Saturday, May 31, 2008

Post-quake Glasnost in China

"Involved citizens bring demands for change from below, rather than waiting for it to be delivered to them. Could this be China's future?" For the Chinese people and the rest of us, let's hope so. Even if it's a cynical ploy to appear open prior to the Olympics, it's very hard to put that genie back in the bottle, as the Soviet Union learned (ironically enough) after the 1988 Yerevan earthquake. IF IT'S GOOD FOR THE CHINESE PEOPLE, IT'S BAD FOR THE CHINESE GOVERNMENT - EVEN IF THEY HAVEN'T REALIZED IT.

This'll Boil your Blood: Federal Interference in Microbreweries

So here's a good example of a Federal agency out of control. There's a town in the shadow of Mt. Shasta up in far-northern California called Weed - because it was founded by a Mr. Weed, not because of the other thing you just thought of. But that hasn't stopped counterculture enthusiasts from posing with the road sign. Needless to say, enterprising residents have used the name to promote their town tongue-in-cheek, like Vaune Dillman, a "...balding former cop turned saloon owner and then master brewer" - master brewer of Legal Weed beer. Which, of course, is just a joke; it has no illegal substances in it.

So when the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau issued the former officer a warning, he said, "This is ludicrous, bizarre, like meeting Big Brother face-to-face," he grumbled recently. "Forget freedom of speech and the 1st Amendment. They are the regulatory gods, a judge and jury all rolled into one. This is a life-or-death issue for my business." For a conservative, this is an open-and-shut case. Keep the Federal government out of this guy's business!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

We CAN Save the World - If We Ignore the Greens

Two great articles in Wired expose how we already have realistic solutions to oil dependence, spiraling food prices, and climate change, but they're being blocked by the old-guard Green movement's age-old taboos - bio-engineering and nuclear power:

"Look at the environmental protection agency's CO2-per-kilowatt-hour map of the US and two bright patches of low-carbon happiness jump out. One is the hydro-powered Pacific Northwest. The other is Vermont, where a 30-year-old nuclear reactor, Vermont Yankee, keeps the Ben & Jerry's cold. The darkest area corresponds to Washington, DC, where coal-fired power plants release 520 times more atmospheric carbon per megawatt-hour than their Vermont counterpart. That's right: 520 times. Jimmy Carter was right to turn down the heat in the White House."

I'm glad that more mainstream media is picking this up because I've been beating this drum for a while (nuclear here, bioengineering here).

So What Do the Chinese PEOPLE Have to Say

Thanks to a reader for sending me this excellent article by the P.J. O'Rourke, detailing his impressions from a recent trip to China. It's nice to hear for a change what Chinese people think, as opposed to the government telling you what the Chinese People think.

Three take-home conclusions from the article with which I agree wholeheartedly:

1) There is a growing contingent of people in China who share Enlightenment values with the developed world - values of self-determination and rational material betterment.

2) (implied, and emphatically true) A war between the U.S. and China would be stupid and catastrophic for everyone.

3) The brains, pride and dedication of the Chinese people are to be admired.

He then implies a conclusion that's a little too rosy for me: that China is no longer a bad guy. P.J. O'Rourke's impressions might stem from the fact that a P.J. O'Rourke would hang out with entrepreneurs and well-educated, well-traveled Chinese citizens who may not be representative of the man in the street. Or, for that matter, The Man in Chinese Communist Party offices - at least not today. If we're lucky (and I include citizens of China in that "we"), the future of China will look a lot more like O'Rourke's friends than the frothing anti-Tibet nationalists that Beijing recently whipped into a frenzy and then had to calm back down. The growth of a commerce-dependent Chinese middle class with more access to information - which can only help China and everybody else - is both incredibly encouraging, and anything but inevitable. What can poison this process is a class of politicians who don't know how to make a living in any way other than reciting lines from Mao's Quotations, who are scared of their increasing irrelevance, and who will use the resurgent nationalism created by China's recent fortunes to keep themselves in power.

One problem I had with the article is the cutesy way he refers to the old-boys-network, which is something anyone who's had to do business in China can tell you about. It's not a sign of a healthy market economy, because in fact Old Boy Networks and Fixers are the antithesis of transparency and democracy and capitalism, and to some extent it's slowed down wealth creation in every country (that's why Transparency International's surveys are so critical). When the bright kid next door can't get an analyst gig at Morgan Stanley because the interviewee after him knows the hiring manager's uncle, that's directly contrary to meritocracy, and even in our own free market, it doesn't always come out in the wash. It bears pointing out that it's exactly that kind of class-based old-boy-network that Marx and Mao supposedly thought communism would squash. I should add that I also didn't care for O'Rourke's flippant comparison of Scientology and Falun Gong. Nutty though the Scio's might be, they're free to practice their religion here, and the U.S. government isn't hauling anyone off to torture them.

To finish this entry without addressing the earthquake would be callous. There are forty thousand people confirmed dead - compare that to 3,000 in San Francisco in 1906. There are five million people displaced. That's like Philadelphia collapsing. Let's hope that the effective response the Chinese people have seen and the openness that we're experiencing will convince the Chinese government that a strong China is an open China. If China asks for help, I hope we're right there to pitch in.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Two GOP Take-Homes from Face the Nation

I caught Face the Nation yesterday morning. Two main points:

1. Ed Rollins emphasized that the GOP has to attract younger voters if it's going to remain relevant. That means getting back to core Nixon-Reagan values and away from social conservatism. If the current trend continues, by 2040 the GOP will be a footnote along with the Whig Party. (Who? Exactly.)

2. Charlie Crist was very vice-presidential. Maybe it's too early to call, but I'm calling it. I think he's been tapped already.

What Have You Done Lately For Democracy?

For example, have you ever risked imprisonment in a totalitarian country known for torture in order to promote democratic values? That's just what my hero for today has done.

No Mortgage Welfare

It should come as no shock that real conservatives should be against mortgage bailouts for people too irresponsible to read the terms of their mortgage to decide if they can actually afford it. Sorry - none of us have a RIGHT to own property that we can't pay for. But unfortunately there's a lot of these morons, and they vote, which is why even conservative politicians have been very wishy-washy on this issue. They would seem mean, which translates from modern American English as "expect people to fulfill their obligations" and "demand personal responsibility". But instead, calls for mortgage welfare are being taken seriously.

Check out, which has already been promoted on lots of conservative blogs and even by Neil Cavuto and Glenn Beck.

Miley Cyrus Destroyed America

While I was off-line studying, Miley Cyrus posed with her back exposed in Vanity Fair and single-handedly destroyed freedom around the world. Fortunately we have powerful political lobbies like the Christian Coalition, with Google News alerts set for "fifteen year-old" and "suggestive photos". Thanks to the CC's representation the interests of their organizers and at least 0.001% of America, civilization was saved again. You may also have heard how the Christian Coalition's allies in Iran have saved their own citizens from Barbie.

I for one am glad these guys are taking their donors' money and doing something so valuable for democracy. (end sarcasm) I wish these bleeding-heart flag-huggers would stop distracting Americans from real problems and stay far away from the GOP from now on.

Why Don't We Tax Negatives More Than Positives (Like Income)

Every government, and every citizen of every country, faces the following challenge:

1) You need money to run a government.
2) This comes from taxes, which people hate.

When you send your returns in, do you have great feelings about doing your patriotic duty? No. You might tell yourself that to take some of the sting out of it, but overall you feel a third of your hard-earned dollars evaporating. The assumption that not enough people question is that Federal taxes must be INCOME taxes. Since people regard taxes as a punishment - and they always will - they adjust their behavior to game the system, to hide their income or even become less productive to decrease their income below a certain bracket. In response, such a system necessarily becomes more byzantine, and not only can the rich game it, a whole class of tax professionals grows up around it, doing nothing but taking MORE of your money to solve problems that your government has created in the first place.

Since taxes will always change people's behavior, why not tax things that you don't want people to do? We do this already in some cases, like with tobacco. How about pollution and waste-generation? How about increasing criminal penalties? Of course, implicit in this deal is as consumption and penalty taxes go up, the current income tax system has to disappear. Is this pie-in-the-sky? Not at all. Singapore has used this approach and in less than a half century it's gone from being a postcolonial swamp to the banking center of Southeast Asia. Many American cities would be glad to be as well-run and modern.

Of course, politicians who simplify our tax system would stand to gain massively in popularity - except with certain lobbies.

An obvious goal of this kind of taxation would be for environmental protection, and that's what the Bay Area Air Quality District is trying to do. I don't know many people anywhere on the political spectrum who think protecting the environment is BAD; people differ in how they prioritize it. As I've promoted before, the Bay Area has experimented frequently over the years. Sometimes the experiments are wacky, and sometimes they work. Improving air quality has definitely improved life in American cities - the first time I was in L.A. was in 1981 and I remember the smog, a coherent brown cloud hanging over the high rises in the center of town like a cartoon. It's much better today. The laws work. Some Latin American cities can remind you what life is like without emission controls - try Mexico City or Asuncion on a bad day. This isn't tree-hugging - this is wanting to take a walk without covering your mouth with a cloth. It's another step in improving health and quality of life, but it's also a step toward getting revenue by getting people to stop doing negative things, instead of taxing good things (like income) and pretending it's not making people cheat.

Most of the criticism of the proposed scheme seems to be that it's not comprehensive, that at the local level it can't do any good. As Governor Schwarzenegger often says - and specifically on this issue - if you wait for the Federal Government to do something, you'll be waiting forever.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

What Will It Take to Wake People Up: Nuclear Is the Way

Still on the fence about nuclear power? Or know people who are?

How much pain does it take to convince them that nuclear is the way, and get over this hang-up? Does gas have to get to $8.00 a gallon? $20? Do the aisles at the grocery store have to get empty because the truckers are dead on the ground from these gas prices?

It's too late to start building when your car's dead in the driveway and your lights are browning out. Convince your neighbors and representatives now.

Cuban Missile Crisis? Baja Trade Crisis

So Chinese companies are pushing for a port in upper Baja California. Ever been down there? Despite southern Californians filtering into the peninsula for decades, it's still almost all empty desert and saguaros coming right up to the blue Pacific, and there are stretches where there's no ATM for 200 miles. You can dig for oysters on the gulf side or go surfing on the ocean side. In fact northern Baja was a Mexican territory and wasn't even admitted as a state until 1974. And although I love the emptiness and still almost total lack of development a measly few hours drive south of San Diego, the place's undeveloped frontier status is obvious.

Which is exactly why local officials are drooling at the prospect of a billion dollar port. It still wouldn't be a picnic for most Mexicans, or for any Americans. Not only would there be an obvious negative environmental impact and a total destruction of the area's character - but suddenly the Mexican government is less interested in listening to Washington, and more interested in listening to Beijing. You think that's incidental to China's plans here? Just about as incidental to China's control of the Panama Canal. It's almost like there's a concerted effort. But don't worry about China - they're not a threat. They would have you believe IF IT'S BAD FOR THE CHINESE GOVERNMENT, IT'S A THREAT TO WORLD HARMONY AND IS PROBABLY BEING PROMOTED BY CAPITALIST SWINE IN AMERICA.

Hugo Chavez is a Very Sensitive Man.

Especially when Interpol (a neutral organization) is presenting evidence that he's supporting Colombian rebels. At least his extremist rhetoric is finally isolating him, even within South America.

McCain's Position on Gay Marriage pretty consistent with limiting government's intervention in individual lives. "Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain supports 'traditional' marriage but opposes a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, saying individual states should decide the issue. He also backs some legal benefits for same-sex couples."

Friday, May 16, 2008

Not Much Need to Comment on CA Supreme Court Gay Marriage Decision

...since it's all over the news already. I got married in San Francisco City Hall and boy can I feel our marriage getting degraded! But seriously folks...points to ponder:

1) It was a 4-3 decision. 6 out of 7 justices are Republican. That means that, at most, only one of the four who voted to overturn the gay marriage ban was a Democrat. Two of those four are Pete Wilson appointees to the court. Our awesome GOP govenator said that "he 'respects' the decision and 'will not support an amendment to the constitution that would overturn' it."

2) Regardless of where you stand . . . is this really the most important thing to you in the 2008 elections? In my book, there are a lot of pretty tough problems we should be prioritizing, like what to do with Iraq, and a growing China, and a collapsing dollar, and rising food and fuel prices.

3) Whatever your position - base your values on fact, not wishy-washy bleeding-heart soft thinking. Look for concrete examples. Here are some: Massachusetts has had civil unions for three years now, and Boston is still a pretty nice place to live, if you can ignore the weather anyway. Gay marriage is legal in Canada and Spain too. I was just in Spain in October; mostly I remember eating very well, but not seeing feral children running in the streets. My wife is from Vancouver and last time we were up there civilization hadn't ended.

Botton line: why does anybody want the government saying who's allowed to marry who? Isn't that your church's job? If they're not bothering anybody, who wants the government telling churches what they can do?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Big Government: Leave Professional Sports Alone

Arlen, Arlen, Arlen. You're one of my favorite Senators because you understand the GOP's real core values and you've been instrumental in keeping government out of American lives. Yet Bill Belichick spies on some other teams and Arlen Specter thinks it's time for a Federal investigation?

I don't pretend to like the Patriots, but I'm still not concerned with the details of their spying. Gathering intelligence on your opponents is only prudent. If it's not against the rules, it may be a sleazy trick, but you gotta hand it to him. On the other hand, if it IS against the rules, then they should be punished. By the NFL, after an internal investigation. INTERNAL. The NFL is a private business. As is Major League Baseball. And MLB has their own problems (that look like this) that they’d better clean up if they want to retain the generations of fans that have made them what they are. Again, that's the prudent course of action for any private company looking to keep its market position. But the insistence on Federal oversight into private recreational franchises, in these cases and in others, is frankly a little bizarre. Especially because it's coming from the GOP.

Whether or not you're a football fan, whether you love or hate the Pats, they're a franchise of a private entity - the NFL - that doesn't need to be subjected to extended scrutiny by the Federal government. Come on Arlen. There are real problems we need you to focus on. Let's not let an internal NFL squabble distract you from your commitment to limited, fair government.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Science Policy Debate: McCain Would Kick Obama's Ass

Come on John. Challenge the Dems to a Science Policy debate. Not only will you be making a statement about the importance of American technical supremacy to our continued global competitiveness, but you'll show an important difference between you and the wishy-washy to "everyone has their own truth" liberals. And 85% of Americans want it anyway. Not 85% of conservatives. 85% of Americans.

If you're interested in seeing Barack or Hillary looking into the camera like deer in headlights when asked about diesel or volts or drivers or alloys - you know, the things that make the world run - sign up here, and forward to others.

Personally, I don't want to hear anymore about carbon emissions until I can see whether old Barack can point out something around him that contains carbon. Bonus: explain what the numbers 87, 89 and 91 mean at the gas pumps.

Another Chinese Spy Captured

Another spy for China, gathering information about Taiwan - makes you feel great, huh? I don't post every one of these I run across because then China posts would dominate the blog much more than they already do.

Another Case Where Sanity and Law Triumph Over Nuttery

Believe it or not, it really does happen sometimes. A woman in Michigan wouldn't show the judge her face when she was in court - that is, she wouldn't take off her veil- so the judge threw out her case . Of course her lawyer said: "'One could easily see the ... continuous litigants that are going to step into district court with this (veil) on. This issue is going to come up over and over again.'" No pal, it won't, because thankfully the precedent has been established. No molesting kids! And no hiding your face in court! Are those really such hard rules to follow?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Dear George: I'm Mad You Stopped Us From Molestin'

I like that the Fundamentalist Looney Day Saints in Texas are writing Bush to complain about their treatment. Sorry guys. When you've institutionalized molestation, I can't feel sorry for you.

What it comes down to is that it's possible for there to be a conflict with religious values - which sometimes get looney - and the law of the land. The law of the land is created by a transparent process based to a first approximation on the observable material world, and religious beliefs are not. So when these conflicts arise, which one should win? In a sane country, isn't the answer clear? This is exactly why America invented separation of church and state, because otherwise the police wouldn't have stopped FLDS, because FLDS would be the police. The technical name for this form of government is "Iran"; another term for it is "Saudi Arabia". And they're AWESOME.

Is Hillary working for Rush?

I can't figure out what she's doing. Someone help me out here.

Maybe The Heavens Haven't Chosen China After All

To be crystal clear: I'm not happy that Myanmar and China have been hit by natural disasters. No country is safe from them, as we in the States were well reminded in August 2005.

If there is ANY profit to this, it's that we get to see the difference in response between Myanmar and China, and the Chinese Communist Party will wake up and realize that there is no special favor being granted by Fortune to the Chinese government after all.

By early accounts, disaster relief in China has been more effective than in Myanmar, its satellite state. If you're Burmese, how would this make you feel? Your life is controlled by an incompetent military regime whose continued existence is only guaranteed by continued Chinese support. Chinese people get disaster relief. You
don't. Sounds like a great deal!

Either way, best wishes to the people of both countries. I hope in particular that more supplies can get through to Myanmar.

I Return, To Mock Hugo Chavez's Manhood

Awww, Hugo Chavez's ex-wife is making him look bad. Time for a pity-party!

Forgive me if I'm less than disappointed. By "less than disappointed" I mean "can I contribute to her political fund".

Most people don't remember that it was Venezuela that took the initial steps to start OPEC. Hugo Chavez has used Venezuela's oil wealth and simmering resentment against past American bully tactics to exhort his way to the top, but don't for a second think that stops him from taking freedoms away from his citizens that you and I take for granted - like being able to criticize him in writing. Yes, his ex is actually breaking the law, and so are the reporters covering her comments. If I were her, I'd clear out of the country! Check out this Reason Magazine article for a very interesting read.

As an aside, it's especially irritating that some misinformed liberals in the U.S. support him. Apparently in their eyes, anyone who calls Bush bad names must be good, regardless of how badly he tramples his own people.

We can't afford to take his antagonism lightly. China already has control of the Panama Canal. And guess who the only world leader was to support China against Tibet recently? (Aside from Chinese satellite states). Guess. A real supporter of downtrodden people and indigenous rights, huh? The Legion of Doom still has open positions apparently.