Saturday, March 26, 2011

Geraldine Ferraro: Upon her death I ask, was she the least qualified VP nominee?

Reuters and all other news services are reporting the death, today, of former Democratic vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro.

Geraldine Ferraro, the Democratic congresswoman who became the first woman on a major party presidential ticket as Walter Mondale's running mate in 1984, died on Saturday at the age of 75, her family said.

Ferraro died at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston of a blood cancer after a 12-year illness, according to a statement from her family.

Her passing reminds me that Ferraro was a nobody when Mondale chose her to be his running mate. She was a back-bencher in the House who no one had ever heard of. Her sole qualification seemed to be her gender. She was not especially bright. She was not especially accomplished. She was not a leader of a faction of her party. She was not an expert on any important topics facing the nation in 1984. She was not worthy of being one-heartbeat away from the presidency.

Walter Mondale chose Ferraro because he was desperate. He was getting wiped out in the polls to President Reagan and hoped that his choice of Ferraro would inspire independent women and moderate-Republican women to vote for him. It was a bad play and it failed. Mondale lost every single state but Minnesota in the electoral college. (He also snagged D.C.)

To know if Ferraro was the worst choice as a VP nominee since I have been following politics, I will apply four equally weighted criteria to all the nominees, judging them at the point they were selected. I will exclude all sitting vice presidents from consideration. The categories of judgment are:

1. Experience in high office;
2. Leadership of a party faction or regional leader;
3. Expertise in an important policy area;
4. Intelligence/articulateness.

Each criterion is worth up to 100 points. Going back to 1972, here are all of the Democratic and Republican vice presidential nominees with their scores:

1972 (D) Sargent Shriver 65 + 15 + 60 + 85 = 225
1976 (D) Walter Mondale 90 + 90 + 62 + 70 = 317
1976 (R) Bob Dole 60 + 70 + 50 + 60 = 240
1980 (R) George HW Bush 95 + 80 + 95 + 50 = 320
1984 (D) Geraldine Ferraro 10 + 5 + 20 + 50 = 85
1988 (D) Lloyd Bentsen 80 + 75 + 90 + 65 = 310
1988 (R) Dan Quayle 20 + 5 + 5 + 10 = 40
1992 (D) Al Gore 80 + 75 + 90 + 80 = 325
1996 (R) Jack Kemp 90 + 75 + 85 + 65 = 315
2000 (D) Joe Lieberman 80 + 65 + 85 + 83 = 313
2000 (R) Dick Cheney 95 + 70 + 85 + 78 = 328
2004 (D) John Edwards 20 + 40 + 20 + 90 = 170
2008 (D) Joe Biden 90 + 65 + 75 + 50 = 280
2008 (R) Sarah Palin 5 + 5 + 0 + 10 = 20

Of the 14 nominees, there are four categories: the highly qualified; the qualified; the unworthy; and the unqualified.

The good news is that 7 of the 14 rank as highly qualified. In order they are: Dick Cheney (328); Al Gore (325); George HW Bush (320); Walter Mondale (317); Jack Kemp (315); Joe Lieberman (313); and Lloyd Bentsen (310).

These three were qualified, but not necessarily the best picks: Joe Biden (280); Bob Dole (240); and Sargent Shriver (225).

With just his one 6-year stint in the US Senate and nothing else John Edwards (170) fits the unworthy category.

Finally, three nominees were clearly unqualified: Geraldine Ferraro (80); Dan Quayle (40); and Sarah Palin (20).

Thanks to Quayle and Palin, Ferraro no longer goes down as the worst VP nominee. R.I.P.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The day innocents won't be killed by maniacs in high speed police pursuits is not far off ...

The answer was not Toyota's electronics systems.

The mystery that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration was investigating was "unintended acceleration" in the Toyota Prius and some other Toyota models. The NHTSA's conclusion is that the problem was "improperly installed floor mats, sticky pedals, and driver error."

Yet the unintended consequence of this inquiry will be the solution to a serious danger in all urban areas: high speed police chases.

I'll get to that in a moment. Here is what Discover magazine reports about a finding of the NHTSA:

It wasn’t too surprising when scientists first hacked into a car using its own onboard diagnostic port—sure, it’s easy to get into a car’s electronic brain if you’re already inside the car. Now the science of car-hacking has received a digital upgrade: Researchers have have gained access to modern, electronics-riddled cars from the outside. And in so doing, they’ve managed to take control of a car’s door locks, dashboard displays, and even its brakes.

Imagine for a moment the California Highway Patrol is chasing a car driven by a murder suspect. Instead of racing at over 100 miles per hour through heavy traffic, the CHP can simply take control of the suspect's car and shut down its electronics, stopping the car and locking the driver inside.

The oddest part of these findings, which were presented this week to the National Academy of Science’s Committee on Electronic Vehicle Controls and Unintended Acceleration, is that they weren’t entirely intentional: It was all part of an investigation prompted by the Toyota acceleration problems, and was meant to probe the safety of electronic automotive systems. But testing those system’s safety also uncovered some flaws.

Insofar as this gives police agencies the power to stop a vehicle without a high speed chase, I don't see this as being a flaw at all. It should be designed into every car.

Here is how they did it:

The researchers took a 2009 sedan (they declined to identify the make and embarrass the manufacturer) and methodically tried to hack into it using every trick they could think of. They discovered a couple good ones.

PC World reported this trick:

By adding extra code to a digital music file, they were able to turn a song burned to CD into a Trojan horse. When played on the car’s stereo, this song could alter the firmware of the car’s stereo system, giving attackers an entry point to change other components on the car. This type of attack could be spread on file-sharing networks without arousing suspicion, they believe. “It’s hard to think of something more innocuous than a song,” said Stefan Savage, a professor at the University of California.

Discover notes that "built-in cellular services that provide safety and navigational assistance, like GM’s OnStar, can also be used to upload malicious code."

Technology review reports:

The researchers found that they could take control of this system by breaking through its authentication system. First, they made about 130 calls to the car to gain access, and then they uploaded code using 14 seconds of audio.

The obvious fear is that some malicious outsiders could get ahold of this sort of remote control and mess with an innocent person's vehicle. However, Discover notes that is not likely:

In the wrong hands, the technology could certainly be harmful; once a hacker gains access, they can do anything from sabotage brakes to monitor car movements (by forcing the car to send GPS signals). But the engineers say the “wrong” hands wouldn’t have the know-how to undertake these complicated procedures—at least for now. As Stefan Savage, a computer scientist at the University of California, San Diego, told Technology Review: “This took 10 researchers two years to accomplish,” Savage adds. “It’s not something that one guy is going to do in his garage.”

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What should we do with a perjurer whose recantation frees an innocent man?

From the L.A. Times, a story about bad evidence leading to a conviction:

A man who has spent 20 years behind bars for a murder he insists he did not commit is expected to be released from Los Angeles County Jail on Tuesday after several witnesses recanted their identification of him as the killer in a drive-by shooting.

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge overturned the conviction of Francisco “Franky” Carrillo, 37, on Monday afternoon, finding that the recantations and other evidence undermined his conviction for the 1991 killing.

Judge Paul A. Bacigalupo made the decision after listening to more than a week of testimony from the witnesses and watching a dramatic reconstruction of the crime scene that raised questions about what the witnesses could have seen on the evening of the shooting.

My question in this case is whether the witnesses should be prosecuted for perjury. It seems like they belong in prison, and that they owe civil damages to Franky Carrillo.

The only reason I can think of for not prosecuting those witnesses at this point is that doing so would discourage witnesses who perjured themselves in the past from coming forward and admitting they were liars.

The case underscores what legal experts say is the danger of relying heavily on eyewitness testimony. Studies have shown that faulty identifications are the biggest factor in wrongful convictions and that witnesses are particularly unreliable when identifying someone of a different race. The witnesses who identified Carrillo are black, while he is Latino.

This is really beside the point. The problem in this case was not mostly that the prosecutors relied on eyewitnesses or that the witnesses were the wrong color. The problem was that these eyewitnesses were liars.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Things are looking worse every day in Japan

On a Fox News show this evening, I heard a supposed nuclear energy expert, Jay Lehr*, pronounce with conviction that there would be no health consequences in Japan from the meltdowns taking place at various reactors in that country.

Then, at the next commercial break, I turned to CNN where the scroll at the bottom of its screen read: "Japanese government expects serious health consequences from nuclear meltdowns."

I wanted to believe the guy on Fox. But it struck me that the Japanese government would not say there will be health consequences to its people if there was even a small chance the guy on Fox was correct.

Here is the latest report from the Washington Post:

Japan’s nuclear emergency turned more dire on Tuesday after the third explosion in four days rocked the seaside Fukushima Daiichi complex and fire briefly raged in a storage facility for spent fuel rods at a fourth, previously unaffected reactor.

Officials from Tokyo Electric Power Co., owner of the nuclear complex, said radioactive substances were emitted after a 6:14 a.m. explosion, which took place in the unit 2 reactor. The blast took place near or in the suppression pool, which traps and cools radioactive elements from the containment vessel, officials said. The explosion appeared to have damaged valves and pipes, possibly creating a path for radioactive materials to escape.

That sounds bad.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan told the nation Tuesday morning that radiation had already spread from the reactors and there was “still a very high risk of further radioactive material escaping.” He advised people within 19 miles of the plant to remain indoors. He urged calm.

If there were no health risks, I don't think the prime minister of Japan would be urging people who live 19 miles away to remain indoors.

Tokyo Electric, which over the weekend said it had 1,400 people working at the complex, said it was evacuating all but 50 workers. Kan hailed those workers, who he said “are putting themselves in a very dangerous situation.”

Tokyo Electric would not say this was a very dangerous situation if it were as safe as Fox News's Jay Lehr thinks it is.

Tuesday began with a fire that broke out in a pool storing spent fuel rods at the base of unit 4, which had been shut down for inspection before last Friday’s earthquake. Radioactive substances might have spewed outside from the fire, officials said, because the structure housing the pool was damaged by Monday’s explosion at unit 3.

Half an hour later, the explosion at unit 2 took place. Experts said that, unlike the two previous explosions that destroyed outer buildings, this explosion might have damaged portions of the containment vessel designed to bottle up radioactive materials in the event of an emergency.

I claim no expertise, but that sounds very bad.

The explosion — more serious than the earlier ones — was followed by a brief drop in pressure in the vessel and a spike in radioactivity outside the reactor to levels more than eight times what people ordinarily receive in a year, the company said.

I can't spend an hour in the sun without getting too much solar radiation. I cannot imagine how bad it is to get 8 years of radiation in one day.

The new setbacks came on the heels of a difficult Monday at Fukushima Daiichi unit 2, one of six reactors at the site. Utility officials there reported that four out of five water pumps being used to flood the reactor had failed and that the other pump had briefly stopped working. As a result, the company said, the fuel rods, normally covered by water, were completely exposed for 140 minutes.

Given that the Japanese are about the most competent people on earth and they cannot handle this, I wonder how much worse this disaster would be in another, less advanced country.

The string of earthquake- and tsunami-triggered troubles at the Fukushima Daiichi plant began Friday, when a loss of grid power (caused by the earthquake) followed by a loss of backup diesel generators (caused by the tsunami) led to the failure of cooling systems needed to keep reactor cores from overheating.

In hindsight, it seems like it was a terrible idea to put nuclear power plants in a zone with both earthquake and tsunami risks. In California, we have two nuclear power stations, San Onofre in north San Diego County and Diablo Canyon, near San Luis Obispo, on the coast.

I don't think either one is at risk of being flooded by a tsunami, though there is a serious earthquake risk at Diablo Canyon. When I was in college, I protested PG&E building a nuclear generating station right on an earthquake fault. It still seems like a bad idea to me, though it has operated safely for more than 20 years.

The U.S. 7th Fleet said Monday that some of its personnel, who are stationed 100 miles offshore from the Fukushima Daiichi plant, had come into contact with radioactive contamination. The airborne radioactivity prompted the fleet to reposition its ships and aircraft.

Using sensitive instruments, precautionary measurements were conducted on three helicopter aircrews returning to the USS Ronald Reagan after conducting disaster relief missions near Sendai. Those measurements identified low levels of radioactivity on 17 crew members.

What is so sad about this heightened radiation leaking into the air is that the victims of the tsunami and earthquake need hordes of relief workers to come in and help them with food, water, shelter and medical care, but it is now dangerous for anyone to expose themselves anywhere near the nuclear plants.

“Let’s hope they can get these reactors under control,” said Richard Lester, head of the department of nuclear science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “They’re not there yet.”

My hope is that in the next decade we build dozens of new nuclear power plants in the United States. But we should try to learn every lesson possible from what has gone wrong in Japan, so that we don't have any such meltdowns and are as prepared as necessary for them to survive natural disasters.


*I just looked up some facts on Jay Lehr. He is not a scientist of any sort. He has a PhD in economics. He works for a conservative think tank called The Heartland Institute. He makes his living as a motivational speaker. I discovered, among other things, he is a global warming skeptic (though, of course, he has never studied climate science or any hard science). Yet he goes around preaching some crazy theory that carbon dioxide plays no role in global warming.

Mr. Lehr rejects the global consensus of the IPCC scientists which say this about carbon dioxide's role in warming our planet:

The reason the Earth’s surface is this warm is the presence of greenhouse gases, which act as a partial blanket for the longwave radiation coming from the surface. This blanketing is known as the natural greenhouse effect. The most important greenhouse gases are water vapour and carbon dioxide. The two most abundant constituents of the atmosphere – nitrogen and oxygen – have no such effect. Clouds, on the other hand, do exert a blanketing effect similar to that of the greenhouse gases; however, this effect is offset by their reflectivity, such that on average, clouds tend to have a cooling effect on climate (although locally one can feel the warming effect: cloudy nights tend to remain warmer than clear nights because the clouds radiate longwave energy back down to the surface). Human activities intensify the blanketing effect through the release of greenhouse gases. For instance, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by about 35% in the industrial era, and this increase is known to be due to human activities, primarily the combustion of fossil fuels and removal of forests. Thus, humankind has dramatically altered the chemical composition of the global atmosphere with substantial implications for climate.

Unfortunately, there is no reason to take Mr. Lehr seriously, even if he calls himself an expert on nuclear energy. The government of Japan knows much more about what is happening with its reactors than this Fox News ideologue, Jay Lehr.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Pictures from Japan

There are a great number of photographs on news websites of the devastation in Japan from the tsunami and the earthquake. Here are five images I thought were especially impressive:

This could be Japan's version of the China Syndrome

After I published a short blog entry yesterday regarding the troubles with 5 of Japan's nuclear power plants and Hillary Clinton's very bizarre account of the USAF delivery mystery coolant to one of them, a much scarier event took place--there was a massive hydrogen explosion (see photo above) outside of one of the damaged reactors.

Here is the L.A. Times account:

A day after responding to one of the worst earthquakes on record and a massive tsunami, the Japanese government sought to allay fears of a radioactive disaster at a nuclear power plant on the country's battered northeastern coast.

The outer walls of the Fukushima power plant's No. 1 reactor were blown off by a hydrogen explosion Saturday, leaving only a skeletal frame. Officials said four workers at the site received non-life-threatening injuries.

The inner container holding the reactor's fuel rods is not believed to be damaged, said Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, and workers were cooling the facilities with seawater.

If this kind of explosion happened in most countries other than Japan, I would be highly skeptical that such a blast would not pose a great threat to public safety. However, I have faith in the Japanese. I hope what they are now saying is true. If any country could design their facilities to weather such a horrific natural disaster, it would be the highly competent Japanese.

In a press conference shortly after the explosion, which left the facility shrouded in plumes of gray smoke, Edano explained that the reactor is contained within a steel chamber, which in turn is surrounded by a concrete and steel building. Although the explosion destroyed the building, it did not occur in the chamber.

"The escape of hydrogen mixed with the air between the chamber and the concrete-and-steel building and led to the explosion," Edano said.

Hydrogen explosions tend to be awesome. Their ferocity makes me wonder if we really want to move from gasoline powered cars to hydrogen fuel cells.

"Tokyo Electric Power Co. has confirmed that the inner reactor is undamaged," he added. "There was no massive release of radiation."

Still, the reactor was already showing signs of a partial meltdown after Friday's magnitude 8.9 earthquake had prevented the plant 150 miles north of Tokyo from fully powering its water cooling system. Without it, the facility could overheat and explode, spewing radiation into the air.

If that reactor explodes, I would guess that will set back the expansion of new nuclear power plants in the United States by at least 20 years. That would be a shame, given that nuclear power is one of the only technologies which can produce electricity at a reasonable price and emits no carbon dioxide. Given the realities of global warming, we must start producing more of our power from clean sources of energy, and nuclear power should be in that mix.

People were reportedly fleeing the surrounding area and Japanese television was urging people to cover their faces with wet towels and not to expose any skin to the potentially contaminated air. An evacuation zone was doubled to a 12-mile radius around the plant by Saturday evening.

It seems like I have seen this movie before: Japanese people wearing face masks running away (from Godzilla) in a mass panic.

Japan relies on nuclear power for a third of its electricity and is said to require exacting safety standards for its plants.

I don't think Japan has ever had a better choice than nuclear power for its electricity production. The problem, though, is when you get a crisis like this and 11 power plants are shut down, you are in a serious bind. You cannot produce enough electricity to provide power for your people and industry.

That said, there are many other countries, mostly in Europe, which are even more reliant on nuclear power than Japan is.

Here are the top 10 most reliant on nuclear energy:

Lithuania 78%
France 77%
Belgium 58%
Slovakia 53%
Ukraine 46%
Sweden 44%
Bulgaria 42%
Hungary 39%
Slovenia 39%
South Korea 39%

It turns out ... I am famous ... and a winner!

Because of some family business I was attending to yesterday, I didn't get around to looking at the Friday Davis Enterprise until this morning. After reading a handful of stories in the A-section, I turned to page B-3, where the opinion Forum was published.

I scanned a guest column, which discussed the notion of government subsidies for local news reporting; the Enterprise's editorial, which dealt with Libya; and a few letters to the editor, which addressed, in order, the lack of success of a neighborhood grocery store, a "peace" march and a new recycling program.

Surprisingly, until it came up last in the letters, I had not noticed the whole time I was reading the Forum page that I was the topic which drove someone named Scott Babcock to write a letter to the editor. Here is what Mr. Babcock had to say. It gave me a nice chuckle:

Friday, March 11, 2011

The mysterious delivery of magical coolant by the USAF? Or was it just more sniper fire?

Among the thousands of tragic stories emanating from Japan today, following the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and the massive tsunami, is the scary tale of serious damage to five nuclear reactors at two sites in northern Japan. Here is what The Washington Post is reporting:

Japanese authorities declared a state of emergency Saturday for five nuclear reactors at two quake-stricken power plants as military and utility officials scrambled to tame rising pressure and radioactivity levels inside the units and stabilize the systems used to cool the plants' hot reactor cores.

Radiation surged to around 1,000 times the normal level in the control room of one reactor, Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) said. Meanwhile, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Saturday that the temperatures at two other reactors at a different power plant were rising and that it had lost control over pressure in three reactors there.

Though no significant release of radioactive material had taken place, the earthquake, which forced the automatic shutdown of 11 of the country's 55 nuclear power plants, is certain to rattle confidence in nuclear power in Japan, where people have long been sensitized to the dangers of radioactive releases, and in the United States, where foes of nuclear power were already pointing to the Japan crisis as a warning sign.

One other thing in the Post story caught my attention. The Hillary Clinton whopper:

In a statement that confused nuclear experts, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday morning that U.S. Air Force planes in Japan had delivered "coolant" to a nuclear power plant affected by the quake. Nuclear reactors do not require special coolants, only large amounts of pumped water.

"They have very high engineering standards, but one of their plants came under a lot of stress with the earthquake and didn't have enough coolant," she said, "and so Air Force planes were able to deliver that."

I was watching TV when she made that statement. I didn't know enough about cooling a nuclear power plant this morning to know she was full of shit. It just struck me as good that our military was doing some good. But it turns out Sec. Clinton was either fed some bad information or she just made the whole thing up.

An Air Force spokesman at the Pentagon, however, said he was unaware of any deliveries being made by Air Force planes related to the reactor issues.

"To our knowledge, we have delivered nothing in support of the nuclear power plant," Lt. Col. John Haynes said. "Obviously, we stand by to assist with anything they might need." He said the Air Force had received no formal request for help.

This is the second instance I can think of where Hillary was caught in a completely indefensible lie (though possibly one, in this instance, in which she was just repeating what an aide told her). The earlier lie was when she was running for president, she made up some bullshit about landing in a plane in Bosnia and saying she came under sniper fire. No aide fed her that. She just invented the situation, which every other witness who was with her on that flight said they never came under fire of any sort.

State Department officials later said Clinton misspoke.

Misspoke is really the wrong word here. It is the same word Hillary used to excuse her Bosnia lie. If Mrs. Clinton had meant this morning to say something like, "Our deepest sympathies go out to ... the people of Japan," but instead of Japan she got mixed up and said Korea or Jordan or China, it would be fair to say she misspoke. But that's not what happened here: Sec. Clinton told a huge whopper about our Air Force planes carrying magical nuclear power plant coolant, when our Air Force planes did not fly into that area, when they were not called on to fly into that area, and when this magic coolant does not exist.

That is not misspeaking. That is lying.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Why kids no longer enjoy history: the Internet

The Sacramento Bee has a very brief interview today with UC Davis professor Alan Taylor, who won fame 15 years ago when his excellent book, "William Cooper's Town" won the Pulitzer Prize.

The story notes that his current book has a chance to win another prize:

Now, the history professor at the University of California, Davis, is looking at a possible George Washington Book Prize from Washington College in Maryland – which brings $50,000.

He is among three finalists for the prize, for his "The Civil War of 1812" (Knopf, $35, 640 pages), a project that took him 15 years to complete. The judges called the book "the most original history of the conflict ever written." The prize winner will be announced May 25.

While I look forward to reading Prof. Taylor's latest book, I have a different point of view about why kids today are less interested in history. Here is what The Bee asked Taylor and his reply:

On the subject of U.S. history, are we losing touch with it?

Yes, for a number of reasons. One is the mania for testing in grades K through 12. It's well-meant, but it's undermining true teaching because teachers are required to teach to the test. As a consequence, history comes across to students as the deadly dull memorization of facts.

It is certainly possible that testing is a part of the explanation. However, my take is that the decline in interest in history is a byproduct of the decline in literacy, which is largest among younger people.

That is to say, kids no longer read very much for amusement or to pass time. They don't read newspapers, magazines or books for pleasure. They play a lot of games on the Internet, participate in social media and otherwise occupy themselves on-line in their spare time.

I'm sure many kids have history reading assignments for school. But that never inspires anyone to "love history." What inspires is taking a week or so and reading a full, well written volume like "William Cooper's Town" or any other good history book.

I suspect that the children who come through the same, heavily tested schools but happen to be the few who read books, fiction and non-fiction, become lovers of history. What distinguishes them is not that they too did not come through school systems with a lot of tests on facts. They are different because they spend less time on the computer, less time watching TV, and more time reading.

When I was in school, the Internet did not yet exist. We were not heavily tested. The schools did not push us to read good books from cover to cover. We were bored to tears by the typical textbooks which had the feel of committee work. Yet I think the same distinction existed back then: kids who enjoyed reading books on their own and who watched less TV became fans and readers of history; and those who were never introduced to books and watched a lot of TV never developed an interest in history.

The only thing which has made this disconnect from history more severe from the time I was in school is the rise of the Internet. It has destroyed an interest in reading even more than television did.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

When a flawed plan meets a perverse incentive structure: the result is serious government waste

The L.A. Times has a fascinating piece of investigative journalism in today's paper. It's a long and detailed account of how a "visionary," who had hoped to save millions of dollars for the Los Angeles Community College District by installing a spectacular array of solar, wind, geothermal and hydrogen fuel cell power generating systems over and around and all about the nine junior colleges which make up the LACCD has thus far wasted $10 million in taxpayer money on his poorly thought out program.

Larry Eisenberg had a vision. "Amazing," he called it. "Spectacular."

The Los Angeles Community College District would become a paragon of clean energy. By generating solar, wind and geothermal power, the district would supply all its electricity needs. Not only would the nine colleges sever ties to the grid, saving millions of dollars a year, they would make money by selling surplus power. Thanks to state and federal subsidies, construction of the green energy projects would cost nothing upfront.

As head of a $5.7-billion, taxpayer-funded program to rebuild the college campuses, Eisenberg commanded attention. But his plan for energy independence was seriously flawed.

He overestimated how much power the colleges could generate. He underestimated the cost. And he poured millions of dollars into designs for projects that proved so impractical or unpopular they were never built.

These and other blunders cost nearly $10 million that could have paid for new classrooms, laboratories and other college facilities, a Times investigation found.

There seem to be two major lessons within the Times's story.

First, there is a lot of wishful thinking and overhype about "green" energy. Many who are pitching solar energy projects, for example, massively exaggerate how much energy will be produced from the installed solar panels. The same is true of wind power. It usually takes a few years to really know how much power you will be getting. And by the time you know, the salesman is long gone from the scene.

I don't know if the companies which are overhyping their products are liable down the road, if the panels fail to produce the promised amount of power, but they should be. There should be a government agency cracking down on anyone selling new "green" products who is making claims which are false or exaggerated. It's ultimately a form of consumer fraud.

The second lesson from the story of the Los Angeles Community College District wasting million of dollars on projects which never came to fruition is an old one: public entities never spend money like it's their own. They always waste taxpayer money when they can.

It's just so much more fun to spend money that is not yours than it is to be frugal that people will almost always spend like the spigot is never going to stop. It's a perverse incentive for government agents built into all contracting arrangements.


In order to revive our dormant economy, President Obama thought the best answer was his hugely wasteful stimulus plan. In Davis, we have firsthand evidence of what kind of crap the stimulus plan was funding: sidewalk bulb-outs. Those are the silly extensions of the sidewalks at intersections, which are supposed to make a city more pedestrian friendly by shortening the distance one has to walk from sidewalk to sidewalk. In reality, they are a big load of nonsense. If we really needed them, the City of Davis would have spent our own local taxpayer money on them. But we didn't really need them. So we grabbed the "free money" Obama was giving away in his farcical stimulus plan.

The irony is that we really are short of funds for street and sidewalk repairs, but the stimulus money would not cover those expenses. So instead of repaving cracked streets and replacing damaged sidewalks, we spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a very low priority item.

That is essentially what happened in the LACCD. They were sold a bill of goods that this was other peoples' money. If the people authorizing these expenses were spending their own funds, or if they treated the taxpayers' money as if it were their own, this unfortunate wastefulness never would have occurred.

In the end, it is likely that the LACCD will cover this loss by raising taxes on property owners in Los Angeles County. Either that or the students will get a much poorer education because the District screwed the pooch.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Burning the evidence: In Egypt, the secret police are trying to keep their evil deeds secret forever ...

Just because Egypt was never as bad as Libya, and just because Mubarak was never as evil as Kaddafi, does not mean that Egypt was not bad or evil under Mubarak. It was a brutal regime with unchecked state powers. It tortured and terrorized anyone who spoke up and it used intimidation tactics to make sure everyone else knew to never speak up.

Now that Mubarak is out of power, there has been an attempt among Egypt's revolutionaries to establish a truth and reconciliation commission, which would expose the horrors so many Egyptians were subject to, and then forgive the criminals who worked inside their Interior Ministry.

But there can be no truth and reconciliation without the documentation. And those in Mubarak's secret police are now trying to cover up their misdeeds.

The L.A. Times is reporting that Egyptian agents are dutifully burning the evidence of their crimes:

In an attempt to save documents that may incriminate Egypt's notorious state security services for years of torture and abuse, thousands of protesters on Saturday stormed Interior Ministry offices around Cairo as word spread that security officials were attempting to destroy files.

Witnesses and residents in 6th of October, a Cairo suburb, said protesters marched toward a state security office to prevent officials from burning documents. Protesters said they saw flames coming from near the building in the early hours of Saturday. About 3,000 protesters surrounded the building, eventually storming in and later handing it over to the army.

Witnesses claim that the majority of files, which may lead to the prosecution of state security officials for misuse of power, corruption and human rights violations, were already burned by the time protesters arrived. The documents, according to human-rights groups, would offer an intricate paper trail to former President Hosni Mubarak's reviled police state.

With the latest war raging in Libya and with the Egyptian military apparently ruling Egypt with the consent of the people, I had forgotten that there was still a great rift in Egypt between the democrats who forced Mubarak out of office and many people who still work for that government.

Later Saturday, several thousand protesters broke through barriers of the state security headquarters in the neighborhood of Nasr City. "State security obviously made an attempt to cover up or destroy implicating evidence of their horrible deeds over the last 30 years," Ahmed Raouf, one of the protesters, told The Times from inside the headquarters.

Protesters gathered documents and handed them to military officers, who in turn, forwarded files to a representative from the Attorney General's office. Another nearby state security headquarters also was successfully stormed less than an hour later. Many of the protesters were Islamists who either served time or had a member of their family detained at the underground building.

If Egypt is to become a democracy, the Islamists present a stumbling block. They were minimal in the effort to get rid of Hosni, but they might be the largest party in any democratic election. Beyond their extremism and their terrible values, the great danger of Islamists in government is if they ever take power, there may never again be a democratic election. Certainly they have no belief in elections, civil liberties or human rights. They simply want to force everyone else to live in a religious state, where they get to say what the religion is.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Under Islamic Law, apparently, if you are a part of the global jihad, Allah says you can rob banks ...

The Associated Press is reporting today that the Hamas government of the Gaza Strip is now authorizing bank robberies:

All banks in the Gaza Strip temporarily shut down on Thursday after men affiliated with the ruling group Hamas forced a local branch to cash some $500,000 in checks.

Gaza bankers said Hamas sent the police to confiscate the money from a branch of the Palestine Investment Bank. They said the police were accompanied by members of a committee Hamas had appointed in 2009 to oversee the Palestine Investment Fund, which is run by the rival Palestinian government in the West Bank.

The men confiscated checks from the fund, then ordered bank tellers to cash them, though the account did not contain enough money. The bankers spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

It's good to see that the Palestinians are such good people with such good leaders.

The Hamas Interior Ministry said the police helped to seize the money because the investment fund had improperly transferred money out of Gaza to the West Bank. Hamas denied that the money was taken at gunpoint.

The more you know about the psychopaths who make up the Hamas terrorist movement, the more you have to wonder how stupid the Palestinian people are. What other nation would be dumb enough to elect these pathological idiots whose religion justifies murdering children and old women and now robbing banks?

Killer of U.S. airmen is radical Muslim, German official says

CNN is reporting new details about the man in Germany who murdered two American Air Force servicemen:

The man suspected of shooting and killing two U.S. Air Force servicemen in Germany was seeking revenge because of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, according to a warrant issued on Friday for the suspect.

The suspect, Arid Uka, is a recently radicalized Muslim who seems to have been influenced by local radical Islamist websites, according to German authorities. Prosecutors say Uka shot and killed two U.S. servicemen and wounded two others in the attack Wednesday on a U.S. military bus at Frankfurt Airport.

The arrest warrant for Uka lists two accusations of murder, three allegations of attempted murder and two accusations of causing severe bodily harm.

The 21-year-old man said he was motivated to carry out the attack after seeing a video on the internet the day before, which he claimed showed U.S. soldiers raping Muslim women, according to a German intelligence official who viewed a record of the suspect's interrogation.

It's possible, not even unlikely, that Arid Uka is just stupid or he has serious mental health issues.

But it must be said that there are stupid and crazy people from all religions. Yet Jewish crazies, Hindu crazies and Christian crazies are not regularly translating their anger into terrorist attacks which they justify on the basis of their religion.

Islam is unique in this regard because so many of its adherents promote a violent response to whatever they believe is a slight against their people or their faith.

He was friends on Facebook with several pro-al Qaeda extremists from a group based in Bonn, Germany, that is known to German intelligence officials, according to the official. He also had links to an Islamist preacher named Pierre Vogel and someone named Nessery, who was arrested about two months ago in Afghanistan, according to a U.S. official with direct knowledge of the investigation.

I wonder if a legal case can be made against those "pro-al Qaeda extremists from a group based in Bonn, Germany"? I wonder if it could be demonstrated that they incited violence?

The suspect is from Mitrovica, a town in northern Kosovo, that country's interior minister, Bajram Rexhepi, told CNN. He cited the U.S. Embassy in Pristina as his source. The U.S. official with knowledge of the probe said Uka was a 1-year-old toddler when he moved to Germany, and that authorities believe Uka's relatives had suffered in the 1990s during the Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanians.

That he is a Kosovar is the most ironic part of the story. American soldiers and airmen risked their lives to save the lives of the Muslim majority in Kosovo. Tens of thousands of Kosovars who would have been killed by the Serbs are alive today because of the heroic efforts of Americans to protect them. That country is free today only because of U.S. intervention. And yet this one Kosovar nutjob decides to kill American soldiers. It's pathetically crazy.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

No wonder so many of our schools stink ...

This is a common sense is dead story.

Today a teacher was placed on leave in Redwood City because he had in his classroom a complete idiot of an 8th grader.

A California school teacher was placed on paid administrative leave after he rattled a table to get the attention of his math students, startling an eighth-grade girl who used her cell phone to call police.

Atherton police Sgt. Tim Lynch tells the Palo Alto Daily News that officers went to Selby Lane School Tuesday afternoon because of reports a teacher was causing a disturbance.

Officers found a calm teacher with class in session.

The sergeant says the teacher's table-rattling startled a student and she used her cell phone to call 911. He says other students in the class weren't bothered by the teacher's actions.

Redwood City School District deputy superintendent John Baker says the teacher was placed on leave because there was a police response.

We need to severely cut education budgets in this state, enough so that the John Baker no longer has a job and anyone who had anything to do with the policy which says that "a police response" requires the teacher to be placed on leave is fired as well.

Moreover, the idiot girl who called 911 needs to be expelled.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

When in doubt, blame the Jews ...

As the protests and rebellions continue to spread around the Arab world, it was only a matter of time before one of the despots pointed to the Jews as the culprits in this wave of citizen activism. Anti-Semitism is the favored card of Arabs of many stripes.

The despot who runs Yemen--or at least is in charge of the government in his capital city--says the reason the people in his fiefdom are so angry with him is because Obama and the Israelis are stirring them up:

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh delivered a fiery speech Tuesday blaming Israel and the United States for "destabilizing the Arab world," saying the anti-government protests in his capital were being "run by the White House."

Speaking to students and professors at Sana University, Saleh's accusations mark a departure for the president, a longtime ally of the United States in the war against Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula and the recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid in recent years.

If Mr. Saleh were Pinocchio, his nose would be growing.

The rally came a day after key opposition figures refused Saleh's offer to form a "unity government." The offer, which was widely considered the president's last-ditch effort at reconciliation, promised to include opposition leaders as well as members of the ruling party. Saleh also promised "intensifying anti-corruption investigations" and other political reforms.

You mean to say, Mr. Saleh, that corruption and not Israel might be to blame for your unpopularity?

Sheik Abdul Majeed Zindani, whom the U.S. has accused of being linked to Al Qaeda, led prayers over a loudspeaker at the protest, calling on Saleh to grant the protesters' "legitimate demands and rights." He envisions Yemen as an Islamist state, and his words brought both cheers and concern from the assembled crowd, underscoring the diversity of Yemenis present.

So the president of Yemen wants us to believe that Israel and the United States are stirring up protests in his country so that this extremely ugly, red-bearded maniac, Sheik Zindani, can take charge? That sure makes a whole lot of sense. Yeah, we really want Al-Qaeda's Red Osama running Yemen.