Monday, October 30, 2006

My homage - Some Kind Of Monster

Some Kind Of Monster

These are the eyes that can't see me
These are the hands that drop your trust
These are the boots that kick you around
This is the tongue that speaks on the inside
These are the ears that ring with hate
This is the face that'll never change
This is the fist that grinds you down
This is the voice of silence no more.

These are the legs in circles run
This is the beating you'll never know
These are the lips that taste no freedom
This is the feel that's not so safe
This is the face that you'll never change
This is the god that ain't so pure
This is the god that is not pure
This is the voice of silence no more.

We're the people
Are we the people?
We're the people
Are we the people?

Some kind of monster
Some kind of monster
Some kind of monster
This monster lives.

This is the face that stones you cold
This is the moment that needs to breathe
These are the claws that scratch these wounds
This is the pain that never leaves
This is the tongue that whips you down
This is the burden of every man
These are the screams that pierce your skin
This is the voice of silence no more.

This is the test of flesh and soul
This is the trap that smells so good
This is the flood that drains these eyes
These are the looks that chill to the bone
These are the fears that swing over head
These are the weights that hold you down
This is the end that will never end
This is the voice of silence no more.

We're the people
Are we the people?
We're the people
Are we the people?

Some kind of monster
Some kind of monster
Some kind of monster
This monster lives

This is the cloud that swallows trust
This is the black that uncolors us
This is the face that you hide from
This is the mask that comes undone.

Hide in us
Hide in us
Hide in us
Hide in us

This is the cloud that swallows trust
This is the black that uncolors us
This is the face that you hide from
This is the mask that comes undone.

Hide in us
Hide in us
Hide in us
Hide in us

Are we the people?
Some kind of monster
Some kind of monster
Some kind of monster
This monster lives

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Forever young

I am completely disillusioned with Brazil. Today’s election is probably the most depressing one since the return of democracy.

It is not just the fact that Lula is part of this “retrograde left” that has been controlling the country for who knows how much time. The real problem is the overall lack of alternatives.

Among all the gazillion parties that call themselves opposition, there is no discussion around real reform. Just the stupid generalities about how one party privatized this and that and how the other party is keeping the interest rates too high. No one talks specifics about how to reform the education system; or how to improve the business environment; or even if we should have more taxes, less taxes, etc.

And when I remember how big and rich in resources Brazil is, it just drives me nuts.

Especially when you look at countries like Georgia. That’s a piece of land less than 1/100th of Brazil’s, frozen for half of the year and who still got big bad Russia huffing and puffing on its heels. Still, they try hard to improve: According to the Doing Business index 2007, Georgia has moved from place 112 to 37 in just one year – unprecedented in the history of the report (via Johan Norberg).

Georgia has a GDP per capita of $3100 (less than half of Brazil’s $7600) and has an incredible 54% of its population below the poverty line. Even so, they elected a President with law degrees from Columbia and George Washington. On the other hand, Brazil politicians used its population below the poverty line (approximately 20%) to justify the election Lula, an illiterate in every sense of the word.

It’s been like that for ages. Brazil is a country made of excuses. First it was Portugal’s fault. Then it became capitalism’s fault. Ah, if we could only get rid of the hyper inflation, IMF, corruption, the US, the multi party system, NAFTA, the constitution, China, the lack of representation at the UN, etc, etc. There is always an excuse, ready to be used.

When is Brazil going to grow up?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Brutal imperialists

One Democrat who gets it

Amy Sullivan seems to be one of the very few Democrats who get it.

Like here:

"Despite the uproar over Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction a couple of years ago, most parents don't fret that the accidental sighting of a breast or hearing of a swear word will scar their children. They're more concerned about the unrealistic ideas kids get from popular culture about consumption and body image and violence as a way of handling conflict.

Sadly, too many liberals react to complaints about popular culture as if they're teenagers. They either jut out their chins and growl, "If you don't like it, don't watch it," or they stay silent for fear of looking like prudes. Given the ridicule that Tipper Gore faced for promoting warning labels for explicit music lyrics and the derision that followed Hillary Clinton's effort to keep violent video games away from kids, perhaps it's no surprise that most keep their mouths shut. That silence, however, hands conservatives a victory. As David Callahan points out in his book The Moral Center, "When the right complains about the media's descent into tawdriness, it puts them on the side of most Americans."

And here:

"Even an issue on which Democrats seem to have the winning position can turn out to be a loser for the party in the long run. Most Americans now believe that research on stem cells should be allowed. But as Noam Scheiber recently pointed out in The New Republic magazine, the polls also suggest that they have serious concerns about the morality of unrestricted scientific research. They don't want to wake up tomorrow and discover that we're cloning humans without ever having a conversation as a society about the moral issues involved. By framing the debate as a choice between theology or science, Democrats essentially argued that anyone who has qualms about scientific progress is a troglodyte. That puts them on the losing side of the moral question, even as they win the specific policy debate."

Most of all, here:

"The average American doesn't want to overturn Roe v. Wade or start locking up doctors. But neither does she buy the liberal line that 1.3 million abortions per year are just the price you pay for living in a free and modern society."

All very good points.

I don’t think however that she gets the economic part right. I don’t think most Americans want universal health care once the tax implications are understood. I think there is discontentment with the current system, but there are other solutions. Some liberal policies, like increasing the minimum wage, are so populist that both parties play with it once in a while. But it is far from being a election winner subject. Economically, I think Americans care about 2 things: jobs and jobs. That is why most of the times Republicans win that debate.

But in any case, I think the article is right in the sense that the biggest mistake democrats have been making for the last 8 years is about the culture.

Can they change? I am not so sure.

Monday, October 23, 2006

What Iraqis say - Should we leave?

USA Today has published today a Gallup survey about Iraq. Here are some interesting results:

"Taking everything into account, do you think the coalition invasion of Iraq has done more harm than good or more good than harm?
More harm 46%
More good 33%
The same 16%

Is Iraq much better off, somewhat better off, somewhat worse off or much worse off than before the U.S. invasion?
Much better off 11%
Somewhat better off 31%
About the same 17%
Somewhat worse off 24%
Much worse off 15%

Are you and your family much better off, somewhat better off, somewhat worse off or much worse off than before the US invasion?
Much better off 14%
Somewhat better off 37%
About the same 25%
Somewhat worse off 15%
Much worse off 10%

It is interesting how these last 2 questions show clearly what I spoke about on the last post about media bias. The difference between what people think is happening to the country (39% think is worse now) compared to what actually happens to them (only 25% say it is worse now). Amazing.

But let’s continue:

"To what extent can you personally justify the following actions morally?
Current attacks against US forces in Iraq

Cannot at all 25%
Cannot somewhat 22%
Sometime can/can’t 22%
Can somewhat 17%
Can completely 13%

Attacks and bombings targeting Iraqi police
Cannot at all 81%
Cannot somewhat 11%
Sometime can/can’t 4%
Can somewhat 2%
Can completely 1%

Only 30% thinks it is ok to attack Americans. It is a lot of people obviously, but it’s a lot less than the media implies.

Now the really important and surprising stat: only 3% thinks it’s ok to fight the Iraqi police! How can I country in civil war think that? Something does not add up here…

"Should US/British forces leave immediately (next few months) or stay longer?
Immediately 57%
Stay longer 36%

How have US forces conducted themselves?
Very well 10%
Fairly well 24%
Fairly badly 29%
Very badly 29%
Don’t know 9%

Do you say this from personal experience, from things you’ve seen yourself or from what you’ve heard?
Personal experience 7%
You’ve seen 39%
You’ve heard 54%

You or members of your household had any personal contact with US military forces?
Yes 6%

Wow. If only 6-7% had personal experiences how can 67% think that the troops did not behave well? Can you spell hearsay?

"Do you think now of Coalition forces mostly as occupiers or mostly as liberators?
Occupiers 71%
Liberators 19%
Both 8%

At the time of the invasion, did you think of Coalition forces mostly as occupiers or mostly as liberators?
Occupiers 43%
Liberators 43%
Both 9%

If Coalition left today, would you feel safer or less safe?
More safe 28%
Less safe 53%
No difference 12%
Don’t know 8%

Ok, so people are considerably more hostile to the US. However, only 28% would feel safer if we left… Does that mean that they only want us out for pride? Hmmm.

Now look at this:

"Thinking about any hardships you might have suffered since the US/British invasion, do you personally think that ousting Saddam Hussein was worth it or not?
Worth it 61%
Not worth it 28%

Has there been an increase or a decrease in the family income compared to that of before the war?
Increase a lot 5%
Increase somewhat 36%
Same 43%
Decrease somewhat 12%
Decrease a lot 4%

All of this is enormously different than what the American press portrays. I wonder if the people who believe in the 650000 deaths poll have any type of explanation for this.

In any case, what to make of all of this? A few things in my opinion:

- Violence against Iraqis (civilian and police) seems to be either exaggerated or coming from an underground movement that has no public support.
- Americans public image is deteriorating.
- Iraqis seem to be afraid that we have some ulterior motive, like setting up military bases and staying there forever.
- They also seem to believe that they would be able to keep it up, even though they expect the violence to grow. This part makes me suspicious.

So, should we just leave?

The American objective currently is to have a government that is at least not supportive of terrorists. Would leaving now help or hurt this objective?

Another thing to consider is that American will is faltering. If democrats win this midterm election, there is a big chance that Republicans will change their tactics and accept a quicker withdrawal. Look at what Kerry and Hillary have been saying.

So even though staying the course is probably the best military option, politically we might be getting close to a point of where a withdrawal is inevitable.

Let’s hope we can pull this one off.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Average American: 1967 and Today

Forbes has a very interesting comparison between the economic situation of the average American in 1967 and today. Clearly things have improved tremendously: (all numbers were adjusted for inflation)

Median Income (Men)
1965 $28,599
2005 $41,386

Median Income (Women)
1965 $9,533 (33% of men)
2005 $31.858 (77% of men)

Changes in Purchasing Power
From 2005 - 10 years: 5.7% 20 years: 8.0% 30 year: 7.5% 40 years: 6.2%

Productivity Increases Since 1965
1965 (baseline)
2005 +220%

Home Ownership Percentage
1965 63%
2005 69%

However, the article mentions that "according to a Parade Magazine survey, 48% of Americans believe they're worse off than their parents were. A study by GFK-Roper group showed that 66% of Americans said that their personal situations in the "Good Old Days"--defined by the bulk of respondents as anywhere between the 1950s and the 1980s--were better than they are today. And in May, a Pew Research Center poll showed that half of U.S. adults believe the current trends point toward their children's future being worse than their own present."

How can that be? The article says that a lot of this current feeling of discontentment comes from the increase of inequality:

Income Share of Middle 60% of Wage Earners
1965 52.3%
2005 46.2%

Compensation of CEO of largest U.S. Corp. vs. Median Household
1965 Frederick Donner/General Motors 3.9 million (med. household income = 0.2%)
2005 Lee Scott/Wal-Mart $19 million (med. household income = 0.2%)

Compensation of highly paid athlete vs. Median Household
1965 Joe Namath/football $142,333 (med. household income = 5%)
2005 Tiger Woods/golf $87 million (median household income = 0.1%)

The cover story for Time follows the same line:

“The very idea of redistributing wealth can feel un-American in the land of Horatio Alger, until you look closely at how it's spread now. Half of us earn less than $30,000 a year, 90% less than $100,000. To get an idea of how we value our values, Howard Stern earns every 24 seconds what takes a cop or a teacher about a week.”

I just don’t buy this whole thing. What difference does it make whether Howard Stern or some football player makes millions? Do people think they are stealing money from them? If everybody were really so disgusted with this disparity, why would they keep listening to the radio/TV/sport shows and buying products these people sell?

It just doesn’t make sense.

I have a theory (impossible to proof of course) that all this complaining is caused by my favorite demon: press bias.

It should be obvious how this works. If you keep hearing that people are poor and that is unfair that Howard Stern makes gazillions of dollars a minute, you will eventually believe that this is common knowledge. And so, even if you personally don’t care about celebrity’s salaries or don’t really know that many people going through financial hardship, you assume that the problem is with you.

Michael Medved does a little thing on his radio show that illustrates how this works. Whenever someone calls to complain about the current economic situation, he asks whether that individual is personally going through a tough time, and whether he/she was better or worse 10 years ago. The huge majority always says they are doing ok, and justify their opinion saying that things are bad for other people, not themselves. What other people? They are not sure.

The numbers show that Americans have no reason to think that things are worse than before. On top of that, we need to remember all the immeasurable advances we benefit from. How do you calculate the benefit of paying 100 dollars in an air ticket that used to cost 300 before deregulation? How much better is your life because of the internet or better dental anesthesia?

So the big question is: Why is the press doing this?

Again, I think the answer is simple: politics and ideology. It is in the interest of “progressives” to propagate discontentment so people can keep looking for them for the so needed progress. If things are going great, conservatives have a natural advantage.

By the way, that is one of the reasons Fox News is so successful. It is not because it is more or less biased than other networks. It has also nothing to do with the fact that it is pro-Republican while the others are pro-Democrat (if that was the case audience would be horrible currently). The main difference is just the simple fact that it makes more sense to people to hear that things are not falling apart all the time.

Just because they are not.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Our insane abortion laws

A 22 year old woman named Tammy Skinner shot herself in the belly in order to kill her unborn child. She was scheduled to give birth on that same morning.

A Virginia judge has dismissed all charges, saying that the law did not make it a crime for a mother to cause her own abortion.

That means that in the eyes of the law, this woman has not killed anyone. Even though all science proves that the child was completely formed and alive, the law sees it otherwise. If someone had shot her, then it would be murder. But since she decided to murder her own child, nothing else matters. Just keep on moving folks, nothing to see here.

-- x --

I am divided on the pro-life / pro-choice debate. I love children and my instincts all push me to be pro-life. However, after I became a father I became much more aware of how sensible and vulnerable children are. Is it death the worse thing that can happen to a child? How much suffering would these aborted children have to endure in the hands of these unprepared, selfish and stupid parents?

If I were king, abortions would only be permitted when the mother life is in danger, when the woman was raped, or when it has been proven the fetus has a terminal disease. I would also greatly simplify adoption laws, and invest and improve orphanage homes.

Roe vs. Wade was a huge mistake in every possible way. It was legally bogus and it has been turning more and more socially destructive every day. In typical liberal fashion, a problem was solved but a bigger one was created. By taking the issue out of the State legislature and covering it with this “free for all” legal blanket the judiciary has basically opened the doors to a complete disregard of children. Yes, a fully formed baby that is ready to be born is a child, not a fetus, no matter what the ACLU pin heads say. I held one in my arms, I know.

Something has to be done. This is barbaric beyond reason.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

What some other Iraqis think about the Johns Hopkins poll


Iraq Body Count -- a nonpartisan outfit that keeps track of Iraqi mortality figures -- has also issued a devastating critique of the Lancet/Johns Hopkins survey. It points out that the study implies that a thousand Iraqis died violently every day in the first half of 2006, with fewer than a tenth of them being noticed by "public surveillance mechanisms" and the press, as well as "incompetence and/or fraud on a truly massive scale by Iraqi officials in hospitals and ministries." It adds that death totals of the Lancet magnitude "are unnecessary to brand the invasion and occupation of Iraq a human and strategic tragedy."

Of course, the latter is precisely the agenda of the majority of those trumpeting the Lancet findings. Their goal isn't merely to nail the Bush Administration for incompetence in failing to achieve a sustainable victory in Iraq. They also, and perversely, want to discredit the war as a moral enterprise by suggesting there's no difference between Saddam Hussein's now well documented mass murders and the violence taking place today.

Omar Fadil, who with his brother writes from troubled Baghdad at, has no doubt that the Lancet figure is a gross exaggeration. "All they want is to prove that our struggle for freedom was the wrong thing to do," he writes. "This fake research is an insult to every man, woman and child who lost their lives."

Source: WSJ Editorial

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

More info about the Johns Hopkins Iraq survey

After doing survey research in Iraq for nearly two years, I was surprised to read that a study by a group from Johns Hopkins University claims that 655,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the war. Don't get me wrong, there have been far too many deaths in Iraq by anyone's measure; some of them have been friends of mine. But the Johns Hopkins tally is wildly at odds with any numbers I have seen in that country. Survey results frequently have a margin of error of plus or minus 3% or 5%--not 1200%.

The group--associated with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health--employed cluster sampling for in-person interviews, which is the methodology that I and most researchers use in developing countries. Here, in the U.S., opinion surveys often use telephone polls, selecting individuals at random. But for a country lacking in telephone penetration, door-to-door interviews are required: Neighborhoods are selected at random, and then individuals are selected at random in "clusters" within each neighborhood for door-to-door interviews. Without cluster sampling, the expense and time associated with travel would make in-person interviewing virtually impossible.

However, the key to the validity of cluster sampling is to use enough cluster points. In their 2006 report, "Mortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: a cross-sectional sample survey," the Johns Hopkins team says it used 47 cluster points for their sample of 1,849 interviews. This is astonishing: I wouldn't survey a junior high school, no less an entire country, using only 47 cluster points.

Neither would anyone else. For its 2004 survey of Iraq, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) used 2,200 cluster points of 10 interviews each for a total sample of 21,688. True, interviews are expensive and not everyone has the U.N.'s bank account. However, even for a similarly sized sample, that is an extraordinarily small number of cluster points. A 2005 survey conducted by ABC News, Time magazine, the BBC, NHK and Der Spiegel used 135 cluster points with a sample size of 1,711--almost three times that of the Johns Hopkins team for 93% of the sample size.

What happens when you don't use enough cluster points in a survey? You get crazy results when compared to a known quantity, or a survey with more cluster points. There was a perfect example of this two years ago. The UNDP's survey, in April and May 2004, estimated between 18,000 and 29,000 Iraqi civilian deaths due to the war. This survey was conducted four months prior to another, earlier study by the Johns Hopkins team, which used 33 cluster points and estimated between 69,000 and 155,000 civilian deaths--four to five times as high as the UNDP survey, which used 66 times the cluster points.

The 2004 survey by the Johns Hopkins group was itself methodologically suspect--and the one they just published even more so.

Curious about the kind of people who would have the chutzpah to claim to a national audience that this kind of research was methodologically sound, I contacted Johns Hopkins University and was referred to Les Roberts, one of the primary authors of the study. Dr. Roberts defended his 47 cluster points, saying that this was standard. I'm not sure whose standards these are.

Appendix A of the Johns Hopkins survey, for example, cites several other studies of mortality in war zones, and uses the citations to validate the group's use of cluster sampling. One study is by the International Rescue Committee in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which used 750 cluster points. Harvard's School of Public Health, in a 1992 survey of Iraq, used 271 cluster points. Another study in Kosovo cites the use of 50 cluster points, but this was for a population of just 1.6 million, compared to Iraq's 27 million.

When I pointed out these numbers to Dr. Roberts, he said that the appendices were written by a student and should be ignored. Which led me to wonder what other sections of the survey should be ignored.

With so few cluster points, it is highly unlikely the Johns Hopkins survey is representative of the population in Iraq. However, there is a definitive method of establishing if it is. Recording the gender, age, education and other demographic characteristics of the respondents allows a researcher to compare his survey results to a known demographic instrument, such as a census.

Dr. Roberts said that his team's surveyors did not ask demographic questions. I was so surprised to hear this that I emailed him later in the day to ask a second time if his team asked demographic questions and compared the results to the 1997 Iraqi census. Dr. Roberts replied that he had not even looked at the Iraqi census.

And so, while the gender and the age of the deceased were recorded in the 2006 Johns Hopkins study, nobody, according to Dr. Roberts, recorded demographic information for the living survey respondents. This would be the first survey I have looked at in my 15 years of looking that did not ask demographic questions of its respondents. But don't take my word for it--try using Google to find a survey that does not ask demographic questions.

Without demographic information to assure a representative sample, there is no way anyone can prove--or disprove--that the Johns Hopkins estimate of Iraqi civilian deaths is accurate.

Public-policy decisions based on this survey will impact millions of Iraqis and hundreds of thousands of Americans. It's important that voters and policy makers have accurate information. When the question matters this much, it is worth taking the time to get the answer right.

Source: WSJ

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

You can't close Guantanamo and get rid of terrorists too!

"British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett last week issued the latest European demand to close down the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba," The Washington Post reports. "The existence of the prison is 'unacceptable' and fuels Islamic radicalism around the world, she said, echoing a recent chorus of complaints from Europe about U.S. counterterrorism policy."

What to do with these folks? Hey, now you are asking too much!

"Behind the scenes . . . the British government has repeatedly blocked efforts to let some prisoners leave Guantanamo and return home.
According to documents made public this month in London, officials there recently rejected a U.S. offer to transfer 10 former British residents from Guantanamo to the United Kingdom, arguing that it would be too expensive to keep them under surveillance. Britain has also staved off a legal challenge by the relatives of some prisoners who sued to require the British government to seek their release.
Other European governments, which have been equally vocal in assailing Guantanamo as a human rights liability, have also balked at accepting prisoner transfers. A Turkish citizen who was born and raised in Germany was finally permitted to return from Guantanamo in August, four years after the German government turned down a U.S. proposal to release him."

And these are our strongest allies…

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Bias in many forms - Amazon style

This is an interesting one. I was browsing around Amazon and noticed that the only editorial review for Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal is the following:

"As an interesting relic of the past, this outlandish piece of propaganda is worth the listener's time, even though the author's overconfident sense of her own rightness and persistence at pressing her points with little respect for opposing views can quickly become more than a little annoying. Using outdated words such as "altruists" to represent the forces of evil who would overburden the poor, beleaguered American business community, Rand "protesteth" far too much. Americans have seen many of the abuses come to pass that Rand, writing in 1946, claimed would never happen if free enterprise were just left to its own devices, so many of her arguments will be lost on a modern listener. For instance, the antitrust laws forced railroad barons to use illegal payoffs to forge ahead with expansion, and they shouldn't, therefore, be blamed the antitrust laws are the real problem. Narrator Anna Field's cold, crisp voice is actually well suited to such a heartless piece as this. Recommended. Mark Pumphrey, Polk Cty. P.L., Columbus, NC”

Honestly, I have never seen this before. The only endorsed opinion available is bashing the book they are supposedly trying to sell! Compare it to the Amazon Editorial for this grandiose piece of garbage:

“Noam Chomsky is considered the father of modern linguistics. In this richly detailed criticism of American foreign policy, he seeks to redefine many of the terms commonly used in the ongoing American war on terrorism. Surveying U.S. actions in Cuba, Nicaragua, Turkey, the Far East and elsewhere over the past half a century along with the modern American war in Iraq, Chomsky indicates that America is just as much a terrorist state as any other government or rogue organization. George W. Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq drew worldwide criticism, in part because it seemed to present a new philosophy of pre-emptive war and an appearance of global empire building. But according to Chomsky, such has been the operating philosophy of American foreign policy for decades. Opponents of the Bush administration's tactics consistently point out how the American government supported Saddam Hussein for many years prior to the 1990 invasion of Kuwait (pictures of Donald Rumsfeld shaking Saddam's hand are easy to come by) as a means of pointing out how the United States is happy to fund despots when it's in American interests. But Chomsky, armed with extensive historical notation, takes this notion further, arguing how the repression of other nations' citizenry is, in fact, the very reason Americans support certain foreign leaders. The charges made throughout the book are severe, as are the dire consequences he posits if current trends are not reversed, and Chomsky is no more likely to make friends or gain supporters from the mainstream now than he's ever been. But Hegemony or Survival is relatively dispassionate. Instead of relying on camp or shock value or personal attacks as some of his contemporaries have done, Chomsky drives his well-supported points steadily forward in an earnest and highly readable style. --John Moe”

Pretty amazing.

The Good Fight

This rocks

Thursday, October 12, 2006

O Brasil neoliberal continua cada vez mais neoliberal!

Ano passado eramos posição 119 de um total de 155 no ranking do Doing Business.

Que diferença um ano faz! Agora somos 121 de um total de 175! (Ajustando a colocação de 2005 para o novo total de países subimos 1 posição!)

Destaques para Registering Property (124), Closing a Business (135), Dealing with Licenses (139) and Paying Taxes (151).

Just one more proof of how capitalism is destroying this neoliberal paradise.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Bye bye Sunshine

Kim. Albright. "I am so happy I won't have to destroy you until the next govenment takes over!" "Me too!"

People say politicians love war. That’s probably true. But I have no doubt in my mind that politicians love diplomacy even more.

This should be obvious. There is much more money in diplomacy. Think about all the give it and take deals that were made in name of diplomatic efforts, especially in limit situations. It is all very logical: war costs a lot, especially if you lose. If there is a chance that two governments can settle a dispute by exchanging favors that end up costing less, it’s a done deal. Pure game theory.

Besides the monetary aspect, there’s also the obvious popular appeal. We the people love peace. We love even more peace makers! Think about Clinton walking out of Camp David with the Palestinians and Israelis. Man that felt great.

Actually, I can’t think of any immediate down side in any type of appeasement. It’s all good: You are good; the other side is good, let’s smoke the peace pipe and cash those checks.

The only flaw is that on the long term, problems have this annoying tendency of coming back. If it ain’t broken, why the hell would anyone fix it?

The US has tried for almost 10 years to appease North Korea at unimaginable levels. South Korea’s Sunshine policy went even farther. Both groups justified these deals based on the fact that they were “cheaper” than the alternatives. I can’t argue with that.

Now, the problem is still there. Only bigger and nastier. What do we do now? Have we reached the point of diminishing returns of appeasement? Is the price we have to pay now worth the postponed period we got?

Can we at least ask our money back?

Monday, October 09, 2006

I have the solution to the North Korea crisis

Temos que mandar o Lula negociar uma solução. Duvida? Veja aqui:

"É difícil discutir com alguém que pensa ainda que nós estamos na Guerra Fria. Possivelmente o governador não saiba que nós temos um superácift commercial com a China . Possivelmente ele não saiba que nós acabamos de fazer contrato de 100 aviões da Embraer com a China . Possivelmente ele não saiba que nós temos com a Bolívia , com o Uruguai e com o Paraguai responsabilidade de ajudar a economia desses países se desenvover. Porque é muito fácil fazer a bravata (?) que o Bush fez.

Se o Bush tivesse bom senso como eu tenho, não teria tido a Guerra do Iraque. Ele teria acreditado no brasileiro que negociava, saberia que não tinha arma química, e ele então ficaria tranquilo. Ele foi avisado. Ele poderia ter seguido o conselho do Brasil, da Alemanha, da França, mas não seguiu. Pensava que nem você, Alckimin, e fez uma barbárie dessa. Pode estar certo que eu acredito no bom senso, e na conversa, e vou conversar defendendo os interesses do Brasil.

O hómi é um gêniu!

Party of fear

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Economic bias

The most irritating press bias for me (and there are many) is the economic.

Yesterday's job growth report is a classic example. Take this ABC News piece: Notice the difference between the way they report bad news (“That's the lowest level since the October 2005 post-Katrina report and well below the 125,000 consensus estimate of economists.”) and good news (“The nation's unemployment rate — the result of a different, but simultaneously released survey — showed a slight improvement during September, ticking down one-tenth of a percent to 4.6 percent. Realistically, this is nothing more than a statistically insignificant wobble in the number.”).

You have to dig around to get a nicer (and more realistic) view of yesterday’s data. Looking at one such report (WP article) you will find out that:
- The Labor Department said payrolls for the 12 months that ended in March 2006 will be revised upwards by a whopping 810,000 jobs, the biggest revision since 1991.
- The unemployment rate fell to 4.6 percent in September from 4.7 percent in August, which was down from 4.8 percent in July. The jobless rate has varied from 4.6 to 4.8 percent all year. Considering that a few workers have such poor skills as to be nearly unemployable, many economists consider a rate below 5 percent to constitute full employment, meaning just about every worker with the skills and desire to work can find a job.
- 6.6 million new jobs have been created since August 2003
- Demand for labor helped drive workers' average hourly wages, not including those of most managers, up to $16.84 last month. That's a 4 percent increase from September 2005, the fastest wage growth in more than five years.

Now, if you are really ‘lucky’, you will find other reports like this WSJ editorial. Then you will learn that:
- The federal budget deficit estimate for the fiscal year 2006, which ended Sept. 30, has dropped to $260 billion from $319 billion deficit recorded in fiscal 2005 (approximately 21% decrease).
- The deficit is now about 2% of our $13 trillion economy, well below the 2.7% average of the last 40 years. Most states and localities are also afloat in tax collections, and including their revenue surpluses brings the total U.S. public sector borrowing down to roughly 1.5% of GDP
- The main cause of this decline -- 90% of it -- is a tidal wave of tax revenue. Tax collections have increased by $521 billion in the last two fiscal years, the largest two-year revenue increase -- even after adjusting for inflation -- in American history. (Tax cuts for the rich. Go figure!)
- Tax collections from Corporations have climbed by 76% over the past two years. Personal income tax payments are up by 30.3% since 2004 too, despite the fact that the highest tax rate is down to 35% from 39.6%. The IRS tax-return data just released last month indicates that a near-record 37% of those income tax payments are received from the top 1% of earners.

Want more? Here it goes:
- Inflation is low
- Dow at all time high, up 9.1% this year
- Crude oil prices have dropped about 20 percent since late July, from $75 a barrel to $60 a barrel. Gasoline prices have dropped 60 cents a gallon since last month (around 20%)

It goes on and on. Maybe Rush Limbaugh is right: the only way to get good economic news from the press is to elect a democrat.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Grocery Game or another reason why I love the internet

I am not sure why but the first time my wife told me about “The Grocery Game” I thought it was phony.

But let me tell you this: it works like a charm. We have saved hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars with this thing.

The concept is really simple. They search for coupons and sales among all grocery stores and let you know which one is cheaper. That’s it! The reason it works so well is because usually these coupons are buried inside a newspaper or a magazine. The information is so dispersed that no one is able to find out what stores have the best deals for what products.

Of course there’s still some work left. You have to organize your trips to each supermarket based on whatever you need and where the best prices for such products are. You usually need to buy brands you are not very familiar with.

This kind of saving is one of the aspects that I doubt is taken into consideration when people analyze the benefits of the internet. Can you imagine the economic implications of saving, let’s say, one thousand dollars a year in groceries per family? This is huge.


I like Scott Adams: he’s funny, smart, and unpredictable. I read his blog almost daily.

Unfortunately, he is a determinist. Worst of all, Scott believes in the most absurd type of determinism: Biological determinism (we are nothing but moist robots as he calls it).

Now, I don’t want to go into a philosophical/semantic discussion here. Of course I believe the environment, your genes, your friends and your education affect the way you behave at some level. Human beings are social creatures that can be influenced, and are ultimately (at least at this point) genetically flawed. The problem is when one believes that one or some of these factors actually determine with complete precision all your actions during your whole lifetime. Just like software determines all the possible actions of a computer.

One of the reasons why people can get away with such absurd theory is the fact that we are very complex organisms. At this point we do not fully understand how our genes work, how our environment influence us and how this all match together.

However, to try to simplify all of this by believing that we are nothing but a collection of instincts and reflexes goes against every single evidence we have about our world around us. It is worth remembering that we do have a lot of organisms in this planet that behave in such way. And to say that we are no different than them, just “smarter”, is basically to say that we are NOT as they are.

More uncompressible to me is the notion that free will is somehow “easier to accept” that it’s deterministic counter parts. Human beings long for security and predictability. All kinds of studies show that.

If there was such a deterministic force behind our existence, be it our genes our social environment or even a supernatural entity, it would be much easier to just make us ignore free will than to believe it is there.

Free will is a great destabilizing force. It is unpredictable by definition. How could any force account for people changing behaviors during a life time? How could “human progress” be accounted for? And how about all the uncountable combinations and permutations of how each one of us affect and change the other?

In my opinion determinism is nothing but a cheap cop-out. No matter what you do, nothing is your fault. Don’t worry about improving yourself or the world: things will always be the way they are. Nothing matters.

It is probably one of the more destructive philosophical propositions ever.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

It does get worse

Comunista de 25 anos tem a maior votação para deputada federal no Rio Grande do Sul

"Usando como bordão o cumprimento ''e aí, beleza?", a vereadora Manuela D'Ávila (PC do B), de Porto Alegre, foi a candidata a deputada federal mais votada no Rio Grande do Sul, atingindo a marca de 271.683 votos.

Se em 2004 ela surpreendeu ao ser eleita vereadora, em 2006 surpreendeu mais ainda pelo alto número de votos conquistados.

Jornalista, militante da política estudantil, Manuela, 25, manteve o discurso próximo dos
estudantes. Vem daí sua expressiva votação, que no próprio PC do B é atribuída ao contato fácil com a juventude, de quem se credenciou como representante. "E aí, beleza?" é o nome do blog dela e seu bordão na propaganda eleitoral.

''Votei nela porque é bonita, sincera e passa coisas boas. Se eu não votasse nela, minha filha não me perdoaria. Não conheço nenhum estudante que não tenha votado nela", disse a estudante do ensino básico Ingrid Betancourt, 31, que tem uma filha de 10 anos.

A deputada eleita, porém, procura relativizar esse perfil, referindo-se ao seu eleitorado como mais plural. ''Foi a vitória de muitas mãos, de muitos homens e muitas mulheres que acreditaram que é possível construir política de maneira séria, sem transformar a política em algo distante das pessoas, que é possível política com alegria. Muitos juntos podemos mudar este país", disse ela.

Manuela, que mora com o namorado, definiu sua primeira missão como deputada federal eleita: ajudar a reeleger os petistas Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva como presidente e Olívio Dutra como governador --o PC do B está coligado com o PT.

Ela critica a cláusula de barreira, que fixa um desempenho mínimo nacional dos partidos nas eleições. ''Não vamos nos submeter a essa cláusula antidemocrática. Nos 84 anos de história do PC do B, 61 foram na clandestinidade real. A semi-clandestinidade da cláusula não nos assusta. Assusta muito aos partidos que não têm políticas sólidas", disse ela.

''Esse é o meu partido, é o lado em que estou, que meus eleitores escolheram. Não vamos abrir mão do que acreditamos."

Monday, October 02, 2006

That is why I don't care anymore - Final part

Inácio Arruda é primeiro senador comunista no país desde Prestes.

Best parts: (bold and laughter added)

"RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - O servidor público e eletrotécnico Inácio Arruda, 49 anos, tornou-se o primeiro senador comunista eleito no Brasil desde Luis Carlos Prestes, o lendário "Cavaleiro da Esperança", que exerceu mandato em 1946, na redemocratização do pós-guerra.

O Partido Comunista do Brasil (PCdoB), ao qual Arruda é filiado, já possui um senador, Leomar Quintanilha, mas ele foi eleito pelo PMDB e depois transferiu-se para o partido comunista.

Integrante do Comitê Central do PCdoB, dissidência do Partido Comunista Brasileiro (PCB), ao qual pertenceu Prestes, Arruda leva para o Senado a preocupação com a sua terra, o Ceará, em particular, e com o Nordeste, em geral.

Como todo partido comunista, o PCdoB de Arruda tem o socialismo como meta, e uma de suas tarefas será lutar por esta bandeira pela via democrática. (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!)

"Não existe modelo pronto para o socialismo. Cada nação vai vivendo a sua experiência", disse Arruda. "As forças conservadoras brasileiras sempre procuraram travar o projeto de desenvolvimento do Brasil pela violência. E o processo democrático sempre foi retomado pela população nas ruas, com apoio dos setores de esquerda."

E qual o papel de um partido comunista na democracia formal multipartidária?

"A radicalidade possível", respondeu de pronto. "O PCdoB nessa fase de retomada da vida democrática brasileira tem atuado com grande amplitude. Só foi possível elegermos um senador no Ceará com uma ampla aliança política. Radicalidade nesse momento é unir forças políticas para ter um projeto de Brasil", defendeu Arruda, traçando o perfil do PCdoB, que chegou a ser um dos poucos partidos no mundo a seguir a linha albanesa ortodoxa de Enver Hoxa.

Arruda lutou pela legalidade do PCdoB, um dos partidos proscritos durante o regime militar no Brasil. O PCdoB surgiu da cisão com o PCB, provocada pelo relatório de Nikita Kruschev, durante o 20o Congresso do Partido Comunista Soviético, em 1956, denunciando o culto à personalidade e os crimes políticos de Josef Stálin.

Um grupo de dirigentes que considerava o PC soviético revisionista rompeu com o PCB e deu origem ao PCdoB, em 1962, "para lutar contra o oportunismo de direita". O PCdoB alinhou-se inicialmente ao PC Chinês e mais tarde à Albânia.

Durante o regime militar no Brasil, o PCdoB aderiu à luta armada e, em 1972, montou um foco guerrilheiro na região do Araguaia, no sul do Pará, dizimado pelas Forças Armadas três anos depois. Dentre os guerrilheiros do Araguaia estava o ex-presidente do PT José Genoino, afastado do cargo após a crise do mensalão e agora reeleito deputado federal.

O PCdoB voltou à legalidade em 1985, ano em que apoiou a candidatura indireta de Tancredo Neves à Presidência da República. Desde a primeira eleição direta no Brasil, após a redemocratização, o PCdoB é aliado do PT nas eleições presidenciais.

Inácio Arruda exerce mandatos desde 1988, quando elegeu-se vereador em Fortaleza. Depois foi eleito deputado estadual em 1990 e deputado federal em 1994, reelegendo-se sucessivamente até 2002.

That is why I don't care anymore - 2

Eleito senador, Collor sinaliza apoio a ex-adversário Lula

"Grande parte deste povo que vota por ele (Lula) também vota por mim", disse Collor a jornalistas nesta manhã.

You bet.

That is why I don't care anymore

"Na eleição presidencial [de 2002], eu disse que as pessoas que iam votar no Lula se enganariam se achavam que estavam votando num governo mais à esquerda. [O governo mais à esquerda] não seria o Lula, seria eu."

Serra, dizendo que fará um governo "de esquerda" no Estado de São Paulo.