Archive for September, 2012

Benghazi: another scandal of not taking it seriously

“The problems in Benghazi, though, seem to lie deeper. There was a failure to connect the dots: the deterioration of the security situation in eastern Libya was marked and ongoing, and the liaison office in Benghazi was exactly the kind of soft, prominent target that would draw the wrong kind of attention. And while all the facts aren’t in, one gets a persistent sense that the bad guys knew entirely too much about what was going on there.”

Mead says the press is digging now: WAPO Attacks: Benghazigate?. Four American officials dead, an administration having trouble getting its story in sync with reality, and something to be learned about the terrorism wars.

The previous administration was lambasted for its ‘with us or against us’ stance and efforts to put security of American interests as a high priority. What is being demonstrated now is the consequence of not taking that security seriously.

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Martin Luther King would have loved Ann Coulter?

Racial demagoguery has become rather visible recently. Ann Coulter provides a history lesson about racial issues in her newest book, Mugged: Racial Demagoguery from the Seventies to Obama. Jefferey Lord thinks it is Ann Coulter’s Home Run and explains why at the American Spectator.

“In writing her newest book, Mugged: Racial Demagoguery From the Seventies to Obama Ms. Coulter takes the time to carefully and in detail explode the self-made liberal myth of liberals and liberalism as heroes in the American civil rights movement.” … “Ann Coulter gets it. Mugged is not just a book — it’s a public service. In chapter and verse, Coulter takes the time to detail the Left’s wretched racial history” … “All true. And Coulter, a lawyer, prosecutes her case with detailed enthusiasm.”

There are problems that are not pleasant to face. The race problem is very much about how one, just one, minority group has allowed resentment and envy to fester causing much misery and poverty. That penchant of the minority has been used, fueled and fed, for political purposes. Coulter’s book exposes that effort and highlights some of the tragedies that it has caused. The question is whether society can learn from history.

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Unions, scabs, policing, and when the end justifies the means

“Even before Monday, the psychedelic officiating had caused some near-hallucinogenic moments: The sight of Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Kevin Ogletree slipping on a hat mistakenly tossed on the field by a replacement referee, perhaps costing Dallas a touchdown”

The NFL referee brouhaha really got a boost with the latest Monday Night Football game. Bloomberg describes The NFL Fiasco: Why Referees Are Like Chicago Teachers

“However trifling in a financial sense, the lockout reflects a larger trend in the American workplace. The NFL and the NFLRA are wrestling over the same issues that dominated America’s other widely watched labor dispute: the Chicago teachers strike. While most accounts have focused on the NFL’s desire to do away with the NFLRA’s pension plan as the central sticking point in negotiations, a less talked-about, but equally contentious, issue is pay for performance.”

There are only about 120 NFL referees that make an average of $149,000 per year. The Union dispute is about a 7% pay raise and dealing with a larger bench for the part time job so that those referees who blow too many calls can be easily replaced.

There are many issues at play here. One is why the NFL had to dig down past the premier level of football referees to find replacements to fill in during the strike. Another is the popularity of the games. A third is about brand protection: pictures of two referees signalling opposing calls on the same event are starting to be rather popular.

There is also the problem of integrity in the teams. The Seahawks provided many examples of pushing the rules in an ‘end justifies the means’ attitude that was reinforced by their gloating after the game. It is this sort of attitude that is behind many of the injury issues the NFL is trying to ameliorate. Honor in the competition is suffering. That is something that goes to the core of the NFL brand. Low performance refereeing makes more of a difference when the players and teams have primary goals and objectives that are something other than playing a ‘clean’ game.

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Trolls and anonymous vitriol

“You get a thick skin when messing around on the Internet and that can go either way. You can react, like a nerve burned raw, or you can become a troll. This is a story of both.”

It is The Story Of An Internet Troll With A Surprising Twist. A recent study came out with the conclusion that vitriol in communications was reduced when there was eye contact. The I’net provides a communications media that separates the human from the message and that can spell trouble.

“Trolling is easy. Anonymous – or even non-anonymous – vitriol on the Internet is the simplest, most primitive method of communication known and it is also the most useless. It is, in short, garbage.

Many of us, myself included, dash off angry comments and other bullshit in forums and social media. But why? Must we really release our impotent rage? Must we be like an old racist at an empty kitchen table, alone and unwanted, disintegrating into a soup of hatred. Are we infants?”

Are we infants?” — Special powers require special responsibilities. SciFi has many themes based around the balance between technological prowess and social and individual responsibilities. Just where is that ‘slippery slope’ and just where should the balance be between social mores expressed in laws and regulations and individual expressions of responsibility and integrity?

In the case with a twist, the victim found the perpetrator and used personal confrontation as a means to resolve issues. That will work but only if the person does not stand alone. Too often in social media, the victim is allowed to stand alone and the same can be said in other realms as well. It is the bystander problem. What should you do?

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Ten percent on me?

An opinion in the WSJ is about The 10% President. “Now we know: It turns out the figure is 10%. The other 90% is somebody else’s fault.”

Inherited the biggest deficit in our history? Nope, that was back in WWII. Then it was north of 20% of the economy. In 2008 it was 3.2% and in 2009, the budget that was delayed until after the Democrats took over both the executive and legislative branches, it went to 10% of GDP.

Then there’s the ‘Bush Tax Cuts’ and the wars as reasons for the deficit, Facts of the matter are that revenue rose after the tax cuts as they usually do and the amount spent on the wars was small in comparison to other federal expenditures.

“The pre-eminent political question now is whether to reform the government we have to make it affordable going forward, or to keep growing the government and raise taxes to finance it, if that is even possible.

Mr. Obama favors the second option, though he pretends he can merely tax the rich to do it. Nobody who has looked honestly at the numbers believes that—not his own Simpson-Bowles commission and not the Congressional “super committee” he sanctioned but then worked to undermine.

At every turn he has demagogued the Romney-Ryan proposals to modernize the entitlement state so it is affordable, and he personally blew up the “grand bargain” House Speaker John Boehner was willing to strike last summer.”

There is more in the opinion as each ‘talking point’ is taken apart. The problem is that there are many, too many it seems, like the Limbaugh caller who claimed that Bush had written the entire tax code, or perhaps like the substitute NFL referees and what they did to the Packers tonight. Sometimes, what is in front of your face just isn’t enough.

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The professor explains: tax rates, tax revenue, and arguments passing in the night

“Trickle Down” Theory and “Tax Cuts for the Rich” (PDF) is a pamphlet by Thomas Sowel that provides a background to the arguments about tax policies. He suggests that the current debate is often about two entirely different concepts. The ‘debate’ is more two people talking from different planets than it is a discussion for the discovery of reality.

Reality gets abused in other ways as well. History is exposed to illustrate this. Goals clarification, assumption discovery, and other good topics are exposed.

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Reaction, response, and reason

“These people simply don’t belong to the Western civilization with its traditions of freedom, democracy, and enlightenment. They belong to a medieval civilization controlled by ultimate cults that can never be questioned, divine entities and beliefs that have the right to create a whole hierarchy of power here on Earth. The similarity to the Islamic fundamentalists is particularly hard to overlook in these days when we see how both of these groups are terrified that someone is even allowed to talk about something.”

Luboš provides his take on the Insane reaction to the PBS interview with Anthony Watts. It seems that PBS made the mistake of allowing one of ‘those people’ to speak. It seems that many in the PBS audience considered that to be an outrage. Their position is not to ‘debate’ or investigate but rather to shut down and censor any idea that threatens their fantasies.

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Economic Freedom: boiling the frog slowly

“The Cato/Fraser Institute annual report on economic freedom in the world is just out, and it contains the unsurprising but still infuriating news that the United States has slipped from the ranks of the top ten freest economies in the world.  Another achievement President Obama will no doubt celebrate.  In the latest rankings, the U.S. dropped to 18th place, after ranking around third for most of the two decades between 1980 and 2000.  The authors of this year’s report, James Gwartney, Robert Lawson, and Joshua Hall comment

This is related to the surface media brouhaha about a Mother Jones recording of a Romney fund raising meeting. The ‘gaffe’ (can’t call them lies any more as they’ve been caught on that too often) is the revelation of a truth: that many in the U.S. don’t pay income tax and have become dependent on government largess rather than their own initiative. Responsibilities are handed off, freedoms sold.

Steven Hayward notes that it is Obama Versus Economic Freedom. It seems like the parable about how you should boil the frog slowly so he won’t notice how hot the water is until it is too late.

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No need to get lost in the weeds: See the forest rather than examine the trees

“The core problem is the premise that skeptic scientists should be ignored because they are corrupt. The question is, who do these people rely on to prove this accusation? Rummage through any of the above individuals’ variety of writings and presentations, and a disturbing single source ultimately emerges”

Russell Cook describes The OTHER problem with the Lewandowsky paper and similar ‘skeptic’ motivation analysis: Core premise off the rails about fossil fuel industry corruption accusation. While some scientists get into the methodology and the details of the ‘research,’ just looking at the basic assumptions and the premise of a paper may tell you a lot about its integrity. Are these assumptions really valid? How do you know? Often, they are implicit and not put on the table for examination. In climate research, it is just this pattern of leaving important issues off the table that is bothering some folks.

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Cronyism: where government becomes the first customer

“why isn’t economic freedom the “default setting” for our economy? What upsets this productive state of affairs? Trouble begins whenever businesses take their eyes off the needs and wants of consumers—and instead cast longing glances on government and the favors it can bestow. When currying favor with Washington is seen as a much easier way to make money, businesses inevitably begin to compete with rivals in securing government largess, rather than in winning customers. “

Charles G. Koch: Corporate Cronyism Harms America. When businesses feed at the federal trough, they threaten public support for business and free markets.

“The effects on government are equally distorting—and corrupting. Instead of protecting our liberty and property, government officials are determining where to send resources based on the political influence of their cronies. In the process, government gains even more power and the ranks of bureaucrats continue to swell. “

The same temptation flavors major science as can be seen recently in climate science.

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Taking advantage of the system: Costco and crony capitalism

Some folks don’t think so much of how Costco does business. Steve Greenhut provides his take as Costco exec epitomizes Obama’s love of crony capitalism:

“It seems fitting that the main corporate speaker at the Democratic convention comes right out of the crony-capitalism school of business. It seems fitting that it uses its muscle to arm-twist cities into taking others’ property and into filling its coffers with tax dollars.”

Perceptions are a big part of being able to make the sale. Apple knows this. Costco has its take. With government as big as it is, the customer is a smaller part of the equation in how to make a profit.

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Driving prices to feel good: housing, education, health care?

Some folks are worried about another bubble because it might just burst like the housing bubble did. Mead describes it as Obama’s War On The Young

“In the housing bubble and in the higher ed bubble we are getting some very expensive crash courses in how federal cash, good intentions poorly thought through and bad incentives for both public and private actors can lead to disaster. We have paid a lot of money already as a result of these mistakes and will likely have to pay a lot more; we should at least learn some lessons so we don’t do the same things in the future.”

what’s the issue?

“it’s clear that the huge presence of the federal government in both health care and education helps to drive price increases. On the one hand, Uncle Sam is a kind of payer of last resort. If it weren’t for student loan programs and financial aid, for example, colleges would have to charge only what students and their parents could actually pay out of their own resources and any private loans they could get.”

He lists five things that went wrong. One is lobbying for the poor, changing the meaning of debt, changing economic factors, perverse incentives, and unanticipated implications of reform efforts. It is a systemic problem based on trying to use the government for things that make one feel good. The consequences come along later and are often tragic.

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About those jobs Americans don’t want to do: Mike Rowe to Romney

“Certainly, we need more jobs, and you were clear about that in Tampa. But the Skills Gap proves that we need something else too. We need people who see opportunity where opportunity exists. We need enthusiasm for careers that have been overlooked and underappreciated by society at large. We need to have a really big national conversation about what we value in the workforce, and if I can be of help to you in that regard, I am at your service – assuming of course, you find yourself in a new address early next year.”

Some folks have a rather intimate contact with that segment of ‘dirty jobs’ that have to get done. Mike Rowe is one of them and it has given him a mission. He writes an open letter to Governor Romney as a part of that and shares it with us as The First Four Years Are The Hardest….

What he is talking about is a proper appreciation for the skilled trades as a means for career fulfilment. The education establishment is singled out as one source steering the young towards other careers and fostering dissatisfaction with ‘menial’ labor. That may be as vocational education tends to float around in the background at academe.

But perhaps one of the brightest allies for Mike Rowe are the Home and Garden Channel shows that put the trades on parade in making the home a healthier, safer, and more attractive place.

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Blame Bush? Overview of the housing bubbble

“The president blames the Bush administration and Republicans for this state of affairs. But as we have seen, George W. Bush surely wasn’t president in 1977, when the original CRA was passed.

Bush wasn’t president when Obama himself was pushing and suing to get more cash into the hands of marginally qualified purchasers.

Bush wasn’t president during the thirty or so years that our public schools failed to educate young people as to the consequences of borrowing more than they could repay.

Bush wasn’t president when states, municipalities, and school districts offered unsustainable wages and fringes to public-employee unions, assuming that the increases in real estate taxes would make for an endless stream of revenue.

So whom can Obama blame? Well, some of the most destructive avalanches have begun with the dropping of a tiny pebble that unsettles the slope of a mountain. Barack Obama dropped such a pebble in 1995 when he sued Citibank in Chicago.”

When the need to simplify meets the need to rationalize, all sorts of distortions can occur. Jim Yardley provides an overview of the history of the housing bubble and its nature in So Obama Inherited a Mess, Did He? From Whom? that illustrates the fact that national and global financial messes are seldom simple and have many fathers.

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There is a difference, but only if degree and kind matter

It’s an ad hominem, at least on the surface: How Crazy Are the Democrats?. It seems to be in the same ballpark as those assertions about Republicans being EVIL. In this case, though, the allegation does not evaporate into vague generalities that dissipate in a cloud but rather digs down to specific circumstances.

“These people aren’t just a little slow, or far too liberal. They are, frankly, crazy. It is often said that there are nutty people in both political parties, and that no doubt is true. But the assumed equivalence is false. We are talking here about senior Democratic Party officials and delegates to the Democratic National Convention. There is no analogous craziness at the same level on the Republican side. Democrats frequently describe Republican office-holders and candidates as “crazy,” but that simply means that they aren’t Democrats. In the Democratic Party, we see the real thing.”

Perhaps telling is how people respond to such allegations and what you can discuss with whom. One side goes into a frenzy of hate and bigotry (e.g. “it’s all lies” with anger and venom) while the other will sit down and explore ideas. One side appears to be a loss as to how to respond to a ‘when did you stop beating your wife’ type allegation while the other will go on offense whose relevancy is often questionable.

Compare and contrast. There is a difference.

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Sometimes credentials are insufficient

“On Tuesday, the candidates submitted answers to the 14 “most important science policy questions facing the United States.” The Q-and-A session was organized by Science Debate, a grassroots, nonpartisan, do-gooder group that has been trying since 2008 to get the presidential candidates to engage in a live debate about science and science policy. Subjecting politicians to a science debate might sound like a cruel pop quiz, but it isn’t meant to be.”

The current administration has culled the halls of academia for prestigious scientists as advisers and department heads. It appears to be “the most scientifically accomplished administration since the time of the founding fathers.” Laura Helmuth, though, thinks that Romney Out-Debates Obama on matters of science policy. There is a comparison and contrast to be noted.

“If you scroll through them [answers to the 14 questions] quickly, one thing is immediately apparent: Mitt Romney’s team took this very seriously. His answers are longer, they have subtitles, they have bullet points. It’s not just great presentation: The Romney text is substantive, specific, and detailed. Obama’s answers to some of the same questions are single paragraphs that are vague, repetitive (two in a row start with “Since taking office”), and poorly written.”

There is a qualifier. The problem with the qualifier is that Helmuth toes the PC line on global warming so she takes issue with Romney noting that there is a lack of consensus on the issue. Her view is that “there’s no true debate on the extent of the human contribution (if it weren’t for the human contribution, the climate would likely be cooling) and the question of severity of risk isn’t between “a smidge of risk” and “something we should probably pay attention to.” It’s between “really bad” and “difficult to imagine just how really bad.”” i.e. an ideological extreme that is, in itself meat for the compare and contrast grist mill. One can see the reporter bias on other PC issues such as ‘clean water’ and environmental issues.

“It’s clear from Romney’s answers that his top priorities are reducing government and promoting business, and that science is fine as long as it doesn’t interfere with those ends. But what is impressive and kind of surprising about the science debate is how much thought and effort the Romney campaign put into responding to these questions. “

You would think that this conclusion would cause on the step back a bit from absolute certainty on the PC line but that seldom seems to be the case. When it comes to ideology, a rush to judgement is rather common as is the rationalization of opposition such as in the implications about Republicans in general putting ends above reality. If you see carefully thought out and supported views on issues, the tendency should probably be to delve into the substance rather than to dismiss outright.

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Checklist: that empty chair?

Milton Wolf things that it is What won’t be said [that] will speak volumes.

“America’s critical hour is upon us, and it demands leaders courageous enough finally to address our largest threats. The Democrats’ convention is an endless parade of promises of free birth control and health care for 26-year-old “kids.” There is no shortage of references to boogeymen like former President George W. Bush and embattled Missouri Senate candidate W. Todd Akin.

But here’s what you won’t hear from the Democrats:”

and a ‘checklist’ follows. Of course, these things are noted by Democrats. They call them lies. Increasing the debt more in three years than in the previous eight, the unemployment picture, the tax increases, food stamp rolls, downgraded financial status, examples of crony capitalism, scandals, failed stimulus, Medicare budgets, budgets being passed for the government in general, abortions, and more. All lies. With emphasis. And invective.

The vote to put God back in the Democratic Party platform did pass. It appears that there wasn’t a clear vote so it, and the Israel support, were passed by creative interpretation of the vote of the delegates. That resulted in a number of angry delegates who were rather vocal in their outrage. Voter rights is another one of those issues that needs to be on the checklist.

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Manichaeism and Eastasians? The people on the other side are EVIL!

“What makes last night’s fiscal denialism even more appalling was that many of the speakers themselves have had to fight tooth and nail with public sector unions over compensation and work rules.”

Matt Welch calls them Denialist Democrats and opines that “The party of government refuses to even entertain the possibility that we can no longer afford it.”

This campaign season has revealed a number of phrases that get to the core of the disagreements between political parties (and have the Democrats scrambling to try to ‘explain’ them. One is “you didn’t build that” and a new one surfaced in a DNC video “government is the only thing that we all belong to.” There are behavior patterns as well. The ‘lying machine’ is one and Senator Reid provides an extreme example of playing this one for all its worth. Another, noted by Welch, is from ex-Republican Cincinnati firefighter Doug Stern who thinks he is a scapegoat for the GOP.

“It was classic major-party Manicheasm: Eastasians do bad things for the simple reason that their hearts are bad; Eurasians’ hearts are good, so they don’t do bad things.

In this idyllic landscape of Democratic magical thinking, there is no state and local budget crises, no unaffordable and underfunded defined-benefit public pension obligations, nothing at all standing in the way of “investing” in our public safety, except (in ex-Republican Stern’s words) “right-wing extremists.” Vallejo, California is not bankrupt because of public employee pensions, and the rest of the state is not following suit. It’s a hell of a place, this Democrat-land. Wish I could live there.

Last night’s speeches were notable less for what they contained and more for what they did not”

The implications of assigning an evil nature to people on the other side of a political issue is something to consider. The assignment of an evil nature to others is an ad hominem logical fallacy. It does not begin to approach the issues and why there is disagreement. Such an assignment is also worthy of note because it is expressing a judgement about society as a whole, a rather negative judgement.

“One of the great ironies of this convention already is that speaker after speaker denounces Republicans for being unable to tell the truth or get their facts straight. Meanwhile, one of the most important truths of modern governance—we are well and truly out of money—sits neglected in the corner. This might be a great way to rally the Democratic base, but it’s thin gruel for the majority of Americans who think, correctly, that the nation’s finances have spun out of control.”

The adage about lies is that it often the missing truth that is the greatest lie. That is why the oath includes a term such as ‘whole truth.’ Leaving out unpleasant parts of reality is a matter of denial and that is why the emotions are so strong when the wrong questions are asked or particular facts are noted.

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Surface media or propaganda machine?

“Above all, though: What in the world is a journalist doing offering such rancid advice? In general terms, the same thing all those “fact checkers” are doing. Also the same thing journalists did when they slandered the Tea Party as racist, and when they wrote puff pieces about ObamaCare and insisted the public would learn to love it, and when they falsely blamed conservatives for the Tucson massacre.

During the Obama era, so-called mainstream journalism has increasingly been characterized by a blurring of the distinction between not only fact and opinion but opinion and propaganda. One can only hope the audience sees matters more clearly.”

James Taranto describes The Pinocchio Press: The bizarre rise of “fact checking” propagandists.

There is something going on here and it does not bode well …

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More on that “litany of falsehoods” being claimed in the surface media

“It has now become an accepted fact by the mainstream press that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are engaged in a campaign of, to put it charitably, untruths.”

“But most of the allegations of lying don’t hold up well to closer examination. Worse, some of the media complaints about the campaign’s veracity are themselves based on factual mistakes.”

Fact checking is, in itself, becoming a story and an issue. John Merline asks Are the Media Telling the Truth About Romney’s “Lies”? and gets into the background.

There is a convenience in just labeling the opposition a ‘lying machine’ but that really doesn’t do much for anything except personal comfort. It is a denial based on a logical fallacy. That is not a healthy approach for anything.

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