Posts tagged ‘Russia’

D-Day More Important in Containing the Soviets than Defeating the Nazis

Over time, my understanding of the importance of the D-Day invasions has shifted.  Growing up, I considered these events to be the single key event in defeating the Nazis.  Listening to the radio this morning, this still seems to be the common understanding.

Over time, I have had to face the fact that the US (or at least the US Army) was not primarily responsible for defeating Germany -- the Russians defeated Germany, and what's more, would have defeated them whether the Allies had landed in France or not.  Check out the casualties by front, from Wikipedia:

click to enlarge

The Russians defeated Germany.  Period.   And I don't think the western allies would ever have had the stomach to inflict the kind of casualties on Germany that were ultimately necessary to defeat her without Russian help.  To me, this is the great irony of WWII, that it was not ultimately a victory for democracy.  Only totalitarian Russia could defeat totalitarian Germany.  This thought often bothers me a lot.  It doesn't fit with how we want to view the war.

However, D-Day did have an important effect -- it kept Western Europe out of Soviet hands.  We did not know it at the time, but I would argue in retrospect that from mid-1944 on we were competing with Russia to see how Europe would get divided up after the war.  D-Day allowed the western allies to overrun most of Western Europe and keep it out of Soviet hands, perhaps an even more important outcome than just speeding the defeat of the Germans.  Sure, FDR gets grief for giving the farm away to Russia at Yalta, but what could he do?  The Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe at that point was a fait accompli.  What would have been FDR & Churchill's negotiation position at Yalta if their armies were not even on the continent (excepting Italy, where we might still be fighting in 2014 and getting nowhere)?

Another Reason to Love Fracking

Anything Vladimir Putin fears can't be all bad

Whilst it is exceedingly difficult to summon up much sympathy for either Russia’s state-owned natural gas monopoly Gazprom or Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin, the dynamic rise of natural gas produced by hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking,” has raised alarm bells in the highest reaches of the Kremlin.

Why?

Because Gazprom’s European customers, tired of being ripped off by Gazprom, are avidly exploring the possibilities of undertaking fracking to develop their own sources of the “blue gold,” and nowhere is interest higher than in the Russian Federation’s neighbors Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and China.

Ayn Rand, Illegal Immigrant

Interesting story via Reason

As a vehement anti-Bolshevist, she knew that she would die waiting in line if she applied for permission to permanently relocate to America, although that’s exactly what she intended to do. Temporary tourist visas were easier to land, but only for those who could prove they didn’t plan to settle here. So what did Rand do? She committed perjury. She convinced an American visa officer that she had a fiancé waiting for her in Russia whom she intended to marry after a six-month visit with her relatives in Chicago.

But Rand instead married an American citizen in 1929, gaining a path to citizenship. According to Mimi Gladstein’s biography, Rand timed her wedding before her visa, which she had gotten extended, finally expired.

However, others doubt that Uncle Sam would have handed a three-year extension to a Russian passport holder, raising suspicions that Rand might have been—gasp!—an illegal immigrant when she got married.

Global Warming Hype Process

Here is the current global warming hype process as it exists today:

  1. Identify a 2 or 3 sigma weather event.  Since there are 365 days in the year and hundreds of different regions in the world, the laws of probability say that some event in the tail of the normal distribution (local high, local low, local flood, local drought, local snow, local tornado, local hurricane, etc) should be regularly occurring somewhere.
  2. Play weather event all over press, closely linked as often as possible with supposition that this is due to manmade CO2.  If the connection to global warming is too outlandish to make with a straight face (e.g. cold weather) use term "climate change" or "climate disruption" instead of global warming.
  3. Skeptics will point to actual data that this event is not part of a long term trend, e.g. there is no rise in tornado activity correlated with 20th century rise in temperatures so blaming one year of high tornadoes on global warming makes no sense.    Ignore this.
  4. Peer reviewed literature will emerge 6-12 months later demonstrating that the event was not likely due to man-made global warming.  Ignore this as well.  Never, ever go back and revisit failed catastrophic predictions.
  5. Repeat

Last year's Russian heat wave is a classic example.  Here is an example of the hype and the tie to man-made global warming in Time.  And here, 12 months later, is the study saying that weather was just weather:

Reference
Dole, R., Hoerling, M., Perlwitz, J., Eischeid, J., Pegion, P., Zhang, T., Quan, X.-W., Xu, T. and Murray, D. 2011. Was there a basis for anticipating the 2010 Russian heat wave? Geophysical Research Letters38: 10.1029/2010GL046582.

Background
The authors write that "the 2010 summer heat wave in western Russia was extraordinary, with the region experiencing the warmest July since at least 1880 and numerous locations setting all-time maximum temperature records." And as a result, they say that "questions of vital societal interest are whether the 2010 Russian heat wave might have been anticipated, and to what extent human-caused greenhouse gas emissions played a role."

What was learned
The nine U.S. researchers determined that "analysis of forced model simulations indicates that neither human influences nor other slowly evolving ocean boundary conditions contributed substantially to the magnitude of the heat wave." In fact, they say that the model simulations provided "evidence that such an intense event could be produced through natural variability alone." Similarly, on the observation front, they state that "July surface temperatures for the region impacted by the 2010 Russian heat wave show no significant warming trend over the prior 130-year period from 1880-2009," noting, in fact, that "a linear trend calculation yields a total temperature change over the 130 years of -0.1°C." In addition, they indicate that "no significant difference exists between July temperatures over western Russia averaged for the last 65 years (1945-2009) versus the prior 65 years (1880-1944)," and they state that "there is also no clear indication of a trend toward increasing warm extremes." Last of all, they say that although there was a slightly higher variability in temperature in the latter period, the increase was "not statistically significant."

Not sure I find the computer model work comforting one way or the other but the complete lack of any observational trend seems compelling.

Forced to Goof Off

Kevin Drum seems upset that the US Government does not mandate paid time off for all US workers

The map below shows this starkly: the United States is virtually alone in not mandating any annual time off for employees, right along with such economic luminaries as Burma, Guyana, and Nepal. More charts on American overwork here.

I could take the same map and make this statement: "unlike such freedom-loving luminaries as Iran, Russia, Mali, and Chad, the United States government does not interfere in private decisions about vacation pay policies."

By the way, why is it for statists that the lack of a government mandate for something desirable is considered equivalent to the desirable policy being non-existent?  In fact, Kevin Drum himself says his employer has a good paid leave policy.  Wow, how could such a thing have happened without a government mandate?

Current Law Requires Bastiat's Unseen to Remain Unseen

I find it hard to be surprised nowadays by how low trade policy can sink.  So I was depressed rather than surprised when I read this update on Magnesium trade.

Those of us who complain about protectionism often complain that its proponents mindlessly cite the seen (ie jobs lost to foreign competition) without taking into account the unseen (numerous consumers and consumer industries benefited by imports).  What I did not know is that this is not just bad economics, but is cemented into legislation:

In 2005, U.S. Magnesium Corporation, the sole producer of magnesium in the United States, succeeded in convincing the U.S. International Trade Commission and U.S. Commerce Department to impose duties on imports of magnesium from competitors in Russia and China. Before toasting this outcome with some clichéd or specious utterance about how the antidumping law ensures fair trade and a level playing field for U.S. producers, it is important to understand that downstream, consuming industries (those U.S. producers that require for their own production the raw materials and intermediate goods subject to the antidumping measures) have no legal standing in these cases. Statute forbids the U.S. International Trade Commission from considering their arguments or projections about the likely consequences of prospective duties. Statute requires that the ITC consider only the conditions of the petitioning industry.  In other words, the analysis is slanted.  The antidumping law codifies these evidentiary asymmetries, which makes it easier for U.S. suppliers to cut-off their U.S. customers’ access to alternative sources of supply.

In other words, in the case of magnesium, on the interests of the US Magnesium Corporation can be considered by the US Government in evaluating trade policy - the interest of the other 300 million of us is illegal even to mention.

This was also funny, from the government as Abbot and Costello files:

But on trade policy formulation, it seems that the right hand doesn’t always know what the left hand is doing. Last year, while magnesium imports from China were subject to U.S. antidumping duties, the Obama administration launched a WTO case against China for its restraints on exports of raw materials, including magnesium. That’s right. The U.S. government officially opposes China’s tax on exported magnesium because it imposes extra costs of U.S. consuming industries, but it insists on enforcing its own antidumping duties on magnesium imported from China despite those costs.

The Last Days of the Tsars

Some really nice pre-WWI color photography from Russia.  I am a sucker for old color photos.

America Bought Me for 20 Tons of Wheat

A Russian immigrant  (escapee?) discusses how he got out of Russia as part of an ongoing series of videos pleading with Americans not to head down the path to socialism.

Mark Perry on US Manufacturing

I could link Mark Perry almost every day, and have to restrain myself.  If you like my blog, you should be reading his too.  Anyway, here is his take on US manufacturing figures:

If the U.S. manufacturing sector were a separate country, it would be tied with Germany as the world's third largest economy. It would also be larger than the entire economies of India and Russia combined. As much as we hear about the "demise of U.S. manufacturing," and how we are a country that "doesn't produce anything anymore," and how we have "outsourced our production to China," the U.S. manufacturing sector is alive and well, and the U.S. is still the largest manufacturer in the world.

I'd Hate to See Winter

There is some discussion over at Climate Audit about Ojmjakon, Russia in the context of trying to debug some recent NASA temperature measurement glitches.  But I could not get past this data, which really seems a bit nippy for late Autumn:

ojmjakon

Well, as long as its sunny.

I Think I am Voting for Obama

I am tired of watching the free markets trashed by people who claim to champion capitalism and free enterprise.  Better, I am starting to think, to have free markets trashed by someone who does not pretend to support them.  Besides, the Republicans in Congress tend to be much stronger supporters of small government, low taxes, and light regulation when they are in opposition.  Except possibly for Jeff Flake, who always seems to have his head in the right place.

Update:

"When
it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some other country where
they make no pretense of loving liberty - to Russia, for instance,
where despotism can be taken pure, without the base alloy of hypocrisy."

            -- Abraham Lincoln

Wealth and the Olympics

One of Megan McArdle's readers wonders why India, which in population is larger than any other country save China, has so few Olympic medalists.  I think the answer is fairly easy:  wealth.

It's a situation very parallel to the Italian Renaissance.  Then, the issue was the proliferation of so many great artists rather than athletes, but the fundamentals were fairly similar.  For a society to be able to give up its strongest and most talented youth to non-productive (meaning they don't contribute to food, clothing, or shelter) occupations like painting or competitive swimming requires a lot of wealth and leisure time.  Subsistence farmers can't give up a strong back from the fields, much less pay any kind of specialized training costs.  The explosion of artists in the Italian Renaissance was made possible
by an explosion of wealth in the great Italian city-states of Florence
and Venice and the like.   Further, wealth also means better neo-natal care and better childhood nutrition which leads to bigger and stronger adults. 

As with Renaissance painters, modern Olympic athletes need either a family that is wealthy enough to give up their labor and support him or her; or, they need a wealthy patron; or, they need support of the government.  US Olympic athletes generally have some of all three, though the role of the government is smaller than in other nations thanks to corporate patrons and the relative wealth of the American middle class.  China, and before it Russia, were successful because, lacking the first two, they had the government shoulder the entire burden.  India has chosen not to go the government route, which is fine.  It will have its successes in time, as the exploding middle class will raise kids who have the time and money to pursue excellence in various sports.

The World's Safe Haven

We have rising oil prices and falling housing prices.  Mortgages are defaulting and stocks have been falling of late.  The dollar is in the tank.  But at the end of the day, the world still sees the US as the safest and most productive place to invest its money:
Fdi2

Its odd to me that from time to time we go through periods of angst (e.g. the late 1980s panic that the Japanese were "buying up America") about this effect, but we should instead be assured by this vote of confidence from the rest of the world.  One might argue that folks are simply buying US assets today because they are cheap, and certainly the dollar's fall makes US assets relatively less expensive.  But assets are cheap in Russia and Nigeria and Venezuela too, and you don't see the world rushing to invest a few trillion dollars in those locales. 

Postscript:  This foreign ownership of US assets also makes the world a more stable place.  I am always stunned when people argue that Chinese ownership of a trillion dollars of US debt securities gives them power over us.  Huh?  Since when does holding someone's debt give you power?  I don't think Countrywide Mortgage is feeling too powerful today.  The fact is that holding our debt and owning US assets gives China (and other nations) a huge shared interest in our stbility and continued prosperity.

Rewriting History

I was watching the History Channel last night and watching a show on the nuclear arms race.  Interestingly, they described the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba as happening before JFK took office, and then discussed the Cuban Missile Crisis as JFK's first interaction with Russia.  I find this to be really odd revisionism, and if it were not for Coyote's Law, I would ascribe this to the ongoing Kennedy family effort to polish JFK's historical legacy.  But, having written Coyote's Law, I will just assume the show's producers were ignorant.

Update: I take the point that the Bay of Pigs invasion was a CIA plan in the Eisenhower presidency.  However, JFK was deeply involved in the planning and decision to go ahead, and in fact he and his advisers actually modified the plan, including the invasion site, in ways that hurt the probability of success (if there ever was any).

Open Up to Cuba

The Bush administration is in the unenviable but not historically unprecedented position of not really being able to accomplish much of anything over the next two years.  Bush's credibility is such that a solid majority in Congress may oppose any plan he suggests, just because he suggested it.  Also, it is unlikely that any third-rail-type reforms will be considered in a presidential election cycle.  And I am generally OK with government legislative inaction.  In fact, it would be great if the Democrats chose to pursue impeachment hearings, not because Bush is any more or less a lying sack of shit than other politicians, but because it would divert Congress onto an enforced lassaiz faire path on every other issue.

However, one thing Bush could productively accomplish is to open up relations with Cuba.  If we are ready to pull out of Iraq after five years, even at the cost of being seen as "losing," we should be ready to reconsider our cold war with Cuba after over 46 years.  After all, our cold war with Russia, if dated from the end of WWII, only lasted 44 years.  We trade freely with communist China, and even with communist Vietnam, despite the fact that we were in a shooting war with them more recently than the Castro takeover.  And what have we accomplished?  Cuba is nowhere close to an anti-communist revolution, and its people suffer.  In fact, I think the embargo on Cuba, by turning Cuba's attention away from its natural trading partner the US, causes it to look for allies in places like Venezuela.

I think history has proven time and time again the power of open commerce and interchange in bringing closed, unfree societies into the modern age.  I can't for the life of me figure out why we still pursue the proven-pointless embargoes against Cuba except:

  • The sugar lobby like it that way
  • The Cuban expat community, operating on wounded latin pride, have stubbornly made it clear that anyone who suggests opening up to Cuba will lose the typically tight vote for Florida's key electoral votes.

With GWB's lame-duckracy and his brother moving on from the Florida governor's mansion, no Bush has to run for election in Florida again. With Castro's death (I'm not dead yet - yes you are, you'll be stone dead in a moment) the anti-Castro movement in the expat community loses focus, and might be reshaped into what it should be, that is pro-Cuba rather than anti-Castro.  I think these two stars are lining up to provide a unique opportunity to do something about Cuba, and in fact might be a useful step in counterpoint to Hugo Chavez's recent actions. 

Cool Map

I am having trouble tracing this map all the way to its source, but I thought it was cool enough to show here (via TJIC and Carls Blog).  The map renames each state with a country that has approximately the same GDP as that state.

 

Countrymap

Check out Russia / New Jersey.  And is it really saying New Zealand and the District of Columbia have the same GDP?

Update:  If you enjoyed this post, check out our (free) comprehensive
guide to the skeptics arguments concerning man-made global warming.

Update: Children in European Restaurants

Not really forewarned about this social trend in advance, my family was surprised to find that many restaurants in smaller English towns would not let us in with our children.  I wrote about the strange Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang-esque reactions we got to our children here.

Reader Tom Van Horn sends in this update from Newsweek:

a recent British study showed a house's value drops by 5 percent if
neighbors move in with teenage kids. Hotels are catering to the
childless, too; Italy's La Veduta country resort promises, "Your Tuscan
holiday will not be shattered by the clamor of children." In Rome, many
restaurants make it clear that children are not welcome"”in some cases
by establishing themselves as "clubs," where members must be older than
18 to join.

*shrug*  There are times when my wife and I like to get away from kids too, and we have a couple of them.  I know a few couples who have chosen to remain childless and I can assure you they are sick and tired of being asked about their childlessness like it was some kind of disease.  I am sure they will welcome a sense of normalcy for their chosen way to live.  Combining this trend with my observation that Parisians will take their dog anywhere, it is probably not long before there are public places in Paris where dogs are welcome but kids are not.

That doesn't mean that everyone shares my willingness to let folks live in peace like they choose.  Certain politicians around Europe seem to want to intervene (and isn't that why people become politicians in the first place -- to force other people into making choices that they would not have made for themselves?)

Politicians and religious leaders warn darkly of an "epidemic" of
childlessness that saps the moral fiber of nations; they blame the
child-free for impending population decline, the collapse of pension
systems and even the rise in immigration. In Japan, commentators have
identified the "parasite single" who lives off society instead of doing
his duty to start a family

In Germany, where the childless rate is the
highest in the world, at 25 percent, the best-seller lists have been
full of tomes forecasting demographic doomsday. In "Minimum," the
conservative commentator Frank Schirrmacher describes a "spiral of
childlessness," where a declining population becomes ever more
reluctant to have kids. Media reports have stigmatized the "cold career
woman""”one such recent article came with mug shots of childless female
celebs"”accusing them of placing their jobs before kids. Never mind that
Germany trails its neighbors in the availability of child care, or the
amount of time men spend helping around the house.

From
Germany to Russia, there is increasing talk of sanctions against the
childless. In Slovakia, a leading adviser on the government's Strategic
Council on Economic Development proposed in March to replace an
unpopular payroll tax with a levy on all childless Slovaks between the
ages of 25 and 50. In Russia, where the birthrate has dropped from 2.3
in the 1980s to 1.3 today, a powerful business lobby has called for an
income-tax surcharge on childless couples. In Germany, economists and
politicians have demanded that public pensions for the childless be
slashed by up to 50 percent"”never mind that such pensions were invented
as an alternative to senior citizens' having to depend on their
offspring.

World's Largest Banana Republic

Unfortunately, it is behind the WSJ paid firewall and not on their opinion journal site, but Gary Kasparov has a very interesting editorial that confirms my fears about Russia:

Russia may not have much industry or democracy left, but we do have
massive amounts of oil and gas plus other natural resources. When
combined with our nuclear weapons, these resources are sufficient to
buy entry into the G-8 despite Mr. Putin's transformation of Russia
back into a one-party dictatorship. This newfound international sway is
also having serious repercussions inside my country. Many here would
like to believe that Mr. Putin is ushering in a return to our Soviet
superpower glory

He tells some pretty amazing tales of self-dealing by government officials on a massive scale. 

In perhaps the best example, the giant energy company Yukos was
dismembered and its chairman jailed. Next, Yukos assets were put up for
auction and the crown jewel, oil unit Yuganskneftegaz, was purchased at
a bargain price by the state-owned company Rosneft, which received
billions in mysterious loans. On July 14, Rosneft had an IPO in London
to sell these stolen assets and, of course, the money didn't go into
the treasury. This isn't nationalization, it's simple robbery. In
Russia the expenses are nationalized and the revenues are privatized.

That last line is a great one.  I for one have scratched my head at why Bush as consistently given Putin a pass.  My only guess is that he has prioritized his war with Muslim fundamentalism so high that he needs Putin as a potential ally in the area, though Kasparov presents evidence that Putin is likely exactly the opposite.  He concludes:

The West is making a terrible mistake by mixing realpolitik with a
battle of values. Drawing and defending moral lines is the first and
most essential step in combating extremism and there is no room for
double standards. If the West is keeping track of its friends, it's
time to take Mr. Putin off the list.

Bush: The Worst Communicator

ABCNews is running a series on some interesting documents found among released Hussein-era Iraqi government docs.  I am not going to react to them in terms of how they affect the decision to go to war, in part because we have no idea how representative 6 or 7 damning documents are out of thousands that we have not yet been shown (a similar problem the Enron jury will soon face).  Also, for reasons below in the footnote**.

My main reaction to these revelations was "wow, how badly does the Bush administration suck at communication?"  After taking three years of criticism over exactly some of the issues addressed in these documents, and presumably others we have not yet seen, the administration just sat on this stuff and refused to release it?  Clinton's folks would have had one of these presented each morning of every day for a year to the press with a little bow around it.  I am flabbergasted that there are so many conspiracy theorists who think this administration has some special Karl-Rovian-mad-science to orchestrating events.  To me, their PR successes look more like Peter Sellers accidentally avoiding numerous assassins in The Pink Panther Strikes Again.

** In the end, I think the Iraq invasion will be looked at as "worth it" historically if its effects resonate beyond Iraq, e.g. it provides a beacon of democracy around which other democratic elements in the middle east coalesce and grow stronger.  If Iraq turns out to be just about Iraq, the world will be well-rid of a nasty dictator but the US will have spent a great deal of its available armed forces and treasure and influence and prestige on a single screwed-up dictatorship, while ignoring tens of others who also brutalize their people and who also support terrorism.  Against this definition of success, the recently revealed documents don't do much for me one way or the other.  They do, however, strongly effect my opinion of Russia.  Why Bush continues to give Putin a pass is beyond me.

Long-Term Chernobyl Harm Revised Downwards

You know those towns along the highway where people joke "don't blink, or you'll miss it?"  Well, apparently I blinked and missed this story.  If the ice in a climatologist's bourbon & water melts faster than she expected, it gets a three-day spread in the New York Times, but this environmental good-new story (surely an oxymoron to most editors) seems to have been pushed to the back page last September:

The long-term health and environmental impacts of the 1986
accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, while severe,
were far less catastrophic than feared, according to a major new report
by eight U.N. agencies.

The governments of Ukraine,
Belarus and Russia, the three countries most affected by radioactive
fallout from Chernobyl, should strive to end the "paralyzing fatalism"
of tens of thousands of their citizens who wrongly believe they are
still at risk of an early death, according to the study released Monday.

The 600-page report found that as of the middle of this year, the
accident had caused fewer than 50 deaths directly attributable to
radiation, most of them among emergency workers who died in the first
months after the accident.

In fact, even the "while severe" added into the first paragraph seems to be the last gasp of an editor unwilling to accept any environmental good news, since nowhere in the article is there any evidence published of any negative long-term effect at all except that caused to the mental well-being of local citizenry by the continual onslaught of media and governmental horror-predictions.

In fact, the article goes on to say:

Over the next four years, a massive cleanup operation
involving 240,000 workers ensued, and there were fears that many of
these workers, called "liquidators," would suffer in subsequent years.
But most emergency workers and people living in contaminated areas
"received relatively low whole radiation doses, comparable to natural
background levels," a report summary noted. "No evidence or likelihood
of decreased fertility among the affected population has been found,
nor has there been any evidence of congenital malformations."

In
fact, the report said, apart from radiation-induced deaths, the
"largest public health problem created by the accident" was its effect
on the mental health of residents who were traumatized by their rapid
relocation and the fear, still lingering, that they would almost
certainly contract terminal cancer. The report said that lifestyle
diseases, such as alcoholism, among affected residents posed a much
greater threat than radiation exposure.

The other major "fallout" seems to be massively wasted government spending:

Officials said that the continued intense medical monitoring of tens of
thousands of people in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus is no longer a smart
use of limited resources and is, in fact, contributing to mental health
problems among many residents nearly 20 years later. In Belarus and
Ukraine, 5 percent to 7 percent of government spending is consumed by
benefits and programs for Chernobyl victims. And in the three
countries, as many as 7 million people are receiving Chernobyl-related
social benefits.

Sounds like post-Katrina proposals.  We have already seen more level-headed analysis debunk similar horror stories (remember "toxic soup") in New Orleans.  I wonder what a sober analysis of the real long-term health effects around the PG&E site that Erin Brockovitch made her name on would reveal?  When I lived in St. Louis, we had a local meteorologist we used to joke had "accurately predicted twelve of the last three blizzards".  Environmentalists who perplexedly scratch their heads as to why everyone does not yet fully buy into global warming should move past their "everyone is in the pay of the oil companies" explanation and maybe consider for a minute that their panicked prediction of twelve of the last three environmental disasters may be part of the explanation as well.

By the way, what really killed nuclear power was the costliness of the ridiculous regulatory regime.  In a prior post, I suggested an alternative regulatory regime, copied from airlines (see, we libertarians can sometimes hold our nose and actually make a regulatory reform proposal short of "throw it all out").  Reason's Hit and Run points to an example of those on the left reconsidering nuclear power.

More on Surveillance & Detention

I've gotten mail and comments on some of my surveillance- and detention-related posts, particularly this one here, that boil down to "but warrant-less national security eavesdropping is legal". John Hinderaker at Powerline makes this argument fairly compellingly.  To which I can answer, fine, but whether it is narrowly legal or illegal is a topic for partisan blogs who want to score points for or against Bush.  As one of those weird libertarian guys, my intention was to stand aside from the question of legality and instead pose the question of "yes, but is it right?"

Foreigners are People Too

It is interesting that I have to make this point more and more nowadays: Foreignors are human beings too.  For example, this idea that non-US citizens have (or should have) the same rights we do was one I highlighted in my defense of open immigration:

The individual rights we hold dear are our rights as human beings, NOT
as citizens.  They flow from our very existence, not from our
government. As human beings, we have the right to assemble with
whomever we want and to speak our minds.  We have the right to live
free of force or physical coercion from other men.  We have the right
to make mutually beneficial arrangements with other men, arrangements
that might involve exchanging goods, purchasing shelter, or paying
another man an agreed upon rate for his work.  We have these rights and
more in nature, and have therefore chosen to form governments not to be
the source of these rights (for they already existed in advance of
governments) but to provide protection of these rights against other
men who might try to violate these rights through force or fraud

Speech, commerce, property, association, and yes, privacy -- these are all rights we have as human beings, so that the fact of citizenship in the US should not have any bearing on whether our government should respect these rights (except in the case of war, which we get into in a while).

These issues are oh-so-much clearer when we flip our perspective.  For Americans reading this, ask yourself:

  • Does the government of Great Britain (or Russia, or Iran) have the right to wiretap your phone calls at will without warrant or review just because you are not a citizen of their country?
  • Does the government of Great Britain (or Russia, or Iran) have the right to detain you indefinitely without access to a lawyer or embassy if a powerful person in their government declares you an enemy combatant?

If you answered "yes", then recognize that the 1979 capture of the US embassy staff in Iran was probably legal by your rules, as was nearly every other detention of American citizens by another country.  If you answered "no", then you need to be worried about what the US is doing in the name of national security, for certainly both Bush and Clinton, among others, claim(ed) these rights.  And if you answered "no" for all other countries but "yes" for us, presumably because you trust our guys but not theirs, I will admit you have some historical precedent, since the US for all its faults has generally acted more honorably than 99% of the other nations of the world over the last 100 years.  But you do need to think about the meaning of the rule of law, and why its always a bad idea to give good men power that you don't want bad men to have.

By saying this, I realize that am I not only out of step with the US appellate courts (as Hinderaker points out) and with the Supreme Court (at least on the detention issue, since they haven't ruled on the warrant-less search powers) but also perhaps with the founding fathers.  While most of the folks who wrote the Constitution understood the notion of rights that are derived from nature rather than from the state, the Constitution is mute on the laws of the US vis a vis foreign citizens (excepts where it comes to war).  It is interesting to note that the Bill of Rights doesn't make any distinctions between citizens and non-citizens - there is nothing, for example, that modifies the prescriptions of the fourth amendment to apply only to searches of US citizens.  One could easily interpret the Bill of Rights as proscribing the actions of the US government against any person of any nationality.  Anyway, if I am in conflict with the founding fathers, so be it -- the Constitution is a fabulous document as totally ahead of its time as would be having 19th century India put a man on the moon, but it was not perfect.

The Magic Words: National Security

You may notice that defenders of these presidential powers tend to play a little verbal slight of hand (in addition to the one discussed here):  They translate the president's powers as CinC to mean "carte blanch for national security issues".  You hear this slight-of-hand so often, one starts to think its written that way in the Constitution, so it is probably good to remind ourselves what that document actually says:

The President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the
United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called
into the actual service of the United States

That's it.  The president can give orders to the military  -- whether that means he can do anything he wants in the name of national security is a whole other issue.  Folks also seem to want to argue that this CinC power cannot be modified or limited in any way, but that's silly.  The third amendment is aimed solely at the limiting the power of the military.   And certainly the folks who first adopted the constitution and the Bill of Rights believed that the 4th amendment applied to the military as well.  In fact, they would have said especially the military.

The Right Way to do Searches

Here is how we have generally interpreted the 4th amendment:  The legislative branch sets the ground rules, as followed by the Administration.  The administrations selection of targets is reviewed by the Judiciary (warrants) and is also subject to later review at trial (via the admissibility of evidence).  What we try to avoid is allowing the same person to set the rules, choose the target, and perform the surveillance, all in secret and without outside review.  The problems with the NSA wiretapping program is not that it is wrong per se, but that it may violate this process.  The administration is claiming the right to choose the target and perform the surveillance under the own rules and in secret with no possibility of review.   

Declaration of War Needs to Mean Something Again

If there is any part of the constitution that has really gone by the wayside in the last 50 years it is the provisions around declaration of war.  Over the past decades, president's have claimed the power to move forces into action, not just defensively but offensively, without a Congressional declaration of war.  And Hinderaker sees the declaration of war, or the Authorization to Use Military Force
(AUMF) as irrelevant to the legality of warrant-less national security
searches.  He is arguing that the President in his CinC power may search without warrant if it is substantially to fight an enemy.  And, absent an AUMF or a declaration of war, who decides if a group or nation or person is an enemy?  why, the President does.  And, who determines if a surveillance is necessary to fight this enemy? Why, yes, the President does as well.  And who reviews these decisions to make sure the President hasn't chosen to search or wiretap, under the pretext of national security, communists in Hollywood, Martin Luther King, or a self-generated "enemies list" -- no one, I mean, no Administration official in this country would ever do those things, would they?

I have increasingly come to the belief that the AUMF, or declaration of war, is supposed to mean something. (I am not a Constitutional scholar, and don't want to hear about how I don't understand such and such precedent* -- this is my own interpretation).  If one goes back to my first argument above, that all people, not just citizens, are constitutionally protected from our government searching or detaining them without warrant, then the declaration of war is that formal step that is necessary to free the CinC from these restrictions vis a vis a certain named and defined enemy.  The declaration of war, or AUMF, is effectively then the mass warrant, that gives the president the right in his role as CinC to attack those folks with our troops and detain them and spy on them, etc.  And even then, this is not without limit, since none of us are very happy with the Japanese detention precedent in WWII.  This view of the declaration of war is more consistent with the original notion of separation of powers than is the "administration can do anything to protect national security" view.  It allows the President pretty free reign to fight an enemy, including the types of tactics under dispute, but only after the body the founders considered the most sober had approved the war and the enemy (by sober I mean as envisioned by the founding fathers, and not as demonstrated in recent supreme court nomination hearings).

This obviously makes a declaration of war a BIG DEAL, which it should be, rather than just a set piece vote ratifying what the president seems hellbent to do anyway or a statement of moral support, along the lines of a "we support the troops" resolution.  It means that the Congress, god forbid, actually needs to treat the vote with some responsibility and understand the implications of what they are voting for, or else modify the AUMF or articles of war with specific limitations of scope.  And it means Congress needs to think twice and maybe three times before authorizing war against something as nebulous as "A Qaeda" or "terrorism".  And it means that GWB probably is doing nothing illegal, at least in the programs as discovered, but it doesn't mean that the courts or Congress can't change that in the future.

* Constitutional scholars live and die by the great god "precedent", and certainly the legal system would be thrown into disarray if court decisions did not provide precedents for later decisions.  All predictability in the system would vanish.  However, it is more than OK from time to time to go back to the original words of the Constitution to see if the march of serial precedent has somehow taken us off course.  I often liken this to a copier machine.  If you take a plain piece of paper, and copy it, and then copy the copy, and then copy that copy, etc. through twenty or thirty generations, you will end up with a paper that is supposed to be a copy of the original, but in fact is covered with spots and other artifacts that were not on the original.  A series of court precedents can also create such artifacts that can only really be identified not from looking at the last precedent it was built on, but going all the way back to the original Constitution.

Parochialism from the NY Times

I was reading the NY Times' International Herald Tribune today here in Paris, and saw something funny at the end of an article about the crazy process underway to select the 2012 Olympic venue.  By the way, this is the big issue in Paris right now - you can't walk anywhere without finding yourself in the middle of some sort of Paris promotional event, presumably being simulcast back to the selection committee in Singapore.

Anyway, the IHT had this funny line:

The last days of the race drew the president of France, the prime minister of Russia and the queen of Spain here.  New York City pulled Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton away from a busy schedule to lend her star power.

Uhh, you mean the president of France and the prime minister of Russia don't have busy schedules?  And wouldn't a more correct formulation be "while other cities were represented by their head of state, NY City could only muster a junior member of Congress"?  I hope any city but New York wins, because, given past history, NYC will likely get themselves into some financial hole hosting the Olympics that the rest of the country will have to bail them out of.

By the way, apparently in a bid to head off past corruption, the International Olympic Committee has banned its members from actually visiting host cities and their facilities ahead of the selection.  This seems kind of extreme - you have to pick between cities but you can't learn anything useful about them.  Its depressing that the members of the Olympic committee are so untrustworthy that the only way to prevent them from collecting bribes from potential host countries is to not allow them anywhere near the country.

Wealth of Nations

Socialists and "progressives" of various stripes always want to argue that the distribution of wealth among nations is basically due to luck, in large part related to the distribution of natural resources.

This is disprovable in about 2 seconds:  Russia (via Cafe Hayek) and the Netherlands.   Russia, resource-wise, is perhaps the richest country in the world.  It is, our could be, among the largest producers of any number of natural resources, from diamonds and gold to oil and uranium.  But its economy is a disaster.  The Netherlands, resource wise, has about nothing.  There are few third world economic hell-holes that don't begin with infinitely more resources than the Dutch, but the Dutch are among the richest nations in the world. 

Wealth comes not from labor or capital or resources - wealth comes from the mind, and as such requires a rule of law where the mind is free not only to imagine new ideas but to pursue and reap the fruits of these ideas.  As I said in this article:

From the year 1000 to the year 1700, the world's wealth, measured as GDP per capita, was virtually unchanged.
Since 1700, the GDP per capita in places like the US has risen, in real
terms, over 40 fold.  This is a real increase in total wealth - it is
not money stolen or looted or exploited.  Wealthy nations like the US
didn't "take" the wealth from somewhere else - it never even existed
before.  It was created by the minds of human beings.

How?  What changed? 

  1. There was a philosophical and intellectual
    change where questioning established beliefs and social patterns went
    from being heresy and unthinkable to being acceptable, and even in
    vogue.  In other words, men, at first just the elite but soon everyone,
    were urged to use their mind rather than just relying on established
    beliefs
  2. There were social and political changes that greatly increased
    the number of people capable of entrepreneurship.  Before this time,
    the vast vast majority of people were locked into social positions that
    allowed them no flexibility to act on a good idea, even if they had
    one.  By starting to create a large and free middle class, first in the
    Netherlands and England and then in the US, more people had the ability
    to use their mind to create new wealth.  Whereas before, perhaps 1% or
    less of any population really had the freedom to truly act on their
    ideas, after 1700 many more people began to have this freedom. 

So today's wealth, and everything that goes with it (from shorter
work hours to longer life spans) is the result of more people using
their minds more freely.

 

More Kyoto Foibles

Silflay Hraka has a nice post on Kyoto and Global warming.  I expressed many of the same thoughts here and here, though Hraka is much more concise and eloquent about it.  However, I missed this bit on Russia:

Europe as a whole may be able to meet its goals thanks to huge potential market in emissions trading brought about by the unprecedented collapse of heavy industry in the former nations of the Warsaw Pact and Soviet Union--graphically portrayed in this pdf from the Guardian--but actual levels of European CO2 output will not fall at all.

That's one reason it was so important for the EU for Russia to ratify Kyoto. Ratification of Kyoto allows that nation to enter into the emissions market, where the EU desperately needs it.

This makes a lot of sense.  I explained here how the Kyoto protocols, and particularly the 1990 date, were carefully structured to slam the US and make meeting targets relatively easy for Europe.  In short, 1990 was the beginning of a massive economic expansion for the US and a decade-long slump for Japan and Europe.  In addition, 1990 marked the date of German reunification and the fall of the Soviet Union -- since this time, thousands of horribly inefficient pollution-producing Soviet industries have shut down, giving Europe a huge reduction credit with no work.  Switch-over from coal to North Seas oil and gas has done the same for Britain.

I Hope This is Good News

From Yahoo News:

Pro-West opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko claimed victory in Ukraine's historic presidential election rerun, telling supporters the vote was a triumph for the country and proclaiming that "now we are free" from dominance by neighboring Russia.

This seems like good news, especially given the creeping fascism in Russia.  However, we've been disappointed by putative democrats before.