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Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Here’s a great article by Tunku Varadarajan on the tea-party movement.

On right and left, “educated” people have given vent to their contempt for the Tea Party crowd, leading me to conclude that there must, surely, be considerable significance in a movement that has had scorn poured on it by such varied names […]

On the left, they are afraid that it will initiate a tidal wave that causes the loss of numerous House seats. On the right, the fear is that it will mount its own candidates and simply be a spoiler.

This fear would explain the sneering toward the Tea Partiers, the smugness with which they are looked down upon. As many in the movement note, you need only change the protesters ideologically and demographically, and you have merely another cool example of “community organizing.” […]

What bothers me, however, is that although ideological differences are at the bottom of the Tea Party assaults, the critique is almost purely aesthetic: The Tea Partiers, it is said, are crude, sloganeering, lemming-like, heartland Bible-Beltists who don’t understand policy or David Brooks’ subtleties. […]

It is hardly surprising that in times like these there should be a large, angry, populist movement. But populism does not conform to the standard left/right divide, and in different circumstances it can go either way. […]

Yes, the populists fear and hate the big businesses and Wall Street; but—and this is the heartening thing—they have not let this turn them against capitalism and the free market. They seem truly to have taken in the point, long emphasized by libertarians and others, that big business is not the same thing as capitalism or the free market, that it is in fact often their enemy. […]

[This video] makes me emotional, because this woman represents an America that Tocqueville would have lauded. I will take her any day over the “educated class,” the bureaucratic mollusks and the defeatist sad sacks in Washington. I do think the Tea Partiers are political amateurs, but the content of their politics is deadly serious. The professional politicians will dismiss them at their peril.

Read the whole thing.

Personally, I doubt if I’d ever attend a tea party even if I were in the States. Do their most frequently expressed sentiments reflect my political philosophy? No. Are they filled with a lot of nuts and weirdos? Yes. Do I think that the tea-part movement represents a positive change for America? Most certainly.

Let me be clear. The tea-party people are a hodgepotch bunch, a diverse mix of libertarians, fiscal conservatives, angry reactionaries, populists and social conservatives united by little else than anger at the state of the nation and contempt for those with power and influence. Yes, most of them are not primarily devoted to the cause of individual liberty, or any ideology in particular. But no populist movement can ever be truly for libertarianism, history has taught us that much. And the tea-party comes closer to the spirit of liberty than either of the two major parties.

It is true that some of their anger is misdirected, much of their political ideas naive; yet in their essentially grassroots opposition to the forces in power and their disdain for big government, they have created an environment which might lead to good things in the not too distant future. America today suffers from a near total political domination by the two main parties. And sadly, both parties represent entrenched interests and a desire to control you, in one way or the other.  A recent poll, however, found that the tea-party brand is today regarded more highly than either the Democrats or the Republicans. The spirit of this movement is just waiting to be tapped into by a serious, inspirational candidate with a real chance of winning. And maybe, just maybe, that candidate will be someone who will actually be able to affect some real changes in a positive direction.

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The reaction of the TSA — the umbrella organization formed after 9/11 to regulate airline security in the US — to the recent terrorist attempt has been along expected lines. More lines, more meaningless regulations, more stifling security measures. When Richard Reid had the bright idea a few years ago to hide explosives in his shoe, the TSA reacted by asking everyone to take off their shoes henceforth for the security check. Considering that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab strapped the explosives onto his underwear, we ought to be thankful that the TSA’s imagination has so far been..um…restricted. I mean, sure, it has issued an order that all babies be put into overhead luggage bins during the last hour of the flight, but consider the much more sinister possibilities.

My thoughts on this issue can be summed up in one sentence: Umar Farouk failed, but we are doing our best to make sure his goal succeeds.

Stephen Bainbridge puts it well:

Has TSA ever considered the possibility that maybe the terrorists aren’t really interested in blowing up a plane. Maybe the terrorists figure they win everytime we in the West spend millions of man-hours being hassled, inconvenienced, and generally put upon by a myriad of stupid security measures.

Now Professor Bainbridge may be ascribing more subtlety to the terrorists’ modus operandi than they probably possess, but it is worthwhile to pause and think about what he is saying. A free society, by its very nature, offers many targets for terrorists. It is impossible to shut them all down. Nor is terrorism as transcendent a presence as some might want to believe. With smart, mostly non-intrusive measures, the threat can be further reduced. Sure, there will be attacks from time to time, just as there are crimes every day, but the real damage from these attacks are not caused by the incidents themselves, but by our terrorized reaction to them. It is when we fearfully overreach and put into place crippling regulations that cost us time, money and curtail our civil liberties, that the real harm occurs. As security expert Bruce Schneier puts it:

A terrorist attack cannot possibly destroy a country’s way of life; it’s only our reaction to that attack that can do that kind of damage. The more we undermine our own laws, the more we convert our buildings into fortresses, the more we reduce the freedoms and liberties at the foundation of our societies, the more we’re doing the terrorists’ job for them.

At some point, we need to do a cost benefit analysis: how much hassle, fear and security clampdown is too much? Is it worth going through so much TSA tyranny, much of it a charade,  and give up so much of our convenience, liberty and well-being in an attempt to make our existence slightly more secure against terrorist attacks?

Update: Nate Silver crunches the numbers and concludes that your chances of being on a given flight departure which is the subject of a terrorist incident have been 1 in 10,408,947 over the past decade. So you could take 20 flights a year and still be less likely to be attacked than you are to die of a lightning strike.

Update 2: This is hilarious:

Anyway, I have a better idea. Let’s ban all clothing from all flights. Both the shoe bomber and Abdulmutallab used clothing — not Wi-Fi and not live TV — to make their failed attempts. In addition to taking away the possibility of hiding incendiary devices, a total ban on all clothes will also have the following positive results:

1. Terrorists will have a further disincentive from targeting flights, because religious extremists tend to be squeamish about naked people.

2. It would reduce greenhouse gas emissions because shy people wouldn’t fly, thus reducing the number of flights overall.

3. I don’t know why, but I think people would be more courteous. Talk about friendly skies!

Of course, I’m not serious about the clothing ban. But it makes a lot more sense than the TSA’s new ban on Wi-Fi and in-flight TV.

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My reaction was, and remains: WTF. If I were to expand on that, it would be roughly on the lines of this oped.

The award of this year’s Nobel peace prize to President Obama will be met with widespread incredulity, consternation in many capitals and probably deep embarrassment by the President himself.

Rarely has an award had such an obvious political and partisan intent. It was clearly seen by the Norwegian Nobel committee as a way of expressing European gratitude for an end to the Bush Administration, approval for the election of America’s first black president and hope that Washington will honour its promise to re-engage with the world.

Instead, the prize risks looking preposterous in its claims, patronising in its intentions and demeaning in its attempt to build up a man who has barely begun his period in office, let alone achieved any tangible outcome for peace.

[…] Mr Obama becomes the third sitting US President to receive the prize. The committee said today that he had “captured the world’s attention”. It is certainly true that his energy and aspirations have dazzled many of his supporters. Sadly, it seems they have so bedazzled the Norwegians that they can no longer separate hopes from achievement. The achievements of all previous winners have been diminished.

The Nobel Peace Prize committee has made several ridiculous choices before but this one takes the cake.

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For those not following the Whole Foods controversy, this is roughly what happened: John Mackey, CEO and co-founder of Whole Foods, and a fairly committed libertarian who once debated Milton Friedman on corporate responsiblity to stakeholders, decided to pen an article against Obama-care at the WSJ. Here’s an excerpt.

Many promoters of health-care reform believe that people have an intrinsic ethical right to health care—to equal access to doctors, medicines and hospitals. While all of us empathize with those who are sick, how can we say that all people have more of an intrinsic right to health care than they have to food or shelter?

Health care is a service that we all need, but just like food and shelter it is best provided through voluntary and mutually beneficial market exchanges. A careful reading of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right to health care, food or shelter. That’s because there isn’t any. This “right” has never existed in America.

He also suggested some sensible ideas for reform. Of course, in politics, sensible is a relative term.

• Equalize the tax laws so that employer-provided health insurance and individually owned health insurance have the same tax benefits. Now employer health insurance benefits are fully tax deductible, but individual health insurance is not. This is unfair.

• Repeal all state laws which prevent insurance companies from competing across state lines. We should all have the legal right to purchase health insurance from any insurance company in any state and we should be able use that insurance wherever we live. Health insurance should be portable.

• Repeal government mandates regarding what insurance companies must cover. These mandates have increased the cost of health insurance by billions of dollars. What is insured and what is not insured should be determined by individual customer preferences and not through special-interest lobbying.

• Enact tort reform to end the ruinous lawsuits that force doctors to pay insurance costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. These costs are passed back to us through much higher prices for health care.

• Make costs transparent so that consumers understand what health-care treatments cost. How many people know the total cost of their last doctor’s visit and how that total breaks down? What other goods or services do we buy without knowing how much they will cost us?

• Enact Medicare reform. We need to face up to the actuarial fact that Medicare is heading towards bankruptcy and enact reforms that create greater patient empowerment, choice and responsibility.

• Finally, revise tax forms to make it easier for individuals to make a voluntary, tax-deductible donation to help the millions of people who have no insurance and aren’t covered by Medicare, Medicaid or the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Now, if you have ever shopped at Whole Foods (I have) it is fairly obvious what the reaction to Mackey’s oped would be. It was swift and expected.

To quote Epic Etheridge writing in the NY Times.

Reaction from pro-reform Whole Foods shoppers was swift and vociferous. As Brian Beutler noted the next day at TPM DC, Whole Food’s “Web site has been fielding angry comments all afternoon, and has had to set up an online forum where customers can vent their frustrations, and, oh, call for a boycott!”

Here’s a thought,” added Beutler. “If you own a major supermarket chain that caters to a great deal of liberal-minded people with money, don’t rail against the evils of health care reform in The Wall Street Journal.”

At Daily Kos, blogger DarkSyde wondered if Mackey had lost sight of his demographic — “Mr. Mackey, I’m not sure if you understand who it is that shops at your organic grocery chain” — and, in case that had happened, reminded him:

A lot of progressives, vegetarians, professional and amateur athletes, and others who care so much about the environment and what they eat that they’re still willing to shell out three bucks for an organic orange, even in the midst of the worst recession in sixty years. I was proud [Whole Foods] was based in my hometown of Austin, and defended it against most of the conservatives I knew growing up there, many of whom still hold your entire business in utter contempt. Some of them ridiculed me for shopping at Whole Foods, with all the “tree huggers and granola eaters and hippies” who, incidentally, made you a millionaire.

At the Huffington Post, Ben Wyskida said “the bottom line for me, reading Mackey’s op-ed, is that by shopping at Whole Foods I’m giving money to a Republican and I am supporting by proxy a donation to the RNC and to health scare front groups like Patients First. I don’t give money to Republicans, so I will have to cross Whole Foods off my list.”

I have three thoughts on this.

— Mr. Mackey will probably lose a few customers who do not want to shop at a chain because its CEO has views which differs from theirs. After all, the Boycott Whole Foods group in Facebook already has more than 13,000 members. But he will also gain customers of other ideological dispositions. Bloggers such as Radley Balko have been writing about this episode too. His readers will certainly be spending a few extra dollars there in the coming months. As for me, I will sacrifice my love for Trader Joe’s and instead make sure to spend money at Whole Foods whenever I come to the US.

— This episode again demonstrates the astonishing insularity of the Obama loving, NY Times reading urban, liberal, yuppie crowd (actually this would include a majority of my friends). They do not seem to realise that everyone who is not a Democrat does not become automatically a Republican. And Mr. Mackey has never been a Republican. He is a libertarian. More importantly, there is nothing contradictory or hypocritical about adhering to libertarian views while selling good organic food and paying ones employees well and doing all the things the Obama loving, NY Times reading, urban, liberal, yuppies claim to cherish. And responding to a polite expression of another point of view on the healthcare debate by boycotting the company the writer is emplyed at is as lame as lame gets, particularly when the actions of the company actually further your political goals overall. Really.

— Thirdly, I find substantial parallels between the Mackey saga and the Wynand saga. Gail Wynand, that is, the tragic character from The Fountainhead. When Wynand went against his own brand’s clientele to push something he believed in (Roark) it ended badly for him. I hope it does not for Mackey.

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While I am not an expert on global warming, the available literature seems to indicate that when everything is considered, the damage of global warming is probably not as high as the damage of the proposed solutions to global warming. That’s of course not to discount the danger or reality of the phenomenon — global warming is undoubtedly real and very serious — but merely to say that too many proposals will achive very little at too much cost (both in terms of actual GDP and in their effect on the lives and cultures of peoples).  The existence of a serious problem does not mean we should jump and “do something”, we need to analyse whether what we do might actually make our overall lives much worse than if we did nothing.

Here’s Jim Manzi making the case against a carbon tax or similar approach to address global warming.

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iran-full

I had to share this. Politicians are generally fools, and Mausavi is probably only marginally better than his opponent, but there is no reason to doubt his assertion that “these masses were not brought by bus or by threat, they were not brought for potatoes; they came themselves.”

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“Obama is causing a lot of Rand fans to completely flip their lids in part because Obama and his devotees are Bizarro World Randian romantics in the grip of an adolescent faith in the generative powers of the state.”

Will Wilkinson.

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