Archive for July, 2016

Funny signs at the Los Angeles Zoo

July 30, 2016

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A prankster named Jeff Wysaski left these fake “animal facts” all over the Los Angeles Zoo.

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Trump woos workers, Clinton woos Republicans

July 29, 2016

Donald Trump is going after the vote of blue-collar workers who, rightly, feel abandoned by the Democratic leadership, while Hillary Clinton is trying to woo anti-Trump Republicans.

For struggling American workers, Clinton is like a physician who says your terminal illness is incurable, and also charges bills higher than you can pay.  Trump is like a quack who offers you a treatment that probably won’t work, but you may be willing to try for lack of an alternative.

Thomas Frank, writing in The Guardian, summed up the situation well:

Thomas-Frank_250

Thomas Frank

Donald Trump’s many overtures to supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders were just the beginning.  He also deliberately echoed the language of Franklin Roosevelt, he denounced “big business” (not once but several times) and certain of his less bloodthirsty foreign policy proposals almost remind one of George McGovern’s campaign theme: “Come home, America.”

Ivanka Trump promised something that sounded like universal day care.  Peter Thiel denounced the culture wars as a fraud and a distraction.  The Republican platform was altered to include a plank calling for the breakup of big banks via the reinstatement of Glass-Steagall.  I didn’t hear anyone talk about the need to bring “entitlements” under control.  And most crucially, the party’s maximum leader has adopted the left critique of “free trade” almost in its entirety, a critique that I have spent much of my adult life making.

It boggles my simple liberal mind.  The party of free trade and free markets now says it wants to break up Wall Street banks and toss NAFTA to the winds.  The party of family values has nominated a thrice-married vulgarian who doesn’t seem threatened by gay people or concerned about the war over bathrooms.  The party of empire wants to withdraw from foreign entanglements.

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Memo to Donald Trump: Don’t tell jokes

July 28, 2016

Donald Trump was asked yesterday about the hack into the Democratic National Committee’s e-mails.

220px-Donald_Trump_August_19,_2015_(cropped)The Republican nominee said he did not know if Russia was behind that attack, but that he would like to see the Kremlin turn its attention to the 30,000 messages Mrs Clinton deleted prior to the FBI investigation into her email practices.

“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press,” he said.

Mr Trump, who was giving a press conference in Florida, said it gave him “no pause” to essentially sanction Russian cyber hacking on an American official.

“Hey you know what gives me more pause? That a person in our government – Crooked Hillary Clinton – that a person in our government would delete or get rid of 30,000 emails,” he said.

“Now, if Russia or China or any other country has those emails, I mean to be honest with you I’d love to see them.”

Source: The Telegraph (UK)

I thought that was funny, and I thought his joke had a point.  But almost every comment I’ve come across this morning treats Trump’s comment as a serious and shocking proposal.

Trump should have learned by this time something I learned very early as a newspaper reporter.  When you engage in humor or irony, vast numbers of people will not recognize it as such unless it is labeled as humor or irony.

Clinton conceded next to nothing to Sanders

July 28, 2016

Pearls Before Swine - pb160724comb_ts.tif

When Barack Obama was nominated for President in 2008, he offered Hillary Clinton, as the price of her support, a Cabinet post and the promise to back her candidacy in 2016.

Bernie Sanders asked much less in return for his support of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy—merely a non-binding Democratic platform that supported his progressive agenda.   He didn’t even get all of that.  The Democrats have come around to a $15 an hour minimum wage, but refuse to take a stand on fracking or the odious Trans Pacific Partnership agreement.

The difference between 2008 and 2016 is that Obama and Clinton were both candidates of the status quo (which I didn’t realize then) whereas the Sanders candidacy was a real threat to the moneyed interests that who support Clinton.

It is not that Sanders supported anything radical.   Although he called himself a socialist, he ran as a Hubert Humphrey Democrat.  He supported restoration of New Deal programs that worked well in the past and a few programs, such as Medicare for all, that have worked well in foreign countries, while having little to say about foreign policy.

But to enact these modest reforms would require a real political revolution because they are unacceptable to the kind of  bankers and billionaires who made Bill and Hillary Clinton rich.

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War hawk Clinton vs. pro-Putin Trump

July 27, 2016

Putin-Clinton-or-Trump-is-Irrelevant-The-Real-Problem-is-U.S.-‘Imperial-Ambitions’-600x338

Donald Trump admires Vladimir Putin and wants better a partnership with Russia.

Hillary Clinton has compared Putin with Hitler, and is willing to risk war with Russia.

This is a big difference, and an important campaign issue.

With Hillary Clinton, you have the likelihood of more war and useless bloodshed, and the real possibility of a nuclear that will leave much of North American and northern Eurasia in smouldering, radioactive ruins.

With Donald Trump, you have the likelihood of a President of the United States, whose judgment is erratic to begin with, and who is under the influence of a wily and ruthless foreign ruler.

I don’t agree with either, but, of the two, I think Clinton represents the greater danger.  Russian influence could be checkmated and rooted out.  A nuclear war would be the end of everything.

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Thomas Frank at the Democratic convention

July 27, 2016

People say that a vote for a third-party candidate such as Jill Stein is a vote for Donald Trump.  But in reality, a vote for Hillary Clinton is a vote to empower future candidates such as Donald Trump.

Thomas Frank, author of Listen, Liberal, and Robert Scheer, editor-in-chief of Truthdig, talk about how the candidacy of Donald Trump is a product of the failures of Democratic leaders such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

For the past 20 or so years, as Frank points out, the leaders of the Democratic Party have turned their backs on working people on the theory that such people have nowhere else to go.

Now Donald Trump has come along and given them somewhere else to go.  He doesn’t have good answers, but he is the only one of the two major-party candidates who is an alternative to the status quo.

If Hillary Clinton is elected, she will pursue the same policies, and, four years from now, there will be another Donald Trump—but one more self-disciplined, less openly racist and less obviously foolish and ignorant.  And that Donald Trump will likely be elected.

The video above is 47 minutes long, but worth watching.   Thomas Frank is an entertaining talker and he knows what he is talking about.

President Obama’s failure on climate change

July 27, 2016

President Obama was elected in 2008 based on promises to, among other things, do something about global warming.  My e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey called my attention to an article highlighting his refusal to act.  Here’s an excerpt:

climatechange91740d8c51000401415d83d7d5ded446Obama has sufficient scientific resources at his command to know exactly what we are doing and failing to do. He came into office with control of both houses of Congress and a clear mandate to act on the climate crisis, with scientists the world over sounding all the necessary alarms.

But in pursuing an “all-of-the-above” energy policy, highlighted by the figurative explosion of fracking and the literal explosions of oil trains and deep sea drilling rigs, Obama has turned the US into the No. 1 producer of fossil fuels in the world.

The value of federal government subsidies for fossil-fuel exploration and production increased by 45 percent under his watch, even as he turned what were once climate “treaty” talks into a subterfuge for global inaction. This, from the guy who ran against “Drill, Baby Drill!”

Source: Truthout

True, Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency has enacted regulations classifying greenhouse gasses as pollutants, which are intended to close down aging coal-fired electric power plants.  He has obtained subsidies to promote renewable energy.  And he has set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, to be accomplished by future administrations.

But this has been offset by his promotion of the domestic oil and gas industry and his opposition to enforceable international climate treaties.

The problem is that there is no immediate political payoff from trying to slow down global warming.  The climate change that is manifesting itself right now—record-breaking temperatures, floods and droughts—is the result of decisions made or not made 30 or 40 years ago.

What is done—or not done—today about climate change will not change the present situation.  It will only help people 30 or 40 years from now.  There is little political incentive to do that.

Neither democratic government nor free-enterprise economic systems, assuming that this is what we have, would respond to the immediate concerns and wishes of the public, but not to warnings about future problems.  Not that socialist dictatorships have a better record!

The only answer, as I see it, is for climate change activists to do what Naomi Klein describes in her book, This Changes Everything, which is to join up with those who are fighting fossil fuel companies on other grounds—protection of property rights, Indian treaties, public health and the environment, and the authority of local government.

LINK

President Obama’s Lethal Climate Legacy by Zhiwa Woodbury for Truthout.

Highest-paid CEOs are mostly below-average CEOs

July 27, 2016

CEOpayvsstockholderreturenp1-by114-payper-16u-20160724183306

I always thought, based on long-ago conversations with compensation expert Graef Crystal, that the relationship between chief executive officer pay and corporate profitability was random.

But a new study indicates that there is a relationship—a negative one.  The higher-paid CEOs actually deliver less for stockholders than the lower-paid CEOs do.

What’s odd about this is that CEO compensation packages are structured so as to reward them for gains in stock prices.

It’s an example of Goodhart’s Law in operation.   All other things being equal, the rise and fall of a company’s stock price, relative to other companies in the same business, is a measure of how well a company is doing.  But there are ways for a CEO to manipulate the stock price that has nothing to do with company performance.

One is stock buy-backs.  These increase the price of the remaining shares.  But often the money might be better spent on making improvements in the company’s operation.

Another is layoffs or shifts to low-wage locations.  These immediately boost a company’s profitability by reducing the expense of wages.  But sometimes it costs the company in the long run to have the work done by workers who are low paid, but also less skilled, less well-trained and less loyal to the company.

All CEOs of big companies are well-paid—and should be.  Maybe what the chart tells us is that there are those who spend time negotiating or manipulating even higher pay that they should have spent tending to their businesses.

Maybe the best plan is to hire or promote a good person to be CEO, pay that person adequately and leave them alone.  A CEO who needs an extra incentive to do a good job shouldn’t be a CEO.

LINK

Highest-paid CEOs run worst-performing companies, research finds by Peter Yeung for The Independent (UK)

Jobless youth and oldsters who can’t retire

July 26, 2016

Thomas Geoghegan, a labor lawyer in Chicago, wrote a good article for The Baffler about the connection between low wages, high youth unemployment and older people (such as himself) being unwilling to retire.

Thomas Geoghegan

Thomas Geoghegan

A reporter asked Pope Francis to name the single biggest evil in the world.  Secularism?  No.  Abortion?  Not even.  Here’s what he said: “Youth unemployment—and the abandonment of the elderly.”

OK, that’s two evils.  But aren’t they really one thing?  Unable to get a start, boomerang kids move back home—while their grandparents hang on to their jobs.

Why hang on?  They fear being abandoned.  They didn’t save.  The young have always had to wait for the old to retire in order to move up a notch, but in the twenty-first century, that wait is getting longer, increasing the competition for scarce jobs.

For the state to shrink, the old must work more.  It’s a neoliberal axiom.  Call it the New Old Deal.

As a labor lawyer, let me defend my clients.  The working-class people I represent are dying sooner, not mucking up the labor market by living too long.  Alcohol and heroin are partially to blame, and trending stories on epidemics afflicting the white working class make easy fodder for TV newsmagazines.

But let me tell you what I more often see happening to non-college whites: those who do hard physical labor for an hourly wage go lame.  By age fifty-five, or certainly sixty, many are just done.

And when they go lame, they have no options.  They have no union-bargained pensions anymore.   They certainly have no 401(k) retirement accounts.

Maybe the country should be grateful; to the extent that they die prematurely, they help shore up Social Security.  And hey, should the GOP make it harder for them to receive workers’ comp or disability, these high school grads may die even younger.

The whole article is worth reading.  Click on Exit Planning to read it.

Harriet Tubman, an American hero

July 24, 2016

quote-i-was-the-conductor-of-the-underground-railroad-for-eight-years-and-i-can-say-what-most-conductors-harriet-tubman-274133

The following is notes for a lay sermon at First Universalist Church of Rochester, NY, on July 24, 2016.

Before the present announcement that Harriet Tubman’s face will appear on the $20 bill, all I knew about her was that she was connected with the Underground Railroad.

I’ve since learned something about her, and come to realize that she is truly a great American – but with a different kind of greatness than that of historical figures such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Alexander Hamilton, U.S. Grant or Benjamin Franklin.

It is not just that those others were white, and she was black.  It is not just that they were all men, and she was a woman.  She was poor and illiterate, and earned her living through most of her life by physical labor.  Unlike her, they were commanders and lawgivers at the pinnacle of power.  She showed the power and position are not necessary for greatness.

What did her greatness consist of?  Her greatness consisted of the willingness to risk everything for freedom – first her own freedom, and then the freedom of others.

As a young girl, born into slavery, she resisted efforts to force her to accept submission, and eventually escaped.  Then, at great personal risk, she returned to the place she had been held in bondage, and rescued others.

During the Civil War, she volunteered as a scout for the Union Army and led other enslaved people into freedom.  During the final phase of her life, she supported equal rights for both African Americans and women.

She lived according to the ethic of Jesus in a way that few people today, including Unitarian Universalists, can understand.  She had a deep faith in God, and was guided by her visions of God.  She shared everything she had with those more in want that she was, and trusted in God to provide.

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Nothing new about a woman leading a nation

July 23, 2016
Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel

The possibility of electing the first woman President of the United States is a big deal for many of us Americans.  But the rest of the world may well ask: What took you so long?

Even in the days when women were not eligible to enter the professions or earn university degrees, they still could be queens and empresses.

Rulers such as Queen Elizabeth I of England and Catherine the Great of Russia showed that women could play power politics with the best of them.

Since women in the 20th century received the right to vote and run for office, they’ve had the opportunity to become heads of government on their own merits and not as family dynasties.  Here are some examples.

1969 – Golda Meir (Israeli Labor Party) became Prime Minister of Israel.

1979 – Margaret Thatcher (Conservative) became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

1990 – Jenny Shipley (National Party) became Prime Minister of New Zealand.

1991 – Edith Cresson (Socialist) became Prime Minister of France.

1993 – Kim Campbell (Progressive Conservative) became Prime Minister of Canada.

1993 – Tansu Çiller (True Path Party) became Prime Minister of Turkey. [added later]  (Hat tip to S. Glover)

2005 – Angela Merkel (Christian Democratic Union) became Chancellor of Germany.

2010 – Julia Gillard (Australian Labor Party) became Prime Minister of Australia.

2011 – Dilma Rousseff (Brazilian Labor Party) became President of Brazil

Here are some examples of women who achieved power as members of family dynasties.

1966 – Indira Gandhi, daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, became Prime Minister of India.

1974 – Isabel Peron, widow of Juan Peron, became President of Argentina.

1986 – Corazon Aquino, widow of Benigno Aquino Jr., became President of the Philippines.

1988 – Benazir Bhutto, daughter of Zulifikar Ali Bhutto, became Prime Minister of Pakistan.

2001 – Magawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of Sukarno, became President of Indonesia.  [added later]

It is an interesting question as to whether Hillary Clinton, if elected, belongs on the first list or the second.  She is a successful and effective politician, but would she have been elected Senator from New York or been appointed Secretary of State if she had been Hillary Rodham rather than Hillary Rodham Clinton?

Currently Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, Croatia, Germany, Liberia, Lithuania, Malta, the Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Namibia, Nepal, Norway, Poland, South Korea, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom all have women as heads of state, heads of government or both.  Also Burma (sort of).

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Newton Knight, an American hero

July 22, 2016

My friend Hal Bauer urged all his friends to see the movie, Free State of Jones.  I saw it, and it is as good as Hal said it is.

The movie tells the story of Newton Knight, a white farmer in southern Mississippi, who led a rebellion against the Confederacy itself.

Newton Knight

Newton Knight

Knight was 6-foot-4 with black curly hair and a full beard—“big heavyset man, quick as a cat,” as one of his friends described him.  He was a nightmarish opponent in a backwoods wrestling match, and one of the great unsung guerrilla fighters in American history.  So many men tried so hard to kill him that perhaps his most remarkable achievement was to reach old age.

“He was a Primitive Baptist who didn’t drink, didn’t cuss, doted on children and could reload and fire a double-barreled, muzzle-loading shotgun faster than anyone else around,” said [local historian Wyatt] Moulds. 

“Even as an old man, if someone rubbed him the wrong way, he’d have a knife at their throat in a heartbeat.  A lot of people will tell you that Newt was just a renegade, out for himself, but there’s good evidence that he was a man of strong principles who was against secession, against slavery and pro-Union.”

Source: Richard Grant | Smithsonian

Knight hated the 20-slave rule, which gave slave-owning families one exemption from military service for every 20 slaves they owned.  He also hated Confederate confiscations of livestock, crops and food from small farmers.

For a time, his Knight Company drove the Confederate Army out of Jones County and surrounding areas of southern Mississippi.  Contrary to the impression given by the movie title, he didn’t intend to set up Jones County as an independent nation.  He was loyal to the Union.

He didn’t only fight for independent white farmers.  He fought against slavery himself.  He defended the rights of newly-freed slaves after the Civil War.  After the triumph of the Ku Klux Klan, he retreated to his homestead where he lived with his inter-racial family.

I had no idea Newton Knight existed until I saw the movie.

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A left-wing critique of political correctness

July 22, 2016
Paul Street

Paul Street

Paul Street, a smart, marginally-employed left-wing writer, wrote a good article for Counterpunch on why people like him oppose so-called “political correctness.”

He gave a number of examples, but I’ll just quote one of them.

… I have started to become at least mildly irritated by the ever-increasing number of Chinese university students in Iowa City at and around the University of Iowa.  Why?  Because of racism and nativism.  No. Not at all.  It has nothing to do with racism or nativism.  I’m anti-racist and anti-nativist.

It’s about class, politics, and the ever-skyrocketing cost of college tuition in the United States. The young Chinese showing up all over campus town America are very disproportionately from the upper slices of mainland Chinese society. Their parents have accumulated enough wealth and income to send their only children to college overseas and often in very high style.

This wealth is culled from the massive state-capitalist super-exploitation of a giant Chinese working class that has been forced into a vast industrial complex of global capitalist production.

That is the source of the money that is passed on to the privileged class progeny of Chinese “Communist” Party elites who can be seen driving around in BMWs and living in pricey condominium apartments in Iowa City, Iowa, Madison, Wisconsin, and countless other U.S. university communities today.

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Donald Trump’s excellent adventure

July 21, 2016

When Donald Trump phoned his pal Bill Clinton a little over a year ago, and asked his advice about running for President, I doubt that either of them thought that Trump would get as far as he did.

150930093139-bill-clinton-donald-trump-large-169I have no way of knowing Trump’s thinking, but I suspect that he figured that he had everything to gain and nothing to lose.

At worst, he would promote the Trump name and add value to the Trump brand.  At best, he would show up and pay back politicians and journalists who treated his political ambitions as a joke.  Coming in a strong second or third for the Republican nomination would have accomplished that.

But did he think he actually would be nominated?  I’m reminded of the Mel Brooks comedy, The Producers, in which two characters hatch a Trump-esque scheme to make money from a losing Broadway play.   They choose a script, “Springtime for Hitler,” which they think is sure to fail.  But, much to their consternation, it succeeds.

Unlike the Mel Brooks characters, I think Trump will take his own “Springtime for Hitler” production as far as it will go.  But if he loses, which at this point seems likely, I can imagine him sitting down a year or two from now with his friends, the Clintons, and having a good laugh about the whole adventure.

LINKS

Inside the Fraternity of Haters and Losers Who Drove Donald Trump to the GOP Nomination by McKay Coppins for Buzzfeed.  Coppins thinks his ridicule of the idea of a Trump Presidential candidacy may have goaded Trump into actually running.

36 Hours On the Fake Campaign Trail With Donald Trump by McKay Coppins for Buzzfeed (2014).  This is the article that Coppins thinks may have set Trump off.

Donald Trump’s ghostwriter tells all by Jane Mayer for The New Yorker.  Donald Trump as seen through the eyes of the ghostwriter who wrote The Art of the Deal.

Obama, lame-duck GOP Congress may enact TPP

July 20, 2016

Republicans in Congress refused to vote President Obama’s Supreme Court nominations on the grounds that he is a lame duck.  But it’s highly likely they’ll join with him to enact the odious Trans Pacific Partnership agreement right after the November elections, when he and they really will be lame ducks.

Pac-Money-400x266When Congress voted to allow a “fast track” decision—an up or down vote with little time to discuss the agreement—it was Republican votes that provided the margin of victory.

“Fast track” means there’s no way to stop a lame-duck vote on TPP, even if anti-TPP candidates sweep Congress in the November elections.

All it would take is that President Obama, House Speaker Mitch McConnell and other TPP supporters are brazen enough.

Bernie Sanders opposed the TPP.  Donald Trump opposes it.  Hillary Clinton promoted it when she was Secretary of State, but she says she now has reservations about it.  Her supporters on the Democratic platform committee voted down a plank that would criticize the TPP so as not to embarrass President Obama.

The TPP—and the related Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement and Trade in Services Agreement—are corporate wish lists written into international law.

These limit the power of governments to legislate and regulate to protect workers, consumers and the environment, grant drug and media companies new intellectual property rights, and create panels of arbitrators that can impose penalties on governments for depriving international corporations of “expected profits.”

So it’s fitting, in a way, that these anti-democratic trade agreements are likely to be enacted into law by a President and members of Congress who may not have run for re-election or been voted out of office.

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An argument for medical marijuana

July 20, 2016

imrs

On average, physicians in states where medical marijuana is legal prescribe fewer drugs, especially painkillers, than in other states.   The implication is people who smoke pot have less need for painkillers or other prescription drugs.

Addiction to opioid painkillers, such as OxyContin, is a serious problem.  Overuse of psychiatric drugs is another serious problem.  Marijuana can be abused, too, but it is by far less dangerous.

LINK

One striking chart shows why pharma companies are fighting legal marijuana by Christopher Ingraham for The Washington Post.  (Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist)

The bogus issue of plagiarism

July 20, 2016

plagiarismmelaniamichelleimrs.phpI think Donald Trump is disqualified to be President because of his cruel rhetoric, his manifest ignorance and his unethical business record.

I wish people who think as I do would focus on what’s true and what matters rather than seizing on every little thing that comes up.

The whole plagiarism uproar, for example.

Melania Trump, in her speech to the Republican National Convention, praised people who work hard and keep their word.  Michelle Obama did the same thing in similar words at the Democratic National Convention in 2008.   I doubt if she was the first person ever to express these commonplace truths.

I remember the late Robert F. Kennedy saying that some people see things as they are, and ask why, but he dreamed things that ever were, and asked, why not?  As I recall, nobody ever blamed him for failing to attribute these words to George Bernard Shaw.

And the late Nelson Rockefeller was fond of the phrase, the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God.  As I recall, nobody ever blamed him for not attributing this phrase to the great Unitarian preacher, Theodore Parker.  It’s one thing to plagiarize a whole article or speech; it’s another to use a phrase somebody else has used before.

The reason that it’s wrong to use anything and everything that comes to hand to attack your opponent is that you make it hard for members of the public to separate signal from noise.

Attacking Donald Trump unfairly is wrong in itself and also actually helps him, because it diverts attention from what he really is doing and saying wrong.

LINK

Red Star Over Trump by Peter Lee for China Matters.  Another bogus issue.

Hillary Clinton and the danger of nuclear war

July 14, 2016

The worst thing that an American President could do is to provoke a nuclear war with Russia.

I think that, based on her record and rhetoric, Hillary Clinton would put the USA at greater risk of nuclear war than her predecessors.

As adviser to her husband in the 1990s and as Secretary of State, she was a voice for war.  Her campaign web site is about her credentials as a war hawk.  It is no coincidence that so war hawks of the George W. Bush support her for President.

Victoria Nuland

Victoria Nuland

Her protege, Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, promotes economic warfare and covert warfare against Russia, while promoting regime change in Ukraine and attempting to draw Ukraine and Georgia into an anti-Russian alliance.  This is as dangerous as Khrushchev’s placing missiles in Cuba in 1962.

Pro-Russian news sources predict war if Hillary Clinton is elected.  I think Russian fears are significant because they could be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If you think somebody is poised to attack you, you’re going to be ready to strike at them before they do.

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E.B. White on winding the clock

July 13, 2016

North Brooklin, Maine

30 March 1973

Dear Mr. Nadeau:

As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate.  Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time.  I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.

Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer.  I guess the same is true of our human society—things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly.  It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet.  But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right.  Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble.  We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.

Hang on to your hat.  Hang on to your hope.  And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.

Sincerely,

(Signed, ‘E. B. White’)

Source: Letters of Note.

Hat tip to Marginal REVOLUTION

Opioid abuse and the white American death rate

July 12, 2016

I wrote blog posts some time back about the Case-Deaton study of the rising death rate in the 21st century among middle-aged white people without college educations—a strange trend because the death rate continues to fall for all other demographic groups and also for Europeans.

OXYCONTINI also reviewed a book, Dreamland, about over-prescription of optoid drugs and how this has led to a heroin epidemic specifically among white people.  I didn’t make the obvious connection with the Case-Deaton study.

A blogger who calls himself Lambert Strether pointed out that the body count from opioid overdoses approaches the number deaths from AIDS.  If you think of opioid overdose as a disease, the vector of the spread is not a microbe and not unsafe sex, but the marketing strategies of certain drug companies—especially Purdue Pharma, manufacturer of OxyContin.

I accept that there are deeper reasons for the rise in drug abuse than the unethical marketing of one drug by one company.  Purdue Pharma would not have been so successful if there hadn’t been a big potential demand for its product.  I still think drug prohibition hasn’t worked, just as alcohol prohibition didn’t work and gun prohibition wouldn’t work.

This is another question for which I don’t have good answers.  What do you think?

LINKS

Genocide by Prescription: The ‘Natural History’ of the Declining White Working Class in America by James Petras and Robin Eastman Abaya [added 7/14/2016]

Credentialism and Corruption: The Opioid Epidemic and the Looting Professional Class by Lambert Strether for naked capitalism.  Very much worth reading.

Poison Pill by Mike Mariani for Pacific Standard.

Drug abuse and suicide: Why death rates have spiked among middle-aged white Americans, an interview of Angus Deaton, one of the authors of the study, by Christina Cauterucci for Slate.

Opioid Addiction 2016 Facts & Figures by the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

Lessons from North Dakota

July 11, 2016

A century ago, the state of North Dakota underwent a peaceful political revolution—one more radical than what Bernie Sanders attempted this year.  The benefits to the people of the state endure to this day.

North Dakota farmers were subject to the domination of banks and flour mills in Minneapolis-St. Paul.  They set mortgage interest rates and the price of wheat.  Business interests dominated North Dakota government.

But progressive reformers opened up the political process through the initiative (voters could propose laws), the referendum (voters could vote directly on laws) and the recall (unsatisfactory state legislators could be voted out before their terms ended).  More importantly, the state legislated open primary elections.

This opened up the process for the Non-Partisan League, organized by a fiery socialist named Arthur C. Townley.  Starting in 1914, he recruited 40,000 dues-paying members, mainly farmers, in a state whose population was 600,000.  The NPL then endorsed and campaigned for candidates who adopted the NPL program.

In 1916, NPL candidates effectively took over the Republican Party in the state.   NPL candidates won all statewide offices and a majority in the state Assembly; in 1918, they took over the state Senate as well.

Among their reforms were a state grain grading service so that farmers were assured a fair price, regulation of railroad shipping rates, and authorization of state-owned enterprises, including the Bank of North Dakota, the crown jewel of the NPL program, which is still going strong.

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Lessons from northern Italy

July 11, 2016

My e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey sent me a link to an article in YES! magazine about the Emilia Romagna region in northern Italy, where two-thirds of its 4.5 million people participate in co-operative businesses.

emilia_romagnaThere are worker-owned cooperatives, consumer-owned co-operatives, and social service co-operatives, in which people band together to provide day care, care for senior citizens and other services that the Italian government can’t do satisfactorily.

Vera Zarnagni, professor of economic history at the University of Bologna, said co-operative enterprise is part of an economic tradition going back to the 1850s.  It’s an illustration of a contention by the American thinker Murray Bookchin, that there are other ways the world’s economy could have developed besides the way it did.

Even though a majority of the region’s people are co-op members, many of them also work for profit-seeking corporations.  Co-operative business activity accounts for about 30 percent of the economic output of the region.

Most of the co-ops in the region are small enterprises, linked together in a ecological network of relationships.  What I’ve read about Italy indicates that this is true of Italian business as well.  Italy has an unusually high proportion of small family-owned businesses, linked by personal relationships, and engaged in high-value work involving high standards of craftsmanship.

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Will Brexit be the scapegoat for UK’s problems?

July 11, 2016

I can’t judge all the consequences to Britain of the vote to exit the European Union, but there are a few things I am sure of.

  • The United Kingdom had many serious economic problems before Brexit—financialization, the hollowing out of manufacturing, the decline of the British pound, unnecessary government austerity.
  • Politicians and journalists will use Brexit as the scapegoat and explanation of these problems, and an excuse for not doing anything about them.
  • If the UK joins the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the Trade In Services Agreement or other corporate-sponsored trade agreements, it will lose whatever national sovereignty it gained by exiting the European Union.

LINKS

Why They Left by Costos Lapavitsas for Jacobin magazine.

‘I want to stop something exploitative, divisive and dishonest’—conversation with a Leaver by Oliver Humpage for Medium.

Britain is not a rainy, fascist island — here’s my plan for ProgExit by Paul Mason for The Guardian.

Is it 1968 all over again?

July 9, 2016

I’m old enough to remember the late 1960s, when it seemed like almost every time I turned on the TV, there was a new report of rioting and burning by black people in an American city.

Almost every one was touched off by a real or imaginary report of police abuse of a black person.

The divisions in American society today are bad enough, but, believe me, they were nothing compared to the division back then.

Could we return to that era?  Eric Hoffer in The True Believer wrote that violent revolutions happen when downtrodden people are offered hope, and then that hope is taken away from them.  I think this feeling exists today among all kinds of people, not just racial minorities.

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For what it’s worth, the homicide rate is falling

July 9, 2016

homicide_51yr

For what it’s worth, the homicide rate in the United States has been falling for the past 25 years.  Specifically the number of killings of police officers has been falling, too.

Evidently there was an increase in the murder rate in certain American cities last year and early this year, but it’s too early to tell if this will reverse the long-range trend.

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