Posts tagged ‘George Bush’

Obama's "Nixon Goes to China" Moment

Barack Obama is the worst possible thing that could have happened for civil liberties in this country.  Not necessarily because he promotes the worst possible policies -- As bad as he has been (drone strikes, domestic spying, aggressive prosecuting of whistle blowers, indefinite detentions, executive orders, arbitrarily ignoring legislation, cutting myriad special favors, and overturning the rule of law in the auto bankruptcies), I could imagine others being worse  (Lindsey Graham -- eek!).

But Obama is the worst because he is beloved almost unconditionally by the very factions who are the natural defenders on the Left of civil liberties and opponents of creeping (non-economic) state control.  With all this insane cr*p coming from Obama, the opposition one would expect to these policies has been slow and muted.  The anti-war movement, for example, effectively dissolved once George Bush was in office -- the ACLU and a few others continue to public reports on civilian drone deaths but the stories don't make the front page now that Obama is President.  Only recently, with the press itself under attack, has anyone woken up, but even with recent revelations about the NSA and harassing leakers, the last press conference was still dominated by softballs everyone in the room would have been embarrassed to have asked George Bush.

The Left seems to believe that this is all OK as long as their guy wields the power, but that cannot last forever.  And you can be damn sure that neither President Hillary or the next Republican in the White House is going to eschew or reverse the precedents established by Obama.  We have to end them right now, or we are stuck with them forever.  It may be too late already.

 

** The title refers to the idea that only Nixon, an anti-communist Republican, could have opened up relations with Communist China in the early 1970's and defused opposition to the move by the Right, the natural opponents of such a move at the time.  A President McGovern would have been skewered.  In the same way, Republican President Bush was rightly attacked whole-heartedly by the Left for intrusions on civil liberties and military activities.  On the other hand, having these same type of actions taken -- really much worse actions -- taken by a Liberal President has mostly diffused the opposition.

A Great Question For Every Expansion of Executive Power

Glenn Greenwald has shown an admirable willingness to call out "his guy" to frequently criticize Obama's claim to be able to order Americans killed at his say-so, "without a whiff of due process, transparency or oversight".  In a recent article, he is flabbergasted that Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schulz, who is also head of the DNC, does not seem to have heard of the policy.

I am less surprised than he at the ignorance and mendacity of politicians.  But I did like the question Wasserman Schulz was asked:  did she trust Romney (ie her political bête noire) with such power.  This is a question that everyone should always ask at proposed expansions of government, and particularly Executive, power.  Choose the politician you least trust and/or disagree with the most.  Are you comfortable giving this power to that person?

So many of the Left (Greenwald being one of the few exceptions) have ignored this story, I think because they trust Obama.  Fine, but are you really going to trust the next guy in power?  Because now that you have established that this power is A-OK with a Democrat-Progressive child of the sixties, it is highly unlikely the next Republican in office is going to eschew it.  Wouldn't folks have been a bit more careful about giving this a pass had George Bush claimed the power.  (There is a sort of domestic policy parallel in this, in Republicans rolling over for Medicare part D when Bush was in office when they never would have done so for Clinton).

Obama Disappointment to Libertarians

We expected Obama to be a dumpster fire on economic issues and commercial liberty.  And he has been.

But here are two charts showing how the traditional libertarian choice in two-party electrions of "liberty in the bedroom or liberty in the boardroom" has broken down.  First, Bush was a mess on economic issues.  Now, Obama is a wreck on civil liberties issues.   Here is use of domestic surveillance tools, many times without warrants:

source

And here are drone strike casualties:

source

This Administration has increased the frequency of drone strikes by a factor of 8 over George Bush.  It has claimed that any civilian deaths from these strikes are combatant deaths because, well, civilians shouldn't have been hanging around near people we want to kill.  The Administration has claimed the right to assassinate Americans without any sort of due process, continues rendition and indefinite detainment, and has ramped up Federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries in places like California where they are legal under state law.

Update:  While I was writing this, Ken at Popehat was saying something similar:

The United States government, under two opposed increasingly indistinguishable political parties, asserts the right to kill anyone on the face of the earth in the name of the War on Terror. It asserts the right todetain anyone on the face of the earth in the name of the War on Terror, and to do so based on undisclosed facts applied to undisclosed standards in undisclosed locations under undisclosed conditions for however long it wants, all without judicial review. It asserts the right to be free of lawsuits or other judicial proceedings that might reveal its secrets in the War on Terror. It asserts that the people it kills in drone strikes are either probably enemy combatants in the War on Terror or acceptable collateral damage. It asserts that increasing surveillance of Americans, increasing interception of Americans' communications, and increasingly intrusive security measuresare all required by the War on Terror.

But the War on Terror, unlike other wars, will last as long as the government says it will. And, as the MEK episode illustrates, the scope of the War on Terror — the very identity of the Terror we fight — is a subjective matter in the discretion of the government. The compelling need the government cites to do whatever it wants is itself defined by the government.

We're letting the government do that. We're putting up with it. We're even cheering it, because that's more comfortable than opposing it or thinking about how far it has gone.

Update 2:  And let's not forget that whole transparency thing.  The Obama Administration may be perhaps the worst Administration in decades in complying with FOIA requests for what should be public information.

Change Indeed

From the Telegraph, via  Q&O:

Barack Obama's administration has authorised the assassination of the radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a rare move against an American citizen.

I am reminded of what I wrote on the day of Obama's inauguration:

I will be suitably thrilled if the Obama administration renounces some of the creeping executive power grabs of the last 16 years, but he has been oddly silent about this.  It seems that creeping executive power is a lot more worrisome when someone else is in power.

But don't worry, separation of powers has been respected:

The decision to add him to the US hit list required a National Security Council review because of his citizenship.

You see, before Obama can unilaterally order an American citizen killed, he has to review the decision with, uh, a group of people he appointed and that work directly for him.  From Bruce McQuain:

But who the hell is Barack Obama to arbitrarily and unilaterally waive Constitutional due process (oh, that's right, he's a Constitutional law professor, isn't he?) and order the assassination of a US citizen?  And as an aside "“ where are all the liberal voices who spent every waking hour worrying about George Bush's eavesdropping and loudly denouncing it, forever and ever, amen?  Why are they, for the most part, silent on the subject of assassinating a US citizen?

This Argument Works for a Libertarian...

I think this kind of argument might work for a libertarian, but I am not sure it is a very strong argument for a liberal Democrat that wants to do more rather than less of what Congress and the GWB administration did over the last 8 years to worsen the recession.

Personally, though, I'd say Obama has been remarkably restrained about the whole thing, especially when it comes to our disastrous fiscal situation.  In a mere eight years, George Bush and the Republican Party managed to take a thriving economy and a federal surplus and turn it into a hair's breadth escape from Great Depression II and an endless fiscal sinkhole.  Rome may not have been built in a day, but it didn't take much longer than that for the modern Republican Party to bankrupt America.

Particularly hilarious is that Drum blames the cost of the useless but expensive stimulus bill on GWB.  Huh?  And blaming Republicans for Fannie and Freddie is a real joke.

As you might imagine, the deficit in his world is all from tax cuts and not above-inflation increases in spending.  The basic picture he shows is absurd - money is fungible, so any trillion dollars of the government spending could be blamed for the deficit - it just depends on what spending you consider incremental.  Stupid analysis.  Though it is interesting that at least two of the major drivers even by their slanted analysis - Bush tax cuts and Afghanistan - are policy issues Obama was presented with opportunities to reverse and chose not to.

News So Absurd There Is Almost No Point In Commenting On It

I really thought the Norwegians couldn' t fall much further into absurdity when they gave Al Gore the Peace prize for producing a movie that turned out to be mostly wrong  (one may still argue for catastrophic anthropogenic global warming, but almost no one uses the specific evidence any more that Gore used in his movie).

But I underestimated the Norwegian's tolerance for absurdity.  You see, these guys really don't like George Bush.  Now, I am not a big fan of the man's presidency, but the Peace prize folks went further, using their prize to tweak Bush when they had the chance.  The best example was the 2002 prize for Jimmy Carter, who was awarded the prize mainly for undermining Bush's foreign policy approach to North Korea.

But it turns out that the Norwegians really really didn't like George Bush, for this year they have given the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama, who's only discernible accomplishment is that he replaced the hated George Bush.

This is perhaps the worst possible thing that could happen to Obama at this moment.  Just when he was being pushed into the realization that maybe he couldn't accomplish things just by flashing his aura in front of detractors, along comes the Nobel Peace Prize to compliment him on the brightness of his aura.

A while back, I commented on the disparity of coverage between Norman Borlaug's death and Teddy Kennedy's, and observed what a mismatch the coverage was vs. the relative level of their accomplishments.  Obama's joining Borlaug as a Nobel Peace Prize recipient just highlights the same contrast between a man who saved hundreds of millions of lives in quiet obscurity and man whose main accomplishment is parlaying a rich speaking voice and looking good in a suit into worldwide fame.

Postscript: For those that don't know, the Nobel peace prize is not awarded by an international committee of some sort - it is chosen by a group of Norwegian politicians that are selected by the Norwegian parliament.  Imagine if our Congress was tasked with giving out such a prize what a hash they would make out of it.  I must say that about 50% of the time the Norwegians make a good (or at least reasonable) choice, which is probably better than Congress would do.

Update: Maybe it was a grammar mistake -- they thought "to the person who shall have done the most" in Nobel's charge was future tense.

Update #2: Along the same lines, this is funny:

In a stunning announcement, Millard Fillmore Senior High School chose Shawn Rabinowitz, an incoming junior, as next year's valedictorian. The award was made, the valedictorian committee announced from Norway of all places, on the basis of "Mr. Rabinowitz's intention to ace every course and graduate number one in class." In a prepared statement, young Shawn called the unprecedented award, "f"”ing awesome."

At the same time, and amazingly enough, the Pulitzer Prize for Literature went to Sarah Palin for her stated intention "to read a book someday." The former Alaska governor was described as "floored" by the award, announced in Stockholm by nude Swedes beating themselves with birch branches, and insisted that while she was very busy right now, someday she would make good on her vow to read a book. "You'll see," she said from her winter home in San Diego.

And again in a stunning coincidence, the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences announced the Oscar for best picture will be given this year to the Vince Vaughn vehicle "Guys Weekend to Burp," which is being story-boarded at the moment but looks very good indeed. Mr. Vaughn, speaking through his publicist, said was "touched and moved" by the award and would do everything in his power to see that the picture lives up to expectation and opens big sometime next March.

Update #3: I think, all kidding aside, Jonathan Adler has the right explanation for the Nobel Committee's logic.  They supported Obama's (stated) goals and philosophy in foreign policy and wanted to help him by increasing his prestige with this prize.  My gut feel is that the prize (which Obama has now accepted) will actually be a hindrance.  First, some will harbor resentment, as the prize to a President with no accomplishments is just another example of special treatment of the US and a de facto acknowledgment of American exceptionalism - the prize is saying in fact the America President matters a lot, which other leaders resent.   Second, the prize may circumscribe his room to maneuver.  Peace prize winners are not supposed to call in air strikes and send in troops (yeah, I remember Kissinger), but any package of international actions to curb rogue states will likely require both a carrot and a stick.

My Greatest Fear on the Health Care Bill

There are a lot of problems with the health care bills in Congress.  At the end of the day, I will endure most of them, as I have every other indignity thrown at me by the Feds.  If they charge me 8% of my company's payroll as a health care tax, well, we can probably raise prices, particularly in the inflationary spiral the Fed has set us up for.  I will be sad to see the most successful in this country punished with high new taxes, but these taxes mostly won't apply to our family.  And I will find some way to get my family the health care it needs, even if we have to fly to India to do it.

But my biggest fear is for individual liberties, with the effect I have called "the health care Trojan Horse for fascism."  We all know that the government has developed a taste for meddling in the smallest details of our lives.  But as more of the nation's health care spending flows though government hands, nearly every decision you make will suddenly affect the government's budget.  What you eat, how heavy you are, whether you smoke, whether you play an athletic sport where you can get hurt, whether you pursue dangerous hobbies like rock climbing or skiing, whether you wear a bike or motorcycle helmet, whether you have a seat belt on, whether you drink alcohol, whether you like to use dangerous power tools -- all these become direct inputs into government spending via medical bills the government is paying.  And if you think that Congress will avoid legislating on these activities once it inevitably gets in financial trouble with health care, you have not studied much history.

And all this avoids discussion of other powerful individual liberty-related topics, such as the ability to get the end of life care you want or whether the government will even allow you to go "off plan" with your own money if you disagree with its Commissar's rulings on what care you should and should not receive.

It's fascinating for me to watch all these children of the sixties in the Democratic Party, most of whom screamed (rightly) at George Bush continuing to implement new plans where we give up individual liberties for security.  But here come those exact same people, with the exact same message - because this is what health care reform is about, at its core - giving up individual liberties in exchange for a (perceived) increase in security.

Another Bubble! We Need More Regulation!

From the WSJ:

Despite recent declines, prices are still higher than they were a
year ago. But the recriminations over what went wrong have begun,
complete with calls for more government involvement, efforts to make
the industry more transparent and reforms to restore market confidence....

"[the market] is out of control," says H. Djusdil Akrim, director of a
factory in Makassar, Sulawesi's biggest city.... "It's a wild, wild market
-- and no one is running it," he says. "I think we need more
regulation."...

No one knows when the market will hit bottom. Some
traders are sitting on stockpiles they bought when the market was hot,
and if global growth slows further, as expected, demand could weaken.

Whatever happens, the latest volatility is a wake-up call for the ... industry, which has been growing steadily for years.

I blame George Bush.  Oh, by the way, the industry is seaweed.

Proletarianization of the Middle Class

Marxism holds that the middle class will eventually disappear, as the world is polarized between a few large business owners and the masses of the proletariat.  Small and independent businesses would disappear, and most of the middle class would be pedestrianized.  The middle class was always a sticking point for Marx, and there is some question whether this is really prediction or wishful thinking.  I say wishful thinking, because Marx knew that he could not achieve his socialist end-state with a middle class in place -- he had to drive the middle class into the proletariat.

In a large sense, that is what was are seeing at the Democratic Convention -- the effort to convince the middle class that, against all reason and reality, they are actually not well-off, that they are marginalized victims.  It is an attempt to pedestrianize the middle class.  Thus we get this classic quote from Rahm Emanuel, via Matt Welch:

The truth is, the Bush crowd has been giving the middle
class a thumping. This November, the middle class is going to give it
right back. This election comes down to a simple question: do we want
four more years of Bush-McCain or do we want the change we need?

There
is only one candidate from the middle class, that understands the
middle class, and that can deliver the change the middle class needs:
Barack Obama. A strong economy depends on a strong middle class. But
George Bush has put the middle class in a hole and John McCain has a
plan to keep digging that hole with George Bush's shovel.

Presidents and the Economy

There is very little that can make me go non-linear faster than when someone attributes economic growth to a politician, e.g. Reagan's economy or Clinton's economy.  So this post from Kevin Drum on the correlation between economic growth and the flavor of president in the Oval Office is just the kind of thing to make me lose it.  And not because I really care whether Team Coke or Team Pepsi looks better.

Larry Bartels says that Democratic presidents produce higher economic
growth than Republican presidents, and that the differences in average
growth rates for middle-class and poor families (but not affluent
families, apparently, who do well under both parties) are statistically
significant by conventional social-scientific standards.

OK, I have seen the analysis done different ways and accept the statistical conclusion.  You used to be able to get a really tight correlation between Washington Redskin football team performance and presidential election outcomes (via Snopes):

Sometimes one natural phenomenon supposedly
forecasts another, as in the belief that a groundhog's
seeing his shadow on February 2 portends another six weeks of
winter. In other instances the linkage is between affairs of mankind, as in the
superstition that the winner of football's Super
Bowl
augurs that year's stock market performance (or vice-versa).

A recent item of this ilk maintains that the results of the last game
played at home by the NFL's Washington Redskins (a football team based in
the national capital, Washington, D.C.) before the U.S.
presidential
elections has accurately foretold the winner of the last
fifteen of those political contests, going back to 1944. If the Redskins win
their last home game before the election, the party that occupies the White
House continues to hold it; if the Redskins lose that last home game, the
challenging party's candidate unseats the incumbent president. While we don't
presume there is anything more than a random correlation between these factors,
it is the case that the pattern held true even longer than claimed, stretching
back over seventeen presidential elections since 1936

What gets me is not the existence of a correlation, but the explanation:

In recent decades taxes and transfers have probably been more
important. Social spending. Business regulation or lack thereof. And
don't forget the minimum wage. Over the past 60 years, the real value
of the minimum wage has increased by 16 cents per year under Democratic
presidents and declined by 6 cents per year under Republican
presidents; that's a 3% difference in average income growth for minimum
wage workers, with ramifications for many more workers higher up the
wage scale. So, while I don't pretend to understand all the ways in
which presidents' policy choices shape the income distribution, I see
little reason to doubt that the effects are real and substantial.

I have three thoughts, of which the third is what really gets me:

  • It is funny that no one considers that this correlation may work in reverse.  Everyone assumes government drives short-term economic performance.  What if, to some extent, short-term economic performance drives changes in government?  If one assumes that, even without the public spirited and Herculean efforts of our presidents, economies are naturally cyclical, then why try to explain cycles on politics when we know cycles are going to exist anyway.  Why wouldn't a perfectly valid alternate explanation be that one political party tends to be elected if the economy is in one part of the cycle and the other gets elected if the economy is in another place?
  • The political brand names "Republican" and "Democrat" shift in meaning over time vis a vis economic policy recommendations, and individual presidents can diverge quite a ways from their party center line.  One can easily argue that Nixon was the most interventionist and economically ignorant president (think:  wage and price controls), despite the "Republican" brand name.  John Kennedy was more laissez faire than most Republicans are today.   Regulation, as measured by pages added to Federal Register, increased at a far faster pace under George Bush (I) than Bill Clinton.  Bill Clinton passed free market legislation, including NAFTA, that John McCain shys away from today, while George Bush passed an expansion of Medicare that Bill Clinton did not consider.  Oh, and when we discuss regulation and such, Congress sortof matter too.
  • The author's argument boils down to "the more governors and useless loads we add to an engine, the more strongly the engine will run."  It is just absurd.  None of these guys have the first clue what it takes to run a business day to day, nor how much of a business owner's time and effort is aimed not at service customers better, and not at being more productive, and not at making employees happier or better trainined, but at responding to the latest mass of government regulation, paperwork, liscensing, taxes, and other total crap.  Here is just one example I wrote up about what sits on my desk.

To this last point, take just two things on my desk this morning.  The first is a pile of tax returns and some licensing paperwork.  Last year, our company's total tax bill was not that large.  But the problem is that the government takes the taxes in so many bites, and every bite costs time on our part learning the process and filling out paperwork.  For example, if I take all the taxes and licensing fees we pay to federal, local, and state governments, and multiply times the number of months or quarters each requires a report, I get a number of over 400.  Four hundred individual bites, each with its own paperwork and overhead.

The other problem sitting on my desk is a snack bar I inherited on a lease in California at Lake Piru.  The snack bar is a dump.  It is designed wrong, it is set up to cook the wrong kinds of foods, and uses space in the building very inefficiently.  I want to lay the whole thing out differently, as a win-win for everyone.  We could sell more with fewer workers.  The customers would get more selection, including much healthier choices.  The operation would be safer, because we would eliminate most of the heavy cooking  (e.g. deep fat fryers).  And it would be cleaner, with less wastewater and cleaner wastewater because there would be less grease and oil.

Unfortunately, it is very clear that Ventura County, California is not going to allow me to make these changes, at least at any cost I can afford.  First, apparently I need to build a new wastewater treatment plant for the snack bar!  But I am reducing the waste water load, I argue.  Does not matter.  New code requires a plant.  So because of this environmental code, I am pushed to continue the current operation which is environmentally worse than my proposed alternative.  We have the exact same problem on fire suppression.  But I am removing the ovens and most of the cooking equipment!  It's safer!  Doesn't matter, if I make any change at all, I have to install a new fire suppression system.  And on and on.  this is the true face of government regulation.  We face this kind of thing ten times a day.   

Anyway, I could go on and on about this stuff, but that is what the blog is about, so I will refer you to my past (and future) posts.

Thank God George Bush Supports Ethanol...

... because that may make it easier for the Democrats to summon the political will to kill ethanol subsidies, though don't hold your breath.  Certainly, though, the NYT, after years of cheerleading ethanol, may finally be coming around:

Congress must take a hard look at the effect of corn ethanol on food
supplies in the same way the new energy bill requires it to review the
environmental effects. It must move toward ending subsidies that will
become even more difficult to justify as oil prices rise and the costs
of producing corn ethanol decline. And it must press other wealthy
countries to do the same before hunger turns to mass starvation.

Via Tom Nelson

By the way, these problems with ethanol we are experiencing today were are inevitable as night follows day, yet we still had to blunder into it before we started questioning the economics.  The power of political correctness to trump science and logic is amazing.

Hillary Proposes Plan to End Abortion, At Least Among the Poor

Much has been said of Hillary Clinton's absurd and fiscally irresponsible populist pandering idea of giving every baby $5000 at birth.

But has anyone thought about what effect this might have on abortion and birth rates among the poor?  Her husband bill took a lot of flak from his own party to take on welfare reform, and reduce the financial incentive for poor single women to have babies.  So now, Hillary is going to revive this incentive?  Every woman who goes in to have an abortion is basically torching a $5000 bill.  She may do more to limit abortions than George Bush.

Postscript: 
Yeah, I know, the program would probably be structured as some sort of bond that doesn't come due until age whatever.  If so, how long do you think it will take payday loan companies to figure out how to factor this bond and pay out now in exchange for the bond's future value.

Help Me Out on Darfur

Many of the very same folks who are vocal critics of the war in Iraq have "Save Darfur" banners on their web site.  I followed one, and clicked around a lot to find out what the hell they thought should be done.  They have some woman on the home page "running for Darfur" but I am not sure that is much of a practical solution.  I see they also want to send in the UN peacekeepers, but they seem to imply the problem is that the government needs to go, and I have never known UN peacekeepers to overthrow any governments (or to do anything really, other than maybe participate in some of the looting themselves).  And I can't believe that any adult really thinks sending aid money to this area with a rapacious government is going to help one bit.

Isn't the only real solution to send in troops, overthrow the old boss, and hang around for a decade or so until the new boss is stable?  And how is that any different than Iraq.

Seriously, I thought opposition to Iraq was about not engaging in wars we don't have to for mainly humanitarian reasons.  I am very sympathetic to this position, but it means that you are just going to have to watch and weep when the inevitable Darfurs come along.  But all this Darfur stuff is making me think that the opposition to Iraq is more about wars started by our guy vs. wars started by your guy.  I think it is perfectly valid to have a discussion about whether we want to try to take on by military force every bad government in the world (see: Cleaning the Augean Stables).  Unfortunately, I think the discussion is instead devolving into whether we should use our army to attack governments George Bush doesn't like vs. those Bono doesn't like.

Help Me Out on Darfur

Many of the very same folks who are vocal critics of the war in Iraq have "Save Darfur" banners on their web site.  I followed one, and clicked around a lot to find out what the hell they thought should be done.  They have some woman on the home page "running for Darfur" but I am not sure that is much of a practical solution.  I see they also want to send in the UN peacekeepers, but they seem to imply the problem is that the government needs to go, and I have never known UN peacekeepers to overthrow any governments (or to do anything really, other than maybe participate in some of the looting themselves).  And I can't believe that any adult really thinks sending aid money to this area with a rapacious government is going to help one bit.

Isn't the only real solution to send in troops, overthrow the old boss, and hang around for a decade or so until the new boss is stable?  And how is that any different than Iraq.

Seriously, I thought opposition to Iraq was about not engaging in wars we don't have to for mainly humanitarian reasons.  I am very sympathetic to this position, but it means that you are just going to have to watch and weep when the inevitable Darfurs come along.  But all this Darfur stuff is making me think that the opposition to Iraq is more about wars started by our guy vs. wars started by your guy.  I think it is perfectly valid to have a discussion about whether we want to try to take on by military force every bad government in the world (see: Cleaning the Augean Stables).  Unfortunately, I think the discussion is instead devolving into whether we should use our army to attack governments George Bush doesn't like vs. those Bono doesn't like.

Ex Post Facto Guilt

You gotta love those vaunted MSM fact-checkers.  I mean, I am all for criticizing George Bush, but this seems to be going a bit too far  (Guardian via Q&O):

Ministers insisted that British secret agents would only be allowed to
pass intelligence to the CIA to help it capture Osama bin Laden if the
agency promised he would not be tortured, it has emerged.

MI6 believed it was close to finding the al-Qaida leader in
Afghanistan in 1998, and again the next year. The plan was for MI6 to
hand the CIA vital information about Bin Laden. Ministers including
Robin Cook, the then foreign secretary, gave their approval on
condition that the CIA gave assurances he would be treated humanely.
The plot is revealed in a 75-page report by parliament's intelligence
and security committee on rendition, the practice of flying detainees
to places where they may be tortured.

The report criticises the Bush administration's approval of practices
which would be illegal if carried out by British agents. It shows that
in 1998, the year Bin Laden was indicted in the US, Britain insisted
that the policy of treating prisoners humanely should include him. But
the CIA never gave the assurances.

LOL.  It seems like Bush has been president forever, but I am pretty sure that Hillary's husband was in the White House until early 2001.

It's Our Economy, Not Yours, Stupid

Like many libertarians, I lose interest quickly in politics, watching partisans of the Coke party argue why they are so much different than the Pepsi party.  You don't have to watch the whole farce for very long as a neutral observer before you see the same people taking the opposite tack on an issue than they did a few years earlier, only because their guy is in office, so now its more OK than when the other party's guy was doing it.

But I do read a few political blogs from both sides, just to keep abreast of what is going on.  This weekend, both sides managed to irritate me over the same issue.  First, Kevin Drum, from the left, railed on what he called "the GOP economy," complaining that the economy has grown without increasing median wages (note he carefully avoids "total compensation," which has gone up.)  Then Captains Quarters wrote from the right that "The economy continues its growth under the stewardship of the Bush administration."

George Bush does not run the economy.  George Bush does not even make day-to-day decisions that affect the economy.  He has made a few major moves that have economic consequences, with the positive effects of tax cuts probably mostly offset by unrestrained deficit spending, random protectionist acts and new bloated government services.  Bill Clinton, while we have to credit him for NAFTA (see below), was not responsible for the incredible economic expansion of the 90's.  In fact, neither Bill Clinton nor his wife have ever held a job where they produced anything. 

All of which is fine - I am not accusing president's of somehow falling down on the job.  I am merely stating what I thought was obvious.  Wealth is created by the actions and the minds of hundreds of millions of people, to whom the occupant of the White House is largely irrelevant except insofar as the President  substantially increases or reduces the artificial burden of efficiency-sucking government mandates, reporting, and taxes.

I will go into more depth on this in my annual tax day post, but I am increasingly confident of my theory of wealth creation.  Wealth is increased as two things happen:

  • More individuals are more free to (and more likely to) question established beliefs, either scientific (e.g. the earth-centric universe), social (e.g. racial prejudice) or business (e.g. primacy of mainframe computing).
  • More Individuals are more free to act in their own self-interest to pursue the results of their insights and to keep for themselves the proceeds of their efforts.

Since the 1970's, we have seen an explosion in the global economy, which has greatly increased the number of people working on any given economic problem.  For example, instead of just people in Detroit and Germany thinking about how to design and produce cars, we have folks in Japan and South Korea and even China and Brazil questioning the established wisdom from Detroit.  This has resulted not just in better, more affordable cars, but in production and supply chain management techniques that have made nearly every industry you can name more productive. 

Whenever such a change occurs, there are conservative (lower-c) forces that try to halt them.  The Church used its power for a time to resist the heliocentric view of the solar system.  Southern states used Jim Crow laws to resist post Civil War racial and social reforms.  And any number of groups wanted (and still want) to slam the door on the global economy.  Many countries in Europe went down this path.  What has saved the US from the same low-growth fate they have in Europe (and Japan) is that the government, and Bill Clinton in particular, at a critical time resisted the technocratic urge to have the government "do something" about the economic changes flowing from globalization.  Some wanted protectionism, while some wanted a more active hand by the government in "choosing winners" in the economy, like it was perceived that Japan had.  Bill Clinton resisted resisted these voices, most of whom were powerful in his own party, and in fact doubled down on globalization by pushing NAFTA.  For this act of vision, Clinton should be credited, but I still wouldn't call it "his" economy. 

Free Speech Rights Should Not Depend on the Content of the Speech

From the Washington Square News, campus paper of NYU:

American media outlets did not utilize their freedom of speech rights
after they chose not to reprint the George Bush cartoons that negatively
depicted the US President, panelists said last night at a
discussion held at the Kimmel Center.

The event, titled "Free Speech and the Bush Cartoons," displayed
easels with blank panels instead of the cartoons after NYU demanded
that the cartoons be removed from display if the public was admitted....

"Realistically, one can have a discussion on smallpox without actually
handing out the the live virus to the audience," university spokesman
John Beckman said. "Any institution has a responsibility that events on
its grounds go smoothly and without disruption."

The panelists expressed concern that all American publications, with
the exception of three, were unwilling to reprint the Bush cartoons....

Bostom said it is healthy to question a politicians, and Republicans should be
able to handle the publication of cartoons that parody them.

"The cartoons were a healthy dose of direct criticism [toward conservatives]," Bostom said.

Schwartz said fear was behind the media's motivation not to reprint the images.

"The New York Times claims not to run the pictures because of the
matter of taste," Schwartz said. "But, in fact, everyone knows they're
perfectly willing to offend people who they don't fear will have the NSA wiretap them."

NYU's decision to bar the public from seeing the cartoons illustrated
an apprehension towards free speech, and its actions were chilling and
absurd, Lukianoff said.

"If you want to talk about an image, you might want to show them," said
Lukianoff, who later pointed behind him at the blank easels and yelled,
"This is censorship!"

Lukianoff said people easily feel harassed by ideas contrary to their own.

"Nobody has a right not to be offended," Lukianoff said.

Midway through the discussion, Republican students who had gathered outside
to protest, unfurled a white banner with red letters that said,
"Freedom of Speech Does Not Equal Freedom to Hate."

Leaf said it is unhealthy for the academic community to avoid discussing sensitive issues.

"Part of being in a modern world and part of being in a university
means being able to talk about these subjects seriously," Leaf said.

People are afraid to talk and publish the cartoons, and we shouldn't
have to worry about dancing around sensitive issues, Leaf said.

During the discussion, Schwartz criticized conservatism, saying
that it forces its followers to imprison themselves in dogmatic
traditions.

"The philosophy I subscribe to is objectivism, which believes reason is man's only knowledge," he said.

Schwartz said that the violent uprisings were motivated by partisanship and not reason.

"Partisanship is blind obedience in rejection of reason," Schwartz said. "If
you base your arguments on partisanship, then it leaves no room for your
argument. It leaves you with no other option but force."

Schwartz said the attacks were not just in defense of Conservatism. 

"This is an attack on the free, rational mind," he said.

CAS junior James Ferguson said it was unfair that so much time was spent on attacking conservatism.

"To demonize a political party is not going to help anything," Ferguson said.
"When did free speech turn into a hateful generalization of conservatism?"

CAS junior Muniba Hassan said the panel will provoke hatred of conservatives,
which has caused many of her Republican friends to be afraid to walk home
at night.

"They used free speech as a way to hide their partisan agenda," Hassan said.

OK, I may have substituted a few words to make a point about the bankruptcy of NYU's censorship, and the double standards they hold since they clearly would not have made the same decision with the alternate facts I have inserted.  Real article here.  Here is a hint to prospective college students:  Distrust any college whose administrators equate exercising first amendment rights to spreading a deadly virus.  More here at FIRE, which continues to do great work.

PS-  If you have not seen the Danish cartoons, spend 10 seconds clicking here.  You will not believe how bland they are.

I Finally Saw the Danish Cartoons...

...And boy were they a letdown!  Hell, I have had members of my own immediate family portrayed far worse than this in political cartoons.  I have just about lost all patience with those who try to "understand" and "explain" and "sympothize" with the violence that has erupted, ostensibly due to the publication of these cartoons.  There is no excuse for the recent violence, and I am tired of tiptoeing around the sensibilities of Muslims who are quick in their own turn to denounce anything Western in the most inflammatory and grotesque of terms. 

I am particularly flabbergasted that those who lead the charge to soften the criticism of Muslim violence are the same people who are most flipped out about the influence of fundamentalist Christians in this country.  I'm not particularly thrilled with the legislation that some of the Christian right tends to propose, but my God even the often egregious Pat Robertson is a bastion of secular reasonableness when compared to many Middle Eastern Muslim leaders.

Anyway, the controversy may at least serve some purpose, in forcing Western media to confront its own double standards in criticizing or not criticizing religions  (as a note, let me make clear that I am for having an open season on anyone believing anything, as long as one has his facts straight).

Jeff Goldstein is always a good read, particularly on this topic:

even now
you have Kos commenters contorting themselves
into positions of self-righteous progressive onanism that are a wonder
to behold"”suddenly, free speech is not a universal right worthy of the
crafting of puppet heads and the defacing of Starbucks' windows, but
instead is a culture-specific gift that needs to be filtered through
the religious precepts of the culture of the Other.  Unless, of course,
that "Other" happens to be, say, Evangelical Christians.  In which
case, such extremists MUST BE SHOUTED DOWN with free speech.

Pretzel logic, clearly"”and the dilemma that is at the root of an
incoherent philosophical system that favors the sociology of group
identity over the universality of individual rights.  Ironically,
George Bush, each time he argues that freedom is universal, is acting
in a manner far more progressive than self-styled progressive
activists.

Again:  note the crux of the debate, as framed by the voices for
Muslim protest, and take care to listen for the broad-stroked
rhetoric"”usually this kinds of gambit is more carefully crafted by
those who have, through years of experience, perfected its vocabulary,
cadence, emotional appeals, and key words"”of the "tolerance" movement,
the justifying force that cynically underpins all identity politics:

"The
12 cartoons ... have caused an uproar in the Muslim world and drawn a
new cultural battle over freedom of speech and respect of religions."

Translation:
"Free speech is good so long as it tolerates our right, as an identity
group, to dictate which free speech is authentic and allowable.
Otherwise, y'know, we get to torch shit."

But of course, freedom of speech"”reduced (for purposes of this
debate) to its core, animating mandate and protection"”is PRECISELY the
ability to look religion in its pious face and flip it the bird.
Freedom of speech includes the freedom to criticize religion, just as
freedom of religion is supposed to protect the rights of the religious
not to have their religion established for them by a government"”a
counterbalancing right that is lacking in theocratic states and in
religions where pluralism is denied legitimacy.

Ethanol Lameness

I can't speak to the "future technology" that Bush alluded to in his SOTU address, but the history of ethanol gives me no confidence that there is anything here.  Ethanol is all about rent-seeking, not energy Independence.  Quality studies have consistently shown that the whole life-cycle energy use of ethanol is far higher than what it provides.  In other words, at least with current technologies, every gallon of ethanol used actually INCREASES total petroleum use.  Its hard to find any scientist outside of the ADM boardroom or the state of Iowa that takes ethanol seriously.  If we took the small step of moving the Iowa caucuses out of the first primary position in the presidential race, ethanol might go away.

Right now, I am running out the Phoenix Mardi Gras, where a golf tournament often breaks out mid-party, so I don't have a lot of time.  However, trust me that this USA Today article has bent over backwards to cherry pick scientific studies in favor of ethanol.  The figures mentioned for ethanol providing 26% more energy than it consumes are the absolute most optimistic study, not the consensus average, of scientific studies.  Also, the Berkley study is on "potential" technologies, and even it admits that using current technologies actually deployed ethanol consumes more energy than it provides. But even at 26%, note that this means that more than 4 gallons of ethanol substitute net out only 1 gallon of gasoline, which is pretty pathetic.  Anyway, more later.  I am sure others in the blogosphere will be hacking away at this mess today, and I will try to link some of them tonight.

Update: I am in sports heaven today, at the golf tournament all day and watching the Superbowl tonight, so I still have not gotten back to this topic in depth, but our commenters have taken over for me on this one anyway, so I may just kick back with another beer let y'all do the work for a while.  No one would be happier than me to find that we could grow things cheaply to net increase our supply of clean fuels.  Unfortunately, I am not optimistic about the interaction of the government with any market for things that grow.

For some time, I have secretly harbored the theory, without any scientific knowledge to back it up, that somehow bioengineering might long term lead to the most efficient solar conversion technology.  And in a sense, this is what we are talking about here -- finding a
biological solution to converting sunlight into energy in a usable form.  I suspect we are on the cusp of an exponential growth curve in biology like we experienced with thermodynamics, electromagnetics, and semiconductors over the last two centuries.  But if we are at such an inflection point, it just highlights how hopeless it is for government in general and George Bush in particular to pick winners at this point.  What combustion technology might the government have locked us into in 1800?  What computing technology might we have been locked into in 1950?

More at the Knowlege Problem.

 

Progressive Hypocracy

Self-described "progressives" on the left have gone nuts over the past several years over creeping legislative and regulatory inroads made by religious conservatives.  Fascism! They are quick to reply.  The government can't tell us what to do with our own bodies, or in the privacy of our own homes!  Abortion, homosexuality?  Hey, that's our choice, its our bodies.  NSA eavesdropping, warrant-less searches?  Hey, those are our private phonecalls made from our private phones.  Searches of private cars without probable cause to enforce seat belt use?  Hey, what a great idea!

Boston Globe columnist Scot LeHigh editorializes against Massachusetts Democrats attempt to micro-regulate personal behavior:

THIS WEEK, the Massachusetts House of Representatives will face a telling test:
Can it resist a progressive Legislature's ever-present impulse toward pesky
paternalism?

The issue is seat belts, and whether the police will be allowed to stop
motorists upon suspicion that someone in their vehicle is not wearing a seat
belt or only ticket them for that grievous offense if they have first been
pulled over for something else.

This is exactly why I am suspicious of progressives and resist making common cause with them, even on issues where we tend to agree.  For while they talk the libertarian talk pretty well when they want to (abortion with its "I should control decisions over my own body" defense being the most obvious example), progressives also have a very strong streak of "we are smarter than you are and sometimes will tell you what to do because it is for your own good".   As a result, for example, progressives support abortion because a woman should make decisions for her body without government intrusion, but oppose the legality of breast implants and vioxx because a woman should, uh, not be able to make decisions for her body without government intrusion (more on this here).

And what decision could be more about my own body than what level of protection I want to afford myself in a vehicle?  If I choose, for whatever reason, not to wear a motorcycle helmet or a seatbelt, who cares?  It may be a really, really stupid choice on my part, but its my decision for my own body, right?  (By the way, I know that some people will make the 'taxpayers pay for your medical care argument', which I dealt with earlier in my post about government health care funding as a Trojan horse for fascism).

But even beyond the issue of individual decision-making, what about the 4th amendment issues?  It is amazing but true that progressives and the Massachusetts legislature, who would never in a million years give the police, the FBI, or anyone under George Bush's chain of command the right to stop a motorist without probable cause to check for evidence of terrorist intent, are actually endorsing that the police have this power to stop motorists without probable cause for freaking seat belt use.  Is this really the alternative we are being offered today - you can choose fascism to stanch the threat of terrorism or you can choose fascism to increase seat belt use? 

I predict that the left may come to regret setting this precedent, as they have come to regret other expansions of government power that their political enemies have used as stepping stones for their own agenda.  A good example is Title IX, which is beloved by the left for using the fact of federal funding to browbeat even private universities into changing their admissions policies, but has been used as a precedent by the right to browbeat private universities into accepting military recruiters.  Government micro-managing of individual decision-making is only fun as long as you and your gang are the ones doing the micro-managing.

I would love to see someone in Washington making a consistent case for freedom of decision-making for individuals when the decision affects only themselves or others with whom they are interacting in a consensual manner.  But I am not holding my breath.

Libertarians Adrift

While it comes as no surprise to me, Republicans are making it official:  After dallying with small government notions in the eighties and nineties, under George Bush they are refocusing themselves on statism.  Going forward, Republicans see themselves locked in an arms race with Democrats over who can spend more and advocate more statist controls.

This news comes to us via conservative David Brooks, via Volokh:

[Brooks] rejects Bartlett's charge that Bush has betrayed conservatism. According to
Brooks, "Bush hasn't abandoned conservatism; he's modernized and saved it." As
Brooks tells the story, "conservatism was adrift and bereft of ideas" until
President Bush came along.

Almost single-handedly, Bush reconnected with the positive and
idealistic instincts of middle-class Americans. He did it by recasting
conservatism more significantly than anyone had since Ronald Reagan. He rejected
the prejudice that the private sector is good and the public sector is bad, and
he tried to use government to encourage responsible citizenship and community
service. He sought to mobilize government so the children of prisoners can build
their lives, so parents can get data to measure their school's performance, so
millions of AIDS victims in Africa can live another day, so people around the
world can dream of freedom.

"Government should help people improve their lives, not run their lives,"
Bush said. This is not the Government-Is-the-Problem philosophy of the mid-'90s,
but the philosophy of a governing majority party in a country where people look
to government to play a positive but not overbearing role in their lives.

Barf.  The last sentence contains a pure contradiction:  There is no way for government to play any role, positive or negative, without being overbearing, at least to some.  There is no way for the government to improve some lives without running others.

Despite what politicians may argue, the government has only one unique quality no one else can match.  They are not uniquely smart, or uniquely capable, or uniquely compassionate, or uniquely efficient, or even uniquely able to run large organizations.  Their only unique capability is to deal with people by force, and to use force and the threat of force and imprisonment to compel individuals to do things they would no choose to do themselves.

This unique ability to use force is necessary to the government in fulfilling its core roles of protecting us from the use of force from outside our borders (military) and protecting its citizens from the use of force or fraud by other citizens (police and courts).  When the government uses its unique ability to coerce in other spheres, there are always winners and losers.  That is because by definition the government is using force to cause an outcome or a decision that people would not have made on their own, based on their own self-interest and of their own free will.  So when politicians blithely say things like "help people improve their lives", what they ALWAYS mean is using force to compel someone to do something they would not have to do in a free society.   

For this reason, there is no such thing as having the government "play a positive but not overbearing role in their lives".  The best you can hope for with such an activist government system is to hope that the government plays a net-positive role in your life, while being overbearing to others.  Which pretty much sums up why politics are so high stakes today - if government is about sacrificing one group to another, I want my guy in there so he can be overbearing to some other group for the benefit of mine.

I dealt with these same themes a couple of days ago in this post, where I said "the entire Republican and Democratic platform each boil down to 'we
support government intervention except where our major donors oppose
it'".  My summary statement on the full range of government interference with free individual decision-making is here.

Update:  While Marginal Revolution is still optomistic for libertarians, they point out that "progressives" see the opportunity now for real expansion of socialism in this country

Democrat Matt
Yglesias writes
:

If you did have a progressive president, there's no longer a
particularly large amount of popular resistance to expanding the activist state.
Even most Republicans don't especially care about small government.

Scrappleface: Lack of Bush Eloquence Imperils Hurricane Victims

Very funny from Scrappleface.  Here is an excerpt:

Fears increased today among hundreds of thousands of refugees from the
hurricane-ravaged gulf coast as they faced a Labor Day weekend with little hope
of an eloquent speech from President George Bush....

One New Orleans man, currently living in the 'Plaza End Zone' section of the
Superdome as he awaits news of his missing family members, said, "I can survive
for some time with little water, no food and highly unsanitary conditions...but
if I don't hear some poetic words of comfort and stirring verbal imagery from
the president pretty soon, I'm a goner."

Read it all.

Technorati Tags:  ,

Severe Hurricane Frequency in New Orleans

OK, I warned you, editorials are already blaming the damage in New Orleans on Global Warming in general and George Bush in specific.  Here is what you need to know about this meme:

  • Katrina is the 5th category four or five hurricane to hit within 100 miles of New Orleans since 1899.  This includes the hurricanes in 1948, 1965, and Camille in 1969.  Camille was the real whopper up to this point, one of only 3 class 5 hurricanes to ever hit the US before Katrina.  Note however, after three major (class 4 or 5) hurricanes in 21 years in the area from 1948-1969, there has not been another one to hit this area for 36 years.   It is difficult to figure out how you get an increasing frequency argument from this data.

A more detailed study of hurricane frequency is here and nice graphs here.  It turns out that increasing $ damages from hurricanes have more to do with expensive houses near the coast than increasing hurricane severity.  More on cycles of hurricane activity here

If there is a government failing here, it has more to do with local infrastructure than CO2This blog blames the lack of infrastructure on Bush (of course).  I have no particular problem bash Bush for anything, but my question is,if the locals knew this, as the blog implies, why didn't the locals spend their own damn money on their own infrastructure to protect their own selves.  If New Orleans chooses to build their city below sea level, why should the rest of us bear the cost of their higher-than-average infrastructure costs?

Hey Southerners, Join Arizona on the "Dark" Side

Congress is probably going to extend Daylight Savings Time, despite complaints from airlines that their rescheduling and reprogramming costs will be exorbitant. Virginia Postrel points out that while a boon for the Northeast, southerners are not amused:

The source of this bright idea is, not surprisingly, the ever-meddlesome Ed Markey, who calls the bill
"a huge victory for sunshine lovers." As a certified sunshine lover, I'd say it
looks more like Massachusetts's revenge on Texas (and the rest of the Sunbelt)
for George Bush's victory over John Kerry. There are some places--and Dallas is
definitely one of them--that need just the opposite: shorter sunny evening
hours. Once the sun goes down and the temperature falls to the high 80s, you can
actually enjoy sitting outside.

The ostensible goal of the bill is energy saving, but the evidence
is weak
.... 

Oddly missed even in fairly
thorough
 accounts is
any consideration of the extension's most obvious cost: More demand for
energy-eating air conditioning in the fast-growing, very hot Sunbelt. A lot more
people live down here than did back during the Nixon administration.

Southerners, come join Arizona on the "dark" side of this issue.  Arizona decided long ago that it had plenty of daylight, did not need to save it, and therefore was not going to play with the other kids.  We sometimes catch some grief for being out of step, but you don't see any of us scrambling around the house twice a year looking for our VCR manual to figure out how to change the clock.

 

Grade Inflation in the Ivy League

The Boston Globe has an article on John Kerry's recently released Yale grades.  Humorously, after all the sturm and drang of him supposedly being an intellectual titan to George Bush's dim-wittedness, his GPA was actually a notch lower than George's at Yale.  Personally, I could care less - grades are important for getting into grad school or that first job out of college.  I can't even imagine GPA coming up much in assessing one's suitability for a job in his forties or fifties.

Anyway, the point I take from this is more about grade inflation that suitability for the presidency.  Both Kerry and Bush got a selection of D's, C's, and B's, and no A's.  And while these may have not been standout grades, they certainly didn't seem to be out of the norm for the time.  My question:  Does any student today who can fog a mirror in the Ivy League today get grades this low?  My guess is no.

Postscript: By the way, Kerry released his military records (which were the source of the Yale grades) and there does not appear to be any ticking time bombs in it.  In fact, there are several pieces of information that would have helped him in the campaign, including commendations from several of his swift boat vet critics.  Why in the hell did he drag his feet on this and give the Republicans a free campaign issue?