US Economy

Interesting read from BizzyBlog
QUESTION: When is this economy going to some respect?

The economy’s 3.8% third-quarter growth (subject to revision in the coming months) was remarkable, given the storms that occurred during almost the entire final month of the quarter:

Economists had forecast GDP would advance at a 3.6% rate in the July-to-September quarter. The economy has now expanded faster than 3% for 10 straight quarters.

So when was the last time the economy expanded faster than 3% for 10 straight quarters?

It didn’t happen during the 1990s (the longest streak was eight).

It last happened during the 13 quarters from 1Q 1983 through 1Q 1986. Not coincidentally, a president who believed in lowering taxes to stimulate economic growth was in charge the last time it happened.

So despite being at war, despite devastating storms, and despite legislative and regulatory drags on the economy like Sarbanes-Oxley, this has been most consistently growing economy in almost 20 years.

Not only that, the US economy has NEVER had a streak of more than 7 quarters of 3.0% or greater annualized growth at any other time in the 58 years that quarterly GDP statistics have been kept!

HT to Willisms, a great site for figures behind the news.



In today's WSJ Science Journal article by Sharon Begley. Is it all just foolish optimism manifested by rationalization?
Our Brains Strive To See Only the Good, Leading Some to God
October 28, 2005; Page B1

Life is full of surprises, but it's rare to reach for a carafe of wine and find your hand clutching a bottle of milk -- and even rarer, you'd think, to react by deciding the milk was actually what you wanted all along.

Yet something like that happened when scientists in Sweden asked people to choose which of two women's photos they found most attractive. After the subject made his choice, whom we'll call Beth, the experimenter turned the chosen photo face down. Sliding it across the table, he asked the subject the reasons he chose the photo he did. But the experimenter was a sleight-of-hand artist. A copy of the unchosen photo, "Grizelda," was tucked behind Beth's, so what he actually slid was the duplicate of Grizelda, palming Beth.

Few subjects batted an eye. Looking at the unchosen Grizelda, they smoothly explained why they had chosen her ("She was smiling," "she looks hot"), even though they hadn't.

In 1966, Time magazine asked, "Is God Dead?" Even then, the answer was no, and with the rise of religion in the public square, the question now seems ludicrous. In one of those strange-bedfellows things, it is science that is shedding light on why belief in God will never die, at least until humans evolve very different brains, brains that don't (as they did with Beth and Grizelda) interpret unexpected and even unwanted outcomes as being for the best.

"Belief in God," says Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology at Harvard University, "is compelled by the way our brains work."

As shown in the Grizelda-and-Beth study, by scientists at Lund University and published this month in Science, brains have a remarkable talent for reframing suboptimal outcomes to see setbacks in the best possible light. You can see it when high-school seniors decide that colleges that rejected them really weren't much good, come to think of it.

You can see it, too, in experiments where Prof. Gilbert and colleagues told female volunteers they would be working on a task that required them to have a likeable, trustworthy partner. They would get a partner randomly, by blindly choosing one of four folders, each containing a biography of a potential teammate. Unknown to the volunteers, each folder contained the same bio, describing an unlikable, untrustworthy person.

The volunteers were unfazed. Reading the randomly chosen bio, they interpreted even negatives as positives. "She doesn't like people" made them think of her as "exceptionally discerning." And when they read different bios, they concluded their partner was hands-down superior. "Their brains found the most rewarding view of their circumstances," says Prof. Gilbert.

The experimenter then told the volunteer that although she thought she was choosing a folder at random, in fact the experimenter had given her a subliminal message so she would pick the best possible partner. The volunteers later said they believed this lie, agreeing that the subliminal message had led them to the best folder. Having thought themselves into believing they had chosen the best teammate, they needed an explanation for their good fortune and experienced what Prof. Gilbert calls the illusion of external agency.

"People don't know how good they are at finding something desirable in almost any outcome," he says. "So when there is a good outcome, they're surprised, and they conclude that someone else has engineered their fate" -- a lab's subliminal message or, in real life, God.

Religion used to be ascribed to a wish to escape mortality by invoking an afterlife or to feel less alone in the world. Now, some anthropologists and psychologists suspect that religious belief is what Pascal Boyer of Washington University, St. Louis, calls in a 2003 paper "a predictable by-product of ordinary cognitive function."

One of those functions is the ability to imagine what Prof. Boyer calls "nonphysically present agents." We do this all the time when we recall the past or project the future, or imagine "what if" scenarios involving others. It's not a big leap for those same brain mechanisms to imagine spirits and gods as real.

Another God-producing brain quirk is that although many things can be viewed in multiple ways, the mind settles on the most rewarding. Take the Necker cube, the line drawing that shifts orientation as you stare at it. If you reward someone for seeing the cube one way, however, his brain starts seeing it that way only. The cube stops flipping.

There are only two ways to see a Necker cube, but loads of ways to see a hurricane or a recovery from illness. The brain "tends to search for and hold onto the most rewarding view of events, much as it does of objects," Prof. Gilbert writes on the Web site Edge. It is much more rewarding to attribute death to God's will, and to see in disasters hints of the hand of God.

Prof. Gilbert once asked a religious colleague how he felt about helping to discover that people can misattribute the products of their own minds to acts of God. The reply: "I feel fine. God doesn't want us to confuse our miracles with his."


Work in Peace Harriet Miers

Harriet has withdrew her nomination to SCotUS. I am disappointed, not because I am pro-Miers, but because reasonable due process of evaluation was over taken by hysteria. This weakens the executive branch regardless of who is in power.

Bush's statement
Today, I have reluctantly accepted Harriet Miers' decision to withdraw her nomination to the Supreme Court of the United States.

I nominated Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court because of her extraordinary legal experience, her character, and her conservative judicial philosophy. Throughout her career, she has gained the respect and admiration of her fellow attorneys. She has earned a reputation for fairness and total integrity. She has been a leader and a pioneer in the American legal profession. She has worked in important positions in state and local government and in the bar. And for the last five years, she has served with distinction and honor in critical positions in the Executive Branch.

I understand and share her concern, however, about the current state of the Supreme Court confirmation process. It is clear that Senators would not be satisfied until they gained access to internal documents concerning advice provided during her tenure at the White House – disclosures that would undermine a President's ability to receive candid counsel. Harriet Miers' decision demonstrates her deep respect for this essential aspect of the Constitutional separation of powers – and confirms my deep respect and admiration for her.

I am grateful for Harriet Miers' friendship and devotion to our country. And I am honored that she will continue to serve our Nation as White House Counsel.

My responsibility to fill this vacancy remains. I will do so in a timely manner.

Miers' statement
Dear Mr. President:

I write to withdraw as a nominee to serve as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States. I have been greatly honored and humbled by the confidence that you have shown in me, and have appreciated immensely your support and the support of many others. However, I am concerned that the confirmation process presents a burden for the White House and our staff that is not in the best interest of the country.

As you know, members of the Senate have indicted their intention to seek documents about my service in the White House in order to judge whether to support me. I have been informed repeatedly that in lieu of records, I would be expected to testify about my service in the White House to demonstrate my experience and judicial philosophy. While I believe that my lengthy career provides sufficient evidence for consideration of my nomination, I am convinced the efforts to obtain Executive Branch materials and information will continue.

As I stated in my acceptance remarks in the Oval Office, the strength and independence of our three branches of government are critical to the continued success of this great Nation. Repeatedly in the course of the process of confirmation for nominees for other positions, I have steadfastly maintained that the independence of the Executive Branch be preserved and its confidential documents and information not be released to further a confirmation process. I feel compelled to adhere to this position, especially related to my own nomination. Protection of the prerogatives of the Executive Branch and continued pursuit of my confirmation are in tension. I have decided that seeking my confirmation should yield.

I share your commitment to appointing judges with a conservative judicial philosophy, and I look forward to continuing to support your efforts to provide the American people judges who will interpret the law, not make it. I am most grateful for the opportunity to have served your Administration and this country.

Most respectfully,

Harriet Ellan Miers


RIP Rosa Parks

I do have to wonder about the original event, as to whatever happened to the man who had to stand as she sat.


Predictions 2

Well not doing so well. Texas Tech lost big time to Texas yesterday. While i can detail the errors of Tech special teams and penalty ridden play, a lost is a lost. There is also news from the Washington Times that Bush may withdraw Miers' nomination. This would be a huge mistake imo.



1. Harriet Miers will be supreme court justice
2. Tom Delay will be exonerated.
3. Texas Tech ranked #7 in the BCS will beat Texas on the football field on 10/22/2005.


SCotUS Nomination: the bases

Similar to what i previously posted is this analysis from the David Ignatius at the WSJ (Subscription required)
The bickering over the Miers nomination epitomizes the right's refusal to assume the role of a majoritarian governing party. The awkward fact for conservatives is that the American public doesn't agree with them on abortion rights. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll in late August found 54% describing themselves as pro-choice, and only 38% as pro-life, roughly the same percentages as a decade ago.

That's the political reality that Mr. Bush has been trying to finesse with his nominations of John Roberts and Ms. Miers. That's why he said in the 2000 primary campaign that he wouldn't impose any litmus test (when other Republicans were demanding one) and would instead focus on a nominee's character and judicial philosophy. The realist in Mr. Bush understands that he can't easily force a nominee who is openly anti-abortion on a country where a solid majority disagrees.

Mr. Bush has been successful when he has connected with the American center. Political scientist Gary C. Jacobson notes that after Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Bush "enjoyed the longest stretch of approval ratings above 60% of any president in 40 years." In that post-9/11 period, when Mr. Bush was fulfilling his campaign promise to be "a uniter, not a divider," his approval rating among Democrats soared to an astounding 81%.

Mr. Bush and the Republicans had a chance after 2004 to become the country's natural governing party. They controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. The Democrats were in utter disarray, leaderless and idea-less. When Mr. Bush took the podium in January to deliver his soaring second inaugural address, the future seemed to belong to the Republicans.

Mr. Bush squandered this opportunity by falling into the trap that has snared the modern GOP -- of playing to the base rather than to the nation. The Republicans behave as if the country agrees with them on issues, when that demonstrably isn't so. The country doesn't agree about Social Security, doesn't agree about the ethical issues that were dramatized by the torment of Terri Schiavo, doesn't agree about abortion. Yet in a spirit of blind partisanship, House Speaker Dennis Hastert could announce last year that bills would reach the floor only if "the majority of the majority" supported them. That notion of governing from the hard right was a recipe for failure.

What you sense now, as conservative and moderate Republicans alike take potshots at their president, is that the GOP is entering the post-Bush era. A war of succession has begun, cloaked in a war of principles. The cruelest aspect of Mr. Bush's predicament is that the conservatives are treating him with the same disdain they showed his father. What a denouement to the West Wing Oedipal drama: A son who did everything he could to avoid his father's humiliation by the conservative wing of the party is now under attack by the right himself.

Principles are a fine thing, but a narrow, partisan definition of principle has led the Republicans to a dead end. Their inability to transcend their base and speak to the country as a whole is now painfully obvious. Like the Democrats in their years of decline, they are screaming at each other -- not realizing how far they have drifted from the mid-channel markers that have always led to open waters and defined success in American politics.

However, i disagree that the moderate republicans are taking potshots. Most of the uproar, if not all, have come from the conservatives.


SCotUS Nominations

The difference between 2000 and 2004 election are the "911 republicans" who gave Bush a majority in 2004. 911 republicans care about waging and winning the global war against islamofascism. They are made up of moderate republicans, true liberals (who believe in freedom and democracy for all), and similarly minded independents. True conservatives probably don't care all that much for the war and would as soon see the US isolationist. Most conservatives tolerated it as a necessity, and because it was the right thing to do. But it is not a core tennet of the conservative agenda. Many conservatives have even come out against the war.

When it comes to social issues, the conservatives really want someone who will pass their litmus test for SCotUS (like overturning Roe vs. Wade). Sure they talk about not legislating from the bench, but this is as long as it serves the conservative agenda. I do believe the conservatives are generally less ideologically blinded than their mirrors on the left, but not by much.

Naturally conservatives, being the core supporters of Bush, feel betrayed with the Miers nomination. But it was the 911 republicans that won the 2004 election for Bush. It was the moderates that came out for fighting against islamofascist in the name of security that put him over the top. It will be tacking too far right that will lose seats for the Republicans in the next elections. Thus Bush went for vanilla conservative with Roberts, and stealth moderate-conservative with Miers, to appease the right without alienating the middle. And chances are, he also realize he will likely nominate a 3rd candidate for SCotUS before the end of his tenure. With sufficient republican gains in congress to avoid a filibuster, he will then nominate a "true" conservative. He will no longer worry about the nest election. By the 2008 election, a new face will arrive to recruit votes from the moderate base for the republicans. The SCotUS will be a done deal by then and unlikely to be an election issue.

By being too vocal against Miers the conservatives will likely fracture the Republican electoral base and the democrats will be emboldened. If the Republicans lose seats in congress in 2006 they will be even weaker to manage the threat of filibuster. That will cost them the 3rd nomination. Even worse if the next president is a democrat, who will then likely nominate at least one to SCotUS. Politics is a game of tactics. You have to look 2 moves ahead to win.

A related article at Opinion Journal


Media Mole Hill

Interesting that whatever the media first report, most seems to be inaccurate the further you delve into it. The latest was the "racist" comment by "Bill Bennett." Thus this should come as no surprise.
For those who missed the first round of stories, Bennett took a call from a listener who suggested that Social Security might not be in financial difficulty were it not for the millions of abortions that have occurred in recent decades (because, presumably, more young people would be paying into the trust fund). Bennett responded that arguing for or against abortion based on such consequentialist considerations was dangerous because it "cuts both [ways]": "If you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose -- you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down. So these far-out, these far-reaching, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky."

Let us walk, slowly and carefully, through this minefield and see what it shows.

FIRST, IT SHOWS how superficial American political discourse has become -- in several different ways. Bennett was trying to demonstrate to the caller, albeit clumsily, the error of judging the morality of a practice based on the results of the practice.

The caller suggested abortion was bad because it led to bad consequences (i.e., inadequate contributions to the Social Security trust fund). Bennett provided a counter-example: lower crime. If we say abortion is bad because it reduces Social Security contributions, then should we say it is good if it reduces crime? Bennett was attempting to show that arguing backward from consequences can lead to "impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible" positions. The utilitarian calculus of consequentialist ethics involves no regard for important but not easily quantifiable values, such as individual rights and the inherent dignity of every human being.

Stupidly, Bennett clouded the debate by bringing race into the conversation. But because he did bring race into the discussion, a couple of other points bear noting.

The first is a simple mathematical fact: African-Americans commit more crimes, per capita, than whites (though not more crimes in the aggregate). The principal victims of African-American criminals are also African-American. In Richmond in 2002, for instance, 63 of the city's 84 homicide victims were black males. That year a black male in Richmond between 18 and 34 had a higher chance of dying by violence than an African-American serviceman fighting in Iraq; statistically, he was more than twice as likely to die by violence here than in the war zone. This went unremarked by Bennett's critics. But failing to face up to the facts does no good to anyone, least of all to the young men who confront such depressingly awful odds.

HERE IS another point: African-Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, but they have 32 percent of the abortions. More than 12 million black children have been aborted since the 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade. Of the roughly 1 million abortions that will occur this year, about a third will end the life of a black baby.

If i was into conspiracy theories, i would suggest this last was the foreseen, if not the intended, consequence.


Historical Revision at the UN

From today's Opinion Journal an interesting tibit brought to you by Claudia Rosett, our favorite observer of the UN.
This year, amid the U.N. festivities over its own 60th birthday and high-minded aims, the General Assembly was even busier than usual. So the U.N. folded Taiwan's request for equitable representation in with a new request sent over by Mr. Hsia, for the U.N. to uphold its own charter by actively promoting peace in the Taiwan Strait--which is lined on the communist side with missiles targeted on Taiwan. Red China, backed by Pakistan, opposed both items. Gambia and Chad argued for Taiwan. The U.N. allotted 24 minutes for the entire debate, and then briskly dismissed it as not worth including in the official agenda of the General Assembly.

Borrowing a page from George Orwell, the U.N. also celebrated its anniversary with a poster in the lobby of its famous but decrepit headquarters, on which it advertised a display of "Original Signatories of the U.N. charter." Except they weren't. The original signatory for China of the U.N. charter was the Republic of China. In the 2005 U.N. version, the signatory listed was "China, People's Republic of." Informed of this Turtle Bay twisting of history, Mr. Hsia wrote to U.N. Undersecretary-General Shashi Tharoor, noting, "It is hard to imagine how the U.N., perhaps the world's most important international organization and one which is widely counted on to preserve the truth, could allow itself to blatantly deviate from history and misinform the world about something so fundamental to its history."

The U.N. did not write back, says Mr. Hsia, nor did the U.N. correct the mistake. Instead, in the finest tradition of Orwell's memory hole--the poster simply vanished.


Big Government vs Big Brother

In the aftermath of the twin hurricanes and the need for federal spending for reconstruction, two primary issues have arisen. Firstly is the appropriate use of reconstruction funds. There is absolutely no question that the corrupt local governments partially to blame for the disaster in New Orleans, and any other corrupt politicians are kept away from access to reconstruction, at least without tight oversight and review.
The second issue is what should be the role of the federal government. Within this discussion are two aspects of the same dilemma. The two aspects are the size of the government's response and the intrusiveness of the government's response; this is the fundamental question. Is there a difference between big government (size of government) and intrusive government (big brother)? Certainly. A big government if often time necessary to maintain for the national defense, maintain uniform standards across the states, and provide the social safety net in times of peace and time of crisis, as well as protect the framework of law as guaranteed by the constitution. To do this oftentimes necessitates a large budget. This does not mean the federal government should be fiscally irresponsible. Does having a large budget means control of the purse translate to control of action? No. For example, congress is responsible for the budget but congress hardly qualifies as an intrusive big brother.
Big brother is a government ever present daily awareness of what you can do and what you cannot do. The key is the intrusive nature in everyday life.
I think it is inevitable that Government gets big, and this is OK. What is unacceptable is for Government to become intrusive and burdensome to its citizenry, i.e. become big brother.

Politic Test

So based on the test, I am categorized as:
55% Socially Moderate
55% Economically Moderate
This places me as a Democrat and Blue.
Ha Ha Ha.