Monday, June 30, 2008 - Obama's Dry Hole

"I want you to think about this," Barack Obama said in Las Vegas last week. "The oil companies have already been given 68 million acres of federal land, both onshore and offshore, to drill. They're allowed to drill it, and yet they haven't touched it – 68 million acres that have the potential to nearly double America's total oil production."

Wow, how come the oil companies didn't think of that?

Perhaps because the notion is obviously false – at least to anyone who knows how oil and gas exploration actually works.  As a public service, here's a remedial education. 

...these whiz kids assume that every acre of every lease holds the same amount of oil and gas. Yet the existence of a lease does not guarantee that the geology holds recoverable resources. Brian Kennedy of the Institute for Energy Research quips that, using the same extrapolation, the 9.4 billion acres of the currently nonproducing moon should yield 654 million barrels of oil per day. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2008 - The Bush Doctrine Is Relevant Again

Zimbabwe is now another spot on the map of the civilized world's troubled conscience. Burma is also there, along with Tibet and Darfur. These are uniquely nasty places, and not just because uniquely nasty things are happening. They're nasty because the dissonance between the wider world's professed concern and what it actually does is almost intolerable. are the accumulating estimates of the conflict's toll on Darfuri lives. September 2004: 50,000, according to the World Health Organization. May 2005: between 63,000 and 146,000 "excess deaths," according to the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters at Belgium's Catholic University of Louvain. March 2008: 200,000 deaths, according to U.N. officials. April 2008: The U.N. acknowledges the previous month's estimate might have undercounted about 100,000 victims.

A solution for Zimbabwe's crisis isn't hard to come by: Someone – ideally the British – must remove Mr. Mugabe by force, install Mr. Tsvangirai as president, arm his supporters, prevent any rampages, and leave. "Saving Darfur" is a somewhat different story, but it also involves applying Western military force to whatever degree is necessary to get Khartoum to come to terms with an independent or autonomous Darfur. Burma? Same deal.

International relations theorists... justify these sorts of interventions under the rubric of a "Responsibility to Protect" – a concept that comes oddly close to Kipling's White Man's Burden. So close, in fact, that its inherent paternalism has hitherto inhibited many liberals from endorsing the kinds of interventions toward which they are now tip-toeing, thousands of deaths too late.

So let's by all means end the hand-wringing and embrace the responsibility to protect, wherever necessary and feasible. Let's spare the thousands of innocents, punish the wicked, oppose tyrants, and support democrats – both in places where it is now fashionable to do so (Burma) and in places where it is not (Iraq). If that turns out to be Mr. Obama's foreign policy, it will be a worthy one. It does come oddly close to the Bush Doctrine.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008 - From Breadbasket to Basket Case

Argentina...has gone from South American breadbasket to world-class basket case. For the long version of how it happened and why Americans might not want to try it, hop on a flight to Buenos Aires. Here's a condensed version:

The constitution once held limited government and private property to be among the highest ideals of the land. But in the 1920s these protections, which had made the country a magnet for immigrants and the seventh-largest economy in the world, began to erode.

From nationalized health care and government-owned refineries to punishing taxes on the rich, Argentina has been there, done that. There are good reasons to find the resemblance disturbing.

Monday, June 23, 2008 - Israel on the Iran Brink

It's been six years since Iran's secret nuclear programs were publicly exposed, and Israel has more or less bided its time as the Bush Administration and Europe have pursued diplomacy to induce Tehran to cease enriching uranium.

It hasn't worked. Iran has rejected repeated offers of technical and economic assistance, most recently this month. Despite four years of pleading, the Administration has failed to win anything but weak U.N. sanctions. 

Israelis surely don't welcome a war in which they will suffer. Yet they have no choice but to defend themselves against an enemy that vows to obliterate them if Iran acquires the weapon to do so. The tragic paradox of the past six years is that the diplomatic and intelligence evasions offered in the name of avoiding war with Iran have done the most to bring us close to this brink. Appeasement that ends in war is a familiar theme of history. - An Economist Who Matters


Robert Mundell, a Nobel Prize winner in Economics, on taxes, oil prices, and dollar exchange rates.

Mr. Mundell says "the big issue economically . . . is what's going to happen to taxes."  Democratic nominee Barack Obama regularly professes disdain for the Bush tax cuts, suggesting that those growth-spurring measures may be scrapped. "If that happens," Mr. Mundell predicts, "the U.S. will go into a big recession, a nosedive."

One of the original "supply-side" economists, he has long preached the link between tax rates and economic growth. "It's a lethal thing to suddenly raise taxes," he explains. "This would be devastating to the world economy…



Friday, June 20, 2008 - Obama and McCain Spout Economic Nonsense

Barack Obama and John McCain are busy demonstrating that in close elections during tough economic times, candidates for president can be economically illiterate and irresponsibly populist.
Messrs. Obama and McCain both reveal a disturbing animus toward free markets and success. It is uncalled for and self-defeating for presidential candidates to demonize American companies. - Forget the Planet, Retrofit the Earth

Looking at images of nearly all Iowa underwater got me thinking about the difference in politics between fixing the here-and-now and fantasizing about the future.

While Washington's gods debate the future of the icecaps, isn't there something that can be done in the here-and-now to mitigate the effects of these godawful storms?  The answer is yes. Plenty can be done, all the result of smart people figuring out real-world solutions right now to the damage done by extreme weather...

Whatever the reality of global warming, we are not prostrate before extreme nature. A convenient truth is that smart people will find here-and-now solutions before the coming of the climate Apocalypse.

Thursday, June 19, 2008 - Life Is Good, So Why Do We Feel So Bad?

Democratic attacks on Mr. McCain and Republican attacks on Mr. Obama both seek to punish impermissibly positive thoughts. At a time when there exists a sense of crisis over the economy, fuel prices and many other issues, this reinforces the odd, two realities of life in the United States today: The way we are, and the way we think we are. The way we are could use some work, but overall, is pretty good. The way we think we are is terrible, horrible, awful. Possibly worse.

Whatever goes wrong in the country or around the world is telecast 24/7, making us think the world is falling to pieces – even when most things are getting better for most people, even in developing nations.

The relentlessly negative impressions of American life presented by the media, including the entertainment media, explain something otherwise puzzling that shows up in psychological data. When asked about the country's economy, schools, health care or community spirit, Americans tell pollsters the situation is dreadful. But when asked about their own jobs, schools, doctors and communities, people tell pollsters the situation is good. Our impressions of ourselves and our neighbors come from personal experience. Our impressions of the nation as a whole come from the media and from political blather, which both exaggerate the negative.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008 - School Choice Is Change You Can Believe In

Just how rotten are the D.C. public schools? In a recent survey by Education Week, the D.C. public schools ranked fourth from the bottom in terms of graduation rates. Test scores for basics like math and reading are also near the bottom. It's not for lack of money: A recent U.S. Census Bureau report says the district school spending clocks in at more than $13,400 per child -- third highest in the nation. It takes a lot of money to run a school system as lousy as D.C.'s. 
This dismal performance helps explain why so many have been willing to cross the usual political and ideological lines to try to give the district's kids a better shot at a decent education.

Monday, June 16, 2008 - President Kennedy

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy isn't known for his judicial modesty. But for sheer willfulness, [Thursday's] 5-4 majority opinion in Boumediene v. Bush may earn him a historic place among the likes of Harry Blackmun. In a stroke, he and four other unelected Justices have declared their war-making supremacy over both Congress and the White House. 

Boumediene concerns habeas corpus – the right of Americans to challenge detention by the government. Justice Kennedy has now extended that right to non-American enemy combatants captured abroad trying to kill Americans in the war on terror. We can say with confident horror that more Americans are likely to die as a result. 

Thursday, June 12, 2008 - $4 Gasbags / Drill! Drill! Drill!

Anyone wondering why U.S. energy policy is so dysfunctional need only review Congress's recent antics. Members have debated ideas ranging from suing OPEC to the Senate's carbon tax-and-regulation monstrosity, to a windfall profits tax on oil companies, to new punishments for "price gouging" – everything except expanding domestic energy supplies.

Amid $135 oil, it ought to be an easy, bipartisan victory to lift the political restrictions on energy exploration and production. Record-high fuel costs are hitting consumers and business like a huge tax increase. Yet the U.S. remains one of the only countries in the world that chooses as a matter of policy to lock up its natural resources. The Chinese think we're insane and self-destructive, while the Saudis laugh all the way to the bank.

Yes, we know, increased drilling is no energy cure-all; new projects take about a decade to come on line. Then again, more than a few experts say that new production could affect price as the market perceives a new U.S. seriousness to increase supplies. Part of today's futures speculation is based on the assumption that supplies will remain tight for years to come, even as Chinese and Indian demand surges. 
At this point in time, is there another country on the face of the earth that would possess the oil and gas reserves held by the United States and refuse to exploit them?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008 - Learning (and Succeeding) on Jump Street

In a neighborhood that produces about 30% of the city's homicide victims, with the city's lowest high-school graduation rate, every member of the school's first four classes has gone on to college.

The seven-year-old charter school, named for the first African-American Supreme Court justice, is one of several programs east of the Anacostia River that are designed to break the pattern of violence in this impoverished section of the city. TMA -- as it is known -- has innovative programs, such as the self-assessments that students must do, as well as software that gives teachers a near-instantaneous look at students' learning. But the school's success isn't built on cutting-edge pedagogy but on an old-fashioned concept: high expectations.

There is no metal detector, atypical for most schools and government buildings in Washington. The students, both the boys and the girls, dress in tan slacks and white or maroon shirts with the school name on them. They move quietly from class to class beneath triangular college banners that fill the halls. "No brainer" signs, reminders of the code of behavior, are placed intermittently in the halls as well. No eating outside the cafeteria, no grooming in class, no profanity, no gum chewing.

Everything at TMA is geared toward college...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008 - Look for the Union Label

What do the farm bill, the cap-and-trade global warming bill, the clean water bill, the housing bailout bill, and the school construction bill all have in common? Not much, except that in each one and countless others the Democratic majority in Congress has inserted "prevailing-wage" requirements that amount to a super-minimum wage.

We're speaking of Davis-Bacon, the 1931 law that originally applied to road building and other federal construction projects and set a floor on wages in part to price black and Mexican workers out of the work. Today, its main impact is to require de facto union wages. Many reputable studies have estimated that Davis-Bacon inflates federal construction costs by anywhere from 5% to 39%. 

So while Democrats insist that one of their top priorities is to solve America's "infrastructure crisis," what they aren't saying is that we could be building about 25% more bridges and roads by repealing Davis-Bacon. Instead, they want to expand its rules to nearly every activity that receives a penny of government money. 

Thursday, June 5, 2008 - Why Obama Must Go to Iraq

Earlier this year, I spent five days in Iraq, walking the same streets in Baghdad where I had served two years earlier as an infantry platoon leader in the 101st Airborne Division.

The visit reinforced for me not only the immense complexity of the war – so often lost in our domestic political debate – but also the importance of taking the time to visit Iraq to talk with the soldiers and Marines serving on the front lines in order to grasp the changing dynamics of a fluid battlefield.

Mr. McCain's early advocacy for the surge and his prescient conviction that it would succeed were rooted not only in his extensive knowledge of military affairs, but in his close consultations with troops serving in the theater. They recognized that the new strategy was succeeding far before the mainstream media in the U.S. was willing to acknowledge these gains.

America is longing for an informed and principled debate about the future of Iraq. However, such a debate seems unlikely if the Democratic nominee for president won't take the time to truly understand the dynamics on the ground, let alone meet with commanders. - Free the Farmers

This food crisis has been decades in the making, with demand overtaking the world's farms' flagging capacity. Since the collapse of international communism, we have witnessed an astonishing spread of prosperity and consumption to once destitute and deprived corners of the world.
So, was Thomas Malthus right that population will outrun food supply capacity? Unlikely, so long as we let human ingenuity, guided by markets, go to work. When price signals are allowed to operate, a natural resource's scarcity encourages people to use it more efficiently, find more of it and invent substitutes.
Here are some things that can be done to empower developing-country farmers:
- Remove trade barriers...
- Build market infrastructure...
- Promote technological innovation...
- Avoid counterproductive policies...
Tight food markets will be with us for years to come. Spreading prosperity and growing population will tax the world's finite natural resources. Yet, "human beings," Mr. Simon explained, "are not just mouths to feed, but are productive and inventive minds that help find creative solutions to man's problems, thus leaving us better off over the long run."

Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - We Don't Need a Climate Tax on the Poor

The Senate is debating a global warming bill that will create the largest expansion of the federal government since FDR's New Deal, complete with a brand new, unelected bureaucracy. The Lieberman-Warner bill (America's Climate Security Act) represents the largest tax increase in U.S. history and the biggest pork bill ever contemplated with trillions of dollars in giveaways. Well-heeled lobbyists are already plotting how to divide up the federal largesse. The handouts offered by the sponsors of this bill come straight from the pockets of families and workers in the form of lost jobs, higher gas, power and heating bills, and more expensive consumer goods.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says Lieberman-Warner would effectively raise taxes on Americans by more than $1 trillion over the next 10 years.

A recent CBO report found: "Most of the cost of meeting a cap on CO2 emissions would be borne by consumers, who would face persistently higher prices for products such as electricity and gasoline. Those price increases would be regressive in that poorer households would bear a larger burden relative to their income than wealthier households."

According to the Environmental Protection Agency's own analysis, by 2050 Lieberman-Warner would only lower global CO2 concentrations by less than 1.4% without additional international action. In fact, this bill, often touted as an "insurance policy" against global warming, is instead all economic pain for no climate gain.