Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Archive for April, 2009

Arlen Specter switches to Democrats, fails test

Posted by sanityinjection on April 28, 2009

Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter (R) announced today that he was switching parties to become a Democrat. He claimed that his political philosophy is now more in line with the Democratic Party.

On the surface, this seems plausible because Specter is a moderate (some would say liberal) Republican with a long history of independence. However, the collective snorts of the political class could be heard all the way across the tidal pool.

You see, Specter is expected to be defeated in the Republican primary next year. So now he gets to run as a Democrat and face no primary opponent. His chances of beating Toomey are much better in a general election, witht he full support of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, than in a Republican primary fight. Also, Specter’s defection, together with the expected victory of Al Franken in Minnesota, gives the Democrats a 60-40 filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. In other words, two-party government in Washington will now be a thing of the past.

Needless to say, you can bet the Democrats offered Specter some goodies – committee assignments, etc. in exchange for handing them the keys to the Senate. So let’s not pretend that Specter’s decision was motivated by anything more than self-preservation. If this were a real crisis of conscience, Specter could become an independent.

Which is why I say that Specter has failed the most fundamental test of qualification for public office. He has abandoned his principles purely for personal advantage. And that’s a shame. At one time I admired Specter, but no longer.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Boston Globe defends conservatives???

Posted by sanityinjection on April 27, 2009

This is a red-letter day, folks. The Boston Globe, the only surviving official organ of the Soviet Communist Party, actually has an op-ed today criticizing Homeland Security for their report implying that conservatives and returning veterans are dangerous extremists. “Conservatives have a right to be angry,” says the Globe.  First time this storied paper has ever acknowledged conservatives have any sort of rights.

Of course, given that the Globe is facing an imminent shutdown by its parent company, the New York Times, this could a parting shot  reflecting the real opinion of an op-ed editor who will be out of a job soon. Or it could be a play for support from the Right in the paper’s hour of desperate need, though the idea that conservatives would overlook decades of malice because of one nice column is laughable.

Still, rare events are worthy of notice, whatever their cause may be!

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Union concessions mean Chrysler may survive; Pontiac won’t.

Posted by sanityinjection on April 27, 2009

AP is reporting that both US and Canadian auto workers’ unions have made concessions that may allow Chrysler to enter a partnership with Fiat that will keep the company afloat – and save over 50,000 jobs:

The article doesn’t say what specific concessions the UAW is making, but if they are similar to the ones made by the Canadian Auto Workers, the Obama Administration (particularly Larry Summers and the folks at Treasury)deserves credit for holding the UAW’s feet to the fire just as they have done with management.

Meanwhile, GM’s latest radical restructuring plan is a desperate attempt to fend off bankruptcy and involves killing off the Pontiac brand. That’s not likely to please fans of the flashy, fun, but poorly built line of sports cars. I don’t think GM’s plan is going to work, because it’s going to be implemented by the same people who have run the company into the ground. Firing the CEO isn’t the same as a full overhaul of management. The result is likely to be losses for taxpayers who will end up saddled with half of GM’s debt and a lot of worthless stock.

Posted in Domestic News, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Swine flu is no reason to panic

Posted by sanityinjection on April 26, 2009

The media are all in a tizzy over the outbreak of a new form of swine flu. Centered in Mexico, cases have surfaced as far away as New Zealand. Governments are taking steps necessary to prevent a global flu pandemic.

However, there’s no need to panic. Most of what is happening right now is that public health authorities are erring on the side of caution – as they should. No one is really sure how easily this flu strain spreads, so they are treating it as if it were extremely virulent and not taking any chances.

The good news is that all signs are that this strain responds well to standard forms of treatment. Most of the people who have become sick are recovering normally,  just as you and I probably did the last time we had the flu.  As with any flu outbreak, those at greatest risk are young children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems. Healthy adults have very little to fear from this new flu virus.

But if it serves as a spur for us to take sensible precautions such as washing our hands more often, that’s not a bad thing, either.

Posted in Domestic News | Tagged: , , , | 10 Comments »

Even if you believe in global warming, reducing carbon emissions is a waste of time.

Posted by sanityinjection on April 25, 2009

So sayeth Bjorn Lomborg in an op-ed piece in yesterday’s New York Times. Lomborg identifies two problems with agreements to reduce emissions such as the Kyoto Agreement: 1) Nobody fulfills them, and 2) If they were fully implemented, they would still have only a tiny effect on global temperatures.

Instead, Lomborg argues that our focus should be on getting away from fossil fuels altogether. Of course, for much of the world at present, that’s an impossible task:

“The fact is, carbon remains the only way for developing countries to work their way out of poverty. Coal burning provides half of the world’s electricity, and fully 80 percent of it in China and India…”

So asking these countries to give up their dirty coal plants is like asking them to give up civilization.

Lomborg’s proposal is that the world should focus on pouring money into research to make clean energy technologies such as solar and wind power economically feasible as replacements for fossil fuels. He argues that these expenditures will still be less costly than the amount of economic growth that will be lost by tighter carbon emissions controls.

It striked me also that this strategy would be politically less difficult. If you were the head of an oil or coal company, for example, which would you react more positively to: laws that force you to comply with restrictive standards at your own expense, or government grants to facilitate research that will allow you to transition to clean energy? Many of these companies are already significantly invested in such research and could put grant money to use quickly.

Here in the US, our politicians are instead going to engage in a big debate about cap-and-trade legislation, the principal benefit of which is to allow said politicians to pat themselves on the back over how “progressive” and “green” they are while accomplishing little in the way of affecting global temperatures.

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Quote of the Week

Posted by sanityinjection on April 23, 2009

“A lot of people feel it’s not worth fighting for their rights because they are so likely to fail. They don’t know that the big victories are won by adding up many, many small wins and actions.” – Cheng Hai

Mr. Cheng is a Beijing lawyer who has endured beatings by Chinese police because of his legal representation of members of the banned Falun Gong sect. Although he spoke about the situation in China, his words apply to any country and any situation where the rights of citizens are threatened or denied.

Posted in Foreign Affairs, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Miss California Carrie Prejean learns that some speech is more free than others

Posted by sanityinjection on April 23, 2009

Roland Martin weighs in on the controversy surrounding the Miss USA pageant, at which Miss California Carrie Prejean, in response to a question from judge Perez Hilton, gave her opinion on the issue of same-sex marriage:

I agree with Mr. Martin’s comments. We cannot say for certain that Prejean lost the competition because of her remarks, but it seems likely. That isn’t the point, though. Knowing the question might be asked, Prejean as a savvy contestant should never have picked outspoken gay rights advocate Perez Hilton to ask her question. And Hilton was entirely within his rights to ask a tough question like that.

Rather, it is the pillorying of Prejean after the competition, particularly by Hilton, that is reprehensible. If you read what Prejean said, it is very clear that she meant no offense to anyone, but was simply being honest about her belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman – a belief shared by a large percentage of Californians. Apparently, however, she should have kept her mouth shut, because an honest answer is only OK if it conforms to the left-wing orthodoxy.

Further, for Hilton to publicly call Prejean a “dumb bitch” is shameful and classless. Judges are expected not to make nasty remarks about contestants. I would sincerely hope that it will be a cold day in hell before Mr. Hilton is invited to judge any event of any kind again, since he’s clearly not adult enough to handle it. Of course, Hilton thrives on controversy and is no doubt glorying in all the attention whether positive or negative.

One can agree or disagree with Ms. Prejean’s view on same-sex marriage. But no one should castigate her for her honest expression of it when questioned.

Posted in Current Events, Domestic News | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

A pirate story: The saga of Abduhl Wali-i-Musa begins

Posted by sanityinjection on April 21, 2009

The media has found its newest fascination in the person of Somali pirate Abduhl Wali-i-Musa, a teenager captured during the recent standoff over the hostage-taking of American ship captain Richard Phillips.

The young man fits neatly into the stereotypical liberal fantasy of the poor, innocent foreigner brutalized by American military might. (Except in real life, the poor innocent foreigner was holding an automatic rifle to the head of an American hostage.) As such, he will not have to look far for top-notch legal representation as the US prepares to try him under piracy laws not used in a century. The ACLU is already salivating at the prospect.

In fact, we know little about the accused. His name and age are in dispute, the latter point being important because if he can be shown to be a minor the US government will have a harder time bringing him to trial. Arabic is not my strongest language, but “Musa” is the Arabic form of “Moses”. So we have a modern-day wanderer in a lawless wilderness, but instead of finding God and a shepherd girl, our boy found a nest of pirates with an entry-level position available. One can sympathize to a point with someone who chooses a bad option as preferable to no options at all.

The story has already generated some unintentional humor, mostly from the clueless press corps. Like the idiot reporters shouting questions at Wali-i-Musa as he was entering a federal building in New York. Wali-i-Musa doesn’t understand or speak a word of English – were they expecting him to give the thumbs up and proclaim, “I’m going to Disney World!”

Or MSNBC’s sensitive reporting of the young man’s mother’s plea to President Obama to “release my son or at least allow me to see him and be with him during the trial.” Of course, the mother was making her plea from her home in Somalia, so what she is really asking is for the US Government to pay to fly her to New York and put her up in a fancy hotel for a year or two while her son’s trial drags itself out. Wait, wasn’t there funding for that in the stimulus bill somewhere?

There will be some interesting legal questions associated with the trial. So stay tuned.

Posted in Foreign Affairs, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Should the US ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty?

Posted by sanityinjection on April 17, 2009

You don’t hear that much about the nuclear test ban treaty these days, but two big names were in Rome this week urging the US to get on board with the treaty. One is Mikhail Gorbachev, which is no surprise since nuclear agreements with the US were the chief accomplishment of his career. The other  is George Shultz, former Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan. Shultz’ involvement is significant because he enjoys some influence with Senate Republicans, who have opposed the treaty in the past. Ratification would require a two-thirds vote of the Senate, so although the Obama Administration has indicated it will push for ratification and Democrats will support it, it cannot succeed without at least some Republican support.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is a multipolar international agreement negotiated in 1996. The terms of the treaty state that all nuclear powers have to ratify the treaty before it can go into effect. To date, the US and 8 other nuclear nations, including China, have not ratified it. The US Senate defeated ratification on a party line vote in 1999.

There is a lot of misinformation that gets spread about regarding the CTBT. First of all, many people do not realize that there is already an international agreement signed in 1963 banning nuclear tests in the atmosphere, oceans, and space. The CTBT would expand that to include any testing of nuclear weapons including underground testing which is the method generally used today.

Second, some argue that the CTBT would be a step to combat nuclear proliferation. In fact, the CTBT does nothing to address nuclear proliferation.

It has been questioned whether the US nuclear arsenal can be maintained without nuclear testing. Some say it can, others say it cannot. The US has not conducted a nuclear test since 1992.

The biggest problem with the CTBT is that it is impossible to enforce. The same countries (Iran, North Korea) who have defied international agreements on nuclear proliferation will not hesitate to defy the CTBT.  The most successful nuclear agreements have been bilateral treaties between the US and the Soviet Union/Russia to reduce stockpiles of missiles and warheads; “worldwide” agreements such as the moribund Nuclear Proliferation Treaty have failed badly. The simple fact is that the knowledge that the US maintains an operational nuclear capability has kept any major nation from attacking us for over half a century. That is not a deterrent that we should be eager to allow to evaporate.  As much as we may abhor the idea of engaging in a  nuclear conflict, we should abhor more the prospect of being dragged into one without the armaments to fight it.

Thus, despite advances in technology which allow nuclear tests to be detected from outside a nation’s borders, I still believe it would be a bad idea to ratify the CTBT. I am reminded of the treaty that established the League of Nations after World War I. The US never ratified the treaty and never joined the League. It suffered nothing by refusing to do so, even as the League quickly proved to be a failure in preventing conflicts.

There is no way to unmake nuclear weapons. Like guns, restrictions on them never seem to deter the rogues we fear but only tie the hands of the responsible citizens of the world. While we can certainly try to avoid producing unnecessary numbers of them and pointing them at each other threateningly, we will never see a world rid of them until and unless some new technology makes them obsolete. That is why a functional missile defense system has to be a priority for the US.

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Should the US talk to Cuba and Raul Castro?

Posted by sanityinjection on April 17, 2009

Recently, Cuban leader Raul Castro stated publicly that he is ready for talks with the US in which all issues could be put on the table, including political prisoners and human rights. This move, something Cuba has not been willing to do before, is being viewed around the world as an overture to the US. Everyone is interested to see how the US will respond.

So far, the Obama Administration’s tone has been positive but cautious. Secretary of State Clinton characterized Castro’s statement as “welcome” and said the Administration is seriously considering how it should respond. In my view, such caution is appropriate. The US has already made a gesture toward Cuba in loosening restrictions on trade and travel with Cuba. That represents a concrete benefit for Cuba; to reciprocate simply by agreeing to talk about human rights offers the US nothing concrete in return.

To those not well versed in international relations, such tit-of-tat considerations may seem silly. What is the harm, they might ask, in simply sitting down to talk with Castro or anyone without preconditions?

Well, nothing, if you believe there is a reasonable chance of accomplishing something. However, with countries like Cuba and North Korea, it is more likely that they desire the talks for reasons of prestige and may not have any intention of coming to an agreement. This would be especially true if the talks involve a high profile such as Clinton or President Obama himself. The regimes would spin that as the US coming to kneel at the feet of their Maximum Leader. For countries such as these where the leader’s personality cult is a critical mainstay of the regime’s power, the PR they can get out of having talks with the US is in itself a victory for them, though it may seem trivial to Americans. In this case, Castro has not given any indication that he is prepared to make any real concessions on human rights.

On the other hand, the US does not want to appear to have rebuffed what looks to the world like a sincere gesture. An appropriate response would be to send mid-level State Department officials to meet with Cuban representatives at the UN in New York and see whether there is potential for some sort of agreement. This is called “back-channel” negotiation and has been used in the past with the USSR during the Cold War. Only if progress seems to be forthcoming would you want to escalate to a more high-profile public negotiation.

The US can also indicate its posture by not attempting to block  the move to reinstate Cuba as a member of the Organization of American States, which it was expelled from in 1962. This move is going to succeed anyway. The US should still vote no, but it will be viewed as significant if the US does not lobby other nations to do so as well.

Posted in Foreign Affairs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »