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Friday, February 25, 2005

Property Rights

The Seattle Times:

The case involves a group of homeowners in New London, Conn., who are suing to prevent the city from condemning their homes in order to give the land to a real-estate developer. The developer intends to erect a private commercial spread, including luxury housing and private office space for such companies as drug giant Pfizer. New London justifies its action under eminent domain, a constitutional power that allows government to take private property for 'public use.' Historically, the power was intended to allow government to seize land it needed for things like roads or schools, as long as the owner was compensated. But in recent years, eminent domain has become the worst kind of corporate welfare, practiced at the expense of those who can least afford it. In Kelo, the city justifies the seizure on the grounds that the new complex will contribute to urban renewal while raising the tax revenues the city receives from the property. Similar tactics have been used to condemn church property to make way for Costco (California), blocks of local residences to make way for shiny new malls (Ohio) and family land in favor of Nissan (Mississippi). ... And though the city bears greatest legal responsibility, the drug company should be ashamed of itself. In recent years, pharmaceutical companies have fought valiant battles to protect their own intellectual-property rights, despite "public interest" arguments that the drugs they discovered should be stripped of their patents or given away for a song. Indeed, the Pfizer Journal, in an article on land reform, writes that "property rights are fundamental to human health and dignity. And protection of property — including the property of the mind — is fundamental to the industries that make jobs available to drive a healthy economy." We're sure the citizens of New London would agree.
Property rights are fundamental. Michael, of Of the Mind posted an Ayn Rand quote that sums up my feelings on this issue well:
"The idea that 'the public interest' supersedes private interests and rights can have but one meaning: that the interests and rights of some individuals take precedence over the interests and rights of others." - Ayn Rand

Bush and Putin: Could Bush Be Right? -- Take Two


But Bush, for all his diplomatic bumbling prior to and even since the Iraq war (and including his faux pas on Wednesday night when he neglected to take off his gloves when greeting his Slovakian hosts), is not shy about confronting Putin when he sees a problem. Furthermore, he does so publicly, making it much more difficult for Putin to return to business as usual. Indeed, the cheery press conference -- while to be expected -- was all the more interesting for the clear disagreements separating the two leaders and the direct way Bush addressed those differences. Diplomacy, Bush seemed to be saying, can -- and perhaps should -- work like a friendship. Tell your friend when you think he or she is straying. But at the same time, show your commitment to the foundation of the relationship.
I believe this is the correct method to use in dealing with Russia. Surprising that Spiegel agrees with me. (hat tip: VodkaPundit)

Where do I sign up?

Six figure job: Watch Dukes of Hazzard:

Location and hours flexible, pay good. The job may seem onerous to some, however: watching 'The Dukes of Hazzard' reruns five nights a week. Viacom's Country Music Television channel is running help wanted ads for this position -- Vice President, CMT Dukes of Hazzard Institute. That's right. That's what the ads say, noting the pay is $100,000 for the duration of a one-year contract. The vice president will have to watch Dukes of Hazzard every weeknight on Country Music Television, know all the words to The Dukes of Hazzard theme song and write the Dukes of Hazzard on-line blog for CMT.com, Country Music Television's Web site.
I'll admit to loving the Dukes of Hazzard. This is probably due to the impact Daisy Duke's shorts had on my developing pubescent mind.

Tent city rises to pressure Syria

The Washington Times:

But regional analysts say Mr. Assad is most likely to be unnerved, not by foreign political pressure but by the unprecedented protest movement sparked by the Feb. 14 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The tent city rose up near the immense crater created by the blast that killed Mr. Hariri and 16 others, peopled by protesters who refused to go home after a demonstration Monday described as the largest anti-Syrian protest ever held. Divided into small groups according to affiliation -- the Christian Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) in one area, the followers of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt in another -- the camp has been growing daily since Monday. Inspired by December's Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the Rose Revolution in Georgia a year earlier, the protesters have begun to call their action the 'Cedar Revolt' in a tribute to the tree that adorns the Lebanese flag.
I often wonder if I would have the courage to participate in such an event, where the possibility of violent crackdown by government officials is very real. Their courage is amazing, and deserving of our awe and support. (via Instapundit)

These boots are made for running for President

Ann Althouse has some interesting thoughts at GlennReynolds.com about the newly famous Condi in black photo. If you haven't seen the photo yet, be sure to click through the link, the imagery is quite striking.

Book Recommendation

I have just finished reading the Golden Age trilogy (The Golden Age, The Phoenix Exultant, and The Golden Transcendence) by John C. Wright and I highly recommend them. It is classic Sci-Fi in the tradition of Asimov and Heinlein. As well as having a gripping plot and interesting characters the series also has a lot of philosophy and plays around with theories of government and economics. The final conflict in the series is more of a philosophical battle than an action sequence (although their is plenty of action as well.) The conflict is between two governing systems, that of the Sophotechs (Wise Machines) and the Philanthrotechs (Benevolent Machines). The Sophotechs believe that human dignity and freedom are absolute and should be allowed regardless of costs and that the only legitimate use of force is to prevent others from using force. The Philanthrotechs on the other hand believe that it is more important to prevent pain and suffering and to ensure the survival of humanity even if that means liberty must be curtailed.

Thursday, February 24, 2005



Populist Economics

Ezra Klein has a post up in which he argues that new entitlement programs would promote entrepreneurship and economic growth:

On risk, I've been slapping this donkey for awhile, and have only grown more convinced that it's the right move to make. The role of the government should be to grease the market and reduce risk to the worker. Universal Health Care, Social Security, universal day care -- all this needs to be implemented so workers aren't tied down to a particular job and stuck in a situation that doesn't fully utilize their abilities. Further, if the government takes responsibility for security, Americans have the freedom to be entrepreneurs. Anyone want to argue the good of entrepreneurship? Thought not.
There is a degree of validity to this argument. I am willing to entertain the notion that some of our wealth transferring programs provide a net gain to the economy. Certainly, reduction of risk is something that can promote risk taking and therefore economic growth. That being said, Ezra fails to make that case here. First off is the simple fact that the money has to come from somewhere. Any money spent on Universal Health Care, or universal day care is money that isn't being spent somewhere else. Unless you can prove that economic growth from the entitlement is greater than what you would get if that money was spent in the ways people would otherwise choose to spend it, you havn't even begun to address this issue. Now, I suppose you could argue that the money is being spent on these activities in any event so the net cost would be zero. This would require a basic premise that government is at least as efficient in allocating resources as the private sector is. Something I find laughable, but perhaps someone could prove me wrong. I expect that there would be a net economic loss due to the implementation of these programs, partially because I am convinced that government is less efficient than the private sector. Even more significant is this basic fact: any such schemes would be based upon a transfer of wealth from rich to poor. This would of course entail taking resources from people who have proven themselves to be successful entreprenuers and giving it to those who are, at best, unproven. This doesn't seem like a smart business practice to me. Moral cases for the programs can be made, arguing that the cost is worth it, but I don't think that a very good economic case can be made. Update: Matt Singer has posted on this and offered some criticisms of my ideas. He hasn't convinced me, but I believe that all arguments should be heard.

The cycle will be broken

Victor at The Dead Parrot Society, has another very good post on Social Security reform, this time dealing with the moral reasons why we should undertake reform now. His final thoughts:

At some point, the cycle WILL be broken. It may be 2005, 2025, 2050, or it may be 2075. But at some point, the cycle will almost certainly break because the intergenerational debt will continue to pile up. Demographics are working against us, and the longer we wait and let the pressures build up, the uglier that break will be.
Read the whole thing

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Syrian survival strategy

Farid N. Ghadry, president of the Reform Party of Syria, has an interesting analysis and solution to the problems of Syria in The Washington Times:

What we are facing here is standard Syrian survival strategy of exporting trouble to be able to better retain control at home. What the Syrian regime is saying is that you can have democracy or stability, but you cannot have both. That is why the Syrian Ba'athists are destabilizing Iraq and Lebanon to create havoc and so discredit these fragile democracies. A sectarian war in Iraq between Sunni Arabs, Shiia Arabs and Kurds would suit Syria just fine and conveniently tie up the United States for the foreseeable future. Similarly, chaos in Lebanon justifies a continued Syrian presence. The U.S. response to this strategy of defiance and destabilization should be to regard the killing of Mr. Hariri as a massive Syrian miscalculation, an opportunity to change policy for the better. The United States must not allow Syria to commit murder and then escape retribution by laying low and hoping that the diplomatic storm will pass. If such an approach is taken, then Damascus will surely strike again. The next U.S. step, following the withdrawal of the U.S. ambassador in Damascus, must be to open a front against the Syria Ba'athists in their own backyard. Not a military front, far from it, but a popular civilian offensive. The United States should aim to create the same disequilibrium in Syria that the Syrian Ba'athists so readily encourage elsewhere. The United States has no need to mobilize its own troops, but should, instead, seek to mobilize Syrians. The Reform Party of Syria, along with other Syrian opposition groups, can mobilize thousands of people for acts of civil disobedience within Syria. To do so, we will need U.S. support. Alone, we will suffer the same fate as the Lebanese. With U.S. assistance, however, we can hold the Ba'athist regime accountable for its crimes at home and abroad. As Mohammad al-Douri, then Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations said on April 10, 2003, the day after Saddam's statue came down in Baghdad, 'The game is over.' If the United States gives the Syrian opposition its backing, the game will be over in Damascus as well.
His analysis of Syria's motivations and fears seems very accurate to me. I am unsure of exactly what he is envisioning with his plea for U.S. assistance though. If it is diplomatic protection, public support for any acts of civil disobedience and strong denounciations of any Syrian crackdowns on the opposition I am good with that. If it is covertly arming rebel groups inside of Syria I am hesitant. Too many times we have seen the 'meet the new boss, same as the old boss' phenomenon for me to quickly jump into supporting and internal opposition in a military fashion without a whole lot more knowledge than I currently possess. I also wonder if anything less would have much impact on Syria. It would be interesting however to, if other options prove futile, to take a look at an 'Afghanistan' strategy with U.S. Air cover and Special Ops deployed with a Syrian insurgency against the Baathists. Certainly the idea that we are willing to undertake such a strategy could make it unneeded to do so if that is communicated clearly to the Syrian regime. I don't believe we should bluff though, if we say we will do x if you don't do y we had better be prepared to follow through. History tells us that George W. Bush shares my philosophy here, so if I was Syria I wouldn't count on him bluffing.

An unlikely alliance?


Liberals and neo-conservatives have come together in an unlikely alliance in Washington. Driven by shared concerns over the erosion of democracy in Russia, both camps are piling the pressure on President George W. Bush to take a tough line at his meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Slovakia on Friday. Yet within Mr Bush's own party the issue has once more exposed fundamental foreign policy differences, with several prominent Republicans urging him to adopt a tempered approach, lest he damage vital strategic US interests.
First off, while I don't think we should try to impose any sanctions or trade barriers with Russia at this point, I support strongly calling a spade a spade. We may need to 'deal' with an increasingly undemocratic Russia, but we do not need to encourage it or pretend that we support the way Russia is heading. I am somewhat surprised by the idea that Liberals and neo-cons are considered an unlikely alliance. Historically, most of the leading neo-cons were once liberals who felt that the Democratic Party and Liberals in general had betrayed some of their basic principles as the left side of the political spectrum became increasingly anti-war, isolationist, and (on the fringes at least) anti-capitalism and anti-american. Obviously, many Liberals have continued to hold pro-democracy and pro-capitalist beliefs and they are the natural allies of the Neo-cons. Especially since the more traditional conservatives (paleo-cons) have long held a real-politic and often isolationist view of foreign policy. Of course one reason that an alliance between Liberals and Neo-cons is considered unlikely is the tendancy of both groups to treat the other as 'heretics.'

The Secret Genocide Archive

Nicholas Kristof has writtena must read column on the Darfur Genocide. The article includes some very disturbing pictures, so be advised, but I believe that it is important to acknowledge the truth about what is happening.

This archive, including scores of reports by the monitors on the scene, underscores that this slaughter is waged by and with the support of the Sudanese government as it tries to clear the area of non-Arabs. Many of the photos show men in Sudanese Army uniforms pillaging and burning African villages. I hope the African Union will open its archive to demonstrate publicly just what is going on in Darfur. The archive also includes an extraordinary document seized from a janjaweed official that apparently outlines genocidal policies. Dated last August, the document calls for the 'execution of all directives from the president of the republic' and is directed to regional commanders and security officials. 'Change the demography of Darfur and make it void of African tribes,' the document urges. It encourages 'killing, burning villages and farms, terrorizing people, confiscating property from members of African tribes and forcing them from Darfur.' It's worth being skeptical of any document because forgeries are possible. But the African Union believes this document to be authentic. I also consulted a variety of experts on Sudan and shared it with some of them, and the consensus was that it appears to be real.
This bit at the end is also very important:
During past genocides against Armenians, Jews and Cambodians, it was possible to claim that we didn't fully know what was going on. This time, President Bush, Congress and the European Parliament have already declared genocide to be under way. And we have photos. This time, we have no excuse.
Write your Congressman and Senators, make sure that they know that it is inexcusable to ignore genocide, as we have too many times in the past, and that the full force of America's diplomacy (and military if need be) should be brought to bear to end this horror. (via Vodkapudit whose thoughts are also worth reading.)

Beirut's Berlin Wall

This Washington Post article is very interesting:

The leader of this Lebanese intifada is Walid Jumblatt, the patriarch of the Druze Muslim community and, until recently, a man who accommodated Syria's occupation. But something snapped for Jumblatt last year, when the Syrians overruled the Lebanese constitution and forced the reelection of their front man in Lebanon, President Emile Lahoud. The old slogans about Arab nationalism turned to ashes in Jumblatt's mouth, and he and Hariri openly began to defy Damascus. ... Jumblatt dresses like an ex-hippie, in jeans and loafers, but he maintains the exquisite manners of a Lebanese aristocrat. Over the years, I've often heard him denouncing the United States and Israel, but these days, in the aftermath of Hariri's death, he's sounding almost like a neoconservative. He says he's determined to defy the Syrians until their troops leave Lebanon and the Lahoud government is replaced. "It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq," explains Jumblatt. "I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world." Jumblatt says this spark of democratic revolt is spreading. "The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it."
Encouraging words.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Kofi Annan addresses U.N. corruption

Kofi Annan had an editorial in the Wall Street Journal today. Much of is is eminently fiskable, but I won't do that here. Instead, I'll focus on his conclusion which I very much agree with:

In my eight years as secretary-general, I had already done a lot--with the support of member states, often led by the U.S.--to make the U.N. more coherent and efficient. Now we need to make it more transparent and accountable--not only to diplomats representing member governments, but also directly to the public. The U.N. cannot expect to survive into the 21st century unless ordinary people throughout the world feel that it does something for them--helping to protect them against conflict (both civil and international), but also against poverty, hunger, disease and the erosion of their natural environment. And in recent years, bitter experience has taught us that a world in which whole countries are left prey to misgovernment and destitution is not safe for anyone. We must turn the tide against disease and hunger, as well as against terrorism, the proliferation of deadly weapons and crime--starting, urgently, with decisions from the Security Council to end the abominable crimes in Darfur and bring war criminals to international justice. This September, we have a real opportunity to make the U.N. more useful to all its members. Leaders from all over the world are coming to a U.N. summit in New York. I shall put before them an agenda of bold but achievable proposals for making the U.N. work better, and the world fairer and safer. I know that Americans want to do that as much as any people on earth. More than any other people, they have the power to do it--if they listen to and work with others, and take the lead in a concerted effort. I believe that they will give us that lead. I look forward to September with hope and excitement.
I fully support these goals and this idea. I have some concern however, that Kofi Annan is not the man to lead such a reform. I have equal concern, that even if he is the right man, the character of many of the member states, and the philosophy of the U.N. beurocrats is such that these reforms will be difficult to achieve

Domino Effect?

Rob of Fine? Why Fine? has some good stuff on events in Syria/Lebanon and Egypt.


Click through to this important info on a couple of Iranian bloggers in trouble with the theocrats there. The least we can do is publicly proclaim our support.

Monday, February 21, 2005


Jonathan Alter writes in NewsWeek:

Jim Taricani, a local TV news reporter in providence, R.I., cannot go to the grocery store. Because Taricani is a heart-transplant survivor, a federal judge is letting him serve his six-month prison sentence at home, but he is prohibited from using the Internet, talking to the media or leaving the house except for medical care. Taricani's crime is that he would not reveal to a grand jury who leaked him an FBI videotape that showed a top aide to former Providence mayor Buddy Cianci accepting a bribe. The leaker, a defense attorney, came forward to say he'd given Taricani the tape. It didn't matter. Judge Ernest Torres still ruled that Taricani must be placed under house arrest, while the attorney will likely get off with a wrist slap. Something strange is going on in the relationship between the media and the criminal-justice system. With the mainstream media less popular than HMO administrators, frustrated prosecutors in federal cases are increasingly shooting the messengers. It doesn't work in state court, because almost every state has either shield laws or court decisions that give journalists a "privilege" that allows them to refuse to testify. But while lawyers, clergy, psychiatrists and, under a recent Supreme Court decision, social workers can protect confidentiality before federal grand juries, journalists cannot. This is scary stuff. My greatest concern is not the personal fates of Taricani or Judy Miller of The New York Times and Matt Cooper of Time, though the latter two are friends of mine who heard from a federal appeals court last week that they will likely go to jail for up to 18 months for refusing to testify before a grand jury in the Valerie Plame case. What worries me more are the consequences for the citizens of Providence, who aren't likely to catch a glimpse of their local officials taking envelopes of cash again any time soon; the baseball fans who wouldn't have known which players were juiced on steroids if the San Francisco Chronicle had not published grand jury testimony (those reporters are being threatened by prosecutors), and the broader American public, which may be entering an era where our news consists of press releases, spin and nothing much that the government does not want us to know.
An interesting debate, and he makes some good points about the need for journalists to have confidentiality. However, the way I read the first ammendment, it applies to all citizens with no special privilege for a journalists. This is especially true in our 'blogging age' when it is easy for any citizen to publish their thoughts, opinions, and information on the web. Most of us bloggers are not journalists and do not do any firsthand reporting. However, any of us could do so at any time and if that is the case, than why should some citizens get rights that others do not? Alternatively of course we can simply throw out the idea of all compelled testimony (something that is interesting to entertain.)

More good news in Iraq?

This is interesting, although it is too soon to say if it will pan out.

U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers are conducting secret talks with Iraq's Sunni insurgents on ways to end fighting there, Time magazine reported on Sunday, citing Pentagon and other sources. The Bush administration has said it would not negotiate with Iraqi fighters and there is no authorized dialogue but the U.S. is having "back-channel" communications with certain insurgents, unidentified Washington and Iraqi sources told the magazine. The magazine cited a secret meeting between two members of the U.S. military and an Iraqi negotiator, a middle-aged former member of Saddam Hussein's regime and the senior representative of what he called the nationalist insurgency.
Hopefully, this will pan out and some more progress can be made. (via Powerline)

More on Lebanon


Tens of thousands of opposition supporters shouted insults at Syria and demanded the resignation of their pro-Syrian government in a Beirut demonstration Monday, marking a week since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Beating drums and waving Lebanese flags, those of their own parties and portraits of past leaders killed during the 1975-90 civil war, the protesters gathered at the site where Hariri was killed Feb. 14 in a bombing that the opposition blames on Damascus. Some in the crowd yelled "Syria out!" and "We don't want a parliament that acts as a doorkeeper for the Syrians," competing with loud insults shouted against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Any trouble for Syria is good news as far as I'm concerned. Lebanon was once the most progressive place in the middle-east. Perhaps someday it will be able to return to that position. (via InstaPundit)

Terrorist Scorecard

This is interesting. (via VodkaPundit)

Continuing toward the Center


As 55 people died in Iraq on Saturday, the holiest day on the Shiite Muslim religious calendar, Sen. Hillary Clinton said that much of Iraq was "functioning quite well" and that the rash of suicide attacks was a sign that the insurgency was failing. Clinton, a New York Democrat, said insurgents intent on destabilizing the country had failed to disrupt Iraq's landmark Jan. 30 elections. "The concerted effort to disrupt the elections was an abject failure. Not one polling place was shut down or overrun," Clinton told reporters inside the U.S.-protected Green Zone, a sprawling complex of sandbagged buildings surrounded by blast walls and tanks. The zone is home to the Iraqi government and the U.S. Embassy.
Hillary obviously believes that by 2008 Iraq will be considered a success. I think her political instincts are accurate here. (via Smash and Austin Bay)

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.

ABC News:

Hunter S. Thompson, the hard-living writer who inserted himself into his accounts of America's underbelly and popularized a first-person form of journalism in books such as "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," has committed suicide. Thompson was found dead Sunday in his Aspen-area home of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, sheriff's officials said. He was 67. Thompson's wife, Anita, had gone out before the shooting and was not home at the time. His son, Juan, found the body. Thompson "took his life with a gunshot to the head," the wife and son said in a statement released to the Aspen Daily News. The statement asked for privacy for Thompson's family and, using the Latin term for Earth, added, "He stomped terra."
RIP Hunter

You Are 25 Years Old
Under 12: You are a kid at heart. You still have an optimistic life view - and you look at the world with awe. 13-19: You are a teenager at heart. You question authority and are still trying to find your place in this world. 20-29: You are a twentysomething at heart. You feel excited about what's to come... love, work, and new experiences. 30-39: You are a thirtysomething at heart. You've had a taste of success and true love, but you want more! 40+: You are a mature adult. You've been through most of the ups and downs of life already. Now you get to sit back and relax.
This is actually kind of scary, since I have been counting back for the last few years due to a reluctance to turn 30, this is in fact my adjusted age... Obviously my metrics are correct! (via Macboar)

Friday, February 18, 2005

Yoda on O'Reilly

This is great. WuzzaDem: O'Reilly Factor: Yoda I don't know if I have mentioned it here before or not, but I am no fan of Bill O'Reilly. I have seen him do one or two good interviews, but mostly he just spits out his own, usually uninformed, opinions and doesn't let his guests speak. Even when I agree with his conclusions, I almost never agree with the reasoning that got him there.

More on the Van Gogh murder

TigerHawk has an interesting post up about connections with the killer of Theo Van Gogh and Al-Qaida. Interesting and disturbing. (via InstaPundit)

Shiites and Stereotypes

Robert Kagan points out in The Washington Post that not all Shiites are the same, and being Shiite doesn't mean one favors an Iranian style government:

Compare liberal and journalistic open-mindedness during the Cold War, when the subject was communism, with the remarkable rigidity from these same quarters today when it comes to a very different group of people: Shiite Muslims. The votes were still being counted in Iraq this month when the New York Times reported in the opening sentence of a front-page article that the likely winners of the Iraqi election were 'an alliance of Shiite parties dominated by religious groups with strong links to Iran.' The Post went the Times one better 10 days later with this sensational headline: 'Iraq Winners Allied With Iran Are the Opposite of U.S. Vision.' Columnist Robert Scheer wants to know 'why the United States has spent incalculable fortunes in human life, taxpayer money and international goodwill to break Iraq and then remake it in the image of our avowed 'axis of evil' enemy next door.' Or as James Carville says more pithily: 'We done trade a half-a-trillion dollars for a pro-Iran government!' So much for the subtle distinctions of the past. So much for complexity. And so much for letting a little time pass before jumping to alarmist conclusions that are likely to prove, shall we say, simplistic. Much of this anti-Shiite paranoia is being stirred by other Iraqis, of course, either because they are sore electoral losers or because they hope to weaken Shiite influence in the new government. Most leaders of the neighboring Arab states are Sunni and make no secret of their anti-Shiite prejudices. But that doesn't mean Americans should adopt their prejudices or their paranoia.
Most of the over-blown rhetoric of Iraq becoming a puppet to Iran seems to me to be simply a way to deride the very hopeful positive signs we are seeing in Iraq. Once again, it is the "yes, but" syndrome. Yes Saddam was a murderer, but... Yes it's great we caught Saddam, but... Yes it's great Iraq had a successful election, but... I don't deny that their is some validity in some of these buts. However, all too often it seems those putting them forth are not trying to look ahead and plan for future problems or deal with reality as it is, they are simply trying to make the case that no matter how successful things are, the entire operation is a failure.

It was all about WMD!!!!!

Mike Rosen attempts to remind the democrats that WMD were never the sole reason for going into Iraq:

But how about WMD as the sole justification? Sen. Barbara Boxer trotted out that canard in her shrill interrogation of Rice during the confirmation hearings for secretary of state. 'Well,' she huffed, 'you should read what we voted on when we voted to support the war, which I did not, but most of my colleagues did. It was WMD period. That was the reason and the causation for that, you know, particular vote.' 'WMD period'? Oh, really? Perhaps Boxer should reread the text of the Joint Congressional Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq, passed by the House and Senate in October 2002. Either she failed to do so then or she's forgotten. (Could she be 'lying'?) Preceding the 'resolved' part, there were 23 separate 'whereases,' citing the justifications for war. Only nine of them made specific reference to WMD.
He then give some of the specific reasons, things like promoting democracy and human rights.

A test principles

This Weekly Standard article about Bush's upcoming meeting with Putin is well worth reading:

Words are especially meaningful when they are hard to say. The first big test of Bush's commitment to his liberty doctrine will come when he meets Russian president Vladimir Putin in Bratislava, Slovakia, on February 24. Calling for freedom's advance on Inauguration Day is one thing; saying the same to Putin a month later is another, and a much more difficult, thing. In previous meetings, Putin and Bush seem not to have spent much time discussing liberty. Before the recent inauguration, this omission had a strategic justification, however flawed. Throughout Bush's first term, 'realists' on his team claimed that Russian-American relations were best served when we checked our values at the door. Our relations with Russia, so the argument went, were so important to our vital security interests that President Bush should avoid talking about freedom and democracy when meeting with his Kremlin counterpart and instead focus the dialogue on the global war on terror or nonproliferation. This argument was shortsighted and flawed. In the long run--even in the medium run--coddling dictators backfires. Only a democratic Russia will be a reliable partner for either U.S. foreign policymakers or American businesses. Only a democratic Russia will be able to build a legitimate state capable of fighting terrorism on Russian soil and thereby contributing to the global war on terrorism. Only a democratic Russia will stop threatening young democracies nearby in Ukraine and Georgia.
While I am a firm believer in democracy promotion in the Wilsonian tradition, I am also sympathetic to realist arguments to a certain extent. We cannot compel Russia and we might be unable to convince Putin at this time. Certainly it seems obvious that too much pressure could simply backfire. What seems to me to be most important though, is although we may make deals with undemocratic countries and totalitarians it is important that we never deceive ourselves about the nature of such allies. We can be true friends with other democracies. Everyone else can at best be considered an ally of convenience or a hired hand. Our policies and our rhetoric at should reflect this underlying fact.

Progress in Iraq

Riding Sun has some good news, with links, about ordinary Iraqis fighting back against the insurgents.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Status of the War on Terror

Belmont Club has a great post up examining the testimony of intelligence, finance, defense and military officials before Congress on the status of the War on Terror. Well worth reading.

This is cool too


The difference between man and machine is shrinking. Scientists have developed a robot that 'learns' to walk like a toddler, improving its step and balance with every stride. The walking robot looks more like a moving Erector set than a human being, but the machine has the unmistakable gait of a person strolling along. The robot uses its curved feet and motorized ankles to spring its legs forward, its arms swinging at every step to help with balance. Researchers on Thursday showed off the learning, walking robot, along with two less-advanced models, at the national meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. A report on the research appears this week in the journal Science.

Greenspan on Social Security


When Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan says he favors adding individual investment accounts to Social Security, he's thinking big picture. Such accounts could serve a macroeconomic and a social good, Greenspan told the House Committee on Financial Services on Thursday. But, he noted for the second time in two days, adding the accounts to the system won't address Social Security's current solvency issues. The increasing concentration of wealth among high earners isn't good for a democratic society, Greenspan said. 'These accounts, properly constructed and managed, will create ... a sense of increased wealth on the part of the middle- and lower-income classes of this society, who have had to struggle with very little capital. 'While they do have a claim against the Social Security system in the future, as best as I can judge, they don't feel as though it's personal wealth the way they would with personal accounts,' he said. 'And I think that's quite important.'
Boil it all down, and this is my biggest reason for supporting these accounts as well. Giving people an individual stake in what is going on and make them more independent of government. Yes, this is an ideological reason, but nonetheless I think it is very sound. Like it or not, the information economy in many ways makes capital even more important than it was in the industrial economy. We are seeing great improvements in productivity, but that is largely a result of up-front capital investments. Update: Honest Partisan has his own thoughts (well actually Paul Krugman and Kevin Drum's thoughts) on Greenspan. I disagree, but your mileage may vary.

Life on Mars?

Check out this post: The Speculist: Life on Mars Very cool if it pans out.

Questions for conservatives on Social Security

Greg of Generic Confusion has put up some good answers to Stephen Bainbridge's Questions for conservatives on Social Security. I won't answer those questions here, as I pretty much agree with Greg and any frequent reader of this blog could probably guess my answers anyway.


This OpinionJournal Article on Hariri and some history of Syria's dealing with Lebanon is well worth reading:

There is talk nowadays of spreading liberty to Arab lands, changing the ways of the Arabs, putting an end to regimes that harbor terror. The restoration of Lebanon's sovereignty ought to be one way for the Arabs to break with the culture of dictators and police states, and with the time of the car bombs. Hariri sought for his country a businessman's peace. His way was a break with the politics of charisma and ideology that has wrecked the Arab world; he believed in philanthropy and practical work. His vision may not have been stirring. But there was dignity in it, and a reprieve from the time of darkness.
Very interesting stuff. Perhaps this year will be the year Lebanon regains its sovereignty from Syria.

China's stake in a nonnuclear North Korea

Nina Hachigian explains in The Christian Science Monitor why a nuclear North Korea matters to China:

For Beijing, the strategic stakes involved with North Korea going nuclear are extremely high. A nuclear-armed North could produce a cascade effect, leading South Korea, Japan, and even Taiwan to consider developing nuclear weapons programs in response. More nuclear powers would make East Asia less stable. With Japan's bloody invasion of China during World War II an ever-present memory for many Chinese, a nuclear Japan would be a particularly threatening outcome for China. Moreover, the Chinese know that if North and South Korea eventually reunited, the resulting country would eventually become a powerful force in the region that would decide its own geopolitical destiny. China would like to prevent that future country from having nuclear weapons. China also wants to stand shoulder to shoulder with the US when it can.
The key has always been China and a nuclear North Korea matters more to China than it does to us (although it does matter a lot to us.) This is why the Bush diplomatic strategy of insisting on multi-party talks and not appearing to be worried over the situation is the correct one. If China thinks we will fix it on our own, they will let us. If they decide it is up to them, then they will take care of the problem. Obviously no course with North Korea is free from risk, both to our interests and China, and we should work with the Chinese on the solution. However, they are the ones with the negotiating power with North Korea and we need to make them use it.

The Blogs Must Be Crazy

Peggy Noonan writes about blogs. A must read. (via Of the mind)

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

So much for the 1st Law

This The New York Times story on military robots is pretty cool.

The lawyers tell me there are no prohibitions against robots making life-or-death decisions,' said Mr. Johnson, who leads robotics efforts at the Joint Forces Command research center in Suffolk, Va. 'I have been asked what happens if the robot destroys a school bus rather than a tank parked nearby. We will not entrust a robot with that decision until we are confident they can make it.' Trusting robots with potentially lethal decision-making may require a leap of faith in technology not everyone is ready to make. Bill Joy, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems, has worried aloud that 21st-century robotics and nanotechnology may become 'so powerful that they can spawn whole new classes of accidents and abuses.' 'As machines become more intelligent, people will let machines make more of their decisions for them,' Mr. Joy wrote recently in Wired magazine. 'Eventually a stage may be reached at which the decisions necessary to keep the system running will be so complex that human beings will be incapable of making them intelligently. At that stage, the machines will be in effective control.'
Eventually, this is bound to happen. Either we will embrace these technologies or we will be destroyed by those who do. Yeah, it will cause problems. Every scientific advance has. (via VodkaPundit)

The Open Government Act of 2005

Mark Tapscott has a post up about FOIA reform introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Every blogger should read this post and support the bill's passage. Transparency and accountability of government should be one issue that is truly bi-partisan. A world in which bloggers were as focused on government accountability as we are on media accountability would be a very good thing. More access to individual private citizens would greatly help this process, and also provide a chance for bloggers to perform some original reporting.

Tax Reform

Mort Kondracke has an article in Real Clear Politics about how the democrats have an opportunity to come up with some new propossals on tax reform. He also has a few examples of some interesting ideas floating around out there. This one peaked my interest:

To do this, she would eliminate the payroll tax and replace it with taxes on the difference between what a person earned and what he or she saved - a consumption tax like sales taxes and value added taxes, but more progressively imposed. Her idea is that people would pay no tax on the first $25,000 of spending, 10 percent on spending from $25,000 to $100,000 and 15 percent on spending above $100,000. 'The less you spent, the lower your tax rate would be,' she wrote. Low-income earners would for the most part be taxed less onerously, since they spend less. Middle- and high-income earners would have an incentive to save their money, preparing for retirement and bolstering the country's long-term economic prospects.'
I'll probably want to think about this a little more, but it seems like a very interesting idea and certainly workable. The biggest deal for me with reform though, is it should simplify the tax code, reducing the paperwork involved which is, I believe, an intrinsically regressive factor. Currently, only those who can afford good tax advice get to take advantage of loopholes. I prefer to just make it simple and fair. This is probably a dream though, as I doubt politicians will have any real motive to make things easier for average people. Update: Cube has his own post on this topic.

Social Security Generational Warfare?

The Seattle Times: Opinion: Bad faith on Social Security:

Anyone who thinks this debate is over is indulging in wishful thinking. I understand why Democrats want this issue to go away. The debate puts them in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between the interests of two constituencies that they've spent decades trying to court: senior citizens and young people. So far, the elderly have been an easy choice. Most Democrats in Congress don't have the nerve to confront the powerful senior citizens lobby - most notably the AARP with its nearly 40 million members - to force the sort of changes that a simple reading of demographic realities says must take place. So they'd rather sell out young people who, because they don't vote in the same percentages as the elderly, are on their way to getting the short end of the stick. Young people need to wake up and start 'feeling' the Social Security debate before it's too late. They need to realize that Democrats have made their choice, and that it amounts to an assault on the long-term financial well-being of their generation. Then they need to go to the polls, maybe even run for office themselves, and fight to prevent tax rates from soaring over the next few decades. Whenever I talk this way, skittish baby boomers write in and accuse me of promoting generational warfare. But the war has already started, and what I'm talking about is nothing more than generational self-defense.
I would hope that a generational war is not needed here. While certainly my own self-interest would be helped out by private accounts (I have never counted on getting a dime from Social Security), it seems to me that many, perhaps most, elderly people care as much about their grandkids as they do about themselves. Similarly, I do think we need to honor our commitments and take care of those who have planned for retirement with Social Security in mind. The truth is, we simply cannot in the current system give out the level of benefits we are giving out indefinately. Therefore, we must either increase taxes, lower benefits, or find a way to have the taxes we collect generate their own stream of revenue that does better than treasury bonds. Privatization is a way to achieve the latter method. I expect that some of each of the other two methods will be required as well. Nonetheless, it does make sense for the young to be actively involved in this debate. The younger you are, the more effect any plan that is enacted today will have upon you.

Options besides college

makes a very good point:

College is not for everyone, and you do not need a college education in order to earn a decent living and get your piece of the American Dream. To be trained in a trade is a perfectly honorable thing, and those Americans who work as electricians or plumbers or mechanics or carpenters all have the choice of becoming entrepreneurs or working for another. And none of them have to worry about their jobs being 'outsourced.'
Read the whole thing. I agree with this idea. While I want everyone to be able to pursue as much education as they desire, and certainly those who enter into a trade, especially if they want to own their own business would greatly profit from some college education, there are options out there. Personally, being someone who is not very handy, I find those who are to be amazing in their skills and abilities.

Nature of the Blogosphere

Just One Minute has some interesting ideas on how the lefty blogs can have more influence. More interesting to me though is his description of the blogosphere itself and how it differs in structure left vs. Right:

First, a brief digression into the structure of the blogosphere. The largest Lefty blog is the Daily Kos. One must register to enlist there; members can leave comments, or write 'diaries', which function as blogs within a blog. In addition to leaving their own comments on other blogs, members can vote on diary entries, to move them up the in-house rankings and call them to other people's attention. So, for a member, the hours can be whiled away, and there is always plenty to do in Kos World. But it is a separate world. Having casually observed them in action on the Gannon hunt, it is clear that they can summon tremendous energy, manpower, and talent to a particular task. However, I would suggest that a tendency toward groupthink, and a weakness in gathering information from blogs outside of KosWorld, are significant weaknesses which, with experience, may be overcome. Because the folks there spend so much time in their own world, but can still generate significant buzz, we will call them The Hive. And who stands against them on the right? Essentially, an almost totally disorganized pack of hungry bloggers led by the hypercaffeinated Glenn Reynolds, the InstaPundit. Do people on the right 'vote' a blog post into popularity? No. Are research tasks assigned, or project volunteers sought? No. Glenn Reynolds provides a link to a blog, an Instalanche results, and whatever message was there is widely dispersed. Of course, there are plenty of other large blogs directing traffic, so readers and ideas certainly move independently of Glenn, but he is a major hub. And since Glenn does not have a comments section, there is no reason to linger at his site- people stop by, and head off into the blogosphere. So, the Hive versus the Pack - which organizational structure is better at influencing the national debate? For righties, the answer is important, because we have demonstrated neither the temperament nor the talent to form a useful hive.
It is always interesting to me ways in which political bent seems to manifest in other ways. For example, I observered during the 2000 recount battle that despite the fact that both sides goal was to purely to win, and one might expect that the legalistic arguments used would have little to do with their broader political philosophy the arguments used did in fact mirror the basic philosophies quite closely. The democrats argued (among other things) that voters needed help and it was the government's job to help them. Hence the need to determine voter intent and make sure 'all the votes were counted.' Republicans countered that it was a voters individual responsibility to vote correctly and make sure that their chads were fully removed and if they didn't do that, too bad. A similar dynamic was present in the Washington Governor recount this past election. Of course the old struggle of collectivism vs. individualism has been present for a long time. It is always fascinating though how many ways this basic difference ends up manifesting though.

Lileks on Intelligent Design

As is often the case, Lileks, has a pretty common sense approach to the issue:

Oh: I mentioned yesterday that I wrote a column on Intelligent Design. Basic point: I don't think schools should be required to teach it. No. But science classes might profit from the occasional discussion hour where students get to speculate about these things. I've never thought evolution was in conflict with the idea of a Maker, but that's just me; everyone tries to square the Mysteries of the Universe with the intellectual emotions that give them a sense of satisfaction and completeness, so if you come up with a cosmological model that feels satisfying, you should worry. That said, I can easily understand how some see God everywhere in creation, and somewhat baffled by those who see God nowhere. I admit it's hard to square the idea of an intervening diety with human suffering - why didn't He stop the tsunamis? But that's like saying that the existence of an intact anthill in Rio disproves the existence of my left foot, when it might mean I just haven't had the chance to get on a plane to Brazil and kick the thing over. I don't trouble myself with the micro aspect of theology, since God would seem to be a Macro kind of guy. My only point is that leaving speculative discussions out of science - if only one class, once a year - is like teaching kids about the Constitution without having an hour to discuss whether rights are granted by man or inherently endowed by a creator. Can we talk? As a great bony deep thinker once brayed.
Some good ideas and good points.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Transatlantic Split

A Few Words Between Friends (washingtonpost.com):

Where Bush champions democracy, the Europeans want development. Where he cites universal values, they preach cross-cultural understanding. Where he demands change, they urge caution. So, on Iraq, they would prefer brokered power-sharing to ballot-box unpredictability. On Iran, they chide Bush for expressing solidarity with advocates of democracy, arguing that his rhetoric will only make the mullahs nervous and less willing to deal away their nuclear weapons program. To Schroeder, Russian President Vladimir Putin's authoritarianism is irrelevant: Russia has made 'considerable progress' and in any event 'security on our continent cannot be achieved without, and certainly not against, Russia.'
Very interesting observations, and ones that seem true to me. I prefer chaos and progress to stability and stagnation.

More on personal accounts

Rep. Paul Ryan attempts to make the case for private accounts being the key to successful Social Security reform in USATODAY.:

By giving younger workers the option of putting a significant part of their wages - say, 6% on average - into personal accounts they own and investing in a secure, government-approved retirement fund, we can eliminate long-term Social Security deficits. In fact, personal accounts help reduce the need to cut future benefits or raise taxes to restore solvency to Social Security. And the larger the personal accounts, the less Washington will have to resort to such steps. This is because, over time, sizable accounts cover more of the program's benefit obligations, as future retirees draw on the savings and interest that have accumulated in their personal accounts for their retirement. (Contrast this with the current system, where retirees rely on current workers' payroll taxes.) Evaluating legislation I introduced last year, the chief actuary of Social Security determined that large accounts would even erase Social Security's $10.4 trillion unfunded liability - what the program promises today's workers but cannot pay. To deal with the 'transition costs' of diverting money into private accounts, we should make offsetting cuts in other government spending.
I am pretty well convinced already. I do have a few questions however. First, Social Security covers many people who never contribute noticably to the program. This includes disabled individuals and others who cannot work. How will these people be covered in the future and what is the source of funding for that expense? My guess is that they will remain in the current system, and the funding for that system will be from the portion of payroll taxes that cannot be invested in private accounts. I am unclear though about how well the expected expense for these people matches the expected funding. It does seem, if that funding isn't there that the Bush plan will have far more expense than is advertised. It is also equally possible that if it is unfunded now, it will become more politically viable to simply greatly reduce benefits for these people, not something I am willing to quickly support. Secondly, I would be interested in some good economic analysis of what effect this infusion of cash will have on the market in general. My assumption is that this will initially increase the price of those funds that are a part of this program. I would expect that this would then have the effect over time of reducing the profitability of those funds as long term investments (by how much I am uncertain.) This could impact desirability of this as a method to fix social security, however I expect that a secondary effect of this infusion will cancel that out. As the long term gains of these 'safe' stocks lowers I would expect that 'riskier' stocks would be more appealing to investors than they are currently. This would of course be a sort of domino effect. The net effect of this, would be more money (resources) in venture capital and entrepenurial activity. While many, most in fact, on the edge investments like this don't pan out, some do and some do spectacularly. This success in turn bouys up core economic activity (which our personal account funds will be tightly tied to) and increases economic growth overall. It would be interesting though to see a better economist than myself look at this though. Of course these interacting events are what makes prediction so difficult. Changing one variable (the amount of money invested in certain safe stocks) ends up changing all the others making you increasingly rely on assumptions, with any errors in them growing in effect over the time span of your prediction. That is a problem even without factoring in the unpredictable, like when or if feasible fission power will be developed or if in 15 years medical science will add 10 years to our lifespans.

Surprisingly linking to Krugman again...

Any of my regular readers will certainly not be surprised that I seldom agree with Paul Krugman, but I think he is more right than not in this The New York Times >column on Howard Dean:

The Republicans know the America they want, and they are not afraid to use any means to get there,' Howard Dean said in accepting the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee. 'But there is something that this administration and the Republican Party are very afraid of. It is that we may actually begin fighting for what we believe.' Those words tell us what the selection of Mr. Dean means. It doesn't represent a turn to the left: Mr. Dean is squarely in the center of his party on issues like health care and national defense. Instead, Mr. Dean's political rejuvenation reflects the new ascendancy within the party of fighting moderates, the Democrats who believe that they must defend their principles aggressively against the right-wing radicals who have taken over Congress and the White House
Ignoring the silly, over the top attacks against Republicans here, he is correct about Dean being more moderate than leftist. He certainly has passion, and from what I can tell sincerity, which will be an interesting change for a party that seems to have had little of either for a while now. The fundamental problem for Dean and the Democrats (catchy name for a rockband that) is the lack of new ideas coming from that party. When conservatives were in the wilderness they took the chance to evaluate their positions, discarding some and coming up with specific plans, and more importantly, broad principles to support them. That wasn't the whole of their success, the alliance with the religious right was certainly important as well, but it was in my opinion crucial.

Lebanon Bombing

Belmont Club has an interesting post about who killed Rafiq Hariri. The conclusion, we can't be sure but:

Hariri's was protected against small-time assasination attemptions by the use of armored vehicles which equipped with electronic sweeping devices. It can be safely assumed that the Lebanese billionaire could afford the best private security that money could buy. Those security forces would employ countersurveillance, deceptive scheduling and decoys. But those formidable defenses were defeated by a truly massive bomb of several hundred pounds possibly detonated by a suicider, hence the "martyrdom" operation referred to in the videotape. They must have been supported by a surveillance and intelligence operation of no mean quality. That combination of expertise, access to large quantities of explosive and ready money makes it almost certain that Hariri's killers were either state-sponsored or belonged to a very powerful terrorist organization.
I believe that Syria was responsible. That government certainly had both motive and opportunity. I must admit that I don't know a lot about Hariri, I don't recall ever hearing of him before his death. He seems to be a very interesting figure however.

No Orange in sight...

Gib's posts on Belarus and Zimbabwe are well worth reading. It is unfortunate that despite great strides in the past few years, the general global movement towards democracy is stalled in some places. I am convinced that eventually such places will become intolerable to the civilized world and will change or be forced to change. In the meantime, too many are willing to profit from the totalitarians and the people continue to suffer under their boot. I wish sometimes we could be all things to all people. We can't, and we probably shouldn't even if we could, but the suffering under tyranny is difficult to watch dispassionately.

Abuse in the Congo

Chrenkoff has a post up about UN troop abuse in the Congo and the scarcity of press coverage about it:

But one thing is for certain: the sleazy UN goings-on in Congo (or the Balkans for that matter) will not elicit the same sort of salivating fascination from our Western media as reports of military misdeeds in Iraq. The reason is simple: the perpetrators are not American, and the victims are African. The former is arguably more important a factor than the latter; if the Marines were raping Rwandan women we wouldn't be able to turn on the news without another live report from the dark heart of Africa. As it is in Congo, the locals are being abused multilaterally with no oil wells in sight; so, no story. Pity the Congalese, because if anything, the plight of their country deserves far more attention than it's currently getting. Since 1998, some 3.3 million people have died (that's 33 times the unreal leftoid figure of 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians) and 2.25 million have been displaced as a result of the conflict, a savage struggle over political influence and the prodigious bounty of mineral resources and precious stones. Foreign corporations are profiting out of the scramble, but there's no Halliburton in sight and far too many of the companies are European (only 8 out of 85 implicated in illegal exploitation of Congalese resources are American firms).
(via Riding Sun who has some good comments as well) I don't have anything in particular to add, let me just say this is disgusting, both the actual wrong doing and the ignoring of it by the world. The one good thing about Abu Ghraib is that it makes such things less likely in the future.

Eugene Volokh on Eason Jordan and bloggers as a lynch mob

This Volokh Conspiracy post is well worth reading. Eugene makes the case that bloggers really are not at all like a lynch mob, rather they are a 'persuasion bunch.' I think he has convinced me. Key conclusion:

We should love persuasion bunches, who operate through peaceful persuasion, while hating lynch mobs, who operate through violence and coercion. What's more, journalists -- to the extent that they love the First Amendment's premise that broad public debate helps discover the truth, and improve society -- ought to love persuasion bunches, too. When the only power you wield is the power to speak, and persuade others through the force of your arguments (and not through the force of your guns, clubs, or fists), that's just fine. Come to think of it, isn't that the power that opinion journalists themselves wield?
Very well said.

Reporters must testify in Plame investigation


A U.S. appeals court ruled on Tuesday that two journalists must testify before a federal grand jury about their confidential sources in an investigation into a leak that exposed the identity of a covert CIA operative. The three-judge panel ruled that New York Times reporter Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper of Time Magazine must comply with a subpoena from a grand jury investigating whether the Bush administration illegally leaked the officer's name to the news media. The decision upheld a ruling by a federal judge that Miller and Cooper were in contempt of court and should be jailed for refusing to testify about their confidential sources. Miller and Cooper each face as much as 18 months in prison. 'There is no First Amendment privilege protecting the evidence sought,' Judge David Sentelle wrote in the opinion.
I agree with this ruling, it is one thing to accord reporters certain extra privilages but the reporters were the primary witnesses to this crime. Perhaps we will soon know who leaked Plame's name.

Monday, February 14, 2005

It's Official

CNN.com :

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean took the helm of the Democratic National Committee on Saturday, vowing, 'Today will be the beginning of the re-emergence of the Democratic Party.' Dean, 56, won the chairmanship on a voice vote of the 447-member committee after six other candidates dropped out in recent weeks. He immediately laid out his vision for rebuilding a party clobbered in recent elections, leaving it out of power in the White House, both chambers of Congress, and a majority of governorships.
I suspect Dean will be a better DNC chair than many Republicans expect. I also think he will be worse than many Democrats suspect. Strengths: Grass Roots Popularity, Many Moderate Position, Great Credibility with Anti-War left. Weaknesses: Questionable ability to Budget for a Campaign, Prone to Gaffes, Perhaps too much personality for a job that should remain behind the scenes. One thing is sure though, it should be interesting to watch.

Debunking The 9/11 Myths

Popular Mechanics debunks some of the conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11. I had heard a few of these wild theories before, some were new to me. It is always amazing what people will believe. (via: Instapundit)

Eason Jordan

I haven't previously commented on the Eason Jordan scandal because honestly it doesn't seem like a very big deal to me. Obviously, since he has now resigned, this scandal has had an effect, but it isn't one I am very comfortable with. I think his remarks at Davos that American Troops were purposefully targeting reporters were foolish, and incorrect. I won't speculate whether it was a mistake he made accidently or a rather shameless means of getting favor from an anti-american audiance. Eason Jordan isn't a man I admire, and the cozzy relationship he and CNN had with Saddam Hussein I believe was an betrayal of journalistic principles. Also, the blogosphere did in fact do good work in uncovering what he said, and researching the statements of other participants. It was a news story, and deserved to be covered. It went a bit beyond that though. The loud cries for his resignation were a bit too much in my opinion. This wasn't RatherGate, it wasn't a news conference he was at, he wasn't reporting anything to the public, it wasn't an attempt to alter the dynamics of an Election and it wasn't an attempt to pass off forged documents. This was simply a guy speaking out of his ass. The whole thing had more of a mob mentality feel to me than any sort of serious discussion into either what actually happened or, and this would have probably interested me, an inquiry into what the ethics of a situation like that are. Glenn has his own comments on this, and has a different view. I don't disagree with what he says, and the best of the bloggers performed well on this story. There was though a lot who were not so useful as well.

Working replica of Akira bike

Riding Sun has a photo.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Blogroll update

In celebration of the new comment system blogger has put up (which is way cool!) I have made some much overdue updates to my blogroll. Check out the new sites on the left, and if you don't regularly visit any of the old ones, check them out too, you might find something you like! Once again, I want to express my appreciation to everyone who takes the time to visit this site.

The War on Speech


The magic trick that reformers have managed to perform here is really something to behold. They've turned citizens into numbers. A 527 is nothing more than a group of Americans who have banded together -- 5 of them, 27 of them, 527 of them or 10,000 of them - to criticize their elected leaders, or candidates for office, and to share the costs of doing so. But by calling these people by a number, they can be made to sound shadowy and devious. The speech 527 groups engage in is fundamental to the First Amendment, yet it is exactly this speech -- not the influence behind it -- that is being targeted by Congress. So much for 'Congress shall make no law...' 527s already are barred from engaging in 'express advocacy,' urging the election or defeat of one candidate or another. Furthermore, the groups are banned from coordinating with candidates.
Read the whole thing. I don't believe that there should be any limit on speaking, or on contributing money to spread a message which is also a form of speech. Certainly we don't want politicians being 'bought' but I think disclosure laws, which I am in support of, provide plenty of remedy for that on it's own. This bit from the article explains the motivations of politicians quite well though:
McCain is even more blatant about the incumbent-protection angle. As The Washington Times reported last week, "McCain said lawmakers should support the bill out of self-interest, because it would prevent a rich activist from trying to defeat an incumbent by directing money into a political race through a 527 organization." "That should alarm every federally elected member of Congress," McCain said.
Well, that settles my fears...nothing could be worse than an incumbent losing his office because voters found out things they don't like about him!

Wal-Mart Union

CBC Ottawa :

The union representing Wal-Mart workers in Jonqiere says it will take legal action against the retail giant. Earlier this week, Wal-Mart announced it would close the store in May. It was the first Wal-Mart store to unionize in North America. Since then, workers at a Wal-Mart in St-Hyacinthe, Que., also joined a union. The retail giant and the union in Jonqiere were in the middle of negotiating a contract when Wal-Mart decided to shut the store down, saying it was not making money. The union disputes that.
I fully support the right of workers to form a Union for collective bargaining. I equally support the right for a company to attempt to hire non-union workers (scabs) as an alternative or to close their doors rather than unionize. I am not in favor of legal measures that require a company to unionize or prevent employees from collective bargaining. In my view, the governments only role in such disputes is to protect both sides from any violence the other might offer and enforce any contracts that are signed.

Huked on Fonics werked for me

Craig Westover has an interesting post about a school in Illinios that has achieved amazing results using Phonics and drill but is phasing out this approach in favor of a "whole language 'method.' Because 'reading is such a complex and multifaceted activity" First off, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Secondly, I suspect that different kids do in fact need different teaching methods. That doesn't mean that you should try and teach every kid with every method, it means that you should try to teach each kid with the method that works best for them. Obviously, behemoth public education institutions are unsuited to such a plan. That is one reason I favor universal privitization of schools funded by a voucher system that lets parents choose the best school for their child.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

The next steps

Healing Iraq has some thoughts on the next steps Iraq needs to take:

There is already a consensus among the different political powers that drafting the permanent constitution should not be done solely by the elected National Assembly. This in order to safeguard the interests of the part of the population that did not participate in the elections and to reassure Iraqis that everyone has a say in their future. No longer will one group, no matter how large its support base, dominate over others. I truly hope that Iraqi politicians realise this and can work to achieve it, leaving aside their personal interests and differences for one moment, putting the prejudices of the past behind them, and listening to what Iraqis have to say. For it is Iraqis, and Iraqis alone, that are the key to solving this whole mess.
A very positive take. Here's hoping it succeeds.

Democrat Leadership Threatening 'Retribution' for Dems Who Cooperate


A questioner from the audience, stressing his own Democratic credentials, said he believed Ryan's plan should attract members of his own party and wondered whether the Wisconsin lawmaker had secured any Democratic sponsors. Ryan said he had been working with friends on the 'other side of the aisle' who were favorable toward his solution, but he faced an enormous problem: intense pressure on his colleagues from the minority leadership. 'We were in planning stages [with friendly Democrats],' said Ryan. But each essentially told him: 'I like what you're doing. I like this bill. I think it's the right way to go. But my party leadership will break my back. The retribution that they are promising us is as great as I have ever seen. We can't do it.'
In my opinion, this sort of thing is a serious problem, and certainly not just a 'Democratic' or a 'Republican' problem. Yes, I can see certain steps being taken to keep representatives in line with a party platform but that has gotten out of hand. I suspect that a good portion of this problem can be tied back to Gerrymandering and the 'safe' seats that it creates leaving politicians very accountable to their parties but not very accountable to the voters.

What else is there to say?

Widow denies role in lethal sherry enema:

I'm not ashamed of my husband because I loved him, and I supported him 1,000 percent, whatever he wanted to do. That's the way he went out, and I'm sure that's the way he wanted to go out because he loved his enemas.'
Read the whole thing for even more bizarre details. (via Dead Parrot Society)

Higher Education Costs and the Government

Jeff Jacoby writes about Government programs and the rising cost of College Education in Boston.com:

And the result of this energetic government campaign to hold down the cost of a college education? The cost of a college education is skyrocketing -- and has been for years. Tuition and fees were up 10.5 percent at state colleges and universities last year. The year before that, they were up 14 percent. Every year for nearly a quarter-century -- since before most of today's college students were born -- higher education costs have raced ahead of inflation. And far from slowing this runaway train, government aid serves only to stoke the engine. How could it do otherwise? Every dollar that Washington generates in student aid is another dollar that colleges and universities have an incentive to harvest, either by raising their sticker price or reducing the financial aid they offer from their own funds. Higher Education Act funds 'are seen by colleges and universities as money that is there for the taking,' observes Peter Wood, a professor at Boston University. 'Tuition is set high enough to capture those funds and whatever else we think can be extracted from parents. Perhaps there are college administrators who don't see federal student aid in quite this way, but I haven't met them.' In 10 years of attending committee meetings on the university's annual tuition adjustment, says Wood, 'the only real question was, 'How much can we get away with?' '
I want to ensure that every kid who wants to can go to college. I also want to ensure that colleges are adaptive to the needs of their students and provide a great education. Governement programs may aid the former (although since they raise their costs at least as fast as the Government gives new funds that is unproven) but I think that it greatly hurts the latter. The simple fact is that students will be a lot more critical of a college education that they pay for than one that is 'given' to them. I expect that their is not an easy solution to this problem, but I am pretty sure that simply spending more money won't solve it.

China and North Korea

The New York Times:

Chinese leaders have consistently urged the rest of the world, and especially the United States, to show more patience with North Korea. Beijing has consistently contended that it was unclear whether North Korea had developed nuclear weapons, notwithstanding a growing volume of American intelligence to the contrary. Confronted with a statement by Pyongyang mentioning that nuclear weapons had been manufactured, the Chinese government's initial reaction today was silence. Later, in a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry's chief spokesman, Kong Quan, Beijing said it hoped the six-party talks with North Korea would continue.
China of course has always been the key to any solution over North Korea as they are the sole factor that keeps North Korea in existence. China also doesn't want North Korea to have nukes, both because they could present a threat to China itself, and because both South Korea and Japan could, and likely would, quickly want their own nuclear deterrent force. China though would still rather that the U.S. solve this problem. The focus of our diplomacy so far has been to convince China that they need to solve the problem and we don't, today's announcement probably helps rather than hurts our efforts in this regard. Unfortunately, Kim Jong Il is pretty much totally insane. How he will respond to continued Chinese pressure is the big unknown. My guess though is that China will be supporting a coup within North Korea and will put people who are a little less crazy in power there. Not an ideal solution, but probably the best we could hope for.

Freidman on Iraq and the Democrats

The New York Times > Opinion:

Here's the truth: There is no single action we could undertake anywhere in the world to reduce the threat of terrorism that would have a bigger impact today than a decent outcome in Iraq. It is that important. And precisely because it is so important, it should not be left to Donald Rumsfeld. Democrats need to start thinking seriously about Iraq - the way Joe Biden, Joe Lieberman and Hillary Clinton have. If France - the mother of all blue states - can do it, so, too, can the Democrats. Otherwise, they will be absenting themselves from the most important foreign policy issue of our day.
Read the whole thing. This bit here is especially important:
There will be a lot of trial and error in the months ahead. But this is a hugely important horizontal dialogue because if Iraqis can't forge a social contract, it would suggest that no other Arab country can - since virtually all of them are similar mixtures of tribes, ethnicities and religions. That would mean that they can be ruled only by iron-fisted kings or dictators, with all the negatives that flow from that.
I am pretty sure that Arabs are capable of democracy. I find those who insist they are not to be pretty deplorable. It is possible though, for all my certainty, that I am wrong and that only an iron-fisted king can rule them. I hope not. I am pretty sure that in the modern, globalized world tyranny will always be a threat to free nations. Since these nations, either directly or indirectly, will be able to cause increasing harm, we will not long be able to abide co-existence such places. This would leave us with very unpalatable choices: genocide, a permanent 'iron curtain' walling off the Arab world, or surrender and dhimmitude. This is why I so desperately want Iraqi democracy to succeed.

NK admits to having nukes


North Korea said it has produced nuclear bombs and is pulling out of negotiations with the U.S. and four other nations to abandon the weapons program. ``We are compelled to suspend our participation in the talks for an indefinite period,'' the state-run Korean Central News Agency said today in Pyongyang, because the Bush administration has a policy ``not to coexist'' with the communist nation. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Kim Jong Il's government to return to the negotiations. ``There is no intention to invade or attack North Korea,'' she said at a news conference with European Union leaders in Luxembourg.
Combined with the rumblings about instability at the heart of the North Korean regime, I would say that this is a last minute attempt to win concessions. However, this weakness does not mean that NK will go down quietly. We have a choice and a gamble to make. Give in to Nuclear blackmail with all the precedents that it will set or risk catastrophic war on the Korean peninsula.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Blogger's 'Crime' Against the Islamic State

Farouz Farzami has writeen an account of her dealings with the Iranian authorities in response to her blogging in the LA Times:

The next day, I was taken to a room down a long corridor and told to sit down. A fat hand with an agate stone ring set an interrogation form in front of me. Then he began asking about my Web log, which has hyperlinks on it to Western feminist groups. 'Do you accept the charges?' the interrogator asked. 'What charges?' 'That you have written things in your Web log that go against the Islamic system and that encourage people to topple the system,' he said. 'You are inviting corrupt American liberalism to rule Iran.'
Read the whole thing. I have long wondered if I would have the courage to stand up in a similar situation. It is of course easy to say 'I would never stand for that sort of thing,' but much harder to actually do it when your life, and those of your friends and family are on the line. I would hope I could display courage in such a situation. I hope ever more that I am never required to find out for sure.

More on Intelligent Design

Reason has a pretty good critique of the intelligent design story that I linked to previously. I stand by my statement that we should teach, and study, the criticisms that Intelligent Design levels at evolutionary theory. In physics it is always the anomalies, the unexplainable, that are the most avidly studied area, and can turn an entire theory on it's head. I don't think that will happen with evolution, but the unexplainable is exactly where science happens. We should be teaching that, and giving our students both reason to wonder what is true, and a better idea of the process of science. In truth, the science that a science class teaches is probably irrelevant in most cases. What is important is understanding how science itself works.

Gay penguin news

Riding Sun has everything (perhaps even more) that you ever wanted to know about gay penguins. Makes sense though...they dress so nice.

Busting your Balls for the Game


A Welsh rugby fan cut off his own testicles to celebrate Wales beating England at rugby, the Daily Mirror reported on Tuesday. Geoff Huish, 26, was so convinced England would win Saturday's match he told fellow drinkers at a social club, 'If Wales win I'll cut my balls off,' the paper said. Friends at the club in Caerphilly, south Wales, thought he was joking. But after the game Huish went home, severed his testicles with a knife, and walked 200 metres back to the bar with the testicles to show the shocked drinkers what he had done.
I guess no one will accuse him of not supporting his team...

A real chance for Peace?

Joel C. Rosenberg has some good reasons to be hopeful that Abbas is serious about peace with Israel:

It is early, to be sure. Abbas still has much to do to prove his seriousness about reducing violence. Hamas has already announced it does not consider itself bound by Abbas's ceasefire pledge. And the more Abbas positions himself as a Palestinian Anwar Sadat, the more he risks Sadat's fate - assassination at the hands of extremists. But there is evidence that even the first few steps by Abbas and his team are already beginning to bear fruit. Since Arafat's death, for example, Palestinian violence against Israel is down 75 percent. And this is why Sharon agreed to a summit with Abbas without direct U.S. participation. It is why President Bush sent Secretary Rice to the region on her first foreign trip. It is why the president has invited Sharon and Abbas to visit him in Washington later this spring, after refusing even to meet with Arafat for the first four years of his administration. It is also why the president decided to elevate the Middle East peace process to top priority status during his recent State of the Union address - because he believes real progress is suddenly possible.
I was pretty sceptical about Abbas after reading some of what he was saying to his people in the run-up to the Palestinian elections. While I am not ready to trust him yet, I will admit that the signs are more positive than I would have expected.

Fine for low-riding pants


Virginians who wear their pants so low their underwear shows may want to think about investing in a stronger belt. The state's House of Delegates passed a bill Tuesday authorizing a $50 fine for anyone who displays his or her underpants in a 'lewd or indecent manner.'
I am no fan of the low riding pants look, but seriously, is this the most signifigant problem facing Virginia? Dumb.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Thanks Hollywood!


A Problem with the Ownership Society?

Scott Johnson and John Hinderaker of Powerline have written an interesting essay inThe American Enterprise that gives a good historical account of how taxation has changed over time and a surprising peril in the current plans for Social Security Reform:

And there's the rub. 'Rebating' a big chunk of payroll taxes back to workers in the form of personal accounts is devoutly to be wished for in most ways. But one troubling side effect of such a transformation would be to nakedly expose the tax burden that our personal income tax disproportionately lays on the top 5 percent of Americans. Our Founders had no confidence that voters, unmoored from financial responsibility, would refrain from pillaging the wealth of their neighbors. If most of Washington's costs end up piled on just a few backs, the only thing preventing a sharp ratcheting up of the income tax will be the decency and political principle of ordinary Americans. In that event, we will find out whether Aristotle and James Madison were too pessimistic in their view of human selfishness--or unhappily accurate.
An interesting take on this issue. I tend to believe that Bush's 'Ownership Society' would in fact increase long term thinking and responsible behavior, but this argument that it might not has some merit.

Fundamental Question on Social Security reform

Investor's Business Daily:

Returning to our question above - what kind of people do we want to be? - we see two distinct answers on the table. Social Security without reform would tax away the rewards of work and saving, and Americans would gradually come to learn not to work so hard or to save at all. Private accounts would teach another kind of lesson: Individuals, not government, are responsible for their own future. They would work, save and continue the remarkable American story.
I think that is a pretty fair characterization of the fundamental argument here.

Paul Krugman: Social Security spells end of the Welfare State

The New York Times > Opinion:

Why expose workers to that much risk? Ideology. 'Social Security is the soft underbelly of the welfare state,' declares Stephen Moore of the Club for Growth and the Cato Institute. 'If you can jab your spear through that, you can undermine the whole welfare state.' By the welfare state, Mr. Moore means Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid - social insurance programs whose purpose, above all, is to protect Americans against the extreme economic insecurity that prevailed before the New Deal. The hard right has never forgiven F.D.R. (and later L.B.J.) for his efforts to reduce that insecurity, and now that the right is running Washington, it's trying to turn the clock back to 1932. Medicaid is also in the cross hairs. And if Mr. Bush can take down Social Security, Medicare will be next. The attempt to 'jab a spear' through Social Security complements the strategy of 'starve the beast,' long advocated by right-wing intellectuals: cut taxes, then use the resulting deficits as an excuse for cuts in social spending. The spearing doesn't seem to be going too well at the moment, but the starving was on full display in the budget released yesterday.
I wish I thought Krugman was correct here. I don't like the welfare state and the entitlement culture, but I don't think that Bush is aiming at dismantling such things. Indeed, given the Prescription Drug benefit, it seems hard to me to make that argument stick.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Orange Revolution Spreading?

Check out these interesting pictures from Central Asia showing protesters who have adopted the signature color of Ukraine's Orange Revolution. There is a long way to go there still for any serious Democracy to take hold, but the very fact that this idea is present is a hopeful sign. (via Instapundit)

Intelligent Design

Michael J Behe, one of the originators of the Intelliegent Design theory explains in The New York Times what it is and what it is not. Very interesting article, and I expect that many critics of intelligent design will be surprised by what it is, and many supporters will be surprised by what it is not. I think that ID should be taught in schools, but not as something that is a certainty. Much of the criticism of conventional Darwinism that ID offers seems to me to be important science. It doesn't prove that Darwinism is wrong, but it does show that their are still holes, or at least unproven areas in the system, and that is indeed where science should focus. Equally though, Evolution does need to be taught in public schools with no concern for those who are religiously opposed to the idea.

Changing Redistricting

The New York Times:

The politically charged methods that states use to draw Congressional districts are under attack by citizens groups, state legislators and the governor of California, all of whom are concerned that increasingly sophisticated map-drawing has created a class of entrenched incumbents, stifled electoral competition and caused governmental gridlock. Largely uncoordinated campaigns stretching from California to Massachusetts are pushing to end, or at least minimize, a time-honored staple of American politics: lawmakers drawing Congressional and legislative district maps in geographically convoluted ways to ensure the re-election of an incumbent or the dominance of a party. Last month, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, a state that has historically been at the forefront of political reform movements, proposed putting retired judges in charge of redistricting, taking it out of the hands of the Legislature. Common Cause, one of the nonpartisan groups championing changes in the system, said campaigns to overhaul redistricting were under way in at least eight states, including California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.
Gerrymandering is something that needs to end. Schwarzenegger may well be the man to end it, although this will be far more difficult that defeating evil robots, or even teaching Kindergarten. I also like this bit from the article:
Nathaniel Persily, an election law expert at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, said: "Something has changed. Voter preferences are becoming more and more predictable. There is a problem when the turnover in the United States House of Representatives is lower than it was in the Soviet Politburo."