Russiagate and the Mueller indictments

February 17, 2018

Friday’s Grand Jury indictments of 13 Russians and three Russian organizations indicate that Russian meddling in the 2016 elections went far beyond mere Russian propaganda on social media.

But there were no charges of knowing collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian agents.

Russians allegedly entered the United States under false identities, impersonated Americans on social media and organized political rallies on behalf of fake organizations—all to promote the candidacy of Donald Trump or discredit his opponents.

They are charged with violating American laws on campaign financing, registration of foreign agents, identity theft and fraud.

All this is within Special Prosecutor Robert S. Mueller’s mandate to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election.  He is not like a Kenneth Starr in the Whitewater investigation, fishing for anything that can be used against the President.

There’s no question that Vladimir Putin welcomed the candidacy of Donald Trump.   He promised to improve relations with Russia, and, as Putin said, why wouldn’t the Russian government welcome that?   That’s not evidence of a Trump-Putin plot to rig  the 2016 elections

If there really was such a plot, this would be grounds for an impeachment.   But this is so improbable as to be virtually impossible.

All the information that has come out about Trump campaign officials trying to set up meetings with Russians is, to me, evidence against collusion.   If the fix were really in, Trump would have ordered his underlings to stay as far away as possible from Russians.

My deeper concern is the way the Russiagate issue is being exploited politically.

It is being used as a justification for military confrontation with Russia in Ukraine, Syria and other countries.   A confrontation at worst risks an accidental nuclear war and at best creates a useless conflict which brings no benefit to Americans.

It is being used as a justification for censorship of Americans, particularly leftists, whose views supposedly serve the interests of Russia.  I suppose this would include me, as a blogger who voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary and the Green Party in the general election.  I think about the 1950s and 1960s, when progressives who supported civil rights or labor rights were accused of following the Communist Party line.

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Learning to be happy while living within limits

February 12, 2018

Back in the 1990s, when I was still working as a newspaper reporter, I was assigned to write a feature article on people who had embraced “voluntary simplicity” as a way of life.

I thought that, given the state of the local economy then, there might be larger numbers of people who were experiencing involuntary simplicity.

I had the same thought when I listened to an excellent talk by Emrys Westacott last November as part of the annual UNESCO World Philosophy Day lectures at St. John Fisher College here in Rochester, N.Y., and later read his book, THE WISDOM OF FRUGALITY: Why Less Is More—More or Less  (2016).

He pointed out that the great majority of philosophers in both the Western and Eastern traditions endorse frugality as a way of life.

Be content with what you have, they say; don’t expect happiness from material goods. Instead you should seek simplicity, or self-sufficiency, or purity, or closeness to nature.

There’s a difference between a frugal person, and a poor person.  Frugal people live the way they do out of choice.  Poor people may or may not be have a worse material standard of living than frugal people, but they are worse off in either case because they are forced to make sacrifices they didn’t choose.

Philosophers have had different reasons for advocating frugality, not all of them compatible with each other.

Benjamin Franklin said thrift is necessary to get ahead in life.  Henry Thoreau said caring about stuff separates you from nature.  Epicurus said that the less you think you need, the happier you can be.  The ancient Spartans said needing a lot of stuff makes you weak.   Jesus of Nazareth said you should not seek riches, but rather the Kingdom of Heaven. The Buddha said something similar.

Westacott, with great clarity, examined these arguments, and more, and also the counter-arguments.

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All the movies that won special effects Oscars

February 10, 2018

How to tell the ‘flu from a cold

February 9, 2018

This doctor’s hilarious chart reveals the very simple way to tell if you’ve got the ‘flu or just a cold by Tom Michael for The Sun.  (Hat tip to naked capitalism)

What is influenza, how contagious is it, what are the symptoms, how can you avoid it, and has anybody died from the ‘flu in the UK? by Lauren Windle and Emma Lake for The Sun.

Cold versus flu, explained by Julia Belluz for Vox.  [Added 2/10/2018]  (Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist.)

Why does hawkish Trump object to sanctions?

February 8, 2018

President Donald Trump is resisting congressional mandates to punish Russian individuals through economic sanctions.

At the same time he is going along with sending advanced weapons to the Ukrainian government to use against Russia, and with keeping American troops in Syria where they may come in conflict with Russian troops.

And he acts as if he was getting ready for war with North Korea and Iran.

So why is he digging in his heels over this one thing?

I don’t see any fundamental conflicts of interest between Russia and the United states, except maybe in the Arctic, and none that are worth the risk of nuclear war.

Vladimir Putin is authoritarian and ruthless, but no more so than many other world leaders, including Boris Yeltsin, with whom the U.S. government got along and gets along with just fine.

The problem with economic sanctions directed against whole countries is that they harm the common people of a country without touching the leaders.  If American leaders want to use U.S. economic power to reward and punish, economic sanctions aimed at individuals are probably the least harmful and most effective of doing it.

But overuse of economic sanctions of all kinds will be harmful to the United States in the long run because foreign countries will protect themselves by disconnecting from U.S. banks and the U.S. dollar.

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‘Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia’

February 6, 2018

          Actually, as Winston well knew, it was only four years since Oceania had been at war with Eastasia and in alliance with Eurasia.  But there was merely a piece of furtive knowledge which he happened to possess because his memory was not sufficiently under control.
          Officially the change of partners had never happened.  Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia.  The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible.
                          ==George Orwell, 1984

During the 2012 Presidential campaign, Gov. Mitt Romney was criticized and even ridiculed for calling Russia “our No. 1 geopolitical foe.”   President Obama said, “The 1980s are calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for years.”

But now we’re told that Russia is waging war against the United States and always has been.   It’s a funny kind of war, though—more like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” than “Red Dawn.”

No Russian troops are massing on U.S. borders.   The Russian government makes no threat against the United States.

The claim is that the Russians—either the Russian government or certain individual Russians—are exercising a kind of mind control over Americans.   Russian agents allegedly denied Hillary Clinton her due share of the 2016 President vote and allegedly manipulated President Trump into being less anti-Russian than he should be.

But even if all the Russiagate charges are true, which I doubt, what the Russians have done is no different from what the old Soviet Union did, and what the United States continues to do down to this day.  During the time Vladimir Putin has been in office, it is the United States, not Russia, that has announced policies of “regime change” against countries that never threatened Americans.

It’s interesting that congressional Democrats, who say that President Trump is an insane clown, an ignoramus, a would-be fascist and a puppet of Vladimir Putin, have no interest in restricting presidential powers to wage war or bypass due process of law.   The only limit they’ve imposed is limitation of his authority to lift economic sanctions against Russia.

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A day in the life of the world

February 4, 2018

Life in a Day is a documentary film consisting of YouTube videos from all around the world, all shot on July 24, 2010, which was a Saturday and a day of a full moon.   The video above is the trailer and the one below is the full 95-minute film.   It’s been around a long time, but I only just now came across it.   That’s true of a lot of my posts.

It’s consists of clips taken from 81,000 videos shot by volunteers in 192 countries, adding up to 4,500 hours of footage.

There are some remarkable episodes—a Slovak filmmaker in Kathmandu, Nepal, interviewing a Korean man who is bicycling around the world; a Peruvian shoeshine boy hustling to make a living, and confessing the thing he likes best is his laptop; an acrobatic Russian making Moscow his playground.

But most of it is people in different places living their everyday lives and answering one of three questions:  What do you love?  What do you fear?  What’s in your pockets?   The filmmaker doesn’t make any overall sociological or political point, except the diversity and unity of the human race.  It’s a joyful movie.  The musical score adds a lot to it.

Ninety-five minutes is a long time to watch a movie on a computer screen, but you don’t have to watch it all at one.  It took me about five or ten minutes to get into the film, but, when I did, I watched through till the end.

Part of the purpose of making the film was to celebrate the fifth anniversary of YouTube.   It was released on YouTube and, so far as I know, has never been shown in theaters.

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The curse of Amazon

February 2, 2018

When I moved to Rochester, N.Y., in 1974, one of the attractions was the number of excellent individually-owned bookstores.   Later on the Borders bookstore chain opened a store here, and I was delighted at their huge selection of books.   The smaller new-book stores went out of business, one by one, but I accepted that s the price of progress.

Click to enlarge.

Borders was pushed aside by Barnes & Noble.   Now Barnes & Noble is losing sales and operating at a loss.  Unless something changes, local bookstores will be replaced by Amazon.

What’s wrong with that? you may ask.  Amazon provides low prices and excellent customer service.  What difference does the lack of a physical store make?

What’s wrong is that Amazon treats its employees like work animals or like machines.   I read an article today about how Amazon has patented wristbands for tracking what employees do with their hands, presumably so they don’t put something in the wrong bin or pause to scratch their noses.

Amazon hasn’t said when, whether or how the new system will be implemented, but employees already are subjected to an inhuman work pace that is determined and monitored by computer.

I don’t want to buy the lowest possible price if it comes at the price of human misery.   I’d hate to see a new Amazon facility in western New York.

Sometimes I give in and buy through Amazon.   This is wrong of me, because I’m helping to make its monopoly power more complete.   But in the total scheme of things, my decisions as a consumer make little difference.  It is the government’s responsibility, not mine, to enforce the anti-trust laws, and make and enforce decent labor standards.

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How minds can be primed without our knowing it

January 30, 2018

Double click to enlarge.  Source: Eva-Lotta Lamm

When Barack Obama was thinking about running for President, his supporters wrote many words trying to dispel the misconception that Obama was a Muslim.   But the more they tried to this belief, the more it persisted.   People forgot the argument, and just remembered, subconsciously, the words “Obama” and “Muslim”.

Obama supporters instead started writing about Obama’s Christian beliefs and his church attendance.   That helped—although it also called attention to the inflammatory sermons of Obama’s pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

The “Obama-Muslim” link is an example of how unconscious anchors shape our thinking without us realizing it, and of not only how we mislead ourselves, but leave ourselves open to manipulation by others.

This fits in with the writings of research psychologist Daniel Kahneman, in his 2011 best-seller, Thinking Fast and Slow, and elsewhere.  He says human beings are more inclined to rely on intuition (fast thinking), which operates between the level of consciousness, than on conscious reasoning (slow thinking).

The most disturbing part of the book is how others can intentionally manipulate us by priming our intuitive minds without our realizing it.

Vance Packard wrote about this possibility in The Hidden Persuaders in 1957.   Facebook in 2012 ran an experiment to see if it could change its clients’ moods by manipulating its news feed.

In the 2016 election, Facebook worked with the Donald Trump campaign, as it routinely works with advertisers, to micro-target voters based on information they’ve left on social media.   Facebook would have provided the same service to the Clinton campaign, but they didn’t ask.

A company called Cambridge Analytica claimed to have used artificial intelligence to create individual psychological profiles on 220 million registered American voters, and to have used this to support the Trump presidential campaign.  Cambridge Analytica also supported the British campaign to leave the European Union.

None of this is mind control.  People with firm opinions are not likely to change their minds based on subliminal or targeted messages.   The aim is to increase sales of a certain product or votes for a certain candidate by a few percentage points.

But to the degree that mind manipulation is possible, the advertisers and propagandists are going to get better at it.   That’s cause for concern.

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Why rational decisions are so difficult and so rare

January 29, 2018

Click to enlarge.

Most thinking goes on below the level of the conscious, reasoning mind.   It couldn’t be otherwise.   Human beings couldn’t function if they had to think out the reasons for every action.

The philosopher John Dewey said human actions are determined by impulse, habit and reason.  Our habits control our impulses.   It is only when neither our impulses nor our established habits get us what we want that we start reasoning.  This is how things are.

An experimental psychologist named Daniel Kahneman has devoted his life to studying how this works.   In his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011), he summarized what he and other psychologists have discovered about the interplay of intuition and reason in decision-making.

What’s noteworthy about the book is that it is based on real science.  Every assertion in it is backed up by a study, many of them by Kahneman himself and his friend,  the late Amos Tversky.

Our default mode of thinking is what Kahneman calls “fast thinking,” or System 1.  It consists of the mental processes that enabled our prehistoric ancestors to react quickly, and to survive.   It is the human mind’s default state.

“Slow thinking”, or System 2, is the override system, comparable to taking conscious control of your breathing.   It requires continuous concentration and effort.  Doing it is hard work.  Some are better at it than  others, but few people can sustain it for long.

System 1 consists of pattern recognition.  The human mind is constantly monitoring the present state of things and matching it with previous experiences and impressions.

This works well for people with long experience of doing similar things, and receiving immediate feedback.    If a firefighter in a burning building or an anesthesiologist in an operating room says something doesn’t seem right, you’d better heed them, because their intuition is grounded in long experience of burning buildings and operating rooms.  Over time, chess players, performing artists and emergency room nurses develop reliable intuition.

The problem is that intuition will give you an answer whether there is any basis for it or not.   Political pundits, stock market analysts and clinical psychologists typically have poor records of predicting results, but this seldom affects their self-confidence.

Human beings would be paralyzed if we had to think of logical reasons for every decision and exercise conscious control over every action.   We need intuition.  But intuition can mislead us.  Kahneman’s book is about ways this happens.

Thinking, Fast and Slow is an extremely rich book.  Almost every chapter could be expanded into a self-help book, while some could be textbooks on negotiations, advertising and propaganda.

I’ve had a hard time getting started on writing about the book, maybe just because there is so much in it.   I’ve given up on trying to give an overview.  I will just hit a few highlights in the hope that I can spark interest in reading it.

One problem with intuitive thinking is the planning illusion.   Those who plan projects typically try to factor in everything they can foresee that is likely to go wrong.   It is predictable that they can’t foresee everything that can go wrong.  That’s why home remodeling contractors and military suppliers make most of their money on change orders.

Kahneman, who grew up in Israel, once talked the Israeli Ministry of Education into commissioning a high school textbook on judgment and decision-making.  He assembled a team, did some preliminary work, and then questioned Seymour, his curriculum expert.

What was the failure rate of people who wrote textbooks from scratch?  Answer: About 40 percent.   Question: How long did it take the others to complete their work?  Answer: Six to ten years.  Question:  Are we better than the other teams?  Answer: No, but we’re not that bad.

Nevertheless, he let the team go ahead.   The textbook took about eight years to complete, and by that time, the Israeli government had lost interest.

The lesson is that, if you are planning a project, you should look at the success rate of those who have attempted similar projects.   Then you should use that as a reference group and determine what makes your project different from the others.

Most entrepreneurs don’t do this, Kahneman said.  This is probably good for society, because the public benefits from their effort, while the entrepreneurs and their backers absorb the loss.   But if you’re an entrepreneur yourself, you’re better off looking before you leap.

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30 days of a cargo ship at sea

January 27, 2018

I found this on the deMilked web site.   It consists of time-lapse photos of the travels of a cargo ship from the Gulf of Aden to Hong Kong, with stops along the way.

‘Three Billboards’ is a very good movie

January 25, 2018

Yesterday I went with my friends Hal Bauer and Gayle Mosher to see “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”  It was the best movie I’ve seen since “Hell or High Water.”   I’d willingly see either movie again.

“Three Billboards” is full of surprising twists, which I don’t want to reveal.  Just when I thought I knew where the story was going, it veered off in another direction.  I just I thought I understood the three main characters, one of them revealed an unexpected side of themselves.  None of this was arbitrary or forced.

Like “Hell or High Water,” “Three Billboards” is full of low-key humor, based on the contradictions of human nature and the foibles of a particular regional culture.  Part of the reason I might go to see either movie a second time is to pick up on some of the nuances I missed.  Yet both movies are tragedies.

“Three Billboards” poses the same dilemma as some of the old Greek tragedies.  On the one hand, you don’t want to be trapped on a cycle of revenge and retaliation.  As a character says, anger only begets greater anger.  On the other, you don’t want to submit to wrong without striking back.  The final scene leaves this dilemma unresolved.

Afterthought [1/28/2018]

After thinking things over, I have some reservations about “Three Billboards.” The power of the acting, script and direction blinded me to the implausibility of the plot.   I still like “Three Billboards” as a parable, but, unlike “Hell or High Water,” it doesn’t have anything to say about American life in general.

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Jordan Peterson on how to change your life

January 23, 2018

LINKS

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson website.

Jordan Peterson: “The pursuit of happiness is a pointless goal” by Tim Lott for The Guardian.

Jordan Peterson and his 12 rules for living

January 22, 2018

Jordan Peterson is a clinical psychologist and a professor at the University of Toronto whom I never heard of until last week, but who evidently has millions of followers on YouTube.

Below are his 12 Rules for Living, the title of a book that will be published later this year.  Based on the video above and on a couple of articles I’ve read about him, he is a free spirit who says things that are important and true, things that are important if true and some other things that I can’t make head nor tail of.

  1.  Stand up straight with your shoulders back.
  2.  Treat yourself like you would treat someone you are responsible for helping.
  3.  Make friends with people who want the best for you.
  4.  Compare yourself with who you were yesterday, not with who somebody else is today.
  5.  Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.
  6.  Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.
  7.  Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)
  8.  Tell the truth—or at least don’t lie.
  9.  Assume the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.
  10.  Be precise in your speech.
  11.  Do not bother children when they are skateboarding.
  12.  Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.

The 12 rules are true and important.  I remember, when I was a small boy, my mother telling me to stand with my shoulders back and my neck straight.   I think of this when I’m feeling down, and adopting good posture does change my attitude.  It makes me wiling to meet the challenges of the day.

He is right to object to silly rules about gendered pronouns, which regulate how you can refer to people who consider themselves neither men nor women.  I do believe in good manners—referring to people (within reason) as they would wish to be called.   But I wouldn’t try to enforce my idea of good manners through the criminal law.

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The meaning of North Korea’s “ghost ships”

January 22, 2018

Last year the wreckage of at least 104 North Korean fishing boats washed up on the shores of northern Japan.  The crews were either missing, or dead from starvation and exposure, or, in a few cases, only half-dead.

What happened was that they got so far from home that they did not have enough fuel to make it back home, and so died at sea.

Never before have so many derelict North Korea fishing boats been found.  No doubt this is but a fraction of the actual number of lost boats.

What this means is that North Koreans are so desperate for food that they will risk going out to sea in dangerous waters with inadequate fuel.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in an interview that this represents a triumph of American policy.  North Korea is really feeling the bite of American economic sanctions, he said.

Economic war can be as deadly as a shooting war, although it hardly ever brings about a change in regime.   If there comes a time when there is only one bowl of rice left in North Korea, it will be eaten by Kim Jong Un.  If there are only two bowls left, they will be shared by Kim and his bodyguard.

The U.S. has been waging war by means of economic sanctions long before Tillerson or President Donald Trump took office.  Economic sanctions against Saddam Hussein back in the 1990s resulted in the deaths of thousands of young Iraqi children want of medicine and proper nutrition.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that the price was worth it.  To what end?  I can’t see anything good that the Iraq blockade accomplished for us Americans.  It did not remove Saddam Hussein from power.

The appeal of economic sanctions as a substitute for war is that it seems to be a safe way of waging war.  That is true only in the short run.   Generations later people in North Korea, Iraq, Venezuela and other countries will remember how their people suffered under the U.S. economic blockage.

During the First World War, Britain blockaded food imports into Germany.  The food blockade continued even after the German army surrendered, in order to make force the German government to agree to the Allies’ peace terms.  Many Germans grew up with stunted growth because they were born during the blockade.

I don’t say the food blockade was, in and of itself, the main reason for the rise of Hitler, but it surely contributed to the German hatred of the Allies and desire for revenge, which the Nazis exploited

I think in generations to come, there will be millions of people through the world with similar reasons for a desire for revenge against Americans.

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Winter in Japan

January 20, 2018

Haiti’s problems mostly originate outside Haiti

January 18, 2018

Haiti is poor largely because outside powers keep it poor.   Not that Haiti doesn’t have its own home-grown crooks and tyrants, but the Haitian people would be better able to deal with them if the crooks and tyrants weren’t backed by the U.S. government.

President Trump’s recent vulgar comment about immigrants from Haiti and other majority-black was offensive.  But offensive language isn’t the main problem.  The problem is the centuries-long history of the United States and other powerful countries holding Haiti down, of which Trump is just the latest example.

LINKS

One of the most repeated facts about Haiti is a lie by M.R. O’Connor for VICE News.

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Should the U.S. welcome immigrants from Africa?

January 17, 2018

Last week President Donald Trump reportedly stated, in vulgar language, that he didn’t want immigrants from nations such as El Salvador, Haiti and African countries.   His reportedly said that immigrants from countries such as Norway have more to contribute

West African market in Washington, D.C.

Kirsten Nielsen, the new Secretary of Homeland Security, said that what the President really meant was that the United States should have a merit-based immigration policy, in which immigrants are admitted based on their potential to make a positive contribution to their new country.

How would such a policy work?  Canada, our neighbor to the north, is a pioneer in merit-based policy.  Immigrants are admitted based on a points system that includes fluency in English or French, educational level, work experience, age (18-35 preferred) and whether they have a job offer waiting.

According to a Canadian academic named Arvind Megasan, these were some of the sources of Canada’s 1.2 million immigrants admitted under these criteria during 2011-2016:

  • Africa, 162,800.
  • Central America and the Caribbean, 76,860.
  • Northern Europe, 31,880

From selected individual countries:

  • United States, 33,060
  • Haiti, 19,990
  • El Salvador, 3,530
  • Norway, 230

Why would there be such a large number of highly qualified immigrants from Africa?  It is because there are few opportunities for them in most African countries.   By and large, African countries do send their best.

In contrast, Norway has, by some measures, the highest living standard in the world, thanks to its welfare state and North Sea oil.  Few Norwegians have anything to gain by leaving their homeland.

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U.S. interventionism started long before Trump

January 15, 2018

Click to enlarge.

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a supporter of Donald Trump.  But American foreign policy was on the wrong track long before Trump took office.   It’s not enough to just put things back the way they were in 2016 and before.   It is necessary to abandon worldwide military intervention as a policy and worldwide military intervention as an achievable goal.

LINKS

U.S. Counterterrorism Forces Are Active in Many More Places Than You Know by Catherine Bateman and Stephanie Sowell for U.S. News.

Trump Isn’t Another Hitler, He’s Another Obama by Caitlin Johnstone for Medium.

When Washington Assured Russia NATO Would Not Expand by Andrew J. Bacevich for The American Conservative.

The Duplicitous Superpower by Ted Galen Carpenter for The American Conservative.

Front Row kids and Back Row kids

January 13, 2018

[Updated 1/15/2018]

Photojournalist Chris Arnade believes American society is divided into a Front Row, which is doing well, and a Back Row, which is being left behind. The following is from his Twitter feed.

The prevailing culture honors the Front Row, and public policy rewards it.

The prevailing culture disrespects the Back Row, and public policy ignores it.

LINK

The View From the Back Row, an interview of Chris Arnade for Current Affairs.  [Added 1/15/2018]

Chris Arnade on how the other half lives

January 13, 2018

This includes two updates

Half the world doesn’t know how the other half lives.   (old saying)

Chris Arnade spent 20 years as a Wall Street investment banker, then quit in 2011 to start a new career as a photojournalist, first interviewing and photographing drug addicts and prostitutes in the Bronx, then traveling across the country to talk to working people and poor people who’ve been left behind in the new economy.

Arnade said that what he concluded was that addiction is the result of isolation, isolation is the result of rejection and the chief source of rejection is the U.S. educational system.

The U.S. educational system, he said, teaches that the way to achieve success is to go to a good college, leave home and devote yourself to achievement in your professional life.

Those who do this successfully are the elite in American life.   The problem is that not everybody is able to succeed this way, and not everybody wants to do this.

Some people put family, community and religion first.  In this respect, he said, there is little difference between black people and white people, or between Anglos and Hispanics.

Arnade calls the first group the Front Row and the second group the Back Row. The Back Row are not only disrespected, Arnade said.  The economic system is rigged against them.

Every important decision on national policy, since at least the North American Free Trade Agreement  (NAFTA) in 1994, has put the interests of the Front Row ahead of the Back Row.

The one institution in society that welcomes the back row is the churches, he wrote.  He himself is an atheist, but he said that churches welcome you, no matter what your credentials or lack of them.  I’m not sure that is true of all churches, but his point is correct.

Another place the Back Row is welcome, he said, is McDonald’s restaurants.  McDonald’s original business model was a place where you can get in and get out quickly, but McDonald’s and other fast-food restaurants have become places where you can get a nourishing meal at a low price, charge your cell phone and hang out with friends.  Most of them have an old man’s table that retirees have staked out for their own.

If you’re a Front Row person and want to break out of your bubble, stop having coffee at Starbuck’s (or the equivalent) and stop start spending time in McDonald’s (or the equivalent), Arnade advised,

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The problems that won’t go away

January 10, 2018

Double click to enlarge.

 

Economic injustice is a matter of human relations.  So is the question of war and peace..  They are matters of how we human beings decide to live with each other.

Other problems, such as population growth, climate change and exhaustion of natural resources, are different.  They are questions of how we human beings relate to an external world that is governed by the laws of physics, chemistry and biology, and not by human desires.

The Union of Concerned Scientists published a series of charts 25 years ago (in 1992) about ominous trends in the external world that affect human survival.   Now scientists have taken another look at these trends.  A couple have gotten better.  Many have gotten worse.

One success is the recovery of the ozone layer, achieved by regulation of ozone-depleting substances.   A great achievement not shown on the chart is elimination of famines and extreme poverty in many parts of the world.

Another is the reduction in the birth rate.  In many nations, it is at or below 2.1 children per couple, the replacement rate.  This was achieved by means of the spread of birth control information and the empowerment and education of women.  But birth rates are still high in some parts of the world and, even if this weren’t true , it would still take a generation or two before world population levels off..

In other ways, things have grown worse since 1992.   The concentration of greenhouse gasses continues to increase.  As a result, average temperatures continue to increase.   Deforestation continues.  There is a continued increase in ocean dead zones, where oxygen depletion kills all fish and aquatic animal life.   This means the world fish catch is declining.

This is a great challenge to humanity because there is very little than can be done that will have any impact in the lifetimes of adults now living.  Can we human beings unite?  Do we care enough about coming generations to put their interests first?  Is there still time to act?  I wish I knew the answers to these questions.

LINK

World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice in BioScience for the American Institute of Biological Sciences.

Winning Slowly Is the Same as Losing by Bill McKibben for Rolling Stone.  [Added 1/13/2018]

A 94-Million-Year-Old Warning About the Ocean’s Future by Peter Brannen for The Atlantic.  [Added 1/13/2018]

No, Democrats don’t have superior family values

January 10, 2018

Along with a lot of other people, I’ve noticed that the so-called red states—states that usually go Republican— have higher rates of divorce, children born out-of-wedlock, violent crime and other bad things than the so-called blue states.

That fact has led to sweeping generalizations that liberals on average have better family values than conservatives, but it turns out that those generalizations are wrong.  In fact, as the articles linked below indicate, it’s probably the other way around.

I myself don’t believe in making sweeping derogatory generalizations about large groups of people or judging individuals based on their group identity.   And I don’t think these things have anything to do with who’s right about economic and foreign policy anyhow.

Nor do I think that there is any hypocrisy in preaching “family values” even if you yourself have trouble living up to those values.  As Jesus said, it is the sick, not the healthy, who need a physician.

That’s what I thought when I thought conservatives on average were more dysfunctional than liberals and progressives on average.  As it turns out, though, the shoe is on the other foot.

The good news, and maybe the more important news, is that the number of American teen pregnancies and out-of-wedlock births is declining overall.

LINKS

No, Republicans Aren’t Hypocrites on Family Values by W. Bradford Wilcox and Vijay Menon for POLITICO magazine.

Blue American More Virtuous Than Red? Nope by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.

Trump didn’t plan on being elected President

January 5, 2018

Neither Donald Trump nor his key supporters expected him to be elected President, according to Michael Wolff, author of a new book about the Trump administration.   They expected to lose and were unprepared to actually govern.  This would explain a lot.

Wolff was granted free access to the Trump White House—a fact that in itself shows the administration was in disarray—and has published a book, Fire and Fury: Inside Trump’s White House, which came out today.  The following is from an excerpt published in the current issue of New York magazine—

The candidate and his top lieutenants believed they could get all the benefits of almost becoming president without having to change their behavior or their worldview one whit.  Almost everybody on the Trump team, in fact, came with the kind of messy conflicts bound to bite a president once he was in office.  Michael Flynn, the retired general who served as Trump’s opening act at campaign rallies, had been told by his friends that it had not been a good idea to take $45,000 from the Russians for a speech.  “Well, it would only be a problem if we won,” ­Flynn assured them.

Not only did Trump disregard the potential conflicts of his own business deals and real-estate holdings, he audaciously refused to release his tax returns.  Why should he?  Once he lost, Trump would be both insanely famous and a martyr to Crooked Hillary.  His daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared would be international celebrities.  Steve Bannon would become the de facto head of the tea-party movement.  Kellyanne Conway would be a cable-news star.  Melania Trump, who had been assured by her husband that he wouldn’t become president, could return to inconspicuously lunching.  Losing would work out for everybody.  Losing was winning.

I suspected something like that myself.  It explained Trump’s reluctance to spend his own money on his campaign.  It explained why Trump was willing to say whatever crossed his mind, regardless of the repercussions—which was part of his appeal.

Trump’s facial expression during the Inauguration was stormy and angry.  His face was not the face of someone enjoying a triumph.  But, according to Wolff, all this quickly changed.  Trump now is fully confident of his ability to be an effective President.

Another striking thing about Wolff’s account is that none of the top people in the Trump administration, except for his sons, daughter and son-in-law, manifest any personal loyalty to Trump himself.  This does not bode well for Trump in dealing with the Mueller investigation.

Wolff’s report should be read with skepticism.  His article is full of direct quotations of conversations he was not in a position to hear.  It is a mixture of first-hand, second-hand and possibly third- and fourth-hand information.

The reader must judge how much is known fact and how much is gossip.  For me, Wolff’s account is plausible and, as I said, it would explain a lot.

LINKS

Trump Didn’t Want to Be President by Michael Wolff for New York magazine.

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Clinton, Obama and the party of Wall Street

January 2, 2018

Even outspoken progressive Democrats such as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and the authors of Daring Democracy hold back from doing two things.

They don’t talk about the U.S. state of permanent war, and they don’t criticize the record of Barack Obama.

Thomas Frank, who recently did three more interviews for the Real News Network, doesn’t talk about war and peace either, but he is at least willing to take an honest look at the Obama record and the record of Bill Clinton before him.

I have the three interviews on YouTube, with links that should take you to transcripts.

Presidents Clinton and Obama Helped Make the Democrats a Wall Street Party

The Democratic Party historically was opposed to big banks, going back to Franklin Roosevelt, William Jennings Bryan and Andrew Jackson.   That was almost a defining characteristic.

It was golden-tongued Bill Clinton who made the Democrats a second party of Wall Street, and persuaded the Democratic rank and file to accept it.   His argument was that Democrats couldn’t win unless they matched Republicans dollar-for-dollar in campaign spending, which they could not do if they were anti-Wall Street.

I voted for Clinton reluctantly.   In those days I thought that Democrats, however flawed, were better for working people than Republicans.

I disliked Clinton, not because of the sex scandals or his policies, but because of his treatment of employees of the White House travel office, which arranged accommodations for White House staff and the White House press corps accompanying the President on his travels.   He and Hillary Clinton wanted to close the travel office and turn its functions over to cronies of theirs, which they had a legal right to do.

When this became an issue in Congress, Clinton ordered a FBI investigation of the travel office employees to see if any of them were guilty of criminal wrongdoing.   He was willing to destroy the careers and ruin the lives of people who did not intend him any harm, but were merely in the way of something he wanted to do.

I did not fully realize until later the harm that Clinton’s signature policies did—the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement, the end of welfare for mothers with dependent children, the crime bill leading to mass incarceration and the deregulation of the banking industry.   As Thomas Frank noted in the video, all four of these things were long-time Republican goals.

Clinton even toyed with a bipartisan agreement with Newt Gingrich to cut Social Security.

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