Notes on our surveillance dystopia

October 9, 2015

The proximate reasons for the culture of total surveillance are clear.

Storage is cheap enough that we can keep everything.

Computers are fast enough to examine this information, both in real time and retrospectively.

Our daily activities are mediated with software that can easily be configured to record and report everything it sees upstream.

But to fix surveillance, we have to address the underlying reasons that it exists.  These are no mystery either.

State surveillance is driven by fear.

And corporate surveillance is driven by money.

Source: Idle Words

The quote above is from a talk given by Maciej Ceglowski to the Fremtidens Internet Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.  I thank my friend Daniel Brandt for the link.  The whole talk is important and highly recommended.

It is about how advertisers destroyed on-line privacy and then found themselves swindled by robots and how Silicon Valley thinks it can change the world without bothering about San Francisco.

Also, six fixes that Ceglowski thinks could restore on-line privacy.


What Happens Next Will Amaze You by Maciej Ceglowski.

China overtakes US as world’s biggest economy

October 9, 2015

panda eagleThe World Bank has noted that China has quietly overtaken the United States as the world’s largest economy.

Washington is responding to this in exactly the wrong way—by trying to checkmate China’s power rather than rebuilding the sources of American power.

China already led the United States in a number of important respects.  According to the CIA World Factbook, it exceeds the United States in industrial output, in agricultural output and in electricity production.

While China had a $260 billion trade surplus in 2013, the USA has a $698 billion trade deficit.

It is true that while the Chinese nation is rich, the Chinese people are still poor compared to Americans—not just in the amount of stuff they own, but in terms of infant mortality, life expectancy, literacy and access to public water and sewerage systems.

Inequality and concentration of wealth are just as great in China as they are in the United States.  China is the world’s largest polluter overall, although the USA is the largest on a per-capita basis.  Interestingly China has a lower birth rate and population growth rate than the USA.

But life has been getting better on average for the average Chinese person, while the earning power of the average American has been slipping behind.

The United States has the world’s largest and most expensive military, but the Chinese may be a match for the USA in their own backyard—the South China Sea.

Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist for the World Bank and former chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, argued in a recent article that the USA still has great residual strength, but American leaders are letting it slip away by concentrating on military dominance and corporate profits at the expense of everything else.

In a full-fledged Cold War between the USA and China, China is in an economic position to do the USA great damage.  China could stop buying U.S. Treasury bonds, for example.

It’s not in the interest of China to wage economic war against the United States.  Both sides would suffer.  American leaders should not push China into a corner and put its leaders in a position in which they think they have no choice.   Instead American leaders should concentrate in reducing US economic vulnerability.

China does have big problems—inequality, pollution, corruption, unrest among workers and among minorities in Xinjiang, Tibet and elsewhere.

Maybe these problems will be fatal, although I doubt it.  But these are not issues the United States can affect one way or the other, or should try to affect.

And if China should start to collapse, history has many examples of declining empires that try to restore internal unity by going to war.  This is not something we Americans should hope for.  Our problems originate at home, not in China.


China Has Overtaken the United States as the World’s Largest Economy by Joseph Stiglitz for Vanity Fair.

China vs. United States from the CIA World Factbook.

G-Zero: US-China Relations in the Age of Xi by Peter Lee for China Matters.

Read the rest of this entry »

The passing scene – October 8, 2015

October 8, 2015

5 Ways Donald Trump Perfectly Mirrors Hitler’s Rise to Power by Adam Tod Brown for   Yes, I know, I wrote a post a few weeks ago ridiculing those who compare American presidential candidates to Hitler.

I don’t think Donald Trump is a murderous political fanatic.  I think he is a sleazy promoter.  Even so, I think this article brings out some worrisome, if highly speculative, implications of Trump’s ideas

A Short History of U.S. Bombing of Civilian Facilities by Jon Schwartz for The Intercept.  Speaking of Hitler analogies, I don’t think the U.S. government is equivalent to the Nazi regime, but I can remember a time when I and most other Americans believed that bombing hospitals was something that only Nazis and fascists would do.

Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis Is a Global Crisis.  Why Are We Doing So Little to Fight It? by Douglas Foster for The Nation.

What’s new (at least to me) about the TPP

October 8, 2015

Click to enlarge.

The Obama administration has moved very shrewdly to deflect some of the main criticisms of the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership agreement.

  1.  Fast Track is not as fast as I previously thought It is true that once the TPP is submitted to Congress, there will be only 90 days to debate and decide.  But there will be a longer preliminary phase in which to study and discuss the proposed agreement.  I don’t know whether this was true all along and I (along with many others) didn’t realize it, or whether this is something new.  But in any case, the TPP is not necessarily going to be rushed through Congress as quickly as I had previously thought.
  2.   Evidently there will be amendments to address some of the main criticismsFor example, tobacco companies will not be able to use the Investor State Dispute Settlement mechanism to protest restrictions on cigarette advertising.

But here is the Cato Institute’s timetable for making the agreement public.

Even with the deal “concluded,” the president cannot sign the agreement until 90 days after he officially announces his intention to do so. During that period, there will be intensive consultations between the administration and Congress over the details; the legal text of the agreement will be made available to the public on the internet; the USTR advisory committees will submit their assessments of the deal to Congress; and there will be ample opportunity for informed, robust domestic debate about the deal’s pros and cons.

After the 90-day consultation period, the president can return to the TPP partners with input from Congress, which may or may not warrant modifications to the deal to improve its chances of ratification.

Once the deal is signed, the administration then has a maximum of 60 days to prepare a list of all U.S. laws that will need to be changed on account of TPP; the U.S. International Trade Commission will have a maximum of 105 days to do an analysis of the likely impact of the TPP on the U.S. economy; the congressional trade committees will perform mock markups of the implementing legislation; and, then, the final TPP implementing legislation will be introduced in both chambers.

After the legislation is introduced, the House will have 60 days and the Senate will have 30 days to hold votes. These requirements stem from the Trade Promotion Authority legislation enacted over the summer. If the TPP is going to be ratified by this Congress under this president, the timelines suggest that there isn’t much room for delay.

Source: Cato @ Liberty

Without Fast Track, there would be no deadline at all for voting the TPP up or down, there would be no restriction on amendments, and 60 votes instead of a 51-vote majority would be required for the TPP to clear the Senate.

Read the rest of this entry »

Are conservatives mean-spirited?

October 8, 2015

There is always a certain meanness in the argument of conservatism, joined with a certain superiority in its fact.
       ==Ralph Waldo Emerson

Half the useful work in the world consists in combating the harmful work. A little time spent in trying to appreciate facts is not time wasted.
        ==Bertrand Russell

Liberals and progressives call conservatives mean-spirited.  Conservatives complain about this even as they speak and write about “bleeding heart” liberals and progressives.

The fact is that a large part of conservatism consists of warnings against acting on your generous impulses.

This can be mean-spirited.  It can be wise.  Sometimes it is both at the same time.

A basic conservative truth is that there are many more ways to make things worse than there are to make things better.  This is true no matter how bad things are.  Another is that people are much better judges of their own interests than they are of other peoples’ interests or of the public interest.

I don’t believe that being heartless makes you more realistic, but neither do I believe that good motives guarantee good actions.

The passing scene – October 7, 2015

October 7, 2015

Why Free Markets Make Fools of Us by Cass R. Sunstein for The New York Review of Books.  (Hat tip to my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack)

The TPP has a provision that many will love to hate: ISDS.  What is it, and why does it matter? by Todd Tucker for the Washington Post.  (Hat tip to naked capitalism)

Hillary Clinton says she does not support Trans Pacific Partnership by the PBS Newshour.

Q: Is the Obama Administration Complicit With Slavery? A: Yes by Eric Loomis for Lawyers, Guns and Money.  Slavery in Malaysia is overlooked for the sake of the TPP.

Houston is a lot more tolerant of immigrants than Copenhagen is on Science Codex.  (Hat tip to Jack)

Science Saves: The Young Iraqis Promoting Evolutionary Theory and Rational Thought to Save Iraq by Marwan Jabbar for Niqash: briefings from inside and across Iraq.  (Hat tip to Informed Comment)

The Amazing Inner Lives of Animals by Tim Flannery for The New York Review of Books.  (Hat tip to Jack)

Is the chilli pepper friend or foe? by William Kremer for BBC World Service.  (Hat tip to Jack)

Union membership as a civil right

October 7, 2015

A new bill—the Workplace Action for a Growing Economy Act, aka the WAGE Act—would make the right to join a labor union a civil right.

Workers who are fired or discriminated because they are union members would have the same rights as workers who suffer racial or sex discrimination.

This would be a big change.  It would give individual workers a much stronger legal position than under existing labor law—in some

2.unions&sharedprosperityLabor union membership has been steadily declining—not, in my opinion, because American workers are satisfied with their wages and working conditions, but because they fear retaliation from employers.

Without the union voice, wages (adjusted for inflation) are stagnant and inequality is increasing.  If everybody who wants to join a labor union could do so without fear, I think this could turn around.

The WAGE Act was introduced by Senator Patti Murray, D-WA, and Rep. Robert C.  “Bobby” Scott, D-VA.  It was co-sponsored by Bernie Sanders and has been endorsed by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The middle class is the middle 60% of income earners

The middle class is the middle 60% of income earners

The bill has virtually nil chance of getting through Congress this year.  A similar bill introduced last year by Rep. Keith Ellison, D-MN, and John Lewis, D-GA, failed.  But it’s only by keeping the issue on the public agenda that this right can be won.

Firing an employee for union membership is at present an unfair labor practice under the National Labor Relations Act.   The best that an employee can hope for from the NLRB is reinstatement in the job and partial back pay years later, and the odds are against even that.

Under the WAGE Act, employees would have the right to sue in court and ask to be put back to work with no loss of pay or benefits while the case is pending.   If they won the case, they would get triple back pay, while the employer could face a $50,000 fine—$100,000 if it was a second offense.

Read the rest of this entry »

Zionism, colonialism and national liberation

October 7, 2015

In the 1950s and 1960s, I thought of Israel mainly as a refuge for Jewish refugees from Hitler and from the “displaced person” camps after World War Two.

Zionism was in fact partly a movement to give Jews a refuge from anti-Semites, but it was two other things as well.

Vladimir Jabotinsky

Vladimir Jabotinsky

It was a national liberation movement for people who had never before constituted an independent nation, like the Kurds today.  At the same time it was a colonial movement, an attempt to take over a land inhabited by other people.

Vladimir Jabotinsky, one of the early Israeli settlers, saw clearly that Zionist leaders were kidding themselves if they thought they could peacefully co-exist with Arabs.  Neither Arabs nor anybody else will ever tolerate being made a minority in their own country.

He called upon his fellow Zionists to face up to the fact that Zionism was colonialism, and that making the Palestine Mandate a Jewish nation could not be accomplished without force.

He said peace between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs could only happen when the Arabs were convinced that the Jews could not be dislodged by means of force.

Israelis today think of themselves as a nation like any other, fighting to maintain their national existence.  Palestinian Arabs and their allies think of Israelis as invaders, like the white settlers of the former Rhodesia.  The problem is that both beliefs are true.

I think that someday both sides will accept that neither one can get rid of the other, and they have no choice but to live together in peace.


The Jewish Terrorists by Asaf Sharon for The New York Review of Books.  [Hat tip to my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack]

The Iron Wall by Vladimir Jabotinsky (1923)  [Hat tip to Jack]

Anti-intellectualism and questioning of authority

October 7, 2015

criticalthinking002Hat tip to Bill Elwell.

Anti-intellectualism has long been a strong and deplorable force in American life, but there’s a fine line between anti-intellectualism and questioning authority.

It is not anti-intellectual to refuse to accept someone’s opinion because the person has an advanced degree and speaks in scientific jargon.

I don’t believe credentialed experts who tell me that hydraulic fracturing for natural gas is safe, or that the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership will create jobs, or that it’s necessary to drop bombs on people in Middle Eastern countries for their own good.

I question authority, but I accept legitimate authority.  I don’t elevate my personal feelings to equal standing with scientific fact, and I don’t think I can determine everything for myself.  Rather I try to figure out which persons have real knowledge and wisdom, based on their records and on my ability to follow their reasoning.

Read the rest of this entry »

The passing scene – October 6, 2015

October 6, 2015

TPP: It’s Not a Deal, It’s Not a Trade Deal and It’s Not a Done Deal by Lambert Strether for naked capitalism.

Alabama Makes Photo IDs Mandatory for Voting, Then Shutters DMV Offices in Black Counties by Andrea Germano for Common Dreams.

It’s more dangerous to be black than to be a cop by Peter Moskos for Cop in the Hood.  Literally!

Saudi Arabia and the price of royal impunity by Richard Falk for Middle East Eye.  (Hat tip to my expatriate friend Jack)

Burundi’s solar plans forge ahead despite political unrest by David Smith for The Guardian.  (Hat tip to Jack)

The Radically Changing Story of the U.S. Airstrike on Afghan Hospital: From Mistake to Justification by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept.

CNN and the NYT Are Deliberately Obscuring Who Perpetrated the Afghan Hospital Attack by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept.  (Hat tip to Jack)

A story of hope: the Guardian launches phase II of its climate change campaign by James Randerson for The Guardian (Hat tip to Hal Bauer).

Asian immigrants expected to predominate

October 6, 2015


Republican presidential candidates are debating how to seal the southern U.S. border against unauthorized immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries.   This is yesterday’s news.

Pew Research Center reported that immigration from Asia already exceeds immigration from Latin American and is likely to predominate for at least the next generation.  Immigration from Mexico has been declining since 2007.

Currently there are three times as many Hispanics in the United States, including unauthorized immigrants, than there are Asians, and half again as many Hispanics as blacks.  But in 50 years, if present trends continue, the number of Asians will exceed the number of blacks, and Asians will be the largest category among the foreign-born population.

The USA, more than most countries, is a nation of immigrants.  Pew noted that United States has more Mexican immigrants (12 million) than any other nation has total immigrants.

Immigration to the United States has come in three waves.  In the first wave, from 1840 to 1889, nearly nine-tenths of immigrants were from Germany, Ireland, Britain or other northern and western European countries.  In the second wave, from 1890 to 1919, nearly two-thirds were from Italy, Austria-Hungary, Poland, Russian or other southern and eastern European nations.

In the third wave, from 1965 to 2015, slightly more than half are from Latin America, and immigration from Asia equals immigration from Europe.  Pew projects a fourth wave, predominantly from Asia, based on recent trends.

Native-born Americans have always worried about how many immigrants the United States can absorb.  Angl0-Saxon Americans worried about whether they could assimilate the Irish and Germans.  Protestant Americans worried about whether they could assimilate Catholics and Jews.

Now we worry about whether we can assimilate Hispanics and Asians, and still maintain the continuity of our culture, heritage and economy.

I share these worries, but the decision has already been made that the United States is a multi-cultural nation.  Even if we wished, we could not become like Japan or Quebec, where almost everyone is of the same ancestry and cultural heritage.   Even before the age of immigration, the USA comprised African-Americans and native Americans and we could not pretend to be a merely a branch of the British nation.

Historically, immigrants have strengthened the United States.  They have mostly been hard-working people who have come to the United States in search of opportunity, and many have been liberty-loving people who have come here in search of freedom.

If this ever ceases being true, I don’t think it will be because of immigrants.  IT will be because the USA as a whole no longer offers opportunity and has lost confidence in freedom.

The American motto is “E Pluribus Unum” – “out of many, one.”  Either we make that a reality, or we cease to be a nation, and the territory between Canada and Mexico is nothing but a labor force and a consumer market.

Read the rest of this entry »

My economic philosophy in a nutshell

October 6, 2015

When, lo, these many years ago, I studied economics in college, I learned that capital was the most important factor in a prosperous economy.

I still think this is true.  But that doesn’t mean that owners of financial assets are the most valuable members of society.

Standard economics teaches that three  are factors of production—land, labor and capital.  “Land” means all natural resources—everything of value not created by human beings.  “Labor” means all human effort, physical or mental.

 “Capital” is the most important of the three.  It means everything that increases the productivity of land and labor—railroads, machine tools, computers.  It is the force multiplier for land and labor.  It is what makes economic growth possible.

The problem is that “capital” also means also the financial resources available (but not necessarily used) to create these tangible resources.

Landlords who receive rents contribute nothing to the wealth of nations.  Laborers who earn wages contribute a fixed amount.  Capitalists who make profits have—so I was taught—an incentive to direct their capital in a way that created the most value, and thus increase the total wealth of society.

Late in life I have come to read Karl Marx’s rebuttal.  Physical and intellectual capital is not created by capitalists, he noted.  Every railroad, every machine tool, every computer was created not by money, but by the mental and physical effort of human beings.

The increase in human wealth that physical capital generates does not go to those who created it.  It goes to those who own it.

Marx denied that the owners of capital are job creators.  He asserted that workers are capital creators.

Read the rest of this entry »

Bernie Sanders outpolls Donald Trump for 2016

October 5, 2015

sanders-trump-e1444054156866Hat tip to Harry’s Place.

This is the latest poll of how Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders would do if they were the Republican and Democratic candidates.

RealClearPolitics reported that the average of the last four public opinion polls shows Sanders ahead 45.3 to 41.3 percent.   Sanders came out ahead in six out of eight public opinion polls matching him against Trump.

My expectation was that I would vote for Bernie Sanders in the New York Democratic primary, and then vote for Jill Stein of the Green Party in the general election rather than Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush.

I never expected to vote for a Democratic presidential candidate again and, to be honest, I still don’t.  But who knows?


RealClearPolitics – Election 2016 – General Election: Trump vs. Sanders.

Stop Comparing Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders by Nate Silver for FiveThirtyEight.

Just Think: Donald Trump Versus Bernie Sanders in 2016 by Peter Lawler for The Federalist.

The passing scene – October 5, 2015

October 5, 2015

Parasites in the Body Economic: the Disasters of Neoliberalism, an interview of Michael Hudson, author of Kllling the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy, on Counterpunch Radio.  Highly recommended.

More Leisure, Less Capitalism, Thanks to Tech, an interview of Jacobin contributing editor Peter Frase for Truthout.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

The 2016 Stump Speeches: Bernie’s Epistle to the Falwellites by Doug Muder for The Weekly Sift.

How Steve Jobs Fleeced Carly Fiorina by Steven Levy for BackChannel.  (Hat tip to my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack)

The model minority is losing patience by The Economist.  (Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist)

The Second Amendment Is a Gun Control Amendment by Adam Gopnik for The New Yorker.  (Hat tip to Bill Elwell)

Reviving Shinto: Prime Minister Abe tends a special place in Japan’s soul by Michael Holtz for The Christian Science Monitor.  (Hat tip to Jack)

AP Investigation: Are slaves catching the fish you buy? by Robin M. McDowell, Margie Mason and Martha Mendoza.  (Hat tip to Jack)

Bad news: 12 nations’ negotiators agree on TPP

October 5, 2015

TPP_map-31Negotiators for 12 Pacific Rim nations—the USA, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Peru and Chile—have finalized a Trans Pacific Partnership agreement.

Now it remains to be seen if the legislative bodies of these nations will ratify the agreement.  President Obama has persuaded Congress to adopt a fast-track procedure for the decision-making process, which means that it will have three months from the time the lengthy and  complicated text is submitted to vote it up or down.

My understanding is that if only two nations ratify the agreement—say, the USA and Vietnam—it will be binding on those two.  Even if legislative bodies of major nations such as Japan, Canada or Australia reject the TPP, it won’t matter to Americans if the U.S. Congress approves it.

I don’t know the specifics of what’s been agreed to, but the leaked preliminary versions of the agreement show that it is a corporate wish list to be given the force of international law.  The TPP undermines national sovereignty and overrides democracy.


TPP Finalized by David Nakamura for The Washington Post.  (Hat tip to my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack)

Trans-Pacific trade deal faces test in US Congress by Agence France Presse.

Sanders Condemns ‘Disastrous’ TPP as Ministers Seal Deal for Corporate Elite by Lauren McCauley for Common Dreams.

Can Donald Trump Sink the TPP? by Kevin Drum for Mother Jones.

Here’s Why the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement Is Just Plain Wrong by Robert Reich.

Increased ‘productivity’ in education

October 5, 2015

TeacherJobGap5xnfRJSource: Economic Policy Institute.

Blogger Duncan Black thinks these figures indicate that Americans should stop cutting public school teachers’ wages and benefits, reducing their job security and making them scapegoats for all the ills of society.

But according to the neo-liberal philosophy that prevails in U.S. industry, the decline in the number of teachers is a good thing, not a bad thing.

A neo-liberal would tell you that fewer teachers with lower salaries teaching larger classes is by definition an increase in productivity (but that the best way to achieve this is through privatization).

Read the rest of this entry »

The passing scene – October 4, 2015

October 4, 2015

Roger Millikin: The Man Who Launched the GOP’s Civil War by Jonathan M. Katz for Politico (hat tip to naked capitalism)

Roger Millikin, a right-wing textile magnate, was a driving force in transforming the South from solidly Democratic to solidly Republican, and the Republican Party from the party of Lincoln into the party of Strom Thurmond, Jessie Helms and Trent Lott.

If not for him, or someone like him, Rick Perry might still be a Democrat and Elizabeth Warren might still be a Republican.

The Invisible Poverty of ‘Poor White Trash’ by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.

I never use expressions such as “redneck” or “white trash.”  The word “redneck” originally to poor white farmers who worked in the hot sun in long-sleeved shirts.  It was a term used by educated people to express their contempt for manual labor and lack of schooling.  The term implies that poor white people are more racist than affluent white people, which in my experience has not been the case.

One Day After Warning Russia of Civilian Casualties, the U.S. Bombs a Hospital in Afghanistan by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept.  (Hat tip to my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack).

Bubbles Always Burst: the Education of an Economist by Michael Hudson, author of Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy.

Debacle Inc.: How Henry Kissinger Helped Create Our “Proliferated” World by Greg Grandin, author of Kissinger’s Shadow: The Long Reach of America’s Most Controversial Statesman.

Read the rest of this entry »

Advice from the Dalai Lama

October 4, 2015

img_1058Hat tip to jpratt27

Vertical panoramas of churches

October 4, 2015


Source: Incredible Vertical Panoramic Photos of Churches by Richard Silver.

Read the rest of this entry »

The truth about Planned Parenthood

October 3, 2015


It is not the case that abortion services are either a major part or a fast-growing part of the work of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

politifact_photos_mega-center-release-graphicAs the chart above shows and the chart at the side hides, the major activities of Planned Parenthood are providing knowledge and means of contraception, and screening and treatment for sexually-transmitted infections and diseases.

I understand that if you think abortion is equivalent to murder, not even one abortion should be allowed.  But it is up to you to make that case.  It does not justify distorting the facts about the work of Planned Parenthood.

According to my reading of the Constitution, the move to de-fund Planned Parenthood may be contrary to Article One, Section 9, which forbids bills of attainder.   A bill of attainder is a law to punish a particular individual or organization rather than a particular action—in this case, to de-fund Planned Parenthood rather than to de-fund abortion service providers in general.

I think that planned parenthood in its broad meaning—knowledge and use of contraception—is the best way to reduce the number of abortions.  I think a lot of those who want to de-fund Planned Parenthood object to planned parenthood in its broad meaning.

I think such people object to anything that would shield a woman from pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease or any other bad consequence of having sex outside marriage.  Or anything that would enable a married woman to prevent pregnancy.


Whatever you think of Planned Parenthood, this is a terrible and dishonest chart by Timothy B. Lee for Vox.

The continuing Republican war on gynecology by Amanda Marcotte for Pandagon.

Glimpses of Asia – October 3, 2015

October 3, 2015

Hat tip for these links to my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack and his friend Marty

Ghost Chili

Ghost Chili

World’s Hottest Chili (the Ghost Chili) is now being weaponized by the Indian Military

US elevates Thailand to best child labor category

Movie Vs. Reality: What It Actually Feels Like To Climb Mount Everest

The Most Frightening Food Found on Airplanes

[Thai] Government warns netizen protesters

Read the rest of this entry »

The benefit of brass doorknobs

October 3, 2015


Source: Oligodynamic effect on Wikipedia.

Hat tip to Jack and Marty.

Is the US due for a new wave of violent upheaval?

October 3, 2015

Click to enlarge.

Source: Human cycles: History as science by Laura Spinney for Nature.

Hat tip to Jayman.

U.S. and Russian bases in the Middle East

October 3, 2015

U.S. bases in the Middle East

Russian bases in the Middle East

Russian bases in the Middle East

Vladimir Putin has sent Russian forces to Syria to prop up the regime of Russia’s ally, Bashar al-Assad.

He said he is joining in the war against the so-called Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL or Da’esh).  The U.S. government said Russia is targeting the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army and other “moderate” rebels rather than ISIS itself.

I’m not sure how significant that difference is.  I don’t think it is realistic to think it is possible to overthrow Assad and keep ISIS out of power without sending American forces to occupy Syria—and even then the outcome would be doubtful.

Many countries besides the USA and Russia have conducted air strikes in Syria.   One list includes Australia, Bahrein, France, Israell, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and should have included Canada and Turkey.

I don’t think Russia is in a position to challenge the U.S. military presence in the Middle East directly.  I think Putin’s plan is to enhance the power of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah vs. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel, but to minimize actual Russian activity.

Read the rest of this entry »

ISDS: the worst part of the TPP

October 2, 2015

TPP-investor-state-dispute-settlement-what-now-524-Sm-color-72-dpi-Source: What Now Cartoons.

Negotiations for the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement are essentially negotiations concerning business interests.  They reportedly are running into trouble on disagreements about dairy and auto parts imports and drug patents.

But from the standpoint of ordinary citizens, the most odious part of the TPP — and its sister proposals, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement (aka TAFTA) and the Trade in Services Agreement — are the Investor-State Dispute Settlement provisions that allow an un-elected tribunal to penalize governments for enacting laws to protect the health and welfare of their citizens, if such laws unfairly deprive foreign corporations of expected profits.

Not compensation for actual losses, but compensation for hypothetical losses.

A letter signed by more than 100 legal scholars and former judges sums up the problem.

ISDS grants foreign corporations a special legal privilege, the right to initiate dispute settlement proceedings against a government for actions that allegedly cause a loss of profit for the corporation. 

Essentially, corporations use ISDS to challenge government policies, actions, or decisions that they allege reduce the value of their investments.  These challenges are not heard in a normal court but instead before a tribunal of private lawyers.

Read the rest of this entry »


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