The world outside our heads

July 31, 2015

Matthew Crawford’s new book, THE WORLD BEYOND YOUR HEAD: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction, is a good follow-up to Taylor’s Modern Social Imaginaries.

Crawford attacks what he calls “freedomism”—the idea that individuals can or should be free not only of external coercion, but of external influence of any kind.

This is the philosophy of thinkers such as John Locke and Immanuel Kant, who sought to free people from the moral authority of kings and priests.

51YMx.crawford.worldbeyondyourheadThe fact is, Crawford said, is that human beings are born into a world of people and things which are objectively real, and which can be understood only after a long period of learning and apprenticeship.

The fact that one’s individual desires do not, in and of themselves, change things is the first thing a baby learns, but which 21st century Americans sometimes forget.

Crawford makes custom motorcycle components as a business.  His work involves individual creativity, but is based on mastery of pre-existing knowledge of materials and technique, and is expressed in solving real-world problems.  He feels validated only when a customer—especially one who understands motorcycles—willingly pays his bill.

In different parts of the book, he discusses techniques by which people master arts and vocations—hockey player, martial arts fighter, short-order cook, glassblower, motorcycle rider, racing car driver.

Masters in all these fields have the ability to focus their attention on what is important, and to train their reactions, in ways that can’t necessarily be articulated, so that they respond appropriately to the situation at hand.

For Crawford, we are what we pay attention to.  Freedom consists in the right to choose to focus our attention on worthy objects.

Read the rest of this entry »

The worlds inside our heads

July 31, 2015

Somebody once wrote that the most embarrassing of all studies was intellectual history, because it shows how the ideas that you take as simple common sense were once new and implausible, and the agendas of the people who argued for them.

This was my feeling after reading Charles Taylor’s  2004 book, MODERN SOCIAL IMAGINARIES, as part of an informal study group organized by my friend Paul Mitacek.

It is the story of how Western people once believed and then stopped believing that they were embedded in a divine hierarchy resting on the animal world and lowest human beings, and reaching up to Heaven in a great chain of being.

It also is the story of how Western people once believed and then stopped believing that society is something pre-existing, which people are born into and have to serve as best they can.

Taylor traced the steps by which we came to the present predominant believe, that society consists of separate and independent individuals and exists for their benefit rather than the other way around.

He calls these beliefs “imaginaries” because they form the background of how we perceive our world–a perception that only partly matches up to objective reality, but which we take for granted.

I found his book illuminating and disturbing because it showed me how many of the things I believe in are based on assumptions I can’t prove.

Taylor.Imaginaries978-0We modern Americans take for granted, for example, that religion has to do with individual morality and that each person has the right to choose their own religion.

But for the ancient Greeks and Romans, the worship of the gods was something they had to do to avoid the gods’ wrath and seek the gods’ blessings.  The gods didn’t care what individuals thought about them, only that they perform the rituals correctly.  That is why the pagan Romans couldn’t understand the Christians’ refusal to burn incense for the Emperor.

The Hebrew Bible has some teachings about individual morality, but nothing about individual salvation or an afterlife.  Israel as a whole either worshipped God or strayed after false gods, and the nation was rewarded or punished accordingly.

Christianity changed this.   Christians believed they would be rewarded or punished in the afterlife based on their individual faith and works, and that lip service to religion wasn’t enough.  Protestantism took this tendency further.  Then freethinkers and rationalists, rather than assuming morality came from religion, questioned religious dogmas and practices in the name of morality.

Many individual Americans and Europeans believe that the ultimate basis of morality is a transcendent religious belief, but American and European societies are not organized around this belief.  Taylor for this reason calls our society “secular”—not because it is hostile to religion, but because it is neutral to religion.

Read the rest of this entry »

Julian Assange’s epic struggle for justice

July 31, 2015

jul650Julian Assange is a great hero of our time.

Subject to a 24-hour police siege, confined to a single windowless room, he continues to fight, and fight effectively, for truth and justice.

WikiLeaks continues to provide a means by which whistle-blowers can reveal how governments, corporations and other organizations conspire against the public.  Most of what the American public knows about the toxic Trans Pacific Partnership, for example, has been made known by WikiLeaks.

John Pilger wrote an excellent article, updated on Counterpunch, about the how the U.S. government, abetted by the governments of the United Kingdom and Sweden, are bending international law and their own laws to deprive Assange of his freedom.

He is wanted for extradition to Sweden for questioning in a sexual misconduct case.  He has not been charged with any crime, and the alleged victims in the case do not accuse him of any crime.  He has offered to testify in London, or to go to Sweden to testify if he can be assured that he won’t be extradited to the United States.

A grand jury has been meeting in secret in Alexandria, Va., for five years trying to figure out ways to define Assange’s truth-telling as a crime.   The details of the ongoing investigation of Assange have been defined themselves as a state secret.  One of the crimes the grand jury is pondering is violation of the U.S. Espionage Act, which carries a maximum penalty of death or life imprisonment.

Assange might be in a U.S. prison today, or worse, if not for the courage of the Ecuadorian government, which despite all pressure and threats offered him refuge in its London embassy.

The U.S. government treats Assange as it might treat a terrorist.  And in fact, to a government whose policies are based on secrecy and lies, truth-tellers and whistle-blowers are more terrifying than killers or suicide bombers.

I think a good litmus test for whether an individual believes in freedom and democracy is the person’s attitude toward Julian Assange.   President Obama most certainly fails that test.   I think Assange will be remembered when Obama is forgotten.

LINK

Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice by John Pilger for Counterpunch.

A nun on the meaning of being “pro-life”

July 31, 2015

Slide1_3Source: Daily Kos.

Hat tip to Bill Elwell.

Nothing in this statement implies that Sister Joan Chittister supports the pro-choice movement.  Rather she indicates where pro-choicers and pro-lifers ought to agree..

Birth rates and the global balance of power

July 31, 2015
A forecast and not a fact

A forecast and not a fact

african-v-eurpope-population-growth-economist-aug-28-2009

Also a forecast and not a fact

It is a good thing, not a bad thing, that birth rates are falling worldwide.  If things continue as they are, world population growth will level off by the end of the century.

But the fact that they are not falling at the same rate in every country changes the world balance of power, as Indians outnumber Chinese and Africans outnumber Europeans.

Bertrand Russell once wrote that if there is to be peace in the world, nations will have to negotiate limits on their populations as well as limits on their armaments.

I don’t see how that would be feasible without nations also agreeing to totalitarian Chinese-style birth regulations.  The alternative is to wait for the “demographic transition” to click in.  Help people achieve a better life, provide women with reproductive rights and knowledge and wait for population to level off as it is doing in the developed world.

LINK

India set to become world’s most populous nation by 2022 – UN by Emma Batha for Reuters.

∞∞∞

The top chart was published by the BBC; the second chart by The Economist.

 

A view of growing inequality in the USA

July 31, 2015

Inequality1973.6a00eInequality2010.6a00eI’m not opposed to great rewards to people who create things of great value, whether by inventing something, managing something or in some other way.  But I don’t think this is the reason for the growing in inquality in the USA.  I think it is because the laws, the rules and the overall level of morality have changed so that it is easier and more acceptable to milk the system.

Reflections on Deep State America

July 30, 2015

“Thoreau” on Unqualified Offerings called attention to an article by Philip Giraldi in The American Conservative about a favorite topic of mine—the Deep Statethe hidden government that seems to operate no matter who wins the elections.

Consider for a moment how Washington operates.  There is gridlock in Congress and the legislature opposes nearly everything that the White House supports. 

quibvulturecitizenrydeepstateNevertheless, certain things happen seemingly without any discussion: Banks are bailed out and corporate interests are protected by law.  Huge multi-year defense contracts are approved.  Citizens are assassinated by drones, the public is routinely surveilled, people are imprisoned without being charged, military action against “rogue” regimes is authorized, and whistle-blowers are punished with prison.  The war crimes committed by U.S. troops and contractors on far-flung battlefields, as well as torture and rendition, are rarely investigated and punishment of any kind is rare.

America, the warlike predatory capitalist, might be considered a virtual definition of deep state.

via The American Conservative.

In many countries of Latin America and the Middle East, it is obvious that ultimate power rests with the military, working with an oligarchy of wealth.   Turkey is a good example, Giraldi wrote.  Such an alliance also exists in the United States.

America’s deep state is completely corrupt: it exists to sell out the public interest, and includes both major political parties as well as government officials.

1olPoliticians like the Clintons who leave the White House “broke” and accumulate $100 million in a few years exemplify how it rewards.   A bloated Pentagon churns out hundreds of unneeded flag officers who receive munificent pensions and benefits for the rest of their lives.

And no one is punished, ever. 

Disgraced former general and CIA Director David Petraeus is now a partner at the KKR private equity firm, even though he knows nothing about financial services.  More recently, former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell has become a Senior Counselor at Beacon Global Strategies.  Both are being rewarded for their loyalty to the system and for providing current access to their replacements in government.

What makes the deep state so successful? It wins no matter who is in power, by creating bipartisan-supported money pits within the system. 

Monetizing the completely unnecessary and hideously expensive global war on terror benefits the senior government officials, beltway industries, and financial services that feed off it. 

Because it is essential to keep the money flowing, the deep state persists in promoting policies that make no sense, to include the un-winnable wars currently enjoying marquee status in Iraq/Syria and Afghanistan.

via The American Conservative.

It will take more than a few individuals winning a few elections to root out this system.  It would take a strong and committed mass movement, embracing a majority of the American people, and astute leaders working over a long period of time.

I think it’s unlikely that the United States faces a danger of a military coup as in the movie “Seven Days in May” or in Chile in real life in 1973.  But there are other ways to topple an elected government.  The financial and national security elite have the power to create crises which the public will turn to them, and not the elected politicians, to solve.

Failing to learn from the Great Depression

July 30, 2015

The Great Depression of the 1930s was made worse than it needed to be because European governments prioritized balanced budgets and stable currencies over putting people back to work and putting money into circulation.

As Matthew Yglesias noted—

In Germany, for example, the [ruling socialist] SPD took the view, roughly speaking, that capitalism was an inherently flawed system and the Depression just proved that.  But short of a revolution and a total transformation of the political universe, there was just nothing to be done to alleviate unemployment.

Similarly, in 1929 Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour Party swept into power in the United Kingdom and proceeded to … enact spending cuts necessary to keep the country on the gold standard.  As this led to left-wing defections, MacDonald eventually made up lost ground by forming a coalition with Conservatives that eventually ended up being mostly backed by conservative MPs.

Sweden was an exception where the local social democrats took bold steps to bolster employment. But mostly it was left to other parties with less worthy overall agendas — Hitler, for example — to step in and say that if the rules of the game led to prolonged spells of mass unemployment then the rules of the game had to be changed.

via Vox.com.

Brad  DeLong, an economist at UC Berkeley, said that he used to joke that governments would never again make the mistakes that prolonged the Great Depression, but instead would make new mistakes.  Now he admits he was wrong.  Governments are making the same old mistakes.

austerity-depressionEurope’s governments are held back by fear of fiscal imbalance and undermining the Euro standard, just as they once were held back for fear of undermining the gold standard.  But, as in the 1930s, there are nationalist parties waiting in the wings to do the things that the mainstream parties fear to do.

The European public may well turn to parties such as the United Kingdom Independence Party, the National Front in France or the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party in Greece.   As far as that goes, similar movements will arise in the United States if Democrats and Republicans fail to act.

LINKS

Depression’s Advocates by J. Bradford DeLong for Project Syndicate.

I don’t want to go back there by Matthew Yglesias for Vox.com.

The US is the enemy of the enemies of ISIS

July 30, 2015

One reason that Al Qaeda and ISIS are strong is that US attacks on Muslim countries create the conditions of chaos in which they flourish.  Another is that the US government has been more interested in undermining nations that happen to be enemies of Al Qaeda and ISIS that in fighting Al Qaeda and ISIS.

Kurdish people

Women of Kurdistan

The latest example of this is President Obama’s support of the Turkish government in its attack on the Kurdish people.  The Kurds are dedicated and effective enemies of ISIS and support democracy, religious toleration and women’s rights, which are supposedly the ideals the US government represents.

But Kurdish nationalism threatens the unity of Turkey, and the support of Turkey is essential to the covert war being waged by the United States against Syria, whose government also is an enemy of ISIS.

The “war on terror” which the United States began on Sept. 12, 2001, is on the one hand so urgent that we Americans are being asked to give up basic Constitutional liberties, but on the other hand not important enough to distract from overthrowing regimes that Washington has targeted—first Saddam, then Qadaffi and now Assad.

LINKS

The Politics of Betrayal: Obama Backstabs Kurds to Appease Turkey by Mike Whitney for Counterpunch.

Turkey’s conflict with Kurdish guerillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria by Patrick Cockburn for The Independent.

Has Iran cut off Hamas?  Is Hamas Turning to Saudi Arabia? by Juan Cole for Informed Comment.

Don’t underestimate Hillary Clinton

July 30, 2015

Hillary Clinton is not an inspiring speaker, but she has long experience in politics, an extensive network of supporters and the ability to win the loyalty of disparate individuals and groups.

Credit: Chip Somodevile / Getty Images

Credit: Chip Somodevile / Getty Images

Her response to the Network Nation protest is an example of her seasoned political judgment.  First of all she had sense enough not to attend, and therefore did not catch any of the flak from #BlackLivesMatter that Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley did.  Then she was able to make a considered response to #BlackLivesMatter that struck just the right note, which neither Sanders nor O’Malley was able to do.

This skill set did not come out of nowhere.  It is the result of more than 20 years experience in Washington and national politics, much more than any of her opponents have.

My ideal candidate would be someone with the political skills of a Bill or Hillary Clinton, the eloquence of a Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, the concern for average Americans of a Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, and the commitment to Constitutional rights of a Ron Paul.

LINKS

The Rohrschach Candidacy of Hillary Clinton by Gaius Publius for Down With Tyranny!  An excellent backgrounder with lots of good links.

Hillary Clinton is not a great campaigner, but she has mastered the art of inside politics by Jonathan Allen for Vox.com.

Hedge Fund Titans Choosing Hillary Clinton Over Top Republicans by Saijel Kishan for Bloomberg Politics.

What if Bernie Sanders actually wins?

July 29, 2015

When Bernie Sanders announced he is running for President, I decided that, barring the unexpected, I will vote for him, not because I thought he could win, but to “send them a message.”

I don’t think Sanders himself expected to win.  I think he ran in order to get his ideas before the public.

Bernie SandersNow the relative weakness of Hillary Clinton and the leading Republican candidates in public opinion polls indicate that Vermont’s 73-year-old Senator has a real, though small, change of winning the Democratic primary and the general election.

What if he did win?  Sanders himself has said many times that no President can bring about the changes that are needed in this country unless there is a political revolution.

What I take him to mean by political revolution is a mass movement among the public, as in the Populist and Progressive movements prior to World War One, the labor movement in the 1930s or the civil rights movement of the 1960s.   Only with movements such as this at his back could any President force reforms through Congress and overcome the reluctance of the bureaucracy.

The changes Sanders advocates are not revolutionary in themselves.  Although he calls himself a socialist, he is essentially a Roosevelt-Truman Democrat.  But the financial establishment, and the military-intelligence deep state, are so dead set against even modest reforms, that to bring them about would require a shift in power than would be virtually revolutionary.

Read the rest of this entry »

Bernie Sanders opposes open borders

July 29, 2015

Unauthorized immigration into the US and offshoring of American jobs out of the US are two different ways to do the same thing—drive down wages and escape U.S. labor law.

So I’m not surprised that Bernie Sanders said the following in an interview.

Ezra Klein:  You said being a democratic socialist means a more international view. I think if you take global poverty that seriously, it leads you to conclusions that in the US are considered out of political bounds. Things like sharply raising the level of immigration we permit, even up to a level of open borders.  About sharply increasing …

Bernie Sanders:  Open borders? No, that’s a Koch brothers proposal.

Ezra Klein:  Really?

Bernie_Poster_v3textless.0.0Bernie Sanders: Of course.  That’s a right-wing proposal, which says essentially there is no United States. ..

Ezra Klein: But it would make …

Bernie Sanders: Excuse me …

Ezra Klein: It would make a lot of global poor richer, wouldn’t it?

Bernie Sanders:  It would make everybody in America poorer —you’re doing away with the concept of a nation state, and I don’t think there’s any country in the world that believes in that.  If you believe in a nation state or in a country called the United States or UK or Denmark or any other country, you have an obligation in my view to do everything we can to help poor people.  What right-wing people in this country would love is an open-border policy.  Bring in all kinds of people, work for $2 or $3 an hour, that would be great for them.  I don’t believe in that.  I think we have to raise wages in this country, I think we have to do everything we can to create millions of jobs.

Read the rest of this entry »

Why did Germany abandon the good path?

July 29, 2015

A decade ago, looking at the state of the union the Bush administration, it seems to me that it was the European Union, and Germany in particular, had replaced the USA as the last, best hope of earth.  As recently as five years ago, I posted an article on Germany as an Economic Role Model.

Germany had seemingly created an economy based not on cutting costs, but on creating value, investing in people and worker participation in decision-making.  The Germans had learned how how to hold their own in international trade and still enjoy high wages, generous social benefits and excellent public services, without sacrificing civil liberties.

Or so I thought at the time.  But the Greek debt crisis shows Germany as much in the grip of a financial oligarchy as the USA was.

Germany.austerity16678The German leaders have embraced the idea, very familiar to us Americans, that the purpose of an economic system is not cooperation for mutual benefit, but to reward winners and punish losers.

The best way to help Greece’s creditors is to promote Greece’s economic recovery, so at least a portion of the debt can be repaid.  The austerity measures being imposed by the European Central Bank, European Commission and International Monetary Fund are driving Greece deeper into economic depression.  They are being imposed as a punishment and a deterrent.

The German leaders also have made the mistake of allowing central banks, rather than the public, to determine economic policy.   The problem with this is that bankers have different priorities than the public.

Broadly speaking, bankers want zero inflation and debts to be repaid in full.  All other things being equal, these are desirable goals, but not at the cost of rising unemployment, falling wages and non-functioning government services.

Unfortunately the European Central Bank is in charge of European monetary policy, and the public has nothing to say about its policies.   It is governed by a committee consisting of 19 national central banks and a six-member executive board appointed by the European Council.   I looked up “accountability” on the bank’s web site, and found that this consists of regularly issuing reports.

The best way to enforce accountability for the Greek debt crisis would be to investigate the Greek public officials and their banker advisers who created it, and determined whether they should be charged with malfeasance.  Instead the banks have been bailed out, and the public officials escape blame—much the same as in the 2008 financial crisis in the United States.

Read the rest of this entry »

The passing scene – July 29, 2015

July 29, 2015

Is This the End of Christianity in the Middle East? by Eliza Griswold for The New York Times.

26mag-26christians-t_CA2-blog427Christian communities in the Middle East, which have existed since the time of St. Paul and which survived under the rule of Iraq’s Saddam and Syria’s Assad, are threatened by ISIS and other extremist Islamist movements.

I think this is the fruit of U.S. interventions, which created the anarchy in which groups such as ISIS can flourish, and U.S. support of extremist groups to overthrow the governments of Libya and Iraq.

The Balance of Power in the Middle East Just Changed by Peter Van Buren for TomDispatch.

The real reason Israel, Saudi Arabia and neo-cons hate the Iran deal: They fear that Tehran will join the community of nations by Fred Kaplan for Salon.

The sanctions against Iran were never about fear that Iran would develop nuclear weapons.  They were about the fear that the balance of power in the Middle East would change in favor of Iran and against Saudi Arabia and Israel.  But Iran is a more reliable partner against ISIS and Al Qaeda than either of those two countries.

Jewish Americans support the Iran nuclear deal by Fred Kaplan for The Washington Post.

Interestingly, polls show that Jewish people in the United States are more supportive of the Iran deal than the general public.

Read the rest of this entry »

A day worth celebrating

July 28, 2015

national-lasagna-day

Click on Down With Tyranny!: Food Watch for more about lasagna.

Hillary Clinton in her own eyes

July 28, 2015

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.
==Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Hillary Clinton in her various autobiographies, reviewed by Doug Muder on The Weekly Sift, presents herself as a progressive working for change within a conservative establishment.

This may well be how she sees herself, even when making $235,000 speeches to Wall Street banking audiences, and her right-wing opponents see her this way as well.

I don’t see it.   I think Hillary Clinton, like Barack Obama and Bill Clinton before her, has been so focused on getting into power, and on making herself acceptable to conservatives and the powers that be, that any progressive goals have been lost in the process.

Because she spends to much time hanging out with the Wall Street and Washington elite, she may well imagine that her minor differences with those people make her a courageous dissenter.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

My disillusionment with the Clintons started in 1993 when they fired the members of the White House travel office and turned over the job to an Arkansas travel agency.

The travel office employees were employed at will, and there was some question as to whether they were doing a good job, so I wasn’t bothered by the firing itself.   What shocked me was that, when the firings drew criticism, they initiated an FBI investigation into possible criminal wrong-doing.  Billy Dale, the head of the office, was indicted but later acquitted.

The travel office scandal was not the most important Clinton administration controversy, but to me it revealed the Clintons’ character and priorities.  I lump Bill and Hillary Clinton together because I regard them as closely bonded, even more so than most married couples.

What the scandal showed is that the Clintons were willing to ruin the lives of ordinary people who wished them no harm simply to gain a minor political advantage.  If they had qualms of conscience, they probably said to themselves that it was better for the country that they preserve their power by any means necessary.

I don’t think it is productive to wonder whether Hillary Clinton is a right-winger pretending to be a left-winger, or a left-winger pretending to be a right-winger, or, like Doug Muder, try to answer the question of “who is she, really?”   She has a record and it speaks for itself.

LINKS

The 2016 Stump Speeches: Hillary Clinton by Doug Muder for The Weekly Sift.

The Rohrschach Candidacy of Hillary Clinton by Gaius Publius for Down With Tyranny!  [Added 7/30/2015]

Hillary Clinton is not a great campaigner, but she has mastered the art of inside politics by Jonathan Allen for Vox.com.  [Added 7/30/2015]

Hedge Fund Titans Choosing Hillary Clinton Over Top Republicans by Saijel Kishan for Bloomberg Politics.  [Added 7/30/2015]

Bernie Sanders and African-Americans

July 28, 2015

Senator Bernie Sanders, whose voting record is rated near-perfect by the NAACP, has a problem relating to African-Americans.

His recent mishandling of a #BlackLivesMatter protest at the Netroots Nation convention shows how style can matter as much to people as substance.

Bill Clinton was a master of style.   My guess is that more poor black people remember Clinton playing the saxophone on the Arsenio Hall show than his 1994 crime bill or 1996 welfare bill.

I have no reason to doubt that Clinton genuinely liked black people, but the important thing is that as a candidate for Governor of Arkansas, he needed the votes of black citizens.

Bernie Sanders' 12 points

Bernie Sanders’ 12 points

Bernie Sanders is from Vermont, a state that is as near to 100 percent white as it is possible to get.  When talking about civil rights, he talked to other white people about the principles of justice.  He never had to convince black people that he represents their interests.

I am sure that he, like me, is righteously indignant about the death of Sandra Bland in a Texas jail after being arrested for no good reason.  But I do not think of the deaths of Sandra Bland, or all the other black people recently in the hands of police, as something that could happen to me.   My guess is that the same is true of Sanders, and that is why the #BlackLivesMatter protestors found Sanders wanting.

Sanders’ 12-point platform is a program for economic justice, not specifically for racial justice.  (Double click on the graphic to read it.)  There is a point about equal rights for women, but not one for equal rights for racial minorities.

I don’t take this to mean that Sanders is indifferent to racial justice.  I take it to mean that, as a product of the socialist tradition, he sees economic justice as the fundamental question and that, as a practical politician, he sees economic justice as the issue that will bring him the broadest support.

You can’t have racial justice without economic justice, or vice versa.   The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spent as much time speaking in union halls as he did in churches, and his last campaign was the support of a garbage collectors’ strike in Memphis, Tenn.

LINKS

Can Bernie Sanders Be Less White? by Barrett Holmes Pitner for The Daily Beast.  Thoughts of a black man who once worked in Sanders’ Washington office.

Give the People What They Want by Seth Ackerman for Jacobin.  Opinion polls indicate that economic justice is not a “white” issue.

On Berniebots and Hillary Hacks, Dean Screams, Swiftboating and Smears by John Halle on Outrages and Interludes.

Sanders gets the bulk of Obama donors so far

July 27, 2015

obama.bernie-1Source: U.S. News

A new analysis shows that Bernie Sanders has received more donations from former Obama donors than Hillary Clinton has.  And Marco Rubio so far has a bigger share of former Romney donors than any other Republican candidate has.

Crowdpac, a political research organization cited by U.S. News, reported that, out of the 9,302 Romney donors who have contributed to 2016 candidates so far, 2,891 made contributions to Rubio, 1,840 to Ted Cruz, 1,562 to Jeb Bush, 511 to Ron Paul and—get this!—280 to Hillary Clinton and 276 to Bernie Sanders.

This is an interesting omen—no more than that.   Neither Sanders nor Rubio is winning either the overall money race or the public opinion race.

Read the rest of this entry »

Simone de Beauvoir on looking for reasons

July 26, 2015

As I now know, to look for reasons why one should not stamp on a man’s face is to accept stamping on it.
                  ==Simone de Beauvoir, Force of Circumstance.

Tips for first-time wheelchair pushers

July 25, 2015
  1. Communicate.  Ask if there’s anything you need to know first.  NEVER touch or move a wheelchair without permission.
  2. Don’t overshoot checkouts and reception desks.  If you are level, your passenger has gone too far past it.
  3. Don’t bump your passenger’s feet into people, objects or walls.  Particularly in lifts.
  4. Don’t follow anyone too closely. … … Your passenger is closer to them than you are, and seeing backsides that close gets tedious.
  5. Watch out for oddly sloping pavements, especially near dropped curbs.  The wheelchair WILL veer sideways into traffic if you are not careful.
  6. Look ahead for bumps.  Dropped curbs are often not dropped very much.  Be prepared to walk a long way around via the road.
  7. Always approach bumps straight on.  If you are not straight, stop and turn first.
  8. It can be easier to go backwards over bumps if the wheelchair has large wheels.
  9. Pay attention to the surface you travel over and take the smoother path.  Cobbles can be painful or tiring for someone in a wheelchair.
  10. Don’t let the wheelchair run out of control.  Consider taking slopes backwards so you can hold back the wheelchair.  CHECK FIRST!
  11. If your passenger says stop, STOP immediately. … …
  12. Try going through heavy doors backwards so you can push the door with your body.
  13. Some wheelchairs have brakes operated by the passenger.  Never assume that those brakes are on or off, always check.
  14. If someone speaks to you when they should speak to your passenger, tell them so.
  15. Be forgiving of your passenger.  They have no control and that may make them grumpy.  Wheelchair users: be aware that you might be shouting at your assistant more than you realise.
  16. If you’re pushing a wheelchair very far then you’ll probably want to get some gloves.

via A Latent Existence.

Hat tip to MARGINAL Revolution.

The biggest book in the world

July 24, 2015

largest book 1Source: Kuriositas.

The biggest book in the world is an edition of the Pali Canon, a scripture of Theravada Buddhism, inscribed on marble by order of King Mindon of Burma in 1860.

Located in Mandalay, it consists of 1,640 marble pages, each 3.5 feet wide, 5 feet tall and 5 inches thick, sheltered by its own pagoda, and arranged around the central golden Kuthodaw Pagoda.  Only one page is devoted to King Mindon’s own deeds.

The project was completed and opened to the public in 1868.   Tended by Buddhist monks, it is still visited by pilgrims and tourists.

King Mindon believed that books were the most valuable creation of civilization, and he hoped his edition of the Pali Canon would last 5,000 years.

Read the rest of this entry »

Goldman Sachs and the Greek debt crisis

July 23, 2015
Click to enlarge.  Source: The Independent

Click to enlarge. Source: The Independent

Goldman Sachs played much the same role in the Greek debt crisis as it did in the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis.

The bank’s executives induced the governments of Greece and Italy to make foolish investments.   It then unloaded those investments on suckers, and then made financial bets that these investments would crash.

Now European officials who came out of Goldman are trying to punish the people of Greece, and maybe of Italty tomorrow, for the result.

This is not to say that the Greek and other governments would not have gotten into trouble by themselves or that Goldman Sachs was the only bank that contributed to the crisis.  But, as the linked articles below indicate, Goldman bankers helped the crisis along, profited from what they did and continue to influence government policy.

LINKS

Goldman Sachs: Masters of the Eurozone by Gaius Publius for Down With Tyranny (hat tip to naked capitalism).

What price the new democracy?  Goldman Sachs conquers Europe by Stephen Foley for The Independent (2011)

Wall Street Helped to Mask Debt Fueling Europe’s Crisis by Louise Story, Landon Thomas and Nelson D. Schwartz for The New York Times. (2010)

Banks Bet Greece Defaults on Debt They Helped Hide by Nelson D. Schwartz and Eric Dash for The New York Times (2010)

The five largest empires in history

July 23, 2015

The Roman Empire wasn’t one of them.

 

How NAFTA drove poor Mexicans north

July 22, 2015

If not for NAFTA, the United States probably wouldn’t have the issue it does with unauthorized immigration from Mexico.

The North American Free Trade Agreement, enacted in 1993, was part of a strategy by the Bill Clinton administration, continuing the policy of previous administrations, to increase U.S. exports.

ImageGen.ashxThe government gave up trying to preserve the family-operated farm.  Instead it favored large-scale operations that could produce food for export.  Farmers were told: “Get big or get out.”

NAFTA, although it eliminated government subsidies for many products, preserved U.S. subsidies for corn and dairy products.  The corn subsidy was also in effect a subsidy for meat, since meat animals are fed subsidized corn.

Small Mexican farmers, especially corn farmers, could not compete against the cheap food imports that flooded into Mexico.  Many left the land, and joined the migrant stream into the United States.

U.S. government policy was successful in increasing exports of corn.  The unintended result was increased imports of unauthorized workers.   I think NAFTA should be amended or repealed, but, sadly, this will not change the results of NAFTA.

LINKS

Under Nafta, Mexico Suffered and the United States felt its pain by Laura Carlsen for the New York Times.

Corn Sales to Western Hemisphere Surge by the National Corn Growers Association.

NAFTA and US farmers—20 years later by Karen Hansen-Kuhn for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

Mexican Farmers Affected by Agricultural Subsidies from NAFTA, Other International Agreements by Susana G. Baumann for the Huffington Post.

Corn Subsidies at Root of U.S.-Mexico Immigration Problems by Anthony B. Bradley of the Acton Institute.

How U.S. Policies Fueled Mexico’s Great Migration by David Bacon for The Nation.

Free trade: As U.S. corn flows south, Mexicans stop farming by Tim Johnson for McClatchy Newspapers.

‘The opposite of addiction is connection’

July 21, 2015

Hat tip to Andrew Tobias.

A controversial British journalist named Johann Hari has written a book, Chasing the Scream, (which I haven’t read) , arguing that drug addiction is not caused by the body’s response to the drugs themselves.

He said addiction is caused by people being so disconnected from society and so lacking in life’s normal satisfactions that the pleasure of taking drugs is life’s best alternatives.

Hari based his conclusion on two experiments.  One involved rats.  The other involved the people of Portugal.

Experimenters in the 1950s and 1960s found that caged rats, when offered the option of self-administering heroin, would take the heroin in preference to food and water.

But another scientist, Bruce Alexander, noted that rats are social, active and sexual creatures.  A rat in a cage is equivalent to a human being in solitary confinement.  He wondered what normal rats would do if exposed to heroin.

Starting in 1977, he created a “rat park”—a kind of paradise for rats—in which there was plenty of cheese, and brightly-colored objects, tunnels to hide in, plus other rats to hang out with, including sexy members of the opposite sex.

These rats had no interest in morphine-laced water, even when mixed with sugar to make it more attractive.

Furthermore rats that had been turned into heroin addicts in cages lost interest in drugs when released into the rat park.

Portugal’s experiment began in 2001.  The country had a serious drug addiction problem, and arresting and punishing drug addicts was as ineffective there as it was elsewhere.

So the government tried a different approach.  They reduced the penalty for possession of small amounts of illegal drugs—a supply of less than 10 days—to a minor offense, equivalent to a traffic ticket.

But instead of just leaving it at that, the Portuguese government put the resources that formally went into drug enforcement to helping drug addicts lead a normal life—for example, by subsidizing salaries so they could get jobs.

There is something about this that doesn’t sit quite well with me.  Why should an addict get help from the government that is not available to someone who keeps free of addiction?  It is like Jesus’s parable of the Prodigal Son.  Why should the son who goes away and wastes his life be treated better than the faithful son who stayed at home and did his duty?

But this is not rational thinking.  The fact is that the Portuguese solution worked.  Drug addiction didn’t vanish, but Portugal has one of the lowest addiction rates in Europe.   Mercy, forgiveness and human kindnesss work (in this case) better than a narrow idea of justice.


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