Saturday, July 30, 2011

Government Expenditures -- Senate Edition

I came across an article in the Christian Science monitor called, "Well, here's a billion dollars the US can have," that lists how much we spend on our 100 senators.
According to a document at Treasury called the “2010 Detail of Appropriations, Outlays, and Balances" Senators and their staffers actually cost tax payers a grand total of $815,257,000 in 2010 above and beyond their regular salaries. Yes, that's correct taxpayers, almost a billion dollars in non-salary expenses for the maintenance of 100 men and women in civil service.
If that didn't sink in, read it again. Think about it. There are only 100 senators, and somehow they cost us more than 3/4 of a billion dollars a year, on top of their individual salaries of $174,000. And people wonder why many of us think the government is way too large and spends far too much money.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Good Analysis of Leftist "Imagination"

Shannon Love at Chicago Boyz dissects leftist pretensions to superior imagination.
One constant refrain from leftists is that non-leftists just don’t have the “courage” to imagine a better world. Leftists actively credit themselves not for actually making the world a better place but for making intense emotional investments in delusional, fantasy utopias such as the communist utopia predicted by Marxism.
Naturally, their idea of a better world always includes more state control and central planning.
It is no accident that Marxism, communism and fascism appealed to “intellectuals” everywhere whereas free-market philosophies appealed to virtually none. In a free-market society, self-styled intellectuals are reduced to the role of teachers and authors. The ability to manipulate people to vote this or that way grants little influence in a society in which the vast majority of decisions are made by individuals who must assume immediate responsibility for the consequences of those decisions. It’s easier to persuade someone to spend someone else’s money collected at the point of a state gun than it is to persuade them to spend their own money voluntarily.
Exactly. The whole article is on point.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

German Holocaust Reparations

World War II ended sixty-six years ago, but Germany is still paying reparations to Israel for the Holocaust. According to Strategy Page, Israel's purchase of German Dolphin-class submarines has been subsidized by Germany as part of ongoing Holocaust reparations.
Germany has agreed to pay 20 percent of the cost of a sixth Dolphin class submarine for Israel, which was ordered earlier this year. Two more are under construction, and will arrive in the next two years. ... The first two Dolphins were paid for by Germany, as was most of the cost of the third one. This is more of German reparations for World War II atrocities against Jews.
It's interesting that Holocaust reparations are helping pay for a key strategic force that helps ensure that Israel will not suffer a new holocaust.
The Israelis have developed a cruise missile, which is has a range of 1,500 kilometers and carries a 200 kiloton nuclear warhead. The objective of deploying nukes on subs is to further enhance deterrence to any nation launching a nuclear strike against Israel.
How long will Germany continue paying Holocaust reparations? According to an Israeli source the 2011 German budget for reparations is 110 million euros, to be used to compensate the estimated 520,000 survivors still alive worldwide. But the new submarine cost $650 million, twenty percent of which is 130 million.

I'm a big supporter of Israel, and it's nice that they can get the Germans to subsidize submarine purchases. If I were a German, however, I'd be pretty annoyed at this whole arrangement.They're already paying 110 million euros to survivors.

$350 Million for Malawi?

According to the New York Times, yesterday the U.S. froze a $350 million dollar "grant" to Malawi.
A senior American official, Sheila Herrling, said Tuesday that the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a federal agency, was “deeply disturbed” by accusations that the police had fired live rounds on unarmed people last week, and by claims that press coverage of the two-day demonstrations had been suppressed. The $350 million grant from the corporation, which was announced only in April and was to be disbursed over five years for electricity generation, is a large amount of money for Malawi, whose annual budget is about $2 billion.
I'd be willing to bet that many Americans would be very surprised to hear, especially given our own fiscal situation, that until this hold we were going to give $350 million dollars of U.S. taxpayer money to Malawi. Even I was surprised at the amount, although I know that we just hand out cash like candy to pretty much anyone, even to hostile populations like the Palestinians and the Pakistanis.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Good Advice From Fred Thompson

Former senator Fred Thompson has some good advice for the House GOP in the debt-limit situation. He's a little premature in declaring victory, since nothing has been agreed upon, but he believes that Republicans have forced a situation where Democrats will have no choice but to agree to some cuts, without tax increases, in order to raise the debt ceiling. Here's the key advice at the end of his open letter.
We will never achieve entitlement or tax reform with a doctrinaire liberal in the White House. Any agreements to do so in “out years” would probably be unenforceable even if agreement were achieved. And we can only do so much while controlling one half of one branch of government. Ladies and Gentlemen of the House Republicans, you have laid some great groundwork to rectify both of those situations. Now it is the time to accept a well-won victory and move on.
I think he's exactly right. Block tax increases, get some spending cuts, and raise the debt ceiling to avoid default and/or credit rating downgrade. With Obama in the White House, and Democrats controlling the Senate, grandiose reform plans that really address the deficit & the debt are just not feasible. Democrats do not want to cut spending. They want to spend more. Republican focus right now should be to block Obama from further increasing the size of government and its spending, and on the 2012 elections. Serious fiscal reform will require a Republican president and more Republicans in Congress.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Good Debunking of Various Nonsense Regarding the Norway Terrorist Incident

If you've been reading the coverage and commentary regarding the terrorist attack in Norway, there is a must-read article at the Sultan Knish blog by Daniel Greenfield called, "Debunking 6 Myths About Anders Breivik." The myths in question, all about the killer, Anders Behring Breivik, are:

1. He was a fundamentalist Christian
2. He hated Muslims
3. He was inspired by counterjihad bloggers
4. He was pro-Israel
5. He was a moderate.
6. He was a political terrorist

I think point number two is splitting hairs, but the rest of the post serves as a useful counter to much of the nonsense that is being written about this incident.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Shameless Hypocrisy of James Fallows

Liberal hack James Fallows of the Atlantic is all upset that some people jumped to conclusions in the wake of the Norway attack, assuming that it had to be radical Muslim terrorism.
this is a sobering reminder for those who think it's too tedious to reserve judgment about horrifying events rather than instantly turning them into talking points for pre-conceived views.
But here's Fallows right after the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, pushing the leftist smear that it had something to do with right-wing rhetoric in general, and Sarah Palin in particular.
"We don't know why the killer did what he did. If he is like Sirhan, we'll never 'understand.' But we know that it has been a time of extreme, implicitly violent political rhetoric and imagery, including SarahPac's famous bulls-eye map of 20 Congressional targets to be removed -- including Rep. Giffords. It is legitimate to discuss whether there is a connection between that tone and actual outbursts of violence, whatever the motivations of this killer turn out to be.
Apparently it was "legitimate" to pretend that the killer might have been influenced by a Sarah Palin campaign map which there's no evidence he ever saw, but not to jump to the obvious conclusion that radical Islamists might be behind a major terrorist attack. Fallows' credibility is sinking into the same territory of his fellow Atlantic writer Andrew Sullivan.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Riddle of the Day

From Stephen Green at Vodka Pundit,

"Q: What is it called in Washington when you lose $1.6 billion dollars?

A: 'A major accomplishment.'"

Biggest Impediment to Job Growth?

What's the biggest impediment to job growth in the U.S.? The government. So says the co-founder of Home Depot, Bernie Marcus.
Having built a small business into a big one, I can tell you that today the impediments that the government imposes are impossible to deal with. Home Depot would never have succeeded if we'd tried to start it today. Every day you see rules and regulations from a group of Washington bureaucrats who know nothing about running a business. And I mean every day. It's become stifling.
Talk to pretty much any business owner and you'll hear the same thing. Obama routinely talks about the need to create jobs, when his policies have the opposite effect. That's why he has to resort to using imaginary numbers when talking about jobs he's supposedly created or saved.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Top Reasons I'm Skeptical of Any Budget Deal

Tax increases will be real, cuts will be mostly budget gimmicks.

The use of imaginary numbers and various projections.

Only a portion of the GOP, found mostly in the House, really wants significant cuts. I have no faith in the GOP leadership.

Most Democrats want increased taxes and spending, not cuts (except to defense).

The president is a proven, blatant liar who cannot be trusted.

Politicians in general prefer short-term solutions that enable them to pretend to be solving problems, without addressing long-term issues.

The unintended consequences of any plan which will be completely ignored, as usual.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Reality vs. Democratic Scare Tactics

In the past I've repeatedly laughed at those who accused the GOP of so-called "fearmongering," and pointed out that scaring voters with worst-case scenarios (and outright falsehoods) is a standard political tactic used by both sides. We've seen dishonest scare-tactics used repeatedly by Democrats in the struggle over the debt ceiling, with the most dramatic being President Obama's attempt to make seniors believe that might not get their social security checks because of those evil, irresponsible Republicans. Scaring seniors is a time-honored Democratic political move.

There's an excellent article at by Veronique de Rugy called, "The Facts About the Debt Ceiling." It counteracts the myths being spread point by point. The bottom line is that the U.S. can use various fiscal maneuvering to stave off a default, even if an agreement isn't reached. The August 2 deadline is arbitrary. Eventually there has to be an agreement, the debt ceiling has to be raised, or spending has to be cut dramatically. I'd be willing to bet that despite the GOP's valiant stand, the last option is the least likely.

Nashiri Cole Bombing Trial

Abd al Rahim al Nashiri faces a military trial accused of bombing the U.S.S. Cole back in 2008. This case illustrates the difficulty inherent in trying to use normal legal rules -- even military court -- to deal with foreign terrorist enemies. Nashiri was waterboarded, held in a secret prison, and subjected to other harsh interrogation techniques, so naturally his lawyers say the case is "tainted." They know he isn't going free, but they argue to spare him the death penalty. Under normal legal rules the case is definitely tainted, as long as you forget that this man isn't an American citizen or a legal resident, but a foreign enemy that attacked a U.S. warship that wasn't even engaging in any warfare at the time. I give him credit for striking a military target instead of the usual preferred soft targets, but summary execution was still warranted for what he did.

Ideally Nashiri should have been quietly executed years ago, after we extracted all useful information, preferably by using rendition to send him someplace that would do it for us. But now, years later, putting him on trial is a farce.. After three years we are going to charge him with crimes and ask for the death penalty? There's no purpose to this trial. He's been sitting in jail since we captured him, and should continue to sit until he dies. The trial gives a veneer of legalism to our continued confinement of a dangerous Al Qaeda member. But it fools no one. People like me see it as unnecessary, and people who think Nashiri has rights are going to view it as a kangaroo court rubber-stamping a preordained outcome.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Unimpressed by Theology

There's a good post at evolutionblog called "Where Can I Find the Really Good Theology? Part One." The author, Jason Rosenhouse makes some good points about Christian theology. His post was triggered by an argument between Jerry Coyne and a Catholic philospher, but in general it is a response to a common Christian suggestion.
We New Atheist types are often lectured about the need for studying theology. The idea is that if we tuned out the distressingly popular and highly vocal forms of religious extremism and pondered instead “the best religion has to offer,” then we would not be so hostile to religion.
But for Rosenhouse, reading Christian theology had the opposite effect.
I expected at least to find a lot of food for thought. Instead, with each book and essay I read I found myself ever more horrified by the sheer vacuity of what these folks were doing. I came to despise their endlessly vague and convoluted arguments, their relentless smugness towards nonbelievers, and, most seriously, the complete lack of any solid reason for thinking they weren't just making it up as they went along. I thought perhaps I was just reading the wrong writers, and that I would eventually come to the really good theology. But I never did.
Like Rosenhouse, I too have read a fair amount of Christian theology. And my conclusions were similar. The whole post is worth reading.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Myth of Republican Intransigence on the Debt Ceiling

The Democratic narrative is that Republicans are being intransigent and unreasonable regarding the debt ceiling. This myth is debunked in a good article by Michael D. Tanner called, "The Intransigent Meet the Unserious."
Republicans have clearly drawn a line in the sand, opposing any tax increase. But Democrats have been even more unbending, resisting any serious structural reform of entitlements or deep spending cuts, while insisting on huge tax hikes as part of any deal.
There is no reason that a deal on raising the debt ceiling has to include tax hikes -- other than Democratic insistence. In addition, the planned cuts aren't even that significant, yet Democrats still demand tax hikes.
the deal that the Republicans are currently offering would actually allow federal revenue, federal spending, and the national debt all to increase over the next decade. They have abandoned structural changes to entitlement programs — anything like Paul Ryan's Medicare reform is off the table — and appear to have dropped calls for a balanced-budget amendment or a spending cap.

This is radical? This is intransigence? If only.

The whole article is worth reading as a contrast to Democratic propaganda.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Mitch McConnell: Typical Weasel Politician

The GOP establishment is not more much interested in tackling the nation's financial problems than Democrats, who are totally uninterested. This is particularly true in the Senate, where Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell and other GOP senators are considering a new plan to weasel out of any responsibility, purely in the interests of political expediency.
the debt ceiling would grow in three increments over the remainder of this Congress unless lawmakers approve a veto-proof resolution of disapproval.

In effect lawmakers would be surrendering the very power of approval that the GOP has used to force the debt crisis now. But by taking the disapproval route, Republicans can shift the onus more onto the White House and Democrats since a two-thirds majority would be needed to stop any increase that President Barack Obama requests.
McConnell and his cohorts are well aware that Obama and the Democrats don't want to make any sort of serious cuts, and that the only reason cuts are even under consideration is because of the threat of the debt ceiling. The party of big government isn't about to cut government in any substantial way. But rather than forcing the president to make cuts, they'd rather just give up -- as long as they can do it in such away as to place the blame solely on Obama.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Panetta States the Obvious

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta made big news by stating the obvious on a visit to Iraq. He told troops stationed there,
“The reason you guys are here is because on 9/11 the United States got attacked,” Panetta told the troops. “And 3,000 Americans — 3,000 not just Americans, 3,000 human beings, innocent human beings — got killed because of al-Qaeda. And we’ve been fighting as a result of that.”
For some reason this statement made the front page in multiple newspapers, and Panetta had to issue a clarification. Anyone with the slightest clue understands that 9/11 provided the impetus for the Iraq War. Political acceptance of the idea of preemption arose in the aftermath of the attacks on the U.S. It is highly unlikely that there would have been widespread support for invading Iraq, let alone a Congressional authorization, had 9/11 never taken place. Only an idiot would take Panetta's remarks to mean that he believed we went to war in Iraq because of the presence of Al Qaeda in that country at the time. Front-page stories about his statement appear to be an effort to manufacture a controversy.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Woman's View on the Atheist Elevator Incident

In my earlier post I mentioned that Dawkins' reaction could have come from anyone, depending on how they viewed the incident, and that it was unreasonable to assume that his age, race, social status or gender somehow had to account for his comment. Naturally I had an anonymous commenter show up and claim that no, it was all about "privilege," demonstrating the exact type of ideological tunnel-vision that leads me to characterize a certain brand of feminism as "brain poison." While surfing the internet I came across another column about the incident that is every bit as dismissive of Watson as Dawkins, more so in fact, as the title indicates: "When Women Confuse Being Asked Out With Being Raped At Knifepoint In An Elevator." It's the opinion of a woman, who must be affected by some sort of "privilege."
Basically, at 4 a.m., some guy at a conference committed the heinous crime of asking her out while riding the elevator with her.... I couldn't believe it. That was why people were going after Richard Dawkins, because he made light of what a big deal she made of it ...

Here's how this plays out for a woman whose entire existence doesn't revolve around being a victim, women as victims, and seeing men as victimizers of women every time they open their mouths or so much as salt their food:

A guy asks you out. You're not interested. Say, "Thanks, think I'm going to turn in." Forget it happened.

Here we have a situation where I, an older male, am actually more sympathetic and understanding of Watson's complaint than this woman.* But that's how things work in the real world. People have different opinions about things. Those opinions are rarely determined by age, race, social class or gender. The differences between individuals usually trumps broad attempts to categorize people based on ideological dogma.

*I'm sympathetic to how she felt about being propositioned in an elevator at 4am, not to her ludicrous overreaction to Dawkins.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Fact-Based Arguing

There was an interesting "Opinionater" column in yesterday's New York Times by philosophy professor Gary Gutting. He describes the difference between deductive and inductive reasoning and notes that most political policy discussions rely on the latter.
In an inductive argument (e.g., Most humans do not live for 100 years; Socrates is human; therefore, Socrates will not live for 100 years), the premises only make the conclusion probable. As a result, adding further premises can alter the force of the argument.
He explains that inductive arguments can be attacked " simply by adducing further relevant facts." Just because your facts are correct, doesn't necessarily mean that your argument is, especially if your sample of the facts is too narrow.
Even a strong argument from purely factual premises is open to refutation unless we are assured that it has taken account of all relevant facts. Realistically, of course, we can never be sure that we have taken account of all relevant facts ... Ignoring relevant facts can give us false confidence in the strength of our positions in political debates.
His conclusion is a perceptive analysis of what happens in many political arguments.
Each of us may conclude that the other is irrational or ignorant.
The whole thing is worth reading, especially if you like to argue.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Much Ado About Nothing - Atheist Elevator Edition

Since I read assorted atheist blogs I couldn't help but notice a big controversy in the atheist blogosphere. Here's a brief summary of what touched it off. Rebecca Watson of Skepchick posted about an experience that bothered her. She was at an event and some guy propositioned her in an elevator late at night. She turned him down, and he went away. But she complained that what he did was inappropriate. Ok, no big deal so far. Then PZ Myers posted about it at Pharyngula. Commenter opinion was split as to whether she made good points or was a hypersensitive whiner. But then Richard Dawkins himself showed up, and ridiculed Watson in his patented sneering, over-the-top fashion, comparing her complaint to the horrible life and death issues faced by other women. Since then various atheists have weighed-in, and assorted perpetually outraged feminists have lined up to attack Dawkins and anyone who dares criticize Watson. Watson herself has apparently bought into the brain-poison of feminist ideology as exemplified by her post, "The Privilege Delusion." For example,
Richard Dawkins believes I should be a good girl and just shut up about being sexually objectified because it doesn’t bother him. Thanks, wealthy old heterosexual white man!
This is what happens to logical reasoning when your subscribe to the religious-like dogma of feminism. To someone not afflicted by its poison, Dawkins' wealth, sexuality and race are completely unnecessary to understand what he was saying. His comment had nothing to do with "privilege," the meaning of which has been disitorted by feminist ideology, which employs it as a type of ad-hominem against those who disagree. Even his gender is irrelevant. It is quite possible that a poor, young lesbian black woman could have said exactly the same thing. Anyone could think that a woman complaining about a harmless advance was being too sensitive. That position doesn't require you to be a rich, white, heterosexual male.

Whether or not Watson's complaint about being hit on was reasonable given the circumstances, or overly sensitive whining is simply a matter of opinion. Dawkin's response makes him a jerk because of the extreme way he went about it. But that's really all there is to it. The fact that Dawkins behaved like a jerk and launched an over-the-top attack on Watson says nothing at all about anything beyond his particular actions in this case.

A Bizarre Mix of Counterterrorism & Legalism

The strange mixture of counterterrorism and legalism of the Obama administration is what jumped out at me when I read a Washington Post story about a Somali indicted on terrorism charges. Consider whether or not you'd expect these things to go together.
  • The secret capture of a "terrorism suspect" in the Gulf of Aden
  • Two months of daily or almost daily secret interrogations with no justice department involvement
  • Suspect eventually advised of Miranda "rights" and "right" to legal representation
  • Suspect flown secretly flown to New York and indicted by a federal grand jury on conspiracy charges.
Is this man an enemy or a criminal? The Obama administration doesn't know, and like most things, they want to have it both ways. They secretly capture and interrogate someone who has apparently committed no crime against the U.S., and then later go through the ridiculous farce of advising him of rights which he shouldn't even possess as a presumed hostile non-U.S. citizen. According to the article,
The nine-count indictment, ..., does not accuse Warsame of carrying out or plotting attacks against U.S. targets. It charges him with conspiracy and providing material support to two groups the United States considers terrorist organizations: al-Shabab, a militant Islamist group opposed to Somalia’s weak, U.S.-backed government, and Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Warsame is also accused of weapons offenses related to both alleged conspiracies; conspiracy to teach and demonstrate explosive-making; and receiving military training from AQAP.
This case raises many questions. How is a foreigner who assists some terrorist groups outside the U.S. somehow subject to U.S. laws and a reasonable subject of a U.S. indictment? On the one hand the Obama administration acts to neutralize someone they see as an enemy or potential enemy, but on the other it tries to cover the act with a veneer of legalism -- going so far as to manufacture an indictment. How are we able to charge people with crimes for simply being a part of some foreign terrorist group, when the person hasn't actually done anything against the U.S.? Does the existence of groups such as al-Shabab automatically cause anyone having anything to do with them to be engaged in a conspiracy under U.S. law? Why are we wasting time and money hauling some Somali to the U.S. for a trial? What purpose will this accomplish?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Perspective on Casey Anthony Case

My wife has been following this case closely and was outraged by the verdict. I was looking for reactions online and noticed Bernie's at Planck's Constant. He makes a number of interesting points that are worth considering. The bottom line is that Casey Anthony is clearly a scumbag and a lousy mother. But the evidence that she murdered her child is a whole lot less clear.

Declaration of Independence Quiz

This one has some pretty tough questions. I got 9 of 12 right.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Fourth of July

Posting will resume tomorrow.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Bad Ideas from American Atheists

American Atheists is not doing atheists in the U.S. any favors. I wrote about one of their particularly stupid protests earlier. Now they will be flying banners over public events on the Fourth of July.
The banners will read either “God-LESS America” or “Atheism is Patriotic,” as a part of a campaign to defend civil rights of atheists and dispel the mentality that it’s un-American to be a non-believer.
How do these banners accomplish either of those goals? "God-LESS America" is just stupid and will serve no purpose other than to irritate people who already don't like atheists and think we are all pushy jerks. And how about "Atheism is Patriotic"? It is? Atheism has nothing to do with patriotism either for or against. Why not do a banner saying "Atheists are patriots too -- Happy 4th!" or something similar?
“This campaign is not about pushing the ‘atheist agenda’ or shoving our views down people’s throats,”
Really? That's exactly how it is going to be received. The people running American Atheists must be totally clueless.

Contrast American Atheists clumsy, ill-advised banners with the Freedom From Religion Foundation's billboard campaign. I've had some criticism for this group too, but at least their messages are well-thought out. For example, they have used the theme "I can be good without God," which is not only true, but might actually make someone think. There are more examples here, from their Tulsa campaign. I'm skeptical about the usefulness of this type of advertising in general, but if you are going to do it, the FFRF beats AA hands down.

More Imaginary Numbers From Obama

President Obama is a big fan of using imaginary numbers to tout the imaginary success of his policies. We got some more today.
The report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers said the stimulus added 2.3 to 3.2 percent to gross domestic product in the first quarter relative to what it otherwise would have been.

The stimulus package also increased employment relative to what it otherwise would have been by between 2.4 and 3.6 million jobs, the report said.
Note the twice-used phrase, "relative to what it otherwise would have been." This phrase alerts you to the fact that the White House is using imaginary numbers. We do not know what would or would not have happened if there had been no stimulus package, because there was a stimulus package. The economy could have gotten worse, or it could have improved had the government not borrowed and spent a bunch of money we didn't have. We just don't know for sure. And since we don't know, the numbers the president is pushing are completely imaginary. He could just as easily have claimed the stimulus raised GDP by 5% "relative to what it otherwise would have been," or that it increased employment by 6 million jobs. Since the numbers aren't real, it doesn't matter. These numbers were chosen to appear somewhat plausible, and to convince those gullible enough to believe them.