About that Lockerbie Bomber Release…

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Quoting here:

The note added: “Nevertheless, if Scottish authorities come to the conclusion that Megrahi must be released from Scottish custody, the US position is that conditional release on compassionate grounds would be a far preferable alternative to prisoner transfer, which we strongly oppose.”

Mr LeBaron added that freeing the bomber and making him live in Scotland “would mitigate a number of the strong concerns we have expressed with regard to Megrahi’s release”.

The US administration lobbied the Scottish government more strongly against sending Megrahi home, under a prisoner transfer agreement signed by the British and Libyan governments, in a deal now known to have been linked to a pound stg. 550 million oil contract for BP.

It claimed this would flout a decade-old agreement between Britain and the US that anyone convicted of the bombing would serve their sentence in a Scottish prison. Megrahi was released by Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill on the grounds that he had three months to live, making his sentence effectively spent.

My bolding.

You know, if he was released on compassionate grounds, he had served the entirety of his legal sentence. It didn’t flout the agreement; the Brits/ Scots just moved the goal posts of what the U.S. had agreed to, breaking the spirit but not the letter of the words.

It still stinks to high heaven, doesn’t it?

In addition, Scotland had no authority to allow this man to leave the country’s borders. (Scotland is not a country; the United Kingdom, however, is.) The U.K. government probably said something like, “Well, he’s been released, his sentence is de facto commuted, we have no grounds to hold him, so *whistling* guess we’ll have to let him go to Libya.” So rather than transfer him to a Libyan jail, the end result was to transfer him to Libya as a free man, which is certainly not what even the Obama administration was privately suggesting (and to this day, refusing to allow the private suggestions to be published so that Scotland can defend itself against public charges by the U.S. Senate).

I’m not sure you can call Straw’s refusing to subject himself to interrogation by a legislative body of a former colony as if the U.K. is a subservient nation (even Canada wouldn’t do that) should be called a “snub” but, the problems are twofold.

  • The Obama admin opened the door to compassionate release without grasping the full consequences of that action.
  • The U.K. government found a legalistic, back door, backhanded method to massively embarrass and humiliate the American government, flaunting the freedom of a man convicted of killing American citizens.

Not much to say about the people demanding an inquiry so that the convicted bomber can have his conviction expunged from his record because they think the trial was a conspiracy and railroading, except: man, you really can’t please anybody, can you.

Pride as a Thinker

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The reason I take lying with statistics so seriously is that it offends my pride as a thinker. To use facts – things that are, in isolation, wholly true – to deceive, misusing them to paint a deceptive picture of a larger situation, is to manipulate and render actual logic useless. By putting garbage in, one gets garbage out, even if the person making the conclusion is behaving perfectly logically… but is unaware of how irrelevant the raw material for the logic is to the actual question.

That such lies are used to promote public policy doubly offends me, for it is not simply a matter of insulting my intelligence, but wasting money that is badly needed where it will do actual good.

Statistics can tell us a great deal about the world, but they can be used to horribly deceive in two ways: a) not recognizing their limits, and b) willfully applying statistics to the wrong questions, ones they were never designed to answer.

If you want an argument treated with respect, you have to be honest and lay your cards on the table, and ensure that you are speaking in a manner that is consistent with the truth.

Note that if the persons concerned had simply argued that the economy is being stimulated by unemployment checks, I would have simply agreed and moved on. It is the argument that these checks are the best money for job creation available that is completely bonkers.

Economics, Lies, and Damned Statistics

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This post at Ezra Klein’s online space at the Washington Post is meant as a defense of Nancy Pelosi’s saying that extending unemployment benefits is the best job creation measure out there; that it is the most bang for the buck.

Specifically, it includes this graph.

Let me put this in small words.

THIS GRAPH REFERS TO GDP, AND GDP ALONE.

The part at the bottom says, “$ Change in GDP for Each $ Spent.”

When you mistake changes in GDP for the creation of jobs, there is no saving you. You are off the deep end, you are floating in a different dimension of reality. You are not remotely on the same planet as the rest of us in the real economy.

Unemployment is spent on rent or mortgage, utilities, and food. Of course it is spent and not saved. Is it spent on new cars? No. Is it spent on durable goods? No. How many jobs do you think unemployment check extensions are creating in the banking, utilities, and farm sectors?

Someone should teach these people that in a properly functioning economy, the same money “bounces around” as it is used by each party whose hands it enters to buy more goods from other participants in the economy. Money that is 100% spent, but goes straight back to the banking system, to the utilities, or to federally subsidized industrial sized farms, is far less “stimulative” and far less helpful to job creation and job growth than money that bounces around like a pinball.

It isn’t just a matter of how much of $1 thrown into the economy is spent. It’s what that dollar is spent on.

People who can’t grasp that have no hope of understanding how to help the economy. They will throw money at the problem in manners based on statistics that are, by definition, completely out of touch with job creation. GDP was never meant or designed to measure jobs.  I thought Democrats castigated Republicans under George Bush Sr. for worshiping GDP data in a jobless recovery. Maybe they did, and it doesn’t matter; they need to celebrate everything they can get, just like the Republicans tried to do back then.

The point is, mistaking a proportional rise in GDP for total gainful economic activity relevant to job creation is dumb, dumb, DUMB economics. It screams to me that there is something rotten in Washington, and everyone will suffer for it.

I have nothing against smart stimulus. This isn’t it.

My Writing About Zen

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The best summary of what I’ve written about Zen is at Zen: Life Made Simple at the hyperlink. You can also find the Zen for an Uncluttered Life feature at Technorati. For this and other commentary, you can visit the Learn Out Live Blog also.

The idea behind all this is to promote Education for Better Living, the idea that the more we know, and the less tangled what we know happens to be, the better off our lives will be, both in terms of bounty and enjoyment.

Having said this, I am in no way a formal teacher (or even student) of Zen; good luck finding a Zen center in rural Nova Scotia. My years of living in a small-time place have helped concentrate my mind on issues of simplification and mental clarity, and I like sharing that with the world, but this is the pursuit of the Zen idea, not Zen the religion. Then again, I firmly maintain that Zen was never something that belonged to monks alone. If it had, it would never have been part of the background of Japanese society.