Friday, 30 September 2011

Everything wrong with economics today.

"For an ambitious economist like Peter Orszag, going to work for Citigroup represented a choice. As a young staffer working in the Clinton White House, he saw laid before him two different paths: Stiglitzism and Rubinism. There were both intellectual and career-arc components to these. While both are liberal Democrats, Rubin was the consummate insider, whose philosophy was that the free markets, balanced budgets, and limited regulation would create a rising tide that would lift all boats (or at least make Wall Street not complain too much about Clinton’s social programs). Stiglitz, the public intellectual, is as concerned with the boats as with the tide. Orszag certainly had a lot in common with Stiglitz’s academic mien, having grown up in an intensely intellectual family in Lexington, Massachusetts, outside Boston. His father is a celebrated Yale math professor. But Orszag possessed an ambition that would take him beyond the ivory tower. He ultimately chose Rubinism. It makes perfect sense that Orszag would have been drawn toward Rubin. It must have been incredibly seductive seeing this world, watching the Rubin wing of the Democratic Party move so easily from government to Wall Street boardrooms to the table with Charlie Rose."

It is increasingly exasperating to see some of the best and brightest have to veer away from solving world issues in order to complete careers that might be counter-productive to that goal. 

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

"The Dominoes Fall"

"In the second half of 1997, Indonesia became the country hardest hit by the Asian economic crisis."
"Shots rang out. Four Indonesian students were killed."
"On the 13 and 14 May rioting across Jakarta destroyed many commercial centres in Jakarta and over 1,000 died."
"Suharto reads his address of resignation"
"Bill Clinton: I should have better regulated derivatives"
"In 2009, the derivatives market stood at $615 trillion, several times the global GDP of $74 trillion."
"AIG was on one side of these trades only: They sold credit-default swaps. They never bought. Once bonds started defaulting, they had to pay out and nobody was paying them."
"Credit-default swaps for Italy and Spain are surging"
"43% of Spain's youth, overall, are unemployed; higher than both Egypt and Tunisia"
"Austerity Might Not Work for Spain and Italy"
"For the international banking system, potential losses for French, German and US banks (+insurers) could easily lead to a new liquidity crisis in the interbank market, aka a new Lehman."
"Frank-Dodd never systematically address "too-big-to-fail". In fact, American investment banks are now even more consolidated then they were that fateful day Lehman Brothers fell."

Monday, 11 July 2011

Moving on Change---Ending the War on Drugs.

Recent evidence has suggested that decriminalization may be a viable alternative not only to deal with suppliers, but with users as well.

In Portugal, after a 2001 law that removed all criminal penalties associated with all drugs and referred all drug users to a panel of psychologists and social workers, severe drug abusers were halved, HIV infections were stymied, and Portugal had the lowest amount of lifetime use of marijuana in people above 15 in the EU at 10%. A comparable statistic of people above 12 suggests that the same statistic applies to nearly 40% of the American population.

Prison is the most expansive way to "treat" an addiction. It is an unfair burden upon the taxpayers, who in the United States, have to shoulder the highest recorded incarceration rate in the world. Drug crimes often destroy the lives of those charged with it as well, as they are stuck in a recessionary environment that sees convicted criminals as not worthy of any gainful employment, and therefore, they are left to their own devices, to the detriment of themselves and of society itself. The Supreme Court has ruled that this situation is unsustainable. "California could be forced to release tens of thousands of felons early after the Supreme Court ordered it Monday to reduce overcrowding, in a warning to states that efforts to get tough on crime must be accompanied by adequate prison funding. In a 52-page opinion illustrated with photos of teeming prison facilities and cages where mentally ill inmates are held, Justice Anthony Kennedy cited lower-court findings that preventable suicide and medical neglect "needlessly" cause the death of at least one inmate a week in California's prisons. The state system was designed for 80,000 inmates but holds nearly twice that many." The only people who gain from this situation are those that run the private-prison industry, criminals who profit from the risky nature of illegal enterprise, and to a limited degree, banks like Wachovia that have been to known to launder drug money. This is a very narrow set of interests, but American policy has often been hijacked by those with singular and short-sighted goals in mind.

Economists have calculated that merely legalizing marijuana in the United States would "save $7.7 billion per year in state and federal expenditures on prohibition enforcement and produce tax revenues of at least $2.4 billion annually if marijuana were taxed like most consumer goods. If, however, marijuana were taxed similarly to alcohol or tobacco, it might generate as much as $6.2 billion annually. "

Legalizing drugs does not mean condoning their usage. It is merely recognizing the inefficiency of using government force and the threat of prison to achieve this goal, just as the politicians who ended Prohibition realized. Legalizing drugs would allow for regulation that could severely reduce the health effects of improperly using them (sharing infected syringes or smoking marijuana when that is the unhealthiest way of consuming the latter). It would put the hands of the enterprise of drugs in the hands of corporations bound by laws and rules, rather than to psychotic criminals who use violence to achieve their goals.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says there is "no alternative" to confronting the cartels, even as she admits the current strategy is flawed. This is patently false. There is a choice we can make...and it is a choice that our tax dollars, the lives of drug users and the lives of innocent Mexicans depend upon. Sign this petition if you realize that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. Sign this petition if you want there to be meaningful change on a topic that has been stuck in irrational static for much too long.

Friday, 24 June 2011

The State of New York legalizes same-sex marriages.

ALBANY — Lawmakers voted late Friday to legalize same-sex marriage, making New York the largest state where gay and lesbian couples will be able to wed, and giving the national gay-rights movement new momentum from the state where it was born. 

"You get to the point where you evolve in your life where everything isn't black and white, good and bad, and you try to do the right thing. You might not like that. You might be very cynical about that. Well, **** it, I don't care what you think. I'm trying to do the right thing. I'm tired of Republican-Democrat politics... I'm trying to do the right thing, and that's where I'm going with this."

-Roy McDonald, NY state Senator, Republican, who voted yea on same sex marriage bill.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

What if education funding were like prison funding? What would happen if schools were treated like prisons?

Well, they'd be treated a lot better, fiscally anyhow.

"Consider the life of a Michigan prisoner. They get three square meals a day. Access to free health care. Internet. Cable television. Access to a library. A weight room. Computer lab. They can earn a degree. A roof over their heads. Clothing. Everything we just listed we DO NOT provide to our school children.

This is why I’m proposing to make my school a prison. The State of Michigan spends annually somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000 per prisoner, yet we are struggling to provide schools with $7,000 per student."

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Irony: Wiretaps and Goldman

Combining my two most favorite subjects lately...

"The successful prosecution of Raj Rajaratnam suggests the difficulty prosecutors would have against Goldman Sachs. At this point, the big question for prosecutors is less about what they know to be true and more about what they can prove. And "to make a criminal case out of the mortgage activities, prosecutors would need at least one credible witness from inside the firm to point the finger at Goldman and its executives to show the company's culpability, proving that it was more than just a sharp operator."

Investigators do not have that one credible witness from the inside, and it's doubtful it will find one. Omerta will likely hold.  Unfortunately, investigators do not have wiretap evidence--something that would prove superior to a bunch of suggestive but not definitive emails."

The Obama Administration seems hellbent on renewing PATRIOT and violating the rights of average Americans even more than the Bush Adminstration.

Now there's a scenario this constant surveillance might have actually been very useful, and we've hit a wall. Instead of trying to catch a bunch of lunatics who leave other very obvious intelligence signs, we could have been wiretapping the banks, and getting enough evidence to stop what amounted to something terrorists have always aimed to do---bringing the American economy down with clandestine activities.

I guess that's irony, folks. 

Terrorist or freedom fighter?

Saturday, 28 May 2011

A historical precedent: a robot signs PATRIOT Act extension into law.

With President Obama in Europe, an "autopen" has been assigned the dubious task of continuing the legacy of constitutional excesses of law, and civil rights violations.

While most of the provisions of the PATRIOT Act are permanent law (a sad fact indeed), the most controversial facets, and the ones most vulnerable to abuse and violation of the Constitution, are subject to periodic review. This includes the following three provisions: roving wiretaps that follow targets within US borders and may pick up civilian information, searches of business records, and conducting surveillance on "lone wolves"; individuals suspected of terrorist-related activities but not officially affiliated with any extremist group.  

All three provisions have been re-approved by the autopen. 

This appears to be the first time that a robot has been used to sign a law into application, and it appears to set a precedent that is still in a legal gray zone.

I for one do not welcome our new civil-rights, warrentless wiretapping overlords.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Get Palestine to Peace Talks-Mission Failed.

"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel returned from Washington on Wednesday to a nearly unanimous assessment among Israelis that despite his forceful defense of Israel’s security interests, hopes were dashed that his visit might advance peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

One of the widely articulated goals of his trip, where he met with President Obama and addressed Congress, was to find a way to lure the Palestinians back to direct negotiations, thereby preempting their plan to approach the United Nations in September for recognition of statehood within the pre-1967 lines.

Instead, the Palestinians now say, Mr. Netanyahu’s speeches persuaded them that they had no negotiating partner. They plan to intensify their United Nations efforts, leaving Israelis worried about increasing international isolation and pressure, especially in light of the popular uprisings across the Arab world. "

Score one for oratory rhetoric.

Score negative one for Middle East peace.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Efficiency with Aid Money

Picked up a really good article on one of the most efficient ways to give aid. I like donating money to charity, but as an economist, the question of efficiency and whether or not this money actually makes a difference always sadly passes through my mind.

Now with at least some field-tested studies, my mind feels a whole lot better.

maybe you'll feel a whole lot better too

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The Dark Side of the N.S.A

Binney expressed terrible remorse over the way some of his algorithms were used after 9/11. ThinThread, the “little program” that he invented to track enemies outside the U.S., “got twisted,” and was used for both foreign and domestic spying: “I should apologize to the American people. It’s violated everyone’s rights. It can be used to eavesdrop on the whole world.”

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Goldman Sachs: How They Fleeced America and Why They're Gonna Get Away With It.

 "[Goldman Sachs] weren't murderers or anything; they had merely stolen more money than most people can rationally conceive of, from their own customers, in a few blinks of an eye. But then they went one step further. They came to Washington, took an oath before Congress, and lied about it.

The legal definition of financial fraud may be murky and complex, but everybody knows you can't lie to Congress. The punishment is up to five years in federal prison.

Former MLB pitching great Roger Clemens is indicted for almost the exact same thing.

Will it happen again, this time to the "1100-pound medical emergency" that is Goldman?

Notable Recipients of Goldman Sachs political donations (2008)

D-Barack Obama ($995,745)
D-Hilary Clinton ($401,950)
R-Mitt Romney ($235,275)
R-John McCain ($234,695)
R-Rudolph Giuliani ($111,725)
D-John Edwards ($71,650)
D-Rahm Emanuel ($42,350)

Notable Recipients of Goldman Sachs political donations (2010) 

D-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ($44,300)
R-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor ($27,650)
R-House Speaker John Boehner ($15,000)

R-Senator Roy Blunt ($51,692)
D-Congressman Jim Himes ($40,750)
R-Senator Marco Rubio ($35,092)
R-Senator Richard Shelby ($34,600)
D-Senator Charles E. Schumer ($31,900)
R-Congressman Robert Dold ($23,800)

Notable Past Donations
Former President George W. Bush (R)---(2004, $390,675---2000, $137,499)
Former President Bill Clinton (D)---(1996, $43,384---1992, $99,275)
Presidential Candidate John Kerry (D) (2004, $304,750)
Presidential Candidate Al Gore (D) (2000, $97,050)
Former President George Bush (R) (1992, $68,250)

Former and current Treasury secretaries previously employed by Goldman or with substantial links to Goldman
Appointed by Clinton (D), Robert Rubin (1995-1999)---former co-chairman of Goldman Sachs
Appointed by Clinton (D), Lawrence Summers (1999-2001)---paid $135,000 for a speaking engagement for Goldman Sachs in 2008, appointed Obama Adminastration's Director of the White House National Economic Council.
Appointed by Bush (R), Henry Paulson (2006-2009)---former CEO of Goldman Sachs
Appointed by Obama (D), Timothy Geithner (2009-present)---former head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

American taxpayers deserve better. It is clear that the banks cannot be trusted to regulate themselves, and that the unchecked power and influence such firms as Goldman have in Washington have come at the cost of graft and perjury that has cost American children the opportunity to live debt-free, and American workers the chance at a secure and prosperous job. I sincerely hope for justice, but I know there probably won't be any because...

 Goldman Sachs-the most bipartisan organization in America

The Deep Cut---Republicans Cutting Away All The Way To Clinton

"After campaigning on the promise to roll back spending to Bush-era levels, House Republicans have overshot their mark and landed in the last years of the Clinton administration — at least in the case of cuts from labor, health and education appropriations important to poor and working-class families."

Would asking for a reversion to Clinton-era tax rates not be reasonable now?

Monday, 16 May 2011

Behind the scenes in Afghanistan-The Battle for Bomb Alley

I found this documentary; it's a compelling film about the losses of all sides in war, and a behind-the-scene looks at how American military units operate, and how that may alienate locals.

You gotta feel for everyone involved in this, from the Marines who have lost their comrades to the Afghans who have lost their houses. 

Tinkering with democracy.

Just a few thoughts I had.

The one vote/person thing works somewhat, but like a few philosophers have noted, not everyone deserves the vote (nor, as some would say, should everyone vote). The Western democracies are also facing a rise in voter apathy and needs something to spur voters to well---vote.

1-Assign votes based on level of education. Something like completed high school=1 vote, bachelor's degree=2 votes, completed master's degree=3 votes, PHD=4 votes. This will give a huge incentive to education, and though it would be imperfect, it would as least give us some measure of ensuring the most intelligent and well-informed of the populace wield the most influence. As for the high school thing---you could also give 1 vote to whoever completed remedial classes as well, for those thinking of dropouts stuck in a cycle of powerlessness.

2-Assign votes to people based on the number of children they have. Something like .5 votes per child, which should balance out given you kinda need two people to make a child. This might encourage more long-term thinking in politics, and totally change the perspective on things like sustainability and climate issues, by working on the theory that children who will have to bear the brunt of selfish short-term policies are going to have at least somewhat of a say in this matter.

3-Give out those nice shiny "I VOTED" badges, and make them good for something.

4-Add on a vote for good election participation (3 elections voted in a row) and dock one for bad participation (3 elections skipped in a row)---if someone loses all their votes, they must reapply for the right to vote.

5-Hand out tests before the vote which would quiz people on their knowledge of the candidates and key issues, and based on scores, hand out votes accordingly.

6-Make certain government benefits tied to participation in civic life---including participation in elections.

7-Give an extra vote to people who volunteered a certain amount of hours, or who have given a certain amount of money to (non-political) charities.

Yeah, it's treating votes like a currency---but maybe people will then respect the inherent power behind the freedom to vote.

works for those inherently worthless green slips of paper

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Hunger statistics in real time---stop the hunger.

I've always thought it a crowning shame how many people died in this world of malnutrition.

the numbers are just so big and sad.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

A few thoughts on dirty oil subsidies, and clean energy.

The following quote was a forum response of mine to someone who derided long-term thinking in terms of energy sourcing.  I think it sums up my thoughts in this crucial area quite well.

"I'm not even envisioning an utopia either, just a place that uses less dirty fuel or hell, less fuel.

Considering the massive riots caused by mounting food prices (largely caused by the fact that our food infrastructure is entirely based on subsidies and unsustainable use of resources) and fuel prices, one has to wonder what happens during peak oil?

Narrow short-term thinking with regards to this will lead to many deaths (if it hasn't already with the pressing food shortages in the Third World) and the greatest epoch of human suffering. just trace the implications of sky-high oil prices through and through. Add the fact that governments, either through political pressure or fiscal imbalance, will be unable to tamper these effects eventually. look, oil prices now are causing people to starve and riot, what happens when you increase them 200%? What happens when the resources simply run out? Are you ready for an age of climate migrants, and resource migrants? apathy works for the moment since only millions are dying (6 million annual child deaths linked to malnutrition for example) but what happens when these millions become billions?

We have to plan for this eventuality. While I am normally not a fan of subsidies, sometimes enterprise is slow and stuck on whatever makes them profits in the interim, even if it is to the detriment of all of us. Congress subsidized telegraph lines, and then when change was needed, subsidized telephone lines, such that private enterprise could be re-shifted to adapt to pressing, and needed changes. Hell, it doesn't even have to be active subsidies for clean energy, I'll settle for Congress dismantling the system that currently keeps the oil industry so well insulated from the winds of change that are battering at its' doors."

Some thoughts on solutions to the deficit problem.

Just jotting down some "progressive" and "not-so-progressive" ideas I've had. Many have been expanded upon before, but it doesn't hurt to reflect on these. I also borrowed ideas from quite a few people and sources---notably the People's Budget, which I hope gets more awareness with each passing day. These focus on America, which has some of the worst problems, but can be applied generally to other Western countries as well.

1-Slashing military budgets---while maintaining care for veterans, and certain research programs, the large standing armies of today are more or less obsolete. A lot of savings can be acheived here.

2-Legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana. Not only would this allow freer access to medical marijuana (which has a ton of benefits), it would also curtail the stupidest way of inhaling THC (through smoke inhalation which is the deadliest) since now regulated, legitimate businesses would be responsible for marijuana rather than fickle criminals. Would reduce violent crime, expand government revenue, and curtail governmental expenditure on shutting away small-time weed dealers and users.

3-Limit Pell grants/financial aid programs to science/business/engineering etc.---i.e professional pursuits. I'm sorry, as much as I love the liberal arts, we've got to cut somewhere, and a slew of English literature PHDs is going to get the country nowhere. If this incentives students to pursue mathematical-related/more productive fields, than so much the better.

4-Legalize online poker, and tax it. I'm a strong advocate of gambling being a tax on the stupid, but I also know a lot of very skilled people make a killing on those sites, and being somewhat of an avid poker player myself, I think it's more of a sport with a degree of fluctuation rather than gambling. Realistically speaking, it's also one of the fairest games out there, even if you deem it to be gambling (at least the probabilities are somewhat known to you, and not tilted 70/30 to the house). Also, if you're like Australia, and you're leaving it legal, but not taxing it, well...

5-Start taking credit-default swaps on a government's bonds, than bomb the s*** out of that country.
---well, it would be a good money-maker.

The Speaker of the House John Boehner Criticized For Being "Anti-Life."

In an interesting turn of events, professors from several Catholic universities have sent a letter to the Republican Speaker alleging that his policies go against the heart of Catholic morals.

As the article says, "more than 75 professors at Catholic University and other prominent Catholic colleges have written a pointed letter to Mr. Boehner saying that the Republican-supported budget he shepherded through the House of Representatives will hurt the poor, elderly and vulnerable."

They claim that the deficit reduction methods the Republicans will employ to balance the books are "anti-life"---and in that, they are quite right. Slashing money from low-income nutrition programs, and maternal health, instead of useless F-35s or reversing tax cuts, is about as "anti-life" as you can get short of directly imploring women to get abortions.

Modern Catholicism, and the fundamental principles Jesus gave us, demand that we not only seek to preserve life, but that we also seek to make these preserved lives better. What point is there in preventing abortions, if the child and mother have miserable lives?

Oscar Romero, former bishop of El Salvador, was assassinated for being a proponent of liberation theology, and advocating for the poor and human rights. The sign reads as follows: "If I die, I will be reborn among my people."

Uganda's anti-gay bill pushed back amid outrage.

A good victory for human rights.

However, the struggle is not over. Sign the petition here and call your leaders.

Together, we can make a difference.

A timeless truth.

"The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."

-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

China gets petty and blocks Norwegian salmon, in return for Liu Xiaobo Nobel Peace Prize.

China is wielding its' economic prowess and trying to punish Norway by denying it access to its' markets. This is all in retaliation for the Nobel Prize Committee deciding to grant the award to noted Chinese human rights advocate Liu Xiaobo. 

This not only causes Norwegian producers to suffer, but also hurts Chinese consumers. Of course, Chinese trade theory has never really considered the Chinese people (the depreciated yuan comes to mind), but I suppose that this should not be much of a surprise considering how the average Chinese citizen has about as much right to free expression, as I have access to front row Habs playoff tickets.

I hope Norway has the political courage to not give in to China here. China is in the wrong, and the CCP should know that. While China's meteoric rise in economic power is something to admire, I think the transition to a state that grants its' citizens fundamental rights, and respects and protects them, would be something altogether more beautiful.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

NATO leaves 61 migrants to die of thirst and starvation.

NATO has been accused ignoring distress calls from a boat filled with adrift migrants.

If this is true, NATO is in clear violation of international law, and this represents a shocking neglect of the sacred responsibility of upholding human life.

I fear that this isn't the worst of it. A tide of those who are left to flee the upheaval will soon be flooding through Europe, and Europeans will have to ask themselves some hard questions about whether or not they can deploy resources to aid these poor souls.

It's the beginning of what I can see as a pressing issue of the 21st century---namely, how developed nations will deal with the wave of people fleeing unlivable circumstances in the Third World. Tied into this is the First World's partial culpability for these circumstances (global warming, subsidies and supports to dictatorships etc.) but, sadly, the fact that many developed nations in this world do not have the political willpower or ability to deploy resources to help their own people, never-mind people that are considered "foreigners", has to weigh in the decision as well.

These hard questions, as we can see in this example, will entail the difference between life and death. It is a heavy responsibility to bear for the developed democracies of the West, but it is something that must be acknowledged, and debated, before it is too late to save any of the lives we could have saved.

I hope events like this spark the debate, and lead to people acknowledging the sanctity of HUMAN lives, rather than constantly dividing the world into meaningless subsections of Americans, Europeans, and Africans.

The New Sheriff in Town

Because sometimes, it's good to divert yourself from the worries of the world.


Even if he might be faltering this playoff series, I think his natural combination of skill and size, and of power and finesse, means that the NBA will soon be his league to own, if it isn't already.

A new sheriff is in town.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Why does America seem to be on the wrong side of international freedom?

A country in the throes of revolution. An oppressive state known for jailing dissidents is going to fall soon. However, America happens to find itself in the awkward position of being a patron of this dictatorial regime. America soon defines an ambiguous position---the rebels might be a terrorist organization after all, so it is best to tread carefully.

You can apply this scenario to so many countries it isn't even funny. In this case, I think the sobering story of South Africa is a vivid illustration of hypocrisy in action.

Congress only declared that the ANC and Nelson Mandela were not terrorists in 2008.

America also tacitly supported the apartheid regime and gave military support to South Africa in the South African Border War---though this should also be framed in the context of a Soviet-American proxy battle, it also once again shows how millions of people must suffer in the pursuit of some military goal that does not make sense (let's make a war on words and ideas!).

Once again, with Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, we are forced to wonder whether or not America is on the right side. I think this is particularly important, since America is the one world power that tries to claim its' legitimacy by offering itself as a luminary of human rights---which it should be said, it does follow up on sometimes.

However, certain policies it pursues seems to undermine these long-term strategic goals. How on Earth can we be so short-sided to see that depriving people of their freedom might stop a terrorist attack or two, but will generate enough anger to create an infinitely larger amount of terrorists? I also question America's ability to delineate between freedom fighter and terrorist, which seems to be firmly based on whether or not you are trying to achieve strategic American military goals, whatever they may be.

It should be pointed out that while South Africa has its' problems, you cannot argue that it is more unstable than the carcasses left behind by American military intervention (North Korea situation, Khmer Rouge, the current Iraq/Afghanistan situation). I am all for Realpolitik---but is it not realistic to say that change does not happen overnight, cannot be forced by killing and looting a country, that we must truly support the long-term aspirations of people around the world over our short-term security needs, and that America's stated willingness to help people around the world be free is what truly makes it great?

Friday, 6 May 2011

Let freedom ring, and justice scream.

May the Syrian people get the freedom and dignity they deserve, and may their leaders get what they deserve for firing upon their own people.

Ahmadinajead under pressure from the Ayatollah for sorcery.

I feel like we've descended into crazy town with Iran. Not sure if I like the fact that one of the most oppressive leaders in the world might be kicked out of office by someone as equally oppressive and devious. Can't say the reason didn't make me chuckle though.

"Allies of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were arrested this week for being "magicians" and invoking spirits, Iranian website reported on Wednesday."

Watch out Penn and Teller! 

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

On how me and a friend could have been Canadian MPs.

Just a footnote before we delve into more stuff, since I thought this was an amusing story to share to everyone.

Basically, for people who don't know about the wonderful mess that happened in the Canadian elections and specifically Quebec, the NDP ran up from one seat in the province to 58, crushing the separatist Bloc Quebecois by unseating their party leader, and pretty much reducing the Bloc to the hinterlands by stealing all of their seats.

The Orange Wave In Action


How this happened is still a little beyond me, though it seems to indicate that Quebec has finally tired of the Bloc and that the NDP had the right message and platform. Social justice has always been a strong theme in Quebec. It also doesn't hurt to have a charismatic and positive leader like Layton.

I volunteered for Mulcair's campaign in the Outremont riding, which had been the sole NDP seat after the 2008 elections. I met a few other volunteers---some of which are now MPs. Quebec elected a few student MPs, a bartender who doesn't know how to speak French and was vacationing in Vegas during the campaign, and other assorted randoms. It's a bit hilarious really. One of the MPs is the youngest MP ever elected to office at nineteen years of age, which I guess means you can't exactly say the youth are apathetic anymore when they're actually running our country.

I joined the campaign a bit too late, but I had a friend who was going to submit candidacy papers---but he didn't want to be sent to a random district.

Well, guess what happened to the people sent to random districts? They won overwhelmingly, despite the fact that sometimes they never stepped foot in the riding, were actually told not to speak in the media, and forbidden to actively campaign. Basically, they were a face and a name, and a nice still photo to put on posters and websites, but somehow they still carried entire districts. They beat cabinet minsters and parliamentary veterans despite the fact that many came into this race never expecting to win. I guess the old saying is true---a rising tide raises all ships.

If I had joined the campaign just a bit earlier, and if my friend had submitted his papers, this might have been a blog that would be written and frequented by two members of Parliament. While there's probably some Churchillian bit about the stupidity of the average voter embedded in the moral of this story, I cannot help but say that on that election day, Canada proved me to me that there truly were no barriers to election (age, race, sexual orientation, some would argue merit with how the orange wave progressed). Perhaps the one thing we can all take from this is that in Canada and other developed democracies, we are rapidly approaching the point where nothing will stop a good set of principles and ideas from blossoming into action and power.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Five Economic Myths I Would Love to Shatter-#5 (The Time Machine/Interest in a Bank Scheme)

 I'm feeling real good about things lately, so let's get into some more humor-provoking stuff.

You've all seen it before. Guy goes into some kind of slumber, wakes up, and then he's like "OH GEE WOW, I'M RICH NOW, CAUSE THE BANK BE GIVIN ME INTEREST WHILE I BE DEAD".

The alternative "clever" version of this is someone from the future coming back into the past and actually setting up a bank account for themselves and therefore making mad amounts of profits in the future. This, fittingly enough, was proposed in Luke Wilson's Idiocracy, which we'll deal with later.

Yes, hi, I'd like to open up a savings account. I plan to deposit my money for three thousand years.    

The reason why this doesn't work

Actually, it's quite simple if you realize the first rule of economics/finance---namely that the banks are always out to screw you.

Three thousand years, you say?

Any interest rate the bank offers you is nominal, and does not account for inflation, or the loss of purchasing power that comes with it. One of the first things anyone learns in finance classes is how to calculate the real interest rate. For simplicity's sake, that can be aggregated, for discussion purposes, into this simple expression: real interest rate=nominal interest rate-inflation, which fully reflects the fact that any money you get is balenced out by the decline in purchasing power of this money.

The rate of inflation varies from country to country. In the United States, it typically hovers around 2-5%, although in the past (especially in the 1980s), it has shot up to around 14%.

So what did Bank of America offer its' regular savings customers?

0.05% Annual Percentage Yield. Seriously. You minus inflation from that (averaged out to about 1.5% for the whole of 2010), and you're actually losing 1.45% a year in purchasing power (but gaining 0.05% in green, official-looking paper!). I was so shocked that I actually had to ask a Bank of America Live Chat representative whether this annual percentage yield was in nominal or real terms, which he had no idea about. Finally, I asked him whether it accounted for inflation (how is it that I know more about banking than a bank representative? o_o)---and he quite simply said no.

This doesn't take into account the fact that you are sacrificing opportunity cost by not investing your money into stocks or hell, risk-free bonds, that would offer much higher average returns (and in the case of risk-free bonds, essentially, well the same risk). It doesn't take into account the fact that if America continues her current policies, the American dollar will be further devalued and lose purchasing power relative to other currencies. Finally, it doesn't account for a world where the bank you deposit in will have collapsed, or one where alien overlords have enslaved mankind.

basically, you're getting screwed

Your face, after realizing you can only afford 20% of the Big Macs you would've been able to afford before you thought up this terrible plan. Also your face after realizing Future Earth's alien overlords don't make Big Macs.

Canadian Elections-A Conservative Majority over the Orange Wave

It's a shocker. I volunteered for Mulcair's campaign and I voted NDP but I never expected this...

In brief, the Conservatives have a majority because the Liberals collapsed. Quebec went Orange CRAZY===to the point where I don't even think they realized who they were voting for, not that it mattered anymore.

Sovereignty is probably dead with Duceppe gone---

Change is in the air, and all that good stuff. 

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Osama is dead.

I'm happy that a guy who murdered so many civilians has faced the wrath of justice---but not exactly ready to announce world peace. It's about time they got him. Hopefully, this means America can finally cut military budgets and gradually pull out of troubled Middle East areas. A true test of America's strength and character lies just ahead.

The People's Budget

An interesting alternative to the Obama plan (which I do not think cuts enough) and the Republican plan (which I think cuts in all of the wrong places).

The budget proposed by the Progressive Congressional Caucus aims to balance the deficit by substantially reducing runaway military spending, and reinstating the estate tax, and higher tax brackets for the wealthy (as well as letting the Bush tax cuts expire.) It purports to be able to balance the budget by 2021, which is about 10 years before the Republican budget (a notoriously anti-progressive program that focuses on cuts from education, low-income services and welfare for the elderly). Of course, these are all claims, and politicians are notoriously bad at delivering on their promises---but this is a bold approach to balancing the books that should be acknowledged. At the very least, I hope this puts more pressure on the Pentagon to slash military spending.

Even the Economist, which usually leans to the right, hailed the Progressive Caucus on taking a fresh, bold approach to reducing the deficit.

One thing's for sure---we can no longer ignore the catastrophe that is slowly unfolding before us.

America needs to solve that problem---without resorting to this.
 Pictured: "The Path to Prosperity." 
Pictured: America after the "Path to Prosperity"








here's to hoping, in all the languages of the world, that someday everyone will be able to choose their leaders.

going to vote tomorrow, with all those who cannot in mind

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Cuba's Grand Experiment

Cuba's latest Party Congress seemed indicative of a global trend towards market liberalization. Cuba, one of the old stalwarts of the state-run economy, seems to have finally abandoned its' burdensome regulations concerning business. Cubans are now allowed to run their own enterprises without being branded as criminals, and state subsidies are now targeted to the neediest rather than given out to everyone indiscriminately.

It reminds me of when Deng Xiaoping opened up the Chinese economy by announcing that to be rich is to be glorious, and by saying that "no matter if it is a white cat or a black cat; as long as it can catch mice, it is a good cat." Since then, China has become a world power with centers of incredible prosperity. It has also become a country where there are increasingly widening gaps between the poor and the rich, and it faces the somewhat unique situation of a country that has a neo-liberal economy with few welfare programs governed by a totalitarian police state. If one uses the rough and sometimes imperfect Gini coefficient to stake this out statistically,  China's income inequality is now higher than most developed nations, and it is still increasing steadily. Chinese citizens also suffer from the fundamental lack of respect the government has for basic human rights, as the arbitrary arrests of human rights activists such as Ai Weiwei and Liu Xiaobo clearly indicate.

Still, it is obvious China's ascent is something Cuba wants to mirror. I also have a dim sense of optimism that the Cuban government will reform itself politically. One of the changes laid down in the Congress was a limit on terms, and the Cuban government has been releasing political prisoners.

Regardless, many people will believe that it is the American embargo that is killing the island rather than any lack of economic or political reform. It is true that at least some of the dearth in foreign exchange and economic prosperity is due to this terribly stagnant policy, but it does not represent the whole picture. Hopefully, these tentative steps towards reform will coalesce into a thawing in what has been perhaps the most contentious relationship in the Western hemisphere. The Obama administration has seemed open to this possibility. If this is done right, both countries will benefit enormously.

Most of all, I hope the Cuban people can benefit from this grand experiment. Castro made waves when he said the Cuban system wasn't even working for Cuba anymore, and I cannot help but agree with him. On a recent visit to Cuba, I could not help but notice the relative poverty of the areas outside the resorts. One night, I met one of the security guards who patrolled the beaches. I talked to him at length thanks to some translation help from a friend I was with, and after asking him a couple of trivial questions about baseball, I wondered what his life was like.

I'll never forget what he said. He loved Castro, and he loved Che, but he said his life was very hard. That was obvious. The man looked like he was 65, yet he was still working hard, and doing what amounted to a young man's job. He said his family often struggled with food. I gave the guy twenty dollars, since he spent two nights regaling us with his stories, and he seemed to be a nice guy. I knew too that he would be able to get much more from these twenty dollars than I ever could. A friend I was with gave him some money too. His face simply lit up.

His name was Antonio. He said he wanted to emigrate to America, and seek a better life there, but he was too afraid to do so.

Hopefully, with the advent of economic and political reforms, prosperity will come to him and other Cubans, rather than lurking just around the corner.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

While I'm on that beat---

speaking of the true cost of war

alert---it's kinda graphic. also spoiler alert for you people out there who don't know Germany lost WW2.

they seriously need to show this clip to everyone brought up on a diet of Rambo and G.I Joe. 

Kill em all---how war can make the most horrible of crimes forgettable.

In 1949, in special consideration of how war is a time where the fundamental human rights of civilians and combatants is especially vulnerable, most nations of the world signed and ratified the Geneva Conventions. However, the conflicts that have played out after this signing indicate that many nations still do not heed this edict.

One example of this comes from declassified American military documents that record that "US commanders repeatedly, and without ambiguity, ordered forces under their control to target and kill Korean refugees caught on the battlefield."

It comes on the heels of other declassified documents that implied American knowledge, and complicity with South Korean massacres of suspected leftists-including women and children. The death toll has been rumored to be up to 100,000, although it is likely we will never know the whole truth due to the political sensitivity of these killings.

If America, self-avowed leader in the rights and dignity of mankind, can simply look on as her allies slaughtered thousands of their own citizens, and actively participated in this slaughter---well, it certainly dispels the notion that evil and good are black and white, Soviet and American, freedom fighter and terrorist-----doesn't it?

It's a scary thought, since I really think America is one of the better nations in this regard. I am sure that other regimes have committed much worse (Stalin and Mao's crimes against their own people come to mind). In fact, the only reason why I would bother posting American war crimes is because the American people have the freedom to acknowledge and rectify these grievous errors, a privilege that is denied to most of the world.

It's a sad thought to think that even a country like America is prone to these bouts of savagery.

This idea also gets to the notion of the "true cost of war". I have always found that governments seem to make a game of tricking their own citizens by classifying sensitive documents that describe the whole picture of what's truly going on in their name (and of course, financed by their money). We only know about the Korean war atrocities because fifty years later, the American government has decided her people have more or less forgotten about Korea (which they were quite right on). It makes me wonder what they're trying to hide in the top secret documents they have out there now. We already know that some American soldiers murder Afghan civilians for sport. Perhaps if we knew the true cost of wars, we'd understand why there seem to be so many suicide bombers (can we really blame lunacy and the fact they hate our freedoms for this long?). Perhaps if we knew the true cost of war, we'd understand the terrible implications of it, and grasp that it truly is a tool of last resort. Perhaps if we knew the true cost of war, there would be less war.

but here I am, dreaming again
and hoping someday you'll join me too


habs lose to bruins.

nuff said. 

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Big Ben on the tape.

The New York Times is following Ben Bernanke's news conference. It seems that, as far as I've gleaned, the loose monetary policy the Fed has embarked on with rounds of quantitative easing is going to end. Whether or not the American economy will start losing momentum with this announcement and the impending budget cuts is the big question. Britain, a case study for austerity measures, seems to have done decently, even if there was a slight blip.

Still, they're not even close to getting out of the woods, and things don't look great. There's no need to even mention the disastrous implications of IMF measures on the poor debt lepers of the Eurozone. I'm slightly worried, to be honest, that the American economy might just relapse into contraction.

Still, you gotta balance the budget someday I suppose. 

On a somewhat related note, in my head, given recent events, I've already constructed how America could fall if her policy-makers aren't careful---rampant inflation caused by peak oil, food riots, a Republican administration that goes bats*** crazy about inflation and instability, and tightens money policy up to the maximum, with massive cuts in social welfare programs to balance out a China-like budget for domestic security (of course, tax increases will never come into the question, and in fact further tax cuts will be given.). Then, there will be riots about the cuts. because of previous cuts in welfare programs (low-income housing/education etc.) and the continuation of drug war policy, you have an underclass of people just spoiling for blood since they have basically been given nothing for their lives.

I guess that fills my "2012" quota of the year. incidentally, I guess that means the last time I can mention apocalypse is when the goddamn thing will be happening.

Uganda reverses course on executing gays.

I cannot believe how this law has stood despite violating basically every aspect of human rights. To me, it's an extension of the fundamentalist Christian "homosexual agenda" gone completely wrong, where Ugandan politicians are basically concerned about the most ludicrous thing (homosexuals recruiting children to join them), and therefore, they can justify gay rights advocates such as the assassinated David Kato becoming prey to irrational prejudices, and they can justify killing their own citizens for personal choices that do not really harm anyone else.

It has meant a whole lot of suffering for a whole lot of people, as Ugandans now feel they can persecute any actual or merely suspected homosexuals with impunity.

Even though the law is pared down to the point where capital punishment is probably going off the table, the imposition of a life sentence on anyone convicted of a homosexual act is still a possibility.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Silence on Bahrain

They say democracy has no borders, and liberty is free, but how come Bahrain gets silence, while Libya gets F-16s?

The American Dream

The poor becoming rich, hard work paying off, a man earning his rights-all that good stuff.

Clutch Time Predictions

Looks like three crucial games up tonight---

Two Game 7s and one ever-so-important Game 6.

The Flyers looked like they were going to choke the season away, but I guess they found a way to pull back. They've got a ridiculous core group of forwards with Giroux, Carter, Richards, Briere and Hartnell, which to me, is about as ideal a combination of talent and grit you can find in the league. With the momentum swinging in their favor, I think Philly takes this one, unless Ryan Miller pulls off a miracle shutout/one-goal game.

What can be said about Chicago-Vancouver? Luongo has always been a playoff choker in my books, and how fitting is it that Chicago is the one to remind him once again of his post-season ghosts? Vancouver's going to start him, despite going away from him in Game 6. That doesn't look too good. Despite the ridiculous star power Vancouver boasts with the Sedin brothers and Kesler, I'm gonna have to go with the Blackhawks in this one. Over the last month, Sharp/Kane/Toews have looked and performed like the best line in the NHL, and I think that will finally carry over to a Hawks series win. Doesn't hurt to have a game-changer like Hossa lurking around either.

As for Boston-Montreal...the head says Boston, what with Montreal performing an almost comic collapse. Heart says Montreal though. Hopefully the Price is right.

Of butterflies and ill winds---

"Blake is interesting. I have never met anyone so deliberately amoral. He suits the climate here: the madness, the pointless butchery... as I come to understand Vietnam and what it implies about the human condition, I also realize that few humans will permit themselves such an understanding. Blake's different. He understands perfectly...And he doesn't care."-Dr.Manhattan, Watchmen

I was looking at the photos of Senator John McCain smiling in Benghazi, and sometimes, when you connect things together, it all just collapses into a nice, tangled web.

America funded Mubarek's regime to promote Middle East peace, which is pretty much an euphemism for propping up Israel unconditionally. The second largest recipient of American foreign aid was Mubarak's regime. Israel was the first. This aid was allocated mostly towards military means---with a heavy emphasis on arms and jets. This will not change even with the recent round of cuts brought to pretty much all other forms of American foreign aid. America slashed budgets for the Peace Corps, but somehow found its' way to giving more money to Israeli warfare.

"The budget proposes $3.075 billion in US military aid for Israel, $75 million more than in fiscal year 2011. "

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, reflecting the view of many of his fellow congressmen, thinks giving arms and bombs to Israel and any countries that support it is "strategically vital to US security interests." Nary a thought is given to the possibility that supporting HIV/AIDS treatment in Africa or migrant assistance programs will maybe help alleviate some of the suffering of the class of people that are the most likely to become future terrorists-namely those so poor that they simply don't give a f**k anymore.

There is no thought given to the fact that while the United States nominally promotes democracy and liberty, it props up regimes that torture, imprison, and murder their own citizens, so long as they fit "American security interests".

Revolution, after all, is easier to make on an empty stomach and a just cause. Extreme conditions give rise to extreme politics. These were lessons human history has been trying to teach us endlessly---somewhere in the endless chorus of "never again" that came up after the most horrific Holocaust is the notion that we are saying "never again" not only to the terrible killing of innocents, but also the desperate conditions that gave rise to such inhumanity. We should have learned that never again meant not only never again to the Holocaust, but never again to the Weimar Republic, and never again to Versailles.

Sadly, we have never fully grasped this lesson. Perhaps in time we will, but it is clear we have not fully appreciated how a butterfly fluttering its' wings could, in theory, unleash a tsunami on the other side of the world.

Ayman al-Zawahiri was born to an upper-middle class family in Cairo. He came from a large family of doctors and scholars. In his youth, he loved poetry, and hated "violent sports". His family was "religious, but not overly pious." Disgusted by the authoritarian Sadat regime, he eventually formed an underground cell that called for revolution. After Sadat's assassination, Vice President Mubarek succeeded Sadat, and imposed the same heavy-handedness his predecessor had. Ayman, along with 1500 others, were imprisoned and tortured, and languished in the same prison system that kept Egypt's new, fresh-faced Facebook revolutionaries just so recently.

Three years later, he left for Afghanistan as soon as he was released. It was there that he met Osama Bin Laden, and it was there that they spearheaded the "mujaheddin" or insurgency against the occupiers of Afghanistan. In the interests of freedom, the mujaheddin were given American rockets and guns to fight America's enemy at the time-the big, mean Soviet Union.

Ayman al-Zawahiri  is now the eternally hunted "operational" head of Al Qaeda, one of those very few men who seem to have become more myth than flesh in the eternal war for peace.

As you reflect on this sobering tale, you can't help but think there is something we can learn from this. Perhaps military might and hard power, as well as its' extension through military aid to dubious regimes, all in the name of national security, is not all it is cracked out to be---you cannot help but think that every time the United States has been forced into conflict in the last fifty years, she has failed to reach any of her strategic goals (the Iraqi/Afghan mess, Vietnam falling, Korea line, Somalia in ruins). Yet America and her NATO allies continue to spend on what seems to be an eternal arms race for overbearing, all-consuming military might. Military spending is the largest discretionary spending item in the American budget. The American military accounts for 43% of the world's military expenditure at a cost of about $687 billion per year, which is about 7 times more than China spends (as of 2009). If you take any military statistic, you will quickly see that America is in effect embroiled in an arms race with herself. It becomes laughable when you consider that of the other 57% of the world's military expenditure, most are spent by some of America's staunchest allies (significantly the NATO bloc of Italy, Germany, France, and Britain as well as Japan). However, even with all this power, America still cannot seem to achieve the "nation-building" goals it sets for itself.

Perhaps then, there is something to say about the "strategic importance" of soft power, and of helping the poor and sick citizens of ruined Third World countries. Maybe when the American people call for cuts in foreign aid, it is because they think America spends 25% of her GDP on helping the world, whereas the country should spend something around 10% of GDP, while in reality America only spends about 0.5% of its GDP on foreign aid, of which a large proportion is military aid destined to Israel and her allies. Maybe if we, the developed nations, earnestly sought to help other nations, rather then exploit them to our own material ends, we might actually have less security concerns. Maybe if we saw other human beings as people rather then as threats, the cycle of violence that arms-giving and the military-industrial complex promote would abate. Maybe if we earnestly promoted democracy and freedom without exception, we would have little need for violent rebellions to do the same. I can only qualify all of this as a maybe since it has never been tried on a large scale since the Marshall Plan that lifted Europe back towards economic success after WW2--- a resounding success by most measures. I can also only say maybe because it seems that for now, the politics of today will never allow this to happen.

This was made painfully obvious to me when I saw McCain's headshot in Benghazi. With his hawk-like rhetoric, and the announcement that President Obama was authorizing the use of drones (yes, the very same drones that have caused a furor in Pakistan, Yemen and Afghanistan for causing numerous civilian deaths), and talk of America arming the Libyan rebels, I could not help but think of the ill winds that one butterfly can bring. The only thing left to puzzle over would be where the tsunami would hit next.


This is just a blog I set up to try to get some of the stuff I write out there.

I've narrowed it to three spheres I have always had a strong affinity for; the application of international law and the politics that comes with policy decisions (especially when it comes to human rights abuses), economics, and sports.

Now you might say the three topics have little in common, but as with everything in our world, subtle connections exist. The wages of sports players teeter on the edge of the same economics that govern the dynamics of drug lords and dealers. People in the Third World are systematically devalued by their economic condition, and therefore are vulnerable to human rights abuses. Sports are sometimes the only escape for those left poor in rights and objects, and they sometimes represent the only way out for the talented young children stuck in the never-ending cycle of poverty. Sports also allow people to hope, and to dream.

I hope you all enjoy reading this as much as I enjoy writing it.