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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Faith in Materialism

Paul Campos has written an interesting essay in the Rocky Mountain News. Here is the central point:

Materialism, as a philososphical doctrine, has the great advantage that it reduces the catalog of things that actually exist to those which can be investigated by science. It has the great disadvantage that it requires treating as illusions morality, art, free will, and much else that most people call 'reality.' That, of course, does not make it false. It does, however, make it literally incredible to anyone who hasn't made the leap of faith materialism requires.
I have a few materialist friends and readers. I wonder if any would care to comment on or refute Campos's statement.

David Duke loves Syria

David Duke has visited Syria to offer his support to that poor regime and, of course, do a little Jew bashing. MEMRI: "

I have defended Syria for a long time, so I was admiring Syria, I have admired your president very much. I hope at some point to be able to meet him and shake his hand. I think he is the greatest man in a very difficult period, and especially with what's going on right now, in terms of Lebanon and its relations with Syria. But absolutely, even from my perspective, and it shows you how the Zionist media around the world controls and affects all of us. Even those of us who are aware of it - it's subtly affecting.'
I have long believed that a good way to check your premises is to take a look at the character of your allies and the character of the allies of your opponents. Obviously, evil men can sometimes still embrace a good cause, and good men can be mistaken and support evil, but overall it is a good way to make sure that you haven't deluded yourself. So it is a great comfort to me to see David Duke happily on Syria's side. (via Vodkapundit)

Immigration Reform

I caught President Bush's speech yesterday. All in All I liked what he said, but felt it somewhat short on details. I have to admit though that 'immigration reform' or whatever you want to call it isn't a big issue of mine. I pretty much assume that while it might be a great scare tactic, border control doesn't have much to do with defending against terrorism (especially the border control that is focused on preventing Mexicans from getting into the U.S.) I am also in favor of immigration. Yes, we should enforce our laws etc. etc. but the thought of millions of Mexicans (or whoever) coming to America doesn't scare me as it does some of the Republican Party. I want more immigration. I want the best and brightest and most ambitious people in the world to come to America. I don't like our current system of massive illegal immigration while we politely look the other way, but my issues with it are not the fact that too many Mexicans are coming here, but that the system creates a black market labor force of people who are easily, and systematically exploited. This bit of Bush's speech I both like and dislike:

Every new citizen of the United States has an obligation to learn our customs and values, including liberty and civic responsibility, equality under God and tolerance for others, and the English language.
The first part I agree with. I am not so sure about American citizenship being tied to the English language however. I love English as much as anyone however, I am doubtful English is all that important in being a good and productive citizen of the United States. Further, I expect that technical innovation will make this less and less relevant.

Kiss me deadly

Chicago Sun Times:

A 15-year-old girl with a peanut allergy died after kissing her boyfriend, who had just eaten a peanut butter snack, hospital officials said Monday.

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Myth of the Scandinavian Model

The Brussels Journal has an article on the economic climate in Europe with special attention given to the Scandinavian countries and Ireland:

In 1970, Sweden’s level of prosperity was one quarter above Belgium’s. By 2003 Sweden had fallen to 14th place from 5th in the prosperity index, two places behind Belgium. According to OECD figures, Denmark was the 3rd most prosperous economy in the world in 1970, immediately behind Switzerland and the United States. In 2003, Denmark was 7th. Finland did badly as well. From 1989 to 2003, while Ireland rose from 21st to 4th place, Finland fell from 9th to 15th place. Together with Italy, these three Scandinavian countries are the worst performing economies in the entire European Union. Rather than taking them as an example, Europe’s politicians should shun the Scandinavian recipes.
The Scandinavian nations have presented a problem for people like me who advocate low tax burdens for economic growth as these nations always seem to be highly regarded in best place to do business lists and other similar ratings. This article, assuming it is accurate, which it seems to be, refutes that myth very strongly. Very interesting stuff. I hope a few European leaders (and American politicians) see this and understand it. (via Instapundit)

Jordan's king urges war on Islamic militancy


Jordan's King Abdullah II has appointed his national security adviser as the new prime minister, giving him a mandate to launch an all-out war against Islamic militancy in the wake of this month's triple hotel blasts. In a designation letter to newly appointed Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit, Abdullah said Thursday the November 9 attacks 'increase our determination to stick to our reform and democratization process, which is irreversible.'
This seems like a positive step. It seems to me that a rising consensus against jihadism is sweeping the Arab world. While the greatest portion of this is doubtless a result of Al Qaida's attacks against fellow Muslims, I think some of this is a result of them being militarily defeated in Afghanistan and Iraq. A good portion of the terrorists power has always been the fear they could cause in both individual citizens and entire governments. That fear is being broken.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Wax On, Wax Off


Actor Pat Morita, whose portrayal of the wise and dry-witted Mr. Miyagi in 'The Karate Kid' earned him an Oscar nomination, has died. He was 73.
The Karate Kid is a great movie (we won't mention the sequels) and Morita is the actor who made that movie shine. He will be missed.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Must read post of the day

WILLisms.com Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 224 -- General Motors, Michigan, Health Care, & Wealth Care.

U.S. vs China


The overwhelming assessment by Asian officials, diplomats and analysts is that the U.S. military simply cannot defeat China. It has been an assessment relayed to U.S. government officials over the past few months by countries such as Australia, Japan and South Korea. This comes as President Bush wraps up a visit to Asia, in which he sought to strengthen U.S. ties with key allies in the region. Most Asian officials have expressed their views privately. Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara has gone public, warning that the United States would lose any war with China. 'In any case, if tension between the United States and China heightens, if each side pulls the trigger, though it may not be stretched to nuclear weapons, and the wider hostilities expand, I believe America cannot win as it has a civic society that must adhere to the value of respecting lives,' Mr. Ishihara said in an address to the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
This has been making a bit of a splash (see here and here for examples) today. The question of whether the U.S. could 'win' a war against China depends greatly on what the objectives of this theoretical war is. Clausewitz's famous dictum 'war is merely the continuation of policy by other means' applies here. Before we can ask the question, we need to know what the objectives of each side are, and if one side can prevent the other from accomplishing those objectives, that side is the winner. If we look at the exteme examples. The U.S. wanting to occupy and control China or China wanted to occupy and control the U.S. it is clear that the defender in both cases would win. If one had the more modest goal of simply destroying the other side, it would probably require a significant nuclear exchange and while it would be hard to claim either side as a 'winner' in such a scenario, the U.S. certainly has greater capabilities in such an encounter. It's weakness there would be in a willingness to engage (and a first strike option by the U.S. could probably destroy China and prevent a counter-attack) however, the political aspect is simpler than in other possible conflicts as essentially it would be a decision controlled solely by the President and while there would doubtless be a great deal of political damage to the President afterward, the policy objection could be achieved. I think it is fairly safe to rule that out as being likely however. The real question of course is not the generic could the U.S. defeat China, but could the U.S. prevent a Chinese takeover of Taiwan. I am convinced, that if we were prepared for such an assault, the U.S. would easily defeat China at sea and in the air. This would of course prevent a ground war in Taiwan at all, and leave China essentially with a missile bombardment to force Taiwanese capitulation. That would, in my opinion, fail and fail misserably. If though China could achieve strategic surprise and land significant ground forces in Taiwan before the U.S. could gather it's full strength in the region the situation would be much more difficult. I think that the occupying Chinese forces in Taiwan could still be cut off, and a eventually a ground assault could liberate the island. This level of a campaign would evolve into the political dimensions though where the U.S. is less predictable. It is possible to envision a very gung-ho U.S. populace who would not only support, but demand that we liberate Taiwan. It is also possible to imagine the opposite. Part of the reason we have a bases in Taiwan is to assure that any attempted takeover of Taiwan would involve an attack against U.S. forces, and therefore prompt a greater level of support in any ensuing conflict. It is also wise to remember that Chinese policy is not, and probably never will be, to take Taiwan at any and all cost (just as we doubtless are unwilling to defend Tiawan at any and all cost.) Just as war is a continuation of policy, policy is a continuation of war. Even a best case scenario for China would have to calculate that it would be subject to strict economic sanctions. This would be very damaging to the Chinese economy (it would hurt us too, but not as badly.) The more signifigant the military conflict, the more damaging and lengthy any economic consequences would be. It is quite possible for China to succeed in controlling Taiwan, but still to have lost the 'war' if economic damage to the nation is beyond what its policy demanded. Certainly in the most extreme case where economic damage led to internal revolution (possible but doubtful) China could end up being a substantial loser, even in apparent victory. Lastly, I think it worthy to consider the source of the original comments that the U.S. would lose a lose a war with China. We should remember that this statement is itself a act of policy, and a method of reaching certain objectives. Beyond the unknown scores of anonymous people making this assessment, we have one name, Shintaro Ishihara.
Ishihara is an outspoken nationalist who rails against the United States and China and the central government. It is well known that he claims thatfifty years of subservience to the interest of the United States has deprived the Japanese of a national purpose and engendered a paralyzing identity crisis. And he reminds his countrymen that theirs is the only non-Caucasian society to have created a modern superpower.
It is pretty clear that whether the claim that the U.S. could not defeat China is true or not, it is useful to Ishihara's political goals. Ishihara wants to use this as an excuse to beef up Japanese. Ishihara is also part of the current Japanese revisionist history trend:
More than once he suggested that the Rape of Nanking in December 1937, was a fabrication of the Chinese. When confronted, Ishihara reproached Nathan by saying: "I said that the Chinese have exaggerated the numbers. In the hysteria of war, the Army did massacre people. That happens in war. The United States killed three hundred and fifty thousand people in Hiroshima in a single day."
Japan is not alone in this of course, there is a disturbing rise of nationalism and, often pure racism, across a good portion of Asia. Nonetheless, I think it clear that Ishihara is not an unbiased analyst of military capabilities, and his statements are for political purposes.

Unsafe toys


Yo-yos that can snap back and strangle, dolls impregnated with toxins and pacifiers that choke: All toys for sale this holiday season that should not find their way to Santa's sleigh, according the annual Toy Safety Survey from the nonprofit U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). Released Tuesday, the report finds too many toys marketed with too-small pieces (a choking hazard) or containing toxins that may cause lasting harm.
Sounds like our children are in serious danger, thank God for this report to stem the epidemic of death caused by these killer toys.
According to CPSC figures, in 2004, 16 American children died from toy-related injuries
16? All this noise for 16 deaths? 16 out of about 60 million? Perhaps we can relax a bit here people.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Innocent man Executed?

Washington Post:

A decade after Ruben Cantu was executed for capital murder, the only witness to the crime is recanting and his co-defendant says Cantu, then 17, was not even with him that night. The victim was shot nine times with a rifle during an attempted robbery before the gunman shot the only witness. That witness, Juan Moreno, told the Houston Chronicle for its Sunday editions that Cantu was not the killer. Moreno said he identified him at the 1985 trial because he felt pressured and feared authorities.
In discussing the death penalty with people before, I have expressed the opinion that while an innocent person being executed was possible, it was very unlikely given the number of checks and appeals a death row inmate has. This case certainly seems to throw some doubt on my assumptions. This bit here is especially appalling:
Sam D. Millsap Jr., the district attorney who handled the case, said he never should have sought the death penalty in a case based on testimony from a witness who identified a suspect only after police showed him a photo three times.
No shit Sherlock. I have been mildly pro-death penalty. I am convinced that it does little as a deterent, but I think that some crimes deserve it as a matter of justice. However, it is more important to not take life unjustly, and the fact that this appears to have occured fairly recently changes the equation. (via Instapundit)

How to lose a War

This Ralph Peters op-ed is pretty brutal on those advocating immediate retreat from Iraq. Except:

Yes, we've been told lies about Iraq — by Dems and their media groupies. About conditions on the ground. About our troops. About what's at stake. About the consequences of running away from the great struggle of our time. About the continuing threat from terrorism. And about the consequences for you and your family. What do the Democrats fear? An American success in Iraq. They need us to fail, and they're going to make us fail, no matter the cost. They need to declare defeat before the 2006 mid-term elections and ensure a real debacle before 2008 — a bloody mess they'll blame on Bush, even though they made it themselves. We won't even talk about the effect quitting while we're winning in Iraq might have on the go-to-war calculations of other powers that might want to challenge us in the future. Let's just be good Democrats and prove that Osama bin Laden was right all along: Americans have no stomach for a fight.
To an extent, I think it is both true and unfortunate that Democrats have made the war in Iraq a partisan issue and that failure there is needed for them to succeed. Politically this strikes me as very foolish. Even if they manage to 'succeed' in the short term, it is likely that there will come a time, probably not too far away, when the American people will decide that we need a strong pro-military President. The world is, and will remain, a dangerous place. While the anti-war rhetoric may indeed weaken the Bush administration and allow Democratic gains in 2006 and 2008, it will also further cement the Democrats as being anti-military and weak on national defense. That will be a tough perception to overcome and weaken the party further in the long term.

CNN.com - Florida teacher pleads guilty to sex with teen student - Nov 22, 2005


A female teacher pleaded guilty Tuesday to having sex with a 14-year-old middle school student, avoiding prison as part of a plea agreement. Debra Lafave, 25, whose sensational case made tabloid headlines, will serve three years of house arrest and seven years' probation. She pleaded guilty to two counts of lewd and lascivious battery.
I always think about two things when this sort of story comes up. One is, that if the genders had been reversed I don't think that the penalty would have been the same, which is profoundly unfair. The second is jealousy that I never got to bang the hot teacher when I was in middle school. And she is pretty hot.

Open Source Media returns to Pajamas

OSM - Excuse us while we change back into our pajamas I don't really get the idea behind this venture or what it brings to the table. The bloggers involved are fairly cool, and I like them individually for the most part, but what putting them into a single site adds is beyond me. In some ways, it seems to have the potential to be the worst of old media by creating an echo chamber effect, without having the ability to do actual reporting.

Monday, November 21, 2005


Who you gonna call?

Gateway Pundit posts on pro-democracy protests in Azerbaijan. Pictures and a link to videos are included. As we have seen in many of the pro-democracys protests, one world leader is being called upon to help. One world leader seems to have gained the trust of these brave people. They don't ask for help from the U.N. They don't look to Europe. They look to America and it's President. Hopefully President Bush will respond to these pleas and issue a strong statement in support of Democracy in Azerbaijan. I want America to be the country that people fighting for their own democracy look to for support. It would be great if we were one nation amoung a chorus of nations demanding that Democratic reform take place in the totalitarian countries of the world, but with a crowd or all alone I know what side I want to be one. The Iraq war has been especially controversial in the past few weeks or so, with various political manueverings and loud declarations. One question I have for those who are against this war, is would the people of Azerbaijan be calling on America and it's current President if we had not gone to war in Iraq? Does that influence the equation on the correctness of the war or not?

Strangers on a Train

Nathanael at The Rhine River tells of a conversation with a French Muslim:

As the train passed through Bar le Duc, he admitted to me that he rarely has conversations with non-Muslims that are so fulfilling. I laughed: our conversation had stretched my conversational abilities to the breaking point, and I made many grammatical mistakes because of fatigue. That was not what he meant. Few Frenchmen paid as much attention to what he had to say. He talked about how he felt about being a French Muslim, born in country but not taken seriously. Unable to talk directly to his experiences, I tried to talk about minority experiences in America. I knew I was not communicating directly to his concerns. I imagined his predicament in American terms. As I equated things that made sense to me about integration and advancement, I hit a nerve. 'More education!?' he said. I wasn't sure what had given him a shock. 'Why should I have more education? I move on to the next level, studying more, because the degrees I have earned don't help me to get a job. I look forward only to more education.' He had no faith that an employer would give him the chance to practice what he studied (he tried hard to find a job) so he continued to study. This chance meeting was not unique. I've had it many times in France and Germany: a conversation with an enthusiastic Muslim or African who is surprised that someone will pay attention. Listening to them, I find that they are enthusiastic about their European homeland (adopted or natal.) They are culturally aware, exhibiting (what I consider) good social practices for their milieu. Yet they remain outsiders. I have also asked Frenchmen and Germans about Muslims and Africans: 'Why are people who seem assimilated not accepted?' The question can turn a conversation on its end, turning transnational discourse into national defense.
I have mentioned before that part, perhaps the biggest part, of the French riots was the result of French unwillingness to accept anyone else as 'French.' This is another good piece of anecdotal evidence of the problem. I don't doubt that their is an unwillingness to assimilate on the part of some, perhaps even most, of the Muslims in France. Clearly it is connected to their Religion to some degree, and from what I have read the treatment of women in the French suburbs is only marginally better than the treatment of women in Taliban Afghanistan. That is a problem, and something that French authorities should have addressed long ago. That being said, it is probably unfortunate that the unrest in France is happening during the war on terror. While there are a few similarities, they probably work to obscure the problems in France more than to illuminate them. (via Instapundit)

U.S. Officials Believe Zarqawi Not Killed in Mosul Gunfight

Washington Post:

U.S. officials said Monday that they do not believe Abu Musab Zarqawi, the Jordanian insurgent leader, was among those killed in a gunfight in northern Iraq Sunday. 'I do not believe that we got him,' said Zelmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. 'But his days are numbered. We're closer to that goal but unfortunately we didn't get him in Mosul.' Khalilzad was referring to a house in the city of Mosul, north of Baghdad, which was the scene of a three-hour gunfight Sunday precipitated by a tip that led U.S. forces to believe Zarqawi might be inside along with members of al Qaeda. U.S. and Iraqi troops surrounded the dwelling and engaged in the gunfight, which left seven men dead.
While it would be nice to have gotten him, it seems very unlikely. Buried a bit further down is the most significant aspect of the story though:
Over the past month, there has been a series of raids following a surge in tips from Iraqis unhappy with Zarqawi and his operation, said a U.S. military intelligence official involved in Iraqi issues. These tend to be traditional Iraqi leaders -- sheiks and imams -- upset with the organization, especially its recent execution of Sunni Arabs in Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar. "Their feeling is that al Qaeda in Iraq has overstepped its bounds," he said.
From what I can tell, the Sunni ex-Baathist part of the insurgency has pretty much dried up as Sunni's have decided to become involved in the political process and the jihadist Al-Qaeda in Iraq is in serious trouble as it's popularity has fallen dramatically. This means that they have to remain hidden from both American and Iraqi forces. While they are still capable of launching terrorist attacks, there numbers and capabilities will have to shrink as a cost of remaining hidden. I expect in six months 'Al-Qaeda in Iraq' will have less capabilities to attack than Al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia does. Which is not to say zero, but certainly an improvement.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Would 'One Nation under Allah' be ok?


Christian students and parents cannot sue a school district where some seventh-graders pretended to be Muslims for three weeks during a course in world history, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the role-playing game was not a religious exercise that violated anybody's constitutional rights. ... Brooke Carlin encouraged her students to play at being Muslims - adopt Muslim names, recite a line from a prayer and give up candy or television to simulate fasting, for example. Students were permitted to opt out. On the final exam they were asked to critique elements of Muslim culture.
As it happens, I agree with the 9th Circuit here. However, it is impossible to believe that if we were to reverse the roles of Islam and Christianity in this situation the court would have ruled the same way. I the 9th circuit didn't really offer anything as to the reasoning behind this decision. I would find it entertaining to read why 'under god' in the pledge constitutes an establshiment of religion while Muslim prayers in school does not. (via The Jawa Report)

Don't Serve / Don't Tell

Kate Thornton Buzicky, a first lieutenant in the United States Army, attending Harvard Law School talks about her experiences in Don't Serve / Don't Tell:

Service is an everyday thing; it means that an individual regularly sacrifices for the good of the whole. Sometimes that sacrifice is trivial (maybe I would like to wear bigger pearl earrings with those Class As, but I don't) and sometimes it is serious, such as complying with the regulations that govern political activity among Army Officers. In both situations, soldiers forgo a privilege in the name of a bigger purpose--serving their fellow citizens. I never ask that my fellow liberals agree with me, just that they respect my sense of obligation and professional duty. But at Harvard, that's a tough sell. Here, the emphasis is on the individual--the 'me', the 'I,' and the 'mine.' It is difficult to explain a group obligation to people who idolize the first person singular. But the most difficult part of the recruiting period has been learning the limits of liberal tolerance. It has been uncomfortable to see that the lessons I learned from the traditional liberal platform appear not to apply to me.
Liberal groups loudly protest that they should be able to question the war without having their patriotism attacked and that they still 'support the troops.' For the most part, I fully agree with them. While there are some tactics that may be unpatriotic, on the whole it is certainly allowable, even desirable, for their to be dissent. That is part of what being a democracy means. However, I think that opposing military recruiting crosses the line from patriotic dissent on policies to outright unpatriotic activity. It certainly doesn't 'support the troops' who would obviously benefit by greater recruitment. The recent anti-recruitment initiative in San Francisco is a particularly egregious example of this. It was of course lauded on many liberal blogs (and famously criticized by O'Reilly with his typical over reaction.) It seems to me that liberals who are concerned with illegitimately being percieved as unpatriotic should take great care to not associate with, or support, things that actually are unpatriotic.

Letter from a Soldier in Iraq

Sgt Hook has a letter up from a soldier in Iraq. Well worth reading. Excerpt:

My fellow Americans, I have a task for those with the courage and fortitude to take it. I have a message that needs not fall on deaf ears. A vision the blind need to see. I am not a political man nor one with great wisdom. I am just a soldier who finds himself helping rebuild a country that he helped liberate a couple years ago. I have watched on television how the American public questions why their mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters are fighting and dying in a country 9000 miles away from their own soil. Take the word of a soldier, for that is all I am, that our cause is a noble one. The reason we are here is one worth fighting for. A cause that has been the most costly and sought after cause in our small span of existence on our little planet. Bought in blood and paid for by those brave enough to give the ultimate sacrifice to obtain it. A right that is given to every man, woman, and child I believe by God. I am talking of freedom.
Read the whole thing.

In honor of the return of Lord Voldemort

I humbly present Harry Potter and the Hogwarts Dancers (via Ghost of a flea)

Fathers and ADHD?

Dr. Helen (the Instawife) has an interesting post up on a new book that points to a study that showed ADHD might be related to a lack of a positive father figure. ADHD of course, like many psycological problems, is probably a catchall phrase for a number of syndromes that may in fact be unrelated to one another. I suspect that in some cases ADHD is a result of actual brain chemistry problems while in other cases it is merely learned behavior (or perhaps lack of correct learned behavior.) It is notoriously difficult to make a medical diagnosis purely from symptoms, and this is especially true with psychological illnesses. It would obviously be untrue to claim that all people diagnosed with ADHD lack a positive father figure. I know a young man who has been diagnosed ADHD who has a very positive father figure. That being said, the hypothesis that a general shortage of positive father figures in our society correlates with the increase in ADHD cases is worth thinking about. Another related thought brought up in the comments to Dr. Helen's post is speculation on the lack of male teachers, particularly at the elementary levels as well as lack of discipline in schools in general. I expect that all of these things contribute to the problem to some extent. This comment, also by Dr. Helen, seems very appropriate as well:

In general, I do believe that ADHD is a true condition with an organic base in some children--those are the ones who require medication--I have seen these kids in my office and refer them for medication which,like one commentor stated, can be a godsend. But I have seen the other side also, where ADHD is given as a diagnosis when discipline and the word "no" has not been consistent enough. I had one teacher who was so tired of one boy's antics that she wanted me to diagnose him with bipolar illness so he could get some lithium. I explained that if a child could control his behavior when he wanted to (as was the case with this boy) that he did not have bipolar disorder. I started attending his school for observation, assisted the teachers in a treatment program, and provided structure for him and his behavior improved. My post was not meant as a slam against parents, for I believe we have enough difficulty--it is meant to show how research that does not have politically correct results often gets the shaft.

The Theory of Insurance

Greg at Generic Confusion has a good post up on the Theory of Insurance. I agree with him that this is a topic that is poorly understood, especially as it relates to health insurance.

Iran got Nuke Plans from Khan


Iran turned over to U.N. inspectors instructions for assembling a key part of an atomic weapon, a diplomat familiar with a confidential report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Friday. The diplomat described it to Reuters as a 'cookbook' for making the enriched uranium metal core of an atomic weapon. 'Also among the documents was one ... on the casting and machining of enriched, natural and depleted uranium into hemispherical forms,' the report by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed ElBaradei to the IAEA board of governors, seen by Reuters, said. The United States and European Union suspect Iran is developing nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian atomic energy program. Tehran denies wanting nuclear weapons, insisting its atomic ambitions are limited to the peaceful generation of electricity. The Iranians told the IAEA they had received the document from individuals linked to the nuclear black market set up by disgraced Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan. Iran stated that the document had been provided on the initiative of nuclear black marketeers, not at its own request, the report said.
It would be very interesting to know if Iran turned this over on it's own, or if the IAEA already knew it had this information. With this sort of thing we never know the full story. There is also this from Forbes:
ran is still blocking UN nuclear inspectors from crucial military sites, the UN atomic watchdog agency reported today, saying full Iranian cooperation was overdue. 'Iran's full transparency is indispensable and overdue,' Mohamed Elbaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in a report released here. He said this was despite the access Iran has provided during the past two months, after the UN body threatened to take Tehran to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions over non-compliance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
I don't think Iran has any real reason to comply with international pressure at this point. The EU threats are entirely toothless and I don't think the U.S. is prepared to take signifigant action either. I hope I am wrong about that last one, as I think that the world will deeply regret a nuclear armed Iran, and absent a credible U.S. military threat it looks like that is going to happen. And of course, the obligatory link.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

WMD and Iraq

FrontPage magazine.com has an informative interview with Bill Tierney, a former UNSCOM weapons inspector. Well worth reading. (via Powerline)

Scott Adams on ID

The creator of Dilbert offers his take on the ID debate which is pretty much exactly how I feel about the whole thing.

First of all, you’d be hard pressed to find a useful debate about Darwinism and Intelligent Design, of the sort that you could use to form your own opinion. I can’t find one, and I’ve looked. What you have instead is each side misrepresenting the other’s position and then making a good argument for why the misrepresentation is wrong. (If you don’t believe me, just watch the comments I get to this post.) To make things more complicated, both sides have good and bad arguments lumped into them. If you make a good argument on your side, I respond by attacking your bad argument instead. If it were a debate contest, both sides would lose.
Read the whole thing. (via Dean's World)

Texas Town Adopts Corporate Name

ABC News:

Back in the 1950s, Hot Springs, N.M., was renamed Truth or Consequences, N.M., after a popular quiz show. During the dot-com boom of 2000, Halfway, Ore., agreed to become Half.com for a year. This week, Clark, Texas, morphed into DISH in exchange for a decade of free satellite television from the DISH Network for the town's 55 homes. Residents in Santa, Idaho, meanwhile, are weighing the pros and cons of changing to Secretsanta.com, Idaho. Across the nation, small communities are being courted by large corporations who say renaming a town provides a marketing buzz that can't be bought in television ads. Though some worry about corporate America's increasing influence in local government, many towns seem eager to accept.
Of course we all know where this is going. OCP will buy out Detroit and deploy the future of law enforcement.

Iraq minister rejects torture claims


'I don't accept for any officer to even slap a prisoner,' Interior Minister Bayan Baqir Solagh Jabir told a packed news conference on Thursday, his first public appearance since US forces found the bunker and scores of malnourished and badly beaten men on Sunday. 'The talk about this has been inaccurate,' he said, adding that he was commenting on the issue only because his aides had put pressure on him to do so. Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said earlier this week that 173 men and teenage boys were discovered at the prison near the Interior Ministry, and said there was evidence that many of them had been tortured. He has ordered an investigation. Jabir, raising his voice in anger as he dismissed several of the allegations being made, said only a handful of people showed any sign of being beaten, and they were all detained for suspected militant activity after arrest warrants were issued.
I think that the evidence that torture did take place in this compound seems pretty strong. The route that Jabir is taking seems very unfortunate to me, and creates distinct worries that he is involved directly in this. The Iraqi government is holding an investigation, and I suspect that we will find out a lot more about this. If there is a silver lining to this, it will be in the investigation and response by the Iraqi Government. I hope that they rise to the occassion.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Iraq Gun Porn: Which Guns Suck, Which Guns Rock

The Jawa Report has an interesting post up with an email from an unnamed Marine about weapons in Iraq, and also a strategic and tactical look at the situation there.

Planning for nation building

Max Boot writes in the Los Angeles Times:

Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has been engaged nonstop in trying to rebuild war-ravaged lands. U.S. troops have taken the lead in Panama, Somalia, Haiti (twice), Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. The U.S. has also offered considerable support to international efforts in East Timor, Cambodia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Rwanda, Sudan and other places. A hundred years ago, this type of involvement in other countries' internal affairs would have been called, frankly, liberal imperialism. Today, we prefer euphemisms such as nation building, peacekeeping and stabilization. But whatever you call such operations, they are essential to stop the spread of problems such as infectious diseases, terrorism, genocide, narco-trafficking and refugee flows. The 9/11 attacks offered a nightmare scenario of what can happen if the U.S. ignores even a place as small and remote as Afghanistan. The issue is no longer whether we will do nation building but how well will we do it? So far, we haven't done a great job, in part because it is a notoriously difficult task, but also because we have not put the same kind of effort into postwar work that we have devoted to winning military campaigns. The costs of this neglect are all too apparent in Iraq, where the U.S. was grossly unprepared for the challenges we have faced since the fall of Baghdad in May 2003.
I have echoed this same theme myself numerous times. Boot goes on to describe the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization which has been created to address this issue and the difficulties it has recieving funding. In a globalized world, failed states will present a clear danger and not addressing them will be much more costly than addressing them. I think that the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization is far to modest of an attempt to deal with this issue seriously, but something is better than nothing.

The Economy

Claymore Securities:

Pessimism about the economy is rampant, but baffling. From 30,000 feet, the US economy looks fabulous. In October, household employment rose to 142.6 million, an all-time record high. Lately, initial claims have fallen back to pre-Katrina levels of about 320,000 per week, roughly 2.2% of total employment, a percentage not seen since the late 1990s. Despite hurricanes and record high energy prices, personal income, wages and salaries, consumption of non-durable goods and services hit all time record highs in September. In recent months, corporate profits, federal tax receipts, the 6-month moving average of durable goods new orders, and household wealth have also climbed to record highs. Since the tax cuts of 2003, US real GDP has grown 4.0% at an annual rate, and has experienced no quarter with less than 3.3% growth. For reference, the 50-year average growth rate of real GDP is 3.3% and economists surveyed by the Wall Street Journal expect real GDP to grow 3.3% in 2006.
This is my basic sense as well. While high energy prices are somewhat troubling (having purchased heating oil last week I can personally attest to this) they are not so high from a historic perspective to severely damage the economy. Other indicators seem great as well. Where does the pessimism come from then? (via The Skeptical Optomist)

Torture in Iraq

Herald Sun:

The claims by Iraqi Government officials, human rights groups and victims follow the discovery of more than 170 tortured and starving prisoners in a locked Interior Ministry bunker beneath Baghdad. Many had been severely beaten. Some had been paralysed. Others had skin peeled off their bodies. The horrific discovery by US troops, who stumbled on it while searching for a missing boy, threatens to undermine the new democracy the US is trying to build in Iraq. 'This sort of behaviour completely undermines everything the Iraqi Government stands for and everything the coalition came here for,' said Lt-Col Frederick Wellman, a spokesman for the division of the multinational force in Iraq that is responsible for training Iraq's police. 'It is unacceptable in any form.'
This is very disturbing. Individual rights, rather than tribal grudges, are the hope for building a new Iraq. This shows that the former is not nearly as strongly protected as we would like, and the latter still much to prevalent. The Iraqi government must act quickly and unequivocally to salvage this situation.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Faith on Display

Yahoo! News:
Hundreds of Christians have worshipped in the open air after a Muslim mob in eastern Pakistan burnt down churches over allegations that a Christian had desecrated the Koran. The crowd, including women wearing black armbands to protest Saturday's attacks, also demanded protection for the minority community in the small town of Sangla Hill. 'They held their Sunday mass and dispersed peacefully,' police officer Mohammad Asghar told AFP. A police contingent cordoned off the area near a gutted church in Sangla Hill, 80 kilometres (50 miles) west of Lahore, capital of Punjab province. The crowd dispersed after Catholic Archbishop Lawrence Saldanaha advised them not to retaliate.
It takes a lot of guts to be a Christian in Pakistan. Good for them for refusing to retaliate, hopefully this will work towards healing.

Running for the Right wins his election

Go congratulate him here.

The bright side of life

Chirac to Ask for Extension of Crisis Rules to Combat Riots

New York Times:

President Jacques Chirac, addressing his country for the first time since unrest broke out, said that he had asked Parliament to extend a national state of emergency to February and that he would set up a program that would provide jobs and training for 50,000 youths by 2007. The president, stressing respect for the law and the need to recognize the diversity of French society, acknowledged that the past two weeks had been proof of a "profound malaise" in the country, calling it a "crisis of identity." "We'll respond by being firm, by being just and by being faithful to the values of France," he said. Mr. Chirac had been widely criticized for staying silent and out of the public eye while the government faced the worst crisis of his tenure. Recent polls show that less than a third of the French have confidence in his ability to manage the unrest.
I continue to believe that this will not be resolved until the basic idea of what it means to be French changes. Whether the eventual meaning will be a Islamic dominated society, a facist France that solves the 'muslim problem' or a melting pot society where all can be considered 'French' is yet to be seen. I fear that the third option is the least likely though.

Harry Potter and the Half-Crazed Bureaucracy

Benjamin Barton: has written an essay on Harry Potter for the Michigan Law Review, the link connects to an abstract of the essay.

This Essay examines what the Harry Potter series (and particularly the most recent book, The Half-Blood Prince) tells us about government and bureaucracy. There are two short answers. The first is that Rowling presents a government (The Ministry of Magic) that is 100% bureaucracy. There is no discernable executive or legislative branch, and no elections. There is a modified judicial function, but it appears to be completely dominated by the bureaucracy, and certainly does not serve as an independent check on governmental excess. Second, government is controlled by and for the benefit of the self-interested bureaucrat. The most cold-blooded public choice theorist could not present a bleaker portrait of a government captured by special interests and motivated solely by a desire to increase bureaucratic power and influence. Consider this partial list of government activities: a) torturing children for lying; b) utilizing a prison designed and staffed specifically to suck all life and hope out of the inmates; c) placing citizens in that prison without a hearing; d) allows the death penalty without a trial; e) allowing the powerful, rich or famous to control policy and practice; f) selective prosecution (the powerful go unpunished and the unpopular face trumped-up charges); g) conducting criminal trials without independent defense counsel; h) using truth serum to force confessions; i) maintaining constant surveillance over all citizens; j) allowing no elections whatsoever and no democratic lawmaking process; k) controlling the press.
I certainly agree with Barton that Rowling is presenting a decidedly pro-libertarian view of the world (by creating a world that is the opposite of what a libertarian would desire) and it will be interesting to see what, if any, effect this has on politics as millions of Harry Potter fans grow up. One aspect of this that is interesting, and very applicable to our world, is how governments respond to threats. Lord Voldemort and Bin Laden share many of the same methods. Both use fear is a primary weapon and both operate from hiding. In both worlds, the threat is ignored as long as possible, even in the face of mounting evidence and then, when the illusion of safety cannot be maintained extreme measures, and an increase in government power are widely touted as the answer to this threat. In Rowling's world at least, this is clearly not the correct answer. Albert Einstein said "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." Rowling seems to present a similar theme in regards to the Ministry of Magic being able to combat Voldemort fully returned when it was so incapable of preventing his return or acknowledging the danger. In the Harry Potter world, it falls to Dumbledore, Harry himself, and other brave individuals, acting on their own to confront (and presumably eventually stop) the threat. Of course Rowling is writing fiction. Fiction is filled with the lone heroes who change the course of destiny while in the real world it is seldom so romantic. Armies, wealth and raw power tend to have a greater influence on the course of history than raw heroism does. (via Instapundit)

Monday, November 14, 2005

Alito's letter

The Washington Times:

Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr., President Bush's Supreme Court nominee, wrote that 'the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion' in a 1985 document obtained by The Washington Times. 'I personally believe very strongly' in this legal position, Mr. Alito wrote on his application to become deputy assistant to Attorney General Edwin I. Meese III.
This is the big news of the day and it has both Liberals and Conservatives girding their loins and preparing for apocalyptic battle. I don't have any real issues philosophically with what Alito wrote, indeed I agree with them by and large and think that they are sound reasoning. Unlike many though, I get no thrill out of the prospect of a great battle for the Supreme Court. I think that such a battle, and the glee with which conservatives in particular are embracing the concept of such a battle is harmful. There is little interest in convincing anyone that the principles Alito holds are correct, rather their is delerious joy at defeating the liberals and showing Republican primacy. I suspect that conservatives will get what they want. The letter makes a knock down drag out more likely, they will probably win the fight, and that win will probably serve them well in 2006. I don't know how well that will serve us all in the long run though. The war for the Supreme Court isn't the real war we are facing. This lust for partisan combat, from both sides to an extent but especially among the more rabid conservatives divides us as a nation at a time when we can ill afford that. Let me be clear, I support Alito's nomination. He strikes me as a very good judge. From what I have read about him he seems to have a very good legal mind and approaches his cases fairly and consistently. I don't think conservatives should not support Alito. I don't think that the fact that this letter came out is a bad, or an unfortunate thing. What I don't like is the attitude conservatives are displaying (here is one example many more can be found.) Rather than saying 'yes, Alito think that and we think that and here is why' they are saying it doesn't matter that you liberals don't like it we are the big dog and we can take you. I am under no illusions that a more respectful attitude would change many Senate votes or make liberals like Alito more. It might though help elevate, rather than degrade, political discourse in general. Liberals are not the enemy. They may be wrong (and I often think they are) but for the most part they are trying to do what is right just like the rest of us. Many conservatives seem to in love with the myth of themselves as valiant heroes engaged in a mythic struggle against the evil forces of liberalism though. This myth demands a gotterdammerung of course, and they are delighted to have it.

Torture's Terrible Toll

John McCain writes in Newsweek about torture and our policies related to it. I am no fan of McCain, but on this subject he certainly has unique insights and considerable authority. Overall, I agree with the article and highly recommend it. I do think that there is one section he gets wrong, or perhaps a better term is that he should have gotten this section better:

Those who argue the necessity of some abuses raise an important dilemma as their most compelling rationale: the ticking-time-bomb scenario. What do we do if we capture a terrorist who we have sound reasons to believe possesses specific knowledge of an imminent terrorist attack? In such an urgent and rare instance, an interrogator might well try extreme measures to extract information that could save lives. Should he do so, and thereby save an American city or prevent another 9/11, authorities and the public would surely take this into account when judging his actions and recognize the extremely dire situation which he confronted. But I don't believe this scenario requires us to write into law an exception to our treaty and moral obligations that would permit cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. To carve out legal exemptions to this basic principle of human rights risks opening the door to abuse as a matter of course, rather than a standard violated truly in extremis. It is far better to embrace a standard that might be violated in extraordinary circumstances than to lower our standards to accommodate a remote contingency, confusing personnel in the field and sending precisely the wrong message abroad about America's purposes and practices.
I think that McCain is wrong to place the responsibility of determining whether or not an urgent and rare instance justified extreme measure and hope that they will be exonerated. Acknowledging that there will be times when it is ok to violate such a law, and that in those instances it is better to ask forgiveness than permission seems to me to profoundly hurt the rule of law, and place an undo burden on the people who are in the front lines of protecting us. I believe instead that we should codify into law a method of granting an exception, probably via a Presidential Order. In the interest of assuring that this exception is not abuses, I would include a provision that all such orders must be declassified and published within a certain amount of time, perhaps 3 or 4 years. Update: Wretchard at the Belmont Club has this post up in which he claims that the McCain ammendment would not reduce torture, it would simply move it to other nations. It is an interesting perspective, and one that deserves some thought. I will say that a clear definition of what is, and is not, torture needs to be made in regards to any law. Avoiding making detainees feel bad is going to far in my opinion, but McCain has persuaded me that mock executions and waterboarding may indeed be going to far the other war. The real problem in all of this, is that for the most part partisan attacks (and defenses) seem to be quelling a serious debate that needs to be had over what we will and will not do, why, and what price we are prepared to pay for it.

Alito and Free Speech

Eugene Volokh writes this op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Alito's likely view of the First Amendment

What would Samuel Alito's confirmation mean for First Amendment law? It's impossible to be sure, but his appeals court opinions give us some clues. A Justice Alito would likely take a pretty broad view of free speech protections; support religious exemptions from some generally applicable laws; uphold evenhanded benefit programs that include both religious and secular institutions; and uphold the use of religious symbolism by the government. • Free speech. Until the late 1980s, liberal Supreme Court justices generally supported broad free speech rights, and conservative justices usually took a narrower view. No longer. I've studied the votes in free speech cases from 1994 (when Justice Stephen Breyer was appointed) until last summer, when Chief Justice William Rehnquist died. The broadest views of free speech were held by conservative Anthony Kennedy, followed by conservative Clarence Thomas tied with liberal David Souter. The narrowest views were held by liberal Justice Breyer, followed by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (both conservatives). Justices John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg (liberals) and Antonin Scalia (conservative) were in the middle. Judge Alito's past decisions suggest that he would be closer to Justices Kennedy and Thomas than to Justice O'Connor. Naturally, those decisions are shaped by Supreme Court precedents; but precedents often give lower court judges some flexibility, and Judge Alito has generally used this flexibility to protect speech.
I hope Volokh is right about that. First Amendment protections are extremely important and I think that they have been degraded signifigantly in recent years, with Campaign Finance Reform being the biggest example of that.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Senate Approves Limiting Rights of U.S. Detainees

New York Times:

The Senate voted Thursday to strip captured 'enemy combatants' at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, of the principal legal tool given to them last year by the Supreme Court when it allowed them to challenge their detentions in United States courts. The vote, 49 to 42, on an amendment to a military budget bill by Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, comes at a time of intense debate over the government's treatment of prisoners in American custody worldwide, and just days after the Senate passed a measure by Senator John McCain banning abusive treatment of them. If approved in its current form by both the Senate and the House, which has not yet considered the measure but where passage is considered likely, the law would nullify a June 2004 Supreme Court opinion that detainees at Guantanamo Bay had a right to challenge their detentions in court.
I think that we still don't have a good answer for how to deal with enemy combatants. It doesn't seem appropriate to treat them as criminals, but the POW idea is obviously insufficient as well.

Thank You

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Russian plan on Iranian Nukes


A Russian plan aimed at satisfying the world that Tehran's atomic aims are peaceful has won tentative backing from the United States and the European Union's top powers, diplomats said on Thursday. Under the proposal, supported by France, Britain and Germany, known as the EU3, and Washington, Iran would keep part of its atomic fuel production program if the most sensitive part, uranium enrichment, was scrapped and moved to Russia, diplomats say. U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei, who supports the compromise, said he hoped a deal would be reached soon. 'He hopes that in the coming days the international community will be able to coalesce around a solution that is acceptable to all parties, including Iran,' the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a statement. Diplomats, however, were skeptical that Iran would join the proposed Russian joint venture, as that would mean Tehran renouncing enrichment, which it says it will never do.
I remain convinced that Iran wants nuclear weapons far more than it wants nuclear power. If they could be convinced that such a desire was unattainable (read: we'll hit them with a big stick if they try) they would likely to go along with this proposal as a face saving measure. I highly doubt that they believe that the big stick exists though. Certainly the EU and Russia are unlikely to smack them down, and unlikely to even support a U.S. attempt to do so. While we have the capability to smack them hard, with a pure air war if nothing else, it is questionable whether we have the political will to do so, especially unilateraly. My predictions are that Iran will not agree to this. After that, we will see. Most likely George Bush will find it politically impossible to take direct action. It will be interesting to see how President Hillary Clinton handles the situation though.

3rd Way Economics for Republicans?

Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam have an interesting article in the Weekly Standard that addresses Republicans domestic agenda woes and gives some ideas on what to do about it. The first half of the article examines and explains the problem, and is worth reading but more interesting to me are considering their solutions. Here is the basic overview of what they propose:

The third possibility--and the best, both for the party and the country as a whole--would be to take the "big-government conservatism" vision that George W. Bush and Karl Rove have hinted at but failed to develop, and give it coherence and sustainability. This wouldn't mean an abandonment of small-government objectives, but it would mean recognizing that these objectives--individual initiative, social mobility, economic freedom--seem to be slipping away from many less-well-off Americans, and that serving the interests of these voters means talking about economic insecurity as well as about self-reliance. It would mean recognizing that you can't have an "ownership society" in a nation where too many Americans owe far more than they own. It would mean matching the culture war rhetoric of family values with an economic policy that places the two-parent family--the institution best capable of providing cultural stability and economic security--at the heart of the GOP agenda.
I am enough of a Libertarian that the phrase 'big-government conservatism' scares me. I am also enough of a Burkean conservatism to be skeptical of bright and shiny new ideas. I am also a realist though. The electoral realities that Douthat and Salam describe are very real and people do want some increased security from their government as change accelerates. That was my view of the prescription drug plan, it was a bad idea but something was going to be done fairly soon, and given that reality it was better than some plans could have been. In addition, I follow enough economic news to know that the rising tide doesn't seem to be lifting all boats and that lower to middle income workers are facing very real challenges. Health care in particular seems to be something that has some major issues. Taken together, these factors mean I am willing to listen, but also inclined to skepticism. In the posts below, I will examine each of the ideas below and give my thoughts on them. As always, comments are appreciated.

3rd Way: The Future of the Family

Weekly Standard, The Party of Sam's Club The first set of ideas Douthat and Salam propose are based upon government funded economic incentives to promote and strengthen families. The basic idea that just as families have an effect on our economics so can economics have an effect on families is a good one. Here are the concrete policy ideas from this section:

Quebec's Allowance for Newborn Children (ANC), implemented with considerable success in the late 1980s, might serve as a model: The program provided (approximately) $500 for a first child, $1,000 for a second, and, for a third and all subsequent children, 20 quarterly payments of $400. According to one estimate, from Kevin Milligan of the University of British Columbia, this led to a 15 percent bump in the province's birthrate, and the overall "cost" to the government of each additional child--i.e., each child who would not have been born in the absence of the ANC--was just over $15,000. That number sounds high, but it pales in comparison with the financial sacrifices that the parents will make to raise the child--the opportunity costs, in forgone wages, can top $1 million for a family of modest means--and the value of the taxes that child will pay over a lifetime.
A better way to approach the division between work and family life might be what sociologist Neil Gilbert calls a "life-course perspective," with measures that would allow a mother (or father, for that matter) to provide child care full-time for several years before entering, or reentering, the workforce. For instance, the government could offer subsidies to those who provide child care in the home, and pension credits that reflect the economic value of years spent in household labor. Or again, Republicans might consider offering tuition credits for years spent rearing children, which could be exchanged for post-graduate or vocational education. These would be modeled on veterans' benefits--and that would be entirely appropriate. Both military service and parenthood are crucial to the country's long-term survival. It's about time we recognize that fact.
Unlike Quebec, America is reproducing at above the replacement rate (if only barely.) I am unsure that we need more children from a numerical standpoint. Given that this benefit would be most attractive to economically disadvantaged people with a short term focus I am not convinced that this wouldn't be economically damaging rather than beneficial. A better idea along these lines seems to me to be a trust fund that is gifted to each child that could be used for college education or trade schooling. As to the idea of pension or educational benefits for stay-at-home parents that is an intriguing idea. It seems likely to me to pay for itself quite easily over time. I especially like the idea of a education benefits. The administration and details of such a program are problematic, but it seems to me to definitely by an idea worth kicking around.

3rd Way: Health Care First

Weekly Standard, The Party of Sam's Club The next set of ideas in the article are about health care. As mentioned above, I am sympathetic to the general idea that we need to make some changes to improve our health care system in America. At the same time I am also very worried about a socialized medicine system arising in response to these problems that 'throws the baby out with the bath water' and severely damages our technological innovations. The article presents these ideas as ways to fix health care:

For instance, Mitt Romney has proposed in Massachusetts that health insurance be made universal by making it mandatory. Allowing individuals to forgo coverage encourages the young and healthy to live dangerously, giving them a free ride on the public purse when things go awry, and making health care more expensive for everyone else. If you expect government to step in when the going gets tough, you have an obligation to make a contribution. But if purchasing health insurance is to be mandatory, it needs to be cheaper. To drive down prices, and free up money to subsidize insurance for the poorest Americans, anticompetitive practices in the health care sector would have to be attacked. As professors Michael Porter and Elizabeth Teisberg have argued, the health care industry is designed to reduce costs borne by intermediaries--hospitals, health plans, physician groups--rather than increase value for patients. So there is a relentless drive to shift costs onto individuals, and to minimize competition through network restrictions that prevent consumers from finding the best care. Medical providers collude to suppress information about the quality of care, a practice that would be considered intolerable in any other industry. By negotiating for steep discounts from provider groups, large employers and the government make the individual insurance market intolerably expensive for most Americans. Eliminating these bottlenecks will, over time, go a long way towards reducing costs, while increasing consumer choice.
Finally, the goal of any health care system ought to be security against catastrophic expenditures. Individuals can choose to pay for comprehensive coverage, but the responsibility of government should extend only to making sure that all Americans purchase a high deductible policy--rather than subsidizing gold-plated plans for upper-income Americans, which the current system often does.
The idea of mandatory insurance bothers me, but if we assume that either the Government or Health Care Providers will step in for those who don't have it, the idea has some merit. Obviously though, this will hinge upon the idea of making insurance cheaper. I agree that there are lots of anti-competitive practices in the health care and health insurance industries. In many ways it is the worst of government intrusion and laissez fair with none of the benefits of either. Tackling those issues is complex though and while I agree that we should try, the devil will be in the details. It is I think a first step though. The last idea, health insurance being primarily for catastrophic problems is both good and bad. Certainly our concept of health insurance paying for general expected care makes a mockery of the very term insurance and is a portion of the problem. However, there remains the problem that illness that is treated early is often dramatically cheaper and less 'catastrophic' than illness that is left untreated. A system that only pays for catastrophes seems likely to increase catastrophes. My thoughts on this section is lets worry about attacking the anti-competitive aspects of the health care industry and then see where we are. If the cost of health care can be lowered, and more competition allowed to flourish we might not need either mandatory insurance or government intervention to make insurance only a catastrophic problem. I don't know how far that will get us, but it is worth looking at. All together this section was a disappointment to me. It contains a pretty good summary of the problems, but the solutions were weak and non specific.

3rd Way: Beyond Welfare Reform

Weekly Standard, The Party of Sam's Club The theme of this section is:

Republicans have long celebrated entrepreneurship and the idea of self-help. But among the very poor, the obstacles to self-help remain formidable. President Bush recognized this in calling for a more "compassionate conservatism." But the language of compassion strikes the wrong note: It speaks to middle-class empathy, not to the aspirations of poor Americans with the drive to succeed. Republicans need to recast their policies for the poor as a self-help agenda, with less emphasis on warm sentiments and more on offering tools for advancement.
Sentiments I agree with as a whole. Like many Republicans I am happy to support a program that helps people to help themselves rather than a 'social safety net' which too often becomes a hammock where the poor can lounge for generations. As to the particular ideas there are two:
One tool that Republicans might consider promoting is a program of wage subsidies, like that proposed by Columbia University economist Edmund Phelps, which would help less-educated single men make ends meet, thereby making them more desirable marriage partners. Given the right boost, poor young men could become working-class fathers. There's no question that a serious wage subsidy would be expensive--Phelps figures up to $85 billion a year--but the cost would be reduced if it lowered incarceration rates and reduced outlays of other government benefits. Far from being a new entitlement, wage subsidies would be an anti-entitlement, with government helping only those who are already helping themselves. Indeed, such a subsidy could be accompanied by further cuts in benefits to those who are fit to work and don't--thus increasing the incentives for holding down a job and raising a family, and leaving shirkers at the mercy of family and friends, or private charity.
the GOP needs to find a way to split the difference between the anti-immigration hawks and the advocates of open borders--by predicating any earned legalization program on increased spending for border control and serious sanctions for employers who hire undocumented workers. Would such measures put an end to illegal immigration? Of course not. But they would do something to slow it, and more important, seal a fissure that's opening within the party.
I am unfamiliar with Edmund Phelps proposal, this paper seems to address the basic concepts. The idea here is interesting. One problem that I have observed with many of our social programs as they currently exist is that they are an all or nothing thing. Once your income reaches a certain level, all benefits disappear, often making getting a job or a pay raise economically a bad move. This is definitely not where we want to be and a wage subsidy might help to counter balance that effect. I remain a bit nervous about the concept though, I am not sure that their wouldn't be negative macro-economic effects to such a plan. That being said, the idea is certainly worth exploring. As for the idea of amnesty coupled with greater border enforcement and sanctions on employers of illegal immigrants I think that is exactly the right approach. I also agree that it needs to be done all at the same time.

3rd Way: Rethinking Taxes

Weekly Standard, The Party of Sam's Club The basic theme of this section is that tax cuts have succeeded, and therefore further tax cuts are neither particularly popular nor needed. What is needed instead is tax reform. A single big idea, along with a host of specific tweaking to deductions is presented. The big idea is this:

Michael J. Graetz of Yale Law School, hardly a wild-eyed utopian, has called this the "back to the future" plan. Graetz would raise the AMT exemption to $50,000 for single-earners and $100,000 for joint returns, and impose a single rate of 25 percent on all earnings over those thresholds. To replace the lost revenue, he would also--and this is the controversial part--introduce a consumption tax of 14 percent. The benefits of such a proposal would be considerable. It would reward people for saving and investing early in life. It would hit the idle rich--affluent retirees drawing down their savings, trust fund babies buying penthouse apartments--hardest, while the productive rich, and their income from investments and business ventures, would emerge considerably less scathed. And best of all, the consumption tax would be relatively easy to collect, and the $100,000 cutoff would eliminate 100 million of the 130 million income-tax returns filed every year.
Unlike the fair tax proposal this maintains quite a bit of the current system. For example, payroll taxes are unaffected by this. For me, this is both a benefit and a drawback. Intellectually I like the fair tax a lot, and I greatly dislike payroll taxes. On the other hand, too radical a change is difficult to predict the effects of and I am distrustful of that sort of thing. This doesn't seem like a bad plan at face value on tax reform.

‘Burn in hell’


Hundreds of angry Jordanians rallied Thursday outside one of three U.S.-based hotels attacked by suicide bombers, shouting, “Burn in hell, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi!” — a reference to the leader of Al-Qaida in Iraq, the terrorist group tied to the blasts that killed at least 56 people. The protest was organized by Jordan’s 14 professional and trade unions — made up of both hard-line Islamic groups and leftist political organizations — traditionally vocal critics of King Abdullah II’s moderate and pro-Western policies.
The battle against radical Islam can most effectively be fought from within Islam itself. Indeed, it is quite possible that that is the only ground on which it can be fought. Our efforts can shape the battlefied but to an extent we are onlookers (and, sadly, props) to this battle.

Sexy TV

Washington Post:

Teenagers watching television are bombarded with nearly twice as many sex scenes as seven years ago, according to a new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Sex, lots of sex. Sex, sex, sex. Casual sex, dirty sex. Hot, sweaty, recreational sex with desperate housewives on expensive, carved, imported-from-Italy dining tables. Adolescent girls performing oral sex on middle-aged managers of expensive clothing stores in backrooms jammed with nekkid mannequins in exchange for some of that expensive clothing -- plus accessories! In the slightly more than 1,000 shows scrutinized in the study, nearly 4,000 scenes had sexual content, compared with fewer than 2,000 in 1998, when the foundation started studying TV sex. And yet the rate of teen pregnancy in this country has plunged by about one-third during approximately the same time.
Wow, its almost as if teenagers are thinking beings able to make decisions and not mindless automatons that are controlled by the Television they watch! There is room for legitimate discourse about the content of what is broadcast over the public airways (not cable) and certainly I believe in ratings and content advisory information on programs but the idea that television causes damage to kids and the we need to control it For the ChildrenTM has little merit.

Big Oil takes Senate back to school

The Australian:

ExxonMobil chairman Lee Raymond dispassionately explained why oil companies and politicians would find it difficult to agree, noting the different timelines his industry and the politicians worked under. 'In politics, time is measured in two, four or six years, based on the election cycle. In the energy industry, time is measured in decades, based on the life cycles of our projects.' ExxonMobil had just announced the first oil and gas production from its Sakhalin-1 Project in Russia's far east, he said. 'We began work on the project over 10 years ago, when prices were very low, and we expect it to produce for over 40 years ... that's more then 50 years for one project. Fifty years is 25 congresses and 12 presidential terms. Fifty years ago, Dwight Eisenhower was president of the US.' He warned that short-term policy fixes for oil industry problems were a recipe for disaster, highlighting Washington's response to the 1970s oil crisis. 'First price control, then punitive taxes were tried to manage petroleum markets. They contributed to record prices, shortages and gasoline lines. As the government withdrew from attempting to manage the markets, prices began to come down.'
Price controls and taxes all always attractive to politicians but are absolutely the worst way to increase supply and hence lower prices. Unfortunately, very few politicians have even a basic understanding of economics. It is easy to stir up populism against rising gas prices. It is much more difficult to lead people to an understanding of what causes high prices and what we can actually do as a society to combat that. Sadly, we don't seem to have any leaders capable of this task.

Another Recount!

Running for the Right competed in this years election for Town Selectman of his hometown. Right now it looks like he got a seat, but it's close enough that an automatic recount has been triggered. Click on over and wish him luck.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Bread and Circuses


Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin unveiled a raft of social and economic measures designed to improve conditions in France's tough, low-income neighbourhoods that have spawned unrest raging across the country. The initiatives -- outlined before parliament the same day the government approved powers to declare a state of emergency in specified regions of the country -- aim to reduce chronically high unemployment in those suburbs, provide better education and address entrenched racism. 'Our collective responsibility is to make difficult areas the same sort of territory as others in the republic,' Villepin said. But he added that 'the reestablishment of public order is a prerequisite' to the measures being implemented -- something he admitted would 'take some time.'
Too little, too late in my opinion. I also note that their is no mention beyond 'the reestablishment of public order' to combating crime in these areas. That is a key for economic development and without it, the process is doomed to fail. One of the key things that I think the French need to address is the base question of why their immigrants should consider themselves part of France. What does being 'French' mean? What does France stand for? Historically (and currently) being French means being a French by descent, or at the very least European. From Wikipedia:
France's population dynamics began to change in the middle of the 19th century, as France joined the Industrial Revolution. The pace of industrial growth pulled in millions of European immigrants over the next century, with especially large numbers arriving from Poland, Portugal, Italy, and Spain. These immigrants intermarried and assimilated over time, and their descendants are almost universally considered Francais de souche (ethnic French), or at least as uncomplicatedly 'French'. This was not the case with the other big group of recent immigrants, the non-European peoples whose migration waxed as the intra-European migration waned in the 1960's. Since then, France has become home to millions of non-European peoples, principally from the former French colonies of the Maghreb and Sub-Saharan Africa. The arrival of many Muslim migrants from North and West Africa has meant that Islam has become the second largest religion in France, with around 5 million or so adherents of varying levels of belief. It is estimated that around 50,000 Francais de souche (ethnic French) have converted to Islam.
Translation: If you are not white, you are not 'French'. How to redefine French to mean something else is a challenge that France (and the rest of Europe has issues here as well) must face. America, and being American, is defined more by ideology than by descent. We are, generally speaking anyway, happy to count our immigrants as Americans. Obviously we are not perfect at this, but that is the core of our national identity. France of course is has an identity that is deeply tied into its ethnic background. If France is to survive it needs to create a new meaning of what 'French' is. Of course, even if it did that today it would be very tough to make it work. The Muslim immigrants and their children have been outsiders for long enough that they have built up their own sense of who they are, to a great degree defined by not being French. Any group that is forced to the sidelines tends to remake their ostracism into an identity of its own. That certainly happened in America with African Americans and is still something that we are trying to resolve. You can see the same effect in any high school.


Norman Podhoretz reviews the 'lies' that got us into the 'immoral war' in Iraq.

What makes this charge so special is the amazing success it has enjoyed in getting itself established as a self-evident truth even though it has been refuted and discredited over and over again by evidence and argument alike. In this it resembles nothing so much as those animated cartoon characters who, after being flattened, blown up, or pushed over a cliff, always spring back to life with their bodies perfectly intact. Perhaps, like those cartoon characters, this allegation simply cannot be killed off, no matter what. Nevertheless, I want to take one more shot at exposing it for the lie that it itself really is.
I understand where Podhoretz is coming from here, the claim that 'Bush Lied' is so pervasive that it is taken as an undeniable truth. Why is it that so many people believe something that simply isn't true, and apparently cannot be convinced even by a very strong case that it isn't true? Anyway, it is a good review of the 'Bush lied' nonsense and why that simply is not true. (via Instapundit)

Egyptian Elections


Egyptians voted on Wednesday in the first stage of legislative elections expected to make only minor inroads in the domination of parliament by President Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP). Some voters and witnesses reported skirmishes and electoral abuses in the first few hours after polls opened at 8 a.m. (6:00 a.m. British time), but others saw an improvement in the political climate. The overall level of violence appeared lower than in previous elections. In the south Cairo suburb of Maadi, NDP supporters scared away voters until security forces arrived, witnesses said.
Baby steps, but baby steps are still steps and these elections seem very signifigant because of that. This isn't a Ukraine style revolution, but it is a powerful sign that democracy is advancing in the middle east.

California Ballot Initiatives Fail

Washington Post:

In a stinging rebuke from voters who elected him two years ago, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's efforts to reshape state government were rejected during a special election that darkened his prospects for a second term. The Republican governor and Hollywood actor, who likes to say he can sell anything, on Tuesday saw all four of his signature ballot proposals rejected. The election pitted the once-dominant Republican governor against two of California's powerhouse political forces -- public employee unions and Democrats who control the Legislature. The unions spent millions of dollars to beat Schwarzenegger's propositions to limit the use of their member dues for political purposes, cap state spending, redraw legislative districts and restrict public school teacher tenure.
The one here that really saddens me is the redrawing of legislative districts. While in California it would obviously benefit Republicans, if the idea caught on it (which if Califrornia led would be quite likely) it would probably be a wash nation wide as far as number of seats in each party. Such redistricting would result in more competitive races, more moderate politicians from both parties, and more legislators who truly had to pay attention to their constituents. I guess voters in California (and Ohio) like having their elected officials pick them rather than picking their elected officials.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

What Sesame Street Character are you?

You scored 39% Organization, 53% abstract, and 49% extroverted!
This test measured 3 variables.

First, this test measured how organized you are. Some muppets like Cookie Monster make big messes, while others like Bert are quite anal about things being clean.

Second, this test measured if you prefer a concrete or an abstract viewpoint. For the purposes of this test, concrete people are considered to gravitate more to mathematical and logical approaches, whereas abstract people are more the dreamers and artistic type.

Third, this test measured if you are more of an introvert or an extrovert. By definition, an introvert concentrates more on herself and an extrovert focuses more on others. In this test an introvert was somebody that either tends to spend more time alone or thinks more about herself.

You are somewhat organized, both concrete and abstract, and both introverted and extroverted.

I bet you didn't think you were Snuffleupagus. Let's find out why.

You are both somewhat organized. You have a good idea where you put things and you probably keep your place reasonably clean. You aren't totally obsessed with neatness though. Alloyius Snuffleupagus (and all Snuffleupagus') is not sloppy by nature, but he moves so incredibly slowly that it is impossible for him to be totally organized.

You both are about equally concrete and abstract thinkers. You have a good balance in your life. You know when to be logical at times, but you also aren't afraid to explore your dreams and desires... within limits of course. Snuffy generally has very basic interests, but he explores his abstract sensitive side when he plays his snuffleflute.

You both are somewhat introverted. Originally Snuffleupagus was very shy and was only Big Bird's invisible friend. However as he has aged he has started to build new friendships with new characters. Like Snuffy, you probably like to have some time to yourself. However, you do appreciate spending time with your friends, and you aren't scared of social situations.

Link: The Your SESAME STREET Persona Test written by greencowsgomoo on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test
(via Larry Bernard)

Economics of the Riots

A must read Op-Ed by Joel Kotkin (via Instapundit) Update: read this too

Fanatical Money?

Orson Scott Card post this:

Big-tent politics is dead in America, my friends. Because our campaign finance laws had stripped power away from Big Money, we have converted our political system to one dominated by Fanatical Money. Big Money only cared about getting their team elected in order to gain financial advantages, and the best way to do that was to move to the middle, trying to appeal to the vast majority who want the world to go along smoothly without too many big changes in domestic policies.
There is a certain truth to that. While I like the individual empowerment that goes along with internet fund raising and the ability to economically raise small donations from lots of people, it is obvious that this activity will tend to be dominated by relatively fanatical people. I am not quite as pessimistic as Card about this, but I can see how it will cause difficulties and lead to increasing polarization. Card also has some thoughts about foreign policy and the intellectual bankruptcy of realism. (via Fine? Why Fine?)

On Demand TV


NBC and CBS unveiled separate plans to make some of their prime-time shows available for viewers to watch at their leisure -- without commercials -- for 99 cents an episode, throwing open the door to 'on-demand' television. The back-to-back announcements on Monday from NBC Universal, a unit of General Electric Co., and Viacom Inc. -owned CBS, came weeks after Walt Disney Co.'s ABC began offering commercial-free Internet downloads of its biggest hits, 'Lost' and 'Desperate Housewives,' for $1.99 a piece.
We all want on-demand television and movies. The industry has been slow to move forward, mostly from fears of piracy and worries about being able to control their distribution systems. Eventually we will get there though, and this is a nice step forward.

Monday, November 07, 2005

French violence hits fresh peak


At least 1,400 vehicles have been burnt out and 395 people arrested in France's latest rioting, while the unrest has apparently claimed its first fatality. Jean-Jacques Le Chenadec, 61, who fell into a coma after being beaten by a hooded man last week, has died. The announcement followed the worst night of violence since the unrest began 11 days ago. Ten policemen were hurt, two seriously, by gunfire and stones while confronting 200 rioters in a Paris suburb.
The big question with the riots in France and elsewhere, is what they mean. Is this an Islamist offensive against Europe, the herald of the coming Eurabia as some claim, or is it merely rage and discontent at high unemployment with the predominately muslim nature of the rioters being an irrelevant factor as others allege. As always there is probably some truth to both sides. At this point, I think that it is mostly the unemployment, and even more signifigantly, lack of a future, that is driving this. While that is almost certainly the fuel though, I think that there is pretty good evidence that Islamists, or radical Muslims with an al-Qaeda like ideology, are fanning the flames, and may have even helped provide the spark. This Captain's Quarter's post notes that Islamist groups called for action against France a few weeks ago. Instapundit is doing a great job of collecting lots of links on this, (see this post for example) and a quick perusal gives the impression that while opinions abound, no one is very sure what exactly is going on. There are hints of a certain amount of organization, which could be spontaneous or could be evidence of an Islamist command and control melding this. Certainly the possibility of Islamist groups contributing to logistics, supplying incendiaries and perhaps guns exists but I haven't seen any hard evidence of such a thing. We do know that there are Islamist sypathizers in France (and everywhere else for that matter) and undoubtedly they would be happy to increase the chaos, so it seems fair to assume that they are doing so, if only on a small scale. In other ways though it is patently obvious that the Muslim nature of these riots is a side effect, not a cause. 30% unemployment of some of these areas is an obvious sign that things are not working well. These areas have also been largely lawless for some time, and while this has some connection to a multiculturalist tendancy to not get involved or disparage in any way the 'customs' of these areas (including some pretty horrible violence toward women that reminds one of Taliban Afghanistan) mostly it is the all to common tendency to ignore crime in poor areas as long as they stay in there own territory. Sadly of course, crime is a huge obstacle to anyone, whether in France or here in America trying to overcome poverty. Not only does it directly impact the poor, by taking their stuff which is harder for them to replace that it is for a middle class person, it also dramatically limits the ability for local businesses to function. Obviously this can quickly create a vicious cycle. I have been trying to think of a way forward for France (and much of the rest of Europe) that will be possible for them to navigate and result in at least a marginal solution. So far, I haven't gotten there yet, but at a minimum it seems that there must be a much more serious effort to control crime in the slums, not as an anti-Muslim or racist response, but from the understanding that letting criminals run these areas (which they have long before this wave of riots broke out) is a disaster for the people that live there.