Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Microaggression Farce by Heather Mac Donald, City Journal Autumn 2014

The Microaggression Farce by Heather Mac Donald, City Journal Autumn 2014
In November 2013, two dozen graduate students at the University of California at Los Angeles marched into an education class and announced a protest against its “hostile and unsafe climate for Scholars of Color.” The students had been victimized, they claimed, by racial “microaggression”—the hottest concept on campuses today, used to call out racism otherwise invisible to the naked eye. UCLA’s response to the sit-in was a travesty of justice. The education school sacrificed the reputation of a beloved and respected professor in order to placate a group of ignorant students making a specious charge of racism.

The pattern would repeat itself twice more at UCLA that fall: students would allege that they were victimized by racism, and the administration, rather than correcting the students’ misapprehension, penitently acceded to it. Colleges across the country behave no differently. As student claims of racial and gender mistreatment grow ever more unmoored from reality, campus grown-ups have abdicated their responsibility to cultivate an adult sense of perspective and common sense in their students. Instead, they are creating what tort law calls “eggshell plaintiffs”—preternaturally fragile individuals injured by the slightest collisions with life. The consequences will affect us for years to come.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Study That

Here’s a line from this report in the New York Times; I add emphasis to that part of the line that is most germane to this blog post:

Studies show that simply raising the price of an alcoholic beverage by 10 percent reduces alcohol consumption by 7 percent, suggesting that higher taxes on alcohol could make a significant dent in excessive drinking.

Is anyone surprised by this finding?  I’m not.  I have no doubt that any increase in the cost to consumers of acquiring alcoholic beverages reduces the consumption of those beverages from what that consumption would have been had the cost of alcoholic beverages not risen.  I’m much less certain about the seven-percent finding.  It could be accurate for the time period that was studied; this figure sounds plausible enough.  But the actual figure might be higher or it might be lower.  That question – the question of the magnitude of the decline in alcohol consumption – isn’t of interest to me here.  I am, however, quite certain about the direction of the change in alcohol consumption that is caused by a change in the consumers’ costs of acquiring alcohol: higher cost, lower demand.

I’m also quite certain that intrepid-enough researchers could produce honest and impressive-looking empirical studies that find that raising the price of alcohol by 10 percent does not result in any reduction in the consumption of alcohol.  I’m pretty sure, however, that no one has done such studies.  The reason is that no one – at least no respectable economist – doubts for a moment that the higher the price of alcohol, ceteris paribus, the lower is the quantity demanded of some well-specified unit of alcohol.  Therefore, when study after study turns up the expected relationship between price and quantity demanded for alcohol, it makes sense.  No one is inspired to set about to add different control variables, to segregate the data into finer categories, or to otherwise fiddle with the empirical studies in order to see if it’s possible to find empirical evidence in favor of the proposition that, at least for small increases in the retail price of alcohol, higher alcohol prices do not decrease the quantities of alcohol demanded.

And if some researchers did undertake such a project, when they would then try to publish their findings in a scientific journal their paper(s) would be rejected.  The referees of the paper would, quite correctly no doubt, point out any number of flaws in the specification of the model, the manner of collecting data, the classification of the data, and the interpretation of the empirical findings.  The findings would just not make sense absent some paradigm-shifting theoretical breakthrough to explain such findings.

And yet, such studies are frequently done for one item: low-skilled labor.  While many studies continue to find – and confirm – what is predicted by foundational economics (namely, that - ceteris paribus – the higher the minimum wage, the fewer are the quantity of hours of low-skilled labor demanded by employers), many other studies find the opposite.

The reason for the flood of the ‘pro-minimum-wage’ studies is not, I firmly believe, that anyone intentionally sets out to disprove the standard, ‘anti-minimum-wage’ theory and findings.  Rather, the reason is that there are people whose priors have them invested in believing that somehow, for some reason, low-skilled workers are the exception to the rule that is at the very core of economic science – that rule being the law of demand.  Believing, pre-scientifically, ‘in’ the goodness of the minimum wage, scholars are led to explore the data intrepidly until they find what they know must be true – namely, that at least small hikes in the minimum wage do not reduce the quantity demanded of low-skilled labor.

And the enormous complexity of economic reality renders finding such confirmation in appropriately parsed, diced, and sliced data easy enough to do.  Again, one produces such findings for the effect of alcohol taxes on alcohol consumption (or the effect of carbon taxes on carbon emissions, or the effect of penalties for rape and the frequency of rape or …. you name it).  That no one does these other studies is explained by the fact that too few people are invested in believing that the law of demand does not apply in these other situations.  There are, however, many people – including (I believe sadly) some economists – who are invested in believing that minimum-wage legislation simply must help the people it is ostensibly meant to help.  And, again, finding empirical confirmation for such a prior in this incredibly complex and ever-changing world of ours is really rather simple.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Net Neutrality or Government Brutality? : The Freeman : Foundation for Economic Education

Net Neutrality or Government Brutality? : The Freeman : Foundation for Economic Education

Over the past six years or so, network neutrality, or “net neutrality,” has risen from an obscure techie buzz phrase to a bona fide political issue and rallying cry for some strange political bedfellows. The current debate comprises competing views on economics, regulation, free speech, property rights, and even the supposed rights of individuals and businesses to a certain Internet experience. Would a net-neutrality mandate protect the rights of some or merely trample the fundamental rights of others and stifle competition and innovation?
Much of the perplexity surrounding net neutrality stems from ambiguity and confusion over the very definition of the term. The concept concerns how information is transmitted over the Internet. Data are moved in “packets” through networks of computers and routers. Currently, these data are processed with little regard to what kind of information they are—be they important medical data, streaming video, or spam.
Generally speaking, net neutrality is the notion that all content, applications, and services should be treated the same by Internet service providers (ISPs). Net-neutrality proponents fear that network operators might someday discriminate against certain types of information by charging fees to particular content providers in exchange for guarantees of higher-quality service or by blocking some content completely.
Such a proposal may sound innocuous enough, but the problem is that the proliferation of things like streaming video and online gaming are taking up increasingly large amounts of bandwidth and are sensitive to delay. This Internet congestion can lead to the degradation of service for all Internet users. Slight delays may hardly be noticeable in e-mail or web-browser applications, but can be more serious for video-content providers or Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), which allows people to make phone calls over the Internet.
Then there is the question whether the government has any right to tell ISPs how to manage their own networks and pricing structures, which will be discussed in some detail below.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that net-neutrality advocates disagree over just how much control network operators should be allowed to maintain. Some believe that neutrality means data packets must be handled on a first-come-first-served basis without exception, while others would permit the existence of differing quality-of-service levels as long as there are no special fees (no price discrimination) for higher service levels. Still others would allow prioritization of data and differing quality levels (along with tiered pricing), provided that there were no exclusivity in service contracts. Or, in the words of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, developer of the World Wide Web, “We pay for connection to the Net as though it were a cloud which magically delivers our packets. We may pay for a higher or a lower quality of service. We may pay for a service which has the characteristics of being good for video, or quality audio. But we each pay to connect to the Net, but no one can pay for exclusive access to me.”
Since the most restrictive definition is the one that is typically embodied in legislation and that raises the most serious issues, it is the one on which this article will focus.
The Birth of “Net Neutrality”
The idea of network neutrality originated during the late 1990s as some feared potential threats to the “end-to-end” nature of the Internet, although some trace the concept back to the age of the telegram, when Congress passed the Pacific Telegraph Act of 1860. The act subsidized a transcontinental telegraph line and stated that “messages received from any individual, company, or corporation, or from any telegraph lines connecting with this line at either of its termini, shall be impartially transmitted in the order of their reception, excepting that the dispatches of the government shall have priority.” The term “network neutrality” was coined by Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu in his 2002 paper, “Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination,” in which he promotes a “network anti-discrimination regime.”
There have been several efforts to pass net-neutrality laws at the federal and state levels, but they have thus far been rebuffed. That may change, however, particularly if Senator Barack Obama wins the presidential election in November. He has expressed support for net neutrality, dating back to a 2006 bill (S 2817). The prospect of imposing government regulation on what is essentially a free market might lead one to believe that Democrats are more likely to support net-neutrality mandates than Republicans (notwithstanding the fact that the GOP frequently acts in contradiction to its pro-market rhetoric), and, indeed, there is some truth to this.
Generally speaking, most members of the political left have tended to favor net-neutrality legislation and most on the right have tended to oppose it, but there are notable exceptions. Organizations like, the American Civil Liberties Union, and a number of liberal bloggers have come out in favor of such legislation, for example, but former Clinton White House press secretary Mike McCurry is co-chairman of the Hands Off the Internet Coalition, which opposes it. On the other hand, most Republicans oppose net neutrality, but conservative groups such as the Christian Coalition and Gun Owners of America support it.
Even the most important innovators of the Internet are divided on the issue. Vinton Cerf, a co-inventor of the Internet Protocol (IP) and vice president and “Chief Internet Evangelist” for Google, is for it. Bob Kahn, inventor of the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), which provides reliable delivery of a stream of bytes over the Internet, and David Farber, a computer science and public-policy professor at Carnegie Mellon University who is known as the “grandfather of the Internet,” are against it.
And then there are the corporate interests. Large web-content providers such as Google, Yahoo!, eBay, and YouTube support net-neutrality mandates because they fear the prospect of having to pay higher prices to ensure the quality of their content, while cable and telecommunications companies such as AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and Cox Cable oppose it because they feel they should have the freedom to operate their own networks and set their own prices without interference from the government.
In 2004 then-Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Michael Powell outlined a set of nondiscrimination principles. Powell argued that the broadband industry should offer consumers freedom to access content, run applications, attach devices, and obtain service-plan information.
When AT&T and BellSouth merged in 2006, the FCC attached a net-neutrality provision as condition of its approval. Under the measure the company agreed “not to provide or to sell to Internet content, application, or service providers, including those affiliated with AT&T/BellSouth, any service that privileges, degrades or prioritizes any packet transmitted over AT&T/BellSouth’s wireline broadband Internet access service based on its source, ownership or destination.” AT&T agreed to the concession in order to break a 2–2 deadlock among the commissioners that had held up the merger for several months. The provision was narrowly tailored to AT&T, however, and included a 30-month expiration date. Moreover, current FCC chairman Kevin Martin and fellow Republican commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate warned that the measure “does not mean that the commission has adopted an additional Net neutrality principle. We continue to believe such a requirement is not necessary and may impede infrastructure deployment,” they wrote in a statement. Martin and Tate added, “Thus, although AT&T may make a voluntary business decision, it cannot dictate or bind government policy.”
Proposed Legislative “Solutions”
S 2817 was just one of many attempts to codify net-neutrality regulations in recent years. An attempt to attach a neutrality provision to the purportedly landmark 2006 telecommunications bill (S 2686) failed on an 11–11 committee vote, and S 2686 ended up failing in the Senate anyway. The Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement (COPE) Act of 2006 (HR 5252) contained neutrality provisions, which were stripped out before the bill ultimately died, as did the Internet Non-Discrimination Act of 2006 (S 2360) and the Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2006 (HR 5417). The Network Neutrality Act of 2006 (HR 5273) was defeated in committee. The Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008 (HR 5353), which would enforce the principles of the FCC’s AT&T–BellSouth merger deal on all broadband providers, is now pending, as are some older bills that have been reintroduced.
As with the neutrality debate in general, there are divisions over policy within the federal government. While Congress and perhaps the FCC seem to be moving toward increased government regulation, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has opposed new regulation. As far back as 2002 the FTC noted the rapidly evolving nature of the high-speed Internet service market and argued that “broadband services should exist in a minimal regulatory environment that promotes investment and innovation in a competitive market.” More recently, a 2007 FTC report reiterated its position and asserted that since no “significant market failure or demonstrated consumer harm from conduct by broadband providers” could be found, net-neutrality regulations “may well have adverse effects on consumer welfare, despite the good intentions of their proponents.”
The FTC’s conclusion is critical because one of the main justifications of net-neutrality laws is to prevent harm to consumers. That no harm has been found has led neutrality critics to dub the notion a “solution in search of a problem.”
To date, only a couple of cases of what could be called net-neutrality incidents have occurred. Madison River Communications blocked a web-based application when it prevented customers from using Vonage’s VoIP service. The FCC stepped in and ordered Madison River to stop the blocking and make a $15,000 payment to the federal government. In another case, America Online was accused of blocking e-mail to the website, which was established to protest an AOL plan to charge users a higher price for a feature to block e-mail from unauthorized senders. AOL maintained that the blocking was unintentional and assured that access was restored after customers complained. No government involvement was necessary. Finally, there was an allegation that Comcast was blocking Internet traffic to certain peer-to-peer (file-sharing) websites that were consuming large amounts of bandwidth, but it was later revealed that Comcast was merely slowing down certain peer-to-peer uploads by reducing the number of simultaneous connections that users could have to the site.
Net-neutrality proponents contend that they want to use regulation to increase competition and innovation, but their remedies would have the opposite effect. The growth in demand for bandwidth-intensive applications, such as streaming video, multi-player online gaming, and telemedicine, will require vast capital investments. Broadband providers will not invest in such projects, however, if there is not a good chance they will be able to recoup their costs and turn a profit. This is not unlike how cable companies currently rely on richer customers paying for premium services so that they can invest in less-profitable ventures, such as providing infrastructure for services to rural areas. As Randolf J. May, president of the Free State Foundation, explained in testimony before the New York City Committee on Technology in Government on a proposed net-neutrality resolution,
If broadband providers are not allowed to differentiate their services because of regulatory straightjackets, their ability to compete in the marketplace will be compromised. Lacking the flexibility to find innovative new ways to respond to customer demand, they will lack incentives to invest in new network facilities and improve applications. This lack of new investment, in turn, will have the perverse effect of dampening competition among existing and potential broadband operators.
Net-neutrality advocates also tend to underestimate the amount of competition that already exists in the market for high-speed Internet services. There are multiple companies providing these services using multiple technologies, including wireline, cable, terrestrial wireless, and satellite. Wireless broadband services, in particular, have come to provide a strong source of competition. Recent FCC data show that wireless has gone from having no subscribers in the beginning of 2005 to 35 million subscribers and a 35 percent share of the market for high-speed lines by June 2007. Moreover, as of June 2006 there were two or more broadband providers in 92 percent of the nation’s zip codes, and four or more providers in 87 percent of the nation’s zip codes. With all of this competition, it simply would not be in the companies’ interests to degrade services to consumers because doing so would cause them to lose business to their more innovative rivals.
The costs of stifling competition and innovation through net-neutrality regulations would be significant. A May 2007 American Consumer Institute study estimated that regulation would cost consumers $69 billion over ten years. According to study author Stephen Pociask, “Despite proponents’ best intentions, net neutrality proposals would be a twofold problem for consumers. Innovations that require a guaranteed level of service won’t come to market, and consumers would have to pay more for the services they receive.”
The Usefulness of Price Discrimination
Price discrimination is another concern of neutrality advocates. Despite the negative connotation associated with the word “discrimination,” price discrimination is a common and efficient way of allocating scarce resources and satisfying consumer demand. Children and seniors get discounted ticket prices at movie theaters; people pay different prices for different seats at concerts and sporting events; and some toll roads charge different prices depending on the time of day and the resulting levels of traffic congestion. In response to an FCC Notice of Inquiry regarding broadband practices, the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division (of all things!) heralded the value of price discrimination in a September 2007 statement, noting the example of the U.S. Postal Service: “The U.S. Postal Service, for example, allows consumers to send packages with a variety of different delivery guarantees and speeds, from bulk mail to overnight delivery. These differentiated services respond to market demand and expand consumer choice.” The Department concluded, “Whether or not the same type of differentiated products and services will develop on the Internet should be determined by market forces, not regulatory intervention.”
In other words, the government should simply get out of the way and allow the market to work. Government should not try to pick winners and losers.
When neutrality proponents say that people have a right to “neutral” provision of information over the Internet, they are really saying that the public has some sort of right over the private property of the companies that provide the access to that information. Some have tried to justify this argument by claiming that the Internet was designed to be neutral, but it is the freedom from government restrictions that has encouraged innovation and allowed the Internet to flourish. Or as my Reason Foundation colleague Steven Titch has put it,
The legislated mandate for neutrality . . . is based on the supposition that neutrality was a founding doctrine of the Internet. That couldn’t be more wrong. The Internet and its commercial component, the World Wide Web, are what they are today due to the simple principle of free exchange through voluntary agreement. Engineering concepts such as “network neutrality” or meaningless slogans like “information should be free” had nothing to do with it.
Broadband providers have invested large sums of money in their networks and should be free to manage them as they see fit. Customers who feel their needs are not being met are free to switch to other providers. This freedom of contract and voluntary exchange are the cornerstones of a free-market economy. Supporters of net neutrality fear that without regulation, a relatively small number of companies will become the “gatekeepers” of the Internet, but the alternative is far worse: a monopolistic government gatekeeper whose incentives are to cater to political power, not consumer desires.
In addition to violating free-market ideals, net neutrality might also violate constitutional rights, specifically, the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. As the Free State Foundation’s May explains,
[T]he de facto imposition of common carrier regulation through net neutrality mandates raises serious Fifth Amendment property rights issues under the Takings Clause. This is because the mandate to carry traffic that ISPs might otherwise choose not to carry, or to carry traffic at faster speeds than the service providers otherwise might prefer, or to refrain from charging more to those who impose greater capacity demands, is not costless. . . . Government mandates that impose such costs, but which, at the same time, restrict ISPs’ freedom to recover such costs, implicate the ISP’s property rights.
Net neutrality also brings up First Amendment concerns on both sides of the debate. Some grassroots groups, such as the Christian Coalition and Gun Owners of America, fear that broadband providers might someday decide to block access to their web content for ideological reasons. This, they argue, would constitute a violation of their free-speech rights.
This analysis is erroneous for a couple of reasons. First, the Constitution prohibits the government from restricting one’s speech, not other private parties. As Brian Costin of the Heartland Institute writes, “[F]ree speech rights for an individual or group end where another’s property rights begin.” Second, a government regulation such as net neutrality that forced a private party to provide access to forms of speech with which it disagrees would violate the free-speech rights of the broadband provider. As noted previously, ISPs have an economic incentive not to block access to content, but they would be within their rights to do so if they saw fit.
The Right Tool for the Job
While network-neutrality advocates claim to want to ensure fairness and competition, the government regulation they propose will result in anything but those things. In the free market, competition ensures that customers receive the services they demand. Government control, by contrast, ensures that they receive whatever services the politicians and bureaucrats in power at the time deem appropriate (not to mention the inevitable and endless litigation about who could offer what services when and for how much).
The concept of the “tiered” Internet is not something to be feared. On the contrary, it could be a means of enhancing services to broadband customers, providing revenue for ISPs to invest in accommodating increasing demand for bandwidth-intensive and delay-sensitive applications and making further improvements to data delivery, and of increasing fairness by ensuring that content providers responsible for the most Internet congestion pay the higher costs of assuring a high quality of service for Internet users. Choking off this potential revenue stream through net-neutrality mandates will only ensure that instead of an Internet with regular lanes and “fast lanes,” all consumers will be stuck in the slow lane.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The coming war between sex-positive feminism and affirmative consent |

The coming war between sex-positive feminism and affirmative consent |

Ever since the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released its “Dear Colleague” letter in 2011, colleges and universities across the country — and the entire state of California — have been adopting policies that define consent so broadly as to be meaningless and nearly impossible to prove.

Now, under the “affirmative consent” or “yes means yes” standard, consent must be active and ongoing. Competitive Enterprise Institute counsel Hans Bader, a critic of these policies, has argued that they constitute “dry legal contracts” requiring every step of a sexual encounter to receive a “yes” or “no” response.

These new policies do not consider silence or lack of restraint to be a sign of consent, and consent is revoked if an accuser was intoxicated. But intoxication is never defined. Is it the same level of intoxication police use in a DUI arrest? If so, where can students get Breathalyzers to test their dates? And if there is no legal level of intoxication, how can a college or university accept a woman’s word that she was too intoxicated to give consent?

These new policies contradict the idea that women should be free to explore their sexuality. It’s hard to reconcile the idea that, on one hand, women shouldn’t be judged for engaging in drunken sex, using a standard under which they cannot legally give consent even if they consumed just a little alcohol. How can the same action simultaneously be a manifestation of feminine sexual liberation and an example of the heinous crime of rape? Feminists can’t have it both ways.

Now it’s not just that women can have as much guilt-free sex with as many partners as they want, but if they do feel guilty about any sexual encounter, it must have been rape.

I don’t see anything wrong with women enjoying sex as much as men, but just as men regret some sexual encounters, women do too — but that doesn’t mean they were raped.

The new definition of rape and sexual assault — that women are too weak to handle alcohol and therefore aren’t responsible for their decisions — flies in the face of those supposedly fighting for equality. Women should be free to get blitzed at parties and hook up with whoever they want — but just as men aren’t excused from being drunk, neither should women get a pass.

I know many will call this victim-blaming, but I’m not talking about women who say “no” or pass out and are raped. I’m talking about people who get drunk, consent to sex, and then wish they hadn’t in the morning.

The original sex-positive feminists opposed any kind of limit on consensual sexual activity. That belief is now being turned on its head by people claiming that consent is not consent if alcohol is involved, and that schools and government must redefine sex.

This new view of alcohol-fueled sex makes no sense in a truly equal world, as men have as much a right as women to claim they were too drunk to consent to sex. This discrepancy is highlighted in cases of same-sex sexual assault, when the patriarchy can’t be blamed.

For heterosexual men, the only rational response to this new contradiction is never to sleep with a woman who has had even one drink (and to be wary of bad breakups or “friends with benefits”). That seems to be what the current crop of feminists wants, but if men stop sleeping with women who are under the influence, doesn’t that limit a heterosexual woman’s freedom to engage in sexual activity?

Sorry, Liberals: Voter ID Laws Don’t Really Impact Election Results - Matt Vespa

Sorry, Liberals: Voter ID Laws Don’t Really Impact Election Results - Matt Vespa

If there’s one thing that gets liberals blinded with rage, it’s voter ID laws. There was a whole panel dedicated to this issue at the progressive Netroots Nation last summer, where panelists agreed that this is the latest evolution of Jim Crow laws. But is it impacting elections?

Nate Cohn at the New York Times wrote that such laws don’t really sway elections. Granted, there are some issues with voter databases that could prevent someone with a valid ID from voting. Yet, these errors also inflate the number of voters who are labeled as not having proper identification. Additionally, it’s hyperbolic to say these laws suppress the vote since the demographics that could potentially be disproportionately impacted don’t vote often anyway:
These figures overstate the number of voters who truly lack identification. Those without ID are particularly unlikely to vote. And many who do vote will vote Republican. In the end, the seemingly vast registration gaps dwindle, leaving enough voters to decide only elections determined by fractions of a point. To begin with, the true number of registered voters without photo identification is usually much lower than the statistics on registered voters without identification suggest. The number of voters without photo identification is calculated by matching voter registration files with state ID databases. But perfect matching is impossible, and the effect is to overestimate the number of voters without identification.

Take Texas, a state with a particularly onerous voter ID law. If I register to vote as “Nate” but my ID says “Nathan,” I might be counted among the hundreds of thousands of registered voters without a photo ID. But I’ll be fine at the polling station on Election Day with a name that’s “substantially similar” to the one on file.

The demographic profile of voters without identification — young, nonwhite, poor, immobile, elderly — is also similar to the profile of voters who turn out at low rates. It’s also possible that the voter file is the issue. Some people voted in past elections, but have moved since and haven’t been purged from the voter file, even though their ID may have expired (if they had one in the first place). Some elderly voters might just be dead and not yet removed from the voter rolls.
The article also notes that some of these folks that don’t have IDs are Republicans, but those without identification are mostly breaking for Democrats. Still, it’s not enough to decide anything but an extremely close election. Moreover, it’s not like Democrats have been unable to win states with voter ID laws; Cohn aptly noted that Obama won Indiana in 2008. Concerning the American people, voter ID laws are immensely popular across the political spectrum. In Texas, 67 percent support their voter ID laws. A Fox News poll from May of 2014 found that 70 percent, including 55 percent of Democrats, support laws that protect the integrity of our elections. In July of 2013, when parts of the Voting Rights Acts were struck down as unconstitutional, Marist asked: “Do you think it is a good thing or a bad thing if election laws were changed to do each of the following: Require voters to show identification in order to vote?”

There was 70+ percent approval across the board; regions, political ideology, political affiliation, income, sex, and race all said such were a good thing. One statistic that stood out was 65 percent of those describing themselves as “very liberal” approved of voter ID laws.

If there is one thing that’s preventing Americans from voting, it’s not voter ID laws; it’s the lack of resources at polling stations in predominantly minority voting districts.

Now, take what you will from that narrative, but it’s clear the voter ID laws are popular–and they’re not really deciding elections.

Even President Obama said on Al Sharpton’s radio show last October that voter ID laws are not preventing minorities from voting.
"Most of these laws are not preventing the overwhelming majority of folks who don't vote from voting. Most people do have an ID. Most people do have a driver's license. Most people can get to the polls. It may not be as convenient' it may be a little more difficult."

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Authoritarian Left Was on Course to Win the Culture Wars... then Along Came #GamerGate - Breitbart

The Authoritarian Left Was on Course to Win the Culture Wars... then Along Came #GamerGate - Breitbart

12 Nov 2014

In all of the distracting, hysterical, evidence-free and unfair allegations of misogyny and bigotry hurled at supporters of GamerGate, the consumer revolt that continues to surface outrageous misconduct in the video games press, something is being forgotten.

GamerGate is remarkable—and attracts the interest of people like me—because it represents perhaps the first time in the last decade or more that a significant incursion has been made in the culture wars against guilt-mongerers, nannies, authoritarians and far-Left agitators.

Industry after industry has toppled over, putting up no more of a fight than, say, France in 1940. Publishing, journalism, TV… all lie supine beneath the crowing, cackling, censorious battle-axes, male and female, of the third-wave feminist and social justice causes.

But not gamers. Lovers of video games, on seeing their colleagues unfairly hounded as misogynists, on watching journalists credulously reporting scandalous sexual assault claims just because a person was perceived to be “right-wing” and on seeing the games they love attacked and their very identities denied and ridiculed, have said: no. This will not stand.

The reaction in the press has been bewilderment and, then, apoplectic rage, driven at least in part by a media establishment that sees video gamers—the supposed dorks and basement-dwellers of popular imagination—mounting a credible and effective defence against the liars, frauds, neurotics and attention-seekers who have already destroyed morale and wrecked culture in the comic, sci fi and fantasy worlds.

In other words, some of the bitterness comes from people who are shocked that it took video gamers to say, “No more of this, thank you.”

Because hard-core gaming is overwhelmingly male—don’t believe cherry-picked statistics that tell you women now make up 50 per cent of gamers; they don’t, in any meaningful sense—and because those men are often of a stubborn, obsessive, hyper-competitive and systematic bent, it has produced an army finally capable of launching offensives against the censors—using the censors’ own tactics, such as advertiser boycotts, against them.

And thus a front has opened up in the culture wars; an opening through which others might peek and from which others should be seeking inspiration. The language of the authoritarian Left is quite often outrageously hateful—you can regularly hear even mainstream journalists talking about “killing all men” and excluding “all white men” from industries and cultures.

What gamers have done is draw insistent, unapologetic attention to the fact that, were the tables turned, such language would be regarded as socially unacceptable. They have exposed it for what it is: bigotry and hate speech. And they have not shied away from revealing the personal shortcomings of some of the far-Left loons who seek to poison their hobby with finger-wagging about “sexism.”

They are right to consider those shortcomings. The opponents of GamerGate include a former soft-core porn actress who claims to have stabbed someone in the face and killed him but not reported it to the police, and who, by her own definition, is a rapist.

They include a neo-Nazi who has written that Hitler was “my f—cking idol” and has written things about Jewish people not repeatable here. They include a dishevelled, psychologically unstable transsexual, said to have been the subject of a restraining order, who is a proven liar yet whose claims are repeated uncritically by a credulous press.

No arrests have been made as a result of her reports and many suspect her threateners are figments of her own feverish imagination.

And they include a former multi-level marketing scammer turned feminist heroine, who has never really been particularly interested in video games, but who can be seen at conferences revelling in her newfound fame and wealth which has come about not because her critiques are effective, but because she embarked on a massive press tour off the back of threats she says she received, not a single of which has ever been traced to a GamerGate supporter.

This is the pantheon of self-promoters, opportunists and oddballs who have made gamers’ lives a misery over these past few months. And yet: gamers are not going away.

For years, it was accepted that once the finger-wagging feminists moved in on your industry, you would capitulate quickly to their pseudo-academic treatises on the “male gaze.”

Video games, and GamerGate in particular, have bucked the trend, showing that with politeness and persistence bogus feminist critiques can be rebuffed and self-obsessed attention-seekers can be subjected to the same degree of scrutiny they set out to shine on others… with occasionally gruesome results.

There are signs of political consequence to this awakening—a realisation among gamers that in fact their hobby is intrinsically what we might call libertarian, since it focuses on individual agency, personal responsibility, ties between allies… all in service of goals and specific achievements. That is the essence of libertarian psychology.

Left-leaning media typically luxuriate in the helplessness of a perceived victim in the face of oppression, whether real or imagined. Observe the focus on narrative, and deprecation of gameplay, in soppy indie games such as Gone Home, to which the Left-wing press of course gave glowing reviews.

Jonathan McIntosh, the writer behind far-Left feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian’s videos, says that: “The core value of patriarchal masculinity is control. It’s not a coincidence that control is central to many video game mechanics & stories.” He intends this remark to be pejorative, but in fact it is individual agency that represents mainstream gaming’s greatest achievement: it gives power to typically powerless people.

It sounds odd, when the press is so full of claims that women are being victimised—never with any proof beyond personal testimony, mind—to say that gamers are the real victims in all this. But it’s true, just the same. Often marginalised, lonely people, sometimes with challenging psychologies, gamers retreat into “vidya” to escape a world in which they feel they have no control.

So video games aren’t an expression of patriarchial tendencies. It’s absurd to even call gamers representative of the patriarchy: at the risk of generalising, they are more often sensitive, introverted, sexually inhibited or even confused people. Rather, games allow people on the margins of society to experience what it’s like to have their actions matter, in a safe, virtual environment.

That’s the essence of the clash between GamerGate supporters and everyone else: most people don’t grasp what sort of people gamers are, nor why they play games. And how could they? Most of them have barely a passing acquaintance with the immersive action games that make up most of the libraries of most gamers. (Just enough of one to see a scantily-clad woman and cry: “Sexist!”)

Great art asks questions. It is provocative, and it empowers. That’s what immersive games such as Call of Duty provide for players. Feminised, infantilised, social justice-oriented art sets aside creativity in favour of politics, wallowing in faux victimhood, robbing players of agency and individualism in favour of identity politics and meditations on “oppression.”

So that’s the real war here. It’s not just about who slept with whom, and whether that affected coverage, nor even about whether some outlets have financial relationships with publishers that go beyond what readers consider acceptable. It’s a battle for the soul of the games industry and a wake-up call to journalists that their personal politics simply aren’t welcome in their coverage, because they don’t reflect anything like the views of their readers.

As Brad Wardell, CEO of Stardock, puts it: “The concern is that game developers and publishers will compromise the artistic vision of their game in order to avoid Metacritic-related punishment or negative editorial coverage rather than based on what gamers actually want to play.

“Many in the gaming press, see any objection to encouraging feminism, social justice and alternative-lifestyle representation in gaming as misogyny and bigotry. It doesn’t occur to them that most people who play games aren’t political and simply don’t like seeing game publications using their platforms to push their ideology on them.”

In perhaps the clearest sign yet that the authoritarian Left knows it is losing this war, perhaps because it realises gamers have the upper hand in numbers, intelligence and purchasing power, repeated personal attacks on supporters and even on sympathetic journalists are now a staple of coverage. This comes at the same time as lifelong gamers publish funerals to their own feminism and declare their support for the GOP.

Chillingly for free speech, mass suspensions of Twitter accounts that have the temerity to publicly support press reform and reject feminist critiques of video games as irrelevant, sneering, pseudo-academic drivel are now being attempted by impotent feminist groups whose only weapon is the silencing of dissent.

GamerGaters should be joyful. But they should also remember that, rather than responding in kind with personal attacks, doxxing, threats and totalitarian tactics, they should concentrate on the very real concerns they have and have had for a decade with a press that, swamped with discredited far-Left ideology and unintelligent, poorly-trained writers, refuses to tell basic truths.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Truth About Interrogation | The Weekly Standard

The Truth About Interrogation | The Weekly Standard

The Central Intelligence Agency repeatedly tortured suspected terrorists, regularly lied about it to Congress and the White House, and, for all the pain and trouble this caused the agency and the United States, didn’t end up extracting a single piece of valuable information not readily available by other means.

That, at least, is the conclusion of the forthcoming Feinstein report, a long and, in certain quarters, much-anticipated review of the CIA’s detainee and interrogation programs during the Bush administration. A steady stream of leaks in news stories over several months has provided the public a preview of its contents.

The goal of those leaks, and the report itself, is not hard to discern: to ensure that the coming debate over enhanced interrogation isn’t so much a debate but a public condemnation of those who conceived and participated in the program.

There are certainly parts of the program that deserve criticism. There were major problems with the way it was conceived, approved, and carried out. There were troubling abuses in the early years, and later some misleading briefings about the enhanced interrogation techniques used. There were conflicts of interest and questionable accounting practices. Some of the public claims about the intelligence derived from enhanced techniques were clearly exaggerated, and at least one of those claims was patently false.

Such matters should be subject to tough, dispassionate, fact-based investigation. Actual failings should be condemned by both Republicans and Democrats, by supporters of the program as well as opponents.

That’s not what happened here.

Instead, the report was produced by the Democratic staff of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, chaired by Dianne Feinstein. Republicans declined to participate.

Feinstein required former CIA directors and deputy directors to sign nondisclosure agreements in order even to see the accusations made against them. Despite the fact that virtually all of the 500-plus-page report has been declassified for release, the Feinstein committee also imposed, as a condition of access to the report, severe restrictions on what those officials may say in their own defense. Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA, told The Weekly Standard: “Based on the nondisclosure agreement I signed, I cannot talk to you about the details of the Feinstein report, the Republican rebuttal, or the agency response—all as a condition of my being able to see it.”

In the clearest evidence that the committee was interested in blame rather than truth, the staffers did not seek to interview those involved in the interrogations.

Now, for the first time, one of the lead interrogators is attempting to tell the other side of the story. Writing under the pseudonym Jason Beale, he has produced a provocative 39-page document in an effort to counter the narrative pushed by Democrats and amplified by journalists eager to discredit the program. The document—which Beale says was reviewed, redacted, and cleared by a U.S. government agency—does not reveal Beale’s precise role in the program. A spokesman for the Central Intelligence Agency would not confirm that the CIA was the agency that reviewed Beale’s document. And in an email interview, Beale refused even to acknowledge that he conducted interrogations in the CIA program. “The opinions I expressed on interrogations in the document I sent you,” he wrote, “are representative of the insight I’ve gained during my career as an interrogator. While I am aware that you and others may draw some inference from the approved portion of the text as to the basis of my arguments regarding enhanced techniques, I am not presently in a position to elaborate on how I formed those opinions.”

Sources familiar with the program independently confirm that Beale served as a senior interrogator beginning in 2004.

Beale’s document covers many aspects of the debate over enhanced interrogation—the morality of enhanced interrogation techniques, the use of EITs on U.S. servicemen and women during their survival training, the hypocrisy of public officials who approved the program and later pretended that they opposed it, the unearned authority of several top critics of the program, and, most important, the effectiveness of the techniques.

News accounts of the forthcoming Feinstein report make clear that a central claim of that narrative will be its most contentious: The techniques didn’t work. Beale challenges that contention on the basis of his experience in the U.S. military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) course taken by intelligence and military personnel exposed to a high risk of capture. Tens of thousands of Americans have been subjected to EITs as part of their SERE training. Beale participated in the course first as a student, then as an interrogator.
As a student, I learned that I could resist, and occasionally manipulate, a talented interrogator during my numerous “soft-sell” interrogations—the rapport-building, we-know-all, pride-and-ego up/down, do-the-right-thing approaches. I had my story relatively straight, and I simply stuck to it, regardless of how ridiculous or implausible the interrogator made it sound. He wasn’t doing anything to me—there was no consequence to my lies, no matter how transparent.

I then learned the difference between “soft-sell” and “hard-sell” by way of a large interrogator who applied enhanced techniques promptly upon the uttering of my first lie. I learned that it was infinitely more difficult for me to remember my lies and keep my story straight under pressure. I learned that it became difficult to repeat a lie if I received immediate and uncomfortable consequences for each iteration. It made me have to make snap decisions under intense pressure in real time—and fumble and stumble through rapid-fire follow-up questions designed to poke massive holes in my story.

I learned that I needed to practically live my lie if I were to be questioned under duress, as the unrehearsed details are the wild-cards that bite you in the ass. I learned that I would rather sit across from the most talented interrogator on earth doing a soft-sell than any interrogator on earth doing a hard-sell—the information I had would be safer because the only consequences to my lies come in the form of words. I could handle words. Anyone could.

Ask any SERE Level C graduate which method was more effective on him or her—their answer should tell you something about the effectiveness of enhanced techniques, whether you agree with them or not. In my case, I learned that enhanced techniques made me want to tell the truth to make it stop—not to compound my situation with more lies. The only thing that kept me from telling the truth was the knowledge that at some point it had to end—that there were more students to interrogate and only so many hours in a day. Absent that knowledge, I would have caved.

As a TDY [temporary duty] interrogator in the SERE course, I learned that the toughest, meanest, most professional special operations soldiers on earth had a breaking point. Every one of them. And of all the soldiers I interrogated, all of the “breaks” came during hard-sell interrogations—using as many enhanced techniques as necessary to convince the soldier that continuing to lie would result in immediate consequences. It worked—time and again, it worked.
The techniques were effective, Beale claims, not only with U.S. soldiers being prepared for what they might encounter if captured by an enemy, but also with senior al Qaeda prisoners. Defenders of EITs point to the extraction of important information on al Qaeda’s couriers to make their case. The information on one courier in particular—Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti—led to the location of Osama bin Laden’s safe house in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

In a heavily redacted section of his document, Beale writes that the EITs were essential to obtaining that information. Others have reported that two high-value detainees subject to enhanced interrogation—Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libi—went to great lengths to conceal information about the courier. That they did so after providing a steady stream of accurate and valuable information suggested to interrogators and analysts that the information about al-Kuwaiti was important. Beale writes:
That high-level detainee would no more have voluntarily sat down across from a debriefer and provided his list of Al Qaeda couriers without having been conditioned to do so than he would have walked ■■■■■■■■■■■■■■ and asked to speak to the CIA debriefer. It simply would not have happened without incentive, and his incentive was to not go back to enhanced techniques. Period. Love it or hate it, that’s the way it worked.
Beale believes that Barack Obama and others briefed on the use of EITs understand that they worked. In support of this view, he notes a subtle but telling change in Obama’s language:
Go back and take a look at the difference between Candidate Obama’s characterization of the efficacy of the interrogation program versus President Obama’s version. Candidate Obama repeatedly stated that enhanced interrogation was not only immoral and un-American, but it didn’t work. People will say anything to make it stop. Every leading interrogator and intelligence professional will tell you that “torture” never works—it produces bad intelligence. That was Candidate Obama.

President Obama told a slightly different story. During his [100th]-day press conference in April 2009, President Obama used an entirely different construct when responding to a question about shutting down the interrogation program: “I am absolutely convinced it was the right thing to do—not because there might not have been information that was yielded by these various detainees who were subjected to this treatment, but because we could have gotten this information in other ways, in ways that were consistent with our values, in ways that were consistent with who we are.”

He went on to say, “But here’s what I can tell you—that the public reports and the public justifications for these techniques—which is that we got information from these individuals that were subjected to these techniques—doesn’t answer the core question, which is: Could we have gotten that same information without resorting to these techniques? And it doesn’t answer the broader question: Are we safer as a consequence of having used these techniques?”

Finally, this: “And so I will do whatever is required to keep the American people safe, but I am absolutely convinced that the best way I can do that is to make sure that we are not taking shortcuts that undermine who we are.”

Note the difference—it’s important. After being briefed by serious people using actual intelligence information gained from the EIT interrogation program, President Obama knew that he could not continue with the “it never works” campaign rhetoric as President—to do so would have been insulting and objectionable to the national security team who briefed him, and would be a lie. So .  .  . “we don’t know if we could have collected the same information using standard techniques” became the talking point for every administration official on the subject of EITs.

I know. I know that we couldn’t have collected the same information using standard techniques because I was an expert in using standard techniques—I used them thousands of times over two decades—and the notion that I could have convinced the detainees ■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■ to provide closely-held information (or any information at all) without the use of EITs is laughable. There is zero chance. Zero.
In an interview, I pointed out that much of the coming debate will be about the effectiveness of the techniques and asked Beale directly: Were they effective? He made a simple point that he hadn’t made in his document. He noted that those subject to enhanced interrogation haven’t boasted about their ability to withstand the techniques and to withhold valuable information.
That is probably a question best asked of the former detainees—did Abu Zubaydah, Abu Faraj al-Libi, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramsi bin al-Shib, Hambali, Nashiri, or any of their brethren give up protected information during their time in the custody of CIA? If they didn’t they should be proud of their ability to withstand such torturous tactics—I would think they would mock the feeble and misguided efforts of the CIA interrogators to get them to talk, or to make a mistake, rather than claim that such treatment made them say things they later regret. That’s the point of enhanced interrogation—at least from my perspective as a former TDY SERE interrogator—you hope that they say things they will later regret.
Beale wrote his document “to remind the American public that there are two sides to every story” and to make clear “that the upcoming [Senate] report should be read with an understanding that the outcome was predetermined by the political and ideological leanings of the majority, which produced the report.”

He is concerned that the documentation included in the summary report was selected to make the argument that Senate Democrats wanted to make and that information complicating that narrative was deliberately excluded.

“I believe an objective reading of the documents would show that the program was effective,” he wrote, “and I would urge the declassification and release of the entire report and all associated documents so that the American people can make their own decision.”

Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.
[Ed. Note: You can read the document here.]

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Phil Gramm and Michael Solon: How to Distort Income Inequality - WSJ - WSJ

What the hockey-stick portrayal of global temperatures did in bringing a sense of crisis to the issue of global warming is now being replicated in the controversy over income inequality, thanks to a now-famous study by Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, professors of economics at the Paris School of Economics and the University of California, Berkeley, respectively. Whether the issue is climate change or income inequality, however, problems with the underlying data significantly distort the debate.

The chosen starting point for the most-quoted part of the Piketty-Saez study is 1979. In that year the inflation rate was 13.3%, interest rates were 15.5% and the poverty rate was rising, but economic misery was distributed more equally than in any year since. That misery led to the election of Ronald Reagan, whose economic policies helped usher in 25 years of lower interest rates, lower inflation and high economic growth. But Messrs. Piketty and Saez tell us it was also a period where the rich got richer, the poor got poorer and only a relatively small number of Americans benefited from the economic booms of the Reagan and Clinton years.

If that dark picture doesn’t sound like the country you lived in, that’s because it isn’t. The Piketty-Saez study looked only at pretax cash market income. It did not take into account taxes. It left out noncash compensation such as employer-provided health insurance and pension contributions. It left out Social Security payments, Medicare and Medicaid benefits, and more than 100 other means-tested government programs. Realized capital gains were included, but not the first $500,000 from the sale of one’s home, which is tax-exempt. IRAs and 401(k)s were counted only when the money is taken out in retirement. Finally, the Piketty-Saez data are based on individual tax returns, which ignore, for any given household, the presence of multiple earners.

And now, thanks to a new study in the Southern Economic Journal, we know what the picture looks like when the missing data are filled in. Economists Philip Armour and Richard V. Burkhauser of Cornell University and Jeff Larrimore of Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation expanded the Piketty-Saez income measure using census data to account for all public and private in-kind benefits, taxes, Social Security payments and household size.

The result is dramatic. The bottom quintile of Americans experienced a 31% increase in income from 1979 to 2007 instead of a 33% decline that is found using a Piketty-Saez market-income measure alone. The income of the second quintile, often referred to as the working class, rose by 32%, not 0.7%. The income of the middle quintile, America’s middle class, increased by 37%, not 2.2%.

By omitting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the Piketty-Saez study renders most older Americans poor when in reality most have above-average incomes. The exclusion of benefits like employer-provided health insurance, retirement benefits (except when actually paid out in retirement) and capital gains on homes misses much of the income and wealth of middle- and upper-middle income families.

Messrs. Piketty and Saez also did not take into consideration the effect that tax policies have on how people report their incomes. This leads to major distortions. The bipartisan tax reform of 1986 lowered the highest personal tax rate to 28% from 50%, but the top corporate-tax rate was reduced only to 34%. There was, therefore, an incentive to restructure businesses from C-Corps to subchapter S corporations, limited-liability corporations, partnerships and proprietorships, where the same income would now be taxed only once at a lower, personal rate. As businesses restructured, what had been corporate income poured into personal income-tax receipts.

So Messrs. Piketty and Saez report a 44% increase in the income earned by the top 1% in 1987 and 1988—though this change reflected how income was taxed, not how income had grown. This change in the structure of American businesses alone accounts for roughly one-third of what they portray as the growth in the income share earned by the top 1% of earners over the entire 1979-2012 period.

An equally extraordinary distortion in the data used to measure inequality (the Gini Coefficient) has been discovered by Cornell’s Mr. Burkhauser. In 1992 the Census Bureau changed the Current Population Survey to collect more in-depth data on high-income individuals. This change in survey technique alone, causing a one-time upward shift in the measured income of high-income individuals, is the source of almost 30% of the total growth of inequality in the U.S. since 1979.

Simple statistical errors in the data account for roughly one third of what is now claimed to be a “frightening” increase in income inequality. But the weakness of the case for redistribution does not end there. America is the freest and most dynamic society in history, and freedom and equality of outcome have never coexisted anywhere at any time. Here the innovator, the first mover, the talented and the persistent win out—producing large income inequality. The prizes are unequal because in our system consumers reward people for the value they add. Some can and do add extraordinary value, others can’t or don’t.

How exactly are we poorer because Bill Gates Warren Buffett and the Walton family are so rich? Mr. Gates became rich by mainstreaming computer power into our lives and in the process made us better off. Mr. Buffett’s genius improves the efficiency of capital allocation and the whole economy benefits. Wal-Martstretches our buying power and raises the living standards of millions of Americans, especially low-income earners. Rich people don’t “take” a large share of national income, they “bring” it. The beauty of our system is that everybody benefits from the value they bring.

Yes, income is 24% less equally distributed here than in the average of the other 34 member countries of the OECD. But OECD figures show that U.S. per capita GDP is 42% higher, household wealth is 210% higher and median disposable income is 42% higher. How many Americans would give up 42% of their income to see the rich get less?

Vast new fortunes were earned in the 25-year boom that began under Reagan and continued under Clinton. But the income of middle-class Americans rose significantly. These incomes have fallen during the Obama presidency, and not because the rich have gotten richer. They’ve fallen because bad federal policies have yielded the weakest recovery in the postwar history of America.

Yet even as the recovery continues to disappoint, the president increasingly turns to the politics of envy by demanding that the rich pay their “fair share.” The politics of envy may work here as it has worked so often in Latin America and Europe, but the economics of envy is failing in America as it has failed everywhere else.

Mr. Gramm, a former Republican senator from Texas, is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Solon was a budget adviser to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and is a partner of US Policy Metrics.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Amazon’s “Dark Side” Is a Bright Spot for Workers and Consumers | The Beacon

Amazon’s “Dark Side” Is a Bright Spot for Workers and Consumers | The Beacon

Before the advent of Wal-Mart, rural America was a retail desert. Small shops, limited product availability and, yes, “hometown service”. But the prices of most items were high because the only alternative to shopping locally was to drive to the nearest city or order through the Sears or JC Penney catalog and depend on timely delivery by the US mail in, it was to be hoped, an undamaged package. The downside of local retail shops (limited options and high prices) fell most heavily on low-income households, which may not have had an automobile or could not afford to take time off work to shop at larger urban retailers or even at local merchants, which typically closed at 5 p.m. Wal-Mart solved both problems in one fell swoop.

Sure, local retailers suffered losses of business and some were forced into bankruptcy, but consumers (the only group whose welfare matters in a free market economy) won big-time. Amazon has generated benefits for consumers many times larger than Sam Walton ever dreamt of.

But what about the jobs that disappeared in local retail outlets as Amazon and Wal-Mart drove costs (and prices) down by inventing markedly more efficient distribution networks and negotiating lower prices with manufacturers and other suppliers on behalf of millions of consumers with little bargaining power of their own? An economic system’s chief purpose is to create prosperity (wealth), not jobs. Creating jobs—at the point of a gun, as Josef Stalin proved, or as FDR did by drafting millions of men to shoulder arms against the Axis powers—is easy; creating wealth is not. Prosperity materializes only if existing resources (land, labor and capital) can be utilized more efficiently, squeezing out “waste” and redundancy so that resources can be released from current employments and redirected by alert entrepreneurs to the production of new products that consumers may not even know they want (an iPhone ten years ago, for example) until they become available.

Hightower bemoans the working conditions in Amazon’s warehouses, a few of which literally become sweatshops during hot summer months. I am willing to bet, however, that if the people employed in one of Amazon’s “dehumanizing hives” (his phrase) were asked whether they wanted to quit their jobs, not one hand would be raised, especially so in an economy with an unemployment rate still hovering around six percent and a rate of underemployment twice that figure.

Hightower, like many before him, claims that Amazon’s ability to avoid collecting sales taxes on orders shipped out of state from the company’s Washington state headquarters or from its warehouses located around the United States gives Amazon a tax subsidy ranging “from about 4 to more than 10 percent.” That subsidy, which actually ranges from zero to more than 10 percent (four U.S. states—Delaware, New Hampshire, Montana and Oregon—impose no local or state sales taxes at all), supposedly confers a significant competitive disadvantage on brick-and-mortar retailers, who must remit sales tax receipts to the appropriate state tax authority.

But in making that claim, Hightower ignores taxes paid by FedEx and UPS, which deliver Amazon’s packages to customers’ doorsteps. Those delivery services pay, among others, state and local gasoline taxes and corporate income taxes; their employees pay state and local personal income taxes and spend some of their disposable incomes at local grocery stores and other retail outlets, purchases on which sales taxes are due. So, too, do the owners and employees of Amazon’s warehouses.

Amazon relies increasingly on the U.S. Postal Service to deliver packages to customers’ homes or places of business, especially in rural areas, a relationship that must have been seen by the beleaguered USPS as something like a lifeline thrown to someone going underwater for the third time.

It is true that, like Wal-Mart, Amazon has benefited from tax breaks (“incentives”) offered by local and state governments to lure companies to one particular geographic location rather than another. Handed out to encourage local economic development and the jobs and tax receipts associated with it, such corporate “incentives” are a national scandal, squandering taxpayers’ hard-earned money for dubious benefits. But neither Wal-Mart nor Amazon should be blamed for accepting such incentives, which are offered by politicians who want to claim credit at reelection time for attracting high-profile corporations to their home districts or states. Consumers, by and large, don’t care about the points of origin of their orders, as long as they are delivered when expected, whether from Toledo or Timbuktu.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Staff face sack after Picturehouse Cinemas agree to pay Ritzy workers London Living Wage - London - News - London Evening Standard

Staff face sack after Picturehouse Cinemas agree to pay Ritzy workers London Living Wage - London - News - London Evening Standard

Staff face sack after Picturehouse Cinemas agree to pay Ritzy workers London Living Wage BEN MORGAN

Published: 27 October 2014
Updated: 08:39, 27 October 2014

Cinema workers celebrating victory in a campaign to adopt the London Living Wage were today hit by news that around a quarter of the workforce is now facing the sack.

Picturehouse Cinemas said that the cost of increasing basic wages at the Ritzy Cinema in Brixton to £8.80 an hour would be absorbed by reducing the number of staff by at least 20, with a redundancy programme starting next month.

Two management posts will be axed along with eight supervisors, three technical staff and other front-of-house workers from its workforce of 93.

BECTU, the union that represents cinema staff, today described the move which follows a year of strikes and negotiations as a “kick in the teeth”.

The union is now preparing to ballot its workers on a further round of strikes at the popular arthouse cinema.

The campaign garnered high-profile support from film-maker Ken Loach and prompted boycotts.

An agreement was reached with BECTU last month to rise to near that amount, but there was further concern over backdating pay.

Bectu official Willy Donaghy today said further strikes were “possible” and was set to meet members later today.

He said: “The duplicity of these people knows no bounds. What they have done as soon as the deal was implemented is to employ an individual with a reputation for being a ‘union blaster’.

“This is payback, without a doubt. I expect our members to be totally outraged by this.”

Campaigners claim the Ritzy is the most successful art-house cinema in the UK and is owned by Picturehouse Cinemas, part of Cineworld, which is the largest cinema chain in Europe and has revenues of more than £400m.

Workers posted on Facebook: “This is nothing short of pure vindictive retaliation because we the workers showed that with determination and collectively, we could effect change to make our lives that tiny bit more comfortable.”

A Picturehouse spokesman said the chain was looking at staff changes to save money after the pay deal was agreed last month.

A spokesman said: “The staff at The Ritzy recently agreed a pay package with Picturehouse Cinemas, which includes substantial pay increases across four years.

“During the negotiation process it was discussed that the amount of income available to distribute to staff would not be increasing, and that the consequence of such levels of increase to pay rates would be fewer people with more highly paid jobs.”

The workers dismiss this as "pure vindictive retaliation", but given the limits of the budget, and the increased cost per worker, it's "retaliation" in the same sense a hot stove "retaliates" against the person who touches it.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

How to kill hotel jobs in L.A. - LA Times

How to kill hotel jobs in L.A. - LA Times

Last week, members of the Los Angeles City Council voted to increase the minimum wage for hotel workers within the city to $15.37 per hour by next year. Why? You'd have to ask them.

A study they commissioned me to do on the subject — then seemingly ignored — raised serious questions about the wisdom of the measure.

Months ago, the City Council asked three analysts to look at the proposed wage hike. One was decidedly pro-labor, one decidedly pro-business. My firm, Beacon Economics, was the third, selected with the approval of both business and labor groups. We had no preconceived ideas about the proposal; we merely agreed to analyze the available data and see if conclusions could be drawn. But the City Council never seemed interested in really examining the potential economic consequences of the ordinance. We got our instructions about what questions to address just two weeks before the vote, and we were surprised to learn that the council intended to vote on the day after we turned in our final analysis, which suggests none of the members spent time looking at our findings.

That's unfortunate, because the results strongly suggest that such a steep increase in the minimum wage could result in a sharp decline in the number of jobs in the hotel industry. And that kind of job loss could mean that as many workers would be hurt by the law as would be helped by higher wages.

There is a healthy debate going on in economics about the effect of minimum wage statutes on employment levels. The mainstream consensus is that such laws do reduce the number of jobs, but only slightly. Most of the studies that have been done, however, are based on much smaller minimum wage increases within much larger geographic areas. These studies don't necessarily apply to what Los Angeles is doing: requiring one industry to institute what will amount to nearly a 50% hike in wages over the prevailing base. This is especially tricky for a city that directly borders 35 other cities as well as unincorporated terrain managed by Los Angeles County.

Because these studies cannot be directly applied, it is fortunate that we have a natural experiment by which to gauge the potential impact in Los Angeles. Since 2008, a living wage ordinance has mandated higher wages at hotels near Los Angeles International Airport but not elsewhere in the city.

We set out to look at the data, figuring that if the airport ordinance had only a small affect on employment, we could be partially reassured that this new broader statute would also have a minimal impact.

Some of the indicators seemed good. Occupancy rates in the LAX area remain some of the highest in Los Angeles County, with little change since the living wage rules went into place.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the number of people employed. Indeed, we found job loss that was large enough and surprising enough that we went back through our data sources multiple times to ensure the analysis was accurate.

The data clearly show that hotels around the airport have seen a sharp decline in employment relative to hotels in Los Angeles County overall. Some 12% more people are employed at hotels in the county than in 2007. The increase is apparent not only at hotels in general but within individual hotels, which means the jump cannot be attributed to an increase in the number of hotels elsewhere in the county. But in the airport hotels covered by the law, hotel employment has declined 10%.

As for the seeming disconnect between steadily high room occupancy and fewer jobs, modern large hotels are far more than a place to sleep at night. They offer a variety of restaurants, bars, parking garages, banquet and conference halls and tourist information centers. Anecdotally we have heard that many of these secondary lines of business have been sharply curtailed or eliminated because of the increase in labor costs. If higher wages have made banquets, say, more expensive to hold at airport hotels, it would be no surprise if organizations have decided to hold their banquets elsewhere.

These findings are alarming and at the very least suggest that further study should be done before rushing into a citywide expansion of the hotel wage law. A number of important questions still need to be answered. Can we link these job losses directly to the wage hike? If so, what sorts of jobs specifically were lost? Were these replaced in other parts of the economy? And, most important, how might the citywide statute be amended to reduce the chance that these results will be replicated on a wider basis? If the same kind of job loss we found in airport hotels were to occur in hotels citywide, Los Angeles could lose thousands of jobs over the next few years. Some Angelenos will undoubtedly benefit from higher wages. But how many others will lose jobs or not be able to find them?

Christopher Thornberg is an economist and founding partner ofBeacon Economics.

Monday, November 03, 2014

When Government Spreads Disease: The 1906 Meat Inspection Act : The Freeman : Foundation for Economic Education

When Government Spreads Disease: The 1906 Meat Inspection Act : The Freeman : Foundation for Economic Education

You know the old myth about the meat-packing industry. In 1906, Upton Sinclair came out with his bookThe Jungle, and it shocked the nation by documenting the horror of the meat-packing industry. People were being boiled in vats and sent to larders. Rat waste was mixed with meat. And so on.
As a result, the Federal Meat Inspection Act passed Congress, and consumers were saved from ghastly diseases. The lesson is that government is essential to stop private enterprise from poisoning us with its food.
To some extent, this mythology accounts for the wide support for government’s involvement in stopping Ebola today. Not only that, but the story is also the basis for the US Department of Agriculture’s food inspection efforts, the Food and Drug Administration’s regulation of medical drugs, the central plan that governs food production, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the legions of bureaucrats who inspect and badger enterprise every step of the way. It is the founding template for why government is involved in our food and health at all.
It’s all premised on the implausible idea that people who make and sell us food have no concern as to whether it makes us sick. It only takes a quick second, though, to realize that this idea just isn’t true. So long as there is a functioning, consumer-driven marketplace, customer focus, which presumably includes not killing you, is the best regulator. Producer reputation has been a huge feature of profitability, too. And hygiene was a huge feature of reputation — long before Yelp.
Lawrence Reed deals ably with other myths of the meat-packing industry. Sinclair’s book was not intended as a factual account. It was a fantasy rendered as a socialist screed. It did drum up support for regulation, but the real reason for the act’s passage was that the large Chicago meat packers realized that regulation would hurt their smaller competitors more than themselves. Meat inspections imposed costs that cartelized the industry. That’s why the largest players were the law’s biggest promoters. Such laws almost have more to do with benefiting elites than protecting the public.
Still, there is more to this little-known history that speaks to the entire basis for government management of health. The legislation required federal inspectors to be on site at all hours in every meat-packing plant. At the time, regulators came up with a shabby method for detecting bad meat, namely poking a rod into the meat and smelling the rod. If it came out smelling clean, they would poke the same rod into the next piece of meat and smell it again. They would do this throughout the entire plant.
But as Baylen J. Linnekin points out in “The Food-Safety Fallacy: More Regulation Doesn’t Necessarily Make Food Safer” (Northeastern University Law Journal, vol. 4, no. 1), this method was fundamentally flawed. You can’t necessarily detect pathogens in meat by smell. It takes a long time for bacteria to begin to stink. In the meantime, bacteria can spread disease through touch. The rod could pick up bacteria and transmit it from one piece of meat to another, and there was no way for inspectors to know about it. This method of testing meat most certainly spread any pathogens from bad meat to good meat, assuring that an entire plant became a house of pathogens rather than having them restricted to just one carcass.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Chivalry Is Dead, Long Live Feminism

If You Want Sameness, Don’t Expect Chivalry
Well, our brave new world of gender equality—in which we scoff at gender differences and men and women are encouraged to act the same—often proves harmful to women and girls. While the modern feminist movement won women tremendous freedoms educationally, professionally, personally, and sexually, it often leaves women feeling anything but empowered.
The reality is these freedoms have too often come at the expense of all values and traditions. We’ve in effect thrown the helpful social mores out with the old-fashioned bathwater. But it’s the modern feminist movement, which ushered away any hint of traditional chivalry and gendered expectations, that’s in part to blame. Certainly few want to return to an age when gender roles were excessively rigid, but feminists have gone to extremes and encouraged a culture that undermines healthy gender relationships. Men who hold doors are now viewed as part of the patriarchal society. And girls are expected to just “be one of the guys.”
But gender roles helped men and women and in times past allowed the sexes to better navigate the sometimes-rough waters of romance, courtship, marriage, and sex. Feminists view the chivalry and social mores of previous generations as anachronistic. But the reality is these traditional customs of giving up a seat for a woman on a train, or accompanying a woman in public, weren’t all rooted in sexism. They were social structures to help make men more respectful of women and to curb this kind of inappropriate behavior.
It might not have been perfect, but it had a purpose. Today’s dismissal of gender differences instead creates confusion, disappointment, and often more opportunity for harassment.
The conversation about street harassment has revealed once again that feminism has come with a cost, and women are usually the ones who bear the real price. Society has never been perfect, and I’m not advocating for a return to a time when women’s choices were more limited, but in years past men and women both had a better framework to determine what was acceptable behavior and what was not.

Meese, Blackwell: How to fraud-proof elections

Meese, Blackwell: How to fraud-proof elections

In 2008, American University surveyed registered voters in Maryland, Indiana and Mississippi and found that less than 0.5% lacked a government-issued ID. That flies in the face of the oft-quoted, absurd claim that 25% of minorities lack a valid photo ID.
The claim is that since black voters are more likely to be poor, they can't be expected to overcome inconveniences in the registration and voting process.
That is the same, soft bigotry of low expectations cited against photo voter-ID laws, which consistently have wide support. A Rasmussen Reports national poll of likely voters released in August found 74% approved of voter-ID laws, including 64% of blacks, 56% of Democrats and 76% of independents.
Besides opposing voter ID laws, the liberals have been championing same-day registration and early voting. Both make it easier to commit fraud, and they have other flaws, as noted by former Justice Department Voting Section attorney J. Christian Adams:
"Early voting produces less-informed voters. After they cast an early ballot, they check out of the national debate. They won't care about the televised debates, won't consider options, and won't fully participate in the political process. … Early voting is extremely expensive. When election officials drag out an election for weeks, that means more poll workers, more broken machines, more salaries, more costs, more everything. ... Early voting doesn't increase turnout. Studies have shown that states that adopt early voting have no empirical turnout increase."
The left's latest push is online registration and online voting, in which people never even have to show up to register or to cast a ballot. Proponents argue that it could increase voter participation. But we see a highway to fraud getting ever wider.
It's time we ended early voting and same-day registration, enforced voter-ID laws, and restored Election Day's importance to all Americans.

I Am Not Nice

From a post, made years ago, in the Pagan news groups.

Hilda Marshall, citing the Rules of Acquisition to All, said:
In an attempt to neutralize a slanderous and utterly unfounded rumor regarding myself, propagated amongst the Pagan community as a whole by I know not whom, I offer this open letter as a rebuttal.

I am not nice.

If the only people who Truly Understand are those who let you use them for whatever you want to use them for, I do not Truly Understand.

If the only Healers are those who let you deplete their personal energy and other resources, I am not a Healer.

If the only True Witches are those whose only reply to your tales of woe is "There, there, dear, of course you were right all along, and anyone who disagrees is evil," then I am not a True Witch.

Since my limits are so clear-cut and appear to be unusually extreme in this community, let me detail what I *will* allow.

You may visit me if I invite you, and stay for however many days we agree upon ahead of time.  You may not invite yourself or extend your stay without my permission, and you should not expect me to keep up with your changes in plans without reasonable advance notice.

You may not prevail upon my housemates.  If I invite you, I'm responsible for setting boundaries; and for informing you if you overstep those boundaries.  My housemates did not invite you, and should not be held responsible for asking you not to eat their food, talk at them when they're not interested, or instruct them on how to take care of their health, their pets, or their lives in general.

You may call me on the phone to request advice or a sympathetic ear.  You may not do so after 10:00 PM or before 8:00 AM unless it is an emergency.  Nor may you do so at ANY time if your sole intention is to whine the I Can't litany at me.  I hate that song.  Save it for the government.

You may borrow my stuff, provided you ask first, and return it to me in the condition in which you first borrowed it within a reasonable amount of time.  You may not loan or give it to other people without asking me first, and I reserve the right to take back anything that is being misused, broken, or left on a wet floor and trampled.

You are VERY welcome to participate in the many fun projects in which I am involved!  I only ask that you think hard about what you're promising and don't agree to do anything that you'll likely decide later not to do, for whatever reason.  ("Things just got too crazy" is not a reason.)  And if you do end up breaking a promise, please tell me as soon as you decide to, rather than waiting until the last minute, so that I can formulate a backup plan.

I understand that there are many Witches who are doing their best to create a world that runs on Pagan Standard time.  I fully comprehend that there are large numbers of Witches who think that all property belongs to all people and anyone who objects has "control issues."  I know from experience that incredible numbers of Witches believe that they are owed attention and support whenever they need it from whomever they choose.  I realize that there are many, many Witches who hope, work, and dream to create a world free from courtesy.

I am not one of them.