Monday, July 6, 2009

If the Founders Were Modern Democrats

No Taxation Without Reading the Legislation:

Glenn McCoy


Winning the War on Drugs

One of many wars being fought beneath the media radar is the war against the Colombian drug cartels. Evidently, that war is going fairly well judging by this report on Strategy Page:

Last year, cocaine production fell by 28 percent in Colombia. In addition, security forces seized and destroyed a record 200 tons of the stuff. The main causes for this decline are a drop in demand from the 17 million cocaine users world-wide. Another side-effect of the global recession. But the cocaine gangs are also being driven out of business by the security forces. Many are moving operations to Peru (where production was up 4 percent last year, to 302 tons) and Bolivia (up 9 percent to 113 tons). Last year, Peru and Bolivia together produced about as much cocaine as Colombia.

The president of Bolivia is a former coca farmer (although he only backs the traditional chewing of the coca leaves, which has a mild narcotic effect). In Peru, the most productive coca growing areas are controlled by Shining Path, a vicious leftist movement that was almost wiped out in the 1990s, but is now making a comeback via cocaine profits.

As more Colombian cocaine operations move to Peru and Bolivia, the ones remaining in Colombia come under greater pressure from the security forces, and a population glad to see the drug trade move somewhere else, or just disappear. The reason for the many recent defeats of the drug gangs and leftist rebels has been better trained and equipped military and police units.

Not only is the war going well but Colombians themselves are prospering despite the current economic climate:

The leftist rebel group FARC's allies in the United States and Europe have tried to paint the government as the bad guys in all this, but that has had no effect on Colombians, who are safer and more prosperous than they have been in decades. Violent deaths have declined sharply in the last six years, and the economy is booming. The global recession caused a less than one percent dip in GDP during the first quarter of the year, and that's apparently as bad as it's going to get.

Sounds like Columbia is both safer and more prosperous than most major cities in the U.S. It might be a nice place to which to flee from the economic devastation about to be visited upon our once prosperous land by people who think that the best way for a nation to heal our economic woes is to emulate third world countries by burying our woes under a mountain of taxes and debt.


Eye Evolution

You've probably heard the Darwinian explanation for the evolution of vision - how a few light-sensitive cells underwent some mutational changes which were then preserved by natural selection and after a wave of Mother Nature's wand, some pixie dust, and a couple hundred million years out came the mammalian eye.

Actually, the story is not nearly as simple as the Darwinians would have us believe and the complexity of it does not count in favor of naturalistic theories of the origin of vision.

Cornelius Hunter has some details over at Darwin's God.

Meanwhile, one of the major objections leveled by critics against the truth of intelligent design over the years has to do with an alleged puzzle related to the structure of the eye. It's been argued that the cluster of nerves situated in front of the retina, blocking light to a part of the retina and creating a blind spot where the nerves pass through the retina to join the optic nerve, is evidence that the eye is not designed intelligently. Why, it is asked, would an intelligent designer make the eye in such a way as to produce a blind spot? Why not tuck these tissues behind the retina so that nothing interferes with our vision? That's how a rational engineer would do it, or so we've been told.

It turns out, however, that the way these tiny structures are arranged is in fact a very clever solution to certain problems regarding the health and efficient functioning of the eye, and that when all the reasons for the arrangement are understood the eye emerges as a wonder of intelligent organization and design (See here for a less technical account of why the eye's anatomy is completely compatible with the theory that it was intelligently designed.).

Anyone today who uses the allegedly poor design of the retina as an argument against intelligent design is simply revealing that he doesn't really know much.



Over at National Review Online Guy Benson has dug up a series of candidate Obama's campaign ads critical of John McCain's proposal to tax employer provided insurance benefits as income. Obama's ads declared this to be an intolerable imposition that the taxpayers could not afford and should not be required to bear. Now it appears he very well might impose such a tax himself. Here's one of the ads:

Benson has other ads at the link. Mr. Obama is a deft practitioner of the old political two-step: Criticize your opponent during the campaign for planning to do the very thing you will do once he's out of the way. This is what qualifies one as a political genius nowadays, but there are other, perhaps more accurate, names for it.


Wildlife Habitat

Here's part of an interesting news release from the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service that raises some interesting questions about climate change and related environmental concerns:

The preliminary estimate of total ducks from the 2009 Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey was 42 million, which is 13 percent greater than last year's estimate and 25 percent greater than the 1955-2008 average, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today. (emphasis added)

Blue-winged teal

Overall, habitat conditions for breeding waterfowl in 2009 were better than conditions in 2008. The total pond estimate (Prairie Canada and United States combined) was 6.4 million. This was 45 percent above last year's estimate of 4.4 million ponds and 31 percent above the long-term average of 4.9 million ponds.

This heartening news is no doubt largely the result of increased rainfall this spring which may well be a consequence of global climate change. If so, it's yet another example of how climate change is producing positive environmental and ecological benefits. The assumption in the media is that any change to our climate is going to be harmful, but as we've argued before there's no reason to think that that's true.

I remember, speaking of ecological matters, reading as a young man about the awful environmental damage that strip mining inflicted upon the earth. And so it did, I suppose, but damage is not always permanent. I had occasion last week to visit an area in Pennsylvania that was largely a reclaimed strip mine, and if this is what happens with old strip mines then I wish we had more of them. The area has been converted into a beautiful and extensive grassland that is habitat for species of birds that can be found almost nowhere else in the state except on these old mines.

Henslow's sparrow

I might also mention that much of the best wildlife habitat in the area in which I live is owned and managed either by the water company or by electrical utility companies who use part of it to house nuclear and coal generated power facilities. When some of this land was purchased back in the sixties and seventies I was deeply disappointed to see the farmland get gobbled up. Now I wish the utilities would gobble up more of it before the developers get it.

The same thing can be said of landfills. No one likes landfills near their home, but some of the best grassland habitat for birds and butterflies in my county sits atop an old landfill. It takes a lifetime to fill these up, but once they're full there's not much else they can be used for, and if the community makes wise decisions, they become oases for wildlife in the midst of a desert of suburban sprawl, and the natural habitat they provide will be enjoyed for generations to come.

The point I'm trying to make is that before we go running around trying to save the environment by destroying coal and other industries and throwing capitalism overboard in favor of socialism we should reflect for a moment that much of what we have in terms of natural treasures in this country we have because of the wealth generated by capitalism and the civic-mindedness of corporations that preserve or create natural lands for public enjoyment. If we want to see what ecological disaster looks like we need only look at those countries, like China, Russia and much of the third world, which impoverish themselves, and consequently their natural environment, by their embrace of socialism.


Flying by the Seat of Our Pants

Kevin Williamson at NRO quotes from an Obama speech pre-stimulus:

Economists from across the spectrum have warned that if we don't act immediately, millions more jobs will be lost, and national unemployment rates will approach double digits. More people will lose their homes and their health care. And our nation will sink into a crisis that, at some point, we may be unable to reverse.

Well, Williamson notes, we acted immediately. Millions more jobs were lost. National unemployment rates are approaching double digits. So now what?

Williamson quotes the New York Times' economic poobah Paul Krugman:

"O.K., Thursday's jobs report settles it. We're going to need a bigger stimulus."

Well, I'm glad that's settled. A trillion dollars hasn't worked (Of course, the wiser heads were telling us it wouldn't work from the beginning) so the problem must be that we haven't yet dug ourselves deep enough into debt. Let's spend a couple trillion more that we don't have and see what that does for us.

And this guy won a Nobel Prize in economics. It just goes to show that in this amazing country anybody can get to the top.

Back when I learned to fly airplanes I was taught that when visibility is poor you must trust your instruments, not your senses. Trying to keep the plane straight and level based on what feels right will quickly cause you to become disoriented and spiral into the ground. Flying by what your body is telling you instead of by the objective data provided by your instruments is called flying by the seat of your pants, and that's what Krugman sounds like he's doing. Despite Mr. Krugman's intrepid willingness to go where no economist has gone before, the economic results of flying by the seat of your pants are pretty similar to the aerodynamic results.


Israel Grows Closer to Strike

Drudge links to a Times Online article which reveals that Saudi Arabia has given the Israelis permission to transit their air space to launch an attack on Iran's nuclear weapons facilities. It's in the Saudis' interests to have these facilities destroyed and since President Obama doesn't seem too resolved to do much to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region, the Saudis are apparently content to let Israel do it.

The Obama administration, if Vice-president Biden can be relied upon to have been speaking for the president, seems to have given Israel a green light to do what it is loath to do itself.

Perhaps the Israelis will hold off for a while, however, since the instability in Tehran may yet cause that regime to topple and be replaced with one that'll have a more sensible position on nukes. But if it appears after three or four weeks that the regime is simply consolidating its power, the Israelis will probably feel they are being left with no choice but to launch a strike, or series of strikes, to destroy Iran's ability to produce weapons of mass destruction.