Wednesday, April 9, 2014

White House caught being purposely misleading

Betsey Stevenson, economic adviser to the president, was in the middle of a press call promoting "Equal Pay Day" when a reporter pressed her and Stevenson unraveled the very myth she was there to promote.

The Obama administration has bullhorned the old idea that women make 79 or 77 cents for every dollar men make and has presented it as the result of discrimination. The actual explanation, that this is mostly because men and women work different jobs, act differently as employees and have different qualifications, is becoming more and more mainstream.

A reporter called her out on this explanation and Stevenson said:

If I said 77 cents was equal pay for equal work, then I completely misspoke... So let me just apologize and say that I certainly wouldn’t have meant to say that.

Case closed. A member of the Obama administration has admitted that the way people are interpreting this message is wrong. People who speak about this issue appear to be Michael Mooreing the Hell out of it - they make a statement that is technically true, but designed in a way to misinform the listener.

And of course, some of the speakers blatantly declare the false version to be true.

What's interesting here is that Stevenson did indeed say that the 77 cent figure is for equal work. Specifically she said:

They’re stuck at 77 cents on the dollar, and that gender wage gap is seen very persistently across the income distribution, within occupations, across occupations, and we see it when men and women are working side by side doing identical work.

Those two statements were from the same interview. The only way I can read that without seeing Stevenson as a liar is to say she meant there is some gender wage gap for identical work that persists when controlling for some factors and not others, such as not controlling for education, but that's being unreasonably generous it's still cutting it pretty close.

What's happening here is that Stevenson is trying to walk a fine line. She's been tasked with spreading a message that she knows isn't accurate, but she has to make supporting statements that won't get her called out. She fell off the tightrope, and climbing back on required her to admit the whole thing is a sham.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Should soldiers play by different rules?

That's the only conclusion I can reach after seeing this story pop up about Motel 6 turning away a 20-year-old soldier because he didn't meet the age minimum to book a room.

Here's the angry message that resonated with people enough for them to share it online:

Dear Motel 6. Just wanted applaud your patriotism. My son, who is an active duty soldier in the Army had to fly out today from Atlanta to Anchorage Alaska to report in to his new duty station. He drove down to Atlanta yesterday from Fredericksburg a day early so he wouldn't miss his flight. Of course he needed a place to stay and chose Motel 6 because of your low rates. He thought he was set because he made a reservation in advance. Low and behold he was turned away at midnight when he arrived because he is only 20 years old. Even after showing his military ID he was sent packing. Only place he could find at that late hour was hotel that charged the young Private $150. Way to go Motel 6. He is old enough to defend your freedom but not old enough to rent one of your stellar rooms. Leave this on your time line. I dare you. Motel 6

I added the bold text to highlight the parts that assumed that military members should be exempt from age rules because of the sacrifices and dangers associated with their jobs. It's not saying that military members are more responsible or stable than other people their age (which I find plausible), but that the rules shouldn't apply to them.

Snopes reported that some Motel 6 locations do indeed have policies requiring a minimum age of 21 to book a room, which means the company was simply being consistent when they turned the young soldier away

Since then, the company has issued this statement:

We have spoken directly with this guest and we are reimbursing him for both the cost of the Motel 6 room and the costs incurred while staying at the other hotel. Furthermore, we have re-communicated to all Motel 6 properties our check-in policy; we welcome military personnel of all ages.

So in the end Motel 6 will treat soldiers differently than everyone else. They didn't lower the registration age for everyone, just members of the military.

Will other age restrictions be waived for military members in the future? I agree with the argument that it's nonsensical to let an 18 year old fight in a war, but not drink a beer with his friends when he's being deployed, but what do we do about it? Should military members have their own drinking age?

What about other age restrictions, like the 25-minimum to run for congress? Doesn't that "old enough to fight in a war" line apply here too? What about the minimum age companies require to rent a car, will there be a future campaign against the car company that wouldn't rent to a young Marine?

Why not just lower every age restriction to 18, for everyone?

That's what we did with the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18 for everyone. The idea was that 18 year old were fighting in wars, with many of them forced into it through male-only conscription, but couldn't vote for the representatives who decide when the country goes to war. The country lowered the voting age for everyone in response, not just military members or the young men who were at risk of being drafted.

I'm reminded of the social structure in Starship Troopers, where people are born as civilians and have to earn the right for full citizenship, often through enlisting in the military. Only citizens can vote and raise children. It's not something to aspire to.

We already have an abundance of programs that are only open to current and former military members, including health care for life, special job training and employment assistance, loans for buying a home and tons of other benefits added piecemeal over the years. Some of their benefits are clearly compensation for enlisting and serving, such as money towards college, and medical services to help them recover from physical and mental trauma they experienced in war are a no-brainer, but many others are programs added after their service was completed.

Giving veterans special rights and services is politically popular. It starts with the notion that those who died  or risked their lives can never be fully repaid for their sacrifices. That is true in terms of gratitude, but that doesn't stop politicians and voters from trying to repay them with taxpayer money through an endless march of military-exclusive programs to pay an open-ended debt.

Non-veterans are on their way to becoming second-class citizens, and America is headed towards becoming an on-the-books caste system. It's not there yet, and there's nothing to scream and shout about yet. I don't think civilians will lose any rights but I still don't like where this is headed.


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Don't forget Target

Blogger Ryan Long penned a breakdown of recent gay rights-motivated boycotts to separate the reasonable (Salvation Army) from the unreasonable (Stoli Vodka). It's a good assessment, and with the ongoing flood of calls for boycotts, its important to set up a system like Long has.

...Boycotts are all the rage these days, it seems. It's weird how many of my fellow liberals and/or gays just expect me to hop on board these bandwagons, and seem surprised when I question them. Let me explain my very simple formula for whether we should boycott a business for being anti-gay. Does the company discriminate against LGBT employees or customers? Are company funds being used to promote anti-LGBT legislation? No? Then I don't feel the need to boycott.

I'm going to humbly add one example from 2011 Long forgot to include, which is understandable because there have been so many. The 2011 boycott and attempted extortion of Target for giving money to a pro-business political action committee that gave money to a pro-business politician who happened to oppose gay marriage.

Target has been a gay ally as an employer, and funds pro-gay events. The relationship to anti-LBGT legislation was strained and was never suggested to be intentional, and using Long's method I believe one should have opted not to boycott.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Charles Koch is a man of virtue

There's no other way to describe it. In a Wall Street Journal essay about his continued promotion of a free society, Koch once again wrote about his opposition to corporate welfare and cronyism.

As a rich businessman, Koch could easily make more money by playing "the game" and getting favors from Washington. It's his belief in fairness and the free market that prevents him from doing so, and his very un-greedy stance on corporate welfare is most definitely a virtue.

Far from trying to rig the system, I have spent decades opposing cronyism and all political favors, including mandates, subsidies and protective tariffs—even when we benefit from them. I believe that cronyism is nothing more than welfare for the rich and powerful, and should be abolished.

His numerous left-wing critics are eager to disprove this notion, drafting numerous articles accusing Koch of being one of the biggest pigs at the federal trough. Here's a prime example from last month, with the headline Koch Brothers Takes $88 Million in Corporate Welfare.

The article is simply a link to a left-wing groups report on total corporate welfare in America. The actual report never mentions Koch industries or any of its subsidiaries because they ranked too low to list. Koch Industries didn't even make the top 100. One has to go through their raw data to find the Koch figures, which took less than half of the number 100 cutoff corporation, Bank of America, which had $180 million.

The report looked at corporate handouts, mostly in the form of tax breaks and enterprise zones, between 1990 and 2014. During that period Koch subsidiaries took a total of $88 million. That's $88 million over a period of 24 years, for a company with current annual revenue of $115 billion.

Compare that to the ($182 billion in revenue in 2013) Berkshire Hathaway firm owned and operated by left wing darling George Soros, that was ranked number 15 in the nation in the same report and took in over a billion in corporate welfare.

Let's make that comparison simple to read. Koch had $88 million, and Soros had $1,064 million.

Now granted, that $88 million is not zero, and I'm trying to make the claim that Charles Koch is a man of virtue. Don't these 139 subsidies mean he's a little bit dirty here?

Well yes and no. While I doubt Koch had much decision making over the $925 workforce training reimbursement accepted by Georgia-Pacific in Arkansas, surely the $10 million tax credit to Flint Hills Resources in Iowa should have been on his radar.

Letting that happen is a grave error Charles Koch should have fixed, but I'm not nominating him for sainthood. I'm saying that he has shown great restraint in resisting easy stolen money from the government.

As Timothy P. Carney wrote about Koch's decision to pay him to be a speaker against corporate welfare and bailouts:

If the Kochs were really just greedy billionaires funding front groups to boost their profits, their nonprofits would probably support subsidies and protective regulations. And if the Kochs' movement really is "pro-corporate," somebody made a big mistake in picking me to speak.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The flawed mind of Richard Horton

Tyler Cowen talked a big game when he recently shared a link to an editorial by Richard Horton with the introduction "The editor of Lancet is anti-scientific and full of mood affiliation"

Big words, and after reading what Horton wrote, I see Cowen is entirely right.

Pick up any economics textbook, and you will see the priority given to markets and efficiency, price and utility, profit and competition. These words have chilling effects on our quest for better health. They seem to marginalise those qualities of our lives that we value most of all—not our self-interest, but our humanity; not the costs and benefits of monetary exchange, but vision and ideals that guide our decisions.

What Horton is saying is that he does not have the stomach for pragmatism, and believes surface-level emotions are more important than thwarting actual hardships.

To take what he wrote seriously, one would have to believe that Horton opposes using triage in a crisis.

The simple triage model I'm familiar with pictures a hospital overwhelmed with victims of a massive event. Say there are a few dozen staff members on hand, but hundreds of victims in various conditions. Instead of trying to treat everyone, the medical workers divide the patients into three groups: Those with minor injuries that are probably not life-threatening, those with life-threatening that can probably be saved and those with life-threatening injuries that will most likely die or that require a massive amount of work to save.

The first group is set aside to be worked on later, the second group is treated and the third group is left to die.

That's the reality of the situation, unfortunately, and triage isn't simply about coldly letting patients die. It is about saving as many lives as possible, and attempting to set aside emotions that would cloud judgment and end up hurting more people.

Economics gives us a path to make life better for everyone, especially the poor and sick, and that path is made up of markets, efficiency, prices, utility profits and competition.

Keep in mind that the American health care system is racked with economics problems, and going forward with Horton's mindset of trying to provide health care like a cruise ship buffet has made it unaffordable for many people, and has leeched a lot of money out of the hands of ordinary citizens.

How many people have to die needlessly so that Horton can be emotionally satisfied?

Horton went on in his essay to quote left wing critics of mainstream economics. Here's a sample:

Clare Chandler, a medical anthropologist (also from the London School), took a different view. She asked, what has neoliberal economics ever done for global health? Her answer, in one word, was “inequality”. Neoliberal economics frames the way we think and act. Her argument suggested that any economic philosophy that put a premium on free trade, privatisation, minimal government, and reduced public spending on social and health sectors is a philosophy bereft of human virtue... 
A year or so ago, I perhaps rashly suggested (on twitter) that economics was the biggest fraud ever perpetrated on the world. Many economists, understandably, disagreed profoundly with that view. But, please, think again.

This is just political claptrap. Chandler doesn't like bottom-up approaches politically, so therefor approaches that use bottom-up methods must not really want to make the world a better place. Free trade and a constrained role for government are methods for making like better for eveyone, especially the poor. There has never been a greater tool for eliminating poverty than capitalism and the free enterprise system, but Horton doesn't find it emotionally satisfying so he opposes it.

To pile on with Cowen's anti-science accusation, Horton has been the head honcho of the Lancet since the 1990's, and was editor in chief when the famous Andrew Wakefield vaccine-autisim study was published in 1998. I can give Horton a pass for publishing a study that was only later revealed to be a fraud, but with all the attention it got, it shouldn't have taken 12 years to issue a retraction.

A few years ago Bill Easterly specifically called out The Lancet out for publishing multiple medical studies with flawed economic analysis. All of these studies were published while Horton was in place.

As Horton reminded us in the essay, eliminating poverty promotes the general health of the public. Economics gives us the best methods to do that, and it doesn't not involve the snowflakes and rainbow approach Horton finds emotionally satisfying.


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Is the left really opposing free speech?

I'm having a difficult time confronting my own bias here, and I'm trying hard not to rest on sweeping conclusions that flatter my own political prejudices.

I am trying not to conclude that a large section of the modern American left is opposed to freedom of speech because I keep seeing new examples pop up. The latest includes a feminist college professor and her students stealing an anti-abortion protesters sign, then justifying it because the sign upset her; calls to arrest people who deny climate change science; and yet another audience was denied the right to listen to a men's rights speaker because of activists drowning them out with noise.

My inner skeptic is telling me to avoid reaching a conclusion here. I do not watch for right wing free speech opponents the same way and may be missing them in spades. The Gawker article on arresting climate change deniers is just some silly essay on the Internet about one single philosophy professor, and the dredging the comment sections of blogs is worse than idiot hunting, it's straight-up Kevin Drum's law.

But then I remember what Harvey Silverglate has said about free speech opposition on college campuses, and I look to the words of Fredrik deBoer, the left-wing author of the piece about the college professor who stole the protesters sign. They don't share my political world view and deBoer concluded:

I know some people will assume I’m speaking to some sad fringe here. But I have been amazed at how mainstream these anti-free speech efforts have become. I have been amazed not just because of the immorality of trying to ban free though, free expression, and free assembly, or because these efforts reverse centuries of the assumed work of the left, but because of how easily this could backfire, in a world where our movements against sexism and racism and homophobia are still so fragile and contested.

Left wing opposition to freedom of speech is not a regression to feudalism, where people could be arrested for saying things that were insulting or critical of those in power. Instead, it takes the form of sensitivity and trying to protect the downtrodden. It's not a step back, so much as a step in a foolish new direction.

It would be so much easier to conclude that the American left has abandoned free speech, or that opposition to free speech is equally bipartisan, but I can't settle on either of those points. Instead I'm stuck in an intellectual limbo, wanting to drift to a conclusion but distrusting all the clues I see before me.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Cancel Colbert is the perfect social justice example

Congratulations to Suey Park for creating the most easily disproved social justice crusade in recent years, and reminding us all why online social justice warriors are heavily mocked by non-bigots.

The Comedy Central television network runs a Twitter account for the Stephen Colbert show, while Colbert himself and his writers have their own Twitter account. The network account posted a purposely-racist post this week mocking the owner of the Washington Redskins by using the goofy right wing Colbert character to say:

That drew the attention of professional victim Suey Park, who used the hashtag #CancelColbert to try to squeeze some kind of groveling apology out of Colbert (Who had nothing to do with the offending remark.)

I want to give Park the benefit of the doubt here and say she doesn't actually want Colbert's show canceled. What she said on Josh Zepp's Huffington Post Live broadcast was that her demands were purposely unreasonable to get attention. In particular, she said:

Our demands aren't really met unless we have really serious asks or we generate these larger conversations. Unfortunatly, people usually don't listen to us when we're being reasonable

So Park is saying that she purposely exaggerates what she wants to get cheap attention. That's not a good way to start any conversation, or to assert oneself as a serious person to learn from.

The conversation ended pretty quickly when Park tried to use a cheap privilege shaming tactic to steamroll Zepp, and he didn't let it happen.

As Tim Molloy wrote on this kerfuffle, "I'm so non-racist I even think non-racists are racist." This is like protesting Roots for having racist characters.

Park is trying to make a living off of perpetual victimhood, and while most of the attention this is generating paints her as a fool, she's getting enough positive reinforcement to gain some clout among the people who might book her for speaking engagements or buy her writings.

I really don't know how sincere her beliefs are on this issue. I'll grant her that she cares about racism and social justice, but it's hard not to look at her responses to questions about the nature of satire and think she's playing a role for personal profit.

Thinking Park is completely sincere insults her intelligence. It's much kinder to say she's a faker willing to eat her own allies.