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Whatever Happened to Henry George?

I very recently finished a pretty darned good book, Henry George's Progress and Poverty from 1879. In it, he asks some serious questions of the class of scholars then known as "political economists," specifically why more people starve where civilization is most developed, and not less.

This association of poverty with progress is the great enigma of our times. It is the central fact from which spring industrial, social, and political difficulties that perplex the world, and with which statesmanship and philanthropy and education grapple in vain. . . . So long as all the increased wealth which modern progress brings goes to build up great fortunes, to increase luxury and make sharper the contrast between the House of Have and the House of Want, progress is not real and cannot be permanent. The reaction must come. The tower leans from its foundations, and every new story but hastens the final catastrophe. To educate men who must be condemned to poverty, is but to make them restive; to base on a state of most glaring social inequality political institutions under which men are theoretically equal, is to stand a pyramid on its apex.

(Henry George, Progress and Poverty, 1879, Book I, Chapter I, Paragraph 5.)

NB: Since Mr. George's book is available online in its entirety, I have decided to reference not the page numbers, but the Book, Chapter and Paragraph to make cross-referencing that much easier.

This might be the first any of you have heard of this connection between progress, also known as the development of civilization, and poverty. But throughout his book George points out example after example supporting his initial observation. Where civilization goes, poverty and want follow.

The reason? The fact that property is allowed to be held in private hands. Take this section from Book X, Chapter V, Paragraph 19: "In the very centers of our civilization to-day are want and suffering enough to make sick at heart whoever does not close his eyes and steel his nerves." Is there something we could do? How about a full-blown miracle?

Dare we turn to the Creator and ask Him to relieve it? Supposing the prayer were heard, and at the behest with which the universe sprang into being there should glow in the sun a greater power; new virtue fill the air; fresh vigor the soil; that for every blade of grass that now grows two should spring up, and the seed that now increases fifty-fold should increase a hundred-fold! Would poverty be abated or want relieved?

Any bets out there how a sudden increase in the harvests would be met by us, we mere civilized people? I doubt the answer will surprise.Collapse )


Germanwings crash

This story is getting weirder and weirder. An aviation expert on the Airbus, said the plane is so technologically advanced, it's almost impossible to make it crash. And once the cockpit door is closed, unless someone inside allows you in, there is no way to get inside (that's a result of the 9/11 aircraft modifications to prevent hijacking). There have previous attempts to get cameras inside airliner cockpits, with either recording on hard drives on the airplane, or uplinked in real time to satellite for remote storage.

More at the New York Times.

General Discussion on Cannabis Reform

Been a while since we touched based on this issue. Oh yeah, I can link to the latest reports (which seem to pop up several times a day now) on how the issue is becoming damn near mainstream.

Even my redass state of Georgia is passing a cream CBD oil (the one "for the children". The irony writes itself on this issue). Suddenly 'regulation/legalization/ bills are popping up all over the states. Medical MJ is about to top the 26 state mark, a psychological tipping point for national politics.

The few agencies with vested interest (DEA, NIDA, FDA) have circled their meager wagons, and can only foot drag mounting requests for government weed for research.

But we know this. This all sounds good. But something is afoot.

The Free Market™

Reformers who have worked decades on chipping away at this issue are finding themselves (mostly politely) pushed to the side while the Big Business guys come in. Of course, they pony up the dough for the political machines, in return for some sweet exclusives on growing rights in the state.

Ohio reformers are freaking out that another group came out of nowhere, started their own petition, won't even return the activists calls, and work back room deals for exclusive distributorships.  This happed at the end of alcohol prohibition and we who have to use the regulatory system set up 'way back when' suffer with the brand exclusive oligarchies of "one guy carries Jack, another carries Bud".

Me, my motivation has not been commercial. It has been about civil liberty. Stop criminalizing those who consume cannabis and let the details work themselves out.

It should be pointed out it is relatively easy to grow a couple of outdoor plants and have enough for your personal use, and to swap with neighbors growing other strains, or creating edibles, shatter, etc. Yes you can make you own beer and spirits, but you can buy all your food too. Yet many people garden, containers to fields. It is a lot cheaper to drop a seed or buy a cutting, than it is to brew some beer or ferment wine.

When prohibition apologist Kevin Sabin lamented last week about "Big Business" taking over, a response from another panel member was "You can have a legal regulated market or a legal unregulated market. Take your pick. But make no mistake about it, prohibition is over."

Is it over? What do you think?

You guys ready to call it for the good guys or do we still have 4-5 more years until the Feds act?

John Oliver's opening credits

John Oliver program on HBO is go good, and even the title sequence is fantastic from a graphic design point of view. The sequence is adaptable for what could be considered a main news item from that week. Case in point has included photographs of Joan Rivers, when she died, Pope Francis, all with cute subtitles. This week was no exception with a photo of Bobby Durst (serial killer that was arrested last week and the subject of a HBO series about his murders) with the title "Durstus Worstus." Unfortunately, I can't find screen grabs that are small enough to fit on the page, yet allow you read all the text, but here is a sample.

Here is Robert Durst (the tagline is a play on the label for John Oliver, Hostus Mostus):

And here is the opening title sequence itself


Historical Irony That Should Burn

Hello, liberal readers! I'm curious if anyone is still reading, so I thought I'd throw in a post and see what happens!

In another LJ user's page, I read recently of Angela Merkel's recent comments to the government of Japan concerning its relations to the nations it attacked during what Japan called The Pacific War.

Ukeru Magosaki, who served as the head of the Intelligence and Analysis Bureau in the ministry, highly hailed German Chancellor Angela Merkel's keen urges here last week that Japan should look at its past openly and squarely, adding Japan's politicians should take the lead to correct current wrong historical perception.

It turns out that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is "a well-known historical revisionist" who is, along with other rightists:

making tremendous efforts to deny or whitewash Japan's wartime crimes such as the issue of "comfort women," a euphemism for wartime sex slaves forcibly recruited by the Japanese Imperial Army, and the Nanjing Massacre.

"They attempt to deny the 'comfort women' issue by arguing whether or not the victims were forcibly recruited, but the fact is that the military truly involved in" the recruitment through coaxing and coercion, he said.

"These rightists also tried to question the exact number of the victims of the Nanjing Massacre so as to deny the war crime. But the fact is that the massacre occurred."

Which lead to Merkel's comments, along with an observation that Germany did the right thing with the international community because it "did face its past squarely."

That comment, though, given recent events that have little if anything to do with the Second World War, struck me as quite ironic. Allow me to explain.Collapse )
Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the EC, went to Baghdad were she was welcomed by Nazar Al-Kheer Allah, Iraqi Undersecretary for Bilateral Relations (EC Audiovisual Services, 22/12/2014).

Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the EC, went to Baghdad were she was welcomed by Nazar Al-Kheer Allah, Iraqi Undersecretary for Bilateral Relations (EC Audiovisual Services, 22/12/2014).

The year 2014 has seen many changes and overturns in the EU-Russia relations, but although the New Year is just a few hours away, there is still time for the last swing. From both sides.

Yesterday a few Russian media outlets reported that the High Representative of the European Union Federica Mogherini stated that Western powers want to find common ground with Russia and end their confrontational approach over Ukraine. During an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Mogherini suggested to open up a direct dialogue with Moscow, denying that the EU differs from the US in its position towards dealing with the crisis at the same time.

Mogherini reportedly said to the Italian newspaper that it is “in Moscow’s interests to help end the Ukrainian conflict”, while the West must “begin direct discussions with Moscow over our mutual relations and the role Russia can play in other crises”. “Russia has an important role not only in Ukraine, but also in Syria, Iran, the Middle East, and Libya”, she continued.

Mogherini’s words, which were promptly spread by Russian media, might show a change in the EU’s approach towards Russia, which comes right after a possible flip from Moscow’s side too, after months of cold statements. What remains uncertain though, is whether this change applies on the communication strategy solely, like a big refurbishment of the “Kremlin’s façade”, or somewhere deeper. In a statement titled “Main Foreign Policy Events of 2014″, the Russian Foreign Ministry last Saturday described the EU as its “neighbour and major trade and economics partner”.

The Ministry has pointed its relations with the European Union as a “priority in its international policy”, adding that despite the current deteriorating Russia-EU ties, partnership with Europe will be among the country’s top priorities “for years to come”. Just a few weeks have passed since the South Stream project has been officially dropped by Russian leaders, and these last announcements sound like a big, unexpected U-turn.

What is very interesting to see though is how the Ministry seems to drag attention on the whole geopolitical situation of the year which is now coming to its end, more than on the actors and creators of any instability. “2014 was marked by the accumulation of instability elements and build-up of crisis occurrences in international relations, which are undergoing a transition period, connected with the shaping of a new polycentric world order”, the document says.

In the document, which is still only available in Russian, the Foreign Ministry also refers to the sanctions placed on Russia by the EU and United States over the Ukraine crisis, claiming those are targeting “not only individuals, but also the state economy” and that Moscow’s response was retaliatory to such measures, according to the translation provided by RT.

But just a few days before those statements, the situation looked a bit different. At those times the words of a very influential Russian diplomat, Vladimir Chizhov, Ambassador to the European Union, sounded not so pro-positive. On Wednesday 24th, in an interview with TASS, the Russian news agency, Mr. Chizhov doubted that the European Union is a reliable partner due to its political course towards Russia. “Surely, the EU will remain an important partner for us. But I should admit with regret that EU reliability as a partner now after what had happened is not so evident,” he said.

Mr. Chizhov openly referred to the sanctions imposed on Russia by the EU as the latest Russian proof of the above, but claiming that the EU has no consensus on whether sanctions against Russia should be abolished, extended or increased. According to him this happens “not because the EU is tired of taking sanctions decisions, but because their efficiency is low”.

Although no one could see a glimmer for a thawing in such words, nowadays it’s clear that something is moving, and that the situation will look different after a “warm” winter to come. It’s probably the instability of the economic situation, including the ruble crisis, to set the agenda, and shape the communication strategy of both sides. EU leaders already held strategic talks on Russia earlier this month, with German chancellor Angela Merkel foreseeing only a lifting of sanctions on Russia, France and Italy taking a softer line, and many foreign Ministers – as German Frank-Walter Steinmeier from the centre-left SPD party in the grand coalition – warning that a Russian economic collapse would be dangerous for Europe.

It was only yesterday when Austrian President Heinz Fischer cited possible further sanctions against Russia as a “foolish and damaging” step. “I believe it is a false and even damaging point of view that the sanctions can be toughened to the extent, when Russia is weak,” he said during an interview with APA news agency.

On Christmas eve Russia’s TASS reported the news that the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini is expected to visit Moscow by the end of this winter. On the same day Mr. Chiznov underlined that Moscow is ready to cooperate with the EU leadership and that it is “hopeful that the dialogue will start working at all levels”. On the same day he also added that Brussels has begun to understand that “the sanctions have no prospect”, but it’s never too late to change your mind.

All in all, during these Christmas holidays we notice a major shift in the EU-Russia relations. All roads point towards a more solid soil in international relations in 2015 and this is undeniably something that the world needs.

Witness the Depths of Republican Cynicism

Keeping to legitimate news-sources as I do, most of this Gruber-nonsense has passed below my radar. I'll see "Gruber" come up on Twitter's trending list, a video linked on social media, before ignoring it the same way I do most of the things I see there. But I'd like to explore what the recent case taken up by the Supreme Court, King v. Burwell, and the surrounding right-wing rhetoric, says about modern conservatives.

[Snipped]If you're not familiar, the case turns on whether the Affordable Care Act (the "ACA") authorizes tax-credit subsidies for the purchase of health insurance on exchanges set up by the federal government, where states have elected not to set up their own. The conservative argument being pressed to the Court is that it does not; the ACA by its terms authorizes such subsidies only for insurance purchased on exchanges "established by the State[s]," thereby expressly precluding subsidies for federally-run exchanges. The "liberal" (we'll call it) argument is that this is too narrow a reading; under the ACA, when "States" refuse to establish their own exchanges, the federal government steps in to set up exchanges for them. This reading, on the liberal account, is supported by the broader policy behind and structure of the ACA - it makes no sense to require people to buy insurance on exchanges without providing subsidies to make such insurance "affordable."

So, the conservative counterargument to the liberal policy argument turns out to be essential, and helps to explain why the right blogosphere has been all up-in-arms over Gruber's statements. On the conservative account, the limitation of tax subsidies to "State"-established exchanges was intended to incentivize state politicians to form their own exchanges. As Gruber is taken to have put it:

In the law, it says if the states don’t provide them, the federal backstop will. The federal government has been sort of slow in putting out its backstop, I think partly because they want to sort of squeeze the states to do it. I think what’s important to remember politically about this, is if you’re a state and you don’t set up an Exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits. But your citizens still pay the taxes that support this bill. So you’re essentially saying to your citizens, you’re going to pay all the taxes to help all the other states in the country. I hope that’s a blatant enough political reality that states will get their act together and realize there are billions of dollars at stake here in setting up these Exchanges, and that they’ll do it.

Now, Gruber has, to be sure, disclaimed the way that this passage has been read - as endorsing the view that the ACA was designed to create political incentives to set up state exchanges by denying subsidies to citizens buying insurance on federal exchanges. Gruber says, instead, that he misspoke somewhat - he meant to be referring to the incentives he thought states would have not to sit on their hands while the federal government took longer to step in. But I'm not going to focus on that. I'm going to accept, for argument's sake, that Gruber meant exactly what conservatives are taking him to have meant, and try to unpack what that tells us about conservatives and their politics.

What they would be saying about themselves, then, is that the ACA was intended to incentivize them to act in a way that would serve citizens' interests. Gruber assumed, in other words, that conservative politicians would recognize that their constituents' tax money was being siphoned off to support tax subsidies in other, more progressive states, and would rationally recognize this as a political risk. What conservatives seem now to be saying, as their celebration of King v. Burwell attests, is: "Guess what? We actually don't give a shit."

And not only do they not give a shit, they want King v. Burwell to "succeed" not because they have any professed, abstract love for clear statutory interpretation or application, but because they recognize that a failure of the federal subsidy would trigger a failure of the federal exchanges. It's hard to imagine them being so sanguine about King v. Burwell, otherwise, isn't it? Why celebrate this case, if you expect that all it will mean is that people will continue to buy health insurance on the federal exchanges - they just will have to pay more from their own pockets?

But this raises a perplexing question: why do conservatives want to take a law they already think is bad and market-distorting, and make it worse? Court challenges have already screwed millions of people out of Medicaid coverage (and so, millions of taxpayers are already paying for benefits they can't receive just because they don't live in the right states). They are now trying to screw people out of federal subsidies to comply with an individual mandate that will, in any event, still apply to them.

(It's worth noting that the fact of this failure, if accepted, actually tends to undermine the conservative interpretation of the "established by the State[s]" language. Why would the ACA direct the federal government to establish exchanges where incentives are designed in such a way as to ensure that those exchanges would fail?)

The only apparent answer to this is: they want the federal exchanges to fail, and the law to function improperly, because they want to build political support for its repeal or substantial revision. Recognizing that they do not have the political support currently to correct a law that (they are keen on reminding us) a lot of people already don't like, conservatives are pretending to care about statutory interpretation only so long as necessary to shift political opinion.

To sum up: conservatives are using their antipathy toward their own constituents as a launching pad for a legal challenge designed to make a bad law even worse, all with an eye toward achieving a further political end that they must readily acknowledge would be unachievable otherwise. It is, to be brief, pervasively cynical, and an extreme discredit to any nincompoop who would extol their efforts seriously. When they champion the Gruber admissions as vindicating, they are saying, in essence: "Yes, that is who we are."

The SCOTUS is preparing to hear arguments regarding the constitutionaliy of the ACA's government subsidies, something that anyone with half a brain would KNOW is constitutional. But our SCOTUS is not a brainy lot, and they just might find a way to rule it unconstitutional, thereby virtually destroying the ACA, So if you can, please pass this image around. Thanks.