Category Archives: Current Events

Princeton Concludes What Kind of Government America Really Has, and It’s Not a Democracy

Princeton Concludes What Kind of Government America Really Has, and It’s Not a Democracy

A new scientific study from Princeton researchers… found that in fact, America is basically an oligarchy.

“Princeton” concludes?! “A new scientific study…”?! This is some sloppy journalism that you should immediately ignore. But it gets worse…

“Perhaps economic elites and interest group leaders enjoy greater policy expertise than the average citizen does,” Gilens and Page write. “Perhaps they know better which policies will benefit everyone, and perhaps they seek the common good, rather than selfish ends, when deciding which policies to support.

“But we tend to doubt it.”

That’s the close of the article; these “scientists” are about as unsophisticated as the journalist reporting it. They repeat the same old adages about inequality that don’t really mean much: The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting less richer, and (we wrongly assume) membership in these groups is stable over time. Their conclusion is basically “rich, powerful interests promote their own interests… if only the middle class was in charge to promote the public good instead of their own interests!”

And yet, I think there’s something worth reading here. I think the conclusion that the U.S. is an oligarchy is roughly correct. The importance of politically connected individuals and lobbying groups affects wealth creation and distribution. This is an example of where the Left and Right should agree with libertarians: centralization of political power is leading to wasteful rent seeking that weakens the economy (Right/libertarian) and the outcome is that politically powerful groups are given an unfair advantage (Left/libertarian).

We know that Democrats are libertarian on social issues (and this is one of them!) and Republicans are libertarian on economic issues (ditto), but we hit a snag. Each group tends to see the faults of the other party’s pet projects and miss the root causes. Republicans see Democrats centralizing power and weakening property rights and step in to save the victim: businesses. The result is pro-business policy recommendations that also centralize power. The Democrats see this and step in to save the victim: the little guy (poor people and consumers). The result is centralization of power that creates rent seeking opportunities for big business!

Встреча в Женеве по украинскому вопросу

Друзья,  думаю что для вас не секрет, что вчера состоялась многосторонняя встреча между представителями Украины, России, ООН и кого-то еще в Женеве. По итогам встречи были приняты некоторые договоренности. В частности, стороны пришли к соглашению, что украинский кризис должны решать сами украинцы своими силами без помощи России и Запада. И дураку понятно, что сейчас идет противостояние между Россией и Западом через Украину, у кого яйца крепче (BALLS, not EGGS!). Противоположные взгляды на кризис пока что не дают нам придти к компромиссу. Во многом этому способствует и информационная война в СМИ, которая сталкивает лбами братские народы на потеху сетевых троллей и всяких маргинальных элементов общества.

В ближайшее время Украина должна наладить многонациональный диалог между регионами страны и разработать новый план конституции, который дал бы расширенные полномочия автономиям, утвердил статус русского языка. Неспокойный юго-восток Украины, который длительное время был территорией России, и лишь в 19-каких-то годах стал частью Украины нужно успокаивать не силой, а через диалог.

Я уверен, что только через диалог можно добиться прогрессивных результатов.

Around the Web

  1. The Globalization of Apartheid from anthropologist Keith Hart. I have a critique (as well as lots of praise) in process.
  2. Kapital for the Twenty-First Century: A review of Thomas Piketty’s new book by James K Galbraith.
  3. The Many Problems with “Equal Pay”: Legal scholar Richard Epstein brings his usually clarity to the table
  4. Taxes Are Much Higher Than You Think: A great op-ed from Nobel Prize winner Edward Prescott and UCLA economist Lee Ohanian in the Wall Street Journal
  5. An open letter to President Obama from a prominent center-Left economist (and Democratic Party member): Give Us Back Our Statistical Data
  6. Scratching the Surface: Some proposals for campaign finance reform from a law professor guest blogging at the Volokh Conspiracy


Are GMOs Bad For Me?

I am vaguely perceiving that there is a battle brewing someplace about labeling food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). It happened in California before. The initiative lost by referendum.

Of course, I am almost always in favor of more information for the public (even when it’s likely to be used for mischief). However, I can’t avoid wondering why sellers of food products don’t just do it on their own to gain a marketing advantage over their competitors. Not getting an answer to this question, I am wondering whether this is not just another case of a minority using the power of the state to impose its views (by force) on the indifferent majority. Keep in mind that this is what the word “law” means: If you break it, you expose yourself to official violence.

I honestly don’t know what’s wrong with GMOs. I only know that they (one?) allowed for a reduced use of pesticides. This has to be a good thing because exposure to large amounts of pesticides is bad for the health of producers and handlers. (I doubt today’s pesticides cause much harm to consumers but I always wash fruits and salad components.) I invited a local libertarian who addressed the topic on Facebook to write an essay for this blog explaining the answer. That was only a couple of days ago. He has not responded. I repeat the invite, to anyone.

What am I supposed to do, I, simple citizen and consumer not especially well equipped to ascertain if GMOs are a threat or not to my beloved? As I keep telling you, fortunately, I don’t necessarily have to go to graduate school yet three or four more years to get an idea. Instead, I look at the proponents I know.

In my area, the people who fight GMOs are mostly (but not only) foofoo heads who overlap a great deal, I think, with those who cancel erotically promising dates on the basis of astrology. They are largely the same people who advocate policy which, taken together, would take us back to what Karl Marx called, “the idiocy of village life,” with a life expectancy hovering around thirty five and a 30% infant mortality They, themselves, wouldn’t survive there more five weeks or less, by the way, because they are too coddled, too self-indulgent, and not alert enough. The wolves about which they keep crying now and here really lived then on the outskirts of such villages. They would gobble up anti-GMOist for a snack.

All the same, I keep an open mind. Anyone who wants to post a comment on GMOs can be sure it will not be censored or modified in any way. I will also consider with great interest any essay on this topic for this blog. Anyone can also send me reading assignments. I will post them but I will not read them unless the sender explains clearly why I should, beginning with the source. (See the standards I apply here)

Привет из Империи Зла

Прошло несколько месяцов с начала конфликта на Украине, и русский народ потихоньку учится жить в новом изменившемся и продолжающем изменяться мире. Неопределенная геополитическая ситуация и санкции США уже начинают сказываться на жизни простых граждан. Потихоньку растут цены, государства продолжают обмениваться мелкими вредительствами, запрещая продажу тех или иных товаров, которые якобы “не соответствуют законодательству”. В основном это касается продуктов питания из Украины, и частично из Польши (там действительно какие-то проблемы с бактериологической безопасностью продуктов). В остальном же для рядовых граждан мало что изменилось. Не считая спада в экономике, рост которой к концу 2014 года прогнозируется всего лишь на уровне 0,4% и уменьшения кредитных операций (люди сами боятся брать кредиты, потому что не знают, что будет в мире через месяц), наблюдается отток зарубежного капитала из наших банков. Основные усилия банковской системы России направлены на поддержание рубля, который значительно потерял в стоимости в связи с последними событиями (около 10%, если не ошибаюсь). Рост мировых цен на нефть, неясная ситуация с украинским долгом по российскому природному газу а также внесение в санкционные списки США нескольких важных предпринимателей из России подорвали основу рубля, но в целом ситуация стабильная, хоть и с негативным прогнозом. В городах “империи зла” все спокойно, люди живут как жили и занимаются своими обычными делами: работают, отдыхают, посещают концерты и мероприятия, выставки, общаются в skype. В наши края постепенно приходит весна. В этом году она задерживается. Уже середина апреля, а у нас все еще достаточно холодно. Хотя возможно это компенсируется теплой зимой, которая была в этом году. Довольно много говорят о политике. В основном простые люди сходятся на мысли, что западная пропаганда очень сильно демонизирует образ президента России, и как следствие – в умах простых американцев, европейцев и азиатов распространяется неверное представление о “злых русских”. Хочется вспомнить одну русскую поговорку “не суди человека по его одежде, а суди по его поступкам” (i don’t know how your google translators will translate this, so i provide my own translation: “don’t judge someone’s clothes – judge his deeds”). Далеко не все русские являются империалистами, коварными захватчиками, которые спят и видят, как бы отхватить от Украины очередной кусок. Подавляющее большинство – такие же люди как и вы, запутавшиеся в войне пропаганды и желающие, чтобы вся эта ситуация с Украиной поскорее разрешилась. Берегите себя!

Unequal Pay: For Women Only – Part Two (There really is a Part One.)

Editor’s note: this old essay by Dr Delacroix might be worth reading in tandem with this article. It’s titled “Sasquatch and Liberal Academe.”

I agreed in Part One of this essay that there may be a small average pay difference of five percentage points between employed American women and men. It’s possible that even after you take into account all the facts mentioned before, lower education, less seniority, lesser presence in well paid industries, women, on the average, earn 95 cents on men’s one dollar. (That’s also on the average.) I agreed that this may be evidence of discrimination against women in the work place. But is it the obvious explanation? Is it the only explanation? Is it even credible at all?

There is a reason this is an essay for women only. I want to help you evoke forbidden topics, topics never or rarely approached in the social sciences or in the newspapers. It’s time to muster everything you know about your sisters, ladies; we are going into taboo territory!

I am not a woman myself but I have had occasion in my 30-year teaching career to observe hundreds of women. I have also observed women in various workplaces in two countries. What follows is not (NOT) supported by any study.* It’s a thinking exercise about what I suspect you know. See if it jibes.

Female students obtain better grades than male students in college. However, they don’t get to good grades the same way. Males take more risks, on the average. In my observation, for example, they are many times more likely to wing it than their female fellow students. In general (on the average), males are more forceful, much more likely than women to demand their due (even when nothing is due to them at all).

If you don’t ask for a raise, often, you don’t get one. If you are timid about organizing, you will earn less than those who are well represented by unions. Is it possible that women, on the average…. (Finish the sentence) and that this would account for the remaining possible five percentage pay differential between women workers and their male counterparts. Is it possible?

I have personally seen a few cases of discrimination against women workers. They consisted in creating work conditions that would make it difficult for the targeted employee to produce a work performance that would make raises likely. (Poisoning the water.) As I said, I have only seen a few cases perhaps fewer than ten. Every single time, the discriminator was a female supervisor. Perhaps, my limited experience is atypical. Or is it? What do you think? Do women in positions of power ever persecute other women? Often? Seldom? Never?

Now, I want to talk briefly about productivity in a manner that is especially proscribed in polite society. I think I have observed hundreds of time that women in a group with an assigned task spend large amounts of time in activities that seem unrelated to the task. Women tend to socialize at length where it’s not called for. The socialization often includes plotting against one another and excluding some. Perhaps the socializing is a kind of disarmament conference without which work cannot even proceed. Again, those are a subjective observations possibly based on women who are somehow different, not representative, different from the average. What do you think?

Here is what I observed when teaching, specifically. Most of what follows is based on teaching the same, clearly elite class every winter for 22 years. The classes were small and they involved important group projects. The projects were done mostly in class. The sample these 22 classes give us is obviously biased, unrepresentative. It’s biased because it was composed of students markedly superior to the run-of-the-mill student. The women in that class were probably more productive than most female undergraduates (and than most male undergraduates as well).

Here is what I saw: Insofar as it’s observable, groups of males engaged in a collective task, achieved the same results as women with considerably less time expenditure than women. It’s as if a straight A cost guys three hours, and women nine hours. (Those numbers are subjective, of course. I am holding myself back; I wouldn’t be surprised if the gap in time investment were wider.)

Is it possible that my observation is not in some way nullified by bias? Is it possible that what I think I have observed in connection with the time cost of doing something is somehow related to the earlier observation that women tend to socialize when doing so does not appear to contribute to the accomplishment of the task ? You decide.

My informal observations are surely not (NOT) equivalent to a formal, rigorous study. This does not mean that I should keep quiet about them. If they don’t ring a bell with your experience, ignore them. If they do, maybe it’s worth thinking about alternative explanations to the widespread belief in the general existence of uncalled for, arbitrary discrimination against female workers. Keep in mind that, at this point, we are talking about a five percentage point differential; we are considering 95 cents on the dollar, not the president’s 77 cents.

Now, let me switch angles of vision a little bit. The actual, residual difference between women’s and men’s remunerations after you have accounted for the obvious factor, (Part One of this essay.) is so imprecise that it leaves open the possibility that women earn more than men in the same jobs.** Again, I am frankly wading into the subjective and I am inviting you to wade in with me.

During thirty years of teaching, there were about ten times when I fielded female students’ complaints that they were discriminated against in some fashion just for being female. That was always in my role as an adviser rather than as a classroom teacher.

Every time, I would ask the complaining student if it were not possible that she was angry because her male counterparts seemed to be getting grades they did not deserve according to her judgment. I will let you guess what answers I received to this particular query.

Then, I would look the student straight in the eyes and I would propose the following hypothetical:

Suppose you are completely right, suppose the instructor discriminated against you simply for being female, let me ask you: Has it ever happened in your whole life that you got an undeserved pass just because you were a girl?

I did not have the presence of mind to keep exact tabs, of course, but I can’t remember a single time when the conversation did not dissolve into a smile!

Adding subjectivity to subjectivity, doing it consciously, I would guess that male instructors by and large prefer female students. They are less likely than males to be grossly disruptive; they are nicer; they are more polite; they smell better. (It matters in a room of forty in June.) Female students also often flirt with the teacher in unconsciously charming ways. (Disclosure: I am married to a former student.)

Would these behaviors tend to cause male instructors to treat female students negatively? Women instructors?

Maybe this is all my own private self-delusion. Maybe this preference for women employees does not exist in the workplace, as a far as male supervisors and male decision makers are concerned. Or maybe, I am not that deluded, or maybe males in positions of power have a built-in preference for female subordinates as much as they do for female students. How surprising would that be?

Take my case, for example: My mother was a woman, my daughter is a woman, my granddaughter is female, my sisters are female. They all love me, without exception. I addition, I am married to a woman. She cooks for me, very well, almost every day; she does my laundry (even when I don’t want her to); I talk with her more than I do with anyone else on earth. When times are tough, she is always, every single time, in my corner. I don’t want to get X-rated but it’s also true that 100% of my sexual satisfaction, in my whole life, was somehow connected to women. (Like many California men, I also have an ex-wife somewhere but she does not cause me any grief. I am lucky; she just moved on instead of exacting a just revenge.)

Is my experience different from that of most or all men? Did they have male mothers? Were their sisters guys? Are they all married to other men who love them and spoil them? Is a very high percentage homoerotic? You see my point.

Is it possible also that a lifetime bath of estrogen predisposed me to a positive bias toward women or, is it more likely that all these good treatment left me prejudiced to the point where….

…to the point where I would take care- with someone else’s money, most of the time – to pay female employees only 95 cents when I pay their men colleagues a full dollar for the same work?

Or, alternatively, is it possible that my unchecked, unthoughtful, mindless tendency is to treat them better and to pay them more, say, $1.05 to males’ $1.00 ?

When you take a sketch and you take the trouble to draw in all the details, often suddenly, you come to see that you misunderstood or mis-perceived the meaning of the original sketch.

Three big questions to finish.

If the good research (that I did not do) confirmed my speculation that women may earn on the average one dollar and five cents ($1.05) to men’s one dollar would there be big demonstrations to protest the disparity? Would anyone have the nerve to initiate legislation to close the pay gap by force? What do you believe?

Discrimination against women in any way, shape or form has been illegal in this country since 1964. Is there any one who thinks that if legislation has been inoperative for fifty years, unable to correct (alleged) pay discrimination against women, more legislation under a weakened president, imposed on a deeply divided nation will now solve the problem? This is a real question. Please, answer it in your own mind.

And if it were possible to pay women less for equal work, with the same quality of workplace attention, the same performance, the same results, isn’t it true that a rational hiring policy would require discrimination against men? If this were true, all employers would try to limit labor costs by hiring only women until there were no more women available for hiring in the relevant pool. Or is there some magic male solidarity that trumps everything, including business competition and the search for profits?

By the way, the last time I looked, in the USA, women had most of the wealth and most of the votes. (If it’s not true anymore, I don’t worry; someone will surely correct me.) Why don’t women, on the average, use their votes and their financial resources to erase the pay differential, to turn the 77 cents into at least one dollar?

Here is my stake in all this. First, I detest government policy based on lies and on deviousness. Second, my daughter is rearing her own daughter alone. The last thing I want is that my adored granddaughter should be cheated because her mother is being short-changed on her paycheck merely for being a woman. Are other men different? Am I a brilliant and inimitable exception?

Some stories have been told so long and so often that people don’t think of subjecting them to even the slightest of reality checks. The 77 cents on the dollar story does not stand up to scrutiny. It’s a purely political story designed to keep alive an artificial sense of grievance in an important segment of the electorate.

The 77 cents on the dollar story exploits women. It’s insulting.

A good tale to finish, the second funny thing that any feminist ever said:

Ginger Roger was Fred Astaire’s dancing performer for twenty or thirty years. The couple dominated movie screens in the forties and fifties and beyond. Fred was more famous than his partner, Ginger. At one point, irritated by the fuss over her partner, Ginger is said to have declared,

“I did everything Fred did backward and in high heels!”

* Such studies are practically proscribed in academia. If they were not, their findings would be boycotted by major journals. Political correctness reigns where it shouldn’t exist at all. Nevertheless, there are a few brave academic researchers who venture where no one is supposed to tread. Most are women.

** In the early 2000s, black women earned more, on average than black men. The case I pose to you is thus not completely absurd or imaginary. I don’t know if this disparity continued after the crisis beginning in 2008. It does not matter. I just wanted to impress on you that women sometimes earn more than men.

Unequal Pay: For Women Only – Part One.

American women who work for wages or a salary, on the average, earn 77 cents when American men earn one (1) dollar, also on the average.

You have to be careful of averages. They are not naturally vicious but they are often used to deceive. That is, people routinely overestimate themselves and don’t slow down enough to understand what they are seeing and hearing when an average is mentioned.

Here is a little practice exercise: Suppose all women who lack education beyond high school quit work completely. (They might go on welfare or they might find hard working husbands, maybe currently illegal immigrants – Not a bad idea actually, if I say so myself!) If this happened, what would become to the 77 cents on the dollar?

(The answer is several paragraphs below.)

Consider also that “on the average” means, of course, that there are many women who earn more money than many men, women in government, for example. Take the female toll-takers at the Golden Gate Bridge, for example. They earn about $100,000 a year for very low-skill work. They thus earn much more than male cable-television technicians who do things most of us don’t even know enough to think about. (There are female cable technicians of course, but that’s not the point, right now.) That’s compatible with the 77 cents on the dollar figure.

That women earn on the average 77 cents when men earn a full dollar speaks of rampant and rank discrimination against women where it matters most, the workplace. Or does it?

Below are some relevant facts that all of President Obama’s economic employers know. I mean that the facts are so well-known that it’s inconceivable that they don’t know them.

  • Fact: On the average, working women have less education and less seniority than men. That’s on the average.

As it happens levels of pay, in many industries depend largely on seniority (rightly or wrongly). Access to the best paid jobs in a given industry also depends much on level of education. Access to superior and well-paid jobs also often depends on achieving seniority. That’s a double-whammy on low education!

Answer to the question near the beginning of this essay: If women who had no college dropped out of the workforce, female workers would, on the average, suddenly have higher educational achievement. Then, the average pay of women nation-wide would go up. If all the women with no college education dropped out of the workforce, the 77 cents on the dollar would immediately disappear. I don’t know what the resulting number would be; it might be 80 cents on the dollar, or 90 cents on the dollar. What is certain is that it would be a higher, better number.

Repeat: If all the low-skill jobs requiring a modest level of education disappeared all of a sudden, if all the women holding such jobs lost their jobs, the average pay of women, including as compared to me, would immediately go up.

This is not some sort of foggy speculation, it’s an arithmetic certainty.

Similarly, if more women in the workforce had high seniority, the average pay of women nation-wide would also be higher than 77 cents on men’s dollar. Here too, it’s a mathematical certainty although I don’t know by how much the figure would change. This is all by way of remembering what averages mean.

  • Fact: Working women concentrate in economic sectors where wages are historically low.

That’s low wages for both men and women. Sometimes, there are no understandable reason why pay is low in such sectors. Often it’s a sort of historical accident connected with an early union activity in those sectors of the economy. Sometimes there are good direct reasons for the high pay in sectors where women are rare. Blue collar work on oil platforms and commercial fishing are both examples of activities where few women are found. They are also dangerous activities. They are also physically strenuous activities. In those two particular sectors, pay is much higher than it is say, in the health industries, or in retail where many women areemloyed. This means that both men and women employed in fishing and on oil, platforms earn more money than either men or women in many other industries.

The average lower pay of women nationally is at least in part the result of their low participation in these highly paid industries. If there were equal numbers of women in those high-pay sectors as there are men, the national average pay of women would be higher than 77 cents on men’s dollar.

  • Fact: Among those who work forty hours a week or more (“full time”), men work much longer hours than women on the average.

It’s often the case that, other things being equal, those who work longer hours earn more money than those who work shorter hours. They earn more for the total number of hours they work. (They may also be promoted faster but that’s not my point here; one thing at a time.) Incidentally, this is true both for base workers, such as assembly line workers and sales associates, and for so-called “exempt personnel,” personnel in supervisory and management positions. The mechanisms are different, union rules, formal pay scales and government-mandated requirements (think overtime pay), in one case, alleged “merit pay,” on the other. The results are similar: Work more; earn more.

Women earn less money than men on the average than men because they spend less time at work than men do.

Now, close your eyes and let me describe two imaginary workers. One has 25 years of seniority and three years of post-high school education. The same worker is employed in mining. Over the course of a year, this worker puts in 46 hours a week on average.

The second worker has one year of junior college and has been on the same job for eight years. That worker’s occupation is in one of the health industries. Calculated over one year, this second worker puts in 40 hours plus twenty minutes a week on average.

Now, keep your eyes closed and forbid yourself from stereotyping. You don’t know the sex of either imaginary worker. Keep in mind that they may well be of the same sex, for example (for example). One or the other, or something else…

Which of the two fully employed workers do you think earns the most money in one year in actuality?

Which do you think should earn the most money according to your own standard of fairness?

You get my drift?

It turns out that when studies compensate for these important factors, American women’s remunerations are about the same as men’s. That’s still on the average. I wouldn’t be too surprised if you could find a female fisherman with 25 years seniority and a doctorate who earns less money than her husband, a high school dropout who works in a candle shop. The relevant numbers are simply too small to affect comparisons of national averages.

Yes, women earn less than men but it’s not a case of unequal pay for equal work. It’s a case of unequal pay for unequal work.
It’s worth asking why women would heap upon themselves so many of the factors that result in comparatively low pay? I mean low education, low seniority, and working in less generously paying sectors.

You probably have your own hypotheses (plural) about why this is. Let me help with an additional fact:

  • Fact: Women who are not married, have never been married, and have no children earn as much as men. Are you really surprised?

Many other studies confirm what we all already know: Women are the primary caretakers of both home and children by a long, long shot.

The care of children interferes vigorously with women’s ability to reach for higher paid jobs, and with their attention to their paid work, and to their ability to work long hours. It’s that simple.

Women workers fail to accumulate seniority because they quit working earlier and more frequently than men. They tend to move in and out of the workforce; that’s inimical to the accumulation of seniority, of course.

Women workers have less education than men workers, on the average, for slightly (only slightly) more complex reasons. At the lower end of the pay-scale women who work outside the home are not equivalent to men workers in general. For one thing, many low-paid working women, and increasing numbers of them, are single women raising their children alone. But we know that women with lower educational status are more likely to find themselves in that situation than women with more formal education.

Married women with children have on the average, more education than single women with children. Such married women are less likely to be in the workforce at all . Instead, their husbands are. Their husbands’ higher education and seniority enter into the national statistics. Their non-working wives’ also high numbers don’t because they are not in the labor force, precisely.

If all married women joined the labor force, the gap in education between employed men and employed women on average would shrink. It might even vanish altogether.

That would raise women’s average pay nation-wide, although the fate of poor ly educated, low seniority, women employed in badly paying sectors would not improve one bit.

If all married women joined the labor force and stayed in it, employed women’s seniority would equal men’s after a while. That would raise women’s average pay nation-wide.

The pay of women with low seniority would….
(Complete the sentence; this is a test!)


Those who claim the 77 cents on the dollar figure are comparing apples and oranges.

Those in government who do this know the facts. Why are they doing it?

Now, once you have taken account all facts above, the things we already know about different ways in which women and men deal with work, women on the average still earn a little less than men. The difference is much smaller than the difference between 77 and 100 (77 cents and one dollar). Nevertheless, as I write, I think it’s possible to argue that this small difference – maybe something like 5 percentage points – proves some degree of pay discrimination against women.

By the way, I don’t play down at all this kind of pay differential. If you gross $30,000/year, 5% more would be $1,500. Even with standard deductions, that’s a round-trip ticket to someplace, even someplace interesting.

In Part Two of this essay, I will leave the domain of what’s well know, of what the president ought to know, and I will take you with me on a trip of honest, frank speculations about women’s work.

Don’t forget to come back. The best portion is yet to come!

Tech. note: Anyone is welcome to challenge any of the assertions above. Here are the rules I play by: I you give me a general reading assignment, I won’t do it. It’s too easy to waste someone’s time on a wild goose chase. If you don’t bother to say, “Read this because it shows ‘this assertion of yours…’ to be false ,” don’t expect me to make the effort either. Also, evidence that does not come from a respected refereed journal is unlikely to make much of an impression on me.

Around the Web

  1. Are Iran and Israel trading places?
  2. Morocco’s mentally ill await deliverance from their demons
  3. Bangkok’s ‘Mexican’ Gangsters (think about the infinite promise of globalization while you browse through this short, mostly photographic, essay)
  4. ¿Qué tiene de malo el muro?
  5. 10 Questions Libertarians Can’t Answer, and Hope You Won’t Ask!

What is Europe?

Thomas Brussig, a novelist from the former East Berlin, says he first got to know Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union when he visited during a book tour. During his stay, he recalls being constantly asked which Russian writers influenced him. Brussig didn’t give the obvious answers — Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. He instead named a third-rate Soviet writer, Arkady Gaidar. “I did it to exact a bit of revenge and to remind them what imperialists they had been,” he says.

Brussig says he has no special attachment to the Russians. He says the only Russian figure he actually views positively is Gorbachev. It was “his vision of a Common European Home that cleared the way for the demolition of the Soviet Union.” It was a dream of a Europe without dividing lines. “We shouldn’t act as though the border to Asia starts where Lithuania ends,” says Brussig. “Europe reaches all the way into the Ural Mountains.”

There is more here. Do read the whole thing (it’s about the relationship between Germans and Russians).

For the record, I can buy Brussig’s argument but why stop at the Ural Mountains and the Mediterranean?

Around the Web

  1. An excellent piece by Matt Steinglass in the Economist on John Kerry’s failure in regards to the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
  2. I know Dr Shikida linked to this earlier, but I think it’s worth highlighting again. A university professor at a law school in Brazil was recently assaulted by students for his political views, and Dr Shikida points out that today’s professor-assaulters are tomorrow’s journalist-killers. Disturbing, and in Portuguese.
  3. In response to Dr van de Haar’s explosive and much-welcomed introductory post on the myth of the Commercial Peace, here is a good introductory pdf by MIT’s PR Goldstone on the strengths and weaknesses of the theory.
  4. E Wayne Merry: Why is Moscow now pursuing an economic Eurasian Union? In brief, the Russian derzhava is turning inward on itself, in part for domestic reasons but more broadly because of its inability to compete (on different indices) with the European West, the Chinese East, or the Islamic South.
  5. John Allen Gay: Kirchick: “The Putin regime can tell Ukrainians, ‘you wanna protect Orthodox Christianity, you stay with Moscow.’ And he’s using this all throughout the former Soviet space. So this is a geostrategic issue for him.” Would Western pressure for gay rights in Russia improve their lot, or just turn domestic gays into traitors? I’m pretty sure I know the answer to this one…
  6. How many people does it take to colonize another star system?

War Exposure and Suicide, a Scientific Study

Intro Note: Since I posted this short essay, MSNBC and National Public Radio have been atwitter with discussions of Post Combat Stress Disorder because of the new Fort Hood shooting. One commentator on MSBC I took to be some sort of  mental health expect declared with a straight face that  PCSD is hard to “pin down.” Yes, that what happens: When you call everything “door,” it’s difficult to find the door. PCSD is a bunch of vague things grouped together under one heading for transparently political purposes.

The new shooter at Fort Hood was in Iraq for four months, as a truck driver; no combat. After twelve years in the military, he was still at the low rank of Specialist Fourth Class. There a mystery there. It’s almost impossible not to make Sergent after such a long time. Isn’t it possible for a  someone employed by the military to  have private, non-military sources of depression or anger? According to the liberal media, the answer to this obvious question seems to be “No.”

Pacifists, the overt kind, as well as the semi-covert type,* have been taking a new tack: The obvious, real horrors of warfare are not enough anymore so, they are pointing to sequels of warfare less visible than mutilated limbs. The new sequels of war have the advantage of being largely hidden and of being capable of discovery long after the war has ended. The most useful new sequel is post-combat stress disorder (PCSD). It serves its purpose best when it causes suicide, like this:

war → death then or,

war → death now or later.

The generals and admirals have learned to be sensitive, for their own good and that of their service. (Same sensitive Pentagon that told us that 30% of the victims of sexual assault in the armed forces are males.) Correspondingly, the Pentagon commissioned a study on the causes of suicide in the military. The findings were published in a medical journal, JAMA a short time ago. They were summarized in the Wall Street Journal on 3/4/14. Here are the main findings, according to me:

The suicide rates in the military increased greatly between 2004 and 2008. That was more or less the height of the Iraq war while the war in Afghanistan was also going on. Not surprisingly the Army rate of suicide was 17.2 per 100,000 in 2010 while it was 22 for the Marines.

This makes sense, of course. The Marines are more likely, on the average, to find themselves in combat situations, exposed to violence, than are soldiers. Hence he greater incidence of PCSD and then, the higher the suicide rate. Marines are more involved in raw warfare than soldiers, therefore, they tend to kill themselves more often.
Wait a minute, wait a damn minute! I am toying with your mind; I am being deceitful! It’s the Marines suicide rate that is the lower rate, at 17.2 against the Army’s rate of 22; the latter is a full 25 % higher. Three possibilities:

  1. On the average, Marines are less exposed to the violence of war than are soldiers;
  2. The relationship between exposure to the violence of war and suicide is not straightforward;
  3. Exposure to the violence of war somehow preserves from suicide.

I don’t know which of these explanations is correct. What I am sure of however is that if the real findings had been the fakes ones I described above, there would have been no end of commentaries in pacifist circles about war participation and suicide. I am certain there would have been several NPR specials highlighting and commenting incompetently on the causal effect of war on suicide.

Myself, I believe that one should completely forbid oneself the desire to make tiny numbers speak. That’s irrespective of statistical significance. Here is why: Take the real figures. It’s possible that a single heart-breaker, one, on a single base drove two young Marines to love despair. Had they not met her, both would have been alive at the time of the study. Furthermore, it’s possible that a single Marine officer was in a bad mood for one week and that he then gave bad evaluations to three Marines who were desperate for a career in the Corps thereby precipitating their suicide. Had those two people not met those particular five Marines, the Marines score for suicide would have been as high as the Army’s. Or, a bad batch of dope hit three Marine bases the same year. Etc.

In point of fact, the Marines rate was 23 one year earlier, a little higher than the Army rate the same year.

Small number don’t mean much or they mean nothing, except when they are duplicated over time, in which case they are not small numbers. Here is a fictitious but not absurd example to drive this point home:

In the whole US, in 2013 as compared to 2012, the rate of church-going black grandmothers in full charge of their grandchildren who committed suicide jumped by a full 50%. (The raw number went from 2 to 3 nationwide – In fact, the kind of women who correspond to that description hardly ever commit suicide.)

Here is another (real) finding of the same study: During the period of observation, the number of suicides among soldiers deployed in combat zones nearly doubled. The number of suicide of soldiers who had never been so deployed tripled.

In the usual liberal logic, this last finding would dictate that one good way to save soldiers from suicide is to move them to combat zones. I don’t believe this, of course; see above.

Finally, here is the conclusion of the whole study as posted on the on-line article of JAMA. I copied and pasted it from the website to make sure I did not make another mistake:

“Conclusions and Relevance  Predictors of Army suicides were largely similar to those reported elsewhere for civilians, although some predictors distinct to Army service emerged that deserve more in-depth analysis. The existence of a time trend in suicide risk among never-deployed soldiers argues indirectly against the view that exposure to combat-related trauma is the exclusive cause of the increase in Army suicides.” (“exclusive”)

The last phrase of the conclusion is an astonishing understatement: “The more carrots I eat, the thinner I become. Therefore, carrots are not the exclusive cause of my overweight”!

Still missing, perhaps because I was not able to read the whole text of the study: a comparison of suicides over several years between combat-exposed military personnel and a truly comparable civilian cohort. (Basic demographics such as age and sex would not be good enough for me. ) Perhaps, it’s in the body of the study. Somebody, please spring some money to get it out! My own money is on that everyone would be surprised.

* I don’t like pacifism because I think it gave us World War II among other horrors. Ask me.

Let’s leave the fairy tales behind

Freedom-loving people are almost always nice and genial. I count them among my best friends, and in fact, I think of myself as one. Some of them have sharp intellects, publish great stuff, are brilliant discussants and all of them are prepared to take on the left-leaning, social liberal (for American readers: liberal) majority anytime. They never tire of pointing at the mistaken views of others. Yet at the same time, most libertarians (for sake of brevity I shall not go into the possible subdivisions and other definitional options when using this term) fail to recognize their own weird ideas about international relations. To quote Murray Rothbard: ‘thinking about international affairs is a weak point of libertarians’.

While I am not particularly impressed by Rothbard’s own ideas on international relations, he did make a valid point here. When searching for a particular quaint idea among libertarians, what comes up first is the idea that trade fosters peace. There are variations and the related idea that democracies allegedly do not fight each other will be left aside [which is hardly more convincing though, when closely scrutinizing the methodology and data used in this type of research], the basic idea is that international trade relations promote a peaceful world. There are several main mechanisms behind this. First, at the level of the individual, increasing numbers of international contacts lead to more international friendship and understanding, and consequently a diminishing wish to fight the trading partners . Second, businessmen and other citizens benefitting from trade (e.g. everybody) will act as domestic pressure groups, if need be forcing their leaders to refrain from international military action. Third, economic ties between countries mean these countries become interdependent. War between them would destroy this economic entanglement, therefore it is not the interest of leaders of states to initiate or maintain such destructive conflicts. The overall conclusion is: the more trade, the more peaceful the world becomes.

This is a fairy tale. Even though most libertarians do not go as far as to claim that trade has the capacity to eradicate all international conflict, it is nonsensical to claim that it fosters peace in any consistent way. A few objections. At the individual level, trade does not change human nature. While the rationality needed to preserve peace (acknowledging that war making is sometimes perfectly rational from an individual stance) may dominate the emotions once in a while, it cannot do so perpetually. Let alone in all people, everywhere at the globe. At the collective level, history shows that ‘citizen coalitions for peace’ hardly ever make a difference. Public opinion is often war prone, as for example free trade star Richard Cobden, who strongly argued trade would make public opinion more peaceful, painfully found out during the previous Crimea crisis in the 1850’s. At the political level economic interests are just one factor among many others (geopolitical, religious, domestic, personal, et cetera) when considering international military action. So perhaps sometimes a vital economic interest is too important to risk a war, yet at other times it does not count for much. Take the current Crimea crisis, where President Putin clearly prioritized the strategic objective of ensured naval capacity and access in the Black Sea above possible detrimental effects of economic sanctions.

There are also a number of other counter-arguments against the ‘trade-leads-to peace-hypothesis’. As for example David Hume and Adam Smith acknowledged and emphasized, trade also has the side-effect of promoting conflict. After all free trade make people and countries wealthier. Often this leads to increased defense expenditure, which may then lead to international belligerence, because previously poor states can for example make (renewed) territorial claims. Currently, China is a good example of this. Also, there is the completely neglected question of the nature and volume of trade. Does any amount of trade have peaceful effects, or is there some minimum? Also, does it matter what is traded? Does trade in oil and gas have more or less peaceful effects, compared to say textiles or fruit? Just to claim that ‘trade’ has peace enhancing effects is again unconvincing.  

It is perhaps relatively harmless to foster fairy tale ideas in the study, at universities or to write them down in books and blogs. Yet in my mind these kind of ideas seriously hamper the appeal of libertarianism to other people. In a globalized world, people expect the ideas that guide their political behavior to have serious ideas about world politics. As is the case in for example economics or philosophy, libertarian ideas need to offer serious alternatives to make a difference and have the capacity to convince others. The idea that trade fosters peace is not a serious contribution to international relations discourse. It is high time the liberty loving people leave their fairy tale ideas on international affairs behind.

Around the Web

  1. Ukraine and BRICS from historian Daniel Larison at The American Conservative
  2. The Sympathy Problem: Is Germany a Country of Russia Apologists? By Ralf Neukirch at Spiegel Online
  3. You Don’t Know the Best Way to Deal with Russia from economist Bryan Caplan over at EconLog
  4. The Right to Self-Determination in International Law and Practice by political scientist Jason Sorens (PhD, Yale) over at the PileusBlog

A very illuminating comment over on

User “Three_Letter_Agency” put the current NSA issue in very clear focus today with the following:

We know the NSA and their UK buddy GHCQ can:

  • Collect the domestic meta-data of both parties in a phone-call. Source[1]
  • Set up fake internet cafes to steal data. Source[2]
  • Has intercepted the phone calls of at least 35 world leaders, including allies such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Source[3]
  • Can tap into the underwater fiber-optic cables that carry a majority of the world’s internet traffic. Source[4]
  • Tracks communications within media institutions such as Al Jazeera. Source[5]
  • Has ‘bugged’ the United Nations headquarters. Source[6]
  • Has set up a financial database to track international banking and credit card transactions. Source[7]
  • Collects and stores over 200 million domestic and foreign text messages each day. Source[8]
  • Collects and has real-time access to browsing history, email, and social media activity. To gain access, an analyst simply needs to fill out an on-screen form with a broad justification for the search that is not reviewed by any court or NSA personnel. Source[9]

“I, sitting at my desk, could wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email”. – Edward Snowden

  • Creates maps of the social networks of United States citizens. Source[10]
  • Has access to smartphone app data. Source[11]
  • Uses spies in embassies to collect data, often by setting up ‘listening stations’ on the roofs of buildings.Source[12]
  • Uses fake LinkedIn profiles and other doctored web pages to secretly install surveillance software in unwitting companies and individuals. Source[13]
  • Tracks reservations at upscale hotels. Source[14]
  • Has intercepted the talking-points of world leaders before meetings with Barack Obama. Source[15]
  • Can crack encryption codes on cellphones. Source[16]
  • Has implanted software on over 100,000 computers worldwide allowing them to hack data without internet connection, using radio waves. Source[17]
  • Has access to computers through fake wireless connections. Source[18]
  • Monitors communications in online games such as World of Warcraft. Source[19]
  • Intercepts shipping deliveries and install back-door devices allowing access. Source[20]
  • Has direct access to the data centers of Google, Yahoo and other major companies. Source[21]
  • Covertly and overtly infiltrate United States and foreign IT industries to weaken or gain access to encryption, often by collaborating with software companies and internet service providers themselves. They are also, according to an internal document, “responsible for identifying, recruiting and running covert agents in the global telecommunications industry.” Source[22]
  • The use of “honey traps”, luring targets into compromising positions using sex. Source[23]
  • The sharing of raw intelligence data with Israel. Only official U.S. communications are affected, and there are no legal limits on the use of the data from Israel. Source[24]
  • Spies on porn habits of activists to discredit them. Source[25]

Possibly the most shocking revelation was made on February 24, 2014. Internal documents show that the security state is attempting to manipulate and control online discourse with “extreme tactics of deception and reputation-destruction.” The documents revealed a top-secret unit known as the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Unit, or JTRIG. Two of the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG are to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in an effort to discredit a target, and to use social sciences such as psychology to manipulate online discourse and activism in order to generate a desirable outcome. The unit posts false information on the internet and falsely attributes it to someone else, pretend to be a ‘victim’ of a target they want to discredit, and posts negative information on various forums. In some instances, to discredit a target, JTRIG sends out ‘false flag’ emails to family and friends.

A revealing slide from the JTRIG presentation.[26]  

Read the whole JTRIG presentation by Greenwald, just do it. Here[27]

Now, consider the words of former NSA employee turned whistleblower Russ Tice:

“Okay. They went after–and I know this because I had my hands literally on the paperwork for these sort of things–they went after high-ranking military officers; they went after members of Congress, both Senate and the House, especially on the intelligence committees and on the armed services committees and some of the–and judicial.

But they went after other ones, too. They went after lawyers and law firms. All kinds of–heaps of lawyers and law firms. They went after judges. One of the judges is now sitting on the Supreme Court that I had his wiretap information in my hand. Two are former FISA court judges. They went after State Department officials.

They went after people in the executive service that were part of the White House–their own people. They went after antiwar groups. They went after U.S. international–U.S. companies that that do international business, you know, business around the world. They went after U.S. banking firms and financial firms that do international business. They went after NGOs that–like the Red Cross, people like that that go overseas and do humanitarian work. They went after a few antiwar civil rights groups.

So, you know, don’t tell me that there’s no abuse, because I’ve had this stuff in my hand and looked at it. And in some cases, I literally was involved in the technology that was going after this stuff. And you know, when I said to [former MSNBC show host Keith] Olbermann, I said, my particular thing is high tech and you know, what’s going on is the other thing, which is the dragnet. The dragnet is what Mark Klein is talking about, the terrestrial dragnet. Well my specialty is outer space. I deal with satellites, and everything that goes in and out of space. I did my spying via space. So that’s how I found out about this… And remember we talked about that before, that I was worried that the intelligence community now has sway over what is going on.

Now here’s the big one. I haven’t given you any names. This was is summer of 2004. One of the papers that I held in my hand was to wiretap a bunch of numbers associated with, with a 40-something-year-old wannabe senator from Illinois. You wouldn’t happen to know where that guy lives right now, would you? It’s a big white house in Washington, DC. That’s who they went after. And that’s the president of the United States now.” Russ Tice, NSA Whistleblower