Archive for May, 2012

Affluence on the Potomac

May 31, 2012

The Washington, D.C., area has overtaken Silicon Valley as the nation’s most affluent metropolitan area.

Andrew Ferguson of Time magazine explained why.

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The size of the nonmilitary, nonpostal federal workforce has stayed relatively stable since the 1960s. What has changed is not the government payroll but the number of government contractors.  It’s estimated that, thanks to massive outsourcing over the past 20 years by the Clinton and Bush administrations, there are two government contractors for every worker directly employed by the government.  Federal contracting is the region’s great growth industry.  A government contractor can even hire contractors for help in getting more government contracts.  You could call those guys ­government-contract contractors.

Which means government hasn’t shrunk; it’s just changed clothes (and pretty nice clothes they are). The contractors are famous for secrecy; many have job titles that are designed to bewilder.  What is it, after all, that an analyst, a facilitator, a consultant, an adviser, a strategist actually does to earn his or her paycheck?  Champions of the capital’s Shangri-la economy like to brag of ­Washington’s knowledge workers.

Peter Corbett isn’t so sure about the wisdom of D.C.’s version of the knowledge economy.  Corbett heads a social-media marketing company, with corporate clients that have famous names.  Most of his work involves nonprofit foundations that have flocked to Washington to be close to the fount of grants and tax breaks.  He did a single project for the federal government and then swore it off for good.  He describes his first meeting at the Pentagon.  “There are 12 people sitting around the table,” he says. “I didn’t know eight of them. I said, ‘Who are you?’ They say, ‘I’m with Booz Allen.’ ‘I’m with Lockheed.’ ‘I’m with CACI.’ ‘ But why are you here?’ ‘ We’re consultants on your project.’  I said, ‘You are?’  They were charging the government $300 an hour, and I had no idea what they were doing, and neither did they.  They were just there.  So I just ignored them and did my project with my own people.”

Aside from its wealth, the single defining feature of über-Washington is its youth.  Most of the people who have moved to Washington since 2006 have been under 35; the region has the highest ­percentage of 25-to-34-year-olds in the U.S.  “We’re a mecca for young people,” [economist Stephen] Fuller [of George Mason University] says.   One recent arrival says word has gotten out to new graduates that Washington is where the work is.  “It’s a place where a ­liberal-arts major can still get a job,” she says, “because you don’t need a particular skill.”

Click on Bubble on the Potomac for the full article.  Hat tip for the link to Marginal Revolution, which I list in my Best Blogs menu.

[Later]  I am not anti-government, as anybody who reads this web log will know.  We need letter carriers, school teachers, firefighters, public health nurses and a whole range of other public servants who do actual work.   Most of them are less well compensated, by a long shot, than the people Ferguson described in his article.

Benefits of the unexamined life

May 31, 2012

Socrates is supposed to have said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

But Martin Cohen, commenting on a Marginal Revolution post, disagreed.

1.  You don’t have to waste time and energy listening to those others you know are wrong.

2.  You can make use of the dynamic duo of “It’s not my fault” and “It’s not my problem”.

3.  You can get from here to there much faster if you ignore the “Warning – thin ice!” signs.

4.  You will be supported in so many ways by the others living in the fact-free zone.

5.  It’s much easier if you think of those things you are climbing over as minor obstacles rather than people.

6.  It’s so much fun to creatively decorate those walls that surround you.

7.  Focusing on your own well-being takes all your energy, anyway.

8.  Finally, if you’re screaming inside, you don’t have to listen.

Click on Marginal Revolution and scroll down for Cohen’s comment in context.  The comment is on a thread discussing Bertrand Russell’s Ten Commandments for Teachers.

Which of us is naive?

May 30, 2012

A friend of mine thinks the government should be unconstrained in killing, imprisoning or torturing terrorists and enemies.

He thinks I am naive to want the government to observe due process of law or any Constitutional, legal or ethical limits.

I think my friend is naive to think that the government’s unconstrained power will always be used against people he thinks of as terrorists and enemies, and never against himself or people he cares about.

Julian Assange meets the Occupy movement

May 29, 2012

Julian Assange is under house arrest in Britain and can’t get out and about to interview people for his The World Tomorrow TV program, but an interesting array of people come to him.

In Episode 7, he interviewed members of Occupy London and Occupy Wall Street, including David Graeber, an anarchist anthropologist and political theorist, who was one of the original Occupy Wall Street protesters.

Click on Digital Journal for a summary of Episode 7 and links to previous episodes.

Click on David Graeber, the Anti-Leader of Occupy Wall Street for a Business Week article about Graeber.

Click on “Intellectual Roots of Wall St. Protest Lie in Academe” for reasons why David Graeber should not be considered the leader or intellectual mentor of the Occupy Wall Street movement. [Added 6/5/12]

Click on Davod Graeber: anarchist, anthropologist, financial analyst for an article about Graeber and many links to his short writings.

Update [5/30/12]  Julian Assange lost his appeal to Britain’s supreme court against being extradited to Sweden to face chargesallegations of rape and sexual molestationmisconduct.  However, inasmuch as the ruling was based on an interpretation of international law not argued in court, Assange’s lawyers will have until June 13 to make an argument against the ruling.  Assange’s lawyers also are appealing to the European court of human rights in Strasbourg.

If there is good evidence to support the charges, Julian Assange should be put on trial just like anybody else.  The problem is the possibility that Sweden’s current conservative government will hand him over to U.S. authorities, where he could be tried and sent to prison for revealing secret information about U.S. government misconduct.

Click on Julian Assange loses appeal against extradition for a report in Britain’s The Guardian newspaper.

Click on Julian Assange Loses Extradition Appeal for Time magazine’s account.

[Added 5/31/12] Click on Julian Assange: The Rolling Stone Interview for background to the case.

Class difference

May 29, 2012

Double click to enlarge.

This chart by the Economic Policy Institute shows that low-scoring students in the upper 25 percent income bracket have a slightly better chance of completing college than the high-scoring students in the lower 25 percent income bracket.

Click on High scoring low-income students no more likely to complete college than low-scoring rich students for the original report, including the chart.  Hat tip for the link and chart to The Deliberate Observer.

A recent report about a Texas honor student who was jailed for skipping classes illustrates the problems some low-income people face.  The reason the student missed classes was that she was working two jobs to support her younger sister, after their parents skipped out on them.

Click on Texas honor student jailed for missing too much school for the report.  Hat tip to The Agitator for the link.

Winston Churchill’s funeral

May 27, 2012

The British knew how to honor their fallen heroes.

I remember watching some of this on TV as a young man.   And Winston Churchill as a young man served in the Boer War.   History sometimes seems very short.

Hat tip for the video link to my friend Anne Tanner.

Sometimes it really is racial profiling

May 25, 2012

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Click on Candorville for more Darrin Bell cartoons.

The ocean in motion

May 24, 2012

This time-lapse video showing the world’s ocean currents was created by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.  You can see the Gulf Stream and all the other major ocean currents.   The oceans cover three-quarters of our planet, and their dynamics are worth a look.

It makes me think about the days when sailors crossed the oceans with nothing but wind and currents to move their ships.  You can see the route that Columbus must have taken.  You can see the Triangular Trade of trade goods from New England to west Africa, slaves from west Africa to the West Indies and rum back to New England.   You can see the routes by which Thor Heyerdahl thought Polynesia might have been settled from South America.   In our age of aviation and fuel-powered ships, humans no longer depend on these currents for travel, but they still shape our weather and climate.

Click on NASA Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio for more visualizations.

Click on Perpetual Ocean for technical details about how the video was made.

Hat tip to Boing Boing.


Ecuador’s president versus the U.S. embassy

May 23, 2012

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa has closed the U.S. base in Ecuador and expelled the U.S. ambassador, while inviting Chinese investment.  According to U.S. embassy cables published by WikiLeaks, he is the most popular president in Ecuador’s history.

He survived a 2010 coup attempt.  Interviewed on Julian Assange’s The World Tomorrow program, he told Assange that the United States is the only country in the world not in danger of a military coup because it doesn’t have a U.S. embassy.  He said the U.S. embassy directly paid units of the Ecuadorian national police force, who reported to the U.S. ambassador and not to him.

He said he would welcome a U.S. base in Ecuador provided that Ecuador could establish a military base on Miami.  And he said Ecuador is actively looking for investment by China, Russia and Brazil.  If the United States depends on Chinese financing of its budget and trade deficit, he said, it can’t be wrong for Ecuador to look for Chinese financing.

The most controversial thing he has done is his crackdown on the Ecuadorian press.  When President Correa was elected in 2007, the government only operated on TV station.  His administration seized two TV stations in 2008, and has sued various journalists for defamation of character.  Journalist Emilio Palacio, along with three owners of his newspaper, El Universo, was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay a $40 million fine early in 2011.  Palacio fled the country and was last reported living in Miami.

This kind of thing is not unique to Ecuador.  Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez also has cracked down on the right-wing adversarial press in his country.

Correa defended his action to Julian Assange by saying that five of the seven newspapers in Ecuador are controlled by the big banks, and are working to undermine his administration.  They don’t tell the truth, he said; by arrangement, none of them published any of the U.S. embassy cables, revealed by WikiLeaks, that related to Ecuador.

Assange said the media companies in the United States, Britain and other countries are equally corrupt.  The solution, he said, is to break up the big media companies and make it easier for independent voices to publish, not to use the power of government to suppress freedom of the press.  I think he’s right.  I also think he could have been tougher in his interview on this issue.

I watch Assange’s The World Tomorrow because he interviews Interesting people who would never appear on American network television.  Assange is not an adversarial interviewer – more like Charlie Rose than the late Mike Wallace – and I sometimes have to do some follow-up to get the complete picture, as I did with this interview.

Click on Digital Journal for links to previous episodes and a summary of the latest episode.

Click on President versus the media in Ecuador for a critical Al Jazeera report on President Correa’s struggle with the Ecuadorian press.


Is it racist to criticize Obama?

May 23, 2012

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Click on Candorville for more Darrin Bell cartoons.

The closest thing to Star Trek’s replicator

May 22, 2012

Click on The third industrial revolution for the introduction to a series of articles in The Economist about on how 3-D printing and other advanced manufacturing techniques will level the playing field between high-wage and low-wage countries, and large and small manufacturers.

The coverup of the BP coverup

May 21, 2012

In September, 2008, a BP oil rig in the Caspian Sea had a blowout and oil spill, caused by exactly the same kind of failure as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico a year and a half later.  Yet BP executives before and after the Deepwater Horizon spill maintained that BP had a perfect safety record, and the oil spill could not have been predicted.

BBC investigative reporter Greg Palast, whose interview by Paul Jay of the Real News Network is shown above, said he got a tip about the BP spill in the Caspian Sea, and flew incognito to Azerbaijan to interview eyewitnesses.  He said he was arrested on arrival, and the eyewitnesses were scared of being interviewed on camera, but the facts were later confirmed by a State Department cable which was revealed by Wikileaks.  This was part of the batch of cables that Bradley Manning is being prosecuted for allegedly revealing.

Palast’s story was aired by the BBC and other European TV networks.  He said he provided his information to American TV networks, but they never responded.  It is interesting to speculate why.

Click on BP Covered Up Blowout and Cables Reveal BP Coverup for Greg Palast’s full report.

Click on BP Coverup, Coverup for the transcript of his Real News Network interview.

Click on Greg Palast – Investigative Reporter for Palast’s home page and continuing reporting.

[Added 6/1/12]  If Greg Palast is right, and the two BP oil spills were due solely to that company’s negligence, that means deep ocean drilling may be safe, if it is done with proper safety procedures.

Black people, poor people and welfare

May 21, 2012

We don’t hear much about poverty nowadays, partly because so many of us middle-aged, middle-class white people, including many of my fellow white liberals, think that poverty is mainly a result of the dysfunction of black families in the poor areas of big cities, and think that the answer is for them to listen to the sage advice of Bill Cosby about pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.

Maybe that’s why we don’t hear much about poverty any more, only the “struggling middle class” which, of course, really is struggling.  It is all too easy to get caught up in this.  Here’s a good article that provides a reality check.  Lots of rural white people are poor, too.

Of the 46 million people living in poverty in America in 2010, the U.S. census revealed that 31 million were white. Ten million were black. Of the 49 million people without health insurance coverage, 37 million were white; 8 million were African American. Latinos of every race and Asian Americans represented the remaining largest ethnic groups.

The face of poverty in America is overwhelmingly white, but as sociologist and professor William O’Hare explains in a 2009 study on children in poverty, the white American poor, especially those in rural areas, are “forgotten.”

White Americans, poor and middle-class alike, receive the vast majority of tax-funded government assistance programs, from monthly assistance to Social Security to food stamps.

TANF  (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), the program that provides aid to single mothers, is the most well-known welfare program, but the truth is that Social Security and Medicare are also social welfare services, funded by tax dollars. To that end, nearly 70 percent of all benefits of these programs go to white people. In fact, since African Americans have lower life expectancy, many work and pay into the Social Security and Medicare programs through their tax dollars, only to have white Americans, who have a longer life expectancy, benefit from the income they’ve left behind.

O’Hare’s research in his 2009 report “The Forgotten Fifth: Child Poverty in Rural America,” reveals that 57 percent of rural poor children were white and 44 percent of all urban poor children were white. But theirs is a story rarely told, their faces hardly seen. High poverty rates for poor and working-class whites have worsened since the 2008 economic crisis. Rural white poverty was already more systemic than urban poverty. Poor whites are more likely to lack basic education levels and remain in poverty for generations.

O’Hare found that white Americans living in rural areas benefited the least from the economic boom of the 1990s. The parents were often underemployed, and this translated into deeper poverty levels for their children.

In December 2009, the New York Times published a series of related articles showing that poor whites across Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta and through the Midwest, Deep South and Texas borderlands were the highest percentage of Americans relying on the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), or food stamp, program.

According to the New York Times, 36 million Americans relied on food stamps. More than 24 million of them were white, 8 million were African American and 6 million were Hispanic of any race.

I’m making a two-pronged argument here.   One is that poverty is not an issue of race, or rather, not just an issue of race.  African-Americans still suffer racial discrimination, which still has its apologists.  Poverty can’t be addressed on a racial basis.  It requires a high-wage, full-employment economy, such as the United States enjoyed in the 1950s and 1960s, when rates of poverty were falling, not rising.

If you have five people looking for work for every job opening, then a large number of people are going to be unemployed, no matter what.  Through your individual effort, you can increase the probability that it will be somebody else rather than yourself, but it is inevitable that somebody is going to lose out.   If you have an economy based on sorting people into winners and losers, somebody is going to be the loser.

In the current bad economy, we’re all in the same boat.  It is better to row together than to talk about who deserves to be thrown overboard.

My other argument is against the stereotype of the member of the black underclass as the representative black person.  Prejudice is to take the worst members of any group, and to attribute their sins and failures to all members of the group.  Thinking of black people in terms of poverty and social failure is a form of prejudice.

Click on Interesting Welfare Statistics for the complete article on race and welfare.

Click on Debunking the “Entitlement Society” Myth for a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities on who actually benefits from the federal government’s entitlement spending.   Non-Hispanic whites, who are 64 percent of the population, receive 69 percent of the benefits.

Click on Racial discrimination continues to play a part in hiring decisions for a report on the black and white testers who proved that being black hurts your job chances worse than having a prison record.

To be clear, I think Bill Cosby’s advice is good advice for anyone, white or black.  The greater the odds against you and the more injustice and discrimination you face, the more important it is to work hard, study and better yourself.

A year of living like a follower of Jesus

May 20, 2012

A.J. Jacobs’ book, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally As Possible, describing the author’s efforts to live by the Old Testament code, became a best-seller.  A sequel, A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on the Roof, Covering Her Head and Calling Her Husband Master, by Rachel Held Evans, is due to be published in October.

A Christian blogger named Peter Enns got to wondering what it would be like to spend a year living like a follower of Jesus.   This is what he said it would entail.

Serve God without drawing attention to yourself;

Give your possessions to those who need them, even if you do, too;

Bless people who flat out hate you and want to destroy you;

Don’t defend yourself at the drop of a hat;

Don’t stand in judgment over others at the drop of a hat;

Respond to cruelty with kindness;

Truly believe that people who absolutely creep you out are of infinite worth, and then act like it;

Don’t worry—about anything;

Control your anger and make peace with others wherever you go rather than perpetuate conflict.

If you read the Gospels straight through, there is no doubt that he is right.

Enns doubted he could live like this for a single day.  I doubt if I could, either, nor do I think that very many who claim to speak in the name of Jesus could do so, either.   As we Unitarian Universalists used to say, there is a difference between the religion of Jesus and the religion about Jesus.  Or that the most important part of the Apostles’ Creed is a commo, the one that comes between “born of the Virgin Mary” and “suffered under Pontius Pilate,” which stands for his whole life and teaching.

Click on A Year of Living Like a Follower of Jesus for Enns’ full post on his Rethinking Biblical Christianity web log.

Why is music in bars so loud?

May 19, 2012

I hardly ever go to bars anymore because the music is so loud, I can’t hear what my friends are saying.  I mourn the quiet old-time bars, where you could sit in a booth, nurse a drink and have a long conversation.

Why has music become so loud in bars?  A scientific study finds that the louder the music, the faster people drink their drinks.  Why is that?  I don’t know.  Maybe just because loud music drowns out conversation, and you can’t talk and drink at the same time.

Click on Why Loud Music In Bars Increases Alcohol Consumption for more about this theory.

Studs Terkel recites “Blessed Be the Nation”

May 19, 2012

Studs Terkel was a beloved Chicago figure who for decades did a radio program in which he interviewed the famous and the unknown from all walks of life.  He wrote oral histories, including The Good War, based on interviews with World War Two veterans, which won the Pulitzer Prize.  He died in 2008.  He would have been 100 on May 16 of this year.

The YouTube video is a clip from Chicago public radio station WBGZ with a listening calling in Studs Terkel’s recitation of a poem by Pete Seeger and Jim Musselman, taking from a 1998 tribute album dedicated to the radical singer and songwriter Pete Seeger.

Click on Studs Terkel wiki for Terkel’s Wikipedia biography.

Hat tip to Anne Tanner.

May 19, 2012

What every young man should know

From birth to 12 years in under three minutes

May 18, 2012

May 18, 2012

Why Kazakhstan matters

May 17, 2012

In the 2006 movie Borat, Sasha Baron Cohen treated the central Asian nation of Kazakhstan as an object of ridicule, a prime example of ignorance and backwardness.  But in fact Kazakhstan is emerging as a key player on the international scene.  This central Asian nation, which is larger than western Europe and borders on Russia and China, is the world’s largest producer of uranium and an important producer of oil and natural gas.  The government of Kazakhstan recently bought a 7.7 percent interest in Westinghouse Corp., one of the two major U.S. manufacturers of nuclear weapons.

President Barack Obama, in talks recently in Seoul, South Korea, conferred one-on-one with Khazakhstan President-for-Life Nursultan Nazarbayev about forging closer ties with the two countries.   The U.S. military provides aid and training for the Kazakhstan armed forces.  A consortium of American universities, including the universities of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, are advising on construction of Nazarbayev University, which will enroll 20,000 students who will be taught entirely in English.

The problem with this, as investigative journalist Allen Ruff said in an interview on the Real News Network, is that the Nazarboyev regime is one of the world’s most brutal and corrupt.  The situation he described reminded me of U.S. relations with the Shah of Iran, prior to the Shah’s overthrow in 1979.   Our government overlooked his human rights violations and encouraged his development of a nuclear energy program because he was considered a key ally and energy supplier.  All this blew up when he was overthrown.

Click on US Befriends Kazakhstan Dicator, Now World’s Largest Producer of Uranium for a transcript of the highly informative broadcast.

Click on RuffTalk for Allen Ruff’s web log.   His recent posts go into the Kazakhstan situation in great detail.  Ruff said Bill Clinton and his Clinton Foundation played a key role in helping Nazarbayev overcome U.S. objections to his Westinghouse acquisition.

Previous Post

May 17, 2012

I have great respect for many of the moral and social teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, but this is too funny to pass up and also very much to the point. Hat tip for the link to Echidne of the Snakes.


May 17, 2012

Click on Candorville for more Darrin Bell cartoons.

Should you be a liberal or conservative?

May 17, 2012

Should you be a principled old-fashioned liberal who takes up for the common people against corporate power and wealth, or should you be a principled old-fashioned conservative who takes up for the individual against the abusive power of government?

My answer is: Yes.

Surviving Guantanamo

May 16, 2012

Julian Assange on the fifth episode of his The World Tomorrow TV program interviewed Moazzam Begg, a British subject who was imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, and Asim Quereshi, a former British corporate lawyer who organized a human rights organization, Cagedprisoners Ltd., to advocate for prisoners such as Begg.

Begg lived in Kabul, Afghanistan, at the time of the 9/11 attacks, and fled to Pakistan after the U.S. invasion began.  Pakistani police arrested him in 2002 on suspicion of being a member of the Taliban, and turned him over to U.S. authorities, who imprisoned him at the secret facility near Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan and then at Guantanamo Bay.

Begg signed a confession saying that he was “armed and prepared to fight alongside the Taliban and al Qaeda against the U.S.”  He told Assange he signed the confession only after he was hog-tied and beaten, and was told that the screams of a woman in the next cell were his wife.  He was released in 2005 after lobbying by the government of the United Kingdom.  He never was charged with any crime.

Although Begg was imprisoned during the Presidency of George W. Bush, he said on the program that President Barack Obama is worse.  Bush claimed the right of “extrajudicial detention” on his own say-so.  Obama claims the right of “extrajudicial killing” on his own say-so.

The two Muslim human rights advocates also gave their views on the Caliphate, which they said would be an Arab equivalent of the European Union; jihad, which they said is merely the right of self-defense; and sharia law, which they said is more humane than is generally portrayed.  They said Osama bin Laden played a positive role in helping to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan, but bin Laden’s subsequent activities were counter-productive from the standpoint of Muslim liberation.

I don’t think that what they say on these subjects is the last word, and I wonder if they were shading their opinions to make them acceptable to a Western audience.  But their point of view is interesting, and one we Americans rarely hear.   Their arguments for closing Guantanamo Bay are based on fundamental Anglo-Americans concepts of due process of law.

Click on Digital Journal for a summary of Assange’s Episode 5 and links to previous broadcasts.

Click on CagePrisoners for that organization’s home page.

Click on Moazzam Begg wiki for Begg’s Wikipedia biography, which includes allegations about Taliban and al Qaeda activities.

Assange appears on the RT (Russia Today) network, a 24-hour English-language news network established by the government of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.  Assange said RT does not influence the topic or content of his programs.

I made minor revisions to this article a few hours after posting it.

What’s wrong with the U.S. economy

May 16, 2012

Hat tip to Making Light.