Monday, March 30, 2009

The Left Can Never Resist for Long

Never resist becoming a caricature of itself, that is. Whether or not you agree with the political opinions it disseminates, the Huffington Post has ventured into even more goofy territory now with an article that seems to be about teleportative medicine. The HuPo is turning into the hippie Enquirer.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Rudd's Chuminess with China

Ming-era map showing China, Australia and New Zealand. Source: Sydney Morning Herald.

"'Now, if China was to turn its back on that or not be responsible, the world would soon know,' Rudd said. 'They're not perfect. They've done some bad things in the past. But let's look at the opportunities, rather than simply assume it's all threat and all risk.'"

Ahem Mr. Rudd: they're doing bad things right now. Freedom of religion? Freedom of expression? Elections? All a pipe dream in today's China. As I wrote before, there are some progressive voices in the CCP who realize that a more confident and successful China is a liberalized and open China. It's not there yet, and the world's democracies are well-served by remembering that better than Mr. Rudd is doing.

Interestingly, this is the same Australian PM (and ex-ambassador to China, and ex-KPMG China expert) who lobbies for China's voice at the G20, tells us China is an ally, and is the head of the same administration that built a Great Firewall around Australia. I don't want to get all Manchurian-Candidate, but Rudd is clearly putting Australia's Asia-Pacific relations ahead of encouraging democracy.

Time for Prison Reform

Jim Webb is going to introduce a prison reform measure today. I'm very interested to hear it.

As the article points out, prison reform is a tough issue because it's tough to argue for a better prison system, and not come across as arguing for a weaker prison system - and competing politicians are happy to use that confusion against each other. But it's time to discuss this, because it's too expensive not to. In my state, 1 out of 200 people is incarcerated (160,000 people) and the overall U.S. rate is the highest in the developed world, higher even than South Africa. While this suggests that there may be - or are - deeper problems - that's not an excuse to start paroling dangerous offenders. While we look more deeply at why we have this problem, we still have to keep offenders off the street, but to do that in a more rational manner we should ask ourselves two questions:

1) How to make prisoners more productive. We still need roads and ditches, don't we? We're hobbled by a racist past against chain gangs, but I'm all for increased transparency into the operation of prisons if it means the prisoners can offset the cost of rent and food for these hundreds of thousands. In fact, why not set up parole programs so that one of the factors in determining parole is how much value the prisoner has produced? Someone who's turned out ten thousand units in his time is probably a better risk than someone who's turned out one thousand.

2) Decide who most needs to be in there. I'm sure there are statistics about which types of criminals are more recidivist. What I wonder about is whether there's any connection to parole decisions. Someone who's in on a marijuana conviction is not the same risk as someone in on an assault conviction.

I haven't seen Webb's proposal but I support any effort to solve this problem.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Nuclear-Armed Orwellian Dictatorship Kidnaps Americans

Image from

With all the rumbling about bias in the news media, I often wonder why there isn't more outrage about the lack of attention to North Korea.

An Orwellian nightmare nation that has active concentration camps (see one on Google Maps), that has that openly declared it has a nuclear weapon, that has tested it, and that has delivery systems capable of striking the United States, has now kidnapped two American journalists, apparently from across international borders. The silence is deafening.

It bears repeating: North Korea has weapons of mass destruction, right now, and no one disagrees about this, including North Korea. Imagine if Saddam Hussein in 2002 had openly declared that he had nukes, and was kidnapping FOX journalists from Turkey?

This isn't the first time North Korea has done this. You're not safe from their programmers even outside their borders - in the 1970s they developed a habit of kidnapping Japanese vacationers off the beaches in their own country (check out the Megumi Yokota story on Wikipedia or on Netflix). If ever there was a foreign policy cause for conservatives to champion, North Korea is it, and has been. This year at Cannes a film-maker chastised the international community for its inattention to the conditions that persist in Kim Jong Il's hell-on-Earth. Understand what this means: journalists from Al Gore's TV channel, and a film-maker who lives in France, are ahead of American conservatives in loudly denouncing the literal evils of a communist country. Where are you now, Glenn Beck? Or Michael Steele, or John Boehner? Anybody!

The Obama camp is already revealing the troubling Democrat tendency of assuming rational self-interest on the part of all players in international affairs. With the rulers of places like North Korea and Iran, we cannot do this. Consequently, there could not be a better opportunity for the GOP wants to reclaim the strength, resolve, and moral leadership that it held, and that America held, in the Reagan years. But someone in Washington has to wake up.

My Love-Hate Relationship with Chuck Grassley (R-IA)

Grassley is a straight-talker who doesn't let the national party dictate his positions. On the other hand, he also doesn't let the national interest get in the way of his state interest. Great if you're an Iowan, not so great if you're from one of the other 49. But that's how representative democracy is supposed to work. It's expected that everybody tries to work his or her own angle, and it's everybody else's job to keep each other honest. You can't expect Grassley not to try to squeeze in that extra yard for Iowa.

Normally Grassley is spot-on, as he was in this case, but occasionally he deviates from plain old common-sense rationality, and it usually has something to do with corn. He has argued against all reason that ethanol from corn can supply a substantial part of the nation's energy without raising gas prices or food prices (wrong; it will raise both). Now he's raised the old bogeyman that "marijuana leads to harder drugs". The first question is where's his evidence? For four decades people have been repeating this tired old saw, without producing data to back it up.

In economic terms, marijuana is often compared to corn. Since the mid-1980s in the U.S. marijuana has been a bigger cash crop than corn. From a Libertarian standpoint, what we have now is a marijuana prohibition that criminalizes a harmless substances with medical benefits and creates a criminal class that is currently terrorizing our southern border. But I can't help but think that legalization would lower the amount of acreage dedicated to corn production and damage the corn lobby. Coincidence?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Glenn Beck and His Pseudoconservative Circus

In anticipation of his revival meeting, the Great Leader and flag-hugger extraordinaire is distributing tracts by cranks pretending to be conservatives. I've flipped through it. On its face it contains general statements that most Americans can agree with, but before you're very deep in you can tell it was written by a religious extremist with some pretty damaging ideas. Associating this with modern conservatism is exactly the kind of thing that's marginalizing the GOP and the public's view of conservatism in general. If an America run by Mormon imams is what he's advocating, I'm out, and so are most Americans. No wonder the GOP, in California and elsewhere, continues to spiral inward and down.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Reason #344 To Love Chuck Grassley (R-IA)

"...I would suggest the first thing that would make me feel a little bit better toward [the AIG executives] if they'd follow the Japanese example and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say, I'm sorry, and then either do one of two things: resign or go commit suicide."

- Chuck Grassley interviewed on Cedar Rapids KWMT.

I'm on record as a big fan of Senator Grassley. This only deepens my appreciation.

Say Goodbye to Civil Liberties

...if CNN is reporting accurately:

"President Obama also believes...that the federal government can send troops to burst into the homes of American citizens without a search warrant, despite the Fourth Amendment's protection against such unreasonable searches. He believes that the federal government has the right to arrest an American citizen on American soil and hold him in prison without charges. He believes that the federal government can listen in on your phone conversations without a court order."

Does this alarm you?

Wait a second, I got the name wrong. It was Dick Cheney who believes all that!

Did the name-swap make any difference to your reaction?

Now that Obama is in charge, does the Patriot Act still seem like a good idea? It doesn't matter which part is in charge. It's shameful to see so many Americans who so eagerly surrender their civil liberties to a massively encroaching government.

Barry Ritholtz, Heroic Monkey Boy

This awesome passage by hedge fund president and market analyst Barry Ritholtz was in Forbes:

What is the greatest financial lesson you've ever learned?

You're a monkey. It all comes down to that. You are a slightly clever, pants-wearing primate. If you forget that you're nothing more than a monkey who has been fashioned by eons on the plains, being chased by tigers, you shouldn't invest. You have to be aware of how your own psychology effects what you do. This is why we as investors sell at the bottom, get panicked. All the other lessons I've learned have come out of that. As has the field of behavioral economics.

Wall Street clichés, like "cut your losses and let your winners run" come back to prevent the monkey part of your brain from doing what it does. There's a banana–I want it. That's how chimps behave. Us humans react to greed and fear in predictable ways. We are predictably irrational. If you understand that you can take steps to prevent that–we don't own anything in the office that doesn't have a stop-loss on it. In 2008, we watched the market go down 40%. We figured out we're chimps, and don't let the chimp inside us make those chimp-like decisions.

Every good financial decision I've made comes from, "Wait a second, monkey boy, step back, don't do that." Once you realize how your own brain chemistry works against you, it gives you a chance to not panic at the bottom.

In response to a few commenters noticing that he may stir up controversy with his bald-faced statements about (gasp!) evolution (embarrassing that this should still be controversial in the greatest and most scientifically productive free market of ideas and capital on the planet), Ritholtz responded:

Sorry, but I won't bite.

As far as I am concerned, if you do not understand the theory of evolution, and its place within the scientific methodology, then you are a clueless idiot. Debate over.

This is not a debate. This is not an opinion. Evolution is the single best scientific explanation for how we got here.

I look at the global warming deniers as primarily misguided dipshits who don't understand math. And if you can prove me wrong mathematically, I will happily reverse my position. Until then, you are just pawns of Exxon Mobil. (I prefer BP or Chevron for my hi-test)

But the anti-evolution people are simply clueless f*ck 'tards.

Everytime some State bans the teaching of evolution, I put them on my BUY NOTHING/HIRE NO ONE from them list. If you insist on imposing your ass backwardness on everyone else, then there needs to repercussions for those actions.

I have zero tolerance for Anti-science, Anti-math blowhards.

Hey. His words, not mine.

As a conservative, I have a deep love of mushheads being publicly told that they're mushheads in no uncertain terms. Ergo, I love Barry Ritholtz.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Are You Sure You're Not a European?

A year and a half ago I was in Paris on business, and decided to take the weekend off so I could get a little history tourism in. I went for a run on the Camino Santiago in the country where Charlemagne's boy Roland was killed while retreating from the Moors' Basque mercenaries. In looking at the map ahead of time, I noticed that I would be driving through a French national park (le Parc Naturel Regional des Landes de Gascogne) on the way from Paris to the Pyrenees, just south of Bordeaux.

I spend a lot of time hiking and climbing and recreating in America's national forests, so I thought experiencing a French one would be interesting. When that afternoon I pulled off the French highway in Gascony, I found that it was interesting, but not in a positive way. The forest, as far as I could see, was all 100% planted, for kilometers and kilometers in neat rows along the highway. Have you been to Yosemite? Have you been hunting anywhere in the wilderness? The trees do not grow in neat rows. They grow wherever and however they damn well want to, like everything else out there. That's why it's wilderness; that's why we like to go there, because it reminds us the world is what it is whether or not you're there, and it doesn't care much about you, either, so everything is up to you. Granted, I was looking at a forest in Europe where all the trees were cut down centuries ago by a dense population, and it's to their credit that they replanted managed forests; but it's not what I was hoping for, and I felt bad for the kids growing up around those parts. You can zoom in just about anywhere in Europe, for example on the comparatively unsettled west coast of the Danish mainland, Jutland - and see that the land is all planned and cultivated. Standing in the neat rows of French trees, obviously arranged by the hand of man, was very disappointing. Creepy, even. I jumped back in the car and didn't stop until I was in Spain. Fortunately, the Pyrenees were better; mountains usually are.

No, I'm not turning this into a comparative forestry blog. There has long been a trend in American political writing toward picking out aspects of European culture and government that reinforced subtle stereotypes and inferiority complexes, and the cultural artifacts those writers choose to focus on are increasingly mystifying. Somehow small cars or urban living or philosophers unrepresentative of the European man in the street get the attention. What prompted me was the recent article that soccer, with its endless back and forth and low-scoring games, is somehow the logical extension of an aimless, nihilistic culture, and we best gather our children close to us lest they be infected by the menace of gray socialism creeping into American sports. Very strange, the aspects of Europe that people choose to focus on. And the writer is also forgetting about hockey.

It's worth remembering that NATO exists because western Europeans (and Turks, and now eastern Europeans) share enough democratic values with us that they saw the benefit of joining a common defense alliance. So what if they have higher tax rates or take the train more or drink tea and take long lunches? But if you're going to pick on tell-tale differences between Americans and Europeans, is it soccer that really worries you the most?

What I fear that Americans are losing now is a sense of self-reliance and confidence and responsibility that sets us apart from Europeans, and that Europeans often cite as reasons for emigrating to America today. Why? So much of our history and spirit is bound up in the open frontier, in pushing through the forests and deserts and mountains, working in the open air and elements, knowing that if you forget something or screw up - it'll be your head, and you'll have no one to blame but yourself. Not only that, but having fun in those places. It's a big part of what sets us apart from the Old World. And be honest - when was the last time you got out into a wilderness or national forest and hunted or fished or hiked and enjoyed this fantastic piece of real estate we have, and on its own terms?

I love visiting Europe, but I couldn't live there - because there is no such thing as a wilderness. Even my wife, a transplant from Japan, commented that she missed the wild open spaces during her three week trip to the continent a few months ago. You can't get away from people and hear your own thoughts. The world there is handed to each generation already made safe by the previous one, and there's a certain fatalism that comes along with that, a sense that the whole world is artificial. And the kicker is - if you spend your whole life in the suburbs, can you claim you don't share that sense? Can you really claim that you're more like Lewis and Clark than you're like the unchallenged, comfortable-enough citizens of western Europe? More and more Americans are agglomerated in these already-tamed places, and fewer of us spend any time in parks and forests. We're losing one of the things that has made our values what they are.

I Know Who John Galt Is...And He's Not Michelle Malkin

Around the time I graduated from college I began devouring everything Ayn Rand had ever written. And I recommend that if you haven't read her work, you do; it occupies a unique and important place in American intellectual history. Libertarian and skeptic Michael Shermer was at one time a dedicated objectivist, as Rand's followers called her ideology. I've heard Rush Limbaugh cite her. And it's inexplicably little-known that Alan Greenspan was in the 1950s a frequent attendee of Rand's inner-circle meetings, even ghost-writing one of her essays.

Ayn Rand's writings are good undergirding for part of a worldview, but not very workable if explicitly implemented as morality or policy. What I took away from Ayn Rand was the exaltation of the individual - both individual responsibility, and the power of individual reason, and a simultaneously rational, materialist, romantic focus on human beings as a source of productive power, in science, business, and the arts - and how that translates into economics and civilization. In her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged she envisioned a world gradually grinding to a halt, under assault from the broken morality of mush-minded collectivism. The world could only lurch forward by parasitically demanding the endless, back-breaking labor of those few talented, productive men and women who continued their output, despite the yawning cultural wastes around them. When finally these men and women could no longer ignore all they were doing was enabling and perpetuating an immoral world, they dropped out - to a secret valley in the Rockies where they could be happy and productive in a moral society with like-minded people. When finally enough of the leaders in business and the arts and sciences had dropped out, the parasites had no one left to depend on. The world lurched to a halt, and the lights went out. The leader of this movement, who catalyzed these drop-outs, was a man named John Galt.

Their actions were not only a moral choice but an experiment, proving that the world depends on them (if in fact the lights had not gone out, they would have proven that it did not). And some of us have asked: is this the world we are now living in? Those of us most likely to say yes are part of the conservative commentariat - the one that successfully conducted a coup in the GOP. Chiefly among them, and representing all of them for purposes of this article, is Michelle Malkin. She has made a point of discussing people who are "going Galt", and exhorting others to do the same.

Ayn Rand's points are good ones to contemplate, but Malkin's pseudopopulist tropes distort them badly. Who are the talented, productive leaders she's haranguing to drop out? Are we living in a world of wastelands, and of parasites depending on the productive and talented? Or are most of us trying to set the economy right and offering solutions, even if we don't always agree? It's important to keep three things in mind. First and foremost, remember where this economy came from - did it start with the current administration, or the one that was in for eight years before it? (And, it bears mentioning, that had a friendly Congress the first six of those eight years.) Of course the media commentariat can't come right out and say that after seven weeks in office, it's Obama's fault, so they just imply it with this kind of media-queen silliness. To keep things in perspective, we're at 40% of the unemployment that existed in 1933. Things are bad and may get worse but they have a long way to go before we surpass lows that this country has seen, and recovered from, in the last century.

Second is tax rates. Apparently our tax rate is skyrocketing under Obama. Reader - do you know what your marginal tax rate is? Is it going up under Obama's plan? What about your capital gains taxes? If you haven't already done your taxes, think about this while you're doing them. I concede that Michelle Malkin's taxes might go up a little, but not all of us are as famous and glamorous. While I have problems with some details of the stimulus package, I don't refuse to recognize the reality that credit system has frozen and we have to fix it, or we're screwed.

Third is productivity. Productivity is still increasing, even during this recession, O commentariat. It slowed from 3.2% to 2.8%, but it's still growing. Pretty good, given some of the other indicators! What does this mean? Either no one is going Galt, or at least no one important.

When I look out the window of my car on the way to work, I see Americans of all stripes (political or otherwise) wanting to be productive and fix things. There is no rubble-strewn wasteland of gibbering parasites, unless you count General Motors, and again, who exactly are the talented businesspeople and engineers being dragged down? Most companies are still functioning and making wealth-creating discoveries, like Genentech did recently concerning Alzheimers. This means that people still being rewarded for positive thinking and solutions, and that Americans are still optimistic. What we're not is patient with whiners. We like someone who gets on board and offers a solution to actually fix something. Could it be that Malkin et al are a pouting minority of hot-air merchants? "Boo-hoo, I don't like the president. Time to quit America, seven weeks into his term." How childish, short-sighted and unpatriotic. Their desperate efforts to deepen this recession and tie it in the public's mind to the Obama administration are getting increasingly transparent. Why else are the Malkins telling people to wreck the American economy - oddly enough, just like bin Laden did explicitly in late fall 2001 as the stock market wavered. I'll tell you what: I'd rather be wrong in my economic principles and end up with a good economy, than be right and have the lights go out. Hopefully so do you, and your plumber, auto mechanic, lawyer and doctor.

I'm not the only person who badly wants to nip this going-Galt nonsense right in the bud. Atlas Shrugged the movie has been in development hell for a few years (with Angelina Jolie as the main character) and I hope it would've been made already so the American public had some armor against the platitudes of vapor merchants in the media. My advice is to actually read Ayn Rand before you start parroting half-digested Malkinisms. Going Galt does not mean closing your small business 2 years ahead of plan. It does not mean staying at home to watch ESPN instead of sending out resumes. It means becoming a Libertarian John Connor, disappearing from your previous life in a place that has become so parasite-infested you can't stand it for another second, and going totally off-grid to live in a society of like-minded people. Oh, that's too hard? That's unrealistic? That's fine. Then don't do it, and don't lie and claim that you're doing it. And especially don't tell others to do it unless you have the cajones to follow suit.

And is Malkin doing it? Is she going off the grid, and withdrawing her scary level of productiveness (?) from society? Of course she's not. She's not even retiring two years early. She likes her lattes and her Pakistani restaurants and her day spas and private car pick-ups from the networks too much. (And who wouldn't? The difference is you don't see the rest of us railing against the intolerable oppression of modern life.) For that matter, Galt's Gulch (the town where the productive people moved) was built by engineers, scientists, businesspeople, and composers - so what is Malkin going to contribute to that Brave New World? What new alloy will she come up with, what new transportation technology or medical innovation or microchip will she invent? She's a media gadfly. Which is fine as long as she can sell advertising for CNBC, and get paid big bucks in a system she's whining about. She either doesn't understand what she's saying, or is exhorting people to do something she herself doesn't have the guts to pull off.

Perhaps most coffin-sealing to the idea we're living in the Randian endtimes is that productive Americans are still here, making their contribution, or looking for a job so they contribute. I know, Michelle, because I'm one of them. How many cancer treatments have you ever contributed to? How many genes have you cloned to keep crop-eating flies from developing pesticide resistance? Most blog readers and blog writers can say similar things about what it is they do for a living. In fact, I have difficulty imagining that if the full crowd of Malkin and friends arrived in Galt's Gulch that they would even last a week. Among the positive, solution-seeking value-creating engineers and businesspeople and artists who behaved awkwardly around these professional talkers, the only service they could provide would be balloon inflation. Suddenly Galt's Gulch would have an excess of hot air.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

How is Your Well-Being?

This survey looked at a number of factors and came up with a number for general well-being. There's a color-coded map and you can look at it by Congressional district or state. One thing jumped out at me: the most consistently contiguous section of unhappy people is in a stripe running from Appalachia then trending west through Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and Oklahoma. It matches very closely with the only part of the country that voted more Republican for president in 2008. Coincidence?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

We Can Expect More Aggression From China in the Near Term

China's military will be misbehaving in the next few months. The 2001 Hainan Island incident that everyone has forgotten about will set the tone for the early encounters - unless we re-set it now.

Besides the obvious testing of Obama, they also have an export-based economy in the process of crashing and burning. If they're going to keep up the rabid nationalism they've been feeding for the past couple years, they have to give people something to cheer about while the factories in Shenzhen are going dark. And that would be military posturing with the U.S. with its growing Navy (and its military space force - yes, really).

The next few months are crucial. By standing firm now - over Tibet, North Korea, and Myanmar, and keeping our alliances with Japan and India strong - we can assure a positive, open future for both the U.S. and a freer China. There aren't many things more important in the twenty-first century than that.

Defeat Chas Freeman's Nomination

He's either a defeatist, or an idiot. Look at his comments on Tibet: it's blame-the-victim mentality at its worst. Next he'll be saying the 9/11 attacks were America's fault.

(Update: that was fast. My new favorite Representative Mark Kirk (R-IL) was instrumental in pointing out Freeman's conflicts of interest, like sitting on the boards of Chinese oil concerns.)

The Difference Between Arlen Specter and Rush Limbaugh that one is a values-driven politician doing what he thinks is best for his constituents and America, and one is an entertainer, trying to get richer by advertising revenues.

You're a conservative – you're business-savvy, right? What is the role of the GOP? To govern effectively using conservative values, though we sometimes disagree about what those are. What is the role of conservative talk show hosts? To make money by selling advertising. If they can do that by espousing extremist opinions useless to politicians (conservative or otherwise), they do it – and it's what they're doing now. It's flag-hugging at its worst.

The Rushes and Hannitys and O'Reillys and Becks all have a right to their opinion, just like the rest of us – and the rest of us have a right to recognize that they have motivations other than making America better.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Obama Stem Cell Decision

As a biotech consultant, my position on this will not be surprising: it's some of the best news I've heard in a while. It's an all-around win: for biotech companies, for keeping the cutting edge of research (and therefore economic success) in the United States, and most importantly, for sick people who will benefit from the medicines discovered.

Also not surprising is the reaction of religious conservatives, the ones pouting about "the abortion president". It's their opinions that as a Libertarian and medical student I find most offensive out of the entire American political spectrum, not least because the fumes coming out of these ideologs continue to pollute conservatism in general in the minds of rational Americans who are actually concerned with economic success instead of preaching.

The elephant that nobody wants to acknowledge is that the anti-stem cell crowd is almost entirely a religious one, and it's just one more reason the GOP has to get these otherwise conscientious Americans to understand the difference between politics and religion. Because when it counted, when it was time to stand up against government interference in corporate and state affairs, eight years ago these people were 100% ready and willing to use the long arm of the Federal government to intrude into private companies, by supporting Bush's stem cell restrictions. And these are conservatives?

If we call a spade a spade, when there's a moral debate like this in modern America, the camps quickly divide into those shouting "liberal sinner" and "moron fundamentalist" each other. This not only plays the game of reinforcing demographic and geographic stereotypes (which the mainstream media already takes care of for us) but it also misses the mark. If all I do in this post is call the anti-stem-cell crowd moron fundamentalists, I let their arguments off the hook.

On the contratry, I take their arguments seriously. So I directly question them: why is a fertilized human embryo morally the same as a child? Are we really to believe that a single cell, the same size as an amoeba, has the same intelligence and ability to suffer as a baby? The answer is a clear no. If you're reading this and you have evidence to the contrary, let's see it. On the other hand, if you tell me that the suffering of the embryo isn't what really matters anyway, but rather that your faith tells you the rules, I'm afraid we don't have to listen to you. The U.S. government doesn't have to respect Muslim "scholars" who say American energy independence is against God; we don't have to listen to the Pope when he tells us birth control is a sin. So why should we listen to someone who wants to sacrifice medical progress (and American technical competitiveness) to save a microscopic cell?

Time was when the science that our most important industries depended on was not profound enough that it sometimes forced us to re-examine our values; unfortunately that time is past. My father was a steel industry executive, and I've often compared Bush's stem cell ban to a government order to stop using molybdenum in alloys, because (hypothetically) Jews considered molybdenum an "unclean" metal. Continued economic success depends on the growth of new industries, which in turn depend heavily on scientific advances that sometimes make us look at our values to make sure we know which parts of them are most important. The world will keep changing, and any country that tries to ignore this fact will be more confused, isolated, and poor.

But I am a capitalist second, and a human being first. It's the people with Alzheimers and Parkinsons and dozens of other diseases who are most important to this debate. If you can come up with a reason that microscopic cells are more important than living people, than children and grandparents and brothers, please enlighten us - but be honest with yourself, and with us, about the values motivating you. My first and most important principle, as a medical student and a human being is to eliminate people's suffering. What's yours?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Two Worst Things in the Stimulus Package

What's your solution to keep us out of a deepening morass? Our asses are in a sling, and only massive Keynesian spending is going to head off much, much more pain. Forgive my defensive tone, but it's tough to be a hardcore libertarian in these times, and if you have an alternative, let's hear it. Unfortunately, so far from the GOP there's been a lot of hot air, and "it's unclear what is the Republican stimulus plan", as Mitt Romney said last week.

We have to spend money, and we have to keep that spending very accountable and transparent, and keep our eye on what's important: promoting growth. To that end the stimulus package is doing two very stupid things:

- During the campaign Obama said he would eliminating capital gains taxes for start-up companies. That's now out the door. I don't stand to gain from adopting a no-capital-gains taxes policy, other than indirectly from economic growth, as all Americans would.

- There are foolish immigration provisions in the stimulus, namely that no company getting stimulus money can hire foreign workers. I've written extensively on how we should focus on economic growth by focusing on young high-technology industries and opening the gates for highly educated immigrants, who are beginning to go back home. There are excellent posts on this topic at the New York Times, the Economist, and Growthlology.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Welcome to the Future: A Chinese Military Presence in Space

Read about it here. Alfred Mahan argued in The Influence of Sea Power Upon History that it was Britain's naval power - its command of the new medium of transport and trade - that was the basis of the British Empire's dominance. The same argument can be applied to air power and its use by the United States in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, as former head of the Air and Space Museum Walter Boyne has written. The next step in this game is space, and China is fully aware of the opportunity. It's not the first time they've demonstrated their growing space warfare capability.

Sudan Court Decision

This is good. The leader of Sudan has been indicted for war crimes by the World Court, and the Obama administration is trying to be tricky in its response. The Obama administration is being tested in its early days, as are all American administrations, and Obama is trying to set a new tone with the Islamic world. Setting a new tone is laudable goal, but it should not mean that the U.S. doesn't enthusiastically support the indictment of genocidal dictator.

It will be especially interesting to see how China gets out of this one, considering Xinhua already said that the court was the best way to solve the problem. We can hope that this very public decision by an international body will begin a chilling effect on China's other resource-driven relationships with dictators.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Immigration, Science, and Your Economy

...three topics that I wish Americans understood how closely they were linked. Here we have foreign students in science research leaving the U.S. because of visa issues. It's baffling that our own economic self-interest isn't front-and-center when the immigration debate comes up. We're not running a charity. We should make it easiest for wealth-creating science and engineering and business people to enter the country; instead we have certain industries that want cheap labor, and so whenever the GOP tries to stop illegal immigration, it's silenced by special interests.

Meanwhile America's top universities are, losing graduates overseas faster than ever before - especially back to China.

The blunt way to put it is this. Twenty-first century economies rely either on scientists and engineers - or selling charming ethnic trinkets to tourists from countries with scientists and engineers. I don't relish the thought of my children selling Oakland Raiders T-shirts to Chinese college kids on spring break. Apparently our politicians don't agree: here we have state legislatures actually introducing legislation to lower science standards. Are conservatives paying attention? Is anybody? We're not on the ball, and in some cutting-edge industries, there's already been noticeable ground lost.

Pretty soon we'll be right up there with those scientific and economic powerhouses like Malaysia and the Middle East (except without even the oil money). If we want to be the dominant world economy in the twenty-first century, we have to encourage the right immigration and support the right economic activity - which means solid education, and attracting the best and brightest, as we have until now. Politicians that talk about long-term economic growth without backing up their words with these values are doing worse than lip service to America's future.

The Missile Shield and Iran

At first I thought Obama's move with connecting the Russian missile shield to dealing with Iran's nuclear program was a smart one.

Unfortunately it wasn't reciprocated. The mistake was making the overture public, because assent from Russia would make the newly nationalistic and therefore oversensitive Kremlin seem like they were just being America's Yes-man, and it puts the U.S. in the position of having egg on our faces when the overture is rebuffed. Why? Now we're in a position where if we go forward, we get nothing new out of the deal, and besides Ahmedinejad is seeing that there's no united from between Russia in the US. If we back out we look like we're not serious about Iran and that we were being disingenuous about the missile shield. Either way our strong allies in Russia's near abroad (like Poland) can't help but feel that they're pawns in Obama's strategy. I'm in favor of anything that pressures Iran but this move should have been less public.

A Semi-Open Letter - From the CCP, to the CCP

It's encouraging that the need for openness and reform has apparently penetrated further, and higher, into the Chinese government. Ironically, the problem with China's stimulus package has been an explosion of lending, a problem which American policymakers would kill to have at the moment.

Trying to Return to Normalcy

I have a friend who is liberal. Really liberal. So liberal that she once saw one of those bumper stickers that say Work harder - people on welfare are depending on you!, and she sincerely thought to herself, "You know, that's true, I should!" and only later appreciated that it was sarcastic. True story.

The reason I mention her is that in my political conversations with her I often compared myself, during the Bush administration, to a conservative Magneto. Like Magneto would occasionally help the X-men when it benefited him, I was a temporary ally of the reality-based political world. The way I put it was that I'd rather be having arguments with her over the measurable economic effects of policies and the merits of free markets, rather than with the kind of people who outlaw certain kinds of medicine because it's against their religion, and put their ideology above humanity. Once the nutcases were out of office, I could go back to arguing with my friend about economics. Until then we had to fight people who believed in witchcraft, and were in office. Whether that second class of people genuinely believes in their witchcraft, or is just using it in a cynical attempt to get votes, is a topic of both frequent and moot speculation. Both prospects are disturbing.

I don't have to put labels on class 1 for you to see where this is going, but I will. Class 1 is liberals with different ideas about how economics can and should work, but at least fundamental understanding of democracy and the rule of law. Class 2 consists of religious conservative extremists that composed much of the Bush administration. I started this blog as a real conservative, sick of what Bush had done to conservatism in the U.S. Up through 2002 I was politically pretty apathetic. It was the run-up to the War in Iraq that woke me up. It bears repeating that the U.S. either stumbled into, or was lied into, a war that has cost hundreds of billions of dollars, thousands of American lives, and has lasted longer than World War II. What did we get out of it? And, to the most cynical among us, where's the oil? The first (and perhaps so far the only) government to sign an oil deal with Iraq is China.

What made me, and still makes me, the most angry is that American conservatives are supposed to be the guardians of small government, of non-cronyist free-market capitalism (in a way that benefits human beings), of cold, logical, facts-and-figures based thinking, not wishy-washy flag-hugging. I was hoping that in 2008 this would end, that the Civil War Bruce Bartlett had been predicting since 2004 would begin in time, and that's why I started this blog - to support John McCain early on. Unfortunately the Religious Right wouldn't release its claws from the former conservative party of the U.S., and like millions of other conservatives, I was forced out. What the Religious Right turned the GOP into was an organization that could win elections, but couldn't govern its way out of a wet paper bag. In 2009, now that it can't even win elections, the GOP has become a front-end with no back office - a marketing organization.

A ridiculous metaphor? Then why is the head of the GOP bowing in contrition to an entertainer like Rush Limbaugh? This is perhaps the sorriest spectacle the GOP has witnessed in my lifetime, and I include Nixon's resignation in that list. Does this suggest a strong GOP? Ask yourself this: if Tim Kaine (the Democratic Party head) apologized to Jon Stewart for something he'd said, would that make you think the Democrats were a strong, independent party? Sadly, Jindal is on record saying he's glad Steele apologized. Jindal's ready to turn the GOP over to the entertainment industry.

It's here that I have to be honest. In case you can't tell, I'm finding it difficult to rejoin the GOP in its current incarnation. This Magneto might be with the X-men for longer than I anticipated. The rational conservative voices - the ones from the era of Reagan and Bush Sr. like James Bakker and Colin Powell - are either quiet on the sidelines, or they're at least offering solutions to the Obama Administration. They're not impotently grandstanding along with the embarrassing media figures now running the GOP. Personally, I find it hard to see how it's less patriotic to join in the debate with another viewpoint than to want the president to fail. (Frankly it's not only unpatriotic, it reminds me of a pouting four-year-old.)

Of course, I'll be called a faker, a liberal-in-conservative-clothing, and I planned it the whole time, etc. That's fine, remaining conservatives - keep on kicking out everyone who doesn't exactly toe the line, and your share of national opinion will keep shrinking. Here in California, the GOP registration is down to around 35% of registered voters and dropping. Good job! You're almost there guys - you've almost succeeded in purging the California GOP of impurity. It'll be so pure that no one will be in it! Ann Coulter is really helping, calling George Soros a Nazi collaborator. Yes, of course Ann, someone who fled from the Nazis is a Nazi collaborator. Dismiss her as an extremist? Most Americans certainly do, but the GOP doesn't, because Coulter, and Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck are the de facto official spokespeople for the party, and even the official party officers don't dare criticize them. What a great position to be in, to have media figures in charge.

The thing that has most disturbed me about the GOP now is its flailing in the face of the economic meltdown. I initially resisted posting my Jindal criticism because it would erode any remaining credibility I had among self-described conservatives, but I can't be dishonest. At the time I wrote it I didn't realize what a lambasting he was receiving from the rest of the spectrum, making my own contribution seem positively mild by comparison. Jindal et al apparently think it's time to take a stand by refusing bailout money from the Feds. From a purely populist standpoint, please tell me how thrilled millions of unemployed Joe the Plumbers will be with Jindal's refusal to take that money, when their unemployment benefits have run out and they're standing in the election booth nineteen months from now? Apparently even the front-office marketing sense of the GOP has deserted it once and for all. The intellectual vacuum we're seeing is the inevitable windfall of three decades of movement conservatism beating a pseudo-religious populist drum. Making Jindal the spokesman stinks of tokenism for two reasons, one of which is his Rhodes Scholarship.

I am a Libertarian, but I am not a market fundamentalist. It seems that the only time big-government movement conservatives remember capitalism is when they don't want to spend any money to stabilize the credit markets. Hey idiots: remember when what mattered was economic growth, and not ideology? I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the free market is not the mechanism to solve ALL of society's problems. In this I am in the good company of the Austrian economists on whom the modern idea of entrepreneur-driven capitalism is based, like Friedrich Hayek: "probably nothing has done so much harm to the [capitalist] cause as the wooden insistence of some [capitalists] on certain rules of thumb, above all of the principle of laissez-faire capitalism". I am also in the good company of no less than Adam Smith, who clearly stated that letting businesspeople write and influence laws is a rotten idea. Government should govern, and businesses should make money, and one unchanging set of rules might not keep the lights on all the time, under all conditions. So, talk show hosts and forum trolls: you can go defend the bonuses of incompetent big bank CEO's and then reluctantly deposit your unemployment check. I'm sure Beck and Limbaugh and Savage and O'Reilly will pat you on the head for it. Maybe this is why American Conservative Magazine recently published an article called "How Radio Wrecks the Right." By the way, do you think Glenn Beck knows who Friedrich Hayek is? Or cares?

As long as I continue to hear solutions and ideas from the center, and from the Obama people, and faux anger and empty social rhetoric from the entertainment industry faces currently running the GOP, I'm in with Obama.