Concentrations of people and economic activity

March 27, 2017

The USA is a big country.  But its population and economic activity are not evenly spread across the country.

Here are the counties where half the U.S. population lives.

Here are counties where half of U.S. economic activity takes place.

And, below, the counties carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016—in blue, of course.   She carried 88 of the 100 largest U.S. counties.

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Sign of the thymes

March 25, 2017

Image via mlkshk.

Mike Whitney on U.S. anti-Russian policy

March 24, 2017

Will Washington Risk WW3 to Block an Emerging Russia-EU Superstate? by Mike Whitney for Counterpunch.

Map via Wikimedia

Matt Taibbi on Trump the destroyer

March 23, 2017

Trump the Destroyer: Trump has stuffed his cabinet with tyrants, zealots and imbeciles—all bent on destroying our government from within by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.   Highly recommended.

A brief history of cyber-scares

March 22, 2017

From Russia, With Panic: Cozy bears, unsourced hacks—and a Silicon Valley shakedown by Yasha Levine for The Baffler.   It’s a bit long, but well worth reading in its entirety.

FBI’s James Comey caught in the middle

March 21, 2017

FBI director James Comey

During the 2016 election campaign, Bill Clinton had a long conversation with FBI director James Comey’s boss, Attorney General Loretta Lynch.   Later Hillary Clinton said that, if elected, she would re-appoint Lynch.

All this immediately cast suspicion on the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified e-mails.    Usually, when the FBI is conducting an investigation, its spokesmen say nothing until the investigation is completed, and charges are filed, or not filed.

Comey’s comments about Clinton when the FBI decided not to file charges, and his further comments, may have been an attempt to show he wasn’t a tool of Lynch or the Clintons.  His motives are unknowable, of course, but that is my guess.

It didn’t work.  Clinton supporters were engaged by his comments, but Trump supporters also were enraged because he didn’t charge Clinton with anything.

His disclosure that the FBI is investigating possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence may mean as little as his disclosure of the investigation of Clinton’s e-mails.    The mere fact of an investigation proves nothing.   There’s no way to know until the investigation is over.

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Donald Trump’s bogus infrastructure program

March 20, 2017

Here is something Donald Trump said during the Presidential campaign:

“We have spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people that, frankly, … if we could have spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges and all of the other problems, our airports and all of the other problems we have, we would have been a lot better off — I can tell you that right now,” Trump said.  “We have done a tremendous disservice not only to the Middle East — we’ve done a tremendous disservice to humanity.  The people that have been killed, the people that have been wiped away, and for what?  It’s not like we had victory.  It’s a mess.  The Middle East is totally destabilized, a total and complete mess.”

Source: The Huffington Post

What he said then was true.  But his current policy reflects just the opposite philosophy.  His infrastructure program consists of providing tax breaks for contractors, and giving control of public assets to public companies.   And it’s not as if he intends to pull back on military intervention in the Middle East.

LINKS

Trump’s Infrastructure Boondoggle by Mike Whitney for Counterpunch.

Alluring Infrastructure Income by Michael Hudson.

Donald Trump’s budget priorities

March 20, 2017

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President Trump’s budget calls for tax reductions for the rich, increased spending for the military and police and austerity for everybody else except veterans.

There isn’t enough money for programs of material benefit to the American public (except veterans programs, which I favor), but there is plenty of money for the military and police if the people rise up against the government.

These would be the priorities of an unpopular Third World dictator.  It reminds me of  something the SF writer Charles Stross once wrote about preemptive counter-revolution.

LINKS

White House Says Cutting Meals on Wheels Is ‘Compassionate’ by Eric Levitz for New York magazine.

Putting Trump’s Budget in Perspective by Ruth Cuniff for The Progressive.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Here’s How Donald Trump’s Budget Screws Over the People Who Elected Him by Tim Murphy for Mother Jones.

Why Trump’s budget may be ‘devastating’ to his supporters by Peter Grier and Francine Kiefer for the Christian Science Monitor.

Trump’s budget would cut funding for Appalachia – and his allies in coal country are livid by Brad Plumer for Vox [Added 3/21/2017]

Charts via The Progressive, Motley Fool.

Wall Street bonuses outweigh minimum wage pay

March 20, 2017

Most Wall Street activity is devoted to diverting money from one person’s pockets to another person’s pockets.   Most minimum wage workers do things that are directly beneficial to people.

The past financial crash was worse because Wall Street bankers and financiers took risks with other people’s’ money.   The coming financial crash will be worse for the same reason.

The Wall Street bonus system is an incentive to take risks, because the managers get to keep the bonuses when they win and they do not have to give them back when they lose.

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Democrats easing off on Russia hacking charge

March 19, 2017

Democratic war hawks are backing off their charges that Donald Trump’s victory was due to Vladimir Putin’s manipulations.

For war hawks, these charges may have served their purpose in making Trump back off from plans to make peace with Russia, and in casting suspicion on anybody who advocates peace with Russia.

For Democrats, the Russia conspiracy theory provided a basis for attacking Trump personally without having to propose constructive alternatives to his policies.   But if investigations produce no evidence of any Trump-Putin collusion, these attacks will backfire.

Update 3/21/2017:  Evidently I spoke too soon.   Trump opponents seem determined to keep the investigation of Trump-Russia contacts going as long as possible, even though every article I’ve read contains a paragraph somewhere that says there is no evidence of collusion between Trump campaign officials and Russian intelligence.

I suppose Democrats, war hawks and especially Democratic war hawks think they have nothing to lose by keeping the pressure on, even if nothing significant is uncovered in the end.

FBI director James Comey reported that the FBI has been investigating possible Trump-Russia connections since last July.   It will be interesting to know what, if anything, the investigation discovers.  The mere fact that an investigation is going on has no more significance that the fact of that Hillary Clinton’s handling of her e-mails was being investigated.

LINKS

Key Democratic Officials Now Warning Not to Expect Evidence of Trump / Russia Connection by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept.

The Democrats’ Anti-Russia Campaign Falls Apart by Moon of Alabama.

The Missing Logic of Russia-gate by Robert Parry for Consortium News [Added 3/21/2017]

The GOP is going to try to rush the Russian investigation | Democrats shouldn’t let them by Alex Shephard for The New Republic.  The politics of the investigation.  [Added 3/21/2017]

Donald Trump’s real Russian connections

March 18, 2017

If you were looking for links between Donald Trump and Russia, you’d be more likely to find them by investigating Trump’s sleazy business dealings than his 2016 election campaign.

His connections with racketeers in the construction business in New York City and in casino gambling in Atlantic City, N.J., were well-known before the election, so it wouldn’t be surprising that he would have dealings with Russian racketeers and oligarchs as well.

I don’t claim—and none of the writers of the linked articles below claim—that there is proof that Donald Trump broke any specific law.   The significance of his associations and business deals are as evidence by which the public can judge his character.  Of course we voters had plenty of evidence about his character before the 2016 election.

I think it’s possible that Trump’s views about Russia prior to the election were influenced by his Russian cronies.   I favor an impartial investigation into whether Trump had any improper ties with Russia.

But I also think this investigation would be pretty much a footnote to what is going on now.  We don’t have to speculate about what Trump’s policy toward Russia will be.  We see it in action.  Trump caved in to the anti-Russia war hawks.  Regardless of what Trump’s motives may or may not be, this is a bad thing, not a good thing.

LINKS

The Curious World of Donald Trump’s Private Russian Connections by James S. Henry for The American Interest.

Did Russian Oligarch Rybolovlev Bailout Trump? an interview of James S. Henry for the Real News Network.   (Hat tip to O)

The Florida mansion that Donald Trump sold to a Russian billionaire now torn down by Glen Garvin for McClatchy newspapers.

Donald Trump’s Worst Deal by Adam Davidson for The New Yorker.

How Did an Alleged Russian Mobster End Up on Trump’s Red Carpet? by David Corn and Hannah Levintova for Mother Jones.

The strange beauty of the Martian landscape

March 18, 2017

Hat tip to kottke.org.

Click on this and this for more by photographer Jan Fröjdman.

The Irish in old New York

March 17, 2017

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I strongly recommend Slaughter on Eighth Avenue: a St Patrick’s Day Commemoration by John Dolan for Pando Daily.

Why and how Britannia ruled the waves

March 16, 2017

One hundred years ago, the British Empire and Commonwealth comprised one-fourth of humanity.   There were British colonies on every continent, and nations on every continent with whom Britain was their greatest trading partner.

Yet this power was largely an illusion.   Britain no longer had the industrial and financial power to maintain a global empire and, 50 years later, it was no longer a world power.

Today the United States is seemingly as supreme as Great Britain was then.   The USA has more than 800 military bases in 160 countries; it can project its military power to places as far from home as Afghanistan and Iraq.

Yet this, too, is largely an illusion.   Our American industrial and economic power is as hollow now as Britain’s was back then.  I don’t think it will take as long as 50 years for this to become apparent.

A few weeks ago, I happened to pick up Paul M. Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery (1976, 1983) in a second-hand bookstore.  Kennedy has a deep understanding of the relationship between military power, economic power, technology and geopolitics, and the ability to explain complex matters clearly.

His book is fascinating for itself, and for its implications for American power.   His story begins in the 16th century, when England depended on sea power, diplomacy and a balance of power to preserve its independence from the powerful Spanish Empire and French Kingdom.   The English Navy was under-financed and under-paid; it used privateers and buccaneers as a kind of guerrilla navy.

In the 17th century, Britain was torn by internal conflict, including a full-scale Civil War.   The British avoided conflict with France and Spain, the great European powers, but built up their merchant marine and fought three wars with the Dutch for rule of the seas.

The British established naval bases worldwide and founded colonies in North America.  Maritime commerce became a source of national wealth and power.   By the end of the century, Britain had subdued Scotland and Ireland, and overcome its internal religious divisions.

Theaters of Britain’s war with France, 1754-1763

From 1689 to 1815, Britain fought a succession of wars against France, all of which (except the French-backed U.S. War of Independence) left Britain richer and more powerful and at the point of becoming the world’s only global power.

The growing British merchant marine added not only to Britain’s wealth, but her number of seamen and access to naval stores.  Wars on French commerce enriched British merchants and shipowners.  Victories added to her colonies and naval bases.   Britain’s new wealth, plus its commercial spirit and resources of coal and iron, gave rise to industrial revolution.

In the 19th century, British supremacy at sea was unchallenged.  There was a kind of naval-industrial complex.  The British Navy created a market for the shipbuilding industry, iron industry (for cannon) and other products, and spurred industrial innovation.

As the first industrial nation, Britain was for a time the workshop of the world.   Industrial power reinforced sea power, and sea power helped open markets for the products of British industry.

During all this time, as Kennedy noted, Britain never tried to dominate the continent of Europe, and could not have done so if it tried.  Instead it tried to maintain a balance of power among the great European countries.    The British could not avoid fighting in Europe, but were unable to win without the support of allies, often financially subsidized allies.

The 19th century British tried to make their world empire acceptable to other European nations.   The British Navy suppressed piracy and the African slave trade (which had been a big source of British wealth in previous centuries).   It financed scientific expeditions, laid oceanic telegraph cables and public navigational charts–all to public benefit.

But in the middle of the 19th century, technological developments shifted the advantage from sea power to land power.

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Getting the facts right about Trump

March 15, 2017

During the 40 years I worked on newspapers, I sometimes got the story wrong through finding facts, or seeming facts, that proved what I thought all along—and then looking no further.  The same thing has happened with posts on this blog.

I think a lot of the reporting on Donald Trump is bad for precisely this reason.

President Trump himself sometimes says things that are obviously not true, and then refuses to back down.  I get that.

But if you’re going to accuse someone of dealing in “fake news” and “alternative facts,” people (other than those who already agree with you) are not going to believe you unless you are careful about the facts yourself.

The writers I trust the most are the ones who report facts that are contrary to their points of view—what lawyers call “admissions against interest.”   The links below are by writers who dislike Donald Trump, but dislike inaccuracy more.

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Eight people own as much as 3.6 billion do

March 14, 2017
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This is old news, I guess, but worth keeping in mind.  In the years right before the French Revolution, did eight aristocrats own as much as the poorest 50 percent of the French peasants?

LINKS

Visualizing a Disturbing Truth: 8 Billionaires Own As Much as 3.6 Billion People for howmuch.   Explains who the eight billionaires are.

Income share for the bottom 50 percent of Americans is collapsing, new Piketty research finds by Steve Goldstein for MarketWatch.

Doug Muder on how health insurance works

March 13, 2017

Poor People Need BETTER Insurance Than the Rest of Us, Not Worse by Doug Muder for The Weekly Sift.

Siberian tigers hunt and capture drone

March 11, 2017

Click on boing boing for details.

The best way to sift the Trump-Russia allegations

March 7, 2017

The best way to deal with the suspicions and charges that the Trump election campaign colluded with Russians is to appoint a bi-partisan commission of respected individuals to investigate.

This commission should have full authority to read secret transcripts collected by U.S. intelligence agencies and any other classified information relevant to the case, and authority to publish such information as can be done with jeopardizing sources and agents.

It should have full authority to subpoena witnesses and require  testimony under penalty of perjury.

It is a federal crime for a foreign national to contribute to a candidate in a U.S. election, or for anyone to solicit or accept such a contribution.   This would most definitely include the contribution of secret intelligence information.

If a Presidential candidate knowingly accept foreign help, I would say it is an impeachable offense.

The charter of the bi-partisan commission should be to determine whether there is any evidence that the Trump administration violated federal election law.

Evidence would include transcripts of communications of Russian agents and testimony by Americans regarding secret meetings of Trump operatives and Russian agents, or documents and records in the Trump campaign acknowledging Russian help, or testimony of Trump campaign operatives.

Routine contacts between Trump supporters and Russian diplomats or business people, especially if in public or in front of witnesses, would not be evidence of violation of election laws.

Even past business relationships of Trump operatives or even Trump himself with corrupt Russian oligarchs or business operations would not be such evidence—although very interesting to know.

I think it important that such an investigation be carried out by respected individuals in a bipartisan commission, and not by a special prosecutor who would consider himself or herself a failure if they didn’t find grounds to indict somebody.

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Donald Trump didn’t come out of nowhere

March 7, 2017

During the election campaign, I wrote that Donald Trump is intellectually, temperamentally and morally unfit to be President of the United States.  Nothing since then has changed my mind.

But it is not as if Trump overturned a well-functioning system.   The United States was already committed to perpetual war and rule by Wall Street.

My friend Bill Elwell called my attention to an article by Tom Engelhardt, who wrote in part:

Odd as it may seem under the circumstances, Trump’s presidency came from somewhere, developed out of something. To think of it (as many of those resisting Trump now seem inclined to do) as uniquely new, the presidential version of a virgin birth, is to defy both history and reality.

Donald Trump, whatever else he may be, is most distinctly a creature of history. He’s unimaginable without it.  This, in turn, means that the radical nature of his new presidency should serve as a reminder of just how radical the 15 years after 9/11 actually were in shaping American life, politics and governance. 

In that sense, to generalize (if you’ll excuse the pun), his presidency already offers a strikingly vivid and accurate portrait of the America we’ve been living in for some years now, even if we’d prefer to pretend otherwise.

After all, it’s clearly a government of, by and evidently for the billionaires and the generals, which pretty much sums up where we’ve been heading for the last decade and a half anyway. 

Let’s start with those generals.  In the 15 years before Trump entered the Oval Office, Washington became a permanent war capital; war, a permanent feature of our American world; and the military, the most admired institution of American life, the one in which we have the most confidence among an otherwise fading crew, including the presidency, the Supreme Court, public schools, banks, television news, newspapers, big business and Congress (in that descending order).  […]

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The rent is too damn high

March 7, 2017
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Double click to enlarge

This chart shows how the cost of different necessities and amenities of life have changed over the past 75 years.

The high and rising costs of housing stands out, but the cost of health care and education also are going steadily up.

I’d guess the falling cost of food is due to technology and the falling cost of clothing is due to globalization.

But why hasn’t technology brought down the cost of housing and transportation?

LINK

Unprecedented Spending Trends in America, in One Chart, by howmuch.  Remember that the figures are adjusted for inflation.

Considerations on Cost Disease by Scott Alexander for Slate Star Codex.

On the trail of the Russian red herring

March 6, 2017

The Watergate investigation was to determine responsibility for a definite crime—the Watergate burglary and its cover-up.  Its result was the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon under threat of impeachment.

The Whitewater investigation was a fishing expedition to find a crime for which President Bill Clinton could be blamed.   Its result was a failed impeachment of Clinton for lying about his sex life.

The investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged contacts with Russians is more like the Whitewater investigation than the Watergate investigation.

spy-vs-spy-without-bombs-775529In the investigation of Trump campaign officials’ contacts with Russians, nobody has produced evidence of any wrongdoing or even claimed they have such evidence.

What you have is reports of conversations between Russian diplomats and politicians and Trump supporters.  It is not a crime to talk to a Russian.  It is not even suspicious behavior.  Talking to foreigners and diplomats is something that Washington politicians and officials do all the time.

The biggest harm the Russian red herring does for progressives is to give Donald Trump a free ride on creating a government of militarists and Wall Street plutocrats.

And his actual policies—tax cuts for the rich, increased spending for the military and austerity for everybody else, privatization of public education and infrastructure, covert attacks on Medicaid, free rein to polluters, attacks on science, climate change denial, and much more..

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Bertrand Russell’s shortest book

March 4, 2017

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Click on HISTORY OF THE WORLD in epitome (for use in Martian infant schools), and scroll down, to read the text and illustrations.

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An open letter to Presidents Trump and Putin

March 3, 2017

The following is an open letter to Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, signed by David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and others.  The Bertrand Russell Society, of which I am a member, endorses it.

nuclearbomb510672745_b79a1a057a_oThis may be the most dangerous time in human history.

In a dramatic recent decision, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has moved its iconic Doomsday Clock ahead from three minutes to only two-and-a-half minutes to midnight.

Humankind faces two existential challenges of global and potentially apocalyptic scope: nuclear weapons and climate change.

Our focus here is on nuclear dangers, but we strongly encourage you, Presidents Trump and Putin, to undertake in a spirit of urgency all necessary steps to avert further global warming.

As the leaders of the United States and Russia, the two countries with the largest nuclear arsenals, you have the grave responsibility of assuring that nuclear weapons are not used — or their use overtly threatened — during your period of leadership.

The most certain and reliable way to fulfill this responsibility is to negotiate with each other, and the other governments of nuclear-armed states, for their total elimination.

The U.S. and Russia are both obligated under Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to engage in such negotiations in good faith for an end to the nuclear arms race and for complete nuclear disarmament.  Your success in this endeavor would make you heroes of the Nuclear Age.

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A propaganda war is not really a war

March 1, 2017

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The New Yorker ran a long article about Russian propaganda and how the Russian government sees propaganda as a weapon of war.

The article, though one-sided, contains interesting information.  My problem with it is that the writers treat propaganda—including truthful propaganda—as the equivalent of war.

The U.S. government during the past 15 years has waged war by means of aerial bombardment, targeted assassinations, economic sanctions, arming terrorists and warlords and actual invasions of  foreign countries that do not threaten us.  Russia has done some of the same things, although on a smaller scale.

There is a strong possibility of a military confrontation between Russia and the United States that could risk a nuclear war.

Russian attempts to influence American and European public opinion seem fairly benign in contrast.

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