Man Made Global Warming is Real, but the Earth is NOT Dying

I came across this blog post, and I think it says everything I believe. I’m tired of hearing about how the earth is “dying” because of global warming. It isn’t. It is we who will die due to what we are doing. The messaging that we need to stop pumping carbon in the air to “save” the earth is stupid and it needs to stop.

When I invariably get into an argument with somebody about anthropomorphic (meaning, man-made) global warming, here is what I see from the climate change deniers, from their first argument to last argument…

  1. Earth isn’t warming.
  2. Earth is warming, but not because of humans.  This has several sub-arguments as to why it is warming, all of which are provably wrong.
    1. Sunspots
    2. Volcanoes
    3. “It changes all the time”
    4. Mars is also getting warmer and there are no power plants up there (seriously, some dipshit in Congress made this argument).
  3. It’s changing, and maybe we did something, but if we do anything to try to change it, we’ll just make the situation worse. It will also destroy jobs.
  4. Even if it is changing, and we had something to do with it, earth will go on. This is usually accompanied by a George Carlin clip in one of his specials where Carlin mocks the environmentalist movement.  I think this clip is amazing, because it is really subversive.  While it mocks environmentalists, it makes the true case for environmentalism – that if we don’t do something, we’ll all be dead.  Of course, the subversiveness is buried very deep, and your every day convervative-libertarian, frankly, isn’t that smart.  Think about it – Reagan adopted “Born in the USA”, a song about how conservative policies destroyed the steel industry, as his theme song for his 1984 election, because it had a rousing chorus.

If you look at these arguments, it can be frustrating. Because argument #1 is entirely different from argument #4, yet deniers will go through all 4 of these arguments in order to justify not doing anything.

So, let’s be clear. The earth will survive even if we make the planet uninhabitable for ourselves. There are 7 other planets in the solar system (sorry, Pluto), and they are all surviving just fine. They all orbit the sun and rotate in various ways and some have seasons and storms, and there is nobody living on them. And earth will continue to orbit the sun and there will be tides and seasons and storms and there will even be life on it in some form.

Doing something about global warming is not about saving the earth. It is about saving ourselves. It is about ensuring that our children don’t have to go suppress a civil war in some oil rich country due to a massive drought that causes a government to collapse. It is about having reasonably priced food because there is plenty of potable water around to grow industrial crops. It is about our children’s children being able to live in the same city their grandparents lived in because it hasn’t turned into a dustbowl.


The Stupidity of Libertarians, Part “Infinity”

Libertarianism - Just Say No!When I say libertarians are stupid, there is no shortage of data points you can find. Libertarians and libertarian minded folk gravitate to their belief system because they have a deep trust of “government”. Government is thought of as some random “other” that was imposed upon a freedom loving people who just wanted to be left alone, but all of a sudden they stepped in a pile of dog poop labeled “government”. They never quite stop to understand that the government they live in happens to be… wait for it… what people voted for. It is somehow something that was delivered to us by Martians or something.

I could go on and on about the problems with libertarianism as a philosophy, but for now I want to focus on just how stupid most libertarians actually are. And I see no better way to demonstrate it than by looking at this post on (tagline: “free minds and free markets”), that both criticizes Obamacare, yet tries to get libertarians and other people to move on from trying to repeal it.

In it, you get the typical tripe libertarians espouse, such as Obamacare is “a deeply offensive use of government power”, and how the Supreme Court’s decision to ratify it “is one of the great blunders of American jurisprudence”. As with all things libertarian, these phrases appeal to conservatives, but the author also throws a bone to liberals by also criticizing the NSA and then the idea of war in general, because the government should not be “in the business of surveilling its citizens or bombing foreign countries independent of war resolutions.”

OK, so far, so good. You use big words like “jurisprudence”, and you’ve said things that both the crazy uncle who watches Fox News all day and his hackey-sack playing nephew like.  So, how does it go off the rails? Well, by first saying the government shouldn’t be in the business of guaranteeing health insurance, his fixes include… using government power to ensure people get health insurance. One of his solutions is:

“forcing insurers to compete in a national market for customers”.

Now, wait a minute. If the government is “forcing” insurers to compete, isn’t that a use of government power? What if I’m the CEO of insurance company with libertarian ideals and a framed picture of Ayn Rand on my desk, and I only want to provide insurance for people in Nebraska? And let’s say I’m really good at that, so good that I’ve ended up with a natural monopoly in Nebraska? Nobody can really compete with me because of my economies of scale and general awesomeness due to having gone John Galt on the world, and I really don’t want to sell insurance anywhere else because I love Nebraska and have no idea what kind of insurance people in Florida want or need?

If the government “forces” me to compete, and then “forces” other insurers to sell in Nebraska, that’s quite a distortion of the “free market”, right?

So, libertarians, WTF? You can’t simultaneously argue against the government doing something, but then say the government should do something.

And this is why libertarians are 100%, grade A idiots.

The rest of his solutions are also of the kindergarten variety. For example, “allowing” people to buy catastrophic plans. Why is this somehow new? This was, actually, how the system was set up before Obamacare, and it sucked ass. Catastrophic plans were so expensive that people just went without. And they were expensive because, you know, “catastrophic” things tend to cost a lot, so your premiums would be high. And, of course, the insurance company could have just said “no”, due to a pre-existing condition.

The author never deals with the concept of pre-existing conditions in his proposed fixes, which either means he doesn’t understand pre-existing conditions, or, since he is talking about fixing the parts of Obamacare he doesn’t like, then he likes that under Obamacare insurers can’t preclude you due to a pre-existing condition. Which, you know, is also is a distortion of the “free market”, because that is government power “dictating” what a private business can do.

And the rest is just a Skittles style grab bag of “government sucks” points with nothing behind them – rules about hospitals and what-not. He appears to think it is great if a drug company just throws some drug out onto the market without testing it adequately (his snide comment about new pharmaceuticals costing $1B and 10 years to produce). I guess we can all just be guinea pigs. Which then brings us to the other libertarian fantasy – that a drug company wouldn’t possibly sell a dangerous drug, because why would a company sell something that doesn’t work – that’s bad for business. Except, of course, they do all the time. Go here just to see how many drugs have been recalled – a recall forced by the federal government. There have been 17 so far in the first five months of 2014. Do you really think that if drug companies could do less testing and spend less money to bring a drug to market, there would be fewer recalls?

Egads, eyeroll, facepalm…



Net Neutrality and the Similarities to US Health Care Reform

NN-is-deadLast week the FCC released new proposed rules for how to handle traffic on the internet. This has created a bit of a firestorm and a whole lot of debate, because the proposed rules change from “everybody gets equal access” to “you can pay for priority access”, or what is known as a fast lane. As is typical in these debates, you end up getting two sides, vehemently defending their position and accusing the other side of being big old doodie heads.

I strongly come down on the side of “net neutrality” – the idea that all traffic should be given the same priority, so I want to dispel some myths about what the other side is saying. In order to dispel these notions, I think it is helpful to look to the debates around health reform that we just went through in the United States. Much like that debate, arguments on both sides were heated, and people in the middle just weren’t sure what to think. Fortunately, just like with health reform, we have actual data that can say which side is right (spoiler alert: it’s net neutrality).

While the right wing in this country was decrying health reform as socialist, that prices would soar, that quality would drop, all you had to do was look “across the pond” to England and Europe, or over the Pacific towards Asia, and you could find data that dispelled that notion. The hellish landscape of socialized forms of medicine had already been “means tested” – i.e. implemented in places, and the results were encouraging. And thus, changing the system to be more socially oriented from purely profit oriented was not the end of the world. It was not a massive experiment in social engineering. It was, basically, blasé. It was simple. It worked. And it worked better than our system.

When you look deeper at the arguments against net neutrality and for the new FCC proposal for fast lanes, sure enough, you see the same thing. So, let’s begin.

The Myth of Free Market Innovation

First off, you have the typical Ayn Randian “free market” blathering that goes on in whenever some of us ask for government to regulate things. There is this idea that if the government is involved at all, it will somehow take over or stifle innovation. This was laughably discussed in a blog post on Re/Code, titled “The Internet is Not a Rotary Phone”. In it, the author tries to paint the growth in high speed Internet as something that was only possible through lack of government involvement, by stating that:

“Consumers are fleeing POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) in droves. In 1996, when they had no other choice, 94 percent of American households relied on POTS as their sole means of telecommunications. Today, fewer than 5 percent do so. That is not surprising. There are things regulators do well, but innovation is not one of them.”

The problem with this statement, however, is that the author apparently doesn’t understand how much POTS innovated during its lifespan. When telephone service was first put into place, and when it became regulated as a monopoly, your phone service was a direct wire from your house to a central building where a human would make a connection for you to some other human. You may remember seeing pictures of men and women moving cables between connectors to make that connection for you.

Now, if what the author was saying was correct, there would be no reason to do anything but that. Maybe you tinker, but why? You just capture the regulators, keep your system inefficient by claiming it “creates jobs”, and sit back and collect your guaranteed return. But, we know this isn’t true. While being a regulated monopoly, the phone system changed from humans moving connections between copper wires routed directly to homes, to a computer controlled, switched network. Your phone changed from being a thing that generated sparks with a rotary dial, to a set of buttons that made tones that computers would use to create connections. Speeds also improved. The backbone of the phone system became high-speed, digital, packetized, and ran over coax, fiber optic lines, and satellites. If this hadn’t happened, you wouldn’t have been even able to create computer connections that this author then summarily derides.

Was it perfect? No – it is entirely possible that the phone network could have improved faster without regulations. But can we at least admit that the idea that government involvement “stifles” regulations is just crap? Innovation happened!

Now, to lay the groundwork for how awesome the world would be without regulation the author of this piece tries to show how wonderful the wireless technology we all use today is, and says how this is because of how the wireless industry constantly innovates:

“Nearly two-thirds of consumer Internet connections in the U.S. today are over mobile devices, up from zero in 2005. Those nifty smartphones and tablets consumers enjoy can download at speeds that average between 14 megabits per second and 19 Mbps, and can peak as high as 57 Mbps, because wireless carriers have moved through six generations of network technology in seven years.”

What the author doesn’t say, however, is where these wireless technologies were created, or where they were first deployed. The simple fact is, the US lags in such deployment. LTE (currently the fastest wireless technology) was first proposed in Japan, by DoCoMo – in 2004. It was approved in 2008, and first deployed in Stockholm in 2009. (Source: Wikipedia) It wasn’t first deployed in the United States until 2010, in small, select cities. As of today, it still isn’t very ubiquitous in the United States – we all know of at least one dead spot around our where we live, and companies throw mud at each other about how their deployment of LTE is better than the competitor’s deployment of LTE. And it is 2014, for Pete’s sake.

LTE, was a cooperation of governments and private industry, codified into an interoperable standard under spectrums licensed by governments, deployed first outside the US in heavily regulated markets, and is still not widely available in the US in 2014. How, exactly, is the “free market” innovating here?

The Myth of “We Already Prioritize Traffic”

The next bullet in the chamber of the “fast lane is good” gun is to try to confuse you about what a fast lane means. In this next piece on Re/Code, another author describes how we already have different prioritization for traffic based upon traffic class type. For example, you may have heard of VOIP (Voice over IP), which companies like Vonage sell, where your phone is all Internet. Chances are if you work in an office building, all your phones are VOIP already. He states:

“This prioritized service has been around for several years, and has revolutionized the phone industry. Something unthinkable for decades — facilities-based local telephone service — became commonplace in the last few years, and undermined much of the careful industrial planning in the 1996 Telecom Act. If you subscribe to voice service from your cable provider, you are benefiting from fast-lane treatment.”

Thus, the author concludes, because voice traffic is treated differently, we may as well treat other traffic differently, so this fast lane proposal is no big deal.

One problem with this line of reasoning, though, is that voice over IP isn’t some brand name. It was, in effect, already part of the system. Remember above when I said that under the regulation, Ma Bell managed to replace direct copper wires to your house with a packet switched network? Yeah, to do that, you had to invent protocols that allowed those packets to flow in timed fashions, such that it looked as if it was a direct connection like it was before. That was a new set of protocols.

So, this isn’t some new, recent invention where the cable company saw voice connection using IP, and then had to devise a solution for that that was a “fast lane”. This packet concept is baked into the Internet already. To call these new proposals an extension of the fast lane is laughable.

But rather than acknowledge that, the author then says:

“Most troubling, net neutrality turns the regulatory process on its head. Rather than identify a market failure and then take steps to correct the failure, the FCC may prevent commercial agreements that would be unobjectionable in nearly any other industry.”

The packet switching capability that treated “voice” as a streaming service was developed under a strict regulatory scheme. There didn’t need to be a “commercial agreement” that businesses hammered out. It was a core piece of the Internet itself.

A similar analogy can be made to the highway system. Regulations exist that ensure all vehicles can use the road. This means that curves are only build to happen at specific angles. Overpasses are built to be specific heights that allow trucks to pass underneath. Traffic lights are imposed to make sure that vehicles don’t collide. While it is possible to have built a separate set of roads through “commercial agreements” such that, say, UPS could get better service, the idea is just… dumb. Nobody would stand for it.

The Myth of “We Have to Charge Traffic Providers” Because… Netflix!

You may have heard stories that when shows like the new season of House of Cards came out, or when the finale of True Detective happened on HBO Go (or the premiere of Game of Thrones), the Internet became clogged with requests for these shows. Up to 1/3 of Internet traffic became people trying to watch these shows. Internet companies furrowed their brow and cried foul, demanding that Netflix should pay for this.

The one problem with that, however, is that it misplaces who should get charged for what. Yes, people were watching Netflix and HBO Go, but when the day gets hot and we all turn on our air conditioners, the managers of the electric grid don’t go to power plants and charge them, they charge… you. If you use more kilowatts, you pay more. And if you use those kilowatts at specific times, you pay more.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such as Comcast or AT&T, are in this bind because they have given their customers a promise of unlimited data usage, and then have purposely not done anything to make sure that unlimited data is actually achievable. In fact, you can read this blog post from an infrastructure insider that shows this explicitly. While the blog post is a bit technical, the key takeaway here is that US ISPs have not done the work to make sure their networks can handle traffic, even though they have seen increases in traffic for a long time.

Going back to the electrical grid as an analogy, it would be as if the grid were privatized, the company managing the grid knows that the grid is loaded and could suffer brown-outs, but rather than enhancing the grid to prevent brown outs, they simply let the brown-outs happen and then shrugged their shoulders about it.

This doesn’t happen (the brown out), because we don’t allow it to happen through… wait for it… regulation. California tried an experiment with deregulation in, and we saw what happened – the grid didn’t get maintained, power plants were purposely taken offline, and brown outs happened. As soon as regulations were put back in place, bam, brown outs disappeared. There were arguments raised that us Californians were all just lazy and left our pool heaters on, but that simply wasn’t the case. Californians behavior prior to de-regulation, during de-regulation, and after de-regulation didn’t change much. What changed was the regulatory environment – that’s it.

The other aspect of this blog post that is interesting to note is that this kind of packet dropping due to congestion doesn’t happen in other countries. Why? Wait for it… it’s because they are regulated. They saw traffic increases starting, and because they are regulated, they were required to spend money to ensure the congestion didn’t break the network.

So, once again, the free market idea of just letting cable companies and phone companies build out their infrastructure as they see fit hasn’t prevented the problem. This is especially troubling because the same companies that are allowing this kind of congestion are also in the market for streaming services that they would provide to your home. In other words – they offer service that would clog up the network already, thus they could predict this problem, yet they still did nothing about it.  Why?  As the author states:

“Five of those congested peers are in the United States and one is in Europe. There are none in any other part of the world. All six are large Broadband consumer networks with a dominant or exclusive market share in their local market. In countries or markets where consumers have multiple Broadband choices (like the UK) there are no congested peers.”

While the blog post doesn’t mention companies by name, Comcast is clearly one of them (as it has dominant or exclusive market share in many markets). Comcast has a service like Netflix, called “Streampix”. Nobody uses it, because it sucks. But clearly, Comcast would like you to use it. So… why isn’t Comcast using the fees for Streampix to build out their network for this coming problem? That’s what the “free market” is about, right?

Streampix costs Comcast users $4.99/month. Which is cheaper than what Netflix charges per month. And recently, Comcast used their congestion problem to get Netflix to enter into what is called a “peering arrangement”, where Netflix pays Comcast for priority access.

(Aside: peering arrangements are typically used between owners of various networks, where they agree to let each other’s on to the other network at no, or reduced fees, and they pay each other the difference if one network owner use more of the “peer” traffic than the other network owner. In the case of Netflix, which doesn’t have its own network, this just becomes a cash payment by Netflix to the network owner).

Because of peering, Netflix loses some profit…. which means Netflix may have to charge users more for its service. Sure enough, Netflix announced changes to do exactly that. While this is only for new subscribers, it very well could hit existing subscribers shortly.

But Streampix? Streampix is not charging more for new subscribers. It still gets a free ride.

Let that sink in. An existing company that people like, Netflix, is raising its rates to ride on a set of train tracks (Comcast’s network), while the owner of the train tracks has a competing service that isn’t subject to the same charges. There is something inherently wrong with this. Will Streampix ever have to pay more? Possibly. Would you feel a little bit better if Netflix cost you more if Comcast didn’t also offer Streampix? Yes.

And that is the conundrum here with getting rid of net neutrality and letting fast lanes be developed. Our FCC has created a system where, in the interest of not promoting “winners and losers”, resulted in two dominant pipelines into your house (your phone company and your cable company), pipelines that happened to already be coming into your house when the FCC decided not to regulate the pipes. They’ve let those companies merge with content creation companies such that they aren’t just the pipes, but also the content in the pipes. It is like letting UPS own roads, and charging Fed Ex to use the road (a “maintenance” fee), while letting their trucks ride on it for free.

Bringing it Home

So, just like with health care, the arguments about “government control” that are so worrisome to people are easily dispelled. Innovation we use in this country was created under regulatory systems in foreign countries (LTE), and here (packet switched network). Video streaming services don’t pay more money to use the network, and they don’t get congested or dropped. Things that are supposedly examples of “commercial arrangements” are actually part of the core of the Internet already, and aren’t examples that prove we need more de-regulation.

With health care, the Ayn Randian philosophy of the invisible hand of the market making things work just didn’t always apply. Artificial hips were invented in England under the socialized NIH. Erection dysfunction treatments were developed in the United States. There is more money to be made in erection pills than artificial hips, so that is where an unregulated market will go. But that doesn’t mean the system is “better”. The “invisible hand” of the market goes where the easy money is.

Similarly, with high speed Internet, the free market isn’t just making our lives full of unicorns and rainbows. As I pointed out here, American high speed Internet is slower, and more expensive, than elsewhere. And this is true even for countries that have the same population density as the United States. The brilliant podcast Planet Money did a segment on the history of how we have the system we have (link) and shows how while the US deregulated, England regulated, and the results are much better for consumers in the UK than in the US.

As I already showed, the innovation dilemma more Libertarian minded folks are worried about and use as a cudgel against the FCC doing anything, the US can have plenty of innovation under a regulated environment, and in fact, we as users in America are benefitting from technologies developed under heavily regulated environments. Every time you look at your smartphone and see that it is LTE, you can thank Japan, Sweden and a bunch of academics that developed the algorithms.

Let’s put to rest other arguments around the fear of government control. The only reason you have a cable or fiber going into your house is due to state and local governments creating regulations as to where those cables can be laid. You can only use your smartphone because the government determined which frequencies you were allowed to transmit and receive signals on. The government is already very much in your face about the technology you use. Regulating against fast lanes is not some new, unheard of power leading to the death of freedom and you being placed in a FEMA re-education camp.

Regulating against fast lanes, and ensuring a company like Comcast can’t do things to hurt Netflix while enabling Streampix will, in all likelihood, make your life better. Just like health reform is starting to do.

The Coming End of Right Wing Economics? We Can Only Hope

The new column today out from Paul Krugman, about Tom Piketty’s new book got me to thinking.

It must have been very, very difficult to be a Keynesian economist in the late 1970s in America, Europe, and England. Unemployment was high, inflation was staggering, and growth was stagnant. The ideas on the left edge of the economic spectrum seemed to have run out of gas. Taxes on the wealthy? High. Welfare programs? There were a lot. Economic stimulus? We did it, yet inflation was still high.

So, those right wing ideas of tax cuts were certainly worth a try. Hell, nothing else was working. Why not try all those wacky economic ideas out of the Chicago school being espoused by Martin Friedman’s disciples?

So we did.

Now, the idea that it was Keynesian economic ideas that were failing in the 70s was a bit silly in retrospect. The entire world was still massively dependent upon the strength of the US economy, and US economic policy was a mess due to the Vietnam war. We fought it on the credit card, and like all bills, it was time to pay. Had we not had the Vietnam war, it is entirely possible that the malaise that existed in the mid to late 70s wouldn’t have existed.

But… whatever. We tried right wing policies, and while we also simultaneously doing some left wing things (like Volker radically increasing interest rates to curb demand and thus break inflation’s back), and then the Soviet Union fell apart, and hello there, peace dividend.

In any event, changing from a left-ish style economics to a right-ish style of economics was really only possible because it appeared, right or wrong, that left-ish economics wasn’t working.

I keep hoping, sometimes beyond hope, that we are finally reaching that point with right-ish economics. It is one thing to talk about cutting taxes when the top tax rate is 70%. But when it is 35% for income, and 20% for investment income, that idea seems silly. It’s one thing to talk about cutting spending when the cost of borrowing money is 10%, it’s another thing to talk about cutting spending when the cost of borrowing is less than the rate of inflation, which means the money is basically free.

It does seem like the pendulum is finally, after 30+ years of doing things the right wing way, swinging back to the center. We did actually implement a form of health care that could eventually lead to everybody having insurance, even if it is kind of a mess due to the desires to keep the fantasy of “market based competition” alive. We are pulling back on military spending, even if we still spend way more than the next several countries (most of whom are allies) combined. And the Justice Department is finally looking at our crazy minimum sentencing laws around drug offenses, asking prisoners to apply for clemency, and adding staff to handle the claims. And, as Krugman points out, the rhetoric from the right seems especially hyperbolic and nonsensical.

So, are things turning around? I can only hope. On days like today (Friday), I’m hopeful. I’ll probably be cynical next Monday when I see yet more gobs of money being poured into politics thanks to the Roberts Court.

Northwestern Football Players and Unionization

imagesnrlbRecently, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) granted permission to a group of Northwestern football players who were asking to form a union. The NLRB didn’t grant them the union status – that is something that must be done by a vote, but in order to even get to the point of requesting a vote, the players had to get the NLRB to recognize the players as “employees”, something the NCAA and Northwestern (and all colleges) dispute.

Amidst all the hubbub surrounding this, I thought it would be worth showing what items the Northwestern players actually want to bargain for. Here is a link to their demands with descriptions, but here is the brief itemized list.

  1. Minimize college athletes’ brain trauma risks.
  2. Raise the scholarship amount.
  3. Prevent players from being stuck paying sports-related medical expenses.
  4. Increase graduation rates.
  5. Protect educational opportunities for student-athletes in good standing.
  6. Prohibit universities from using a permanent injury suffered during athletics as a reason to reduce/eliminate a scholarship.
  7. Establish and enforce uniform safety guidelines in all sports to help prevent serious injuries and avoidable deaths.
  8. Eliminate restrictions on legitimate employment and players ability to directly benefit from commercial opportunities.
  9. Prohibit the punishment of college athletes that have not committed a violation.
  10. Guarantee that college athletes are granted an athletic release from their university if they wish to transfer schools.
  11. Allow college athletes of all sports the ability to transfer schools one time without punishment.

None of these items, by the way, are “pay for play” – i.e. the players don’t think they should be paid in cash money for playing for Northwestern. The players freely admit that they are being paid – it is their scholarship.

If you look at these 11 items, they are completely and utterly reasonable. They are the kinds of things that I bet you would be surprised don’t already exist. Like, I bet you would be surprised that if a student gets an injury playing football, they might have to pay for fixing that themselves.

The one thing I’ve always said about unions, and I’m a big defender of unions, is that… well…. I don’t really like them. I’ve had one union job in my life, when I was a “courtesy clerk” (the politically correct term for “bag boy”) at a grocery store. I was paid 10 cents over minimum wage at that job, and the union required me to pay one hour of my pay each pay period as union dues. Now, the union was never going to go on strike for a bunch of courtesy clerks demanding better treatment, so this seemed like a lot of money to go out to get nothing in return.

Note, though, that while this was true (the union wouldn’t go on strike for me), the union did provide a way for courtesy clerks to move into cashier jobs, which could lead to much more pay. While the grocery store may have decided they would do that anyway, the fact that the union existed meant that the checkout clerk’s wages did not face the downward pressure to be more like courtesy clerk’s wages.

In any event, I’m also embarrassed by unions sometimes. You can find anecdote after anecdote about some union leader somewhere doing something illegal. But I’m kind of embarrassed by… my embarrassment. It always has troubled me that when a union person does something bad, we group that as “unions” being bad thing, but if the CEO of Enron does something bad, we don’t assume the CEO of, say, Walgreen’s Drug Stores is also “bad” and that the job of CEO should be eliminated.

OK, I’m drifting off a bit here. What I really wanted to do is talk about why I think unions exist, even though I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of them.

Unions exist because, well, management screwed up. Unions spring up because the management of an enterprise has decided not to give some benefits to people because they don’t feel they have to. They are, in many ways, an allergic reaction to bad management behavior. Like an allergy, you don’t want itchy eyes and you don’t want to be sneezing, but that is your body telling you there is a lot of crap in the air that is bad for you. The allergic reaction is the sign that something bad is going on and you need to do something about it.

When you look at the list of demands the Northwestern players are making, it is almost hard to believe they have to be made. It is shocking to think that if you get injured, you might have to pay out of pocket for that injury. It is shocking to think that if you are permanently injured, say, as a sophomore, your scholarship can be yanked, which most likely means you will have to leave the school. It is shocking how many restrictions are placed on the student-athlete to get a legitimate job in the offseason out of a fear of “cheating”.

Brief aside: I remember, anecdotally, a story of a basketball player at my alma mater (University of Michigan) who was getting an aeronautical engineering degree. For one, I was shocked that anybody could be pursuing engineering with the schedule of games and practices a basketball player would have. Secondly, as an engineering student myself, I knew implicitly how important summer internships and co-ops were for my future career, yet this was off-limits to the basketball player. I mean, this guy was not going to the pros. Yes, he had a scholarship, but he was put at a severe disadvantage with future employment opportunities because of NCAA rules!

One of the things I have said about unions, is that they aren’t needed if management behaves properly. If the NCAA had a rule that if you give a kid a scholarship, that’s a 4 year commitment and you can’t yank it if the player doesn’t perform well, there would be less complaints to form a union. If the NCAA had a rule that said you couldn’t yank a scholarship due to a career ending injury, there would be less complaints to form a union. If the NCAA had more flexibility with job seeking opportunities, there would be less complaints to form a union. And on and on.

I want to leave you with another thought experiment. Many industries, such as mine which makes silicon computer chips, don’t have unions. Why is that?  Well, generally speaking, we are very well compensated. We get very good vacation packages. We get great health care packages. I don’t have a time card. I can take long lunches if I want. I can work from home some days if I need to. Every 7 years, I get a sabbatical of 8 weeks, fully paid.

Now, what if my company, and all its competitors, looked around and decided that this was way too much compensation going to their employees?  They could demand that everybody punch in with a time card. And that we only get a 30 minute lunch. And that we should lose 1 of our vacation weeks. And that our salary should be 2/3 or 1/2 as much. And that the sabbatical program should be killed. if that happened across all the companies in the field (completely unlikely), a union movement would start in my industry so quickly your head would spin. And the people at the front of the line to create that union would be some of the people in neighboring cubes, who consider themselves libertarian and think unions are “communist”.

Fighting Anti-Vaccination Idiocy

Sigh… I don’t know why I’m doing this, because the anti-vaxxers don’t seem to care about facts. I tried to post this on a FB page of people railing against vaccines on behalf of a friend who wanted a counter-opinion, but I kept getting an error.  (quitting FB didn’t help… restarting the browser didn’t help… restarting the computer didn’t help…) Maybe the post was too long. Maybe the owner of the page doesn’t want long posts.  I dunno.  So, I posted it here and hopefully can link it to the FB article.

Facebook "anti-vaxxer" page...

The picture at right shows up on the FB page for a mommy blogger person defending not getting their child vaccinated. First off, any article that shows a baby getting a shot with what looks to be a double shot glass full of whiskey or urine or some glow-in-the dark substance should be considered suspect. That is an idiotic picture clearly made to pull on your emotions and should immediately render the article irrelevant.

Secondly, before I point out how utterly insane the anti-vaccination crowd is, let me also point out that I probably would be liked by a lot of anti-vaxxers, because like them, I try to eat very healthy and try to have my children eat healthy. As a single male in my 20s, I probably went through a gallon of animal-vaccine laden milk in a week and 2-3 Big Gulps from 7-11. Now, in a family of four, we only drink organic milk (no steroids or animal vaccines), the size of a half gallon, and it lasts about 3 weeks (many times we have to throw it out). We eat very little gluten, the kids don’t drink any soda (they will have it occasionally, and they won’t finish it, say it tastes like sugar, and don’t like the “fizz”). They have barely eaten McDonald’s and don’t actually care for it (daughter thinks the taste of chicken nuggets is, to quote, “gross”).

Point is, don’t any of you anti-vaxxers even dare to throw out “you just believe what for-profit corporations say and you don’t look at the science.” Because you will sound stupid.

OK, to start off, if you read the article, all you see about this is an apologetic approach to anti-vaxxers with claims of a vast media conspiracy – “86 cases in 2000, 189 cases in 2013 somehow this is an epidemic Stupid media!” (I’m paraphrasing). What this person left out is that this is about triple the normal rate, and almost all the cases where from people who had brought the disease back from overseas and spread it. We have about 60 cases of measles per year, but those cases are almost always somebody who went overseas where measles is present, and (thought many of these people are vaccinated) got sick. They didn’t come home and spread it. Now, more than ever, they are spreading it, because we have many more people who aren’t vaccinated (because they get their medical advice from Playboy playmates and people like this blogger). And this creates more opportunities for it to hit vaccinated people – it, gasp, “spreads”. Spreading is what makes it an outbreak. An outbreak is not some term that means it has to be like the 1995 movie with Dustin Hoffman where a town is quarantined.

Secondly, in reading the article, all you hear are apologies – well, don’t go to a doctor where somebody got the vaccine, because… “shedding”. You used to get one shot, now you get 3! Basically, using scientific facts (the virus does shed, people do get more shots), and somehow implying that it is a friggin’ conspiracy theory or some such idiocy. She never mentions that the original vaccine for measles was for one strain (viruses mutate, you know), and that it used to be given with human immunoglobin (which had side effects). In other words, this dip weed wants you to believe that companies are making the vaccine to just shove in your kids like a shot of whiskey, and not that the vaccine is safer, with fewer side effects, and protects against more strains. No, it is “big Pharma”, and they just want to “poison” your kids. /facepalm.

Another point i will make is based upon a recent experience. Our school just sent us a notice that our daughter needs to get her Tdap booster. I found this a great opportunity to look into Tdap, because one of my FB friends was all over FB ranting about vaccines and autism (he since got so annoyed with me pointing out how stupid his anti-vaxx stance was that he dropped me as a friend.)

He pointed to a recent study that showed the Tdap vaccine with thermiosol (the mercury preservative Jenny McCarthy’s cleavage started her anti-vaxx crusade with), over a large group of people, had a doubling of autism cases. This sounds alarming. But, wait… the data showed that the increase was from 0.0001% to 0.0002%. This is ridiculously small. It would mean that for every 10,000 kids, there was one additional case of autism.

OK, you say, well, that’s one extra I don’t want, so… NO Tdap PLEASE! But, let’s put this in perspective. If you are 20 years old and decide you want a baby, you have a 1 in 1,667 chance of having a baby with down’s syndrome. that’s 10 times greater than getting autism from a Tdap vaccine (assuming this data is even reproducible, which ALL autism studies from vaccines have proven to not be reproducible). If you are 35 years old, you have a chance of having a baby with down’s if 1 out of 385 times, which is, wait for it, 25 FREAKING TIMES HIGHER! If you are 35, thinking about getting pregnant, and looking into vaccinations, and you decide to not get your kid vaccinated due to a 1 in 10,000 chance of autism (again, assuming this study is reproducible), but you don’t give a flying fig about a 1 in 385 chance of down’s syndrome, then, I have to say this, YOU… ARE… AN… IDIOT. You would have decided to drive across country rather than fly, because there was a plane crash 2 years ago, even though a drive across country has a massively higher chance of you dying in an accident.

Next, let’s talk about these scientific papers that are claiming to show a link. This whole anti-vaxx thing started based upon one article in a British journal. This one article was based upon self-reported cases from parents (i.e. not double blind or in any way scientific). It was based upon an incredibly small number of people (not in any way statistically significant). It was based upon the doctor, who hated vaccines anyway, seeing kids with a digestive problem (not even autism related). And, it was discovered, he lied. He changed the answers of some of the self-reporters who said they had no digestive problems or autism, and he said they did.

This is what kicked the whole… mess… off. This paper has since been discredited about 1000 times over, but the anti-vaxxers still hold onto it (because the original “doctor” still holds onto it), and again, the apologists and conspiracy theorists come out, claiming the CDC is bought off, big Pharma controls government, blah blah blah. I bet if you look hard enough, you will probably be able to prove Merck assassinated Kennedy.

Additionally, as far as scientific papers go, yes, there are papers showing links between autism and vaccinations. These links are incredibly specious, and are never reproducible. And, they are in the vast minority of studies. Something like 1%. What the anti-vaxxers don’t understand is just because a study comes out that matches your point of view, that doesn’t mean you get to discount everything else and just hold onto that. You will find, in fact, scientific papers, written by people with PhDs and peer reviewed, that will find that smoking causes no increased chance of lung cancer, and that the earth is actually really young (only 6,000 years old). You actually can find these “studies”. They do exist. What you have to understand is that scientific studies that are in the minority are produced all the time, because as long as they use strong scientific and mathematical analysis, they pass “peer review”. These kinds of studies must be published, even if they seem “crazy”, because that is how scientific knowledge advances. A minority opinion can become a majority opinion, and the only way this can happen is for things that follow good scientific protocol to be published so that why can be confirmed or disproven.

So, if you are holding onto your 1% of scientific papers that show links between autism, and saying that is “proof”, what you are doing is  cherry picking data. You might be right, but then again, so might the young earthers. Do you really want to be in that camp?

I will end this with one more comment about scientific papers. About 1% of the scientific papers that are published show that there is no link between human activity and climate change. The Republican party in the US uses these studies as a way to not adopt public policies for more solar, wind, geothermal, etc., and to keep giving tax subsidies to oil companies to poke holes in the ground and gas companies to explode cracks in rocks underground that cause earthquakes and poison water wells.

If you think global warming is real, and one of the arguments you use is “look at the sheer scientific data that says humans are causing global warming”, then, I’m sorry, you are not allowed to be an anti-vaxxer. The phrase I would use is, “in for a penny, in for a pound”. You do not get to use the scientific process where you are in the majority, and simultaneously cite “scientific process” when you are in the minority. If you trust scientists one way, you have to trust them another way. Science, my friends, is not something you get to use for your political hobby horse. It is either right, or it isn’t. It isn’t right when you want it to be and wrong when you want it to be.

Just like with global warming, you can’t make a “personal choice” to make the problem better. You can’t decide that we’ll be OK as long as you personally drive a Prius, or install solar panels, or make your own biofuels. We can only change the course of climate through collective action. Your personal actions won’t affect jack squat. Similarly, we can’t let every person decide, on their own, whether to get vaccinated or not. Lots of non-vaccinated people running around will spread disease, even to the vaccinated, so “personal choice” is not an acceptable criteria.

OK, I lied…. one more thing. How come all you anti-vaxxers want to go off on “big Pharma” all the time? You seem to want to discount everything they say because… “profit” or something. Have you ever put that same spotlight on all your favorite anti-vaxx writers and lecturers? You know, these aren’t exactly non-profits doing all this talking. There are people that make incredible sums of money every year flying around the country peddling their anti-vaxx crap. Their model, in fact, is very similar to the religious leaders like Joel Olsteen – hawking their conspiracies and gospel of truth, fleecing you for money. If you are going to question somebody’s profit motive, you need to question ALL of it.

Get your F***ING KIDS VACCINATED, or move to a country where they don’t care if you are vaccinated. I do not want my kid to grow up with measles scars or be stuck in a wheelchair due to polio because of you idiots, even though he was vaccinated.  I hear Somalia is really nice this time of year, weather wise.

Progressives and the Chris Christie Bridge Scandal

I’ve lately heard from a couple of fellow progressives who have complained bout MSNBC spending “so much time” talking about the Chris Christie bridge scandal.  One of these was Bill Maher, who said he was “breaking up” with MSNBC, and said,. “Bridgegate has become [MSNBC’s] Benghazi. ”  A local friend of mine, who has spent several hours with me laughing about the stupidity of conservatives, also said he is tired of it.

In both these instances, the feeling seems to be that, “yeah, something happened here”, but now that we know about it, Christie is toast, and to continue talking about it is to be just like Fox News, hyping something that isn’t that big of a deal just because something happened to a person you don’t ideologically like.  That we as progressives, and MSNBC as a station, are just reveling too much in schadenfreude.

OK, um, let’s back up a bit here.

First off, liberals and progressives all the time talk about false equivalencies.  An example of the false equivalency is saying that “both sides” refuses to talk to each other seriously about policy, and that Obama needs to “lead” more.  This is just factually false.  A key example of this is election night 2012, where Obama called the leaders of the House (John Boehner) and the minority leader of the Senate (Mitch McConnell), but they refused to take his call because they were “asleep”.  Now, keep in mind that every presidential election the winner tends to all all 4 leaders (majority and minority) of the two houses.  No president ever was ignored by the leader because they were “tired” or whatever.  Everybody knows this call is coming.  If Nancy Pelosi refused a call from Dubya, Fox News’ head would have exploded (actually, that would have been kind of cool to see on live TV).  But again, since Republicans say that Obama isn’t reaching out, it’s just accepted that he must not reach out.  False equivalency.

So, anyway, liberals have lots of reasons to point out the false equivalency.  So it is especially troublesome to see them do the exact… same… thing…  No, the GW bridge scandal is absolutely not Fast and Furious… or Benghazi… or Obama’s friggn’ birth certificate.  First off, those “scandals” had several hearings.  And about 2 minutes into each one of the hearings, it was clear that the narrative Fox and conservatives were trying to portray about the issue was completely wrong.  And there were also massive instances of conservative selective document leaking.  So much so that his committee ends up releasing more documents just to shut him up.  Secondly, none of these hearings have ever found anything, yet Fox News still talks about it. Contrast this to Bridgegate, where there has yet to be any federal hearing, though there is a possibility this could happen since the Port Authority is an multi-state organization chartered by the federal government and subject to federal oversight.  And the state hearings just started, and no testimony has been given.  The subpoenas for documents have resulted in assertions of the 5th Amendment, none of which happened in any of the ginned up conservative controversies.

Additionally, the few bits of things that have come out have been simply amazing and are taking the investigation in entirely new directions.  For example, most recently it has been found out that David Sampson, a key player in the bridge controversy and chairman of the Port Authority, and also a VERY close friend of Chris Christie’s, was also a consultant for a company that leased a parking lot from the Port Authority.  They paid his law firm over $2M, and then Sampson, as chairman of the Port Authority, pushed through a change in rent for the parking lot from $900K per year to… $1.  He didn’t recuse himself.  He didn’t disclose his conflict of interest.  He promoted the idea.

The point of this is that there is no equivalency.  For one, the hearings have just started whereas the fake conservative scandals had multiple hearings.  Secondly, there seems to be something going on, we just don’t know what, given all the claims on the 5th Amendment.  Nothing like this happened with any of the fake conservative hearings.  Third, every instance of something happening with Bridgegate have happened with people that Chris Christie is personally close to, as opposed to, say, the fake IRS scandal, which never even reached the White House offices, let alone Obama (and keep in mind, the outrage was fake to begin with, as liberal groups were also targeted in that case).

So, let’s just stop the false equivalency, fellow progressives.  There is something here.  It might not get to Christie, but you know, it took about 2 years for Watergate to get fully exposed – the break in occurred in 1972, Nixon resigned in 1974.  I’m not equating Bridgegate to Watergate, but what I’m saying is that real investigations take quite a bit of time, even in the digital age.  The investigation into the GW bridge scandal is only about 2 months old.  Additionally, while MSNBC might be talking about it a lot, the reach of MSNBC is nothing like the reach of the Washington Post or the New York Times in 1972-1974.  MSNBC gets about 300,000 viewers a night.  From what I can find, it appears the Washington Post had a readership well over 1 million people per day in 1972.

What I would instead ask my fellow progressives to look at with all this false equivalency nonsense is… are you sure this isn’t the actual intent of conservatives?  Think about it – if the right gins up 10 fake controversies on Obama, such that the general public starts to roll its eyes at the silliness of it, is the general public going to be more likely or less likely to believe a real controversy, whether it is from the right or the left?  How do we really know if it is real vs. yet another fake one – a crying wolf thing?  We’ve seen how Machiavellian conservatives can be.  I’m not calling it a conspiracy – a conspiracy involves being secretive.  And there is nothing about the attacks on Obama that are secretive.  But I tend to think this whole attacking of Obama over ridiculous stuff is on purpose.  To put it another way, the Independent Counsel Statue arose during Watergate, as it was clear that the Justice Department, and Congress, wasn’t necessarily able to do its job to oversee wrongdoings in the White House.  This statute got horribly abused by Republicans in the 1990s, causing an initial failed land deal in Arkansas to shift over into looking at the Vince Foster suicide and every other nonsense Clinton “scandal”, until eventually they “got him” for having sex with an intern.  Everybody was so disgusted with the IC that we let the statue expire.  And what happened after that?  Secret meetings in the White House with energy executives, a complete failure on 9/11, memos being passed to and fro OK-ing torture, and secret wire taps of Americans illegally.  Do you think an truly independent prosecutor would have sniffed that stuff out?  I do.  But hey, it wasn’t there.  Point is, I’m not sure getting rid of the Independent Counsel was an “oops” thing.  I think conservatives really hoped this would happen and were willing to impeach a president over a semen stain if that’s what it meant to make it happen.

OK, having said all of that, let me point out another issue I think is important related to Bridgegate, and why I don’t think we should just “let it go”.  For this example, I would like you to look at one George Dubya Bush.  In the 1970s when he first ran for Congress, his opponent, very briefly, attacked Dubya’s service in the National Guard.  Everybody knew that unit of the Guard was a joke – it is where the children of the rich and powerful, as well as people like star players for the Dallas Cowboys, served so that they would not have to go to Vietnam.  (It was called the Champagne Unit).  And it looked like Bush didn’t even fulfill the obligations for that.  It looked like Bush just ignored times of service so he could campaign for a conservative in Alabama.

Now, this charge never went anywhere, because Bush lost the seat.  No investigation was done.  Democrats raised the issue in 2004 during the Presidential election, and Bush and his cronies whined, saying this was all propaganda, that the whole thing was “looked into” and that there was nothing there.  They basically charged the Democrats with being desperate.

But… here’s the thing.  It wasn’t looked into.  It was a throwaway charge that kind of hung around, but nobody every looked at it.  It wasn’t investigated and nothing was discovered.  It was hardly looked at.  Similar things happened with Bush around his DUI arrest records in Maine.  Nothing was really investigated when it happened, and Bush later used that to claim the whole thing was nonsense and we should move on.

How does this relate to Bridgegate?  Well, Christie tried to do the same thing.  The lanes on the GW bridge were closed in September.  There was grumbling about it at the time, but no investigation had been launched.  It was, basically, a throw-away editorial in a small New Jersey paper.  When it bubbled back up to the surface in November, Christie joked about it, calling the people looking into it “people with nothing better to do”, where he had many better things to do.

Now, of course, we know that some major things happened there.  Because the press didn’t let it go (specifically MSNBC), we now have an actual investigation.  We have 5th Amendment claims flying around like leaves blowing around on a windy fall day.  We have documents showing major scumminess originating from the Governor’s Office itself.  We have people being fired.  In short, we have big things going on.

So, we should just let that go?  If we do, how is that a good thing?  Couldn’t Christie just continue to stonewall it?  And if he does, in two years, couldn’t he come out and call people talking about it “desperate”?  Yeah, actually, he could.

So, again, the idea that we should just lay off this, that MSNBC should just talk about something else, is just silly.  It’s what conservatives want MSNBC to do.  What you actually have right now, I would argue, is the equivalent of a Scooby Doo episode, where old man Johnson is trying to get away with scaring off local residents, except for those “pesky kids” of MSNBC not letting him get away with it.

So, in conclusion, fellow liberals and progressives, and people who just don’t want to talk about politics… Bridgegate is not Benghazi.  There is something here.  It affects people who could be the leaders of our country as future presidents.  It matters.  It is not something MSNBC should just stop talking about.  Don’t be conned into thinking it is.