A brief entertaining history of everything

May 20, 2017

This video by Bill Wurtz is fun and, as far as I can tell, well-researched and accurate.

Hat tip to Jason Kottke, who also linked to Wurtz’s video history of Japan.

Can the Saudis lure the US into a war with Iran?

May 19, 2017

Prince Salman meets with President Trump in March

The young new ruler of Saudi Arabia, Prince Salman bin Mohammad, is trying to organize an alliance of Sunni Muslim nations against Shiite Iran.

And President Donald Trump is expected to endorse an anti-Iranian “Arab NATO” during his forthcoming visit to Saudi Arabia.

This is a terrible idea.   It doesn’t benefit Americans and it risks a war that would be disastrous for both Americans and people in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia is an enormously wealthy nation, but it is thinly populated and militarily weak.  It depends on the United States for its defense.  In return, the Saudis buy billions of dollars in armaments from American companies and pump oil in sufficient quantities to keep world oil prices low.

So the United States since the 1970s has sided with Saudi Arabia and also Israel against their geopolitical rivals in the region.   Once Saudi Arabia’s chief rival and threat was Iraq.  Now it is Iran.

This has nothing to do with making Americans safe from terrorism, and everything to do with promoting the strategic and economic interests of Saudi Arabia.

Read the rest of this entry »

The heroism of Chelsea Manning

May 19, 2017

Chelsea Manning was recently released from Fort Leavenworth military prison after serving seven years of a 35-year sentence for revealing classified information on U.S. war crimes in Iraq and elsewhere.

Glenn Greenwald wrote a fine tribute to her in The Intercept.

In sum, though Manning was largely scorned and rejected in most mainstream Washington circles, she did everything one wants a whistleblower to do: tried to ensure that the public learns of concealed corruption and criminality, with the intent of fostering debate and empowering the citizenry with knowledge that should never have been concealed from them.

Chelsea Manning

And she did it all, knowing that she was risking prison to do so, but followed the dictates of her conscience rather than her self-interest.

But as courageous as that original whistle-blowing was, Manning’s heroism has only multiplied since then, become more multifaceted and consequential. As a result, she has inspired countless people around the world.

At this point, one could almost say that her 2010 leaking to WikiLeaks has faded into the background when assessing her true impact as a human being.

Her bravery and sense of conviction wasn’t a one-time outburst: It was the sustained basis for her last seven years of imprisonment that she somehow filled with purpose, dignity, and inspiration.

The overarching fact of Manning’s imprisonment was its enduring harshness. In 2010, during the first months of her detention in a U.S. Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia, I began hearing reports from her handful of approved visitors about the vindictive and abusive conditions of her confinement: prolonged solitary confinement, being kept in her cell alone for virtually the entire day, gratuitous, ubiquitous surveillance, and worse.

When I called the brig to investigate these claims, I was startled when a brig official confirmed to me, in the most blasé tones, their accuracy.

Read the rest of this entry »

The perilous precedent of impeachment

May 18, 2017

With the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel, we may get answers to the nature of the Trump-Russia relationship based on facts rather than evidence-free leaks based on anonymous sources with their own agendas.

Robert Mueller

Mueller by all accounts is an honest person and a dogged prosecutor, not committed to either political party.   He has a difficult dual mission.

One is to determine the precise natural of the relationship between Donald Trump and his minions with Russia and Russians.

The other is to determine whether any laws have been broken. These are related, but separate.

Conversations between Trump supporters and Russian diplomats are not, in and of themselves, illegal, but we the American people have an interest in knowing what they are.

Conversations between Donald Trump and former FBI Director James Comey about the investigation may have amounted to an obstruction of justice on the part of Trump, which would be an impeachable offense, but this does not throw any light on the alleged Trump-Russia relationship.

I oppose President Trump, but I am not willing to see him removed from office by any means necessary.

For one thing, his replacement will be Vice President Mike Pence, a person of greater maturity and emotional balance than Trump, but just as committed to war and Wall Street.

For another, any justification for removing Trump from office will be a precedent for getting rid of any future radical reformer who threatens the status quo.

The secret agencies of government, the leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties and the Washington press corps would be out to get a Bernie Sanders-type reformer even more than they are out to get Trump.

Read the rest of this entry »

Donald Trump’s Russian admirers

May 17, 2017

The Comey memo and U.S. policy toward Russia

May 17, 2017

The controversy over the FBI’s investigation of President Donald Trump is basically a behind-the-scenes battle over U.S. policy toward Russia.

Trump is being attacked because he wanted to improve relations with Russia, while the leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties, the Washington press corps, the Pentagon and the so-called “intelligence community” seem hell-bent on reviving the Cold War, or worse.

My reason for thinking so is that the anti-Trump campaign suddenly stopped when he ordered a missile attack on Russia’s ally, Syria.   And my suspicion is that it would stop again if he started making threats to Russia over Syria or Ukraine.

That’s not to say that Trump or members of his team may not have done something wrong.  It is just that those in government who are leaking all this anti-Trump information are doing it as a means to an end—to damage Trump politically and sabotage attempts to improve relations with Russia.

The Real News Network broadcast broadcast a good discussion of this subject with Robert English, an expert on Russia.   As English noted, the things that are coming out about Trump are either trivial, or without evidence, or similar to things previous Presidents have done.

He pointed out that the elder George Bush committed a much more serious security breach than Trump is currently being accused of, and that the younger George Bush intentionally released classified information to destroy the reputation of a whistle-blower within the administration.

Read the rest of this entry »

Robert Bolt’s ‘A Man for All Seasons’

May 17, 2017

A Man for All Seasons is a play about Sir Thomas More, a scholar, humanist, statesman and devoted husband and father, who also was a hero who went to his death rather than swear to a false statement.

It may be my favorite play.  Offhand I can’t think of one I like better.  It was first performed in London in 1960.

I saw it in Washington, D.C., in the early 1960s.  Recently I took part in a reading of it organized by my friend Walter Uhrman.

The things I liked and admired about the play are its language and characters; its staging and lighting, which gave it a timeless relevancy; and its non-banal affirmation of human dignity and integrity.

More was beheaded on the order of King Henry VIII for his refusal to affirm that the Pope was wrong in refusing him permission to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon, and marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn.

The play is about More’s struggle to find a way to stay alive without sacrificing his integrity, and his final decision to choose integrity over life.

There is a passage I particularly like about the rule of law—the principle that nobody is above the duty to obey the law and nobody is below the right to protection of the law.

   WILLIAM ROPER:  Arrest him.
    SIR THOMAS MORE: For what? ……
    MARGARET MORE: Father, that man’s bad
    THOMAS MORE: There’s no law against that.
    ROPER: There is!  God’s law!
    THOMAS MORE: Then God can arrest him……
    ALICE MORE (exasperated): While you talk, he’s gone.
    THOMAS MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law.
    ROPER: So now you’d give the Devil the benefit of law.
    THOMAS MORE Yes.  What would you do?  Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
    ROPER:  I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
    THOMAS MORE (roused and excited)  Oh? (advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil himself turned round on you—where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? (he leaves him)
    This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast—man’s laws, not God’s—and if you cut them down—and you’re just the man to do it—d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (quietly) Yes, I’d give the Devil himself the benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

Here is another passage I like.

     SIR THOMAS MORE: … If we lived in a State where virtue was profitable, common sense would make us good and greed would make us saintly. And we’d live like animals or angels in the happy land that needs no heroes.
     But since in fact we see that avarice, anger, envy, pride, sloth, lust and stupidity commonly profit far beyond humility, chastity, fortitude, justice and thought, and have to choose, to be human at all, why then perhaps we must stand fast a little… .

 In the play, there are two opponents to More’s point of view.

One is Thomas Cromwell, the ruthless Machiavellian power-worshiper, who is tasked with the mission of forcing More to give him or, failing that, providing a justification for sending him to his death.

The other is a figure that Bolt calls the Common Man, an actor who introduces each scene and also plays the part of More’s servant, a boatman, a jailer, a juryman and, in the last scene, the headsman.

He represents the common sense view of the ordinary person, who tries to stay out of trouble and who goes along to get along.

Read the rest of this entry »

The FBI never was chartered by law

May 16, 2017

I hadn’t known until today that the Federal Bureau of Investigation never was established by law.

President Theodore Roosevelt wanted to create a Bureau of Investigation within the Department of Justice, but Congress refused to act.  So Roosevelt just went ahead and established it by executive order.

So would President Donald Trump not only have the authority to fire the FBI director, but to abolish the FBI itself?

I would guess not, because Congress has appropriated money to fund the FBI and the President doesn’t have a line item budget veto.   And, as a practical matter, the FBI is too powerful and entrenched to be gotten rid of, even though its legal basis is shaky.

I learned about the FBI’s origins by reading an article by Mark Ames, editor of two on-line journals, Pando Daily and The eXiled.   In the article, Ames went on to review the FBI’s history of mass surveillance, suppression of radicals and political blackmail—well worth remembering.

There was a bill in the late 1970s to define—and thereby limit—the FBI’s powers, but it died in Congress.

LINK

The FBI Has No Legal Charter, But Lots of Kompromat by Mark Ames for The eXiled.

Can the U.S. carry out Trump’s military buildup?

May 15, 2017

President Donald Trump has called for a military buildup, which would mean more aircraft carriers, more nuclear submarines, more high-tech weapons of all kinds.

A military analyst named Daniel Gouré wondered whether the United States has the industrial base needed for such a buildup.

For the Army, this means moving forward with near-term modernization and improvements to its existing fleets of tanks, fighting vehicles, artillery, rotorcraft, and rockets.   For the Air Force, it is reaching an economic rate of F-35 production as soon as possible.   For the Navy, it is all about the numbers of Virginia-class SSNs, Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, Ford-class aircraft carriers, LX(R) amphibious warfare ships, and small combatants (Littoral Combat Ship or new Small Surface Combatant).  Without question, a military buildup will require lots of dollars for defense.

But unless the industrial base is prepared to accelerate production, all the money in the world will not produce the desired results.

Source: RealClearDefense

Do we have the industrial base?  U.S. military power depends on U.S. high-tech manufacturing, and the U.S. manufacturing base is declining and dependent on foreign imports.   The U.S. depends on China and other foreign countries for many key electronic components.  The U.S. depends on imports even for basic raw materials such as steel.

We have had two contradictory policies—a industrial policy that accepts U.S. dependence on global supply chains, and a military interventionist policy that depends on U.S. technological superiority.

This contradiction did not originate with President Trump, but it is now his responsibility to deal with it.

High tariffs on imports, as proposed by Trump, won’t solve this problem—at least not overnight.   The hollowing out of the U.S. manufacturing base has been going on for years, and rebuilding it won’t be accomplished overnight.

Read the rest of this entry »

Flowers that bloom in the spring

May 13, 2017

These time-lapse photos were taken by Jamie Scott over a period of three years.  The background music is an original composition by Jim Perkins.   I found this video on the Colossal and kottke.org web sites.

A hypothetical question

May 11, 2017

Suppose Hillary Clinton had won the 2016 election.   Do you think James Comey would have kept his job as director of the FBI?

The real reason James Comey was fired

May 11, 2017

∞∞∞

The official reason given by President Donald Trump for the firing of FBI Director James Comey was his mishandling of the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information—a reason which, as I wrote in the previous post, was justified.

But most people take his real motive to be that fact that Comey is pressing forward with his investigation of ties of Trump and his supporters with Russia and Russians.

You can see this in Trump’s firing letter.  He wrote: While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless …

What would come logically after “I nevertheless…”?   Probably something like this: I nevertheless am under a cloud because of the FBI’s ongoing investigation of possible connections of my people with Russia.

Of course he wouldn’t and didn’t write this, but why mention the investigation at all if that wasn’t what was on his mind?

Read the rest of this entry »

Why James Comey should have been fired

May 10, 2017

The stated reason for President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey is that Comey bungled the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton.

This is true.  Comey did bungle the investigation.

Comey’s FBI also is investigating possible Trump-Russia ties, and his firing smacks of President Nixon’s Saturday night massacre during the Watergate investigation.

James Comey

But the thing is, Comey is just as unfit as Trump says he is.

Trump said he acted on the recommendations of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  Rosenstein said Comey acted improperly last July by announcing the FBI had decided Hillary Clinton shouldn’t be prosecuted for having classified information on her private e-mail server.  Sessions said he agreed with Rosenstein.

Comey’s troubles began last June when ex-President Bill Clinton and Attorney-General Loretta Lynch spent an hour in conversation at an Arizona airport.   They were suspected of discussing the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, especially when Hillary Clinton, a short time later, said that, if elected, she would reappoint Lynch.

Soon thereafter Lynch said she would abide by the recommendations of the FBI and federal prosecutors, no matter what they were.   Comey evidently took this as a green light to announce the results of his investigation, which was a departure from standard FBI practice.

His worse blunder came shortly before the election when he reported he had discovered new Clinton e-mails on the server of her aide, Huma Abedin.  Although he later said this didn’t amount to anything, the negative publicity may have been a deciding factor in the election.

Read the rest of this entry »

Establishment’s Macron wins the French election

May 8, 2017

Emmanuel Macron, elected President of France yesterday with two-thirds of the vote, is a product of that country’s educational and financial establishment.

He will have an opportunity in the next five years to vindicate the establishment, by showing that it is possible to turn around the economy without changing France’s political or economic structure or withdrawing from the European Union.

Emmanuel Macron

I don’t expect that to happen.   First, he has not yet consolidated his power.  As President, he will be in charge of French foreign and military policy.    Domestic policy will be the responsibility of the Prime Minister, who is appointed by the President with the consent of the National Assembly.

The National Assembly will be elected June 11 and 18.   If Macron’s newly formed En Marche (On the Move) movement wins a majority, his power will be complete.   If not, the National Assembly may force him to accept a Prime Minister of a different party.

The President is something like a corporation’s chief executive officer and the Prime Minister is something like its chief operating officer.   If the CEO and COO were not in agreement and the CEO couldn’t remove him, then the CEO does not have the full powers of a CEO

Second, even if Macron’s power is complete, what solutions does he have to offer?   He campaigned on the basis of generalities and a winning personality, much like Barack Obama in the USA in 2008 and Justin Trudeau in Canada in 2015.

Read the rest of this entry »

The art of balance

May 6, 2017

Korean performance artist Nam Seok Byun, also known as Rocky Byun, uses common objects, the force of gravity and his sense of balance to create amazing works of art.

He says anybody can balance a single object on a single point because everything has a center of gravity.  But to balance multiple objects—that takes skill, practice and concentration.  Hat tip to Great Big Story.

Read the rest of this entry »

Survivorship bias

May 5, 2017

Source: xkcd

Click on XKCD for more cartoons and drawings by Randall Munroe.

Donald Trump, a walking conflict of interest

May 3, 2017

I doubt if Donald Trump could get through a single day, certainly not a single week, without being involved in a conflict of interest.

The Atlantic magazine has drawn up a list of 39 issues (and counting) in which decisions by President Trump will affect the profitability of the Trump Organization.

Maybe the biggest one is the federal investigation of the Deutsche Bank, which holds $300 million in IOUs from the Trump Organization.

U.S. banks wouldn’t give Trump credit after he defaulted on debt when his Atlantic City casinos declared bankruptcy, so he turned to the Deutsche Bank, which is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice on charges of  laundering money for Russian mobsters.  Attorney-General Jeff Sessions said he will continue this investigation impartially.  We’ll see,

The Department of Labor and Internal Revenue Service have been conducting investigations as to whether the Trump Organization violated labor law and tax law.   Will these investigations continue?  We’ll see.

The Trump Organization’s lease agreement with the General Services Administration for the Trump International Hotel property contains a provision that no elected official will be part of the lease.  But the GSA has ruled this doesn’t apply to Trump because he’s no longer officially head of the business.  An impartial decision?  Maybe.

Trump’s business is involved in business deals with politicians and close relatives of politicians in India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Turkey, Dubai and Argentina.  Will Trump, if necessary, make decisions that threaten those relationships?  We’ll see.

And then there are daughter Ivanka’s women’s fashion business and son-in-law Jared Kushner’s family real estate businesses.

Never even mind the penny-ante stuff—Donald Trump charging the Secret Service for use of Trump facilities while they guard him and his families.

Any of these conflict would be highly controversial as a stand-alone issue.  The problem is that there are so many issues it is impossible to remember any one of them.

The problem is that there is hardly any decision that Trump or his appointees can make—whether in foreign policy, tax policy, labor policy, environmental policy or consumer protection—that will not in some way affect the profitability of the Trump businesses.

Read the rest of this entry »

Barack Obama’s $400,000 speaking fee

May 3, 2017

There are two ways of looking at the $400,000 speaking fee that ex-President Barack Obama will receive from the Wall Street brokerage firm of Cantor Fitzgerald for speaking at a health care investment conference.

One is that a public official who governed in the interests of Wall Street and the health insurance industry is receiving a big bag of money from a Wall Street firm with major investments in the health insurance industry.

The other is that Obama is merely doing what all but one of the ex-Presidents from Gerald Ford onward have done, which is to use speaking fees cash in on his celebrity status.

Hillary and Bill Clinton’s speaking fees were a special case because Hillary Clinton was a future Presidential candidate.   Hillary’s $675,000 in Goldman Sachs speaking fees could be interpreted as payments not only for services rendered, but for services anticipated.   That suspicion was reinforced by Clinton’s refusal to release the texts of her talks.

I imagine that Barack Obama will have sense enough to watch his words enough to be able to release the text of his Cantor Fitzgerald talk without embarrassment.

Obama is not doing anything unusual.  All but one of the Presidents from Gerald Ford through George W. Bush cashed in with big speaking fees after they left office.

This is the new normal.  In this neoliberal age, an ex-President such as Harry Truman or Jimmy Carter who refused to monetize the office of the Presidency would seem quaint and strange.

Read the rest of this entry »

Wall Street versus the American worker

May 1, 2017

American Airlines agreed this week to do something nice for its employees and arguably foresighted for its business by giving flight attendants and pilots a preemptive raise, in order to close a gap that had opened up between their compensation and the compensation paid by rival airlines Delta and United.

Wall Street freaked out, sending American shares plummeting. After all, this is capitalism and the capital owners are supposed to reap the rewards of business success.

“This is frustrating.  Labor is being paid first again,” wrote Citi analyst Kevin Crissey in a widely circulated note. “Shareholders get leftovers.”

Indeed, major financial players were so outraged by American’s decision to pay higher wages that they punished airline stocks across the board.  American itself took it hardest on the chin, of course, but the consensus among stock analysts was that higher pay at American could signal higher pay at other airlines too, with negative consequences for the overall industry.

Source: Matthrew Yglesias -Vox

Read the rest of this entry »

The friendly giants of the Copenhagen woods

April 29, 2017

Teddy Friendship

A Danish sculptor named Thomas Dambo made six sculptures of giants out of recycled wood—600 old pallets, a wooden shed, a fence and whatever else he could scavenge and hid them in the woods around his home town of Copenhagen.

The sculptures were made with the help of local volunteers, and each sculpture is named for one of the volunteers.  I found the pictures of the sculptures on the Bored Panda website.

Little Tilde

Read the rest of this entry »

An SF writer’s diagnosis and cure for capitalism

April 27, 2017

In the opening of Kim Stanley Robinson’s new SF novel, New York 2140, two unemployed financial software engineers known as Mutt and Jeff—unemployed because they refuse to design a possibly illegal program for high-speed trading—contemplate a flooded lower Manhattan from atop the former Metropolitan Life building.

One of them says he has figured out what’s wrong with capitalism.

The basic problem with capitalism, he says, is that the forces of the market forces producers to sell products below cost.

How can you sell below cost and survive?  By offloading your costs onto someone else—onto customers, onto neighbors, onto taxpayers, onto the wider community and onto future generations.

This enables an individual enterprise to survive (sometimes), but, in the long run, leads human society into bankruptcy.

In the novel, global warming has taken place, sea levels have risen and lower Manhattan is under water.  Skyscrapers such as the Met Life building are still survive amid a kind of new Venice.  Uptown Manhattan is 50 feet higher in elevation, and is dry.  In the middle is a tidal zone, where the poor and homeless congregate.

Some environmental problems have been solved, or at least are being coped with.  Gasoline, jet fuel and other fossil fuels no longer exist.  Air travel is by dirigible, ocean travel is by sailing ship and land vehicles are electric.   But the financial structure and distribution of income are more or less like they are now.

New skyscrapers—”superscrapers”—in uptown are owned by the world’s wealthy elite, as investments or as one of multiple homes, and are often vacant.

A hurricane late in the novel leaves many homeless.  They try to storm the vacant uptown towers, and are turned back by private security forces, who outgun the New York Police Department.

Rather than attempt a violent revolutionary overthrow, the common people attempt a political and economic jujitsu.

They join in a nationwide debt strike.  On a given day, they stop paying their mortgages, student loans and credit card balances.  The financial system is go highly leveraged with debt upon debt that it comes crashing down, just as in 2008.   So the financiers go to Washington for another bailout, just as they did then.

But this time, the President and Federal Reserve Chairman, who are in on the plan, act differently.  They tell the banks and investment companies that they would be bailed out only on one condition—that the government be given stock of equal value to the bailout, as was done in the bailout of General Motors.   Those who refuse this deal are allowed to fail.

Now the federal government has the authority to force the banks to act as public utilities.  And the huge profits that once flowed to the financial elite now flow to Washington, which makes it possible to adequately fund public education, infrastructure improvement, scientific research and all the other things the country needs.

And so the American people live happily—not ever after and not completely, but for a while.

Read the rest of this entry »

Julian Assange: enemy of the state

April 26, 2017

Power corrupts, the saying goes, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  If a government has the power to commit crimes in secret, and to punish people for revealing its crimes, what limit is there on its absolute power.

That is why Julian Assange, the founder and leader of Wikileaks, is a hero.  He has sacrificed his freedom and risked his life to make known crimes and abuses by the U.S. and other governments.

Here’s what he said about his aims back in 2006—

The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie.  This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive “secrecy tax”) and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption.

Hence in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are non-linearly hit relative to open, just systems.  Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.

Only revealed injustice can be answered; for man to do anything intelligent he has to know what’s actually going on.

Source: IQ.ORG

Of course this is inherently dangerous.  Making powerful immoral people paranoid about having their crimes revealed will reduce the effectiveness of those powerful immoral people, either by damaging their reputations or making them afraid to communicate with each other or both.   But it’s a given that if you keep it up, these powerful people will use their power against you.

∞∞∞

CIA Director Mike Pompeo said in a recent speech that Assange’s Wikileaks should be suppressed because it is a “non-state hostile intelligence service.”  In other words, Wikileaks gathers information that governments don’t want it to know, and publishes it—just like any other muckraking news organization.

The difference is that Wikileaks, like other publishers, gathers intelligence on behalf of the public and not a foreign government.   If you say the distinction doesn’t matter, then freedom of the press does not include the right to tell the truth; it means nothing except the right to express mere opinion.

Read the rest of this entry »

Neoliberalism vs. nationalism in France

April 24, 2017

The French election on Sunday narrowed the field to two candidates—Emmanuel Macron, a neoliberal defender of globalization, and Marine Le Pen, a blood-and-soil nationalist, in the run-off election May 7.

Macron is an Obama-like outsider, who offers a vaguely-defined hope and change and, in fact, was endorsed by Barack Obama, but who actually represents France’s financial establishment.

Le Pen is usually described as the “far right” candidate.  She promises to protect France from what she calls the twin threats of globalization and Islam.

But she also is in favor of locking in France’s 35-hour work week, lowering the retirement age to 60, bolstering public services and reducing income taxes on low-income workers

Macron is in favor of flexibility on the 35-hour work week, industry deregulation, reduction of government spending and cutting corporate taxes.  So which is the right-winger?

He favors CETA—the Canadian-European Free Trade Agreement—which, like NAFTA and the defunct proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, would restrict business regulation in the name of protecting free trade.  So who is the left-winger here?

Le Pen would replace the Euro with a “nouveau franc,” reestablish border controls and repeal certain European Union laws.  If the EU refused to cooperate, she would call for a referendum on whether France should secede.  If the French voted to stay in the EU, she would resign.

Macron wants to strengthen the Euro and France’s ties with the EU.   He generally favors current French policy on immigration.  Le Pen would restrict immigration to 10,000 persons a year and kick out all unauthorized immigrants, as well as all Muslims on terrorist watch lists.

Read the rest of this entry »

Richard Ford: ‘Who needs friends?’

April 23, 2017

[Update 4/24/2017]  My afterthoughts are in boldface italics below.

Richard Ford

The American novelist Richard Ford, in a book excerpt published in The Guardian, says he doesn’t have any close friends and is happy to have it that way.

He wrote that he has a general sense of good will toward everybody, but doesn’t count on any individual very much.  That’s okay with him, because he doesn’t want anybody to count on anything from him, beyond basic decent behavior.

He criticized philosophers’ ideas of friendship and went on to write—

If I could have a better, more realistic and functioning model for friendship, what would it be?

I wouldn’t like it if it was that I had to be similar to my friend – in temperament, in wit and wits, in interests, experience, age and gender.

It could not be that I’d be willing freely to unpack in front of my friend all my life’s many shames and miscalculations (matters that can be outsourced with therapy or just stuffed).

It would not be that I’d have to always get along with my friend, or even always wish him well (just not wish him ill).  He need not think my shames weren’t shameful.

It would not be that my friend and I have to agree about what constitutes good and bad in the world. He need not feel required to do for me what I can’t do for myself.

I would not have to be willing to take a bullet for him, to have his back, to be there for him, or even renounce something I deeply desire so that he can have it.

I would not have to be always candid or capable of delivering hard truths. (Although I might do it anyway.)

And it could not be that I never complain to my friend, or about my friend – to his face or behind his back.

Friendship ought to be understood as always supplementary in nature. Thus our friends should be as easy to forgive as our enemies.

And as with all things, friendship need not promise to last forever, but only so long as it allows us the freedoms we would want to have without it.

Maybe it is that friendship should do for us what a great novel can (and a novel might of course do it better): reconcile us to life as it is, and make us more real to ourselves. 

In other words, friendship ought not short-circuit one’s faculties for critical thinking and personal preference.  Though to ask this of friendship might be to ask the impossible.

Source: Richard Ford | The Guardian

Read the rest of this entry »

Rev. Barber at the UUA General Assembly

April 20, 2017

The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), president of the interfaith Repairers of the Breach and president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, is a leader of a broad progressive coalition that is changing the balance of political power in his home state.   I think it is important to know who he is and the moral basis of his movement.

He is rooted in a specific religious tradition, the African-American church movement, but is able to unite a broad coalition of Americans of different races and religious backgrounds, including us Unitarian Universalists.

Click on 2016 Unitarian-Universalist General Assembly for a speech that outlines his thinking.  Click on The First Reconstruction, The Second Reconstruction, The Third Reconstruction and / or ‘Resist the One Moment Mentality’ for highlights of his speech.