Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Iraq & Blame

I think all the discussion about revisionism and WMD's circumvents and neglects the more important point: How did we screw up so badly in Iraq?

Yes, there are and were legitimate reasons for going in (I don't consider WMD's to be in the top 2, see On Iraq), but how did the US allow such a weak military plan to carried out? We had no postwar planning, not enough soldiers, very little international support, and thus set the stage for the situation we are in, where we have, despite being on the right path, thusfar done more, judging by numbers, not liberties, harm than good.

To make it worse, this is all in stark contrast to Gulf War I, where everything went smoothly in accordance with the Powell Doctrine, which was entirely neglected in GWII.

Now the very concepts of nation building, regime change, and aggressive warfare stands the chance of being maligned and shunned in the American political atmosphere for decades to come. And not because they are bad concepts, but because they were badly implemented.

Whose fault is this? Personally, I say primarily the executive branch for being hugely incompetent, secondarily congress for trusting the executive branch, and finally the American people for their unwillingness to sacrifice (thus put more effort into this war).

More importantly, how do we fix it? We funnel all the dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq towards productive ends, ensuring the competence of our warmakers in the future, instead of trying to hinder them in their mission today. The senate's recent action may be a step towards ensuring that competence. Or it may be a step toward authenticating withdrawal. Seeing our nation's and congress's (in)ability to sacrifice, the latter is looking more likely than the former.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Riots?

I have a relation in France, and I asked her for the French viewpoint on the current riots, seeing as the American Media does not have a great track record with interpreting foreign events. It's an interesting email, and I thought it may interest somebody, donc, voila:


Riots? We were in Paris day before yesterday and things were as usual, beautiful and elegant, but indeed it is true that in the suburbs things are "chaud"!
The US embassy has even sent out a notice to US residents in France and US vistitors to avoid taking the subway in from the CDG airport because it passes by those suburbs.
M. de Villepin was on the television this morning talking about the problem but as I told your grandfather yesterday it is rather like the race riots of '68 in the states..;there is no racism about color in France but certainly about culture. Young Magrehbins or "arabes" have a hard time getting work, live in those dismal towers in the suburbs of Paris and have no hope but to embrace their own culture since the French population seems to reject them. Young women who choose to were normal "French" clothes in those "cit├ęs" risk harassment or worse so they often choose the traditional way just to get on with their lives. Often the parents have tried to become "French" and the children have seen that they haven't really had much success.

The traditional French in many ways have a hard time accepting them. You can say but aren't they Frenchtoo but it's more than that. Many even change their names from Mohamed Habedi to Marc Dupont just to have a chance at a job interview. And the amazing thing is it works...just until the employer sees their face and their address (the famous 93 postal code). Pure prejudice but I can understand both sides. There is a surplus of young people looking for jobs and why take a chance on a possible delinquent when you have a Marc Dupont from the nice side of town. In France there is a separation of State and church...but the french revolution asked that the population embrace the State essentially as their religion and that feeling continues today in the legislation and educational system etc. There is an interesting "arrangement" with the Catholic schools where most are under contract to the State...but I am not sure that is the case with Muslim schools. Many of the Catholic schools now welcome the better muslim students because the schools are more "accepting". All goes back to the foundations of Catholic education which is based on a philosophy of acceptance of ones differences but an acknowledgement of a higher authority (non specific,but other than the state) in terms of moral judgement.

So where do we go from here. I think one just has to change the very opiniated typical Frenchman who is more than willing to accept a Black Catholic Antillaise as an in-law but give them someone who is Jewish or Muslim and they close ranks. But then so do those two groups also. To be fully integrated one needs to accept the social reality...France even though they are mostly non-practicing is an old Catholic Society and is a meritocracy where despite what anyone says the Old Boy network is alive and well. All the top politicians and business leaders for the most part have gone to ENA (the school of Administration where the State pays the students to attend) where they prepare to go on as prefets, ambassadors etc. and they all know each other. That is one of the joys of Sarkozy in that he is not "part of the club" although he was mayor of the chic suburb of Neuilly in Paris and knows all the right people (but his parents were imigrants and he doesn't recite poetry like de Villepin!). The French revolution was two hundred years ago and supposedly was the downfall of the aristocracy but another "elite" took their place. Napoleon created an empire which still has great repercussions on everyday life here. But that is a whole book...if you have more questions I will try to answer them but I think this is just an indication of a real problem in French culture that needs to be dealt with. Your uncle, for example, is very against a sort of French "affirmative action" which has been put in place for the "grands ecoles" (the top schools) but I think that is precisely what is needed. The "meritocracy" is not bad in itself as long as all the players have an even playing field. I read "A Hope in the Unseen" which is a look at one specific example of the top student at the worse high school in Wash DC and his struggles and success with school. He was accepted at Brown essentially under an affirmative action program and when you read the book you certainly understand why he is perhaps not as well-prepared for an ivy league eduation but certainly why he should be given the chance. I would be interested to know what happens to those kids later. I am sure a fair number of them go on to become politicians lobbying for better chances for he under priveledged that they were.

It would seem the conclusion is that it's "culturalist" based violence, showing how essential it is that everyone is given equal opportunities in life.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Pork Woes...

In light of the recent hurricanes, Senator Coburn has been pushing several amendments aimed at reducing pork, certainly some progress, but woefully depressing in light of the small number of votes the first has gotten. Democrat, Republican, across party lines the senate has stood in defense of its incompetence, preserving the pork. There are less than ten in the body who deserve to hold their posts. If only there were some other choice, some party pushing fiscal responsibility...

On Syria...

Syria has just been proclaimed the culprit in the Lebanese assassination. This could have huge implications. This means Syria has not just the ability but the will to carry out terrorism, making it extremely likely that they are actively supporting the insurgency in Iraq. Of course, any action should await confirmation of such intervention, but in the interim they are already paying a heavy price for their sins in Lebanon. Chances are the UN can get them to capitulate and straighten up through various resolutions.

The sad part here is the invasion in Iraq has failed to have much, if any, intimidation effect on its neighbors. Iran continues to push nuclear weapons, and now Syria could be fuelling the destruction in Iraq. Truly this has been a horribly executed war.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Our Money At Work

Just in case anybody thought that the Oil States are using every one of our petro-dollars to its greatest extent, take a look at former president of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Abu-Dhabi Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan's new house:

It's hard to find grander in the US, and yet the entire Arab league's GDP is still smaller than Spain's. Class disparities this large cause piss the poor people off.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Competitive Government

There is a popular notion that the government is inheritently inefficient and corrupt because it is a monopolistic organization, as opposed to the private sector, where constant competition keeps businesses efficient and fast. This simply is not true. Public service is one of the most competitive sectors out there. Governments are constantly competing with one another. Cities compete for citizens, states compete for businesses, and countries compete for everything. If a government is corrupt, inefficient, or lazy, the nation will be overtaken by any number of problems ranging from economic collapse to invasion to revolution.

This outlook brings about many good points:

Fortunately, democracy allows the citizens to change the leadership without changing the institution, should the nation be heading in the wrong direction. Unfortunately, more often than not citizens are putting their votes behind the politicians who bring home the pork than the ones who are doing their best to improve the nation's welfare. How do we change that?

Smaller (geography wise) governments are often better at solving problems than larger ones, not only because they've got their ear closer to the ground, but because they're much more numerous. For instance: healthcare. Instead of having just the federal government attempting to draft a solution, we can have fifty smaller governments take a stab at it. When a clear and proven solution emerges, either the other states will adopt it, or the federal government will. Not only does the small government approach increase the chance of success by fifty, but it also makes for mistakes on a much smaller scale when, inevitably, there are some screw-ups. Unfortunately, politicians in DC want to solve the most cutting edge problems, and citizens more often than not forget that they have potential stateside solutions (who's your state congress rep?), and instead demand action from the federal government, bringing about disastrous solution attempts on a huge scale. Stepping aside and letting the states (or counties, or cities) tackle the problems with no clear cut solution seems like a sound and practical policy.

Finally, our government has been lazy, corrupt, and inefficient for quite some time now, and yet we have not been invaded, or outdone economically, or had a revolution. Is this just the status quo? Should we then let it be because it's always been, or are we setting up for some huge crises? I say the facts show some big predicaments heading our way, and just because we've gotten by thus-far doesn't mean we're going to continue to get by. Historically, most civilizations peak right before they collapse. I don't think we're dumb enough to collapse, but on our current path there are going to be losses, because our government simply is not up to par with other nations, and that's not acceptable.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Flat Tax Pros & Cons

Back to the subject, some percieved pros and cons of the flat tax.

Pros: simple, encourages investment, less bureaucracy, more money for the people, no more loopholes.

Cons: rich people keep getting richer, more burden on middle class, less money for charities & nonprofits, less tax revenue, where does social security fit in?, H&R Block goes out of business.

I don't know enough about the subject yet to deliver a policy, and if you have any evidence/opinions, please contribute.

Flat Tax Argument

I recently ran into a Wall Street Journal editorial advocating a flat income tax. It seemed like a pretty solid argument, even addressing my biggest issue by giving a tax exemption for the first 11,000$, thus not taxing the super-poor. And then it invoked Russia:

"Russia put in a flat tax four years ago, and revenues have more than doubled in real terms"

Before President Putin took office, Russia was in a tax crisis. Nobody payed income taxes, because it was much cheaper to bribe somebody and nobody wanted to tell anybody how much they make (and alot of the economy was, and still is, underground). This made the government, facing a shrinking tax base, raise taxes, leading to less people paying, leading to higher taxes, etc. Putin came along, said enough of this, cut the taxes to a flat rate below 20%, and the Russians decided that a fee that small wasn't worth the evasion trouble, thus started paying taxes again. A brilliant solution for a chronic problem, but entirely non-applicable to our situation (because people do pay taxes and our economy isn't underground, mafia-dominated, and incredibly corrupt).

Thus this one piece of evidence, this one phrase, throws the entire argument into doubt, because if the author (Steve Forbes, he should know his stuff) was willing to throw in an argument like that, who can tell what other pieces, with which I am not so familiar, are entirely invalid? If making a policy about something as major as this, use valid evidence.

Monday, August 15, 2005

The Balance

A little practical philosophy. Many often ask, why do we have welfare? Why does the government take my (hard-earned) money and give it to someone (less deserving) else? Isn't that socialism? Doesn't socialism lead straight to economic stagnation, and in turn big evil tyrannies, like Russia, or China? These are good questions, and since the practical party is going to continue to support these socialist policies, it's neccessary to give a good answer.


It is my belief that there needs to exist a finely tuned balance between capitalism and socialism. Capitalism produces losers. This is because it includes risks, many risks, and some people get unlucky. Those losers need a second, maybe third chance to get back on their legs. They and their children need to be provided with the same opportunities that are alotted to the winners (education, survival, good line of credit). Why? For starters, it's humane, but more sensibly, it's in our best interests. The winners can become too powerful, monopolizing items such as education or specific businesses, bringing about short term gains for them at the cost of long-term losses for all. Some of these long term losses: obviously, monopolies breed incompetence, also, if most of the economic wealth is concentrated in the hands of few, they'll try and take the political power as well (take note of where most the politicians come from...). More subtly, and importantly, it's not worth the cost of letting those losers sit out in the rain. When someone loses faith and hope in a system, they try and force change upon that system, often producing extreme movements of some sort. Most infamous of these extreme movements is communism, as in Russia, China, and North Korea, but there are countless other grassroots movements that started amongst the disenfranchised "losers" of the current system and ended up dominated by power-hungry dictators.

This balance concept is a conclusion that Europe came to post-WWII, after having suffered through both extremes and various socialist revolutions for the last 150 years. They created capitalist states with socialist programs, bringing about a stable & prosperous balance that have lasted them 50 years. With economic stagnation setting in, that balance needs some tweaking, but I have confidence that their political institutions can deliver.

This is also a problem that many oil-states have been facing for the last 25-30 years. They have too much socialism, essentially using oil-money to create millions of ornamental, yet paying, government jobs. This coupled with their political situation creates millions of young, frustrated, idle, disenfranchised men and women. These same ingredients ledto the communist revolutions and fascism, and I hope that they can reform before the oil starts running out.

Socialist policies are humane. Socialist policies have also sedated & delivered hope & faith to generations of capitalistic losers. The checks the winners have to pay merely maintain a system that benefits them most. They really benefit everyone, fitting the axiom "what goes around, comes around". Thus practical policy should seek to find a balance between capitalism and socialism.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Food For Thought...

At current population growth rates:
In 775 years there will be 10 people per square yard
In 2000 years the mass of humanity will equal the mass of earth
In 6000 years the mass of humanity will equal the mass of the universe

Family planning, anyone?

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Over 60...

It's a little belated, but oil's ppb is now past another landmark, and it's now trading at 62.31$. Keep in mind this is up from the 10-20$ range 6-7 years ago (and 40$ one year ago). I thought and I still think that this is a short-term price lurch with speculation and politics more to blame than the fundamental problem (there's only so much oil left), but it's a good time for an update.

The oil companies themselves are intent on informing the public of the root problem, as Chevron and others launch huge commercial campaigns imploring governments and populaces to provide them with the help and leadership to move onto the next energy source.

The estimate is now 5 years before non-OPEC production peaks. The US production peaked back in the 70's.

Whilst the US consumes 20 million barrels a day (1/4 the world total), the next largest consumer is China at 8, and France, a nation comparable to us in development and economic status, consumes a mere 2.

One of the biggest alternatives right now is tar-oil, a seemingly endless source embedded in sands which is much more expensive to extract and causes much more environmental damage (primarily through emmissions). This is what will happen if the free market runs it course.

67% of our consumption is in the transportation sector. Small things, like building a few less highways, a few more trains, more mass transit, zoning land in such a way that work, home, and shopping can all be walked to, mileage standards, and gas taxes can make a huge a difference, and it is the practical policy to implement them.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

WASTE

Couldn't let this go, as it violates basic practical ideology.

Both the recently passed energy & transportation bill are laden with pork and don't really solve anything. That's 300 billion dollars down the drain, and the setting in of a trend for whose indulgence both parties deserve to be voted out of congress. 300 billion going to things like a 500 million dollars for two bridges in Alaska, one to an island of less than 50. Corn museums, bike trails, this amounts to nothing less than congress bribing the people with their own money and solves nothing! This on top of the fact that congress has no right to be indulging in such local projects with federal money. Not to mention the 13$ billion energy bill which consists of a bunch of subsidies to industries we should be curbing, like big oil, but atleast that takes a few steps forward by putting a pittance towards renewables and changing daylight savings.

I say this now and I will say it again, NO PORK. Thus stands the practical policy.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Globalization & Free Trade

I'm back!

With the recent passage of CAFTA, I thought this an appropriate time to lay down some ideas about free trade and globalization.

What goes around comes around, and when in relation to trade, comes around and then some. With increasing globalization, countries can specialize, basic resources become cheaper and more abundant, and competition brings about increased efficiency. Free trade/globalization also brings interdependency and constant contact between all cultures. This breeds peace and understanding between the peoples of the world. Thus, globalization brings about increased wealth and peace for all the world. The microcosm for this model is Europe, which after thousands of years of constant war has now found prosperity, peace, and understanding due to the EU, an organization whose primary function is insuring free and fair trade. For these, positive, reasons free (and fair) trade is considered a fundamentally good objective and one that should be encouraged through American policy.

This said, there is a flip side that entails that our country act with some common sense (practicality) whilst globalizing. With specialization comes whole segments of the economy dying off while others expand, with abundant resources waste and faster consumption of the planet, with competition and efficiency comes lost jobs, despite the net gain. The very act of going out and making free trade agreements with other countries requires caution lest you end up on an unfair playing field.

Thus it is essential that our government insures a smooth transition through sound practical policies. The government needs to provide re-education to those who find themselves in an obsolete or uncompetitive job market. They need to make sure that the market's appetite in the short term is satiable in the long term by making sure that we have long-term resources available (this principally applies to energy). We also need to insure that the United States remains the most competitive player out there. This is best achieved through a superior education regime, an excellent infrastructure, and minimal regulations. Finally, we need to make sure everybody's playing by the rules. This is accomplished by using tariffs to punish countries (China) that are, for instance, subsidizing their companies, pegging their currency, and stealing one of our most valuable commodities by not respecting patent laws. If we do all of this on the economic side, there is no reason why globalization cannot be a win-win proposition for all the participants.

The non-economic side also has its flip side. Interdependency can bring about crucial political weaknesses if say, someone else is building your tanks, or in our case, we no longer build big ships, forcing prices through the roof when the navy wants one and there's only one American shipyard left with which to "negotiate". Constant contact between cultures can also breed resentment and misunderstandings, this is occuring in the Middle East when, for instance, they travel to Europe and see the opulent, free, and wealthy culture contrasted against... twenty-something countries who cannot equal Spain's GDP (the Arab League). Fixing the political weaknesses should be rather straightforward: insure that we have strategically essential resources for the short term (the oil reserve) and alternatives in the long term (working on that...), and bolster industries considered essential to our national security, like shipbuilding. The cultural aspect is a little more complicated. When those (case in point) Muslims go and see how rich the rest of the world is and wonder why their, (from their point of view) "enlightened", world is suffering, there's a very small chance that the government controlled media/religion is going to name the true problem: government incompetency due to lack of reform & democracy. No, they'll say it's the Europeans, or even better, the American's fault. "They're abusing you! Obviously they're cheating because they're winning!" I'm sure they aren't the only ones; no doubt the same ideas are pushed by all insecure governments, ranging from North Korea to Belorussia. To counter this will require an extensive system for insuring that where there's contact, there's understanding. To accomplish that it is integral that the practical policy on Islamic Extremism is implemented, as well a general (tactful) push for free speech across the board, for when all ideas are lined up on next to eachother in the global marketplace, the people almost always buy ours.

America should push free trade, but make sure that it is fair. We should also insure that we have a smooth transition to a globalized economy, and protect industries/resources key to our national security. Finally, we need to implement policies which bring about cultural understanding through free speech for all, for therein lies true world peace. Thus stands the practical policy on globalization & free trade as of 7/31/05.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Racial Profiling

I keep seeing articles and hearing interviews where officials, usually in various Transit Authorities, promise that the random searches carried out by their agents will truly be random, and that the searchers will not utilize any sort of racial profiling. Does this really bother anyone else? Their stated goal is to protect the people from acts of terrorism, and yet, their actions clearly expose their true goal, creating a semblance of protection for the people from terror, while really avoiding the "Civil Libertarians," usually vocal members of the ACLU and other such bothersome organizations. These "Civil Libertarians" care more about their perceived "Civil Liberties" then actual protection of US citizens. They ignore the fact that the Islamic Terror Attacks are being carried out by, surprisingly, Muslims! God help us if they ever gain a legitimate hold on our government, there they will protect the feelings of a highly sensitive few, rather the lives of the rest.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Islamic Extremism

From the last post & its ensuing conversation, I have drafted a practical policy on dealing with Islamic terrorism. Here it is in the clean crisp form.

Islamic terrorism is caused primarily by organizations such as AQ and is impossible to deal with on that level unless we were to sacrifice the freedom that we are trying to defend. It is caused ultimately by the situation in the Muslim world, where oil-states maintain the media and cultural backbone neccessary to supply AQ and others with human and financial support.

What we need to do is create an environment where the radical Islamic ideas are on an even playing field with moderate, modern Islamic ideas. In this environment the moderate Muslims will win because their ideas are better. To use an antecdote, the Soviet Union collapsed when free media allowed Russians to compare ideologies, and our ideology won. To create this fair playing field, we need to bring about major economic and political reforms in the Muslim world. This can be accomplished ultimately by forcing the governments to create real economies, which is best done by denying them oil revenues, and secondarily through constant political pressure on regimes to bring about political reforms. In extreme cases this presure can include war, ie Iraq. Finally, while these ultimate goals are pursued, it is important to put many resources in combatting terrorism through hunting down the individuals and protecting our society as much as is possible without curtailing our rights.

Once again, some real examples of economic and political reform following lack of oil revenues. Jordan passed most of its economic reforms when Saudi Arabia could no longer afford to subsidize it (late 80's). Dubai, one of the most dynamic economies (and tolearant societies) in the Middle East, got that way because their leaders had very little oil revenue to live on. Even Iran brought in a parliament (albeit symbolic) after the oil plunge in the late eighties.

Although bringing the Muslim world into the modern era is and will be an extremely expensive process for our nation, it is a neccessity both because this spawns terrorists, threatening our political security, and it creates huge instability on top of the worlds primary energy source, threatening our economic security.

More thoughts on the even playing field by Friedman, and on the media/cultural oil-state backbone by strategy page.

Thus stands the practical policy on Islamic Extremism.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Anger

To begin with, we have the deepest of sympathies for the people of England. I have a friend who has lived in London most of his life and I'm hoping he's alright.

Understandably, many are very upset with the recent events, and this particulary rant by Jason Coleman prompted me to make a point about stereotyping.

This is really a point by point response to the rant, sorry if it sounds a bit bizarre in places.

Point 1, if you will:

"Angry with the cowardly, ignorant, evil fuckers who did this.

Angry at Bush for insisting on poking away at a hornets' nest.

Angry at Blair for going along with Bush's fucking crusade.

But mostly angry with the morally corrupt and utterly hypocritical pieces of shit that consider that indiscriminate bombing of civilians is an appropriate way of furthering their aims and their bastardised version of religion."

This is from one of those "moonbat" threads. They're angry with Bush but that doesn't mean they're the enemy. Heck, I'm angry with Bush, the liberals, & the terrorists, there ain't no white and black here.

Point 2:
Yes, there are some idiots on the left, but there are also idiots on the right (that's why you go to the Practcal Party!). To figure out what's best to do, one has to respectfully diagree with the idiots & alienate them, not lump them together with the rest of the party and put them down as terrorists (what Jason has just done).

Point 3:
Not only have you bounded a few cowardly liberals to the whole party, you've also bounded a few terrorists to the whole religion. Wake up, read some news about Iraq, there are alot more Iraqi, MUSLIM, people dying than any other affiliated group. These guys aren't out to inflict Islam on the world (This is not to say there aren't people out there trying to spread Islam, it's trying just as hard as any other religion to sell its message). Nay, they're out to better themselves through the only means they have. A bunch of oil dicatorships are trying to maintain their power & deflect criticism from their state (See On Iraq). Thus they amplify the idiots (every group has its idiots) of Islam to manipulate them to strengthen their governments. Sometimes intentionally, more often as a sideproduct, these hard-to control, yet well funded extremist organizations spawn terrorists and "jihads". Thus refrain from pinning the other 99.9% of Muslims to these dictatorships & their pools of money which are really the root cause of Islamic extremism.

We're all angry, let's just make sure we get angry at the right people. What we need is a double attack on the dictators. We need to use political pressure, on the extreme end regime change in Iraq. Here we're doing kind of well. We also need to deny them their money. This means consuming less oil and ultimately less natural gas. Here our performance is abysmal. On Iraq and my most recent post, the energy one, gives a pretty good picture of the practical way to hit both points.

UPDATE: Half Sigma makes the same mistake.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Energy

With oil prices hitting 60$ a barrel, I thought it might be an appropriate time to lay out some practical points on energy.

To begin with, obtaining a reliable source of energy is one of the biggest, if not the the biggest, challenges to America's economic and political security. It is because:
  • Our largest source, oil, is not only located in other countries, but in very unstable countries.
  • The natural economic successor of oil, natural gas, is located is the same places.
  • Whereas new sources of oil have shrivelled up, world demand continues to expand.
  • There will be natural conflicts of interest when demand for oil surpasses supply, which could become full fledged wars if not prepared for.
  • Importing all this energy is bad for the trade balance.
  • Our largest (and expanding) source of electrical power, coal, is extremely bad for the environment, although this can be remedied.
  • Fossil fuels, especially oil, have far more valuable uses, in plastics tar, fertilizer, and other products, whose alternatives are more scarce than those for energy.
  • All fossil fuels are limited in supply and as we're forced to use more crude fuels, like tar oil, the damage to the environment increases exponentially, threatening not only America's, but the worlds welfare.
Thus stand the main columns of the problem, now some solutions:
  • Enact policies that bring about stability in oil producing regions.
  • Heavily tax oil to curb its growth and reverse the consumption trend.
  • Encourage heavy investments in alternatives.
  • Tax pollution.
  • Encourage more sustainable development patterns (less highways, more trains).
  • Stop the construction of convential coal plants through regulations aimed at bringing in a new generation of nuclear, clean coal, and various other alternatives.
Pretty straightforward. Unfortunately, politicians are enacting policies that are at best half-way solutions and at worst exacerbate the problem. The United States, at current rates of production, will be out of oil in fifteen years. The world has, on the rosy side, at most fifty years before oil can no longer be our primary fuel, and sixty before natural gas is out as well. We need solutions and we need them fast. Things will not be pretty if the nation, and the world, waits until the crisis strikes to begin offering solutions. This is the broad overview, it will be followed up with many supplementary details.

Monday, July 04, 2005

"Free" Trade

A recent post, Larry "Smith" Kudlow, would be more accurate if China were practicing free trade. He, along with others, portrays the threats against China (from congress) as threats against free trade. Common sense, and practical policy, speaks to the contrary. China is not practicing free trade. It does not respect patent laws, it has an unfair currency peg, it "forces" people to give their money to gigantic public works projects, by making them put money in banks which then loan out all the money (an unsound economic practice anyway), and they're driving their people into poverty & their country into an environmental disaster for short term gains. Now, perhaps if they had a democratically elected government, where society had voted in leaders to go down this path, we might not have a problem. But they obviously do not, and, China is a threat in the short term. For all these reasons, it is the practical policy that our government should go ahead and pass measures, in a rational manner, that will coerce/persuade China into playing by the rules. We're not talking about regime change. China is a sovereign nation and that we respect. Yet when their practices affect us and our economy, we have to take steps to insure that they respect patent laws, unpeg their currency, and treat their workers & environment as humanely as we treat ours. Otherwise, the field is tilted against us, and the average Chinese worker, to the point where the only winners are a bunch elite Chinese.
The ideal piece of legislation, perhaps previously mentioned, would be a Fair Trade act. It would require that any company/country importing goods into the US must abide by US regulations. This includes a minimum wage (relative equivalent to the country), safety regulations, and environmental regulations. The company would obtain a license, after an inspection of their facilities, and would be subject to occasional surprise inspections, the punishment of failure being a complete revocation of the license (which would be understandably hard to obtain).
The reasoning behind this is why should we have these great things here, only to export them abroad? This is rather like maintaining freedom by exporting the tyranny. It also just makes sense, because how can we possibly hope to win economically (or even stay equal) against other countries, in the longterm, if the playing field is tilted in the first place? It also eliminates many of the advantages of going overseas. This legislation would be enacted four or five years after being passed because companies would have to radically alter their practices (and we don't want global trade to grind to a halt). Thus stands the practical policy: the fair trade act.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

NASA

I was visiting another blog, half sigma which, despite its lack of good ideas, is so good as to act independently of political parties and brings up good points now and again, like this one about the shuttle program. It got me thinking, and I decided to lay out the practical policy on NASA.

NASA is currently stuck in a rut. It does not have the same kind of aspirations, nor funding, of its heyday back when it was breaking in new frontiers and winning the space race. It is also stuck spending much of its precious little money maintaining a relic of twenty years (the shuttle) that does little for moving forward the United States' interests in space. That said, the only trails it is trodding are that of the International Space Station and exploration in the form of telescopes and the occasional (very occasional) unmanned mission to another planet. The ISS is a disaster, with costs out of control, undependable partners, an unclear goal, no dependable time table, and a design that looks remarkably similar to the same stations the Soviets & Americans were putting up back in the 70's. The explorations are at best tepid, once again, nothing daring as America sends missions to Mars that are more remarkable for their accomplishments relative to their small budgets than any real exploration. Thus stands the problem, now the solution.

In view of the practical ideology, NASA should act much like a specialized government research program. The research is important because it maintains both our economic and political security. Political due to the boundless military applications, and economic due to its endless potential in any number of fields, among them resources, energy, and services. It is NASA's economic duty to open up a frontier so that American companies can exploit it and make it useful. The military applications are already being pursued through the pentagon, thus leaving NASA with the economic. It also has the potential to act as a national ego booster, but any program can do that, if properly executed & publicized. The way for NASA to live by these goals is stay on the cutting edge, always out on a limb and pursuing the most far-fetched, least feasible ideas. It can accomplish this through both grants and aggressive, space race type, programs, like a space elevator, or moon colony. This said, NASA's two main inhibitors are the shuttle and funding. As the budget stands today, NASA ain't getting more funding until other problems are fixed, but the shuttle can be dumped rapidly. After the work on the ISS is completed (we've put too much into it to give up now), the program should be scaled back considerably and NASA should look to a much cheaper replacement so it can use its funds towards the afore-mentioned goals. So stands practical policy on NASA.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Under God

A practical take on a bit of American ideology. All the blather about how unneccessary it is to have "under God" in our various documents and currency is ridiculous, but so is most of its defense. It's ridiculous to give in to a few families that find it "offending", but not because we need to preserve the top spot Christianity had back in 1776. The "under God" is no longer a religious reference. Rather, it refers to perfection (yes, God is a commonly known synonym for perfection, no matter your religion). Putting it in our documents is a sign of our continued humility and quest to be the best we can be. Not only do we recognize that we, and our government, is not perfect, but we also trust that perfection can be accomplished, thus in God we trust. Thus, whereas it is important to recognize that America is not perfect, it is also important to always strive for perfection. This has huge implications, including reaffirmation of our forefathers' genius.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

NYC 2012! / Camp

I doubt anyone tracks this, but Mr. Bloomberg is out do something truly glorious with New York, that is, capture the 2012 Olympic games. Unfortunately, his bid fell apart at the last moment as the planned stadium, over some railroad tracks on the West Side, was vetoed by some state funding committee (what the heck is the state doing controlling NYC's money?!). Fortunately, they got past that and have at the last moment put together a new stadium site over at Queens. It's a long shot, but atleast NYC still has a chance.

On another note, both Benton and I will be gone for atleast the next 10 days. If any members have a brilliant policy idea, feel free to put it down in a comment, but otherwise we are effectively hibernating.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Be Honest

Basic Practical Policy: Unless absolutely neccessary, always be honest about what you're doing. Example: the new stoplights on Ward Parkway that are getting funded by a federal program. If anyone in congress had simply proposed buying all their cities new stoplights, it would have looked like a waste, maybe (you can never tell with them) gotten shot down. But it never got a chance, instead the money was provided under an environmental bill to reduce emissions. Naturally, the best way to reduce emissions is to smooth the flow of traffic by buying everyone new stoplights....

Another example: controversial amendments that get pinned onto non-controversial bills, like opening up ANWR through a budget amendment.

If the policy is what's best, it will be approved, or reflect poorly upon those who torpedoed it.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Worlds Best

Its good to know that the politicians are doing one thing right. The US has and is maintaining the world's best military, reaffirmed by this financial times article stating that Europe's defense industry is lagging far behind (20-30% of) the US in new tech. investments. The paper had another article on the same page about Rumsfeld's admonishment of China's rising military spending, apparently now the world's third (what's the second?) highest. Thus although we're safe today, look out for tommorrow, especially since a nation can't just have a good military and be set. In order to keep us secure, we've got to have political and economic security. Right now both are imperilled, the first by our foreign diplomacy and terrorism, the second by deficits, energy, and internal problems, and both by China. China's boost in military spending is in direct correlation to its rising economy. If its economy surpasses us, as many say it will, we're in big trouble. Yet another reason to push ahead the practical agenda.

On a similar note, our military won't be of much use if it always costs so much to execute a war. Iraq is costing somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 billion dollars a year, and that's just an occupation. Honestly, that equates to roughly .5 million a soldier a year. I know we can't short-change our soldiers, but I also know that we can't afford to cough up this much for every war we go to. I think we've got some inefficiencies along the line, and I suspect we're getting ripped off. There is no way we're paying the lowest price plausible when truck drivers are getting 100,000 a year, but then again, the entire idea of contracting out military work is a bad one.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Deficits

Apparently the United States is sucking up billions of dollars from developping countries to fund our trade and national deficits. This is neither healthy nor sustainable, and if we are to maintain the world's most competitive economy, we have to do several things.

First, we need a new energy policy to reduce our trade deficit. The best current alternatives to oil (nuclear, clean coal, natural gas, solar, eventually hydrogen) include nearly no foreign imports, redirecting billions of dollars that currently go overseas into the domestic economy.

Second, we need to level the playing field. As it stands right now, we cannot compete with China because it's not playing by the rules. Despite the fact that Americans are up to ten times more efficient then the Chinese, they, and nations like them, hold a large part of our huge trade deficit. It doesn't recognize patents, unfairly pins its currency, and cares nothing for the various workers' rights, health, and environmental regulations. As long as they continue these practices we simply cannot compete. To fix this, we need to enact sweeping trade reform, giving the president the right to impose tariffs on nations that do not abide by the regulations we force our own companies to abide by. Not only is this practical, it is also humane. Why should we protect the environment and provide minimum wages to our own workers just to ship the injustices overseas? Yet even this will not entirely fix the trade deficit.

Finally, we need to do some fixing back here. We need to simplify regulations and taxes, provide our economy with the world's best infrastructure, and heighten our education standards so that our students can outperform those of other nations.

Thus, as it stands, it is the practical policy that through energy reform, trade reform, and internal tweaking our currently dangerous trade deficits might be brought back to our favor.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Random Fact

Which has a larger population, Canada or California?

California= 33,871,648
Canada= 32,805,041 (July 2005 est.)

Why? How? Russia has good excuses, Canada has nothing.

On Afghanistan...

Please correct me if my facts are wrong, this region has been neglected by the press & my knowledge is not great. My take on the situation is that there is a well secured capital, where a bastion of NATO troops keeps stability, and then there is the country-side, where they make raids & there is no doubt a growing Afghan military presence, but still strong Taliban elements as well. Most worrisome, a large part (30%?), of their economy is now opium. I just made an important revelation. Checking the facts, it turns out Afghanistan has a larger population than Iraq (and, despite no oil, a larger economy). Why then, are we putting so little effort into the reconstruction? Why is there so little resistance? Is this then the way things could have been if we had taken a different approach to Iraq? Or is this just a really bad situation that's being overshadowed by Iraq? I will seek to answer these questions at a more sane hour.

On Iran...

I must say that the partial successes of Iraq are overshadowed by several miserable failures in the wider Middle East. To begin with, the WMD fiasco allowed, perhaps encouraged Iran to steam ahead with its own nukes. It's always a bad thing to have more nations with nukes, especially hostile ones. This was brought about by the foreign diplomacy that crushed one nation (Iraq) for thinking about nukes while letting another one (North Korea) forge ahead with a full fledged program. This sent the message, "get nukes or get crushed", which compromised one of the only deterrants to going nuclear. To be quite honest, if we were to maintain that policy line, which is acceptable, we should have played real tough with Iran, & when they refused, given Israel the go-ahead. That would have maintained a consistent and strong policy line in the Middle East. Of course if we had never made the WMD argument, we wouldn't have to maintain the policy, but what's done is done. Would the Iranians hate us? perhaps, but does it matter anyway when the people who run their country aren't elected (and hate us anyway)? As it stands, the Iranians have supposedly frozen their arms program, but that is a temporary solution. We should try and work it out peacefully, most effectively if we were to go to Russia (the Nuclear "contractors) and work something out, but if that fails we need to be able to show that we can be serious.

Non! Nee!

Recently the French have voted down the European constitution. This is a good thing. As it stands the current "European" politicians they have are so caught up in their own bureaucracy that they really don't get anything useful done. An anecdotal example of what they have done: they outlawed selling live animals inside, destroying a generations old tradition at my cousin's home town weekly market. Why approve a hugely bureaucratic constitution so that they can do even more harm?

But that is a problem with the excecution, the real problem lays at the root concept. I believe that a key part of Europe's effectiveness is its diversity and fragmentation. A free trade agreement (EU)? fine. A military alliance (NATO)? good. These keep things stable and prosperous, much like ensuring that companies compete on a fair playing field, but anything beyond this would probably only dull Europe's sharp edge. Seeing the current Italian & German predicaments, perhaps even a monetary union was going too far.

This has an important lesson for the US. Much like Europe attains its overall power from its fragmentation, or atleast used to attain it, the state system within the US also grants us a measure of dynamism within government policy. To pose an analogy: businesses compete through capitalism to attain the best economy, states compete through legislation to attain the best policy. Thus I would propose that some of those problems that we all know are problems, for instance healthcare, we leave to the states to solve. After one has come up with a suitable solution, the federal government can then adapt it, or perhaps just leave it to the states, depending on the solution. If a state screws up, no big deal, someone else can save them. If the Federal government screws up, we're screwed.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

On Iraq...

What issue better to first apply reason to than one that costs American lives everyday. When looking at an issue as momentous as this military engagement, it is important to keep in mind that what has been done is done. With that said, let’s draw a few lessons for conflicts in the future.
To begin with, it is the practical position that it was wise to have America install a democratic regime, if necessary by force, in one of the Middle Eastern oil states. This was necessary first as a show of force, a psychological assertion on the world stage of the United States standing as the world power and our intolerance of the regimes that gave birth to tragic events of 9/11. The more important reason is that there is a system that has taken root in the Middle East that fosters terrorism and it has to be disabled, for otherwise that instability would continue to spawn terrorism abroad and threaten the stability of the world’s largest oil producing region, thus making a potent security and economic threat to the United States security. The system is the potent combination of oil wealth, large youth populations, stagnate economies, repressive dictators, revolutionary rage, and extremist Islam. The oil wealth has created large youth populations, who can find no part in oil economies, whose education has been hampered by Islamic doctrines, whose desire to reform has been suppressed, and whose consequential rage has been directed, with the use of Islam, away from the regimes who have created this vicious cycle, and towards the United States. This process created both the terrorists who have attacked and continue to attack the United States, and the possibility for revolutions on such a scale that could create an oil crisis. Thus to achieve political and economic security, the United States was obliged to not only attack the terrorist structures, which has been achieved through attacks on Afghanistan and the continuing Al Qaeda hunt, but also the root of terrorism, this afore described system. This could be done only by creating a stable and successful democratic regime in one of the oil states. With the regime in place, Muslims would have a goal to aspire to, America would have a good friend and better reputation, and neighboring regimes would be cowed into reform, afraid of being overwhelmed by the crowds that would no longer be appeased with more anti-Americanism. Of the Arab oil states, Iraq was the natural choice, for not only was it already at political odds with America and the world, it also had limited oil exports and thus a limited effect on the world oil market lest it be swept into war. Needless to say, it also had an abusive dictator, but, sadly, that is by no means a unique virtue when it comes to the Middle East. For these reasons, it is the practical position that a regime change in Iraq was necessary.
This is not say that support of the concept and support of the execution equate. There were, unfortunately, numerous lapses in practicality during the execution of Iraq’s regime change. To begin with, the government did not go to war for the afore described reason, rather it insisted on making the embarrassing WMD case. If one is to go to war, it is the practical policy that one tells exactly why: public trust is a dangerous thing to risk, especially in wartime. Even if one still insists on believing the case, the value of stabilizing the Middle East greatly surpasses that of squashing a potential nuclear arms owner. Second, partially because of the first lapse, the government failed to achieve overwhelming diplomatic support for the regime change. Although the support was sufficient support for the regime change, much more could have been achieved if the government had dropped the WMD case and put forth a much stronger diplomatic effort. For example, France did not want to support a war in Iraq because they import near all their oil from Middle Eastern nations. There were ways we could have addressed this fear, yet as long as we stuck to the WMD case, France just said it disagreed with that and never had to state its true fear. The failure to accumulate the diplomatic support meant that the war consequently harmed our reputation and most of the burden was placed on the US. Third, the government left many of the lessons from the first Gulf War behind, making the second unnecessarily difficult. We failed to use the overwhelming force necessary to pacify the country. We failed to plan beyond toppling the regime, creating a disastrous anarchic period nearly a year long in which the insurgency assembled. Finally, due to or perhaps the primary cause of all the others, we rushed into the war. Although it was important to take action in a timely matter, the rush meant fewer troops, less time to drum up support, and forsaking less costly alternatives, such as strategic support for an internal coup. These mistakes and more could have been prevented if we had merely followed the guidelines laid down by Colin Powell for the first Gulf War, when we knew exactly what we were doing, told everybody why we were doing it, and did it with sufficient force and planning for a spectacular success. After that war, there was good reason to believe that we would never forget those principles. Apparently, though, common sense is not so insurmountable. It will always be the practical policy in the future to remember these lessons and make sure that when the US next engages, we keep them in mind.
Yet what is done is done; fortunately the current administration did have the spirit to stick with it, despite the tragic resultants from these mistakes, and we have gotten back on the right path. At this point, the practical position on Iraq is that it is essential that the US military continue the occupation and its fight against the insurgency until it is destroyed, that we build up the Iraqi government to the point where it can maintain order and democracy in its own country, and that we build up their infrastructure and economy to the point where they might be a prosperous democracy.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Treatise

A TREATISE
There is a lack of common sense amongst the people running this nation. Under the double yoke of conservatism and liberalism, the United States has risen to the top, conquering such scourges as Nazism and communism, and emerged as the sole superpower. Few threats can overcome this bastion of prosperity, this fortress of liberty, and yet, unfortunately, they still exist. Already a whole slew of scourges with the potential impact of a world war confront the United States’ position at the helm of the world, ranging from terrorism to China and deficits to a fast approaching energy crisis. Thus, at this pivotal point, what captures the attention of our congress? Terri Schiavo, judge appointees, and, take note, major-league steroid use. Indeed, the double yoke that kept this proud nation always treading upwards is now dragging us down, as politicians pick fights over war and refuse to offer solutions to the real issues facing this country, shielding their utter incompetence with their shared stupidity and established power-base. Do I condemn the followers of these juggernauts, these wheezing weights on the neck of lady liberty? By all means no, to the contrary, the majority of Americans want what is best for the country, but have grown accustomed to politicians who have set incompetence as the standard, and thus repeatedly settle for halfway solutions. Americans deserve better. It is time that the voice of reason, the voice of practicality reenter the arena, but not under the scorched and scorned banners of the preeminent parties. It is important that a new party, one whose candidates and endorsements the public might support and trust, come into the political fray, providing once again the choice of good policy to the citizens of America. Here will be wrought a new line of thought, a new, practical, way of going about politics, for the future does not look bright if our nation continues to be trapped between the two current ones.
First and foremost of the differences between practical politics and mainstream politics is the fundamental reasoning. In mainstream politics, the question is, “what is best for the party?” in practical politics, the question will always be, “what is best for the country?” Whereas contemporary politicians aspire to reelection, practical politicians will make policies that bring about a government which provides its citizens liberties, economic and political security, and an environment in which they might pursue prosperity and happiness. This entails minimal compromise, no catering to special interests, and absolutely no pork-barreling, the practice handing out bribes to constituents in exchange for votes, like unnecessary tax cuts and bridges to nowhere. This also means that the practical party will be very flexible. Whereas in mainstream politics there is a popular belief that if one change’s his position he is indecisive and weak, we shall make policies that fit the facts, not facts to fit the policies. When we are wrong, we will admit to it and move on. Character assassinations, religious intonations, value attacks, lies in general, attempts to win elections on non-policy issues, practical politics will do without all this mainstream tripe.
How does one go about enacting policies that are best for the country? Here is a set of priorities to act as a core to an ideology whose aim is to guide politicians in making practical policies. Obvious as it may seem, the first priority is preservation of the nation. The second is the preservation of and adherence to the constitution; the document which has facilitated our rise to power cannot be abused. Third, we must maintain the world’s best military, for what is the purpose of our government if it cannot defend us? Fourth, a good government must foresee and solve large scale problems or threats to our society. A prime example of this would be the impending energy and deficit crises. It is also necessary that the government provides an economic security net to its citizens, providing them with a baseline of survival and putting them on the path to prosperity. Next, it is important that the government maximize efficiency, another obvious sounding priority until one realizes that the very word bureaucracy has become homogenous with inefficiency. Just one example of the costly efficiency lapses that hamper or government is the billions of tax dollars that go uncollected, or are even lost, due to bureaucratic problems within the IRS. After this comes maintaining a competitive and fair economic environment in which American companies thrive and the trade imbalance remains in our favor. This is a broad priority which includes such essentials as a superior infrastructure and education system. Finally, it is important that the government itself is solvent, maintaining a balanced budget and avoiding debt. Although they may sound obvious, and, well, practical, almost none of these goals are being accomplished under our current political parties.
With these established as the broad parameters of practical policy, let me apply them to a few more specific fields. First, there is foreign policy. Preservation of the nation means a foreign policy which emphasizes the United States’ military and economic security. Humanitarian policies need to be encouraged, but only if they do not compromise either of the afore mentioned securities. The war in Iraq is an excellent case in point, for not only is it humanitarian, but it also enhances the United States economic security situation by stabilizing the Middle East, the source for a sizable amount of the worlds oil. This is not to say this war has lived up to other practical standards, failing most notably in regard to the tragic lack of efficiency and planning. On domestic issues, an application of adherence to the constitution, maximizing efficiency, and foreseeing and solving problems is keeping the federal government on federal issues. This allows the state system to be used to its full potential, with local governments experimenting with new policies without endangering the nation on the whole if the policy is unsuccessful, for instance high gas taxes and stem cell research in California, or the various gay marriage bans. This also fits into the increasing efficiency issue, as the practical federal government on federal issues policy would entail no more wasteful pet projects, like the billion dollar bridge in Alaska and the purposeless, yet federally funded, subsidies on items ranging from sugar to traffic signals. An issue which is both domestic and foreign, falling primarily under foreseeing and solving problems, is energy independence. Our near total dependence on foreign energy poses both environmental and economic threats, and a potent security threat in event of a crisis. The practical thing to do is obvious: put major money into developing alternatives and tax the fossil fuels. Unfortunately mainstream politicians do not see that, exemplified by congress’s current energy bill which is laden with pork and subsidies for the fossil fuel industry. Even the opposition party cannot get their mouths around the words “gas taxes” and “nuclear”. Their failure to present a feasible solution to a problem this large is exemplary of their incompetence in running our government. A more minor problem, emblematic of the hundreds which regularly overwhelm our politicians, is our fleet. As it stands, the only large ships built in the United States are navy ships. Thus, when it comes to building a new class of destroyers, congress will not approve it unless every remaining shipyard in the United States gets to build a destroyer, inflating the costs to the point where they cannot build the destroyer anymore. A practical solution is to build up the domestic ship building industry and have competitive contracts for the destroyers. Representatives are in congress to run the nation, not get jobs for their local constituents. These are but a few of the many policy areas in which practical politics could make a major difference, if applied.
As exemplified by the remarkably low turnover rate in congress, the majority of politicians no longer view politics not as a public service, but as a game, a career, with bills and policies as mere tools for advancement. A French thinker once said that American democracy will only succeed until congress realizes that it can bribe the citizens with their own money. Viewing recent developments, representatives have made that realization, forsaking practical policies in favor of those that will perpetuate their tenures. This country is not in decline, citizens are in fact stronger and more politically involved then ever, unfortunately they are being increasingly abused and disenfranchised by a greedy few. It is time that we renounce these institutions, free our nation from these parties of bondage, and bring back politicians who make policies for the good of the nation, not the good of the party.