Archive for April, 2009

Mexico Senate OKs bill to legalize drug possesion

Mexico Senate OKs bill to legalize drug possesion

Like Kevin says, “This isn’t a done deal yet, but it’s good news.”

Mexico’s Senate approved a bill on Tuesday decriminalizing possession of small amounts of narcotics for personal use, in order to free resources to fight violent drug cartels.

The bill, proposed by conservative President Felipe Calderon, would make it legal to carry up to 5 grams (0.18 ounces) of marijuana, 500 milligrams (0.018 ounces) of cocaine and tiny quantities of other drugs such as heroin and methamphetamines.

Mexico’s Congress passed a similar proposal in 2006 but the bill was vetoed by Calderon’s predecessor Vicente Fox, under pressure from the United States, which said it would increase drug abuse, but now is worried by the drug-related violence along its border.

Calderon has staked his presidency on curtailing the escalating violence between rival drug gangs as they fight over smuggling routes to the United States, with violence spilling into U.S. cities like Phoenix and Tucson.

Reuters: Mexico Senate OKs bill to legalize drug possesion

(via Cryptogon)

April 30, 2009 0 comments
Paul Krugman: Money for Nothing

Paul Krugman: Money for Nothing

Furthermore, paying vast sums to wheeler-dealers isn’t just outrageous; it’s dangerous. Why, after all, did bankers take such huge risks? Because success — or even the temporary appearance of success — offered such gigantic rewards: even executives who blew up their companies could and did walk away with hundreds of millions. Now we’re seeing similar rewards offered to people who can play their risky games with federal backing.

So what’s going on here? Why are paychecks heading for the stratosphere again? Claims that firms have to pay these salaries to retain their best people aren’t plausible: with employment in the financial sector plunging, where are those people going to go?

No, the real reason financial firms are paying big again is simply because they can. They’re making money again (although not as much as they claim), and why not? After all, they can borrow cheaply, thanks to all those federal guarantees, and lend at much higher rates.

Paul Krugman: Money for Nothing

April 30, 2009 0 comments
Douglas Rushkoff on Richard Metzger’s Dangerous Minds

Douglas Rushkoff on Richard Metzger’s Dangerous Minds

Turns out there’s already another Dangerous Minds episode. This one features Douglas Rushkoff and covers some familiar terroritory for readers of Rushkoff’s columns (which I link to frequently).

I agree with quite a lot of what Rushkoff has to say, and I respect him a lot. But there are a few important things he gets wrong or doesn’t account for.

There’s a contradiction in his assertion that the government/corporate complex will be too broke to enforce monopolies – but he also mentions, when questioned about US foreign debt, that we still have the strongest military. And that’s the thing. Entrenched powers aren’t going to roll over and die as long as they’ve got the bomb and the gun.

Alternative currencies are great. But governments tend squash them as soon as they start disrupting the status quo. See The New Currency War and George Monbiot’s history of alternative currency. There’s a really question of how much the “powers that be” will let “us” get away with – in terms of growing our own food, creating our own currency, and anything else that reduces their power over us.

Much of Rushkoff’s optimism stems from romanticizing a future where Americans break free from our cubicles and start actually “doing stuff.” I’ve noticed a tendency for a lot of people to think that jobs need to be more like what they think their ideal job should be like. Some people say “people need to be out doors” or “people need to work with their hands” or “people need more creative jobs.” They miss the fact that a lot of people genuinely like working with numbers, or programing computers, or doing detailing oriented office work.

Anyway, the millions of people who work in (or have recently worked in) the health care, education, restaurant, hotel, farming, gardening, manufacturing, trucking, rail road, utility, and construction industries may be surprised to hear that all the economy needs is for Americans just need to get off their fat cubicle dwelling asses and “do something.” What percentage of the population is actually employed in just pushing numbers around and managing outsourced labor?

I’m fairly confused on this point because Rushkoff also talks about how the financial industry is essentially extracting value from the rest of us. So are we producing value or not?

Rushkoff is correct in tracing the modern collusion of government and corporations back to the very beginnings of corporations, but he falls into a certain trap that libertarians tend to fall into: the idea that getting rid of the government influence would solve the problem of megacorporations (or other large institutions) would stop their meddling in the market and lead to a laissez faire utopia.

The problem is that the government is not the only way large institutions (be they for-profit corporations, religious institutions, unions, professional organizations, or non-profit organizations) manipulate the market. We could try splitting up megacorproations – but that requires government intervention and gets sticky quick (for all the reasons that libertarians warn against government intervention).

The typical libertarian assumption, as I understand it, is that without government intervention the market would quickly self-correct – all those decades of entrenched power and influence would cease to matter as real competition came to the fold. Needless to say, I don’t share this belief. And actually, I rather doubt Rushkoff does either.

I look forward to Rushkoff’s book. I suspect many of my points will at least be addressed.

Rest of the episode after the jump.

April 30, 2009 3 comments
Real Life DHARMA Initiative # 8: Oneida Community

Real Life DHARMA Initiative # 8: Oneida Community

dharma initiative brand food

oneida

The Oneida Community was a utopian commune that existed from 1848 until 1881.

Like the DHARMA Initiative, members of the Oneida Community were assigned jobs by the community. And like DHARMA, they produced their own line of products. In fact, although the commune has ceased to exist, their silverware business Oneida Limited continues today.

Wikipedia: Oneida Community

April 30, 2009 0 comments
Wyatt Cenac on the Horrors of Socialism in Sweden

Wyatt Cenac on the Horrors of Socialism in Sweden

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Very interesting bit: the Swedish MP explains that Sweden has a trade surplus and lends money to the US (we, of course, have a massive trade deficit).

There is, of course, a contrarian view: that the trade deficit is not a bad thing. That it is, in fact, a good thing:

The Causes and Consequences of the U.S. Trade Deficit


Are Trade Deficits Really Bad News?

(a case that seems less and less reality-based every day)

April 29, 2009 3 comments
Richard Metzger’s new show: Dangerous Minds, episode one

Richard Metzger’s new show: Dangerous Minds, episode one

Since I’ve been a little soft of socialism lately, here are some thoughts on this episode: they talk a lot about the problems with capitalism and the need for more welfare to support the large numbers of people who will be unemployed long term as the economy continues to change.

However, they do not propose any real solutions (granted, this is just a short interview). The Welfare State needs a tax base to fund its social programs. Metzger mentions that he doesn’t see the market proposing any solutions to our problems. “The market” (a dubious term in its own right – what we should actual say is “private industry”) is perhaps the only thing proposing solutions – alternative energy, biotechnology, and other initiatives to increase actual, non-fictitious capital. Even solutions like permaculture, co-ops, credit unions, and alternative currency are “market” solutions, in that they are they are the private undertakings.

The good news is that McCain was, probably inadvertently, right when he said that the “fundamentals of our economy are strong.” We remain amongst the largest manufacturing countries in the world and one of the biggest exporters in the world. (Here’s an interesting article about the modern US manufacturing industry)

The bad news of course, we’re all familiar with: heavy debt both as a nation and as individuals, lack of individual savings, a serious trade deficit, etc. Some of these problems may have some governmental solutions. But redistribution of wealth require wealth to redistribute, and tariffs and trade regulation require commerce to regulate (whatever the advantages and disadvantages may be). This is what “the market” is good for.

Rest of the episode after the jump.

April 29, 2009 2 comments
The Lost Inventions of Buckminster Fuller (Part 3 of 3)

The Lost Inventions of Buckminster Fuller (Part 3 of 3)

The most important information on why the Dymaxion House never went into production can be found on pages 85-114 of Pawley’s Buckminster Fuller. Namely, this was due to Fuller’s “fanatical determination to retain complete personal control of the project and refine the house still further before putting it into production.” Although there were estimates of 250,000 Dymaxion Houses to be produced each year and 37,000 unsolicited orders before production began, the only Dymaxion Houses ever made were incomplete or miniature models. Of all the lost inventions of Buckminster Fuller, this is the one that could have done the most good in the world. The Dymaxion House was just as Fortune magazine described it: the industry that industry missed. [...]

R. Buckminster Fuller described himself as a “terrific package of experiences.” The record of Fuller’s uncredited duplication of prior work suggests that he was at times a terrific package of other people’s experiences.

The Lost Inventions of Buckminster Fuller (Part 3 of 3)

April 29, 2009 1 comment
End the University as We Know It

End the University as We Know It

Mark C. Taylor, the chairman of the religion department at Columbia:

GRADUATE education is the Detroit of higher learning. Most graduate programs in American universities produce a product for which there is no market (candidates for teaching positions that do not exist) and develop skills for which there is diminishing demand (research in subfields within subfields and publication in journals read by no one other than a few like-minded colleagues), all at a rapidly rising cost (sometimes well over $100,000 in student loans). [...]

The dirty secret of higher education is that without underpaid graduate students to help in laboratories and with teaching, universities couldn’t conduct research or even instruct their growing undergraduate populations. That’s one of the main reasons we still encourage people to enroll in doctoral programs. It is simply cheaper to provide graduate students with modest stipends and adjuncts with as little as $5,000 a course — with no benefits — than it is to hire full-time professors.

In other words, young people enroll in graduate programs, work hard for subsistence pay and assume huge debt burdens, all because of the illusory promise of faculty appointments. But their economical presence, coupled with the intransigence of tenure, ensures that there will always be too many candidates for too few openings.

Taylor goes on to suggest some radical changes to the structure of universities.

New York Times: End the University as We Know It

(via Steven Walling)

April 28, 2009 0 comments
New York Times won’t call torture torture because the Bush admin said it wasn’t

New York Times won’t call torture torture because the Bush admin said it wasn’t

Doug Jehl, who’s the Washington editor for the New York Times, explains today why his paper cannot use the word “torture” to describe “waterboarding” when no legal or political or cultural authority from the Spanish Inquisition until the Bush administration ever doubted for a moment that it was torture. [...]

In the face of this, are there any legal decisions, judgments or trials in the last five centuries in which waterboarding has not been deemed torture? None that I am aware of. And this is not surprising. If waterboarding someone 183 times is not torture, then nothing is torture.

The fact that the editors of the New York Times cannot reflect this core truth in its use of plain English is a scandal of journalistic cowardice, evasion and willful ignorance. It is entirely a function not of seeking the truth but of placating those in power and maintaining a fictitious illusion of “balance”. The idea that the Bush administration’s insistence for the first time in human history that waterboarding is legal and not torture – when it has itself used the torture technique – is to be weighed equally against the entire body of legal, historical and cultural evidence in deciding what to call torture is preposterous.

Andrew Sullivan: Can Doug Jehl Read?

(via Jay Rosen)

April 28, 2009 1 comment
Obama’s Transparency Promise: We’re Still Waiting

Obama’s Transparency Promise: We’re Still Waiting

When President Obama – in one of his first official acts – committed his new administration to an “unprecedented” level of transparency, EFF applauded the change in policy. Likewise, when Attorney General Holder, at the President’s direction, issued new guidelines liberalizing agency implementation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), we welcomed it as a “particularly promising development.” But we also noted that it remained to be seen whether reality would match the rhetoric as the new policy was applied, particularly in the context of pending lawsuits – several of which EFF is pursuing – that challenge Bush-era decisions to withhold requested information. [...]

The FBI’s failure to change course in the IDW case is not the only situation in which EFF has found that the administration’s actions are not yet living up to its pro-transparency rhetoric. We have clearly noted our disappointment in finding that the Obama administration has adopted the Bush policy with respect to the state secrets privilege in the context of illegal wiretapping. And the White House has not even bothered to respond to EFF’s formal requests for information concerning the use of cookies (PDF) at whitehouse.gov and the policies governing records created on White House BlackBerries and similar devices (PDF). For an administration that promised on Day One that it was “committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government,” the early track record leaves a great deal to be desired. It’s now time to start delivering on that promise.

EFF: Obama’s Transparency Promise: We’re Still Waiting

(via Disinfo)

April 28, 2009 0 comments