|Man Without Qualities|
Friday, June 09, 2006
Dead Again II: Tecer Camino Extraño(2) comments
Here is a paper purporting to describe a "third way" in the net neutrality debate. I don't agree with the approach of this paper, or even that the approach it sketches is actually a "third way" at all. But the approach of this paper is vastly more sophisticated than the Lessig approach - and the paper points that out as politely as possible. And at least the incentive and market power economics set out in this paper are not cartoons. The "Third Way" is sketched this way:
In short, we propose a three-part, "third-way" solution:The "full disclosure" requirements are fairly innocuous, but also seem fairly irrelevant. The actual rates and access policies of internet providers are easily determined. So the extra FCC involvement seems to add little. The focus on "broadband" as a kind of magic word borders on the childish.
That some internet providers hold market power does create its own issues. Those issues are the exact same issues raised all the time in antitrust law. There is no clear reason why supplemental antitrust laws need to be created here, especially since the economic dynamics of the internet are at the moment so protean and ill-understood.
Finally, the whole "special incentive" aspect of this proposal seems downright perverse. Congress and the FCC are not better able to determine the needs of the internet, and the economy's needs for internet services (broadband or otherwise), than is the market. This is a huge step backwards - and anything but a "Third Way."
But perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this "Third Way" is the complete absence of any considerations pertaining to the regulatory capture issues that would be raised by the scheme itself. It's all very nice to say that the FCC (or any agency) will do this or that nice thing to the people and firms it regulates. But history shows that's not how things often work out in practice. Just what are the likely regulatory (and lobbying!) incentives that might be created by a scheme that couples big federal financial give-aways with lots of authority by a (captured) FCC to exclude competitors in the market it was supposed to facilitate? One shudders to imagine. But one shutters more to realize that the authors of this "Third Way" haven't even bothered to try to imagine - or at least to write about it here. Has the history of FCC protected competition been better than the competitive history of the unregulated internet? I don't think so.
UPDATE: IP Central points out Tom Hazlett's article The Wireless Craze, the Unlimited Bandwidth Myth, the Spectrum Auction Faux Pas, and the Punchline to Ronald Coase's "Bigt Joke" (2001), which details the dreary history of the FCC's success in supressing new technologies (pp. 405-451).
Ding, dong the Z-man is dead! And it is right and meet and just to celebrate June 7, the day after D-Day, as Z-Day.
But June 7 was not just the day Abu Musab al Zarqawi went to claim his virgins (or his grapes - the "virgins" who the Koran supposedly promises await Islamic martyrs in paradise may just be ''white raisins'') and the Iraqi government moved towards completion with the key appointments of two apparently competent and appropriate ministers. It is also the day on which Allied and Iraqi forces moved to seize well over a dozen insurgent sites, sites said to have been monitored for weeks and disclosed to the Allies and Iraqis by the same sources that fingered the Z-Man. The seizure of these sites is said to have yielded a "treasure trove" of intelligence pertaining to the insurgency.
Al Qaida is said to have a "cellular" structure - meaning that the location of, and other information pertaining to, its components is supposed to be very closely held. Members of each component generally are not supposed to possess information pertaining to other components. Yet the information source who turned in al Zarqawi apparently had lots of information about a large number of components. All that suggests that the intelligence source within the Zarqawi camp was very highly placed indeed.
How high? Well, on June 7 Strategy Page ran this curious and fairly amazing item (thanks to Saint Onge for drawing my attention):
Zarqawi Scheduled for MartyrdomSaint Onge points out that the timing of this post is remarkable, which it is if the post went up before reports of the hit appeared.
Regardless of when the post went up, it's contents are surely remarkable (if they are correct) regardless of when the post went up. Could it be that someone high up in al Qaida itself turned in al Zarqawi and identified those insurgent sites?
Had al Zarqawi become so inconvenient that al Qaida HQ decided it was time for the Allies to catch the Big Z Man, or for him to be catching the Big Z's?
Thursday, June 08, 2006
It is an old Chinese proverb of great carrying power that "It is better to start poorly and finish well." The personal history of Professor Lawrence Lessig suggests that he has not read it.
After a very fast start followed by lots of increasingly ill deserved adulation, Professor Lessig seems in recent years to have formed an absolute determination to come down hard on the wrong side of every hot dispute in which he takes an interest concerning intellectual property law, and especially the internet. He has praised the wisdom of copyright pirate enablers such as Grokster, employing arguments bordering on ludicrous that were quite properly and unceremoniously discarded by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court's rejection of his ludicrous assault on the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act was correct and thorough and unimpressed and ultimately distinctly unkind (his main argument was dismissed in a curt footnote). Sadly, one could go on for a bit with Professor Lessig's recent missteps.
Now there is a new dead end of Lawrence Lessig: Congressionally mandated "network neutrality." Little can legitimately be said in favor of this effort to freeze the internet into a form that it happens to have (or may have had) at the moment or in the recent past, although the reader is invited to read Professor Lessig's linked effort to do just that. There is nothing sacred about that current form. There is nothing less destructive and anti-freemarket about federally mandated internet rate structures proposed by Professor Lessig than there was about the federally mandated railroad and trucking rates that hobbled the nation's economy for decades. The correct (and wealth creating) principle under which the internet has developed is simple: Minimal regulation. The legislation proposed by Professor Lessig and Representative Markey would grossly violate that principle for no apparent benefit.
There is one positive aspect to this new camino extraño down which Professor Lessig proposes to drag the internet: At least he is presenting his position to the legislature instead of arguing in the courts that his radical (and erroneous) approach is already dictated by the Constitution or existing statute, as he did in his prior efforts noted above. But so far Congress has wisely been as unimpressed with Professor Lessig as the Supreme Court was in his earlier efforts. By a lopsided vote of 321 to 101 the House today passed a bill that rejects mandated network neutrality, and does nothing to prevent the phone and cable providers from charging Internet content providers a premium for carrying services like video offerings that could rival those of the telecom companies – and not including the Markey amendment. One hopes the Senate has as much sense as the House on this topic.
I could write quite a bit more about the irrationality of mandated network neutrality. But an article on the topic aptly titled The Web's Worst New Idea does a pretty thorough demolition job on the pretensions advanced by Professor Lessig. As the article points out:
Increasingly, and with the backing both of the Moveon.org crowd and "Don't Be Evil" Google, a movement is afoot to give these entitlements the force of law. Congressman Ed Markey has introduced a bill to "save the Internet" by codifying Net neutrality principles in law. The FCC would be charged with enforcing "non-discrimination" and "openness" rules.Does such FCC regulation sound like the spirit of the internet the reader has known? Of course not. That’s the old “regulated industry” model of the communications industry that the internet rejects and always has rejected. Once again, Professor Lessig pretends to the role of the visionary (even the revolutionary), while his actions and positions are those of a tired reactionary.
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
The 50th Congressional District did not hold all of the interest in yesterday’s elections. Actor Rob Reiner's ballot initiative - Proposition 82 - to tax the "rich" (those earning more than $400,000 per year) to pay for universal preschool for four-year-olds was defeated yesterday in California by 61% to 39% - carrying only three out of 58 counties in the entire state. Why the big defeat?
Writing for Opinion Journal’s subscriber e-mail service Political Diary, John Fund explains:
Liberals like philanthropist Eli Broad and the Los Angeles Times editorial board turned against the measure when they realized their goal of universal pre-K coverage had been hijacked by the unions. Democrat Senate President Don Perata repudiated his early support of the idea, saying he couldn't justify subsidizing preschool for parents already paying for it. Even more significantly, parents with kids in pre-K, 80% of whom attend private facilities, realized the Reiner initiative represented a takeover of pre-K by the existing public school monopoly. While the initiative ostensibly would have offered parents a choice between public and private providers, the actual options available for the subsidies would have been determined by government education officials.
That's fine as far as it goes. But California voters have also rejected school vouchers more than once, even (perhaps especially) where the vouchers provided lots of real school choice. Rejecting school vouchers delivers every child whose parents cannot afford private education into the hands of those same school unions. So why the different result now? The dramatic fall of Proposition 82 is even more curious given the passage in 2004 by 53.7% to 46.3% of Proposition 63:
Should a 1% tax on taxable personal income above $1 million to fund expanded health services for mentally ill children, adults, seniors be established?Why were Californians willing to soak the "rich" to permit the state to fund mental health services for "everyone" but not to provide services for pre-school children? It would be interesting to see a far more detailed breakdown of how voters reacted to Propositions 63 and 82 than I have seen. But in the mean time, one might ask the preliminary question: How would Propositions 63 and 82 be expected to appeal to core Democratic interest groups and constituencies?
It seems to make sense that Proposition 63 would naturally have a broad base of support. Many mental health services are often not included in medical insurance coverage. But mental health services might at least in principle be used and/or needed by anyone - although one's estimate of the likelihood that one will personally need them is likely strongly affected by one's general world view. Many more people - including family members - might see themselves as possibly or actually required to pay for such services for other people if the need arose. So its not too hard to see Proposition 63 appealing to a lot of self interest, especially of a broad class of people of modest means. Indeed, it's not hard to imagine that more Democrats than Republicans were drawn to this proposition by prospective or actual personal need, since some polling results indicate that Democrats are more prone to depression and less happy than Republicans, as suggested by this chart:
Republicans are happiest even when a Democrat is in the White House. They’re also happier regardless of income. The rich are happier than the poor, and church goers (who skew Republican, of course) are also quite happy. So there appears to be lots of room for Democrats to see themselves as potentially or actually in need of mental health services.
But what about Proposition 82? Here the most natural base of support is parents and prospective parents of pre-school children. In general, Republicans do not favor programs of the type Proposition 82 sought to create. But how many parents and prospective parents of pre-school children are Democrats? Married women generally lean Republican. Unmarried mothers doubtless lean Democrat, but by definition there is no husband to vote along side the mother.
And consider some rather substantial mostly Democratic groups: Unwed fathers and many deliberately childless people, including most homosexuals. Why would such people enthusiastically support a proposition that would provide services they will never use and that would not relieve them of any likely financial burden?
Is it possible that Proposition 82 failed so miserably because the Democratic Party now includes so few people that care about children?
Republican Brian P. Bilbray and Democrat Francine Busby were not the only candidates seeking to represent California's 5oth Congressional District. Independent William Griffith and Libertarian Paul King also sought that honor. Yesterday, 1.53% of that District's voters (1,875 voters) favored Mr. King and 3.67% (4,492 voters) favored Mr. Griffith.
It is a notoriously dangerous game to assume that if a multiparty election were winnowed down to only two candidates, voters for the minority candidates would vote in any particular fashion (or vote at all). That doesn't stop some people from doing exactly that, as Ralph Nader discovered when Al Gore's supporters accused Mr. Nader of stealing what might have been Mr. Gore's margin of victory in Florida in 2000.
But it seems to me that if one is looking to the 50th District for indications of whether the Democratic ideas and principles (as contrasted to actual human candidates) have gained in popularity nationally since 2004, it is perfectly legitimate to look at the ideas and principles favored by the minority candidates and ask: Do these ideas and principles of such minority candidates in general resemble more those of the Republicans or the Democrats nationally?
Mr. King is a Libertarian. While some ideas and principles advanced by Libertarians resemble those of the some Democrats, such as the right to use the drugs of one's choice and perhaps to abortion - as a consequence of one's right to control one's own body, although Libertarians deeming a fetus to already be an individual may not favor abortion rights at all. But on the whole, Libertarian ideas and principles are generally seen as more resembling those favored by national Republicans. That suggests that Mr. King's 1.53% does not represent much (probably no) increase favor for Democratic ideas and principles.
What about the Independent Mr. Griffith's 3.67%? Well, Mr. Griffith's campaign website has this to say about his ideas and principles:
Immigration: NO AMNESTY. NO GUEST WORKERS. NO EXCEPTIONS.
Mr. Griffith also has things to say about “Executive and Judicial Cowboying,” Technology” and “Elections,” which the reader can peruse for herself. But to my eye, it is very difficult to see in anything offered by Mr. Griffith a movement towards anything Democratic. With some quibbles, the drift seems to be quite the opposite. For example, Mr. Griffith deplores the federal budget deficit - a position often taken by Democrats. But he is also clear that he would not support reducing that deficit by increasing taxes - only by reducing spending. In fact, he wants to eliminate the income tax completely. None of that seems to be a shift to the left from where the country is now, but rather to the right (if one forces things into a one-dimensional model).
According to the California Secretary of State, Mr. Bilbray enjoyed a margin of 3.87% over Ms. Busby, prior to accounting for late arriving absentee ballots. It is by no means clear that voters favoring Mr. King or Griffith would have voted for either of the main party candidates if the minority candidates hadn't been in the race.
But it also seems that those 5.2% of voters who favored minority candidates in the 50th District exercised their choice in favor of people having ideas and principles a good deal more akin to those of the Republicans than the Democrats. In other words, by a margin of 9.07% (pre-absentee ballots), the voters of the 50th District seem more unhappy with Democratic ideas and principles than they are with those of the Republicans. That seems significant in terms of viewing the 50th as a "bellwether" of the November elections, as the Democrats and mainstream media - and some others - have been insisting for months.
Contra 1994 II: Bring Out Your Not-Quite-Dead Democratic Hopes!
Hopes of Democrats to take at least one house of Congress in November are not quite dead. Much could happen between now and November. But yesterday’s election results suggest that, like Monty Python's Cartman, practical political analysts shouldn't be too finicky about the difference between the current state of such hopes and actual death.
Yesterday's special House election to fill the San Diego area seat once occupied by corrupt and disgraced Randy "Duke" Cunningham was by far the most-watched election nationally. The victory of Republican Brian Bilbray over Democrat Francine Busby is being widely described as "narrow," in a "solidly Republican district," and marred by Busby's "verbal gaffe" (that illegal immigrants needed no papers to vote) in the final days of the campaign that supposedly damaged her candidacy. But Mr. Bilbray was not an incumbent (an additional advantage Republicans will generally hold in November). He also overcame the Cunningham corruption scandal, meaning that the "Republicans are corrupt" message Democrats were hoping would bring them at least the House had scant effect even in a district in which the message was at its strongest. But most significant of all is this: Busby barely exceeded the percentage won by Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) in the 2004 presidential race. Busby's margin is nothing short of a disaster for Democrats' November hopes. It is also worth remembering that Democratic turnout may have been increased by the hotly contested California Democratic gubernatorial primary, although the tone of that campaign had recently turned so negative that Democratic turnout may have been tamped down a bit. The agony of the liberal Los Angeles Times over that primary and other Democratic statewide showings is summed up nicely in today's editorial:
The Democrats' shrill and shallow campaign ads may be off the air, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger embarks today on a statewide bus tour. Maybe the winner of Tuesday's Democratic gubernatorial primary can take a few days, a few hours — OK, a few minutes — to pause and consider how to articulate a more positive message about the state's future. The primary did little to boost the enthusiasm Democrats feel for their state candidates, and voters were also skeptical about two ballot measures to increase public spending on preschool and libraries."Shrill and shallow" pretty much sums up the nature of national Democratic efforts, too. But the mainstream media is still in the denial stage after yesterday's quasi-death, including the New York Times coverage of Tom Kean Jr.'s Republican nomination to challenge Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez in New Jersey. Even the Times had to grudgingly admit that early polls indicate "a tight race," although the coverage labors mightily to suggest that Mr. Kean has problems with the Republican base - while supplying no real evidence of such problems.
What is most striking about what happened in New Jersey yesterday is that the Republican candidate for the Senate in that liberal, pro-Democratic state is highly viable. Indeed, the Times reports that Mr. Kean is "attacking Mr. Menendez as a corrupt political boss with dubious character." Yet this is a year in which the mainstream media tell us corruption is supposed to be an issue working in favor of Democrats. And, of course, we are also told that this is a year ripe for a big Democratic win generally. Yet there were few signs of such a coming win in either California or New Jersey, states in which the signs should have been strongest.
If history is a guide, the November elections will bring some normal Democratic gains - midterm elections normally do favor the party not holding the White House - although the 2002 elections were an exception. And some strong individual Democratic candidates will probably chalk up special personal victories (CUSTOMER: Who's that, then? CART MASTER: I dunno. Must be a king. CUSTOMER: Why? CART MASTER: He hasn't got shit all over him.) But it's looking less and less like a Democratic year.
Monday, June 05, 2006
The Gas Man II: Walking The Walk, Talking The Talk, Visiting The Site(1) comments
I don't read People magazine, not even in the check-out line. But I was intrigued by this report on Newsbusters:
People asked Gore: "His film 'An Inconvenient Truth' warns about global warming. So what is Gore doing about it?"Mr. Gore clearly intended to display leadership and to set an example for the public at large with these responses. So I immediately considered the prospect of everyone saving carbon dioxide by making a movie so they don't have to fly and drive places to get their own messages across! For example, the man (Anibal, to be precise, who is from Guatemala) currently reconstructing on my behalf some investment property located some blocks from my own home might exercise this option. One can think of others.
I do confess to some confusion with these answers, especially Mr. Gore's admission that his family has apparently not made a practice of turning off the lights until recently, and that he has not yet acquired those sensor switches, even though he has been preaching eco-awareness and eco-doom for more than two decades. What other revelations lie in store? Are we soon to discover that Mr. Gore makes a habit of leaving the patio doors opened in the heat of summer while the air conditioning is running, but is considering closing them?
Yes, some sophisticates might argue that because the problem is whether or not to modify our civilization's overall infrastructure, and if so how to do it, there is little that anyone can do on an individual basis while remaining within society. But I was particularly excited by Mr. Gore's suggestion to the contrary, and that I could visit the web site climatecrisis.org to find a calculator which can add up the carbon dioxide you produce and give you options for neutralizing that.
So I went to the climatecrisis.org site, which is really quite remarkable - a kind of secular confessional. You plug in some information about your car and energy bills and it gives you a number of pounds of carbon you produce, your burden of sin as it were. You then can find out how to neutralize this burden you are putting on the planet. It turns out there are basically three options, and they each involve either monthly payments or one lump sum payment to one of three organizations: one of these purports to build windmills on Native American lands, one plans to burn methane from family owned dairy farms (I'm not making this up) and the only other way to buy an indulgence is to purchase Green Tags, which presumably are also good, although no explanation of what exactly happens when you buy one is offered.
Well, there you go! And you thought there was nothing you could do to keep the earth from going to hell in a hand basket!
Mr. Gore is a wealthy man. It is said that he has made many millions of dollars from his Google stock alone. That wealth, and friendships with other wealthy people who own their own forms of air transport, presumably made possible the former vice president's ability to log what seems to have been at least hundreds of thousands of private jet miles (corresponding to an awful lot of jet fuel and carbon) in the last year or so, as animated here: WMV: Hi - Low Quicktime: Hi - Low. With that kind of travel schedule, one wonders how much bovine methane must be produced, or how many Green Tags one has to purchase, to lead the "carbon neutral lifestyle" to which Mr. Gore says he aspires.
If that angry, horn-blasting tailgater in back of you is suffering from intermittent explosive disorder, then does that mean he is protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act?
Do local civil authorities such as the City of Los Angeles and the State of California have to make reasonable accomodation for his tirades? Are they prohibited from issuing to him the traffic ticket you would get if you engaged in the exact same behavior?
And if that's true, and there is therefore no recourse to public authorities against those like him, should you just get out and bop people like him right in the nose?
American Thinker and Patrick Hynes rip into the casually but intensely held mainstream media belief that the elections of 2006 will resemble the elections of 1994 in reverse (that is, 2006 will be a Democratic Congressional rout, maybe a landslide). Patrick reserves on an important point claimed by the American Thinker:
I believe [American Thinker's] Sheppard overstates the case for the Contract With America in his piece, however, which received little notice until after the election. On the contrary, 1994 was in many ways the first “moral values” election in which evangelical Christians became a dominant voting block in many areas of the country.I tentatively agree with their conclusions. While I'm not sure how much the Contract With America and evangelicals counted in 1994, I do think that Patrick and Sheppard might do well to consider one very important feature of the 1994 election:
The 1992 election was won by Bill Clinton as a "moderate" Democratic Leadership Council type - which was and is widely conceded to be the only Democratic type to be electable in any swing race, and especially to the White House. But immediately after the Clintonites arrived in Washington the word went out - and continued to be emphasized by the mainstream media and many others for the following two years - that Bill Clinton had realized that the then-Democratic Congress was so intractable that he, as president, had no choice but to sign onto the dominant liberal Democratic agenda in order to avoid the disastrous pitfalls of Jimmy Carter's outsider status. The Clinton tax hikes, the specific and highly unpopular form of HillaryCare (carefully left vague during the campaign), and many other things that signaled the departure of the Clinton administration from the DLC formula were therefore laid by President Clinton and his people and surrogates squarely at the door of the Democratic Congress in the run-up to the 1994 elections. Every Clintonian betrayal of a 1992 presidential campaign promise therefore became a reason to vote Republican. Rarely, if ever, has a sitting president set up his own party in Congress to take the fall in midterm elections the way Bill Clinton did the Democrats from 1992 to 1994. Clinton would have done only incrementally more damage to the Democrats in Congress if he had presented himself as required by them to act and govern like Sister Souljah.Which leads to what I believe is another big difference between 1994 and 2006:
George Bush may not be popular at the moment. But unlike Bill Clinton from 1992 to 1994, President Bush has not been busy over the past two years putting out the message that the things that have made him unpopular were dictated, ordained and determined by his need to cater to the people in his own party who are running for re-election to Congress in November. Mr. Bush has been a very strong team player in that regard. His vetoless record is just one example.It should be a very big difference to the party controlling Congress that their own president and his surrogates have not been actively trying to shed responsibility in the direction of Congress for the past two years. Just ask any Democrat voted out of office in 1994.