Archive for March 29th, 2006

Okay, we all know about how Conrad Burns pandered to a Michigan Chippewa tribe and Abramoff client, getting them a $3-million federal grant in exchange for $75,000 in campaign contributions. Old news.

But what newspapers and politicians haven’t challenged is Burns’ statement that he has been a long supporter of Native American tribes. As usual with the Senator, nothing could be further from the truth.

What’s his record with Native American issues? I’m so glad you asked:

• In 1998, Burns drafted legislation that would exempt all non-Indian land on Montana reservations from tribal jurisdiction. That’s like saying all non-federal or state land shouldn’t be under jurisdiction of state or federal authority.

• In 2003, Burns raised a procedural point that killed $2.9 billion for tribal programs.

• In 2005, Burns led opposition to a bill that would have provided $1 billion for tribal health services.

• Last week, Burns voted against an amendment proposed by North Dakota’s Sen. Byron Dorgan that would have given $220 million towards tribal education.

Burns' record on voting for appropriations for Native Americans is so poor, it makes the grant for the Michigan tribe doubly suspicious. The more I learn about the junior Senator, the more he reminds me of one of those street performers that moves only when you throw coins in his can…

I admit it: my Montana blood boiled a little when I read Eli Sanders’ post on Slog about the recent shooting in Seattle. In the post, Sanders tells of his contacts with Whitefish police about an incident involving shooter Kyle Huff six years ago in which Huff shot a fiberglass moose with a shotgun. The basic gist is this: the Whitefish police let Huff off the hook, enabling him to six years later to go on a murderous rampage in Seattle.

This is, of course, completely useless speculation. Even if Huff had been convicted of a felony in the moose-shooting incident and, therefore, had two guns used in the Seattle shooting taken from him, it’s probable he would have gotten more guns.

It’s also silly speculation: shooting a roadside plastic moose is hardly worthy of a felony conviction. Sure it was stupid – but it’s hardly worth anybody’s while to stuff jails with teenagers for crimes like vandalism.

But if the post weren’t bad enough, delve into the comments. There you will see the Huff shooting depicted as a clash of cultures, between “red” and “blue” Americans. Commenter “Daved”:

Gun nuts:

We that live in the city are not attacking your piece of crap farm.

You that lived in rural America are attacking our cities.

You attack it with your dumb[*]ss redneck psychos like Kyle Huff, you attack it by voting for dumb f[*]cks like George Bush, you attack it by leeching tax money for projects only a handful of people need.

Meanwhile cities generate the economic might of this country, and the thanks we get is you sending dumb f[*]cks like Kyle Huff into our communities downtown with his intolerant redneck "gotta blow sh[*]t up cause thats all I know how to do" shit.

Then you defend this culture like its some high achievement, bubbas and beer and pickups and football.

Did it ever occur that the reason we live in cities is we wanted to get the f[*]ck away from this stuff?

Tell you what, when armed gangs of ravers and gays and metrosexuals drives out to BFE and starts shooting at god fearing law abiding redneck losers, whose only crime was voting for George Bush, then you can have reason to gripe or feel like you're being persecuted.
Right now, you stupid f[*]cks, its you that are attacking us, you made America dumber, more likely to invade other countries, and more likely to be able to go off for no reason like Kyle Fat Country F[*]ck Huff went off.

I don't own a gun. If I lived on a farm, I'd own rifles for hunting and THATS IT.

There was no legitimate need for the guns Kyle Huff was allowed in this society to own. Stop defending the system when the system you support was, just like your president, a miserable failure.

Admittedly, this is the most extreme post of them all. Most of the accusation against Montana in this incident has been subtle. Sanders’ post, for example, implies that Montana has lax policies towards guns and encourages gun behavior and, therefore, homicides. But basically the gist is the same: Montana created Kyle Huff.

This is, of course ridiculous. Montana is just like any other place on the planet: its citizens are human. Some of its citizens are mentally ill, a few might be even be capable of mass murder, like Kyle Huff. But the same is true of any place, any where.

The real problem is the attitude expressed, not only in Daved’s comment and by other city residents, but by Montanans here in Montana, too. How often do you hear – or say – that Montana’s problems are the result of Californians moving to the state? How much of right-wing hyperbole blames the effete qualities of blue-state big-city dwellers for our country’s problems?

Newsflash: as someone who’s lived in rural and big-city communities (yes, I lived in Seattle and San Francisco) Americans across the country are more similar than different. Yes, big-city folks are more tolerant of racial, ethnic, and sexual-preference differences; yes, small-town folks form closer communities. But in the end, virtually no one wants violence or mayhem in their or anybody else’s communities.

The people that do are sick, like Kyle Huff.

Period.

Ultimately, we can place blame for how this perception of "cultural warfare" got started. Blame domestic religious fundamentalists and their GOP supporters. Daved's rhetoric is ultimately radical conservative logic that claims that any conflicting ideology (i.e., liberalism) is "infecting" our culture and must be eliminated. This is the language that was introduced into the mainstream at George W Bush's inauguration in January of 2001.

Daved's response is obviously an outbreak of frustration at being the recipient of such language for the last six years. That, or he's a total *sshole. Or both.

Links…

Okay, this is yesterday’s news, but another British memo reinforces the fact that the Bush administration had planned to go to war all along.

Recovering liberal: “There is no room in America for Hate.” 4&20 blackbirds: “Not familiar with U.S. history, eh?”

Budge found an interesting article criticizing the Bush administration’s attempts at sweeping societal change, which, according to Budge is very un-conservative-like. Guess he hasn’t been paying attention to the fundamentalist Christian movement. And I’d argue that the left I know isn’t interested in massive societal change, but is interested in protecting individual liberty, maintaining Constitutional law, and checking the power of the alliance of corporate and government power.

Homeland security protects the country, er pharmaceutical companies…by stopping the flow of prescription drugs into the US from Canada.

Alec Baldwin disses Sean Hannity, on air! Crooks and Liars has the feed for you.

MadTV has been doing some awesome political satire. Dump SNL! If you don’t believe me, check out “Bush Slump.”

Tom Delay whines about how Christians don’t get enough respect. Give me a break. I’m with John: “after dominating all three branches of government and encompassing 80% of the population,” what more is there to do for Christians?

BoingBoing reports that Iran is censoring blogs with US filtering software. So capitalism leads to freedom? Um…when?

Here' the first part of the conversation with Bozeman free-market environmentalist, Pete Geddes. Check out the intro if you haven't yet.

In your literature at the website of your organization, Foundation for Research on Economics & the Environment, you write that globalization actually helps eradicate poverty and promotes environmentalism. Can you explain how that is?

First let’s define our terms. Here’s what I mean when I describe the process called globalization: It’s the international movement of human and financial capital.

The process of globalization is not new. Indeed the dispersal from a few centers, of culture, language, political ideas, and material goods is an ancient phenomenon.

What’s new is that our modern technologies (e.g., telecommunications and the Internet) combined with steep declines in transportation costs, allow individual entrepreneurs and businesses real-time access to global markets. This makes one’s physical location ever more irrelevant. Hence, industries once sheltered from competition by geographic isolation are no longer. Montana agriculture is an excellent example

While consumers reap the benefits, our dynamic, open, globalized economy creates opportunity for some and hardship for others. So a key question is how can societies cope with the rapid technological and social change that a globalized economy creates?

Second. We have decades of empirical measures of both human well being and environmental progress. Both strongly suggest that on balance, peoples lives and environmental quality are improving. The only tragic exception seem to be in the countries of Sub-Saharaian Africa.

Speaking at the 2000 World Economic Forum, President Bill Clinton said, “We have to reaffirm unambiguously that open markets are the best engine we know of to lift living standards and build shared prosperity.”

This is especially true in countries that have embraced entry into the global marketplace. A technologically robust, market-based economy raises living standards ever higher, faster, and more inclusively than any other system. Developing countries make as much progress in thirty years as industrialized nations did in a century.

And here’s a key point: Economic progress is a prerequisite for improving environmental quality. The real enemy of the environment is poverty, not affluence.

• The World Bank notes that globalization is responsible for a “spectacular” decline in poverty in East and South Asia. In 1990, there were roughly 472 million people in the East Asia and Pacific region living on less than $1 a day. By 2001, the number living in such extreme poverty had dropped by half. At current projections, by 2015, there will be only 19 million Asians living under those conditions. In one generation Asians will witness a 95 percent reduction in extreme poverty.

• Over the past 20 years, 200 million people have left absolute poverty — defined as living on the equivalent of less than $1 a day.

• Advances in medicine, improved public health policies, and greater food supplies have lowered infant mortality and lengthened life expectancy. In developing countries in the 1950s, 178 children per every 1000 live births died before reaching their first birthday. By the late 1990s, the infant mortality rate in these countries had declined to 64 per 1000. Life expectancy increased from 44 years in 1960 to 59 years in 1999.

• Child labor declines as a country’s income increases. As trade promotes economic growth, globalization results in less child labor over time. In 1960, children made up 32 percent of the labor force in low-income countries. Forty years later, following the massive expansion in international trade, child labor in the same countries had declined to 19 percent.

• Though inequality remained more or less constant, or possibly increased, during the 1970s, it declined substantially in the 1980s and 1990s. As a result, the shape of the income distribution curve has changed, from a bimodal distribution with a peak of poor people and a peak of rich in 1970, to a smoother distribution in 1998, suggesting the emergence of a “world middle class.”

• Increased wealth is, of course, a key predictor of environmental quality. The environmental sustainability index (ESI), produced by Columbia and Yale Universities, allows cross-national comparisons of rates of nonrenewable resource use and other environmental policies in countries worldwide. The index scores range from 0 to 100, with 100 being optimal sustainability.

• Countries such as Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland, with high ESI scores (73.9, 72.6, and 66.5, respectively), also rank among the countries with the highest annual per-capita income ($25,130, $27,140, and $38,140). The U.S. has an ESI of 53.2. (Our low score is due to the index’s heavy weighting of greenhouse gas emissions.)

• Countries ranking in the middle range of ESI scores (around 50), such as Algeria, Russia, and Egypt, are poorer (per-capita incomes of $1,580, $1,690, and $1,490, respectively).

• At the lower end of the scale are impoverished countries such as Haiti, Ukraine, and Turkmenistan (per capita incomes of $510, $690, and $750, respectively).

Driven by the rapid democratization of information, technology, and finance, globalization is turning out to be a remarkably progressive, liberating force.
Globalization helps break the regressive taboos responsible for discriminating against people on the basis of gender, race, or religious beliefs. It is an antidote to the intolerant fundamentalism that oppresses millions of the world’s poorest.

When these people see how their counterparts in the West are treated, they see a better future and begin to demand it. Globalization offers hope for the world’s poorest, hope that one day they may enjoy the fruits of the West’s liberal traditions.

Globalization helps break the regressive taboos responsible for discriminating against people on the basis of gender, race, or religious beliefs. It is an antidote to the intolerant fundamentalism that oppresses millions of the world’s poorest.

When these people see how their counterparts in the West are treated, they see a better future and begin to demand it. Globalization offers hope for the world’s poorest, hope that one day they may enjoy the fruits of the West’s liberal traditions.

In your articles, you've criticized the left for opposition to globalization. While I can't speak for everyone, I admit I have concerns with organizations like the WTO that operate without transparency, aren't democratic, and can compel member countries to overturn democratically based legislation.

I think the IMF and the WTO have at times acted in counterproductive ways. For more on this I suggest these books by William Easterly:

(1) The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics and (2) The White Man's Burden : Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good.

The WTO seems ready to compel the European Union to accept genetically-engineered food despite local laws and regulations banning such products. To me, it seems like US and Canadian agricultural corporations are using the WTO to lower local environmental and health standards in democratic communities. How does the WTO fit into your vision of globalization? What do you think of the GE crops dispute? And I'd love to hear musings on the clash of democracy and free markets…

(1) Do you believe the science behind climate change is compelling and “settled?” If so, you can’t be opposed to GE crops on any scientific grounds. The scientific consensus regarding the safety to human health and the environment benefits of GE crops is overwhelming. There is much more agreement on this issue than on climate change.

(2) Opposition to GE crops from some EU member states is based partly on cultural grounds (i.e., food is very important to the French) but mostly it’s used as a trade barrier to protect EU farmers from global competition.

(3) Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman wrote, “Fundamentally, there are only two ways of coordinating the economic activities of millions. One is central direction … [with] coercion — the technique of the army and of the modern totalitarian state. The other is voluntary cooperation of individuals — the technique of the marketplace.”

Ironically, Friedman is denounced for lecturing in Pinochet’s Chile. But his advice was to institute market reforms, which ultimately helped undermine Pinochet’s regime. Why? Because inevitably free markets destroy centralized control. Any society with even a modicum of political freedom uses the market process to organize its economic activity.

Putting aside the safety of GE foods — which could easily consume its own interview — your statements linking free markets to politically free societies seems to be contradicted by the imposition of WTO control over the issue of GE foods. The WTO is an organization of centralized control exerting its authority over democratic communities in the name of free markets, regardless of how unreasonable or unscientific the legislation is. This might be a good time to bring up China. The Chinese government has reliquinshed much control over its markets, but its authority has increased since the 1980s. Also American companies like Yahoo have shown that they would gladly assist a centralized government in subjegating its people if it shows a profit. And to use my own source, Mussolini said that fascism should be called "corporatism," because fascism was a blend of state and corporate power.

So I reject the notion that free markets naturally lead to political freedom. Or am I misunderstanding what a "free market" is? Rebuttal?

I wrote “Any society with even a modicum of political freedom uses the market process to organize its economic activity.” Can you think of a counter example?

Why is this the case?

(1) free markets require secure, defined, and transferable property rights. This is the fundamental bulk work protecting the weak from the strong and citizens from the power of the state.

Don’t confuse the WTO as an advocate for free markets. They are much more likely to be responsive to corporate concerns rather than any free market ideal. Remember, free market capitalism is a radical, not an conservation notion. That why many business lobby to insulate themselves from the free market (and why we get so little corporate support!).

Here’s a piece to consider:

MLK, the Marketplace, and a Legacy of Freedom
By Dwight R. Lee 01/19/2004

While commemorating the contributions of Martin Luther King, we shouldn't overlook the connection between freedom and the economic progress possible only in a market economy. The expansion in freedom brought about by the civil rights movement under King's inspiring leadership receives far too little credit for improving the prospects and prosperity of all Americans. And our free-market economy receives far too little credit for helping move us toward King's dream of freedom for all our citizens.

The more freedom people have, the better markets work. Market prices convey information on what people most desire as consumers and how they can best serve others as producers. This market communication is distorted when some are denied opportunities to shop where they choose, get the education they need, and take jobs for which they are qualified. Markets depend on freedom.

Freedom also depends on markets. We can tolerate the freedom of others when market prices are informing and motivating them to pursue their own interests in ways that promote the general interest. No one argues that this "invisible hand" of the market works perfectly, or that it eliminates restrictions on freedom motivated by senseless prejudice. If it did, we would not have needed the civil rights movement, and few people would have heard of Martin Luther King.

But neither can sensible people deny that freedom is best served in economies that rely on markets. Does any one really believe it is accidental that the freedoms we take for granted in market economies are routinely suppressed, often brutally, in economies relying on state ownership and socialist planning? Not just minorities are denied basic freedoms under socialistic regimes. Except for the politically privileged few, freedoms to travel, get the type of education one chooses, pick one's occupation, shop where one wants, express political opinions, read what one wants, and worship as one chooses don't exist.

Market economies disperse authority, making it less likely that, as happens under socialism, power will become concentrated in the hands of a few who use it to suppress freedom and perpetuate their control. Markets also make it easy to extend and protect freedom by making it a force for general economic prosperity. This explains why Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement enriched America economically as well as morally.

The civil rights movement expanded freedom for African Americans who had long been denied opportunities taken for granted by most of us, opportunities to pursue their goals and dreams by making the fullest use of their talents and energies. This expansion of freedom deserves national recognition because it benefits us all far more than most of us realize.

We all recognize the value of having more opportunity for ourselves. What is often ignored is that in a market economy it is not just our freedom that enriches us, but the freedom of others as well. In fact, most benefits we receive from expanding freedoms are not from those we take advantage of ourselves, but from those taken advantage of by others. When African Americans — or anyone else — take advantage of freedom to get the education, work in the jobs, and start the businesses that do the most to improve their own lives, they are also improving the lives of the rest of us.

It's not just additional wealth that we realize from expanding opportunities for minorities, although more wealth is always welcome. But more important, the opportunities we each have to realize our full potential as human beings increase in market economies as the same opportunities are increased for others. We are all diminished, economically as well as morally, when some are denied those opportunities.

We may disagree on some of the legislative and policy details that have evolved from the civil rights movement, but we should all agree that King's legacy both enhances and is enhanced by the tremendous benefits we all realize from freedom and markets.

Dwight R. Lee is Ramsey Professor of Free Enterprise, Terry College of Business, University of Georgia.

Interesting stuff. I guess, then, I'm confused by exactly what you advocate. What exactly is a "free market"? What company or industry do you see as working closest to your ideals?I certainly understand the benefits of free markets — in some cases. In others, like in the case of WalMart, I see a giant conglomeration creating a monopoly to reduce competition, set prices, and pay low wages. Or like Microsoft, which uses its size and power to create a monopoly apparently used to protect its inferior product.

In some cases, the free market seems to create more bureaucracy and ineffeciency than a centralized industry, like with health-care insurance. Many of the countries you identify as having the highest ESI and per-capita income also have socialized medicine…

And then there's China…

Maybe this clarification about free markets and etcetera should have started the interview, which I guess will now have to be called a "conversation"!

Briefly:

(1) China is terrified of free markets

(2) Very few situation of monopoly exist-you most likely to find them as a result of government protection, e.g., the USPS. Microsoft and Wal-Mart are in the two most competitive market around. They simply can’t “reduce competition, set prices, and pay low wages.”

(3) The free market is a process, not a thing. Rather its the result of million of individuals expressing these desires and produces scrambling madly to meet these demands.




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