17 Nov, 14 > 23 Nov, 14
7 Jul, 14 > 13 Jul, 14
27 Jan, 14 > 2 Feb, 14
13 Jan, 14 > 19 Jan, 14
11 Mar, 13 > 17 Mar, 13
21 Jan, 13 > 27 Jan, 13
23 Jan, 12 > 29 Jan, 12
5 Dec, 11 > 11 Dec, 11
24 Oct, 11 > 30 Oct, 11
17 Oct, 11 > 23 Oct, 11
3 Oct, 11 > 9 Oct, 11
15 Aug, 11 > 21 Aug, 11
28 Mar, 11 > 3 Apr, 11
7 Mar, 11 > 13 Mar, 11
21 Feb, 11 > 27 Feb, 11
17 Jan, 11 > 23 Jan, 11
10 Jan, 11 > 16 Jan, 11
20 Dec, 10 > 26 Dec, 10
13 Dec, 10 > 19 Dec, 10
6 Dec, 10 > 12 Dec, 10
29 Nov, 10 > 5 Dec, 10
22 Nov, 10 > 28 Nov, 10
15 Nov, 10 > 21 Nov, 10
1 Nov, 10 > 7 Nov, 10
25 Oct, 10 > 31 Oct, 10
11 Oct, 10 > 17 Oct, 10
4 Oct, 10 > 10 Oct, 10
27 Sep, 10 > 3 Oct, 10
13 Sep, 10 > 19 Sep, 10
6 Sep, 10 > 12 Sep, 10
30 Aug, 10 > 5 Sep, 10
9 Aug, 10 > 15 Aug, 10
5 Jul, 10 > 11 Jul, 10
24 May, 10 > 30 May, 10
26 Apr, 10 > 2 May, 10
12 Apr, 10 > 18 Apr, 10
29 Mar, 10 > 4 Apr, 10
4 Jan, 10 > 10 Jan, 10
28 Dec, 09 > 3 Jan, 10
23 Nov, 09 > 29 Nov, 09
24 Aug, 09 > 30 Aug, 09
16 Mar, 09 > 22 Mar, 09
2 Feb, 09 > 8 Feb, 09
1 Sep, 08 > 7 Sep, 08
25 Aug, 08 > 31 Aug, 08
28 Jul, 08 > 3 Aug, 08
9 Jun, 08 > 15 Jun, 08
19 May, 08 > 25 May, 08
12 May, 08 > 18 May, 08
5 May, 08 > 11 May, 08
21 Apr, 08 > 27 Apr, 08
7 Apr, 08 > 13 Apr, 08
17 Mar, 08 > 23 Mar, 08
25 Feb, 08 > 2 Mar, 08
18 Feb, 08 > 24 Feb, 08
11 Feb, 08 > 17 Feb, 08
21 Jan, 08 > 27 Jan, 08
31 Dec, 07 > 6 Jan, 08
17 Dec, 07 > 23 Dec, 07
10 Dec, 07 > 16 Dec, 07
3 Dec, 07 > 9 Dec, 07
5 Nov, 07 > 11 Nov, 07
22 Oct, 07 > 28 Oct, 07
13 Aug, 07 > 19 Aug, 07
23 Jul, 07 > 29 Jul, 07
30 Apr, 07 > 6 May, 07
2 Apr, 07 > 8 Apr, 07
19 Mar, 07 > 25 Mar, 07
5 Mar, 07 > 11 Mar, 07
26 Feb, 07 > 4 Mar, 07
12 Feb, 07 > 18 Feb, 07
29 Jan, 07 > 4 Feb, 07
22 Jan, 07 > 28 Jan, 07
8 Jan, 07 > 14 Jan, 07
1 Jan, 07 > 7 Jan, 07
23 Oct, 06 > 29 Oct, 06
16 Oct, 06 > 22 Oct, 06
9 Oct, 06 > 15 Oct, 06
2 Oct, 06 > 8 Oct, 06
18 Sep, 06 > 24 Sep, 06
28 Aug, 06 > 3 Sep, 06
21 Aug, 06 > 27 Aug, 06
3 Jul, 06 > 9 Jul, 06
26 Jun, 06 > 2 Jul, 06
12 Jun, 06 > 18 Jun, 06
5 Jun, 06 > 11 Jun, 06
22 May, 06 > 28 May, 06
8 May, 06 > 14 May, 06
1 May, 06 > 7 May, 06
10 Apr, 06 > 16 Apr, 06
27 Mar, 06 > 2 Apr, 06
13 Mar, 06 > 19 Mar, 06
6 Mar, 06 > 12 Mar, 06
20 Feb, 06 > 26 Feb, 06
13 Feb, 06 > 19 Feb, 06
6 Feb, 06 > 12 Feb, 06
30 Jan, 06 > 5 Feb, 06
23 Jan, 06 > 29 Jan, 06
9 Jan, 06 > 15 Jan, 06
19 Dec, 05 > 25 Dec, 05
12 Dec, 05 > 18 Dec, 05
14 Nov, 05 > 20 Nov, 05
31 Oct, 05 > 6 Nov, 05
17 Oct, 05 > 23 Oct, 05
26 Sep, 05 > 2 Oct, 05
12 Sep, 05 > 18 Sep, 05
29 Aug, 05 > 4 Sep, 05
22 Aug, 05 > 28 Aug, 05
15 Aug, 05 > 21 Aug, 05
1 Aug, 05 > 7 Aug, 05
27 Jun, 05 > 3 Jul, 05
20 Jun, 05 > 26 Jun, 05
6 Jun, 05 > 12 Jun, 05
30 May, 05 > 5 Jun, 05
23 May, 05 > 29 May, 05
9 May, 05 > 15 May, 05
2 May, 05 > 8 May, 05
25 Apr, 05 > 1 May, 05
18 Apr, 05 > 24 Apr, 05
4 Apr, 05 > 10 Apr, 05
21 Mar, 05 > 27 Mar, 05
14 Mar, 05 > 20 Mar, 05
7 Mar, 05 > 13 Mar, 05
28 Feb, 05 > 6 Mar, 05
21 Feb, 05 > 27 Feb, 05
31 Jan, 05 > 6 Feb, 05
10 Jan, 05 > 16 Jan, 05
27 Dec, 04 > 2 Jan, 05
15 Nov, 04 > 21 Nov, 04
1 Nov, 04 > 7 Nov, 04
25 Oct, 04 > 31 Oct, 04
26 Jul, 04 > 1 Aug, 04
19 Jul, 04 > 25 Jul, 04
14 Jun, 04 > 20 Jun, 04
17 May, 04 > 23 May, 04
22 Mar, 04 > 28 Mar, 04
8 Mar, 04 > 14 Mar, 04
23 Feb, 04 > 29 Feb, 04
26 Jan, 04 > 1 Feb, 04
17 Nov, 03 > 23 Nov, 03
10 Nov, 03 > 16 Nov, 03
3 Nov, 03 > 9 Nov, 03
20 Oct, 03 > 26 Oct, 03
13 Oct, 03 > 19 Oct, 03
22 Sep, 03 > 28 Sep, 03
15 Sep, 03 > 21 Sep, 03
8 Sep, 03 > 14 Sep, 03
28 Jul, 03 > 3 Aug, 03
28 Apr, 03 > 4 May, 03
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
 China and the Environment

During his Nobel Peace acceptance speech Al Gore recently called on both China and the United States to take the lead on environmental issues, and during the climate change summit in Bali Western nations led by Canada urged for China to be subject binding emission reduction targets.

Nations argue over emission cuts 

Can the Planet be Saved in Bali?

U.S. says no to firm emissions targets 

Is there really any fairness in asking China to reduce its emissions however? Absolutely not. Much is made of the fact that China is projected to surpass America as the leading emitter of carbon dioxide and leading overall polluter very soon, but this is really to be expected. China has five times the population of the United States, so it should be expected that the country will eventually produce more pollution than America.

Per-capita emissions for China are still far below American and European emissions. China is calling on the United States and the West to lead the way, and I agree, it is America that should be taking the lead on emissions reductions.

Unfortunately, instead of actually trying to solve the problems, developed nations, primarily America, are using environmental issues as another foreign policy weapon and as another way to try and gain advantages over other nations. America cannot be used as the standard against which to judge other countries. It is already well established that it would be impossible for every country in the world to rise to the living standards of the United States. The United States also consumes five times more resources than it produces.

With a population of only 300 million people, however, we cannot say that other countries with larger populations cannot exceed the overall levels of consumption and pollution of the United States. This would be tantamount to legislating poverty upon the world.

Any emissions caps and regulations have to be based on per-capita metrics. What this will mean that is the United States will have to make the biggest cuts in emissions, because right now the United States far exceeds everyone else in the world in per-capita emissions and resource consumption. Looked at on a per-capita basis, China and India are not even close to Western levels of pollution and consumption.

Obviously, however, the pollution and consumption of China and India are still problematic, so what will that mean as their levels of consumption and pollution rise? The only thing it can mean is that levels of pollution and consumption in the West will have to go down. This is the problem. Leaders in the West know this and are working now to try and address it, but it cannot be fair to require that the living standards of other nations remain below ours.

The issues are even more complicated than this however. Not only does the developing world contain much more of the world's population, but it is also where much of the production for Western consumption is done. This is especially true of China. Not only are raw per-capita emissions much lower in China than they are in America, but a very large portion of Chinese pollution is really a product of American consumption, not Chinese consumption. In other words, we in America are directly responsible for a lot of the Chinese pollution. It is effectively as if we are running an extension cord from America to China and then complaining about the energy usage measured at the Chinese meter, even though we are the ones using that energy.

Industrial production is one of the major sources of pollution, and is the most concentrated source of emissions. Over the past 30 years much of American production has been moved offshore, but Americans are still the consumers of that production, so in fact, even though the emissions of China have risen rapidly over the past 10 years, much of this represents the moving of American factories from America to China, but the goods are still being shipped right back to America, so we Americans are still the ultimate sources of the pollution, not the Chinese people.

This factor will complicate any efforts to come up with a global pollution regulation system, because factoring in where production takes place vs. where consumption takes place will not be easy. Overall, for global emissions standards and reductions to be fair they have to be based on per-capita emissions and in addition to that they have to take into consideration where the products of industrial production are consumed. We can't have places like China producing all of the goods for the West and then telling the Chinese people that they can't own cars because they produce too much pollution because the West has moved all of its factories to China.

There is no way around the fact that the West and especially America must lead by example and must make dramatic reductions in levels of pollution and consumption. We cannot put the burden of reducing emissions on the larger poorer nations of the world. The responsibility is ours and we need to take that responsibility seriously.

Posted by at 10:00 AM EST | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, December 11, 2007 10:07 AM EST
Saturday, December 8, 2007
 The Misdirection of American Conservatism

Topic: Commentary
The Cold-War continues to shape American politics and American society. It was during the Cold-War that the American alliance between conservative Christians and free-market ideologues was born, and that relationship continues to dominate American politics and shape our culture.

The alliance between Christians and free-market ideology developed from the common opposition to Marxism. But the Christian opposition to Marxism was in Marxism's atheism, whereas the capitalist's opposition was to Marxist economics.

In the process of common opposition it seems that the Protestant Christians adopted the economic views of the capitalists. You don't find this so much among Catholics however, no doubt because of the more centralized, educated, and institutionally robust nature of the Catholic system which allowed it to better maintain its own distinct ideology.

Protestantism is more populist of course, and thus moved with the tides of Americanism more readily.

I'm not completely opposed to capitalism, but criticism and understanding are always important. The problem in America is that "free-marketism" has become its own ideology, dogma, and religion. Even after this mortgage nonsense I still hear pundits on TV saying that there is no place for government in regulating or correcting the mortgage issues and that the market should just be allowed to "work it out", even though we can plainly see that it was "the market" that caused the problem in the first place.

But fundamentally, all religious values and "free-market" values are totally at odds. If you look at almost any religion (aside from a few weird offshoots), they are concerned with social justice, regulating human behavior, and controlling human desire.

While not a believer in the metaphysical "truth" of any religions, I do think that religions play important roles in society and that their values have evolved for beneficial reasons. I think that social justice, regulating behavior, and regulating desire are all important for a healthy society and for healthy individuals. The difficultly is in figuring out how this should be done and the degree to which it should be done, but I don't think its a question of if it should be done.

This is also where family values come in conflict with free-market values. Families also of course recognize the value of restraint and regulation and that allowing their children to purely follow their desires is not what is best for anyone.

Christianity, like most religions, tries to make sense of the world and address the practical concerns that societies have. People from all societies have realized that people have desires to do things which are neither in their own best interest or in the community's best interests. We have tendencies to self-destructive and socially destructive behavior. We have desires for sex that can lead us into harmful situations, desires for food that can undermine our health, desires for power that can hurt others, desires for substances that impair our judgment and lead to accidents and harm.

These are all real problems that religions in cultures around the world have tried to address for centuries.

Now, the fundamental idea behind "free-market" theory is that human desire should be completely unmitigated and that unregulated human desire should be the basis of the economy. Its complete nonsense and completely at odds with all traditional values. There is nothing at all "conservative" or "traditional" about free-marketism.

Free-marketism is the most liberal of all policies, indeed it is probably the most revolutionary idea (in a very different way) in human society to come along since institutionalized religion.

Free-marketism has become an excuse for predatory exploitation of human flaws. Christians complain about the undermining of family values in America, but the single greatest culprit of this undermining is free-market capitalism.

American families are in a battle against corporations for the souls of their children, not against "gays, liberals, secularists", etc.

Free-market theory is fine when applied to things like the supply of bricks, or lumber, or farm supplies, etc. I think that allowing markets to operate freely to find prices for those types of raw materials and industrial equipment is just fine. The problem comes in with consumer marketing, especially when it comes to food and the use of sex, etc.

The fact is that people have innate instinctive desires. Christianity recognizes this, it is what many Christians call original sin or the tendency towards temptation, etc. The fact is that people's desires evolved in a very different environment millions of years ago and that civilization has changed that environment rapidly over the past 10,000 years and behaviors that were beneficial in the wild are no longer beneficial in complex societies.

For example, in the wild, our ancestors had an unlimited food desire and a strong desire for sweets, because in nature food was scarce so there was no real possibility of getting fat in the first place, and naturally sweet food tends to be very nutritious, such as fruits. So, people evolved a strong affinity for sweet food because people who sought out sweet food tended to eat more fruits and honey, etc., which contains lots of vitamins, etc.

In nature sugars are generally paired with nutrition because they are concentrated into products that plants or animals use to store nutrients for their young, such as fruits, honey, tubers for plants that spread by budding, etc. These things are similar to eggs or milk. The sugar is in these substances because it is a highly accessible form of energy needed for the growing young. But the sugar only provides energy, not nutrition.

About 200 years ago the technique of making processed sugar was developed, in which pure sugar was able to be extracted from plants.

People have an evolved affinity for sugar, which in the wild led them to food products that were high in vitamins and minerals. But our desires are blind... because evolution is blind. We can't taste nutrition, if we could then nutritious foods would taste good, but our pallets aren't that sophisticated.  Evolution just happened on correlations that generally seemed to work, the correlation in nature between sugar and nutrition.

But the thing is that these simple systems can easily be fooled or overloaded.

With processed sugar one can simply concentrate the product that we are able to taste, and which we have evolved to like because in nature it was always paired with nutrition

What people follow and pay attention to is just the sugar. Now you can make something that is pure sugar with zero nutritional value and that is what people will instinctively desire.

Religions tend to work this out in round-about ways and then do things like condemn eating pure sugar. That's not a real condemnation in most religions because the processing of sugar is a recent thing, but that's what a religion would typically do. Parents would likewise learn that a diet of pure sugar is bad for your health and prevent their children from doing it.

What does "the free-market" do however?

The "free-market" isn't a thing, people are the ones doing everything, but under "free-market" principles people are going to want to sell as much of a product as possible and get as much money as possible. To do this you cater to people's desires. Furthermore, you try to keep production costs as low as possible and prices as high as possible. So, you want to make something cheep that people will desire highly. Thus, you make products that are high in sugar and low in nutritional value because making things with pure sugar is cheaper than making things that also contain vitamins and minerals, etc. and people can't taste nutrition, they can only taste sugar, so you focus in on what people will react to and eliminate everything else.

Thus, you make "junk food". Not only do you make junk food, but you then go into people's homes, right under the noses of the parents who are trying to act in accordance with the best interest of the child, and you tell the child that its cool not to obey your parents and that if you eat this "junk food", (which you don't call junk food) then you will be cool, and if your parents don't want you to have it, then that just means that it must be cool.

This is basically the status quo of marketing in America today, and it is a direct product of free-market principles. Obviously, this is in direct opposition to religious tradition and family values.

As production is consolidated under capitalism into a few huge mega-corporations, the ties to community and the social pressures on producers are reduced vs. the traditional local and home-based production systems, further adding to the problems. Instead of working to address the flaws that we have as humans, free-marketism preys upon those flaws, exploits them, and exacerbates them, leading inevitably to social and cultural corruption.

Personally, I'm big on family values, but not on religion, though I understand the basis of religion and aspects of value that religion has. Religions come with good and bad, and I think you can keep the good and throw out the bad.

Regardless of that though, the main thing is that Christianity and free-marketism really have nothing in common. Free-market values are in direct opposition to Christian values, and many people who are not religious, like myself, share values that are in common with Christianity and other religions and are trying to stand up against the assaults on these values by free-marketism, yet the Christian-Right in America is thwarting these efforts, and their own interests, at every turn by being so in bed with the Republicans.

Almost everything that Christian conservatives complain about is actually a product of free-market principles, yet they are the ones defending the very principles that are undermining the values that they tout. Its very frustrating.

Christianity actually directly addresses this issue, and condemns people who tempt others, much less people who temp others for self benefit. That is basically the whole basis of free-market capitalism, tempting others for profit. How Christians can support such a system I have no idea. The Catholic Church has always been more wary of this issue and taken stronger opposition to free-marketism, but you don't really see this among Protestants.

Even still, the Catholic opposition is mostly rhetoric and hasn't yielded much fruit either. It seems that both Protestants and Catholics are content to keep their ties to the institutional bases of power and don't want to rock the boat, as usual and is to be expected from them.

I think the biggest problem is the legacy of Communism, which made the unfortunate attempt to take on both religion and economic exploitation simultaneously, leading to the alliance between Christianity and Capitalism that we see today.

Hopefully over time this alliance can be broken back down and Christians can be a force for good and economic justice instead of primarily just defending economic injustice and greed. I don't have much hope for this in America though, as everything is so tied into the power structures and the powerful from the economic, political, and religious worlds are all in bed together... as usual.

Posted by at 8:08 AM EST | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
Sunday, November 11, 2007
 Greatest Threat to National Security? The National Debt

Topic: Commentary

For all of the Bush administration's talk about national security, what this administration has really doen is make America dramatically less secure. While many people recognize that things such as global warming and dependence on foreign oil also represent national security threats, it seems that people have failed to recognize the greatest threat of all, our national debt.

The Bush administration has argued that they have made America safer by carrying on these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but just ignoring the direct ways in which these wars have actually made us less safe, by actually contributing to global terrorism and increasing anti-American sentiment abroad, these wars have done something even more dangerous, which is dig America deeper into debt.

So, has the Bush administration made America more safe? Not at all, in fact it has made us many times more vulnerable and has dramatically increased our economic, and thus security, risk.

What people need to start recognizing is that our debt is a risk factor and that the increasing debt poses a direct threat to the security of this country.

Think about it. If you had a house with no security system, no dog, no guns, etc., you may not feel too safe. You may decide that you want to increase your security by buying a dog and an alarm system, etc. Okay.

Now, what if your income is $50,000 a year and you decide that you feel so insecure that you want to spend $400,000 on a super-duper state of the art ultra-max security system, including body guards, etc.

Now that you have spent more money than you can possibly afford and you have an additional $400,000 in debt, are you really "more secure"? No, in fact you are less secure.

Guess what, when you take on so much debt, now you are constantly worried about losing your job, now creditors are calling, now you have weaknesses that can easily be exploited financially, etc. No one may break into your house or rob you, but now your chance of being extorted by others or driven into bankruptcy has increased by far more than the chance of you being invaded was before.

This is effectively what the Republicans have done to America since the 1980s, but especially within the past 7 years of the Bush administration.

There are now fundamental problems with our economy that have no easy solutions. With essentially 30 years of Republican tax cutting and deficit spending, we are now at a point where we must raise taxes, probably significantly, in order to balance the budget and pay down the debt. Yet, our economy is in such a state that tax increase will surely have a negative impact, yet not paying down the debt will also have a negative impact. When this happens to your average person, this is usually the road to bankruptcy. Unless incomes go up dramatically, then there is no real solution here.

Additionally, interest rates also need to go up. Interest rates are too low, and have been too low ever since the large cuts from the 2001 recession. American's rate of personal savings is at an all time low. The average rate of Americans savings in now negative. Compare this to an average 40% savings rate of people in China.

The interest rate has a direct impact on savings. The lower the interest rate is the less incentive there is to save, because borrowing is cheap and there is little return on savings. As the interest rate goes up, the incentive to put money into savings and money market accounts goes up.

The falling value of the dollar hurts us even more. Now that the value of the dollar is dropping, even if you put money into savings its value is globaly falling faster than the interest can keep up. Even if you are getting 5% return on your money market account, the dollar is falling compared to other values of measure, such as gold, oil, and foreign currencies, at a higher rate than 5%. So right now, with the low interest rates, you are losing money even if you save money anyway.

All of the Americans with big money started moving their assets into gold and foreign currencies about 5 years ago at least. In addition, due to several factors, including new restrictions on foreign investment in America, foreigners have been increasingly investing outside of America, even pulling resources out of American markets.

Let's not even get into the issue of the aging baby boomers and the future cost of medical care and entitlement programs.

So what does all this mean? Well, it means that there is no easy way forward.

Cutting taxes always sounds appealing. The problem for the Republicans is that they have made "cutting taxes" a central plank of their platform, yet you can't cut taxes forever. You can always run on cutting taxes. Sometimes its appropriate to cut taxes and sometimes it isn't. Right now it isn't. Giuliani is once again running on cutting taxes. Well, then what. What if he were to win and cuts taxes. What will the next Republican run on, cutting taxes also? When does it stop? Meanwhile the debt is ballooning out of control.

Interest rates need to increase significantly, yet everyone knows that doing so would initially hurt the economy by reducing spending and investment. Actually, I don't think that increasing interest rates would hurt as bad as many people claim, because corporations are flush with cash at this point, unlike the American public, so investment would still go forward even with higher interest rates, there is plenty of cash on hand in the hands of the wealthy and corporations.

Still, increasing interest rates will have a negative short-term effect. A positive effect of increasing interest rates though is that it would bring more foreign investment into America and help to stabilize the value of the dollar.

The two things that need to happen are not going to be easy to do. Likewise, due to the international economic environment, doing the "right thing" is going to become increasingly difficult for every country, especially the United States. The reason for this is that there is growing economic competition between nations and it is becoming increasingly easy for capital to move from nation to nation. This means that international competition is going to drive down things like taxation, labor laws, and banking regulations down, because any country that tries to enact appropriate levels of taxation and regulation is going to see a flight of capital to other markets, and nations will lower their restrictions and taxation in order to attract foreign investment.

We already see this in Europe where Switzerland basically uses "predatory taxation" to draw in capital from the surrounding countries. The Swiss have implemented a regressive taxation system that has higher tax rates for the poor and working classes than for the wealthy. Taxation on wage income is much higher than taxation on capital income. Why do they do this? Because it allows them to attract money from all over Europe. In effect, the Swiss are stealing from everyone in Europe, depriving all of them of the ability to properly set their own domestic taxation policy and dramatically robbing them of taxation revenue. Why does this work for the Swiss? The Swiss can get by with very low taxes on the wealthy because it attracts so much money from around Europe and the world that the massive influx of capital from foreign markets more than offsets that lower tax rate.

In other words, if the Swiss system were a closed system it would fail miserably, it only works because it has an outside source of revenue. The problem is that this prevents other countries, where the wealth is actually created, from being able to properly tax their citizenry. The result is that the countries that have to pay for things like infrastructure and education and healthcare which make it possible for the wealthy to become wealthy in the first place are unable to actually get a return on their investment, because the wealthy move their money outside of the country where it isn't taxable.

This Swiss system is likely just the beginning of what is going to become a large international problem.

So, not only is it already going to be hard for America to balance its budget and pay down its debt, but the growing international climate is going to make this increasingly more difficult. The debt situation that has developed in America over the past 30 years, since the "Reagan Revolution", will increasingly become this nation's greatest point of insecurity and our greatest vulnerability. Through this debt the American economy, and thus America itself, will become increasingly vulnerable to foreign interests. Our debt is the biggest hole in our national security.

National Debt Clock

Is the National Debt Growing?

Posted by at 8:59 AM EST | Post Comment | View Comments (3) | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, November 11, 2007 10:32 AM EST
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
 The Gospel of Mark as Reaction and Allegory

Topic: Announcements

The Gospel of Mark as Reaction and Allegory

This article explores the Gospel of Mark in detail and examines how it was constructed after the destruction of Judea in 70 CE by making scriptural references to Hebrew scriptures that were about the destruction of Judea. This article shows that the Gospel of Mark, upon which all of the other Gospels were constructed, cannot be based on any historical account of a real person.

This will definately be the last article I write about religous stuff for a while, but I just had to write this one. With the elections coming up, etc., I plan to get back to discussing economics and political issues much more. 

Posted by at 9:08 AM EDT | Post Comment | View Comments (8) | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, October 24, 2007 9:11 AM EDT
Sunday, August 19, 2007
 Commentary on various current issues

Topic: Commentary
I haven't posted in a while due to a busy personal life, but there is a lot in the news to discuss lately.

Utah Miners

This whole Utah mine issue unfortunately demonstrates a few issues. Granted these types of accidents are practically inevitable in this line of work, but this particular case I think illustrates much of what is wrong in the media, administration, and workplace today.

First of all, while the media have reported that there is a dispute over whether or not the accident was caused by an earthquake or by the mining practices, they haven't pressed the issue. Now that three more people have been killed in the rescue effort, the folly of not  holding the mine owner, Bob Murray, to task has become even more apparent.

When Bob Murray came out being defensive and shifting blame, and basically acting like he was engaged in a cover-up, that should have been a sign for government officials not to trust what he was saying and not to trust his judgment and not to allow him to direct, or have any say, in the rescue effort. By him claiming that the initial cave-in was caused by an earthquake he misrepresented the facts in such a way that actually matters to how the rescue effort went forward. Granted people still knew that the area was unsafe, but knowing that the cave-in was caused due to structural problems in the mine is different from thinking that it was caused by an earthquake, because an earthquake is a one-time event, whereas structural problems persist. By him claiming earthquake, that focused attention away from the inherent structural weakness of the mine.

Second of all, this Bob Murray fellow actually lobbied against legislation that would have required more safety equipment in mines, and has been a major contributor to the Republican party, opponent of global warming, and a general advocate of hands-off policy towards business regulation and he is anti-union.

Basically, this entire tragedy looks like chickens coming home to roost, and this is likely one reason why he was so defensive out of the gates.

Thirdly, Richard Stickler, the man put in charge of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, a department that is supposed to be tasked with enforcing regulations on mining operations and looking out for the safety of workers, is a former coal executive whose, like many in the Bush administration, was more interested with doing the opposite of the charter of his department. Instead of enforcing safety rules and looking out for workers, under Stickler MSHA reduced it's oversight role and catered to corporate interests.

When this tragedy occurred, instead of MSHA coming in and taking over and taking a critical look at the operations, they let the mine owner run the show, allowed him to engage in his own campaign of mis-perception, and allowed him continue putting lives in danger. Meanwhile, the press mostly just sided with the mine owner and basically just became his mouthpiece.

There were a few exceptions to this, primarily the Salt Lake City Tribute, which actually did a good job and did some investigative reporting, and NPR, which basically picked-up in the job done by the Salt Lake City tribune. Basically all of the other national news organizations, though, were asleep at the wheel at best, and were accomplices in on-going mismanagement and in the spread of misinformation at worst. The government agency that is supposed to be tasked with protecting the public and the workers was instead protecting the mine owner, again aided by the cover of the news media.

At long last, now that things have turned sour and the writing appears to be on the wall, the national news organizations are starting to "question the events". (Kinda like they started questioning the Bush administration after we had been in Iraq for two years).

In the grand scheme of things this mining tragedy is a small event, but it once again demonstrates the real world results of the collusion and ideology of the right-wing agenda and the lack of objective reporting on such events.

For more on this see:

Memo shows mine already had roof problems in March

Handling of Mine Disaster Questioned

What's Wrong With America?

The illegal immigration issue

I keep hearing people talk about the illegal immigration issue, but it seems that most people simply don't get it. Now the Bush administration has recently started "enforcing the laws", which is exactly what the anti-immigrant crowd that prevented the immigration reform bill from passing Congress wanted (not that it was a good bill anyway).

What these anti-immigrant people keep claiming is that anything that would allow the illegal immigrants that are here to stay and eventually become citizens is "amnesty", and that these people are "law breakers", and should thus be "punished". They will often then go on to claim that these people don't pay taxes, yet they use taxpayer funded services, and they will talk about high crime in some communities where there are a high number of illegal immigrants, etc.

This issue can be addressed with a few simple truths.

#1 The US government does not currently grant enough legal visas to live and work in America, nor does it grant enough citizenship documents. The reason that there are so many illegal immigrants is that we don't offer enough legal means to enter the country to satisfy the demand, both of people to live here and of our economy to fill needed jobs. That means that "enforcing the laws that are on the books" is not a solution, because "the laws that are on the books" are the problem.

#2 Most of the problems that we do find among illegal immigrants are a product of their illegal status. They have to resort to criminal activity because they are denied by us the ability to engage in legal activity. This means that the fastest and easiest way to solve any crime problems that exist among illegal immigrant populations is simply to legalize them. Indeed the single best crime fighting measure that we could enact in areas with high numbers of illegal immigrants would be to grant them legal residency status.

This goes straight to the tax issue too. First of all, most immigrants, including illegal ones, do pay payroll taxes, meaning Social Security and other taxes, yet they will never receive the benefits, so in fact they actually pay more in taxes than they get back. They also pay sales taxes, etc., like everyone else. Any taxes that they don't pay are only not paid because they are illegal, but again the fastest way to fix this problem is simply to grant them legal status, which would then make it possible for them to pay taxes. Again, its our fault that they don't pay taxes, not theirs. It is our system that exempts them from paying the taxes.

#3 And as for "amnesty" and all the talk of these people having to "earn" the right to be Americans, I find this an absolute load of crap. What have people who were born in America done to "earn" being an American citizen? Nothing of course. These people have done more to earn being an American than most Americans and almost all of them work hard and for less pay than any American would take. The idea that these people haven't earned it is absurd, they have worked in farm fields picking our food for $2.00 an hour, if that isn't earning it I don't know what is.

The problem with illegal immigration is not the immigrants, it is our own immigration system, and thus the conservative mantra to "simply enforce the laws that are already on the books" is a doomed and flawed plan, as usual.

The presidential candidates

Well, I really wish that John Edwards had a better chance of making it and that he didn't have some of the personal foibles that he seems to have, because he seems pretty good on the issues, at least as good as one can expect from a real candidate, but there are just some aspects of his personality, such as his $400 hair cuts and frequently being late, and his general demeanor that aren't so great.

I have also come around to Barack Obama, despite his frequent discussion of his "faith" (especially since Hillary, and Edwards do it too anyway). I think that he was right-on when he said that he would meet with Castro, and other such blacklisted leaders, because obviously not meeting with them hasn't amounted to any good.

Overall this is what I like about Obama, he is a relative newcomer and not an insider, which is definitely a good thing, and I think that while he lacks foreign policy experience, he could do more for America's foreign policy that anyone else because he could present a totally different image for America, which is what we need. Face the facts, most foreign people, even though they may like America, don't like what is seen as the establishment in America, and someone like Obama could represent real change like none of the other candidates, and I think that simply by him being president it would improve our international standing.

I also think that Obama wouldn't have much problem attracting the right talent to help him out in areas where he lacks experience, such as in foreign policy. He would easily be able to build the right teams I think. Whether or not he would I don't know, but I think that out of all the major Democratic candidates he would have the easiest time getting anyone to sign up on his staff.

I just have a feeling that Obama would be more likely to do the right thing when it comes to foreign policy and that his administration would be able to succeed where so many others have failed, which is in the area of diplomacy and connecting with foreign leaders and foreign people who feel left out of the international system or stepped on by America, and I think that that would go farther than any hard-line or military action. People in most countries don't feel like America is a force for good in the world, and that is the biggest problem, and I think that Obama could change that perception as well as change the reality, and that that would be more effective than any war or any other possible show of force.

We need someone who can admit that America has made wrong decisions and taken wrong courses of action and who will actually seek to make changes and engender trust in the international community, and I think that Obama is the best candidate for that.

At the very least I hope that he ends up as a vice presidential candidate on whomever's ticket if he doesn't get the nomination himself.

The credit problem and the economy

Well, it took longer than I figured it would for the lending problems and the housing markets to impact the economy, but at long last some of the chickens are coming home to roost. I suspect that we haven't seen the end of the fallout from these financial problems and that this is going to continue to cause economic problems for at least months to come if not years. It is interesting how, once again, America was able to largely pawn it's problems off onto others though. What basically took place is that American borrowers lied and cheater on their loans and American mortgage lenders and rating agencies put together financial instruments that misrepresented reality and sold them to overseas investors, who thought that they were buying relatively secure investments, when in fact what they were buying was repackaged junk bonds that were still junk.

Now, interestingly enough, even though American borrowers and American lenders and American financial institutions are the root cause of this problem, it will primarily be overseas investors and overseas countries that pay the largest price. Once again we figure out a way to screw everyone else and gain at their expense.

That's not to say that American financial institutions didn't get hit hard as well, but by and large much of the financial risk was offloaded to foreign investors, and poor countries will be hit hardest by our financial misdeeds. Institutions in developing economies that thought that they were going to be able to start getting ahead by investing in a secure market will now find that they are back and square one and did no better than investing in troubled third world markets. Talk about being a bad ambassador to countries that we were trying to encourage to participate in a global economy on American terms or to adopt an American style economic system, I think we will find that over the coming months there will be a lot of international ridicule over this issue and criticism of America.

That will also be bad news long-term for our economy since we depend so heavily on foreign investment and foreign buying of our debt. There was already a developing trend away from buying American debt and investing in the American dollar, which has seen the American dollar decline steadily over the past year, and this is only going to accelerate that trend. The Fed is now stuck in a tight spot, which is the spot that I thought we would have gotten stuck in two or three years ago actually. The fundamental problem that the American economy faces is that both taxes and interest rates are low, and the lowering of taxes and interest rates has been used to keep the economy afloat, but at a certain point you can't continue to cut taxes and interest rates, indeed we need to increase taxes and interest rates, but the problem is that the economy can't really handle increases in taxes and interest rates.

Taxes and interest rates have been pretty steadily decreasing since the 1940s. Pretty much every decade since the 1950s has seen lower taxes and lower interest rates, such that much of the economic growth that has happened during that time has been facilitated by these factors. Well, at a certain point you can't continue to lower those things, and I would argue that during the Bush administration what we saw was a lowering of both taxes and interest rates below a sustainable level. Now we face the problem of how to continue to sustain and grow the economy while at the very least keeping taxes and interest rates at a steady and constant level, though at this point, due to Bush, we actually need to increase taxes and interest rates, something that the American economy hasn't really had to deal with since the 1930s.

What this current financial problem is showing us is that doing this is going to be difficult, and that the economic growth that occurred during the Bush years has not been "honest" growth, it has been growth that has been propped up with basically false accounting. So, I think that we are just now starting to see the edge of a much larger problem. Many other economic analysts out there are saying that the fundamentals are fine and everything is good, but I don't agree. The problem is that when you look at the monetary policy, the debt issues, the tax structure, the financial institutions, and the emerging economic competition abroad, things do not look good for America over the long term, and that doesn't even take into account the mounting health care, education, and energy problems.

At this point I think that technology is the only possible long term potential savior of the American economy. It is possible that increases in efficiency due to technological advances could actually make up for all this and basically make it possible to produce so much more value that we can effectively work 10 times harder over the coming 25 to 30 years to offset all of these other factors, but I think that's basically the only potential positive solution to this situation for America.

I think that what this current financial crisis is going to do is accelerate the rate at which foreign countries distance themselves from the American market and this is going to be the beginning of people taking a much harder look at investing in America and no longer seeing this as a secure and trustworthy place to invest and I think we will see a pullout of foreign money from American markets over the long term, largely spurred by this past week's financial events. Couple that with a crackdown on illegal immigration, and I think what we will see is shrinking GDP growth over the coming year. I think that between now and 2009, when a new president comes into office, the economy is going to take a downturn. The crackdown on immigration, the shakeup in the financial markets, the lack of confidence in American investments, the injection of money into the system by the Fed, the lack of funding for basic government infrastructure, the growing American debt, the beginning of the retirement of the baby boomers, this all lines up for some bad news.

Posted by at 10:48 AM EDT | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
Updated: Monday, August 20, 2007 8:28 AM EDT
Friday, July 27, 2007
 Interview on Dogma Free America

Topic: Announcements

First let me say that I'll been very busy lately in my personal life, which is why I haven't updated the website in a while. Hopefully I'll get back to that soon however.

I recently did an interview on a podcast called Dogma Free America about my book, Jesus - A Very Jewish Myth. You can listen to the interview here:

Episode 33--Dogma Free America

My interview starts about half way through the show, around the 35 minute mark. 

Thanks to Rich from Dogma Free America for doing the interview with me.

There was one thing that I didn't touch on in the interview that I would have liked to, and that is some of the symbolism in the Gospels, especially the significance of the execution of Jesus during Passover. Passover, of course, is a Jewish holiday about the redemption of sins. They didn't execute people during Passover, and not only is Jesus supposedly executed on this day in the story, but so are other criminals as well. That Jesus would have been executed on the most symbolic day possible (except perhaps Yom Kippur), and a day which all of the evidence shows it was against Jewish law to execute people, is completely unbelievable and strikes of symbolism, not history.

Other than that I covered most of the other points that I wanted to cover during the interview.

Posted by at 8:24 AM EDT | Post Comment | View Comments (2) | Permalink
Updated: Friday, July 27, 2007 8:34 AM EDT
Thursday, May 3, 2007
 Regarding America: Freedom to Fascism

Topic: Commentary
A few people had asked about the "documentary" America: Freedom to Fascism. I finally saw it because a friend was nice enough to send me a copy of it.

Here is my review of the film. I don't have time to go into detailed research and rebuttals as I have sometimes done in the past, so this will simply be an op-ed rebuttal.

Overall I think the film was a bunch of nonsense. A few salient points were made, and the issue of the legality of the Federal Income Tax is interesting and, from what I know, relatively accurately portrayed, at least the technical issues.

The biggest problem with this film was the use of hyperbole and the total lack of clarity and the muddled ideology. Are the Federal Income Tax and the Federal Reserve a conspiracy of Communism or Capitalism? The film  randomly blamed both. Ironically, the claims and ideologies expressed in the film exhibit the exact same mentality of the Germany Nazis. Nazism was founded on opposition to both Communism and the "international bankers", that was a major thrust of the movement. Ironically, this whole production could have been taken from Mein Kampf, indeed the reason that the Jews were targets was because "Jewry" was associated with banking.

Having said that, there are real issues and there are real concerns to be addressed, but this film did a horrible job at actually analyzing the real problems and producing coherent analysis.

First: The Federal Income Tax.

Who, ultimately, benefits from the system that the people in this film complain about? The wealthy property owners. Yet, several of the arguments against the Federal Income Tax that were put forward were complaints about "wealth redistribution". This, I assume, implies redistribution from wealthy to poor, but if this system is benefiting the wealthy, then how is this an issue?

The film showed footage of Reagan saying that the Federal Income Tax system had become "un-American", but what did Reagan do? Under Reagan income taxes were raised on the poor and lowered on the wealthy. If the Feral Income Tax is all a part of a manipulation to benefit the wealthy, then how exactly did lowering taxes on the wealthy and raising taxes on the poor make it "more fair"?

There was allusion to a "flat tax" system for income taxes, but again, this would only help the rich and hurt the poor, so how exactly would a flat tax be "more fair", if the Income Tax ultimately benefits the wealthy in the first place?

Prior to World War II, from the beginning of the country up to that time, virtually all taxation was on the wealthy. The poor certainly paid no meaningful level of taxes, and even the moderately wealthy paid almost nothing. Most taxation was on property, profits, and consumption, thus the taxes were raised almost exclusively from the wealthy. During and after World War II taxation was expanded to basically all classes of people thereby taxing the poor and middle class to a far higher degree than ever before.

In addition, corporate taxes were a much more significant part of the revenue system prior to Reagan. Indeed the founders, especially Thomas Jefferson, as some of the quotes alluded to, were ANTI-corporate. When the US was founded corporations were weak and mostly for things like schools and public institutions, and they typically only had limited life spans. Indeed Jefferson and others saw private corporations and the amassing of wealthy estates as among the greatest threats to American freedom, and certainly corporations as they exist today would be totally opposed by the founders according to the words of their time.

Then the film says that a graduated taxation system is a part of the Communist Manifesto, which it is, but what is their point? The point of the items in the Communist Manifesto was to oppose the interests of capital to allow, in theory, freedom to workers, the people who create value. The film complains that the income tax is a tax on labor, but then calls it Communist. Which is it? The Communist Manifesto was OPPOSED to taxation on LABOR. The purpose of the graduated taxation in the Communist Manifesto was to tax the profits, which it argued are really the product of the LABOR of the workers. Thus, being opposed to the Federal Income Tax is really taking the SAME position as the Communist Manifesto.

Second: The Federal Reserve.

Just like the Nazis and other early 20th century anti-Semites, the film, produced by a Jew, is opposed to the Federal Reserve. I'm not saying the film maker has anything to do with Nazism, simply that he is way over simplifying the issues and just jumping around to conspiracy theories and poor arguments.

The film maker, and others in the film, say that gold is "real money" and the paper issued by the Federal Reserve is "fake money".

Well, I agree that the Federal Reserve system is a corrupt system, but it is perfectly good in theory. You can't have an economic system based on gold, that's just idiotic. What makes gold "money"? Only that people have a social agreement to treat it as such, which is the exact same reason that paper is money. There is nothing special about gold that makes it "real money". The reason that gold was often used historically is that is doesn't corrode, thus you can store it for a long time without it physically degenerating. With book keeping, however, you can do the exact same thing. Money becomes a number on paper instead of a count of bricks. So what?

Value is relative, there simply is no possible way to create a de-facto constant measure of value, because value is subjective. Gold or paper, it doesn't matter. People say that gold is good because you can't simply produce more of it at a whim, but this is really nonsense. We could just as easily use marble or water or any other limited material to achieve this, but this is totally unsuitable for a modern economy. Yes, if you print too much money that will ruin the monetary system, which is why we have a Federal Reserve that manages that process. Is it as transparent and open and as honest as it should be? No. Would using gold solve the problem? No.

People like to complain about how horrible it was that the Federal Reserve was created, but the American economy has achieved its greatest strength and stability since the creation of the Federal Reserve. Prior to the Federal Reserve American banking was a disaster. The American economy had massive and erratic depressions, and currency was totally insane. Money was privately issued by small private banks, and you had to take your money to the right bank and not all stores would take all money. There was no universally accepted currency until the government stepped in and federalized the system. Money in one state wouldn't be accepted in other states, etc. Can you imagine today traveling to a different state and none of your money would be accepted. That's what it was like at one time.

In addition, people used gold and also tobacco for money prior to federal banking because there was so little trust in the banks. People also used foreign currency in America into the 19th century because the American banking system was so poor.

Who wanted the Federal Reserve? The corporations! Overall the federal banking system is a good system, and the idea of using gold is moronic. There isn't enough gold in the world to represent the value of other goods in the world today, unless the value of gold greatly fluctuates, in which case, what the hell? Even before the end of the gold standard they couldn't use gold anymore, they had to switch to silver, because even a spec of gold was worth too much to pay for every day items. Gold is limited, and we have to destroy the earth to mine for it. Talk about a cause for war. Nations would be warring over the gold mines, as they were doing in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Why do you think the Boer War took place in South Africa? Because the United Kingdom wanted control of the gold mines, one of the largest gold supplies in the world, because gold was money. So we would then fight for gold in addition to oil? Now securing gold mines around the world becomes another requirement of national security? An even greater reason to deploy the American army around the world? That's just plain stupid.

A country that naturally has no gold then is doomed to poverty and a country with a gold mine will be rich, if they can keep it...

Digital and paper currency is absolutely a good thing. Money is just a representative of value. The real value is in the other goods and services. The real value is all of the property, which money is just supposed to be a proxy for. Even if gold is money, gold is only then a proxy for the other stuff, the land, the cars, the movie rights, etc., that's all of the "real value". It doesn't matter what money is made of. The problem comes in with corruption, and gold doesn't put a stop to corruption. Plus, we will be able to fabricate gold at one point, the technology is on the way, and what then? Then gold will be just like paper anyway.

The film also complained about national ID cards, but then complained about illegal immigrants. When the Nazis issued national ID cards the majority of people liked it. Why? Because the cards were used against minorities and dissenters, thus for most people they were considered a good thing. They were only a bad thing for Jews and dissidents, but 90% of the population doesn't like dissidents anyway. So, if they issued national ID cards in America who would benefit? The average person. Who would be harmed? Illegal immigrants and dissidents.

Who is this film complaining about? Illegal immigrants. The position it takes is like a German complaining that the Jews should be expelled from Germany, yet complaining about the ID cards that would make that possible.

Next we have the issue of vote rigging. This is a real concern and I don't have any real complaints about how that was covered in the film.

Finally, we have the complaints about "world government". What exactly is the problem with "world government" anyway? Look at the example of the United States. What if all the states were totally "sovereign"? You could cross the border of a state, rob a bank, run back to the other state and never have to fear. Indeed this was a major problem until the creation of the FBI.

The reality is that as the world becomes more integrated due to technology we have to develop governing bodies that can adjust to this integrated reality. As it is I feel that we need stronger international regulations, not weaker ones. I would like to see an international minimum wage, and speaking of which, this would actually help to resolve the illegal immigration issue in America. The only way to reduce immigration into America is to raise wages abroad, yet corporations in America try to keep wages low abroad, so they can pay workers a low amount in foreign countries and then sell the products of their labor for high prices in America. Naturally people want to immigrate to where the wages are higher, which is America. This only demonstrates how regional problems are global problems and how there is a need for international governance. We have to tackle global problems, such as climate change, water supplies, pollution, labor markets, the drug trade, human trafficking, etc., with international governing bodies, there simply is no way around it.

Painting all forms of international governance as "evil" is just plain nonsense. The people who typically do this are people who are  defending certain types of exploitation and illegal activities that are easier to do with weak international laws.

Overall, what is the message of this film? Who are the "bad guys"? Bankers? Corporations? Communists? The UN?

It's just a jumbled mess of conflicting ideas and complaints. Among this jumbled mess there are a few real issues and valid points, but overall it is just a jumbled mess.

Americans are the "oppressed slaves"? In reality the World Bank and the IMF and the Federal Reserve system have greatly benefited America at the expense of other countries, primarily developing countries. Americans have it horrible? We get cheap goods made by people in Mexico, China, South America, India, etc. Who is getting the raw deal here, not us? We benefit from these exploitive systems. We are the beneficiaries of the global exploitation. The film portrays Americans as victims, when in reality we are the beneficiaries. Yes, ultimately American capitalists are the ultimate beneficiaries, at the expense of even the American working class, but even the American working class benefits from the system of global exploitation. Think of it like the American working class are the limo drivers and errand boys for the mafia. Yes, ultimately the mob bosses are the ones screwing everyone over, but even the low men on the totem pole in the mob get benefits by association.

The problems with the ideas presented in this film are typical of libertarians. They champion "private property rights", yet they fail to understand that it is private interests who are undermining their personal property rights.  They complain about the expansion of eminent domain, but eminent domain is being expanded to transfer property to private corporations.

One of the most telling remarks was when someone complained that America was "turned into" a nation of wage earners instead of independent business owners. They attributed this to the Income Tax and the Federal Reserve. What nonsense. This is a natural product of industrialization and capitalism. The amassing of private capital, and market competition, is what drives smaller independent producers out of business as economies of scale are established, thereby consolidating capital and necessarily producing a dichotomy of a large pool of wage laborers and a small pool of capital owners. This isn't a problem created by Federal Banks, this is a "problem" (if you call it that) created by private ownership of capital. It is inevitable in a capialist system.

What the people in the film fail to fully address is that the American government is ultimately a tool of private interests, so it is far more complex than simply saying that "government is bad and private property is good". Communism has nothing to do with this, indeed the whole objective of Communism was to overcome many of these very same problems that the film is complaining about. The wealthy are the people who benefit the most from the system, yet libertarians are often defending the wealthy and railing against the poor. They can't seem to get their agenda straight.

Once again the libertarians point the finger at a bogus bogeyman and secret cabals, while not addressing the real elephant in the room. They complain about "redistribution of wealth" to the poor, when in fact the wealth is being redistributed to the wealthy.

The reality is that things are nowhere near as simple as this film portrays them. As far as I'm concerned, eliminating the income tax would be fine, then replace it with a property tax and higher taxes on corporate profits and capital gains. Of course, we know that would never fly, because that would hit the wealthy. I want to see the Libertarians promote such a system. I don't pretend to have all the answers, but this film, while raising a few interesting points, doesn't even present a coherent analysis of the issues.

Posted by at 1:49 AM EDT | Post Comment | View Comments (4) | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, May 3, 2007 9:38 AM EDT
Saturday, April 7, 2007
 Blogging Against Theocracy

Topic: Semi-random Thoughts
There is a collective effort this Easter weekend to blog against theocracy, and I figured I would get my 2 cents in. I just watched the movie "Jesus Camp" last night, so this is a more poignant topic for me at the moment. If you have not watched "Jesus Camp" I encourage you to do so via the links at the bottom of this post.

There is an interesting split within the Christian community, and within many other religious communities, especially among Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). This is a very basic split along theocratic and secular lines. Of course there are an almost infinite number of splits within these religious communities, but one of the most basic splits is over the role of religion in government.

Christianity and Islam both stem from Judaism, and the Jews from which these religions sprang were indeed theocrats. All three of these religions establish theocracy as the only acceptable form of government. This fact has caused great struggle and contradiction and strife within societies dominated by these religions for as long as they have been around. In the 1st century the Jewish historian Josephus commented on this himself in a work that was directed against the critics of Judaism. He stated:
"Now there are innumerable differences in the particular customs and laws that are among all mankind, which a man may briefly reduce under the following heads: Some legislators have permitted their governments to be under monarchies, others put them under oligarchies, and others under a republican form; but our legislator had no regard to any of these forms, but he ordained our government to be what, by a strained expression, may be termed a Theocracy, by ascribing the authority and the power to God, and by persuading all the people to have a regard to him, as the author of all the good things that were enjoyed either in common by all mankind, or by each one in particular, and of all that they themselves obtained by praying to him in their greatest difficulties. He informed them that it was impossible to escape God's observation, even in any of our outward actions, or in any of our inward thoughts."
- Josephus; Against Apion, 1st century
What many people don't realize is that prior to the rise of Christianity, most of the Western world was governed by secular government. The ancient Jews were not a secular people, and when Christianity split off from Judaism it retained the anti-secular values of Judaism, eventually taking over the Roman Empire and leading to the establishment of over 1,000 years of Catholic theocracy in Europe.

Eventually people had enough of the abuses and social destruction that reigned under this system and efforts to put and end to theocracy emerged, even among Christians. The Founding Fathers of the United States of America were among the leaders of the movement for secular government. What they established, through great effort, both physical and intellectual, was a secular Constitution and a secular model for government, after over 1,000 years of European theocracy.
"The settled opinion here is, that religion is essentially distinct from civil Government, and exempt from its cognizance; that a connection between them is injurious to both;"
- James Madison; Letter to Edward Everett, March 18, 1823
"Notwithstanding the general progress made within the two last centuries in favour of this branch of liberty, & the full establishment of it, in some parts of our Country, there remains in others a strong bias towards the old error, that without some sort of alliance or coalition between Gov' & Religion neither can be duly supported: Such indeed is the tendency to such a coalition, and such its corrupting influence on both the parties, that the danger cannot be too carefully guarded agst.. And in a Gov' of opinion, like ours, the only effectual guard must be found in the soundness and stability of the general opinion on the subject. Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance. And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Gov will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together;"
- President James Madison, 1822
The problem for Christians, however, is that there will always be a conflict between secularism and theocracy, because at base the Christian religion really does call for theocracy. At base the establishment of Christianity as the dominant religion of Europe was only possible under theocracy, and the continued dominance of Christianity over the long term is only possible under theocracy.

With the rise of Fundamentalist Evangelical Christianity in America over the past 20 years many so-called moderate and liberal Christians have claimed that the Religious Right misrepresent the "true values" of Christianity, but I disagree. I think that the Religious Right in America are the true embodiment of Christianity, they are reading the whole Bible and taking it seriously. It is really the secular, moderate, and liberal Christians who misrepresent the religion. They are merely espousing modern secular values and then claiming that those values are reflected in the Bible or in the teachings of Jesus, but in fact they are not. It is the secular Christians who fail to be honest about the religion.

The movie "Jesus Camp" offers the perfect example. In the movie "Jesus Camp" there is a well meaning "moderate Christian" who comes in at intervals and comments on how the "extremists" have twisted and distorted the "true message" of the Bible and Christ. If only that were true, but in fact I found that all of the ideas espoused by the extremists were solidly rooted in the Bible itself, indeed in the New Testament.

In the Jesus camp, "Children on Fire", children from toddlers to teenagers were fundamentally instructed to believe in authority, not to question, to take all belief on faith and on what they felt in their hearts. The issues go beyond the camp however, and into the fundamental basis of evangelical ideology. Fundamentally evangelical Christians preach that "truth" is determined by feeling, by emotion. "You know the truth when you feel the Holy Spirit come into you." That is the message of evangelical Christianity, and what does this really amount to?

Science is about looking for ways to objectively evaluate observations and data to determine objective facts. Science relies on impartiality, peer review, and intentionally trying to remove one's emotions from the equation. Religion, especially evangelical religion, is about the complete opposite of this. Evangelical religion is about feeling and emotion and "sensing" the truth. In addition to this, it is also strongly about social ties, hierarchy, and your status among peers. This is the real reason why the evangelical movement is so widely embraced by politicians, because evangelicals learn to believe and accept "truth" based on feelings and social pressures, not on objective observations, skeptical inquiry, and rational argumentation. No, for evangelicals, emotion is truth, and when emotion is truth that means that one's beliefs can be manipulated by charismatic people, dramatic presentations, and social pressures.

The thing is, the precedents for all of this are indeed in the New Testament itself. This was the core of Christianity in the very beginning, and indeed I do think that evangelicals are very close to resembling the beliefs, values, and traditions of early Christianity.

In early Christianity it was all about faith, believing what someone said was true because of who they were, how they made you feel, what social groups they were a part of, and the types of things they said. This is made very clear in both the letters of Paul and the later Epistles. These letters were indeed direct appeals to real living people, the real living congregations, they weren't stories about someone, like the Gospels, these were live documents.

Anyone who doubts this should read not only letters from Paul like 1 Corinthians, but also the later epistles, such as 1 John and 2 Peter.
1 John 2:
3 We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. 4 The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. 11But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.
15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For everything in the world the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.
18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. 21 I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. 22 Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist he denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

24 See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is what he promised us even eternal life.
1 John 3:
7 Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. 8 He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work. 9 No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.
11 This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous. 13Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
24 Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
1 John 4:
1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5 They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.
13 We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

2 Peter 3:
3 First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be burned up.

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.
You can see here very clearly where the ideas of Evangelical Christians come from, they come straight from the Bible itself. This is not a religion that can be apologized for, and this is not a religion that ever was, nor ever will be, compatible with secular democracy. The only way in which Christianity and civil society can co-exist is through the common ignorance of Christians about their own religion and their lack of faith in it. Christians who actually take the time to read the Bible and believe in it and follow the religion are people like Evangelical Christians, who will only accept theocracy, and why shouldn't they if what the Bible says is true? If the Bible is true then theocracy should be the standard, democracy should be abolished as the way of the devil, secularism should be abolished, science should be destroyed, and we should look to our hearts and our feelings for the Holy Spirit to guide us to the truth.
John 8:
12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

13 The Pharisees challenged him, "Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid."

14 Jesus answered, "Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. 16 But if I do judge, my decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. 17 In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid. 18 I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me."

19 Then they asked him, "Where is your father?"

"You do not know me or my Father," Jesus replied. "If you knew me, you would know my Father also." 20 He spoke these words while teaching in the temple area near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his time had not yet come.

21 Once more Jesus said to them, "I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come."

The core problem of Christianity is that it is not an objective world-view and it is wholly incompatible with objectivity. From the epistles of Paul to the Gospels to the later epistles, everything is about believing in authority, accepting things as true because of authority, because of a feeling, because of faith, etc. There is no room in this religion for objective or skeptical thought. There simply is no logic or reason to the religion at all, there never was. It is a religion that at its core leaves followers open to manipulation because it has always been based on charismatic appeals, social pressure, faith, and emotions. It leaves people with no way to objectively evaluate "truth", they can only "feel it", and those feelings are of course nothing more than emotional strings that charismatic leaders can and do pull. That is why this religion became, and has remained, so popular with government and politics. Believers in it are eminently vulnerable to manipulation.

There is no way that secular society and Christianity can ever be compatible, not in the long run. It's time that the so-called moderate Christians wake up to this fact and reject this ancient cult for their own good, the good of society, and the future of humanity.

Segment on Jesus Camp from ABC News

Jesus Camp the movie 

Posted by at 4:12 PM EDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, April 8, 2007 11:40 AM EDT
Friday, April 6, 2007
 Free to Choose, Really?

Topic: Commentary

The following is my letter to the editor at Scientific American in regard to their featured op-ed, Free to Choose, by Michael Shermer:

Free to Choose

I disagree with Michael Shermer's Libertarian op-ed on choice.

The marketing example that Dr. Shermer put forward is an example of how this type of information is and will continue to be used. The vast majority of people do not accept mechanistic explanations for human thought processes, and this fact is exploited by industry and marketing firms to their advantage.

The passage that he quoted from Milton Freedman displays the typical naivety of Friedman and "free market" concepts in general. I would counter the quote of Friedman with one by Thomas Jefferson, from the introduction of his "Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom" from 1777:

"Well aware that: The opinions and belief of men depend not on their own will, but follow involuntarily the evidence proposed to their minds..."

How does one define "freedom", what constitutes an informed choice, and how does one define manipulation? Friedman pretends that direct force is the only type of force that matters, while ignoring disparity of knowledge as a form of force. It is naive of Shermer to think that an understanding of how the mind works will not be, and is not being, used by privileged members of society, principally capital owners, to game the system and take advantage of other people. That is, after all, the most economically expedient "choice" for those with an intellectual advantage to make.

Posted by at 3:15 PM EDT | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
Saturday, March 24, 2007
 Against Bio-fuels

Topic: Commentary
I haven't had time lately to do the type of research that I normally do for this website, so this will be a somewhat "off-the-cuff" commentary, but it's something that I wanted to point out. I was recently watching a program about fuel technology on television and one of the segments was advocating so-called "bio-fuel". What really struck me was that they noted that the largest user of bio-fuel in the world is Brazil, and this program had nothing but praise for the "Brazilian bio-fuel revolution".

Here is the thing though. What this program failed to mention is that the rate of rain-forest destruction in Brazil has been consistently growing, and though I have not done the research on this issue to fully address the facts, I strongly suspect that bio-fuel plays a large part in "fueling" that destruction.

Bio-fuel is not a viable alternative to oil and gas, and I would say that it's not viable for any kind of use other than on a small scale when waste materials are used to create the fuel. Bio-diesel from waste vegetable oil is fine, as are other fuels developed from waste plant material, but growing plants purely to use them as fuel is neither energy efficient nor environmentally friendly.

The reality is that farming is more destructive to the environment than the extraction of oil and gas is. This is unfortunate, because it would be great in terms of politics and market competition to have more viable alternatives to challenge the oil and gas fuel monopoly, but bio-fuel simply isn't the answer.

Think about this for a moment. Oil and gas is basically millions of years worth of accumulated organic material that has been pressure cooked and concentrated into a super dense and highly energetic substance. There is no way to effectively match the energy in oil and gas from a plant crop. The earth has done work on tons and ton of organic matter already to transform it into something extremely energetically dense. It's like taking a million years worth of farm crops and compressing it into a new dense substance, where the calories per gram far exceeds the calories per gram of the original plant matter.

In this sense, oil and gas are highly efficient because the earth and time have already done a lot of the work for us. But, of course, these resources are limited and burning them contributes to global warming, so there are other factors to consider as well.

Bio-fuel does somewhat address the issue of renew-ability, but it does not address the issue of global warming or environmental destruction.  Indeed even if we turned the entire planet into nothing but farmland, we still couldn't produce enough fuel to meet existing needs.

Bio-fuels emit less carbon-dioxide when burned than oil and gas when burned in the same manner, and this is really one of the biggest advantages, as well as the fact that in theory you plant a crop that consumes carbon-dioxide to supposedly offset the carbon emitted when the fuel is burned, but if you are clearing natural habitat to plant the crops then this is not really a gain.

However, a more effective use of resources would be to design ways to make oil and gas burn more cleanly, as well as putting more research into wind, solar, and wave energy collection systems. I suspect the engineered fuels will emerge soon as well.

I drive a Toyota Prius, which has it's own environmental problems when it comes to producing the nickel for the battery, which is an environmental nightmare, but in terms of carbon emission the Prius still emits less carbon-dioxide than a typical car running bio-diesel.

What I suspect we will see happening is that countries like Brazil, Indonesia, and places in Africa will emerge as the major sources for bio-fuels and these fuels will be produced through massive environmental destruction. Bio-fuels could become the leading cause of environmental destruction very soon actually. The fuel market is huge and extremely competitive. There are billions if not trillions of dollars at stake here, and if environmentalists think that they can "manage" this market or keep bio-fuel producers honest, or whatever, they are kidding themselves.

As far as I'm concerned, bio-fuel is a bad idea and this whole bio-fuel business is just letting a genie out of the bottle that could turn into a very, very ugly genie. What I have discussed here so far doesn't even begin to address the impact that bio-fuel could have on global hunger and starvation, as crops are used to fuel machines instead of feed people.

While oil and gas are limited resources, the earth's surface is a limited resource as well, and growing low energy fuel is not a very good use of that resource.

These are things to think about. As I said, I haven't put in the research on this issue to fully comment on it. If anyone has information that contradicts what I have said here, please let me know.

Posted by at 10:11 AM EDT | Post Comment | View Comments (8) | Permalink

Newer | Latest | Older

Copyright 2003 - 2006 Website Launched: 5/22/2003 Contact: