Archive | January 2012

Kenya Post 4: Lake Victoria (plus one)

I don’t have the energy to make a real post tonight, having ridden 7 hours to Lake Victoria, 2 hours of which were on a rickety Kenyan road. Thus, I am posting these three pictures that stood out to me in the hundreds that I’ve already taken. The first two are in the vicinity of Lake Victoria, the last is form a bone jewelry making collective in Kibera, Nairobi.

Kenya Post 3: Trip to Kibera Slum


Kibera is one of the biggest slums on earth. Out of 5 million people in Nairobi, up to 1 million (the number depends on who you ask) live in Kibera making it larger than even supposedly big American cities such as Detroit, MI.

Like slums everywhere, Kibera’s resident flow in from all impoverished areas seeking job opportunities and better lives for their desperate families. Like slums everywhere, Kibera plays an important role in Nairobi’s economy, serving as a source of cheap labor specifically in the manufacture and distribution of hand fabricated goods and migrant agricultural work.
Like slums everywhere, the greater economy depends on keeping the area poor. Public services are sparingly doled out, just enough to keep the residents from rioting, but not so much that the prices of goods coming out of Kibera will rise.

Public sanitation is the greatest challenge in the area. There exists no effective method of handling the large amount of human waste and trash that the area produces. Households will leave waste outside their doorways, where it eventually gets burned or washed away by the rains. One group has created public toilet facilities that composts the waste and uses the methane discharged to allow for cooking by residents. Other public pit latrines are visible in the area, but they are, as yet, too few in numbers to effectively serve the demands of the large numbers of local residents. It is important to note that toilet facilities are not free. If households do not have the money, they will not use them.

Clean water is in plentiful supply, but carefully managed through a system of gouging the public system. The city has run a haphazard series of municipal water pipes through Kibera. Residents either legally or illegally tap into the pipes and then sell the water to other residents. If the tap is legal, the resident must pay a fee to the city. All taps, legal or no, charge for their services. Locals imply that this is merely the market capitalizing on a surrounding demand, but the reality is that the poorest of households cannot afford the water fees. They either illegally procure water from unmanned taps or fetch water from the river which is polluted with human filth. The result of this commercialization of water resources is that poor households have no access to clean drinking water.

Health services are mostly unavailable to resident outside that which is provided by proactive NGOs and private clinics. Though health services are available at low costs from government run clinics, the nearest facility is too far away. I spoke with Elizabeth Akinyi of the “Power Women Group,” a community based organization which supports HIV positive women by selling handmade goods to tourists. She said that anti retrovirals (ARVs) are available from the public clinics, but that the clinics are so far away that even the sickest will not attempt to make the journey. Thus, HIV positive residents depend on the good graces of donor agencies and NGOs to provide medications. Medications, however, are not free so the revenues from the groups store are essential to keeping these women alive and, as they put it, “living positively”.

It should be obvious that the greatest challenge to poor Kenyans is being able to bear the costs of services. As one person told me, “in Kenya, the only thing free is the air.” In addition to water, the city provides power to some parts of Kibera, which also must be paid for. Homemade television antennas can be seen over just about every household. Every once in a while, one can see a satellite dish. Public schools exists, but slots are too few to accommodate all of the children in Kibera, so many go without. Local groups have stepped up to attempt to provide basic education to children but without formal education, the children of Kibera have little future.

All of this, however, should not distract from the incredible resolve of Kiberans to make a better life for themselves. Everyone in Kibera has some kind of business. Street sellers, small fabricators and small businesses are to be seen everywhere. Some follow western models of individual entrepreneurship such as that of the owner of “Apokolipto Cinema” a small DVD theater that runs showing of bootleg horror and action DVDs from morning to night. Many of the larger operations, however, do not. Employee owned fabrication groups produce products for sale in Nairobi, but split profits amongst themselves and provide for school fees of employees’ children such as that of Kibera Jewelry, who make necklaces and other goods from recycled bone products. Kibera tours, the group that allowed me to visit the area, is a mixture. Though owned by one entrepreneur, the success of his tour depends on cooperation with local groups. Profits from his tour group are split between himself and the groups who participate.

It could be said that unemployment is rampant throughout Kibera, but then it could be said that not a day goes by where Kiberans are not doing something to make some money for themselves. A lack of access to capital and dependable city services, however, prevent the area from reaching its true potential.

Kenya Post 2: Arrival

Sunset over Kenya

A grueling flight, though the planes were largely empty, leaving lots of space to spread out. I was even able to sleep lying down.

Even from the sky, Nairobi is doing well. Lights are to be seen everywhere, paved roads are obvious and even from the sky, the condition of the vehicles is vastly superior to anything found in Blantyre, for example. The airport is filled with Kenyan Air planes, newer air terminals and even newer vehicles. Even the terminal bridge features large ads for EPSON printers and not Zain telephone cards. Stepping out of the terminal bridge however, I notice that the tiles on the ground are mismatched and haphazardly linked.

I nearly twist my ankle stepping in. Now this is the Africa I know.

Immediately, I go into travel mode, go through passport control, get bag, exchange money, clear customs, all as quickly as possible to beat the mad rush of people entering who probably don’t know what they’re doing. I secure a taxi driver named Sam. That’s really the first thing you have to do: secure a trustworthy driver. Treat them well and they will treat you well.

He compliments me on my English, though I remark that his English is better than mine. He says “No, no, I used to work in Mombasa.” The US has a base in Mombasa and Sam used to work driving military men around. “The talk so fast, I can’t understand anything they say. And they use foul language.” I inform him that US military recruits often come from the countryside and that they don’t use foul language when their mothers are around. “They should know that they disrespect me. Please tell them.” I agree to.

The talk of the military leads him to give me a run down on the war with Al Shabaab from Somalia. He instructs me not to go to the North. In the States, we fight wars elsewhere. It’s hard to fathom an active conflict just miles away from relative prosperity.

The times have been good to Nairobi. The lights are on. The roads are paved. Cars are in very good condition. The normal burners seen hobbling through Blantyre are not to be seen here. I make note of multitudes of hotels and at least ten neon lit casinos on the way. “The Chinese are here now, ” Sam says.

Indeed he is right. Even billboards are written in Chinese now. It’s clear that Chinese investors are creating a parallel economy, one for the Kenyans, one for western tourists, and yet another for the ever increasing numbers of Chinese investors and laborers that, by appearances, are flooding the country.

He points to a brightly lit hotel and remarks that it used to be the US embassy, you know, the one that was bombed by Al Qaeda in the late 1990’s in the lead up to 9.11. It is now one of the best places to stay in Nairobi.

He mentions witchcraft. One can’t go very long in a conversation in Africa without having the subject brought up at least once. His tells me that even the educated are doing it now. Wives, seeking to reign in sexually wandering husbands, place spells on them to control their activities. I ask him if his wife has placed a spell on him as well. He tells me no, that he treats his wife well, though mentions that one never knows whether one is under the influence of one of these spells. If his wife had bewitched him, he would never know. Any of us could be bewitched, even right now.

I make it to the guest house. One of the gate keepers runs a bomb checking device under the car, with an air of formality. The driver laughs and says exactly what I’m thinking, “this kid probably doesn’t even know what he’s looking for.”

The guest house is run by Seventh Day Adventists. They only serve vegetarian food, which is fine with me, though I note to my horror that caffeinated beverages are not allowed.

It is too late to get food at the guest house so I have Sam drive me to get something to eat. He drops me off at an Italian restaurant in the city center. I am convinced that the best Italian food outside of Italy is in Africa.

Leaving the restaurant, I bolt for the cab. Around 20 street women carrying babies surround me demanding money. I guess this is probably their best way of making a living. The wait outside the Italian restaurant for whiteys to leave, then gang up on them hoping that some money might get thrown their way. Interestingly, they are all dressed exactly the same, as if there is a street mother uniform. I barely make it to the car as the driver panics, “Get in the car!” As the door closes, the mothers’ demeanor changes to the familiar laughing and smiling that Africans are known for. They wave us out. I notice the zipper to my bag is open, though nothing is missing.

We drive through the city center. At this time of night, the only places open are nightclubs and a few casinos. We proceed through a gauntlet of prostitutes on the left and drug dealers on the right. I assume the prostitutes are on the left to facilitate entry into vehicles. The drug dealers can sell directly to drivers on the right.

I wonder to myself if the army of baby carrying women over by the Italian restaurant were originally stationed over here with the prostitutes.

The driver reminds me that this is nothing. He says he’ll bring me through on a Friday night. The streets are packed, he says. On morality and consumerism, Kenya is a far different ballgame from peaceful and content Malawi.

Kenya Post 1: The Most Expensive Soccer Ball Delivery Service on Earth

I’m on my way to Kenya, I’ve only made it to the Amsterdam airport. I’m already surrounded by missionaries on their way to Kenya. It seems that the last hold out for Jesus is on the African continent. I talked to one of them and found out that this particular group visits every year. Activities include:

Printing matching Jesus T-shirts
Taking soccer balls to schools
Buying uniforms for kids
Prayer in the slums
Prayer in the villages
Even more prayer in the prisons.

“We can show the kids what it’s like. Makes them realize how glad they are not to be poor.” Honestly, I didn’t know what to say, but I thought, while I looked at this portly gentleman from Tennessee, “I’m glad I’m not you”.

If prayer had an exchange rate, Africa might be the richest place on earth. Unfortunately, prayer does NOT have an exchange rate which leads me to ask what use these people really are.

Think about it. I estimate there are 50 people in this particular group. Each of them will probably cost approximately $3500 for the flights, accommodations, food and transport. That’s a grand total of $175,000. If there is a group on this particular flight once a week, then that’s $9,100,000 spent yearly carting Jesus to Kenya. I’m positive, however, that there are more missionaries fiying to Kenya every year, and positive that there are more missionaries flying to any of the 53 other African countries.

This total money spent on these groups must total in the hundreds of millions of dollars each and every year. It is the most expensive soccer ball delivery service on the planet.

Guest Post: Squatters in the Election Year

I am going to be travelling for the next few weeks. To make up for an anticipated lack of posts, I have enlisted some of my friends to produce content for this site. I took a cue from my friend, Mark, who also pawned his blog off on his own unsuspecting friends.

This post is by one of my best friends, Jeff Harris, who lives in Asheville, NC. I knew Jeff from Mississippi. When he’s not eating squirrels, he studies soil.

My house is in town, but it’s surrounded by thick woods, and sits at the end of a long driveway that winds back behind a huge 100-year old two-story house that’s been vacant for the past five or six years, effectively cutting us off from the view of all neighbors and the street. If I were into horror flicks, I would probably live in terror that a gang of axe-wielding psychopaths might be closing in on our little cul-de-sac at any moment, free to perpetrate their carnage in privacy. I don’t care much for that genre of entertainment, and I don’t harbor that sort of fear (at least not consciously), but I am extremely interested in any human activity I see around the premises of the vacant house that cuts us off from the rest of the world, as you might imagine.

About a month ago, I discovered a squatter living on the back porch of the old house. He turned out to be a harmless but extremely misguided young man who sincerely wants to be healthy and productive, but who has absurd notions about how to achieve that state. He’s an awful lot like I was at his age, but with fewer resources than I had. I’ll call him Kevin. The day I discovered Kevin, I talked to him a lot about his hopes and plans, and he told me about his anxiety disorder and how he was trying to cope with that, and also that he hoped to have enough money from SSI to pay rent somewhere by February. He genuinely seemed to just want to keep his head down and have a hidden place to crash near the gym down the street where he has a membership, and where he works out and showers.

After having tried unsuccessfully to convince Kevin that the rotting, mold-infested house he was squatting in was bad for him both physically and spiritually (it’s a pretty depressing place inside), I decided to leave him to his own devices, at least for a while, hoping he would work things out. He was convinced that being near the gym was better for him than say, staying at the local Occupy encampment five miles away (and he may be right about that) so he stayed in the rotting old house, to my disappointment. A week or two later though, I was happy to see that he had at least cleaned up some debris from the yard, which had been dumped out of an old refrigerator by vandals who had stolen the appliances from the house a year or two ago. It was a tiny indication that he wasn’t spiraling down into terminal homelessness due to depression and nihilism, and so I decided to continue ignoring his presence for the time being, and wishing him the best.

Yesterday, as I rounded the bend in my driveway where the old house sits, I was alarmed to see a guy in in camouflage hunting gear and a machinegun-like device poking around the house. He turned out to be a guy with a metal detector, who said he had been given permission by the real estate agent who’s handling the vacant house. He confirmed her name and convinced me he had actually talked to her, so I wished him luck and went on my way.
Today, the same guy was there again, this time with his young son who was also decked out in serious camouflage and sporting a toy rifle. This time, the guy stopped me as I drove by and alerted me that he had “chased a bum away from the house,” and showed me an old silver quarter he had just found. I told him what I knew about “the bum,” and assured him that Kevin was harmless. He didn’t seem convinced, but when I explained that Kevin had some psychological issues, he looked relived, as if we had finally gotten back on the same page. “Yeah,” he said,” he seemed pretty unfriendly when I ran him off.” I wondered what kind of demeanor he usually expected of “bums” when they were being “run off,” but I couldn’t blame him for his actions – he had done what pretty much any normal person from a private-ownership based culture like ours would have done in that situation. To him, “the bum” was not another human so much as a dangerous intruder, and most likely one that deserved whatever dire situation he happened to be in.

As I was talking to the guy, I looked up and saw Kevin walking back up the driveway toward the old house, in seeming defiance of the guy who had chased him away earlier. Kevin kept his head down and tried not to look our way, just wanting to go about his meager day without any trouble from anyone. But when I called to him and asked him how he was doing, he brightened, looking happier than I had ever seen him, and said he thought he had found a place to live. Unfortunately, since buses weren’t running due to it being a holiday, he was worried that the walk to procure it would take him all day, and he wouldn’t have time to take a shower and would miss the soup kitchen, so he had decided to go tomorrow. I asked him if he thought it would still be available tomorrow, and he said he hoped so, but his face betrayed a tiny bit of doubt. Meanwhile, metal detector guy was following us with extreme interest, looking almost comically surprised at the easy candor I had with Kevin. When I then offered to give Kevin a ride to check out the prospective new housing situation so that he wouldn’t miss the opportunity, metal detector guy’s surprise turned to amazement, and then almost as quickly, into what I can only describe as some kind of peaceful understanding. Kevin had ceased to be a threat, and had become a legitimate human being, just like that. I told Kevin I had to run back down to my house to drop some groceries off, and I’d be back in a few minutes. When I got back, he and metal detector guy were talking, both smiling, and metal detector guy waved goodbye to him as he walked to my car. Belligerence and mistrust had just turned to goodwill, and it had turned so easily.

I tell this story not to call attention to the notion that I did something nice for someone, and that the kindness perhaps even rubbed off a little on someone who was perhaps less inclined to consider the needs of someone less fortunate, but to illustrate that everyone – no matter where they may fall on the cultural spectrum – has the capacity for acceptance at the very least, if not full compassion, for other human beings. The transition of perspective from viewing others as enemies to viewing them as fellow human beings may seem an impossible stretch for some people, especially those who have been subsumed by the worst messages our culture has to offer, but the capacity is there.

This is important to remember as we face the prospect of another election year, which in all likelihood will prove to be an exceptionally ugly one. We will all encounter people who have misguided opinions about what will “fix” the country, and people with pent up rage which they direct toward people of other creeds, cultures and skin color. But it’s crucial to remember that none of these people have the intent to be evil. They are generally just deeply frightened of the uncertainty of life, and are often not bright enough to see how ugly their convictions are (I don’t mean to imply that metal detector guy was prejudiced in this way, but he was almost certainly a part of the particular culture that breeds such convictions). These people deserve compassion too. Their hate is just an instinctual response to fear. And many are greedy and selfish beyond comprehension – but in most cases that greed is really just fearful desperation. When dealing with people who are under the control of such fear, even the smallest gestures of goodwill are incremental nudges toward the diffusion of the fear and hate which fuels their actions. With now over 7 billion people on the planet and a populace deeply divided along certain cultural lines in what has been the most influential country on the planet for the past 100 years or so (we’re all united in our rampant consumerism – some just have more guilt about it than others), we’re sitting on a bomb. De-fusing it will require every bit of courage and delicate, precise action that we can muster. It is crucial that we redirect our disgust away from people we disagree with, and channel it toward their actions, and toward the misguided cultural institutions which reinforce the fear and hate that afflicts them. We must never lose sight of the fact that we are all just frightened mammals – some less frightened than others, and some from a better informed perspective, yes, but equally as capable of causing more strife in the world, if we should forget to view ourselves and others in this light.

Burn My Passport: Citizenship in the 21st Century

My US passport sits on my desk, along with two other ratted and expired versions of it. I often think of citizenship. Mostly, I think of how absolutely meaningless it is and about the ridiculous restrictions imposed by it.

For example, my passport is blue and has the seal of the United States of America on it. With this document, I can enter most countries around the world visa-free and return to the US at will for as long as I hold this document. Malawians, though, cannot travel to most countries without securing travel visas ahead of time, often at great expense. Passports not only restrict entry, they also restrict exit. Even Americans without passports are denied the right to exit the country legally. Malawians, even if they can afford the expense of having a passport, have to apply for special permission to leave.

It is my opinion that, by marriage, I should be entitled to a red passport for Japan as well. I am, to some extent, as personally invested in that country as the United States, equally concerned with the welfare of the population of the archipelago, speak the language and could see myself easily living there again at some point.

Yet, Japan and the US live in antiquated worlds where holding both passports is (on paper) an impossibility. Both countries maintain draconian monopolies on the state allegiance of their passport holders, forcing naturalized immigrants to forfeit citizenship to the country of their birth. Worse yet, the United States forces us to pay taxes to to her, even when we don’t live here and, ostensibly, receive no state benefits.

The Economist recently wrote on the issue of citizenship, stating succinctly:

Citizenship mattered in the days when defence relied on conscription. But modern warfare does not require armies of ill-trained conscripts. Few countries now rely on mandatory military service and those that do are mostly winding down the draft. Citizenship is no guarantee of loyalty: history’s worst traitors have been true-born citizens. Many of those ready to fight most enthusiastically for a flag will have gone through hell to get to their country.

Citizenship is a human rights issue. The implications of citizenship are directly addressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in Articles 2 and 13. In the United States, though, citizenship is used as a tool to marginalize an entire labor force, deny public services, insure less than optimal wages and allow employers to skirt basic workplace safety and compensation rules. It is interesting that the most fervent proponents of this antiquated system of resident registration, are the loudest advocates against “big government” and for “free markets.” Note Presidential candidate Ron Paul’s narrow and restrictive views of citizenship, which include denying citizenship to people whose only crime was to be born on US soil to parents who fought tooth and nail to get here. It is as if the market can only be free if its participants are determined and protected by the heavily funded and armed hand of the state.

Even worse, the United States is the greatest exporter of advanced degrees in world. We don’t allow Chinese graduate students, for example, to stay in the US upon graduation, despite the fact that the number of domestic PhD’s in the sciences is embarrassingly low. We bring them in, then kick them out as quickly as possible unless they are able to quickly find a private sponsor. God forbid that they might want to start their own operation in the US or work for some small business. So much for promoting entrepreneurship among the educated.

Obviously, some are able to skate this requirement of unipolar citizenship. Canadians and Israelis often hold passports from both countries. People from developing countries, and those who likely have sacrificed the most to attain US citizenship are barred from holding passports in their countries of birth. It is an incredible double standard. Ironically, Israel, which demands the right of dual citizenship with the United States, deny even full Israeli citizenship to the Palestinians.

In an increasingly intertwined and mobile global economy, the concept of the state and of citizenship/allegiance are quickly becoming an antiquated and outdated concept. More than 200 million people around the world live outside the countries of their birth. For me, travelling to another country is the same as travelling to, say, California, taking at least as much time and effort. I am equally employable or unemployable in Japan as I am in the United States. My services are valued as much in Europe and they would be in Africa or South East Asia, so when, I ask, are states going to finally recognize this reality and catch up? Even Reale in 1931, referred to the passport as “an anachronism in the modern world” and predicted that one day, it would become irrelevant.

My recommendations:

1. Abolish passports – Publicly, states will imply that passports are meant to protect and secure borders to prevent incursion by those who pose a threat to the state. Clearly, this did not work on 9/11, nor does it work well anywhere else. The greatest threats to the security of any state probably already possess citizenship. Passports are useless guarantees of the stability of the state and merely serve to exclude economic undesirables. Best to rid ourselves of them entirely.

2. In the absence of abolishment, allow free and open passage worldwide – Proponents of citizenship posit that the “flood gates” will open, and developed states will face an unprecedented flow of immigrants from developed countries. The truth is, that those who wish to come to places like the United States, already do. In addition, most people would rather remain in their communities than travel to places where they know no one. The United States (and Europe) has a system of open borders, but people still choose to live in impoverished hell holes like Mississippi. Many other forces, besides passports, keep people at home.

Clearly, though, the first option is the most radical and the most difficult to implement. The abolishment of passports would mean the abolishment of that which defines the state. Simply, states, as we know them would cease to exist and would become, rather, provincial areas with open borders, but local laws and local systems of taxation. That is exactly what the United States is, though a passport-less world would lack the greater power of a centralized government, such as that of the US Federal Government.

The second option is the most reasonable and should be the goal of states in the 21st century. Without the free and unrestricted passage of all global citizens, the world will stagnate in a restricted and deprived global marketplace, much akin to the restrictive feudal states of pre-Enlightenment Europe. The second option is the best option for the development of global human rights, the free exchange of ideas and economic development. The rising BRIC economies will mean greater economic equality for all world citizens. The United States and Europe need not fear a mass influx of poor people seeking opportunities. They have more than a few options now.

Determining Authorship of Ron Paul Newsletters Through Text Analysis: Part 3

I have written two posts attempting to use textual analysis to determine whether Ron Paul did or did not write the inflammatory newsletters that have gotten so much press recently. The first post failed miserably. I used four articles from the “Ron Paul Report” of which authorship was in question. I compare these with more than 30 articles and books know to be written by Paul. The particular methodologies I employed there were able to determine that Paul was likely not the author of two (of four) newsletter articles. The authorship of the other two was left to speculation.

In part 2, I included text from other authors including myself (as a control) and authors known to collaborate with Paul, namely Lew Rockwell (from whose site I was able to obtain many of Paul’s articles), Jack Kerwick and Michael S. Rozeff. I concluded that Paul may or may not have been the author of the articles, but much of the evidence in that analysis pointed to one Lew Rockwell. In the end, though, I presonally concluded that the establishment of authorship through quantitative means is a difficult venture.

Recently, a FOX News affiliate “uncovered” the “true” author of the more incendiary portions of the Ron Paul Report. Ben Swann of FOX believes that one James B Powell wrote the newsletters. He concludes this based not on the signed confession of Mr. Powell, but on his own subjective comparison of James Powell’s “How to Survive Urban Violence” with the disputed texts of Ron Paul’s newsletters.

Of course Ron Paul supporters and the conservative blogosphere hae chosen to merely believe Mr. Swann, seemingly without taking the extra of effort of either asking Mr. Powell or by digging into the text for some more rigorous analysis. Naturally, we are just supposed to believe it, too.

I found the text for Powell’s “How to Survive Urban Violence” along with a single copy of the “Powell Report,” a newsletter that Powell produces to provide investment advice to paying subscribers. Other than those two, I was unable to find any other text by Powell.

I included these two texts in my collections of texts and set about attempting to determine the authorship of the four disputed articles. Again, I will use a principal component analysis (PCA) methodology, though this time I will use the excellent R package BiplotGUI. I will find the first two PC’s of word length, sentence length, and punctuation. I will then graph the first two PC’s against one anaother and determine if there is evidence for clusters of texts, which should correspond to distinct authors. If we can determine that the four texts are placed in some reasonable vicinity of one (or no) authors, then we might be able to infer who actually wrote (or did not write) these texts.

I extracted the data for word length, sentence length and punctuation using the Signature software package.

PCA of Word Length

Word Length

As we hoped, texts cluster in areas corresponding to different writers. I have noted Paul’s cluster in blue using a 90% alpha bag. Mr. Rockwell’s work cluster (in green) to the left of Paul’s, indicating that word length is distinct between the two. The newsletters appear to lie closer to Mr. Rockwell’s cluster, though there is some cross over between the two. Note that the article on car jacking (the worst of the bunch) seems to cluster with a chapter from “End the Fed” and an article from Rockwell on Bethlehem. I will point out that the particular chapter of “End the Fed” that sits in this cluster is quite distinct in tone from the other chapter. Upon reading them both, I felt that two different people wrote the two chapters.

Point Predictives for Sentence Length

Sentence Length

The point predictive plot was more interesting that the plot of the first two PC’s. Again, even when looking at sentence length, the article on carjacking clusters with two of Mr. Rockwell’s articles and the odd chapter from “End the Fed,” suggesting that they *might* all come from the same author. Most of Paul’s articles are clustered by themselves, though this should not be surprising, as we already know that they were written by the same person!



This one is perhaps the most compelling of all of the analyses that I have run. The newsletters, Lew Rockwell’s articles and one of the Powell articles cross over one another. Paul’s articles nearly all occupy their own cluster. The only newsletter article that lies anywhere near Paul’s works is the article on reelection. Again, Rockwell’s articles cluster near the chapter from “End the Fed.” Powell’s “Urban Violence” article sits in Paul’s cluster (though near the Re-election article, though his other article lies far away.


At this point, I’m willing to accept that Paul probably didn’t write at least three of the four newsletter articles, though I would have preferred to see otherwise. Paul’s works appear to have some commonalities that indicate that if, in fact, he did write these articles, we would expect to see them appear within his cluster. Outside of the fairly standard and non-offensive re-election article, the three do not. Interestingly, the previous analysis pointed to Lew Rockwell as the author of the re-election article.

As for determining authorship, we don’t have enough texts from the other authors to draw any reasonable conclusions as to who was responsible. I say that Lew Rockwell may have written the article on car-jacking. Authorship of the articles on AIDS and the coming race war is more difficult to establish. We only have two articles from James Powell. Personally, I do not believe that Mr. Powell wrote any of these articles, though, again, having more texts would greatly help the analysis.

While I may be willing to accept that Paul is being truthful when he says that he did not author the articles, I cannot believe that he didn’t know about them. Paul is still accountable for pandering to racists for profit and political support though getting politicians to admit to their past indiscretions is as difficult as determining authorship of mystery texts.

Pew News Test: Rate Your News Knowledge

Results of my Pew News Test

After writing the last post, I was thinking about how ignorant Americans are of basic issues. Actually, I was thinking about how ignorant my liberal bretheren are of basic issues and civics but consider that a bit of tough love. I want them to get better. I really do.

I was checking out a couple of chapters from Rick Sheckman’s 2008 book, “Just How Stupid Are We?: Facing the Truth About the American Voter,” a compendium of factoids on American ignorance. It turns out we are dumber than I could have ever imagined.

The Pew News Research Center has an online test of news and political knowledge, though. You can test your own news savvy there. I scored 100%. Only 8% of people who take this test score 100%. I feel alone, though I recognize that I border on the obsessive. I’m not surprised that not everybody gets 100%, but I’m pretty shocked that anybody get ALL of the questions wrong.

Try the test out and see where you stand. It updates every few weeks, I think. I promise it won’t make you feel bad.

The NDAA, Infinite Detention, a Writer’s Confusion

Honestly, the last thing I ever want to write about is American politics, though it may be hard to tell from my recent string of posts of Ron Paul. Recent discussions of the latest National Defense Appropriations Bill amongst my friends reminds me why.

Contrary to what appears to be popularly believed, the National Defense Appropriations Bill is much more than just the controversial provisions regarding the detention of military combatants. Defense Appropriations Bills are part of routine policy which is submitted every year to little fanfare and public controversy.

They are mostly a boring affair, documenting how much and for what purpose federal money gets spent on defense activities. For example, the recent bill included provisions regarding personnel salaries, maintenance funds, protectionist measures requiring that the military procure its steel domestically, the relocation of decommissioned portable military buildings to Indian tribes, and prevents the appropriation of funds to groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt.

This year, however, the Senate Defense Committee, sponsored by Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, included text that vaguely details (an oxymoron?) the manner in which members of Al Qaeda or related groups will be detained. Specifically, it gives the executive branch license to have the military detain members of these groups without trial until the end of hostilities. Given the endless nature of the terrorism, it essentially gives the executive powers to detain suspected persons indefinitely without due process.

This essentially codifies existing sections of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists Act of 2001 (AUMF), which the Bush and Obama administrations have broadly interpreted to allow the military to label terrorists or Al Qaeda associates as “enemy combatants.” Guantanamo is an example of this broad interpretation. The controversial sections of the latest NDAA are no different, though slightly more specific. (An excellent legal breakdown of the controversial sections can be found here.)

However, the NDAA also requires that suspected terrorists be held by the military, a requirement the Obama Administration has argued to be unnecessarily restrictive. In essence, an angry Al Qaeda sympathizer in Syracuse who makes bombs in his basement has to be treated in the same manner as Osama bin Laden. The Obama Administration argues that the guy in Syracuse would be better covered and tried under local, state, or federal laws, whereas big baddies like Osama bin Laden would clearly be under the jurisdiction of the military.

Lost in this heated debate is the role of the Senate Defense Committee in crafting and sponsoring the controversial sections. First, the inclusion of the provisions in the latest NDAA was oddly out of place in the context of the entire bill, but this was likely a political strategy. Senators McCain and Graham clearly knew that the Obama administration would have no choice but to sign the bill. The political fallout from shutting down the military would be pervasive, particularly in an election year. In fact, no NDAA has been left unsigned for more than 50 years. Most salient, there were more than enough votes to overrule a Presidential veto, which would have been humiliating for Obama in an election year. The idea the the Obama Administration could have successfully vetoed the measure is absolutely preposterous.

Second, the intentions of the sponsors of the controversial sections of the bill are unclear. It makes little sense that the Senate would seek to grant widened powers of the executive to detain prisoners, particularly if the Executive isn’t asking for them. I can find no evidence to indicate that the Obama Administration requested these provisions, but instead have found nothing but protestations from his advisors, most notably counterterrorism advisor John Brennan, the Department of Defense, and President Obama himself.

Speculating, could this have been a cleverly constructed election year political strategy? My gut says yes, but there’s nothing of note out there to suggest this. I agree that it is an affront to liberty, though I’m hesitant to pin the blame on the Obama Administration here.

Honestly, I’ve been vastly confused on this issue since it arose and have pretty much refused to be part of the quite simplistic discussions that are flying around liberal circles. Perhaps this undermines my liberal cred, if such a thing can exist. To speak out in a manner that diverges in the smallest way from progressive hand waving is to be labelled a conservative on the level of Senator Graham himself.

From the beginning I have found nothing but ignorance, vast simplification of the issues, and a refusal of Americans, and specifically progressives, to dig more deeply into what these sections actually say, what the bill is, who is responsible, the realities of American politics and even, sadly, the extent of the Executive powers. Arguments has resorted to impassioned rhetoric and childish, though amusing, photoshopped parodies. Personally, the banal level of discussion and ignorance of the facts have made me ill, though what else is to be expected from an old curmudgeon such as myself? Progressives, though, in this case, have simply got it wrong.

Consider this post my attempt at public service, though it is likely equally simplistic. I welcome discussion.

The President included a signing statement detailing why he signed the NDAA and what specifically the Administration’s reservations were. Presidents often attach signing statements to bills explaining reservations they have with certain sections or why they believe that certain sections are unconstitutional. I have included the full text of it here, knowing full well that no one will read it. Personally, I found it to be the most sober assessment of the issue yet:

Statement by the President on H.R. 1540

Today I have signed into law H.R. 1540, the “National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012.” I have signed the Act chiefly because it authorizes funding for the defense of the United States and its interests abroad, crucial services for service members and their families, and vital national security programs that must be renewed. In hundreds of separate sections totaling over 500 pages, the Act also contains critical Administration initiatives to control the spiraling health care costs of the Department of Defense (DoD), to develop counterterrorism initiatives abroad, to build the security capacity of key partners, to modernize the force, and to boost the efficiency and effectiveness of military operations worldwide.

The fact that I support this bill as a whole does not mean I agree with everything in it. In particular, I have signed this bill despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists. Over the last several years, my Administration has developed an effective, sustainable framework for the detention, interrogation and trial of suspected terrorists that allows us to maximize both our ability to collect intelligence and to incapacitate dangerous individuals in rapidly developing situations, and the results we have achieved are undeniable. Our success against al-Qa’ida and its affiliates and adherents has derived in significant measure from providing our counterterrorism professionals with the clarity and flexibility they need to adapt to changing circumstances and to utilize whichever authorities best protect the American people, and our accomplishments have respected the values that make our country an example for the world.

Against that record of success, some in Congress continue to insist upon restricting the options available to our counterterrorism professionals and interfering with the very operations that have kept us safe. My Administration has consistently opposed such measures. Ultimately, I decided to sign this bill not only because of the critically important services it provides for our forces and their families and the national security programs it authorizes, but also because the Congress revised provisions that otherwise would have jeopardized the safety, security, and liberty of the American people. Moving forward, my Administration will interpret and implement the provisions described below in a manner that best preserves the flexibility on which our safety depends and upholds the values on which this country was founded.

Section 1021 affirms the executive branch’s authority to detain persons covered by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) (Public Law 107-40; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note). This section breaks no new ground and is unnecessary. The authority it describes was included in the 2001 AUMF, as recognized by the Supreme Court and confirmed through lower court decisions since then. Two critical limitations in section 1021 confirm that it solely codifies established authorities. First, under section 1021(d), the bill does not “limit or expand the authority of the President or the scope of the Authorization for Use of Military Force.” Second, under section 1021(e), the bill may not be construed to affect any “existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.” My Administration strongly supported the inclusion of these limitations in order to make clear beyond doubt that the legislation does nothing more than confirm authorities that the Federal courts have recognized as lawful under the 2001 AUMF. Moreover, I want to clarify that my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens. Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a Nation. My Administration will interpret section 1021 in a manner that ensures that any detention it authorizes complies with the Constitution, the laws of war, and all other applicable law.

Section 1022 seeks to require military custody for a narrow category of non-citizen detainees who are “captured in the course of hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force.” This section is ill-conceived and will do nothing to improve the security of the United States. The executive branch already has the authority to detain in military custody those members of al-Qa’ida who are captured in the course of hostilities authorized by the AUMF, and as Commander in Chief I have directed the military to do so where appropriate. I reject any approach that would mandate military custody where law enforcement provides the best method of incapacitating a terrorist threat. While section 1022 is unnecessary and has the potential to create uncertainty, I have signed the bill because I believe that this section can be interpreted and applied in a manner that avoids undue harm to our current operations.

I have concluded that section 1022 provides the minimally acceptable amount of flexibility to protect national security. Specifically, I have signed this bill on the understanding that section 1022 provides the executive branch with broad authority to determine how best to implement it, and with the full and unencumbered ability to waive any military custody requirement, including the option of waiving appropriate categories of cases when doing so is in the national security interests of the United States. As my Administration has made clear, the only responsible way to combat the threat al-Qa’ida poses is to remain relentlessly practical, guided by the factual and legal complexities of each case and the relative strengths and weaknesses of each system. Otherwise, investigations could be compromised, our authorities to hold dangerous individuals could be jeopardized, and intelligence could be lost. I will not tolerate that result, and under no circumstances will my Administration accept or adhere to a rigid across-the-board requirement for military detention. I will therefore interpret and implement section 1022 in the manner that best preserves the same flexible approach that has served us so well for the past 3 years and that protects the ability of law enforcement professionals to obtain the evidence and cooperation they need to protect the Nation.

My Administration will design the implementation procedures authorized by section 1022(c) to provide the maximum measure of flexibility and clarity to our counterterrorism professionals permissible under law. And I will exercise all of my constitutional authorities as Chief Executive and Commander in Chief if those procedures fall short, including but not limited to seeking the revision or repeal of provisions should they prove to be unworkable.
Sections 1023-1025 needlessly interfere with the executive branch’s processes for reviewing the status of detainees. Going forward, consistent with congressional intent as detailed in the Conference Report, my Administration will interpret section 1024 as granting the Secretary of Defense broad discretion to determine what detainee status determinations in Afghanistan are subject to the requirements of this section.

Sections 1026-1028 continue unwise funding restrictions that curtail options available to the executive branch. Section 1027 renews the bar against using appropriated funds for fiscal year 2012 to transfer Guantanamo detainees into the United States for any purpose. I continue to oppose this provision, which intrudes upon critical executive branch authority to determine when and where to prosecute Guantanamo detainees, based on the facts and the circumstances of each case and our national security interests. For decades, Republican and Democratic administrations have successfully prosecuted hundreds of terrorists in Federal court. Those prosecutions are a legitimate, effective, and powerful tool in our efforts to protect the Nation. Removing that tool from the executive branch does not serve our national security. Moreover, this intrusion would, under certain circumstances, violate constitutional separation of powers principles.
Section 1028 modifies but fundamentally maintains unwarranted restrictions on the executive branch’s authority to transfer detainees to a foreign country. This hinders the executive’s ability to carry out its military, national security, and foreign relations activities and like section 1027, would, under certain circumstances, violate constitutional separation of powers principles. The executive branch must have the flexibility to act swiftly in conducting negotiations with foreign countries regarding the circumstances of detainee transfers. In the event that the statutory restrictions in sections 1027 and 1028 operate in a manner that violates constitutional separation of powers principles, my Administration will interpret them to avoid the constitutional conflict.
Section 1029 requires that the Attorney General consult with the Director of National Intelligence and Secretary of Defense prior to filing criminal charges against or seeking an indictment of certain individuals. I sign this based on the understanding that apart from detainees held by the military outside of the United States under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, the provision applies only to those individuals who have been determined to be covered persons under section 1022 before the Justice Department files charges or seeks an indictment. Notwithstanding that limitation, this provision represents an intrusion into the functions and prerogatives of the Department of Justice and offends the longstanding legal tradition that decisions regarding criminal prosecutions should be vested with the Attorney General free from outside interference. Moreover, section 1029 could impede flexibility and hinder exigent operational judgments in a manner that damages our security. My Administration will interpret and implement section 1029 in a manner that preserves the operational flexibility of our counterterrorism and law enforcement professionals, limits delays in the investigative process, ensures that critical executive branch functions are not inhibited, and preserves the integrity and independence of the Department of Justice.

Other provisions in this bill above could interfere with my constitutional foreign affairs powers. Section 1244 requires the President to submit a report to the Congress 60 days prior to sharing any U.S. classified ballistic missile defense information with Russia. Section 1244 further specifies that this report include a detailed description of the classified information to be provided. While my Administration intends to keep the Congress fully informed of the status of U.S. efforts to cooperate with the Russian Federation on ballistic missile defense, my Administration will also interpret and implement section 1244 in a manner that does not interfere with the President’s constitutional authority to conduct foreign affairs and avoids the undue disclosure of sensitive diplomatic communications. Other sections pose similar problems. Sections 1231, 1240, 1241, and 1242 could be read to require the disclosure of sensitive diplomatic communications and national security secrets; and sections 1235, 1242, and 1245 would interfere with my constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations by directing the Executive to take certain positions in negotiations or discussions with foreign governments. Like section 1244, should any application of these provisions conflict with my constitutional authorities, I will treat the provisions as non-binding.

My Administration has worked tirelessly to reform or remove the provisions described above in order to facilitate the enactment of this vital legislation, but certain provisions remain concerning. My Administration will aggressively seek to mitigate those concerns through the design of implementation procedures and other authorities available to me as Chief Executive and Commander in Chief, will oppose any attempt to extend or expand them in the future, and will seek the repeal of any provisions that undermine the policies and values that have guided my Administration throughout my time in office.

My Dying Uncle vs. Ron Paul: A Public Health Disaster in the Works

I’m going to tell a story. My uncle is 52 years old; that’s ten more years than I. When I was a kid he would introduce me to all kinds of amazing 70’s rock and psyche records. My uncle, like much of my family, is mentally ill.

Specifically, he fights severe depression; though through medication, he has been able to maintain a minimal standard of living and assisted my grandfather through his arduously long passing. Like many caregivers, his efforts are little appreciated nor recognized.

After my grandfather passed, my uncle had a job but lost his health benefits. Unable to obtain a new prescription for his depression meds, he started self-medicating through alcohol. Most people in his family are addicts. Little understood is the role that depression plays in addiction. Without anti-depressants, my uncle will drink almost constantly.

Recently, I went to see him. He looked nearly 20 years older than his actual age, was incontinent and hadn’t eaten in nearly two weeks. He subsists off calories from beer. I left heartbroken.

Six weeks ago, I received a call that my uncle had been admitted to the ICU. He had a stroke while buying beer at a local convenience store, fell and fractured his skull. Somehow, he managed to walk home and locked himself in his house. Someone found him and brought him to the hospital, where he was operated on for a brain hemorrhage. He then later had second stroke, fell again, and had to have the surgery once more.

My uncle has since relearned to walk, but has no use of his hands. I must stress again that he has no health insurance. The hospital discharged him since he could not pay. Now, he lives alone in his house, with no power, heat, nor food, he is barely mobile and will never be able to work again.

I tell this story because it fills me with rage. The Republican Party would happily let my uncle die. That we live in a country where basic health care is available only for the rich, and requirements that everyone enter into some kind of health plan are viewed as “Hitleresque” fills me with an indescribable rage. It’s almost cliché to point out that we live in the wealthiest country on the planet (by GDP), yet still can’t seem to figure out how to provide for the health of all of our citizens.

By far, out of all of the Republican candidates, , Ron Paul has the worst suggestions for what to do about the uninsured, let alone what to do about health care in the United States. He believes that insurance companies should be allowed to insure whomever they wish. That no one should be forced to pay for the health care of another individual. That hospitals should be allowed to decide whom to exclude treatment to.

Paradoxically, he believes that the solution to the problem of health care in America is to shift the burden of cost to doctors themselves. He believes that doctors should volunteer their time and resources to assist the poor so that they will stop troubling the rest of us.

Presumably, he’s never asked doctors whether they like working without being paid. Or that most of the cost of health care is for materials and services that do not involve the practitioner. Nurses, for example, are they to work without getting paid as well? Are doctors merely to absorb all the costs of care from their own incomes? If they pass these costs on (as they are now) to other patients, does that not also violate Paul’s ideas of forced remuneration from those who have? Paul, though, waxes nostalgic on health care pre-1965, ignoring the fact that health care was less complicated, less costly, less effective and less accessible in the good old days. But then we should expect no less from bull-headed Ron Paul.

Even worse yet, Paul believes that one of the solutions to health care in the United States is to support “alternative therapies,” such as as vitamin therapy, a movement that believes that massive doses of vitamins can cure cancer. Maybe he also supports aromatherapy?

He even fans the flames of a vast government conspiracy to control the supply of vitamins. What a great idea! It’s cheaper than surgery, and even cheaper than chemo! In Paul’s massively unrealistic world, if the vitamins don’t work, then there will always be a kindly doctor willing to step up and provide multi-million dollar cancer treatments for free to anyone who wants it.

Paul hates the FDA,, who ensure the safety of pharmaceuticals marketed in the US. He hates any hindrance to quackery and the protection of public safety , assuming the free market will weed out dangerous pharmaceuticals. It seems he never considered all of the people that have to die first, or the desperation of the poor who have to balance safety, cost, and the potential for relief.

Paul rightly recognizes that health care is costly, but wrongly believes that the free market will contain costs, assuming that health care is subject to standard models of supply and demand, an assumption that has been repeatedly proven wrong. Have you ever tried to bargain with your emergency room doctor for a better price?

He hates Medicaid, SCHIP, and Medicare. I would venture to assume that he even hates employer-provided health plans, which do not allow individuals to opt-out. In fact, the only insurance plan he seems to support is that of health savings accounts (HSAs).

The math might work out for Paul, but not for my uncle, who skated by on less than $20,000 a year. HSAs are hardly realistic. Even if he were to hypothetically save 2.5% of his income for thirty years (which is nearly impossible, the poor spend everything they earn) and receive a 5% annual interest rate, he would still only end up saving approximately $30,000. He hospital bill well exceeded $30,000 the first night he spent under surgery.

Worse yet, Paul believes that all foreign aid should be rescinded.

This includes successful programs such as the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which has provided HIV medications for more than 1.2 million people in Africa. Paul believes the private sector should provide these funds and made all kinds of grand predictions about PEPFAR that didn’t come true. Here’s Paul on PEPFAR, spouting the same condescending and borderline racist nonsense that he disavowed from his newsletters:

“I concede it’s very well intended,” Rep. Ron Paul said, “[but] I think if we’re going to be doing any social engineering or social suggestions it ought to be here, and we ought not be naive enough to believe we can change habits that occur in Africa.

In discussion of foreign aid, he ignores that fact that the Global Fund to Fight HIV, TB, and Malaria is overwhelmingly funded by public sources. The private sector provides a little chump change to improve their sales figures (e.g. the (RED) Campaign) but in reality, nothing substantive in comparison to public funding. Please note that Bill Gates is the exception, not the rule.

A Paul presidency would mean that scores of people around the world would die, simply for the crime of having been born poor and not having a little blue passport. It pains me to laud the health successes of the Bush Presidency, however, the Obama Administration has been embarrassingly lackluster compared to Bush, barely mentioning world health issues in his four years in office. I fear that the rise of extreme right-wingers like Paul signals a general indifference of America—and not only to world health issues—and that the day will come when programs such as PEPFAR are lost to history.

Paul’s attitude toward health care is akin to Jehovah’s witnesses who refuse to provide blood transfusions to dying children. He would let the world suffer and die for the sake of a pig-headed adherence to a limited ideology but what else should we expect form the guy who supports nuclear proliferation?

Václav Havel, the former dissident-turned-President of Czechoslovakia who just passed away this past December, argued in his seminal essay, The Power of the Powerless: Citizens Against the State in Central-Eastern Europe, that, “Ideology, in creating a bridge of excuses between the system and the individual, spans the abyss between the aims of the system and the aims of life. It pretends that the requirements of the system derive from the requirements of life.” Unfortunately for my uncle and millions like him, ideology is a prescription destined to fail each and every time. For Paul, it’s a talking point engineered to sell more newsletters and pad his pockets.

Domestically, the health concerns of the poor are not to be heard on the campaign trail. Republican voters simply don’t want to hear about it. Worse yet, conversations about Paul’s health care policy are absent amongst his youngest supporters, who seem to be more concerned about legalizing weed and the waning wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The young and healthy, it seems, think little about the sick.

Fortunately, Paul will not become President. His ascendency, however, signals that a large sector of America is comfortable letting people like my uncle die.

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