Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Charlie and Obama

On Sunday the French took to the streets in support of the people murdered at Charlie Hebdo. They were joined by the heads of 40 states including Israel and Palestine. Notably missing was anyone from the United States. The lame duck Attorney General was in Paris but sat out the march. The Secretary of State was in a conference in India. The President and Vice-President were home.

The White House has admitted that this was a mistake but it still remains unexplained. A few lame excuses were offered - foreign trips take months of planning and an American president can't expose himself in public like that. Considering that 40 other heads of state were able to overcome these obstacles, these are either half-hearted or they reflect the belief that the President of the United States is more important than any other head of state (in which case, why not send Biden?).

Most of the President's usual defenders have turned on him over this. Even Jon Stewart on the Daily Show complained.


The best that Dana Milbank, on of the President's few defenders, could come up with was accusing the GOP of an inconsistent attitude toward France. Milbank reminds us that just 12 or 13 years ago we were calling the French Surrender Monkeys. While that is true, the context was that the French were against the war on terror. The march in Paris was in support of the newest victims of that war and the victims being supported were not part of the government, they were satirists (and innocent bystanders). The only inconsistency is in equating the two.

Killing people over cartoons, no matter how offensive, strikes at the heart of a free society. By ignoring the march, the Obama administration signaled that it sees this as a French problem instead of an international one.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Protecting Speech

Free speech is under attack from multiple fronts. The most obvious is the terrorist attack against a French newspaper for cartoons mocking Islam (note, they also mock Judaism,  Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular without death threats).

Shocking as this was, the more pernicious attack comes as a call for reasonable limits on hate speech. Here is an example written by a Tanya Cohen. In fact, Cohen casts our First Amendment freedom as a lack of protection.

The year is 2015 and all other countries have laws against hate speech along with laws against other forms of speech which violate basic human rights. As a matter of fact, international human rights law MANDATES laws against hate speech. Protecting vulnerable minorities from hate speech is one of the most basic and fundamental of human rights obligations, and all human rights organizations worldwide have emphasized this.  But the United States refuses to protect even the most basic of human rights, firmly establishing itself as a pariah state that falls far behind the rest of the world in terms of protecting fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms.

She goes on at length but this is her main point. She goes on to say:

Like any sensible person, I am a strong believer in the unalienable right to freedom of speech and I understand that defending freedom of speech is the most important when it's speech that many people do not want to hear (like, for example, pro-LGBT speech in Russia). Freedom of speech is the core of any democratic society, and it's important that freedom of speech be strongly respected and upheld. Censorship in all of its forms is something that must always be fiercely opposed. But we must never confuse hate speech with freedom of speech. Speech that offends, insults, demeans, threatens, disrespects, incites hatred or violence, and/or violates basic human rights and freedoms has absolutely no place in even the freest society.

Here is where we get a real feel for where she is going with this. She is all for protecting speech that she wants to hear (pro-LGBT speech in Russia) but against any speech that insults her.

In starkest terms, freedom of speech is worthless unless people are allowed to say things you don't agree with. Giving the government the power to ban hate speech is giving the people in charge the ability to stifle debate by defining it as hate speech. We already saw this over the last six years where any disagreement with President Obama was ascribed to racism.

One wonders how Cohen would classify the Black Lives Matter protests? At least a couple of related protests have openly called for the death of cops and a recent rise in cops being shot show that these protests are inciting violence. Should they be suppressed? If not then what about the protests in support of the police? Are they hate speech?

Actually we need look no further than Cohen's column to see the dangers of outlawing things as hate speech. The incident that inspired the column was a piece of art installed at the University of Iowa. This shows the outline of a KKK member and is covered in press clippings about Klan violence. The artist says that it is an anti-Klan piece. Presumably the object is to remind us how violent the KKK was at its height. Cohen will have none of that. Her column starts with this statement:

The recent controversy at the University of Iowa – in which an "artist" (supposedly an "anti-racist" one) put up an "art exhibit" which resembles a KKK member covered in newspaper clippings about racial violence – is a perfect example of why we need to implement real legislation against hate speech in the United States.

So, in her view it's not enough to be anti-KKK. Any depiction of the Klan is to be banned and the artist arrested for having the gall to create a piece that makes Cohen uncomfortable. This is not being against hate speech, it is advocating the worst kind of censorship. The scary thing is that a large swath of the left agrees with this.

Friday, January 02, 2015

The New Yorker and Gun Control

The New Yorker ran a column about a Newtown-related lawsuit against the maker of the gun used. The column is big on invective but lacking any solid footing.

The author, Adam Gopnik, boils his argument down to this description:

[...] the gun manufacturer is guilty of having sold a weapon whose only purpose was killing a lot of people in a very short time.

Gopnik likes this description so much that he uses it more than once. But here's the thing, the class of semi-automatic rifles in question, the ak-15, is the most popular long gun in the US. There are hundreds of thousands of these, possibly millions. If it's only purpose is to kill a lot of people in a very short time then you would expect millions of deaths by these guns annually. Instead long guns are responsible for only a tiny number of annual deaths. Instead these guns are used for target shooting and small-game hunting. That's why the assault weapon's ban in the 1990s was ineffective. They were banning weapons that are seldom used offensively.

Gopnik also advances this argument in favor of suing gun makers:

If a carmaker made a car that was known to be wildly unsafe, and then advertised it as unsafe, liabilities would result. The gun lobby is, or believes itself to be, immune.

In fact, cars kill tens of thousands of people per year, more than guns do, even when adding in suicides. Both car makers and gun makers are immune unless the death was due to a manufacturing defect.

Gopnik tosses off this statistic:

The underlying politics of gun control has always been the same: the majority of Americans agree that there should be limits and controls on the manufacture and sale and ownership of weapons intended only to kill en masse, while a small minority feels, with a fanatic passion, that there shouldn't.

This was never true. Right after Newtown a majority supported increased gun control but the opposition was never tiny. The most current polls show that more than 50% of the population is against additional gun laws.

Gopnik makes a moral case comparing gun control to gay marriage and sexual assault on campus. This argument is hit and miss. Gay marriage is becoming accepted but the latest figures on sexual assaults on campus indicate that the problem is overstated.

No honest or scrupulous person can any longer reject the evidence that gun control controls gun violence. It can be rejected only by rage and hysteria and denial and with the Second Amendment invoked, not as a document with a specific and surprising history, but as a semi-theological dogma.

Actually, an honest, scrupulous person would be aware that the cities with the most gun control are the most violent - places like Chicago and Washington DC. In the rest of the country, gun violence has been going down for decades even as the number of guns in circulation is at an all-time high.

All of this amounts to a feel-good column designed to cheer up gun control proponents from the funk that their failures must have them in.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Progressives Know Better Than You

Writing in the Washington Post, Stephen Stromberg, shows what's wrong with the Progressives. He's fit to be tied because Congress attached a rider that would defund enforcement of electric light efficiency standards, effectively bringing back the incandescent bulb. In Stromberg's view, the incandescent light bulb has no place in modern society because it is not particularly efficient. Americans were too slow to adopt more efficient bulbs so it was up to the government to force us to make the right choices.

Here's the problem, his one-size-fits-all approach doesn't always work,

First, the savings from compact fluorescent bulbs (CFBs) take are minor and have to be figured over months or years. The CFBs have been over-sold on this, I've been using them for decades in some lamps and I don't get anywhere near the life that is promised. Sometimes the bulbs fail faster than a comparable incandescent bulb would have.

Second, they are not suitable for all places. They do not work as well as special-purpose bulbs such as for garage door openers or refrigerators.

They look terrible when replacing a decorative bulb. So do the other replacements available,

CFBs are actually made by hand so all of our energy-efficient bulbs are produced overseas, mainly in China, by underpaid workers.

They contain mercury and other toxic substances which end up in the landfill.

None of this matters to Stromberg. He knows what the correct bulb is and he wants it mandated that we use it for our own good.

This describes the Progressive movement in a nutshell - it's a bunch of elites who want to dictate how everyone else should live.  

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Obama and Immigration

There are basically four camps on the immigration debate. Understanding them is core to understanding President executive order on immigration.

The first group is the Hard Core. They rightly point out that illegal immigrants are, in fact, here illegally and they worry that anything short of deportation will reward lawbreaking. They are rabidly against anything that remotely sounds like amnesty. While this is the position of the Tea Party, the faction predates it by years.

The second group is the Realists. They admit that deporting millions of people would be both cruel and harmful to our economy. At they same time, they are very aware that the amnesty offered under Reagan didn't work. They want a balancing act that provides a path to citizenship but does still rewards legal immigrants. They also call for stricter enforcement. This group is mainly made up of moderate Republicans who see immigration as loosing issue for Republicans and want it resolved.

The third group is the Altruists. They want a blanket amnesty regardless of the consequences. They are the reason that we call illegal immigrants "undocumented". They are mainly Democrats who expect that passing an amnesty will guarantee the Hispanic vote for the foreseeable future and they plan on scaring Hispanics with deportation if the Republicans get their way.

The final group is the Cynics. They talk like the Altruists but they have no intention of actually passing immigration reform. They have calculated that the Democrats will do better with the Hispanic vote as long as immigration is still an issue. They are the reason that immigration was never even brought up during the period that Democrats had complete control of Congress.

So, where is President Obama? He talks like an Altruist but consider the long-term effects of his executive order. He strengthened the Hard Core. Now, in addition to their previous arguments, they will also complain that any legislation remotely like Obama's executive order will reward presidential overreach. Further, and Republican Realist who supports any form of immigration reform will be challenged from the right in the primaries.

Obama knew this. He is also the most political president in living memory. He brings political advisers to national security briefings. There is no way he cannot be aware of the political ramifications. Further, his executive order will expire in three years unless the next (Democrat) president renews it. So we must believe that he care more about creating a wedge issue for Democrats to exploit in the coming elections.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Elizabeth Warren's 11 Points of Progressivism

I missed it at the time but last Summer Elizabeth Warren laid out her vision of thecurrent Progressive movement. Here they are with my comments.

We believe that Wall Street needs stronger rules and tougher enforcement, and we're willing to fight for it.
Too big to fail caused the last crash so let's enshrine it even more.

We believe in science, and that means that we have a responsibility to protect this Earth.

Scientific reviews say that the Keystone XL pipeline with have no discernible effect on the environment but Liz voted against it anyway. I guess she meant, "We believe in science except when we want to posture."

We believe that the Internet shouldn't be rigged to benefit big corporations, and that means real net neutrality.

Netflicks represents a huge chunk of Internet traffic. Right now they have to pay a surcharge to the major Internet providers because of the extra cost needed to provide the bandwidth that Netflicks requires. Network Neutrality means that Netflicks gets a free ride.

We believe that no one should work full-time and still live in poverty, and that means raising the minimum wage.

No mention about where the money for this will come from. Want to take a guess?

We believe that fast-food workers deserve a livable wage, and that means that when they take to the picket line, we are proud to fight alongside them.

This is sort of repeating the last point, isn't it?

We believe that students are entitled to get an education without being crushed by debt.

More money coming from somewhere unspecified. As a former university professor, maybe she'd like to propose reducing professor's pay and increasing their class size.

We believe that after a lifetime of work, people are entitled to retire with dignity, and that means protecting Social Security, Medicare, and pensions.

Even more unspecified money. Does anyone see a pattern here? Has anyone told Liz that preserving Social Security and Medicare will suck up all the money needed for her other promises?

We believe—I can't believe I have to say this in 2014—we believe in equal pay for equal work.

Government studies have shown there there is equal pay for equal work. Liz is really asking for a subsidy for women.

We believe that equal means equal, and that's true in marriage, it's true in the workplace, it's true in all of America.

Another point that sort of duplicates the one above it. This one sounds nice but it's pretty vague. Is she talking about racism? Gay marriage? What?

We believe that immigration has made this country strong and vibrant, and that means reform.

More mush. Reform can mean anything from total amnesty to closing the borders. How about some specifics?

And we believe that corporations are not people, that women have a right to their bodies. We will overturn Hobby Lobby and we will fight for it. We will fight for it!

In Hobby Lobby's case, the corporation consists of a handful of people who object on religious grounds to a couple of birth control methods on a list made up by a bureaucrat. Even before Obamacare they covered most of the list. Is the Progressive movement really reduced to fighting for a bureaucrat's ability to arbitrarily trample religious rights?

And the main tenet of conservatives' philosophy, according to Warren? "I got mine. The rest of you are on your own.

And the main tenet of Liz's philosophy is, "You got yours, now I'm going to take it and give it to someone else."

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Evaluation the election

A week after the Republican wave election, I'm not sure that many people on either side really understand what the election was about or the cause of so much voter anger. This can best be understood by contrasting the 2014 election with the 2006 and 2008 Democratic waves.

In 2006, the Democrats retook Congress and won many state elections because of President Bush's perceived incompetence. The war in Iraq and the response to Hurricane Katrina were unpopular. By 2008, the financial meltdown was added to the list. Accordingly, voters turned to Obama who promised an open, nonpartisan administration that would fix the economy, clean up the wars, and pass health care reform without an individual mandate.

Jump forward to the current election and we find that Obama broke all of those promises. His administration is the most opaque, partisan and dictatorial ever. The economy has improved but most of the benefits seem to have gone to the rich. Most of the new job openings are for low-wage jobs Middle class wages have stagnated and millions have left the workforce. Iraq, which seehmed won in 2008, now seems worse than ever and Afghanistan is no linger the "good" war. Obamacare has never been supported by the majority of the population and is currently less popular than ever.

So the voters who, in 2006 and 2008, rejected the Republicans because of incompetence, have now rejected the Democrats for the same reason.

After their wave, the Democrats assumed that the nation had swung to the left and that their policies were now popular. When that proved false, they blamed Republican obstructionism for their failure to pass their agenda. Had they proven to be competent in keeping their promises, the Republicans would be worried about their place as a permanent minority party. Instead they have their chance. They need to provide solid leadership rather than pushing a partisan agenda. If they can do that then it is the Democrats who will worry about being a permanent minority. If they fail as spectacularly as the Democrats did then we will be looking at new swing elections in 2022 and 2024.