We are the Better Choice

For many issues, there are those who will start the discussion with, “Why is America better than any other country/culture/organization to manage this?” When we went to Iraq, it was argued that the rest of the world didn’t support us, so we should not do it. When we discuss global warming, it is argued that the world has decided we are the worst carbon producers so we should abide by their decision that we decrease our output. When we discuss the morality of our law, it is argued that international law is more sophisticated and nuanced, so we should take our cues from the international “consensus”. 

Needless to say, I will almost never agree with the idea that our culture or way of life is morally equivalent to any other. This is, by far, the most productive, most freedom-loving, and most altruistic nation this planet has ever seen. I am a firm and proud believer in the idea of American Exceptionalism.

This is some grand stage-setting to make a case in point. One of the many issues that has been driven by the mantra of, “Why should America be in charge?” is the management of the Internet naming authority

The IANA, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, is the organization responsible for managing top-level domains. Top-level domains are the last parts of URLs like .com, .org, .edu and the country-based domains like .uk for the United Kingdom, .nz for New Zealand, etc. The IANA is operated on behalf of the US Department of Commerce. How this came about is a winding story, but it boils down to the fact that the United States build the first parts of the Internet and we’ve managed the naming schemes ever since.

Now that the Internet is clearly necessary for governments and businesses to function internationally, those who believe that the United States would abuse it’s authority are demanding that the IANA turn control of the top-level domains over to an international body like the UN. Has there been any major mismanagement at the IANA? Has there been any legitimate controversy that would suggest they are abusing their privilege? No and no. This is simply a case of arguing that the United States has no more rights than any other country to run this service and, in fact, the US is less equal than others (this is where moral equivalency morphs into anti-Americanism. A very common occurrence.).

Ariel Rabkin wrote this great article for The Weekly Standard describing the situation and the legitimate fears and dangers of letting anyone else control the top-level domains. He makes the case that letting any other group decide how to manage those domains would invite censorship and persecution by a group that likely wouldn’t have to answer to any particular population. See how Islamic countries feel about Israel in the UN. Do you think they wouldn’t argue for shunning them technologically? See how the UN feels about whether to recognize Taiwan (who currently has it’s own top-level domain separate from China). Do you think a permanent Security Council member wouldn’t argue for downgrading Taiwan’s Internet status?

Mr. Rabkin wraps up with a great point:

It is natural for other countries to resent the privileged role of the United States in Internet governance and to demand a greater measure of control. But if we believe in free speech, we ought to keep control of the Internet away from foreign governments that value it far less than we do.

Which brings us back to the beginning. How many foreign governments value free speech like we do? How many foreign governments value property rights like we do? How many foreign countries are built on the idea of limiting government like we are?

You see, America is exceptional.

Snake Fuel

The title is a poor attempt to combine the term “snake oil” with the substance I’m discussing here: ethanol.

Ethanol has been perpetually trumpeted as a fuel source that we could produce domestically to lower our foreign oil dependency. This has always been a pipe dream. From day one, the ethanol industry needed government subsidies to even get it off the ground. Guess what? It’s still failing. As Ed Wallace describes in this Business Week article, this is a scam that is costing the average American in three ways:

First, the taxpayers are paying to subsidize the farmers to grow the corn and other crops sold to create ethanol.

Second, the average American is paying more for food costs because the use of these crops as fuel has driven up prices of the foods that used to be grown in the same place.

Finally, and most subtly, car-owners are paying for repairs because ethanol damages engines of all kinds. As Wallace describes, high ethanol content (in the 10-15% range) will damage or destroy fuel filters, fuel lines, and fuel pumps in a variety of cars. It is damaging to small engines (such as those used in lawnmowers, blowers, edgers, etc.), and will break down the resins used in marine engines. For many cars, simply using fuel with more than 10% ethanol immediately voids the warranty.

So, you have a product that has no sustainable business model, causes price inflation in other, more important, markets, and actually damages the property of those who use the product. Oh, and the government pays to have it created and sold. When this industry tanks anyway, isn’t just time to let it die a natural death?

Apparently not. Ethanol producers are lobbying for the government to mandate 15% ethanol fuel to increase demand in an attempt to revive the industry. And, of course, the EPA is considering it. I have to agree with Wallace’s conclusion about this madness:

Sadly, when a truly bad idea is exposed today, Washington’s answer is to double-down on the bet, mandate more of the same, and make the problem worse. Only this time around motorists will be able to gauge the real cost of ethanol when it comes time to fix their personal cars.

Through the Looking Glass

There are times, in public debate, when the sides seem to switch and they begin to look like their opponents from the past. It’s sort of a “through the looking glass” moment when I see the same people saying the opposite things or the critics of a certain practice now engaging in it themselves. Is it hypocrisy? Is it jumping the shark? Is it just the weird side-effect of a changing debate?

Any way you slice it, it’s time for a fresh consideration of the topic.

Bjorn Lomborg wrote a fascinating op-ed in the Wall Street Journal here about how some business leaders are becoming advocates of government intervention to deal with climate change. Whenever you see something unexpected like this, it’s always a good rule to follow the money. As Mr. Lomborg points out, these companies see an opportunity to sell products and services to those who are forced to deal with new government regulations. This is simply a recognition of a new market being created by government intervention. The obvious comparison to the classic “military-industrial complex” mentioned by President Eisenhower is drawn and, actually, I think it’s more apt. In the case of the Cold War, at least the government was doing a job that it was constitutionally empowered to do. I don’t see where the government should be telling us how to live, work, and produce based on shaky science.

Didn’t the environmentalists used to be the underdogs? Weren’t they supposedly the voices crying out in the wilderness about how we were cluelessly destroying our planet? Wasn’t the case being made that we were blindly marching to oblivion because we wouldn’t pay attention? 

Now, I feel like the populace is that voice in the wilderness. Every day, the evidence mounts that we are not responsible for climate change. Now, it’s the government and big business leaders who are demanding punitive taxes and subsidies for technologies that aren’t ready. They demand these ostensibly to solve a problem that cannot be solved by man. Now, it’s our government that is marching into danger with our money because they won’t listen to the evidence.

Mr. Lomborg finishes his op-ed with precisely the same sentiment I have, so I’ll let him have the last word here:

The partnership among self-interested businesses, grandstanding politicians and alarmist campaigners truly is an unholy alliance. The climate-industrial complex does not promote discussion on how to overcome this challenge in a way that will be best for everybody. We should not be surprised or impressed that those who stand to make a profit are among the loudest calling for politicians to act. Spending a fortune on global carbon regulations will benefit a few, but dearly cost everybody else.

Bully In Chief

President Obama has given new meaning to the term “bully pulpit”. I have read and watched in amazement as more and more stories emerged of the President strong-arming investors to give up their rights and financial interests under threat of a public derision from the White House. I can understand the President encouraging the involved parties to come to an agreement, but to flat out threaten them into compliance is outrageous.

Michael Barone, via the Washington Examiner, describes the core of this story:

[I was angered] when I heard what bankruptcy lawyer Tom Lauria said on a WJR talk show that morning. “One of my clients,” Lauria told host Frank Beckmann, “was directly threatened by the White House and in essence compelled to withdraw its opposition to the deal under threat that the full force of the White House press corps would destroy its reputation if it continued to fight.”

Lauria represented one of the bondholder firms, Perella Weinberg, which initially rejected the Obama deal that would give the bondholders about 33 cents on the dollar for their secured debts while giving the United Auto Workers retirees about 50 cents on the dollar for their unsecured debts.

Did you catch that? The President thought that a reasonable solution was to give a better deal to the unsecured debts of the UAW than to the secured debts of the bondholders. Then, when someone representing the investments of those secured bonds objected, he was threatened by the White House! When the President of the United States overrides the risk-reward calculations involved here, the whole foundation of free markets begins to collapse. You can’t change the natural tension without significant consequences.

It’s not unusual to see this kind of bullying in Third World countries where the victims are threatened at the point of a gun. In the most productive capitalist society in all of human history, though, the only thing worse than threatening to kill the CEO is threatening to ruin the company’s reputation in the press. Bad press can cripple a good company and will destroy a weakened one. This is a fate worse than death for a corporation.

I’m not surprised by the direction and plans articulated by President Obama. What amazes me is the pure chutzpah involved. I like this observation from Clifford S. Asness in his open letter:

The President’s attempted diktat takes money from bondholders and gives it to a labor union that delivers money and votes for him. Why is he not calling on his party to “sacrifice” some campaign contributions, and votes, for the greater good? Shaking down lenders for the benefit of political donors is recycled corruption and abuse of power.

It’s bad enough when the President tries to pass unfair or un-Constitutional laws. It’s worse when he simply acts as if they don’t exist and ignores them. It’s just crass when he ignores the law and tries to pay off friendly organizations in the process.

Subsidized Mediocrity

I’ve long been skeptical about labor unions. It’s not that they don’t provide a useful service, it’s just that I believe the negatives far outweigh the positives. This article in the LA Times is actually a well-researched investigation into the problem of tenure for public school teachers and how it protects laziness, incompetence, and borderline criminality. Jason Song backs up the premise he lays out in the early paragraphs:

It’s remarkably difficult to fire a tenured public school teacher in California, a Times investigation has found. The path can be laborious and labyrinthine, in some cases involving years of investigation, union grievances, administrative appeals, court challenges and re-hearings.

Not only is the process arduous, but some districts are particularly unsuccessful in navigating its complexities. The Los Angeles Unified School District sees the majority of its appealed dismissals overturned, and its administrators are far less likely even to try firing a tenured teacher than those in other districts.

Isn’t it reasonable to conclude that something has gone sideways when it’s so hard to rid our schools of unqualified teachers that the authorities simply move them around? Can’t we agree that something needs to change when the preferred method of pushing a teacher out is to harass with in-class observations and vaguely threaten to make life uncomfortable? And, finally, can’t we agree that the unions are part of the problem when they pass the buck with quotes like this?

“The union is bound by law to defend our members, and we do,” said A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles. “That should in no way deter the resolve of the district to do their job, which is to help failing teachers to get better, or, if they can’t, to work to get rid of them.”

So, the same unions that have created the byzantine dismissal processes with review panels an multiple appeals are saying that it’s not their job to help excise the deadwood? In fact, it’s their job to defend the deadwood and it’s the district’s job to prove them wrong. But, fret not, because they assure us that the kids come first.

Reason #418 why we homeschool.

David’s Second Gig

Well, the camera is better and so is the video. However, David wore a dark shirt so he disappears a bit into the background. Also, I’m still learning how to prepare the video in a way that doesn’t take forever to download. This looks better, but it’s a bit bigger. I hope you enjoy anyway. There were certainly no problems with the performance.

The Earth is Warming, So What?

I think some folks may still confuse my position. I do not deny that the Earth has been warming over the last several decades. I happen to think that some measuring mechanisms are flawed and produce skewed data, but generally I do believe that we have been warming. Furthermore, I think that we’ve been cooling again over the last several years. However, my skepticism is that human beings have anything to do with either change.

There is simply overwhelming evidence that the Earth warms and cools all on its own and it happens independent of human behavior. Matt Patterson’s article at Pajamas Media is the most concise summary I’ve seen (thanks to Powerline for pointing me to it).

Make no mistake — the earth has warmed.  Unfortunately for the climate-change catastrophists, warming periods have occurred throughout recorded history, long before the Industrial Revolution and SUVs began spitting man-made carbon into the atmosphere. And as might be expected, these warm periods have invariably proven a blessing for humanity.

In his summary, Patterson nails what I think is the motivation for those pushing the AGW mythology:

Why, then, do otherwise sensible people believe that we are both causing the current warming and that the warmth is a bad thing? To me it seems some grotesque combination of narcissism and self-loathing, a mentality that says at once “I am so important that my behavior is causing this” and “I am so inherently tainted that it must be bad.”

Where does this arrogance and low self-image come from? Well, that is a theological discussion that we should save for another day.

Correlation and Causation

So, if correlation does not imply causation, what does non-correlation imply?

I only ask because it’s very difficult to see how CO2 is even remotely correlated to temperature change. The International Conference on Climate Change met in New York earlier this month to discuss the latest in the science on the issue. The breath of fresh air was that this really was about the science and not the politics. You can review the proceedings here. (Thanks to Powerline for reminding me about this conference and picking out some of the best charts). Click the images to see them full size.

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If there’s any correlation at all, it’s to solar activity and not to CO2 levels. How long to will they keep drawing connections to disconnected data?

Oh, and as an exclamation point, here’s some fairly clear evidence that we are not, in fact, warming at all.

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Maybe it’s just me, but that graph sure seems to be rolling downwards. What exactly were we looking for again?

 

David’s First Gig

David has been playing drums at home for quite some time. He finally had the opportunity to practice with the band that plays for his church youth group and, a few days ago, he had the chance to play in front of an audience for the first time.

Enjoy.

Click the picture to watch the 15 minute video. It may take a little while to download.

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