Thursday, August 28, 2008

Income Inequality?

Here's another one I've heard: income equality in America is getting worse.


From a 2007 Census report:
Income inequality decreased between 2006 and 2007, as measured by shares of aggregate household income by quintiles and the Gini index. The share of aggregate income received by households in the top fifth of the income distribution declined, while the shares for the third and fourth quintiles increased. Meanwhile, the Gini index declined from 0.470 to 0.463, moving closer to 0, which represents perfect income equality (1 represents perfect inequality).
This "Gini coefficient" is the standard measurement for income inequality (how rich the rich are versus how poor the poor are). Under Clinton, it went from .433 to .462, an increase of .029.

Under Bush, it has gone to .463 after decreasing between 2006 and 2007, for a total increase of .001.

In other words, income inequality got worse under Clinton. Under Bush, it has not changed.

Here's the whole Census report. The quote was from page 13:

Oh dear lord! I found the greatest quote ever. Think about what I just said above and then read this quote from Bill Clinton's DNC speech:
"Look at the example the Republicans have set: American workers have given us consistently rising productivity. They've worked harder and produced more. What did they get in return? Declining wages, less than one-quarter as many new jobs as in the previous eight years, smaller health care and pension benefits, rising poverty and the biggest increase in income inequality since the 1920s."
Oh the irony.

The big increase in income inequality was under YOUR watch, Billy boy! Under Bush it hardly budged!

Maybe he's using some other index. You know, the one the US Census bureau apparently doesn't use.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


In regards to the first blog, I thought I'd try and address all of his claims about Why America Sucks. "But why go through this trouble?" I'm glad you asked! Because these are the types of claims I hear over and over again in forums all over the internet. People really think these things. There's a massive anti-America campaign raging across the internet that has already consumed my original political party, the one I picked when I was 18, and the donkey needs to get kickin'. Small numbers of abrasive loud mouths have spread disinformation and the Democratic Party has become the party for people who think America can do no right. Michelle Obama's first time being proud of America was when her husband was nominated? I've been proud for years!

Without further ado, let me debunk some more popular, untruthful claims about America:

Claim #1:
"We don't have the right to a trial anymore."
Debunked. See first blog. ("The Great Conspiracy")

Claim #2:
We've lost the right to protest.
Hyperbole. Not even going to bother to debunk this in detail. I can only assume he's referring to incidents like the guy who got tasered during the Kerry speech after he butted in line and went in a lengthy monologue rant well over his allotted time. He could have booked the hall and made his own speech on his own time. The right to protest does not include the right to infringe on everyone else's rights, and he was actually infringing on the free speech rights of Kerry and all the other people who wanted to ask a question.

If you would like to protest in some normal, non-asshole manner, you certainly can. Welcome to America.

Claim #3:
Civil disobedience can now be labeled as terrorism.
This is apparently a result of the "Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act". I looked up the bill and browsed it. It only applies if you are causing threats, damage, bodily harm or economic damage to animal-related ventures.

Economic damage is defined as:
    `(A) means the replacement costs of lost or damaged property or records, the costs of repeating an interrupted or invalidated experiment, the loss of profits, or increased costs, including losses and increased costs resulting from threats, acts or vandalism, property damage, trespass, harassment, or intimidation taken against a person or entity on account of that person's or entity's connection to, relationship with, or transactions with the animal enterprise; but
    `(B) does not include any lawful economic disruption (including a lawful boycott) that results from lawful public, governmental, or business reaction to the disclosure of information about an animal enterprise;
So if you go blow up a horse track, you can be called a terrorist.

This is not "civil disobedience" as I understand the term. The website I found to get me started on this research showed a bunch of people standing in protest with a big label of "TERRORISTS" over them.

That's misinformation. It's the propaganda machine steering you down a particular path again. Did you fall for it?

The only way those people could be "terrorists" is if the place they were standing in was causing direct harm.

In fact the bill explicitly says:
`(e) Rules of Construction- Nothing in this section shall be construed--
`(1) to prohibit any expressive conduct (including peaceful picketing or other peaceful demonstration) protected from legal prohibition by the First Amendment to the Constitution;
So you can picket all you like. Although I suppose if you were picketing ON THE HORSE TRACK DURING A RACE then it may apply as economic damage, not to mention trespassing.

Of course, nothing in this bill means you can be sent to Guantanamo. You're still just a regular criminal. It looks like the purpose of the bill was to describe extra punishment (mainly fines) for committing these particular types of pre-existing crimes. I challenge you to find something covered in the bill that was not already a crime.

Claim #4:
We don't even have the right to vote -- we haven't met UN fair election standards in years.
Unknown. I can't find out what "UN fair election standards" are. Obviously this is stemming from the 2000 election debacle in Florida, and the subsequent claims that electronic voting needs paper trails, but I can't find any actual UN "fair election standards" that suggest this sort of thing.

It looks like the claim mainly came from Jimmy Carter. I certainly agree that voting machines should have paper trails but the claim, as is, is a hyperbole at best, and complete fantasy at worst.

Four claims on why America sucks, and not a valid one among them.

This is the propaganda machine at work. Too many Americans are eating it up when there's no substance to it. If that doesn't worry you, it should.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Propaganda Wars Continue

I saw this gem on Yelp:

More than 600,000 civilians dead in Iraq alone as a result of the war.

That's about the entire population of Fiji.

And that figure it from 2 years ago. According to Wikipedia, the latest tally is close to 1.2 million civilians.
Well thank goodness he checked his facts with Wikipedia first. Now let's check Wikipedia's facts. What are the casualties like in Iraq? How many people died during the overthrow and capture of Saddam and the subsequent battles against insurgents, foreign fighters and terrorists intent on turning Iraq into the new headquarters for strict Sharia law? Let's see what Wikipedia had:

Survey Iraqi deaths March 2003 to...
Iraqi Health Ministry survey 151,000 violent deaths out of 400,000 excess deaths due to the war. June 2006
Lancet survey 601,027 violent deaths out of 654,965 excess deaths. June 2006
Opinion Research Business survey 1,033,000 violent deaths as a result of the conflict. August 2007
Wow, 1 million deaths. That's roughly 1 out of every 30 people living in Iraq.

Why are the figures so different? How did they arrive at these figures? I'll go to the source websites for this, not trusting Wikipedia. (Note: I could not substantiate the "400,000 excess deaths" figure claimed to be in the first survey. I searched for "400,000", "excess" and I browsed the report as well as a New England Journal of Medicine report on the report and couldn't find that claim anywhere.)

Opinion Research Business (who??) --

•Results are based on face-to-face interviews amongst a nationally representative sample of 1,720 adults aged 18+ throughout Iraq (1,499 agreed to answer the question on household deaths)
I tried to find out more information, but the link on the ORB website for more information didn't work. I'd like to know more about this "nationally representative sample". But basically they polled 1499 people and extrapolated 1,000,000 deaths.

These three misattributed clusters were therefore
excluded, leaving a final sample of 1849 households in
47 randomly selected clusters.
So they polled 1849 households.

Iraqi Health Ministry survey:

Why were female doctors and statisticians chosen as interviewers?

Female doctors were not the only interviewers. Other groups such as female dentists, pharmacists, nurses and technical college graduates were also involved as interviewers. As, in many surveys in Iraq, female interviewers are most suitable and best able to communicate effectively with women. Moreover, in Iraqi culture, women respondents have more trust in female interviewers, as sensitive issues were discussed in the women’s questionnaires. The census enumerator were selected for this work for their accuracy and reliability in recording the household information and in identifying the cluster samples and the household locations.


How do you explain the high response rate for IFHS 2006/7 in spite of the very bad security situations in Iraq?

The household response rate of 98.2% and the women response rate of 98.3% match with the MICS-III 2006 response rate of 98.6%. Also, IFHS teams were required to try three times with each household if they were not successful in finishing the interview the first and the second time. This high response rate was accomplished with the help of community leaders who facilitated the process of interviewing the families.


So the polling agency with the most transparent views into their polling methods and which had the widest sampling by far, resulted in smaller numbers.

Yet somehow, it's the 1 million count from the unknown organization with the broken links that people quote from Wikipedia.

Note also that these numbers are not indicating "civilians killed in combat with NATO troops" but rather, all violent deaths, including terrorist carbomb attacks against civilians.

What about deaths under Saddam? Did we bring these people war and death when they would have been safer under Saddam? He seemed like an okay guy, right? Here's a snippet of information from a news article covering his trial:

Saddam and his cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, a Baath Party leader who allegedly organized Anfal, are charged with genocide widely considered the toughest charge to prove since it requires showing their intention was to exterminate part of an ethnic group.

Saddam and al-Majid also face charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes, as do their co-defendants, most of whom are former military figures.

The Anfal trial is likely to take months as well. The campaign was on a far greater scale than the Dujail crackdown, with death toll estimates ranging from 50,000 to 180,000. Prosecutors plan to call up to 75 witnesses and to present extensive documents from the former regime, as well as evidence from mass graves.
Exact figures on death tolls under Saddam will be hard to figure out.

We have to find all the mass graves first.

The Great Conspiracy

We always hear about government conspiracies -- the government is engaged in a cover-up operation. They manipulate public opinion, they hide the facts. There are many sites dedicated to telling you about the things "the government doesn't want you to know". We are constantly on the alert for government propaganda.

What if some other organization was engaged in a propaganda campaign? What if their primary outlet for misdirection and misinformation was the internet and the news media? Would you recognize it for what it is?

I submit that there is indeed a massive propaganda campaign taking place in America, one that uses half-truths and disinformation to steer public opinion in certain directions, and odds are pretty good you've already fallen for it.

I spend some time on Yelp. It's an internet site dedicated to reviewing local businesses, restaurants, etc. They have a "talk" section for discussions and it's surprising to me how frequently discussions bring up something that's anti-America. If you attempt to criticize China for blocking iTunes in order to prevent access to the Tibet album, you'll be quickly shushed by people who will tell you about several bad things America has done and that we therefore have no right to criticize China.

This escalated into a private chat with one guy. Here's a snippet from his email:
I think the reason why there's a lot of "anti-american sentimate" is because the america we live in isn't the free country we were raised to believe in. We've lost the right to protest and civil dissobediance can now be labeled as terrorism. We don't have the right to a trial any more. We don't even have the right to vote... did you know that we haven't met UN fair election standards in YEARS?
We don't have the right to a trial? Oh, those evil government bastards have done it again! Damn George Bush and the Republican party! I shall vote for Obama!


Let's check some facts.

I know what he's referring to. The "Military Commissions Act of 2006". Long time readers of my MySpace blog may recall this discussion. Let me dredge up the arguments:

Propaganda: "We have lost the right of habeas corpus -- essentially, the right to demand a trial while being detained."

No doubt many of you have heard this.

Did you believe it?

If so, you are a victim of a massive propaganda campaign, this being one small part of it.

But let's make it interesting. What does Wikipedia say?

The November 13, 2001, Presidential Military Order gave the President of the United States the power to detain suspects, suspected of connection to terrorists or terrorism as an unlawful combatant. As such, it was asserted that a person could be held indefinitely without charges being filed against him or her, without a court hearing, and without entitlement to a legal consultant. Many legal and constitutional scholars contended that these provisions were in direct opposition to habeas corpus and the United States Bill of Rights.
Hmm, that's interesting. A person can be held indefinitely without charged being filed? Many legal scholars contend that it's in opposition to habeas corpus and the Bill of Rights? That sounds serious. It sounds like any of us could be declared as terrorists and held without a trial!

What does it say about the Military Commissions Act?
The text of the law states that its "purpose" is to "establish procedures governing the use of military commissions to try alien unlawful enemy combatants engaged in hostilities against the United States for violations of the law of war and other offenses triable by military commission." While the most controversial provisions in the law refer to "alien unlawful enemy combatants", section 948a refers to "unlawful enemy combatants" (not explicitly excluding US citizens).
Oh dear. Section 948a refers to unlawful enemy combatants without specifying alien, meaning it might apply to U.S. citizens?? That is serious!

Let's just quote section 948a and see what it says:

`Sec. 948a. Definitions

    `In this chapter:
      `(1) UNLAWFUL ENEMY COMBATANT- (A) The term `unlawful enemy combatant' means--
        `(i) a person who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents who is not a lawful enemy combatant (including a person who is part of the Taliban, al Qaeda, or associated forces); or
        `(ii) a person who, before, on, or after the date of the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, has been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal or another competent tribunal established under the authority of the President or the Secretary of Defense.

So wait, it turns out that section 948a is the "Definitions" section and the only mention of an "unlawful enemy combatant" that does not specify "alien" is the bit where it actually defines what an "unlawful enemy combatant" IS?

And where is this phrase used in regards to habeas corpus?


    `(e)(1) No court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.

So in the actual bill, it says that in order for this to apply, you have to be an alien.

So wait, who is this bill actually aiming at, anyway?
`Sec. 948c. Persons subject to military commissions
    `Any alien unlawful enemy combatant is subject to trial by military commission under this chapter.

    So, our friend up top suggested that we have all lost the right to a trial. He knows, because a huge propaganda campaign told him so. Told us all. It was on the news.

    This sentiment is echoed across the internet and Wikipedia isn't exactly clearing it up for you.

    Yet when I go and actually look up the text of the bill and read the whole thing, I see that it doesn't apply to American citizens. Basically you have to be a non-American citizen and you have to be someone who has "engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents who is not a lawful enemy combatant (including a person who is part of the Taliban, al Qaeda, or associated forces".

    Does this sound like any of you?

    Are you a non-American citizen and have you supported hostilities against the United States? No? Then this doesn't apply to you.

    This is a common technique of expert propaganda. They will actually quote for you the sections they want you to hear, which supports their side of the debate, and they will leave out the rest, relying on your laziness to not check their facts. After all, they quoted stuff! It MUST be true!

    But hey, don't take my word for it. Look it up. Maybe I'm the propaganda machine! You'll just have to fact check and find out. Don't rely on the press to do it. You think the government is corrupt and needs to have their facts checked, but what about the press? Even NPR?

    If you listen to the story, I think you'll find the wording interesting. I believe he mentioned "alien" only once, and that's after his first statement which seems to suggest that anyone can be declared an unlawful combatant, perhaps implying to the casual listener that any American can be locked away for good in Guantanamo. The story goes on for quite a while about a lot of details which do not apply to any of you. You'd think he'd maybe reiterate that point.

    But let's think about what's really going on here and what Guantanamo Bay really is:

    It's basically a prisoner of war camp for unlawful combatants.

    If they were lawful combatants, they would belong to a military that's part of a country that's at war with America, and when the war is over, we send them home.

    Instead, they are "unlawful combatants" -- basically, people who went into Iraq to cause death and destruction without a military and without a national backing.

    We can't hold them "until the war is over" because there's nobody to declare peace with, nobody who can tell us that hostilities are over and it's time to release the prisoners.

    We can't send them home because home nations like Syria and Iran will pat them on the head and send them right back out to kill more people.

    The call for habeas corpus is essentially a call for a trial, but let's think about what that means:

    We caught a Syrian combatant in Iraq. And you want to try him in America?

    That's just wrong on so many levels. The Syrian police do not get to go to Canada to arrest Americans and try them in Syrian courts. We would bomb the hell out of them for that. Yet many people claim that this is precisely what we should do with our prisoners: try them in an American court for crimes committed in Iraq and Afghanistan against those other countries.

    What laws would we even put them on trial for breaking? Iraqi laws? American laws?

    IDEALLY, we would send these prisoners back to Iraq and Afghanistan for trial in the courts of the nation where the deeds were done. We have no right to try them. However, if we simply handed them over now, what odds would you place that:
    1) They can get a fair trial (i.e., they are not simply executed on the spot)
    2) Local security forces can keep them safe (from rescue and from lynching)

    So not only is this propaganda driving the public (e.g., YOU) in a hooting frenzy against the American government, but it's actually trying to force the government to do something that is, frankly, very very wrong.

    Holding "alien unlawful enemy combatants" as prisoners of war in a camp until such time as we can reasonably hand them over to some more proper authorities is the only reasonable option.

    This campaign of misinformation is dangerous.

    It's scaring me a lot more than anything I think the government has done.

    Before you say, "Oh, but the government did this other thing" maybe you should go look it up and make sure you don't fall for another piece of propaganda.