Detroit leads the nation, paying its public school teachers, on average, $47.28 per hour. That's 61% more than the average white-collar worker in the Detroit area and 36% more than the average professional worker. In metro New York, public school teachers make $45.79 per hour, 20% more than the average professional worker in that area. And in Los Angeles teachers earn $44.03 per hour, 23% higher than other professionals in the area.

As the piece notes, the problem isn't that teachers are paid too little, it's that their pay is based on seniority rather than merit. Even a tiny amount of money tied to actual student improvement can go a long way.

Karen Carter, the school's principal, felt that her teachers' efforts were producing progress at Meadowcliff, especially with a new reading program she'd instituted. But she needed a more precise test to measure individual student progress; she also wanted a way to reward her teachers for their effort. She went to the Public Education Foundation of Little Rock. The Foundation had no money for her, and the Little Rock system's budget was a nonstarter. So the foundation produced a private, anonymous donor, which made union approval unnecessary.

Together this small group worked out the program's details. The Stanford test results would be the basis for the bonuses. For each student in a teacher's charge whose Stanford score rose up to 4% over the year, the teacher got $100; 5% to 9%--$200; 10% to 14%--$300; and more than 15%--$400. This straight-line pay-for-performance formula awarded teachers objectively in a way that squares with popular notions of fairness and skirts fears of subjective judgment. In most merit-based lines of work, say baseball, it's called getting paid for "putting numbers on the board."

Still, it required a leap of faith. "I will tell you the truth," said Karen Carter. "We thought one student would improve more than 15%." The tests and financial incentives, however, turned out to be a powerful combination. The August test gave the teachers a detailed analysis of individual student strengths and weaknesses. From this, they tailored instruction for each student. It paid off on every level.

Twelve teachers received performance bonuses ranging from $1,800 to $8,600. The rest of the school's staff also shared in the bonus pool. That included the cafeteria ladies, who started eating with the students rather than in a nearby lounge, and the custodian, whom the students saw taking books out of Carter's Corner, the "library" outside the principal's office. Total cost: $134,800. The tests cost about $10,000.

Far cheaper -- and far more effective -- than straight pay increases based on teacher seniority. And, of course, the teachers' unions hate the idea. Teachers' unions push the dogma of class size reduction because smaller classes leads to more classes which leads to more teachers which leads to more power for the unions -- despite the fact that evidence shows small class sizes do little to improve education.

Getting rich is simple, and the key ingredient is discipline.

Only three ingredients are needed: income, discipline and time. Chances are, you already have two of them, income and time. All you need to do is add the third, discipline. And armed with the following knowledge, that key third ingredient may be a lot easier to find.

Here's how it works: Say you start with nothing, invest $500 (of your income) a month (a healthy discipline), and let your money ride (over time) in diversified investments. Long term, the stock market returns at least 10% annually. Assuming a 10% return, you'd have $102,000 after 10 years, $380,000 after 20 years, and $1.1 million in 30 years.

Alas, it seems that Americans are spending more than we earn, illustrating that "simple" doesn't always mean "easy".

The Commerce Department reported Thursday that the savings rate for all of 2006 was a negative 1 percent, meaning that not only did people spend all the money they earned but they also dipped into savings or increased borrowing to finance purchases. The 2006 figure was lower than a negative 0.4 percent in 2005 and was the poorest showing since a negative 1.5 percent savings rate in 1933 during the Depression.

The savings rate, as reported, leaves out some important factors. For instance, it includes contributions to a 401(k) but not the interest an existing account accumulates. Still, spending more than you earn is one of the best ways to get poor, quick.

My wife sent me this link so we can look reasonably informed while we watch the Super Bowl: "Non-sports fan’s guide to Super Bowl XLI".

Just a follow-up to my earlier post about ditching Verizon: I followed the advice I linked to in the last post and was able to cancel my wife's account without an early termination fee, thanks to Verizon's change in text message pricing. We signed up for a Cingular family plan and are going to be saving about $75 per month! (We had four months left on her Verizon plan, so canceling early saved us almost $300.)

I've written about the electoral college several times, always noting that it is here to stay despite periodic efforts to "reform" it. The present National Popular Vote Interstate Compact plan is different from earlier schemes, however, in that it attempts to create a electoral cartel of large states who agree to vote together to undermine the power the Constitution gives small states.

A movement to upend the Electoral College in favor of a popular presidential vote aims to sweep state legislatures this year, starting with Colorado.

The state Senate here last week approved a bill that would award Colorado's nine electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins a majority of the vote nationally, regardless of how the candidate performs statewide. There's just one caveat: The legislation only takes effect if states with a combined 270 electoral votes -- a majority -- approve their own National Popular Vote Interstate Compact bills.

Lofty as that goal may sound, organizers say it's within reach. Already, 25 states have introduced the legislation and another 20 have it in the drafting stage. Passage in the 11 most-populous states would give the compact an electoral-vote total of 271.

Those same 11 states could never muster the votes to amend the Constitution, but they're within their rights to form a cartel as described. The key differences between an amendment and this cartel strategy are that changes in population could gradually undermine the cartel, and each state in the group could decide to leave and vote freely again at any time.

I see this plan as harmful to our Republic and very disadvantageous to the interests of most voters, but since the cartel would be inherently much weaker than a Constitutional amendment I'm not going to get too worked up about it. I still think the chances of passage in the various states are slim to none, but even if the cartel does come about I don't think it will last long.

I expect posts like this to be an ongoing series this election season. The Democrats are busily devouring Senator Joe Biden for his "clean black" comment (rightly so, in my humble opinion), and considering the debacles of the last two Democrat presidential campaigns I expect the infighting to be fiercer than ever.

In a critique of the Democratic field, he said of Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois: "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy," he told the New York Observer, a weekly. "I mean, that's a storybook, man." ...

Talk-show hosts and bloggers seized on the Obama comment, but they also invoked criticism from a leading liberal blogger. "Really, if we live in a just world, this will be the end of Joe Biden's political career," read a post on DailyKos.com "It's clear his career has dragged on one election cycle too many."

I couldn't agree more! Democrats play dirtier politics than anyone, so the real question is will anyone survive the primary season?

The left's feeding frenzy will certainly help the right, but it would sure be nice if there was a promising Republican candidate on the horizon. Maybe a combination of Romney's personality and ethics with Newt's brains..... I wouldn't mind a ticket with Romey as President and Newt as VP in a Cheney-like role.

Rich Karlgaard has a great essay about how capitalism is a powerful tool that creates the potential to do more good than any other economic system but that still depends on the morality of its wielders.

Money is good, therefore, because capitalism is good. It delivers the goods, literally, and better--broadly and individually--than does any other system. Hugo Chavez would argue that point, but he's nuts.

Can we go even further and say that capitalism is good because it is moral? Following that logic, can we say: The purer the form of capitalism, the more moral it is? Is capitalism perfectly moral--enough to sustain itself over many generations?

Yes, say Ayn Rand's followers. But most of us would not go that far. We think a capitalism that lacks outside moral influences and pressures, restraints and safety nets would, sooner or later, fail.

Bill Ziff, a successful magazine capitalist who died last year, spoke for most of us: "[Capitalism] is not in itself sufficient to create values. It depends on what human and religious values we, ourselves, bring to our affairs. Insofar as those values fail, we would all descend toward a lawless, inhumane, cutthroat society that will no longer harbor our civilization."

Well worth a read, especially if you're a Christian who is uncomfortable participating in a system that does occasionally get used for evil ends.

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