Global Warming Gas Bags

In an op-ed I recently cowrote with Peter Van Doren for the San Diego Union Tribune, I argued that California’s much ballyhooed legislation to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020 should probably be taken no more seriously than a New Years’ Eve Resolution.  The legislation has no teeth, it has offers no program to translate wish into reality, and has all the earmarks of any number of empty environmental pledges that have turned to dust with the passage of time.

There are now strong indications that the story line we predicted for California is being played out in Europe as well.  A report just out finds that without additional measures, the EU will only be able to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 1.6 percent below 1990 levels. Compare that with the 8 percent reduction promise undertaken by those same countries under the Kyoto Protocol.

One reason why environmental laws often cost less than advertised by the business community is that the goals written into those laws are subsequently ignored.  But as long as politicans gain full credit for promises made and can escape blame for promises broken, this is the sort of thing that is the rule rather than the exception.

Shoot ‘Em Before They Poop Again

If I were to ask you what the number one cause of bacterial pollution in the Potomac, Anacostia, and more than two dozen other rivers on the federal “impaired waters” list, what would you guess?  Sewage discharges?  Stormwater run-off?  Agricultural waste?  How about increased mountains of dung from our supposedly threatened wildlife populations?  You guessed it - because we have done such a good job making the human environment safe for all of God’s creatures, we are destroying the planet.

If you’re rushing off to make a bag of popcorn to watch the upcoming brawl between the National Wildlife Foundation (a polluter-defense league if there ever was one) and Greenpeace, walk, don’t run.  Animal pollution good.  People pollution bad.  But regardless, shouldn’t we at least require Bambi to secure a poop permit - or regulate the time and place at which these river-killing vermin can dispose of their waste product in an environmentally friendly manner? 

GOP: Online Gambling Poses Threat to U.S. Port Security

Late Friday night, the U.S. Senate passed a ban on Internet gambling.  The ban now awaits President Bush’s signature.

Sen. Bill Frist attached the ban to the port security bill at the last minute on Friday, conveniently allowing the ban to go forward without any debate.  That also means any senator who rightly believes that online poker is none of the government’s business would also have to vote against a national security bill to vote against the ban – making that senator a ripe target for charges of being soft on terrorism.

The major gaming sites – that is, the legitimate companies regulated by British law and traded on the London Stock Exchange – announced over the weekend that they’ll cease offering service to U.S. customers the moment President Bush signs the bill.  What does that mean?  Well, it means the shady, fly-by-night sites that aren’t regulated or publicly traded will now thrive with U.S. customers.  These gray- and black-market sites are more prone to fraud, more likely to be involved in organized crime, and don’t include the child-protection measures the major sites have implemented.

For all the talk from Sen. Frist, Sen. Kyl, and Rep. Goodlatte about the dangers of this “unregulated” industry, the bill they’ve just passed will actually put the well-regulated gambling sites out of reach of U.S. customers.  The end result?  Online poker and other gaming sites will soon be even less regulated, more likely to attract children, and more likely to defraud U.S. consumers than ever before.  Meanwhile, one of the most addictive forms of gambling – state lotteries – will soon make an en masse move online, thanks to an exemption in the bill that effectively creates an online monopoly for them.

In short, in an intrusive, big government effort to protect Americans from themselves, Congress has passed a futile, hypocritical, counter-productive, protectionist piece of legislation that will make it more difficult for millions of Americans to engage in an activity most participate in responsibly and moderately.  For those people, the bill will probably work.  But it’ll do little to prevent problem gambling, children’s access to gaming sites, or online fraud.

One can’t help but think that for Frist, none of that matters so long as the bill helps Republicans keep control of the Senate come November.

Democracy vs. Innovation

Over at the Library of Economics and Liberty, Duke political science chair Michael Munger has a real gem of an essay lucidly explaining why democracy, which caters to the median voter, won’t produce innovation, which is created by bets with long odds by risk-takers on the fringe.

For political decisions, “good” simply means what most people think is good, and everyone has to accept the same thing. In markets, the good is decided by individuals, and we each get what we choose. This matters more than you might think. I don’t just mean that in markets you need money and in politics you need good hair and an entourage. Rather, the very nature of choices, and who chooses, is different in the two settings.

That part’s not very funny, but most of the essay is. So if you like your political economy at once weird and crystal clear, do check it out.

Logic Is Not the Enemy; Let’s Be Kind to It

Today’s Washington Post suggests that the reaction of some “antiwar liberals” to a recent leak from the National Intelligence Estimate may have been unjustified. The NIE allegedly asserts that the war in Iraq is creating more terrorists than it is eliminating, and many Iraq war critics responded that they had always assured us it would — and that the war therefore is (and always was) a bad idea.

The Post dismisses this “I told you so” reaction as the product of “hindsight bias,” arguing that the critics hadn’t (and indeed couldn’t have) been certain of this outcome from the beginning — that they have only convinced themselves, retroactively, that they were.

Whether or not the Post’s observation is valid, it ignores a much more fundamental error in the critics’ reasoning: It is never the waging of wars that makes you safer, only the winning of them.

The U.S. was not safer in 1942–1945 than it had been in early 1941. We entered World War II because winning it would make America safer. In trying to win it, we suffered over a million casualties.

Part of the argument for toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime was that a beachhead for freedom and democracy in a Muslim Middle Eastern nation would, in the long term, weaken militant Islamism and promote peace. It was never suggested that the process of trying to create that beachhead would itself make anyone safer — no more than it was suggested that Americans would be safer during our participation in WW II.

Hence, it is fatuous to argue that a current rise in terrorist recruitment proves that toppling Saddam was a bad idea. Efforts to create a free and democratic Iraq are ongoing — the war is still in progress.

Note that none of this is to say that freedom and democracy are sure (or even likely) to take root in Iraq. Critics are welcome to argue that we and freedom-loving Iraqis will ultimately lose there, and be worse off if we do. But can we please treat logic and common sense as non-combatants, and stop assaulting them with fallacious arguments such as the one described above?

Sending Up Security

People are highly tuned risk managers. Daily, we make decision about risky things like crossing streets. To do so, we analyze the speed and density of traffic, light conditions, our own physical skills, and myriad other factors to determine whether to cross in the middle of a block or at a controlled intersection.

Five years since 9/11, people are getting better at assessing the risks of terrorist acts. And people are growing increasingly skeptical of the risk choices being made for them by the Department of Homeland Security. The evidence? Their willingness to see security lampooned.

The writers at The Onion are undoubtedly finding a good reception for this send-up of the Transportation Security Administration’s liquids rules.

And people are diverting themselves from their exasperation with airport security using this fun game

A basic indictment of government-provided security is in daily newspapers’ comic sections this morning. Syndicated cartoon Bizarro by Dan Piraro is titled “Orientation Seminar at Homeland Security.” It depicts a teacher at a chalkboard that says “Inconvenience = Security.” (Available online here early next month). 

The funny bone is a highly tuned instrument, and it’s showing the dissonance in air security today. 

Does the Military Commission Act Apply to U.S. Citizens?

Legal scholars are debating whether the Military Commission Act [MCA], passed by Congress on September 29 and soon to be signed by President Bush, applies to U.S. citizens. The answer is more complicated than one would think.

First: Under Sec. 948a(1) an unlawful enemy combatant is “(i) a person who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents …; or (ii) a person who…has been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal….” Use of the word “person” suggests that citizens may be detained as unlawful combatants.

But second: Sec. 7(a) denies habeas rights only to aliens. Thus, a citizen who is detained as an unlawful combatant would appear to have habeas rights to challenge his detention.

Moreover, third: Sec. 948b states that “[t]his chapter establishes procedures governing the use of military commissions to try alien unlawful enemy combatants.” In other words, only non-citizens may be tried by a military commission. 

My conclusion:  A citizen may be detained (subject to habeas challenge), but not tried, under the MCA.