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January 31, 2013

UGH

Sorry no posts today. It has been a brutal week.

Two hour commute home last night, didn't turn off the main drag to get to our neighborhood until quarter of 9 and the road was blocked off with police cars.

Apparently it hadn't just flooded out - there was a river flowing across the road.

So... back up, turn around, find another way to get home. Will have something up tomorrow.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:02 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 30, 2013

Well *That* Didn't Take Long....

Via Memeorandum, White House spokesman Jay Carney has already blamed the 4th quarter drop in GDP on Republicans:

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney blamed the unexpected drop in gross domestic product last quarter on congressional Republicans, saying they introduced uncertainty into the economy with fiscal cliff brinkmanship.

"Fiscal cliff brinkmanship"??? You mean this kind of fiscal cliff brinkmanship?

President Obama said he is prepared to use the $109 billion sequester as leverage to force action on a grand deficit bargain in an initially off-the-record interview with the Des Moines Register that was released Wednesday.

The president predicted that a $4 trillion deal to reduce the debt would come in the first six months of his second term.

His remarks on the automatic spending cuts are a contrast to comments in Monday night's debate when Obama reassured the public there is no way the sequester will ever happen.

Let's see if we have this straight. First the President goes on national TV and tells the nation that the sequester, and we quote, "...is not something I proposed. It is something that Congress has proposed". Not to put to fine a point on it, that was a bald faced lie:

Fortunately, there is a detailed and contemporaneous look at the debt ceiling deal that led to the current budget crunch: Bob Woodward’s “The Price of Politics.” The book clearly had the full cooperation of top White House and congressional officials. With the help of our colleague, we took a tour through the relevant sections in order to determine the accuracy of the president’s statement....

Woodward’s detailed account of meetings during the crisis, clearly based on interviews with key participants and contemporaneous notes, make it clear that sequestration was a proposal advanced and promoted by the White House.

In sum: Gene Sperling brought up the idea of a sequester, while Jack Lew sold Harry Reid on the idea and then decided to use the Gramm-Hollings-Rudman language (which he knew from his days of working for Tip O’Neill) as a template for sequester. The proposal was so unusual for Republicans that staffers had to work through the night to understand it.

Oddly, Lew in Tampa on Thursday, publicly asserted the opposite: “There was an insistence on the part of Republicans in Congress for there to be some automatic trigger…. [It] was very much rooted in the Republican congressional insistence that there be an automatic measure at the end.”

This prompted Woodward to go over his notes and interviews once again, to make sure he had gotten it right.

“After reviewing all the interviews and the extensive material I have on this issue, it looks like President Obama told a whopper,” Woodward said. “Based on what Jack Lew said in Florida today, I have asked the White House to correct the record.”

Three months, several violations of the WARN act, 46,000 Pentagon layoffs in progress, and an upcoming furlough that amounts to a 20% pay cut for hundreds of thousands of DoD employees later, we're still waiting for the White House to come clean.

Posted by Cassandra at 03:29 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Unexpectedly!!!

More good news:

The United States economy unexpectedly reversed course in the final quarter of 2012 and contracted at a 0.1 percent rate, its worst performance since the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2009.

What could cause such alarming and completely unforeseeable results?

The drop was driven by a plunge in military spending, as well as fewer exports and a steep slowdown in the buildup of inventories by businesses. Anxieties about the fiscal impasse in Washington also contributed to the slowdown.

While economists expected output to decline substantially from the 3.1 percent annual growth rate recorded in the third quarter, the negative number caught Wall Street off-guard. It was the weakest economic report since the second quarter of 2009.

“I’m a little surprised,” said Michael Feroli, chief United States economist at JPMorgan. “It grabs your attention when you have a negative number across everyone’s screens.”

It's a good thing we don't have to worry about further decreases in military spending... you know, like a 20% pay cut for civilian DoD employees.

Or 46,000 Pentagon layoffs. Isn't it funny how the Obama administration keeps telling us that government is the engine of economic growth and prosperity?

Except for the military, which somehow isn't. Whenever I start to feel bad about this, I console myself with the comforting thought that immigration reform for same sex couples is receiving the full attention of President Obama.

Priorities, people.... that's what real leadership looks like.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:17 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

46,000 Layoffs and No WARN Act Notice?

About those 46,000 civilian employees the Pentagon has already begun to lay off: when did they receive their WARN act notices?

How much will having failed to deliver legally required notice cost the federal government? According to the WARN act:

An employer who violates the WARN provisions is liable to each employee for an amount equal to back pay and benefits for the period of the violation, up to 60 days. The liability may be reduced by the period of any notice that was given and any voluntary payments that the employer made to the employee, sometimes referred to as "pay in lieu of notice."

U.S. district courts enforce WARN requirements. Workers, representatives of employees, and units of local government may bring individual or class action suits. The Court may allow reasonable attorney's fees as part of any final judgment.

Here's another question. How much will opening the combat arms to women cost the military? And why on earth would we even entertain this proposal in the midst of draconian cuts to the DoD budget and a 20% pay cut for civilian employees of DoD?

Don't worry - I'm sure the Washington Post will be all over this hometown story any moment now.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:08 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 29, 2013

A Guide to the Sequestration That "Will Not Happen"

Those of you who are following developing news on the sequestration may be suffering from completely understandable confusion. The media and administration (but we repeat ourselves) have been putting out disingenuous and contradictory statements on the topic frequently, sometimes even daily.

Last fall during the third Presidential debate, President Obama laid this stunner on a waiting nation:

“First of all, the sequester is not something that I've proposed. It is something that Congress has proposed. It will not happen."

There is so much wrong with this short statement that it's hard to know where to start. One starting place might be Obama's dishonest disavowal of what an article in yesterday's Washington Post calls, "the origins of the sequester". The Post article goes one step farther than the President, blaming the sequester not just on Congress, but on the GOP-led House:

Origins of the sequester

The sequester is a product of the 2011 fight over the national debt, when the new GOP House majority insisted on spending cuts equal in size to the increase in the federal debt limit. The result: spending caps that would force President Obama to slice $1 trillion from agency budgets over the next decade, along with $1.2 trillion in additional cuts that would hit automatically on Jan. 2, 2013, unless Congress agreed on a plan to replace them.

There's just one problem with this narrative: within days of Obama's dishonest October 22nd statement on the sequester, fact checkers everywhere begged to differ with the President. Politifact rated the President's statement "Mostly False". The Washington Post's own Glenn Kessler awarded Obama Four Pinocchios, cheekily reminding readers that the President's assertion was contradicted by Bob Woodward's White House sanctioned and approved chronicle:

Fortunately, there is a detailed and contemporaneous look at the debt ceiling deal that led to the current budget crunch: Bob Woodward’s “The Price of Politics.” The book clearly had the full cooperation of top White House and congressional officials. With the help of our colleague, we took a tour through the relevant sections in order to determine the accuracy of the president’s statement....

Page 326 (July 26):

At 2:30 p.m., [White House Budget director Jack] Lew and [White House legislative affairs director Rob] Nabors went to the Senate to meet with [Senator Majority Leader Harry] Reid and his chief of staff, David Krone.

“We have an idea for a trigger,” Lew said.

“What’s the idea,” Reid asked skeptically.

“Sequestration.”

Reid bent down and put his head between his knees, almost as if he was going to throw up or was having a heart attack. He sat back up and looked at the ceiling. “A couple of weeks ago,” he said, “my staff said to me that there is one more possible” enforcement mechanism: sequestration. He said he told them, “Get the hell out of here. That’s insane. The White House surely will come up with a plan that will save the day. And you come to me with sequestration?”

Well, it could work, Lew and Nabors explained.

What would the impact be?

They would design it so that half the threatened cuts would be from the Defense Department….The idea was to make all of the threatened cuts so unthinkable and onerous that the supercommittee [tasked with making additional cuts] would do its work and come up with its own deficit reduction plan.Lew and Nabors went through a laundry list of programs that would face cuts.

“This is ridiculous,” Reid said.

That’s the beauty of a sequester, they said, it’s so ridiculous that no one ever wants it to happen. It was the bomb that no one wanted to drop. It actually would be an action-forcing event.

“I get it,” Reid said finally.

It's unclear why the Washington Post's Lori Montgomery attributes "the origins of the sequester" to House Republicans when her own paper (along with numerous other sources) have already
thoroughly debunked the President's dishonest assertion. Such indifference to the historical record is negligent at best. At worst, it is deliberately misleading.

But the "origins" part of the President's sequester statement is not the only one being questioned. There is also Obama's high handed promise that the sequester "will not happen" (something, one must note, that was not actually in his power to prevent unilaterally). Tell that to the Pentagon:

With a six-month fiscal year remaining to implement the first year of sequestration cuts if Congress does not avoid them, and increasing speculation that Congress can’t and won’t, Pentagon planners can no longer afford to ignore the prospect of sequestration as absurd.

And the situation at the sequestration deadline in March will be compounded, Panetta said, by the debt ceiling crisis and the failure of lawmakers to pass the Defense Department’s current-year appropriations bill. Even if the sequester is stopped, operating on a continuing resolution without passage of the spending bill could cost the Pentagon billions, he said.

“The fact is, looking that all three of those (crises), we have no idea what the hell’s going to happen,” Panetta said. “This uncertainty if left unresolved by the congress will seriously harm our military readiness.”

Dempsey was even grimmer.

“This is an irresponsible way to manage our national defense,” he said. “Readiness is what’s now in jeopardy. We’re on the brink of creating a hollow force.”

Early planning shows, Panetta said, that early casualties of the decade-long, $500 billion cut package would be reductions in ship training, in pilot flying hours, and ship maintenance and upkeep. While Panetta and Dempsey said troops deploying to combat zones and those on deck to deploy would be shielded from the cuts, other units would be taxed with cutbacks. And unpaid furloughs for civilian DoD workers would affect everyone in the department–perhaps most significantly regarding health care.

Layoffs of civilian personnel have already begun:

The Pentagon has begun laying off 46,000 contract and temporary civilian employees in an effort to cut back on military spending, the No. 2 Pentagon official said on Friday.

Full time civilian employees, which number in the hundreds of thousands, also will be furloughed for one day a week for 22 weeks, Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in an interview with wire service reporters.

His comments were confirmed by a Pentagon spokesman.

The moves are part of a Defense Department effort to reduce spending given the potential for billions in mandatory cuts beginning as early as this spring should Congress fail to reach a deal on deficit reduction.

Why is all this happening? It's happening because, contra the President's breezy assertions, there has been no deal to avoid sequestration. Now if you're as confused as I am about who's to blame (or who gets the credit) when Congress either reaches or fails to reach agreements, allow the White House to help you understand.

When Congress does manage to reach bipartisan agreement, the credit does not go to Congress. On the contrary, it's quite plain (at least to hear the White House tell it) that the President's leadership was the moving force:

White House press secretary Jay Carney on Monday welcomed an immigration deal reached by a bipartisan group of senators and gave credit to President Obama for pressing the issue.

"I think it's important before we let the moment pass to acknowledge that the progress we're seeing embodied in the priniciples put forward by this bipartisan group is happening for a reason: I think it's happening because consensus is developing in the country, a bipartisan consensus, and it's happening because the president has demonstrated significant leadership on this issue," Carney said.

Now if the President's leadership is to be credited when Congress reaches agreements, it might logically follow that when Congress does NOT reach agreement, a lack of Presidential leadership might be suspected. Don't be fooled by this so-called "logic". The real culprit is "congressional stupidity":

Congressional stubbornness risks again damaging the fragile economy, just as the nation's near-default in 2011 - the result of a stalemate over raising the national borrowing limit - dealt a nascent economic recovery a setback, the administration official said.

"If you think about the possibility of Congress failing to act to avert the fiscal cliff, combined with the abomination of what occurred in the summer of 2011, hits to our economy aren't coming from external factors, they're coming from congressional stupidity," the official said.

The Federal government has not passed a budget for the entire time Obama has been president. Occasionally, tiny snippets of information accidently escape the media filter:

The U.S. government may default on its debt as soon as Feb. 15, half a month earlier than widely expected, according to a new analysis adding urgency to the debate over how to raise the federal debt ceiling.

The analysis, by the Bipartisan Policy Center, says that the government will be unable to pay all its bills starting sometime between Feb. 15 and March 1.

“Our numbers show that we have less time to solve this problem than many realize,” Steve Bell, senior director of economic policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said in a statement. “It will be difficult for Treasury to get beyond the March 1 date in our judgment.”

Now we learn that the Pentagon may not be able to submit a budget on time:

...the Pentagon may not be able to submit its 2014 budget, usually due in the first week of February. The DOD is uncertain as to how to craft that budget with the specter of sequestration looming.

As Harrison explained: “How on earth do you resolve next year’s budget when we haven’t even resolved this year’s budget?”

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said earlier that as the Pentagon had begun preparing to implement the law, “my concerns about its damaging effects have only grown.”

It seems to me that if the White House authored what Obama himself called a "forcing mechanism" - a fake crisis so awful that "no one wants to see it happen", then the White House needs to do whatever is necessary to ensure that its strategy actually works.

Faced with an ongoing fiscal crisis of gargantuan proportions, President Obama has chosen to exert his unique, self-vaunted brand of Smart Power on the pressing problem of .... immigration reform (with special attention to the treatment of undocumented same sex couples!). But rest assured, if meaningful immigration reform comes to pass, the credit will belong to the White House (and the White House alone). Just as failure to avert the sequester will be placed squarely on the shoulders of the GOP-led House of Representatives.

After all, it's vital that we all play by the same set of rules. It's important to get the facts right:

No one disputes the fact that no one wanted sequestration, or that ultimately a bipartisan vote in Congress led to passage of the Budget Control Act. But the president categorically said that sequestration was “something that Congress has proposed.”

Woodward’s detailed account of meetings during the crisis, clearly based on interviews with key participants and contemporaneous notes, make it clear that sequestration was a proposal advanced and promoted by the White House.

In sum: Gene Sperling brought up the idea of a sequester, while Jack Lew sold Harry Reid on the idea and then decided to use the Gramm-Hollings-Rudman language (which he knew from his days of working for Tip O’Neill) as a template for sequester. The proposal was so unusual for Republicans that staffers had to work through the night to understand it.

Oddly, Lew in Tampa on Thursday, publicly asserted the opposite: “There was an insistence on the part of Republicans in Congress for there to be some automatic trigger…. [It] was very much rooted in the Republican congressional insistence that there be an automatic measure at the end.”

This prompted Woodward to go over his notes and interviews once again, to make sure he had gotten it right.

“After reviewing all the interviews and the extensive material I have on this issue, it looks like President Obama told a whopper,” Woodward said. “Based on what Jack Lew said in Florida today, I have asked the White House to correct the record.”

Posted by Cassandra at 06:14 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

At Last: "The Truth"!

From Elspeth Reeves, no less: (the comments are particularly amusing):

Conservative pundit George Will made this case on ABC's This Week Sunday, claiming:
"You're 6'4", 240-pound Marine, and you're injured, and you need a Marine next to you to carry you back to safety, and the Marine next to you is a 5'4" woman who weighs 115 pounds. It's relevant."

Host Martha Raddatz interrupted him, saying she'd seen female combat medics rescue 6'4" Marines. "That's fine," Will responded, noting 152 women had died in the post-9/11 wars. "But there are certain anatomical facts about upper body strength and stamina." Panelist Steve Inskeep said, "there are surely individual women who could pick you or I up wounded and carry us off a battlefield." Raddatz concluded, "It probably would not be me, but there are lots of them." Raddatz is selling herself short. Using the standard military technique for carrying people off the battlefield, she could have carried Will off the set quite easily.

American troops are trained use the fireman's carry, which is a way of sort of slinging a dude over your shoulder, as seen in the GIF at right. It's shockingly easy. It's so easy that in instructional YouTubes, the carried sometimes laugh with surprise. Earlier this month, on vacation, I ran in circles while fireman-carrying my (admittedly indie-rock thin) 6'2" male friend on a Miami beach, because it was funny. There are tons of YouTubes of women carrying men this way.

A YouTube video! Well, that certainly settles it!

Alert readers will remember Ms. Reeve's involvement in a previous truth-to-powering exercise.

Whether or not military women are easily able to lift and carry their male comrades ought to be easy enough to establish. If, as Ms. Reeve claims, it is "surprisingly easy", then certainly the technique ought to be widely practiced during recruit training (and women ought to be carrying men with some regularity). After all, it's surprisingly easy!

Unlike Ms. Reeve, I have no opinion on the ease with which military women can perform such feats. But that's probably because my opinion is utterly irrelevant to the debate when we could be discussing whether women can and do, in fact, perform such tasks in the field with any regularity(as opposed to on YouTube, or in the gym with a guy who helpfully cooperates).

How helpful is it to frame a debate over what will happen in the real world in less than ideal conditions around isolated examples of what some women can do under ideal conditions? Again, where are the facts on the real performance of women under real world combat conditions?

I've been reading military injury and illness studies, and I'm seeing the same themes over and over again. Despite being held to far lower standards of physical fitness and being excluded from the most physically demanding specialties, injury and illness rates for military women far exceed those for men.

Study 1 (2006, Ft. Irwin):

Soldiers from a brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division were involved in a 5-week training exercise at the National Training Center. Health care visits were systematically recorded by the unit medics. Of 4,101 men and 413 women who participated in the exercise, 504 soldiers (409 men and 95 women) sought medical care at the main support medical clinic or Weed Army Community Hospital. The rates of injury and illness visits were 1.2% and 0.6% per week for men and 2.3% and 2.2% per week for women, respectively. Women had twice the risk of an injury and 3.5 times the risk of an illness, compared with men. Compared with other branches, combat service support soldiers had higher rates of injuries and illnesses.

Study 2: (2007)

Included in this analysis were 792 women for an injury hospitalization rate of 11.0 per 1000 individuals (95% confidence interval [CI]=8.5-13.5) and 4879 men for a rate of 15.5 per 1000 individuals (95% CI=14.0-16.9). While women had significantly more injuries during scheduled training, schemes, and exercises than men (p<0.0001), there were few differences in the cause of those injuries. Women had longer average hospital stays compared to men due to these injuries (9.3 days vs 7.4 days, p=0.002), although these injuries were not more severe (average Injury Severity Score=3.5 for men vs average ISS for women=3.5, p=0.79). There was no difference between the genders in the percent of injuries that occurred off duty; however, men were more likely to get injured due to sports and athletics (p=0.001) and due to fighting (p=0.017) while off duty compared to women.

Note here that we're not comparing soldiers in equal jobs. Women are actually excluded from many of the more physical specialties. So if we are to extrapolate from this to illess/injuries if women are admitted to the combat arms, that must be taken into account.

Study 3: (2010, includes all armed services)

Hospitalization rates by gender:

In 2010, the hospitalization rate (all causes) was more than three times higher among females than males (hospitalization rate, overall: females: 147.9 per 1,000 p-yrs; males: 45.7 per 1,000 p-yrs); however, pregnancy and childbirth accounted for 58.6 percent of all hospitalizations of females.

[Editor's note: if we exclude pregnancy-related hospitalizations, women are hospitalized at a rate of 61 per 1000 p-yrs vs. men at 45.7]

The rate of hospitalizations for conditions not related to pregnancy and childbirth was one-third (33.9%) higher among females (61.2 per 1,000 per year) than males

Ambulatory visits:

In 2010, males accounted for three-fourths (75.3%) of all illness and injury-related visits; however, the annual crude rate was approximately twice as high among females (12.7 visits/ p-yr) than males (6.4 visits/p-yr). Excluding pregnancy related visits (which accounted for 13.1% of all non-V coded ambulatory visits among females), the ambulatory visit rate among females was 11.0 visits/p-yr. As in the past, rates were higher among females than males for every illness and injury related category.

...For each of the most frequently reported illness or injury-specifi c diagnoses, the crude rate was approximately 50 percent higher among females than males: other/unspecifi ed disorders of joints (rates [per 1,000 p-yrs], female: 728.6; male: 465.8;
female:male rate ratio [RR]: 1.56); adjustment reaction (rates,
female: 537.8; male: 362.8; RR: 1.48); and other/unspecifi ed
disorders of the back (rates, female: 534.3; male: 350.2; RR:
1.53).

Without much effort, I found several other studies that had the same broad results: despite being excluded from the most difficult/dangerous specialties, womens' illness and injury rates far exceed those of their male counterparts.

But by all means, let's focus on YouTube videos.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:21 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

January 28, 2013

On Women in Combat Arms, Questions & Facts Matter

“What are the facts? Again and again and again – what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what “the stars foretell,” avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable “verdict of history” – what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!”

― Robert A. Heinlein


Whilst recovering from back to back illnesses, the Editorial Staff have been reading various articles on SecDef Leon Panetta's recent announcement that the military will open formerly closed specialties in the combat arms (infantry, artillery, etc) to women.

What is remarkable about nearly all of this "coverage" is the near-total absence of statistics related to the performance, attrition, physical fitness, or injury/illness rates of women currently serving. The debate seems to be characterized by magical thinking about a best case scenario female soldier who - despite being smaller, physically weaker, and vulnerable to a whole host of ailments related to female plumbing (not the least of which is pregnancy) - will somehow rise above all these disadvantages and should be allowed to serve because... fairness.

Women, we are told, are just as dedicated as men and therefore they deserve a chance to serve in the combat specialties. But fairness and individual advancement have never been the primary determinants of whether men are allowed to serve. My youngest son played soccer as a midfielder throughout high school, repeatedly earning places on select teams. There was no doubt of his physical fitness, and yet he was not eligible for military service. The reason? Mild asthma, easily treatable with inhalers. His condition never once resulted in emergency treatment and never once prevented him from playing soccer...or basketball...or any other sport.

At 18, my son was far more fit than the vast majority of Marine recruits, yet he was ineligible for military service. Was that "unfair"? I don't think so, because the military routinely screens out recruits for all sorts of minor medical reasons. In my son's case, clearly "fairness" was subordinated to practical considerations like military readiness. If we are now considering putting women in the most physically demanding specialties for reasons that have little or nothing to do with readiness and everything to do with identity politics, what information should we have on hand to help us make an informed decision?

This post will ask a lot of questions and offer only a few answers.

Question 1: What effect does pregnancy have on combat readiness?

This is anything but a frivolous question, given the high rate of unplanned pregnancies in active duty females:

Nearly 11% of more than 7,000 active-duty women surveyed by the Department of Defense in 2008 reported an unplanned pregnancy during the previous year....

Unplanned pregnancies can have a significant impact on the health of military personnel and on troop readiness, according to the study.
Servicewomen who become pregnant unexpectedly while at home cannot be deployed, which may affect their career. Servicewomen who become pregnant while overseas must be sent home, which can cost the military around $10,000.

The military's response to the problem of non-deployable women is alarming. Faced with Gulf War-era studies that showed that women were three times less likely to be deployable than men, how did the Department of Defense respond?

If you guessed, "They stopped keeping track" of how pregnancies affect deployability, a stuffed marmoset is on its way to you by parcel post:

"We're definitely not tracking it," said a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, which runs the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "I've been attending operations briefings for two years, and I don't think I have heard once that pregnancy has come up."

Let's repeat that statistic: for various reasons, during the Gulf war women were unable to deploy at rates over 3 times those of their male counterparts. This is a big deal, and it will have a far greater impact on readiness if women are admitted to the combat arms. Is there more recent data? There should be, and if there isn't the Department of Defense should explain why not.
nondeployable2.jpg

Question 2: How do injury/illness rates of military men and women compare?

What we do know isn't promising to the argument that expanding participation of women to the most physically demanding specialties will have no impact on readiness:

...we need only to review the statistics from our entry-level schools to realize that there is a significant difference in the physical longevity between male and female Marines. At OCS the attrition rate for female candidates in 2011 was historically low at 40 percent, while the male candidates attrite at a much lower rate of 16 percent. Of candidates who were dropped from training because they were injured or not physically qualified, females were breaking at a much higher rate than males, 14 percent versus 4 percent. The same trends were seen at TBS in 2011; the attrition rate for females was 13 percent versus 5 percent for males, and 5 percent of females were found not physically qualified compared with 1 percent of males. Further, both of these training venues have physical fitness standards that are easier for females; at IOC there is one standard regardless of gender. The attrition rate for males attending IOC in 2011 was 17 percent. Should female Marines ultimately attend IOC, we can expect significantly higher attrition rates and long-term injuries for women.

A recent Army study on musculo-skeletal injuries found that:

The combination of anatomy and physiology appears to predispose women to a higher risk of pelvic stress fracture and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears. The diagnosis of pelvic stress fracture has been reported as 1 in 367 female recruits, compared with 1 in 40,000 male recruits, and rates of ACL ruptures for female athletes range from 2.4 to 9.7 times higher than in male athletes.

...Army women are more likely to be disabled than men and are approximately 67% more likely than Army men to receive a physical disability discharge for a musculoskeletal disorder.
The discharge rates for musculoskeletal conditions have been as high as 140 per 10,000 Army women per year, compared with 81 per 10,000 Army men per year.

Military women tend to suffer a higher incidence of injuries than
military men. Several studies have identified female gender as a risk
factor for injury in Army basic training programs in the united states and around the world. For example, one study shows the cumulative injury incidence in basic Combat training (bCt) was 52% for women versus 26% for men. It was 30% for women versus 24% for men in Advanced Individual training (AIt). Other studies showed a similar incidence for training injuries in bCt populations: approximately 50% for women and 25% for men.

In addition, the proportion of trainees discharged from bCt for medical reasons was 12.7% for women, compared with only 5.2% for men. There was even reported gender differences in the utilization of medical services on a military ship. During a 6-month period, females were evaluated at a rate 9.2 times that of males (6.44 vs 0.70 visits per year). Only 39% of the visits were gender-specific, whereas gender-neutral conditions resulted in a female to-male visit ratio of nearly 6:1.

It is impossible to evaluate the effect of admitting women to the combat arms on military readiness without looking at how they are currently performing under far less strenuous and dangerous conditions.

Finally, Question 3: What is the relative average cost of training male vs. female recruits?

I could not find any data on this, but it's important.

The amount of fact-free bloviation on this topic is just stunning. If it is indeed true that women can serve in the combat arms with no negative effect on readiness, the facts should bear that out.

So where are they?

Posted by Cassandra at 04:09 AM | Comments (47) | TrackBack

January 16, 2013

Transparency! Liberty! Equality!

Sacre bleu! The Most Transparent and Inclusive Administration Evah is dialing back all that vox populi stuff:

It's wonderful to see so many people using We the People to add their voices to important policy debates here in Washington and bring attention to issues that might not get the attention they deserve. This increasing adoption strengthens our resolve to build new features, including an API that would allow other popular online petition platforms to integrate with our official one. To that end we’ve released the source code to We the People and would love to connect with any enterprising engineers who want to help out.

Maybe if they stop spending so much time on this touchy-feeling social media stuff, the White House will have time to - oh, we don't know - submit a budget that doesn't get laughed off the agenda by their own party?

Over the past year, the petition program has only grown in popularity. Petitions submitted from several states asking to secede from the nation after President Obama won re-election garnered enough signatures to warrant an official response. Just this week, Director of the Office of Public Engagement Jon Carson responded, “Our states remain united.”

The now infamous petition to deport Piers Morgan created by his new adversary Alex Jones topped 68,000 signatures just before Christmas.

And, of course, even more ridiculous petitions such as the one urging the United States to build a Death Star have reached the 25,000 mark, eliciting hilariously deadpan responses like the one issued last week stating “the Administration does not support blowing up planets.”

We can dream, people.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:39 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Confirmation Bias in Action

This Dan Slater piece on the "science" of evo-psych made us laugh:

A COUPLE of evolutionary psychologists recently published a book about human sexual behavior in prehistory called “Sex at Dawn.” Upon hearing of the project, one colleague, dubious that a modern scholar could hope to know anything about that period, asked them, “So what do you do, close your eyes and dream?”

Actually, it’s a little more involved. Evolutionary psychologists who study mating behavior often begin with a hypothesis about how modern humans mate: say, that men think about sex more than women do. Then they gather evidence — from studies, statistics and surveys — to support that assumption. Finally, and here’s where the leap occurs, they construct an evolutionary theory to explain why men think about sex more than women, where that gender difference came from, what adaptive purpose it served in antiquity, and why we’re stuck with the consequences today.

...Of course, no fossilized record can really tell us how people behaved or thought back then, much less why they behaved or thought as they did. Nonetheless, something funny happens when social scientists claim that a behavior is rooted in our evolutionary past. Assumptions about that behavior take on the immutability of a physical trait — they come to seem as biologically rooted as opposable thumbs or ejaculation.

The Editorial Staff suspect we might have written about this a time or twelve. A few years ago, we noted the presence of a WEIRD sampling bias that casts considerable doubt on the majority of social science studies produced by unimpeachable "experts":

Who are the people studied in behavioral science research? A recent analysis of the top journals in six sub‐disciplines of Psychology from 2003‐2007 revealed that 68% of subjects came from the US, and a full 96% of subjects were from Western industrialized countries, specifically North America, Europe, Australia, and Israel (Arnett 2008). The make‐up of these samples appears to largely reflect the country of residence of the authors, as 73% of first authors were at American universities, and 99% were at universities in Western countries. This means that 96% of psychological samples come from countries with only 12% of the world’s population.

Even within the West, however, the typical sampling method for psychological studies is far from representative...67% of the American samples (and 80% of the samples from other countries) were composed solely of undergraduates in psychology courses (Arnett 2008).

Having volunteered to participate in several such studies during her freshman year in college, the blog princess came away less than impressed with the rigor of many of these studies. When an 18 year old who has never taken a Psych course can spot holes big enough to drive a truck through in a study, it's a fair bet that more than one factor is not being controlled for:

Everyone has always assumed — and early research had shown — that women desired fewer sexual partners over a lifetime than men. But in 2003, two behavioral psychologists, Michele G. Alexander and Terri D. Fisher, published the results of a study that used a “bogus pipeline” — a fake lie detector. When asked about actual sexual partners, rather than just theoretical desires, the participants who were not attached to the fake lie detector displayed typical gender differences. Men reported having had more sexual partners than women. But when participants believed that lies about their sexual history would be revealed by the fake lie detector, gender differences in reported sexual partners vanished. In fact, women reported slightly more sexual partners (a mean of 4.4) than did men (a mean of 4.0).

In 2009, another long-assumed gender difference in mating — that women are choosier than men — also came under siege. In speed dating, as in life, the social norm instructs women to sit in one place, waiting to be approached, while the men rotate tables. But in one study of speed-dating behavior, the evolutionary psychologists Eli J. Finkel and Paul W. Eastwick switched the “rotator” role. The men remained seated and the women rotated. By manipulating this component of the gender script, the researchers discovered that women became less selective — they behaved more like stereotypical men — while men were more selective and behaved more like stereotypical women. The mere act of physically approaching a potential romantic partner, they argued, engendered more favorable assessments of that person.

Recently, a third pillar appeared to fall. To back up the assumption that an enormous gap exists between men’s and women’s attitudes toward casual sex, evolutionary psychologists typically cite a classic study published in 1989. Men and women on a college campus were approached in public and propositioned with offers of casual sex by “confederates” who worked for the study. The confederate would say: “I have been noticing you around campus and I find you to be very attractive.” The confederate would then ask one of three questions: (1) “Would you go out with me tonight?” (2) “Would you come over to my apartment tonight?” or (3) “Would you go to bed with me tonight?”

Roughly equal numbers of men and women agreed to the date. But women were much less likely to agree to go to the confederate’s apartment. As for going to bed with the confederate, zero women said yes, while about 70 percent of males agreed.

Those results seemed definitive — until a few years ago, when Terri D. Conley, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, set out to re-examine what she calls “one of the largest documented sexuality gender differences,” that men have a greater interest in casual sex than women.

Ms. Conley found the methodology of the 1989 paper to be less than ideal. “No one really comes up to you in the middle of the quad and asks, ‘Will you have sex with me?’ ” she told me recently. “So there needs to be a context for it. If you ask people what they would do in a specific situation, that’s a far more accurate way of getting responses.” In her study, when men and women considered offers of casual sex from famous people, or offers from close friends whom they were told were good in bed, the gender differences in acceptance of casual-sex proposals evaporated nearly to zero.

IN light of this new research, will Darwinians consider revising their theories to reflect the possibility that our mating behavior is less hard-wired than they had believed?

Probably not.

Scientists, like every other profession composed of fallible human beings, has been plagued by its fair share of stupidity, dishonesty, and outright fraud. This isn't a knock on scientists. It's a reflection of the fact that we're not always as rational as we claim to be.

Which only underscores our skepticism of people who want government to be guided by the latest "science". In an era where religion and centuries of human experience are largely discredited, Science has replaced both as the ultimate appeal to authority. We're not supposed to question it, say the enlightened folks who drive around with "Question authority" bumper stickers on their cars.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:30 AM | Comments (77) | TrackBack

January 15, 2013

Al Gore: Now 30% Richer Than Mitt Romney...

...and about 150 times richer than he was a little more than a decade ago:

Someone finally has done all the math on the recent sale of Al Gore's Current TV to the Arabic language channel Al-Jazeera for $500 million. Jobs were lost, buzz created, employees angered, but the former vice president had little to say about it. He did walk away with a reported $100 million — a tidy sum for a man who had less that $2 million in assets when he ran for president more than a dozen years ago, says Forbes magazine.

"Taking into account taxes to be paid on the deal, possible earlier debt and the fact that Gore's representatives declined to comment, Forbes conservatively estimates the former vice president's net worth to be at least $300 million, making him wealthier than unsuccessful Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney," says Ryan Mac, a Forbes analyst.

"Last May, Forbes estimated Romney's net worth to be around $230 million," he adds.

Holy Income Inequality, Batman!

We can understand wanting to build a nest egg, but $300 million? Wtih so many Americans struggling from paycheck to paycheck, does Al Gore really need all that money? If we didn't know any better, we'd say this smacks of social injustice.

Fortunately, we're above that kind of divisive and destructive rhetoric.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:38 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Obama: "In 2006, I Was An Absurd, Irresponsible Partisan Hack"

"…we’re going to have to make sure that people are looking at this in a responsible way, rather than just through the lens of politics."

- President Barack Obama, imploring Congressional Republicans to rise above the kind of petty, partisan grandstanding that characterized his own 2006 vote on the debt ceiling.

The date was March 16th, 2006. The young Senator, still wet behind the ears after only 14 months on Capitol Hill, rose to lecture his more experienced colleagues about the need for fiscal responsibility:

Mr. President, I rise today to talk about America’s debt problem.

The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies.

Flash forward to 2012. With Democrats firmly in control of both the White House and Senate it would be absurd - irresponsible, in fact - to blame the fact that we are once again discussing the debt limit to leadership failure. The appalling vacuum that forced a young Senator to explain the duties of the Chief Executive to a President who had held that office three times longer than Obama had been a Senator is mercifully gone, but eternal truths remain, well... eternal:

Leadership means that ‘‘the buck stops here.’’

So deep is the President's belief in this noble sentiment that he used it again during the 2012 campaign to admonish Mitt Romney for failing to live up to this administrations's lofty standards:

... as President of the United States, one of the things I’ve learned, and we just talked about was anything that happens on my watch is my responsibility. That’s what people expect. Harry Truman said the buck stops with me...”

A mere half year later, though, Obama's elusive buck seems to stop everywhere but at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. America is having this debate, not because we've had it every year for the last few decades, but because terrorists violent extremists in the House of Representatives have taken the nation hostage.

At gunpoint:

Calling the opposition’s stance “absurd,” Obama advised Republicans that they “have two choices here: They can act responsibly and pay America’s bills, or they can act irresponsibly and put America through another economic crisis. But they will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy. . . . And they better choose quickly, because time is running short.”

And that was just the opening statement. The hectoring continued through the Q&A. Exactly one month after the massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., Obama said of debt-reduction talks: “What I will not do is to have that negotiation with a gun at the head of the American people.”

Why can't we all just get along? Fortunately, we now have a president who understands us and feels our pain. A less sensitive leader might be tempted to trivialize a tragedy that is still all too fresh in our minds, but real leaders rise above such pettiness.

Back when the national debt was only half of today's staggering figure of 16.4 trillion (That's trillion with a "T", he reminded his fellow Senators), the young Senator Obama pleaded passionately for Congress to come its senses:

Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally...Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.

I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America’s debt limit

Today, he dismisses his former vote as a "political vote" by an inexperienced public servant. This does not explain why every single Democratic Senator voted against raising the debt limit in 2006.

But no matter. What's important here is that our elected representatives work with a Democratic president who has announced in advance that he refuses to negotiate towards a "balanced solution". And nothing makes political adversaries feel warmer and fuzzier than a few terrorist analogies and a whole lot of name calling.

That's leadership we can all believe in.


Posted by Cassandra at 04:25 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

January 14, 2013

Kids These Days...

They've got no respect for authority:

An IBM supercomputer had to have its memory wiped because its programmers could find no other way to stop him swearing.

Artificial intelligence Watson, which famously won Jeopardy! against the game show's human champions, kept making obscene outbursts after memorising the contents of the Urban Dictionary.

... Eric Brown, the IBM research scientist in charge of tutoring Watson, had taught the computer the Urban Dictionary in an effort to make his communications seem more natural, Fortune reported.

...But while Watson hungrily scoffed as much knowledge as he was offered, Mr Brown, 45, found that that his microprocessor-based pupil had much more difficulty understanding the subleties of human communication.

It was after he started answering 'bullsh*t' back to human researchers that it was decided to pull the plug on attempts to teach Watson slang.

We suspect Watson understands the subtleties of human communication quite well.

Posted by Cassandra at 04:42 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

January 11, 2013

Anti-Feminist Blames Men for "Enslaving Women", Destroying Human Race

Too funny. Glenn Reynolds links to an 1915 essay from an anti-feminist opponent of women's suffrage. He excerpts one sentence that - along with the longer passage chosen by Retropundit, suggests that women should not be allowed to work (or, apparently, vote). Women who are free to set the course of their own lives won't marry or have children:

When a smart young man receives a big salary it is a good thing for the race. He can marry and transmit his smartness to posterity. When a young woman receives a big salary it means disaster for the race, and the wider, handsomer, more efficient the woman is to-day the more likely she is to have a salary instead of a husband. You couldn’t run a chicken farm on those principles. Suppose you took all the best hens and set them aside to go to college or run a feather factory for the other hens. It’s a tragedy!

It has taken the race millions of years to produce the high salaried women of to-day, and now those qualities are allowed to perish. The spark carried through the centuries is snuffed out by a salary!

Nearly a century later, uncooperative facts cast some doubt on the author's bold predictions. These days, the women with the most options in life are more likely to marry than their less fortunate sisters. But let's not get distracted from our Important Hen Analogy.

Hens lay eggs to make baby chickens. Unlike hens, chicken farmers don't much care about the continuation of chickenkind. They want hens to lay eggs so humans can eat them (thus failing to transmit the smartest chicken genes to the next generation of chickens). Farmers find eggs useful in other ways, though. Eggs produce more chickens that will - in their turn - also be eaten by humans. Since no one appears to be eating human babies, it is not immediately apparent to this author why human reproduction should be managed on the same principles as a chicken farm. But no doubt this is what happens when generations of big-salaried, wide women prevent the smartness of young men from being transferred to the next generation of commercial protein sources.

Now at this point, you're probably ready to grab the nearest feminist and string her up by her armpit hair. We can't really fault you for this beautiful and natural urge but before you do, you might want to read the rest of the essay. Inexplicably, the author blames men for this mess:

I don't oppose suffrage because it will change things so much. If women had the vote, things would be just as they are now - only worse. It is only one manifestation of the feminist movement brought about by the entrance of women into industry. The race originally had two chief purposes - to get a living and to rear the next generation. Man forced woman to aid him in his task of creating wealth and stole her from her home duties.

Dagnabbit! Why were we not informed that feminism was nothing more than a dastardly male plot to destroy the human race? But it gets worse:

Now the whole race is being drafted into man's business of creating wealth while women's business of creating men fades into the background and woman has yielded with the most deplorable docility. She bows under the yoke and calls it freedom!

You big brutes! Why are men always trying to get women to do your work for you? How dare you force us to get jobs against our will? The Editorial Staff are so confused by all these newfangled choices. Just a few months ago, we were warned that affluent, educated women are being chained to their desks by other women. As if that weren't bad enough, affluent, educated working women are preventing less affluent women from marrying! To stop this horrifying trend, we must stem the rising "tide of female education and achievement" before it kills us all. Hugh Hefner, being male, sees a different problem. In his view, traditional marriage and gender roles enslave men!

The early Playboy sought the eyes and minds of what Fraterrigo calls “the young, affluent, urban bachelor,” and the first issue was pitched by Hefner as “a little diversion from the anxieties of the Atomic Age.” These anxieties were not only about being barbequed by Soviet nukes; for the American male, they included having to marry the first woman you had sex with, living with your parents (thanks to a dire postwar housing shortage), and feeling emasculated by the new nature of American work, no longer artisanal or rugged or self-determining but managerial and inchoate and soul-stranglingly indoor.

This.will.not.stand:

What fuels the selective outrage against feminism? Is it principle, or personal pique? Keep in mind that Playboy began bashing marriage in the 1950s - years before Betty Friedan wrote the book that launched second wave feminism. No fault divorce and Roe v. Wade were still decades away and birth control was still illegal in many states. Yet somehow, evil feminists found a way to go back in time and brainwash poor Hugh. Who knew they had such power? Their message was a simple one: chumps settle down with one woman and raise families. Real men demonstrate their sophistication and manliness by ducking marriage and wallowing in commitment-free sex:
According to the writer, William Iversen, husbands were self-sacrificing romantics, toiling ceaselessly to provide their families with “bread, bacon, clothes, furniture, cars, appliances, entertainment, vacations and country-club memberships.” Nor was it enough to meet their daily needs; the heroic male must provide for them even after his own death by building up his savings and life insurance. “Day after day, and week after week the American hubby is thus invited to attend his own funeral.” Iversen acknowledged that there were some mutterings of discontent from the distaff side, but he saw no chance of a feminist revival: The role of the housewife “has become much too cushy to be abandoned, even in the teeth of the most crushing boredom."

One thing is for certain: far too many men and women are being enslaved by all these choices. And someone - men, women, or perhaps Poultrykind - is to blame for all this.

Clearly, we don't want the human race to get smarter over time, because some very smart scientists (thankfully male) claim that intelligence has a dysgenic effect on fertility. The conclusion here is self evidently self-evident: if the goal is to increase or preserve human intelligence over time, we must all breed like hens. But there's a danger here. If the intelligence of the human race goes up, this will cause us to have fewer children and become dumber over time.

However this debacle plays out, we can safely say that feminists, Hugh Hefner, or scheming lazy men had something to do with it.

Though personally, we're inclined to blame the chickens.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:23 AM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

January 10, 2013

Coffee Snorters, Inbox Edition

The blog princess is swamped at work, but will try to get some posts up later today. Meanwhile, how about an open thread? (she said, with some trepidation, remembering the horror that was, "Ask Cassandra").

When the going gets tough, the tough resort to posting photos from their inboxes. This image from Retriever seems apropos:

DL Sly sent this a day or two ago. It amused us:

Finally, the Spousal Unit sent more photos of elephants. Here, one elephant is being groomed before the big show:

He said it was pretty funny to watch. First, the elephants were sprayed with water to clean them off. Then a huge blow dryer was used to dry off the elephant's skin (that's the leaf-blower looking thing being used in this photo). Finally, a fancy headdress was donned and the elephants trotted off to the big tent.

One elephant (he thinks it might have been the male) was kept separated from the rest of the elephants. He said it kept looking wistfully at the other elephants.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:43 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

January 08, 2013

*Now* They Tell Us!

After months of ridiculing those fear mongering Rethugs for actually paying attention to the nation's fiscal trajectory (and warning about further downgrades to our credit rating!), the Intrepid Investigative Reporting Staff at the Washington Post suddenly discover a strange, alternative universe in which reality unexpectedly (!) clashes with DNC and the White House talking points:

The U.S. government may default on its debt as soon as Feb. 15, half a month earlier than widely expected, according to a new analysis adding urgency to the debate over how to raise the federal debt ceiling.

The analysis, by the Bipartisan Policy Center, says that the government will be unable to pay all its bills starting sometime between Feb. 15 and March 1.

The government hit the $16.4 trillion statutory debt limit on Dec. 31 , but the Treasury Department is able to undertake a number of accounting schemes to delay when the government runs into funding problems.

The Treasury has said that the accounting schemes, known as “extraordinary measures,” ordinarily would forestall default for about the first two months of the year, though officials were clear that they could not pinpoint a precise date because of an unusual amount of uncertainty around federal finances.

“Our numbers show that we have less time to solve this problem than many realize,” Steve Bell, senior director of economic policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said in a statement. “It will be difficult for Treasury to get beyond the March 1 date in our judgment.”

Who could have predicted such a surprising turn of events?

“Let’s worry about Social Security when it’s a problem. Today, it is not a problem,” Reid said to applause.

In an MSNBC interview, he added: “Social Security does not add a single penny, not a dime, a nickel, a dollar to the budget problems we have. Never has and, for the next 30 years, it won’t do that.”

Social Security, until now a huge lender to the government, will begin demanding repaiment to its trust fund to cover the shortfall. If fully repaid, the trust fund can fully finance benefits until 2036, when people currently about 40 years old will begin to retire. Once the trust fund runs out, monthly benefits will decrease by about a quarter.

Such statements have not been true since at least 2009, when the cost of monthly checks regularly began to exceed payroll tax collections. A spokesman said Reid stands by his comments and his view that Social Security is entirely self-financed. But Reid’s position has frustrated some Democrats who argue that fixing Social Security — the government’s single-largest program — would go a long way toward restoring confidence among future retirees and the nation’s investors.

“It’s the one thing I’ve had the most difficult time grasping,” said Erskine Bowles, the former Clinton White House chief of staff who co-chaired Obama’s fiscal panel with former GOP senator Alan Simpson.

The Bowles-Simpson plan would have righted the system’s finances with a combination of payroll tax increases and reductions in scheduled benefits, mainly years down the road. It would have hit upper-income workers while raising benefits for the most needy, those with average lifetime earnings of less than $11,000 a year. “By making these relatively small changes, you make it solvent and you make it be there for people who depend on it,” Bowles said. “I thought that’s what we as Democrats were supposed to be for.”

Just as the GOP has rejected any form of tax increase to contain the debt, however, Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have ruled out any reduction in government retirement benefits.

Why does this President keep convening commissions and blue ribbon panels and then ignoring their recommendations?

More importantly, why do the media let him get away with it?

Posted by Cassandra at 07:34 AM | Comments (47) | TrackBack

The "Perfect" Social Welfare System

Interesting study in the WaPo attempts to match various social welfare systems to the skill level of the worker and the budget of the paying nation:

Ever since the welfare reform measure passed in 1996, its central tenet — that cash assistance should be dispersed only on the condition that recipients move toward employment — has become a near-consensus in Washington.

But the rule has its critics. The University of Michigan’s Luke Schaefer and Harvard’s Kathryn Edin have found that extreme poverty — families living under $2 a day — shot up after the bill passed, indicating that it pulled the rug out from under a number of very vulnerable people. But there’s also a more general argument to be made that assistance to the poor shouldn’t come with those strings.

A new working paper from economists Nicola Pavoni, Ofer Setty and Giovanni Violante adds some quantitative weight to that critique. They built a model designed to determine the “optimal” welfare system, the one that maximized the utility — that is, happiness, or degree of getting what you want — across the economy.

They compare a number of possible solutions. On one extreme, there’s pure, unconditional cash transfers, in which the government simply distributes money without any requirements to needy persons. On the other, there’s what the authors call “mandatory work”, in which needy people receive public works jobs that they must keep to receive assistance.

But there are a lot of options in between, including unemployment insurance, part-time public works, full-time but temporary public works, and extensive government job search assistance. Which one is best for a given country depends on a number of factors, but the authors focus on two: the skill level of workers, and the amount of money the government has to spend.

We must admit that bolded sentence amused us a bit. We can see several compelling arguments for matching the remedy to the skill of the worker and the willingness of taxpayers to voluntarily give money they've legitimately earned to someone who has done absolutely nothing to earn it.

Sustainability is one - a system where cost matches both public ability and willingness to fund it is more likely to garner and maintain widespread public support than one that ignores both factors. Efficacy/efficiency is another - a remedy designed to help low-skilled workers isn't much help to workers who have marketable skills (and whose unemployment is more likely to be temporary in nature).

But basing public policy on "maximized happiness/utility" (aka utilitarianism) invokes the usual objections to outcome oriented morality:

There are also a number of problems with utilitarianism. One problem with utilitarianism is that it leads to an "end justifies the means" mentality. If any worthwhile end can justify the means to attain it, a true ethical foundation is lost. But we all know that the end does not justify the means. If that were so, then Hitler could justify the Holocaust because the end was to purify the human race. Stalin could justify his slaughter of millions because he was trying to achieve a communist utopia.

The end never justifies the means. The means must justify themselves. A particular act cannot be judged as good simply because it may lead to a good consequence. The means must be judged by some objective and consistent standard of morality.

Second, utilitarianism cannot protect the rights of minorities if the goal is the greatest good for the greatest number. Americans in the eighteenth century could justify slavery on the basis that it provided a good consequence for a majority of Americans. Certainly the majority benefited from cheap slave labor even though the lives of black slaves were much worse.

A third problem with utilitarianism is predicting the consequences. If morality is based on results, then we would have to have omniscience in order to accurately predict the consequence of any action. But at best we can only guess at the future, and often these educated guesses are wrong.

A fourth problem with utilitarianism is that consequences themselves must be judged. When results occur, we must still ask whether they are good or bad results. Utilitarianism provides no objective and consistent foundation to judge results because results are the mechanism used to judge the action itself.

Here's what we liked about the welfare matrix: the inclusion of public works projects. Traveling about the country for the past few decades, we've often marveled at public works projects that came out of the WPA/CCC era. Not having firsthand experience with it, we imagine our view of the WPA is more than a bit rose-colored. But there's something appealing about some of the ideas underlying the WPA. And in addition to teaching skills and requiring work for pay (as opposed to handouts), public works projects benefit the public that funds them as well as the workers employed by them:

The WPA was charged with selecting projects that would make a real and lasting contribution — but would not vie with private firms. As it turned out, the "pump-priming" effect of federal projects actually stimulated private business during the Depression years. The WPA focused on tangible improvements: During its tenure, workers constructed 651,087 miles of roads, streets and highways; and built, repaired or refurbished 124,031 bridges, 125,110 public buildings, 8,192 parks, and 853 landing fields. In addition, workers cleaned slums, revived forests, and extended electrical power to rural locations.

We can't help but wonder whether such projects wouldn't also provide one solution to the problem of young men and failure to launch?

Discuss amongst yourownselves, haters.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:35 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

January 07, 2013

On A Somewhat Happier Note....

Elephants!!!

Taken by the Spousal Unit from the window of his hotel room.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:41 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

More Union Violence and Thuggery

"Nice church you're building. It would be a shame if something were to happen to it":

Police say union workers "almost certainly" torched an under-construction Quaker meetinghouse in northwest Philadelphia four days before Christmas. The Chestnut Hill Friends had hired non-union labor for the project, which discommoded several construction unions.
Vandals with an acetylene torch crept onto the project's muddy construction site in the middle of the night. Working out of view in the meetinghouse's freshly cemented basement, they sliced off dozens of bolts securing the bare steel columns and set fire to the building crane, causing $500,000 in damage.

Police detectives deemed the attack arson because of a series of confrontational visits from union officials days before the incident. They say the torch could only have been operated by a trained professional, and believe it was almost certainly the work of disgruntled union members. The city has assigned extra investigators to the case and is working with federal forensic experts to track down the vandals, said Michael Resnick, the city's public safety commissioner.

…Trade unions dictate hiring at virtually all large construction projects in the city. Their dominance has had the virtue of ensuring that members receive good salaries and generous benefits, on par with those in New York. But it has also made construction exceptionally expensive here. Those high costs, real estate experts like Kevin C. Gillen at Econsult argue, have been a drag on the city's revival.

…Cross [the unions] by hiring nonunion workers or demanding more efficient work rules, and you can expect a giant inflatable rat at your door—or worse. The Post brothers, who are renovating a former factory into apartments at 12th and Wood Streets, learned the hard way in the spring when union protesters laid siege to their construction site, blocking deliveries for five months.

More here and here:

1) Iron Worker jumps on hood of car of Post employee as he pulls in to work at 6 am. Video: http://youtu.be/V9LQKsi8qnQ

2) Post employee parks on street after being blocked. Iron Workers attack his car with a crow bar, smashing all of the windows. Pics:
https://docs.google.com/folder/d/0B-7k79_F3zWcWXAzMEdJcVViQXc/edit

3) Iron Worker attacks 2 Post employees with a crowbar. Post employees manage to wrestle him to the ground after being struck and bleeding profusely. Off Duty police officers see the melee and place Iron Worker under arrest once Post employees tackle him. Video:
http://youtu.be/PK-iNSLaOK0

4) Union workers slash the tires of 5 cars parked at 1201 Vine street, thinking they are the cars of Post employees. They are in fact the cars of neighbors.

5) Post’s employee who was attacked by Iron Workers is charged with assault; the iron worker who did the attacking with the crowbar was not charged and let go and back at the site by Wednesday. Post is trying to rectify the situation with the city DA. Feel free to call the DA to express your outrage over this obvious, well documented injustice.

All we can say is, "Phew!!! It's a good thing these weren't Tea Partiers or Republicans! Otherwise, the media would be forced to hyperventilate about distrurbing racially tinged, racial overtones.

And code words.

Inexplicably, race will not be cited as a factor here. It doesn't support the narrative, you see.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:56 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Thank God for "Real Conservatives"

Wasn't this the guy we prayed would save conservatism from Mitt Romney?

They hypocrisy of New York and New Jersey politicians blasting Boehner for not bringing up the pork-laden bill that was supposed to be for emergency relief for areas hit by Hurricane Sandy is beyond ridiculous. I got emails all day long from Chris Christie's PR people who wanted to be sure that word got out about him criticizing Republicans for not passing the bill despite the fact that they had well-reasoned criticisms of stuffing the bill with five times as much pork as money for Sandy victims. And now the House, right on schedule, has passed a pared-down bill with money targeted just for aid to victims of Sandy. So instead of spending $60 billion, they spent $9.7 billion. The pork can wait. And the political grandstanding can grind to a halt. I know that Christie is up for reelection, but does he have to be so unnecessarily obvious about trying to score political points off of criticizing Republicans?

We blame John Boehner.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:32 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Obama's "Read My Lips" Moment

I can make a firm pledge, under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes.

- Barack Obama, 2008

Mein Gott im Himmel! As much as it pains us to admit it, Paul Krugman was right!

... whenever the president says that there’s an issue on which he absolutely, positively won’t give ground, you can count on him, you know, giving way — and soon, too.

Fortunately, The Editorial Staff are absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when the media grew a spine and began to hold the powerful to their promises:

Obama, before heading to Hawaii for a vacation, praised Congress for supposedly fulfilling his campaign promise of not adding burdens to middle-class families.

“I want to thank all the leaders of the House and Senate,” he said. “Under this law, more than 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small businesses will not see their income taxes go up.”

It would be more accurate to say that 77 percent of American households will see an increase in their federal tax burden, the Tax Policy Center noted.

This was the moment when journalists put duty and country above covering for their guy. This was the moment when they finally said, "We see what you did, there." This was the moment when they pointed out the utter shamelessness of the White House's dishonest community organizing:

Starting in late November, Obama encouraged Americans to use the hashtag #My2k on Twitter to tell lawmakers what the estimated average tax raise of $2,000 would mean to them if Congress failed to reach a deal in advance of the fiscal cliff deadline.

The official White House page for the campaign also featured voters explaining what $2,000 meant to them: “#My2k is keeping this house and keeping it warm for my growing family this winter”; “My2k … means food on table, co-pays at the Drs office, gas in the car & our kids extra activities”; and “#My2k means I won’t have to choose between life-saving meds or food.”

Obama’s official account retweeted others such as, “My2K will just about cover out-of-pocket costs for my cataract surgery” and “My2K helped me to support my parents, pay for their health and pay my car loan.”

Turns out, it wasn't really #their2K, after all. Who could have predicted this?

Posted by Cassandra at 05:45 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 02, 2013

This Is What "Balanced Deficit Reduction" Looks Like?

Today’s agreement enshrines, I think, a principle into law that will remain in place for as long as I am president,” Obama said after the House voted. “The deficit needs to be reduced in a way that is balanced. Everyone pays their fair share. Everyone does their part. That is how our economy works best. That is how we grow.”

- Barack Obama

CWCID

Posted by Cassandra at 07:15 AM | Comments (41) | TrackBack

January 01, 2013

It's Called "Smart Power"

The president's cheerleader in chief on his much vaunted negotiating skillz:

Anyone looking at these negotiations, especially given Obama’s previous behavior, can’t help but reach one main conclusion: whenever the president says that there’s an issue on which he absolutely, positively won’t give ground, you can count on him, you know, giving way — and soon, too. The idea that you should only make promises and threats you intend to make good on doesn’t seem to be one that this particular president can grasp.

Ouch.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:29 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

2012, Excerpted

The Editorial Staff and our cadre of itinerant Eskimo typists thought it might be interesting to extract a few pithy observations from the past year's bloviation. We do this mostly because we can't remember writing most of these things. This post will be updated throughout the day or as we get around to it.

JANUARY

Well intended efforts to smooth out fluctuations in the business cycle - far from making things better - destabilize the economy and prolong recessions:

This sobering graph illustrates the folly of centralized planning that interferes with - or even outlaws - signals sent by the market to suppliers and consumers of goods and services. These signals (prices, profits/losses, etc.) may be artificially suppressed for a time, but they are effects rather than causes.

... The artificial suppression/distortion of signals and effects while doing nothing to address root causes lies at the heart of our current economic policy. The results, so far, have been disastrous. But more importantly, they illustrate the fundamentally dishonest basis for our current economic policies. The idea that people will make better decisions if government distorts or suppresses (excuse me, "protects us from") the very information we need to make smart, timely economic decisions deserves to be mercilessly mocked within an inch of its pathetic life.

Practioners of identity politics are perfectly happy to betray their own core principles if that's what it takes to "win":

If you believe biological differences between men and women are real, and that women are naturally better suited to child rearing (or that there is - in general - a closer bond between mothers and children than exists between fathers and children), then on what possible basis can you argue that the family court system is "unfair" and biased against men if more women than men get custody? Even before we examine the question of how many men vs. women ask for custody, the presumption that a "fair" system would automagically result in equal custody awards for fathers and mothers doesn't follow logically from the belief that men are better suited for some tasks and women for others.

Radical feminists have a similar problem, though ... If you truly believe that men and women are by nature EQUALLY able to care for children (and further, that men should assume equal parenting duties), then wouldn't you want men and women to get custody in roughly equal proportions?

Note that I have not actually seen feminists arguing that they think women should always get custody. But if they're arguing from genuine conviction, they should WANT men to get custody more because that would result in a more equitable sharing of parental duties and more freedom for women.

This is what happens when men and women engage in identity/victimhood politics: they end up defending things they don't really believe because in the end, they'll do/argue anything just to win the argument.

FEBRUARY

Remembering what's important:

The thing I dislike most about Valentine's Day is that it encourages us to focus on the wrong things. Contrasted with flamboyantly romantic gestures, the immense worth of what we already have fades into the background.

And yet it is what happens on the other 364 days of the year that has the power to make us happy or miserable. The odd thing is that over the years I've found that the more I remember to thank my husband for the thousand small things he does every single day, the more likely he is to remember the romantic gestures that make me feel like a young girl on her first date.

MARCH

On fairness, adversity, and playing the victim card:

Some people are born with beauty, brains, or talent and others are not. Some parents are industrious and loving. They teach their children the skills and habits that bring success and prosperity. Other parents are selfish and immature - their only gift to their children is an object lesson in how not to succeed. People are born incredibly lucky, snake bitten, or somewhere in between but no government program can make a plain woman gorgeous or a stupid person smart. Public policy cannot force bad parents to love their children, nor can Congress save a bad marriage.

The Left's answer to unfairness is to beseech government to do something beyond its capability: to erase inequality and make a profoundly unfair world, fair. In a perfect world populated by perfect human beings, this would be unnecessary. And because we do not live in a perfect world populated by perfect human beings, our attempts at social engineering usually succeed only in adding artificially imposed unfairness to the ample unfairness that already exists in the natural world.

The Right's answer to unfairness has been to ask more from ourselves; it encourages us to marshal our forces and overcome adversity. This approach, like government solutions, carries with it no guarantee of success. What it does, however, is harness unfairness to our advantage: it enables us to develop coping mechanisms; to adapt and overcome.

One ideology views man as a helpless victim of forces beyond his control. The other recognizes that adversity brings out the best of which the human spirit is capable. To the Right, hardship is not a bug to be eliminated but a necessary goad that propels us onward and upward. It sees the human will as a force capable of overmastering even the cruellest Fate.

Lex:

I can't claim to have been close to Lex, but I deeply admired and respected both the man and the writer. Over the years, his elegant prose and subtle wit have delighted and reassured me more times than I can possibly recount here. His graceful writing seemed so effortless that one might be forgiven for thinking something so natural must also be easy to find.

It was - it is - not, and we are all made poorer by the loss of this good man and his insights.

Though I never knew them except through his loving descriptions, my heart goes out to his family. For some reason, I am reminded of a line from the end of the movie Gladiator:

Is Rome worth one good man's life?
We believed it once. Make us believe it again.

He was a soldier of Rome. Honor him.

Captain Carroll LeFon, United States Navy, spent his life defending the modern day equivalent of Rome. The most enduring tribute I can offer to Lex and those who loved him is that, in a world that seems determined to bring out the worse angels of our nature, he had the rare ability to inspire us to become more worthy of the country we live in.

We should honor such men. That America still produces them is cause for considerable pride. That we have lost another such is a desolation.

APRIL

Men, women, morality:

I've always been extremely skeptical of claims that men are more moral or rational than women or vice versa. We think, reason, and judge differently depending on our experiences, upbringing or faith, temperment, and yes - probably sex to some degree. But the larger problem with such broad pronouncements is that they presuppose a given definition of morality.

If you place a premium on caring then women will appear more moral but if you place a premium on justice then men tend to edge us out. I've often thought that the way men approach relationships with other people is more suited to a world of competitors: it optimizes on interacting with people with whom you have no bond, or with whom you are actively competing for resources. That kind of moral matrix is shaped by a sharp distinction between the way we treat family and close friends (people who can reasonably be expected to reciprocate kindness or trust) and the way we treat strangers or even enemies (people who cannot be trusted, or who may even wish to harm us). The down side of the traditionally male moral matrix is that having defensive walls up 24/7 isn't always appropriate with a spouse or close family. If you treat your spouse like you treat competitors, you're probably headed for divorce court.

Women tend to have an approach that is more suited to dealing with family or close friends. Intimacy and trust are easier for us. There are advantages to this model - one being that it often disarms other people and makes them more generous and fair. I've often found in the work world that it's easier for me to get others to cooperate (even when this means giving up something of value) than it is for my male co-worker. But it can also be disastrous when used with someone who is dishonorable.

It's also disastrous as a model for large societies, because we don't form the same bonds with total strangers that we form with family and friends. There is no reasonable expectation of reciprocity. I expect that this distinction (and not patriarchal oppression) explains why governments are usually run by men. Their moral model is more suited to the tasks governments must perform.

Consumer spending, then and now:

The crushing burden of modern health care spending seems to be more than compensated for by dramatic decreases in spending on two of the three basics (food and clothing). Housing spending, despite similarly overwrought rhetoric and fearmongering, doesn't exactly seem to have gone through the roof either...

... According to this graphic, Americans spend as much on Entertainment as they do on Health Care (yet no one is screaming that the cost of Entertainment is crushing our souls)

MAY

Character:

We read a lot these days about how everything - even challenges our parents and grandparents accepted as part of normal life - is too hard; how no one can succeed without help, how it's understandable for people to simply give up unless the world rewards them for every positive thing they do. The idea of developing character - that quiet form of courage that makes a person rise up every time life knocks him down, that focuses on the positive, that rejects self pity and envy - has mostly given way to the notion that we are fragile spirits, easily crushed or dispirited by even the smallest obstacles: a harsh word, an encounter with someone who isn't convinced of our ineffable wonderfulness, a dearth of praise for our actions.

And then you look at children with cancer, and see how they respond to an adversary with the power to end life. At a time when all seems darkest, the power of the human spirit shines forth brighter than the sun.

JUNE

The capitalism bubble:

It's been nearly four years since the financial crisis of 2008 and I'm still not seeing any honest analysis of how we got there from either party. When you look at how our economy changed over the long term, one thing is brutally clear: the level of "prosperity" most of us have enjoyed all our adult lives was - like the inflated housing prices we also enjoyed and came to expect - unnatural and unsustainable. It was fueled by record increases in household debt and record decreases to household savings.

The idea that we can - or should - strive to get back to the good old days when the average American household spent far more than it earned and stopped saving for financial reverses we all know are cyclical and inevitable is just plain delusional.

Posted by Cassandra at 11:06 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack