Sunday, July 27, 2014

John Boehner is a fool

The latest headline is that the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives is going to try the President for overextending his authority in the Democrat-majority Senate. The idea that there is any chance Obama will be impeached is absolutely ludicrous, and the only purpose of this is is to play to the Tea Party base that Obama has overstretched his authority (despite that he has done an unusually small number of executive orders and has until recently been extremely reserved). The executive orders he has made have been comparatively less strong than those made by other recent president as well. If the democrats take this to voters there is a very large chance this could give what existing Republican-held swing districts currently exist to the Democrats. If the Democrats led by Elizabeth Warren succeed in proposing an alternate vision that is closer to the reality this decision by John Boehner could be the end of the Republican Party. But only if the Democrats want to.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

When we shall have peace

A ceasefire just started in Israel, which hopefully will continue, but given the scope of the destruction in Gaza and who is currently leading both sides I doubt it will last. The beginning of this conflict was justified, but the way IDF went about it was completely unjustified with targeting non-military targets. If the IDF had only targeted the military base of Hamas and used their immense intelligence gathering effectively there would be absolutely no doubt that Israel would have been on the right side of the conflict. Instead there have been far too many attacks by the Israeli government on civilian homes which brings them down to the level of Hamas in how they target non-military targets and they blew it big this time. There are now pending charges for crimes against humanity on both sides which I have no doubt are legitimate and hopefully will remove military support from both sides.

The Israeli government has continued to breed extremism with their latest onslaught on houses in Gaza but have not targeted military targets, with most of the deaths being those of civilians. This is a war crime and there needs to be justice. As long as Israel continues to bomb Palestinian homes in these events and evict them to build settlements in the West Bank without due compensation young Palestinians will continue to have nothing to lose. As long as the blockade on Gaza prevents them from trading with the outside world (For cutting off our Trade with all Parts of the World ~ US Declaration of Independence) and preventing food and medical supplies from reaching the people who need them and preventing the development of the Gazan economy people will have no other option but to revolt against the Israeli government. Trade is invaluable to people because it brings opportunity. The other major barrier to peace is the taking of Palestinian land without compensation which no wise government in history willfully takes the land of people who live on their land because if they steal too much there will be a  revolt. It unfortunately worked in the Americas because disease killed the Native American population before they could fight back (which is the largest genocide in the history of the world) but the Israelis don't have diseases that will kill the Palestinians before they will fight back against the evictions. All of these actions make people look for any way to improve their well being and this is how groups like Hamas are able to get people to follow them because they offer a way to get people's homes back, even though their ideology is extremely misguided and historically doomed to fail.

One important point is that Israel is a democracy and when center-left parties have been in office there have been improved relations with Palestine. The attacks on Palestinian homes occur when either Likud becomes the government in Israel or Hamas becomes the government in Palestine. Attacks by Israel like the one this month are invariably linked to the leadership of the right wing. Attacks on Israel (such as the Yom Kippur War) are of course rightfully defended and every state has the right to self-defense. This means if there is to be peace in the region the government of Israel needs to return to the center-left led by Kadima which will almost definitely lead and sign an armistice agreement with the Palestinian Authority. This is essential to any path to peace,

There needs to be an agreement that the UN will defend any side that is in the defensive given a resumption of attacks. There needs to be a right to education for all people in the area. Property rights need to be absolute and if either government takes land from anyone there must be just compensation. Access to courts is absolute regardless of citizenship.

Also, Israel needs to change their laws and have real freedom of the press which currently doesn't exist under a system of gag orders which exacerbate extremism and lack of information for Israelis increasing the power of their extremist government. This policy is contrary to the claim that Israel is a free democracy because no nation can be free when you need the government's permission to publish information that doesn't have to do with things whose release would threaten national security, such as nuclear passwords.

The cost in Israel of these extremist governments increase the number of Israelis who support these sorts of policies. Racism is increasing among people on both sides of the conflict of all ages. There is no global leader today, except maybe Pope Francis, with the cultural clout to help bring people back to a place where we can live together in peace. This is what we need. The world needs leadership and we have no one who is willing to use their power effectively. I hope President Obama will prove me wrong with his current actions on the Southern Border which has become a humanitarian catastrophe, but given 6 years of compromise (which historically was the bringer and keeper of slavery in the USA) it will take a lot more work which I hope will come. We cannot afford to have a humanitarian crisis in the Middle East with either side getting annihilated which is what the current Government of Israel will cause if they continue the actions they are doing with disproportionate attacks.

We also need to increase communication between people on both sides of every conflict. Peace cannot happen without dialogue and once there is dialogue we will realize we are all people and that war is a pointless endeavor.

With all of this we need strong treaties that are proportionately reinforced and strong leadership that can bring people together to recognize that we are all brothers and we are all our brothers' keeper. Only then can we have lasting peace. Otherwise war and suffering will continue.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Economy of the Central African Republic

The Central African Republic is one of the poorest countries in the world. They rank at 188/189 on the ease of doing business index, have a GDP per Capita (PPP) of $700, and unemployment of 8%, with 23% unemployment in Bangui, the capital.

Demographically this is a classic case of a country which is not unified by tribe, with the largest tribe being the Gbaya at 33% of the population, with hundreds of other groups with their own languages and cultures. 80% is Christian, and 10% are Muslim. The Gbaya and Banda together make up 60% of the population. Only 4% of the population is over 65 years old.

The CAR became independent in 1960. They were under an extremely mismanaged dictatorship by Bokassa from 1965-1979 who held the country back economically, and was overthrown by the French. The 1980s were unstable under General Kolingba. The first free elections were held in 1993 when Patassé was elected. He led a violent and corrupt government until 2003. 2003 saw Bozize overthrow Patassé. The Bush War that followed ended in 2007. There continue to be Rebel Groups operating in the country that prevents development. They are currently under an interim government.

The CAR is currently in a period of transition with an interim government being formed, and this is a period of incredible potential for the country.

So, what to do? Well, the first step is to make sure that all people are included in the government. This is best done using a ranked voting system which will allow the establishment of parties that represent each group of the population and ensure all voices can be heard. I recommend Single Transferable Vote and multi-member districts because it will prevent artificial quotas and ensure that there will be less corruption because people will be able to elect opposition parties. Their legislature should be unicameral and be composed of regional representatives. They should reduce the term of the President so that there are more frequent elections. The President should be directly elected using IRV. The President can only act within the law. The court system should be independent and there should be trial by jury to separate the courts from politics. The Supreme Court should be directly elected by the people. Elections should be publically financed. Voting should be made convenient to people so everyone can vote.

When it comes to economic policy they have more work to do than almost every other country. Their Doing Business ranking is the second worst in the world, and they need to make it easier for people to start their own businesses. This will increase employment and allow them to advance technologically. Tax payments should be moved to an annual cycle which will save a lot of money in hiring accountants and allow business owners to put more time into doing things that are productive. They need to reduce the initial cost of getting electricity which is a significant barrier to development. They should have a simple tax system combined with a progressive income tax (which treats capital gains as income), progressive inheritance tax, and a carbon tax. They need bank reform so banks can be a safe place for people to deposit their money along with insurance for depositors, along with laws against financial devices that damage the economy. An example of dangerous financial devices are Ponzi Schemes. They need to protect unions so that workers can be competitive and get paid a living wage. This will create the economic growth to free up labor and resources to solve other major problems.

A major threat to the economy is illiteracy. The government should set up schools for adults to learn how to read and write and continue to mandate education for children. They should work with education organizations to ensure that education is done in a way to benefit children the most given their resources.

Healthcare is an incredibly important issue and a major problem for the economy. Access to contraceptives is important to help bring down their birth rate which is currently around 5 children per woman. This will make a significant improvement to the livelihood of everyone in the country when people have fewer children. They need to attract more doctors and keep working with the WHO to implement reforms. Developing the economy by eliminating unnecessary regulation and streamlining what is left will create the revenue needed for the government to make massive improvements in health care.

The CAR among other African countries has the potential to be a model green economy if developed correctly. The largest and most immediate hurdle is the extreme corruption which hurts workers and business owners and need to be reduced. Then they will have the ability to cover other issues such as their dire healthcare system. If they don't improve their economy they will like many other countries not have the ability to fix the other problems which perpetuate misery for far too many millions of people.

This is a time of incredible opportunity for the Central African Republic and hopefully they will make a large step towards democratic elections.


Monday, July 14, 2014

I am not my views

I have a habit which I don't think is a bad thing where I will speak freely and sometimes inadvertently offend people. I don't mean to offend people, but it can happen when saying less popular and less well-known things. I also share things because I believe very strongly in the sharing of ideas and information in order to further knowledge of myself and others. I believe very strongly that in order to change the world starts with education about what is going on which once deliberately moved into action can change the world. In fact, this is the only way change has ever been done.

But nobody is perfect, especially me, and when I have imperfect information I could be missing a very important piece. I am always open to new information (as long as it is from a generally accurate source, things like FOX News and chain letters do not count for me) and when I get new information will modify my views to fit what is really happening.

One issue I am reading about right now is women's rights.  I am extremely curious about how to most effectively make it so every woman has equal access to positions of economic and social power as every man given that everything else is equal. A highly qualified individual for a position who has a good head on her shoulders should not be barred or discriminated against from a position, and it is the duty of society to make certain that she is able to use her talents to make herself better off by getting decent pay and share her talents with everyone. Society loses when women have extra burdens to enter the workforce. I am going to write a lot on this and learn as much as possible. During a recent conference I was worried that quotas would have the same type of impact as carbon emission limits but one of my friends really helped me see how it is easy to misapply information which is something I need to work on any why I surround myself with those types of people.

Nonetheless, if I ever make a mistake and say something offensive when it is clearly not true, it isn't because I am trying to be insensitive but I am probably just missing information and bouncing ideas off of people.

On the other hand, I am a debater and as a debater can see the multiple sides to every issue (which does not make me a moderate on every issue, I am not moderate on slavery, gay rights, wage theft, global warming, and other crucial issues which have a clear moral bent) which means sometimes I can rub shoulders with people I agree with, though this only happens on a few relatively minor issues such as free trade which I am right down the center on.

In short, if I have offended you and you feel like I misunderstand something, understand it is not intentional and that if I am missing something I would love for you to share more information with me for the first time which will help me see the world more clearly and this dialogue is what makes people able to change the world in the long and short run. I will never be offended by being corrected, it is an honor to be respected as such when someone shares that kindness.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Harris v. Quinn

The other major supreme court decision today was of course Harris v. Quinn, which has its own problems. I only need to point out one to show how misguided this notion is and why this is has absolutely nothing to do with economic freedom. The plaintiff was saying that requiring union dues are

First, on the complaint and why it is faulty:
If you are an employer and specifically write out that it is a union shop and that in order to work there the employer expects you to be part of a union than that is part of a legally binding contract. If you are employed by the employer you have signed the contract to be part of the union, so you need to follow your obligation. The Supreme Court fortunately did not overturn these private contracts, so requiring union dues is still legal.

This is good for employees because it has nothing to do with saving employees money since unionized employees are paid more on average in practically every profession (excluding state employees who are being slammed by regressive tax policies in a number of states and getting their wages cut annually, which I will publish soon) which means a $100 fee is totally worth it if you are getting more than $100 in added wages which most union employees certainly do! This is the government interfering with the market and interfering with private business to the benefit of none.

That's right, no one benefits from lower wages because businesses need customers to survive and when people in the lower and middle classes businesses lose revenue. Cutting employees wages shrinks the demand curve which hurts the sales of businesses, makes it harder for new businesses to form and get customers, and hurts our overall GDP. This decision is as anti-business as it is anti-union for this reason alone. Lower wages are bad for the economy. Companies can't sell items to people with no expendable income after cost of living. Companies can't stay in business if no one buys their product. This is a fact.

Now, the actual decision
This decision didn't accept every complaint by the plaintiff turned out to be a prohibition against unions from using member dues for political activities. This is the root of the issue. This is of course the same court that rules in Citizens United v. FEC that limits on campaign spending are unconstitutional, apparently this isn't the case if you are not a private corporation. Justice Kagan is absolutely right that this is overtly political, as it is going to remove union money from elections but keep the corruption influence of private corporations such as Bank of America and Koch Industries that push for deregulation. This is going to make our politics even more rigged against the middle class and has absolutely nothing to do with liberty as the majority opinion are trying to make it out to be.

It could have been better, it could have been worse.

Burwell v. Hobby Lobby

Busy day at the Supreme court, and the first one I will discuss is Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

This decision is problematic, because they are saying any employer can opt out of a law because of religious beliefs. The biggest problem is here:

The court’s four liberal justices called it a decision of “startling breadth” and said that it allows companies to “opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
So, if I wanted to opt out of laws that prohibit me from killing someone and say it was my religious belief that I had to sacrifice a baby and a lamb on the third Wednesday of every month the Supreme Court's decision would say this is appropriate. Murder a little extreme? How about if I said that my neighbor's house offended my religion with its construction and burnt it down? Still extreme? I could go on, but this means that people don't have to follow the law if it doesn't fit with their religious beliefs perfectly. This opens the door to forced marriage from extreme groups (like what the Mormons did back when Joseph Smith was alive) and basically any group that wants to do anything they want. This is going to be overturned someday, but we are opening a dangerous precedent with this decision that extends beyond healthcare. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act which this decision is based on includes these types of dangers as well.

Another issue is how conservative religious groups are opposed to IUDs in general. IUDs are incredibly useful and since people are going to have sex anyways prohibiting IUDs is a pointless and frankly cruel decision. There is no law and there shouldn't be a law forcing anyone to use a IUDs, and prohibiting only IUDs is a very strange decision. This isn't protecting the religious freedom of those who are opposed to IUDs since it doesn't include other forms of birth control, but it is harming the ability for low-income families to access health products. This damages the government's ability to promote the general welfare, and misses the point completely on why we have laws to promote health in this country and that religious freedom does not include the right to impose your beliefs on others. Freedom of religion does not include imposing your religious beliefs on other which is exactly what this decision does. It shouldn't even be connected to abortion since wearing a IUDs to prevent pregnancy is a very different mechanism than an abortion. One would expect a religiously conservative Christian would be in favor of IUDs anyways since the Bible says nothing about IUDs (and in fact the only mention of abortion is in the Old Testament where it gives an ancient recipe to help a woman have an abortion) and if they were to follow Jesus' advice to love they neighbor would want to prevent unwanted pregnancies which when caused by rape or some other event can make a woman far worse off and struggle to pay the bills if she doesn't have a supportive partner and/or family. The very notion of opposing IUDs is contrary to the old Christian notion of charity (which is of course very similar to other world religions, Islam, Buddhism, etc.) and this type of behavior is what turns so many people off of religion when these people abuse these religious texts to take advantage of others.

One final complaint with the people who are anti-woman is how they are misappropriating feminist and abolitionist Susan B. Anthony who like me was of Quaker heritage, like me attended a Unitarian church, and is my 6th cousin a few times removed. Our heritage is that of working on the Underground Railroad, like everyone I know of in our family was a feminist at some level (even the more conservative members of my family turn out to be feminist when you grill them about specific feminist issues). Claiming that she was opposed to abortion which if they knew anything about us Quakers and Unitarians (not all of my family is UU, but I have met a good number of UUs who are of Quaker heritage and have found a significant number on our family tree) would know how very wrong they are to misappropriate my heritage. I don't swear on my blog, but this pisses me off! Stop abusing my heritage!

This opposition to IUDs has nothing to do with freedom of religion. It is a war against the poor and women. As a feminist I am very unhappy with this decision and its implications.

Update: 1 July 2014. This post originally stated that condoms were banned, this was factually incorrect and has been corrected to IUDs.

The other thing Clinton needs to do

Hillary Clinton has this very annoying habit of writing her opponent's campaign ads. Last week she said she was not truly well-off. This is absolute baloney, since she and her husband are worth $80 million, and were worth over $1 million the day they left the White House. If she wants to have any political future she needs to stop doing this. Her 2008 campaign was filled with times where she would misspeak and say things that are blatantly not true, and she lost the primaries at the end of the primary season which gave Obama the presidency. A great deal of this was due to her being tactless in her speeches. Mitt Romney is similar to Hillary Clinton because he also made a lot of his money on investments (as does every millionaire in the world with the exception of tyrants like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un) which turned voters off in the general election. In a country with growing income inequality this will kill her campaign by the attack ads from her opponent and whoever the Republicans nominate will become president. A Republican in the White House will be a huge problem because of their tax policy, opposition to education, warmongering, like Clinton an opposition to AMTRAK, among other issues. If Clinton is going to keep doing this type of stunt she should stay out of the race and let Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders run because they don't make these types of large mistakes. She will be eaten alive, and this would be bad for all of us.

She also needs to address how she and her husband make millions of dollars on speaking arrangements. Fortunately for the Clinton campaign, she can talk about her voting record in the Senate which was quite progressive on economic issues, and explain that if someone is offered a million dollars they will take it. If she is tactful about how she says this she will be able to convince liberal voters who listen that she is far more progressive than her husband on these issues. Fortunately for Republicans based on history this is extremely unlikely to happen since she is not a great speaker and frequently says things that are wrong. She needs a coach for making speeches (or a better coach if she doesn't have one) who she can practice with so that she doesn't keep making these mistakes that kept the presidency from her in 2008.