Steve G.

Archive for January 2nd, 2007|Daily archive page

Ethiopian-backed Somali government legalizes a drug

In Civil Liberties, Drug War, Middle East, War on January 2, 2007 at 7:01 pm

Maybe they’re not all bad?

Perhaps the most telling sign of Somalia’s remarkable power shift is the rapid return to Mogadishu’s streets of the leafy twigs known as ‘khat’.

Traditionally chewed by most Somali men, but outlawed since June by hardline Islamists, the mild stimulant reappeared within hours of Mogadishu’s recapture by government forces last week.

“I am happy that miraa (khat) is back on the street. Now we can work because it gives us some energy,” said Abdi Awale, a Mogadishu resident. “But my expenses will go up again.”

Normally chewed in the afternoons and evenings, the leaf releases a mild stimulant, although users later feel down. It has a central place in Somali social gatherings, and gives a livelihood to traders and importers.

The Somali Islamic Courts Council (SICC) beat a hasty retreat from the capital and much of the south they had controlled for six months after a two-week war with government forces backed by Ethiopian troops.

You know, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… these Ethiopian soldiers aren’t the worst I’ve seen. Actually, they’re really effective. They won’t be bogged down in Somalia for the next few years, either-their exit strategy will be the victory that they’ve almost accomplished.

Not as cool as no war at all, but… eh. I’m not terribly worried for Somalia’s future anymore. I think they’ll do okay.


Drowning in dogma

In Environment, Health on January 2, 2007 at 3:19 pm

Being a libertarian environmentalist can be frustrating. Take the most obvious issue, global warming. Many of my favorite Libertarian personalities (like Ian Bernard of Free Talk Live) insist that global warming is either a myth, not anthropogenic, or not a problem. Many environmentalists scream about the need for more government intervention. In reality, they’re both being dogmatic. I believe that the market is the best solution to environmental problems, not government or ignorance.

It’s the statist environmentalists that are pissing me off now. A Sioux Falls, SD company has genetically engineered cattle that almost certainly cannot be infected with BSE, otherwise known as mad cow disease. Average beef-eaters would say “Awesome, now I can eat beef without worrying about slowly dying from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.”

But it’s easy to imagine what would happen if this company tried to bring the cows to market. People wearing funny costumes would protest, the FDA would be required to go through a multi-year process to ensure the safety of something that almost certainly carries zero risk. I have a better solution than regulation: let those of us who feel the risk of vCJD is worse than the risk of something going wrong with the cows eat them, and let those other people eat “natural” cows.

Government: The last thing you want in charge of the environment

In Economics, Environment on January 2, 2007 at 5:06 am

Anytime a problem of seemingly incomprehensible enormity faces a group of people, they tend to run to the most enormous thing they can think of for help. As a general rule, the most enormous thing they can think of is national government, or even larger, international bodies like the United Nations or organizations based around treaties such as the Kyoto Protocol. The solutions offered by these organizations generally include an expansion of the power of the government. This generally does not seem dangerous at the time, because government power is being expanded to accomplish something generally regarded as beneficial.

What this viewpoint fails to recognize is that anytime government power is expanded to accomplish something, no matter how beneficial, that government automatically has the power to the opposite. In a system of government which changes constantly due to elections, policies and opinions can change rapidly. Thus, in national forests established to protect their natural state, logging companies are now encouraged to transform old-growth trees into paper and two-by-fours to build suburbs.

Even so, it is tempting to resort to government power to bring solutions to the most terrifying problems confronting the world. Anthropogenic worldwide climate change is certainly among these, but still, resorting to government leaves open dangerous paths for future administrations to take. For example, artificially curbing carbon outputs through regulation lets the next group of politicians with different loyalties raise caps and rewrite laws and regulations which end up raising carbon emissions above what they would normally be.

Such concerns are not hypothetical; for example, deforestation – essentially the removal of a valuable carbon sink – is encouraged by the United States Forest Service, even including clear-cuts which essentially raze the forest. Clearly the simple existence of a government program that is supposed to take care of something guarantees nothing; in fact, all that can be guaranteed is that the allegiances of its bosses will change.

Even when a lobby is so powerful that changing politicians are frightened to ever change their favorite programs foists an idea on the government on the premise that it will help the environment, frequently the environmental benefits are questionable at bets. The most obvious example of this problem is the huge subsidy on corn ethanol provided by the United States government. Although sugarcane-derived ethanol works in Brazil, making fuel-grade ethanol from corn is highly inefficient and has mediocre results for the environment – though the profits it makes the corn lobby are unquestionable.

Nothing can match the government of a developed nation in centralized power and wealth, which is of course what makes government an obvious choice to attempt to solve problems that threaten our existence as a species. However, as governments are fickle and often backtrack, the dedicated efforts of private groups and individuals are the only thing that can consistently defend the environment.

No one group can cover all aspects of environmental protection and advocacy, but specialization is a positive feature of private environmentalism – groups such as the Nature Conservancy can focus on actually maintaining ecosystems and reserve areas, groups at universities such as our own Solar Decathlon team and our competitors can work towards finding more efficient and environmentally friendly ways to live, along with private-sector innovators taking advantage of the fact that efficiency is, as a general rule, profitable and environmentally friendly.

Another advantage of private-sector environmentalism is that it is better at weeding out poor ideas such as corn-based ethanol: without the altering presence of lobbyist-guided politicians, ideas that don’t work are not drawn out for decades based on political favoritism.
Handing responsibility for our environment to a fickle, huge, and easily confused beast like government is about as sensible and responsible as entrusting an infant to a seemingly friendly grizzly bear: the infant will be secure while the bear remains friendly, but there’s no question that things will change.