Saturday, September 29, 2007

It depends on what you mean by "normal"

A pretty telling opening to a column by Froma Harrop:

One of Newt Gingrich's favorite verbal firebombs was calling Democrats "the enemies of normal Americans." We will ignore the nasty code contained in the former GOP House speaker's remark. But suffice it to say, Democrats used to spend much time catering to narrow interest groups at the expense of the middle-class masses.

That was then, and then is clearly not now.

Democrats have emerged as champions of horse sense and competent governance. And they're on the offensive, accusing Republicans of downright weirdness in their fiscal recklessness and seeming obsession with the interests of the richest few.

Classism. Pure, unmitigated classism.

At its core, the Democratic Party believes that people define themselves primarily by their income and relative economic status--and in opposition to those of differing status.

As opposed to, say, profession, religious beliefs, stances on issues, etc. etc. etc. You know--the things that people actually base their votes on.

Much as I despise Bill Clinton, he proved to be the rare exception to the rule: For Democrats to win, Republicans have to first lose. (And even that exception is questionable, as Ross Perot's candidacy threw the entire 1992 election into chaos--and Clinton didn't get anywhere close to a majority vote.) The party has put itself in a position where it doesn't work the other way around.

(Now that I think about it, that goes a long way towards explaining the longstanding preoccupation with slamming Republicans at the slightest provocation--real, imagined, or manufactured.)

Virtually the only time the donkey is ascendant is when the elephant is first in freefall, as was the case last year--and, sadly, as looks to be the case in 2008.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

40 Days for Life

40 Days for Life--a 40-day pro-life campaign consisting of prayer, fasting, and peaceful prayer vigils around abortion clinics 24/7--kicks off tonight.

The nationwide campaign includes five locations in Wisconsin, with two in Milwaukee--Affiliated Medical Services on Farwell Ave., and Planned Parenthood on Jackson St.

For more information, see the homepages of the national campaign and its Wisconsin branch.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Doing something for the sake of doing something

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is jumping on the global warming bandwagon, with a round table and accompanying editorial in this Sunday's edition.

The title of the editorial is "A threat so severe that waiting is not an option." Based off the round table, it proposed a variety of changes, including energy efficiency, conservation, and new technology, to reach, as one round table participant said, "a return to 1990 emission standards by 2020. That will require a 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. That's of the order of what is needed."

Only problem is, it won't work. The changes suggested won't get there. It isn't even close--and that's been known worldwide for over a year. As Robert Samuelson noted last July:

From 2003 to 2050, world population is projected to grow from 6.4 billion people to 9.1 billion, a 42 percent increase. If energy use per person and technology remain the same, total energy use and greenhouse gas emissions (mainly, carbon dioxide) will be 42 percent higher in 2050. But that's too low, because societies that grow richer use more energy. Unless we condemn the world's poor to their present poverty -- and freeze everyone else's living standards -- we need economic growth. With modest growth, energy use and greenhouse emissions more than double by 2050.

Just keeping annual greenhouse gas emissions constant means that the world must somehow offset these huge increases. There are two ways: improve energy efficiency; or shift to energy sources with lower (or no) greenhouse emissions. Intuitively, you sense this is tough. China, for example, builds about one coal-fired power plant a week. Now, a new report from the International Energy Agency in Paris shows all the difficulties (the population, economic growth and energy projections cited above come from the report).

The IEA report assumes that existing technologies are rapidly improved and deployed. Vehicle fuel efficiency increases by 40 percent. In electricity generation, the share for coal (the fuel with the most greenhouse gases) shrinks from about 40 percent to about 25 percent -- and much carbon dioxide is captured before going into the atmosphere. Little is captured today. Nuclear energy increases. So do "renewables'' (wind, solar, biomass, geothermal); their share of global electricity output rises from 2 percent now to about 15 percent.

Some of these changes seem heroic. They would require tough government regulation, continued technological gains and public acceptance of higher fuel prices. Never mind. Having postulated a crash energy diet, the IEA simulates five scenarios with differing rates of technological change. In each, greenhouse emissions in 2050 are higher than today. The increases vary from 6 percent to 27 percent.

25% reduction. Riiiiiiight.

Improved efficiency and reduced energy usage, on their own merits, are unquestionably good ideas--but don't imagine that they will do much, if anything, to reduce the threat or impact of global warming, if it is as bad as Al Gore et al claim.

If global warming is truly such a great threat, then there are only two ways to seriously combat it: radically new technology or the abrupt, total, and permanent immolation of the global economy.

Even then, neither of those is a sure thing. New technology is a crapshoot--there's no guarantee that it will emerge in time (or at all, for that matter)--and the global economy may have already done too much damage to the planet for its removal to make a difference now.

But if you're taking global warming seriously, then it isn't something you can nickel-and-dime to death. The point where those kinds of changes might have made a difference was a decade or two ago--just a few years after we emerged from the last global cooling scare.

"Waiting is not an option"? Perhaps. But if waiting isn't an option, then neither is doing something merely for the sake of doing something.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Making an effort to do better

It's somewhat ironic, when you think of all the heat Ron Paul has taken from Iraq war supporters for his claim that US actions abroad led to 9/11, that President Bush's actions throughout the War on Terror are very similar in direction, though not in degree.

Bush certainly does not believe we brought that day on ourselves, as Paul does; but he clearly does believe that America's actions abroad had played a large part in creating the environment that gave birth to Al Qaeda and similar entities.

His actions speak eloquently in this regard. For example:

  • he held the country harboring Al Qaeda, Afghanistan, responsible for those attacks, and retaliated accordingly;
  • he broke the stalemate in Iraq that spawned two of Osama bin Laden's three professed excuses for attacking America (Iraq sanctions and US troops in Saudi Arabia);
  • further--the point of this post--he afterwards broke with a longstanding US trend of ruling via military proxy, by disbanding the Iraq army.

Christopher Hitchens, as useless as the man may be when the subject is religion, is once again spot-on in discussing Iraq:

If there was one thing about U.S. foreign policy that used to make one shudder, it was the habit of ruling by proxy through military regimes. Especially beloved by the CIA, this practice befouled us in Chile, Greece, Indonesia, and numerous other cases where we made ourselves complicit in the policies of a local uniformed elite. The case of Iraq, where the armed forces routinely acted as a phalanx of naked aggression against neighboring countries and as a spectacularly cruel internal police force, as well as a parasitic consumer of the national income, was the instance above all where it was right to break with this abysmal tradition.

The Iraqi army was also the replication of sectarianism within the state, consisting of a Sunni oligarchy using conscripts from other communities to enforce its will and eating up the common national treasury to conceal unemployment and inefficiency while subjecting young people to involuntary servitude. Yet almost every liberal in America—as you can see most recently by watching the tendentious documentary No End in Sight—appears to be committed to a nostalgia for Saddam Hussein's draft.

Take a moment to imagine what would have been written in the liberal press had the old military class been preserved and utilized to "stabilize" Iraq. I can write the headlines for you: "Baathist War Criminal Gets Second Career as American Employee"; "Once-Wanted Man, Brigadier Kamal Now Shares Jokes With 82nd Airborne"; "Kurds and Shiites Say: What Regime Change?"; "From Basra to Kirkuk, America Brings Saddamism Without Saddam." And, if you like, I can add the names of the reporters who would have written the stories.

Clumsy as he's been in doing so, George W. Bush has been going out of his way to do things differently from how the US did things in the past (which, I think, explains to a considerable degree the visceral hostility with which the Iraq Study Group report was greeted--it was seen as a call for America to go back to the "old way" of doing things).

He's not going to get any credit for it from either side, but he IS trying--which is more than I can say for a certain asinine political party.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Taking a despicable idea and MovingOn with it

Via Hot Air: MoveOn didn't come up with "General Betray Us" on its own. No, that "honor" goes to a gentleman (and I use the term loosely) who was last seen in this household doing a dead-boring comedy routine in lieu of recapping football games (which is what he was supposed to be doing at the time) on NBC's Football Night in America.

A pox on the whole lot of them. Don Surber has quote and video of Senator Orrin Hatch blasting MoveOn on the Senate floor, and pretty much everything the senator said about the group can and should also be applied to the blowhard.


Sunday, September 02, 2007

Signs of the apocalypse

Plagues and disasters...

...the dead rising from their graves... agreeing with the New York Times on anything:

The presidential primary system is broken. For years, the nominating process has unfolded in an orderly, if essentially unfair, way. The schedule has worked very nicely for early-voting states, which have had a steady stream of would-be presidents knocking on their doors, making commitments on issues like the Iowa full-employment program, also known as the ethanol subsidy. The losers have been states like New York and California, which have often gotten to vote only when the contests were all but decided. Issues that matter to them, like mass transportation, have suffered.


The states bucking the system are right about a larger point: the nominating process must be changed. An ideal system would start slowly enough that candidates who are not well-known or well-financed can score some early victories or at least show well. At the same time, it would allow larger states to participate early enough in the process that their voters could play a significant role in choosing the nominees. It would spread out primary days over a long enough time that a true campaign could emerge, rather than the near-national primary that is likely to occur next Feb. 5.

Many worthy reform proposals are circulating. One calls for dividing the nation into four regions and having them vote in sequence: one in March, another in April, and the last two in May and June. In future elections, the regions would vote in a different order. Unfortunately, a leading version of this plan calls for Iowa and New Hampshire to keep voting first. Another appealing idea, the “American Plan,” starts with small states and moves onto larger ones, so long-shot candidates can build momentum, but it does an especially good job of ensuring that voters from all states have a reasonable chance of voting early in the primary season.

The two parties should begin a discussion of the best reform proposals now, and plan on having a new system in place for 2012. The presidential nominating process is too important to American democracy to be allowed to descend into gamesmanship and chaos.

I, for one, like the "American Plan." It would let small states matter by virtue of their early, high-profile primaries, while also letting the largest states matter by making it very hard for candidates to accumulate enough delegates to sew up the nominations before the later primaries.

One way or another, we can't have the presidential campaign starting within months of the midterm elections like we did this time. With so much time to campaign and build up before the primaries, this election smacks of trench warfare at its very worst--long, drawn-out, brutal struggles to gain perhaps a foot or two of ground at a time, at astronomically high costs.

Doing it that way once has already been more than enough.