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,

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

The real winners in Iraq and Syria

January 2, 2018

Pipeline map via Southfront

Russian-backed forces have defeated the so-called Islamic State in Syria.  U.S.-backed forces have defeated the Islamic State in Iraq.  Peace may be at hand.

The winners in these wars were Russia, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and the Shi’ite militias in Iraq.  The losers, in addition to the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL and Da’esh), were Al Qaeda, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates and Israel.

The United States was in a contradictory position.  By invading Iraq and overthrowing the regime of Saddam Hussein, the U.S. gave power to Iraq’s Shi’ite majority, which is aligned with Iran.   This went against long-range U.S. goals, which are to support Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Also, the official justification for intervention in the Middle East was to fight Al Qaeda terrorists.  But the regimes attacked by the U.S. government—Saddam’s Iraq and Assad’s Syria—were enemies of Al Qaeda, as was the Ayatollahs’ Iran.  No matter what U.S. did, it would either strengthen Al Qaeda or strengthen Iran.

Given the inherent contradiction in U.S. policy, I think the current outcome was the best that could be expected.   Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump deserve credit for not escalating a new war to keep Russians out of Syria and Iranians out of Iraq.   I’m not sure Hillary Clinton, given her record of starting wars, would have shown the same wisdom.

LINKS

As guns fall silent, Russia to shape Syrian endgame by Sami Moubayed for Asia Times.  [Added 1/3/2018]

Iraq War 3.0, the War to End All Wars, Is Over by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.

Are the Wars in Syria and Iraq Finally Coming to an End? by Patrick Cockburn for Counterpunch.

Read the rest of this entry »

The New Deal’s forgotten accomplishments

January 1, 2018

A widely accepted criticism of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal is that it never really ended the Great Depression.  It took rearmament, the military draft and the Second World War to bring about full employment.

Conrad Black. of all people, writing in The American Conservative, of all publications, pointed out that what these critics overlook is the millions of Americans put to work by the New Deal conservation and public works programs.

Between 5 million and just under 8 million workers were employed on New Deal projects during the 1930s, but, according to Black, they were not included in the employment statistics cited by most historians, including partisan Democratic historians.

Solid line counts workers employed on public works as unemployed; dotted line does not.  Source: The Edge of the American West.

Black, formerly a Canadian newspaper publisher, has written biographies of Richard M. Nixon and Franklin D. Roosevelt.   Reviewing Robert Dallek’s recent biography of FDR, Black wrote: —

He states that the unemployed stood at 10 million in 1940, when Roosevelt broke a tradition as old as the republic and went after his third term.

In fact, unemployment was somewhat under 10 million, but was declining in the run-up to election day by 100,000 a month, largely due to the immense rearmament program Roosevelt had initiated and to the country’s first peace-time conscription, which he called a “muster”.

But Dallek completely ignores, for purposes of calculating unemployment, the many millions  of participants in his workfare programs, who were just as much employed as, and more usefully than, the millions of conscripts and defense workers in the major European countries and Japan, against which Roosevelt’s record in reducing unemployment is often unfavorably compared.

[snip]  These programs kept between five million and nearly eight million people usefully employed at any time building valuable public sector projects at bargain wages for Roosevelt’s first two terms, until defense requirements and the public sector took over and completed the extermination of unemployment.

Those unable to work received Social Security, unemployment and disability benefits from 1935 on.

Read the rest of this entry »

Six harsh truths for the new year

December 31, 2017

The world only cares about what it can get from you.

The hippies were wrong.

What you produce does not have to make money, but it does have to benefit people.

You hate yourself because you don’t do anything.

What you are inside only matters because of what it makes you do.

Everything inside you will fight improvement.

∞∞∞

These are sub-headlines of an article on Cracked.com by David Wong.  Click on any of the links to read the full article.

Read the rest of this entry »

China tries to draw Afghanistan into its orbit

December 30, 2017

China’s ancient Silk Road

China’s modern Silk Road

The U.S. government for 15 years has been trying to pacify Afghanistan, without success.

During these same 15 years, the Chinese government has been extending its power and influence into the interior of Asia by investing in railroads, oil and gas pipelines and other infrastructure across the region at the invitation of local governments..

The Chinese call this the “Belts and Roads Initiative”—the belts being the oil and gas pipelines. Others call it the New Silk Road.

Recently China made an agreement with Pakistan to create an economic development corridor, culminating in a port giving China direct access to the Indian Ocean near the Persian Gulf.   Now China and Pakistan are trying to draw Afghanistan into their economic alliance.

I don’t know how all this will turn out.  Many things can go wrong.

But it seems clear that Beijing has been more effective in extending its power by offering material benefits than Washington has by means of military intervention and economic sanctions.

Furthermore China’s policies have made it economically stronger while U.S. policies have depleted U.S. strength.

Read the rest of this entry »

Apollo 17 – I hope it was the latest, not the last

December 27, 2017

The story of the Apollo 17 mission of 45 years ago should not be forgotten.   It is a story of herosim and competence, two qualities we Americans as a nation can’t afford to lose.

At the present time, we as a nation need to give priority to the basics—long-term survival goals more than aspirational goals.  But I hope Apollo 17 was the latest, and not the last, American venture to the moon and beyond.

Merry Christmas 2017

December 24, 2017

The truth about Santa Claus

December 21, 2017

Sexual abuse and trial by denunciation

December 19, 2017

I don’t feel that, as a citizen, I can take on the responsibility of judging the innocence or degree of guilt of every public figure accused of sexual misconduct.

Even though the Court of Public Opinion is at present the basic venue for trying such cases.

To make informed judgments, I would have the time, inclination and ability to judge in each case whether the person was guilty of (1) a felony, (2) a misdemeanor, (3) gross bad manners or (4) nothing at all that matters.   I’d also have to weigh whether it was a one-time event in the fairly distant past or a continuing pattern over a long period of time.

Most people are too busy to do this.   They judge on the basis of whether there is just one accusation or a lot of them, and on whether the accused admits guilt or stands their ground..

The problem is that there are two kinds of people without guilty consciences—the innocent and the shameless.  If you can manage to act innocent, many people will assume you are innocent.

∞∞∞

As I wrote in a previous post, I’ve been blind to how pervasive sexual harassment is.   Evidently there is a world of rich, powerful celebrities who think, often rightly, that they can get away with anything.  I recall the case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the powerful French politician and financial official, who thought it was his prerogative to have sex with a random hotel maid.

But sexual abuse does not occur just on the upper levels of society.  One thing I’ve known about for years, but always put out of my mind, is the rape of young boys in the American prison system.

It’s a good thing, not a bad thing, that we Americans are waking up to the situation.   What we need are procedures for dealing with sexual abuse so that guilty are treated as they deserve and the relatively innocent also are treated as they deserve.

Greater union representation would help.  Union grievance procedures would give employees a way to seek justice.   Federal laws should be enacted to establish that no employee could be fired for complaining about sexual harassment, just as, under law, no employee can be fired for acting in concert with others to demand improvement in working conditions.

Arbitration could help, if the arbiters were truly impartial.   This would require panels in which employees had as much representation as employers.  Simple enforcement of the law, without fear or favor, is important.  Putting women in positions of authority would make a big difference.

Read the rest of this entry »

Trump, Macron tax plans both favor the rich

December 16, 2017

Donald Trump, the populist, nationalist President of the United States, and Emmanuel Macron, the sophisticated, cosmopolitan President of France, may seem like mirror opposites.

And, indeed, Trump in 2017 spoke favorably of Macron’s opponent, Marine Le Pen, while Macron has been highly critical of Trump.

But they both represent the interests of the economic elite, according to Thomas Piketty, the famous economist who wrote Capital in the 21st Century. 

They both support changes in the tax laws that will increase the share of income of the wealthiest Americans and French.

Piketty says the American and French economic elite have taken almost all the benefit of income growth in the past few decades, and don’t need any more.  Both countries’ new tax laws would—

  • Leave working people feeling even more alienated from their governments than before.
  • Leave the public feeling even more unwilling to make sacrifices need to curb global warming.   If rich people can live even more lavishly than before, why should the rest of us accept the burden of a carbon tax?
  • Leave governments even fewer resources to reduce poverty, either on a national or a global scale.

As Piketty wrote, economic policies that benefit the economic elite at the expense of everybody else, in addition to being bad in themselves, are like to lead to a nationalist backlash that benefits nobody.

This is not an issue that is limited to the USA and France.

LINK

Trump, Macron: same fight on Le blog de Thomas Piketty.

I’ll be gone, you’ll still be here

December 14, 2017

I’m 81 years old today.  I don’t come from a long-lived family, and I have what they call a pre-existing medical condition, so I don’t expects decades more of life ahead of me.

I sometimes regret I won’t see what the future holds in store.  But the more I think about the future, the more I’m relieved that I won’t.

The odds are good that I will win what Ian Welsh calls the death bet – the bet that I will have enjoyed the good things the world has to offer and die before I have to pay the price.  If you are 60 years old are younger, the odds are that you will lose.

THE FINAL CRASH

Right before the financial crash of 2008, there was a saying among Wall Street speculators about when the financial bubble would burst.  “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone.”

In fact none of them suffered any bad consequences from their actions, up to and including financial fraud.  President Obama and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner arranged to have the big banks and investment firms bailed out of the consequences of their mistakes, and Attorney-General Eric Holder declined to prosecute financial fraud by heads of companies deemed “too big to fail.”

The Federal Reserve Board and Treasury Department prioritized reviving the stock market, to the great benefit of owners of stocks and bonds, including investors in mutual funds such as myself.   But then, even under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, the financial markets recovered before the job markets did.

Now the U.S. economy is in another bubble, just like the last one—overhangs of debt that can’t be paid, increasing concentration of wealth at the top, the decline of the mass consumer market and the failure of either corporations or the government to invest for the future.

It’s probable, but not certain, that the government will succeed in bailing out the big players, just like the last time.  What is certain is that this can’t go on forever.   Without big changes in the financial system, there will be a final crash in which the institutions are not too big to fail, but are too big to rescue.

NUCLEAR ROULETTE

For more than 60 years, the United States government’s policy toward nuclear war was deterrence.  The theory is that the best way to be safe from war is to have nuclear weapons and be willing to use them if necessary.  In other words, if you want peace, be prepared to go to war.

So far this policy has worked.  We’ve gone to the brink of war a couple of times, sometimes knowingly and sometimes unknowingly, but we’ve always pulled back in time.   There have long been factions in the U.S. government that wanted to pre-emptively use nuclear weapons, but they’ve always been sidelined or disregarded.

I think it is likely to work—right up until the time it doesn’t work, and it only has to fail once.  If you play a game of Russian roulette, you’re likely—although not certain—to win.  If you continually play Russian roulette, you’re certain to someday lose.

I don’t expect nuclear war with North Korea, although the chances are more than zero.  I don’t expect nuclear war with Russia, although the chances are greater than war with North Korea.   But unless our policy changes, both concerning armaments and our foreign policy in general, there will be a war in which we and everybody else will be the loser.

Read the rest of this entry »

Hierarchies of need, hierarchies of social class

December 12, 2017

Lambert Strether wrote a good post for Naked Capitalism the other day relating psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchies of need with the U.S. hierarchy of class.

Maslow thought that human beings not only have the same basic needs, but the same priorities.  The basic human need is food, shelter and the other means of survival.  Once you have that, you want security.  Once you have security, you want family, friendship and love.  After you have these, you then are free to seek achievement, creativity, self-expression and so on.

Strether pointed out the rough correlation between Maslow’s hierarchy and the U.S. hierarchy of social class, and argued that this affects U.S. politics.   It certain affects the internal politics of the Democratic Party.

Very crudely, Americans are divided into a bottom 90 percent who are struggling to meet their  survival needs, and a 10 percent whose survival needs are met and can afford to try to gratify  higher-level needs.

Fulfillment of higher-level needs does not threaten the interests of the 1 percent or 0.1 percent who control the wealth of this country.  It is the survival needs of the potentially populist 90 percent that threatens them, because they can’t be met without a redistribution of economic and political power.

Lambert Strether relates identity politics to the higher-level needs of the professional class, but I don’t think that is quite right.   It is rather that racism and sexism are matters of survival on the lower levels of American society and matters of emotional distress and career advancement on the upper levels.

It is one thing to fear being killed by police because of your race or having to take a job in which you are sexually harassed in order to pay the rent.  It is another to be offended by racial stereotypes in the movies or stymied in your career because of a glass ceiling.

Not that stereotypes or glass ceilings are okay!  It is just that they aren’t matters of survival.

Read the rest of this entry »

The doomsday machine was (and is) real

December 7, 2017

Daniel Ellsberg is famous for leaking The Pentagon Papers, a secret history of U.S. policy in Vietnam.   Now he has written a new book, The Doomsday Machine, which reveals the history of how close the United States came to all-out nuclear war.

The war policy of President Eisenhower was “massive retaliation.”   That meant the only U.S. response to Soviet or Chinese aggression would be all-out nuclear war.

Secretary of State John Foster Dulles went to the brink of war at least three times, Life magazine reported at the time.  There was even an argument during the Kennedy-Nixon debates as to whether nuclear war would be justified if the Chinese government took over the tiny coastal islands of Quemoy and Matsu.

That was known at the time.  What wasn’t known was that the authority to order a nuclear strike was delegated to military commanders in the field.   We the people thought the decision rested solely with the President.  That wasn’t so.

U.S. plans called for the complete destruction of every city in Russia and China.   Pentagon planners told Ellsberg that this would result in 325 million casualties in Russia and China, plus an additional 100 million in Communist-ruled countries in eastern Europe, 100 million in neutral countries and 100 million among western European allies.

As Ellsberg said, this is the equivalent of 100 Holocausts.  It doesn’t include the number who would die as a result of Soviet retaliation.

Evidently it was thought necessary to credibly threaten to destroy Europe in order to defend it.

Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s ideas about escalation during the Kennedy administration can be seen as an attempt to create an alternative to immediate massive retaliation.

But while, in a way, well-intended, McNamara’s ideas were illogical.  Once launching a nuclear war is an option, the logic of game theory says you should be the first and not the second to escalate to nuclear warfare.

Ellsberg said every Cold War President through Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan gave military theater commanders the authority to use nuclear weapons.   He doesn’t know the situation now.

One difference is that U.S. presidents now threaten nuclear attacks against countries without nuclear weapons—a crime against humanity in and of itself, even if you don’t consider the deaths of neutrals and allies.

The U.S. government should join with the Russian government to resume the process of gradual elimination of nuclear weapons that was begun in the Reagan-Gorbachev years.   In the meantime, Congress should enact a law to forbid a U.S. nuclear first strike without a formal declaration of war.

Read the rest of this entry »

The cost of the Republican tax plan

December 4, 2017

Click to enlarge.  Source: Slate Star Codex

LINKS

The Brazen Cynicism of the Republican Tax Plan by Doug Muder for The Weekly Sift.

Republicans are weaponizing the tax code by Mike Konczal for Vox.

The Tax Bill Compared to Other Very Expensive Things by Scott Alexander for Slate Star Codex.

Is it wrong to give to panhandlers?

December 2, 2017

The gift without the giver is bare.
Who gives himself with his alms feeds three —
himself, his hungering neighbor, and me.
         ==James Russell Lowell

It’s only during the past few years that I’ve started to give money to beggars.   Prior to that I budgeted certain sums of money for charity, including St. Joseph’s House and the House of Mercy, which serve the homeless poor and felt I had done my duty.

I don’t hold myself up as an example of how to give or how to live.   I am not saying you should give away anything at all—even assuming that you are well enough off that you have extra money to give.

I only say that if you act on a generous impulse, this is nothing to be ashamed of.

It is necessary to say this because of the prevailing neoliberal philosophy, exemplified in the Freakonomics books, that if you act on any motive except self-interest, this will backfire and you will do more harm than good.

These arguments came up in a reading group I belong to, currently reading Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.   It begins with the Ebenezer Scrooge character refusing to contribute to a charity that buys Christmas dinners for poor people.

Scrooge says he pays taxes that pay for prisons and workhouses, where poor, unemployed people are sent.  He sees himself as a hard-working, self-supporting citizen, and sees no reason why he should contribute to support people who don’t work.

Some of us thought he had a point.  We also thought that giving to panhandlers was enabling alcohol and drug abuse habits.   One person even told a story about a street beggar in Washington, D.C., who was later found to have a vacation home in Florida.

I’ll use this blog to say what I should have said then.

First, panhandlers work.  They work hard.  I’ve never in my life worked as hard as they do, and for as little return.   Would you like to spend all day on the street, in all weathers, approaching strangers for money, risking humiliation and getting only small change or, at best, small bills in return?

It is true that panhandlers do no useful work.   But they are not unique in that respect.  Consider telemarketers, for example.   Some people are richly rewarded for doing harm.  Consider hedge fund managers and their role in the 2008 financial crash.

David Graeber wrote a good essay about the growing number of well-paid jobs that are considered meaningless even by people who do them.   He said as a general rule, the more obviously one’s benefits other people, the less likely one will be well paid for it

I myself get income without work, and more than a panhandler is likely to get.   I enjoy a Social Security pension, a company pension and income from savings and investments.

I could say the Social Security and company pensions are rewards for past work, although plenty of people who worked just as hard and created just as much value as I did receive no pensions.

But the income from savings and investments is simply a claim on the fruits of someone else’s labor.  Buying publicly traded stocks and bonds, in my case, in the form of mutual funds, adds nothing to the world’s total wealth.   It simply reflects the fact that, at a certain time in my life, I had more money than I needed.

I am not ashamed of investing in stocks and bonds.   A well-functioning free enterprise economy requires financial markets, and it might as well be me as somebody else who benefits from them.

But a well-functioning free enterprise system also requires that a certain percentage of people be unemployed.  Economists have a name for this, “the natural rate of unemployment.”

As to drug and alcohol abuse habits, these are found on all levels of society, including Hollywood and Wall Street.   In any case, if some panhandler has an alcohol or drug problem, the person isn’t going to change their life just because I refuse to give them anything.

Read the rest of this entry »

A parable of the lesser evil

December 1, 2017

An alien monster beamed Joe and Jim up to its spaceship, and offered them a choice—be put down on a planet with a surface temperature of 1,000 degrees or a planet with a surface temperature of 10,000 degrees.

Joe said, “Given those alternatives, I have no option but to choose the 1,000-degree planet.”

Jim said, “That’s no choice at all!  I refuse to consent to either alternative!”

Enraged, the alien monster sent them both to the 10,000-degree planet.

In the micro-seconds before he expired, Joe turned to Jim and said, “This is all your fault.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Am I being unpatriotic when I link to RT News?

November 30, 2017

RT News and Sputnik International are news services funded by the Russian government.   They are said to be waging “information warfare” against the United States.

RT America and Sputnik International have been ordered to register as foreign agents, the only foreign news services that have been ordered to do so.  What this means is that they will be required to disclose their sources of funds and other details of their operations.

The FBI is investigating Sputnik.  Google has changed its algorithm to “de-rank” RT and Sputnik in Google searches.  Twitter has banned advertising by RT and Google.

None of these things prevent RT or Sputnik from reporting their version of the news or making their reports available to Americans.   We’re not like the old Soviet Union, where you could be arrested for listening to the Voice of America.

And, in one respect, the United States is more liberal than the Russian federation.  Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America lost their Russian broadcast licenses in 2012 and 2014, but Sputnik still has a radio station in Washington, D.C.

The anti-Russia campaign is intended to brand Americans as unpatriotic if they work for RT or Sputnik, appear on their programs or even watch their programs.

I’ve linked to RT News videos in previous posts.  What does that make me?  Am I unpatriotic?

I think an American who listens to or watches RT or Sputnik is like a Russian who watches or listens to the Voice of America or Radio Free Europe.   The U.S. government has an ulterior motive in funding these two news services.   At the same time, they provide Russians with information and ideas they wouldn’t get from their domestic broadcasters.

Established U.S. broadcasters have a limited range of viewpoints they regard as acceptable.   I never noticed this until my own thinking moved outside the range of the acceptable.   So if there’s something on RT News I think is interesting or worthwhile, even though it might not be acceptable to PBS or CNN, I’ll link to it..    That’s my right as a free American.

Read the rest of this entry »

Modernization has created an angry world

November 29, 2017

I think the world is locked into struggle between a heartless corporate neoliberalism and a rage-filled blood-and-soil nationalism, neither of which offers hope for the human future.

Pankaj Mishra, author of AGE OF ANGER (2017), said this is part of a conflict of ideas that originated with Voltaire and Rousseau in the 18th century and is still going on, all over the world, today.

Voltaire taught that if you give up your outworn prejudices, superstitions and customs, and embrace science, reason and commerce, you will gain the power to determine the course of your life, as well as enjoy a rising material standard of living.

His enemy, Rousseau, spoke for all those who were angry because this bargain was not kept, or because they rejected the bargain in the first place.

They included millions of people in Europe and North America in the 19th century and also billions in Asia and Africa in the 20th and 21st, who have been uprooted from village communities and left to fend for themselves in an unforgiving global economy.

Voltaire, although a brave defender of religious and intellectual freedom, despised the ignorant masses.  He admired “enlightened” despots, such as Frederick the Great and Catherine the Great, for trying to force their unwilling subjects to adopt modern—that is, French—ways of life.

Rousseau cared nothing for modernization.  His ideal was an imaginary Sparta, an austere, primitive and close-knit society of brave warriors.   He thought it unimportant that Spartan warriors were predatory and merciless to others.  What mattered was their comradeship with each other, and also their manliness.

Another theme of Rousseau, in contrast to Voltaire, is the need for manliness and the corresponding need to keep women in their place.   Once again, this is an example of Rousseau wanting something he didn’t have.  He was never able to fulfill the traditional role of the male, which is to be a protector and provider for women and children.

Read the rest of this entry »

The knowledge illusion

November 28, 2017

Hat tip to Bill Elwell

LINK

The Myth of Independent Thought by Charles Chu for Medium.   The last paragraph reveals that Chu is promoting a product, but his argument is interesting even though his sale pitch isn’t compelling.