Archive for March, 2016

Do you need religion to give your life meaning?

March 31, 2016

In LIFE AFTER FAITH: The Case for Secular Humanism (2014), Philip Kitcher argues that religion is not necessary to lead a happy, meaningful and ethical life.

PhilipKitcherLifeAfterFaith41M561fKDdL._SX303_BO1,204,203,200_His argument is obviously true, as far as it goes.  I know of many people, through personal aquaintence and reading who aren’t in the least religious, but are happy, wise and good.

But there also are saints and heroes whose religious faith enables them to go beyond what average human nature is capable of, as well as many seemingly ordinary people for whom faith is a source of quiet serenity and unpretentious goodness.

Others are hurt by their religion.  Their faith fails them in times of crisis.  Or they are tormented by a sense of sin because they can’t obey certain rules or accept certain beliefs.

Religion certainly makes life more dramatic.

If I believed, and internalized the belief, that my life was a high-stakes test, leading to either eternal bliss with God or eternal pain without God, my life would be much more intense and meaningful than it is now, but not better.

I would have to struggle to stop myself from thinking about why a merciful and loving God would condemn people to infinite pain for sins committed during a finite life or, even worse, for choosing the wrong creed.

One way to have the satisfactions of religion without being chained to harsh dogmas is through what Kitcher calls “refined religion,” such as Unitarian Universalism, Ethical Culture or Reformed Judaism.

“Refined religion” puts theology on the same level as art, literature, philosophy and science—part of a treasury of human wisdom on which we can draw as needed.

“Refined religion” is not far from Kitcher’s own “soft atheism”, which doesn’t claim that science and philosophy have all the answers and which sees much of value in religious tradition, but sees no basis for affirming that religious beliefs are objectively true.

He admits that both refined religion and secular humanism are weak tea compared to the powerful emotions evoked by the great religious traditions and rituals.

But the great religions traditions have thousands of years’ head start, he wrote; there is no reason in principle why secular humanism cannot evolve rituals and traditions that are just as compelling.

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Language of strength and weakness

March 30, 2016

Donald Trump supporters are motivated primarily by anger.  Even if you don’t like everything about him, they say, he is the main attacker against the corrupt and incompetent political establishment, including Hillary Clinton.

trumpclinton3Hillary Clinton supporters are motivated primarily by fear.  Even if you don’t like everything about her, they say, she is the main defender against the dangerous radical right-wingers, especially Donald Trump.

Anger is an empowering emotion.  It motivates you to take action (however unwise).  Fear is a weakening emotion.  It motivates you to cling to the status quo (however bad).

Consider the following:

Trump appears to have unveiled a moniker for the Democratic presidential front-runner, calling her “incompetent,” and Clinton has returned fire, labeling Trump a “bully” during a speech before a leading American-Israeli group this week in Washington.

Source: USA Today

Which word projects strength and which projects weakness?

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Bernie Sanders and the Israel lobby

March 29, 2016

Bernie Sanders is the only major-party Presidential candidate of Jewish heritage, the only one to have worked on an Israeli kibbutz and the only one to be eligible for Israeli citizenship.

160321221404-bernie-sanders-israel-aipac-the-final-five-election-special-5-00011615-large-169He also is the only one to separate himself, even a little, from the war policy of the present Israeli government.

He was the only candidate to decline to appear before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee last week, and the only one to attempt to discuss the Israel-Palestine situation objectively.

Criticizing the Netanyahu government is, of course, far different from being anti-Israel, much less anti-Semitic, but you wouldn’t think so from the responses of the other candidates.

LINKS

Speech in Salt Lake City on March 21, 2016 by Bernie Sanders.

What They Said: Candidates double down on Israel at AIPAC by Philip Giraldi for The Unz Review.

Photo Credit: CNN

Why a profitable company laid off 1,400 people

March 28, 2016

carrier2WTTVIndianapolis

In February, 1,400 employees of Carrier Air Conditioner in Indianapolis were told their jobs were being transferred to Mexico to cut costs.

It turns out that, according to the annual report of United Technologies, its parent company, that Carrier was a profitable and growing business segment.  In 2015, it was UT’s best-performing division in the company.

So why mess with it?  UT management hoped to boost the company’s stock price by cutting costs.  Managers say they plan to keep on cutting costs for the indefinite future, evidently without regard to

All this runs contrary to the way I was taught in college that a capitalist free enterprise system is supposed to work.

I was taught that the duty of corporate management is to ensure that the corporation survives and is profitable into the indefinite future.  This goal is achieved by making good products and at a reasonable price, and provide good customer service.  To do this, it is necessary to re-invest a good portion of the profits in the business.

UT management’s philosophy is evidently the opposite—to take money out of the business and give it to the passive shareholders.

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The New York Times evidently had a good article on this, which unfortunately is behind a pay wall.  David Dayen summarized its conclusions in an article for Salon.

Last year, Carrier produced a significant chunk of total profits for its parent company, United Technologies.  Of $7.6 billion in earnings in 2015, $2.9 billion came from the Climate, Controls & Security division, where Carrier resides.  Profits from this division have expanded steadily in recent years, which is not what you’d expect from a unit desperate to cut labor costs.

A look at United Technologies’ annual report reveals even more good news: Commercial and industrial products, Carrier’s category, make up over half of UTC’s $56 billion in net sales. Climate, Controls & Security had 3 percent growth in 2015, the highest in the company; it was the only division to increase its profit margin year-over-year.

“Organic sales growth at UTC Climate, Controls & Security was driven by the U.S. commercial and residential heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and transport refrigeration businesses,” according to page 14 of the report. In other words, air conditioners – what the workers are making in Indianapolis – drove the growth of the best-performing facet of United Technologies’ business.

So why would a profitable, growing business need to ship jobs to Mexico?  Because their shareholders demanded it.

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If the New York Times wrote Jesus’s obituary…

March 27, 2016

Sam Roberts, an obituary writer for the New York Times, was asked to imagine what Jesus’s obituary would have been like.

jesus-christ-obit-satire 2Jesus of Nazareth, a Galilean carpenter turned itinerant minister whose appeals to piety and whose repute as a healer had galvanized a growing contingent of believers, died on Friday after being crucified that morning just outside Jerusalem, only days after his followers had welcomed him triumphantly to the city as “the anointed one” and “the Son of David.”  He was about 33.

For a man who had lived the first three decades of his life in virtual obscurity, he attracted a remarkable following in only a few years.  His reputation reflected a persuasive coupling of message, personal magnetism, and avowed miracles.  But it also resonated in the current moment of spiritual and economic discontent and popular resentment of authority and privilege, whether wielded by foreigners from Rome or by the Jewish priests in Jerusalem and their confederates.

[snip]

After running afoul of the Jewish elite in Jerusalem for blasphemy and his arrest on Thursday, Jesus was sentenced to death by Governor Pontius Pilate. (The Jewish authorities lacked jurisdiction to impose capital punishment.)  The charge, in effect, was treason, for claiming to be King of the Jews or “the anointed one” (Messiah in Hebrew and Aramaic; Christos in Greek).  After he was declared dead on Friday night, he was buried nearby in a cave.

On Sunday, his disciples reported that the body was missing.

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Click on What Would Jesus’s New York Times Obituary Look Like? to read the whole thing in Vanity Fair.  Hat tip to kottke.org.

‘The master criminal of the animal world’

March 26, 2016

Click on this to read the remarkable story of the Custer Wolf.

Hat tip to Boing Boing.

A musical instrument based on 2,000 marbles

March 26, 2016

Via bored panda.

Martin Molin, of the Swedish band Wintergatan, built this machine, which uses 2,000 marbles to make music.  It looks like an Animatron video, but it is real.  It is made out of manually-operated levers, pulleys and wheels, mostly wood but including some Lego parts.

Hat tip to Avedon’s Sideshow.

Can college education be free for everyone?

March 25, 2016

I think it is feasible to provide college education with free or affordable tuition, as Bernie Sanders advocates.  Foreign countries do so, and the United States once did, too.

I have long been in favor of free or affordable college education for everybody who has the desire and ability to do college work, but this is different from providing free tuition for everybody.

collegekids97944673-copyRon Unz, the maverick political editor and writer, has proposed that Harvard University offer free tuition.  As he says, it can easily afford it because of the tax-free revenues of its huge endowment fund.  He also advocates for a fairer admissions process, especially for Asian-American students.

Those are excellent proposals.  But they wouldn’t get everybody who wishes into Harvard.

Sanders’ plan is for the federal government to pay for two-thirds of the cost of college education at state universities that offer free tuition and meet other conditions.  I expect that many state governors would turn down this generous offer.  Most states are cutting the budgets of their state university systems.  And after all, many states refused to expand Medicaid even though the Affordable Care Act offered to cover nine-tenths of the cost.

Germany is frequently cited as an example of a country that provides free college tuition for everyone, including foreigners, who can pass an entrance examination.

But only about 28 percent of young German adults are college graduates, compared to 43 percent of Americans.

During the golden age of American public higher education, college education was much less common.  As recently as 1990, only 23 percent of young American adults were college graduates.

Higher education in Germany also is much more bare bones than it is in the USA.  German colleged generally offer a rigorous academic program without the extra-curricular amenities that Americans typically regard as a part of the college experience.

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Qualitative easing and the Obama recovery

March 25, 2016

SPX-10-yr-yield-and-fed-intervention

The Federal Reserve Board’s policy of qualitative easing has helped the stock market recover.  But Americans who work in the real economy are still struggling.

Qualitative easing is the Federal Reserve Board’s policy of creating new money to buy Treasury bonds in order to keep interest rates low.  The greater the demand for bonds, the lower the interest rates, and the interest rate on Treasury bonds is generally the benchmark on all Treasury bonds.

The Fed’s Operation Twist was a sale  of medium-term Treasury bonds and purchase of 10-year bonds.  The Federal Funds rate is the interest rate for overnight loans among banks so they can meet the Federal Reserve’s requirement for reserves.

The chart above shows how QE correlated with the ups and downs of the stock market.  But, as I indicated in a previous post, American corporations did not advantage of low interest rates to invest in their businesses.  Instead they have transferred the gains to stockholders in the form of stock buybacks.

An economic recovery has taken place.  Most Americans are better off than they were at the depths of the crash.  But as economic recoveries go, this one has been weak.

2.household-income-monthly-median-growth-since-2000

The chart shows how important is it to always adjust for inflation.  A dollar in the year 2000 is not the same thing as a dollar in the year 2016.

Although corporate executives did not take advantage of Qualitative Easing to invest in America, there was nothing besides politics holding back the federal government from investing in public works.  There is a lot of urgent work that needs to be done in maintaining and upgrading American’s physical infrastructure, such as upgrading public water systems to get the lead out.

With a lot of public work that needs to be done, a lot of people who need work and financing costs at historic lows, why not put the unemployed and under-employed to work doing what needs to be done?  Fiddling with interest rates and the money supply is not enough.

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Donald Trump as master persuader

March 24, 2016

Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip, thinks Donald Trump will be nominated and elected by a landslide.  He explained why on his blog.

Donald Trump is a con man.  He’s also a fraud, a liar, a snake-oil salesman, and a carnival barker.  Clearly he is running a scam on the country.

Trump calls himself a “deal-maker.”

I call Trump a Master Persuader.

Trump_1_21_againagainIt’s all the same thing.  Trump says and does whatever he needs to do in order to get the results he wants.  And apparently he does it well.  Given the facts, you can either see Trump as highly skilled or morally flawed.  Maybe both.  I suppose it depends which side you are on.

[snip]

Trump completely ignores reality and rational thinking in favor of emotional appeal.  Sure, much of what Trump says makes sense to his supporters, but I assure you that is coincidence.  Trump says whatever gets him the result he wants.  He understands humans as 90% irrational and acts accordingly.

[snip]

Trump knows psychology.  He knows facts don’t matter.  He knows people are irrational.  So while his opponents are losing sleep trying to memorize the names of foreign leaders – in case someone asks –  Trump knows that is a waste of time.  No one ever voted for a president based on his or her ability to name heads of state.  People vote based on emotion.  Period.

 You used to think Trump ignored facts because he doesn’t know them.  That’s partly true.  There are plenty of important facts Trump does not know.  But the reason he doesn’t know those facts is – in part – because he knows facts don’t matter.  They never have and they never will.  So he ignores them.

Right in front of you.

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China, U.S. plan new open investment treaty

March 24, 2016

The U.S. and Chinese governments have nearly completed negotiations on a Chinese Bilateral Investment Treaty, which will make it easier for American companies to invest in China, and vice versa.

Such a treaty would serve the interests of the Chinese government and American corporations, but not necessarily the interests of American citizens and workers.

us-chinaAt the same time, the U.S. government is confronting China militarily in the South China Sea.  And President Obama is trying to sell the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement on the basis that it will enable the United States and not China to write the rules of international trade.

But this new treaty, based on what has been reported about it, will make the U.S. and Chinese economies even more interlocked than before.

The problem from my standpoint as an American citizen is the difference between the status of Chinese corporations and U.S.-based corporations in their home countries.  Chinese corporations serve the goals of Chinese government policy.  U.S.-based corporations serve the interests of their executives and stockholders, and them alone.

A U.S. investment in China could take the form of buying shares in Chinese companies, or it could take the form building factories or even retail stores in China.  The same would be true of Chinese investments in the United States.

Currently Chinese investment in the United States is greater than U.S. investment in China.  That is a natural result of the Chinese trade surplus.   Dollars that Chinese earn through exports have to go somewhere.  Some of them are used to buy Treasury bonds to help finance the federal government.   Others go to buy American assets.

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Donald Trump and the limits of protest

March 23, 2016

I admired Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he was alive.   I admire the thinking of Gene Sharp.  I think civil disobedience is justified when all else fails.

But I do not agree with the non-violent protests that shut down an Arizona highway near a Donald Trump campaign events, nor with other protests intended to prevent Trump from speaking.

Dr. King’s non-violent protests were strategic attacks on structures of power.  His protests succeeded to the extent that people in power concluded it would cost them less, in terms of damage to profits and reputation, to give in to his demands than to fight them.

They also succeeded to the extent that Dr. King was able to convince the larger American public that his cause was just, and his protests were disciplined and organized as to give his followers the moral high ground.

Dr. King had specific lists of demands.  His opponents always knew what they had to do in order to shut off the protests.

trumpblock20Protestors who try to shut down Donald Trump rallies do not hurt either Trump’s reputation nor his profits.  Instead they solidify Trump’s support, while inconveniencing and alienating the general public.

Those protestors are not defending their Constitutional rights.  Instead they are denying Trump his right of free speech and his followers their right to peaceably assemble.

Yes, I know the Constitutional rights of Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter and other groups have not been respected, and that Donald Trump himself is not a friend of civil liberties.  That does not mean that he and his followers are not entitled to hold meetings or that there is anything to be gained in trying to deny them that right.

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If newspapers die, will we lose anything?

March 23, 2016

My friend and former editor Anne Tanner worries about the future of journalism, and of newspapers in particular, as I do.  She e-mailed me a link to an article in Britain’s Prospect Magazine about the future of newspapers, from which I pull the excerpt below.

So far, the online news world has had a slightly shabby reputation.  On the one hand there are endless feeds simply repeating or re-tweeting the same basic information; the spread of lazy list-based journalism; and the parasite websites, picking the dirty bits out of the teeth of the major news corporations.  On the other hand there is the reactive underworld of almost incoherent anger, the moon-faced, flabby-fingered trolls who reduce all public argument to puerile sexual abuse.

newspaper-2Yet as more and more of us turn to our laptops, the news is getting better.  When I am researching I like to “read sideways”—that is, find a story or a footnote, trace it down to its origin, and keep going from there.  This sideways reading, made possible by hyperlinks, is the essence of the best of what is on the web.

On websites such as Buzzfeed, there is delight as well as disappointment.  The disappointment is that although there are in-depth essays and some foreign coverage, it’s still a long way from the regular, reliable foreign news service that the average news junkie would expect from the average serious newspaper.  The delight is about the ingenuity and creativity of its staff—if you haven’t seen Kelly Oakes’s “If newspaper headlines were scientifically accurate” you are missing something special.

It’s not only possible to become a really well-informed and engaged person by reading the news—it’s getting easier all the time. But relying on a single, under-funded, pressurized editorial team and a dampish wodge of flattened spruce arriving on your doormat every day is no longer the best way to go about it.  You just have to be more proactive and spend a bit more time to get what you need

Source: Prospect Magazine

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‘Do you think that we have reached the end?’

March 22, 2016

I can hardly wait to read Thomas Frank’s new book.

Here’s another excerpt.

A while ago I spoke at a firefighters convention in the Pacific Northwest, talking as I always do about the ways we have rationalized these changes to ourselves.

Firefighters are the sort of people we honor for their bravery, but they also happen to be blue-collar workers, and they have watched with increasing alarm what has been happening to folks like them for the last few decades . . . watched as the people formerly known as the heart and soul of this country had their lives taken apart bone by bone.

listen,liberal.9781627795395They themselves still make a decent living, I was told—they are some of the last unionized blue-collar workers who do—but they can see the inferno coming their way now, as their colleagues in other parts of the country get their contracts voided and their pensions reduced.

After I spoke, a firefighter from the Seattle area picked up the microphone. Workers had been watching their standard of living get whittled away for decades, he said, and up till now they had always been able to come up with ways to get by.

The first adjustment they made, he recalled, was when women entered the workforce.  Families “added that income, you got to keep your boat, or your second car, or your vacation, and everything was OK.”  Next, people ran up debt on their credit cards.  Then, in the last decade, people began “pulling home equity out,” borrowing against their houses.

“All three of those things have kept the middle class from having to sink down into abject poverty,” he said. But now all three coping mechanisms were at an end.  There were no more family members to send to work, the expiration date had passed for the home-equity MasterCard, and still wages sank. His question was this: “Is there a fourth economic savior out there, or do you think that maybe we have reached the end?”

I had no good answer for him.  Nobody does.

Source: Listen, Liberal

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Rep. Alan Grayson and his hedge fund

March 21, 2016
Rep. Alan Grayson

Rep. Alan Grayson

[Rep. Alan] Grayson may be the only sitting member of Congress who runs a hedge fund.  If you asked him why that is, he’d probably tell you that he’s the only one who’s smart enough to do that.

Perhaps, but besides being highly intelligent and well informed, he prepared himself well to jump into the asset management game.

He sat on the Financial Services Committee and also served on the subcommittees on Capital Markets and on Oversight and Investigations. Those duties must have been instructive: Hey, I can do this. Why should I spend half my valuable time hitting up swells for swag and playing nice-nice with the Democratic Politburo?  Screw that.  I’ll finance myself with small donations and profits from my fund.

Source: Counterpunch

Grayson, an outspoken liberal, is running for the Democratic nomination to fill Marco Rubio’s Senate seat in Florida.   Does the fact that he is a hedge fund manager put him in a different ethical position from a candidate who solicits donations from hedge fund managers?

Maybe.  He might have a conflict of interest, but he wouldn’t cut off contributions to himself for voting against his own interests.

Disinvesting in America, and what to do about it

March 21, 2016

Corporate executives and holders of financial assets—I’ll call them “capitalists” for short—are ceasing to invest in American industry.

BusinessCutsBack-1x-1

Instead corporations are investing their profits in buying back stock, which automatically increases the value of the rest of the stock.  This, by the way, were an illegal form of stock market manipulation prior to 1982.

buybackbonanza-1x-1

Meanwhile American manufacturing jobs are going away.

Manufacturing-Employment

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Feodor Dostoyevsky on community of worship

March 20, 2016

Man seeks to worship what is established beyond dispute, so that all men would agree at once to worship it. … This craving for community of worship is the chief misery of every man individually and of all humanity from the beginning of time.
        ==Feodor Dostoyevsky

Our eight-legged friends

March 19, 2016

humey-toons-toon-16-spiders-540

I set out ant and roach traps, but I never interfere with spiders, except maybe to brush away an overly conspicuous cobweb.  Spiders catch and eat bugs I want to get rid of, so why should I treat them as nuisances.  It would be as foolish the United States government picking fights with countries that are  fighting ISIS and Al Qaeda.

So I enjoyed reading An Open Letter From a Spider to All Humans Everywhere and maybe you will, too.  (Hat tip for the link to Mike the Mad Biologist)

Trump, Putin and political correctness

March 18, 2016

A blogger named Jeffrey Feldman pointed out Donald Trump’s unique definition of political correctness.

Most people define “political correctness” as being overly concerned about saying offensive things.  Donald Trump’s idea of “political correctness” is being overly concerned about beating up people who disagree with you.

Vladimir PutinThis is one of the things that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin have in common.  No wonder they speak of each other with respect.

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin have often expressed their mutual esteem, and this is one of the things they have in common.

Putin is a strong nationalist whose aim is to make Russia great again.  He has no inhibition about the use of power and violence to crush opponents.  By Trump’s definition, he is politically incorrect.

LINKS

The One Key Phrase Trump Changed to Incite Violence Against the Left by Jeffrey Feldman for frameshop.  (Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist).

Putin: The Rule of the Family by Masha Gessen for the New York Review of Books.

Stalin, Russia’s new hero by Alec Luhn for the New York Times.

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Why do reporters accept being penned up?

March 18, 2016
Reporters covering Hillary Clinton's participation in a Fourth of July parade in Gotham, New Hampshire

Reporters covering Hillary Clinton’s participation in a Fourth of July parade in Gotham, New Hampshire

For decades, reporters who travel with Presidential candidates have been denied the right of ordinary spectators to move about freely at campaign events.

The Secret Service and the candidates’ own security people deny them the right to mingle with crowds.  Instead they restrict them to observing campaign events from special roped-off or fenced-off areas.

Such restrictions apply only to members of the national press corps traveling with the President.  The local press is usually free to sit in the audience and take notes.

This has no logical relation to protecting the candidates from threats, except to the degree a candidate regards free reporting is a threat.  Any restrictions that were necessary to the personal safety of a candidate would logically apply to everyone, not just members of the national press corps.

What is the legal basis for this?  Why don’t newspapers and broadcasters protest on Constitutional grounds?

The basis for it is that broadcast and print journalists depend on the candidates to provide them with transportation and the communications facilities they need to do their jobs.  Without that help, they or their employers would have to buy their own airline tickets, find places to recharge their computers and cameras and set up their own communications for writings and pictures.

More importantly, the candidates control access.  Reporters need to be able to talk to the candidates and the candidates’ staffs, and they won’t get this access unless the candidates see some benefit in giving it.  If you’re a reporter, you don’t just need access.  You need as much access as your main competitor.

So candidates have many means of punishing reporters they consider hostile or even out of line.   Some keep the press on a tight rein, some on a loose rein, but the reins are always there.

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Why was (and is) Bill Clinton so popular?

March 17, 2016

Thomas Frank has published another excerpt from his new book, Listen, Liberal., which I look forward to reading.  This one is about Bill Clinton, and why he is still so popular among working people and minorities despite having done so little for them when in the White House.

I would periodically ask my liberal friends if they could recall the progressive laws he got passed, the high-minded policies he fought for—you know, the good things Bill Clinton got done while he was president.   Why was it, I wondered, that we were supposed to think so highly of him—apart from his obvious personal charm, I mean?

Bill Clinton in 1992

Bill Clinton in 1992

It proved difficult for my libs.  People mentioned the obvious things: Clinton once raised the minimum wage and expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit.  He balanced the budget.  He secured a modest tax increase on the rich.  And he did propose a national health program, although it didn’t get very far and was in fact so poorly designed it could be a model of how not to do big policy initiatives.

Other than that, not much.  No one could think of any great but hopeless Clintonian stands on principle; after all, this is the guy who once took a poll to decide where to go on vacation.  His presidency was all about campaign donations, not personal bravery—he basically rented out the Lincoln Bedroom, for chrissake, and at the end of his time in office he even appeared to sell a presidential pardon.

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Bernie Sanders’ share of the youth vote

March 17, 2016

Bernie SandersCdwo4iCWoAAPqVcVia The Fix | The Washington Post.

The good news for Bernie Sanders is that he gets a larger share than any other candidate of votes of people under age 30.  The bad news is that younger voters do not turn out in large numbers, compared to older voters, and that Sanders’ advantage with voters under 30 is shrinking as the primary season goes on.

How long until someone’s killed at a Trump rally?

March 17, 2016

Josh Marshall is right.  Sooner or later somebody probably will be killed or seriously hurt at a Donald Trump rally.

People act very differently in crowd or mob situations than they do on their own. There are various theories as to just why this is the case – again, there’s a whole social science and group psychology literature about it.  But crowd/mob situations are profoundly dis-inhibiting events. People sometimes do things they themselves not only regret but almost literally can’t believe they did.  [snip]

Presidential Candidate Donald Trump Campaign Rally in Vandalia, OhioIn crowd settings, with what can now only be called Trump’s almost nonstop incitement to eject or beat “thug” protestors, jostling and shoving, ramped up emotions, things can escalate very rapidly.

And let’s be honest, it can happen on both sides.  A hypothetical: a Trump supporter shoves a black protestor, the protestor punches back, others join in.  We don’t need to equate the two sides, which I do not, to see that there is a lot of anger and animus on each side.  This kind of atmosphere can unleash it.

What we have seen over the last two weeks isn’t just an escalation of chaos and low level violence but a progressive normalization of unacceptable behavior – more racist verbal attacks, more violence.  This is in turn clearly attracting more people who want trouble – on both sides.  [snip]

The climate Trump is creating at his events is one that not only dis-inhibits people who normally act within acceptable societal norms. He is drawing in, like moths to a flame, those who most want to act out on their animosities, drives and beliefs.  It is the kind of climate where someone will eventually get killed.

I don’t see much likelihood of a riot breaking out at a Trump rally.  The more likely scenario is that somebody, maybe somebody with a weak heart, dies while being “roughed up”, and mob violence breaks out elsewhere.

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The Pentagon’s new war plan for North Korea

March 16, 2016

China watcher Peter Lee reports that the Pentagon has adopted a new war policy toward North Korea—a policy based on pre-emptive war rather than mere deterrence.

130410174145-lead-inside-a-pentagon-war-game-00011026-horizontal-galleryThe policy is that if American generals determine that North Korea is about to launch a war, they will order “surgical” strikes against North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and send in special forces teams to assassination North Korea’s leaders.

The problem with that, as Lee noted, is that if Kim Jong Un determines the U.S. is about to destroy North Korea’s nuclear defense and kill its leaders, he would try to strike first.  This is a racheting-up process that makes war more and more likely.

The Pentagon’s larger purpose, in Lee’s opinion, is to deter China—to, as the Chinese say, “kill the chicken to frighten the monkey.”

What’s interesting about Lee’s articles is that nowhere to they mention President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter or Secretary of State John Kerry.   The Pentagon evidently has its own policy independent of the policy set by the President and the Cabinet.

This is a vital Constitutional question.  Where does the power in government really lie?

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Questions to be answered

March 16, 2016

I think that the United States and other Western countries are in a political and economic crisis.

I think that political leaders in the Western world must answer these questions.

authoritarianism9fd18cDoes the economic and political crisis mean that the system has failed?

If the system has failed, is this a failure of capitalism, a failure of democracy or both?

If the failure is a failure of capitalism, can the capitalistic system be fixed, or must it be replaced?

If the failure is a failure of democracy, can the democratic system be fixed, or is it doomed?

I don’t expect these questions to be addressed this year or the next, but I don’t think they can be evaded indefinitely.  I think there will be some sort of resolution, for good or for ill, within the next 10 years.