Monday, November 17, 2008

6 Myths about the Big 3 auto makers

This is a really great article:

The debate over aid to the Detroit-based automakers is awash with half-truths and misrepresentations that are endlessly repeated by everyone from members of Congress to journalists. Here are six myths about the companies and their vehicles, and the reality in each case.

Myth No. 1

Nobody buys their vehicles.


General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC sold 8.5 million vehicles in the United States last year and millions more around the world. GM outsold Toyota by about 1.2 million vehicles in the United States last year and holds a U.S. lead over Toyota of about 560,000 so far this year. Globally, GM in 2007 remained the world's largest automaker, selling 9,369,524 vehicles worldwide -- about 3,000 more than Toyota.

Ford outsold Honda by about 850,000 and Nissan by more than 1.3 million vehicles in the United States last year.

Chrysler sold more vehicles here than Nissan and Hyundai combined in 2007 and so far this year.

Myth No. 2

They build unreliable junk.


The creaky, leaky vehicles of the 1980s and '90s are long gone. Consumer Reports recently found that "Ford's reliability is now on par with good Japanese automakers." The independent J.D. Power Initial Quality Study scored Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Ford, GMC, Mercury, Pontiac and Lincoln brands' overall quality as high or higher than that of Acura, Audi, BMW, Honda, Nissan, Scion, Volkswagen and Volvo.

Power rated the Chevrolet Malibu the highest-quality midsize sedan. Both the Malibu and Ford Fusion scored better than the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.

Myth No. 3

They build gas-guzzlers.


All of the Detroit Three build midsize sedans the Environmental Protection Agency rates at 29-33 miles per gallon on the highway. The most fuel-efficient Chevrolet Malibu gets 33 m.p.g. on the highway, 2 m.p.g. better than the best Honda Accord. The most fuel-efficient Ford Focus has the same highway fuel economy ratings as the most efficient Toyota Corolla. The most fuel-efficient Chevrolet Cobalt has the same city fuel economy and better highway fuel economy than the most efficient non-hybrid Honda Civic. A recent study by found that the Chevrolet Aveo subcompact is the least expensive car to buy and operate.

Myth No. 4

They already got a $25-billion bailout.


None of that money has been lent out and may not be for more than a year. In addition, it can, by law, be used only to invest in future vehicles and technology, so it has no effect on the shortage of operating cash the companies face because of the economic slowdown that's killing them now.

Myth No. 5

GM, Ford and Chrysler are idiots for investing in pickups and SUVs.


The domestic companies' lineup has been truck-heavy, but Toyota, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz and BMW have all spent billions of dollars on pickups and SUVs because trucks are a large and historically profitable part of the auto industry. The most fuel-efficient full-size pickups from GM, Ford and Chrysler all have higher EPA fuel economy ratings than Toyota and Nissan's full-size pickups.

Myth No. 6

They don't build hybrids.


The Detroit Three got into the hybrid business late, but Ford and GM each now offers more hybrid models than Honda or Nissan, with several more due to hit the road in early 2009.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Five problems with our legal system:

1) Bad Laws- Bad laws, whether they reflect and outdated mode of thinking or are just plain stupid contribute to a lack of popular support. They weaken the moral authority of the law as well as encourage citizens to ignore or circumvent the law. I've given three examples, but I've tried to stay away from laws that are obviously racist/sexist/homophobic. Unless you're a racist, sexist or homophobe I think it's safe to say we all disagree with those laws (mandatory minimums discrepancy for crack/powdered cocaine, sodomy laws, etc.);
  • Marijuana is illegal. As long as a completely harmless and immensely popular intoxicant is grounds for hard time, we're going to be putting an unnecessary and extreme burden on our law enforcement.
  • Cash in excess of 10,000 is illegal to carry. Of course, even if you can prove that the search used to find the money was illegal, or that the money wasn't at all drug related, the US can still just sue the money. Since money isn't a citizen, it doesn't have the same rights you do and the rules that the prosecution plays by get real loose real fast.
  • Identification is required almost across the board in the United States. This is less on the written law side (though Hiibel v. Sixth set the standard that a state could make it illegal to refuse to ID yourself if you're detained for a crime), but in practice not carrying an ID is almost guaranteed to get you a visit to the local precinct if you're stopped, even on suspicion without hard evidence. Seriously cracking down and stopping this will go a long way to rid Police Officers of the mindset that their responsibilities and authority lies beyond just the law.
2) Inefficient Law Enforcement- Our law enforcement is silly, wasteful and abusive. To ensure the safety of the citizens of the United States, we need to start cutting costs and stopping abuses of power;
  • There exists an overemphasis on traffic laws and drugs in United States law enforcement. Funding and manpower that should be used keeping citizens safe and good laws enforced is being misallocated in massive amounts.
  • Getting rid of the "Blue Shield of Silence" is vital. I've spoken in length about this before so I won't elaborate here.
  • There aren't sufficient checks or balances for local law enforcement. Even without a "Blue Shield" where internal affairs officers and whistle blowers are demonized, hated and punished for their work, local officers have far too much leeway in terms of power of search and seizure, which of course bleeds over into other law enforcement.
3) Overcrowded and Underfunded Prisons- With so many prisoners from bad laws and bad law enforcement, as well as innocent prisoners who are working on appeals or have fallen through the cracks, it's important that we ensure that the human rights of the prisoners are maintained while keeping the prisons secure. We won't be able to do this with the number of prisoners we have now;
  • There are far too many prisoners. 1 in 131 US citizens is in prison. That means for every 132 people, 131 of them has to pay $22,650 per year for the fourth person to be incarcerated.
  • Prison rape rates are ridiculous. At least 140,000 people are raped in prison every year. For comparison, there are 272,350 rape cases each year outside of prisons. 1/132nd of the population has more than half of the rape cases of the rest of the country.
  • The current prison structure generates artificially low standards of performance by keeping closed doors, closed books and punishing both officers and inmates who criticize the administration. Protections for these whistle blowers are vital for a prison to successfully incarcerate prisoners.
4) Misplaced Burden of Proof- The concept of "Innocent until proven guilty" is an powerful and necessary one that we've placed less and less emphasis on as communications technology exponentially improves. We need to keep the laws up to date with the technology to keep this precept in place;
  • Pedophilia is such a grotesque and horrific crime that we often overlook lack of evidence and skip right to judgement. In "at will" states, employment is often terminated at even an accusation, especially in the case of religious or educational institutions.
  • Spousal abuse is another such crime. Often the guilt of the husband will be assumed in these cases with just an accusation and he'll spend the night in jail before being able to post bail the next day (if he's able to post at all). This is regardless of the actual evidence at hand.
  • Public nudity and other "sexual crimes" that include consensual public intercourse and public urination often result in the offender being placed on a sexual predator list or database which is accessible online, even if the offense was completely innocuous. Imagine peeing on a tree and being thrown out of your house because it happens to be within 5 miles of a school.
5) Poor Appeals System- Without a way to appeal the decision of a court, you are completely at the mercy of the Judge, Jury and Lawyers you're dealing with. All too often one or more of these entities have a prejudice, predisposition or conflict of interest, or evidence is found that exonorates the convict, or any number of events unfold that come to light only after the conviction. Our current appeals system seems to have more cracks than the
  • Recently you may have read about Louisiana's appeals denial- Jarrold Peterson, an aid appointed by Chief Judge Edward Dufresne to review appeals request (he handled over 2400 of these cases) committed suicide. The note he left said he killed himself because of overwhelming guilt.
    "He said Dufresne had instructed him to deny every appeal not prepared by an attorney. Peterson said he was instructed to write up and file the denials without ever showing the appeals to the judges"
  • The Texas conviction overturn rate demonstrates exactly why our appeals system needs to be better. Over 30 cases have been overturned since 2001, including several death row cases and life sentences. Troy Anthony Davis had seven of his 9 witnesses recant (and claim that one of the final two was the real criminal, but he has now disappeared and police are not looking for him), but Georgia still denied his appeal. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals saved his life by less than three days.
  • Appeals results are almost directly determined by the amount of money a citizen has.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Matt Taibbi brings the thunder

Okay, so Taibbi has his faults, but read this interview and tell me you don't feel like clapping when you get to this part;

M.T.: What a surprise that you mention Franklin Raines. Do you even know how a CDS works? Can you explain your conception of how these derivatives work?


B.Y.: When you refer to "Phil Gramm's Commodities Future Modernization Act," are you referring to S.3283, co-sponsored by Gramm, along with Senators Tom Harkin and Tim Johnson?

M.T.: In point of fact I'm talking about the 262-page amendment Gramm tacked on to that bill that deregulated the trade of credit default swaps.

Tick tick tick. Hilarious sitting here while you frantically search the Internet to learn about the cause of the financial crisis — in the middle of a live chat interview.

Hilarious! This guy, Byron York, is a conservative pundit who doesn't know what he's talking about. Matt Taibbi calls him out about it and the guy can't respond.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Conservative Media and the Propaganda Push

American media is dominated by conservatives. The majority of news outlets are owned by the conglomerates Disney, CBS, TimeWarner, General Electric, and of course Rupert Murdoc's 'News Corporation', the most extreme example. The only voices in the public media are from the mouths of those who can afford it. Unless you're rich enough to pay the price, you can't have the ear of the public which, of course, leads to ideas that benefit only the wealthy (trickle down economics is the most biting example, being a philosophy that literally consists of giving more money to the wealthy and nothing else). This, of course, passes onto thier political donations. Rupert Murdoc donates massive amounts of money to the Republican party as does Richard Parsons, CEO of Time-Warner.

Fox News is the most striking example of extreme conservative bias. They often lie to their audience and cover their legal liability by adding a question mark at the end. I know it's not a news outlet, but watch this segment from the Daily Show. If you like, turn the sound off and just watch the Fox footage. It's pretty telling.

The website is for the organization "Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting". They had a really great article up written by John K. Wilson called "The Myth of Pro-Obama Media Bias". It reports that Obama has, in fact, received more coverage but the coverage has been very negatively stilted. Contrariwise, McCain's coverage has avoided the same type of negative coverage (the example Mr. Wilson gives are many, this being one of them; "Obama’s distant acquaintance with Bill Ayers (whose role in the 1960s’ Weather Underground Obama has condemned) became the basis of absurd accusations of “terrorist” connections, while the press ignored McCain’s trumpeting the endorsement of Oliver North, whose Iranian-financed Contra war killed far more innocents than ’60s radicals ever did.") Addionally, the disparity in media coverage has been shown in the past to be fairly non-partisan ("Measuring the first six months of each election year, Democratic challenger Michael Dukakis got only 32 percent of the coverage garnered by then-Vice President George H.W. Bush in 1988; incumbent Bill Clinton got only 28 percent of the coverage Republican challenger Bob Dole got in 1996. Incumbent George W. Bush got 85 percent as much coverage as Democratic Sen. John Kerry in 2004—the closest thing to parity in early campaign coverage since Tyndall has been keeping track.").

Why, then, do we constantly hear about the media's radical left-wing tendancies and their extreme liberal bias? Well, my guess would be that you hear it because the actual media (not this nonexistant straw-media that's been fabricated as a dummy to easily attack) creates and propagates the myth.

I'll leave you with just a few of the screenshots of extreme-right bias in Fox News. This took about 5 minutes of Googling to find, by the way;

The Republican party is still the party of racism

"We don't want (Hispanics) to become the new African-American community," Lima told The Associated Press. "And that's what the Democratic Party is going to do to them, create more programs and give them handouts, food stamps and checks for this and checks for that. We don't want that."

"I'm very much afraid that the Democratic Party is going to do the same thing that they did with the African-American culture and make them all dependent on the government and we don't want that," she said.

Didi Lima (pictured left), a Republican spokeswoman for a large county in Nevada and co-chair of McCain's Nevada Hispanic Leadership Team (or ex-co-chair, after these remarks) just stated what you can hear Rush Limbaugh or Michael Savage spouting. The time of Republican double talk is quickly coming to a close as the free media on the internet inspires major news organizations to actually report the news, instead of sensationalize current events for entertainment value.

I feel obligated to post this part of the article as well;
"Didi Lima is no longer a part of this campaign, her comments don't reflect Senator McCain's beliefs and are not tolerated on his campaign," McCain spokesman Rick Gorka said after learning about her remarks.
Of course, the article also says;
The chairman of the Republican Party in New Mexico's most populous county resigned Thursday, nearly a week after saying "Hispanics consider themselves above blacks" and won't vote for Obama.
And, of course, let's not forget McCain's own words.
"I hate the gooks...I will hate them as long as I live."
There's no doubt which party gets the vote of racists across the country.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Blue Shield of Silence

To establish that there are, in fact, many corrupt police officers in the United States I'd like to cite some examples;

Last Tuesday a 92 year old woman was shot and killed by Atlanta Police officers.Kathryn Johnson was alone in her home waiting with her gun on Tuesday night when a group of plainclothes officers with a warrant knocked down her door searching for drugs, police said.

She opened fire, wounding three officers before she was shot to death.

Assistant Police Chief Alan Dreher called the killing "tragic and unfortunate" but said the officers were justified in returning fire.
A Teton County, Idaho family is outraged after they say a sheriff's deputy tried to murder their dog in their own front yard.

The Barboza family has owned their dog Bobby for five years. A few days ago they say a Teton County Idaho Sheriff's Deputy knocked on their door demanding to see the dog.

Leonel Barboza, Dog Owner: "He says, 'I'm here to put him down. I'm here to kill him.'"

The officer told Leo Barboza there had been a complaint Bobby had bitten someone.

Barboza: "I said, 'Do you have any proof or anything?' He says, 'I don't need any proof.'"
The city of Seattle has agreed to pay $185,000 to a man who filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit against the police department after he was beaten, kicked and arrested by officers outside a Capitol Hill nightclub in 2005, according to court documents and an informed source.
A photograph of Alley-Barnes taken in the jail shows him with blood running down his swollen face. An internal investigation later showed that an officer also rammed the handcuffed Alley-Barnes' face into a wall at the police precinct.

Alley-Barnes was charged with assaulting an officer and interfering, but the case was dismissed because the city failed to turn over the video from the arrest.,0,2906787.htmlstory
• Nearly every shooting in last decade 'justified'
• Investigations ignore witnesses, forensics
• Shot-in-back findings raise questions

On a summer night in 2003, two patrol cars pulled over a driver in front of his South Side home for running a stop sign. Thinking police had chased the car earlier that night, four officers drew their guns and ordered the driver out.

The man's mother screamed from the sidewalk: "He can't walk! He's paralyzed! He can't get out of the car!"

When one officer thought the driver raised a gun, he opened fire, shooting the driver five times before reloading and shooting him once more.

Eight hours later, as Cornelius Ware, a 20-year-old paraplegic who drove by pushing the pedals with a wooden cane, lay gravely wounded in the hospital, police supervisors cleared the officer of any wrongdoing.
She [the investigator] also took no notes, she said, committing each witness statement to memory and sometime later recording those words in what would become the main report on the shooting.

Three of Ware's brothers who witnessed the shooting -- a 15-year-old and 13-year-old twins -- all told detectives at the scene that their brother had his hands up.

VanWitzenburg could not be reached for comment.
A cop shoots a Veteran complying with orders.

An Albany woman was stopped for no apparent reason, then, with no apparent probable cause, was subjected to a humiliating public search for drugs in which an officer inserted two fingers into her vagina. They also seized her cell phone, and made a random call to one of her contacts, again without a warrant or probable cause. They found no drugs.

The woman filed a complaint, but it was never forwarded to the city’s civilian review board, whose entire purpose is to investigate complaints against the police. The police chief explained that the police aren’t required to forward every complaint to the board, particularly if the complainant requests that it not be, as the chief says happened in this case. This apparently came as a surprise to the city councilman who actually wrote the review board legislation.

As for the woman not wanting her complaint forwarded to the review board, that’s apparently because an internal affairs officer “persuaded” her to let the complaint be handled internally.

Okay, so there are some bad apples. That's not really the point of contention here, as it's a sentiment almost universally accepted. My friend Chris, when we spoke about this the other night, made a good point. Why penalize or even criticize the majority of police officers for the actions of a fringe minority? After all, if we want police officers to be trained from a pool of civilians (and, as a free society, we definitely do), then there's going to be roughly the same level of corruption and crime as the average civilian community. The problem doesn't really stem from the criminal behavior itself, but rather what happens after the crime.

In other words, the complaint against the police officers is that they cover up and lie about criminal actions of other police officers. Take a look at this case:
A man named Al Unser is arrested and charged, but according to both him and an officer named Sam Costales, the police "were rude to him, refused to tell him why he couldn’t drive home, then pulled him out of his car and tossed him into a thorn bush before arresting him for resisting arrest". Officer Costales testified as such in court, and as a result Al Unser was released, cleared of all charges.

That's how the system is supposed to work with bad apples. Unfortunately, the officers in question were never investigated or even under suspicion of wrong doing. Constales, however, was. The charge was "improperly wearing his uniform while testifying in court". This is particularly cruel when you read that Constales retired three years prior to this event, because he has witnessed too much corruption for him to handle, and was asked back when the police department needed personel very badly. The head of the Police Union in Albuquerque sent a letter to the Bernalillo County Sheriff, which read;
As Secretary of the APOA i feel it is my duty and responsibility to apologize to you and your officers. Ofc. Sam Costales does not represent APD/APOA. The majority of our officers look at the BCSO as our brother and sisters in blue. We are embarrassed and ashamed of Ofc. Costales’s testimony in the Unser trial. If there is anything we can do to rebuild the damage caused by Sam please let me know.
If we continue to let this happen, this "Blue Shield of Silence" threatens to remove any civil protections we have left against police who continue to conduct no knock warrants in which civilians die, execute household pets with no oversight and falsly charge innocent civlians with crimes they did not commit.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Voter Disenfranchisement

In 2000, there were many, many reports of voter disenfranchisement (see here and here for more details). I just read an article in the Michigan Messenger (found here) saying that in the elections, the Republican Party are compiling a list of houses that have been foreclosed on, and putting “election challengers” at the polling stations to ensure that no one from those addresses can vote. On the surface, it's somewhat offensive, but you can see that the law allows it because the idea is to ensure no one's voting from defunct addresses.

Looking deeper, however, you'll see that most of the houses that have been foreclosed on are still inhabited; the people inside are either refinancing or trying to work a deal out with the owners of the debt. Of course, this is only being done in Democratic districts which are mostly lower class and minority districts.

Party chair for Republicans in Genessee County Denise Graves admitted that the Republican party is "gearing up for a comprehensive voter challenge campaign," indicating a wider based strategic attack against middle and lower class voters in Michigan (which is archetypal of the Republican party nationally).

Finally, and what I find most troubling, is the following (which is sourced in the document I linked at the beginning of the post);
McCain’s regional headquarters are housed in the office building of foreclosure specialists Trott & Trott. The firm’s founder, David A. Trott, has raised between $100,000 and $250,000 for the Republican nominee.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Protesters at the RNC get beat like they stole something

I'll start off with what I think is the best summation of events with a CNN link and a short quote from the article;
The protesters were noisy but peaceful as they approached the convention. Once they arrived, a police officer read an order to disperse, CNN reporters on the scene said.

But almost immediately, officers along the exit route opened fire with gas and projectiles. In one instance, a CNN producer said, an officer stepped out of line to hit a young woman with pepper spray as she ran for the exit.
Amy Goodman is a well known reporter who was covering the RNC when she got a call about the police arresting her producers. They're beaten by the police, and when she tries to stop and explain that they're journalists. She's thrown to the ground, her press jacket and press credentials are taken from her and she and the producers are charged with "inciting a riot". Video interview

In the interview, she mentions the Police Raid of Protester's Headquarters, so I think it would be appropriate to talk about that along with the actual brutality. The Police use a warrant, the cause of which "is not public at this time," to disrupt plans for protests, then accuse them of making plans for violent and illegal action against RNC delegates (accusations that weren't verified by the raid and were later withdrawn on the basis of not having a shred of evidence), then charge the organization with a violation of city fire code.

Here's a journalist who was shot with tear gas point blank in the face.

It's not just the journalists and protest leaders getting thier shit kicked, either. Read this;
My 17-yr-old son, Keith, was attacked by a group of police officers last night, September first, while peacefully attending a protest at the Republican National Convention. He was reaching into his backpack to hand a man a lighter when 5 police officers leveled him to the ground, beat the crap out of him, and arrested him. They told him that he is facing three criminal charges, one of which is a felony. They did not read him his rights. They did not give him a phone call. They searched his person and his belongings without his consent. They destroyed his shirt and put holes in his pants when they took him down. They took his belongings and did not return everything when they released him. He was so bloody at the time of the event that the officers covered his torso with someone else's shirt. I hope all the blood on that shirt is only his! The emergency room personnel were very understanding and kind and I'll be going to the records division of the hospital tomorrow to get copies of the records and the ER photos. You can go to my pictures to see the damage.

Be careful out there.


The pictures on his Mom's Myspace give you a better idea about how badly he was beaten. This is a 17 year old pacifist, who was hospitalized by the police. Disgusting.

Sarah Palin, Jeremiah Wright and the conservative media

There's a great article in the Monthly Review entitled Jeremiah Wright in the propaganda system. I really recommend reading it, if only for the fun coverage facts with Wright vs. other extreme and controversial preachers and how the media treats them (take a look at the table following).

This raises an interesting question because Palin is extremely religious and asserts that her political views are "God's will". Take this speech, for example; Palin is at her old Church and asserts, among other things that "God's will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that Gas Line built" and that "our national leaders are sending [our soldiers] on a task that is from God". Where's the coverage here? Where's the controversy from those statements? I guess as long as it's not a liberal African American saying it, it's not that bad.

Update: Watch This.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Obama's Gustav Donation Drive

Obama is known for his "grass-roots" internet support. Most of his money comes from middle class private citizens who donate over the internet, mostly in amounts of 200 or more, but often just 10-50 dollars. He sent out another email today, which I was expecting to be another request for money. It was, but not in the way that you'd guess. Hurricane Gustav is set to shear through Louisiana and parts of Texas and Obama sent an email out, to his most lucrative support base, asking them to donate to the Red Cross. Here's the text of it;

Jonathan --

Today, the thoughts and prayers of all Americans are with those in the path of Hurricane Gustav -- and many of you are asking what you can do to help.

We do not yet know what the impact of Hurricane Gustav will be, and we hope with all our hearts that the damage will not be as great as it was three years ago.

But we know there will be damage, and there is something you can do right now.

Your financial support will strengthen organizations like the American Red Cross that are evacuating Gulf Coast residents and planning to help communities get back on their feet.

Make a donation to support the American Red Cross today.

At times like this, it is our compassion and resilience that define who we are as a nation.

Please give whatever you can afford, even $10, to make sure the American Red Cross has the resources to help those in the path of this storm:

Thank you for your generosity, and I hope you will join Michelle and me in praying for the safety of those in the path of the storm and the first responders who are doing all they can to ensure the safety of their communities.

Wow. I honestly did not imagine this from any politician. I'd be very surprised if John McCain would go to his largest support base, corporate lobbies, and ask them to donate money for Gustav support.

Anyways, Obama is too much of a class act to put his own donation links in an email like that, but I'm kinda trashy so here it is:

Saturday, August 30, 2008

We're Finally Leaving

The US will have all combat troops out of Iraq by next June and all remaining forces out by 2011.

This is obviously great news for everyone interested in stopping the war and it's cost to Americans in lives and tax payer money. The interesting thing about this is how it's being spinned by the Bush Administration. They're keeping media coverage (as best they can) to a minimum, and after all that bluster about not wanting to "cut and run" and that the democrats all want us to lose in Iraq I understand why. I can't imagine voting for any of these people, and I'm at a loss as to why others do.

Sarah Palin

So, McCain's chosen Sarah Palin as his VP. Sarah is best known for being the Governor of Alaska (the State which is the 48th least populated and has the least population per kilometer, .48) for two years, one of which she took off. She's also been the mayor of a small town of 5,000 for five years before that and she won a beauty contest once. If you're not sure if Barack Obama has the experience to be President, why would you choose her as a running mate?

Here are some tidbits about Palin that turned me right off to her;

Sarah Palin doesn't know what the VP actually does.
She supports teaching Creationism in public schools.
She wants to overturn Roe V Wade.
She wants to ban gay marriages.

Of course, my resources are extremely limited as the Republicans choose a conservative who will fully support all conservative stances without actually having a record to run on.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Israel and Human Rights- Bulldozing Houses

Some links:
Human Rights Watch in Israel/Palestine
B'Tselem (Israeli Human Rights Organization)
Wikipedia Summary
Israel Factbook
Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions

Israel is a country couched in controversy, and not without reason. Since 1947 when the UN displaced Palestinians in order to create what we now know as Israel, the violence between the Arab states and the Jewish settlers has escalated. It didn't start there, though, so let's back up to the earliest I can look up on Wikipedia; the Jebusites were settled in Jerusalem (capital of modern day Israel) until 1000 BCE when, according to Hebrew religious records (with some architectural evidence supporting the account) King David invaded and took the City (this is the beginning of Jewish tradition in the region).

300 or so years later, the Assyrians took it over, followed by the Babylonians. 50 years after the Babylonians gained control of Israel Cyrus the Great, a Persian king, allowed the Jews to return and rebuild their lost temple in Jerusalem. Alexander the Great then came along, and the area now referred to as Israel (then called Judah) fell under Greek, Roman then Byzantine dominion until in 638 when the Islamic Caliphate claimed it for their own (this was the start of Islamic control of the area, which did not change until 1947). Richard conquered Jerusalem (and Saladin then took it back), then the Ottomans took control until 1917 when the British took control and partitioned the area into two parts, Israel and Palestine. Well, the Arabs in the area didn't like that at all, so they picked a bit of a fight with Israel and, by most accounts, lost. The newly formed boundaries lasted until 1967 Egypt called for Arabs to "unite against Israel". Well, Israel didn't wait for them do to so, and struck first. After just six days the opposing forces were defeated and Israel ended up with, among other territories, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Sinai Peninsula.

So, that established what are called "the '67 Borders", which pretty much speaks for itself. In 1972, a group of Palestinian terrorists massacred a group of Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich, which was followed by a 1973 war (Syria and Egypt launched an attack against Israel on Yom Kippur, the Holiest Jewish Holiday), which lasted only 20 days before Israel emerged victorious. Up until this point, Israel has been, for the most part, blameless.

Now we come to the part where Israel loses the moral high ground. In the early 1980's, Israel begins to take certain measures to stop attacks by Palestinians that go beyond conventional counter-terrorism. The most notable example, as well as the most easily proven, is Israel's house demolition policy. There were mass detentions and deportations (and the legal system in Palestine still isn't the model of Just action) as well, but there are enough examples and enough damage is done by the demolition that I'll try to concentrate on that.

So here's the ideal scenario for Israel; a terrorist attacks either the IDF or (worse) an Israeli civilian. They find the person's house and destroy it, leaving any family members, friends or other relatives homeless. That might not get across the devastation caused so let me explain; the Palestinian people are generally poor. They can't really all afford a home to themselves, so they often share with 4-5 (at least) other occupants. In the summer, Jerusalem can get above 100 (record high is 111.2 degrees) and in the winter it can get below freezing (record low is 19 degrees). So, you're a poor woman with no rights in the middle of the desert in the summer with three children and no husband (assuming he was a terrorist and the IDF doesn't have the wrong house, as it sometimes does, but even if it does Israel doesn't help get the family a new home), and you have no shelter. Assuming you live by finding someone kind enough to take you in, what do you think the rest of your life is going to be? And how about your children, how will they be fed?

You can imagine the hatred it can generate. Those children grew up, and in 1987 started what is known as "the First Intifada" (Arabic for "upheaval" or "shaking off"), a mass Palestinian uprising against Israel. This brought to light on the international level the injustices committed against the Palestinian people and caused many to criticize Israel's policies. Unfortunately, the uneducated Palestinians' violence against the IDF and ignorant racism against Israelis served to divert attention from the reprehensible actions of their enemies.

Well, the First Intifada ended with relatively little Israeli blood shed (160 deaths versus the 2,100 dead on the Palestinian side), but the message was received and Israel stopped bulldozing Palestinian houses. For a while. In 1994 Israel began once again sealing (and later destroying) homes belonging in part to criminals and terrorists. It's not surprising, then, that in 2000 the Palestinians began their Second Intifada.

Once again, as with the First Intifada, the Palestinian people resort to violence. They suicide bomb the IDF, they fire Qassam rockets at Jewish settlers (though this is a bit misleading; they aren't just shooting at civilians, they're shooting at settlers who have taken Palestinian home that were sealed and land that was bulldozed), and general strikes and protests. This lasted until 2006, when a treaty was signed that Hamas (the elected government of the Palestinian people) generally abides by.

Now, take a look at these two studies and what they say; The cycle of violence and Palestinian public opinion in the Second Intifada. Basically, when the Palestinian people attack Israel, Israel responds by killing more Palestinians in the weeks following. When Israel kills real response. The violence against Israel remains a steady anarchic, erratic mess. The Palestinian people don't get intimidated any more; they can't. They can't be deterred by violence any longer, every act of violence simply reinforces in their children the idea that all Israelis are evil, that Israel is the enemy. Not only are Israel's actions inhumane, they're keeping themselves in the senseless cycle of violence.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

McCain Lies

I sent an email out to a friend today. I compiled a list of reasons not to vote for McCain, so I thought I'd post it;

You asked I send an email describing the various lies, racism and poor policy decisions by McCain that are obviously bought and paid for by corporate interests, so I'll try. Please bear with me on the length, however, because with John McCain it's hard to describe everything wrong with him concisely; there's just so much of it.

Here are plenty of examples of his dishonesty with the American people;
John McCain says that he's never voted for a pork barrel bill in his 26 years in the senate; an obvious lie that can be proven here:
John McCain's campaign tells the American public that there's no opposition to his actions on behalf of campaign contributor Bud Paxson, and sends out two letters to the FCC about their vote. Both illegal and deceptive.
John McCain lies about Mitt Romney's voting record on Iraq (this is a very slanted, conservative news site, I know, but it's still verifiable by primary sources, like YouTube).
McCain lies about Obama's alleged "media visit" to wounded troops in Germany (a lie that was then repeated by many major conservative news outlets, with no retraction yet printed).
McCain opposed MLK day as a holiday in Arizona, then lies about it.
McCain says that the oil from off-shore drilling will make gas prices drop in a matter of months; an outright lie that he now acknowledges is a falsehood.
McCain says that every time we cut taxes it raises revenue; an outright lie.
McCain lies about Obama's tax plan and who it will raise taxes for.
McCain says "I'm the only one the special interests don't give any money to," after getting 1.2 million from the telecom industry and 91,000 from Big Oil (Exxon, Chevron, but no small oil companies).
McCain lies about an email from Jack Abramoff during the height of the scandal.
McCain says he won't raise Social Security taxes and criticizes Obama for doing so; then he says he'll raise Social Security taxes.
McCain says that he won't bow to special interest groups by opening offshore drilling, then opens offshore drilling.
McCain says he won't criticize Obama while overseas, then criticizes Obama while overseas
McCain says he's not an expert on economic policy and "need[s] to be educated", then claims to be an expert on economic policy.
McCain claims he has "Supported Every Investigation" in Katrina, but actually voted against the investigations.
McCain calls the Swiftboat ads in 2004
"dishonest and dishonorable", then hires Bud Day onto his campaign team.
McCain calls evolution
"one of the strongest and most useful scientific theories we have," then speaks for the discovery institute and opposes evolution.
John McCain lies about his stance on the confederate flag.
McCain calls Jerry Falwell "an agent of intolerance", then cozies up to him in 2007.
McCain lies about his stance on windfall profits tax.
McCain says he was never for privatized social security, but just a year earlier he says he's for it.
McCain claims that he never said Iraq would be easy, but he's on tape saying Iraq would be easy.

And last of all:
McCain lies about lying.

On to the racism! So, in 2000, McCain said "I hate the gooks, I will hate them as long as I live." I will grant you that if anyone has a reason to hate based on race, this man has it in spades. The question is, is this kind of racism what we want in a president? Just because it's source is in his torture, it does not mean that it will be any less harmful while he's the president. If this is the man who is going to shape our policy with regards to North Korea, I most certainly do not want him to be racist. If you'd like more information on how racial slurs by the president can hurt the American public, you can look here:

In addition to his lies and racism, his policy stances are incongruous, harmful, and often contradict themselves;
McCain says in 2005 that Gitmo detainees should be released, then criticizes SCOTUS on their ruling of precisely that.
McCain supports privatized sanctions against Iran, despite voting 6 times against them for Apartheid South African (and overriding a veto by Reagan).
McCain repeatedly flips his position on balancing the budget…3 times in a year.
McCain flips his position on the estate tax.
McCain flips his position on tax cuts.
McCain changes his position on torture.
McCain changes his position on warrantless wire taps
McCain calls Obama out for wanting sit-downs with Hamas, after wanting sit downs with Hamas himself previously.
McCain changes position on abortion between April 2007 and May 2008.
McCain changes his position on Cuba.
McCain changes his position on Nuclear Waste.
McCain changes his position on Gay Marriage in 11 minutes.
McCain changes stance on immigration.
McCain stops backing campaign finance reform, one of his signature platforms (or at least it was before he started getting big funding from lobbyists).
McCain takes credit for a GI Bill that he voted against.

So yes, a person can "change their stance," but how often and how many times before we come to realize he has no strength of his convictions?

Universal Health Care

I read and helped edit this defense of UHC that I'd like to post because of how thoroughly it addresses the issue;

There have been a lot of debates and discussions recently, both on this forum and in other venues, about the state of healthcare. Looking at the rising costs of health insurance, and at the growing numbers of the uninsured, many are calling for government intervention, and the institution of a system where care is guaranteed to all - usually described as "universal" healthcare. It's a fascinating topic - the issues involved include humanitarian, financial and ideological ones. Unfortunately, debate on the subject is characterised by a startling phenomenon: one side is right, and the other is completely wrong.

Given the importance of medicine, I feel that it would be useful to clarify this issue. I will explain clearly, and with evidence, why it is that universal healthcare of any sort would be better than the current system in every significant way. If you find yourself disagreeing with this assertion, I ask that you read on before replying, as all conceivable objections will be addressed and resolved.

Why The Current Situation Is Bad
At the moment, healthcare in America is provided mostly by private entities, who charge high fees. These fees can be attributed largely due to the difficulty and expense of the medical profession, and although they are significantly higher ( ) than those of similar nations this difference is only a small portion of healthcare costs. There then exists the health insurance industry, a loose network of corporations that charge individuals or organisations premiums and will pay for their health costs if any are incurred.

Unfortunately, this system has enormous problems. As of 2006, 44.8 million people in America do not have health insurance ( ). Many are unable to afford it, many are denied coverage by insurers who believe that as customers they will not be economical, and others choose not to purchase it. Without health insurance, the up-front costs of health care are impossible for most people to afford. In fact, 50.35% of all bankruptcies were caused, at least in part, by medical fees ( ). In 2001, this was 2,038,549 bankruptcies. Furthermore, health insurance does not fully cover medical expenses. Different insurers and different plans have many exemptions, co-pays, threshholds and other expense-minimising devices. As a result, 62% of those two million bankruptcies occurred despite the debtors having health insurance coverage for the duration of their illness ( ).

As well as failing to provide care, and driving individuals into bankruptcy, the existing system is also exorbitantly expensive. Health care spending is now 15% of U.S. GDP - the highest in the world ( url= ). The costs to businesses, who commonly pay premiums for their employees in lieu of salary, rose by 13.9% in 2003 ( url= ). The annual cost increase has been above inflation since at least 1981. Paying more doesn't result in more value, either - obesity, diabetes, and similar disorders are more common in the United States than anywhere else in the developed world, the U.S. is ranked 72nd in overall health ( url= ) , and life expectancy is below that of 41 other countries ( url= ).

What Is Universal Health Care?
Universal Health Care, or UHC, refers to a wide range of different systems, the common characteristic of which is that a nation's government guarantees all its citizens access to healthcare. Every developed nation (OECD member) in the world, apart from the United States, has a UHC system. There are three main types:

In a fully public system, there is no or little private healthcare, and the health insurance industry is not a significant one. Medical service providers are government employees, and the education of doctors is also subsidised. The most well known example of a fully public system is the original English NHS, although a private sector is now developing in the U.K. as well.

In an optional public, the government provides the same services, but a private health services industry also exists (generally regulated), and . Sometimes health insurers exist, used by people who prefer private services. This is the most common, and examples include Australia and Sweden.

In a subsidised private system, the government pays for health care, but it is provided by private entities. Either the government acts as a health insurer for the populace, or it pays the fees for private health insurers to do so. This is done in Canada.

For the purposes of discussion, I will be assuming the characteristics of an optional public system, like those used in most of Europe. However, the benefits of UHC apply to all of the above types of organisation.

How UHC Will Improve Things
The single largest problem with healthcare in America is that many people don't have it. It's obvious how UHC solves this: by providing it to all citizens directly (or paying for it to be done). By definition, this is no longer a problem under UHC. All developed nations other than the United States make this guarantee to their citizens, and have so far been able to uphold it. The two reasons which make a person uninsurable - insurer decisions and lack of money - will no longer exist.

The second major problem with the current system is its high cost. This can be divided into two parts: individual cost, and government cost - which to the individual shows up as taxation. UHC is inherently cheaper - far cheaper - due to economies of scale, the bargaining position of monopolies with regard to drugs and salaries, reduced administrative costs, and the lack of a profit motive. When it comes to individual health care costs:

According to the World Health Organisation, average American individual spending on healthcare is $3371 per year ( url= ). Since this includes the uninsured and those covered by their employers, actual costs are higher. For comparison:
Australia: $1017
Canada: $916
Sweden: $532
United Kingdom: $397
The first of those is the second-highest in the world - meaning that Americans pay, not including taxes, more than three times as much as citizens of any other nation. This would be somewhat justifiable if they received better healthcare, but again - 28% have no care at all, life expectancy is below all other developed nations, and general health rating is below all other developed nations.
It is commonly assumed that this difference in cost is because under UHC systems, higher taxes are required to fund the system. Not so. As mentioned, UHC is a great deal cheaper than private healthcare, and as a result America's health-related taxation is also the highest in the world. According to the OECD, in 2006, American government spending on healthcare was $2887 per person ( url= ). For comparison:
Australia: $2106
Canada: $2338
Sweden: $2468
United Kingdom: $2372
American healthcare taxes are in fact the highest in the OECD, with France second at $2714. In conclusion, every single UHC system in the world costs less money for individuals, requires lower taxes, and provides better care to more people than the American health care system. By implementing UHC in the U.S., things can only get better.

Frequently Raised Objections
There are many incorrect arguments against the implementation of UHC in the United States. In order to better facilitate discussion, I will explain the errors found in the most common.

"America isn't Europe!", or It Won't Work Here
The argument from American exceptionalism states that what works in Europe will not work in the U.S. It's said that this is because European nations have more people in less space, resulting in less logistical difficulties, and because European government is more competent.

Firstly, not all developed nations are European. The most obvious example that counteracts the logistical argument is Australia, where there are 20 million people in only slightly less space than America's 300 million. This does indeed affect prices, as can be seen by comparing Australia to Sweden or the U.K. - but it doesn't bring them anywhere near the levels currently experienced in America.

The argument that American government is uniquely incompetent, and cannot do things that every other nation in the world can do, is simply nonsense. Not only has America, and American government, achieved many things that other countries have not, America has so many resources and the improvement in care and cost from moving to UHC is so large that even with incredible inefficiencies it would still be a good idea.

"It is immoral to force me to pay for others' healthcare."
You are already paying for others' healthcare. Furthermore, you are paying far more than you would be under UHC. The U.S. government incurs massive costs from paying hospital fees when ER visitors have no money, and from the limited coverage that it provides, which cannot take advantage of economies of scale and which has to subsidise corporate profit.

As demonstrated above, U.S. taxes devoted to healthcare are the highest in the world. Even if you choose not to have health insurance, under the current system, you are still paying more for others' healthcare than you would be paying for theirs plus your own under UHC.

"This is socialism."
It is not socialist to recognise that there is a service the free market is inefficient at providing, and to decide it should better be provided by the government. Even the most staunch libertarian admits that there are some services in this category, such as national defence.

Secondly, it is irrelevant whether this is a "socialist" policy; it's effective. It costs less and provides better care to more people, and as a result is used literally everywhere else in the entire world. Those who want to ensure that society remains ideologically committed to market capitalism need to look for other issues, as if they cling to this one they will only end up providing evidence [i]against[/i] their position.

"I don't want more government bureaucracy."
UHC will involve much less bureaucracy than is commonly assumed, as it can replace the existing partial systems like Medicare and also the plethora of state-specific programs. Regardless, the lives and money saved are more important than any potential expansion of the state.

"Why don't we try making the system even more private instead? That might help."
It might. However, there's no evidence to suggest it, and many reasons to presume it wouldn't. By its nature, the less publicly-supported a system, the more people will be unable to purchase health services.

They're the same reasons the current system doesn't work.
- It doesn't provide care to all people, because it's based on profit
- It costs a lot, because it doesn't have efficient unified administration and it doesn't have a national risk pool (and because it's based on profit)
- It doesn't provide preventative care, because - again - it's based on profit
No private system is going to be able to address those things; a monopoly could address the second point, but could then charge monopoly rates.

The only potential gain would be reduced costs due to some sort of market mechanism, and in practice this has never occurred; every private healthcare system that has ever existed in world history has proved inefficient and been replaced by public systems, and given the demonstrable gains that have resulted the U.S. must follow.

"Doctors will be paid less."
They probably will. In nations with UHC, doctors often earn less - for example, U.S. doctors earn 30% more than Canadian doctors - but this isn't an inherent problem. It is still one of the highest-paying professions in the world, and there are many other ways of attracting skilled people to medicine - such as subsidising their education.

It is sometimes claimed that doctors paid less in a country with UHC will instead go elsewhere where they can be paid more, but once the U.S. has UHC there will not be an elsewhere to go.

"Medical research is funded by the payments of the rich in the current system, and will be reduced."
It is not true that most medical research is done in the United States. In 2000, U.S. research spending was $46 billion, but European spending was also $43 billion ( ). And although U.S. research spending doubled in the last decade, the funding's efficacy has actually decreased ( url= ).

Secondarily, if the option for private healthcare still exists - and there is no reason why it should not - there will still be people choosing to pay more for a higher quality of care, faster service, et cetera. Their profits will still be reinvested in the development of new drugs, equipment and understanding of the human body, as they still are in nations with UHC today. Even in the United States, private spending accounts for only 57% of research spending ( ).

Third, the funding of medicinal research by pharmacueticals is not in any way indicative of the effectiveness or results of the research. Take AIDS. It has an extreme amount of funding in America, but Zidovudine, the groundbreaking antiretroviral, was invented as a cancer treatment under a NIH state-funded grant, Didanosine, the second antiretroviral, which was marketed by Bristol-Myers Squibb was produced by a state-funded team at Arizona State and modified by the federal NCI. The same would go for Zalcitabine, the third, which was instead licensed to Hoffman LaRoche, because the NCI is forbidden from marketing drugs. The fourth antiretroviral ( Stavudine ) was invented in Belgium, at the Riga Institute. Even the really complicated stuff like protease inhibitors, the basic feasability and molecular biology research is pioneered by Government Funded Interests.

"With the option of private healthcare, the rich will 'opt out' and costs will go up."
This isn't necessarily true at all; although private healthcare is usually allowed in UHC nations (for good reasons), it doesn't have to decrease the taxes paid by all to support the public system!

"Other countries fix drug prices, so the US has to pay more for drugs."
This is another common misconception. U.S. healthcare does not include higher pharmaceutical spending than other countries; it's around the average or even slightly lower. From the OECD ( ):
Canada: 17.7%
Germany: 15.2%
Iceland: 13.3%
Australia: 13.3%
US: 12.4%
Sweden: 12%
Ireland: 11.6%

In Conclusion
Thank you for reading. To those who were not previously supporters of UHC, I apologise if anything seemed condescending, but there's no shame in being wrong due to not having all the facts or having been misled. If anyone has questions feel free to ask, and hopefully we can now discuss what sort of UHC system ought to be implemented or how the political will for it can be gathered, rather than being bogged down by misconceptions about its desirability.

Friday, May 30, 2008

This is my blog. It is a thing that I have done.

Percy Shelley commented quite eloquently on the futility of the hubris of Ramses. A man who conquered the world (one of many, never believe otherwise) at such a young age and had the time to build his empire, educate his elite, construct monuments the likes of which the world had never seen and amass riches beyond the wildest dreams of many eventually fell into obscurity, albeit a romanticized one. It was this lesson that kept me from acting throughout my life. There is a degree of futility in all actions, no matter how important; the doctor's patient will eventually die, the lawyers arguments will be overturned and even the philosopher's logic will be broken by the weight of time. That, I think, is what kept me from creating a Web Log of events in my life. There also exists the problem of subject matter (Do I list occurrences in my life? Shall I engage in the creation of fictitious events? Is it a soap box or a stage?) as well as the time investment, but those are easily overcome. The futility, the lack of impact in my writing is what stopped me.

I've decided to respectfully disagree with Mr. Shelley. Nothing beside may remain, but neither will I. My own mortality is of no consequence, but as I use the relatively little time given to my by the marvels of nature I don't wish to hopelessly meander through an uneventful life without accomplishments. I wish to look upon my own works and say with pride, "I alone have accomplished this. There may have been others before, there will certainly be others after, but for now this, alone among all things, has be wrought by my hands". This is my blog. It is a thing that I have done.