Archive for June, 2012

Interestingly enough, over the past couple of weeks, there have been two pretty big stories where each party has accused the other one of engaging in politically motivated  activity.  First, you have Republicans voting to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over documents regarding the botched “Fast and Furious” operation.  Second, you have President Obama announcing tweaks to the immigration policy that will defer action on young people who were brought over as kids, are in school or have graduated from school, and have no criminal record.

So are Republicans politically motivated to vote Eric Holder in contempt?  Of course they are!  I do think they are more interested in embarrassing the Obama administration than finding out the truth.  But the fact of the matter is that something rotten happened during the course of this operation, a border agent is dead, and it DOES deserve to be investigated and the Obama administration IS making that difficult.  That doesn’t mean I think there is some grand conspiracy behind all of this.  But when something goes wrong with the activities our government engages in, the public does deserve to know what the problems were and corrective action should be taken.  I know Presidents don’t like it when Congress do these investigations, but that is part of the check and balance system we have.  Sorry.

Is President Obama politically motivated to tweak the immigration policy?  Of course he is!  This was an action certain to shore up the Latino voting block and it is no coincidence he decided to take that action now in an election year.  And certainly not everyone will agree with his decision.  But at least it is some action on an issue that for the most part everyone refuses to address.  From an allocation of resources perspective, it makes sense that young people who have been brought over here as kids and have done everything right should not receive top priority for deportation.  Republicans are trying to push the idea that this will somehow prevent Congress from passing a more comprehensive and permanent solution, but how this action does that is unclear to me.

So yes, these are politically motivated actions.  But to be politically motivated, there must be some political advantage to be gain.  Often the political advantage is simply created by popularity.  And sometimes popular actions are popular because they also happen to be right.

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I believe it’s been pretty much accepted that the newspaper is going to eventually die as a medium.  But actual evidence of that is finally hitting here locally with the announcement that starting in the fall The Birmingham News will no longer print a daily version of its paper.  Instead it’s going to cut back to printing on only 3 days while supposedly enhancing its online version.

On the one hand, there isn’t anything that inherently makes this a bad thing.  True, not everyone has a computer, so accessibility could initially be a problem.  But more and more people are either getting computers or do have access to computers through their local library.  So it’s not hard to imagine that sometime soon pretty much everyone that wanted to read local news could do so online.  And certainly anything that can be printed on paper can also be printed online.  Heck, if a website is half way well designed, an online version should be more enhanced than a print version, with links pointing to potential other related articles of interest just a click away.

But while online journalism should have a lot of potential, there are a couple of reasons for concern.  First, the motivation behind this move, at least here, is clearly cost cutting.  So yes, you can produce a very vibrant news source online, but you still need to pay a staff to produce the content.  The other issue is that newspapers haven’t figured out a good way to monetize their online product, and the system that has been produced awards sensational TMZ style reporting that generates massive amounts of traffic over reporting of substance.  Granted, much of this is the newspapers’ own fault for stubbornly not embracing the internet and believing newspapers would last forever.  Still, it will be communities that suffer if local journalism totally dies.

In Birmingham, this fear is coming to fruition, with the announcement that the Birmingham reporting staff is going to be cut by 60%.  It’s hard to see how the online version is going to be enhanced when you have so few people to produce content.  Goodness knows Birmingham and Jefferson County has needed reporters to keep their eyes on our politicians over the last decade, and their job just got a lot harder, if not impossible.  Reporting serves an important function in our democracy.  Without an effective watchdog, I’m afraid of what the people in power might be able to get away with in the future.  It doesn’t help to alleviate my fears to hear that those who remain are getting titles such as “Local Buzz Reporter” and “Business Buzz Reporter” that sounds a lot more like TMZ than journalism to me.

In October, Birmingham is going to have a news media void.  It will be interesting to see when (and if) this void will be filled.

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North Carolina lawmakers at work: “Pass a law that rejects sea level rise? Brilliant!”

When lawmakers in North Carolina learned that the study by its own Coastal Resources Commission projected a sea level rise of 39 inches by the year 2100, they knew they had to take action!  First step, obviously, was for all of them to cover their ears and say outloud “lalalalalalala..I can’t hear you!..lalalalala…”.  Surprisingly that compelling argument didn’t make the scientists behind the study change their projection.  So the next obvious step was just simply passing a law that bans the science behind the projection!  Brilliant!

Now (if the proposed law is passed, and it looks like it will) North Carolina scientists can only use linear extrapolation using historical data from 1900 and after.  Just wait until lawmakers figure out that you hardly need scientists to do linear extrapolation, that you can get a high school math student to do it.  Or better yet, wait until they figure out that anyone can perform that calculation in Excel.  (Really, linear extrapolation is the laziest form of projection there is, it’s what you do when you don’t want to think about it. Also, it’s not science, it’s just a very simplistic mathematical model.) Finally they will be able to get scientists off the payroll for even more savings!  Be gone nerds!

This is truly revolutionary stuff!  Just imagine the problems we can now solve using the North Carolina logic.  National budget doesn’t balance?  Just change methods of revenue and spending projections until it does.  Solved.  High unemployment?  Change the projections of job creation and tell the unemployed that the jobs are coming! Solved.  Ending the war in Afghanistan?  I am projecting that Afghanistan will have a thriving, American-loving, fully functioning democracy in place by, oh, let’s just say tomorrow.  Bring the troops home! Solved.  Yes, we can now solve everything.  Our local, state, and national representatives just need to pass a few laws, that’s all.

So the driving force behind this is that coastal property owners want to continue to develop their low-lying land for short-term bucks (and I would presume that the local lawmakers representing these areas want the tax dollars and/or continued contributions from these property owners), consequences be damned.  Here’s the thing, if you want to develop this property using your own assumptions about sea level changes, fine, go for it.  Free market, right?  But let’s make it free market it all the way then!  You reap the benefits, great!  But then you also bear all the costs!  That means the infrastructure is up to you.  That means it’s up to you to obtain insurance and if the rates are high, well that’s too bad.  That means if the developed property is ruined because of storm or erosion of the beach, you can’t turn to the government to help you out.  That’s the risk you assumed.

We are turning into a society where we apply free market capitalist principles when it comes to big business profits (no planning restrictions, tax breaks, less regulation, etc.), but where we apply socialist command principles (bailouts, disaster aid, government insurance, etc.) when it comes to big business losses.  It doesn’t take a scientist to see that a system creates perverse incentives and is not sustainable over the long-term.  But it apparently does take more than a North Carolina state legislator to see that.

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