Police officers do a lot of their work based on instinct. When they encounter a person, they have to very quickly make an estimation of whether the person warrants further attention as a potential criminal, and, more importantly, whether the person presents a threat to the officer.
If a cop has been working for decades, they have encountered thousands of people, and developed instincts about which ones, based on their appearance, stance, manner of expressing themselves, and facial expression, are likely to be a problem. Cops don’t have time to fill out a written checklist, assign points to certain traits, and add up an impartial, objective score. They must use their instincts to size someone up in seconds.
And it is not humanly possible, the way American society is today, for someone’s instincts to be race-blind. The law even provides much harsher penalties, under some circumstances, for crimes against a different race than for crimes against one’s own. We have deliberately made our country into a place where being race-blind is a very dangerous proposition. And for a cop, dealing with the subject of crime — there are huge differences in crime rates between different races. To ask a cop to somehow develop instincts that are race-blind in a context where they observe radically different crime rates for different races is not reasonable. And it’s not reasonable to expect a cop to ignore their instincts.
- Perpetrators of Violent Crime by Race (In cases where the race of the perpetrators is known, White and Black only): White: 66%, Black: 34% (source: US Department of Justice)
- Population by Race (White and Black only): White: 85.2%, Black: 14.8% (source: Wikipedia)
- Score in Proportion to Likelihood of One Person Being a Perpetrator, by Race: White: 66/85.2 = 0.77, Black: 34/14.8 = 2.31
So a black person that a cop encounters on the street is 3 times more likely than a white person to be a violent perpetrator. Is it realistic to expect a cop to work for years and not notice that? Even subconsciously?
Do I believe the Black Lives Matter protestors when they claim that cops are treating blacks worse than whites? Absolutely. It makes perfect sense. What can we do about it? I’m not sure.
Public debate in the US is highly polarized, with two camps, conservative and liberal, who increasingly dislike even engaging with each other in debate.
The two camps have different rules about free speech. Conservatives:
- Have a low tolerance for profanity.
- Feel that there are some “sacred” symbols, such as the flag and religious symbols, that should not be “desecrated”, and
- Are uncomfortable with the explicit discussion of sex.
Banning profanity is not too onerous a limitation on free speech, it is generally possible to express any important idea without using profanity. Desecration of “sacred” symbols, similarly, is usually a childish way to get your point across, and is not really a necessary means to express important ideas. The limitation on the discussion of sex is the most harmful of these limitations, as it manifests itself in “abstinence education”, rather than proper sex education, in many red states, which is widely observed to result in higher rates of teen pregnancy and STD’s in those states.
Conservatives believe strongly in inalienable individual rights, sometimes taken to extremes. This assumption pervades their whole ideology, in both speech and economics. What is permissible for one person is permissible for any other.
Some liberals believe strongly in free speech. Most liberals have no problem with profanity, the desecration of symbols, or the explicit discussion of sex.
But there is a very influential faction within the liberal camp, the Social Justice Warriors. The SJW’s don’t believe that individuals have rights, only groups have rights. Something permissible for a person in one group may be taboo for someone in another group. And speech rights, especially when discussing groups, are totally dependent upon group membership.
In the extreme SJW world view, groups exist on a continuum ranging from “victim” groups to “privileged” groups. In any conflict between two individuals, regardless of what actually transpired, the person whose group membership is more toward the “victim” end of the scale is automatically right, and the member of the more “privileged” group is automatically wrong. This means that members of extreme “privileged” classes have no rights, and members of extreme “victim” classes are completely above criticism.
While the SJW world view is more prevalent in American society than it ever has been, the shadow of it has existed in American society for a long time. After the Nazi holocaust, Jews were considered so far toward the “victim” end of the scale that they were above criticism in polite society for over half a century. This was exacerbated by the fact that the Palestinians were spectacularly inept at making their case to the American public.
Observe this exchange: Prof Norman Finkelstein is comparing Israel’s wrongs against the Palestinians to Nazi Germany, which is preposterous. If the Israeli government were 10% as bad as Nazi Germany, every Arab in Palestine would have been killed or driven out decades ago to make room for Jewish settlements. The girl in the video is not making the point that what he is saying is absurd, but is rather making the point the he has no right to criticize Israel, because Jews have so many “victim points”. His response, similarly, is not so much to address the merits of what he is saying, but to point out that his parents were Nazi holocaust survivors, and therefore he (who as an individual has probably never met a Nazi in his life) has, through group membership, enough “victim points” to have the right to speak.
Probably 0.3% of the American population is descended from survivors of the Nazi holocaust. Would it be a good thing if the other 99.7% of the country were not permitted, in polite company, to criticize Israel?
Last year, the Israeli government and its American lobby threw their full weight into derailing the nuclear deal with Iran. We had 3 options with Iran’s nuclear ambitions:
- Do nothing and let them get the bomb.
- Go to war with Iran to destroy their nuclear facilities (which are buried underground so they can’t be taken out by air strikes) and either effect regime change or go back every few years to prevent them from rebuilding their nuclear capabilities after we’ve destroyed them, or
- Make a nuclear treaty with them.
The Israeli government is against option 3. It’s a safe bet they are against option 1. So basically, this means the Israeli government and its American lobby are using all their formidable influence on the US to try to make us go to war with Iran. In the meantime, any American politician, like former defense secretary Chuck Hagel, who dares to even mention the existence of the Jewish lobby is seriously risking their career.
The war we waged against Iraq was more than we could handle. Iran has twice the population of Iraq, and twice the GDP. Iraq was flat, easy fighting for us. Iran is mountainous, good terrain for an insurgency. Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who hadn’t held a multi-candidate election for many years, and was despised by everybody in his country except for the Sunni Arab minority. The Iranian government has semi-democratic elections every few years, and as a result enjoys much more legitimacy and popular support than Saddam Hussein did, and as a result, the Iranians will resent and resist any new regime we impose upon them much more vigorously than the Iraqis fought against the government we imposed there.
Our invasion of the brutal Iraqi dictatorship was disastrous for America’s reputation, credibility, and prestige worldwide. What reason is there to believe that invading a much more legitimate, semi-democratic state would be better received by the global audience?
Going to war with Iran would be extremely difficult, not to mention probably catastrophic, and all Americans should be free to express their opinions on whether it’s a good idea, and free to criticize anyone who advocates for it, regardless of how many “victim” points they do or do not have.
Even if the social justice movement continues to wield so much influence, the days of Israel’s exemption from criticism in polite American society are clearly numbered. There are many Muslim students on college campuses who, while subscribing the the SJW viewpoint, feel that they have more “victim” points than Jews, and many other SJW’s agree with them. I don’t entirely follow the logic, but I never found the SJW’s to be outstanding pillars of rationality to begin with. And this year we had Bernie Sanders, a major presidential candidate, express an opinion of Israel other than unconditional support, without it meaning the end of his campaign. It was the first time I’ve seen that happen since I was old enough to read the news, a Gentile candidate never could have gotten away with it, and to my knowledge the taboo phrase “Jewish lobby” never escaped his lips, but it is probably a harbinger of what’s to come.
My position is that the whole Social Justice Warrior world view is entirely bogus. People should have the inalienable right to free speech regardless of how “privileged” they are, and statements should be evaluated on their merit, absolutely without regard to the group membership of who is making them, or the “victim” status of those being discussed. The marketplace of ideas can hardly be expected to reach accurate conclusions with so many limitations on who is allowed to say what.
Steven Pinker, a Harvard psychologist, has a written a book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature”, which documents how humans, over the centuries and millennia, have become steadily less violent, and the famous skeptic Michael Shermer has written another book, “The Moral Arc”, with largely the same theme.
And generally, if we look back in time, we observe that peoples’ values became steadily more like our own. Some of us call this “progress”.
But many people go on to the next step, and assume they can predict the future. They describe those with whom they disagree as “on the wrong side of history”, as though the speaker had inside knowledge as to which way things were going to go.
Let’s see how people in the past would see the present:
- In the US, church attendance currently varies from about 25% to about 45%, depending upon the state, and in most of Europe, it’s lower still. Many people are openly atheist. If you told people 200 years ago that that was how things would turn out, they would have been absolutely horrified.
- 60 years ago, over 90% of Americans believed that it was morally wrong for people who were engaged but not yet married to sleep together. Now, few people wait for marriage before having sex. And the consequences of this are pretty ugly — 25% of American adults have genital herpes, and 40% of babies in this country are born out of wedlock (which is probably related to the fact that a fifth of American children are raised in poverty). Are you sure that people from the past would see this as “progress”, rather than moral decay?
- If you went back 300 years, and told a European that in the year 2000, there wouldn’t be a monarch in the continent who wielded any real power, and that in most countries, the head of state was usually spoken of with outright contempt by at least 30% of the population at any given time, they would find the prospect extremely disturbing.
- If you told people 200 years ago that homosexuals would be legally allowed to marry, that New York City law would impose a fine of a several years’ wages on anyone who wilfully and maliciously referred to a transvestite by a gender pronoun other than that which the person preferred, and that, in some states, bakeries that refused to bake cakes for gay weddings would be heavily fined, they would not see it as “progress”, but rather as wanton depravity and confusion.
- 100 years ago, only the poorest wives had jobs. If you told people then that in the 21st century most wives, not just the poorest ones, worked, even if they had very young children, and that as a result many if not most mothers had tremendous difficulty finding enough time to spend with their kids, would they see this development as an anything but a deterioration of the quality of life?
- Around 1970, there was a tremendous consensus on college campuses that capitalism was on the way out. Many felt the economic model of the Warsaw Pact was preferable to that of the West. Most people didn’t have the slightest grasp of micro-economic theory. In 1979, when there was a revolution in Iran, causing a shortage of oil, gasoline prices were tightly regulated by the government, resulting in very long lines and sometimes fuel being unavailable at any price. Any suggestion that the government allow gasoline prices to rise to reflect scarcity and encourage conservation was considered unacceptable because of the impact on the poor. Anyone who declared themselves “pro free market” was definitely considered “on the wrong side of history”. If you went back forty years and told those liberals that the Warsaw Pact had abandoned socialism and that most of the American Democratic Party had, for several decades at least, embraced free market economics, they would have disbelieved it as a thought too horrible to contemplate.
So if we look at the present through the eyes of the past, we find that the future has been profoundly unacceptable. How can we be so sure that the future ahead of us will not be equally unacceptable when viewed in terms of our current values and biases? My feeling is that it probably will be.
In 1989 the Berlin Wall fell, and soon after pretty much all of the Warsaw Pact decided that they were going to be capitalist and democratic. It seemed like a miracle.
I felt there were bound to be some growing pains involved in the transition, and it was very much in the self-interest of the US for their experiment with freedom to be a successful one. To that end, I felt that we should send massive aid to the countries of the former Warsaw Pact.
The US government was giving $1-2 billion a year, which I felt was just a drop in the bucket, totally insufficient. In 1995 I had personally had a lucrative year and decided to donate some money of my own to that end.
So I decided to donate over 5% of my job income, several thousand dollars.
I had the money, I felt giving it would be easy, just a matter of finding the nearest appropriate do-gooder and giving them the dough. I found a local Russian Orthodox church in my yellow pages and called them up, asking if they knew of any organizations giving aid to Russia. They said they’d call around. They got back to me with contact information for a Russian Orthodox organization in San Francisco, 45 miles from where I lived.
I wrote out the check and mailed it to them.
They invited me to their annual banquet. They were interested in finding out who this person was, with a non-Russian name, willing to give so much to their cause. When they met me, they were really surprised that I, not having a drop of Russian blood in my veins, and being an atheist to boot, would give so much.
I learned that this organization was involved in 2 activities:
- Sending care packages consisting of foodstuffs to poor people in Moscow.
- Providing aid to recently arrived Russian immigrants in San Francisco.
Neither of these things were really achieving what I had in mind. I suppose it’s good to help the poor, but I really wanted to help industries get going, help the Russian economy overall, which would be good for everybody in the country, including the poor. And I didn’t want my money spent on people who had left Russia, I wanted to help the people who were still there.
Another thing is, I am not Russian Orthodox. I am an atheist. And the organization was clearly mixing a religious pitch in with their charity. The poor people who received the care packages were sending letters talking about how they were “thanking God” for the help, something that was certainly not on my agenda.
And then there was the newsletter I was sent, which had an offhand remark about how, “unsurprisingly”, most of the donations came from religious people.
At the banquet, a woman sitting next to me told me I was lucky to have found their church. There was another Russian Orthodox church across town that was trying to reinstate the Russian monarchy.
Later, I managed to look up where the $1-2 billion the US government was giving was targeted. It was going to key industries, exactly the sort of recipients I had in mind.
Getting rid of money is easy. But if you really want to make a difference in the world, it is necessary to do careful research first.
February 16, 2016 A Message to Our Customers
The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers. We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.
This moment calls for public discussion, and we want our customers and people around the country to understand what is at stake.
The Need for Encryption
Smartphones, led by iPhone, have become an essential part of our lives. People use them to store an incredible amount of personal information, from our private conversations to our photos, our music, our notes, our calendars and contacts, our financial information and health data, even where we have been and where we are going.
All that information needs to be protected from hackers and criminals who want to access it, steal it, and use it without our knowledge or permission. Customers expect Apple and other technology companies to do everything in our power to protect their personal information, and at Apple we are deeply committed to safeguarding their data.
Compromising the security of our personal information can ultimately put our personal safety at risk. That is why encryption has become so important to all of us.
For many years, we have used encryption to protect our customers’ personal data because we believe it’s the only way to keep their information safe. We have even put that data out of our own reach, because we believe the contents of your iPhone are none of our business.
The San Bernardino Case
We were shocked and outraged by the deadly act of terrorism in San Bernardino last December. We mourn the loss of life and want justice for all those whose lives were affected. The FBI asked us for help in the days following the attack, and we have worked hard to support the government’s efforts to solve this horrible crime. We have no sympathy for terrorists.
When the FBI has requested data that’s in our possession, we have provided it. Apple complies with valid subpoenas and search warrants, as we have in the San Bernardino case. We have also made Apple engineers available to advise the FBI, and we’ve offered our best ideas on a number of investigative options at their disposal.
We have great respect for the professionals at the FBI, and we believe their intentions are good. Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them. But now the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.
Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation. In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.
The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.
The Threat to Data Security
Some would argue that building a backdoor for just one iPhone is a simple, clean-cut solution. But it ignores both the basics of digital security and the significance of what the government is demanding in this case.
In today’s digital world, the “key” to an encrypted system is a piece of information that unlocks the data, and it is only as secure as the protections around it. Once the information is known, or a way to bypass the code is revealed, the encryption can be defeated by anyone with that knowledge.
The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.
The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals. The same engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those protections and make our users less safe.
We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack. For years, cryptologists and national security experts have been warning against weakening encryption. Doing so would hurt only the well-meaning and law-abiding citizens who rely on companies like Apple to protect their data. Criminals and bad actors will still encrypt, using tools that are readily available to them.
A Dangerous Precedent
Rather than asking for legislative action through Congress, the FBI is proposing an unprecedented use of the All Writs Act of 1789 to justify an expansion of its authority.
The government would have us remove security features and add new capabilities to the operating system, allowing a passcode to be input electronically. This would make it easier to unlock an iPhone by “brute force,” trying thousands or millions of combinations with the speed of a modern computer.
The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data. The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.
Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government.
We are challenging the FBI’s demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country. We believe it would be in the best interest of everyone to step back and consider the implications.
While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products. And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.
August 2007: Countrywide Financial, one of the least responsible lenders in the country, runs into financial trouble and is rescued by being acquired by Bank of America, which was completed in January 2008. This move was very unfortunate for Bank of America.
November 2007: Charles Prince, CEO of Citigroup, resigns in disgrace after very poor performance of Citi due to excessive exposure to poorly performing subprime loans. He is replaced by Vikram Pandit.
March 2008: Bear Stearns fails and is rescued by JP Morgan Chase with help from the government.
Sept 14, 2008: Merrill Lynch, an investment bank failing due to excessive exposure to subprime loans, agrees to be acquired by Bank of America, a transaction which was completed in January 2009.
Sept 2008: Lehman Brothers is on the verge of bankruptcy. Over the preceding months, several other banks had considered rescuing / acquiring it, but all backed after a closer look, seeing just how bad Lehman’s assets were. The Fed and Treasury try desperately to save it, but they don’t have the legal authority to outright bail it out, and on Sept 15, 2008, Lehman declares bankruptcy.
Late September 2008: After the failure of Lehman, financial panic freezes credit markets. Hank Paulson (Secretary of the Treasury) and Ben Bernanke (Fed Chairman) approach congress asking for permission to use $700-800 billion to bail out the banks. The first question they were asked is “Can’t this wait until after the election?” (the election was scheduled for the beginning of November). Bernanke stresses that credit markets are frozen, banks aren’t lending to each other, let alone anybody else, and normal companies cannot get the routine loans they need to stay in business.
September 29 2008: The House of Representatives rejects the bailout; stock markets crash.
Oct 1, 2008: The Senate passes an amended bailout proposal and the House passes it too on October 3. President Bush immediately signs it into law.
An important feature of the bailouts is that all banks have to be bailed out, whether they need it or not, and whether their management wants it or not. Otherwise those banks that get bailed out could be stigmatized and experience runs. Banks that refuse to take the money are threatened by the government with dire regulatory harassment unless they relent, so that all the banks eventually agree to take the money.
The banks are prohibited from paying back the bailout money until the government gives them permission, and they are prohibited from issuing their employees large bonuses until they pay back the bailout money. Somehow AIG (not a bank) finds a loophole in this and issues large bonuses in spite of still owing a very large amount of TARP money.
In January of 2009, Vikram Pandit, the new CEO of Citi, announces that he will take $1 / year in total compensation until Citi is profitable again. Citi is in extremely bad shape at that time, which was not Pandit’s doing.
In the spring of 2009, the government conducts accounting “stress tests” to see if the banks can weather another storm. Those who pass the stress tests are to be permitted to pay back the bailout money, which most of the big banks do in early June 2009. Citigroup is still in bad shape, and Bank of America also is not fit to repay, mostly due to its unfortunate acquisition of other, far less healthy, banks. Many small banks are struggling and will remain unable to repay the bailout money for years, even until 2016.
The repayment of the TARP money by most of the big banks in June of 2009 gets almost no media attention, being probably the most under covered event of the 21st century.
Later in 2009, the banks that had repaid their TARP money issue bonuses to their employees. It should be noted that under normal conditions, a banker’s bonus is a large part of their routine pay, so not issuing bonuses would be effectively a large pay cut. The public, believing that the TARP money has not been repaid and not understanding the normal nature of bankers’ pay, is enraged.
In September of 2009, “Capitalism: A Love Story”, a Michael Moore movie about the financial crisis, hits the theaters. In it, Michael Moore makes a big act of driving an armored truck around Manhattan to all the big banks demanding that they repay the TARP money. Bankers, knowing that anything intelligent that they say to him will wind up on the cutting room floor, refuse to interview him, and he never gets past the security guards. Whether we should believe that nobody ever told Moore that those banks had already repaid the money is left to the reader.
2011: Ron Paul and Bernie Sanders (a strange pair of bedfellows if ever I saw one) get legislation through congress dictating that the Fed is to be audited. The audit reveals that many short-term secret loans were made by the Fed during the crisis. In early 2009, these loans totaled $1.2 trillion, which was the peak outstanding. This was almost entirely paid back by January of 2010.
Bernie Sanders, on his website, to this date, claims that his Fed audit revealed that $16 trillion in secret loans had happened and makes it sound like none of it has been paid back. To turn $1.2 trillion into $16 trillion, some accounting tricks are done. If I borrow $100 from you Thursday to be paid back in a week, and the next Thursday take out another $100, one-week loan to finance paying the first back, and then repeat the process every week for a year at which point I pay it off, Bernie Sanders’ accounting would call that 52 * $100 == $5200 in loans. But it’s paid back at the end of the year, and it was never more than $100. It was effectively a $100 loan for one year.
Above: the total outstanding debt of the allegedly $16 trillion (actual peak of $1.2 trillion) in loans exposed by the Fed audit.
Most news sources, like Sanders, report the loans as $16 trillion, and insinuate that none of it has been repaid.
2016: All the big banks and AIG have repaid their TARP money long ago. Some small banks still have yet to pay back. GM and Chrysler still owe bailout money.
The movie, I felt, was very different from the book, especially the last few minutes of the movie. While the book stressed stupidity and insanity, the movie stressed criminality.
First, prior to the movie, there was some discussion of whether there have been any nationwide crashes in real estate prices since the depression. I remembered looking at the nationwide Case-Schiller index of home prices, and prior to 2006, we do not see a decrease:
Unfortunately, the Case-Shiller index only goes as far back as 1987, so we don’t have any data prior to that. The smoothness of the curve, however, is remarkable. It is easy to see how people as late as 2005 an observer could think that the trend was a very reliable up, up, up.
I don’t think there had been a nationwide drop in real estate prices since the great depression, there had been drops within local markets when local industries got into trouble. This is why taking a bunch of A and AA bonds from different localities, and bundling them together into a CDO could lead to the CDO legitimately having a better rating than the individual bonds it contained. A diverse portfolio is less risky than a concentrated portfolio. The movie basically says this is fraudulent, like using old fish to make a stew so the customers won’t notice that it’s not fresh. I think the movie was wrong.
At one point, someone sells something for more than it was worth, and someone in the movie said something to the effect that that was criminal. No, it’s not criminal to sell something for more than it’s worth if you don’t lie in the process. There’s no law against charging whatever the market will bear.
The movie said that the banks were bailed out and used the bailout money to pay big bonuses. That’s true of AIG, but not of most of the banks. Most of the banks paid their bailout money back to the government, with a profit, as soon as they were permitted to, in June of 2009. One bank that didn’t (because they were in worse shape than the other banks) was Citi, whose CEO, Vikram Pandit, took $1 a year in total compensation until the organization resumed profitability. This is especially interesting as it was Pandit’s predecessor, not Pandit himself, who made a mess of things at Citi. AIG did eventually pack back the bailout money.
The repayment of the bailout money was one of the events least-covered by the media, relative to its importance, of the 21st century. Most Americans just think the banks kept the money and that was the end of it.
Near the end of the movie, someone says the bankers knew they would be bailed out. I don’t recall that from the book, and it’s inconsistent with most of the movie, which shows the bankers not being aware that a crisis was looming at all.
Many people feel the banks did not suffer at all due to the meltdown. That’s not accurate, the shareholders of the badly-managed banks lost most of their investment. Note that a lot of the management of the banks get paid in stock options, so they lost a lot too. Here are some plots of stock prices of the various financial organizations: Bailout Statistics