Friday, February 24, 2012

Right Wing Think Tanks, Tobacco, and Global Warming

A video below explaing how it's all part of the same old bag of tricks. HT to Peter Sinclair.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Machinery of Freedom: Starvation

To the right is an image of a Haitian mud pie, a now staple of the diet in Haiti under normal conditions, not just earthquake conditions.

David Friedman writes:
I know of only one occasion in modern peacetime history when large numbers of people starved although food was available. It occurred under an economic system in which the decision of who needed food was made by the government. Joseph Stalin decided how much food was needed by the inhabitants of the Ukraine. What they did not 'need' was seized by the Soviet government and shipped elsewhere. During the years 1932 and 1933, some millions of Ukrainians died of starvation. During each of those years, according to Soviet figures, the Soviet Union exported about 1.8 million tons of grain. If we accept a high figure for the number who starved—say, eight million—that grain would have provided about two thousand calories a day to each of them.
Haiti in the past produced enough food for their own population, but now their food producing capacity has been undermined. Leftist governments were deposed in favor of right wing governments that favored free trade with the US. Meaning the importation of subsidized US agricultural products. This has decimated Haitian food production.

In Tanzania children fight over what little rice is available while cargo plane after cargo plane is loaded with fish taken from Lake Victoria and shipped to Europe where it can fetch an impressive price. It's more profitable to serve it in upscale European restaurants than to feed starving Africans. On capitalism the goal is profit, not fulfillment of need, so this is our expectation. India is a net exporter of food while 350 million go hungry. Brazil and other places are likewise net exporters of food while millions go without.

This does not change what Stalin did. But we must be clear about what the argument is. Friedman sounds like he's objecting to socialism. He's quoting Orwell and Marx. Is his criticism of socialism or is it of state capitalism, which is what Stalin represents? And if it's state capitalism, who are the advocates of that view?

It grates the socialist when he hears the implication that the Soviet Union represented socialism. What is socialism? Worker control of industry. How much worker control existed in the Soviet Union? About zero. This is why people like Noam Chomsky railed against the Soviet Union when it existed. This is why his books were banned by the Soviets. Chomsky has only been barred from entering countries to give lectures twice. Once was recently when he was barred by Israeli security from entering the West Bank to deliver a lecture. The only other time was when he was barred from entering Soviet controlled Czechoslovakia. He was hated by the Soviets, and with good reason. He objects to their economic arrangement since he advocates worker control of industry, not state control.

But doesn't the USSR acronym include socialism? Sure. And the R is for Republic. Was the Soviet Union a Republic? They applied the socialist label because of its positive connotations, just like they applied the Republic label. But the USSR represented neither.

Machinery of Freedom: Predictions of Marx

Here is David Friedman writing in 1973.
Much of the opposition to institutions of private property comes from popular beliefs about the effects such institutions have had in the past, beliefs largely unsupported by historical evidence. Marx was scientist enough to make predictions about the future that could be proved or disproved. Unfortunately, Marxists continue to believe his theory long after his predictions have been proved false. One of Marx's predictions was that the rich would get richer and the poor, poorer, with the middle class gradually being wiped out and the laboring class becoming impoverished. In historical capitalist societies the trend has been almost the exact reverse.

Friedman goes on to offer the (at the time) left wing explanation for the success of capitalism in the US:
Many modern liberals argue that Marx's predictions were accurate enough for laissez-faire capitalism, but that such liberal institutions as strong labor unions, minimum wage laws, and progressive income taxes prevented them from being realized.

Of course Friedman rejects that explanation, but since he wrote this labor unions have been severely weakened, minimum wage is now the lowest (in real terms) that it has been in half a century, and the tax code has become much less progressive. These are all shifts to a more laissez-faire capitalism. Seems to me that Marx' predictions were accurate.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Machinery of Freedom: Private Property

David Friedman, son of Milton Friedman, has a free book online, available here, that's been highly recommended to me by HP. It's called The Machinery of Freedom. There's also audio apparently (here). I think I will check it out and record my thoughts at my blog here.

I did read the first chapter. It's called "In Defense of Property". Friedman writes that "property is a central economic institution of any society, and private property is the central institution of a free society".

As someone with more leftist inclinations of course that strikes me as implausible. Or perhaps it is based on a definition of freedom that I don't share. Let's think about what this means.

Suppose I own lots of land and you have none. You have nowhere to sleep so you set up a tent in one of my fields. Maybe you eat from an apple tree I own where the fruit would otherwise fall to the ground and rot.

Freedom means I can, by force, evict you from my land. Land that is vast enough that I wouldn't even see you if I didn't go looking for you. You can maybe argue that a society set up to allow me to evict you from my land somehow produces better overall outcomes for the majority of people. You could argue that there isn't a better alternative. But is it freedom?

Suppose I invent a hammer. I fashion one from metal and wood. I spend a day making products out of it and at the end of the day I go to sleep. You see my hammer and think you'd like to give it a try. No. Freedom means you are not allowed to use my hammer while I sleep. It's mine. Further, if we want to pursue policies advocated by staunch defenders of intellectual property, you can't fashion one of your own and use it. I'll let you use it, but only let you keep a portion of what you produce and the rest belongs to me. Don't like that bargain? That's fine. I'll find someone else that will take it. It won't be long before I don't actually have to work. I live off the surplus labor of others. Is this freedom?

I think defenders of property rights play off of a misconception (illustrated above). When you hear Ron Paul say property rights are sacrosanct you think to yourself that you own your toothbrush and car, so it's wrong to have someone take them from you. But that's not really what he means. Everyone, including a socialist, says you should keep your toothbrush. The argument is not about that. It's about who controls the means of production. Should workers control it? Or should investors control it? Ron Paul thinks investors should control it, not workers. The socialist thinks the reverse.

Friedman in this chapter doesn't really explain why my right to evict or my right to prevent you from using my hammer makes us free. Instead he talks about problems associated with government control as contrasted to private control. Ironically he uses media as an example. Now, keep in mind that Friedman wrote this around 1973. He says look at the diversity we see in print media vs the limited views that are present in broadcast media. You can find anything in print, but in broadcast media the FCC stops the offensive and otherwise holds back diversity.

So why shouldn't we just auction off the various broadcast frequencies to private enterprise? Would we expect then that these frequencies would become the domain of only the rich, which they would use for propagandistic purposes? No. Too costly.

What we've seen since Friedman wrote this is an extension of corporate power in media and reduction in public control. Broadcast media are now almost completely under the control of extremely rich people. And contrary to Friedman's claims about print media, the same is true in that domain. All major media are now under the control of just a few corporations. Much fewer than it was 40 years ago when Friedman wrote this. And what is the result? Our media today is absolutely dominated by the profit seeking interests of these companies and the information they share reflects that interest.

There was only one nation of peoples that literally feared Saddam Hussein in 2003. And that nation is probably the most secure nation in the world, with a military budget that was about equal to that of the rest of the world combined. Hussein on the other hand had been wiped out by the Iran/Iraq war, then the Persian Gulf War, and finally a dozen years of some of the harshest sanctions ever imposed in modern times. He was one of the most feeble threats you could find. However the media, owned by such defense contractors as GE and Westinghouse, managed to drive the population into a state of fear that led to war. War that was extremely profitable for them. Fabricated evidence was passed of as genuine. Obvious questions were downplayed.

Of course this continues today. The media today push for war with Iran. In this case we're talking about a war that the government isn't really pushing for. The media seems to want it. Greenwald discusses this here, here, and here. Precisely what Friedman says would not happen has happened and is happening again before our eyes.

There's little here in Friedman's opening chapter by way of a defense that property rights enhance freedom. Perhaps it is explained in later parts of the book.

GA Cohen Against Capitalism

Milton Friedman created a 10 part television series called "Free to Choose" which you can watch starting here if you are interested. It's a defense of free market capitalism. It was interesting for me, but I like dry, reasoned debate. An even more dry program aired on the BBC in the 80's, which may have been partially intended as a response to Friedman's series. Worth watching if you are interested in this sort of thing. I think the second part is a little more interesting than the first.

Thanks to Pink Scare for the link.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Water Wars

An article on the effects of privatization of water services here.

Academy award nominated director Josh Fox was arrested for attempting to film a public Congressional hearing that addresses the EPA's 3 year long investigation into the effects of fracking on groundwater contamination in Wyoming. He was interviewed immediately after on Democracy Now. The DN interview also talks with a Wyoming resident now suffering the effects. Of course the industry denies fracking has anything to do with the problems. And yet they felt it necessary to pass through legislation in 2004 that exempts fracking from the Safe Water Drinking Act.

Finally a full film on the subject of water control here.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Your 2012 Election Choices

We have several extremist authoritarian right wingers and a non authoritarian right winger to choose from. Via political compass.

And it sucks to be me with these choices. Here's where I fall, closest to Ghandi apparently.

A Better Voting System

This video explains how winner take all politics tends naturally toward a two party system, and how third party campaigns actually harm the people that support that third party. This video explains an alternative voting system that would resolve this problem.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Great Dictator

An inspiring speech from Charlie Chaplin in his first talking movie role. It is critical of blind nationalism in the run up to WWII.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Fighting Cuba for 50 Years

Tuesday, February 7 marked the 50 year anniversary of the official start to the US embargo against Cuba. Just a few links related to Cuba to mark the occasion.

At this link I summarize some of the documented terror that Cuba has been subjected to over the past 50 years.

Why do Cubans flee the island if it's such a leftist paradise? Ultimately it's because the world's richest nation gives Cubans every incentive to flee by dangerous and illegal means. If they reach the shore they have an easy path to citizenship, which would be a tremendous incentive for residents of any other nation. Cuba constantly makes efforts to increase permissible legal migration for Cubans into the US, but these efforts are rejected. Some details here.

Senator Obama opposed the embargo against Cuba and said it should be lifted. President Obama has flip flopped. Now he will not lift the embargo unless Cuba makes various reforms.

In order to curb the violence perpetuated against Cubans by right wing militants in Miami five Cubans infiltrated the terrorist cells. Cuba invited the FBI to come to Havana where they handed the FBI files documenting the planned violence which was obtained by these five Cubans. The FBI thanked Cuban officials and returned to the US, where they arrested the five individuals that had infiltrated the terrorist cells. These individuals received a show trial and were imprisoned. One was since released. Some details here.

A new book by two US civil rights attorneys documents the CIA's role in the execution of Che Guevara. An interesting interview at Democracy Now here. Cuba does a lot of humanitarian work, especially sending medical help to impoverished areas. One person that received help was Che's executioner, Mario Teran. He was blind due to cataracts, but his sight was restored. His surgery would have been unlikely without the revolution Che was instrumental in bringing about.

Monday, February 6, 2012

22 Years In Prison for Feeding the Hungry

Not even joking. Iraqi American Rafil Dhafir has been re sentenced to 22 years partly for sending food and medicine to Iraq during the sanctions period. Sanctions led to the starvation and death of hundreds of thousands of children, but Madeleine Albright thought it was worth it. The real criminals are not the ones that starved hundreds of thousands of children. It's those that dared to send food to them. Some details here.

Seems Michael Moore did pretty much the same thing. A very brave thing to do, though this doctor was even more brave. Not being a celebrity he's at more risk.

Fox News

Except it's not just Fox News, but still a good point.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Pee Into This Cup

Degradation is good medicine for the poor. Welfare queens are living high on the hog. If they're going to be taking taxpayer money from Floridians in the form of public assistance the least they can do is take a drug test so we know they aren't using that money to get high. A Florida congressman is baffled that anyone would refuse. Who would refuse to take this test and see his family suffer?

The Daily Show agrees. And the governor is taking hundreds of thousands in taxpayer money, as is this baffled congressmen. You'd think they likewise would be more than happy to submit to a drug test. Wouldn't they? Watch to find out.