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.