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3:31 pm - Thu, Apr 17, 2014

"We choose to go in a different direction," he says.

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3:01 pm
3 notes
Behold, the Fox Butterfield Fallacy,** conservative-style.
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** “Who’s Fox Butterfield?” is one of this column’s most frequently asked questions. Answer: Butterfield was a reporter for the New York Times …whose crime stories served as the archetype for his eponymous fallacy.
"It has become a comforting story: for five straight years, crime has been falling, led by a drop in murder," Butterfield wrote in 1997. “So why is the number of inmates in prisons and jails around the nation still going up?” He repeated the trope in 2003: “The nation’s prison population grew 2.6 percent last year, the largest increase since 1999, according to a study by the Justice Department. The jump came despite a small decline in serious crime in 2002.” And in 2004: “The number of inmates in state and federal prisons rose 2.1 percent last year, even as violent crime and property crime fell, according to a study by the Justice Department released yesterday.”
In that last story, Butterfield made reference to “the paradox of a falling crime rate but a rising prison population.” The Butterfield Fallacy consists in misidentifying as a paradox what is in fact a simple cause-and-effect relationship…

Behold, the Fox Butterfield Fallacy,** conservative-style.

___

** “Who’s Fox Butterfield?” is one of this column’s most frequently asked questions. Answer: Butterfield was a reporter for the New York Times …whose crime stories served as the archetype for his eponymous fallacy.

"It has become a comforting story: for five straight years, crime has been falling, led by a drop in murder," Butterfield wrote in 1997. “So why is the number of inmates in prisons and jails around the nation still going up?” He repeated the trope in 2003: “The nation’s prison population grew 2.6 percent last year, the largest increase since 1999, according to a study by the Justice Department. The jump came despite a small decline in serious crime in 2002.” And in 2004: “The number of inmates in state and federal prisons rose 2.1 percent last year, even as violent crime and property crime fell, according to a study by the Justice Department released yesterday.”

In that last story, Butterfield made reference to “the paradox of a falling crime rate but a rising prison population.” The Butterfield Fallacy consists in misidentifying as a paradox what is in fact a simple cause-and-effect relationship…

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1:41 pm
1 note

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2:24 pm - Wed, Apr 16, 2014
1 note
Now that’s what I call a horse race!

Now that’s what I call a horse race!

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2:17 pm
1 note
In other developments, President Lincoln has just been shot!

In other developments, President Lincoln has just been shot!

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9:45 am

Pop Quiz: Which Policy Is Worse?

Osage

If you are like most people, you probably spend a lot of time wondering, “What is the absolutely worst environmental policy on the planet?” And if you are like most people, you probably think it is America’s ethanol policy. So Virginia’s recent decision to subsidize what will be the largest ethanol plant on the East Coast might strike you as doubling down on the dubious.

Don’t be too hasty. We have some competition.

True, America’s policy of blending corn-based ethanol into gasoline is unbelievably awful. For decades, Congress lavished billions of dollars on fuel producers to encourage the practice. As a result, almost half the U.S. corn crop gets pumped into gasoline tanks. Owing in no small part to that, corn prices more than doubled from 2006 to 2011. This raised the price of food both for people and for animals that people eat, such as farm-raised pigs. As a result, notes Bloomberg Businessweek, “ethanol mandates have acted as an efficient way to funnel cash from the world’s disadvantaged to its agro industry conglomerates.”

So the mandate is bad for poor people. But at least it raises gasoline prices! For one thing, ethanol costs more to produce than gasoline. And when Washington replaced ethanol subsidies with a renewable-fuel standard, it set increasingly high – and increasingly unrealistic – targets for the amount of ethanol to be blended with gasoline. Since there is not enough ethanol to go around, some gasoline producers have to buy ethanol credits known as renewable identification numbers (RINs). The trading of RINs has driven their price sharply higher, which has raised prices at the pump.

(Bonus point: Federal rules are driving refiners up against a “blend wall” – the point at which the ethanol content in gasoline exceeds 10 percent. Using more than a 10 percent ethanol blend voids many car warranties.)

But ethanol is helping to stave off global warming, right? Wrong. Corn needs farming, and farming needs fertilizers and tractors and hauling and so on. In some cases ethanol production requires more energy than the fuel delivers to your engine. Analyses differ, but by some estimates ethanol actually raises carbon-dioxide emissions from the tailpipe 12 percent over non-ethanol blends. (Even the federal government – which imposes the mandate – concedes “the ethanol program has little effect on the environment.”)

Ethanol is therefore one of the few subjects on which all corners of the ideological map agree. U.S. ethanol mandates are “catastrophically idiotic” (Mother Jones); “costly and unnecessary” (the Heritage Foundation); and “blatant corporate welfare” (the Cato Institute). Aside from that, they’re great.

So naturally, last week Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe boasted that he had played “a significant role” in using state subsidies to revive a defunct ethanol plant in Hopewell, south of Richmond. Osage Bio Energy built the $200 million facility a few years ago in the hope of raking in federal incentives for turning barley into gas. That didn’t pan out, and the plant never even lit the boilers. Last year Vireol, a British firm, bought the plant, intending to disassemble it and ship it overseas.

But thanks to Riley Ingram, Hopewell’s representative in Virginia’s House of Delegates, the company is going to stay. He sponsored legislation ensuring that for the next three years it will get up to $1.5 million in state support to produce about 170 million gallons of ethanol. The company also will get a $250,000 state development grant, matching tax breaks from Hopewell, employee training incentives, and Enterprise Zone incentives. This is supposed to create jobs – if you don’t count the jobs that would otherwise be created if not for the economic inefficiency of all that government meddling.

Upshot? Virginia taxpayers will shell out millions to help make food and gasoline more expensive while making global warming worse. ’Twas a famous victory.

It’s hard to find a policy that makes less sense – but London’s Daily Mail has done so. According to a story it ran in March, vast swaths of North Carolina forest are being clear-cut to make wood pellets for use in Britain, which is supposed to almost triple its renewable-energy use in the next six years. Subjects of the British crown are paying hefty subsidies to underwrite the cost of shipping a million metric tons of wood pellets a year 3,800 miles across the ocean – the ships leave from Virginia ports – so they can be burned at the Drax power station in Yorkshire.

If you think that sounds incredibly inefficient, you’re right. It actually generates 20 percent more carbon dioxide than burning coal would – and twice as much as burning natural gas would. Meanwhile, the trees being mowed down to feed the insatiable Drax maw will take about a century to regrow. But since they do regrow, that technically makes wood pellets a “renewable” resource. (By that logic, so is coal.)

For this, British taxpayers shelled out more than 62 million pounds – about $100 million – in green-energy subsidies last year. Britain’s government also is going to make them pay 105 pounds ($176) per megawatt-hour for this “green” energy, which is seven times what they’ll pay for nuclear energy, which really does help reduce global warming.

Nigel Burdett, Drax’s environmental manager, explains why this is happening: “Our whole business case is built on [the] subsidy, like the rest of the renewable energy industry,” he told the Daily Mail. “We develop our business plan in light of what the government wants – not what might be nice.”

So back to the question at the start of this column: Which policy is worse? To answer that one, the judges might need to go to the videotape.

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3:32 pm - Tue, Apr 15, 2014
2 notes

As a real animal softie, I was skeptical of horse-drawn carriages in New York. Liam Neeson explains why I was wrong:

New York’s horse-carriage trade is a humane industry that is well regulated by New York City’s Departments of Health and Mental Hygiene and Consumer Affairs. Harry W. Werner, a past president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, has visited the stables and “found no evidence whatsoever of inhumane conditions, neglect or cruelty in any aspect.”

Every horse must be licensed and pass a physical examination by a veterinarian twice a year; typically, the horses spend about six hours per day in the park. They cannot work in excessive cold or heat, and must also be furloughed for five weeks a year on a pasture in the country.

New York’s horse carriages have made an estimated six million trips in traffic over the last 30 years. In that time, just four horses have been killed as a result of collisions with motor vehicles, with no human fatalities. In contrast to the terrible toll of traffic accidents generally on New Yorkers, the carriage industry has a remarkable safety record.

A majority of carriage drivers and stable hands are recent immigrants, often raised on farms in their home countries. They love their jobs and their horses, and they take pride in being ambassadors for this great city. I can’t help but see the proposed ban as a class issue: Their livelihoods are now at risk because the animal-rights opponents of the industry are well funded by real-estate interests, which has led to speculation that this powerful lobby wishes to develop the West Side properties occupied by the stables.

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9:29 am - Mon, Apr 14, 2014
4 notes
A real old sticker on a real new car.

A real old sticker on a real new car.

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5:44 pm - Sun, Apr 13, 2014
12 notes

Does Anyone Like Free Speech?

Do conservatives owe the Dixie Chicks an apology? It sure looks that way. Liberals, meanwhile, owe some apologies too.

A little over a decade ago the Chicks’ lead singer, Natalie Maines, told a London audience: “Just so you know, we’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas.” This was less than two weeks before the shooting started in the Iraq war, and patriotic fervor was running high. Blowback came swiftly. Country-music stations stopped playing the Dixie Chicks. Their No. 1 single “Travelin’ Soldier” fell off the charts. Critics started calling them the “Ditsy Twits” and the “Vichy Chicks” and even less flattering things. They received death threats.

To the left, this epitomized the “stifling of dissent” that all truly patriotic Americans should abhor. To conservatives, this was simply the free market in action. As a later piece in National Review put it, “fans were also only exercising their own freedoms, in choosing not to buy albums. Radio stations were exercising their business freedom in choosing not to play songs that outraged their listeners and repelled their advertisers.”

Back then, you didn’t see conservatives expressing the sort of alarm they have been voicing ever since Brandon Eich resigned as head of Mozilla. Six years ago Eich donated to California’s Proposition 8, upholding traditional marriage. His recent elevation to CEO ignited a debate over that. Within days, Eich bowed to the pressure and stepped down.

To the right, this was a “purge” carried out by the “thought police” and the “gay mafia” that banishes the “politically incorrect” to the “liberal gulag.” Not quite government censorship — but certainly a dangerous stifling of dissent and an example of, in Virginia Congressman Frank Wolf’s words, “mob rule.” On the other side, many liberals defended the ouster as entirely appropriate. As one piece in The New York Times put it, Mozilla had simply realized its “CEO’s worldview is completely out of touch with the company’s — and America’s — values and vision for the future.” Companies have a right to live their values, after all.

Really? As Jonathan Tobin pointed out in Commentary, that’s hardly the orthodox liberal view of Hobby Lobby. According to the liberal view, Hobby Lobby’s desire not to arrange contraception for its employees is not an expression of the corporation’s viewpoint, because corporations aren’t people and they don’t have any rights. Rather, liberals say Hobby Lobby is forcing its owners’ values down its employees’ throats. By that reasoning, Mozilla was forcing its values down an employee’s throat — Eich’s — and violating his right to have his own political opinions.

Liberals have not been so understanding of other corporate entities, either. Two years ago the breast-cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure found itself instantly reviled when it halted grants to Planned Parenthood. The blowback was so intense 26 U.S. senators signed a letter urging Komen to recant — which it did only three days later. Komen’s president and founder, Nancy Brinker, stepped aside. Conservatives were aghast.

Nor were liberals overly worried about the free-speech implications of the backlash against Chick-fil-A two years ago, when president Dan Cathy provoked outrage by expressing his own personal opposition to gay marriage. Conservatives, on the other hand, declared this a dangerous development in a culture war that threatened to silence anyone who strayed from the progressive party line.

This is a strange position for conservatives to take — and not simply because of the Dixie Chicks episode. As a general rule, conservatives think social norms are best upheld not through government coercion but through the moral suasion of community mores. Since Hobby Lobby is the only case involving government compulsion, conservatives ought to feel sanguine about the other developments: Americans are working out their differences through the marketplace of ideas, even if the process sometimes looks rather unpretty.

Of course there is more to it than that. Even when the First Amendment isn’t implicated — as it isn’t in the Mozilla case — it’s reasonable to wonder where lines should be drawn. Few would object if a company fired a Nazi or a member of the Klan. But as Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit notes, Eich has been ousted for a 2008 view shared at the time by Barack Obama. (Obama, unlike Eich, has changed his position since then.)

If companies start policing executives’ beliefs, then there is no reason to limit the scrutiny to one issue. Suppose abortion becomes a litmus test — with some companies firing pro-life executives and others firing those who are pro-choice. Should companies vet their leaders’ views on gun rights? Or drug legalization? What about universities — many of which already view any conservative as barely tolerable? Should nonprofits and civic groups also enforce ideological conformity? They certainly have a right to. But having a right to X does not make X the prudent thing to do.

People have a right to express — and advocate for — their opinions, and other people have a right to object. But there also is something to be said for the principle of live and let live: It’s possible to disagree about an issue without despising those you disagree with.

Unfortunately, as Barton Swaim put it in a recent Wall Street Journal review, America increasingly resembles a place where people “speak of their country as if it has been overtaken by a hostile force with whom they share no premises or aims.” If we all start excommunicating one another at the first sign of apostasy, it’s going to become a very cold and lonely place.

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1:10 pm - Fri, Apr 11, 2014

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8:25 am
3 notes
Federal taxes are due in a few days, but Americans will be working a few days after that to earn enough money to pay their tax bill for the year.
As the chart above shows, taxes cost Americans more than food, shelter and clothing — combined.

Federal taxes are due in a few days, but Americans will be working a few days after that to earn enough money to pay their tax bill for the year.

As the chart above shows, taxes cost Americans more than food, shelter and clothing — combined.

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12:54 pm - Wed, Apr 9, 2014

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12:44 pm
39 notes
funniestpicturesdaily:

Oh Jimmy

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10:52 am
28 notes

Bush Lied. So Did Obama. And Clinton. And…

According to an exhaustive Senate Intelligence Committee report that might be declassified someday — and sources speaking on condition of anonymity confirm that timeline is “pretty doggone solid” — the CIA might have told a tiny fib or two about its conduct in the War on Terror.

Among other things, the CIA reportedly was a lot rougher on alleged enemy combatants than it admitted. Also, it suggested harsh interrogation techniques such as waterboarding produced valuable intel — which is sort of, well, not true. And it appears to have exaggerated — just a little bit, mind you — the importance of certain detainees. Abu Zubaida, for instance, turns out not to have been a senior al-Qaida leader, as was claimed while he was being repeatedly waterboarded. The U.S. government now concedes he was never even an al-Qaida member. Oopsies.

Of course, the investigation of events that occurred during the administration of Republican president George W. Bush was conducted by Senate Democrats. This could mean either that it was a rigorously honest inquiry unhindered by partisan loyalties — or that it also exaggerates and misrepresents, to paint the opposing team in the worst possible light. Nevertheless, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein found its contents “shocking” — a sentiment shared by good Democrats everywhere.

Democrats have exhibited much less skepticism — let alone consternation — about the current administration’s claims regarding the number of people who have signed up for health insurance. The White House says Obamacare hit its target of 7 million people. So far as Democratic cheerleaders are concerned, that’s a slam-dunk refutation of all the naysaying from conservative Republicans. As The New York Times’ Paul Krugman put it, Democrats should “feel free to ridicule right-wingers” who predicted otherwise.

Yet as Shikha Dalmia pointed out Friday in Reason, the 7 million figure looks awfully sketchy. Roughly 20 percent of those who sign up through the ACA’s exchanges drop out without paying. And “out of the remaining 5.6 million, only about half were likely previously uninsured.”

Likewise, many of those who signed up for Medicaid represent the normal churn in that program, which has seen hefty growth for years even without the ACA. And then there are all the Americans who have lost coverage as a result of Obamacare. In Maryland, for example, 60,000 people gained coverage through the ACA — while 75,000 lost it. Oopsies.

This isn’t a one-off. Obama earned PolitiFact’s “Lie of the Year” award for repeatedly promising you could keep you insurance if you liked it.

Fact-checkers also slapped his hand for claiming pre-kindergarten brings a 700 percent return on its investment. And again recently for claiming Obamacare opponents have spent “billions” opposing the law (they haven’t).

The administration has inflated the number of unlawful immigrants it deports by counting some “returns” — people turned back at the border — as deportations. And then there was James Clapper’s now-infamous lie to Congress. Asked if the NSA were collecting “any type of data at all” on millions of Americans, Obama’s director of National Intelligence responded, “No, sir.”

Not all lies are quite so baldfaced. Recently Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe “announced” 40 new jobs in Nottoway County, and said the state “is partnering” with the Trout River kiln company to build nine new lumber kilns.

Virginia’s end of the “partnership” consists of a one-time grant of $100,000, but you’re left with the impression that the jobs wouldn’t have been created if not for the governor’s personal intercession.

McAuliffe’s predecessor, Republican Bob McDonnell, also tried — time after time — to hog the glory from new business ventures he had little or nothing to do with. So did his predecessor, Tim Kaine. It’s S.O.P. But notice how they never “announce” layoffs.

These days McAuliffe asserts that failing to expand Medicaid means other states will get Virginia’s share of federal funding for expansion. They won’t: Total appropriations depend on the number of enrollees, so if Virginia enrolls no one, Virginia’s share of the money will not be allocated elsewhere — it will not be allocated, period.

McAuliffe professes total ignorance of an email setting price points for access to him and the Executive Mansion — just as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie professes total ignorance of the manipulations that led to Bridgegate. Just as Bill Clinton professed not to have had sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky.

Back during the Vietnam War, the Pentagon’s PR guy, Arthur Sylvester, told a group of reporters: “Look, if you think any American official is going to tell you the truth, then you’re stupid. Did you hear that? Stupid.” Sylvester was being too harsh. Americans are pretty sharp when it comes to picking up on lies told by the other side. If they believe the lies told by their own side, it’s not because they’re imbeciles. It’s because they want to.

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3:54 pm - Tue, Apr 8, 2014
1 note
You spelled “nonviolence” wrong.

You spelled “nonviolence” wrong.

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