Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Water, water, nowhere

What do the Arabs do when they run out of water, the Guardian is asking. Good question. One of the problems of autocracies is that they focus on staying in power with short-term policies, where a democratic majority might see the need to take action to save their countries. Oil wealth has allowed the populations to explode and people to survive unemployed in economies with no openings for them. Lack of jobs is one thing. Lack of water is another.

But democracy certainly isn't a cure-all. In our own democratic society, we are on track to eventually spend 100% of the GDP on employing the highest possible technology to extend the lives of our oldest and feeblest citizens by one more year each. We obviously can't get to that point, but we can destroy our economy in the attempt and it's a problem no politician seems prepared to address.

Health care policy in America makes it hard to feel superior to anybody.

Successful Business is never usual

Maersk has announced plans to build the largest container ships ever, and in the process reduce their carbon emissions by 50% per container-mile. This is what business does. High costs are incentives to innovate. The prospect of increasing costs are even stronger spurs.

Businesses, left to themselves, will innovate their way to better energy efficiency. Private enterprise achieves the progress that bureaucracy obstructs.

What do we do with pirates?

Somali pirates have killed four Americans and our armed forces have captured about 15 of them alive. Now what?

This isn't a difficult case. It's obvious piracy. It's obvious murder. And there are fifteen people who are complicit. Who did what doesn't much matter.

What we should do with them now is a problem. What we will do is doubtless bring them back to this country, give them respectable trials, and lock them up for decades at public expense.

This is not the way piracy has traditionally been dealt with on the high seas, and the 15 pirates should accidentally fall overboard. It would send a healthy message to their comrades in Somalia.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Serious about the deficit? You can't be serious!

So the Democrats and the Republicans in Washington DC have a deal. The Democrats get to extend unemployment benefits. The Republicans get to keep the tax break for very rich people. All of this is in order to preserve tax breaks for the middle class.

All of this coming a week or so after the the blue ribbon deficit commission provided guidelines for cutting the deficit. In a stroke, the politicians have rejected any action on the commission's proposals and simultaneously increased the deficit by as much as the commission sought to reduce it for the first few years.

Yet they say that the very fact that the commission gave everybody the stark news means that people will see that soon, real soon, we need to do something.

Right. Sure. You betcha.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pretty good work for Al Qaeda amateurs

According to the Christian Science Monitor, the bombs from Yemen indicate that the bomb makers are amateurs and may be trying in a "foolhardy" way to create fear. Looks to me like they're generally succeeding.

Recall the claims that Ronald Reagan broke the Soviet Union by forcing them to engage in an arms race they couldn't afford. Maybe, maybe not, but if Al Qaeda's objective is to break the United States financially, they're doing pretty well. We're spending hundreds of billions of dollars annually in the War on Terror, in two military campaigns and a worldwide $80 billion effort at "intelligence" which can't have any other target than them. They don't need to successfully deliver bombs. They just need us to shut down the world's air transport system from time to time because we're worried. And tie us down in God-forsaken places while we try futilely to suppress terror and build democracy at the same time.

The world is moving past us. Other countries build high speed rail systems, effective nuclear power plants, spectacular bridges and tunnels. We spend trillions on defense and cower in fear. This isn't going to be the American Century redux. Probably not even a good American Decade.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Thomas Friedman misses again

In today's New York Times, Thomas Friedman contrasts the attitudes of China and America to global warming, and smiles approvingly on the Chinese. We have not adopted legislation regarding greenhouse gases, while the Chinese are busily making their economy more energy efficient, with the intention of creating jobs.

Nonsense. The problem is not that we don't confront greenhouse gas emissions enough. We do quite a bit, and our economy produces more GDP per ton of CO2 than the Chinese do or can expect to do in the near future. The Chinese recognize that they don't want to depend on foreign oil, so if they intend to grow, they must become more efficient and generate more energy themselves from renewable sources. Nevertheless, if CO2 is causing AGW, then the prime drivers of the increase are China and, lesserly, India.

The Chinese are not becoming efficient to benefit the world, just themselves. We, on the other hand, adopt policies aimed at helping the world by reducing GHG's and shoot ourselves in the economic foot. We let the Chinese become the leaders in producing solar panels. We force our last incandescent light bulb plant to close and switch to itsy bitsy flourescents, which we buy from China.

We aren't generating green jobs and China is, but this is just one more symptom of the epidemic.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Alan Simpson: A demonstration why America is doomed

I've been trying to figure out just what the issue is. "Tit" is the pronunciation, although the usual spelling is "teat," for what you get milk out of a cow with. Simpson said, essentially, that everybody wants to milk the cow.

Surely, a woman old enough to lead an old women's organization has heard the term before. The context is certainly not "sexist." Yet, Democratic lawmakers and "women's advocates" are calling for Simpson's resignation.

And clearly what these people want is to get rid of the conservative Republican and stop talking about Social Security, so they can focus on their agenda to "balance the budget." Except that you could eliminate the Bush tax cuts and slash defense spending and still not be balanced.

You need a bull that's going to gore everybody if the deal is going to be done, but that's not going to happen. The only support for shared sacrifice is support for all the other people to share it. Entitlements need to be reduced. The idea that we have enough wealth to police the entire world must go. Taxes will need to be raised.

And it won't be done with a partisan commission, and the idea that you can pitch Alan Simpson and still reach the goal is foolish. We need somebody blunt and willing to offend. In my mind, Alan Simpson has polished his credentials.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Dumb and Dumber

It was not a smart political decision for President Obama to take any position on the building of an Islamic center near Ground Zero in New York City. The only thing dumber is that the Republican party seems intent on making this a campaign issue at the same time we're at war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We are in the Middle East, trying to persuade people that when we bring in the army, we're fighting for their rights to a good life, free of oppression, and that we feel strongly that Islam, their religion, is great and worthy.

Then back home, we have one of our two main political parties seizing on the building of a peaceful, welcoming, educational center that Muslims in NYC want to showcase their ability to integrate into American society, and denouncing it as some kind of blasphemy. In so doing, making it clear that for Republicans, Muslim and Islamist are the same thing.

In New York City, where an infinitely rich blend of cultures, ethnicities and religions dates back many decades, this kind of islamophobia probably doesn't play well. But Republicans expect it to play well in East Armpit, Louisiana, where their political base lies.

Republicans seem intent on fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan until we've exhausted the last dollar the Chinese will loan us, but if we're going to be serious, it makes no sense to undercut the mission with petty politics.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Funny Math

The people who count things for the media are now saying that the Pakistan floods are going to be worse than three previous mega disasters -- two earthquakes and the Indonesia tsunami. Because "more people are affected."

OK, guys, "affected" is open to interpretation. But death is binary. On/off. You're dead or not. And while the death toll in Pakistan is above 1500, the three above mentioned were in the range of half a million stone cold dead. Defunct. Pakistan is a horrible and still unfolding story, but it's not in the same league.