Monday, February 28, 2011

Will More Money Improve CEO Performance?

The science says that the real world response is not necessarily like what you're taught in economics. Check it out.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Cause For Concern-Raymond Davis in Pakistan

Have you heard of Raymond Davis? This is some scary crap. He's an American that shot two Pakistani individuals that he claims were trying to rob him. After he shot them he called friends who rushed to his aid. Those two friends crushed and killed a motorcyclist on their way to assist Davis. Davis was taken into custody by Pakistani officials. The two friends flew the coop and escaped to America.

Immediately the Obama administration demanded that he be released, claiming he's entitled to immunity as a diplomat working for the State Department. They even sent John Kerry to Pakistan to get him back. But Pakistan, fearing a public uprising such as what has been happening throughout the Middle East and other regions including, shockingly, North Korea, have refused saying he must be tried under Pakistani law.

It turns out Davis doesn't work for State. In fact he works for the CIA. Establishment media knew the Obama claims were lies, but they were directed by Obama to keep quiet about it. When foreign press revealed that he was CIA the NY Times dutifully checked with Obama to see if they were now free to report truth to Americans. Obama gave them the green light.

What's Davis up to over there? According to the Hindustan Times (I don't know how credible they are) he is "working on a plan to give credence to the American notion that Pakistan's nuclear weapons are not safe." What the hell does that mean?

I have no idea, but it can't be good. But I can tell you what they think in Pakistan. Just Google "Raymond Davis nuclear" and you'll immediately see reports, all foreign as far as I can tell, that according to Russian intelligence Davis is attempting to smuggle nuclear material to Al Qaeda. Do I believe that's true? I cannot find a credible source for it. Much of it appears to stem from here. The site itself doesn't seem very credible and sources for the claim are not provided.

But I think it's newsworthy that this belief is widely held in Pakistan, a nuclear armed country. I don't see that it's being discussed in US news sources. And I'm rather pissed that the CIA is running around in Pakistan shooting people, increasing the likelihood of retaliatory terrorism directed against Americans. It would be nice if our government regarded reducing terrorism as a priority. They should start by ending their participation in it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Optimism on Climate Change

As a counter to my constant pessimism, a case can be made that solar power really can dramatically reduce fossil fuel consumption. The technology is improving so rapidly that it should become so cheap that people will naturally make the switch in the coming years.

Free market types will pretend this is some sort of victory for laissez faire economic theories. But it's another example of important nature of public subsidy for high tech industry. Not every element associated with the development of solar technology occurred with public subsidy, but key costly ones were. Bell Laboratories as a government sanctioned monopoly, was able to engage in the kind of R&D that isn't concerned only with short term profits. In 1954 they developed the first solar cell capable of powering electrical equipment. This was then exploited by NASA, first with Vangaurd I in 1958 and then with subsequent satellites during a time when it was simply too costly for commercial use.

Obviously today the technological advancements come about with the aid of computers and the internet, both developed with public subsidy. This is not to discount the importance of private individuals exploiting the technology because it is profitable. So for instance in the mid 50's Bridgers and Paxton, an engineering firm, created an office building heated by solar power which is still in use today. Private individuals exploiting the technology helps advance the technology as well. But the public subsidy is key. I would suggest that without it this wouldn't be happening. And it could go a long way towards increasing the chances of survival for our species.

Climate change is a long term problem and cannot easily be addressed by corporations that can only consider relatively short term profitability.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Friday, February 18, 2011

Because It's Profitable

The internet is a great place to exchange ideas and learn. I learn a lot arguing with people. But here's something to consider. If you are involved in a debate about a political issue, what if the person you are interacting with is nothing but a corporate stooge that has created multiple fictional accounts in order to create the illusion of a consensus against union activity or progressive change?

This is not just a theoretical possibility. Thanks to the hackers known as anonymous we now know that corporations are talking about the implementation of this scheme. Additionally the government has solicited for the development of software that will create the fake personas, complete with independent Facebook and Linked-In accounts, etc. The details of this specific operation are explained at Daily Kos and Glenn Greenwald has the details about how the leak came about. But here's a brief summary.

Due to government pressure companies such as, Paypal, Master Card, and Visa stopped providing service to Wikileaks, though Wikileaks has done nothing illegal. In response a group of loosely grouped hackers referred to as "Anonymous" disrupted service for Amazon and the rest briefly. Despite the fact that these hacks were minor as contrasted with major internet assaults directed towards Wikileaks, several individuals that are alleged to be associated with "Anonymous" were arrested. Nobody that attacked Wikileaks was arrested of course. A security firm by the name of HB Gary boasted that they had helped expose some of the members of "Anonymous". In response these hackers hacked HB Gary and published thousands of internal emails.

These emails revealed that HB Gary is working with Bank of America in efforts to undermine Wikileaks. This involves planting false stories and going after journalistic supporters like Glenn Greenwald. It is this same set of emails that has exposed the scheme described above to generate fake personalities.

It's not about Republican vs Democrat. It's corporations vs people. Corporations must engage in this sort of behavior by design. Profits first, forgetting all else. If that means deception and subverting of democracy then that's what will be done.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Iraq War Propaganda Involved Crimes

I'm really not a big fan of conspiracy theories. But sometimes conspiracies occur. A concocted crime would naturally occur in secret, right? That's all a conspiracy is.

It's one thing for people in government that favor a certain policy to spin things in their favor. But it's quite another for them to knowingly attempt to deceive or fabricate material to form a basis for a favored policy. Important disclosures, including recent disclosures, do seem to suggest that this is what has happened with regards to the war in Iraq.

We've known about a key fraud for a long time. Saddam was supposedly suspected of having a nuclear weapons program. The key evidence was certain documents coming out of Niger which suggested Saddam was attempting to acquire uranium. The IAEA was able to dismiss them as crude forgeries in a matter of hours using nothing more than a google search. Still, Bush presented this in his State of the Union address to the American people as if it was a reasonable basis for a conclusion about Saddam's nuclear program. Cheney just prior to the invasion in an interview with Tim Russert still sustained his claim about the nuclear program despite the IAEA. Now that the fraud is acknowledged by all our Justice Department doesn't seem interested in figuring out who was responsible? Even Congressman Henry Waxman has requested an explanation. Why was this evidence presented to me when you would had to have known it was a fraud? This was the basis for my vote authorizing war. This is a big deal. Bush wasn't interested. Why? This is a crime of huge consequence.

This week we learned of another fraud. The defector referred to as Curveball has admitted that he lied about all kinds of things, including this claim about roving biological weapons vans, a claim that made it into Collin Powell's speech at the UN presenting the case for war. It was also used by Bush in his State of the Union. And he tells us that they knew he was making it all up back in 2000.

The third is the anthrax scare. This was linked to Saddam in the media after 9/11 and it was used to induce fear and support for war. After the invasion we learned that Saddam was not involved. The crime was attributed to an American, but that turned out to be false and the suspect was awarded millions in damages due to the FBI's efforts to pursue him. The FBI then directed our attention to another American, now deceased. Recent revelations from the National Academy of Sciences now suggest that attributing the crime to this now deceased individual has no basis in fact. See the details here.

Why is the FBI going after innocent people so aggressively but resisting calls for an independent investigation that could lead to the real perpetrators? And oh by the way this crime, falsely attributed to Saddam in an effort to create public support for war, served the interests of the same war mongering crowd that perpetuated the two above frauds.

We already have the documentation showing that intelligence was being fixed around the war policy. That's a virtual admission to a crime. Does "fixing the intelligence" mean sending anthrax or crafting crude forgeries? Could be. We would need an investigation though to know. But our government seems unwilling to pursue that investigation. What does that tell you?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

And I Also Play Guitar

OK, it's not perfect, but not terrible either.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Why The Harping on Social Security?

Americans are living under a misconception. 88% think that Social Security is in big trouble. Because of this big trouble it needs radical change. What kind of radical change? What else but privatization. Who would benefit from that action? Of course Goldman Sachs and other financials. But you gotta do what you gotta do.

There's just one problem. In fact Social Security is not in big trouble. It's actually in really good shape. Or at least it was in 2005.

But that was before Obama's Social Security tax holiday. This may change things. Obama's tax cut of course cuts taxes for the wealthiest Americans by radically reducing the estate tax. It increases taxes on the poorest Americans. And it jeopardizes the pension program relied upon by millions of poor people. The tax cut holiday is like the temporary Bush tax cuts. Unlikely to be restored to their former level. As a side note, though the majority of Americans supported the Obama tax cut deal overall they opposed the Social Security tax holiday by a margin of 57 to 39.

Obama is turning a program that is wrongly feared to be in trouble into a program that might end up in trouble. Conservative think tanks and some media are conditioning the young to not expect a Social Security check when they retire. Both of these things serve the interests of certain powerful corporate elite. That's where real power resides.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Thomas Sowell Explains Rising Tuition Costs

There's just one problem with his analysis. While it kind of sounds plausible as he spins it out of his head, it's completely divorced from reality and therefore completely wrong.

Sowell explains things in three installments. In the first he explains that since there is so much public subsidy the students are blind to the costs. If they bore the full brunt of the cost this would make things much better.

In the second installment he talks about how lots of students are slackers. This is further proof that what is needed is reduced public subsidy. Why should poor taxpayers have to pay for these people to party? Make them pay their own way. Maybe let them know if they want to go we could garnish their future wages. That will flush out those slackers, leaving only the ruling elite.

In the third we learn why college is so expensive. Since the government is so willing to throw so much public subsidy at colleges they have no incentive to reduce costs. So they just charge through the roof. A nameless college president he knows told him this. Professors teach fewer hours, spending more time doing research. Also they're spending money in lavish ways (bowling alley's, posh lounges, Wi-Fi, fancy dorms).

Well, that all sounds really plausible. The problem is public subsidy. If only we could have managed to reduce it we wouldn't be dealing with all these tough problems that seem to have emerged over the last 30 years.

The University of Michigan has a series of slides explaining their budget that you can view here. But let's take a look at one.

So guess what, Thomas. The very prescription you suggest is exactly what has been implemented over the last 30-40 years. Public subsidy has continuously declined just as you want. If you have a problem with what you are seeing in secondary education today and if you are suggesting things are getting worse, why would you suggest that we implement the very policies that have failed you so miserably?

Sowell in his third installment laments that professors today teach less so as to do research that brings in money. That is money from private sources. Isn't that exactly what we would expect to happen in a world where public subsidy is declining? These schools have no choice but to divert their energy away from training students and do the things the private endowments demand. Once again the very outcomes Sowell laments are a direct consequence of the policies he is now advocating.

Some of my readers (Darf and HP) may think the decline in public subsidy is a good thing. Maybe they'd rather live in a world where their out of pocket expenses will be 3-4 times higher for their children than they were for themselves. Maybe they are happy with the skyrocketing school loan debt. Fine. But what makes no sense at all is to complain about the present system and then prescribe the very policies that have created the present system.

If you are wealthy enough that you can sock away $250/mo from the time you have a newborn and then for the next 18 years I suppose it's not a big deal. If not your child will either not have a degree, in which case his job prospects are grim, or he'll graduate with a mountain of debt, and he'll be a slave to that for the next 30 years. If that's what you want in college education you should be happy with the reduction in public subsidy. Sowell should be happy about the present state of secondary education in the US. Strange that he is objecting.

Quote Of The Day

Ex CIA Analyst Ray McGovern on Bush's warrantless wiretapping program:

There's another aspect of this eavesdropping, which is pretty sinister. I go around the country speaking about these things and I ask people: "Does it not bother you that your telephone calls are monitored, email and so forth?" And I have to say, to my great distress, that 80 percent of the people say, no.

So I ask them another question; "Does it bother you that Senator Arlen Specter can be eavesdropped on, can be monitored?" And they say: "Why do you ask me about Sen. Arlen Specter? Who's he?" And I tell them he's head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has purview over these things (Purview over U.S. laws.) He was incensed, and learned last Dec. that the president had deliberately violated the FISA law. And he promised to hold committee hearings to look into this. He talked about this being clearly extra-legal. By Aug., surprisingly, Arlen Specter Senator from Pennsylvania now Senate Judiciary Committee Chair, changed his tune 180 degrees. Not only that but he drafted legislation, which now has been passed, that allows the president to eavesdrop on us at will without any court warrant.

Now what accounts for this 180-degree turn of view? Well let me offer a hypothetical guess. I stress this is a hypothetical idea and not fact; two FBI agents visited Sen. Specter two months ago. They sat down with him and said:

"Now Senator Specter we've just been in Cleveland. We spent the weekend there interviewing Mary Crawford. What a wonderful woman she is. We just had a wonderful interview with her and of course we knew that your travel records show that you go to Cleveland every weekend. And we just had a really informative session with her. And we don't think that anybody else needs to know about this and so we have some draft legislation that the president would like you to sign. It's a little intrusive on civil liberties but it's going to protect us against terrorists. And if you sponsor this, nobody has to know about Mary Crawford."

Monday, February 7, 2011

Team B

Fans of Ronald Reagan are reminiscing about his glorious rule, which has prompted me to do a little digging to help recall the facts as contrasted with the conservative rhetoric. My basic understanding is illustrated well with this cartoon. But I stumbled upon another factoid that I meant to blog about a while back after watching the BBC documentary The Power of Nightmares, which is well worth the 3 hours if you haven't seen it. In that documentary I first learned of what is now referred to as Team B. Thom Hartman has a good discussion of it here, but let me offer a more Reader's Digest version.

In the mid 70's certain neoconservatives were unhappy with CIA intelligence which was indicating that the Soviet threat in fact was small and that they would likely collapse under their own weight within a couple of decades if they were just left alone. This is not what they wanted to hear, so intelligence had to be fixed in order to tell the proper story. Sound familiar? They managed to create a separate intelligence team, staffed entirely with hawks and neocons, that came to the conclusion that the situation was dire and a massive re-armament campaign was needed. Their report can be read here.

The conclusion is that the Soviet Union is not only extremely powerful, but has it's tentacles everywhere. In fact they have submarines that are so sophisticated they can't be detected with our present technology. How do we know this? Because there is no evidence to show their existence!! How else would they go undetected if they weren't so advanced?

Their report was leaked and it ultimately played a role in Reagan's presidential victory. He would use this analysis to bludgeon opponents of death squads in El Salvador and terrorism in Nicaragua. We must use massive and brutal force in these regions because these progressive movements are really KGB plots.

The CIA was also gutted. Analysts that came to frightening conclusions were promoted. Those with more measured conclusions were demoted and fired. Watch a good interview with former CIA analyst Ray McGovern for interesting details.

So who was right? On every major point Team B was wrong and the original CIA analysis was correct. See for instance here and also the Wiki entry. But in terms of promoting the neocon agenda it was a smashing success. So why not try the exact same recipe in Iraq? The exact same people that participated in the Team B falsehoods (Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz) were involved in the intelligence that was disseminated regarding Iraq. They produced the exact same outcomes.

Reagan's legacy is one of massive violence against defenseless civilians in Latin America. I wonder if his prominent admirers in politics and the media are ignorant of this. I imagine his rank and file admirers are.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Quote Of The Day

Top Nazi official Hermann Göring in an interview during the Nuremberg Tribunal.

Göring: Why, of course, the people don't want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.

Gilbert: There is one difference. In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.

Göring: Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Liberal Caller Crushes Limbaugh's Delusions on Reagan

Bah. Embed isn't working. You can just go here.

Big Molecules Prove the Existence of God

When Christians talk about the amount of information in a cell always keep this in mind. Even they don't know what they are saying.

I went to see Frank Turek Wednesday night at the University of Michigan. He gave his talk "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be An Atheist." I'd seen this same talk a couple of years back. DagoodS joined me and here are his thoughts on that night.

All right, let me just pause right here to say I just re-read DagoodS's post myself. Holy crap, it precisely described the night I just experienced. I can only cover 3 points, Dawkins Dawkins Dawkins, same jokes, same pauses. Even the Q&A was inane and he handled it well. The only difference is that the questioners were almost all atheists. That was very hilarious reading.

But here's the point I want to focus on. I was the first person able to ask a question and I noted that despite the fact that Frank did have a couple of slides that read "This is not a God of the gaps argument" it was my position that this is precisely what every argument he made for the existence of God amounted to. As to the Big Bang having a Big Banger, I pointed out how prior to the Planck time we're just flying blind, and while my answer is simply "I'm flying blind" your answer is "I'm flying blind, therefore God." (You'd think I arrived having just read DagoodS's post, but that's not true.) I also talked about how it's difficult to explain why we have a sense of morality from a natural perspective. I say I may not know how it came about, so I'm ignorant. Your answer is I don't know how it came about, therefore God.

And here was another argument Frank made that I thought was God of the gaps. He says that the amount of information in a DNA molecule is like an entire encyclopedia volume. What are the chances of a bomb going off in a printing press and creating an encyclopedia? That's how reasonable it is to say that DNA came about naturally.

Once again, this is a total misunderstanding of what information is.

Here's the deal. The amount of information an object contains is equivalent to the number of bits of computer code required to describe the object.

So if you have a really big molecule, like a phosphate molecule, it will contain a lot of information. The bigger and more random the molecule is, the more information it will have.

So I explained this to Frank. I said that his claim amounted to the following. We have a really big molecule here. This must mean that God exists. How is this not God of the gaps? You don't know how a large molecule could come about? Well, chemistry may be complicated but does this mean we should run to God? This makes no sense.

Frank's reply was that the DNA molecule is specific and ordered, like an encyclopedia. I explained that "information" as understood by computer scientists and as he was using it related to the encylopedia's, actually increases if the object is more random. A book with random letters contains more information than a book with English words if they contain the same number of letters.

So with that Frank switched gears and asked me to explain how the first life came about and how evolution can't explain it. And away we went on that topic. It was enjoyable. Then while the remainder of people lined up to ask questions a guy named "Pastor Dave" gave me a tract and encouraged me to repent of my sins. He emphasized that Satan had deceived me with doubts and that I just needed to have faith. He also told me how Jesus had turned his life around and given him happiness. I encouraged him to remain a Christian since I wouldn't want to see him return to his former unhappy and criminal lifestyle.

Then Frank and I talked for a bit and once again it was very pleasant. Before I had asked my question in front of everyone (a packed, large auditorium) he called me out because he recognized me from when I had been there two years before. He knew my name, where I'd lived before, how we had lunch in Illinois in 1999 along with a group of students. Very impressive. Definitely a sharp guy and a lot of fun.

McCain on Dangerous Virus of Democracy in Middle East

We must contain the virus or the rot will spread to others.

It's been obvious for a long time the contempt that many US politicians have of democracy. I think the only Arab democracy in the Middle East to this point is Hamas. We all know how top US politicians feel about them. For those that think Iraq had anything to do with bringing democracy to suffering people, here's McCain making the standard position more explicit.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Quote Of The Day

One almost felt sorry for Obama. Had he rallied to the kind of democracy he preached here in Cairo six months after his investiture, had he called for the departure of this third-rate dictator a few days ago, the crowds would have been carrying US as well as Egyptian flags, and Washington would have done the impossible: it would have transformed the now familiar hatred of America (Afghanistan, Iraq, the "war on terror", etc) into the more benign relationship which the US enjoyed in the balmy 1920s and 1930s and, indeed, despite its support for the creation of Israel, into the warmth that existed between Arab and American into the 1960s.

But no. All this was squandered in just seven days of weakness and cowardice in Washington – a gutlessness so at odds with the courage of the millions of Egyptians who tried to do what we in the West always demanded of them: to turn their dust-bowl dictatorships into democracies. They supported democracy. We supported "stability", "moderation", "restraint", "firm" leadership (Saddam Hussein-lite) soft "reform" and obedient Muslims.

This failure of moral leadership in the West – under the false fear of "Islamisation" – may prove to be one of the greatest tragedies of the modern Middle East. Egypt is not anti-Western. It is not even particularly anti-Israeli, though this could change. But one of the blights of history will now involve a US president who held out his hand to the Islamic world and then clenched his fist when it fought a dictatorship and demanded democracy.

Robert Fisk - The Independent

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Health Care Satisfaction Around The World

A new quest of mine is to get conservatives to face reality instead of simply spinning plausible sounding theories out of their heads. One plausible sounding theory is that socialized medicine is a real nightmare that Americans want no part of. For instance Bob Dutko confidently informed me that the American people don't want something like single payer health care. HP dismisses the World Health Organization rankings of health care around the world because they are "politically charged."

There's pretty decent polling data related to health care satisfaction that we can use to inform ourselves on these questions. You can get a full report from the Commonwealth Fund in 2010 here. I offer a few slides below. Polling is of 11 first world nations.

I'll start with a slide related to cost. I think most people, even conversatives, understand that the cost in the US is off the scale. Here's how far off the scale as contrasted with the other nations in the survey.

What's amazing is that despite the exorbitant amount spent, here in the US we are the worst in terms of cost related problems. One might think with as much as we spend people don't have to skip care or people don't have trouble paying bills. That's not the case.

Here are some additional details on cost related problems.

Do Americans have a higher expectation for receiving effective treatment if they get sick? Not really.

One thing conservatives frequently talk about is wait times. In Canada it's a nightmare. People can't get an appointment. Have to sit in waiting rooms all day. Is that true? Let's see.

It's a little tough to see and you can click it to expand it, but basically only in Canada does a person have more difficulty getting an appointment for the same day. Note that this question was from the 2007 survey because I didn't see the results in the 2010 survey, so in this case it's a 7 country comparison.

What about waiting time in the emergency room?

Better than Canada? Sure. But overall about the middle of the pack.

How about seeing a specialist?

Once again, pretty good. 3 out of 11. But let's not pretend beating out Canada is all that matters. We're paying twice what Germany does as well and we're not beating them.

So finally what are the perceptions of the residents overall?

The highest percentage of residents that think their system needs a complete over haul is in the US. We are second worst amongst those that think only minor changes are needed. It leads me to think that the World Health Organization has taken the time to look at the real world in crafting their rankings. Maybe it's not a conspiracy after all.