Month: October 2015 (Page 1 of 2)

Weekly Reading List: Did we miscalculate Eastern European Ultra-Nationalism?

I would like to thank at the outset, to Katja Lihtenvalner who pointed it out to me, the shocking xenophobic posters coming up in Slovenia. (Photo by Nina Krajčinović)CSZjp19UwAEsKeM

For those who can’t read, it points out to random young people saying how Hitler was right, and the refugees should be gassed or shot en masse, to save Europe. Ironic, as it seems East Europeans forgot what Hitler did to them, considering them Untermensch beneath the Aryan race of the North-West Europe, and how Eastern Europeans migrated to the New World to flee Second World war, or even during the immediate aftermath of the collapse of Soviet Union, for a better life in the West.

Here’s my hypothesis. We never really understood the character of East Europe.

Read More

CVS sells homeopathic scams, wants to be taken seriously as a health care company

Slate published an expose by Yvette d’Entremont on CVS pharmacy’s sales of homeopathic products. According to the article, most consist of water or sugar, but one particular product is 40-proof alcohol. Read the whole thing for yourself. It is entertaining and informative.

What I find interesting is CVS’s response. “Homeopathic products are legal under federal law and regulated by FDA,” a spokesperson told Slate.

That’s how most companies can be expected to approach most business practices that generate revenue. However, CVS is different. While most drug stores and convenience stores sell cigarettes, CVS ceased selling tobacco products in September 2014, despite cigarettes being legal under federal law. According to Slate, they did so because they “wanted to be taken seriously as a health care company.”

Homeopathic products might not cause cancer, but using homeopathy to treat cancer, as some homeopaths advise, will cause the cancer to spread and remain untreated. How can CVS maintain credibility on health care when it sells “remedies” that have never been proven, in 1,800 studies, to work?

“Every day, all across the country, customers and patients place their trust in our 26,000 pharmacists and nurse practitioners to serve their health care needs,” said Helena B. Foulkes, President of CVS/pharmacy [in a press release about banning tobacco products].

The indirect consequences of companies stocking flimflam are even worse if it contributes to an atmosphere where a significant portion of the public is comfortable distrusting and denying science. A growing number of people are resisting GMOs that could save lives and are having their children unvaccinated. To that end, the culture homeopathy thrives on can cause health problems for non-users, just like how secondhand some can cause health problems.

Roger Cohen, writing in The International New York Times, said about the gluten-free trend:

But of course the gluten-free trend is not just about multiplying celiac sufferers. People decide gluten must be bad for them because they see shelves full of gluten-free food at supermarkets.

Could some people be deciding on homeopathy after seeing shelves full of snake oil at supposedly health-conscious pharmacies? If CVS cares about its customers, they ought not stock it.

Is Donald Trump a “secret Muslim”?

In September, Donald Trump suggested Obama is a Muslim, and he did so in September 2012, too, and he has been one of the leaders of the birther movement.

Of course we know what Donald Trump believes in: money. We know what his religious believes are: disinterest.

Still, a recent comment he made in defense of forcing women to wear burqas raises the tongue-in-cheek question: Is Trump a “secret Muslim”?

At a forum in New Hampshire, he defended the wearing of burqas, calling it a choice (despite the fact that many nations force women to wear burqas, not to mention that some patriarchal societies pressure women into wearing burqas), and saying that it makes sense because, “You don’t have to wear makeup.”

He elaborated, saying, “I tell you, if I was a women, I don’t want… Wah… I’m ready darling, let’s go.”

The comments were reported by the Boston Globe and then the video was posted by ABC News Politics.

Still don’t believe me? (How much “evidence” do you demand for someone to be a “secret Muslim”?! You don’t need any evidence!) Here’s more:
Donald Trump doesn’t know a favorite Bible verse
When he had another chance to answer the question, he cited a vague verse that might not exist
He’s not an active member of his church
He has never asked God for forgiveness (Okay, that just proves he’s Donald Trump)


As you can see, Donald Trump isn’t a Christian. In fact, he is probably waging a “War on Christians”!

I’m kidding, of course, as any non-Trump voters reading this can see. Trump voters, however, like those who have already expressed their fear of teh Secret Muslims, now think Trump is a Muslim. Or maybe they just think that Secret Muslims are good now.

Monday Reading List: Sexbots and China’s development

China’s GDP growth lagged in the third quarter from 7.0% to 6.9%, according to GDP numbers released by the government. While the decline might not be a big one, the symbolic nature of dropping below 7.0% for the first time in six years did get noticed by the domestic press as well as the international press. China’s official news bureau Xinhua assuaged readers that it wasn’t a big problem, and I posted a partial translation at my blog China Travel Writer.

Meanwhile, local development continues at a fast pace in Nanjing, where almost two dozen new subway lines are in the works. With line 4 near completion, however, local businesses are vexed by construction enclosures that are hurting their business. I wrote about how they have posted banners and made demands to try to get compensation.

The potential for realistic sexbots in a few decades is energizing men who have problems with women, but, as I wrote at The Federalist, sex bots are no solution for men put off by feminism.

Finally, Columba Bush, Jeb Bush’s wife, has been shy to media attention, which has caused many to speculate on her. Feminists think she’s not feminist enough. White nationalists think she’s too Mexican. Relatives of her biological father, who mistreated her and her mother, think she isn’t Mexican enough. Based on news articles, I paint a picture of Columba Bush.

Shameless hack Mike Huckabee lies about Social Security COLA increases

Republicans: the party of small government, personal responsibility, and spending cuts. Or so they brand themselves.

The reality is much different on a number of key issues for which disagreements exist between different Republican leaders. One of those major issues is Social Security and Medicare. Many will remember the elderly Tea Party protester who brought a sign to a rally in 2010 that said, “Get you government hands off my Medicare.” With senior citizens making up a large and growing proportion of the population–especially in the off-year elections that Republicans have won of late–both partiers are scared of dealing with entitlements, even though those programs make up the vast majority of America’s federal government spending.

There have been some attempts to reform/cut entitlements. Incoming Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan introduced a budget that would have cut entitlements. Chris Christie proposed raising the retirement age and means-testing Social Security at the Fox News presidential debate. That caused Mike Huckabee to get into an argument with him.

Mike Huckabee is another one of those small government conservatives who doesn’t want to cut the biggest cause of government spending. On October 20, he published an article on his website titled, “Dear Republicans, keep your hands off Social Security.” He could have added “government” in front of “hands” for added effect.

Members of Congress and federal employees receive automatic pay raises each year, yet 70 million Americans will NOT receive a Social Security cost of living increase next year.

From the start he engages in the duplicitous tactic of comparing a salary that people earn in exchange for their work with government spending, as if–it’s called an “entitlement,” after all–people are entitled to it. Say what you will about how much the government sucks, but government employees and Congressmen are doing a job, and people who do a job deserve a salary–however high it should be. (And one might say we even need it to be somewhat high if we want to have a competent government.)

The reason Social Security isn’t being increased for cost of living this year is because the cost of living didn’t increase this year!

Just read an the news (US News):

Social Security COLAs are tied to the Consumer Price Index, which dropped 0.2 percent in September.

In fact, since 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s inflation calculator, inflation determined by the Consumer Price Index has only increase by a total of 10%.

Some conservatives have a stubborn tendency to deny reality towards inflation. Sarah Palin got into an argument with the Wall Street Journal about it in 2010, despite the fact that, as the Journal pointed out, inflation in food prices was at its lowest rate on record. Erick Erickson responded that he was talking about feelings when Paul Krugman hit him with a chart disproving his claim food prices were skyrocketing. “Paul uses a chart to try to disprove the reality that Americans with small kids actually experience at the grocery store,” he said.

That’s the gist of the problem: Some people will accept feelings over facts any day because it feels good. So it feels wrong in some people’s emotional minds that Social Security recipients aren’t getting an increase in payouts.

Now some have argued that the baseline inflation rate doesn’t reflect the spending habits of seniors, who have to spend more money on healthcare than the average person, and healthcare is continuing to increase in cost. That may be an argument to change the formula by which COLA is calculated but not an argument to not have Social Security tied to COLA. (However, the current formula does account partially for healthcare in that it restricts the cost of Medicare Part B to COLA.)

Mike Huckabee says that people getting paid by the government have “earned” it. He thinks such a government program isn’t a government program at all:

Sadly, the establishment elites treat Social Security and Medicare like WELFARE benefits. This is completely unacceptable, appalling, and flat-out wrong—these are EARNED benefits.

Is that true? Not necessarily. Benefits are paid out disproportionately, and many couples or individuals end up getting a lot more back than they paid in.

Politifact summarized a study by the Urban Institute:

According to the institute’s data, a two-earner couple receiving an average wage — $44,600 per spouse in 2012 dollars — and turning 65 in 2010 would have paid $722,000 into Social Security and Medicare and can be expected to take out $966,000 in benefits.

Facts, not emotions or appeals for votes. No Republican can seriously say they are going to make a dent in the budget without addressing its biggest areas of spending.

How Mary Mapes’ East Coast bias caused her downfall

Mary Mapes was the producer for CBS News when “60 Minutes” ran a piece on President George W. Bush’s Texas Air National Guard service in 2004 based on fraudulent documents that resulted in her firing. She wrote a book standing by the disproven documents, blaming the whole thing on conservatives, and now her book has been turned into the widely panned film “Truth” (Bloomberg View, The Atlantic, Powerline, Little Green Footballs).

The details of the scandal can be explored at the external links. The short version is that typography experts found the documents were mostly likely typed on a computer that existed after their purported date of creation and the source lied and changed his story multiple times. Powerline and Little Green Footballs were among the leading blogs in first exposing the documents.

Even Mapes, according to her own account, thought Bill Burkett’s bullshit story about where he acquired the documents sounded implausible. Conservatives like to talk about how the “elites” in big cities like New York City disrespect the “fly-over states” and especially the South. Sarah Palin–in an exaggerated example of this sentiment–talks about “the Real America” as if New York isn’t America and only small towns are. I think this sense of victimization gets to be a little bit too much at times, but in the case of Mapes, she wrote in her book that she seems to have an elitist attitude towards the “crazy” state of Texas that resulted in her downfall (quoted from her book via Bloomberg View):

As I sat listening to Burkett’s scenario spill out, I realized how truly ridiculous this sounded from our vantage in New York. But in Texas, one of the world capitals of ‘shit happens,’ a place where bull semen is worth its weight in gold (and the bizarre long ago became the mundane), I believed it was quite possible that Bill Burkett was finally telling the truth, the whole weird truth, and nothing but the truth. By God, in Texas, anything could happen.

Interestingly, Mary Mapes worked at CBS in Dallas, Tex. early in her career. She couldn’t have really thought Texas was unconstrained by the laws of journalism and of factual coherence, could she? Maybe she was just trying to contrive an after-the-fact excuse based on a romantic, poetic view of Texas that would work in a fictional novel or travel article.

But speaking of New York, what exactly is it about the city that makes her think everyone there is an upstanding gentleman who would never get involved in a conspiracy of politics and corruption? Were there never any mobsters in New York who made “shit happen”? What about the current presidential candidate from New York, Donald Trump? There’s a guy who shit talks about every journalist and fellow candidate on his side within 10 points of him in the polls. If wild conspiracy theories–that are just as plausible as Burkett’s story–are to be believed, he got into race at the urging of Bill Clinton. If Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee are emblematic of the worst stereotypes of small town America, then Trump is emblematic of the stereotype that New Yorkers are angry, conceited bastards with a chip on their shoulder who always want to pick a fight.

If her own explanation is to be believed, then she could have hung onto her job if she didn’t hold such geographically-biased views that tainted her judgment.

Obama’s Syria legacy

I have written on the idea of Obama being a Political Realist before. I said, even if he pays lip service to Realism, most notably in his speeches and interviews, and tries to portray himself as a a cold, calculating genius…he is not, infact a Realist. His biggest flaw is not being cold and calculating, but being half-hearted and uninterested and dithering in his approach. Also, he is naive and idealistic in some ways when it comes to his early optimism about Arab Spring, or a Reset with Medvedev’s Russia, which fundamentally misunderstood the nature of Russia’s ruling elite and hierarchy.

In my latest column, I analyse, that Obama maybe is also, to some extent unable to say openly, what he wants, due to structural American domestic politics, and the upcoming elections. Have a read, and let me know if I have missed something!



Weekend Read: The Sino-US alignment

I had an extremely busy week, with seminars and presentations…live tweeting the launch of a new Political Economy research center, on behalf of @NottsPolitics. There were some fascinating data sets, to think of how much this small Island Kingdom still punches above its weight…when it comes to European and global economy.

2D9AA36800000578-3280557-image-a-153_1445374016998In light of that, I was covering the visit of President Xi to UK, quite significant a timing. I wrote a two part analysis on what this means for Sino-UK future cooperation, and what it might mean for geo-politics and economics.

It is my hypothesis, that this potentially is one of the most significant re-alignment in global politics, with the UK simultaneously preparing for the loss of common EU market incase Britain leaves EU, and signalling to US and China and EU that Britain will follow Germany for a mercantile, amoral foreign policy.

Part 1 – Britain Leans Towards China

Part 2 – What Is The UK Signalling To The US And China?

I was also, personally wondering how many guards it took to keep  the senile Prince Philip away from the Chinese President, but that’s for everyone to speculate.

Did I miss something?


Clock Kid and the jumping the gun in the outrage cycle

We got played. Liberals got played. Obama really got played by agreeing to meet with the Clock Kid and then having him announce the next day: I’m moving to Qatar. With so many fake news stories feeding conspiracy theories about him, he doesn’t need to help manufacture stories.

And I got played. I admit I was conned into writing a story about Clock Boy Ahmed right when it was in the news in September.

I stand by much of what I wrote–that just like the “Poptart Gun Kid”, neither should the Clock Kid have been punished for something that clearly wasn’t a weapon. But with all the unhinged attention focused on Clock Kid I should have known something was up.

Indeed, as I wrote at the end of the article:

Now there might be some truth to the arguments noted by Allahpundit at that liberals really exploded in disproportionate fashion over this particular story. In fact, that President Obama tweeted about it and that CAIR started a “hold up actual clocks” (as opposed to the refashioned-digital-clock-parts-inside-a-pencil-case style favored by the student) Twitter campaign shows that it might also be an example of Twitter outrage culture gone crazy.

So be it. But the headlines–on both sides–should put the actions first and put the identity of the subject in the text of the story.

Well, now Clock Kid’s family announced they are moving to Qatar, which I hope–but sadly don’t expect–means we won’t have to hear about him ever again. So much for the talking point that they are just a moderate Muslim family of would-be scientists. Bill Maher already took apart part of the claim by noting “He didn’t invent anything!”

He took the guts out of a clock radio that he bought in the store and then put it in a pencil box. Okay, this is like pouring Cheerios into a bowl and saying you invented cereal.

So now Clock Kid is moving away from a high school that suspended him to live in a country treats all of its citizens like high school students with no rights. “Leggings are not pants,” Qatar’s tourism authorities tell visitors. Their government is like one big hall monitor.

Moreover, Qatar will also have you arrested for “blasphemy,” for drinking alcohol, certainly for drawing certain cartoons, and for writing poetry considered critical of the ruling family. That’s before we even get into how great their labor protections are for the indentured servants slaves working on their World Cup stadium.

According to the International Humanist and Ethical Union,

The USA raised the 15-year sentence against poet Mohammed al-Ajami for a poem considered critical of the ruling family[3]. This case exemplifies the deeply worrying situation for freedom of expression in the country. Qatar’s defense during the UPR that Mr al-Ajami’s trial was a fair one[4] addresses only his rights in the context of the justice system and not his primary right to freedom of expression.
Whilst we note a number of states’ commendations when it comes to empowering women in Qatar, we remain deeply concerned at the overall situation for women. For example, provisions of Qatari law entrench a marked inequality between women and men[5]. Marital rape is not defined as a crime[6]. Qatar maintains criminal sanctions against sexual activity between consenting same-sex adults, and extramarital sex is subject to corporal punishment[7].

So have fun in Qatar, Clock Kid. If you end up loving living in a country with such Sharia Law, then maybe the United States really isn’t for you.

And everyone who wrote about it unquestioningly and all the tech leaders who invited him to join their companies, own up to having jumped the gun. He probably won’t be the next Thomas Edison but at least he won’t be the next A.Q. Khan, either, not with the scientific ability he displayed.

Biden: Obama’s last act? Hardly.

Reports are flying off the presses (prematurely in some cases) that Joe Biden is getting ready to finally step into the race.

In case it happens, people are already analyzing what it means. For National Review‘s Kevin Williamson, it’s “Barack Obama’s last act.” Nevermind that there have been no reports or even credible rumors reported to the effect that Obama will support Biden over Hillary. Pundits don’t always need evidence to speculate, especially about what the president thinks privately about other politicians’ personalities or character.

“[T]he Clintons aren’t Obama’s people,” Williamson speculates, but regardless of whether or not they like each other, Biden could decide to run with or without Obama’s support. (CNN did report Biden received Obama’s “blessing”, whatever that means–far from “support” or “endorsement.”)

Worse, the column falls apart in the first paragraph in arguing that Obama hasn’t accomplished anything. Really? Then what have conservatives and Republicans been complaining about all these years?

He is going to exit the White House having accomplished almost nothing substantive on the policy front — his health-care program is not going to survive,

Really? For Republicans to repeal Obamacare, they would need to win the presidency and a commanding majority in both houses–perhaps a supermajority, if they need to get a filibuster-proof majority, though some are thinking they could repeal much of the law through reconciliation procedures with a simple majority–not impossible but a tough challenge.

Gitmo is not going to be closed,

What’s this about how Obama is “emptying Gitmo”, decreasing its population from a high of 680 to less than 120 now? And conservatives say half the prisoners should never have been released. Insincere politicking? Anyway, Gitmo was largely a figurehead. Obama is still capturing and killing terrorists.

we are not leaving Afghanistan, and he is sending troops into Iraq

Again, here, this argument is dismissed by the criticisms of conservatives and Republicans themselves. Obama was criticized for “pulling out of Iraq,” letting ISIS take over, in some views, and for not being strong enough fighting ISIS to put troops on the ground.

This isn’t to make a judgment on which side is right or wrong in any of those disputes. It is just to say that you can’t deny there are disputes. If Obama didn’t really do anything relevant, then those who disagree with his political ideology wouldn’t have anything to disagree on.

And the above issues don’t even get to some other major issues that his ideological combatants on the right disagree with him on, most notably policy towards illegal immigrants. He has given defacto temporary legal status to many illegal immigrants by use of executive order, and Republicans are so angry about it–not just the policy but also the way with which he did it unilaterally–that House Speaker John Boehner sued him on behalf of the Congress.

Republicans argue that Obama’s immigration policies will bring in too many new Americans and encourage more people to illegally immigrate in order to hope for similar benefits in the future. They also argue it will cause the precedent for future presidents to abuse the separation of powers and make defacto laws on their own. If he does accomplish that, that is not “nothing”; it is very much “something.”

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