Political Bloggery 2004

If you care to comment, email me at tensor@mindspring.com with "Political Bloggery" in the Subject line.

24 November 2004
Rebuilding the Russian Empire

Vladimir Putin, it seems, has gotten away with another coup on his path to reestablishing the czardom of Russia. With the world so focused on elections in the US and the reconstruction of Iraq, we have ignored the growing threat that is Putinist Russia. Now he has managed to rig the elections in neighboring Ukraine, once the 2nd largest state in the USSR. Will an annexation be forthcoming? Will Russia soon be looking to overturn their loss in the Cold War much as Germany attempted to do after their loss in WWI? The national honor of a proud people often demands such things.

16 November 2004

It's nice to see something good happen to one of the people who's really got a brain, namely Condoleeza Rice. Now that she's been bumped up to run the state department her voice will be even more widely heard. Read her bio. Is it too early to start talking about Condi 2008? I'm sure she could trounce Hillary!

2 November 2004

Election season is a rather depressing time. As we listen to the various candidates tell us how America is broken and their plan for fixing it, it's a good idea to remember that our country is still the best place on Earth - a city on a hill shining bright for all to see. Many are jealous of how bright we shine, some to the point of even wanting to snuff us out. However, many others come here every day to brighten the light in the city, to profit through America's freedom. Mexicans, Chinese, Africans, Indians and others all come here because they know that fact which we all to often forget. It was this last group which most recently reminded me.

This past weekend I attended a performance in celebration of Diwali. An overwhelming majority of those in attendence were Indian. Thus I was not surprised when the audience sang the Indian National Anthem to open the evening. What did surprise me was that this was followed by a much louder and more enthusiastic rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. These people, mostly immigrants and their offspring, left their native lands to become a part of our country. America is bound to India in more ways than one might realize. Whereas Cornwallis met defeat here, he found success in India. How fitting that these Indian-Americans now partake in the freedoms for which Washington fought.

Now go meditate on that!

26 October 2004

So I made the mistake of telling my cousin about my fun plan and got myself triple teamed by activists. You can read our email debate if you want to. I don't think I convinced any of them not to vote for John Kerry, but hopefully planted some seeds of doubt. Read it and judge for yourself.

25 October 2004

Some electioneering fun...

My cousin recently forwarded me the following email:

I signed up! >So, even if you don't have time to volunteer for the campaign or don't live in a swing state, here's an easy way to help: Sign up with the TrueMajority and call just 10 newly registered Kerry supporters in swing states to remind them to vote and find out if they need help getting to the polls or anything, which the TrueMajority can get for them. >IT'S SO EASY! COME ON! YOU DON'T EVEN HAVE TO LEAVE THE HOUSE! And if you have a cell and call on the weekend it's free!
> >We've Helped Register Over 1 Million New Voters >Calling Them Will Get Them to the Polls > > > >It's a fact of political organizing that the absolute best, most effective way to ensure that newly registered voters actually make it to the polls is to knock on their doors or call them. Now is the time >to follow up with the MILLION new voters that progressive groups have registered this year. > > >But there simple aren't enough current volunteers to visit every voter. > > > >Here's how you can help, from the comfort of your home and on your schedule. > > > >We've created a way for anyone in their home to call some of these voters and urge them to vote. You just register with our VoterCall system and we'll give you a few names and numbers to call. >You'll get a simple script asking them if they know where to vote and if they need any help getting to > >the polls on Election Day. If they do we'll get them the help they need. > > > >While you're on the phone with what may be a first time voter, you can take a moment to share why this election is so important to you and really urge them to vote. This person-to-person contact is really effective in turning out new voters, and you can do it from home when it's convenient for you. > > > >To learn more and to register to make some calls just click this link: >http://www.votercall.org/register/ > > >Thanks for everything you do. Just 12 more days to go. > > > >Ben, Andrew, Darcy, Jason, Duane, Dave, and the rest >of the TrueMajority > >Team > > > >--------------------------------------------- > > > >TrueMajority,s underlying philosophy is contained in >the TrueMajority > >Principles, a positive blueprint for moving forward >in the post 9/11 world. > >These principles reflect the American values of >compassion, charity and > >justice ^ the same values we must adhere to in order >to build a safer, more > >secure home and world. These principles are also >revenue-neutral, meaning > >the investments proposed are entirely funded by >reductions in unnecessary > >spending on Cold War-era weapons that no longer >contribute to our national > >security. > > > >TrueMajority 10 Principles: (click here for a full >description of each > >principle) > > > >1. Attack poverty and world hunger as if our life >depends on it. It does. > > > >2. Champion the rights of every child, woman & man. > > > >3. End our obstructionism to the world's treaties. > > > >4. Reduce our dependence on oil and lead the world to >an age of renewable > >energy. > > > >5. Close the book on the Cold War and ease the >nuclear nightmare. > > > >6. Renounce Star Wars and the militarization of >space. > > > >7. Make globalization work for, not against, working >people. > > > >8. Ensure equal treatment under law for all. > > > >9. Get money out of politics. > > > >10. Close the gap between rich and poor kids at home.

Needless to say, I couldn't resist. Non-partisan my ass! We'll see if they're still Kerry supporters when I get done with 'em. Results to follow...heh, heh.

24 October 2004

Post election breakdown (before the election):

Bush 330
Kerry 208

The popular vote will be closer, but fortunately the ill-informed are in a minority most places. I also predict Badnarik will beat out Nader, Cobb, Peroutka for the most third-party votes. Everyone will breath a collective sigh of relief as this election was not close enough to contest and all the problems which saturate election law are left to fester for a later election.

19 October 2004

I don't think most people really understand why the cost of health care is going up. John Kerry would have us believe that it's evil corporations and, if we'd just socialize medicine, costs would come down. Clearly that's nuts. Any economist can tell you that competition always brings prices down. Nevertheless, with all the competition in health care, the costs are still rising. Doesn't that mean the economists are wrong? No, because health care today is alot more technology intensive than it was twenty years ago. Doctors now have much more sofisticated techniques to keep people alive longer. Naturally, this improved technology costs more! For example, a mercury thermometer costs less to make today because of competition, but most doctors use the fancy electric ones you can stick in your ear. And that's a simple case. Just think about how much it costs to keep a terminally ill patient alive for those extra few weeks or months they wouldn't have survived twenty years ago. George Bush would have us believe that health care costs are rising because litigation is forcing up the cost of malpractice insurance. While this is clearly the case, it is a small effect comparatively. So long as people are willing to pay whatever the cost for a few more days, weeks, or years of life, health care costs will continue to rise indefinitely. How will the market sort this out? Does Kerry's socialized medicine need to come in and tell us what a human life is worth?

Have you ever looked closely at your health insurance? Did you know there's a maximum amount your insurance company will pay out over the span of your life? Most people don't, because it's not usually a number people think about. As technology increases the expense of health care, more people will reach this number, driving up the cost of health insurance. Look for insurance companies to start offering lower maximum payouts at cheaper rates. Who will this benefit? People who don't believe a million-dollar operation that adds 6 months to your life is worth the cost. However, I'm afraid we haven't even come close to the amount most people are willing to pay for that extra bit of time, so health care costs will go up quite a bit more before we reach a plateau.

The previous paragraphs were discussing health care in general, that is, averaged over the population. Individual health care costs for most people could come down dramatically if the government eased up on regulation. This would be very non-PC. For example, black people on average have more heart problems. Imagine rates for black and non-black like rates for smoker and non-smoker. I do not believe our politically correct culture would approve of such things.

17 October 2004

Since it's time for Ramadan again I think it is a good time to remember what separates Islam from the other major world religions.

Christianity was founded by a guy name Jesus who was the son of a carpenter. Jesus said to "love your neighbor as yourself" and praught about knowing god personally rather than through the priesthood. Naturally the priesthood had him killed for this encroachment on their territory. Jesus' self-sacrifice led to the foundation of the religion by his followers, but Christians remained a persucuted minority for more than three centuries thereafter. It finally entered the mainstream when it became fasionable at the Roman Emperor's court in Constantinople.

Buddhism was founded by a guy name Siddhartha who was a prince. Siddhartha renounced his throne and left his family to become a medicant and search for a way beyond age and death. He believed he found it in reaching Nirvana through meditation.

Islam was founded by a conquerer. Muhammad led armies which conquered Arabia. His followers spread to conquer nearly every corner of civilization, stopped only by the Chinese in Asia and the Germanic kingdoms in Europe. To become a Muslim one need only say "There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet" in the presense of two Muslims. When the whole of the world submits to Allah, then we will have peace. Until then it is the duty of every Muslim to make jihad on his neighbor.

Teacher; Medicant; Conquerer. Compare the three. This is the measure of the resolve of our enemy. Islam is just as evil as the Monarchy, Slavery, Fascism, and Communism we have fought in the past. Islam as an ideology is a cancer on our society and if it is not removed it will grow to dominate civilization. President Bush tells the world Islam and democracy are compatible. He is wrong. Fortunately, however, the Muslim world is becoming as devout as the Christian one. Sure, there are fundamentalists, but they are a minority and the majority is growing more secularist. This is why democracy has a chance. Democracy increases prosperity which in turn increases secularity. And the further from fundamentalist Islam the majority is, the better the chance for the survival of democracy and freedom. Nevertheless, the Communist Party is still the 2nd largest in Russia and Putin is doing his best to centralize all power in the country in himself, so clearly it is difficult to establish democracy in land so long governed by totalitarianism. We will have bases in Iraq in 2050 if all goes well there.

Read the Qur'an if you want to know your enemy. Never forget there are thousands of men and women who have voluteered to fight this enemy and defend our freedom, and, if we really get into trouble, there are millions more who will step forward. Let us hope that Islam goes out with a fizzle like Communism did, rather than the Götterdammerung Hilter wanted to bring down upon us all.

10 October 2004

It seems I spoke to soon about this being Kerry-Edwardsland; Bush supporters just don't put up their signs until later in the season. Yardsigns favor Bush at least 10-to-1 here, but the bumper sticker ratio is closer to even. Nevertheless, I'm still convinced people here are nuts - but an infectiously positive sort of nuts.

...And I find myself singing "Rocky Top, you'll always be, home sweet home to me" even though I still don't know where exactly Rocky Top is.

7 October 2004

Now that SpaceShipOne has taken the $10 million X-Prize it's time for the next prize: this one's $50 million and the cash is being put up by a fellow named Bigelow. The goal is orbital flight by 2010, when he's set his prize to expire. He wants to have a craft to send people up to the space station Bigelow Aerospace is planning on building. $100 million is the estimated going rate for a condo on the station. It's just like 1960 all over again, only this time private enterprise is taking the lead and we'll actually build space stations and all get to take trips to the moon (if we're rich that is).

5 Oktober 2004

King Vladimir

Well it's not exactly another Red Oktober, but Russia is returning to authoritarianism: abolishing local elections in favor of central government appointments; further emasculating the legislature in favor of the presidency. The master politician, Vladimir Putin, has managed to do all this while remaining in good stead with the western world and will probably get into the WTO soon. After the Beslan massacre by Islamic terrorists, he has declared the Bush doctrine of preemption to be entirely legal thus providing a counterweight supporting the US against the appeasement coalition led by France and supported by the General Secretary of the UN. What's really amazing is that this appeasement group still supports Russia because of Putin's promise to ratify the Kyoto Treaty. Why Putin wouldn't sign a treaty that should net his country several hundred million dollars in the short term is beyond me. (Since the USSR fell in 1991, Russia's industrial production has fallen well below its 1990 level - the basis year for Kyoto. Thus Russia has extra pollution capacity it could sell.) While Putin is a master tactician he is fortunately not of the same violent strain which Russia is historically so famous for, c.f. Ivan the Terrible and Joseph Stalin. Nevertheless, destroying democracy is still destroying democracy.

Here in the USA we haven't handled the challenge to democracy that Islamic terrorism has presented us nearly as badly, but the threat has given us the opportunity to consolidate war power and police power in the presidency bringing us ever closer toward our long-term goal of turning that office into a dictorship. No, I don't think anyone who has held the office is really concious of that goal, but those in power often use their power to get more power. We are fortunate in this regard that the American people have never elected a Putin. As part of its ongoing mission to be held accountable for nothing, Congress has abdicated the power to declare war, acting as a mere rubber-stamping agency for the president. Meanwhile, the president and "justice" department are tearing the Bill of Rights to shreds by declaring American citizens on American soil as enemy combatants and holding them in communicado for extended periods. What ever happened to trying people for treason or consiparcy to commit murder? Due process under law just isn't good enough to fight evil anymore?

Returning to geopolitics, it is worth remarking upon that while China approaches a capitalist dictatorship from a communist one, Russia is approaching the same state from a capitalist democracy. Pictorally,

Communist Dictatorship
Capitalist Dictatorship
Capitalist Democracy
One worries that the next leader of Russia won't have such scruples about violence as Putin. One also worries about a world which pivots on the Moscow-Beijing axis. Islamic terrorism is the problem today, and it's not a minor one, but it's small potatoes compared to a world in which China has more men, more money, and better technology than the US. Their clearest ally would be an authoritarian neighbor to the north. We must not let the current threat blind us to the realities of dictatorships among those we count as on "our side" in the war against Islamic Terrorists as we did during the Cold War. Putin has imprisoned the opposition and controls the media. When he decides in a few years that the current situation precludes even holding an election that might unseat him will that be enough to convince us that he wants to be the Czar? That word comes from Ceasar, you know, the man who nailed the final nail in the coffin of the Roman Republic by having himself elected dictator for life.

29 September 2004

Here's a question that we may find important in the coming decades: Who owns the Moon? Sure, it may sound silly now, but space tourism is closer than you think. Today Scaled Composites' SpaceShipOne flew into outer space for the second time (the first was back in June). If they can do it again in the next two weeks they'll win the $10 million dollar X-Prize. Kudos to Paul Allen, Burt Rutan, Mike Melvill and their team. Soon the technology they've developed will be ferrying tourists into space - Richard Branson, who heads up the Virgin Group, has announced his intention to enter into this market and entered into a liscensing agreement with Scaled Composites. Check out the webite of the newly lauched Virgin Galactic.

Engineer Burt Rutan with financier Paul Allen

No doubt the X-Prize will be followed by a new challenge, perhaps orbiting the earth. Then I'm sure sights will be set on the Moon. Heart disease is a leading killer in the US. The Moon has one sixth the gravity of the Earth, so heart of a Moon resident wouldn't have to pump nearly as hard as on Earth. Old people, who tend to be the most affluent members of society, are the ones who get heart disease. Are you seeing dollar signs yet? Which brings me back to the question I asked at the beginning of this essay: Who owns the Moon?

The US is the only country to have been there, but the Chinese government has big plans to go. So will New Beijing or New New York be the biggest city on the Moon in the year 2100? Okay, New New York sounds a bit silly, but you get the point. The best plan would probably be to homestead the place, ie if you can survive there and inhabit and improve the land you can have X acres. The main problem would be jurisdiction. That's where government will try to slip in it's slimy fingers. Just imagine dividing up the Moon "fairly" between the nations of the Earth. I'm sure the UN could do a great job with that. (Note the extreme sarcasm). No, this debate needs to be had, and soon to avoid such things coming to pass. Such sharing only works in places like Antarctica where no one wants to go and there are no useful resources. Imagine how quickly the current "sharing" would end if oil were discovered on that frozen continent. A good example of the failure of this sharing regime is the ocean. It was all well and good to share when there were only a few million of us, but the resource is clearly being overused now that there are 6 billion people.

Jurisdiction on the Moon will probably be initially based on an individual's citizenship. When a Lunar colony reaches a certain population, say 10,000 residents, it should be allowed to sever association with Earth and incorporate it's own goverment (ideally from an existing colonial government). Then should the several Lunar colonies (population totalling say 100,000) choose to federalize, that government could take possession of the remainder of the uncolonized Moon and assume jurisdiction over it. Ideally that government would continue to allow homesteading, but that would be up to the representatives of the citizenry to decide.

This logical solution to Moon ownership should minimize conflict and allow the most capable individuals to be successful. Start the debate before it's too late.

15 September 2004

It seems (to me at least) that since the Republican convention Bush has the election in the bag. As such, following the election has become somewhat less interesting. I'll still vote in November of course, but it seems that the time I devote to being an informed citizen would be better spent on local issues - where the most important decisions relative to my day-to-day life are made. I recently read a book (City Behind a Fence) by two UT historians on the founding of Oak Ridge during WWII. While the story of the city itself is one of great triumph, how the goverment got the land is rather dubious. Farmers were given 2 to 6 weeks to vacate their property for which they were given less than fair-market value and no help in relocating. While such exigencies often are justified by a state of war and the necessity of completing a mission - in this case the building of the atomic bomb - the use of the government's eminent domain power to sieze private property ought not to be taken lightly. It's easy to look at this case with Machiavellian hindsight, but the right of private property ought not to be taken likely. One of the greatest mistakes Jefferson made was to edit Locke's "right to life, liberty, and property" to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" when writing America's declaration of independence from Great Britian. Today property rights are being eroded by many local governments who tax property based on it's value. For example, in Alabaster, Alabama several families were forced by the local government using the eminent domain power to sell there homes and land so a Walmart could be built. The Walmart would pay more in taxes, hence the public benefits. This is the bottom line of the eminent domain power: the government owns the land and you are only permitted to live there so long as the government can't get more taxes from someone else. Now the intelligent reader is probably wondering where I am going since I said I wanted to focus on local issues. So, here it is: there is a movement in Knox County to get rid of a new wheel tax of $30 per car per year, however the County needs to build a new school and says that if the petition to dump the wheel tax succeeds on the ballot the property tax rate will have to be raised (story in the News-Sentinel). My first comment would be lower school costs by introducing more competition, i.e. school vouchers, however, I doubt the economic wisdom of such a policy would dawn on the average voter, so my second comment would be take the usage tax over the property tax. Property taxes only erode the concept of private property. Indeed, property tax is really a usage tax in disguise: you pay to use the government's property, like water or electricity, based on how much you use. I don't like the implications of that. So, until we have school vouchers in Knox County, I'll support the wheel tax.

12 September 2004

I am ethically obliged to make a counterpoint to my comments of August 31st. The Georgia state government maintains a gambling monopoly to keep lottery money coming in. In moral calculus one must often choose the lesser of two evils. Were I in the casino business I might feel otherwise, but I think the payoffs for education are well worth it.

31 August 2004

School Vouchers Work in Georgia

You may not know it, but Georgia has a school vouchers program. Two actually. No, not during the traditional K-12 government monopoly domain, but before and after it. Private schools throughout the state who get accredited can teach Pre-K and receive state funds - lottery funds - to pay for the education of each student who chooses to attend. Parents may also apply for their children to attend Pre-K at the local elementary school, but they usually don't have enough places for all who apply! The Georgia government is still in the business of retaining a monopoly on the next thirteen years of education, but after High School the voucher program kicks in again. Called the HOPE scholarship, it covers tuition at any state college, university or tehnical institute for students maintaining a B average. However, if a state run institution isn't for you, you can take $3000-$3900 per annum to a private accredited institution (located in GA) depending on that instituion's tuition. (For those unfamiliar with Georgia's institutes of higher learning, that's about the range of in-state tuition at most state-run schools). Again, this is all paid for by state funds - lottery funds. I hasten to add that these lottery funds are earmarked for this purpose and kept apart from the general state fund and the grubby hands of legislators. So the next time you are in Georgia, stop in somewhere and make a donation to the HOPE Scholarship fund - it could make you a millionaire.

Now the Pre-K program is farely new, but the HOPE Scholarship has been around a few years and has had time to really affect the higher education landscape in Georgia. Many parents weighing $20,000 a year versus free tuition ask their children to stay in-state. This has caused the quality of the student body as well as the selectivity of institutions to increase. Private colleges in nearby states have created programs to offset this effect. For example Furman gives $3000 scholarships to Georgia residents who would have received they HOPE Scholarship had they gone to a Georgia school. There is also the education migration. People, mostly in their twenties, who cannot afford high tuition costs move to Georgia, live there for a year to establish residency, and then apply to collage and receive HOPE. There is also a sunset provision which ought to comfort those who think Georgia is growing a 7-9 year free college program like the Deutsch have: after a student attempts 127 semester hours or the number of hours required for their degree (up to 150 semester hours) HOPE cuts off.

Does one really need more proof that school vouchers work? Let a single state in our Union establish a statewide school voucher program for K-12, or even just part of it, say elementary (K-5) or high school (9-12). Competition, as any economist knows, improves the quality of any product, and education is no exception. Georgia, with its proven school voucher experience, is a perfect testing ground for such an experiment.

Now is the time to tackle this issue, before the government monopoly on schools takes our standard of education any lower. As a recent Bollywood hit film stated, Kal Ho Naa Ho (tomorrow may never come).

29 August 2004

...from Kerry-Edwardsland

The TVA; Oak Ridge National Laboratory; the US Federal government has pumped literally billions of dollars into Eastern Tennessee, most of it with roots during FDR's administration. The return on that investment has been good for the Democrats - this is now Kerry-Edwardsland. Coming from the north side of Atlanta, where Democrats don't even bother to run because their chances are so slim, this is quite a culture shock. Every 10th car seems to have a Kerry-Edwards bumper sticker. And it's understandable that in a place which receives quite a bit more from the federal government than it pays in taxes that so many would believe in socialism. What is interesting however, is the stark contrast one can draw with the local government. Tennessee has no state income tax and a sales tax not much above the national average. Not to mention other taxes. Knox County residents are in a furor over a $30 per annum wheel tax on cars. Now this would just about double what people pay now, so one can understand their anger, but, moving from Georgia where one often pays over $500 per annum on ad valorum tax for newer cars, it's hard to relate. This paradox is hard to fathom: that among freedom-loving East Tennesseans no one seems to be interested from whence this glut of federal money comes.

Tonight we entertained a fellow Physics grad student and his family - not my idea, the wife wanted someone else with a baby to talk to. The subject of grad students unionizing came up - I'm planning to attend the union's next meeting to see what I can do to protect the university from having it's lifeblood drained into such a menace. I also have a personal interest: after paying services fees, facilities fees, technology fees, transportation fees, etc., I don't really want to be forced to pay union dues as well. We were discussing the subject and my fellow Physicist mentioned a flyer he'd seen from the union organizers in which they listed their oppostion to the war in Iraq. I remarked that it seems like all liberal organizations oppose the war; my fellow retorted that no, it was just anyone with a brain. Let's just say it went downhill from there. I thereafter held my tongue so as not to ruin my wife's chances of making friends with the wife of this guy - admittedly it was difficult when he compared Bush to Stalin or called Fahrenheit 9/11 the most important movie of the year - but I held my tongue. I'm not sure if that means my people skills are improving or my ethics are sliding.

27 August 2004

My Life?

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18 August 2004

So it seems we're no longer going to garrison the border with the former Soviet Empire, as it is now located in the center of Germany, which is, as of this past May, in the center of the EU. Nevertheless, we're keeping our strategic bases there. Why? The same reason the Romans always left troops in Egypt.
Egypt wasn't near any other large empires. Sure, Egypt had a border with the savage land to the south, but those savages weren't likely to rush in and take over the place like the German savages across Rome's Danube-Rhine border. No, the strategic commitment wasn't even near the border - it was in Alexandria, on the Mediterranean coast. The Julio-Claudian Emperors kept at least two legions there, but had only one for all the rest of the African provinces. Strategic considerations also played a part in this decision: From the port of Alexandria, troops could be shipped quickly anywhere in the Mediterranean - be it Hispania, Italy, or Greece. In addition, the troops were not far by land from Judea, which was always a troublesome province. However, Egypt was also of great economic importance to the Romans. The city of Rome lived by the grain grown in the fields along the Nile. When Rome was finally conquered by those pesky Germans and cut off from the eastern part of the Empire (i.e. Egypt's grain), the city's population sank more than tenfold. This was the main reason the troops were garrisoned in Alexandria and not Carthage - a port centrally located on the North African coast and therefore much more strategically placed.
Europe holds a similar place in the American Empire, the main difference being we don't collect forced tribute but trade to our mutual advantage. There was a time, before Rome had an Emperor, when nations joined the Roman Empire as willingly as they do the American Empire today. It was an advantage then to most countries near the Mediterranean as it is an advantage now to most countries around the world today. Nevertheless, the same forces which broke the Roman Republic are at work in the American Republic today. Roman forces - literally, service was a privaledge of citizenship - garrisoned the world as American forces do today. Then, as now, contingents from the provinces served with them. But decisions were, for the most part, made in Rome by Romans as they are made in America by Americans today. This is logical considering where the responsibilities lay, but in the long term a bad idea. Had the Romans incorporated their Empire into their Republic, the technology available would not have allowed it to function. Travel times for mail alone forced serious delegation of responsibility to local officials as it was. Slowly, the military and economic power the Romans held over others corrupted these good and intelligent men to the point where some of them decided this was the best way to govern, rather than by collective decisions made by representatives of the people. Caesar was the first to succeed, which is why we rememeber him, but he was not the first to try.
Some may say it can never happen in America. We may have yet to have our Sulla, but we are well down the road. Some examples:

(1). pan et circicum - the appartus of bread and circuses, or, in more modern lingo, welfare and entertainment, has already been set up to placate and distract us. Not to say I'm against entertainment, but it ought to be taken in moderation like everything else.This, like refusing checks from the government, is hard to do.

(2). Executive Orders - read "Imperial Decrees". No, they're not yet, but imagine a world where the majority of the workforce is employee by the federal government.

(3). Alcohol Laws, Drug Laws, Suicide Laws, and other such "victimless crime" laws. A civil society requires the rule of law. What better way to undermine the rule of law than to force our children to be lawbreakers. I think Churchill said it best: "You cannot have Socialism without a Gestapo." Try to find someone who is young enough to have been affected by these laws who didn't ever drink when they were "underage". Just try. And, if you find one, I'll bet you they're lying.

(4). Political Patronage - building a set of the populus that feels they owe you something, like people on welfare, or people who federally subsidized student loans, or airline unions that get higher wages because the government "bails out" the airline that can't afford to pay them. This was a specialty of Caesar's, it helped get him made dictator and then dictator for life. Dictator, by the way, was a position that existed in the Roman constitution for times of emergency - like when the Gauls had the city surrounded - not to quelch one's political opponents.

Upon completion of the US constitution, Ben Franklin was asked leaving Independence Hall "What sort of government will it be?". He is said to have quipped, "A Republic, ma'am, if you can keep it." We must work to keep this great republic just that. A necessary step is including those we defend and trade with in our democratic processes, or at least according them the choice of doing so. Otherwise our American Republic runs the risk of joining the Roman Republic as a topic solely for discussions of history.

Recommended reading:
Livy The History of Rome from its Foundation
Gibbon, Edward A History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Luttwak, Edward The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire

11 August 2004

I am now a Tennessean. As such, I am now devoid of knowledge about local issues - except that 9.25% sales tax on everything, including groceries; I don't like that. I did notice several items, however, which were slightly cheaper. As of late there have be rumblings that Dennis Hastert has a similar plan for the national income tax: replace it with a sales tax of twenty some odd percent. IF he plans to implement it as a fair tax I applaud these efforts. Considering the effect of removing taxes from payrolls would lower prices relative to real income, one would hope to see only a little inflation from this change. Since most Americans are woefully undereducated in economics (myself included) I understand why the Republicans have chosen not to make it a campaign issue. Nevertheless, if such leaks are designed to dupe the educated into believing that Republicans intend to make this much-needed reform when they have no intention of doing so, then I will be disappointed - not suprised, but disappointed.

5 August 2004

John Kerry is the recommended candidate of the Communist Party because they see him as having the best chance to beat evil right-wing Bush. Didn't know there was a communist party in the USA? Well, it's a free country, isn't it? Communists haven't ever been elected to power anywhere - so I'm not really worried, but it's nice to know that we live in a country free enough to allow a political party dedicated to the overthrow of our government and the enslavement of mankind to exist. All the really hip kids have moved on to Islam anyway - the party of peace and infidel beheadings. Now if everyone would just submit to Allah and the movement, we could all live in paradise. I feel bad for the communists, though. Even China has become a land of idealogical impurity and rising living standards. The world must be a lonely place for Fidel...but maybe President Kerry would visit him.

2 August 2004

... In Defense of Ayn Rand

Recently I received an email from a good friend where she casually related her thoughts on Ayn Rand after she learned I had recently read Atlas Shrugged. She wrote

I liked the book but disagreed with Ayn's philosphical underpinnings. She's sort of the anti-idealist. Promote the self over all else kind of thing.

about the Fountainhead, which I've yet to read, because she hadn't read Atlas Shrugged. I wrote her the following in reply, which, since it turned into any essay, I thought was worthy of pasting here:

Now I must tell you why I was impressed by Ayn Rand's philosophical underpinnings: (referring to Atlas Shrugged, I haven't yet read Fountainhead) As you know I am by training a scientist. But for me science is also a philosophy of life. I trust that the axiom "If it disagrees with expirement then it is wrong" coupled with the scientific method to lead me to a better understanding of whatever subject I undertake. I was once a Christian. Four morally corrupt ministers and a lack of empirical evidence (not to mention the inconsistancy of Biblical and geological history), led me to reject that outdated theory of existance. A theory based in physical laws written in the language of mathematics was much more believable. I must confess a strong bias, although it is well born out by experience, toward mathematical descriptions of things because of its exactitude. I was once a socialist. Not just a maybe-universal-healthcare-is-a-good-idea socialist, but a my-isn't-Cuba-a-great-place socialist. One thing, however, was always nagging me: whenever I brought up mathematics to my sociology professor, he would always brush it aside and say that this sort of thing couldn't be described by math. I would not (and will not) accept that anything is beyond mathematical description. Fortunately, that same sociology professor also recommended I use my talents where they'd benefit society most, i.e. transfer to a technical school. So, eventually, I found that there did exist a mathematical theory of society and the interactions between people: economics.

Who is John Galt? The question which begins Ayn Rand's book was also one of the first things I asked one of the first friends I made in the Physics Dept at Georgia Tech - because he had it written in black lettering on the back of his car. A book about a guy who invents a machine to generate power from static electricity? Sounds silly, not to mention thermodynamically implausible, to me. Later on I was reading Woodward's book on Alan Greenspan which made an off-hand reference to his reverence for Rand's works. Nevertheless, I still perceived her as something of a nut, ie not worth reading. Then came the 2000 election season and the concurrent political discussions. I was dismayed to learn many of my friends weren't voting for Bush. How could you vote for Gore? What? You're voting for who? What's a Libertarian? Many Libertarians tend to think rather highly of Ms. Rand, and I encountered her name on more than one webpage. Nevertheless, her books were fiction, and I try to avoid fiction - in reading as well as in other areas life.
In the end it was a chance encounter on a reshelving cart on the way out of the library one day which led me pick up and devour Rand's book. Atlas Shrugged, although much of the details date it to the period in which she wrote it, is a masterwork. Her philosophy of individual liberty and responsibility was eloquently displayed and washed the last scales from my eyes. From each according to their ability; to each according to their needs. Ayn Rand has an idea where that can lead and persues it to it's logical conclusion. Because of her book I no longer have any doubts about the nature of socialism. It is uneconomical and unjust. Trade is better than guns. The world is a rational place. Democracy works. Government should be limited. You are the best person to make decisions about your life. Ayn Rand believed in many of these ideals and express them through her writing. As she wrote,

"My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute."

1 August 2004

Blog frequency, it seems, is inversely proportional the the volume of useful stuph I'm doing in the rest of my life...

As an SNL fan, I found this picture from fark.com outrageously funny:

19 July 2004

For those of us who think Iraq has a chance to emerge as a democratic nation here is some good news. While there is still a good chance Iraq will descend into civil war and perhaps even see the re-emergence of Saddam Hussein, it does one well to remember the words of Edmund Burke, penned amidst the French Revolution:

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

There are many good men (and women!) in Iraq working to better their lives. So long as they are free to do so, Iraq will continue to rise from the ashes of totalitarianism.

16 July 2004

I'm moving to Tennessee next month, and heretofore I've lauded it's lack of a state income tax - one of the few states in the nation where this is true - because I think it's wrong to be taxed according to one's abilities. However, Tennessee has a somewhat higher sales tax than I'm used to in Georgia. Personally, because I have a rather low income, this looks to mean I'll be paying more in taxes, unless there's some sort of rebate I'm not currently aware of.

In Georgia there is no state sales tax on groceries, although in Fulton county they do tack on 3% to fund the poor management of MARTA among other things. Food is something everyone needs, and I'm all for minimizing taxes, but the 4% state sales tax remains on other items. Thus those who make more money and chose to spend more pay more in taxes. So isn't this just another form of taxing ability? I must confess personal bias, but I would say no. All receive the benefit of statetaxless groceries and there is no ceiling, ie those make more money can buy really fancy expensive food and still remain untaxed. Moreover, the high wage earners are taxed on their choice to consume more, not their higher wages.

Tennessee is trying to do a lotto-funded HOPE scholarship like Georgia, maybe I can convince them not to tax groceries there, too.

14 July 2004

It's Bastille Day. Vive la France! When will she give up her delusions of grandeur? French, like just about every other language in the world, has loan words from English - but the government forbids people from using them. What's so wrong with "le weekend"? Their population is shrinking and only through immigration manages to replace it. There is a special police force which spies on executives to make sure they don't work more than they're allowed to in a week. Strikes regularly shut down sectors of the economy. Isn't socialism great!

Whatever happened to liberté, egalité and fraternité? I think it got kicked upstairs. As the countries of Europe disappear as they vanish into the EU, monolinguistic state socialism will have it's last gasps. However loud they may be, people in Europe are freer than they've ever been with the intra-European borders open to the free movement of people and their stuph. For old socialist countries like France to compete in an open market with eastern european countries shedding socialism like Estonia, she'll either have to stifle those freer lands or shed some socialism herself. France and Germany are already trying the first approach, and I sincerely hope they fail.

July 11, 2004

Gay Marriage . . . what a nasty thought. I'm totally against it. Then I thought about it. What is marriage but a contract between two people? Shouldn't people be able to enter any kind of contract they want with another person? Maybe not, there was that guy in Germany who contracted to kill and eat another man, but both parties did it willingly. I can't understand the motivation for the eaten, but the eater's are more transparent: human flesh isn't carried by most grocery chains. Or what about a contract between more than two people. If we allow gay marriage, shouldn't we allow those polygamous Mormons out of the closet too? Imagine filling out tax forms where there were multiple spaces for spouses just like multiple spaces for children. Or mix the two, Bob could be married to Sue and Larry. Yeah, that's a nasty thought. But brussel sprouts are pretty nasty too, and I'm not going to waste my time "protecting" you from brussel sprouts. The thing about gay people - they can't breed. So whenever this gay fad ends, their numbers will diminish down to usual population levels. Most people are smart enough not to pick up such nasty habits anyway.

July 11, 2004

Any economist can tell you a minimum wage causes unemployment. But is that such a bad thing?

July 11, 2004

Let's look at the candidates:
Badnarik - principled Libertarian; head in the sand (ostrich) foreign policy; no chance of winning
Bush - mild socialist; dealing with Islamic Terrorism; incumbent
Kerry - hard-core socialist, but more concerned with popularity; wants weak Clinton foreign policy back; only challenger with a real chance of winning
Nader - no chance of winning...so I'll admit I haven't really researched him
and I'm sure the Green Party has a candidate too, but they don't really have a chance of winning either.

Now there really isn't anyone there I'm 100% okay with. I know I won't be voting for the Social Democratic candidate, that's easy. Hell, I'm even careful about which ketchup I buy now. Until we have instant run-off voting (IRV) I don't think a third party candidate has a chance in a big election. So that leaves Bush. As I think constitutionally the president's role lies mainly in foreign policy whereas the congress sets the domestic agenda, I'll vote a second time for Bush because of his foreign policy. And not just because he knows how to deal with jihadism. Just look at the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).
But I must state that Bush's domestic policies give me pause. The "tax cuts", although they really are just that for a majority of the population, disguise an income redistribution program. Low income wage-earners can actually get a "tax refund" significantly in excess of the taxes they paid. The drug plan for senior citizens is even worse though - a massive socialist expenditure with no end in sight. But I guess that's what presidents from Texas do... Finally we come to the Patriot Act, which is doubletalk at it's finest. What's more patriotic than expanding police power?

But if I vote for Badnarik, I'll be throwing away my vote...

Last Modified: 10 March 2005 by Bradley James Wogsland.
Copyright © 2004 Bradley James Wogsland. All rights reserved.