Thursday, July 30, 2009

Nifty Gadget for Trade Data

Ran across this gadget today. You can look at imports, exports or balance by product category, or all at once.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The "Public Option" for Healthcare and Innovation

In yet another spot-on piece about potential huge mistakes in healthcare reform, Megan McArdle addresses one of the more salient arguments: what will be the impact on medical innovation?

Now, maybe government institutions could be made to produce innovations; I certainly think it's worth trying Dean Baker's suggestion that we should let the government try to set up an alternate scheme for drug discovery. Prizes also seem promising. But I want to see them work first, not after we've permanently broken the system. The one industry where the government is the sole buyer, defense, does not have an encouraging record of cost-effective, innovative procurement

...why don't you tell some person who has a terminal condition that sorry, we can't afford to find a cure for their disease? There are no particularly happy choices here. The way I look at it, one hundred percent of the population is going to die of something that we can't currently cure, but might in the future . . . plus the population of the rest of the world, plus every future generation. If you worry about global warming, you should worry at least as hard about medical innovation.

Putting the question in terms of the extreme case is still illustrative: being able to afford all healthcare now at the expense of stopping all healthcare improvements later is not a trade most Americans would make. And we're clearly not even able to afford all healthcare now.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

North Korea's Exports: Nuclear Fearmongering, Holocausts, Light Beer

A country that is doing its best to outstrip the nightmares of Auschwitz and Tuol Seng is now trying to sell you beer - with bad commercials. Do not touch their products. You'd be supporting one of the worst dictatorships in history.

States' Rights and The Recession

"...Trinity County, on the brink of financial collapse, has cut the number of sheriff's officers from 20 to 13. Sometimes no one is available to patrol the 3,200 square miles of mostly forested countryside in Trinity County, where Sheriff Lorrac Craig said drug cartels are running rampant."

They're talking about marijuana cultivation in rural California:

"This year's multibillion-dollar crop is on pace to be the largest in history, said state officials...The illicit crops are believed to be hidden on ridges and in gullies in California's 31 million acres of forest, with most being grown in state and national parks."

Let's think about this. Billions of dollars worth of a plant are growing in counties too broke to enforce the law. People come from out of the country, grow it, and send the money back home. The substance is less harmful than alcohol. Could there be a more obvious solution? Legalize it, and tax it. The city of Oakland just passed a law to tax medical marijuana (which I voted for) and the world hasn't ended yet.

There are a lot of pretend conservatives willing to sacrifice individual liberty to the state - for example, a common objection is that if California legalizes marijuana, it will flow into other states. Yes! Just like Jack Daniels flows out of Tennessee and into your house - or not, if you don't want any. I would actually look forward to the fight that would happen with other states and the Federal government over this, so we could see who the real states' rights advocates are, and who just likes to pay lip service.

Speaking of lip service, Bill O'Reilly would have you believe that from drug legalization, it's one step to cannibalism. Check out some of the "work" that he's done on it, interspersed with clips of every day life in Amsterdam:

What a nightmare! As you can see, marijuana truly does erode the fabric of morality.

If O'Reilly wanted to look at the effects of drug decriminalization, he should have looked at Portugal, which has decriminalized, basically, all drugs. Yes. Really. And things have improved. Don't take my word for it - look at what the Cato Institute has to say.

Hugo Chavez, Inept Imperialist

Hugo Chavez's military has been caught supplying weapons to Colombian drug militias. Weapons captured from FARC by the Colombian military were traced from their Swedish manufacturer to Venezuela. And then to FARC. And it's not even the first time.

His propaganda ministers are quick to make cliched remarks about U.S. interference, but even Interpol has been involved in this problem.

I'd like to suggest to leftist progressives in the U.S. sympathetic to Chavez because (you wonder if it's only because) he talked tough to Bush - and to Latin Americans who think he's doing a favor to the continent and encouraging solidarity - that Chavez's record speaks for itself.

- Hugo Chavez supplies weapons to criminal militias in neighboring countries (see above). These militias want one thing, money, and badly degrade living conditions for marginal people living in rural Colombia.

- Hugo Chavez actively suppresses free speech (try forming an opposition party).

- Hugo Chavez actively suppresses free elections (vote against him, lose your job).

- Hugo Chavez was one of few international leaders who saw fit to congratulate China on their pre-Olympics crackdown in Tibet.

Power to the people, right? Freedom! Right?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Saving Capitalism from Capitalists Again

There's a tacit position taken by many conservatives, including many fiscal conservatives, that goes something like this: calling BS on any trend that increases profits in this quarter for corporate American (or even for one specific company) is unpatriotic, and the work of liberal Satan-worshippers. Any suggestion that the masses should not buy-buy-buy at all costs (literally) is blasphemy.

Guess what? We now have a generation growing up that wonders if capitalism is broken. Conservative politicians taking a more circumspect line on moderation and consumption and yes, savings (that thing your grandparents did, and China does?) would maybe have made our current straits a little less dire. Yet this have-no-other-gods-before-consumption attitude is the invisible backbone of conservative resistance to punish those who manipulate markets (like Enron), or those who support green energy (and not American oil companies), or those who would investigate no-bid contracts being awarded to gigantic government contractors. It's tough to say you favor capitalism when you obstruct criticism of practices that in the aggregate destroy capital. This is what Adam Smith meant when he said that you shouldn't let business-people make laws. They're not going to make laws that favor business in general; they're going to make laws that favor their own business specifically. To the now-indignant businessperson reading this: you would be honest if you got to make those laws, really? If you're that naive about human nature, you've got a long way to go before you're a conservative.

The Economist has an incredible graph that shows the divergence between American consumption and savings starting around 1980. That trend has not been good for America. What are conservatives going to do to reverse it?

The Coming China Bubble

You think capitalism causes bubbles? Try five-year-plans. Foreign Policy magazine has an article predicting a bursting bubble, allowed by the CCP's central planning, which has aimed more at heading off disaster tomorrow than encouraging sustainable growth over the long-term. The underlying causes of the expected hard landing are the same as those discussed in Gordon Chang's The Coming Collapse of China, which admittedly has been hard to take seriously for the last few years. Then again, imagine someone had told you in 2005 that the U.S. was about to suffer a historic housing crash and recession that would leave GM government-owned and several major investment banks a historical footnote.

"Mean reversion is a bitch," the article says, but this isn't cause for celebration, because (hundreds of) millions of people in China will suffer, and there will be effects outside China, to put it mildly. If the article-writer is correct - along with Gordon Chang, who wrote the Coming Collapse of China a decade ago - can we stop it now? Probably not. But the lesson here is the more open and the more transparent is the Chinese economy and China in general, then over the long run the better for China, and the better for everyone else. Of course this isn't what the CCP wants because they lose control, and their jobs.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Healthcare Reform Being Sunk - By Democrats

Looks like the President's fellow Democrats - relatively conservative or otherwise - are the main obstacle to railroading through healthcare reform. California Democrat Senator Diane Feinstein has made a point of openly expressing reservations about the costs to the public. When was the last time you heard a Democrat worrying about the cost of entitlements?

Meanwhile, Harry Reid has given the liberal blogosphere further cause for anxiety by announcing that the bill will have to wait until after recess. Why the anxiety? The longer Congress has to think about it, the worse and idea it will seem. Is it just me, or does the rush to get this monster to the President's desk remind you of healthcare's answer to the Patriot Act?

This has been a long week for Obama. His clumsy wading into Gatesgate will cost him the capital he needs to get a healthcare reform bill through. It was, bluntly, a mistake that makes him seem less "post-racial", more partisan, and is costing him the respect of a lot of the blue collar workers who won him the Northeast. Whether or not you agree with what he said, I invite you to look at the dip in approval ratings two weeks from now.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Oakland is Taxing Marijuana

I voted for this measure, and it passed. Widely. I'm interested in your take. It's a voluntary, consumption-based tax, and by having the city rely to some degree on weed tax revenues, it legitimizes a recreational compound that, like booze or cigarettes, people should be able to choose whether or not to enjoy.

Note that a shift toward a simpler consumption-based tax system is one that many fiscal conservatives (including Bruce Bartlett) are incrasingly advocating for. This could be a big win for Republicans, and Democrats wouldn't dare be seen resisting it.

And in other news separating the fiscal conservatives and libertarians from the social conservatives who lost the 2008 election, look who's come out against Ms. Palin's circus. The same guy I wrote about in my last post.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Who Voted Against House Resolution 131?

The title of the resolution is "Directing the Architect of the Capitol to engrave the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag and the National Motto of 'In God We Trust' in the Capitol Visitor Center." Only one Republican voted against it - the one who apparently still recognizes the value of keeping government out of our private lives - Ron Paul.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Oppression in the Information Age

- Moussavi reporters in Iran chant "Death to China! Death to Russia!" Russia and China were among the first to congratulate Ahmadinejad for being "re-elected". Iran's people are smart; they're connected; and they'll remember this.

- Turkey calls what China has done in Xinjiang a genocide. Meanwhile, search for articles with positive reactions to China's crackdown and you will find yourself limited almost entirely to Xinhua. Despite China's much more effective blockade of Twitter and other communication technolgoy, information has flowed back and forth between Uighurs in China, the U.S. and elsewhere.

That sound that Ahmadinejad and the CCP are hearing is accountability, and the more technology advances, the harder it becomes to outrun.

Did you see Mike Kim on the Daily Show?

Here. Jon Stewart interviews Kim about his new book, Escaping North Korea. Just as I was filled with admiration that there are human beings out there with the heart (and cajones) to do this, I made the mistake of reading the associated comments. There were a couple predictable ones from North Korean online propaganda trolls (that's a full-time job for a lot of people, along with the CCP and Scientologists) along with a few clueless posts by people who probably think they're progressive.

Look: whatever Mike Kim's motivations, whether his NGO is faith-based or not, I fully support him and admire what he's doing. One suspects from these verbal knee-jerks that anything that appears to result from a) the free exercise of religion (especially Christian) or b) the rejection of collectivist tyranny is suspicious to this crowd. This is how people who call themselves tolerant and progressive end up looking the other way when confronted with constant, nightmarish human rights violations like those in North Korea, because it doesn't sit well with their "America and Christianity is the root of all evil" morally-superior-out-of-insecurity back-patting.

What makes my little rant different from others you may have read? Because I'm an ardent atheist, that's why, and my defense of Kim and his colleagues is based on a morality that any thinking human being has access to. I'm not impressed with any country that disallows free inquiry and whose official history claims their leader's birth was heralded by a special star. I'm really not impressed with people who live in free countries and are ready to jump to the defense of totalitarian states, and to attack people who are putting their lives on the line to make a difference and defending human life. Kim is supporting people's right to worship as they choose. So do I, along with (I hope) every other citizen of the world's democracies.

Check out the homepage for the book here, and Mike Kim's Facebook group here.

A Chinese Company Has Bought The Onion

Visit their recent news section to see. Priceless.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

China: Here's How to Quell Tibetan and Uighur Unrest

Offer free elections, freedom of religion, and freedom of speech to everyone. Outlaw discrimination. It works, and it makes you stronger.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Globalization Cuts Both Ways

Globalization and open markets are good things. I fully expect that as Asia continues its rise, and therefore increases its competition with the U.S., many Americans will suddenly find globalization and capitalism not to their liking. Why? As Jim Manzi puts it, practical terms, [globalization] has very little to do with McDonald’s in France, and almost everything to do with the economic rise of Asia, [and] U.S. income inequality is a demonstration that many – probably most – Americans don’t have the capabilities required to maintain anything like their current standard of living in competition with a global labor force.

Japanese ascendance in the auto and steel industry in the 1980s made many self-claimed conservatives cry, "Boo hoo, the Asians are coming, you have to pass protectionist tariffs to protect my job!" Globalization works both ways, and it will always work to take away older industries from developed countries like ours. If you fight that, you're a wannabe socialist, and you're pissing into the wind. See why education is important?

Xinjiang: Han Nationalism and CCP Hypocrisy

There's a current in American leftist-progressives that can be summarized as follows: while other countries sometimes do bad things, they're never as bad as the same types of deeds committed by the United States. For this reason, it seems painful for leftists to ever concede moral parity, let alone superiority, for American political institutions or historical episodes. Yes, the US is a country run by mortals, and has made mistakes, but this kind of top-down knee-jerk ideology doesn't help public discourse. My earlier post about the Xinjiang unrest brought some of these out of the wood-work.

I re-submit that what's happening in Urumqi now is something that could not happen in the United States today, and has not happened in the U.S. since prior to the 1950s. During the worst Watts riots, were there gangs of white thugs cruising the streets and police officers refusing to take reports from, or protect, black Angelenos? The point is that, at this stage, the behavior of the Chinese government shows that it is not a modern, secure nation. Any country its size is necessarily multiethnic, and this is not a fact that they've been able to digest. What's the chance of a free, peaceful election in China choosing an Uighur or Tibetan leader? Like our president or not, we just did the equivalent here. The CCP's continued grip on power is holding back a great civilization, and like all non-consent based dictatorships, their supposed ideology of socialism inevitably degenerates into nationalism. Search Das Kapital and the Communist Manifesto for a single instance of Marx saying that the Han are the Asian master race, and you will (not surprisingly) do so in vain.

During the Cold War, CCP-China played the card of kind uncle to the Third World, and in this decade they've been parlaying it into mineral development ventures, particularly in Africa. As their influence grows and their treatment of ethnic groups whose boundaries extend outside China continues to be shameful, they're going to find themselves increasingly on the moral defensive.

For my money, the AP's summary of the viewpoints of the two sides in the unrest is appropriately question-begging:
Uighurs, who number 9 million in Xinjiang, have complained about an influx of Han Chinese and government restrictions on their Muslim religion. They accuse the Han of discrimination and the Communist Party of trying to erase their language and culture.

Han Chinese, many of whom were encouraged to emigrate to Xinjiang by the government, believe the Uighurs should be grateful for the region's rapid economic development, which has brought schools, airports and oil wells to the sprawling, rugged region the size of Texas.

Was China grateful when European powers established spheres of influence and developed the Chinese economy and trade ties with the outside world? Does this mean we're invited back?

The official CCP answer will be, of course, that this is different, that Xinjiang is and always was part of China. I wonder when they'll start saying that about Burma and North Korea?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Now is the Time to be Vocal: MORE NUCLEAR

Conservatives: if you're reading this, I don't need to convince you that nuclear is the way to go, and has been for some time.

However, it's not us that has to be convinced. We need talking points for the social-issue leftists. Here are two that might impress them.

- The only way that can keep the lights on right now without emitting carbon and has current infrastructure is nuclear. It's a solution that's here now. Wind and solar don't come close.

- One of the founders of Greenpeace is pro-nuclear.

Much as you don't like these, if you're serious, this is the time to sound off. Like it or not, some form of cap-and-trade is going to pass in this Democratic Congress, and if the GOP lets it through without at least guaranteeing that nuclear is part of the package, then someone is really asleep at the wheel. Fortunately Lamar Alexander and John McCain are already weighing in. Get out there and support them.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Uighur Protests in and Around Urumqi, China

Here and here.

Why doesn't this happen in the U.S.? Why are there no Navajo insurrections or Aleutian revolts? Is it because we ruthlessly crush them? Or is it because the U.S. continues to improve and expand its freedoms based on the consent of the governed, freedom of speech, property ownership and transparency? As an added ironic observation, why is it that central authoritarian states, even when they're originally predicated on a supposedly universalist social theory like communism, inevitably degenerate to nationalism - where one group is more equal than the others (Uighurs and Tibetans especially)?

China has awakened as a great power, and ultimately it's up to all the people of China - including the Han - to demand the basic freedoms that the successful governments of the world deliver. A peaceful and prosperous twenty-first century depends on it.