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    Notes from Louisiana

    Posted by ken on 27th December 2004 (All posts by )

    For me, as for most expatriate Louisianians, the holiday season means lots of quality time with my groundcar. Satellite radio definitely makes the experience much more pleasant.

    I just got done spending a week in Louisiana for the holidays. While I was there, I ate lots of good food, spent time with friends and family, and read the paper.

    And gained some interesting insights thereby…
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

    “Social” Justice?

    Posted by ken on 10th December 2004 (All posts by )

    It’s amazing to me that there are so many people who still think that the problems of today’s poor are the result of insufficient taxation of the rich or insufficient regulation of busines leading to an insufficient diversion of material wealth to the poor.

    The threats to the poor from economic want are largely solved, and they were solved by the very capitalists that past “reformers” kept denouncing as they pushed their own disastrously wrong-headed schemes. In a capitalist society, the rich get richer, and the poor also get richer.

    The poor won’t all rise in status, of course, because that would be logically impossible. Status isn’t a quantity, it’s a comparison – you can’t be high-status except with respect to other people who are lower-status. So when some people object to “poverty”, what they’re really objecting to is status, and the tendency of human beings to observe and respect status, and to organize themselves into pecking orders. As far as I can tell, however, this tendency is hardwired into the brain of the human animal, just as it is in the brains of lots of other types of animals, and we’re stuck with it for as long as humanity as we know it continues to exist; all we can do is keep low status from removing people’s rights or allowing higher-status people to use or threaten violence against them with impunity.

    The reformers of the past were wrong to think that the poor could be given the same material wealth as the rich without impoverishing everyone. However, society can, and should, offer equal protection of the laws.

    The crime rate in cheap neighborhoods has long been outrageously high, and it’s unfortunate that people who profess such concern for the poor are less likely than average to object to this and more likely than average to suggest “solutions” to poverty that completely ignore the worst aspect of being poor in modern-day America.

    So in the interests of real social justice, which now largely boils down to regular justice, I’d like to suggest a few changes to address this problem:
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Uncategorized | 14 Comments »

    The Life of Joe Republican

    Posted by ken on 29th November 2004 (All posts by )

    It seems the tale of Joe Republican is making the rounds, telling us about all the wonderful things that Joe takes for granted that were provided by the leftists that he despises.

    And what lesson do we learn from this, boys and girls? We learn that the Big Lie works, and that if you keep it up long enough, a century down the road your 100% Grade A Bullshit will be taught as History with a capital “H”.

    So let’s take a look at Joe’s life and the wonders that our friends on the left have brought to him…
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments »

    A Bush economic plan I can get excited about

    Posted by ken on 18th November 2004 (All posts by )

    It looks like Bush is set to push for more changes in the tax code, and he’s including some features that would make me a big fan if they stay in.

    The biggest one will do much to solve the “health care crisis” – it will eliminate the deduction that businesses currently get for offering company health plans.

    Why is this a good thing? Am I actually cheering a tax hike?

    Not exactly. There’ll be lower individual as well as corporate tax rates, and the plan is supposed to be revenue-neutral overall. But having employers “provide” health plans is decidedly inferior to having the employees buy their own plans, which is what seems likely to take place if this tax break finally, at long last, goes away. The market for health insurance will work better if insurance companies are competing to please the actual policyholders, rather than their employers. The current practice of having everyone in a given company charged the same rate regardless of risk factors is a strong incentive for companies to practice age discrimination and reject less healthy people, and removes an incentive that individuals would otherwise have to take cost into account when consuming health care and to keep themselves healthy.

    Other changes include elimination of double-taxation on corporate profits and an expansion of tax-free savings accounts, also eminently sensible moves.

    With expanded Republican representation in Congress, this should all have an easier time passing. And it hasn’t been wise in the past to bet against Bush getting his way when he really pushes for something.

    (Thanks to QandO for the link)

    Posted in Uncategorized | 26 Comments »

    Right-wing Bush Administration censorship

    Posted by ken on 18th November 2004 (All posts by )

    The right-wing socially conservative Bush Administration has ordered a sexually suggestive commercial off the air.

    Our friends on the left will be up in arms any minute now about this latest infringement on the First Amendment rights we all hold so dear, right?

    Right?

    Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

    Scary religious wackos

    Posted by ken on 7th November 2004 (All posts by )

    It’s become clear that there are millions of scary religous wackos that hate the very idea of religious freedom. They believe a woman’s place is in the home, and that she should be kept there by force of law. They believe that abortion should be illegal, and so should homosexuality, adultery, and premarital sex. Any influence they gain over the laws under which we live is thus a threat to our liberties and our rights, and you can bet your bottom dollar that they believe it is their duty to deprive us of our liberties and our rights and force everyone to live under their religious code by any means necessary.

    Fortunately, George W. Bush will be in a position to continue to oppose these religious wackos with deadly force, thanks to his support from millions of Christian evangelicals and tens of millions of other people.

    Obviously, Bush’s supporters out here in “Jesusland” are the real threat to American liberties…

    Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

    The Supreme Court

    Posted by ken on 4th November 2004 (All posts by )

    Now that Bush is in for another four years, it’s time to consider the likely results, and how we may encourage the positive and minimize the negative.

    One of the big domestic impacts will be the upcoming Supreme Court vacancies. Lots of Bush supporters have big objections to an “activist court”, and see it as interfering with questions that should be left solely up to legislatures.

    I don’t see that as self-evident. The 14th Amendment says that states may not deprive people of the “privileges and immunities” of the United States, and most people have taken that as a strong hint that the Bill of Rights is supposed to apply to state governments as well as to the Federal Government. Unfortunately, this includes the 9th Amendment, which states “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people”, without offering any clue as to what those “others retained by the people” might be.

    So how are these rights to be determined? By the standards of the time? Those standards are already expressed – by people voting for representatives to make laws, which incidentally makes any notion of other rights that are to be kept safe from legislatures meaningless. So, for that statement to have any meaning at all, there has to be some set of rights, not mentioned in the Constitution, that are supposed to be kept safe even from voting majorities or the transient standards of the time.

    Is “privacy” one such right? It has the advantage of being buyneurontinonlinehere hinted at in the statement that people have the right to be “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures”. Of course “unreasonable” can be taken to be relative to existing law, and not to be an impediment to laws that might necessitate more extensive searches and seizures which then become “reasonable”.

    But at any rate, the text of the Amendment explicitly denies the possibility that the text of the Constitution can be applied in every case where the question of whether something is or isn’t a right must be decided. Which means that we’re left with an arbitrary veto on Federal and State law in the hands of the Supreme Court.

    Is this a bad thing?

    As far as I can tell, the power to arbitrarily strike down law is better than the power to arbitrarily write law. And this power is not unlimited, since Supreme Court members can be removed by the Congress via the impeachment process. It’s just that the power to strike down laws is subject to less oversight than the power to write laws, which seems a good balance to me. And the Supreme Court has erred far more often in the direction of failing to strike down laws whose authorization cannot be inferred by any reasonable interpretation of the Constitution (i.e., one where a small section isn’t taken to render the rest of the document meaningless) than in striking down state laws that can reasonably be interpreted to be constitutionally kosher.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments »

    FOX News Alert

    Posted by ken on 3rd November 2004 (All posts by )

    Kerry concedes.

    If he means it, the lawyers won’t be dragging it out, and we can finally say it’s over.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

    Judging Methodology

    Posted by ken on 1st November 2004 (All posts by )

    Short or reproducing it, how can one judge the likely accuracy of a study?

    Statistics won’t help. Statistics only tell one the odds the results spring from sheer chance, not whether your original measurements were valid in the first place. You get the same statistics from the same data set whether the data represent colored ping-pong balls, car wrecks or the lengths of salamander penises.

    About the only way to calibrate the study is to see how it measures the same phenomenon that other studies measured. If the study’s methodology returns results consistent with other studies for one measurement, then we can be more confident that its other measurements are accurate.

    The Johns Hopkins funded study of Iraqi mortality before and after the war (published with much media attention in The Lancet) has many critics and defenders. Is there any means of judging the study’s likely accuracy without reproducing it?

    I think there is.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Uncategorized | 23 Comments »

    Nonsensical criticism of Bush, part…

    Posted by ken on 29th October 2004 (All posts by )

    Oh, Hell, I lost count years ago.

    Now we are told that Bush should be turned out of office because his “incompetence” caused us to lose (maybe) a couple of hundred tons of explosives from a warehouse in Iraq. Now keep in mind that these aren’t the dreaded WMD (which didn’t exist, remember?), and these aren’t plain old regular explosives, either (or else this wouldn’t be such a big deal), but a nifty new category of munition, not powerful enough to justify an invasion but just powerful enough for their disappearance to justify Bush’s ouster.

    So let’s take the worst case, and see where it leads us.

    The absolutely most damning case that could be made is that some soldiers arrived while the stuff was still there, but didn’t stick around to guard it, since they were still rather busy invading Iraq at the time; some time later, our forces went back to the site, found these munitions missing, and the Administration failed to advertise our loss of these munitions to the entire world.

    Even granting all that, where’s Bush’s incompetence?

    Ah, he didn’t commit enough troops to the operation, so there weren’t enough people on hand to guard this super-critical site, so we left it unguarded and somebody took the stuff away. But if you’ll recall, there was a significantly larger force committed to the operation – half of that force hadn’t shown up yet, being in the process of taking the long way around to Iraq. And that wasn’t due to Bush’s “incompetence” but Turkey’s lack of cooperation. And no, that wasn’t a “failure of diplomacy” either – if Kerry had gone to Turkey and said “pretty please with a cherry on top”, he wouldn’t have gotten any better results, not from Turkey, and not from France or Germany either.

    So what we’re left with is that the noncooperation of Turkey, and the general chaos that always accompanies wartime operations, allowed these explosives to fall into the hands of our enemies?

    Not quite. That stuff had been in the hands of our enemies for years.

    Yes, I’m speaking of none other than Saddam Hussein. And, need I remind you that he was a declared enemy of the United States, not to mention technically still at war with us. And consistently violating the cease fire agreement, by shooting at American planes that had every right to be there under the terms of that agreement. Do you remember the last time a defeated enemy was allowed to violate the terms of a peace treaty with impunity? You know, the nation led by that Austrian corporal with the funny mustache that was just like George W Bush in every way, according to some of our friends on the left?

    But Saddam wasn’t much of a threat!

    Well, neither was Hitler the first few years he was violating his peace treaty. And if Britain and France invaded when he first moved troops into that part of Germany where they were supposed to be off-limits, and knocked him off his throne, most people would have written it off as a wasteful misadventure and then forgotten the whole thing within a few years, never dreaming of the trouble he’d have caused down the road.

    Now we all have a tendency to sort evil whackos into two categories – those that are a threat to us and those that aren’t. And for many years, the jihadis all seemed to be in the second category. They’d set off bombs and hijack planes on the other side of the world, and some of the things they blew up had American flags on them, and of course they’d been calling us The Great Satan all along, but even the crazy jihadis weren’t crazy enough to try that crap over here. Until one day, one terrorist network was crazy enough to try it. They crossed the line, jumped the ocean, and made a determined and nearly successful effort to murder 50,000 people on American soil.

    If Al-Queda could cross that line, why not some other group? Why not some Islamic conspiracy, or state, or kinda-sorta-state-sponsored group that had nothing to do with bin-Laden? Obviously, whatever it was that had caused them all to stay in their sandbox and avoid doing something that The Great Satan itself couldn’t possibly ignore doesn’t apply anymore, and any one of those guys could decide to score a big one like bin Laden tried to, impress his fellow jihadis, and scare up a lot of recruits. So when someone over there openly declares his enmity against the United States, we can’t assume it’s all just talk anymore, and if every intelligence service on the planet is unable to figure out whether he’s working on nukes or biding his time until containment collapses, we certainly can’t take any of them at their word that he’s fully contained and absolutely harmless.

    Not to mention that he was in the way of us forcibly shutting down Iran’s nuclear program, should that become necessary (and I’ve got a strong feeling it will be necessary, in the not-too-distant future). And he was in a perfect spot for us to launch several other operations as they become necessary, gather better intel, and generally stay on the offensive against all sorts of characters that we can’t trust to blow things up only on their side of the world anymore.

    Now the one thing that strikes me about the military efforts to date is just how incredibly successful they’ve been, and how masterfully planned and executed they turned out to be. Not perfect, of course (You mean there’s terrorists setting off explosives? Against Americans and their supporters? In the Middle East, no less? Say it isn’t so!). But a lot of the toys that John Kerry voted against turned out to be damned useful in the War on Terror. I don’t want to even think about how an Afghanistan operation with Vietnam-era technology and tactics would have gone for us – I think in that case we’d have been wishing for another Vietnam. And if you’ve ever cracked a history book, you’ll realize that only 1200 deaths in a year and a half of invading a dictatorship, overthrowing its dictator, and fighting a chronic insurgency is astoundingly good news, especially when added to the fact that the long-predicted flood of refugees never materialized, the terrorists that Saddam’s regime had nothing whatsoever to do with suddenly got extremely interested in the fate of Iraq (and no, we’re not turning peaceful, simple folk into bloodthirsty terrorists – at worst, we’re forcing them to choose their side a little sooner than they would have on their own, and denying them the option of biding their time until the Great Satan looks sufficiently weak to try their hand at terrorism on their chosen terms), and Iraqis are still signing up to take on the battle for their country against these thugs and getting set to vote in their first-ever real election in a couple of months.

    And the Commander-in-Chief at the helm during these amazing accomplishments is called incompetent? You’ve got to be kidding me.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 20 Comments »

    Finally, a reason to vote against Bush

    Posted by ken on 23rd October 2004 (All posts by )

    that can be taken seriously – that isn’t either a blatant distortion (Iraq is a disaster!), a reason to vote for Bush (he’s going to reduce Social Security benefits! He’s going to go to war against Iran!), or a failing that Kerry would magnify if he got the chance (he spends too damn much money!)

    Apparently, the current administration is pushing for a UN convention intended to ban all forms of cloning worldwide. (Another link here; Kleiman’s post has a link to a Financial Times article that requires registration and payment)

    This is absolutely insane. To protect organisms that cannot possibly be people, that don’t even have the most rudimentary brains that are the first and most basic requirement for sentient life, the Administration is advocating that all of humanity be forbidden to investigate or use techniques that may lead to the possibility of transplanting your own matching organs or even replacing your entire body, and show an exciting prospect for one day finally eliminating the dreaded, agonizing, degenerative disease that has plagued every last generation of humanity since the very beginning of the race, perhaps in time to save you from certain death.

    To be sure, the UN has no power to actually enforce such a prohibition, and the US Congress declined to enact one on its own and would probably continue to do so even if the UN asked it to. But how much needed and useful investment would go on in this country in the presence of an Administration that openly advocates criminalizing the fruit of such long and expensive labors?

    If only his opponent, and his entire party, weren’t so openly hostile to the very idea of market forces being allowed to produce technological improvements, price reduction, and increased supply in the medical field, and in favor of “solving” the problems caused by ill-advised interventions in the marketplace by adding more interventions.

    If only his opposition wasn’t so disdainful of the very possibility of bringing some measure of liberty and democracy to places that knew only oppression and jihad, or so committed to the notion that the introduction of free-market capitalism is a provocation that enrages the locals and understandably makes them turn into jihadis and plot revenge against such outrageous injury.

    Damn, I’m really beginning to hate this election.

    (Update: Maybe Bush is pushing for UN action because it has little practical effect, while allowing him to pretend to take positive action against the evils of cloning and stem-cell research. If we grant that assumption, this move goes into the “reasons to vote for Bush” column. But I don’t know if that explanation makes sense. What do y’all think?)

    Posted in Bioethics | 23 Comments »

    Clear descriptive language

    Posted by ken on 22nd October 2004 (All posts by )

    Certainly something we could use more of – a lot of problems would go away if things were simply called by their right names.

    Here’s a beautiful example of the difference between language intended to obfuscate and language intended to illustrate.

    “FDA lifts ban on…” should be the headline every time the FDA “approves” a drug.

    Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Clear descriptive language

    More draft nonsense

    Posted by ken on 18th October 2004 (All posts by )

    They just don’t quit, do they?

    Apparently the new line is that Bush’s secret plan for the war on terror requires expanding the military, and there is no possible way to expand the military without a draft. Notice that these guys refuse to even discuss the possibility of recruiting extra soldiers. (Not that Democrats were ever big on recruiting soldiers as opposed to conscripting them…)

    (All this talk is making me wonder if we will have a draft – through the refusal of Congressional Democrats to raise the military’s authorized strength without one… while pushing the line that Bush is endangering us by resisting this obviously needed move.)

    I wish we had expanded our forces two years ago, to give us more of a reserve for dealing with contingencies (like mullahs getting uncomfortably close to posessing nuclear weapons) and to finally kill, once and for all, the odious practice that Jefferson Davis introduced to these shores by showing it to be completely superfluous (at best). I’m pretty sure an expansion is going to have to happen within the next few months, and I’m confident that when that time comes, we’ll all get to see just how full of it these scare-mongerers are about George W. Bush.

    Posted in Military Affairs | 6 Comments »

    Shifting the Blame

    Posted by ken on 18th October 2004 (All posts by )

    I submit another reason to vote against our friends on the left, including their current presidential candidate John Kerry.

    Those guys have a long-standing habit of shifting the blame for their own mistakes, failures, and disasters onto their victims and innocent bystanders. This behavior has been going on for more than 70 years.

    (Sure, there are claims that Bush is shifting the blame for his own failures in Iraq to… someone else. But I’m not about to fault him for refusing to accept the blame for the actions of our enemies, especially when he told us forthrightly, repeatedly, from the very beginning that we would need much more time to destroy them than we have spent so far.)

    A couple of recent examples should suffice.

    Some time ago Congress passed a law providing free health care for some of our population. Some of the beneficiaries were damaging their own health and driving up the cost to be covered by the government by smoking cigarettes. Congress made no provision limiting the liability of the government in cases where the recipients of medical aid damaged their own health in this way.

    According to the Clinton Administration, this was all somehow the fault of the tobacco companies – they were alleged to be responsible for costs incurred by a program passed by Congress with no input whatsoever from the tobacco companies. The administration proceeded to extort large sums of money, ostensibly to repay this cost, and the states ended up following suit.

    More recently, Wal-Mart stands accused of transferring costs onto the government – because of welfare payments made to some of their lower-paid employees according to laws passed by Congress, again without input from Wal-Mart. Apparently, if you hire people that make less than the welfare threshold, it somehow becomes your fault that the government is giving them welfare payments, and never mind that they’d be getting even more welfare payments if you didn’t hire them. Extensive punitive action has not yet occured, but if this “logic” doesn’t soon get the ridicule it deserves, it’s only a matter of time.

    This kind of outrageous dishonesty should not be rewarded at the ballot box.

    Posted in Politics | Comments Off on Shifting the Blame

    Hostage house found

    Posted by ken on 18th October 2004 (All posts by )

    According to CENTCOM, a house apparently used as a place to hold captives was found by officers who also intercepted more would-be victims.

    They also found two bottles of anesthetic which was presumably intended to drug the victims and make them appear docile on video.

    (Thanks to
    Junkyard Blog for the link)

    Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

    The People’s Paper

    Posted by ken on 14th October 2004 (All posts by )

    How does this plan grab y’all:

    We create a new Federal agency, the Federal Paper Commission. All paper in the United States will be owned by the public, and managed by the FPC in the public interest. Newspapers and magazines will apply for a paper license, and be given a renewable license to use part of the public’s paper supply, but in return will be required to use that paper in the public interest, as defined by the FPC.

    One advantage of this plan is that it will prevent the owners of newspaper and magazine enterprises from hijacking the political process by printing one-sided political propaganda – since such activities are clearly not in the public interest, a properly functioning FPC will disallow that and allow the people to vote without undue inflence by corporate interests.

    And it’s not even a violation of the First Amendment. You’re still free to speak your mind; you just can’t use the people’s paper to hijack the political process with your propaganda.

    You don’t like this idea? Well, these same rules are currently in effect with respect to the broadcast spectrum, and some of our friends on the left heartily approve and are loudly advocating that the FCC take advantage of these rules to banish political advocacy from the airwaves.

    Folks, when the First Amendment was written, the Founders didn’t insert any language forbidding Congress from nationalizing the country’s entire paper supply because such an outrageous usurpation literally didn’t occur to them. And if it had, they’d have figured that the absence of the authority to do that among Congress’s enumerated powers would prevent it.

    They wrote the First Amendment for the very purpose of preserving for all time the right of the people to freely disseminate their views and allow everyone to freely participate in the marketplace of ideas. Had they any prescience of the possibility of long-distance wireless communication and broadcast, they’d have assumed that the First Amendment would cover people’s use of the devices and the broadcast spectrum just as it covered their use of more traditional printing presses and paper.

    Instead, in a blatant end-run around the First Amendment, we got a complete nationalization of the entire broadcast spectrum, and an explicit mandate for the agency charged with managing “the public’s” airwaves to prevent exactly the sort of political advocacy that the First Amendment was intended to preserve and encourage. And Michael Powel is called “something of a tool” by our friends on the left for not being quick enough to use the usurped power of the FCC to cut off political advocacy and silence the offering of a political viewpoint. And they have the nerve to call Bush a fascist, and claim that the right is secretly plotting to destroy our democratic tradition?

    So if you don’t approve of the FCC managing the airwaves, how would you prevent interference?

    Well, deeds of ownership to small slices of a large divisible resource is not exactly cutting edge technology. You might just as well ask how we’d prevent interference in the use of land without a Federal Land Commission to manage all of US soil in the public interest. Or for that matter, how we’d prevent interference in the use of paper without the Federal Paper Commission.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

    The most important health care issue there is

    Posted by ken on 10th October 2004 (All posts by )

    Despite the best efforts of researchers to date, all of us are doomed. Unless something else gets us first, we can all look forward to a slow, lingering, painful death in less than 100 years.

    Our only hope of survival is further technological advance in the medical and pharmaceutical fields. Every single day that the necessary advances are delayed, 100,000 people die of “natural causes”.

    Now advances tend to build on each other, and they especially build on previous advances that have proven themselves in the laboratory and in the marketplace. Thus, inserting a bureaucratic delay of one year in each step of the process can lead to a delay of dozens of years in the final development and deployment of anti-aging treatments, with each one of those years costing more than 3.6 million deaths. Given the length of time that the FDA has been in existence, I’ve got a feeling that every death by “natural causes” over at least the last ten years (~36 million) were already completely unnecessary and could have been avoided if only the FDA and other controls on the medical industry hadn’t been established.

    Reducing the payoff for introducing useful treatments will, of course, cause more delays and more deaths. Pharmaceutical price controls, single-payer health plans, and other interventions are therefore extremely dangerous to all of us in the long run, and the the mere threat of their introduction may have already sealed the doom of those in their so-called “golden years” by discouraging current investment that would otherwise pay off over the next 15-20 years. Our health care policy is badly in need of reform – free-market principles need to be introduced, not taken away, and controls need to be lifted, not added to, in order to give us our best chance at survival. We need everyone involved in the pharamceutical and health care industry to know that they can get filthy stinking rich and freely gouge the public for huge sums of money if they come up with even a partial solution to this scourge that has plagued every single generation since the Dawn of Man, without any danger that clueless leftists will take their earnings or their freedom to pursue further discoveries and further profits in peace in the health care industry away from them.

    And that, as far as I can tell, is by far the most critical “health care issue” there is. I don’t see how anything else even comes close.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

    The downsides of being poor

    Posted by ken on 6th October 2004 (All posts by )

    Being poor today is a lot different from being poor in the past. It wasn’t all that long ago that being poor meant you went hungry on a regular basis and froze all winter. Thanks to the capitalist system, and a whole bunch of smart capitalists inspired and rewarded by that system, this is no longer the case.

    But that doesn’t mean that poverty has become a walk in the park. There are still problems associated with poverty, and these problems fall into two categories: problems that capitalism can’t solve, and problems that capitalism is being actively prevented from solving. In both categories, changes in government policy are called for, but nothing like the usual changes recommended when someone talks about “doing something” about poverty (i.e., either handing over money, or forcing the evil plutocrats to hand over money)…
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on The downsides of being poor

    Americans can’t cope?

    Posted by ken on 6th October 2004 (All posts by )

    It’s interesting to see the other side state their basic assumptions explicitly. Usually, you have to divine their premises from their proposals and actions, and you sometimes sound paranoid when you do; not only that, they get to accuse you of lying about them, and point out that they never did come out and say the underlying assumption you think they’re using.

    Well, here it is, spelled out in black and white. In the middle of telling us about George W. Bush and the Republican evil plot to enrich the plutocrats at the expense of regular people, Jacob Hacker of The New Republic writes, and I quote:

    “Conservatives demand a go-it-alone world of personal responsibility. Yet, the truth is that Americans can’t cope with insecurity on their own. ”

    It doesn’t get much clearer than that. If you read the whole piece, it’s an attack on the very idea of transferring to individuals any of the responsibility for providing for their financial well-being. No replacing company store health plans with cash. No replacing pensions with 401(k)’s. No tax-deferred savings or health savings accounts. No expecting people to save for unexpected expenses or layoffs. All of these things transfer nothing but “risk” to ordinary people, while enriching the plutocrats. Apparently, average Americans can’t handle using plain old American dollars to meet their needs and provide for the unexpected, but need the guiding hand of Washington to look after them for the rest of their lives and see that they don’t get themselves into trouble.

    From that basic assumption he goes on to claim that Americans still have too much responsibility (or, as he puts it, “risk”), and outline a plan for “universal insurance”, whereby everyone “contributes” “premiums”, and anyone can get a payback if his income drops (for any reason?). He seems to notice (“To some extent”) that this has “moral hazard” written all over it, but then waves his hands and says that corporations have limited liability “to encourage risk-taking” (Actually, it’s to encourage investment – just imagine what life would be like if a judgement against any corporation represented in your 401(k) meant that the plantiff could go after all of your assets to pay for it…) and that ordinary American families need the same thing in order to preserve the dynamism of American capitalism. While risk-taking is certainly a big part of America’s success stories, I don’t see how encouraging people to risk other people’s money (without their consent) on prospects that they wouldn’t risk their own money on is supposed to be a winning proposition for us or for society.

    At any rate, all the hare-brained schemes that we find ourselves burdened with rest on the basic assumption, rarely stated so baldly, that Americans never actually grow up, that they need parental guidance and care for their entire lives, and that anyone who presumes to allow Americans any measure of liberty or ask them to assume any measure of responsibility for their own well being is on the same moral level as someone who would toss a small child out on the street and ask it to fend for itself. How they can possibly believe this about a population largely descended from individuals that willingly left everything and everyone they knew behind, crossed a major ocean, and eagerly fended for themselves in a strange new land escapes me, but there it is. That’s the proposition that we stand in opposition to, that’s the basic assumption of all of our opponents, and that’s the belief that we need to convincingly discredit in the minds of those with political power if we’re ever to reclaim the full measure of liberty that is the very purpose of this nation’s existence.

    (Link courtesy of The Three Toed Sloth)

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    The likely consequences of letting Iran get nukes

    Posted by ken on 24th September 2004 (All posts by )

    They probably won’t set off a nuke in Manhattan, or “lose” one of their nukes to their terrorist subsidiaries, at least unless they’ve got a really surefire way to get away with it.

    But observe that they are already backing at least part of the “insurgency” bedeviling Iraq. If they go hog-wild, we can always muster support for an invasion – for now – so there’s limits to what they can do there.

    But with a nuke, they’ve suddenly invasion-proofed themselves. Like the Pakistanis, the Chinese, and the Russians, they’ll either get nuked or scolded and/or embargoed, but almost certainly nothing in between.

    All of a sudden, the limits to their insurgency-backing activities in Iraq are gone. We’re going to enter a nuclear exchange because they’re vigorously backing insurgents? Not bloody likely.

    So what we end up with is a proxy war against another nuclear armed power. We don’t have the option to take the fight to the backers no matter how much they escalate the situation, because they’ve got nukes. So we’re stuck blasting away at their agents (who quickly get replaced by the backer) and taking significant numbers of casualties in return for years on end, making life awfully rough for the locals in the meantime, until one side finally runs out of patience and throws in the towel. If it’s us that throws in the towel, then life gets really rough for the locals and our reputation goes in the toilet.

    That sounds awfully familiar. Didn’t John Kerry make a passing reference to the time he was in that situation a few decades back? As I recall, it didn’t turn out too well last time around…

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    Why you should vote even when all the choices suck

    Posted by ken on 24th September 2004 (All posts by )

    Because once you vote, you are seen by present and future politicians as someone whose vote can be swayed by policies that you like.

    For instance, people over the retirement age vote in huge numbers, while younger people vote in lesser numbers. This leads politicians to fall all over themselves to give younger peoples’ money to older people. If turnout among younger people skyrocketed, regardless of who they voted for, politicians might decide that it might be worthwhile to oppose giving younger peoples’ money to older people to get a piece of that action and win despite the opposition of the older people. They might also try repealing the current selective alcohol prohibition targeted at younger voters, in an effort to appeal to them.

    This isn’t to say that people should vote randomly or without serious reflection. And there’s always the danger that the politicians will switch to giving older peoples’ money to younger people instead. But if the politicians abandon the idea that they can screw you over to satisfy their constituents that actually vote, this is all to the good. If you have good ideas that you want to see enacted, or bad ideas that you want to see repealed, voting for the “lesser of two evils”, while frustrating, at least puts you on their radar screen and encourages aspiring new politicians to look for ways to appeal to you. Staying home just leads them to think that you don’t care and won’t resist when your money is taken and used for the benefit of voters.

    Answering telephone polls might also be a good idea.

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    The first smelly particles are touching the rotating blade…

    Posted by ken on 23rd September 2004 (All posts by )

    And there’s plenty more where that came from.

    This year, Social Security and Medicare are paying out more to their beneficiaries than they are collecting from FICA. The long-predicted shortfall has begun. It’s not off in some hazy future anymore, it’s starting right now.

    Present value figures for the total shortfall over time are estimated between $40 trillion (yes, that’s “trillion” with a “T”) and $72 trillion. That’s 40-72 trillion over and above what what the law is already set to take from productive workers over the next few decades that’s been promised to current and future retirees.

    Remember how Bush’s deficits were going to destroy the economy, according to some people? Better hope to God they’re wrong, because that’s chicken feed compared to this, although the extra spending it represents doesn’t exactly help matters.

    (And Bush’s drug benefit program, which is characterized as “inadequate” by our friends on the left, contributes to the problem to the tune of $8 trillion to $12 trillion)

    It would be nice if those “Rock the Vote” guys would point to these figures, especially the ones that mention a 32 percent FICA rate (over and above income taxes, which will have to be raised at some point to cover present non-Social Security and non-Medicare spending), and explain that their elders can take this kind of money from the younger generations because they vote in such huge numbers, and because younger people don’t. That should boost turnout among the intended victims more than lame attempts to use celebrities and rocks stars to paint voting as “cool”, whatever that means.

    (Thanks to 101-280 for that second link, and Catallarchy.net for the first).

    Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

    On the cost of government.

    Posted by ken on 23rd September 2004 (All posts by )

    It is news to no one that George W. Bush has been a less than responsible steward of the people’s money. From the left and the right have come criticisms of the deficits that have been run up during his watch, some of it justified.

    Our friends on the left, after talking sense for a while, then recoil in horror at what they’ve done and go back to talking out of their hats. They tell us that the solution is to replace George Bush with John Kerry, who will raise taxes and close the deficit, thus addressing our objections and solving our problems.

    This would be amusing if not for the fact that some so-called “fiscal conservatives” have actually considered doing just that, rather than laughing out loud, which is the reaction this “solution” deserves.

    Over the long-term, the total cost of government is overwhelmingly driven by one variable: spending. The national debt has interest, of course, but the effects of this are mostly discounted away by the simple fact that the debt and the interest will be paid with future dollars, which are worth less than today’s dollars. What it all boils down to is, higher spending means higher total taxes over the long term to pay for it, lower spending means lower total taxes over the long term to pay for it, and the current tax rate is not that much of a factor over the long haul. Taxes not collected today will have to be paid tomorrow, of course, but money not taxed today turns into more wealth tomorrow (assuming the spending isn’t being spent on stopping people from creating wealth!), making those extra future taxes easier to pay.

    (This assumes, of course, that the perceived risk of loaning money to the government, which drives the part of the interest rate that is not discounted away, remains exceedingly low, as it has ever since Alexander Hamilton ran the Treasury Department. So deficits do matter, if they get so high that they spook potential bondholders and drive up real interest rates.)

    So let’s look at spending. Every time George W. Bush proposed or allowed some outrageous piece of spending, the reaction from the left side of Congress, and usually from the Kerry campaign, was that this spending was hopelessly inadequate. We can easily infer from this that the expected spending level favored by Bush is less than the expected spending level favored by Kerry; thus, total long-term taxes needed to fund a Bush government is likely to be less than the total long-term taxes needed to fund a Kerry government.

    (But what about gridlock? A contention between a Congress that wants more spending and a President that wants a lot more spending isn’t going to be resolved in our favor. The compromise position will be higher spending than what Congress would pass in the presence of a President that merely wants too much spending rather than outrageously too much spending. Or put another way, if a Republican had been in the White House in 1995, what do you think would have happened to the Congressional spending plan that year? I figure it would have gotten passed nearly unchanged and signed without a government shutdown.)

    Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

    Winning the war and losing the peace

    Posted by ken on 21st September 2004 (All posts by )

    The United States of America went to war against a certain oil-rich state. That state had already declared itself an enemy of the United States, oppressed its own people, and lent support to a regional movement that did threaten the United States and had already attacked American territory. This state was not in and of itself much of a threat, but knocking it over did put the United States in a better strategic position to deal with the real, urgent threat facing it.

    Fortunately this oil rich state was conquered with relative ease. Unfortunately, the aftermath didn’t go so well.

    Not long after the occupation started, riots broke out. In the capitol and out in the boonies, those who favored the old order responded with violence against the occupiers, and against those who supported the occupiers. Shadowy terrorist groups started operating, causing mayhem wherever they could, and the American occupiers were powerless to stop them.

    A new government was instituted, one that would give rights to the formerly oppressed people. A new constitution was written that would guarantee those rights. This new government came under attack almost immediately.

    Sounds like the outcome of a real screwup, the kind of thing that would bring lasting infamy upon the President foolish or vicious enough to embark upon this insane course, at least if you listened to the Democrats during the war and the occupation.

    But it gets worse.
    Read the rest of this entry »

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    So where is everybody?

    Posted by ken on 14th September 2004 (All posts by )

    The age of the Earth is approximately five billion years. That’s an awfully long time. I see no evidence that the evolution of sentient creatures on this planet took place faster here than it possibly could anywhere else. We get more cosmic radiation than some other places, and much less than others. The course of biological evolution was drastically altered several times by catastrophic impacts with extraterrestrial bodies; I don’t see any reason to believe that these impacts were timed to minimize the time required to evolve sentient life.

    Thus, if this galaxy were destined to develop one other sentient race in its entire history, I’d give at least even odds of it having occured already. If it were to develop many other sentient races over the course of its entire history, odds approach certainty that at least one of them evolved a long time ago.

    “Long time” as in hundreds of millions or billions of years ago.

    A race that evolved to spacefaring stage as recently as 100 million years ago anywhere in our galaxy would have to be spreading outward at less than 1/943 lightspeed; any faster, and they’d have settled our solar system by now. One hundred million years of technological advancement seems unlikely to end in drives that can only do a small fraction of lightspeed. Even at 1% of lightspeed, that other spacefaring race would have had to evolve and acquire spaceflight less than 10 million years ago, the blink of an eye in the grand scheme of things.

    So where is everybody? Why was this planet empty when we evolved? The most plausible (and most pessimistic) explanation I can think of is that the problem of maintaining a good government and a free society long enough to develop civilian spaceflight doesn’t have a workable solution.
    Read the rest of this entry »

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