November 2005, Part 1
Jim Miller on Politics
Daddy! Anonymous sperm donors may not be anonymous forever.
Late last year, a 15-year-old boy rubbed a swab along the inside of his cheek, popped it into a vial and sent it off to an online genealogy DNA-testing service. But unlike most people who contact the service, he was not interested in sketching the far reaches of his family tree. His mother had conceived using donor sperm and he wanted to track down his genetic father.And he was able to do it even though his father had never had never made his DNA public.
The boy paid FamilyTreeDNA.com $289 for the service. His genetic father had never supplied his DNA to the site, but all that was needed was for someone in the same paternal line to be on file. After nine months of waiting and having agreed to have his contact details available to other clients, the boy was contacted by two men with Y chromosomes closely matching his own. The two did not know each other, but the similarity between their Y chromosomes suggested there was a 50 per cent chance that all three had the same father, grandfather or great-grandfather.(This particular approach wouldn't work for a daughter, as you probably guessed.)
More often, the tests are being used for less unusual purposes. Some years ago, I read that paternity suits soared after these tests became available. And, recently, I have been hearing advertisements for confidential paternity tests by mail.
There are going to be some unpleasant (and perhaps some pleasant) suprises for many couples and individuals in the years ahead. Brent Staples of the New York Times tells about his surprise.
I've known all this [his white ancestors] for a long time, and was not surprised by the results of a genetic screening performed by DNAPrint Genomics, a company that traces ancestral origins to far-flung parts of the globe. A little more than half of my genetic material came from sub-Saharan Africa - common for people who regard themselves as black - with slightly more than a quarter from Europe.From Staples' account, no one in his family knew about the Asian part of his ancestry. But at least one person must have &mdash though they may have passed away some time ago.
(Yes, I know that Staples can't have "one-fifth" of his ancestry from anywhere. I assume that's just the result of rounding by whoever prepared the report.)
- 1:38 PM, 8 November 2005 [link]
Endorsements: If you want to see how I will vote in (some) of our local elections, you can find my endorsements here, and the reasons for those endorsements here and here.
- 2:40 PM, 7 November 2005 [link]
France Is Burning: The eleventh night of rioting in France was the worst yet.
Rioting by French youths spread to 300 towns overnight and a man hurt in the violence died of his wounds, the first fatality in 11 days of unrest that has shocked the country, police said Monday.But why is France burning? Those with the Molotov cocktails are mostly young men, mostly Muslim, mostly poor, and mostly dependent on French welfare. As I understand it, they face considerable discrimination in hiring and housing. Many have criminal backgrounds, often in drug dealing.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, these recent attacks are not something new, but something that has been occurring for years, at a lower level. And from an American point of view, one has to be struck by two differences from our urban riots. First, both the attackers and the police have been refraining from deadly violence; there has been just one death and, according to press reports, the police have yet to fire a shot. If the attackers wanted to kill police officers, they could easily have done so by now; if the police wanted to use deadly force, they could have done so as well. (Even the recent attack in Grigny with shotguns appears to have been intended to wound the police rather than kill them, since the attackers used birdshot.)
Second, judging by press reports, there has been little looting; the attackers want to destroy, not to steal. In every major urban riot in the United States in recent decades — or at least every one I am familiar with — looting has been an important part of the chaos. (And the looters in those riots weren't all black; once law and order broke down, often whites and Hispanics joined the party.)
Most in the "mainstream" media ascribe the attacks to the effects of poverty and discrimination; this article by Molly Moore of the Washington Post is typical:
French government officials said they would announce a plan Monday for combating the violence and its root causes of high unemployment, poverty and discrimination in the poor communities where the violence is concentrated.(That phrase, "root causes", is almost always evidence of muddled thinking — unless you are discussing plant diseases.)
Others, notably Mark Steyn, see the problem as Islam, or at least radical Islam.
Silly me. The Eurabian civil war appears to have started some years ahead of my optimistic schedule. As Thursday's edition of the Guardian reported in London: "French youths fired at police and burned over 300 cars last night as towns around Paris experienced their worst night of violence in a week of urban unrest."David Warren agrees with Steyn's analysis and offers this detail:
As well as we can now reconstruct, it began in Clichy-sous-Bois, a suburban, North African ghetto, which has been a police no-go area for several years (like many other Muslim ghettoes in Europe), and where young, declaredly Islamist, thugs rule the streets by day and night. (Their war cry, while hurling missiles and setting fires, is "Allahou Akbar!" -- "God is great!" There is no possible doubt about their orientation.)(Is Warren right about that war cry? I haven't seen it in the American media, but then it is exactly that kind of detail that CBS, the New York Times, and all the rest are likely to suppress.)
So we have two main theories about the motives of the attackers; those in the "mainstream" media believe that the attackers are being violent because they have been excluded, while most in the conservative blogosphere believe that the attackers are being violent because they hate and despise French society. (And there are minor theories to consider. Ralf Goergens thinks that a contributing cause is the dehumanizing architecture of the public housing that these young men live in. And a correspondent of Roger Simon's believes that the attacks are part of a turf war between drug dealers and the police.)
In thinking about the motives of the attackers, the American experience can help. What studies showed is that the rioters here had many motivations. Different rioters had different motivations, and many individual rioters had more than one reason for their actions. So the attackers in France need not have a single motivation. And the American experience can help our understanding in another way; in general, our large urban riots occurred in the places where conditions were best for blacks, not worst. (This may be hard to believe about places like Detroit, but in fact Detroit was doing very well at the time of the riots.) So, since absolute deprivation did not cause riots here, we should be open to the possibility that it is not the cause of the attacks in France. (Some will see parallels to Crane Brinton's idea that revolutions are generally preceded by rising expectations, not declining conditions.)
And so can some universal observations, such as this one: Young men often like to fight. The rioters after football games here and soccer games abroad are almost all young men. And, equally universally, what restrains young men is the responsibilities of marriage — and older men. The welfare culture in the United States — and, it would seem, in France — has dangerously weakened both those constraints. As far as I can tell, the attackers in France are almost all being supported, at least in part, by the French taxpayers. To get their living, they need not behave in a way that satisfies the older men of their communities, as they would if they were still living in North Africa. Nor is there much reason for the young women in those communities to marry, since they do not need a husband to support their children.
If the welfare culture provided the conditions to, if I may put it this crude way, breed the attackers, then Islam provides the attractive ideology to justify their attacks on the broader community. (Just as it does for many criminals in the United States, and elsewhere.) What young man wouldn't prefer to think himself as a holy warrior, rather than a cheap crook? (In the United States, we see something similar in the attraction of rap to so many of our violent young men; it often provides an ideology that allows them to think of themselves as heroic fighters.) If it is that combination of a welfare culture and Islamic ideology that (mostly) explains the attacks in France, then to stop those attacks in the long run will require welfare reform in France and some effort to make France's many Muslim citizens loyal to France. Sadly, I do not think that will be possible without expelling some Muslim citizens. The French will have to learn to say, "Be loyal or be gone." And so will other nations, perhaps including our own.
(For more reading on this subject, I would suggest Jonathan Gewirtz's post on the low casualties, so far, the post by "Corbusier" describing two nasty encounters with aggressive Muslims in France, Jon N's post explaining how France's interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, was smeared by the press, the analyses at Belmont Club and at Strategy Page, Paul Belien's description of the motives of the attackers, and Eric Scheie's post which, like this one, argues for multiple motives..
For views that contrast, at least in part, with mine, see this post by Clive Davis and this post by Gregory Djerejian.)
- 10:58 AM, 7 November 2005 [link]
Investigate The CIA: So says Victoria Toensing, who believes that the behavior of the CIA in the Joseph Wilson/Valerie Plame affair was the "result of either incompetence or an effort to undermine the White House". Toensing lists many peculiarities about the affair, such as this one:
When he returned from Niger, Mr. Wilson was not required to write a report, but rather merely to provide an oral briefing. That information was not sent to the White House. If this mission to Niger were so important, wouldn't a competent intelligence agency want a thoughtful written assessment from the "missionary," if for no other reason than to establish a record to refute any subsequent misrepresentation of that assessment? Because it was the vice president who initially inquired about Niger and the yellowcake (although he had nothing to do with Mr. Wilson being sent), it is curious that neither his office nor the president's were privy to the fruits of Mr. Wilson's oral report.Think of that! No written report. Those who have been sent on business trips to investigate some question will realize just how peculiar that is, especially for a bureaucracy like the CIA. And that is hardly the only peculiarity.
Toensing wonders whether the affair reveals incompetence or malice. I don't see why it couldn't reveal both. And there may be a third possiblity, at least for Valerie Plame. She is Joseph Wilson's third wife and a timeline I saw of his career suggests to me that he was involved with his second wife while still married to his first, and involved with Plame while still married to his second wife. A prudent wife might think it wise to keep an unemployed husband, with that record, busy. So she found something for him to do — and then, if my recollection is correct, met him in Paris after his trip to Niger. Joseph Wilson was kept busy for a time, and the Wilsons got a nice romantic interlude in Paris, partly paid for by the taxpayers. The affair revealed, almost certainly, old fashioned nepotism, as well as incompetence and malice.
- 7:27 AM, 6 November 2005 [link]
Mountain Blogging: As I drove past the fringe of the Belknap volcano three weeks ago, to the north I could see a much older volcano, Mount Washington.
My picture was taken from near the Dee Wright Observatory, along Route 242. If you would like to see a prettier picture of the mountain, here's one, courtesy of the United States Geological Survey.
How did Mount Washington get that strange shape? Here's a brief explanation from the 1988 edition of Fire Mountains of the West.
Like Thielsen, Washington is a composite cone consisting of a central pyroclastic edifice and attendant lava flows into which a huge basaltic plug intruded. Washington has apparently been extinct for a long time, so the glaciers have largely demolished the upper part of the mountain, leaving only the sheer obelisk of the central plug.Stephen Harris calls Washington and several similar peaks in Oregon "Matterhorn volcanoes", after their resemblance to the famous Swiss mountain.
Any dangers from Mount Washington? None at all, as far as I can tell.
- 7:42 AM, 5 November 2005 [link]
This Picture Was Taken Against Orders:
It was taken during World War I and shows nothing of any great military significance. Nonetheless, it was taken against the orders of the British army, which at that time forbade all photography by officers and enlisted men while they were on active sevice.
Now, we might now judge that such complete bans are silly and, in any case, almost impossible to enforce, given how many in our forces have cameras, especially digital cameras. But have we gone too far in the opposite direction?
Consider the article, published on Tuesday in the Washington Post, that revealed that we have secret prisons in other nations for terrorists. In one sense, this is no surprise; I would have assumed that we made such arrangements — and for very good reasons. But assuming it and knowing it are two different things. And there are details in the article that might help our enemies and will embarrass our friends.
Dana Priest, the reporter who did the article, is, judging by this online discussion, pleased as punch by her work — and completely indifferent to the lives that may be lost because of it. Nor is she bothered by the fact that the leaks are illegal and are intended, by the bureaucrats who leaked, to undermine our elected officials.
Read this interchange carefully, and you will see that Priest never supplies the motives of those who illegally leaked this information — and never denies that they are trying to undermine elected officials.
Washington, D.C.: Cliff Kincaid writing in "Accuracy in Media" says that your story on secret prisons yesterday "reflects the view of a faction in the agency (CIA) that opposes this policy and wants to use The Post to convey its view publicly. Once again, the secret war against the Bush administration is on display for all to see."She's slick, though not quite as slick as Bill Clinton, since, as anyone who reads a major newspaper knows, a faction at the CIA has been attacking the Bush administration for years. And her newspaper, the Washington Post, has said so, more than once.
And this article by Dana Priest is only one example of many. The New York Times did a whole series, also based on leaks, describing how the United States moves terrorists around.
What to do about these leaks, and the reporters who print them, regardless of the likely losses to the United States. I don't see any other course than to prosecute some of the leakers and, perhaps, some of the reporters who traffic in those leaks. Maybe after a few of Dana Priest's sources (and perhaps Dana Priest) spend a few years in jail, other bureaucrats and reporters will be a little more willing to follow our laws and common sense.
Our war against terrorism is, above all, fought through intelligence operations. The terrorists cannot survive if we know where they are. And they can not prosper if we get fair treatment by the Western press. Dana Priest must know this, but doesn't care. In that, she is, sadly, all too similar to many other reporters.
(The picture was taken from John Keegan's Illustrated History of the First World War. Here's what he says about it:
The commmanding officer, adjutant and second-in-command of the 1st Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) conferring before the Battle of LeCateau, August 25, 1914. Photography was forbidden on active service in the British army, lest photographs fall into the hands of the enemy and reveal sensitive information. An officer of the Cameronians disobeyed the rule. His photographs, which survived, form one of the few visual images of the campaign. The Cameronians were a Lowland regiment which did not wear the Highlanders' kit, but disclosed their Scottishness by their ribbed Glengarry caps.Apparently they didn't have any embedded reporters, either.
There is, of course, an enormous irony in seeing this story in the Post, a story based entirely on illegal leaks, while much of the press is attacking the Bush administration for another leak. To her credit, Priest says in the discussion that she doesn't think the Plame leak compromised national security. But then she makes her living trafficking in illegal leaks, so that's what you would expect her to say.)
- 4:50 PM, 4 November 2005 [link]
Mao's Rotten Omelet: Last night I went to a book signing to meet and listen to Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, the authors of new biography of Mao tse-tung. I'll have more to say about both the signing and the book in a week or so, but do want to mention the two points that struck me most forcefully. Jung Chang's own experiences during the Cultural Revolution give her an authority that explain why the Communist regime will not allow this book to be published in China.
And Jon Halliday took the last few minutes to explicitly answer the claim made by Nicholas Kristof (and many others) that Mao, for all his cruelty and destruction, had modernized China. In fact, in many ways China was worse off after decades of Mao's rule than it had been when he took power. In particular, the Chinese, who have been close to famine for centuries, had less to eat after decades of Mao's rule — as the result of deliberate policy decisions by Mao. He sacrificed everything to build his military machine, impoverishing most of his country for decades. The omelet made from all those Chinese eggs was rotten.
- 10:13 AM, 4 November 2005 [link]
Muslim Rioting In Denmark, Too: There are similar Muslim riots going on, as I learned from a number of sources in the blogosphere, in Denmark's second largest city, Århus. Henrik of the Viking Observer has an extensive summary of the events in this post. Like him, I was struck by this:
Not that well covered is a very similar series of riots, also running for four days, in Århus, Denmark. Nothing of it has penetrated to the english-language sections of Danish media, so the following is my translation of a piece in daily Jyllands-Posten:(Some of you may need to know that the Jyllands-Posten newspaper published a cartoon that some Muslims considered defamatory. I haven't seen the cartoon myself.)
It may be, as the title of Henrik's post proclaims, that riots is the wrong word to describe these events. According to the rather brief descriptions I have seen, in both countries we don't have great masses of young people rioting; instead, we have small bands making hit-and-run attacks, in what we might call a low level guerrilla war.
(That circle on the "A" in Århus is called a "ring", reasonably enough, at least according to my copy of Web Design in a Nutshell. Since English doesn't use the ring, the "A" is often doubled instead, so you will usually see Aarhus, instead of Århus.)
- 10:47 AM, 3 November 2005
Correction: Drawings, not cartoon. Here's the explanation:
Danish author Kåre Bluitgen had difficulties in getting artists to illustrate his book about Muhammad due to fear of reprisals from Islamic extremists. Jyllandsposten, Denmark's largest newspaper, responded by asking 40 illustrators to make drawings of Muhammad, and published twelve in this Saturday's editionIf you follow the link, you can see one of the drawings; if you follow the link at that post, you can see more. None strike me as especially terrible — by Western standards. And that's the rub. Many Muslims do not accept those standards, and a few are willing to resort to violence to prevent us from speaking freely.
- 1:10 PM, 4 November 2005 [link]
Checking Signatures On Absentee Ballots: In this op-ed, certified document examiner Hannah McFarland says that the state of Washington uses the wrong procedures to check signatures on absentee ballots.
The office of the secretary of state uses a very flawed criteria by which election workers decide if two signatures match. The election workers are given a list of seven arbitrary and vague handwriting characteristics to consider. If three of these traits match, Bingo! the signatures are written by the same person. The worker goes on to the next ballot.McFarland then gives an example of a forged signature that would meet those criteria easily.
She continues by arguing that, if the state of Washington (and probably other states) were to use better criteria, they could do a better job of verifying signatures on absentee ballots.
But, after reading her op-ed, I came to a different conclusion: If there are very large numbers of absentee ballots, it is not possible for the clerks who check the signatures on them to do an adequate job of catching forged signatures. Some in Washington state want us to move, as Oregon has, to all absentee ballots. (Oregon does provide balloting places in each county, for the disabled, I assume.) Almost 3 million votes were cast in Washington in 2004. Given the difficulty of spotting forged signatures — as described by McFarland — the time constraints, and the small amounts of training that the election clerks have, it is simply impractical to check the signatures on that many absentee ballots adequately.
(Impractical, not impossible, because you could, for instance, hire most of the document examiners in the country for several weeks to check ballots. I won't even try to guess what that would cost, but I am certain that McFarland, and others in her profession, do not receive minimum wages for their work.)
I'll repeat a point I have made before. You can have elections that are not vulnerable to vote fraud, or you can have widespread use of absentee ballots, but you can not have both. (Unless you are willing to give up ballot secrecy, of course.)
(Some may wonder why banks, which have similar constraints of time and money, can do an adequate job of checking signatures, when election boards can not. There are two crucial differences in the situations. Your check is not secret from the bank and the transaction is almost always reversible. Neither is true of your ballot. We could have more security with our absentee ballots if we were willing to give up secrecy.)
- 9:42 AM, 3 November 2005 [link]
Crash! Bang! Yesterday afternoon, as I was finishing up a post, the power went off, the computer crashed, and I heard a loud bang. First reports said that a sub-station in Medina had failed. Since Medina is where Bill Gates lives, I wondered briefly, very briefly, if the crash could have been caused by someone turning on all the gadgets in his mansion at once.
According to this story, the cause of the outage was a lightning strike, which was always the most likely, if not the most amusing, explanation.
(Other than the post I was working on, I do not seem to have lost any files. The journaling file system I use (ext3, for the curious) appears to work quite well at protecting my data, even in these extreme cases. It works well enough so that I haven't bothered to get a UPS, though I probably should.)
- 9:10 PM, 3 November 2005 [link]
Michelle Malkin catches the New York Times leaving out the most interesting part of a soldier's letter.
The New York Times, as part of its coverage of the "grim milestone" of 2,000 dead (which the "mainstream" media seemed less grim about than I would like) published this part of a letter from Corporal Jeffrey B. Starr.
Sifting through Corporal Starr's laptop computer after his death, his father found a letter to be delivered to the marine's girlfriend. "I kind of predicted this," Corporal Starr wrote of his own death. "A third time just seemed like I'm pushing my chances."But relatives of Corporal Starr who had the whole letter thought this excerpt gave the wrong impression. They contacted Malkin and she gives us the entire paragraph:
Obviously if you are reading this then I have died in Iraq. I kind of predicted this, that is why I'm writing this in November. A third time just seemed like I'm pushing my chances. I don't regret going, everybody dies but few get to do it for something as important as freedom. It may seem confusing why we are in Iraq, it's not to me. I'm here helping these people, so that they can live the way we live. Not have to worry about tyrants or vicious dictators. To do what they want with their lives. To me that is why I died. Others have died for my freedom, now this is my mark.Seeing the whole thing gives you a rather different impression, doesn't it?
"Greyhawk", who writes for the Mudville Gazette milblog, saw Malkin's column and says that, in his experience, this is typical coverage from the New York Times.
Because I've seen numerous examples of such behavior on the part of the New York Times over the past several months. All involve selective quoting, misquoting, or simply claiming a GI said something without actually quoting them at all. Most range in repugnance from mildly annoying to grossly reprehensible — but in what I believe is the worst case they appear to attempt to frame a soldier for murder.And then gives you some examples.
The New York Times prides itself on being our newspaper of record. Many in our armed forces must have doubts about the Times' right to that title.
- 4:25 PM, 2 November 2005 [link]
The Ongoing Muslim Riots In France: By the standard account, there have been six nights of riots by Muslim youths in suburbs near Paris.
French President Jacques Chirac warned of a "dangerous situation" and called for calm after six nights of riots in suburbs in the north-east of Paris.By another way of thinking, these riots have been going on for months, and even years. Here are some statistics from the French Interior Minister:
[Nicolas] Sarkozy says that violence in French suburbs is a daily fact of life.For years, there have been no-go areas in France.
In Le Figaro daily dated Feb 1, 2002, Lucienne Bui Trong, a criminologist working for the French government's Renseignements Generaux (General Intelligence — a mix of FBI and secret service), complains that the survey system she had created for accurately denumbering the Muslim no-go zones was dismantled by the government. She wrote: 'From 106 hot points in 1991, we went to 818 sensitive areas in 1999. That's for the whole country. These data were not politically correct.' Since she comes from a Vietnamese background, Ms. Bui Trong cannot be suspected of racism, of course, otherwise she wouldn't have been able to start this survey in the first place.And I'll go out on the same limb and venture that it hasn't decreased in the last three years.
It is in those no-go areas where the Muslim youths have rioted, for the last six nights, or for years by some definitions of riot.
Americans might call these areas housing projects (and Britons might call them, council estates, as I understand it) from their combination of crime and brutally modern public housing.
And they would seem familiar to Americans who remember the 1970s. We too had our "no-go" zones; Paul Newman's movie, Fort Apache, the Bronx, may not have been particularly authentic, but it was named after a real police station. And we still have them in some places, though the Bronx neighborhood that held Fort Apache is now much improved, or so I have read.
Theodore Dalrymple calls these projects, ironically, cités, and sees great dangers in them.
No one should underestimate the danger that this failure poses, not only for France but also for the world. The inhabitants of the cités are exceptionally well armed. When the professional robbers among them raid a bank or an armored car delivering cash, they do so with bazookas and rocket launchers, and dress in paramilitary uniforms.And Americans should take no satisfaction in the French predicament, for there are close parallels here to all these phenomena. We learned the hard way that, first of all, our cities need law and order and that talk and dialog must wait until riots have been suppressed. We have learned, also the hard way, that welfare corrupts those who receive it. But we have still to grasp the danger of that combination of Islam and crime that afflicts France — and is beginning to appear here.
- 11:24 AM, 2 November 2005
More: The riots continued another night, with the rioters torching 177 cars and, according to the police, firing shots at them. You can find pictures of the riots here and here.
- 6:44 AM, 3 November 2005 [link]
Samuel Alito Is A Friend Of The First Amendment: So says the First Amendment Center.
A preliminary examination of his First Amendment opinions suggests that Alito is: (1) quite protective of several categories of expression, including religious and commercial expression; (2) far less protective of First Amendment claims raised by prisoners; (3) guardedly protective of First Amendment rights in defamation cases, and (4) generally concerned about prior restraints on expression.Who knows? Perhaps Alito even believes that "Congress shall make no law" means that Congress shall make no law. That possibility has escaped Senators McCain and Feingold, and most newspaper editors, though it once was a common interpretation of the famous clause.
It will be easy for Alito to be an improvement on Sandra Day O'Connor on campaign finance and other First Amendment issues. Her opinions in this area are often called "muddled", and for good reason.
(By way of Gerry Daly, who found a useful summary, with many links, on Alito's career here.)
- 5:36 AM, 2 November 2005 [link]
For What Problem Is A Higher Gasoline Tax The Best Solution? For decades now, well-off people in urban areas have been urging higher taxes on gasoline as the solution for an amazing variety of problems. For example, the editorial board at the New York Times recently told us that a higher gas tax would help solve our two greatest crises, terrorism and global warming. New York Times columnist John Tierney makes even more claims.
I have a modest proposal to fight global warming, save energy, cut air pollution, ease traffic congestion, reduce highway fatalities and, while we're at it, reform Social Security. All we have to do is raise the federal gasoline tax by 50 cents per gallon and refund all the new revenue directly to Americans by putting it in new Social Security individual accounts.In general, those who propose higher gasoline taxes seem to want at least a 50 cent per gallon increase, which makes sense because, as we have just seen, small increases in the cost of gasoline do not have much of an effect on the behavior of motorists, especially in the short term.
Let me begin by setting aside the question of whether a higher gasoline tax would have all the good effects that are claimed for it. Instead, let's turn the question around and begin with the problems rather than the proposed solution. Suppose, for instance, that we were looking for the best solution for the problem of terrorism. Is a higher gas tax that solution? No. And the same is true of every other problem on these lists. If we are worried about global warming, for example, then a carbon tax, on everything we burn, would be better. And so on.
Now one might argue that, although an increase in gasoline taxes is not the best solution for any of these problems, it is the best solution for all of them considered as a whole. That seems as implausible as arguing that a single garment, which doesn't fit anyone well, is the the best garment for all of us.
And, as is rarely admitted, a gasoline tax has substantial disadvantages. Like almost every other sales tax, it is regressive, falling more heavily on the poor than the wealthy. It hits rural and suburban areas much harder than urban areas. (And only a cynic would say that those two facts help explain why it is so attractive to well-off urbanites. John Tierney, to his credit, does mention the problem of its regressive impact, but gets it wrong. It is true, just as he says, that the poor, or at least the very poor, tend to drive less than the average person. But, except at very low levels of income, the cost of gasoline is a bigger share of their incomes than it is for middle and upper income people. And Tierney has nothing to say about the greater impact of gasoline tax increases on rural areas.)
But there is one problem for which a gas tax is the best solution, or at least the best solution that has any chance of being enacted by Congress. A higher gas tax would reduce the number of poor and working class people on our highways. If that is your goal, then a higher gas tax is probably the best way to achieve it.
Is the desire to remove poor and working class people from our highways the reason that so many at the New York Times and elsewhere favor higher gasoline taxes? No, but for many of them it is a reason, though they are unlikely ever to admit that publicly.
(Most economists would predict that a 50 cent tax on gasoline would reduce our driving substantially. But they might be wrong. According to economist Alan Krueger, recent price increases in gasoline did not have the effect most economists would have predicted.
The national average price of gasoline surged 53 percent from 1998 to 2004, after adjusting for inflation. Yet consumption was up 10 percent in this period. Conventional wisdom would have predicted the price rise, which was mainly a result of external factors, to cause a 26.5 to 53 percent drop in gas consumption.If you allow for the increase in the GNP, about 20 percent in the same period, you would still predict a drop in consumption but not as large a drop.)
- 3:39 PM, 1 November 2005 [link]
BBC Ignorance: And, most likely, bias. On Sunday I was listening to the BBC news and heard special correspondent Gavin Hewitt say that President Bush had refused to ratify the Kyoto treaty. This was a remarkable display of ignorance for a man with Hewitt's experience.
To begin with, the US President can not ratify treaties; that is done by the Senate. Here's the governing clause from the US Constitution:
He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; . . .So the President (or most likely his representatives) negotiates a treaty and then sends it to the Senate for ratification. That's simple enough even for a BBC corespondent, I hope.
So, did President Bush send the Kyoto treaty to the Senate for ratification? No. It was negotiated by the Clinton administration. When word of its provisions reached the Senate the Senate passed an advisory resolution (by 97-0, or something like that) asking President Clinton to not even send the treaty to the Senate for ratification. He didn't.
After this debacle, President Clinton tried to re-open the negotiations with the Europeans. Although there were talks, nothing much came of them. And the same thing happened during Bush's time in office. (One might almost think that at least a few European powers prefer having the issue to having a solution.)
Bush's contribution to all this? He declared Kyoto dead, which may have been impolite, but was not inaccurate. For saying that, he has been attacked endlessly and, often, ignorantly.
(Why did the Clinton administration negotiate a treaty that could not be ratified by the Senate? I don't know, but am inclined to blame sheer incompetence.)
- 10:13 AM, 1 November 2005 [link]
For Some Years, I have thought that CBS White House correspondent John Roberts was a biased and crude jerk. About his bias, a few may still want to argue, but Roberts has erased all doubts about his crudity.
Roberts has apologized, but I must admit that I am grateful that he has given us this glimpse of his thinking. (And perhaps shown us what is acceptable at CBS when they are off camera.)
(Note: You may not want to explain this to younger sprogs.)
- 8:47 AM, 1 November 2005 [link]