Monday, January 30, 2012


Keystone Pipeline - another Conservative Cause?

I do not adjust my spam filter very often.  As a result I receive many e-mails from various conservative groups.  One of them sent me an e-mail today (January 30) that had the subject: "44 cosponsors to APPROVE Keystone pipeline . . ."  In the text some of the cosponsors are listed: Senators John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), and David Vitter (R-La.).  The other 41 cosponsors are not named.  I presume that most of them are also Republicans.  The cosponsors intend to introduce legislation to approve the construction of the pipeline.

I am not concerned about the possible success of the proposed legislation.  I don't think it will go anywhere.  The Democratic majority in the Senate will probably vote it down.  If the legislation ever gets to the President, he will veto it.  The Senators are simply doing an exercise to please their conservative constituents.  And that raises the question:  Why is the Keystone Pipeline a Conservative Cause?  In my observation, here are some of the Conservative Causes:
The pipeline has the support of those who favor more drilling for oil in U.S. territory, so that we will be less dependant on foreign oil suppliers.  However, the proposed pipeline would start in Canada, to make Canada one of the foreign suppliers of our oil.  I've noted in a previous blog that we export great quantities of refined petroleum products such as gasoline.  I can understand a group of men who make their fortunes dealing with petroleum favoring the pipeline, but I don't understand the logic of dedicated conservatives taking up the cause.

Unless, of course, these "dedicated conservatives" are not really dedicated to an ideology of small government but instead to the prospect of becoming even more rich.

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Saturday, January 28, 2012


Mitt Romney's tax return

Mitt Romney has made his latest income tax return public.  So also has Newt Gingrich.  Aside from the details, Romney's return shows that he, like Warren Buffett, paid at a lower rate based on his entire income than did most of the rest of us common herd.  Does this information indicate that Romney, Buffett, and numerous other men of great wealth are dishonest, unscrupulous cheats?  Of course not.  The scandal here is not that Romney and others pay a smaller fraction of their total income to the U.S. Treasury than most of us, but rather that our convoluted tax code allows them to do so.  That scandal may actually lead to a serious move to change the tax code and remove the parts of it that allow super millionaires and billionaires to take advantage of the low rates available to them.

Naturally, Mr. Romney was reluctant to reveal his tax return.  He wasn't worried about being exposed as an unscrupulous cheat, which he isn't.  He was worried about publicizing those parts of the tax code that permitted him to reduce his total tax liability to about seventeen percent of his total income.  Airing these features may energize the public to force a change in the tax code.  Neither Mr. Romney nor any other multimillionaire wants to see these features go away.

Now, eliminating the tax code features that allow very rich people to pay at a low rate is a cause worth demonstrating for.  Is the OCCUPY movement ready to take it on?


Friday, January 27, 2012


Another blunder in our foreign policy

is becoming apparent in our relations with Iran.  We have recently imposed additional sanctions on Iran in the vain hope that "getting tough" would intimidate the Iranian government into agreeing to give up their uranium enrichment program.  All the new sanctions have done is to make Iran place ships in the Strait of Hormuz with the threat of preventing oil from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Iraq from reaching customers in the United States and Europe.  Any behavioral psychiatrist would tell you that intimidation does not generally produce the behavior you seek.  Rather, the person you try to intimidate reacts by counter threat, not submission.

Our foreign policy blunders are the result of our ignorance or deliberate ignoration of the policies and interests of other countries.  About seventy years ago a professor of a college class I was taking told the class that American foreign policy is simply and extension of domestic policy.  The same is not true of most European countries.  Unlike the United States they are small, weak, and dependant on smooth relations with their neighbors.  We are, for the most part, independent of the rest of the world and we don't have to worry about diplomatic niceties like tact and reasonable negotiation.

In its policy toward Iran the administration is catering to the cries of a vocal minority who insist that a strong and powerful country like the United States should simply dictate to other countries how they should behave.  This minority happens to control the House of Representatives at present.  The administration wants to get something done by the House and it thinks it has to placate the "let's bomb Iran" faction.  It practices conciliation and appeasement at home and threats abroad.  Some of us who support the administration wish it would do less appeasing and more threatening it its relations with Congress.

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Friday, January 20, 2012


Piracy vs. Censorship-2

Internet users have stifled the progress of strong federal legislation against "piracy," or the unauthorized use for profit of material covered by copyright.  The point of copyright protection for a piece of music is to enable the composer to profit from its performance.  In the old days it was sufficient to prevent other performers from performing the protected music without paying the composer some money.  It was pretty easy to enforce the copyright.

Today, with the Internet and the proliferation of facilities for storing, printing, and replaying music, it is between very difficult and impossible to enforce a copyright once the piece of music is available on the net.  Anyone with the right equipment and software can download the piece, make copies, and sell them.  The best protection the composer has is to keep the music off the Internet.  Even so, an unscrupulous person can buy a copy of the music on a CD at a music store and make a copy of it.  The technology of recording has developed to the state that, Internet or not, it is almost impossible to prevent pirating of music once it is available commercially in some form suitable for playing it.  Whatever I can hear I can copy, print, and sell.  It is impossible for any government to catch and punish or restrain music pirates.  Even strong laws won't solve the problem because they're inherently unenforceable.

We need a new model for protecting and rewarding artists who create beautiful music.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012


Piracy vs. Censorship

The current row is over a conflict between producers of entertainment and Internet users who fear government censorship.  There are two bills now in Congress waiting to be voted on.  What I've read about them is that they intend to protect producers of songs, movies, and other entertainment that can be viewed by Internet users for an implicit fee.  That is, I can view or listen to the protected stuff if I am willing to look at advertisements, or perhaps join a membership group with dues and the ability to view or listen to the material.  The laws are intended to punish Internet sites, particularly sites outside the United States, that make the protected stuff available for no fee.  One fear is that the law, if enacted, could lead to censorship of many domestic sites that provide entertainment information.  I might produce something for a domestic site that was like something protected by copyright, either intentionally or inadvertently.  The owner of the material that I had allegedly copied or plagiarized could sue the offending site or, better still, complain to the federal government and have the site shut down.

This controversy points to a defect in our system of protecting the rights and income of inventors, artists, and other creative persons.  Our constitution permits the federal government to issue patents and copyrights.  These documents provide that the owner (inventor, artist, etc.) has the exclusive right to make, perform, publish, license, etc., the protected item for a certain number of years.  The idea is to reward creativity and innovation.  The duration of the right or monopoly is long enough for the creator to receive a profit for his or her creation.

With many products and artistic creations this simple system works well.  Successful artists prosper.  Artists without talent fail.  However, in a few cases the system produces a bad result.  Let us suppose that someone had developed a cure for HIV AIDS.  It's a magic pill, 100 percent effective.  Naturally, this inventor either sets up a factory to manufacture the pill himself or licenses a pharmaceutical firm to do so.  He stands to obtain a fortune from his creation.  Anyone with AIDS and enough money to buy the pills will do so.  The bad effect is that people with AIDS who can't afford the pill will have to do without and take their chances on less expensive medication that won't provide a cure.  How do we handle that seeming inequity?

One answer is that the pharmaceutical company or the inventor can simply make available doses of the medication for those who can't pay.  That's not a completely satisfactory solution.  Suppose not enough pills are set aside.  Then, some poor victims of AIDS will still go untreated.

My solution is to create a nonprofit institution, funded mainly by government, charged with the responsibility of selecting new medical treatments, buying the patent rights, and having them manufactured and distributed at either no cost to the patients or at a low enough cost that all patients can afford them.  These treatments would be selected on the basis of ultimate value to the community.  The selection would be limited to treatments that cure life-threatening ailments and the like.  Things that merely improve quality of life a small amount, such as Viagra, would not be selected.

Comments? Suggestions? Figurative cabbages and tomatoes?

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