Friday, April 13, 2012

Birding Panama

Panderbear is birding in Panama. Here are some of the birds Panderbear hopes to see. Nothing but birds for two whole weeks!

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

IQ and Political Orientation

In February I came across several articles citing recent research relating political orientation and IQ levels. They all had similar findings. It turns out that a lower IQ is correlated with conservative political beliefs. A study by Brock University in Ontario and published in the journal "Psychological Science" and another by Brian Nosek, psychologist at the University of Virginia, both show that the less intelligent a person is the more likely they are to embrace conservative policies.

Explaining this may be a complicated matter, but Nosek has put forth a pretty decent theory. He believes that a lower cognitive capacity makes people more attracted to simplifying ideologies. On the surface it certainly seems to make sense. Some of the findings by Brock University are quantified in the chart plotting mean adolescent intelligence against adult political ideology.

IQ vs Political Orientation

Now a professor from the University of Arkansas has echoed these sentiments, albeit in a slightly different study. This study, published in the journal "Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin", focused it's efforts on what is described as "low-effort" thinking. According to Dr. Scott Eidelman, the study's lead author, "People endorse conservative ideology more when they have to give a first or fast response." Eidelman cautions that while low-effort thinking promotes political conservatism it may not be the case that political conservatism necessarily promotes low-effort thinking.

The interesting part of these studies isn't that a relationship between IQ and political orientation exists, but why it exists. The answer to that conundrum awaits further studies.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Oil Rig Count Increases 5x Under Obama

A favorite pander of Republicans and especially Mitt Romney is that President Obama stifled increases in oil and gas production through overregulation and refusal to issue drilling permits. Is there any truth at all to these claims? Not a bit.

Baker Hughes, Inc., the industry gold standard source for information regarding oil and gas drilling rig counts, provided the data for the following chart from Panderbear finds this graph of U.S. oil and gas rig counts fascinating. Note first the dip in the numbers as a result of the drop in demand accompanying the Great Recession. No surprise there.

However, after less than a year the oil rig count began an awesome rebound that continues unabated to the present. At the time of the president's inauguration the count was ~250. It is now ~1300. That represents an increase of a factor of 5+. President Obama is stifling an increase in drilling? Bull. Republican claims to the contrary are pure pandering to those who haven't bothered to looked at the data.

In particular Romney has claimed the president has decreased drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, but according to Baker Hughes as of April 5, 2012 the percent change in oil rig count in the Gulf in the past year is +138%. There's no excusing the fact that Romney is just plain lying. Is there anything he won't say or do to become president?

Oil and Gas Rig Count

What about gas rigs? They don't seem to be recovering. There's a good reason for that. Due to increasingly efficient extraction methods production is actually up even though the number of rigs is down. There is currently a glut of natural gas on the market. Production has gotten way ahead of demand. All natural gas storage facilities are bulging at the seams and prices have stabilized at low levels.

If Republicans want to attribute blame for high oil prices they'll need to look elsewhere than President Obama. The president has presided over a huge increase in producing oil rigs. Panderbear suggests Republicans look at global demand, which really sets oil prices, and at the fact that America's oil corporations made gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel the number one U.S. export last year.

But of course Republicans and more than a few Democrats, know Big Oil can do no wrong and just voted to continue their multi-billion dollar tax subsidies even as oil company profits are at all time highs. Sigh.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Unemployment Claims Decline Steadily

As does the chart of private sector job growth in Stimulus Redux the following chart of initial unemployment claims from The Maddow Blog demonstrates that the employment situation began improving immediately with the implementation of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009, better know as the stimulus. The stimulus produced more jobs in 2010 (1.1 million) than in the entire 8 years of the Bush administration (1.0 million), though you won't hear partisan Republicans applauding its success. Indeed initial unemployment claims are approaching levels last seen before the Great Recession.

Employment figures have continued to improve though at a more modest rate with the exhaustion of the stimulus funds. It's pretty clear to Panderbear that the only thing holding back a full employment recovery is the inadequate size of the initial stimulus, the lack of a second stimulus package, and the dramatic public sector job losses particularly of teachers and police in the states where legislatures and governorships were taken over by Republicans in the 2010 midterm elections. 

A larger stimulus could have avoided these draconian cuts to essential public services, but of course was impossible with a radically intransigent Republican House of Representatives and unbreakable filibusters in the Senate.

Unemployment Claims

Panderbear thinks balancing the federal budget in the long run is a laudable goal, but basic economics has long shown that austerity measures during a recession, especially one of the magnitude of the Great Recession, are precisely the wrong prescription. Lack of private sector investment must be balanced by increased public sector investment in essential services like schools and police and infrastructure. Yes, this means temporary deficit spending, but that's what it takes to avoid a downward spiral in unemployment produced by austerity measures requiring reducing the debt before addressing unemployment.

Europe is currently learning this lesson the hard way with the failures in Greece, Spain, Ireland, and other countries where austerity has been given higher priority than employment. We should heed the lessons of their failures. Stimulus leading to recovery of employment must precede measures designed to balance the budget.

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Monday, April 9, 2012

Shit Mitt Romney Says

The most recent Truth Quotient Ratings - Politicos and Truth Quotient History - Candidates show that Mitt Romney's tenuous grasp on the truth has continued to erode ever more as the campaign has proceeded. His current Truth Quotient (TQ) is 0.7, well below the flip-of-a-coin TQ of 1.0. Compare this with President Obama's TQ of 1.51 which is much higher than any other candidate for president and well above any Congressional leader. What the numbers show is that you can pretty much take President Obama and VP Biden at their word. (Trust, but verify.) For everyone else Panderbear suggests you flip a coin.

This short clip compares shit Mitt Romney says in his pander filled stump speeches with reality. It isn't pretty. Apparently, Romney believes in sacrificing the truth for a higher cause - getting himself elected president.

About the Truth Quotient
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Friday, April 6, 2012

Marijuana and the 14th Amendment

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads, in part, "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." This is the so-called Equal Protection Clause. It ensures equal treatment before the law of all U.S. citizens in all states.

Panderbear notes in the bar chart of marijuana use by whites, blacks, and latinos that in every use frequency category and every date range, the percentage of pot use in the 18 to 25 age group is highest among whites and lower for blacks and latinos.

If justice is blind and equal protection rights are being rigorous upheld Panderbear would think that arrests for marijuana possession would reflect a similar relationship. According to the following chart of marijuana possession arrest rate by race in various California cities, that is not even close to the reality.

Source: Drug Policy Alliance, California Department of Justice,

Criminal Justice Statistics Center, and American Community

Survey, U.S. Census Bureau, 2006-08
Although marijuana use is higher in whites than blacks, the arrest rate for blacks is anywhere from 2.5 to 12 times higher than for whites. What's going on here? There is definitely some kind of selection bias leading to the higher arrest rates for blacks - racial profiling or good old-fashioned racism or both? Those who pander about "playing the race card" should take note. The election of President Obama did not mark the end of the era of race-based discrimination.

Panderbear admits the case for a breakdown of the Equal Protection Clause would be stronger if the data for use and arrests applied to the exact same population. And there may be other contributing factors. Nevertheless, Panderbear thinks the general result of selection bias in enforcement of possession laws would turn out to be robust. This constitutes another excellent reason to legalize possession of marijuana - the laws are not being equally applied and result in racial discrimination. End the crime; end the discrimination.

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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Legalize Marijuana, Save Our Colleges

In American Gulag Archipelago and American Apartheid, Panderbear described an unparalleled explosion in American incarceration rates due to the 'War on Drugs' and draconian sentencing guidelines. In the 1980's and 1990's a candidate declaring his opponent 'soft on crime' was the pander of choice. It supplanted the previous generation's 'soft on communism' pander.

Criminalization of marijuana flooded our prisons with people whose only crime was possession of a substance less harmful than alcohol, America's accepted drug of choice. Millions of Americans 'experimented' with marijuana. Only the unwary or unlucky wound up in prison, often with sentences far longer than for more serious and violent crimes.

Aside from the harm to the nation resulting from an unprecedented increase in human degradation and wasted human potential, locking up over 2 million Americans is monumentally expensive. For the past 20 years states have increased spending on prisons 6 times faster than spending on higher education. As Fareed Zakaria recently wrote in 'Incarceration Nation', "In 2011, California spent $9.6 billion on prisons vs. $5.7 billion on the UC system and state colleges. Since 1980, California has built one college campus and 21 prisons. A college student costs the state $8,667 per year; a prisoner costs it $45,006 a year." Panderbear suggests with only a small wink that it would be more cost effective to send pot possessors to college than to prison. 'Smoke pot? Go to college.' Sounds like the 60's all over again to Panderbear.

The roots of the laws making the U.S. the world's number one jailor lie in Americans' vindictive free will-based, punishment-for-its-own sake attitudes toward crime and punishment. We have a system that is all stick and no carrot, all retribution uninformed by enlightened self-interest or human compassion. Our sentencing guidelines lack perspective regarding what is a truly heinous crime and what should arguably not be a crime at all. Even televangelist Pat Robertson recently said that America's War on Drugs has failed and marijuana should be legalized.

Panderbear favors legalizing pot and emptying our prisons of those convicted only of possession. Let's spend our limited resources building colleges, not prisons. Educate, not incarcerate.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

American Apartheid

In American Gulag Archipelago Panderbear left the reader with the question, "Why are U.S. incarceration rates the highest in the world?" It turns out determining the proximate cause of this anomaly is pretty easy.

A Wikipedia chart of the percentage of incarcerated Americans from 1920 to 2008 shows that the current world record U.S. incarceration rate was not always so. Today's rate is more than 4 times what it was before President Nixon declared the "War on Drugs." This failed war ignited a conflagration of incarceration and the 1984 "Sentencing Reform Act" (SRA) acted as accelerant. A futile War on Drugs, spurred on by "tough on crime" political panderers has let to the imprisonment of millions of Americans and long sentences prescribed by the SRA has led to an overflowing and aging prison population.

The more recent advent of private enterprise prisons with their newfound lobbying might, ensures Congress has no appetite for prison reform or reform of the criminal justice system and sentencing guidelines. Now prisons are big business and Congress is nothing if not pro-corporation. A corporation's incentive is always to maximize profit and that means maximizing the prison population.

It is not lost on Panderbear that a black man is 7 times more likely to go to prison than a white man. If that ratio were 1:1 instead of 7:1, would SRA sentences be as harsh as they are? Would there not by now be a hew and cry from the masses of Americans and their government representatives for rational prison and sentencing reform? Would there have been an SRA at all? Panderbear finds these questions profoundly troubling. Perhaps a more apt description of this situation than American Gulag is American Apartheid.

U.S. Incarceration Rate History

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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

American Gulag Archipelago

Notorious communist dictator Joseph Stalin ruled the U.S.S.R. from 1941 to 1953 and presided over an unrivaled forced labor and concentration camp system. Nevertheless, as Adam Gopnik wrote in the New Yorker, “Over all, there are now more people under 'correctional supervision' in America - more than 6 million - than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height." Of course, 'under correctional supervision' is not the same as in prison, still the number is startling.

Given its history Panderbear was not surprised to learn that Russia has a very high incarceration rate. What was surprising, as the Wikipedia graphic points out, is that the United States of America, 'Land of the Free,' is the world's leading jailer.

We have a higher percentage of our population behind bars than any other country and not by just a little. At 760 prisoners per 100,000 population (2008) the U.S. bests the average European incarceration rate by an insane factor of 7, is more than 6 times China's rate, and is 12 times Japan's.

Why is the U.S. in the company of countries like Russia, Rwanda, and Cuba instead of modern western nations? All nations have their share of politicians pandering to the "tough on crime" constituency. But, if the rest of the developed world can maintain secure and stable societies without locking up millions of people, why can't America?

Incarceration Rates by Country

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Monday, April 2, 2012

Truth Quotient Ratings - Politicos

Panderbear presents a Truth Quotient (TQ) ratings table about once per month even when, as this time, nothing much has changed. The DNC, President Obama, and VP Biden remain the only contenders above water (TQ=1.0). Congressional leaders, whose statements have been largely ignored by fact-check websites during the course of the Republican nomination race, remain, as always, in dubious TQ territory. The candidates for the nomination were little moved from their former ratings, though Mitt Romney continued his ever so gradual glide path downward.

Panderbear anxiously awaits the end of the nomination process when we enter Double Jeopardy where scores can really change.

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