Saturday, February 28, 2015

Mike Rowe’s Response to Facebook Comments on Walmart Commercial Voiceover « Profoundly Disconnected

Mike Rowe’s Response to Facebook Comments on Walmart Commercial Voiceover « Profoundly Disconnected

Walmart is one of the reasons a lot of manufacturing was lost in the United States. The vast majority of merchandise Walmart sells in the U.S. is manufactured abroad. The company searches the world for the cheapest goods possible, and this means buying from low-wage factories overseas. Walmart boasts of direct relationships with nearly 20,000 Chinese suppliers, and purchased $27 billion worth of Chinese-made goods in 2006. According to the Economic Policy Institute, Walmart’s trade with China alone eliminated 133,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs between 2001 and 2006 and accounted for 11.2 percent of the nation’s total job loss due to trade. With $419 billion in annual net sales, Walmart’s market power is so immense that blah, blah, blah…”

Forgive me Sean, but I’ve replaced the rest of your rant with “blah blah blah” because it appears to have been cut and pasted word for word from a political site dedicated to destroying Walmart. And also because reactions like yours are the reason our country is paralyzed. You’re like the diehard conservatives who freaked out because I sat too close to Bill Maher, and the diehard liberals that got all bent when I got too close to Glenn Beck. You’re stuck in your own narrative.

Step back for a minute. Look at what’s happening here. Walmart has just promised to do something you claim to want them to do. How do you react? Do you encourage them? Do you support them? No. You hold fast to the the party line. You lash out. Our country is falling apart around us, and you criticize me. For what? For doing a voiceover on a commercial that celebrates the dignity of hard work? I realize you’d prefer it if Costco was pushing this campaign forward, but guess what – they’re not.

But, maybe they will? Maybe they’ll all get on board? Target, Best Buy, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Dollar General, Home Depot, Lowe’s…maybe they’ll all make similar commitments to American manufacturing? And maybe Americans will finally make it easy by demanding and buying more American made products. So far – that hasn’t happened. Maybe Walmart will break the logjam. Someone has to at least try, don’t you think?

Seriously Sean, do you and all the other detractors really want to see this campaign fail because it’s coming from a retailer whose policies you don’t approve of? Do us all a favor – try to get over it. Try to get over your disappointment with me. Try to get over your disappointment with Walmart. Try to get past your issues with the messenger, and take another look at the message…

Sunday, February 22, 2015

This is what media bias looks like « Hot Air

This is what media bias looks like « Hot Air

NYT: CIA bought, destroyed undeclared Iraqi chemical weapons demanded by UN « Hot Air

NYT: CIA bought, destroyed undeclared Iraqi chemical weapons demanded by UN « Hot Air

If the WMD existed in Iraq, what happened to it? Many suspected that it got transferred to Syria prior to the 2003 invasion, but the New York Times reports today that the CIA actually did find at least some of the suspected and undeclared caches of chemical weapons — and destroyed them:
The Central Intelligence Agency, working with American troops during the occupation of Iraq, repeatedly purchased nerve-agent rockets from a secretive Iraqi seller, part of a previously undisclosed effort to ensure that old chemical weapons remaining in Iraq did not fall into the hands of terrorists or militant groups, according to current and former American officials.

The extraordinary arms purchase plan, known as Operation Avarice, began in 2005 and continued into 2006, and the American military deemed it a nonproliferation success. It led to the United States’ acquiring and destroying at least 400 Borak rockets, one of the internationally condemned chemical weapons that Saddam Hussein’s Baathist government manufactured in the 1980s but that were not accounted for by United Nations inspections mandated after the 1991 Persian Gulf war. …

In confidential declarations in the 1990s to the United Nations, Iraq gave shifting production numbers, up to 18,500. It also claimed to have destroyed its remaining stock before international inspectors arrived after the Persian Gulf war. …

The handoffs varied in size, including one of more than 150 warheads. American ordnance disposal technicians promptly destroyed most of them by detonation, the officials said, but some were taken to Camp Slayer, by Baghdad’s airport, for further testing.
This is the first time that there has been any media reporting on finds specific to the disputed munitions that Hussein refused to acknowledge. It sounds as though there were a large quantity of Borak rockets eventually procured, too, not just a few leftovers that might have been innocently overlooked by the previous dictatorship in Iraq. C.J. Chivers and Eric Schmitt also report that these were not the kind of exhausted and expired chemical weapons that the UN had been storing, but still potent enough to alarm the US when they were discovered.

Why this was kept quiet was anyone’s guess, but the secret was tightly held. Perhaps the CIA and Pentagon wanted to keep it under wraps so that they could quietly buy as many of the weapons off the black market as they could, without tipping their hand to the insurgency. That might have been good strategy, but the Pentagon kept it so quiet that it never told veterans serving in Iraq or the VA physicians that treated them later about the possibility that they had contact with chemical weapons from any source. It seems unlikely that the insurgents didn’t get their hands on any of the Boraks — and it’s not entirely clear that the US got them all, either.

The High Cost of Energy Illiteracy | Power Line

The High Cost of Energy Illiteracy | Power Line

“Energy romanticism” is perhaps the single greatest intellectual failing of environmentalists—the dreamy view that we can generate 95 quads of energy with puppy dog treadmills, unicorn flopsweat, and of course their beloved wind and solar. (Of course, most enviros say “What’s a ‘quad’?” when I ask for even a cursory inventory of energy sources that would supply America’s annual energy use.)

At the base of this is near total illiteracy about energy. The latest example is the giddy celebration that Burlington, Vermont, has become carbon neutral! And if a New England hippie town of 50,000 can do it, then surely Cleveland can do it too, no?

Take the PBS headline: “Burlington Is First U.S. City to Hit 100 Percent Renewable Energy.” 100 percent renewable energy? So everyone in Burlington has quit driving cars? Did every Ben & Jerry’s-eating yuppie in town sell their gas-fired Viking and Wolf kitchen ranges and gas-fired home furnaces? Are they getting all their groceries and other goods delivered to town by horse-drawn carts instead of trucks? (I guess it is hard to be bothered with the distinction between electricity and energy. And factoring indirect energy use is apparently challenging, too.)

But then the complete PBS report lets out this little detail: “the biggest portion of the city’s renewable production comes from hydropower…”

Ah yes—hydropower: the one form of carbon-free electricity production that environmentalists strenuously oppose as much as nuclear power. Most state “renewable portfolio standards” (RPS) specifically exclude hydropower from the menu of energy options that states can use to meet the mandate. By my rough estimate, it would require something like 1,000 to 2,000 new dams to replace just our current coal-fired electricity production. And there is only one significant dam proposed in the U.S. right now that I am aware of—on the Yukon River in Alaska. All of the usual suspects oppose that dam, naturally. In other words, policy in most states makes it impossible for other locations to imitate Burlington.

In fact, in Colorado right now there is a bill in the legislature to remove the barriers to counting hydropower toward the state’s RPS targets. Naturally, “clean energy” advocates are opposed:
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) categorizes hydroelectricity as clean, renewable energy, and the Colorado Energy Office (CEO) determined that it produces air emissions on par with wind and solar. There is no justifiable environmental reason to keep these restrictions in place.

It may then come as a surprise that there are clean energy supporters who are actively fighting against this bill. Conservation Colorado, the Colorado Cleantech Industries Association, and the Distributed Wind Energy Association are all opposing the inclusion of hydroelectricity as a renewable energy resource despite the EPA’s evaluation.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Case Against the Case Against the Crusades -

The Case Against the Case Against the Crusades -

The existence of this debate is clearly very strange to many liberal and secular writers, and no doubt seems strange to the president himself; I suspect he thought that a Crusades reference would have been the most uncontroversial of his historical analogies. And in fairness to Obama, stripped of context his specific words should be uncontroversial: “During the Crusades,” he said, “people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ,” and there is no question that such terrible deeds were committed, in many places and with many innocent victims (Jewish especially as well as Muslim and Orthodox Christian), across the four or five or six centuries (depending on whether you include the later Holy Leagues) in which crusades were officially undertaken or attempted.

But the context matters, and his juxtaposition of the Crusades with institutions that are regarded as comprehensively evil in our culture prompted a wave of writing from Christians justifying those campaigns as essentially “defensive” in intent and therefore justified conflicts. And that, in turn, prompted a lot “you must be joking” responses from liberal journalists — like this one from Will Saletan, which I’ll quote:
“All the Crusades met the criteria of just wars,” says a quote circulated by the Catholic League, conservative news sites, and Tea Party forums. Bill Donohue, the league’s president, asserts: “The Crusades were a defensive Christian reaction against Muslim madmen.” Giuliani, Jonah Goldberg, and Joe Scarborough agree. E.W. Jackson, the 2013 Republican nominee for lieutenant governor of Virginia, defends the Crusades as “a response to Islamic aggression.” Erick Erickson, the editor-in-chief of, says they were merely “a response to Islamic invasion.”

As for the awkward gap between the Muslim aggression and the so-called defensive reaction—about four centuries—today’s apologists plead that the Crusades were a “delayed response.” Donohue blames the whole thing on Muslims: “They’re the ones who created the war.” In fact, according to the apologists, the Crusaders were liberators. They were trying “to free the holy places of Christendom.”
Clearly lot of the people Saletan is quoting are being apologists, sometimes with a side of bigotry, rather than historians. But the reality is that many of their apologias are still closer to the historical reality than his snideness about the alleged “awkward gap” between Islamic aggression and Christian crusading. Like all complicated historical events, the Crusades were hardly monocausal, and historians will be arguing about the whys and wherefores in the same way that they’ll always argue about the causes of the last century’s global conflicts. But the first Crusade was not summoned, as Saletan implies, in a world where the Islamic empires and Christian Europe had been enjoying a comfortable four-hundred year peace after the original fall of Jerusalem to Muslim armies. Instead the actual context included 1) the gradual rolling back of prior Muslim conquests in Spain and Southern Italy (Saracen raiders had threatened Rome in the 10th century, and the Emirate of Sicily only fell to the Normans five years before Pope Urban II called the First Crusade), 2) the disastrous Byzantine defeat at Manzikert in 1071, at the hands of the Seljuk Turks, which ended with the emperor in chains and prompted Constantinople to call for military assistance from the West, and 3) the Seljuk occupation of Palestine (displacing the Fatimid Caliphate), which visited persecution and pillage on the Holy Land’s remaining Christians and made pilgrimage much more difficult than it had been under some (though not all) of the Fatimid rulers.

The context also included many other factors internal to Western Christendom, which is why historians have wrangled endlessly over the motivations of Urban and others, and over how much explanatory weight to give to geopolitical issues related to Islam versus other goals (increasing papal power, channeling intra-Christian violence elsewhere, forcing a reunion with Orthodoxy, etc.). But the broad story of the era and the movement can’t be explained without a recognition that the context of the crusades, from the 11th century beginning to the echoes at Lepanto and Vienna centuries later, always included 1) ongoing conflict between Islamic and Christian forces in territory that had been Christian before an earlier wave of Muslim conquest and 2) the emergence of new Islamic powers, first Seljuk and then Ottoman, whose advances threatened first Byzantium and then, after its fall, the Balkans, the Christian Mediterranean and eventually Central Europe. One can argue back and forth over whether this or that crusade met “just war” criteria, but none of them sprang de novo from a world of stable borders and religious peace, and all of them were part of a longer story of attack and counterattack in which both sides were playing for potentially-existential stakes.

Which makes a comparison between the Crusades as a historical phenomenon and various specific institutions — the sort of comparison in which “Crusaders” get casually likened to “slave owners”, for instance — seem, well, not even wrong: It’s just a category error, like putting “Franco-British conflict from the 14th through the 19th century” on the same list of great historical wrongs as South African apartheid, and then when challenged invoking Henry V at Rouen and the Vendee to “prove” your point.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Legislative and Oversight Accomplishments of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform | Committee on Oversight & Government Reform

Legislative and Oversight Accomplishments of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform | Committee on Oversight & Government Reform
For instance, in the IRS targeting scandal, the Committee reviewed millions of pages of documents from the IRS, Treasury Department, and other agencies and conducted 52 transcribed interviews that amounted to 309 hours of testimony (p. 69). The Committee’s investigation found that 80 percent of the delayed requests for tax-exempt status were for conservative non-profit groups, and that not a single “Tea Party” group was approved by the IRS between February 2010 and May 2013.

Full report compressed (document p 69)

Since IRS’s first admission of wrongdoing, the Committee has conducted an exhaustive investigation of the IRS’s targeting. The Committee reviewed over a million pages of documents from the IRS, the Treasury Department, the Justice Department, the Federal Election Commission, the IRS Oversight Board, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, and other custodians. The Committee conducted 52 transcribed interviews, totaling 309 hours of testimony. Despite noncooperation from the Administration and the destruction of a sizeable number of emails from Lois Lerner, the investigation presented clear findings. A review of public information showed that while more than 80 percent of delayed applications were associated with conservative groups, less than seven percent were associated with progressive or liberal agendas.316 Between February 2010 and May 2013, not a single group identifying itself as “Tea Party” was approved by the IRS.317
POLITICAL PRESSURE ON THE IRS TO “FIX THE PROBLEM” During his State of the Union Address in January 2010, President Obama delivered a stunning rebuke of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. “With all due deference to separation of powers,” the President intoned, “last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections.”330

Over the next ten months, in the lead-up to the 2010 midterm election, the President, members of his Administration, and allies in Congress carried out an orchestrated effort to discourage political speech by conservative nonprofit groups in an effort to fix the Citizens United decision. On the campaign trail, the President called conservative groups “shadowy” entities with “innocuous” and “benign-sounding” names that in reality “are running millions of dollars of attack ads against Democratic candidates.”331 Calling them “phony” and “front groups,” the President urged a “fix” to the Citizens United decision, which he believed allowed these allegedly nefarious groups to “pose” as nonprofits.332 The President’s allies in Congress and elsewhere echoed this call, working aggressively to delegitimize the Court’s decision and the Constitutional protections for nonprofit political speech.333 Senator Jeff Merkley urged action “so that no longer do you have a shadowy front group,”334 and Senator Charles Schumer similarly complained that “the public is under siege by advertising from shadowy special interest groups.”335

This rhetorical assault on the legitimacy of tax-exempt groups engaged in political speech was felt by the IRS’s Exempt Organizations Division. As the President’s public statements generated media attention, the IRS identified a Tea Party group applying for tax-exempt status as a “potentially politically embarrassing case.”336 Due to media attention, the IRS’s Washington office ordered the application to be elevated to Washington.337 The attention on media continued through the fall. In response to a tax-law journal article in September 2010,338 Lerner initiated a “c4 project” to assess the political activity of certain nonprofits in wake of Citizens United.339 She told her subordinates: “We need to have a plan. We need to be cautious so it isn’t a per se political project. More a c4 project that will look at levels of lobbying and pol. activity along with exempt activity.”340

Saturday, February 07, 2015

The Minimum Wage and Magical Thinking

The Minimum Wage and Magical Thinking
If all other factors remain equal, the higher the price of a good, the less people will demand it. That's the law of demand, a fundamental idea in economics. And yet there is no shortage of politicians, pundits, policy wonks, and members of the public who insist that raising the price of labor will not have the effect of lessening the demand for workers. In his 2014 State of the Union Address, for example, President Barack Obama called on Congress to raise the national minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. He argued that increasing the minimum wage would "grow the economy for everyone" by giving "businesses customers with more spending money."

A January 2015 working paper by two economists, Robert Pollin and Jeanette Wicks-Lim at the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, claims that raising the minimum wage of fast food workers to $15 per hour over a four-year transition period would not necessarily result in "shedding jobs." The two acknowledge that the "raising the price of anything will reduce demand for that thing, all else equal." But they believe they've found a way to "relax" the all-else-being-equal part, at least as far as the wages of fast food workers go. Pollin and Wicks-Lim argue that "the fast-food industry could fully absorb these wage bill increases through a combination of turnover reductions; trend increases in sales growth; and modest annual price increases over the four-year period." They further claim that a $15/hour minimum wage would not result in lower profits or the reallocation of funds away from other operations, such as marketing. Amazing.

Pollin and Wicks-Lim calculate that doubling the minimum wage for 2.5 million fast food workers would cost the industry an additional $33 billion annually. They further calculate that reduced turnover will lower costs by $5.2 billion annually and that three years of sales growth at 2.5 percent per year and price hikes at 3 percent per year will yield $30 billion in extra revenues.

Let's consider turnover first. Pollin and Wicks-Lim claim that an increased minimum wage will substantially reduce the costs of employee turnover, saving money that can now go to pay higher wages. The two fail to grapple with, much less refute, a devastating response to this idea from no less a liberal than the Nobel-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. In his review of Pollin's 1998 book The Living Wage, Krugman wrote: "The obvious economist's reply is, if paying higher wages is such a good idea, why aren't companies doing it voluntarily?" (That question goes unaddressed in the current study.) Krugman continues, "But in any case there is a fundamental flaw in the argument: Surely the benefits of low turnover and high morale in your work force come not from paying a high wage, but from paying a high wage 'compared with other companies'—and that is precisely what mandating an increase in the minimum wage for all companies cannot accomplish." So scratch $5.2 billion.

What about Pollin and Wicks-Lim's sales growth projections? Well, sales don't always grow. McDonalds reported a sales decrease of one percent in 2014. Some analysts think that fast food sales may have peaked in the United States.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

When should voters defer to the views of scientists? - The Washington Post

When should voters defer to the views of scientists? - The Washington Post

I. The Case for Deferring to Scientists.

This raises the question of whether voters should defer to majority scientific opinion on these issues. Given my research on political ignorance, it is tempting for me to conclude that the answer is almost always “yes.” The majority of the public is often ignorant about basic facts about government and politics, and their scientific knowledge is also far from impressive. You don’t have to believe that scientists are always right about scientific issues to conclude that they are on average more likely to be right than generally ignorant voters are. To the extent that this is true, an electorate that defers to majority scientific opinion on these issues would make fewer mistakes than one that does not, even though neither would be completely error free.

The above reasoning has some merit. But it is important to avoid conflating two different kinds of “scientific” issues. Some of the questions addressed in the Pew survey are almost purely technical questions. For example, the issue of whether GMO foods or foods treated with pesticides are safe, or the issue of whether human activity is the main cause of climate change. On these sorts of technical matters, scientists are indeed likely to know much more than most ordinary people, and there is a good case for deferring to them. But some seemingly scientific policy issues actually include major nontechnical components on which scientists are not likely to have specialized knowledge.

II. The Limits of Scientific Expertise.

Some of the questions raised in the Pew study are actually mixed questions of scientific facts and moral values. For example, the issue of whether animals should be used in scientific research partly depends on the scientific benefits using them; a question on which scientists have special expertise. But it also depends on the moral status of the animals in question, and whether it is ethically permissible to inflict certain types of harm on them. On that latter issue, scientists have no special knowledge. If there is a group of experts that does, it is likely to be moral philosophers and political theorists; and these groups are – on average – more sympathetic to animal rights arguments than the general public is.

Other issues on the survey raise questions of political economy rather than pure science. For example, many more scientists (82 percent) than ordinary people (59 percent) believe that growing population will be a “major” problem in the future. Whether it will be or not depends largely on whether the possible costs of population growth (e.g. – environmental externalities) will outweigh the benefits, such as increased innovation and a greater division of labor. On these latter questions, economists are likely to be more expert than natural scientists are, and economists tend to be much more skeptical of Malthusian arguments than either natural scientists or the general population. They like to point out that Malthusian predictions have proven wrong for some two hundred years, which does not prove that they will always be wrong, but does suggest reason for imposing a high burden of proof on them.
In sum, it makes good sense to defer to the views of experts on areas that are actually within their expertise. But not on questions that may seem related, but actually are distinct. Telling the difference isn’t always easy. Here, as elsewhere, being a responsible, well-informed voter turns out to be a lot harder than we might think.