Pro-family vs. anti-family conservatives

October 18, 2018

The conservative blogger Rod Dreher put up an interesting post this morning quoting an evangelical Christian man who says he and his wife can’t afford to have children because of corporate business practices and neoliberal economic policies supported by both Republicans and Democrats.

He and his wife are both employed in STEM fields and earn six-figure incomes, but their employers constantly remind them that they can be replaced at any time by immigrants from India willing to work at one-third their salaries.  Losing a job would mean losing health insurance, which might mean bankruptcy.

A cousin actually went bankrupt because his newborn had a rare disease, and his insurance company decided that the medical staff on duty that day were not in its network, even though the hospital itself was in-network.  Then there is the cost of education, which can bankrupt even an affluent family.

The most interesting part was his contrast of European and American conservatives.

Europe’s conservatives actually are pro-family there and support pro-natalist policies. The US media as usual is embarrassingly confused about populists like Matteo Salvini, Victor Orban, the AfD in Germany, the NF in France, Vox in Spain, the Sweden Democrats and the conservatives in Denmark, Poland, Austria and the Netherlands.

These aren’t racists like the media claims, in fact quite the opposite, they are not the ones calling for invasion of foreign countries, but rather for the preservation of their own native European Christian cultures, Christian values and distinctive identities within their ancient homelands. And above all for supporting the family unit. [snip].

Europe’s populist conservatives all favor universal healthcare, low-cost childcare, free or low-cost tuition for colleges, 6 weeks of vacation (great for bonding with the family) and protection of the local labor market and wages. When I worked in Europe all Americans and other foreigners (including many tech workers from India) were paid the same or higher wages than locals, and if any employer tried to undermine the local labor market and wages, he’d be greeted with a prison term.

Source: Rod Dreher | The American Conservative

If somebody like that doesn’t think he can afford to live what used to be considered a normal life, what about the rest of us?

I’m reminded of Chris Arnade and his contrast of the “front-row kids” and “back-row kids”—the ones who get ahead because they value education, adaptability and individual success most, and the ones who are left behind because they value family, tradition and community more.

This is a good example of the coming together of the cultural conservative critique and economic radical critique of our current political economy.

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China’s geopolitical strategy is economic

October 17, 2018

There is an old saying, “You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.”  While U.S. government tries to impose its will through threats of military action, covert action and economic sanctions, the Chinese have a long-range strategy based on offering economic incentives.   These two videos from Caspian Report give a good idea of what that strategy is and how it works.

The key parts of the strategy are the Belt and Road Initiative (aka New Silk Road) for extending roads, rail lines and oil and gas pipelines across the interior of Asia to connect China with other Asian nations, Russia and Europe, and also for buying rights to key seaports in the Indian Ocean and beyond.  Another is to finance infrastructure projects to Asian and African nations that can’t get credit from European and U.S. banks.

This is not altruistic.  It is a means of making China more powerful and secure, and giving the Chinese access to the world’s natural resources.  In the long run, leaders of small Third World nations may regret having got into debt to China.  But what do the USA—or, for that matter, the European Union—have to offer as an alternative?

The new New World Order

October 16, 2018

Following the collapse of Communism in eastern Europe in 1989, the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the emergence of China as a capitalist nation, American leaders declared the United States the world’s sole superpower.

After nearly 30 years, the U.S. government is still struggling with Russia and still struggling with China.

Following the 9/11 attacks, American leaders declared a worldwide “war on terror.”  After going on 20 years, that war is still going on, with no clear goal that I can see except to not admit defeat.

It’s time for our leaders and also we, the people, to consider that we may have made a mistake, painful and shame as it may be to admit that.  It’s time to face facts, which are that (1) the United States isn’t and can’t be the world’s sole superpower and (2) continuous economic warfare and actual warfare is not sustainable.

I read two good articles this morning about the current international situation.  One is a survey by Pepe Escobar, a Brazilian who’s a roving correspondent for Asia Times.  The other consists of constructive suggestions by Col. Andrew Bacevich, a career military officer who served in combat in Vietnam, who had a second career as a professor of history and international relations at Boston University.

Both articles will tell you things that, if you’re an American, you won’t find in your daily newspaper or evening network television broadcast.

LINKS

Welcome to the G-20 from Hell: World leaders wrestle with a maelstrom of complex, burning issues as they prepare for November 30 summit by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

Unsolicited Advice for an Undeclared Presidential Candidate: a Letter to Elizabeth Warren by Andrew Bacevich for TomDispatch.

Why did the 1968 French student rebellion fail?

October 15, 2018

Last Friday I saw a remarkable movie, “In the Intense Now,” about the French student uprising in May, 1968, showing why at the time all things seemed possible and what went wrong.  I didn’t go to the movie with the intention of posting a review of it, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.

The filmmaker, João Moreira Salles, is a Brazilian who, in 1968, was a small boy living in Paris with his parents.  The movie consists of archival footage mainly from France, but also from Czechoslovakia and Brazil and home movies his mother took on a visit to China in 1966.

He captures the joy the students felt in breaking free of the constraints of a mediocre bureaucratic society and their hope that all things were possible.

He shows their leader, the cocky, smart-alec Daniel Cohn=Bendit and I can share their pleasure is seeing him in a TV panel show, telling off the pompous intellectual authorities.

The student riots were followed by a series of strikes by factory workers all over France.  I always thought that the students and workers in France, unlike in the USA, were comrades in arms.

But Moreira Salles showed a delegation of students marching to a factory occupied by strikers to show their solidarity, only to have the workers mock them as “future bosses.”

The striking workers, he contended, were revolutionary in a way that the students were not.  He contrasted a graffito saying (approximately – I didn’t make an exact mental note at the time) “All power to the workers,” with a graffito (again – I don’t remember exactly) saying something about following the desires of your heart and not advertising slogans.

The first graffito was a revolutionary slogan.  The second was not.

He contrasted political demonstrations that are intended to bring about revolutionary charge with political demonstrations that are merely intended to express emotion.  Holders of power feel threatened by the first, but can tolerate the second.

He showed footage from August, 1968, showing the Soviet occupation of Prague, which shot furtively, mostly from behind curtained windows, and the later footage of the funeral of Jan Palace, a student who committed suicide in 1969 by setting himself on fire in order to protest the re-imposition of dictatorship, which was shot openly.

Moreira Salles said the difference was that, in August, the Soviets were fearful of a real uprising, and, the following January, they were not threatened by allowing the Czechs to vent their grief.

He showed three funerals in France—one of a student killed by police, one of a worker killed by police, and one—never before shown in documentaries of the 1968 uprising, of a police officer murdered by rioters, who was crushed against a wall by an empty truck aimed at him with bricks on the accelerator.

He also showed a funeral of a worker killed while protesting the new Brazilian dictatorship.  The funeral was a political demonstration; burial of the worker was almost an afterthought.

Moreira Salles showed a conciliatory speech by President Charles De Gaulle on TV, which was followed by the largest student riot so ar, and then a radio broadcast a ew days later, taking a hard line against breakdown of law and order.

The second broadcast was followed by a pro-government demonstration, consisting mainly but not entirely of members of the prosperous classes, which drew more people than any of the student demonstrations.

In the age of #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo, it’s important to think about the difference between a serious politics with a strategy to bring about change, and a psychodrama politics limited to expressing emotion.

Then again, what good is a revolution without spontaneity and joy?  Emma Goldman, who was a true revolutionary if anybody ever was, said she didn’t want to be part of any revolutionary movement in which she couldn’t dance.

And, after all, it wasn’t the students who tamed the French workers’ movement.  It was the Communist-dominated trade unions, whose leaders had long ago compromised with the status quo.

I don’t draw a simple moral from the movie, but I find a lot to chew over in my mind.

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Patrisse Cullors’ Black Lives Matter memoir

October 14, 2018

Patrisse Khan-Cullors, an artist and activist from Los Angeles, was one of three black women who started the Black Lives Matter movement.   She co-wrote WHEN THEY CALL YOU A TERRORIST: a Black Lives Matter Memoir (2017) to tell what it’s like to grow up and live in a world in which black lives don’t seem to matter.

She wrote about her childhood and coming of age, about her mother struggling in multiple low-age jobs to allow her four children to survive, about her vocations as an activist and a performance artist, and about finding love as a Queer person who doesn’t recognize gender boundaries.

The over-riding theme of the book is surviving as a poor black person in an unforgiving society, in which employers, governmental institutions and especially the police were indifferent or hostile.

When she was nine, she saw her older brothers, Paul, 13, and Monte, 11 (her third sibling is baby sister Jasmine), set upon and humiliated by police for no reason.  All they were doing was hanging out with other boys, none over 14, in an alley because they had no playground or vacant lot or any place else to so.  Police screamed at them, forced them up against a wall and half-stripped them in public—just for being boys with nothing to do.

The same thing happened to her when she was 12 years old.  Police entered her classroom, handcuffed her, took her to the dean’s office and had her searched, just like her brothers, because somebody had reported she’d smoked marijuana.

Later she visited a rich white friend, whose brother was a drug dealer was a high school student who kept marijuana in garbage bags.  He said he never was stopped by police, and never feared police.

The main thing she had going for her were sympathetic and supportive teachers, in elementary school and in a social justice-oriented charter high school she was able to attend.

Every time she writes about something awful that happened to herself, her family or her friends, she refers to some news article or academic study that indicates it was not an isolated event, but part of a pattern.

Her older brother Monte, was actually called a terrorist.

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Black Lives Matter and the real terrorists

October 14, 2018

My dictionary’s definition of terrorism is “the use of terror and violence to intimidate, subjugate, etc., especially as a political weapon.”

If there is any group of people in American history who have been terrorized, it is African slaves and their descendants.  When they were theoretically emancipated, a terrorist organization, the Ku Klux Klan, arose to intimidate and subjugate them through the use of terror and violence.  The Klan was a predecessor and role model for Nazism and fascism in 20th century Europe.

I can remember when white people could kill black people with impunity in certain parts of the country. Patrisse Cullors, pointed out in her book, When They Call You a Terrorist, written with Asha Bandele., that white people are still killing unarmed black people out of fear, and often getting off with no punishment or token punishment.

Yet when she joined with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi to form Black Lives Matter, they themselves were accused of terrorism, even though Black Lives Matter neither practices nor advocates violence.

The FBI has added “black identity terrorism” to its categories of terrorism.   There could be such a thing, I suppose, but most domestic terrorists, including those who attack police, are white racist terrorists.

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Patrisse Khan-Cullors and liquid modernity

October 14, 2018

Patrisse Khan-Cullors

When They Call You a Terrorist: a Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele is an eloquent and just outcry against injustice.  It also reflects a world and a way of thinking that I’m not comfortable with.

A few months ago I learned a new phrase—”liquid modernity.”  The idea is that we no longer live in a world of fixed structures—political, economic, social and moral—that we can either cling to or fight against.  Everything is fluid and ever-changing, and individuals have to continually reinvent themselves and start anew.

I can best explain what I mean by comparing and contrasting Patrisse Cullors today and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 50 years ago.

I make the comparison not to rank them or nor to denigrate Cullors.  She has overcome difficulties I can barely imagine and accomplished orders of magnitude more in 30-some years I have in 80-some.  The comparison is to show how thinking about justice and society has changed in 50 years.

Black Lives Matter and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference are not opposites.  They both engaged in non-violent protest in order to bring about social justice.  Although most Americans now venerate Dr. King, it is through a golden haze of amnesia that makes us forget he and his movement were as controversial and as hated in their day as Black Lives Matter is today.

The SCLC was tightly organized and highly disciplined.  Dr. King was highly protective of its image.  People who wanted to participate in SCLC protests had to submit to training in the discipline of non-violence and provide assurance that they would not do anything to harm the cause.

Although Dr. King had a low opinion of the average white American’s sense of justice, he was concerned about white public opinion and sought out white allies, including journalists, labor leaders and Christian and Jewish clergy.

Which is not to say he was subservient to white opinion.  His opposition to the Vietnam War, while justified in the light of history, cost him the support of President Johnson and many white allies.

Black Lives Matter is loosely organized.  In its early days, it consisted of people following a meme on Twitter and Facebook, and there was confusion as to who had a right to speak for Black Lives Matter and who didn’t.   It’s now a more formal organization with authorized chapters.  I’m not familiar with its inner structure, but my impression is that it still is not highly centralized.

This has advantages, of course.  Individuals and local chapters are able to act on their own initiative without getting permission from a central governing body.

Black Lives Matter does not rely on the mainstream press to get the word out.  Communication is by means of social media, which did not exist in Dr. King’s time.

Nor do Black Lives Matter leaders frame their statements or their actions with an eye to what white people think of them.   Its emphasis is on solidarity among black people, whether male or female, native-born or immigrant, straight or LGBTQ, and unity in pressing their case.

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The Cowboy Hávamál on video

October 13, 2018

About three years ago, I linked to the Cowboy Hávamál, a translation of an ancient Norse book of wisdom into the idiom of the American West.  Prof. Jackson Crawford included it as an appendix to his translation of The Poetic Edda: Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes.

Prof. Crawford took the written translation down from his web site, but provided this oral translation instead.  Click on Jackson Crawford’s Old Norse Channel for his complete YouTube videos.

He saw a link between the ethic of the Viking warriors of the pagan Norse sagas and the pioneers of the American West in the time of his grandfather.  Both cultures honored courage, loyalty and the sense of honor.

I think young men today need such teachings, along with affirmation of the more civilized virtues of sportsmanship and chivalry toward the weak, more than they need lectures about the toxicity of masculinity.  I think the longing for such teaching is one reason for the popularity of Dr. Jordan Peterson.

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The right wing’s winning long-term strategy

October 11, 2018

Appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is part of a disciplined long-term strategy by the American right wing to lock in its power for generations to come.

It means the rest of the corporate Republican power play—gerrymandering, voter suppression and virtually unlimited campaign spending—is unrepealable.

The Supreme Court has become a House of Lords—a legislature of last resort.  During my lifetime, it abolished school segregation, legalized abortion, legalized gay marriage, blocked campaign finance reform, and reshaped Obamacare.  It has a potential veto power over virtually anything Congress might do.

Progressive and Democratic leaders have no long-term strategy of their own for the Supreme Court or anything else.  Instead they merely react to events, often in ways that are obviously futile—asking the Electoral College to overturn the results of the 2016 election, hoping Russiagate will drive President Trump from office, planning to impeach Kavanaugh in the future.

Even if the Democratic leaders got a strategy and stuck to it, it could take 10 or 20 years or more to undo what the right-wing corporatist movement has accomplished.  It took decades for the corporate right to bring the United States to where it is today, and changing things back will not be done overnight—if ever.

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You could say there is “a vast right-wing conspiracy” except that it is not secret.  It has always been out in the open for anyone to see, if they care to look.  I wrote about this at length in a previous post.

The strategic corporate movement began with the Lewis Powell memo to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in which the future Supreme Court justice argued that American business had to act strategically to protect its own position in society.

The result was the creation of a media, research and lobbying infrastructure, such Fox News, the Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council, which was tightly integrated with the corporate wing of the Republican Party.  The Federalist Society, founded in 1982, grooms reliably pro-corporate lawyers for judicial appointments.

It is true that there are many institutions with a built-in left-wing bias.  But the bias is unconscious and not a party line based on a planned, coordinated strategy.

The corporate movement crossed an ethical line with the REDMAP campaign.  In a targeted campaign, they gained control of both houses of 25 state legislatures in 2010, and proceeded to re-draw their congressional and state legislative districts so as to lock in a Republican majority.

At the same time they enacted laws making it more difficult for racial minorities to vote and canceling voter registrations, mainly of racial minorities, for bogus reasons.  The main obstacle to this strategy was the federal courts, which overruled the more obvious attempts to rig elections and disenfranchise voters.

Mitch McConnell (AP)

Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader since 2007, has removed this obstacle by his partisan and successful effort to give stack the judiciary in favor of the Republicans.

He made it his priority to hold up appointments to the federal bench when Barack Obama was President  and then to push through appointments after Donald Trump took office.

When the Republicans were out of power, they took advantage of the “blue slip” tradition, whereby Senators have the right to block a judicial appointment in their states.

They used procedural rules to slow down President Obama’s judicial appointments, creating a backlog of vacancies.

During the last year of the Obama administration, McConnell simply refused to permit consideration of Obama’s appointment of Merrick Garland, a moderately conservative but non-partisan judge.  There is no basis for such a refusal except partisanship.  It is an example of politics as a moral equivalent of war.

Now that Donald Trump is in the White House, judicial appointments go through quickly, and “blue slips” are a thing of the past.  Thanks to McConnell, the corporate movement has achieved its goal.

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Left-wing parties win college grads, lose workers

October 10, 2018

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Left-wing parties in the UK and France, as well as the USA, are gaining support of the educated classes while losing support of blue-collar workers.

The French economist Thomas Piketty said politics in these three countries is a conflict between the “Merchant Right” and the “Brahmin Left,” a high-incom elite vs. a high-education elite.

I don’t know about the specific situation in France, but it’s clear to me that the leaders of Democratic Party in the USA and the Labour Party in the UK care more about the material interests of a professional class than they do about the material interests of workers.

LINKS

Brahmin Left vs. Merchant Right: Rising Inequality and the Changing Structure of Political Conflict by Thomas Piketty.

How the left stopped being a party of the working class by Simon Wren-Lewis for his Mainly Macro blog.

U.S. rings Russia with bio-warfare labs

October 9, 2018

An investigative journalist, Dilyana Gaytanzhieva, has uncovered evidence of deadly tests of biological substances in a Pentagon-funded research laboratory in Tbilisi, Georgia.

The US Embassy to Tbilisi transports frozen human blood and pathogens as diplomatic cargo for a secret US military program. Internal documents, implicating US diplomats in the transportation of and experimenting on pathogens under diplomatic cover were leaked to me by Georgian insiders.

According to these documents, Pentagon scientists have been deployed to the Republic of Georgia and have been given diplomatic immunity to research deadly diseases and biting insects at the Lugar Center – the Pentagon biolaboratory in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi.

The work at the laboratory is part of a $2.1 billion program of the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency that operates in 25 countries, including the former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan as well as nations in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Africa.

U.S. officials have said the research is aimed at promoting public health, and not on ways to spread disease to crops, animals and people.  If that is so, why is the research being done under a secret military program?

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Does American labor need its own party?

October 5, 2018

Organized labor in the United States is committed to the Democratic Party, but, as the late Tony Mazzocchi came to realize, the Democratic Party is not committed to organized labor.

TonyMazzocchibiogralph51GaK-Gub-L._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Les Leopold’s biography, The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor, tells how Mazzocchi’s final days were devoted to trying to create a Labor Party in the United States.

The dilemma of any labor party is that by taking votes away from a Democratic candidate that is indifferent to the needs of workers, it risks throwing the election to a Republican who is actively hostile to workers.

Mazzocchi’s answer was that a Labor Party should refrain from running candidates for at least 10 years, or until it had a realistic chance of winning.

Meanwhile it should continue politics by other means—supporting strikes and boycotts, educating workers on the issues, pressuring and lobbying politicians on the issues and holding them accountable.

Running candidates in elections is only one part of politics, Mazzocchi said.

He was a strong supporter of John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy in his younger days, and helped build the Democratic Party on the Republican stronghold of Long Island.

But, as he noted, it was Richard M. Nixon, not John F. Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson, who signed the Occupational Health and Safety Act.  That was not because Nixon was pro-labor, but that labor unions in 1970 exerted enough power to bring him around.

He was disappointed with the Carter administration, which failed to enact modest pro-labor legislation despite Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress.  But the impetus for a Labor Party came with the Clinton administration, which openly turned its back on the union movement.

The Labor Party made a good start in the 1990s, when there was a temporary upsurge in union membership and militancy.  At its peak, according to organizer Mark Dudzic, its affiliates comprised six national unions and 500 local unions and associated groups, representing 20 percent of union members.

But many labor activists turned against third-party movements after the 2000 election, when Mazzocchi’s friend Ralph Nader ran for President on the Green Party ticket and was blamed for throwing the election to George W. Bush.  Support for the Labor Party leveled off and then declined.

U.S. labor unions still have little voice in the Democratic Party.  President Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, famously said they “have no place to go.”  And the movement is even weaker than in 2002, when Mazzocchi died.

Mazzocchi’s long-term fear, according to Les Leopold, was the emergence of a right-wing American working-class movement organized around issues of race, immigration and nationalism.  If progressives can’t or won’t protect workers’ economic interests, somebody else will fill that void.

LINKS

Party Time: an excerpt from The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor.

What Happened to the Labor Party? An interview with Mark Dudzic in Jacobin.

American labor and the environmental movement

October 5, 2018

Down through the years, corporate polluters have told their employees they have a choice of working under toxic conditions or not having any jobs at all.

All too often workers accepted this tradeoff, and treated environmentalists as their enemies.  It is a kind of Stockholm syndrome—hostages identifying with their captors.

Environmentalists for their part have often neglected workers.  Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) and Barry Commoner’s Science and Survival (1967) warned the public of the danger of pesticides, but had little to say about the danger to workers who manufactured these pesticides.

Few workers understood the dangers of the chemicals to which they were exposed.  Few environmentalists knew the extent of worker exposure to dangerous chemicals.

The great accomplishment of Tony Mazzocchi, whose life story is told in Les Leopold’s The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Laborwas to bring environmentalists and workers together.

He never criticized environmentalists as being privileged people who failed to understand the realities of workers’ lives.  Instead he tried to bring the environmental movement and the labor movement together.

He had Commoner give eye-opening talks to members of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers’ union on the medical effects of chemicals they worked with.

Mazzocchi helped organize the coalition of labor unions and environmentalists that is credited for enactment of the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) Act of 1970.

The OSHA law gave the Secretary of Labor the power to set health and safety standards and to enforce them through workplace inspections.  It gave unions and other interested groups the right to petition for new or stronger standards, and the right to call for inspections in the face of “imminent danger.”  It required employers to provide a work environment free from hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.

But as he soon found, having these legal rights was one thing, and getting the federal government to enforce them was another.   As I read accounts in the book of how the government tolerated blatant hazards, I remember my experience in reporting on business in the 1980s.  Small business owners complained of being put to great expense to fix problems that seemed picayune both them and to me.

At the same time big corporations continued to endanger the lives and health of their employees in blatant ways, and, as Les Leopold reported, the government inspectors weren’t interested.

Tony Mazzocchi said more is needed—a workers’ “right to know” what chemicals they are being exposed to and their properties, and a “right to act” to protect themselves.  The ultimate goal, he said, should be to eliminate hazardous chemicals altogether.

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Communism, American labor unions and the CIA

October 4, 2018

One thing I learned from reading Les Leopold’s biography of the visionary labor leader Tony Mazzocchi was the great harm done to the labor movement by the anti-Communist drive of the late 1940s and early 1950s.

It drove out some of the most effective and dedicated labor organizers, created lasting bitterness and division within labor and led to a secret alliance with the Central Intelligence Agency.

This was not just something imposed on labor by the anti=Communist oath required under the Taft Hartley Act of 1947.  It was part of a drive by liberals such as Walter Reuther, who organized a purge of the United Auto Workers, and Hubert Humphrey, who did the same for the Farmer-Labor Party in Minnesota.

I came of age in the 1950s and, as I became politically aware, I became a Cold War liberal myself.  I thought of Communists as followers of a kind of cult, blindly following a leader, who in this case happened to be Joseph Stalin, one of history’s bloodiest tyrants.

The Mazzocchi biography shows this view had some truth in it, but it was not the whole story.  Some American Communists were among the bravest fighters for civil rights and labor rights.

They ran African-Americans for public office at a time when no Democrat or Republican dared to do so.   The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s most trusted white adviser was a former top Communist fund-raiser.

It seems like a paradox that fighters for democracy and freedom in their own country could be mesmerized by a totalitarian foreign ruler, but it was so.

The writer Doris Lessing, who was a Communist in Rhodesia as a young woman, said the idea, however illusory, that she was being backed up by a powerful country where ideals of justice gave her spiritual strength.

Tony Mazzocchi was never a Communist and never followed any party line, Communist or otherwise.  He thought many of the Communists he knew were unrealistic and overly ideological.   He didn’t hate, fear or shun them, but he was held back—for example, when he considered running for Congress from Long Island—by the fear that these associations could be used to discredit him and the labor movement.

The Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, like the United Auto Workers and the AFL-CIO itself, worked closely and secretly with the Central Intelligence Agency to support anti-Communist unions in Europe and elsewhere in the world.

If I had known about it at the time, I would have thought it was a good idea.  Moscow supported pro-Communist unions, so what would be wrong with Washington supporting anti-Communist unions?   I would have seen this all in the context of a great struggle of democracy against totalitarianism.

The problem with the way I thought back then was the assumption that the CIA, which had engineered the overthrow of democratic governments in Iran and Guatemala, could be trusted as an ally of either workers or democracy.

In the 1950s, there was a fear of Communist infiltration and subversion of left-wing and progressive movements.  But the really effective infiltrators and subversives were the FBI and the CIA.

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Tony Mazzocchi, a working-class hero

October 4, 2018

Organized labor in the United States has been in decline for decades.  If labor unions are to make a comeback, they should learn from the example of Tony Mazzocchi (1926-2002) who was vice-president and then secretary-treasurer of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union

Mazzocchi sought an alliance between the labor movement and the environmental movement and the peace movement, which have all too often regarded each other as antagonists.  President Nixon credited him with inspiring the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

He was a friend of Karen Silkwood, the whistle-blower who revealed the toxic working conditions at the Kerr-McGee

He fought for equal rights for African-Americans and pay equity for women before these were headline issues.

He thought the labor movement made a big mistake in its unconditional loyalty to the Democratic Party, whose leadership has taken workers’ support for granted, and in the years prior to his death in 2002 was trying to create institutions to give labor an independent voice.

I confess that I knew nothing about him until my e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey sent me a copy of THE MAN WHO HATED WORK and Loved Labor: the Life and Times of Tony Mazzocchi by Les Leopold (2007).

This book is well-written and thoroughly researched.  Although Les Leopold was a friend and protegé of Mazzocchi’s, he depicts his mistakes and failings as well as his successes.

Mazzocchi really did hate work as it is organized in American industry, and he didn’t think anybody ought to have to work under existing conditions.

He believed that no wage-earner need work for more than 20 hours a day, and that workers should have the final say in how work is organized.

I read somewhere that the average chemical worker lives less than 10 years beyond his retirement date.  In contrast, I spent my work life on newspapers, and I have enjoyed 20 years of a pleasant retirement and may well enjoy four or five or even more to come.

This is not because I exercised or ate a healthy diet, but because I had a job that didn’t kill me.  Workers in the oil, chemical and nuclear industries have as much right to live out their natural life span as I do.

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Why Kavanaugh should not be confirmed

October 3, 2018

Brett Kavanaugh

Brett Kavanaugh is a political hack who should not have received the Court of Appeals appointment he has, and should have been rejected by the Senate committee as a nominee for Supreme Court without calling Christine Blasey Ford to testify,

He got his start helping special prosecutor Ken Starr investigate Bill Clinton, was part of the legal team that challenged the voter recount in Florida in 2000 and then worked for White House Special Counsel Alberto Gonzalez in the George W. Bush administration.

There are questions as to whether he was involved in discussions of warrantless surveillance, warrantless detentions and torture, and George W. Bush’s sweeping assertions of presidential authority in signing statements. Kavanaugh has said these issues weren’t part of his job, while the Trump administration has held back on releasing the documentary record of Kavanaugh’s service.

What Kavanaugh thinks about these questions goes to the heart of his understanding of the Constitution and the rule of law.  At the very least, he should be questioned closely about what he thinks about these issues.

As for Dr. Ford’s allegations, I’ve not followed the committee hearings closely, but it seems to me that she is telling the truth she says that at age 15, she was in a room with Kavanaugh, he grabbed her and she thought he was trying to rape her.  She was traumatized by something.

We’ll probably never know that Kavanaugh thought he doing.  He may not remember himself.  All we do know is that he has not been frank about what happened.

Should this, in and of itself, be a disqualification for serving on the Supreme Court?

This is not a case like Ted Kennedy after Chappaquiddick, Bill Clinton in 1992 or Donald Trump in 2016, in which supporters of a candidate had to choose between overlooking reprehensible conduct or letting the bad side (as they saw it) win.

The position could be filled by one of many right-wing judges who’ve never been credibly accused of sexually abusing women.

The Trump administration has nothing to lose by withdrawing Kavanaugh’s name and proposing another conservative.  Kavanaugh’s life will not be ruined.  He’ll remain in his plum job as Court of Appeals judge.

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Learning to live in ‘liquid modernity’

September 27, 2018

“Liquid modernity” is a phrase I came across a couple of months ago.   It is an expression that makes a lot of things fall into place.   It expresses how things that once seemed solid and changeless are now fluid and ever-changing.

The expression was coined by a Polish philosopher named Zygmunt Bauman (1925-2017).    My e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey sent me a copy of LIQUID TIMES: Living in an Age of Uncertainty (2007), one of Bauman’s many books on the topic.   A 2016 interview with Bauman is shown in the video above.

I came of age in the 1950s in a world dominated by big organizations that offered security in exchange for conformity.   Social roles, including sex roles, were well-defined, although starting to change.  Science was regarded as the source of true knowledge.

Today’s world offers no security.  Social roles, including the biological distinction between male and female, are in a state of flux.  Post-modern philosophers tell us that nobody knows anything, and you have to figure things out as you go along.  We are at the mercy of economic forces that we don’t understand.

We are free of many of the constraints that hemmed us in back then.   Instead we constantly have to make choices without having any way to know the consequences of these choices.

Our great fear back then was of totalitarianism.  Now our great fear is of terrorism and the collapse of social order.

Bauman wrote that the great dissolving force is globalization—the ending of  restrictions on international movement of goods, services, information and money. along with unsuccessful attempts to restrict the international movement of people.

Politics becomes divorced from power, he wrote.  Politics is national and local, while the power lies with international corporations and organizations not subject to political control.

Governments are helpless before global economic forces, and turn over their historic functions to private organizations.   Individuals find less support either from government or from communities.  Instead of communities, there are networks.

Responsibility for coping with change is solely up to the individual, Bauman wrote.  But change is unpredictable.   Long-range planning is impossible.

∞∞∞

In an age of liquid modernity, you can be affected by events that happen anywhere in the world.  There are no safe havens.

The present era is not more dangerous than earlier eras—at least not for middle-class property owners in North America and Europe.  The difference is that today’s dangers are unknown and unknowable.

If there are wolves in the forest, you can stay out of the forest or be on guard against wolves when you go in.  But there is no way to guard against disruptive economic change that may wipe out your livelihood, or terrorist attacks or mass shootings.

Bauman said liquid modernity gives rise to free-floating fear, which politicians and demagogues can direct at any plausible object.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that the war on terror would end when Americans feel safe.  That means it will never end.  Each U.S. attack on foreign countries increases the chances of a blowback terrorist attack on Americans.

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U.S. civilian and military budget year-by-year

September 24, 2018

The video above shows the U.S. government’s discretionary spending from 1963 through 2017, in constant 2009 inflation-adjusted dollars.  I thank my e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey for this link

Notice how military spending has increased, while becoming a smaller percentage of overall U.S. government spending.

The video below shows the U.S. government’s discretionary spending in comparison with spending on entitlements.

The videos are the work of a data scientist named Will Geary.   Click on his name for his web site.  He works for CitySwifter, a company that specializes in making urban bus routes more efficient, but he made these videos on his own time.

Below are two videos tracing U.S. arms sales year since 1950.

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Jaron Lanier on addictive social media

September 21, 2018

View story at Medium.com

These are notes for a presentation to the drop-in discussion group at First Universalist Church of Rochester, 150 S. Clinton Ave., Rochester, N.Y. at 9:15 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 23.

Free market capitalism + technological change = addictiveness.

Free market capitalism + technological change + artificial intelligence + behavioral psychology + advertising-based social media = maximum addictiveness.

In 2010, a venture capitalist named Paul Graham wrote an essay entitled “The Acceleration of Addictiveness.”  He said that in a free market, the most addictive products would be the most successful, and technological progress would accelerate addictiveness.

He didn’t have a good answer for this, because he didn’t want to give up the benefits of either the free market or technology, except for individuals to understand this process and shield themselves from it.

This has happened in social media. Addiction is a business model.  Research centers, such as the Stanford University Persuasive Technology Laboratory, perfected ways to use technology to modify behavior. Companies use behavioral psychology—positive and negative reinforcement—to make video games and social networks compulsive. 

Jaron Lanier in Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now explains that Internet addiction is a real thing.  It is by design.

A vast amount of data is collected about you, moment to moment, including your facial expressions, the way your body moves, who you know, what you read, where you goes, what you eat, and your likely susceptibility to assorted attempts at persuasion.  This data is then used by algorithms to create feeds of stimuli – both paid ads and unpaid posts – that are designed to boost your “engagement” and increase the effectiveness of “advertisements.”  (The honest terms would be “addiction” and “behavior modification stimuli.” Indeed, Facebook executives have written that they deliberately incorporated addictive techniques into their service.) 

Advertising was previously a mostly one-way street; the advertiser sent forth the ad and hoped for the best.  But now you are closely monitored to measure the effect of what is called an ad so that a personalized stream of stimuli can be incrementally adjusted until the person’s behavior is finally altered.  Most of you are now living in automated virtual Skinner Boxes.

Everyone is susceptible of being influenced on the biochemical level by positive and negative stimuli.

On social media, positive stimuli conveyed might include being retweeted, friended, or made momentarily viral.  Negative stimuli include the familiar occurrences of being made to feel unappreciated, unnoticed, or ridiculed.  Unfortunately, positive and negative online stimuli are pitted against each other in an unfair fight. 

Positive and negative emotions have comparable ultimate power over us, but they exhibit crucially different timing.  Positive emotions typically take longer to build and can be lost quickly, while negative ones can come on faster and dissipate more slowly.  It takes longer to build trust than to lose it.  One can become scared or angry quickly, but it takes longer for the feelings to fade. 

Those who use social media to exert influence – whether human or algorithm – are a little like high frequency traders, constantly watching results and adjusting.  The feedback loop is tight and fast. 

The sour and lousy consequence, which no one foresaw, is that the negative emotions are the most often emphasized, because positive ones take too long to show up in the feedback loop that influences how paying customers and dark actors use these services to manipulate ordinary users and society.

Whatever divisions exist in society are likely to be widened by social media.  The Internet can be a means of bringing people together, but anger, paranoia, xenophobia and conspiracy theories are more engaging.

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Most human beings live in Asia

September 19, 2018

Double click to enlarge or click on Our World in Data

Max Roser’s Our World in Data published a population cartogram map of the world that’s a good corrective to a Euro-centric or USA-centric view of the world.

Some highlights:

More people live in Asia than live in the rest of the world put together.

More people live in Africa than live in North and South America, with Australia, New Zealand and the islands of the Pacific thrown in.  But that’s fewer people than live in either India or China.

As many people live in the greater Tokyo metropolitan area (38.3m) as live in all of Canada (37m)

As many people live on the island of Java (145m) as live in all of Russia (144m).

More people live in Ethiopia (107.5m) or the Philippines (106.5m) than live in any European country except Russia.

More people by far live in Nigeria (195.9m) than in any European country including Russia.

More people live in the Indian state of Utter Pradesh (220m) than in any two European countries put together.

More people live in Thailand than live in France.

More people live in Uzbekistan (32.4m) as live in all the Scandinavian countries – Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland – put together (27m)

More people live in the Palestinian territories (5.1m) than live in Ireland (4.6m)

The USA, with 326.8 million inhabitants, is the largest non-Asian nation.  But the nation that declared independence in 1776 numbered only 2.5 million—fewer than today’s Puerto Rico (3.7m), New Zealand (4.7m), Liberia (3.9m) or Israel (8.5m)

Counting squares on the cartogram, the population of England is more than triple the combined population of the rest of the British Isles put together, including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland plus the Republic of Ireland.

Max Roser, using United Nations statistics, has data indicating that the world’s birth rates are falling and that at some point around the end of the century, world population will level off.

There’s a question as to whether that level of population will be sustainable, in the light of soil exhaustion, exhaustion of non-renewable resources and the disruptions caused by global climate change.

There’s an even bigger question as to whether that level of population can enjoy the same level of material comfort that I and other middle-class people in North America and Europe enjoy.

The great fear in 1968 when Paul Ehrlich wrote The Population Bomb was mass famine, which he at the time thought was imminent.  But even if that doesn’t happen, a world of greatly unequal populations combined with greatly unequal standards of living will not be a world at peace.

There was a time when we who live in rich countries had the choice of ignoring the more numerous people who lived in poor countries, because they were powerless.  This is no longer true, and will become even less true as time goes on.

LINKS

A Map of the World Where the Sizes of Countries are Determined by Population by Jason Kottke for kottke.org.

The map we need if we want to think about how global living standards are changing by Max Roser for Our World in Data.

World Population Growth by Max Roser and Esteban Ortiz-Espina for Our World in Data.

Future Population Growth by Max Roser for Our World in Data.

‘Based on a true story…’

September 17, 2018

Jason Kottke of kottke.org pointed out a page on Information Is Beautiful, which goes through movies “based on a true story” scene by scene and rates each scene by how much it is based on fact.

Each movie gets a rating on how many minutes of screen time are fact and how many are fiction.  Interesting.  Here are the ratings.

Selma – 100 percent (!!)

The Big Short – 91.4 percent

Bridge of Spies – 89.9 percent

Twelve Years a Slave – 88.1 percent

Rush – 81.9 percent

Captain Phillips – 81.4 percent

Spotlight – 76.2 percent

The Social Network – 76.1 percent

The Wolf of Wall Street – 74.6 percent

The King’s Speech – 73.4 percent

Hidden Figures – 72.6 percent

Philomena – 69.8 percent

Lion – 61.4 percent

Dallas Buyers Club – 61.4 percent

American Sniper – 56.7 percent

Hacksaw Ridge – 51.5 percent

The Imitation Game – 41.4 percent

Many people, including friends of mine, regard movies of historical events as sources of information.   Information is Beautiful has done a good service by judging the accuracy of that information in recent well-known movies.

Usually when I’m impressed with a movie based on historical events, I read the book it’s based on.  I read Twelve Years a Slave, which showed the movie was largely accurate, and The Free State of Jones (not rated above), which showed many dramatic scenes in the movie never happened, but that the movie accurately depicted the overall situation.

I relied on the movie “Spotlight” for information on how the Boston Globe reported the Catholic pedophile scandal, and I’m glad to be reassured that it was largely accurate.

I understand that in dramatizing complex events, it is necessary to have composite and symbolic characters and to condense events, so I’m willing to cut directors a certain amount of slack.

But if you make a movie using the names of real people, and say it is “based on a true story,” you have a responsibility for a certain minimum level of accuracy—say 75 percent.

Otherwise change the names of the characters and drop the claim to be based on truth.  “The Imitation Game” would have been a fine movie if the hero had not been named “Alan Turning.”

LINK

Based on a True Story? Scene-by-scene breakdown of Hollywood films on Information Is Beautiful.

Seen in a public library

September 15, 2018

I forget where I came across this on the Internet.  For the benefit of non-American and younger visitors to this blog, the numbers are part of the old Dewey decimal system of library subject classifications; that system came into existence before the digital age.

What’s really wrong with Trump’s administration

September 13, 2018

Most of the coverage of President Donald Trump is based on his constant stream of tweets and social media comments, which enables him to dominate the news.

Most of the rest is based in developments of the Mueller Russiagate investigation, which may or may not turn out to be what it’s cracked up to be.

What’s out of the spotlight is reporting about the Trump administration’s actual deeds and policies.

Trump has continued American policy of attempting to dominate the world through military threats and economic sanctions, despite their evident failure.   During the 2016 campaign, I saw some possibility that he, unlike Hillary Clinton, would try to wind down American military interventions.  He was either lying or, what I think is more likely, unable to control the national security establishment—what some of us call the “deep state.”

Trump has continued American policy to risk nuclear confrontation with Russia and North Korea, which puts the whole world in danger.  The national security establishment has undermined his feeble and inept attempts to make peace.  But evidently he has frightened the North and South Korean governments into trying to make peace among themselves, which is a good thing.

Trump does not even pay lip service to trying to avert catastrophic global warming.  Instead his policy is to promote fossil fuels over renewable energy, which will speed up climate change.

Nuclear war and global warming are the main existential threats to the nation and the world.  Trump has failed to address the first and is actively preventing action against the second.

Trump during the campaign promised to do something about the offshoring of American jobs, which is a real problem that the other candidates ignored.  But his threats and tariffs will not help because U.S. industry has become too entangled in international supply chains to free itself overnight.   What’s needed is a long-range industrial policy that will rebuild American industry, which neither party has so far attempted.

Trump during the campaign promised to reform immigration, which is another real issue other candidates ignored.  The cruel treatment of asylum seekers and long-time foreign residents is shameful and does not change the overall situation.  I think there is something to be said for a merit-based immigration system, but I admit I don’t have a complete answer to the immigration question.  But neither does Trump.

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The changing meaning of ‘privilege’

September 13, 2018

The following is from an exchange of e-mails with a friend of mine about an essay by Matthew Crawford, a writer I admire, on the topic of “Privilege.” 

Hello, [Friend]:

    “Privilege” has always been a fraught word for me.  I was brought up to believe that I was a privileged person, and that I had obligations beyond the ordinary to “give back” to society.

    In the high school I attended, a large fraction of students dropped out when they reached the age of 16 because their families wanted them to get jobs.

     In those days, graduation from college was not a universal ambition.  Staying in high school long enough to graduate was considered an achievement.  Very few of us went on to college.

     I was one of the few—predestinated because of the choices of my parents—and therefore in those days (the 1950s) assured of a comfortable middle-class life.  I have been aware throughout my life that I did nothing to deserve having a better fate than my classmates who dropped out of school.

     I was taught from a young age by my parents, teachers and Sunday School teachers that prejudice and discrimination against Negroes (as they were called then), Jews and Catholics was morally wrong.  I came to understand the evils of male chauvinism, homophobia and prejudice against transgendered people about the same time as most liberal education straight white men did.

     I never thought of immunity from prejudice and discrimination as a “privilege.”  I thought of it as something that everyone should enjoy.  The fact that I can drive at night through [a certain suburb] without fear of police harassment does not necessarily mean that some black person has to suffer police harassment in my place.

     It is true that what you call “presumption of competence” is a kind of privilege.  I hadn’t thought of it in exactly that phrase.  But, yes, it true, in competition for scarce resources, such as jobs, I as a straight white Anglo cisgendered male enjoy an unearned advantage over someone who is  gay, black, Hispanic, transgendered, female or some combination.

    Of course such privilege I enjoy is much less than the privilege the privilege of those born to inherited wealth and legacy admissions to elite universities – people such as George W. Bush, Mitt Romney and Donald J. Trump.   They begin life from a position of wealth and power that was out of reach for most people after a lifetime of effort.    The chief means by which people are sorted into social and economic classes are (1) inherited wealth and (2) educational credentials.

     For at least 40 years, a tiny minority of people at the top of the economic and social pyramid have been leveraging their advantages to amass wealth and power at the expense of everybody else.  Most (not all] members of this group are white males, but the vast majority of people, including white males, do not benefit from this group’s privileges.

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The deep state strikes back

September 12, 2018

Image via PJ Media

An anonymous writer wrote an article for the New York Times claiming to be working within the Trump administration to save the American people from the President’s worst excesses.

But those excesses do not include the destruction of protections of health and the environment, tax laws that redistribute income upward or expansion of the already-bloated military budget.

No, the writer regards “effective deregulation, historic tax reform and a more robust military” as “bright spots”.

The threat he and his friends are saving us from is the possibility of peace negotiations with Russia and North Korea.   The national security team supposedly knows better than the elected President.

In public and in private, President Trump shows a preference for autocrats and dictators, such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and displays little genuine appreciation for the ties that bind us to allied, like-minded nations.

Astute observers have noted, though, that the rest of the administration is operating on another track, one where countries like Russia are called out for meddling and punished accordingly, and where allies around the world are engaged as peers rather than ridiculed as rivals.

On Russia, for instance, the president was reluctant to expel so many of Mr. Putin’s spies as punishment for the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain.  He complained for weeks about senior staff members letting him get boxed into further confrontation with Russia, and he expressed frustration that the United States continued to impose sanctions on the country for its malign behavior.  But his national security team knew better — such actions had to be taken, to hold Moscow accountable.

This isn’t the work of the so-called deep state. It’s the work of the steady state.

President Trump reportedly is enraged at the letter writer’s disloyalty in going public with his letter.  What he should be enraged at is the mutiny within his administration that this letter apparently reveals.

There are two issues here.  One is the merit of Trump’s admittedly clumsy and poorly thought out attempts to reduce the threat of nuclear war with Russia and North Korea.  I happen to think this is a step in the right direction, but you may disagree.

The other is the Constitutional question of the authority of the President to determine American foreign policy, subject to the advice and consent of the Senate.

Lawyers say that hard cases make bad law.  I personally think Donald Trump is intellectually, temperamentally and morally unfit to be President, so it is tempting to side with anybody who thwarts his will.

But what’s happening now is a precedent for future administrations.  Allow the national security establishment to set itself up as an un-elected fourth branch of government now, and that’s how it will be from now on, no matter who is in office.

LINKS

I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration by Anonymous for The New York Times.

We’re Watching an Anti-Democratic Coup Unfold by David A. Graham for The Atlantic.

Anonymous Op-Ed From Trump’s White House Shows Danger of Imperial Presidency by Jon Schwartz for The Intercept.

The Anonymous New York Times Op-Ed and the Trumpian Corruption of Language and the Media by Masha Gessen for The New Yorker.