Wednesday, June 30, 2010

On Elena Kagan

With the confirmation of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court seeming imminent, I thought I'd weigh in on the subject. Overall, I think she is a smart choice by the President. She is liberal enough to appease Democrats, but isn't liberal enough to give the Republicans just cause for complaint. She is competent and is without any controversy of real significance (she isn't the only liberal academic opposed to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell").

I do wish, however, that she would answer the questions posed to her by the Senators in a meaningful way. I know that it is modern practice for nominees to avoid giving an indication of how they would vote on an issue, but I find it unfortunate that they hide behind that guise for nearly every subject of significance. It is clearly a strategy motivated to prevent nominees from saying anything that will inhibit their chances at nomination. The President's party is expected to fall in line and the opposition party is expected to oppose, and such party cohesion makes the nomination process little more than a chance for error on the part of the nominee. This is particularly frustrating when taking into account the fact that Kagan is forced to backtrack on a previous stance to follow this strategy (she wrote previously that Supreme Court nominees should have to answer questions about their Constitutional opinions).

It also seems to me that the issue of her barring military recruiters from Harvard's campus while a dean is misrepresented by both sides. It seems completely acceptable to me (and I admittedly have no understanding of the legality of her actions) that Harvard should be able to bar any organization from its campus, especially with such a noble reason as protecting the institution's anti-discrimination policy. However, I find it hard to believe that Kagan felt that she was only following her institutional duty and not making some form of formal protest to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". Ethically (again, I have no inclination as to the legality of her actions), I think that she was within her rights to do so. I find it unfortunate that she hides her former willingness to protest a policy she disagrees with so that she can be more "confirm-able".

In conclusion, I support her confirmation to the Supreme Court. She is too liberal for my taste, but she seems competent, lacks any obvious shortcomings or controversies, and genuinely doesn't seem the type to engage in judicial activism. Realistically, she is probably the most centrist appointment we could ask of Obama, and since she is replacing a consistent liberal vote in Justice John Paul Stevens, she may even mark an overall rightward shift in the court.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Free Trade Victories

Free trade is on the verge of several victories worldwide. According to the NY Times, the Obama Administration has asked Congress to pass a Bush Administration free trade agreement with South Korea after the midterm elections. The administration has committed to tying the removal of South Korean restrictions on beef and auto imports to the agreement. This is great news for the hard-hit American auto industry, as it will be more competitive in the South Korean market and could help fuel an American economic recovery.

Talks between Taiwan and China also look promising. While the agreement on the table between the two nations has serious flaws (such as a 10-year Taiwanese fund to keep some businesses competitive after trade opens), it is an encouraging sign. It appears to be a forerunner to China allowing Taiwan to seek free trade deals with other nations free of interference, which is good for both Taiwan and the rest of the world. It is likely that this agreement, which heavily favors the Taiwanese, is a move to create sympathy for reunification with China on the island. In spite of this, I still think that Taiwanese nationalists should welcome the easing of trade restrictions.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Boycott BP?

If Facebook is any indicator, there is a strong movement in this country to boycott BP in retaliation for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. A Facebook group called "Boycott BP" has over 700,000 members. In my opinion, boycotting BP is the wrong approach. I'm as angry and upset as everyone else over the oil spill, but punishing BP won't make the oil go away. What will make the oil go away is allowing BP to continue cleaning it up. If BP were to go out of business (which I'm assuming is the goal of the Boycott BP movement), then the burden of cleaning the Gulf would fall solely on taxpayers.

This is bad for several reasons. First, and most obviously, we'd have to pay for it. BP caused this disaster, and they should be responsible for cleaning it up. If they are run out of business, they can't. I have to buy gas for my car either way, so if buying BP gas makes it less likely that I'll have to pay for cleaning the Gulf, then I'll do that. Secondly, a government cleanup would be less efficient than a BP managed one. BP currently has access to the best of their own engineers and the best of the government's. If BP goes away, then all of the BP engineers go away. Unless there are no BP engineers contributing anything of worth at the moment (which seems unlikely), this would be a bad thing for the gulf coast. A government run cleanup would also be less efficient because of the incentive distortion. Right now, BP is the one running the cleanup AND the one paying for it. If the government were running it, then it would be government agents running the cleanup and taxpayers paying for it. Simple economic theory tells us that when actors are shielded from the costs of their actions (in this case, the cost of running the cleanup inefficiently), they will not perform at the socially optimal level.

In conclusion, while boycotting BP is unlikely to have much effect at all, it is my belief that it can only have a negative effect. I'm assuming that the goal of the boycott is to force BP out of business, which I've shown is bad for both the gulf coast region and for taxpayers. As far as the implied benefit by removing a reckless company from the market, the best way to ensure another oil spill doesn't happen is to make government regulation more effective and efficient. BP is unlikely to survive another catastrophe like this, and they know it. As long as government oversight is improved, BP is no more of a threat to our environment than any other oil company.

First Post

I have no idea whether or not this blog will be something I contribute to regularly or not. It's possible that I'll fall in love with the idea and write daily, but it's equally possible that I'll never make a second post. I'll just have to see where this experiment takes me.

I don't plan on posting unless I have something in particular to say (that is, I won't post something weekly for the sake of posting something). I'll break that rule here, as I would like this first post to say something of substance.

Earlier today, President Obama fired General McChrystal. It seems unfortunate that a General who is held in such high esteem by his troops should be fired over comments made mostly by his staff, but I suppose he should be held accountable for the atmosphere he inspires. The President needs a General he can trust.

An interesting feature of McChrystal's departure is that he was one of (if not the only) American diplomats who still had a good relationship with President Karzai. To be honest, I'm not convinced that this was a good thing. While it certainly helps to have a general with the trust of the local president, Karzai has increasingly become an obstacle to American success. His government is noted for its corruption, and his re-election was somewhere between controversial and illegitimate. I read in an article (I forget where, probably either Time Magazine, The New York Times, or the Washington Post; I hope the author will forgive the poor citation) that Karzai's priorities go in this order: Family, Tribe, Nation. Hardly the list you'd expect from a president, and it shows in his protection of his brother. While we certainly need his cooperation to succeed, I'm not sure we need him to like us (us being America). Perhaps General Petraeus will be better able to work with Karzai.