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Sec. Clinton on Honduras June 29, 2009

Posted by Afflatus in World Affairs.
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The action taken against Honduran President Mel Zelaya violates the precepts of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and thus should be condemned by all. We call on all parties in Honduras to respect the constitutional order and the rule of law, to reaffirm their democratic vocation, and to commit themselves to resolve political disputes peacefully and through dialogue. Honduras must embrace the very principles of democracy we reaffirmed at the OAS meeting it hosted less than one month ago.

That’s what she said yesterday after the military coup. To read more on what happened see an informative article in today’s NYT. Honduran President Is Ousted in a Coup.

Sorry to always link to NYT, its my main newspaper these days. Though, with the help of Google Reader, I have already begun diversifying my news sources greatly, including primary sources (aid-workers’ blogs and such). Google Reader is definitely something worth trying out, you’ll probably love it!

State Fair’s in the US June 29, 2009

Posted by Afflatus in Travel.
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Here is a fantastic article by Garrison Keillor (wiki). One of the most entertaining articles I’ve read in a while. His clever writing style and word selection had me laughing out loud, not to mention the great content. The article appeared in National Geographic so, of course, there are great photos to accompany.

It was interesting for me because I’ve never really been to a state fair in my own country, but I have been to fairs in Peru. It begins with the Top Ten Chief Joys of the State Fair:

Take in the State Fair

By Garrison Keillor

Photographs by Joel Sartore
Check out the photo gallery here!

The state fair is a ritual carnival marking the end of summer and gardens and apple orchards and the start of school and higher algebra and the imposition of strict rules and what we in the north call the Long Dark Time. Like gardening, the fair doesn’t change all that much.

The big wheel whirls and the girls squeal and the bratwursts cook on the little steel rollers and the boys slouch around and keep checking their hair. It isn’t the World’s Columbian Exposition, the Aquarian Exposition, the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, the Exposition Universelle, the Gathering of the Tribes, or the Aspen Institute. It’s just us, taking a break from digging potatoes.

The Ten Chief Joys of the State Fair are:

1. To eat food with your two hands.

2. To feel extreme centrifugal force reshaping your face and jowls as you are flung or whirled turbulently and you experience that intense joyfulness that is indistinguishable from anguish, or (as you get older) to observe other persons in extreme centrifugal situations.

3. To mingle, merge, mill, jostle gently, and flock together with throngs, swarms, mobs, and multitudes of persons slight or hefty, punky or preppy, young or ancient, wandering through the hubbub and amplified razzmatazz and raw neon and clouds of wiener steam in search of some elusive thing, nobody is sure exactly what.

4. To witness the stupidity of others, their gluttony and low-grade obsessions, their poor manners and slack-jawed, mouth-breathing, pop-eyed yahootude, and feel rather sophisticated by comparison.

5. To see the art of salesmanship, of barking, hustling, touting, and see how effectively it works on others and not on cool you.

6. To see designer chickens, the largest swine, teams of mighty draft horses, llamas, rare breeds of geese, geckos, poisonous snakes, a two-headed calf, a 650-pound man, and whatever else appeals to the keen, inquiring mind.

7. To watch the judging of livestock.

8. To observe entertainers attempt to engage a crowd that is moving laterally.

9. To sit down and rest amid the turmoil and reconsider the meaning of life.

10. To turn away from food and amusement and crass pleasure and to resolve to live on a higher plane from now on. (more…)

Rights Versus Rites June 28, 2009

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Female genital mutilation is a topic that is discussed too little. To some the practice is a human rights violation, to others it’s their culture’s core ritual. Doctors have clearly documented the negative health effects seen in the women that undergo genital mutilation. Michelle Goldberg does a fantastic job portraying the issue and analyzing the tricky policy situation. The article especially hit home as she uses a senior at GW, Ahmadu, as an example of a woman who willingly returned home to undergo the custom of her ancestral village. It’s a great article that’s definitely worth a read!


Rights Versus Rites

Michelle Goldberg

On Feb. 6, 2007, two women, both of whom had been circumcised in Africa, met in the conference room of a small foundation on Fifth Avenue in New York City for a highly unusual debate. It was the fourth annual International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation, an occasion for events across the globe dedicated to abolishing the practice. The gathering drew about 30 women, half of them African immigrants from countries including Senegal, Sudan, and Kenya, where female circumcision is common. Several of them were shocked to realize that, despite the name of the event, this wasn’t so much a discussion about how female circumcision can be eradicated as about whether it should be.

The custom of cutting off all or part of girls’ external genitalia — deeply ingrained in large swaths of Africa and parts of Asia and the Middle East — obviously has its defenders, as evidenced by how tenaciously it has endured in the face of a global campaign to eliminate it. Indeed, as the anthropologist Richard Shweder argues in a much discussed 2003 paper, “It is a noteworthy fact that in at least seven African nations 80-90 percent of the popular vote would probably vote against any policy or law that criminalizes the practice of genital modification for either boys or girls.” Yet apologists for female genital mutilation (FGM) don’t interact much with the global women’s movement, which is generally no more inclined to debate the merits of the practice than it is to ponder the upside of rape or wife beating.

That’s what made the New York event so unique, and so charged. At first glance, the two speakers seemed to symbolize the dichotomy between modernity and tradition, cosmopolitanism and cultural authenticity.  (more…)

Hamas…North Korea…Article Placement? June 26, 2009

Posted by Afflatus in World Affairs.
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In today’s New York Times two important articles are tucked away in the very back of the International section. The first (that caught my eye) was Hamas Leader Hails Obama For New Tack. A short article written by the Associated Press from Damascus that highlights a recent speech by Khaled Meshal, Hamas’ leader who is currently based in Damascus.

The whole news story is that Meshal welcomed what he called “new language” by President Obama toward Hamas. The AP said the remarks were part of a tentative outreach to the United States by Hamas in recent weeks. I remind you that Obama directly addressed Hamas in his Cairo address to the ‘Muslim World’. Anyways, can someone explain this sentence to me?

Analysts have speculated that Hamas may want to try to reach out to the Obama administration in the hope of breaking out of its international isolation and easing the Isreali blockade of Gaza, which Hamas controls.

To me the sentence comes off as awkward, strange, and possibly biased.

The second small article on the last page of the International section was about an anti-American rally of 100,000 people in North Korea (the article says 100,000, but who knows?). It also quoted the government threatening a “fire shower of nuclear retaliation” against the United States and South Korea.

The rally was a celebration of the anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. And it has been celebrated in an anti-American fashion before, the article says. “The crowd brimmed with anti-American slogans and speeches, denouncing the international sanctions the UN recently imposed on the North after its May 25th nuclear test.” The crowd and the government are worried of an American plot to invade their country. I had heard that the population was brainwashed, and this article made that fact brazenly clear, especially with the photo.


Stagflation June 23, 2009

Posted by presto21 in Economics.
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I was recently having a conversation with a friend when he asked me, “what is so bad about inflation?” Well the truth is we had at least one awful period of inflation in this county – the 1970’s.

Inflation is not such a bad thing if it can be kept to within 1-3% – the figure which today is almost universally aimed for by the central banks of developed countries. In fact it can be a good thing at those levels because it helps maintain fluidity in the credit markets. When inflation rises above that level however, it does have negative impacts. It discourages venture capital as well as complicating mortgages and other long-term loans because people can’t be assured that the long-term returns on their investments will hold up against inflation.

One of the most elementary propositions in economics is that people will not invest if they cannot keep the fruits of their investment. The effects on the engine of private sector growth and job creation, which require some degree of stability so that wages and prices can find an equilibrium, can be destructive.

Stagflation is an economic situation in which inflation and economic stagnation occur simultaneously and remain unchecked for a period of time. Stagflation presents a policy dilemma because most actions to assist with fighting inflation worsen economic stagnation and vice versa. Both stagnation and inflation can result from inappropriate macroeconomic policies. For example, central banks can cause inflation by permitting excessive growth of the money supply and the government can cause stagnation by excessive regulation of goods markets and labor markets; together, these factors can cause stagflation. Both types of explanations are offered in analysis of the global stagflation of the 1970s: it began with a huge rise in oil prices, but then continued as central banks used excessively stimulative monetary policy to counteract the resulting recession, causing a runaway wage-price spiral.

In macroeconomics, the price/wage spiral represents a vicious circle process in which different sides of the wage bargain try to keep up with inflation to protect real incomes. Thus, this process is one possible result of inflation. In the early 1970s, inflation had been much higher than in previous decades, getting above 6% briefly in 1970 and persisting above 4% in 1971. U.S. President Richard Nixon imposed price controls on August 15, 1971. This was a move widely applauded by the public and some number of (but by no means all) economists, especially Keynesian. The 90-day freeze was unprecedented in peacetime, but such drastic measures were thought necessary. Also motivating the controls, it should be noted that on the same date that the controls were imposed, 15 August 1971, Nixon also suspended the convertibility of the dollar into gold, which was the beginning of the end of the Bretton Woods System of international currency management established after World War II. It was quite well known at the time that this would likely lead to an immediate inflationary impulse (because the depreciation of the dollar that would follow would boost the demand for exports and increase the cost of imports). The controls aimed to stop that impulse. The fact that the election of 1972 was on the horizon likely contributed to both Nixon’s application of controls and his ending of the convertibility of the dollar.

The 90-day freeze became nearly 1,000 days of measures known as Phases One, Two, Three, and Four, ending in 1973. In these phases, the controls were applied almost entirely to the biggest corporations and labor unions, which were seen as having price-setting power. 93% of requested price increases were granted and seen as necessary to meet costs.With such monopoly power, some economists saw controls as possibly working effectively (though they are usually skeptical on the issue of controls). Because controls of this sort can calm inflationary expectations, this was seen as a serious blow against stagflation. The controls helped Nixon to re-election, but afterward were seen to be a total failure; meat disappeared from grocery store shelves and Americans protested wage controls that didn’t match up to inflation.

Finally, a man named Paul Volcker (whom some of you may recognize as a current economic adviser to President Obama) decided he was going to clamp down hard on inflation. As a talented economist he knew about the short-term pain his policy would bring to the economy. But he also believed that unless stringent fiscal discipline, a steady money supply and higher interest rates could be brought to bear against stagflation, it would continue indefinitely. Paul Volcker was a Democrat and was appointed Chairman of the Federal Reserve in August 1979 by President Jimmy Carter and reappointed in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan. Volcker’s Fed is widely credited with ending the United States’ stagflation crisis of the 1970s. Inflation, which peaked at 13.5% (insane) in 1981, was successfully lowered to 3.2% by 1983. The federal funds rate (AKA the interest rate), which had averaged 11.2% in 1979, was raised by Volcker to a peak of 20% in June 1981. The prime rate rose to 21.5% in ’81 as well. This was extremely unpopular at the time, but President Reagan stood by Volcker’s policies even as the economy convulsed. The recession worsened for a while, but by 1982 a strong recovery was underway. Unfortunately Reagan cut taxes so deeply while greatly expanding defense expenditures that he wound up running large deficits towards the end of his presidency (deficits George H. W. Bush would be left to deal with) and making it unclear whether he was ever really  committed to real fiscal discipline even though he consistently campaigned on it. But that’s another story…

Iran Update June 21, 2009

Posted by Afflatus in Politics, World Affairs.

“The 1979 Islamic Revolution modified Iran’s green, white, and red flag, adding a new central emblem featuring Muslim symbols. “God Is Almighty” appears on the stripes 22 times, honoring the 22nd of the month of Bahman when the Islamic Revolution was victorious.”

– Atlas of the Middle East by National Geographic

Another post on Iran is long overdue. Since our last discussion on the eve of the election on June 12, now nine days ago, an update is necessary and inevitable. I’ve found my favorite place to get news is the huffingtonpost’s live blogging.

Ill be brief for now, because there is too much to say.

Fareed Zakaria’s GPS show today had a great panel discussion and up-to-date analysis of the situation. Zakaria interviewed a technology expert that provided me with some interesting new insight. The state authorities have attempted to shut down virtually all communications infrastructure. The government has tried to shut down SMS, twitter, facebook, and more. People with cameras, and video cameras are being singled out during the daily demonstrations. All foreign journalists have either been ordered to leave in 24 hours or arrested.


Health Care From the House June 19, 2009

Posted by Afflatus in Healthcare.
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The House of Representatives released today the outline of their health care reform bill. The Politico covers the story here. The House proposal would establish a public insurance option, expand Medicaid, and require employers to provide coverage or pay a tax (play or play). This bill is more alligned with my ideal reforms than either of the bill proposals being discussed in the Senate currently.

The main lobbying firm for the private health insurance providers is a firm called America’s Health Insurance Plans. Their spokesman, Robert Zirkelbach, obviously criticized the bill. He argued, mistakenly, that the government-run insurance option would “dismantle employer-based coverage, add additional liabilities to the federal budget and turn back the clock on efforts to improve the quality and safety of patient care.”

This statement is so blatantly wrong that it is clear he represents a special interest group, the private insurance companies.

In fact, the public option would not “dismantle employer-based coverage”; on the contrary, it would maintain that framework, and reform within it. The house proposal mandates that employers ‘play or pay’ — they must provide insurance or pay a tax which will help fund the public insurance option.

The rest of Zirkelbach’s statement are nonsensical, egregious lies.

Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials… June 18, 2009

Posted by Afflatus in immigration.
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…aka GALEO, is a non-profit, non-partisan, group operating out of Atlanta, GA. I had a great internship with them last fall! All should check out its website occasionally because GALEO is doing big things.

My former boss, and good friend, Jerry Gonzalez issued a press release today that exposes the malicious, racist, and unconstitutional actions carried out during the Bush Administration against the immigrant communities.

Atlanta, Georgia –June 18, 2008

* For Immediate Release*

WASHINGTON – A National Commission
investigating immigration enforcement under the
Bush Administration released a comprehensive new
report today documenting the devastation and
destruction that immigration raids had on families,
workplaces and communities across the country.

The report, Raids on Workers: Destroying Our
, offers a critical analysis of one of the
central components of the Bush Administration’s
immigration strategy and provides a detailed account
of how heavy handed enforcement tactics led to
systemic abuse of workers’ rights and a willful
disregard for the rule of law  (more…)

Health Care: Clear and Concise June 17, 2009

Posted by Afflatus in Healthcare.
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This is a great, simple article by Ezra Klein of the Washington Post. He explains the basics of the debate over the comprehensive health care legislation that is currently in progress.

Personally, I strongly support a strong public plan. Let’s pass it NOW

Health Care Reform for Beginners: The Many Flavors of the Public Plan

For most of you, this is the big one. The inclusion of a strong public insurance option has become, for most observers I know, the single most recognizable marker for victory. If the public plan exists, liberals have won. If it’s eliminated, or neutered, then conservatives have triumphed.

The public plan has a very particular political lineage: The lesson liberals took from the 1994 health reform fight was that you couldn’t threaten the insurance coverage individuals already had. For many policy wonks, the central problem in health care was the existence of private insurance coverage. For most Americans, however, the central problem was that they could lose their private insurance coverage, and be left with something they didn’t like, or nothing at all. This effectively ruled out something like single-payer, or even Bill Clinton’s managed-care-within-managed-competition model. It ruled out anything that began by changing the health care coverage of those who wanted to keep their current policies. (more…)

Video’s from America’s Future Now Conference June 16, 2009

Posted by Afflatus in Politics.
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Finally I have tracked down the elusive videos from the conference I attended two weeks ago.

Here are the videos. Most are short (less than 10-15 minutes).

Be sure to check out # 23 William McNary’s energetic and inspring speech on Healthcare.

#22 is a great speech by a young and extremely bright doctor. She gives interesting insight to the healthcare problem from a doctors point of view.

#14, the Closing Plenary Brunch features Naomi Klein and the presentation of the Maria Leavey Tribute Award.

#13 is an excellent speech by Senator Sherrod Brown, worth checking out.

#11 was a fantastic panel discussion on Immigration reform. Some interesting questions and answers follow at the end.

And #1, Jared Bernstein, is definitely worth watching considering his current employer.

Many of the others are good, but not as good. Others I didnt get to see, but I assume they are equally interesting.