Monthly Archives: February 2009

Working with the radio on Saturdays

It is tricky. At some point, I always get tired of flipping throught the three radio stations that might play something good but usually don’t and are broadcasting commercials 3/4 of the time anyway.

It just gets irritating.

Since it is the weekend, my Diane Rheims (sp?)/Rush Limbaugh whiplash listening is not possible. (Diane ends at 11 central and I switch then to the AM band; I am totally balanced)

So today I tried Car Talk and then What Do You Know. It was rather enjoyable.

But we need better music stations in St. Louis.

Diagnosing the disease and then prescribing more infection

NPR: Household Debt Vs. GDP.

I heard this broadcast from Planet Money.  It was quite interesting.  The commenters are right that it can’t simply be said that “the problem is us” meaning we all just happened to go into more debt.  Something happened to extend credit to those who should not have been extended credit.

But the thing that drove me insane was the conversation that followed on the Diane Rheims (sp?) show, about how the crisis can only be solved if the banks “start loaning again.”

Sometimes I just can’t laugh any more about how plainly we are destroying ourselves.

Remind me why Obama got the anti-war vote?

Is it any surprise that people have to say things like this to Obama?

With all due respect Mr. President, we were hoping your administration would not carry on the war mongering policies of your predecessor. Instead we see amazingly that you Seek $75.5 Billion More for Wars in 2009. Mr. President, do we really need another $75 billion for wars? Was there nothing in the military budget that could be cut?

With all due respect Mr. President, The United States spends more on its military budget than the next 45 highest spending countries in the world combined; The United States accounts for 48 percent of the world’s total military spending; The United States spends on its military 5.8 times more than China, 10.2 times more than Russia, and 98.6 times more than Iran. Isn’t that enough Mr. President?

With all due respect Mr. President, the downfall of every great nation in history has been unsustainable military expansion. Mr. President, the US can no longer afford to be the world’s policeman. You act as if we can. Mr. President, can you please tell us how we can afford this spending?

The writer makes some great domestic economic points as well, but I’m blogging about hypocritical lying.  Obama is not about to give up on America’s new policy (i.e. originating with W’s total capitulation to neo-con utopianism).  He likes it and will exand on it.  It will tie in with his domestic ambitions since the regimentation of war has always encourage socialism at home.  But, again, I’m falling into mission drift on the point of this blog.

I’m not going to bother with the links, but it was quite plain in the race for the presidency that Obama set a timetable for removing troops from Iraq and McCain insisted that he couldn’t give a time table due to shifting realities.  Well, Obama has now announced a time table and, lo and behold, it is longer than the one he campaigned on.  He too knew that he had to pay attention to facts.  He just also knew he would be more likely to win if he lied about it.

So of two scary war mongers voters decided they wanted the one with less integrity.

It was incredible to hear President Obama’s speech on the radio.  If I hadn’t known better I would have thought he was broadcasting from an aircraft carrier.  The date will shift again and the number of uniformed troops that we are oxymoronically leaving in Iraq after our withdrawal will be greater than the fifty thousand he claims.

To dream the impossible dream

My fellow Americans, before enumerating my many disagreements with the policies outlined by the president, let me acknowledge why we had a Democratic president standing before a Democratic-controlled Congress tonight. The Republican party – my party – lost its way. In doing so, we lost your trust and our power.

We were supposed to be the party of sound money and fiscal discipline. Instead we transformed a $127bn surplus in 2001 into an estimated $1.2tn deficit by 2009. We presided over an explosion of the national debt, the biggest new entitlement programme since the Great Society, the biggest increase in inflation-adjusted discretionary spending since Lyndon Johnson and a $700bn bail-out of Wall Street at a time when working families were struggling to put food on their tables on Main Street.

We Republicans were supposed to be the party of limited government. Yet we grew the size, cost and scope of the federal government at almost every turn. Instead of eliminating cabinet departments, we created a new one with functions redundant with the departments of justice and defence. Instead of reforming Social Security and other entitlements as we promised, we created a new Medicare prescription drug benefit that added trillions to that programme’s unfunded liabilities. Instead of supporting local and parental control of education, we gave you No Child Left Behind. Instead of defending individual freedom, we eroded civil liberties and expanded state surveillance powers without checks and balances.

We were supposed to be the party of a realistic foreign policy and strong national defence. Instead we wasted the international goodwill following 9/11 that could have been used to launch a successful global campaign against the terrorist murderers of al-Qaida. We did so by launching a war against Iraq to disarm it of weapons it turned out not to have – opening up a Pandora’s box of warring factions we are only now beginning to contain, increasing the power of radical Islam within that country and removing a regional check against the ambitions of Iran.

We have bogged down much of our military – our soldiers and sailors, munitions and equipment – in a nation-building operation in Iraq, leaving scant resources to meet American national-security needs. We funded the war in a scandalous way, in an attempt to mask its true cost to the American taxpayer.

Why – after growing the government, saddling our children and grandchildren with debt, invading Iraq while failing to guard our own borders and failing to counteract the loose monetary and lending policies that precipitated our financial collapse – should we Republicans be given another chance? Because for all of his rhetoric about change, President Obama is giving us continuity: continuing an interventionist foreign policy, continuing the bail-outs that have already failed, continuing to expand government and contract the private sector. Except he is doing so with an even bigger price tag than President Bush, and is combining his borrowing and spending with even higher taxes.

There’s one more reason to trust the Republicans again: We get it. We’ve learned from our mistakes. Those of us who opposed these fundamentally un-conservative policies from the beginning are joining with those who have seen the light and are taking control of the Republican party.

via James Antle: Republicans need to own up to eight years of mistakes | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk.

hat tip: Doug Bandow

Dirk …. Benedict

What he is is an old-fashioned American individualist. He may not quite be Starbuck or Face in real life, but he’s got something of those characters in him. During his recent appearance on Celebrity Big Brother, a wildly popular reality-TV show in the U.K., he was greeted by a snotty British punk-rock singer, who announced: “It’s Dirk [expletive redacted] Benedict.” Without missing beat, Benedict replied, “I seldom use my middle name.” It’s an unscripted quip more than worthy of Face or Starbuck.

via Lt. Starbuck, in the Age of Starbucks by Mark Hemingway on National Review Online.

A different perspective on a slum

A Hollow Message of Social Justice: Slumdog Millionaire’s Dehumanizing View of India’s Poor by Mitu Sengupta

It is no secret that Slumdog is meant to reflect life in Dharavi, the vast sprawl of slums at the heart of Mumbai.  The film depicts Dharavi as a feral wasteland, with little evidence of order, community or compassion.  Other than the children, the no-one is even remotely well-intentioned.  Hustlers and petty warlords run amok, and even Jamal’s schoolteacher is inexplicably callous.  This is a place of sheer evil and decay.

But nothing is further from the truth.  Dharavi teems with dynamism, and is a hub of small-scale industries, whose estimated annual turnover is between US$50 to $100 million.  Nor is Dharavi bereft of governing structures and productive social relations.  Residents have built strong collaborative networks, often across potentially volatile lines of caste and religion.  Many cooperative societies work together with NGOs to provide residents with essential services such as basic healthcare, schooling and waste disposal, often compensating for the formal government’s woeful inadequacy in meeting their needs.  Although these under-resourced organizations have touched only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, their efforts must be acknowledged, along with the fact that slum-dwellers, despite their grinding poverty, have lives of value and dignity, and a resourcefulness that stretches far beyond the haphazard, individualistic survival-of-the-fittest sort shown in Slumdog.

hat tip

Keynes Politely Explains How to Destroy Civilization – Mises Economics Blog

From time to time, it is a good idea to remind yourself what it is that Keynes actually believed, and there’s no better place than his final chapter of The General Theory (http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/economics/keynes/general-theory/ch24.htm), in which he presents his view, at once vitriolic and uncomprehending concerning laissez-faire but politely stepping away from recommending full-scale socialism in all things.

His goal is “transmuting human nature,” not managing it — though this claim if ridiculous on its face, since it is presumably impossible to change one element into another, as in attempted alchemy, without managing it.

You will also find here his bonkers view that the state can abolish the interest rate with the stroke of a pen and thereby guarantee full employment. Of course this means the “euthanasia of the rentier” who wickedly exploits such inconvenient facts as the scarcity of capital. Still, nothing short of the “socialisation of investment” is needed finally to bring utopia. A good start, he writes, would be very high taxes on the rich.

Won’t all of this change the incentive structure of society? Sure, he admits, but not enough to make a difference anyone should care about.

I’m sorry, but reading this guy again just gives me the chills. I can easily imagine his dispassionately narrating events in a Gulag, justifying every horror with a pseudo-scientific rationale made up on the spot.

Oh wait: he did do that. As he wrote in the 1936 foreword to the German edition of The General Theory: “Nevertheless the theory of output as a whole, which is what the following book purports to provide, is much more easily adapted to the conditions of a totalitarian state, than is the theory of production and distribution of a given output produced under conditions of free competition and a lance measure of laissez-faire.”

via Keynes Politely Explains How to Destroy Civilization – Mises Economics Blog.

hat tip: lower-case liberty

Politics of the Immigration Tyranny

Immokalee is the tomato capital of the United States. Between December and May, as much as 90 percent of the fresh domestic tomatoes we eat come from south Florida, and Immokalee is home to one of the area’s largest communities of farmworkers. According to Douglas Molloy, the chief assistant U.S. attorney based in Fort Myers, Immokalee has another claim to fame: It is “ground zero for modern slavery.”

The beige stucco house at 209 South Seventh Street is remarkable only because it is in better repair than most Immokalee dwellings. For two and a half years, beginning in April 2005, Mariano Lucas Domingo, along with several other men, was held as a slave at that address. At first, the deal must have seemed reasonable. Lucas, a Guatemalan in his thirties, had slipped across the border to make money to send home for the care of an ailing parent. He expected to earn about $200 a week in the fields. Cesar Navarrete, then a 23-year-old illegal immigrant from Mexico, agreed to provide room and board at his family’s home on South Seventh Street and extend credit to cover the periods when there were no tomatoes to pick.

Lucas’s “room” turned out to be the back of a box truck in the junk-strewn yard, shared with two or three other workers. It lacked running water and a toilet, so occupants urinated and defecated in a corner. For that, Navarrete docked Lucas’s pay by $20 a week. According to court papers, he also charged Lucas for two meager meals a day: eggs, beans, rice, tortillas, and, occasionally, some sort of meat. Cold showers from a garden hose in the backyard were $5 each. Everything had a price. Lucas was soon $300 in debt. After a month of ten-hour workdays, he figured he should have paid that debt off.

But when Lucas—slightly built and standing less than five and a half feet tall—inquired about the balance, Navarrete threatened to beat him should he ever try to leave. Instead of providing an accounting, Navarrete took Lucas’s paychecks, cashed them, and randomly doled out pocket money, $20 some weeks, other weeks $50. Over the years, Navarrete and members of his extended family deprived Lucas of $55,000.

Taking a day off was not an option. If Lucas became ill or was too exhausted to work, he was kicked in the head, beaten, and locked in the back of the truck. Other members of Navarrete’s dozen-man crew were slashed with knives, tied to posts, and shackled in chains. On November 18, 2007, Lucas was again locked inside the truck. As dawn broke, he noticed a faint light shining through a hole in the roof. Jumping up, he secured a hand hold and punched himself through. He was free.

What happened at Navarrete’s home would have been horrific enough if it were an isolated case. Unfortunately, involuntary servitude—slavery—is alive and well in Florida. Since 1997, law-enforcement officials have freed more than 1,000 men and women in seven different cases. And those are only the instances that resulted in convictions. Frightened, undocumented, mistrustful of the police, and speaking little or no English, most slaves refuse to testify, which means their captors cannot be tried. “Unlike victims of other crimes, slaves don’t report themselves,” said Molloy, who was one of the prosecutors on the Navarrete case. “They hide from us in plain sight.”

And for what? Supermarket produce sections overflow with bins of perfect red-orange tomatoes even during the coldest months—never mind that they are all but tasteless. Large packers, which ship nearly $500 million worth of tomatoes annually to major restaurants and grocery retailers nationwide, own or lease the land upon which the workers toil. But the harvesting is often done by independent contractors called crew bosses, who bear responsibility for hiring and overseeing pickers. Said Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, “We abhor slavery and do everything we can to prevent it. We want to make sure that we always foster a work environment free from hazard, intimidation, harassment, and violence.” Growers, he said, cooperated with law-enforcement officers in the Navarette case.

But when asked if it is reasonable to assume that an American who has eaten a fresh tomato from a grocery store or food-service company during the winter has eaten fruit picked by the hand of a slave, Molloy said, “It is not an assumption. It is a fact.”

via Politics of the Plate: The Price of Tomatoes: 2000s Archive : gourmet.com.

hat tip: Chris

PostScript: One person claims, “Poverty and misery are the perfect recipe for slavery.“  No.  Being deprived of the right to make an honest living by the Federal Government so that one has no recourse to the law is the key ingredient.

PostPostScript (or perhaps I should admit I’m live-blogging this article): “Benitez feels that slavery will persist until overall conditions for field workers improve. The group has made progress on that front by securing better pay.”  Well, maybe there is some basis to Benitez’s feelings, but none is explained in this article.  How does better pay for some workers help the prisoners?  If anything it increases the motivation to enslave.  There may be great reasons for Benitez’s work, but it’s relationship to addressing the issue of slavery is non-existent as far as anyone can tell from reading the article.

PPPS. The entire article, even when it mentions the escaped slave who received a temporary work Visa for his testimony, never addresses our barbaric immigration restrictions.  Is everyone in the world really this blind?