Monday, October 31, 2011

Flat Taxes & "Fairness"

Whenever anyone starts talking about "fairness" in a political context it raises a huge red flag to me, as it usually indicates a total lack of objective reasoning in favor of ideological propaganda. Most political commentary against a flat tax is a prime example, claiming that it wouldn't be fair since it would cut taxes for the rich while raising them for the poor. This type of reasoning is based only on the current system, ignoring the fact that it is harder to get much fairer than a tax where everyone pays exactly the same rate. The only way a flat tax isn't fair is if you believe that wealth should be seized from the rich and redistributed to the poor, that the wealthiest should bear a tax burden far greater than what is their fair share mathematically, and that the poorest should get tax "refunds" of money that they never even paid. Now you might think that's a good system, but it has nothing to do with fairness.

The problem with any flat tax proposal is its contrast with the current system, which taxes the rich at higher rates and transfers some of their money to the poor. Because the current system is so unfair, those who benefit from that unfairness, whether individually or politically, do not want anything fair. If you have gone for years paying no income tax, or have even received money that you never paid in from the earned income tax credit, why would you want a fair system that actually asks you to pay a proportional amount of your income? Likewise, if you see your political constituency as those who receive government benefits, rather than those who pay for them, you want to transfer even more benefits to your supporters, not force them to contribute.

In my opinion a true flat income tax is probably not politically viable in the U.S. And I'm not sure a flat tax that is loaded down with a maze of deductions and rules like the current system would be all that much better. But those who oppose a flat tax on the basis of "fairness" don't want anything fair. What they want is a system that conforms to their ideology, whereby the rich pay an ever-increasing proportion of their income, while the poorest receive greater and greater handouts of that money.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Simple Chart of Belief & Non-Belief

It's simple but it makes sense.
Gnosticism, for our purposes, is the belief that there is an absolute knowledge, so that one can say definitely that something is or is not true. So, in this case, somebody on the far “gnostic” side of our graph would argue that the statement “There is a God” can be proven to be 100 per cent valid or invalid; somebody on the far “agnostic” side, would argue that the same statement can never be proven to any degree of accuracy because it’s impossible to know. ... Is this the definitive way of charting people’s religious positions? Of course not. But it provides a helpful mental image when trying to discuss people’s views. A “strong theist” – let’s say the Pope – will be found at the maximum poles of gnosticism and theism: there is absolutely a God. Whether it exists and can be known is completely beyond doubt. A “strong atheist” hangs around the maximums of gnosticism and atheism
The rest of the accompanying article is good also.

Monday, October 24, 2011

More on the Drone Revolution

The Christian Science Monitor has an extensive article on the latest developments in drone technology that is worth reading.
"We're not about 20 years, or 10 years, or even five years away – a lot of this could be out in the field in under two years," says Mitchell Zatkin, former director of programmable matter at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, the Pentagon's premier research office.
The drone revolution and its continuing impact is fascinating to any student of military history and technology. As the article points out,
The development of a new generation of military robots, including armed drones, may eventually mark one of the biggest revolutions in warfare in generations. Throughout history, from the crossbow to the cannon to the aircraft carrier, one weapon has supplanted another as nations have strived to create increasingly lethal means of allowing armies to project power from afar.
The impact of the drone revolution on warfare is so dramatic that it creates numerous possibilities and raises many questions. If as expected, we eventually progress from the use of armed drones to true robots, acting according to programming as opposed to being under direct human command, we may have seen nothing yet.
In the not-too-distant future, military officials envision soldiers and robots teaming up in the field, with the troops able to communicate with machines the way they would with a human squad team member. Eventually, says Thompson, the robot-soldier relationship could become even more collaborative, with one human soldier leading many armed robots.
The whole article is extremely interesting reading.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Government Charities

Most supporters of big government advocate increasing revenue by force, in the form of higher taxes. This is euphemistically called "asking" people to pay more, in the same way a mugger "asks" you for your wallet. But what if we actually asked people to voluntarily contribute more to government programs? Let's take Medicaid for example. Everyone has seen ads for charities that ask people to pledge a monthly contribution to help a child in a third-world country. Why not have a Medicaid Support Fund where people can pledge their support or give lump-sum contributions?

I see ads for the United Way everywhere, and that organization takes in quite a bit of money. There's no reason we couldn't have a similar ad campaign for the Medicaid Support Fund. In fact, the entire campaign could be donated by some liberal advertising firm that would offer its expertise as a public service. All aspects of the fund would be managed by private entities willing to support the project -- because if it were done by the government it would almost certainly spend more money that it took in. This type of fund would encourage prominent liberal hypocrites like Warren Buffet, who pretend they aren't taxed enough while simultaneously shielding their money, to live up to their big government ideals and contribute more. It's almost a certainty that such government charities would also attract significant corporate contributions, if for no other reason than public relations.

There could even been government charity programs that appeal to those on the right, such as the Missile Defense Fund, or the Help Kill a Terrorist Fund, where donations would go directly to help defer the costs of our drone assassination program.

We actually have some of these types of charities now, such as the Navy League, but their advertising is minimal compared to better known organizations. When is the last time you saw an ad for the Navy League?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gilad Shalit Prisoner Swap

Israel's deal with Palestinians to release kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, held for five years by Hamas, demonstrates the lengths the Jewish state will go to take care of its service members.
His release by the militant Palestinian group Hamas launched a prisoner swap that ultimately will include the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. A total of 477 prisoners were freed Tuesday, after Shalit was returned to Israel.
Over a thousand prisoners released to free one soldier, including hundreds of terrorists who will probably kill more Israelis. Not everyone in Israel is happy.
Shalit’s father, Noam, appeared Monday before the Israeli Supreme Court, where he came face to face with relatives of victims of terrorist attacks who oppose the deal. Several relatives filed motions urging the court to annul the deal, and according to Israeli news reports, some angrily confronted the soldier’s father.
I understand how they feel. I'd have a pretty hard time supporting such a one-sided deal. According to the article, Hamas is celebrating the agreement as a great victory, for good reason. Kidnapping Shalit worked out really well for them. Plus, they now know that if they need to spring a bunch of their people from Israeli jails, they just need to kidnap another Israeli soldier.

Monday, October 17, 2011

What Some Real Cuts in Government Might Look Like

I'm not a Ron Paul fan, but I do like his economic plan that calls for cutting 1 trillion in spending in one year, as well as slashing the size of government.
a 10% reduction in the federal work force, ... lower the corporate tax rate to 15% from 35% ... end taxes on personal savings and extend “all Bush tax cuts.” ... also allow U.S. firms to repatriate capital without additional taxes ... Mr. Paul would eliminate the Departments of Education, Commerce, Energy, Interior and Housing and Urban Development.
My list of federal departments to be eliminated is similar: Education, Energy and HUD. But I'd shut-down the Department of Homeland Security rather than Commerce and Interior. Unfortunately there is as much chance of these cuts taking place as there is of Ron Paul being elected. The only way something like this will ever happen is if it's forced by some sort of economic collapse.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Latest in Our Ongoing War With Iran

The revelation of an Iranian plot to kill a Saudi diplomat on American soil was not particularly surprising. The U.S. has been engaged in a low-level war with Iran for years, although the war appears to be pretty one-sided, with Iran actively working to kill American soldiers, and doing everything possible to create anti-American proxies in Iraq -- among other things. Iran has been allowed to get away with this, despite its military weakness compared to the United States. Now it is true that there have been covert actions against Iran too, such as the killing and kidnapping of nuclear scientists, and cyberattacks aimed at its nuclear program. The level of U.S. involvement is unclear, but it is likely that U.S. allies such as Israel or Saudi Arabia might be behind them. Overall though, the U.S. has tolerated open hostility and acts of war from a third-rate power.

Some experts are surprised and skeptical about this plot's links to the Iranian government, because it seems reckless and somewhat amateurish. They could be right, and it might have been some sort of rogue operation. But I doubt it. I find it unsurprising that Iran might engage in what seems like a reckless escalation of the war, because it has little reason to fear any sort of significant response. It is well aware that the U.S. is preoccupied with various major issues, and that it is led by an extremely weak president, who has been nothing but spineless toward all enemies other than Al Qaeda and its affiliates. You have only to look at Obama's weak response to this situation. The U.S. government openly accuses Iran of trying to assassinate an allied diplomat on American soil, but then does nothing other than run to the UN and try to get more useless sanctions. Why should the Iranian rulers fear that sort of toothless action?

This situation demonstrates yet again that the Obama administration is incompetent when it comes to foreign policy. You don't accuse a hostile country of an act of war unless you are prepared to respond with force. A strong accusation combined with a weak response does nothing other than increase hostility while making you appear weak. One thing Obama is very good at is making the U.S. look weak.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

David Frum on Why He's a Republican

David Frum is much more of a big government Republican than I am, and I strongly disagree with his critique of current GOP positions on the economy. But his article gives some good reasons to be a Republican. Here are his main points with my comments.
The Republicans are the party of American nationalism. ... The flag-and-country themes of the GOP can be kitschy. They also are the indispensable basis of any idea of social cohesion across the vast continent.
He could have thrown in unabashed patriotism and belief in American exceptionalism, as opposed to the fuzzy internationalism of many Democrats.
Republican policies of lower taxes, less regulation, and restrained social spending may be poor medicine for the immediate crisis. But they remain the best formula to support the longer-term growth of the economy – way better than the Democratic preference for high taxes and opportunistic economic interventions.
They aren't poor medicine for the current crisis, but otherwise he's correct. If you want higher taxes, more government bureaucracy, an ever-increasing maze of regulations, greater government interference with the economy, and more hand-outs of taxpayer money, vote Democrat. If you want less you vote Republican.
my preferred approach to federal budgeting starts with national defense. Defense and national security are the supreme priority of the state. Only after fully funding defense can you then worry about the appropriate level of spending for everything else, and the appropriate level and form of taxation to pay for that spending.
Exactly. When government cuts are under discussion Democrats look to cut the most important function of government first, while Republicans look to other less vital areas of government.
I intensely oppose any aid or subsidy to particular companies or firms except in cases of the most extreme national necessity, eg TARP. Solyndra is only the latest example of the zeal of Democratic administrations dating back to Jimmy Carter’s to solve America’s energy problems by inserting government into the business of “picking winners.”
Ok, but the GOP has its own issues in this regard. However, as in most cases, the GOP is the lesser of two evils.
he omnipresent system of racial preferences built since the late 1960s in hope of compensating for the effects of slavery and segregation is not only a moral inequity, but also a practical disaster. ... this system is one of the most basic political commitments of the modern Democratic party.
It also requires that the current effects of racism be exaggerated to justify the continuation of such policies, and creates a whole group of racialist agitators.
real progress on the environment almost always comes under Republican presidents.
I'd say rather that the GOP is a bulwark against radical environmental extremism, whereas significant elements of the Democratic party embrace it.
Public sector unions rank as one of the most important obstacles to the improvement of public services from education to transit. And the Democrats are the party of the public-sector unions.
Absolutely. Public sector unions are a blight on the U.S., and inextricably linked with the Democratic party.
Democrats were wrong on crime from the 1970s through the 1990s, and I’m still mad about it.
Republicans tend to be better on addressing crime, as opposed to making excuses for criminals, or blaming inanimate objects such as guns.
I believe that the elected Prime Minister of Israel is a better judge of Israel’s national security than the Assistant Secretary of State for Near East affairs. Democratic administrations typically seem guided by the opposite theory.
Pretty vague reason. I could come up with a much more substantive distinction between the parties on foreign policy.
the GOP is the party more sympathetic to business concerns and challenges.
Understatement of the year there. As I write this, there are already some Democrats embracing the imbeciles of the "Occupy Wall Street" protests, people who out of envy, stupidity and the desire for hand-outs rail against capitalism -- the greatest engine of wealth creation in human history. The GOP has its problems, but they pale in comparison to the fringes of the Democratic party.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Big News That Isn't News

I just got on and checked the New York Times and Washington Post. Both lead with the same story: "U.N. Finds ‘Systematic’ Torture in Afghanistan," and "Afghan detainees tortured in prison, U.N. says." The Afghan government is torturing prisoners? No way! I'm totally shocked.

Out of concern about prisoner mistreatment, the NATO coalition said last month that it had stopped transferring detainees it arrested to 16 Afghan-run detention centers. The U.N. report said Afghan authorities were taking steps to address the problem.
If I were someone who cared how the Afghan government treated prisoners, I'd see the NATO action as a ridiculously belated effort at public relations and nothing more. No one with the slightest clue who paid even a little bit of attention has ever thought that the Afghan government treated prisoners by some sort of Western standards.

What's the next story to headline the New York Times and Washington Post? How about U.N Finds Endemic Corruption in Afghanistan?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Romney's Foreign Policy Speech

Mitt Romney gave a major foreign policy speech at The Citadel. Here are my comments on various parts.
America is not destined to be one of several equally balanced global powers. America must lead the world, or someone else will. Without American leadership, without clarity of American purpose and resolve, the world becomes a far more dangerous place, and liberty and prosperity would surely be among the first casualties.
This is an important point and one I want to hear from any presidential candidate. A strong America is not only good for the world in general, but more importantly it is good for America. I don't want a president who thinks the U.S. should fade into the background while some other power rises to dominance. Romney goes on to give a ringing defense of American Exceptionalism and then lists what he sees as specific threats. All of them require American strength.
there is one unifying thread that connects each of these possible threats: when America is strong, the world is safer.

Ronald Reagan called it “Peace through Strength” and he was never more right than today. It is only American power—conceived in the broadest terms—that can provide the foundation of an international system that ensures the security and prosperity of the United States and our friends and allies around the world.

American strength rises from a strong economy, a strong defense, and the enduring strength of our values.
He states 4 cores principles on foreign policy: 1. Clarity and resolve on our positions for both friends and enemies. This is something I advocate on a regular basis. 2. Promotion of open markets, representative government and human rights. This is pretty standard stuff, but I'd prefer an emphasis on advancing U.S. interests, and a realization that democracy and the promotion of human rights are not always in our interests depending on the situation. 3. Rapid reaction to events to defuse them before they require military action, and American military supremacy. I like the emphasis on military supremacy, but I'd rather hear that we are going to mind our own business and not feel like we need to interfere all over the world unless it is truly necessary for U.S. interests. 4. U.S. leadership in alliances and international actions/organizations, while retaining the right to act unilaterally. Sounds good.

Romney even lays out some specific actions he would take including strengthening the navy, prioritizing the deployment of a missile defense system, cybersecurity, deterrence against Iran, support for the so-called Arab Spring, a free trade economic policy toward Latin America, a full review of the situation in Afghanistan, greater support for Israel, closer ties with the UK, and talks with Mexico toward cooperation on their drug problems and bilateral security.

I'm in favor of strengthening the navy, our first line of defense and power projection. But as much as I support missile defense, I don't think we can afford it right now. I would not make deployment a priority. I've called for a policy of deterrence vs. Iran, and I'm all for free trade in general. I'd like to hear exactly what he means by supporting the Arab spring. I'm highly skeptical. I strongly support Israel, but don't think we should be increasing foreign aid to anyone any time soon, even allies. In fact, it would have been nice to hear about some cuts in aid, particularly in aid to places with hostile regimes or populations.

Despite my differences, overall this speech reinforces what I already thought about Mitt Romney -- that he is fairly solid on foreign policy.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Israeli Scientist Wins Nobel Prize for Chemistry

This isn't surprising, since despite its size, Israel is a leader in science and technology. From the New York Times,
An Israeli scientist won this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering quasicrystals, a material in which atoms were packed together in a well-defined pattern that never repeats. ... Dan Shechtman, 70, a professor of materials science at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel. Dr. Shechtman is also a professor at Iowa State University and a researcher at the United States Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory. ... Israeli leaders expressed delight and pride at the 10th Nobel Prize won by a citizen of Israel, which has a population of less than eight million. Two years ago, Ada E. Yonath of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, shared the award for chemistry as well.
It's useful to compare Israel's record of scientific achievement to that of its larger and more populous hostile neighbors and other states in the region. Their recent contributions to the world tend to be things like terrorism, Islamism, dictators, anti-Semitism, conspiracy theories, theocracy and varieties of burkhas for women.

Wikipedia has a good rundown of science & technology in Israel.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Leftist Protester With a Good Sign

From what I've seen, most of the "occupy wall street" protesters are a bunch of fringe nuts. But this sign is pretty good.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Obama's War on Al Qaeda

With the killing of Anwar Al-Awlaki (along with a bonus terrorist), I once again have to give President Obama credit for taking decisive, effective action against Al Qaeda. As much as I dislike the president, and think he's an naive incompetent when it comes to foreign policy in general, I have to admit that he has pursued our war with Al Qaeda with every bit as much ferocity as his predecessor. If anything, he has expanded our global reach, and has demonstrated that there are few safe havens for terrorist enemies of the U.S. -- especially leaders like al-Awlaki.

Back in 2009 I wrote a series of posts giving my opinion on things I thought we should be doing to prosecute our war against radical Islamic terrorists. In the concluding post I said,
The U.S. needs to start instilling some terror of our own in our enemies. The current fear faced by Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region -- that they could be killed at any minute by a drone strike -- should be extended to terrorist enemies across the globe. Rather than fear arrest, every member of an Islamic terror organization, their supporters, and the radical Islamic clerics who cheer them on, should be made to live their lives waiting for a bullet in the head from a U.S.-directed assassin.
I also wrote,
there is little hope that anything I've suggested will be done by the current administration
Clearly I was wrong. The President has actually done some of what I advocated in the passage above. His establishment of drone bases gives us the means to strike at terrorists in various areas. More importantly, he has not allowed U.S. striking power to be crippled by the blind legalism of terrorist rights supporters. All the bases and drones in the world are useless without the will to send them into action. Unlike some -- including a minority on the right -- the president appears to be able to tell the difference between terrorist enemies who should be eliminated, and criminals subject to the legal system. In the case of al-Awlaki, he rightly decided that in this special case, American citizenship should not shield someone who is openly recruiting terrorists to strike America.

I'm a Republican partisan and I don't want to see Obama get re-elected. But it my opinion it is intellectually dishonest for Republicans to pretend that the president is somehow soft on terrorism, at least as it applies to operations against Al Qaeda and its affiliates worldwide. The evidence says that he isn't, and he should get credit for the things he does right, even from political opponents.