Global Warming and the Burmese Cyclone

In his excellent blog, Roger Pielke, Jr., notes that “On NPR’s Fresh Air earlier this week, Al Gore suggests that Typhoon Nargis, which may have killed 100,000 people in Myanmar, is linked to greenhouse gas emissions, or does he? He said ‘we’re seeing consequences that scientists have long predicted might be associated with continued global warming.’”

So I checked the sea surface temperature (SST) “anomalies” (that is, differences in temperature from the long-term average) along the track of Cyclone Nargis to see if SST might have been unusually warm from April 28th to May 3rd (when it hit Burma) of this year compared to last year. Comparing the SST anomalies from NOAA for April 28, May 1, and May 5 of 2008 against April 28, May 1, May 3, and May 7 of 2007, SSTs along the track of Cyclone Nargis don’t look that much different from last year. And for April 30, May 3, and May 7 of 2005, the Bay of Bengal seems to have been noticeably warmer.

Granted, this is based on a cursory eye-ball view of the maps using a non-continuous data set. I await more detailed analysis with bated breath.

“Ideologues” Strike Back—with Evidence!

It’s an all-too-common tactic employed by opponents of educational freedom to demonize school-choice advocates as hell-bent ideologues rather than actually tackling their arguments and evidence. One suspects that this occurs for two primary reasons: (1) smearing is easier than debating, and (2) too many choice opponents don’t have the evidentiary ammunition they need to defend their arguments.

Well, on Jay Greene’s blog today, at least one ardent supporter of school choice — the Friedman Foundation’s Greg Forster — fires a huge shot across the bow of choice detractors especially on the right, letting them know that he’s had it with their ignoring empirical evidence and resorting to playground name-calling. (In fairness to the Manhattan Institute’s Sol Stern, Forster’s primary target, he did come to Cato to debate his recent critique of choice — more than others on his side seem willing to do — though that doesn’t mean he isn’t still dodging inconvenient evidence).

With a little luck, Forster’s essay will help ignite a rational debate on market education reform that’s long overdue, and this time conservative choice detractors won’t just hide behind “ideological” smoke.

Improving the Business Environment in Paraguay… Really?

President Bush addressed the Council of the Americas yesterday, a business organization whose stated goal is to promote democracy and free markets in the Americas.  Among the different subjects he touched in his speech, Bush highlighted the work of the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) in Latin America.

The MCA’s goal is to provide bilateral aid to countries whose policies promote good governance and economic freedom. In Latin America, some of the standard bearers of good governance and economic freedom according to the MCA are Honduras, Nicaragua and Paraguay.

Bush proudly said in his speech that “In Paraguay, we’re working… with local leaders to reduce the cost of starting new businesses.” It sounds quite good, but when you look at the MCA’s Threshold Quarterly Report for Paraguay, you find among the accomplishments of the program this:

The Finance Ministry conducted simulated purchases to detect firms not following local tax regulations, resulting in the suspensions of more than 70 businesses. The business suspensions received significant positive media coverage and have generated greater tax compliance overall.

It sounds like U.S. aid money is being spent to shut down businesses in Paraguay. That hardly fits my idea of encouraging economic freedom in Latin America.  

More Strategic Brilliance from Our Friends at the Weekly Standard

Here’s Michael Goldfarb:

As to whether Bush is a recruiting tool for terrorists–who cares? Al Qaeda was recruiting before Bush was in office and they will continue to do so after he’s gone. The important thing is that we keep killing those recruits. Eventually, one side will give up.

Do they edit this stuff before putting it up? By this logic, why don’t we airdrop a bunch of copies of Penthouse Letters into the Kabaa? After all, al Qaeda will continue recruiting whether we do it or not. Or maybe we could declare war on all of Islam. After all, al Qaeda was recruiting before we declared it. Or maybe we could send Senator McCain’s “moral compass and spiritual guide” onto al Hurra to tell Muslims that “America was founded, in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion destroyed.” After all, it’s not like al Qaeda’s not recruiting today.

Eternal Vigilance, Inc.

The Style section of today’s Washington Post features a terrific article about the National Security Archive, the nonprofit group dedicated to unearthing goverment secrets. The privately funded group, about 35 strong, uses the Freedom of Information Act to collect about 75,000 documents a year, which staffers analyze and then post on the website. The Archive’s greatest hits (see, e.g., here and here) demonstrate that as Patrick Henry put it, one should “never depend on so slender a protection as the possibility of being represented by virtuous men.” Don’t trust: verify.

One of my favorite documents on the site is the Operation Northwoods Memo, prepared by the Pentagon in the wake of the Bay of Pigs disaster:

titled “Justification for U.S. Military Intervention in Cuba” [the memo] was provided by the JCS to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara on March 13, 1962, as the key component of Northwoods. Written in response to a request from the Chief of the Cuba Project, Col. Edward Lansdale, the Top Secret memorandum describes U.S. plans to covertly engineer various pretexts that would justify a U.S. invasion of Cuba. These proposals - part of a secret anti-Castro program known as Operation Mongoose - included staging the assassinations of Cubans living in the United States, developing a fake “Communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and even in Washington,” including “sink[ing] a boatload of Cuban refugees (real or simulated),” faking a Cuban airforce attack on a civilian jetliner, and concocting a “Remember the Maine” incident by blowing up a U.S. ship in Cuban waters and then blaming the incident on Cuban sabotage.

Sounds like tinfoil-hat stuff, I know, but thanks to FOIA and the National Security Archive, you can check for yourself [.pdf]. But if Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld had had their way, you couldn’t. As top aides to Gerald Ford 34 years ago, they urged the president to veto amendments strengthening FOIA (he did, and Congress overrode his veto). The Archive has the documents on that too.

(cross-posted on

More, Um, Praise for Medicare Meets Mephistopheles

Nearly two years after its release, David Hyman’s satire Medicare Meets Mephistopheles is still generating reviews – and controversy. 

In the April 2008 issue of the Michigan Law Review, Michigan law professor Jill Horwitz raves:

Hyman is extraordinarily knowledgeable about health care regulation and his exposition is succinct. The book is filled with informative and accurate summaries of Medicare’s complicated program design and related laws. The summaries of fraud and abuse law, for example, make my heart sing. I’ve seldom seen such an accessible and accurate primer.

It would be a stretch, however, to claim that Horwitz and Hyman see eye-to-eye.  Horwitz concludes her 19-page review thus:

Medicare Meets Mephistopheles is a terrific overview of a troubled system, but a missed opportunity to help reform Medicare. Providing health care fairly and efficiently is a complicated process that necessarily involves a heavy dose of government. Libertarian railing against big government, regulation, and all lefty foolishness that market proponents despise doesn’t get one very far in determining how to get health care to 300 million people. In the end Hyman doesn’t offer any realistic alternative to this government-regulated muddle because, God knows, his plans are unacceptable anywhere but in hell.

Ay caramba!