Archive for July 2012

The Council Has Spoken: July 27, 2012

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: Joshuapundit- The Worst Thing You Can Do To An Egyptian

Noncouncil: Iowahawk- You Didn’t Build That

Full voting here.

You Can’t Turn a Tiger Into a Kitten By Stroking It

The term for the day is “Goo-Goo Genocidaires.”

This 2010 Walter Russell Mead post introduces the term and defines it thus:

“...the willfully blind reformers, civil society activists, clergy, students and others whose foolishness and ignorance was a necessary condition for tens of millions of deaths in the last hundred years. Unreflective, self-righteous ‘activists’ thought that to espouse peace was the same thing as to create or safeguard it. As a result, tens of millions died. Unless this kind of thinking is exposed and repudiated, it is likely to lead to as many or more deaths in the 21st.”

Anyone who believes Islam is a religion of peace while ignoring acts of intolerance committed today in its name is a goo-goo genocidaire. Anyone who believes that it is okay that Iran develop the Bomb because after all we have it, so why shouldn’t they is a goo-goo genocidaire. One who believes in peace at all cost no matter what the price in terms of blood and slavery is a goo-goo genocidaire.

I am a peaceful man by nature and generally eschew violence. But I am also an avid historian and understand that peace often has a price that is not born by the goo-goo genocidaires in the same way that death and destruction are shouldered by those who support just war.

Break Up the Banks and Unleash the Future of Capitalism

Recently I got into a serious argument with a liberal relative. Although he’s completely wacka-doodle when it comes to issues like Obama, taxes and gun control, he is a decent man whom I’m proud chose to join my family by marrying my sister. He also has done more to help my mother than any of my siblings, and that includes me. The argument started with guns, ventured through Obamacare and ended up with the banks. What started as a complete disagreement on my side ended up in complete agreement when it comes to the banks.

“We should break up the banks,” he argued, his face flush with anger. “Just like we broke up AT&T.” He continued ranting about the banks but I stopped listening because the idea struck me: Yes we should break up the banks just like AT&T.

I remember a time before the AT&T break up. There were no cell phones, at least none available to the general public. We were stuck using CB radios (call sign: Bearcat). My mother didn’t have tone dialing because it cost several dollars more a month. The phones we had were made of some type of indestructible plastic that made good handheld weapons (I once considered using a phone in just this way while being held up at gunpoint at a video store I worked in). We lived in St. Louis and calls outside of St. Louis county were expensive, $.10-.15 a minute if memory serves, and a call across the Mississippi river to Illinois was double or triple that. The idea of calling a foreign country wasn’t ever seriously considered. The rates were several dollars a minute even when calling neighbors like Canada or Mexico.

Phone technology in the early 1980s was not that much different than the 1950s. While tone dialing was making inroads, especially at those homes having a new personal computer with a 2600 baud modem that needed the capability, the technology was static. Sure we had differently shaped phones, and cordless phones were on the horizon, but young people who have grown up with voice mail, cell phones that get ever more powerful, and wifi cannot imagine how dull telecommunications were prior to the break up of AT&T.

Like many at the time I opposed the break up believing that there was nothing wrong with the monopoly. Looking back at it I and many others had nothing to compare it to. Regardless AT&T was broken up, and nay-sayers like me were deluged with annoying calls to change our long distance service. Phone bills became complex and difficult to read. We were deluged with choices, and I remember being unable to call the neighboring county because I had not chosen a long-distance provider. “But the county isn’t more than 5 miles away,” I remember complaining to the phone company. “It’s not long distance.” “Blame the government,” I was told. I stuck with AT&T for years after the break up avoiding upstarts like MCI and Sprint to register my disapproval of their existence.

Looking back I believe the decision to break up AT&T was one of the most important policy decisions made by our government. To overstretch a metaphor, it was like the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs and allowed the mammals to rise, if by mammals we include the “baby bells” that began to devour each other. In the first years breakup opponents expected the feeding frenzy to continue until there was only one company left: AT&T in all ways except the name.

But things didn’t happen that way. Instead new services were offered and competition drove prices down. In the 1990s I was able to call the United States from Japan using a call-back service that didn’t exist prior to the breakup, paying $.40 a minute. During that time calls to neighboring area codes fell to pennies a minute, and even calls across the country weren’t much more. Cell phones appeared, as did other services like caller ID and voice mail. Phone companies invested billions in their networks, upgrading trunk lines to fiber optic and then gradually expanding fiber to the point where it reached my house in Delaware in 2009. Services appeared that I never imagined in the 1980s, and while this technological change could have happened eventually I have no doubt that it occurred when it did thanks to the government’s decision to end AT&T’s monopoly.

Now take a moment to consider banks. Banks are huge – and considered too big to fail just as AT&T was during its time. Banks like JP Morgan-Chase and Bank of America offer pretty much the same services they did a generation ago. If my father came back to life 35 years after his death, there isn’t much that would surprise him when it comes to banking. Sure I can check my balance on my cell phone or pay for things over the Internet using my credit card, but checking accounts, credit cards, mortgages, car loans, all the common banking products that were common in the 1970s are still around today. While they may be delivered differently thanks to technology, the products themselves haven’t changed much at all. In fact what would surprise him is that banking is an even bigger monopoly than it was during his time. All of the local banks in Missouri, Boatman’s Bank, Mercantile Bank, Community Federal, Bohemian, banks that he was familiar with are all gone. The diversity of banks, of banks geared towards particular ethnic groups or trades, has disappeared, replaced with a monoculture of less than a handful of national names – none of them with roots in St. Louis.

What would happen if the government forced the top banks in the country to break up, if it forced the top banks to do exactly what AT&T did?

Now where my brother-in-law and I differ is that he would view the break up as a punishment. Although I opposed the bank bailouts of the recent past (and continue to do so today) I’m more interested in seeing what would happen to banking if “an asteroid” hit the industry. Taxpayers would be saved from shouldering the socialized losses and privatized gains that have characterized the industry in recent years, and that by itself justifies breaking up the banks.

But what services would arise from competition? What banking equivalent of Skype would appear that would revolutionize capitalism and the underpinnings of our daily lives?

Sandy Weill, the Dr. Frankenstein of the “too-big-to-fail” bank, now rejects his creation and calls for its break up, so my brother-in-law and I are not alone. When an idea unites a billionaire, an elderly Leftist and an animal-loving libertarian, it’s time has come.

So when will the government get it’s collective head out of its bureaucratic butt and do it?

The Council Has Spoken: July 20, 2012

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: Simply JewsMirra Eisenshtadt: the woman who leaked a Soviet state secret

Noncouncil: Sultan Knish-The United States of Guilt

Full voting here.

The Council Has Spoken: July 13, 2012

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: Bookworm RoomLet’s do the time warp again -— Progressives keep urging those failed economic policies

Noncouncil:  Victor Davis Hanson-Is The Country Unraveling?

Full voting here.

CBO Reports Tax Reality and Inadvertently Shows Path to a Flat Tax

People forget that the country thrived for 137 years without an income tax, the Federal Government’s primary source of revenue today. During that time it survived the revolution of its birth, the War of 1812, and the greatest cataclysm it ever would face: the Civil War. The 16th Amendment, ratified in 1913, gave constitutional authority to the Federal Government to tax individuals and corporations. The Feds had tried to do this several times before but had run into constitutionality issues. This time they did not when in 1916 the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the tax in its decision Brushaber v. Union Pacific Railroad Company. At the time of its enactment, the income tax applied to those making above $3,000 a year, assessing a 1% tax on them and a 7% tax on those making more than $500,000 a year. In 1913 few individuals made enough to qualify for the tax, so the bulk of revenue came from businesses.

Unlike most libertarians I am not opposed to a federal income per se. Predator drones are expensive, as is the kit Marines use to perform their duties as travel agents to Paradise so when I write my check out to the IRS in April I always specify where I want them to spend my cash. It’s easier for me to stomach the government using my money to provide health care for aging Vietnam War vets than payouts to farm corporations in the form of agriculture subsidies. I’m sure the IRS pays no attention to that memo line, but it would be great if some IRS worker saw it and deposited my check into the account for military pensions rather than the trough where special interests feed.

The problem I have with income tax is its transparency, or rather the lack of it. Withholding taxes has to be one of the cleverest ploys a republican government has ever done to the citizens it supposedly serves. As a result of withholding people don’t have a clue as to the actual amount they pay in taxes. Add in the Byzantine rules of the tax code with its tax deductions and loopholes, and you have an opaque system that allows the government to pick the pockets of its citizens without them being aware of it. It is only at the end of the year when the truth is revealed in the calculated value on a 1040 line that states “Total Tax.” Most people skip that line to see what the size of their tax refund is or in less common cases, how much they owe. Few dwell on the total tax figure, and some even see the refund as a gift. It turns out that according to a CBO report on the 2009 tax year, for those making less than $43,400 it is indeed a gift.

Income Tax Averages 2009 - Copyright 2012

The key in the above graphic is the percentage column in the middle. Notice how it doesn’t match the current tax bracket rates because it takes into account deductions and credits that make the bracket rates meaningless. The truly remarkable thing about this report is it is a step towards a flat tax whereby we could forgo the hiring of accountants, the struggle with software, the upkeep of receipts and records, and simply apply he percentage in the middle column to our gross income. I tested it with my own tax return and it worked remarkably well.

So say you earn $25,000, putting you in the second quintile. The government would cut you a check for $650. If you made $250,000, you would pay the government $36,500. You wouldn’t even have to tell the government anything. Your employer would send in your W2, and the government could send you a bill or a check, showing the amount of your earnings and income tax – percentage of before-tax income you owed. Democrats and Republicans could argue about those percentages, but everything would be known. They could even set average rates for billionaires like Warren Buffett and George Judenrat Soros that would assuage their guilt (well, maybe not for the latter.)

Consensus? Not So Much Really

Because trees can’t lie:

The long-term trend now revealed in maximum latewood density data is in line with coupled general circulation models7, 8 indicating albedo-driven feedback mechanisms and substantial summer cooling over the past two millennia in northern boreal and Arctic latitudes.

That’s global cooling baby. Better burn some carbon to fight it!

Egypt: The Next Iran and the Surprises in Store for Liberal Reporters

I’m often amazed at how ignorant journalists are of history. I get frustrated when one shows his or her ignorance for a complex issue, falling back on conventional wisdom instead of historical truth to provide the background for a story. Case in point is this New York Times piece. I’m not sure how old the writer is, but he should Google “1979” and “Iranian Revolution.”

In late 1978 and early 1979 the Shah had ceded power to Prime Minister Shapour Bakhtiar, a member of the liberal opposition. Bakhtiar hoped to share power with the Ayatollah Khomeini and allowed the Ayatollah to return to Iran from exile. Khomeini arrived in Teheran to a crowd of millions and promised to “kick their (liberal regime’s) teeth in.” He appointed his own government and drained support away from the liberal opposition movement. Iran then sought to export its Islamic revolution throughout the Middle East, and spread terrorism around the world.

“I would say people should not be too alarmed by the anti-American rhetoric,” said Stephen McInerney, executive director of the Project on Middle East Democracy, based in Washington. The end last year of the Mubarak rule in Egypt, he said, “is an important step in combating terrorism in the region and undermining its appeal.” “People can freely vent their frustrations and go to the polls to vote,” he added.

By this logic Bakhtiar should have succeeded in Iran, and the Palestinian Authority would still be running Gaza. The problem with this thinking is that it assumes the causes of terrorism are due to the lack of democracy and a say in a people’s own governance. This is looking at Islamic terrorism through the lens of leftist and nationalist terrorism as conducted by guerrilla movements such as the IRA, Red Army, and FARC. Islamic terrorism has nothing to do with people’s frustration of not being in control of their own destiny. If it did they wouldn’t replace secular dictators with religious dictators as the Iranians, Lebanese Shi’a, and Palestinians in Gaza have, and Iran wouldn’t be sponsoring Hezballah, Islamic Jihad and a dozen other Israeli and American-killing outfits.

Islam is not a nationalist movement, it is a religious one. While executive directors of projects and their New York Times’ interviewers might see the world as nation states whose citizens dream of controlling them, a Muslim sees the community of believers (umma) and non-believers. Earthly power derives from God, and only those He has appointed are able to lead. It’s a simple concept that is even baked into the meaning of the term “Islam.” It means “submission” to God’s will, and democracy where people lead themselves is as heretical to Islam as Scientology is to Roman Catholicism. New York Times reporters and their think-tank sources don’t get that because they haven’t studied Islam except through the narrow lens of their own political and philosophical assumptions.

They will be shocked when Egypt follows in the footsteps of Iran and travel to visit the Valley of the Kings and the Great Pyramids become a distant memory for American passport holders just as trips to Teheran and Qom are to older American Asia-hands. Already the calls have begun for the destruction of the Pyramids, just as the Taliban destroyed the Buddhist statues in Afghanistan and Egypt’s first Muslim rulers destroyed the Great Library in Alexandria.

The Slavery of Being in Debt

Two quotes that speak volumes from this Bloomberg article:

“Increases in financial aid in recent years have enabled colleges and universities blithely to raise their tuitions, confident that Federal loan subsidies would help cushion the increase,” (William Bennett, education secretary under Reagan) wrote in a 1987 op-ed piece in the New York Times.

“The hope was you get more advanced degrees and get a better job and it just hasn’t panned out that way so far,” Geraldine Brezler said.

Irony – Now Fortified With Even More Irony

So Ryuichi Sakamoto and Kraftwerk headline an anti-nuclear power concert in Japan. Both Sakamoto and Kraftwerk are considered pioneers in the electronic music frontier, and as an avid electronic music fan myself I appreciate the music of both.

Kraftwerk Lobbies for Fossil Fuels

The interesting fact about electronic music is that by definition it requires electrons, and lots of them. One cannot play electronic music without them the way a folk musician can pick up an acoustic guitar and play folk music. Although I believe it would be intriguing to have a full acoustic orchestra play techno music, electronic music simply cannot be done without electricity, and that requires generation from fossil fuels, wind, solar, tidal, geothermal, and nuclear sources. Japan is only 16% energy self-sufficient, and nuclear power provides 13% of its energy needs down from about a 24% prior to the disaster. But it hasn’t replaced nuclear power with renewables such as wind or solar. Even if it wanted to do so Japan lacks the space for solar and wind farms, so it has substituted coal, natural gas and oil.

Copyright 2012 Washington Post

Having an electronic music concert at night when solar power is not available to power the instruments, computers, sound boards, amplifiers, speakers, lighting effects, communications gear, air conditioning, and transportation to and from the venue to protest a form of power that such events require allows a connoisseur of irony to indulge in one of modern life’s increasingly common pleasures.

In my view the backlash against nuclear power since the Fukushima disaster is misguided. All Fukushima reactors survived one of the largest earthquakes in modern history and operated as designed. The failure was one of imagination: siting all backup power where a tsunami could destroy it. Backup systems should have been redundant and sited in several locations immune to all possible waves. The disaster presents an opportunity to learn from mistakes and make nuclear power even safer than it is today just as flight went from being one of the most dangerous ways to travel to the safest in less than a century. More people die in coal mining and solar panel manufacturing and installation every year than have died during the entire history of nuclear power generation. I’ve always believed that people fear nuclear power because of the images of the atomic bomb survivors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, plus the awe-inspiring power of images of above ground atomic bomb blasts and the fact that we cannot see, taste, smell or touch radiation. The irrational fear of nuclear power makes otherwise intelligent people act stupid, and the anti-nuke movement is filled with scientists, engineers and others who should know better.

Concerts like No Nukes 2012 are more of an emotional reaction than a rational one. For environmentalists concerned about global warming, nuclear power presents unlimited carbon-free power. To avoid using nuclear power, fossil fuels must be substituted, meaning increased carbon emissions. These are not a problem for those of us who are not global warming alarmists, but it must be a terrible dilemma for those who are. Conservation can only do so much in a modern world increasingly reliant on technology, and besides, isn’t an electronic music concert held at night for thousands by European musicians flying from the other side of a planet to perform a luxury that a warming world can’t afford? It would have been much more effective to have had the concert completely online, with Kraftwerk performing from Europe during the day, using solar panels to power their instruments while Sakamoto used hydroelectric to power his portion of the broadcast – unless of course Kraftwerk, Sakamoto and the organizers of No Nukes 2012 really aren’t concerned with their carbon footprints, but they still aren’t off the hook: they should perform benefit concerts for those who die in the fossil fuel extraction business, plus the untold numbers killed by radiation, mercury, dioxins and other poisons released when fossil fuels are burned and solar panels are manufactured.

The Council Has Spoken: July 6, 2012

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: JoshuapunditGettysburg – A Fourth Of July Long Ago

Noncouncil: Potluck-A Tale of One Tragedy and Two Campaigns

Full voting here.

Firing the SCAR MK16

It’s been awhile since I posted about guns. Since moving out to the hinterlands they’ve become an integral part of my life and I don’t really think about them much except when I run low on ammo or need to clean them. But it doesn’t take much except for a trip to one of the best shooting ranges I’ve been to rekindle the gun-toting muse within, especially when she hands me the finest assault rifle I’ve ever shot, the SCAR MK16.

Courtesy ArmyTimes
Image courtesy of

Much has been written about this rifle, how SOCOM considered it as a replacement for the M4 and turned it down, and how shooters either love it or hate it. Count me in the former camp, and my only regret is that I simply cannot justify the expense to buy it, especially when I add in the cost of ammo to support the addiction that would come with the purchase. I won’t bore you with the details about the gun, and instead will let you know my thoughts on it.

Would you like to fire a .223 round, hit exactly where you were aiming 25 yards down and not feel any recoil? If so the SCAR MK16 is for you. I’ve fired .22s with more kick than this rifle, and I’d almost say you don’t feel it except you’ll feel the shockwave from the blast but not the recoil. For a novice shooter like me it was easy to fire on semi-auto and stay on target at all times. I was firing tight groups standing up with a bum elbow no less and found the recoil was nearly completely eaten up by the mass of the firearm. This was no doubt helped by the red dot scope that was mounted on the weapon, but I nonetheless felt like I was holding a giant staple gun that reached across the yards and put holes exactly where I wanted them. It was a remarkable feeling and one that I haven’t had firing any other assault rifle including the AR-15, Mini-14 and AK-47. The control I got with that weapon, perfectly balanced on my center of mass as I stood in a modified Weaver stance, made me feel for the first time in my life like I was a marksman. It was a great feeling.

A common complaint is that the gun feels cheap due to its polymer body. I have nothing against polymer, and some of my favorite guns including the Beretta CX-4 and PX-4 use them. Still there was something about the SCAR’s polymer that made it feel cheap. I felt that if I dropped it on the floor the thing would shatter. This was an irrational feeling of mine brought out by the type of polymer used on the weapon, and I didn’t test it. Still I could see why a soldier used to steel and wood would hesitate when presented with the weapon.

Overall, while the military might not be a fan of the SCAR MK16, I sure am. It was a joy to shoot, and my only regret is that my budget doesn’t justify buying one. If yours does, find a range that has one and see for yourself. Chances are you’ll agree that the SCAR MK16 is one of the finest assault weapons around.

Don’t Make Sacrifices to Gaia Just Yet

I’m currently reading The Story of Earth by Robert Hazen chronicling the origins of the Earth from the remnants of generations of stars that exploded since the Big Bang, through its formation in the solar nebula, its near destruction after being hit by a planetoid that formed the moon, on to the present day. It’s an easy read for anyone curious about the process of how the Earth formed from interstellar dust. Hazen covers the physics and chemistry that lead to our planet without boring the reader or patronizing him or her, so I highly recommend it.

I mention Hazen’s book because I’m reading it at a time when heat waves are setting records throughout the country and the Spanish word derecho has entered the popular lexicon. For climate scientists and global warming alarmists it is a time for “I told you so’s” and an example of “what global warming looks like,” as the faithful cave in to the temptation to equate weather with climate against their better judgement. When Colorado burns and the Midwest mirrors the desert Southwest, the siren song is irresistible, and resistance is futile when reporters are begging for quotes and interviews are to be had by scientists who, let’s face it, weren’t the popular kids in school, so I suppose it’s okay to let them enjoy their moment in the spotlight.

The problem with this is that according to their own beliefs, global warming will lead to extremes in both directions – hot as well as cold – and that while the central US parches other parts of the world may be enjoying unprecedented rainfall such as Australia which itself suffered from devastating droughts just a few years ago. Like most faiths, Anthropogenic Global Warming covers all bases: flooding? Blame global warming. Drought? Blame global warming. Evidently the only weather one can’t blame on global warming are gentle tropical breezes and rains or the boring weather you’ve experienced over the period of your lifetime.

Much has been made in the Midwest of the record breaking heat. Records have been kept for almost 120 years. The age of the Earth is 4.567 billion years. That’s less than 3 millionths of 1 percent (.0000026% to be exact) of its history. To help put that in perspective, if we imagine the entire 4.567 billion year history of Earth as a single year, the time spent record keeping would be less than a second (830 ms). During most of that time Earth’s climate seesawed between hellish heat and frigid, ocean-freezing cold. Although records are being broken by a degree or two this Summer one shouldn’t don sack cloth and ashes just yet. It’s just as likely that Mother Nature is simply being her own, unpredictable self, at least to us, while following heating and cooling patterns and trends that last millions of years.

Just as ancestors were thousands of years ago, we are being told to that we must change our evil ways to please the natural forces at work in our world. While we are clearly technologically superior to our long-forgotten ancestors who cowered in fear at the sight of a solar eclipse or danced to please the gods to make it rain, we aren’t all that different from them. We still have high priests that claim to know Secret Knowledge about the workings of complex systems of the world, and they still demand that we do something, anything to exert our control over nature. Back then it was burning condemned prisoners to guarantee the harvest; today it’s cutting our carbon footprint. Both have about the same chances of impacting the natural forces at work in the world that remind us daily just how puny and insignificant we are on this planet.

But if you are a global warming alarmist, there is still much to be happy about: the US continues to cut its carbon emissions:

(T)he US is on track to cut its CO2 emissions 17 percent below the 2005 levels by 2020 — and to keep cutting our emissions levels beyond that.

Its secret? Fracking. The US is going to frack its way to a greener world, and something tells me its going to drag global warming alarmists kicking and screaming as it does so. All the sack cloth and ashes (carbon free of course) demanded by wealthy Greenies like Al Gore won’t get us there, but the Evil Fossil Fuel companies (hiss!) will. It’s almost as if Sauron appeared to Frodo and Sam, handed them the ring and provided a security detail for their trip to Mount Doom. To greens it doesn’t make sense, and they refuse to accept it, but yet the US continues towards a carbon neutral path, heedless of their disbelief.

Update: Record floods in the UK. Rain ‘Til September threatens the Olympics. Global Warming to blame? Sure why not. Like every religious person knows there’s nothing like believing in something impossible to disprove.

How to Persuade a Liberal

Taki’s Magazine gives some tips to conservatives and libertarians. Here’s a sample:

“Speaking of choice, isn’t it awful what’s been going on with people aborting babies because they’re female? No, not just in China—in Austin and all over the country. I bet this silent ‘War on Women’ isn’t getting reported because of sexism. Yeah, apparently Planned Parenthood doesn’t hesitate to help people abort babies based on gender and as we’ve seen in China, this process tends to favor the male. These disgusting white men want to further their despicable lineage and keep all their stolen money in the family, so they’ve created a patriarchy where abortions become female genocide.”