Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Government "Spending"

What's mine is mine. Right?

Not so fast, say John S. Irons and Robert Gordon in this American Prospect article. In advancing the same old arguments against repeal of the estate tax, Irons and Gordon suggest that what you might think is yours really belongs to the Government. Irons and Gordon compare "full repeal" of the estate tax with proposals under which only estates of a particular size (e.g. larger than $3.5M) would be subject to an estate tax.

Most Senate Democrats and some Republicans have balked at full repeal. And so, aiming for a compromise, a working group of Democratic senators and their staffs have been looking at reform options from a practical perspective. Meanwhile, Senator Kyl has suggested a “compromise” setting the estate-tax rate equal to the capital-gains rate, which (thanks to President Bush’s 2003 tax cut) is currently just 15 percent. Some proposals would set the tax-free exemption to $8 million, or at best $3.5 million. Either way, the cost of this “reform” is enormous -- a $3.5 million, 15-percent reform would spend about 80 percent as much as full repeal. That’s nearly $60 billion a year in tax cuts for multimillionaires.

(Italics added.)

What does the word "spend" mean here?

Consider an example. Josh dies with a $10M estate. Under the current system, $1.5M of Josh's estate passes to his heirs tax-free, and the remaining $8.5M of his estate is subject to an estate tax. For purposes of this example, assume the rate is 50% (which it nearly is). This means that $4.25M of Josh's estate goes to the Government, and the remaining $5.75 goes to his heirs.

Under "full repeal", however, where there would be no estate tax, all $10M of Josh's estate would pass to his heirs. In the world according to Irons and Gordon, full repeals means that the Government, rather than spending the $4.25M on some federal program, would "spend" the $4.25M on Josh and his heirs.

Quick break for a visit to the dictionary.

Wesbter's says that "socialism" is (1) any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods; or (2) a system of society or group living in which there is no private property.

Under either definition, the world according to Irons and Gordon is socialist. It is is a world where Josh's estate is not really Josh's estate. Instead, it's the Government's. Depending on the whim of the legislature, the Government might spend some of the estate on a federal program, and it might spend some of the estate on Josh. But, no matter what the Government decides, the estate itself belongs to the Government, not Josh.

Harvard: The Texas A&M of the North

According to the left-wing Washington Monthly, the best university in the country is M.I.T.. Just six spots behind is Texas A&M, well ahead of Yale (15), Harvard (16), and Princeton (not in the Top 30). The rankings are based on the the publication's three central criteria: "Universities should be engines of social mobility, they should produce the academic minds and scientific research that advance knowledge and drive economic growth, and they should inculcate and encourage an ethic of service." Gig'Em Aggies!

Self-Parody at the New York Times

This New York Times editorial piles on Katrina-based jabs at President Bush, while pretending to scold those who are taking Katrina-based jabs at President Bush.

As the levees of Lake Pontchartrain gave way, flooding New Orleans, it seemed pretty clear that in this case, government did not live up to the job. But this seems like the wrong moment to dwell on fault-finding, or even to point out that it took what may become the worst natural disaster in American history to pry President Bush out of his vacation.

Therefore, because this is the "wrong moment" to "point out" that President Bush was on vacation prior to the hurricane, to demonstrate our good taste at the New York Times, we will bury the point in the main editorial of one of the most-read newspapers in the world.

UPDATE: That was then, this is now. A day after the NY Times editors wrote "this seems like the wrong moment to dwell on fault-finding", the NY Times editors wrote this:

Waiting for a Leader

George W. Bush gave one of the worst speeches of his life yesterday, especially given the level of national distress and the need for words of consolation and wisdom. In what seems to be a ritual in this administration, the president appeared a day later than he was needed. He then read an address of a quality more appropriate for an Arbor Day celebration: a long laundry list of pounds of ice, generators and blankets delivered to the stricken Gulf Coast. He advised the public that anybody who wanted to help should send cash, grinned, and promised that everything would work out in the end.

We will, of course, endure, and the city of New Orleans must come back. But looking at the pictures on television yesterday of a place abandoned to the forces of flood, fire and looting, it was hard not to wonder exactly how that is going to come to pass. Right now, hundreds of thousands of American refugees need our national concern and care. Thousands of people still need to be rescued from imminent peril. Public health threats must be controlled in New Orleans and throughout southern Mississippi. Drivers must be given confidence that gasoline will be available, and profiteering must be brought under control at a moment when television has been showing long lines at some pumps and spot prices approaching $4 a gallon have been reported.

Sacrifices may be necessary to make sure that all these things happen in an orderly, efficient way. But this administration has never been one to counsel sacrifice. And nothing about the president's demeanor yesterday - which seemed casual to the point of carelessness - suggested that he understood the depth of the current
crisis.While our attention must now be on the Gulf Coast's most immediate needs, the nation will soon ask why New Orleans's levees remained so inadequate. Publications from the local newspaper to National Geographic have fulminated about the bad state of flood protection in this beloved city, which is below sea level. Why were developers permitted to destroy wetlands and barrier islands that could have held back the hurricane's surge? Why was Congress, before it wandered off to vacation, engaged in slashing the budget for correcting some ofthe gaping holes in the area's flood protection?

It would be some comfort to think that, as Mr. Bush cheerily announced, America "will be a stronger place" for enduring this crisis. Complacency will no longer suffice, especially if experts are right in warning that global warming may increase the intensity of future hurricanes. But since this administration won't acknowledge that global warming exists, the chances of leadership seem minimal.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Difference of Opinion

The most plentiful mineral in my body is calcium. The most plentiful mineral in the body of blogger (and NY Times columnist) Tom Watson is also calcium. Judging from this post, I suspect that is where our similarities end.

The symbols have never been more stark: no screenwriter (even those who write farces) could have sold such a script in 2000, before the national election was pickpocketed by James Baker. A blithe, play-acting President on a bicycle on the ranch, under siege from a growing camp of aggrieved Americans while the finest, middle class youth of the nation is bled white thousands of miles away in the midst of a religious civil war triggered by the United States - with no hope of victory, no hope of Jeffersonian democracy, no hope for honor. Yes, this does sound like 1968 - minus the bicycle, and with lower approval ratings and a more mainstream opposition.

Yet, of course, the toothless, political cowardice of the Democrats must not slip away into the night of history. Particularly in this Congress, lockstep support for national security in the "time of war" has given the Administration the social checkbook it needs to write the bills for this war. Far too many Democrats went along for the ride, bought too easily into the argument that everything is different after 9-11. They missed the fact that one thing didn't change, despite the panic of the President and his little yelping terriers: we still have some national character in this country, we can't be sold a bill of goods forever, we know when to hold 'em and to fold 'em.

And folks, it's time to fold 'em. When the argument for continuing war is to merely to honor the dead that have gone before with more dead, with more wounded, with more destruction, you know the jig is up, that the military maneuver is merely in the form of a forlorn hope, destined to die for nothing. The Iraqi civil war will rage until there is no Iraq. There never was an Iraq, except as the construct of an empire and a dictator; we had no business in the squabbles of religious tribes. And we have no business in helping to write a consitution that places the lives of women at the mercy of a medieval code of sexist, moralist, symbolist system of humiliation and punishment. Conspiring with the mullahs against women may be George W. Bush's greatest act of treason against the world's people - and it will live in infamy.

There is nothing to this but to admit failure, and save American lives. Perhaps that is not honorable. Perhaps it leaves a vaccuum in the east, into which the hard-core religionists can step. To [sic] bad: it is done. And we need to be done.

Blogging Katrina

Tonight, it's difficult to think of anything other than the victims of Katrina. Of course, thoughts of Katrina don't have to come at the expense of politics.

Daily Kos:

Unfortunately, the citizens of the state of Louisiana are about to face the full force of Katrina without the benefit of their National Guard troops to protect them. This is a direct consequence of President Bush's bad decision to invade Iraq. Bush's decision to fight terrorism by taking the battle "over there" is about to hit home.

Will Bunch, of the Philadelphia Daily News:
The president told us that we needed to fight in Iraq to save lives here at home, and yet -- after moving billions of domestic dollars to the Persian Gulf -- there are bodies floating through the streets of Louisiana. What does George W. Bush have to say for himself now?

And, from the gang over at Atrios:

Stop! Yeah, it would be wrong to point out changes in national funding for relief, or ignoring global warming, or ignoring calls to change the situation in New Orleans. We should just ignore the root causes / exacerbating factors, or the decisions made now that cause more suffering. Just ignore them! It is just partisan bickering!

Compassionate Conservativism: tax cuts for the rich, handouts for the corporations, Red Cross for the needy. If someone drained the gasoline from your town's ambulance and firetrucks (FEMA), and you had an emergency, you'd certainly want to just ignore the vandal (president). It would just be partisan.


For a while, I have suspected that respectable right-0f-center blogs outnumber respectable left-of-center blogs. I have searched for evidence to the contrary. Before posting about the shortage of respectable left-of-center blogs, I want to be sure that the shortage exists. Posts like those quoted above do nothing to persuade me otherwise.

UPDATE: MoJo Blog lobbies to be removed from consideration as a respectable left-wing blog:
Though reading The Pet Goat while the country was under attack may have made Bush look inept, partying at an oceanside resort while Americans are losing their homes, their sources of income, and their lives is, at the very least, an example of shockingly poor taste, not to mention an abandonment of leadership. New Orleans is in a state of absolute chaos, despite the presence of a competent mayor and a competent governor. Hurricane Katrina has created a national disaster. Bush has done everything in his power to prevent the restoration of Louisiana's coast, and he has severely cut funding for hurricane protection. It is no surprise that he doesn't want to look Governor Blanco in the eye. But whooping it up at a resort while Gulf Coast states endure a living hell is a new low.

Empahsis added.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Making History in Gaza

History is likely to see the Gaza withdrawal as, well, historic. Yet, reasonable minds differ as to why.

Victor Davis Hanson says it's good strategy, both militarily . . .
Sharon's withdrawal policy from Gaza is thus a critical first step of turning the struggle from an asymmetrical war of terror back into a conventional standoff between delineated sovereign states. And that can only help a militarily superior Israel.

and politically . . .
Heretofore the Palestinians have counted on foreign support through fear of terrorism, influence with oil producers, unspoken anti-Semitism and carefully crafted victim status accorded savvy anti-Western zealots. But now they are increasingly on their own, and what transpires may soon end their romance of the perpetually oppressed.

Meanwhile, Charles Krauthammer worries that this unilateral Israeli concession is the first step towards the end of Israel.

What follows is the world saying, almost in unison, that the Gaza evacuation is just the beginning of a total Israeli retreat, one Dunkirk to be followed by many more. What follows is Condoleezza Rice declaring that "it cannot be Gaza only," a thrilling encouragement to the Palestinians jeering the Israeli withdrawal with chants of "Gaza today, Jerusalem tomorrow" . . .

What is at stake is whether the world, led by the United States, will demand Arab acceptance of that single Jewish state, or whether the United States will continue to push Israel from one concession to another until one day another arch is erected, this time in Jerusalem itself, commemorating the destruction of history's third and last Jewish commonwealth.


Leon Wieseltier counters that "history is full of precedents that did not come to pass," and argues that we should spare no tears for the settlers.
In the settlement of Netzarim earlier this year, the settlers published a book whose title might be translated as Super-Natural Living: Tales of Life in Gush Katif, a collection of testimonies about the idyll of Jewish existence in Gaza. It is chilling to read, because of its unreality. "The Arabs say to each other, and to their Jewish neighbors, that until the Jews arrived to settle in this region, there was almost no rain. It was impossible to grow anything in the sands. But since we returned here, the rains have started to fall, and the land generously produces its bounty. ... This is without a doubt the fulfillment of the prophecy [in Ezekiel] about the redemption of Israel: 'But ye, O mountains of Israel, ye shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to my people of Israel.'" There are no mountains in Gaza, but never mind. The settlers in Gaza created a magical world for themselves, an introverted universe of endless miracles. They were indifferent to, or contemptuous of, the decidedly unmagical and unmiraculous effects of their enterprise in the bitter world beyond.

For this reason, when I behold the photographs of the settlers in Gaza uprooted by Israeli soldiers, empathy almost completely deserts me. I seem to have a heart of stone, and I am not entirely embarrassed by it. More precisely, I regard the eviction of the settlers as the appropriate reward for their own hearts of stone. For many other Jews gave their lives and their limbs so that these Jews could grow their holy tomatoes and study their holy texts in this desert. In order to satisfy their individual and collective aspirations, the Israeli civilians who lived in Gaza required the sacrifice of Israeli soldiers in Gaza. In the years of Jewish settlement in Gaza, 230 Israelis were killed there. A substantial number of them were soldiers. Why is the life of a Jew in a uniform worth less than the life of a Jew in a greenhouse? That is stone-heartedness. And yet one hears mainly about the sacrifices of the settlers. Surely the same stirring revival of Zionist agronomy could have been accomplished in the equally arid zones a few miles to the north or the east, in a place called Israel.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Best to Try This Sober

If you stare at the black cross on this page, the purple dots turn to green and eventually even disappear. However, if you look at the dots themselves, you'll see that they never turn green, but always remain purple.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Reality Check

If you check the websites for CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the other major on-line news sources, you'll find that the most common current headlines concern the war in Iraq, rising oil prices, and a hurricane that is threatening Florida.

Yet, the liberal magazine The Progressive seems focused on a different story. The headline that has appeared in large, bold print on The Progressive for several days now is:

Santorum’s People Toss Young Women out of Barnes &
Noble, Trooper Threatens Them with Prison
The shocking article begins:

On the evening of August 10, Hannah Shaffer of Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, decided to go to the nearby Barnes & Noble outside of Wilmington. She wanted to see Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who was promoting his book, “It Takes a Family.” The event was billed as a “book signing and discussion,” Shaffer says. But discussion was the last thing that the Senator’s people wanted.

It might be time to delete The Progressive from the Liberal Sites section of this blog. I may have over-estimated its value. On the other hand, I was considering adding a section for Humor Sites, and The Progressive might work well for that.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Decisions, Decisions

Steve Green, at VodkaPundit, links to Time Magazine's article about a potential Clinton v. McCain presidential match-up and ponders:

"Should Steve shoot himself in the kneecap, or shove a flat-head screwdriver into his right eye?"

Cancer Patience

The National Cancer Institute aspires to "eliminate the suffering and death due to cancer" by 2015. Senator Arlen Specter, a 75-year old cancer patient, says that's not fast enough, and wants to know how much money it would take to meet the goal by 2010. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, the National Cancer Institute has replied that an additional $4.2 billion would make "significant progress" towards narrowing the gap between 2015 and 2010.

Derek Lowe, the blogging chemist, says this is bollocks. Why? Two reasons. First, Lowe says, there is no such disease as cancer.
Cancer is actually the end result of what are probably hundreds (thousands?) of different diseases. We have confused ourselves by giving them the same category name - it's like the old-style classification of infections as various "fevers." There are many, many ways that a cell can end up with (and maintain) the deranged growth profile that we think of as cancerous, and it's going to take a lot of different treatments to do anything about them.

Second, money alone can't speed up research to any degree desired.

Although more money is always nice, thanks, there comes a point where it's not sufficient to buy you better results. In the case of the various cancers, it's for sure that there are many, many important details that we don't even know about yet. And, as usual, a good amount of the things that we do already know are going to turn out to be wrong. Time, money, intelligence, luck, and hard work are all going to have to be tossed into the pot in great quantities, and there are no other ingredients that can substitute for any of those.


Dr. Frederic Cohen addresses the issue from a pharmaceutical perspective, and agrees that the goals are not realistic.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Sacrifice, yes. But, not mine.

Several years ago, amidst vocal opposition from some liberals, Massachusetts lowered its state income tax rate from 5.85% to 5.3%. At the time of the decrease, GOP lawmakers, in part to prove a point, successfully lobbied for the 5.85% rate to remain in place on a voluntary basis.

The point was made. The following tax season, the liberals who had ardently supported the higher tax rate for their fellow citizens suddenly embraced the lower one as their own. Of every 10,000 Massachusetts taxpayers, three opted for the higher rate. Famously among those who declined the higher tax rate was John Kerry, who saved $687 by accepting the lower rate. In fact, because of loopholes and write-offs, in 2003 Kerry and his billionaire wife paid just 14% of their income in federal, state, and local income taxes.

When Massachusetts' wealthiest residents have not been busy finding ways to limit their contributions to the government, they have been fighting environmentalists. A group of environmentalists, along with an organization called Cape Wind, seek to build 130 windmills off the shore of Cape Cod. Reports suggest that the windmills would ultimately provide about 75 percent of the energy used by Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, and the Nantucket. One would think that this use of clean, renewable energy would be an instant hit among pro-environment liberals like Ted Kennedy and Walter Cronkite.

Except there is a problem. The windmills, which would be built from 5 to 13 miles off-shore, might blemish the view from Kennedy's and Cronkite's oceanfront homes. While opponents of the windmills have advanced numerous arguments against the windmills, Cronkite admits that much of the opposition really comes down to selfishness. ''The problem really is Nimbyism, 'and it bothers me a great deal that I find myself in this position. I'm all for these factories, but there must be areas that are far less valuable than this place is.''

An ad hominem argument is a logical fallacy that involves replying to an argument by addressing the person presenting the argument rather than the argument itself. The reason that ad hominem arguments are considered fallacious is because an argument is either valid or invalid - independent of the character of those who advance it.

In one sense, these stories of liberal hypocrisy in Massachusetts are classic examples of ad hominem arguments. The fact that some some liberals can be hypocrites does not mean that the issues they support are invalid. In short, Kennedy's and Cronkite's squirming on self-sacrifice does not invalidate their positions on anything. But, it sure is funny.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

al-Qaeda's Plan for World Domination

Some of us used to think that al-Qaeda actually exists. In January, the BBC disabused us of that silly notion, in a three-part television series called The Power of Nightmares: "Wherever one looks for this al-Qaeda organisation, from the mountains of Afghanistan to the 'sleeper cells' in America, the British and Americans are chasing a phantom enemy." Although the rest of the world has been slow to catch on, the BBC taught us that the threat of international terrorism "is a fantasy that has been exaggerated and distorted by politicians. It is a dark illusion that has spread unquestioned through governments around the world, the security services and the international media."

Umm. Yeah.

A recent book is, er, at odds with the BBC's account of reality. Jordanian journalist Fouad Hussein, who has long rubbed shoulders with major Islamic terrorists, details al-Qaeda's master plan in his new book "al-Zarqawi - al-Qaida's Second Generation." It is a seven step plan to take over the world.

The First Phase "The awakening" -- this has already been carried out and was supposed to have lasted from 2000 to 2003, or more precisely from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in New York and Washington to the fall of Baghdad in 2003. The aim of the attacks of 9/11 was to provoke the US into declaring war on the Islamic world and thereby "awakening" Muslims. "The first phase was judged by the strategists and masterminds behind al-Qaida as very successful," writes Hussein. "The battle field was opened up and the Americans and their allies became a closer and easier target." The terrorist network is also reported as being satisfied that its message can now be heard "everywhere."

The Second Phase "Opening Eyes" is, according to Hussein's definition, the period we are now in and should last until 2006. Hussein says the terrorists hope to make the western conspiracy aware of the "Islamic community." Hussein believes this is a phase in which al-Qaida wants an organization to develop into a movement. The network is banking on recruiting young men during this period. Iraq should become the center for all global operations, with an "army" set up there and bases established in other Arabic states.

The Third Phase This is described as "Arising and Standing Up" and should last from 2007 to 2010. "There will be a focus on Syria," prophesies Hussein, based on what his sources told him. The fighting cadres are supposedly already prepared and some are in Iraq. Attacks on Turkey and -- even more explosive -- in Israel are predicted. Al-Qaida's masterminds hope that attacks on Israel will help the terrorist group become a recognized organization. The author also believes that countries neighboring Iraq, such as Jordan, are also in danger.

The Fourth Phase Between 2010 and 2013, Hussein writes that al-Qaida will aim to bring about the collapse of the hated Arabic governments. The estimate is that the creeping loss of the regimes' power will lead to a steady growth in strength within al-Qaida. At the same time attacks will be carried out against oil suppliers and the US economy will be targeted using cyber terrorism.

The Fifth Phase This will be the point at which an Islamic state, or caliphate, can be declared. The plan is that by this time, between 2013 and 2016, Western influence in the Islamic world will be so reduced and Israel weakened so much, that resistance will not be feared. Al-Qaida hopes that by then the Islamic state will be able to bring about a new world order.

The Sixth Phase Hussein believes that from 2016 onwards there will a period of "total confrontation." As soon as the caliphate has been declared the "Islamic army" it will instigate the "fight between the believers and the non-believers" which has so often been predicted by Osama bin Laden.

The Seventh Phase This final stage is described as "definitive victory." Hussein writes that in the terrorists' eyes, because the rest of the world will be so beaten down by the "one-and-a-half billion Muslims," the caliphate will undoubtedly succeed. This phase should be completed by 2020, although the war shouldn't last longer than two years.


Beer Me, Mommy

Looking for the perfect gift for that toddler on your list?

How about a six-pack of Kidsbeer.

The product, which is non-alcoholic and designed for kids, has a nifty slogan:

Even kids can't stand life unless they drink.

Goes well with candy cigarettes.

American by God's Amazing Grace

Some people are American by Choice. Others consider themselves American by God's Amazing Grace. Luke Stricklin describes himself as such in a new song that is becoming Country's music's answer to Cindy Sheehan.

Stricklin, a 22-yeard old National Guardsman from Arkansas, wrote the song while serving in Iraq. He worked out the music on a $25 guitar which an Iraqi boy found for him at a Baghdad street market.

Classic Country.
Bottom of my boots sure are gettin' worn
There's a lot of holes in this faded uniform
My hands are black with dirt and so is my face
I ain't never been to hell
But it couldn't be any worse than this place.

Tell my wife don't worry 'cause I know what to do
It makes you feel better sometimes, but don't know if it's true.
I know if I die it's just my time to go
But I pray to God every day that I may get back home.

Chorus:
Well when you've seen what I've seen
Things don't seem so bad
Quit worrying 'bout what you ain't got, thank God for what you have
'Cause I could be raising my family in this place
But I was born an American By God's Amazing Grace.

For the last twelve months I've had a new address
The neighborhood smells like sewage and the streets are lined with trash.
You never know what's gonna be the next thing to explode
But unlike these people, I have another home.

It breaks my heart to see these kids out on the streets
Walking barefoot through the trash, diggin' for something to eat.
I give them what I got, just to let them know I care
And I thank God it's not my son that's standing there.

(Chorus)

You want to talk about it, you better keep it short
'Cause I got a lot of lost time I gotta make up for.
Really don't care why Bush went in to Iraq
I know what I done there and I'm damn sure proud of that.
You got somethin' bad to say about the USA
You better save it for different ears 'less you want to crawl away.
And I laugh in your face when you say you've got it bad
Until you've spent some time on the streets of Baghdad.

(Chorus)

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

MideastWire

I'm still trying to learn more about MideastWire.com, but, assuming that it is on the up-and-up, it may merit a daily visit. It certainly is worth the sixty seconds it takes to register.

A sampling of today's stories.

A story from a paper in Iraq about facist local "governments":

Iraq is witnessing a state of confusion and anarchy in all fields due to the inability of both the current and former governments to impose their legitimate power throughout Iraq. Some political parties, forces, entities andorganizations, especially Islamic political parties, are actively working and moving in their domains, where they formed their own substitute governments away from the Iraqi government. These local governments enjoy full authority and power to issue decrees and to detain, imprison and unjustly prosecute people, in accordance with their own laws.

For example, they have the authority to punish hairdressers who do modern haircuts, whose punishment may go as far as prompt execution in their shops. As a matter of fact, a large number of hairdressers were killed in this way. The same punishment applies to the owners of cassette and CD shops who sell all kinds of music, songs, cassettes, and CDs. These shops are either set on fire or blown up if their owners do not abide by the regulations issued by these 'local governments' . . .

Not only that, these governments interfere also in people's private and personal affairs, including their clothes. Women and young girls are forced to wear the veil and are forbidden to wear jeans and trousers similar to men. Women who do not abide by these rules are assaulted and punished by the followers of these 'local governments,' which are being formed throughout Iraq.

The latest of these governments' bizarre decisions was to forbid the sale of ice cream in shops. Shopkeepers who sell and people who eat ice cream will be punished because it is an immoral and indecent taboo, according to the followers of these governments . . .
An editorial from a government-influenced Saudi paper regarding the Gaza pull-out:

Israelis are now convinced that the Palestinian intifada achieved victory by getting them out of the Gaza Strip, just as they were convinced that the Lebanese resistance quashed them in Southern Lebanon and accelerated their withdrawal from that area.

The above-mentioned argument requires from the Palestinians, including their political and military factions, an awareness that they achieved victory in Gaza, and that this is the first military and political Palestinian victory over the Israeli war machine. They should be ready for future battles of any kind, and put away their differences until another victory is achieved. That in turn will lead the international community to face a clear fact and force it to implement its resolutions to establish an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, and achieve a suitable solution for the return of refugees.

When Sharon announced the unilateral Gaza pullout plan, the Israelis tried to picture it as if it was a gift from Israel to the Palestinian Authority. They tried to bargain with Gaza for political achievements on the international level ... by categorizing the pullout as an item listed on the list of road map requirements. Sharon and Shaoul Mofaz, the Defense Minister ... tried to stir doubt between the PNA from one side and the Hamas Movement and Islamic Jihad Movement from another side ... [But] the factions [foiled] such aspirations by forming a joint committee to oversee the Gaza pullout ... . Today, the evacuation of the settlers from the Gaza Strip and the withdrawal of occupation forces verify that Palestinian unity is able to add a new page to Palestinian history.

And, a story about the arrest of the owner of a priniting press that published a book critical of the Egyptian government:

Al Quds Al Arabi, an independent pan Arab newspaper, reported on August 16 that: “The Egyptian security forces released, late last Sunday, Ramadan Hassan, owner of a a printing press which printed the 'Mubarak Family’s Repingdom' [word formed out of 'republic' and 'kingdom'] by Mohammed Taima, a reporter for the AlQuds Al Arabi newspaper.”

Hassan, who was arrested, and transfered to a police center on Sunday, was released the same night after officials worried that news of his arrest would help the book gain publicity. The book derives its name from a term coined by Saadeddine Ibrahim, which hints at the transform of the system from a republic to a patriarchal one. The book discusses the process of passing on power to President Mubarak’s son, ever since his first appearance on the political scene in 1998. Other writers contributed to the book at a time when it was considered taboo to discuss anything related to the ruling family. Mohammed Taima was also among the pioneers to talk about the growing influence of the first lady. The article reports that such criticism was responsible for taking the fight against an unofficial monarchy from secret rooms into the streets by groups such as Kifaya. Furthermore, websites and discussion forums have been established since 2002 to discuss the subject of the book, which is a
compilation of articles and stories written by several writers and journalists.

At this early stage of my exploration of the site, I have no undertanding of the reliability of any of these sources. But, the stories make for interesting reading.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

World War IV

A new site, Mideast Wire, gathers stories from newspapers in the Middle East and translates them into English.

According to the site, a recent column by Al Nabusi in the Lebanese paper As Safir addressed Islamic terrorism. Al Nabusi wrote:

Why is this chaotic killing taking place everywhere in Iraq and in other countries in the name of Islamic law? Islamic law is being hit by thousands of wrong interpretations and is costing thousands of innocent lives.

Is Islam calling for killing people just because those people disagree in opinion or on religion? The dilemma is that those people who are calling for violence are only following their ignorant interpretations of Islam. Those people who are calling for violence are not following the Holy Book or the prophet’s teachings or even the logical mind in choosing what is good and rejecting what is evil. Calling for an Islamic revolt through violence and killing innocent people is against the principles of the religion itself. Islam is based on freedom and not on imposing things against man's will. . . .

Yes the Western governments colonized and stole the Muslim land but does Islam allow us to kill their public? No it does not. We are living in their land freely and securely and we have laws and agreements we accepted to respect when we live on their land; therefore, we have no right to hate everything Western even if it is an innocent child, or a peaceful man, or an elder woman. Those terrorists are not following Islamic law but the law of the jungle - May God preserve Islam from them.


What is striking about this column is not its content, but rather that fact that it needs to be written. Does it really need to be said that "an Islamic revolt through violence and killing innocent people is against the principle of religion itself?" Apparently so. And, in an "independent" "opposition" newspaper, at that.

Why? Because there are many, many people who disagree with Al Nabusi's opinion. It is those people with whom we are at War. So says Norman Podhoretz.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Other People's Money

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich proposes a compromise in the debate over the estate tax, which Democrats seek to increase and Republicans seek to repeal.

Reich begins:
Before . . . 2001, the estate tax allowed a couple to pass up to a million dollars to their heirs, tax free. Not a bad deal, considering that only the wealthiest 2 percent of American couples had a million to pass on.
This hostility towards the interests of the wealthy is not uncommon. For example: "Repealing the estate tax . . . would provide a massive windfall for some of the country's wealthiest families . . . The estates of a tiny fraction of the people who die each year — those with very large amounts of wealth — pay the bulk of all estate taxes." The sound-bite version of this argument, employed against many types of legislation, is that the legislation "benefits the rich." Yet, repeal of the estate tax only "benefits" the rich because the estate tax, itself, only burdens the rich.

Reich and Co. defend the estate tax on the grounds that it applies to a small minority of the country. Is this defense sound? Few people would make the following argument: "We should not repeal Tax X because Tax X only impacts the 2% of the country who are Native Americans." Yet, replace the term "Native Americans" with "rich" and you have one of the most common arguments against repealing the estate tax, or against any tax cut.

There are good arguments against repeal of the estate tax. Notwithstanding its popularity, this is not one of them.

Reich goes on:
The 2001 tax law was an even better deal for the wealthy. It steadily raised that ceiling. This year, a couple can pass up to $3 million. By 2009, they can pass up to $7 million without being grazed by an estate tax. And in 2010, when the ceiling is lifted entirely, they can pass on a zillion dollars without paying estate taxes.
Stated another way: this year, a couple with an estate valued up to $3M can join the 99% of the country that pays no estate tax. By 2009, a few more couples will join the privileged majority. And, by 2010, everyone will be free of the tax that 99% of the country currently does not pay. To couch the 2001 law, as Reich does, as "an even better deal for the wealthy" is to poison an important debate with a tortured attempt at class warfare.

Reich goes on:

. . . [Yet], in 2011, the estate tax is scheduled to go back to what it was in 2001, kicking in at a million dollars per couple. Let's admit it. This oddity is crazy. If you're the heir of a very rich person who's on his or her death bed as midnight approaches on December 31, 2010, there could be a moment of­ shall we say­ eager anticipation.

I admit it. This oddity is crazy. The source of the oddity is the arbitrariness. This arbitrariness is part of what makes small-government types so uneasy anytime the government makes sudden grasps for the assets of its citizens. One day it's yours. The next day, by government order, it's not.

As a solution to this oddity, Reich proposes a compromise:
Don't restore the estate tax ceiling to the million dollars per couple that it was in 2001. Acknowledge that the cut has been made and it's politically unrealistic to go backwards. But at the same time, don't permanently repeal the estate tax either. Instead, keep it where it is right now, this year ­kicking in only for estates over $3 million. Compared to a permanent repeal, this compromise would bring in enough money to fill most of the shortfall in Social Security funding for the next 75 years. This way, the heirs of the super-rich-- who'll be wealthy even if they never lift a finger except to speed-dial their financial advisors-- will pay taxes on inherited fortunes over $3 million so people who have worked hard all their lives get the Social Security they're counting on.
Some economists dispute that the estate tax would have the benefit Reich promises, or any benefit at all. Reasonable minds can differ on this empirical point. What's worth noting, however, is that Reich's justification turns only on the use to which the money would be put, and not at all on the interests of those from whom it would be taken.

Why $3M? Because, with this cut-off, the tax revenue would be enough to meet particular government spending needs, and because it would be "politically unrealistic" to make the cut-off any lower. As for the people from whom the money would be taken, there's no need to worry about them. Why? Because they're rich. And, from Reich's perspective, it's not job of the rich to decide what to do with their money. It's the job of the government. You don't need to read Reich's whole article to conclude that. The title says it all: "What's enough? Let the rich keep $3 million."

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Old Enough to Abort, Too Young to Write

A new television ad from NARAL links John Roberts to abortion clinic bombings. FactCheck.org, among others, has taken the ad to task. NARAL has issued a lengthy press-release in response to FactCheck.org. NARAL begins:

FactCheck.org's analysis of the television advertisement released by NARAL Pro-Choice America on August 8, 2005 is deeply flawed, and its conclusion that the ad is false is unsubstantiated and should be retracted. The analysis, written by Matthew Barge, identified as a recent college graduate, is riddled with legal and factual errors and in many instances virtually mirrors the White House's talking points. One might disagree with the opinions stated in the ad or even have a different view of how John Roberts' role in a particular case should be characterized; however, every factual statement made in NARAL Pro-Choice America's ad is completely accurate
and supported by objective documents.

NARAL suggests that FactCheck.org's analysis is less worthy because it was written by a "recent college graduate." Yet, NARAL aggressively lobbies for the rights of minors to have abortions without parental consent. NARAL's position, in short: At fifteen, a girl is capable of deciding whether to abort a fetus, but won't be capable of writing a critical essay for at least ten years.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Drug Conspiracy

For devoted conspiracy theorists, the ideal conspiracy meets two conditions: (1) the theory is consistent with all known facts; (2) the theory is difficult to refute by any facts likely to become known in the future. I usually don't like conspiracy theories. Yet, the Rafael Palmeiro scandal has stirred the conspiracy theorist in me.

According to news and internet reports, the known facts are this: (1) In March of this year, at a Congressional hearing, Palmeiro emphatically denied ever using steroids; (2) In the same time frame, Major League Baseball announced that it would begin testing all players for steroids; (3) In May, Palmeiro tested positive for the use of the steroid stanozolol; (4) Stanozolol, a steroid used by disgraced sprinter Ben Johnson, is a steroid so strong that is virtually impossible to take unknowingly; (5) Stanozolol typically stays in one's system no more than two months; (6) Palmeiro is in the fading moments of his career, and it has long been expected that this will be Palmeiro's last season.

Collectively, these facts mean this: Within one or two months after denying using steroids before Congress, Palmeiro, a past-his-prime player in his last season, with knowledge that he would be tested for steroid use, intentionally took steroids.

Huh?

Given these facts, Palmeiro's implausibility defense seems a good strategy. Palmeiro said:

At this stage of my career, there's nothing to gain and everything to lose. I would not put my reputation on the line, everything that I've accomplished throughout my career. I would not do that. I'm not a crazy person.
Refusing to believe that anyone could be so "crazy" many people, including Cal Ripken and President Bush, have suggested that Palmeiro must be innocent. After all, no one could be so stupid as to take steroids with knowledge that they would be caught.

So, either Palmeiro is an idiot, or he is innocent, right?

Well, not necessarily. And, look out, because here comes the conspiracy theory. Let's assume for a second that Palmeiro is smarter than your average oatmeal cookie. If so, why would Palmeiro intentionally take steroids knowing he faced testing? One reason: if he believed that testing wouldn't detect the steroid. Yet, Palmeiro would not just guess that the test wouldn't detect the steroid. Presumably, this belief would be based on some source that Palmeiro believed to be reliable. Which leads me to the hypothesis: some steroid-using baseball players have a semi-reliable way to evade detection. In Palmeiro's case, perhaps, it failed.

Now, I get to play conspiracy theorist: Why isn't the evasion method more widely known -- why, for example, isn't there anything about it on the internet? Well, if it were possible to learn on-line, then MLB would know about it, too, and then it wouldn't much of an evasion method, would it?

That's the fun part of playing conspiracy theorist. You can just make stuff up.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Coercing Funding of Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Last week, Bill First broke with President Bush and expressed his support for increased federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research. John Tabin is puzzled by the praise that small-government types such as Glenn Reynolds, DailyPundit, and Ron Bailey, have heaped upon Frist's decision. Although many libertarians disagree with social conservatives regarding bioethics, Tabin wonders why these libertarians, in their haste to display that disagreement, support an increase in government spending.
The federal budget is in deficit. The choice is not between using tax-dollars to fund research and using the same tax dollars to fund something else. Rather, the choice is between using debt to fund research and not accruing that debt at all. What's wrong with the latter choice?
Tabin's argument against an increase in government funding of embryonic stem cell research brings to mind the fundamental difference between projects funded by the government and those funded by the private sector: government funding requires a gun to the head of every taxpayer; private funding does not. While coercion of the funding of embryonic stem cell research may be especially abhorrent to the 30% of the country that morally opposes the research, it is also controversial among those who oppose coercion.

Take funding of the Arts for example. Most people would agree that the Arts, in some form, merit preservation. One way to preserve the Arts would be to utilize government funds. Yet "utilize government funds" is another way of saying "put a gun to the head of every taxpayer and demand that they pay for the Arts." If, and only if, your commitment to preserving the Arts is so strong that you believe it merits compulsory payments from all citizens, then you should support the government funding option.

An alternative way to preserve the Arts would be to rely upon private organizations, funded by voluntary donations. This alternative has several advantages. First, this alternative does not involve physical coercion of those people who do not wish to fund the Arts. Second, it allows donors to choose the best methods for supporting the Arts. Rather than allotting those decisions to a single un-checked government bureaucracy, this alternative leaves private organizations to compete for donations by arguing that their methods are most effective at achieving the preservation goals of the donors.

The analysis is no different for embryonic stem cell research. In fact, it is no different for any end to which someone proposes using government funds. Ted Kennedy's rhetoric notwithstanding, it is possible, indeed common, for someone to support X while opposing government funding of X. In the case of embryonic stem cell research, there are proponents of the research who oppose government funding of the research. Glenn Reynolds, DailyPundit, and Ron Bailey are not among them.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Gov. Huckabee on "Lazy" Americans

In an interview in the New York Times magazine, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee says that, "without a doubt", Americans are lazy. Why?
We're the victims of our own successes and prosperity, which have caused us to change our lifestyles from being people who had to hunt for our food to people who have more than we can possibly consume. We go to gyms and pay people so they can help us sweat. Isn't that amazing? My dad was a fireman. On his days off, he worked in a mechanic's shop fixing cars. He never had to pay someone and say, ''Help me learn how to sweat.''
Two reactions:

First, Huckabee's willingness to criticize his own countrymen reminds me of the Seinfeld episode in which, upon converting to Judaism, Jerry's friend Tim claims a license to deprecate Jews, and immediately starts telling Jewish jokes. Imagine if Huckabee had said that Mexicans are lazy; or, if a Mexican politician had said that Americans are lazy; or if . . . I don't know, let's think of something really crazy . . . French president Jacques Chirac had condemned another entire country's cusine. In the public sphere, membership in a particular sociological group often excuses maligning that group; conversely, criticism is generally considered off-limits from those outside the group.

Second, is Huckabee even right? His reasoning seems puzzling. In support of the position that Americans are lazy, Huckabee points to the fact that people go to the gym. Lazy people. Rushing to the gym. To exercise. During their time off. From work. Where Americans spend more time than anyone else in the world. Some people who go to the gym might even be firemen. Who fix cars on their days off.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Wrong Turn

Ruth Conniff knows How the Left Can Win, and it doesn't involve rubbing magic lanterns. No, the lesson that Conniff draws from her experience at June's Take Back America conference is that the Left must move away from the Center (too crowded there, I suppose), and turn further Left. Citing a speech by "progressive political dynamo" Eli Pariser of moveon.org, Conniff states:
The Democrats can and must break their cycle of dependence on big donors whose interests conflict with those of their base. Democratic candidates won't please anyone so long as they preach populism in elections and then vote for atrocious legislation like the bankruptcy bill. The hypocrisy of trying to appeal to a base of workers, minorities, and the nonrich while serving the interests of corporate donors is killing the party. Fortunately . . . the small-donor fundraising revolution spearheaded by MoveOn and the Howard Dean campaign in the last election can help solve this fundamental conflict.
What makes Conniff believe that this will work? Well, it's the darndedest thing, but, every person at the Take Back America conference was liberal. Hot dog!

Too often at progressive events a cacophony of different voices compete and drown out any coherent, overarching message. Not so at the Take Back America event in June. There was much scolding of Democratic centrists from the stage. Arianna Huffington did a hilarious riff on Hillary Clintons waffling over whether it is appropriate to have an exit strategy from Iraq. Bob Borosage, co-director of Campaign for America's Future, talked about how dumb it was for Dems to keep muddying the waters on issues like abortion, when the message of the elections was that people want moral clarity. Speakers from Donna Brazile to Celinda Lake promoted a left takeover of the party.

This approach, Conniff argues, will help the Left "keep in touch and reach out to a nation that is hungry for a stronger opposition to Bush." Conniff's reasoning recalls Pauline Kael's mythical reaction to Nixon's 1972 thrashing of McGovern: "I can't believe Nixon won. I don't know anyone who voted for him."

If the only people permitted to vote in the next presidential election are attendees of the Take Back America conference, then I think Conniff's plan sounds like a winner. But, a pitfall might arise if the rest of the country is allowed to vote, too. According to the Battleground Poll, the rest of the country isn't as warm and fuzzy as Conniff's peers are about undiluted Progressivism. Sure, the Conniff Doctrine might appeal to the 8% of the country that calls itself "very liberal." And, it might even please a portion of the 28% of the country that is "somewhat liberal." But, I wonder how the plan would help the Left "keep in touch and reach out" to the 58% of the country that calls itself conservative.

Excuse me for a second while I climb atop this soap box.

There.

Conniff's condition serves as a useful reminder of the importance of seeking out and understanding views different from one's own. One great thing about the internet is that it provides instant access to so many others who share your views. A sometimes under-appreciated perq of the internet is that it also provides access to those who don't share your views. If you're liberal, check out the Conservative links; if you're conservative, check out the Liberal ones. Often.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Happy Birthday Susan Anne Catherine Torres

In February, Jason and Susan Torres, already parents of a two-year-old boy, were elated to learn that Susan was pregnant with their second child. Three months later, Susan, while propped up in bed eating dinner, lost consciousness. She was rushed to the hospital, where doctors declared her brain dead, a victim of melanoma. Although she had no hope of recovery, Jason decided to sustain his wife on life-support on the slim chance that she would survive long enough for their child to be born. He quit his job, carried his wife's voice on his cell phone, and, for three months, slept by her side at the hospital.

On Tuesday, the girl that Susan had hoped for, Susan Anne Catherine Torres, was delivered by Caesarean section. There is no evidence that the melanoma, which had spread through much of the mother's body, has harmed the baby. The next day, Susan was taken off life support. Jason, facing more than $400,000 in medical bills, yet determined not to declare bankruptcy, has gone public with his story in the hope of raising funds to cover the bills and other expenses.

GOP Spending Spree

The headline for this front page Washington Post story reads: GOP Embraces New Heights of Spending. The article goes on to describe the latest Congressional spending spree, endorsed by most GOP lawmakers, but ruffling the feathers of the fiscally conservative:
  1. "You have to be courageous to not spend money," said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), "and we don't have many people who have that courage."

  2. "There's a rising level of frustration with the disconnect between where the vast majority of conservatives are in this country and how Congress is behaving," said former representative Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), whose Club for Growth political action committee finances the campaigns of conservative candidates. "There's going to be a wake-up call sooner or later."

  3. "If you look at fiscal conservatism these days, it's in a sorry state," said Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), one of only eight House members to vote against the $286.5 billion transportation bill that was passed the day before the recess. "Republicans don't even pretend anymore."
Conservative pundits join this dissent. The editors of the National Review, the country's leading conservative magazine lose hope:
Venturing down the dustiest corridors of political memory, we recall a time when people thought a Republican Congress would be a fiscally responsible one. The hour to eulogize that hope has probably passed; but if one wished to drive a final nail in its coffin, it would suffice to adduce two monstrosities of wasteful spending that Congress sent to the president’s desk last Friday.

The editors then speculate about the motives for Bush's apparent decision to sign the spending legislation, and conclude that, whaetever the motives, the cost is high:
He may have resigned himself to the necessity of doing so in order to win congressional support for such administration priorities as the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which was ratified by a razor-thin margin last week. Whether such compromises are necessary as a matter of political expediency is something reasonable people can disagree about. What is clear — and lamentable — is that they erode the credibility Republicans once enjoyed as the spokesmen of fiscal conservatism.

"Kill" vs. "Shock and Awe"

Drawing on lessons from the United States' WWII defeat of the Japanese, Mark Steyn plays Monday morning quarterback and concludes that the reason for the ongoing insurgency in Iraq is that the United States hasn't played rough enough. In particular, Steyn argues, the United States' efforts to minimize civilian casualties in the early stages of the war rendered it impossible for the United States to achieve the sine qua non of total military success: persuade the enemy that it is finished.

The main victims of western squeamishness in those few weeks in the spring of 2003 turned out to be not American or coalition troops but the Iraqi civilians who today provide the principal target for insurgents. It would have better for them had more Baathists been killed in the initial invasion. It would have been preferable, too, if the swarm of foreign jihadi from neighboring countries had occasionally been met with the accidental bombing of certain targets on the Syrian side of the border. Wars fought under absurd degrees of self-imposed etiquette are the most difficult to win see Korea and Vietnam and one lesson of Germany and Japan is that it's easier to rebuild societies if they've first been completely smashed. Michael Ledeen, a shrewd analyst of the present conflict, likes to sign-off his essays by urging the Administration, "Faster, please." That's good advice. So too is: Tougher, please.
Steyn suggests that stomaching a few more Iraqi civilian deaths at the beginning of the war would have ultimately saved lives by limiting the extent of the insurgency. Maybe so. (In the absence of any calculus, the reader must take this on faith.) But, Steyn's narrow focus on military strategy ignores the battle for "hearts and minds", both in the Middle East and in America. Steyn's approach would no doubt have led to more stories like this one. Perhaps Steyn would respond that the benefits of swift military victory would have outweighed any costs in the effort to win "hearts and minds." But, Steyn doesn't make this case. Such, I suppose, are the limitations of the newspaper column.

UPDATE: Wretchard, of Belmont Club, e-mails the following comment:

The enemy is the first to sense US limits, whether these are explicit or not. One of these limits is the type of war that can be politically justified, because warmaking is ultimately authorized by elected representatives. But since some of these limits are self-imposed and not physical in nature, they are dynamic. This can make for surprising outcomes.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Defending Wal-Mart

Starbucks-bashing is so last year. The punching bag of choice for today's anti-corporate American is Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart's defenders have an up-hill battle.

In an Op-ed in today's New York Times, Pankaj Ghemawat and Ken Mark argue that Wal-Mart might (gasp!) help the country. Two reasons:

First, Wal-Mart hasn't just sliced up the economic pie in a way that favors one group over another. Rather, it has made the total pie bigger. Consider, for example, the conclusions of the McKinsey Global Institute's study of United States labor productivity growth from 1995 to 2000. Robert Solow, a Nobellaureate in economics and an adviser on the study, noted that the most important factor in the growth of productivity was Wal-Mart. And because the study measured productivity per man hour rather than per payroll dollar, low hourly wages cannot explain the increase.

Second, most of the value created by the company is actually pocketed by its customers in the form of lower prices. According to one recent academic study, when Wal-Mart enters a market, prices decrease by 8 percent in rural areas and 5 percent in urban areas. With two-thirds of Wal-Mart stores in rural areas, this means that Wal-Mart saves its consumers something like $16 billion a year. And because Wal-Mart's presence forces the store's competitors to charge lower prices as well, this $16 billion figure understates the company's real impact by at least half.

Free Money for Everyone!

When I was younger, one of my mother's favorite admonitions was: "Money doesn't grow on trees." In this article in Dissent Magazine, Sean Butler argues that my mother may have been wrong. Butler supports the institution of a "basic income", which is "money paid by the government to its citizens." "Ideally, this income comes without conditions . . . and is sufficient to provide for basic necessities."

Where does the money come from?

Trees! Well, sort of:
Perhaps the strongest argument for a universal basic income comes not from a claim of utility, but one of rights. This concept is legally enshrined in Article 25 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has a right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family . . . ” If this right cannot be met with a job, the thinking goes, it must be met with some form of basic income.

This right is based on what one needs to survive, but there is another approach to rights, based on Paine’s notion of “natural inheritance.” In his essay “Agrarian Justice” he argues that the value of agricultural produce comes partly from the labor of the farmer, but also partly from the land itself. While the farmer is entitled to the value he added to the land by growing crops, he should share the base value of the land, which is the natural birthright of every person. Paine was writing at a time when farming was the main source of wealth, but today, we can apply his principle to many forms of natural and social capital. This “unearned wealth” includes the air, water, land, sunlight, the ecosystem, the ozone layer, mineral resources, and the body of knowledge, infrastructure, and institutions built up by civilizations over the centuries. According to many economists, this common wealth is worth more than the total of private wealth. Whenever it is taken over by private interests—justified by the greater productivity this usually produces—its previous owners, the people, should be compensated. This argument for a right to a share of the common wealth points to a way of funding a basic income.
There's too much here to unpack. For now, I'll just say that I disagree with Mr. Butler's justification for digging his hands into the pockets of the productive.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Unintelligent Responses to Intelligent Design

The following news blurb has sent the blogosphere into a frenzy:

President Bush said Monday he believes schools should discuss intelligent design alongside evolution when teaching students about the creation of life. During a round-table interview with reporters from five Texas newspapers, Bush declined to go into detail on his personal views of the origin of life. But he said students should learn both theories, Knight Ridder Newspapers reported. "I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought," Bush said. "You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes."
Well, he did get a D in Astronomy.

In response to Bush's statement, these are just a few of the many bloggers with their panties in a bunch:

Don Surber implies that the President should be fed to lions.

Glenn Reynolds says Bush's statement is "just pathetic" and ponders embracing the Democrats if only they weren't "so lame."

Politburo says that Bush is "trying to prove the Dems right."

Right Wing Nut House calls it "too stupid to be true."

Mossback Culture calls it "just plain wrong", and flirts with abandoning the Republicans for Hilary.

John Cole is "beyond offended by the stupidity of this statement."

Jane Galt says "words fail me."
Crikey!

Three things make me wonder if this is all a bit much.

First, the context. The President did not issue an edict requiring the immediate commencement of a mandatory Intelligent Design course in all schools . In fact, he didn't even say that he supports legislation requiring the teaching of Intelligent Design. Rather, in response to a question in a round-table interview, President Bush stated his own opinion about whether both Intelligent Design and evolution should be taught in schools. According to the transcript, Bush's initial response to the question was that the decision should be left to local school districts. When pressed, he said that "both sides should be properly taught . . . so people can understand what the debate is about." The horrors!

Second, the status of Intelligent Design. Here is a round-up from Natural History magazine of arguments for and against Intelligent Design, with links to countless articles arguing on both sides. The introduction states: "Most biologists have concluded that the proponents of intelligent design display either ignorance or deliberate misrepresentation of evolutionary science." Yet, while the irate bloggers clearly agree with these biologists, it is evident from the Natural History debate that Intelligent Design enjoys support from at least some scientists with pretty resumes. Personally, having attended a few lectures on this topic and read a little as well, I'm on the side of the biologists. However, the bloggers seem off-base in implying that those who support teaching both evolution and Intelligent Design are de facto morons. (IDiots is the hip term.)

Third, the views of the American people. According to this CBS news poll, 65% of the country supports teaching creationism and evolution together in schools. That total includes 56% of Kerry voters. In fact, 37% of the country supports teaching creationism instead of evolution. Thus, if the United States were to have a national referendum about Intelligent Design in schools, the position that the President expressed today might win in a landslide.

UPDATE: A brief addendum to address the thoughtful comments below. One point made in several comments below is that the poll support for teaching Intelligent Design doesn't show that it is right. Of course not. However, the fact that two thirds of the country supports Bush's position does show, if nothing else, that Bush is not out of the mainstream on this issue. Some of the bloggers I cited above stated that, in light of Bush's comment on Intelligent Design, they can no longer support Bush, and are consequently considering seeking refuge with the Democrats. The singular point of my post was that, given (1) the context and actual content of Bush's comment; (2) the fact that some (albeit few) accomplished scientists agree with him; and (3) the fact that an overwhelming majority of the country shares his view, the bloggers may be over-reacting. Even though I may disagree with Bush's support of teaching Intelligent Design in science class, I won't lose any sleep over it.
MORE: For what it's worth, it appears that Kerry and Bush have similar views on this issue. In response to questions from Science magazine, Kerry and Bush both stated that this should be left subject to local control. I presume Bush's latest statement explains which position he would support in his own local jurisdiction. The magazine asked "Should intelligent design or other scientific critiques of evolutionary theory be taught in public schools? The responses:
KERRY: I believe that ideology should not trump science in the context of educating our children. Still, public school curriculum is a matter subject to local control. Communities must decide which sound, scientific theories are appropriate for the classroom.

BUSH: The federal government has no control over local curricula, and it is not the federal government's role to tell states and local boards of education what they should teach in the classroom. Of course, scientific critiques of any theory should be a normal part of the science curriculum.
STILL MORE: Welcome to those of you linking from Instapundit. Please enjoy this site.

Juan Cole is Not at War

More than a year ago, Andrew McCarthy argued that the "war on terror" was improperly named:
Terrorism is not an enemy. It is a method. It is the most sinister, brutal, inhumane method of our age. But it is nonetheless just that: a method. You cannot, and you do not, make war on a method. War is made on an identified and identifiable enemy. In the here and now, that enemy is militant Islam a very particular practice and interpretation of a very particular set of religious, political and social principles.

The Administration has recently stopped referring to the conflict as a "war on terror", but the new name -- the "global struggle against violent extremism" -- pleased neither McCarthy nor the Dallas Morning News. Both argue that the Administration should call a spade a spade and identify the real enemy: militant extreme Islam.

This may seem like a tempest in a teapot. Moreover, a case could be made that calling out Islam would do more harm than good. Nonetheless, those who deny that we are even at war in the first place are already drawing the wrong conclusions from the Administration's change in terminology. Exhibit A: Juan Cole:
I take it [the change in terminology] is because they have finally realized that if they are fighting a war on terror, the enemy is four guys in a gym in Leeds. It isn't going to take very long for people to realize that a) you don't actually need to pay the Pentagon $400 billion a year if that is the problem and b) whoever is in charge of such a war isn't actually doing a very good job at stopping the bombs from going off.

There is no approach that will guarantee success in the current war against militant Islam. But, one approach sure to guarantee failure is to deny that the war exists.

Monday, August 01, 2005

The Perils of the Twinkie Tax

In The New Republic, Jonathan Cohn argues in favor of a "Twinkie tax", a tax on unhealthy food.:


The idea of a "Twinkie tax," as it has come to be known, really does sound absurdly paternalistic. If you want to load up on french fries, health risks and all, why is that the government's business? Unfortunately, fat consumption really is the government's business in one, very literal, sense. As taxpayers, we all bear the burden of higher medical costs--either directly, by paying for Medicare and Medicaid, or indirectly, by subsidizing employer-based health insurance (which is tax deductible). So, when some people choose to eat poorly, we all end up bearing the financial burden for their decisions. A Twinkie tax would help rectify this, however modestly. Government wouldn't be scolding Americans about their choices. It would simply be asking them to confront the costs of those choices--namely, the future medical bills that fatty foods make more likely.

This is a common justification for all sorts of paternalistic legislation, covering topics such as seat belts and smoking. Yet, unless kept in check, it's scope is breathtaking . If a behavior's potential to increase government health care costs is sufficient to justify taxing or outlawing that behavior, then the government's nanny state powers are boundless.

Cumulatively, every behavior has some impact on government health costs. If that impact alone justifies legislation, then the government can legislate everything. How about tax credits for exercise? Install toll booths on elevators, and provide incentives for the stairs. Outlaw bungee jumping. Require automobile passengers to wear helmets. Mandate eight hours of sleep. And, an apple a day.

Socialism in Action in Venezuela

Webster's dictionary defines socialism as "a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state." In this respect, socialism is incompatible with the dignity and freedom of the individual.

This is evident from a recent trade between Venezuela, which is heading towards socialism, and Cuba, which is far beyond it. You wouldn't know it from mainstream media, but Fidel Castro has ordered 20% of Cuba's doctors to go to Venezuela, where they are "on loan" to Venezuela. By the end of the year, Castro has promised 30,000 health care workers to Venezuela. In exchange, Venezuela ships 90,000 barrels of oil each day to Cuba. Those unhappy with the transaction include: (1) Cubans who claim the health care of the island is suffering; (2) the Cuban doctors, twenty of whom have defected from Venezuela to Florida; (3) suddenly unemployed Venezuelan doctors; and (4) anyone who respects the dignity and freedom of the individual human being.

The National Urban League's Rhetoric

A Washington Post article describes a just-published study by the National Urban League concluding that blacks are under-represented on Sunday morning talk shows. The study, titled Sunday Morning Apartheid: A Diversity Study of Sunday Morning Talk Shows, and available here, concludes that, between January 1, 2004 and June 30, 2005, fewer than 8% of the guests on Sunday morning talk shows have been black. Putting aside the question of whether this is a problem that needs to be fixed, the study's rhetoric seems to be poor strategy. The study begins:

In 1958, Martin Luther King wrote: It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o'clock on Sunday morning. Today, nearly 50 years after Dr. King's incisive observation about America's churches, we are facing another form of Sunday Morning Apartheid: the Sunday morning talk shows.

12% of the United States general population is black. According to the study, 8% of the guests on Sunday morning talk shows are black. Thus, there is a discrepancy between the proportion of blacks in the general population and the proportion that populate Sunday morning talk shows. To compare this discrepancy to apartheid - a hate-filled policy of political and economic discrimination - is to invite ridicule upon a study whose content may or may not ultimately deserve it.

Said ridicule on Oxblog.

Krauthammer on Religion's Place

In separate Time Magazine articles, Charles Krauthammer argues that religion belongs neither in the closet nor in science class. He defends certainty against secularists, and defends science against Evangelicals.

In defense of certainty, he writes:

The campaign against certainty is merely the philosophical veneer for an attempt to politically marginalize and intellectually disenfranchise believers. Instead of arguing the merits of any issue, secularists are trying to win the argument by default on the grounds that the other side displays unhealthy certainty or, even worse, unseemly religiosity.


In defense of science, he writes:

To teach faith as science is to undermine the very idea of science, which is the acquisition of new knowledge through hypothesis, experimentation and evidence. To teach it as science is to encourage the supercilious caricature of America as a nation in the thrall of religious authority. To teach it as science is to discredit the welcome recent advances in permitting the public expression of religion. Faith can and should be proclaimed from every mountaintop and city square. But it has no place in science class. To impose it on the teaching of evolution is not just to invite ridicule but to earn it.


Both merit reading.