Month: September 2009

Anthropogenic Global Warming Is Dead, Just Not Buried Yet

I once wrote a very long post in which I presented some of the evidence against the theory of anthropogenic global warming: “‘Warmism’: The Myth of Anthropogenic Global Warming.” Much has been written since then to further undermine the fanatical and destructive belief that humans are the cause of the sharp rise in Earth’s temperature from the mid-1960s to the late 1990s.

Now comes what may be the coup de grace: a post by Steve McIntyre at his blog, Climate Audit. There, McIntyre offers strong evidence that the tree-ring data on which the infamous “hockey stick” is based were, um, selected for the purpose of creating the “hockey stick” effect.

The jury is still out, but my money is on McIntyre.

P.S. There’s more here and here.

Getting it Wrong and Right about Iran

Jeffrey Miron, an economist who graces the halls of Harvard University and Cato Institute, has a new blog, Libertarianism from A to Z. There, Miron mirrors Cato’s approach to policy issues, taking a free-market line on economic affairs and a knee-jerk isolationist line on defense matters. Consider this passage from Miron’s post, “Iran: Engagement, Sanctions, or Nothing?“:

Let’s take as given that, other things equal, it is in the world’s interest that Iran not possess nuclear weapons. . . . Then the following propositions all seem plausible:

1. Continued engagement just allows Iran to continue developing its nuclear capabilites.

2. Sanctions might slow Iran’s nuclear development a bit, but since both Russia and China are not really on board with sanctions, this effect will be minimal. (UPDATE: Miron, in a later post, has more to say about the essential futility of sanctions.)

3. Military action to destory the Iranian nuclear capabilities will address the issue in the short term, but Iran will just start over. Plus, such military action might escalate into something far more costly.

Faced with these choices, my vote is to do nothing.

Note the glaring contradiction. Miron postulates that it is not in the world’s interest for Iran to possess nuclear weapons, but he prefers to do nothing about it. If it is not in the world’s interest for Iran to have nuclear weapons, then something ought to be done about it — and I don’t mean having a “serious, meaningful dialogue” with Iran, as our “glorious leader” proposes.

The time to deal with a serious threat is before it becomes an imminent one. So what if Iran might “start over” if we and/or Israel destroy its nuclear capabilities? Here, from DEBKAfile, is a realistic take:

Defense secretary Robert Gates hit the nail on the head when he said Friday: “The reality is there is no military option that does anything more than buy time. The estimates are one to three years or so.” . . .

The answer to this argument is simple: It is exactly this approach which gave Iran 11 quiet years to develop its weapons capacity. For Israel and Middle East, a three-year setback is a very long time, a security boon worth great risk, because a) It would be a happy respite from the dark clouds hanging over the country from Iran and also cut back Hamas and Hizballah terrorist capabilities, and b) In the volatile Middle East anything can happen in 36 months. (Emphasis added.)

What’s missing from Miron’s analysis of the situation is an assessment of the consequences (i.e., costs) of allowing Iran to proceed. That’s a strange omission for an economist, an omission which suggests that Miron, like many another libertarian, “adheres to the [non-aggression] principle with deranged fervor.”

Well, evidently it takes a law professor (Tom Smith of The Right Coast) to get it right:

A nutcase regime in Asia is about to get nuclear weapons and not long after that the missiles to send them to Israel, Europe, Saudi Arabia and after that, who knows. The regime is populated by religious fanatics who deny the Holocaust and profess the desire to wipe Israel off the map in all apparent sincerity. Normally, one could rely on the Israelis to take care of themselves, but in this case, the crazed regime has gotten too powerful for the Israelis to handle. Just to fill out the picture, the folks building the nukes just stole an election and are imprisoning, torturing and killing into silence their domestic critics. These leaders are backed up by a praetorian guard of fanatics, a Waffen-SS if you will, to switch to another entirely appropriate comparison, on whose secret bases (for what is a geopolitical villain without secret bases?) the nuclear weapons are being gestated.

So who ya gonna call? Obviously, patently, indisputably the only people who can stand up to these frightening thugs are us. But as luck would have it, we are presently governed by the party who strategy is to talk to death the people whose idea of dialog is to throw their opponents in prison and beat them with hoses until they change their minds.

What will happen if the U.S. continues to muddle along in a Chamberlainesque fashion? For starters, this:

By now, Iran has used the gift of time to process enough enriched uranium to fuel two nuclear bombs and is able to produce another two per year.

Its advanced medium-range missiles will be ready to deliver nuclear warheads by next year.

Detonators for nuclear bombs are in production at two secret sites.

And finally, a second secret uranium enrichment plant – subject of the stern warning issued collectively in Pittsburgh Friday by Obama, French president Nicolas Sarkozy and British premier Gordon Brown – has come to light, buried under a mountain near Qom. Its discovery doubles – at least – all previous estimates of Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

The price of a pre-emptive attack on Iran might be high, but the price of inaction will be even higher. Legitimate U.S. interests in the Middle East (i.e., access to oil) will be threatened by a regime that has proceeded thus far in the face of sanctions and is unlikely to be fazed by more sanctions. The economic hardships caused by the “oil shocks” of the 1970s will be as nothing compared with the hardships caused by Iranian dominance of the Middle East.

Where will Western Europe, Russia, and China be in our hour of need? Western Europe will be busy emulating Vichy France, in the hope that its obseqiousness toward Iran is rewarded by dribbles of oil. Russia and China will actively support Iran (covertly if not overtly), in the expectation of profiting from higher prices on the oil they sell to Western Europe and the United States. Eventually, Russia and China will exploit the inevitable decline of American military power, as our defense budget disappears into the maw of Obamacare, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other misbegotten ventures.

It should be clear to anyone who thinks seriously about the state of the world that the time to act against Iran was years ago. That opportunity having passed, now will have to do. The Obama-ish left will cry “no blood for oil,” but the burden should be on the left to offer affordable alternatives to Middle Eastern oil in lieu of war. If the left cannot offer affordable alternatives, the left’s low-to-moderate income constituencies are likely to suffer disproportionately when Iran begins to squeeze the West, and — surely — the elite left does not want that to happen. (Actually, the elite left couldn’t care less about lesser mortals, as long as the elitist agenda of political and environmental correctness becomes writ.)

The rub is that the  left cannot offer affordable alternatives without relaxing its embrace of radical environmentalism. The left has thus far decried “dependence” on foreign oil as an excuse to pour money into ethanol, wind power, and solar energy — none of which is a viable alternative to oil. And, of course, the left opposes feasible and relatively efficient alternatives, such as nuclear energy, coal-fired power plants, drilling in ANWR, and additional off-shore drilling. That leaves us with no choice but to import a lot of oil, much of it from the Middle East. But the left is loath to defend our interests there.

The left’s irreconcilable positions with respect to Iran, oil, and the environment — like the left’s positions on so many other issues — epitomize the “unconstrained vision” of which Thomas Sowell writes. The left, like Alice in Wonderland, likes to believe in “six impossible things before breakfast,” and all the rest of the day, as well.

We are now at a point in history similar to that of England in 1935. If England had begun to rearm then, Hitler might have been deterred or — if not deterred — defeated sooner. Doing nothing, as Miron and his libertarian and leftist brethren would prefer, is a prescription for eventual economic disaster or a longer, bloodier war than is necessary.

P.S. Tom Smith says it all, far more vividly and vigorously.

P.P.S. Two relevant items, here and here.

Related posts:
Not Enough Boots
Defense as the Ultimate Social Service
I Have an Idea
The Price of Liberty
How to View Defense Spending
The Best Defense…
Not Enough Boots: The Why of It
Liberalism and Sovereignty
Cato’s Usual Casuistry on Matters of War and Peace
The Media, the Left, and War
A Point of Agreement
The Folly of Nuclear Disarmament

The Folly of Nuclear Disarmament

From the Associated Press:

UNITED NATIONS [September 24, 2009] – With President Barack Obama presiding, the U.N. Security Council on Thursday unanimously endorsed a sweeping strategy aimed at halting the spread of nuclear weapons and ultimately eliminating them, to usher in a world with “undiminished security for all.”

“That can be our destiny,” Obama declared after the 15-nation body adopted the historic, U.S.-initiated resolution at an unprecedented summit session. “We will leave this meeting with a renewed determination to achieve this shared goal.”

The lengthy document was aimed, in part, at the widely denounced nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea, although they were not named. It also reflected Obama’s ambitious agenda to embrace treaties and other agreements leading toward a nuclear weapon-free world, some of which is expected to encounter political opposition in Washington.

On both counts, Thursday’s 15-0 vote delivered a global consensus — countries ranging from Britain to China to Burkina Faso — that may add political impetus to dealing with nuclear violators, advancing arms control in international forums and winning support in the U.S. Congress.

“This is a historic moment, a moment offering a fresh start toward a new future,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, saluting the first such Security Council gathering of presidents and premiers to deal with nuclear nonproliferation.

Yeah, and “peace for our time,” to you. For the youngsters out there, that’s a reference to Neville Chamberlain’s infamous capitulation to Hitler, whose peace was the peace of his victims’ graves.

Well, today’s charade in New York — like the one in Munich 71 years ago — simply gives the bad guys more time in which to perfect their evil designs. When nuclear weapons are outlawed, only outlaws will have nuclear weapons.

P.S. So, Obama and other Democrats are now talking tough about Iran’s nuclear program. Two questions: Where were those Democrats when Bush called Iran out a couple of years ago? Will Obama back his tough talk with action? Answer to the second question: Not bloody likely.

P.P.S. As I was saying . . . Instead of destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities, Obama offers Iran “serious, meaningful dialogue.” Gimme a break.

The Incredible Shrinking Obama

Sizing Up Obama” (April 24, 2009):

On the one hand, we have FDR II, replete with schemes for managing our lives and fortunes.

On the other hand, we have Carter-Clinton II, ready to: kowtow to those who would bury us, create the illusion that peace will reign perforce, and act on that illusion by slashing the defense budget (thereby giving aid and comfort to our enemies).

Through the haze of smoke and glare of mirrors I see a youngish president exhorting us to “fear nothing but fear itself” while proclaiming “peace for our time,” as we “follow the yellow-brick road” to impotent serfdom.

The schemes persist, most notoriously (but not exclusively) in health care “reform,” about which Arnold Kling writes today:

What is misleading about statements (a) – (k) [taken from Obama's speech on September 9] is that each of them referred to a plan that, strictly speaking, does not exist. As far as I know, the Obama Administration never submitted a plan to Congress. . . .

If you are going to repeatedly refer to “my plan” or “this plan” or “the plan I’m proposing,” then unless you have a plan you are lying. The only question is whether it is a little lie or a big one. Obviously, most people think it is only a small lie, or the President would have been called out on it. However, I think that health care policy is an area where there is too much temptation to promise results that are economically impossible to achieve. In that context, my opinion is that giving a speech in favor of a nonexistent plan is a really big lie.

Now — on the 70th anniversary of Stalin’s invasion of Poland — comes Obama’s decision to placate the Russians and insult our allies in Eastern Europe:

President Obama dismayed America’s allies in Europe and angered his political opponents at home today when he formally ditched plans to set up a missile defence shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

The project had been close to the heart of Mr Obama’s predecessor, President Bush, who had argued before leaving office in January that it was needed to defend against long-range ballistic missile attacks from rogue states such as Iran and North Korea.

But it had hobbled relations with Russia, which considered it both a security threat and an unnecessary political provocation in its own backyard.

At a White House appearance today, Mr Obama confirmed that the defence shield envisaged by the Bush Administration, involving a radar base in the Czech Republic and interceptor rockets sited in Poland, was being abandoned. . . .

“The decision announced today by the Administration is dangerous and short-sighted,” the No 2 Republican in the Senate, Jon Kyl, said in a statement.

Mr Kyl said that the shift would leave the United States “vulnerable to the growing Iranian long-range missile threat” and would send a chilling message to former Soviet satellites who had braved Moscow’s anger to support the system.

“This will be a bitter disappointment, indeed, even a warning to the people of Eastern Europe,” said Mr Kyl, who pointed out that both Poland and the Czech Republic had sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. “Today the Administration has turned its back on these allies.”

Senator John McCain, Mr Obama’s defeated Republican White House rival in 2008, said he was “disappointed” with the decision and warned it could undermine US standing in Eastern Europe amid worries there of a resurgent Russia.

“Given the serious and growing threats posed by Iran’s missile and nuclear programmes, now is the time when we should look to strengthen our defences, and those of our allies,” he said in a statement.

“Missile defence in Europe has been a key component of this approach. I believe the decision to abandon it unilaterally is seriously misguided.”

The good news is that Americans seem to have wised up to the Obama scam:

Obama's net approval_090917Sources: Rasmussen Reports Daily Presidential Tracking Poll and Health Care Reform Poll. Overall net approval ratings represent the difference in the number of  respondents strongly approving and strongly disapproving of Obama (negative numbers mean net disapproval). Health care ratings represent the difference in the number of respondents supporting and opposing Obama’s health care “plan,” or what they take to be his plan.

The mini-wave of approval that followed Obama’s health-care speech on September 9 seems to have dissipated. Obama’s appeasement of Russia, if it becomes widely perceived as such, will only push his numbers further south.

A Hypothetical Question

It is written in the United States Code (Title 18, Part I, Chapter 115, § 2385) that

Whoever knowingly or willfully advocates, abets, advises, or teaches the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying the government of the United States or the government of any State, Territory, District or Possession thereof, or the government of any political subdivision therein, by force or violence, or by the assassination of any officer of any such government; or

Whoever, with intent to cause the overthrow or destruction of any such government, prints, publishes, edits, issues, circulates, sells, distributes, or publicly displays any written or printed matter advocating, advising, or teaching the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying any government in the United States by force or violence, or attempts to do so; or

Whoever organizes or helps or attempts to organize any society, group, or assembly of persons who teach, advocate, or encourage the overthrow or destruction of any such government by force or violence; or becomes or is a member of, or affiliates with, any such society, group, or assembly of persons, knowing the purposes thereof—

Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both, and shall be ineligible for employment by the United States or any department or agency thereof, for the five years next following his conviction.

Now, imagine that the governments of the United States and the various States are in the business of creating and enforcing laws that contravene the Constitution of the United States because federal and State executives and legislatures have violated their oaths to uphold the Constitution of the United States. Imagine, further, that successive decisions by the courts of the United States and the various States — decisions which remain in force — have upheld many of the unconstitutional acts of  federal and State executives and legislatures, and generally have created a body of law that contravenes the Constitution.

Given that the first duty of officeholders is to uphold the Constitution, and given that the federal and State governments routinely violate the Constitution, why should it be illegal to suggest the propriety of removing an illicit government and replacing it with one that is dedicated to the defense of the Constitution? Isn’t § 2385 really a kind of job-protection plan for government thugs?

Just asking.

The Price of Government Redux

In “The Price of Government,” I assess the staggering cost of government intervention in economic affairs:

Had the economy of the U.S. not been deflected from its post-Civil War course, GDP would now be more than three times its present level.

I should have referred in “The Price of Government” to an earlier post, “The Laffer Curve, ‘Fiscal Responsibility,’ and Economic Growth,” where I argue that an optimally sized government is one that

divert[s] a minimal fraction of economic output to government (about 15 percent, nowadays), for the purpose of protecting ourselves and our economic activities from predators, foreign and domestic. Any diversion beyond that is pure waste.

Fifteen percent of GDP represents the pre-1929 level (10 percent) plus an allowance for the additional cost of defending the nation in these more perilous times.

I should note that my assessments are consistent with the analysis that is summarized in The Empirical Evidence against Big Government, a presentation of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity. The presentation is based on two Heritage Foundation Papers: “The Impact of Government Spending on Economic Growth” and its “Supplement.”

P.S. In case you’re wondering how government interventions could have cost as much as three-fourths of GDP, consider the cost of just one pending legislative proposal. The cap-and-trade law, aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions, would cost between $800 and $3,100 per year, per family. If you think it’s a good idea to impose that cost on your fellow Americans, you have been hoodwinked into believing the myth of man-made global warming, the main supporters of which (surprise! surprise!) are the tax-and-regulate crowd.

Or consider Obamacare, with an advertised cost of about $900 billion over the next 10 years — and that’s before it really starts to get expensive. Moreover, none of the cost estimates for Obamacare reflects an important hidden cost: the damage it would do to the quantity and quality of medical care in the U.S. as drug research diminishes and prospective caregivers seek other, less regulated, occupations.

The Perils of Nannyism: The Case of Obamacare

Nannyism is bad, even when it’s good. Suppose, for example, that Obamacare — as finally enacted by Congress — miraculously obtains the following impossible results:

  • No one who had insurance before Obamacare will find the cost of his insurance rising because (for example) the law stipulates that insurers must ignore pre-existing conditions and must cover certain previously uninsured conditions.
  • Everyone who is forced to buy insurance (or, alternatively, pay a tax penalty) will find that the additional cost is offset by insurance benefits.
  • The costs of subsidizing those who cannot afford insurance will be defrayed by eliminating “waste, fraud, and abuse” in Medicare, Medicaid, and various other government programs — “waste, fraud, and abuse” that has heretofore been tolerated because it is a natural concomitant of government programs and cannot be eliminated without eliminated the programs themselves.
  • Insurance subsidies will not be extended to illegal aliens, whose addition to the rolls would burden taxpaying citizens, even though Democrats relish the thought of converting those illegal aliens to Democrat-voting citizens.
  • The prices of various drugs and medical services will not change by more than they would have in the absence of Obamacare. That is to say, the extra demands generated by government mandates and the addition of some 47 million persons to the insurance rolls will somehow be met with additional supplies of drugs and medical services, despite the disincentives created by government control of drug prices and fees for various medical services (via the government-run insurance program).
  • There will be no rationing of medical care by government or government-approved bodies — no “death panels” — even though government control of medicine will choke off the provision of non-approved drugs and medical services.
  • The federal government’s budget deficits will not become larger than they would have been in the absence of Medicare. Nor will federal spending on Obamacare, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security swell to well more than 50 percent of GDP in a few generations, thus — in combination with necessarily higher taxes and the usual accretion of regulations — giving government almost absolute control of the American economy.
  • Because the federal government’s deficits will not rise any more than they would have in the absence of Obamacare, further tax hikes (above those already in store) will be unnecessary. It will especially unnecessary to further bleed “the rich,” whose incomes are an especially important source of funding for the business start-ups and capital formation that yield economic growth.
  • The federal government’s almost-absolute control of the American economy, accompanied inevitably by various social dictates favoring certain groups, will not complete the work of undermining true social cohesion (which is attained through voluntary associations), personal responsibility, and entrepreneurial initiative.
  • America, in short, will not be driven into the ranks of economically stagnant, morally bankrupt “social democracies” on the European model.

Given that those miracles occur — because Americans who care about such things have been promised (more or less) that they will occur — what could be wrong with Obamacare? Why are tens of thousands of Americans taking to the streets to protest it? Don’t they know a good deal when it’s offered to them?

Could it be that there are still millions of Americans who know instinctively and through observation (if not education) that those miracles will not occur? Could it be that those millions of Americans understand all too well that Obamacare will be just another well-intentioned program that paves our way to financial and bureaucratic hell?

Or could it be that millions of Americans value true liberty, the kind of liberty that is assured by the observance of social norms within a framework of government-protected negative rights? Is it possible that millions of Americans value true liberty and all it entails: the opportunity to make one’s own way in life, to make mistakes and learn from them, to choose from among alternative goods and services (including medical ones), and to choose even where the resulting choices may not be the “best” ones according to the calculations or preferences of academicians and bureaucrats?*

There’s the answer: Millions of Americans — even after decades of nannyism — simply want liberty because it is of value to them, in and of itself. (How unimaginably retro!) They prefer to decide for themselves what’s good for them, and are tired of having academicians, politicians, and bureaucrats make those decisions. In a phrase, they prefer liberty to nannyism.

(Related reading about “perfect” government oversight of economic affairs is here, here, and here. )

Related posts:
The Perils of Europeanism
Reclaiming Liberty throughout the Land
Secession
Secession Redux
A New (Cold) Civil War or Secession?
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Fascism and the Future of America
Selection Bias and the Road to Serfdom
Beware of Libertarian Paternalists
Monopoly: Private Is Better than Public
The Price of Government
Why Is Entrepreneurship Declining?
The Commandeered Economy
Rationing and Health Care
Law and Liberty
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
Parsing Political Philosophy

__________

* It is true, for example, that the portion of GDP going to medical goods and services has been rising, in part, because Americans want, and can afford, more and better medical goods and services. It is also true that prices of medical goods and services have risen, in part, because of government policies: the subsidization of consumption through Medicare, Medicaid, and the tax-favored treatment of employer-paid health insurance; the restriction of supply by the FDA and various licensing agencies, as discussed here, here, and here.)

September 11: A Remembrance

When my wife and I turned on our TV set that morning, the first plane had just struck the World Trade Center. A few minutes later we saw the second plane strike. In that instant what had seemed like a horrible accident became an obvious act of terror.

Then, in the awful silence that had fallen over Arlington, Virginia, we could hear a “whump” as the third plane hit the Pentagon.

Our thoughts for the next several hours were with our daughter, whom we knew was at work in Building Three of the World Financial Center, only a few hundred feet from the World Trade Center’s North Tower. Had her office struck by debris? Had she fled her building only to be struck by or trapped in debris? Had she smothered in the huge cloud of dust that enveloped lower Manhattan as the Twin Towers collapsed? Because the attacks and their aftermath disrupted telephone communications, we didn’t learn for several hours that she had made it home safely.

Our good fortune was not shared by tens of thousands of other persons: the grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, children, grandchildren, lovers, and good friends of the 3,000 who died that day in Manhattan, the Pentagon, and western Pennsylvania.

Never forgive, never forget, never relent.

Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State

A right, as opposed to a privilege, is capable of universal application within a polity. The only true rights, therefore, are liberty rights, which are negative rights. So-called positive rights are privileges, not rights.

Liberty rights are represented in the Founders’ trinity of “unalienable Rights“: “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” These really constitute a unitary right, which I simply call liberty. The liberty right is unitary because liberty (as a separate right) is meaningless without life and the ability to pursue happiness. Thus we have this: rights ≡ liberty (rights and liberty are identical). The identity of rights and liberty is consistent with this definition of liberty:

3. A right or immunity to engage in certain actions without control or interference.

In essence, liberty consists of negative rights (the right not be attacked, robbed, etc.). Negative rights are true rights because they are capable of universal application: Leaving others alone (the essence of negative rights) costs each of us nothing and yields liberty for all.

Positive rights (the right to welfare benefits, a job based on one’s color or gender, etc.) are not rights, properly understood, because they are not capable of universal application: Taking from others (the requisite of positive rights) costs some of us something without an offsetting return. (Think, for example, of the redistributional effects of various taxes.) Positive rights cannot be had without engaging in actions that control or interfere with others. Positive rights are anti-libertarian privileges.

Liberty — rightly understood as the universal application of negative rights — is possible only when the Golden Rule is, in fact, the rule. The Golden Rule, which is the quintessential social norm, encapsulates a lesson learned over the eons of human coexistence. That lesson? If I desist from harming others, they (for the most part) will desist from harming me.

In civil society, exceptional behavior is dealt with by criticism and punishment (which may include ostracism). The exceptions usually are dealt with by codifying the myriad instances of the Golden Rule (e.g., do not steal, do not kill) and then enforcing those instances through communal action (i.e., justice and defense).

The exceptions that cannot be dealt with by civil society are the proper concern of the minimal state — one that is dedicated to the defense of its citizens from predators. But the state becomes illegitimate the moment it crosses the line from the enforcement of the Golden Rule (negative rights) to the granting of privileges (positive rights). For when the state does that, it is no longer dedicated to liberty.

Related posts:
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Democracy and Liberty
Inventing “Liberalism”
Parsing Political Philosophy
The Interest-Group Paradox
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
The Principles of Actionable Harm
Law and Liberty
Negative Rights
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
A New (Cold) Civil War or Secession?
Civil War, Close Elections, and Voters’ Remorse
The Devolution of American Politics from Wisdom to Opportunism