Shots Across the Bow

A Reality Based Blog

Monday, September 29, 2008

Scuttling the Bailout

For those of you who believe this is a market fluctuation and that it will correct itself, I want you to know that I agree with you. You are exactly right; the market will correct itself if we just give it time.

Of course, last time it took 10 years of deep economic depression and a global war, but it did correct itself.

A few days ago, I mentioned that I don't know a lot about finance at this level. But instead of proclaiming my ignorance, as if it were something to be proud of, I've been studying. I still don't know enough to make policy, but I've learned enough at least to understand where we are, and why we must take action.

In a nutshell, our entire economy is built on smoke and mirrors. Our currency, our houses, our real estate, our investments, everything that we have is valued solely by our combined opinions of its value. If we believe a house is worth $150,000, we pay that much for it, and presto, the house is worth $150,000. If we decide that the same house is worth $90,000, and nobody else thinks it's worth more, then presto, that house is worth $90,000. $60,000 has just vanished from the economy in an instant. And if you own the house next door, your personal wealth just took a significant hit as well.

Banks make loans based on an asset to liability ratio. If you lose 40% of your assets, as in the example of our house, the bank is going to be significantly less willing to loan you money because even though your liabilities haven't changed, your assets have, even though you haven't done anything or lost anything real.

Banks loan each other money on the same principle. If a bank holds a significant number of mortgages that are downgraded, whether they are defaulting or not, that bank's ability to attract capital investment is crippled. It can't make anymore loans, and without interest on loans, banks will have a hard time paying interest on deposit accounts.

It gets worse.

Insurance companies take you premiums and invest them in securities. By making that money grow, they can offer lower premiums and attract more business. Regulations require that these companies maintain a certain ration of their assets in cash, and the rest can be invested, and they have to maintain an asset value that is equal to a certain percentage of their insurance liability to their customers. If their investments fail, they fall below those required ratios and must acquire more capital. Except right now, there is no capital to be acquired because their ratios are screwed.

Are you beginning to get the picture now? The biggest investment in most people's lives are their homes, and those homes are rapidly becoming liabilities rather than assets, and the ripples from that one simple fact will be enough to shake the whole house of cards to the ground.

Depression? This thing could turn out to be the single greatest economic collapse in the history of the world.

I'll let y'all in on a little secret. At this point, it doesn't matter what they do in Washington. They just have to do something big enough to convince us that our homes are worth what we used to think they were. If they can pull that off, and it doesn't matter how, we can pull out of this mess with minimal damage.

If not, a 780 point drop on Wall Street is going to look like a good day.

Posted by Rich
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Saturday, August 04, 2007

A Progressive Look at Immigration Reform:  Steve Dupree’s Disinformation Zone

The latest issue of the Metro Pulse has a column by Steve Dupree, a frequent poster at the place I am not allowed to link to. Fortunately, the Pulse has a more open definition of "open" so I can link to the column.

Dupree's column is all about how impossible a task it would be to deport 12 million illegal aliens,and why we therefore must have some kind of amnesty.

Don't laugh; he's serious.

Since it's Friday night,and my lady friend is studying for finals, I have some free time, so let's look at what Steve has to say and see if it makes any kind of sense at all.

But don't get your hopes up.

Dupree writes:
Our nation simply does not have the infrastructure or the will to do what would have to be done to actually get rid of that many people. We. Can. Not. Do. It. If you are going to have a serious discussion on the issue, some level of amnesty will have to be a part of it.

Let's apply this logic to other areas of life and see if it flies.
The large majority of burglaries are never solved, and even when they are solved, the stolen property is rarely recovered. Our nation simply does not have the infrastructure or the will to do what would have to be done to actually end burglaries. That being the case, it would be unfair to punish those burglars we do catch when the majority receive no punishment at all. We must consider amnesty as part of the solution to burglaries.

Hmmm. Not such a good plan, is it? The logical fallacy is clear; just because removing all illegal aliens is a difficult job that does not mean we have to legalize their continued presence here. We don't legalize other crimes simply because we can't prevent them 100% of the time; the very suggestion of such a policy is ludicrous, yet this is the idea that Dupree is advancing.

Okay,so his conclusion is patently false. Maybe he still has some good points to make in his lead up. After all, the question does have to be answered. Can we come up with an immigration policy that deals with the illegal aliens already here without resorting to amnesty?

Let's see what Dupree says.
Anybody out there remember the lead-up to hurricane Katrina? Remember the stories of people sitting in their cars on the highways for 12-plus hours to go 40 or 50 miles? Huge traffic jams, broken down vehicles, insufficient refueling facilities, incompetent and distracted drivers, and other factors combined to create the situation of essentially turning the interstates and other roads into steamy parking lots.

A few days later, we got to see a rerun of that situation but with Houston, Tex., and hurricane Rita cast as the lead characters.

I'm not entirely certain that evacuating a city before a hurricane is an appropriate analog for deporting illegal aliens. In fact,I'm certain that it isn't. First, illegals aren't concentrated into one metro area; they are dispersed throughout the US. Instead of trying to evacuate a city, think of transporting a very small number of residents from multiple cities. Let's take Knoxville for example. If the current estimates of illegal alien population are accurate, there are roughly 12 million living in the US and dispersed throughout the country. That means there's roughly 5 aliens per one hundred residents. According to the 2000 census, the Knoxville Metro area has 655,000 residents, and approximately 2% of these are Hispanic. We want as conservative an estimate as possible, so assume that all of them are illegal, which will give us the biggest number.

13,000 people. 13,000 people would be lost inside Neyland Stadium. We clear 100,000+ people out of Neyland Stadium 6 times a year in roughly 3-4 hours. I hardly think that 13,000 are going to gridlock our roads. Heck, KAT transports roughly 10,000 people every weekday. Yes, other cities will have a higher percentage of illegals, but those cities also tend to be closer to the border, so it's pretty much a wash. We're not looking at evacuating a city; we're looking at moving a small fraction of it.

So much for the hurricane analogy.

Recently, I heard on NPR some guesstimates of how long a pullout of the less than 300,000 American troops in Iraq would take. The estimates rang in at up to nearly a year to remove all of the troops and their equipment safely.

Now there's a stretch for you. Moving illegal aliens 2500 miles over land is exactly like moving an army with all of its equipment 10,000 miles across two continents and an ocean.

I don't think so. Anything else?

We would probably have to create and fund a completely new bureaucracy to keep up with the logistics of the deportation alone. Everyone would have to be fingerprinted, photographed, and possibly DNA tested so as to positively identify them.

Without doing that, and possibly even with doing it, we would still need to pay disgusting homage to the Nazis and somehow permanently identify illegals as illegals. Would we brand them with some sort of mark or tattoo?

I hereby invoke Godwin's law and pronounce that Dupree has lost the argument. But pay close attention folks; this is probably the only time you'll ever hear a progressive come out against a new bureaucracy.

Dupree's failure is one of imagination. He sees the argument only in terms of the past. His invocation of the Nazis clearly demonstrates this bias. In his limited perception, sending illegal aliens home is an act comparable to the Cherokee Trail of Tears, the Japanese internment, or the Nazi death camps. It never occurs to him that it doesn't have to be that way. What if instead of using the government as a bludgeon to force people to do what we want, we use it more delicately, to encourage them to do what we want?

The first thing to realize is that 12 million people did not arrive overnight, so there's no reason to think they have to be removed overnight. Also, they came here because they were offered tremendous incentives to do so. What if there were a way to remove those incentives, while replacing them with equally strong incentives to return home and come back legally?

It wasn't too long ago that I wrote up a plan that would address border security, illegal immigration,and the problem of deportation, and all without any form of amnesty. You can read it here, but the short version is this:
Step 1: Secure the Border
Step 2: Create a sane visa policy that recognizes the need for unskilled labor. Included in this policy should be reforms that make the visa stick with the worker, not the employer.
Step 3: Institute and enforce massive fines for businesses that hire illegal workers. Make it cheaper for them to hire legal workers at a decent wage than illegals at slave wages.
Step 4: Any illegal alien arrested for any reason is subject to immediate deportation.

The combined effect of these steps will create a strong incentive for illegal aliens to return home and enter America legally. As their job market shrinks, so does their incentive for being here. As legal immigrants come in and fill the jobs, as companies no longer turn a blind eye to forged IDs and work documents, their best choice becomes to return home and enter legally. Notice that there is no massed forced deportation required. The good guys go home and come back legally. The bad guys stay, get arrested, and are never allowed back.

So much for Dupree's Nazi nightmare. It doesn't have to be that way.

Will it happen overnight? No. But the natural incentives built into the plan, plus the fact that any arrest is a one way ticket for deportation will make it certain that it will happen over a period of several years.

Will they all go home? No. But we haven't licked burglary yet either; that doesn't mean we should stop trying. The illegal immigration problem is certainly solvable;all it takes is a little foresight and imagination.

Posted by Rich
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Friday, December 08, 2006

Why Bloggers Are Important.

Last week, Michael Silence asked whether he should continue blogging, and then decided he would, and I want to expand on something he said.

It's not that his opinions are important, but that he has opinions, and has a forum to express them that's the important part. It's why we all blog; we have something to say, and blogging let's us say it.

Now, it used to be that the press was the voice of the people, but somewhere along the line, they forgot that. Instead of reporters they became advocates. The problem with being an advocate is that you no longer speak for all of the people, just for the group you're favoring. To make matters worse, since then, journalists have forgotten that they no longer speak for or even to all the people. Nowhere is this more clear than in the media's reaction to the growth of the blogosphere.

They were outraged. How dare the common man think that his opinion was worth sharing! What arrogance! Had he gone to journalism school? Were his columns distributed by syndicates? Did he make a living off of his writing? Then why should he think his opinion matters enough to share? It was almost as if many old school journalists felt like they had some official mandate to be the only ones with a voice.

And to be fair, until blogging came along, they were right. They were the only ones with a voice. And if you didn't like what they had to say, your only option was to turn off the TV, or stop reading the newspaper.

Now we have a choice. If my local news outlets aren't covering an issue to my satisfaction, detailed, in depth coverage and analysis is only a few mouse clicks away. To use a current example, Kathryn Johnston, an elderly woman, was shot and killed during a no-knock raid on her home. Compare the KNS coverage here (Article found doing a search for "Kathryn Johnston") with the coverage by Radley Balko. Just scroll down the page. There are multiple entries about the affair.

One article with little information vs a dozen or more detailed articles. That's the blogosphere.

And this isn't a knock on the KNS or any other paper for that matter. They have neither the space nor the resources to provide the in depth coverage this story demands. Even though no-knock warrants are a national issue, unless one goes bad locally, the KNS will not be able to cover it in any kind of detail.

Blogging gives a voice to all of those who have been squelched out either by editorial bias, or by the economic constraints of the old media. And that's why bloggers are important.

We the people are now speaking for ourselves. That makes each voice, whether it is talking about politics, sports, puppies, or dating, important. There's a bonus in this for the media. Since we can all advocate for ourselves, maybe the reporters can get back to what they do better than bloggers.


Posted by Rich
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Monday, September 11, 2006

Nana Kwuku Danso; Missing Sept 11, 2001

The lone sentinel makes his rounds, his march slow and steady. Each step falls in a metronomic rhythm, almost mechanical yet organically smooth. His back ramrod straight, his rifle ever facing outward, his face shows utter focus; his full attention is on where he is, and the task he fills.

We know little about him; there are no tribute pages for him, no family or friends posting stories about his life. We don't even know if he's alive or dead; no remains have been identified. All we know is "Nana Kwuku Danso, delivery man, 47 years old, from Ghana"

His path is constant, unvarying. Rain, wind, thunder, lightening, bitter cold or searing heat does not affect his devotion to his duty. His uniform is flawless, without spot or speck, wrinkle or wayward crease. His body is honed from exercise, approaching the human ideal, and reflecting hours of hard work and training. His mind is sharp, filled with knowledge of the special role he plays, and the history of the place he guards. Such dedication cannot be taught or impressed upon the sentry; it can only come from within.

The demographics are dry and dusty; they reveal nothing about the man, who he was, how he felt, what his dreams were, and whether they were coming true for him. We don't know if he was a good man, loved by his family and friends, or if he was not. We don't know if he was married or single, a father or not. We don't know if he was a brother, or an uncle, or a cousin. All we know is "Nana Kwuku Danso, delivery man, 47 years old, from Ghana"

21 steps along the path. He executes a crisp right face, and holds for 21 seconds, gazing upon the subject of his watch, then he executes another right face. With inhuman precision, he performs a complex, ritualized series of motions that results in transferring his rifle to stand between his charge, and any threat that may come. He holds for another 21 seconds, paying tribute to all who came before him, and then retraces his 21 steps, where the turn is repeated.

But there is a subtle power in not knowing these things. His anonymity in death allows his life to take on a symbolic meaning far greater than if we knew all about him. His face becomes any face; it becomes our face. We assign to this unknown person all that is best inside us, our hopes, our dreams, our noblest ideas and aspirations. He comes to represent all that we cherish about ourselves and our nation, and we honor him. Not knowing his life, we give him the best parts of our lives, and we honor him accordingly. We create in this unknown soul an idealized version of ourselves, and then try to live up to that ideal; and in this we honor him.

The cycle continues endlessly, day in, day out, without break or interruption. When his watch is done, another takes his place, equally dedicated, equally strong, equally honored to be chosen for this duty. It is their proud privilege to stand watch over the remains of soldiers "Known only to God" from WWI, WWII, and Korea. These are the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery.

It has been my proud privilege to honor Nana Kwuku Danso, 47 years old, a deliveryman from Ghana who went missing at the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001. May his family find peace.

Posted by Rich
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Friday, July 21, 2006

Last Word on ESC (for now)

Did I change any minds?

Probably not.

Did I cause anybody to at least think about it?

I hope so, but I'm not all that optimistic.

This is an issue where people make up their minds, then refuse to re-examine their decision. What makes it even harder is that ESC research is being so heavily sold as a miracle cure for what ails you, which pulls hard on the old self-interest lever. After all, we all know somebody who has suffered and possibly even died from one of the many ailments that researchers claim ESC's will cure, if only the Fed would fund the research.

So why do I do it? Knowing that I'm probably not changing any minds, why do I keep writing about ESC research, and why it's so very wrong?

It sure ain't to win friends, I'll tell you that much. All the cool kids are all for it. Say you're against ESC research, and not only are you an ignorant, hyper-religious luddite standing in the way of progress, you're also a cruel, inhuman monster that wants people to die just to protect a small lump of undifferentiated tissue.

I guess it's the Don Quixote in me.

People ask those of us against ESC research if we would refuse treatment derived from ESC if it would save our lives.

I would.

But ask me if I would refuse to allow my child to be treated, and you would probably get a different answer. My self interest would triumph over my ethical principles.

But that doesn't mean my ethics were wrong, now does it? Nope, just that I'm a typical human, weak and imperfect.

I think what gets to me the most is the hypocrisy inherent in the whole debate.
It's not really a life; it's just a lump of tissue. We can use it however we want without ethical qualms. But for God's sake let's not make it on purpose and harvest it! That would be icky.

If you take noting else away from these posts, carry that one with you. After all, it represents the "thinking" of the majority of our representatives.

Ask yourself why it's ok to harvest cells on a retail basis, but not a wholesale one. Why is it icky?

Posted by Rich
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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

More On Embryonic Stem Cell Research

A quick trip through the libertarian blogosphere shows that I'm pretty much standing alone on this one. But that's OK. Copernicus stood alone, as did Galileo.

I can live with that kind of company.

But I do have a question for all my libertarian friends who want to see federal funding for ESC research expanded.

If an embryo is not a person, just a lump of tissue, and destroying it is A-OK if it leads to cures for all kinds of horrible diseases, then why isn't it A-OK to create fetuses specifically for doing the research? Tissue is tissue, whether created by accident or on purpose, so why would the Senate vote 63-37 to expand ESC research, but 100-0 against fetal farming?

Either it's a person, or it's a lump of tissue. Make up your minds and act accordingly.

Picture this. In some lab somewhere, Dr. Cureall discovers a way to use embryonic stem cells to treat Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. The cure is 100% effective when used in the early stages of the diseases, and is moderately effective in reversing the ravages of the diseases even with late use. You now have a patient pool of hundreds of thousands of people, all of whom want the cure right now.

Where will we get the embryos?

Either farming, or by cranking up the abortion rate. There's no other answer. Either we create fetuses specifically for research and therapy, or we start to encourage abortions. If culturing existing strains can't keep up with the demands of research, then I highly doubt it will be able to keep up with the demands of ongoing therapy. And I'm only talking about 2 potential therapies. Throw in heart disease therapies, or kidney repairs, and the patient pool explodes in size.

Do the math, folks. If we start down this road, farming fetuses is the only efficient way to generate enough material to keep up with the eventual demand.

Are you A-OK with that?

It's the Kelo decision all over again, only this time it's written in the blood of our unborn children. Take a piece of private property and give it to somebody else and the libertarians cry out in outrage. Take the life of an unborn and give it to somebody else, and they applaud.

Posted by Rich
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Veto the Bill on Funding Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Life begins at conception.

If you don't believe me, don't ask a priest; ask a biologist. It isn't a religious decision, it's a scientific one.

Here's the short version.

First, throw out all supernatural notions, including the idea of a soul. We're talking about good old-fashioned rigorous science. In the world of science, identity boils down to one thing, and one thing only.


You are your DNA and your DNA is you. It's better than fingerprints. Not only does your DNA identify you, it defines you as well. How tall you are, what color your hair is, what color your eyes are, how you perceive the world; all of these things are determined by your DNA. In fact, some go so far as to argue that your DNA actually determines not only how you think, but what you think as well.

Given that DNA identifies and defines an organism, then the only logical conclusion is that as soon as a new DNA pattern emerges, the bearer of that pattern is a new, unique organism. This occurs at conception, therefore life begins at conception.

Like I said, check with a biologist if you don't believe me; you won't find a reputable one who disagrees.

Now, what they will say, in one way or another, is that personhood is separate from identity, and that the newly created organism may be human, but it isn't a human until it has a brain. Or until that brain passes through the vaginal canal. Or some other more or less arbitrarily defined moment.

But personhood is no more a scientific concept than is the soul, and we agreed to leave that soft stuff out of this. It's a legal fiction, used at different times to justify slavery, as well as genocide.

Probably not the best guidepost to be using here, eh?

So science tells us that life begins at conception. What does this mean for embryonic stem cell research? Simply that if we proceed, we're cannibals, devouring our young for our own benefit.

Probably not the optimum survival strategy when you think about it. Darwin would not approve.

And that's the science. I didn't have to bring God or morality into it at all.

I could go on, and talk about how few (zero) ESC treatments have actually worked, and how many ASC therapies are already in use. I could talk about the experiments showing that ASC can be coaxed into pluripotency, if not totipotency. I could talk about the benefits of autologous ASC transfers, and how they avoid immune system complications. I could talk about all of these things, but the core is still the same.

A species which cannibalizes its future to enhance its present will soon discover for itself where the dinosaurs went.

Posted by Rich
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Sunday, July 02, 2006

Tolerance; What it Really Means

We've all heard them a lot, lately. Folks on either side of the political debate talking about how they simply can't stand to be around people on the other side. Conservatives even have their own dating website, so that they don't have to worry about meeting somebody who might be a gasp liberal! The ideological divide has grown so deep, that for some, it is impossible to bridge even socially.

And it isn't just politics. Segregation has once again become a hot topic, although this time it is the minorities clamoring for separate schools and such. They want to maintain their cultural identity. Immigrants coming to the US have always formed their own communities, where they could bring a little of the home country with them, but until recently, they all wanted to become part of America. Now, it seems that many of them look at America as a place to live and work, not a home.

We're becoming a society divided by our differences instead of united by our commonalities, and we're weaker for it.

How is it that in a time when we're being bombarded with messages about inclusiveness, tolerance, and "Can't we all just get along?" that we're fast becoming the Disunited States of America?

I think that part of the problem is that we've allowed those values that once made America great to fall into disrepute. Today, you're much more likely to hear patriotism denigrated rather than praised. We push reliance on the government over independence. We push conformity over individualism. We actually punish people for being different.

We've lost the meaning of the word tolerance. For most of us, tolerance extends only so far as our own beliefs allow. For example, for most people, bigotry and prejudice are bad things, and we work to avoid them. In fact, we work so hard to avoid them that we have actually criminalized their very expression. A man can be scrupulously fair in his dealings with people of all races, but if he voices his opinions, he is punished, not for what he does, but what he believes.

Is this tolerance?

Let's take a look at another man, also a bigot. He shuns the object of his hatred, ans works to shut them out of his life totally, using the law wherever possible. He speaks out against them, calling them names, and making sure that those people know exactly how he feels about them.

A pretty reprehensible character, that one, eh?

But isn't that exactly how we treat him?

If we only extend tolerance to folks we understand and agree with, then we're no different than our hypothetical bigot. The only difference is the target of our intolerance.

Christians have a saying, "Love the sinner, hate the sin." It's an idea we would do well in adopting in our daily life. For example, I'm dead set against illegal immigration; I think it represents a tremendous threat to our country on several levels. However, I don't hate those who are here illegally, nor do I wish them harm. I understand the forces that drive them to come to the US, and the forces that drive American companies to employ them. Another example, I have several folks in my family who are very prejudiced, based both on the way they were raised, and their life experiences. Some of them feel guilty about it, others believe they are absolutely right in how they feel.

Should I condemn them as bigots, and refuse to associate with them?

Heck no! They're family, and that cuts through a lot. And even if they weren't family, they're good people, despite their flaws, and I would be a poorer person without them. Lord knows, I have my own set of flaws, and none of them have walked away from me because of them.

I guess the point I'm trying to get at is that tolerance only counts when it's hard; when the person is so different, or his beliefs are so antithetical to your own that you really have to work to accept him for who he is, instead of trying to change him or shut him up.

Posted by Rich
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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Freedom of Speech



Posted by Rich
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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

An Object Lesson in the True Definition of Torture

For those of you who are still suffering under the delusion that the interrogation techniques used at Gitmo are torture, let me offer up a brief comparison between the US and the terrorists.

Keeping the room too coldSlitting the captives throat
Playing loud musicBeheading captives
Sleep DeprivationLife Deprivation

I could go on, but if you haven't gotten it by now, you never will.

And for what it's worth, if you can't tell the difference between what we do at Gitmo and what the terrorists do, then not only shouldn't you be holding public office, but you probably shouldn't be allowed to operateheavy machinery, motorized vehicles, or to handle sharp instruments without close supervision.

Posted by Rich
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Friday, June 16, 2006

A Nation of Immigrants

From the moment the first Europeans set foot on the land, the fate of the indigenous peoples was sealed. Their cultures, their languages, their very way of life was doomed to extinction by that first bootprint.

They came first in a trickle, exploreres, adventurers, misfits and outcasts, telling themselves they were looking for a new life, but in reality fleeing from past failures. These small bands of men moved out across the continent, exploring the New World, and sending back word of wealth unimagined, fertile fields and ripe lands for the taking. The word went back to Europe of these riches and opportunities, and the mad rush was on.

The armies of conquest quickly moved throughout the land, driving the natives before them based on superior weaponry and tactics. Oh sure, there were ocasional reversals, but the issue never was in doubt, particularly when the natives began to fall ill from the Europeans' diseases. Their lack of immunity to the invaders' diseases doomed them even more surely than did the invaders' weapons.

The native men were slaughtered, and their women raped and sold into slavery; the bloodlines of the nativ peoples were destroyed forever, ensuring that they would always be a minority in the lands formerly theirs. The native religion was outlawed, as was the native languages; the gods themselves were replaced by European gods, and the tongue became European as well. Even the names of the lands were changed to new European lands, and where the native names were kept, they were Anglicized to make them more appealing to the new settlers.

In short, the usual pattern of imperialist conquest was folowed as the Europeans moved in with an insatiable appetite for land and resources, and the colonies grew in strength and power until they eventually fought a war against their former brothers to establish freedom and independence. Unfortunately, as is usually the case, that freedom and independence was only for the Europeans and their descendents; the native peoples remained in poverty and oppression, where they remain to this day.

It's a familiar tale to anyone on the left who detests imperial agression and colonization, but in this case there's one slight detail I left out.

This isn't the story of North America and the United States.

It is the story of Meso-America and Mexico.

The Spanish conquest of Meso-America was so pervasive and devastating to the indigenous peoples that the vast majority of Mexican citizens are of European extraction; they are immigrants, not natives.

Which makes their claim to large chunks of the US Southwest a bit problematic.

Posted by Rich
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Monday, June 12, 2006

The Greatest Country?

Pirates Cove took a trip into the festering swamp of DU and nets a thread, since removed, (He's got the thread backed up so you can still see it) that questions the greatness of America. Hat Tip Hot Air

Essentially, the thread starts with a poster stating that despite problems, America is still the greatest country in the world. In the 87 minutes the post was allowed to live, there were 34 replies, the overwhelming majority of which disagreed with the original post. Those who disagreed took one of two positions. Either they said that ranking countries was inherently unfair (If one country is the best, then other countries are then worse, and that's just mean.) or that the only people who could believe that America is the greatest country are uneducated boobs who have never been anywhere else.

Instead of using this to bash the DU folks, I'd like to go in a different direction and ask y'all a question.

What is it that makes a country great? Is it standard of living? GDP? Freedom? Security? Tell me what you think in the comments, and we'll go from there.

Posted by Rich
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Monday, May 08, 2006

Gas Gouging: An Exhaustive Analysis:  Part 1-Where does the money go?

Gas Prices. Everybody pays them; most think they're too high. Some even accuse the oil companies of price gouging. Most of those making the accusation base it on recent news headlines about record oil company profits, high CEO salaries, and extravegent retirement bonusses. It's almost like somebody wants us to think that oil companies are gouging.

But are they?

For the next few weeks, I'm going to take you on an in depth journey through the price of a gallon of gas. We're going to look at everything about the gas you put into your car, how much each step costs, and who makes how much money. We'll also look at historical prices for oil, gasoline, and diesel fuel, and see how today's prices match up. We'll also look at how oil company profits and margins stack up with other idustries. Finally, we'll put all the pieces of the puzzle together, and then we'll be able to say for sure whether here's any price gouging going on or not.

PART 1:Where Does the Money Go?

Gas prices are certainly igher than I'm comfortable with. It seems like my wallet empties of cash faster than my tank fills with gas. If somebody's gouging, I certainly want to know who it is, and the first step towards identifying the bastard is to figure out just exaclty what I'm paying for. In order to do that, we need to look at exactly where the money goes for a gallon of gas. Since we have all the numbers for February of 2006, that's what I'll use. The numbers all come from the Energy Information Administration website, a government agency that tracks all the numbers we need to use.

Now then, according to Gas Buddy, the average price for a gallon of regular gas in Tennessee was about $2.13. So how much of that found it's way into the oil company's pockets?

Well, let's break it down. First off, we have to deduct the taxes. This is the easiest to track since it's printed right on the pump. Federal taxes are 18.4 ¢ and state taxes are 21.4 ¢. That makes the actual price of a gallon of regular gas about $1.73. This agrees closely with the EIA number of $1.773. We'll use the EIA number for consistency, since it's certainly more accurate than my rough interpolation from a graph. Still, it's nice to have a secondary source. Next, the wholesale price in Tennessee averaged $1.615 per gallon. That means the distributer and the retailer split about 15.8 ¢ profit per gallon, with the bulk of that going to the distributer.

Refiners paid an average of $53.49 per barrel of crude. Now, this is where it gets tricky. A barrel holds 42 gallons of crude, which means the refinery is paying $1.27 per gallon of crude. The tricky part is that the barrel of crude can be made into a wide variety of petroleum products, not just gasoline, so determining the actual profit per gallon of fuel is difficult. One rule of thumb is to assume a straight one to one relationship, one gallon of gas per gallon of crude. If the refinery pays $1.27 and sells it for $1.615, then their costs and profits are 34 ¢ per gallon. What we don't know yet is how much of the 34 ¢ is profit, and how much is cost. Every chart, every source I've looked at lumps together refiner costs and profits. However, with the exception of California refineries, which have seen their profits and costs skyrocket over the last year or so, the figure for refinery costs and profits as a percentage of the price of a gallon of gas has remained fairly stable as shown by this chart. According to API, refineries ran a profit margin of roughly 15 ¢ per dollar invested, so we can figure that 18 ¢ of the 34.5 ¢ is profit.

OK, we now have determined all of our profits;, so, who profits the most off a gallon of gas?

Profit per gallon
Refiner18 ¢
State Tx21.4 ¢
Federal Tx18.4 ¢
Distributer/retailer15 ¢

So, in Tennessee at least, the State makes the most off each gallon of gas, followed by the fed, the refiner, then the distributer and retailer.

The perceptive reader will notice that there's a piece missing in this puzzle. What about the producer of the oil? What kind of profits are they making?

That will be the subject of Part 2

Posted by Rich
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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Immigration and Racism; Logical Failures

The favorite cry of the open borders crowd is that anybody who supports tougher borders and enforcing our immigration laws is, by definition, a racist.

I'm for enforcing our borders. I support a tighter enforcement of our immigration laws. I oppose amnesty for illegal aliens in any form. I don't believe in rewarding behavior. While I can understand the circumstances that drive them to come here, I do not concede that harsh economic conditions in Mexico, Honduras, or El Salvador, gives them the right to cross into our country illegally. I generally support the idea of citizen patrols on our borders, like the Minutemen. So am I a racist?

According to some folks I am.

Never mind that I support opening immigration restrictions to allow more unskilled workers to immigrate legally. Never mind that I support revamping the immigration system so that it doesn't take years to bring a foreign born spouse into the country. Never mind that my reasons for supporting strong borders have nothing to do with the race of the people on the other side, and everything to do with the idea that a nation has not just the right but the duty to secure its borders.

David Neiwert at Orcinus wrote a series of articles on his blog detailing exactly how and why those folks who feel that securing our borders is a good thing are actually racists in disguise. He opens his piece with a throwaway line that not all Minutemen are racists, then spends thousands of words describing how they really are racists after all. His research is meticulous and thorough. There is no doubt that there are racists involved in the Minuteman project.

But does that mean that all Minutemen are racist, or that all folks who believe in securing our borders are racists?

Time for Logic 101.

Everybody who took math in high school remembers this one:

If A=B and B=C, then A=C.

Put in words, if A and B are the same, and B and C are the same, then A is the same as C. For example, If Mark is 13, and 13 year olds are adolescents, then Mark is an adolescent.

Pretty simple stuff.

Now,consider this construction. If Mark is 13, and some 13 year olds are fat, then Mark is fat.

Hmmm. That doesn't work as well, does it? So what's the difference?

The difference is the key word "some." We added a qualifier to the second term, so we can no longer equate the first with the third without using the same qualifier. We've moved from basic math into set theory. Now we have to say this:

If A is a member of Set B, and Set B is contained by Set C, then A is a member of Set C. This is a true statement. Our second example would become this: If A is a member of Set B and Set C contains some members of Set B, then A is a member of Set C. As before, we see that this statement is false. Going back to Mark, we can't say he was fat because according to our statements, not all 13 year olds are fat. Our conclusion is not born out be the facts.

Which brings us back to David Neiwert. Despite all his meticulous research into the sordid underbelly of the Minutemen and his excellent command of all the facts, his argument fails because its underlying logic is flawed. His argument boils down to this: If you support the Minutemen, and some Minutemen are racist, then you are supporting racism. Or if you take his opening disclaimer seriously, then replace racist with extremist, i.e. If you support the Minutemen, and some Minutemen are extremists, then you are supporting extremism.

Neiwert explains that one of the most dangerous aspects of the Minutemen ovement is that it has been embraced by the mainstream. He attributes this to the fact that the Minutemen have disguised the racist and extremist aspects of the movement. He's arguing that by hiding the repellant aspects of the organization, the Minutemen automatically become attractive. What he fails to investigate is why that would be so. Given his intense antipathy for border control (In one of his examples of the racist nature of Jim Gilchrist, he points to Gilchrist's use of the term illegal alien, instead of illegal immigrant. In another place he equates demonizing people based on their race with seeking to deport them based on "perceived immigration status.") this is not surprising. Based on the articles he wrote, immigration control is racism by default, even if it's an unconscious racism.

Obviously, I do not share that view.

As I've written before, I believe we have every right to secure our borders, and to chose who we let enter our nation. And it doesn't matter one bit to me what the color of the guy on the outside happens to be. Anybody who believes he has the right to break in and take what he wans regardless of the law is a threat, no matter what color of the rainbow his skin happens to be, because by his actions, he has declared that the laws of our nation do not apply to him.

It's just that simple.

Now then, to the rabble rousers on the right, screaming about the reconquistadors; I want you to re-read the section on Logic 101. Realize that while the radical fringe elements of the immigration movement do exist, they no more define the immigrant movement than do the Nazis hiding within the Minutemen define me.

So you just might want to lay off the rhetoric, and work on a solution that deals with the majority of illegals, rather than the minority of nutjobs.

Posted by Rich
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Monday, April 24, 2006

Crashing at the Bottom of the Slippery Slope

Inch by inch, we move closer and closer to state sanctioned euthanasia. Follow the link to read the whole thing but here's the gist.

A woman writes that her sister is in a hospital in Houston, and that the hospital's board of ethics has determined that continued treatment is futile. They've informed the woman that she has 10 days to find another facility to take her sister before they pull the plug. Now, before lapsing into unconsciousness, according to the sister due to overmedication for pain, the hospitalized woman made it very clear that she wanted full life support until she died naturally. But Texas has a law that says that doctors do not have to take the wishes of the patient, or whoever makes medical decisions for the patient, into account if in their judgment, continued treatment would be futile.

Now, while there are a lot of questions surrounding this woman's case, there aren't many questions for me surrounding this law. Back during the Schiavo case, I wrote the following:
I'm guessing that the next fight will be similar to the Schiavo case, except with the sides reversed. The family will be fighting to keep the victim alive, but the doctors, or just as likely, the insurance company, will sue to remove a feeding tube, or stop a ventilator.

Boy did I miss the mark! Not only was there a law allowing involuntary euthanasia already on the books, it had been there since 1999!
Let's take a look at the law in question.


(e) If the patient or the person responsible for the health care decisions of the patient is requesting life-sustaining treatment that the attending physician has decided and the review process has affirmed is inappropriate treatment, the patient shall be given available life-sustaining treatment pending transfer under Subsection (d). The patient is responsible for any costs incurred in transferring the patient to another facility. The physician and the health care facility are not obligated to provide life-sustaining treatment after the 10th day after the written decision required under Subsection (b) is provided to the patient or the person responsible for the health care decisions of the patient unless ordered to do so under Subsection (g).

And there it is in black and white. If the doctors decide you aren't fit to live, you don't live. If that isn't euthanasia, then what is it? Yeah, the law requires that the hospital help the patient find alternative care, but how many hospitals are going to take a transfer that has already been labeled futile?

None. Once an ethics panel (God the irony is so rich, isn't it?) determines that further treatment is futile, you're bound for the cemetery.

So, what are the ramifications of this law? Once a doctor has determined that treatment is futile, can insurance companies refuse to pay the claim? Also, the law intentionally refused to define just exactly what defines futility. There's nothing to restrict doctors and hospitals from extending the concept of "futile treatments" beyond life supporting/saving measures. If a patient has a history of severe heart trouble with multiple heart attacks and so on, could a medical panel determine that further treatment is futile, as he will certainly die of a heart attack eventually? How about treating illness in the elderly? If their life expectancy is only 5 or 6 years anyway, couldn't treating their illnesses be considered futile? Wow, insurance companies would save a bundle with that policy!

Again, there are a lot of unanswered questions concerning the case that brought this to my attention. It could turn out that the patient in question is much worse off than her sister is telling us, and further life support would indeed be futile.

But do you really want a panel of corporate ethicist making that decision for you?

Here's the real knee slapper.
OF AIDING SUICIDE. A person does not commit an offense under
Section 22.08, Penal Code, by withholding or withdrawing
life-sustaining treatment from a qualified patient in accordance
with this subchapter.

So in Texas, a doctor can kill you when you don't want to die, but he can't kill you when you do want to die!

Simply amazing.

Posted by Rich
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