Thursday, May 31, 2012

Obama on Due Process for Arab Americans in 2004

Obama gave the keynote address at the Democratic convention in 2004. A pretty good speech. One statement popped out at me, and it may have been the single statement within the speech that got the loudest applause:
If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child.


If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for their prescription and having to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandparent.


If there's an Arab-American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties.

(Crowd erupts and stands)

Earlier he had talked about how in America we can say what we think, write what we think, without hearing a sudden knock on the door. You can get the transcript here or watch the video here.

As President Obama ordered the assassination of Anwar Al Awlaki. He was alleged to have committed crimes, but no evidence was presented. He did advocate the violent overthrow of the US government, but that is legally protected speech. About two weeks later his 16 year old son, a boy born in Colorado, was likewise droned. There was no apparent effort to apprehend these alleged criminals peacefully.

Things have progressed since then. This NY Times article explains how today's list includes several more Americans. Two among the 15 are teenagers, one of whom is a girl aged 17. If Bush detaining Arab-Americans with no due process was a threat, what of assassinating Arab-Americans with no due process?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Energy Conservation Isn't Just For Hippies

Check out this pretty funny advertisement for solar power.

Solar technology has improved a lot lately.  It's now a money saving proposition for a lot of people.  Some don't know this, but it's not necessary to have some sort of energy storage, like batteries, in order to run a solar power system.  In most states, such as Michigan, what happens is when your solar power system exceeds your usage the power you generate is fed to the grid.  Your meter will actually spin in reverse.  At night you would have to use the electricity generated by the power plant, but on net you could end up paying nothing for electricity.  This works out really well for people that aren't at home during the day.  Or for people that travel.  For a lot of people a solar installation will pay for itself in like 15 years.  Subsequently you will still have these panels that will continue to provide free electricity for a long time.

Here's another easy way to save money and help the environment.  A lot of people don't know that some of your electronics can end up drawing a lot of power even when it isn't running.  A friend told me his audio receiver pulls 100W even when it is off (I plan to measure how much mine pulls using a Kill-A-Watt).  At 10 cents per kilowatt hour that's like $80 a year just to have my receiver plugged in and not running.  You don't have to be a tree hugger to make a little effort on that one.  I'm going to flip the power strip off from now on when I'm not using it.

That's also true for your computer and peripherals.  Feel your modem even when the computer is off.  Mine gets pretty hot.  The wireless router is drawing power.  At night if the computer is off, why not shut these down?

Another option for me is riding my bike to work.  It's 9 miles to work for me.  Not too far.  Fortunately there's a shower in the building.  I figure I save a gallon of gas every time I bike to work and back home.

Some other great ideas for reducing your energy consumption are here.  Even if you think all scientists are involved in some sort of weird global warming conspiracy, you can still benefit from energy conservation.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Case Closed-Saddam and OBL

To the left we have a cover image from the Weekly Standard, a magazine founded and edited by Bill Kristol, a man that still makes the rounds on Fox explaining the world to the listening audience. This was a November, 2003 issue. The cover story is entitled "Case Closed". It details how there can now be no doubt of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden's operational links. You can read the story (written by Steven Hays) here. The story of course is completely wrong, as was well known soon after this story was published.

It kind of reminds me of a campaign ad from the Bush campaign run just prior to the '04 elections. Fear is such an incredible motivator. You can get people to do all kinds of crazy things that they would never consider doing except to save them from a perceived threat. Republicans desperately want you scared, and they'll convince even themselves of ridiculous, unsubstantiated things to drive you into fear. And into their arms.

Do people notice that really the threat was overblown? Can we now admit that the Islamic terrorist threat is kind of silly? Americans are more likely to die from a coconut falling on their head than terrorism.This old tired fear method has of course been going on for a while. Here's Reagan's famous "There's a bear in the woods" ad. A lot of people thought that was kind of overblown. For instance here's Noam Chomsky talking about the Soviet Union in 1985. Sure, they're evil, and a real threat to the people that are under their domination. But they are not able to project themselves very far. There's no reason to be scared. Who was right? Are we going to continue to listen to the Bill Kristol's of the world?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Why Doesn't Buffett Just Pay More Taxes Voluntarily

A favored right wing tactic in debate is to simply offer unworkable solutions.  So for instance when people in poorer countries suffering under dictatorship rise up the right wing (including Obama) will say something like "Oh yes, we support your end goal of democracy, but now is not the right time.  For now let's step back and not rock the boat to much.  Work through other channels."  You have thousands of people in Tarhir Square right now.  You've got to make demands and see them implemented now.  If you wait and the combined forces of the people dissipate, change won't come.  Stepping down is unworkable if your goal is real change.

You see this in the debate over health care.  One workable solution is single payer.  It's favored by a large majority of Americans.  It's been done in many countries.  The right wing will say "Oh yes, I have a problem with our health care system as well.  I agree we are on an unsustainable cost path.  We should just have a totally free market system."  How might we bring that about?  There's no clear path.  Pursuing that strategy is a recipe for status quo.

My prior post raised the issue of tax hikes on the rich.  Debating the merits of it I think is worthwhile.  Would it help the economy or not?  Reasonable people can disagree.  Here's what's not worthwhile in my view.  This constant rejoinder from the right wing (watch Neil Cavuto subject Nick Hanauer to it here) that he should just feel free to send additional tax money to Uncle Sam.  "Why not just send an additional check to the government?"  That's often followed with a shit eating grin.  They're so proud of themselves when they say that.

Here's what I would answer if I were Nick Hanauer.  BECAUSE IT WOULDN'T WORK.  Cavuto already knows that.  That's probably why he suggests it.

The problem is poverty, unemployment, the fact that children graduate from college with mountains of debt.  If I, Nick Hanauer, sent an extra check to the government, would any of this change?

But Cavuto will reply that it would make a marginal difference.  Like maybe it will push a single government program over the line to where it would be permitted, creating the jobs and stimulation that the left craves.

In response I say the following:  I admit it.  I'm selfish.  I don't want to just help one or two people.  I get no satisfaction from thinking that maybe an extra bit of stimulus was permitted.  Here's what would give me satisfaction.  If I saw the unemployment rate drop 3%.  If I saw severe poverty return to earlier levels.  If I literally could drive around and not see the children of unwed mothers roaming the streets because Mom has to work at Wal-Mart rather than be at home raising her kids.  I want a massive reduction in suffering, not a marginal one.  If I alone sending a check to Uncle Sam could produce that much good then I'd do it.  But I can't.  We have to have thousands of others just like me doing the same.  It's a workable solution, not a solution that retains large masses of the population in a suffering state.  So if being selfish in that way is a vice, so be it.

Does that change the answer to the question of whether taxing the rich more would help the poor?  No.  Either it helps or doesn't regardless of whether I voluntarily send additional money.  If you disagree, fine.  We can discuss it.  Asking me to first send more won't change the answer to that question.

Billionaire Gives TED Talk Saying Rich Don't Create Jobs, TED Refuses to Post

In the US, the propaganda system is pretty sophisticated. You're not told what to say. It just happens that when you say things that undermine the interests of wealth, those things tend to not get a forum.

Why do we hear a lot about the sins of Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein, and Hugo Chavez but we hear just about nothing of the atrocities perpetuated by Uribe, Karimov, and Suharto (Colombia, Uzbekistan, and Indonesia for those who don't know)? The pattern is so obvious I think it takes some real fortitude to fail to see it. The former engage in policies that tend to prevent the accumulation of wealth for US investors and the later don't. So the atrocities of the former matter and the atrocities of the later don't.

Billionaire venture capitalist Nick Hanauer has given a talk as part of the TED circuit explaining why really the rich don't create jobs. TED offers some good stuff, but they are a conference of rich people and apparently they don't like this message. So they've refused to publish it, claiming it is too controversial.

You can't watch it, but you can read it below.  It is worth the read.
It is astounding how significantly one idea can shape a society and its policies. Consider this one.

If taxes on the rich go up, job creation will go down.

This idea is an article of faith for republicans and seldom challenged by democrats and has shaped much of today's economic landscape.

But sometimes the ideas that we know to be true are dead wrong. For thousands of years people were sure that earth was at the center of the universe. It's not, and an astronomer who still believed that it was, would do some lousy astronomy.

In the same way, a policy maker who believed that the rich and businesses are "job creators" and therefore should not be taxed, would make equally bad policy.

I have started or helped start, dozens of businesses and initially hired lots of people. But if no one could have afforded to buy what we had to sell, my businesses would all have failed and all those jobs would have evaporated.

That's why I can say with confidence that rich people don't create jobs, nor do businesses, large or small. What does lead to more employment is a "circle of life" like feedback loop between customers and businesses. And only consumers can set in motion this virtuous cycle of increasing demand and hiring. In this sense, an ordinary middle-class consumer is far more of a job creator than a capitalist like me.

So when businesspeople take credit for creating jobs, it's a little like squirrels taking credit for creating evolution. In fact, it's the other way around.

Anyone who's ever run a business knows that hiring more people is a capitalists course of last resort, something we do only when increasing customer demand requires it. In this sense, calling ourselves job creators isn't just inaccurate, it's disingenuous.

That's why our current policies are so upside down. When you have a tax system in which most of the exemptions and the lowest rates benefit the richest, all in the name of job creation, all that happens is that the rich get richer.

Since 1980 the share of income for the richest Americans has more than tripled while effective tax rates have declined by close to 50%.

If it were true that lower tax rates and more wealth for the wealthy would lead to more job creation, then today we would be drowning in jobs. And yet unemployment and under-employment is at record highs.

Another reason this idea is so wrong-headed is that there can never be enough superrich Americans to power a great economy. The annual earnings of people like me are hundreds, if not thousands, of times greater than those of the median American, but we don't buy hundreds or thousands of times more stuff. My family owns three cars, not 3,000. I buy a few pairs of pants and a few shirts a year, just like most American men. Like everyone else, we go out to eat with friends and family only occasionally.

I can't buy enough of anything to make up for the fact that millions of unemployed and underemployed Americans can't buy any new clothes or cars or enjoy any meals out. Or to make up for the decreasing consumption of the vast majority of American families that are barely squeaking by, buried by spiraling costs and trapped by stagnant or declining wages.

Here's an incredible fact. If the typical American family still got today the same share of income they earned in 1980, they would earn about 25% more and have an astounding $13,000 more a year. Where would the economy be if that were the case?

Significant privileges have come to capitalists like me for being perceived as "job creators" at the center of the economic universe, and the language and metaphors we use to defend the fairness of the current social and economic arrangements is telling. For instance, it is a small step from "job creator" to "The Creator". We did not accidentally choose this language. It is only honest to admit that calling oneself a "job creator" is both an assertion about how economics works and the a claim on status and privileges.

The extraordinary differential between a 15% tax rate on capital gains, dividends, and carried interest for capitalists, and the 35% top marginal rate on work for ordinary Americans is a privilege that is hard to justify without just a touch of deification

We've had it backward for the last 30 years. Rich businesspeople like me don't create jobs. Rather they are a consequence of an eco-systemic feedback loop animated by middle-class consumers, and when they thrive, businesses grow and hire, and owners profit. That's why taxing the rich to pay for investments that benefit all is a great deal for both the middle class and the rich.

So here's an idea worth spreading.

In a capitalist economy, the true job creators are consumers, the middle class. And taxing the rich to make investments that grow the middle class, is the single smartest thing we can do for the middle class, the poor and the rich.

Thank You.
Update: The video is now available on Youtube.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Myth of the Liberal Media

A great documentary laying out the Propaganda Model of the media. Particularly good in the latter half where you get to actually observe mainstream media treatment of the various events covered. It's well worth the hour of time invested.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Free to Choose

If you watched Milton Friedman on Donahue that I provided a while back you heard Friedman talk about a 10 part special that was about to be shown on PBS that he put together making a basic case for his economic theories. Guess who suffered through the whole thing? All 10 hours. Yours truly. That's commitment right there, eh?

Actually it's really good so it wasn't a chore for me. Not that I agree with Friedman for the most part, but it's a really well done series. You get 30 minutes of Friedman making his case. Then you get a discussion with critics and supporters for the remaining 30 minutes. And unlike O'Reilly or the typical debate you see on today's cable shows you get people that are allowed to make their case without too much by way of interruption. It's very worthwhile and informative, especially relative to today's television.

I'm going to record some brief thoughts here which may be imperfect since I'm going from memory.

FTC1 Power of Market - Friedman's argument is that the more free an economy the more prosperous the country. In my view this is just dubious in terms of the way Friedman defines freedom. The socialist on the panel makes a critical point. The US in fact has not been a free market society. Labor history was extremely violent. Railroads were subsidized by the government. Friedman's reply is that government spending was only 3% of GDP back then, so it's still not a lot of government involvement. He will later note (FTC3) that the growth in government has been in the welfare state measures (Social Security and Medicare). There is a Motorola executive involved that mostly sides with Friedman. I'd point out that in S Korea it wasn't government expenditures, it was government control (tariffs, incentives, restrictions, etc) that really distinguish it from what Friedman would recommend, but it did really well.

FTC2 The Tyranny of Control - The claim is Hong Kong is awesome. Don Rumsfeld is involved in the discussion. He was a sort of Friedman protege. Friedman claims that societies that don't govern economics do better. A woman on the panel says in fact Hong Kong does have government intervention (roads, other items) and points to South Korea and it's heavy hand with regards to industrial policy. Friedman doesn't deny this but maintains that Singapore is free market.

FTC3 Anatomy of a Crisis - Friedman says we must contrast societies that MORE CLOSELY resembled free market conditions, and these are the ones that prosper most. No society is entirely free market. He also claims that the period after WWII up to 1973 was in fact a rather difficult economic time period. There is discussion of a recession in '58 I believe. He says that things in the US could be much better. He says that Keynes was right that government stimulus was needed in the wake of the Great Depression but it's gone well beyond where it should have been. He claims that if Keynes hadn't died he's the one person that could have prevented this vast overuse of government. The key failure of the Great Depression was the Fed's failure to provide the needed cash to prevent the runs on the banks.

FTC4 From Cradle to Grave - The thrust of the argument is that welfare makes people dependent and treats them as children. Despite that Friedman still does think the government should provide some assistance to the poor in the form of what he calls the negative income tax. The liberals in the discussion effectively dispel some myths about what the level of recidivism is and also some distortions from Thomas Sowell about the total welfare expenditures per person in poverty. He says if you divide welfare expenditures by the number of people in poverty the number looks absurdly high. But Sowell's critic notes that not everyone that receives monies from the government which are designated as welfare is poor. Social Security recipients for instance are not all poor. A good point from Friedman is that as much as he doesn't like welfare he must give it some credit in that at least it does transfer money from the rich to the poor, as opposed to most other government programs which are clever wealth transfers to the rich in disguise.

FTC5 Created Equal - Friedman argues that striving for equality of results is counter productive and wrong. The discussion after his presentation is really interesting. Friedman is hammered for straw man characterizations of the goal of the left and for misrepresenting the facts in England. His assertion that economic freedom brings political freedom is challenged aggressively by Frances Fox Priven on the issue of Chile and other Latin American dictators. Friedman falsely pretends that things are not much worse for the poor in Chile. The British panelist is awesome. He will not let Friedman get away with this straw man that equality of results is the goal. Friedman deftly attempts to sidestep the question, but his critic won't let go. Sowell likewise tries to sidestep the question. Priven talks about how blacks have struggled for equality and Sowell falsely pretends that no, blacks are not interested in this, only intellectuals, as if the black liberation movement was a movement of intellectuals rather than a grass roots movement. Sowell is totally wrong on this point, and even if you do look at the leadership (Malcolm X, MLK Jr, Jackson) you see that Priven's claims about their goals are correct.

FTC6 What's Wrong With Our Schools - Friedman makes the case for private universities and private K-12 school. Kids that go to public universities largely aren't there to learn. It's a social club. But kids at private school want to learn because they are paying for their schooling. Friedman's critic makes a key point that in my view he never addresses satisfactorily. A private school does well because they can turn away the tough cases. We spend the bulk of the money on the tough cases, but we value the fact that we have a system where everyone gets a chance. Who's going to take the hard cases?

FTC7 Who Protects the Consumer - The argument is that the free market is better able to provide products that protect the consumer than government imposition can. The FDA does block harmful drugs. But what you don't hear about is the drugs that were blocked by the FDA that would have saved lives. Those people won't know that they could have been saved, so you won't hear loud objections. The Corvair was a decent car by the standards of the time despite what Ralph Nader claimed. I think the Friedman claim sounds plausible but is just empirically false. It's seems plausible that the market would clamor for safety measures in vehicles if there was value in it. But it doesn't seem that they did. The markets didn't get lead out of gasoline. They didn't produce a populace that clamored for safety measures in cars. In fact Ralph Nader prior to 9-11 was trying to get airlines to lock cockpit doors, but the industry refused. It's really interesting to hear Friedman say that he wears his seat belt sometimes and other times doesn't, and he should be free to decide. It is extremely foolish to fail to wear a seat belt. People didn't come to recognize that until the government imposed it. Today, 30 years later, largely because of government imposition, people have internalized what Friedman hadn't internalized at the time. You have to wear your seat belt.

FTC8 Who Protects the Worker - Unions are really about protecting people within their own group at the expense of the poor outside of that group. Places that get away from unions are more prosperous. The discussion includes Walter Williams. Unfortunately this was the least useful discussion as I recall because people talked over each other so much.

FTC9 How to Cure Inflation - The down side of inflation is emphasized. We all know what that is. You can be making more money from one year to the next in nominal dollars and less in real dollars, and this makes things tough. That's obviously true. The extreme example of post war Germany is discussed. But that's not all that informative in my view. What about the less extreme, but still high cases of inflation, like South Korea? You can have 15% inflation and still have a prosperous economy. To talk about Germany doesn't really prove anything.

FTC10 How to Stay Free - High concentrations of power, wherever they reside, are dangerous and destructive. Friedman makes it clear that this is true in a variety of areas, not just government. So in that we agree. In this discussion Friedman focuses on government and how we must curb its power. But here we are 30 years later. Where is the concentrated power today? Take Wall St. Today they engage in enormous crimes and they are not prosecuted. So where is the real root of power? It's not in government. Government is the tool that concentrated power today uses for their own benefit. Corporate power is the real concentrated power today and in my view should be the focus of our resistance. When corporate power is beaten back then I think it does make sense to look at the abuse of government. On this Friedman and I are not so far apart.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Do You Know What Happened On This Date?

Tuesday was a major holiday celebrated the world over, which originated due to events that occurred in Chicago on May 4, 1886.  The US is the origin of the holiday, but the holiday is not celebrated in the US.  Do you know about the events?  If not you can read about them here.

Today is also the anniversary of the killing of 4 students at Kent State University who were shot for expressing their objections to a grossly immoral war.  You can read about that here.

I was also told that today is Star Wars Day.  May the fourth be with you.

Wiping Israel Off The Map

Israel's Deputy Prime Minister finally admits that no, Ahmadinejad never threatened to wipe Israel off the map.  A link to the interview on Al Jazeera here.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Other Global Warming Skeptics

If you follow the debate about global warming you might be inclined to think there are two sides of the debate. On the one hand you have the majority of scientists that hold to conclusions put forward by the IPCC. Global warming is real, is man made, is a serious problem and should be addressed. On the other hand you have the skeptics. It's not even happening, or if it is it's not man made, or if it is we shouldn't do anything about it.

It's worth noticing that there is another view skeptical of the IPCC conclusions and in my view this position seems to have more credibility. The people that adhere to this view often have impeccable credentials. Their view is that things are much worse than the worst case IPCC projections. See for instance here. Why is it that we never hear from these global warming skeptics.