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Human migration policy after the 2015 MDGs expire

We are living in an unprecedented age of human mobility. It is estimated that nearly 250 million people around the world are living as migrants. Some migrated across national borders as political, environmental and economic refugees, some as forced migrants and some simply to seek opportunities for work. This number is expected to reach 400 million by 2050.

Remittances (money sent from migrants to family and friends back home) totaled nearly $600 billion, triple the amount of international foreign aid. Migrants tend to save just as much, which could be a major source of capital to fund local business enterprises.

Despite it’s importance and magnitude, migration was not included in the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, which really should coe as no surprise. Calls for the protection of migrant rights and for the relaxation of onerous taxation laws which skim off the top of remittances are both the responsibility of governments, specifically governments of countries which host migrants. The MDGs were notable in that they demanded little change to how governments operate in developing countries and demanded almost nothing of the wealthy countries which depend on migrants as a source of cheap labor.

A report from the office of the UN Special Representative for International Migration came out today with specific policy recommendations for the Sustainable Development Goals, which are set to replace the expiring MDGs.

Migration patterns are likely to evolve in response to demographic imbalances, development dynamics and environmental changes. While three quarters of international migrants today move to a country with a higher Human Development Index (HDI) than their country of origin, much of that movement is to non-OECD countries. Nearly half of all international migrants move within their region of origin and about 40 percent move to a neighbouring country. Emigration rates are highest for small and remote countries, many of them small island developing states (SIDS).

As distasteful as some people find it, the economies of the United States, Europe and, to a less obvious extent, Japan, depend on migration to function. Large economies are characterized by falling populations as families have fewer and fewer children and by a constant need to cheap and efficient labor.

Closing borders works well to insure poor working conditions and near slave-labor compensation schemes. Insuring adequate protection for migrant labor and systems which effectively integrate them into the greater economy can benefit everyone.

An aside, I enjoy it when people make arguments that increased immigration will increase the supply of labor reducing wages overall. The flawed economic assumption here is that demand for labor is constant, that is, the demand for good and services is a fixed and unchanging number. This is entirely incorrect. An influx of migrants creates new demand for goods and services by introducing a new set of potential customers which must eat, house themselves and enjoy basketball games on the weekend.

I’m an advocate of open borders. If someone wants to come to the US and work, start a business big or small, take advantage of educational opportunities for their kids or themselves, then by all means, let them. We could use the money.

Development in Africa and Latin America

No doubt the development experience is different everywhere. There are commonalities, usually associated with productive or non-productive responses to the same issue. Latin America, however, is a big mystery to me, simply because I have little experience with it.

I was talking with a student today about the World Bank’s structural adjustment reforms of the 1980′s and 90′s. Basically, the World Bank developed a series of policies as a requirement to obtain loans for development projects. These policies largely centered on cuts to government expenditures and privatization of state assets. They were disastrous to Africa’s nascent, post-colonial states (though some argue that the benefits to SA programs are now realizing themselves).

Early in the development process (or even after an economic downturn), government expenditures are necessary to provide a foundation for economic activities. Cutting expenditures prematurely could hamper the process.

And it did.

The experience of Latin America and Africa (I’ve learned), though, was vastly different. African states, when looking for items to cut from their budgets, often offered to cut social services, but chose to continue funding for military expenditures. This resulted in the hollowing out of public sector social programs such as health care and schools, but provided governments with stability.

Latin American countries, however, chose to do the opposite. So what happened was that where turnover of governments in African states was rare, Latin American states faced constant upheavals and regime changes.

Now, I’m not quite sure I believe this (and the data would be fairly easy to find), but it’s worth exploring. It would be interesting to see if different approaches to the SAPs resulted in different and predictable outcomes.

More Scam Science: OMICS Group “Advancing Scientific Discovery”

Just got an email from the OMICS Group, whose tagline is “Advancing Scientific Discovery:”

Dear Dr. Peter S Larson,

The purpose of this letter is to formally invite you, on behalf of the Organizing Committee, to be as a speaker at the upcoming 3rd World Congress on Virology during November 20-22, 2013 at DoubleTree by Hilton Baltimore-BWI Airport, USA.

The main theme of the conference is Exploring Novel Approaches on Virology which covers a wide range of critically important sessions.

Work Shop on What Type of HIV Vaccine Research Should be Promoted?

John Benson
Life Science conferences
5716 Corsa Ave, Suite110
Westlake, Los Angeles
CA-91362-7354, USA
Office +1-888-843-8169
Toll No +1-800-216-6499 (USA & Canada)

Of course, it’s entirely odd that they would invite me to speak on viral diseases given that I have never done any work at all on them.

OMICS, in addition to sponsoring numerous scam conferences and workshops, can also proudly claim to be the publisher of more than 300 journals, none of which I’ve ever heard of. They can also proudly claim to have one of the most scathing Wikipedia entries I’ve ever seen. Numerous articles have questioned OMICs’ legitimacy, and even the US Government has asked them to cease listing any affiliations with the NIH and the HHS.

Of course, they do appear on the black list of scientific publication houses at the Scholarly Open Access blog, which tracks the world of scam publications and conferences. Avoid at all costs.

Update: It’s worth noting that OMICs shares a building with a PayDay Loans place, a shady credit card company, and a company that will help you get out of paying speeding tickets.

Resurrection: I Want You to Post

Try as I might, I can’t seem to resurrect this blog. Lack of internet, exhaustion and general malaise prevented any worthwhile activity this summer.

I though that the camels might help, but alas….

So I’m appealing to you, the reader, to assist me. I am going to insert a number of guest blogs over the coming weeks. If you, or anyone you know would like a public forum on which to express your views on, well, just about anything, it’s here.

Any topics are free game, but I’m guessing that most people who read this blog have views and interests that somewhat align with my own.

Please submit your post to me by email if you like. I am sure that I will get nearly no response, but I figure this is worth a shot.

Back to Kenya

I arrived in Kenya last night after a grueling flight. It turns out that I flew so much last year, that I’ve seen just about all the movies I would have ever wanted to see on the Delta on demand system. It was pretty slim pickings.

The flight, of course, was filled with kids on their way to spreading the gospel of white people to helpless Africans. I’m never sure what these people really do.

Today, we have to drive out to Lake Victoria. I was really apprehensive about coming to Kenya right now, but now that I’m here, I’m happy that I came.

Is a balmy 90 degrees, so I can’t complain about really much of anything.

Defense Spending and the Economy: Is there a link?

DefenseGDPEventsToday I encountered a discussion, where the participants emphatically maintained that the current US economic woes are to be blamed in part on increased US defense spending during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. I countered and claimed that they have no relation at all. Of course, these people hate me now (thinking I was merely being difficult for the same of being difficult), but that’s ok. I’m used to it.

To test this hypothesis, I took data on US GDP (adjusted to constant 2005 dollars) and combined them with data on US defense spending (adjusted to constant 2010 dollars). The results can be seen to the left. The red line is defense spending. The blue line is GDP.

As I maintained, there is no obvious relationship between defense spending and economic growth. There are a couple of major blips in GDP growth, namely the collapsing of tech equities in the early 2000′s and the economic meltdown on 2007/8. There are no events in US GDP for drops during Clinton nor sudden increases in defense spending following 9/11.

In fact, as defense spending dropped pre-9/11, you can see the US economy was plugging along just fine. As defense spending went up post 9/11, the US economy maintained the same trajectory, minus the economic bumps.

DefenseUnemploymentEventsCertainly, GDP is not the only economic marker we could use. I did the same thing with the unemployment rate.

Now, at first glance, this is a little more convincing. But when you take the events into consideration, it is less so. The two major economic events of the 2000′s, namely the equity bust, and the financial meltdown both resulted in sudden jumps in the unemployment rate. 9/11 and the troop surge did not. In fact, as spending was doing up, unemployment was going down. If we look back into the nineties, we can notice that even though defense spending was declining, unemployment was up, then down again. In short, given the context, there is no real reason to assume that two related.

I am NOT an advocate for war. I am though, an advocate for evidence backed claims. There is little evidence to suggest that increased defense expenditures during the Bush years affected our economy.

We can claim, if we like, that federal revenues might have been greater had the wars not happened. These revenues, it is argued, could have been allocated to education or infrastructure improvements, for example. However, it has to be noted that the wars weren’t funded out of federal revenues. They were funded out of low interest bonds. Thus, as those bonds had not been serviced at the time that this data was collected, there is, again, even less reason to assume that the wars negatively impacted the economy.

Now, we can certainly make arguments over how much defense spending is too much and what the potential long term effects of servicing the war debt will be. I argue, though, that our elected representatives are much more interested in financing the military than, say, welfare programs for the needy. It would take a great leap of faith to assume that, if the military were closed tomorrow, monies targeted for defense would automatically be transferred to providing health care to poor people. I also argue that, long term, the expenditures that came out of the financial crisis will be, in comparison, more difficult to service.

The war cost us politically, but was a bargain economically. To me, that’s a much more frightening state of affairs.

ASTMH Meetings

I’ve been out of town at the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) and unable to post. Here’s a poster I just presented. At the very least I’ll be able to move Justin Zatkoff off the front page.

Rabid bear attack in North Carolina

As an infectious disease epidemiologist, I am on various email alert lists (like this one) which provide news on that state of a number of different pathogens. This one was one of the strangest I’ve seen in a while.

Rabid bear attacks in Albemarle; shot dead by victim
An attack by a rabid bear was ended by an Albemarle County farm worker’s point-blank shotgun blast, fired from the roof of a Gator utility vehicle, police said.

The bear killed Tuesday [17 Apr 2012] is the first-ever recorded case of a rabid bear in Virginia and only the second case on the East Coast that state officials are aware of, said Jaime Sajecki, bear project leader with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

“€œIt’s almost unheard of,” she said.

Police believe the bear was drawn by the movement of two men, who were using the vehicle to move stones on a large farm northeast of Rockfish Gap, said county police Sgt. Darrell Byers.

The roughly 120-pound female bear first attacked the vehicle itself, biting one of the tires, before pursuing the men, Byers said.

One of the men climbed into the bed of the Gator, then onto its roof, taking a shotgun loaded with birdshot with him, Byers said.

The other man left the cab, but when the vehicle started to roll downhill, he leaned back into the cab to set the parking brake, according to Byers.

The bear had come into the cab and was climbing into the bed when the man atop the Gator put his shotgun to her head and pulled the trigger, Byers said.

No one was injured in the attack or directly exposed to the rabies virus, Byers said.

The bear was decapitated, and its head sent to a state lab, where it tested positive for rabies, according to police.

Officials will send the bear€’s body to Harrisonburg, where it will be incinerated at the state veterinarian’€™s office.

Sajecki added that, when possible, it’s best to shoot a suspected rabid animal somewhere other than the head, to avoid spreading contaminated tissue.

People encountering a bear should keep a respectful distance and enjoy watching it from afar, according to the department.

[Byline: Ted Strong]

Rabies is a viral disease that causes acute encephalitis. It is transmitted to humans mostly through animal bites, but has been known to have been transmitted through handling infected animal carcasses and contact with bat saliva. If not given prophylaxis immediately, it is almost always fatal. Rabid bear attacks are extremely rare.

Pictures of US Soldiers with Corpses

Recently, a scandal has erupted over pictures of US Soldiers posing proudly with the corpses of dead Afghan fighters. I am reminded of a flight I took last year from DC to Detroit. I sat next to a man from a town close to mine who was returning from Iraq. He indicated that he had been working in a training position for the military in Savannah for the past few months, but was now 100% DAV. He was returning to his wife and an unsure future, though he gets reasonable benefits and full health care.

I have met a lot of these guys and some have even been my students. They are usually pretty sharp, follow instructions to the letter, work incredibly hard and will help out other students when needed. I can usually tell that something is wrong though, particularly if they don’t show up for a couple of weeks.

I was interested in getting his opinions on a small spatial project I had done on conflict events in Iraq and showed him of the maps I had made. He was only moderately interested but answered my questions as to what was where in Baghdad and why some areas are harder hit than others.

In return, he showed me some of his pictures.

The man was personable, but guarded, though he happily showed me pictures of him and his buddies posing with the bodies of Iraqi insurgents. He even laughed at a few of them and remarked that there were good times to be had in Iraq. After a few minutes, he must have realized the public nature of an airplane and quickly closed them up. It was interesting to me that he would carry them around with him in a marked folder.

I can’t claim to understand what happens in war. I have seen what war does to its participants, both soldiers and civilians. I do fault the better judgement of people that pose with bodies, though am interested in a culture of violence that would allow humans to revel in it.

I am drawn (again) to Amartya Sen’s work on the nature of violence and its relationship to identity, a concept I often think about. He posits that violence is only possible when the objects of attack are reduced to compartmentalized categories that remove all others. These photos, which are strikingly similar to that of the widely popular lynching photos in the United States, are no exception. American soldiers gleefully posing with corpses view them not as someone’s son, friend, father or neighbor, reducing them only to one single facet of their true identities. Sen would argue that the true crime is not the violent act itself, but the violence of stripping away the individual identity of the recipient of violence.

Photos of soldiers posing with bodies, though, is at least as old as the camera itself:


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