Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The fun continues

His ONeness now informs us that there was a systemic failure. So, he has clarified the secretary's prior statement; the system working well means failing.

Many are acting like this ends the story, but I think it is just beginning! First of all, this systemic failure one year into his administration will result in no one getting fired, certainly none of the people that he put in charge of the system. And we have the idiotic counter measures watch: no on leave your seat an hour before the flight ends. That is perfect. Like most of our security measures it is useless: now terrorists know when they have to make thier move. But this one reaches a new height of idiocy: the one thing that stopped this guy was other passengers getting out of their seats to stop him! Any garden variety incompetent could do useless, but actually doing harm takes a degree from Harvard. The one thing that worked--people using their common sense to preserve their lives--will be outlawed. You may not be able to teach stupid, but you can, through higher education, inculcate a sense of societal self-loathing and a commitment to abstractions divorced from reality sufficient to produce the functional equivalent of stupidity: implementing measures of no practical benefit which actually make matters worse. You may not be able to teach stupid, but if you go to a good enough law school you may be able to learn it.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Refining the system

From the Gibber:

"We're going to go through the capabilities for detecting and we're going to go through the watchlisting procedures again, some of which are older, and evaluate whether or not they are up to date for the types of threats and security concerns that we have."

you see, folks, the old system under those war mongering Bushs, said that when you have the father of some kid come to the embassy and say that he is worried that his son is mixed up with terrorists and may have something bad in mind for his up coming trip to your country that you just ignore it. Under Bush, the rule was to brush them aside and say, this has nothing to do with Iraq, get out of here. But now, under Obama, we are going to actually listen to these people.

This is obviously nonsense. The system ignored the warnings out of a too delicate concern for not appearing to violate anyone's rights. The attempt to brush this off as normal updating of procedures is nonsense. It is a basic flaw in the system that they are making worse.

"Once the incident occurred, the system worked"

Here is Janet Napolitano explaining why Home Land Security did a good job with the Christmas bomber.

The key quote is "Now, once this incident occurred everything went like clockwork....once the incident occurred, the system worked." The incident being the guy igniting the bomb and the system being, apparently, to hope that the bomb will malfunction long enough for a passenger to ignore instructions from screaming stewardesses to remain calm, grab the guy and put the fire out with their bare hands. It is like a finely tuned machine. What made these poor backward savages think they had a chance against an advanced industrial society like ours? We have trained experts running our "the system." Why, the president of our country is even went to Harvard.

She expands on what she means by working, pointing out that the sharing of information among agencies went well.

Now again, this is problematic. Who cares if they share information after the "incident"? The point of sharing the information is to stop the incident from taking place in at all, not have a tidy record of it after it takes place. And in any case, how difficult is the information sharing after the fact? It requires no complicated inter-agency procedures to share information once it is on every TV screen.

But there is method to their incompetence, for one man's incompetence is another man's brave fight to protect the civil rights of minorities.

What normal people think of as the goal of a system to deal with terrorism--preventing it from happening--is irrelevant to someone looking at the problem from the perspective of a legal-bureaucrat (or what I sometimes refer to as an American Mandarin). They view all conflict through the lens of legality. Preventing people that you think might be terrorists from doing something entails preventing people that might not be terrorists from doing something they want to do, or, as lawyers put it, violating their rights. And as these people that might not be terrorists are disproportionately likely to be part of a minority group this violation of rights is likely to be a violation of minority rights, the worst kind.

A legal system assumes that people will violate the law and that the best we can usually hope for is to punish those who do so. The frightening thing about the secretary's statement is not that it was a careless mistake, but that it was not a mistake at all. It may well have represented her actual considered judgement.

That their solution to this problem of being afraid to violate the rights of the suspected terrorist is to subject the entire traveling public to ever more invasive searches (violations of privacy, you might say) seems contradictory, but it makes sense if you consider the second part of the lawyers' creed, never single out a minority. The imperative to not single people out if they are a member of a minority group is what explains why the same people that won't put a Nigerian on a no fly list merely because his father comes to the embassy to personally voice his concern that his son is involved with radicals and perhaps terrorist will not hesitate to pull aside a randomly selected traveler at the airport for a full body search. Investigating randomly selected people who are suspected of nothing is fair, imposing restrictions on people that you have reason to suspect of being involved in terrorism is unfair, a violation of their prime directive, so to speak.

There may even be reasons to think that she is right. Right, not in the larger sense of the best policy, but right from the point of view of the smooth operating of the system.

Suppose that he had been denied a visa? Here he is, a promising student who has never been in trouble with the law, his father a respected member of the international community, now denied the chance to pursue his dreams of furthering his education. You can see him being interviewed on CNN right now, “I used to love America and dreamed of going there one day. My Father used to tell me about working with the Americans, how hard working they were and how friendly…No, they wouldn’t even tell me why they took away my visa. I think it has something to do with my religion.”

Of course, in this case we have the fact that the Father himself was the one who put his concerns on the record, but how often is that going to happen? If you have a general rule that says we deny visas to anyone that we hear has taken up with the wrong crowd, then you are going to have stories like this. If you decide you will make an exception for rumors that come to you from highly respected family members you are going to have to make a million exceptions for equally rare circumstances, most of which you will never be able to foresee. If you empower American officials on the ground to make exceptions to these rules you are asking them to take personal responsibility for anything that goes wrong, since they won’t have the rules to hide behind. That is a position that few bureaucrats will put themselves in.

Any system that keeps this guy out will keep out thousands more that are perfectly innocent and who will be able to rightly claim to have been discriminated against because of their minority status. That is something our modern day mandarins, our jurocrats, cannot accept. Nor is it clear that it is something we want. After all, we elected the ultimate politico-lawyer to be their boss—President Obama.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

God Help Us

Health care passes the Senate on the same day I get my license from the Mississippi State Highway Patrol office. There are actual, sane people that have been to the latter and yet still want the same organization that runs the latter institution to now run our hospitals. God help us.

Joshua Cohen is on blogging heads arguing that conservatives who claim to follow Hayek are being hypocritical in opposing this bill. Glenn Loury adds that insurance companies' stock are going up as Obama care is passing.

It is true there is a lot of experimentation in the bill but it is all in the form of experts issuing different decisions about how people spend their own money. Hayek's argument against is that comprehensive reforms are made by people that are insulated from the consequences of those reforms. All of the experiments in this bill take choices away from the world of truth (as Harford puts it) from the world of consequences whether good or bad. That doesn't meant its a good idea, but it is hardly Hayekian. Notice how the argument is framed in terms of hypocrisy, not unnoticed implications of Hayek's thinking. You could always just say that there is an interesting aspect of Hayek's thinking: if you are going to have a government take over, it would be better to do it in the form of a lot of small experiments rather than one big program. I am not aware of Hayek ever making that argument but it is consistent with the broad sweep of his thinking I suppose. But no, it must be hypocrisy.

Then of course he follows with a lament for how nasty the Republicans have made politics.

And of course stocks are going up for insurance companies. The big insurers as with all big companies always do well when Government takes over. Big business loves being regulated. No more worries about innovative new competitors coming in. And you get 30 million new customers who had previously decided that their products were too expensive. Young healthy people forced to by your product as the expensive innovations in drugs get slowly strangled--what's not to like for big insurance? They have been declared public utilities. Let the long march of the undead begin!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Go figure

More guns, less crime--who knew? An unexpected benefit of the Obamasiah?

The link is to a blogger who is not a social scientist, just someone who really likes guns and doesn't like liberals. I am just guessing about that, inferring from the fact that she has filed the post under the tag "libtards". I am not sure I approve of the tag. For one thing it is an offensive play on words. For another, it is too inclusive to be useful as a filing name: it could be tagged on to anything the administration has done in the last year.

Still, it wouldn't surprise me if there were a causal relationship.

I wonder if the relationship holds if we look at the data by region and by type of crime? If I remember John Lott looked at shall issue permits and crime rates by county and found the relationship between concealed weapons and crime rates as strongly negative (i.e., more guns, less crime). Do the states with the highest gun sales have the greatest decreases in crime?

There were a couple of things that were strange if I remember. We should see the crime rates drop the most for the kinds of crimes that are deterred by citizens bearing arms, no? So some things, like drug use and sales should be unaffected. Other things, like stranger on stranger property crimes or any crime where the assailant fears encountering an armed victim, should show the largest drop, no? Do we see that in the data? Has anyone looked?


A news story in the Christian Science Monitor quotes a few experts. One thing that mitigates against the more guns as the cause of the decline is the fact that the decline in crime rates seems to be evenly distributed across places where people have easy access to guns (like Georgia) and places where they don't (like New York City).

Interpole and the US Constitution

Here is a report from Threats Watch on the Obama administration's decision to grant diplomatic immunity to Interpole. They argue that this is unconstitutional since, if they are operating under the rules of diplomatic immunity they are acting as a police force not bound by the provisions of our Constitution. They outline why this is likely to be a precursor to the US joining the ICC. It sounds pretty bad, but I will wait till I hear from some more mainstream legal scholars before I get too upset about it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Right wing Leninism

Lenin argued that the worse things are under the Kerensky government the better things are for the Bolsheviks. Some Republicans seem to be adopting the same attitude toward the Health care bill.

This is wrong, and not just because it is, well, wrong. Obviously you don't want bad things to happen for your country even if they benefit you politically. Of course, if you think the other side is passing a truly bad bill you would like that fact to become apparent as soon as possible to be able to make the political argument for ending the policy. But that is just another way of saying if something bad is going to happen it is better that it happen sooner rather than later.

The problem with the right wing Leninism argument is that it gets the politics wrong. Just getting more Republicans elected will not guarantee getting more conservative policies. The Bush years were nothing if not proof of that. If we want to win the future rather than simply win the spoils we have to win the intellectual battle.

The policy battle we are having is a contest between provision by the state and provision by the market. The problems that we have in the health care system today stem primarily from the involvement of the state and the Democrats are proposing to cure the cancer by enlarging the tumor. The current bill has become unpopular because it threatens existing programs and arrangements, but those existing programs and arrangements are the problem. The Democrats are losing because they are proposing to upset those arrangements and that is why they are losing, because they have threatened existing stakeholders. If Republicans want to ever do something about the problem they have to win not on hte basis of the protecting the existing system but on the basis of attackign the cancer.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hoof in mouth disease

Immortal words from the Obamasiah: "...we are on the precipice of achievement that’s eluded Congresses.."

This is what happens to TV presidents when they elude their teleprompters.

I will skip the "If a Republican had said that..." self-pity. Roger Simon makes the point well enough in his post. What we need is a slogan. The mass media will never register these gaffs when they come from Democrats because they will always be written off as the verbal mix ups that people always run into when they speak extemporaneously, as opposed to the verbal gaffs of Republicans, that reveal a general lack of intelligence or, pause for dramatic effect, racism! We have to simply fight back by having a stock of Demo-gaffs for ready retort in any casual conversation we find ourselves in. The Donkey must never be allowed to forget. What we need is a slogan. I propose "hoof-in-mouth-disease."

Barack--I feel my leg starting to tingle--Obama has found his Achilles heel, in his mouth.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Not for profit capital allocation

The standard argument for increasing the size and scope of government goes something like this: You see the great problem is that we have private, for profit businesses, allocating capital on the basis of what makes money for them without regard to the public good. Now, if we had disinterested (as in not standing to gain on a personal level) bureaucrats allocate the money, then investment would be based on need, rather than greed. That is the general theory for those who think we should have more government, yes?

Now we can test that theory with the stimulus package, can't we?

We can look and see that the stimulus money went to places that needed it most, yes? Whoops! Turns out that districts with democratic Congressmen got almost twice as much stimulus money on average than those represented by Republicans and that there is not statistically significant relationship between common measures of economic need and stimulus money. Go figure.

Looks like there is more than one kind of profit that can drive capital allocation. When investing in a friendly Congressman pays better than investing in a productive business--that is when societies stagnate. Or, as the poet says, "He who is not busy being born, is busy dying."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Give or Take a Trillion

Megan McArdle Links to a Cannon (at the Cato Institute) blog post that shows how the Reid bill hides over half the cost of his health care proposal. The bill requires people to pay a non-government entity for insurance, which in turn hands the money over to insurers. Now if the government taxed you and then turned around and paid that money to insurers to provide you with health care that would be counted as new federal spending. But if the government requires you to pay a third entity created by the government that then takes that money and does exactly what the government would have done with it in the first place that is not new federal spending. Got that? Cannon calculates that if the bill were scored under the rules that were used to estimate the costs of the Clinton health care proposal then bill's cost would go from under 900 billion to over 2.1 trillion. Ah, no more of those tricky private profit grabbing insurance companies trying to dupe us out of our money. The government has taken over the job for them.

Government Investigates Itself; Declines to Cooperate

Wilson points out that the EPA has a much better track record forcing compliance with environmental regulations with private companies than it does with other government agencies, particularly the defense department. This appears to be a general principle in the government: the government finds it easier to compel private entities to follow regulations than it does other federal agencies. Wilson (in his book "Bureaucracy") documents the same phenomena with OSHA as well.

Now we see the principle at work with the Obama Justice Department, which has told its employees not to cooperate with the Commission on Civil Rights' probe of the Black Panthers apparent intimidation of voters in the 2008 election. There are lots of things one could say about this, but one aspect I think is easily overlooked is the general problem with a larger government. We create government to protect us from powerful organizations and entities, but as more organizations and entities are absorbed into the government, the government's ability to protect us actually weakens. The Federal government is (arguably) good at protecting us from the private sector, not so good at protecting us from other branches of the federal government itself. Something to think about.

Beyond Caricature

Beyond Caricature: the three Navy Seals being court marshaled because the master mind of the Fallujah massacre, Ahmed Hashim Abed, accuses them of giving him a fat lip in the process of capturing him. A fat lip. We who sleep soundly because of the rough men that stand ready to do violence on our behalf are rather demanding of our protectors. Go out and capture murderers, go out alone against men who think nothing of hiding behind children while shooting at you, would gleefully flay you alive for sport in front of jeering crowds, and don't you dare be rough with them. A fat lip? Why, what do they think? That there is a war on or something? Lets just hope they read him his Miranda rights. Oh wait, that isn't a joke anymore, is it? Like I said, beyond caricature.

The Joys of Being a Republican

Sometimes your friends embarrass you. Not to make too big a deal of it but Michele Bachmann might want to consider writing her speeches out ahead of time. At a Tea-Party rally in Washington she told the cheering crowd that they were the charge of the Light Brigade! Unfortunately the Light Brigade was slaughtered by Turkish artillery in the Crimean War. "Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die.." Remember? Let's do our research, people. You are not making it any easier to be a conservative in academia. Also, can we not boo the mention of FDR's name? I don't think the median voter views FDR as the bad guy, yet--not a mistake Ronald Reagan would have made.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Hold the Gloating

Conservatives have to be careful. Much of their political progress is based on the simple fact that the economy is doing badly and not because they have won an intellectual battle with the left. Some of the appearance that the public is becoming more conservative in its thinking is an artifact of the bad economy. As the economy continues to be bad people start to move away from the philosophy of the perceived governing party. What the bad economy 'gives' it can take away. This is the time to put forward genuine arguments and realistic proposals--just as Newt did in the 1990s.

Just for the record: Al Gore is not particularly bright

here is Al Bore claiming that the earth's crust is a couple of million degrees--so who needs fossil fuels. If this were [insert name of conservative politician here].... Ah, who cares. The interesting thing is how the Mandarinate let anything slide if it is said by one of their own. So much of our evaluations of politicians is mediated by the media's view that the conservatives are stupid and being tedious, self-important and boring is somehow equivalent to being intelligent.

Crytocracy Watch

So it turns out that Congress cannot de-fund ACORN. Doing so has been ruled an unconstitutional bill of attainder by an Obama appointee. Why have a Congress? Why don't we just go straight to a court? That would save us the trouble of the silly elections.

Here is a discussion of Congressman Nadler's endorsement of the ACORN's right to US funding.

Styen on Obama's Rhetoric

Once again, Styen puts his finger on the thing about Obama's rhetoric that is so annoying:

"When it’s tough and realistic (we need to be fiscally responsible; there are times when you have to go to war in your national interest; etc.), it bears no relation to any of the legislation. And, when it’s vapid and utopian, it looks absurd next to Harry Reid, Barney Frank & Co’s sleazy opportunism. For those of us who oppose the shriveling of liberty in both Washington and Copenhagen, a windy drone who won’t sit down keeps the spotlight on the racket. Once more from the top, Barack!"

Read the whole thing.

Crytocratic Logic

The headline is that Tony Blair admits to lying to the British people on the invasion of Iraq. The body of the article gives a slightly different impression. The lie is not about the existence of WMD--he apparently believed that they were there--but that he would have wanted to have Sadamn out even without the WMD issue. Why is this misleading? Because in a speech running up to the war he said, "I don't think any member of this house wants war." You see? He said that he didn't want war but in fact he did want war.

First, it is no contradiction to not want war and to want Sadamn's murderous regime out. I don't want to gain weight. I also don't want to give up scotch and cheese cake. The question is which one I don't want more.

But the more important point is the distortion of our view caused by the influence of legal thought on view of the world. What he has admitted is, from the policy point of view, hardly embarrassing at all. In addition to the 'legal' reasons for the Iraq invasion he had other reasons for it--chief among them that Sadamn was a genocidal murderer. Additional reasons for doing something do not, in themselves, undermine other reasons for doing something. Finding additional reasons for doing something is more justification for a policy, not less.

It is only when viewed through the legal worldview that all of the other reasons for invading Iraq are a liability. Viewed through the legal framework they are prejudicial; the US and Great Britain were not neutral and impartial towards the Iraqi regime and therefore the later judgment that it had to go was tainted.

So, the importance of the revelations in the article, if such they can be called, are entirely a function of whether or not one adopts the legalistic view of foreign policy.

Scientists and Journalists

Here is your international scientific community at work, sending in armed security guards to take away a climate-skeptic's camera. Beautiful. Nothing like the UN for protecting free speech. Outraged journalist community uprising pending.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Newt Gingrich's Town Hall at Millsaps

Newt Gingrich's Town Hall at Millsaps

MLK Day--He's OK

So I am talking to one of the people involved in MLK day planning at Millsaps. It is going to be a big deal because the governor is coming to make an "I'm ok, I really like black people," speech. My source said that choosing colors for the event was a real challenge. It turns out that a lot of colors are ruled out. Purple and Blue were ruled out because they are the colors of Millsaps and Tougalou. Green, yellow and red were ruled out because they are the colors of the Pan African league and we didn't want to suggest that MLK was only for Africans. In the end, the only color that could make it past the various political screens was black. Nothing suggestive there.

Tragically, I could have been in the show. They wanted me to play guitar but I was too hung over to make a 2:00 rehearsal.

Newt Gingrich's Town Hall at Millsaps

I was busy the night it happened so this is my blogging while watching the webcast.

Prayers and Bryant's blatantly political speech (How did you like that tax holiday we gave you?) a bit jarring. I think the Speaker would do better to have a more academic, less overtly political introduction and framing.

He runs several companies. Does that mean that he comes out of the private sector? Surely that is not his claim to fame? It wasn't even by his own choice. I think he would be just as good a candidate if he had never been in the private sector. Surely we would all be better off today if he had been in the Congress all this time as leader.

Discusses the composition of the Obama cabinet and focuses on the mere 8% with private sector backgrounds. Why make it private sector vs. everyone else? Why not make it an attack on lawyers? Lawyers literally do not produce anything, They merely redistribute it. Also, the "populist," anti-elite focus is not especially effective for Newt. He could easily teach at Harvard. Part of his appeal is his intellectual accomplishment, a conservative that can go toe to toe with the smartest in the other party, the one willing to make complicated and difficult arguments instead of reading sound bites and applause lines from a teleprompter.

The egg analogy is not very effective. It is merely a funny image. In contrast to the corn growing vs. corn distributing example. The corn example actually focuses on the causal process focusing on the difference between creating and redistributing wealth.

How about "I am so old I don't even know how to use a teleprompter." It was good to see him there so the students could actually see a national political figure that could speak without a teleprompter. It is striking how much his answers are completely question driven. The first time it sounded like he had a bag of analogies he used every night, but this time it sounds, on a more careful listening, to be entirely specific to the questions he is being asked.

Should we really be holding up the Chinese as an example for emulation? Not just because of the political system but because they have been living out the living-on-credit, artificially cheap money model on an economy wide scale (though through their currency restrictions rather than direct government borrowing).

He makes the interesting argument about welfare reform that giving money to people was not helping them it was hurting them. Welfare rolls go from 140,000 to 20,000.

Dream big, work hard, work everyday, be true to yourself and …..

Why "dream big"? I hate all this dreaming. Let the Democrats have "dream." MLK, etc., it is always going to be theirs anyway. Besides, Newt's message is about getting up in the morning and going to work at any job, starting a small business one day. That isn't a dream, that is a plan.

He should mention that he was fired by the Republican party for being a real Republican. he was replaced by a "compassionate conservative" who agreed with the Democrats about spending more money and putting more power in Washington but who just wanted to run it with a bit more reliance on market mechanisms: We'll grow the government and run it better. Newt should present himself as a real alternative to the Bush years, which, as it happens, is true.

The direction of causality is in question in the car company example. Wasn't it that the worst car companies are the ones that took the money? They didn't become even more poorly run because they had taken government money.

First spontaneous applause comes on the line about Czars being unconstitutional. Seems an arcane point but it really strikes a chord.

Then he goes into a bunch of applause lines tying things to Mississippi.

Being competitive with China and India is the big returning theme.

Spontaneous applause on China's capital gains tax is 0. Do we really want them as our model? Isn't' there a danger of a huge blow up in the Chinese economy?

Uses the Irish corporate tax rate of 12% as a target.

Gets huge applause on the death tax. It seems that he built up to it and almost cued people to applaud. Then he backs it up by saying the argument is moral getting even more enthusiastic applause.

If we did…..we "would" be able to compete with China and India? Do we really need to build them up like that? It reminds me of the way Japan was viewed in the 80s. But the Japanese model seemed like a real alternative. Does anything think that China and India are really a better model? That they have the rule of law and limited government? Surely they are cases of large economies with low wages. They gain an advantage in some labor intensive areas and from their artificially low (in the case of China--I have no idea about India) currencies.

Ends like a professor with no applause line and goes straight into taking questions. Refreshingly genuine.

First question softball, doesn't even need an answer.

Second, from a small business man. Argues that corporate income tax discriminates against domestic corporations and proposes a consumption tax to remove the discrimination. Sounds like an economist. Feels like I am back in Hyde Park listening to Becker. Gingrich wants a follow up and clarification with the guy. Really does have a conversation.

The guy's second proposal is to make credit more available to small business. complicated plan that sounds a lot like the stuff that Gingrich was denouncing as getting us in the housing crisis.

Gingrich asks how much writing it off in a year helps. The guy says no, you have to be making money for it to help and in the end you will write it off anyway. Probably not the answer Gingrich was looking for but almost surely the right one. A simple, clean tax code is certainly better than gimmicky marginal changes.

Too big to fail: "if you have capitalism on the way up you have to have it on the way down." This gets two rounds of spontaneous applause.

Applause for letting GM go into bankruptcy. I don't think that politicians elsewhere have quite caught on to the way that people in the South resent the extra help that northern companies are getting while companies in the South are out in the cold just because they happen to be listed on foreign stock exchanges. The people in Mississippi view the Nissan company and the Toyota companies as their companies.

How to keep manufacturing in the US.

The big analogies that my students were talking about (and to a large degree, puzzling about) the next day. Henry Ford. What is the point about the guy talking while the wheel of the car was on his chest? Trial Lawyers? Needs some contemporary figures to back that up, no? Some comparisons (with China or some other country)? An example of frivolous lawsuits? Point was lost on the audience, I think.

Wright Bros. Comparison with Smithsonian. Wright Brothers expected to fail. The Smithsonian doesn't take into account the possibility (inevitability) of failure. Does not bring it back to a point but promises the audience that he will. (Not sure what the point is myself. I agree that the reason private companies are better able to innovate is that they have the freedom to fail, but I don't think that Gingrich makes that point.)

Edison. 6% of GDP. 9,000 failures? No, successfully eliminated 9,000 possibilities. 49,000 failures to invent the lightbulb.

Point: we have been a high cost society since 1790. that is based on innovation. the innovation is based on allowing people to have big rewards. that will make us competitive.

(The next day my students did not see the connection between the stories and the point that Gingrich was making. I think it is fair to say that he left out some steps in his reasoning. I think these analogies would be much stronger if they were tied to a more specific policy area, like how to encourage innovation, say, in drug development. One of the greatest dangers of the government's expansion into health care is that it will stifle innovation by basing it purchases for drugs on their marginal cost of production. The government in effect will pay Edison for the 49,001st try, the one that leads directly to a working light bulb and force Edison to eat the cost of the first 49,000 tries. But the attempt to tie these stories to the vitality of the US manufacturing base required too many steps of reasoning for people to keep it all in their heads while he is telling the story. Teacher to teacher: keep it one story per point.)

Finally points out that our economy is much larger than China's economy and that we are a much bigger manufacturer. I think the real use of the Chinese example should be the advantages of the free market, limited government system. The Chinese system should be a target for ridicule, not an example for emulation. The few places where they do allow free markets should be contrasted with the much larger parts of their economy where the government is still in control. I think that China is headed for a crash just as Japan's was and I don't think the Speaker should connect himself to their example in such an unqualified way.

The point of the analogies seemed clear enough to me but my students did not get it.

General question on our government becoming estranged from our first principles.

Makes the anti-party statement. Citizens over party. He really should position himself as the guy that was fired by the Republican party by the smart guys that thought we should triangulate, become more like Democrats, to be more like Clinton. But it worked for Clinton because our policies are actually right. It doesn't work to triangulate closer to a failing model. He is the one conservative in the race that doesn't have to worry about being accused of being a Republican party lackey. He was the guy that balanced budgets, that was willing to argue for spending cuts along with tax cuts. He is the answer to both the Clinton years and the Bush years. Clinton appeared successful because Gingrich forced him to cut spending. Bush was a failure economically because he and the Republican party repudiated Gingrich and the fiscally responsible conservatives, the "non-compassionate" conservatives. After the fake-conservatism of Bush and the fake-centrism of Obama people may finally be ready for a real conservative who will fight, argue and get things done.

Lao Xio Hoa's question. China: 27 million; Mao: 48 million; Tibet: 21 million (how many people are in Tibet); India: 48 million.

For one thing, this should point to the danger of using India and China as rhetorical exemplars of the free economy. Their examples should be used much more carefully.

Kids look miserable. They are on crumby chairs on the stage. I warned maintenance about that.

Gingrich goes to Hayek, Orwell, planned economies. (Did Orwell really say that 1984 was about "planned economies"?)

Planned economies lead to the gas rationing. Planned economies lead to 13 year olds getting around the rules. (That would apply to liquor laws, too, no?)

If you react to that situation by saying that you have to get more license plate police then you might be a liberal. Interesting line. That actually brings it back nicely to the point the woman from China was making. I am not sure the audience got it, though.

Black Cat/White Cat story. That seems to be a sword that cuts both ways. Labeling everything market or government could be seen as equally simplistic.

Then he gets into his talks with the Chinese officials. Praises their plan to build high speed rail system. Is that really an example we should follow? More public works? Instead of a bunch of small projects have one big public works project? That seems like the Obama plan with a slight variation. Is that the Republican criticism of the Obama stimulus? That he should have used it to build a high speed rail system?

And the Chinese stimulus is arguably as irresponsible as Obama's, it is just that the Chinese stimulus plan comes in the form of an undervalued currency and a lot of government accounting smoke and mirrors?

He gets an outsourcing question and mans up. He says that the solution to outsourcing is to make our economy so competitive that people don't want to outsource. Where do we get such men? More to the point, how do they ever get elected?

Immigration question: wants an expanded H1B visa program. He has a good example of Micro-soft moving a facility to Canada. Gutsy.

40% of the founders of companies in Silicon valley are from India.

Illegal immigration used to make a statement in favor of English only.

Advocates a guest worker program because enforcement won't work. Not a popular argument here. is that also an argument in favor of drug legalization? What about closing the border? Is that physically impossible?

Thinks criminal penalties are "a waste of time" but that the economic penalties can work.

Comes out against giving guest workers a spot at the front of the line and comes out against amnesty (didn't he support Reagan's amnesty?). --yes he did. quotes Reagan's diary and says that he won't make that mistake again. This is convincing.

Question: Drop in welfare leads to children dropping out of school to supper their families.

"Dropping out for the purposes of work may be a rational decision but that we have to have a way for them to drop back in." No schmatzy "I feel your pain" dodge. Goes into the tour with Sharpton and throws a prop to the President. Points out that Obama is fighting the very powerful teachers union. Nice compliment that also points out the fact that the democrats are the ones in bed with the teachers union (not a problem if you elect me and the republicans) and deflects the inevitable racism charge.

Talks about the anger management programs in charter schools. this suggests to the democrat that we need a national program of anger management. should be careful.

Very impressive. Nothing harsh about him in the presentation. the films I had been watching from the 90s seemed so combative. Age agrees with him. It makes him seem not aggressive but just honest. TV also makes him look thinner for some reason. Maybe I should try it?

In conversations with faculty afterwards someone said that he drew the wrong point out of the analogy from the Wright brothers about failure, but when I was watching it he seemed to get it just right, failure is good and inevitable (or, as my colleague said to me, part of the scientific method). What I thought was weak was his connecting it back to the economy question that brought it up. We will keep manufacturing jobs here because we are willing to fail? Is China relying on the private sector to build its massive train system?

Thursday, December 03, 2009


We hosted Newt Gringrich at Millsaps today. He was just as intelligent as ever but had a softer presence. You could really imagine him being president.

It was very interesting watching him today after seeing the A&E documentary on him made during the first 100 days of the Republican Revolution. At the time we really was kind of mean. Today he was kind of gentle. Part of it is that the rest of him seems to have caught up with his hair. Still something seems to have changed. He ages well. It seems to have brought out the best in him.

It has been great to introduce the students at Millsaps to him. The Republican students had a reason to be proud. Here was a Republican politician who is the intellectual equal of any nationally known Democrat. In the last campaign the intellectual superiority of liberalism was something taken for granted and that our conservative students have to have their faces rubbed in constantly (true or not, it is believed to be true).

But now, just as the country grows tired of Obama's tendentious, hair splitting evasions, comes a politician who genuinely has an interest in ideas. A politician who uses words to convey ideas rather than wiggle out of tight spots. Our Republican students were proud to have such a famous man here, but more importantly, they were proud to have such an intelligent man here to defend their ideas. In classrooms tomorrow it will be impossible to dismiss conservatism as a simple matter of bigotry or intellectual laziness. Just the opposite. The Republican students will be able to say, "So, if you liberals are so smart, how come you can't find a guy that can talk without having a teleprompter in front of him?"

Monday, November 30, 2009

Berman Post: Obama Rejects International Convention Banning Land Mines

Berman Post: Obama Rejects International Convention Banning Land Mines

The Obama = Bush meme gets another support today as the Administration rejects the land mine treaty.

It is curious that the left has fastened on land mines as an evil. They are a defensive weapon when used at all responsibly. Churchill mocked the idea abroad in his day that weapons could be divided into offensive and defensive, good and bad weapons. The distinction is in the use they are put to, not in their nature. That being said there is no weapon that has the potential, at least, for such purely defensive uses.

It is also amusing to contemplate the list of nations that are not among the 150 signatories of the treaty. The short list is basically the countries that might actually have to fight a war.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Security Breach at the White House

We are all certain that it is absolutely terrible that someone got into the white house without being on the guest list. I used to think that was one of the nice things about America, our openness. I remember years ago talking to a German academic who was surprised to find himself in a party with several Senators simply by virtue of having been walking down the street. He told the Senator about how surprising it was and the Senator said shrugging, "Well, that's America." I would like to take it as a good sign that it still is America in some sense, but we conservatives are so anxious to bash Obama for anything that we can we will take this as an indication of his lack of seriousness in the war on terror. Too bad. I guess the terrorist really have won.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Framing your Health

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A regulation which said that a Wellness Program may (or “shall”) include a discount for not owning a gun (or not owning a handgun, or not owning a so-called “assault weapon”, or for not owning more than a certain number of guns) might be argued to be “overly burdensome.” But there’s no guarantee that a reviewing court would consider a mere discount for people who don’t own guns to be “overly” burdensome on gun owners.

Notice that the discount mentioned here for not having a gun is the same thing as a penalty. The difference is only a matter of framing. You have to have health insurance and if you don't have a gun it will be 30% cheaper. If you go out and buy a gun you will have to pay 30% more. The difference comes in what you assume as the starting point, gun ownership or not, but the incentive effect is the same: have a gun, pay more.

The myth of the stolen children

Andrew Bolt writes on the myth of the stolen aboriginal children. His 8 year running challenge to Robert Manne, the leading exponent of the stolen generations theory, to produce the names of 10 children that were actually stolen or removed from their homes because they were aboriginals or because the authorities wanted to protect their "whiteness" continues to go unmet.

But what is really strange is that the intellectual elites of the Anglo-Saxon, and to a similar extent, the entire Western world, are engaged in a massive cultural project of self-denigration. It is a thing much larger than any one controversy that one can rely on intellectuals now-a-days to be against their own historical side in any cultural dispute.

This seems to me a way of feeling morally superior on the cheap. To denounce your own history-what a strange thing. It is like a massive cross-generational appeasement program. It is a way to feel morally superior at no cost. Apologizing for historical crimes has the advantage of not requiring you to do anything in the present day. It has the appearance of being costly and moral in that one is apologizing and admitting wrong-doing when in fact it is cheap and really a claim of superiority.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Spiritual advisor of 9/11 hijackers also advised Hasan

What the hell was this guy doing still in the country? Britain wouldn't even let him address a meeting there by closed circuit TV. And why do we have to find out about this from a British Newspaper? It is like the British pre-WWII having to read American papers to find out what was happening with the Monarchy?

From the comment section of Megan McArdle's blog:

"At his last job, he refused to be photgraphed with women for group photos. Treacher says “Congrats on being shot by one, loser.”

As for CAIR, it's nice they condemn murder on behalf of Islam, but it feels like when the Catholic Church condemns a pedophile priest: 90% PR, 10% concern."

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Science Fiction in Real Life

Life has been like one of those science fiction movies where everyone in the world but a few are stricken with some weird disease or condition. All the people around me have had some strange infection of fascination with Obama. They have all been blinded and I have been watching them stumble around trying to feed themselves and waiting for it to wear off. Now comes the first election since His Oneness landed, since his pod blew in from outer space and the first few victims will start regaining their sight.

How can we have people in public life, how can our supposedly ironic and sophisticated younger generation look up to people, who talk about themselves like this?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Shut up, he explained

Obama's home phone number (202-456-1414) and address are known, but it is hard to harass someone surrounded by Secret Service protection. Less-insulated Americans are vulnerable. Currently, liberals enthralled by intimidation are trying to abolish secret ballots in unionization votes. And when Humana, the private health insurance provider, recently warned its customers about some provisions of Congress' health care legislation, the Obama administration's reaction was essentially a quote from a Ring Lardner short story: "Shut up, he explained."
Will actually goes to the trouble of finding the source of the quote. Thanks George.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Ah, the good ole days

One thing we can say for sure is that women aren't nostalgic for the old days. If anyone is, just watch a few episodes of "Mad Men" as an antidote with its suffocated Mad Wife Betty Draper and its slapped-down Working Woman Peggy Olsen. If you prefer nonfiction, leaf through the early chapters of Gail Collins' history of "When Everything Changed" to those magical yesteryears when a flight attendant was weighed, measured and hired to be a flying geisha.

reminds me of Japan National Airways. Stewardesses aren't weighed to my knowledge but the age limit is 24.

Seriously, is contemporary fiction about the past any sort of proof for propositions about the past? And do we really want to base our claims of superiority on the level of service among contemporary flight attendants

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Churchill Moment

Here is video of women being beaten stripped and forced to eat human excrement because they were found to be witches. Now, would you have this sort of thing if the British were still in charge? I don't think so. Just sayin'....

Of course you could say that these witches got off easy. They were not burned alive and they have not committed suicide.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Obama Diet

So the administration's jobs program is a success because we are losing jobs more slowly. That is a good one. I'll use that the next time someone asks how my diet is going. Well, I'm gaining weight a lot more slowly. Could I call it the Obama diet? Or should we reserve that for actually losing your job and then actually losing weight?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Nobel Prize for Anti-Americanism goes to....

If you are doubting that Nobel Prizes seem to be given for anti-Americanism listen to Harold Printer's acceptance speech. Apparently he also at one time wrote plays. Note that this speech is carried approvingly by the charmingly named ""

Obama to New Orleans Katrina Victims: Stop Whinning

"I wish I could just write a check," Obama said. If that was his message, he should have stayed home. We now know that our government can make hundreds of billions of dollars available to irresponsible Wall Street institutions within a matter of days, if necessary. We can open up the floodgates of credit to too-big-to-fail banks at the stroke of a pen. But when it comes to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, well, these things take time.

Obama visits New Orleans to show how different he is from the heartless and incompetent Bush administration and this is what we get. "Hey, I can't just write a check." Seemed a bit lame from Bush, seems even lamer from a President sitting on commanding majorities in both chambers of the legislature. Seems even lamer still when a major part of the rationale for turning out the Republicans was their handling of Katrina.

His Oneness and the insurance companies

The President takes a direct aim at the insurance companies: Obama Threatens Insurers? Anti-Trust Exemption -

A couple of things come to mind. First, is repealing the McClarren Act a bad idea? It gives the insurance companies and anti-trust exemption but it also gives the states power to regulate insurance. The latter was the justification for the former. If you repeal the former provision aren't you going to also repeal the latter? Surely you are not going to demand both the insurance companies be regulated by at the state level and that they not cooperate with one another across state lines? That would be impractical. It would be like taking the banking system and breaking each bank into 50 separate companies, no? That would be inherently unstable certainly?

Moreover, isn't this just a bit too Chicago style? I mean, we are debating a major change in policy because the insurance companies would not play ball in backroom negotiations? That just seems a bit bare-knuckled. It seems to undermine democracy. We are having a policy debate and if I don't like what you say in public about the bill we are going to change the policy in a way that hurts you--will that really wash? People don't have much sympathy for insurance companies but they can imagine themselves in their position. Say the next policy is something that affects the funeral directors of used car dealers' association and unless your Washington representatives agree to come out holding hands and talk happy talk at the press conference with His Oneness we are going to change the law to hurt you guys...that is something people can see themselves on the receiving end of.

The insurance companies released a study the administration doesn't like and suddenly they are a public enemy singled out by the commander and chief--sounds a bit too cultish to me. When Roosevelt did it he was careful to do it with humor--we save the guy from drowning and now he is complaining that we left his top hat in the water. It feels like he has called us peasants out to storm the castle with our pitch-forks. Do you put the American people in the roll of peasants?

The study's conclusions are debatable and almost surely over drawn, but they are legitimate and any close examination of them will, as Paul Krugmann admits in his treatment of the subject in yesterday's NYTs, bring out that the administration's assumptions (or the Baucus bill's assumptions) are also implausible. If the insurance company's assumption of %100 pass through is implausible then surely the Democrat's assumption of %0 pass through is equally implausible. When you pick a fight like this you have to be dead-right, not just 51-49% compared to the other guy.

This debate might even work to the insurance companies' advantage on policy grounds. The administration has made its argument on the basis of increasing competition. That is why we need the public option. But when asked why, if they want to increase competition, don't they just let people buy their insurance from a national instead of a state market? The administration has never had a good answer for that. Axelrod looked particularly feckless in a recent exchange with Wolf Blitzer. Bringing this issue up seems to invite a repeal of the state regulation issue. It seems hard to argue for repealing one half of the McCarran-Ferguson Act without repealing the other.

Finally, McCarren: he was the guy that Senator Pat Geary was modeled after in the Godfather. That has to be a good reason to repeal the thing.

Here is a link to where they have posted the Obama address. It is really a bit creepy. "We" have reached a "bipartisan" consensus but "They" are trying to stop us.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Charles Krauthammer--The Indespensible One

Krauthammer's explanation of why preventative care does not save society money should be required reading. The fallacy comes, like so many others, from confusing two levels of analysis, the individual and the aggregate. At the individual level getting a $500 test that prevents a $10,000 disease is a great deal, $10,000 - $500. But for society it is $10,000 - $500*(the number of people that tested negative).

In this hypothetical the break even number is 1/20. If the disease is any less common than that the test is a waste of money. As Krauthammer reports, the CBO finds that prevention typically costs 10 times what it saves. Turns out everything is expensive, including human lives. Who knew?

Charles Krauthammer : The "Preventive Care" Myth -

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Tea partiers and GOP regulars scuffle in N.Y. House race - Washington Times

Duberger, call your office. The Republican party seems to have forgotten you. It is one to question evolution, but this is math.

Tea partiers and GOP regulars scuffle in N.Y. House race - Washington Times

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Median Voter Theorem

Someone had better tell the Conservatives about the median voter theorem according to this not so friendly source of advice.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The New Face of German Intolerance

According to German climate advisor Schellnhuber the "world must be carbon free by 2050." Forgive my scientific illiteracy, but isn't the world, kinda, you know, made of carbon?

Obama Negotiates with Fire

I think this is too hard on Obama. They are setting up negotiations so that if they fail it is Obama's fault. But after the 8 years of Cheney-Bush demonization, can we really expect the President to get fire to trust us in only one negotiations session? The man has only had his Nobel Prize for week. Lets be fair in setting our expectations.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The monolith myth

Christopher Caldwell reviews an excellent new book on the Danish Cartoon controversy.

One point that the Danish author makes in criticizing his own Prime Minister's handling of the affair was that the PM refused to see that the Muslim community was not "monolithic."

This seems to be a great underlying theme in a great many controversies over how to deal with an aggressive ideology. It is always for some reason thought to be a great point to observe that the aggressors are not "monolithic." It seems to come up all the time and is announced rather than argued. The assumption seems to be that once it has been demonstrated that the people that are threatening you are not "monolithic" some great and unanswerable point has been made. And somehow the point is so obvious it does not even have to be argued.

If a group of people want to kill you for different reasons the salient fact about the situation is their area of mutual agreement, not disagreement.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

It can happen here

Terrorism can happen here. NYT's piece about the fight of the national guard and Army troops in Mississippi. It was largely kept off the front pages because the soldiers were ordered not to talk about it as well as not to fire back. Then the Cuban Missile crisis....

The Predator Insurance Company

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"The 'predator state' describes what happens when chicken coops are given over to foxes," Mr. Galbraith continued. "When consumer protection, worker protection, environmental protection, and policing against fraud are handed over to lobbyists. And when health care is run for the benefit of private insurance companies, whose business model . . . is to target coverage on the healthy and delay payments to the sick."

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The breathless tone of statements like this one seem to suggest it is news that insurance companies want to make money. The reason we would rely on insurance companies whose business model is to "target coverage on the healthy and delay payments to the sick" is that the people buying insurance have the opposite incentives and we think that both parties in a free market will set the price at the most efficient level, the level that reflects the actual scarcity value of the goods and services being traded. It is like saying why let the prices of shares be set by stock brokers since they just want buy low and sell high? Because the people selling them have the opposite incentives and we think the price that results from their exchange will best reflect the underlying values of the goods involved.

Creeping Mandates

Volohk links to an oped by a couple that was fined for having inadequate health insurance under the Massachusetts plan. When the Massachusetts plan started 2500 dollar deductible plans were ok. Now they are not. They have to be only 2000 dollars. They are being fined $1000 because they state does not think they can afford the extra $500. Make sense? You too could have a future in government!

Thanks, Obama

Rich Lowry cites Hawthorne in explaining how Obama has revived the Republican party. Maybe Obama can work this into his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize: after all, he has to have some concrete accomplishment to mention in his acceptance speech.
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The 19th-century author Nathaniel Hawthorne warned of the perverse effects of grand schemes: "We miss the good we sought, and do the good we little cared for." For Obama, proving that we live in a center-right country presumably isn't a "good" at all, but he's done it with a finality that the late sociologist Seymour Lipset -- a student of America's cussedly right-leaning attitudes -- might envy.
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Friday, October 09, 2009

the giant hole

What this argument leaves out is Fannie and Freddie. The evil and greedy bankers (curiously intent on making loans that could not be repaid) were able to sell these loans to Fannie and Freddie. If there had not been these quasi-governmental corporations backing them they would not have been making loans and they would never have been capitalized. It may be true that there was a "giant hole" in the safety net, but the truck that drove through it was financed by the government's own creatures.

University of Michigan Law Professor Michael Barr, a specialist in banking and finance law, flatly rejected claims that the CRA was "a significant factor in the current crisis. CRA was enacted more than 30 years ago. It would be quite odd if this 30-year old law suddenly caused an explosion in bad subprime loans from 2002-2007....Subprime mortgages were mostly made by mortgage brokers and lenders and securitized by investment banks -- institutions not covered by CRA," he told the Huffington Post, adding, "CRA only covers banks and thrifts, and these institutions mostly have not suffered to the same extent or kind from bad lending as the non-CRA-covered institutions at the core of the current crisis. The problem here is not CRA. It is what the late former Fed Governor Ned Gramlich called 'the giant hole in the supervisory safety net' -- bad lending by firms outside the banking sector's rules for prudential supervision, capital requirements, consumer protection and yes, the CRA."

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I was watching the Sean Hannity show. He was interviewing Michael Moore. It was so sad because I was sympathizing with Moore. Hannity is just such a mouth. He would not let the man finish a sentence. It makes Moore's arguments seem stronger simply because Hannity would interrupt before the man could make his argument. The thing is there are answers to Moore's arguments but Hannity's brain can't move fast enough to reply directly to those arguments. What is worse is the evasiveness of Hannity. When Moore would catch him in some sort of fork Hannity would squirm and change the subject with another one of his canned rants. Are we really so desperate that we have to rely on men of such low quality?

Free at last

We are now officially free from any obligation to take the Nobel Prize, the UN or International public opinion seriously. Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize. I mean, with Yasir Arafat there was at least something that occurred, a recognizable event took place. A peace treaty he violated from the second he signed it. But still, there was something. International opinion is now officially bullshit. This is just laughable.

Monday, September 28, 2009

War Photos

Here is a round up of the war photos that changed history.

Here is an article about Eddie Adams and the effect of his most famous photo.

Here is NPR's archive of Adams' photos from Vietnam. As a former Marine he had unprecedented access.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mark Bowden on Afghanistan

Mark Bowden writes that Obama should learn from what Bush did right on Iraq.

It is interesting that liberals are the ones turning away from counter-insurgency in that the whole theory of CI is "as warm and fuzzy as war can get." It is about protecting people and improving their lives. Half of it is stuff they do in the peace core. Of course, the ultimate goal of being nice to people is to get them to tell you where the people you want to kill are hiding so you can kill them. Still, since the main alternative advocated by the opponents of the counter-insurgency approach in Afghanistan is to let the Taliban have the villages, let them send girls back home to be traded like cattle or have their faces splashed with acid if they dare to learn how to read and at the same time have our soldiers stay off shore and call in the occasional air strike to assassinate the heads of the Al Qaeda organization from un-piloted drones, these reservations about the morality of a counter insurgency strategy seem misplaced.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Comparative Protests

Don Surber compares the protests of the left and the right as well as the mass media coverage thereof. A half million conservatives show up on the capitol mall only to leave the place cleaner than they found it and the Republic is under threat of violence, but a bunch of guys some of whom are wearing masks and throwing stones at the police protest and it is described as "generally peaceful." Double standard? With all the hand wringing that has accompanied the stray overwrought piece of rhetoric from the tea party movement we can only imagine the furor that would have attended a few assaults on the police.

Wrong Title

This LA Times blog piece notes the irony of the Obama policy and asks if Hillary wasn't right? But shouldn't the title be "Was Bush Right?"

The Pope on Capitalism

David Nirenberg looks into the Pope's new encyclical on the economy and finds that, yes, the Pope is Catholic and Nirenberg seems to find that a bit quaint. Still, Nirenberg takes the Pope's central argument seriously. And what is that argument? That capitalism requires love, not only self-interest, to function.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Three terrorist plots

Three terrorist plots foiled in the same few days. It seems like the Obama effect has not solved all our problems. Maybe Obama needs to apologize more?

In the meantime our administration is busy convincing itself that abandoning the people of Afghanistan to the tender mercies of the Taliban. Obama's commitments apparently mean nothing.

The great story our elites are telling themselves is that the Afghan government is lacks legitimacy. Legitimacy is the key to winning the counter insurgency. Since the government is not legitimate because some votes were stolen then there is no sense stretching this out. The great Oneness has decided that the facts on the ground have changed.

Our entire liberal elite and a good portion of the conservatives are convincing themselves of a story. They are constructing a narrative for themselves to justify cutting and running. they have found a villain to ease their consciences.

But what has changed really? was the government there not always corrupt? is there a third world government that is not? It seems a bit odd to be all the sudden worried about the propriety of elections when for years we have kowtowed to autocracies of various stripes.

They are asking the wrong question. Whether the people of Afghanistan voted for Karzai or not they certainly voted against the Taliban. The other major candidates were if anything more anti-Taliban than the Karzai government. There is no sense or suggestion that the people in Afghanistan are for the Taliban or for easing up on them.

Nor is there any sense that the reason that people who hesitate to cooperate with us are motivated by dissatisfaction with the electoral process; they are afraid of people coming and cutting their throats.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


I listened to a report on NPR on the Honduras situation we have created but the interesting thing was that in their discussion they constantly referred to it as a military coup without ever mentioning the Constitution, the Supreme Court Order or the Parliamentary vote. "When they own the information, they can bend it all they want..."

An item from the Contentions Blog.

Work incentives

Giving benefits to the middle class based on earnings can create worse work disincentives than taxes. Here is a story about a woman who is facing a 79% marginal tax rate on her income above 60,000 because of foregone middle-class benefits like mortgage relief and college subsidies.

Careful what you dream

The Europeans have told themselves for years that their problems were caused by America's confrontational attitudes and actions. The corrallary is that if only we would unilaterally conciliate our enemies the Europeans' security troubles would go away. Now that the Obama administration is putting that theory into practice, though, they are starting to get worried. The decision to give up missile defense without getting anything in return has left some of them sounding a little worried.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

They can get anybody

Harvey Silvergate's new book on how the definitions of crimes and torts have expanded so greatly that the average professional commits three crimes a day. Moral: anyone who talks to a fed without a lawyer is a fool.

Don't worry, he went to Harvard

So it turns out that all the cash for clunkers program did was move sales around the calendar. Purchases that would have been spread out among a few months were bunched up in August. Most of the 3 billion went to foreign auto makers (though a hefty percentage made their cars here) and the dealers that were the main objects of this largess? They are now having cash flow problems because they are not getting reimbursed by the government for the cars they had to pay for to put on the lot to sell. These people can't even give away money. It is a sort of a corollary to Orwell's dictum that there are some things so self-evidently absurd that only an intellectual could believe them: There are some things so simple that only a team of Harvard trained lawyers and economists could screw them up.

Ee Tu Swen?

Sweden slashes income taxes to spur growth.  Now there is an idea from Sweden we could endorse.

Our legal system at work

Insane killer escapes on furlough to county fair. Just a little tidbit to file away for the next time someone complains about the obtuseness of such results of popular referendums like 'Three Strikes and Your Out' laws asks you, "Why won't we let our judges use their expertise?"

Reading Saul Alinsky

I have had a great time reading Saul Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals". He is a terrific writer and a serious thinker.

His theorizing is very relevant to studying and understanding terrorism not because he believed in violence--though he appears to have been threatened by it on more than one occasion--but because he sees the world as conflict between the good guys and the bad guys and thinks that whether an action helps the good guys or the bad guys should be the standard by which the morality of all other actions and adherence to all other norms should be judged. The similarity of this doctrine to that of terrorists is obvious enough. It is explicitly Machiavellian and indeed he describes his book as a Machiavelli for the have nots.

Also, though there is no advocacy of violence in the book there is a lot of bending and breaking of rules and norms of good manners.

He also has lots of great suggestions and principles for any political conflict whether it is with the haves or with anyone else. An underlying principle is that what you are doing in a conflict is trying to get the other side to react. It is the reaction or over reaction of the other side that helps your side. Ridicule is a great weapon from this point of view. For one thing it is fun. for another it makes the other side mad and more likely to do something stupid.

I have been thinking of this as I have been watching the tea parties and the reactions to them. Everyone has focused on the shouting at the town hall meetings as evidence of the right using the left's tactics. That is a dumbing down of the Alinsky's theory (I know less about his practice). He does advocate a form of Mau Mauing in a circumstance where the have nots are completely disorganized and convinced of their own powerlessness but it is only a minor part of the work, only a couple of pages. What seems more in the spirit of Alinsky is the use of humor.

Here is a link to some t-shirts for sale with slogans from the signs at some of the recent tea-parties. I particularly like the one that says, "It doesn't matter what this sign says, you'll call it racist anyway." I also liked, "Obama lies, Grandma dies." That seems to me to be Alinsky-like in spirit and result. It is taking aim at one of the main pretenses of the government party's legitimating myths, that the real reason anyone opposes it is because of racism. And the result, the angry accusations of racism from some of the left commentariate following Jimmy Carter's statement has been just what Alinsky would have predicted and hoped for. "We do not call anyone that disagrees with us racists, you racists!"

Finally, one of the people that best understands and uses Alinsky's principles, the current occupant of the White House, has declined to take the bait. That is just what Alinsky would have recommended it seems to me. Good thing the left doesn't have Alinsky's street smarts anymore.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Fight for Afghanistan

Our friends in Afghanistan.

I watched a report on CNN with Christian Amanpore with which I completely agreed. (at least with the part I saw). there is a large group of young people that want to join the modern world. They hate the Taliban. they want to join the free world and are willing to fight for it "if only issued the invitation."

Yet we do not issue the invitation. We assume these unspeakable brutes speak for the true Afghanistan.

I think we have been somehow sucked into a belief system that views the cleavage in world politics as being between authentic indigenous cultures and the false, capitalistic, exploitative, phony cultures of the West (or imposed by the West). So when the Taliban attack those manning the voting booths we interpret it as the authentic Afghanistan rejecting the false, inauthentic democracy of the West.

If it happened here we would surely be open to (or indeed, be certain of) the proposition that the people trying to undermine the conduct of an election were not representative of us, indeed it is precisely because they are unrepresentative that they resort to such methods.

The fact is that a small, unrepresentative fringe is trying to impose a 14th century system on a struggling country that has done a lot for us. If ever there were a case for human rights motivated intervention that lined up clearly with real-politic considerations lined up with liberal internationalists principles surely this is it. And yet we have both ends conspiring against the middle to come up with good reasons to abandon the fight.

Make no mistake about what inference the Jihadis will draw from our retreat.

The Fight for Afghanistan

Our friends in Afghanistan.

I watched a report on CNN with Christian Amanpore with which I completely agreed. (at least with the part I saw). there is a large group of young people that want to join the modern world. They hate the Taliban. they want to join the free world and are willing to fight for it "if only issued the invitation."

Yet we do not issue the invitation. We assume these unspeakable brutes speak for the true Afghanistan.

I think we have been somehow sucked into a belief system that views the cleavage in world politics as being between authentic indigenous cultures and the false, capitalistic, exploitative, phony cultures of the West (or imposed by the West). So when the Taliban attack those manning the voting booths we interpret it as the authentic Afghanistan rejecting the false, inauthentic democracy of the West.

If it happened here we would surely be open to (or indeed, be certain of) the proposition that the people trying to undermine the conduct of an election were not representative of us, indeed it is precisely because they are unrepresentative that they resort to such methods.

The fact is that a small, unrepresentative fringe is trying to impose a 14th century system on a struggling country that has done a lot for us. If ever there were a case for human rights motivated intervention that lined up clearly with real-politic considerations lined up with liberal internationalists principles surely this is it. And yet we have both ends conspiring against the middle to come up with good reasons to abandon the fight.

Make no mistake about what inference the Jihadis will draw from our retreat.