diet coke for breakfast

Monday, November 20, 2006

Posted by Tanstaafl
Are Iraq's Neighbors Serious about Stability?

"Iran has invited the Iraqi and Syrian presidents to Tehran for a weekend summit with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, four key lawmakers told The Associated Press on Monday.

The goal is to hash out ways to cooperate in curbing the runaway violence that has taken Iraq to the verge of civil war and threatens to spread through the region."

I sincerely hope that this is more than a publicity stunt and that the Iranians and Syrians have realized that an Iraq ripped apart by Civil War is unlikely to be good for them either.

Back in October, I posted:

However, I now believe it is time that we start pulling our troops out. We can, and should, give leaders of the other nations in the region not an exact schedule, but a general idea of how long it will take us to pack up and redeploy. We can make it clear to them that if they do not want chaos in Iraq then they can step up and take a hand in rebuilding. We did the dirty work of taking-out Saddam, now they can stabilize the region.

I wonder if the Administration has quietly told Iran and Syria that we can't stay for ever, and the sooner they get in the game, the better the end-game will be for their countries.

Alternatively, these two rogue nations may have realized that it is not in their interest to have additional US forces show up in their back yard.

I am very curious to see what will come out of this summit. In all likelihood it will be a lot of empty rhetoric and a fair amount of denouncing the US. But, I am holding out a slight hope that these two nations will decide to withdraw support for the various militias and terrorists that they are backing in Iraq, and throw their weight behind the elected government.

Right now, my guess is that the Iraqis are suspicious that the government is our puppet. Based on Saddam's 95% voter support, I wouldn't trust election results if I lived there. If both Iran and Syria recognize and start cooperating with the Iraqi government, instead of undermining it, it could go a long way to creating legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqi people.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Posted by Tanstaafl
Annan Anon:

"The United States and Australia are the only major industrialized countries to reject that 1997 treaty annex."

That may be... but Europe has missed all of the targets it signed-up to anyway. Who's worse someone who makes promises he can't keep, or someone who won't make the promise?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Posted by Tanstaafl
Global Warming Strikes Again:

"Wildfire season typically peaks in late summer and early fall. Climate change is being blamed for a longer fire season and some even predict the possibility of a year-round fire season."

Articles like this are why I have trouble buying the alarmist view of global warming. According to Wikipedia, "The Earth's average near-surface atmospheric temperature rose 0.6 ± 0.2° Celsius (1.1 ± 0.4 °Fahrenheit) in the 20th century."

So how long exactly did this change 0.6 degree change over 100 years extend the wildfire season?

"The U.S. Forest Service spent $1.5 billion fighting those fires -- about $100 million over budget." How did that compare to last year's expenditure? Was the budget higher, lower, or the same last year?

The article mentions, of course that other changes, like effective fire-fighting in prior years which has let forests get more overgrown than usual or the addition of residential areas near forests, might be factors. But of course, those are secondary to the global warming boogie man.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Posted by Tanstaafl
An Alternate Plan for Iraq

Arnold Kling wrote a very good assessment of what seems to be going on in Iraq and what we might do about it.

I would like to amend policy recommendation #2 in my very long post about the Bush administration's national security policy to include Mr. Kling's plan:

I think that American troops should stay to protect the oil fields in Iraq. They should also seal the Kurdish region. On the other hand, I'd be happy to see our soldiers walk out of Baghdad, not with their tails between their legs but with their middle fingers in the air. From my observation post, which admittedly is nowhere near Iraq and has me shrouded in media fog, it appears that the Iraqis have botched their liberation. We gave them an opportunity to experience freedom and democracy, and they responded by shooting one another and blowing people up.

In my post I suggested that "I now believe it is time that we start pulling our troops out." However, my post's goals likely better achieved if we follow Mr. Kling's suggestion and pull our troops out of the cities.

1) Our troops would no longer be standing in between tribes that are bent on destroying each other. A friend of mine who's a PhD candidate in Political Science mentioned to me this weekend that a professor he knows who is an expert in civil wars has estimated that there are currently 5 separate conflicts occurring in Iraq. Only one of them involves violence against US forces.
2) We would be able to keep Iraq's oil out of Iran's hands. Having troops still in theater / in country should be enough to deter an overt invasion from Iran.
3) We could continue to prosecute the War on Terror aspect of the Iraq War. My post did mention the fly-paper strategy. A friend of mine criticized me for not giving enough weight to it. Well, Mr. Kling's plan would allow us to continue to take advantage of that by-product of the invasion. Large, well guarded bases in the desert would effectively serve as staging areas for targeted raids and attacks against Jihadists. We could continue to use Special Forces, precision guided munitions, and UAV's to take out Al Qaeda forces like we did with Zarqawi.

In direct contrast to Mr. Kling's plan, Harvard Law Professor William Stuntz argues in the Weekly Standard for "Doubling Down" and sending more troops to try to pacify Iraq. Prof Stuntz conjectures that more troops will deter the insurgency:
Why do insurgent gangs, who have vastly smaller resources and manpower than the American soldiers they fight, continue to try to kill those soldiers? The answer is, because they believe they only have to kill a few more, and the soldiers will leave. They need not inflict a military defeat (which would be impossible, given the strength of the American military)--all they need to do is survive until American voters decide to throw in the towel, which might happen at any moment.

While I have never met an Iraqi insurgent, I do not think that they will view additional troops with as much fear as Prof Stuntz predicts. First, many of these men see themselves as defending their homes against foreign invaders. People in that state feel they have noting to lose and will continue fighting to the death. Second, more US troops mean more targets for insurgents. Third, and most importantly, more troops patrolling Baghdad could easily feel oppressive and lend more popular support to the insurgents attacking our forces.

Fairly often, reporters, pundits, Democrats, and even recently President Bush compare Iraq to Vietnam. One factor of the two conflicts that defies comparison however is troop levels. In Vietnam, we allowed troop levels to continuously escalate until we had approximately 500,000 troops in country. In Iraq, the administration has resisted calls to do the same, primarily from the same people who yell the loudest about how US policy there is failing like it did in Vietnam. It is ironic that they would want to repeat that policy.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Posted by Tanstaafl
I know I advocated withdrawal...
"A purported audio recording by the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq vows to step up the group's fight against the United States, saying, 'We haven't had enough of your blood yet.'"

But let's kill this gentleman first. And use our impressive technological capabilities to kill his successor, and his successor, and so on. I just don't think we need so many troops there to do that.

I think that if we could pull our troops out of the cities and station them at highly protected bases in the desert. From there we could use them to hunt Al Qaeda and protect the oil infrastructure.

Posted by Tanstaafl
Sorry Joe: "Sen. Joe Lieberman, who won re-election as an independent, has a message for his Senate colleagues in the next Congress: Call me a Democrat."

I just can't do that. They tried to kick you out. I think I'll call you a Lierbercrat.

Posted by Tanstaafl
Too bad he lost.: "But Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee, who was defeated in this week's election, said he would block Bolton's nomination."

Sounds like the Dems won't have to worry about Bush ramrodding anything through the lame duck session. Soon to be Former Senator Chafee is going to bring the machine to a halt.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Posted by Tanstaafl
The Pigou Club Manifesto
"We should raise the tax on gasoline. Not quickly, but substantially. I would like to see Congress increase the gas tax by $1 per gallon, phased in gradually by 10 cents per year over the next decade."

While I'm not high-profile enough to be included on the Pigou club list, I would like to consider myself a member in spirit. I think this would work nicely to fund my X-prize recommendation in the really long essay I posted last week, while working toward the same goal of energy independence.

While I am not as alarmist as many about global warming... if that helps sell the idea, then it's fine with me.

Apparently, Professor Mankiw has set up a Facebook Group for this as well. I don't have a .edu address, so I can't join facebook, but I encourage anyone on it to join this group.

Posted by Tanstaafl
Greg Mankiw on voter participation

"Before we're too hard on people who don't vote, we should ask why they don't."

I agree with Mr. Mankiw. If you don't feel strongly about something, why should you have to vote on it? The right to vote is a right, not an obligation.

Posted by Tanstaafl
Election Day

"There is no greater right than the right to vote - to participate in the electoral process, to elect responsible leaders, and to make your voice heard. As the general election nears, I urge you to exercise this fundamental right on Tuesday, November 7th."

Today I vote in California for the first time. While I lived here in college, I never established permanent residency and always voted absentee in CT. What a year to leave that state.

Anyway, I thought I might run down where I stand on each of the propositions. I've made up my mind on most, but may change it when I'm actually there.

1A - TRANSPORTATION FUNDING PROTECTION. LEGISLATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT. I will likely vote yes on 1A. Transportation is a significant problem in California, and especially here in LA. I view investments in infrastructure like roads as a critical responsibility of government so anything to try to direct more funds toward that, I applaud. My only hesitance is that this is a constitutional amendment which seems extreme. However, I am willing to be that this state's constitution is already pretty crowded, so this will likely only be a marginal change.

I support this on the same grounds as 1A, that transportation infrastructure is important. I have heard several libertarians criticize all of California's borrowing. While CA does borrow outside its means in many instances, capital investments in infrastructure are legitmate reasons to borrow.

This is another bond issuance. I'm still trying to decide on this one. I'm considering voting no because I'm not convinced that this is a legitimate use of State funds. I have a hard time figuring what they could possibly be using $2.8B for. They would be better off taking the $204 million each year and giving it to local charities that help battered women and veterans.

1D KINDERGARTEN–UNIVERSITY PUBLIC EDUCATION FACILITIES BOND ACT OF 2006. This gets a definitive no. Public education is critical in terms of spurring economic growth. However, money is not the answer. The teacher's union in California is out of control as evidenced by their furious opposition to any sort of reforms that the Governor tried to enact 2 years ago. Until they can either be put in check, or they start looking for productive, practical fixes to our education system, I would prefer to starve them of funds.

1E DISASTER PREPAREDNESS AND FLOOD PREVENTION BOND ACT OF 2006. Again, this is an investment in infrastructure, and so the proper reason for a bond. Also, this seems like a solution to a tragedy of the commons externality, and therefore a reasonable use of public funds.

Yes. I have no problem making sexual predators wear GPS and stay away from schools and parks.


This may be a game-time decision. I'm leaning toward no. I support the law in general. While I do not feel strongly one way or the other on the abortion issue (I see merits to both side's arguments), I do not think a 16 year old girl is likely to have the emotional maturity to deal with a decision like that on her own. Not wanting her parents to know because she is embarrassed is not acceptable when dealing with a life altering decision like this. Since there are provisions allowing a judge to waive the notification if the girl is in danger, I think that this should be ok. But should this really be in the state constitution? Why would it not just be a statute?

Prop 86 TAX ON CIGARETTES. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT AND STATUTE. Yes. It's a sales tax that can be avoided by not purchasing the product. I am unconcerned with the criticism that not all of the funds will go to smoking prevention. Money is fungible anyway. Once it is in the state's coffers, no one can control what it is actually spent on. To the extent that it gets spent paying interest on the bonds that are fixing the traffic congestion on the 405 Freeway, I am happy.

NO. This is clearly the most controversial proposition this election. I firmly support research on alternative energy sources. But my support is not based on environmental concerns; it is based on a foreign policy need for energy independence. To that end, I would support a gas tax, but this is not a gas tax. This is a tax on oil extracted within California. This law is a anti-corporate effort to punish the oil companies and it will have disasterous unintended (or maybe intended) consequences. If extracting oil in California becomes more expensive due to the tax, Chevron, BP, Exxon and others will just get their oil elsewhere, probably from the Middle East. This works exactly against the goal of energy independance, and will cost California jobs.

Furthermore, punishing the oil companies is ridiculous. These companies have spent billions of dollars on an oil discovery, extraction, refinement and distribution infrastructure that allowed me to travel from Los Angeles to Palo Alto without ever worrying about being out of reach of gasoline. Those investments have likely been expensed by now, and so it is only fair that they can reap the benefits of those investments.

No. I using the same reasoning as I did on the educational bond initiatives above.

Prop 89 POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS. PUBLIC FINANCING. CORPORATE TAX INCREASE. CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTION AND EXPENDITURE LIMITS. INITIATIVE STATUTE. No. I am firmly against public funding of campaigns. I would rather not have politicians deciding which politicians get money to run for office. Moreover, why should corporations be forced to fund the campaigns of politicians that may be acting against the interests of the companies' shareholders? Search this blog for campaign finance reform and you will find more reasons why I think laws like this are absurd.

Prop 90 GOVERNMENT ACQUISITION, REGULATION OF PRIVATE PROPERTY. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT. Yes. This may go a bit too far, but I support rolling back the precedent set with Kelo.

I would go through the candidates, but none of them excite or outrage me, and if I keep typing, I will not have time to vote.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Posted by Tanstaafl
Here we go again.

Among the dozens of documents in English were Iraqi reports written in the 1990s and in 2002 for United Nations inspectors in charge of making sure Iraq had abandoned its unconventional arms programs after the Persian Gulf war. Experts say that at the time, Mr. Hussein’s scientists were on the verge of building an atom bomb, as little as a year away.

An arch conservative news organization is claiming that Iraq was very close to getting an atomic bomb before we invaded.

Who are these newsmen? Fox? The Weekly Standard? Nope, it's the "old gray lady": The New York Times.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Posted by Tanstaafl
La Shawn Barber defends John Kerry

"Think about it, people. Do you really believe that John Kerry, a war veteran, thinks American troops are dumb or would say so publicly during a war in the midst of an election cycle? When I first heard about his remarks, I knew instinctively that he couldn't have meant that. And I can't stand the man!"

I think La Shawn is mostly right on this. I'm not convinced that Kerry meant to insult Bush instead of the troops, but I understand how he might have been going for that and just screwed up. I've certainly tried to be funny in the past and ended up saying something I regret.

It doesn't matter though what he meant to say, or tried to say, or even actually said. Senator Kerry has forfeited any benefit of the doubt with his bizarre response to the criticism. How does name calling help?

A mature, intelligent response by someone who understands society's customs and rules would go something like this: "I apologize deeply to anyone, especially our brave troops and their families, who I might have offended. I was attempting to make a joke about the President and his failed policies, and I misspoke. I assure you that I have the utmost respect for our men and women in uniform." After he's shown appropriate regret, he could even go on to criticize President Bush. But to jump up and down and throw a tantrum about people who call for an apology is stupid. Especially since most of the calls for the apology came before he clarified his position. Had he apologized, the onus would be on McCain, Snow, and Bush to accept his apology gracefully. IF they continued to bash him on it, THEN he could get indignant.

But instead, he's set himself up as a lightning rod.

I think at this point, the Democrats had better take the McGuyver approach to fixing anything that's broken, and find some duct tape for Senator Kerry's oratory organ.

UPDATE: My brother has a much more complete and hard-line take on Kerry's "gaffe" over at RFTR. It's a fairly complete fisking.

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