Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Random the Third.

This column at Media Matters is one of the saddest expose's I've read in a while. Eric Boehlert argues that right-wing bloggers ("warbloggers" is his term) have shot their credibility to hell repeatedly by refusing to take responsibility for what they "report" while simultaneously castigating the slightest error made by their opponents.

It's not that I care about right-wing bloggers, but that I care about the societies we live in. The fact that there are people like this, who won't retract an obvious error -- or at least try to patch over the hole -- and that there are hundreds if not thousands teeming about does not say anything good about the society that has been built around us (that creates and sustains them) nor about its future. Progressives shouldn't glory in this kind of stupidity, for it's not about "winning" or "losing" some "culture war". It's about getting back (if we ever really had it) to civil and respectful debate about important issues. That's impossible in the climate created by these kinds of right-wing blogs.



The Huffington Post is very often crap. This, however, is not. David Roberts argues (rants, really, as he admits) that a fundamental problem with US political discourse is its insane hatred for genuinely leftist views -- and, indeed, for anything less than the most extreme right-wing positions. It's probably an exaggeration, but it's got enough truth to be very uncomfortable.



At Newshounds, we see the US right going even further down the rabbit-hole (and this is the mainstream right, not just bloggers). On Fox and Friends, apparently, there was a lengthy segment devoted to why the owner of a Texas pizza chain should not accept pesos instead of dollars as payments, because (wait for it) it's unAmerican. See here for the whole thing. What I don't understand, though, is how those idiots at Fox could sit there and blame the guy, with straight faces, when (as mentioned in the article) (1) Mexican border businesses will take US dollars and (not mentioned in the article) (2) American/Canadian border business will also gladly take the other country's currency. (Indeed, I've even paid tolls on New York freeways with Canadian change.)



Could Ludwig Wittgenstein have gotten employed in the academy today? I don't know who wants to know, but, if you do, see here.



The UK security agency, MI5, is now offering an email alert service for citizens about the latest "terror level", as well as offering more information on its website. See here. Call me crazy, but I think there's a slight problem involved in emulating the US' "war on terror" model. Honestly, I don't see any value to distributing this kind of information. What are people supposed to do, carry shotguns and shoot any vaguely Arabic-looking person they see? All this can hope to accomplish is scaring the shit out of people...

...oh, I get it. Of course. Then the Labour Party can campaign on being able to save Britons from the evil terrorists. After all, what else is national security for but exploitation for electoral gain?

The funniest part of the article is this:
Britain's terrorism alert status has been at the second-highest level since its inception, except for the three days after the disclosure Aug. 10 that police had broken up a plot to blow up jets headed to the USA from London's Heathrow Airport. The level was then raised to "critical," the highest on the scale.
In other words, the distinctions between the various threat levels don't map on to any real threats whatsoever.

"Although it may ratchet up the anxiety level, it increases the public's awareness," Aukstakalnis says. "All of a sudden, you have millions of people who are hypersensitive to anything that doesn't look right. And they are more inclined to report things."
Indeed. As suggested, they'd be more likely to report anyone who was guilty of looking Arabic -- which is, after all, a hideous crime.



Speaking of scaring the shit out of people for no good reason, according to this, Medicare/Medicaid will be offering an online comparison of hospitals across the US with regard to their mortality rates for heart patients. One immediate problem is noted by an administrator:
"It clearly needs to be done, but I'm not sure 30-day mortality is the right measure," says Gary Noskin of Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. "A patient could have a heart attack (and be treated successfully) and get hit by a bus after he leaves the hospital."
This concern is immediately dismissed (but not refuted):
Medicare officials counter that the statistical methods used in the analyses highlight patterns of care, good or bad, not individual cases. The approach was approved by the National Quality Forum, a consortium of professional organizations, businesses, consumer groups, hospital chains and health plans.
Which means, approximately, nothing. Would it kill them to respond to the actual criticism? One wonders.

In addition, of course, the measures are going to be biased in favour of hospitals that don't see many serious cardiac patients. If the problems are relatively minor, and the patient base relatively low, then the mortality rates are going to be better than those in a busy hospital that sees many very serious cases. Context always matters; these sorts of coarse measures really don't communicate any useful information.

Except, I suppose, they could be used as an excuse to reduce public funding of procedures in certain parts of the country. Nice.



Here is yet another article on minimum wage. It seems pretty fair to me: basically, minimum wage increases create some modest gains, but also some minor costs. What always troubles me, though, is that there's never discussion of a maximum wage law. That is, beyond a certain point, you just can't earn any more money. The most obvious objection I can think of is that companies should be able to pay sufficiently to attract the best and brightest. There are (at least) two problems with this. The first is that the genuinely best and brightest probably aren't all that concerned about making another million, but about facing a new and interesting challenge. The second is that compensation packages can include more than just wages (a company car, a pension, vacation time, etc.), so there needs to be more reason to increase the dollar value given than just "well, we have to be able to reward the people we want!". The reason to institute a maximum wage law should be obvious, but oddly isn't: there's only a certain amount of money/wealth to go around, and concentrating it at the top means that it has been removed from those at the bottom (and probably a little in the middle, too). So, capping the amount that those at the top can earn should free up more that could make its way back down the scale. (Didn't some old economist guy talk about an unseen foot or something that sounded a little like this?) Where it would, incidentally, do more to stimulate economic growth than keeping it all in the hands of a few (as those with less will spend more of an increase in consumption than those who already have more).



Governor Arnie's universal healthcare plan is drawing the predictable reactions from everyone else in the state government. Some amusing excerpts from this:
“Health coverage for illegal aliens is a nonstarter for us,” said Robert Huff, chairman of the Assembly’s Republican caucus. “It creates a magnet for them coming here rather than staying there.”
Really? Gee, I suppose that must be why you can only get public health insurance in Canada with proof of immigration status. Honestly, why are Republicans so stupid?

Then there is the financing, which among other things would require doctors and hospitals to pay 2 percent and 4 percent of their revenue, respectively, into a fund to cover the poor and uninsured. Mr. Schwarzenegger calls those payments a “fee,” but other Republicans said that was just another word for “tax.”
Don't conservatives always play the "tax"/"user fee" semantic game -- as if it actually makes a difference? What matters is that money has to come from somewhere to fund beneficial social programs. You can call it a "user fee" -- tuition, transit fare, parks fee -- or a "tax" -- roads, education, healthcare -- but it doesn't change the basic structure of the problem. Do Californian Republicans have nothing better to do than play word-games? Is there anything substantive to their concerns? Not as far as I can see from this piece...

(Incidentally, I did see the quote which claimed that there is a legal distinction in California between how a fee can be passed and a tax can be passed, with taxes being harder to pass than fees. But that just looks like a semantic quibble enshrined into law. Why hasn't some smart governor just called everything a fee and been done with it?)

But, not to be left out, California doctors are getting in on the act:
The California Medical Association, which represents more than 34,000 doctors in the state, gave the proposed overhaul mixed reviews. Though the association praised the idea of universal coverage, the fee on doctors could be a deal breaker.

“We feel it’s a regressive tax,” said Dr. Anmol Singh Mahal, the group’s president.
Would they prefer that everyone pay a healthcare premium as part of their income tax? (That's the way it's done in Ontario.)

Seriously, though. If the only thing they have to actually complain about is that someone would have to pay for this, they really need to shut up. Someone has to pay for healthcare costs anyway. That's always the point. Someone pays, whether it's the patient who coughs up thousands for a hospital bill, or a private insurer (who then raises premiums), or the taxpayers, or the employer whose workers take lots of time off for illness, etc, etc, someone always pays. The only question is who should. Since a healthy populace is a good thing for society, it seems obvious to me that it should be society at large who pays.



It must be strawman day or something. According to the Independent, the UK government is thinking of lifting the protection of the identities of rape accusers when those they accuse turn out to be innocent (see here). Hard to think how anyone could object to that, right? Wrong:
Lisa Longstaff, of Women Against Rape, said such a proposal would serve only to discourage women from coming forward to make complaints in the first place and urged ministers to think again. "In the context of rape conviction rates being no more than 5 per cent it is outrageous for the Government even to contemplate relaxing the protection. We are pushing for a tightening of the law and have written to the Attorney General to voice our concerns."


What Ms. Longstaff is, probably deliberately, overlooking is that the government is not, according to this, contemplating lifting the anonymity generally, nor even in cases of failed conviction. The issue, as the context of the article makes clear, is the complainants who use their legal protection as a means to harrass and attack other people. I mean, really, let's just switch the crime around and see if it makes any more sense: if someone habitually accuses others of murder, shouldn't that person lose any legal right to having their identity protected?

Here's another strawman from her:
Ms Longstaff said that parliamentary privilege should not be used in such a way. "The other side of the coin is that women are now being sent to prison for false rapes while men accused of rape are going unprosecuted."


Who said anything about imprisoning liars? (I mean, seriously, prisons are full enough as it is; if we start putting every liar away... well, come to think of it, it certainly would make the commute to campus a hell of a lot quicker. Maybe it's not such a bad idea?)



Anybody want to buy an autonomous island? If not, can you lend me enough to get it?

4 comments:

undergroundman said...

Beware the dirty hippies. They're immature and irresponsible. They're utopians and dreamers. They meddle with lives and hate Christian values and blame America first and root for terrorists. They want free sex and legalized drugs and mandatory abortion. They want to eat your babies. They heart Satan.

Hahahaha. That's classic.

Anybody want to buy an autonomous island? If not, can you lend me enough to get it?

Ah..I would love to have an island...I'd do some scary, fuckin' unethical experiments on that island.

It seems pretty fair to me: basically, minimum wage increases create some modest gains, but also some minor costs.

Do you think it balances?

By the way, it's so ironic that you often read the Christian Science Monitor...do you know much about Christian Scientists?

A better alternative to the minimum wage might be some form of outright welfare (negative income-tax credit - welfare must very gradually decrease as income increases to give people an incentive to work), or food stamps and housing vouchers. Or perhaps government-funded healthcare (which would also reduce the burden on businesses). I don't particularly like the idea of giving cash to the rabble because I know they're going to spend it on useless shit like big-screen TVs, video games, alcohol, and, of course, drugs.

ADHR said...

Ah..I would love to have an island...I'd do some scary, fuckin' unethical experiments on that island.

Really? I'd hold impeachment trials for government figures I didn't like.

It seems pretty fair to me: basically, minimum wage increases create some modest gains, but also some minor costs.

Do you think it balances?


More gains than losses is my sense, but there should be a threshold at which the losses meet or exceed the gains. That is, you can't increase the minimum wage forever without causing economic disaster. Certainly, though, it can be higher than it is without resulting in serious problems.

By the way, it's so ironic that you often read the Christian Science Monitor...do you know much about Christian Scientists?

Yep. I also know that the Monitor was set up to be as free from Christian Science influence as possible. They're required to publish a regular article on Christian Science or a related matter, but everything else is conducted in a pretty hands-off manner. It's one of the more even-handed US nationals. Wikipedia has some interesting historical stuff: here.

A better alternative to the minimum wage might be some form of outright welfare (negative income-tax credit - welfare must very gradually decrease as income increases to give people an incentive to work), or food stamps and housing vouchers. Or perhaps government-funded healthcare (which would also reduce the burden on businesses). I don't particularly like the idea of giving cash to the rabble because I know they're going to spend it on useless shit like big-screen TVs, video games, alcohol, and, of course, drugs.

You've hit upon the basic problem with any idea of universal welfare. I agree with the idea in principle, incidentally; I favour doing it through minimum wage because I think it will avoid some of those problems. Psychologically, if you have to do something for some reward, then you will perceive it as a reward -- rather than a gift. Gifts can be thrown away, misused, or given to someone else; rewards are taken to be a little more precious. Food stamps or housing vouchers don't solve the problem since, as long as there's a money system at all, they can be traded for money, which can then be used to buy consumer goods.

undergroundman said...

"Food stamps or housing vouchers don't solve the problem since, as long as there's a money system at all, they can be traded for money, which can then be used to buy consumer goods."

They can be tied to individuals pretty easily today.

"I agree with the idea in principle, incidentally; I favour doing it through minimum wage because I think it will avoid some of those problems. Psychologically, if you have to do something for some reward, then you will perceive it as a reward -- rather than a gift. Gifts can be thrown away, misused, or given to someone else; rewards are taken to be a little more precious."

True. (Which is why the welfare should perhaps be tied to some sort of constructive activity -- education, perhaps? Is that possible?)

As I'm sure you're aware, the basic argument that economists always bring up is that a higher minimum wage means that fewer people will have jobs. And that's true. The interesting thing is that a high minimum wage may encourage us to enter the post unskilled-labor economy. (As minimum wages increase and the cost of automating these jobs decreases, businesses will increasingly be under pressure to make the switch.) That may (and likely will) require us to increase the welfare state -- which makes sense, considering the automation and productivity the community has gone through. No one person is responsible for it, and no one person should benefit from it.

ADHR said...

They can be tied to individuals pretty easily today.

I suspect that type of technology could simply be hacked, thus opening up the possibility that it would be traded. I agree that it is, currently, a bit exotic to try to circumvent various security measures, but it's likely to become easier as time goes on. Which means that any sort of voucher or stamps program would have to be running to keep a few steps ahead of the technology to fool the security technology.

True. (Which is why the welfare should perhaps be tied to some sort of constructive activity -- education, perhaps? Is that possible?)

If it can be tied to work (so-called "workfare"), then it could just as easily be tied to education.

As I'm sure you're aware, the basic argument that economists always bring up is that a higher minimum wage means that fewer people will have jobs. And that's true. The interesting thing is that a high minimum wage may encourage us to enter the post unskilled-labor economy. (As minimum wages increase and the cost of automating these jobs decreases, businesses will increasingly be under pressure to make the switch.) That may (and likely will) require us to increase the welfare state -- which makes sense, considering the automation and productivity the community has gone through. No one person is responsible for it, and no one person should benefit from it.

Well, it's not completely true, because the pool of dollars from which salaries can be drawn is not fixed. There's a range of places where a minimum wage could be set that should have no significant effect on job numbers.

I agree with the last sentence, but I suspect it won't fly without some significant cultural change. There's a tendency to see any change, whether positive or negative, as ultimately someone's doing -- which encourages individuals to blame, and thus justify punishment, for those who are really blameless for their plight.