22 August 2011

Nation-building is tricky stuff...

Many who have seen the Constitutional Charter for the Transitional Stage of Libyan Government have pointed with concern to the following passage:

Libya is an independent Democratic State wherein the people are the source of authorities. The city of Tripoli shall be the capital of the State. Islam is the Religion of the State and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence (Sharia). Arabic is its official language while preserving the linguistic and cultural rights of all components of the Libyan society. The State shall guarantee for non-Moslems the freedom of practising religious rights and shall guarantee respect for their systems of personal status.

I would only note that the Constitution of Iraq, adopted in close cooperation with the United States, begins as follows:

Article 1:The Republic of Iraq is a single federal, independent and fully sovereign state in which the system of government is republican, representative, parliamentary, and democratic, and this Constitution is a guarantor of the unity of Iraq. 
Article 2: First: Islam is the official religion of the State and is a foundation source of legislation:
A. No law may be enacted that contradicts the established provisions of Islam
B. No law may be enacted that contradicts the principles of democracy.
C. No law may be enacted that contradicts the rights and basic freedoms stipulated in this Constitution.
Second: This Constitution guarantees the Islamic identity of the majority of the Iraqi people and guarantees the full religious rights to freedom of religious belief and practice of all individuals such as Christians, Yazidis, and Mandean Sabeans.

Nation-building is tricky stuff, isn't it?

17 August 2011

Yes, Perry's Gardasil order matters. And it isn't good.

Rick Perry and the HPV debacle

Over at Hot Air, somebody calling himself Jazz Shaw takes on Rick Perry's Gardasil controversy. The link is above, if you want to read it, but I'll save you a little time and summarize: "if you think Perry made a mistake, you are a benighted rube who does not understand that Gardasil will miraculously cure cancer and your ignorance will condemn all young girls to a horrible, cancer-ridden death."

Where to begin?

What Jazz fails to grasp is that Gardasil's efficacy is irrelevant. Government mandates are a use of force against individuals, and that force is only properly exercised with extreme discretion.

"Wiping out smallpox," which the writer uses as an analogy is a great deal different. Communicable diseases like smallpox pose public health threats that are not behaviorally determined. There is a clear public benefit to mandating such vaccines. But cancer is not a communicable disease. Nor is Gardasil a "cancer vaccine." But even if it were, that would not be a reason to mandate it. The only argument in favor of mandating Gardasil - even accepting all the claims made on its behalf by Shaw - is that it is for your own good.

On this one, I side with John Stuart Mill, who said that the "only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant."

Beyond that, Perry's action was unilateral, circumventing the democratic process. A State Legislature of his own party passed legislation to reverse his action - and no, Perry did not accept this. He let it pass into law without his signature only after his staff had argued the legislature did not have the power to over-rule the Governor's executive orders. Got that? His staff argued (with his approval, one must assume,) that the Governor has the legitimate, unchecked authority to command his fellow citizens to - what? Anything? In this case it was to get a vaccine, but what is the logical end to this line of reasoning?

Again, any argument that begins with "Gardasil works," is entirely missing the point. Perry was wrong. I really don't think he understands that himself, even now, but at least he has sense enough to know that it is politically indefensible.

15 August 2011

Technology as analogy for politics

Analogies never fit exactly, but they still can be useful from time to time.

The history and current trends of Information Technology offer us an analogy for the political direction our nation will be choosing in the next election.

When desktop computer first began entering the workplace in large numbers, they were set up as "dumb terminals," allowing workers to log in to a personal account, but saving all files on a central mainframe. This model evolved into the one which is still familiar to most of us, the client-server model, where our files and work reside on our own desktop or laptop computers, but certain management and maintenance tasks are performed remotely from the server. This model has allowed for the evolution of laptop computers and more mobile businesses.

In more recent years, the rise of the smartphone has placed more and more data and applications not only on a mobile computer, but literally in the pockets of mobile workers. With the introduction of the iPad last year, the tablet market has exploded, with this new generation of mobile devices actually being considered as a replacement for notebook computers.

Along with this technology has come a "Bring Your Own Device" (BYOD) trend in the workplace. Workers, whose work and personal lives and hours frequently overlap, are less inclined to tolerate multiple devices, and would rather consolidate on a device of their own choosing. For their employers, this means giving up a lot of the centralized control which has characterized IT for the last twenty years. In exchange, they get workers whose autonomy and satisfaction leads to greater productivity.

So what's the analogy? On the one hand, we have a bright new technology that enables personal freedom and empowerment. On the other, we have a dusty old mainframe that promises to take care of everything, as long we stay seated at our desks and chained to the past.

You figure it out.

12 August 2011

Republican cage fight! A reasonably accurate transcript.

I am late in posting my comments. Other blogging duties took precedence, so I watched the repeat broadcast of the debate late at night. And really, both events are just preseason, right?

Rather than comment, I thought I'd just share a few highlights. I am pretty sure I transcribed them accurately, but I welcome your corrections:

Newt: The key to recovery is Six Sigma. I am just like Reagan. And McCain. Damn you, Chris Wallace!
Pawlenty: I know I hurt my campaign by wussing out against Romney in the last debate, so just let me say, the chick next to me is lame! Yeah!
Bachmann: Pawlenty is liberal.
Pawlenty: Wanna fight? C'mon!
Cain: I may or may not give you a dumb answer, but let me make clear, Chris, that was a dumb question.
Huntsman: That was a hard question, so let me just say: Buzzword. Platitude. Specific numbers. Cliché. And I will do this decisively.
Pawlenty: If you can find Obama's plan, I will cut your lawn. But if you're Romney, only one acre. Because he's a damn rich guy, get it? Wanna fight?! C'mon!
Romney: Ass.
Cain: America's got to learn to take a joke. (That one was actually real. And funny. And true.)
Bachmann: Yes, I voted for a tax increase, but it was clearly Pawlenty's fault.
Pawlenty: Wanna fight?! C'mon!
Bachmann: Pussy.
Pawlenty: Put 'em up! I can take you!
Santorum: Somebody please pay attention to me!
Bret Baier: Raise your hand if you want to end your campaign today.
All: Are you f'ing kidding me?
Newt: You can't hold a whole fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few, sick twisted individuals. For if you do, then shouldn't we blame the whole fraternity system? And if the whole fraternity system is guilty, then isn't this an indictment of our educational institutions in general? I put it to you, Greg - isn't this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do whatever you want to us, but we're not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America. Gentlemen!
Pawlenty: Second swing at Obamneycare? Bring it! Okay...I could kick Mitt's ass! C'mon! But seriously, he's not quite as bad as Obama.
Romney: Tim is right. I'm not as bad as Obama. Let's just leave it at that, and stop talking about Obamneycare...uh...Obamacare.
Chris Wallace: What about the Constitutionality of Obamacare?
Romney: SputterBabbleJabber...states rights...localism is not exactly like socialism. So there. Instead of answering questions about my record, can I fight with Pawlenty again? He's a pussy.
Paul: I don't want to fight about this. The Constitution gives Romneys the right to do the wrong thing. I mean it's not really any worse than selling your body to fund your cocaine addiction. Freedom, etc.
Romney: As commander-in-chief, I would follow the instructions of my subordinates in Afghanistan.
Huntsman: Something about Paul Warfield and hacking. The relationship between the US and China is utterly failed in every way. It's a shame we have had utter incompetents in charge of this for the last two years. I am the only guy who can fix the damage wrought by Obama's US Ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman.
Santorum: Please let me fight somebody. How about Ron Paul?
Chris Wallace: You once said something that sounds dumb when I quote it out of context. Please respond.
Cain: I'd like to double down, please.
Santorum: Ron Paul is just like Barack Obama!
Paul: Mind your manners, whippersnapper! Chop some wood and sit in the corner!
Huntsman: Another hard question. Not picking a fight. We should talk about this. Nobody's wrong. Everybody's entitled to an opinion.
Paul: Hard question. Bizarre hypothetical. Get off my lawn!
Santorum: Yeah, that's bizarre, but it isn't hypothetical. Lemme at that guy! I can take him!
Santorum: The Supreme Court recently said that a man that committed rape could not be subjected to the death penalty, but the child conceived could. (This one's real)
Bachmann: Tea Party.
Cain: Yes.
Newt: Something about Whigs and central banks. Fundamentally. Clearly. Therefore.
Santorum: Newt's okay and he's bigger than me. But I can still take Ron Paul.
Santorum: Showmanship, not leadership to say we shouldn't raise debt limit, because we borrow 42%, but Medicare, Social Security and defense are 60%, so you can't balance by cuts! Limiting debt is dangerous, cutting spending is naïve and I'm against all tax increases! Realism! Experience!
Huntsman: I'm the only one on this stage that stood up against the thing nobody on this stage was for!
Closing Statements

Santorum: Winner. Experience. Underdog.
Cain: I'm the message.
Paul: Get off my lawn!
Romney: I'm not weird. Obama is.
Bachmann: C'mon. F%$* Obama.
Pawlenty: I need a drink.
Huntsman: Please remember my name.
Newt: Future trends. Complexity. Warshington. Me.

10 August 2011

Last Night’s Wisconsin Fights Were On Obama Turf - By Jim Geraghty - The Campaign Spot - National Review Online

Last Night’s Wisconsin Fights Were On Obama Turf - By Jim Geraghty - The Campaign Spot - National Review Online

As usual, Geraghty's analysis is right on, as he responds to Markos Moulitsas' take on last night's elections in Wisconsin.

I'd only add (expanding on my earlier post,) that Democrats have poured everything they had into rolling back Republican gains and legislation in Wisconsin this year. First, with fugitive senators trying to block the vote; second with an all-out effort to politicize a State Supreme Court race and get a majority to overturn the law from there; and third with these recall races.

In addition, it is probably worth noting that Hopper, running in a district carried by Obama in 2008, not only lost by only a 51-49 margin (1250 votes,) he did so in the midst of a personal scandal that could easily have accounted for most, if not all, of his losing margin.

Democrats who see anything good in Wisconsin's recall results are just whistling past the (metaphorical) graveyard. Hope that imagery isn't too violent.

Dems: Tea Party used to have "no policies," now they are responsible for downgrade?

Now that the Democrat line is that the Tea Party is responsible for the downgrade, I was thinking back a year and half (or so) when the talking point was that the Tea Party has no policy of its own. Below are the policies I suggested at the time - I don't see "downgrade" among them. It's funny how this faceless group of rabble-rousing terrorists and racists with no ideas can so easily railroad Democrats. Maybe its not the Tea Party we should be worried about, but the "Devil made me do it" Democrats who are incapable of self-examination. Anyway - back to those prinicples I laid out last year. I can't see anything I'd change now:

In addition to the ongoing attempts to portray Tea Partiers as racist domestic terrorists, the newest line being passed around the liberal commentariat is that the people at these demonstrations aren't offering any solutions of their own.

It is a pretty bizarre notion that any political demonstration consists of people with detailed policy proposals emblazoned on their signs. Nobody stood watching anti-draft demonstrations of the 1960s, scratching their chins and saying, "I just don't understand what these people want. Where is their policy proposal? They just keep shouting 'Hell no, we won't go!' Go where?"

Still, just to help clear things up for those dimwitted enough to actually not understand the purpose of these ongoing demonstrations, allow me to lay out what I believe are a few beliefs of the majority of Tea Party demonstrators. Despite their simplicity, these are serious "policy proposals" nonetheless:

  1. STOP IT. STOP IT RIGHT NOW. The Tea Party crowd does not care that Bush's budgets spent too much. Bush is not in office any more. They don't believe two wrongs make a right. They don't believe a ticket for going 80 on the freeway is the same as a ticket for driving 120 in a school zone. Most importantly, they can do math, and they live in the real world. They can see that annual deficits measured in trillions are completely unsustainable, and they are utterly baffled as to why those in charge of the White House and Congress can't understand this simple truth, and instead keep committing all of us to more and more spending. We don't have the money. We're not going to get the money. SO STOP SPENDING IT. NOW.
  2. STOP TRYING TO RUN ALL OF OUR AFFAIRS. Every day, it seems, we hear about a new invasion of the government into another business or sector of the economy. GM is now Government Motors; via TARP, the Feds have taken control of a large chunk of banking; they now want to overhaul financial regulations to give even more government control to that sector; they've taken full control of student loans; they are taking over the medical industry - the list is seemingly endless. Who do these people in government think they are? Send them to do a simple, well-defined job, and not only do they fail at that - driving our nation into an out of control financial tailspin - now they want to get their hands into everybody else's business. DO YOUR JOB. WE CAN DO OUR JOBS JUST FINE WITHOUT YOUR HELP.
  3. TRY TO REMEMBER WHO'S THE BOSS. If Obama and the Democrats had to live in the real world, they might understand that in most places of work, the guy who writes their checks is the boss. On the other hand, they don't seem to get who's writing their checks right now. Governments have no money. People have money. Businesses pay no taxes. People pay taxes. We are the people. Our taxes are the checks that pay for your salaries, your light bills and all your crazy schemes. So when did you get this crazy idea that you get to over-rule us on how that money gets spent? We understand it's not a direct democracy; it's a representative republic. That's why our signs don't contain detailed policy proposals. They just spell out general principles. The details are your job. You see, you are servants, not rulers, and your bosses want you to spend less money, and get out of our business. Make it happen. DO YOUR JOB.

So there you have it. Policy proposals. And to think, they were right there in front of you all the time.

09 August 2011

This is what a Republic looks like.

Since Gov. Scott Walker's budget plan hit the floor of the legislature at the beginning of this year, the Left has pulled out all the stops to fight it, and to roll back Republican gains of the last election: importing and paying demonstrators, issuing crooked judicial rulings, office-holders fleeing the state, pouring millions of union dollars into a race for a State Supreme Court seat, and now, recall elections for six Republican State Senators. Democrats would need to win three of those races in order to flip control of the Senate. They have abused, bent and broken the rules; poured out-of-state funds into their efforts and shouted themselves hoarse.

As it stands at this writing, the Democrats appear to have failed. Oh, and two Democrat State Senators face recall elections next week.

But the really interesting news is that Wisconsin is already seeing astounding turnarounds in local government budget and private sector job creation under Republican policies. In a land suffering under the burden of a President who "made everything worse," a few Republicans have started to make a few things better.

Say, that sounds like the start of a national campaign...is it 2012 yet?

Rules of the game in government contracting

FoxNews just aired a report about Anham, a defense contractor that is alleged to have overcharged the military for war zone supplies; for example, a $2 piece of PVC pipe for $140 (or so.) In response, the company says the charges are false, and that they have in fact saved the government $153 million.

Given that they work for a government that can claim to save millions of jobs even as long-term unemployment soars to record levels, and claim to cut spending by $2 trillion, even as it schedules increases of $7 trillion...well, I'm inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt.

They know the rules.

Tipping point for Obama?

I keep reading that this week may have been the tipping point where the MSM finally lost faith in The One. I think that's wishful thinking, but still, it's refreshing to hear some otherwise reliable liberal voices beginning to mumble some of the things some of us were shouting from the rooftops three years ago.

I do think the one-line summary of Obama's Presidency, written now in wet concrete, is beginning to set:


That won't sway the MSM, no matter how many doubts they may voice this week, but once that summary is set in concrete, Independents will never come back to him, and even Democrats will feel free to stay home in 2012 (sorry, they won't vote for Perry.) And if those same Democrats begin to tell pollsters they disapprove of Obama's performance, the bottom will fall out of his polls.

04 August 2011

Obama admits: 2008 was just a Hope-a-Dope

At his birthday party, President Obama said:

"When I said ‘change we can believe in’ I didn‘t say ’change we can believe in tomorrow.’ Not change we can believe in next week. We knew this was going to take time because we’ve got this big, messy, tough democracy...”

So there it is. It was all a hope-a-dope. Then again, in 2008 he told his faithful, fainting followers:

"Because if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth. This was the moment - this was the time - when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves, and our highest ideals."

It seems to me that if "this is the moment" you're not selling a long-term deal. You're pretty much saying, as you did on election night 2008, "change has come" and:

"For that is the true genius of America - that America can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow." 

Wait...did he just say tomorrow?

Does "The Hill" have no fact-checkers?

Dow plunges after debt deal, raising anxiety over economy - The Hill's On The Money:
"After morning trading on Thursday, the Dow had lost more than 1,000 points since July 25, the first day of trading after talks between President Obama and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on a big debt deal broke off.

By comparison, the Dow lost 819 points on Oct. 6, 2008, when the House failed to approve the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP)."

First, the House of Representatives did not reject TARP on October 6th. President Bush signed it into law on October 3d. The House rejected the bill on September 29th, and while stocks dropped more than 700 points that day, they recovered 500 the very next day. Most of the drop on the 29th, in fact, preceded the final vote, which many had assumed would result in passage of the bill. Its rejection was a surprise.

Second, beginning on October 1st, when the Senate passed a new version of TARP, stocks began a steady fall. During the week following enactment of TARP (October 3-10) the Dow fell by over 2000 points. As noted by The Hill, this included a one-day drop of 819 points on October 6th.

I recognize that rises and falls in the market can always be interpreted more than one way, but let's at least get the facts straight before we get to the interpretation: the market dropped temporarily, recovering most of its losses the next day when the House rejected TARP. It reacted far more adversely after TARP was passed, and signed into law.

So when we look at the market's reaction today, it seems to fit a pattern: when politicians claim to have solved a problem, Wall Street doesn't doesn't buy it.

UPDATE: The Hill has now (2:32 PM) revised the story to note the September 29th date, and the 777 point drop. However, they have not included any mention of the recovery on the 30th, nor of the much larger crash which followed passage of TARP. Instead, they imply that the only market drop was due to Republican rejection of the TARP bill, which they compare to this week's debt deal, also attributed to Republicans alone, despite strong bipartisan support. The original story might have been dismissed as carelessness. The revised version cannot be explained as anything other than deliberate dishonesty in pursuit of a partisan message.

02 August 2011

Time for Nirvana's music catalog to enter the public domain?

The article below was passed along to me by a friend who seemed to think this was good news - and I guess it is, to a certain extent, but it also raises a lot of questions in my mind.

Drug Prices To Plunge As Patents Expire
The next 14 months will bring generic versions of seven of the world's 20 best-selling drugs, including the top two: cholesterol fighter Lipitor and blood thinner Plavix.

It's worth noting, I think, that pharmaceutical companies spend many millions of dollars on both years of research and on navigation of the FDA's approval maze for each drug they bring to market. Some of those drugs offer truly miraculous cures for debilitating illnesses. In exchange, US intellectual property laws grant them a maximum of twenty years of protection, some of which will tick by before the drug even gets to market.

For example, the patent protecting Lipitor, the cholesterol-lowering drug, ran out in June, 2011. That drug was approved by the FDA in 1997 - just 14 years ago. By contrast, Nirvana's last album was released in 1993 - so how long until it hits the public domain, so that we can freely download it?

Some argue that drug pricing is just too high, and drug companies make plenty of money. That argument is tough to sustain, though. James Cameron's Titanic, released the same year as Lipitor, quite famously earned more than $1 billion, yet Cameron still retains all rights, and will pass those rights, and continued profits, to his heirs.

You can argue that copyright has been extended too far, or drug patents not far enough, but I don't think you can argue that the current system is rational.

01 August 2011

A deal is struck, and US debt is downgraded anyway. Because the issue was never the "ceiling."

Egan-Jones today downgraded US debt from AAA to AA+. You can read the report, but here is the money quote:

We are taking a negative action not based on the delay in raising the debt ceiling but rather our concern about the high level of debt to GDP in excess of 100% compared to Canada's 35%.

It was never about the debt ceiling - it was about the debt. Nothing has changed with the deal.