Friday, May 25, 2007

The EPA, the Supreme Court, and a lot of confusion

Here I am, leading my entertaining Thursday night life, when I come across a paragraph quoted in Scalia's dissent from the Supreme Court's recent global warming case. It's part of the EPA's "reasoning" for its decision not to regulate vehicular carbon emissions:
Unilateral EPA regulation of motor vehicle [greenhouse gas] emissions could also weaken U. S. efforts to persuade developing countries to reduce the [greenhouse gas] intensity of their economies. Considering the large populations and growing economies of some developing countries, increases in their [greenhouse gas] emissions could quickly overwhelm the effects of [greenhouse gas] reduction measures in developed countries. Any potential benefit of EPA regulation could be lost to the extent other nations decided to let their emissions significantly increase in view of U. S. emissions reductions. Unavoidably, climate change raises important foreign policy issues, and it is the President's prerogative to address them.
Huh? Taking action ourselves on global warming would hurt our standing to convince developing countries to do the same? Talk about political Bizarro-world!

Aside from that, the funny part is how the EPA should have a reasonable case, namely that Massachusetts's requests make little sense. A key point about carbon emissions, one that the Supreme Court fails to note, is that they're proportional to gasoline consumption. This differentiates them from most other pollutants, which arise as unnecessary byproducts of combustion and can be remedied by better technology. Automobile carbon emissions can be cut, but only insofar as fuel efficiency is raised in general.

And Congress already has rules specifically mandating fuel efficiency! I don't think these rules are sufficient; in fact, I believe that global warming should be combated with a more serious solution, like a carbon tax. But as a matter of jurisprudence, it's clear that the only possible regulatory approach to cutting vehicular carbon emissions has been implemented by Congress, and surely it is not reasonable to mandate that the EPA (a non-lawmaking body) periodically alter Congress's legislated policy.

On the case itself, then, this puts me in strange agreement with Scalia, although not with the massacre of science he calls a dissent. But looking beyond this particular case, I think the misunderstanding in the majority's reasoning is very important, and in most cases makes people underestimate how dangerous global warming is. If carbon emissions were like lead emissions, or most of the other environmental threats we've faced, there would be an easy fix -- update the technology and eliminate the problem. Greenhouse gases, unfortunately, proceed inevitably from the burning of fossil fuels, and will demand a much greater change than any we've ever managed.

Wise thoughts

After a few seconds of reflection, I've decided that my blog sucks, and that to achieve a readership it must:

1) Offer something of value, and...
2) Be updated more than once a month.

To this end, I am turning myself into a blog specialist, dedicated to bringing down the shoddy arguments that are most vulnerable to my technical, number-driven assaults. I believe this strategy addresses both current points of weakness: it offers a product that's relatively lacking in the commentariat (how many bloggers are math majors?), but also gives me a better-defined stream of topics to cover.

Let the new era begin!

(And guys, I know I'm still going to suck, but can you play along for a while?)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


This is possibly the best day I've ever had as a Portland resident.

Are we going to pick Oden? Probably. The remarkable part of this draft is how Seattle, our possible partner in a Rashard Lewis sign-and-trade, has the second pick. If we snag Oden, they'll suddenly have a glut at the 3 with both Durant and Lewis, and a swap of Randolph and Lewis (with some add-ons) will become plausible.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Scientific polling?

Most politically savvy people understand the importance of phrasing to a poll's results. Even minor changes in sentence structure can spawn double-digit swings in "belief" on an issue.

It is, then, a little disconcerting when a major national organization like Gallup asks a question that is not just badly phrased, but actually incorrect. Take a look at its recent poll on hate crimes:
Now, thinking about what have been called 'hate crimes' -- those crimes committed because the criminal hates the group of people to which the victim belongs. As you may know, federal law currently allows prosecution of hate crimes committed on the basis of the victim's race, color, religion or national origin. Do you favor or oppose these laws?
No matter how you parse this statement, it is wrong. It says nothing about the real content of hate-crimes legislation, which is an extra penalty that depends on the purpose of a crime. Instead, it asks whether we "favor or oppose" laws that "allow prosecution of hate crimes." What's the alternative? Not prosecuting them? If a respondent isn't aware of the hate crimes issue and interprets Gallup's question literally, he'd have to be a neo-Nazi to answer "oppose."

What an embarrassment.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Republican debate

My notes from the Republican debate lie unused in a corner of the room. Despite my sporadic writing in the past few months, I hope to continue this blog in a readable form, and this as good a place as any to start.

All in all, I found the debate superior to its predecessor; while it had a distinctly Fox News undercurrent, the absence of Chris Matthews allowed the candidates to complete more than a few sentence fragments, and Ron Paul's principled libertarianism contrasted nicely with others' simplistic posturing. More than anything, however, the event left me with a sense of bewilderment -- certainly some candidates were aggressive and showed the possibility of electoral appeal, but the constant paeans to extremism were jarring and indicated an ever-present sickness in today's Republican party. "Double Guantanamo?" Geez...

Now on to the individual candidates:

John McCain.

What an awful showing. He began by treating Iraqi insurgents and al Qaeda as if they were indistinguishable, insisting that we can't cede any room to our terrorist enemies. This ignores, of course, the reality that al Qaeda is responsible for only a fraction of violence in the country, and that the surest way to defeat the organization there is probably to withdraw. But McCain followed up with an even more ridiculous canard: that Bush's 2001 tax cuts have "dramatically increased revenues." No serious economist believes this. Hell, even most of the unserious ones reject the concept. We're left with only a few ignorant diehards like Stephen Moore, who are best classified as fake economists.

McCain's discussion of torture fell similarly flat. He should have buried the "enhanced interrogation techniques" bullshit, but instead wound up looking like a slightly confused old man.

Mitt Romney
Even more appalling. Certainly the "double Guantanamo" line was awful, deserving of some cosmic punishment that Romney's humiliation upon flubbing a blue-suit joke didn't quite meet. But worse, I thought, was the boneheaded repetition of his stock phrase about Islamic terrorism:

"And they've come together as Shi'a and Sunni and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda with that intent."

Could a presidential candidate show any less nuanced analysis? Lumping Hezbollah (Shi'a anti-Israel group) with Hamas (the elected government of Palestine) with the Muslim Brotherhood (a non-violent opposition!) with al Qaeda reveals a mind so devoid of foreign policy understanding that it ought to immediately disqualify a man from the Presidency.

(And wasn't Romney's "enhanced interrogation techniques -- not torture -- enhanced interrogation techniques" statement just the slimiest thing you've ever heard?)

Rudy Giuliani
Let's declare the major candidates three-for-three in unbearable awfulness. The critical moment in Giuliani's evening, of course, came when he interrupted the moderators to lash out at Ron Paul. Somehow, "America's Mayor" managed to reveal all his worst qualities in a single swoop: he was dictatorial, feigned outraged disbelief at the concept of blowback, and generally made a cruel, uninformed ass of himself.

Nothing frightens me more than the prospect of a President Giuliani. While his competitors are all undeniably bad, Giuliani alone has the mix of callousness, authoritarian reflex, and sheer insanity that threatens a return to the Bush years.

Jim Gilmore
What an f-ing weasel. I don't favor a social values purge of the Republican party, but even I was yelling at the screen in outrage -- good God, is it possible to be more of a wimp? When moderators repeatedly present you an opportunity to seize the anti-abortion mantle of your party, to make a sound byte that will echo through the media for days, here's a hint: Don't cop out and cite your f-ing website! While I oppose the "biggest balls" test for Presidential candidates that is apparently popular with Giuliani supporters, I'm thinking we ought to consider a related measure: the "no balls" exclusion clause.

Mike Huckabee
The man continues to impress. Although his agenda on social issues was uncompromising, and he showed no impulse toward dissent from the party line, he was consistently eloquent and composed. And after six exhausting years of Bush, I'm ready for the sweeter cadences of Arkansas.

(Of course, just as Matthew Yglesias points out with British accents, it's possible that I intuitively associate Arkansas drawl with the much-missed Clinton years, attributing greater eloquence to Huckabee than he really deserves.)

Duncan Hunter

Tom Tancredo
Tancredo is a most peculiar character: a single-issue candidate who lacks mastery over his single issue. He should have brought the South Carolina crowd to its feet, delivering a nativist screed perfectly crafted to its rotten sensibilities. Instead, he looked no more impressive than your stock Republican on the subject, and actually delivered his best line ("I want Jack Bauer!") in an unrelated discussion.

The only other notable point about Tancredo is his slightly creepy use of the phrase "Western Civilization." I'm not sure why, exactly, the United States is the "last" remnant of said civilization -- Western Europe seems to be doing decently -- but I assume it has something to do with the fact that we're also about to be overrun by Spanish-speaking hordes.

Sam Brownback
He didn't say much, but I have to respect him for offering a coherent pro-life response to the hypothetical about rape conception. While I'm not pro-life myself, I've always hated the "what about cases of rape?" question, since it obviously shouldn't alter either side's moral calculus. If abortion is really tantamount to murder, then it is murder regardless of the circumstances; if not, women should be given a full right to choose. Brownback articulated this basic point well, and seems to be a sincere (if misguided) social conservative.

Tommy Thompson
This man is dull.

Ron Paul
Ah, the night's beloved provocateur! In almost any other circumstance, I would lash out at the guy: he's a typically deranged libertarian who wants to end most federal spending. But when surrounded by a crew of pro-war sycophants, Paul acquires an air of intellectual vitality so powerful that I can't help but admire him. Someone needed to establish the obvious truths, to denounce the Iraq war as a failed venture and remind us that our foreign policy has created more terrorists, not fewer. Paul met the challenge, and he has my eternal love for denouncing "enhanced interrogation techniques" as Newspeak for torture.