Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Price of OBL Raid

In capturing and executing Osama Bin Laden the CIA exploited a vaccination campaign.  I believe this would be a war crime because it is a war crime to camoflauge yourself as a health worker in war.  Naturally this puts future doctors working in battlefields at risk.  They might be suspected of doing more than helping the wounded.  This in turn is a threat to all soldiers in battle, who now are more difficult to aid.

In the case of polio in Pakistan this clearly harmed efforts to eradicate this disease.  This is not at all unexpected.  Chomsky discussed the likelihood of this immediately following the raid, quoting health experts that said this could produce 100,000 additional cases of polio.  How would you feel if your child contracted polio subsequent to this action in Pakistan?  Who would you blame?

Today we have the news of vaccination workers being gunned down in Pakistan.  We still don't have word from the CIA if their use of the polio vaccination program was helpful in finding Bin Laden.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Public Sector vs Private Sector

I remember years ago watching a program by Stossel talking about how basically the government sucks at everything.  It's always better to have things done in the private sector.  Why?  Because they care about efficiency, because it affects their profits.  A public sector employee doesn't care if he wastes money.  That's just more money that the taxpayer covers.  It's no skin off his nose.  So you lose all that efficiency when you go with public sector workers.  I guess I bought that argument.  So we need to privatize our schools, are garbage disposal, postal service, whatever else we can, and reap the rewards.

But here's something Stossel didn't mention.  For profit companies have to pay owners, usually stock holders.  In the case of stock holders, these are not people contributing to the production process.  It's kind of like an added weight around your neck.  Also unlike the government you usually have a lot of effort towards marketing.  Then CEO and upper management salaries tend to be pretty high in the private sector.  These are offsetting factors.  Maybe these losses exceed the efficiency gains.  If so then privatization is a bad idea.

You'd have to look at actual data to evaluate the effects, and as I frequently note at this blog this is not something conservatives often do.

I was reminded of this issue as I watched this YouTube video that addressed the costs associated with Obama Care and how those costs are covered.  The poor get subsidized insurance on Obama Care and that's a cost.  In the video it is claimed that some of this cost is paid for by modifications to a program called Medicare Advantage.  What's Medicare Advantage, you ask?

Back in 2003 the Bush administration was selling the Stossel line that things done by the private sector are just more efficient.  So why not have the private sector administer Medicare for those that choose to go that route.  If these private companies can meet the needs of their elderly and can do it for less, Bush's Medicare bill says they get to keep the difference.  Sounds like a good plan, right?

In the video it's stated as if it's an uncontroversial fact that it just didn't work out that way.  It was costing as much as 14 cents on every dollar more to cover seniors under Medicare Advantage than it did under publicly administered Medicare.  Why?  Those reasons mentioned above.  Stockholders want their cut, CEO's are costly, and so is marketing.  Congress through the years has simply passed measures to cover these costs.  It's basically corporate welfare.  They can't compete with Medicare, so we give them an extra 14% and now the stock holders and CEO's get the share that they expect.

Obama Care ends this arrangement.  Medicare Advantage will have to meet the low overhead rates Medicare manages to hit, and if they can't then that's tough.  The result, according to the video, is a savings of $136 billion over 10 years.  Not bad.

I have to admit I'd never heard of Medicare Advantage, so I did some Googling in an attempt to verify this claim.  Dean Baker links to this report from the CBO which generally aligns with what is claimed in the YouTube video.

With this information one might think that these results would generalize.  What about defense contractors?  They also have to pay stock holders and CEO bonuses.  What if we replaced them with civil servants and did the same for other government contractors?  Could we save some money that way?  Yeah, a little.  Only $300 billion per year.  That's the cost associated with the real parasites taking your tax dollars and keeping it for themselves.  Stock holders, CEO's, and marketing staff.  If you want to talk about welfare, why not first talk about the largest share of welfare that exists.  The part that's going to the rich.

Job Growth Under Recent Presidents

When you tell people the deficit is falling fast they just don't believe it.  Obama is growing government like never before they say.  Take a look at public and private sector job growth under recent administrations.  Contrast with perceptions.  Via Calculated Risk.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

My Home Schooled Son Learns About Global Warming

My kids are home schooled, and for us that means we participate in organized instruction as well as in home instruction.  Some of it is affiliated with the state of Michigan, some of it is associated with church groups.  So yeah, I know they're getting some of what I consider to be nonsense, but I'm not too worried about it.  I kind of like that they get to see adults in what is presented as on objective setting offer them stuff which they know from me is dubious.  If nothing else it instills in them a recognition that authorities should be questioned.  Question the teachers and your father as well.

So recently my son asks me to help him review for his science test.  Part of that is I'm going to read questions he got on a prior test because this test is a mid term, so prior subjects are covered.  Check question 9.

I'm just going through the motions reading these off, and I get to question 9 and my head is buried in this piece of paper.  And I suppose the expression on my face changed a bit as I read the question.  My eyes shift above the paper and what do I see?  My son with a very excited look on his face.  Eyes wide and a big smile as he anticipates my reaction to his answer.  "No, the earth has not warmed significantly over the last 80 years!!"  He's looking forward to watching my head explode, which it did.

What the flip is this?  How can they say this?  I quickly Google "Global Temperature Record" and here's what you get at Wikipedia.

So I say, "Ben, does that look like an insignificant temperature increase?"  And for him this is funny, but I say "Where's your book?"  So this is his book.  Below that is the temperature reconstruction found within the book.

No real significant warming over the last 80 years.  How grand.  So I asked Ben to have his teacher give us a source on this.

So that's what he did.  He kind of likes this sort of thing.  He gets a kick out of telling his friends in class in hushed tones "If my Dad were here he would argue with this and probably our teacher would go nuts."  He thinks that's funny also, and so he was going to ask her.  Not because he cared but because I think he finds it all amusing.

So he did that and his teacher reacted pretty reasonably.  She asked him to verify that his source was NASA and agreed that it was important to verify the source in the book, which she would try to do.  She would later forward to him a link to the book's website, here, and give him a password that allows him to login and consider some of the background information provided.  She offered two articles for consideration.  Both by a guy named James Taylor from the Heartland Institute, a well known corporate front group that has as it's mission to discredit the science on global warming.  This article says the Himalayan glaciers are growing and scientists are "confounded".  In fact a few glaciers in the Himalayas have expanded though the majority have shrunk.  Taylor focuses on the fewer growing ones and conflates them to give his readers the wrong idea.  The other article suggested by the teacher is kind of a vague "Science is proving the global warming crowd wrong" type of article.  Additionally Apologia has an article by Michelle Malkin.

I was just recently made aware of James Taylor.  Apparently one of his signature moves is to publicize email addresses of scientists and encourage his readers to go on the attack.  So scientists find themselves inundated with profanity laced threats, which they find difficult to cope with.

Just today I looked a little more closely at the book, and it does have the source for the plot created.  Up to 1979 you have a reconstruction made in 1983 that is recreated at the Institute for Creation Studies.  That reconstruction was apparently published in the International Journal of Environmental Studies by somebody named WH Bergman, who appears to have been a professor of Atmospheric Studies at Washington State.  Subsequent to 1979 apparently the chart in the book is based on data presented here.  Not quite sure how this is all supposed to fit together.

I guess generally you'd expect that in 1983 the data was not as complete as it is today, so possibly Bergman did the best with what he had.  Or possibly there are qualifications that are not clear.  It appears that this is temperature for the lower troposphere, not surface temperatures.  I think ordinarily surface temperatures are what we want to consider.  I may look into this more.  Obviously the authors are putting up a lot of effort to reach conclusions they prefer given that the NASA data and other data is so readily available.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The ACA and Health Care Costs

We've heard a lot about the fact that the federal website for purchasing health care wasn't working well.  We know that Obama had said that if you are happy with your policy you can keep it, but it turns out the ACA requires insurance companies to meet certain standards.  So if you previously had some sort of rip off policy that may have been cancelled.  So this means Obama lied.  My sense is that these stories have been covered a lot.

What's been covered less is some of the stuff that Paul Krugman discusses related to costs.  So far, as I've discussed previously, the ACA looks to be doing what it was designed to do.  Reign in our out of control and unsustainable cost problem.  This is leading to other positive results not often discussed.  A lot of people don't know that our deficit is falling faster than it has fallen in 60 years.  I told a conservative friend that after he complained about government spending recently.  He just didn't believe me.

Fox News has dished up several stories from people that have been harmed by Obama Care.  Turns out those stories are simply bogus.  Here's one example.  But my sense is that there are a lot of stories on the flip side.  People that previously had no real options.  Living with bumps under their skin, rashes, and just unable to do anything about it in this, the richest country in the world.  Take a look at this interesting story about poor people in Kentucky finally getting some access to health services.

So costs coming down, touching stories of people with no options finally getting some options, a deficit that's falling fast.  This is what the Republicans shut the government down to prevent.  This is what prompted them to finally go nuclear.

They're not wrong to go nuclear.  They know where this leads.  Healthier people, smaller deficits, lower costs.  Their credibility will take a pounding, and that's what matters most, not the lives of real people.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Another Tea Party Defeat - Global Warming

It wasn't long ago that the concern about global warming in the US was in steep decline.  Noam Chomsky often lamented this.  Apparently the Chamber of Commerce, in conjunction with the American Petroleum Instituted, publicly announced that they had learned valuable lessons from Obama's health care PR efforts, and they intended to use these lessons to shift public opinion on global warming.  As the link above shows, it worked.  As the scientific consensus became more and more solid that global warming was happening, was caused by man, and posed a serious threat to our future, Americans at the same time were becoming less convinced.  Propaganda works.

But that seems to be changing.  Check the results of recent polling discussed here.  Even the red states are getting it, with strong majorities recognizing that the above mentioned scientific consensus is true.

The right wing is always wrong, and always wrong in the same direction.  Helping the rich get richer and imposing the costs on the poor.  On a lot of issues the public isn't buying it despite the intense propaganda.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Checking In on California and France

Chad had told us California was a disaster. Well, it's been a few months.  How bad is it?  Pretty much as good as you could hope for.  And as Bill Maher discusses here on a rant about how things are great in places where the tea party gets booted, single payer could come next in California.  If so it will be an enormous success.  We know that already.  And then maybe we can debunk the rest of the errors on the right.  Among the most urgent: global warming.

What about France?  S&P has downgraded them, and one might be tempted to think that's a sign that they aren't performing well.  As Krugman explains here though that's really not true.

The American people seem to be learning a bit.  The tea party took it on the chin last Tuesday, and that was good news for Social Security.  These are good signs.  I'd read recently that research shows that when people are confronted with evidence that contradicts their beliefs (for instance the right wing being wrong all the time) the initial reaction is to dig in and hold to the erroneous opinions even tighter.  But then, over time, opinions can start to change as more and more evidence accumulates.  The evidence is always against them.  They're hostile to facts and science.  But with time these things can be beaten back.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Push Back on Social Security

The rousing defeat of the Republicans may lead to some dividends.  Emboldened Democrats are pushing back on the right wing nonsense that we need to be cutting Social Security benefits.  Not only should we not be talking about scaling Social Security back.  We should be expanding it.

Unfortunately we don't even have Obama on our side on this one, but it's the right policy.  We need to continue to beat back the lies of the right wing propaganda machine that wants to end it because they believe it will improve their profits.  They want the elderly to be compelled to stay in the work force.  This enlarged pool of laborers can drive the cost of labor down.  They want access to any monies you could be putting away for your retirement.  They can run mutual funds and extract fees, maybe crash the economy and get some bail out money in the process.

It's important to recognize that Social Security is a lot like what humans have been doing for thousands of years.  When people became elderly in Native American societies the young understood that they had to do what was necessary to provide for them.  When they shared the fruits of their labor with the elderly that were unable to work they weren't enlarging their share of wealth.  They were simply giving away what they had worked for.  They knew that when they became elderly the young would support them.  And this is why we pay today.  It's not a savings plan.  It's based on the principle that we take care of those that can't care for themselves.  And we know that one day we will be in that boat.

There's a pretty decent debunking of a lot of right wing myths about Social Security here.  It's worth checking out.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Logic of Stupid Poor People

In the same vein as my prior post that talked about how the criticism from the wealthy on the habits of the poor, check this superb essay on the supposedly irrational financial decisions of the poor, how they spend too much on cars, too much on their hair, too much on makeup.  There's something about actually living the life of a poor person and figuring out how to do what it takes to get by that sometimes leads a poor person to skip a meal just to be able to afford nicer clothes.  Maybe they know something that we who live comfortable lives don't about what it takes to survive in poverty.

Obama Care and the Entrepreneur/Early Retiree

Mr. Money Mustache has an interesting post on the effects of Obama Care on his budget.  Setting aside whether you think Obama Care is right or wrong you have to admit that if you are considering taking a financial risk as an entrepreneur or considering starting retirement early you are going to be pleased.  MMM retired at 30 on an income of about $25K/yr which he's able to draw from his savings using what is known as the 4% rule.  If you draw no more than 4% of your savings it is expected the money would last you forever.  If you think you'd need $25K you'd need to save $625K.  He gave himself a bit of a cushion and saved $800K.  He'd eliminated his mortgage debt, so that's a big help towards a goal of lower income needs.  And with more time available he's able to cook, ride his bike, and do other things the time strapped sometimes struggle with and this allows him to survive on little.

He had a high deductible health care plan prior to Obama Care.  But now if he had continued to have an income of $25K/yr in Colorado his plan would be completely subsidized.  Turns out he's making money from his website and other things, so he's earning too much to qualify for a subsidy, but others that plan to retire early in the way he did when he was 30 would be all set.

This is a truly freedom enhancing prospect for a lot of people.  Years back I'd mentioned in a comment that I always thought it would be kind of cool to hike the Appalachian Trail.  But that's a several month long project.  You'd have to either go without health insurance or buy a plan yourself, which of course is expensive.  And if you had a hard time getting another job after finishing you could deplete the savings.  It wouldn't have been impossible for a guy like me, but this makes it easier.

As some commentators might point out, you can hike the Appalachian Trail and work for yourself.  While that is true starting out in that way though is financially risky.  If it works out and you're making plenty of money, then great.  If not then you now have to deal with the insurance problem once again.  Obama Care basically says that if your business venture fails you still have health care without breaking the bank.  That's pretty cool.

I suppose you don't want to be residing in any of the 26 states that are refusing Medicaid expansion.  So if you early retire choose your place of residence carefully.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Quote of the Day

Republicans Lose in Route

Well, it's a bad day for the Tea Party.  I think all sides can agree that this whole thing has not worked out well for them.  Not only did they get nothing in terms of concessions with the shut down strategy.  They now have The Chamber of Commerce and other business groups ready to resist them.  Still, as I explained in my prior post, there's a logic to this madness.  Obama Care success is a catastrophe for them.  They'll lash out wildly to stop it, even harming the small businesses they pretend to care about in order to stop it.  So sure, this was a hail Mary pass, and they probably understood early that this was a long shot, but they had to try something.  They've been saying, as Rich Lowry mentions here, that after Oct 1 Obama Care is going to be virtually unrepealable.  That's true because it will be an improvement.  People that previously had few options now have options.  They aren't going to want to give them up.

I'd written my Congressman and I just want to post that here to preserve it.  I start with his initial response to something I wrote to him on his website, which I don't have a copy of.  My reply to that is further down.  Whatever you think of Obama Care, I think you have to be unimpressed with my tea party Congressman as he bases his actions on totally misleading and bad arguments.  He complains that Obama Care leaves too many people without coverage.  He complains that under Obama Care health care costs are going up.  And so he actually voted against this recent bill that re-opened government on this basis, even though the system he fights for leaves more people uninsured, costs more, and raises the deficit even more.  It's really quite bizarre.  He needs a few facts injected in his mind, so I thought I'd help.  Perhaps this will further entrench him in his Tea Party ways, as this research indicates often happens.  But as also indicated at that link, truth in the face of repeated error can have an effect eventually.  I'll do my part.

Dear (Jon)
Thank you for taking the time to contact me, and for sharing your concerns over the government shut-down. We need to keep the government open.  I have voted “yes” on two different continuing resolutions to fund the government for the upcoming fiscal year.
Fortunately, all members of Congress from both parties did come together in agreement that no matter what happens, our service members must receive their paychecks—shut-down or no. That is why the House of Representatives unanimously voted in favor of the Pay Our Troops Act. This bill is a free-standing measure promising military members, some federal civilian personnel, and some federal contractors their pay even if funds for other government operations expire. Our soldiers, sailors, and airmen are not political pawns to be toyed with between the House, Senate, and White House.
That said, the main point of contention between the House and Senate is the implementation of ObamaCare. The bottom line is, no matter what any politician from either party will say about the other, the only way a shut-down can occur is if neither side is willing to compromise—or, one side won’t compromise and the other side won’t entirely give in.  And in this respect, the President and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have both made clear that no compromise is acceptable to them.  “I will not negotiate on anything,” the President said.
That is unreasonable.
Unfortunately, Obama’s Affordable Care Act won’t get anywhere near granting universal insurance coverage to every American. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that after full implementation, 30 million of our fellow citizens will still be without insurance. In both the for-profit and non-profit sectors, we are seeing people lose their coverage. Recently UPS announced that they would no longer offer spousal insurance to their employees and the University of Virginia declared major changes to their healthcare benefits. Both explicitly cited the healthcare reform law as the reason for these changes. Other companies from Home Depot to Sea World to Trader Joes are doing the same. Employees in all sectors of our society are seeing their insurance be changed for the worse because of Obamacare.
Moreover, news outlets recently reported that the Affordable Care Act’s program to help those with preexisting conditions has failed. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has announced that it has run out of money to enroll any more individuals in the program. In response, it is blocking states from accepting any more applications to help those who need it. The White House has yet to offer a solution to this problem. Moreover, the technology that is needed for ObamaCare to function properly is still not ready to go.
This year, the Government Accountability Office reported that the healthcare bill adds $6.2 trillion to our long-term deficits. The additional personal costs to every American citizen are even more startling. President Obama promised a reduction of the average family premium by $2,500. The reality of the past two years is this: In 2010, the Kaiser Health Foundation reported the average family’s premium to be $13,770. In 2012, the number went to $15,745, almost a $2,000 increase. The Wall Street Journal has reported that Michiganders should expect their premiums to increase between 35% and 65%.
The American people want change. I am ready to work with any member of Congress who is looking for solutions to out-of-control costs that keep America at the cutting edge of medical innovation. I also do not want to shut down the government. That is why I have supported two different continuing resolutions to fund the government.
Thank you again for sharing your thoughts with me regarding the debate over the continuing resolution and the government shut-down. Please contact me about this or any other issue as it develops.  It is an honor to represent Michigan’s 11th district in Congress.
Kerry Bentivolio
Member of Congress

Mr Bentivolio,
Your response is very disappointing because it expresses several very misleading rhetorical points.  I’m not saying this is your doing.  I’m sure these are ideas that are expressed in strategy meetings, but if we look closely at the claims we can see how unreasonable they are.
The key is to recognize that this is a choice between alternatives.  So for instance you point out that Obama Care increases the deficit.  What you fail to mention is that the prior system, the system you are fighting to save, increases the deficit even more, which is why repealing Obama Care increases the deficit.  You say that Obama Care leaves 30 million without insurance.  The prior system left nearly 50 million without insurance.  You say under Obama Care health care costs are up $2,000 in 2012.  What amount would they have gone up under the prior system?  We all know they’ve been going up astronomically and unsustainably prior to Obama Care.  Kaiser, the same source you cite regarding costs, further points out that this increase is modest as compared to the last 10 years.  Meaning costs are lower than they would have been without Obama Care.  I think it’s highly misleading to portray these as negatives when they are all reflecting much better results than the system you are fighting for.
I’m glad you think military personnel should be paid, but what about people at our national parks?  What about scientists doing research.  What about NASA workers?  Don’t they also have families and bills that need to be paid?  I am an engineer and I have contact with former NASA employees.  Brilliant people who take reduced wages because of the passion for the work.  We’re sticking it to them, all to return to a health care system that is nothing to get excited about.  It would be one thing if you were fighting for a system that cost half as much and produced better outcomes, like the systems that exist throughout the rest of the industrialized world.  But instead you’re fighting for a system that costs twice as much per capita and leaves the poor with few options.  The ones the end up pursuing (ER visits) are about as inefficient as you can get.
I understand that in politics people use whatever methods they have available to them.  Republicans can refuse to pass a budget.  That’s a tool in their tool kit.  But it seems the strategy is to cause so much pain that Obama and the Democrats will finally become so disgusted they’ll back down on duly passed laws that they regard as their signature achievement.  Do you think this reflects well on you and your party?  This is hurting small businesses, such as small restaurants and shops that operate near National Parks.  We’ve lost monitoring capability for our environment, which is now prey to people that might pollute to save money and improve profit.  People that work in the public sector maybe can’t pay their bills, and this threatens an economy in recovery.  This is happening because Republicans have been unable to win through the electoral process.  Passing laws.  Their last resort is pain for everyone.  This makes sense to you?  If Obama Care is as terrible as you believe it will be then you’ll get voters to support you in the future and repeal it.  The pain and harm being done here is not worth a return to our prior system.  Even if you think Obama Care is bad and our prior system is better, you can’t regard it as so much better that it’s worth this much misery.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Results of slightly more than one year of Chinese study

I've been meaning to record myself in a Chinese conversation, and I finally did a recording successfully about a week ago.  I started studying right around August 30 of 2012.  So right now it's 13 1/2 months later.  This gives you a sense of what I've managed to accomplish in that time.  This is a totally unscripted discussion on Skype with a woman who lives in China, with English text added.

I think it's pretty good.  There's plenty of mistakes happening here.  It's a bit cringe inducing as I go through it myself after the fact, transcribing it, because I see spots where we're talking past each other or I listen as I pretty much butcher the tones throughout.  But that's just part of the process of course.  There's no other way to learn but to make mistakes over and over again.

Some people have accomplished a lot more in 13 months.  Others have done a lot less.  My feeling is it's all about doing the work.  Work more than me and you'll be better than me, work less and you'll be worse.  Generally speaking.

My method, if you're curious, was the following.  I started with Pimsleur, which was free at my library.  That took about 3.5 months.  Then I did a program called Assimil.  That took about 4 or 5 months.  I thought both were quite good, but other methods might work better.

Throughout the process I spoke to Chinese people whenever I had the opportunity, trying out the things I'd learned.  I've had so much fun with that.  You might think people get annoyed or don't want to be bothered.  With rare exceptions the opposite is true.  Chinese people are happy to see you trying to learn their language and very willing to help.  Part of what has been enjoyable about this is not just getting better, but meeting such great people.

After Assimil I tried to increase my spoken use of the language.  I joined a local meetup group.  That has been great, not just because of the learning but also the friendships.  I have tried to do more of the Skype exchanges.  How they work is you spend half the time on the language you are interested in and half the time teaching English to your partner.  That's also been fun.  If you prefer you can pay a teacher and spend the entire time learning your target language, which I've also done.  For me it's been something like $9 an hour.

I continue working my way through a new program post Assmil, now using an online service called FluentU.  I can't say enough good things about it.  They take native content, like commercials, movie clips, music videos, all found on YouTube, transcribe it for you as it plays, then create a quiz that exposes you to the new words and tests you to make sure you understand the dialogue or message.  This is a paid service.  It was free when I started because it was in beta, but now it's something like $15 a month.  Highly recommended if you are interested and the money isn't problematic.

My tentative plan is to continue studying Chinese until I reach what is called a B2 spoken level.  Sometimes that's called Upper Intermediate.  You can read at Wikipedia what that means.  For me I mean that in the sense of the spoken ability, not written.  I'm not doing much with writing at this point, though that may change.  Then I want to start studying Spanish.  These are two languages I'd love to understand.

Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Rich and Empathy

A long time ago, possibly over a year, I read a random story on Reddit of a guy and his few experiences when he was stranded on the side of the road.  He was struck by the fact that over and over again he'd watch people blow past him, unwilling to help, until finally someone did.  Who was it every time?  A Mexican immigrant.  It's an interesting and brief read.  Check it out here.

Since reading that I have made extra effort to stop and help stranded people when I can.  Maybe just one opportunity has arisen since then, but I try to keep my eye open.  I've also done it in the past as well.

It struck me as true that the rich are less empathetic.  There is research that indicates that this is trueThis author in discussing this research talks about his own experience in Hyde Park in Chicago, and area that has a good mix of poor and rich.  He says that when he walks home with loads of groceries it's always African Americans that go out of their way to help, and never the more wealthy people who he passes on the sidewalk.

Just an observation.  If you are one of the lucky people with more money than average, try to be a different kind of richer person.

Edit: As food for thought, check David Koch's treatment of laborers that loaded his vans for his getaways he's involved in every weekend.  Also Wal-Mart heiress and billionaire Alice Walton's treatment of the widower to the woman she struck and killed with her Porsche.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Republicans Aren't Insane

On the surface it seems crazy.  Suppose Democrats in the Senate decided they didn't like some past bill that was made law.  Maybe the tax cuts for the rich that Bush passed.  Imagine if they just said their going to shut down the government if the Republican controlled house didn't agree to go along on a repeal of all the Bush tax cuts.  And what if they further threatened to refuse to raise the debt ceiling and put the entire world's economic system in crisis.  Well, that seems pretty crazy.  It doesn't matter if you don't like certain laws that were passed, you don't put a gun to your own head and everybody elses and overturn duly passed laws.

I mean, let's think about what we're dealing with here.  This is a law passed two years ago.  Not only was it passed, it was challenged in the Supreme Court and upheld.  Then we had a subsequent election where the party that ran on their record of passing this health care package and they won.  They won the Presidency, the Senate, and more people voted for Democratic Congressmen than Republican Congressmen.  The only reason Republicans control Congress is because they gerrymander their way into a majority.  Obviously there's no mandate for Republicans to undo this.  And yet they are taking the most drastic of measures.  Not to end spying, end droning, end wars started without the consent of congress.  No, on the fear of overspending.  This despite the fact that our deficit is falling faster than it has fallen in 60 years.  Overspending supposedly would harm the economy (despite the lack of evidence for this claim) so we're going to pull the rug out from under currently employed government workers and risk stalling the economic recovery.  Because we're concerned about the economy.  And even though repealing Obama Care would increase the deficit.

They've voted to repeal Obama Care something like 43 times.  Apparently it costs $1.5 million to have a single vote in Congress.  This is a complete waste of time.  Though it passes in the House it's a certainty the Senate won't likewise pass it, and even if they did Obama would veto it.  This is going nowhere, but this is what they've been doing.

So what's up?  My theory is that their worst fear is that it will actually work.  Cut the deficit and improve people's lives?  That's a catastrophe.  If it works those that benefit from it will be very grateful, and they will clearly see that the Republicans are just not interested in helping them or serving them.  In fact Republicans have been lying like crazy.  They can't be trusted to tell the truth or to do what is best, both for our deficit and our people.  Let's remember that right now 45,000 people die every year because they don't have access to health care.  If terrorism is a real concern, and it has killed far fewer Americans comparatively, then what about this health care system?  There's a lot to not like about it.  But is the alternative so much better that it's worth going nuclear?  For them maybe it is, because the real issue is their credibility.  They fear they may come out of this with none.

I frankly wonder what rank and file Republicans think.  OK, I know they don't like Obama Care.  But they can't be too thrilled with the prior system either, the system their leadership is fighting tooth and nail for.  Maybe the people think the prior system is better, but how much better?  So much better that it's worth shutting the government down?  Don't pay military personnel?  Don't go to the national parks?  Risk having people that can't pay their mortgages?  I have to think Republican leadership is losing their own supporters on this one, except for the most extremist tea party types that think NASA and the EPA are bad things.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Chomsky Interviewed on Fox News Radio

A pretty good interview you can hear here.  I'd love to be a fly on the wall watching Ailes or Murdoch as they listened, if they had.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Atrocities of Pol Pot

At the risk of being called a lover of Pol Pot I have to admit that I just find the number of dead attributed to him to just make no sense.  Take Vietnam as a reference point.  For the US the war started about 1961 and ended in 1975.  The most intense bombardment the world had ever seen.  It included Laos and Cambodia.  More bombs dropped on Laos alone than were dropped during the entirety of WWII by both sides.  We had astonishing bombing runs.  Imagine a row of 5 B-52's.  They'd completely destroy a strip 2/3 of a mile wide and 2 miles long.  Everything would be killed, including those that were not in the actual blast zone that would die from the shock wave as blood streamed from their ears.  The world's most powerful tools of death controlled by the world's most well trained death makers all with the goal of maximizing the number of dead (hoping to achieve the "crossover point" where the dying rate exceeded the replacement rate), which meant civilians dying at an astonishing pace.  We're bombing dams to destroy their ability to make food.  In Laos they're living in caves and trying to farm at night to avoid being killed.  According to Wikipedia if you add in the further 6 years prior to the start of the US involvement the total dead on both sides is between 1.1 and 3.9 million.  The population of the three countries at the time total was about 50 million.  Between 55K and 195K dead per year for 20 years.

Contrast with Pol Pot.  He had only 8 million potential victims.  No saturation bombing, none of the advanced chemical weapons created by the Dow Chemical Company.  He had executions, malnutrition, forced labor.  Yeah, what an ass hole.  How many did he manage to kill?  In 3 years?  According to Wikipedia between 1 and 3 million.  That's between 333K and 1 million dead per year.  He's got no B-52's, no agent orange, no napalm, no white phosphorous.  Are we really expected to believe this?  He's supposed to have killed the same amount in 3 years that the US military killed in 14?  Are all of our military personnel really that incompetent?  Is Pol Pot really that much more of an efficient killer?

It just doesn't add up for me.  My suspicion is that since he was an enemy of the state inflated figures are accepted without much challenge, whereas of course killing by Americans is being done by the "good guys" so every corpse tally must be justified rigorously.  Probably Pol Pot's figures are inflated and the reverse is true for the US military.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Frank Turek takes on some guy named Jon

My friend DagoodS tipped me off to the fact that recently Frank Turek on his podcast was talking about me.  Listen to what he had to say here or below.

Well, I gotta say that's not quite how I remember it.  Kind of reminds me of something I read from Vinny recently.  The apologist sometimes wants to respond to the argument he wishes the skeptic had made rather than the one he actually made.

Two days after I saw Frank speak and asked him a question I blogged about it, and you can read that here.  He's right that I did say that his argument was "God of the gaps".  We really don't know how the universe came into existence.  In the past when we didn't understand a phenomenon the spiritualists claimed that God or gods were the cause.  Every time we've been able to make a determination one way or the other, and obviously there are still some phenomenon we don't understand so we haven't made a determination in every case, but the ones we have determined have all, 100%, been discovered to have natural causes, not spiritual causes.  The "spiritual causality" answer is batting zero, whereas the "natural causality" answer is batting 1000.  So here we are.  We're considering a new phenomenon for which we don't know the cause.  What caused our universe to come into existence?  It's a gap in our knowledge.  Frank shoves God in that gap, I am content to say I don't know, but based on the track record my money is on natural causation.

Now, here's where Frank is possibly misremembering our conversation.  He attributes to me the claim that I believe science WILL discover that the cause was natural.  There's no way I said that, because I don't believe they will.  They might.  They might not.  We may never know.  That's good enough for me.  Of course I do believe that the there was no supernatural agency.  That's because the supernatural agency explanation is batting zero and the natural cause explanation is batting 1000.  If you want to call that faith, I guess that's fine.  I have faith in that in the same way I have faith that if I release a ball it will fall to the ground in accordance with gravitation.  It's always done it in the past, so it probably will in the future.  That's a belief based on evidence, which is not normally what people mean by faith.  But if that is what you mean by faith, fine.  I have faith that the universe wasn't caused by a supernatural agent.

Frank believes that the cause of the universe is not a knowledge "gap" because there are things we know about it.  We know it's timeless, spaceless, and a few other things.  But really, what do we know about what our universe was prior to the Planck time, which is something like 10^-43 seconds into the life of our universe?  As I understand speaking of "time" doesn't even make sense at that point.  None of our scientific laws work any more, even mathematically.  As I understand even talk of "space" doesn't make sense, because apparently in some way all of our dimensions were folded in on themselves.  Frankly the whole thing is incomprehensible to me.  "Before" time when time didn't exist as we know it?  What does that even mean?  As far as science is concerned this is just an impenetrable mystery.  A "gap" in our knowledge if you will.  I think the apologist wants to pretend that he knows what happened between zero and 10^-43 seconds, but I just don't buy it.  And obviously I can't be convinced by an appeal to the incomprehensible.

Anyway, I think Frank is a pretty good guy and he probably misremembered our conversation, which is no big deal.  If you read my post describing our prior encounter you may think Frank has an amazing memory, so it's unlikely he got it wrong, but without going into all the details I think there's actually a good reason why he was able to remember the details I referenced in that post about me.  Still I was impressed that he remembered all that he did.  But as I say, I like Frank.  He's very pleasant to talk to and seems like a lot of fun.  I wonder if he takes calls on his podcast?

Important Historical Events

It's September 11, and there will be no shortage of stories in the news about what happened in New York 12 years ago today.  And it is for that reason that I like to also talk about the forgotten suffering of others that happened around this time.  When the weak and powerless suffer it's not talked about as often.

Today is the 40th anniversary of the coup in Chile, which was much more deadly and caused a lot more suffering.  Some of the lessons are discussed briefly at Crooked Timber.  When capital feels threatened, this is how they react.  This is very much worth remembering.

On September 10, 1987, 19 unarmed coal miners were shot in the back and killed as they tried to negotiate a decent life for themselves and a larger share of the revenue they created.  The owners, once again facing the prospect of threatened profits, called in the violence.  It's discussed at Daily Kos.  One of many bloody incidents that's not often discussed in your high school American history classrooms.

A few weeks back was the 42nd anniversary of a monumental event.  The dismantling of the Bretton Woods financial framework, which has since ushered in the age of finance.  The framers at Bretton Woods understood that unrestricted capital movement was the end of democracy.  Owners of capital become the new virtual senate.  So suppose a nation wants to initiate policies that are in the interest of the people and supported by the people, such as building infrastructure, providing health care, and providing education.  These policies are irrational from the perspective of the owners of capital in their drive for short term profit.  Facing the prospect of capital flight the will of the people must be disregarded.  Capital can enjoy the spoils as the place deteriorates, then quickly move on to the next victim.  Today it's India's turn.  Read the discussion at Naked Capitalism here.  Rising inequality, even in the US, is a direct consequence of this action.

Some rich privileged types say they don't mind that, but they should for a lot of reasons, including the fact that inequalty harms them as well even though they are rich.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Grief and Atheism

You may have heard the story of Fred Stobaugh, a 96 year old guy that had recently lost his wife of 73 years, Lorraine.  There was a song writing contest and Fred was inspired to enter.  He wrote basically a poem to Lorraine and submitted it, though he didn't sing or put the poem to music.  The people running the contest were touched and turned his poem into a song.  The story is in the video below and you can hear the song at about the 5:50 mark.

What I really like about it is for me it expresses what I expect I would honestly feel if I were in his shoes.  So for me it's very relatable.  Fred seems to be expressing the belief that he cannot experience her again.  He says "Life only goes around once, but never again."  "I wish we could do all the good times over again."  "But the memories always linger on."  The sadness and grief is especially deep because he views her as truly gone, except in memories.  For me that's how I would feel.

But if I had gone through that experience as a religious person, as in my earlier days, I don't think I would have felt that way.  Death is a temporary separation that ends in heaven where the sadness is remedied.  This is a comforting belief and I have no interest in preventing others from convincing themselves of this.  But it's not really possible for me to grieve in that way any more.  This is more how I would have to grieve.  It's sadness without (what I consider to be) illusions.  I wonder if that is how Fred is grieving.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

College Costs Not Just a Conservative vs Liberal Problem

I've blogged in the past about how the current high out of pocket cost associated with college is a reflection of the fact that conservatives have successfully implemented their preferred policies.  They wanted less public subsidy for school, and that's what we now have. When the subsidy declines tuition has to go up.  Media Matters complies some additional data supporting my claim that you can read here.

But conservatives in my opinion are right about one thing, and it's discussed in an article from Matt Taibbi here.  Yes, state subsidy has declined.  But the government is involved in ways that are highly destructive, particularly the easy access to loans.  This is not much of a government subsidy because the government actually makes a profit from the system.  The default rate is very low because student loans are almost impossible to discharge.  You will be paying back, even if you have no job and end up on disability. 

To a large degree this loan system is more a reflection of the policy preferences of our Democratic politicians.  They pretend they are doing students a favor by providing loans.  This helps the individual.  If you don't have a college degree your job prospects are grim.

But this is kind of like saying that if you stand in the movie theater you'll get a better view.  That's true for the individual, but causes a collective problem.  Now everyone needs to stand to have a view that will be no better than if everyone had just continued to sit.  Cut the loans off and fewer people will go to school, but this doesn't mean demand for workers will necessarily change.  These days some employers are demanding a 4 year degree even for work that in the end is simply manual labor.  If fewer people have degrees employers will settle for workers without that degree.

Unfortunately for the young they don't have powerful advocates.  Educational institutions lobby hard, especially to Democrats, and they prefer that the loan money continues to flow.  It's wrecking the lives of the young, saddling them with crushing debt to acquire a degree that doesn't do much in terms of making them productive employees.  Similarly Republicans aren't interested in doing what it takes to solve the problem (returning subsidy to it's former levels).  Yes, I understand that this incentivizes people to acquire loans that may not be necessary, but this also is a factor in the loan problem.  As with so many other issues the harm here is a bipartisan effort.  Neither the Republicans nor Democrats are representing people.  Only the wealthy interest.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

So Who Was Right About Vietnam

When I first heard of My Lai it was during the 2004 Presidential campaign.  I saw clips of the things John Kerry said about how massacres were routine.  Limbs are cut off for sport.  Women and children slaughtered in a way reminiscent of Genghis Khan.  I somehow convinced myself that he was lying.  But I did go on to discover My Lai.  It was very bizarre to me.  I wondered how this could have happened.  I chalked it up to fog of war and a few bad apples.

Around the same time I think I saw bits of an interview with Bob Kerrey where he discussed his own involvement in war crimes in Vietnam.  It might have been this interview.  I recall him looking very uncomfortable, and I wasn't quite sure if he believed what he was saying as he justified his actions.  I had a hard time processing this because it was in deep conflict with the vision of America that I had.

Fast forward to today and I've come to accept that these myths I've been fed are nonsense.  In fact what we see coming from the US is grotesque violence in service to wealth and power.  I did hear Noam Chomsky say that My Lai was a completely ordinary incident during the war.  It was so commonplace that at the time it happened the anti-war movement paid little attention to it.  Somehow later it became well known and widely discussed for reasons I won't go into, so the anti-war movement then sought to exploit it, but prior to that there was no reason to regard it as exceptional.  I always assumed Chomsky's characterization was right.  I assumed that the so called radicals, the war protestors, were telling the truth.  People like John Kerry at the Winter Soldier hearings.

But what we now have is the documentation proving that the radicals were right.  Nick Turse has the evidence complied in "Kill Anything that Moves".  Hat tip to Vinny for the heads up.  Culled from the National Archives and sworn testimony he shows that really the scorched earth wanton destruction was official policy.  The evidence comes from Pentagon research.  For an overview it's worth checking out this interview with Bill Moyers.

A couple of take aways on all this for me.  Number 1, it's bizarre that Americans don't know what Vietnam was.  Germany did some awful things during WWII.  It was terrible.  But at least they know it.  They admit it.  They have done a lot in terms of reparations.  If they didn't acknowledge it and didn't compensate the victims we'd think there was something wrong with them.

The second point is we need to recognize who knew their stuff in the past and who didn't.  Mainstream sources were totally wrong.  Radicals, particularly radical leftists, were spot on.  If we continue to listen to the "respected" authorities and mainstreamers, blithely assuming that they are right because they aren't considered radical, we'll get it wrong, with disastrous consequences.

What are these same radicals saying today about the climate, about what is happening in places like Egypt, Iraq, and Afghanistan?  What do they say about surveillance, about the corporate environmental devastation and human devastation?  It's worth listening to them even though they are portrayed as radical.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

North Carolina's Anti-Floc Anti Market Legislation

North Carolina's legislature has been taken over by the tea party contingent, and I think they continue to make clear what has been obvious for a long time.  Free markets are for the poor and weak.  The rich require a nanny state.

Floc is an organization that attempts to unionize migrant farm workers.  As you can imagine this is a bit difficult because of the transient nature of the work.  A worker may want to join a union, but he may not be back next year.  How do you develop an organization that represents changing populations?

A further problem is that you can't just get workers at a single farm to join a union because as soon as you improve the compensation for workers the farmer is probably going to need to pass those costs on to the companies that buy his products.  RJ Reynolds buying tobacco is an example.  If one farmer wants to treat his employees decent, how is he supposed to compete with others that don't?

But nobody needs a union more urgently than migrant workers.  These people are getting paid minimum wage with no benefits to live in rat infested, cockroach infested shanties.  See this report from Oxfam documenting some of the abuses in N Carolina.  To improve that situation they obviously need a stronger bargaining position in the face of their employer.  RJ Reynolds does not directly employ them, but in the end Reynolds is the key in determining the share of revenue generated that goes to capital and the share that goes to labor.

Baldemar Velasquez, President of Floc, understands this.  He understands that punishing farmers is not the answer.  His idea was pretty simple.  Go straight to Reynolds.  They must require all of the farms in their supply chain to be part of a union.  Yeah, we get it that they think they are washing their hands of responsibility when they say that they don't employ migrant workers directly.  But we're not buying it because they have the power to make this situation right.  In fact this is the only way.  If it's the only way to make it right, and they have the power to do it, they have a moral obligation to do it.  So we're just going to shame them into doing it.

I met a migrant worker this weekend that sprays his bed with Raid every night before going to sleep because of the bed bugs and cock roaches.  A man with no health care sleeps in toxic fumes, just so the roaches don't keep him awake and prevent him from harvesting crops.  And there's thousands more just like him all over the country.  We can create an organization that gives that man the power to demand something better.  It's a no brainer.

Well, suppose you're a right winger and you don't want to see a union be successful.  You should still regard it as acceptable that the market should dictate.  The free market allows us to shame Reynolds.  They don't have to listen.  The free market says they can sign a contract that compels all their farms to be under a union rubric, or they can choose to not sign that contract.  Let the market decide, right?  Floc has succeeded with this model before.  Campbells Soup and Mt. Olive Pickle.  The strategy works and involved no government compulsion.  Also, just for the record, the Wagner Act, which gives ordinary people the right to organize without reprisal, doesn't apply to the agricultural industry.  So this is really about as close as you can get a free contract.

The Tea Party should be fine with it.  But the Tea Party North Carolina legislature is not.  HB 74 will make it illegal for a corporation to compel members of it's supply chain to have workers represented by a union.  It's not enough that workers are barely organized now.  They need the nanny state to come in and prevent even the possibility of organizing.  Such is their commitment to the free market.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Who Defines What Is Legal

An interesting discussion with Noam Chomsky that questions the assumption that the state defines when an action is illegal.  Very relevant to the revelations from Snowden.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Obama Care So Far

I was glad to see Obama Care made into law and glad the Supreme Court ruled it wasn't unconstitutional because I thought on net it would be good for most people.  It wasn't ideal.  I wanted something more like single payer or a public option.  The kind of thing other first world nations have.  Half the cost, better outcomes.  The Obama Care plan is really a conservative plan.  It was conceived by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.  I think it was intended to forestall Hillary Care.  Hillary Care would have deprived the non working owners of too much profit.  They don't do anything, but it's Heritage's job to keep the money flowing into their pockets.  Obama Care/Romney Care throws the poor a bone, but still sends money to the rich.  Kind of half way towards what I want, but better than the alternative.

So I thought on net it would be good.  But I have to say that if preliminary indications hold true it's looking better than I expected it would.  Here's a rundown of some of the positive results and expectations so far.  The CBO says it's bringing the deficit down.  A lot of people spend much less, particularly vulnerable people.  Premiums are coming down.  Lifetime maximum limits have been removed for 105 million people.  Pre-existing condition restrictions are gone.  What's not to like?

There are a few things to not like.  As Krugman explains here it's a bit of affliction for the comfortable in order to comfort the afflicted.  Rich, young, and healthy carries a bit more burden while poor and elderly get a break.  But, as Krugman explains, Republicans are starting to panic.  So far it's looking good, like it would be successful.  That's the last thing Republicans want.  For them it's not about doing what's good for people.  This is about maintaining credibility.  Their free market fantasies of how government is bad at everything could be proved wrong, so they are flailing.  So they've put forward 40 futile attempts to repeal it.

But we are going to still get a chance to see if the Republican alternative is better, because in some states, like Missouri they're doing what they can to prevent Obama Care from being implemented, whereas Colorado is doing the opposite.  Seems like a pretty good test.  Place your bets.  As you do maybe keep in mind recent predictions from the conservative universe.

Update: A comment on more of the down side.  One of the groups that in tough shape under Obama Care is the working poor.  Too rich to qualify for Medicaid but too poor to afford the policy they are required to buy if they want to avoid paying the penalty.  As discussed here, what's particularly annoying about this is Obama knows it's a problem and quickly resolved it for people that are close to him.  Congressional staffers are apparently paid little so they would have been subject to this.  It's much like how the sequester impacted the powerful in Washington by making it difficult to fly.  Cuts in funding for staff at airports meant delays.  So our politicians quickly made an exception for this particular bit of federal spending.  It impacted them.  In the same way they fix the problem for friends that suffer now with Obama Care.  The rest can pound sand.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Minimum Wage Budget

You may have already read about how McDonalds has put together a proposed budget for their underpaid employees.  You can read about it here.  It's kind of a lesson in how out of touch the rich can be.  They propose things like "Get a second job".  They put $0 in for food, $0 in for heating, $20 for health care.  There's been plenty of ridicule of it, and I think that's appropriate, but I won't repeat that here.

What I want to talk about is something that people on the left I think should talk about more, and that is this.  It is possible to get by on a lot less.  It is possible to get by on minimum wage.  And in fact there's a lot of good that would result if we strove to do that.

Now, to be clear, I think minimum wage is WAY too low and should be increased radically.  The reason profits at Wal-Mart and McDonald's are so high is simply because the money created goes to the non working owners and not the hard working employees.  Employees should get much more.  Yeah, the capitalist in a sense just steals the productive contribution of workers.  They are parasites.

But people in the US struggle financially not just because they make too little.  They do in fact spend too much.  This is not an accident.  Pointing at them and telling them they have only themselves to blame is simplistic and wrong.  But I believe it is true that if you do successfully resist conditioning that leads you to spend more than you should you can get by on very little in this country.

Resisting the conditioning means thinking ahead even when you are young and vulnerable.  Is that realistic?  I'm not sure.  I have a friend that went to a private school where tuition is $35K/yr and I expressed my surprise.  How do you even do that?  The answer is loans.  But don't loans crush you?  Oh yeah, he said.  But he said he was 18 and had no clue.  Someone convinced him to go and he did it.  Walk out of school with $100K in debt that is not dischargeable and yeah, you're going to sink if you work at McDonald's.

Another thing that can kill you is this myth that everyone has to have a car.  When I graduated from college I took my job offer letter and went to the Ford dealership to get my car, which in my mind was the reward for all my work in college.  It was dumb.  I actually had a beater that would have worked for me.  But somehow I had it in my head that this wasn't good enough.  It was.  It was a mistake.

Young people easily get sucked into the debt trap, and in that world the McDonald's budget is absurd.  But on the left we need to not only complain about how the capitalist parasites are taking our productive contribution, but also that we need to help people avoid the initial debt and a life of consumption.  Without the desperation that these create workers get more emboldened to command a fairer piece of the revenue pie.

So let's suppose you're starting from scratch.  You have nothing, and also no debt.  You're faced with living on a McDonald's budget.  The first thing I'd try to think about is where I would live.  Maybe the $600 in the budget is reasonable for a very simple rental.  I would do whatever I could to make sure my residence was within walking distance of work, the grocery store, and the library.  Because of course I'm not going to own a car.  That can save you the car payment and insurance, which is $250.

That sounds pretty tough to a lot of people, but I guess lately I've been thinking like I would almost prefer it to the way I live now, constantly driving everywhere.  Obviously much better for the environment.  Personally I'm a bit locked right now because I have a mortgage, and my location is not right.  But if I could do it over I would consider the location factor more.

The McDonalds budget has $100 for cable.  I wouldn't have cable.  TV is a waste of time, and if I work at McDonalds I get free internet there.  My family can go to the library.  Yeah, it's limiting, but a part of me says if I had a bit less access to the internet I'd be better off.

Thanks to Obama Care and also Medicaid health insurance can be managed.  I'd try to make sure my rental allowed me to have a garden to help with the food budget.  Obviously vacations would be modest.  Maybe hop on the bike with some camping gear and go to a local park.

This may seem strange, but a part of me thinks this is a better way to live.  I read of people that make large incomes but live like this anyway.  For them it's not long before the savings they've created is enough to live off of.  I suppose you could say they become capitalist parasites.  The work of others is funneled into their pockets and they live perpetually without working.  For the McDonald's worker it's not quite so good.  But by avoiding debt and consumption it can still be a pretty good life.  It's good advice for the poor and the rich.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Jimmy Carter defends Snowden and adds "America has no functioning democracy"

The original article is in Der Spiegel.  A translation is available here.  In my mind it's a pretty significant story.  Here Obama is aggressively attempting to arrest Snowden, going so far as to force a plane carrying the Bolivian President to land, merely on the suspicion that Snowden was aboard the plane.  Yet the former President is critical.  I see no mention of this in the mainstream, corporate press.  Why is it that the corporate press isn't interested?  Readers know how I would answer that question.

But to give the corporate press a little credit, for once we do have some coverage of Obama's drone program.  The grandfather of the 16 year old American droned is asking why it is that our government can kill our citizens and yet doesn't have to explain itself.  Read his editorial entitled The Drone that Killed My Grandson.

Also worth checking out is An Open Letter to the Media signed by a number of scholars and Latin American professionals that addresses our media's treatment of the so called "irony" of whistleblowers seeking asylum in places like Ecuador and Venezuela, places that are portrayed as hostile to free speech.  You may have heard that Hugo Chavez "shut down" a whole network that was critical of him.  It's totally bogus, and touched on in this letter.  Chomsky addressed it in an interesting way.  He has been asked about it and he says yeah, such a thing could never happen in the US.  His interviewer likes the sound of that and is excited, but then Chomsky continues in a way that makes his statement unpublishable in mainstream press.  He says in similar circumstances our government wouldn't revoke their license.  It would take everyone involved and line them up in front of a firing squad.  This TV network in Venezuela fomented a coup against Chavez, the democratically elected President.  Imagine if such a thing happened in the US.  Obama was kidnapped, Congress was disbanded, and then a popular uprising restored Obama and the Congress.  What do you think would happen to the people involved with a network that supported the coup?  It's pretty obvious.  And yet Chavez didn't do what our government would have done.  What he did was he didn't renew their broadcast license, which meant they had to switch to cable.  They still function, still remained openly hostile to him, but they were relegated to cable.  This shows how Venezuela doesn't value press freedom. 

Meanwhile in Britain Julian Assange sits at the Ecuadoran Embassy, staked out by British police at a cost to the British taxpayers of $18,000 per day.  That's what real press freedom looks like I suppose.

Friday, July 12, 2013

What PRISM is Really For

We know how to reduce terrorism to the vanishing point.  We know what causes it.  The CIA tells us.  The US Defense Department tells us.  Occupied peoples with few military options resort to terrorism.  If you want to stop it you stop occupying.  You stop invading.

We're not doing any of that, but the NSA is collecting all of our internet history, the metadata for our phone calls.  This much we know.  They may be doing more.  There's not good evidence that this does much to reduce terrorism.  So what's the point?

Chevron wants access to the data of activists that have been working to make it pay for the environmental devastation it has caused.  A federal judge has granted Chevron that access.  This is what this is really about in my opinion.  When you stand in the way of profits you make enemies.  Those enemies want another tool to bring you down.

Standing in the way of some profits is what is going to be required to forestall much worse environmental destruction and many more lives lost.  It's the only thing that will do it.  PRISM, by granting the most powerful corporations access to this data, further expands their power and ability to prevent us from having our voices heard.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Stop The War On Whistleblowers

Not only do they want to prevent us from knowing about the crimes Bradley Manning exposed, exposures that have led to no negative consequences in terms of national security according to the government, our government isn't allowing us to really know what's happening at his trial.  And the corporate media is going along.  Watch this video supporting him.  When they threaten to kill a person for informing us of incidents that are in the public interest they threaten us with tyranny.  It's not democracy if we aren't allowed to know the relevant information.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Heritage Foundation vs Equador

Bill Black, associate professor of economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, puts it pretty well in this article, talking about the Heritage Foundation in a way that I've discussed before.  Their so called "Index of Economic Freedom" represents faux empiricism in service to ideological dogmas.  More from Black:
Modern theoclassical economics has made an art form of fake empiricism produced by fake think tanks that shape their product to please their corporate founders/donors.  The products may look like science, but it is simply dogma misrepresenting reality in an intellectually dishonest manner.
His focus is on Ecuador, which has run in exactly the opposite direction of the policy recommendations of groups like Heritage, which advocates Washington Consensus neoliberal policies.  The result is a 7.8% economic growth rate, 4.1% unemployment (the lowest in Latin America) and even more impressively, economic growth that is for the benefit of not just the richest members of society, but also the others.  Black asks how Heritage handles the case of Ecuador?  Naturally they try to spin it like it's not too impressive.

Here Krugman discusses recent data they offered to the Senate that was false and deliberately misleading.  Here Krugman discusses another recent bit of fraud from one of their white supremacist types.  Sadly people continue to take them seriously.  That's the power of money.

Friday, June 21, 2013

They Wire Tapped Candidate Obama

NSA whistleblower Russ Tice talks about how then candidate for Senate Barack Obama was being surveilled by the NSA.  Thanks to Examinator for the tip off on this one.  If you had any doubt about the potential for abuse of this program, consider that whatever skeletons existed on Obama's closet are now possibly known by the NSA.  Is the most most powerful man in the world being controlled by potentially embarrassing information?  You sometimes wonder how a community organizer and Constitutional lawyer like Barack Obama can turn into a war mongering, Constitution shredding lunatic, going in 100% the opposite direction of what his rhetoric during the campaigns would suggest.  Obviously I don't know.  For all I know he could just be a psychopath with no real moral bearings, just saying whatever is expedient for securing power.  But could he be bending to the powers that know his secrets?  While we can't know it we know it's the very kind of thing that the laws in our country were designed to guard against.  We know the temptation for those in power will be to exploit this NSA program in exactly this manner.  People that have power strive to retain their grip on power, and this is how you do it.  This is a travesty that exposes how undemocratic our institutions are, and getting worse.

In a related note, researches are working on drones that look like mosquitos.  They'll be in our homes surveilling, securing their grip on power, unless we stop it.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

US Propaganda as Teaching Aid

I'm still pounding away at my language learning mission.  It's going OK.  One thing I tried as a teaching aid briefly was Voice of America for China.  Basically it's blatant US propaganda directed at the Chinese.  What's nice about it though as a teaching aid is you get a transcript and the text is spoken by the news anchors.  So what I tried to do was first take the transcript and paste it into Google Translate.  This gives me a kind of rough translation and it also gives me the romanized version of the text.  So for instance you see 中 and Google Translate tells you it is pronounced zhōng and also gives you the main definition.  Then I'd just work through it by translating the individual words.  I was thinking I'd note words that I thought would make good additions to my flash card program.  Then knowing kind of what is being said I'd listen to the anchors read it and try to follow.  It was a pretty big undertaking.  I only tried it briefly because I found something else that worked better for me.

Anyway, here's a translation I did from the broadcast from February 8 of this year.  Interesting in light of the recent disclosures about how Obama has drawn up a list of targets for cyber attack.  VOA paints China negatively for doing the same back in February.  A Chinese friend at work was watching VOA yesterday I noticed and I asked him what they were talking about.  They were aggressively criticizing Edward Snowden for revealing that the US is doing exactly what VOA criticized China for doing back during the show I transcribed.  My translation was literal, word for word, which is why grammatically it's so strange.  I have one line in black and then my literal word for word translation of that black line follows in bold, then this is repeated.  The end is interesting.  "China does not hesitate through internet crime to advance it's economic and political interests."  Pot meets kettle.

Huáshèngdùn— yīgè xīngqí lái, jǐ gè hé wǎng lù yǒuguān de xīnwén yǐnqǐ guǎngfàn zhùyì.
Washington – one class week come, several class (he?) internet related de news cause widespread attention.

Shǒuxiān shi měiguó “niǔyuē shí bào” děng duō jiā quánwēi méitǐ xuānbù zāo dào zhōngguó
First is America “New York Times” same many other authoritative media announce by the Chinese

hēikè gōngjí, yǐnfā qiángliè guānzhù. Qícì, wǎng lù jùbāi gǔgē gōngsī de dǒngshì zhǎng
hacker attacks, initiate intense interest. Secondly, internet giant Google company de director Eric

shī mì tè zài qí xīnshū zhōng, chēng zhōngguó shì quánqiú zuì wéixiǎn de chāojí
Schmidt located its new book within, calls China is global/total most danger de super

qiángquán, yīn wéi zhōngguó zhèngfǔ hé guóyíng qǐyè bùxī tòuguò wǎng lù fànzuì lái huòqǔ
power, because China government and state-run enterprise not hesitate through internet crime come get

jīngjì hé zhèngzhì lìyì
economic and political interests.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Greenwald Killing It

So I have been so out of it between certain family events, being on vacation, etc, that I knew nothing of Greenwald's bombshells until late Friday and didn't get a chance to read his columns until Saturday.  So people reading this I'm sure already know what's going on.  He had been somewhat limited in his access to cable news since some of his Wikileaks appearances where he embarrassed the critics, like what happened here with Fran Townsend.  I'd read he didn't go on CNN again after that appearance.  Until now.  He's back on.  And he's doing to others what he did to Fran Townsend and the idiot CNN host back then.

From the right wing Newsbusters website, watch him expose the CNBC host's errors and spin.  Here he is with CNN's Anderson Cooper taking on Ari Fleischer.  Here in a fair interview with Howard Kurtz he addresses some of his critics.

Unfortunately, but for me unsurprisingly, polls show a majority of Americans do support this total surveillance state that has been revealed.  I think we shouldn't get discouraged by that.  Even Greenwald himself after 9-11 still bought off on a lot of lies, generally assumed our government was engaging in foreign policy with benevolent intent, and supported the invasion of Iraq from a kind of uninformed perspective that granted the benefit of the doubt to our leaders.  This was the place I found myself in as well.  I think a lot fewer Americans are similarly duped today.  We need to keep plugging away.

I want to address one argument you hear frequently from people that don't object to this total surveillance that is in the hands of this largely unaccountable institution called the NSA.  People say they don't object because they have nothing to hide.  If you have nothing to hide and it can conceivably prevent terrorism, what's the harm?

But it's not necessarily about what you have to hide.  Consider that Edward Snowden said he had access to everything, even conceivably emails involving the President.  Can democracy really function in this way?  Suppose Snowden had a friend facing a DUI.  What's to stop him from taking a look at emails from the presiding judge, digging for something to embarrass the judge and pressure him to offer a favorable ruling?  What's to stop someone from serving the interests of a powerful corporation that wants to pollute in your district from taking a look at your Congressman's history.  Suppose he discovers an affair.  Then for reasons that aren't clear your Congressman suddenly doesn't mind putting a toxic landfill upstream from your house.  What's to stop even more powerful people from similarly manipulating the President?

This is not a hypothetical scenario.  This is exactly the kind of abuse that was going on with the FBI under J Edgar Hoover.  You can be sure it's happening now.  Give unaccountable people all the power and they'll abuse it.  That's why we have a 4th amendment to our Constitution.


Mika Brzezinski takes on Glenn.  Wow, it's hard to find a person more skilled.  And it's kind of like Chomsky.  He has his facts in order, so to try and spin just doesn't work.  We couldn't ask for a better spokesperson than Glenn Greenwald.  You see how these talk show hosts get embarrassed and you understand why they don't want to interview him.