Democracy and Economy

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I recently (sure, mote than a decade late to the party) got turned-on to TED talks, a series on conferences held in Palm Springs and Edinburgh for intellectuals by intellectuals. TED's tagline is "Ideas Worth Sharing," and that in a nutshell is what it is. Massively brilliant people are urged to give "the speech of their life" in 18 minutes or less. The ideas discussed are the pinnacle of the human condition. This is the kind of conference that sets us apart from the animals. Well, sure, conferences themselves set us apart from the animals, as even higher primates seems not to hold conferences, but a TED conference lacks animals who cheer for death and boo sacrifice.

I downloaded the TED app for the iPad, which gives you access to the thousands of talks accumulated over the few decades TED has been around. Some are funny (there's a great story from John Hodgman and a woman who does a bit on 'wearable communication devices' that is a scream), most are profound, and a few will melt your brain. Besides for the 2 big TED conferences, there are thousands of little TED-x events, which is a local Community doing the same thing, drawing your own local geniuses. East Lansing did. TED-x in June, and Detroit is set for one in October if I remember correctly. I really do, however, want to make one of the Big Ones one of these days.

That sets the backdrop for this bit: a speech by Chinese economist Yasheng Huang entitled Does Democracy Stifle Economic Growth?

I'm not giving anything away if you skip the link and read on before you watch it (though you should stop and watch it now) by saying that of course, his conclusion is that Democracy indeed promotes economic growth; it doesn't stifle it at all. No real shock there. The interesting thing is how he gets there. It's one thing to hear our own economists extoll the virtues of our own democratic and capitalist systems; it's quite another to hear a Chinese economist say that despite the massive growth of the Chinese economy, the fact that there is still authoritarian rule stifles how much they could be growing. His own shining example of a Democratic government promoting a solid economic growth? India.

In the end, Yasheng calls for serious democratic reforms in China, lest all their current growth be for naught in the face of new, emerging democracies with burgeoning economies. It got me thinking: what would a democratic China look like, and what would it mean for us?


Question of the Day. (But not every day)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I am taking a break from remodeling my kitchen (more on that later) to ask a simple question.

Is the United States "circling the drain"?


On Why The Death Penalty Should Be Abolished

Monday, September 12, 2011

I found an article in one of my favorite sites to visit, Skepchick, about the sad case of Cameron Todd Willingham. The New Yorker had an in-depth article about his case back in 2009 called
Trial By Fire. As it turns out, the "science" behind the evidence was wives-tale science and Mr. Willingham was indeed innocent. Too bad this evidence didn't come to light 5 years earlier; the state of Texas killed Willingham in 2004.

For crimes he didn't commit.

The long article is well-worth the read. It picks apart the case bit by bit and dramatically introduces the actual science behind fires and how they spread; the science that would have exonerated Willingham.
The article is flying around the internets again in the wake of Governor Perry's applause-laden response to NBC's Brian Williams' charge that he has killed more people (234) than any other Governor in our history.

I do not mean this post to be an anti-Perry screed or a missive critical of "conservative Christians."  Rather, I mean it to be an anti-death penalty piece.  While it indeed shocks me that people who vaunt their Christian Cred would be so supportive of the death penalty, I have to remember to take their brand of evangelical Christianity along with their conservative nature.  Guns and the death penalty are OK by this breed of conservative, and it is what it is.  It ain't changing.

I would ask, however, that they remember that Jesus suffered the death penalty as well.

That snark aside, that anybody who is innocent dies at the hands of the state is terrible.  That they get convicted on evidence akin to folklore is unimaginable.  While I only care about Rick Perry inasmuch as he is a possible frontrunner for Republicans, I do have to say that I am massively disturbed by his dismissive attitude towards people on death row.  In essence, he responded to Williams' question regarding sleepless nights for sending people to their deaths with a statement about Texas' due process being so "thoughtful" that nobody innocent could possibly be put to death.

This, of course, flies in the face of reality, in which innocent people are put to death (see the article I link above).  Perry is an interesting case study in that he actually went as far a firing a panel of investigators who were about to prove Willingham's innocence.  Maybe because he didn't want the political hit of having killed an innocent man, maybe to bury his head in the sand, maybe any number of maybes; what he does by his deeds and words is help prove that the state killing anyone is unreasonable, irrational, wrong-headed, barbaric and dangerous.  A state which is allowed to kill its citizens, whether through a fair trial, a kangaroo court, scientifically-valid evidence, or wives-tale witch-doctor nonsense, is not a state I wish to live in.

Again, this article's step-by-step move through the process for Willingham is so very telling of the flaw of the death penalty.  On top of that, Willingham was given a court-appointed attorney who was equally convinced  of his guilt and provided half-assed defense of a "guilty" client in hopes Willingham was convicted.  This speaks to our public defense system and the need for well-trained attorneys, with decent funding, and workloads that allow for an attorney to mount a decent defense (as well as for oversight in some way so that if a "bad" attorney is mis-handling a case a different attorney can come on board).  Just because a defendant can't afford a top-notch attorney to represent them against the state doesn't mean they shouldn't have access to one.

We do have a great system of justice here, regardless of how idiots like Nancy Grace abuse it in the MSM. We are innocent before being proven guilty, as opposed to the Napoleonic system of justice we see elsewhere whereby it is on a person to prove their innocence in front of a state who has accused them.  But even then we have gaps, as the Innocence Project so clearly shows given that to date, 273 people have been exonerated across the country.  That even one innocent person has spent any time at all in prison is terrible, but thankfully, even law enforcement (by and large) supports the Innocence Project; judges, cops, prosecutors and defense attorneys want to make sure we're doing this justice thing right.  But that even one person is killed by the state is unacceptable, especially when you add to that lazy or callous attorneys and "investigators" with reputations to protect.  Then it becomes a matter of life-and-death for our Democracy.


An Eye For An Eye

Thursday, September 08, 2011

10 seconds into this vid is all you need to know about the base:
  Clapping and cheering for killing people and a tough-talking cowboy Governor who loses no sleep about those he puts to death and the fact that maybe they're innocent, because of Texas' "thoughtful" process of capital punishment.


Oh wait...what about this guy?


If He Would Ask Me...

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

If I were Obama's speech writier, my outline below would be my first draft of a speech on a jobs agenda, without going too much into the details of the plan itlself. If he asked you, what would you tell Obama to say tonight Thursday night?

Set the stage without saying the name “Bush”.
• Remind everyone what brought us here. Years of deregulation, tax cuts on the wealthy and corporation’s left us with a 2007 recession and a 2008 banking collapse that lead to the worst economic conditions since the great depression.

Remind everyone what has worked, but let everyone know how dissatisfied you are with the slow recovery.
• In 2009 we stopped the slide and created 3.7 million jobs after passage of a jobs stimulus package of investments, a third of which was targeted tax cuts and incentives.
• The stock market has recovered nearly all of the losses following the 2008 bank collapse.
• Corporations are profitable.
• The federal government is being paid back from our loans that saved the auto industry.
• We reformed the financial industry so a bank collapse won’t happen again.
• Interest rates and taxes are both historically low.
• Despite all this, jobs aren’t being created fast enough.
• When the jobs stimulus ended, growth slowed.
• We cannot be satisfied with the pace of this recovery.

Talk tough.
• Remind everyone that your will do your part, but you cannot not accept solutions languishing in Congress.
• The transportation infrastructure bills and jobs packages have not moved in Congress.
• The recent brinksmanship over the debt ceiling did not put a single person back to work, but it damaged the country’s credit, credibility and the economic recovery.
• Partisanship, inaction or returning to the failed policies of the past will not create a single job. It is time to put country ahead of party and ideology and do something.

Remind everyone that we will never get a handle on the debt without creating jobs.
• Everytime they talk about debt, say the debt will be reduced through job creation. (Polling shows people are not real concerned about the debt, but the R's have neutered any effective job creation due to a focus on the debt.)
• The best thing for reducing our debt is to promote jobs and create long term plan for growth.
• Create a near-term jobs package and a 10-year plan to balance the budget.
• Your proposed jobs package will build on what has worked and strengthen the recovery.

Announce the package without validating failed Republican policies.
• Nobody will votes for a fake Republican when they can vote for the real thing.
• Investments in schools, roads and the infrastructure the Greatest Generation built that have powered our national economy for 50 years.
• Targeted tax incentives that promote investments in some of the industries that create American jobs, such as home building and more.

Package the message.
• Repeat it. Over and over again.
• It’s a jobs package, not a stimulus.



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