The Spitfire's Grill
Regular Rants from a Pragmatic Liberal
Tuesday, May 31, 2005
 
Topic of the Day: China
Ah, back to China. Today's belated Topic of the Day was inspired by Sunday's Kristof op-ed entitled "The China Scapegoat".

CHINA

Kristof:
The most important diplomatic relationship in the world is between the U.S. and China. It's souring and could get much worse.
I concur. However, I'd like to add that the relationship between Japan and China comes in a close second. The three most economically powerful countries in the world and China seems to be souring with both.
Alas, the U.S. is mostly to blame for this. And the biggest culprit of all is the demagoguery of some Democrats in Congress.

There are plenty of legitimate reasons to be angry with China's leaders, but its trade success and exchange rate policy are not among them. The country that is distorting global capital flows and destabilizing the world economy is not China but the U.S. American fiscal recklessness is a genuine international problem, while blaming Chinese for making shoes efficiently amounts to a protectionist assault on the global trade system.

Kristof is mostly correct. The push for import taxes against China is mainly a Democrat-led coalition, I'm sorry to say. But last time I checked there were some Republicans like Lindsay Graham on board as well. As for the "fiscal recklessness", that falls solely in the hands of a Bush Administration that tries to spend its way out of every problem.

The Chinese pegging their currency to ours is, for now, a good thing. It is good for China because it allows them to keep pace with the US market that creates the demand necessary to grow the Chinese economy. It has been good for us since Bush's fiscal recklessness has necessitated that the Chinese prop up the Dollar by buying up American T-Bills and other such investments.
In fact, China's pegged exchange rate has brought stability to Asia, and the Chinese boom has tugged Japan out of recession and increased prosperity worldwide. In recent years, China has supplied almost one-third of the growth in the global economy (measured by purchasing power), compared with the 13 percent that came from the U.S.

Moreover, the U.S. has a history of offering Asia economic advice that proves awful. U.S. pressure helped produce Japan's disastrous bubble economy and aggravated the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis. So when American officials urge an adjustment in the yuan exchange rate, the Chinese should keep a hand on their wallets.

This is certainly true. The US's economic advice is about as reliable as its ability to choose dictators to run small Latin American countries.
Over the last five years, President Bush has done an excellent job in managing relations with China - it's one of his very few successes in foreign policy - but lately he has engaged in protectionism. This month he reimposed quotas on certain Chinese textiles, and the Treasury warned China that it had better adjust its exchange rate or else.

Mr. Bush abandoned his principles because he was under attack from Democrats waving the bloody shirt of lost jobs. Sure, China's cheap yuan has cost us manufacturing jobs - but it has also led to a flood of Chinese capital to America, keeping interest rates low. If we blame China for lost American jobs in making shirts, we should credit it for new American jobs in banking and construction.
Well, Kristof, you forgot to mention that China did the exact same thing. They imposed export tariffs on their clothing industry (WaPo: "China to Raise Tariffs On Clothing Exports"). It is certainly more preferable for us to impose an import tax rather than China imposing an export tax. There's the smaller issue of who gets the money, but the larger (and far more important) issue of our control over the tariff. We can easily remove it ourselves, but if the Chinese put the tax on then it takes years of diplomatic negotiations with a country that is infamous for using diplomacy as a decade-long stall tactic. And again, not just Democrats. Social conservatives are big on the whole jobs issue (which is why they despise Bush's immigration policies), and social conservatives have far more push with the Bush Administration than the likes of Chuck Schumer.
Americans are also unfair in accusing China of not stopping North Korea's nuclear program. The reality is that the North Koreans don't listen to the Chinese about anything, and many on each side look down on the other. Privately, some Chinese dismiss the North Koreans as "Gaoli bangzi" or Korean hillbillies. And fortified by a bit of liquor, North Koreans denounce Chinese as unscrupulous, money-grubbing traitors. Whenever I meet North Koreans, I tell them that the Chinese government doesn't like me - and my status soars.

China has been pushing hard in the last two years for a negotiated solution to the North Korean crisis, and it at least has a coherent policy on North Korea. That's more than you can say for the Bush administration.

China provides North Korea with much of its power supply (I've heard some ridiculously high figures), so its safe to say that the North Koreans would have to listen to China if the Chinese Government decided to act. The most likely target of a PRNK warhead is Japan, and the nuclear fallout would devastate the coastal cities in Manchuria or the blossoming Chinese ally South Korea.

One of the biggest risks for U.S.-China relations is the - very outside - chance that President Bush will order a military strike on the North Korean nuclear complex at Yongbyon. Most experts say that the resulting radiation leakage would probably not harm nearby countries, and in any case South Korea and Japan would be more at risk than China. But any hint that radiation had reached the Chinese coast would provoke anti-American fury across China.

The Iraq Principle teaches us that this won't happen. Bush doesn't attack countries that he believes will fight back.

There's a third big danger for U.S.-China relations, and this one is Beijing's fault: China's schools teach hatred of Japan, resulting in last month's street demonstrations in which Chinese protesters screamed slogans such as "Japanese must die."

The next act in the drama will unfold at sea. Japanese ships may start exploring disputed waters for oil and gas in the late summer or fall, perhaps with military escorts. China's leaders will then be under tremendous popular pressure to send China's own military vessels to block what Chinese will see as an armed Japanese incursion. And then Japan will ask the U.S. for help under the U.S.-Japan security treaty. ...

Something that I've been talking about since I started this blog...I'll surely come back to it within the next week or two, as Japanese/Korean/Chinese relations is pretty much my favorite topic to yap on about.

In the past, President Jiang Zemin protected the U.S.-Chinese relationship. But many Chinese scorned him as "qin Mei," or soft on the U.S. The new president, Hu Jintao, seems much less likely to go out on a limb to preserve good relations with the U.S.

So it's time for Americans to take a deep breath. Poisonous trade disputes with China will only aggravate the risks ahead, strengthen the hard- liners in Beijing and leave ordinary Chinese feeling that Americans are turning into China-bashers. Sadly, they'll have a point.

Kristof manages to finish the op-ed without ever mentioning the Chinese export taxes (Maybe they nixed the idea? I haven't heard anything.). Maybe Kristof is just trying to make a point. Kristof and the NYTimes doesn't have much influence over China, but it does have some on the US. So for the most part his suggestions are true, though lopsided.

We need a policy of mutual advantage with the Chinese, and right now we just seem to be playing child games with each other like two fourth graders punching each other in the arm during science class.





Sunday, May 29, 2005
 
Sunday Bible Verse: 5/29/2005
Ephesians 6:4
"And, ye fathers, provke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."

Saturday, May 28, 2005
 
Topic of the Day: Iraq
Today's Topic of the Day just kind of came to me.

IRAQ
How the War should have been sold

This is probably my first Iraq Topic of the Day. I thought that if you wanted to hear something about Iraq you could go to Daily Kos, Eschaton, MyDD, or any conservative blog like Powerline and Hugh Hewitt. The other reason is that, in my heart, I am for this war. I believe in freedom and I believe that oppressed people around the world should look up to the United States as a liberator. Having said that, I am ashamed of this war. I am ashamed of the way it was sold, I'm ashamed of the way it was planned. I am ashamed of all the money we waste. I am ashamed of all the things that we have done in the name of "freedom". It's like we took the concept of freedom that Jefferson, Madison, and Washington envisioned and flushed it down the toilet, making sure it had some fecal company on its way down. So before I get some kind of East-Asia blogging withdrawal (so, I'm serious), I'd like to talk about how the Iraq war should have been sold. I'm convinced that we could have built up one hell of a coalition. A Coalition of the Courageous, not merely the "Willing".

I'll try to use pre-Iraq war knowledge of the Administration (ie, what they knew) to justify this war. And since Europeans think that Bush can't count higher than the number of fingers he has on one hand, we'll call it the...

FIVE CASES AGAINST SADDAM

1. Terrorism
While we don't know for sure what Saddam's links with bin Laden, we do know he has sponsored terrorism both against his own people as well as abroad. Given the impact that 9/11 had on the United States and the few resources with which bin Laden used to implement such a disastrous strike, if a nation like Iraq with the finances that Saddam possesses ever decides to sponsor a terrorist strike on the United States or Europe, the disaster could be two-hundred times larger. We're not sure if Iraq possesses and weapons of mass destruction, but Saddam has in the past shown a willingness to both harbor and use WMDs on Israel and his own people. If he ever decides to sponsor terrorism, this could lead to disaster.

2. Security
The Middle East is a powderkeg, a region that could break into war at any moment. The Middle East is a national security concern of many countries far, far away from its deserts and violence. Iraq sits smack in the middle of the Middle East, with dangerous places like Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine/Israel to its west and Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to its east. Over a number of years, a stable Iraq could bring a significant stabalizing force to the region. Arabs and Muslims looking for a safe nation could move there, and the threat of losing the best and brightest businessmen, students, and scientists to Iraq would force the other nations to either change or become insignificant.

3. Economy
When I say we should invade Iraq because of economic reasons, I don't mean we should invade for the stock market. Any single nation who has the ability to cause our economy to collapse is a national security issue. Iraq has this ability. While we do not need Iraq's oil, as we obtain most of our Middle Eastern oil from Saudi Arabia, Iraq could easily sent the entire world's oil supply into jeopardy. He has proven that he thinks little of destroying other nation's oil fields. But more importantly, with nations like China and India growing drastically, it is clear that in a few years the world's oil demand will be significantly greater than it is today. Furthermore, if he were to completely cut off the oil coming out of his country, it would drastically increase the demand worldwide for oil from other countries. If he were to time this correctly, it could send many nations into recession.

4. Example
In these modern times there are still far too many dictators around the world. In a time where we can go on the Internet and find out about any political or economic system we wish, some people do not have the right to even decide how their country should be run. We are in a War on Terror, and the first step to removing the Terror is to remove the sources of terror. Brutal dictators who are willing to sacrifice their own people to stay in power are significant sources of terror around the world. Democracies rarely go to war with each other, so ending dictatorships would do much to bring peace and stability to the world. Saddam should be the first among that group to go.

5. Freedom
Possibly the most important reason to go to war is that there are 25 million people that Saddam seems to kill at whim. These people have been victims of their own leader's weapons of mass destruction. They cry out for peace, they cry out for a savior. The sanctions currently on Iraq do much to hurt Saddam's ability to build weapons of mass destruction, but it comes at the cost of Iraq's own people. The only solution that will allow Iraqi citizens to be free is to move into Iraq and remove Saddam from power permanently.

HOW MY CASE WAS DIFFERENT
1. Terrorism - I didn't lie about WMDs, I didn't frame the issue around "mushroom clouds", I just straight up leveled that relatively few resources were used to commit the 9/11 attacks and that Saddam has hundreds of times the financial and technological resources that bin Laden possesses. I didn't try to link Al Qaeda and Saddam, I didn't need to. No American liked Saddam, and every American thinks that he's dangerous.
2. Security - The main focus is that there won't need to be wars with Iran and Syria as well, that a free Iraq could very well easily bring peace, assuming we did it correctly.
3. Economy - the economic argument probably wouldn't come into play until around 2010 or so, and we could possibly hope Saddam was out of power, but without the war I don't think he would have been (considering those recent underwear pics, he looks in relatively good shape for 68 (Castro is 78)). But the key is to opening establish that our economy, the world economy as well, is a national security issue. Instead of evading the whole "blood for oil" line of argumentation, it gets out the message that we take our economy seriously and we aren't afraid to defend it. This argument sounded a lot better when I thought it up, which likely means Rove could do a persuasive job.
4. Exampe - no one likes dictators (except, perhaps, the CIA...)
5. Freedom - this should have been in there from the get-go. Now it seems more like an afterthought.

If this war had been sold correctly, the "Coalition of the Willing" could have rightfully had the name "Coalition of the Courageous". It could have been large enough to bring real security to Iraq. It could have been large enough to prevent the quagmire that we've found ourselves in now.
 
Daily Aside: 5/28/2005
Not many good blog posts on the weekend

NYTimes: "Month of Talks Fails to Bolster Nuclear Treaty"

NYTimes: "McCain Urging Accord on Bolton and Secret Documents"

Financial Times: "The most dangerous idea on earth?"
Friday, May 27, 2005
 
Topic of the Day: CAFTA
Just started work this week, so this is a TGIF-inspired short post. Although, I feel, I'm giving an important topic a healthy dose of injustice.

Today's Topic of the Day was inspired by this Financial Times article, which is short but worth reading nonetheless.

CAFTA

The Central American Free Trade Agreement is half-travesty, half-wonder. My primary thought on it is that if the White House was really concerned about free trade, they would have done a better job with CAFTA, instead they sold out to business interests and just went with an all-out CAFTA, quite nasty really.

US business organisations and the administration have launched a final drive to win approval for the Central American Free Trade Agreement (Cafta) as Congress moves towards a vote on the pact.

Thomas Donohue, president of the US Chamber of Commerce, warned that those members who stood in the way of a deal could jeopardise their financialsupport from business.

When did it become the business lobby's job to enforce free trade? CAFTA has its many merits, of which include:

1. Free Trade - I can't convince you anti-free trade people to come to the dark side in just one blog post, especially when I'm as worn out as I am right now, so I won't try. Free trade is a hallmark of the American Way, without it our quality of life would pale in comparison to how we live today.

2. Helping these countries - these Latin American nations are disgustingly poor. CAFTA will create a significant number of jobs in those countries, jobs that normal Americans for the most part won't take anyway.

3. Foreign Policy - certainly when these extremely poor Latin American countries are helped out of their slumps on the US's shoulders, it will do much to foster a positive reputation in a region that has anything but positive things to say about the United States.

But what is wrong with CAFTA as it stands? As I said, its a sell-out to the business lobby. If free trade is introduced too quickly, you get a two-class system like what exists now in China. I haven't seen any, but I'd love to see charts of the income distribution in China compared with the US and Europe. I believe they would be greatly distorted. Only now are Chinese citizens, normal citizens, building up the political power to perhaps one day change things.

A slower, smarter phase in plan that would allow the quality of life of all the citizens in these countries to grow is the right way. Otherwise, you'll have millionaire factory owners and still-dirt-poor factory workers who, instead of working in the fields, work for not much more pay in unsafe working conditions. Not the way to go.

Free Trade is good for the US and for Central America. But there's a better way to do CAFTA, and this ain't it.
 
Daily Aside: 5/27/2005
Bull Moose: "Victory Strategy"

Roger Bate (Weekly Standard): "The Shell Game Comes to Zimbabwe"
Thursday, May 26, 2005
 
Topic of the Day: David Brooks
Today's Topic of the Day was inspired, obviously, by a David Brooks column. It's titled "A Natural Alliance".

DAVID BROOKS
"A Natural Alliance"

Liberal bloggers have a tendency to blow off David Brooks right out of the gate, almost no matter what. But his latest column seems to have generated more silence than ever. There's a typical mention and snide comment here and there, but overall, silence (for now, at least). David Brooks tends to be high on ideas and low on facts, but the basics behind his latest column aren't so bad.

Maybe its because he starts off by ripping on Jews (he's Jewish, so its ok, Jon Stewart style), as well as himself. Hopefully it'll lighten all you Brooks haters out there: (Blogger keeps screwing with my quotes...ergh)
Earlier this week I listened to Rick Warren speak at a conference sponsored by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Warren is the pastor of the Saddleback Church in California, the country's largest megachurch where 20,000 people or so go to worship each Sunday. He's also the author of "The Purpose Driven Life," which has sold more than 25 million copies in English alone.

My first thought was, How come Christians have all these megachurches but we Jews don't have megagogues? I think the answer is that if some Jews built a megagogue, the other Jews in town would say, "That megagogue I wouldn't go to." They'd build a rival megagogue. You'd end up with 10 really big buildings, each with about 40 people inside.

My second thought was, Why don't my books sell 25 million copies? I thought maybe I should write a book called, "The Blinking Flat Purpose Driven Tipping Point That Got Left Behind." Or maybe I could write a book for rich Republicans called, "The Chauffeur Driven Life," which I think would do quite well.

While I haven't read Warren's book, I've certainly liked what I've heard about it. I'm not really into self-help type books. Maybe Brooks only tells the jokes because he couldn't come up with much to write about on the topic so he had to fill some space. But I don't think even he knows what he's onto. There are two types of Social Conservatives: true social conservatives and extremists. Unfortunately, extremists tend to run the movement as a whole and Democrats like to point at those extremists and pretend they are representative of the entire social conservative movement. Well, they're not. Most social conservatives are actually very good people, probably, as a whole, better people than the average American. They're God-fearing people who try to make the world a better place by encouraging life.

It reminds me of Howard Dean's interview on NBC's Meet the Press this past Sunday:
MR. RUSSERT: One issue where the Democrats seem to be changing their thinking is abortion. Here's Howard Dean on April 17: "I think we need to talk about abortion differently... Republicans have forced us into a corner to defend abortion..." And then, April 21: "If I could strike the words `choice' and `abortion' out of the lexicon of our party, I would."

DR. DEAN: Absolutely. I'm not advocating we change our position. I believe that a woman has a right to make up her own mind about what kind of health care she gets, and I think Democrats believe that in general. Here's the problem--and we were outmanipulated by the Republicans; there's no question about it. We have been forced into the idea of "We're going to defend abortion." I don't know anybody who thinks abortion is a good thing. I don't know anybody in either party who is pro-abortion. The issue is not whether we think abortion is a good thing. The issue is whether a woman has a right to make up her own mind about her health care, or a family has a right to make up their own mind about how their loved ones leave this world. I think the Republicans are intrusive and they invade people's personal privacy, and they don't have a right to do that.

Let me tell you why I think we ought to--why I want to strike the words "abortion" and "choice." When I campaigned for this job, I talked to lots of Democrats. And there are significant numbers of pro-life Democrats in the South. And one lady said to me, you know, "I'm pro-life. I don't like abortion. I would never have one. I would hope my daughter would never have one. But, you know, if the lady next door got herself in a fix, I'm not sure I should be the one to tell her what to do." Now, we call that woman pro-choice, but she thinks of herself as pro-life. The minute we start with the "pro-choice, pro- choice, pro-choice," she says, "Well, that's not me."

Democrats and social conservatives have quite some common ground. That common ground is hidden most of the time because Republicans like Tom DeLay and liberal institutions like the ACLU know that if its exposed, they'll both suffer. I commend Brooks for giving it more national attention. Brooks:
My third thought, which may be more profound than the other two, is that we can have a culture war in this country, or we can have a war on poverty, but we can't have both. That is to say, liberals and conservatives can go on bashing each other for being godless hedonists and primitive theocrats, or they can set those differences off to one side and work together to help the needy.

The natural alliance for antipoverty measures at home and abroad is between liberals and evangelical Christians. These are the only two groups that are really hyped up about these problems and willing to devote time and money to ameliorating them. If liberals and evangelicals don't get together on antipoverty measures, then there will be no majority for them and they won't get done.

Again, its the more extreme elements of both parties that are tearing these two large groups apart. I had read, with great interest, TIME Magazine's issue on the 25 most influential evangelicals. I was able to go back through my TIME magazine online archives and find some snippets:
[Rick Warren] met with 15 Senators, from both parties, who sought his advice and heard his plan to enlist Saddleback's global network of more than 40,000 churches in tackling such issues as poverty, disease and ignorance.

[...]

(from Ted Haggard's bio) A document issued last fall offered a theological justification for civic activism by U.S. Evangelicals, calling on them to protect the environment...
The list goes on. Jesus preached about stewardship and poverty far more often and with far more conviction than he preached about homosexuality. Can Democrats and social conservatives put aside their differences? To work in another Jon Stewart-ism, if there's anyone that can rise above all the hate, its Bono. Brooks:
I recently went to a U2 concert in Philadelphia with a group of evangelicals who have been working with Bono to fight AIDS and poverty in Africa. A few years ago, U2 took a tour of the heartland, stopping off at places like Wheaton College and the megachurch at Willow Creek to urge evangelicals to get involved in Africa. They've responded with alacrity, and now Bono, who is a serious if nonsectarian Christian, is at the nexus of a vast alliance between socially conservative evangelicals and socially liberal N.G.O.'s.
And then Brooks said the big F YOU to Dobson and Faldwell and Robertson:
Millions of evangelicals are embarrassed by the people held up by the news media as their spokesmen. Millions of evangelicals feel less represented by the culture war-centered parachurch organizations, and better represented by congregational pastors, who have a broader range of interests and more passion for mobilizing volunteers to perform service. Millions of evangelicals want leaders who live the faith by serving the poor.
The ACLU and Focus on the Family's dominance of their respective political parties might just cause their eventual undoing. Politicians will soon learn that with the rise of the Internet in general and blogs in specific, events such as Darfur cannot be written off and ignored without a significant political smack in the face.
 
Daily Aside: 5/26/2005
Jay Rosen: "Three Questions for Kevin Drum"

Joe Gandelman: "Senator Arlen Specter Has Cancer And You Disagree With Him SO"

Deccan Herald (India): "India, Pakistan discuss Siachen"
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
 
Topic of the Day: Stem Cells
Today's Topic of the Day was inspired by the US House's passage of the Stem Cell bill that will allow for increased federal funding of therapeutic stem cell research. The bill should pass the Senate, unless Frist has the control over his party to not bring it to a vote (I doubt he does, so it'll pass). Since this will most likely be Bush's first veto, its worth some discussion.

STEM CELLS

I honestly believe this is an issue that has yet to really be framed. Bush has tried to bring stem cell research into his "Culture of some people's Life" agenda. Kerry tried to push himself as the President of Science (which I think people took as "the President of Spending on Science").

The status quo is that federal funding will be provided to only the existing lines of stem cells. Now we found out last year those lines are tainted, this has further implications on the debate, as I'll discuss below. One thing that does seem interesting in all this is that the debate doesn't seem to be centering on where the line should be drawn but on whether the line should be pushed in one particular direction or not. One of my pet peeves is politicians' seeming lack of concern for where a line is drawn, just that its a move to the right or the left. This is why I included Cardinal Keeler's opinion below, because I do think we need to be very careful of where we draw the line.

The Bush position, I must say, doesn't seem to promote a "Culture of Life" whether you look at it from the Right or the Left. I have pondered why Bush doesn't just cut the research's funding or do like Gov Mitt Romney of Massachusetts has tried to do and simply ban the research altogether. I wasn't quite sure how to put it into writing, but luckily the adept Ed Kilgore manages to do it quite nicely:
But the worst of these absurdities is at the very center of his allegedly "principled" stand against federal funding of research on new embryonic stem cells obtained from embyros [sic] scheduled for destruction at IV fertility clinics.

He's not for banning federal funds for research on existing stem cells, mind you--even though the "moral complicity" arguments applies as much to old as new stem cell lines. He's not for banning research so long as it's funded by somebody other than Uncle Sam. And most importantly, he's not for banning the deliberate creation and destruction of embryos at fertility clinics, even though that is where all of the "destruction of human life" goes on.
Indeed, it seems like W figured he was about to get beat to a pulp on this issue, so he drew a line in the sand. He figures his protecting this line would pander to the Right and his not crossing it himself would keep the issue out of the headlines so he could get re-elected.

But what I think this proverbial line in the sand will do is let the Left define the debate, which is good. It prevents the Republican base from reaching out to the mainstream and allow the slower Democratic party time to frame the issue and to decide where they think the line should be drawn. I say we draw that line at a place that still allows for a morally defensible position.

Each year thousands of women have several of their eggs, human embryos, removed to attempt in vitro fertilization--to have a "test tube" baby. Sometimes they try to fertilize them all at once, but often they don't use all of them. The "leftovers" can be placed up for adoptions for couples that cannot go through with the procedure. This is a wonderful "culture of life" concept, I grant, and it needs to be maintained. But the numbers simply do not add up. And unless the religious Right wants to adopt every single one of these leftover embryos and fertilize them and raise children (Dobson take note: this is the only way your movement will be big enough to be respected by the mainstream), then embryos, as Kilgore pointed out, will be "wasted".

Where should the line be drawn? While I disagree with much of what Cardinal Keeler said, he does point out some rather useful facts:
...since all the "spare" embryos available for research cannot provide enough stem cells to treat any major disease, the proposed law would inevitably lead to creating human lives in the laboratory solely to destroy them.
The first part is certainly true, the conclusion doesn't have to be, however. This is where Democrats and pragmatic Republicans and Independents can shape the debate. Simply create laws that don't reward individuals for donating embryos, and furthermore make it clear that couples who want to adopt get the first embryos, while scientists only get the leftovers of the "leftovers". As long as the only embryos that are used are "leftovers" from fertility clinics and there isn't anyone who is willing to adopt them, then there is no loss of "life" nor does any embryo get wasted.

Cardinal Keeler does make one disturbing point, however. He seems to throw out there that since the number of "spare" embryos won't allow for any scientific breakthrough, then it will lead to embryo factories. Deceptive, Cardinal, deceptive in a Bill O'Reilly sort of way. What he should have said was the number of "spare" embryos currently available. As any good Calculus student knows (and by good I mean anyone who got at least a C), the embryo supply can be described both as a scalar (the number currently available) as well as a rate (the number made available over a certain frame of time) as well as a rate of a rate (the increase/decrease in the number made available over a certain frame of time), etc etc etc. Simply put, if the number of new embryos made available every year (after embryo adoptions) is enough to maintain some scientific progress, then no embryo factory is necessary. In skirting this logical step, the good Cardinal's argument does nothing to stop his fears. Addressing the real concern, however, shall.

This position is probably the most morally defensible position possible:
  1. Using legislation, both prevent laboratories from "creating life" and prevent any rewards from being offered for donations of embryos for the purpose of scientific experimentation.
  2. Place couples who wish to adopt embryos higher in the pecking order for who receives them than scientists who wish to experiment. Thus no embryos are wasted.
  3. Fund the living hell out of stem cell research. Simply put, make sure those embryos that are used by science are given the best possible treatment. After all, the faster we understand the power of stem cells, the fewer and fewer embryos will be wasted in experimentation and more will be used for saving lives.
Bush's pandering to the far Right has given Democrats a chance. I say we jump on it and beat the "Culture of Life" crowd at their own game.
 
Daily Aside: 5/25/2005
Stem Cell Edition...some pro, some con, some thought provoking. I'll post my take later tonight.
New Donkey: "Just Another Baby-Kissing Pol"

Matthew Yglesias (American Prospect): "Stem-Sold"

Howard Fineman: "A Food Fight in the Big GOP Tent"

William F Buckley: "Why Stop -- Anywhere?"

Cardinal William H Keeler: "Killing embryos not progress"
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
 
Topic of the Day: Nuclear Power
Today's Topic of the Day was inspired by a rather nice email I received almost completely out of the blue. Almost all of the emails I get are related to some post which gets referenced on another political weblog, apparently this person has quite an interest in nuclear power, as do I. I'll discuss his email and his website in the post. So, I revisit the topic.

5/17/05 Topic of the Day on Nuclear Power


NUCLEAR POWER

The last time I discussed nuclear power, about a week ago, I focused on how nuclear power was the only major power source that met my three criteria of availability, reliability, and safety.

I've put some more thought into it, and gotten some more input. To sum up:

OIL - Oil is the creme of the crop of the bad choices. It isn't highly available, the world's oil supply might only last for another couple of decades. It isn't reliable in that we consume so much we're constantly in need of replenishing our oil supplies, which means we rely on middle eastern politics to make sure we keep getting the oil we need. Oil has, obviously, several environmental concerns as well.

COAL - Coal is one of the better fossil fuels, if there is such a thing. Its supply should last for quite some time, so I wouldn't worry about the availability. If, in the next 100-200 years we cannot overcome our energy problems with renewable sources then we probably deserve to run out of energy. Coal's reliability is also fairly good, it is located in numerous places around the globe. Coal has some significant environment impacts, and the new "clean coal" really isn't a whole lot better.

NATURAL GAS - Everyone seems to see natural gas as some wonderful alternative. This is likely because it's invisible and not dirty like coal and doesn't kill seals like oil spills. However, from what I understand, its supply should last for a while, so availability, especially in the short term, isn't a huge concern. As far as reliability, natural gas' main flaw is that, being a flammable gas, it is quite difficult and very expensive to transport. Oil and coal are much simpler. Safety is also a large concern, as natural gas has a nasty habit creating some disasters.

SOLAR - Solar is almost limitlessly available, but it isn't a very efficient use of space, and thus suffers some reliability issues. Solar is quite safe, unless you fall off your roof installing panels on your house.

WIND - Wind is, similar to solar, in unlimited supply. Unfortunately, only a little of it is available at any given time. I know 2 solar spars provide part of the power for Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, which saves DoD money, but in order to fully power the station it would take almost a dozen considering wind's lack of reliability. Similar to solar, it is completely safe as long as you're careful installing and maintaining it.

OTHER - There are certainly other forms of power that are completely renewable--geothermal energy, for example. But they all fall into the same category with wind and solar. While they are safe and seemingly limitless, they can't generate enough energy to meet our demands.

NUCLEAR - Nuclear energy is quite available. As I said in the previous post, there's enough Uranium in the earth's crust to power the entire planet long into the foreseeable future. Its resources are reliable as well, instead of coming from the middle east, peaceful American allies Canada and Australia are the nation's two biggest producers (the US is 8th, which can likely go up). Safety has always been people's biggest concern. People seem willing to let a couple people die here and there from environmental causes or accidents in coal mines, but are unwilling to take a risk on what they perceive as "the big one". It's actually quite silly, as the materials used in nuclear plants aren't nearly as dense as the material in nuclear bombs, and thus mushroom clouds are quite out of the question. Massive radiation is the worst threat, which under proper conditions, can be controlled.

If you need further convincing on the safety front, my emailer's knowledge of the subject goes far beyond mine:

I like the way that you framed your argument, but wondered why you
ignore the safety issue that exists with oil, coal and gas. Each year,
more than 5,000 coal miners die in China. There are hundreds of deaths
every year in oil fueled fires. A single accident at a natural gas
field on December 23, 2003 killed more than 250 people and injured more
than 9,000 by exposure to toxic fumes.

Even if there was a Chernobyl sized accident every year, nuclear power
would not even come close to those kinds of death figures. Though there
has been a lot of "concern" expressed about nuclear safety, the fact is
that there have been less than 50 people killed in accidents related to
the nuclear power generating systems in the entire commercial history
of the technology...

Sincerely,

Rod Adams
Editor, Atomic Insights
www.atomicinsights.com

Check out his website. It's what I call a blog-zine, kind of a combination between a blog and a e-zine. While it looks like he and his company certainly stand to profit from nuclear power, his bias doesn't dumb down the presenting a thorough presentation of the pro-nuclear power facts. It includes a link an article that Rod wrote on how to market nuclear power, which is quite interesting.

On the flip side of the topic, and also a good resource, is the Nuclear Control Institute. Their main push is against "nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism", which I don't think many people could agree with. But they seem to think that ridding nuclear energy from the planet is the only way to prevent it. I respectfully disagree with them, but their site is worth looking at, although for some reason their press releases stopped right before the Iraq war (which they seemed to be in favor of).

Ultimately, if you get nothing out of this post, remember this: totally renewable resources require an ultimate sacrifice. Putting solar panels on your house, driving slower cars, and in general consuming less energy. You're in trouble if you think that will happen anytime soon. So, take your pick as to what resource fulfills our energy needs but has the fewest side-effects on our environment, our safety, and peace. I think when you sit down and reason it out, nuclear power is the best overall solution.
 
Daily Aside: 5/24/2005
New Donkey: "Who's Zoomin' Who?"

Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act

Wonkette: "The Self-Deception of Bill O'Reilly"

NYTimes: "Relations Fray as Japan Criticizes Chinese Official's Snub"
Monday, May 23, 2005
 
Topic of the Day: The Filibuster
NOTE: I started my job today, hence this short post. This whole going to work at 8am thing is going to get pretty interesting...

THE FILIBUSTER

Apparently Owens, Brown, and one other judge are getting through, the others aren't, and the Senate rules still stand.

I argue that this filibuster compromise is a pretty good deal for liberals. Owens and Brown are nuts, sure, but there's almost no way in hell these two can get put on the Supreme Court. If nominated, the media would cover their respective records in much greater detail and we'd all see that they're both just nuts.

The Aside is also pretty much dedicated to the filibuster as well, I especially recommend the C&L videos. Looks like the conservative bloggers aren't too happy...maybe when this is all over the Senate Republicans will act more...Christian...
 
Daily Aside: 5/23/2005
Crooks and Liars: "Bill Frist tries to save Face..."

Powerline (Hinderaker): "Dissapointing, I'm Afraid"

America Blog (Joe): "Dobson has been betrayed..."

Bull Moose: "Dobson's Choice" (pre-filibuster news, still relevant)
Sunday, May 22, 2005
 
Sunday Bible Verse: 5/22/2005
Matthew 5:5
"Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth"
(the 3rd Beatitude, King James Version)
Saturday, May 21, 2005
 
Topic of the Day: China
Today's Topic of the Day was inspired by today's WashPost article as well as this blog post from WILLisms that was featured in Thursday's Aside.

CHINA

I talk about China a lot. Why? Because lately the only thing bloggers are talking about is the nuclear option which I, like the Senate Parliamentarian, a Republican, am opposed to, but that shouldn't be any surprise. I am, after all, a Democrat. But I do think the debate is a silly lot of partisan crap that is well overblown. It's like there's an elephant in the living room and we're arguing over which scented Glade plug-in to purchase. China is a real problem, and being the pragmatic person I am, I choose to discuss China. Isn't going to get my posts mentioned in any of the major blogs, but I'm standing on principle. Sorry about the side-rant, now on to the main event.

Two Different Worlds

Reading about China really does feel like reading about two different worlds. There's the Economic Giant China and then there's the Political Fiasco China. During election cycles, we act as if there were two separate countries, yet during that short period of time where national politics doesn't encompass our lives, the Administration (both Bush and Clinton) seemed to ignore the political world and pretend China was another Japan, Korea, or Germany.

In truth, we are harsher to our allies than we are to China. We negotiate detailed deals to maintain a Boeing-Airbus balance of power and our trade reps go nuts when these rules are broken, yet we seem to overlook problems in places like the Darfur region of Sudan simply because China has a veto power and we don't want any economic retaliation from them. Remember that whole "I don't believe we should reward bad behavior" line Bush used to give? Well that might work for pissant North Korea but it sure as hell should apply to China as well.

If the Bush Administration isn't going to have some balls in its China policy, then it better take off the cowboy boots and stop spreading the straight-talk image, because the Administration is being neither straight nor tough with China.

Go read a NYTimes or Wash Post or WSJ article about China. Most apply to one of the two categories I gave, not both. It will either talk about how China is crushing us economically, or what China is doing with either Taiwan or PRNK. Now I talk continuously about how we compartmentalize and how bad that can be, so maybe we should make sure when we talk about tariffs that we also talk about human rights. Maybe when we talk about military build-up in China we should talk about the average Chinese laborer's quality of life. It doesn't make things easy, I grant, because China doesn't fit the mold. For a long time we've believed that Communism and Autocracy went together just like Capitalism and Democracy. It challenges our very notion of what it means to be free. When you see Chinese malls and McDonald's and all the symbols of a traditional American lifestyle, you tend to forget that the Chinese aren't allowed to protest. When you see Chinese kids wearing Yao Ming jerseys and Chinese tourists and Chinese students at our universities, you forget these people don't have political freedoms, that their civil rights are largely created in an effort to build up the Chinese economy. Do you think if China was still Communist that it would allow things like cell phones and Internet access? Hell no. The Chinese government likely hates these things, but they allow them because they are key to increasing their economic might.

One of two things will happen to these two worlds. The Chinese will either slowly move to a democratic system spurred on by an emerging middle class. Or these two worlds will flank us from both sides and we'll be too unprepared to deal with it.

The Bush Administration needs to have a paradigm shift. You simply cannot change the laws of capitalism. China will become the world's largest economic might--the US won't even be second, we'll sit at third behind India and the two population giants will duke it out.

Since we can't stop China's economic rise, we should take a harder stand on their political rise. Maybe we can learn something from the filibuster--if the minority wants to veto something, remove their veto through some pre-agreed on violation of the UN's own rules. Chinese leaders strut through the UN building like they were dignified representatives. They're not. They're tyrants in power just like North Korea and Iran. They just are tyrants with cash, lots of cash.

You can't fight the laws of Capitalism. Barring a world war, the world will become flat. Accept that and deal with the political nightmare that is China.
 
Daily Aside: 5/21/2005
Frank Rich (NYTimes): "It's All Newsweek's Fault"

Stephen Schwartz and William Kristol (Weekly Standard): "Our Uzbek Problem"

Washington Post: "China to Raise Tariffs On Clothing Exports"

Balloon Juice (John Cole): "Doing More Damage Than Good"
Friday, May 20, 2005
 
Topic of the Day: The Euro
Today's Topic of the Day was inspired by this NYTimes article which highlights a rather fascinating conundrum.

THE EURO

Almost exactly a year ago I went off to Europe for about 10 weeks for a study abroad program. Those 10 weeks were packed with a myriad of learning (and fun) activities. The Euro, despite my distaste for its value over the dollar, was quite a convenient monetary system for a place where the equivalent of 30 American Dollars could get you into another country with a completely different economic system yet the same currency. One of the things I had pondered, however, was how those different economic systems affected the Euro, and this NYTimes article seems to address that.
Far from converging into a more homogeneous bloc, the 12 countries that use the euro currency are dispersing into sprinters and laggards, with different levels of consumer confidence, industrial activity, and economic vigor. Bustling Ireland, with a growth rate of 5 percent, has little in common with becalmed Italy, where output may actually shrink this year.
This isn't entirely unexpected, of course. Each country has different policies that encourage industry or protect labor and the environment. Remember that this is partially true inside the United States, as individual states have a small amount of leeway over encouraging business. But since most of this is done at the federal level, the state's individual economies stay relatively close together in terms of growth and recession.

So why is this a problem? Well open a high school economics text book and you'll learn there are two main things a government can do to fix an economy: fiscal and monetary policy. Fiscal policy involves budget deficits and surpluses (will someone remind Bush what a surplus is, please?). Monetary policy involves manipulating interest rates on loans. If a country is in an inflation period, raise rates, if its in a recession period, lower them. Monetary policy is seen as the most politically isolated here in the United States--and indeed in Europe as well--because it can largely be controlled by a central bank. But the central bank for the Euro is the central bank for all of those countries, whether their economy is good or bad (imagine if one country had record inflation and the other had a record recession, ouch!). Ouch indeed:

This has created a conundrum for the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, which sets interest rates for much of the Continent. Just as the Federal Reserve, to some extent, must take into account divergent conditions in Ohio and Arizona, the European bank is learning that it is even trickier to devise a monetary policy that works equally well from Finland to Greece.

For months, the bank has signaled it wants to lift rates. But it is afraid of hobbling weak countries like Germany and the Netherlands. While the Germans linger on the edge of a recession, Spaniards are surfing on a sea of easy money, taking out cut-rate mortgages to buy and build houses at a furious pace.

[...]

The euro has proved remarkably resilient since its debut in 1999, confounding those who warned that a pan-European currency would be inherently unstable or vulnerable to outside shocks. It has withstood the recent surge in oil prices, and has grown in credibility, particularly as the dollar has lost some of its luster.

But the widening divide between euro countries has revived some of the warnings about the pitfalls of a monetary union.

And remember that example if one country had high inflation and the other a recession? That's practically a reality. Countries like Ireland and Spain have an explosive growth--5% and 3%, respectively. Spain's inflation is at 3% right now. But countries like the Netherlands and Germany are in quite a hole, the article quotes Germany's unemployment rate at around 11.8%. While Germany isn't quite in a recession yet--its growth numbers are teetering somewhere in between 0 and 1%--they definitely could use an interest rate cut.

Who knows, this might work out eventually for Europe if their economic systems start to converge, and especially if they approve the EU Constitution (doesn't look like they will, however). But this will definitely continue to be a problem and both recessions and inflationary periods will end up running for quite a long time.

One final thought. In the US, there's a population shift to the south that naturally hurts northern economies and aides southern ones. This certainly accounts for much of the disparity between state's economies. But people, other than state governors and legislators, don't worry about this in terms of monetary policy because the jobs are simply being transported within the US. This isn't possible in Europe. Why? ¿No hablan alemán? The language barrier. You can't simply move a German company to Spain because you can't expect your current employees to speak Spanish and hiring all new employees will come at a huge cost in productivity.
 
Daily Aside: 5/20/2005
Balloon Juice (John Cole): "So Much For What We Stand For"

Daily Kos (Plutonium Page): "Science Friday: cloning human stem cells"

Instapundit: (collection of opinions on Uzbekistan)

Instapundit: "More Wrong Notes on Stem Cells"
Thursday, May 19, 2005
 
Topic of the Day: The Media
Today's Topic of the Day was inspired by the simply awesome article in the NYTimes by Virginia Postrel on the Economics of Media Bias.

THE MEDIA

This particular topic--specifically the business model of being biased--is something I've wanted to talk about for quite some time. I probably waited till now because this was the first time a respected news source came at it from the proper angle. Before it was always the already-quite-biased crowd making allegations to suit their political whims. Postrel's article is more of an academic look at the fascinating "New Media", as many call it.

Postrel begins with the pivotal question:
Some people say they want "just the facts," and fault reporters for introducing too much analysis. Others complain that stories do just the opposite, treating all sides in a conflict as equally valid. The news-buying public seems to want contradictory things.

But one person's contradiction is another's market niche. Those differences help answer an economic puzzle: if bias is a product flaw, why does it not behave like auto repair rates, declining under competitive pressure?
(emphasis mine)
Two responses. First, it's funny she started off with "Some people say". Had to throw that one out there.

Second, in the Old Media era, conservatives claimed that the print and television media were biased. The typical liberal economist responded with: "well you're huge on free markets, so if its such a problem why isn't the market sorting itself out?". Ultimately, and ironically, it was likely the conservative dominance of talk radio that slowed market change. What was the tipping point? Staunch conservatives may argue it has something to do with a certain Commander-in-Chief giving a blowjob to a fat chick. Staunch liberals might push that it was the evil genius of Rupert Murdoch that forced Old Media into New Media.

I digress, Postrel continues:
In a recent paper, "The Market for News," two Harvard economists look at that question. "There's plenty of competition" among news sources, Sendhil Mullainathan, one of the authors, said in an interview. But "the more competition there has been in the last 20 years, the more discussion there has been of bias."

The reason, he and his colleague, Andrei Shleifer, argue, is that consumers care about more than accuracy. "We assume that readers prefer to hear or read news that are more consistent with their beliefs," they write. Bias is not a bug but a feature.

In a competitive news market, they argue, producers can use bias to differentiate their products and stave off price competition. Bias increases consumer loyalty.
(all emphasis mine)

Who needs to spend millions on loyalty programs like casinos and cruise lines when you can just spout your opinion for free?

The theory I've been pondering over for months is fairly simple: the Media will eventually fall into two segments, the spin-media and the back-office media. The spin media will then segment itself into various political entities. The Spin Media, of which FNC is the most criticized (like this C&L picture), will play itself off as normal, trustworthy media. The Back-Office Media, as I call it, is more of the work-horse media that provides un-spun content, primarily to the Spin Media (essentially how AP works right now) and to a lesser degree to the general public. Most of the end user consumed media will be spin, so get used to it.

Will this be good for our country? Hell no. But its a lot better than what we have right now. At the point where everyone understands the market structure--much like everyone understands where Wal-Mart, Target, and K-Mart sit in the retail giant market structure--then things should be better than they are right now.

Until then? Bloggers are going to have a field day with the Media.

Oh, and its safe to assume CNN will be the last outlet to figure all this out.
 
Daily Aside: 5/19/2005
NOTE: This is a section I've wanted to do since I moved to the Topic of the Day posting style. Essentially, it should contain a couple articles and blog posts I think people of open minds should read. Hopefully I can keep it short (ie, 2-4 links). Some days I find 3-4 subjects I want to write about but can't find the time. If, after a day or two, I still have a full queue of topics, I'll link to what would have inspired me.

Bull Moose: "Can the Center Hold?"

WILLisms: "Taiwan Chooses Independence"

Strategypage: "Japan's Superpower Potential"

AP (via Seattle Times): "Via the Internet, TV's future promises to be more eclectic"
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
 
Topic of the Day: The Sin of Homosexuality
Today's Topic of the Day was inspired by many things lately. This rant has really just been building up inside and I had to let it all out. Things like this and this (honestly, don't bother reading them, you've probably heard about it already, if not, you can guess what they're about). Now as a completely straight and well-educated (yes, the "educated" is important here) male, I feel some duty to throw an argument into the mix that should receive more press.

While the main point I want to make in the Topic of the Day isn't anything that's normally heard, let me quickly root out the more often discussed logical pitfalls.

The logic is common:
Now there are several logical leaps here that I'll address in short because, again, I want to make a slightly different point.
Those are the usual arguments, now its time for your history lesson of the day...

THE SIN OF HOMOSEXUALITY

Is it a Sin? Who knows. But some say: I report, you decide.

I'm actually going to work under the assumption that the Bible, and Jesus Himself, declared homosexuality to be a Sin. Yes, that's right. I'm going to hand the wing-nuts every card in the deck...and I'll still win, just watch me.

Get into the proverbial time machine and jump back 2000 years into Christ-era Hebrew culture. What was it like? Homosexuality was almost unheard of and certainly kept very low-key. Young men were, as per Jewish culture, expected to be married by their early 20's, if not earlier.

"But, Spitfire!", you say. "If everyone was married and homosexuality was so taboo, how did it find its way into the Bible enough for Dr Dobson to get so up-in-arms about it?"

Well first, Dobson's a jerk without much self-confidence...but that's beside the point.

Notice I said homosexuality was low-key. It was not, however, that uncommon. Alexander the Great, along with many in Ancient Greece, were known to have secretive homosexual relationships (see Greek Homosexuality by KJ Dover). Everyone knows about Sodom and Gomorrah, but that story is so filled with allegory that it is likely a Dobson-like depiction of what happens when you enter a hedonistic culture with no values [insert Tom DeLay joke here (John Bolton jokes work too)]. Many historians argue that the presence of homosexuality was just as high as today (a case against that whole "homosexuality is a choice" argument), but that the acts of homosexuality were not as prevalent. Obviously men and women acting on their homosexual tendencies was less common because it was taboo and brought about death by stoning (although Pat Robertson would like to change that sentence into the present tense).

Now in hindsight, we can separate the tendency of homosexuality from the act there of. But at that time it wasn't possible. Their knowledge of the human psyche and hormones wasn't so advanced (another thing Robertson would like to bring back). Case in point: remember when Jesus got made and cursed the moneymakers and tax collectors and such? Jesus wasn't condemning the individuals for choosing that profession (as one would become an Apostle), he was condemning the context of how they operated. In other words, he wasn't condemning the fact that someone was a tax collector, just the acts that were associated with (blackmail, ripping off, etc).

Now for all those who are worried I'm going to declare homosexual intercourse a sin, just give me another paragraph or two.

The important thing to remember is this: when the Bible declares something a sin, it declares it a sin based on the context of the time. Now we know the context of homosexuality in the Bible was that men and women who were almost always married secretly had a homosexual relationship on the side. So when someone at this time committed a homosexual act, what did that mean?

1. Having sex with someone other than one's spouse (''Thou shalt not commit adultery")
2. Lying about it to cover it up ("Thou shalt not bear false witness")
3. [Often times] having sex solely for pleasure, not love ("Thou shalt not wear ribbed condoms" --Benedict XVI)

To sum it up: the context of homosexuality, at the time of Christ, was a whole range of sins rolled into one. Since 2000 years ago they knew little about homosexuals, the context (which was, if you look at the 3 mentioned about, without a doubt sinful) could not be separated from the genetic fact.

Combine this with several translations plus crazies like Dobson and Robertson and you get the sorry state of our debate on gays.

They'll never make me Pope (although, as a Roman Catholic, I technically qualify), but here is my view on the real sins relating to homosexuality:

- I think adultery is a sin
- I think sex solely for pleasure, not as a symbol of a bond between two people, is a sin
- I think (as an extension to above) having multiple lovers is a sin
- I think lying about who you are, to someone else but most especially yourself, is a sin

It pains me that the Catholic Church cannot simply learn more about the life and times of Jesus Christ and determine the context that homosexuality was viewed in during those days. Remember, the Catholic Church was able to make the determination that evolution doesn't compete with religion. The Catholic Church, compared to the major Protestant sects, is much more lax on its interpretation of the Old Testament.

Some day the leaders of the Church are going to realize where they went wrong. I just hope they do it while a Church still exists.

Thou shalt consider yourself learned
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
 
Topic of the Day: Nuclear Power
Today's Topic of the Day was inspired by today's John Tierney column. While Tierney and I may differ in many respects, we essentially agree on nuclear power.

Note: Today's Topic of the Day will be relatively short because I'm writing it in my car while jacking someone's hotspot and my battery is running low. Don't think I don't have much to say on this subject.

NUCLEAR POWER

There are three main factors to consider when deciding on a power source: availability, reliability, and safety.

Sources like oil, coal, and natural gas have availability problems. While the total world supply may be enough to last for decades, why would one build a new power plant if it could only be active for a decade or two? You can't even turn a profit in that period of time without government subsidies (think: Bush's Energy Bill). I would also argue that hydro power has an availability problem: we just can't dam up every stream without causing significant environmental hazards.

Sources like wind and solar have reliability problems. This not only means that you get less wind power when it isn't windy and less solar power when its cloudy, it also means that it isn't a very efficient use of investment dollars (not a high ROI as the investors say).

Nuclear power obviously has the highest safety concerns. Undeniable. But compare Three Mile Island to Chernobyl in terms of the human and environmental impact. Even back during the Three Mile Island incident, the control over the problem was fairly decent compared to Chernobyl because we had lots of safety mechanisms build into the plant (the most important being the huge concrete walls around the reactor). I think that given the 30+ years since a nuclear plant has gone from design to build, we can greatly improve the safety of these plants.

As far as a nuclear plant's availability and safety: there's enough Uranium in the earth's crust to power the entire planet for decades if not more, many orders of magnitude more than oil, coal, and natural gas. Furthermore nuclear power is extremely high-output, so its ROI is fairly nice.

Tierney:
Now some prominent environmentalists are having second thoughts, as Felicity Barringer reported in Sunday's Times. Given the threat of global warming, they say, encouraging new nuclear power plants may be necessary. And Congress is about to take up proposals to reinvigorate the industry.
In conclusion, I agree with Tierney that nuclear power is a mixed blessing, but we ain't gonna get very far in the status quo. If we're going to expand our power system in this country, nuclear power has the least environmental impact and greatest performance for the buck.
Monday, May 16, 2005
 
Topic of the Day: North Korea
Today's Topic of the Day was inspired by this AP piece on abcnews.com.

North Korea was also the Topic of the Day on 5/13/05

NORTH KOREA

From the article:
South Korea, seeking to get North Korea to return to six-nation negotiations over its nuclear weapons program, hoped for a response Tuesday from the reclusive communist country.

[...]

Trying to ease rising tensions, South Korea on Monday promised a major new proposal if North Korea returns to the talks. No details were released, but South Korean media speculated that Seoul would offer aid to its impoverished neighbor, which has been wracked by famine.

Now I'm sure all of us are a little skeptical of the results of such a meeting. The U.S. has turned down one-on-one talks with North Korea because it believes the "six party talks" will be more effective. They are probably correct, assuming the North Koreans ever again agree to the talks. There has been a lot made about the Chinese pushing, although not as hard as we'd like, North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions. So one might be likely to assume that if a superpower cannot accomplish anything through a one-on-one and an emerging superpower and staunch ally cannot accomplish anything through a one-on-one that nothing will come of these latest talks. This, however, would be incorrect, in my opinion.

While nothing major will come out of these talks, such as disarmament or shifts towards a western style economy or government, one of the most important little things will emerge: dialogue.

You see the Korean Peninsula is much like Cold War Germany: a divided nation yearning to unite. This, of course, won't happen until two pre-requisites are fulfilled:

1. The Korean War generation dies off.
2. Those in power can come to terms.

While #1 is just a matter of time (and not far away, especially considering the North's life expectancy resembles that during the Great Depression, and is on track to get lower), #2 is where these talks come in handily. You see, South Korean who led the talks is not just a top-ranking Korean diplomat, he's the Vice Unification Minister. That's right, the Koreans are quite formal in their desire to see a unified Korea once again.

Obviously, the North Koreans will not easily come to terms with the South's more Western economy and progressive government, but I fully expect this to happen in my lifetime.

South Korea already gives aide in various forms to the North. For example, to fight the raging famine in the PRNK, the South generously gives fertilizer to the North. There used to be some places South Koreans were allowed to visit as tourists, and while the only one I knew of was shut down, some forms of tourism might be allowed.

Remember that Kim Jung Il is obsessed, more than anything, with power. While many believe his weakness is his pride, I think it's quite the opposite. I think he's pissing in his pants afraid. Look at what has happened in China. The Chinese have gone to a western economy to gain political power in the region and world. But it has come at a price, a loss of power over its people. Kim, if he were truly filled with pride, would have altered his economic system thinking there was no way he could lose power. A prideful man doesn't simply guard his marbles, and that's all Kim is doing.

If, given time, talks such as these can soften Kim and provide enough targeted assistance so that the people of North Korea come to see the South as saviors, then Kim will have to move closer to the South politically. Don't get me wrong, until Kim dies or is overthrown, there will be two nations on the Korean Peninsula, but if he remains in power for, say, 10-15 more years, by the attitudes towards the South will be much more positive, and unification will be possible.

In reality, these Chinese incidents with Japan only bring the North and South closer together, as both position on the side of the Chinese. Hatred of Japan, it seems, runs multiple generations deep while hatred for the Koreans across the border doesn't get passed down. As proof, it seems that South Korea has done what many Americans might consider unthinkable by siding against us on how to deal with the north:

NYTimes:
As Washington tries to unite participants in the six-party talks over the North's nuclear program - stalled since last June - fundamental differences have hardened. While the United States and Japan favor tougher measures, South Korea and China do not. Russia tends to share the South Korean and Chinese views.

After North Korea declared last week that it had extracted weapons-grade fuel from a nuclear reactor, South Korea and China dismissed punitive options like economic sanctions.

[...]

The offer underscored the fact that South Korea, though an ally of the United States, shares China's softer approach toward North Korea. In recent years the South has increased political, cultural and economic exchanges with the North to prevent a total collapse of the Communist government and nudge it toward Chinese-style reforms.

For Seoul, managing its growing ties with the North and its alliance with an American administration hawkish on North Korea has become increasingly delicate. South Korean officials tend not to criticize Washington openly, as the Chinese do, but privately express some of the same frustrations over American tactics.

Ultimately the U.S. just wants to stop the North Korean threat, while South Korea wants the North to be in ship-shape when unification finally occurs. I personally cannot argue with the Korean's motives, let's just hope we can control Kim until those dreams meet reality.


Sunday, May 15, 2005
 
Sunday Bible Verse: 5/15/2005
Micah 6:8
He has showed you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
(from the Revised Standard Version)
Saturday, May 14, 2005
 
Topic of the Day: China
Today's Topic of the Day was inspired by yesterday's post plus a couple of nice articles I've found recently.

CHINA

The People's Republic of China is in an interesting state of change. Over the next decade or two, China's economic and political power will only continue to grow. Is this a bad thing? Considering the impoverished state of the Chinese people, no. The question is how do we prevent the Chinese economic boom from bringing the U.S. down too much? Politically, the Chinese are quite dangerous. Having a rather autocratic past and not being anywhere near a democracy, combined with the use of ultra-nationalism to control its population and repress civil rights, makes for a dangerous superpower. Imagine a U.S.S.R. without the whole collapsing Communist system.

Adam Wolfe of PINR writes in "Domestic Threats to China's Rise":
The general consensus is that China will gradually emerge as a power in East Asia able to challenge the U.S. for regional dominance. In preparation, every country facing the prospect of Beijing's wake is reassessing its strategic options in order to gain the best position possible after China sails ahead. Japan is looking for methods to challenge China's rising military power in the region and may amend its constitution in order to see this through. The A.S.E.A.N. states are pursuing a strategy of interlocking their economies with China's, while looking to the U.S. and India for balance and leverage. South Korea is moving closer to Beijing, though will continue to rely on its special relationship with Washington. Washington's current National Security Strategy sees about a decade of opportunity for the U.S. to act in order to achieve permanent security dominance in the region before China will be able to block such an effort.

In the meantime, China's foreign policy has largely been driven by immediate needs -- access to economic markets and energy resources.

[...]

(emphasis mine)
Some points to make on this: First, the China v Japan political battle plays out in almost everything here. The US encouraging Japan to increase the size of its military is behind the first highlighted item. Second, as far as South Korea, you have to remember that Korea is the #3 guy in the region, and since they are geographically located smack in the middle of Japan and China (as well as North Korea), they have to take sides. In the past, Korea has hung more with Japan as North Korea tended towards China. But with the liberalization of China's economic system combined with Japan's not-so-wise attempt to re-write its history books, Korean sentiments have drifted towards China lately. Finally, it is clear we have to have some serious plan to deal with the multitude of issues that would arise if we do nothing.

Is there hope? Well, some. Clearly, China's eco-political rise is inevitable. But there are some signs that we do, indeed, have some time. You cannot, after all, build a superpower overnight. Bloomberg is reporting a slowdown in China's growth. This was expected and completely intentional, as the Chinese understand that they need to manage their growth. The Times Online has an article that the Chinese might be more willing to re-value the yuan. This has both good and bad implications for the US in and of itself, something for another time or at the very least a google search.

But the fact is that all US foreign policy should keep China in mind over the next decade. This includes how we deal with North Korea but also some of the less obvious nations. I believe, although I'm not entirely sure, this is guiding our lack of policy towards Darfur. Sudan is a major oil supplier to China, and declaring Darfur a genocide zone might make already shaky relations with China shakier. Does that mean our policy on Darfur is correct? Hell no. Good Chinese policy isn't worth genocide.

More than anything, in my opinion, it relates to Taiwan. Now do we really want Taiwan to be a part of China? Hell no. But its a chip in the game we might just have to give up eventually. Even the Catholic Church just might. I personally am in favor of just delaying the Taiwan issue as long as humanly possible so that the people of Taiwan have an opportunity to determine their own fate. By the way, Taiwan seems to have been teaming up with Japan lately.

The upside of China's economic might is that, given time, it just might work itself out. As I noted before, China is looking like it will run into a labor shortage, which will mean higher wages for their working class. Furthermore, China's new middle class is starting to demand political rights.

The lesson? Lou Dobbs isn't gonna stop whining, so don't worry about that. We just need to delay China's power grab long enough for the Chinese political system to catch up to its economic system.

UPDATE (5/16/05): Just opened a fortune cookie that reads:
:) The Chinese ancient civilization attracts you. :)
Indeed.
Friday, May 13, 2005
 
Topic of the Day: North Korea
NOTE: This was supposed to be yesterday's topic of the day but my laptop batteries died so now I'm typing it all over again at a truckstop. As such I'm placing it so it looks like I typed it yesterday.

Today's topic of the day needs little inspiration. But we can try this NYTimes article for one, but PRNK makes front page NYTimes headlines about every other day now, so just open a newspaper.

NORTH KOREA

The Bush Administration, as I have said many times in the past, likes to view things in a vacuum. Indeed, it is politically advantageous to compartmentalize issues because that is, indeed, exactly what voters do. However, while it is human nature to compartmentalize subjects which we have little familiarity with (eg, foreign policy), people who deal with the subject on an hourly basis should not do just that. Joe Klein (I might be the only blogger who actually likes this guy...) wrote an excellent article a couple months back called the "Blink Presidency" in which he lays out Bush's style comparing it to Malcolm Gladwell's Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Klein's article was the single greatest summation of the Bush management philosophy:
It should come as no great revelation that George W. Bush is a wantonly decisive President. He decides Ariel Sharon is good and Yasser Arafat is evil, even though seasoned diplomats tell him it is not wise to make such sweeping judgments.
The problem with "blinking" instead of thinking is that you don't have time to determine all the possible impacts of your decisions. Most notably has been the recent conclusion drawn by many that Kim Jung Il sees Bush's invasion of Iraq, which had no WMDs, and no military threats on him as saying: "The US only invades nations without weapons of mass destruction". Did Kim need Iraq to make that connection? No, but it certainly has sped up Kim's timetable and will to possess workable nuclear weapons and his resolve to use diplomacy as a delay tactic.

Now Bush has really worked himself into a corner, there's no real option on dealing with North Korea right now other than the diplomacy games he's playing. Furthermore there are only really two long-term options (barring an internal conflict in PRNK to bail us out): play tough or spend cash.

Specifically, the first option involves toughing it out with NK and hoping for the best. Not very promising, indeed.

The second option isn't as politically popular, but I say we go for it. Look at China (maybe Topic of the Day sometime soon?). China has been moving towards capitalism, which has made it more peaceful (fingers crossed on Taiwan), and it looks like it might slowly move towards a more democratic government due to rise of the Chinese middle class. Give some encouragements to NK to move to a more capitalistic system and you'll see a similar process occur. Unfortunately, it will take many decades, which doesn't work well for the "show results in 4 years" system we have here in the US, but maybe some President will have the balls to do it. If that President was George Bush, I might be more willing to forgive some of his bad blinking.
Thursday, May 12, 2005
 
Topic of the Day: Intelligent Design
Today's Topic of the Day is inspired by the happenings in the Sunflower State (although I prefer the term Jayhawker State...).

INTELLIGENT DESIGN

I originally started this post off by saying that I believed in intelligent design. I then went on to describe the difference between my version of Intelligent Design and the version that the Christian Right tries to push while pretending it is somehow mainstream. But then I realized that the term Intelligent Design itself had be so distorted by the far right that I can no longer even use it. They've truly stolen the term.

So instead of explaining the difference between the Intelligent Design of merit and the intelligent design of the Intelligent Design Network, I'll just explain what I believe and how brilliant a concept it is (and maybe by association me?).

Lots of people talk about how God made the big bang and how he set out all the laws that Newton and Einstein would eventually pencil out. All the while, God knows this will create an evolutionary chain that would eventually evolve into humans.

Bored yet? That's the problem. This prospect fails to take advantage of neat scientific principles and takes long enough to explain that even a 5 yr old could put dozens of holes in the argument.

Maybe my way isn't any better. But I'll give it a shot.

Of all the scientific laws, only 4 things matter:
  1. Strong Force
  2. Weak Force
  3. Electromagnetic Force
  4. Gravity
These four forces exist in an extremely strict proportion. If this strict proportion was slightly different, the world would be completely different. For example, if gravity was slightly stronger, the universe would collapse in on itself fairly often, never allowing enough time for intelligent life to evolve. If gravity was only slightly weaker, matter wouldn't be able to gain the density to have things like meteors, much less suns and planets (a necessary pre-requisite for meteors...). The lesson: if the proportion of these four forces were up to chance, the odds of human life would be millions to one. If that isn't a case for some sense of intelligence, I don't know what else is.

The Christian Right isn't interested in the concept of intelligent design. They've fought a battle with Darwin for 150 years and they are looking for the smallest of victories, and in the process they don't care if they tear down the beauty of our universe that God created in His own special way.
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
 
Topic of the Day: Electronic Voting
Today's Topic of the Day was inspired by this Avedon post at Atrios that I read a couple days ago. Some people are really scared of electronic voting. People claim there is no way to make it secure. Well, that's not exactly true...

ELECTRONIC VOTING

Before I begin, let me lay out that I consider myself an expert on information security. Although I've never done anything with electronic voting, I have a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Security specializing in Network and Information Security. All of the technical information I'm about to lay out I understand completely and would be happy to answer any questions on the subject.

I recently watched a guest lecture given by a Computer Scientist from Brazil, part of the discussion focused on Brazil's voting system. That is the inspiration for what I'm about to lay out.

There are 4 parts to a voting machine system: hardware, operating system, software, and networking.

1. Hardware. Voting machines won't require any difficult hardware. To the contrary, the hardware should be as common as possible: a typical PC, a touchscreen monitor, and a network card. Now this can be dressed up as professionally as one might like, but the simpler the hardware the more people will trust and be willing to use the machine.

2. Operating System. Whatever OS actually gets used is almost irrelevant so long as its a common OS. I'd prefer an open-source Linux such as Fedora for more transparency. The OS should be cleanly installed the morning of the vote--with representation of both major parties--to ensure that it isn't a hacked OS.

3. Software. Only two pieces of software should be run, the election software, and a hashing software. The election software is straight-forward. The hashing software I'll discuss later. The main thing to remember is that anyone should be able to use either software, the hashing software will simply create a hash of the election software (and even the hashing software itself). Again, I'll discuss the hashing process later.

4. Networking. Until the polling location officially closes, each election machine shouldn't be plugged into any network. Simple. After the election closes the machine, using a digital signature system, communicates with the central computer for each county or state. It is actually fairly trivial to get information securely to a central location, not nearly the problem people might think it is.

Now, obviously the election software itself needs to be secure. This is why the software will be turned over to a team of security experts who will examine the software for security vulnerabilities and backdoors. Once the software is considered safe, the same security experts use the hashing program above to hash the election software. (A hash is a one-way encryption algorithm that generates a "hash" that cannot be reversed) This hash is then printed in all the newspapers in the country prior to the election. Then, on election day, anyone can using that hashing software to check and make sure the software running is the software that was checked by security experts.

The key is to provide both transparency and authenticity. I think Brazil's system does a thorough job of that. It provides just as much, if not more, security than our current system.
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
 
Topic of the Day: The American Dream
Today's Topic of the Day was inspired by all the bickering over tax reform, capital gains, state intangibles tax, etc.

Warning: Today's Topic of the Day might piss some of you far-lefters off.

THE AMERICAN DREAM

If you say that the American Dream is to live in a country where every single person has a decent standard of living and no one gets left behind, I have a tip for you: move to Scandinavia. Studies have consistently said that Sweden and Norway have the happiest people on earth and their cradle-to-the-grave welfare system should be implemented everywhere. The United States wasn't founded on a greatest happiness principle. We were founded on a dream, a dream that if you work hard enough you can raise a family without worrying about how you're going to pay the next bill or what you'll do if you have a serious health issue. A dream that if you set out with an honest plan and a straight mind and an indomitable will, you can do anything.

Do Democrats have this same dream? Not entirely, the far left has a socialist twinge that really does belong in Sweden.

Do Republicans have this same dream? Not at all (hence why I'm not a Republican). Conservatives dream of a world where their children can do anything regardless of whether they deserve it or not.

You see there's really two steps to the American Dream:
  1. Give individuals the chance to gain the skills they need.
  2. Let 'em loose and don't hold them back.
The first point is all about Education. This is why I believe there should be a significant number of merit based scholarships (possibly weighted by need) so that motivated people, from no matter what walk of life in our country, have a chance to get the skills to do whatever it is they want to accomplish in life. We need a university education system that brings talent into our country, instead of the xenophobic system we have right now.

The second point is about being pro-growth. For example, the abomination of rules we refer to as our "Tax Code" does a lot to hamper growth (the question is: do we trust Congress, led by the likes of Tom DeLay, to fix said tax code?). I say give people the right to pursue their dreams. If they aren't right for it, the market will take them out quite quickly and put them in their proper place. Our current tax code is alright for the poor, superb for the most wealthy, but really hands it to the middle class--the very people trying to achieve their dream.

If these two criteria are achieved, then the only person to blame from preventing you from achieving your dream is yourself. And even then, you can always move to Sweden.

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