Rational World

A blog about a varitey of topics: politics, government, philosophy, news, etc.

Government agents 'directly involved' in most high-profile US terror plots

""In some cases the FBI may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by suggesting the idea of taking terrorist action or encouraging the target to act," the report alleges. […]

In particular, Human Rights Watch examines the extent and impact of law enforcement’s use of terrorism informants, who can both steer people into attempted acts of violence and chill religious or civic behaviour in the communities they penetrate. […]

While the FBI has long relied on confidential informants to alert them to criminal activity, for terrorism cases informants insert themselves into Muslim mosques, businesses and community gatherings and can cajole people toward a plot “who perhaps would never have participated in a terrorist act on their own initiative”, the study found.”

-Spencer Ackerman, “Government agents ‘directly involved’ in most high-profile US terror plots,” The Guardian.

The New York Times and Inequality

On Saturday The New York Times ran an article by economics professor Tyler Cowen in which Cowen writes about the decline of global inequality.  Professor Cowen writes: 

Yes, the problem has become more acute within most individual nations, yet income inequality for the world as a whole has been falling for most of the last 20 years. It’s a fact that hasn’t been noted often enough.”

The article celebrates the capitalism fueled growth of developing nations like China and India and attributes the cause of declining global inequality to economic growth in China and India over the past two decades.

The economic surges of China, India and some other nations have been among the most egalitarian developments in history.”

This article by the Times is highly misleading. There are two assertions made by Cowen that deserve closer scrutiny: 1. that the  economic development in China and India has been “egalitarian” and reduced inequality, and 2. that global inequality is declining.

First, Cowen may have his facts wrong. According to an article published by Harvard Business Review, written by World Bank economist Branko Milanovic (one of the co-authors of the report cited by Cowen), inequality in China is rising. Milanovic writes: 

China, under Deng Xiaoping, introduced private ownership of land in 1978, and thus began its 35-year period of unprecedentedly high economic growth and rising inequality. During that same period, Chinese inequality increased at a tempo outpacing even that of the United States: inequality in China rose from a level lower than in the United States to a level equal or slightly exceeding that in the United States today.”

A similar rise in inequality can also be see in India:

So, on his point that China and India become more “egalitarian,” Cowen appears to be incorrect. Secondly, the report (written by Branko Milanovic and Christopher Lanker) that Cowen cites in the Times, is a comparative study that examines the wealth gap between nations. This is important to note, because a situation may exist where geopolitical inequality is decreasing but absolute inequality is still rising. By comparing the wealth gap between nations Lanker and Milanovic seem to demonstrate that developing nations like China are catching up to the developed West therefore reducing inequality. Lanker and Milanovic compared “relatively poor people in the US with relatively rich people in China.” Their data showed that the wealth gap between the two was narrowing, again suggesting that inequality may be declining.

To me it appears that by comparing economic data between nations such as the United States and China it can be demonstrated that the gap between developing and developed nations is shrinking (economically, China is catching up to the US), however, that does not seem to be true to the intent of measuring the wealth gap.

The point of the wealth gap as a metric is to measure income disparity between classes and not nations. Cowen does not make this distinction in his Times article. He writes about that the wealth gap “within individual nations” is increasing but goes on to write about the wealth gap between nations as if it were the same as the wealth gap between classes, and as a result Cowen’s article is misleading.

Obama says he supports D.C. statehood

President Obama said that he supports statehood for Washington D.C., however he also thinks the politics involved would make it almost impossible to achieve.

Rand Paul and Israel

In 2011 Rand Paul made a budget proposal that would eliminate all foreign aid to Israel: “GOP Sen. Rand Paul Urges Cutting Aid to Israel.”

Then in 2013 he criticized right wing evangelicals as being too supportive of Israel and their hastiness to use force: “Paul Criticizes Pro-Israel Evangelicals.”

Now, in 2014, Paul voted for a Senate resolution supporting Israel in their ground strike in Gaza and even argued that the resolution “needs more teeth.” See: “Rand Paul’s craven new pander: Why he’s swung wildly on Israel again.”

McCain: Had I won in 2000, Iraq War might not have happened

When asked about Iraq assuming he had won the 2000 election, John McCain’s response was: “You’ll find this surprising, but I think I would’ve been more reluctant to commit American troops.”

When your reflexive response to every foreign policy issue over the last fourteen years has been to ‘bomb them,’ you just sound ridiculous now.


See: “All the Countries John McCain Has Wanted to Attack: Syria, Iraq, Russia, North Korea, and nine other nations the Arizona senator has been eager to bomb, invade, or destabilize,” by Tim Murphy, Mother Jones.

Brief Thoughts on the Hobby Lobby Case

So far have refrained from chiming in about the Hobby Lobby Case. For many people it is an emotional, partisan, and highly sensitive issue that pertains to religion and women’s reproductive rights- two things that I usually try and avoid commenting on. Additionally, when there is a hot ‘issue of the day,’ there are enough people filling up social media sites about it that I usually find it difficult to add something worthwhile that hasn’t already been repeated numerous times. However, occasionally I do think that I have something of substance to add. This is one of those times. 

Most of what I have read regarding the case has been framed around the idea of religious liberty. I won’t summarize the arguments made for and against the case because anyone who takes the time to read my blog is already well informed and knows them.

The problem that I see with the court decision and the case in general pertains to the language used particularly phrases like ‘employer provided healthcare,’ and ‘employer paid healthcare.’ These phrases are problematic because they frame the issue in a way that puts the focus on the employer rather than the employee, and because they are so wildly inaccurate. Employers do not provide their employees with healthcare nor do they pay for it. Employees earn their healthcare coverage in the same fashion that they earn their paychecks. Just in the same way that people earn their pay checks and take ownership of the money, and therefore are free to spend it on whatever they like, people also earn and own their healthcare.

Phrases like ’employer provided healthcare,’ and ‘employer paid healthcare,’ give rise to the idea that the employer is paying for their employees’ healthcare rather than that healthcare being earned. Since employees supposedly do not earn healthcare and instead it is provided and paid for by employers, ownership of the healthcare stays with the employer. The issue of ownership gives rise to questions of control. This is what the Hobby Lobby Case was about. Hobby Lobby felt that they own and therefore can control their employees healthcare. 

If we were to simply shift our view of healthcare from ‘employer provided’ to ‘employee earned,’ many tricky issues regarding religious liberty will simply vanish. 

Employers do not ‘provide’ or ‘pay’ for their employees’ healthcare any more than they provide them with or pay for their employees’ T-shirts, couches, beer, cell phones, etc. Employees buy them with money they earned at their jobs. Since they earned the money they own it and are free to use it to buy whatever they like even though their employer may have a religious objection to them buying certain things like certain books, beer etc.

I think that viewing healthcare and all other benefits as ‘earned compensation’ would lead many people to take a different opinion about the Hobby Lobby case. So far I haven’t seen many publications or blogs frame the debate in this manner although I hope that maybe in the future I will.

Kurdish regional government to hold referendum on independence

UN 'Dysfunction' at Heart of Slow Response to Humanitarian Crises

-Dennis Fitzgerald , “UN ‘Dysfunction’ at Heart of Slow Response to Humanitarian Crises,” UN Tribune.

This has been growing problem for some time. It was clearly brought to light in 2006 after the war between Hezbollah and Israel. After the war, the UN moved in with aid only to find that Hezbollah had already begun rebuilding people’s homes, compensated them for damage, and set up make shift hospitals. Despite the dubious nature of Hezbollah, much can be learned from the structure and function of their organization.

Education and Economics

"The Manchester students argue that “the mainstream within the discipline (neoclassical theory) has excluded all dissenting opinion, and the crisis is arguably the ultimate price of this exclusion. Alternative approaches such as Post-Keynesian, Marxist, and Austrian economics (as well as many others) have been marginalized. The same can be said of the history of the discipline.” As a result, students have little awareness of neoclassical theory’s limits, much less alternatives to it."

-Robert Skidelsky, “Post-Crash Economics,” Project Syndicate.

Students at the University of Manchester are dissatisfied with the economics curriculum that only teaches the neo-liberal capitalist approach to economics.

The Nicaraguan Canal

Map of Nicaragua and Panama

As being reported by the BBC, Nicaragua wants to build a canal through its country connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Supposedly, they will break ground this year and finish by 2019. If this happens this would be quite a feat, although not the first time it would have been tried. In fact, prior to the building of the Panama Canal, Nicaragua was the preferred location for a canal.

In the mid-nineteenth century interest in the United States for building a canal began to gain momentum. Most of the initial efforts to plan for the construction of a canal focused on Nicaragua. In the US interest in building a canal was driven in part by the need for more efficient travel for trade ships but also by a desire to control the operation of any canal for the sake of keeping the Europeans out.

The construction and control of a hypothetical Central American canal was a source of tension between the then superpower (the British Empire) and a rising power (the United States). The tension was so acute that a treaty (Clayton-Bulwer, 1850, which was widely criticized as a violation of the Monroe Doctrine) was hammered out in which both the US and Great Britain agreed that any canal would be jointly administered. 

In 1876, President Grant’s secretary of State, Hamilton Fish, attempted to ‘negotiate’ a treaty for the construction of a canal with the Nicaraguan government. However, Nicaraguan envoy Adan Cardenas rejected the US’s terms because they would have given the United States and Great Britain too much control of the canal and forfeited much of Nicaragua’s sovereignty.  

Again in 1884, President Arthur’s Secretary of State, Frederick Frelinghuysen, attempted to secure the rights to build a canal through Nicaragua. Frelinghuysen negotiated a treaty with Nicaragua’s minister to the United States, Joaquín Zavala. The Frelinghuysen-Zavala treaty provided for a joint US-Nicaraguan administration of the canal and a US guarantee of Nicaraguan sovereignty. Both sides agreed to terms however the treaty was not ratified in the US Senate.

Eventually, as is well known, the United States under President Theodore Roosevelt, assisted Panamanian rebels in seceding from Colombia in exchange for rights to build and exclusively control a canal through the Isthmus of Panama.

What I find interesting and relevant in this story is that early on, questions regarding the control of a canal produced tension between the United States and Great Britain. Could a new canal in Nicaragua create similar tensions between the current superpower, the US, and the rising power of China (a Chinese engineering firm will design and construct the canal)?