Hey Everyone! You Are Not Qualified To Have An Opinion About Trayvon Martin

Or George Zimmerman.

By now we all know that Zimmerman shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. I don’t have an opinion about this yet because there’s still way too many missing and contradictory facts out there. But that hasn’t stopped people all over from letting selective facts and rumors combine with their biases into predictable outrage.

Continue reading Hey Everyone! You Are Not Qualified To Have An Opinion About Trayvon Martin

Taxes and the Slow War on Law-Abiding Citizens

I finished my taxes last week. By “finished,” I mean I completed the steps on the H&R Block website and accurately checked boxes and filled inputs to the best of my ability based on my understanding of the terms presented. But it sure is complicated, especially now that there’s a house involved; good thing vehicle property taxes don’t start for us until next year.

But it’s not just getting worse for me as I get older; it’s getting worse for everyone. This graphic about the length of federal tax law was going around the Internet the other day:

Federal Tax Law PagesThat’s a stunning growth rate (even with the inconsistent Y-axis), and every year around this time we hear calls for tax reform. Fareed Zakaria had a good post on CNN the other day:

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Markets at work: Pink Slime

Several months ago the Internet got excited about “pink slime,” something the meat industry makes from leftover cow parts to get more meat out of cows. Videos like this one began circulating the web and getting mixed up with gross pictures like this one (which seems to actually be chicken nugget slime – as best I can tell, beef “pink slime” stole the name from chicken “pink slime,” which is actually slimy, whereas the beef “slime” just looks like solid little meat trimmings.)

Anyway, food activists like Jamie Oliver started raising awareness about the facts that 70% of beef in America contains these leftover parts, originally fit for dog food but treated with ammonia to make them edible for humans, and the FDA says they don’t have to list ammonia as an ingredient because it’s a processing element or whatever. They use ammonia to kill the E. coli that’s more likely to be found in the leftover meat, but the ammonia smells bad, and as they try to find a good balance there have been some E. coli outbreaks in recent years. Caught between ammonia and E. coli, we’re supposed to be scared of these unsafe trimmings and stop eating them and get industries to stop using them.

Well, all that activism has begun paying off. In January 2012, McDonald’s announced they would stop using the pink slime in their beef. Lots of links say Taco Bell and Burger King are stopping, too, though I can’t find any good sources on that. But the activists were rejoicing.

Then a few days ago, a bunch of supermarkets announced they would stop using the slime too, including Safeway, SUPERVALU, and Food Lion. On Thursday, the biggest chain, Kroger, joined in. All over the food industry, pink slime is dropping faster than government revenue during a recession.

Is pink slime really that much worse than other kinds of meat? Maybe not. Some in the industry are fighting back against what they see as misinformation with websites like PinkSlimeIsAMyth.com. I don’t know how dangerous the stuff really is, but let’s not lose sight of what is happening here: consumers are demanding better quality meat, and businesses are responding!

Continue reading Markets at work: Pink Slime

Supreme Court Unanimously Rebukes EPA Overreach

Any piece of land that is wet at least part of the year is in danger of being classified by EPA employees as wetlands… if property owners begin to construct a home on a lot that the agency thinks possesses the requisite wetness, the property owners are at the agency’s mercy… If the owners do not do the EPA’s bidding, they may be fined up to $75,000 per day… Until the EPA sues them, they are blocked from access to the courts, and the EPA may wait as long as it wants before deciding to sue. By that time, the potential fines may easily have reached the millions. In a nation that values due process, not to mention private property, such treatment is unthinkable.

Sound like the words of a paranoid libertarian blogger? It was actually Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito rebuking the Environmental Protection Agency for an excessive attack on American citizens. Yes, we do still have some checks and balances in the federal government – barely.

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Government Secrecy in the Internet Age

Last Friday the Internet lit up with anti-government reports about a new Executive Order signed by President Obama that basically gave him the power to seize any and all U.S infrastructure for the purposes of national defense. People claimed the Executive Order “also states that the President and his Secretaries have the authority to seize all transportation, energy, and infrastructure inside the United States as well as forcibly induct/draft American citizens into the military.” And, if you had any doubt, it’s all in the full text straight from the White House! Sounds pretty bad, right?

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Lessons In Bias and Local Politics From the St. Charles County Caucus

I did my best to piece together an accurate factual summary of Saturday’s canceled caucus in my county, but now I’ve had time to think about what it all means. Here are a couple of interesting reactions I had.

Continue reading Lessons In Bias and Local Politics From the St. Charles County Caucus

Caucus Fraud in St. Charles County, MO

UPDATE: Here is my report on the rescheduled caucus held on April 10. This time there was no fraudulent activity or broken rules and delegates were successfully selected.


I’ve heard accusations of voter fraud in the Republican nominating process, almost always from Ron Paul supporters, and I never know if they’re just misinterpreting things or not understanding caucus rules or seeing what they want to see due to their bias when Paul doesn’t get as much support as they think he should.

Well, today I definitely witnessed blatant caucus fraud in my county. I’m not calling it voter fraud because, well, we never got to vote on anything…. Continue reading Caucus Fraud in St. Charles County, MO

218 reasons NOT to vote for Obama

There was recently a post on Forbes going around the Internet called “218 reasons to vote for Obama.” In the interest of fairness and equality I thought it would be helpful to provide 218 reasons not to vote for Obama, and unlike many of the exaggerated or deceptive or completely inaccurate reasons in the original list, I am providing linked citations for every one of my claims.

I tried to avoid sensational and activist blogs and websites and stick to reputable sources. I avoided distractions about birth certificates or quotes from Michelle; I avoided many strong philosophical disagreements I have with President Obama (with the major exception of #71); I avoided connections to Jeremiah Wright or Bill Ayers or anything in Obama’s past. I primarily stuck to things that Obama and his administration have done or not done from his presidential campaign through his first presidential term, highlighting the kinds of things that liberals hated about Bush but grudgingly accept in Obama. These are the kinds of things that I reasonably expect would continue with four more years of Obama, and as such are good reasons not to vote for him.

I am also emphatically not promoting Mitt Romney through this list, as I find little reason to believe that he would not also become guilty of most of the reasons outlined below. This is simply an attempt at an intelligent response to a silly, inaccurate list that was somehow important enough to get circulated around the Internet. I welcome criticism of this list but I ask that you apply the same level of analysis to the pro-bama list. (It’s true that Obama personally didn’t do many of these things, but he also personally didn’t do many of the things on the pro-bama list, and besides, they are still things that happened under his administration that would probably continue to happen if he was re-elected.) Shall we begin?

Foreign Policy

1. Continued the practice of indefinite detentions for alleged terrorists without review (linklink)

2. Dropped threat to veto NDAA (link) and signed it, encoding severe government power advances into law (link)

3. Announced “Withdrawal Plan” that leaves more troops in Afghanistan than when he started (link)

4. Authorized military intervention in Libya without the approval of Congress (link)

5. Did this after emphatically stating as a presidential candidate that the president did not have the authority to do that (link)

6. Defended intervention in Libya by redefining the word “hostilities” (link)

7. Revived “Prompt Global Strike” weapons system, considered too controversial by Bush Administration (link)

8.Announced a $60 billion sale of arms to the Saudi Arabian dictatorship, the largest arms deal in history (link)

9. Sold arms to abusive Bahrain regime and used legal loophole to avoid telling Congress about it (link)

10. Granted a waiver allowing four countries to continue receiving US military aid even though they use child soldiers (link)

11. Argued that the widespread use of Predator drones is a justifiable form of self-defense (link)

12. Claims ACTA could be ratified without Congressional approval and that it would override US law (link)

13. Ordered drone attacks in Yemen (link)

14. Ordered a cruise missile and cluster bomb attack in Yemen that killed women and children, suppressed the civilian casualties, and then imprisoned a journalist who revealed the truth (link)

15. Would seek international permission for intervening in Syria before consulting Congress (link)

16. Broke promise to reject the Military Commissions Act (link)

17. Continuing policy of maintaining thousands of troops at over a thousand military bases around the world (link)

Honorable Mention: Backed off on his promise to close the prison at Guantanamo (link(Yes, I know you can blame Congress for this. But he backed away from it while Democrats still controlled Congress, and his promise to close Guantanamo was often cited as a reason to vote for him.)

Continue reading 218 reasons NOT to vote for Obama

Wednesday Links

1. Crazy 3D Printer news of the day. I haven’t really blogged on 3D printers since I don’t like being overly speculative, though I think it has an enormous potential to disrupt multiple industries. We’re so used to the economic forces that make technology-related things endlessly faster and better and cheaper that it’s easy to take it for granted that 3D printers will follow that trend to the point where soon we’ll be able to replicate things Star Trek style. Nothing like that is guaranteed, of course, but I keep reading about more incremental breakthroughs like that one. At some point I’ll have to do a speculative economic blog post…

2. Speaking of disrupted industries, Encyclopedia Britannica announced it will go fully digital and stop its 244-year-old print edition. Analysis by Matt Yglesias: “As Wikipedia drives inferior products out of business, GDP declines but welfare increases.” I generally agree with that line of thinking (it’s why I’m skeptical of stagnant-wages claims as things get cheaper or free and life gets better). Wikipedia is much more up-to-date and much more expansive than any print encyclopedia, and while anyone can edit it, anyone can fix it, which is arguably just as useful as trusting a group of un-editable hand-picked experts. (Here is a list of errors in the Encyclopedia Britannica that have been corrected in Wikipedia.) But there’s still a part of me that loves a giant set of physical encyclopedias; maybe it’s an anachronistic irrationality, or maybe it’s a reaction to the negative side effects of online knowledge (what if your Internet gets cut off?). Now that the supply is fixed I might have to try to get my hands on the last set (On the other hand, World Book Encyclopedia is still printing as far as I can tell.)

3. New CBO score on the health care bill. Conservatives say Obamacare is now projected to cost twice as much as the previous projection. Mainstream media says Obamacare cost is now projected to drop slightly. It never ceases to amaze me how biased observers can draw completely different conclusions from the same set of objective numbers. From a brief perusal through the official Congressional Budget Office analysis, it looks like conservatives are looking at gross cost and MSM is looking at net cost, perhaps over different time windows. I’ll outsource further analysis to someone more competent…

4. World’s tallest man stops growing at 8′ 3″. 29-year-old Turkish man Sultan Kosen had an excessive amount of growth hormone that was beginning to damage his body as he continued to grow, but it sounds like doctors in Virginia were able to “fix” the hormone. I guess you can file that under “The United States has the best medical care in the world, if you can afford access to it.”

5. Could The Use Of Flying Death Robots Be Hurting America’s Reputation Worldwide? (video) The Onion is amazing.

6. Random funny Internet pic of the day. (Star Wars edition)

The Rise and Fall of Intrade’s Santorum Ohio Contract

Intrade is an interesting site that the political junkies all love these days. Basically it lets you trade shares of real-world events based on whether or not you think they will happen. For example, right now there’s a 25% chance that any country using the Euro will drop it before the end of the year. If you think there’s a bigger chance, you can buy shares for $2.50, and if it actually happens, you get four times the money when the contract closes. If it doesn’t happen, you lose it all.

It’s like a cross between stock trading and gambling, but it’s interesting because you can “put your money where your mouth is” based on your bias about what’s going to happen in the world, and as lots of people do this we can get an interesting snapshot in the overall “conventional wisdom” by where the percentage is holding at any given time.

Anyway, last night before Super Tuesday election results rolled started rolling in, Romney was an 85% favorite on Intrade to win Ohio. Poll junkie @fivethirtyeight thought this was way too high considering the close polling: “Continue not to understand why Intrade has Romney at 85% to win OH. A ~2 point lead in the polls simply isn’t 85% safe.” Of course, this prompted the usual discussion about how Intrade is not a very reliable prediction market because it’s not used by enough people and markets are unreliable anyway, etc, etc.

The contract even approached 90%. I toyed with the idea of finally creating an account and buying a few Santorum shares. It looked like it was gonna be a close race, and if Santorum won, you could put in $10 and make $100. But I didn’t.

Continue reading The Rise and Fall of Intrade’s Santorum Ohio Contract