December 07, 2013

Charles Pierce takes a swim in the Obamiac wading pool

I like a lot of Charles Pierce's political writing. I like some of it a lot. (And, I like some of his sports writing a lot, too.)

His Morning Dooley and Evening Jemmy on his Esquire politics blog are fun stuff. His calling Politico "Tiger Beat on the Potomac" is hilarious, and he has an eye for the turn of phrase like that in both politics and sports. He can be a good, even scathing, critic of inside-the-Beltway mindsets, of politics as chess match, and more.

And yet, despite his affection (a bit overdone, in my book) for the Occupy movement, and other things, at times, there's something missing. And, that "something," appears to be a lack of critical thinking. Not that he can't do it, but, on occasion, he fails to do so.

Hence, the title of this post, based on my take on his blog about President Obama's income inequality speech. I don't see it as much more than White House boilerplate, but he gushes, including claiming it's so great precisely because D.C. Village media ignore it.

Let's take the last point first, to quickly dismiss it. The Village also ignores the Green Party, and even more various Socialist parties, but I didn't see you talking up Jill Stein in 2012 just because the Village ignored the Greens' presidential candidate.

But, let's get to the meat of my plaint, and why I see Pierce swimming in the Obamiacs' kiddie pool. (At least he didn't go in the adult area, at least not yet.) And, to do that, I direct you to the actual speech.

Nowhere in the speech does he say what he's going to do about about income inequality. And, nowhere in his blog post does Pierce mention that highly salient fact.

This is even as Obama pushes the Trans-Pacific Partnership.This is even as Obama is arguably as much a full-blown free trader as the Slickster and Shrub combined. And, that's Pierce's biggest failure on the piece.

Past issues that he's mentioned from previous eras in American history? 

Education: Obama fails to mention that he and many other neoliberals are OK with a big-business model of higher education that will likely only increase its cost for many Americans.

Unionism: Obama, like presidents both Republican and Democratic from Carter on, have done little to bolster private-sector unionization. Republicans have, as on many of these issues, been worse, but Democrats have generally been part of the problem, too.

Social Security: Obama and other neolibs want to raise the retirement age, use chained-CPI to reduce benefits hikes and more. So does the Catfood Commission Obama formed. So does the Center for American Progress Obama lauded at the start of his speech.

As for bits Obama does seem to propose? First, they're vague generalities, and second, most probably won't help.

Simplify the tax code: I saw nothing about making it more progressive. Ending any tax credits or exemptions that help corporations send jobs overseas is nice, but a drop in the bucket.

"A trade agenda that grows jobs": But, what jobs at what pay? We already have a trade agenda growing jobs at places like Amazon warehouses. If it does grow jobs at longshoreman-organized ports, Team Obama has been AWOL on supporting strikes by the various longshoremen's unions.

"Streamlining regulations": First, this is the stock neoliberal answer to "waste, fraud and abuse." Yes, there are government regulations that can be streamlined, but, by and large, this is a straw man.

"A responsible budget": What the hell? You don't get vaguer than that. Well, actually, the Catfood Commission IS less vague, and a true liberal doesn't want that, do they, Mr. Jemmy Pierce?

Jobs stuff: ENDA and the Paycheck Non-Discrimination Act are "nice." But, they're more special interest civil liberties shout-outs to LGBT and women than they are about labor issues in general.

Minimum wage: Real stuff. But, why didn't Congressional Dems, including you, then-Sen. Obama, hike it even more than you actually did, in 2007? Why didn't you index its future growth to inflation? Will you do that now? Give the minimum wage a COLA?

"Promise Zones": Yes, my skepticism in politics sometimes veers close to cynicism, but this sure sounds like a neolib version of enterprise zones. 

In short, typical neoliberalism. No grand vision, no great new ideas. Just market-based nibbling around the edges. I mean, Pierce even admits that about the start of the speech. For some reason, though, he seems to think there's something drastically new about the second two-thirds, and there just ain't.

Now, on to a couple of other issues with Mr. Pierce, in which I may get a bit more snarky yet. Head below the fold.

December 06, 2013

Chris Hedges' selective view of protesters

I like Chris Hedges a fair amount, including his honesty about how war reporting can get addicting.

I like that he doesn't like Gnu Atheists.

But, I don't like that he doesn't like atheists in general because of Gnu Atheists. And, I don't like that he can occasionally pontificate in general.

The latest specific example is here, with a piece about a Canadian family sitting on top of a pool of oil and trying to do some monkey wrenching. Actually, a whole lot of monkey wrenching.

I have several problems with his quasi-hero worship piece on the Ludwigs.

First of all, that's what it is. It's not a very critical piece, in the proper sense of that word. That said, he does note the Ludwig family eventually rejected violence they had employed for a while. But, he lauds the rejection of violence in a Christian-specific context.

That leads to the biggest problem — this:
"I do not share Ludwig’s Christian fundamentalism—his community was a rigid patriarchy—but I do share his belief that when human law comes into conflict with God’s law, human law must be defied."
Really, Chris?

I know you lump all atheists together, even though we're not the same, but your blindness is huge in this area. Per your statement, right-to-lifers are OK with all their harassment outside abortion clinics, etc. And, before you say, "but that's violent," a right-to-lifer can cite a "higher law" and say, that's why he or she is defying human law. As for the violence? Such a person could say the real violence is an abortion, and, even if they're violent, it's still a lesser violence. Or claim that anybody who is acting on god's law isn't actually being violent, no matter what the actual action is.

And, that leads to a related issue. Not everybody who is religious believes in the same god as Hedges does, and this is a Mack Truck-sized loophole.

Second is a possible bit of hypocrisy.

A lot of environmentalists (I'm one, but not part of this subgroup) talk about how good it is that, in almost everywhere in the world but the US, governments, not private individuals, own mineral rights, saying that the state is less likely to be exploitative than private business.

Until that argument gets undercut. As it does here.

I favor government ownership of mineral rights. But, Chris, you can't be selective about it. It's either right all the time or its wrong all the time. You think Canada's bad? Don't forget Russia, with its massive oil reserves, or China, with its upward estimate on shale gas reserves.

Third, on the violence and sabotage parts (pre-shooting of people) what's right about this and wrong about Black Bloc type stuff, Chris? (I'm not a personal fan of OWS, or of much of the Adbusters/Anonymous antics related to it, but again, it's a matter of logical consistency.)

Finally, I think some of this feeds into Hedges' seeing himself as a modern liberal Protestant Jeremiah. And, per my semi-snark, semi-straight comparison of him to P.Z. Myers, that's a real issue in and of itself.

Overall, the more I read of Hedges, the less I like him, or at least, his voice. Put more charitably, a little Hedges goes a long ways.

CPRIT exec indicted — now #WendyDavis has a non- #abortion campaign issue

Here's your nut graf, all nice and neat:
A Travis County grand jury has indicted Jerald “Jerry” Cobbs, an executive at the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas who was involved in the awarding of an $11 million grant to a Dallas company without the required scientific and business reviews.
I have said all along, that to reach out to moderate Republican and independent suburbanite voters, in her battle against Greg Abbott, that Wendy Davis needs more issues than one or two hot-button Democratic social issues, because a lot of those suburbanites are at best, indifferent to the pro-choice issue and in many cases, beyond that, are pro-life.

Well, there's the issue.

Point blank. Greg Abbott as AG has repeatedly given CPRIT clean bills of economic and auditing health. This is a good governance issue that, with scandal as part of it, resonates with voters.

But, she needs to jump on this.

There's another. P Diddie has mentioned recently how many gas pumps in greater Houston are inaccurate — as many as one-third. That's Ag Commissioner Todd Staples' baby, and don't forget, he's one of the Three Blind Mice that wants to overthrow Dudley Dewless as Lite Guv. Add in that, if the pump inspection issue is anything more than just lackadaisical work standards at the Ag Department, it's Abbott's job to investigate.

But, again, Davis needs to jump on this.

And, all Dem candidates for statewide office need to be singing from this same play book. (Well, John Cornyn challengers will have a different one, as his is a federal office.)

But, again ... every Dem running for a statewide office needs to speak. Now.

Even more, any Greens announced for, or planning, statewide runs.

Nelson Mandela — the good, and the flawed, and not "too soon"

And, yes, he had a lot of good. Ending apartheid. The truth and reconciliation idea. And more.

But, he had plenty of flaws. No, I'm not talking about personal pecadillos. I'm not talking about former wife, Winnie, either; her flaws are her own.

I'm talking about how he largely bought into the ideas, and the demands, of Western neoliberal economics. His "slouching toward Davos," if you want to put it bluntly, as this piece does.
One of his worst U-turns was to embrace the owners of the mines, who had quite literally treated the indigenous population as slaves. In 1994, Mandela went so far as to submit the African National Congress’ economic programme to Harry Oppenheimer for his approval.  Oppenheimer had been the chairman of De Beers and Anglo-American, two mining firms that had provided crucial economic support for apartheid.  

I have no doubt that Mandela was put under enormous pressure by the world’s leading politicians and businessmen to behave in the way they wanted.  By his own admission, the ripping up of the commitment to nationalise South Africa’s mines was the result of his trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.  Almost certainly, South Africa was threatened with losing investors if Mandela went about putting the Freedom Charter into effect. 
Representatives of the European Union effectively mugged his people.  
As president, Mandela oversaw the conclusion of a “free trade agreement” with the EU. It was grotesquely unjust.  South Africa was required to remove taxes levied on 81% of food and other agricultural goods from the Union.  As most of these goods benefit from generous subsidies, there was no way that South African farmers could be expected to compete with them.
Some people might wonder: "What choice did he have?"

I'd say, a fair amount. Diamonds, and gold, re the mines and miners, are lusted-after commodities by the rich, and South Africa has enough of a share of world production of both to affect prices.

And, if he was going to sign off on not nationalizing the mines, he should have made that part of getting a much better free trade deal with the EU than he actually did.

Other people, such as one Facebook friend, trot out the "too soon" argument. They may acknowledge his flaws, but say it's too soon to point them out.

Wrong. Not pointing them out at the time is how people become two-dimensional cutouts.

Look at Steve Jobs. Obits were too ready to paint him as an iGuru, and too ready to overlook Apple's Chinese factories (which he did later than competitors, to be honest), and even more too ready to overlook that he was marketing genius first, creative genius second.

Or, the Gnu Atheists ready to make a deathbed secular saint out of Chris Hitchens while overlooking his neoconservative Islamophobia.

People who say "too soon" need to look at American history. While Lincoln, it is true, was immediately canonized, George Washington was NOT at his death. Many Democratic-Republican newspapers had no problem criticizing him as soon as they heard he was dead.
There needs to be balance, of course. And, the piece above notes all of Mandela's good as well as all of his flawed. And, with that, let's end with the last part of the linked piece:
Perhaps the most fitting tribute to Mandela is to rekindle the ideals of the Freedom Charter.
Triumphing over inequality requires constant dedication; unforgivably, some of his comrades in the ANC forgot this message as soon as their fortunes grew.
The struggle did not end when Mandela was released from prison.  It cannot end with his death.  In one form or another, it must continue.  And it will.
Let's hope that future South African leaders find a way to undo some of Mandela's concessions to neoliberalism. Let's also hope that the West helps them do so, before China jumps in.

Speaking of, Mandela's not on the same sainthood platform in South Africa as in the West. He's not denigrated, but the issues I mentioned above are seen clearly, "accepted" in the sense of acknowledging that they are a significant part of his post-apartheid legacy, while often not "accepted" in terms  of not being found acceptable.

The fact that many Westerners might want to say "too soon" about a three-dimensional obit probably says more about what many Westerners wish South Africa were, what they're trying to see it as being, than it says about anything else.

Well, native South Africans are the ones living on the ground with Mandela's legacy — all of it, not just parts of it that look the most shiny and bright.

And, that's another reason this isn't "too soon." Per the writer of this piece, Mandela did not live in a vacuum.

December 05, 2013

Pauken OUT of Texas GOP gov's race

Well, barring a last-minute entry, it looks like Greg Abbott has a free ride to the Republican nomination for the Texas governor's race. Challenger Tom Pauken is bowing out.

From a letter to supporters:
Thanksgiving week ... gave me the opportunity to reflect on where we were in the campaign and what we should do, going forward. Filing deadline is only days away, and I have to be realistic about our prospects. When I first filed our exploratory committee in March, I said at the time that there were certain, minimum objectives we needed to achieve to win the Republican nomination: (1) We had to raise a minimum of $2 million; (2) We had to build a strong, statewide organization; (3) We had to develop a major social media presence in a short period of time.

Even though I have worked hard to get our message out across the state the past six months, unfortunately we are nowhere near where we need to be financially and organizationally to win this race. And, the primary is only three months away. I can no longer in good conscience ask friends and fellow conservatives to continue to help me when there appears to be no realistic path to victory. Greg Abbott has a $25 million war chest and the media depicts this as a Greg Abbott v. Wendy Davis race.
Oh, technically, Abbott still has three challengers, but, they're even lower on the radar screen than Pauken. As for Pauken's complaint that his message wasn't sticking, he had numerous chances to refine that message to appeal to the far right better than he did. The real issue is that Pauken just isn't a good electoral candidate politician.

Speaking of Abbott v. Davis, I'm sure a Green candidate will pop up. Libertarians have three. That said, whether Abbott having more of a free pass helps or hurts him or Davis remains to be seen.

#Libertarians: For the rule of law — except when NOT!

That "not" is well-illustrated at this piece by Wired, about a person arrested for allegedly stealing electricity from a local school by plugging in his electric vehicle without permission.

Wired, semi-libertarian, but not full-on, hard-on libertarian (pu n intended, I'm sure some libtards get wet dreams, especially Randian ones, who may even self-stimulate while reading "Atlas Shrugged") starts things off with a "framing" headline that makes it look like smaller theft amounts are OK.

No, they're not. That's why we have, though, different criminality levels for different levels of theft, with "penny-ante" stuff being a misdemeanor. Misdemeanors are still crimes, though.

The real fun is in the comments, though.

It's just the pikers who say 5 cents (which we don't know, could have been more) isn't theft.

The real fun is with the hard-on libtards saying various versions of, "It's the gummint, dammit. So this guy is just getting his tax money back."

Guys like CowboyDroid (who's a real nutbar, per his Disqus profile):
If he's paying taxes, he's paying for that school's electricity. So maybe he's just getting his money back.
And, that's one of his less loopy statements. (He later claimed this is NOT a denial that a theft took place. Sorry, buddy, but it walks, talks and quacks like a duck.)

Here's another:
Sociopaths, the lot of them. Sociopaths are drawn to power and bossing others around. And even people who aren't particularly sociopathic tend to become so after serving in the system.
Yep. Being part of a "social compact" (remember that, libertarians who like to appeal to Jefferson or Locke?) doesn't include paying for public goods.

My response to some of his stuff:
Well, that didn't take long. I suspect more libertarian-type comments are coming up on this thread. The "harm" is stealing from the public commons. Maybe your house catches fire, and I tell the fire department, "Excuse me, my lawn is dry, and I paid taxes for you. The guy with the house on fire understands."

"Sociopath" could apply to antisocial libertarians, ready to "chisel" whenever they can. And I'm out of here. I'm sure your mind isn't open to other new thoughts, anyway.
And, it's not.

Here's Droid again:
There is no such thing as "the public commons." Only individuals can own property.
And, his bottom line, which sounds Randian indeed:
“A theft is a theft.”

If that is the case, let's place all tax collectors under arrest for forcibly taking money that they haven't earned.
Yep, the gummint is the ultimate thief. At which point, another commenter told him to move to Somalia if he didn't want to pay taxes. (Actually, he's beyond Rand. He quotes Mark Skousen elsewhere.)

He's not alone, though.

Other commenters there, of the NRA Second Amendment absolutist type, accuse the cop in the case of being a thug, of conducting a shakedown, of lying, and more.

Cops can be all that. So can Randian libertarians.

And, speaking of cops, the alleged perpetrator had a previous police warning that he wasn't allowed there, at that school. Given that, the theft charge is certainly warranted. Imagine a C-store passing out a trespassing warning to a suspected shoplifter, then said person comes back and gets caught red-handed, even if only with a pack of gum.

Meanwhile, per HuffPost, it sounds like the alleged perp, Kaveh Kamooneh, is a libertarian-type chiselier, like I accused Droid of being:
"I agree that 'theft is theft,'" Kamooneh said. "I don't agree that every taking without consent is theft." He argued that people aren't arrested or prosecuted in Chamblee for drinking water from a spigot, or even charging laptops or cell phones in public places.
He even uses the same arguments that the libtards use on Wired.

Also, given that it's folks like you who pushed for whacking education budgets in many states during the Great Recession, it's doubly onerous for folks like you to be stealing from a public school.

Unfortunately, a selective sampling of news stories hasn't led me to find out WHY he got the previous police warning.

Meanwhile, as for libertarians who say, "We're not like that"? Fine. You have to deal with it the same way liberal Methodists deal with Pat Robertson and Ted Cruz, or the way Sufi mystics deal with al-Qaeda.

Back to commenters of the likes of Droid, though.

It's people like this that lead science websites to end allowing online comments, or smart newspapers like the Sacramento Bee to treat online comments like letters to the editor, which must be verified by real name, address and phone number.

It's also why libertarian economists of the likes of Tyler Cowan are right about how a connected world  has not been a massive new industrial revolution and never will add that much to our economy, while at the same time being massively wrong about how we just need to, more than ever, get the gummint out of the business of doing much of anything, and our economy will explode.

Oh, it might, for the short term. Full-on libertarianism can create its own low-hanging fruit. See Boris Yeltsin's Russia.

Texas Greens get statewide candidate

And, it's not even for a court position.

Rather, per P. Diddie, Kenneth Kendrick, who years ago was warning about contamination at Texas and New Mexico peanut processing plants, is running for ag commissioner.

Details, from his campaign announcement:
Kenneth Kendrick, whose warnings went unheeded about the potential for contamination at peanut processing plants in Plainview, TX, and Portales, NM, has filed papers to become the Texas Green Party candidate for Agriculture Commissioner for the Lone Star State.
Kendrick once worked for the now-defunct Peanut Corporation of America, which ran a peanut processing plant at Plainview, and, on occasion, purchased peanuts from Sunland, about 100 miles west in Portales.

PCA went bankrupt after the 2008-2009 nationwide Salmonella outbreak killed nine people and sickened about 700. Four of its top executives are scheduled to go to trial early next year on a total of 76 federal felony counts related to the outbreak.

Sunland filed for bankruptcy more recently following a separate 2012 outbreak traced back to peanut butters it made. Some say it’s possible that, if Kendrick’s information had been more thoroughly investigated, both outbreaks might have been avoided.
Great, great, great. A real choice who will not only speak to small farmers and ranchers, but directly challenge Big Ag corporatism, which I doubt either Republican or Democratic candidates will do.

December 04, 2013

Faux News, wingnuts leads "push-back" on #LeagueOfDenial; #NFL take?

There's yet another news story out today that claims that Dr. Ann McKee and colleagues at Boston University have drastically overstated the degree to which playing in the National Football League can cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Funny thing? The first news story came out a month ago.

At Fox.

From a writer, Daniel J. Flynn, who had just written a book called "The War on Football: Saving America's Game." A book published by conservative press heavyweight Regnery. An author who has published books like "Why the Left Hates America," per his Amazon page.

Let me just do some pull quotes from the Fox News story that appears to be behind the "pushback" against Boston University and its CTE research.

First is this, laughable coming from Fox:
Cherry-picking data, mistaking speculation for science, and inventing studies out of thin air make us ignorant rather than enlightened.
Like you do with about everything there? Among that cherry-picking is taking a NIOSH study that compares **high school** football players with other high-schoolers for later-life possible neurological problems.

Here's another:
Accustomed to baseless claims becoming conventional wisdom, football’s complainer-chorus has begun condemning all of its players to a scrambled-brain existence.
Flynn's book, with the title "The War on Football," says it all in the title.

I'm surprised that Flynn doesn't call Dr. Ann McKee a communist and say that this is some secret Obama plot to kidnap American football and sell it to Muslims in Kenya. That's about how bad it is. Like any good stuff for the wingnuts, the book, and excerpts and reports at places like Fox News, cherry-pick statistics, send out dogwhistles (like the hint that "America's game" faces a librul "War on Christmas" type assault, led by trial lawyers wanting to sue, sue, sue) and more.

Beyond that, you know this is a desperation issue for a guy like Flynn if he's favorably citing a federal government study to try to score points, even with the massive misconstruing of it that he does.

Meanwhile, there's possible problems with the Randolph and Karantzoulis study cited by both Fox and CBS. The biggie is its time span: 1959-1988. The league was at just a 12-game season in 1959, with smaller rosters, and even more importantly, smaller and slower players without the same amount of steroids and other chemicals as today. I wonder what a study from, say 1974-1994 would have found?

Meanwhile, Deadspin has a solid piece on Flynn speaking about his book at a red-meat Tea Party event. Nuff said.

The biggest refutation of Flynn that an organization as hypercapitalistic as the NFL settled the lawsuit with former players.

It appears Flynn timed his book to come out at the same time, if not before, the book "League of Denial," and the PBS special. I wouldn't likely have seen this push-back had it only been on Faux. But, with CBS now doing some of the same uncritical reporting, we have an issue.

That said, tis true that the link between sports blows to the head and CTE is tenuous. But, McKee and others have had to bang the drum loudly because NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and his predecessor, Pete Tagliabue, deliberately blocked viable research on CTE, stacked an NFL research committee with medical doctors ready to bend to the NFL's desired outcome and more.

So, until Goodell specifically disavows this book, at least, as being over the top, I'll believe it's the same old NFL.

December 03, 2013

Ellsbury to Yankees; overpay? And other dominos?

Well, this is a biggie. ESPN's Jerry Crasnick is reporting that Jacoby Ellsbury, arguably the top free agent of the year after Robinson Cano, is headed to Cano's team, the New York Yankees.

As far as "other dominoes"? First, this likely means that they're out on both Carlos Beltran and Shin-Soo Choo. At least, I would think so, after having already signed Brian McCann.

Well, let's qualify that a bit. And, let's start that by going on to the next paragraph.

It also means that Cano's got a week or so to shit or get off the pot on his demands, doesn't it? I'd say that if Cano and Jay-Z and all don't come down off their ridiculous demands before the start of winter meetings, the Yankees will take a look again at Choo. Or, perhaps, get more serious again with Curtis Granderson.

That said, this would also seem to confirm that the Yankees are NOT the team that made a three-year offer to Beltran. Per an earlier blog post of mine, I'd guess that he'll soon be wearing the powder blue of the Royals.

Now, as for contract, we have this:
The source confirmed a CBSSports.com report that Ellsbury's deal exceeds Carl Crawford's seven-year, $142 million contract with the Boston Red Sox in December 2010.
That's some serious garbanzos. And, per CBS, it exceeds indeed, at $153M.

Or, another way to phrase it? It sure seems like an overpay. I predict he will not have a single year above 7.5 WAR, and only one above 7 WAR, for the length of the contract. I'll predict further he averages 4 WAR. That said, as a lefty, he'll benefit from the short porch in the Stadium.

Fangraphs agrees with my WAR analysis and the overpay.

That said, it's pricey, but it puts the Yankees in control with Cano.

Oh, and after 2014, when Alex Rodriguez is likely back in 2015 from whatever 2014 suspension he has, the Bombers will definitely be busting the lux tax unless they offer A-Rod a career buyout. I don't know how that would work in baseball, vs. the NFL cap-hit version of a buyout. Michael Eder agrees the Yankees likely won't get  under the lux-tax benchmark.

Flip side on Cano? Maybe he's not got A-Rod numbers, but his stats are better than Ells. If the Yankees won't pay $200M for his seven years, somebody might.

Carlos Beltran on the move? Mariners? Royals? Yankees?

ESPN's Buster Olney has reported that for-now Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran has a three-year, $48 million deal.

First, the contract.

There's been talk that teams are desperate for power hitters in a thin market. Giving Beltran that much per year, with a third year guaranteed, is proof positive.

Second, what team?

Olney speculates Mariners, though he doesn't appear to have any inside dope. The Cardinals should hope that it's the Yankees. Why? 

Seattle was one of the bottom ten teams in MLB in 2013; their compensatory draft pick would thus be a second-rounder, while the Yankees would owe a first-rounder.

I kind of doubt it's the M's, though. Why would they pay that much for Beltran after not making any commitment to Kendrys Morales beyond a perfunctory tender offer? I mean, Morales is six years younger, and has averages 125 OPS+ over the last four years, including having to come back from a gruesome broken leg.

Instead, maybe it's the Royals, who were whispered to be hot in pursuit last week. They, like the Yankees, would owe a first-round draft pick, not second round.

And, latest word via MLBTradeRumors says that's the deal.

That said, speaking of Yankees and Mariners, another rumor has the M's as a leader in the Robinson Cano hunt. I'll believe that one, too, when I hear more.

Back to Beltran, though.

Whatever team gave him this contract, I can't see him dawdling. Speculation until a week ago was that he'd be lucky to get anything beyond a straight two years, and that a third year would be a team option, or at best, a vesting option. So, if he's got three years guaranteed at this price, I'm sure he's not lingering.

And, on to the Royals. They returned to legitimacy this year, and adding Beltran to the mix will only increase that. Given that Cleveland's done bupkis in offseason moves of note and who knows what will happen with Tampa will do with David Price, and the Royals look very solid.

December 02, 2013

Climate change vs. climate justice, or John Rawls meets reality

Eric Posner is, yes, a conservative of sorts. Actually, he's more of a principled small-l libertarian than a conservative. But, he's an intelligent one and one not always easily dismissed, whatever label one would hang on him.

That's why his piece saying that, on global warming, we can have either a climate treaty or climate justice, is well worth reading. It's worth reading not just for the environmental and public policy issues, but the philosophy ones.

Yes, the philosophy ones.

It's a great illustration of how John Rawls' theories on justice were wrong get well illustrated by this "climate treaty" vs. "climate justice" issue. For a detailed dismantling of Rawls, read Walter Kaufmann's "Without Guilt and Justice," as reviewed by me here. (Kaufmann is a Nietzschean, but you don't have to be, to get a lot from this book. I'm not; indeed, I'm not that close to being one, and I did.)

Posner may overstate the case somewhat, but, to some degree, developing nations have surely benefited from Western industrialization. At the same time, if Posner wants to pull the "benefits" card, Western nations have benefited from pharmaceuticals derived without compensation from plants, even animals on occasion, in non-developed countries.

So, while his arguments rightly undermine Rawls, they also become a petard against himself.

But, on to the broader philosophical point. Because we're all individuals, setting aside issues of greed (and, yes, just as even the downtrodden can have "privilege," victims can be greedy), "justice" simply cannot be a universal, or even close to it. Despite his divergence from Plato in various ways, Aristotle missed this with his values theory of ethics. Rawls definitely missed it. In his case, I think he also, if indirectly, threw in the Golden Rule, which makes things only worse. The so-called Silver Rule, which says, "Do NOT do unto others what you do NOT want them to do to you," makes a much better ethical guide. That said, even a quick glance should tell us it's more individualistic in some ways than the Golden Rule. It's definitely more socially libertarian.

But, as the petard getting ready to hoist Posner shows, sometimes a person can counter "justice" claims from a point that actually is, in the bad sense, "privileged." And, usually get his head and hat handed back to him.

I mentioned uncompensated pharmaceuticals as one way of trumping him. I am sure there are others, but I want to go to another philosophical point.

Rawlsian theories of justice depend, at least in part, on a utilitarian-type point of view. Well, I have a number of problems with utilitarianism. The biggest problem with utilitarianism is that none of us are omniscient. We have no way of knowing how many people an action of ours will benefit. Plus, we really can't step into the "view from nowhere" enough to know if an action of ours is even a benefit as much as we think it is.

Heck, per this particular story, and the pseudo-Chinese proverb with the "could be good, could be bad," refrain, none of us knows what will really be of maximal utilitarian benefit to our own selves beyond the very short term. Let that thought sink in. If we don't know what would be of maximum utilitarian benefit to ourselves, in a situation involving another human being, let alone the psychological version of the Newtonian three-body problem, we probably don't know what the most "just" outcome for ourselves is.

In short, if Samuel Johnson was right to say that "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel," how close is justice?

And, related to that, this is why I identify myself as a skeptical left-liberal, including being skeptical about at least some left-liberal public policy prescriptions.

That said, I do want to touch on the public policy and international relations side of this particular issue. Head below the fold.

Donnie Baseball now Donnie Delusional over Cooperstown?

In talking about his MLB Hall of Fame candidacy, Don Mattingly says, in an interview with MLB.com:
"When I retired [after the 1995 season], I was 34," Mattingly told ESPN. "If I had kept playing another five years, I may have ended up with 3,000 hits and reached some other milestones and gotten in. I made the decision for my boys, because I wanted to be around.

"When you do that type of thing, you know what you're doing, you know you're not going to make the Hall of Fame. If I was worried about making the Hall of Fame, I wouldn't have retired."
Let's unpack the first graf, looking at Mattingly's history of injuries, etc.

Let's start on that with the same story:
Many believed that Mattingly was on the fast track to the Hall of Fame, but he was slowed by back injuries over the next six years. Mattingly won the AL MVP Award in 1985, batting .324 with 35 homers and 145 RBIs, and he also finished in the top five in the MVP Award voting in '84 and '86.

Mattingly edged teammate Dave Winfield in a memorable race for the the AL batting title in 1984 by hitting .343. But from 1990-95, Mattingly averaged fewer than 10 home runs and 64 RBIs per season, topping the .300 mark just once, in the strike-shortened 1994 season.
The piece then asks, rhetorically, what's the diff between him and Kirby Puckett? And, that's actually a good rhetorical because Puckett is at No. 4 in the list of similarity scores on Baseball-Reference, while Mattingly is No. 1 on his list of similarity score players.

First, though, let's just look at Mattingly alone.

His main claim? No way he reaches 3,000 hits in just five more seasons. If we average his last three, and get roughly 130 hits per season, looking ahead, that's seven years, not five.

Next, take his OPS. Let's say the .754 of his last season is what remains in play, if that, over the course of those seven years. Or just look at the second graf from the pull quote. Nobody's going to give a big contract to a 36-year-old first baseman with 10 HRs, 65 RBIs, and a .750 OPS. What if it declined further?

You get the picture. Mattingly wouldn't have stuck seven years for 3,000 hits. He probably wouldn't have stuck five. Maybe not three, in which case, he doesn't even hit 2,500 hits.

As for his fielding? He was, even in later years, a decent first baseman. But, nothing more. His career total on fielding runs is just a +33.

As for the Puckett issue? Kirby had 8 more career WAA and 12 more career WAR. Black and gray ink over more years. (Mattingly had a short, as well as early, peak, back injuries aside.) And, Puckett had a higher added win value.

Might Mattingly have made it to the Hall, bad back and all, with more playing time? He might, but it's nowhere near guaranteed.

JFK: First #neoliberal? First #neocon?

People who don't wear the blinders, or rose-colored glasses of Camelot know that Jack Kennedy wasn't all that liberal. That said, Ira Stoll's "JFK, Conservative" may overstate the case a bit.

But, what if there's threads, albeit tenuous, tying Jack Kennedy to the later rise of neoliberalism? (A rise that doesn't start with Bill Clinton; Jimmy Carter is arguably the first neoliberal president.) 

I think that any further civil rights initiatives Kennedy might have pushed for, had he not been shot, would have been more market-oriented than LBJ's. Certainly, from what we know of his version of Medicare, that's true there.

As for the realities for Camelot, I suggest JFK adorers start with Robert Dallek's new book, "Camelot's Court."

Or, maybe due to the mix of being a Cold Warrior and a nation-builder in his foreign policy, we should instead wonder if Jack was the first neoconservative, or at least the first non-Jewish one.

December 01, 2013

Social justice warriors, ie, the #SJW, also can lie — and do, apparently

Which of these two receipts is the authentic one?
Screen capture via NBC4/New York
I've said more than once that being an atheist is no guarantor of moral superiority, or of intellectual superiority or critical thinking skills.

I apply this especially to the so-called Gnu Atheists, the more stridenly evangelistic atheists, or, if you will, the more fundamentalist atheists.

Well, this may apply also to the younger-age subset/offshoot of Gnu Atheism, the Atheism Plus movement. Per the header, this offshoot has identified itself with being activist on social justice issues, activist to the point of saying that live (as well as dead) white males, especially heterosexual ones, too often speak from a "privilege" point of view.

Well, Gnu Atheists and Atheism Plusers have not been the only one decrying conservative Christians stiffing restaurant wait staff of tips because they were gay, looked gay or whatever. But, they've been in the forefront of this.

So, couldn't a wait staff person just be human enough to be tempted to fake getting stiffed on a tip?

I say yes, and, I say, as a New Jersey restaurant incident reaches a new brouhaha, one wait staff person was just that human — or, more bluntly, apparently just that dishonest.

Would it be that hard to do this? I don't think so, if you'll follow me in looking at the dueling receipts.

I believe it's common for merchants to keep a copy of the pre-tip credit card receipt. It would then be easy for the server to write a message on it. Think about it. Does any restaurant you go to print out a second receipt, with the tip printed out in computer font, after you write in the tip amount and total in pen, and sign? No restaurant I have been at does that. So, it would be easy for Dayna Morales, or an accomplice, to alter the original merchant's copy.

Second, the writing. A signature is pretty short, and thus comparisons between it and the note written on the merchant's copy aren't a good comparison. But, at least, I'd say that's not an exact match.

And, on second look, the double 5s on the 93.55 on the merchant copy look like they're from a  different hand than the 111.55 on the customer copy.

I've no idea if, in advance, Ms. Morales knew she would get as much monetary sympathy as she did. But, she's apparently getting a few dinero. She says she's donated part of it to the Wounded Warrior Project, but doesn't say what the total is, and what percentage she's donating.

In any case, the mainstream media is catching up with this line of thought. The New York Daily News is reporting Morales may have forged the receipt

More yet on a third link. The wife is saying she couldn't have made the slash in the waitress' receipt version because she's left-handed, among other things. If so, that would explain the different top bars on the 5s.

And, here's the clincher. Morales is apparently a serial fraud, who lied about serving in Afghanistan, having cancer, or suffering Superstorm Sandy property damage. More details at the original newspaper story link. (Please, folks, don't boycott the restaurant because of Morales.)

Meanwhile, here's the family's statement, from the first link:
The husband said he and his wife have both worked in restaurants and believe in the value of tipping, and noted that he didn't vote for Gov. Chris Christie because the governor doesn't support gay marriage.
As for why a family that says it doesn't care for for gay issues would want to make an issue about it? It's simple. It's about honesty and integrity, not just as individuals, but as a representation of what they hold forth as their Christian values. Atheists in general, and social justice warriors of various types, don't win points by supporting a possible fraud.

That said, this isn't the only recent example of Gnu Atheists showing some sort of ethical skeevyness. As Dan Fincke notes, American Atheists is basically being assholes to score cheap Gnu Atheist brownie points over excoriating the religious response to relief for Filipino victims of Typhoon Haiyan. It's then doubled down on the asininity, per Fincke, by growling in outrage over people calling the group exploitative.

And, this is the second time in a week for something like that. We previously had FFRF distorting all that we know about Lincoln's religious history, and what we know he said at Gettysburg, vs. pre-address handwritten versions of his speech.

Again, per a blog tag here, it's "pulling a Chris Mooney." Everybody engages in some degree of "motivated reasoning," at least some of the time. Perhaps that is part of my angst about Gnu Atheism.

And, having posted this blog into an open group (therefore I'm not violating my social media privacy standards) on Facebook, I see the motivated reasoning continue to come. One person has asked if the family dining out couldn't have faked the receipt, including photoshopping. Oh, I'm sure they "could have." I'm also sure Capricorn 21 "could have" been correct and we never actually landed on the moon. 

And now, as of Dec. 1, the SJWs have been punked by McGill University! By nice, polite Canadians!

The psychology of Obama and #Obamiacs re #Obamacare struggles

Margaret Carlson has a great, if snide-leaning, takedown-cum-analysis of Dear Leader's personal psychology as a major contributing factor to Obamacare's struggles. Basically, she claims that our alleged hyperintellectual president (hyperintellectual in theory, in reality, of course, on things like constitutional law and the Fourth Amendment, either an idiot or a liar) has a mix of boredom and "cool" that is close to fatal in this case. A sample:
The first (statement about Obama) was made in St. Paul, Minnesota, at the end of the 2008 primary campaign, when candidate Obama predicted that generations would look back and see his nomination as “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” 

Couple this with the assessment of his closest aide, Valerie Jarrett, about his exceptionalism. “He knows exactly how smart he is,” she told Obama biographer David Remnick. “And he knows that he has the ability -- the extraordinary, uncanny ability -- to take a thousand different perspectives, digest them and make sense out of them.” 

Obama “has never really been challenged intellectually,” she went on. “He’s been bored to death his whole life. He’s just too talented to do what ordinary people do.”   

Or what an ordinary president does, for that matter. A chief executive less bored than Obama would have stayed on top of his signature legislation. Those upset that he didn’t are bedwetters, the White House says, nervous Nellies who can’t comprehend the larger picture of health-care reform that will, in due time, emerge. ...

Shame on mere politicians who worry about the next election rather than the next generation. Obama’s cool enrages even his allies. In 2010, after voting for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, 63 House Democrats lost their seats, a historic rout. And that was before the law actually kicked in and its inadequacies became apparent. ...

The mechanics weren’t as promised. In August, many of the elements needed for HealthCare.gov to function were deemed not ready by the chief contractor, CGI Group Inc., a company hired by the administration despite a poor performance record. As of August, almost nothing worked as promised: Computer systems at the multiple government agencies involved were unable to talk to one another, code was plagued with errors, and the system couldn’t handle even 500 users at a time. What’s more, no one had tended to the even more complicated financial and accounting part of the insurance exchanges. 

None of this was enough to rouse the intellectually restless president’s attention. After the Oct. 1 rollout, he seemed as surprised as your average citizen that the exchanges weren’t working. He keeps suggesting the failure should be mitigated by the fact that his opponents were wishing for it. It took him six weeks to apologize, he still hasn’t held anyone responsible, and not one head has rolled. One reason he could say that the fiasco was “on him” is that his head can’t roll. 
All accurate, dear Obamiacs, on what the actual problems with the federal exchange system is. And, all accurate, I charge, on Dear Leader's psychology.

Now, speaking of possible lying, though I don't know if he's a hyperintellectual or not, here's Josh Marshall, founder of blog-cum-news site Talking Points Memo. Marshall, an Obamiac so in the tank he's for years run a slide show of White House photographers' hand-out pix, calls himself a realist, rather than the O-word, on Obamacare.

A sample of him:
Here's why I'm still pretty optimistic.

I base this relative optimism on four assumptions.

The first is legislative: regardless of firestorms about this or that, this law will not undergo substantive changes before January 2017. ...

Second and under-appreciated: the major national insurance carriers have heavily bought into the "Obamacare"/exchange model and have spent almost three years retooling their business models to prepare for it. It's too much to say there's no going back. But the carriers themselves are about as close to being locked in as you can get ...

Third: By early next year you will have millions of new people enrolled in Medicaid, large numbers of people who have health care covered who couldn't get it at any reasonable price before who now have coverage and you will have large numbers of people who have care that is better or cheaper and often both than it was before. ...

Fourth: the most important premise, I think Obamacare is good policy. By 'good' I mean something very specific - not ideal or perfect or the best but that its basic approach of incentives, subsidies, creating better risk pools and efficiencies through exchanges, etc. can and will work to substantially increase access and reduce market failure and medical inflation.
My quick reactions.

On the first, how do you know? If the GOP regains the Senate, obstructionism to the law increases, likely to a point Dear Leader starts "trimming" even more.

On the second, not necessarily, especially if it ties to point No. 1.

On the third? Not that many, as long as most states that resisted Medicaid expansion continue to do so. Besides, again per point 1, that can be shaved off from other parts of the wall.

Fourth? It's good policy if you're a neoliberal. Nuff said.

Meanwhile, I'll believe Dear Leader's team's claims that the federal exchange website has been fixed when we're in the start of a new work week and more people are trying it out.

Oh, I'm sure it's better. But "fixed"? We'll see.

There's weasel words in the story, plus an outright admission that the only part of the site fixed is the consum-user side. The problems with payouts to insurers still aren't fixed.

So, a Josh Marshall type who claims insurers have no "out" and can do nothing but go along for the ride? Maybe that won't be true if that side of the equation doesn't get fixed soon.

Dear drivers: It's called cruise control

Having jaunted up to Dallas-Fort Worth and now back for Thanksgiving, I find myself more frustrated than ever at the number of drivers that do not use cruise control. I get frustrated by the ones than drive 1-2mph faster than me, then 1-2 mph slower, forcing me to up my cruise 1-2 mph to pass them and stay past them. (This ignores those, whether out of Texas macho, or more generic macho, who then insist on passing me back again.)

On freeways outside of urban areas, left-lane lopers are the only species of bad driver, I think, that frustrates me more. And, if you need to have THAT phrase explained to you, you need to have your license revoked.

Back to the non-cruise users.

First, you're disrupting traffic flow. (You can step on your gas pedal to pass more quickly, whether on a freeway or a two-lane road, then go back to cruise control speed after completing your pass, you know.)

Second, using cruise control is probably the third most effective gas mileage enhancer a driver can do, after proper tire inflation and no jackrabbit starts/stops. Given modern engines, it surely ranks ahead of tune-ups, which aren't regularly needed anymore.

Cruise control technology continually improves. Even 15 years ago, automakers had reduced a lot of the "hunting" that cruise controls do with automatics, and how readily they do or do not downshift. Today, with more and more new cars coming with five-speed automatics, if and when they do downshift, it's more smoothly than ever before.

So, let's get with the program, folks.