Tuesday, September 25, 2007

End of a Golden Age

It is very possible that sometime in the next 10-20 years we will look back at the 1990s and early 2000s as a golden era with low unemployment, low consumer prices, easy access to a wide variety of foods and consumer goods and cheap energy. Depending on the next election, all of this may change.

First there is the issue of global warming. The lead story in my local paper, the Columbus Dispatch, was about power companies canceling plans to build new coal-fired power plants. They expect new global warming-based legislation that will make new coal-fired plants too expensive to run. Since coal is the cheapest way to generate electricity, power costs will go up as less coal is used. New power plants in general are being discouraged nation-wide. Eventually the growth in demand for electricity will outrun the current generating capacity and we will see brownouts or rolling blackouts. This is already happening in California where regulations have discouraged new power plants for decades.

I expect global warming legislation to affect most other aspects of life, as well. It doesn't matter cap-and-trade or carbon taxes are enacted, it will raise the cost of energy which raises the cost of everything else.

All of this is almost a certainty. All of the Democratic candidates and many Republicans advocate doing something about global warming, even if that something is ultimately ineffective.

Something else the Democratic slate is against is world trade. Two potent factions within the party, unions and environmentalists, hate world trade. Hillary and Obama have talked about the need to reign in current trade and Edwards has made trade barriers one of his central themes. The trouble here is that trade is the fuel for wealth creation. If you stop buying from a country they stop having money to buy your goods. If you erect barriers to stop their goods they create similar barriers against yours. Restraint of international trade was a major reason for why the Great Depression (actually a world-wide depression) lasted so long.

Bill Clinton understood this and championed free trade as did Reagen and both Bushes. (Hillary was too busy dressing in pink and talking about vast right-wing conspiracies to have learned this lesson.) The result is that third world countries like
India and China and perpetually stagnant countries like Ireland have booming economies.

Progressives have always hated international trade. Unions don't care about larger issues, they only want to protect union jobs (look at the current UAW strike against GM). environmentalists worry about CO2 emissions caused by manufacturing and transporting goods in foreign countries and are convinced that off-shore manufacturing only exists to get around US environmental laws. These interest groups pretty much control the Democratic Party and will choose the next presidential candidate.

If a Democrat wins I expect restrictions of both foreign goods and produce.

Put it all together and we face a darker future.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The "Fascist" takeover

According to Naomi Wolf, we are moving along the path to a fascist (or communist, she dithers) takeover of the US. Her proof is an interesting example of how  you can prove anything if you break it down into small enough pieces and compare it with similar tiny pieces from broad enough sources. She starts with the Senate resolution condemning  the MoveOn Petreus ad. A rational person can assert that the ad was an example of free speech and none of the government's business (and a reasonable person would respond that MoveOn is an unofficial wing of the Democratic party). Wolf goes much further, comparing the non0binding resolution to the Nazi's outlawing of dissent. She then lists a long string of ways that we are like either Hitler's Germany, Stalin's USSR, or Mao's China. These include choices of words that match or are similar to translations of words other people used. For example, the Department of Homeland Security uses "Homeland" and Hitler called Germany the "Fatherland". (It was my impression that the Democrats first suggested the Department of Homeland Security. They said so often enough.) Even more damning, an unnamed official said that, had the shoe-bomber succeeded,  " the world would have stood still" and Hitler said that 'When "Barbarossa" begins, the world will hold its breath.' I guess that unnamed officials on all levels have been given Hitler quotes to use.

Stalin warned of sleeper cells.
...these were purported to be secret terrorist agents of global capitalism who would pretend to be good Soviet citizens, perhaps for years, but who would rise up at a signal to wreak mass havoc on Soviet society. By 2002 the White House introduced the term 'sleeper cells,' which was not in common usage in America.
Her definition of a sleeper cell exactly describes the 9/11 but somehow the existence of real sleeper cells escapes Wolf.

She goes on at length about similarities between concentration camps and Gitmo. Personally, I think it is an insult to the millions of jews murdered by the Nazis to compare them to the 500 or so (now down to 300 or so) enemy agents held at Gitmo. I could write a whole book about why these are different starting with the fact that the Gitmo prisoners will not be gassed.

She sees embedded reporters as proof because the Germans did this. So did the Allies in WWII. The point being...

Then there is this gem:
Nazi propaganda claimed that Jews hid from arrest in 'mouseholes.' When the scene of Saddam Hussein's capture was presented to the world, talking points, widely picked up by the media, introduced, again, a term that was generally unfamiliar in the U.S.: Hussein had been hiding in what they called a 'spider-hole.'

They found Saddam in a camouflaged hole. Is Wolf suggesting that the US army put him there first in order to replicate a Nazi quote?

In all, Wolf gives no proof of anything. I've seen a move convincing essay showing that eating pickles has been a factor in nearly every great disaster in history. Regardless, by printing this breathless list she convinces others that our society has been taken over by unspeakable evil.

Flooding Jamestown?

According to an article released by the AP, Jamestown Island and other historic sites will be covered with water sometime in the next 50-100 years due to rising ocean levels caused by thermal expansion. The article goes on to say that this will happen, no matter what we do.

Where to start?

The last IPCC report did say that the sea levels will rise around one meter due to thermal expansion. They later amended this statement. The figures said 1 millimeter/year and someone transcribed this as 1 meter/century. There are 1,000 millimeters in a meter but only 100 years in a century. The corrected figure should have been 0.1 meters (less than four inches) by the end of the century. Like the CDC's press release about obesity killing 300,000 per year that was later retracted, the 1 meter/century figure is the only one reporters remember.

But, for arguments sake, let's say that the ocean did rise by a meter. What would be the effect on the historic sites at Jamestown Island? Nothing. The site would still be well above the water level. I've been there several times, most recently this year. The water is a long way down. What's more, the water is a river meaning that it is at least slightly above ocean level. This part of the river is salty and slightly affected by the tide so it is close to sea level but not there.

There are parts of the island that would be underwater if the river rose a meter. These parts are on the far end and few tourists would notice the difference.

The study quoted claims to have used US Geological Survey maps. This makes me wonder - is the US Geological Survey that far off? Did the scientists in Arizona misread the data? Did they exaggerate the sea level rise in order to gain more alarming results? Is there a problem with the compute model they used? Something is wrong.

Ironically, the study lists New Orleans as a city that would be partly submerged if global warming continues. Someone forgot to tell them that it is already below sea level.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Obama Flames Out

Barack Obama proposed a complete overhaul of the tax system. He also proposes simplifying taxes so much that the IRS will be able to do your taxes for you. They will send you your tax return, already filled out. You just sign it and send it back in.

This marks the end of Obama's run as a serious candidate. He will still go through the motions and lots of people still support him.

Regardless, this sort of proposal always comes from second tier (or lower) candidates - the people who have no chance of winning.

There are a few reasons for this. In Obama's case, his simplified tax proposal is likely to upset too many special interests. A second reason is that he is making it revenue neutral while promising ta breaks for 150 million people. That means a tax increase for up to half the country - the half that has money. Keep in mind that Obama already expects the top wage earners to pay for his health care proposal so he is proposing a double hit on the rich (to be fair, his advisers claim that they have found other funding for health care) . Keeping in mind how loose the Democrats' definition of "rich" is. It is often defined as anyone in the upper 10% of wage earners which means that a family of two teachers could qualify as rich.*

While many people are willing to donate money to a candidate who promises to raise their taxes in order to cut someone else's, there are a lot more who succumb to self-preservation. Obama's donor base may well dry up.

As part of the new progressive movement, Obama is rejecting free market and the experience of the last half century or so. Current economic theory holds that placing a heavy tax burden on the top wage earners will cause a drag on the entire economy.

Fortunately, Obama's proposals seem more and more desperate. He has not been able to close the nearly 20% gap with Hillary. With the first primaries in four months or less and the nomination likely to be sewn up within five months, he is trying to offset his inexperience with specific proposals. This is a dangerous move. Once he has pinned himself down, his rivals have specifics that they can attack. There is no good way out of this. If he changes details he looks immature. If he sticks with them as announced, he may look stubborn, and immature. Either way, he looks like a candidate who knows he is losing.

* Currently they are tossing around a $200,000/year figure for rich but some Democrats define it as low as $100,000. In Columbus, the average wage for a teacher is over $50,000 so the fmily income of two teachers qualifies them as rich.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Jena 6

In case you haven't been paying attention to the Jena 6 case, it started with an ugly racial incident. A black student wanted to stand in the shade of a tree that some white students wanted to reserve for whites. The next day the tree was decorated with two nooses.

This is ugly. The students responsible were suspended from school for three days.

After that there were some racially motivated fights. In the worst of them, six black students beat a white student unconscious. Officials charged some of the attackers with attempted homicide.

This sparked a national cause. The complaint is that the white students (the ones who hung up some nooses but did not hurt anyone) were given lighter punishment than the black students (who beat someone unconscious).

Personally, I think that black leaders have seized on this as a way of stirring up their constituents. They don't way equal justice, they want an easier standard for blacks. Consider the Duke rape (non)case. In both cases a group of people were accused of attacking someone of a different race. When the accused attackers are black, the black leaders want the charges reduced or dropped. Then the accused attackers were white, these same black leaders wanted the book thrown at them.

How about some equal justice? Don't equate ugly but harmless action with a physical assault.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"Truth" and 9/11

One of the most dispiriting events since 9/11/1 has been the rise of the "truth" movement. This holds that the Bush administration either knew in advance that the attacks were coming and did nothing in order to trigger an event that would further their schemes, or that the Bush administration actually caused the events and no terrorists were ever involved.

The roots of this date back the the event itself. While it should have been obvious that Islamic terrorists were responsible, that never occurred to many on the left. Their initial reaction was that some of their own had done it as an expression of outrage at President Bush. Reasons included the US boycott of an African conference on racism (which already drafted a document condemning Israel) and the "stolen" election.

When the FBI announced the results of their investigation and published pictures, many on the left complained about over-reaction. They insisted that we treat it as a police matter. That would have been the end of things since Afghanistan refused to consider extradition.

Obviously, to many on the left, the Global War on Terrorism was a distraction from the fight against the real enemy - George W. Bush.

The Truth movement solves this conflict. Bush was part of it. Bin Laden was either uninvolved, on Bush's payroll, or a co-conspirator depending on how charitable you are.

They claim that they are just following the evidence. In reality they know the end point already. It is just a matter of stringing the facts together in the right order. I suspect that 99+% of the Truthers believe in evolution but their approach to 9/11 is similar to creationists (a comparison that would mortify them). They seize on minor inconsistencies, constantly shift their stories, and ignore the big picture.

All of this is deeply disrespectful to the people who died six years ago, to their survivors, and to the nation as a whole.

Six Years Later

For a brief time, six years ago, the country seemed united. Yes, there were still some idiots but most of them knew enough to keep it to themselves. No longer.

MoveOn took out a full page national ad in the New York Times rhyming General Petraeus and "Betray Us".

Osama bin Landen released a new video a few days ago in which he sounds a lot like a progressive. Think Progress denies it saying:
Considering bin Laden’s threat yesterday to “escalate the killing and fighting against” America, Brooks and his fellow conservatives’ attempts at humor — and that’s a charitable reading of their words — are especially insulting, as it impugns not only the patriotism, but also the character and intelligence of literally millions of daily participants in the progressive blogosphere.
I've read the whole thing and the vast majority of it does sound like someone from the far left. During much of it he is telling us how corrupt western civilization is starting with the Spanish Inquisition (no one expects...) and the Holocaust. He assures us that the Jews would have been safe if they had fled to Muslim lands. All of this is strange coming from the man who ordered the death of nearly 3,000 Americans six years ago. He buys into the Kennedy assassination theory (although he thinks that the neo-cons did it). The folks at Olberman Watch compared ObL with Olberman and decided that Olberman is harsher.

Even the part about escalating the killing isn't something the left can disown. Remember Michael Moore comparing the insurgents in Iraq with the Minutemen?

Seriously, the Left should be taking a long hard look at themselves. They sound too much like an avowed enemy of the US.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Democrat's Problems

Over the weekend I saw various articles and posts about the current struggle for control of the Democrats. It boils down to some problems for them. Here's a run-down:

Governing. In retrospect it is obvious that the Democrats were not looking past the 2006 election. Their strategy was to recruit moderate candidates in possible swing districts in order to pick off vulnerable Republicans. This worked out fairly well for them as far as electing members of the party but it is causing headaches for them now. While the rest of the party has headed to the left, many of the new members are moderates, or even slightly conservative. This is especially true on defense. These new moderates quickly organized into the Blue Dog Democrats and vote against the liberals on some issues. There has been some talk of the Republicans still holding a working majority because of the Blue Dogs.

New Ideas. Do the Democrats have any new ideas? The new book, The Argument, says that they do not. The author, Matt Bai, points out that anyone debating what name to give to their ideas does not have anything new to offer. I've seen this countless times - the left insisting that the public is with them on the issues but votes for the Republicans out of ignorance. I sort of disagree with Bai. The Democrats do have a new idea - it is to become "progressive". This involves a hard turn to the left on virtually every issue. This is where they have their friction with the Blue Dogs.

Just look at the platforms of the Democrats running for president to see how this is playing out. They are currently engaged in a bidding war for how much their universal health care will cover. Over the weekend, Edwards upped his bid by including mandatory physical and mental check-ups.

While it is true that the Democrats have become much more progressive, I don't see much indication that the rest of the country has. Yes, the Democrats won a majority in 2006 but they were not running on a progressive platform at the time.

Reform. This is what the Democrats were running on in 2006. The issues they used were runaway federal spending, influence peddling in exchange for earmarked funds, and the need for a "new direction" in Iraq. Bush provided the new direction with the "surge". The Democrats have done nothing about other issues. Earmarks have increased as has spending. A lot of effort has gone into the fight between the progressives and the moderates with nothing to show for it.

History. Did the Democrats win in 2006 because voters preferred them or because a Republican president was in his 6th year? Historically, the opposing party usually wins seats in the 6th year. Even Reagan lost the Senate in that election. This does not mean that the country has shifted politically. Bush (41) won in 1988 and Gore almost won in 2000 even though their parties had comparable Congressional losses in 1986 and 1998. This means that the 2008 election is not a sure thing. Congressional approval is at a historic low which could easily turn into a backlash against over-reaching Democrats.

Net-Roots. The net-roots are not only focusing on electing Democrats, they are also concerned with "better" Democrats. Look at the Leiberman/Lamont fiasco. They spent a lot of effort trying to replace a long-time Democrat because he did not follow the net-roots line on the war. For a while they hated Leiberman as much as Bush and hailed his loss in the primary as one of democracy's greatest triumphs. Forcing a national party into an idealogical lock-step is a problem since it does not allow any room for centrists.

The net-roots are important in an election because of the amount of money they spend but they are independent of the party and are trying to force their views on party members. They are a difficult-to-manage group. Most of the white-hot hatred of Bush and the conspiracy theories come from this group. They control a lot of advertising money and some office-holders are members so the Democratic leadership has to take them seriously. At the same time, they are pretty far out of the mainstream and their vision of the party might not be electable.

Bush. Since 2000, the Democrats have defined themselves partly through their hatred of Bush. He will not be part of the 2008 campaign. Candidates running against Bush will seem dated.

A different problem - Bush was never a great candidate. He won against two stiff, wooden Democrats who came across as rich members of the DC establishment. The Democrats may have a more articulate candidate in 2008 but the Republicans will also. The current front-runners are all much better at public speaking than Bush. Hillary still comes off shrill, Obama makes mistakes, and Edwards has image problems. None should be considered a sure-thing against a charismatic Republican with a competent campaign.