Thursday, March 31, 2005

Defending Republicans

James Glassman has a column posted on TechCentralStation complaining that the Republicans are just as controlling as the Democrats - just in different ways. He charges:
The Republican Party, at least as it's currently constituted, wants government to intervene in social questions (like the Schiavo case) but not in economic questions (like setting a minimum wage). The Democratic Party wants to keep government out of social questions (stem-cell research is an example) but wants intervention in economic matters (e.g., Social Security).
In order to make this statement, Glassman had to gloss over some factors. In Schiavo's case he ignores the entire debate over Terri's mental condition (did she have higher consciousness or not?) in favor of a blanket statement.

A bigger issue is stem-cell research. Glassman presents the Democrats as wanting to keep government out of it and Republicans as wanting government intervention. Implied is that Libertarians position mirrors the Democrats.

Their real position is the exact opposite. Glassman seems to have done his research by listening to Ron Reagan's keynote address to the Democratic National Convention. Reagan claimed that Bush had blocked stem-cell research and that Democrats would allow it.

The debate is not actually over stem-cell research, it is over federal funding for it. Bush was the first president to fund such research but only for stem-cell lines created before August, 2001. This limitation was a nod to Bush's belief that life begins at conception. The Democrats' party line is that life begins at birth so anything done to an embryo prior to that event is allowable. They would expand funding to allow new lines.

Libertarians, as a party, agree with the Democrats about when life begins. This is probably where Glassman got the idea that the Libertarian view is close to the Democrats.

The thing is that Libertarians, if they are true to their platform, do not believe in any government funding is proper, only private finding. Neither the Bush administration not the Democrats have any objection to privately funded stem-cell research so all three parties agree here., but the Libertarians would cut all government funding for stem-cell research. If the other two parties cared they could paint the Libertarians as trying to ban all stem-cell research. After all, Bush funded research with limits and is characterized as having banned it. The Libertarians' position is more extreme than that.

Glassman also mentions minimum wage and Social Security as areas where the Republicans and Democrats differ on economic policy. Again the difference between the two major parties and the Libertarians is stark. The fight over the minimum wage is over raising it or not. The Libertarians would abolish it. The fight over Social Security is over how future benefits will be funded for a government-run retirement system. Again, the Libertarians would abolish it.

I am bringing all of this up because Libertarians (not the more moderate Libertarian wing of the Republican party) tend to overlook the vast gulf between their positions and the political mainstream.
Surveys show that America is split down the middle by party. But imagine if either party took the consistent position of advocating a limited government role in both social and economic questions. Such a party could capture a clear majority of voters.
On any important issue there is always a general feeling that the government should do something. Governments that seem unresponsive are voted out of office. In 1992 the economy was doing poorly and President Bush (41) did not seem to be doing anything about it so he was replaced by a candidate who said that he felt our pain.

That is why Congress felt the need to get involved in the Shiavo case and in steroid use in pro baseball. People see a problem and want to know that the government is doing something about it.

It is a very hard sell to tell people that the government should limit itself. Libertarians tend to be rather cerebral because of the long view required to resist "fixing" short-term problems. At the same time, Libertarians are too quick to condemn people for not taking this long view, or worse, thinking that government is the answer to all problems. They also tend to over-simplify issues as I showed above.

If the Libertarians are to advance from fringe-party status then they need to address these issues and learn to sell themselves better.

Friday, March 25, 2005

What Kyoto Really Means

So far the talk about the costs of implementing the Kyoto Protocols has been abstract. It will cost billions to do but it always seems like someone else will be paying the price.

Now some of those costs are being passed onto the consumer.
The Swiss government has decided to impose a tax on heating oil and raise a levy on petrol and diesel imports as of next year, to help cut CO2 emissions.

The environment minister, Moritz Leuenberger, warned though that if greenhouse gas levels were not curbed, motor fuel could also be taxed later

The authorities plan to introduce a nine-centime per litre tax on heating oil as of 2006. The so-called "climate" levy on petrol and diesel imports should be set at up to 1.6 centime per litre.
Keep in mind that Kyoto is a relatively meaningless first step. It calls for minor emission cuts from countries representing around half the world-wide annual CO2 emissions. This amounts to, at best, a 4% cut. The countries that are not part of the agreement are among the fastest growing economies and there is no chance that they will join.
"No matter what the cut required would be, it is impossible to follow the Kyoto Protocol measures that are based on the 1990 levels even if those countries wanted to," Kwak told Reuters in an interview, listing South Korea, China, India and Brazil
Britain is considered one of the leading countries complying with Kyoto but their success is mixed. They did exceed their goals in all greenhouse gases but CO2 is up instead of down.

So what comes next? Britain is looking at meaningful cuts of 60% by 2050. Accomplishing this will be difficult. They will have to demolish 800,000 homes in the next ten years and replace them with more efficient ones.

Most intrusive, they will implement travel restrictions and possibly institute individual carbon allowances.

Begg says that the Government’s policy of reducing the need to travel will deliver too little too late. To hit its target of a 60 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, he believes, it will have no choice but to impose substantial increases in the cost of motoring and flying.

“I want to see a move towards a tax on the pollution and noise that aircraft cause,” he says. “The Government’s proposal to allow air travel to more than double by 2030 is just not sustainable because the aviation industry has no alternative to burning fossil fuel.

...He proposes that each individual should receive a “carbon allowance”. Those who wanted to exceed the allotted level, say by flying to New Zealand, would have to buy allowances from others who had been more energy efficient. “If the system were introduced internationally it would address global warming and poverty in the Third World, where people could sell their allowances.”

What this really means is that energy costs would go up so much that most people will be devastated but the rich will be able to go on as before by buying carbon credits.

How long before someone starts applying your carbon allowance to your food? Directly or indirectly, it will happen. It takes more energy to transport food across the country than it does to grow it locally. No problem if you live in a warm food-producing area. I live in Ohio where fresh vegetables and fruit are only available locally in mid-to-late summer.

The trillion dollar question is if all of this is worth it? What will happen if we go on as before?

One thing that will not happen - the melting of West Antarctica will not flood the world. It turns out that the ice there is much thinner than thought.

But in a new study led by University of Washington researchers, an ice core of 1,000 meters was used as a sort of dipstick to show that a key section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet probably never contained as much ice as scientists originally thought it did. That means it couldn't have contributed as much to the higher sea level
What if the worst happened and annual mean temperatures rose by ten degrees? This did happen 55 million years ago.
"During the greenhouse spike of 55 million years ago, tropical mangroves and rain forests spread as far north as England and Belgium and as far south as Tasmania and New Zealand," Retallack says. "Turtles, alligators and palm trees graced Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic, which is now the treeless abode of musk oxen and polar bears."
This would stress polar bears and musk oxen but would be a boon for lots of other species.

Is a ten degree jump likely? Not according to this article which points out that scientists have made dire prediction based on poorly understood phenomena before.

And this article points out that current scientific theory says that warming will happen regardless of anything that we do.

If we're to take these people at their word, what is to be done? Nothing. It will do no good to do anything. So, I suggest we do exactly that – nothing.

Time will tell if global warming is a reality. If it is, we will never know the cause – manmade or natural. So, it seems to me there is little point in worrying, in changing our economic systems, in diminishing national sovereignty in favor of global treaties to limit carbon dioxide, in reducing automobile sizes and weights and killing tens of thousands more on the highways, in short, in doing any of the things the global-warming extremists have been suggesting for the past decade.

They admit it will do no good, so what is the point?

Because it fits a broad political agenda for further government control – in this case, international government control – over the lives of ordinary people. There is no other explanation for it. The global-warming doomsayers all believe Big Government is the only answer. We need more centralized power, more command-and-control bureaucracies, more regulations – all of which translates, like it or not, to less freedom.

This is a power grab. It's about stealing your liberty. It's about destroying the last vestiges of self-government and imposing international tyranny on Americans and the rest of the world. It's part of a broad scheme to make decisions for you with no accountability – no elections, no representation, rule by a pseudo-scientific elite. Marx would be so proud.

And he didn't even read the British minister's proposal for travel restrictions and carbon allowances.

Before I close, I'd like to point out some flat-heads in Vermont. They created the "Flat Earth Award". Their web site says:

Remember when scientists were attacked for believing that the earth was round? That same denial of scientific fact is now plaguing the world’s understanding of global warming.

The Flat Earth Award was created as a humorous effort to highlight the denial of global warming by prominent public figures. Despite an overwhelming scientific consensus that human-induced carbon dioxide emissions are altering the global climate, some deniers remain. They are trying to convince the public and our government that a massive peer-reviewed international research project conducted by thousands of scientific researchers is bogus!

The funny thing here is that scientists were never attacked for believing the world was round. It was all made up in 1830 in order to make Columbus's early life more interesting. For more details, see here, here, and here.

Their approach to global warming is just as strained. They quote this article from Science which claims that there is a consensus about global warming. The article itself is misleading as shown here.

For their "final proof" they link to an article in a far-left web site.

Scientists have found the first unequivocal link between man-made greenhouse gases and a dramatic heating of the Earth's oceans. The researchers - many funded by the US government - have seen what they describe as a "stunning" correlation between a rise in ocean temperature over the past 40 years and pollution of the atmosphere.
If they only looked at 40 years then it is equivocal. There is no question that the world warmed between the 1960s and the present. It also cooled between the 1930s and the 1960s. When dealing with possible decades-long cycles you have to include long enough periods or you can confuse a cycle and a straight line. A graph of North American temperatures limited to January through June would show a straight line warming trend with no end in sight.

The Flat Earthers are giving awards to Michael Crichton, Rush Limbaugh, and Fred Singer. For Crichton, the front-runner, they say:

A distinguished novelist, who’s books include Andromeda Strain, and the creative genius behind Jurassic Park and television’s ER, Crichton has been entertaining Americans with his distinctive brand of technothriller since 1969. However, with his latest novel, State of Fear, he crosses into treacherous new waters. Crichton is a nominee this year on the basis of the appendices that accompany State of Fear, in which he argues that the heat trapping effect of human-induced greenhouse gases is trivial. Crichton “guesses” that the planet will warm 1.46 degrees Fahrenheit over the next hundred years. In addition, he believes that the human-induced greenhouse component of this warming will “be minor.” Crichton’s estimate is well below that of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which predicts a warming of 2.4 to 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.

How does Crichton address the overwhelming body of peer-reviewed evidence that supports greenhouse gas theory? He largely dismisses it as “politicized science.”

Crichton also points out that the contents of the actual IPCC report are very different from the executive summary. The Flat Earthers are relying on the summary which was written by lobbiests for politicians. In fact, the Flat Earthers are exactly the sort of people he complains about. Instead of checking on the facts themselves, they rely simply attack anyone who disagrees.

I hope that they are saving their money. I doubt that I will be using a lot of carbon in 2050 at the age of 95 but they will only be in their 60s. So much for traveling after you retire.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Obligatory Terri Schiavo Post

There's not much I can add to the debate about Terri Schiavo. Excellent columns have been written by Charles Krauthammer, Kathleen Parker, and Linda Chavez.

What I want to do is comment on the furor surrounding the case.

First, there is something fundamentally wrong when you hear a statement to the effect that, "They have no right to give this woman food or water."

Nightline on Monday night did a segment on the story. Their guest had evaluated Terri's swallow reflex for Gov. Bush. Strangely, he had nothing to say about this. Instead he talked about the sounds that she makes. He said that parts of her brain have liquefied. Eventually he admitted that he didn't know.

The reason that this expert didn't mention the swallow reflex is because Terri has one which some experts think shows brain activity. This was conveniently skipped over.

Nightline also referred to Terri's condition as "in a coma."

I had heard about this case for some time before seeing video of her. By defining her condition as comatose, the MSM is distorting the coverage in favor of euthanasia.

The issue has split largely down party lines. Democrats are crowing over a poll showing that most Americans think that Terri should die. This poll has distortions of its own:

As you may know, a woman in Florida named Terri Schiavo suffered brain damage and has been on life support for 15 years. Doctors say she has no consciousness and her condition is irreversible. Her parents and her husband disagree on whether or not she should be kept on life support. In cases like this who do you think should have final say, (the parents) or (the spouse)?
Terri's life support consists of a feeding tube. That's it and evaluation of her swallow reflex indicated that she might be able to swallow food, at least in liquid form. The question of her consciousness is at the heart of the controversy. A survey that does not acknowledge this is fraudulent.

For real fraud, though, we have to look at a memo that was supposed to have been sent to Republican senators. Power Line takes a close look at it. Their conclusion?

The third possibility is that the memo is a Democratic dirty trick. At the moment, that looks most likely. It is easy to picture how the document could have been constructed. A Democratic staffer wants to put in some language that will sound authentic for a Republican memo. What does he do? He steals four paragraphs from the Coalition's web site. Then he adds the explosive political observations which are the whole point of the exercise--weirdly out of place in a "talking points" memo, but good politics for the Democrats.
I do not think that Congress and the President should be interfering in an individual bit I also have problems with starving a woman who might be aware when her parents are willing to take care of her.

So why are the Democrats so concerned? One poster to the Democratic Underground says, "She has been dead for 15 years. She "exists" as a human tissue bank." If that is true then what is the harm in letting the human tissue bank continue to exist?

I think that the answer is two-fold. The pro-abortion folks see this as a proxy fight. These people are fighting for a principal just as the people trying to save her are doing.

The rest of the Democrats are hoping to get political mileage out of it. Even without the possibly fake talking points memo, their coverage has concentrated on how the public agrees with them. This ties in nicely with the MSM coverage.

Friday, March 18, 2005

The Simpsons and Global Warming

In a recent episode of the Simpsons, the school went on a field trip to see Springfield Glacier. When they got there, it was melted. Nothing remained but a small piece floating ice. Lisa kept insisting that global warming was responsible but the rangers ignored her.

They had good reason.

The same thing happened in real life.

The snows have melted on Mount Kilimanjaro. The British newspaper the Guardian pictured front page photos of the denuded mountain just in time for a meeting of the G8.

As explained by the Scotsman, this has nothing to do with global warming. Mt. Kilimanjaro is so high that the top is always below zero.

What has changed is the surrounding weather. Around the mid-19th century the weather suddenly got drier. The vegetation changed and lakes dried up. This means that there is no new snow falling.

The other factor is that this is an active volcano. Parts of it are hot. Hot enough to melt a glacier.
What is the moral of this tale? It is not to ignore climate change, which is hardwired into the nature of things. There has always been climate change, always will be: witness the waxing and waning of Kilimanjaro. Certainly, we should place climate change high on our policy agendas: flood-proofing our towns and being sensible about unnecessary emissions of climate-changing gases.

But the world is not going to end tomorrow and hysterically pretending that it is becomes the enemy of progress. I did actually enjoy the BBC drama-documentary on the Yellowstone super-volcano, but, if you listened carefully enough, the next one may not happen for around 60,000 years. So I doubt if it is worth worrying about - except as a way of filling prime-time television schedules.

If we stop pretending the world is going to end (except on the big screen or your television), then we can make sensible choices. First, it might be cheaper and faster to give the Tanzanians clean water, decent education and access to our markets as a way of reducing their impact on the environment, rather than beggaring the British economy with red tape and taxes to reduce emissions that aren’t the true cause of making Kilimanjaro bald.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

The X Factor, Larry Summers, and Guards

Back in the early 1990s a question and answer column addressed the question, "Why do women live longer?" The columnist said that women had two full X chromosomes while men only had one X and a stunted Y chromosome. She then speculated that this makes men's cells inferior and causes an earlier death. (More likely, the physical changes that make men bigger and stronger eventually take a physical toll.)

We've come a ways since then. Scientists have mapped the X chromosome and found some interesting results.

It turns out that, in most cases, the second X chromosome is dormant. The exception is when there is damage specific geans from the first one. In that case, the second chromosome provides a good pattern.

This explains why some genetic problems are transmitted by the mother but only strike men.

Genetic mutations and diseases such as color blindness, autism and hemophilia that are linked to the X chromosome tend to affect males because they do not have another X to compensate for the faults.
Now, onto Larry Summers. You will remember that Summers was speculating in public on why there are more men than women in top positions involving math and science. One of the possibilities that he threw out was that more men are genetically disposed to these fields.

It is a legitimate question. It is well known that the bell curve for intellegence for men is broader and flatter than for women (more women have average intelligence while more men are both dumber and smarter than the average).

For this bit of speculation, Summers is likely to lose his job.

But, what if the same process that protects women from genetic problems, also acts on intelligence? It is a subject worth exploring but not at Harvard. You can be fired from Harvard for even suggesting that there can be differences.

While I'm talking about gender differences, I would like to point something out about the Altanta killer. While being transported to trial, a large violent prisoner overpowered his guard who was a five foot tall, 50 year old woman. He took her gun and shot her, then killed the judge and others then stole a car and took a woman hostage.

Many people are calling for an end to women guards. Ann Coulter, for example. This is a knee-jerk answer. This prisoner could have overpowered most men long enough to take their weapon. Someone with more insight into the issue wrote Michelle Malkin.

I have worked in law enforcement for nearly 18 years. I must disagree with your blog article regarding female officers in law enforcement. In the Atlanta case, the problem is not the use of female officers to escort prisoners, but rather a situation where improper procedures were used. Even a large male officer in good physical condition would have been unlikely to handle a prisoner like Nichols in a one on one fight.

It's for this reason that certain procedures need to be followed, including handcuffing protocols, working in pairs, video cameras for monitoring, etc. It appears from initial reports that a number of errors (or poor procedures) were made which contributed more towards Nichols escape than the use of a female deputy.

For example:

1) Nichols was previously caught with a sharpened object known as a shank. Additional security was apparently requested and not provided.

2) Nichols, a known violent offender, was escorted unhandcuffed.

3) Nichols was escorted by one officer when he should have been escorted by two or more officers. The fact that the one officer was significantly physically older and smaller should have been another reason to add a second or third officer to assist with the escort.

4) There does not appear to have been a "duress button" in place in the courtroom, which might have alerted armed officers to the situation earlier.

5) Atlanta courthouse procedures apparently limit the number of officers with firearms in the building. Thus, fewer armed officers were available to respond to any situation whereas if officers were allowed to have firearms, in the courthouse, there's a greater likelihood of sufficient force being present to prevent an escape.

I'm sure there are other errors that will be discovered during the subsequent investigation, but these are the first ones that I immediately noticed.

Over the course of my career, I've known female officers who are smarter and more capable than larger male counterparts. There is much more to law enforcement than simple physical strength or size. Playing to the stereotype that physical size or massive strength is required does a disservice to female officers. The plain fact is that Nichols planning and the element of surprise, along with poor procedures and errors, are to blame for Nichols escape.

In another example, a few years ago, a rapist was terrorizing the East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area. Despite being "cornered" several times by male officers, he was able to escape by outrunning officers and commit further rapes. As it turned out, the rapist was a running coach and a very good runner. Was it inappropriate to hire the officers who couldn't run as fast? Of course not. Likewise, because Nichols was a large offender, it doesn't mean that we should get rid of all officers (i.e. women) who are physically smaller than large offenders.


If you are reading this then you are probably either overweight or obese. I can say that because, according to current standards, nearly everyone in the world is classified this way.

Americans are so fat that life expectancy is about to start dropping instead of increasing. See here, and here, and so on.

Nor is this limited to the US. Europe is having the same problem:
The European Commission has pledged to tackle a European 'obesity epidemic', as new figures show the number of overweight schoolchildren in the EU rising by about 400,000 per year. The EU executive does not rule out legislation if its plan for a voluntary approach does not work.
As is Singapore:
More Singaporeans risk suffering stroke, diabetes and other diseases as obesity levels rise in the affluent Southeast Asian city-state, a new government system of measuring body fat shows.
The problem even includes half the NBA.

And everyone is talking about legislation. I cannot imagine anything more intrusive.

So what is going on here? All of this is based on the Body Mass Index (BMI). Ideal weight used to be figured on insurance actuarial tables. These had breakdown for height, build, and gender. The BMI simplifies this to a simple equation:

1. Measure and record your weight in pounds
2. Measure and record your height in inches
3. Body Mass Index = weight (in pounds) X 704.5 divided by (height in inches X height in inches)

  • Under 20 (19 for women): Underweight
  • Between 20 and 24.99: Normal Weight
  • Between 25 and 29.99: Overweight
  • Between 30 and 34.99: Obese Class 1
  • Between 35 and 39.99: Obese Class 2
  • 40 and above: Extreme (Morbid) Obesity
It should be noted that the BMI levels were adjusted down a couple of point a few years ago with little justification. Formerly a BMI of 27 was normal. Now it is mid-overweight. Also, the BMI makes no distinction between fat and muscle which is why the NBA scores so bad.

There have been suggestions for years that the same trial lawyers involved in the tobacco suits are gearing up to sue "big food". That puts a different spin on things.

For a bit of sanity, look at this article in TechCentralStation.

• evidence shows that as we've been getting heavier for generations, our health and longevity keep improving

• virtually all weight loss "treatments" fail to work long-term

• simply living active lives makes body weights a nonissue

Here's the link showing that diets are worthless and here is a link showing the problems in a well-publicized CDC report. So summarize, studies have shown that lifestyle, meaning how active you are, makes a huge difference in you health. Journalistic laziness changed inactivity into obesity.

Just as with global warming, a possible trend is being projected as a disaster despite current trends. Crop yields and lifespan are increasing but suddenly these upward trends will reverse themselves unless we give the government control over our lives comparable to Big Brother in 1984.

Go eat some Girl Scout cookies and relax.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Horrors of Warming

According to this article, 2004 was a great year for crops.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- If farmers talk big about 2004 crops as they get ready to head out into the fields this spring, let them talk. Believe them. Last year's crop season saw record yields in every major crop amid the closest-to-perfect weather conditions of the last century, scientists say.

"Never before have corn, soybeans, sorghum, and alfalfa hay all achieved record yields in the same year," said Stanley A. Changnon, chief emeritus of the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS) and an adjunct professor of geography at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Funny thing, NASA says that 2004 was the 4th hottest year on record. It says so right here. How can global warming and increased crop yield go together? Maybe a warmer growing season is a good thing.

BTW, the NASA article I linked to has several nods to global warming but it also says this:

Some of the changes in climate are due to short-term factors like large volcanic eruptions that launched tiny particles of sulfuric acid into the upper atmosphere (stratosphere) in 1963, 1982, and 1991. These natural events can change climate for periods of time ranging from months to a few years. Other natural events, like El Ninos, when warm water spreads over much of the tropical Pacific Ocean, also have large short-term influences on climate. The large spike in global temperature in 1998 was associated with one of the strongest El Ninos of recent centuries, and a weak El Nino contributed to the unusually high 2002-2003 global temperatures.
Funny, I don't remember a single environmentalist mentioning El Ninos when talking about recent warm years. El Ninos have been around longer than the increased carbon dioxide levels that are supposed to be causing global warming. No one knows why they happen which has not stopped some people from claiming a link between them and global warming.

Monday, March 14, 2005

First you draw your graph...

Scare tactics - part II.

After posting my previous entry I thought of three other factors that might affect the blooming of flowers in the Northeast. Remember that an environmental organization did a study showing that certain flowers and trees are blooming up to a week earlier than in the 1960s and 1970s. This is being presented as the canary in the coal mine for global warming.

First point - pollution. The skies were pretty dirty in the 1960s. Coal-fired power plants in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York produced pollution that was carried into New England. There has been substantial cleanup of these emissions in the last 40 years. This would affect the health of plants in New England and healthy plants bloom earlier.

Second point - carbon dioxide. This gas acts as a fertilizer for plants. As the carbon dioxide level increases, plants become healthier and, again, bloom earlier.

Third point - natural weather variations. This study only covers around 40 years. This is important because the US had a period of mild cooling in the 1960s and 1970s. It also had warming in the 1930s. A measure that starts in a known cool period and will show a straight-line temperature increase while a measure that includes known warm periods will show a completely different long-term result - possibly a straight line. Think how different a graph would be showing temperatures from January to July of a single year compared with January to January.

Taken together, do these points account for early blooming without adding in global warming as a factor. Probably. I don't know for sure but neither do the people who did the study. I've only seen news reports about the study, not the study itself so I am only guessing but they probably did not take any other factors into account. They wanted their results to show global warming so the do not want to look too closely at the figures.

Scientific method says that you should plot your data then draw your graph. An old joke among undergraduates is that you draw your graph first then throw out any data that does not match. That constantly happens with global warming. The researchers know that warming is happening so they make the data fit. That's fine when it happens in high school science class but this is being given as proof that we need to re-shape society. We need a higher level of accuracy when the stakes are this high.

Scare Tactics

I don't think much of Nicholas Kristof. During the election he slammed the Swift Boat Vets unfairly , more than once. Prior to the Iraq war he wrote an impassioned plea to continue the Clinton policy of containment (in other words, keep killing tens of thousands of Iraqis through sanctions).

When something becomes obvious to someone whose political judgment I distrust, you just have to take notice. Kristof's current column is about the environmental movement and how badly it is doing. His main point is that decades of scare stories are catching up with it.

The problem is that it is difficult to mobilize people with the truth so environmentalists use scare tactics. This is a major plot point in Crichton's book State of Fear. In it an environmental group that mainly exists to file lawsuits needs operating expenses. Early in the book, scientists are encouraged to change the slant of their papers so that there can be no doubt about global warming and its deleterious effects.

This part mirrors reality. Reasonable, informed people will agree that human-induced global warming has not been proven, that current warming trends are within natural cycles, and that the most reliable projects show that if local global warming does happen, it will be moderate and may well be benefitial.

That's not how it is reported. Reports say that it is an established fact, it is unprecedented, and that extinctions and world flooding will follow.

Here's an example of an environmental group that is using bad data.

Throughout the region, records indicate that growing seasons are becoming longer, and plants are blooming and fruiting earlier. Lilacs throughout the region (though research sites in Maine are limited) bloomed about four days sooner in 2001 than they did in 1965 when a large-scale study began. And in New York, apples and grapes appeared eight days sooner than they had in the 1960s.
Here's why I started this blog in the first place. I bet most people don't see any problems in this statement. I do.

Lilacs, apples, and grapes are not native to the US. They were all brought here from Europe. That means that this study is on plants that are cultivated. This in turn means that most of the plants studied are not in the wild but in urban areas.

It is an established fact that urban areas are warmer than the surrounding countryside. Forests are cool. Grasslands are warmer. Cement, blacktop, and asphalt roofs are very warm. This alone warms urban areas 4-5 degrees. Our cities have grown quite a bit in the last century - even in the last 40 years. Environmentalists refer to this as urban sprawl and they have quite a bit of documentation on it.

So sprawl causes localized warming and the plants being studied are in the sprawl areas. Does this prove anything? No.

This is also why global warming is so difficult to prove. For decades, the official temperatures have been taken at airports. In the first half of the century, airports were grass fields. Later they were paved but they were still in the country. Now they are surrounded by other developments. That's enough to raise the average readings.

Environmentalists have an agenda. In many cases they are not being deceitful, they simply disregard information that they don't like. We all do this. The difference is how rational you are about doing it.

It gets worse when the media picks up stories. Most reporters think that the environment is so important that the have to be advocates. The rest know that you get more viewers with scare stories than with moderate ones. I see this every time that snow is forecast. The National weather Service will forecast 1-3 inches of snow. The lead on the local newscast will be something to the effect that three or more inches of snow are about to fall and you will die unless you watch their weather report.

Anyone who pays attention will soon notice that actual snowfall seldom matches the forecast and that the world has yet to end no matter what environmentalists say.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Defending Libertarianism

Writing In The American Conservative, Robert Locke examines Libertarians and finds that:
... while it contains substantial grains of truth, as a whole it is a seductive mistake.
I consider myself somewhere in the Libertarian wing of the Republicans. I do not agree with everything that the Libertarians are for but neither do I agree on all points with conservatives like Locke.

Locke's article is a perfect example of a straw man. He quotes the Libertarian principal “an it harm none, do as thou wilt” but this is a Wiccan principal. Libertarians phrase it quite differently:
As Libertarians, we seek a world of liberty; a world in which all individuals are sovereign over their own lives, and no one is forced to sacrifice his or her values for the benefit of others...
...we defend each person's right to engage in any activity that is peaceful and honest, and welcome the diversity that freedom brings.
He passes no opportunity to confuse the issue on who Libertarians actually are. He describes them as "Free spirits, the ambitious, ex-socialists, drug users, and sexual eccentrics". If you have any sympathy to Libertarians, which of these describes you?

Locke admits that there are various branches of Libertarians but he never says who he is quoting from. He is not willing to give Libertarians this liberty:
But because 95 percent of the libertarianism one encounters at cocktail parties, on editorial pages, and on Capitol Hill is a kind of commonplace “street” libertarianism, I decline to allow libertarians the sophistical trick of using a vulgar libertarianism to agitate for what they want by defending a refined version of their doctrine when challenged philosophically. We’ve seen Marxists pull that before.
By quoting "street Libertarians" he meets at cocktail parties, he can ascribe nearly anything he wants to them. To be clear, I am using the official platform of the Libertarian Party in my rebuttal. If the Libertarians ever come to power, this is their platform.

Locke never says who he is quoting from. This is part of building a straw man. You use a distortion rather that the truth. For good measure, he equates libertarians, libertines, and anarchists.

Other examples of the straw man argument:
Taken to its logical conclusion, the reduction of the good to the freely chosen means there are no inherently good or bad choices at all, but that a man who chose to spend his life playing tiddlywinks has lived as worthy a life as a Washington or a Churchill.
This argument would work better if Locke explained how his alternative works better. After all, his examples were born in the 18th and 19th centuries. With billions of people born since then, the current system must be encouraging lots of tiddlywink players.

Furthermore, the reduction of all goods to individual choices presupposes that all goods are individual. But some, like national security, clean air, or a healthy culture, are inherently collective. It may be possible to privatize some, but only some, and the efforts can be comically inefficient. Do you really want to trace every pollutant in the air back to the factory that emitted it and sue?
This is where he is confusing libertarians and anarchists. The Libertarian Party Platform does not call for an elimination of the military. It does call for increased use of high-precision weapons and for closing most of the US bases around the world. In general, it is not very different from the platform of Pat Buchannan. This is a lot weaker than I believe in but it is still stronger than Locke gives Libertarians credit for,

As for pollution, a close reading of the platform allows for class-action suits. It also calls for eliminating the legal loopholes that corporate polluters hide behind.

Locke clearly believes in limiting what other people do if it offends his sensibilities:
Consider pornography: libertarians say it should be permitted because if someone doesn’t like it, he can choose not to view it. But what he can’t do is choose not to live in a culture that has been vulgarized by it.
Is a repressed society better than a vulgarized one? I don't think that it is as self-evident as Locke believes.

Libertarians in real life rarely live up to their own theory but tend to indulge in the pleasant parts while declining to live up to the difficult portions. They flout the drug laws but continue to collect government benefits they consider illegitimate. This is not just an accidental failing of libertarianism’s believers but an intrinsic temptation of the doctrine that sets it up to fail whenever tried, just like Marxism.
This entire passage mystifies me. Some examples would be nice. When he talks about government benefits, does he mean Social Security? Unemployment? It is impossible to answer such a vague charge.

Libertarians need to be asked some hard questions. What if a free society needed to draft its citizens in order to remain free? What if it needed to limit oil imports to protect the economic freedom of its citizens from unfriendly foreigners? What if it needed to force its citizens to become sufficiently educated to sustain a free society? What if it needed to deprive landowners of the freedom to refuse to sell their property as a precondition for giving everyone freedom of movement on highways? What if it needed to deprive citizens of the freedom to import cheap foreign labor in order to keep out poor foreigners who would vote for socialistic wealth redistribution?
Ok, Locke asked some hard questions. Some of them have hard answers. To examine them:

What if a free society needed to draft its citizens in order to remain free?
This means a wholesale invasion by a foreign nation. This just isn't possible in the age of nuclear weapons.

What if it needed to limit oil imports to protect the economic freedom of its citizens from unfriendly foreigners?
This is a trick question since it cannot be done. A US boycott would not affect the world oil supply. If the US refuses to buy oil from Saudi Arabia then the world price of oil would rise. The rest of the world would buy Saudi Arabia's oil while we pay premium prices for non-Saudi oil. It is likely that middlemen would buy Saudi oil and resell it from a neutral country.

What if it needed to force its citizens to become sufficiently educated to sustain a free society?
I'm sorry, how does the current system do this?

What if it needed to deprive landowners of the freedom to refuse to sell their property as a precondition for giving everyone freedom of movement on highways?
Locke is talking about Eminent Domain but he cannot use the term because government has been abusing it on many levels. Eminent domain is often used to obtain land for below-market price and recently has been used to buy residential areas for private developers. Does Locke support this?

What if it needed to deprive citizens of the freedom to import cheap foreign labor in order to keep out poor foreigners who would vote for socialistic wealth redistribution?
This is a red herring. Do poor foreigners who become citizens vote socialist? So does Locke support an ideological test at the boarder? Or is this a jab at Mexicans? I've worked with a lot of immigrants. Two Russians report to me. They are rather conservative as are the Africans who have reported to me. So who does Locke mean?

Libertarianism’s abstract and absolutist view of freedom leads to bizarre conclusions. Like slavery, libertarianism would have to allow one to sell oneself into it. (It has been possible at certain times in history to do just that by assuming debts one could not repay.) And libertarianism degenerates into outright idiocy when confronted with the problem of children, whom it treats like adults, supporting the abolition of compulsory education and all child-specific laws, like those against child labor and child sex. It likewise cannot handle the insane and the senile.
I defy Locke to find a Libertarian who believes in indentured servitude. I will admit that Libertarians have supported companies that use child labor overseas. It sounds cruel but the alternative is not kids in school - it is starvation. As a rule, bringing more prosperity to a country, even if it is through child labor, quickly the affluence enough that child labor is no longer profitable. This can be debated at length.

As for the insane and senile, Libertarians would turn them over to private hospitals, not turn them onto the street.

Libertarians argue that radical permissiveness, like legalizing drugs, would not shred a libertarian society because drug users who caused trouble would be disciplined by the threat of losing their jobs or homes if current laws that make it difficult to fire or evict people were abolished. They claim a “natural order” of reasonable behavior would emerge. But there is no actual empirical proof that this would happen.
Actually, there is. The Scandinavian countries have been experimenting with drug legalization for some time. Locke makes other statements about the lack of empirical proof but these the Cato Institute and other think-tanks produce exactly this sort of proof. Locke mentions empirical proof several times. Strangely, places like the Cato Institute write up numerous of case studies that should provide exactly this sort of proof. Locke, on the other hand, does not provide a shred of proof for any of his assertions. Here's another one.
Empirically, most people don’t actually want absolute freedom, which is why democracies don’t elect libertarian governments.
The US is the main bastion of Libertarianism but the Libertarians have not been around long. Two party rule is built into our government with huge barriers to third parties.

At the same time, Republicans have had a strong Libertarian wing since Reagan won the 1980 election with a promise to get government off peoples' backs. It can be argued that embarrassing Libertarian ideals allowed Republicans to take the White House and Congress for the first time in 50 years.

Libertarians are also naïve about the range and perversity of human desires they propose to unleash. They can imagine nothing more threatening than a bit of Sunday-afternoon sadomasochism, followed by some recreational drug use and work on Monday.
I have terrible news for Locke - people already do this. Sadomasochism between consenting adults is perfectly legal and alcohol remains the drug of choice for most Americans. Hidden in here is the implication that S&M should be outlawed. If so, I wonder how far Locke would go in regulating the bedroom. As recently as the 1960s, married couples could not get birth control.

They assume that if people are given freedom, they will gravitate towards essentially bourgeois lives, but this takes for granted things like the deferral of gratification that were pounded into them as children without their being free to refuse. They forget that for much of the population, preaching maximum freedom merely results in drunkenness, drugs, failure to hold a job, and pregnancy out of wedlock. Society is dependent upon inculcated self-restraint if it is not to slide into barbarism, and libertarians attack this self-restraint. Ironically, this often results in internal restraints being replaced by the external restraints of police and prison, resulting in less freedom, not more.
Just because Libertarians say that certain actions should not be outlawed does not mean that they encourage drunkenness, etc. Drinking is legal but no one except the makers tell you to drink. Locke makes it sound like civilization depends on a youth spent in Catholic school (but he couldn't mean that since they are not public).

Since the last election, Democrats have been saying (hoping) that hubris would destroy the Republicans. Maybe they are right. While the Democrats represent a coalition between many special interest groups, Republicans are mainly Libertarians and the religious right. Republicans are in the majority, but it is a close majority. If the religious right splits with the Libertarians then Hillary has a good shot at the White House.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Who gets to vote?

My last blog was about the political reasons behind the Every Vote Counts Act. Now I'd like to spend some time examining how this act proposes a fundamental change in attitude.

Who should vote? Originally it was a pretty limited group - male property owners. Groups were added and removed. After the Civil War there were informal but effective policies to keep minorities from voting. Individual states gave women the vote starting in the late 19th century and by 1964, everyone should be able to vote.

There are exceptions. You have to be a citizen over the age of 18. You cannot be in prison or on parole and, in 14 states, convicts cannot vote for several years after serving their time. This is allowed in the constitution.

Also, you can only vote from your legal residence.

There are other restrictions, mainly to prevent fraud. Most states require you to register ahead of time so that your citizenship and residency. Some states allow same-day registration but mark your ballot as provisional. These are checked and either thrown out or added into the final tally.

Many states require that you know ahead of time that you will not be available on election day and make you give a reason for filing an absentee ballot.

The basic assumption here is that it is more important to limit an election to valid votes than it is to assure that every possible voter gets to vote.

The Every Vote Counts Act turns this upside down. It explicitly says that everyone trying to vote is assumed to be a legal voter. It allows same-day registration with no proof of citizenship or residency than a signed statement and it requires that these votes be treated just the same as any other vote. No more provisional ballots. It also mandates an extended voting period and no-questions-asked absentee voting.

If passed, this would legalize voter fraud. There are already problems with people voting in multiple states, once at the polls and once by absentee ballot.

With ten days to vote, a single person could easily vote multiple times at multiple precincts. Even if the fraud was discovered, there would be no way to remove the fraudulent votes from the count.

There were reports of Democrats bringing in vans of people to register and vote in Milwalkee. This would make it easier.

And it would make it easy for illegal immigrants to vote. Think about that.

Any policy regarding voting can change the results in a tight race. The question is which way should it be changed? Should fraud be allowed in order to secure the voting rights of people who were not interested enough to register or should legitimate voters sometimes be denied their right to vote because of bureaucratic screw-ups?

Personally I think that the potential abuses of the new system are far worse than any problems with the current system but who knows? If my side were out of power I might endorse some cheating, also.

Then there is the question of allowing ex-cons to vote. Here is a lengthy piece on this argument.

Every Vote Counts Act

The "Every Vote Counts Actt" has been introduced in the Senate. Whale it is being promoted as neutral voter rights legislation, the sponsors make one suspicious. The five sponsors include John Kerry, the last Democratic candidate, Barbara Boxer, the only senator to object to the last election, and Hillary Clinton, the current front-runner for 2008. The bill has several important points:

  1. Requirements for voting machines that will leave a paper audit trail.
  2. Requirements for mandatory recounts.
  3. Provisional Ballots
  4. Standards for the minimum number of poll workers and voting machines
  5. No-excuse absentee voting
  6. Standards for purging voter lists
  7. Election day registration
  8. Early voting
  9. Prohibiting campaigning by chief election officials and voting machine manufacturers
  10. Restoring the voting rights of convicts
  11. Making election day a federal holiday

This is an interestingly mixed bag. The parts about voting machines and mandatory recounts address theories that the Republicans stole the election by manipulating the voting machines. Ironically, most of the theories centered around optical mark ballots which satisfy the proposed requirements.

The parts about minimum voting machines and poll workers are there because Democrats are certain that Ohio threw the election by shorting some precincts. Investigations found that this was not so. Ohio was short of poll workers but this was because they could not attract enough people.

Now we move on to the really interesting parts.

Republicans are sure that Democrats tried to steal the election by having people vote more than once. Same day registration makes this easy. The act specifies that you can register and vote the same day, you would vote on a regular ballot, not a provisional one, and that you would not need to show any identification or proof of residency, you would only have to sign an affidavit. Early voting makes this even easier.

At minimum, the Democrats envision pulling a van into a predominantly Democrat district and pulling people off the street to go vote.

If they could, they would have specified Ken Blackwell's name instead of "chief state election officials". If this goes through it will bite them. Campaign officials usually campaign.

They also want to muzzle voting machine makers. This may not survive a constitutional challenge.

The part about allowing ex-convicts to vote has high-sounding language but one wonders if the sponsors would be as interested in this group if 90% of them didn't vote Democratic?

The final point, making election day a holiday, I can agree with. This will probably hurt them if it goes through. One reason that Kerry showed an initial surge in exit polls is that Bush voters wee more likely to be working an 8-5 job.

In all, this piece of legislation is designed to help the Democrats take back the government.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Bill Maher and Ward Churchill

Last week Ward Churchill was on Bill Maher's show Real Time. Jeff Jarvis did a podcast fisking of it that is a good play-by-play commentary. There are a few other point I would like to add.

First, Maher has had his own problems with 9-11. His ABC show Politically Incorrect was cancelled after he said that the terrorists were more courageous than American pilots. Maher claims to be Libertarian but an article on him years ago showed that he only agrees with the Libertarians on a few points.

So when Maher invited Churchill on he obviously considered him a kindred Spirit.

Maher was well-prepped. He had read Churchill's essay and planned on a quick reiteration of it. Churchill disappointed him. He had to be prompted and most of his points were lost. At one point they digressed and Churchill admitted that the fight against Hitler was a good one although he didn't agree with the way it was fought. Churchill's contention that we bombed Japan during the same war to put them in their place never came up.

Churchill claims that America has a 400 year history of violence lead to 9-11. I reviewed a speech that he made in February. There are several holes in his arguments. Possibly the biggest is the scope of the incidents. Are Islamic terrorists really motivated by actions taken by Dutch settlers during an Indian war in the 17th century? Do they even care about the firebombing of Tokyo?

Given 400 years, all countries have done something to someone. Especially when you pluck actions done during wars and present them out of context.

The only recent action that Churchill cited was the sanctions on Iraq. He brought this up on Maher's show. Most estimates say that the sanctions killed up to 300,000, mainly children. Maher inflated this to 500,000 and Churchill doubled it.

There is a perverse irony here. Churchill is saying that the lack of international trade killed 1,000,000 Iraqis and that that justified killing 3,000 people involved in world trade. I'm afraid that he looses me here. World trade is a horrible thing but without it people die? I wonder if he has actually thought this through?

They got to this point and then Maher did something unforgivable. He brought out the brother of a 9-11 victim to confront Churchill. He suggested that Churchill owed the brother an apology.

"apology?" Churchill asked.

Maher said that he thinks that the site of the World Trade Center should include a display on "Why they hate us." This is where Maher shows how closely he sympathizes with Churchill. Both are blaming the victims, or at least blaming the rest of us.

Would he suggest such a display at Pearl Harbor? How about at the concentration camps? I consider Hiroshima and Nagasaki justified but I would never suggest a big sign reading "Remember Pearl Harbor" be placed at either site.

Both men qualify as insensitive boobs who hate America and love the sound of their own voices.

The Daily Show and the Dems

Maybe the Daily Show has a new policy - Monday's guest will get to say something really good about the Bush administration. Tonight's guest is a former CIA Middle-East field operative (and a woman at that). She said that the CIA went through a five year period where they didn't really have a mission and that we are safer now than on 9/10/2001.

Eric Alterman's going to hate that. His entry for today starts out:

My old friend Nancy Soderberg snagged a “Daily Show” appearance last week flogging her new book, The Superpower Syndrome and made an obvious joke about being a Democrat and therefore there's "always hope we'll fail" in Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. She was obviously making fun of the Democrats’ predicament as well as the way Republicans and conservatives tend to discount liberals’ patriotism. Guess what? I saw the interview and she is clearly nodding when she makes her comment to what Jon Stewart is saying, and laughing and say "noooo" to indicate she's kidding. But not only are the denizens of the conservative media too dumb to get the joke, they embarked on an immediate media jihad to burn They now have their proof that Nancy, indeed, all liberals, hate America.
Ok, I saw it also. She wasn't laughing when she started out saying:
[A]s a Democrat, you don't want anything nice to happen to the Republicans, and you don't want them to have progress. But as an American, you hope good things would happen.
Yes, she was laughing when she got to the part about North Korea and Iran but there was no edge to her voice to indicate that she was being ironic. Instead she had a "Did I say that in public?" laugh.

I didn't mention it when I wrote about the segment last week because I don't think that she really wants something bad to happen to America. At the same time, I'm sure that she would be relieved if Bush was somehow discredited. The conflict - Democrats want bad things to happen under Bush but loyal Americans want good things to happen to America - is real. This same conflict shows up in the Democratic Underground when they say that US troops are regularly committing atrocities but that the support the troops.

(For those who are confused, supporting the troops means that you give them the benefit of the doubt.)

Jon Stewart has admitted that he thinks poorly of the President's policies but that they seem to be working.

Soderberg admitted that she is conflicted. This came up during the election, also. Various Democrats admitted that they would rather defeat Bush than see Osama bin Laudin captured.

The Democratic Underground is not conflicted. They are in denial. So is Alterman.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Giulana Sgrena

To summarize:

Italian reporter Giulana Sgrena was doing anti-war reporting in Iraq. She wanted to get to the truth so she went out in the field. Because she was out on her own, she was kidnapped and held for ransom. (I got this from her own account.)

In the first days of my kidnapping I did not shed a tear. I was simply furious. I would say in the face of my captors: "But why do you kidnap me, I'm against the war." And at that point they would start a ferocious dialogue. "Yes because you go speak to the people, we would never kidnap a journalist that remains closed in a hotel and because the fact that you say you're against the war could be a decoy."

The US government is against paying ransom because it encourages further kidnappings. In this case, ransom was paid and the US government was not notified.

Sgrena was released and picked up by Italians. They raced through the streets fast enough that they almost lost control in the rain. As they approached the airport, they were fired on. The driver was unharmed. Sgrena was hit and a third person was killed.

The US military says that they first tried to signal the car to stop, then they fired warning shots, and finally fired into the engine block.

Sgrena says that no warning shots were fired and that the US wanted her dead because of the policy against paying ransom. Some accounts also say that she was fired on by an armored vehicle and that over 400 rounds were expended.

The Democratic Underground is full of conspiracy theories about the whole thing. Here's one thread. If you read far enough down the thread you get to arguments saying that US troops deliberately targeted Sgrena but that the DU still supports the troops. Does this mean that they support the troops for doing the wrong thing?

Like most conspiracy theories on the DU, this one relies on a combination of amazing knowledge and complete incompetence. The troops are supposed to have known who was in a car and have had orders to kill her, but they didn't manage to do it!

On the one hand you have the US troops (possibly at the command of Negroponte) finding out about the reporter being released and ordering her death. The troops were able to pick out her car and attack it.

But on the other hand, the troops are there with guns in hand, one Italian already dead. Why didn't they finish it? They could just as easily have shot the other occupants of the car. In fact, they could have then hauled it away, blown it up, and claimed that it was terrorists.

Do I need to go on? This is Bush hatred to the Nth degree - if something bad happens Bush must have planned it.

To their credit, when NBC broke the story on Friday, the followed it with one on how dangerous the airport road is and how many times it is attacked daily. Here is a lengthy analysis of the checkpoint policies and how often civilians are fired on.

Friday, March 04, 2005

The Democrat's BIG Ideas

An article by David Swanson on the Democratic Underground suggests that they need to start pitching ideas from the far left, ideas that are so far out that the right has no place for compromise. In this case, Swanson suggests a Basic Income Guarantee (BIG).Basically, everyone would get a monthly check for enough money to live on.

He continues:
BIG ought to be part of a wide-ranging progressive agenda that includes universal free quality education from preschool through college, single-payer health care, a living wage for all work, work for all who want it, affordable housing, the right to form a trade union, an environmentally sustainable economy, and the application of these same values in our foreign affairs.
He also wants a maximum allowable salary and a much more progressive tax structure.

These are big ideas, alright. With a big price tag.

There are a lot of important details left out. If everyone gets a living income, just for existing, then what is the work incentive? Just how much more will minimum wage be? There are lots of unpleasant jobs. Why would anyone take one of them if the government will pay them to sit at home?

This is a very European concept - being a drain on society as a lifestyle choice. Is it sustainable? Social Security is going to be in trouble in a few decades when the number of workers to retirees drops to 2 to 1.

There are also questions about who would get this benefit? Will it go to citizens, only? What about legal immigrants? They qualify for welfare now in many places. What about illegal immigrants?

Assuming that we limit benefits to citizens, will we limit immigration?

At what age will you start getting your check? Birth? At what age will you gain control of it? 18? 16? If you run away from home, will you take your check with you? Will the children's BIG payment be part of divorce settlements? What about shared custody?

If the government guarantees jobs for everyone who wants to work, will these be WPA make-work style jobs?

Just how progressive will the taxes become? What sort of maximum wage will be allowed?

How will the government be able to tax people enough to pay for all of this? You have to allow people to earn after taxes to make it worth while to work. But at some point you have to start taking most of a person's earning to pay for all of those benefits. This has to start at a fairly low point, also because there are not enough really rich people to pay for the current level of taxes. If everyone is getting $500/month then, on average, everyone will need to pay more than $500/month in taxes (there will be an overhead to pay for collecting the taxes and distributing the payments).

The fact is that no society can support itself for long with this level of benefits. Swanson is in a bidding war, hoping that enough people will buy into it to lift the Democrats into power.

Europe provides a cautionary example. They have not implemented everything that Swanson proposes and their various economies are faltering.

Yes, the euro is doing well against the dollar but there are other reasons. George Soros is powerful enough all by himself to affect international exchange rates - he has done it before. His story is that the dollar always falls during times of rising oil prices.

And what does it mean that we will apply these values in international affairs? Are we to start a crusade that makes Bush's war against terror look like a skirmish?

The Democrats will need to nail down all of these details and hundreds more before they can win on this platform.

In the search for big ideas to win back Washington, BIG is a dead end.

The Superpower Myth?

The first chapter of Soderburg's book, The Superpower Myth, is available on-line. It's worth reading for an insider's view of Clinton's foreign policy. She admires the man and believes that he made all the right choices, but several things come through. Clinton did a complete reversal of much of his foreign policy between the campaign and taking office. Clinton wasn't really interested in foreign policy. He didn't get along with the military (she glosses over the gay issue but between that and his draft-dodging he had no credibility with the Pentagon).

It is also interesting that Clinton could not get the State Department to follow his policies. He wanted to recognize Angola but the State Department never got around to it. Finally Clinton announced the recognition in a press conference and let the State Department "pick up the pieces." One wonders why Clinton didn't go ahead and give the State Department a deadline - you recognise them or I will.

A couple of other things - Europe's reluctance to intervene in Bosnia must be remembered when talking about Iraq. If they were not willing to stop genocide in their own back yard then they lost the moral high ground in the debate on Iraq. Clinton's policy became "tell, don't ask." In other words, he acted unilaterally. Just like Bush.

Also, if people in the Bush administration were in favor of invading Iraq from day one, it should be pointed out that Madeline Albright was in favor of attacking Serbia from day one.

From the day he took office, I was struck by how incompetent Clinton was. I had the opposite reaction to Bush. History books will remember Reagan and Bush (43) but skip over Bush (41) and Clinton.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Neocon Secret Plan

The Washington Monthly reveals the plans that the neocon hawks have for remaking the Middle East.

The hawks' grand plan differs depending on whom you speak to, but the basic outline runs like this: The United States establishes a reasonably democratic, pro-Western government in Iraq--assume it falls somewhere between Turkey and Jordan on the spectrum of democracy and the rule of law. Not perfect, representative democracy, certainly, but a system infinitely preferable to Saddam's. The example of a democratic Iraq will radically change the political dynamics of the Middle East. When Palestinians see average Iraqis beginning to enjoy real freedom and economic opportunity, they'll want the same themselves. With that happy prospect on one hand and implacable United States will on the other, they'll demand that the Palestinian Authority reform politically and negotiate with Israel. That in turn will lead to a real peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians. A democratic Iraq will also hasten the fall of the fundamentalist Shi'a mullahs in Iran, whose citizens are gradually adopting anti-fanatic, pro-Western sympathies. A democratized Iran would create a string of democratic, pro-Western governments (Turkey, Iraq, and Iran) stretching across the historical heartland of Islam. Without a hostile Iraq towering over it, Jordan's pro-Western Hashemite monarchy would likely come into full bloom. Syria would be no more than a pale reminder of the bad old days. (If they made trouble, a U.S. invasion would take care of them, too.) And to the tiny Gulf emirates making hesitant steps toward democratization, the corrupt regimes of Saudi Arabia and Egypt would no longer look like examples of stability and strength in a benighted region, but holdouts against the democratic tide. Once the dust settles, we could decide whether to ignore them as harmless throwbacks to the bad old days or deal with them, too. We'd be in a much stronger position to do so since we'd no longer require their friendship to help us manage ugly regimes in Iraq, Iran, and Syria.
Sounds a lot like what is going on right now, doesn't it? This article came out in April, 2003 and was meant to warn people of Bush's unrealistic plans. They were sure that this could never work.
But like a TV plot, the hawks' vision rests on a willing suspension of disbelief, in particular, on the premise that every close call will break in our favor: The guard will fall asleep next to the cell so our heroes can pluck the keys from his belt. The hail of enemy bullets will plink-plink-plink over our heroes' heads. And the getaway car in the driveway will have the keys waiting in the ignition. Sure, the hawks' vision could come to pass. But there are at least half a dozen equally plausible alternative scenarios that would be disastrous for us.
Things could still go wrong in one or more countries but right now the entire area seems to be pushing for democratic government in a manner reminiscent of the Soviet Union's satellite nations in the late 1980s.

note - I got the story link from

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Imploding Head Warning

Around a month ago Jon Stewart, host of the Daily Show, said that if it turned out that Bush was right, his head would implode.

Last night, Stewart's guest was Nancy Soderburg, former U.S. Ambassador to the U. N. under Clinton and author of The Superpower Myth: The Use and Misuse of American Might.

Stewart hates Bush and Soderburg just wrote a book criticizing Bush's foreign policy. So what happened when they got together? First they talked about Lebanon then Stewart admitted that Bush seems to be getting unprecedented results. Soderburg admitted that she hates to see anything good happen under Republicans and that Bush cannot take credit for everything that is happening, but she admitted the Bush is getting results.

Stewart went on to say that he might have been for the invasion of Iraq if Bush had said ahead of time that this would bring democracy to the Middle East.

In fact, this was one of the big reasons push by the NeoCons prior to the war. They reasoned that the pressure of one functioning democracy in the Middle East would put pressure on the surrounding countries. Iraq was chosen for this because of the threat that Saddam represented. This was no secret. In fact it upset the Left quite a bit at the time. Now that things are playing out as the NeoCons predicted, this has been forgotten.

Not that the NeoCons are perfect. They expected a military victory in Iraq. Instead, Saddam's army folded and joined with Islamic extremists to launch a terrorist campaign. They also said that Iraqi oil would pay for the war so we could do it on the cheap. This was way off.

Still, the main point was to attack the root causes of anti-Americanism. Right now it seems to be working.

Earlier in the Daily Show, Stewart had commented on the protests in Lebanon and how strange it was to see them protesting someone besides the US. Here's a different example - Iraqis protesting against the car bomber who killed a crowd of civilians on Monday. They have good reason to protest. Muslim acts of terrorism are much more likely to kill fellow Muslims than anyone else. I don't remember George Washington killing crowds of American civilians in order to defeat the British.

Oh - both Bush and Condi Rice have been pressuring Syria to get out of Lebanon.

So we have ended up on the same side on many current issues as the average Arab.

The sound you just heard is Jon Stewart's head imploding.

UPDATE: Here's a transcript.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Progress in the Middle East

Suddenly the Middle East is in flux. Iraq is creating an elected government. The Palestinians had an election for the first time in years. People in Iran and Egypt are demanding free elections. Syria agreed to withdraw from Lebanon. Israel is pulling out of the Gaza Strip.

A bit further out, Libya gave up its nuclear program and Afghanistan also had elections and is forming an elected government.

A root cause of 9-11 was supposed to be Arab anger at US support for corrupt governments. Right now it looks like we have been pushing just the opposite. Even the New York Time editorial board agrees.

Does anyone think that all of this just happened? Or that it would have happened under a Clinton-style hands-off policy?

Ok, a few people do. Eric Alterman is still highly critical of everything. But then liberals have been dismissive of democracy for some time. Doonesbury is still running strips insisting that Iraq is Viet Nam.

These are the same people who thought that the cold war was a waste of time and resources and were surprised when communism suddenly collapsed.

Last week Bush announced that all cards were on the table in negotiations with Iran. Democrat-run blogs went ballistic, insisting that Bush has already signed an order for a military strike. Yesterday Bush clarified. He is threatening Iran with membership in the WTO (World Trade Organization). The horror. The humanity.

Wait - that's a good thing!

It's also kind of sneaky. Bush has been trying to normalize relations with Iran. Welcoming them into the world economy would help. It would also put even more pressure on the ruling theocracy to reform.