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. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Obama and Ebola

There has been a continuing thread of "science versus politicians" over how to handle the threat from Ebola. The big question is how far can we trust the "scientists".

The debate is over closing the border to people who have traveled in countries where the disease is epidemic and how we should treat people who have been exposed. The experts say that Ebola is very difficult to catch and people who are not exhibiting symptoms are not contagious. They have also said the closing the border would make the problem worse. The preferred response is to identify people who are infected then try to identify everyone they came in contact with while they were communicable.

Closing the border is a huge point of contention. While our scientists say that they know best, other countries such as Great Britain have closed their borders. Are these countries ignoring their scientists? The US policy seems counter-intuitive.

Identifying infections and people who were exposed only works as long as we have a tiny number of cases. There are only 19 beds certified for Ebola in the entire nation.

We are told that Ebola is very difficult to catch but that ignores the fact that it is an epidemic. Medical staff following isolation protocols have been infected.

The insistence that there are no symptoms until the temperature reaches 100.3 is strange. One infected nurse was cleared to travel because her temperature at the time was below that magic threshold. Apparently a victim's temperature does not rise to the magic number instantly.

There are other reasons to be concerned. President Obama values partisan loyalty over competence. That has led to wide-spread failures across his administration,  If top officials didn't know that the web site for Obamacare, the centerpiece of the Obama administration, was inoperative at launch then do they know what is happening in other areas?

Currently the nation has no Surgeon General. That's because Obama's nominee's main qualifications were that he was the head of Physicians for Obama and that he planned on using the office to lobby for anti-gun legislation. His Ebola czar is a lawyer with no medical expertise.

There is also reason to distrust the CDC itself. In 2009, a version of the flu called H1N1 seemed more dangerous than most and there were shortages of vaccines. The CDC advised people to sneeze into their elbow instead of their hand and to use hand cleanser. They also stated that it was more dangerous to younger people and older people seemed to have a natural immunity so seniors could skip vaccines.

The advice about not sneezing into your hand was valid Hand sanitizers are anti-bacterial and have no effect on viruses like H1N1. Worst, the virus had the same mortality rate among seniors as other strains of the flu. The claim that seniors had a natural immunity was a bit of social engineering. The CDC figured that kids in schools were at a greater threat of catching H1N1. With the vaccine in short supply, they told some white lies in order to get the vaccines where they believed it would do the most good.

So, how much of what we are being told includes white lies? There is no way for us to know.  

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Perverse Logic of Indigenous People's Day

The second Monday in October is Columbus Day, celebrating the date that Columbus sighted land and starting the chain of events that led to the modern world. This year Seattle joined Minneapolis, and South Dakota in celebrating Indigenous People's Day (or American Indian Day in South Dakota). These people see Columbus as a conqueror and the indians as a vanquished race.

Keep in mind that all Columbus never touched the mainland in North America and none of these places are proposing any sort of reparations to the Indians, let alone giving the land back. The whole thing is an exercise in political correctness, denouncing previous generation of Americans and patting themselves on their smug backs through a meaningless gesture.

The people who celebrate Columbus Day are celebrating the triumph of American culture. We're here and we're proud of it.

The Obama Doctrine Meets Reality

Officially the current motto of the Obama administration's foreign policy is "Don't do stupid shit."

The real policy, as outlined in the president's West Point speech, is "It doesn't matter what happens in the world as long as it doesn't affect Americans." While this sounds fairly harmless, it has proved to be disastrous.

The Ebola outbreak is an example. The US was slow to react because it was only killing foreigners. The US government didn't step up its reaction until an American aid worker was infected. The problem here is that plagues can't be contained. The best way to stop Ebola in the US is to stop it in Africa. This means putting US personnel at risk, helping to treat African victims but if it continues to spread then it will come here and start killing American civilians.

Syria is another example. When the civil war there started, outsiders urged Obama to get involved by finding non-Islamic rebels and arming them. Obama did virtually nothing at the casualties mounted. Even when Syria crossed his red line and used WMDs, he faltered. It is obvious that he didn't want to get involved as long as the conflict only involved foreigners killing each others. Hundreds of thousands dead and over a million displaced was not enough to sway Obama.

This continued as the war spilled over into Iraq and the gains made under the Bush administration were lost. Obama dismissed the Islamic State as a Junior Varsity team despite intelligence briefings that said they were very dangerous to the US. Reports of mass slaughter of conquered men and enslavement of women was insufficient to convince Obama to do anything against the Islamic State.

Obama didn't change his mind until the IS began beheading Americans. By that point it was too little, too late. Air strikes are not enough and the President is still unwilling to take sides in Syria.

The result of Obama's earlier inaction is that Ebola is spreading with no end in sight and the Islamic State has conquered a third of Iraq with no sign of slowing.

Friday, October 03, 2014

The Misstatements of Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson is famous. He has a TV show. He writes books. He gives speeches on science. The problem, as reported in the Federalist, is that he gets some things wrong. Four specific errors have been noted. So far I have not seen anyone actually analyze these errors and put them into perspective so I'll do it.

Error #1 - the drugs and the coins
According to Tyson, he was on jury duty and had to explain to a judge that what sounded like a large amount of drugs was comparable to the weight of a coin. The amount of the drugs and the comparable coin vary from one telling to another.

This one is harmless.

Error #2 - 50% of students are below average.
Tyson quotes a newspaper headline as saying that 50% of the students are below average.

On the face of it, Tyson has a point. Assuming that the average is close to the mean, then you would expect half the students to be above that point and half to be below it. The problem is that this is a bad assumption when talking about students. "Average" for students usually means ones who earn a C. Below average means students earning a D or F. Any school district where half the students are earning a D or F has a problem.

Unless Tyson can produce the article and show that in the context, "average" means "mean" rather than "C" he should stop using this one.

Error #3 - a Congress member doing a 360 degree turn
Tyson says that a member of Congress said, "I've done a 360 degree turn on this." Since that's a full circle, this was probably a misstatement for a 180 degree turn.

Tyson does not name the member of Congress who said this. Instead he uses the quote to belittle all current and past members of Congress. Given that the quote is years old and Congress has a lot of turn-over, he's tarring hundreds of people with this quote. Worse, the person who said it probably knows the difference and misspoke (as President Obama did when he implied that there are more than 50 states).

This is a cheap shot and Tyson should stop using this one.

Error #4 - The same god who named the stars...
This is the most troubling error. When giving the eulogy for the astronauts who died on the space shuttle Columbia, President Bush said, "The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today."

Tyson wanted to use this as a springboard for talking about the fact that 2/3s of the stars have Arabic names because of the contributions of Arabic astronomers. The problem is that Tyson also wanted to belittle President Bush so he misrepresented the quote. He said that it was given right after 9/11/2001 and meant to divide "us" and "them". He also asserted that the Old Testament god is the same god as Allah, an assertion that would get him executed in many Muslim countries.

The fact is that Bush went to lengths to say the exact opposite. The memorial service that Tyson attributed the quote to was very inclusive. Bush made it clear that we were not at war with Islam, just with a small, violent subset that does not represent the true version.

Tyson brushes this off as a minor issue but it isn't. It is a deliberate misrepresentation of Bush that Tyson gives in order to make himself look smarter. Listen to the clip here. Tyson spends four minutes running down Bush and making himself look smarter.

This is not a simple error. This is a deliberate falsehood and Tyson should apologize for ever using it.

All of these fit a pattern. They are meant to show that Tyson is smarter than anyone else - judges, reporters, members of Congress, or the President and, by extension, people who listen to Tyson are also smarter because he has shared his vast knowledge with them.

Friday, August 01, 2014

The Limits of Executive Authority

The House has authorized a suit against President Obama for exceeding his authority in rewriting the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). The White House calls this frivolous and the President himself claims he is being sued for doing his job. People on the left are insisting that the House should impeach the President or drop things. The far right agrees with this.

If the suit is successful, future Democrats will look back and thank the current Republicans. Just a few years ago they were ready to impeach President Bush for signing statements. Obama's executive orders go much further. Presidents matter. Do they really want to give this much power to President Cruze?

Presidents need wide powers to do their jobs. Bush could not wait for Congress to give him authorization to ground airlines on September 11. Clinton issued multiple orders on bin Lauden alone. Nixon issued a temporary wage-price freeze. These orders were limited in scope or length.

FDR holds the record for most executive orders. His first 100 days are considered a model for new presidents but it should be remembered that the Supreme Court rolled back most of these.

Obama expresses frustration that Republicans will not act on pressing matters such as immigration reform but this has become a vicious cycle. Legislation is a series of compromises. By refusing to enforce the letter of the law, Obama makes Republicans reluctant to pass new legislation for fear of giving Obama further powers to abuse.

The ultimate danger is that Congress will become irrelevant as the President accumulates more power. I'm not suggesting that this will happen during the Obama administration but this is the logical end to a President making up his own legislation.

So why not impeach? There are three valid reasons. The first is that it would be far more frivolous than the lawsuit. Impeachment by itself does nothing but add a footnote to the President's biography. Once impeached, the matter moves to the Senate which voted on removing the President from office. This takes a super-majority. All of the Republicans and half of the Democrats would have to vote in favor in order for this to succeed. This will not happen which is why the left is pushing for an impeachment vote.

The second reason is that it would not force President Biden to reverse Obama's orders.

The third reason is "President Biden" although that is not as strong an argument as it used to be. Biden has a history of being wrong on most things but he still knows how to work with Congress and he might be a better president than Obama. Or he might not. It's best not to find out.

Monday, July 21, 2014

TIme for Hillary?

As Hillary Clinton continues her book tour, the constantly asked question is if she plans on running for president? She has several advantages: name recognition, the ability to raise huge sums of money, experience running a presidential campaign, and a thicker resume than the current resident of the White House.

Hillary can also take advantage of voters who want a female president and aren't picky about who. She can also take advantage of the so-called "war on women" and the outrage against Republicans over it.

But before she gets fitted for her inaugural dress, let's go over her negatives:

Her age and health
Hillary is getting old. Her supporters have tried to defuse this by pointing to President Reagan's age and claiming sexism. The fact is that Reagan's age was an issue in both 1980 and 1984 when he ran for reelection. Age was also a factor for Bob Dole and John McCain.

Hillary's health is also a valid issue. Her husband, Bill, has had major heart problems. She falls a lot. One of those falls was so bad that she had double vision for a month and had to wear corrective glasses. Other health issues may come to light.

Foreign Affairs
Hillary was Secretary of state. Many of today's problems began during her tenure. She was personally involved with the reset with Russia. If things continue to go wrong in the Ukraine, Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Afghanistan, or Syria, she will have to spend her time excusing herself instead of running.

Obama Fatigue
President Obama is not very popular right now. As a Democrat and former member of his cabinet, Hillary will be seen as running for an Obama 3rd term. McCain did well running against Bush as well as Obama but he was already known as a maverick and had no direct ties with the Bush administration. Hillary was a member of the Obama administration so it will be much harder for her to run against him. At the same time, a significant portion of Democrats still support Obama and Hillary will need their support to win the nomination. It will be difficult for her to do an about-face in the general election.

Clinton Amnesia
It's been a long time since the Clinton's left office. Hillary's appeal in 2008 was the promise to turn things back to the peace and prosperity of the 1990s, before 9/11 and the Bush wars. Promising to turn the clock back 16+ years will just make Hillary seem old and out of touch.

Younger voters do not have clear memories of the Clinton years. Some voters weren't even born when Bill took office and anyone under 30 will barely remember the Clintons.

Clinton Fatigue
2012 was the first election since 1976 that didn't have a Clinton or Bush running (I"m including Hillary's primary run in this). 2016 may have both a Clinton and (Jeb) Bush running. A lot of people are tired of these political families.

While voters under 30 didn't really know the Clintons, the ones over 30 were sick of them by the time they left office. We don't really want to be reminded of Vince Foster, Whitewater, blue dresses, etc.

Hillary Herself
In 2008, the presidency was Hillary's to lose. She was the clear front-runner with all of the advantages she has today (her resume was a bit thinner) and fewer of the disadvantages. Regardless, she managed to lose. A quick recap is in order.

Hillary began the campaign with a sense of inevitability. Her campaign was built around this. She had a huge campaign fund and she spent it with the idea of wrapping up the nomination by Super Tuesday. She concentrated on delegate-rich states and ignored caucuses in smaller states. She did win the most delegates on Super Tuesday but not enough to give her the nomination.

In contrast, Obama had a 50-state campaign. His supporters were more excited and managed to shout down Hillary supporters in caucuses. Obama won a string of caucuses unopposed after Super Tuesday while Hillary restarted her campaign. The air of inevitability moved from Hillary to Obama. At the end of the primaries, neither candidate had a majority of the delegates but Obama's string of victories assured that he got the nomination.

Hillary probably learned her lesson in 2008 and won't let herself be outmaneuvered like that again. Regardless, 2008 shows flaws in her judgement.

Another lesson from 2008 is that Hillary isn't a very good campaigner. She comes across as shrill and insincere. She does best when she runs as a concept rather than as a candidate. Her popularity suffered a slight drop when she entered the public eye again on her book tour.

Hillary's biggest asset is her inevitability. That will let her raise huge sums and garner a lot fo votes from  people who have been waiting years to ratify her.

At the same time, she suffers from staleness. It is likely that a Republican governor will be the candidate and will seem young and fresh in contrast. We saw in 2008 how easily Hillary could lose her inevitability.

History says that the Republicans have a very strong chance of taking the White House. It tends to change hands after a 2-term president. The Republicans could still falter and nominate a candidate who makes Hillary look good but, all things being equal, Hillary's chances are slim.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

The Question That Could Sink Hillary's Presidential Campaign

Hillary Clinton has a tin ear about the wealth she and her husband have accumulated. She mistakes a cash-flow problem with being broke. True, they left the White House in debt and had to get a co-signer on their two multi-million dollar properties but they also knew they would be able to earn millions in speaking fees and book advances. The average person who is broke and in debt does not have those advantages.

She also complains that they had to earn twice as much because of taxes. While there is a slight dig at Mitt Romney there, the main complaint is that she resents paying so much in taxes.

Think of the stir it would cause if some intrepid reporter called her on this:

"Madam Secretary, you have complained how hard it was to pay off your debts and get ahead because you had to 'earn twice as much money because of taxes' but your take for a single speaking fee is enough to qualify an individual as 'truly wealthy' according to President Obama. Most in your party consider this a fair share and would like to see taxes on the wealthy such as yourself raised much higher. Do you agree with them?"

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The Death of the Progressive Compact

The Progressive Movement was all about expanding the size and scope of government. The biggest obstacle to this was the way that the government was set up. From the founding through the early 20th century, government worked as a spoils system. Every time an office changed hands, all of the workers were let go and replaced with supporters (and relatives) of the new office-holder. This acted as a check on the size of government.

The Progressives offered a compact with the American people: "We will clean up government, filling it with the best people we can find. They will discharge their duties fairly and dispassionately and, since they are freed from the profit motive, they will be more efficient than private industry."

This compact led to drives to "clean up government". Civil Service was instituted. Applicants were tested to find the best candidates and Civil Service boards were established to assure that workers were not fired to make way for political appointees. Many (most?) small cities changed their mayor to a ceremonial position and hired a city manager to actually run things.

The recent scandals at the IRS and the VA hospitals show the limits of the Progressive compact. We have ceded enormous power to the IRS with the promise that it would only be used appropriately. In the IRS scandal, the agency was used for political reasons. Now, any time a conservative is audited, there will be suspicions that it was for political reasons.

The VA scandal is even worse. The VA system has been held up as an example of how all medical care should be organized. Now it has come out that government programs are at least as subject to mismanagement as their commercial counterparts.

These twin scandals should cause Progressives to question their basic beliefs. The idea of the dispassionate, professional is a fiction. People have opinions outside of their job. Having a government monopoly on a service allows an organization to hide its structural problems (at least for a while).

The Progressive compact with America is broken and we must resist further expansion of government.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

What you don't know about the Hobby Lobby Case

Yesterday's Supreme Court ruling that the AFA (Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare) has to make an exception for closely-held corporations with religious objections to birth control coverage has been talked about as a conflict between "your religion and my rights". This completely misstates what the case was about.

First, birth control is not included in the ACA. It was added by administrators.

Second, the same administrators already allowed an opt-out for religious institutions. They even came up with an alternative plan. All a certified religious institution has to do is file a form and its employees are eligible for birth control from the government.

Third, Hobby Lobby did provide coverage for 16 types of birth control. They objected to 4 specific after-the-fact products because of their belief that these amount to abortion and their related belief that life begins at conception. When discussing women's health, keep in mind that these products are not recommended as regular birth control and repeated use can damage a woman's health.

Fourth, the Supreme Court did not decide the case on constitutional grounds. It decided that the administrative rules conflicted with a law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (which was passed in 1993 by near unanimous vote of a Democrat-controlled Congress and signed into law by President Clinton). Their reasoning was that laws take precedence over administrative rules and that the government had already established an alternative for employers who took a religious exemption. If Congress wants all employers to pay for birth control, they will have to amend the law. It is not up to bureaucrats.

Note that there is nothing to stop the government from expanding the alternative program for providing birth control. The Justices even pointed that out in their ruling.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Obama the administrator

I've seen several columns and posts on President Obama's managerial skills in the last few days. The unanimous consensus is that he has none. This should not be news. Prior to his run for president he had never managed anything bigger that his senate staff. Even his campaign was tiny compared to the US government.

The expectations from his followers was that he would rise to the occasion on the basis of his superior intellect.

That has not happened. In fact, he shows no signs of learning from his mistakes. The White House is organized to keep bad news from him so he is constantly learning about scandals from the news. When a scandal hits, he never fires anyone.

The right knew this all along. The left is just coming to realize it. In fact, they are embracing it.

One of the big questions of our time is the proper size and reach of government. Since Reagan, the right wants less government. Since the Roosevelts, the left has wanted more.

Obama stands at the heart of the debate. He is a champion for bigger government and a cautionary tale against it. The right has only to point to the Obamacare rollout to argue against further government programs.The right's argument is that government programs are too big and complex to be manageable and Obama has proven them correct.

That's where the President's lack of managerial skills comes in. The problems that have happened under his watch are not the fault of bad government in general. A better administrator could have made everything work.

The problem is that the Democrats are not advancing any administrators. Hillary Clinton did a poor job as Secretary of State. She spent most of her time traveling instead of running things. Probably she was getting out of the way of the people who were actually managing the State Department while burnishing her resume.

The Democratic alternative to Hillary is Elizabeth Warren. She has the same problem as Obama - very limited managerial experience. Like Obama, people want her because of her ideology.

This is a dilemma for the Democrats. Their case for big government requires competence at the top but they are choosing leaders based on ideology rather than competence.

Until the left starts advancing competent candidates, the right wins this argument by default. 

Friday, May 02, 2014

Doing what's right

Consider the case of Cliven Bundy, the rancher who is defying the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) over grazing rights on federal land. The Left was always against him because he is fighting the government. The Right has largely abandoned him for two reasons - he is a crackpot and he has some offensive theories about race. While I expect no less from the Left, the Right should rethink their support.

Some wise heads in the Right say that we should pass on Bundy. He doesn't even recognize the authority of the federal government. We should choose someone less radical. The problem there is that people who become symbols are usually cranks and crackpots of some sort.

In Bundy's case, the issue is the federal government in general and the BLM in particular picking winners and losers. 20 years ago they decided that federal land in that county could be better used than by ranching. An endangered tortoise was found on that land and Bundy was ordered to reduce his herd size considerably. In effect, the BLM decided to make him a loser. Bundy was not alone. At the time there were a dozen or more ranchers in that county. Now Bundy is the only one left and he is only still in business because he defied the BLM.

But it didn't have to be that way. 30 miles away the BLM picked a winner, a large wind farm. That area has the same endangered tortoises but for them, the BLM has a solution - move them somewhere else, possibly the land Bundy is grazing.

So Bundy may be a crank but he has a point about the power of the government to ruin people's lives.

The other point here is that racists have rights too. I can understand the reluctance of conservatives to associate with someone who says that "the negro" was better off as a slave. The Left has been characterizing the Right as a group of racists for decades. Bundy gives them a chance to claim guilt by association.

Abandoning Bundy because of his racial beliefs is part of a general movement within the Left and it should scare everyone. Rights are supposed to apply equally to everyone. That is why the statue of Justice is blindfolded. But the Left does not see it that way. 12 years ago Charles Krauthammer pointed out that conservatives think that liberals are stupid and liberals think that conservatives are evil. More recently, the Left has been acting on this by denying rights to people who think the wrong way. If you are a racist then you should lose your cattle herd or your basketball team. If you supported an anti-gay marriage initiative then you are not fit to run a major Internet company. While these are big examples, little ones exist and have become pervasive. There is a controversy within Science Fiction because a conservative writer was nominated for a Hugo award (one of the highest awards). Other writers have complained that most publishers will not consider an author who is not a committed Marxist (seriously). Nationwide, kids who even think of guns are punished.

The idea here is to establish a left-leaning societal norm where no one is allowed to have a conflicting opinion. Conservatives have long know that we have to keep our mouths shut in polite company. Now this is beginning to have teeth where people with the wrong views are punished.

Liberal should be wary of this. Societal norms can shift quickly. in 2008, Candidate Obama figured he would get more votes if he was against gay marriage. By 2012 society had shifted and he calculated that being for it would give him more support. Things could shift again.

Once you start denying rights based on opinion you run the risk of losing those rights yourself. They cease to be "rights" and become privileges that can be revoked.

The Left sees themselves as being on the "right side of history" and expects that things will never change so they are perfectly happy removing the concept of inalienable rights and substituting privileges granted by the government. The Right needs to fight against this, even if it means siding with racists. 

Monday, April 07, 2014

The Politics of Captain America

The comic book version of Captain America has often reflected liberal viewpoints. In contrast, the movie, Captain America/The Winter Soldier (CA/TWS) is one of the most conservative movie I've seen in years. Several parts of it show the logical conclusion to policies pursued by President Obama.

I'm going to assume that anyone reading further has seen the movie or is unconcerned about spoilers.

First I'll take the easy one - torture. While they do not waterboard anyone, Cap and company are not above throwing someone off of a tall building (and catching him on the way down) if it will save 20 million people. This is an easy one since they are trying to stop an actual event instead of discover plans for possible events. Cap's only concession is to delegate the dirty work to his sidekicks.

The central plot in the movie concerns four controversies from the Obama administration - the increasing use of unmanned drones, the current policy of killing people who represent a general threat rather than ones who engaged in open hostilities, the unaccountability for drone strikes, and thebig diff use of data mining.

In the movie, data mining has been used to identify 20 million potential troublemakers based on such things as their credit history, their phone calls, and their library use. The plan is to use a fleet of three super-powerful hellicarriers to eliminate these troublemakers, thus bringing peace and control to the world.

As an added bonus, we find that the senator from Iron Man 2 who was against private ownership of powerful weapons is on on the plot.

The movie is full of moral ambiguities. Nick Fury embodies these. He is on the right side but he is not above breaking rules. He has Cap's apartment bugged and has Cap under surveillance. When he discovers a ship owned by S.H.E.I.L.D. is involved in unknown activities, he hires mercenaries to take over the ship in order to give cover to the Black Widow who is ordered to make a backup copy of the ship's computers.

The big difference between Fury and the villains is that Fury is fighting for the status quo while the others are trying to fundamentally change America (and the world).

This is a welcome change from the messages in movies such as Avatar (civilization is evil) and Noah (meat-eating capitalists deserve to die). 

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Bias in the Press

Recently Leland Yee, an anti-gun, California state senator and candidate for Secretary of State was arrested on charges of gun-running involving Islamic extremist groups in the Philippians. While this story has received a lot of attention from right-wing media it has only gotten local coverage from the MSM. In fact, the only non-partisan, national publications to cover it have been Popular Science and Esquire. When asked, CNN explained that they don't carry stories about such figures as state senators because they are local. Glen Reynolds, the Instapundit, found numerous stories on their site  about state legislators. He blames the lack of coverage on the fact that Yee is a Democrat and the press is providing cover for him on political grounds. While I agree that the press is burying the story, I disagree about the reason.

It is true that the press is overwhelmingly Democrat and this does color their coverage. Typically a Republican who is in trouble has his party affiliation announced in the headline or the first sentence. Democrats seldom have their party announced before the third paragraph if at all. But this is a change in emphasis.

I think that the real problem here is issue-advocacy. While most reporters know that they need to cover straight news regardless of party affiliation, most are willing to bend the rules over issues that they believe are in the public interest. In these cases, there is no pretense at balanced journalism. Anyone who watches 60 Minutes or watched the old tv-show, Lew Grant, has seen issue advocacy. The idea is to use he power of the press to change the world for the better. Journalists actually feel proud of this.

Since most journalists are liberal the issues they advance are liberal causes. This makes it hard for outsiders to distinguish between partisan behavior and issue advocacy.

Usually issue advocacy involves slanting a story but it can include suppressing a story. In this case, the issue is gun control. Yee had been a leader in anti-gun legislation so his arrest on federal weapons charges hurts his cause immensely. I think the fact that Yee is a Democrat is secondary to the various editors who passed on the story. They are more interested in the gun-control angle.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

The Minimum Wage Debate

If you ask Americans in general what the biggest problems facing America are, the top two have been jobs and the economy for years. If you ask a Democrat, he will likely say income inequality. They obsess over this.

In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama called for raising the minimum wage to around $9 an hour. By 2014, he was calling for $10 an hour. This does not reflect inflation. Instead it reflects a movement within his own party.

To most people with any training in economics, raising the minimum wage that much will have severe effects throughout the economy. Businesses will reevaluate every position and eliminate as many as possible. Jobs that cannot be eliminated will have to be paid for somehow. This means price hikes which will fuel inflation and, ironically, reduce the buying power of those higher wages.

Democrats don't see this because of a blind-spot in their economic thinking. All of them have been influenced by Karl Marx.

Marx saw workers in competition with factory owners for the profits of their labor. Marxists in general see profits as belonging to the workers and owners as parasites. The whole basis of the communal system (communism) was to eliminate the greedy owners so that everyone could share equally in the profits.

Today's Democrats may never have read Marx but they are still influenced by him. The current debate over income inequality assumes tha tcorporate executives are taking a larger share of the profits than they deserve and that increasing the minimum wage will be a zero-sum transfer, taking wages from the undeserving rich and giving them to the deserving poor.

There are major flaws with this thinking. The biggest is that income disparity is not coming from corporate pay disparities. It is coming from the financial sector which employs few low-wage workers. They are getting rich by gaming the system. Currently the Fed is loaning money virtually interest-free. The hope is that corporations will use this to invest in expansion. Instead it is being poured into the stock market and other investments for expense-free profits. The income gap is not between workers and executives, it is between bankers and everyone else.

If Democrats looked at actual statistics instead of Marxist-inspired expectations they might act to cut the money line between the Fed and the bankers' pockets. They might but they probably would not. Wall Street has been a strong backer of the Democrats in general and President Obama in particular which is what caused this crony capitalism in the first place.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Free and Fair Elections

Two issues have come up recently in Ohio raising questions about how elections should be held. The first was a ruling by the Secretary of State establishing uniform voting rules for the state. This prompted outrage from the Democrats who allege voter suppression. The reasoning behind this is twofold.

First, they maintain that urban counties need special rules to make it easier for people to vote. This includes sending absentee ballots to all registered voters and having longer voting hours and more days.

Second, they maintain that the absence of Sunday voting hurts them.

There are also allegations that rural voters have more free time and can more easily get to the polls. This is ironic since the people they claim have been suppressed are unemployed or part-time workers.

It is no coincidence that what the Democrats desire is to increase voter participation in counties that are likely to vote Democrat and to suppress it in Republican counties. That is the heart of their desire to let individual counties change voting procedures.

That is also behind sending absentee ballots to everyone in Democrat-heavy counties but not to everyone in the state. There are other issues with this I will address below.

In order for an election to be fair, every voter must be treated the same. To claim voter suppression because likely-Democrats are not given special treatment is perverse.

Sunday voting is a special case itself. The reason for not including Sunday voting is cost. Most counties cannot afford to open the polls on both Saturday and Sunday. Why is Sunday important to Democrats? Because part of their get-out-the-vote effort involves having sympathetic ministers tell their congregations how to vote then busing the congregations to the polls in church buses. This is a violation of church/state separation and churches that do this should lose their tax-free status. They don't but they should. That's a part of election law that is never enforced.

The second issue was the appearance of Melowese Richardson who had been convicted of voter fraud at the kick-off event for the campaign for an Ohio Voters' Bill of Rights Ohio Constitutional amendment. Richardson was given a "welcome home" and hugged by the Reverend Al Sharpton.

Richardson had committed two types of voter fraud. First, she voted absentee and in person. Second, she used her comatose sister's absentee ballot to vote. The judge at her sentencing was outraged because Richardson was a poll worker, entrusted with maintaining the integrity of the election so he sentenced her to 5 years. This was reduced to 8 months.

People at the kick-off event claim that she was simply being welcomed home after a harsh sentence had been reduced. If true, that was terrible judgement given the subject of the rally.

Richardson was caught because she voted twice under her name. Had she simply continued to vote once as herself and once as her sister she would never have been caught. This highlights one of the dangers of sending out unsolicited absentee ballots.

While Richardson was convicted under state law, she was never charged under federal law. This is important because the main argument that voter fraud is rare to non-existent is based on federal election law convictions. If someone who is known to have violated federal law is not charged then how many other cases has the government passed on prosecuting?

Nationwide, Republicans have been insisting on tighter controls for elections and the Democrats have insisted that this is solving a non-existent problem. They go on to accuse Republicans of voter suppression (surprise!). But the Richardson case shows that the statistics the Democrats cite are meaningless. Voter fraud is difficult to detect in the first place. If the feds decline to enforce clear violations then we have to idea at all how often it occurs.

In both of the incidents above, Democrats resort to crying voter suppression any time that election laws are not administered in a way that gives them a clear advantage. They need to be called out on this. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Appropriation and Priveledge

Writing in Salon, Randa Jarrar explains why she hates white  belly dancers.

Whether they know it or not, white women who practice belly dance are engaging in appropriation

I should explain, appropriation is the sister of privilege which I wrote about a few weeks ago. Privilege is something that other people posses and is always a pejorative. For example, someone can be the victim of white privilege.

Appropriation is when someone of privilege takes anything from another culture and, like privilege itself, appropriation is always bad.

Jarrar goes into some depth but she makes one thing very clear - the issue entirely consists of being subjected to a white person doing a dance that should only be performed by brown women. She admits that the dancer who inspired the column was a decent dancer. What's more the dancer had been trained for 15 years by someone Jarrar approves of. Jarrar brushes this off
Women I have confronted about this have said, “But I have been dancing for 15 years! This is something I have built a huge community on.” These women are more interested in their investment in belly dancing than in questioning and examining how their appropriation of the art causes others harm. To them, I can only say, I’m sure there are people who have been unwittingly racist for 15 years. It’s not too late. Find another form of self-expression. Make sure you’re not appropriating someone else’s.

When I have argued, online and in person, with white women belly dancers, they have assured me that they learned to dance from Arab women and brown women. This is supposed to make the transaction OK. Instead, I point out that all this means is that it is perfectly all right with these teachers that their financial well-being is based on self-exploitation...
If a white had made these arguments about an Arab or African performer playing classical music, he would be pilloried as a racist. That's the beauty of the terms privilege and appropriation. It turns the tables. Belly dancing has been done in the US for over a century. It predates the family car. You would think that by now it would count as part of American culture. But by using these loaded terms, Jarrar can justify objecting to a performer based on nothing more that the color of her skin.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Blame Bush

After Russia invaded the Crimea, President Obama was left looking powerless. With Syria and other incidents, he has shown that he has neither neither plans nor will to back up his threats. Republicans were quick to point this out. They did not, as many Democrats have claimed, blame Obama for the invasion. They simply point out his powerlessness (and laughed at it).

The Democrats have now stuck back. It turns out that the Russian invasion was caused by President George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq. That was such a terrible international crime that it changed international norms allowing any nation to invade any nation on any pretense.

There are a few differences that should be kept in mind.

The invasion of Iraq capped a decade of active hostilities beginning with Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Even during the long lull, there wee weekly exchanges of rocket fire as the US enforced the no-fly zone.

Bush gave plenty of warning before invading and had wide international support with the "Coalition of the Willing".

In contrast, Putin invaded the Crimea a couple of days after its government fled and a new government was formed. The invasion was done with troops who wore no insignia on their uniforms.

Intent matters. There was never any question of the US annexing all or part of Iraq. In contrast, the former USSR had annexed the Ukraine for decades and Putin seems to desire to annex the Crimea.

A fair and impartial observer would say that the two invasions were nothing like each other but the Democrats have such a hatred of Bush that they can't help but blame him.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014


Sarah Palin:  I can see Russia invading Crimea from my house.

Mitt Romney: The 80s called. They want to lend you a working foreign policy.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Progressive Priorities

For the entire Obama administration, poll after poll has shown that the nation's top priority is jobs. But, ask any Progressive what his top priority is and he will say "income inequality". To the rest of the country, this is a pretty low priority but the Progressives are fixated on this. This not only puts them out of step with the country as a whole, it puts them at odds with it.

Raising the minimum wage is the big Progressive cause right now. To hear them talk about it, this is easy because of some basic assumptions they made.

First, they point to studies that have shown that minor raises in the minimum wage were absorbed with little loss of jobs. Then they insist that their proposed incease of nearly 40% will also be absorbed. When the Congressional Budget Office projected that it was likely to cost a half million jobs, they rushed to discredit the CBO.

I suspect that the Progressives think that the additional money will come from top executives' salaries. Nothing else explains their insistence that raising the minimum wage will have any real effect on income inequality. This reflects the influence of Marxism on their thinking where the economy is a zero sum system. No one can make money without taking it from someone else. In many ways, Progressive thinking is stuck in the 19th century.

Another assumption is that people making more than the current minimum will be given a commensurate raise. This is even included in the CBO figures. I am doubtful because of personal experience. I was working on a payroll system back during the high-inflationary late 1970s (when companies wrote their payroll systems in-house). I was asked to write a program that would raise everyone to the new minimum wage. I asked about the people who were making more than the old minimum but less than the new. I was told that they were back to minimum.

That make sense. Companies will be squeezed by the increase. They will cut corners where they can which means that they will only raise people to the new minimum.

There will also be a squeeze on cost of living raises.

So that's what the progressives want to do to the economy. There is also what they have already done. Obamacare has a number of incentives built into it that discourage job creation. They even admitted this is the most recent executive order. Mid-range employers have to swear that they did not lay people off in order to qualify for the exemption.

All things considered, the Progressives' slogan should be "Fewer but better jobs". This isn't quite accurate but it's close and it represents how they actually think. This is born out by looking at heavily unionized states vs. right to work states. The unionized states have slightly higher wages and unemployment.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The UAW Vote in Chattanooga

A few days ago workers at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee voted against organizing as part of the UAW. This was unexpected since the plant was in favor of the union. So what happened?

The short answer is that unions have almost nothing to offer anymore. I have pro-union friends on Facebook who post lists of things that unions brought us. The big problem with that list is how old all of the accomplishments are.

Unions may have been needed a century ago but things have changed. The government now performs many of the functions that unions used to provide. A highly mobile workforce means that employers have to treat workers well or lose them. Automation has replaced some of the worst jobs.

At the same time, unions have become bloated. It can't have escaped the Volkswagen employees that two of the big three American car makers needed government bailouts because of union benefits.

While they seem to have cleaned themselves up, the term "corruption" often follows "union".

Unions have also become politically active and polarized. Republican workers have little incentive to vote for unions, knowing that some of their dues will be used to help Democrats.

Put it all together and there is little incentive for workers to unionize.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Privilege and the Progressives

On Downton Abby it is easy to tell who is privileged and who isn't. In the modern way of reckoning, though, everyone on the show is privileged. In fact, most of the population is now figured to be privileged by some reasoning. In fact, no matter how poor and powerless someone may be, he may still be the beneficiary of privilege. This article has a list of ways white benefit.

This list is rather strange. There are a lot of false assumptions such as the very first one: I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time. Is it really so impossible for minorities to spend time with other minorities? This is also rather perverse since a white who wants to spend time exclusively with white would be proof of racism.

Several other points assume pervasive racism. Other points are subjective. Number 6, I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented, does not apply to sports. This almost makes a case that black privilege exists. This same is true of number 12: I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented...

Note I am assuming from context that the author is black. An Asian would have more trouble with these points but would not be complaining about other points.

The point of identifying people as being privileged is to de-legitimize them. The self-identified underprivileged are easily offended. Katy Perry was roundly criticized becuase she wore a kimono at the America Music Awards even though her performance was low-key and respectful.

Wellesley College near Boston is another example of outrage over privilege. The campus recently installed an outdoor statue that is a realistic representation of a slightly pudgy, middle-age man sleepwalking in his underwear. One complaint about the sculptor was "Mr. Matelli comes from a place of great privilege which has apparently been used to place a sculpture of the white male body on campus. I find it weirdly invasive."

Keep in mind that students enrolled in Wellesley are privileged by most standards. This is an exclusive college.

A much more virulent example comes from the Huffington Post. In a piece entitled "The Blindness of Privilege in a Time of Oppression", Writer James Peron, takes issue with a (lesbian) member of the Austrian Olympic team who said that Russian oppression is blown out of proportion. Peron's argument includes this assertion, "Iraschko-Stolz speaks from a unique position of privilege, one denied to actual victims -- namely LGBT citizens of Russia." Peron's assert, "No one suggested gay athletes would be harmed by the laws -- on the contrary, the Russian government would make sure privileged athletes are protected from anti-gay vigilantes. Given that Iraschko-Stolz is unwilling to challenge those laws -- medals are more important to her -- it is unlikely she will be bothered in any way." This is inaccurate. There were very real fears that gay athletes would be discriminated against and despite numerous assurances by the Russian government, there was still some apprehension. Peron seems to be upset that an athlete who is gay and who has fought for years to have her sport (women's high jump) included would be more concerned with competing than crusading for gay rights.

Later in the same piece, Peron takes on Rachel Maddow. Maddow, who is gay, says she sees no need to get married. Like the athlete, Maddow is apparently expected to do what is best for gays instead of herself. Peron continues:

A lot of the problems created by the second-class status of gays can be mitigated if you are wealthy enough. Maddow is, and then foolishly acted as if all LGBT people were in her position. Maddow's special financial situation means she can protect herself in ways that other people cannot. She looked at things from a position of privilege and falsely assumed everyone else had the same status.

Iraschko-Stolz is doing precisely the same thing. While "privilege" is often used to describe the position of straight, white men, that is not entirely accurate. Many people -- even lesbian athletes -- can have privileges that others do not, some by circumstance, some as the result of government policy.

This whole thing of defining people by privilege is destructive in a democracy where all people are supposed to have an equal voice.

Friday, February 07, 2014

What the CBO Really Said About Obamacare and Jobs

The Republicans seized on the summary - the equivalent of 2.5 million people will exit the workforce over the next ten years due to Obamacare. The Democrats, lead by the White House, are insisting that this is a good thing since it allows people the choice of spending more time with their kids.

I listened to the director of the CBO's testimony. What he said is that the way Obamacare is structured, it acts as an indirect tax on employment. If you do not work then you receive government subsidies for healthcare. If you get a job these subsidies are reduced or eliminated. If you get a job that does not offer health insurance then you will have to make up the difference out of your own pocket, reducing your net income.

The expectation is that many people (2.5 million) will prefer to stay home and accept government subsidies than work.

The left has been arguing this point in reverse for years in justifying an increase in the minimum wage. The theory says that if you raise the minimum wage then more people will want to work because they will receive greater benefits.

Arguing that enticing millions of more people to accept government subsidies instead of working is a strange point of view.

Ironically, an administration that worries over income inequality has created a program that will hurt the lower-end of the wage-earners more than the upper-end.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Global Warming and a Cold Winter

One cold January in the US does not prove anything one way or the other about Global Warming. It does have a lot of people wondering about the more extreme predictions. Al Gore had predicted that well before now the world would have warmed so much that Washington DC would never see another snowfall. This was demonstrably wrong.

One flaw in the warming theory is the 15 year pause in warming. Eugene Robinson recently published an answer for that. If you just discount 1998 as an outlier then everything is fine (except a closer reading of the paper in question calls for ignoring three years out of 15 instead of just one). Who is actually cherry-picking that data when you have to throw out yeas of actual weather to prove a model?

A side-note: I doubt that any true believer in 1998 said, "This year is an outlier. You can't use it to prove Global Warming."

Then there is this which explains away the cold winter. According to the embedded cartoon, winters used to be really cold then they warmed up because of Global Warming. What used to be normal now feels cold to us.

It's a very glib explanation but there are some major problems. The graph of cold days only goes back to to 1970. Even with that it is clear that the late 1970s and early 1980s were anomalous. Winters got a lot colder then they warmed up again. I remember the 1960s and days below zero were rare. A chart showing a longer period would show that there are naturally occurring warm and cold period. I'm also old enough to remember that the reason for those cold winters in the 1980s was the same reason that this winter was cold - Canadian air got deflected further south than usual.

Another major problem with this explanation is the summers. The same years that we had bone-chilling winters, we had record hot summers. A chart of days over 100 would resemble the one of days below 0. There would be a few leading up to some really hot summers in the early 1980s then a cooling. For the last couple of decades, we have not exceeded 100 in most summers.

Bottom line - the defenders of Global Warming are still on weak ground.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Immigration Reform

For those who complain that immigration reform proposals amount to amnesty, there are some points to consider.

The most important is that the current policy amounts to de facto amnesty. They are here in the millions and they are not leaving. The longer immigration reform is held up the more intrenched they will become.

The flow of immigrants coming in from Mexico has slowed to a trickle. There are several reasons for this including increased border security and the relative strength of the Mexican economy to the American one. Regardless, stopping the flow of illegals is not as urgent as it was.

There are to many here to deport. Estimates put the illegal population in the US as between 20 and 30 million. The high end is close to 10% of the population. There is no way that they can be rounded up and deported. Any attempt would be politically impossible because it evokes images of Nazi Germany.

There are societal costs to the current system (non-system?). Some illegal immigrants pay their taxes (possibly using someone else's SSN) but not all do. Many are unlicensed and uninsured drivers. Their illegal status makes them reluctant to call the police which makes them victims of crime.

Something must be done about all of this and it has to include a way for the people already here to stay legally. This is not optional nor is it partisan. There is no alternative. So some compromise has to be worked out.

Deal with it.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


In a sign of how damaging the NSA revelations, President Obama spent Martin Luther King Day on the Tonight Show doing damage control with Jay Leno. According to Obama, the whole thing is President Bush's fault (of course) and Obama reviewed what was being collected and made needed reforms. Not mentioned was that Obama waited 5 years before making any reforms or an acknowledgement that this would never have happened had it not been for the Snowden leaks.

Obama also said that the safety of America is the last thing he thinks about when he goes to bed and the first thing he things about when he gets up. That's comforting to those of us who believes that his thoughts were "How can I screw the Republicans?"

Despite the reforms, the government is still keeping records of every phone call, email, and text message that it can get it's hands on. The justification is that it "keeps us safe". When pressed, the actual desire is to try to identify other terrorists once one has been identified.

There are problems with this approach. One is that it is reactive. It doesn't really keep us safe. Another is that it is too wide a net. Anyone who was ever on the phone (or exchanged emails, etc.) with a suspected terrorist becomes a suspect and possibly anyone who was ever on the phone with that person. The NSA refuses to say why people are added to no-fly lists. What if people are added because they called someone who called someone who is suspected of being a terrorist?

Given the massive amount of data collected, false positives are too likely. A recent report says that 140,000,000 text messages are collected daily.

There are other issues. The data is subject to misuse. Executive orders can be rescinded in private. The government has a spotty record on this. The IRS went after the President's political enemies under Obama and Nixon. Raw FBI files were given to Clinton political advisers. The FBI violated Martin Luther King's rights multiple ways.

The data is not particularly secure. Snowden was just a contractor but was able to access state secrets. The new proposals call for the phone companies to house this data which will make it as safe as credit cards were with Target.

All of this makes the spying hard to justify, even if it was effective. Outside audits say that it has a negligible effect. That makes it impossible to justify.

Candidate Obama promised transparency into programs like this. President Obama needs to follow up on that promise. The NSA needs to quit collecting data on the citizens of the US and of the world unless there is an actual need that has been reviewed by an accountable judiciary.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

The Problems with PolitiFact

Last year the fact-checking site PolitiFact drew conservative criticism after they declared that the "Lie of the year" was "[Mitt Romney] Says Barack Obama "sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China" at the cost of American jobs." As it turned out, Chrysler is building a plant in China which is due to open this year. Even granting that the plant will be making Jeeps for the Chinese, it still means that Romney's statement was true.Politifact never went back and reevaluated their assessment.

This year the Lie of the Year was President Obama's statement, "If you like your insurance you can keep it period." This hasn't made conservatives any happier since PolitiFact evaluated this statement several times over the last 5 years and never found it to be false. In their summary they dropped the original evaluation from 2008 which was rated 100% true.

Despite claiming to be neutral, PolitiFact does have left-leaning biases. These break down into three categories.

The first is the rating system they use. Politicians seldom make statement that are totally true or false. They cherry-pick facts or rely on one study when conflicting ones exist. Typically, PolitiFact does a fairly good job of sorting through this. Then the column is given to a panel of editors to rate. This is where things get subjective and biases creep in. It is not uncommon for a liberal who relies on one of many studies to get a rating of "mainly true" while a conservative will get "mainly false". Often the editors seize on some minor point to justify their rating, leaving people who read the entire column scratching their head.

Example: A rating of the claim that ObamaCare does not mandate a background check of "navigators" is examined. They admit that this is true. There is nothing in the law or the related regulations to keep someone convicted of identity theft from getting a job as a navigator. So how do they rate the claim? They give it a Half-True because individual states can mandate background checks.

The second problem is when they already know the answer. They don't even try to search out competing experts. They as experts that will support their conclusion. This is known as confirmation bias. This happens anytime they evaluate statements on Global Warming or the Social Security Trust Fund.

I was going to give a recent example of this where the statement being evaluated was that warming has stopped for the last 15 years but I can't find it on their site. As I remember it, they talked to experts who said that the warming might be going elsewhere than the atmosphere and insisted that 15 years is not significant. They went on to give the claim a Pants On Fire rating. This is strnage given that the statement is true.

The final problem is selection bias. This means choosing statements from conservatives that are more likely to be false an ones from liberals that are more likely to be true. They spent a lot of time fact-checking Michele Bachmann, almost always finding her wrong but they failed to evaluate everything she said. One example was her widely-ridiculed statement that our fore-bearers fought against slavery, giving John Quincy Adams as an example. Pundits insisted that she Fore-bearers meant Founding Fathers and that she had confused J. Q. Adams with his father. In fact, "fore-bearers" simply means people who came before us and J. Q. Adams was a life-long opponent of slavery (among other things, he represented the captives of the Armistad). Given how often Bachmann's statement was quoted, it deserved to be rated.