Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The NBA has to sign Jason Collins now

I was listening to an NPR panel discussion about NBA baller Jason Collins, the first openly gay American athlete in a sport people care about, and guest Kevin Blackistone made some great points about how this will impact Collins as a player.

Blackistone tells us that Collins has been an unremarkable player for 12 years. He has a career average of scoring three points per game and in the current season scored one point per game. He's currently a free agent and up until his announcement yesterday there was a chance he would not be signed next season. Blackistone continued:

Jason Collins may have guaranteed himself a roster spot next year because this is a story that the NBA will want to own, and if he is not on a roster next year and he continues to seek employment in the NBA, and he has said that's what he wants to do, then there may be some feeling from people who are supporting him today... that the league has colluded to keep him out and that in fact the league is not as open as it seemed like it is today or yesterday when he made his announcement.

To be clear, I am not saying that Collins came out to save his career. I also do not want to diminish this inevitable step towards a better world. Still, Collins has put the NBA in a situation where he has to be signed on for another season because refusing to do so would be a PR disaster.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

A bright student

Agricultural development economist Marc F. Bellemare Agricultur shares this great paragraph from a promising student. They both "get it."

Not only do these alternative food networks [Note: Fair Trade, local, organic, etc. -- MFB.] often have high price barriers, they also give rise to a hierarchy among consumers. Those who can afford ethical products are at the top, and cash-strapped families with no other option but to buy generic, mass-produced groceries are seen as morally inferior. Not only can lower-income families not afford these higher quality goods for their personal use, they are also morally chastised for their purchases. Lower class incomes do not enable an expression of values orientated towards a sustainable, fair food production system, however few other forms of activism are available to these communities. Lower class families are victimized both economically and morally for “choices” that arise merely out of economic need. Such a hierarchy ignores questions of access and champions individuals who are already members of an elite, privileged community.

I just need to add: The issue becomes more absurd when one learns these expensive food products do not actually accomplish the ends the supporters have for them. In the case of organic and locally-produced food the elitist methods are counter productive, causing more environmental harm than conventional means.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Fall from grace

I've got an idea for a movie:

A man in his mid 30's gets a law degree and starts his own law firm in 1960's Kansas fighting Jim Crow laws. He becomes a popular civil rights attorney and is frequently harassed and threatened by segregationists and white supremacists.

In the 1970's he starts to lose his way. He freaks out on a woman in the court system who failed to provide him with some documents and attempts to sue her, making her sit on the stand for a week so he can badger her and bring out any embarrassing details of her personal life. He ends up getting disbarred for it.

He starts getting into politics and runs for governor and the senate as a Democrat but can never pull it off. He starts to focus on opposing gay-rights and becomes head of his own church with a focus on how gays are ruining the world and inviting the wrath of God.

He ends up completely deranged and his church becomes a doomsday cult. They start seeing every tragedy as proof of God's anger for tolerance of gays and the church begins harassing victims of popular tragedies and even holding rallies outside the funerals of American soldiers. This leads to a freedom of speech case that goes before the supreme court which he wins, completing a full circle for his role in establishing the parameters of civil rights.

My working title: Fall from Grace: The story of Fred Phelps.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Short and sweet

My go-to line to sum up the libertarian position has been "If two dudes want to get married I don't see why anyone has the right to stop them, and if they want to buy a wedding cake with trans fats in it I say let them."

This Glenn Reynolds piece says it better:

 Personally, I'd be delighted to live in a country where happily married gay couples had closets full of assault weapons.

In the ideal world Reynolds and I believe in, "When Americans aren't sure what to do about something, they give the tie to freedom."

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Immigration politics of the Boston Marathon Bombing

We thought it was a hoax.

I was in the newsroom a little after 3 p.m. on April 15 when Jack, a fellow reporter, said he just read on Twitter that there were two blasts at the Boston Marathon. We had shut the TV off after the early runners crossed the finish line and Jack switched it back on to disprove the rumor. You know how that went.

We spent the next few hours getting details to put on our website and Twitter. Our city editor said that The New York Post was reporting 12 people had died, but then added "but it's The New York Post" and we did not put those numbers online. We had a sports reporter who was at the event but had left before the explosions.

About an hour after the blast, when we were still calling them "explosions" and not "bombs," our editor asked for a reporter and a photographer to drive 50 miles to Boston to check it out. Jack was all over it and spent the rest of the day trying to get something, but it was all chaos. No one really knew what was going on and we had trouble getting any substance.

I finished writing the small potatoes stories I had reported on earlier in the day and on my way home I stopped by the commuter train station to talk to people coming from Boston. The local police had stationed a motorcycle officer there to watch people disembark. Most people didn't want to talk but I was able to speak to a father and son who made a day trip to watch the Red Sox. They were held up several hours getting back because the subway was shut down and they had to walk six miles to the train station where they were wanded and frisked.

The next day I got called in early to write about how the bombing would impact events in smaller communities. When a big story like this happens in our backyard we will have primary stories talking about the event supplemented with tons of lesser stories on different angles. We all wrote several of them. By the time Saturday rolled around and one suspect was captured and the other was dead I was talking to local state lawmakers, all of them democrats, about why they support the death penalty in this case.

The political implications of this case is overwhelming. On the night of the bombing a piece was being passed around from the Daily Kos about Carlos Arredondo, one of numerous civilians who helped save people by picking them up and rushing them to medical staff. In his case, he had the foresight to stop blood loss in a victim and tore down several barriers to help other people get to the victims.

Arredondo became a media darling and received more attention than anyone else who helped saved people. I suspect it wasn't just because of heroic actions and the famous photograph he appeared in, but also his status as an illegal immigrant from Costa Rica, war protester and father of a soldier killed in Iraq. People who support immigration amnesty jumped all over this case because it showed the value to our society immigrants can bring.

As the story unfolded we learned Arredondo wasn't the only immigrant that played a major role. Lu Lingzi, a Chinese grad student who studied statistics at Boston University, was one of three people killed by the bombs.

Then it turned out that the bombers, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, were Chechnyan immigrants.

So what lesson does this teach us about immigration? I say, nothing. Immigrants are just people. It's a bit embarrassing for people who wanted to trumpet Arredondo's heroism when it turns out the bombs came from immigrants too. It's also awkward for the anti-immigration people who want to stress the evil caused by the Tsarnaev brothers, both legal immigrants, when they are counting an immigrant as one of the victims and an illegal immigrant was clearly a savior.

Immigration needs to be debated on its own merits, and rare but horrible events like the one in Boston last week contribute little more than anecdotes. I've been in favor of open borders for a long time, although I support keeping tabs on who comes in to give us the chance to filter out known criminals. I dislike seeing anti-immigration folks capitalize on this tragedy. But by the same hand, is it any better for us pro-immigration supporters to capitalize on it in the same way? I don't see much of a difference.


Friday, April 19, 2013

This proves nothing

We're still picking up the pieces from the chaos following manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombing suspects last night. Now that we have the identity of the terrorists, the moment I've been dreading is upon us. The villains are Chechen, a predominately Muslim ethnicity. I don't have it confirmed that Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev and his brother are Muslims, but they most likely are.

On Tuesday Ross Douthat put out a great message on Twitter:

I've been hearing wild, baseless speculation that the suspects will turn out to be Muslims, right wing extremists or left wing extremists. Perhaps they were motivated by American foreign policy or Boston's cosmopolitan atmosphere. Maybe they hate civilization and technology.

Well, all of those unfairly firm conclusions were based on groups the guessers hated. Someone was going to win, and whoever it turned out to be was destined to get smug about it.

It turns out, it will be the anti-Islamic people who get to say "I told you so" today when in fact, they didn't know so. They were only guessing.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

You mad bro?

I'm still putting a piece about the Boston Marathon Bombing that occurred about 50 miles from my home. Until I have that piece ready, here's a clip from President Barack Obama's long, bitter speech he gave today about how the Senate blocked his feel-good gun control proposals.

Here's a link to the whole thing. It was playing in the other room tonight and I was a bit surprised at just how childish the president was acting.

Adamantium: Man, The Onion writer's are pretty bitter too. They've never been above creating a phony scenario to make their political fantasies come true, but this is one is just flailing wildly.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Anti-globalization dishonesty

I was recently lured into viewing an article on a series of photographs French artist Alain Delorme compiled that turned out to be bogus.

The article was titled "Look At These Chinese Workers Carrying Mind-Blowing Amounts Of Stuff" but it turned out the images were all fakes created in photoshop.

From an NPR interview on his website:

Turns out, Paris-based Delorme creates these spectacular towers of boxes, tires and blankets using Photoshop. As he exaggerates reality by meticulously stitching together the image, he tries to confuse the line between what is fake and what is real, and raise questions around the limits and rules of documentary photography. 
"Even pictures covering a story are retouched to look cleaner, more beautiful," he writes in an e-mail. "What are the limits when the search for perfect aesthetics hides a part of reality?"

So he thinks what he's doing is acceptable because other people adjust the lighting in their photos. Here's what he said his intention is with the series in the new piece:

Delorme alters the photos with Photoshop to exaggerate the loads his subjects carry and heighten that sense of consumption. "To what extent can we play with reality to get the viewer to ask questions?" He says the works investigate globalization and consumerism. "But it is above all a way to make people think about the consumer society we live in via the ‘Made in China’ phenomenon, with all its identical and exchangeable objects produced in big quantities."

Why is it critics of globalization avoid coming out and saying what they mean? Globalization is the extension of human cooperation across international borders and protectionists like Delorme rarely say they oppose it, but claim their propaganda makes people "think" about the issue or study it.

Bottom line, when you have to lie to people to make your point the way Delorme did with his fake images you are admitting your case is weak.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Vermont is building a universal health care system


This is the power of states rights, where Vermont is making itself a Guinea pig for the rest of the nation to show what happens in an American universal health care system.

Similar experiments in Maine and Massachusetts failed to live up to expectations, and I imagine Vermont will as well.

While I think it will fail, I don't think it will fail much more than the rest of the nation. We have an over-regulated government control system with some of the trappings of markets, but no real market forces. Our system is so terrible it's possible a bad health care system run exclusively by the government would be an improvement.

I don't think Vermont is making a wise choice, but when they fail I will end up with another example to use. What we need to do now is record the specific goals and predictions of supporters to prevent them from finding a silver lining and saying they system worked based on new criteria, such as if the number of people covered increases or rates of disease X fall while costs spiral out of control.

Now if we can only get New Hampshire to try a deregulated market-based system so we have something to compare to.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Raising the bar on bad health insurance regulations

I really didn't think the government could top the bad health insurance restriction forbidding companies from charging different rates to men and women because they use up different amounts of health care resources.

Then they outlawed charging smokers more for health insurance in certain geographic regions.

The worst part is, according to the Washington Post, my state of residence already has the rule in place:

The board charged with implementing federal health care reforms in the District has voted to prohibit insurance companies from charging higher premiums to cigarette smokers, adding the city to a handful of states rejecting such surcharges because of the effect they have on poor families who are more likely to smoke. 
The D.C. Health Benefit Exchange executive board voted Monday to join Rhode Island, Vermont and Massachusetts in eliminating smoking premiums in their health care exchanges. 

That means those additional costs will be paid for by other people. People like me.

I don't want to overstate my case or jump to an emotional reaction, but I can honestly say I've never heard of a single thing our government has ever done, ever, that has made me want to join a rebellion to overthrow the government more than this. Never ever ever has something come this close.

Do I even need to explain why this is bad? Why not drop the charade and invent a government program or tax rebate for smokers? This is why we can't have nice things.

Arthur Pigou, can you hear me? I'm sorry, but the progressives have abandoned you.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Income complexity and misleading inequality claims

Mike Konczal has a new piece in Ezra's Wonkblog about how there are multiple ways to determine what someone's income is and all are correct in some sense.

Income sources should include wages from a job, but there is a debate if one should count benefits like health insurance, taxes the employer must pay on behalf of the employee, money from investments, government welfare programs and tax credits like deductions for children and the earned income tax credit.

Konczal does a good job of summarizing a point I've made on at least four different occasions - that looking at monetary compensation as the sole form of income leaves out meaningful data. Which, of course, is why people do it - they want to make things look worse than they really are.

I choose to count all of those factors as important when comparing income because it gives a meaningful response. What good is it saying John Doe has to live on $14,000 a year when the government gives him thousands more? Why should we ignore the generous benefit packages when hearing the latest gripe about teacher compensation? All of these factors need to be taken into account if we want the government to intervene.

Because it's Ezra's blog, Konczal put a left-wing spin on this issue:

Politically, conservatives are in a double-bind when it comes to the policy solutions for inequality. Many conservatives use the all-inclusive definition of income — one that includes, and in fact heavily relies on, government benefits — to argue that income hasn’t stagnated. But many conservatives would also like to see government programs cut significantly.

He has a fair point, of course. I came to the same conclusion when I started factoring in progressive income taxes to inequality claims while observing my fellow right wingers continue to push for flat taxes.

But progressives do something even worse. Left-wing activists tell us the government should be doing more to "fix" income inequality, but they ignore everything the government is doing now towards that goal when they make their case. It's completely dishonest.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Why is assassination illegal?

My dad, who served two tours of duty in Vietnam, told me when I was a kid that it was illegal to assassinate a nation's leader because the leaders made the rule to protect themselves, but they are perfectly willing to let young men die instead.

Arch conservative Pat Buchanan recently made a claim on the McLaughlin Group that Kim Jong Un will be a threat to America until he is killed. When asked if he is endorsing assassination, Buchanan gave a wimpy roundabout "yes" hidden behind political jabbering.

As Orwell wrote, "Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them."

What should we think about the merits and flaws of assassinating the leader of another nation? Clearly Kim Jong Un, an insecure, inexperienced belligerent dictator, makes a tempting target. It seems like a cleaner alternative to war.

While I think my dad made a great point about the selfish nature of the assassination ban, there's a great tactical argument to address. If we kill the leader, how long will it be before a new leader is put in place to that is capable of surrendering to us. That's a huge problem.

A dead Kim Jong Un, would be replaced with a chaotic power struggle, and I doubt whoever rose to the top would do so just to surrender. Even if there was a vice dictator on call to assume command I think the pressure would be for him to retaliate.

Still, North Korea is a bona fide distopia and it's tempting to put Kim Jong Un in a glass coffin for the sake of the 24 million inhabitants. A heavyweight civil war would be temporary, while the status quo is a lingering horror.

I'm open to any more input on why killing the leaders of nations should be banned in all instances, as I imagine political scientists have pondered this issue more than I have.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Happily mislead

I keep hearing ridiculously inflated numbers that are supposed to be adjusted for inflation, but when one digs deeper they find it was something else.

Elizabeth Warren's $22 hourly minimum wage claim is the latest example, but I've seen plenty of others. Here's a run though of what happened.

Warren said that if someone took the minimum wage of 1960 and held that proportion of the economy constant, it would be $22, so why isn't the minimum wage at that number?

Progressives who only read the headline or possess a limited understanding of economics interpreted that as a claim about inflation.

Those same progressives get it into their brains that adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage of 1960 would be $22. Elizabeth Warren does not go out of her way to correct this.

That number is incredibly easy to check. One simply needs to find the minimum wage of 1960, which is $1 an hour, and run it through an inflation calculator. It comes out to $7.65, slightly more than the current minimum wage of $7.25 but still less than the $9 the president wants.

So be careful with those inflation claims, lefty readers, those surprising numbers you're picking up may be saying something else.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Beating their heads against the wall of Jericho

Last night NPR had an interview with student activist Lizzie Jekanowski, who leads the group BC Students For Sexual Health, about how their attempts to hand out condoms at Boston College were thwarted by the school.

I don't like having to defend the Catholic Church, but Jekanowski has forced me to with her undeserved optimism.

Boston College is a Catholic institution and Catholicism is one of the few religions with a formal leader and power structure and the religion is very clear that it considers it a sin to use contraception such as condoms. The reason for this position is the Genesis story where God killed Onan for purposely spilling his seed on the ground to avoid impregnating his sister in law.

While this anti-condom view is big-league bonkers, it is well understood to be set in stone in the Catholic Church. As a result, Boston College does not give out free condoms like some schools or allow others to distribute them on campus. A change in policy would have to follow a change from the Vatican.

A BC official in the NPR interview revealed they do not ban their use or possession on campus, just the distribution. BC student and likely virgin Christopher Knoth defended the policy and made it clear that there is a pharmacy next to campus where students can buy condoms.

Jekanowski is correct when she said it's also an issue that the BC clinic won't prescribe birth control to students unless they lie to their doctor, although she should have provided more details. I understand why she wanted to pass condoms out, but where she leaves the world of sensibility is her attempts to get Boston College to ignore Catholic dogma through protest.

She identified herself as a Catholic and willingly chose to go to a Catholic school, but now that she's there she thinks reason and an appeal to sensibility will get them to ignore the Vatican's orders. How could she possibly expect that to work?

If I went to an Islamic or Jewish school I would not expect the dining hall to serve pork chops and sausage and I would never waste my time protesting the campus bacon ban. It's mind-destroyingly obvious that it would never work. It's like yelling at the clerk that you don't like the chain store's policies.

I don't understand why Jekanowski even identifies herself as Catholic. Aren't they supposed to believe that the Pope is infallible when he makes his religious decrees and the Vatican policies come directly from God? This isn't like joining a political party where you compromise on some issues to help gain support for the others; this is a private and personal decision that is supposed to be about metaphysical truth. She clearly disagrees with the Catholic Church, so why doesn't she find a church that embraces progress?

Boston College's anti-condom policy is hardcore-level stupid and deserves to be mocked. Free and cheap condoms marginally decrease unwanted pregnancies and STD rates at a low cost. However, trying to get a Catholic institution to overturn or ignore 2,000 years of dogma by whispering facts into its ear is a logical meltdown.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Liberal cannibalism

If you lock enough liberals in a room together they will start to eat each other.

Last week everyone on Facebook changed their profile to a red box with a pink equals sign to show their support for gay marriage. Everyone but some rather bitter far-left extremists and me - I reject lazy activism and want to be in my profile pictures.

It turns out the Human Rights Campaign gay rights advocacy group changed their color scheme for this issue and the pro-gay critics of the group are fuming that they are getting so much attention.

My amigo Abner calls this "political hipsterism," where someone feels the need to be a contrarian out of emotional needs to be different and feel superior, but I have a different explanation. Look at this Not Even Joking HuffPo piece from Derrick Clifton:

The HRC has appeared more concerned with praising corporations and financial institutions that continue to oppress the poor and play reverse Robin Hood to screw many folks (LGBT* included) out of homes and livelihoods. 
The HRC has yet to make a strong, substantive appeal on youth homelessness, which disproportionately impacts LGBT communities. 
The HRC has a long history of throwing trans* people under the bus. Many folks still remember them dropping the "T" while attempting to push the Employment Non-Discrimination Act through Congress in 2007... and it still failed to capture enough votes to pass in the Senate and become law. They've since reverted to supporting a trans-inclusive bill, yet many still feel the sting. 
The HRC has tokenized and otherwise has given lip service to issues pertaining to LGBT communities of color. Racial justice (or even an allusion to it) isn't even listed on their website's "issues" tab as part of a broader strategy. And dare we not address how that functions from within, given the racism many people experience in LGBT* spaces and forums. Yet the HRC has thrown almost the full weight of their strategy, fundraising moolah and public platform on the issue of marriage equality. And they've done it for a while now.

Let's take these points head on:

To justify his corporatism accusation Clifton links to a moronic anarchist blog that is upset that the Human Rights Campaign gave Goldman Sachs a “Workplace Equality Innovation Award” when they should be smashing the state, d00d. Good grief, I'm all for criticizing Goldman Sachs for its role in the financial crisis but these knuckleheads live in a Thomas Nash cartoon and swing wild. If a major company has pro-gay policies one would hope a gay rights organization would give them credit for it without worrying what mouth-breathing Marxists will say.

As for transgenderism being thrown under the bus, good. I want gay rights organizations to stop mixing that issue in like gay rights and transgender acceptance are inseparable. I don't have time to do the issue justice here but transgenderism is a mental delusion, possibly a neurological disorder, and it shouldn't be treated as a normal human variation. It's the most popular in a growing list of mental problems that have activists support groups attempting to normalize them, ahead of Body Identity Integrity Disorder and people who hear nonexistent voices.

I'll tackle the youth homelessness and gay racial minorities questions together. The Human Rights Campaign is focused on gay marriage and it can't do everything at once. It makes perfect sense for the organization to try to accomplish a few goals instead of failing to do many.

I'm reminded of last month's stories about a Brown University workshop sponsored by an off-campus group titled Protect Me From What I Want that aimed to keep gays from being attracted to whites and other privileged groups. The event description included:

We are invested in generating a politics of sexuality that compels us to interrogate beauty as privilege and constructed by systems of white supremacy, ableism, capitalism, and heteronormativity...

There they go again, throwing anti-capitalist smoke signals around nonsensically, which is not much of a departure from Clifton's piece.

The anti-Human Rights Campaign stance reminds me of Arnold Kling's brilliant Three Axes political reduction: Progressives see every issue along the axis of the oppressed versus oppressors, so critics like Clifton will shoehorn this issue into that conflict because they don't know any other way to look at it. Privileged gays must be keeping transgendered folk down.

I've long said that the American left is a series of warring camps, each one fighting to say they have it worse. What we are witnessing is the unhinging of jaws as liberals attempt to eat each other.