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E-Mail vs. the evil MSM October 28, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Media, Politics, The Internet.
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Via Making Light comes this interesting article from The Nation about the below the radar smear machine of the right. I’ve seen a couple of these e-mails sent to myself and other people. One question that occurs to me is to wonder what kind of person would really want something as important as the Presidency of the United States to be decided by this kind of trash. And of course there is the question of why so many people are willing to believe anything they get in their in box. I think it’s basically the fruit of the years long smearing of mainstream news by the American right wing. They know they are correct on every issue and there cannot be any compromise with any other viewpoint. Since they cannot be wrong and the mainstream news doesn’t report things that agree with them it has to be liberal bias. It obviously can’t be that they are wrong about anything. So repeat the mantra over and over again that the MSM is liberal and it lies about everything. Never let up. Lie over and over again. Then it will be believed by enough people so that when something is claimed that is blatantly false so the MSM doesn’t report on it you have a base of people who will believe your version because they know that the MSM will never report the truth.

Thus is born the credibility of dishonest e-mail chain smears. It’s very sad that so many Americans are willing to buy into this and never think to actually research the claim. Everyone should know about web sites like Snopes and how to dig through search results and dismiss blatantly biased sites. But then, of course, they’ve been conditioned to believe in the veracity of the more biased sites, haven’t they?

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If at first… October 26, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Foreign Relations, Politics, The Bush Administration.
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When was consistency declared the supreme virtue? You’d certainly think that it had been promoted to that status based on the actions of our current administration. From “stay the course” to the latest speech on Cuba it seems to be the only virtue that interests the powers that be lately. Time reports on the hard line that Bush echoed yet again. It’s been the constant line from every politician of every party who wanted to pander to an irrational subset of the Cuban immigrant community for over four decades now. And what has it gotten anyone? Maybe some votes, but that’s it. Has it helped one Cuban still in that country? No. Over forty years of embargoes that no one else takes part in and constant rhetorical hits and no real progress towards ending the repressive Castro regime to show for it. I’m not going to say that some of it, maybe a lot of it made sense before the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the client state status of Cuba but that boat sailed 18 years ago now and maybe some change would have made sense by now. But will anyone anytime soon be able to see past the votes that might be gained by political pandering to part of the Cuban population in Florida? Somehow I doubt it.

Blades are often double edged October 25, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Climate Change, Environment.
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An article in New Scientist is about a new study that says that the climate change models can just never be good enough to provide a precise prediction of how greenhouse gases will warm the earth. There are many other points of course, but a very cogent one is simply that those who oppose the idea of the existence of AGW and thereby the idea of government or industry putting forth any effort to do something about it will seize upon this study in order to boost their position.

But if you find yourself nodding in agreement with this idea because maybe, just maybe if this study is right it means that the effort could be better used towards other things as Bjorn Lomborg says we should do there are other things to consider. What you’ll never hear from the climate change skeptics, as they call themselves, is that the models could be wrong the other way as well. There is nothing in this study that shows that possible inaccuracies will only go one way. Things could be worse than the models predict. Given that they know it’s on the edge and unpredictable in terms of possible effects models don’t include things like methane releases from the thawing bogs of Siberia. They don’t include what could happen if the methane clathrate frozen in the ocean did thaw and release their potentially huge amounts of methane, that extremely effective greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. Look both ways before crossing the street. Check both sides of sharp implements. Don’t be too accepting of arguments that if the climate models aren’t accurate it means that things will be better.

Why? October 25, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Economics, Government, Health Insurance, Politics, The Bush Administration, The War in Iraq.
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Why does anyone believe anything that George W. Bush or anyone who represents him or allies themselves with him says anymore? Remember the good old days when he was saying that he hadn’t made up his mind about going to war with Iraq?  And that thinking that it might cost $50 billion was dismissed as speculation? When Mitch Daniels said that Larry Lindsey’s estimate of $200 billion was the upper end of a hypothetical?

Now there are estimates that the combined total of Iraq and Afghanistan could reach $2.4 trillion before it’s all said and done. What’s the White House reaction?

The Bush administration has declined to make long-term projections because “the war is ever-changing” and costs are difficult to predict, said Sean Kevelighan, press secretary for the White House budget office.

“Congress got a predictable answer to its leading question, which was clearly intended to artificially inflate war costs (by) politicians in Washington trying to manage our military commanders,” Kevelighan said.

“Budgets follow military decisions, not vice versa,” he said.

What do Bush’s allies in the Republican Party have to say about it?

Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the ranking Republican on the committee, said the estimates fail to show that as a percentage of gross domestic product, the nation is better equipped to pay for these conflicts than previous wars.

Of course I want to know what the percentage of GDP has to do with it? Government revenues and debt are what matter if you’re going to discuss an enterprise that the government is paying for and these same people want Bush’s tax cuts to stay the course. They want the estate tax eliminated. Many of them want capital gains taxes eliminated or at least reduced even further than where they are already at. Look at these numbers and realize that President Bush is once again threatening to veto SCHIP, claiming that part of the reason is the expense, $35 billion over 5 years.

As I said to begin this post, why does anyone still believe this man or his minions?

Move Along. Nothing to see here. October 25, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Climate Change, Environment, Science, Science & Society, Science & the Media.
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Global warming brings spring earlier in the year. There are those in the world who say that this must surely be a blessing. Well, maybe not so much. As this article on CNN points out, an earlier spring means a longer fire season in the American west. You know, that place that’s burning right now? Don’t worry, though, folks, Bjorn Lomborg has reassured us that there are worries much more pressing than global warming.

The Joy of Free Trading October 21, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Business & Society, Government.
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Well, at least the people who make big money on it are happy. The rest of us, not so much. the Washington Post writes about how easily completely unregulated energy trading markets can be manipulated solely for the benefit of the traders and their profits. The resulting commodity prices have nothing to do with supply and demand or any of those old fashioned things and simply result in higher energy bills. After the Amaranth debacle where the fund eventually paid the price for making a couple of bad moves Congress is looking into actually letting the agency that should be overseeing this kind of trading do what is needed but it hasn’t been being done for a while. Why? Well…

Commodity trading has exploded in complexity and popularity, growing six-fold in trading volume since 2000 — the year that a handful of giant energy companies, including Enron, successfully lobbied to get Congress to exempt energy markets from government regulation.

And the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, like so many other regulatory agencies in recent years, is understaffed and underfunded, so that even if Congress does undo that gigantic mistake it won’t make any difference unless they increase the CFTC’s funding as well. Unsurprisingly the unregulated markets want to stay that way and since Amaranth did go bust there are undoubtedly defenders of the status quo that will say the markets worked. But the truth is that the markets worked too late to prevent consumers from paying untold millions of dollars in additional utility bills for no other reason than to allow unregulated energy traders to make a profit in a market that had nothing to do with classical market forces.

“The free market can do it!” Redux October 14, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Business & Society, Economics, Health Care, Health Insurance.
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David Broder writes about a plan to fix our health care problems with a “publicly subsidized individual health insurance”. Of course this concept is somewhat useless. OK, it’s lots of “thought” about a proposal that will do nothing to help improve our system. Why won’t it? The key lies in this paragraph.

Instead, the report calls on government to restructure the private insurance market in less rigid form than Hillary Clinton proposed 14 years ago — and then step back and let competitive market forces do their invaluable work of forcing recalcitrant insurers, doctors and hospitals to bid against each other on the basis of price and quality.

Competitive market forces do not simply function magically in a vacuum. The primary concept behind the ability of the market to accomplish what these people expect it to is the rational choice theory, which is also used in other social sciences. Rational choice in turn relies on a rational actor. The assumption of the existence of a rational actor is one where the people taking part in the economy are willing and able to make a choice based purely on their knowledge of their needs, the product being purchased and their ability to pay for it. It does not account for irrational fears, emotions or choices based on incomplete information or lack of understanding. The plain truth is that the vast majority of the American populace does not have any information base for making these choices and the plans that hope to use the magic of the free markets do not address that fact. There are economists and social scientists addressing the limitations of this part of neoclassical economic theory, as shown by this article in Harvard Magazine but apparently those who are proposing that the market will solve the problems in the American health care system don’t acknowledge them. They also don’t acknowledge the desire of those in the health care industry to distort rational choice with advertising, small print, legalese and the ability to in effect change the terms of any agreement unilaterally much as their compatriots in other industries do. Look at this article from SmartMoney and realize that those who propose that the current system, largely unchanged, is what we need to stick with believe it is perfectly acceptable that consumers go through this routine. I disagree.

The Liberal Media? October 13, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Media, Politics.
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The constant refrain from political conservatives in this country is that the MSM, as they like to call it, is hopelessly, invariably, slanted towards liberals, liberalism and the Democrats. I’ve never believed it and Vanity Fair has a piece that is pretty devastating towards the idea that reviews how the press smeared Al Gore in 2000. They misquoted, they focused on meaningless trivia instead of the issues and had a relentless drumbeat of negativity towards Gore while being charmed by Bush’s “common folk” projection. After reading this piece would you ever believe anything by the reporters they cite?

Doctor Knows Best October 7, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Government, Health Care, Health Insurance, Politics.
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At least I think that this doctor writing an op-ed for the Washington Post does. He calls the Republicans for their constant refrain of socialism, socialist and socialized when ranting against their political opponents proposals. There’s just no way it can be called a discussion when this rhetorical overkill and inaccuracy is used.

Looking Back at War Reporting October 7, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Media, The War in Iraq.
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Soon after seeing the article on the people who have left the Bush administration and their reflections I read this one from the Washington Post on how the news anchors for the major networks’ nightly news shows feel about how news coverage of Iraq has gone and how it has evolved. It makes for some interesting reading. Those who would condemn them as just representatives of the evil MSM, determined to make the President and the war look bad probably won’t learn anything because they don’t want to but anyone else should find a reminder of their humanity in the thoughts they had to have when considering travelling to Iraq for their jobs. Also, like many people, at first they were not completely against the war although they had their questions about it.