Jasper Smith

Commentary on politics, economics, culture and sports.

Archive for May 2007

Who knew?

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I getta get out more.

Written by Jasper

May 25, 2007 at 6:49 am

Posted in Culture

The biggest reason Iowa shouldn’t be first

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Thus saith John Stossel:

Clinton, Romney, Barack Obama and John Edwards not only believe ethanol is the elixir that will give us cheap energy, end our dependence on Middle East oil sheiks, and reverse global warming, they also want you and me — as taxpayers — to subsidize it.

When everyone in politics jumps on a bandwagon like ethanol, I start to wonder if there’s something wrong with it. And there is…

The claim that using ethanol will save energy is another myth. Studies show that the amount of energy ethanol produces and the amount needed to make it are roughly the same. “It takes a lot of fossil fuels to make the fertilizer, to run the tractor, to build the silo, to get that corn to a processing plant, to run the processing plant,” Taylor says.

And because ethanol degrades, it can’t be moved in pipelines the way that gasoline is. So many more big, polluting trucks will be needed to haul it.

Read the rest of this entry »

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May 23, 2007 at 7:19 pm

The immigration proposal

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Lots of blog comment debate the last few days on the proposal. Here, in no particular order, are some of my contributions:

From Political Animal:

I think the guest worker proposal as outlined by the media is overly rigid, insufficiently generous, and places little or no emphasis on assimilation (guest workers, for instance, will not be eligible to apply for green cards). Still, it at least begins to chip away at the unworkable policy — the de facto prohibition of non-familial Latino immigration — that fuels the growth in the country’s illegal population.

For what it’s worth, I think the guest worker program and the movement toward a merit-based points system is where the real action is on this bill. The amnesty part — while something I favor for humanitarian reasons — really won’t have that much of an impact either way. I mean, those 12-20 million people are already residents of the United States. They’re already in the workforce. They’re already paying taxes. They’re already parenting American kids who go to American schools. Amnesty will make their lives easier, but the country won’t change very much as a result. But it would be a major change to get control of our borders and sharply reduce the annual inflow of illegal aliens, and to accomplish this I’m utterly convinced that some legal means of permitting Latinos to immigrate will be required.

With respect to the issue of enforcement, all I can say is if we can substantially reduce the number of Mexicans and other Latin Americans trying to sneak into the US — by no longer forcing them to do so because of the existence of a legal method of immigrating — we’re only going to reduce the size of the task facing our border control forces. An army whose enemy has been greatly reduced in size is a stronger, more effective army.

From Matthew Yglesias:

A standard “restrictionist” view is that the “crackdown” should yield results (a 60% drop in illegal immigration? 80%? 99%?) and then we’ll get around to doing constructive things like amnesty, or increases in legal immigration.

Their stance is akin to somebody saying in 1928: “Ok, let’s see if the crackdown by the booze police results in closing all the speakeasies and a 90% drop in alcohol consumption, and then we’ll get around to ending prohibition.”

Sorry, ain’t gonna work. Prohibition — in those days alcohol and in current times non-familial Latino immigration — is the problem. And the solution — a regulated legalization — is the same in both cases. This country — and its economy — are huge. We could easily absorb, say, 800,000 Latin American economic migrants a year. Just hand out some freakin’ green cards, and make the penalties for going outside the system severe. End of problem.

Off the top of my head I suspect we’re spending three or four times in real terms what we were twenty years ago on immigration enforcement. Well-publicized, widely reported workplace raids are a common enough feature in the headlines. We’ve doubled or trebled the number of people working our southern border, and beefed up security and screening resources at airports. Should we do a lot more? Maybe so. But the resources we do spend would yield much more satisfactory results if we reduced the size of the problem by coming at once to the conclusion we are inevitably going someday to reach: an open, free, capitalist democracy sharing a two thousand mile border with a poor country can only manage, not prohibit, immmigration-induced demographic change.

The reality is we can handle a certain amount of economic migration from south of the border. In fact we’re doing so currently, to the tune of 400k-500k annually. And know what? Streets still manage to get swept. And taxes get collected. And the mail gets delivered. And the dry cleaner doesn’t lose my shirts. And people get married, and divorced, and the sun comes up in the morning and sets in the evening. I just don’t perceive the crisis others seem to. I’m certainly not arguing for unlimited economic migration from Latin America. I’m just arguing that our current policy — which basically prohibits it outright — isn’t, well, practical. Nor is it moral.

On population growth and its relationship to immigration, again from Matthew Yglesias’s blog:

Birthrates are tumbling all over the developing world, and the growth of the planet’s human population is slowing dramatically. I’ve seen projections pointing to a shrinking population for Mexico starting about the year 2025. Indeed, although the raw numbers look huge to the uneducated eye, America’s own net rate of immigration — and that includes the inflow of illegals — is barely a third of what it was circa 1900. And this, of course, is set against the backdrop of a country whose birthrate is a fraction of what it was a century ago. The big picture story here is that the rate of population growth in the Untied States — even given the boost created by immigration — continues its long decline. I think that’s largely beneficial, but I don’t think it’s necessary to ratchet it down even further by a “crackdown” on a phenomenon that has helped make the United States the richest and most powerful nation on earth.

In 2006 the US likely received (if illegals are counted) something like 1.5 million immigrants, net, out of a population of 300 million, yielding an immigration rate of .5 %. In 1900 the United States received about 1 million immigrants, net, with a population of 74 million. That’s an immigration rate of about 1.4% — or a rate very nearly three times that of our current era. While it is true that the foreign born population of the United States has increased substantially in recent years as a percentage of the population, this is because America’s natural population growth is slowing down. It is certainly not the result of a sharply higher rate of immigration than that earlier era; as I have just shown, our immigration rate today is much lower than during the Ellis Island era. I would argue that the slowdown in natural population growth helps, not hinders, the ability of the United States to absorb immigration, because it tamps down overall population growth. Indeed, it this slowdown in the country’s natural rate of increase (and the slowdown in the natural growth of the labor force) that makes a steady supply of immigrants all the more desirable, and needed. Were American families as large now as they were in 1900, I might well join the ranks of the restrictionists. They’re not, so I haven’t

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May 20, 2007 at 10:10 pm

The candor of Giuliani

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Ross Douthat ponders the ramifications for Rudy Giuliani’s new, muscular pro abortion rights strategy:

The larger question is whether winning the GOP nomination as a down-the-line pro-choicer might prove to be a poisoned chalice. Frankly, if Giuliani being the Republican nominee doesn’t prompt a third-party run by a pro-life candidate that cuts into his general-election support, then social conservatives ought to retire from politics out of sheer embarrassment.

It’s still not clear to me that Rudy Giuliani, avowed pro-choicer that he be, must necessarily support the nationalization of abortion policy mandated by Roe.

I appreciate Rudy’s candor, and, while at long last I don’t see any circumstances that could arise whereby my conscience could permit me to support his candidacy at the primary stage, it’s not exactly like it’s probable the Democrats will nominate a prolifer. And given a choice over who I’d prefer to have choosing federal judges, I’d just as soon have Giuliani as Clinton or Obama.

Thing is, though, it still seems like Rudy’s almost going out of his way to antagonize voters like me. I’m pretty close to an absolutist on the issue of abortion, but even I could pull the level for a pro-choicer if that pro choicer happened to believe that Roe was a badly reasoned decision, and that social policy in general is best decided by voters (not by courts) and their representatives at the state level.

So, I wonder, as the pre-primary season rolls on, if Rudy’s new frankness on abortion policy will extend beyond a mere defense of the concept of abortion rights to a defense of the concept that abortion is a right guaranteed by the federal constitution as demanded by Roe. We shall see. I think the jig’s up, and it’s basically pretty clear now that Rudy’s a Margaret Sanger lovin’, fetus hatin’ extremist, but I’d love to be proven wrong.

Written by Jasper

May 10, 2007 at 8:24 pm

Posted in Election 08, Politics

Delaying the inevitable

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Like, is there any doubt that Wolfowitz will eventually be forced to quit his job? Why delay the inevitable? I guess if I were in his shoes I might do the same thing. I mean, we are taking about a man’s livelihood. Still, the handwriting on the wall might as well be written in fluorescent pink. One might suppose the spectacle unfolding before us is beneath some people’s dignity. But one would be supposing in vain.

Written by Jasper

May 7, 2007 at 2:39 pm

Defining down the war

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Matt Yglesisas on John McCain’s take on the situation in Iraq:

“Any rational observer would say that if the war’s lost, then someone won the war,” according to John McCain, “Al Qaeda will win that war.” This is very insightful if you’re dumb. By the same token, if buying my MacBook was a smart idea for me, I must have been ripping Apple off. Similarly, again, if Japan got rich by exporing goods to the West, the United States and Europe must have gotten poorer during Japan’s great expansion.

In the real world, interactions between human beings are often other than zero sum (see Bob Wright’s book). The Iraq War is, at this point, far beyond matters of “winning” and “losing.” Saddam Hussein certainly lost the war, so does that mean we won? No, it means that both Saddam’s regime and the American people are worse off than we might have otherwise been.

Quite So. Thing is, much of the pain being suffered by all parties right now is a result of overambitious war aims, and indeed, war defining.

I tend to see the conflict with totalitarian Islam as being eerily similar to the Cold War. It will undoubtedly take a long time. And undoubtedly much of the “fighting” will be accomplished via non-military means (i.e., economic development, diplomacy, propaganda, intelligence, etc.). Occasionally military intervention by the West may be called for (as in Afghanistan).

With respect to Iraq, I find myself belonging to the (no doubt dwindling) camp of persons who still believe the impetus for the original action — ending the regime of the mass murderer Saddam Hussein — was both morally justifiable and consistent with long term US geopolitical interests — but that the whole project was mismanaged with a shocking and genuinely tragic degree of incompetence. We should have, in other words, gotten in and gotten out, quickly.

Anyway — getting back to the Cold War analogy — I’ve always thought it very much an overstatement to say that the United States “lost the Vietnam War.” I state this not out of some warped sense of jingoistic American gunghoism. Rather, I state this because it’s simply insufficiently accurate to say the US lost “the war.” The right way to describe what happened to the US is that she suffered a series of bloody, tactical defeats in a single large-scale campaign (The Southeast Asian) in an ultimately successful war (The Cold).

So, I think, needless to say, Senator McCain has gotten his geopolitical sums wrong by forgetting his history lessons. The War itself is winnable, and indeed must be won. But the campaign has now become a deadly albatross, and needs to be disengaged from.

Written by Jasper

May 6, 2007 at 10:28 am

Guns, and the liberals who love them

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Ever Bigger Media Matt started a discussion about guns, and the liberals who love them. One commenter, opining on the differing interpretations (i.e, individual right to bear arms vs. a “collective” right for purposes of maintaining a militia) of the second amendment, writes:

But I agree that the Constitution should be interpreted with a bias towards individual rights; so I favor repeal of the amendment.

I tend also to agree that the constitution should be interpreted with this bias. I just don’t see anywhere in the document that says rights are unlimited, or not subject to regulation.

This reminds me of the old saw about “driving being a privilege, not a right.” Whenever I hear that I’ve always thought, “Fuck that. Of course I have a right to drive a car. This is the USA.”

I favor a similar view toward firearms. But just as I don’t think it’s the least bit unreasonable for big gubmint to force me to, say, register or insure my vehicle, or subject it to a safety inspection, or make me pass a test to give me a license to operate it, so, too, I don’t think it’s at all unreasonable for the state to require such measures with respect to tools that, after all, are designed to kill.

Still, I agree that pushing even modest firearms regulations is almost certainly a vote loser for liberals, at least in national campaigns. What needs to be done is to emulate what the NRA has done, but in reverse: a robust, multi-year, high-volume, well-funded public education campaign teaching folks that a comprehensive, sensible system of gun regulations that will make the country safer does not mean ordinary folks will not be able to own firearms. But such a campaign will take years. The NRA’s success wasn’t built overnight.

Written by Jasper

May 6, 2007 at 10:13 am

Posted in Policy, Politics