Archive for June, 2012

Five of the world’s most remarkable tall buildings

June 30, 2012

Al Bahar Towers in Abu Dhabi

Recently engineers and architects in the Chicago-based Center for Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat named the five most outstanding buildings of 2012.

They named the Al Bahar Towers in Abu Dhabi the most innovative tall building of 2012 because of its computer-controlled facade, which moves with the sun and reduces the impact of the sun’s heat by 50 percent.  The Center also named the best tall buildings of 2012 on each of the four continents.  On October 16, one of these will be named the best small building in the world in an awards ceremony.

Absolute Towers in Mississauga, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto

The Center named the Absolute Towers in Mississauga the best tall building in the Americas.  These towers, due for completion in August, are known as the Marilyn Monroe Towers because of their curves.  Each tower has one continuous balcony which spirals around it.


The wealthy criminal class

June 29, 2012

I’m currently reading a book, Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption and the Hijacking of America
by Charles H. Ferguson, the maker of “Inside Job,” the outstanding documentary movie about the Wall Street crash.

Ferguson says that the financial crises, such as the housing bubble, are the result of criminal behavior which has gone unpunished, and until people who commit crimes are sent to prison, like Ivan Boesky, Michael Milken and Charles Keating in an earlier era, the situation will not improve.  This sounds like a radical statement, but he backs up his assertions with facts and examples.

It makes me wonder about the point of the Dodd-Frank Act, which grants the government new regulatory powers, when the Bush and Obama administrations refused to use the legal authority they have.

I will post about the book when I have finished it, and digested its conclusions.  Meanwhile you can click on The Scam Wall Street Learned From the Mafia, by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone, for an example of what Ferguson was talking about.  Taibbi reported how big banks cheated American municipal and county governments out of billions of dollars by rigging bids on bond issues.  Even when they are exposed, they get off with token civil penalties, not criminal charges.  This is big news.

It is not quite right to refer to “Wall Street” banks, because that implies that the wrongdoers are all American.  This is not the case.   The practices of worst British, German and Swiss banks are at least as bad as the big U.S. banks.

“Wealthy criminal class” is an expression used by Theodore Roosevelt when he was President in the first decade of the 20th century.

Government austerity and the economy

June 29, 2012

In other recessions since World War Two, government employment was stable, and helped stabilize the economy.  Not this time.

Mike Konczal said the cutbacks are mainly a result of conservative Republican ideology, which asserts that government services are unnecessary.  Just one state, Texas, accounts for 31 percent of the loss in government jobs.  The 11 states the Republicans won in the 2010 elections account for slightly over 40 percent.  That’s a total of more than 70 percent.

Now it’s true that this recession is the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s, and it also is true that many state governments have constitutional requirements for balanced budgets.  But fewer than a quarter of the states account for more than 70 percent of public sector job cuts.   This indicates that the recession is being used as an excuse by right-wing Republicans who are hostile to public services on principle.

Click on Public Sector Layoffs and the Battle Between Obama and Conservative States for Mike Konczal’s full analysis on the Next New Deal, the blog of the Roosevelt Institute.

Click on America’s Hidden Austerity Program for more from Ben Polack and Peter K. Schott, two Yale University economists.

Hat tip for the graphic to The Big Picture.

What we died of, then and now

June 28, 2012

I am thankful I live in such an age of progress in medicine and public health.  The chart above shows the top 10 causes of death in the United States, in 1900 and 2010, as reported by the New England Journal of Medicine.  Nephropathy is kidney disease.  Cerebrovascular disease is stroke.

Infectious diseases such as diphtheria and influenza are no longer a major cause of death.  Tuberculosis has been conquered.  Alzheimer’s disease has replaced “senility.”   But diabetes is now a major cause of death.  Heart disease and cancer took more lives in 2010 than in 1900.  I don’t know how much that is due to bad diet, smoking and lack of exercise, and how much is due to the fact that more of us live long enough to die of these characteristic diseases of old age.

In all, though, I’m glad I live now rather than a century ago.

Click on The Burden of Disease and the Changing Task of Medicine for the full article.  Hat tip to Wonkblog.

The fable of the grasshopper and the lazy ants

June 27, 2012

The following is by Todd Kelly for The League of Ordinary Gentlemen group web log.

Once upon a time, my children, in a small thicket there lived a young grasshopper that liked to sing and dance all the live long day. He was a smart grasshopper, as grasshoppers go, and he came from a good and loving family. Unlike some of the other forest insects the grasshopper never wanted for much, because his parents were both good and successful.

One day a small boy trying to complete a science fair project came and put both of his parents in a glass jar, stealing them away forever. This made the grasshopper quite sad, as you might imagine. He mourned for what seemed like a proper amount of time, and then he returned to his life of singing and dancing all the live long day.

Now in this same thicket lived a very large colony of ants. They were an industrious lot, and spent all day every day toiling, working hard each day to make sure that there would be enough food for the winter – which as everyone knows arrives each year come what may. That summer after his parents had been taken away, the grasshopper would call out to the ants: “Come, ants, play with me!” The ants just scolded him and said, “If you want to succeed, you must work hard! For if you do not, what will you eat come winter?” But the grasshopper had never labored before, and as he did not think that it looked like much fun he politely declined.

Well, my children, as you know winter indeed comes to all places, and so it was for the grasshopper’s thicket. He was alright at first, but as the snows continued to fall and the months began to pile up he found himself without food, just as the ants had warned. Having no other choice, he went to the ants with hat in hand, and begged their queen for food.

Now, the queen was was wise and kind, and so agreed to feed the grasshopper. However, the queen knew an opportunity when she saw one, and she knew that the grasshopper came from old money.  “I’m feeding you now,” she said as he gorged himself on the ants’ winter larder, “but I do worry that next year another a younger ant might try to be elected queen in my place.  Perhaps you could spare just a bit of money for my reelection campaign?”  And so began a beautiful partnership.

Now the grasshopper was no fool, and once winter subsided and the first blades of grass began to poke through the thawing ground, he decided that if he did not wish to labor he would need to find a way to keep himself in the pink.  He used the money his parents had left buying the ants’ businesses, and investing the profits of those businesses with banks both far and near.  Also, once the businesses were secure, the grasshopper found that he could make more money by closing them down, and reopening them in a thicket across the pond, where food was quite scarce and those other ants would do the work for far less pay.  He was a very clever grasshopper indeed! As the year wore on, the grasshopper found that his chest of money grew until it dwarfed what his parents had earned.

Late that summer, the queen came to the grasshopper and asked for a favor. “I am glad that you are so successful in your enterprises, grasshopper!” said the queen.  “But I fear that because you are sending our supplies across the pond we are in danger of having too little food for the winter.  Might I ask you to bring some of those jobs and supplies back to this thicket, that all insects will be able to eat this winter?”

“It’s not my affair if people can’t do an honest day’s work,” scolded the grasshopper.


For the sake of clarity

June 27, 2012

Actually (since I’m an old retired guy) all I want is for all Americans to have the same opportunities I’ve had.

Hat tip to Echidne of the Snakes.

Corporate profits highest on record, wages lowest

June 27, 2012

Corporates profits are taking the largest share of the national output on record.

Wage-earners are getting the smallest share of the national output on record.

The fraction of Americans with jobs is the smallest in more than 30 years.

It does no good for corporations to do well if people aren’t doing well.  Things need to be brought back into balance.

One thing I learned in 24 years working for Gannett newspapers was that when you want to present economic data, one good chart can be worth a thousand words.  For more good charts, click on Dear America: You Should Be Mad As Hell About This and The Economy: Time for Companies to Pay Their Employees More by Henry Blodget of Business Insider, where I first saw the charts above.

Assange interviews Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali

June 26, 2012

On his latest and presumably last World Tomorrow program, Julian Assange interviewed two aging lions of the New Left, the American linguist Noam Chomsky and the Pakistan-born British activist Tariq Ali.

Americans who think of Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton as left wing ought to watch this program and see how real leftists see the world.

Assange would have recorded this program before he took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy last week.

Click on The Noam Chomsky Web Site for his home page.

Click on Tariq Ali for his home page.

Click on digitaljournal for a version without commercials, a summary and links to the previous episodes of The World Tomorrow.

What’s the matter with the Republicans?

June 26, 2012

Two of the smartest people I know are conservative Republican political science professors, but the following poll doesn’t say much for the average level of thought in the Republican Party.

Above are the results of a poll conducted by Benjamin Valentino, a political scientist at Dartmouth College, in late April and early May.

He found that an overwhelming majority of Republicans polled think it is important that the United States be the dominant power in the world, but they don’t want to increase taxes or cut social programs to pay for it.

In fact, a majority of Republicans say “none of the above” when given the choice of raising taxes on rich people, cutting military spending or cutting Social Security and Medicare in order to reduce the federal government’s annual budget deficit.  Somehow I don’t think that means they are reconciled to deficit spending.

A majority also believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the United States invaded in 2003, and that Barack Obama was born in another country.  Where does this misinformation come from?  Karl Rove?  The Koch brothers?  Glenn Beck?  Fox News?  Talk radio?  Tea Party rallies?  E-mail chain letters?

But I’ll say one thing for the Republicans, and that is that they know where they stand.

Nearly 85 percent of Republicans call themselves “conservative” or “very conservative” while fewer than 50 percent of Democrats call themselves “liberal” or “very liberal.”   That’s why the Republican leaders are conservative, but the Democratic leaders, with a few exceptions, aren’t very liberal.

Click on YouGov for the complete poll results.   There are many more interesting nuggets.

Click on A most unusual foreign policy poll for comment by Daniel Drezner, a political scientist at Tufts University.

Hat tip to Hullabaloo.

Bin Ladens built world’s tallest skyscraper

June 25, 2012

Click to enlarge.

The world’s tallest skyscraper is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, shown above.  It was built by the Bin Laden Group, a Saudia Arabian construction company founded by Muhammed bin Laden, Osama bin Laden’s dad, who began life as a penniless bricklayer.  The bin Ladens, despite their lack of royal blood, are among the wealthiest people in Saudi Arabia.

Burj Khalifa, formerly known as Burj Dubai, is 2,717 feet high, twice as high as the Empire State Building.  The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat said it is the tallest human-made structure on earth.  Burj Khalifa is 162 stories high and can be seen from 60 miles away.  Tenants have been found for only about half the space in the building.

It is ironic that the destroyer of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers should come from a family known for building, not destroying.   The Bin Ladens repudiated Osama in 1994, and the U.S. government has concluded that the Bin Laden family is not involved in al Qaeda.

The Bin Laden Group has a contract for a taller building yet, the Kingdom Tower on the Red Sea near Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.   It will be at least a kilometer high (about 6/10ths of a mile), which would make it 550 feet higher than the Burj Khalifa.  Kingdom Tower developers said that the building will have the world’s highest observation deck, a Four Seasons hotel, 59 elevators (including five double-deckers) and 12 escalators.

Eight of the world’s 10 tallest skyscrapers are in Asia; the exceptions are the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower, in Chicago, and the Empire State Building in New York City.  The skyscraper boom in Asia reflects the wealth and pride of Asian nations, just as U.S. skyscrapers of an earlier era reflected the wealth and price of the USA.   At the same time, I think there are better means to express the national competitive spirit than to build structures for which there is no economic demand.

Click on My Skyscraper’s Super Taller Than Yours for an article about the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, which keeps track of which of the world’s buildings are the tallest.

Click on The Bin Ladens for a review and summary of Steven Coll’s book on the Bin Laden family.

Pictures of the Burj Khalifa and future Kingdom Tower are below.


The individual mandale, for and against

June 24, 2012

Mitt Romney was for the individual mandate before he was against it.

Barack Obama was against the individual mandate before he was for it.

When Obama was running in the Democratic primary in 2008 against Hillary Clinton, she favored a single-payer system—essentially Medicare for everybody.  Obama as an alternative proposed what he called a public option.  Under that plan, everybody would have free choice of health insurance, but those who couldn’t get insurance, or get affordable insurance, from private companies would have the option of enrolling in a government plan open to everyone.

The public option would operate under the disadvantage of having to take the rejects of the private insurance plans.  But the advantage of the public option would be that a government plan would not have to take out 20 to 40 percent of premiums to for stockholders’ profits (financial analysts use the term “loss ratio” to describe the percentage of health insurance premiums that actually goes to medical care) nor the burden of calculating risk and deciding who to insure and for how much.  I think a public option would have been the best choice.

Once in office, though, President Obama decided to go for a national version of the health insurance plan enacted in Massachusetts when Romney was governor.  This would require everyone to buy health insurance, just as everyone has to buy automobile insurance.  In theory, this would make it possible to keep premiums down because the risk would be spread among a diverse group of people, rich and poor, healthy and sick.  I think this could be better, although I’m not sure it will be better in practice.  But the whole point of the plan is that everybody must enroll.  If you strike down the individual mandate, you no longer have a universal system—which, to my mind, is the point.

Click on What the flip flops on the individual mandate mean for Dems and Repubs for Don Taylor’s thoughts on The Reality-Based Community web log.

The individual mandate is one part of an extremely complicated law.  Click on What exactly is Obamacare and what did it change?  for a clear and objective explanation of just what is in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Click on What Is a Medical Loss Ratio? The Check Will Be in the Mail for an article in Forbes magazine about high overhead costs of for-profit insurance systems.

The best book I’ve read on the subject of health care reform is T.R. Reid’s The Healing of America, published in 2009, which examines health insurance systems of different countries and compares them to the U.S. system.  Click on It’s Not a Socialized World After All for a review of the book.  Click on Daily Kos: The Healing of America for a current comment.

Reverse psychology saves a library

June 24, 2012

Hat tip to Diane Ravich’s Blog.

Covered and uncovered

June 23, 2012

Malcolm Evans is a cartoonist for the New Zealand Herald.  Click on Malcolm Evans Cartoons for more of his work.

Bradley Manning, an American hero

June 22, 2012

This documentary, aired on Australian television last week, gives good background on the Bradley Manning case and its connection with the campaign against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.  It is 45 minutes long, but well worth watching.

To me Bradley Manning is an American hero.  He is risking his life to uphold, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.  Under any constitutional government, nobody is below the protection of the law and nobody is above the obligation to obey the law.  There is no obligation to cover up crimes simply because the criminal actions were committed by somebody above you in the chain of command.

I have heard people say that Bradley Manning has no right to reveal “our” secrets.  They aren’t my secrets.  They are secrets being kept from me.  It is not a question of revealing U.S. military secrets to the nation’s enemies.  It is a question of revealing the truth about the U.S. government’s actions to the American people, and the people of the world.

Should Julian Assange face the music?

June 22, 2012

A writer on the DailyKos web log takes defenders of Julian Assange to task for disregarding the serious charges made against him in Sweden.   I admit I haven’t taken these charges as seriously as I should have.

Normally when there are charges of rape, people on DailyKos side strongly with the victims – but not this time.  The talk here generally ignores the victims and is based on the theory that the whole thing is a setup by the prosecutor to get him illegally extradited to the US, where he’ll then face Bradley Manning-type conditions.  I could go into everything that’s wrong with this notion, but just to debunk some of the key arguments that keep coming up:

“There’s no charges against him. If they really wanted him, they’d charge him.”: Swedish law prohibits raising charges not on Swedish soil against a subject who hasn’t been given the opportunity to defend himself against the charges to be filed.

“They should just accept his offer to chat via Skype.”:  Suspects cannot dictate the terms of their questioning, a “Skype interview” isn’t at all like an actual police questioning, and as above, he can’t be charged remotely.

“The real reason they’re not charging him is because they know the charges are baseless.”:  Not only does Sweden believe the charges are not baseless, but the British court reviewing his extradition request found that there would be just cause to try him even in the UK.

“He’s just being charged with a minor crime, and the only penalty is a fine.”:  No form of rape is a “minor crime”, and while there are different categories of rape in Sweden and he’s being charged with the least severe of them, he’s still facing a sentence of up to four years.

“He’s just being charged for having sex without a condom and the girls waited days before filing charges and didn’t decide right away that it was rape.” … … The accusations are not “sex without a condom”. They’re four counts, ranging from violating the terms of consent (only consenting to sex with a condom), molestation, pinning down a subject in a sexual manner and trying to force sex, and having sex with a sleeping subject (again without a condom which the subject had made clear in their last encounter was a condition of consent – not that a sleeping individual can consent anyway).

via Daily Kos.

My reaction:

  • Just because somebody has done good things doesn’t mean they’re not capable of doing awful things.
  • Just because somebody has done good things doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be punished if they commit a crime.
  • Julian Assange, like everyone else, should stand trial if there is sufficient evidence to justify criminal charges.
  • Julian Assange, like everyone else, is entitled to the presumption of innocence unless and until he is convicted of a crime.
  • If there were no reason to fear being handed over to U.S. authorities, Julian Assange would be obligated to go to Sweden to face the charges.
  • There is in fact good reason for Julian Assange to fear being handed over, and winding up like Bradly Manning and others who’ve run afoul of the U.S. national security apparatus.
  • Julian Assange, as a target of political persecution, is fully justified in claiming political asylum in Ecuador or any other country.

Click on On Standing With the Victim, Unless the Alleged Perpetrator is Julian Assange for the full DailyKos article.

Click on 10 days in Sweden: the full allegations against Julian Assange for The Guardian’s account of the charges.

[Added Later]  To make myself clear, I have no knowledge and no opinion as to what Julian Assange did or didn’t do in Sweden.  Overall I admire Assange’s intelligence and courage, and I think he did the world a service in creating WikiLeaks.

[Added 6/25/12, updated 6/29/12]  Click on Assange, Ecuador, Rape and Sweden Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 for the view of Swedish writer Oscar Swartz, author of  A Brief History of Swedish Sex.

How elitism masquerades as meritocracy

June 22, 2012

Christopher Hayes, author of Twilight of the Elites (which I haven’t read),  wrote an article in The Nation about how systems supposedly based on merit are subverted to benefit the privileged.

Chris Hayes

Hayes was a student at the elite Hunter College High School in New York City, where admission is based on scores on a three-hour test.  In the 1990s, when Hayes attended, admission really was based on merit.  The student body was 12 percent black, 6 percent Hispanic and a large percentage the children of immigrants.

But with the rise of the test preparation industry, Manhattan’s elite sent their children cram schools charging thousands of dollars to teach how to game entrance exams.  Some consultants charged up to $90 an hour for one-on-one instruction on test-taking.  As a result of the ability of wealthy parents to game the system, Hunter High’s student body now is only 3 percent black and 1 percent Hispanic.  What happened with Hunter High is not unique, or even usual.  It is a typical example of how the privileged game the system.

Test preparation schools are contrary to the whole purpose of education.  They teach students how to pass tests without having learned anything.  They get the credential, but not necessarily the knowledge that the credential supposedly represents.

Yet I imagine the students who pass the tests through these methods think they have succeeded solely through their own individual effort and brilliance.   And because they think that, they think they have no obligation to anyone else.

Click on Why Elites Fail to read the whole article.

Click on The Age of Illusion to read an interview with Chris Hayes in Jacobin magazine.

Click on An Elite Like Any Other? Meritocracy in America for a review of Chris Hayes’ Twilight of the Elites by Mike Konczal in Dissent magazine [added 6/24/12]

The voter’s dilemma

June 21, 2012

Click on Steve Kelley | New Orleans Times Picayune for more cartoons like this.

The Julian Assange file

June 20, 2012

This is a collection of links, videos and comments about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks posted from June through December of 2012I rearranged the links and replaced dead videos on August 2, 2014.  I have to say I was wrong in my comment that the U.S. and U.K. governments had neutralized Assange and WikiLeaks.

Click on In Conversation with Julian Assange Part One and Part Two for an extended interview with Assange on his life and ideas.

Click on Conspiracy as Governance for Assange’s 2006 statement of his political philosophy.

Click on Interesting Question for Julian Assange’s old blog from 2007, which provides insight into his thinking..

Click on WikiLeaks for the WikiLeaks home page.

Click on This Day in Wikileaks for daily news updates concerning Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks.

Click on Justice for Assange for news from the Julian Assange Defence Fund’s Committee to Defend Julian Assange.

Click on Sex, Lies and Julian Assange for an investigative report by the Four Corners public affairs program of Australian’s ABC broadcasting network.

It shows that there are many questionable things about the sex charges against Julian Assange, and leaves the impression that there are good reasons why he fears being extradited to Sweden. But it doesn’t answer the question of exactly what Assange did or didn’t do to the two women he is accused of abusing.  We may never know the answer to that.  If you view the video, you probably should also view the sidebar showing an interview with Claes Borgstrom, the lawyer for Anna Ardin and Sofia Wilen, the two alleged victims.

Click on Wikileaks: the Forgotten Man for a Four Corners report on Bradley Manning.

Click on The Wikileaks Interviews for Four Corners interviews with key figures in the Bradley Manning Case.


Who gets preference on college admissions?

June 20, 2012

Daniel Golden wrote in his 2006 book, The Price of Admission, that at least a third of the students at elite American universities got special treatment in the admissions process, and the figure was at least half at liberal arts colleges.

A typical student body, according to Golden, is:

  • 10 to 25 percent children of alumni (“legacies”)
  • 10 to 15 percent minorities
  • 10 to 15 percent athletes
  • 2 to 5 percent children of potential large donors (“development cases”)
  • 1 to 3 percent children of faculty members
  • 1 to 2 percent children of politicians and celebrities.

Preferences for minorities seem to generate a lot of outrage, other preferences not so much.  Why do you think this is?

Click on Poison Ivy for a review of Golden’s book in The Economist.

Click on The Best Education Money Can Buy for a review in the Washington Post

Click on Daniel Golden’s “The Price of Admission” for a review in the University of North Carolina’s Carolina Review.

Click on A Response to Daniel Golden for a lame attempt at rebuttal in the Brown University Spectator.

I don’t think anything has changed since Golden wrote his book (which I haven’t read).  The moral I draw from these figures is that graduating from an elite university is not a guarantee of superior intellect.

I don’t favor the government interfering with admissions policies at private universities, except to forbid them to exclude people on the basis of race, religion or national origin.  I do favor restoring the state university systems so they once again can provide a good and affordable college education to anyone capable of doing college work, while rejecting the myth that you need a college education in order to be qualified for a decent job.

Hat tip to Christopher Hayes in his article Why Elites Fail.

Edited for clarity 7/9/12.

“Pakistan a hired gun to kill US enemies”

June 19, 2012

Julian Assange interviewed Imran Khan, the elected front-runner in Pakistan’s general election to be held later this year, for his The World Tomorrow TV program.  Imran Khan was a cricket star in Pakistan and then a lonely anti-corruption fighter, but now is a leader of the opposition to Pakistan’s government.

He said that, if elected, he will alter Pakistan’s relationship with the United States to a more equal one, in which U.S. forces do not have free rein to launch drone missile attacks in Pakistan.  He said the U.S. “war on terror” is counterproductive, and has inspired more terrorists than it has eliminated.

Although Assange is under house arrest in London, he manages to interview interesting and varied people all over the world, which I would never expect to see on the major U.S. TV stations.  He often, as with Imran Khan, draws on Wikileaks cables as backgrounds for his interviews.

Click on Imran Khan: Next man in? for background on Imran Khan from Al Jazeera English.

Click on Digital Journal for a written summary of Julian Assange’s interview with Imran Khan and links to previous episodes of The World Tomorrow.

The World Tomorrow is broadcast by the RT (Russia Today) network, which was started by the Russian government.  Assange said he has complete freedom to broadcast what he wishes, without checking with RT.

[Later]  Julian Assange has asked for political asylum in Ecuador to avoid being extradited from Britain to Sweden on sexual misconduct charges.  Click on Wikileaks founder seeks asylum in Ecuador for the Al Jazeera report.  Click on Assange asks Ecuador for asylum for Glenn Greenwald’s report.

Are Venezuelans better off under Chavez?

June 19, 2012

Hugo Chavez is running for a third term as President of Venezuela in an election to be held Oct. 7.   Last week Al Jazeera English held a panel discussion on whether the radical left-wing President has done a good job.  The verdict was generally favorable.  One panelist didn’t think Chavez is radical enough—a view I wouldn’t expect to hear on U.S. television.

The panelists concluded that poor Venezuelans have better access to jobs, schooling, health care and housing under the administration of President Hugo Chavez than they would otherwise have.  But they note that Venezuela is troubled by a high inflation rate, a high rate of violent crime and excessive dependence on its oil industry.  Moreover, they say, Chavez’s Bolivarian movement is organized around the cult of Chavez’s personality, and might collapse if Chavez, because of ill health or for other reasons, might leave the scene.

They did not discuss Chavez’s deplorable human rights record, including his attacks on freedom of the Venezuelan press, which he said is controlled by the wealthy oligarchy which seeks his overthrow.  That is a problem in many countries, for which I don’t have a good answer, although I come down on the side of freedom of the press.

The ideal would be to have newspapers and broadcasters with diverse ownership—some owned by corporations, some by labor unions and farmers’ cooperatives, some by political parties, some by universities and the church.  But I don’t see a practical path to that ideal, and I’m not sure how stable the situation would be once achieved.

I think of Chavez as a Latin American equivalent of Louisiana’s Huey Long—a brass knuckle populist and demagogue  who has done a lot to improve the lives of ordinary people, but with little regard for due process of law or democratic procedures.  Concentration of arbitrary power into the hands of a single individual is a bad idea, even when the person uses the power for good, because some other individual can and probably will use that power to wipe out the good the first person has done.  But, like Huey Long, Chavez probably is no worse than his opponents.

Click on World Report 2012: Venezuela for Human Rights Watch’s report on Hugo Chavez’s bad human rights record.

New links: Why Elites Fail, etc.

June 19, 2012

Anybody who finds my posts interesting should find the items in my links menus even more interesting.  Here are some recent additions to those menus.


Why Elites Fail Christopher Hayes, author of the newly-published Twilight of the Elites, attacks the myth of meritocracy.  Elite groups have learned to rig the system in their own favor, but yet convince themselves and others that they deserve their privileges.

Malcolm Gladwell Unmasked: a Look at American’s Most Successful Propagandist  The best-selling writer Malcolm Gladwell is exposed as a shill for Enron, Wall Street, the tobacco industry and the drug industry.

The problem with performance pay. A former high-ranking Australian government official writes that so-called “performance pay” undermines morale and teamwork, and enables managers to evade their responsibilities.

The forgetting pill: How a new drug can ease your worst memoriesA writer for UK Wired tells of a new drug by which people can erase unwanted memories, much like in the movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” but skips over the Orwellian implications.  Hat tip to Bill Hickok.

Articles of lasting interest

Clayton Christensen: How Will You Measure Your Life?   Christensen, described by a New Yorker writer as “the most influential business thinker on earth,” writes about how businesses fail through looking at marginal cost rather than total cost, and why it is easier to stick by your principles 100 percent of the time rather than 98 percent of the time.

Dimitry Orlov: Sustainable living as religious observanceOrlov is a Russian-born American citizen who believes that the United States is on the verge of collapse for many of the same reasons the old Soviet Union collapsed. Although apparently not a religious person himself, he argues that history shows religion can hold societies together when their political and economic systems are broken.

Good blogs

Ask Old Jules | the Hermit in the Hill CountryA blogger in the Texas Hill Country responds to readers’ questions with wit and wisdom.

Cop in the Hood.   Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore City police officer who now teaches police science at City University of New York, provides thoughtful commentary on law enforcement.

Diane Ravitch’s blog: a site to discuss better education for allA long-time writer on education issues and a critic of progressive education, Ravich now defends teachers and public schools against corporatized school “reform”.

Democrats, demographics and political destiny

June 19, 2012

Gary Segura, writing in Democracy Journal, looks to demographic changes, especially the growth in the U.S. Hispanic population, to save the Democratic Party.

When Barack Obama is almost certainly re-elected this November, Latinos will have played a decisive role in crucial swing states like Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, and Florida, and even in states where their population share is smaller.  Latinos should comprise just under 10 percent of the national electorate this year, compared with just 5.4 percent in 2000 and 3.7 percent in 1992.  At 15 percent of the national electorate by 2024 (a conservative estimate), and concentrated in several large-population states, Latino political power will have moved Arizona firmly into the Democratic column in the next decade and will eventually have created a chance for Democrats to carry Texas.

Republicans nationally receive 85 percent of their votes from white voters by capturing between 55 and 60 percent of their ballots in each election.  This margin, coupled with just enough votes from minorities, may be sufficient to eke out victories in the near term. But with the demographic decline of white voters, even 60 percent of that cohort will be a poor start when it comprises just two-thirds of the electorate in 2024; 60 percent of two-thirds would net the GOP just 39.6 percent of the national vote. Republicans must improve their standing with minority voters to remain competitive over the next century.

Can the GOP respond?  In the short run, I don’t think so.  Race played a critical role in the formation of the GOP coalition and is the principal reason that working-class white males, particularly in the South, have been so willing to embrace the party despite its economic policies.  To remove race and its rhetoric from Republican politics would serve to make the party more welcoming to minority voters but would also eliminate the primary claim the party makes in attracting those working-class whites.

via Gary Segura for Democracy Journal.

Actually, Hispanic voters are becoming disillusioned with President Obama.  That is why he is trying to appease them with his executive order forbidding deportation of certain categories of unauthorized immigrants who were brought to this country as a child.

The larger problem is that the reason that neither the Democratic nor the Republican leaders have policies that would move the nation from war and recession to peace and prosperity.  That is why Democrats and Republicans rely on group loyalty to appeal, respectively, to Hispanics and working-class non-Hispanic whites.

Click on The Browning of America for Gary Segura’s complete article.

Click on The Democrats’ Demographic Dreams for a critique.  [Added 6/20/12]

Click on President Obama bristles when he is the target of activist tactics he once used for details about how discontented Hispanic leaders pressured Obama on immigration policy.

Click on Yes, Barack Obama Thinks We’re Stupid (Immigration Edition) for more on the politics of President Obama’s new immigration policy.  [Added 6/20/12]

Why I’m glad I’m not a young person today

June 18, 2012

It’s no wonder so many young people today prefer to focus on the virtual world of Twitter, Facebook and the other social media.  The real world is bleak.

The unemployment rate for workers age 16 to 24 is higher than 16 percent.  And many of those who are working take any job they can get, just to get by.

The cost of college tuition is going through the roof.

But things are rough if you’re just a high school graduate.

No wonder so many young people are still living with their parents.

My parents gave me a better world than the one they grew up in.  I am leaving those who come after me a world with less opportunity than I had.

Click on These Charts Show How Desperate Young People Are For Jobs for more charts and background information.

Click on The young and the jobless for more charts and background information.

Click on Diminishing Returns for a report on the plight of college graduates by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

What Old Jules knows beyond a doubt

June 17, 2012

Old Jules is the handle of a man in the Texas Hill Country who has two web logs, So Far From Heaven, a daily diary, and Ask Old Jules, in which he responds to questions.  Here’s one of his posts from Ask Old Jules, which is one of the links on my Good Blogs menu.

Old Jules, what do you know without any doubt?

Old Jules

1] A person can’t go wrong accepting full responsibility for his/her entire life and every facet of it.

2] A person can’t go wrong ever by forgiving himself/herself and everything else connected to his/her life, including life for being what it sometimes is.

3] A person will love life better if he/she can manage to be grateful for everything about it. The good, the bad and the ugly.

via Ask Old Jules | the Hermit in the Hill Country.