• skeptonomist commented on the blog post John Kerry Tries to Claim a War Isn’t a War

    2014-09-11 15:32:29View | Delete

    No, ISIS is not primarily a terrorist organization like Al-Qaeda, it is a full-fledged revolutionary faction with armies that occupy large territories and (apparently) an operating government. To defeat it requires real war, and somebody is going to have to have troops on the ground to re-occupy territory, or at least protect the vital areas that ISIS has not already taken. The question for the US is where the troops on the ground will come from, as there is little support for sending US troops back in. It is not obvious that the forces exist to completely overthrow ISIS, so we seem to be heading for a perpetual Orwellian war of bombing and droning against the new Sunni state.

  • skeptonomist commented on the blog post Our Unrepresentative House Is a Problem Easily Solved

    2014-09-08 15:07:42View | Delete

    There’s no particular incentive for the party in power to be fair. If Democrats get control in a state, it would be fairly easy for them to gerrymander districts to maximize their votes – you would see districts with a sliver in cities and just little enough of suburbs to keep a small Democratic majority, and huge suburban/rural districts containing strong Republican majorities. But as some people have pointed out, there is resistance to splitting up cities and other areas by locals. City machines want to maximize their majorities and power – politicians’ first concern is to keep themselves in office- they don’t want to go to any new schemes. In other countries the states or provinces and cities don’t have as much power as in the US – less federalism.

  • skeptonomist commented on the blog post AFRICOM Conducts Operation In Somalia

    2014-09-02 14:52:45View | Delete

    So drones are not military? Or has Djibouti, where there is a large drone base, been moved out of Africa?

  • skeptonomist commented on the blog post The Panoptic Effect

    2014-08-10 12:48:57View | Delete

    Women dropped out of the work force after the end of WW II for several reasons. They were needed at home – there wasn’t nearly as many labor-saving things then and homemaking was more of a full-time job. Also, most of the specific jobs they held in military industries disappeared. When men came back from the armed forces they took back some of the specific jobs they had held before which had disappeared. For example private-car manufacturing was completely stopped during the war. Of course there was social pressure – a woman’s place was in the home, but they probably did not especially want to raise babies – this is when the baby boom really started – while holding an outside job.

    Since women did drop out there was little increase in unemployment at the end of the war – this was probably a good thing. As everybody who did work during the war made good money and couldn’t spend it because of rationing, there was abundant demand after the war to get consumer manufacturing going again.

  • The blog stupidly seems to remove paragraphing. Are the operators paying for white space in comments? There’s plenty of wasted space in the blog itself.

  • There’s nothing immoral about notifying customers that increased prices are due to the minimum-wage law. Of course it doesn’t seem like good publicity as it advertises that you only pay minimum wage and are a scrooge.

    But the restaurant business is probably the worst example of any harmful effects of raising the minimum wage, since it affects all restaurants in a city or state. Most people are not going to go out of state or even out of city to get a slightly lower price on a burger. The best way to do a minimum wage is nationwide, as it then affects only international competition.

    Rational employers in manufacturing for example may consider that a state with lower minimum wage would reduce their total labor bill. But most employers also consistently complain about the quality of labor (see the NFIB survey) and they should know that a higher wage should attract higher-quality and more efficient employees. This was the main motivation for Henry Ford’s famous big raise at his factories.

  • skeptonomist commented on the blog post Why Airstrikes in Iraq Are a Mistake

    2014-08-08 10:49:05View | Delete

    The US airstrikes in Kosovo and Afghanistan were successful, but there have to be some committed troops on the ground. In Afghanistan this was mainly the Northern Alliance and some other anti-Taliban forces. The Kurdish forces might qualify, but probably not the Maliki Iraqi forces. This, among other reasons, it why it makes sense to try to defend Kurdistan. The US will provide the Kurdistan air force.

  • skeptonomist commented on the diary post Finally, Fake News Done Right by David Swanson.

    2014-08-03 13:42:32View | Delete

    ” attitude is one of mockery for all and contempt for any serious engagement with the world.” Nonsense. He often goes on extended rants advocating serious engagement and ridiculing those who are not engaging (like Republicans in Congress). Sometimes the subjects are chosen more for comedic value than social importance (comedians have to make a [...]

  • skeptonomist commented on the blog post The Undying Filibuster Myth

    2014-07-22 14:57:42View | Delete

    Senate Democrats didn’t particularly think they owed their seats to Obama’s coattails – insofar as they didn’t think they earned them on their own merits they realized that it was because of the financial crash and Bush’s other failures and general dissatisfaction with Republicans. And they want to keep their own privileges, including being able to filibuster when Republicans take the majority, which may be this year. Probably the country would be better off without the filibuster – or having just a real talking one – but individual senators have their own priorities. Anyway senators are not going to change their own rules at the behest of a new president – or scarcely ever as it appears.

  • skeptonomist commented on the blog post Piketty and His Critics Chapter 4: Netroots Nation

    2014-07-20 15:45:51View | Delete

    Ruml’s paper is mostly about the “evils” of taxes on corporations. He does not explain exactly how governments would pay for things – would they just print up paper money (seignorage) or would the central bank do it through lending? I suspect the latter but he does not explain exactly how a central bank would create money in a constructive way. The fact is that central banks as presently constituted do not control the money supply – they were unable to prevent inflation and expansion of the money supply in the 70′s nor are they able now to expand the money supply. Central banks don’t distribute money to the people who really need it and would use it. People who think that current central banks can control money are delusional.

    Ruml hardly gives a blueprint for how governments could finance themselves without taxation, and if tax money is not used to finance the expenses of government, what would be done with the tax collections – just evaporate or burn them? I agree that much higher taxes are probably necessary, but this is not a simple problem.

  • The exchanges are actually a huge improvement over the previous system (or non-system). Then, you had to go around personally to all the companies, or put yourself in the hands of an insurance agent, who may sell you the policy which gives him/her the highest commission. The ACA sets rules for the policies so the choice is actually very much more restricted than it was before – most of the worst plans are supposed to be gone.

    Of course it’s still something that many people will not be able to handle – choosing the best insurance or the best doctor, hospital, etc. are just not things that are best left up to the “free market”.

  • skeptonomist commented on the diary post Executed But Innocent: New Book Details Harrowing Case of Carlos DeLuna by Jose Cornejo.

    2014-07-15 16:25:15View | Delete

    One eyewitness ID is not sufficient in any case unless the person ID’d is well known to the witness. The error rate is very high – this is something that can easily be proven scientifically (it has been). One ID just does not constitute evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. There is no reason this could [...]

  • skeptonomist commented on the blog post A Lack of Alternatives Makes Choices Easy

    2014-07-01 14:02:45View | Delete

    So how did Obama do it? As other commenters have said, he overcame the same advantages that Hillary is supposed to have now. Did he have some magical arguments or personal qualities that enabled him to steal the big donors away from Hillary? Someone who wants to discuss this subject seriously should know exactly when and how Obama got his support.

  • skeptonomist commented on the blog post Piketty and His Critics Chapter 3: Galbraith

    2014-06-22 11:39:33View | Delete

    “Capitalists” are not particularly interested in using capital in ways that are useful to society – they just want to maximize their own wealth and power. It is more efficient for them to buy politicians and board members and siphon off money directly than to worry about marginal returns on their “hard” capital. Thus the rate of return on capital is not necessarily determined by “free market” processes.

    Too bad economists have such contempt for actual data and historical evidence – this frequently prevents them from doing much real science. Again, at least in the US high marginal tax rates have correlated fairly closely with income inequality, which obviously correlates with wealth inequality (regardless of the nonsense from the Financial Times).

    http://www.skeptometrics.org/TaxRates_Inequality/

    The experiment of low tax rates on the rich has been tried now, and it should be obvious that it hasn’t worked even to boost production much less prevent inequality. The political resistance to higher marginal tax rates might be less if US economists – such as Galbraith, Baker and Krugman – weren’t so fond of the idea that high tax rates are bad.

  • The general public opinion on the important aspects of immigration seems pretty clear, at least from polls: most people favor eventual citizenship for those already here, but they want a more secure border. These things are what the main bill does, and it is being held up by House leaders. What is Obama supposed to do, go against the will of the people on border enforcement? Are deportations really a problem for him? Of course they won’t buy approval from the right.

  • skeptonomist commented on the blog post Politifact Blows Call On AFRICOM

    2014-06-17 16:10:34View | Delete

    Except for Djibouti, the numbers of US troops in these African countries seem to be all less than 100, sometimes just 10 or 20. The base in Djibouti is obviously for supporting drone actions in the Middle East, not Africa.

    Whether Clinton’s claim is technically “true” or not, it is obvious that the US is not sending forces into Africa to establish profitable colonies, as European countries did in the 19th century – most of these countries have no oil, so we have no major interest. Given the supposed dedication of the US to “human rights” it would actually make sense to have intervened in some of these places (and others such as Liberia) rather than Iraq or Libya.

  • skeptonomist commented on the blog post Where was the NSA before the Isla Vista Mass Shooting?

    2014-05-27 15:32:58View | Delete

    Eliot Rodger was not a national security threat, so the NSA had no business monitoring him. Actually, even the Boston Marathon Bombers were not such a threat, although their very small conspiracy is the sort of thing that the NSA has some justification monitoring, in case it does turn into a national security threat.

    Does the NSA or any organization, national or local, really have the authority to monitor everybody’s communications in order to prevent mass murders? Should the Fourth Amendment be completely disregarded to prevent all such crimes?

  • skeptonomist commented on the blog post No Improvement in Public’s Opinion of Health Care Law

    2014-05-27 10:41:41View | Delete

    There are much more comprehensive measures of the level of coverage than this poll, and they indicate a few percent decrease in uninsured. Again, a real change but not something that is going to cause a massive change in overall public opinion.

  • skeptonomist commented on the blog post No Improvement in Public’s Opinion of Health Care Law

    2014-05-27 10:38:34View | Delete

    No, the botched launch did not change opinions much, nor did the ultimate fulfillment of targets or the failure of the conservative predictions of “disaster” or “death spiral”. Some people benefit from the ACA, but those people had their minds made up from the beginning. The majority who do not directly benefit one way or another made up their minds on partisan or ideological grounds, not on how the program was going at any particular moment. The media get excited about the ups and downs, but most people who are not political junkies are not that involved. It is just not a law which benefits a great mass of people.

  • skeptonomist commented on the blog post Piketty and His Critics Chapter 1

    2014-05-25 16:59:59View | Delete

    I haven’t read Piketty’s book, and have been somewhat mystified by the media frenzy – why would anyone assume that capitalism leads to equality, either empirically or theoretically? Apparently it’s big news to some people that capitalists can make huge fortunes, and that they can be very successful in keeping worker’s income down, whatever the “natural” returns are.

    But the idea that taxation may be critical is the most reasonable I have seen. The highest tax rates in the US are closely anticorrelated with income inequality:

    http://www.skeptometrics.org/TaxRates_Inequality/

    The time when income inequality decreased in the US was in fact the time when marginal rates were high – is this just a weird accident?

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