Sunday, December 18, 2011

My new article on Viewshound

Not everything can or should be compromised:

http://www.viewshound.com/politics-usa/2011/12/18/we-may-not-be-able-to-work-together-no-offense-int

Sunday, December 04, 2011

My criticism of 99%? movement on viewshound

Feel free to comment (you must have a FB account to log in): http://www.viewshound.com/politics-usa/2011/12/2/why-you-shouldnt-support-the-99-movement

My new article on Viewshound

Five government programs I think should be abolished:

http://www.viewshound.com/politics-usa/2011/11/29/five-federal-programs-we-dont-need?utm_campaign=article&utm_medium=achievement&utm_source=Facebook

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Obama is not anti-Israel

The conventional wisdom is wrong again: the President is a friend of Israel. My letter to the local paper:

Phil Epstein's letter (Nov. 8), "Not sure we can survive four more years of Obama," repeats the common charge that President Obama is anti-Israeli. Mr. Epstein urges no Jews to vote for a man who, he claims, "has thrown us under the bus."
I completely disagree with him. Unlike Mr. Epstein, I will list actual examples that support my view. To take just three:
1. He has funded a missile defense system that protects Israel,
2. He opposed Palestinian membership in the United Nations, and
3. He helped free six soldiers who were trapped in the Israeli Embassy in Cairo.
All three of these actions were publicly praised by the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Another Israeli who doesn't see this alleged anti-Israeli bias is Ehud Barak (former Prime Minister, current defense minister). In an August interview with Fox News, August he said "I can hardly remember a better period of support, American support and cooperation and similar strategic understanding of events around us (Israel) than what we have right now."
In an ironic end to his letter, Mr. Epstein urges the reader to "think" before voting. Finally, we agree.
Jack Davis
Vista

Link: http://www.nctimes.com/news/opinion/letters/letters-nct-nov/article_fd0e5745-b8f8-5565-9313-1eb000f7e3b2.html#ixzz1dzAP7D9M

Times, Nov.17:

Phil Epstein's letter (Nov. 8), "Not sure we can survive four more years of Obama," repeats the common charge that President Obama is anti-Israeli. Mr. Epstein urges no Jews to vote for a man who, he claims, "has thrown us under the bus."
I completely disagree with him. Unlike Mr. Epstein, I will list actual examples that support my view. To take just three:
1. He has funded a missile defense system that protects Israel,
2. He opposed Palestinian membership in the United Nations, and
3. He helped free six soldiers who were trapped in the Israeli Embassy in Cairo.
All three of these actions were publicly praised by the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Another Israeli who doesn't see this alleged anti-Israeli bias is Ehud Barak (former Prime Minister, current defense minister). In an August interview with Fox News, August he said "I can hardly remember a better period of support, American support and cooperation and similar strategic understanding of events around us (Israel) than what we have right now."
In an ironic end to his letter, Mr. Epstein urges the reader to "think" before voting. Finally, we agree.
Jack Davis
Vista





(What I did not mention due to lack of space was that the Israeli ambassador, Michael Oren, charged Fox "News" with taking P.M. Netanyahu out of context.)
This is the clip: http://mediamatters.org/mmtv/201105200032

Sunday, November 06, 2011

No Republicans allowed on campus

A number of Harvard students, apparently members of the 99% movement, have called for a boycott of the introductory economics class. Their grievance is that the class is taught by a Greg Mankiw, a former Bush and now Romney adviser. Apparently, even the small number of Republican academics is too large. Let's not mince words: This walkout is a ideological attack on academic freedom. This protestors are sending a message to college administrators: no Republicans/conservatives should be allowed to teach college classes.

While I am not a Harvard student--you have to do better than a 3.0 in high school--I have taken economics classes that used Mankiw's textbook and feel qualified to comment.  Mankiw's personal political beliefs are irrelevant; the only question is whether they have distorted the economics lessons in the book. I see  no evidence of  his personal biases in the textbook. It's absurd to argue Mankiw can't teach his class because of his Republican politics; should we disqualify every professor who has taken a political stance from teaching a class?

The protesters won't be satisfied until Harvard and every other university has a sign on campus: No Republicans allowed!

The Harvard crimson has a good op-ed on this controversy.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed are kings

Mitt Romney would be the one-eyed man. Two quotes  from this Steven Chapman column sum it up:

A Democratic insider told National Journal, "He can talk and chew gum at the same time, which puts him way ahead of the other candidates."

One anonymous GOP bigwig added, "Republicans are beginning to realize that this is a choice between Romney and the unelectable."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

When it is not a strawman

For those who have never heard of this logical fallacy, a straw man is a criticism of an argument other than the actual one you're responding to. A Wikipedia entry explains it more formally: To "attack a straw man" is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the "straw man"), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.[1]  
 E.g. I say Obama hasn't been a great president--you then counter by saying "Well he's not the worst ever."
A reader should always be on the lookout for this kind of dishonest, fallacious reasoning.

On the other hand, it is as equally dishonest to claim that an argument is a strawman when it is not one.  This article on global warming is an example of this. Recently, physicist Richard Muller and a team of scientists showed conclusively that the earth was warming and wrote an op-ed about his team's findings. The author of this article, James Delingpole, claims that global warming skeptics accept the fact that the planet is warming, and that Muller is making a straw man argument. But Delingpole is wrong: Mueller is not making a straw man argument.

Many skeptics do claim the earth is cooling.  As I pointed out in the comments beneath the article (moddem 38 is my screen name), a Google search for "global cooling" has 5 million + hits. (Try it now, if you don't believe me). Delingpole either hasn't followed the debate very closely, or (more likely) he's being dishonest. Being as Delingpole is a conservative ideologue with no expertise in the subject--one of his books is named "365 Ways to Drive a Liberal Crazy,"-- there's every reason to see his argument as a deliberate falsehood.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Heed the 99 Percent - Rich Lowry - National Review Online

This was one of the most thoughtful columns on the OWS movement, i.e. the writer agrees with me. (I am not immune to the confirmation bias:)

Lowry argues persuasively that the movement's anger is justified, but directed at the wrong target. More importantly, the author's position is the same as mine.

Heed the 99 Percent - Rich Lowry - National Review Online

Friday, October 14, 2011

Germans?

The title comes from this this clip I like from Animal House. On a more serious note, a poster (jeff1947) @ The Los Angeles Times website makes a great argument against the health care law: (The entire post is long, so I've just quoted a part of it). The whole post can be seen on this page at the Times' website.


I spent my entire working career in Germany.  If we wanted real health care reform, we would have adopted policies that work in countries such as Germany. If we wanted health care reform, we would have addressed the realities of why costs in this country are so much higher than in the rest of the industrial world and we did not. (Emphasis added).

By coincidence, I just finished reading a terrific book on worldwide health care systems, The Healing of America by T.R. Reid, and it comes to the same conclusion as the poster.  Reid points out a number of advantages German health care has over American health care system (go to p.67). Germany provides health care more generous health benefits at a much lower cost (11% of GDP v.17%). Every citizen can choose between over 200 plans and there are, unlike Canada, no long waiting lists. Jeff1947 in 2012!

No one really cares what the Constitution says | ViewsHound

Link to my article on Viewshound: No one really cares what the Constitution says | ViewsHound

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Taxes and who pays them

This article from Slate.com discusses the conservative charge that 47% of Americans don't pay any income  taxes. Liberals immediately counter that there are other taxes such as payroll and sales taxes that hit the poor harder. Who's right? As usual in politics,there's some truth (and falsehoods) on both sides.


It is not true that 47% of the population pays no taxes; conservatives who argue this aren't considering the entire tax picture.  But liberals are wrong when they say that the tax code is biased in favor of the rich, Warren Buffett notwithstanding. (Google logical fallacies-argument from authority).  Even adjusting for payroll taxes, the rich pay a far higher % of their income than the poor/middle class. This chart from the centrist Tax Policy Center breaks the tax burden down by quintiles. The bottom 60% pay a much lower tax rate than the top 20%.  The tax rate goes up as income goes up at every level. 

On a side note, the author states: "In short, it is not that they are not paying their taxes. It is that the country’s tax structure lets them off the hook."  I don't see a distinction here. Here comes a  sports analogy (sorry,couldn't resist): It's not that I don't play for the Chargers, it's just that their strength and athletic requirements keeps me off the team.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Letter to editor, June 28

I'm lazy, so I'm just going to reproduce it:

Day after day, utterly irrelevant discussions occur on this Community Voices page. Examples of these include: What does the Bible really mean? (Who cares?) Is the Bible true? Is evolution true? Are the Democrats morally superior to the Republicans? (It's about even). Did some Congressman send some dirty texts to someone?
None of these discussions have the slightest relevance to America's future. Maybe North County Times readers ---- and the rest of the country as well ---- should focus more on, say, the high unemployment rate, or the national debt, or the changes in our health care system that will result from the new health care law. Or dealing with the new terrorist leader, Ayman al-Zawahari, or what to do about the millions of unauthorized immigrants in America. Or ---- well, I think the point is made.

Monday, June 27, 2011

I don't understand this argument

I saw this paragraph from a letter in the local paper today; it's a common argument against national health insurance: "Common sense tells us 30 million people cannot be added to health care without more doctors, nurses and hospitals, so he should be careful what he wishes for."

Note I said "common," not logical, reasonable, or sensible. A few questions need to be raised:

1. Didn't conservatives argue that the health care law was unnecessary because the uninsured were uninsured by choice? So why would these slackers suddenly start seeing doctors now?

2. Aren't those 30 million uninsured really covered anyway, being as they have access to the emergency room? I remember George Bush saying: We have national health insurance--you just go to the emergency room. So we're not really adding anyone to the insurance rolls.

3. To take the reductio ad absurdem of this argument: why not increase of the number of uninsured? If we increased the uninsured total to 100 million, we could really avoid rationing. More health care resources for the rest of us!

4. Nothing more:I think the point is made.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Law of unintended consequences strikes again

The U.S. Senate in June refused to repeal a rule capping debit card fees, primarily due to the efforts of Richard Durbin (D-IL). There were numerous, though regrettably not enough, opponents worried about the consequences of this action. An article from the Los Angeles Times discussed the skepticism of an opponent of the cap, liberal Democrat Jon Tester (Montana):

Tester proposed delaying the regulations to study the effect on smaller financial institutions and credit unions, particularly those in Montana, where he is up for reelection next year. Smaller institutions fear they will be unable to recoup the costs of handling transactions or that their cards will be shunned by retailers.

Tester was right. As any economist could have predicted, the law of unintended consequences (I will refer to it as the LOUC) will soon cause debit cards to become much more expensive, as this Los Angeles Times article correctly points out here. I'll quote parts of two paragraphs:

Starting next month, merchants will pay just 12 cents for debit processing, unless bank lobbyists persuade the Federal Reserve to tack on a surcharge for fraud prevention.

The bottom line is that banks stand to lose more than $10 billion a year in merchant fees and more than $6 billion in overdraft fees. They'll be looking to make it up somewhere — and it's likely to be from the mainstream debit card users, not just the sloppy ones.

What exactly is the law of unintended consequences? The excellent website Econolog explains it well in this article. This historical anecdote was my favorite example:

In 1692 the English philosopher John Locke, a forerunner of modern economists, urged the defeat of a parliamentary bill designed to cut the maximum permissible rate of interest from 6 percent to 4 percent. Locke argued that instead of benefiting borrowers, as intended, it would hurt them. (Emphasis added). People would find ways to circumvent the law, with the costs of circumvention borne by borrowers. To the extent the law was obeyed, Locke concluded, the chief results would be less available credit and a redistribution of income away from “widows, orphans and all those who have their estates in money.”

To sum it up: Good intentions in legislation often lead to bad results. Price caps, as much as anything, almost always cause more problems than they solve. I wish more legislators would understand how the LOUC works. Are you listening, Richard Durbin?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Succinct analysis

Larry King was on Reliable Sources, Howard Kurtz's CNN show, and he made some harsh but accurate criticisms of Fox and MSNBC:

KURTZ: You say that Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity at Fox don't have to dangerous.

KING: Well, their guests are -- they're props for their -- Fox is a forum. It's a forum for the Republican Party. MSNBC is a forum for the Democratic Party.

That's what they are. And denying that is silly. I think Roger Ailes is kind of a genius.

KURTZ: You're not saying that some journalists at those networks don't try to be fair, but certainly in the nighttime shows.

KING: They're not journalists. They're hosts of shows.

KURTZ: They get ratings, as you know --

KING: Yes.

KURTZ: -- having competed against them.

KING: That's what they do. But it's such a small box in the world.

King is 100% on the mark here. Any commentary I could make here would be superfluous.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Obama and Constanza?

Anyone who followed the great sitcom Seinfeld may remember George Costanza pitching a "show about nothing" to the NBC executives. President Obama is being accused of something similar: making a speech about nothing. The critic,Suleiman Al Osaimi, made the following biting criticism (referring to the speech last week on the Middle East):

What he says, however, is of little interest. When … you go back to the speech … you will soon realize that he has said nothing of consequence. They are mere words strung together in a nice way …every word is delivered smoothly and there is lot of clapping at the end, nothing else.”

Source: The New Republic, May 24.

I did not hear the speech, so I can't analyze the criticism. I just thought it was clever and I can rarely resist a TV or sports analogy.

Monday, May 16, 2011

My theory on the future of Tea Party

This is my theory, or more accurately, educated guess about the future of the Tea Party and the antiwar left. First, we must assume an obvious fact--There are only two possible scenarios in the election. Either Obama wins reelection or a Republican candidate taking over the presidency.

Scenario 2 will mean the end of the Tea Party. They will be absorbed into the Republican party, as the Populists in the late 19th century/ early 20th century were ultimately preempted by William Jennings and the Democratic Party . In 2013 there will be no (supposed) anti-American leftist Democrat in the White House. Without Obama's presence, there is no longer much motivation for the Tea Party to continue to organize and protest. So, ironically, a Republican victory will end the movement as we know it.

A political pundit more sympathetic to their cause than me might argue that they would continue as a protest movement under a big spending Republican. The history of American politics in the 21st century says otherwise--there were no protests of No Child Left Behind, the Medicare prescription bill, or any other of the many big-government legislation passed during the Bush administration. The national debt did not bother them until January 2009. It is unlikely they will be much of a force in American politics after a Republican President takes over in 2013.

In Scenario 1, the Tea Party still has a reason to keep protesting, with a Democrat in office. So, ironically, the continued existence of the Tea Party is dependent on the reelection of a President they despise.

So, yes, the Tea Party is guilty of partisan bias. But, to be fair, there is just as much hypocrisy on the left. The antiwar left faces the exact opposite position. They've been fairly quiet during the wars and militarism of the Obama administration, not wanting to criticize a "progressive" (as they see it) Democrat. Obama's reelection will keep them on the sidelines for another 4 years. Their continued relevance is now dependent on the victory of the Republican candidate, a party that they despise.

I've quoted the brilliant scientist Neil Tyson before and will do so again: "There's hot air on both ends of the spectrum." That statment is basically all a novice needs to know about politics. The rest is a footnote.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

No it wasn't the waterboarding that got OBL

New spin from (certain) Republicans: waterboarding KSL repeatedly--which is not of course particularly harsh--broke him and got key information. Apart from being contradictory, this explanation isn't true. KSL gave false information while being waterboarding 183 times. I've always doubted the ability of "harsh interrogation"--some will call it torture, but labels aren't the main issue. At the conservative website Townhall.com, I posed the following mock scenario, around early 2002:

I'm captured and mistaken for a jihadist--maybe I'm reading the Koran or another book sympathetic to Islam--perhaps by Karen Armstrong or Reza Aslan. I am dunked under water a few times and forced to listen to very loud Brittney Spears music that I cannot stand. By the way, this scenario is not completely hypothetical--her music has reportedly been used in some interrogations!

The questioning begins:

Interrogator, which we'll assume is a man:"Are you the mastermind behind the horrific crime, Mr.Davis?"
Me: No, I'm a law-abiding citizen. I wasn't even alive when JFK was assassinated!"

Him:"No, Mr.Davis, that's not the crime we're referring to."

Me: "I can't take this abuse anymore. Sure, I confess to watching Keith Olbermann, but it was only once. I find him overly strident and partisan and haven't watched it since."
Him: "No, that's not the crime we're talking about, Mr. Davis.We mean 9-11. We believe you are a member of Al-Qaeda and you knew some of the conspirators. Your neighbor said you were reading jihadist literature."

Me: "Are you insane? First of all, my neighbor is an idiot who dislikes me and vice versa. Second, I'm not even Muslim, let alone any kind of jihadist. I don't speak any language other than English and a little Spanish. I've never even met any of the 9-11 terrorists. I was just walking through the bookstore and glanced briefly at Aslan's book. I saw him debate Sam Harris and was curious. I've never even met this bin Laten or whoever's in charge of this terror group. Al-Fida, is it?"

Him:"You're making this more difficult than it has to be. Fine, we'll keep up the dunking and we'll go through every song on Brittney's greatest CD, even louder than before!
Me: "Can we switch to Madonna or at least No Doubt? Even Colbie Caillat would be an improvement."

Him: "Unfortunately not. I like them better, too, but we find that Spears' music breaks prisoners much quicker. Caillat is more annoying than unbearable to most prisoners."

Me: "OK, OK, I did it. I was involved, in some way, I guess, whatever. Can we stop this? I'm really wet, can't breathe well, and my ears hurt. Do people actually pay to listen to this music?

Him (laughing a bit at my last remark):"I agree with you--Spears is pretty bad. My daughter seems to like her, though. I guess it's a young female thing. Anyway, now that you confessed we can stop this interrogation. I assume this confession will hold up in court, but I'm no lawyer. In any case, Cheney will be happy, we got the evidence he wanted!"

Me:(under my breath): Whatever.

The next day, predictably comes the spin from the right-wing pundits: Sean Hannity, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Malkin, Laura Ingraham, Bill O'Reilly, John Yoo,et al. In unison they agree: The criminal mastermind behind 9-11 broke under harsh interrogation. This proves that waterboarding (which is not torture, they quickly add) does work! Thank God for George Bush! John McCain weakly protests, pointing out that he confessed falsely under duress during the Vietnam War, but no one listens to him.

All of these people urge caution to my would-be sympathizers: Don't listen to the whiny left-wing blogosphere, which is defending Mr. Davis. That's a clear sign of his guilt. No true patriot would have any association with websites like Think Progress and Daily Kos. Of course, he claims to have been coerced. Isn't that just what someone with a guilty conscience would say? And he may be technically correct that he isn't a Muslim, but who other than a jihadist would be reading Aslan or Armstrong? Plus he has a subscription to The Nation. You might well wear a tatoo saying I heart Al-Qaeda.

Friday, May 06, 2011

College aid for illegal immigrants?

The California Assembly recently passed a bill providing for aid to California students who are illegal immigrants. The complete article is here. This bill doesn't seem either fair or constitutional to me. If the federal government wants to legalize illegal immigrants it can do so, but the state of California has no right to provide for the education of teenagers who are not legal residents. Until the federal government legalizes them, these students should not be eligible for any financial aid. The proposed law is not only legally dubious, it is morally unfair. Students applying for aid who are citizens or legal residents should not have to compete for scholarships with illegal immigrants.

.

There's another aspect to this story. As opponents of the bill point out (correctly), federal law does not allow illegal immigrants to work here. Many businesses proudly display their allegiance to the e-verify program, which (in theory, at least) prevents illegal immigrants from obtaining employment. The result may be that we are educating people who won't be allowed to work here! This doesn't make any sense.

For what's it worth, I have no objection to legalizing illegal immigrants presently here, but that needs to be done at the federal level. While these students remain illegal under federal law, the states have no right, morally or legally, to award any sort of financial assistance to them.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Take that back!

This video is funny. Someone is slandering my name!

POLITICO: David Catanese: Essential intelligence from the campaign trail - NY-26: Corwin up on TV against Jack Davis

On a serious note, this video shows the bankruptcy of our electoral system. We have a two party monopoly in America. Any third party candidate ends up helping the party they like least--e.g. Ralph Nader in the 2000 election.

Monday, May 02, 2011

The politics of Osama's death

I'm not a fan of the conservative magazine The National Review, but Andrew McCarthy (not the actor) makes an excellent historical analogy at their website The Corner (nationalreview.com/corner):

In terms of a presidential election cycle, bin Laden has been killed at a time roughly similar to the point in the ’92 cycle when President George H.W. Bush won the Gulf War. (I realize there are a couple of months’ difference, but that’s immaterial.) The victory gave Bush approval ratings that brushed 90 percent — i.e., significantly higher than President Obama’s are today. Just as now, it was unclear which member of the opposition party would run against Bush (unlike the case with Obama, Bush’s sky-rocketing polls actually convinced big-name Dems not to make the race). Bush seemed like a shoo-in — which Obama does not. But the election turned out to be about the economy . . . which was a dream economy compared to the one we’re in.

Biased as he may be, McCarthy is right. If the economy doesn't rebound by Nov.2012, this day will be mostly forgotten. This may be unfair, as this was a great victory for America, but the economy trumps everything else in politics. Every day Americans see the unemployment rates and high gas prices. Al-Qaeda simply isn't considered at the same level of importance to most of us. So, no, the Republicans don't need to give up and wait for 2016.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

We have met the enemy and it is us

I've seen numerous editorials,op-eds and letters criticizing the politicians for not taking the debt seriously. It's easy to bash politicians--I've certainly done so at this blog many times--but they're not the cause of the problem. It is the sacred "American people" who are at fault. (The politicians know this but don't dare say it, since it's harder to get reelected if you bash your constituents). The American public claims to want smaller government but opposes specific cuts in the programs that actually have led to the debt problems we have. Since the public is ignorant of the true size of various government programs, the politicians pander to them by making cuts in discretionary spending that are a miniscule part of the budget. Examples of the public ignorance are numerous, but let's focus on one: foreign aid. According to a November 2010 poll:

Just based on what you know, please tell me your hunch about what percentage of the federal budget goes to foreign aid. You can answer in fractions of percentage points as well as whole percentage points.
Mean.....................................................................27%
Median...................................................................25
In fiscal year 2009, bilateral foreign aid totaled $22.5 billion: 0.6 percent of federal outlays.

Link to source is here.

Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank, summed it up well on a talk show: The American people want to have their cake and eat it too. The next time you hear a politician defending spending cuts say we're doing what the people want, turn off the TV. The people don't want spending cuts, at least in areas that actually would affect the debt (e.g. Medicare, Social Security, military). As a previous post of mine said, there are large majorities against reductions in Medicare or Social Security. The national debt cannot be significantly reduced without cuts in these programs. Period.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

U.S. Senator steals my argument against health care law

There have been a lot of false claims and bad arguments against the health insurance law in the year since it passed. There's been claims of death panels, rationing, jail time for people who don't have insurance, etc.. But don't jump yet to the conclusion that the health care law must therefore be a positive. There are legitimate problems with the law. In this The New York Times article on the many waivers being granted from the law an opponent of the law makes a devastating, if brief, argument against the law:

Administration officials, labor unions and consumer advocates plan to celebrate the first anniversary with a week of events highlighting benefits of the law to consumers. But Senator Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming, the senior Republican on the Senate health committee, asked, “If the law is so good, why are so many waivers needed?" (emphasis added). That is a great objection; one that I had thought of as soon as the waivers drew media attention. Since Senator Enzi can get quoted in the Times, and I can't, I bear him no ill will for not acknowledging my contribution.

The rest of the article backs up Senator Enzi's (and my) argument pretty well. The administration doesn't seem to be standing by the law they said it was so great for this country. 94%(!) of the waivers requested have been granted. In Maine, the administration dropped a mandate that insurers must spend 80% or more of premiums on medical care, rather than CEO salaries or administrative costs. As the article states:

The Obama administration lowered the requirement to 65 percent for Maine, after finding “a reasonable likelihood” that the tougher standard would drive one big carrier out of the market for individuals, leaving thousands without insurance.

I guess the obvious question is: if that was going to happen, why not pass a more reasonable law in the first place?

On a slightly frivolous note, the article quotes Republican Senator Charles Grassley, referring to the 94% granted waiver number: "That strikes me as a very high percentage." Yes, Senator, you are right, it is a very high number. For example, (Warning, gratuitious sports analogy coming up)a baseball pitcher who retired 94% of the batters he faced would be the greatest pitcher who ever lived by far. In fact, there's a good chance he would never lose a game in his entire career.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Liberal voodoo economics

Repeatedly, I hear that repealing the health care law will cost hundreds of bilions of dollars. Whatever one's opinions of the law (I have mixed feelings),I find this claim nonsensical. My name for it is leftist voodoo economics. As many of you know, voodoo economics has usually come from conservatives --namely, the argument that tax cuts will pay for themselves and even increase revenue. This untenable dogma has been denounced by the entire economic establishment, including many conservative economists.

This claim about the health care law is on the same level of dishonesty. There is no reasonable argument that, for example, allowing "adult children" to stay on their parents' insurance until 26 is going to save money. The alleged savings come from increasing taxes and projected Medicare reductions that are unlikely to ever happen. It is a fraud, pure and simple. One of my favorite economists, Greg Mankiw of Harvard, makes a tongue-in-cheek argument against this nonsense at his blog:

Give me $1 billion to cut the budget deficit
I have a plan to reduce the budget deficit. The essence of the plan is the federal government writing me a check for $1 billion. The plan will be financed by $3 billion of tax increases. According to my back-of-the envelope calculations, giving me that $1 billion will reduce the budget deficit by $2 billion.

Now, you may be tempted to say that giving me that $1 billion will not really reduce the budget deficit. Rather, you might say, it is the tax increases, which have nothing to do with my handout, that are reducing the budget deficit. But if you are tempted by that kind of sloppy thinking, you have not been following the debate over healthcare reform.

Healthcare reform, its advocates tell us, is fiscal reform. The healthcare reform bill passed last year increased government spending to cover the uninsured, but it also reduced the budget deficit by increasing various taxes as well. Because of this bill, the advocates say, the federal government is on a sounder fiscal footing. Repealing it, they say, would make the budget deficit worse.

(Me again): every projection from the government for the cost of health care programs has been grossly understated. For example, Medicare has exceeded its initial projected costs at least tenfold. Disclaimer: this post does not mean I am against health care reform. I have been for national health insurance for the last 20years. I am simply arguing for intellectual honesty. The fact that an idea is good or even necessary does not mean it is without significant costs.

For liberal readers who think I am exaggerating my case against the law out of some right-wing bias, consider this fairly recent analogy. Remember what Iraq war supporters' cost projections as the war began. First, many argued the oil revenues would pay for the war. Then politicians admitted it might cost $50 billion. A conservative economist named Lawrence Lindsey got in trouble for being pessimistic enough to say it might cost $200 billion. Lindsey wasn't quite pessimistic enough: the cost has reached $1 trillion and counting. Lesson: government cost estimates are almost always on the low side, whether a Republican or Democratic administration is in power.

Irony: just after publishing this post, I saw an op-ed from Wall Street Journal from Arthur Laffer, a famous advocate of voodoo economics. Just an interesting coincidence, I think.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Letter to NC Times

Here I correct the misuse of the word "censorship" to describe a newspaper's decisions on what it will run, primarily known as editorial judgment or discretion. I then added two more points.

Censorship, term limits and another bad letter

Barbara Kuehnert (Jan. 19) wrote that "many writers want the paper to censor columns that do not agree with their point of view." The word "censor" is misplaced here; what many letter writers are calling for is better editorial judgment. The North County Times does not have the ability to censor columnists; if the NCT doesn't run a particular writer's column, it's still available in hundreds of newspapers and online.

There is a limited amount of space on the editorial page; if the paper runs George Will's column every Sunday, it may not have room for, say, Steven Chapman that day. (I personally wish the NCT would not run Will every Sunday and have a more diverse lineup, but that does not make me an advocate of censorship.)

A writer recently demanded term limits. We don't need them — remember, not so long ago, the 2010 election?

Harold Weber (Jan. 21) is now in the lead for worst letter of the year. It was worthless and offensive. What is the point of asking a ridiculous question like, "Are so-called conservatives callous or stupid or both?"

Jack Davis

Carlsbad

Monday, January 17, 2011

A very thin case for racism

An op-ed in the LA Times makes a very weak argument for racism. The black author recalls a conversation with her son years ago:

"Oh, I just noticed the last couple of times I was on BART, I could feel I was making several white women nervous when I sat near them."

"How do you know that?"

"I could just tell."

"I'm sure it's your imagination," I insisted. But deep down, I knew. I knew something had shifted, both in how the world viewed my son and in how he viewed himself. He couldn't put his finger on it, but he knew something was up.

Well, sorry to be a cynic, but the statement "I could just tell" is really unconvincing. Translated into honest English: I have no evidence whatsover and i really don't know what I'm saying is based on reality, but I just feel racism coming from those people. It is purely intuition, and biased intuition at that—a completely unfalsifiable and unprovable position. Unless the kid has psychic powers, he doesn't actually know what he's saying is true.

Here's my intuition: this op-ed was an utter waste of valuable space in a major newspaper's Sunday editorial section.

Letter to editor on govt v. private compensation

Government workers are not overpaid

Robert Smith (Jan.7), quoting a Wall Street Journal editorial, says it is unfair that government employees make twice as much as private sector employees. Assuming this number is correct, which is questionable, it still doesn't prove that federal employees are overpaid. The comparison cannot be made fairly without pointing out a few important differences between the two sides (my source is the site Factcheck.org, http://factcheck.org/2010/12/are-federal-workers-overpaid/):

1. Government employees are much more educated than private employees.

"The Office of Personnel Management (of The Bureau of Economic Analysis) reports that 44.3 percent of federal civilian workers held a bachelor's degree in 2008. That's more than double the percentage of private sector employees who have a bachelor's." They're also five years older on the average.

2. "In a 2007 report titled 'Characteristics and Pay of Federal Employees,' the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said '44 percent of federal workers were in management, professional, and related occupations, compared with 32 percent of private-sector workers,' citing the U.S. Census Bureau's 2005 Current Population Survey (see page 5)."

On a side note, I would advise people like Mr. Smith to take Wall Street Journal editorials with a grain of salt. The paper has a strong bias against the government (with an exception for the military).

Jack Davis

Carlsbad

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

I'm still waiting for specifics

The Republicans keep saying they will cut spending. The problem is they have major trouble ever answering what specifically they will cut. Interviewed by Brian Williams recently, John Boehner could no name a single program to eliminate. Before you assume this was simply a case of Boehner freezing up before a hostile liberal interviewer, consider this: interviewed by libertarian John Stossel, the Republican congressman could come up with all of 3 cuts, totaling about 6 billion dollars.

On Stossel's show, the Congressman cam up with the mohair subsidy as an example of waste that could be cut (about $2 billion a year). I agree that that subsidy should be eliminated, there's no better example of a bad government program. However, it does raise another question. That subsidy has been around for many year. Shouldn't the Republicans have removed it when they controlled the legislature and executive branches from 2001-2006? Why should I believe them now?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Libertarian ideology leads to tragedy

Right-wing ideology is responsible for the Arizona shootings. When I say this, I do not mean overheated rhetoric by politicans/pundits/talk show hosts. Overheated rhetoric has been a part of American political discourse since the 1780s. Sarah Palin isn't even remotely responsible for this madman's action. As this New York Times article by Gail Sheehy points out, an ultra-libertarian approach to gun control in Arizona has led to this tragedy. This paragraph sums up her case wonderfully:

But you do not hear much about the fact that Jared Loughner came to Giffords’s sweet gathering with a semiautomatic weapon that he was able to buy legally because the law restricting their sale expired in 2004 and Congress did not have the guts to face up to the National Rifle Association and extend it.

My prediction: the public won't learn anything from this murderous assault. On FOX /MSNBC/CNN there will be angry partisan Democratic pundits trying to blame Sarah Palin/ Michelle Bachmann/Rush Limbaugh for this action. Then Republicans will come back with examples of hysterical statements from liberal speakers. A lot of noise, but no enlightement. The real issue—severely mentally ill people getting dangerous weapons— won't get much publicity. If you doubt me, read Paul Krugman's column today (I'm not linking to it because a Nobel laureate should be able to think more clearly).

Also, I do not expect Arizona, or any other state for that matter, to revise its gun laws. I do,however, see the cliches are coming: "when guns are outlaws only outlaws will have guns," guns don't kill people, people kill people," etc..

Thursday, January 06, 2011

The Constitution is dead! Long live the Constitution!

The Republicans took over Congress and immediately made the all-important decision to read the Constitution out loud. This is an utterly pointless gesture. Anyone who wants to read the Constitution can go to a bookstore, a library, or even the Internet at home. This decision is simple piety, a way to establish that we love this ancient document more than you leftist do. But something needs to be pointed out: this piety isn't sincere. The Republicans don't love the Constitution. If was it really holy, they wouldn't immediately be trying to make two major changes to it: 1. change the 14th Amendment to end "birthright citizenship," and 2. the Repeal Amendment which,as their website explains:
"Any provision of law or regulation of the United States may be repealed by the several states, and such repeal shall be effective when the legislatures of two-thirds of the several states approve resolutions for this purpose that particularly describe the same provision or provisions of law or regulation to be repealed."

Granted, the Repeal Amendment has almost no chance of passing. As for the 14th Amendment, it is possible, though unlikely, the Supreme Court will rule it does not allow birthright citizenship. But the political unlikelihood of these proposals doesn't change the fact that they are changes to a document ultra-conservatives usually treat as a holy document that must be followed to the letter.

I am not a Constitutional fundamentalist. The world is different radically than what it was in 1789. I personally think much of the Constitution is outdated and should be changed-- for example, I'd like for foreign born citizens to be allowed to run for President. I can take this position honestly and without hypocrisy, but a constitutional fundamentalist cannot. Either the Constitution is sacred and unchangable, or it isn't. The conservative movement is trying to have it both ways.