Friday, August 29, 2008 - How the Georgian Conflict Really Started

'Anybody who thinks that Moscow didn't plan this invasion, that we in Georgia caused it gratuitously, is severely mistaken," President Mikheil Saakashvili told me during a late night chat in Georgia's presidential palace this weekend.

"Our decision to engage was made in the last second as the Russian tanks were rolling -- we had no choice," Mr. Saakashvili explained. "We took the initiative just to buy some time. We knew we were not going to win against the Russian army, but we had to do something to defend ourselves."

According to the Georgian president, the Russians had been planning an invasion of his country for weeks -- even months -- ahead of time...

BREAKING NEWS: McCain Taps Gov. Sarah Palin As Presidential Running Mate

This article gives a good overview of Sarah Palin and her background.

Thursday, August 28, 2008 - Labor Day Special: 2 Articles on Big Labor's Current Agenda

One of the most underreported stories at this week's Democratic National Convention is that Big Labor is making a big comeback.  The paradox is that even as union numbers have declined, union political clout has increased, especially within the Democratic Party.
More tellingly, rewriting federal law to promote union organizing is now near the top of the Democratic agenda. The main vehicle is "card check" legislation, which would eliminate the requirement for secret ballots in union elections. Unable to organize workers when employees can vote in privacy, unions want to expose those votes to peer pressure, and inevitably to public intimidation.
The question for Americans more broadly is whether a return to widespread unionization is really the way to raise middle-class incomes.

As for the U.S., the states with right to work laws have performed better economically for workers of all types. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy has shown that right to work states over the past 30 years have lower unemployment, higher rates of job creation, and faster growth in GDP and per-capita personal income than states with compulsory union membership. Colorado is hoping to get in on this success, with a high-profile ballot initiative this fall that would make it a right to work state.


Deceptively named the Employee Free Choice Act, this bill would in most cases take away an employee's right to a secret ballot in a union election and give unions the option to have federal arbitrators set the wages, benefits, hours and all other terms and conditions of employment.

My advice today about the Employee Free Choice Act is the same as I gave in England: You better fight to stop this undemocratic bill. I'm not the only one who thinks the proposed law violates long-established principles of democracy. In these pages, George McGovern, a former Democratic senator and a champion of organized labor, called this bill what it really is -- "a disturbing and undemocratic overreach not in the interest of either management or labor."

Those who support the bill claim that it will "protect workers." This doesn't pass the straight-face test. Mr. McGovern saw through the false rhetoric of the bill's sponsors, saying that the measure "runs counter to ideals that were once at the core of the labor movement. Instead of providing a voice for the unheard, [it] risks silencing those who would speak."

Wednesday, August 27, 2008 - We Need a National Market for Health Insurance

The slide toward a government-dominated, taxpayer-supported health sector will continue unless the 45.7 million Americans who don't have insurance now are given more opportunities to buy private coverage.

States could help by lightening their regulatory burdens to encourage greater competition for more attractive and affordable coverage. The federal government needs to do its part by updating today's tax policies to better fit a mobile, 21st-century economy. 

The cost of health insurance varies widely, but it is closely tied to state regulations and legislative mandates dictating what services and providers must be covered. More regulation and less competition generally mean less affordable coverage, and vice versa. 

Freeing Americans to buy health insurance across state lines would give people more choices in health care. And giving individuals a direct tax break for purchasing coverage would put armies of consumers to work to find affordable policies.

The complex problems in our health sector are best cured by a bigger dose of market competition, not more government intervention. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2008 - Protect Our Kids from Preschool

Universal preschool is now second only to universal health care on the liberal policy wish list. Democratic governors across the country -- including in Illinois, Arizona, Massachusetts and Virginia -- have made a major push to fund universal preschool in their states.

But is strapping a backpack on all 4-year-olds and sending them to preschool good for them? Not according to available evidence. 

"... the solid evidence for the effectiveness of early interventions is limited to those conducted on disadvantaged populations."  The only preschool programs that seem to do more good than harm are very intense interventions targeted toward severely disadvantaged kids.

Our understanding of the effects of preschool is still very much in its infancy. But one inescapable conclusion from the existing research is that it is not for everyone. Kids with loving and attentive parents -- the vast majority -- might well be better off spending more time at home than away in their formative years. The last thing that public policy should do is spend vast new sums of taxpayer dollars to incentivize a premature separation between toddlers and parents.

Thursday, August 21, 2008 - Obama Played by Chicago Rules

Democrats don't like it when you say that Barack Obama won his first election in 1996 by throwing all of his opponents off the ballot on technicalities.

By clearing out the incumbent and the others in his first Democratic primary for state Senate, Mr. Obama did something that was neither illegal nor even uncommon. But Mr. Obama claims to represent something different from old-style politics -- especially old-style Chicago politics.

Mr. Obama has never stood up against Chicago's corruption problem because his donors and allies are Chicago's corruption problem.

Mr. Obama is not the reformer he now claims to be. The real man is the one they know in Chicago -- the one who won his first election by depriving voters of a choice. - Wind Jammers

In this year's great energy debate, Democrats describe a future when the U.S. finally embraces the anything-but-carbon avant-garde. It turns out, however, that when wind and solar power do start to come on line, they face a familiar obstacle: environmentalists and many Democrats.

To wit, the greens are blocking the very transmission network needed for renewable electricity to move throughout the economy. The best sites for wind and solar energy happen to be in the sticks -- in the desert Southwest where sunlight is most intense for longest, or the plains where the wind blows most often. To exploit this energy, utilities need to build transmission lines to connect their electricity to the places where consumers actually live. In addition to other technical problems, the transmission gap is a big reason wind only provides two-thirds of 1% of electricity generated in the U.S., and solar one-tenth of 1%.

...the liberal push for alternatives has the look of a huge bait-and-switch. Washington responds to the climate change panic with multibillion-dollar taxpayer subsidies for supposedly clean tech. But then when those incentives start to have an effect in the real world, the same greens who favor the subsidies say build the turbines or towers somewhere else. The only energy sources they seem to like are the ones we don't have. - We Can't Tax Our Way Out of the Entitlement Crisis

Given the hearty support Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama received in Europe last month, he must have noticed the surprise and skepticism among some Germans when he asked that Europeans contribute more for defense. Many Europeans argue they cannot afford such an additional expenditure.

They are right. And therein lies a cautionary tale for the United States, because continental Europe has been following something like Mr. Obama's plans for spending and taxes. 

Balancing the federal budget without a tax increase is possible, but will require strong fiscal restraint.

We can also secure a firm financial footing for Social Security (and Medicare) without choking off economic growth or curtailing our flexibility to pursue other spending priorities. Three actions are essential: (1) reduce entitlement spending growth through some form of means testing; (2) eliminate all nonessential spending in the rest of the budget; and (3) adopt policies that promote economic growth. This 180-degree difference from Mr. Obama's fiscal plan forms the basis of Sen. McCain's priorities for spending, taxes and health care. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2008 - The Chinese Want Property Rights, Too

The protest zones are silent, but the city is simmering with dissent. Preparations for the Olympics led to a level of social disruption unlike anything in recent memory. At the same time, traditional avenues of solving problems have been shut down, and police crackdowns have intensified. This has created an Olympic pressure-cooker. 

For centuries China has had a process of informal appeal called shangfang -- the practice of bringing complaints to the officials who run the country. . .

All this was swept aside by Beijing's Olympics cleanup. Months before the Games began, thousands of petitioners from outside Beijing were sent home or into detention. Across Beijing, suspected dissidents have been placed under increased surveillance. The most prominent were incarcerated. - The EMP Threat

Imagine you're a terrorist with a single nuclear weapon. You could wipe out the U.S. city of your choice, or you could decide to destroy the infrastructure of the entire U.S. economy and leave millions of Americans to die of starvation or want of medical care.

The latter scenario is the one envisioned by a long-running commission to assess the threat from electromagnetic pulse, or EMP. The subject of its latest, and little discussed, report to Congress is the effect an EMP attack could have on civilian infrastructure. If you're prone to nightmares, don't read it before bedtime.

Monday, August 18, 2008 - For Most People, College Is a Waste of Time

Outside a handful of majors -- engineering and some of the sciences -- a bachelor's degree tells an employer nothing except that the applicant has a certain amount of intellectual ability and perseverance. Even a degree in a vocational major like business administration can mean anything from a solid base of knowledge to four years of barely remembered gut courses.

The solution is not better degrees, but no degrees. Young people entering the job market should have a known, trusted measure of their qualifications they can carry into job interviews. That measure should express what they know, not where they learned it or how long it took them.  

[Note: This article describes a better system, it is not an excuse for skipping college in our current system.  So until the system changes you better go to school!!] - Republican Energy Fumble - II

My Colorado readers may be interested in this article about our two senate candidates vying for election this fall.
Ask GOP Senate candidate Bob Schaffer what he thinks of the recent "Gang of 10" Senate energy compromise, and his answer is short and not sweet: "I'd call it 40% tax increase, 10% energy and 50% snake oil." 
...Mr. Schaffer's decision to put partisanship aside in support of more energy production has played well, in particular with Colorado independents. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2008 - How to Get the Biggest Bang for 10 Billion Bucks

If you had a spare $10 billion over the next four years, how would you spend it to achieve the most for humanity?

To get the most bang for your buck -- and ensure that your generosity does the greatest good for the largest number of people -- you will need to prioritize, weighing up the costs and benefits of different options. Unfortunately, we too often focus on the most fashionable spending options, rather than the most rational.

Copenhagen Consensus commissioned eight of the world's top economists to identify the global challenges that can be solved most cost-effectively.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008 - My Bet With Francis Fukuyama

No matter what happens in November, the war in Iraq will not be brought to an end by either Barack Obama or John McCain. The war in Iraq is over. We've won. 
For all the progress made in the last year, Iraq remains a dangerous (if no longer terrifying) place. But to speak of Iraq as a "war" no longer accurately characterizes the nature of the situation...
Perhaps it's worth considering what we have gained now that Iraq looks like a winner.

Here's a partial list: Saddam is dead. Had he remained in power, we would likely still believe he had WMD. He would have been sitting on an oil bonanza priced at $140 a barrel. He would almost certainly have broken free from an already crumbling sanctions regime. The U.S. would be faced with not one, but two, major adversaries in the Persian Gulf. Iraqis would be living under a regime that, in an average year, was at least as murderous as the sectarian violence that followed its collapse. And the U.S. would have seemed powerless to shape events.

Instead, we now have a government that does not threaten its neighbors, does not sponsor terrorism, and is unlikely to again seek WMD. We have a democratic government, a first for the Arab world, and one that is increasingly capable of defending its people and asserting its interests.


Monday, August 4, 2008 - What Is a 'Windfall' Profit?

The "windfall profits" tax is back, with Barack Obama stumping again to apply it to a handful of big oil companies. Which raises a few questions: What is a "windfall" profit anyway? How does it differ from your everyday, run of the mill profit? Is it some absolute number, a matter of return on equity or sales -- or does it merely depend on who earns it?

Exxon's profit margin stood at 10% for 2007, which is hardly out of line with the oil and gas industry average...

If that's what constitutes windfall profits, most of corporate America would qualify. Take aerospace or machinery -- both 8.2% in 2007. Chemicals had an average margin of 12.7%. Computers: 13.7%. Electronics and appliances: 14.5%. Pharmaceuticals (18.4%) and beverages and tobacco (19.1%)... Google... earned... a whopping 25.3% margin...  GE's profit margin in 2007 was 10.3%, about the same as profiteering Exxon's

The point isn't that these folks... have something to apologize for, or that these firms are somehow more "deserving" of windfall tax extortion than Big Oil. The point is that what constitutes an abnormal profit is entirely arbitrary. It is in the eye of the political beholder, who is usually looking to soak some unpopular business. In other words, a windfall is nothing more than a profit earned by a business that some politician dislikes. And a tax on that profit is merely a form of politically motivated expropriation.

It's what politicians do in Venezuela, not in a free country.