Thursday, December 30, 2010

Instructive Foreign Relations: Honduras

A year and a half ago I became aware of a coup that occurred in Honduras and I suspected malevolent things because I had heard that the coup was directed by certain military units that had been trained by the School of the Americas at Fort Benning. Its students are notorious for their human rights abuses perpetuated in service to US hegemony.

I expressed my suspicion to a certain right wing acquaintance that will remain nameless and was surprised to hear his enthusiastic support of the coup. This was a restoration of order. The President was simply violating the Constitution. I thought it was strange that this person would express support of something such as this, but I said little in response because I didn't know much.

Recent Wikileaks disclosures shed light on the situation and I think help illuminate how good Americans are duped to support nefarious behavior and also how US foreign policy via violence tends to further the interests of the corporate world.

The basic facts are as follows. President Zelaya was a wealthy citizen that was elected President, but drifted from conservative viewpoints to more socially democratic viewpoints during his tenure. This is unacceptable. As in Cuba socialism is a grave threat to capitalistic designs. If Cuba is allowed to pursue socialism unfettered it will present itself as a model to other states, especially in states where the distribution of land and other wealth greatly favors the propertied classes. The poor and underprivliged may demand opportunities for a decent living and take matters into their own hands. This is something to be feared by the powerful and wealthy who want more for themselves and less for everybody else.

Zelaya proposed polling the public to ask them if they would support modifying the Constitution to permit a President to serve without term limits. For this he was deposed by the School of the Americas trained General who has ushered in another expanded series of human rights abuses.

World reaction was swift. Virtual unanimity that the coup was illegal and that the democratically elected President should be restored. There were just a couple of exceptions. Namely, the US and Israel. They stood against the world and were friendly towards the new regime. In the case of the US this was with firm support amongst GOP lawmakers. The GOP often doesn't even pretend to care about democracy and order but rather service to the corporate world.

Wikileaks has now revealed
that in the opinion of top diplomats at the US Embassy in Honduras the coup was clearly illegal despite a foot dragging unwillingness to recognize it as such by the State Department. The cable details the arguments put forward by the coup's defenders and refutes them.

So I sent this information to my acquaintance thinking that he'd say something like "Interesting. I was obviously misled." I don't know why I'm always so optimistic. Instead I'm sent this right wing puff piece by Mary Anastasia O'Grady. This supposedly shows that yes, the coup was legal despite the cable from Wikileaks. That guy at the embassy knows nothing. The world knows nothing. The case for Zelaya is flimsy.

To me a cursory reading of the cable makes it clear that O'Grady isn't remotely addressing the substance of the cable. The cable basically says that following legal procedures means you must charge Zelaya with violating the Constitution and you must give him an opportunity to rebut the charges. If he's found to be guilty then the consequences would follow. But you can't just assert that he's guilty without giving him any due process. It would be as if Chinese trained militants simply said "Obama has started wars in Pakistan and Yemen without Congressional authorization and has therefore violated the Constitution, so we're entitled to remove him from power and install one of our own people."

So here's what I think can be learned from this. Our government simply sees to it that governments friendly to corporate interest are installed. That might mean egregious violations of the law. That might mean complete subversion of democracy. It might mean grotesque violence. The GOP can be counted on to support this behavior. And the right wing media can persuade otherwise intelligent people to argue on behalf of this action even when it's not in their interest and certainly not in the interest of justice.

The pattern repeats. This is not unlike Vietnam, Iraq, Cuba, Venezuela, and a host of others.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

For Those That Doubt The Propaganda Model

Watch this infuriating interview from CNN regarding Wikileaks. And while doing so keep in mind that CNN ostensibly is tasked with doing journalism. That is, if they are pursuing their perceived function they should be trying to uncover corruption/immoral behavior by powerful officials that work contrary to the public interest.

The difference between what the media portray themselves as doing and what they actually do was long ago explained by Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky when they offered their Propaganda Model for the media. They say that based upon an institutional analysis of what the media is and what it's incentive structure is, we should expect it to largely be an enterprise that is in service to power, not an institution that undermines power when that is in the public interest.

Herman and Chomsky proved that their model was correct in a number of ways. One way was to take the examples that are often put forward as evidence that the media is iconoclastic and examining them in detail to show that this perception is false. People perceive that media coverage of the Vietnam War was largely negative and played to the interests of the anti-war movement. Many think that this negative coverage undermined the war itself and worked against the interests of the powerful factions that were perpetuating that war. In fact that is just the opposite of the truth. For the details you'll need to check out Manufacturing Consent.

I think the above interview is another good illustration. The host and government spokerperson's views are pretty much identical. They disparage and criticize an institution that is in fact doing what journalists ought to be doing if what they did wasn't service to power. CNN is hostile to iconoclastic journalism so naturally they oppose Wikileaks.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

5 Ridiculous Things You Probably Believe About Islam

Via Cracked.

Second Response to HP on Inequality

HP, like you don't claim inequality is not increasing at least to some degree I don't disagree that by some measures life is getting better for all. Wages are down for people in the lower income brackets, but technological advancements make like better for poor people as well. Productivity gains are enjoyed to a very tiny degree by the poor relative to the amount enjoyed by the rich.

I just think that we should consider an alternative system. As I said, life may have gotten better in slave societies with time, but this doesn't mean there isn't a better alternative. But instead of moving in a direction that will make it such that the poor also enjoy the gains in productivity we have a President that has enacted a tax policy that only raises taxes on the poorest Americans. There are changes to the estate tax that exacerbate the inequality situation. And in addition to that we have a tax holiday on social security taxes, which jeopardizes a program that is relied on heavily by the poor and prevents total destitution amongst the poorest of Americans.

Take a look at who it is that is enjoying economic growth these days with a couple of charts.

Here's another illustrating the same point.

You say no big deal. Yeah, inequality is for real, but it's not that bad. It's not bad in the sense that everyone is doing a little better. The poor have gained $200 in their income in the last 25 years. That's better. But why have a system that funnels virtually all economic growth into the pockets of a tiny minority? We know we can do better. We've done better in the past.

With regards to immigration, yes it does appear that the article from Cafe Hayek was mistaken to characterize Bourjas in the way they did. But I think there's a need to quantify the effect on wages. Look to the charts above. The disparity is enormous. This goes back to my prior point about how it seems you believe you can dismiss the importance of inequality merely because single motherhood is increasing or immigration is increasing. It's as if under these conditions you would assume it's impossible to know if inequality is a problem. The top 10% have enjoyed 63% of the income gains while the bottom 20% enjoyed 0.4% of the income gains. We expect the rich to gain more under any system. If all income groups enjoy a 5% increase that means most of the money goes to those at the top. That's perfectly reasonable. But at 0.4% the bottom 20% are getting almost nothing. Immigration can explain a tiny amount, but not all.

Also note that while immigrants start with a low income their increase in income as the years go by outpaces increases amongst natives. See a study here. So these are counterbalancing forces. As I said the key is to quantify the total effect. It may be positive in terms of reducing inequality when that is considered.

Now, consider your claim that involves a study that says if you merely consider health care costs the inequality gap disappears. That's nonsense as you would have to admit because you believe inequality is increasing. This study is flawed. The other thing I would point to is that the study seems to be arguing, based on your description, that with the rise in health care costs in fact total compensation considerations eliminate the inequality gap. So for their calculations they presume that health care costs are rising. If the compensation is corrected for inflation though that should mean that compensation doesn't change with rising health care costs. The fact that they say that it does would suggest they are doing it wrong.

I don't agree that it is my burden to research every speculative claim you offer in your attempts to explain inequality. Imagine that I explain the motivations of suicide terrorists by pointing to foreign military occupation and you reply "Did you investigate the possibility that brain boring bacteria may be prevalent in Islamic states? Go do some research and figure that one out and until you do I'm entitled to dismiss your claim." Mine is the position of the majority of economists and is the prima facie conclusion based on an analysis of income data. That's not to say that other causes are not relevant in explaining the data, but I think the ball is in your court to prove any claims about Britney Spears wannabes or Sergey Brin wannabes.

Regarding the rates at which the people with a college degree marry people without, I asked about the causes and you say this is specifically explained in the article. You cite the article. In that citation I see no explanation other than the repeated assertion about a striking decline since the 70's. Do you consider this an explanation? An assertion that this has happened since the 70's is not an explanation of the causes, nor does it give us the information we would need to consider whether there was some sort of correlation.

You say this fits my pattern calling for drastic changes in the 70's and 80's. First, we can't see the rates in your article, so I don't know why you're drawing that conclusion. Second, you imply that the rate reduced in the 90's. But inequality is still increasing in the 90's and in the 21st century. So this pattern does not fit the inequality that we are seeing.

Should you dismiss EPI or Huffington Post as I dismiss AEI? If they provide no argument, like AEI, then yes. Everybody wants to be a pop star, and my evidence is zero. That's quite weak coming from a group that takes thousands in tobacco money in order to put out studies on the virtues and glories of tobacco which kills hundreds of thousands of people per year in the US alone.

I think that if people read your blog they'd see which of us has the worldview commitment to an economic position. Not that I think that's relevant. It presumes to know your motives. It presumes to say that you have a prior commitment to an economic argument independent of the evidence. Maybe you do and maybe you don't. Regardless I think that's for the reader to decide. My speculating about your motives just isn't value added in my opinion. People can read your arguments and draw their own conclusions about your motives. I think you'd be better served doing the same, but suit yourself. The substantive portions of your replies are definitely value added and welcome here. I don't agree with you but I am learning.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

2010 Warmest Year On Record

Once again it seems that conclusions based on science are pretty reliable. That same science makes predictions. We'd better consider them.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Response to HP on Inequality

In my recent post on income inequality I got an extremely lengthy reply from my good friend Hispanic Pundit which can also be read here. Personally I think he should narrow the focus a bit just to make a response more manageable. It's the kind of response that usually wouldn't be addressed at all because it's just too much. However I am glad to get a response even if I'm not able to reply. It at least contains info pro and con so learning can occur.

But in this case I did go through every link he offered and I'm responding below. HP, I'm using the third person just because it was easier to write that way, so don't take it to be rudeness. Again, thanks for your reply and hopefully we can both learn a bit here.

HP has asserted, without evidence, that changing family structure is the reason for the increase in inequality that I've documented. But I did his work for him, showing that divorce rates and the # of children affected by divorce do not correlate with inequality. Divorce rates began increasing in the 60's and leveled off in the 80's. Income gains went to all sectors of the economy, poor and rich, from 1940 to the mid 70's. Inequality began skyrocketing in the 80's with divorce rates leveled off.

So in response HP offers what he says is evidence.

HP's first link offered as evidence says that the number of households has increased faster than the population. You could see why this would tend to suppress family income values. He offers a hypothetical explaining that if incomes doubled, but half the households divorce, then household income stays the same. OK. But does this in fact explain the rise in inequality? He doesn't try to show it. "Could be" is about as far as this can take us.

He says that though the population increased 38% from 1976 to 2006 whereas the number of families rose 60%. He says "presumably" this is due to an increase in the divorce rate. But the divorce rate didn't increase in that time frame and it isn't increasing now (I have data from 1940-1990, 1990-2002 and 2007-2009). The divorce rate is dropping and has been since the 80's.

On the other hand the marriage rate is reducing, so these things can offset one another. This is why the key in my view is the source I provided in the post HP is replying to. Family working hours are increasing. So to offer another hypothetical, if half the families divorced, but working hours for each of those working family members doubled, we'd expect no change in total family working hours. The fact that family working hours are increasing means that the net effect of divorce/delayed marriage is that Americans are working harder for less. The theory sounds plausible, but the data don't support the conclusion.

HP's second link notes, correctly, that the proportion of households headed by women has increased. OK. Has that increase correlated with inequality? No. It increased by a wide margin in the 70's, but not so much in the 80's and 90's. Recall that the total amount of income going to the top 1% has skyrocketed from a mere 10% in 1980 to 23% today. Why has the bulk of the inequality been generated when single motherhood was not increasing as much?

Let me digress for a second here. I get the feeling with HP's analysis that no matter what is occurring in terms of inequality he'll conclude that we can draw no conclusions. Single motherhood has increased. So no matter what other data might show we should dismiss it as of no concern. These same arguments would apply in Haiti or Jamaica. But doesn't that make the view unfalsifiable? Do a thought experiment. Suppose that the top 1% had 10% of all income in 1980 but 90% today. Would it make sense to dismiss it because there has been an increase in single parenthood? No. If you want to argue the point you need to do the work and show the correlations. HP doesn't do that, nor do his sources. They think by merely pointing out one factor which can cause inequality data to be misleading they've shown that there's no problem. I can agree that a rise in single parenthood can cause one to overstate inequality, but I don't think this means that Citigroup is wrong in their economic analysis. They say the economy is being restructured so as to cater to the wealthy. They say this is due to our corporate friendly government. They offer an investment strategy that is based on that conclusion. The fact that there has been an increase in the total number of households doesn't change that.

HP's third link merely repeated what was in the second, so there's nothing to address there.

The fourth link says it's due to increases in immigration. Of course many immigrants are well educated. In fact the % of immigrants with 8 years or less of schooling is less than the native population and is dropping (as it is for the native population.) Some of the highest educated people in this country are immigrants. But also many unskilled immigrants arrive illegally, which is why I noted in the post HP is replying to that the amount of illegal immigration has been dropping since 2007 though inequality continues to rise. So once again no real attempt to show any correlation.

The fifth link clarifies the fourth and in fact has a link to a study which claims that the net effect on wages of immigration is positive. This of course would suggest that immigration doesn't suppress wages, but in fact should increase them. So the cause of the increase in inequality would have to be elsewhere.

The sixth link talks about how people move about various income groups as they age. It says that this doesn't tell us anything and I agree, so I won't comment.

The seventh link makes points about divorce that I've already addressed.

The eighth link says that it's better to remain married for economic purposes. That's of course true, but the data he presents shows a falling number of children affected by divorce and a falling divorce rate since 1995, though inequality has continued to skyrocket. So obviously this is not explaining inequality.

The ninth link talks about the same divorce study and adds nothing to it.

And that's just HP's first comment. I'm exhausted.

OK, so let's move to his second comment. He says that if you consider total compensation, including 401k's and health benefits, you find that the inequality gap disappears. I addressed this claim directly in the post HP is replying to, but he says nothing of my comments. But let me add a further comment.

HP's evidence is in a paper that requires payment to see and as far as I can tell he hasn't seen it himself. I've asked him directly if he's seen it and he simply won't respond to that question. If we haven't seen the evidence how can we draw conclusions? Does this paper account for the vanishing pension plan or the fact that pension plans out perform 401k's? How does it factor in the additional cost of health care? Because the inequality evaluations are being done in terms of dollars that are adjusted for inflation. Are they adding in rising health care costs in terms of dollars not adjusted for inflation to income dollars that are adjusted for inflation? We haven't seen so we don't know and we can't evaluate it.

HP's next argument is that while things may appear bad, in fact if you modify the CPI as necessary to reflect the cost of goods the poor are most likely to buy you find that things in fact aren't so bad. Luxury goods are increasing in price at a more rapid rate than goods poor people would be likely to consume. Perhaps unbeknownst to HP the source of this claim is no longer available. But the opening sentences from the piece HP is recommending are interesting:

"Inequality is growing in the United States. The data say so. Knowledgeable experts like Ben Bernanke say so. Ask just about any economist and they will agree. (They may or may not think growing inequality is a problem, but they will acknowledge that there has been a sharp increase in inequality.)"

It's worth noting that my claims regarding inequality are the consensus of economic experts. Doesn't mean I'm right, but it does mean that HP's view starts with a presumption against it.

The consensus is wrong according to this unavailable study. Again this is hard to evaluate, but if you read the comments at another source HP provided on this same topic you see claims that this claim regarding inflation bias is only true for people making less than $15K/yr, not the bulk of the population.

Next we're directed to this link that offers a variety of what the author apparently thinks are plausible explanations for inequality. Rich people marry rich people now (as if they didn't before). People with college degrees marry people without a college degree at a lower rate now. Isn't that because fewer people lack a college degree? There's less people without a college degree available for marrying.

But maybe people are doing things like starting internet companies, which can either go bust or make them staggeringly rich, like Sergey Brin. Or maybe people want to be pop stars, so it's big money or bust. Just a bunch of haphazard guesses as to the causes and a final comment that there's probably not much the government can do about it. I'm not shocked to read that this guy is a fellow at the right wing American Enterprise Institute. From shilling for corporate interests on global warming to shilling for RJ Reynolds it's not surprising to see these scatter shot arguments in favor of the status quo from the AEI and it's hard to take it seriously in my view, especially in light of the fact that there's just not much of an argument there.

Some inequality is good we're told. Does that mean Haiti is the place to be? Nobody has argued for perfect equality so I don't see the point of this comment.

Finally we're told that it doesn't matter because life is getting better with technological advancement. That was true in slave societies as well as I already commented. That doesn't mean it's right that the vast bulk of the increases in productivity and efficiency gains are being enjoyed only by the super wealthy. The point is that a better system would be a system that allowed everyone to reap income gains.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Couple of Good Interviews Re: Wikileaks

First Ray McGovern, then Ron Paul.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Economic Matters

The realities of our economic climate are quite harsh and getting harsher. That is, if you aren't among the top 10% of wage earners. So for instance though productivity is on the rise, median income is not. The total share of income of the top 1% is skyrocketing, from about 10% of the total in 1980 to a whopping 23% today.

Citigroup can see this quite plainly. They issued a couple of reports outlining an investment strategy based on the structure of our economies and these were leaked. Part 2 is not easy to find, but I was able to track down both Part 1 and Part 2. In fact Citigroup is trying to scub these studies out, so that link may not work forever. They read like left wing screeds, except rather than being depressed the authors sound jubilant. The worldwide economic order is organized such that the poor will have to get by with an ever decreasing share of the income and the rich will take more. So you should invest in companies that cater to the needs of the rich. Here are a couple of excerpts as culled by Bill Moyers in a speech that is available here.

"Asset booms, a rising profit share and favorable treatment by market-friendly governments have allowed the rich to prosper... [and] take an increasing share of income and wealth over the last 20 years."

"...the top 10%, particularly the top 1% of the United States - the plutonomists in our parlance - have benefited disproportionately from the recent productivity surged in the US... [and] from globalization and the productivity boom, at the relative expense of labor."

"... [and they] are likely to get even wealthier in the coming years. Because the dynamics of plutonomy are still intact."

So now we're getting a tax cut from Obama and the Republicans. Huge reductions in the estate tax. Making permanent the Bush era tax cuts, the consequence of which are outlined in Citigroup's reports. There's only one group that will see an increase in their overall tax burden. The poorest Americans. We should expect the share of the pie going to the rich to increase ever more aggressively.

I speak with right wingers and explain these matters and I get a variety of responses that I'd like to address here.

I'm told that the increase in inequality is due to the changing family structure. More single family homes. It's interesting that a lot of these responses I get come without evidence. It's just a claim that sounds plausible. But I think right wingers should allow real world data to inform their claims rather than just spinning them out of their head. When you do that you find that your theories, which sound plausible in your head, in fact don't correlate to the real world.

Though I'm not offered evidence in support of this claim I do go look for it on my own. You can go here to see divorce rates and the number of children affected by divorce through the years. You'll notice that divorce began increasing in the 60's, when inequality wasn't as much of a problem, and then leveled off just prior to the 80's, when inequality began to skyrocket. So these are not correlative.

I also found a report on working hours contrasted with income. Looking at that you can see that working hours for families are on the rise. From my link above we know this is happening while productivity was increasing. And yet the income gains are not there. The claim regarding family structure would presume that total family working hours are decreasing. Maybe a two parent family can work 50 or 60 hours a week, whereas a single parent family might not be able to work more than 40. The data show that this is not the case.

I'm told that it makes more sense to evaluate total compensation, rather than simply income. 401k's are on the rise, as are health care costs. Once again that sounds plausible, but is it true? This source says that yes, considering overall compensation does reduce the inequality gap, but does not eliminate it. And pensions have been eliminated as 401k's have come in and 401k's are not better than pension plans. Note that the total savings rate for Americans is down even accounting for 401k's.

Why not blame the immigrants? That's a frequent right wing ploy and it usually comes without evidence. Presumably legal immigration is not the problem. Those that come here legally are usually well off and well educated. It's the illegals. I haven't found data on illegal immigration going back to the 70's, but it looks like it has dipped since 2007 though inequality continues to set records. So the data that is available to me doesn't support this claim.

I'm sometimes told that the poor don't have it so bad if you consider the massive benefits paid to them via welfare. We should really be concerned about so called "welfare queens." Black women having as many babies as possible so as to the game the system. Truthfully this is what I'm told. It's worth noting though that welfare spending on the poor is not necessarily as much as you would think. But in fact it is not true that having more babies is helpful. It's also worth noting that welfare benefits don't continue indefinitely. Unlike our massive war spending.

It's not surprising to me that Americans vastly underestimate inequality and would prefer something much different than what we have. Americans are inundated with news and stories about how we should enact policies that are for the betterment of the super rich. "They drive the economy" we're told. If only we let them keep more of the money it will trickle down to the rest of us. Maybe if we stuff their pants fuller and fuller some money will fall out and the poor can enjoy it.

The argument is that the rich are the investors/job creators. But studies directly contradict these plausible sounding assertions. Not only that, but companies are flush with cash now, but simply won't spend it. Instead they hoard it.

And it's not that these companies are evil. They simply aren't designed to be concerned that people are suffering and unemployed. What they do is what I'd expect them to do based on the incentive structure that exists. Why not simply do stock buy back plans which inflates the price of stock for the betterment of stock holders (the majority of whom of course are already rich). I'd likewise expect that Citigroup is right. Our economic order will be revised to cater to the rich, not the poor, since the rich will have everything and the poor will have nothing. We will become more and more like third world countries. This is not because people are evil. This is the product of the system we have. Under Obama it continues.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Immorality of War in Iraq

I made an argument regarding the war in Iraq a while back and I thought I'd run it by Dutko for fun. Here's the audio.

Truthfully it was hard during the latter half because I was having a lot of trouble hearing him, but still a good call. It's obvious he's unaware of basic facts about the world, going instead with his own intuitions about what is going on in his enemies' minds, disregarding actual evidence.

Note the various responses he offers which have so little contact with what I'm saying. Should Iran regard us as a threat he asks me? I say that we did impose a dictator on them and we did support Saddam's invasion in 1980. His response: "Well, we had to because Iran was regarded as a graver threat." OK, but that has nothing to do with what I'm saying. Would Iranians naturally regard us as a threat in light of Saddam's invasion? The answer is yes.

I sent a follow up email afterwards, which is below.

Sorry about the cross talk. I was having trouble hearing you. I heard you talking but I thought you paused to let me talk because I couldn't hear well.

Regarding Ahmadinejad, what I probably should have said is that it is debatable that he said "Wipe Isreael off the map." I've so often heard people say that he THREATENED to wipe Israel off the map that I took you to be saying that. He is not threatening Israel and to do so would be silly because if he were to try an attack he'd be annihilated rather quickly. His statement has been translated "Wipe Israel off the map" but that's been disputed. His statements on the whole show that yeah, he'd like Israel to disappear, but he doesn't intend to act violently towards them. He may be a wicked person but he doesn't seem to have a death wish.

He does recognize the right of Israel to exist though. He votes for a peaceful settlement and secure Israeli state every year. You can pretend it's a ruse, but it is his voting record.

The Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 goes even further and says that they are ready to normalize relations with Israel, which is a step beyond the UN resolution. Iran is a member of the Organization of the Islamic Conference which supports the initiative.

And I don't think you ever answered my question. You say we are a danger to Iran if they continue to pursue nukes. Fine, we're a danger to them. The principle you advocate doesn't change. If (America/Iran) regards (Iraq/America) as a threat they are entitled to attack. That's your view, right? But you say Iran is doing dangerous things, building nukes, etc. That's very much debatable, but let's suppose it was true. The US does dangerous things as well, right? The US defense budget is about the same as the defense budgets of the rest of the world combined. The US is building all kinds of weapons to a much greater extent than Iran and has a much more aggressive history. So Iran has a moral right to attack the United States on your view, right?

What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, right? That's the principle you need to consider.


I have to admit that when talking to Bob I really didn't understand where he was going in his argument and so my response was not exactly what it should have been. Honestly I regard his response as convoluted. I think I'm able to make sense of it after listening to it a second and third time. On the phone I really wasn't following him.

My claim is clear I believe. If the US is entitled to attack a state it regards as a threat then Iran is as well. Bob says no. His argument? Iran is a threat to Israel, a US ally, so the US is entitled to attack Iran. I was truly lost at this point. How does that change what I said? It's almost as if he's affirming the very principle that he just told me he denied. He's repeating the principle I already attributed to him. A state can attack another state if it regards it as a threat.

In the end he sort of admits that yes, Iran is entitled to attack the US in the sense that Hitler was entitled to attack Britain. Hitler was doing bad things and so Britain was moving towards war and I suppose Hitler would then have a right to repel Britain. But I would say this analogy doesn't apply. We're talking about something very different from an imminent attack. We're talking about an attack on a state that is not poised to strike us. That's the crux of the issue. We already know that attacks are permissible in order to repel an imminent attack according to international law. What's at issue is this new doctrine which says you can attack a state if you anticipate that at some point in the future they may be a threat to you. That's not the situation Hitler was in.

And also, by the way, Hitler had invaded and occupied various countries and this is why repelling him violently was justified. Which state is the world's leading invader and occupier? It's not Iran.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Just some interesting links regarding Wikileaks. (This post is occasionally updated, both for content and formatting. I switched the format so the most recent is at the top so that one might know if updates have occurred).

(26) US military forces engaged in a heinous war crime, executing a handcuffed family, including the mother and infant children. Subsequently the home where the crime occurred was bombed by US forces, presumably to cover up the crime.

(25) The Obama administration intervened to prevent Haitians from increasing their minimum wage from 26 cents/hr to 71 cents/hr. This action was on behalf of contractors for Hanes and Levi-Strauss.

(24) Israel's aim with the Gaza blockade is to keep Gaza "functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis." This according to leaked Wilileaks cables. This is not entirely new information. For instance Israeli spokesman Mark Regev said in 2006 that the goal was to put Palestinians on a diet. This behavior is part of a strategy that has been in place for a while. Moshe Dayan was Israel's Minister of Defense in 1967. After the war he said that the Palestinians should be told "that we have no solution, that you shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wants to can leave -- and we will see where this process leads... In five years we may have 200,000 less people -- and that is a matter of enormous importance."

(23) President Zardari of Pakistan publicly condemns the devastating US drone strikes in Pakistan, which almost exclusively kill innocent civilians. In private meetings though with US officials he approves of them and admits plans to offer faux protest at the National Assembly. "I don't care if they do it as long as they get the right people. We'll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it," he told US officials.

(22) US diplomats basically act like marketing agents for Boeing in their efforts to boost sales against their rival, Airbus. Fascinating details in the NY Times here. King Abdullah clearly hints that his country would be very interested to purchase from Boeing rather than Airbus and oh, by the way, if the King's private jet were to be outfitted much like Air Force One that would be really cool. Yes, they have decided to purchase Boeing and yes, King Abdullah's plane is being upgraded. The details of the upgrade can't be revealed for security reasons.

(21) If you've seen the movie "The Kite Runner" you know that in Afghanistan there is a cultural behavior that amounts to rape of young boys. Typically the children are between the age of 5 and 15. The Taliban aggressively attempted to put it down, but with the Taliban out of power it's on the rise again, just as drug production is. We learned a year and a half ago from the Washington Post that DynCorp, which trains Afghan police and is under US contract, threw a party in Afghanistan "hired a teenage boy to perform a tribal dance". This was not the first time DynCorp has been involved in such things. Now thanks to Wikileaks we discover some behind the scenes info. When an Afghan diplomat discovered that someone from the media was present during the dance he panicked and contacted the US embassy. He wanted to communicate to the journalist that publishing the story would "endanger lives." Instead the diplomats urged that nothing be done in order to prevent the story from becoming a big deal. As the guardian notes, the strategy appears to have worked, culminating in the Washington Post story, which was largely a whitewash. The headline is "Amid Review, DynCorp Bolsters Ethics Practices." The Afghan diplomat that attempted to suppress the story resigned back in June.

(20) Shell Oil has a strong grip on Nigerian government.

(19) President Saleh of Yemen told General Patreaus that he would lie to the people of Yemen and tell them that the bombs falling on them in fact were from his government, not from the United States. He is trying to create the impression that he is not a US lackey. Not only did Saleh lie to Yemeni's but the State Department lied to Americans as well as Greenwald documents.

(18) Cables reveal an extensive war being conducted in Pakistan despite denials by Pentagon officials.

(17) Drug giant Pfizer was accused of having performed fatal drug testing on Nigerian children and in response appears to have initiated a smear campaign against the Nigerian attorney general in an effort to get him to drop the charges or reduce the penalties.

(16) More information on the coup in Honduras here.

(15) Wikileaks published many works related to Scientology. Scientology responded angrily and tried to compel Wikileaks to remove the information. Wikileaks replied by posting additional information.

(14) The US and China joined forces against Europe to undermine any effective climate change treaties.

(13) Exposure of corruption by oil magnates in Peru has lead to the resignation of Peru's Prime Minister.

(12) Documents related to Kaupthing Bank in Iceland have revealed massive loans on behalf of the bank's owners just prior to the collapse. These revelations may lead to criminal prosecutions. In response Iceland has enacted laws to protect journalists attempting to expose corruption.

(11) Massive corruption in Kenya. The exposure has made a huge difference which was reflected in a subsequent election.

(10) Last year's cyber attack on Google from China may have been directed by a senior member of the Chinese politburo that googled his name and was outraged to find articles that were critical of him.

The following 9 are quoted via Greenwald:

the U.S. military formally adopted a policy of turning a blind eye to systematic, pervasive torture and other abuses by Iraqi forces;

(8) the State Department threatened Germany not to criminally investigate the CIA's kidnapping of one of its citizens who turned out to be completely innocent;

(7) the State Department under Bush and Obama applied continuous pressure on the Spanish Government to suppress investigations of the CIA's torture of its citizens and the 2003 killing of a Spanish photojournalist when the U.S. military fired on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad (see The Philadelphia Inquirer's Will Bunch today about this: "The day Barack Obama Lied to me");

(6) the British Government privately promised to shield Bush officials from embarrassment as part of its Iraq War "investigation";

(5) there were at least 15,000 people killed in Iraq that were previously uncounted;

(4) "American leaders lied, knowingly, to the American public, to American troops, and to the world" about the Iraq war as it was prosecuted, a conclusion the Post's own former Baghdad Bureau Chief wrote was proven by the WikiLeaks documents;

(3) the U.S.'s own Ambassador concluded that the July, 2009 removal of the Honduran President was illegal -- a coup -- but the State Department did not want to conclude that and thus ignored it until it was too late to matter;

(2) U.S. and British officials colluded to allow the U.S. to keep cluster bombs on British soil even though Britain had signed the treaty banning such weapons, and,

(1) Hillary Clinton's State Department ordered diplomats to collect passwords, emails, and biometric data on U.N. and other foreign officials, almost certainly in violation of the Vienna Treaty of 1961.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Arabs Fear Iran?

So our government's war mongering rhetoric directed at Iran has been vindicated by none other than Wikileaks. Secretary of State Clinton says that yes, Iran's "neighbors" regard it as a threat. Iran is a serious concern far beyond her region.

That's actually true if keep to a very narrow definition of who Iran's neighbors are. It's not the population. It's the few thuggish propped up dictators in the region. Some Arab dictators have indicated they would like to see Iran attacked.

What if we widen the definition to include the Arab populace? In fact their views are well known and meticulously documented in a study put forward by the Brookings Institute in conjunction with Zogby International. The results are quite fascinating. Most think that yes, Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program. But they likewise think that it has every right to do so. Here are some questions and answers from the poll:

There is international pressure on Iran to curtail its nuclear program. What is your opinion?
77% - Iran has the right to its nuclear program
20% - Iran should be pressured to stop its nuclear program.

If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, which of the following is the likely outcome for the Middle East region?
57% - More positive
20% - Would not matter
21% - More negative

Name TWO countries that you think pose the biggest threat to you.
88% - Israel
77% - United States
10% - Algeria
8% - United Kingdom
10% - Iran
3% - China
1% - Syria

Hillary Clinton wants to pretend that the opinions of the Arab populace don't matter. She probably would prefer that their opinions were irrelevant just as she would like to think the opinions of Americans were irrelevant. This is really why the political class hates Wikileaks. There really isn't much in the way of danger to individuals in combat, but there is real danger to the political class. They don't want the population to know what they are doing behind a wall of secrecy. Public reaction can cause consequences that Hillary wouldn't like.

I imagine it's kind of demoralizing for 88% of the Arab world when they hear these things. 88% of Arabs think Israel is the threat, so they'd rather see the US attack them then attack Iran. Yet an individual Arab watches TV and gets told that in fact his country doesn't think like he does. He's told that the rest of his country would rather do the bidding of Israel, the very country that this individual Arab regards as a threat. He would probably like to think that he's not crazy and he's the only one that thinks this way. But he'd have to do a research project to figure it out. People aren't talking about the Brookings study. They talk about how "Iran's neighbors" want Iran bombed.

Buffalo Bills Receiver Unhappy With God

So apparently Steve Johnson dropped a pass in the end zone and the Bills ultimately lost to the Steelers last Sunday. He's ticked and he tweeted about it. Here's what he says.
I can't say I blame him. You do all your grovelling, stroke God's ego telling him how great he is all the time so he can feel good about himself, tell him you love him, etc, and he's all powerful so he can easily see to it that you catch a ball. Like "Angels in the Outfield", right? All that worship invested, and for what?

But Johnson should keep it in perspective. He is probably a multi-millionaire. There are kids starving all over the world begging for help and God likewise does nothing. If anyone should be ticked it's them and their parents. Or maybe we should all be ticked.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Why Democracy?

I talk a lot about polls and how our society doesn't reflect the values expressed by the general population. If it did, we wouldn't be at war in Iraq. We wouldn't be in Afghanistan. We'd have a nuclear weapons free zone in the middle east, we'd have a peaceful resolution to the occupation of Palestine, NAFTA would not have been ratified, we'd have a health care system similar to that of the rest of the industrialized world, we'd have adopted the Kyoto protocols, radically reducing our greenhouse emissions, etc. Aggression and the embargo against Cuba would end, methods for fighting drugs would change for the better. (See here, here, and here for some of my sources on these points). The list goes on.

But we don't have these things because our society in fact reflects the needs and values of a privileged, propertied minority. These people are largely immune to the negative consequences of these policies, especially over the short term. So take global warming. Who will suffer first? The poor. The rich will run the A/C more, pay extra for food from newly developed crops. They can afford to drink bottled water. They don't depend on glacial runoff. Since they don't feel the consequences, but do reap the rewards of large profits due to the sale of fossil fuel and consumer goods, it's natural for them to pursue policies that don't reflect the will of the public at large.

Take war. Those that suffer of course in Iraq are poor Iraqi's. Something on the order of a million dead so far. The next group that suffers is US military personnel. Finally the American public as people from occupied regions react with violence in the only way they can: assaults on civilians (though there hasn't been a lot of this yet). The wealthy can insulate themselves from this better than the poor can. And the upside is substantial. The worlds largest proven oil reserves are of course a source of revenue and profit.

The two greatest threats to human survival are probably environmental catastrophe and nuclear destruction. Because our society reflects the needs of a privileged few rather than the public at large, the policies that are pursued in fact exacerbate both of these threats. If our society enacted policies that reflected the values of the public at large our society would be organized in such a way so as to reduce these threats.

These problems must be addressed. But what can be done if not the imposition of democratic values? And how to do that except through democracy?

Some suggest that we get away from democracy and government intrusion and move to free markets. People are the best judge of their own needs. Let them, via free interactions, engage in their own exchanges.

Well, we know what the values are of the public at large. We have the polling data. What values would be reflected in a society without government intrusion or democracy? That's obvious. Those with the most property would have the largest involvement in shaping that society, and that society would reflect their needs and desires. These are the people that just turn up the AC when things get hot. These are the people that pay more for food when it becomes more scarce. These people would send their own private armies, consisting of their poorer employees, to enact policies that they favor by force. The victims would be the peoples that were attacked and the private army personnel that suffered the reprisals. We would expect the same kind of society that we presently have.

Privately owned businesses are nothing but totalitarian institutions. The decisions made are not based on the will of the public at large, but on the needs and desires of the few owners. Therefore the decisions made reflect their needs. What reason is there to expect that abolishing democratic government entirely would change the societal structure given that the needs and desires of the heavily propertied peoples should be expected to match the policies presently enacted by the government we have which is not responsive to democracy but only private power? These two systems have the same incentive structure, so they should be expected to produce the same results.

Darf tells us that Arrow's Theorem shows that no voting system can entirely satisfy the needs and preferences of a community. True enough. But neither can an exclusively price based system. Democracy is imperfect, but so is every other system. So let's get out of our ivory towers and offer solutions to the serious problems our world faces. Democratic values reflect a move toward alleviating these serious problems. The values of the few and the wealthy are already in force and are exacerbating the problem.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Empty Tomb Doesn't Matter?

DagoodS got me thinking about this "minimal facts" argument offered by Christian apologists. There are several minimal facts that are believed to be known about the life of Jesus, but 5 key ones relevant to the resurrection are these:

1-Jesus died by crucifixion
2-The disciples sincerely believed Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them
3-The church persecutor Paul converted to Christianity
4-The skeptic James converted to Christianity
5-The tomb was empty

Sometimes an apologist would appeal to more and sometimes less. For instance when Mike Licona debated Bart Ehrman in fact he only appealed to 1, 2, and 3 alone. Why not talk about 5? That's a big deal I figured. Maybe Licona avoids it because the consensus is not as strong on that point.

I'm prone to disputing all 5 of these points. I don't think the evidence justifies them. But Ehrman responded to Licona in a different and probably better way. As to point 1 his response is this: So what? Jesus died. Big deal. Everyone dies. Since everyone dies there's no need to waste time proving that Jesus died. So I'm left explaining why some people believed Jesus was raised. I would think there is no need to invoke a miracle to explain such an ordinary phenomenon. Some people have thought that Moses was raised. Some thought John the Baptist was raised. Who cares? That's not uncommon. I figure Licona needs to add the empty tomb to have any kind of a more persuasive case.

But does that matter either? Here's something else that's not uncommon. Moving a dead body that is presently buried in the wrong tomb. It was done all the time in ancient Israel. Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimethea supposedly. Fine. Now it's a new day. Time to move him to the family tomb. The original tomb is empty. So what? That's actually to be expected.

The apologist will say that's unlikely because of the guards and also because the initial Jewish reply to the claim that the tomb was empty was that the disciples stole the body. OK. But it's possible that the story of the guards was contrived. It's also possible that the Jewish polemic also was contrived, or these critics were speculating and didn't really know that the body was being moved. They might be wrong. In fact most people would say they are wrong.

Let's suppose the Christian judges this to be unlikely. The Jews likely would have known that the body was being moved by the family and would have pointed it out. Well, they might have, but it's certainly possible that they wouldn't. So we have to judge which is more unlikely. Is it more unlikely that a body could be moved unbeknownst to the early critics or is it more unlikely that a body that had been dead for three days rose again to life? What would a rational person conclude?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Law? That's for Poor People.

President Bush's new book contains an outright admission that he authorized torture. This is an open admission of criminal behavior. The ACLU has the relevant information. So they call on Obama's attorney general to prosecute him. But there's no need for Bush to worry. Obama wants to look forward, not backward.

As Fred Hiatt explained in the Washington Post, a trial would be really messy. Justice is tough. Why not rather just have a commission chaired by Sandra Day O'Conner and David Souter. They can issue a report and then we can all go home. Criminal trials? That's for black people or impoverished people or generally weak people. You know, people that smoke marijuana even though it's pretty much harmless. Not supremely wealthy people born to luxury, especially when the victims are weak.

Laws are for weak people and weak countries. When Saddam invaded Kuwait that was clearly a problem. He needed to be removed violently, because that violates international law. You can't just invade a foreign country unless you have UN authorization. That's a crime. It must be punished. Except of course when it's done by a powerful state. In that case it was necessary because they were a threat to us.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Why The War In Iraq Was Immoral

A couple of weeks back Bob Dutko spent some time justifying the invasion of Iraq. This was prompted by the publication of Bush's new book. In response I'd like to lay out a basic case for why I think it was wrong, and also respond to Dutko's arguments.

I see two main reasons for why it was wrong. First, it was illegal. Second, it was immoral. I'll justify these claims in turn.

The UN Charter is the supreme law of the land. It was ratified by our government and is therefore binding. People like Dutko don't really like the UN, but I don't know why that matters. Most people agree that following the law is almost always the moral course of action. Sometimes it is right to break the law, but that is a position that carries a strong presumption against it. If you don't like a law the solution is not to just go out and break it. You must persuade your fellow citizens and your government and attempt to change it. If Bush wanted to violate the UN Charter he needed first to pass a Congressional resolution saying we no longer adhere to it. To simply go out and violate the law, and then after the fact just say that you don't like a law so it doesn't matter, is almost always wrong.

The UN Charter provisions for war under 2 conditions: 1-When authorized by the Security Council and 2-In the case when it is necessary to repel an imminent attack (Article 51). Since neither of these conditions obtained, the war was illegal.

The US government attempted to claim that the Security Council did authorize war because Resolution 1441 called on Saddam to disarm or face "serious consequences." The US interpreted "serious consequences" to mean an invasion. France and Russia had made clear that they did not regard this phrase as an authorization for war, and at the time it was adopted this was the same interpretation held by US ambassador John Negroponte. So the US case seems dubious. The solution to figuring out what was intended would have been easy. Put it to a vote at the Security Council. The US knew it didn't have the support, so it didn't allow a vote. To my mind this is just contempt for the rule of law and so the war was illegal.

But this leads to the second argument against the war, which is relevant to the first argument. The war was immoral. Here's why.

A fundamental moral principle, a foundation of every moral theory as far as I know, is the principle of universality. That is, if it's wrong for you to do it then it is wrong for me to do it. This is something that is the key to Jesus' moral philosophy just as it is key to everyone else. Jesus reserved his harshest criticism for the hypocritical Pharisees. He tells us to do unto others as we would have them do unto ourselves. Do we want them to treat us poorly and in a way that grants them special privileges? Obviously not. We must treat them in a way that does not grant special privileges to ourselves if we want to follow Jesus' maxim. War supporters like Dutko must reject the principle of universality and the golden rule.

As best as I was able to understand, this was Dutko's argument. In light of 9/11 it was necessary to look at terrorism differently and recognize that the world is very dangerous. This enormous danger had to be neutralized. We believed Saddam was dangerous because all intelligence agencies believed he had a WMD program and WMD's. He'd used them on his own people. Though the inspectors hadn't found anything Saddam wouldn't allow full access. Keep in mind that even the Democrats urged Bush to invade. Clinton himself had ordered military strikes and a resolution to remove Saddam from power.

So the logic is that if you have good reasons to believe a state is dangerous and a threat to you, you are entitled to attack them without UN authorization. So let's apply this reasoning to others. I'll use Cuba as an example.

Cuba is a state that not only has good reason to fear the United States for future attacks. Cuba has in fact been attacked via terrorism for many years, and according to Chomsky is a state that has been subjected to more terrorism than any other. Chomsky has a good article detailing some of these operations here. Consider Operation Mongoose. Consider Orlando Bosch, a man that admits to bombing a Cuban civilian airliner among many other terrorist crimes. He lives comfortably today in Miami where he plots more terrorism and enjoys a gift from President George H. W. Bush - a presidential pardon for his crimes.

Consider The Cuban Five. A group of Cubans infiltrated terrorist groups in Florida and provided the FBI with evidence of their long record of terrorism, including audio tapes of conversations implicating the terrorists. The FBI responded. By arresting the five Cuban's that had successfully infiltrated the terrorist cell. Today they rest in jail. That's absurd enough, but the point is terrorism directed at Cuba based in the United States is ongoing.

Saddam has used WMD on his own people (with US weaponry and support at the time). But the US has the distinction of being the only country to use nuclear weapons on members of a foreign country. The US is the only country to be convicted of state sponsored terrorism at the International Court of Justice due to action in Nicaragua. The United States undoubtedly possesses WMD. And the US imposes a crippling and illegal embargo on Cuba, making it even more susceptible to violence

Cuba can very plausibly argue that the United States is a threat to itself. I don't think there can be any doubt about it. So by that reasoning we must ask Dutko and those that think like him a question. Does Cuba have the moral right to bomb Washington? Forget whether they have the capacity to do it. Obviously they do not. But morally, are they entitled to do it? For Dutko to say that they are not entitled to attack is to reject the principle of universality, which is the foundation of all moral theory.

The conclusion follows in a straightforward manner. Nations do not have the moral right to attack others merely because they believe they are a potential threat. The US should not be attacking Iraq or Cuba simply due to a perceived threat. And Cuba should not be attacking the US due to a perceived threat. Both nations should follow the law. Because if you are going to affirm the principle of universality, which you must in order to have any kind of coherent moral worldview, you cannot allocate to one nation the right to attack others due to a perceived threat without granting all that right. And so the war was immoral.

Christian Comedy-Tim Hawkins

Gotta give Christians credit. This is really smart. It's Christian comedy. A night out with the family. The humor is good and clean. And it's at church so you almost feel like you are fulfilling your obligation to go.

Tim Hawkins was at Woodside Bible Church in Troy Michigan, along with Jon something or other. They packed this mega church out. In fact it was overflow capacity. They had hundreds of chairs set up in the gym for people to watch via closed circuit TV. Something like 3,000 people showed up. I had to park across the street. I went with my 10 year old, who desperately wanted to go, and also with low expectations. I've been to comedy clubs and just figured Christian would probably drop the quality just a notch, like they often do. Like Bart Simpson says all the best bands are affiliated with Satan. I understand that if you watch "Left Behind" you realize that Kirk Cameron is a pretty good actor. His talent contrasts rather starkly with his co-stars, who may simply have been pulled out of church and thrown in front of a camera.

But it was quite good. I was impressed. Not the best I've seen, but good. And the price was right. Free. They took donations for Grace Centers of Hope, which helps orphaned/neglected kids. So I gave them a few bucks.

Mostly the material was the kind of thing you might hear from any comedian, with a few comments sprinkled in about how "God gave us laughter and it's good to laugh." Otherwise, not a lot of bible verses. No sappy alter calls. Straight comedy. But towards the end there was a little politics, which of course I'd love a chance to counter, but there's no way to do so.

It's clear to me that Christians don't concern themselves with global warming not because of the evidence, but because of their (quite logical) conclusion that since God is in control and worried about us there's no way he's going to let things get out of hand, but if he does I guess this was part of his plan for the end of the world anyway, so why bother inconveniencing ourselves? So this was one comment from Tim. He basically said he's not worried about it "because God is in control." Good applause for that line. Then he did a song about it, and how driving a Prius is lame, so he'll just drive his SUV because he just doesn't believe driving an SUV has much to do with global warming. Here he is singing it at Woodside. I'm in the audience coping with my irritation.

He just can't believe it matters. It's frustrating that 3,000 people sit in the audience and get infected with this kind of nonsense and it's difficult to counter it.

Unfortunately driving an SUV does matter. Not a single person driving a single SUV of course. But millions driving them? Yes, it does matter. A good series of videos is available at youtube, starting at the embedded clip below, which can help explain in simple terms why it does.

Probably the only mechanism that could conceivably prevent potential catastrophe here is the government. Like it or not there's nothing else. Tim has another song ridiculing the government and it's ability to get anything right. That's an opinion I used to share, but I've come to believe that while there is some truth to the fact that government sucks there's also truth to the claim that the government has done a lot of good and has the potential to prevent much pain that could be inflicted on the general public.

I've also come to believe that the corporate world does like strong government, specifically a strong government that serves their interest. But they also recognize that government has a weakness. It is susceptible to public pressure and democratic forces, which is potentially a limitation on their profits. So it's a tricky game that must be played. Bash government insofar as it works on behalf of the people, but grow government anyway so corporate interests can be served. Bush and Reagan are perfect corporate presidents, expanding government to unprecedented levels, but not so much in the areas of public interest. Pretending that government is the problem and must be reduced, but in fact expanding government on behalf of the various special interest groups.

Anyway, here's Tim Hawkins with "The Government Can".

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Christian Funerals Are Annoying

These non-religious views of mine make formerly easy things difficult sometimes. I was at a funeral this week of someone I didn't know very well. I know her husband better. So I'm sitting through the funeral service and I realized about half way through. They've turned this whole thing into something entirely about Jesus. Why does it have to be about Jesus? Why can't it be about the deceased? Why can't we take some time here and focus on this person we've lost?

Near the end 3 individuals were able to get up and briefly reminisce about this person. They talked about who has been lost to the world, what she was like, what she enjoyed, how she treated others. Kind of giving this person, who I barely knew, a lot more depth in my mind. And it was in fact beautiful. Probably 15 minutes of about a 90 minute service were truly devoted to focusing on this person and remembering her rather than infusing every statement with something related to Catholicism. Down to your knees. Doing the cross thing. Taking the bread and wine. Singing hymns about Jesus consoling us and our future in heaven. This is wasted time in my world.

Of course it's not about me, and if this is the service the deceased would have wanted and I knew that then it would have been easier to sit through it. Not knowing though I tend to suspect it was being hijacked by religion to make it about religion instead of what I think it should have been.

I'm going to be a difficult person if and when I lose a close loved one. I would be so annoyed if anyone tried to console me by telling me that we will see them again in heaven. And I'm going to want the service to be about them rather than about whichever God the mourners happen to believe in. It might be a problem.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Google's Pro-Islamic Propaganda

OK, you can't make this stuff up. Bob Dutko has to raise an eyebrow due to Google's logo for today. He says, yeah, maybe he's over reaching. Yeah, maybe it's nothing. But Google has a history of being left wing. They donate money overwhelmingly to Democrats. Don't you find it odd that Google, this organization that has a history of ignoring patriotic holidays, should finally under pressure modify the logo for Veterans Day and do it in such a way that sort of looks like they've created an Islamic crescent? Is this their way of sticking it to us and promoting Islam?

You decide.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Corporations vs People

Corporations are not immoral. But neither are they moral. They are amoral. If doing good is profitable, they will. If doing evil is profitable, they will. They can do tremendous good. But they can also do tremendous evil.

Would a corporation assassinate people that attempt to organize resistance to environmentally destructive policies? Ask Shell Oil. The evidence is that they'll hire militias, provide the weaponry, and pay additional monies in gratitude for the destruction. After all, it's profitable.

Cutting costs associated with safety measures can boost short term profits. Union Carbide's cost cutting measures probably were good for stockholders. Not so good though for the thousands killed when toxic gases were leaked into the slums surrounding the factory.

Monsanto made decent coin selling Agent Orange to the US government. This defoliated trees and then worked it's way into the food and water supply, leaving probably a million people with major health problems.

You could go on and on. You could look into IBM making the holocaust possible, you could look at British Petroleum in Iran. Why should it be any different? Corporations are designed to maximize profits. All else is secondary.

Today they are working to reduce costs associated with lawsuits that stem from their evil actions. Right now they are fighting to eliminate class action lawsuits. That will boost profits, so it's what we should expect.

The problem is that in free market economics the actors usually don't consider what are called externalities. So for instance, if I buy a car I consider what I want and how much I can afford. A car manufacturer considers the costs required to produce the car, and we arrive at a price. What we don't consider are the externalities. What is the cost that will be paid by the public at large due to things like pollution, noise, or traffic congestion. Those costs aren't paid by either the buyer or seller, but they are real costs that will be paid. They'll be paid by the public at large.

The same is true for other industries. So Goldman Sachs engages in transactions and attempts to maximize their returns. Like any good salesman they talk up a product they are trying to sell, trying to make it appear valuable, even if it isn't, just like a used car salesman would. They sell it, but then take out insurance on it's failure because they know really it's a poor product. When it does fail and they go to collect, the insurance company (AIG) can't pay because the bet is too large. But AIG's failure puts the whole financial system at risk. That cost is an externality that GS knows it won't pay. The taxpayer will. So bailouts come, the taxpayer props up AIG, who simply funnels that money straight to GS, who already has made enormous money selling a crappy product. What else should they do? They're here to maximize profits. As the taxpayer money was funneled to GS, GS decided to reward it's employees, who had done such a good job producing huge profits. The bonuses were at an average of $500K/employee. Today they pursue the same actions, extrenalizing the huge costs that they know must be endured by the taxpayer in the form of a bailout. So we wait for the next crash of the financial sector.

Corporations are designed to do whatever it takes to maximize profits. That may mean imposing risks on the entire financial system that must be repaired by the public at great cost. But it could be worse than that. It may mean assassination. It may mean spewing toxic gases in to your home. It may mean overthrowing your democratically elected government. Or it may mean taking control of your government, since government is the only possible check on their behavior.

What if the externality is the fate of the species? What if 98% of scientists are right and global warming due to emission of greenhouse gases is really a serious problem, despite fossil fuel funded propaganda? If continuation of the present path is profitable should we expect CEO's to consider the externality or will they instead be compelled to maximize the stock price?

To stop this pending train wreck we need to wrestle control of our government away from corporations and move it back into the hands of the public. I think the fate of the species is in the balance. Our world is not about the left vs the right or Republicans vs Democrats. It's corporations vs the people.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Constitution and Prayer In Schools

Listening to Bob Dutko inspires me to address various issues. I disagree with him most of the time and would love to argue with him, but obviously I can't call in every day. My next couple of posts will address some of his recent claims I've heard from him.

Dutko tells us that the Constitution permits teacher lead prayer in schools. It is obvious that the founders of our country had no problem merging church and state. Depictions of religious figures are all over Washington. The 10 Commandments were always displayed prominently at various places. Congress opens with prayer. Prayer was common in schools until only a few decades ago. Why are we suddenly realizing the Constitution forbids this behavior? Our early founders didn't object to this behavior so obviously they didn't regard these actions as a violation of the first amendment.

Atheists reply with various arguments, including the fact that the 14th amendment changed things. They point out that the Treaty of Tripoli asserts that the US is not a Christian nation. They talk about Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists, where you get the "separation of church and state" language for the first time (it's not in the Constitution).

Bob is well aware of all of these arguments and comes back at them hard. I think his replies sound plausible. But on the other hand I'm not a Constitutional lawyer. I think it would be useful for Bob to admit his own limitations and concede that he may not have the training required to know. Constitutional law is probably more complex than simply reading the Constitution. The fact is fallible men write laws and sometimes they are inconsistent. It is the job of the courts to work out illogical and inconsistent laws as best they can. Are you really so sure that the Supreme Court has done it wrongly?

Because what follows if Bob is wrong about the law? Does that mean we shouldn't as a country permit a teacher to lead a prayer to Jesus in school? Does Bob believe that all laws are correct? Forgetting Roe v Wade, what was the law in various states concerning abortion prior to 1973? Abortion was legal in many states. Does that make it right in Bob's world? Obviously not. So the issue is not just "What is the law" but more importantly "What is right"?

But when it comes to the founders of our country there's a sense in which people think that the laws they enact are like the Bible. As if everything they say is ideal. When the 1973 Roe court determines that the law says abortion must be legal in 50 states Bob dismisses that because it's just wrong. When Obama passes health care legislation Bob does not presume that this is the way it ought to be because it is the law. He opposes it vigorously. But for some reason if a law has the approval of founding fathers we pretend that this makes it more worthy of support. Why think that?

There's this third grade mentality people have of our founders. It's like the Simpsons and the founder of Springfield, Jebediah Springfield. He said "A noble heart embiggens the smallest man." So inspiring. Tall and handsome, he's a god like figure, while the founder of the neighboring and evil Shelbyville was an incestuous, short, fat scumbag. That's the propaganda we're offered in elementary school, but at some point you should grow up. Not everybody does.

There are plenty of good things that can be said of our founding fathers. But, like most leaders of a state, there's plenty awful that can be said of them too. George Washington may have done the right thing by limiting himself to 2 presidential terms. Good for him that he didn't want power concentrated in that manner. But here's something that he did that was not so good. He slaughtered Iroquois in a genocidal fashion. Consider some citations from David Stannard of the University of Hawaii.

“In 1779, George Washington instructed Major General John Sullivan to attack Iroquois people. Washington stated, 'lay waste all the settlements around...that the country may not be merely overrun, but destroyed'. In the course of the carnage and annihilation of Indian people, Washington also instructed his general not 'listen to any overture of peace before the total ruin of their settlements is effected.'" (Stannard, David E. AMERICAN HOLOCAUST. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. pp. 118-121.)

In 1783, Washington's anti-Indian sentiments were apparent in his comparisons of Indians with wolves: 'Both being beast of prey, tho' they differ in shape', he said. George Washington's policies of extermination were realized in his troops behaviors following a defeat. Troops would skin the bodies of Iroquois 'from the hips downward to make boot tops or leggings'. Indians who survived the attacks later re-named the nation's first president as 'Town Destroyer'. Approximately 28 of 30 Seneca towns had been destroyed within a five year period. (Ibid)”

Here's an interesting description of the reaction the Iroquois still had to the name Washington 11 years after the destruction.

"When he met with Washington 11 years after the devastating campaign, Chief Cornplanter, who headed the Seneca tribe of the Iroquois, stressed the durability of "Town Destroyer" as the commander in chief's nickname. "And to this day when that name is heard, our women look behind them and turn pale, and our children cling close to the necks of their mothers," Cornplanter said. But the title stuck even tighter than the Seneca chief could have imagined. To this day, "Town Destroyer" is still used as an Iroquois name for the president of the United States."

This was not an isolated example of the treatment afforded to the natives. And it's not as if the settlers didn't know what they were doing. Here's a comment from John Quincy Adams in his later years when he was no longer in a position to do anything about the atrocities. He deplored:

"the fate of "that hapless race of native Americans, which we are exterminating with such merciless and perfidious cruelty … among the heinous sins of this nation, for which I believe God will one day bring [it] to judgement."

Bob wants the children of Hindus, Atheists, and Muslims to be subjected to teacher lead prayers to the Lord Jesus Christ. He doesn't seem to mind whatever impacts would result on these children. OK. I don't want it. Suppose our founders would have sided with Bob. So what? These are not just imperfect people. In many cases these are deplorable people. If this is what they intended then they were wrong and the law should change. The courts have ruled, based on what is probably inconsistent laws, that teacher lead prayer in school violates the establishment clause in the Constitution. Truthfully I find the legal wrangling to be confusing and I'm just not sure who is right based on my limited understanding of the law. I think it's reasonable to side with the experts. But if those experts are wrong all that means is that the law should change. It doesn't make teacher lead prayers right.

To presume that the imprimatur of the founders gives additional credibility is to adopt a third grade Simpsons mentality that says politicians from long ago were god-like while politicians today are just ordinary people that can be readily ignored. The founders are probably not better than modern politicians when the third grade mythos is discarded.

Congressman Thaddeus McCotter Replies

A couple of months back I wrote a letter to my Congressman to express opposition to the present war in Afghanistan. He was good enough to respond.

In summary he tells me that the war in Afghanistan was launched to end the Taliban's ability to provide a safe haven for Al Qaeda and to end Al Qaeda's use of Afghanistan as a base of operations. He explained some historical details about how the war in Afghanistan has developed. And he explained a couple of House resolutions that are being considered to withdraw military forces from Afghanistan. Despite that he tells me that he will keep my opposition to the war in mind.

This does not address much of what I asked. Is it worth $37 billion to fight 100 individuals? Does the war make sense in light of the fact that the Taliban offered to hand over bin Laden? What of the fact that this war makes Americans less safe and more poor? What of the fact that if there was concern for democracy and freedom we'd listen to Iraqi and Afghan citizens who want us out? These issues McCotter did not address.

What he did offer was another reason for why Afghanistan was invaded. Al Qaeda used it as a base of operations and it offered safe haven. But I already explained that the Taliban was willing to hand OBL over. That's not a safe haven. Also when the bombs began falling in Afghanistan it wasn't even clear that Al Qaeda was responsible.

Consider the words of FBI Director Robert Mueller. In testimony before the Senate, a full 8 months after the bombs had begun falling and after one of the most intensive investigations ever undertaken in the history of humanity, Mueller tells us that he does "believe" that the idea for 9-11 came from Al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan though the actual plotting was done in Germany and the financing came from the United Arab Emirates from sources in Afghanistan.

Maybe it's true that Al Qaeda in Afghanistan was responsible, but that wasn't known at the time. It's difficult to believe that an attack was initiated to destroy an organization that wasn't known to be responsible. Unless punishing people that aren't known to be guilty is a reasonable action.

Remember The Sound of Music?

I just watched this movie again after many years. It brought back a lot of memories. My parents were quite controlling with the TV and only allowed us to watch a select few approved shows. This was one of them. So we saw it many times. I watched it again with my wife and kids.

The movie is set at a time when the Nazi's were about to move in to Austria. Captain Von Trapp is not a fan of theirs. Some of the dialogue was interesting to hear. Liesl is the eldest daughter and has a crush on the boy that delivers telegrams, Rolf. In a scene late in the movie Rolf enters to deliver another telegram, but this is after the Nazi's have moved in. Here's the dialogue.

Liesl. Liesl!
I'm so glad to see you. It's been su--
Good afternoon.
Give this to your father as soon as he's home.
-He's on his honeymoon. -I know.
-You do? -We make it our business to know all.
-Who's "we"? -See that he gets it.
-What is it? -It's a telegram from Berlin.

Later a Nazi official approaches Captain Von Trapp regarding the telegram:

You never answered the telegram. . .
. . .from the Admiral of the Navy of the Third Reich.
I was under the impression, Herr Zeller. . .
. . .that the contents of telegrams in Austria are private!
At least, the Austria I know.

Von Trapp's response to Herr Zeller is full of outrage initially and finally sadness at the realization that the Austria he knew no longer exists. It's simply taken for granted that a violation of privacy like that is an outrage.

Meanwhile in America we had one Senator that had the courage to vote against the Patriot Act, which is a massive violation of personal privacy and yielding of our rights to the state. He lost in his re-election bid last Tuesday.