Archive for July, 2011

Tactics: holier than thou

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sounds so nice. Like the names of so many socialist and communist nations with words like “people’s” and “republic” and other ‘good’ words, the name may be a bit misleading. Robert Knight thinks it might be time to disarm partisan CREW.

Miss O’ Donnell has taken more than her share of abuse from everybody from the liberal press to Republicans sore at her for knocking off liberal Rep. Mike Castle in the primary. Now she’s firing back. This week, she asked the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to investigate CREW for engaging in political attacks and to revoke its tax-exempt status. “I’m doing this for all of us,” she told a gathering of conservatives in Washington last week.

Organizations like CREW file complaint after complaint after complaint. They are investigated by the appropriate authorities and nearly all of them are found to be baseless. The overhead and cost of defending against such complaints is why Governor Palin resigned in Alaska. O’Donnell is attempting to hold these complaining organizations accountable. It may be the start of a backlash against unscrupulous political tactics.

But then, there are the attacks on the Tea Party labeling them will all sorts of allegations and accusations. When confronted, the name callers say the Tea Party folks are acting like children and they are the adults in the room. Say what?

Since the 60’s, the trend has been to consider politicians, especially those not on the left, as guilty until proven innocent – and innocent only means ‘we haven’t found what we want about this scurrilous scumbag, yet.’ Such tactics will hold until the public tires of them and starts to hold the accusers accountable for their destruction and costs.

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Both sides do it? Make no discrimination, make no progress.

Peter falls into the ‘both sides do it trap’ in Politics, economics and reality.

Note that it doesn’t matter which political party promises ‘bread and circuses’ at public expense. Both parties do it. It was the Republican party that passed huge increases in farm subsidies, to benefit its constituents. It was the Democratic party that passed Obamacare, with its enormous subsidies to special interest groups supporting that party. Both parties are equally guilty of misusing taxpayers’ money to subsidize those who support them.

The problem here is that differences are not always binary, yes or no, type things. In politics, differences are matters of degree and scale. If you measure things in such a way as you can see no differences between individual politicians or between political parties, then you have no means to make any effective decisions about party or politician to support or to influence.

There is another issue with this ‘both sides do it’ meme. It is that such rationalization is blame shifting.

Of course, there are still all too many people who’ll vote the party ticket, no matter what: but they’re part of the problem in this country, not the solution. If even 10% of the electorate will vote for principle rather than party, we’ll see a major transformation in Washington. Let’s make it happen!

Perhaps most of the electorate believes it is voting for principle rather than party and what we have is the result. The implication is that the focus needs to be on ‘educating’ the electorate properly. What is seen in Washington D.C. is merely a reflection of the desires and principles of the people who voted them into office. Helping those people ‘see the light’ is not going to helped by providing them with a scapegoat. It only promotes social segregation: politicians versus the common man. As one sage said, ‘we have met the enemy and it is us.’

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Rights and responsibilities

Mitchell Brooks view of health care is that it is not a right but rather a responsibility.

If one does not accept responsibility for his or her actions, there are
no consequences for a particular behavior and when translated into the
delivery of medical care, that only means increased expenditure.

He offers ten principles to consider for healthcare reform the first of which is the shift in view from right to responsibility. Other principles include distinguishing between ‘single payer’ and ‘single payment’, changes in small increments for easy understanding by “the People” (contrast to previous post assuming ignorance by “the People”), and the need for tort reform.

The contrast in tactics to those noted in the previous post are worthy of note. First is that there is no straw man army and no absolute judgment. There is allowance for the gray areas as well as for the ideas that others can hold different opinions. A second is the attention to distinctions that may be important (who pays versus how paid, for instance).

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Debating the issue: look at tactics for insight

Shadowfax thinks that Passing along the cost of health care to consumers won’t save money. The first clue that the argument is weak is that the argument starts by setting up the straw man army.

Republican budget guru Paul Ryan had a plan to end Medicare as we know it to be replaced with a series of less-generous vouchers. The House of Representatives has voted to implement this plan. The political side of this has been written about a lot, and I am not going to rehash what has been better covered elsewhere. I do want to address what seems to be a persistent fallacy or delusion which is held to a near-religious level by many free-market conservatives: The idea that market economics can have an impact on health care costs.

This concept has underpinned every major Republican health care plan since, well, since Mitt Romney’s proto-ObamaCare reforms. The idea is that consumers, when they have “skin in the game,” and when they are empowered and incentivized to see that their money is spent efficiently and only as necessary, will change their health care consumption behavior in a way which will force providers to compete on cost and quality and thus drive down costs. This is wrong, mistaken, misguided and inaccurate.

Note the “as we know it” and “near-religious” and “not going to rehash” as well as the strong, judgmental conclusion.

He then cites three points to support his view. One is the idea that healthcare is generally not a refuseable or elective service. A second is that there is an asymmetry of information. The third is that purchasing power is concentrated. Where are the problems. Take, for a start, the fundamental fact.

The driver of cost is the small fraction of people who have serious medical conditions. It’s the old 80/20 rule writ large.

What this means is that most people do not have such conditions. That means that their health expenses are indeed subject to decision among options. It illustrates that the underlying issue is not health care itself but rather health insurance. How are those who do suffer a “serious medical condition” pay for their needed services? That distinction, between health care and insurance is the basic distortion in the argument presented.

Insurance and normal health care needs are indeed matters where personal choice and market forces can make a great difference. The Medicare part D and Health Savings Accounts show how market forces can make a difference in health care as an example. Arguments that “This is wrong, mistaken, misguided and inaccurate” need to address these counter examples and not just pretend they do not exist or change the subject.

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Good faith immunity only for the nobility

Glen describes the problem of the proliferation of criminal laws. There are now very many ways to be a criminal and often the wording of the law or regulation is such that criminality is a matter of interpretation. That tends to make a farce of the presumption that common citizens should know what is legal and what is not.

The ‘nobility’ isn’t burdened with this presumption of knowledge.

I think ordinary citizens should enjoy the same “good faith immunity”
that law enforcement officials enjoy. That they do not is, I suggest, a
violation of the Constitutional injunction against titles of nobility.
One thing that a title of nobility grants, after all, is exemption from
laws that bedevil the little people.

What this means is that it depends more than ever on who you know and who you are as to whether you are going to be harasses with criminal complaints. The law can be used as a social weapon not just for criminality but also for ideologies.

It isn’t just the exemption from criminal complaint, it is also a weapon to against others. The Murdoch case provides the current example on this.

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Three issues: an approach to reality

Diagnosing the left is not for the faint of heart. David Solway takes no prisoners and lays his view on the line. The three examples he uses are climate change, healthcare, and the Israel question. “facts do not matter, that logic is helpless to convince or to prompt
even the slightest reconsideration, and that practically every
counter-argument can be turned on its head and interpreted as
confirmation of the original idée fixe. “

The syndrome at work is one of absolute conviction based on the
transformation of objective stimuli into subjective impressions via the
baleful alchemy of a private obsession. Theory supersedes existence. The
delusion is plausible because it is rendered seamless and coherent
although it has no application to things as they are. Internal
consistency, however strained, replaces external correspondence. Paul
Hsieh memorably compares
this “willful blindness to facts” to a driver following a
malfunctioning GPS rather than “real-world landmarks,” leading to what
is called “death by GPS.”

The argument gets into a logical conundrum. Deny it and you illustrate his point. Try to take it apart and you will be entering a minefield needing extreme care to avoid the sort of thinking it describes. That means Solway’s observations provide a good start for introspection and evaluation of one’s own intellectual integrity.

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social phobias: nuclear

San Francisco is at it again. Greg Kumparak reports that the city is requiring cell phone shops to warn customers of potential radiation hazards. Again.

“Hey, didn’t something like this pass last year?” Yep. Well, almost. The Board Of Supervisors approved an ordinance requiring each cell phone’s radiation absorption level (or “SAR”) to be posted on the outside of its box, but that law was stifled after the CTIA Wireless Association filed a lawsuit against the city. … This second swing at the new law is a bit more lax: gone are the specific radiation details posted on each box, instead replaced by general warnings that cell phone shops will need to have at hand.

This is after the WHO came out with a ‘maybe’ on the topic. That was another of those fear items where they couldn’t find any data to support their thesis but couldn’t find anything to prove a negative. Greg has this problem, too.

Sure, we’re all stupid and easily confused by scary numbers — but this is something that we don’t quite understand yet. A few “So, uh, cell phone radiation might be bad for you, we’re still investigating” signs are the least we can do.

There aren’t any “scary numbers” and we do indeed understand the phenomena. That just isn’t enough for the fears. Responsible scientists know that they cannot prove a negative as there is no way to create certitude of any single point in an infinitude. What is known is that there is no evidence to date of any of the proposed ‘radiation’ hazards from cell phone use and there is no known mechanism for creating such a hazard.

Related to this are the reports that the U.S, Nuclear agency head has noted that there were no adverse health effects from the Japanese nuclear power plant tsunami and earthquake damage. That is nestled in with the ‘radiated beef’ stories. Something about nuclear phenomena stimulates irrational fears despite the fact that it is one of the most easily measured pollutants that has the most well known effects.

Social phobias like this create laws and those laws spread additional fear and uncertainty as well as create unnecessary costs. With cell phones, the costs are mostly a nuisance. With power plants, the costs are much more significant and include the health effects that result when there is insufficient power for needs such as air conditioning in a heat wave. The FUD Mongers do need to be held accountable.

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Vietnam redux: reality shows up in small pieces

It’s Jane Fonda this time. She is puzzled at being kicked off QVC. Jeffrey Kuhner says it is a matter of Humbling Hanoi Jane.

Vietnam has
been over for decades. Liberals romanticize it as the heroic struggle
of the ‘60s. Their Orwellian narrative – false as it is malevolent – is
that U.S. withdrawal led to regional peace and security. The very
opposite occurred: The victory by North Vietnam unleashed a holocaust.

Fonda became something of a symbol what with her cavorting on the guns used to shoot down American airplanes. It appears that she still has no idea of what she did. That is a form of denial, which is something that can be seen in a lot of the ideological driven efforts that are causing so much pain in society. The reality of the past will come back to bite those whose memories of their fantasies are not quite in line with reality. It may be in small pieces but it cannot be held down and that may not be a pleasant experience for some.

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Differiing views: one constructed

The reports of the response to the release of the new Palin Documentary provide yet another lesson in how to construct news. John provides a comparison and contrast at Powerline. Yahoo News says it was a “big opening” while The Atlantic says it was an “empty theater.” In order to get that empty theater, the reporter had to attend an unadvertised 12:45 a.m. preview screening.

It is one thing when small sample bias is unselected. It is another when you go out of your way to make your sample say what you want it to. We are in an era where the latter effort is considered news.

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It is a matter of values

Jim Bass cites Heather MacDonald at the City Journal: No money for civil engineering, plenty for diversity. The topic is California budgeting for its universities. The topic is a matter of university purpose and focus.

This position would augment UC San Diego’s already massive diversity apparatus, which includes the Chancellor’s Diversity Office, the associate vice chancellor for faculty equity, the assistant vice chancellor for diversity, the faculty equity advisors, the graduate diversity coordinators, the staff diversity liaison, the undergraduate student diversity liaison, the graduate student diversity liaison, the chief diversity officer, the director of development for diversity initiatives, the Office of Academic Diversity and Equal Opportunity, the Committee on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Issues, the Committee on the Status of Women, the Campus Council on Climate, Culture and Inclusion, the Diversity Council, and the directors of the Cross-Cultural Center, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center, and the Women’s Center.

UC San Diego is adding diversity fat even as it snuffs out substantive academic programs. In March, the Academic Senate decided that the school would no longer offer a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering; it also eliminated a master’s program in comparative literature and courses in French, German, Spanish, and English literature. At the same time, the body mandated a new campus-wide diversity requirement for graduation.

Why study Cervantes, Voltaire, or Goethe when you can contemplate yourself? “Diversity,” it turns out, is simply a code word for narcissism…

The old adage is to “follow the money” and it appears that California is more interested in something other than the studies that produce wealth in its universities.

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mea culpa: on Palin and the shame and guilt of a bystander to a lynching

Governor Palin has been, and is, an interesting case study stimulus for human behavior. The new biopic directed by Stephen Bannon has a few folks reconsidering their opinions and re-assessing what they thought they knew. Ben Howe tells his story at Redstate.

On Sarah Palin, I was so incredibly hoodwinked that the one word that my wife and I agreed described how we felt after watching it, was shame.

Shame for not bothering to look up her record. Shame for not reading her story. Shame for turning the channel when she came on the tv. Shame for not listening to people that we had a great deal of respect for like Andrew Breitbart, Tammy Bruce, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

As Breitbart points out in the film, the greatest shame is that while this woman was savaged to degrees you may not even realize yet, some of us sat back and let it happen

It is the hubris, the pride in supposedly being able to “to know when something is baloney, almost instinctively” that permeates much of political dialog. Many should have shame for being gullible to the propaganda because that is the first step towards self realization. What follows is what is needed in the masses, the outrage that this is “something that I shall never allow to happen again.” When people can find reality and stand for its proper presentation, then the path towards solution of governance problems will be made much more clear.

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radiation phobias

Radiation seems to invoke the worst in some folks. The recent redo over the fear of cell phone radiation is one example. The Japanese tsunami disaster is another. PhysOrg reports Radiation response a meltdown in reason.

The possibility that low doses of radiation may prevent or delay the progression of cancer is being explored by a Flinders University research team led by Professor Pam Sykes (pictured) in a move that runs counter to the widely held perception that exposure to any radiation is harmful.

“And the frightening thing is that it’s been estimated that throughout Europe there were over 100,000 wanted pregnancies aborted, and these were people who didn’t live anywhere near Chernobyl.”

Much like any detection of any amount of radiation in Japan that can be traced to the Fukushima power plant is cited as a part of a nuclear disaster rather than an outcome of the tsunami, nuclear radiation keeps the fear, uncertainty, and doubt mongers busy with their propaganda. Forget the tens of thousands killed or left homeless by the tsunami. Concentrate on fears of damage that have yet to produce casualties.

The abortions are only one measure of the tragedy of this fear. There are stories this morning of heat related health problems in Japan due to power shortages causing a lack of air conditioning. That is just one example of the adverse impact that a lack of energy production can have on a population. It is a part of the cost that is usually not considered in the fear driven efforts to banish nuclear power.

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Intimidating the jury

Glen Tschirgi says it’s How Democracy Crumbles: Implosion of the Jury System.

this idea that the State must prove the guilt of the accused, and prove it beyond a “reasonable doubt” to a jury of peers is the key stone that protects us from arbitrary oppression by the State.

The fact that the public perceives that “justice” was not carried out illustrates: (A) that the public is never shy about condemning people without all the facts that were available to the jury, and; (B) that the public has lost sight of this key responsibility of the State to prove its case.

When we reach the point that jurors cannot serve without fearing for their lives if they dare to hold the State accountable for proving guilt, the jury system collapses.

lest anyone think that tyranny cannot happen in these United States, just look at the Fast and Furious/Gunwalker scandal for a sample of government run amok.

There are a lot of folks who have cast judgment – consider Human Rights Watch and their war on the previous administration by the simple expedient of defining torture. The certitude of many who are well removed from the intimate details of a situation and who have their own axe to grind belies the nature of human perceptions and reality. The acquittal of Casey Anthony in Orlando, Florida provides a case study of a public that is disappointed that an outcome not in line with their beliefs. The expression of that disappointment is egregious and misdirected. It should be directed at the state for failure of performance in meeting effective standards of proving guilt; not in the threats to the jurors.

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Patent wars: going after Google

It’s enough to make you wonder: six thousand patents held by a company gone bankrupt. The company is Nortel Networks which means the patents cover telecommunications – cell phone technologies. Gringley describes the stakes in The enemy of my enemy.

The bidding, which began with a $900 million offer from Google, went far higher than most observers expected and only ended, I’m guessing, when Google realized that Apple and its partners had deeper pockets and would have paid anything to win. This transaction is a huge blow to Google’s Android platform, which was precisely the consortium’s goal.

Google’s Android smart phone software is already under attack with something like 45 intellectual property lawsuits. Its competitors had to gang up to obtain the money needed to out-bid Google on the Nortel patents. A part of what they get is protection from each other. Having a patent portfolio these days, or being in a group that has one, is not just an access to technology, it is a weapon to use in a way much reminiscent of the MAD or mutual assured destruction philosophy of the cold war. This is rather far afield from the original intent of the government sanctioned patent.

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Gunwalker: Heard of this scandal?

Watergate was a matter of theft and cover-up. The media went after it tooth and nail. Iran Contra was a neat trick that, however, ignored the instructions of Congress. The media went after that, too. There is one now that involves illegal gunrunning, homicides, and cover-ups. Have you seen much of it in the media?

John makes a comparison and contrast of the coverage of a U.S. scandal and a U.K. scandal in Fast and Furious vs. News of the World.

Fast and Furious has all the ingredients of a major news story; a story that may force the resignation of the Attorney General.

Then we have the News of the World story. … the paper somehow hacked into certain cell phones, including those of celebrities and crime victims. This revelation has provoked a considerable outcry in the U.K.

Now, which of these stories should be of greater significance to a serious American newspaper?

But the New York Times apparently doesn’t see it that way. My count, based on a search of the paper’s archives, is that the Times has run 42 articles, op-eds and editorials on the News of the World story. Fast and Furious? By my count, five. Does that bizarre ratio reflect the paper’s bias? Presumably so; it consistently tries to protect the Obama administration. But for a newspaper to virtually ignore a major story like Fast and Furious goes beyond bias. It suggests a complete lack of seriousness as a news source.

A “lack of seriousness as a news source” if probably being rather kind. Media participation in a cover-up is something to consider as well.

UPDATE: Gunrunner and Fast & Furious projects may not be the same thing as some have thought. See There’s Still No Evidence That Eric Holder Knew About Operation Fast and Furious at Reason.com

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Trashing success

There’s something about a success that doesn’t fit the ideology that brings out the worst in reasoning. Bloomberg provides an example in taking after Texas job growth.

It’s easy to be charmed by Texas, but it would be a mistake to think the state might serve as a national model. Texas created almost 250,000 jobs in the past two years, nearly as many as the other 49 states combined.

They explain away this phenomena by citing “hard to duplicate factors” like immigration, demographics, and “unusually low wages.”

Favorable demographics and low wages are one way to build an economy. There are better paths to follow. Congressional ratification of pending free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea is one. … Congress should also allow companies sitting on overseas profits to bring those earnings home at a corporate-tax rate lower than the current 35 percent, in exchange for increasing worker head counts. An alternative to a profit repatriation holiday is a payroll-tax credit, which would go to employers for each worker added. … Another promising initiative is the Layoff Prevention Act, … Congress should also consider increasing spending on public works

Consider what is wrong here. One is that the comparison between “Dishwashers in Texas averaged $7.90 an hour in 2009, 10.3 percent below their peers nationwide” as a contrast to free trade treaties. Another is that the suggested list of the ‘right way’ to do it is all about governmental regulation including many things that have been tried and failed.

Texas irks the socialists and this editorial is a good example of why and how. Reason and reality go by the board in the desire for government to control the market for labor as well as manipulate business. Texas shows what can happen if government can get out of the way. “Texas created almost 250,000 jobs in the past two years, nearly as many as the other 49 states combined.” But Bloomberg things that isn’t the best way to go. The implication is that there are better ways to prosperity than gainful employment. It is the sort of implication that leads to considering just what values are behind it.

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Tactics: ad hominem

Peter Wehner describes three media personalities and suggests Ad Hominem Attacks Are Not Necessary.

It’s hard to know whether these pundits understand how stupid and childish their rants are, or whether they’re so blinded by their ideology they don’t understand it’s not really appropriate to refer to people with whom you disagree on taxes as Wahhabis, suicide bombers and members of a death cult.

As for the ‘both sides do it’ crowd, this particular tactic takes a lot of stretching to fit the desired outcome. Wehner says “it would be nice if a few liberals who pretend to care about the quality of our political dialogue – at this point I’d settle for one” – and it seems that he does have a point.

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