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.