Saturday, August 30, 2008

College Football Week 1 Roundup

So here's a short analysis of how my three teams did in Week 1 of the college football season. Two of the results were surprises to me, one wasn't. And the one that wasn't is, naturally, being treated as a surprise by everyone in the sports media right now.

Vanderbilt 34, Miami (OH) 13: To be honest, I didn't expect Vandy to win this game. I thought Miami was one of those dangerous mid-major teams that has the chance to knock off major-conference doormats. Guess I forgot Ben Roethlisberger is long gone. And I also thought that losing Earl Bennett and Chris Williams would pretty much kill our offense. Two things about this game give me hope that we could beat teams not named Duke and Rice the rest of the way. One, it was an away game. Granted, for Vandy they're practically all away games, but putting a smackdown on a decent opponent on the road oughta be a good sign. Second, Vandy was 8-15 on third down. Not bad for a road game, or for a team that didn't break the 100-yard mark passing.

East Carolina 27, #17 Virginia Tech 22: What the hell happened here? If you had told me that a team won on a fourth-quarter blocked punt for a touchdown, I would have told you it was Tech, since they always seem to come up with that stuff. Guess Beamer got Beamered. Anyway, looks like a) Tech'll really miss Brandon Ore, b) the defense, which is supposed to be Tech's specialty, can't be all that good if they're making Patrick Pinkney look like Joe Montana, and c) ECU's sneaky good. Watch out for them. I thought this would be a good year for Tech, but when they lost Ore they lost most of their offensive effectiveness. Glennon can't carry this team.

Utah 25, Michigan 23: The only thing that surprised me about this game was that it was that close. Utah is a far better team than Michigan, who is rebuilding with a young team and a new coach. There's good news and bad news for the Utes from this game. The good news is that the defense, which is supposed to be the weakness of this team, held up well, giving up only two short-field touchdowns after the first quarter. The bad news? Good teams don't yack away 15-point leads in the fourth quarter against inferior opponents. They made the plays when it mattered, though, stopping a two-point conversion that would have tied it, then holding Michigan without a first down on their final drive.

Even better news for the Utes, though? This game was probably their toughest test until the Holy War... which is in Salt Lake this year. There's a distinct chance they'll be 11-0 going into that game. The Brig took care of business against Northern Iowa, and I don't see a team that can beat them on their schedule until then, either. But if the Utes want to get past the Yners, they'll have to avoid those fourth-quarter brain farts that happened in this game...

Quick note on mid-majors in the BCS - if ECU can get past West Virginia next week (no small task, to be sure), I don't see another team that could beat them on their schedule. So what happens if ECU and the Utah/BYU winner both finish the season undefeated? Is there room for both in the BCS?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Quick Thoughts on Obama's Speech

OK, so I gave in and watched Obama's speech, and before I drown in a sea of punditry I'll throw my thoughts out there. First, I thought he did pretty good. It wasn't an amazing speech, but it was stirring at times and dealt with policy a lot more specifically than he had in the past. Since I knew most of the policy stuff going in, nothing was really new to me there, but he stated it well and made a convincing argument. Obviously I'll get more in-depth on what I think of his policy ideas in future "Election 2008: The Series" posts, so I won't analyze line-by-line here.

The best parts were his bit about individual responsibility and the limits of government's responsibility - since he phrased it as and it seemed to be a direct challenge to Democratic orthodoxy - and his attack on those who would use patriotism as a tool to win elections. Both resonated well with me, especially the former bit since I think he made points that aren't made often enough by pols of either party. The worst was the "off foreign oil in ten years" crapola, but I'll forgive him that. The speech seemed to wander a little as long speeches are wont to do, but he tied it all together pretty well at the end. I guess I wasn't as ready to jump out of my seat shouting as I was back in '04, but the last 10 minutes or so was pretty darn inspiring.

A few other notes - I really hope Obama does actually go line-by-line through the budget cutting and trimming. That would be awesome. Second, are Brooks and Dunn - both pretty hard-core Republicans, as I understand it - happy about having "Only in America" used after Obama's speech? And was "Born in the USA" really necessary? Does anyone listen to the lyrics of that song?

Instant update: Brooks and Dunn headlined the Republican convention in 2004. It takes some cojones grandes to choose a song by someone who headlined the opposing party's last convention as your send-off song.

Deliver the Kidney

Please, please, please, please, PLEASE tell me this is a joke. It has to be, right?

Oh, and Jonathan Chait points out that the so-called "cult" of Obama is no more culty than the cults of Bush and Reagan that conservatives subscribe to, so all you conservatives bleating about Obama's messianism can shut up already. That won't stop me making fun of it, of course, but it's an excellent point. Win:
Next, there is Obama's declaration that "we are the ones we've been waiting for." The point, which he has made many times, is that voters should take responsibility themselves for enacting change, and thus that his supporters should not treat him as a savior. Obama-as-cult-leader screeds insist upon reading the meaning as the exact reverse. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote, "in the words of his own slogan, 'we are the ones we've been waiting for,' which, translating the royal 'we,' means: 'I am the one we've been waiting for.'" As a pundit, I'm intrigued by this technique of taking a word out of your subject's statement and substituting its opposite. Did you know that McCain's slogan, "Country first," could be translated via the Krauthammer method into "Country last"? Why does John McCain hate America?
The point Chait makes is that it's so rare for Democrats to be so dedicated to a candidate that it kinda freaks Republicans out. I'm still wary of this much dedication to a person - to me, the dedication ought to be to the ideals, not to some guy - but politics is personality-driven and pretty much every successful politician has some sort of magnetism about their personality that engenders this sort of dedication. The question is this - will someone power-trip on the dedication that their supporters show, or will they use that dedication for good? And so we're back to the ideas and policy stances again, which is what we should be deciding on anyway.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Glenn Beck Likes It Hot

Radio/TV shouting head Glenn Beck has apparently taken a break from hunting illegal immigrants and giving wedgies to Mooooslims so he can make fun of the Democrats' efforts to have a "green" convention. The Democrats apparently bought 70 million tons' worth of carbon offsets (a scam which I could rant about a lot if I wanted to - suffice it to say that carbon offsets and renewable energy credits are waaaaay too cheap to actually provide a financial incentive for wind/solar power producers to increase capacity by the amount you're theoretically offsetting - okay rant over). Beck, who bears a disturbing resemblance to my cousin Steve, wants his listeners to use up as much carbon as they can in order to offset the offsets.

It's a funny stunt, and I recognize the humor value in it. It kinda made me chuckle a little bit. But on a serious note, does Beck really think that conservation is such a risible idea? I don't care what you think about global warming - I'm not sure how conserving resources and using less oil could possibly be a bad thing. And I'm not sure what is accomplished by encouraging people to use up more oil and throw away more crap. (Lay aside the fact that if Beck wants to generate 70M tons of carbon, he'll be more than offsetting the offsets, for the reason I cited earlier.) Satire usually has a point it's trying to make. Beck's clearly being satirical - but to what end? Is he trying to tell us conservation is bad? If he's trying to tell us that conservation's not as important as Democrats make it out to be, that's fine, but he's not making his point well. Really, he just comes off less like a clever satirist and more like a spiteful schoolyard bully. Which is par for the course for Beck, really.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

No Babies For You

Arkansas voters will have a chance to deny singles and cohabiting couples the right to adopt children. The measure was pushed by the Family Council of Arkansas, which apparently hates babies. I guess they think it's better for kids to grow up in a group home or orphanage than with loving parents who aren't married. God forbid that these children should have a family, right? How foolish do you have to be to think that kids are better off in an orphanage than with an unmarried couple?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Election 2008, #2: Civil Liberties

For those of you late to the game, here's the founding post in this series, and here's the last one I did on energy policy, which was #7 on the list. This time I'm tackling civil liberties, which is #2 on the list. See, no particular order.

Also, a quick clerical note - I'm removing McKinney from the list. Her website is still teh suck - it doesn't have issue statements anywhere, as far as I can see - and I really can't find a whole lot about her issue stances online. So I'll adjust the scores accordingly. That gives us:

Obama - 12
McCain - 8
Barr - 4

Anyway, "civil liberties" is pretty broad, and I want to distill this question down into a few smaller ones that we can tackle easily. I'm covering civil liberties with respect to terror policy in my forthcoming terrorism/national security post, which is #3 on the list. So you won't see warrantless wiretapping, torture, extraordinary rendition, etc. in this post.

My basic question here is whether the candidate will preside over an administration that respects personal freedom. Under that umbrella, I'll tackle free speech/dissent/artistic expression issues, drug policy, and gay rights. I also want to know whether the candidates will respect the Fourth Amendment, and so I'll look at their crime policies through that lens.

Of course, no one posts "civil liberties" as an issue on their website. (As such, I won't be providing links - all the website stuff is easy to find if you want it.) Bob Barr, naturally, comes closest. He mentions eminent domain law, which is nice, especially because a) he doesn't like eminent domain and b) the executive is generally the branch that proposes eminent domain usage. You won't have to worry about a Barr Administration taking your land and giving it to developers. When it comes to marriage, Barr wants to send that issue to the states, which seems fair. He also seems to suggest that government should stay out of the marriage business altogether. Barr has nothing specific on crime policy, but he does have a statement respecting the Fourth Amendment buried in there somewhere.

Barack Obama's policy manifesto discusses crime policy in great detail as part of his "urban policy." He actually addresses the problem of police brutality and accountability, which is nice. His stated drug policy is okay - he's not going to legalize drugs right off the bat (that'd be way too much to hope for in a serious presidential contender), but he will try to fix the sentencing laws and send first-time drug offenders to rehab instead of jail. Bizarrely, he doesn't mention marriage, though at Saddleback he suggested that the issue ought to be a state issue.

John McCain's extensive crime section contains very little reference to civil liberties or the Fourth Amendment, which is worrisome because he proposes a lot of new anti-crime funding and research. McCain opposed the marriage amendment (he has nothing specific on his site regarding this issue) and would presumably let states make up their own minds as well. Oddly, his crime section also avoids drugs altogether, which makes me wonder what his policies are on the subject. This site claims McCain will continue raiding state-sanctioned medical marijuana clinics, which is a horrible idea. (By contrast, Obama has expressed support for medical marijuana.)

No one discusses free speech. That may be because no one's particularly good about it. Bob Barr cosponsored the onerous flag-burning amendment while he was in the House. He has changed a lot since then, but I don't know if he has reputed that or not. McCain gets a lot of flak from free-speech types for McCain-Feingold, which I will admit was something of a ham-handed attempt at campaign finance reform and showed little respect for free speech rights. He is, however, opposed to the awful Fairness Doctrine. Obama supports the Fairness Doctrine, and presumably supports McCain-Feingold too. I can't find a whole lot else, folks.

It doesn't seem like there are any differences on the marriage thing, and I really can't decide on the speech issue, though I'd think McCain would lag behind Obama and Barr there because his administration's necessary ties to the Christian right would lead him to enforce a bunch of bad regulations on TV and movies and whatnot. Also, Obama's website is the most free-speech friendly, and both he and Barr seem more respectful of dissent than McCain, so that's worth considering.

So we come to crime and drug policy. Barr used to be godawful on drugs and crime, but has now done pretty much a complete 180. He now supports medical marijuana and wants to end the War on Drugs. Obama's not bad, just unknown in this respect. But we can tell something by the company he keeps, and VP nominee Joe Biden, at least according to anti-drug-war warrior Radley Balko, responsible for many of the worst excesses of the War on Drugs. But don't expect McCain, who has been a drug warrior his entire time in the Senate, to be any better.

Barr's the clear winner here - I feel like he'll be the best choice to keep government away from free speech and to lead us to a sensible crime policy that protects our rights. Obama's second because he's at least open to the idea of decriminalization and federalism with respect to medical marijuana, and he mentioned police excesses. McCain doesn't seem to care much about civil liberties, so he gets third. So for this issue:

Barr - 27
Obama - 18
McCain - 9

Which leaves us at the following totals after Round 2:

Barr - 31
Obama - 30
McCain - 17

If you have any news I can use on this issue, help me out.

Friday, August 22, 2008

About That Timeline...

So when President Bush says "no timeline for withdrawal," it really means "we're working on a timeline right now?" Got it.

This agreement seems reasonable to me. If the Iraqi forces aren't ready to take over by 2011, they're hopeless. The big sticking point is whether troops and Pentagon officials should have immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law. I think that's an awful idea that would accomplish nothing but make us look bad. There's a compromise in the works that would distinguish between on-duty and off-duty actions, and that seems fair.

Either way, so much for that "no timetable" thing, eh?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Faith and Politics, More Generally

OK, I have a question here for you, dear readers. But first, a little background.

California's Supreme Court recently determined that the state's restriction of legal marriage to same-sex couples violated the California Constitution. As a result, social conservatives have sponsored a popular referendum - CA loves those darn things - amending the Constitution to limit legal marriage to only heterosexual unions. The First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints - pretty much the top LDS brass - asked that a letter supporting the initiative be read at Mormon churches across the state.

So here's the question. Almost no one questions that faith plays a role in politics. What role, then, should religious organizations, such as the LDS First Presidency or the Southern Baptist Convention, play in politics? Should they use their influence to actively advocate for specific policy goals? Should they encourage political activism that articulates with the church's values, and leave it up to individuals to decide what the correct policy choices are? Should they just stay out of politics completely?

Sound off.

(Extra bonus question for the law people: to what extent may a religious group engage in political activism while maintaining its tax-exempt status?)

(Super extra bonus question for the LDS folks: would there be consequences for a church member who openly flouts the First Presidency on this issue?)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Quick Note on Saddleback

The Saddleback Civil Forum has gotten a lot of press lately. It's the event at which evangelist/megapastor Rick Warren interviews both Sens. Obama and McCain - call it the first unofficial debate. I'm about 75% of the way through Obama's responses right now (the whole thing's bouncing around YouTube somewhere) and have yet to start on McCain, and I will admit that it's interesting and informative.

But... something's bugging me about the whole thing. The Post's Kathleen Parker kindasortamaybe puts a finger on it. I'm not sure if I completely agree with Parker - groups of voters, especially groups as significant as evangelicals (some 30% of Americans, at last count), deserve to have candidates address their issues. But I share Parker's worry about a de facto religious test for office. How could a non-Christian candidate possibly come out of that forum looking good? And with the national importance placed on the event, how would such a candidate recover from that appearance?

Is the problem with the media, who ascribe too much importance to a candidate's faith-talk? Is the problem with voters who are suspicious of people with different theological leanings? I don't know. I just know that I'm not sure I like this whole thing. I think.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Your Mom Is A Gaffe

Is it wrong that whenever I hear a pundit or news source mention the word "gaffe" in conjunction with a candidate for office, I automatically tune out?

Seriously, I can't think of a major error either candidate has made this campaign. Which makes me think that the media are really just reaching to call something a "gaffe" so they can report on and laugh about it. Case in point: this idiotic screed by Salon's Camille Paglia claiming that Obama's voice is a gaffe. It's too "black" or something. Seriously? That's all you got? How about a nice warm glass of SHUT THE HELL UP?

I'll go ahead and assume that Paglia isn't anti-black, and doesn't seriously think that white people are going to notice that Obama's dropping a few consonants and immediately go burn a cross. But I will say that she's trivializing the campaign. Notice the speech she chose as her example - Obama's retort to stupid Republican tire-gauge attacks, which in my opinion is the most effective speech of the entire campaign by either candidate. This is the reason people don't even vote, much less get involved in politics, people. Things like this just make the whole pursuit look shallow.

I mean, I make fun of crap like this for two reasons. One, because it's funny, and I like the funny. Two, because this blog is read by like nine people. The amount of effort put into opinion writing should be directly proportional to your audience size. More people read Paglia (I'm assuming). The least she could do is not mail it in.

God and Country, Hold the God

The Wilson County, TN Fair has, for the past five years, held a "God and Country" promotion wherein church groups (and presumably synagogue, mosque, gurdwara, etc. groups who would want to make the 30-minute trip from Nashville, though none have) would get a discount. Nashville-area atheist groups got wind of it this year, though, and asked Wilson County to let them in too.

Cue messy, expensive court battle replete with anti-atheist demagoguery and "this is a Christian nation" baloney, right? Apparently, not so much - Wilson County just decided to give atheist groups a discount too.

Congratulations, then, to Wilson County, for seeing the writing on the wall (which we refer to as the "Establishment Clause") and taking the sensible approach. See, we all can get along.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Give Us This Day Our Daily Awesome

Imagine that you're a liberal-minded South Carolina state senator. Your Republican colleagues, in an incomprehensible zeal to require schools to display the Ten Commandments, have proposed a bill that would mandate a "Foundations of American Law and Government" display that would include the Commandments, Hammurabi's Code, and a few other assorted things intended to dilute the religious message of the Commandments and thus pass Constitutional muster. You know that, while the display is a pointless waste of time and effort, it is also Constitutional. You also know that in a heavily Republican legislature, you're not defeating the bill. What do you do?

Well, if you are like Orangeburg's Brad Hutto and in possession of sizable quantities of awesome, you propose an amendment adding the Lord's Prayer to the display. You guarantee that the display is now so blatantly religious as to be ruled unconstitutional. You also know that the amendment is going to get passed because South Carolina voters will punish your colleagues for voting against the Lord's Prayer. (Which says a great deal about our neighbors in the Palmetto State.) So you've effectively killed the mandate.

Mr. Hutto, you win.

Alex Rodriguez Makes Four People Per Year

Here's a bizarre article about the EPA's recent decision to change the cost of a human life from $8.04 million to $7.22 million, or a decrease of about 10%. This is done for the purpose of calculating whether or not a given regulation is worth the cost it would impose on industry.

Of course, if someone actually died because of corporate malfeasance, this wouldn't be the amount that their heirs would receive. That amount would take into account a lot of other things, including the person's salary and the company's ability to pay. It may be less, it may be more. And obviously, there's no way to legitimately place a price tag on a person's life.

To be honest, this idea sounds more callous than it is. The prices used by the EPA (and by other regulatory agencies) are indicative of our willingness to take risks. As the article explains, take the amount of money that would induce a person to take a 1-in-10000 risk of death and multiply it by 10000. So if the average American is willing to take such a risk for $500, that means that the economic "value of a life" would be $5 million. So back to the EPA's numbers - the EPA has apparently determined that people are willing to take $722 or so in exchange for a 1-in-10000 risk of death by pollution, and that this number is down from the $800 or so people would have been willing to accept when the economy was better. In other words, the EPA believes that people are willing to accept more risk of loss of life from environmental degradation in exchange for a more dynamic economy.

Personally, I think the number should be higher. I personally would be more willing to accept lower payment for a risk that I could control - say, a product or a job - than for a risk that would be ambient - say, dirty air or water. The numbers reflect this to some extent - the DoT, for example, uses a number around $5 million. But I don't think they reflect this accurately, at least not for me. How about for you?

I also have to wonder how this relates to smoking bans, the latest fad in governmental risk control. Now that smoking bans have been in place in some locales for a significant period of time, we can gauge the economic impact that they have on the local economy, and we can compare that to the number of deaths that occur from prolonged exposure to second-hand smoke. Someone with more time on their hands should do this.

Monday, August 11, 2008

With Friends Like These...

Friendships can operate under a lot of different rules. What's okay for one set of friends can be unthinkable for others. So it's often not for us to judge whether or not a friend is being offensive to his/her friends, since we're not familiar with the social rules within that group.

However, I'm pretty sure that if you say someone should be wiped off the map, that makes them your enemy, not your friend. Of course, no one told the Iranians that.

Iran: Calling for Israel's destruction in a friendly manner, since 1979.

Friday, August 08, 2008

You Can't Teach Cute

Selah has just started to sit up...

Memphis Update, Or, Dumbass to Evers to Chance

Some time ago I posted about the ridiculous anti-Semitic campaign being run in Tennessee's ninth congressional district against incumbent Rep. Steve Cohen. Here's an update:

The race got worse, with opponent Nikki Tinker all but saying down the stretch that Memphians shouldn't elect Cohen because he's a white JOOOOOOO!

Anyway, the primary was yesterday, and the result? Cohen put an unholy smack-down on Tinker, beating her by the ridiculous margin of 79-19. Memphians aren't particularly big fans of abrasive, divisive identity politics, methinks.

Good job, Memphis. Tip-o'-the-hat to ye.

Update: I'm changing the title of the post, because I can.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Sheesh, Ayesha

If this is true, and I see no reason why it wouldn't be, I really have to question Random House's judgment.

The story: woman writes book about Ayesha, favored wife of the Prophet Muhammad. Book sent to Islamic expert, who predicts widespread offense taken in Muslim world. Random House then decided to pull the book, fearing that it would "become another 'Satanic Verses'" - a reference to the Salman Rushdie book that got a price put on the author's head by the idiots running Iran. (I've read it - and I have no idea what the ayatollahs were bellyaching about. Beside the point.)

Anyway, if you're Random House, wouldn't you be friggin' ecstatic at the idea of another "Satanic Verses"? I mean, what better publicity for a book could you have than CNN reporting on a bunch of schmucks in Saudi Arabia burning it? You can practically smell the money rolling in. Why would you turn that down? It's a slam dunk, and not in the George Tenet sense either!

Random House shareholders, keep this in mind. Some executive doesn't want your company to make money.

Update: "Satanic Verses" was the #6 bestseller in America in 1989. This is a list usually dominated by the likes of Stephen King and Danielle Steel - to my knowledge, Rushdie never had a book up there before and hasn't had one since. I say again, why wouldn't you want to publish this book? Even if it sucks, the controversy makes it a cash cow!

Wait, What?

And sarcastic comments have officially become obsolete.

Election 2008, #7: Energy Policy

I told you they'd be in no particular order. For the original post, go here.

Anyway, energy policy is in the news a lot, so I'll dispense with my thoughts on that forthwith. Let's look at each candidate's policy positions and see what they hold. We'll start with Sen. John McCain.

McCain's energy policy position stresses the importance of increasing oil and gas exploration, mostly by opening up the currently off-limits areas of the Outer Continental Shelf to drilling. From his tenor on the campaign trail, this appears to be the centerpiece of his policy. He does have some ideas on encouraging research to get cars made more efficient - including sort of a governmental version of the automotive X Prize. He wants to expand nuclear power and clean coal power, and does lip service to other alternative power sources like solar and wind. He'll propose getting rid of ethanol subsidies and tariffs, presumably opening our ethanol market up to Brazilian products.

Sen. Barack Obama's energy plan involves giving immediate relief from high gas prices by issuing an energy tax credit. It will presumably be paid for by an extra tax on oil companies (the "windfall profits" tax you've heard so much about). He talks about more effective regulation of the oil futures markets. Like McCain, he supports pouring money into alternative energies - unlike McCain, he wants 25% of our energy to come from renewables by 2020 (something of an arbitrary goal, but a goal nonetheless). He also supports research for making better biofuels. He proposes an overhaul of the national energy grid as well, and wants to give grants to people who make their buildings more efficient. Obama also stresses the need to coordinate conservation efforts with other energy-using countries.

Rep. Bob Barr's energy policy essentially boils down to "get the hell out of the way." Barr believes that more subsidies and government programs will distort the market, and wants to do away with all restrictions on exploration. So like McCain, he wants to open up the OCS and ANWR to drilling; like Obama, he wants to end subsidies to oil companies. He wants to do away with ethanol subsidies, and says nothing about renewables.

I'm having issues finding Rep. Cynthia McKinney's energy policy, so I don't know much about it. All I know is that McKinney opposes opening up the OCS (the only candidate to completely oppose doing so) and expansion of nuclear power.

Anyway, here's my take:

I've never seen so much demagoguery over one issue in my short political career. I don't even think terrorism got this treatment in the wake of 9/11. The national panic over $4/gallon gas got the candidates all worked up, and really got the B.S. flowing. There are several things we can do without in all these plans. Obama's "windfall profits" tax is an awful idea, as are continued subsidies for ethanol production. McCain's insistence that OCS drilling will help gas prices is ridiculous. It won't become profitable for oil companies to drill on the closed parts of the OCS unless oil prices continue to rise. Heck, it's not even profitable for oil companies to drill on all the areas that they have already leased. And even if drilling were to start today, it would increase our oil output by 1-2%... in ten years. President Bush and McCain seem to think that there will be some psychological effect on oil prices from a repeal of the OCS ban, but last time I checked, neither supply nor demand were affected by psychology. And biofuels? Right now, production of biofuels in America costs about as much energy as the fuels produce. Encouraging production before research has made them viable is ridiculous, and is part of what's driving the global food crisis to boot.

There are, however, some ideas I like. I can sympathize with Barr's desire to say "to hell with it, let the market decide," and I think the market ought to be the main driving force of an effective energy policy. The market, however, isn't particularly good at conducting research on technologies whose profitability is beyond the horizon, and so we need government money to help out with that. But Barr's suggestion that we do away with subsidies altogether is right on. Obama's talking about the grid, which is good because the grid is decaying rapidly and needs a little refurbishing. Also, he's the only one who seems to think that alternative energy research is important. McCain is talking about nuclear, which is a technology that is cleaner than what we have and ready to deploy now.

All of this, though, is long-term, and unfortunately, the campaigns are leading voters to believe that their policies will send gas back to $2/gallon tomorrow. Nothing will - I doubt gas will ever go below $3/gallon again. The most effective tool anyone can use to lower gas prices is... the calendar. Fall will be here soon, people will be using less energy to cool their houses or travel for summer vacations, and prices will decline. It happens every year, folks. We've driven less this year, and the midsummer recent gas price retreat is probably a result of that.

But the best idea that anyone has come up with for lowering gas prices in the short term? Barack Obama's suggestion that we make sure the tires on our car are inflated. As any bicyclist knows (and as Matt Novak recently discovered), it's easier to move if your tires are inflated. Estimates are that proper inflation saves you 8% at the pump. Assuming that half of us have underinflated tires, that's going to cut gas consumption by 4%, and since gas consumption is roughly half of our oil usage, we'd cut our oil use by around 2% if everyone inflated their tires. For reference, if we developed all the oil in the OCS tomorrow, we'd increase our oil output by about that much.

Naturally, people are making fun of Obama for coming up with a good idea. That is because people are stupid.

An effective energy policy, in my opinion, will involve both controlling demand and increasing supply. There's a lot not to like about Obama's energy policy (the "windfall profits" B.S. and the ethanol subsidies, for example), but at least he's thinking seriously about both sides of the equation. Barr and McCain are only thinking about supply. Credit Obama for bringing up the grid, too - recent regional power failures have pointed out the weaknesses in our grid, and we need to refurbish it yesterday. I like Barr and McCain's dedication to eliminating subsidies, but to me that plus Obama's bad idas aren't enough to overcome Obama's good ideas. McCain second because he's at least throwing out some token funds for alternative energy research. McKinney's in fourth by default - if I keep having trouble finding her policy positions I'll just drop her from consideration.

1. Barack Obama (D)
2. John McCain (R)
3. Bob Barr (L)
4. Cynthia McKinney (G)

So for those of you keeping track at home, we're at:

Obama - 16
McCain - 12
Barr - 8
McKinney - 4

Election 2008: The Series

So I'm starting a new series of posts here where I'll rank the four main Presidential candidates - Obama, McCain, former GA reps Bob Barr (Lib) and Cynthia McKinney (Green) - based on the 10 issues I feel are the most important. The issues will be presented in no particular order, but here's the list in order of importance:

1. Foreign Policy
2. Civil Liberties
3. Terrorism/Security Policy
4. Regulatory Enforcement
5. Subsidies/Government Waste
6. Taxes/Budget
7. Energy Policy
8. Health Care Policy
9. Education Policy
10. Respect for Congress/Judiciary

A few notes: Most of the issues here are self-explanatory. I've split economic issues up into what I think are the most important for a President to tackle - taxes and budget-balancing, and proposing the elimination of useless subsidies and wasteful, ineffective programs. I recognize that the President can't do much to affect the economy, but these issues are important from a fiscal solvency standpoint. Second, many may wonder why I've separated civil liberties from terrorism/security policy. This is because even without issues like warrantless wiretapping, "enemy combatant" policy, and torture, civil liberties is a really freakin' broad category. I'm including things like free speech, legal gay-bashing (see: Marriage Amendment), respect for Constitutional rights from law enforcement, and support for various nanny-state regulations that aren't particularly onerous but are just plain annoying. Third, the main national policy issues people are discussing are fairly low on the list. That's because Congress, not the President, mostly determines policy direction here. The President proposes and approves legislation, but it's still gotta go through the sausage factory.

Finally, you'll notice two issues (#4 and #10) that most people wouldn't include. Both tackle the Constitutional role of the President - to faithfully execute the laws. If a President isn't trying to enforce regulations passed by Congress, he's not doing his job. And if a President is trying to overpower (or just plain ignore) Congress or the judiciary, that's bad too. I'll work judicial nominees into #10 to some extent - if a President wants to weaken the courts by nominating a bunch of defer-to-the-executive types, I'll mention that.

I'll assign points to each candidate based on their ranking on the issue - you get 5-rank points. I'll then multiply by (11-issue ranking) to properly weight each issue. I'll add these up and whoever gets the most points, wins. Not necessarily wins my vote - I'm not sure I could see myself voting for the stridently anti-Semitic McKinney, even if she gets more points than the others - but wins something.

Anyway, enjoy. I'll post the issues in no particular order, whenever I feel like it.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Yay! Free Money!

Lest you think vote-buying is illegal in America, Barack Obama wants to give you $1000 for yours.

OK, OK, it's not directly for "vote-buying," it's for an "energy rebate" or some crap like that. Which means that he's not using his own money to buy your vote, but... yours. Of course, a $1000 cash handout to every taxpayer is going to be a little pricey ($2 billion or so, I think), and will have about as much effect on the economy as that stimulus check you've already spent has - which is to say, none. But hey, if the government's going to waste my money, they might as well waste some of it on me.

Of course, it's not like McCain has any better ideas for fixing energy. Opening up more offshore drilling areas aren't the answer - oil companies aren't drilling in the areas that are already open because oil's not expensive enough to make it profitable. Offshore drilling only makes sense if oil becomes pricier... which sort of defeats the cited purpose of the legislation. And it's not like any candidate who values his/her prospective job will be suggesting we do what should actually be done - conserve frickin' energy. (We saw how well that worked out for Carter when he suggested it.) And our wonderful Senate is stubbornly refusing to extend renewable energy tax credits for, well, God only knows what reason.

In sum, I'm resigning myself to listen to a bunch of people who don't know what they're talking about doing something stupid that will waste my tax money while doing nothing to make energy more affordable and cleaner. Whee.

Dumbest News Article Ever

Is Barack Obama too skinny to be President?

Does Amy Chozick have any real news to cover?