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.