02 April 2009

Newsmagazine Roundup

Some stories I have been reading, both good and bad, and where they took my thoughts.

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Frank Smecker's The Nuclear Goliath at Z Magazine argues that none of the methods of power production currently known will ever be viable. He makes an excellent if hyperbolic case against nuclear power, but then dismisses solar by claiming that production of necessary works is too energy-intensive and polluting. This is not the case, and it is entirely reasonable to expect that if large batteries were in widespread use, then disposal routes would develop (a mechanic is just as unlikely to throw used batteries in the dumpster in the future as now). Smecker's arguments against wind and biofuel are pretty ham-handed as well, even though I don't think those are viable alternatives. In the end, he argues in as many words that we need to tailor our energy consumption to what's available rather than what we want. Yeah, that's how resources work. When global demand for steel ran high during the Industrial Revolution, the solution was surely to just use less steel, right? Certainly not to start using efficient coke instead of charcoal and innovate.

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Marc Armbinder in a brief bit at The Atlantic talks about the so called "executive assassination ring," which is really just a new label for an elite military wing called the Joint Special Operations Command. He touches on one aspect of the issue that is very intriguing: is there anything actually illegal about this?  International law is about as binding on the U.S. as tissue.

If one accepts that the President can designate people as "terrorists" at will (something many people seem to believe) and we are at war with "terrorists" (whatever that may mean), then doesn't it entirely follow that it is legal for the President to execute anyone he pleases, as long as that person is not an American? It seems to me that we are then choosing a new global ancien régime -style rule: the Second (developed nations) can kill anyone in the Third (developing nations), as long as they are sufficiently suspicious to the mob. And it hardly seems a good thing to make widespread bigotry useful to the rulers.

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Kevin Drum's piece "The Republican 'Budget'" at Mother Jones discusses the latest alternate budget plan released by the minority party recently. I eagerly devoured the hilarious and brief incarnation "The Republican Road to Recovery" last week, and this more fleshed-out version from a different section of the GOP is just more of the same. Drum hits the Republican plan for Social Security, but really you can just pick any section of it and be aghast at the mind-boggling amount of lies or stupidity.  As an example: the section on energy calls for domestic drilling, "clean coal," and nuclear almost exclusively, arguing for their environmental benefits. Few numbers are given.

The tax reform section, my favorite, calls for lowering corporate income tax and proposes an aggressively regressive (haha!) version of the flat tax... while still leaving the old system in place. So while simultaneously claiming they're simplifying matters ("the tax form for this system could fit on a postcard") they're actually proposing two entirely different tax systems that people would have to understand and choose. My favorite quote from the plan: "Individuals are allowed one additional changeover between the two tax systems over the course of their lifetimes."

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That's it for now.  But read Ralph Waldo Emerson's American Scholar speech, because it's awesome.

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