Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Non sequitur

Call the bad reasoning police! A woman at a party some of my family members attended was asked about the health care reform bill. Her answer: I support it because I'm a liberal. I believe this response falls into the category of the non sequitur (does not follow). Howard Dean is a liberal when I last checked, and he hates the health care bill. A Label like "liberal" cannot rationally be used to explain a position. It would be just as fallacious to say "I'm against abortion because I'm conservative." There has to be some sort of logical justification for the position taken.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Independents–do they exist?

There are very few true independents, according to this blog post. This study shows most independents are not actually independent in any meaningful sense; almost all of so-called "independents" lean to either the Republicans or the Democrats.

This study's conclusions, while disappointing, seem very reasonable to me. Among people I know who follow politics and do not officially belong to either party, (n of 30-40) almost none are completely nonpartisan. After all, even Sean Hannity claims to not be a Republican. If he is an independent, then the word has no coherent meaning.

Another outstanding leftist critique of health care bill

This criticism of the health care bill is from the PNHP, a group advocating single-payer insurance: (I actually don't support that, but that's besides the point):

* The new 40 percent tax on high-cost health plans – deceptively labeled a “Cadillac tax” – would hit many middle-income families. The costs of group insurance are driven largely by regional health costs and the demography of the covered group. Hence, the tax targets workers in firms that employ more women (whose costs of care are higher than men’s), and older and sicker employees, particularly those in high-cost regions such as Maine and New York.

See the entire press release here.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Civil war on left?

Howard Dean in this article absolutely takes apart the health care bill, from a leftist perspective. There seems to be a civil war on the left right now, primarily but not solely, over the health care debate.

While I am not a leftist and maybe should recuse myself from this debate, my sympathies are all with Howard Dean, Matt Taibbi (Rolling Stone writer), and other left-liberals who are concerned primarily with advancing ideas. The Obama partisans (e.g. Lanny Davis) seem to be concerned primarily with the electoral success of the Democratic party.

Now to get a little philosophical, I will quote one of my favorite authors, Sam Harris:

There is a basic truth about us that no double standard can erase. Either a person is being intellectually honest, or he isn't. Either a person is looking dispassionately at the evidence, or he's trying to conform the evidence to his prior view of the world.

I don't know what Harris' position is on the health care bill, but I think his statement applies very well to the health care debate. I see little intellectual honesty from either right-wing opponents of this bill (there are no death panels, Sarah Palin) or from liberal supporters (it will not reduce costs). The only principled people in this debate seem to be leftists like Howard Dean and Matt Taibbi who have opposed a bill from a party and president they surely voted for.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Climate change and baseball

This article does a good job of rebutting the ridiculous claim in the media that a snowstorm disproves global warming. I think this is a good sports analogy: Imagine a commentator on ESPN covering a St. Louis Cardinals game saying Albert Pujols wasn't that good because he went 0 for 4 that day. This preposterous statement would probably get this person fired. It's no more absurd, though, than saying a storm in December disproves global warming. But because climate change is such an emotional issue, many people (mostly on the right, needless to say)accept such manifest nonsense as a legitimate argument.

There were record highs all over the country in the summer–does that prove global warming? No, because weather and climate are not the same. A five for five game from a mediocre baseball player does not make him a superstar. When someone argues that a hot or cold day proves or disproves global warming, explain to them all they are proving is confirmation bias ( see Wikipedia here for a full explanation).

Friday, December 18, 2009

A good idea that can't pass

The folowing is an interesting letter to the local paper:
When Thomas Jefferson wrote "All men are created equal" in the Declaration of Independence, that statement became the basic essence of what democracy is. This being the case, I ask you why a citizen who lives in Wyoming has approximately 70 times the Senate representation as a citizen of California in 2008?

Senators who represent states with small populations have far more power than they deserve; in fact, Republican Senators represent only 37 percent of the U.S. population. I see nothing wrong for senators of small states protecting their state's right to be treated equally by the feds. This was what the framers intended senators to do in 1787. At that time the framers of the Constitution couldn't conceive of federal programs for the populace; however, I find senators from small states having this undue influence on national issues that affect all U.S. citizens to be a flaw in our marvelous Constitution.

Did you know that Republican Senators represent only 37 percent of the U.S. population? You'd never know it if you've been following the health care debate. This injustice will never be corrected until the Supreme Court forces Congress to make the necessary changes to make the statement "All men are created equal" factual in the USA. (end of letter)

I agree with Mr.Martin in principle. It is absolutely unfair that Wyoming voters have much more power than California voters. But the truth is that nothing can be done about it. Contra Mr.Martin, the Supreme Court does not have the authority to repeal a Constitutional provision (Article I, Section 3 provides for two Senators from each state). I'm not even sure that a constitutional amendment would be able to rectify this problem; Article V says no state without its consent shall be denied equal suffrage in the Senate in any future amendment. For better or worse, the Founders made structural changes in our government very difficult.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Keith, are you on Planet Earth?

Keith Olberman says here that the media is right-wing!(go to 7:25). I only wonder if he actually believes this. Did he miss the election coverage in 2008? Allow me to quote someone to Olbermann's left, but with a stronger grip on reality: "I would describe the media as fairly liberal"–Noam Chomsky. It's too bad Olbermann makes this silly argument, as he makes some valid criticisms of Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly in the clip. All the absurd rhetoric on cable TV proves the physicist Neil Tyson's statement that there is hot air on both ends of the spectrum.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Hopeless cause

A letter I submitted to the local paper:

The fight against man-induced climate change is hopeless. There is no good reason to believe the summit in Coperhagen will accomplish anything toward reducing the Earth's temperature. Past treaties have been unsuccessful in this goal. As the liberal Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson has pointed out, carbon emissions actually have gone up 30% since the Kyoto protocol was ratified in 1997.

Even (very optimistically) assuming the U.S. is able to reduce emissions by the percentage President Obama has proposed (17% by 2020), China and India will more than make up for that with increasing emissions. There's no sense in agonizing over the issue anymore. As the late columnist James Burnham once said: where's there no solution, there's no problem.

I should point out that do not believe "global warming" is a hoax (it's actually climate change, but I'm too tired to explain the distinction). There is solid evidence that CO2 and methane do affect the climate. I would use the analogy to the war on drugs. It's not that drugs aren't dangerous, it's that prohibiting them is futile and counterproductive. (See the 1920s).

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Some common sense in the climate change debate

The best article I have read on the subject of climate change is here, courtesy of Eugene Robinson, Washington Post columnist. Robinson is no climate change denier, but is very pessimistic about the possibility of carbon emission cuts. Like Robinson, I accept that humans influence the climate, but I also do not think mulitnational treaties will make any significant difference on the world's temperature.

Robinson makes an invaluable point here: "The bottom line is that since the Kyoto agreement 12 years ago, worldwide carbon emissions have increased by nearly 30 percent." My conclusion on the subject is that the climate is like the weather, everyone talks about it, but no one does anything about it.

Michael Moore, right and wrong

The Afghan troop surge doesn't make sense to me. Very few Al-Qaeda members are actually even in Afghanistan. The best critique of the surge— from a supporter of the President no less— was from Michael Moore on Larry King Live. His appearance is at his website Moore is especially on target when he asks "We're going to send more troops in order to decrease the troops? That doesn't make any sense." No, it doesn't. Moore also points out the absurdity of making a timeline in a war.

But now to criticize him a little, shouldn't his recent movie blasting capitalism be free to the public? Isn't charging money for a movie raw, brutal capitalism.

Query: why are most Republicans and conservatives supporting this move? Why doesn't their skepticism toward government also apply to foreign policy missions?

The argument I have heard recently—that the generals wanted the troop surge and we must listen to them— is very unconvincing. The United States is not a military dictatorship. We elect civilians to make policy decisions. Throughout history, Presidents have defied their generals. Lincoln got rid of a hesistant McClellan, Truman fired (rightly in my opinion) McArthur, and Johnson would have been advised not to listen so much to Westmoreland during the Vietnam War.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thomas Friedman making sense

I've never been much of a fan of Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, but this column is right on. I especially liked the hypothetical question he sugggested that President Obama ask the Muslim world:

“Whenever something like Fort Hood happens you say, ‘This is not Islam.’ I believe that. But you keep telling us what Islam isn’t. You need to tell us what it is and show us how its positive interpretations are being promoted in your schools and mosques. If this is not Islam, then why is it that a million Muslims will pour into the streets to protest Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, but not one will take to the streets to protest Muslim suicide bombers who blow up other Muslims, real people, created in the image of God? You need to explain that to us — and to yourselves.”

Friday, November 27, 2009

Liberals rip health care bill

The media doesn't seem to have noticed, but a number of liberal thinkers have come out against the health care reform bill. I'll quote a few of them:

Marcia Angell, M.D. Harvard Medical School:
It also provides for some regulation of the industry (no denial of coverage because of pre-existing conditions, for example), but since it doesn't regulate premiums, the industry can respond to any regulation that threatens its profits by simply raising its rates. The bill also does very little to curb the perverse incentives that lead doctors to over-treat the well-insured. And quite apart from its content, the bill is so complicated and convoluted that it would take a staggering apparatus to administer it and try to enforce its regulations.

Robert Kuttner,economist, The American Prospect:
On the minus side, the plan leaves most people dependent on employers for health coverage and reinforces the political and economic power of the private insurance industry. It subsidizes insurers with more than half a trillion public dollars over 10 years, mainly using tax credits. And it gets most of that money by requiring savings in Medicare and other federal health programs of about $400 billion and by taxing so-called Cadillac insurance policies -- many of which are actually Chevrolets that cost a bundle because of the present system's inefficiency and tendency to penalize older and sicker policyholders.

Robert Reich, former member of the Clinton administration, also at The American Prospect:

That and other deals cut with industry -- including promises to Big Pharma that Medicare wouldn't use its bargaining clout to reduce drug prices, to the AMA that doctors wouldn't have to face larger cuts in Medicare reimbursement rates, and to private insurers that the White House wouldn't fight hard for a public insurance option -- will make the resulting reforms far more costly. These extra costs will be borne by those Americans who will be required to buy insurance but won't qualify for federal assistance, along with Medicare beneficiaries who will be paying more and receiving less. These people may not know they're indirectly paying the costs of buying off these industries, but they'll know they're getting shafted.

(Post updated 12-18)Dennis Kucinich, leftist congressman:
But instead of working toward the elimination of for-profit insurance, H.R. 3962 would put the government in the role of accelerating the privatization of health care. In H.R. 3962, the government is requiring at least 21 million Americans to buy private health insurance from the very industry that causes costs to be so high, which will result in at least $70 billion in new annual revenue, much of which is coming from taxpayers. This inevitably will lead to even more costs, more subsidies, and higher profits for insurance companies — a bailout under a blue cross.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

How about some rationality in this debate?

This column by Steven Chapman is the most intelligent take I have read on the subject since the health care "debate" began. This paragraph is on the money:

"Anytime you get a body of individuals that go beyond me and my doctor who are going to make decisions about what kind of health care I get, that's rationing of health care." (Quote is by Michael Steele, Republican national chairman). But as long as someone else has to pay for those decisions, someone other than doctors and patients is going to make decisions about what treatments are worth the cost. (My emphasis).

So when you hear conservatives complain that government involvement in health care will put a bureaucrat between the patient and the doctor, explain to them that's already happening. The only solution to third party rationing that might work is eliminating third-party insurance completely and having patients pay doctors directly. I don't see that happening.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Leftist unreason

Sam Harris, one of my favorite writers, put it well a few years ago in this essay:

Unless liberals realize that there are tens of millions of people in the Muslim world who are far scarier than Dick Cheney, they will be unable to protect civilization from its genuine enemies.

We may not be there yet. This is admittedly anecdotal, but today I played a game called Loaded Questions with a left-leaning friend. The game consists of answering questions on various topics. The question I asked from the game that inspired the post was this: if you could lock up one person (anyone in the entire world)in prison, who would it be? I picked Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; she chose Dick Cheney. Sam, you would have been so disappointed. Apparently, there are no Muslims scarier than Cheney after all.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Contradiction at the LA Times

This article is written by Noam Levy at the LA Times. Note the contradiction between two paragraphs in the article:

The problem, Tunis and others experts say, is that leaving the decisions to the marketplace -- as the U.S. healthcare system has done for decades -- has not produced very good results, even for patients.

Even state lawmakers have gotten in on the act, passing hundreds of laws requiring that insurance companies provide particular benefits such as prostate cancer screening or, in one case, varicose vein treatment. According to the Council for Affordable Health Insurance, an industry group, there are more than 2,000 insurance mandates nationwide.

Hmm... State laws mandating coverages—how is that the free market at work, exactly?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sexism, really

Yes, sexism, much like racism, is an overused term, but how else can this Newsweek cover be described? Note: this site is a leftist organization that does not like Palin, but even they still find this cover story outrageous.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Strange column

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, says here we must choose between Afghanistan and health care reform. I have to confess I don't quite follow his logic. Why is the choice between those two policies? The federal budget is about $4 trillion; surely we could do both and cut something else. Or we could do neither.

Kristof is also wrong about the health care bill. It is not the panacea he thinks it is. Liberal economist Robert Kuttner puts it well in the American Prospect: "On the minus side, the plan leaves most people dependent on employers for health coverage and reinforces the political and economic power of the private insurance industry." Why are so-called progressives supporting this bill? The entire article is here.

Cognitive dissonance and health care

Proponents of the health care bill that just passed the House are telling us that the insurance companies can't be trusted. (They're right, incidentally). But, then what sense does it make to force people to buy insurance from those same sleazy companies? This isn't voluntary, either: If you don't buy private insurance, there is a large fine. Isn't this cognitive dissonance?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bundy v. Bardwell

Life imitates art:

Louisiana justice of the peace Keith Bardwell, in refusing to marry an interracial couple: "I'm not a racist. I just don't believe in mixing the races that way."

Al Bundy (Married With Children, defending himself from a charge of sexism): "I'm not a sexist. I'm just saying women don't know nothing."

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Free FOX!

The Obama administration is going after Fox News, denying it is a legitimate news organization. My thought is that this is unprofessional and counterproductive. Fox is getting many more viewers now that they are the cool rebels, so to speak. The President of the United States should have more pressing things to do than waging a war of words with a cable news network. Fox is not fair and balanced, as it claims, but neither are most of the news organizations in the country. My favorite blogger, the political scientist Brendan Nyhan puts it well here:

While I have no love for Fox, which is a frequent conduit for misleading claims, it's not clear to me that non-"objective" journalism is in principle bad for American democracy or "un-American." The sad reality is that the "he said"/"she said" reporting style practiced by the establishment media legitimizes far more misinformation than Fox ever will. As my co-authors and I argue in the conclusion to All the President's Spin, responsible but non-"objective" journalism is sometimes better at countering spin than the mainstream press.

Is Fox more biased than the New York Times or MSNBC? My intuition says it's about even, but that is a guess and nothing more. (I would say Sean Hannity and Keith Olbermann come out about even on the partisan bias scale). Let the American people decide what is or is not a "legitimate" news organization, not the government.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Health care non-reform

This column from the Huffington Post basically sums up my feelings on the Senate bill: Health Reform That Isn't by Marcia Angell, M.D. It is a massive giveaway to the insurance companies. Where is this government takeover I keep hearing about? But, the public option is government-run, right? Two things: it may not pass, and the vast majority of people wouldn't be eligible for it anyway.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Is Rush a racist?

Well, yes, and
here he kind of admits it:

"Look it, let me put it to you this way. The NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons. There, I said it." Limbaugh (10/14/09) admitted making this remark, but claimed it was a response to the actions of one player who was penalized for taunting an opponent. Limbaugh admitted that his language "makes it look racial, the way I chose to describe it. I could have perhaps chosen a different term."

Maybe we could move on to more important stories, like Jon and Kate, or the boy in the balloon.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Obama and Homer Simpson

President Obama's recent Nobel Peace Prize reminds me of a great Simpsons episode, "Brother Can You Spare Two Dimes." In the episode (1991, 3rd season), Mr.Burns buys off Homer from a lawsuit by giving him an utterly fradulent award, the "First Annual Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence." Of course, Homer has done nothing at all to do deserve the award. At the ceremony, Lisa Simpson put it well: "This award is the biggest farce I ever saw."

Try this link.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

My letter to the president

(No, I don't expect an answer. The book I mention is the best book I have ever read on the issue; there is nothing about killing granny in it, if you were curious).

Dear Mr.President,

I'm a registered independent who is politically moderate. I am not interested in partisan bickering. I just want solutions that work. About a month ago, I heard you say, in response to that Republican Senator who said he wants to "break you," that this debate wasn't about you. You said that you have a great insurance. That got me thinking. About a year ago I read Healthcare Guaranteed by Ezekiel Emanuel, whom I believe is one of your advisers. Why can't we do what he suggests—give every American a voucher for the plan Congress and you have? Insurance companies would not be allowed to exclude people based on preexisting conditions.

Friday, August 14, 2009

"Honesty" in taxes

A letter I submitted to the Wall Street Journal today in response to Charles Murray:

I agree with Charles Murray ("Tax Withholding is Bad for Democracy,August 13) that tax withholding should end. However, Murray he makes some very misleading claims to support his case. He states that the top 1% of taxpayers pay 40% of federal taxes and pay more in federal taxes than the bottom 95%. Here he is conflating income taxes with overall federal taxes, which include regressive payroll taxes. Both his claims are false. According to the U.S. Congress Joint Committee on Taxation, the top 1% pay 23% of all federal taxes. The bottom 80% of taxpayers pay 31% of the federal tax burden. It is ironic that Murray discusses the "urgent need to be honest" on the subject of taxes. ( end of letter).

Conservatives are constantly distorting the truth about health care reform. Now they are lying about taxes. I'm not surprised.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Keep the government off my government program!

From Harold Pollak of The New Republic:

I talked with one retired vet carrying a sign that read, “Drop dead, I’m not paying for your health care.” I asked what he meant by that. He said, simply, “I should not have to pay for your medical care.” I asked him if he applies that standard to Medicare. Yes he does. I asked if he therefore feels guilty using the program. “I use the VA.”

(Link is here).

Oh, you want my opinion? I think commentary is unnecessary. The quote speaks for itself.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

This is Change?

The more things change, the more they stay the same, as the old saying goes. Ambassadorships are still for sale as this story shows:

John Roos, nominee for the next U.S. ambassador to Japan, said Thursday he will work hard to solidify the "special bond" between the United States and Japan if his nomination is confirmed.

If approved by the Senate, Roos, 54, one of Obama's top fundraisers during his presidential campaign, will serve as point man for U.S. policy on Japan, a key Asian ally.

Roos is almost unknown among U.S. and Japanese officials and experts. As he has no diplomatic and security experience, some doubt has been raised about his qualifications at a time when North Korea's nuclear and missile threats are mounting. (Emphasis added).

Another disturbing point, courtesy of the Nation magazine: Roos speaks no Japanese.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dishonesty on both sides

My favorite scientist, Neil de Grasse Tyson (astrophysicist), has said, "There's hot air at both ends of the political spectrum." The health care debate has showed this statement to be absolutely true. Major leftist myth: there are 50 million insured. This number is phony as there are many people who do not buy insurance who can afford it. Also, this number includes millions of noncitizens. So people who support national health insurance (myself included) should not use this dubious number when debating this issue.

The right, too, isn't being honest in this discussion. Frequently a conservative will compare the mortality rates or waiting lines of the U.S. to Britain or Canada. This is a weak argument for two reasons: 1. these countries spend far less than the U.S. on health care, so they have to ration care, and 2. there are many countries in Europe with government systems that do better than the U.S. and do not have waiting lists(e.g. France).

My solution: either a public-private mix like France or a plan this book proposes, where every American is given a voucher for private insurance equivalent to the plans federal employees already have.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Torture, I mean enhanced interrogation, in Iran

From the Los Angeles Times comes a good argument against torture. Let me quote the author, Zarah Ghahramani:

Over that month in Evin, I was beaten, lashed, tied to a chair in a stress position for what must have been 12 hours or more, kept in solitary confinement, tormented with tales of what was being done to fellow students who'd marched with me in the street. My head was shorn down to bare skin. I was told to admit to all sorts of dire things -- that I'd spied for America, betrayed my native land, chased boys -- all of which were nonsense, and all of which I confessed to (emphasis added). Torture works. But it doesn't produce truth.

Are you paying attention, Fox News?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Knee-jerk opposition

This is from a speech the President made in April in France (source is Joshua Muravchik at Commentary):

We spend so much time talking about democracy—and obviously we should be promoting democracy everywhere we can. But democracy, a well-functioning society that promotes liberty and equality and fraternity, does not just depend on going to the ballot box. It also means that you’re not going to be shaken down by police because the police aren’t getting properly paid. It also means that if you want to start a business, you don’t have to pay a bribe. I mean, there are a whole host of other factors that people need . . . to recognize in building a civil society that allows a country to be successful.

This is supposedly an example, as Muravchik says, of Obama "echoing a theme first propounded long ago by Soviet propagandists and later sung in many variations by all manner of Third World dictators, Left to Right."

But if you look at the paragraph Muravchik quotes fairly, there's nothing really sinister there. There's not one word that doesn't make sense. This is simply a Glenn Beckish unfair attack on Obama, with no good argument behind it. Scaremongering. Look! The Obama administration hates democracy (and probably by extension so do all Democrats). I'm sorry, I just don't see the anti-democratic intent behind the speech.

Obama is not actually a Communist, believe it or not

I recently sent this letter to my local paper:

On July 10, there were no less than three letters denouncing Barack Obama as a radical leftist who is just waiting to take away our constitutional rights. While these writers are no doubt sincere in their belief, they're dead wrong. Want evidence? Fair enough. Let's look at a few of Obama's recent positions:

1. Has recently sent 20,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

2. Refused to end "no-ask, no-tell" in the military.

3. Called for the completion of the border fence with Mexico (see

4. Has defended the Defense of Marriage Act in court.

I wish the angry letter writers would actually visit a legitimate left-wing website. They would see that real leftists don't like or trust him.

(Not in letter): this is by no means a straw man, it is a common belief, one that much of my family holds. It is none the less false for being widely believed. One more example for my argument: Obama has refused to abandon the missile defense program.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Health care reform going badly

It looks like the health care companies are winning the battle on Capitol Hill. The public option they opposed is looking less and less likely to pass. Now, the talk is forcing people to buy health insurance on the private market. If not, they will be fined heavily! This mandate was tried in Massachusetts under Mitt Romney and was a dismal failure. I hate to say it, but maybe no reform at all is better than what's being proposed. It's hard to believe that every other industrialized country can get all of their people insured and we can't. Maybe campaign finance reform is needed before any health care reform can pass. I fear that too many politicians have been bought out by the insurance companies.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Don't resign, Governor

The South Carolina legislature apparently is calling for Mark Sanford's resignation. (He's a Republican, contra Fox News). But, why? Sure, he betrayed his wife. But what does that have to do with being an effective Governor? Does the South Carolina Constitution have a morals clause? I don't get it.

Really bad argument lampooned

I'm not a big fan of Air America Radio, but this clip is great.

Letter I submitted to Wall Street Journal

Call Scott Adams' Analogy Police! An economist in the Wall Street Journal actually asks why there are no government run supermarkets since food is as important as health care. My response:

This is in response to George Newman's op-ed July 1, "Parsing the Health Reform Arguments." He makes a ridiculous argument against health care reform, asking why we don't have government run supermarkets. This analogy is absurd. No grocery store clerk or manager has ever raised my prices or denied me food for a pre-existing eating condition. I'm not aware of millions of people being barred from Albertson's or Publix for an eating disorder. Mr. Newman says he is an economist. I believe him. As physicist Steven Weinberg has said: You have to be very learned to be that wrong.

What CNN considers important (not sure why).

Friday, June 26, 2009

The time has come for reform

Th present American health care system is a disgrace. Despite spending more than any other country in the world on health care, millions of people remain uninsured. Many other Americans face bankruptcy from their medical bills even with insurance. Clearly, we need reform. Conservatives, e.g. Rush Limbaugh, are denying reality when they say there is no crisis. When conservatives like George Will say, well it's only 45 million uninsured, and some of them are illegal immigrants, they're missing a huge point. How many millions more people would be uninsured without Medicare, which is a government program? My guess is that there would be 70+ millions uninsured now. (You may choose to believe the insurance companies would voluntarily cover the sick elderly. If so, I've got Washington National playoff tickets to sell you). The question is what to do, not whether something should be done.

Paul Krugman, Nobel laureate and New York Times columnist has written a series of excellent columns on the subject. He makes a great point: "reform isn’t worth having if you can only get it on terms so compromised that it’s doomed to fail." The Obama administration is bending over backwards to get a bipartisan bill. Why? Who cares if it's bipartisan? I want an effective bill that covers all Americans; which Senators vote for it is completely irrelevant. Right now, the best bill that can actually pass is the so-called public option. Robert Reich, in an excellent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, points out that the AMA, insurance companies, and drug companies all oppose this plan. That is the best argument for the plan I can think of!

My personal preference is for a single-payer plan, where there is no role for the parasitic middlemen insurance companies, but that has been taken off the table by Congress. The public option is the best possible option. Please support it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Seems like a bad idea

Man-made earthquakes coming to San Francisco? See this story from the New York Times. (Link requires registration).

In the New Republic (I think a subscription is required for access), Jonathan Chait has made a brilliant criticism of a common "argument" against gay marriage. People on the right often say "Marriage should be between a mand and a woman," ad nauseam. As Chait points out, saying marriage should be between a man and a woman is not even a bad argument; it's not an argument at all. He uses this analogy—imagine a liberal in 2001 saying the Bush tax cuts are a bad idea because the top rate should be 39.6%. Of course, this would be a non-argument—you need to explain why the tax rate should be 39.6%. Try this link for the complete article.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Recall Arnold!

Dare to dream! This letter to the Union-tribune (San Diego) sums it up (the writer is one Louis A. Bajkai, fellow resident of my city of Carlsbad): "Many of the budget cuts advocated by Arnold Schwarzenegger would result in huge losses in federal funding to the state." Bajkai cites the examples of Medical, CalWorks, Healthy Families, and In-Home Supportive Services—whose combined cuts of 4.35 billion would lose California 9.1 billion. I'm no mathematician, but that doesn't make a lot of financial sense.

I wonder why Arnold is going to cut these programs; there are two possibilities, neither of them reflecting well on the Governor. The first is that he's so dumb he doesn't realize he's losing money by cutting these programs. The second is that he, like many Republicans, figures the recipients aren't voting for him anyway and wants to cut them out of spite. I can't read Arnold's mind, so I'll let my fellow California residents decide.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Specious logic; no to Judge Sotomayor

A local letter writer, defending Israel, makes this argument:
"Every administration since Harry Truman's has backed Israel and will continue to do so in the future. They cannot all be wrong." Well, actually, yes, they could be. This is (I think) the classic argument from authority, the authority being the U.S. government. (I happen to be pro-Israeli, but that's beside the point).

Now, to my main point, Sonia Sotomayor should not be confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice. It is not because she is a racist, as Rush Limbaugh, et al. have asserted. An unfortunate comment from thirty years ago should not disqualify someone. She should be rejected because she is an activist judge who will bend the law to her goals of a more progressive society. She champions identity politics over the rule of law.

I wish conservative opponents of Sotomayor would focus on that, rather than on the slim evidence of her "racism," an overused and abused term. She has explicitly said that judges make policy—it's her words, not mine. See this clip on Youtube!

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Something's gotta give

From the New York Times on President Obama's health care proposal:
"Broadly speaking, he wants to extend coverage to the 45 million uninsured while lowering costs, improving quality and preserving consumer choice." I have a question: aren't lowering costs and improving quality ipso facto directly opposing goals? This seems too much like vodoo economics (if you don't recall what that it is, remember: cut taxes, increase spending, but voila, no deficits)!

The only relevant goal of a health insurance plan should be the best care. Cutting costs is just not as important. A little more spending on health care is fine with me. We can cancel farm subsidies anytime if we need more money.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Inconsistency from the California Supreme Court

I'm a little confused by the recent ruling of the California Supreme Court. They upheld Prop 8, which prohibited same-sex marriage. As an aside, I strongly opposed the proposition. But the Court also allowed the same-sex marriages performed before the passage of Prop 8 to stand. This doesn't make much sense. If Proposition 8 is constitutional, why does it only apply to marriages performed after its passage? If there's a constitutional attorney reading this blog, please explain this seeming contradiction.

Another non-constitutional point: shouldn't conservatives be pushing to invalidate these marriages? If gay marriage is as harmful to society as they think it is, then no gay marriages should be allowed. Many on the right have compared it to polygamy (and worse). How about some consistency? Surely God is opposed to this sinfulness!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Not on the table

Apparently, the concept of a national health insurance plan, with fees paid by a single payer, is politically unacceptable in Washington, D.C. My question is: Why? It seems it least a potential solution. But what has happened is single-payer advocates are being shut out of Congressional hearings, even though the President at one time endorsed single-payer (as recent as 2003). Perhaps Mr.Obama (and his fellow Democrats) have been taking lots of campaign contributions from the health insurance industry. (That's a polite way to say they've been bought off). As Jerry Seinfeld used to say, "What's the deal?"

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Why hate crimes legislation is a bad idea

This is the draft of a letter I submitted to the North County Times, which sums up my feelings on the pending "hate-crimes" bill (what is a love crime, anyway)? I don't know that they'll publish, so I'll post it here.

Eric Parish and J. Howard Crews (Community Forum, May 17) call for the passing of hate-crimes legislation. This is a terrible idea, for a number of reasons:

1. It makes certain victims of crime more deserving than others in the eye of the law. A homosexual attacked by a heterosexual is more of a victim—by some logic— than a heterosexual assaulted by another heterosexual. As George Orwell said in Animal Farm, all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.

2. This bill criminalizes peoples' motives, something which can never be truly known. I have respect for our law enforcement officials, but none of them are mind readers.

3. No one with an ounce of common sense thinks that black on white crime or Hispanic on white crime will ever be prosecuted under this law. This is a leftist law, made for the protection of politically correct minorities, and should be rejected.

Question: if I get into an argument with someone, he offends me, I punch him out, and then I find out later he's gay and I'm being charged with a hate crime, how do I prove I'm not a hater of homosexuals? I can't, of course, and no one can possibly disprove a prejudicial state of mind. This bill should be rejected.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Even when he's right, he's wrong

I'm not at all a fan of FOX News anchor Bill O'Reilly, but his latest column is on target. As O'Reilly points out, Carrie Prejean has been harassed and viciously slandered merely for uttering an opinion on gay marriage. (It's an opinion that I don't share, but that's not the point). But even when his main point is correct, O'Reilly shows he doesn't understand our system of government. He says "Most polls show that the majority of Americans agree with Prejean." That is utterly irrelevant to the issue. Freedom of speech exists equally for the minority as for the majority. The polls have nothing to do with the right of free speech. Even if no one agreed with Prejean, she would have every right to speak her conscience. You see, Bill, we live in a republic, not a democracy—well, it's a long story, but the bottom line is our rights are not dependent on majority approval. And that's a good thing for a nonbeliever like myself.

Monday, May 04, 2009

My letter to local paper

I'm too lazy to post anything new, so I'm going to reprint my letter criticizing Al Gore:

Al Gore's movie not a reliable source

Michael McNulty (Letters, April 29) accuses critics of Al Gore's movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," of being global-warming deniers, afraid of the facts.

Mr. McNulty seems to think either you embrace the movie or you're an anti-science propagandist. This is a false dichotomy.

Perhaps Mr. McNulty is unaware that many people—myself included—accept that man influences the climate, but do not accept Gore's movie as a reliable source on the subject. A number of mainstream scientists have spoken or written against Gore's fearmongering. UC Berkeley professor of physics Richard Muller, in his excellent book, "Physics for Future Presidents," accuses Gore's film of "exaggeration, mixed with distortion, and a good deal of cherry-picking." Muller strongly believes in man-made global warming.

More examples? Renowned physicist Freeman Dyson, also a believer in global warming, has accused Gore of being an opportunist and an exaggerator. Bjorn Lomborg, in his book "Cool It," has shown that much of Gore's alarmism is unjustified. Lomborg, who accepts man-made global warming, shows that the stories of polar bears disappearing from global warming are false.

Mr. McNulty calls for "truth, facts and common sense." I fully agree, which is why I can't endorse "An Inconvenient Truth."

Further comment: I urge every reader to pick up a copy of Muller's and Lomborg's book. Both are calm, scientific analysises of climate change. Freeman Dyson has a book with one chapter on climate change, the book's name is A Many-Colored Glass. There are two common positions on global warming/climate change: denial and alarmism. Both are wrong. As I said in the letter, the "debate" is a false dilemma.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

You learn something new everyday...

In my local paper's "Community Forum," the writer actually says—as part of an argument against global warming—" a recent Rasmussen poll also reports that only 34 percent of voter believe global warming is caused by humans)." Uh, that's utterly irrelevant to the debate. Science is settled by experimentation and observation, not through opinion polls. Since only half of Americans think the earth orbits around the sun in a year, perhaps that doesn't happen either. As for evolution...well, less than half of Americans accept it. It is true nonetheless.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Some common sense on torture

There's been a lot of talk about torture recently, (or perhaps "enhanced interogation," if you work for Fox News). As usual, the debate is stuck in a dichotomy that I believe is false. Liberal and libertarian opponents of torture claim it is: 1) always morally wrong, and 2) ineffective. Supporters of "coercive interrogation," e.g. waterboarding, maintain it saves American lives and is a useful intelligence tool. They also, regrettably, often talk as if it were no big deal. I agree with neither one of these positions in toto. The truth lies somewhere between these two positions.

I rarely believe in absolutes; someone who says "You should never (have an abortion, start a war, etc..) is not thinking clearly or profoundly. There are almost no absolutes in real life. There are things we should make the exception, not the rule: preemptive war, late-term abortion, racial discrimination, for example. These events should not become commonplace. But I would not say unequivocally they should never happen. Very few people today, even on the far left, would have condemned FDR if he had launched a preemptive strike on Japan in 1941–if he knew in advance of the Pearl Harbor attack. (I know some say he did know, but we'll leave that theory alone for now). I find late-term abortion morally reprehensible, but I would allow it if needed to save the mother's life.

As for torture, I agree with an excellent article by my favorite author on religion, Sam Harris. He makes a great point here: (at his website)

If you think it is ever justifiable to drop bombs in an attempt to kill a man like Osama bin Laden (and thereby risk killing and maiming innocent men, women, and children), you should think it may sometimes be justifiable to “water-board” a man like Osama bin Laden (and risk abusing someone who just happens to look like Osama bin Laden). It seems to me that however one compares the practices of “water-boarding” high-level terrorists and dropping bombs, dropping bombs always comes out looking worse in ethical terms. And yet, many of us tacitly accept the practice of modern warfare, while considering it taboo to even speak about the possibility of practicing torture.

Harris is exactly right when he compares waterboarding and bombing. Many innocent people are killed when we drop bombs; that seems far more morally wrong than waterboarding a suspected terrorist, where there is no danger of "collateral damage." (I hate that term, but it seems to have become a part of the lexicon).

Harris recommends an article by Mark Bowden of the Atlantic Monthly "The Dark Art of Interrogation". Bowden suggests officially banning torture, but allowing for exceptions when an interrogator is faced with a dangerous terrorist that won't talk otherwise. The interrogator will know no one will prosecute him if he has broken the law to stop an attack. On the other hand, if he goes trigger-happy, Abu Ghraib-like, he will go to jail for a long time. This has been the de facto policy of Israel since 1999, when the Supreme Court abolished torture.

Anyone who has a better idea should let me know. Better yet, let the President know.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Where is God, Jesus, and the rest

This post is primarily for my Christian friends, who sincerely believe in the resurrection of Jesus and the divine power of God. Recently, a earthquake hit Italy and not only killed hundreds, it destroyed many old churches. Why do I mention churches being destroyed, when human life is so much more important? Well, I'm just curious why Jesus in heaven would allow damage to holy buildings. OK, the tsunami in Indonesia killed far more, but those were primarily Muslims and perhaps not under Jesus' protection. But this is different. Sacred buildings were destroyed—how could a God who is loving (allegedly) allow this to happen?

I have a heretical thought, in the wake of the disaster: perhaps there just isn't any God and Christianity (and all other religions) are false. As Sam Harris pointed out, if there is a designer he created smallpox, which killed hundreds of millions of people. Steven Weinberg, Nobel laureate in physics, puts it well in his book Dreams of a Final Theory: The God of birds and trees is also the God of cancer and birth defects. I personally see no evidence for a benevolent God; the one I prayed to as a young Jew not so long ago. For religious readers, I have one last question: if there is a God, why has he allowed 99% of the species he created to die?

False dilemma on health care

Conservatives are warning Americans that if we reform our health care system, trouble lies ahead. We will be rationing care and facing long lines for surgery like in Britain or Canada. But this is just not true. Our alternatives do not lie solely between keeping a bad system and moving to a different, but also terrible, system. Ezra Klein puts it well in this column: there is a third way that many countries have adapted, to great success. In countries like France and Germany, as people like Paul Krugman have pointed out, there are no waiting lines. (They also don't have any uninsured people, but that's another point I won't go into right now.)

So when a Republican friend says national health insurance will lead to rationing, don't listen to him or her. Explain what a false dilemma is—and pass them my blog post. I'm not one of those MSM Democratic toadies, so they can trust me.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Why the Fed sucks

Headline from The Wall Street Journal: Fed in Buy-Bond Binge to Spur Growth. The first sentence: The Federal Reserve announces it will buy hundreds of billions of U.S. securities and other mortgage-backed securities. I have a question for Ben Bernanke: On what do authority do you do this? The Constitution says: "All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives" (Article I, section 7). There is no clause saying "Except when the Fed determines it's a good idea." When did a constitutional republic become a banking oligrachy?

Even if you don't care about the Constitution, you should care about inflation. The Fed overall has added 1.5 trillion into the economy to (allegedly) solve our economic crisis. When you add this sum to the two wars we're in, the "stimulus" bill, and the already massive deficit, you've got a recipe for runaway inflation. Nothing good–I say this with certainity—can come out of massive inflation. I hasten to note it didn't work well in Germany in the 1920s.

Do I have a solution to this crisis? Yes, it's simple: stop spending money that we don't have. Crazy, but it just might work. And let's abolish the Fed before it bankrupts us.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

He lied, I cried

The great website lists numerous lies President Obama has told in his most recent speech: see here for a complete list. But his major whopper is his claim that 95% of working American households would receive a tax cut. This is impossible, as more than 5% of American households pay no taxes. Many families actually receive more in EITC payments than they pay in taxes. (I've done tax preparation professionally; trust me on this). The tax credit is refundable, which means many low-income families will receive far more than their income tax burden. (A non-refundable credit can only bring your tax burden to zero). It is really a transfer payment, not a tax cut.

It seems like President Obama may have the same regard for truth that his last few predecessors have had: basically zero.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

My letter to NC Times (published 2-27)

Proposition 8 supporters like Gary Zacharias (Community Forum)raise the concern (sincere or not) that same-sex marriage will lead to polygamy and other destructive relationships. Like Mr.Zacharias, I believe in traditional values. I therefore propose the following constitutional amendment: Women shall no longer be allowed to vote in the State of California.

Don't call me a sexist: I'm just upholding "traditional" voting. Women didn't vote in Biblical times or even in the early 20th century. There's no evidence God wants women voting. Besides, allowing women to vote could lead to infants voting, or animals voting, or other absurd arrangements. Let's go and raise support for Prop.9: Restore Traditional Suffrage!

His "argument":
In addition, Prop. 8 recognized that any change in the institution of marriage opens the door to all sorts of odd and potentially destructive relationships. Once we have redefined marriage to include a gay or lesbian couple, how can we exclude any arrangement? What’s to keep three men from wanting to have a "marriage"? Why not a 10-year old girl and a 50-year old man? A brother and a sister? There’s no logical or legal reason why any other grouping should be excluded.

Right, so why didn't legalizing women suffrage lead to hamsters voting, as Bill Maher wittily points out? Legalizing tobacco hasn't led to cocaine legalization. Mr.Zacharias' slippery slope argument is a common one, but a fallacious one.

(His absurd argument is here). My comment is below.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Why I am not a (pure) libertarian

If there are any libertarians reading this blog, ask yourself this: was the free market sufficient to stop Peanut Corp. from giving people salmonella? The answer is, of course, no. It seems like an obvious point, but James Madison was right two hundred years ago when he said "If men were angels, no government would be necessary."I wonder what Ron Paul will say about this scandal. My guess is he'll probably blame it on the government.

I hold a lot of libertarian positions, such as low taxes, decriminaliziation of drugs, the legalization of same-sex marriage, etc.. But I do not agree with radical libertarians like Paul when they say government is always the problem and the market is flawless. The market is not flawless; almost all of us have gotten ripped off by a corporation at some point in our lives.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

FOX News does GOP's bidding, again

Many conservatives--who should know better--argue Fox News is in fact fair and balanced. I have always thought they were in bed with (not literally, at least to my knowledge) the Republicans, but this story really shows just how bad it is. Reading GOP press releases verbatim? You've got to at least fake originality a little better.

Slightly related subject: someone at the website responded negatively to a book review of mine that criticized FOX News. My critic responded that MSNBC was biased as well. While I agree with him (or her)that MSNBC is biased as well, that point was irrelevant to my argument. My correspondent was committing the fallacy of ad hominem tu quoque, i.e. if you call me fat, it's true even if you're fat as well. I urge anyone reading this to pick up a copy of Jamey Whyte's Crimes Against Logic, a devastating attack on bad reasoning and poor arguments.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

No to stimulus pact

I am not a libertarian who reflexively opposes every spending bill. I think the economy could use an infusion of money. But this "stimulus pact" goes way too far. We simply can't afford the close to trillion dollars this will cost us. The original bill passed by the House was $820 billion, and news reports said it will be more expensive once passed by the Senate. The government has spent trillions of dollars on the wars and bailouts, Social Security is facing trouble down the road, and we still haven't addressed the health care issue. I see massive inflation down the road, and nothing good can come from that.

Two theories I have problems with

Supply-side economic theory is similiar to global warming--it has a little truth that is abused to explain everything. This isn't a comparison many people make, but that what makes this blog special (at least to me). Supply side economists think that tax rates explain everything about the economy, but American history shows they have a limited effect on the American economy. The economy grew fairly welin the 1950s and early 1960s despite a top rate of 91%. Jimmy Carter signed a capital gain tax cut in 1978; not too many people noticed an economic improvement.When Bill Clinton increased the top tax rate in 1993, supply-siders at the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere predicted a recession. That did not happen. George Bush signed several tax cuts.. well, I'm just beating a dead horse.

Man-made global warming is similiar because it takes one fact, that CO2 does affect temperature, to explain everything about the climate. There are many other factors, such as wator vapor, that are not adequately explained by the climate models. See physicist Freeman Dyson's short book, A Many-Colored Glass: Reflections on the Place of Life in the Universe. He concedes (as do I) that global warming is a problem, but that it has been overblown by politicians and the media.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Why bailout is an utter fraud

There's a telling quote by John Hope, chairman of Whitney National Bank, explaining how his bank is going to use its bailout money (around $300 million):

Make more loans? We're not going to change our business model or our credit policies to accomodate the needs of the public sector as they see it to have us make more loans.

Of course. This raises an obvious question: Why is taxpayer money going to these banks in the first place? Wasn't the purpose of the bailout to get the banks to start loaning money again? The article goes on to say that few bankers are citing lending as a priority. "An overwhelming majority saw the bailout program as a no-strings windfall (emphasis added) that could be used to pay down debt,etc.." Ah, yes, a windfall. Another example of taxpayer money well spent.

jackdavis -

Friday, January 09, 2009

False dilemma on global warming

Everytime I read a book,article, or letter to the editor on global warming, it seems there are two points of view:
1. Global warming is the end of civilization. The seas will rise, the temperature will skyrocket, and we will all die within 100 years. The climate models are perfectly accurate, and anyone who denies the wisdom of Al Gore is either a moron or a bribed tool of the oil companies.

2. Man does not have anything to do with temperature change. Global warming is a hoax. It's all the sun. The scientists who say otherwise are just trying to keep their funding.

It shouldn't surprise anyone reading this blog that I think both these positions are untenable. My stance on global warming is similar to that of Bjorn Lomborg (author of the excellent book Cool It, Mike Hulme (climate scientist), Freeman Dyson (physicist), and some others who don't get a lot of media attention. As Lomborg put it in an interview, there are two misconceptions about global warming: 1. it's a catastrophe, 2. it's a hoax. As a logics professor would say the "debate" is basically a false dilemma.

Sound political philosophy from a sports guy?

The brilliant baseball writer Bill James put forth his political philosophy in a book called What Happened to the Hall of Fame. I'll quote from page 28:

It is my observation, listening to political partisans, that there is some truth in what everybody says, but that they will all distort the truth to defend their position. In my judgment, everyone on the political landscape,from Rush Limbaugh to Howard Metzenbaum (former liberal Senator from Ohio) is right about some things; I will listen to any of them and think that there is some truth in what he or she is saying. But at the same time, they all B.S. They all wear blinders. They say things they know or should know are not true, but which they feel they must say to defend the extreme positions they have taken.

Mr.James is right, though he would not make it on Hannity and Colmes or Crossfire--is there ever an independent moderate on those shows? "And now, from the center, Jack Davis!" Ann Coulter's recent book, Liberals are the Minions of Satan, is a great example of James' theory. (Disclaimer: that is not the actual title, but might as well be). She makes some valid points on media bias and the absurd glorification of single mothers. But she also makes a number of absurd, tendentious claims, such as Joe McCarthy only exposed actual Soviet spies and FOX News is completely fair and balanced(!). She hates liberal pundit Keith Olbermann, and vice versa, but to me they're more similiar than different. Neither cares about the truth; their main concern is making lots of money demonizing their opponents. Both of them grossly oversimplify the world: Bush is evil, John Edwards is evil, Sarah Palin is horrible, Sarah Palin is a virtous victim of the liberal media, etc...

Any good logic book will point out that black-or-white, absolute reasoning is invalid. True, but it often sells a lot of books or draws a lot of viewers to the TV.