Friday, January 22, 2010

How To Dissappoint a Creationist

The cover looked promising. The article though would be a let down.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

More Thoughts on Free Markets

It goes without saying that it's important to try and get more than one side of any debate. Recently I've been absorbing what might be called "leftist" thinking by reading Noam Chomsky and listening to his lectures.

I know it's unwise to accept claims at face value. Checking claims is critical. In this post I want to present Chomsky's thesis regarding such people as Ronald Reagan and Milton Friedman offered here and then offer the results of the checks I've made regarding those claims.

First of all let me offer a basic free market claim that Chomsky would criticize, and I'll say that I came to understand this from Sowell. The claim is with regards to division of labor.

Suppose I'm an engineer and I put myself through college working in food processing. Suppose I was pretty good at food processing and could produce 10 lbs of food per day. But now also I'm an engineer and let's just say that I can output 2 designs per year.

Contrast me with a poor laborer. He can't do engineering at all. Suppose he can process food, but not as well as me. So one might think he's in really bad shape if we were to engage in trade. Let's assume if he had to design something it would take him 4 years with all of the errors and corrections that would be required, whereas he can process 5 lbs of food in a day.

Let's compose a hypothetical economy in a country called Jonistan. Jonistan is composed of 100 workers just like me. Good at processing food. Good at engineering. We have another country called Nicolombia. Not as good at either.

Let's suppose Jonistan needs to accomplish the production of 50,000 lbs of food every year to keep the population fed. The rest of the available time is devoted to engineering projects that improve technology and make life better. Here's how it would work assuming 200 working days in a year.

Jonistan would put 25 people to the task of producing food. 25 people x 10 lbs/day x 200 days/yr is 50,000 lbs of food per year. This leaves 75 people available for engineering. 75 people x 2 designs per year means 150 designs per year.

Suppose Nicolombia also has 100 workers and needs 50,000 lbs of food a year. They'd put 50 people to work on food (50 people x 5 lbs/day x 200 days/yr is 50,000 lbs of food). 50 would be available for engineering. They'd make 12.5 new designs/yr (50 persons x 0.25 designs per person/yr = 12.5 designs per year).

Total output is as follows:

Jonistan: 50,000 lbs of food, 150 designs.
Nicolombia: 50,000 lbs of food, 12.5 designs.
Total output: 100,000 lbs of food, 162.5 designs.

Now let's alter the work and assume Jonistan and Nicolombia engage in free trade. Let's put all Nicolombians to work producing food and all Jon's in Jonistan to work on engineering. A total of 100,000 lbs of food is required to feed both countries. But watch what happens.

Total output in Jonistan: 100 people x 2 designs per year = 200 designs/yr.
Total output in Nicolombia: 100 people x 5 lbs/day x 200 days/yr = 100,000 lbs/yr.

Everyone gets fed, everyone still works, but the total output has gone up from 162.5 designs to 200 designs. Nicolombia exhanges in free trade with Jonistan and offers 50,000 lbs of food for 25 new designs. Both sides are very happy and have more than they would have had if they hadn't engaged in free trade and exploited the comparative advantage. Free trade is really great, right? Who would oppose such things as NAFTA? Who would oppose WTO? This is the beauty of free markets that the Reaganites and Friedman types think is so important.

And now for Chomsky's response. Chomsky claims that in fact Reagan was a President that violated the above free market principles to a degree unsurpassed by any President since Herbert Hoover. When Reagan was President the Japanese were far more efficient at automobile production. Reagan saw that they could destroy the U.S. auto industry. So he simply enacted enormous tariff's on Japanese products while U.S. auto was instructed in the efficient Japanese methodologies. These actions destroy the beneficial effects of the free trade principles defined above. Yes, by pursuing a comparative advantage total output is increased TODAY. But what if I don't want to be a food manufacturer for all eternity? What if I would rather sacrifice output temporarily while I develop the technology that makes me a skilled laborer rather than an unskilled laborer? Should I let Japan destroy this important industry? Absolutely not. I will block them for now, then re-open trade when I've recovered.

But this is not how we treat others. Do we allow Mexico to block U.S. subsidized agri-business corn? No. We flood their market by force. And when a million poor farmers find themselves out of business we direct them to U.S. factories just across our border in Mexico that are paying pennies per hour. They make our flat screen TV's, which continue to drop in price while they live in homes made of card board boxes.

According to Chomsky this is a process repeated over and over. Take a country like Honduras. Prior to U.S. "free market" imposition this place is totally self sufficient. They make plenty of food and feed their population. But then free markets are imposed and they become a country that exports snow peas and beef to the U.S. due to their comparative advantage. GDP is up. Profits are up. And now child malnutrition is soaring and the population is generally starving. It's not acceptable when the free trade model would affect us badly, as in Japanese car imports. But it is imposed on others by force.

Chomsky made a couple of claims in this lecture that I wanted to check. The first was that Reagan was a protectionist. The second was that what Chomsky calls the "neo-liberal" economic policies of Friedman and others began to be imposed around the 1975 timeframe, and that the evidence is pretty clear by all economic measures that for the average American this is the time when things took a dramatic turn for the worse. Not for the wealthiest in America, but for the poor. So I checked these claims. Here's what I have dug up.

Was Reagan a protectionist? This source says yes.

What about economic indicators from 1975 onward for average Americans? Check the following:
  • top 1% share of total wages here
  • median family income here
  • productivity vs median family income here
  • income growth by quintile here
  • income ratio here
  • low, middle, and high income growth here
  • bottom 99.5% share of total income here

What I've been able to check appears to be accurate. Something bad happened around 1975. What was it?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Natural Causes for Haiti's Problems

Steve Hays may not be blaming God for the problems in Haiti like Pat Robertson does. I suppose it's good that he looks to natural causes. However that doesn't make his thinking any less repugnant. He's basically blaming the tortured people of the land. They're "on the dole" and need to "seize control of their national destiny." For the moderately informed this is kind of disgusting.

Let's review some of the basic facts. Way back in the early 20th century Woodrow Wilson demanded that Haiti adopt some measures that were wanted by the U.S. business community. When the Parliament refused he sent the Marines. He disbanded parliament and a referendum was then passed adopting a new Constitution (written by FDR). It passed with a whopping 99% of the vote (only 5% of the population was permitted to vote). Now the U.S. business interests had what they needed. Wealth would be exported. Poverty would reign in Haiti.

The U.S. military remained and ruled Haiti for the next couple of decades. They left in 1932 and left behind a series of brutal U.S. backed dictators, including the infamous Papa Doc Duvalier.

But something strange happened in 1990. Popular grass roots movements swept into office a priest from the slums of Haiti. This was Jean Bertrand Aristide. This completely caught the U.S. off guard as he soundly defeated the U.S. backed candidate. It was a surprising display of democracy in a land that had been long been tortured.

Unfortunately for the people of Haiti this did not last long. He was soon removed by military coup. Ultimately he was re-installed under Clinton on the condition that he adopt the policies of the candidate he had soundly defeated years earlier. This he did and the people of Haiti resumed suffering as before.

Haiti, Nicaragua, Colombia, Bolivia. All of these countries have suffered immensely over the years. Robertson would have us believe that in Haiti's case it's their "deal with Satan." But the others are Christian. What explains their suffering? Incidentally these are the countries that have experienced the vast majority of U.S. intervention in our hemisphere.

So I wonder what Steve means with "on the dole". If a foreign government backs a brutal dictator that slaughters with impunity and exports the wealth of your nation, does the support provided by that foreign government make you "on the dole"?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Oil for Food "Scandal"

Remember the big brouhaha about that big Oil for Food Scandal a few years back? Big stinks were made about it to imply that all the starved kids at the end of the day died because of Saddam's thievery. As Bob Dutko had said to me on the air "Saddam wouldn't feed his people. He had to build more golden palaces for himself.?"

Just for the record (check the 600 page UN Final Report if you're interested), that amounted to a total of 1.8 billion dollars in illegal sales, most of which occurred with the full knowledge of the U.S. and Britain, but it wasn't a problem because the bulk of the sales were to U.S. allies.

The largest beneficiary of the illegal sales was the Kuwait military, which was overcompensated to the tune of $419 million. Saddam's associates managed to extract $50 million.

I suppose that's a scandal of sorts. And it's true Saddam did live in luxury while his people starved. But if this deprivation is so bad, what of the $12 Billion of Iraqi money that disappeared in duffel bags and by other means? Why isn't that a scandal? Why doesn't anybody know about that in America? And why is it always foreign press covering this stuff? Here's some BBC video on this.

Just prior to the handover of the government from the Coalition Provisional Authority literally tons of $100 bills were placed on pallets and loaded into C-130's. Literally 363 tons of cash. It's mind boggling. This is money that belongs to the people of Iraq, and they need it to rebuild the schools and infrastructure destroyed after years of sanctions and bombardment. Where is it? And why is the much smaller amount of money acquired by Saddam and his associates discussed so much more extensively?

In truth I know the answer to that question. If you want to know why read this book.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Flaky Anti-War Types

I recall how when the invasion of Iraq was being initiated those on the right would literally ridicule anyone that would suggest this was about control of important natural resources. But here's a few interesting pieces of data that perhaps should elicit some questions about the real motives of the initiators of the war, which I heard via a speech from Chomsky.

Declaration of Principles between Iraq and the United States
5. Facilitating and encouraging the flow of foreign investments to Iraq, especially American investments, to contribute to the reconstruction and rebuilding of Iraq.

1. Providing security assurances and commitments to the Republic of Iraq to deter foreign aggression against Iraq that violates its sovereignty and integrity of its territories, waters, or airspace.

Facilitating foreign investment, especially American investment? That's a rather forward admission of imperialist goals, wouldn't you say? And preventing aggression? Who are the foreign aggressors in Iraq?

Check out this Bush signing statement.
One section Bush targeted created a statute that forbids spending taxpayer money "to establish any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq" or "to exercise United States control of the oil resources of Iraq."

Once again, seems rather brazen. He's going to ignore provisions that prohibit him from establishing permanent bases or control of the oil resources.

Finally, check out further Bush demands on the Iraqi government.
the Bush administration will insist that the government in Baghdad give the United States broad authority to conduct combat operations and guarantee civilian contractors specific legal protections from Iraqi law, according to administration and military officials.

We were lead to believe that we were swooping in to rescue them, not control them forever. Now their supposedly elected government has to grant us all these rights to run around and do whatever we want from a military perspective? This is freedom for Iraqi's? This isn't about control of resources?

Chomsky summarizes by saying that reasons that were initially rejected with ridicule seem now to be openly conceded. It would be nice if this prompted a little reflection.

Devious Media Deception

All right, let's talk about something important. Not the media's complicity in covering up lies to get us into Gulf War I. Not their gross double standards in covering a single murdered priest in Poland because it fueled anti-communist fervor while virtually ignoring 100 dead priests in Latin America killed by the U.S. and it's proxies. Not their silence about genocide in East Timor. Not their flip flopping in support of Pol Pot as it suited corporate interests. No, I'm talking about The Bachelor.

As I said before, we saw during ABC's the Bachelorette that this media conglomerate has no qualms about destroying good people for ratings by misrepresenting the facts. Well now they're up to the same old crap with the Bachelor according to Reality Steve.

Here's how they do this. They have this bachelor that has already fully committed himself to misleading everyone according to the dictates of the producers. He fulfilled key roles in order to falsely portray Wes as a villain last season. On the down side he seems to be a geek and not especially likable. But he does what he's told. They can resolve the geek problem. ABC can create whatever impressions they want in the eyes of the audience despite what is clearly visible on the screen.

Prior to taping the show of course they have to select the girls. They bring out these girls and tell them to profess their love for Jake before meeting him. If they refuse they're gone. So you watch the first episode of the season and as you watch all these girls talk about how great he is and consider if they're lying. The fact is most of them don't look like they really believe it to me. "He's so cute" is typical of what they say. That's not good. He's OK looking, but he's very short and he's a geek. Awkward. In fact one girl has brought a football. She says you can tell a lot about a guy by the way he throws a football. She hands the ball to Jake and he totally throws like a girl. I mean, it's really pathetic. He's not even accurate. She's chasing after his throws. And these are probably the good throws. The rest are edited out. She concludes "Oh yeah, he's really great with a football." Uhm, we just saw him throw like a girl. Do you think we are blind?

Next they'll have these girls telling us they love his black hair. We know his hair is blonde. We can see it. Doesn't matter.

Apparently not much exciting happens during the season, probably partly because the girls don't really like Jake. So they need to manufacture controversy. There's a girl named Rozalyn. Absolutely stunningly beautiful. Well, she has a 7 year old kid. The producers tell her not to tell Jake about the kid. She complies, but talks about her child frequently with the other girls. So as the producers interview the other girls they try to manufacture a controversy by saying "What do you think about Rozalyn failing to tell Jack about her child?" Word gets back to Rozalyn and she's ticked naturally. She also starts loudly complaining about the fact that the producers won't allow her to speak with her child during taping despite the fact that they had promised her regular contact.

So the producers have a problem. Rozalyn needs to go. She's not compliant enough. Well it turns out Rozalyn is so stunning that another producer apparently fell for her. Ultimately he admitted that he had developed feelings for her. They never kissed or anything as far as we can tell, but understandably ABC doesn't like this so they fired the producer and simultaneously sent Rozalyn packing for "inappropriate behavior." As if she had done something wrong, like had sex with him. They air the audio of another girl speculating that Rozalyn slept with this person to create this impression and act like Jake has been stabbed in the back by her.

So once again it's a bunch of manufactured controversy used to destroy the reputation of someone, in this case a single mom.

In all seriousness, if they go to these lengths for a show like this imagine what they'd do with real news stories with vested corporate interest in the portrayal.

Shelly Kagan Debates WL Craig

It seems to me that the days of William Lane Craig having such an easy time of it debating non-theists may be over. In the past it seemed that the people he debated were so frequently just not prepared. To some degree it's sort of understandable. One would expect Craig to have a lot of success. Debating is his full time job and he's been doing it for years. His opponents will never be able to match his preparation and experience.

On top of a natural disadvantage I think in some cases his opponents may not have known enough about him to debate him well. I'm thinking of maybe John Dominic Crossan or Peter Atkins.

These days though one debate after the other we're seeing quite good performances from the non-theist side. I thought Bart Ehrman was good. Robert Price was good, but not great. Richard Carrier was good. You might give Craig the edge in these, but it's not a blow out.

In addition to these closer debates I think Craig is losing debates with greater frequency. There was Eddie Tabash. There was Paul Draper. And now Shelly Kagan. Another superb performance from the skeptic. You can listen to it here.

The topic is whether God is necessary for morality. Kagan gets in a few virtually unanswered slams. Craig argues that if there is no meaning in the cosmic sense, with the impending heat death of the universe, then there is no meaning in any sense. Kelly pounces on this point and drills home that he needs to justify this leap, which he never does. On the question of the treatment of animals Craig attempts to argue that Christian ethics is a firm basis for humane treatment of animals, to which Kagan replies something to the effect of "Apparently your treatment of animals does not preclude you from eating them or wearing them as clothing then?" There's no come back for that.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

My Big Shot Father-in-Law

For some reason it's easy for me to forget this, but my father-in-law, Baldemar Velasquez, is kind of a big shot. Take last week for instance. He's getting the keys to the city of Toledo. My wife and I didn't even go to the banquet. It's sometimes just too much. It's one thing after another with this guy. He's either receiving a MacArthur Fellowship or he's receiving an honorary doctorate. Here he is testifying before a House sub committee. Here's an article from him at the Huffington Post.

He's always in the news as well. I can't even keep up with all the stories. For instance here's a fun little thing for him. The Toledo Blade had various Toledoans singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" that was on the news. If it were me I'd think I was famous but it's standard for Baldemar. With regards to his work he's often getting a lot of press. Like a year and a half ago when he went and worked the tobacco fields in North Carolina. I link to just the one story, but there were many.

What he does is he is a farm labor organizer. He attempts to acquire better working conditions and pay for those workers that many of us forget about. These are the migrant workers. He knows a lot about them because he was one. After school as a kid he'd watch his friends run off to play while he and his brothers and sisters would head to the fields and pick row after row in the sweltering heat. It's really a life I can't identify with in all honesty, especially as I consider the life I'm providing for my own kids. But the fact is many people still do live that life today. Well, I guess that's obvious.

Now, I've long been liberterian leaning, which means I find myself sort of objecting to unions. But I'm starting to drift away from that. Not because I love unions and the frequent abuses that go along with them, but because I'm realizing that Adam Smith was right (see paragraph that begins "In the progress of the division of labor". Division of labor taken to it's extreme may improve GDP, but it will also destroy those that are on the lower rungs.

Just as an example, consider the following scenario. Suppose a certain action increases the total GDP by 1%. But that action means that the bottom 90% of wage earners see their real earnings decline. Suppose they experience greater proportional declines the poorer they are. And suppose the top 10% see their real wages increase dramatically. And suddenly vastly more members of the population now finds themselves on the brink of starvation while someone sitting on $50 million now finds themselves sitting on $100 million? Is the greater efficiency worth it? I think this is actually what is happening, sometimes on smaller scales, in various parts of the world. Perhaps unions introduce an inefficiency, but I'm coming to think that they are important in correcting some of the absurd imbalances.

If you think the same way and are looking for a good union to support, consider FLOC. Believe me, I understand that sometimes unions suffer from abuse. Sometimes people are overpayed, the president is getting kick backs, etc. Not in the case. Baldemar Velasquez may be a big shot, but he is also a man of extremely modest means. Likewise his staff definitely is not getting rich doing the work they do. Despite this they are finding themselves in the red and really need help doing their important work.

For me it's an easy decision. I think it is important to give charitably. I used to give a lot to church. Now that I don't do that I can give money to organizations that in my mind do more. And like church this one is tax deductible. So if you're like me and you know it's important to be charitable FLOC may work for you. Or if you still like to give to church but are looking for a way to diversify your giving instead of giving a big wad of cash for these flipping church building funds, here's an option.

Checks can be made to the Campaign for Migrant Worker Justice or CMWJ. Send to the following address:

1221 Broadway
Toledo, OH 43609

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Power of Photographs - Cute Afghan Girl

A bomb dropped by coalition forces killed the parents and several siblings of 11-year-old Grana from Kandahar. She had her right leg and left hand amputated – she now uses two different crutches.