You are browsing the archive for 2014 October 21.

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UnFair: Exposing the IRS (film review)

October 21, 2014 in Blogs

By Political Zach Foster

Critics question its safety and its culture, but CrossFit’s aggressive response is a tad more worrisome.

You’d be hard pressed to find an article — outside one written by a CrossFit enthusiast — that reviews this exercise phenomenon without asking some real tough questions about its safety, effectiveness, cost, and even the philosophy behind it. Shouldn't all products, whether good or bad, be held up to such scrutiny? Maybe General Motors, Comcast and Apple grudgingly accept this, but CrossFit — both the corporation and its acolytes — can't seem to take criticism in stride. And there’s been a lot of it going around lately.

The New York Times magazine was the latest publication to take issue with CrossFit and other extreme fitness programs, likening them to nothing more than labor camps you pay a king’s ransom to join. “Why not join a roofing crew for a few hours instead? Surely there’s a tunnel somewhere that needs digging,” sniffs Times columnist Heather Havrilesky.

In response, commenters, many of them CrossFitters, swarmed the online version of the article, posting more than 800 messages. Many were sharply critical of Havrilesky’s assessment of the workout routines.

The Times magazine article is only one in a recent wave of brickbats hurled at the sports-fitness brand, which now boasts an estimated 10,000 franchises. Its critics are as diverse as medical researchers, fitness organizations, sportswriters, and social commentators. They’ve all found a bone to pick with CrossFit, and no, they’re not joining them for a Paleo diet dinner.

Critics and online commenters have likened CrossFit to a cult, insinuating that it’s not much more than a paramilitary, post-apocalyptic wet dream. They’re fitness preppers ready to take on whatever catastrophe awaits mankind. CrossFit’s own website hints at this on its “What is CrossFit?” page: “We have sought to build a program that will best prepare trainees for any physical contingency — not only for the unknown, but for the unknowable.”

CrossFit’s founder, Greg Glassman takes the rhetoric a step further in his CrossFit newsletter, stating “nature, combat and emergency can demand high volumes of work performed quickly for success or for survival.”

The Gospel of CrossFit

In her Times magazine …read more


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Obama Appointee Supports Individual Rights

October 21, 2014 in Economics

By Randall Holcombe

I’ve been critical of the Obama administration in the past, so it’s nice to find something positive to say. This article says that President Obama’s new acting head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Vanita Gupta “supports decriminalizing cocaine, heroin, LSD, methamphetamine, ecstasy and all dangerous drugs, including marijuana.” It’s nice to see that someone in government supports individuals’ rights to make their own choices, rather than having the government tell them how they have to live their lives.

My personal view is that it is a bad idea to take any of these drugs, but just because that’s what I think, or that’s what some politicians think, doesn’t mean it should be illegal for you to do things other people think are bad for you. “Freedom” is meaningless if you only have the freedom to make choices that your government thinks are good choices.

The article says Ms. Gupta has argued that the misnamed war on drugs “is an atrocity and that it must be stopped.” The article goes on to say that she objects to what she perceives as draconian mass incarceration, which has resulted in a bloated prison population, and the war on drugs that she perceives as a failure.

I don’t know anything about Ms. Gupta beyond what is in that article, and the article focuses on her supporting freedom for individuals to make their own choices with regard to drug use, rather than have government dictate those choices for them.

Based on that article, everything I know about her is positive, and I’m happy to see the president appointing people who stand up for individual rights.

The article I linked to came from The Daily Signal, an internet publication of The Heritage Foundation. One would expect the conservative Heritage Foundation to be at odds with the Obama administration on most issues, but I admit that I am disappointed in this case that The Heritage Foundation, which claims on its website to support public policies based on limited government and individual freedom, is taking a stand against individual rights, and in favor of more government oversight and interference in our lives.

People are not free if they are prohibited from making what those in government perceive are bad choices. In this case I am happy to see the Obama administration standing up for individual rights, and disappointed that a prominent conservative organization supports the nanny state.

…read more


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Right-Wing Publication Tries to Claim That Obama Is a Conservative

October 21, 2014 in Blogs

By Luke Brinker, Salon

The president “has bent over backward to protect corporate profits,” says ex-Reagan administration domestic policy aide Bruce Bartlett

President Barack Obama “has governed as a moderate conservative,” former Reagan administration domestic policy aide Bruce Bartlett writes in a new essay for the eclectic American Conservative magazine.

Bartlett, an economic policy expert who left the Republican Party amid disgust with President George W. Bush’s fiscal policies and backed Obama in 2008, contends that a look at Obama’s track record reveals a president who’s basically a liberal Republican of yore. From the beginning of his administration, Bartlett argues, Obama has charted a center-right course on both foreign and domestic policy issues.

Populating his administration with hawks like Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama has presided over new military engagements abroad while overseeing a draconian crackdown on national security leaks at home, Bartlett notes.

Meanwhile, Obama has pursued “very conservative” fiscal policies, Bartlett writes, signing a stimulus package that was far smaller than what experts and advisers like Christina Romer found would be necessary to really prime the nation’s economic pump. Moreover, Obama has conducted himself like a deficit hawk, “proposing much deeper cuts in spending and the deficit than did the Republicans during the 2011 budget negotiations,” when a deal eluded the two parties. And don’t buy into the the GOP “harping” that Obama hates business, Bartlett cautions. The president, he says, “has bent over backward to protect corporate profits.”

What about the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement? That, too, is evidence of Obama’s conservatism, Bartlett writes. Observing that Obamacare’s market-based approach drew on a model put forth by the right-wing Heritage Foundation and by Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Bartlett contrasts Obamacare with a real left-wing alternative like universal Medicare. So why are conservatives so obstinately opposed to a fundamentally conservative health care law? “The only thing is that it was now supported by a Democratic president that Republicans vowed to fight on every single issue,” Bartlett writes.

While Bartlett doesn’t see viscerally anti-Obama conservatives as likely to acknowledge the president’s conservatism, he concludes that philosopher and activist Cornel West “nailed it” when …read more


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My Father Was Killed by a Computer, Says 7-Year-Old Afghan Child

October 21, 2014 in Blogs

By Dr. Hakim, AlterNet

If Imal were a white American kid, this drone strike tragedy would not have befallen his father.

Imal, a 7 year old Afghan student in the 2nd grade, came to visit us in Kabul.

As Imal grew up, he kept asking his mother where his father was. His mother finally told Imal that his father had been killed by a drone when he was still a baby.

If you could see Imal in this video, you would want to hug Imal immediately.

If Imal were a white American kid, this tragedy would not have befallen his father. Which American would allow any U.S. citizen to be killed by a foreign drone?

Suppose the UK wanted to hunt ‘terrorists’ in the U.S., with their drones, and every Tuesday, David Cameron signed a ‘secret kill list’ like Obama does. Drones operated from Waddington Base in the UK fly over U.S. skies to drop bombs on their targets, and the bombs leave a 7 year old American kid, say, John, fatherless.

John’s father is killed, shattered to charred pieces by a bomb, dropped by a drone, operated by a human, under orders from the Prime Minister /Commander-in-Chief.

“John, we’re sorry that your father happened to be near our ‘terrorist’ target.’ He was collateral damage. It was ‘worth it’ for the sake of UK national security.”

Unfortunately, no U.S. official or military personnel had met with Imal’s widowed mother to apologize.

Raz, Imal’s uncle who brought him to visit us, asked his young nephew,

“Will you bring me some marbles to play with?”

Imal was friendly, like any other 7 year old kid. “Yes!” His voice was a trusting one, eager to be a good friend and playmate.

“Do you also play with walnuts? Tell us how you play with walnuts,” Raz requests.

“We put them in a line, and flick a walnut to hit other walnuts, like playing with marbles,” Imal explains diligently, like he was telling a story we should all be interested in.

“Besides beans, what other food do you like?”

“I also like… potatoes… and meat… …and… rice!” All of us were smiling with the familiar love of Afghan oiled …read more


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In China, Law Isn't Winning

October 21, 2014 in Economics

By Xia Yeliang

Xia Yeliang

m Oct. 20 to 23, China’s Communist Party is meeting for a plenary session focused on so-called fazhi, or rule of law, and yifa zhiguo, or rule by law. What that actually means: the party will rule China using existing laws, maybe with minor modifications, to avoid responsibility for the party’s own obvious and unscrupulous violation of the laws it wrote.

It’s been a busy time for Chinese graft-busters. In the past several months, the Chinese Communist Party has punished several high ranking officials for corruption, including former Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission Xu Caihouformer Vice-Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Su Rong, and former member of the Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang. This is the much-anticipated campaign to eradicate the “tigers” (i.e. high-ranking officials) in the party for which many have been watching and waiting, one that President Xi Jinping announced January 2013. But it may not be enough.

The public, both in China and around the world, is aware that the campaign currently being carried out by the party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) has a scope and a strength that hasn’t been seen in Chinese anti-corruption efforts for 30 years. Yet the cheers for even more proverbial tigers to be felled cannot match the chorus of voices on the Chinese Internet expressing skepticism about the anti-corruption campaign. Even after China’s leaders have granted the CCDI a proverbial license to kill — with a pace of four corrupted officials being sacked each week — netizens still lack faith in the campaign.

There’s no possibility of open criticism of the anti-corruption campaign, as both the party and the state apparatus tightly control speech in the name of social stability.”

Ask an average citizen or a high official about China’s prospects and you’ll likely get a similar answer: the majority of Chinese share a sense of unease. With China’s political and economic outlook increasingly uncertain, neither intellectuals nor businesspeople feel safe; meanwhile, laborers suffer from inflation and a thin social safety net. For their part, corrupt officials who lack a strong patron feel threatened, while those with official backing must always be aware of which direction the political winds blow, often leading to administrative timidity. Mid-ranking corrupt officials are aware that their future is uncertain, and so some might choose to give up their life of crime and seek absolution.

There’s no possibility of open …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Would ‘President Rothbard’ Shut Down Flights to West Africa?

October 21, 2014 in Economics

By Ryan McMaken


Last week in The American Spectator, Emily Zanotti noted that the Obama administration refuses to intervene and shut down flights between West Africa and the US: “Yesterday, the White House reiterated that a ban on flights originating in outbreak countries is not on the table.” According to Zanotti, the rationale is that any disturbance of air travel would negatively impact West African economies.

Zanotti is skeptical of this rationale, saying:

…from a libertarian perspective: free markets are better able to pull people out of poverty than free money, and where we don’t allow capitalism to flourish we end up subsidizing with foreign aid. But if we were talking about President Murray Rothbard, I might consider that awfully practical and economically-focused excuse a real thing. But since this might officially be the first time the Obama Administration has talked their way out of something using unfettered capitalism as an excuse, I consider it suspect.

The larger political point is fair enough, but really, would Rothbard ever make such a simple-minded argument as Zanotti suggests? I recognize that she’s just using Rothbard here as a stand-in for any hard-core free-market libertarian, but it’s highly unlikely that Rothbard would argue, “gee, let’s just let any diseased person fly into any airport anywhere because it would be good for the global economy.”

Key to understanding Rothbard on matters like this is that he identified himself as a “radical decentralist.” He did not make simplistic arguments like “free markets will solve all our problems” and leave it at that. Nor did he think that — like some sort of Marxist — that only a full-blown version of his vision could better achieve the ends he proposed. On the contrary, Rothbard knew that even a move in the direction of truly free markets, through radical decentralization, was better than the centralized state that dictates to all local governments and private owners everywhere. Centralization cuts off every possible solution except the few accepted by the “experts” of the centralized state, and thus ensures that , if the one “official” plan fails, that there is no plan B, or way to prevent the problem from spreading throughout the one, giant national jurisdiction.

In other words, the current lack of decentralization prevents local governments, airlines, airports, or even individual states from having any control over movements between states or into airports. Such matters are all dictated by a single source: the federal government. Were a …read more


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Cato Institute Announces New Center for Monetary and Financial Alternatives

October 21, 2014 in Economics

The Cato Institute is pleased to announce that they have established a new Center for Monetary and Financial Alternatives, which will focus on development of policy recommendations that will create a more free-market monetary system in the U.S. “We have assembled a group of scholars and advisory board members who will challenge the Federal Reserve and the financial regulators in a way they haven’t been challenged in 100 years,” said John Allison, CEO of the Cato Institute and former CEO of BB&T Corporation.

…read more


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Swiss Central Bankers Don’t Like Gold

October 21, 2014 in Economics

By Jeff Deist

Switzerland money supply

Swiss National Bank governors sound a lot like Fed and ECB central bankers when it comes to the upcoming Swiss referendum on gold. It might deprive them of needed “flexibility.”  And you might be surprised by how much the SNB has increased the country’s money supply since 2008, despite our image of the Swiss franc as a more stable (or less unstable) currency:

The Swiss National Bank (which is run by a bunch of Keynesian dunderheads – not too surprising for a central bank, but somewhat surprising for Switzerland) is trying its best to somehow thwart the upcoming referendum on gold. If the referendum is successful, at least 20% of the SNB’s assets would have to be held in gold – and the gold would have to be kept in Switzerland.

Not surprisingly, the central bankers argue that this would “severely crimp their flexibility”, apparently completely unaware of the irony. Crimping the “flexibility” of central bankers is a good thing after all. They are doing enough damage as it is. We actually are not quite sure what they are complaining about, since they will still be able to create money out of thin air in nigh unlimited quantities.

However, if they once again more than double the money supply as they have done since 2008 – inter alia to buy up foreign exchange in order to manipulate the CHF’s exchange rate – they will be forced to buy gold as well to keep the 20% reserve level intact if the referendum succeeds.

Swiss monetary aggregates. Monetary inflation in Switzerland has gone hog-wild since 2008 (note especially the more than doubling of M1 which is roughly equivalent to TMS-1). And yet, the people responsible for this printathon are worried about “deflation” (seriously). It is of course no wonder that these inflationist bureaucrats hate gold.

…read more


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We Have No Idea if Universal Preschool Actually Helps Kids

October 21, 2014 in Economics

By David J. Armor

David J. Armor

In political campaigns around the country, at least one proposal enjoys bipartisan support: expanding early childhood education. In gubernatorial races in FloridaTexasAlabamaMichigan and Georgia, both the Democratic and Republican candidates support expanding government provision of “high-quality” pre-kindergarten education.

And why wouldn’t they? A raft of recent studies claim major benefits for children who start school early.

The problem is, most of the studies that show benefits have major research design flaws, one of which is an inability to demonstrate long-term gains. And the few top-quality studies out there reveal few, if any, lasting benefits.

The reality is that the research on state preschool programs does not yet support effectiveness for the type of universal preschool programs being promoted today.”

The best studies randomly assign children to “pre-k” (treatment) and “no pre-k” (control) groups, and then follow them for several years to see if the pre-k children show greater achievement gains than children without pre-k. This is the “gold standard” in education research and the same type of study used for testing prescription drugs.

national study of the federal Head Start program followed these rigorous protocols and found no lasting results. Children in Head Start show immediate (although modest) gains during preschool, but during kindergarten and first grade the differences disappear because children without preschool quickly catch up. This is called the “fade-out” problem.

A recent randomized study for the high-quality Tennessee program showed the same result.

Though these results are well known among pre-k evaluators, they often explain them away, arguing that “fade out” is caused by low quality pre-k instruction. They point to state-developed programs in Oklahoma, New Jersey, Georgia and Boston, all of which showed much larger gains during the preschool year than Head Start programs.

The “high-quality” descriptor also occurs because these state programs embed pre-k in the regular school system with certified teachers, all of whom have at least a bachelor’s degree. (The federal Head Start programs does not require BAs.)

The problem is that all of these state pre-k studies relied upon a special non-random design that compares kindergarten children who finished pre-k the previous year (the treatment group) to children who are just starting preschool (the control group).

The design (called “regression continuity design” or RDD for short) requires that the school system impose a strict age cutoff so that the treatment group is one …read more

Source: OP-EDS