Who Will Teach The Teachers?

This video put out by the California Federation of Teachers (narrated by Ed Asner) is amazing in its spectacular stupidity and noxious contempt for the  economically successful as well as the intelligence of its viewers.

Here’s a rebuttal video that addresses just a few of the problems, but it hardly  seems necessary to anyone with even a passing familiarity with how the world works.

I’m not completely sure how much of this the creators believe and how much is an attempt to manipulate idiotic viewers into supporting tax increases on the rich and blaming them, rather than excessive and ineffectual government pending, for our economic troubles. I’m also not sure whether assuming it was the former vs. the latter would be more charitable. In either case it’s contemptible.

As I commented to the facebook post that brought this to my attention, I don’t think this is anti-Semitism (although there’s always this), but the nature of the argument (with its misinformation and emotional appeals to outgroup animosity) makes me think that this is what anti-Semitic propaganda would  look like.

I wonder how many of the union’s members are proud of this production, and I pity the students forced to endure them.

Don’t Blame Me! I Voted For Johnson!!!

I suppose I need a blog post with a few thoughts I’ve had since the November 6, 2012 election.

While Obama certainly deserved to lose, I’m not sure that it would be much better for the country’s long-run prospects if Romney had won. The gridlock (YEA GRIDLOCK!!!) situation seems similar to what it was before the election (Republican House and many Democrat senators in Republican-dominated states), so I don’t think it will be easy for Obama to do as much damage as he’d like to do (you know what I mean). Obamacare will likely become well-entrenched (but states can still interfere with that) and we’ll probably have some worsening of the Supreme Court (I wish for the best of health for Scalia, Kennedy, and Ginsburg), but that’s about it for the down-side of this result.

And, to me, it seems like being President of the United States for the next few years will be a terrible job, and Obama deserves that. So, congratulations to him for that.

Romney would have been as bad or worse on many issues and it’s possible that he wouldn’t be able to get rid of all of Obamacare anyway, leaving even more of a mess that would make private health insurance uneconomical. Paul Ryan will probably do more good chairing the House Budget Committee than he would have done as vice president.

If Chief Justice Roberts thought his Obamacare ruling would help lead to a Republican victory that would enable complete repeal, then it was a very bad mistake.

Perhaps limited government will fare better in four years after more failure by a president who was openly hostile to it than it would be if we’d had a president who gave it lip-service but never really believed in it or enacted it.

I agree with Nick Gillespie that if the Republicans want to do better in the future they’ll have to drop (or at least tone down) their socially conservative and anti-immigrant positions; because the demographics don’t look good if they don’t.

I’m very happy that gay marriage equality propositions all went the right way (more marriage equality). And, the two marijuana legalization initiatives (in Colorado and Washington State) could be a more significant development than anything that happened at that national level. If these help lead to the  end of the insane “War on Drugs” we’ll all be much better off!

Gary Johnson getting over a million votes (about 1%) is significant as well. Politicians in close races will have to think more carefully about whether they’re willing to ignore people with libertarian inclinations who are willing to “throw their votes away” on libertarian candidates rather than vote for major candidates who are unacceptable. Maybe it will at least lead to better rhetoric, and eventually to better policy.

I’m not going to get into why I think people voted the way they did because I think there are many different reasons and that kind of analysis usually just ends up being little more than people confirming their prior assumptions.

As for the future, I’m cautiously optimistic (as always). The world is still getting better (although bad things happen all the time), and most good things happen outside of politics. I still expect private progress to outstrip government politics and voter stupidity.

My Favorite Moment from the VP Debate

I was thinking that Vice President Joe (gaffe-machine) Biden might not be the best person to criticize the Romney “47%” statement. And, Paul Ryan responded perfectly:

UPDATE: The other notable aspect of the debate, for me, was Biden’s unreserved, contemptuous, facial expressions of disdain for Paul Ryan, regardless of what was being said at the time.

It looks like the GOP has already created an ad capitalizing on this obnoxious, inappropriate, dismissive smirking and laughing. It may have pleased the partisan Democrats, but how will undecided, independent, voters react?:

9/11 Still Strong

On one hand, it might be a sign of the dwindling effects of 9/11 on me that when I saw my first flag at half-staff today I briefly wondered who had died.

On the other hand, as soon as I remembered the date I felt really bad and remembered the horror of that day.

So, at least for me, it’s still a very big deal. I’m not sure if it will ever not be one, for me.

According to John Mueller at the Cato Institute, apparently, many people not only still feel strongly about it, but they still feel terrorized.

In November 2001, about 35 percent of the public were very or somewhat worried that they or a family member would become a victim of terrorism. A decade later, 34 percent profess the same fear. And 75 percent consider another major attack in the near future to be very or somewhat likely, about the same as in early 2002.

I’m not one of those people, but I can understand that it still has a strong emotional pull that I’m sure affects people’s estimates of risk. It also affects their willingness to comply with stupid responses. As Mueller also notes:

Since the public remains terrorized, it seems likely to continue uncritically to support extravagant counterterrorism expenditures, including incessant security checks, civil-liberties intrusions, expanded police powers, harassment at airports, and militarized forays overseas if they can convincingly be associated with the quest to stamp out terrorism.

That’s another tragedy.

The Paul Ryan Pick

So, Mitt Romney announced yesterday that his pick for a vice-presidential running mate is Paul Ryan. I have a few thoughts on this.

One thing that this tells me is that the libertarian wing of the Republican party has had more than a token influence on the Romney campaign. Romney must have been worried that his support among Tea Party (and Ron Paul) supporters would have been too weak to help him win unless he convinced them that he was serious about dealing with entitlements, spending, taxes, and the debt with a move of this magnitude.

It also tells me something about Romney. I’ve been concerned that he was only for small-government by Massachusetts standards, and that his actions might betray the positive-sounding rhetoric as soon as it seemed politically advantageous. But, this choice seems like a bold and clear signal that he intends to follow-through on that rhetoric.

But, what really encourages me about this pick is that it seems to indicate that this campaign will be an ideological one. Rather than just promoting themselves as “Not Obama” and running against the sluggish economy with vague appeals for change, the Republicans will actually make the case for smaller government. I haven’t seen a major candidate make that kind of choice since Ronald Reagan. And, while I don’t really know that much about Romney, he does seem to be sharp, decent, and a good communicator. Likewise for Paul Ryan, who (while his actual voting record leaves a lot to be desired), he’s very sharp and will be able to speak about the issues both philosophically and at the level of nitty-gritty policy details. So these are good candidates to make the case. Neither of these guys will be thrown off by ridiculous attacks and false claims. They’ll be able to call “Bullshit!” on bullshit (diplomatically, of course). Even if the media will be biased against them, in this age of YouTube and Facebook I’m sure that creative people will spread great videos with their responses in very short order, making the truth starkly apparent. It will not be as easy to get away with conventional tactics this time. People who are interested, or who have friends who are, will have access to both sides of the argument.

I’m not sure that this ideological debate will win the Republicans the election (and I’m not even positive that I expect their victory to be better than gridlocked, divided government). But, real progress won’t happen until most voters are convinced that a smaller government is better than a bigger one that promises them lots of goodies. I hope that this campaign will be a step towards that day.

I’ll still probably vote for Gary Johnson, but the campaign just got a lot more interesting to me.

The Un-American American President

Many people are discussing the Obama speech in Roanoke, Virginia where he made some comments (channeling Elizabeth Warren) intended to justify taxing the rich more. Here’s the excerpt:

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. That’s how we funded the GI Bill. That’s how we created the middle class. That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam. That’s how we invented the Internet. That’s how we sent a man to the moon. We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for President — because I still believe in that idea. You’re not on your own, we’re in this together.

This kind of argument might play well in a dorm-room bull-session of a left-wing college, or in a highly partisan Democrat crowd, but I don’t think it will resonate well with the median American voter (it didn’t take long for this site to appear). First of all, it’s flawed on its face. Here’s a classic refutation of the basic argument. Here’s an excerpt:

Did you know that your dog owns your house, or rather some portion of it? If this is not immediately obvious to you, you will find it helpful to consider some aspects of the ethics and economics of redistribution.

Your dog is alert, plucky and a fearsome guardian of your property. For all we know, without his services, you would have been burgled over and over again. Your belongings would be depleted and the utility you derived from your home would be much reduced. The difference between the actual value of your home and its unguarded value is the contribution of your dog, and so is the difference between the respective utilities or satisfactions you derive from it. We do not know the exact figure, but the main thing is that there is one.

All contributions of others to the building of your house have been paid for at each link in the chain of production. All current contributions to its maintenance and security are likewise being paid for. Value has been and is being given for value received, even though the “value” is not always money and goods, but may sometimes be affection, loyalty or the discharge of duty. In the exchange relation, a giver is also a recipient, and of course vice versa.

For in a voluntary exchange, once each side has delivered and received the agreed contribution, the parties are quits. Seeking to credit and debit them for putative outstanding claims is double counting.

But, worse than the bad logic, I think, is the bad philosophy that I believe misunderstands American values, and the American sense of individual responsibility and desert.

Most Americans admire entrepreneurs and think they deserve the fruits of their efforts. They recognize that most of the rich create wealth primarily because of their own vision, creativity, talent and effort. Entrepreneurs take risks that most of us are unwilling to take, and when they succeed it’s because they have figured out how to marshal ideas and resources in a way to efficiently deliver goods and services to people that the people consider more valuable than the prices that they pay. The entrepreneurs have added value to society. They don’t owe anything “back” to others.

Obama is demagoging against the rich, because he thinks that most Americans (or enough to help him win the election) resent people who are successful in the economy. But, and I might be wrong about this, I don’t think very many share that crab mentality. Most of us admire honest success.

Of course people don’t do everything on their own! But the people who have provided help to them have already been compensated along the way. The business owners have paid (or have been eligible) for state (and other) services and so the state does not have a blank check on earned wealth. If you want to make an argument that the wealthy should pay even more than they already do (in 2008, the top 5% earned 31.7% of the nation’s adjusted gross income, but paid approximately 58.7% of federal individual income taxes), then make one.

But, it’s a mistake to imply that the fact that some of the resources that success depends upon have been provided by the state means that the state really has the first claim on all wealth; and we should be happy with whatever scraps the state allows us to keep.

That’s the kind of thing that strikes me as un-American, and I expect that effective replaying of this speech in campaign ads will strike most American voters that way, too.

UPDATE: This post seems to corroborate my intuition about what Americans think (and that Americans think this way more than most other people).

Shipping Jobs Overseas

Why is “Shipping jobs overseas” such a damning indictment? It’s one
that’s already been thrown around a lot in this campaign, and I fear
we’ll be hearing it again and again.

If more can be produced using fewer resources, even if it involves
eliminating some jobs that were formerly needed, by improving
automation, say, most people agree that the economic situation has
improved. It means that more wealth can be produced, and that inevitably leads to more economic activity, which will lead to new and better employment opportunities. Similar efficiencies can sometimes be gained by “outsourcing” work to places where labor is cheaper.

Why is it better to “ship jobs” to Automationland than
it is to another real country, benefiting other real people?

I think people who decry “Shipping jobs overseas” are appealing to
people’s primitive tribal instincts that reflexively fear outsiders and
misinterpret their gains from trade as our losses.

It’s pretty despicable.


I thought the first two seasons of Heroes were pretty good, but that’s not what this post is about.

I was thinking about the recent kerfuffle over the Chris Hayes comments over the weekend before Memorial Day suggesting that perhaps we shouldn’t call every fallen soldier a “hero”. The controversial bit of what Hayes said was:

It is very difficult to talk about the war dead and the fallen without invoking valor, without invoking the word hero. Why do I feel so uncomfortable about the word hero? I feel uncomfortable with the word hero because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. And I obviously don’t want to desecrate or disrespect the memory of anyone that has fallen. Obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is tremendous heroism. You know, hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers, things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that’s problematic, but maybe I’m wrong about that.

Lots of people went nuts and offered truly offensive knee-jerk condemnations of this.

Basically, I agree with Conor Friedersdorf in this article that Hayes’ comments were reasonable and respectful, in context, and that the critics were way out of line.

But, is it true or false that every fallen soldier is a hero? And, either way, is it good for us to call them heroes?

Well, if we use the definition of “One who shows great courage” then, while some fallen soldiers died in an extraordinarily courageous act, it’s difficult to understand how all those who happened to die were more courageous than those who didn’t. At what point did he become a hero? Was it just as he was impaled by some shrapnel? How did that show great courage? Perhaps volunteering to serve, knowing that your life is at risk, is courageous, but then it’s all military men and women who are heroes, not just those unlucky enough to have died.

Another definition is “One who is admired for achievements and noble qualities.” I suppose if people agree to admire fallen soldiers more than survivors then this could make them this sort of heroes. But, again, why?

I can understand feeling very sorry for the tragic loss of life, and for the hardship put on the friends and families of fallen soldiers, but that seems like a categorical difference from them having done something admirable (beyond volunteering).

It seems to me that this need to call fallen soldiers “heroes” is a cultural phenomenon that has evolved to support military service. It helps friends and families to hear their lost loved-ones called “hero”, and people transfer these warm feelings (both given and received) into further support of the military. Also, knowing that if you die you’ll be remembered as a “hero” must make it a little bit easier to volunteer and risk your life.

But, is this a good thing?

If you’re confident that your country’s military, while not necessarily perfect, is going to remain an institution that does much more good than harm, and that losses will be for worthy causes then I can see why people might feel good about supporting the institution, irrespective of the wisdom of the latest mission(s), in this and other ways.

But, it gives me the uncomfortable feeling of being similar to radical Islamists convincing their suicide bombers that they will be hailed as heroic martyrs, their families will be honored and helped, and they will receive rewards in the afterlife. This might help with recruitment, but it’s not necessarily noble if the cause isn’t necessarily noble.

So, I think I share Hayes’ concern that reflexively calling the fallen “heroes” might encourage people to support future military missions even if they are not worthy of support on the merits.

I do honor the courageous people who risk everything in worthy causes, and I feel very sad about the dead and injured and their families. But, I also value good judgment and valid criticism, and I’m afraid that the tradition of being lavish with honorifics for the dead serves to inhibit these things. We can honor the dead by allowing them to remind us how important it is to avoid foolishly increasing their numbers.

Let’s do that.

What Did Obama Change His Mind About?

I suppose I should be pleased that Obama expressed his personal approval of same-sex marriage. It is significant that a sitting president has made such a declaration for the first time, and this has a lot of symbolic value for many people.

I don’t think this announcement has any great actual policy implications, since he had already decided not to defend the “Defense of Marriage Act” in court, and wants to leave banning or approving of same-sex marriage up to the states (as was the case before his announcement). People say that his statement has made the support of same-sex marriage “mainstream.” But, it was already supported by most Americans, and by a strong majority of young Americans.

But, I’m wondering how many people take the president at his word that his thinking on this issue has evolved and he only recently changed his mind about whether he approves of same-sex marriage. Did he really personally oppose the idea of same-sex couples getting married because he thought it was bad policy (for the country, not just his personal political prospects), and only recently come to decide that it would be good policy? Was he really so illiberal until a few days or weeks ago? Or, much more likely in my opinion, did he change his judgment about how support would affect his reelection prospects?

Obama publicly supported same-sex marriage when he ran for the Illinois Senate in 1996, and then opposed it publicly when he ran for the US Senate in 2004 and for President in 2008. Now, he supports it again.

It seems to me that the best theory is that he (and his campaign team) recently decided that he would personally benefit if he stopped lying about this particular issue at this particular time. That’s not very noble or inspiring.

I don’t see why this announcement should encourage anyone that he’s likely to do the right thing on any issue until he thinks such action will help him personally.

If you want to support a presidential candidate who is more likely to do the right things, support Gary Johnson.

Decisions, Decisions

I’m in the happy situation of being close to finishing two great books. And, I have to decide which of them to continue with next.

One of them is Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined which I am enjoying immensely. It’s fascinating, enlightening, and even funny on occasion. Anyone who wants a better understanding of the world, and the best theories about why important trends are happening, should definitely check it out.

The other is Neal Stephenson’s Reamde, which is also fascinating, somewhat enlightening, and in some ways more fun and exciting; but, very differently. Anyone who likes Stephenson’s books, and may have thought some of them were too slow and devoid of action, should definitely check it out.

Actually, all smart people should read them both.

Before anyone else calls me one, I’ve already considered the similarity of my situation to that of Buridan’s Ass.

It’s not very common for me to read books in parallel. I think it’s happening now because they are in different media formats, and I make progress on them under different circumstances. The Pinker book is on my Kindle, and I’m listening to the audible.com version of Reamde.

I only wish all of my problems were as pleasant.