Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Return of the ERA

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is back. There is an effort to re-introduce it.

For those too young to remember, ERA was intended to grant equal rights for women. It was first introduced 35 years ago and seemed on the fast track to ratification. Then is faltered as opposition to it gathered. It came up during one of the Carter/Reagan debates. Carter accused Reagan of planning to kill ratification. Reagan responded, pointing out that under Clinton no states had ratified it and two states rescinded their ratification. It eventually died in 1982 after the Supreme Court ruled that the ratification period could not be extended.

In the meantime, nearly everything that the original supporters could have hoped for in 1972 has come to happen. Most women work. The majority of college and university populations are women. Woman's pay runs around 98% of men's, when compared for equivalent jobs with equal experience. Women clergy and astronauts are common as are women in the military. The Speaker of the House and the Secretary of State are women and many people expect the next president to be one.

So why do we need he ERA?

When it was first introduced, the ostensible reason was to have women's rights written big so all could see. When pressed, the supporters admitted that the real reason was that they regarded it too difficult to push their agenda through Congress and fifty legislatures. They wanted women's rights raised to constitutional status so that they could take their case directly to the Supreme Court.

I was against the ERA when it was first introduced for two reasons. First, I think it is wrong to by-pass the legislatures and have the judiciary dictate law. More important, the amendment is worded loosely enough that it could lead to changes in society far beyond the stated goals. Both of those objections continue today.

The biggest goal still on the feminist agenda is pay equity between men and women. Since the current inequity exists because of choices that women make (taking jobs that allow more time with the family, taking off 1-4 years to raise young children, etc.) this would require a government take-over of the economy unseen since the fall of he Soviet Union.

Of course, there is a second group that would profit from the ERA - Gays. The language of the ERA would instantly legitimize gay marriage and remove any lingering laws or customs considered anti-gay. This is no coincidence. The National Organization of Women (NOW) has always been lesbian-friendly (in all possible ways).

My own position has not changed in the last 35 years. I don't think that issues as central to society should be passed on to the courts to decide.

There is one reason for the ERA that I don't think is being discussed. With the current influx of Moslem's coming to America, we suddenly have a large population that has a history of oppressing women. Even by the standards of the pre-feminist 1950s, things such as forced marriage and genital mutilation are beyond the pale. Feminists might make the case that current advances need to be enshrined to make backsliding difficult.

Strangely, this is a major bind spot among feminists.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

What are the Democrats up to?

By passing bills calling for troop withdrawal in the nex 12-18 months, Democrats seem to have decided that their only purpose is to defeat the enemy at home (Bush). In order to do this, they gave up on all the other lofty goals they campaigned on.

The bills passed are a strange mixture with something for every faction. For the anti-war crowd, there is a demand for a pull-out. For the moderate Blue-dogs, the pullout will not take place until next year. For everyone else, there is $20+ billion (with a "B") in earmarked funds.

The Democrats played hardball on this one. They slipped in appropriations for Congressmen without even being asked to. If a Congressman was still hesitant to vote for the bill they issued an instant press release saying that the congressman had turned his back on his district.

For those with short memories, these are the same Democrats who campaigned last year on a platform of fiscal responsibility and who promised to end earmarks. As I already said, none of those goals are as important to the Democratic leaders as handing Bush a defeat.

This also means a defeat for our troops. How can it be taken otherwise when it calls for a withdrawal at an arbitrary time regardless of what is going on at the time.

This does raise a number of questions:

If, as Rep. Murtha claims, we are making things worse by staying then why wait? Probably the biggest reason for the delay is that an immediate withdrawal would be seen by the American people as the surrender it is. By giving President Bush several more months to wage the war they can claim that it is up to him to win it in that time. This appears to be an attempt to shift blame.

Why October. 2008? That's the dae the House set. The Senate went for March 31. Is this an attempt to end the war before the election? Are Democrats worried that the 2008 election will become a referendum on the war with their candidate calling for an immediate retreat and the Republican calling for us to win? This is an interesting theory because it implies that the Democrats are afraid of what the people actually want (remember, they didn't run on retreat from Iraq, they ran on a "new direction").

Then there is the biggest question - is this meant to be anything more than an other non-binding resolution? The Democrats know that Bush will veto the bill. He's already started making noises about them abandoning the troops. They don't have enough votes to override a veto. Soon they will be in the same position that the Republicans were when they shut down the government under Clinton. Clinton won that one and no soldier's life was at stake because of Congressional inaction.

Faced with that reality, the whole thing could just be a big show to placate MoveOn.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Mr. Gore goes to Washington

Al Gore is testifying before joint committees of Congress today on Global Warming. According to statements made before hand, he is going to say that Global Warming can be reversed but we need to take drastic action. He is calling for a 90% across-the-board cut in greenhouse gas emissions  by 2050. For the calendar-challenged, that is less than 43 years from now. Gore is calling for more than a 2% cut per year in greenhouse as emissions.

Now, I could probably lie with the first year or two of that. Depending on how cold the winter and how warm the summer, this might even happen on its own. It might not even be noticeable in the general economy.

After that, the cuts would start to pile up. I seriously doubt that civilization as we know it can exist on 10% of today's carbon emissions.

To put it in perspective, around half of current energy use is private and the biggest portion of those go to heating and air conditioning. After that comes cooking and lighting. Computer use is in there somewhere but varies a lot per family.

So, in order to cut your personal use by 90% you would have to cut back on heat, forget air conditioning, forget TV, PCs, and game consoles. Radios will probably be ok. You can get radios powered by hand-cranked generators that will run for a few hours between cranking.

Lighting will be reduced to possibly one compact fluorescent bulb for a few hours per day.

It is sort of a march back to the 18th century except we cannot burn wood for heat or candles for light because they also emit CO2.

That's how personal cutbacks will be in 40 years. It's hard o see manufacturing doing any better. Solar, wind, hydro-electric, and nuclear power can provide some power but this will become more and more expensive. Nuclear power is the only one of these options that does not have severe built-in limits and it takes a lot of tie and money to build a nuclear plant.

It's hard to see how there will be enough energy for much beyond food production and transportation.

All of this brings us to the biggest question - even if we assume that Global Warming is for real and that the worst of the IPCC predictions will come to pass, is it worth it to mitigate Global Warming? Gore is still talking as though it will be easy to cut back. Just stop new coal-fired power plants, change the type of light bulb we use, establish cap-and-trade, and let the market do the rest. He is lying. 90% cutbacks will be wrenching, causing tens of thousands of deaths from lack of air conditioning and cold alone.

And that's assuming the worst happens if we do nothing.

None of this is part of the global debate but it should be front and center. What will mitigation cost and is it worth it?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Common Wisdom and the Election

Common wisdom says that the Democrats will take the White House in 2008. This is based on three things - the White House usually switches parties when one party holds it for eight years; public dissatisfaction with Bush and the war will translate into a rejection of the Republicans, and the 2006 election showed that the country has moved to the Left.

Let's look more closely at these, especially the first one. It is true that the other side has won most times that a party has held the White House for eight years. This happened in 1952, 1960, 1968, 1976, 1992, and 2000. It did not happen in 2004 because Reagan had already defeated Carter in 2000. The 1988 election is particularly interesting in this discussion. In that one, Bush (41) ran as a continuation of the Reagan administration and won. It is also interesting because his opponent, a liberal from New England, offered a clear difference to Bush and went down to a decisive defeat. Four years later Clinton, a moderate from the South, was able to defeat Bush.

An important point to remember is that when the White House changed hands with no incumbent in the White House, the sitting Vise-President was running as a continuation of the current administration. Vise-presidents are seldom a good stand-in for their president. They are normally chosen specifically because they are different in order to broaden the president's appeal. Even Gore who, like Clinton, was a southerner, came across as a Washington insider in contrast with Clinton, "the man from Hope". It is difficult for someone who was chosen because he is different to run as a continuation candidate. When Bush ran in 1988 he started by recanting all of his positions from 1980. After spending wight years in the Reagan White House, he had learned the errors or his ways.

There is also a strong element of fatigue at play. After eight years, the electorate is tired of the same old faces and policies. A president usually does most of his accomplishments during his first term. It is tough for a vice-president to make the case that the current administration needs four (or eight) more years in order to accomplish its goals. In 2000 there was talk of Clinton Fatigue. Now it is Bush Fatigue.

This election is different. The slate is completely open. That eliminates much of the "fatigue" factor. In addition, Hillary faces some residual Clinton fatigue. Similarly, Edwards may suffer from having already been on the ticket in 2004. The election may go to the candidate who feel "freshest".

As far as the other two points of common wisdom - that dissatisfaction with Bush will sink the Republican candidate and that the 2006 election signaled a shift to the right, neither has a lot of merit. The country may be dissatisfied with Bush but Congress continues to poll lower than Bush.

Has the country moved to the left? The Democrats think so. The main three candidates, Clinton, Barack and Edwards, are all far to the left of Bill Clinton or the image that Kerry projected in 2004. This may be their undoing. In 2006, voters were angry with corruption in Congress and frustrated that the war in Iraq was still going on. Even with that, the Democrats' wins were comparable with the opposing party in the sixth year of other administrations, even Reagan. This was not an overwhelming vote of support for a liberal agenda. Most of the winning Democrats weren't even running as liberals. They were recruited as pro-military centrists who could win close elections against Republicans. Now that they are in Congress, they have organized as the "Blue Dog Democrats" and they have prevented the older, more liberal Democrats from implementing their agenda.

The current slate of presidential candidates is not going to appeal to the people who voted in the Blue Dogs.

So, in spite of common wisdom, the election is still wide open.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Global Warming Winers and Losers

This interview ties in nicely with my last post about companies lobbying to become winners in global warming legislation.
Enron was the pioneer, pushing Kyoto before there was a Kyoto, after acquiring the world's largest windmill company and a half-share in the world's largest solar panel company; these are financial black holes without massive subsidies and mandates, which is precisely what the Kyoto agenda promises.  Enron had the world's second-largest gas pipeline network, the cost of space on which would be dearly expensive once coal was regulated out of viability.  They set up a trading floor to play bookie to millions of sales of carbon dioxide "credits".  All of these elements of the agenda would cost our economy dearly by piling on inefficiencies, as it is in Europe now, with no environmental benefit. This is the world's second-oldest profession, "rent-seeking", that is trying to gain millions from government favors that they could not earn in the marketplace.

GE has Enron's windmills and some of their pipeline assets, BP has the solar panels.  DuPont got out of the nylon business and for reasons peculiar to that decision would have about a half a billion dollars in CO2 equivalence "credits" to sell others who want to keep using energy in the event a Kyoto-style scheme is imposed domestically.  Lo and behold, suddenly they strike a "responsible" pose of hand-wringing over Congress' failure to impose this albatross around the economy's neck.  Certain cynical power companies have varying motivations, including a desire to be paid to replace aging coal-fired capacity with new gas plants that they have to build anyway; some nuclear providers want to be paid for not emitting CO2 but only water vapor.  And the list goes on.

What each of these companies share in common is a belief that their pals in government will stop before they go too far and actually fully implement the Kyoto agenda, but will only go just far enough to provide windfall profits of money for nothing.  It is a remarkably cynical and very dangerous game.
All of these companies get the public relations benefits of being for legislation to prevent global warming and all stand to profit quite a bit. The legislation itself will be a meaningless show piece (one hopes) that will cause enough discomfort so that people know that their government is doing something but not so much discomfort that people actually question the legislation.

Even states such as Minnesota which is considering a draconian reduction of 80% in the next 43 years has the real pain being felt long after the politicians will have retired. See here for the details of their scheme. While wonderful advances in technology are possible, energy use has climbed steadily for centuries. I really wonder how the people of Minnesota will survive on 20% of today's energy use?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

DSL and Global Warming

DSL (Daylight Savings Time) came three weeks early courtesy of an amendment to the energy bill passed years ago. The change was intended to save energy but there are real questions about its effectiveness this early in the year. My wife complains that she will be back to leaving for work at dawn. That means that any energy saved in the evening will be lost in the morning. The sponsors of the bill announced that the change will not be evaluated to see if it did any real good.

This is typically what happens when politicians decide to solve a problem. It does not really matter if the solution does any good or if it actually makes things worse. The important thing is to be seen solving a problem.

As with most government solutions, there are winners and losers. The winers are candy companies. With DSL now ending in November, they hope that kids will Trick-or-Treat longer, selling more candy. They had lobbyists who made sure that they got their way.

The losers were airlines and companies with computers. Millions of dollars were spent in the last few weeks changing schedules and patching computers, all for questionable results.

Which brings us to global warming. The costs of DSL changes were minor compared with carbon reductions. The winners will win big. The losers might go out of business. The public will end up covering the tab. A number of large companies are already lobbying in case Congress does pass some form of cap and trade on carbon.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Four Unspeakable Untruths

Slate has four unspeakable truths about Iraq. They are: The war was a mistake, the soldiers are victims, the war dead were wasted and the war is lost. The big question here is, are these "truths" really true?

The first one is now a matter of faith among the left. With Saddam dead and gone, it is easy to forget what the circumstances of the war were. First, Saddam had already started two wars and was likely to start more as soon as he re-armed after the sanctions were lifted. He was already bribing other countries to push for lifting the sanctions. The left ignores it but it was well-documented that he planned to re-establish his weapons programs as soon as possible. The sanctions were the main reason that he had not already rearmed. We had also spent over a decade in open hostilities with Saddam. An unbiased observer with a long memory has to admit that a war with Saddam was very likely. The big question was if it would be on his terms or ours?

If the war was not a mistake then it is hard to insist that the war dead were wasted lives. Even if the war was a mistake, most of the dead have come from the insurgency. Everyone this side of John Murtha admits that our troops are the only thing stopping a bloody civil war - something much worse than the low-level conflict going on now. The wasted lives argument holds that a single American life is more important than dozens of foreigners.

The soldiers as victims argument just doesn't match reality. It holds that recruits are forced into the military by poverty. This was thoroughly disproved after Kerry's "joke".

The final point - have we already lost? This is not the real question. Unfortunately, insurgencies last a long time. It could take a decade to really pacify Iraq. The real question is if we have the resolution to stick it out? If not then we have lost. Unfortunately, this is the most likely "truth". The real lesson of Viet Nam is that the left will mobilize against any war that lasts longer than a few weeks or has more than a handful of casualties.

Monday, March 05, 2007

What Does it Mean?

Several items have come up in the last week or so. Their significance is debatable.

Gore's House
As has been widely reported, Al Gore's house consumes more energy in a month than a normal family's house does in a year. Gore's representatives have defended him pointing out that he has installed compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) and other energy-saving technology. He also buys green credits from a company that he chairs.

What does it mean?
Gore has been telling people that curbing global warming is as simple as changing to CFLs and buying green credits. Since his house still requires a ton of energy, it is not this simple. In addition, Gore's green energy company is getting some overdue scrutiny.

Cheering the Taliban
When news reports were posted of a failed attempt on Vice-President Cheney, many people posted comments on Huffington, KOS, and DemocraticUnderGround expressing disappointment that the attempt failed. Ariana removed the comments and complained that they didn't mean anything.

What does it mean?
Dozens of people prefer the Taliban over the current administration. What's more, they were sure that the audience they were posting to would be supportive of this. They were right. I am not aware of anyone replying to these posts to point out that the Taliban is against nearly everything that these people believe in.

Hiring the Bloggers/Attending the Convention.
A few weeks ago the Edwards campaign got in trouble for comments his official campaign bloggers have made in their own blogs.

Over the weekend conservatives held a convention. Most of the presidential candidates attended as did Ann Coulter. At least a few liberals complained that this was a double standard.

What does is mean?
Nothing. There is a big difference between hiring someone who is outspoken and being in the same room with such a person. I doubt that liberals really want to be held to the "being in the same room" standard. Besides, Coulter made it clear that she does not approve of front-runner Rudy Giuliani and Mit Rhomney is lukewarm about her endorsement.

The Press and Rudy
Nearly every article on Giuliani mentions that he is at odds with conservatives on most social issues. It often seems that the press is trying to remind conservatives that they should not be supportive of him.

What does it mean?
Two things. First, liberals have been complaining for years that the Republicans are a bunch of bigots controlled by Christian fundamentalists. For Rudy to do well with this group is a shock to liberal's world-view. We saw they same thing when they kept asking Dick Cheney if he still loved his daughter, even though she is openly gay. They just can't wrap their minds around the concept of tolerant Republicans.

Second, I am sure that they have noticed that Rudy does very well in early polls. If he ran today against Hillary he would win in a landslide. This may be the press's attempt at trying to derail a Republican victory.

McCain and the War
Last week McCain announced his candidacy on Letterman and made a comment about lives wasted in Iraq. He has been backtracking on this ever since.

What does it mean?
I don't know. When Barack made his slip there was little doubt that this was his real opinion. McCain has been a war supporter all along. It is troubling that his private opinion may be at odds with his public support.

The Jesus Tomb

I only watched a bit of the Discovery Channel's special on the Tomb of Jesus. It was enough. I saw some talking heads telling us that it had to be Jesus's tomb because the names matched his family. In particular, his brother's unusual nickname was found in the tomb along with lots of other names that matched his ancestry but were very common.

I'm not buying it. The proofs presented depended on a lot of precise details in the Bible being correct except for the ones that contradicted their thesis. They ignored details such as Jesus's family being too poor to own such a tomb or the implication that the family of Jesus of Nazareth might be from Nazareth instead of Jerusalem.

On the other hand, I don't think that this was an attack on Christianity. Last year's special on the Gospel of Judas was a genuine historical look at early Christianity and it made a lot of money. On TV, any time something makes money it will be imitated. That's all that this was. Just a bit of early history linked with Jesus in order to generate some controversy in order to bring in the viewers.