“Politics” Category

Discriminating Between Discriminations

Julian Sanchez:

I’m perfectly open to the notion that it may be wise and justifiable to extent the protections of anti-discrimination law to groups not currently covered—but I also wish supporters of such reforms would acknowledge that there’s a genuine impingement on associational freedom involved in such extensions, and that no simple sweeping principle can obviate the need for a close examination of the tradeoffs in each case.

March 1st, 2014

Sean Penn Wants Chavez Critics Imprisoned

Sean Penn:

The Oscar-winning actor and political activist accused the US media of smearing Venezuela’s socialist president and called for journalists to be punished.

“Every day, this elected leader is called a dictator here, and we just accept it, and accept it. And this is mainstream media. There should be a bar by which one goes to prison for these kinds of lies.”

Not only does Sean Penn defend authoritarianism, but he suggests that critics should be imprisoned for calling Hugo Chavez a dictator.

Lovely guy.

February 22nd, 2014

Shoddy, Dangerous Thinking (GMO Edition)

Amy Harmon wrote a terrific article for the New York Times about a Hawaiian town’s “debate” over whether to ban genetically-engineered crops, and the insanely stupid things said about them:

A report, in an obscure Russian journal, about hamsters that lost the ability to reproduce after three generations as a result of a diet of genetically modified soybeans had been contradicted by many other studies and deemed bogus by mainstream scientists.

Mr. Ilagan discounted the correlations between the rise in childhood allergies and the consumption of G.M.O.s, cited by Ms. Wille and others, after reading of the common mistake of confusing correlation for causation. (One graph, illustrating the weakness of conclusions based on correlation, charted the lock-step rise in organic food sales and autism diagnoses.)

The left’s global warming.

January 28th, 2014

“Inequality isn’t ‘the defining challenge of our time’”

Ezra Klein:

That doesn’t mean inequality isn’t hurting growth. It just means it’s difficult to find firm proof of it. But if inequality really was the central challenge to growth, would proof really be so hard to come by?

December 18th, 2013

Ponnuru On the Contraception Mandate

Ramesh Ponnuru:

From reading the New York Times, you might think that religious conservatives had started a culture war over whether company health-insurance plans should cover contraception. What’s at issue in two cases the Supreme Court has just agreed to hear, the Times editorializes, is “the assertion by private businesses and their owners of an unprecedented right to impose the owners’ religious views on workers who do not share them.”

That way of looking at the issue will be persuasive if your memory does not extend back two years. Up until 2012, no federal law or regulation required employers to cover contraception (or drugs that may cause abortion, which one of the cases involves). If 2011 was marked by a widespread crisis of employers’ imposing their views on contraception on employees, nobody talked about it.

Characterizing opposition to government-forced provision of contraception by employer-provided health insurance plans as an “imposition” of religious views is almost Orwellian; the only imposition being made here is by the government and supporters of the measure, such as the Times’ editors.

December 3rd, 2013

“Obamacare’s Secret Success”

Paul Krugman’s latest column, “Obamacare’s Secret Success,” has this to say:

Still, the facts are striking. Since 2010, when the act was passed, real health spending per capita — that is, total spending adjusted for overall inflation and population growth — has risen less than a third as rapidly as its long-term average. Real spending per Medicare recipient hasn’t risen at all; real spending per Medicaid beneficiary has actually fallen slightly.

He argues (and his title makes explicit) that “Obamacare”—ACA—is responsible for health spending declining. Except all he does is point out health costs have declined, and that ACA may be responsible. And he buries something important in a ho-hum “obligatory caveats” paragraph:

O.K., the obligatory caveats. First of all, we don’t know how long the good news will last. Health costs in the United States slowed dramatically in the 1990s (although not this dramatically), probably thanks to the rise of health maintenance organizations, but cost growth picked up again after 2000. Second, we don’t know for sure how much of the good news is because of the Affordable Care Act.

Acknowledging that he has no idea how much ACA is responsible for declining spending seems rather more important than an “obligatory caveat” in a column titled “Obamacare’s Secret Success” which argues that ACA is reducing health spending. It kind of sort of means that the entire column is speculative.

But it’s worse than that. The CMS estimates that ACA will increase national health expenditures.

November 30th, 2013

A Most Interesting NYT Article

In Colorado, voters defeated a measure to raise taxes in order to increase education spending. Here’s how the New York Times characterize the vote:

Had the referendum passed, the current flat state income tax rate of 4.6 percent would have been replaced with a two-tier system. Residents with taxable incomes below $75,000 would have paid 5 percent; taxable incomes above $75,000 would have been taxed at 5.9 percent. The measure would have poured money into poor, rural school districts, expanded preschool, bought new technology and encouraged local innovations like longer school days and school years, supporters said.

But the promise of higher teacher salaries and full-day kindergarten failed to resonate with voters, even in many reliably blue corners of the state and areas where the money would have had the greatest benefit. The state voted 65 percent to 35 percent against the overhaul, known as Amendment 66.

“It was a statement of a loss of faith in government,” said State Senator Mike Johnston, a Democrat and architect of the measure. “The reality may just be that Coloradans just deeply prize being a very low-tax state.”

“…Where the money would have had the greatest benefit.” This is ostensibly a news article about the measure, but it presumes something that isn’t at all a fact. Whether increasing funding would be beneficial is a contention, something that must be supported by a logical argument and evidence. It has no place in being a description of the events. There’s an importance difference between “[where funding] would have had the greatest benefit” and “where much of the funding would have went.”

That’s a subtle framing of the issue that guides readers to a conclusion that isn’t overtly stated by the article’s author, Jack Healy, and for which no evidence is provided.

Which is problematic, especially, because one voter quoted in the article contradicts that entire reasoning for why the measure was rejected, starting with the presumption that increased funding would necessarily benefit their communities:

Erin DeMarco, a political science student at the University of Colorado Boulder, was one of the voters Amendment 66 supporters needed to win over. A registered Democrat who voted for Mr. Hickenlooper and Mr. Obama, she said she wanted to see better schools, but balked when she saw the size of the tax increase.

“I felt a little guilty when I voted against it,” she said. “It tugged at my heartstrings. I just don’t always believe that money solves problems. It’s difficult for me to write a blank check to the government.”

“I just don’t always believe that money solves problems.” That’s a reason for voting against the measure that Healy’s “…where the money would have the greatest benefit” off-handed statement of fact rules out as a reason for why voters rejected it: if the increased funding necessarily benefits the communities, then voting against it because you don’t think increasing spending will solve problems by it’s very nature is not possible.

Words do indeed have meaning, and whether intentional or careless (or just an unintentional reveal of the author’s own viewpoint), his choice of them framed the issue to make one argument for why voters rejected the measure appear more reasonable.

November 7th, 2013

Markets and Health Care

Ezra Klein argues that consumers restrain costs for consumer goods by being able to “say no”—that is, they can refuse to purchase, say, a television from Sony if they charge too much. Klein continues that because for health care consumers cannot “say no,” market forces cannot restrain health costs. But government can, Klein says, and that’s ACA’s intent.

Reihan Salam responds:

But surely the cost of televisions (and most other things, including many necessities) is kept relatively low not because people can do without them but because people have a huge range of options in a very competitive market. Sony can’t charge you too much because you’ll just buy a television made by someone else. Health insurance (let alone care) can’t always be treated like that kind of commodity in every respect, of course, but I think (as conservatives tend to) that they can be to a far greater extent than most people on the left seem to believe.

October 22nd, 2013

Where Are Health Costs Headed?

Yuval Levin summarizes recent reports from the CBO and HHS actuaries on what they expect health costs to head over the next few decades:

They suggest that the slowdown in health inflation we have seen over the past decade is likely at an end, that Obamacare will not be bending the cost curve downward (as its champions promised it could), and that we are in dire need of health-care and entitlement reform that could better help contain costs. They also help us see just how daunting a challenge that really is.

The “Affordable Care Act” makes our health cost problem—already a disaster—worse, not better.

October 22nd, 2013

Policy and the G.O.P. Civil War

Ross Douthat on the Tea Party:

Yet at the same time, to the extent that policy differences are driving the current intra-G.O.P. fight, the populists tend to have 1) decent ideas and 2) a better sense than their establishment rivals of how to brand the party as something other than just a tool of rich people and business interests. Their strategy is disastrous, but their substance has something to recommend it. Which is part of the reason why it isn’t enough, for the Republicans to escape their current cul-de-sac, for the party leadership to “win” and the populist base to “lose” — let alone for the leadership to somehow jettison the base.

That’s the GOP’s conundrum: the Tea Party in the House is doing terrible things to the party, but there are the seeds for positive—even transformative—change of the GOP in the Tea Party with good leadership.

October 15th, 2013

Obama’s Constitutional Lesson

Ross Douthat:

The official “lesson” that the president’s words and choices are delivering is not one that actually elevates Congress back to its Article I level of authority. Rather, it’s one that treats Congress as a kind of ally of last resort, whose backing remains legally unnecessary for warmaking (as the White House keeps strenuously emphasizing, and as its conduct regarding Libya necessarily implies), and whose support is only worth seeking for pragmatic and/or morale-boosting reasons once other, extra-constitutional sources of legitimacy (the U.N. Security Council, Britain, etc.) have turned you down. The precedent being set, then, is one of presidential weakness, not high-minded constitutionalism: Going to Congress is entirely optional, and it’s what presidents do when they’re pitching wars that they themselves don’t fully believe in, and need to rebuild credibility squandered by their own fumbling and failed alliance management. What future White House would look at that example and see a path worth following?

Ouch.

Initially, I was positive about President Obama’s decision to seek congressional approval for a military attack on Syria. But after Obama and John Kerry’s continued insistence that they were not seeking authorization because they are constitutionally required to, and that a “no” vote does not bar them from attacking Syria, I began re-considering it.

With that in mind, it’s clear that the Obama administration hasn’t sought approval because they believe the executive branch shouldn’t be able to unilaterally initiate military action (Libya should make their beliefs on it very clear), but rather because they lost British support for the effort and would not be able to gain authorization from the U.N. Security Council, and need some kind of legitimacy. As Douthat says, seeking congressional authorization is only a last resort.

That’s not positive. It’s inept, and it’s infuriating.

September 4th, 2013

The Misplaced Inequality Obsession

Reihan Salam shows why the focus on inequality as a casual driver of economic maladies is misplaced:

In short, in our 48 largest metro areas, there is no meaningful relationship between inequality and upward mobility.

To explain the chart: There are 48 dots, one for each of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States. The numbers on the bottom, .38 to .52, measure inequality — the higher the number, the higher the inequality in a given area. The numbers on the left measure absolute mobility – the expected income percentile of a child born poor in those cities. Higher numbers mean greater upward mobility. As you can see, as inequality increases, nothing really happens. There are cities with high inequality and high mobility, low inequality and low mobility, and everything in between.

August 27th, 2013

LOVEINT

The NSA’s capabilities have been used by officers to spy on people they’re interested in:

National Security Agency officers on several occasions have channeled their agency’s enormous eavesdropping power to spy on love interests, U.S. officials said.

The practice isn’t frequent — one official estimated a handful of cases in the last decade — but it’s common enough to garner its own spycraft label: LOVEINT.

August 27th, 2013

No, Mr. President. Snowden is a Patriot.

Earlier this month, in a press conference where he stated that he supported “greater oversight, greater transparency, and constraints” on the government’s digital surveillance programs, President Obama stated that he doesn’t believe Snowden is a patriot:

No, I don’t think Mr. Snowden was a patriot. As I said in my opening remarks, I called for a thorough review of our surveillance operations before Mr. Snowden made these leaks.

My preference — and I think the American people’s preference — would have been for a lawful, orderly examination of these laws, a thoughtful fact-based debate that would then lead us to a better place. Because I never made claims that all the surveillance technologies that have developed since the time some of these laws had been put in place somehow didn’t require potentially some additional reforms. That’s exactly what I called for.

Apparently for Obama, calling for a “thorough review” of government surveillance absolves him of any responsibility for their current state, or for pushing for—and getting—a reform-free renewal of the FISA law in 2012.

Obama said Snowden should have used authorized channels to question the government’s actions, and that he would have been protected by a presidential policy directive Obama issued. He said this, apparently, despite that his directive doesn’t offer protection for contractors like Snowden, nor were the procedures actually in effect in June 2013 when Snowden released classified documents.

He said this while knowing that his administration prosecuted an NSA employee, Thomas Drake, who did precisely what Obama says whistleblowers should do: he raised his concerns through authorized channels within the government. After later leaking non-classified information to a reporter, Drake was charged with several felonies that could have resulted in 35 years in prison, and the federal government attempted to coerce him into helping them prosecute other whistleblowers.

So, then, Snowden had very little choice to do what he did. He saw that the government is violating the privacy of Americans on a massive scale, and that the government was actively hiding the nature of these programs and lying to the public about them. Following proper “procedure” would have resulted in his persecution, and likely wouldn’t have led to the information being disseminated so widely, so he released it to journalists.

His choice—which came at incredible personal cost to him (losing his job, home, family and the right to live in his own country)—is what’s allowed the public to have any knowledge at all of what our government is doing in our name, and to have anything resembling an “open debate and democratic process” with regard to this issue. The actions of a man Obama says isn’t a patriot.

This administration has worked very hard to preserve the government’s surveillance and to prevent the public from understanding its actual extent. Obama’s calling for a “thorough review” and “greater oversight, greater transparency” are merely words. Words that come too late, and words that contradict his administration’s actions. Snowden’s actions are what have allowed us to have knowledge of what the government is doing.

At great risk to himself, he helped expose the government’s surveillance programs so the public could know what was being done to us in our name by our elected leaders. If that isn’t patriotic, what is?

August 20th, 2013

UK: “It is for the police to decide”

After detaining David Miranda, Glenn Greenwald’s partner, at Heathrow airport for 9 hours under a law meant to allow police to question people that may be involved in planning terrorist attacks, the United Kingdom said this to justify it:

A Home Office spokesman said Monday that the detention was an operational police matter and that neither he nor the police would provide any details. “Schedule 7 forms an essential part of the U.K.’s security arrangements,” the spokesman said. “It is for the police to decide when it is necessary and proportionate to use these powers.”

There you have it. If the UK government wants to detain, harass, and take a journalist’s partner’s electronics based on a terrorism law, it is up to them to decide when it’s necessary.

We will do whatever we want, and you should just shut up. Actually, that’s basically what the UK told the Guardian:

The mood toughened just over a month ago, when I received a phone call from the centre of government telling me: “You’ve had your fun. Now we want the stuff back.” There followed further meetings with shadowy Whitehall figures. The demand was the same: hand the Snowden material back or destroy it. I explained that we could not research and report on this subject if we complied with this request. The man from Whitehall looked mystified. “You’ve had your debate. There’s no need to write any more.”

And so one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian’s long history occurred – with two GCHQ security experts overseeing the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian’s basement just to make sure there was nothing in the mangled bits of metal which could possibly be of any interest to passing Chinese agents. “We can call off the black helicopters,” joked one as we swept up the remains of a MacBook Pro.

You’ve had your debate.

August 20th, 2013