We Need Our Police to Be Better Than This – Nick Gillespie 12.31.14

Yes, cops are under stress. But they’re trained to rise above emotional responses. It’s part of having the badge and the right to use force.

Lucas Jackson/ Reuters

In 1951, Harry Truman fired Gen. Douglass MacArthur during the Korean War. The two never got along, but that wasn’t why Truman canned him. “I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was,” explained Truman after the fact. “I fired him because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the President.” You expect soldiers of all ranks to understand the need to respect the chain of command, regardless of personal feelings.

Soldiers—and cops, too.

Which is one big reason the display by members of the New York Police Department at the funeral of slain patrolman Rafael Ramos is particularly disturbing. At Ramos’ funeral service on Saturday, NYPD rank-and-file—along with members of police forces attending from around the country—turned their backs when Mayor Bill de Blasio delivered his eulogy. This was a very public fuck you to a politician widely perceived by conservatives and law-and-order types as weak on crime and in the pocket of social justice warriors. Yet the cops’ protest illustrates exactly what drives so much fear of the police: the worry that cops react emotionally and impulsively in situations that call for cool rationality and a reliance on training and strategic restraint. “It wasn’t planned,” said one of the protesters. “Everyone just started doing it.”

“I certainly don’t support that action,” said NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton. “I think it was very inappropriate at that event.” Bratton—whom de Blasio appointed and who first served as commissioner under tough-guy Rudy Giuliani—is very much in the tradition of “Give ‘em Hell” Harry Truman. Which is to say that he at times lets his emotions get the best of him, as when he spuriously implicated President Obama for strained relations between police and citizens, saying that cops feel as if they “are under attack from the federal government at the highest levels.”

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Facebook And Twitter Aren’t As Good At Revealing Behaviour As Researchers Think – Tim Worstall 11/30/2014 @ 4:31AM

One of the great mantras of our time is that “Big Data” will be able to tell us much more about what people think, desire and do than earlier research methods made possible. This is true to some extent: but not to as great an extent as many researchers, and the politicians who listen to said researchers, seem to think. On which point there’s an interesting paper in Science discussing the problems with assuming that what turns up on Facebook and or Twitter TWTR +1.48% really is a valid guide to the interests and actions of the populace. On top of what this paper is arguing (entirely correctly) we need to add two more reasonably standard points, one from economics the other from politics. Put together these should make us a lot more hesitant in taking the Twitterstorm du jour all that seriously as a guide to public policy.

The paper is here:

On 3 November 1948, the day after Harry Truman won the United States presidential elections, the Chicago Tribune published one of the most famous erroneous headlines in newspaper history: “Dewey Defeats Truman” (1, 2). The headline was informed by telephone surveys, which had inadvertently undersampled Truman supporters (1). Rather than permanently discrediting the practice of polling, this event led to the development of more sophisticated techniques and higher standards that produce the more accurate and statistically rigorous polls conducted today (3).

Fortunately for those of us who do not subscribe to Science there’s a further discussion by the researchers here.

Their first and most obvious point is that social media users are not representative of the general population. Further, that different social media tend in very different directions: Pinterest is much more young women orientated than most of the other platforms. In other forms of public polling these sample weightings are taken good account of (although it’s always more of an art than a science) and so surveys of social media should be using these same techniques. Said researchers make their point thusly:

Social scientists have honed their techniques and standards to deal with this sort of challenge before. “The infamous ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ headline of 1948 stemmed from telephone surveys that under-sampled Truman supporters in the general population,” Ruths notes. ”Rather than permanently discrediting the practice of polling, that glaring error led to today’s more sophisticated techniques, higher standards, and more accurate polls. Now, we’re poised at a similar technological inflection point. By tackling the issues we face, we’ll be able to realize the tremendous potential for good promised by social media-based research.”

Well, yes, obviously.

But we can also add two further points here when we consider what we might do with any information gleaned from even these better weighted and sampled surveys. The first being the economists’ point about revealed preferences. All of social media is people saying what they’d like. And the point of revealed preferences is that that’s, the mere expression of an idea or desire, not quite the same thing as what people really do. For example, there’s a rather large number of us who promise to love forever, never betray and stick together for life. That some 50% of such promises end in divorce does show that there’s a certain gap between even what people will solemnly promise to do and what they actually do. When it’s a matter of throwing around a few likes or retweets then the gap between true desires and expressed ones is likely to be larger.

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Yes, the Republican Obamacare Strategy Will Kill People – By Jonathan Chait November 10, 2014 12:17 p.m.

There is a famous thought experiment called the trolley problem, and it goes like this: A runaway trolley is headed toward five people bound on the tracks. You are standing before the switch that could divert it onto another track, where it would kill only one person. Do you pull the switch?

Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

There is a famous thought experiment called the trolley problem, and it goes like this: A runaway trolley is headed toward five people bound on the tracks. You are standing before the switch that could divert it onto another track, where it would kill only one person. Do you pull the switch?

The problem is a way of grappling with the moral responsibility of actively killing a person for some larger end, a problem that lurks behind much of the role of the state, from policing to Harry Truman dropping the atomic bomb on Japan. The trolley problem is the most flattering possible way to think about the conservative movement’s fanatical commitment to repealing Obamacare. That is, if you ignore the obvious elements of partisan spite, callousness, and self-deception, one can posit a commitment to abstract moral principles about the role of the state. Conservatives’ abstract principles, like most people’s, can come attached to specific costs. If they pull the switch and repeal Obamacare, or if they persuade five Republican Supreme Court justices to cripple it, they will spare America from the evils of mandates, taxes, regulation, and what they imagine to be European socialist horrors. They will also kill what are now identifiable human beings.

One of those human beings is David Tedrow, who, in a harrowing first-person account published in the Washington Post, writes of his fight with non-alcoholic cirrhosis, crediting Obamacare with saving his life. “Without insurance and the subsidy I would simply die,” writes Tedrow, “because I could not afford my drugs and my body would reject my liver.”

Last night I linked to the story on Twitter, writing, “The Republican Party is trying to kill this man.” The description was slightly hyperbolic in the sense that killing Tedrow is not the Republican Party’s goal — they would be perfectly happy if, after they have repealed Obamacare, a generous philanthropist stepped in to save Tedrow’s life — but rather the direct and inescapable result of their behavior. He is collateral damage in the service of a larger goal, like the populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the imaginary stranger on the railroad track.

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Obama only the most recent president to face impeachment calls – By Ben Wolfgang – Sunday, August 3, 2014

The real six-year itch in American politics appears to be talk of removing the commander in chief, with President Obama becoming the latest in a long line of leaders to face calls for impeachment during his later years in office.Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at Aug 4, 2014 12.45

Then-President Clinton was impeached in his sixth year, and the calls to oust President George W. Bush, while they never reached that far, also ramped up in his sixth year in office.

Impeachment calls stretch deep into the 1800s, and everyone from Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon faced them. But presidential historians and political analysts say the recent calls have been different, suggesting a certain nonchalance for a power that was supposed to be used carefully.

“I think people are remarkably flippant. Neither side thinks this is actually going to happen,” said Jeffrey Engel, director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. “In recent years it seems the rhetoric has increased to where people are discussing impeachment in a general way of expressing disdain for the incumbent.”

The most recent calls for impeachment of Mr. Obama have come chiefly from conservative pundits but have been resoundingly ruled out by House Speaker John A. Boehner. Few lawmakers have publicly called for impeachment, although some Republicans are beginning to raise the possibility as a response to Mr. Obama’s expected executive order halting deportations for millions of illegal immigrants.

“I think Congress has to sit down and have a serious look at the rest of the Constitution, and that includes that ‘I’ word that we don’t want to say,” Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican, said Sunday during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.”

Other Republicans also have kept the issue alive. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate, is the highest-profile Republican to publicly call for impeachment. Recent polling indicates a majority of conservative voters agree with her position.

While it’s extremely unlikely House Republicans will pursue impeachment, the White House sees the clear benefit to keeping the topic alive: It can help paint the GOP as extremists while also energizing voters and bringing in millions of dollars in campaign donations.


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