Sunday, January 31, 2016

Elections Are Not “Games”

           Metaphors from games or sports can often be appropriate, but the increasing careless use of metaphors about games, especially in inappropriate situations, is degrading our already-degraded public discourse ever further. 

            Metaphors about games have been used in public discourse, including by political candidates, elective officials, the media and other political commentators, with increasing frequency, especially in regard to political campaigns for election to public office.  They are even being used more generally in other particularly inappropriate situations, such as in regard to a person’s terminal illness, which has been described as the “end game.”  The term “game-changer” is coming into ever-more frequent popular use, even in regard to crises, wars, or diseases, but especially in regard to political campaigns and politics itself.  “Game-plan” and “ground game” are other terms associated more often than before with political campaigns. 

            Elections are not games.  They are more than the result of competitive marketing campaigns in competition against each other as if for sport, but the decision after public debate among the electorate between candidates for public office who will best serve in the public trust.  Indeed, no one “wins” or “loses” elections.  One is either “elected” or not. 

           An elevation of public discourse, such as would be achieved by reserving game metaphors only to appropriate situations, would better serve to remind people of the seriousness of the democratic process and might even help to some degree to improve political campaigns themselves by beginning to restore a sense of their true purpose.

More Media Errors on the Margin of Error of Polls

           I had posted in September of 2012 in my post The Media’s Error on the Margin of Error of Polls,, about how most of the media and many other political observers often mislead the public by interpreting the margin of error of public opinion polls to refer only to the spread between the percentages for responses to poll questions, instead of as a figure that applies to the percentages for each response. 

            As a result of this erroneous premise, the media and others are making even more conclusions that are not scientifically proven.  To compound their errors, they are drawing conclusions that ignore even their own erroneously-inadequate understanding.  I have identified three examples that have especially arisen lately.

            The first error is the suggestion that increases or decreases of percentages for responses to polling questions from one poll to a subsequent poll for responses that are less than the amount of the margin of error necessarily represent increases or decreases in support for that particular response.  As the percentage of each response represents a span that is plus or minus the margin of error, any change above or below this figure that is less than the margin of error thus remains within that span, which means the difference from one poll to a subsequent one does not necessarily represent any statistically-significant change.  For example, if a response in one poll registers 50% and the margin of error is plus or minus 3%, then the accuracy of the response may be anywhere from 47% to 53%.  Therefore, it would be incorrect to describe the percentage of the response in a subsequent poll as having “increased” to 52% or “decreased” to 48%, as these figures were within the span of the response for the original poll and thus do not necessarily represent any upward or downward movement whatsoever.

            The second error is similar.  It is the description of an order of preferences of responses without regard to the margin of error.  The media is frequently reporting such orders, even when they fall between the margin of error, which is inconsistent with the media’s inadequate understanding that the margin of error applies to the spread between responses.  However, as I noted above, this understanding is only half right.  For example, if the percentage of one response to a poll question is 25%, another 15% and a third 13% and the margin of error is plus or minus 3%, then one may conclude that the response of 25% is the first in order of preference, but that the other two responses are statistically tied with each other, in contrast to the frequent media reporting that the response for 15% is second and 13% third in order of preference.  In this example, even the media’s only half-correct understanding of the margin of error ought to prevent it from concluding a definitive order of preference for statistical dead heats, but there are really more such statistical ties than it acknowledges.  For example, if the percentage of the first response is 25%, another 14%, a third 10% and a fourth 9% and the margin of error is plus or minus 3%, then all of the responses from 9-14% are within the margin of error, as they can range from 11-17%, 7-13% and 6-12%, respectively, which all overlap with each other and are thus all statistically tied. 

            The third error leads the media to make unfair judgments based upon percentages for responses less than the margin of error, such as excluding a candidate from participation in a debate who registered a preference in a poll of less than one percent (or less than one half of a percent, if such a response is rounded up to one percent).  No conclusions ought to be drawn for percentages for responses in any poll less than the poll’s margin of error.  For example, if the margin of error is plus or minus three percent, then a response of a preference for a candidate of one percent (or, one half of one percent, if rounded up) may really be as much as four percent (or four and a half percent, if rounded up).  Conversely, a candidate may register as much as 3% in a poll who may really be the preference of as few as 0% of those responding to the poll questions.  Therefore, a media policy intended to exclude any candidates who are preferred by less than one percent of those responding, rounded up, ought only to exclude those who are preferred by less than four and a half percent of responders.  It is disturbing that professional media outlets, political parties or even candidates can accept unscientific conclusions about any figure in a poll that is less than the margin of error.

            The professional media portrays itself as an authoritatively-accurate source of information, despite its notoriousness for bias, inaccuracy, and even grammatical, punctuation and pronunciation errors, while arrogantly dismissing rival media and especially non-professional journalists as inferior.  It offers its conclusions from polling data as if they are scientifically-proven to be certain and then blames the pollsters if the results do not match the professional media’s conclusions, even if the results were really in accord with the science of polling.  

           Knowing how to read polls and understanding their scientific accuracy is a useful skill, but understanding the many ways in which the professional media is wrong is even more useful.

Businesses Should Not Reward Iran for Nuclear Weapons Development

           The recent nuclear weapons deal concluded by the United States and other world powers with the Islamic Republic of Iran has rewarded the tyrannical Islamist regime for its nuclear weapons program.  The payoff in particular for Iran was the lifting of economic sanctions by the U.S. that had been imposed on the Iranian dictatorship because of its state sponsorship of terrorism.  Iran is the most active state sponsor of terrorism in the world.    

These specific sanctions for terrorism were separate from those that were imposed on Iran by the U.S. and other world powers specifically because of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear weapons program, which were also lifted.  Over $100 billion of Iranian assets that had been frozen because of its weapons program were also unfrozen.  Although the lifting of these particular sanctions and unfreezing of these assets will be beneficial to the Iranian dictatorship, at least they did not represent a reward for its nuclear weapons program because these measures had only been imposed because of the program.  A return to the status quo ante by ending the measures thus did not provide an advantage to Iran from what its situation had been prior to its nuclear weapons development. 

Engaging in any commerce with the Iranian regime would provide it with even more funds than it has received from the ending of the sanctions and unfreezing of its assets to continue to stay in power to oppress the Iranian people, foment Islamist revolution abroad by acts of violent jihad, which includes the targeted killing and injuring of American soldiers, and engage in terrorism.  These reasons are each sufficient alone to boycott trade with Iran in the first place, but engaging in those specific types of commerce that had been banned because of Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism would constitute a reward for the Islamic Republic’s development of its nuclear weapons program. 

Such a reward would encourage the development by other rogue regimes of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. 

It is up to businesses whether the nuclear weapons deal between Iran and the world powers will advantage the Iranian regime beyond the unfreezing of Iranian assets.  Businesses must especially not reward the Islamist dictatorship for its nuclear weapons development by engaging in commerce with those responsible for terrorism, with whom they should never trade in the first place.  Only if businesses do not engage in commerce with Iran that had been prohibited for the Iranian regime’s state sponsorship of terrorism, then Iran would fail to have been successful through the nuclear weapons deal in having extracted any meaningful concessions by threatening the world with the horror of nuclear destruction specifically in order to end the sanctions imposed because of its sponsorship of terrorism.  

The world would be both more peaceful and prosperous if it deters terrorism, violent Islamist revolution and nuclear proliferation by rogue regimes like Iran’s.    

Friday, January 22, 2016

The 2016 March for Life: Pro-Life and Pro-Woman Go Hand-in-Hand

           Despite an impending blizzard, tens of thousands of pro-lifers participated in the 43rd annual March for Life today in Washington, District of Columbia.  There are usually hundreds of thousands of attendees, as well as participants in various rallies throughout the American Union for the right to life, but the weather forced many to cancel their trips to the United States capital.

The event has been held on every anniversary of the infamous 1973 Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court Decision, which overturned the anti-abortion laws that nearly every state in the Union had, and the companion Doe v. Wade case that defined “health” so broadly as essentially to permit abortion on demand throughout the entire term of a pregnancy. 

This year’s theme was “Pro-life and pro-woman go hand-in-hand.”  The emphasis was on the physical, emotional and spiritual harm abortion does to those women who do not chose life for their unborn children, as well as how abortion is contrary to true feminism. 

Although there are still a million abortions performed in America, that number represents a significant decrease from the peak of 1.6 million and there has been a dramatic drop in the abortion rate.  Pro-life legislation, better pregnancy support, increased scientific knowledge, the revulsion over certain abortion practices and the efforts of pro-life activists have contributed to the more frequent choice for life.  These factors have also influenced public opinion, as polls suggest an increase of support for the right to life and for restrictions on most abortions and opposition to public funding of abortions.  The polls also suggest an increase in support for life among American youth, which is reflected in their high proportionate participation in the annual March for Life. 

May these efforts for the right to life continue to succeed until life is the choice every mother makes for every child and the March for Life will no longer be necessary.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Pennsylvania Completes the Elimination of Its Tax on Corporate Assets

           Pennsylvania’s onerous Capital Stock and Franchise Tax, a tax on the assets of all types of corporations based in or operating in the state, was finally eliminated by the first of this year, after a 15-year phase-out. 

Many small businesses incorporate in order to be limit liability from lawsuits only to corporate assets, yet limited liability companies were among the corporations subject to the Pennsylvania’s Capital Stock and Franchise Tax.  Even those incorporated businesses that were not profitable were liable for the tax on the value of their stock, based on their corporate net worth.  The Commonwealth had been one of only two states in the American Union that taxed both corporate profits, as well as assets.  The Keystone State’s corporate income tax rate is the second highest among the 50 States. 

The process to eliminate the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax began in 2000 under Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, a Republican, who signed a bill approved by the General Assembly to phase out the tax over the next several years.  The phase-out of the tax was delayed by successive Republican and Democratic Governors and state legislatures until it was finally completed under legislation approved by the GOP-majority Assembly and Governor Tom Corbett, also a Republican. 

Liberal Pennsylvania Democratic Governor Tom Wolf recently announced the completion of the phase-out of the tax in a statement that gave the impression that he was responsible for the completion of its elimination, which had been scheduled under the law; he simply did not propose to delay the phase-out further, a proposal the legislature would likely have opposed.  The former businessman observed how burdensome the corporate assets tax was to businesses, as the tax on capital was a disincentive for them to increase growth and hiring, for which the accumulation of capital is usually a prerequisite. 

Corporations are still liable to pay the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax for tax year 2015.  

Although the delays of the phasing out of the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax cost Pennsylvania’s businesses billions of dollars, thereby harming the economy unnecessarily and thus reducing state tax revenue, it is hoped that the elimination of the tax will encourage businesses to continue to operate in the Keystone State or to expand there.  Pennsylvania would be even more attractive to businesses if it lowered its corporate income tax to a more average level.  

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The New York National Park Quarter Dollar Commemorates the Battle of Saratoga

           Towards the end of 2015, the United States Mint issued the latest state Quarter Dollar in its National Park series.  New York’s National Park Quarter is particularly noteworthy. 

As one would expect, most national parks featured on the quarters in this series are ones that have been designated for their natural beauty or significance, but a few, such as Pennsylvania’s Gettysburg National Military Park, are preserved for their historical significance.  The Empire State’s National Park Quarter is an example of the latter.

The reverse of New York’s National Park Quarter features the Saratoga National Historic Park.  The park is the site of the main action of the Battle of Saratoga, which was the largest battle of the War of American Independence and the turning point of the Revolution.  The American victory at Saratoga induced the French to recognize the independence of the Thirteen American States and to make an alliance with them and declare war on the United Kingdom.  French assistance to the Americans was critical for them to win the Revolutionary War.   

The words “New York” and “Saratoga” on the quarter’s reverse indicate the state and park, respectively, but instead of a scene from the battlefield as it appears today, the device commemorates the outcome of the battle.  It features the arm of a fancily-attired British officer handing over his saber to a more plainly-clad American Continental soldier, which underscores the seemingly-improbably outcome of the war in which the unorganized and inexperienced Americans defeated the most professional and powerful armed forces in the world.  Underneath the device is the legend “British Surrender 1777.”  

It is hoped that the Mint’s National Park Quarter Dollar series will lead more Americans to visit these national parks and to conserve them and to learn more about them and, especially, about American history.