Mike Kueber's Blog

May 7, 2015

Garland

Filed under: Law/justice,Media — Mike Kueber @ 3:37 am
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The liberal New York Times Editorial Board today joined conservative Bill O’Reilly in criticizing Pamela Geller for holding a provocative Muhammed Art Exhibit and Contest in Garland.  These fine folks point out that the contest wasn’t about free speech, but rather it was about hatred and bigotry.  To them I ask, does the First Amendment only protect fair and reasonable people?

The editorial board and Bill O’Reilly seem to think that America is giving its imprimatur on Geller by protecting her contest.  I say America is not approving the substance of the contest, but it is approving her right to have it.

In all this hubbub, I haven’t heard a single commentator refer to that traditional description of free speech – “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

March 7, 2015

Critical thinking – racial discrimination in San Antonio and Ferguson

Filed under: Culture,Law/justice,Media — Mike Kueber @ 2:04 pm
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Following up on my recent post about logic and critical thinking, this week’s media reporting included two glaring examples of failing to use the aforementioned abilities.  The first, an article in the San Antonio Express-News, suggested that racial bias was behind the fact that a disproportionate percentage of blacks and Latinos were suspended from school in San Antonio and Bexar County.

  • “Among racial groups, in the 19 school districts that are all or partly in Bexar County, black students are far fewer in numbers, but about 15 percent of them were suspended out of school in the 2011-12 school year, compared to 10 percent of all Latino students and 5 percent of white students.”
  • “The findings ‘bring up civil rights issues,’ said Daniel J. Losen, the center’s director and the report’s principal author. ‘We know from studying the data that suspensions are strong indicators of lower academic achievement and higher numbers of dropouts. It doesn’t help anyone much, from what we can tell.’”

I comment as follows to the author of the article:

  • Francisco, your article seems to suggest that the disproportionate suspensions of blacks and Latinos raise civil-rights issues. If that is your point, I think you (or your cited experts) should explain why this is causation, not mere correlation. Further, I don’t understand why the reported numbers don’t include Asian students. If suspensions are the converse of academic achievement, you would expect Asian students to be subjected to fewer suspensions.”

In addition to the causation-correlation delusion described in The Halo Effect, the article is also guilty of the delusion of single explanations. There is no attempt to consider other possible causes of the connection between racial status and school suspensions, such as academic achievement. The lazy writer simply makes an incendiary, politically-correct assertion.

The New York Times took a similar path in reporting on the Justice Departments findings about Ferguson policing.  In an article titled, “Racially Discriminatory Policing Was the Norm,” the Times dutifully reported the Justice Department findings:

  • Black people are two-thirds of Ferguson’s population, but from 2012 to 2014, they accounted for 85 percent of police traffic stops, 90 percent of citations issued, and 93 percent of arrests. The Municipal Court also treats blacks more harshly, according to the Justice Department’s findings. The harms of Ferguson’s police and court practices are borne disproportionately by African Americans, and there is evidence that this is due in part to intentional discrimination on the basis of race…. Our investigation has revealed that these disparities occur, at least in part, because of unlawful bias against and stereotypes about African Americans. We have found substantial evidence of racial bias among police and court staff in Ferguson. For example, we discovered emails circulated by police supervisors and court staff that stereotype racial minorities as criminals, including one email that joked about an abortion by an African-American woman being a means of crime control.”

Notice the skillful use, twice, of the qualifier, “at least in part.” Technically, this relieves the Times from the obligation to report on other, possibly more significant causes, outside of racism, for blacks to be involved with the Ferguson PD.   The actual Justice Department report, not the Times article, seems to consider and reject this possibility:

  • City officials have frequently asserted that the harsh and disparate results of Ferguson’s law enforcement system do not indicate problems with police or court practices, but instead reflect a pervasive lack of ‘personal responsibility’ among ‘certain segments’ of the community. Our investigation has found that the practices about which area residents have complained are in fact unconstitutional and unduly harsh. But the City’s personal-responsibility refrain is telling: it reflects many of the same racial stereotypes found in the emails between police and court supervisors. This evidence of bias and stereotyping, together with evidence that Ferguson has long recognized but failed to correct the consistent racial disparities caused by its police and court practices, demonstrates that the discriminatory effects of Ferguson’s conduct are driven at least in part by discriminatory intent in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

Talk about conclusory, unsubstantiated allegations! And the ubiquitous, “at least in part.”

Of course, even if we can’t expect the media to report on complex issues of causation, we might hope that it discusses solutions. And the only obvious solution is that the system must be jury-rigged so that 13% of all school suspensions, nationwide, go to blacks, 17% go to Hispanics, and the remaining 70% go to others.  But I’m not sure that is the color-blind society that MLK dreamed of.

January 14, 2013

Scare-mongering by the NT Times

Filed under: Issues,Media,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 11:00 pm
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Conservative pundits have been warning that big-government advocates in the media will be falsely threatening Americans that a Republican refusal to raise the debt ceiling unless there are spending cuts will result in America’s default of its debt.  The warning is false, the pundits say, because there is enough money coming into government through taxes to pay the debt as it comes due.  Instead of causing a default on debt, the refusal to raise the debt ceiling will probably cause a government shut-down of non-essential activities and the inability to send out checks to insurance beneficiaries under programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, military pensions, and unemployment.

Not surprisingly, a NY Times editorial today warned that “Republicans have made it clear they are fully prepared to shut down the government, block payments to retirees and soldiers, default on the credit of the United States, and cause a global panic by the end of next month, all of which will result from failing to raise the debt ceiling.” 

I wrote to the Times and asked them to explain why leaving the debt ceiling at $16 billion would force the American government to default on its debt, but I’m not holding my breath waiting for an answer.

January 11, 2013

Op-ed pieces in the NT Times

Filed under: Media — Mike Kueber @ 2:50 pm
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The Op-ed page of the NY Times is a place for people – famous or obscure – to volunteer their writings on current affairs.  Since that is precisely what I blog about, and since the readership of the Times is exponentially higher, I made a New Year’s resolution to submit some of my favorite posts to the Times for their consideration. 

Earlier today, I made my first NT Times submission, and they responded as follows:

  • Thank you for contacting the New York Times Op-Ed and Sunday Review desk. We appreciate your feedback and comments.  If you have sent us a manuscript, please know that we have received your submission and are reviewing it….
  • You will hear from us within three business days if your article is accepted for publication. Unfortunately, the amount of space available for publication of Op-Ed and Sunday Review articles is so limited, and the volume of submissions so large, that we have to pass on much material of value and interest. So if you do not hear from us in that time, please assume that we will not be able to use your submission; you should then feel free to offer it elsewhere.
  • Again, many thanks for taking the time to send us your work.

Because of the Times’ insistence on exclusivity, I will wait three days before posting the submission. 

Fyi – according to the Times’ guidance on Op-ed submissions, the term “Op-ed” does not mean opinion/editorial, but rather was internal slang for the page opposite the editorial page.  The submissions are supposed to be about 750 words.  The Times receives about 1200 submissions a week, and prints about two a day.  That amounts to about a 1 out of 100 chance.  I’m guessing that I will submit 20 writings this year.

 

December 29, 2012

Airbrushing Obama’s diction

Filed under: Media,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 9:41 pm
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In commenting on the prospects of averting the fiscal cliff this weekend, President Obama said he was “modestly optimistic.”  When I heard the comment, I immediately concluded that he meant to say “moderately optimistic” because “modesty” is totally inappropriate as a modifier in that context. 

Can you imagine how much fun Maureen Dowd and the NY Times would have with George W. Bush if he made a similar mistake?

So what did the Times do this time?  Not surprisingly, it airbrushed the mistake, even though the term was inescapably critical to news headlines around the nation.  According to the NY Times News Service, which was used in papers across the country (including the SA Express-News), what Obama actually said was the following:

  • President Barack Obama said Friday evening that progress had been made in make-or-break talks on the fiscal crisis, saying he was cautiously “optimistic” as Senate leaders worked furiously on an agreement toward a bill to avert the worst of the economic punch from landing Tuesday.”

Conservative pundits often accuse the Times and NBC News of being extensions of the Obama campaign staff, and there seems to be some truth to that.

October 14, 2011

Piling on Michele Bachmann

Filed under: Media,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 1:03 am
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Back in July I posted in my blog about two politicians who “had extraordinarily thin resumes prior to running for President and that they had somehow hoodwinked the media into romanticizing their lightweight pre-political careers.”  The posting was titled “Thin Resumes,” and the two politicians were Barack Obama and Michele Bachmann.

Because the media love Barack Obama, I understand why they would treat him as the 2nd coming of Camelot.  But I never understood why they gave Michele Bachmann a free pass.  Perhaps they have decided that vetting (and potentially exposing) fresh faces on the political scene is more trouble than it is worth.  To use a boxing analogy, the media may have decided that, instead of going for a knockout of Bachmann early, it is easier and safer to keep your distance and allow Bachmann to TKO herself later in the process.

Well, now that it appears that Bachmann’s campaign has just about punched itself out, the NY Times has apparently decided that it is better late than never to publish an expose of Bachmann’s early years.  Anyone else want to pile on?

According to the expose in today’s paper, in 1979 Bachmann wanted to go to a less expensive public law school in Minnesota, but ended up a member of the first law-school class at Oral Robert University in Tulsa, OK – “They were the inaugural class in an unusual educational experiment: a law school rooted in charismatic Christian belief.”  Apparently, the high cost of Oral Roberts University caused the newly-married Bachmann to go in and out of school, so she didn’t graduate for seven years.

The law school at Oral Roberts was not initially accredited by the ABA because the school placed too much emphasis on religion.  “There was a dress code: modest skirts and dresses for women, shirts and ties for men.  Beards were forbidden; a man’s hair could be no longer than halfway down the ear. Twice-weekly chapel attendance was required.”

Thus, it was risky for Bachmann to attend Oral Roberts because, without accreditation, she would not be eligible to take state bar exams and become a licensed lawyer.  Eventually in 1981, as a result of litigation, the law school was accredited, and Bachmann was eventually able to return to Minnesota and take and pass the state’s bar exam.

Bachmann graduated in 1986 and the law school went out of existence the next year because of financial difficulties.   According to the Time article, the school was turned over to Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting University in Regent, VA.

After graduating, she took her one and only legal job.  Although Bachmann routinely describes herself as “a former federal tax litigation attorney,” the NY Times article reports that Bachmann rarely reveals that she received her law degree from Oral Roberts or that her employer was the Internal Revenue Service.  I guess her actual life isn’t as glamorous as befits her.

What was her work life at the IRS like?  “Mrs. Bachmann went on to get her tax law certificate and join the I.R.S., for five years, handling run-of-the-mill tax cases, which mostly settled out of court.  She tried just two cases.”

Incidentally, neither Obama nor Bachmann are licensed attorneys anymore.  Both turned in their licenses after realizing that a career in politics was where their hearts were.

Thank you New York Times for the definitive profile on Bachmann’s early years.  I suspect there will not be a need for a follow-up.

OK, let’s unpile.

October 10, 2011

The American work ethic

Filed under: Culture,Fitness — Mike Kueber @ 6:13 am
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I grew up on a farm in North Dakota at a time when strenuous physical labor was a part of the job description.  In addition to driving various vehicles, my brothers and I performed a bunch of manual, backbreaking chores, the worst of which were the following:

  • Pick rocks by hand
  • Shovel shit
  • Fix fences
  • Haul hay bales

I’ve always felt that the work ethic I learned as a kid in ND gave me a head-start in staying in good physical condition as I have aged, and I was concerned that as urban kids in America were exposed to a softer time growing up, our country might lose the ability to physically compete with kids from other countries.

You might counter-argue that in the future we are more likely to compete with our brains than with our brawn, but that is not always true.  Wars are not going away.

In my mind, America kicked ass in WWII because of all our tough farm kids, and I suspect that America continues to kick ass in wars because of enhanced training.  But I feared that eventually the softer urban life would catch up with America, and the result may be that we don’t have the toughest soldiers.

My fear about the softening of America has started dissipating in recent years because, based on my experience at Lifetime Fitness, I have seen that American kids are adapting to an urban life without being softened.  None of these kids have to haul bales or shovel shit or pick rocks, but they remain sufficiently motivated to build big muscles.  I don’t think we have worry about some kids from Russia or Iran or China kicking sand in our face.

While I was doing all of this amateur, informal thinking about the softening of America, the NY Times was formally considering it.  A “Room for Debate” article in the NY Times today
explored whether America’s work ethic was weakening.  The article was prompted by the common complaint by proponents of illegal immigration that Americans were unwilling to take the
tougher manual-labor jobs, such as picking fruit or hoeing weeds.  One of the debaters in the Times opined anecdotally that Americans weren’t lazier, but perhaps were softer – i.e., we would do something that was grueling mentally, but not if it was grueling physically.  Another argued that we would do grueling physical labor if it were well paid.

The key to handling issues like this one is to understand that America has a tradition of freedom and that freedom will enable Americans to resolve more issues by adapting on their own without the need for help from the so-called smart people in Washington, D.C.

October 7, 2011

An open letter to Jeff Kessler of the Washington Post

Filed under: Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 11:34 pm
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Jeff Kessler is a so-called fact-checker at the liberal Washington Post.  His job is to identify politicians who misstate verifiable facts.  In doing this work, Jeff promises to be dispassionate and nonpartisan.  Based on Kessler’s recent hatchet-job on Mitt Romney, I would have to give him a failing grade in both regards.

Kessler’s job on Romney becomes even more objectionable when you consider that his analysis was first reported in February.    I guess Kessler and the Washington Post are going to keep repeating their opinion as long as Romney keeps repeating his, but don’t call it nonpartisan.

I was hopeful that discerning Post readers would have pointed out to Kessler and the Post the error of their ways, but my experience with readers of the liberal NY Times is that the readers have drunk as much Kool-Aid as the paper and its writers, and this is true of the Post, too.  The Post readers had a problem with Romney, but not with Kessler and the Post. 

Giving them the benefit of a doubt, I expressed my opposition to Kessler and the Post through the following comments:

  • Glenn, the Post‘s guiding principles indicate that (a) this is fact-checking, not an opinion-checking operation, and (b) we will strive to be dispassionate and non-partisan.  But your opinion about Romney’s assertions clearly are mere opinion, and just as clearly partisan.  Or do you deny that you are an Obama partisan?
  • Regarding the exceptionalism issue, you attempt to create some context, but in doing so, you fail to explain what Obama meant by his dominant, leading statement – i.e., yes, I believe America is exceptional, but I understand that the Brits and Greeks feel the same way about their nation-states.  Although it is subjective to characterize that statement as derisive, it is just as subjective and partisan to characterize it as “not derisive in the least.”
  • Regarding the apology tour, I understand that Obama did not use the term “apology,” but he did concede to the French that  America “has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive” toward Europe.  Most people with a modest amount of common sense would conclude that statement to be an apology.  But you go even further – i.e., you charge that someone is engaging in major-league lying if her concludes that statement to be an apology.
  • I understand your partisan opinion, but don’t claim to be a dispassionate fact-checker.

August 16, 2011

An open letter to Joe Nocera re: Buffett’s tax on the rich

Filed under: Issues,Media,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 4:32 pm
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Joe,

I was disappointed with your column in support of a boycott on campaign contributions.  Although the idea is getting lots of publicity (I just saw Scott Pelley on the CBS Evening News interview the Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz), I haven’t heard anyone, other than Schultz, who thinks the idea will work.  As Pelley indicated, if the good-government types withdraw to the sidelines, they will be leaving an uncontested field to the bad-government types.  That would be analogous to violating the physician’s oath by providing treatment that makes the patient worse.  Most people agree that campaign contributions corrupt the political process, but instead of tilting against windmills by idealistically urging an ineffective boycott of contributions, you should be exposing the corruption.

An excellent example of the corruption appeared this weekend in a NY Times op-ed piece by Warren Buffett in favor of raising taxes on the rich.  As part of his argument, Buffett described two tax loopholes that unfairly benefit the rich – specifically, preferred tax treatment for the income earned by fund managers and day traders.

My suggestion is that you or the NY Times should investigate how such loopholes came to exist.  It is hard to imagine any Congressman or Senator would work in favor of such loopholes unless they had prostituted themselves to the fund managers or traders.  Perhaps by revealing this sordid symbiotic relationship, the voters will be motivated to punish legislators who prostitute themselves to special interests.

Sincerely,

Mike Kueber

 

August 15, 2011

Joe Nocera

Filed under: Media — Mike Kueber @ 5:27 am
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The newest NY Times columnist is Joe Nocera, who joined the paper’s stable of columnists in April 2011.  I have some familiarity with Nocera because of his recent best-seller titled, All the  Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis, which he co-authored with Bethany McLean.  I reviewed the book in my blog and concluded that the authors’ work was  insightful and fair.    Furthermore, Nocera has experience as a business writer for Fortune magazine and before that Texas Monthly.

Nocera’s C.V. doesn’t portend for a liberal ideologue.  Although the Times has a tradition of favoring liberal columnists (Frank Rich, Paul Krugman, Nicholas Kristof, Thomas Friedman, Roger Cohen, Gail Collins, and Maureen Dowd), it has two pragmatic writers (David Brooks and Ross Douthat), and I was hopeful that Nocera would be the third.

So far, the prospects for that are not good.  In a recent column, Nocera admitted as much:

  • In the four months since I began writing an Op-Ed column, the thing that has most surprised me is how darned liberal I sound sometimes.”

In that column, Nocera went on to apologize for comparing the TEA Party to terrorists:

  • That anger reached its apex on Tuesday, when I wrote a column comparing the Tea Party Republicans to terrorists. The words I chose were intemperate and offensive to many, and I’ve been roundly criticized. I was a hypocrite, the critics said, for using such language when on other occasions I’ve called for a more civil politics. In the cool light of day, I agree with them. I apologize.  I still think it was terribly wrong for the Republicans to use the threat of default to insist on massive spending cuts, though President Obama also deserves blame for playing his hand so poorly.  Putting on my pragmatist hat again….”

Sorry, Joe, it’s not that easy.  You do not become a pragmatist simply by talking civilly.  Your columns suggest that you might be a latent liberal ideologue.  But even worse, based on the kumbaya quality of your most recent follow-up column, you are in danger of becoming a mushy, soft-headed liberal.  In your column, you call for good-government types to boycott campaign donations:

  • What I particularly like about Schultz’s idea is that it is not just another plea for compromise and civility, which does nothing to affect political behavior.  It is hardheaded and practical, the kind of idea you would expect from a good businessman. Although it would require contributors from both the left and right to join arms, it seems to me that there are enough people in both parties who are fed up enough to give this a try. He’s already lined up one organization, Democracy 21, to support the idea; he’s searching for more.  Is Schultz’s idea a long shot? Yes. Is it worth trying? You bet it is.”

Although I despise campaign contributions, and their corrosive effect on politics, as much as any person, I can’t imagine any good that would come from leaving all campaign donations to people and corporations that are trying to buy votes, influence, and access.  It should go without saying that the bad-government types are not going to join any such boycott.  A more practical solution is full disclosure to the voters of all donations, and then the voters need to punish those in the market of buying and selling influence.

Joe, I suggest that you quit worrying about finding the correct ideological balance and simply go where your experience and reasoning take you.  That will be pragmatic enough for me.

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