The Vast Both Wing Conspiracy

Alternet is showing itself to be a master of self promotion by brethlessly hyping the pivotal impact of its investigation into the latest Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, a group of conservative Digg users who set up a mailing lists to encourage members to “bury” stories on Digg. The group of a 100 Digg users were able to alter the Digg rankings of left-wing stories, driving Digg to have a more rightward slant. Outrage! Lefties, fair and open that they are, would never do that!

Or at least they would never do it on a private list, like JournoList. No, when they manipulate the media, they do it in the open, in DailyKos blog articles about Google Bombing the Election.  Same play, different actors.

I find this sort of sniping exhausting. For every Vast Conspiracy on one side, there is an equivalent Vast Conspiracy on the other side. People are hypocritical. They forgive in their friends what they condemn in their enemies. They are tribal. They  easily deluded by confirmation bias. These issues have nothing to do with Right or Left; they are entirely artifacts of  humanity.

But at the same time, I think most people, or at least the people I am exposed to, politically active Americans, have a genuine concern for our country and our quality of life. We all want to make our world a better place, but we don’t agree on how to do it. I think a lot of our political turmoil would be eliminated if we all ignored both wings, accepted that the other guy wants a better world just as much as I do, and quit with the name calling.

Where is US Healthcare Headed?

Donald M Berwick is the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, appointed by president Obama a few months ago.  He’s a fan of Brittian’s National Health Service, one of the “astounding human endeavours of modern times“:

Cynics beware, I am romantic about the National Health Service; I love it. All I need to do to rediscover the romance is to look at health care in my own country

If we can expect Mr. Berwick to model US Medicare and Medicaid on the NHS, we might check in on the NHS for a glimpse of where US healthcare is headed. From the Telegraph,

Axe falls on NHS services

NHS bosses have drawn up secret plans for sweeping cuts to services, with restrictions on the most basic treatments for the sick and injured.

Since our new direction in healthcare is even more financially unsustainable than the old one, the US is likely to face similar problems, except that instead of the poor not being able to get health insurance, they won’t be able to get health care.

Immigration Enforcement, Federal And Local

The US Justice Department is suing the state of Arizona over SB 1070, because “The Individual Sections of S.B. 1070 are Prempted by Federal Law“.  The theory, as I understand it, is that the Feds assert that only the Feds should be enforcing Federal Immigration law.  The irony ( actually, one of many ) is that for the last 15 years, the Federal Homeland Security department has been running the ICE 287(g) program, in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement trains local police to enforce federal law. The program has 9 signed Memorandums with Arizona police departments. So, it appears that one federal department is suing Arizona for doing what another federal department is training them to do.

Compensatory Education

After reading Charles Murray’s skepticism regarding a study of the Harlem Children Zone, I did a quick search for research about some of the programs he mentions in the article. These are some of the best known programs that attempted to improve the test scores and social skills of poor an under-preforming students:

  • Harlem Children’s Zone
  • Milwaukee Project
  • Abecedarian Project
  • Perry Preschool

The most complete summaries of these programs, including extensive bibliographies, come from the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, such as:

While the programs do report success in improving social outcomes, they don’t seems to do much with IQ over the long term, and even the social improvements appear to be moving the participants from the very lowest rung to the next highest rung, certainly not into the stable middle class. For instance, the improvements over the control group for the Perry Preschool Project include:

  • 28% served prison time
  • 57% out-of-wedlock births
  • $1,856 median monthly income at age 40 ( 2006 or so )
  • 65% graduated from high school

Yes, those are the stats for the improved group. The project reports that the intervention was a worthwhile expense for the reduction of social problems, but it also sets lower expectations for what interventionist compensatory education can reasonably achieve.

Economic Sophistries

Eliot Spitzer has written a provocative article for Slate addressing the idea that high marginal tax rates reduce GDP. From the first two words — the title, Tax Fraud — we know how Spitzer feels about common arguments against higher or more progressive taxes.  He writes:

The result of sky-high marginal rates, this anecdote was supposed to prove, was declining productivity and economic growth. Is this true? Let’s look at a graph of the nominal top marginal tax rate in any given year and GDP growth in that year.

Then Spitzer shows the pretty graph, two squiggly lines that don’t seem to have much relationship to each other. Continue reading “Economic Sophistries”

SoCal Surf Towns Ranked

Here is a list of the top surf towns in Southern California. The list is computed by taking the number of web searches for the area name plus “surf shop” and dividing by the population of the area. All percentages are expressed relative to the top result. The area names come from, and are the named areas that are on the coast or adjacent to an area on the coast. We only considered areas between Tijuana and Santa Barbara.

Del Mar 100.00%
Malibu 97.73%
Ocean Beach 53.04%
Mission Beach 34.70%
Venice 25.91%
Laguna Beach 22.73%
Dana Point 20.39%
Solana Beach 18.25%
Pacific Beach 18.21%
Hermosa Beach 18.15%
Santa Monica 18.09%
La Jolla 17.61%
Encinitas 16.01%
San Clemente 15.97%
Manhattan Beach 12.97%
Santa Barbara 12.36%
Ventura 11.81%
Huntington Beach 11.09%
Newport Beach 9.45%
Coronado 8.64%
Carpinteria 8.04%
Seal Beach 7.54%
Long Beach 5.07%
Oceanside 4.83%
Carlsbad 4.55%
Imperial Beach 4.46%
San Diego 3.72%
Redondo Beach 3.43%
Orange 2.34%
San Pedro 1.95%
Vista 1.54%
Costa Mesa 0.62%
Oxnard 0.31%

Do Progressives Eat Awareness?

While updating my iPhone I found a peculiar application, Stand Up Take Action, which allows people to click a button and get counted to express their support for the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.  The application didn’t have any other purpose, like asking you to make a donation. So I went to their website,  which is entirely oriented around holding events where people literally stand up and get counted, and the count of participants is sent to SUTA headquarters.

Where in this process of raising awareness does a hungry or oppressed person get food or freedom? How does skipping a meal give food to the poor? Do the organizers think that the Third World can be lifted out of poverty with good thoughts? If these events result in nothing more than people spending an hour chanting and feeling good about themselves, they are worse than useless, because the participants have done nothing but express their expectation that someone else solve the problem.

When I am concerned about poverty I write a check to Heifer International, because people can eat cows, but they can’t eat awareness. If you actually care about poverty, skip the awareness building, accept that you can do something about the problem, and donate you money or time. If you do go to an awareness event, bring your checkbook and demand that your friends do the same.