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


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



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.