Monday, November 16, 2015

War Without Strategy

Amongst the last several days of calls for war and calls for peace, comics and hashtags, it has been difficult to articulate where the country, or the West, is right now. Mark Steyn, however, puts it well:
I have not called for more bombing raids, more boots on the ground, more war. Because, I regret to say, it's not worth brave soldiers "fighting, killing & dying" for a home front as enervated as ours. As I said a few hours ago, war is merely the sharpest tool of national strategy, and so, if you have no national strategy, there's no point going to war.
Why would anyone would expect a president who campaigned on it being wrong to remove a brutal, terrorist-supporting dictator in Iraq to lead a war to remove brutal terrorists from Iraq and Syria? Luckily, perhaps, we do not demonize the French when they take the lead.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

When is it Acceptable to Compliment Terrorists?

Minnesota's Star Tribune reports:
A [Minnesota Democrat's] campaign for the state House abruptly ended Sunday morning within hours of him posting on social media that ISIS "isn’t necessarily evil" and is "made up of people doing what they think is best for their community."
Washington state's Patty Murray made similar comments about Osama bin Laden in 2002:
He's been out in these countries for decades, building schools, building roads, building infrastructure, building day-care facilities, building health-care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful. He's made their lives better.
Murray did not resign. In fact, she subsequently chaired the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and is currently the fifth-ranked Democrat in the US Senate.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Dirty Bomb Doesn't Have to be Very Dirty

War on the Rocks has a pair of competing pieces on the threat of dirty bombs (Don't Fear the Dirty Bomb vs. Why I Fear the Dirty Bomb and You Should Too), but the second one has the most realistic view of how people would react. Regardless of the actual, scientifically-measurable risk, people will still be terrified:
Think of it as if somebody sprayed asbestos in your apartment building. No one would die and you could go in and out, but nobody would for fear of exposing themselves to cancer-causing agents.
Read the whole thing here--and remember, people are already afraid of irradiated food.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Can a State Mandate Financial Literacy?

From KELO, according to the Center for Financial Literacy:
South Dakota schools are receving [sic] an "F" in teaching students personal finance in high school... South Dakota requires high school students to take a half-year course in either personal finance or economics but does not require students to choose personal finance or require schools to offer personal finance.
These ratings appear to be based entirely on whether or not a high school personal finance course is required by law. Based on more well-rounded methodology, South Dakota was recently rated the 6th best state for Money-Savviness.

For the Center for Financial Literacy, it doesn't seem to matter whether students retain any knowledge of personal finance or learn it at home or independently, only if they were required by law to slog through a course before most of them even have any financial responsibilities which they can relate the course to. The takeaway: if you don't learn it in a government class, you never will.

I come from another F-rated state, Washington. We covered personal finance as a small part of another course, but that doesn't count as "financial literacy" because it wasn't required by law. It also would have been a serious waste of time to extend it out to a full semester. Personal finance is just not that complicated. Do we want to tell students that they can't take another year of a foreign language or calculus because the state mandates a full semester on why you shouldn't buy an iPad if you can't pay your rent? (And do we really think it will change them if we do?)

Monday, October 26, 2015

Rates are Higher on Unsecured Loans

Interests rates are higher on unsecured loans. That's really all there is to it.

Now, for the background: Socialist Senator and Democrat presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was quoted as saying, "It makes no sense that students and their parents pay higher interest rates for college than they pay for car loans or housing mortgages."

Robert Tracinski at the Federalist responds:
Why do car loans and mortgages have lower interest rates? They are secured by a tangible asset that can be reclaimed by the lender if the borrower stops paying. The bank can foreclose on your home or repossess your car, so they end up with an asset they can sell to recoup their losses. Rates on these loans are likely to be lower because the lender’s risk is lower. An education, by contrast, is not a tangible asset. It cannot be reclaimed and has no value other than to the person who acquired it.
He has graphs and stories and some economics to continue the story, and we could discuss how student loans drive up education costs, but secured vs. unsecured is really as far as we need to look for why the Sanders quote makes no sense.

Friday, October 09, 2015

GMOs, Migrants, and Nationalism

What do GMOs and migrants have in common? Hungary doesn't want either sneaking in.

Hungary was celebrated by the anti-GMO world in a recycled news story about how it had previously destroyed crops grown from genetically modified seeds banned in the country. A devoted ally in the organic jihad against science? Probably not.

If we recall that Hungary has a nationalist government, a little protectionism might explain the whole thing.

Then came the wave of migrants from the Middle East. Hungary is the first contiguous member of the Schengen Area on the Balkan route to Central Europe. Faced with an onslaught of migrants, Hungary began to construct a border fence ("A wall!"). For this, Hungary was condemned.

I suspect that the same parties who hailed Hungary for burning GMOs would condemn it for trying to control immigration, when these two actions are actually quite consistent.

"Hungarian Conservatives Reject GMOs" at Seed in Context, provides substantial background on Hungarian national attitudes including this:
A nationalist program which is associated with the rejection of gypsies and international biotech capitalists suggests vague similarities to the Nazi program which rejected gypsies and international Jewish bankers, but too much should not be made of the comparison. The Fidesz party is conservative, not radical or racist. The comparison does suggest the importance of GMOs and their creators as symbols of cultural identity which the Fidesz hopes to use to justify and represent their national leadership.


In important parts of Hungarian society there is both a deep-seated social distrust of biotech crops and a belief that Hungarian farmers profit from being a leading ‘GMO-free’ supplier of food and feed to European markets. Hungary is somewhat unusual in that this distrust is associated with the right side of the political spectrum.

Burning crops grown with imported seed is an easy win for the nationalist government of a small country. What GMOs and migrants have in common--they are feared foreign unknowns.

Monday, September 28, 2015

John Boehner and the Reality of Divided Government

Speaker of the House John Boehner's decision to resign in October has produced victorious howls and calls for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to join him. This attitude seems to come from a fundamental misunderstanding of the structure of the government of the United States.

With a divided government (Congress controlled by Republicans, the presidency by a Democrat), there is basically nothing notable other than appropriations that can become law. Standalone bills with any kind of a conservative aim would be vetoed if they made it past Senate Democrats' filibusters. Congress cannot directly repeal anything (e.g., Obamacare) until there is a new president. That leaves the option of attaching legislation to spending bills. But a spending bill from the House which tries to accomplish anything would also be filibustered or vetoed. Some people advocate for Congress to allow government shutdowns in order to pass policies that could not become law on their own, but historically this fails. The administration engages in shutdown theatrics, Republicans are demonized in the mainstream media (which most people do listen to), and eventually they pass a continuing resolution.

As Eric Cantor writes:
...somewhere along the road, a number of voices on the right began demanding that the Republican Congress not only block Mr. Obama’s agenda but enact a reversal of his policies. They took to the airwaves and the Internet and pronounced that congressional Republicans could undo the president’s agenda — with him still in office, mind you — and enact into law a conservative vision for government, without compromise.

Strangely, according to these voices, the only reason that was not occurring had nothing to do with the fact that the president was unlikely to repeal his own laws, or that under the Constitution, absent the assent of the president or two-thirds of both houses of Congress, you cannot make law. The problem was a lack of will on the part of congressional Republican leaders.
Boehner and McConnell are leadership, not dictators.  They represent their caucuses. They can set the tone, they can negotiate. But they still have to face a Democrat president. As Jay Cost explains:
The last Republican speaker to face a president nearly so liberal was Joseph Martin, who served from 1947 to 1949. But Martin could often count on an alliance with the now-extinct faction of conservative Southern Democrats. Boehner had no such bipartisan opportunities, so he could get precious little accomplished with Obama in the Oval Office.


In the long run, though, [possible successor Kevin] McCarthy will succeed only if a Republican wins the White House next year.

Maybe he can keep the conservatives happy for the next 12 months, but without a GOP presidential victory, it will eventually be for naught.
McConnell has the added problem of filibusters. Controversial bills typically don't pass the Senate without 60 votes to end debate and the Republicans have 54. That is where bills die. They never make it to President Obama because Senate Democrats won't allow them to leave the Senate.

The challenge for critics of Boehner and McConnell's is to explain exactly what they would do differently and what the result would be. Complain obnoxiously, turning off voters but ending up with the same legislative non-results? Want to repeal Obamacare or impeach the president? How are you going to get 43 out of 188 Democrat representatives and 13 out of 46 Democrat senators to vote against the leader of their party?