Friday, December 30, 2005

Chilly in Ukraine

Things are getting hot in the Ukraine. Or rather, they're about to get very cold:
Russian authorities refused to ease their tough stance in a politically charged dispute with Ukraine over gas prices Friday, issuing a stern new threat to halt supplies to its neighbor on New Year's Day and criticizing Kiev's call for more time reach a deal.
Last year Russian President Vladimir Putin, who supported Viktor Yanukvych, was embarrassed by Viktor Yushchenko's victorious Orange Revolution. Yushchenko enjoyed widespread Western support, pushing for economic and media liberalization and for Ukrainian membership in NATO. The Kremlin backed Yanukvych who has close ties to the Russian government. After three elections and a bout with dioxin that malformed the previously handsome prime minister, Yushchenko was declared Ukraine's new President.

Putin has come under increasing fire for nationalizing Russian industries, clamping down on free media and jailing journalists, and most saliently for essentially throwing out foreign NGOs. Russia is once again breaking from the West, and is determined to take the old Orthodox Soviet states with it (Ukraine's 48 million people are just over half Christian Orthodox with slightly less than half being Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish). As the 2004 election showed, Ukraine is pretty evenly split, with the country's western half supporting liberal reform and the east half backing closer relations with Russia. Yushchenko, of course, represents the former.

In response to Ukraine's slide westward, Russia's state-owned Gazprom is letting the country know that if it likes Europe more, so be it:
Russian authorities are demanding that Ukraine pay $230 -- more than four times the current price of $50 -- per 1,000 cubic meters of gas. Ukraine wants a more gradual increase that would bring what it pays closer to world prices and says $75 to $80 is a fair price for now. The price Russia wants Ukraine to pay is far higher than it is charging other former Soviet republics, even those that are seeking, like Ukraine, to shake off Russian influence and integrate with the West.
Instead, the price is in line with what Gazprom charges most of Europe. If that isn't enough, Russia recently signed a deal with nearby Turkmenistan (as well as with Kazahkstan and Uzbekistan) to purchase gas from Turkmenistan to limit available supply to Ukraine, which gets a third of its natural gas from Russia and 45% from Turkmenistan.

Yushchenko's administration has had a rough year, suffering allegations of corruption and internal bickering. Economic growth, which has been stellar for the last half decade is teetering and such a shock in the dead of winter could be devastating.

There are parliamentary elections coming up in March. Russia is timing this to hurt Yushchenko's block at the polls with the ultimate goal of putting him out of power and someone with an affinity for the Kremlin back in.

The Clash of Civilizations is upon us. Russia, who will get the rotating G8 leadership position in 2006, is asserting itself as a major player in the heart of Eurasia, distinct from the Sinic East and liberal West. It wants to exert its influence on its cultural brethren in the Balkans and other former states of the Soviet Union, and economic coercion is one way to do it.

Of course, Russia has its share of problems. It's enormous natural resource base remains underdeveloped yet still comprises 80% of the country's economy leaving the country vulnerable to abrupt price swings, its fertility rate is well below replenishment at 1.27 births per woman, and rampant alcoholism and disease contribute to an average life expectancy of only 67 years (among the lowest in the world outside of Africa).

Currently, Yushshenko is flouting Gazprom's demands by threatening to restrict use of the gas lines that run through eastern Ukraine. If the winds shift in favor of those close to Russia, it is likely that the Kremlin will bring back the substantially discounted prices it gives to other former Soviet states. This is what Putin is hoping will happen.

If fissure becomes realistic, the West should back western Ukraine in splitting with the east. The gas pipelines, however, make this seem farfetched.

(International)

Thursday, December 29, 2005

WSJ vs. America

The WSJ editorial board blatantly smears Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo and the immigration reform crowd:

The House took a step in that direction this month by passing another immigration "reform" bill heavy with border control and business harassment and light on anything that will work in the real world.
The bill in reference is HR 4437, which passed last week 239-182. Because House members are closer to their constituents (representing smaller geographical areas in all but a few states, having less individual power, and facing reelection every two years) and enjoy less politically correct scrutiny than Senators, it is they who are more often the challengers of the status quo. Undoubtedly the resolution's force will be diluted when the Senate gets through with it.

Still, HR 4437 is incredibly encouraging. It calls for the end of the risible Visa Lottery system which randomly selects applicants to emigrate to the US from countries generally underrepresented in the American immigration pool like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, and Yemen (terrorism anyone?), requires employers to check via a standardized electronic database system on the background and legality of prospective hirees, and fencing along the most porous areas along the southern border.

Apparently, the WSJ cheap labor rah rahs consider measures forcing US companies to comply with immigration laws to be "business harassment". That third world underskilled immigration has increased wildly since the Reagan amnesty in 1986 is, they say, the trump as to why stringent enforcement measures should not be enacted:

For the past two decades, border enforcement has been the main focus of immigration policy; by any measure, the results are pitiful. According to the Migration Policy Institute, "The number of unauthorized migrants in the United States has risen to almost 11 million from about four million over the past 20 years, despite a 519% increase in funding and a 221% increase in staffing for border patrol programs.
Exactly why a wall would be optimal--other measures have failed dismally. Currently the US Border Patrol has a little over 11,000 agents patrolling 19,000 miles of US land and sea periphery, most of whom are focused on the 1,951 mile US-Mexico border. Assuming that the average agent is on patrol one-fourth of the time (42 hours per week), each working BP person is responsible for just a hair shy of seven miles of border! Obviously some spots are more viscous than others and the lion's share of patrolling takes place in the four border states, but with as much as 20 million illegals inside the perimeter, the paucity of agents doesn't strike me as sufficient. Even if the entire BP force was concentrated on the US-Mexico border, each agent would still be responsible for more than two-thirds a mile. This is supposed to pass as an adequate panoply against potential terrorists and other pathological criminals?

The cat-and-mouse game simply isn't effective, and just adding more agents will at best slightly reduce the flow, not stop it. But the evidence for a barrier's effectiveness is certainly not lacking. California Congressman Duncan Hunter's barrier in San Diego has been such a resounding success that he, along with Tancredo, are spearheading the effort build similar fortifications across the entire border. Israeli's security fence has virtually eliminated terrorist activity--the continued attacks occur almost exclusively in areas that as of yet do not have fencing.

The Journal then shifts from tendentiousness to outright lying:

The legislation is aimed at placating a small but vocal constituency that wants the borders somehow sealed, come what may to the economy, American traditions of liberty or the Republican Party's relationship with the increasingly important Latino vote.
Perhaps the nation's second largest newspaper missed the recent Rasmussen poll that showed that a solid 60% of Americans favor the construction of a barrier along the southern border while only 26% oppose it. How long the economy can sustain net drains on it by largely unskilled third-worlders who consume more tax dollars than they pay is certainly a valid question, however! So are concerns about the net taxpayer's freedom from atavistic disease, increased criminal activity, cultural balkanization, economic liberty, and his desire to put in place a government that acts as a steward of the taxes he pays. And of course, decreasing Latino immigration will benefit the GOP as Republicans are incredibly lucky if they can nab 40% of the Hispanic vote.

Then we play a little semantics:

Perhaps the bill's most revealing feature is the one that makes it a criminal offense, rather than a civil violation, to be in the country illegally... This also smears the law-abiding aliens with the lawbreakers.
These putative "law-abiding aliens" are already lawbreakers. The immigration laws of this country are not magically eviscerated just because Jose hasn't (yet?) stolen your bike. While I do not blame illegals for taking a gamble by sneaking into the US to enjoy the economic efflorescence their corrupt and backward native countries are unable to provide them, the fact remains that they are in clear violation of the law.

Predictably, the op/ed contains the open border crowd's most ridiculous bromide of all:

...means creating legal pathways for foreign labor to enter the country and fill jobs Americans simply won't do anymore.
The world's top business newspaper is in dire need of a lesson in basic economics. These low-value adding jobs are jobs that Americans won't do at current wages. If businesses cannot find enough help paying $5.15 an hour, they'll have to pay more or develop other mechanisms to get the job done. But the work will certainly be completed. Go to Iowa, Maine, or Vermont (92.6%, 96.5%, and 96.2% non-Hispanic white, respectively)--the lawns are still getting cut, the trash is still being picked up. And the standard of living in these states is much better than in New Mexico or California (ground zero for illegal immigration). There's also a lot less crime in the aforementioned low-immigrant states (notice how high crime rates seem to flow from Mexico northward--pictures can be worth a thousand words).

Ironically, the very next WSJ op/ed excoriates corporate welfare. But cheap labor is subsidized labor (read corporate welfare). The net taxpayer must pick up the tab for the costs immigrants bring and do not even come close to paying back in taxes (education, medical, police, and fire services, pollution, infrastructure wear, language interpretation, ad infinitum) so big business (much of which, like the agricultural industry, is already heavily subsidized) can skimp on costs. Meanwhile, American competitors turn to technology to obselesce cheap human labor and all its baggage (Japan has over half of the world's functioning robots). When automation technologies eventually become more cost effective even in the short-run versus cheap human labor, US industry will be hopelessly unable to compete.

(Immigration)

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Hope you already own a home

Housing is becoming tougher for the middle class to come by. The Fed has raised the discount rate for the last thirteen consecutive quarters to 4.25%, its highest point in over five years (the prime rate, the rate at which banks lend money to their credit worthy customers, runs about 3% higher than the discount rate--it currently sits at 7.25%). And real estate prices have exploded in various parts of the country. Thus (subscription required):

Housing affordability in October sank to its lowest levels since 1991, according to the National Association of Realtors' Affordability Index, a widely followed measure of the average household's ability to buy a home at current interest rates. In some areas, including New York City, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Miami, housing affordability has dropped to levels not seen since the early to mid-1980s, according to mortgage giant Fannie Mae.
This is wonderful news for the 68.8% of Americans who own homes or have real investment property. But for those prospective househunters, the situation is hardly encouraging:

Affordability has long been a problem for low-income home buyers. But as home prices have marched steadily higher in recent years, many buyers with healthier incomes also are being squeezed. Declining affordability mainly affects whether first-time home buyers will enter the market, but in some markets people who already own a home are finding it tough to trade up.
Want to take a stab at a primary reason for the squeeze? Start with a little basic supply and demand. As the demand for housing increases, the price people are willing to pay for homes goes up. To offset this, more homes can be built, and in places with ample room for expansion that's been happening. But shoving off to find a place more affordable usually means finding a place, cost aside, that is less desirable:
Declining affordability is forcing many home buyers to accept longer commutes,
says Jane Powers, a broker with Ewing & Clark Inc.
In regions with higher population densities where simply throwing up more housing is not feasible, higher prices result. Recalling the cities mentioned earlier, the astute reader realizes that these are cities characterized by an unusually high population of foreign-born immigrants: New York City (36%, seventh highest in the US), Los Angeles (41.3%, third highest), San Diego (27.9%, tenth highest), San Francisco (36.7%, fifth highest) and Miami (60.6%, very highest in the country). In a future post I am going to look at the correlation between percentage of foreign born and housing affordability by state and, if I can find it without having to pay an exoberant amount, by city as well.

California has by far the most foreign-born immigrants in the country, with 26.9% of its population non-native--and the top six least affordable housing markets are all in the Golden State. In many ways our nation's most populous state is a metaphorical tocsin alerting us to what we can look forward to as millions of unskilled and uneducated immigrants, both legal and illegal, continue to pour into the country: A bankrupt state treasury, atrocious NAEP test scores, high crime, enormous wealth disparity, racial tension, high unemployment, sub altern high school graduation rates (p8), ad infititum.

Partially distorting the saliency of increasingly unaffordable housing are nifty borrowing and financing tricks that save buyers a pittance now in exchange for a mountain being owed down the road:
Some factors have helped offset the decline in affordability. Many borrowers have embraced creative mortgage products, such as interest-only loans, mortgages with teaser rates of as low as 1% and "piggyback" loans aimed at buyers who don't have the money for a down payment. In the third quarter, borrowers could boost their purchasing power by 26% by taking out an interest-only mortgage, which allows a home buyer to put off repaying principal for several years, instead of a standard mortgage.
This is obviously not sustainable. Nor is the American way of life--built on ample room and a tight labor market--sustainable if immigration patterns continue as they are.

(Immigration)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Termagents and dead white males

Professor Lionel Tiger of Rutgers had an interesting op/ed in the WSJ discussing what he calls "Male Original Sin":

Male resentment of the self-righteous and automatic public support for women's interests and issues has been increasingly on the boil for some time. Civic celebrations of antipathy to men such as the Violence Against Women Act are finally generating specific and pointed responses by men fatigued, if still baffled, by the knee-jerk assumption that they suffer irredeemably from what I call Male Original Sin.

At my university as at countless others, one of the very first official greeting to students is a rape seminar predicated on the intrinsic danger males carry with them. And in family courts, the presumption of male behavioral malefaction has yielded heartbreakingly numerous cases in which men are charged with domestic violence to which courts overwhelmingly--often in brief hearings in which the male is not even present--issue temporary "restraining orders." These frequently segue into permanence, and award women the dwelling they've shared, financial support and the all-important privilege of custody--mothers gain custody in 66% of uncontested cases and 75% of contested ones. Less than a quarter of parents are awarded joint custody.

Tiger points out that women are now a substantive majority on US college campuses. Although there are almost one million more men between the ages of 18-24 than women in the US (15 million and 14.2 million, respectively), women comprise 57% of the nation's collegiate student body (see the table at bottom for a demographic breakdown).

The imbalance is strongest among blacks, which may be partly explained by recent psychometric analysis suggesting black women have an average IQ around 2.5 points higher than black men. Also, in many places there are a fewer black men than black women owing to the roughness of urban life, especially for those who internalize the pathological hip-hop culture. A much larger percentage of black men are incarcerated (3.2%) than white (.46%) or Hispanic (1.2%) males.

The trend towards female 'overrepresentation' is most trenchant among lower income families and is the most salient in liberal arts colleges. Engineering and computer sciences are still dominated by men (ratios of 5-to-1.1 and 3.5-1, respectively), and likely always will be (without genetic engineering) given male's consistently higher visuospatial reasoning and math scores on IQ and other aptitude tests.

The softening of the educational system favors women more than men. Rooted in hundreds of thousands of years of biology, men are more adventuresome and less risk-averse than women. They are also more competitive. The post-modern obsession with inclusiveness and acceptance is repulsing men and attracting women. Stories about Davy Crockett fighting valiantly to the death against swarthy invaders from the south are going to elate men more than didactic lecturing on how we must be tolerant of others and work to reconcile our differences through peaceful dialogue and compromise.

Think about it primordially. When all humans were hunters and gatherers (95% of our history as a species), men were the hunters. Going on long excursions to find game gave those who could recognize and recall terrain (to find their way back home) and accurately judge distance and angle (throwing spears, leaping from trees, etc) a distinct survival advantage. In the small clans that people lived in, fewer men were needed for successful propagation (a group with ten males and one female is not going to grow nearly as fast as one with one male and ten females), so men could afford to be more competitive. Men were also more expendable, shedding some light on why men's intelligence distribution is wider than that of women.

Women, on the other hand, were gatherers. Foraging through brush to find various nuts and berries required a different kind of intellect to learn how to distinguish the nourishing from the poisonous (memory as opposed to visuospatial reasoning). Like virtually all of mammalia, women were the primary rearers of offspring. In early communal societies, the women of the clan were in constant contact with other women and children, helping to explain their stronger interpersonal skills and greater desire for emotional bonds.

I am not overly concerned with this shift towards a greater proportion of females than males in the academic world. This may help close the gap between wage rates for men and women (currently women only bring in 77 cents for every dollar men make). However, this trend is likely to perpetuate itself--as women continue to make up more and more of the student body, schools are going to tailor the environment more toward them. This will make education less attractive for men. So long as talented men are not foregoing professions like law, medicine, engineering, architecture, science and accounting, the damage will be minimal (I'm skeptical of the value of most liberal arts degrees, which are easy to obtain and have minimal pragmatic use).

Still, this strikes me as a further argument for the publicly subsidized privatization of education, starting all the way back in kindergarten. Allow market forces to provide different learning environments focused on subject areas that children show a penchant for. Make college lectures on video tape or over the internet available to bright children who will be under-stimulated and become disinterested in education if left with the majority of the class. Conversely, for children who are less endowed, put them in classrooms with others on a similar plane so they do not become frustrated by poor performance relative to their peers.

Tiger also touches on how boys are more likely to be trouble makers:

While there remain grating sources of unfairness to women, the community is in the process of steadily creating a new legal and educational structure that generates new gender unfairness: 90% of the victims of Ritalin and similar drugs prescribed for schoolkids are boys; but even drugged they perform less well than girls. A 2005 study at Yale found nationally that even in prekindergarten boys are nearly five times as likely to be expelled as girls.

But that should not come as any surprise to those realistic about human nature. Men have higher testosterone levels, greater muscle mass, and are more competitive than women. Crime is overwhelmingly the work of men and men have been responsible for virtually all of humanity's wars. The genome is present at conception. Rambunctious urchins grow up to be rambunctious adults. Schools, again, could host more competitions (my fondest memories of grade school are the chess tournaments) and less group work to engage boys.

Tiger points out that breast cancer gets seven times as much in federal expenditures as does prostate cancer even though the number of deaths attributed to each is not near that disparate (40,000 to 30,000 respectively). And men are as much as 1000% more likely to commit suicide than women. Speculating, I imagine that men's appetite for risk leads more often to the all-or-nothing type of gambles that can leave one on the losing end in a state of hopelessly deep depression.

Perhaps what is most telling about Tiger's piece is how novel the information seems to most people. Indeed, his purpose in penning it appears to be to draw attention to the various struggles males face relative to females. We've heard for decades about inequalities between males and females, whites and minorities, and most especially between white males and everyone else. Yet when trends that favor females over males emerge, one has to turn not to the leftwing promoters of putative equality and fairness but to the callous, free-market, multicult right-leaning WSJ editorial board to hear about it.

No doubt there are many who revel in the struggles of men. It is, they might say, about time that this patriarchal society was shaken to its foundations. Do not be beguiled by the fib that the committed left is open to ideas and viewpoints spanning the entire political and ideological spectrum. All opinions are equal, but some opinions are more equal than others. This is most blatantly obvious in the academic realm, where one would assume the whole gamut of human thought would be welcomed.

Degrees ending in '-studies' (eg ethnic studies, women's studies, chicano studies, etc) often thinly veil their hostility towards traditional occidental culture, which is overwhelmingly the brainwork of white males. By mid-century, whites will no longer be a majority in the US, following the trend already established in Texas, New Mexico, California, and Hawaii. Should whites be concerned about this? Whites are currently a market-dominant majority, a position that is much more stable than that of market-dominant minorities (if Jews were 60% of Germany's population instead of less than 1% in addition to enjoying over three times the income of the average German, the Holocaust would have had a lot more trouble getting off the ground--racial demagogues like Louis Farrakhan are largely considered to be marginal fringe dwellers by most white Americans, but as the relative white population shrinks, so will that view of marginality). But this is a digression.

Heterosexual male white Catholics and WASPs are the two remaining demographic sets that can be bashed with impunity. Hispanics, blacks, women, Asians, Jews, and gays all have countless special interest groups that fight for their respective interests. You've likely heard of La Raza, the Millions More movement, NOW (National organization of Women), the Asian American Association, the Anti-defamation League, and the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Alliance (all linked to above). Excepting the Asian American Association each of these groups get ample media attention and are well known, almost household names.

On the other hand, how many people have heard of the American Renaissance? It is a white nationalist group, headed by the perspicacious Jared Taylor, that has released ground-shaking reports on racial disparities in crime within the US. Taken from FBI and Census statistics, there is scarcely a way to repudiate the group's work, so the media predictably ignore Amren entirely. Instead, they push an impression that those concerned about demographic trends antithetical to whites are self-evidently neo-Nazis.

Similarly, how many organizations exist to fight specifically for the well-being of white males? None that I'm aware of (neo-Nazis are obviously not bettering the white situation and are so minute a portion of the population that they have no effect). There is certainly not anything to the magnitude of the other special interests. And probably for the better. People of Western European descent are the most universalistic in the world (contemporary leftwing liberals are difficult to find outside the ranks of affluent whites outside of academia, the media, and coastal US cities). Christianity is uniquely ecumenical in its scope. Creating yet another special interest group fighting for preferential treatment is not appealing, although we're probably going to trend that way as the ranks of blacks and Hispanics grow and their demands for preferential treatment like reparations and affirmative action become more forceful relative to Asians and whites.

At least the future will be interesting.

(Human biodiversity)



The vulpine Fox weighs in on US politics

Mexican President Vicente Fox ripped into the just passed HR 4437, which among other tough reform measures calls for a fence to be built in the most porous areas along the southern border:
Fox said barriers between nations belonged to the last century and had been torn down by popular uprisings, referring to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

"This wall is shameful," Fox said at an event for migrants in his home state of Guanajuato...

"When we look at their roots, the immense majority are migrants, migrants that have arrived from all over the world," he said.
What audacity he has to criticize our legislators for listening to their constituencies and passing a resolution that is in the best interest of the US. The Berlin Wall was built to keep people in--it was tantamount to a prison inclosure. This fence will be keeping people out--there's a huge difference. A better comparison would be made with the Israeli barrier, which has done a phenomenal job in protecting that country's citizens from external hostilities.

The previous three waves of immigrants, each of which is dwarfed in comparison with the prodigious magnitude of this fourth wave, came from Europe. With the possible exception of Ireland, they were as developed or more so than the US. They came from countries characterized by average IQ scores similar to those of the US. There was a booming need for manual labor that is continually disappearing from a contemporary economy built increasingly on technical skill and professional education.

And of course, there was not a huge safety net or welfare system that provided free health care, medical services, infrastructure, and so on to whoever could skirt by the border patrol undetected. German families abruptly picked up English with the onset of World War II--today, some 11 million people residing in the US are deemed 'nonliterate', meaning they cannot partake in even the most basic forms of English communication. Training and paying translators are yet another hidden economic cost of rampant underclass immigration.

Fox's comparisons are spurious indeed. He is looking out for the well being of Mexico at our expense.

(Immigration)

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Mexican government is not a friend

But we're Mexico's best friend. Remittances to Mexico are now that country's number one source of external revenue ($17 billion in 2004), even surpassing dollars generated from oil exports. The Mexican government has lobbied hard to get US banks to accept matricula consular cards, which are issued by Mexico to Mexican nationals living outside the home country (inside the US, in other words). Over 200 US banks honor the cards, even though they are illegal substitutes for legitimate social security or green cards.

So, Mexico helps banks set up accounts for criminals so these illegals can easily wire money south of the border. Even though such activity is clearly illegal, its practice is widespread:

LILIANA SALAS-GRIP, WELLS FARGO: "We are not in the business of immigration. We don't question any customer, Latin, American, or any other customer that comes into our financial institution in their legal or illegal status..."

But there are clear laws on the books for the integrity of the immigration system. United States criminal code, "It is a crime punishable by 10 years in jail for aiding and abetting someone in this country illegally for commercial gain." And the Bank Secrecy Act of 1972 makes it clear banks must know their customer, and any illegal activity must be reported to the government.
The Mexican migrants who come to the US are below the national average by several measures: Have an average educational attainment equivalent to the eighth grade, are three times as likely not to have a high school diploma and only one-eighth (four generations in they are still only about one-fifth) as likely to pursue secondary education as natives, illegal immigrants (primarily but not exclusively Mexican) comprise around a quarter of the US prison population but only a tenth of the total population, use welfare services at a rate as much as 50% higher than natives (p9), and are an astounding 250% more likely to fall below the poverty threshold than natives.

Think about how great a deal this is for Vicente Fox. He attenuates the problem caused by his impoverished and unemployed by shipping them out of the country. Then, his economy gets injected with $17 billion without having to give anything up. Mexico parasitically exports her social problems and we pay her for them. Sort of like the old privateers--send your criminals out of the country to go plunder other countries on your behalf.

Indeed the Mexican government is aware of how lucrative this trade is:
The Mexican government publishes and distributes a comic book-style guide on breaching the border safely and evading detection once in the U.S.
That cultured country of unrivaled probity makes some fine comic strips for sure (scroll down a bit)! Meanwhile, in my home state, illegal immigrants pay only a fourth of what my pals from Missouri fork over to attend KU. To insure that American culture does not make Mexicans forget the culture of their great golden race, the Mexican government actively pushes for Mexican history and culture to be taught in largely Hispanic areas within the US:
Since 1990, Mexico has supported a number of initiatives to import Mexican culture into the U.S. For one thing, each of Mexico's 47 consulates in the U.S. has a mandate to introduce Mexican textbooks into schools that have a sizeable Hispanic population.
Ironically, however, Mexico has an entirely different opinion on immigration policy when she's on the receiving end:

Mexico’s own immigration policies are the exact opposite of what it relentlessly advocates in the United States. Its entry permits favor scientists, technicians, teachers of underrepresented disciplines, and others likely to contribute to “national progress.” Immigrants may only enter through established ports and at designated times. Anyone not presenting the proper documentation and health certificates won’t get in; the transportation company that brought him must pay his return costs. Foreigners who do not “strictly comply” with the entry conditions will face deportation. Steve Royster, who worked in the American consulate in Mexico from 1999 to 2001, presided over several deportations of Americans who had overstayed their visas. “They were given a choice: accept deportation or go to jail,” he says.

Providing full college tuition or all-expenses-paid secondary and primary education for illegal American students in Mexico? Unthinkable. Until recently, U.S.-born children of Mexican parents weren’t even allowed to enroll in Mexican public schools, reserved for Mexican citizens only. The parents would have to bribe officials for Mexican birth certificates for their kids. (The 1998 change in the Mexican constitution to allow dual nationality now makes enrollment by U.S.-born Mexicans possible.) “We’re not friendly with immigrants; that’s a big difference with the speech we have here with American schools,” admits a Mexican diplomat.

Those caciques must think we're absolute morons. Could we possibly be played for fools any worse than we currently are being played? We bend over backwards to help a corrupt country (more than 30% of Mexican households report that they have paid at least one bribe in the last year) that would never do the same for us.

When I say "we", of course, I'm not including big business that exploits the cheap labor (Republicans) or leftist politicians who love manufacturing more votes (Democrats). I'm talking about you, the net taxpayer--the one who subsidizes unskilled immigrants. The costs illegal immigration thrusts upon the US are staggering--somewhere in the range of $11 to $22 billion annually. And this number would be even higher--around $29 billion--if amnesty was granted to all illegals (as these illegals would instantly become eligible for a wider array of government services). While an illegal pays $4,200 on average in taxes per year, with two kids in school requiring ESL he is receiving $25,000 from the net taxpayer. Then there's medical services, pollution, police and fire use, infrastructure wear, linguistic translation costs, ad infititum.

It's time for President Bush to put his money where his mouth is. Importing an obsequious foreign servant to replace a rowdy domestic one does not get rid of the latter--it just gives you a new member of the underclass. We need a barrier and a thundering crackdown on the flow of indigent hordes into the US that depress wages, increase crime, bring in disease, stress our infrastructure, increase the size of our underclass, and threaten our national security. The economy of the future, unlike the one of our forefathers, has little need for menial labor. And in the words of Milton Friedman, "It's just obvious that you can't have free immigration and a welfare state."

(Immigration)

Friday, December 16, 2005

Bush, terrorism, and interrogation

Bush looks to be in a lot of trouble:

President Bush signed a secret order in 2002 authorizing the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens and foreign nationals in the United States, despite previous legal prohibitions against such domestic spying, sources with knowledge of the program said last night.
The story, made public by the NYT last night (no resting on your Iraqi election laurels, Mr. President) after that paper held it over the last year for further investigation, came as Congress was engrossed in debate over renewing various aspects of the Patriot Act. Needless to say, this revelation dealt a critical blow to the Act's supporters:

The Senate on Friday rejected attempts to reauthorize several provisions of the USA Patriot Act as infringing too much on Americans' privacy and liberty, dealing a huge defeat to the Bush administration and Republican leaders.
The National Security Agency, created under President Truman in 1952, is the largest intelligence agency in the world. Its primary work is in cryptanalysis (code breaking) and eavesdropping via a variety of media including radio, telephone, and the internet. Like the CIA, it works primarily outside of the US. In 2002, on the heels of 9/11, Bush signed an executive order giving the NSA the right to monitor American citizens communicating with someone outside the US without first obtaining a search warrant. If true, it's certainly furtive and possibly even illegal.

What is so flummoxing is why the NSA decided to go around the judicial search warrant:

While many details about the program remain secret, officials familiar with it say the N.S.A. eavesdrops without warrants on up to 500 people in the United States at any given time. The list changes as some names are added and others dropped, so the number monitored in this country may have reached into the thousands since the program began, several officials said.
In reaction to similar perceived abuses by administrations in the Vietnam era, Congress enacted the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act. FISA mandates that the US government request judicial authorization before engaging in clandestine monitoring activity of American citizens. After 9/11, the FISA judiciary court would presumably err on the side of monitoring and give the NSA plenty of leeway. Indeed, according to James Badford who has written two books on the NSA, the FISA court has only refused to grant one warrant in its almost thirty year history. If any obstruction did occur, the Bush Administration could have gone public with accusations of sedition against the court for leaving the country vulnerable by refusing to comply at a time when so much of the country was behind him.

The Bush Administration has yet to respond formally to the revelation, but this news appears to me a tremendous blow to the government's ability to aggressively gather information from potentially hostile sources. And coming on the eve of this news was the President's capitulation to Senator McCain's push for so-called anti-torture measures, banning coercive techniques like waterboarding (even though some of our finest are subject to it in SERE training).

Like most fair-minded average Joes, I hold a tenuous opinion on the interrogation question. I simply do not know and can only speculate on what I read, realizing that I'm too far removed from the practice to know the totality of what it feels like or how effective the various techniques are at extracting information. But Heather Mac Donald leads me to generally support coercive techniques:

"It didn’t take long for interrogators in the war on terror to realize that their part was not going according to script. Pentagon doctrine, honed over decades of cold-war planning, held that 95 percent of prisoners would break upon straightforward questioning. Interrogators in Afghanistan, and later in Cuba and Iraq, found just the opposite: virtually none of the terror detainees was giving up information—not in response to direct questioning, and not in response to army-approved psychological gambits for prisoners of war...

Army doctrine gives interrogators 16 “approaches” to induce prisoners of war to divulge critical information. Sporting names like “Pride and Ego Down” and “Fear Up Harsh,” these approaches aim to exploit a detainee’s self-love, allegiance to or resentment of comrades, or sense of futility. Applied in the right combination, they will work on nearly everyone, the intelligence soldiers had learned in their training...

Even if a prisoner had not previously studied American detention policies before arriving at Kandahar, he soon figured them out. “It became very clear very early on to the detainees that the Americans were just going to have them sit there,” recalls interrogator Joe Martin (a pseudonym). “They realized: ‘The Americans will give us our Holy Book, they’ll draw lines on the floor showing us where to pray, we’ll get three meals a day with fresh fruit, do Jazzercise with the guards, . . . we can wait them out.’"

This doesn't surprise me. Muslims are probably hard nuts to crack, given the austerity of orthodox Islam. If detainees do not fear what their captors might do to them, extracting information will become a virtual impossibility. Swinging in the other direction by acting chummy is unlikely to work either if the captive is evenly remotely pious--and the ones with valuable information are going to be the most devoted to jihad.

They've figured out long ago that if a terrorist falls into Western hands, the first thing to do is allege that abuse has taken place. And then do so over and over, more vociferously each time (from a confiscated Al Qaeda training manual):

At the beginning of the trial, once more the brothers must insist on proving that torture was inflicted on them by State Security [investigators] before the judge. Complain [to the court] of mistreatment while in prison... Take advantage of visits to communicate with brothers outside prison and exchange information
that may be helpful to them in their work outside prison [according to what occurred during the investigations]... Victory is achieved by obeying Almighty and Glorious God and because of their many sins.
Recent events do not bode well for our ability to combat Islamic terrorism. In addition to the borderline-illegal executive order, there's the alleged CIA secret prisons and the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse that won't go away. We've pulled a lot out of KSM, among others, with the use of coercive measures and other aggressive tactics. Dropping them is not going to be innocuous. The NSA's surreptitious work that circumvented FISA has been effective in some cases:

Several officials said the eavesdropping program had helped uncover a plot by Iyman Faris, an Ohio trucker and naturalized citizen who pleaded guilty in 2003 to supporting Al Qaeda by planning to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge with blowtorches. What appeared to be another Qaeda plot, involving fertilizer bomb attacks on British pubs and train stations, was exposed last year in part through the program, the officials said.
Mark Bowden suggests a pragmatic 'compromise', but it's ethically distasteful:

The Bush Administration has adopted exactly the right posture on the matter. Candor and consistency are not always public virtues. Torture is a crime against humanity, but coercion is an issue that is rightly handled with a wink, or even a touch of hypocrisy; it should be banned but also quietly practiced. Those who protest coercive methods will exaggerate their horrors, which is good: it generates a useful climate of fear. It is wise of the President to reiterate U.S. support for international agreements banning torture, and it is wise for American interrogators to employ whatever coercive methods work. It is also smart not to discuss the matter with anyone.

Interrogators should have clear boundaries with which to work--it's unjust to ask them to risk their careers by dealing in gradations that they are not clear on. This dilemma highlights how difficult it is to retain personal freedoms in an atmosphere of terrorism on a massive scale. There's a trade off: More security for less freedom and vice versa. It's unsettling.

What we certainly can do, however, is fortify our own borders. Build a wall on the southern border and possibly the northern one as well (around $30 billion, or less than a year in Iraq), aggressively check freight ships at the ports, hammer companies who hire illegals, and deport those non-residents who are here illegally. Institute a merit immigration program that allows us to take the pick of the litter from the some 1.5 billion people who'd like to come to the US.

We should also look hard at ending or severely limiting immigration from the Middle East and Islamic parts of South Asia. The recent riots in France and Australia highlight how resistant Islamic culture is to assimilation. They abuse the welfare state, congregate in ethnic enclaves, and attack those hostile to their way of life. These countries are characterized by moderately low IQs--we could more than compensate for them by rolling the red carpet out to more people from Europe and East Asia. It wouldn't be a perfect filter, but it would help.

++Added++The President responded to the revelation today (December 17):
President Bush said Saturday he has no intention of stopping his personal authorizations of a post-Sept. 11 secret eavesdropping program in the U.S., lashing out at those involved in revealing it while defending it as crucial to preventing future attacks...

Bush said the program was narrowly designed and used "consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution." He said it is used only to intercept the international communications of people inside the United States who have been determined to have "a clear link" to al-Qaida or related terrorist organizations.
So it looks like the Administration is going to challenge the presumption by some that the executive order and subsequent reviews of the program were illegal.

(Terrorism)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Kyoto and energy

The Kyoto Treaty is dead in the water:

Even those who support radical cuts in carbon-dioxide emissions are realizing that the Kyoto Protocol is a failed instrument for achieving their goals. "The blunt truth about the politics of climate change is that no country will want to sacrifice its economy in order to meet this challenge," says British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
And Britain has been an aberration among signatories--only five of the 156 countries who jumped on board the Kyoto have decreased emissions. Of these, only Great Britain and Germany have done so impressively:

Of the industrialised nations, only Britain seems to be having little trouble meeting its commitments, having even surpassed its target of 12.5 pct by cutting emissions 13 pct. Germany also reduced its emissions impressively, by 18.2 pct, but was short of its target of 21 pct, while France (1.9 pct), Luxembourg (16 pct) and Sweden (2.3 pct) also cut emissions.

One step forward doesn't neutralize two steps backwards, unfortunately:

Eleven have reported increases since 1990, with huge rises seen in Spain (41.7 pct), Portugal (36.7 pct), Greece (25.8 pct), Ireland (25.6 pct), Finland (21.5 pct) and Austria (16.5 pct).
The countries that have cut emissions, not surprisingly, are stuck in the doldrums of economic malaise. Britain has recently slashed its GDP growth rate to a paltry 1.75% while Germany turns in a similarly unstellar performance of 1.7%. France suffers from double-digit unemployment, among other things.

This marginally effective push to reduce emissions by many moral posturing industrialized nations (US and Australia are notably absent) reminds me of a sequence in Joseph Heller's Cath-22. Yossarian is tending to another soldier's arm wound taken from enemy fire, feverishly wrapping it up to stop the bleeding. In his momentary relief from getting the relatively minor injury to the arm taken care of, Yossarian realizes the guy's abdomen has been obliterated and his guts are literally spilling out onto the floor. China and India are collectively that abdomen:

By 2012, the plants in three key countries - China [1.926 billion], India [486 million], and the United States [275 million] - are expected to emit as much as an extra 2.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide, according to a Monitor analysis of power-plant construction data. In contrast, Kyoto countries by that year are supposed to have cut their CO2 emissions by some 483 million tons.
In the ideal world where the Kyoto nations met their obligations, we could expect to see six times that amount added from just three other countries. The entire Kyoto protocols, if they were carried out to term would not even offset the growth of India. Of course, almost all the countries that are a party to Kyoto are failing dismally at even halting emissions growth, let alone decreasing them. And the explosion in China is the real story. Because oil is expensive and unstable, the PRC is turning to other methods of feeding its insatiable need for energy, namely coal:

"Environmental optimists were assuming the world was going to switch to gas, but when you're short of gas you use your own coal," says Philip Andrews-Speed, a China energy expert at the University of Dundee, in Scotland. "What you're seeing with China and the others is the cheapness and security of coal just overwhelming the desire to be clean."

It's unfair to expect China to halt emissions growth, given that the country's PPP of $5,600 is among the world's lowest outside of Africa, northern South and Central America, and the crapistans. Being told to put the brakes on economic efficiency by countries with a standard of living ten times higher than their own is understandably scoffed at by the Chinese, who are building a new power plant every ten days or so.

Trying to regulate away greenhouse emissions is a pipe dream. Until alternative energy sources (check out Randall Parker's Futurepundit for insightful news about and analysis of them) become economically viable, they are going to be resisted because of their obvious deleterious effect on growth. Governments should be focusing on developing, directly and through tax incentives, these alternative sources so that industry will be encouraged rather than coerced into using them.

Tony Blair is right in pointing out that so long as lower emissions are cost-ineffective, mandating them will remain an exercise in futility. Companies will simply move to nations with more lax enforcement, further injuring the highly regulated nations and rewarding those with liberal allowances for emissions. By pouring money into research, perhaps something similar to the Manhattan Project but this time for energy production, governments and environmental groups can work to obsolesce fossil fuels like oil and coal.

Projects like FutureGen can help make fossil production much cleaner. This is the only way that emissions are going to be substantively cut. In addition, it would enhance US national security and be economically beneficial. Thumping morally superior chests and clamoring for draconian government anti-business mandates will solve nothing and only hurt those nations that buy into it.

Nuclear is currently the most feasible--it's cheap, removes dependency on foreign countries, and doesn't spit out any emissions. Although it is far off, nuclear fusion could plausibly provide an almost infinite amount of energy from a single source. Congress, with Bush's backing, has thankfully made some push to build more nuclear power plants in the US. Photovoltaics (solar), batteries, biodiesel, wind, and hydro are in play as well, although none of them are very competitive against fossil fuels at this juncture.

(Future)

Monday, December 12, 2005

Good riddance, Mr. Williams

In a matter of hours, justice will have been served. Despite what moral posturing leftists might say, there's not a stone left unturned that suggests this founder of one of America's most lurid and violent gangs, the 'Crips', is innocent. What has been largely left out of the discussion, however, is the crime scene photographs (warning: very graphic) of the victims this simian allegedly butchered.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger abstained from granting clemency to Williams on the lack of any legal impetus to do so and for a lack of genuine remorse:
"'Stanley Williams insists he is innocent, and that he will not and should not apologise or otherwise atone for the murders of the four victims in this case,' Schwarzenegger wrote. 'Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings there can be no redemption.'

'Based on the cumulative weight of the evidence, there is no reason to second guess the jury's decision of guilt or raise significant doubts or serious reservations about Williams' convictions and death sentence.'"

Mercifully, however, the Governor did grant clemency of a sort for the families of the three Taiwanese and one white who this black murdered in cold blood for a whopping $120. Oh, you had not heard the ethnicities of the parties involved? It's not surprising. One really has to dig to find it. A little acumen I might offer: If you hear anything about crime involving interracial violence, rest assured it is the case of a white (preferably a male WASP) tormenting a minority of some sort. If, however, race or ethnicity is not reported, two potential situations arise: 1) The crime is intra-racial, or 2) A minority member is committing the crime against members of another racial or ethnic group.

While Williams has putatively 'turned his life around' (and who on death row hasn't?), that is an empty argument for abnegating justice. Legally, as referenced above, there has been no reason to overturn the conviction. Even the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals, the most left-wing in the nation, has refused to take up Williams' cause. When a legal verdict is reached by a jury, it needs to be honored unless there is a legitimate legal reason for an injunction or appeal hearing. To void the jury's conclusion simply to appease a bunch of narcissistic Hollywood types is absurd.

The death penalty, despite the visceral emotional paroxysms it provokes, is numerically insignificant. Since 1976, 1,000 people in the US have paid the ultimate price, or roughly one person every ten days (compare that the other hot-button social issue of abortion where 4,050 fetuses are destroyed per day). The average death row inmate spends 10.4 years between conviction and the actual execution owing to the astronomically high and seemingly endless appeals process, almost always picked up by the net taxpayer. Currently, about two-thirds of Americans support capital punishment--even among blacks, who suffer from the highest rate of execution, 44% support it. Relative to their violent crime rate, however, blacks are actually considerably less likely to be put down than whites--although blacks are 9.1 times as likely to commit violent crimes as whites, they are only 3.3 times as likely as whites to be put to death for them.

Is capital punishment a deterrent? Does it even need to be? They call it punishment for a reason, after all. Over the last half-century, the number of executions and the number of homicides have moved in opposite directions, suggesting that capital punishment is correlated with a decrease in homicidal activity.

Still, I tenuously oppose the death penalty. I'd rather see a chain gang renascence. Set up prisons as token societies where inmates have to do the backbreaking labor that unskilled immigrants largely partake in now. In return for their work, they can 'buy' necessities from prison--things like condiments for food, books, recreational time, and so forth. This would cut down on the need for subsidized cheap labor, introduce a work ethic that many criminals desperately need to have instilled, and probably deter would-be criminals and recidivists more than jailswith weight rooms and PS2s do.

Will there be rioting a la Rodney King in Los Angeles and elsewhere after midnight? Local clergymen are trying to assuage the fervor. Presumably California's police force is ready for the worst. No doubt that some of the underclasses in general and gang members in particular will be eagerly awaiting an excuse to go on a destructive melee. Perhaps Williams is not done wreaking havoc on society just yet.

(US)

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Those taxing taxes

The IRS finally came out and told America what it estimates the average filer pays out-of-pocket to pay, well, out-of-pocket to the IRS (subscription required):
"These new estimates were developed to help people get a better understanding of
the burden of preparing their taxes... The IRS is required by law to provide taxpayer-burden estimates."
For form 1040 only, the estimated cost comes in at $121. If schedule A (itemized deductions) and schedule D (capital gains) are included--these are generally more affluent taxpayers, as only 30% of filers itemize--the average is $313. Given that there are 78.8 million filers who pay to have their taxes done, these estimates yield a grand total a few million over $14 billion. Prodigious as that number seems, it is pittance in the scheme of US tax-compliance costs:
"In 2002 individuals, businesses and non-profits will spend an estimated 5.8 billion hours complying with the federal income tax code (henceforth called “compliance costs”), with an estimated compliance cost of over $194 billion. This amounts to imposing a 20.4-cent tax compliance surcharge for every dollar the income tax system collects. By 2007, the compliance cost is estimated, conservatively, at $244.3 billion. However, this estimate does not take into account the recently enacted Economic Growth and Tax Reform Reconciliation Act (EGTRRA) of 2001. Taking EGTRRA into account shows that the compliance cost could soar as high as $350.2 billion by 2007."
The IRS estimates are only looking at the accounting cost and only for individual filers, as opposed to the economic cost imposed on all entities that have to file (businesses outspend individuals by about 20%). Accounting cost consists of actual dollars (or equivalents) paid, while economic cost incorporates opportunity costs into the mix. That some 5.8 billion hours--or 662,100 years--of wasted time means over 662 millenia worth of Joe American's productivity is discarded every year (increasing perennially) in addition to the actual dollars forked over to tax preparers.

And even this more broadly encompassing estimate is only the tip of the iceberg. What about estate planners, huge CPA firms (445,000 employees at the big four alone), tax attornies, and collection agents involved in avoiding and extracting taxes, respectively? Accountants and attornies are among the select group of high-IQ professions. What are these people, the vast majority of whom have IQs surpassing 120, doing to contribute to human progress? Playing in a perpetual chess match against other high-IQ types on the IRS's 99,000-strong, $10.185 billion annual budget side! What a colossal waste. When their opportunity costs are taken into consideration from the perspective of society at large (not the professional's individual opportunity costs, as they are obviously being remunerated handomsely for their services), the tax system-induced loss must be unfathomably astronomical.

The IRC must be seriously reformed. We need something more drastic than shaving a few lines off the 1040 and collapsing six income brackets into four--these proposals are a step in the right direction, but only a marginal one.

I favor a national sales tax to replace the federal income tax, since the US is a consumption-based society. One of the tenets of an ideal tax system is the so-called "wherewithal to pay"--that is, people should only have to pay tax when they have the money to do so (think if you were taxed at the end of the year for the gain in your stock holdings, even though you hadn't sold them--if a significant amount of your investments were in the market, coming up with the cash flow to pay the IRS could become very burdensome).

A sales tax does that--you only pay tax when buying a new product or service. It would generally be progressive in nature, as people with more disposable income tend to spend more, in absolute terms anyway. Under the FairTax plan (23%), all citizens would receive a credit equal to the poverty line for their situation on a monthly basis. Thus, people spending an amount under the poverty threshold would skate tax-free. A national sales tax would also encourage conservation, since only new items would be subject to the tax and it would make the US an even more attractive location for corporations to emigrate to since they would not have to pay based on profits but instead on capital expansion. It would also eliminate every free-marketers favorite object of derision--double taxation.

The flat tax is another option. While it would not fundamentally alter the way the tax system works, the most popular proposals call for an end to deductions and credits in addition to differing tax rates. This would eliminate the need for tax preparation and make tax shelters orders of magnitude more difficult to pull off. With a poverty credit similar to that of the national sales tax, some of the inevitable criticism of its inherent 'unfairness' (since it's equal and all) in not increasing the tax rate in tandem with income would be parried. Steve Forbes thinks he can do it at just 17%.

While intuitively it appears that higher tax rates lead to higher government revenues, it's far from settled. For example, with the Bush tax cuts still firmly in place, 2005 is going to be the highest grossing year on record (p30) for the US government, and the fourth highest when adjusted for inflation. Conceptually, think of two extreme scenarios: Country A taxes its citizens at 5% of income. Country B taxes its citizens at 95% of income. All other things equal, which government do you think pulls in more revenue (while having an exponentially larger and more dynamic economy)?

The slew of time, energy, and manpower (not to mention frustration) that goes into the current tax system can conceivably be avoided rather easily. But every tax change is going to have its winners and losers--and usually it's the potential losers who scream the loudest. The masses need to wake up to this waste and realize it can be fixed.

(US)

Friday, December 09, 2005

Fascism in Conneticut

The extreme Castroite left shows its love for open dialogue:

"Music that seemed to come from somewhere in the raucous audience that packed the Jorgensen Center at the University of Connecticut Wednesday night brought Ann Coulter's speech to an abrupt end about 15 minutes after she started.

After waiting with her bodyguard on stage for several minutes for the music to stop while a section of the audience chanted 'You suck, you suck,' an irritated Coulter said she would not finish her speech."

Deaniac types love to brand everyone to the right of Ted Kennedy a fascist. If you are critical of blank-slatism, oppose open borders, affirmative action, welfare payments, same-sex marriage, or on-demand abortion, you've likely been hit with the label. Here's the pertinent part of the definition:

"Suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship... oppressive, dictatorial control."

Who's the fascist? A more effective way to disparage speakers (and retain an element of probity) was demonstrated by those outside the auditorium holding signs and pictures. Disagree vehemently, but don't try to mute those with whom you disagree.

Coulter was invited by the University of Conneticut to give a speech followed by a Q&A two days after far left activist Cindy Sheehan (who was not shouted down or interrupted) did the same. Coulter is a contentious and caustic conservative commentator who has no love lost for her political antagonists. But she obviously should be given the chance to speak without Orwellian attempts at silencing by her opposition.

This is not an isolated event. When Ann Coulter visited KU earlier this year, the same fascist tactics were used to keep her from giving her point of view:

"'All I did was say they shouldn't stop her from speaking,' Conner said of confronting some audience members in the back of the auditorium.
Later, when heckling broke out again, a couple of uniformed KU Public Safety Department officers appeared and escorted about six people out of the auditorium."

Others on the right face the same thing (see commenters yucking it up over assaults on various right-of-center figures). Even moderates are not exempt. Arnold was subject to the a shout down at a graduation ceremony last June:

"Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's return to his alma mater turned into an exercise in perseverance when virtually his every word was accompanied by catcalls, howls and piercing whistles from the crowd...

Inside the stadium, the drone from hundreds of rowdy protesters threatened to drown out the governor's voice at times."

So much for the putative tolerance. Some might expect this sort of behavior from militant-right groups, but it is overwhelmingly the work of the left. Be weary of those who conspicously wear the 'tolerance' veneer. Liberal democracies are built on socratic discussions with a rolling back-and-forth that continues indefinitely. It's cliche but crucial. Those who incessantly claim to be open and understanding should eagerly embrace the words of a Coulter or a Buchanan, not blackball news organizations that give their thoughts a forum.

As a self-described racial realist (second definition), this sort of thing hits me on an almost regular basis in some form or another. It never ceases to amaze me how people so critical of what they see as uncritical dogmatism (read religion) hold many things so sacred that they cannot be discussed, regardless of their veracity or utility (how many in the popular press foresaw the unsurprising fact that a mostly black urban area would turn to rioting when police restraint broke down?)

The next time someone says "Shut up--stop being so intolerant," be sure to point out the hypocrisy in their request.

(Politics and Religion)



Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Evolution and ID in the Kansan

A recent op/ed piece in the KU student newspaper lambasted the "intelligent design" theory as proof that the US is controlled by "Christian conservatives". What follows is a challenge to Abramovitz's assertions and the broader question of why we should stop neutering Darwin's Origin of Species.

Abramovitz begins by positing that the transgressions of high-profile conservatives have largely gone unchallenged, evidentially revealing how the US is in their collective clutches:

"Was there a violent cry for redress last June when Vice President Dick Cheney publicly accosted Congressman Leahy on the Senate floor with the 'F' word? Or when Pat Roberts, a prominent conservative television evangelist, demanded the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on his television show, 'The 700 Club?' Or when President Bush, at the Middle East Peace Summit in 2003, made an even more outrageous claim: Justifying military action in Afghanistan and Iraq as a direct divination from God?"

Cheney was roundly excoriated for his boorish word choice, as was Robertson, who made the comment in response to Chavez's insistence that the US is actively trying to take him out. Clearly these actions do not find widespread support and are dismissed--just as they are on the other end of the spectrum (see DNC chairman Howard Dean's comments about most Republicans not making an honest living or black Professor and activist Kamau Kambon's vitriolic rhetoric concluding that the extermination of white people is the only way for blacks to save themselves). This sort of dopey confabulation is red meat for partisan volleying, but largely boring and irrelevant outside the realm of committed party rah rahs.

Abramovitz's last assertion, that Bush said God told him to invade Iraq and Afghanistan is tendentious at best and journalistically unethical at worst. That unsubstantiated allegation was made by Nabil Shaath, a Palestinian negotiator highly critical of US support for Israel, and was fervently denied by the White House as blatantly untrue. The typically credulous and anti-Bush BBC ran it without verification anyway and from there it became "fact" on the left side of the blogosphere.

Abramovitz continues:

"No actions taken for these incidents match the ones in response to Dr. Paul Mirecki’s divulged e-mails. To cut to the chase, the United States is controlled
and dominated by the Christian conservative right and is why critics have lambasted Dr. Mirecki so fiercely."
He's referring to the religious studies professor who planned to teach a course highly critical of the intelligent design theory and its supporters but subsequently cancelled it after correspondence was leaked that the presumably objective academic study of ID and the issues surrounding it were actually going to be a biased attack aimed at debunking and discrediting the theory.

The primary reason, of course, that Mirecki was lambasted stems from the clandestine nature of what he was trying to do. Imagine if I, now a credentialled professor, offered a course entitled "Survey of Feminism" and sold it as a broad overview of the lives and philosophies of women from Emily Dickinson to Maureen Dowd. But in the classroom I only talked about sky-rocketing divorce and out-of-wedlock marriage rates, the poverty of single mother households, the drastic decline in Western birth rates below the replenishment level, physiological and psychometric data revealing the broad differences between the sexes, and showed pictures of partially-birthed aborted fetuses. Would there be an outcry? I sure hope so.

ID is hardly owned by conservatives. According to the Pew Research Center, Americans favor by a margin of almost 2-1 that creationism be taught alongside evolution. Even those identified as liberals were split evenly on the issue.

Abramovitz goes on:

"It is disgusting to see the ways in which politicians have interfered with the operations of an institution such as the University."
KU is a public university, receiving its funding from federal and state coffers (the politicians) and Kansas residents (who elect the politicians in part for their views and actions regarding public education). No institution will get away with disregarding (or biting) the hand that feeds it for long. This should especially be the case when that hand is the American taxpayer.

Continues Abramovitz:
"All of this amounts to conservative censorship of what is viewed as liberal propaganda."
No doubt there is some of that sentiment out there--possibly radicalized to the point of the horrific and unjustifiable physical assault on Mirecki by two unidentified assailants (although the actual motive for the alleged attack is not yet confirmed). But the underlying theme in the op/ed that fundamentalist Christians somehow control the country seems risible in light of the virtual disappearance of references to Christmas in retail advertising and sales floor displays even though a full 84% of the country considers itself to be Christian (1.3% professed Judaism and less than 1% claimed to be Muslim) and 96% celebrate the federal holiday.

Speaking of censorship, I've long wondered why the liberal intelligentsia are in such a fuss over the perennial calls of parents in local school districts to have certain objectionable books removed from the curriculum on grounds that children need exposure to reading material pertinent to contemporary culture (like extremely graphic descriptions of children and animals being sexually abused, apparently) yet vociferously demand the Bible not be made required reading. If anyone can give me a piece of literature more crucial to the development and understanding of the Occident, if not the entire world, than the Bible (specifically the Gospels), my ears are burning.

Writes Abramovitz:
"Don’t students at a secular university have the right to take a class that is skeptical of religion?"
Yes, of course. This likely strikes anyone who has ever taken an REL class at a public university as ludicrous. The humanities are overwhelmingly liberal and secular, even by academic standards--if a student actually finds an instructor who is pious it's a rarity. In any case, if the course presents subject matter in an acutely skeptical light, that should be made known to prospective students before they enroll.

Perspicaciously Abramovitz states:
"One of the first subjects discussed in the Introduction to Evolutionary Biology class this semester is how the implications of intelligent design do not fit inside the paradigm of empirical, scientific inquiry. Under the scientific method, the supernatural cannot be used to explain the natural and vice versa."
Indeed. That is why ID belongs in the philosophy department, alongside other cosmological, teleological, and ontological arguments/theories that seek to explain the origins of the universe and the meaning of human experience. Empirical science is to be based on things that are replicable. However, there are exceptions. The most notable is the Big Bang theory, which, while indefatigably scrutinized, still holds up as the most sensible explanation to the universe's beginning, incidentally causing a lot of angst amongst atheists. Fancifully now dictator of all freshman biology classes, I would introduce ID as a ten minute vignette to the unit on evolution, quickly covering its probabilistic argument and noting that Darwin's theory is just that--a theory (although one incredibly grounded in historical evidence).

And since the theory of evolution has been in the limelite for awhile, it is time we start applying it to a host of human social concerns (remembering that the full title of Darwin's work that gave structure to the previously inchoate theory of evolution: The Origin of Species: By Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life). Instead of limiting its discussion to the point we wiped out (and bred out) Neanderthals, students should be introduced to its implications to modernity. It is not only pertinent in the field of medicine, but also in the immigration and affirmative action debates, the sports world, the criminal justice system, the definition of the modern woman, ad infinitum. Certainly Darwin would agree, as this terse excerpt from Descent of Man shows:
"There is, however, no doubt that the various races, when carefully compared and
measured, differ much from each other,- as in the texture of the hair, the relative proportions of all parts of the body, the capacity of the lungs, the form and capacity of the skull, and even in the convolutions of the brain. But it would be an endless task to specify the numerous points of difference."

Legal and spiritual equality are hallmarks of Western society, and there is no reason that should change. But the idea of a blank slate and all the spurious free-market libertarian and "it's all culture" (read racism) liberal nostrums that come with it are unempirical, dogmatic, and fraught with peril.

By taking a hard look at how evolution has shaped and continues to shape humanity, we can better understand the inherent difficulties multicultural, multiracial societies face. The HapMap project is humming along and promises to provide needed edification on human genomics--this knowledge should not be relegated to the esoteric halls of the hard sciences. Instead of fallaciously believing that Jeffersonian democracy can be equally successful irrespective of where it is attempted, we can make sense of why people tend so frequently to show an affinity for those like themselves (culturally and otherwise). Like the maternal instinct naturally propels a mother to protect her son, so does the solidarity of racially similar groups (race is best described as an extended family subject to some level of inbreeding) have an anchor in biology.

Obviously its tough to come to grips with the fact that people, and by extension groups of people, are more endowed in certain areas than others. No one likes the idea of someone else being sharper or more athletic than they are. Yet we all acknowledge it, at least subconsciously, through daily interactions with others. Even within our own families we realize that we're smarter than our younger brother, but he's a better athlete. College and military admissions are based on these known differences, and for good reason--Harvard wouldn't have it's stellar academic reputation if its average student didn't score a 32 on the ACT and the military would be more mistake-prone if it had a glut of nimrods in the field. While facing the facts can be difficult, ultimately the truth will set us free (and shed some light on the never-ending cultural battles over who is screwing whom in the process).

(Human biodiversity)