Daily Archives: December 24, 2011

Obama Challenges Provisions in Budget Bill

I am afraid I have to reference the article Obama Challenges Provisions in Budget Bill from The New York Times. The only other link I found on Google that was not just to a blog was to Faux Noise.  It is a sad commentary when those are the only two choices.

When President Obama signed a budget bill on Friday, he issued a signing statement claiming a right to bypass dozens of provisions that placed requirements or restrictions on the executive branch, saying he had “well-founded constitutional objections” to the new statutes.

Among them, he singled out two sections barring the use of money to transfer prisoners from the naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, into the United States and limiting the ability of the government to transfer them to the custody or control of foreign countries. Mr. Obama said he would apply them in a way that avoided infringing on his powers, without any specific explanation of what that meant.

I am going to have to think long and hard about whether this action by President Obama gets him off the hook with me on my stated inability to ever vote for him again if  he failed to veto this bill.  Even if Obama refuses to use the powers that the bill tries to grant to him, some future president is sure to use them.

As I have said before, we need to prevent the loss of our civil rights in a time when the loss probably won’t be implemented.  When the time comes that a president wants to use these powers, it will be too late for us to try to claw them back.  That time might be sooner than we think, if this president decides to change his mind after he gets re-elected.

Climate Change Evidence

Thanks to Hassan Moradi for +1ing this on Google+.

Those of us in southern New England in the northeast corner of the U.S.A. can appreciate this evidence. We may be looking out for camels tonight instead of reindeer.

Richard D. Wolff: Europe’s Debt Crisis Deepens

Nation of Change has the article Europe’s Debt Crisis Deepens.

Talking about “the markets” who are pushing austerity programs on governments that are in debt, Wolff says:

The chief influences among those creditors are the major banks that represent and/or advise all or most of the rest of them.  The major European banks were and are the chief recipients of the costly bailouts by those European governments since 2008.  Indeed, those bailouts sharply increased the indebtedness of European governments because the latter paid for those bailouts by borrowing.

As far as I can tell, unless I just missed it, Wolff does not suggest any solutions to the problem.

If the indebtedness of European governments’ was sharply increased by the bailouts of the banks, does that not imply that the banks owe these governments the money that the governments are in debt?  Would you not think that the governments have some pressure they could exert back on the banks?

Two comments on the story suggest that nationalization of banks might be a solution.  You would think that even the threat of nationalization might drive banks to the negotiating table. If you don’t like nationalization, how about the governments demand their money back from the banks so that the government could go into competition with the banks as sources for liquidity in the “free” market?  Then the private banks could disappear into oblivion and nobody would care (except for the bank executives and the bank investors.)  The people who caused the problem would suffer the consequences, and the rest of us could just go about our business.

I wonder why Richard D. Wolff didn’t delve into or even hint at these questions and possible answers?

Lessons of the 1930s: There could be trouble ahead

The Economist has an interesting article, Lessons of the 1930s: There could be trouble ahead.

In 2008 the world dodged a second Depression by avoiding the mistakes that led to the first. But there are further lessons to be learned for both Europe and America.

The article talks about opposing theories about the history and lessons learned.  Unlike stories in many U.S. media outlets, this one does give some hints as to which theories have been debunked and which seem to stand up.  The article is worth the read for the specific lessons learned.

That said, I am going to go off on a tangent about methodological lessons learned.

Reading this article had me thinking about a lesson I think I learned from the book Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks.

There is quite a difference between having a premise and seeking data to support it and having some data and trying to figure out what you can learn from it.

In the first case it is almost always possible to find data to support a theory if you look hard enough, massage it, and squint at it if you must, and ignore any data that casts doubt on your premise.  In the second case you gather data in an unbiased way and see where it leads you.

I think you can see examples of both types of theories discussed in The Economist article.

If you think about the two situations more you see that it is very easy to fall into the trap of premise first and data next.  You might start out in the unbiased way, and develop a theory.  Then it is very easy to fall into the trap of just searching for more data to confirm your theory.  This is called confirmation bias.

I can think of one way to search for more data while controlling the bias problem.   When you set up your search or your experiment, always consider ways to disprove your theory as well as ways to prove it.  Consciously think of data to look for or experiments to conduct that will disprove your theory.  If the data you find or experiment you perform in an effort to disprove your theory fails to disprove it and your other searches and experiments tend to confirm it, then you are more likely to have found a theory that is closest to the truth.

Another problem arises when you get into a discussion (argument) with someone who disagrees with your theory.  That is exactly when you are caught in the trap of trying to prove you are right.  If the opposition presents some opposing data, your natural tendency is to look for flaws in that data.  There is nothing wrong with that as long as you are also looking at the possibility that the opposition is right and their data do disprove your theory.

I write this blog entry as much as a reminder to myself as it is a lesson to anyone else.