Tag Archive | current-events

“Monsanto Protection Act”: Liberal Outrage or Herd Behavior?

Liberals gone wild

Liberals gone wild

I’ve been seeing a number of fiery comments from my liberal bretheren regarding the recent “Monsanto Protection Act.” Normally, I try to be sympathetic to liberal politics, but sometimes I can’t help but shake my head in disgust. I expect ignorance from the listeners of Rush Limbaugh. It’s disappointing when the supposedly better educated fall prey to the same gimmicks. It’s worth pointing out that even conpiracy nut Alex Jones has taken on the same position liberals have.

First, there is no such thing as a “Monsanto Protection Act” anymore than there is any such thing as “Obamacare.” This is a term created by the item’s opponents to rile up opposition, rather than foster critical analysis. I think that Liberals should be well aware of the political problems associated with demonizing and reductionist labeling of things they don’t like.

Second, though Presidents can veto any bill that comes across his desk, the veto of appropriations bills are rare, and have often been overridden by Congress in the past. It may be a shock to liberals, but Presidents aren’t kings. Conservatives often don’t seem to understand the three branches of Government. Liberals often appear to understand it even less.

Third, there was hardly “no debate.” A Google search will reveal that discussions of this particular item go back at least to June of 2012 and the “Famer’s Assurance Provision” as it is correctly known is part of another Ag Appropriations bill which passed last year. Anyone who tells you this is new, is either lying, or doesn’t know what they are talking about. (Even Snopes took this on.)

Fourth, there is no evidence (that I’m aware of) that GMO’s, which are already in our food supply, are having deleterious effects on human health or the environment. There have been some studies on mouse models that I know of, but it appears that no one can really agree on what a “GMO” really is. Until we can nail that down, and have more informed discussion of which GMOs are “bad” and which are “good”, I don’t think that screaming about GMO’s is any more productive than poorly informed discussion of complex issues such as climate change.

I’m not trying to suggest that there are no effects of “GMOs” whatever they may be. I am saying that lefties are accepting that there are broad effects without question and are relying on less-than-scientific and politically motivated sources such as Salon and the Huffington Post to inform them. That’s a very, very dangerous position to take.

Fifth, I think we should all know by now that rightists use issues like this to weaken Democratic Presidencies. I was of the opinion that much of the furor over controversial portions of the 2012 NDAA bill was stoked by right wingers hoping for a Achilles heel in the 2012 Obama campaign. When we buy into this type of sensationalist reporting without examining the evidence, we play right into their hands.

Sixth, well, I had a sixth, but lost it. But back to GMO’s: It’s interesting that discussions of GMO’s in Sub-Saharan Africa are opposite of what we hear in the US. People view the American and European opposition to GMOs, some of which have the potential to increase food yield while minimizing inputs, as an infringement on developing countries’ rights of self determination. It’s easy to dismiss their concerns as uninformed. However, people and policy makers in developing countries face competing issues of immediate economic needs and broad environmental concerns. Lots of things seem obvious to us, but then we have most of our basic needs already met.

I mean this not as a defense of the Farmer’s Assurance Provision or anything else having to do with GMO’s (so chill out). The endless (and perhaps deserved) vilification of Monsanto has reached a point where examination of the facts is secondary to screaming like a blithering idiot. To me, this is dangerous. When we reduce ourselves to merely accepting positions without criticism, we allow ourselves to be manipulated by just about anything. Not everyone has the time to read all that is required to create a truly informed and reasoned opinion on all subjects, I realize. Striving toward obtaining as much information as is reasonable, however, and acting critically should be a priority for everyone, however.

Liberals are the smart ones. We can do better.

HIV “Cure” Found in Mississippi: Nothing to be proud of

Dubious reports have surfaced that an allegedly HIV positive infant born prematurely in rural Mississippi to an HIV infected mother has been cleared of the virus due to a non-standard administration of HIV drugs. Naturally, I am extremely skeptical.

I wonder if the child ever truly had HIV in the first place. Given that the child was born prematurely, I also wonder how generalizable the strategy would be, assuming that the child did, in fact, have HIV.

The world, however, seems to believe that this is a “cure” for HIV. Optimistically, I would call this a case of prophylaxis.

Most frustrating for me, is the surge of pride from Mississippians. Having grown up there, I don’t think that this is anything to be proud of. The profile of HIV in Mississippi (see my paper draft) is overwhelmingly rural, poor and, most salient, black (See my lit review on HIV in Mississippi).

The simple reason that this so-called “cure” was “found” in Mississippi, as opposed to say, Vermont, is Mississippi’s crushing level of endemic poverty, entrenched racism, and institutionalized marginalization and exclusion. Mississippi’s backward politics and racist history are what caused this epidemic in the first place. Nothing to be proud of.

Equally frustrating are the absurd comments to the effect that “God has come and given us this cure” likely stemming from the heart wrenching involvement of an infant. Assuming that such a deity exists, we should probably fault God with creating the disease in the first place, and allowing babies to be infected through no fault of their own. It seems silly to me to praise a despot for delivering services after he’s made a mess of the place.

Mississippi is sixth in the nation for new cases of HIV. The social dynamics which determine transmission are different in rural and urban areas. Dividing states into clases of rural HIV and urban HIV, Mississippi would come in number 3 just behind Georgia and Louisiana. In fact, though, I would argue that Mississippi’s rate of new HIV cases (25 per 100,000) is actually an underestimate. Health delivery in Mississippi’s HIV hotspots is so inadequate and health care utilization so low, that many new cases are undetected.

I will wait and see if the optimistic reports are true. My feeling is that this is a case of hopeful overstatement. Until then, I will remain skeptical.

Obama Codifies the Liberal Vision for America

obama-speechI’m reading the text of Obama’s inaugural speech, delivered yesterday on the steps of the US Capitol building. I’m tempted to consider this the defining moment of his Presidency for what’s he offers here is not just a laundry list of things that should be accomplished in the next four years, but rather an affirmation of the liberal (or progressive) vision for America’s future.

“Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.

Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce, schools and colleges to train our workers.

Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.

Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.”

The roles of government are clearly laid out here:

1) a responsibility to provide the means for commerce (and thus freedom)
2) that government must protect basic market freedoms so that no one has a monopoly on trade (and thus freedom itself)
3) insure a basic and fair standard of living and health (and thus preserve the most basic of freedoms).

Incredibly, he addresses that great stain on our history, slavery, salient given that the speech was given on MLK day by the first black President of the US. Better yet he mentions the rights’ struggles of women, African-Americans and gays explicitly:

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths –- that all of us are created equal –- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

The first two, Seneca Falls and Selma, were to be expected. The inclusion of the Stonewall Riots was exceptional. Freedom is not preserved by exercising control, but rather by allowing the marginalized access to the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else.

Though I have no time to write more, I wanted to state that I considered Obama’s second inaugural speech to be a defining moment for Liberals. We needed a sitting President to stand up and proudly state who we are and what we want. Liberals for too long have cowered in a corner, losing to Conservatives who have, until this point, far better exploited the power of words. We have, in effect, let the enemy define us.

I can only imagine what Romney would have said today. I now understand Conservative outrage at Obama’s win last November because now this speech is in the history books. I’m glad we won.

Readings 1/22/2012

Some readings for today. I need to break these into categories. I must appear insane. What are y’all reading?

  1. UN Warns of Rising Unemployment. I’m not sure where these people live. The article claims that 197 mil. people worldwide are unemployed. Assuming that half the world is of working age, this means that the worldwide unemployment rate is only a cool 5.6%? (NYT)
  2. Joe Stiglitz writes a great piece on how rising American inequality is stifling post-economic-crisis growth. (NYT)
  3. Which prompted this response from fellow economist Paul Krugman who says that it’s (partially) not. (NYT)
  4. The reader outrage to which prompted Krugman to respond to his own response. (NYT)
  5. Japan is finally taking on the Republican Party’s health care plan. Old people should just “hurry up and die” according to finance minister Taro Aso to save the government a few bucks. (Worldcrunch)
  6. Obama’s Liberal Definition of Rights. The Obama inaugural speech shamelessly codified what it means to be a Liberal in 21st Century America. That’s my opinion, not the one expressed in the article, but I thought of it having read this article. (Bloomberg)
  7. Why Americans aren’t interested in electric cars. Personally, I’m interested, but broke. (Fiscal Times)
  8. Four African countries get free access to the EU market, 3 of which are islands and one of which is Zimbabwe. Could they have picked a worse government to deal with? (EP News)
  9. Economics Journals: More articles submitted, less articles published. (Vox)
  10. Diabetes’ drugs hard to get in Malawi. As people live longer, chronic disease is going to present ever greater challenges. (Nyasa Times)

Overtaxed America: I really don’t know what to say

A friend sent me this graphic today from the Wall Street Journal which depicts the suffering that Americans experience under the new tax plan.

I saw the “single parent” and thought to myself, “wow, she makes the same amount of money I do” then I noticed the extra zero.

My heart goes out to these people, and to the Wall Street Journal, which is clearly based in a world that I’m wholly unfamiliar with.

It’s tragic, really. You can tell by their faces that they are suffering terribly.

Honestly, as a guy that’s never broken $30K in his lifetime, I can’t adequately express how much rage this is producing.

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Today’s Readings 1/5/2013

1. Gerrymandering in Michigan: Can this state get more ridiculous? (Mark Maynard)

2. We’re way overdue for an increase in the minimum wage. I know a lot of small businesses that pay well above it, but the Wal-Marts of the world need a kick in the pants (NYT)

3. Krugman at an economics convention and the problem of consensus among economists (NYT)

4. Winning legislation for same sex marriage is largely a matter of how the issue is framed to voters. It’s a loser as a rights issue, but a winner as an issue of personal happiness and fulfillment. (NYT)

5. The IMF admits that austerity measures in the wake of a financial crash not only don’t work, but also make matters needlessly worse. Duh. (Bloomberg) and here’s the paper, which says, explicitly “We find that, in advanced economies, stronger planned fiscal
consolidation has been associated with lower growth than expected, with the relation being
particularly strong, both statistically and economically, early in the crisis.”

6. Shinzo Abe’s plan to get Japan on track again. He shoots for 2% inflation, but Japan’s inflation rate was -0.3% in 2011 and 0% in 2012. (Bloomberg)

7. Shinzo Abe gives up on watering down Japan’s official statements of apology to China and Korea for WWII, vowing to “consult historians,” whatever that means. I’m confident that the LDP will cherry pick “historians” friendly to their right wing cause. (Japan Times)

8. Fuel shortages in Malawi were the last President’s undoing. He has sice died, the new President has barely had time to get her feet wet, and the shortages begin again. (Baobob)

9. 12 things which will be more expensive in 2013. Amazingly, they are the 12 things that got more expensive in 2012. (Fiscal Times)

10. The National Debt: The End of the World is not Near. (Fiscal Times)

Today’s Reads 12/31/2012

1. A Constitutional expert recommends we start ignoring most of it (NYT)
2. Our system of tracking guns and enforcing standards on dealers is flawed (NYT)
3. US Population grows a mere .7 percent in 2012. Immigrants don’t even want us. (Bloomberg)
4. Scathing review of Jared Diamond’s new book, “The World Before Yesterday” (Bloomberg)
5. “Ten Truly Terrible Domestic Policy Ideas of 2012″ – and they are all pretty bad! (Bloomberg)
6. The vaccine conspiracy fringe compromises vaccine delivery to developing countries, endangering kids (Bloomberg)
7. If you’re a minimum wage worker, Washington State is the place to be (at $9.19 an hour) (CNN)
8. Upper House elections in July might help keep Japan’s right wingers acting like adults for the moment (aside: why do Japanese elections happen so frequently?) (Japan Times)
9. Female directors dominate the best of Japan cinema 2012 (let’s hope they come in and save the economy, too!) (Japan Times)
10. Why the Bush tax cuts were created (I never knew) (Washington Post)

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