Monday, December 31, 2012

Two Videos that Inspired Me This Year

Not really a political post today, but I just wanted to capture a couple of videos that I found to be inspiring this year.  Not in the sense of getting you fired up to go run a marathon or something, but just a couple of videos that motivated my behavior.  They helped me recognize what's important in my personal life and also inspired me to pursue a goal that I've aspired to accomplish but never have.

The first is from a guy that lives as an extreme minimalist.  I found the whole concept that we don't really need much stuff liberating.  Also that the things we really value are things money can't buy.  It tells me that it can make sense to work for others (like a corporation) in order to meet my own basic needs, but beyond that I should focus on myself.  So I don't want to work like a mad man so I can have money to buy a bigger house that I wouldn't care about.  Doing that deprives me of time I could spend doing things that are actually valuable to me, like cultivating relationships with friends and family, or developing an interesting skill.

I think this guy doesn't have children, so he has different options than I do, but this doesn't change the underlying point.  The main thing that will keep me working for a while is that my kids will probably want to go to college and I want to help them with that, but after that I could see myself exiting the corporate world, assuming I've managed to save enough to meet my own basic needs.  Living simply makes that feasible.

The next is from a guy that simply convinced me that if you've long aspired to learn a foreign language and have failed it's not because you have some personal inability to do it.  Anyone of normal mental capacity can do it.  This kind of reinforces the above video.  The things that I really would value are not posessions, but things that are within me.  If I possess a skill, that would matter a lot more to me than a fancy car.  I've always been impressed with others that can speak multiple languages, so I guess I also aspire to have that skill as well.  This guy convinced me that I can, so I'm trying.

Almost arbitrarily I picked Mandarin.  I just happened to be at the library and saw some materials.  Also I work with people from China and also in China regularly, so I figured I'd have plenty of people I could talk to and ask questions.  It's been fun so far.  What I didn't realize though when I started is I've picked a language that's pretty tough for native English speakers.  I assumed it would be tougher, but according to the FSI it's more tough than I realized.  If I could go back in time I might instead go with Spanish.  But I'm having fun anyway, and I think it will feel all the more rewarding if I can achieve it.  And I can certainly learn Spanish later, which I actually plan to do.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Due Process Nearly Dead

The US government is now making efforts to undo about 800 years of legal precedent, going back to the Magna Carta, that says a person accused of a crime has a right to know what he's been charged with and make an effort to refute the charge.  That's enshrined in the 5th amendment of our Constitution.  Both houses of Congress passed similar measures, which are now being reconciled in committee.  There was a provision in the legislation that protected 5th amendment rights for citizens.  That's bad enough.  Non-citizens are not animals.  They deserve a chance to rebut charges against them.  But the committee has apparently stripped that provision from the reconciled law.  If this passes US citizens likewise can be detained indefinitely without charge.

The Constitution is the document that restrains the government.  It was an effort to prevent tyranny.  You don't just throw people in jail forever without giving them the opportunity to prove their innocence.  What does it say about a government that now wants to have all constraints on it's power to imprison and punish people removed?  Troubling times ahead.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Obama: The More Effective Evil

I blogged about it previously here.  Glenn Greenwald warned of it immediately after the election here.  And here it comes.  Obama is apparently putting cuts to Social Security on the table as part of a deal that resolves the so called fiscal cliff.

Social Security is one of those clear cut government success stories.  Hasn't contributed a single penny to the debt.  In fact it has run a surplus.  And probably nothing has done more to reduce elderly hunger and homelessness in the US.  But the rich don't like it.  Chomsky has commented that the issue is more than just more profits for the financial industry.  He thinks it's even deeper than that.  Social Security is based on the principle that we care for others and want to alleviate their suffering.  The widow down the street may not be someone we know personally, but we want to contrive a system that means she doesn't starve.  This is the problem on capitalism.  You're not supposed to care.  You're supposed to think "You didn't prepare.  Screw you."  That's very unnatural so it has to be driven home.  Social Security has a way of reinforcing this notion that we care about others, and that is why it faces so much hostility.  That is why it is placed on the chopping block even though it is not the source of the problem.  A roughly $700 billion defense industry protecting us from non-existent threats?  In fact it largely enhances the threats.  Scaling that back isn't even part of the discussion.  That's because we do not have democracy.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Worthy and Unworthy Victims

President Obama has shed tears for the victims in Connecticut, and frankly I find it kind of hard to take.  Search around at this website and you'll find that Obama has killed nearly 200 children in Pakistan.  I have a friend from Pakistan.  He has a son that I met years back when he was smaller.  I can't help but think of all the children that look like this boy that have had their lives snuffed out in our drone war when I see Obama.  Obama obviously knows what he's doing in Pakistan.  It's not like he's unfamiliar with the killing of children.  But now he's ready to come out and show some tears.  Why now only?  Is it a different sort of animal that is dying in Pakistan?  Yeah, they were born to parents that happened to live on a different side of a border line from us.  So their death isn't also worthy of sympathy?

The American people generally can be forgiven for reacting only to victims in Connecticut and not Pakistan.  They don't really know about Pakistan.  This is not the kind of thing that is discussed in the mainstream media.  The media is of course going to talk about Connecticut, and any normal healthy person will feel sadness for the victims.  But our President is not in the dark about Pakistan.  This is not the first time in his presidency that a report of child victims has come across his desk.  This time he's moved to tears in public, but not before.  Did something change?  Child victims are suddenly tragic.  Why now and not earlier?  This is what we need to ask ourselves.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Fiscal Cliff Sham

Economist Dean Baker deconstructs some of the myths here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Pathological Consumption

People in eastern Congo are massacred to facilitate smartphone upgrades of ever diminishing marginal utility. Forests are felled to make "personalised heart-shaped wooden cheese board sets". Rivers are poisoned to manufacture talking fish. This is pathological consumption: a world-consuming epidemic of collective madness, rendered so normal by advertising and by the media that we scarcely notice what has happened to us.

In 2007, the journalist Adam Welz records, 13 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa. This year, so far, 585 have been shot. No one is entirely sure why. But one answer is that very rich people in Vietnam are now sprinkling ground rhino horn on their food, or snorting it like cocaine to display their wealth. It's grotesque, but it scarcely differs from what almost everyone in industrialised nations is doing: trashing the living world through pointless consumption.
 Read the rest here.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Friday, December 7, 2012

Record Profits Are Not a Good Sign

Is the reduction in profit brought about through unionization a bad thing?  Are today's record profits a good thing?

Companies generate revenue and that revenue is divided between the owners and the workers.  The job of the union is to just strengthen the bargaining position of the workers so that they can grab a larger share.  What's left over after this happens is a smaller share goes to the stock holders.  "Profits" are down.  But so what?  Profits are the share that goes to the non-working owners, but this doesn't change the total amount of money that the company made.  Only the way it was distributed.  A more equal distribution of the money earned by a company does a lot of good for the economy overall, and that's what a union helps bring about.  This is why the period in US history that saw the strongest overall economic growth was the period for which unions were strong.  Stock prices didn't go up that much.  Being an owner wasn't quite as lucrative.  Still amazing and better than anybody else, but being a worker was a good life too.  Everyone was getting a piece of the pie.

So when profits are up in a lot of cases (and I think this is largely the case today with the record profits being seen that are going along with wage stagnation/decline) what this is really saying is bad things are happening.  It's not that companies are making more money.  They are just distributing that money in a more unequal way, with more going to the top and less going to the bottom.  Higher profits should be expected to stall economic growth.  The rich spend a smaller share of the money they make and the poor spend more, which does more to spur the economy.

In Michigan they are trying to ram through a right to work provision during this lame duck session.  Profits would probably go up if they succeed.  Not that we'll make more things and provide more innovation.  We'll just let workers keep a smaller share of the pie.  So the profits are telling us that the economy is doing poorly and the future will be worse.

Here's what ML King Jr said about "right to work" laws in 1961.
“In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights.
Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone…Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights. We do not intend to let them do this to us. We demand this fraud be stopped. Our weapon is our vote.”

Monday, December 3, 2012

Capitalist Confusion

All things being equal taking from people that work hard and produce and giving to those that refuse to work is unjust.  I think everyone recognizes that when one man goes into the field and works 12 hours per day cultivating a garden he is entitled to the fruits of his labor.  Supposing his neighbor just doesn't want to do this kind of work and goofs off all summer.  Winter comes and he has nothing.  There's a basic sense of justness and fairness that says you made your bed, so lie in it.  Assume the slacker slacked with his eyes open.  He knew that if he didn't work he would be hungry come winter.  Everybody understands this dynamic.

And we can take it a step further.  Let's suppose the hard working man is elderly and has children.  Let's suppose in the fall he dies before eating his food.  Who gets this food?  His children.  Not the neighbor's children.  We may take pity on them and give them food in the form of charity, but they are not entitled to the food.  There's nothing wrong with the hard working man passing on this inheritance.

Now, if you are reading this as a conservative and you are thinking to yourself "Yeah, that's right, and this is why liberals are wrong" then there's something very important you need to recognize.  You do not understand the disagreement between liberals and conservatives.  You are not addressing the fundamental question.

It's just a basic fact that the ones that do the work on capitalism are not the ones that are paid the most.  Perhaps you've heard of the 112 Bangladeshi garment workers burned up while sewing clothes together for Wal-Mart.  They were making 18 cents/hour.  They work extremely hard and produce a valuable product.  They don't get a very large portion of the value they create.  Who does?  The Walton family heirs.  People that not only aren't working in dangerous conditions, they aren't working at all.

Remember, the Walton family is not simply drawing from the monies left to them by their father.  If that were true then eventually their money would run out and they would have to work like most people.  They are being paid the largest share of the revenue that is today being created.  Who is creating that value?  Cashiers at the stores.  Managers.  Stock boys.  Garment workers.  The Walton family heirs probably do the least amount of work.  Basically none.  They get most of the money.  Now, you can think that condition is for the best.  You can make arguments for why it is just.  I'm not addressing those arguments here.  I'm simply saying that one argument for capitalism starts with the assumption that the hard working should be permitted to retain the value they create.  Not only is this not denied on the left, it's quite the opposite of what capitalism produces.

The left doesn't have a problem with people being rich.  So professional baseball players, movie stars, entrepreneurs.  Sometimes CEO's and other managers.  The problem is that capitalism clearly produces conditions where some of the people that get the most do the least amount of work.  That is what the left is criticizing.  Again, if you are OK with people like the Walton's who do the least amount of work getting most of the money that's fine.  Just don't defend it saying that people that work hard should get to keep their money.  That's exactly what is not happening in their case.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Conservatives and Evidence

In my experience the relationship conservatives and liberals have with evidence is quite different.  Having been a conservative that has transitioned to a liberal my relationship to evidence has changed.  I want to talk about why I think that is.

Many people raised as evangelicals have a very black and white view of the world and I was no different.  There's God and the devil.  Good and evil.  I'm on God's side naturally so the things I and fellow God believers think are naturally the God view of the world and the opposite would be the devil's view.  So what is my approach to evidence?  It's one characterized by confirmation bias.  I already know the answer.  I go to the evidence to confirm what I already know.  Why even bother going to the evidence?  A lot of work and nothing to show for it.  We already know the answer.  Be on the side of good, not the side of evil.

The difference between me though and typical people is that I enjoyed debating with others.  So I did read books from the other side to understand their arguments.  I never read thinking my opinion would change.  I read already knowing they were wrong but wanting to be able to refute them better.  I can thank my friend HP for opening my eyes a bit.  I read his Catholic sources (I was Protestant) and was surprised to discover that Catholic views sometimes made sense from their perspective.  This rattled me.  I started to come to understand that I should treat evidence differently.  First go to the evidence.  Then formulate a conclusion.

I think you can see that here on my blog.  For instance you didn't see me claim that Obama would win the presidency.  You don't see me claim that the Hostess bankruptcy was due to bad management.  You don't see me claim that on net Romney destroyed jobs.  Whether I believe those things or not I'm not familiar enough with the evidence to make that kind of a judgment.  If I haven't looked at the evidence how would I know?

But conservatives know.  Conservatives tell us that Romney created jobs and unions are to blame at Hostess.  Global warming either isn't happening or isn't man made.  Or if it is we shouldn't worry about it.  Where is the evidence for these claims?  Often none comes.  Other times rationalizations comes, but not in the form of evidence.  Conservative economists have devised means of providing arguments.  But they aren't evidence based.  They create stories.

Take a look at this one (via HP).  Wal-Mart workers should be grateful they are paid so poorly.  If they were paid more this would harm them.  Well, that seems pretty strange.  What evidence is offered?  We could look to evidence.  What happened when Henry Ford raised wages well above what they had been?  Did the poor suffer?  Or when 40 hour work weeks, weekends, and safe working conditions were earned after years of struggle.  Did this harm the poor?  There are so many countries we can look to that have been subjected to even lower wages than what you see at Wal-Mart.  Wages that don't threaten to displace them with higher skilled people.  Has this helped bring them out of poverty?  These are the kinds of things one would look to if he was interested in proving a claim like this with evidence.

In fact what we get is nothing of the sort.  It just makes sense to the conservative economist.  Higher wages would attract people with better skills, displacing the poor and leading to their suffering.  No need to look at what actually happened.  We've crafted a story that makes sense to us.  The evidence is no longer needed.

This is coming from the same Bryan Caplan that says if you have a problem with high CEO salaries the solution is to worship them.  Sing songs to them.  Praise them.  What really is in the best interest of the poor is more ass kissing to the rich and lower wages for the poor.

Also for Caplan democracy is horrible.  The masses are asses.  The evidence is not that they are wrong.  The evidence is that they disagree with economists.  The people that say lower wages for the poor and more ass kissing to the rich is the real path towards helping poor people.  There's no evidence needed.  It just makes sense to Bryan Caplan.  It's so strange that the poor don't understand they are better off with low wages.  They don't understand these sophisticated things.

I provide a lot of data at this blog.  Plenty of links to sources.  I plan to keep doing that.  But I truly think for many conservatives it just doesn't matter.  Evidence just doesn't move them.  The conclusion is the starting point.  You can go to evidence to justify that conclusion or failing that just craft stories that may or may not apply to the real world.  I think that's how the Republican brain works and I think that partly because I think that's how my brain worked.

Old Movies Strike a Nerve

In the past I had blogged about re-watching The Sound of Music, a movie that I watched many times while young.  It was a family favorite.  I was a bit taken aback to see that Nazi crimes regarded as outrageous are now the routine and accepted crimes of our government.

I just re-watched the movie Gandhi.  I'd seen it in school in the 8th grade.  There's a scene that follows a British massacre of unarmed civilians.  The British are content to offer apologies, maybe try the commanding officer.  Perhaps that's better than what has been done in the US when you consider Abu Graib and other atrocities.  But the British aren't interested in doing much more, and for Gandhi that is unacceptable.  It's interesting to watch the arguments of the British and notice that the only thing that has changed is the nationalities of the participants.  Watch here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

North Korean Propaganda Film

Apparently North Korea has created an anti-US propaganda film.  I find this kind of thing very interesting because I enjoy seeing how we are viewed from the perspective of others.  The whole film can be viewed here, but for just a taste check out the 12 minute clip embedded below.

You'll see some silliness here.  But you have to admit that in some cases they make valid points.  I'm kind of reminded of this short Bill Maher clip that I have below.  There is a problem here.

Friday, November 16, 2012

What To Do About Global Warming

Chad wants to know what I think should be done about global warming.  I sound fairly doom and gloom here I know and I think Chad may be thinking about a biblical type response.  If we are already screwed like I seem to imply, isn't the best answer to eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die?

My personal opinion is that this is true for a lot of people.  For people that live in some poorer countries, their fate is basically sealed.  They are dead, and it will be a painful death.  How many are we talking?  Tough to say, but my guess is millions will die.  This is not a prediction, just my own vague sense of what will happen.  Obviously this could be wrong.  But I think millions are already lost.  If we collectively made the decision today to do everything we could to stop this, we would still lose something on the order of a few million.  You can't just put the brakes on in an instant.  We've developed some momentum and I think that momentum will kill a lot of people.

The question we are addressing now is how many do we want to see die?  Tens of millions?  Hundreds of millions?  A billion?  How many species should we drive to extinction, often not knowing what the consequences will be?  This is the question we answer with our inaction.  We could continue down this path long enough that a billion people would die.  If we finally do decide to take action, what would our response look like?

In my opinion one form it could take is like what the US did in response to WWII.  From the top down the entire population was mobilized striving to achieve the same goal.  Victory in this war.  This is like a war too.  Environmental catastrophe that could kill us too, not just the poor, if it continues apace.

During WWII our government directed industry.  They told them exactly what they would produce and what they would pay their workers.  They told people exactly how much they could eat.  They limited consumption so that the maximum amount of resources could be directed towards the war effort.  For us to beat this back I can't think of any other way to do it.

The capitalists will of course flip out at this notion, tell you it's un American, tell us that it's a limit on freedom.  It is a limit on freedom.  Your freedom to ruin the environment is killing people today, so that freedom would have to be constrained.  Republicans think that will be a miserable existence, but all the data show (and I know Republicans don't care for data or facts) that you really don't derive happiness by fulfilling these needs that capitalism creates for you.  You're actually not happier in a larger house, with a bigger car, and with that boat.  Generally speaking losing these things won't make you less happy, provided your basic needs are met.

Returning to a command economy is pretty radical of course, as was the war effort.  But if there's another way to tackle this problem I'd love to hear it.  We do have to cool this planet and it doesn't really seem like there is profit in that, so it won't be done following free market principles.  We also do have to get people to consume less, because it is that consumption and the energy required to produce those goods that creates the gasses that are going to kill and have already killed so many.  How can this be achieved without something like the WWII war effort?  Profit seekers want that consumption to continue, and there's no other way I can see to compel them to back down except government.

Here's what I see happening.  As in the war the government will have to direct a segment of our population to work on meeting basic needs.  Food, health care, shelter, and clothing.  To minimize the number of people required to do this we have to ask people to go shake hands with their neighbors and learn to share.  Instead of everybody living in their home like it's an island, why not share our things?  Instead of buying a new flat screen TV, why not figure out how to within your community share the many that already exist?  Develop community gardens.  Raise chickens in the community so as to lessen the burden on those working to provide the basic needs.  This frees up others to work to cool this planet.  We obviously need the climate scientists to continue to monitor the situation.  We need people planting the kind of vegetation that will absorb the greenhouse gases.  We need people working on renewable energy.  Perhaps we should be spreading cotton sheets across vast swaths of land, particularly land near the equator, to counter act the loss in polar ice and repel solar radiation.

Unnecessary consumption that further contributes to the problem really needs to be halted.  We of course have military equipment all over the world burning fossil fuel and an astonishing pace.  We have speedboats, RV's, off road vehicles, etc.  Leisure devices that contribute in a major way to the problem.  Hey, I love 4 wheelers and motorcycles.  I don't want to give this stuff up.  But we must make choices for the sake of ourselves and our children.  We are driving the planet to drought and extinction.  Is the joy of your yacht really worth the future of your children?  We have to get organized and we need to focus in this goal to achieve it.

One difference between this effort and the war effort is GDP would drop.  On capitalist thinking that is of course bad.  You need GDP to increase forever.  But pursuing that goal is exactly what got us into this state of affairs.  We have to think in terms of need.  I know conservatives hate that, but that's the path to success.  It's got to be about meeting needs, not accumulated the largest collection of wealth.  That goal, inherent to capitalism, is in fact the poison that is killing us.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Market Failures

We'll see another one a week from today.  It's no longer Black Friday.  It's Grey Thursday.  People used to take Thanksgiving Day and spend it with family.  Last year though some retailers decided to start late Thursday.  Others didn't want to do that to their employees.  They suffered financially.  So now there's a push to go even earlier.  Wal-Mart's "Black Friday" sale starts Thursday at 8 pm.  It's similar for others.

It's kind of like watching a movie in a crowded theater and one person stands up.  He has a great view, but others are now compelled to stand.  Then of course others until the whole room is filled with standing people all now with a view that is no better than what it was when they were seated, and yet now they must exert the effort to stand.  If a rule was created that said "Black Friday starts on Friday at 8 am" then all the employees could spend all of Thanksgiving with their families, the companies wouldn't be deprived of sales, and shoppers likewise wouldn't feel compelled to leave their families on Thursday night in an effort to score that deal.  They will have just as good a chance on Friday at 8 am.  Everybody wins.

Going down that road is an admission that the market really isn't so great at working out a lot of things, and it's tough for some people to concede that.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Here Come Those High Health Care Costs

Around the country you're hearing all kinds of complaining from conservatives about how difficult it's going to be for businesses to operate.  Health care costs are going up like crazy.  I guess we'll have to lay people off, cut wages, etc.

It's true that health care costs overall have risen recently.  The lowest amount they've gone up in about 50 years.  The Kaiser Foundation is a non-partisan health policy group.  Yeah, premiums are going up.  A strikingly low amount.  The lowest amount they've gone up in the 14 years Kaiser has been doing analysis.  Preliminary analysis going forward is that this trend of smaller health care cost increases should continue for a while.

What corporations are going to do is pass on the burden of this rise in health care costs to their employees.  We got to.  We have no choice.  It's really bad now with Obama.  Well, if that line works to trick you into thinking they're telling you the truth I guess that's what they should do since profits are the goal here.  But if you are aware of the facts you can at least call out their BS, as Jon Stewart does below.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Truth Is In The Middle

Prior to the election I was talking with a friend about predictions and I mentioned Nate Silver.  My friend pointed out what was true.  "Remember, he's a liberal."  There's an assumption, possibly a reasonable one, that partisans on one side of the divide should be expected to have a bias in one direction and vice versa for partisans on the other side.  Probably the truth is in the middle.  As we now know the truth was not in the middle.  The liberal was right on the money.  The conservatives were off the reservation.

The same is true of the climate.  We have a spectrum of opinion.  One the one hand we have alarmists.  Real extremists.  They say the reality is worse than the worst case IPCC projections.  Let's call them the liberals.  People like Chomsky and Democracy Now have been talking about this for a long time.  Then you have what you might call the centrists, represented by the IPCC.  Finally on the extreme right wing end of the spectrum are the ones that say it's all a liberal conspiracy.  The earth is cooling, etc.  At this point we can evaluate that as well.  We have enough data.  We can see who had the closest models.  And here it is.  The truth once again was not in the middle.  The conservatives are completely off the reservation..  The IPCC isn't pessimistic enough.  The extremists were right again.

You have one side of our spectrum that is just completely unable to deal with reality, so when you accept what in times past has been a reasonable assumption (intelligent people evaluating the same facts have differing opinions and the truth is probably in the middle) you find that in our current political climate this assumption just can't be held.  One side of this debate isn't dealing with facts and data.  They have their preferences.  For them that is the truth.

Below is a brief discussion of how this state of affairs came about.  The theory is that authoritarians have converged into the Republican party, so now most of the people that are incapable of dealing with nuance and complexity are on the same side of the political spectrum.

Some within the GOP may get it.  Let's hope more do.  We need everyone on board to tackle this problem.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Door Is Closing

The International Energy Agency is an autonomous intergovernmental agency created due to the initiative of people like Henry Kissinger.  This is an extremely conservative organization, highly respected.  Here is what the head of the IEA said a year ago after concluding the most thorough analysis ever of the world's energy infrastructure.  Quoting the Guardian article:
The door is closing," Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, said. "I am very worried – if we don't change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for safety]. The door will be closed forever."
At the time his conclusion was we had about 5 years.  We had until 2017, after which the damage would be irreversible.  Infrastructure built today locks in carbon emissions for years to come.  At this point we will have passed what he calls the threshold of safety.

It's worth noting though that the data so far indicate that the worst case IPCC projections were not bad enough. The destruction and rate of warming is closer to what so called radicals have been predicting.  We're in big trouble here and people don't seem alarmed.  We should be.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Is Romney Really This Clueless

So I'm watching election coverage on Tuesday I heard it said that Romney had no concession speech.  He was so confident of victory he didn't write one.  Obama had one.  He said you never really know what might happen.  Not Romney.  I kind of just assumed that was bravado.  He can't seriously think there's no way he would lose.  Come to find out, no, it's true.  He's actually that clueless.  Cenk covers the story briefly below.

Can you imagine having a president that is this incapable of seeing reality?  And it wasn't just him.  Paul Ryan is stunned.  Stunned?  Really?  The truth is what they wish it to be.

You can see how they'll react in a few decades when droughts and other environmental destruction that we know will happen if we continue apace on global warming.  "Really?  All those scientists were right?  I can't believe it.  I'm shell shocked."  You're shell shocked?  Hundreds of the most informed people in the world following meticulous scientific methods almost universally reach the same conclusion, and you're shocked?  Yeah, they will be shocked.

I realize I continue to beat the same drum here, but it is urgent that humans face reality and equally urgent that we stop listening to the kind of people that refuse to do it.  We've got clear evidence of how divorced these people are from reality here.  It's pretty amazing.  But I can't say I'm shocked.

Bob Dutko and I Talk Tax Policy

I caught just a bit of Dutko today just prior to free for all Friday.  Tax cuts will slow economic growth, Bush's tax cuts caused an increase in government revenue.  A variety of other points.  So I gave a call and you can download here.  Left click that link and it will take you to a new page where you can download or stream.

A couple of interesting things.  He bragged about Bush's tax cuts because revenues went up after they passed.  So I pointed out to him that they sure did, but taxes go up every year.  They went up less under Bush than they'd gone up in prior administrations.  His response is now "I'm not saying Bush was the best in terms of raising revenue, only that revenue did go up after he cut taxes."  In other words he's not willing to defend the frequent false right wing assertion that tax cuts lead to more tax revenue.  They actually produce less revenue than would otherwise exist.  We agree right, Bob?  Nope.  He does not agree.  He does think tax cuts lead to more revenue.  Which is it?  He's flipping back and forth between arguments, sometimes pretending the Bush tax cuts were great for revenue generation, then switching away from it, and finally switching back.

The thrust of his argument prior to the call in segment was that tax hikes harm an economy.  So I just stated the obvious.  There is no evidence that this is true.  The best economic performance in our nation's history corresponded with the highest tax rates on the rich.  What Bob says in response is he once again completely abandons the argument he had been making.  It's not about what works and doesn't work.  That's irrelevant.  He just has a philosophical problem with high taxes.  Somehow it offends his moral sensibilities.

OK, fine.  That's pretty arbitrary and not a great basis for policy in my view.  What matters is what works, not some arbitrary line in the sand.  But as I said for Bob it had been all about what works.  Suddenly that's irrelevant.  He's forced to abandon his bad arguments that can't be sustained in light of the data we have and he must run to new arguments.  That's progress.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Bill Maher Discusses the Right Wing Bubble

Sounds kind of like me, but more interesting and funny.  Tuesday night was a victory for "pot, gay marriage, and math."  This includes video of Dick Morris and discussion of that.  Maher is hoping, like me, that the popping of the bubble leads at least some conservatives to get out of the bubble.

Iraq popped the bubble for me.  I suppose the 2008 financial collapse popped the bubble for some of the free market cheerleaders.  Even Ayn Rand acolyte Alan Greenspan seems to have had his bubble popped by that.  This election will hopefully nudge others along.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Will They Learn?

My post earlier about election predictions was inspired by some conversations I had with my wife.  She was being encouraged by friends to vote for Mitt Romney.  Most of the people we know are conservatives.  My question to her was this.  Why would they push?  We live in Michigan.  It's a foregone conclusion that Obama will win Michigan.

Not according to these conservative friends.  Romney's probably going to win, and he could win Michigan as well.

Frankly I didn't care who my wife voted for because I was confident Michigan would not be close.  My belief was that Obama would win overall, but I wasn't super confident.  I thought Krugman had the right idea.  Seems Obama is up in the polls, so we should expect he would win, but there's a chance he won't.

Why would people like Dick Morris and Newt Gingrich make such confident predictions when so much of the evidence is against them?  I first thought maybe it's just manipulation.  They think this will help get out the vote better.  Maybe they don't believe what they say, but they just want to improve Romney's chances.

But I don't think that's it.  I was checking Dick Morris' twitter posts.  He really seemed to be thinking Romney could win.  He sounds surprised to discover that it isn't happening.  He's a guy that is being ridiculed rather intensely today.  It's surprising to see him risk his reputation just in a last ditch get out the vote effort that probably won't work.  You know what I think?  I think he believed what he said.

Here's my overly simplistic generalization.  Conservatives are just much more capable of believing what they want to believe rather than what the facts show.  Start with religion.  I mean, come on.  Talking donkeys.  Talking snakes.  Floating axe heads.  Jesus rising from the dead for their salvation if they would just believe, floating up to the sky in resurrection.  I loved that story and I really wanted to believe it.  But I can't.  You know who can?  Conservatives.

What about global warming?  You think I want to be convinced that we are headed towards disaster?  Do I want to struggle to reduce my meat consumption, feel guilt for my own excessive consumption, foresee a bleak future for my children?  Pretending it's all a liberal conspiracy so there's nothing to worry about is very comforting.  I can drive a gas guzzler, live in a huge house, maybe just pretend that none of it matters because Jesus will come back and clean it all up anyway.  Who is capable of believing that?  Conservatives.

There's this comfortable bubble that Dick Morris and George Will helped create in preparation for the election yesterday.  Paul Krugman would certainly have loved to believe it was all pretty much over and Obama would win.  But he didn't say that.  He said what he thought the data was capable of showing.  Obama should win, but he might not.  No prediction of landslide.  That's why Krugman is such a better predictor than Cal Thomas and George Will.  For these guys they believe what is comforting.  Their delusions yesterday didn't hurt anybody, but their comforting delusions regarding environmental catastrophe affect us all.  Will some conservatives, once again misled by the same people that told them Saddam had WMD's or tax cuts would spur economic growth, will they finally recognize that these pundits just sell comforting delusions rather than what the data show?  That's what I'm hoping.

Monday, November 5, 2012


I love to see people offer predictions.  It's like science.  You know your stuff if your predictions are right.  So let's just note the predictions being made here now prior to the election.

Dick Morris says it's a Romney landslide.  Newt Gingrich also expects a Romney landslide.  Fred Barnes thinks it's Romney.  Karl Rove seems to think Romney will win comfortably.  Peggy Noonan tells us Romney will win.  Even Michael Barone is telling us Romney wins big.

All the betting markets I know of expect Obama to win.  Nate Silver has Obama pretty comfortably ahead.  The more right wing Real Clear Politics has a slight lead for Obama.

For my part, I think it's safe to say that Michigan is out of play, so I'm thinking I'll just vote for Jill Stein.  If Michigan were in play I'd have a tough decision to make.  Obama is functionally a dictator, killing whoever he wants without oversight.  Muslims are the new blacks.  They get killed and oppressed by this administration and so many people just couldn't care less.  Even people I know that regard themselves as liberal are happy with Obama's due process free assassination program.  Obama is imprisoning whistle blowers and all the while those that commit crimes that actually harm others go free, like the people that wrecked our economy in 2008 or super wealthy tax dodgers.  He's a nightmare.  But Romney is all that and more.  More being he wants to implemented the failed economic policies of Spain, Ireland, Greece, Haiti, and all the African countries, which are quite good at making the super rich even more rich and they are an extreme hardship for the poor.

The bright side of a Romney win might be that liberals would care about civil liberties again.  If Romney enacts his policies he'll probably slow our economy down and that will be hard for a lot of people.  But on the plus side it would mean less greenhouse gases.  Africans, which are subject to Republican economic policies, don't produce a lot of greenhouse gases.  They also are starving though and the destruction done to their environment by corporations free of government regulation is a horror.

Another bright side of a Romney win is you can make the case that Obama really wants to pursue a right wing austerity route just as he's pursued right wing violence overseas.  When Obama advocates cutting social services he doesn't have to deal with liberal voices objecting, whereas Romney would.  You can make the case that Romney is less likely to succeed implementing a cruel austerity package and so Romney is actually better for the poor.

And they call this a choice.  Like a lot of people I'll just be glad when it's over.  I wasn't planning to watch election coverage tomorrow just because it's frustrating to watch this whole sham play out like voters are given a real choice.  But I learned that Glenn Greenwald will be on all day with Al Jazeera.  That should provide some interesting perspective.

Update: Krugman's "informed guess" is that Obama will win. George Will has a big win for Romney.  Check their track records here.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Man Who Saved The World

50 years ago last month the fate of our species was in the hands of three men.  Soviet submarine commanders near Cuban shores that had been granted authority by their superiors at their own discretion to launch a first strike nuclear attack against the United States.  US bombers were in the air ready to launch an immediately and devastating nuclear retaliatory strike in Russia should the submarine fire and that would have triggered an additional devastating strike from Soviet missile sites in Cuba and elsewhere.  Kennedy had ordered depth charges be dropped to compel the submarine to surface.  Inside the submarine the men had been subjected to a full week of temperatures in excess of 120°F.  They were being blasted with sonar loudspeakers as a means of torture coming from US destroyers.  And they heard the depth charges exploding around them.  These combined factors compelled 2 of the 3 Soviet officers to initiate the nuclear strike, but they were resisted by one man.  Vasili Ahrkipov refused to agree to launch, calmed his fellow officers down, and convinced them to allow the submarine to surface.  An amazing and frightening story explained in more detail in this excellent PBS program that provides a re-enactment.  This is a man we should sing songs to every year at this time.  If not for him perhaps none of us would be here.

It's important to recognize that the threat of nuclear annihilation is not passed.  To understand why watch this 10 minute clip featuring Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Effects of Trickle Down

Mitt Romney said in his first debate with Obama that he wasn't going to reduce taxes.  Obama seemed surprised.  We thought he was running on this platform.  I suppose what he meant was, yeah, he'll reduce tax rates.  But since the economy will grow so much now that investors have additional money they can use to purchase capital, this will stimulate the economy.  Everyone will get so much richer that the net effect will be additional tax revenues.

Back in the Reagan days maybe it made sense to believe that kind of thing.  We didn't have a lot of data to evaluate it.  Seems sort of plausible.  But the data are now in.  As I've discussed before the data make it pretty clear that the "have your cake and eat it to" theory just doesn't hold up.  Economic growth is lower in the periods of our history that correspond with lower tax rates on the rich.  Tax revenue increases also decline.  The Reagan and Bush tax cuts show that there isn't good reason to buy what Romney is selling.  Like Bush and Reagan we should probably expect not only poorer economic performance, but an explosion of the federal debt.

A recent study by the Congressional Research Service confirms this, as if it wasn't already obvious.  Not only do lower taxes on the wealthy correlate to poorer economic performance, it also correlates to expanded inequality and all of its associated problems.

What was frustrating to me about watching the first presidential debate (I haven't yet watched the others) is that Romney is saying the kind of thing that only a paid stooge of a right wing think tank could believe.  And yet Obama just let it go unchallenged, as if it wasn't a huge steaming pile of crap.  Romney's assertions on how tax cuts spur the economy are not unlike his beliefs about magic underwear.  In polite company we pretend that this isn't outlandish.  Magic underwear I can understand.  He's not hurting anybody with that.  But tax policy affects people, and these myths Romney is peddling will affect the poor negatively if they are implemented.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Obama Is A Moderock

What does it say about a person when he's convinced Obama subscribes to a certain ideology and yet when you ask them to tell us what this ideology entails he has absolutely no idea.

My email inbox and Facebook feed are exploding with assertions that Obama is a socialist/communist.  I've been doing a little expirament for months now.  When I hear someone bash socialism or communism I simply ask them to tell me what those things are.  I have not once heard an accurate response.

I've had discussions with people that think invading Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia and killing 4 million people was OK because those people were communists.  What is a communist?  They don't know.

It's pretty astonishing to think about.  What if someone that had the authority to order you to be killed said "You need to die because you are a flakill."  And when you ask this person to tell you what a flakill is they admit they don't know, and they go on to kill and all the while think what they did is fine.  It's scary.

In Orwell's book "1984" they have what they call the 2 minutes hate.  They just set 2 minutes aside to hate some object that leadership has decided should be hated.  We have an entire country of people that fears and hates socialism, and yet almost none of them actually know what it is.  Don't you need to understand something before you hate it?  And if you are being compelled to hate something and you don't know what it is, doesn't this suggest that you have been manipulated?  You wouldn't naturally do that on your own.

Just because someone believes in government intervention in the economy, this does not make them a socialist.  I've seen Paul Krugman (and I'm not going to try and find the video, so you'll just have to trust me) say emphatically that he is a capitalist, not a socialist, and he thinks capitalism is better.  Yes, he wants publicly provided health care.  Yes, he wants regulation of banking.  But the key is he thinks private ownership of the means of production should remain.

A common rhetorical trick is to define terms in a way the real meat of the disagreement is never addressed.  I tend to think that capitalists are just uncomfortable defending capitalism.  Maybe when they hear socialism defined honestly they can see that it makes some sense.  Workers own the factory.  Workers only reap the rewards of their labor.  Non-workers aren't entitled to the fruits of my labor.  Owners don't actually make a productive contribution, so they are superflous.  And the fact is they get the bulk of the fruits of the labor while doing nothing.  That's tough to rebut.  Some capitalists try to argue that the owner is making a productive contribution.  Good on them for actually addressing the real disagreement.  But most people don't even try.  They don't even want to enter into the debate here.  So they shift the terms of the debate and pretend the debate is really about something else.

Pretending socialism simply means supporting a stronger welfare state is one approach.  Socialists usually like these things, thinking that within a capitalist society these government interventions are great for alleviating problems.  The defender of capitalism would rather talk about that.  Is publiclly provided health care effective?  Is regulation going to solve problems that result from capitalism?  Can global warming be alleviated without government regulation?  Pretend that this is where the debate between socialism and capitalism lies.  In that way Obama is a socialist.  And the real disagreement between the socialist and the capitalist doesn't enter the discussion.

Who do you think benefits from this condition?  The condition that says the owner gets the bulk of the money without working and the justness of this condition is never questioned?  The one that benefits is the person that gets that money without working.  I think therein lies the explanation of why Americans very much hate socialism and yet don't know what it is.  This condition is very useful for the rich.  It also explains a lot of US violence.  Violence against Cuba makes little sense if you think it's a response to a threat to the American people.  But it makes perfect sense when you consider that their system, which says there is no ownership class that gets the bulk of the money without working, that is a genuine threat to owners that get most of the money without working.  And so Cuba is resisted violently.  That resistance is often supported by Americans that know only that socialism is bad.  They don't know what it is or what kind of threat it really represents.  The real threat of Cuba is the threat of the good example.  If Cuba is allowed to proceed without US interference the people there will be much better off.  Other nations will follow their approach, and now you've aced out the non-worker owners from taking the bulk of the money while doing none of the work.  That's a real threat.  And that explains why Cuba, Vietnam, Venezuela, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and all the rest have been and are being attacked.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Chomsky Debate From 1991

In this video Chomsky debates a former Ford and Reagan administration official.  Chomsky's performance is not unlike what he displayed in his debate with Richard Perle.  What really makes him impressive is simply that he knows the facts and his opponents don't.  They make false assertions.  He gives the facts.  They look stupid.

It's a pretty easy path to debate victory I suppose, and in my estimation it's usually true.  The right wing just doesn't know the facts.  Winning just means that you should know the facts and offer correction.  People are often impressed, and maybe I think they shouldn't be.  People have said as much to me.  Wow, Jon, you know so much.  You're so smart.  That's what they say.  I tell them it's not true.  I don't think I'm particularly smart.  I just think I've managed to step outside of what you might call a propaganda bubble and I've discovered some historical things.  People know about Watergate.  Few have heard of COINTELPRO.  Many have heard about the Gulf of Tonkin incident.  But most of them couldn't actually tell you when the US military began attacking Vietnam.  If you know this basic stuff you'll find that your friends are often impressed.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

An Update on Birth Defects in Iraq

I'd written before about how during the US assault on Fallujah open war crimes were committed by US military and photos of it were prominently displayed in the NY Times with a seemingly total lack of awareness of what was being displayed.  Also how suspicions are that chemical weaponry and depleted uranium were deployed on the residents of Fallujah.  An update in the incidence of birth defects is here.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Record Low Levels of Arctic Ice

A while back PBS covered the issue in the interview below.

In this article from Chomsky called Issues that Obama and Romney Avoid Chomsky talks about how prior projections had been that we might see summers without Arctic ice by the end of this century.  Now it could be as early as 2020?  And the response is not alarm from our politicians and world leaders.  It's how do we exploit newly exploited territory for more oil and other materials.  This will accelerate the problem.

As discussed in the interview, the ice caps are like the earth's air conditioners.  They reflect tons of solar radiative heat.  With the ice gone and water in its place more heat will be absorbed.  We're in big trouble here.  Things are already grim for the poor in Africa thanks to the drought from this year.  Meanwhile our politicians are focused on who can talk the toughest about Iran.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Muslims Actually Take Their Faith Seriously

A Christian friend of mine was criticizing Islam due to the recent violence in response to that video that depicted Mohammed unfavorably.  Islam is obviously wicked, violent, backward, horrible, etc.  I replied to him in a way I often do.  Sure, their violence is deplorable.  But why are we talking about it?  If you want to do some good in the world you should talk about yourself first.  Are we doing anything that contributes to this behavior in the Muslim world?  Yeah, quite a lot.  We prop up theocrats in the Muslim world.  Our actions led to the theocratic regime that exists in Iran.  We prop up the Saudi dictatorship.  We essentially created Hamas and Hezbollah.  We install other dictators which cause people to become more fundamentalist and extreme.  We invade them, which provokes more religious extremism.  Yeah, what they do is worthy of criticism, but it's not our place to offer it. That's for their fellow country men.  Let's focus on what we can do to improve the situation.

I stand by that position.  But I have to admit that my friend still did have a valid point.  You don't see this kind of thing among Christians.  You can have art that shows someone urinating on a crucifix and you don't get people storming the museum and killing people.  Christians are plenty violent.  But they aren't violent for their faith so much.  Obviously the US military has a lot of Christians, and they perpetuate a lot of violence.  They are being violent for other reasons.  What is it with Muslims?  I can understand getting violent to repel a foreign invader.  But a movie about Mohammed?  Who cares?  Christians may not like movies that portray Jesus unfavorably.  They may protest.  But they don't kill for it.  What is the deal?

I have a Muslim friend from Pakistan, so I put this question to him.  What's your deal, man?  That's pretty pathetic.

His reply really opened my eyes.  He first said that you stand outside of a culture and you judge it from your own perspective.  You have no clue and yet you judge.  You're in no position to judge.  But let's see if I can help you understand.  Let's suppose you walked in here today and told me you were going to kill your own family.  I'd be alarmed, but I wouldn't become violent towards you.  Now, let's take it up a notch.  Suppose you tell me you are going to kill my family.  I'll panic, but I'm not going to get violent.  Now, let's suppose you actually go and kill my family.  I'd be crushed.  But I'd call the police.  None of that would provoke actual violence from me.

But if you walked in here and insulted Mohammed I'd kill you.

Seriously, that's what he told me.  The regard he has for Mohammed is much greater than what he would have for his own mother.  He said anyone can understand if I'm standing next to my mother and you walk in, insult her, slap her, anyone can understand how that would provoke a violent reaction.  But even the regard I have for my own mother is nothing next to the regard I have for Mohammed, and I am much more outraged at insults towards him.

I said "But Christians don't react to the crucifix with urination."  He said if Christians don't genuinely care about Jesus the way we care about Mohammed and also the way we care about Jesus that's not my problem.

He says he's told many Christian people that they don't really love Jesus.  Not like he does.  He acts like Jesus is real.  If Jesus were insulted or even if Moses were insulted Muslims will become outraged.  Sure, Mohammed is another level of outrage, but it's similar for Jesus and Moses.  Much more of a big deal than insulting family or even harming his family.

Like I say, it's not as if Christians are unwilling to be violent.  Many Christians in the military are violent all over the world.  But they aren't being violent for Jesus.  They are violent perhaps for their own safety.  Maybe they think Americans are at risk from foreign terrorists.  It's a miniscule threat, but they'll be violent for that.  My friend says he's unlikely to react to a threat, but will react to defend the honor of Mohammed.

It's easy to stand back and just say that violence is wrong.  But when we hear of typical violence we understand the underlying causes.  If someone insults your mother to your face it's easy to say you should ignore it.  But we can understand that one person in 100 may not be able to ignore it and they may react with violence.  It's not right, but it happens.  But when it comes to insulting Jesus it never happens.  Christians, at least in the US, don't seem to have that 1 in hundred case of a person that reacts with violence.  The mother is real though.  We all have or had a mother.  She was/is real.  Do Christians really act like Jesus is real?  Because Muslims are acting like Mohammed is real.

I'm not knocking acting like Jesus isn't real.  I don't think he was real.  But we need to at least understand where Muslims are coming from if we want to comprehend and address whatever violence they engage in.  They just act like they believe what they say and Christians in the US kind of don't.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Somewhat Reduced Posting Frequency

I've been a little MIA lately.  It isn't an accident.  I've dialed back my internet time just a little on purpose.  The internet is great obviously.  I love it.  But in my case I think I've over done it just a little and I think it's preventing me from developing some things in my life that I would like to develop.  I want to share a little about the thought process that led me to this conclusion and what I'm doing about it.

What's kind of funny is that I don't know if I'd have realized this without the internet.  The internet is both the cause of and solution to these various problems.  The same thing Homer says of alcohol.

I developed my reasoning skills a great deal thanks to the internet.  Back around 1998 I got involved in an email discussion group that addressed the Catholic/Protestant debate.  My logic skills were poor.  My writing skills were poor.  But I enjoyed the debate enough to participate despite that, and my skills developed.  Armed with better reasoning skills I attempted to defend the Bible and Christianity.  You know how that worked out.  Learning new facts (thanks particularly to the Secular Web) and at the same time using logic to develop conclusions, I was led away from Christianity.  And I'm grateful for that.

The same thing happened with Republican type politics.  Corporate media has a pretty loud megaphone, and without the internet I suppose I'd have continued to be led around by the nose in a manner they preferred.  My view of the world and the US role in it had been the standard, rah rah, murica is the best, etc, and now I think it's more informed.  This wouldn't have happened without the internet.

So the internet is good for human development in so many ways.  But of course there's a lot of other stuff on the internet.  Stuff that you do that doesn't really help you develop as a person too much.  In the summer of 1995 I happened to be stuck in an apartment in Ann Arbor.  Single, working as an intern, and with few friends still in town I was quite bored.  I had a roommate that played guitar.  I was always fascinated by it.  Maybe this is not true for a lot of people, but to me it seemed absolutely baffling.  How could someone possibly play this device?  And sing while they played it, doing both things at once?  It seemed so complicated.  And yet I knew that all kinds of people did it.  It had to be possible.  And I was bored.  So I asked my roommate and another friend that knew how to play to teach me.  And they did.  I still play.  Here I am trying to play Canon.  It's beyond my abilities to do it well at the moment.  I'm sure I could improve.  But the key is I developed a skill that is very rewarding to me.  It brings me a lot of pleasure to strum and pick various tunes.  I'm proud that I was able to develop a skill that at one time seemed so complicated.

If the internet in 1995 had been what it is today I honestly don't know if I'd have ever learned to play.  There's too much fun to be had.  Take this subreddit as an example.  Hilarious stuff.  You can kill a lot of time there and fail to be motivated by boredom to develop a skill that brings real joy.

Part of what contributed to my desire to reduce my internet usage was this subreddit on minimalismThis video is maybe a good example of some of the information that informed me.  It's about a guy that lives an extremely simple life.  If you watch it (it's 13 minutes) you'll see that he's in an apartment that is completely bare.  I'm not advocating or not advocating such a lifestyle, but I thought it was kind of liberating to recognize that in terms of material possession we don't really need a whole lot.  Since we don't lack in material posessions, what do we lack?  We lack skills and abilities that require time to develop.  We don't have unlimited time.  You can go out and buy a possession today.  But you can't just pick up a guitar and start playing.  That takes time.  Do I really value my golf clubs, my sound system, my cool TV, all the various crap stuffed in closets around the house?  Not nearly as much as I value the knowledge I've gained in debate online or the skills I've developed playing guitar (and I know these are not great skills, and even still I value them).

So the reason I'm a little less active on the internet lately is because I'm trying to develop some other skills that are important to me.  There are a few things that I aspire to do.  One is to learn a foreign language well enough that I could converse in that language.  To me it's like the guitar.  It's baffling that people have this capability, and yet I know millions of people do it.  So perhaps if I applied myself I could do it too.  About a month ago I was thinking about this while at the library and I saw some materials for learning Mandarin.  Why not?  So I grabbed it and I've started working on it.

To succeed at a foreign language you've got to commit.  My commitment may not be enough at the moment, but I'm dialing back internet usage to apply myself more to language.  Maybe in the future I'll try my hand at Spanish.  I've made a run at it before.  I made progress, but not enough to where I could have a fluid conversation with a native.  But maybe I'll try again with a more intense commitment.  Maybe one day I'll try my hand at piano.  I've always been interested in that.  If I could do it I think I'd value that skill more than I value my material possessions.

A while back I realized that I was wasting too much time with sports.  I'd spend all of Saturday watching college football and all of Sunday doing the same.  I could easily waste 6 hours on a Saturday and another 3 on Sunday.  What do I have to show for all that sitting?  Knowledge of what happened during a sporting event that just doesn't matter.  Not that I don't like football.  I still like watching.  These guys are impressive.  But my prioritization wasn't right.  I reduced the time I spent watching dramatically.  Instead of watching the full Lions game I'll usually just get the highlights.  Or maybe not even that (I actually don't know who won yesterday, or even who the Lions played).  Instead of watching football I was reading books on controversial topics that informed me as I debated online.  For me the knowledge gained there was a lot more valuable than the knowledge I would have gained watching a football game.

What I learned of football I think applies somewhat to my internet usage.  I'm not planning on giving it up.  I'm still here debating.  But maybe just a little less frequently for a while as I try to work on some other life skills that will be rewarding if I can achieve them.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

When Capitalism Came to the Soviet Union

I had a discussion yesterday and was reminded about how awful the Soviet Union was and what a nightmare it would have been to live there.  I replied as I often do.  Compared to the US, the richest country in the world, a lot of places are awful.  But just as life was tough in Soviet satellite states, things were pretty tough in nearby US satellites, like Guatemala, Haiti, and Brazil.  For them Socialism was ended violently and Capitalism was enforced.  I'd have preferred Poland to Haiti.  Don't compare Poland and the US.  Compare Poland and Haiti.

But there's another question worth considering.  How often do you hear about the consequences of Capitalism in the former Soviet states?  Not often.  What happened?  Well, I'm not sure.  It wasn't good.  I know that.  But how bad was it?

It's been difficult for me to discover, but I have a couple of sources that are worth checking out.  This one is called "Life After Communism: The Facts".  This is an interesting and brief overview.  According to this summary of a UN Development Program report 9.6 million men that would otherwise be alive had the Soviet Union not fallen are gone.  That's men only.  Women apparently did not die at quite as high a rate.  I think men suffer more from joblessness and failure to provide then women, more readily turning to alcoholism and suicide.  But one would assume many women died as well, meaning the death toll just in less than 10 years would be over 10 million.  That's the same order of magnitude as died under Stalin (see here).

The progression can be visualized by going to Gapminder.  Click any of the Soviet states and scroll through the fall.  By default it plots life expectancy and per capita income.  A lot of people are dying through this time period.

Here's another idea worth pursuing.  Most people know that Mao instituted polices that killed millions of people.  This is another one of those statements frequently offered by free market advocates.  How do we know about this?  I heard Chomsky discuss this and he made a very interesting point.  The claim is based on the detailed work of a highly respected scholar.  This scholar produced a report that explained what happened.  That same report offers additional information.  While Mao did institute polices that led directly to the death of millions of people he also instituted policies that in fact saved an equal or greater number of people from starvation.

Chomsky is not defending what Mao did but only pointing out that while you hear a lot about the death you hear nothing about the millions saved.  Why is that?

Well, we know why.  It's the same reason everyone knows that Stalin killed millions but few know that free market reforms in the Soviet Union also killed millions.  In fact the reason I'm writing this post is because when I claimed that market reforms killed millions my critic didn't believe it and wanted evidence.  Which is fine.  He should want evidence.  He's never heard of this stuff.  And that's not surprising.

On Socialism workers enjoy the fruits of their labor and on Capitalism non-working owners get the fruits of the labor and the workers get a lesser amount.  Who likes that arrangement?  The non-working owners.  Mitt Romney made $20 million in 2010.  This is not him living off the surplus value he created in the past.  He actually gets the value that is created by workers in 2010.  That's what dividends are.  People work for a company and make profits.  They send the money to Mitt Romney.  It takes a lot of work.  It's not work that Mitt Romney does.  The workers do it.  He gets it.

So who likes that arrangement?  Mitt Romney and others that are the richest people in the world.  These are the same people that own the media.  And they own the companies that advertise in the media.  Any system that deprives them of collecting the majority of money while doing none of the work is a system they will fear.  Obviously.  They want to continue to get most of the money while doing none of the work.

The Soviet Union wasn't Socialist and neither was Mao's China.  But they did not allow the Capitalist to make money doing nothing.  So that which they did that was good is ignored.  That which they did that was evil (and they did a lot of evil) is trumpeted from the rooftops.

We need to not forget that.  Let's criticize Mao and Stalin.  But let's also admit that yes, their non-Capitalists systems produced some successes as well.  For instance the Soviet Union put a rover on Venus.  That's pretty impressive.  China and the Soviet Union have (had) major problems.  But that doesn't mean that workers sending what they earn off to non-working owners is the only alternative.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Romney is Not the Greatest Candidate

For Romney the people that actually do the work that make his profits possible are "freeloaders". He gets enough money to actually pay some income tax. Not that he works. He just gets the money others create. He gives some of that money they created to the government via his income taxes so HE is the one bringing value, whereas the workers that don't get to keep much of the value they create, and hence don't earn enough to pay INCOME taxes are the slackers. Never mind that they actually pay a higher proportion of their income in taxes than Romney. There are other taxes besides the income tax. That's irrelevant. They are freeloaders because Romney says that there is one specific tax that they don't pay.

This is quite ironic. I mean, Romney has been running for President since like 2007. Who can just run for President for 5 years? I can't just quit my job and run for President. I have obligations. I have to go into work and accomplish some things in order to earn a salary, because I have to provide for myself and my family. I can't just sleep in every day. But Romney can. And yet he sees himself like he's the hard working one and tomato pickers and janitors are lazy. They get up in the morning, Mitt. They are on their feet. You are probably sleeping. You are the freeloader.

Stewart later covers the Fox News spin, which is also fun. I'll just provide a link here.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Don't Buy It

Months back I happened to watch this Ted Talk which discusses (among other things) the relationship between income and happiness. It was a major eye opener for me. I found it very liberating to recognize that much of what I perceived as a want/need was something that in the end really didn't affect my happiness. I've become convinced that a much simpler existence would actually provide no less life satisfaction, and probably would produce more.

So I just wanted to share a couple of related resources on this topic. I thought the below 9 minute commentary entitled "You Don't Need to Buy This" was very worthwhile.

There's an article by the speaker that's worth reading here.

I recently watched a movie, available streaming on Netflix that's called "Happy." It explores the relationship between perceived causes of happiness and actual causes.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

In Light of the Attacks in Libya

The right wing is giddy to be able to talk about the attacks in Libya. It's a great opportunity for them. The last thing they want is for people to discuss what OUR government is doing. They want to distract us from that question and have us instead focus on the atrocities of others that we can't control.

A young conservative questioner tried the same tactic with Noam Chomsky. Listen to see how it went for him.

Growth Is The Problem

The problem I have with so called liberal economists like Paul Krugman is not that he's wrong about his prescriptions for what would solve our economic problems. Yeah, austerity in the US should be expected to reduce economic growth, cause a lot of suffering, and increase unemployment, just as it has in Europe. He's not wrong that preparation for an alien invasion would boost our economy even if it was later discovered that the invasion threat was a hoax. He's not wrong to suggest that the new I-Phone 5 could boost our economy by causing people to discard perfectly good phones.

Where he's wrong is that he doesn't recognize that his solutions allow us to continue down this unsustainable path. Capitalism needs ever expanding consumption. Krugman knows that the problem is lack of demand. So when consumers already have all the products they would ever need you have to contrive wants so that people will continue to consume more. Break windows. Throw away phones. Prepare for a war against a non-existent threat. Dig some ditches and re-fill them. This is what Capitalism requires.

What Americans don't recognize is that they are already fantastically rich. I found a really well written piece describing our riches, particularly relative to even the wealthiest people of the past, right here. If you are reading this blog post you are probably among the richest people in the world today. In fact you are way richer than most people that have ever lived. How is it that we don't live like we are rich? Instead we work and work for decades filling our homes with junk that we don't want and don't use? How many of us can actually fit 2 cars in our 2 car garages? I can with a lot of effort if I pile boxes full of crap high and to the side. At the moment I can't get 2 cars in, because I have too much stuff that I don't use in there.

Chris Hedges has a good piece on this topic here. Also a good interview on Democracy Now here. We are committing suicide by growing our economy when it is not really necessary for our happiness. It's only necessary because our system is Capitalist. It will not go on forever. It will either end with a massive economic collapse and unimaginable suffering or we will change the system drastically on our own terms.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Monday, September 10, 2012

Should Liberals Prefer a Romney Victory

An interesting debate on Democracy Now on this question here.

Take the issue of austerity. Yeah, Republicans want a savage austerity package that should be expected to collapse our economy like was done in Europe. But could they do that effectively like Obama can if he chooses to? Obama himself picked the heads of his Deficit Commission which is proposing a harmful austerity package.

In health care we need single payer. The deficit would be gone. 40-50 million people get some respectable options. It's win-win. Well sort of. It's not a win for profit seeking owners that will no longer make millions doing nothing. So they oppose it. The right wing Heritage Foundation crafted a plan that placates the masses but keeps the owners in the profit stream. Obama had a chance at bringing single payer, but instead he gave corporations their profitable solution, and the result will be continued high prices. It's not terribly surprising that Romney is now expressing support for some portions of Obama Care. It's a right wing plan.

Then of course you have all this war expansion and surveillance state expansion. All of this has come about virtually without opposition from the left. The argument is that while Romney is evil Obama is the more effective evil. It's a strong argument. I can respect that good people may come down on either side of this debate. This is a very hard question.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Clinton-More Facts in 48 Minutes than RNC Offered in 4 Days

I keep hearing that Clinton gave a pretty good speech. Jon Stewart makes fun of the length, but is impressed that it did contain something that just isn't offered by Republicans: content.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Fox News vs CNN

If you want to bash Fox News more power to you, but I think it's important to recognize that you don't want to do this in a way that obscures the fact that CNN is very similar.

I view it much like the Republicans and Democrats. Republicans are in the tank for the rich and they are proud of it. They blatantly reject democracy, lie, etc. OK, we know where they stand. Democrats sort of pretend to be different, but when push comes to shove there's not much difference.

Here's a story about CNN's pushy behavior directed against their own journalists in service to the brutal torturing government in Bahrain. Sure, Fox News has directed their journalists to lie in service to wealth. CNN wants their reporters to include lies in stories as well in service to this brutal military dictatorship that enjoys strong support in Washington. If you want to go crazy demonizing official enemies, like Iran and Syria, there's no problem. Demonizing friends of the state is a bridge too far.

Another thing to remember is that propaganda is not usually put forward in such a blatant form. Like the higher ups pressuring reporters to include lies in their stories. The filtering produces the propaganda without a cabal of powerful people pulling strings. One example is contained in some of the videos I show here where Michael Moore is interviewed about his movie Sicko. It starts with CNN's Sanjay Gupta just getting the facts blatantly wrong as he tries to discredit the movie prior to the interview. He got obvious things wrong, like the amount of money Moore claimed Cuba spent per person on health care. Nobody directed him to get it wrong. It was incompetence in service to CNN's corporate backers.

You have the vast majority of Americans that agree with Michael Moore on health care and you have the corporate sector representing the interests of wealth that opposes. CNN gets it all wrong in service to wealth. Interestingly as we learn in this video where former insurance company executive Wendell Potter apologizes to Michael Moore for the role he played discrediting Sicko, one of the people Gupta relied on was a paid insurance company stooge that was working to discredit the film and this of course was not revealed to the CNN audience. So maybe it was a combination of incompetence in service to wealth and organized disinformation in service to wealth.

Credit to Keith Olbermann for exposing a lot of this. But then he was suspended from MSNBC and now he's gone.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Billionaire GOP Donors Don't Want to Be Questioned

They want to run the country, but if questions are asked of them they seem offended. At this link you can see what happened when Democracy Now attempted to ask questions of a man that is prepared to spend $100 million to see his preferred candidate installed at the White House. His daughter boxes out the reported, takes the camera, and drops it on the floor. They want to control what happens in the public sphere. But the public is unable to ask them questions and find out what they are about.

The alphabet networks will cover this convention in a way that portrays it in the manner the RNC prefers. Democracy Now is outside of the convention covering protestors and the intense security presence as well as the puppet masters in the suites. DN is showing you what is really happening, doing real journalism. DN is the preferred news source for people that want to know what is really going on in the world.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

For Romney the Shots to the Foot Continue

Ron Paul's delegates have been kind of aced out at the Republican convention. You can get the story at Democracy Now. For Romney the best political strategy is to enrage any faction within the party that doesn't tow the line 100%. I think a lot of Ron Paul supporters that would have considered voting for Romney as the lesser of two evils now will not consider that.

It's pretty frustrating I imagine. People often ask Ron Paul why he doesn't just run as a liberterian. He disagrees so much with the Republican platform. His answer is that he just knows it's fruitless. The system is rigged to prevent any third party success. He doesn't want to spend all his time trying to figure out ballot access and red tape. He wants to spread his message. To do that successfully he has no choice but to work within one of the two parties.

So Paul did that. The rules are rigged against him, but he used those same rules to get lots of delegates out of Maine and get himself a voice at the convention even though he did not win the popular vote in Maine. But that doesn't matter. Now the RNC has just changed the rules when it turns out they are used against Romney. They just told Maine's delegates they can't be seated.

It's a tough situation for Romney. He'd like to think everyone within the party is happy with his nomination. That would be ideal. But that's not reality. Politically is it wise to just rig the rules to silence dissenting voices so you can have the illusion of unity? Why not instead allow people to express disagreement, but then reach out to them and say that yes, you know you have disagreements, but you still want their vote and you can still agree that Obama is more harmful? We all know what Paul thinks of Romney. We all know that his supporters have problems with Romney. Preventing his delegates from having involvement isn't going to change that.

I think it is the kind of thing that will help some of the Paulites recognize that the Republican party has real contempt for democracy and will certainly subvert it if necessary. This is something Democrats have known for a long time. Consider the events surrounding Mike Connell and the 2004 election. The party elites and big money behind them are going to try and win by any means necessary.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Who Cares About Looting?

George Carlin has got me thinking. In the below clip on Bill Maher the topic is Katrina and they discuss (among other things) black men taking TV's from Best Buy. Maher points out that Bush's rhetoric in response was some encouragement to shoot such people on sight, which of course is ridiculous. The right winger replies "Well at least we can agree the looting is terrible." Carlin basically says "To tell you the truth I'm not too worried about it."

This got me thinking about our two tiered justice system. I'm reading a book right now called "The New Jim Crowe." Our justice system is simply skewed against blacks and other minorities. Blacks use illicit drugs at the same rate as whites, blacks are 13% of the population, and yet blacks are over 50% of the people in prison for non violent possession only type drug crimes. This YouTube video which purports to be a documentary of the book I'm reading, is kind of just a mash up of interviews and news pieces that show that this is not an accident. The Reagan administration realized that fear of the black man was a winning political issue. Divisive. Funnels dollars from the private prison industry into the coffers. And drug money can be used to fund terrorist operations in Latin America. So the CIA piped in the drugs and Reagan/Bush coordinated with the media a big "crack cocaine" scare campaign. They filled the prisons with black men, generating enormous profits.

It sounds too crazy to be true. The idea that the CIA was the source of crack. But even the CIA admits this now. Now, we know many black men have been incarcerated for use and distribution of crack. Who from the CIA is incarcerated? What about the very top people, like Bush Sr or the at the time CIA director? The very source of the problem? Well of course they are not only free but living in luxury. Ollie North is celebrated. He had his own show on Fox News.

Something like 50% of black males of this generation have either been in prison, jail, or probation. It becomes difficult to enter mainstream society with a record like that. What happens when men of this age are locked up or develop this history to where making a living is difficult? If they have children those children suffer. The father, struggling to make a living even for himself, may be tempted to leave and deprive these children of a good role model. These children might grow up and do stupid things, like steal a TV from Best Buy. People on the right are ready to shoot them on sight. The root cause of the problem they ignore. Those people get away.

One more economic thought on this situation. Who is harmed when a TV is stolen from Best Buy? Not the person that made the TV. He's in Mexico making $1 an hour or so and he has already been paid. Not the workers at Best Buy. Their salary doesn't change. In an economy where corporations have record cash and only hire to meet the demand the people harmed are the investors. The poorest half of people in this country don't own any stock, so they obviously are not harmed. By and large it's the richest people in the world that are harmed when a poor person steals a TV from Best Buy.

Mitt Romney made $20 million in 2010 and he didn't work. He's the kind of guy that gets the largest share of the money due to the profits generated by workers. So you can kind of see why the right wing would want to shoot a black man for stealing a TV. He's stealing from Mitt Romney, a super rich guy that won't actually notice because he already has money coming out of his ears. But so what? Serving the needs of the rich is of prime importance.

Romney doesn't actually "steal" because "stealing" means illegally taking something. He takes the value created by the Mexican factory worker, but it's not stealing because it's legal. Let's say the Mexican worker is paid $5 to make a TV. Other costs related to delivering that TV to a buyer amount to maybe $300. The TV is actually sold for $1000. So Romney gets $695, even though he may have been asleep through the whole process.

It's kind of like how nobody is concerned about higher level CIA personnel that created the crack epidemic. They go free and the black man that smoked some goes to prison. In the same way nobody is concerned when Romney takes all the value created by others (we can't call it stealing because it is legal). We're not worried about that. Only when the black man does the same. When he takes a TV he didn't create then he's to be shot for it.

I think Carlin is saying that we should concern ourselves first with the much larger "thefts" and the people at the very top of the drug trade. People like Mitt Romney and Bush Sr. I think that's right.