Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Stupid but fair questions for Biden on socialism

A foolish journalist asked attack-dog questions of Joe Biden recently, asking whether Obama's positions were socialist and comparing them to Karl Marx. The questions were stupid because they assume some bright line exists between socialism and the redistributionist aspects of American policy that have been in place since the Great Depression. However, it's fair to take public statements and critique them. An unfair question would've been to use made-up evidence from wingnuts that Obama is a secret socialist as the basis of an accusation. It was inappropriate for the Obama campaign to cut off access to that TV station, and I wish American politicians were forced to tolerate the same level of persistent questioning that you see in Britain.

OTOH, the same newscaster only asked McCain why he was insufficiently negative about Obama, so she's a piece of work.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Rauch's "perverse voting" = contrarian = stupid

My grand theory on being contrarian as a general preference is that it: a. only works reasonably well in the business field; and b. even there it only works a minority of the time. When it does work in business, though, it pays off big, addicting some people to the idea that being contrarian in general is more likely to be right than otherwise. Perfect example of this wrong approach:
The Lab's work is guided by two founding principles:
  1. Just because an idea appeals to a lot of people doesn't mean it's wrong.
  2. But that's a good working theory.
Jonathan Rauch is another example of this, saying that people who want action on climate change should support McCain, because only bipartisan legislation will stay enacted in the long run (Dems would run over minority Republicans otherwise) and because "McCain is running on carbon-emissions limits that are not much different from what Democrats want."

As to Rauch's first point on the necessity of bipartisan legislation, he provides no evidence. I can think of several counter-examples (tax cuts by Reagan and Bush, increases by Clinton) that weren't bipartisan and have been fairly stable. I can't think of dramatic (mono?)partisan legislation that was later overruled.

And on the issue of climate change, they're not the same. Obama would auction carbon permits that McCain would give away freely, and use the money to finance investments in alternative energy. McCain makes fewer promises for alternative energy, doesn't say where he'll get the money from, and his combined Iraq war support plus one-year non-military spending freeze plus tax cuts for the rich would severely limit his budget options.

I agree that McCain could convince Republicans to support climate legislation better than Obama can, but the converse possibility of Republican pressure on McCain to weaken his position is equally likely, as promised by McCain surrogates Tim Pawlenty and Steve Forbes on national television. That's a wash.

Finally, I think it's appropriate to punish the incumbent president's party for malfeasance in office when the incumbent's termed out. If McCain had run on a complete repudiation of Bush that would be one thing, but he didn't. There should be some form of accountability for the disaster that Bush has been on climate.

Being contrarian on the choice of president is like between contrarian on the reality of climate change.

UPDATE: I should add that on a one-time basis, a few scientists have done well with a single contrarian position that's ultimately proven correct, giving them enormous street cred in the science ghetto, with their paradigm shifts and all that. What I'm not aware of is non-crank scientists who consistently take contrarian positions and generally are right. Nor can I think of a single public policy based on a scientific opinion of a tiny minority that's worked out well.

UPDATE II, Feb. 2010:  Well, given the problems in getting climate legislation past, I'm less certain that I was right.  McCain has veered hard right, showing questionable political integrity, but maybe he would've been different in the imaginary world that would have elected him as president.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Local candidates for office

Some postings on local candidates for office (I did a post on propositions below). Your comment, input and links are welcome. Disclosure: I work for a tax-exempt non-profit, the below represents my opinions only.

Santa Clara County:

Richard Hobbs (Supervisor, County District 3): I know him a bit, and he's a good environmentalist.

Alex Kennett (County Open Space Authority, District 1): I know Alex well, another good environmentalist. (More disclaimers! Alex is on the board of the organization I work for.)

Mountain View:

Mike Kasperzak (City Council): I also know Mike a bit, and unlike the present City Council he's willing do something to address the ridiculous jobs-housing imbalance in the city.

Other folks to talk about? I don't see much point in addressing local candidates for state and federal office, though; they're all foregone conclusions.

UPDATE: I'm embarassed to be a lawyer and not know much about the Ritchie-Liroff contest for judge. Both candidates seem highly qualified. Liroff is ahead in endorsements, but I like Ritchie's work for the underdog a little more. A real tossup. UPDATE 2: went for the underdog, there are plenty of prosecutors-turned-judges.

UPDATE 3: Forgot to include Jerry McNerney, the Congressman who beat the evil Richard Pombo in a Republican-leaning district that includes Morgan Hill. He's now matched against a pretty-bad Republican - Grist has the info.

Bay/California Propositions: input welcome

I'll put up a separate post for local candidates, but comments are welcome, and I'm more interested in propositions that I'm unsure about:

Statewide propositions:

Prop 1A (high speed rail): I actually have some local-area environmental concerns, but despite that this seems like a good idea.

Prop 2 (farm animal treatment): easy yes.

Prop 3 (children hospital bonds): harder one. Hate the heartstring pulling, and I'd rather have the legislature determine funding, but California's moronic two-thirds vote for state budgets pushes the other direction. Leaning against. UPDATE: voted no.

Prop 4 (abortion parental notification): no.

Prop 5 (nonviolent drug offenses): leaning in favor, but there a lot of ways for voter micro-management of criminal punishment to go wrong. The countering problem is that the legislature is totally screwed up by the prison-industrial complex, and by limits imposed by California's moronic Three Strikes voter initiative. Also, many of these drugs should be legalized. UPDATE: voted yes.

Prop 6 (crime and police funding): easy no.

Prop 7 (renewable energy mandates): no, unfortunately.

Prop 8 (eliminate same-sex marriage right): easy no.

Prop 9 (victim rights changes): Easy no. I don't know why anyone thinks elected legislators have incentives to be soft on crime. They can handle this issue.

Prop 10 (alternative fuel vehicles): Leaning no, but I'm kind of following the environmental herd on this one and need to do some research. UPDATE: voted no.

Prop 11 (redistricting): yes. I think it fixed some problems that made me vote against Prop 77 in 2005, particularly by leaving Congress out of it. (Good links on Prop 77 here, btw, took me a while to find them to remember why I voted against 77.)

Prop 12 (veterans' bonds): leaning against for the same reasons as Prop 3. UPDATE: changed my mind and voted yes - these are just loan guarantees that have been done for years - if they had worked out poorly in the past there would've been evidence of that.

Local propositions in Santa Clara County:

Prop A (hospital retrofit): yes

Prop B (BART to San Jose): cons slightly outweigh the pros for me. While new money for light rail is good, it would also have the effect of redirecting money from previous propositions that would otherwise be spent more efficiently on bus lines. UPDATE: voted no.

Props C and D (VTA stuff): yes, I guess. Do we really have to vote on this?

Again, comments and links are welcome.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Note to Chicago Climate Exchange: your product quality IS a business concern

Interesting article in today's Wall Street Journal despite its overblown headline, "Pollution Credits Let Dumps Double Dip". It's about potential problems with carbon offset additionality although it fails to use the term.

The particular problem it talks about isn't all that bad - some landfills that decided some years ago to capture outgassing methane for sale are now selling carbon credits. Sounds like it fails additionality until you learn deep in the article that landfills legally required to capture methane can't get credits, leaving only smaller ones eligible. The only time they gave actual money figures was for one system that makes a 3% return on the capture system by selling methane without offset credits, and it's not even clear if that's net of ongoing maintenance costs. Three percent isn't much financial incentive, so I think in most cases the additionality criteria will be met, and the few times it's not aren't very important.

If this constituted the worst scenario for offsets, I'd lose all my caution about them.

On the other hand, there's this part of the article interviewing Richard Sandor of the Chicago Climate Exchange:

Mr. Sandor says the exchange's main goal is to help develop a commodity that has financial value under any possible future U.S. law that to regulates greenhouse-gas emissions. The debate over whether or not a polluter would have cut its greenhouse-gas emissions without the financial incentive of credit sales is "quite interesting, but that's not my business," Mr. Sandor says. "I'm running a for-profit company."

If the product doesn't provide additionality, it doesn't provide value, and I should hope they realize that.

(UPDATE: edited with better link for "additionality".)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Health of the mother and late-term abortion

McCain is taking a lot of heat from left blogs for what they call "scoffing" at health-of-the-mother exceptions to bans on late-term abortions. I think we can afford to be fair to McCain given that he's going to lose - he's talking about mental health exceptions that could be so broad as to make the exception swallow the rule.

To be fair to Obama, though, he says he opposes a broad definition of mental health, and implies that clinically-defined mental health disease should be the litmus test. For voters who think that a late-term fetus is/may be a person, I doubt this balances out well, but that's a messier issue regarding abortion.

A tangent - I wrote in February that I thought Obama would win the nomination because "people tended to like Obama more as they heard him more and got used to him as presidential material." I thought that was clear for the Democratic voters, and voter reactions to the presidential debates seem to show the same on the national election level.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Alliance for Climate Protection ad censored by ABC

This has appeared in a few places (best coverage at Grist), but it's an ad criticizing fossil fuel lobbyists that ABC wouldn't run, while the network is happy to run lots of feel-good messages from those industries.

Here's the link for emailing ABC about it.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Arab-Obama thing's gone farther than I expected

I'd thought Rush Limbaugh's spouting off on the "Obama's not black, he's Arab" idea was just an example of the so-called rat-effing that even the dimmest of New York Times reporters might pick up on. It seems to have spread more among the rightwingers than I'd expected, though.

I suppose it could just have accidentally resonated in minds driven by ignorance, fear, and anger. The other possibility is that it was focus-group tested, and its test result was the reason why Limbaugh gave it so much play. Always interesting to speculate about what goes on behind the scenes on the dark side.

The other interesting thing to think about is that this made-up nonsense hasn't worked now, so in four years people are going to be even less interested in lies about Obama's distant past. Republicans will be forced to deal with Obama's record instead.

A one-species ecosystem

Interesting Astrobiology Magazine article: at the deepest level beneath the earth's surface, the only living thing is a single bacteria species. What interests me is that a stable environment that's existed for millions of years hasn't created a diverse ecosystem.

I think it's likely that life is common in other solar systems (I'm less certain about other parts of our own solar system). I also think intelligent life is likely, based on the idea that as biological systems become more diverse, one of those branches of diversity that will be explored in many places would be through species becoming more intelligent.

I don't really expect intelligent life to arise anywhere like miles beneath the surface where multicellular organisms can't exist, but I had expected something like a rule that biological systems tend towards diversity, or at least a certain level of diversity. This example says the rule isn't always true.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Volokh Correction #23: RealClimate v. Volokhs on climate change - guess who wins

Zywicki at Volokhs is unimpressed with Biden's statement that climate change is "clearly" man-made when the IPCC gave it an over 90 percent chance of being true. Somehow he sees a huge gap in the two positions.

RealClimate says, "maybe he left out the kind of caveats and qualifications you'd attach to the attribution of the recent loss of (North) polar sea ice if this were an AGU talk instead of a vice-presidential debate. Overall,though, the statement gets to the heart of the matter."

Zywicki thinks Palin's confused response, what RealClimate calls a garbled attempt to reiterate her old denial of human caused warming together with McCain's position, is "nuanced." Right.

As Biden, RealClimate, and any normal human being could point out, you have to understand a problem, or know if there is a problem, before you can find a solution. Palin's position that you don't need to understand the problem makes no sense.

In other news, McCain was a lot stronger on climate change in tonight's debate than he's been in the past. Not that it matters though, since he won't be president.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Burn After Reading: we're all babies

While I don't like every movie by the Coen brothers, I am a pretty big fan, and I thought No Country was the best movie of the decade. I had to hesitate though before finally deciding to recommend Burn After Reading. See it if you liked Fargo, otherwise maybe not.

A line by George Clooney's character about being a baby is what the movie, and maybe the Coens, think about all of humanity. Their visual depiction of humanity is the expression on Brad Pitt's face when he and Clooney finally meet (watch for it though, you get to see it only briefly).

Acting was fantastic, especially Pitt, and may be another reason to see the movie. This is dark comedy with far more emphasis on dark than on comedy, though. Enjoy!

(BTW, comments are welcome as usual, but please warn if you post any spoilers.)

Saturday, October 04, 2008

A reluctant No to Cal. Prop. 7 and to James Hansen

(I'm throwing Hansen in there just for effect, he's one of the celebrity endorsers of Prop. 7.)

I attended a Community Media Center debate on California Proposition 7, which attempts to double the current legislative mandate to increase renewable power percentages, from a 1% increase to 2% annually. The Investor-Owned-Utilities oppose it, unsurprisingly, but so do virtually all environmental groups and renewable energy business associations. That's weird.

The No campaign says it's poorly written (every No campaign says that, but that doesn't mean it's not true). In the debate, they said that it locks in cost increases, freezes out small renewable producers, and limits financial punishment for utilities that fail to meet mandates. Afterwards, I asked the No proponent why it had been so poorly written - didn't the Yes side come talk to the environmentalists? He said they had but only in a cursory manner and weren't willing to change anything.

So this measure is some billionaire's idea. I suppose it's possible that the enviros have spent too much time working with the utilities to know when to oppose them and support a drastic change (I don't know So Cal Edison, but I do know that PG&E is about as pro-environment as you're going to find in a major corporation). All in all though, my best guess is that the groups oppose it for the reasons they say. Too bad. Maybe we can get a drastic measure that works in 2o10.

(I'll also just insert a waffle statement here, that I could be wrong and will see what else I learn about Prop 7.)

In other climate news, the US Geological Survey discusses "wetland carbon farming." Restoring farmed, former wetlands to actual wetlands in the San Francisco Bay Delta can store significant amounts of carbon while rebuilding the wetland soils. They're trying to verify that it more than makes up for methane emissions. I've read elsewhere that tidal wetlands don't have methane emissions, so we need that type of restoration even more.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

A website business I'd invest in

It would be a website aggregator of opinions by people known to generally be on one side of a political question where they favor the opposite side's view for a particular issue. There could be a left wing defection site and a right wing one, and maybe different ones for different countries.

Maybe it's just me, but I think those defecting viewpoints would be some of the most interesting, like the conservatives who can't stand Palin.

I'm not prominent enough to be one of the contributors, but I'd defect and agree with conservatives that Gwen Ifill has a conflict of interest. (The perceived bias could even work the other way, but it's still a problem.) (UPDATE: somewhat less of a problem now - she's just writing a chapter in the book, and hasn't written it yet.)

Meanwhile, my vice-presidential debate prediction: Palin will answer every question with one somewhat coherent, responsive sentence that any middle-schooler could've come up with after some research, followed by a bridging sentence, and then broad platitudes with an occasional memorized zinger. Biden will have a gaffe-free but toned-down performance that ignores Palin and occasionally attacks McCain. Palin will be viewed as having done exceptionally well and their ticket will get a 1 or 2 point bounce in the polls that will fade away after a week.

UPDATE 2: So the debaters performed much like I expected, but the public didn't. They read through Palin's generalities and all three polls I saw gave the win to Biden. Credit where due (to the public, I mean). (Also, everyone says to be skeptical of snap polls - why? As a measure of public opinion, I don't know why they're worse than any other poll.)

UPDATE 3: Ifill responds in a videocast here - the whole book is hers, but she hasn't written the Obama chapter yet, so she doesn't have to screw up the McCain campaign to support some predictions. To the extent it's about intergenerational change in African-American leadership, it almost doesn't matter if Obama wins or loses. Still, it's a little bit iffy.