Guantanamo 
Wednesday, January 21, 2009, 04:50 PM
There’s an interesting discussion going on in the comment thread over at McArdle’s blog (I know, her again?) regarding Obama’s order to suspend all trials for personnel held at Guantanamo. If you ignore your normal ideological trolls (Obama is a communist! Bush is a fascist! You're a scum sucking traitor who hates America if you disagree with me!) there are actually some decent points raised.

In particular, I’m concerned about the idea that detainees could be tried in regular federal court – that seems like a completely inappropriate venue to me. Ideally they should be tried under a system that very closely resembles the UCMJ – the same protections that our own soldiers receive. If you look at the current effort, the misconduct has been done by the civilian political hacks Bush put in place. Those really making a difference have been the uniformed attorneys – the defense lawyers asking the hard questions and fighting the system on behalf of their clients, and the prosecutors such as Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld who have resigned in protest when they were directed to make prosecutions they felt were unfair. Of course, those getting the glory are the ACLU and the big name firms that have "donated" their time as a way to latch on to all the free PR.

At the end of the day, who better to try a soldier than a fellow soldier? Does anyone honestly believe that a civilian jury, who has never known the horror and confusion of combat, can draw the fine lines on what behavior is and is not acceptable? The idea here should be to set up a trial system that is robust and can be applied to future conflicts, not one that is simply convenient to apply to the current problem at hand. Can you imagine the Nuremburg trials occurring in federal court? Of course not.
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College Loans 
Wednesday, January 21, 2009, 09:18 AM
As someone suffering under $38,000 a year in tuition from UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business, the issue of college loans strikes particularly close to home. Megan McArdle questions the utility of some of the degrees people pay so much money for, and concludes that the only winner in this sad parade often ends up being the school:
The question to contemplate is who benefitted from making it easier to pursue degrees that don't get you very far? Not Ms. Kratzer, obviously, but not the "greedy" loan company [that is loosing money as people default], either. No, the beneficiaries are the schools that take peoples' money in exchange for worthless degrees.

...

And no one ever yells at the schools--or the presumption that we should shoehorn every eighteen year old into college, rather than structuring an economy that comfortably accomodates those who are not academic.


This is one offshoot of our society's healthy valuation of education. Unfortunately, it's possible to take all good things too far. The ship repair contractors I deal with are constantly lamenting the lack of good welders and pipefitters in the San Francisco Bay Area. Here's some hourly wage data for the San Francisco Bay Area from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers$20.70
Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters$29.08
Boilermakers$28.88
Electricians$34.36

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Union Inefficiency 
Thursday, January 15, 2009, 11:31 PM
I recently attended a dinner party (with delicious grilled ribs) with an acquaintance of mine who works for PG&E. Apparently at PG&E there is an active drive to unionize the white collar workers -- the salaried employees earning $70k+ per year who generally aren't considered typical union targets. As my friend explained to me, the benefits of unionization include: no performance reviews, a mandatory 8.75% annual raise, and a pay scale solely based on seniority with a prohibition on using performance to adjust pay or as a consideration for non-management promotions. Pay and promotions are strictly tied to the seniority scale. "I barely put in six hours a day" he explained to me, before offering to set me up with a job once I got out of the Coast Guard.

WTF? Does anyone seriously think this is a good idea? How is these even defensible? The only reason PG&E is able to survive with such horrible work rules is because they have a monopoly -- customers can't simply jump ship and get their electricity from another company. Any costs incurred are simply passed on to consumers.

This is the ultimate manifestation of any union. From autos to teachers to white collar workers, virtually every union writes their contracts this way -- they all attempt to ensure salary is tied to seniority and not to performance. How is this ok? Why do people continue to support this?

Just like with the auto workers, I don't begrudge anyone their salary -- I oppose the horrible work rules. I'm not suggesting that unions don't have their place. Just study the working conditions at WalMart and you can see what happens when labor has no representation. But does unionization have to be so very extreme? It seems to me that if organized labor didn't work so hard to promote inefficiency and sloth -- and instead focused on raising standards of living -- the labor movement would be more popular and more powerful.
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Our Congress 
Wednesday, January 14, 2009, 01:42 PM
A friend forwarded me this joke the other day:

An Indian walks into a cafe with a shotgun in one hand pulling a male buffalo with the other. He says to the waiter, "Want coffee."

The waiter says, "Sure, Chief. Coming right up."


He gets the Indian a tall mug of coffee. The Indian drinks the coffee down in one gulp, turns and blasts the buffalo with the shotgun causing parts of the animal to splatter everywhere, and then just walks out.

The next morning the Indian returns. He has his shotgun in one hand, pulling another male buffalo with the other. He walks up to the counter and says to the waiter "Want coffee."

The waiter says "Whoa, Tonto! We're still cleaning up your mess from yesterday. What was all that about, anyway?"


The Indian smiles and proudly says "Training for position in United States Congress: Come in, drink coffee, shoot the bull, leave mess for others to clean up, disappear for rest of day."

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Let's Drive Away People Who Can Make This Country a Better Place 
Monday, January 12, 2009, 11:18 PM
A classmate of mine in my MBA program at Berkeley is afraid that when one of the six people in her group at Barclay's Global Investors are laid off tomorrow, the casualty will be her. At class we suggested that this would give her the opportunity to transfer into the full time MBA program and avoid paying the higher evening MBA tuition.

She responded that her immigration status didn't allow her to enroll as a student full time -- this despite the fact that she's been in this country for 12 years. She even raised the possibility of going back to Korea. Here we have a 12 year resident, one of the smarter people I've met, an incredibly decent human being, and someone who adds tremendous value to our society. And our immigration system is on the verge of sending her packing.
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Lincoln Again 
Monday, January 12, 2009, 04:51 PM
From his second inaugural address:
Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

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Immigration 
Sunday, January 11, 2009, 10:32 PM
There's been a recent trend at the Justice department to find criminal statutes to prosecute illegal immigrants with, rather than simply deporting them. This of course is quite different than arresting someone for a crime, and then discovering they are an illegal immigrant. In this case, the discovery is made that the person is an illegal immigrant and then a search is undertaken for a crime that they can be charged with. Examples include stretching the definition of identity theft to include an illegal who provides a false social security number to an employer. Most of these prosecutions involve a departure from how the law is traditionally applied, and involve massive plea bargains (with up to 40 people being sentenced at a time) extracted from individuals with minimal command of English and very little idea how our justice system works.

I think putting these people in jail instead of shipping them back across the border is a waste of my tax dollars, but the NYT carries it a step further in arguing that such prosecutions are taking resources away from much more important crimes:
Immigration prosecutions have steeply risen over the last five years, while white-collar prosecutions have fallen by 18 percent, weapons prosecutions have dropped by 19 percent, organized crime prosecutions are down by 20 percent and public corruption prosecutions have dropped by 14 percent, according to the Syracuse group’s statistics. Drug prosecutions — the enforcement priority of the Reagan, first Bush and Clinton administrations — have declined by 20 percent since 2003.


The article details that the Justice Department has implemented a policy that they will not prosecute marijuana cases involving less than 500 pounds. Anything less than 500 pounds is referred to local authorities, many of whom are unprepared for the sudden influx of new cases and who also lack the resources to carry the investigation further up the chain. In other words: to placate the anti-immigrant sector of the Republican party, we're now letting drug dealers go free. Awesome. Sounds like a huge win for our country.
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On Eroding Our Nation's Security 
Sunday, January 11, 2009, 05:53 PM
The New York Times has another one of its famous exposes, that dig into the secrets of government and bring them into the light. Sometimes this is absolutely necessary. All too often under this current administration information is hidden not because it impacts our nation's security, but because it might impact the political prospects of a select few or cause an ugly PR scar. Unfortunately, it would appear that this most current information falls decidedly into the former category.

In speaking regard the current covert program to undermine Iran's efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, the article says:
Knowledge of the program has been closely held, yet inside the Bush administration some officials are skeptical about its chances of success, arguing that past efforts to undermine Iran’s nuclear program have been detected by the Iranians and have only delayed, not derailed, their drive to unlock the secrets of uranium enrichment.


You what really doesn't help a covert program's chances? Being published on the front page of the New York Times. As someone who seriously flirted with a career in journalism, I'm sympathetic to the paper's desire to get the news out. Journalistic ethics are what they are -- you have to assume that the paper will publish. The people I'm disappointed in are the public servants and government employees who handed this information over to the Times. They could have no more damaged this program had they shared this information with the Iranians in exchange for money. In that scenario, at least we'd have some Iranian money for the bargain. Instead, we're simply stuck with a compromised intelligence program.

Given free speech, the paper probably didn't violate the law. However, those in government who passed this classified information to the media most certainly violated the law, and should be prosecuted as such.
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Gettsburg Address 
Sunday, January 11, 2009, 03:44 PM
Have you read it recently? I stumbled up on an article that caused me to re-read these words that Lincoln spoke so long ago, and was again reminded how powerful they are.


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Army Video Games 
Monday, January 5, 2009, 09:59 PM
The NYT has an article up a new video game experience the army is using to attract new recruits. That isn't what caught my eye, however:
Civil liberties groups have criticized the Pentagon for its efforts to reach high school students.


This just drives me up the wall. The Army isn't trying to recruit high school students -- it's trying to convince high schoolers to join once they've graduated from high school. People don't graduate from high school, wake up the next morning and say "now what am I going to do with my life?" They PLAN. If you want someone to join after graduation, common sense dictates that you talk to them while they're still in high school.

Once you're 18, you can have unspeakable acts permanently recorded on camera, distributed to sleazebags throughout the country, and be left with only a pittance to show for it. Joining the Army may not be all that bad in comparison.

In fact, for the urban youth who are the subject of the NYT article, the Army may represent the only viable path towards something that resembles normal middle class life. Without the Army they may never escape their communities and the cycle of destruction that drags so many down. The Army represents good training, a stable income, good benefits, a solid retirement, and provides good discipline. These individuals can then return to their community as an example to encourage others that it is in fact possible to rise above a seemingly hopeless situation.
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