Tuesday, December 30, 2014

News media decline in credibility took less than a hundred years

Some recent media meltdowns call attention in the worst way to the continuing failures of much of the American news and information media. Bad judgment and abandonment of basic principles in three recent cases call attention to a long-standing slide from respectability to corruption for the nation’s news purveyors. Some examples from the recent past include: 

First, the Rolling Stone rape story, in which contributing editor Sabrina Rubin Erdely wrote about a female freshman at the University of Virginia identified as “Jackie,” detailing an alleged sexual assault by seven members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.

Ms. Erdely did a poor job of fact-checking the story and failed to interview key individuals involved in the episode. The story was unfit to be printed in any credible publication, and caused quite a bit of turmoil at UVA. 

In defense of this journalistic malfeasance, the following notion has been floated: “Just because it wasn’t true in the Rolling Stone case doesn’t mean it isn’t true somewhere.” Such foolishness is a common defense of beliefs thought to be so important that truth takes second place.

Although Rolling Stone is a pop culture magazine, not a “real” news source, it is not excused from following the rules.

The New York Daily News, however, is a real news source, and has no excuse for this failure:
“Sarah Palin has gone rogue again - this time, giving her fans a fleshy surprise as a holiday gift,” wrote Adam Edelman in the Daily News, describing a video of Ms. Palin.

“In the episode, Palin demonstrates how to make her favorite iteration of blueberry pie, but as she delicately kneads the dough, her sweater falls down to her arms, revealing a whole lot of sun-kissed Alaskan skin and a sexy black undergarment,” wrote Mr. Edelman, a political writer for the paper.

Clearly implying that Ms. Palin was deliberately provocative, the headline blared: “Ho, ho, ho! Sarah Palin wishes fans holiday cheer as sweater falls down,” alleging she “gifted them with the naughtiest Christmas present of all – flesh.”

Perhaps Ms. Palin’s good looks dazed Mr. Edelman, confusing him about what he saw. Or didn’t see. She wasn’t wearing a sweater, as anyone who watched the video knows. The political writer’s imagination ran wild, and visions of underthings danced in his head.
It appears the delicious opportunity to ridicule Ms. Palin easily overpowered whatever journalistic ethics he and the newspaper might once have had.

For the third example, when a white police officer in Ferguson, MO shot and killed an 18 year-old black youth, the media widely portrayed the black youth as a gentle giant who had his hands up in surrender, saying “don’t shoot.”

The reaction to this seemingly tragic event was swift and angry. And wrong.

You see, it never happened. The “gentle giant,” Michael Brown, who was a giant, but was anything but gentle, had just minutes before the confrontation with officer Darren Wilson stolen cigars from a store and assaulted a store worker, disobeyed the police officer’s lawful instructions to move out of the middle of the street, attacked the police officer in his car and attempted to take his gun, then ran from the police officer. An autopsy revealed that he had marijuana in his blood, and according to grand jury testimony, never put his hands up and never said, “don’t shoot.” Instead, he attacked the officer again and died from gunshot wounds in response to his attack.

The media rushed to judgment, accepting without examination the idea that an innocent 18 year-old black youth was murdered while he was surrendering to police with his hands up. Was it because this scenario fit the preconceived notions of much of the mainstream media?
It is the reporter’s duty to scrupulously avoid injecting opinion in his or her reporting, and to carefully label unverified information, so that those in the audience have reliable information from which to form their opinions. 

American journalist and educator Walter Williams founded the world's first journalism school at the University of Missouri in 1908, and in 1914 created the Journalist’s Creed. Among the elements of the Creed are the following:

**I believe that the public journal is a public trust; that all connected with it are, to the full measure of responsibility, trustees for the public; that all acceptance of lesser service than the public service is a betrayal of this trust.

**I believe that clear thinking, clear statement, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism.

Now, one hundred years after its creation, after witnessing so much news coverage that falls so far short of the lofty standards of the Journalist’s Creed, one may justifiably wonder whether the Creed was ever a part of the training of so many practitioners, or has merely been forsaken by them, and is as carefully concealed from journalism students as so much information is hidden from the public by our government.

The three examples listed previously only scratch the surface of the of the failure of modern news journalism to adhere to its moral and ethical mandate. Like our nation’s founding principles, journalism’s ethics and morality need to be restored.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Interesting polls, other than the North Pole, that are in the news

As the year-end draws nearer, polling organizations provide a look into the likes and dislikes of Americans.

**The Gallup organization’s daily tracking poll of December 16-18 shows that only 23 percent of Americans are satisfied with the direction of the country. Not surprisingly, a breakdown shows that 38 percent of Democrats and 21 percent of independents said they were satisfied with the way things were going in the U.S. throughout 2014, compared with just 10 percent of Republicans.

**The U-3 unemployment rate stands at 5.9 percent and the underemployed rate at 14.9 percent, based on Gallup’s thirty-day rolling average, and President Obama’s approval rating stands at 43 percent approval to 52 percent disapproval, having moved from a virtual tie at 46 percent in August of last year.

**Gallup finds Congress just a hair higher than its all-time record low approval rating of 14 percent, at 15 percent. Just 13 years ago Congress was rated at a record 56 percent, but its rating has not been higher than 20 percent in the last five years, or in six of the last seven years.

**A Rassmussen poll found that 86 percent of U.S. adults are proud to be Americans, and 92 percent believe that U.S. citizenship is very important. However, only 40 percent of voters like President Obama’s unilateral amnesty for up to five million illegal aliens to remain in the country. Roughly half think the U.S. will suffer because of the amnesty and that it will increase illegal immigration.

**The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index tracks daily how Americans evaluate their lives on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale. The Index shows 55 percent are thriving, 42 percent struggling, 4 percent suffering, and 12 percent are under stress.

**A USA Today poll in November asked whether respondents favor approval of the Keystone XL pipeline project. By 60 percent to 25 percent, respondents favor approving the project, with 14 percent unsure.

**On its Website, Gallup notes “U.S. federal government workers are less engaged than the rest of the U.S. workforce. On average, 27 percent of federal government employees are engaged in their jobs in 2014, compared with 31 percent of all other workers in the U.S. With more than 2 million federal employees, this lack of engagement is costing the federal government an estimated $18 billion in lost productivity annually, or approximately $9,000 per employee.”

Gallup says that engaged employees feel connected to their organization and work to move it forward, while those who are not engaged may meet the expectations of their job, but don’t do anything extra for it, and those who are actively disengaged actually undermine their engaged co-workers. “Those federal government employees who are actively disengaged, combined with those employees who are not engaged, translates into 11 percent lost productivity across the government, according to a Gallup analysis. This suggests that nearly $9,000 of the average $78,467 federal employee salary is not producing benefits for the agency or the general public.”

**A Rassmussen Reports poll found that respondents believe America’s Founders would view the nation today as a failure by a margin of 46 percent to 36 percent, with 18 percent being unsure. The Founders, a group that includes Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and James Madison, would not approve of what is going on in America today, according to this poll, and it is comforting to note that contemporary Americans agree with the Founders. But, will this dissatisfaction actually lead to a return to the founding principles of limited government and a high level of personal liberty?

**Fully 78 percent of participants like the health care they received before the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare was passed, but they believe that the health care they have been getting in recent years will get worse under Obamacare.

**Gallup found that among 11 professions nurses have the highest honesty and ethical standards, with 80 percent ranking them high or very high. Doctors, pharmacists, police officers and clergy round out the top five, while Members of Congress rank last at 7 percent.

**A Rassmussen poll in April reflected that 54 percent of participants consider the federal government a threat to individual liberty, while just 22 percent see government as a protector of individual rights, a number that stood at 30 percent five months earlier. Thirty-seven percent actually fear the federal government, while 47 percent do not, and 17 percent are uncertain.

**Gallup asked public school teachers if they have experienced each of seven possible emotional reactions to the Common Core State Standards (Worried, Frustrated, Resigned to it, Hopeful, Confident, Angry, or Enthusiastic), and 65 percent said Worried, 62 percent said Frustrated, and 57 percent said Resigned to it, while only 20 percent said Enthusiastic, 24 percent said Angry, and 27 percent said Confident. Forty-nine percent said they were Hopeful.

Where parents of public school students are concerned, 35 percent view Common Core negatively, 33 percent view it positively, and 32 percent aren’t familiar with it or don’t have an opinion. Gallup found a shift toward negative feelings since April when 35 percent were positive and 28 percent were negative.

Best wishes to all for a Happy Chanukah and a Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

America’s Dilemma: Terrorism at home versus the high moral ground

A young pilot was flying a mission over enemy territory long ago and far away when defense forces badly damaged his plane, forcing him to eject. The ejection was violent, breaking both arms and one leg, and the young pilot landed in water, nearly drowning before enemy soldiers found him, dragged him ashore, crushed his shoulder with a rifle butt, stabbed him with a bayonet, and then hauled him away for interrogation. Badly injured, he was given no medical aid, but instead was put through brutal questioning sessions during which he was beaten.

He spent six weeks in a hospital where he received marginal medical treatment before being sent to another military camp. In a chest cast and being badly emaciated, he was expected not to last a week.

His condition improved slowly as time passed. But while he was ill with dysentery he was again subjected to interrogation and torture that included rope bindings and beatings every two hours, punishment so severe that he tried to kill himself to escape the brutal treatment. Eventually, he reached his breaking point, and cooperated with his captors.

A second story of actual treatment of an enemy involved the capture, interrogation and detainment in military custody that lasted several years. During this time the captive was subjected to sleep deprivation for a period of more than seven days, rectal hydration, forced standing for prolonged periods, and was water boarded five times. Eventually, the captive’s will also broke, and he cooperated with his captors.

While the treatment in the second example would certainly be unpleasant, it is less severe than the experience of the pilot in the first example, inasmuch as the captive’s life was never in danger. Some Americans, however, believe the two equally represent torture.

The pilot in the first example was now-Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., and he was shot down over Viet Nam, captured and tortured by the Viet Cong.

The person in the second example was Khalid Sheik Mohammad, the mastermind of the 9-11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and a foiled attempt likely aimed at the U.S. Capitol building or the White House, claiming the lives of nearly 3,000 innocent people.

Torture is the action of inflicting severe pain on someone as a punishment or to force them to do or say something, and has been practiced through the ages, and has included the most brutal treatment imaginable.

In interrogation sessions, some techniques are clearly torture, and some techniques are clearly not torture. Somewhere in the middle of these extremes, strong interrogation crosses the thin and fuzzy line into torture. Where that point is seems to be a matter of personal preference.

Having released a controversial partisan report on the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee charges that the CIA’s techniques constitute torture.

The CIA vigorously disputes the Democrat leadership’s report, saying the methods were thoroughly analyzed and approved by legal consultants prior to their implementation, and that Congressional leaders were briefed on them and accepted the program. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is said to have encouraged the program.

The United States does indeed profess and uphold high-minded ideals, and most Americans oppose torture. And through this $40 million report and comments by individual senators, we are told that torture is always and forever wrong.

But is there never a circumstance where torture is justified?

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., thinks not. “In the wake of 9/11, we were desperate to bring those responsible for the brutal attacks to justice. But even that urgency did not justify torture,” states the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “The United States must be held to a higher standard than our enemies, yet some of our actions did not clear that bar.”

We learn that al Qaeda has placed a suitcase nuke in a major city set to detonate in a few hours. We have captured a member of the group and Sen. Feinstein questions him. He refuses to tell where the bomb is. “Okay. Thank you. Have a nice day,” she says. “After all, we are a people of principle and high morals, and won’t stoop to forceful interrogation.”

Who and how many American lives have to be at risk before those like Sen. Feinstein, clinging to the high moral ground, resort to forceful interrogation methods to save lives? Her spouse? Her hometown? Her Capital office? Or would she sacrifice American lives just to maintain the idealistic moral high ground?

You do not have to support routine use of torture to believe that in extreme cases, torture is acceptable. Many Americans believe nothing is too awful to use on an enemy in order to save lives.

So the issue is not that the United States can never use techniques generally agreed to be torture against enemies, but instead to clarify under what circumstances the United States will use those techniques, and how those decisions will be made?

Routine or indiscriminate torture is wrong. Any method used against knowledgeable enemies to save lives must be encouraged. Foolishly clinging to the high moral ground will get Americans needlessly killed.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

If we raise the minimum wage, we’ll get these fantastic results!!

The narrative of the left is that even people who have never had a job and/or don’t have any skills deserve and need a “living wage.” Merriam-Webster defines a living wage as “a wage sufficient to provide the necessities and comforts essential to an acceptable standard of living,” which varies widely depending upon where one lives.

The drive for a hike in the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, or sometimes as much as $15 an hour, lives on as a cause du jour for some Americans, defying the laws of business economics. Workers, labor unions, and politicians, support the wage hike through lobbying efforts, civil demonstrations, and labor strikes often paid for by labor unions.

These folks reject out of hand the fact that every job has an actual calculable value in the business it is a part of that takes into account the benefit to the business’s entire operation, the qualifications of the worker, and other real factors, unlike what drives the minimum wage hike: it is a nice idea, makes people feel good, helps unions raise members’ wages, and garners support for politicians.

The National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) notes that minimum wage hike proponents support an increase because it would save the government money in social support services, since those whose wages rise will be less likely to seek and need welfare benefits.

Research by the Economic Policy Institute shows that increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would reduce welfare spending by $7.6 billion, but that is only 3.8 percent of the total of $200 billion in welfare spending that taxpayers fund. Not that saving seven or eight billion is a bad idea.

However, in its efforts to give to people things they should earn through personal effort, the left focuses on the benefits of their ideas, and ignores the negative consequences.

This erroneous reasoning is responsible for a long and growing list of government programs the negatives of which far outweigh their benefits. The Community Reinvestment Act combined with repealing Glass-Steagall, and Operation Fast and Furious spring quickly to mind.

Addressing the negative impact of a wage hike, NCPA cites research by Ben Gitis of the American Action Forum asserting that raising the minimum wage will result in lost jobs. His analysis shows that 2.2 million new jobs would not be created, totaling a stunning $19.8 billion in lost earnings, if the minimum wage is increased.

The truth is that the number of minimum wage earners who really need a living wage is tiny. Only about 3.6 million workers, or 2.5 percent of all workers, earn the minimum wage, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics, and teenagers living at home comprise 31 percent of that group. And 55 percent are 25 years old, or younger, mostly inexperienced and just learning skills. Therefore, of all workers over 25, only 1.1 percent would be affected by a wage hike that would cost 2.2 million future jobs.

Combine that small number with the fact that well over half of workers earning less than $9.50 an hour are the second or third earner in a family, two-thirds of whom earn more than $50,000 a year, and that critical number shrinks even more.

As a percentage of hourly workers those earning the minimum wage has shrunk dramatically since 1980, when they comprised 15 percent of that group. Today, that portion is just 4.7 percent. And more than half of them are part-timers working less than 30 hours a week.

If you earn the minimum wage it certainly is appealing to imagine getting an increase in your wage of about half. But a hike in the minimum wage has to have solid economics-based reasons behind it, or it shouldn’t happen. The economic reality is that the numbers just don’t add up to support a $10.10 an hour minimum wage.

This wildly popular idea evolves from not understanding business and basic economics. How, in a country with education spending on average of $11,000 per student per year, can there be so many who have no idea about things like supply and demand, and how high costs, high taxes, excessive regulations raise prices and decrease sales.

The United States has just lost the top spot in the world in productivity to China, the first time since Ulysses S. Grant was president that America has not led the world.

A friend who ran a company doing business in several foreign countries was talking about his company’s expansion into China a few years ago. At the time China had 1.35 billion people, he said: 100 million communists, and 1.25 billion capitalists.

While Communist China embraces capitalist principles and becomes the most productive nation, the United States, once the bastion of free enterprise, increasingly embraces socialistic mechanisms and lost the lead in productivity for the first time in more than 130 years.

Most likely few of the proponents have ever had to make a payroll or keep a business viable in the face challenges like competition, high taxes and onerous regulations.

Foolish ideas like raising the minimum wage without sound reason helps explain our loss to China and our overall anemic economy. 

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

November surprise: Happy Thanksgiving from the Regulator-in-Chief

Fridays. That’s when the federal government finds it most advantageous to release ugly surprises. You’ve heard of the Friday document dump? The weekend is coming, most people are winding down from the work week, getting ready to relax for a couple of days, and they aren’t really paying attention to the news, and even the news folks are getting ready for the weekend, and are unprepared to respond to the release of a bunch of government documents.

This practice offers added value right before a holiday, when millions of people are not only readying for the weekend, but are preparing to travel to visit relatives or to host family and friends for the holiday, and therefore even fewer are paying attention to the news. So the Friday before Thanksgiving is when the Obama White House informed the nation, without fanfare, of 3,400 new regulations ready to go into effect next year.

Sam Batkins, the American Action Forum’s director of regulatory policy, told The Daily Signal, “The administration has been really aggressive on the regulatory front.” He added, “They drop [the Unified Agenda] on a Friday right before a holiday, and no one critical of their regulatory policies will have a chance to criticize it.”

The Unified Agenda is a document that serves as the administration’s roadmap for regulations it intends to finalize in coming months, and is usually released in the spring and fall.

The Regulatory Information Service Center of the U.S. General Services Administration, describes this document: “The Unified Agenda provides uniform reporting of data on regulatory and deregulatory activities under development throughout the Federal Government, covering approximately 60 departments, agencies, and commissions. Each edition of the Unified Agenda includes regulatory agendas from all Federal entities that currently have regulations under development or review.”

In 2012 the Obama administration issued 4,000 rules, so it’s good news that this year’s total is lower, although it is 100 rules larger than the 2013 Agenda.

Mr. Batkins notes that under the administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush the Unified Agenda was “a normal, boring list of regulations,” but he warns that the Obama administration’s release of the Agenda near a holiday portends a group of regulations that have strong political implications. This year’s edition contains 23 “economically significant” rules, which are those with an economic impact of at least $100 million, two more than last year.

The Obama administration has introduced rules costing the economy $16 billion a year, on average, according to James Gattuso, senior research fellow in regulatory policy at the Heritage Foundation.

The American Action Forum states that the $16 billion annual average costs imposed on the country by the Obama administration is “tantamount to having a $160 billion tax increase over 10 years.” The Daily Signal quotes Mr. Batkins as saying that $18 billion to $20 billion in new regulatory costs equals an approximate increase in the payroll tax of 1 percent. “Payroll tax going up 1 percent — that would get everyone interested. But $20 billion in regulatory costs is the equivalent of that,” he said.

An increase in the payroll tax affects only employers and employees, but regulatory costs affect nearly everyone. Mr. Batkins analyzed 36 economically significant regulations issued by the Obama administration and shows price increases for the individual consumer in the following categories:

  •        Vehicles: $9,150
  •        Household consumer products: $1,639
  •        Mortgage: $362 annually
  •        Energy: $135 annually
  •        Health Care: $108 annually
  •        Food: $14 annually

That $11,000 effect is the result of just 36 rules of the thousands put into effect each year, and that estimate of costs comes from the government. Other estimates suggest costs are actually even higher.

New regulations push costs higher, and when things cost more people buy less of them. When sales drop, fewer workers are needed to produce, transport and sell those items, and people lose their jobs.

A Heritage study shows that the Obama administration issued 157 major regulations during its first five years, while for the same period under President George W. Bush, only 62 major regulations were released. Those 157 new rules cost Americans nearly $73 billion. No doubt these additional heavy regulatory costs are responsible for some of the dire employment problems the nation suffers more than five years after the recession ended.

Attempting to recover from a recession by issuing punishing regulations has to have a slowing effect on the recovery from the recession, and that is exactly what we have witnessed since the recession ended in 2009.

Consequently, unemployment is still far too high. The most common measure places unemployment at 5.8 percent, which is above the normal 4-5 percent full employment figure. But the more accurate number counting those who can’t find work and have quit looking is 11.5 percent.

The October labor force participation rate is 62.8 percent, the lowest since about 1980, and lower than the 65.7 percent level when the recession ended in June of 2009.

Perhaps it’s that people don’t understand the negative effects rampant regulation has on them, and that enables them to believe a higher minimum wage for the least skilled and least experienced workers is a more critical problem than the costs of regulation.