Patterico's Pontifications

12/19/2014

Obama: Sony Made a Mistake

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 2:19 pm

It’s rare that I completely agree with Barack Obama, but I agree with Barack Obama. The video is of one those stupid autoplay videos, so I am embedding it on a separate page, here.

I just wish he could apply this same logic to see how some of his own actions — like coddling dictators and paying off terrorists — create similar dangerous incentives for bad men to do bad things.

Isn’t it more important that the president recognize the beam in his own eye, rather than the mote in Sony’s?

UPDATE: This is the guy who tried to suppress the YouTube video that he later blamed for Benghazi.

Also, now the President of Sony is acting as though he wanted to do a digital release all along, and gosh darn it, it’s just the theaters who won’t play ball.

Well, that’s what I thought at first — until a story emerged saying Sony wasn’t going to release it, no way, no how, no DVD, no streaming, no Blu-Ray. Then there was a huge backlash, and now he’s claiming he’s trying his best to find a partner to stream the movie.

Except Sony has their own streaming service.

If the backlash continues, maybe they’ll finally stream it themselves. And then pretend as if that was their plan all along.

But only if the backlash continues.

The Collapsing Ruble: A Cautionary Tale for the United States

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 3:54 am

I don’t know if you have noticed, but the Russian ruble has utterly collapsed in recent days. It’s basically in free fall. Here’s Zero Hedge:

On the year, the ruble has lost more than 55 percent of its value against the dollar, breaking psychological barrier after psychological barrier.

What is the explanation? The Voxsplainer types will tell you this is about Ukraine sanctions or the price of oil. Here’s what they won’t tell you: in the last sixteen years, the Russian central bank’s balance sheet has exploded from 9 billion rubles to $2.1 trillion:

Central Bank Balance Sheet in Russia averaged 394.21 RUB Billion from 1997 until 2014, reaching an all time high of 2101.50 RUB Billion in December of 2014 and a record low of 8.90 RUB Billion in September of 1998.

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 3.31.15 AM

Carmen Elena Dorobăț says:

In this light, Russia’s case isn’t special, but just a textbook example of currency collapse due to fiat inflation. It resembles the more recent experiences in Argentina or Venezuela, as well as a possible future of the United States, if for some reason or another the dollar can no longer make its way into foreign (Chinese) bank vaults.

Our own central bank, the Fed, has increased its balance sheet precipitiously in recent years — surely you have heard of “quantitative easing,” yes? Since the 2008 crisis, according to Heritage, “[t]he Fed’s balance sheet expanded from about $850 billion to more than $4.4 trillion.”

We face a day of reckoning. As I explained in November 2012, we are in a government debt bubble. Upside: maybe some day you can own a $100 trillion dollar note, like the $100 trillion dollar note I own from Zimbabwe, or like the one Andrew Breitbart used to carry in his wallet.

So that’s your upside. And the downside? Yeah, let’s just say it’s going to be pretty bad.

What Russia’s collapsing economy is telling us is this: it can also happen quickly.

A little perspective for you, the next time Congress debates how important it is whether the federal government expands its spending from year to year by x percent or y percent.

A Conflict of Visions, Part 4: The Constrained Vision’s Support for the Free Market

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 3:12 am

I have promised a series of posts on Thomas Sowell’s revelatory book A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles. The book has given me critical insights into the way people think about various issues, and I now find it hard to consider any political issue without seeing it through the lens of Sowell’s constrained/unconstrained dichotomy. Since the this dichotomy is becoming an integral part of my day-to-day analysis, you might as well become familiar with it.

I have delivered three posts so far, here, here, and here. Here is part 4. The last post I did was a bit meandering, muddled, and inconclusive — so today, by contrast, I am tacking an issue that is quite clear and straightforward. The post is a bit long, to be sure, but the concepts are very simple and easy to understand.

A couple of people suggested that I do a post on each of the 20 questions I included in my quiz. That might be a bit too ambitious, but I will certainly do a few. Today I would like to discuss a point that may be obvious but is an absolutely central and unshakable belief of mine: my belief in the free market. I thought I would illustrate the point with question 3, which explains part of my thinking, and then move on to the critical relationship between a free market and the very concept of political freedom. As I will show below, the latter simply cannot exist without the former.

Here’s question 3 from my quiz:

3.
a. I want to get government out of the people’s way, and let people make their own decisions for themselves. The knowledge any one human can possess is limited, and I prefer to rely on a process that coordinates information scattered throughout society, rather than relying on experts.
b. Government has a role in improving people’s lives. Part of the reason is that certain people possess concentrated specialized knowledge, and I would prefer to entrust decisions to those people, rather than to the masses.

Here, I am quite clearly from the constrained vision (and have become more so over time, as I have learned more about Austrian economics.). Here is a (very slightly) less-doctrinaire-than-today Patterico, from December 2008:

I’m skeptical of government intervention in economic affairs, because I believe they can lead to unintended consequences that are hard to predict. And I’m generally a believer in free-market principles. The idea is that the free market is the economic system most compatible with freedom, because rather than putting our trust in government to manage the economy, I believe we should trust the collective wisdom of consumers to make whatever decisions are best for them. As those decisions multiply, markets form as if by magic — and (in theory at least) it causes the best businesses to flourish while less useful ones fail. Put simply, a collection of choices, freely made, forms our markets.

This is a straightforward articulation of the “constrained vision” as applied to economics. As I have described in my recent posts on Sowell’s book, the believer in the “constrained vision” trusts mankind as a whole, far more than he trusts individuals or small groups. This view has implications for his views of all manner of social policies.

As for economics, the holder of the “constrained vision” rejects rule by a handful of experts relying on their purportedly superior vision, command of the facts, and rational explanations for their policies. Instead, the constrained vision prefers systemic processes that have evolved over time, building on the wisdom of humanity collectively — but stemming from individual decisions, not by a single group of philosopher kings, but by everyone in society. In particular, he is a believer in the price system, which directs entrepreneurs to move their resources into the lines of production most demanded by individual consumers. Like magic, this results in shortages being met by supply, and gluts being met by slowing demand, all providing for efficiency — but also, very importantly, in a higher standard of living for the least fortunate in society.

In short, if leftists really wanted to improve the lot of the poor, they would get government the hell out of the way and let the market work its magic. Thanks to the workings of the free market — and no thanks to government — the world has made gains in the lot of the poor in the last 200 years that would have been unthinkable to the richest kings and queens of the 1500s.

It’s not really a coincidence that I hold this vision, though. I learned this view of economics from reading . . . [wait for it] . . . Thomas Sowell — namely, his book Basic Economics, which changed my life years and years and years ago. Indeed, I cited an example from this book on this blog over ten years ago, in May 2004 — and I cited it in August 2007 as one of five books that fundamentally changed the way I look at the world.

One important point that bears repeating: capitalism is the only economic system compatible with freedom. That is important enough, in a long post, to say twice, so that you don’t miss it. Capitalism is the only economic system — the only one — compatible with freedom. I made this point in 2009, citing [prepare for a shock] Thomas Sowell, who said in “Basic Economics”:

Too often a false contrast is made between the impersonal marketplace and the compassionate policies of various government programs. But both systems face the same scarcity of resources and both systems make choices within the constraints of that scarcity. The difference is that one system involves each individual making choices for himself or herself, while the other system involves a smaller number of people making choices for others.

It may be fashionable for journalists to refer to “the whim of the marketplace,” as if that were something different from the desires of people, just as it was once fashionable to refer to “production for use, rather than for profit” — as if profits could be made by producing things that people cannot use or do not want to use. The real contrast is between choices made by individuals for themselves and choices made for them by others who presume to define what these individuals “really” need.

As I summarized the argument in my 2009 post:

Simply put:

Capitalism is each individual making choices for himself.

Socialism is those who claim to know best, making your choices for you.

The former is freedom. The latter is anything but.

So says the adherent to the constrained vision.

12/18/2014

Bill Clinton: The Man Just Can’t Help Himself

Filed under: General — Dana @ 8:26 pm

[guest post by Dana]

Untitled-1

Photo caption time!

*Original photo here.

–Dana

Al Sharpton And Amy Pascal: The Obligatory Come-To-Jesus Meeting

Filed under: General — Dana @ 7:38 pm

[guest post by Dana]

Last week, I posted about Sony Picture’s co-chairman Amy Pascal and producer Scott Rudin’s email exchange involving racial comments about the president and the movies he might like. Pascal and Rudin both profusely apologized for their comments. Seeing an opportunity, Al Sharpton inserted himself into the situation by taking Pascal – not Rudin – to task, claiming that her apology was not good enough and that she needed to meet immediately with black leaders. And what did I say?

Pascal should tell Sharpton to bugger off, however, she will meekly acquiesce and meet with whomever the reverend deems necessary for her rehabilitation. All the while, she will be denouncing her white privilege and cough up thousands of dollars more to donate to some diversity project somewhere to atone for her sin. Ironically, Rudin, meanwhile, will be just fine basking in his continued white male privilege. And money.

On Dec. 11, Pascal called Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson to request a meeting with them to discuss her racial remarks. Today, Sharpton tweeted about the meeting he had with Pascal:

Very pointed and blunt exchange w/ Amy Pascal in our 90 min meeting. Hollywood needs to change. Her leaked e mails show a cultural blindness.

At today’s mtg w/ Sony we agreed to work towards establishing a basis to address the issues, Ms. Pascal committed to this.

Further, and with unbelievable arrogance, Sharpton added:

The jury is still out with where we go with Amy.

He also added that Pascal has agreed to work with various civil rights groups to improve racial diversity in Hollywood.

So, while Pascal’s rolling over in submission to Sharpton to beg forgiveness has set women back 20 years, Scott Rudin continues basking in his white male privilege. And money.

–Dana

Colbert Moves On [Updated with correction]

Filed under: General — JVW @ 3:19 pm

[guest post by JVW]

For those of you brave folks who pay attention to the smarmy comedians who are apparently the new intellectual backbone of progressivism, you have undoubtedly heard that Stephen Colbert is wrapping up his supposedly successful show, “The Colbert Report,” and moving on to replace David Letterman as host of “The Late Show.” To mark the occasion, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has created an online thank-you that the poor souls on their mailing list can access and sign. Powerline points out that even if Colbert (and his fellow pontificators Jon Stewart and John Oliver) want to pretend to be independent and non-partisan figures, this is a pretty good indication of the help that Democrats feel their party derives from hipper-than-thou progressive comedians.

On the other hand, look at it this way: When “The Colbert Report” debuted the Democrats had just recaptured both houses of Congress and the era of Hope and Change was only a year away. Today, as the set is struck for the last time, the GOP has run up two huge midterm election victories, Obama has been mostly exposed as an incompetent and a cipher, and the ideology of trickle-down bureaucracy created by academics, marketed by the media, and run by public employee union members is at its lowest ebb.

Hey, maybe the guy was working for our side all along.

[Update: Look at it this way: When “The Colbert Report” debuted the Democrats had just recaptured both houses of Congress and the era of Hope and Change was only a year away. Today, as the set is struck for the last time, the GOP has run up two huge midterm election victories, Obama has been mostly exposed as an incompetent and a cipher, and the ideology of trickle-down bureaucracy created by academics, marketed by the media, and run by public employee union members is at its lowest ebb.

Hey, maybe the guy was working for our side all along.

[Update: Art Deco reminds me that my math is wrong regarding the start of "The Colbert Report." My bad. I think my point still mostly stands: Colbert started with the Dems ascending and ended with them in disarray. Thank you Stephen Colbert.]

- JVW

Tort Law: One Major Reason North Korea Can Dictate What Movies We Watch in the United States

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:36 am

Why is “The Interview” being pulled? Why was Steve Carell’s “Pyongyang” cancelled? In the first instance, you can blame the lawyers.

Once all the major movie chains decided not to show the film, that was the end. Why did they make this decision? I’m sure part of the reason is that they worried moviegoers would stay away from the theaters showing the movie, whether the patrons were there to see this film or not.

But I’d say one major reason the chains decided not to show the movie is that they worry about lawsuits if something happens. Lawyer Kurt Schlichter agrees:

Ridiculous hyperbole? Nah. For example, the victims of the Aurora shooting are suing Cinemark over an act perpetrated by a lone gunman. The suit has survived summary judgment, meaning it will cost the chain millions whether there is a settlement or a jury trial. You think chains weren’t thinking about that case and similar litigation when they refused to show “The Interview”?

The apparent decision to forego streaming and DVD sales is also the work of lawyers, from what I have read. Apparently, to collect on insurance, Sony needs a total loss. I would think an insurance company would want them to mitigate their losses, but I don’t write the contracts.

Plus, once the company decides to pull the movie from theaters — a decision that will cost them as much as $200 million, some executive’s head is going to be on a platter. Probably the heads of a bunch of executives. They will be told they should have seen this coming. Now imagine being the guy who decides whether to do a DVD release. You can face the fate of those other executives, or play it safe and kill everything, pointing the finger at the people who are getting sacrificed anyway.

A similar thought process is going on with respect to any movie in development or being considered now: is there some madman or group of madmen who might make violent threats over this? If so, then the project is dead. Simple incentives at work.

Yes, there is a healthy dose of plain cowardice involved here too. (I understand many of you see this as a business decision, but I think you — and the chains — are taking the short-term view over the long-term.) But don’t discount the power of tort law to scare companies into doing ridiculous things. That, in large part, is what started the ball rolling.

Unlawful Harassment To Express The Catholic Church’s Position On SSM At a Jesuit University

Filed under: General — JD @ 6:43 am

[guest post by JD]

From the “I told you so” files …

These precious little snowflakes get the vapors from the mere existence of disagreement. In a university environment.

There is so much irony and hypocrisy in this, it is hard to pick a place to start.

You will be forced to care.

—-JD

12/17/2014

An Academic’s Shocking View: “I Hate Republicans”

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 11:54 pm

You didn’t see that one coming, did you? Here’s Professor Susan J. Douglas:

I hate Republicans. I can’t stand the thought of having to spend the next two years watching Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Ted Cruz, Darrell Issa or any of the legions of other blowhards denying climate change, thwarting immigration reform or championing fetal “personhood.”

This loathing is a relatively recent phenomenon. Back
 in the 1970s, I worked for a Republican, Fred Lippitt, the senate minority leader in Rhode Island, and I loved him. He was a brand of Republican now extinct—a “moderate” who was fiscally conservative but progressive about women’s rights, racial justice and environmental preservation. Had he been closer to my age, I could have contemplated marrying someone like Fred. Today, marrying a Republican is unimaginable to me. And I’m
 not alone. Back in 1960, only 5 
percent of Republicans and 4
 percent of Democrats said they’d
 be “displeased” if their child married someone from the opposite
 party. Today? Forty-nine percent 
of Republicans and 33 percent of
 Democrats would be pissed.

According to a recent study 
by Stanford professor Shanto
 Iyengar and Princeton researcher 
Sean Westwood, such polarization has increased dramatically 
in recent years. What’s noteworthy 
is how entrenched this mutual animus is. It’s fine for me to use the word “hate” when referring to Republicans and for them to use the same word about me, but you would never use the word “hate” when referring to people of color, or women, or gays and lesbians.

It’s funny: I don’t hate Democrats. For one thing, I am married to one. But I also deal with Democrats on a day-to-day basis. If I “hated” all these people, my life would be pretty miserable. Instead, I disagree with their views, pretty much keep my disagreements to myself (unless discussion is invited and welcome), and simply enjoy them as people.

Douglas is “a professor of communications at the University of Michigan.” Does she teach classes? Are any of her students Republicans? Does she “hate” them? How do they feel about a professor who holds power over their grades and (to that extent) their futures, who “hates” them because of the party she identifies with?

Does she have colleagues? Are any of them Republicans? If so, do any of them dare talk about their political affiliation in front of her? I doubt it. And what does it say about the leftist academic bubble, that someone like Douglas can declare that they “hate” a party that pulls about half the vote in the entire country, and apparently feel confident that they will suffer no social repercussions whatsoever from this pronouncement?

A series of studies has found that political conservatives tend toward certain psychological characteristics. What are they? Dogmatism, rigidity and intolerance
 of ambiguity; a need to avoid uncertainty; support for authoritarianism; a heightened sense of threat from others; and a personal need for structure. How do these qualities influence political thinking?

According to researchers, the two core dimensions of conservative thought are resistance to change and support for inequality. These, in turn, are core elements of social intolerance. The need for certainty, the need to manage fear of social change, lead to black-and-white thinking and an embrace of stereotypes. Which could certainly lead to a desire to deride those not like you—whether people of color, LGBT people or Democrats. And, especially since the early 1990s, Republican politicians and pundits have been feeding these needs with a single-minded, uncomplicated, good-vs.-evil worldview that vilifies Democrats.

So now we hate them back. And for good reason. Which is too bad. I miss the Fred Lippitts of yore and the civilized discourse and political accomplishments they made possible. And so do millions of totally fed-up Americans.

It’s possible to confront a “single-minded, uncomplicated, good-vs.-evil worldview” and respond with something besides hate. That, in fact, is what I am doing in this very post — and it’s something Republicans (and Democrats less hateful than Ms. Douglas) do all the time in this country.

I have not read the “studies” Douglas cites, but it’s clear that the qualities she describes are derisive terms for a world view that Thomas Sowell describes as “constrained.” “Dogmatism, rigidity and intolerance
 of ambiguity” as well as “a need to avoid uncertainty” represent a philosophy that recognizes the importance of incentives, and favors order even if it potentially raises the chances of individual instances of injustice. (Of course, “dogmatism” is a loaded term, as are many of Douglas’s terms.) “Resistance to change” represents a support for traditions that reflect common wisdom over ages. “Support for inequality” is a nasty and unfair slur against a philosophy that prizes equality of opportunity over equality of result — and recognizes that efforts to equalize results often result in government creating power imbalances among groups, and in unintended consequences that decrease the quality of life for everyone, including the least fortunate.

In short, Ms. Douglas, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy. While I don’t hate you, and I try not to hate even your ugly thoughts — because hate is a negative emotion that corrodes the soul — I certainly reject your hatred. I feel sorry for those who have to deal with someone so hateful. I feel sorry for your students, for your colleagues, for your neighbors, and everyone else who crosses your path and feels the sting of your nasty worldview.

And ultimately, I feel sorry for you — because you’re clearly proud of your hatred, which means you are unlikely to change. Which means you’re trapped — you have trapped yourself, that is — in a situation I don’t envy: a life driven by negative emotions and ugliness.

Thanks to Simon Jester.

UPDATE: Added to the post the sentence: (Of course, “dogmatism” is a loaded term, as are many of Douglas’s terms.)

Reach Higher, Michelle!

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 10:05 pm

Michelle and Barack hit People Magazine to give an interview about the unbearable racism they have experienced in their lives. (Gotta capitalize on the #blacklivesmatter thing, don’t you know.) The storytelling quickly culminates in a tale of the ultimate indignity: Michelle (despite her lofty, lofty status as the FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES) being asked to help another shopper at Target:

The protective bubble that comes with the presidency – the armored limo, the Secret Service detail, the White House – shields Barack and Michelle Obama from a lot of unpleasantness. But their encounters with racial prejudice aren’t as far in the past as one might expect. And they obviously still sting.

“I think people forget that we’ve lived in the White House for six years,” the first lady told PEOPLE, laughing wryly, along with her husband, at the assumption that the first family has been largely insulated from coming face-to-face with racism.

“Before that, Barack Obama was a black man that lived on the South Side of Chicago, who had his share of troubles catching cabs,” Mrs. Obama said in the Dec. 10 interview appearing in the new issue of PEOPLE.

“I tell this story – I mean, even as the first lady – during that wonderfully publicized trip I took to Target, not highly disguised, the only person who came up to me in the store was a woman who asked me to help her take something off a shelf. Because she didn’t see me as the first lady, she saw me as someone who could help her. Those kinds of things happen in life. So it isn’t anything new.

Michelle Obama is 5 feet 11 inches tall. And guess what, Michelle? I can testify from experience that taller people are sometimes asked for help reaching things. Sometimes the people asking for help aren’t even racists. Sometimes they’re just . . . short. Which, the woman was short — a fact that Michelle noted when she told the story to David Letterman a while back. And she didn’t even seem that upset about it, then. As Allahpundit asks:

When did she decide that that encounter wasn’t a rare, heartwarming slice of normalcy outside the presidential bubble but a depressing reminder that even First Ladies aren’t immune from racism in America?

I just have one thing to say to Michelle, and it comes from the White House Web site itself:

Reach higher, Michelle! Reach higher!!!

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 9.37.42 PM

P.S. I had this sneaking suspicion as I was composing this that it’s the type of story Dana would blog . . . and that I should check to see if she had already. Which she had. That’s OK. I’m still leaving this post up. I have my own take on it, so you get to see how would we each blog the same story, I guess. Her post has more detail on how Michelle has changed her narrative, which is useful information. But comment on her post, so that the comments all go in one place.

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