Monday, February 26, 2007

ACLU Goes after Education

The ACLU is bringing suit against a county whose graduation rates are not high enough: "We want the courts to order the school board to improve those rates." Hey, while they're at it, why not ask the courts to order the school board to make the students smarter? And to have better attendance? Seriously, this seems like a waste of everyone's time and energy.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Obama's Economics

Thomas Sowell has a nice piece criticizing Obama's economic thinking as typically liberal. He mentions the following issues: support for unions, higher teacher pay, making college "affordable," and "alternative fuels." It's a useful critique. On the other hand, these are issues where even most Republicans take a farely liberal view in practice. There are very few doctrinaire free market conservatives in politics. So, I'm not sure Obama's support for these positions necessarily makes him unacceptable to me. The question is going to be exactly how liberal he is on each issue.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Romney's Mormon Burden Rises Again

The AP reports:
While Mitt Romney condemns polygamy and its prior practice by his Mormon church, the Republican presidential candidate's great-grandfather had five wives and at least one of his great-great grandfathers had 12.

Polygamy was not just a historical footnote, but a prominent element in the family tree of the former Massachusetts governor now seeking to become the first Mormon president.

Romney's great-grandfather, Miles Park Romney, married his fifth wife in 1897. That was more than six years after Mormon leaders banned polygamy and more than three decades after a federal law barred the practice.

Seriously, his great-grandfather? How about checking on the all the other candidates' great-grandparents to see if there is some dirt? Did any of them support segregation? Oppose women's rights? Hate Jews? It wouldn't surprise me if at least some did. But are we going to hear about it? Doubtful. This story is inappropriate. It serves no purpose other than to make the "Mormons are weird" point.

The ACLU and Security

Someone has developed a new airport screening device that uses low-level radiation to look under your clothes (although not inside your body). This seems like a less intrusive way to search, I would think, which should make the ACLU-types happy. Ha, ha, just kidding. The ACLU is furious:
Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union have raised ... objections, calling the X-ray scan a "virtual strip-search," and have urged Congress to prohibit its use for routine screening.

Yes, it's a "virtual" strip-search. Isn't that better than an actual strip-search, or a pat-down for that matter? Apparently the concern is that your naked body will be exposed to the screeners using the machine:
Security officials examining the head-to-toe images work in a closed booth, hidden from public view, security agency officials said.Special "privacy" software intentionally blurs the image, creating a chalky outline of a body that is clear enough to see a collarbone, bellybutton or weapon, but flattening revealing contours.

If it's between feeling me up and seeing a blurred image of my body, I'll take the image. As is often the case, I think the ACLU is way off-base here. The problem I have with them is that they seem to try to undermine existing security measures and prevent new ones without providing a constructive approach explaining what we should to do promote security. It's fine that they don't like what we're doing, but we have to do something, so they should tell us what they think we should do if they're that concerned.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Obama Rips Cheney

Obama tears into Cheney:
Obama, speaking at a massive outdoor rally in Austin, Texas, said British Prime Minister Tony Blair's decision this week to withdraw 1,600 troops is a recognition that Iraq's problems can't be solved militarily.

"Now if Tony Blair can understand that, then why can't George Bush and Dick Cheney understand that?" Obama asked thousands of supporters who gathered in the rain to hear him. "In fact, Dick Cheney said this is all part of the plan (and) it was a good thing that Tony Blair was withdrawing, even as the administration is preparing to put 20,000 more of our young men and women in.

"Now, keep in mind, this is the same guy that said we'd be greeted as liberators, the same guy that said that we're in the last throes. I'm sure he forecast sun today," Obama said to laughter from supporters holding campaign signs over their heads to keep dry. "When Dick Cheney says it's a good thing, you know that you've probably got some big problems."

Obama is seriously good. Did he improvise that "forecast sun" bit on the spur of the moment? Maybe his staff thought it up beforehand. Regardless, that was a nice bit of taking it to the Bush team.

Reich on the Importance of a Balanced Budget

In a nutshell, he says it's not important. Well, he actually goes further, saying it's a "stupid idea." He concludes:
No one in their right mind should worry about balancing this silly agglomeration. Hats off to politicians (like John Edwards) who recognize this. We should worry instead about putting aside enough to deal with past obligations, devoting no more than we can now afford to current needs, and making adequate future investments – even if we have to borrow in order to make them.

I didn't find his analysis very convincing. We don't "have to" borrow in order to make adequate future investments. The only reason we borrow is political expedience -- politicians prefer to avoid tax increases, so they borrow instead. But when you borrow, you have to pay back the money later (with interest), which increases the "past obligations" in future budgets and thus reduces your future ability to invest or meet current needs. Basically, you can either pay for things now or pay (more) for them later. There's no free lunch. The problem is, the politicians in power at any given moment want to spend a lot on programs they believe will get them votes, even if means borrowing. They're happy to leave it up to future politicians to clean up the mess.

There are definitely instances where current spending needs are so high that raising taxes is not an option because it would cripple the economy (e.g. a war). But that's pretty rare, and I think people arguing for deficit spending have a heavy burden to show that whatever pet program they're advocating merits adding to the deficit.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


The Obama-Clinton feud over David Geffen's criticisms of Hillary seems a bit overblown to me. Should Obama have denounced the comments of a financial backer of his? His response was to say he had no control over what Geffen says: "It's not clear to me why I'd be apologizing for someone else's remark." I suppose he could have added, "and I don't have any negative views of Hillary," which might have been a nice thing to do. But after Hillary spent last week not denouncing the South Carolina politician who said Obama could not be elected because he was black, Obama probably wasn't feeling very charitable.

XM-Sirius: Congressional Hearings

Congress will be holding hearings on the XM-Sirius merger:

The hearing will enable lawmakers "to probe whether this merger will enhance or diminish competition in the digital music distribution industry" and whether the "merger will lead to increased choices and lower prices for consumers," Conyers said in the statement.


The hearing will consider "whether satellite radio competes against terrestrial radio, the Internet or other emerging technologies," Smith said.

I like that last bit. Clearly, satellite radio competes against the listed items. Hopefully this will be a mostly positive hearing, laying the groundwork for approval. Even aside from my financial stake, I do worry that the existing duopoly industry structure is not financially viable.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

An Atheist President? Not Any Time Soon

Outside the Beltway reports on a Gallup poll indicating that only 45% of Americans would vote for an atheist for President (compared to 55% who would vote for a homosexual). Three thoughts come to mind.

First, who are the 10% who would vote for a homosexual but not an atheist? Are there large numbers of gay, or gay-friendly, fundamentalists that I don't know about? Is this the Ted Haggard group?

Second, I wonder what the answers would have been if the pollsters had used the term "agnostic"? It may not trigger the same negative reactions that "atheist" does.

Third, why wouldn't people vote for an atheist? Is it a supposed lack of values? My hope is that if presented with an actual atheist who had good values, people might think differently. (E.g., if Ronald Reagan had suddenly declared in 1983, "hey, I'm an atheist.")

MORE: The poll itself has more info. Support from "liberals", "moderates" and "conservatives" (in that order):

homosexual 81 57 36
atheist 67 48 29

So, 33% of self-identified "liberals" would not vote for an atheist! I wonder what they think "liberal" means?

The poll also notes:
Only about one in five Americans said they would vote for an atheist when the item was first asked in the late 1950s, compared with 45% today. Just 26% said they would support a homosexual presidential candidate in 1978, compared with the current 55%.

Well, it's a good trend anyway. Pretty slow-moving, though.

ADDED: I also wonder how people would react to "deist." My sense is there are a lot of people out there who believe generally in God, but do not subscribe to a particular religion (at least not strongly).

The Proposed XM-Sirius Merger

I love the proposed XM-Sirius merger. But then, I'm biased: I own a little stock in both companies!

I think the antitrust issues can be overcome and the FCC/DOJ will sign off on the merger. Here are some reasons why.

First, satellite radio has a great deal of competition. There is traditional radio, which has increased its offerings through high-definition broadcasting. There are various internet radio and related offerings. And there is the iPod and similar devices, which allow consumers to carry with them huge quantities of music and thus making radio less important.

Second, both XM and Sirius are pretty fragile financially. If one were to go under, the industry would be down to one company anyway; and if both were to go under, there would be nothing. Might as well let them merge so as to ensure there is at least one healthy company.

Third, it will reduce costs tremendously, which should lower prices and improve quality.

And fourth, with this type of regulated industry, there is no real danger of the merged company raising prices too much even if it had the power to do so. If it did, the FCC could just step in. (And the FCC might very well make price increase limits a condition of approving the deal).

Monday, February 19, 2007

Obama / Warner ?

After Va. Governor Tim Kaine endorsed Obama, Obama mentioned Mark Warner. At that point:
The crowd of VIPs roared, and then began to chant: “VP! VP! VP!” Smiling, Obama only referred to his and Warner’s matching blue ties. “I want you to notice how we’re dressed tonight,” he said.

Warner for VP. I like that idea a lot. Warner is a centrist, pro-business Democrat (and pretty damn smart as well). That will certainly help Obama with those like me, who fear many Democrats are closet socialists. Think about it, Barack!

Elizabeth Edwards on Gay Marriage

After John Edwards says he is "not there yet" on gay marriage, George Stephanopoulos asks Elizabeth her view. She says: "Well, it's not particularly important whether I am, but I guess I come from a more eclectic background and so it's less problematic, I think, probably for me." I think this says a lot about how John Edwards' view will evolve if he is elected. He's not ready to commit right now, but he'll get talked into it as soon as it won't cost him votes.

Romney on Abortion

Mitt Romney talks about abortion with George Stephanopoulos:
Mitt Romney: My view is that we should let each state have its own responsibility for guiding its laws relating to abortion.


But I'd like to see the Supreme Court allow states to have greater leeway in defining their own laws.

Very nice answer. I like it.

But Stephanopoulos has a tough follow-up. Uh-oh:
Stephanopoulos: But if it's killing, why should states have leeway?

Romney replies:
Mitt Romney: You know, that's one of the great challenges that we have. There are a lot of things that are morally very difficult and, in some cases, repugnant that we let states decide. For instance, Nevada allows prostitution. I find that to be quite repugnant as a practice.

OK, that's not bad. Some moral choices are tough, so maybe it makes sense to let people in different places choose their own way.

But Stephanopoulos won't let up:
Stephanopoulos: But murder is illegal in every state.

Nice! Go for the jugular. At this point, Romney kind of falls apart:
Mitt Romney: And so we let states make some of these very difficult decisions. That's one of the difficulties here. Also, I feel a great empathy for women who have difficult decisions in this regard. I don't want to impose my view on the lives of women, and yet this is one of those points where mature men and women have to come together and say, "What's the right course?" And in my particular view, I believe in life, I believe in respecting life, and I believe that we should, as a series of states, allow states to make their own choice in this regard.

Eventually he just sums up with: "I'm saying that, in my view, we should let the states make that decision and I am in favor of life and in favor of choosing life."

That's about all he can do. He doesn't want to say "abortion is different than murder" and he doesn't want to say he's going to lead the drive against abortion state-by-state if the Court overturns Roe, so he's kind of stuck. Ultimately, I like where he comes out. It is a bit of a waffling, though. It's hard to know which will hurt/help him more: A stronger anti-abortion position or this kind of waffling.

McCain: Roe v. Wade Should Be Overturned

John McCain says:

"I do not support Roe versus Wade. It should be overturned,"
I think this is definitely good for the overall abortion debate, such as it is. Maybe now we can talk a bit about how abortion law should be made. As for McCain's political prospects, it might help with the religious conservatives, but hurt with moderates. He may have to explain a bit more, and his explanations will be key.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Andrew Sullivan on Mitt Romney

Andrew Sullivan quotes Mitt Romney as saying: "We need to have a person of faith lead the country." Sullivan then asks:

How is that not a religious test for the presidency?
Um, because it's a campaign slogan, not a government act. (I agree with Sullivan on the substantive point, though. I'm just nit-picking on the legal one.)

ADDED: Someone should ask Romney, "Why do we need to have a person of faith lead the country"? I'd like to hear his answer.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Views on Mormons: Not Good for Romney

I like Mitt Romney and I hope he does well. But there's no doubt his Mormonism is going to make things tough in this race. On top of the explicit bigotry, even an article that tries to take a detached view and examine public perceptions of Mormons shows how people have trouble getting over their anti-Mormon bias. The author writes:
But even the story about the church's founding is unusual to nonbelievers: God appeared to Joseph Smith and told him that all existing forms of Christianity were "an abomination" and then directed Smith to a hillside in upstate New York where, with the help of the angel Moroni, Smith recovered a set of golden tablets that revealed the real word of God. Smith had further revelations, which Mormons treat as scripture alongside the Bible, including that Jesus would eventually return to reign from Missouri. Smith was eventually killed by vigilantes.

The story is "unusual"? How is it any more "unusual" than the stories of the origin of other religions?

The author also mentions that the Mormon church used to be formally racist and a long, long time ago officially practiced polygamy. OK, sure, these are skeletons, but are they worse than what other religions have? Not to me.

If this is what people are writing in the Washington Post, I hate to hear what they are whispering in private.

More on a Multinational Force for Iraq

Niall Ferguson argues that to pull all troops out of Iraq (as Barack Obama has proposed) would be irresponsible, as the the country (and region) would likely fall further into civil war. He may be right about that result, I fear. But is continuing the status quo the only option? It seems to me that it might be better to change the makeup of the occupying forces (as I argued here). A U.S. military presence will always stir up Islamic militants. The solution may be to pull our troops out, then organize a multinational force which includes significant numbers of troops from the region (OK, not Israeli troops, but all the rest).

Global Warming Solved! Maybe!

From Instapundit, a scientist proposes putting lots of small silicon dioxide particles in the atmosphere so as to reflect sunlight and cool the planet. Will that work? I don't know, but let's keep it on file in case we need it.

Giuliani's Speaking Style

Watching Giuliani on Larry King some time last week, I was struck by how unpolished and unscripted some of his answers seemed. Now, it may be that this speaking style was by design and he gave the answers exactly as he prepared them. But it also may be that he is taking an approach in which he does not try to script all his talking points perfectly. Some of his off-the-cuff remarks seemed to indicate this (such as a joke to the effect that he thought he had married only male/female couples as Mayor, but he couldn't verify this completely). Regardless of why he was speaking this way, I wonder how this style will play. It definitely has some appeal to me, as I'm tired of listening to the standard smooth talk of politicians. But even to me it seemed something less than Presidential. So, I could appreciate it, but I wasn't sure it was for me. How will mass audiences take to it?

Memo to Republicans: Jeb Bush for VP!

Yesterday I suggested that Mitt Romney, if he gets the Republican nomination, should think about Jeb Bush as his VP. With another day to think about it, I like this idea even more. In fact, I think all the leading Republicans -- Giuliani and McCain, in addition to Romney -- should consider it. Bush would be a great asset in getting religious, national security, and business-minded voters. (Not to mention Florida voters.) He's really the best right wing candidate out there. Whether he'll do it remains to be seen, but it can't hurt to ask.

ADDED: Not surprisingly, it turns out I'm not the only one to think of this:

Friday, February 16, 2007

Jeb Bush for Romney?

It's being reported that Jeb Bush "privately is talking up the candidacy of Mitt Romney and steering some of his closest advisers to the campaign." If true, this is a big deal for Romney. Jeb Bush, in my view, will be the most popular and respected Republican nation-wide for years to come (McCain is loved by some but hated by others). He's got credibility with various right wing factions because of his family name and religious principles, but he does not have the baggage of having invaded Iraq.

I wonder if Jeb would accept a VP nomination? It sounds crazy, but it would be difficult to pass it up. He wouldn't get the blame if he lost, and it would help lay the groundwork for his own future run.

Banning Sex Toys

The ACSBlog reports:
the Eleventh Circuit held today that an Alabama law banning the sale of sex toys is not unconstitutional, on the grounds that Alabama has an interest in preserving "public morality" against the sale of such devices. The challenged law prohibits only the sale of devices "primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs." It does not forbid their use or possession.

This is a decision that seems like it should concern me, but it just doesn't. It's a stupid law, no doubt about that. But should courts prohibit legislatures from passing stupid laws? That seems like a difficult standard to enforce. The more likely approach is to develop new conceptions of "rights" to prevent specific laws from being passed. To me, that seems even more dangerious than the stupid laws themselves. At least I can vote out the legislators.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Dowd Criticizes Obama

Maureen Dowd is somewhat critical of Barack Obama in her latest piece. (Kindly posted by a blogger here.) Among her complaints: he sounded "testy" and "irritated"; he didn't look in his "element"; there was "wariness" in his eyes; he "sounded self-consciously pristine at times, as if he was too refined for the muck of politics"; and he got "indignant" about pictures of him at the beach in Hawaii.

Well, it's a shame that Obama did not impress Dowd. People like her are an important part of the process and he'll need to find a way to get these folks to like him.

On the other hand, it's understandable that he would get annoyed at a never-ending string of questions that is completely lacking in substance (e.g. did you have a heater in your podium during the announcement speech?) It often seems like many reporters don't understand the issues very well, and therefore spend most of their time on personalities and similar topics (e.g. is Obama "black" enough?).

Obama's Name

Ann Coulter has been referring to Obama as "B. Hussein Obama."

You know, there are days when I think of myself as a conservative, at least a liberatian one. But people like Ann Coulter make me wonder whether I really want to be part of the group.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Obama on the Role of Government

Ezra Klein quotes Obama as follows:
When I meet with Obama in his office, it becomes clear that his study of foreign policy has only deepened his belief in the potential of American power. "In Africa, you often see that the difference between a village where everybody eats and a village where people starve is government," he tells me. "One has a functioning government, and the other does not. Which is why it bothers me when I hear Grover Norquist or someone say that government is the enemy. They don't understand the fundamental role that government plays."

I'm not sure the issue is quote so simple. In Zimbabwe, for example, there's a "functioning government" that is starving its people through its policies.

It's not surprising to hear Obama slam Norquist. That can only help with liberals. But I hope he can at least appreciate that government is not always the answer.

Prison Rape: A Solution

Ezra Klein is worried about prison rape. I am, too. I had an idea once for fixing it: Put cameras everywhere in prisons. That should make it possible to catch and punish most or all of the perpetrators. I saw similar proposals elsewhere on the web, so I'm not the only one to think of it.

The Impact of the Minimum Wage on Employment

The Free Exchange blog quotes an anecdote about the employment effects of a minimum wage increase:

This piece from the Arizona Republic surprises me by filling out its column inches with anecdotes about the negative effects of Arizona's higher minimum wage:

Some Valley employers, especially those in the food industry, say payroll budgets have risen so much that they're cutting hours, instituting hiring freezes and laying off employees.And teens are among the first workers to go. Companies maintain the new wage was raised to $6.75 per hour from $5.15 per hour to help the breadwinners in working-poor families. Teens typically have other means of support. Mark Messner, owner of Pepi's Pizza in south Phoenix, estimates he has employed more than 2,000 high school students since 1990. But he plans to lay off three teenage workers and decrease hours worked by others. Of his 25-person workforce, roughly 75 percent are in high school. "I've had to go to some of my kids and say, 'Look, my payroll just increased 13 percent,' " he said. " 'Sorry, I don't have any hours for you.' "

That is the one good thing about this latest increase. It will give us lots of opportunities to collect data on examples like this one.

Emboldening Terrorists

John Yoo argues: "If we falter now, it would be read as a "defeat" and embolden more terrorist attacks on us." It seems to me what was really emboldening was the Iraq invasion. It's now clear that if you attack America we'll get distracted and go after someone else.

"Wasting" of Military Lives

Michelle Malkin criticizes Obama for saying this:

OBAMA: We ended up launching a war that should have never been authorized and should have never been waged and to which we have now spent $400 billion and has seen over 3,000 lives of the bravest young Americans wasted.
She says that Obama argued that "each and every member of the military who volunteered to serve and died in Iraq wasted his/her life."

I think she's mis-characterizing his statement, though. He's not arguing that they wasted their lives by joining the military. He's arguing that Bush wasted their lives by sending them to Iraq.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Problem of "Big" Government

As summarized by Ethan Leib at Prawfsblawg:
Gar Alperovitz had a very provocative and thoughtful op-ed in yesterday's NYT. The central point was that this country is getting too big for centralized government and that it should come as no surprise that big states and regions are getting bolder in efforts at self-governance. California and its ambitions to address health care, trade, and global warming issues might be seen as exemplary.
I've had similar thoughts, but never tried to flesh them out. Makes sense instinctively, though.

Nothing Like the Sun

From what I've read, the sun is very hot. My observations of the sun confirm this. Generally speaking, I find that the temperature is warmer when the sun is up than when it is down. I have surmised from this that the sun is warming things up.

Thus, the following alternative theory of global warming strikes me as somewhat credible. In short, the argument is that the recent warmer temperatures are due to the sun:
the sun drives climate changes more emphatically than greenhouse gases do. After becoming much more active during the 20th century, the sun now stands at a high but roughly level state of activity. Solar physicists warn of possible global cooling, should the sun revert to the lazier mood it was in during the Little Ice Age 300 years ago.

Not being a scientist, I can't really evaluate this theory in a meaningful way. (I haven't noticed the sun being more "active" recently, but then I usually try not to look directly at it). But I will keep an eye on news reports on the subject.

Dahlia Lithwick Makes an Absurd Argument about the Death Penalty

Dahlia Lithwick argues that popular support for the death penalty has declined in recent years from very widespread support to merely substantial majority support (67%), but because the Supreme Court has not declared it unconstitutional in view of this decline, the Court is at odds with the views of the people. Well, she doesn't say it quite like that. Instead, she hedges a bit, and uses phrases like "there now seems to be a subtle hardening in favor of the death penalty" on the court. But to me the implication is that she thinks they should say it's unconstitutional.

So, first off, what on earth is she thinking saying that the Court is not following the people when 67% of people support it? Granted, support has declined, but it's still very high, probably higher than among the Justicies.

But more importantly, there's a big difference between people having doubts about the death penalty as a policy matter and it being unconstitutional. It can be a horrible policy but still be constitutional (or vice versa). There's not always going to be a connection between the two. The Court's job is to address constitutional issues, not make policy, right? I guess for some people these issues are one and the same, which is something that is depressing to be reminded of.

The Volokh conspirators dissect the issue here and here.

Obama's "Blackness" Again

The LA Times asks, "Would Obama be 'the black president'?"

My answer: Who cares, that's a stupid question.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Why is Corporate Money in Politics?

From Bloomberg:
After years of lopsided political giving to Republicans, American businesses are quickly rushing to support the new party in power. The top 25 corporate political action committees all gave more to Republicans than Democrats for the November 2006 elections. Afterward, 17 of them switched sides.
Why do we allow corporations to give money to political causes? We don't let them vote. If the company bosses want to give their own money, that's fine, but permitting direct contributions from corporations themselves provides for such a transparent buying of influence and favorable policies that it undermines the whole political system.

What To Do About Iraq?

Many Democrats (and some Republicans) are calling for pulling out U.S. troops from Iraq. But the obvious question then arises: Can we really just leave and risk the civil war (if it is that) getting worse?

I'm very surprised that I haven't heard more support for the following idea for dealing with the aftermath of a pull out: Having an international coalition of troops step in. Sure, it would be hard to generate support, but I don't think it would necessarily be impossible. If the next U.S. President would stand up and say, "We made a mistake in invading Iraq, and now we need the world's help to mitigate the damage," it might be possible. No one wants to see the Iraq turmoil get worse and spread. This could be a way to prevent that.

The other alternative, of course, is to stay there for the indefinite future, incurring more casualties and watching the violence get worse.

Obama's Speech

Just watched Obama's announcement that he's running. Wow! The guy is an amazing speaker, both in terms of style and command of substance. He still has to back it all up with some specifics, but he's off to an amazing start. Hillary must be trembling after having watched that.

MORE: What really impresses me is his understanding of his own words. With most politicians, I get the sense that somebody else wrote the speech and the politician has little feeling for the content; or they have been coached to such an extent that they are over-thinking each syllable and intonation, and have lost sight of the meaning; or they can't articulate their thoughts very clearly even though they may be quite smart (e.g. Joe Biden). Now, somebody else may have written part or all of Obama's speech, and he may have been coached a bit, but nevertheless it comes across as authentic. And he articulates his thoughts very clearly. Speeches are just one element of many in a political race, of course, but in this area Obama is head and shoulders above the rest.

Global Warming Questions

One of my concerns about the global warming debate is the failure of those who say it exists to address arguments that undermine their views. For example, I just read this:

I also asked Dr. [Ian Howat of the University of Washington] about the argument that, since Greenland went through decades of relatively warm weather in the first half of the 20th century without catastrophic consequences, it’s unlikely that the glaciers are suddenly going to plunge into the ocean because of the current warming. His response:

Greenland was about as warm or warmer in the 1930’s and 40’s, and many of the glaciers were smaller than they are now. This was a period of rapid glacier shrinkage world-wide, followed by at least partial re-expansion during a colder period from the 1950’s to the 1980’s. Of course, we don’t know very much about how the glacier dynamics changed then because we didn’t have satellites to observe it. However, it does suggest that large variations in ice sheet dynamics can occur from natural climate variability. The problem arises in thepossibility that, due to anthropogenic warming, warm phases will become longer and more severe, so that each time the glaciers go through a period of retreat like this, they won’t fully grow back and they will retreat farther the next time.

So why was it so warm in the 1930s and 1940s? Does that tell us anything about why it is warm today? The global warming experts' answer to these questions, to the best I can tell, seems to be, "I don't know." Which isn't very satisfying, and leaves some reasonable doubt in relation to the global warming debate.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Stewart and Colbert Should Moderate a Debate

Wouldn't it be interesting to have Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert moderate a Presidential debate? They know the issues well enough to ask good questions, and they could make it entertaining as well. I doubt the Republicans would go for it (except maybe McCain and Giuliani), but maybe the Democrats would agree to it for the primary.

Global Warming Denial: Soon to be a Crime?

Glenn Reynolds and Johah Goldberg criticize Ellen Goodman for comparing global warming skeptics to holocaust deniers. This makes me wonder: Will "global warming denial" become a crime in parts of Europe soon?

ADDED: Jeez, I was joking, but somebody is already saying this seriously.

John Edwards' Health Regulation Plan, er, "Health Markets"

Paul Krugman praises John Edwards' "Health Markets" plan (as quoted at Economist's View). As Krugman explains it:
People who don’t get insurance from their employers would... purchase insurance through “Health Markets”: government-run bodies negotiating with insurance companies on the public’s behalf. ...

Why is this such a good idea? ...[M]arketing and underwriting — ... screening out high-risk clients — are responsible for two-thirds of insurance companies’ overhead. With insurers selling to government-run Health Markets, not directly to individuals, most of these expenses should go away, making insurance considerably cheaper.

As an initial point, it seems a bit Orwellian to describe "government-run bodies" as "markets." It's very deceptive, at the least. This is not a free market plan in any sense. Rather, a federal government entity will be running things. Think of the Post Office for health insurance.

Second, he seems to be saying that we are going to add an extra layer of government bureaucracy to the existing framework, and that will bring costs down. Well, my head is spinning a bit, but maybe I can figure this out. Perhaps he means that the price of insurance will not include the costs incurred by these new government entitities, which will be paid for by taxpayers. As a result, the retail cost of insurance will decrease. Hmm. I think it may be worth trying to calculate the government entities' costs before rendering a verdict on this plan. Something tells me these costs will be non-negligible.

Debra Dickerson: Obama Is Not Black

Having watched Stephen Colbert's hilarious interview with Debra Dickerson last night, I feel compelled to comment on her view that Obama is not black and that white people are only supporting him because of he is not. She writes:
I honestly can't look without feeling pity, and indeed mercy, at whites' need for absolution. For all our sakes, it seemed (again) best not to point out the obvious: You're not embracing a black man, a descendant of slaves. You're replacing the black man with an immigrant of recent African descent of whom you can approve without feeling either guilty or frightened. If he were Ronald Washington from Detroit, even with the same résumé, he wouldn't be getting this kind of love. Washington would have to earn it, not just show promise of it, and even then whites would remain wary.

I have two reactions to this. First, it's just plain wrong. I don't think most, if any, whites make this distinction among blacks. (This goes for both non-racist whites and for racist whites.) Ronald Washington from Detroit would have no problem getting support if he had all the talent and personality Obama has. Look at Oprah: She is wildly popular with whites based on similar reasons as with Obama.

Second, since virtually all of the people supporting Obama are white liberals, not conservatives, she is essentially saying that white liberals would not support a black person descended from slaves. I find this particularly hard to believe, and it further undermines her argument.

ADDED: I think Obama has the right attitude on this issue:

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama said his campaign for the presidency "will send a wonderful message to young people of color and to immigrants around the country" if successful.

He makes clear, though, that he hopes to make race irrelevant in his bid to become the first black to occupy the White House.

"If I'm talking about the issues that matter to people, if we do a good job in letting people know who I am and what I stand for … they'll make their judgment not based on my race but based on how well they think I can lead this country," Obama told USA TODAY.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Internationalists of Convenience

There has been some brief discussion of the use of international law in U.S. courts over at the Volokh Conspiracy and Opinio Juris. My view of the issue is that there are very few people who are actually "internationalists" here. I see three general groups out there:

(1) Those who cite international law when it supports their views and ignore it where it does not

(2) Those who think international law should either trump domestic law or play an important role in its interpretation and formation, regardless of whether they agree with the substance

( 3) Those who think international law should play at most a minor role in the interpretation and formation of domestic law, regardless of whether they agree with the substance

Most of what I read, in both the popular press and from legal experts, falls into (1). People in (2) are true internationalists who believe, for various reasons, that the international is inherently good. People in (3) are true sovereigntists who believe, for various reasons, that the international is inherently bad. But people in (1) really only care about the particular issue they are interested in (e.g. prohibiting gay marriage or allowing it) and cite to international/foreign sources of law that support their view. They don't care about the proper role of internatinoal law in U.S. law. Thus, to me, they are only "internationalists of convenience."

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Is the NFL a Cartel?

The Economist's Free Exchange blog has a post in which they refer to the NFL as a "cartel":
Is football’s popularity a result of the cartel that runs the football league or is American football an innately more interesting game?

Economic theory predicts that the profitability of a cartel comes from the firms withholding some of its product to increase its value and/or charging the highest price possible without being undercut by its competition. ... Should the government intervene, break up the cartel, and make football games more frequent?

This analysis is just wrong. The NFL is no more a cartel than is, say, Dell or Toyota. The NFL is a single entity that competes in the sports entertainment industry along with a number of other actors.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Role of the Judiciary

Sometimes I feel like too much of this blog is spent criticizing, so I'm happy to be able to offer effusive praise for something. Professor Robert F. Nagel of the University of Colorado Law School has a wonderful piece explaining why the Supreme Court should not develop new rights, either from the left or the right. I can't say it better than he can, so I'll quote some key passages:
Do you have a bright idea (albeit a controversial one) that you would like to see implemented as national policy? Would you prefer to achieve this without the inconvenience of having to persuade Congress and the president, let alone the American people? Well, here's how to do it.

First, go to law school and afterwards clerk for a justice of the Supreme Court. Then become a professor at a leading law school. Earn the respect of other legal scholars by writing academic articles and books. Gain broader visibility by publishing op-ed pieces and operating a blog. Next, write up your bright idea as an article for an influential law review and get an important think tank to invite prominent legal scholars to discuss your article. Then, wait for some litigators to pick up your idea and hope the Supreme Court will eventually impose it as a requirement of constitutional law. It doesn't always work, but--at least as compared with the options available to most people--it is worth a shot.

This strategy has often been used by left-wing law professors and even by some conservatives. However, with the Court increasingly dominated by the likes of Antonin Scalia and John Roberts, who claim to be committed to judicial restraint, it might seem that clever constitutional arguments are no longer a likely way to influence national policies. UCLA's Eugene Volokh, one of the nation's most prolific and insightful young legal scholars, doesn't think so. And, sadly, he may be right.


This is how lawyers have come to dominate moral debate in the United States. They elevate their preferences to constitutional rights and then claim that profound moral beliefs held by others are inadequate to justify restrictions on the newly created rights. You see, rights cannot be abridged except for highly convincing reasons, and judges (enlightened by the arguments of litigators and law professors) will decide what is convincing.

Creating a constitutional right to medical self-defense would be a definitive sign that the conservatives who sit on the Supreme Court are not serious about establishing a saner, less imperial role for the judiciary--indeed, that just about nobody in the legal
profession is. This would be further evidence, if more is needed, that if non-lawyers want to retake control over public decision-making, they should not expect much help from members of the profession whose inordinate power is based on the modern conventions of constitutional argument.

This is a powerful point, and he makes it as well as it can be made. In my experience, it's the kind of point that people instinctively disagree with, but when it is explained they will often come around. It's great that Professor Nagel is taking the time to explain.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

John Edwards on the Iraq War, Nuclear Waste and Gay Marriage

John Edwards was on Tim Russert today, talking about a number of issues. Three in particular stood out to me.

The Iraq War

Russert asked Edwards why he still supported the war a year and a half into it, during the 2004 Presidential campaign. Edwards responded:
SEN. EDWARDS: Mm-hmm. Perfect—that’s a very fair question. I can tell you what happened with me, personally. We got through—I was—at that point, I was in the middle of a very intense campaign, one that I thought was very important for America. When the campaign was over and the election was over, we had a lot going on in my own family. Elizabeth had been diagnosed with breast cancer, we were taking care of her. And for the first time I had time to really think about, number one, what I was going to spend my time doing, and, number two, my vote for this war. And over time, when I reflected on what I thought was going to be necessary going forward, to have some moral foundation to work on issues like poverty and genocide, things that I care deeply about, I could no longer defend this vote. It was pretty simple. And I got to the place I felt like I had to say it and had to say it publicly. And so—what?--a year—a year or so ago I did that.

So basically, he was busy campaigning and didn't really have time to think about it. After the campaign, he gave it some thought and changed his mind.

That sounds a bit inauthentic to me. Seems to me the answer is he thought it was too risky politically to change his view at the time of the campaign, but later, as support for the war declined and he wanted to run in 2008, decided it was too risky not to.

Nuclear Waste

MR. RUSSERT: But now you’re saying that maybe the nuclear waste should be stored locally where the waste was produced. Is that your position?

SEN. EDWARDS: My position is that, that what’s happened with Yucca Mountain is there’ve been serious questions, including the, the possibility of lying and fraud in the scientific evidence of—that Yucca Mountain would work. I was always concerned, still am, about this nuclear waste being transported around the country. I, I think, at this point in time, it does not make sense to do—to do Yucca Mountain. So the, the, the answer is we have nuclear plants, the, the stuff has to be stored—waste has to be stored somewhere, so it has to be stored where the plants are.
MR. RUSSERT: So in...
SEN. EDWARDS: Or in the vicinity.
MR. RUSSERT: So in Seabrook, New Hampshire, the nuclear waste has to be stored in New Hampshire.
SEN. EDWARDS: It has to be stored somewhere close by.

I'm no scientist, but that strikes me as ridiculous. Nuclear waste should be stored as far away from people as possible, not in the "vicinity." Perhaps under a mountain somewhere? Hmm ...

Gay Marriage

MR. RUSSERT: It’s next up after Nevada. Gay marriage. You said this: “ It is [a hard issue] ... because I’m 53 years old. I grew up in a small town in the rural south. I was raised in the Southern Baptist church and so I have a belief system that arises from that. It’s part of who I am. I can’t make it disappear. ... I personally feel great conflict about that. I don’t know the answer. I wish I did. I think from my perspective it’s very easy for me to say, gay civil unions, yes, partnership benefits, yes, but it is something that I struggle with. Do I believe they should have the right to marry? I’m just not there yet.” Why not?

SEN. EDWARDS: I think it’s from my own personal culture and faith belief. And I think, if you had gone on in that same quote, that I, I have—I, I struggle myself with imposing my faiths—my faith belief. I grew up in the Southern Baptist church, I was baptized in the Southern Baptist church, my dad was a deacon. In fact, I was there just a couple weeks ago to see my father get an award. It’s, it’s just part of who I am. And the question is whether I, as president of the United States, should impose on the United States of America my views on gay marriage because I know where it comes from. I’m aware of why I believe what I believe. And I think there is consensus around this idea of no discrimination, partnership benefits, civil unions. I think that, that certainly a president who’s willing to lead could lead the country in the right direction on that.
Man, what a wuss. Will any of the leading Democrats have the guts to be for gay marriage? His answer seems like such a transparent attempt not to seem too extreme and to maintain his viability with moderates. But I suppose he figures that's the only way to win.

The William and Mary Cross

William and Mary University's approach to dealing with a cross in its chapel sounds reasonable to me:
Nichol ordered the cross removed in October to make the chapel more welcoming to students of all faiths. Previously, the cross could be removed by request; now it can be returned by request.

I'm not quite sure I see the other side's point. They seem to be arguing that displaying a cross should be the default. In other words, Christianity is the default, and other, lesser religions can be present only upon special request. Generally speaking, it doesn't seem like it's too much to ask to make university chapels equally available for all religions.

Edwards to Raise Taxes

Edwards to raise taxes:
Democratic U.S. presidential candidate John Edwards' on Sunday said that he would raise taxes, chiefly on the wealthy, to pay for expanded healthcare coverage under a plan costing $90 billion to $120 billion a year to be unveiled on Monday.

Well, the honesty is refreshing. Not a good way to get my vote, though.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Pretending to Fight Global Warming

Apparently, Congress is having a pseudo-debate about global warming, in which they discuss various alternative cap-and-trade proposals. As already evidenced by the results of the Kyoto pact, some of these will have no impact on greenhouse gas emissions; others will have virtually no impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

Now, if governments ever get serious about fighing global warming, here are some things they could do:

(1) Put solar panels on government buildings. It might be mostly a symbolic gesture in terms of the energy produced, but it would set a good example.

(2) Give large tax credits to people who put solar panels on their roofs.

(3) Give large tax breaks to wind turbine and fuel cell producers; and to wind farms and fuel cell-based power plants.

Ultimately, if we want to reduce emissions, we're going need to rely mostly on these zero emission energy sources. If we want this to work, it's time to start subsidizing their use.

Rush Limbaugh for a Nobel Peace Prize?

I suppose it's no more absurd than nominating Al Gore.

USA Today on the Minimum Wage

It gets tiring rebutting the silly things said in support of a minimum wage increase, but I suppose it has to be done.

A USA Today editorial says:
The arguments against the minimum wage are familiar and unpersuasive. Critics argue that it will cost jobs, but the economic literature suggests job losses are a minimal threat. The last increase in 1997 was followed by a surge in low-wage employment.

Well, that's certainly worded with careful vagueness, but it's pretty callous nonetheless. Job losses are "a minimal threat"? No doubt the threat to to USA Today editorial writers is minimal. But that's not much consolation to those who do lose their job or don't get hired -- and the statement effectively acknolwedges that this will be the case. Sure, there's a question of how many. But there's no doubt it will be quite a few.

USA Today goes on to say:

Some opponents argue that wages should be decided exclusively by the free market.

But the nation decided otherwise in 1938, when Congress created the minimum wage so the poorest workers would have a chance at a decent living. And it's hard to recall similar free-market complaints about the tax code, which is all about picking winners and losers - homeowners over renters, for example, or investors over workers.

This part is just embarassing. Is the writer really unaware of the widespread free market criticism of the tax code? I suspect the answer is yes. When you only talk to like minded people, you simply never hear the opposing view.

Friday, February 02, 2007

European Attitudes towards the Death Penalty

I was somewhat surprised to see that European opposition to the death penalty was not stronger:
According to the same survey, 60% of Europeans are against capital punishment, while 38% are in favour. Support for abolition is most widespread in the south (80% of the Spanish population and 72% of Italians declare themselves opposed to the death penalty), while the British are divided on the issue (49% against and 48% in favour).

I was under the impression there was almost unanimous opposition, but apparently not. Maybe the UK will even bring it back some day!

I've never understood why opposition to the death penalty is as strong as it is, especially to the mere idea of it. I can understand the criticism of the implementation, which seems unfair in any many ways. But I often hear people say they oppose the "state" killing people under any circumstances. Presumably, though, they do not have a problem with a police officer killing someone who is trying to murder them. Thus, it can't really be an opposition to all state killing. So what's wrong with killing someone who has killed in a way that indicates a likelihood to kill again?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Population and the Environment

It seems to me that the debate about the environment is missing one very important element: population growth. I vaguely remember that people used to talk about this, but I never hear it anymore. The basic point is this: With 6 and a half billion people in the world, even if we cut our energy consumption in half, which no one is even seriously proposing, we would still be spewing out enough greenhouse gases to cause the global warming that is said to be occurring. Sure, by cutting back or stabilizing the amounts, we may be able to delay warming by 20 years or so. But is that really a satisfactory solution? So the question is, why not talk about population control? The answer, obviously, is that it makes all sides of the debate a bit uneasy, as once this principle is established, it is open to much abuse. Nevertheless, I don't see how we can really talk about the environment without addressing the issue.

Al Gore and "Peace"

Al Gore has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to promote a cleaner environment.

OK, first off, the obvious. Peace? Really? What, does peace include peace with nature? This is really kind of silly. If they want to give him a prize, create an environment prize.

More importantly, though, how can they give this guy a prize when he had eight years as Vice-President to say the things he's saying now but was too gutless to do so. Sure, he made occasional remarks here and there about the environment, just like Bush does now. By and large, though, he had his chance to make a real difference when he was in office and he chickened out. Saying it now is easy. Many non-politicians are saying the same thing. The key is to get the politicians on board. If he had been this active about it when he was a politician, the world might look a lot different now.