War and peace: Links & comments 7/22/14

July 22, 2014

Lessons from America’s War for the Greater Middle East by Andrew Bacevich for Notre Dame magazine.

Andrew Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations, retired career Army officer and self-described conservative Catholic, talks as much good sense about American military and foreign policy as anybody I know about.

In this article, he traces American policy toward the Middle East from the 1980 Carter Doctrine, which stated that the U.S. would use force to protect access to the oil of the Persian Gulf, down to the present day.  He sees more continuity than differences between the Democratic and Republican administrations.

The policy is based on the hope that, by the application of force, the United States can counter tendencies in the Islamic war that threaten American interests.  The result has been death and destruction, with the result that the people of the Middle East see the United States as the main threat to their freedom and well-being.

Bacevich says its time to stop ignoring reality and attempting the impossible.

Ukraine Open Thread (and Links) on Naked Capitalism.

Fact-Free Zone by Dmitry Orlov on ClubOrlov.

‘It was Putin’s missile’ by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

I don’t know who shot down the MH-17 airliner over Ukraine.  I agree with President Obama that a thorough and complete investigation is needed to determine the facts.  Why, then, is he ramping up a cold war against Russia, as if all the facts were known?

Israel mows the lawn by Mouin Rabbani for the London Review of Books

The author says the policy of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to prevent, by any means necessary, the emergence of a Palestinian state that is independent in fact and not just in name.  The last thing Netanyahu wants is a peace process.

What would William Wilberforce do?

July 22, 2014

Refugees from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala are fleeing to Mexico and many other countries, not just the United States.  But there is a particular reason, besides the obvious economic reason, why so many of the refugees are unaccompanied children.

This is the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Re-authorization Act, passed with broad Democratic and Republican support and signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008.  Children were already turning up at the border then, and Central American children turned back into Mexico were easy prey for prostitution rings and other human traffickers.

William Wilberforce

William Wilberforce

It provided that any child caught crossing the border, if not from Mexico or Canada, would be granted a hearing to determine whether they were genuine refugees.

Under the international Refugee Convention, signing nations are required to give refuge to persons with a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of race, religion, nationality, group membership or political opinion, and no protection from their own government.

The law was appropriately named for William Wilberforce, the great British Evangelical Christian reformer, who campaigned for the abolition of the African slave trade and then for the abolition of slavery in the British West Indies.

I think he would have approved of the law that was enacted in his name, and I think he would have been sad to see American politicians breaking their nation’s promise to give refuge to children.

Of course once the law was enacted, word filtered down to Central America that unaccompanied children, if caught by the Border Patrol, would have a shot at being able to stay in the United States—even though somebody fleeing criminal gangs does not really fit the technical definition of refugee.

We Americans remember how in 1939 our government turned away ships carrying Jewish refugees because of our immigration restrictions, and how many of these Jewish people were later killed by the Nazis.  We will have further cause for shame if we turn away children who wind up being killed or forced into prostitution and crime.

Read the rest of this entry »

Why so many child refugees on the border?

July 21, 2014

I try to imagine myself at age 13 or 14, leaving home by myself, jumping on freight cars for thousands of miles, and entering a foreign country where I don’t speak the language, as thousands of children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are doing.

I try to imagine the desperate situation that would make my parents think that this was the best option.


Child migrants, Ixtpec, Mexico (photo CIPA Americas program)

Why then would they do it?  Why would their parents tolerate it?  One reason is that these three countries have become hellholes of violent crime and that they are at greater risk if they stay where they are.   The other is a U.S. law, which will be the subject of another post.

Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate.  Reporters who’ve interviewed Honduran families tell of young girls who fear being raped and becoming sex slaves of criminal gangs, of boys who fear being murdered if they don’t join the gangs.

Sonia Nazario, author of a book, Enrique’s Journey, about Honduran child refugees, described the situation in an interview with National Public Radio.

The people [drug cartels] are targeting as their foot soldiers are children. Christian [an 11-year-old Honduran boy] told me about going to school, his elementary school, and how the narcos were pressuring him to use marijuana and crack at 11 years old.

And then they threatened to beat him up if he didn’t use that and work with them.  And he knew what was coming next.  These children are recruited to work as lookouts, to rob people, to extort people, and then, ultimately, to become hit men for the narcos.

In many schools, the teachers have to pay a war tax to be able to teach.  Students have to pay rent to be able to go to school.  In this elementary school — Christian’s elementary school — a 12-year-old would show up, who is part of the narco-cartels, and he would say, “I want these three 10-year-olds to help me distribute crack today.”

And the teacher who questioned him had a pistol put to her head.  So, in many of these schools, they are controlled de facto by the narco-cartels.”

via What Honduran Children Are Fleeing | Here & Now.

Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are among the world’s top five countries in homicide rates.

I think that one reason for this is that Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have been ruled by dictatorships that have waged war against their own people, supported by the CIA and the U.S. military in the name of fighting Communism.

I think the result of all this violence has been the destruction of the structure of society and the elimination of all sources of authority except men with guns—the military and the drug lords.   Or so it seems to me, based on admittedly limited reading.

Nicaragua, under the pro-Communist Sandinista regime and its successors, managed to avoid this.  Nicaragua’s murder rate is less than 1/10th that of Honduras and about 1/3 that of Mexico. But I admit that it’s complicated, and there is no single reason that explains everything.

Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are battlefields of the drug war, but, sadly, ending the drug war won’t make the narco gangs go away, any more than ending alcohol prohibition in the United States made organized crime go away in this country.  I don’t have a good answer to any of this.   All I know is that teenage Central American boys and girls are not to blame for the world they find themselves in.

Read the rest of this entry »

What’s wrong with the Republicans

July 21, 2014

A blogger named Brandon Finnigan had a thought:  What if the Republican Party broke with Wall Street and K-street and became the party that opposed corporate bailouts and subsidies?

Such a policy would be popular.  The rank and file of both political parties want to see the too-big-to-fail banks broken up and financial criminals prosecuted [1].   I, for one, would be pleased to see the Republican Party become the advocate for the property-owning middle class, just as I would be pleased to see the Democratic Party become the advocate for wage earners.

RepublicanpartylogoBut there are structural reasons why both parties go against the wishes and the interests of their core supporters.   One is the structure of campaign finance, which means that, ordinarily, no candidate can run for office who is not acceptable to the richest campaign contributors.

Political scientist Thomas Ferguson says that voters may decide the elections, but they only get to choose between candidates that have been screened by the monied interests.  If this is an exaggeration, it is a small one.  Recent decisions by the Republican-dominated Supreme Court make this even worse than it has been.

Along with this is that government regulators and congressional representatives who serve the corporate interests well are guaranteed good corporate jobs when they leave public service.

Both parties are subject to the need to please campaign contributors and to the attraction of well-paid post-political jobs.  But the Republicans have a special problem.

Many Republicans sincerely believe that there is something admirable, in and of itself, about getting rich, no matter how the riches were acquired.  And they also believe that there is something contemptible, in and of itself, about being poor, no matter what the reason for poverty.  They agree with Mitt Romney that 47 percent of Americans are parasites, even when they are among the 47 percent themselves.

Democrats who serve corporate interests have to pretend to be something they aren’t.  This isn’t true of Republicans, or at least much less true.  John McCain, Mitt Romney and Ted Cruz, unlike Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, are what they seem to be.

A return by the Republican Party to the principles of Theodore Roosevelt or even Dwight Eisenhower would be a good thing.   Making it happen is easier said than done.


Can Anti-Corporate Populism Save the GOP’s Electoral Fortunes? by Brandon Finnigan for The Federalist.

Eric Cantor parties in Hamptons, campaigning for Wall Street job by Terence Cullen for the New York Daily News.   The rewards that await a top pro-Wall Street congressman.

I was poor but a GOP die-hard: How I left the politics of shame by Edwin Lyngar for Slate.

[1] Finnigan didn’t specifically proposed breaking up big banks or prosecuting financial fraud, but I think these things are consistent with his idea of free-market populism.

What’s wrong with the Democrats

July 21, 2014

If you think of Barack Obama as a liberal, he is a political failure.  If you think of him as a conservative, he is a political genius.

He told a group of Wall Street bankers early in his administration that he was the only thing standing between them and the mob with pitchforks.  And he in fact has succeeded in protecting them from angry bi-partisan public opinion.

Newsweek - Obama - The Democrats ReaganNo Republican president would have dared, as President Obama has done, to proposed cuts in Social Security and Medicare in return for modest tax increases and a balanced budget.  Yet he gets a pass on this, because of his political skills and because right-wing Republicans attack him for all the wrong reasons.

Obama gets the votes of African-Americans even though he continues a war on drugs that sends millions of poor young black men to prison for trivial reason, and makes them legitimate targets for racial discrimination.  He gets the votes of pro-immigration Hispanic voters even though he is deporting unauthorized migrants in record numbers.  It takes great political skill to do this.

Recently he suggested privatization of U.S. roads and bridges inasmuch as Congress and state governments decline to appropriate the necessary money for their upkeep.  He cited Ohio’s sale of the Ohio Turnpike as a good example.   This is something that, if Barry Goldwater had proposed it 50 years ago, would have been considered an example of right-wing extremism.

History shows this is a bad idea.  In the early days of the United States, turnpikes were built by private corporations with bonds paid off by road tolls.   The problem with this, and the reason we have a public roads system (as authorized by Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution) is that the private companies treated the toll roads as cash cows.   They didn’t maintain them because people had to use the roads whether they had potholes or not.   I predict the same problem will arise with the Ohio Turnpike.

But, as disappointed as I am in Barack Obama, I recognize he is not an aberration.  Hillary Clinton is no better.   They are part of a larger systemic problem, which is that it is difficult to govern and virtually impossible to run for high office without the support of powerful monied interests.


Right-wing obstructionism could have been fought: An ineffective and gutless presidency’s legacy is failure by Thomas Frank for Salon.

Obama Shifts to Urge Private Investment in Roads, Bridges by Lisa Lerer and Angela Grelling Keane for Business Week

What I fear more than I fear death

July 20, 2014

Leading causes of death in the United States

Something that frightens me much more than death is the prospect of having my body outlive my mind.  Death is, literally, nothing.  What scares me is the prospect of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or any other condition where my physical body is kept alive but only disconnected and chaotic fragments of my mind remain.  I would much rather have a sudden fatal heart attack while shoveling snow one winter morning.


The Next Plague: Alzheimer’s by Maggie Mahar for Health Beat.

How Doctors Stymie the Wishes of the Elderly by Maggie Mahar for Health Beat (via Naked Capitalism).

Longevity and Long-Term Care: the Medical Crisis of the 21st Century by Maggie Mahar for Health Beat.

Our unrealistic views of death, through a doctor’s eyes by Craig Bowron for the Washington Post.  [Added 7/21/14.  Hat tip to Rod Dreher]

Why I wouldn’t want to live forever

July 20, 2014

[This is the draft of a lay sermon given at First Universalist Church of Rochester, N.Y., on July 20, 2014]

I remember lying in a hospital bed some 20 years ago after having had a pre-cancerous lobe of my right lung removed.  I got to thinking that this body part was not going to regenerate and that, in fact, the warranty had expired on many of my body parts.

Lying there in the bed, I began to fantasize about what it would be like if this wasn’t so—if I didn’t have to grow old and die, if I could live indefinitely, in vigorous physical and mental health, like  Robert A. Heinlein’s Lazarus Long or Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s Saint Germain.

life's.clockI imagined having infinite time to do everything I ever had dreamed of doing.  I could read every book I ever wanted to read.  I could study every subject I was ever interested in, and could master every skill I lacked.  I could travel and see every sight I ever wanted to see.  There would be nothing I could not do—that is, if I were capable of doing it and willing to do the work.

I tried to imagine my future life for 50 or 100 or 200 years into the future and, to my surprise, I couldn’t imagine a future that I would like.

 There are only two things I know with certainty about the future.  One is that it will not be like the present.  The other is that I can’t predict it.  I am amazed at the transformations that have taken place during my lifetime.  None of the changes that I expected in my youth have come about, but things that I took for granted have been utterly transformed.  Sometimes it seems to me that the only things that haven’t changed are the structures of economic and political power.

The future brings the challenge of having to adapt to change.  Learning new things is delightful when it is voluntary.  I delight in things new technology makes possible—my blog, for example.  At the same time I am happy to be old and retired, and to be in a position in which I don’t have to master new knowledge and skills that I’m not interested in.

The worst thing about living forever would be that I would leave my friends behind.  If you live long enough—I haven’t yet lived to that point myself—you see all your contemporaries disappear, one by one.  I have made newer and younger friends, but to me, at age 77, a “young” friend is someone in their 40s or 50s.  I don’t really share the experience and thinking of the new generation.

If I lived long enough, not only everyone that I loved and cared about were gone, but everything that I loved and cared about would be no more.

The world during my lifetime has changed in many ways that I don’t understand and can’t relate to, from the music to the technology to the manners and morals. What would it be like in 50 or 100 or 200 years from now?  I would be as alienated as someone from the 18th or 19th century in the world today.

I am curious to know the future.  The far future would be an interesting place to visit.  But I’m not sure I would want to live there.

What would be the point of living so long if I lived it as a grouchy old man? I already find myself talking much too much about how different things are today from the way they used to be.

Read the rest of this entry »

How much is an adequate tip?

July 19, 2014

Double click to enlarge

I found this interesting and useful chart in an interesting and useful article entitled Everything You Don’t Know About Tipping on the Wait But Why web log.

The passing scene: Links & comments 7/19/14

July 19, 2014

Taking Back America: Here, Finally, Is A Chinese Mega-Blooper—And a Chance For The U.S. To Turn The Tables by Eamon Fingleton for Forbes.

Many American universities are hosts to Confucian Institutes for the study of Chinese language and culture, which are paid for and largely controlled by the government of  China.  In terms of money, a Confucian Institute is a bargain.  In terms of academic freedom, it is a disaster.

Since the days of Mao Zedong, the Chinese government has manipulated Western scholarship by allowing access to the country and to its archives only to scholars whose views it finds acceptable.  No American scholar who works for a Confucian Institute will be able to do research the Chinese government finds displeasing.

I think the likelihood of administrators of American universities breaking their ties with the Chinese government is equivalent to the likelihood of their prioritizing the search for truth over the maximizing of revenue.   Which is not likely anytime soon.

Why the Myers-Briggs test is totally meaningless by Joseph Stromberg for Vox.

The Myers-Briggs personality test classifies people as extroverted or introverted, sensing or intuitive, thinking or feeling, and judging or perceiving on the basis of 93 questions, yielding 16 possible combinations of personality types.

The problems are (1) few people are clearly one or the other of the alternativeds, (2) there is no evidence that Myers-Briggs predicts success or failure in any endeavor and (3) about half the people who take the test twice get different results the second time.   Why then is it so popular?  Marketing, plus entertainment value.

The Pentagon’s $300 Billion Plane to Nowhere by Kate Brannen for Foreign Policy.

When Lockheed Gives You Lemons by Scott Beauchamp for The Baffler.

The U.S. government plans to spend nearly $400 billion to buy 2,443 F-35 fighters, an advanced new warplane that has the disadvantage of being unsafe to fly and almost certainly ineffective in combat.

But if Lockheed Martin’s aeronautical engineering is inadequate, its political engineering is superb.  There are F-35 subcontractors in 45 of the 50 states, and a congressional caucus organized to make the F-35 contract goes through.

Kate Brannen of Foreign Policy quoted a former Pentagon acquisitions officer as saying, “A upfront question with any program now is:  How many congressional districts is it in?”

Read the rest of this entry »

Sunni-Shiite couples form ‘Sushi’ families

July 18, 2014

BqfEw5cIUAEB8myThis origin of this photo is unclear, but it is being widely circulated over Twitter and other social media, and it illustrates an important point—that not all Muslims are caught up in “age old” hatreds. The Iraqi government estimates that 2 million of Iraq’s 6.5 million families are mixed Sunni-Shiite marriages.

Click on Raw Story: Sunni-Shia Family Photo Wins Twitter But Not the War by Jorge Ramos and Colin MacDonald of Fusion TV for background on the photo.  Hat tip for the link to Jack Clontz.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 551 other followers