The Sugar Buyout

My thanks to Eddie of Hidden Unities, for uncovering the worst arguments from around the blogosphere. He brought Andrew Sullivan’s rant to my attention (Sullivan was also wrong on his bizarre flat capital tax, btw), identified Kaplan’s piece on Malthus (also highlighted on Eddie’s blog), and recently shared this criticism of Florida’s buy-out of U.S. Sugar via Google Reader. (The story-behind-the-story is the news that the State of Florida would buy-out part of U.S. Sugar to protect the Everglades.)

I don’t follow Floridian environmental news to comment on the purchase itself. The mix of positives and negatives on a deal like this is complicated, and I defer to Floridians for informed comment. Still, this piece presents the worst imaginably argument against the buy-out. Author James Gibney complains:

Environmentalists are swooning over the agreement, which could restart the natural flow of water from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay. But don’t break out your plastic pink flamingos just yet. The deal smells worse than the stinkiest of the sulfate-contaminated wetlands it’s supposed to revive, continuing one of the longest-running rip-offs in the history of the republic.

Under the proposed agreement, Florida will pay U.S. Sugar Corp. $350 per share for its land and facilities. That’s about 20 percent more than the $293-per-share private offer U.S. Sugar received three years ago. More damningly, it is well above the highest “fair market value” price of $204 per share that the trustee of the company’s Employee Stock Ownership Plan was offering workers who retired. Republican Governor Charlie Crist, who engineered the deal, wasn’t particularly eager to talk about how the state came up with the $1.7 billion valuation. Doubtless the $30,000 that U.S. Sugar and its subsidiaries chipped in for his inauguration, and the $600,000 that it and other sugar companies gave to his campaign, had nothing to do with his calculations.

The entire argument boils down to this: U. S. Sugar has large negative externalities, and is politically powerful.

Well, obviously. Why else would there be a serious buy-out proposal? Has anyone proposed buying-out and shutting down Microsoft, Google, or some company with large positive externalities? Has anyone proposed buying-out drunk drivers, or some other disempowered minority?

Buy-outs are a method for increasing the general welfare by identifying processes of the economy that are harmful, and inducing the stakeholders of those processes to abandon their efforts. I first became aware of them during the Tobacco Buyout, which likewise reduced negative externalities by working with stakeholders.

Buyouts are alternatives to rule by fiat, where the government passes a law or promulgates a regulation that would simply end the externality-generating processes. This can be the case if the potential victim of the fiat is able to fend of political attacks, such as the tobacco farmers or U.S. Sugar.

Whether the everglades deal is good or bad, the hit-piece against it is bizarre.

WSJ on Obama as Bush’s Third Term

I’ve been saying for a while that Barack Obama is running for Bush’s third term. Now the Wall Street Journal agrees:

Bush’s Third Term – WSJ.com
We’re beginning to understand why Barack Obama keeps protesting so vigorously against the prospect of “George Bush’s third term.” Maybe he’s worried that someone will notice that he’s the candidate who’s running for it.

My thanks to the Weekly Standard, for highlighting this editorial.

Potential work for a sysadmin

Those who oppose completing the COIN cycle in Iraq make it harder to develop a force that can help with this:

Mexican Cartels and the Fallout From Phoenix | Stratfor
Late on the night of June 22, a residence in Phoenix was approached by a heavily armed tactical team preparing to serve a warrant. The members of the team were wearing the typical gear for members of their profession: black boots, black BDU pants, Kevlar helmets and Phoenix Police Department (PPD) raid shirts pulled over their body armor. The team members carried AR-15 rifles equipped with Aimpoint sights to help them during the low-light operation and, like most cops on a tactical team, in addition to their long guns, the members of this team carried secondary weapons — pistols strapped to their thighs.

But the raid took a strange turn when one element of the team began directing suppressive fire on the residence windows while the second element entered — a tactic not normally employed by the PPD. This breach of departmental protocol did not stem from a mistake on the part of the team’s commander. It occurred because the eight men on the assault team were not from the PPD at all. These men were not cops serving a legal search or arrest warrant signed by a judge; they were cartel hit men serving a death warrant signed by a Mexican drug lord.

Sysadmin work in Mexico obviously wouldn’t mean an invasion, but would make sense as part of an effort to dissolve our strange frontier and unify North America.

Make your own kind of Austrian-Asian Music

Life can be unexpected

One day in Beijing, Lady walking around the Yonghegong Lama Temple subway stop. While walking around someone came up and asked to help him find where to renew his visa…. A conversation, a walk, and one visa-extension office later, we had both made a new friend.

We’ve been chatting through email since then, and I’ve been enjoying his music on myspace. The US version of myspace hosts his profile, “World Shamans,” while myspace.cn hosts AASF (short for the Austrian-Asian Sound Foundation.

The AASF has played concerts in Beijing, and with songs like “Die Leit umma mi” I can see why!

The People’s Liberation Army and the Wenchuan Quake

The New York Times has a great “memo from Beijing” — “Quake Revealed Deficiencies of China’s Military’s” that does a great job at outlining the good intentions of the Chinese government, combined with the poor performance of the military itslef. Everyone’s heart was in the right place…

Some Western analysts say that Beijing’s willingness to accept aid and rescue teams from several foreign militaries reflects a new openness in a military that has historically operated behind a heavy cloak of secrecy. The military’s top commanders held news briefings in Beijing to discuss the work of the troops in the quake’s aftermath, and many analysts said they thought it was the military’s first such event.

Beijing asked the Pentagon’s National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which operates spy satellites, for high-resolution images of regions affected by the earthquake. China also used 15 of its own satellites to gather information, according to Eric Hagt, director of the China program for the World Security Institute in Washington. It may have asked for satellite images expressly to demonstrate its willingness to work with the international community, Mr. Hagt said.

It all stands in sharp contrast to the military’s performance after the last major earthquake, in Tangshan in 1976, when it refused all foreign aid in an effort to keep the scale of the disaster secret.

… though performance was often suboptimal. When I was in China, CCTV constantly showed video of paratroopers jumping to the scene. Apparently, those were the only paratroops who got through:

Shen Dingli, a leading security expert at Fudan University in Shanghai, said the military’s response did not reflect well on the military’s preparedness for a potential war with, say, Taiwan, the independently governed island that China claims as its sovereign territory. China’s air force deployed 6,500 paratroopers to Sichuan, but only 15 ended up dropping into the disaster zone, military officials said, because of bad weather and forbidding mountain terrain. Mr. Shen called the effort too little and too late.

“The air force should have been able to get troops into Wenchuan in two hours,” he said, referring to a county near the quake’s epicenter. “It took 44 hours. If it took them 10 hours, that’s understandable. But 44 hours is shameful.”

Like the American response to 9/11, the Chinese response to the Wenchuan Earthquake revealed both what the country does right and wrong. Now for that information to be used positively by improving China’s ability to respond to disaster… and save lives

Noun is noun is noun. Period.

A stupid argument from Andrew Sullivan. I don’t read him regularly, so I don’t know if I should add “unexpectedly” as the second word of this post, or not:

The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan
No-one is saying that George W. Bush is the moral equivalent of Khaled Sheikh Mohammed. What we are saying is that torture is torture is torture. Hitchens’ distinction between torture
and “actual torture” is not one of kind but of degree, with degree being measured in levels of sadism. The point is that torture is always evil, whatever its motives, that it leads to false information, whoever implements it, that it is illegal, in America and by Americans, and no one in a constitutional republic has the right to violate the law indefinitely with impunity. There is nothing “diseased” or “lame” about this position.

Sullivan’s argument is so bad, I’m surprised he didn’t conclude it with “Period.”

Properly, what Sullivan wrote is not an argument at all, but a tautology: “Some thing is itself.” Well, obviously. Whether or not it is moral or just to divide torture into meaningfully distinct degrees is an important question, and one that Andrew doesn’t bother to address.

Thanks to Eddie of Hidden Unities for publicizing Sullivan’s mindless post via Google Reader shared items.

Power-Seeking, among other things

It’s a good bet that Daily Kos and Weekly Standard don’t agree on much. But they do agree that Obama has abandoned what he formerly said and believed.

First, Kos:

So many of you are upset that I pulled back my credit card last night, making a last minute decision to hold back on a $2,300 contribution to Obama. Let me explain further:

First of all, obviously Obama is a great candidate who is running a great 50-state race. That much cannot be denied. But he’s had a rough couple of weeks.

First, he reversed course and capitulated on FISA, not just turning back on the Constitution, but on the whole concept of “leadership”. Personally, I like to see presidents who 1) lead, and 2) uphold their promises to protect the Constitution.

Then, he took his not-so-veiled swipe at MoveOn in his “patriotism” speech.

Finally, he reinforced right-wing and media talking points that Wes Clark had somehow impugned McCain’s military service when, in reality, Clark had done no such thing.

All of a sudden, there was a lot of cowering when, just days ago, we got to read this:

When Mr. Wenner asked how Mr. Obama might respond to harsh attacks from Republicans, suggesting that Democrats have “cowered” in the past, Mr. Obama replied, “Yeah, I don’t do cowering.”

Could’ve fooled me, and maybe he is. Maybe what looks like cowering to me is really part of that “moving to the center” stuff everyone keeps talking about. But there is a line between “moving to the center” and stabbing your allies in the back out of fear of being criticized. And, of late, he’s been doing a lot of unecessary stabbing, betraying his claims of being a new kind of politician. Not that I ever bought it, but Obama is now clearly not looking much different than every other Democratic politician who has ever turned his or her back on the base in order to prove centrist bona fides. That’s not an indictment, just an observation.

Second, the Standard (quoting Glenn Greenwald)

*intervened in a Democratic Congressional primary to support one of the worst Bush-enabling Blue Dogs over a credible, progressive challenger;

* announced his support for Bush’s FISA bill, reversing himself completely on this issue;

* sided with the Scalia/Thomas faction in two highly charged Supreme Court decisions;

* repudiated Wesley Clark and embraced the patently false media narrative that Clark had “dishonored McCain’s service” (and for the best commentary I’ve seen, by far, on the Clark matter, see this appropriately indignant piece by Iraq veteran Brandon Friedman);

* condemned MoveOn.org for its newspaper advertisement criticizing Gen. Petraeus;

* defended his own patriotism by impugning the patriotism of others, specifically those in what he described as the “the so-called counter-culture of the Sixties” for “attacking the symbols, and in extreme cases, the very idea, of America itself” and — echoing Jeanne Kirkpatrick’s 1984 RNC speech — “blaming America for all that was wrong with the world”;

* unveiled plans “to expand President Bush’s program steering federal social service dollars to religious groups and — in a move sure to cause controversy . . . letting religious charities that receive federal funding consider religion in employment decisions,” a move that could “invite a storm of protest from those who view such faith requirements as discrimination” — something not even the Bush faith programs allowed.

What’s to explain Obama’s sudden shift to the Alito/Scalia/Thomas view of the world? Just a little bit ago his friends were terrorists, black nationalists, and other goons.

And what’s to explain Obama’s weird embrace of faith-based programs:

So Obama would create what he calls “a new President’s Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.” Sounds a lot like Bush’s White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives. But Obama wants a fresh start. Announcing his plans today after a tour of a food bank in Zanesville, Ohio, Obama said that Bush’s office “was used to promote partisan interests” and wound up failing to sufficiently empower smaller congregations and community groups. Obama implied that partisanship will not infect his council (make note of that promise now), and he announced a plan to have larger faith-based groups who know how to win government grants (Catholic Charities and Lutheran Services, he gives as examples) teach the smaller congregations and groups how to supplicate successfully (imagine the jobs program this could entail). Taking a shot at those (mainly found in his own party) “who bristle at the notion that faith has a place in the public square,” Obama defended the idea of enlisting believers alongside nonbelievers in the effort to ameliorate stubborn social problems. That idea, as he acknowledged, has long has broad support in both parties (the details being where things get controversial–details that Obama largely passed over).

Obama’s faith-based council may be seen as part of a strategy to cut into the Republican advantage with voters who attend church at least once a week. Yet the real story from Zanesville came at the end of Obama’s remarks. (It’s called “burying your lede” in journalism.) For it turns out that the new council “will help set our national agenda.” Thus, faith and the values it commends will provide “the foundation of a new project of American renewal.” Which, encompassing a new assault on “extreme poverty” at home and contemplating nothing less than an end to genocide and the scourge of HIV/AIDS abroad, is what Obama “[intends] to lead as President of the United States.” Sounds like the country’s being offered another faith-based presidency, one of considerable ambition. What was it that Obama said in churches in South Carolina, back in January? Oh yes: “I am confident that we can create a Kingdom [of God] right here on Earth.”

The answer is clear: all of the positions and friends that Obama has are chosen to increase his power. When Obama could increase his power as a “community organizer” by praising terrorists and racialists, he did. When Obama thinks he can increase his power by condemning old friends, like his pastor, MoveOn, and General Clark, he does that. When Obama look ahead, and realizes his powers of social engineering will be greater if he funds faith-based churches, and his powers of surveillance will be better with warrentless wiretaps, he does that.

Obama appears to be a power-seekling light-weight. Of course his campaign is often sickeningly crude, from his race-baiting to his campaigns pattern of Wesley-Clark-style attacks

I originally thought that Obama would be an intelligent and capable politician who would help us have an honest debate about the post-9/11 world. Clearly, I was wrong. Obama’s pattern of behavior point to a basic incompetence, a reliance on whatever powers that are, and a viciousness in attacking opponents.

Republicans for National Health Care

Glad to see that Half Sigma is on board:

Half Sigma: Republicans should support socialized medicine
The current system sucks. It’s not free market medicine. No sector of the economy is more heavily regulated than medicine. For the typical working American, it’s almost as if medicine is socialized. Your healthcare plan is chosen by someone else, your employer. No matter how many healthcare services you consume, it doesn’t cost you any extra money (or only nominally more money). The government is already paying for part of your healthcare in the form of a tax break.

More:

Socialized medicine would be a government benefit that helps the middle class. Poor people already get free healthcare in the form of Medicaid and free emergency care whenever they show up at a hospital emergency room. Old people get nearly free healthcare in the form of Medicare. Fully socialized medicine would merely give middle class wage earners some government benefits for the taxes they are already paying.

Would people still want to go to medical school under the new plan? Yes, because the government should provide free medical school education for anyone who qualifies. If doctors get paid the highest salary in the GS system, which is around $150,000 per year, there will be a lot of takers. Also, we can institute reforms here, such as combining medical school with undergraduate school in order to accelerate education and lower costs. Anyway, doctors aren’t really the system’s biggest cost.

I’ve previously pushed for national health care and national insurance on this blog. It’s the free-market thing to do!

Flight

I had an eye-opening conversation about yellow flight the other day. I bring it up because the main points of the conversation are echoed in Half Sigma prescription for lower materialism:

Half Sigma: Declining population part II: the relative nature of wealth
There may be a lot of educated white people who wouldn’t mind living in a cheap neighborhood if their neighbors were other educated white people with a similar mindset, but the reality is that living in a cheap neighborhood means living with uneducated minorities with anti-social behaviors.

The post also makes me think about gene therapy and gene counseling on the group-level. My previous posts have only emphasized that parents will have the freedom to select the next generation, and that prisoners may one day be cured of their anti-social traits through altering their DNA. However,, it’s also clear that such procedures create positive externalities — public goods — for those around the patients. A student who is brighter and more studious because of genetic counseling has a positive impact on his peers, who are likely to be brighter and more studious in turn. Likewise, a man who no longer is predisposed to crime will likely cause his neighborhood to be less criminal than it otherwise be!

The flipside is also true. Those who are dull and lazy, or those who are violent and criminal, hurt those around them. The importance of fixing broken windows to reduce crime has long been known. Cities will violate landowner’s property rights in order to create an environment that leads to greater economic success and less crime. If gene therapy and gene counseling continue to be legal, to what extent can be extent cities to violate the genetic autonomy of the individual in order to secure peace and economic success?

Our strange fixation on race (where the subject is continually interesting, but most “new dialogs” are actually awful) compounds the problem. If most people in need of such services belong to politically correct minorities, does this make government action less likely (because more such minorities will have their individual rights violated) or more likely (because those minority communities stand the most to gain by improving the population)?

The same questions can be asked on a larger scale, too. As the Responsibility to Protect gains teeth, under what circumstances is the international community entitled to engage on widespread genetic manipulation of a population? What if infecting the pygmie population with a certain retrovirus would raise their IQ 15 points? What if infecting certain Congolese populations with a retrovirus would make pygmie flesh taste awful?

We can ignore these questions, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be answered. The concepts of white flight and yellow flight speak to current examples of changing community equilibria. Our attempts to counteract white flight to the suburbs have backfired, badly. The rise of genetics merely expands these problems and opportunities to new dimensions.