Sunday, July 31, 2005

Get Rove!

Leftists are still complaining about Karl Rove’s ‘leak.’ They are indignant that Valerie Plame’s identity should have been revealed. Some, such as John Kerry, call for Rove’s resignation; others, such as CNN columnist Anthony Sebok, call for Plame to sue Rove; still others seem to think he should be shot for his “treasonous act.” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has called for legislation stripping Rove of his security clearance; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has called for Rove to be fired.

All of these anti-Rovists may be embarrassed (though I doubt it) to learn that new grand jury testimony indicates that the Plame leak actually occurred in “reverse”– that Rove learned about Plame from Novak. (Which of course would mean that Democratic “fire Rove” hype has been off the mark.)

Despite this point, and despite the fact that Plame has not been undercover oversees for more than five years (which removes any legal possibility of a crime’s having been committed) the liberal outrage, which popped up only after Rove was connected to the story, is inexhaustible.

This outrage seems stranger still in light of the fact that the aforementioned Senator John Kerry is himself guilty of outing CIA Agent Fulton Armstrong several weeks ago at a confirmation hearing for UN Ambassador Nominee John Bolton.

The CIA had asked that the agent’s name be withheld, but that did not stop Kerry from inserting it into a question to Bolton: “Did Otto Reich share his belief that Fulton Armstrong should be removed from his position?” In answering the question Bolton replaced “Armstrong” with the pseudonym “Smith,” but of course the damage had been done.

Kerry defended his gaffe by claiming that Armstrong’s name “had already been in the press” – like Valerie Plame’s?

The leftist reaction to the leak is important because it tells us more about the left. Liberals are selectively outraged. They don’t really care about the national security implications in either case (which are likely to be slight). They do care about Karl Rove. They recognize him as one of the top thinkers inside the Beltway, and many believe he is responsible for getting Bush elected.

Above all, Liberals make their classic mistake of taking the American people for dummies. When Senator Schumer or Senator Durbin gets in front the cameras once again for another world-shaking press conference, he actually believes that he is being taken seriously. This leads to Leftist self-righteous pseudo-patriotic pontification.

If either Rove or Kerry is guilty of anything, it is a simple mistake. Nevertheless, if the Democrats want to remain credible, they should assume that Kerry is guilty right off the bat – as they believe Rove is – and demand his resignation. I don’t think they will make that effort, though, which makes them increasingly the party that brings laughter into millions of households on a daily basis.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

United Nations UNraveling

Earlier this year, Iqbal Riza resigned as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s Chief of Staff after it was revealed that he had ordered the shredding of three year’s worth of pertinent documents the day after the UN Security Council approved an investigation of the Oil-for-Food scandal.

Kofi called it “careless,” and immediately gave Riza another UN job as his own “special advisor.”

What does a special advisor do? Shred documents, of course.

Fox News reported on July 15 that Riza “has been shredding large quantities of unknown documents in his new 10th-floor U.N. office across the street from the U.N. Secretariat building.” A UN staffer and eyewitness reported that Riza showed up for his first day of work loaded down with cartons of papers that he promptly put through an office shredder. Every day Riza came to work, he would bring more documents with him. (“It became the office joke,” said the UN staffer.)

Riza has now moved on again – to “a new, high-level U.N. position dealing with ‘world peace.’”

Just imagine what the press reaction would be to a similar story in the Bush administration -- “CNN has learned that Karl Rove has been shredding carton-loads of documents relating to the Valerie Plame leak." The press would explode.

But, of course, a Bush administration scandal would be serious – because the world takes the Bush administration seriously. It’s not the same with the UN: a $110-billion gaffe, complete with comic cover-up, is exactly what we expect from them.

Who would take seriously an organization that has countries like Cuba, the Congo, Egypt, North Korea, and China on its Human Rights Commission? The UN is a failure – it lacks power and has too many members to be able to agree decisively on an issue.

What the UN doesn’t lack is a huge (almost $3 billion) annual budget, of which the United Stated pays 25%.

Failed programs should be scrapped and replaced with something that works. Let’s withdraw from the UN, and pitch all those corrupt bureaucrats (along with their disgraceful exhibit of “artifacts” from the atomic bomb blasts) right out onto the sidewalk. Let’s save the building (because it happens to be a nice building) and put something worthwhile in it. Let’s take the cash we save and spend it on our own projects.

We should create a new international body. This one will mirror the only effective such group the world has ever seen. It will contain the United States, Britain, and Russia (not because Russia deserves it, but because it is now on the tipping point between democracy and tyranny and needs to be pulled in the right direction). Meetings of the three will be informal; agreed actions will be taken in part by each nation, handled by the three individually with no separate multi-national organization handing out cash or sending its own blue-helmeted soldiers to do the job.

Eventually, we may extend invitations to other nations to join– but they will not be sent to dictatorships or anti-American governments. The total membership will remain small so the body can remain effective.

Life without the United Nations seems horrifying to some people. But what, in reality, does the UN do? It tells the world where it should spend its charity money. It is an international busybody. It has no effective way to control human rights violations or global security threats (like North Korea). There is nothing that a consensus of nations could not do better.

Will Kofi retire? “Hell no,” he says. Maybe it’s time for us to retire him. Hell yes.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Disaster of the Space Shuttle

On Saturday, July 16, NASA delayed the shuttle launch indefinitely because of a fuel-gauge failure. This is the latest in a string of delays that has prevented NASA from launching a manned mission ever since the Columbia exploded on reentry in 2003.

Just last week, lady astronaut Eileen Collins had spoken of her hopes for the mission: "The world is watching but I'm not focused on the world watching. I'm focused on the priorities: Getting things done on time but doing them safely."

Of course she was wrong to say that the world is watching. The world couldn’t care less about the shuttle, which emerged from a bored, cut-rate space program bent on low orbits at bargain prices. The shuttle's original creation has been a disaster in itself – in fact the dominating disaster of the modern space program.

Why should the world be watching? We know what the shuttle will do: it will travel into space – where the crewmen will perform some experiments that nobody cares about and add some parts to the international space station that nobody cares about. Then it will return to earth. If we’re lucky, it won’t explode.

On January 27, 1967, astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee were killed in a fire during a dress-rehearsal for Apollo 1. The fire resulted in a completely re-engineered Apollo capsule. The space program resumed when this rework was complete. That was the first and the last time we lost men during the Apollo program.

On January 28, 1986, 73 seconds after liftoff, the shuttle Challenger exploded as a result of an O-ring failure in one of its two Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs). All seven astronauts were killed. The physicist Richard Feynman is credited with discovering the O-ring problem (he found that the O-ring rubber lost its elasticity at low temperatures and failed to act as a fire insulator). He made many other findings, which were included as an appendix to the Challenger accident report.

Feynman noted the surprisingly great differences between the failure-rate predictions of engineers and of NASA managers: the engineers predicted a failure rate of roughly 1 in 100; management predicted a failure rate of 1 in 100,000. In practice, the failure rate has turned out to be closer to 1 in 50 (there have been 113 launches to date). Feynman spotted significant problems not only with the SRBs but with the main engines and their components, the avionics, and the gradually falling standards of the Flight Readiness Reviews. He wrote: “It would appear that, for whatever purpose, be it for internal or external consumption, the management of NASA exaggerates the reliability of its product, to the point of fantasy.” He compared NASA’s handling of O-ring erosion to Russian roulette (“the fact that the first shot got off safely is little comfort for the next”). He would probably be shocked to learn that the shuttle is still “flying” today on its 24th anniversary, and still using plenty of original 1980s technology, such as memory units with reel-to-reel tape readers.

Feynman would also probably be surprised to learn that “Russian roulette” came up again after the second disaster, this time with respect to insulating foam coming off the orbiter in flight (the cause of the Columbia disaster). This time, six-flight shuttle veteran Story Musgrave made the comment. He described foam coming off the orbiter as an alarmingly common event that was bound to create a disaster sooner or later. (“NASA's tried to kill me for 30 years if you get right down to it,” he added).

Problems on the shuttle remain, and may be too difficult to be “worth” fixing – Deputy Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale has said that if the wayward fuel gauge on Discovery cannot be fixed in a few weeks, NASA may launch the shuttle anyway, although the shuttle’s main engines are shut down once orbit is reached by a computer that depends on a correct fuel reading.

But no one will pay any attention to the space shuttle unless it does something exciting, like blowing up.

The decrepit vehicle was never designed to push back the boundaries of manned space-exploration. We need a new ship and a new mission.

Remember that we didn’t know exactly what we’d find on the moon. Our landing was mainly for the sake of landing, of exploring new places. Scientific and economic motives were secondary – spiritual motives came first. It was America’s romantic impulse.

That romantic impulse still exists; it just needs something to feed on. This is not just a question of spending money wisely (although no money is less well-spent than the cash that sends the next shuttle back up to put a new control moment-gyroscope on the space station). We need something that captures the imagination – that sparks the interest of a new generation of astronauts and rocket scientists. And we need something that America will take pride in and care about. Let’s go to Mars. Let’s go where no man has ever gone before.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Fill 'er Up

Underneath the frozen 19.6 million acres of the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge known as ANWR (currently a seasonal home for several thousand caribou) lies oil – a lot of oil: 5.7 to 16 billion barrels, according to the US Geological Survey. Of course we don’t have to use all 19.6 million acres to get at that oil – 2000 acres or about 0.01% of the total will be sufficient for a production area that could give us more oil than Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and New Mexico combined.

200 miles out to sea, in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), lies a further estimated 46 billion barrels of oil – most of it off the California coast. Considerably closer to shore on the Atlantic side, off Florida, is still more oil.

All this crude is currently untapped and untappable, thanks to green (and yellow) legislators: The moratorium on offshore drilling that affects Florida is not scheduled to expire until 2012, California has permanently banned drilling off its coast, and the ANWR ban is stuck in limbo between the House and Senate versions of the budget bill.

Yes, there is majority support for drilling: A 2005 Harris Interactive nationwide survey found that 53% of Americans want to open ANWR for drilling. Among Alaskans, support for drilling in ANWR is even stronger: two Dittman surveys taken five years apart found support constant at 75%, with opposition dropping from 23 to 19%. Eskimo support is even stronger: 78% in favor and just 9% opposed.

When the Sierra club looks at Alaskans’ strong support for drilling in their state, they have a simple explanation: Alaskans have been brainwashed. You can find another simple explanation by asking Alaskans why they don’t want ANWR to remain closed except to caribou: as the Alaska Federation of Natives explained, drilling in ANWR is a “critically important economic opportunity for Alaska natives.”

Of course it is naive to think that Greens care about the population of Alaska (or of the United States). It’s even naive to think that Greens care about the caribou – if they did, they would have noticed that while most caribou populations in Alaska have been falling, the Central Arctic herd, which spends its summers in the oil fields near Prudhoe Bay, has been growing at about 8.5 percent per year.

There is no place to hide from the logic of opening ANWR.

Prudhoe Bay is the largest oil field in North America. Originally predicted to hold 8 billion barrels of recoverable oil, Prudhoe has already given us more than 14 billion – but production has been slowing since the 80s, and it is time to develop Alaska’s other oil fields. After all, this might be the caribou’s only chance for survival.

Of course getting at that buried oil would be good for humans too – we could realize as much as 2 million barrels a day at peak production from ANWR alone (not to mention the OCS and other off-shore resources). ANWR could provide us with about 10% of our daily oil consumption.

While one CATO researcher predicted in 2001 that this increase in American oil production would knock only $2 off the price of a barrel of crude, he was talking about a $20 barrel of oil. Four years later, with prices above $60 per barrel, a similar percent reduction in price would mean considerably more.

When dealing with environmentalists you must remember that they do not have human interests – your interests – in mind. Environmentalism is a religion – a kind of paganism that worships animals and inanimate objects. And environmentalists would like to see Americans reduced to living as animals do. Some groups are fairly open about this – like the eco-terrorist Earth Liberation Front (ELF). On their website I read this response to an e-mail that asked why the organization feels free to commit arson and destroy homes and SUVs:

“At least ELF gets its point across. Do you people know how unbelievably frustrating that something that is so important to me, something that I believe in, is disregarded and ignored by everyone else. The environment is important, and if this (arson) is the only effective way of getting that point across…I have no problem destroying an SUV or some stupid mansion. I mean, you people don’t even realize the magnificence of what you are bulldozing to erect some stupid shopping mall. I for one, refuse to go quietly.”

Most greens, of course, are not criminals; they are merely uninformed cultists. That does not give them a claim to majority status in this country or the right to control America’s natural recourses. There is plenty of oil out there, and we need it. While the environmentalist lobby continues to work on wind-powered cars, I plan to go on using real gasoline and I would like to see fuel rationing remain no more than an embarrassing reminder of the Carter administration. Drill away.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Happy Fourth and God Bless America