Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cash for Clunkers

NYTimes posts the final numbers on that clunker of a government giveaway. This was supposed to be a corrupt, inefficient give-away to the corrupt, inefficient American car makers, right? Well, Washington can't even do pork very well. The program successfully took American clunkers off the road and replaced them with Asian-brand sedans.
Top 10 New Vehicles Purchased

1. Toyota Corolla
2. Honda Civic
3. Toyota Camry
4. Ford Focus
5. Hyundai Elantra
6. Nissan Versa
7. Toyota Prius
8. Honda Accord
9. Honda Fit
10. Ford Escape FWD

Top 10 Trade-in Vehicles

1. Ford Explorer 4WD
2. Ford F150 Pickup 2WD
3. Jeep Grand Cherokee 4WD
4. Ford Explorer 2WD
5. Dodge Caravan/Grand Caravan 2WD
6. Jeep Cherokee 4WD
7. Chevrolet Blazer 4WD
8. Chevrolet C1500 Pickup 2WD
9. Ford F150 Pickup 4WD
10. Ford Windstar FWD Van
The government, of course, is labeling this clunker "wildly successful". Just like the British victory at Bunker Hill, I guess, or the victories of Pyrrhus over the Roman Republic.


Mary Jo Kopechne was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, the only child of insurance salesman Joseph Kopechne and his wife, Gwen. The family moved to New Jersey when she was an infant. She attended parochial schools growing up.

After graduating with a degree in business administration from Caldwell College for Women in New Jersey in 1962, Kopechne moved to Montgomery, Alabama, to teach for a year at the Mission of St. Jude as part of the Civil Rights Movement. In 1963, she moved to Washington, D.C., to work as secretary to Florida Senator George Smathers. Kopechne joined New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy's secretarial staff, following his election in 1964. There she worked as a secretary to the senator's speechwriters and as a legal secretary to one of his legal advisers. Kopechne was a loyal and tireless worker for Robert Kennedy, in March 1967 having stayed up all night at his Hickory Hill home to type a major speech against the Vietnam War as the senator and his aides such as Ted Sorenson made last-minute changes to it.

During the 1968 U.S. presidential election, she helped with the wording of Robert Kennedy's March 1968 speech announcing his candidacy. During his campaign, she worked as one of the "Boiler Room Girls", an affectionate name given to six young women who worked from a central, windowless location in Kennedy's Washington campaign headquarters. They were vital in tracking and compiling data and intelligence on how Democratic delegates from various states were intending to vote; Kopechne's responsibilities included Pennsylvania. Kopechne and the other staffers were politically savvy; they talked daily with field managers and also served as conduits for policy statements being distributed to strategically-located newspapers.

Kopechne was devastated by the June 1968 assassination of Robert Kennedy and could not return to work on Capitol Hill. However, as her father later said, "Politics was her life," and in December 1968 she used her expertise to gain a job with Matt Reese Associates, a Washington, D.C., firm that helped establish campaign headquarters and field offices for politicians and was one of the first political consulting firms. She was on her way to a successful professional career.

She lived in the Georgetown neighborhood with three other women. She was a devout Roman Catholic with a demure, serious personality, rarely drank much, and had no reputation for extramarital activities with men.

On July 18, 1969, Kopechne attended a party on Chappaquiddick Island, off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, held in honor of the Boiler Room Girls. It was the fourth such reunion of the Robert Kennedy campaign workers.

Kopechne left the party at 11:15 p.m. with Robert's brother Ted Kennedy, after he — according to his own account — offered to drive her to catch the last ferry back to Edgartown, where she was staying. Kennedy stated he made a wrong turn on the way and came upon a narrow, unlit bridge without guardrails. Kennedy drove the 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont 88 off the bridge and it overturned in the water. Kennedy extricated himself from the submerged car but Kopechne died.

'Borrowed' from Wikipedia

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Fairy Tale Nazi

NYTimes film review has a fascinating look at the surprising star of Quentin Tarantino's latest bloodbath.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Stimulus: Making the Recession Longer

The news this week that France and Germany grew at a 1% rate in the second quarter - ending the recession there - was surprising to many, but not so much to Global Review. After all, France and Germany did the least of all the major countries to "stimulate" their economies, despite heavy pressure from U.S. policymakers to drink the Kool Aid and join the stimulation orgy. James Taranto sets it up perfectly, with former economist and Nobel prizewinner Paul Krugman as the fall guy:
* "There's a problem: conservative politicians, clinging to an out-of-date ideology--and, perhaps, betting (wrongly) that their constituents are relatively well positioned to ride out the storm--are standing in the way of action. No, I'm not talking about Bob Corker, the Senator from Nissan--I mean Tennessee--and his fellow Republicans. . . . I am, instead, talking about Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and her economic officials, who have become the biggest obstacles to a much-needed European rescue plan."-- Paul Krugman, New York Times, Dec. 15, 2008

* "Why is Europe falling short? Poor leadership is part of the story. European banking officials, who completely missed the depth of the crisis, still seem weirdly complacent. And to hear anything in America comparable to the know-nothing diatribes of Germany's finance minister you have to listen to, well, Republicans."--Krugman, New York Times, March 16, 2009

* "The European economy bounced back with unexpected strength in the second quarter, buoying hopes that a worldwide recession was drawing to a close. The sharp improvement from the first quarter underscored just how far Europe and indeed the global economy had come since a harrowing free fall in late 2008. Underlying the strong reading were solid performances in France and Germany, each of whose economies grew slightly in the second quarter, according to government data released Thursday."--news story, New York Times, Aug. 14, 2009
Japan, which did have a large stimulus package, grew very slightly in the second quarter, so the correlation isn't perfect. But it's certainly inconsistent with the facts to claim - as Krugman, Obama, and Christina Romer do - that government stimulii shorten recessions.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Progress on Two Fronts

Who wrote this?
Imagine an annual economic growth rate of 7%, declining unemployment, a thriving tourism industry, and a 24% hike in the average daily wage. Where...? The West Bank.

The West Bank's economic improvements contrast with the lack of diplomatic progress on the creation of a Palestinian state. Negotiators focus on the "top down" issues, grappling with legal and territorial problems. But the West Bank's population is building sovereignty from the bottom-up, forging the law-enforcement, civil, and financial institutions that form the underpinnings of any modern polity.
Emphasis added, but what kind of anti-Israeli peacenik would speak so glowingly of West Bank 'sovereignty'?
Mr. Oren is Israel's ambassador to the United States.
Oh. Huh. So not only is responsible Fatah leadership in the West Bank leading to swift economic growth, but Israeli leadership can see a peace with honor in a self-governing, sovereign West Bank.

Now if only Israeli leadership would respond as they have promised to Palestinian good faith and stop expanding the settlements!

Real Health Care Reform

Economist John Cochrane (whom I tried to invite for a prestigious lecture at my school) weighs in on the health care reform debate:
Health care and insurance are service-oriented, retail businesses. There is only one way to reduce costs in such a business: intense competition for every customer. The idea that the federal government can reduce costs by negotiating harder or telling businesses what to do is a triumph of hope over centuries of experience.
He identifies the "pre-existing condition" catch-22 as the biggest failure in the lousy current system, and proposes a fix:
A truly effective insurance policy would combine coverage for this year's expenses with the right to buy insurance in the future at a set price. Today, employer-based group coverage provides the former but, crucially, not the latter. A "guaranteed renewable" individual insurance contract is the simplest way to deliver both. Once you sign up, you can keep insurance for life, and your premiums do not rise if you get sicker... And insurers are getting more creative. UnitedHealth now lets you buy the right to future insurance—insurance against developing a pre-existing condition.
But what about the big, evil corporations?
How do we know insurers will honor such contracts? What about the stories of insurers who drop customers when they get sick? A competitive market is the best consumer protection. A car insurer that doesn't pay claims quickly loses customers and goes out of business. And courts do still enforce contracts.
What the anti-Obamacare movement needs is a clear, well-stated alternative. House Republicans should use the break to distill ideas like Cochrane's into a digestible proposal that makes a serious effort to reform the system. In a time when voters need to see their alternatives clearly, a clear alternative has yet to arrive in Washington. The time for that would be now.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tito's story

The Herald recalls Terry Francona's greatest moment as a ballplayer: getting ejected during an intentional walk. Therein lies a tale...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Deficit

The projected deficit for the 2009 fiscal year (which began October 1, 2008) is $1,841,000,000,000. That's more than the seven unacceptably large deficits of the first seven years of the Bush presidency combined.

Will any politician ever have the courage to stop stealing from his children?

Town Halls

Three cheers for the fracas ongoing in the "town hall" meetings across America. Instead of being dominated by narrow, local interests as usual, the August recess is gripped by voters who are concerned about national issues: health care reform and government debt. It's good to see congressmen grapple with voters. The "you work for us" slogan has to be particularly stinging, because congressmen know it ought to be true.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Unemployment Falls! Wow!

So the media, desperate to portray Obama in a positive light, is falling over itself to declare the recession over because unemployment fell this month for the first time in over a year. So it's true, the stimulus must be working. How else could unemployment possibly fall?

But wait, the reports also note that 247,000 jobs were lost in July. So how did unemployment drop? Well, a lot of people must have given up looking for work. According to the BLS release, a net 422,000 people left the labor force, including 267,000 net from unemployment.

So the conclusion is: 247,000 jobs disappeared, and 267,000 people who were actively looking for work decided to give up. That doesn't sound like a recovery to me. To its credit, the Obama Administration is not believing its own hype: they still predict 10% unemployment sometime this year. On the other hand, they continue to push discredited Keynesian policies despite their obvious failure to make a dent in the recession.

The same media who were skewing data trying to declare a recession last year are now skewing data trying to declare a recovery. What changed? Only the man in the White House.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Students versus Teachers

In yet another two examples, teachers' unions are doing their best to crack down on innovation and efficiency. They have no problem with New York or Baltimore's many, many failing schools - only with the cities' few successful ones.

Is there still any doubt that school freedom - chartering, vouchers, school choice - is the best route to improving education among the poor? And if "education is the civil rights issue of the twenty-first century", doesn't that make the United Federation of Teachers the new Jim Crow?