The Associated Press and the end of Personal Responsibility (or Words Have Meaning 3)

The Associated Press, a large and influential news organization, recently published a change to their style guidelines that eliminates the use of the term ‘illegal’ to describe immigrants who did not enter the country legally.  The guidance went on to say that only actions should be described as illegal, but not people.  This policy has implications that go well beyond the immigration debate and are both profound and disturbing.

In previous posts on Words Have Meaning (Part 1 and Part 2), we talked about how the words we choose convey meaning, whether that meaning was intended or not.  The decision to stop using the term ‘illegal’ to describe people was meant to avoid stigmatizing a person and instead use the term to describe activity, according to the AP.  Critics of the move say that it was done intentionally to reduce the negative connotation of illegal immigration, thus making it easier for politicians to grant amnesty or provide other benefits to people who entered the country illegally.  But, from a logical perspective, this decision goes well beyond immigration and further erodes the concept of personal responsibility.

We are a country of tremendous personal freedoms, but with that freedom also comes personal responsibility.  If we are to survive and thrive as a nation, we must hold people accountable for their actions.  Look at how we already do that now.  If a person graduates medical school and gets the proper certifications, we call them a Doctor.  Someone who wins an election to the Senate is a Senator.  An athlete that wins the Superbowl is a Superbowl champion.  Someone who is convicted of a felony is a Felon.  These examples could go on, but the point is that we identify people with what they do and how they behave.   In a society that does not believe that people were born into a caste or a certain role and instead have the freedom to pursue their happiness, our actions and behavior define us to a large degree.

To separate a person’s behavior with how we view that individual is to take away the idea of personal responsibility.  If we can only use negative terms to describe behavior it is as if that behavior occurred on its own, without someone making a decision to behave that way.  Imagine if we said that a robbery was committed but the person who committed it was not a thief?  Instead, they are an ‘undocumented owner of goods’.  Or what if a person who could not control a drug habit was not a drug addict? What if a drunk driver was really just a ‘non-sober vehicle operator’.  A murderer could just be an ‘unlicensed end-of-life caregiver’.  Would anyone ever be responsible for the negative acts they committed or would all those bad things just occur without anyone causing them?

If the AP made the decision to strike the term ‘illegal immigrant’ for a short-term political goal, then their decision is shallow and partisan.  However, the unintended consequence of that decision is the further slide into a culture where no one is held responsible or takes responsibility for their bad actions.

What Does Cyprus Mean for Us?

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The recent events in Cyprus have many in our country debating whether Cyprus and the larger financial problems mean anything for the U.S.  There are two questions that people ask most: 

1.  Will the events in Cyprus affect us?

2.  Can we become like Cyprus if our debt becomes too large?

First, it is important to quickly cover some background on Cyprus and the larger problems in several European countries like Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain (PIIGS).  The bottom line is that all of these countries face growing turmoil due to large debt compared to their GDP.  Their ability to pay back their debt is in serious doubt so other countries are unwilling to loan them more money unless they take steps to curtail their deficits through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, typically referred to as austerity measures.  For more background on austerity, I refer back to an older post on the topic:  The Myths of Austerity.  The biggest difference between a country like Cyprus and the U.S., and this is important, is that Cyprus does not have a sovereign currency.  They belong to the Eurozone and use the Euro as their currency.  That means they cannot simply print more money to pay off their debt.  Cyprus made headlines recently because of the seizure of portions of private bank accounts to help pay off their debt.

So to answer the first question, can Cyprus affect the U.S, the answer is no in the short term but possibly in the long term.  Cyprus is a tiny country so their economic problems should not directly affect the U.S.  However, the problems in Cyprus and the reaction to the problem of seizing people’s private funds could cause more widespread concern in the PIIGS countries.  If people in those countries believe that their bank accounts could be targeted as well, they could cause a run on the banks and create greater economic problems throughout Europe.  The other short term problem that could happen is if countries throughout Europe decide that the Euro is no longer a viable currency and a nation like Germany, tired of being forced to bail out their Mediterranean neighbors, decides to dissolve the Euro experiment.  Although some feel this is a better option in the long term, the short term chaos would cause problems here in the U.S. since Europe is our largest trading partner.

Now for the second question, can something like Cyprus happen here, the short answer is no but the larger answer is a little less definite.  Remember when I said that we have a sovereign currency.  So technically we can always pay off debt by printing more money.  The problem becomes when we accumulate too much debt and print too much money.  Experts disagree on when that point occurs, but if more currency is put into circulation, eventually the value of all of the currency decreases.  That is inflation.  Now creditors will want more return for their investment because each dollar they receive back is worth less, so the price of borrowing goes up.  Now some argue that despite all the money that the Fed has printed over the last few years that inflation is still low.  They miss the point in two areas.  One, the official inflation rate or Consumer Price Index (CPI) is low because it includes housing rental prices, which have been low due to the crash of the housing market.  With a lot of empty houses due to foreclosure and people underwater and unable to sell their homes, rental prices dropped.  But, think about the things you buy every day like gas and food and you get a sense of real inflation.  Also, higher unemployment rates have kept inflation low because fewer people have money to spend.  However, no one can argue that an almost limitless printing of money will eventually cause inflation.  Without a gold standard to back up our money, the currency gets its value from the full faith and credit of the government.  In other words, creditors have to believe the money has value.  If there is so much of it in circulation, the dollar will lose value, making everything we buy more expensive.

So Cyprus and the events in other European countries are important to watch for a couple of reasons.  One, a larger economic catastrophe in Europe will affect our economy.  Two, the problems countries like Cyprus and Greece have with their debt is actually a better comparison to the issues our states and cities will face due to debt or bankruptcy.  The national debt of Cyprus is about $19 billion.  The debt of California is about 20 times that and like Cyprus, California does not have a sovereign currency.

The Iraq War Revisited

The 10th anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq war has brought out renewed questions on the legitimacy, effectiveness and outcomes of the Iraq War.  It has also brought out renewed claims from some critics who believe that we went to war with Iraq for oil or that the administration lied about WMD to make the case for war .  If you believe those claims you may be surprised that those ideas do not hold up very well to logic.  You can say a lot about the intelligence leading up to Iraq, whether Iraq distracted us from Afghanistan, how well we fought the insurgency and a host of other issues but let’s examine the idea of a war in Iraq from a logical perspective.

On Oil:

1.  Iraq was never a major supplier of oil to the US, and despite having large oil reserves, is only the 12th leading exporter of oil.   In 2012 Iraq only exported half as much oil as Iran.

2.We did not take Iraq’s oil during or after the Iraq war.  Iraq never was a major supplier of US oil and we import less of it now  than we did before the war.  Also, Britain only imports a very small percentage of its oil from the entire Middle East so it is unlikely that Britain and the US colluded to steal Iraqi oil.

3.  We have not benefited from Iraq’s oil in any significant way.  Most of the oil contracts after the Iraq war have gone to Russia and Asia.  Any benefits we may have achieved were from reconstruction contracts on the oil fields after the war.

4.  Gas was a little over $1.70 a gallon in early 2003, hardly a cause for major concern about global gas prices.  Iraq only contributes about 3% of global oil exports so could not significantly impact supply and cost.

On the Claims that the Administration simply fabricated the case for WMD:

1.  We know Saddam Hussein had WMD before the 1991 Gulf War and used them against Iran and the Kurds.

2.  From 1991-1998 much of Iraq’s WMD program was destroyed but Hussein never fully cooperated with UN weapons inspectors.  In 1998 those inspectors left the country before fully resolving the WMD issue.

3.  In 2002, Hussein was cooperating to some degree with Hans Blix, the lead UN inspector.  But, there were problems with documentation provided by the Iraqis and Blix was not able to make a conclusive determination on the state of Iraq’s WMD program.

4.  The UN passed Resolution 1441  in November 2002 unanimously, including Yes votes from countries like Russia and even Syria.  This resolution said that Iraq would face ‘serious consequences’ if found in violation of the resolution.  Resolution 1441 was passed because Iraq was found to be in violation of Resolution 687 or the terms that ended the 1991 Gulf War, which included WMD and conventional weapons as well as reparations to Kuwait for the 1990 invasion of that country.

5.  Even with the threat of war, Hussein refused to fully cooperate.  Now if you try to think logically through the possibilities in 2003 you have to believe that either a) Iraq still has WMD or b) Saddam willingly and unilaterally disarmed.  It appears in hindsight that either option b was reality or that the weapons were moved before the US-led invasion.  In 2003, would you have honestly come to the conclusion that Saddam completely disarmed, given the history of the dictator?

6.  The administration did not find WMD in Iraq and almost lost a second term because of that.  Surely an administration that could fake 9/11 and make up a phony war for oil could ‘plant’ a few barrels of WMD somewhere in the vast deserts of the country to cover their clumsy grab for oil.  (That is sarcasm, folks)

7.  Even if you look at this from a purely selfish perspective on the part of the President, if he made up the intelligence leading to the war, he had to know that no one would find WMD which would threaten his Presidency.  Why would you intentionally mislead people to start a war with dubious benefits to you and a lot of potential pitfalls?

So what is most likely from a logical perspective:

1.  The nation and the administration just went through 9/11 and were understandably shocked.  Imagine if you have been mugged on the street.  The next time you go out in the street in that area, you will probably be a lot more wary and think that anyone who looks remotely shady could be another potential mugger.

2.  Intelligence, which is never completely conclusive, indicated that there was a possibility that Iraq had WMD.  Keep in mind that intelligence is not black and white, yes or no.  It is a matter of interpreting information and coming to the best conclusion based on the facts you have.

3.  You have a dictator with a known history of possessing and using WMD who refuses to fully cooperate with inspectors and does not have a favorable opinion of the US, to say the least.

4.  You make the conclusion that Iraq has WMD and is a threat.  I think this can be a case of confirmation bias where you tend to see evidence to confirm what you already think.  This can also be a case of group-think as a result of an administration and a nation horrified by 9/11 with a desire to do something about it.  Both of these are mistakes and in hindsight led to a clearly bad decision, but was it predicated on outright lies and a grab for oil?

I am not absolving the administration at the time for faulty intelligence, committing some of the mental errors described above and failing to plan adequately for the post-invasion period.  There were definitely mistakes made.  But to say that this was a war for oil or a war caused by lies just does not pass the logic test.

Budget

Let’s look at facts. Defense and international security assistance spending is roughly 20% of our country’s spending. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other social programs comprise roughly 54% of spending combined. The interest on our debt is about 6%, but that number is expected to rise sharply as the size of the debt increases. The national debt stands at over 16.5 trillion dollars and there is no plan in sight to slow the rate of increase, much less decrease the size of the debt. To better understand 16 trillion dollars, keep in mind that scientists believe the universe as we know it has been around for about 13 billion years. That means that this nation is in debt more than $1000 for every year the universe has been in existence.

Let’s look at more facts. In the 1930’s when Social Security was originally created, the life expectancy was approximately 61 years. In 1965 when Medicare was created, the life expectancy was 70.2 years. Now it is 78.2 years. In addition, demographics have shifted from a point where 5 people worked for every retiree in the system to now where a little over 2 people work for every retiree. The bottom line is that people are living longer and taking advantage of these programs much longer than the originators intended. In addition, the shear cost of health care has increased dramatically due to many factors, including better technology. Now that a particular machine or treatment exists, it is difficult to deny to a patient, even if it is expensive. It is simply not sane to believe that these programs are sustainable in their current form.

Now with the fiscal crisis worsening we see in the form of defense sequestration, a complete lack of willingness of the people in this country to sacrifice a perceived entitlement. So instead, the cuts in spending are aimed at the one organization that can not publicly complain: Defense. Half of the cuts are aimed at the one organization that has sacrificed so much already throughout this country’s history and especially in the last decade. The cuts are aimed at Defense because, although most argue we need to cut federal spending, no one is willing to modify entitlements that are not guaranteed in our Constitution, were never intended to provide to so many for so long and are clearly bankrupting our Nation. Think about this and compare to the sacrifices people in this Country made on the homefront during the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, or World War II. Families not only stepped up to serve on the front, they sacrificed something at home as well. Right now, less than one percent are willing to serve on the front and no one appears willing to sacrifice at home.

As the sequestration occurs, the military will make due, recover and get the job done. It is what the military always has and always will do. Unfortunately, if it does occur it will mark a turning point in the character of our Nation that we may not be able to recover from. A country unwilling to sacrifice to ensure that those who come after them still have a chance at the American Dream will never understand the sacrifice of the less than one percent who ensure their Freedoms.

Gun Control Debate

It is ironic that in the wake of the Newtown incident that the debate on gun control has not pushed this country to the left, as many thought.  In fact, it actually pushed the two sides further apart.  States that already had strict gun control laws have made or are trying to make them stricter, while those that did not passed laws further protecting the 2nd Amendment.  

How is it that two sides can look at a perceived problem and come up with what seems like two vastly different ideas to solve the problem?  Both solutions can not possibly be based on the facts.  

Welcome

Welcome to the Voice of Logic.  A discussion of current events devoid of excessive emotion and partisan sentiment.

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