Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Personal Political Equation

Alternate Title: Why All Libertarians and Progressive Republicans Should Switch To Obama Too

In politics, no candidate will 100% match your positions. That's a necessary compromise in a representative democracy. But if ever you find yourself quietly disagreeing more often than you support a candidate's positions, that's when it's time to switch. The creationism litmus test was really just the straw that broke the camel's back.

John Kerry has been beating the "Senator McCain versus Candidate McCain" talking point into the ground. Repetition doesn't make something true; then again, it doesn't make it untrue either. I'm tired of quietly disagreeing for the team, so here are the facts:

Senator McCainCandidate McCain
Denounced wartime tax cuts as irresponsibleNow supports wartime tax cuts
Wrote a climate change billNow is against HIS OWN BILL
Wrote an immigration billNow is against HIS OWN BILL

If it's high taxes you're worried about with Obama, nonpartisan analysis of the tax plans of the two candidates show that with Obama's plan, only the top 20% of earners pay more taxes (2% more for the bracket as a whole). And as for that top quintile - do you make more than $97,030 a year? If no, then what are you worried about? If yes, then guess what - so do I - and the country is more broke than at any time since World War II, so it's patently absurd to be talking about further decreases in tax revenues. Unless your goal is to wreck the country. (If it is, my blog probably isn't the best place for you.)

And for the Libertarians - Bob Barr is a GOP opportunist who just 36 months ago was one of the hardest-hitting social conservatives on issues like abortion, gay marriage and drug legalization, and here he is in the LP. If you weren't already thinking "carpet-bagger", listen to one of his friendly calls to bleeding-heart flag-hugger Glenn Beck.

It deeply saddens me that John McCain, a lawmaker I had really respected, has decided to allow the evangelical wing of the GOP that has already ruined the GOP - and that screwed him in 2000 - to twist his principles and therefore his campaign's planks. (Read this if you still have any doubts about why he chose Palin as High Priestess - and come on, with her 1-page resume, how many reasons can he have had?

Maverick or not, McCain is now surrounded with the wrong people, and thanks to Dubya's failed war and financial incompetence, things looked dark in November already.

Friday, August 29, 2008

McCain is Doomed

Is it me, or did John McCain look very hesitant next to her during the announcement? As if he's thinking, "Have these idiots in the right wing of the party not seen the survey results? Bush screwed me in the 2000 South Carolina primary, and his wing of the party has screwed me again in 2008 by handing me its disastrous results, along with forcing this candidate on me. I hope this gamble they're forcing on me pays off, but in my gut I know it won't." If that's what you were thinking John, I think you're right. She won't help you win any swing states; no one will care about the VP's reputationas a reformer; her gender alone won't win over many Hillary Democrats; and she's not known enough even to win evangelical votes. If that's what you wanted, you should've just gone for Jindal. Palin is a bad choice. The only smart part of it is that she's young, and you could've had that with Crist or Pawlenty.

Months ago I made a "good and bad guys" list for VP choices. The bad guys are the ones who don't "get" conservatism - that is, politicians who want to use big government to limit individual freedom and responsibility by forcing their beliefs and values into our lives. A major litmus test here is the candidate's belief on teaching Biblical creation. Any politician that is willing to sacrifice American technical business competitiveness at a critical time by forcing their own bleeding-heart wishy-washy beliefs on kids in science class has a values and priorities problem; whatever they are, they aren't pro-business, and they aren't conservative, in any sense that Ronald Reagan or Theodore Roosevelt would have recognized the term. Sarah Palin has clearly said that her religion should be forced on kids in science class. She also doesn't mind wasting government resources by intruding into social issues like reproductive rights and gay marriage.

I'm good for my word. So it's official - I'm an Obamacon.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Tibet Protesters Carted Off By Police in Nepal

Again the Nepalese government, fast becoming the next Chinese satellite state, shows its limited tolerance of dissent, especially where criticism of China is concerned. Coincidence? Though the Chinese government will tell you otherwise, Tibet is part of China about as much as Georgia is part of Russia, and like the US is part of England. IF IT'S GOOD FOR THE CHINESE GOVERNMENT, IT'S BAD FOR EVERY NEIGHBORING COUNTRY OF CHINA.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Go East, Young Man, Go East

I don't know how you'd go about finding data to support my assertion that the world's best-and-brightest are starting to drift toward Beijing instead of New York. But here's one example. If you think my rhetoric about China's ascendance is overblown, don't take my word for it - try Warren Buffett.

VP Matchup Surveys

I was checking out In their current VP matchup polls by state, in every survey Bloomberg gives McCain the best margin. Which by extension means there's not a single survey with Jindal at the top.

Major Victory for American Science and Education

This decision might just be the greatest thing ever for American science education and our future economy (which I've written about before). Real conservatives - that is, country-and-market conservatives - are against granting special exemptions for students with certain backgrounds to get into universities.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Obama: International Experience is Bad

Karl Rove said, "If they're explaining, you're winning." Obama has been using this tactic frequently, but what his people don't seem to get is that when you make an accusation, it has to be about something bad.

To Obama's staffers: first of all, dummies, Georgia is the good guys. Second, experience with international relations is a strong asset in a presidential candidate. Having some former lobbyists on your crew with Prime Ministers on speed-dial isn't a bad thing.

Of course, it's obvious why Obama's staff would want to spin that as a negative.


Georgia pushed non-Euro-zone NATO to help them begin the NATO admission process, and now we know why.

The most interesting aspect of this war is the media component. We have televised Russian defense ministry meetings so Medvedev can grandstand for the Russian population. Russia announces a cease fire and then continues to bomb Georgia. Interestingly enough, there was a cyberspace campaign aimed at Georgia starting weeks ago, which seems to muddy the waters a bit with respect to pinning the start of aggression on Saakashvili. And Estonia, which has its own experience with Russia's cyberimperialism, is contributing to Georgia's cyberdefense.

Meanwhile, NATO, and in particular the US, is left to verbally condemn Russia and demand they withdraw back to the renegade provinces, and the best the US can do is airlift a few Georgian troops home. Because what else can do about it? We're already tied down looking for WMDs in Iraq. And Russia knows it.

On a personal note, this makes Russia so far the only world power that in the 21st century has been involved in military action on its borders. You can't say that even about my favorite target China. Now I understand why the consultants in Russia in my company's drug studies need such extensive Force Majeure clauses in their contracts. Now, time to wait for this to reverse our small relief at the gas pumps.

The CA GOP Can Put California In Play in November getting over its damaging and weird obsession with the gay marriage issue. GOP leadership, we need you to focus on your core values. Even thinking in purely cynical campaign strategy terms, all this rattling is obviously not getting people to the polls (in 2004 California had the seventh highest percentage of votes for Kerry). As a result of this obsession, without Schwarzenegger, the GOP is dead in the water in this state - and since one out of eight Americans is a Californian, I wish they would get over it soon. In fact a lot of people do, many of them California Republicans. As you can tell by the article, the judge in this case isn't an "activist". He's even a Pete Wilson appointee for crying out loud. Enough already! On to real issues like the economy, education and oil dependence!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Wrap-up of Yesterday's Olympic Nonsense

Yesterday protesters climbed to the roof of the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco to protest the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Maybe it wasn't as mediagenic as climbing the Golden Gate Bridge (and oddly enough in China televisions went black when CNN started showing it). The point here is that the consulate personnel cut down the protesters, sending them falling onto the sidewalk - notice that the spokesperson never denies it. Meanwhile, our athletes are having to apologize for protecting themselves from the pollution that Beijing says has miraculously disappeared, and visas are being denied to American athletes who support human rights in Africa. Is this really the behavior of a modern nation? And why are we suffering it gladly?

It bears mentioning again that the Chinese government has instituted racial segregation during the Olympics and ordered bars not to serve black people or Mongolians. It's amazing that this act hasn't generated more international attention.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Resources, China, and Africa - Again

Fortunately nobody took me up on my bet about oil dropping below $120 a barrel, but I still don't think it'll be below $100 again. Yes, Lehman Brothers is predicting $90 a barrel oil by early 2009, but we'll see - any takers now? The point is, here we are in 2008 and commodities - resources that come out of the ground, not technology - continue to be one of the strongest sectors, fed by global demand. That is to say, China, and to a lesser extent India.

For all the huffing and puffing about the US encircling the world's remaining resources (both pro and con, domestic and international), we're not doing a very good job of it, perhaps because we remain myopically focused on oil, and oil in one part of the world at that. I ran across excellent articles on China's presence in Africa (here and here) and a blog following China's economics that I highly recommend.

So what's the solution? If you read the comment sections of the linked articles, you'll notice African readers rightly pointing out that business interests and governments of sovereign states trading with each other is exactly that, trade, and not colonization (China's disregard for human rights and future designs notwithstanding). Could it be that trade and direct infrastructure development is more beneficial to African citizens than decades of NGO charity efforts?

China's expansion into Africa hasn't gone totally unnoticed in the US, or AFRICOM wouldn't have been established. But the clear conclusion is that U.S. strategy in Africa should shift away from a charity mindset and toward a trade-and-infrastructure approach, because frankly it's working for China - and John McCain is the executive most likely to implement such a policy.

McCain at Sturgis - Video Link


How to Encourage Democracy Without Religious Extremists Getting Elected

Recent events in Mauritania have brought to light a problem of emerging democracies that has been bothering me for a few years.

- Value #1: democracy is good and should be encouraged in developing nations.

- Value #2: religious extremism is bad. National rule by religious extremists is really bad.

- Fact: When given the chance to vote democratically, religious populations often vote in religious extremists.

...most famously, in Palestine, when people voted in Hamas in 2006. The same thing has happened more gradually in Turkey, a bastion of secularism in the Middle East (which should be teaching Americans a few lessons in how to show support for democracy). And even though in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood is nominally outlawed, people still vote for them in droves. You can guess what would happen if they could operate in full daylight. An election is always better than a coup, but I would be
dishonest if I didn't say my civic outrage is temperated by the fact that prior to the coup the Mauritanian president was forging ties with Islamic hardliners. A stable, transparent government in Mauritania is critical now, as China builds trade ties and infrastructure to get at Africa's resources, including a planned railway from Nouakchott to Sudan.

The U.S. grappled for decades with the same problem in Latin America, except instead of religious extremists, people were voting in ideological (leftist) extremists. Same problem, and in some cases still quite current. Guess who's president of Nicaragua again (although this time legitimately elected), and guess who he's endorsing in the US presidential race.

In democracies, people get the government they deserve. Karl Popper said that absolute tolerance must necessarily fail; that to ensure the persistence of freedom, open societies cannot tolerate intolerant elements. How does this apply outside the open society's borders? I don't know what the solution is, which is exactly why I'm posting this and looking forward to comments.

Thanks to Beijing, A New Olympic Event: Bullsh*tting

The Chinese government is trying to BS the world about not only its pollution, but the general state of development of Beijing. Meanwhile, journalists are finding their web access blocked, and anyone the Chinese government decides is Mongolian or black can't get served in bars.

This "sweep it under the rug, shut up about problems or else" attitude is not the behavior of a superpower - not a modern one anyway. The Soviet Union also did their best to conceal the government's ineptitude from foreigners. We all know China has come a long way, in fact further in the last five years than the Soviet Union ever did; in fact it would behoove Americans to align some of our domestic priorities closer to China's. Great nations know they're not perfect; it's embarrassing seeing one try to hide the mess from mom and dad instead of recognizing the achievements that have been made so far. But once again we see that IF IT'S BAD FOR THE CHINESE PEOPLE, THE CHINESE GOVERNMENT WON'T LET CAMERAS IN.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Animal Rights Activists Firebombings at UC Santa Cruz

There's been surprisingly little national coverage of the recent firebombing of two scientists' homes at University of California at Santa Cruz by (almost definitely) animal rights activists. This wasn't someone tossing an M-80 into someone's backyard. It was terrorism, period, and I'm glad to see people in the mainstream press using that word to describe it. And it's happening internationally: in the UK a few years ago, animal rights terrorist bombed the home of a venture capitalist investing in a medical research company.

I work in the biotech business and I do drug research - on humans - so maybe I know something about medical research. With respect to animal research, here are the three options:

1) Keep advancing medicine and eliminating suffering by using animals in research as humanely and sparingly as possible.

2) Keep advancing medicine by using humans as the first-line test animal. I invite animal rights activists to be the first volunteers in the clinical trials of these medicines.

3) Stop advancing medical science and go back to chanting and sprinkling colored powder on sick people.

As to the old saw that "we have computers now, so we don't need animals": animal research is incredibly expensive. Don't you think we would do away with it in a SECOND if we really could replace it with computer modeling?

Groups like the Animal Liberation Front are dangerous, and should be dealt with in exactly the same was as other terrorist organizations.

Monday, August 4, 2008

New Name on McCain VP Short List

Eric Cantor's name has cropped up; and people seem to be writing Jindal off. Thank God, pun intended.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Why Bother to Have Borders?

Why do countries have borders?

To put it another way, why do countries allow immigration at all?

In an ideal world, there are no borders. If you visit somewhere on vacation or business, decide you like the climate and culture, bang - you get a job and find a place to live. No visas, no applications, no quotas on people from your country. Absolute freedom of movement between all the developed, civilized nations of the world.

I don't know when we'll live in such a world. In a very few cases, there are enough adjoining nations at rough economic parity that parts of this vision can be achieved (let's call this hypothetical place the "E.U.", and it's worked pretty well for them so far). But the unfortunate reality is that bordering countries are usually not economically matched in this way, and the exchange is one-way. The most relevant example to us, to introduce the elephant in the room, is the U.S. and Mexico.

All the hot air about immigration has at least crystallized into a recent legislative attempt. The McCain-Kennedy bill wasn't perfect, but it was a starting attempt to fix a bad situation and get to a position where we can more legitimately control illegal immigration (currently 4% of our population). This is the second or third most important economic issue facing the next president. Coming from a border state, and jointly sponsoring the bill, John McCain knows something about this problem. Obama wasn't in a position to introduce such a bill because he started his first term in Congress less than four months before McCain and Kennedy introduced it.

There aren't many Americans who would stop immigration altogether. In fact, most non-immigrant Americans think that immigration should be kept at the same rate or increased, and also that legal immigration has been good for the economy. On the other end, it seems that the "if you're against opening the border to everyone you're a racist" argument seems not to have convinced many people either. Most of us seem to understand that it's not bigotry, but real hard-and-fast material considerations that militate against unrestricted immigration; and most of us also get that legal immigration, if done right, is a good thing.

Before I list the biggest reasons why rationally controlled immigration is a good thing, we need a framework to understand why countries allow immigration at all. These underlying assumptions have gotten lost in the debate, and surfacing them reveals the fault line between clear and muddy political thinking. Clear-thinking voters in any country realize that individuals support laws and policies that benefit him or her as individuals. Our elected officials stay away from concise declarations of reality like this because they horrify misguided voters who think the root of our policies should instead be compassion. Unfortunately, in the real world, compassion loses to individual and national material self-interest - and it should.

The most compelling reason to allow immigration is simple: to maintain our current population. Americans reproduce at the rate of 2 children for every 2 people; for statistical demographic reasons, replacement rate is not 2.0, but 2.1. If immigration ceases tomorrow, by 2100 we'd lose almost 50 million in population (one-sixth). There are other countries with worse problems than ours in this respect - a lot of European countries are hovering in the 1.2's. Japan in particular is in real trouble and doesn't seem to get it that without increasing their immigration rate, they're going to disappear. This is the price to pay for undergoing demographic transition; at least the French incentivize families.

Another reason to allow controlled immigration is to take the best and brightest from around the world. I'll come right out and say it - I'd rather let in someone who's rich and/or smart than someone who's not. Working in a technical field, I've been privileged to work with brilliant people from China, Germany, France, Russia, Japan - you name it. I'd rather have them working here in the U.S. contributing to economic growth than back home. Every spot we give to an unskilled, poor immigrant is a spot we don't give to an excellent PhD from China - and Chinese PhD's have more and more reasons - and opportunities - to stay home and contribute to the economy there). Fortunately, U.S. policy already has provisions to allow immigration for in-demand skill sets. Other countries do so selectively - for example, as most countries do, Australia's entry papers ask if you intend to immigrate there - and if you're over 45, in so many words, don't bother, because they don't want the burden of healthcare burden of becoming a global retirement community. They have every right to do so. Back in the U.S., most illegal immigrants in the U.S. are from Latin America, and specifically Mexico. Some of it's geography; you don't have to be rich to walk across the Rio Grande, but you have to have some resources to fly across the Pacific. To be clear: we should be much more explicit about restricting immigration based on bank account and earning power. Welcome to the twenty-first century - when we put up the Statue of Liberty, we didn't know exactly how large and mobile the poor and huddled masses would become.

A third reason that controlled immigration benefits us is the trade and cultural links it provides to the rest of the world. This Economist article summarizes it excellently from Europe's viewpoint. The EU will be hobbled by an aging population with few growing cultural ties to the world beyond its shores, where the US will stay young and increase its links to a surging Asia and a developing Latin America.

Fair enough - but can we afford illegal immigration? Of course, if you understand the reasons to encourage legal immigration, the answer is a clear no. Using the least negative figures in one study, illegal immigrants in the U.S. consume at least $2,000 more than they produce each year. Can we really tolerate net drains on our economy? In my more irritable moments I wonder if we can't develop a system where native-born citizen sitting at home watching reality shows and collecting unemployment for the third time couldn't be kicked out to make space for a successful businessperson from overseas. As you can well imagine, I therefore don't have much sympathy for arguments that illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay based on how long they've managed to trick the authorities, and I'm not so concerned with whether they've started a family. If you didn't bother to read the terms of your mortgage, you shouldn't expect me to bail you out, and if you decided to start a family while you were living under the radar, that's no one's problem but yours either. Yes, it's a hard thing to say, but if civilization functions, then legal responsibility has to land somewhere sensible.

The economic impact of uncontrolled immigration is mediated by several problems, and the one that bears mentioning in closing is language. I used to take the Libertarian position of "let the market solve it". I still don't care when I tune in a Spanish radio station, and not just because I speak Spanish - that's a legitimate need served by the market. But there are functions legitimately fulfilled by government, and I depart from hardcore libertarianism in my belief (shared by most Americans) that education is one of those functions. That's why I was so disturbed to learn that in California, you can take the GED test in Spanish. Who does that help? Certainly not the test-taker, and certainly not me as a participant in California's increasingly fragmented economy. Even in Canada, where there are two official languages, bilingualism is strongly asymmetric. French-speakers are in reality almost all bilingual in both French and English. The same can't be said for the Anglophone provinces, especially in the west, and it certainly can't be said for the larger immigrant communities in the United States.

Of course, I have a personal angle on the immigration debate. My wife isn't a citizen and I'm sponsoring her to immigrate. We're early in the process, and right now we're waiting for her temporary green card to come through. It's not an easy process, and it shouldn't be. But at times we wonder why we should bother jumping through the hoops. She's a financial professional, in a position to make a real contribution to our economy, so she has no option of trying to work under the table, and she has to wait months for her paperwork to come through. In the three months since we've applied, two hundred thousand illegals have entered the country to harvest crops and clean houses. Isn't there something strange about that?

Why Did McCain Close Obama's Lead? Could It Be a Better Platform?

Obama had a 9% lead in the polls last weekend, which is huge in presidential races, and this weekend it's gone. Why? Of course, it's because of McCain's "negative attack ads" - not because Americans are listening to the candidates' positions and choosing the better ones. For the second time I feel forced to join in to the the-media-loves-Obama bandwagon, and normally I sit out that kind of name-calling; but notice this AP writer uses comments from Obama's camp for the implied explanation of Obama's slump.

Friday, August 1, 2008

If You Think Separation of Church and State Isn't Important

...then take a look at another theocratic measure in Saudi Arabia. Insanity, and Saudi Arabia's subjects are powerless to do anything about it.

India Close to a Nuclear Deal

This is good news. India is in some ways a hidden member of the West, at least at the leadership level - and as a member of the British Commonwealth and a surging economic power, this will be truer half a century from now than it is today. On the other hand, in the post 9/11 world, the US has entered into an alliance with Pakistan which simultaneously gave us a way to influence one of the most populous and probably the only nuclear Muslim nation, and a staging base for the immediate attack of Afghanistan, and it hemmed in their pal China who'd built an alliance as a forced move against India, post Sino-Indian War in the 1960s. This was a clever move for which I largely credit Colin Powell - in fact I imagine Musharraf's phone ringing about noon D.C.-time on 9/11.

But it badly alienated India, and the man-in-the-street muttering there was mostly about the weapons the US was shipping to Pakistan. This will be a positive legacy of the Bush administration that I hope we don't overlook.