Archive for December, 2016

Cyber war is real war – let’s not blunder into it

December 31, 2016

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President Obama seems hell-bent on spending his 20 remaining days in office in pushing the United States into a cyber-war with Russia.

In terms of domestic partisan politics, this may be smart.  Foreign policy toward Russia is a wedge issue between Republican war hawks in Congress and President-elect Donald Trump.

In terms of the national interest, this is irresponsible as well as improper.

Much of the U.S. press it takes for granted that Russian intelligence services obtained confidential DNC e-mails and transferred the information to Wikileaks.  This may or may not be true.

The determination as to what happened and what to do about it should be made by the incoming administration, which will have the responsibility for dealing with the consequences.

I do not have confidence in President-elect Trump’s judgment, but he does have sense enough to see that there is no fundamental conflict of interest between Russia and the USA (except maybe over access to the oil and gas resources of the Arctic, which is not currently an issue).

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Learning about (and from) the Spanish anarchists

December 29, 2016

Anarchists advocate a society based on voluntary cooperation and mutual aid.   They reject government and corporate bureaucracy and the profit motive.  They champion personal and political freedom.  I find this highly appealing.

Writers and thinkers I respect—Paul Goodman, Murray Bookchin, Noam Chomsky, James C. Scott and David Graeber—self-identify as anarchists.

spanishanarchists-bookchin-51vdq4ymscl-_sx332_bo1204203200_I’d like to believe such a philosophy is feasible.  The problem is the scarcity of examples of anarchists in power.

That’s why I recently read three books about the Spanish revolution of 1936.   The three books were Murray Bookchin’s The Spanish Anarchists: the Heroic Years, 1868-1936 and To Remember Spain: The Anarchist and Syndicalist Revolution of 1936, and Frank Mintz’s Anarchists and Workers Self-Management in Revolutionary Spain.

In the Spanish revolution, ordinary workers and farmers took over factories, businesses and landed estates and operated them on anarchist principles.  By one estimate, some 1.8 million Spaniards (workers and their families) participated in rural and industrial collectives.

I learned from reading these three books that anarchism can work well—provided there is a hard core of capable and strong-willed people dedicated to making it work.

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North Pole is 50 degrees warmer than usual

December 27, 2016

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The temperature of the Arctic is 50 degrees warmer than usual—so warm that it is off the chart for this map.

A warming Arctic in some ways is a good thing.  It frees up the Arctic Ocean for navigation and (which may or may not be a good thing) opens up the oil and mineral resources of the Arctic for exploitation.

But it disrupts the weather patterns throughout the whole Northern Hemisphere.  A melting Arctic ice cap changes ocean currents and a melting Greenland glacier raises the levels of the sea.

Meanwhile 2016 is on track to replace 2015 as the hottest year on record worldwide.

Stopping greenhouse gasses immediately would not reverse global warming within the lifetime of anyone now alive.   They will affect the world’s atmosphere for a long time to come.

The choice for the world’s policymakers is whether and how much to stop making things worse.   The choice for us, the citizens of free countries, is how much we care about those who will come after us.

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The day after Christmas

December 26, 2016

When the song of the angels is stilled,

when the star in the sky is gone,

when the kings and princes are home,

when the shepherds are back with their flocks,

the work of Christmas begins:

to find the lost,

to heal the broken,

to feed the hungry,

to release the prisoner,

to rebuild the nations,

to bring peace among the people,

to make music in the heart.

==Howard Thurman

What if the Axis had won the Second World War?

December 26, 2016

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Philip K. Dick is not my favorite science fiction writer, but many of my favorite science fiction movies—Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, Paycheck, A Scanner Darkly, Next and The Adjustment Bureau—were based on his ideas.

I did greatly admire and enjoy his novel, The Man in the High Castle, which gives the Dickian imagination free rein but has a more coherent plot than many of his other stories and novels.

The setting of The Man in the High Castle is a 1962 USA which has lost World War Two and been partitioned between Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire, with the Rocky Mountains serving as an unoccupied neutral zone.

There are two plots.  One involves high-level Japanese and German officials conspiring to avoid a nuclear war between the two superpowers.  The other involves ordinary Americans trying to survive in Japanese-occupied San Francisco and one of them traveling to the neutral zone in search of “the man in the high castle,” author of a novel in which the Allies won the war.

Amazon Prime has started a series based on the novel, which incorporates most of the material in the novel, but which branches out to include Nazi-occupied New York and the Reich itself.

I subscribed to Amazon Prime mainly to watch this series, and Seasons One and Two have been well worth it.

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Merry Christmas 2016

December 24, 2016

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Trump and the coming climate refugee crisis

December 23, 2016
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Click on this for a larger version of the map.

Donald Trump, along with many other Americans, is reluctant to admit refugees from foreign wars.   In Europe, there’s a backlash against admitting refugees.

Of course there might be fewer refugees if the United States and other governments hadn’t destroyed or tried to destroy functioning governments in Iraq, Libya and Syria.   A decade ago, Syria was a country that took in refugees, not a country from which refugees fled.

But within the next 10 years or so, the number of war refugees might be overtaken by the number of climate refugees—families fleeing drought, floods and hurricanes caused by global warming.

Think of the people fleeing New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, or people fleeing the Dust Bowl region in the 1980s.   Think of the crisis in Germany over hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria, Iraq and other war-torn countries in the Middle East.

Now imagine this on a global scale and magnified 10-fold or 100-fold.

Most of the world’s governments, including the USA and China, have been slow to respond to the need to slow down climate change.  But President-elect Donald Trump is committed to policies that will actively make things worse!

Unless something important changes, a global climate refugee crisis is inevitable.

I can’t predict when the climate refugee crisis will hit—whether during the Trump administration or later.

I can predict that when it does, the United States will be the world’s scapegoat for everything bad that happens.

We Americans will deserve the blame for a lot of  it.  We will get the blame for all of it.

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The Moral Movement in North Carolina

December 23, 2016

I had planned to write a post about the Forward Together Moral Movement in North Carolina, led by the Rev. William J. Barber II, and how the movement brought black and white people together to elect Ray Cooper as a progressive Democratic governor of North Carolina.

I had second thoughts after the Republican majority of the North Carolina state legislature met in emergency session to strip the incoming governor of various powers that the outgoing Gov. Pat McCrory had.

But my final thought was that this was not the end.   In the U.S. political system, there are two forms—money power and people power.   People power wins in the long run so long as the people don’t give up.

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Where the money is

December 21, 2016

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The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the four wealthiest counties in the USA—Loudon County, Falls Church City and Fairfax County, Virginia, and Howard County, Maryland—are all suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Nine of the 20 wealthiest counties—which also include Arlington County, Fairfax City and Prince William County, Virginia, and Calvert County and Montgomery County, Maryland—also are D.C. suburbs.

Only four of America’s wealthiest counties—Hunterdon County, Somerset County and Morris County, New Jersey and Nassau County, New York—are suburbs of New York City, the nation’s financial center and only three, Santa Clara County, San Mateo County and Marin County, California, are in or near Silicon Valley, the nation’s technology center.   Make of that what you will.

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The mind-body problem hotline

December 18, 2016

Source: xkcd: Trapped

Did the DNC leaks really affect the election?

December 17, 2016

I have learned throughout my long life never to say that some powerful person or institution could not have done a certain thing because doing would have been idiotic.

150px-fsbBut it certainly would have been idiotic for Russian intelligence agents to think they could influence the 2016 election by leaking e-mails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief.

And while that isn’t proof that they weren’t the leakers, it is a reason to reserve judgment.

The Clinton campaign leaks had little or no effect on the election outcome.  All they did was to confirm what some of us already thought about how the DNC was tied in with the Clinton primary election campaign, and Clinton was tied in with her rich donor friends.  If I had been pro-Clinton, this would not have been new information that would have changed my mind.

Within my circle of friends, I don’t know anybody who cared much about the Clinton campaign leaks.  On the other hand, everybody I know who ever handled classified information was upset by the FBI reports on Clinton’s mishandling of classified information.

The CIA statements of about possible Russian involvement in the Clinton campaign leaks have had much greater impact on American public opinion than the leaks themselves ever did.

Where is the National Security Agency in all this?  All this is in the NSA area of expertise.  The NSA would have better information than the FBI or CIA.

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That leaked CIA report on the Russian menace

December 16, 2016

CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou made a point about the New York Times and Washington Post reports on a secret CIA report on Russian hacking of Democratic campaign e-mails.

Oh, and by the way – the release of the CIA report, or information from the CIA report, is an act of espionage as defined by the Obama Justice Department: “Providing national security information to any person not entitled to receive it.”  I wonder who’s going to be charged with that leak.  Yeah, right.

Source: CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou

I’ve often thought that the purpose of most government classification of information is to be able to leak secrets to favored people.

Why the Electoral College result should stand

December 15, 2016

 The original idea of the Electoral College (Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution) was that Americans would not choose a President ourselves, but instead choose the leading citizens from our communities, and delegate the decision to them.

In that way, we supposedly would avoid self-seeking politicians and only choose individuals devoted to the public good.

This idea lasted through precisely one administration, that of George Washington.  From then on we had political parties and electors pledged to particular candidates—precisely what the Founders hoped to avoid.   This reality was reflected in the Twelfth Amendment.

Now certain opponents of Donald Trump, who claim to be followers of Alexander Hamilton, say that electors should ignore their pledges and exercise independent judgment.  This is a terrible idea.

I would be perfectly happy to delegate decision-making to someone I considered to be wise and good, but that is not what I did when I voted in the recent presidential election.   Most American voters don’t know the names of the electors they voted for.  I don’t.  If you do, you’re a rare exception.

I don’t think most Americans who voted for Donald Trump (or, for that matter, for Hillary Clinton) would be willing to see their decisions over-ridden by people they’d never heard of.   This is very different from the original idea of the Electoral College.  I think that Alexander Hamilton and the other Founders would think so, too.

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The CIA and FBI in the 2016 election

December 15, 2016

During the election campaign, FBI statements about Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified information hurt her and helped Donald Trump.

CIA statements about alleged Russian hacking of Clinton campaign e-mails hurt Trump and helped Clinton.  As it turns out, the FBI counter-intelligence service is not convinced that it was the Russians who hacked the Clinton campaign.

cia-logoAnd, in fact, Craig Murray, a former British diplomat and human rights activist close to Julian Assange, claims to have personal knowledge that the Clinton campaign leaks came from a disgruntled Democratic campaign staffer.

President Obama wants the “intelligence community” to produce a report on whether Russian intelligence agencies have interfered in U.S. elections going back to 2008.  And he wants the report done before Donald Trump is sworn in on Jan. 20, which seems like an impossible deadline to produce anything more than informed—or uniformed—opinion.

Meanwhile Democrats who are trying to change the Electoral College vote want the electors to be briefed by the CIA on alleged Russian inference.

I have no evidence that the disagreements between the FBI and CIA are any more than an honest difference of opinion.   Even if that is so, I don’t like the idea of presidential candidates being vetted by the CIA.

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Trump: detente with Russia, conflict with China?

December 15, 2016

One good thing which I hoped to see in a Trump administration was a détente with Russia.

Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and in her campaign record seemed hell-bent on a military confrontation with Russia, the one country with enough nuclear weapons to destroy the United States, over issues that matter very little to the American people.

chinatrump1461102238372-cachedIt looks like this hope will be fulfilled.  Unfortunately Trump seems hell-bent on a military confrontation with China, and also with Iran.   This, too, could turn out badly for the United States and everybody else, although for different reasons.

President Trump isn’t even in office yet, and his lifetime success strategy is based on being unpredictable, so I don’t claim to be able to foresee what he will do.

But based on his appointments and his rhetoric, it appears as if he intends to intensify the “pivot to Asia” begun under the Obama administration.

The anti-Russia policy was based on economic sanctions, covert war and a military buildup to force Russia into a destructive arms race.    It appears as though an anti-China policy will be the same.

The problem with this, from the U.S. standpoint, is that China is a stronger economic power than the United States.  By some measures, it has a larger gross domestic product.  It has a stronger manufacturing economy.   The United States has a trade deficit with China.   The U.S. government probably could finance its budget deficit without selling some of its Treasury bonds to China, but it would be more difficult.

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What Obama could do to curb Trump’s power

December 5, 2016

President Obama said during the campaign that he’s worried about somebody like Donald Trump with access to the nuclear codes and all the other powers of the Presidency.  A writer named Pratap Chatterjee listed nine things Obama could do to reduce Trump’s power to do harm.

  1.   Name innocent drone victims.
  2.   Make public any reviews of military errors.
  3.   Make public the administration’s criteria for its “targeted killings.”
  4.   Disclose mass surveillance programs.
  5.   Make public all surveillance agreements with private companies.
  6.   Make public all secret laws created in recent years.
  7.   Punish anyone who has abused the drone or surveillance programs.
  8.   Punish those responsible for FBI domain management abuses.
  9.   Pardon Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and the other whistleblowers.

That wouldn’t eliminate a President Trump’s power to start wars without authorization from Congress, but it would be a start on reducing Presidential powers to their Constitutional limits.

LINKS

Obama’s Last Chance by Pratap Chatterjee for TomDispatch.

FBI and NSA Poised to Gain New Surveillance Powers Under Trump by Chris Strohm for Bloomberg News.

 

A tyrant is dead, a tyranny continues

December 4, 2016

Hat tip to O.

Life with Trump

December 3, 2016

president-donald-trumpI’m not a good predictor of the future, but I’ll risk some predictions about the Trump administration.

I don’t think Donald Trump is a new Hitler, despite his manifest contempt for legal and Constitutional limitations.  Rather I see a  Trump administration as another step downward on a path the USA already is on.

In terms of policy, I don’t see a great difference between him and Vice-President Mike Pence, Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or House Speaker Paul Ryan.   The objection of mainstream Republicans to Trump was more an objection to his vulgarity and offensive behavior rather than to his policy positions.

Nor, for that matter, do I see any great difference between establishment Republicans and establishment Democrats on the issues that concern me most—war and peace, civil liberties and Wall Street dominance.

I do think the working-class and middle-class people who voted for Trump will be disappointed.

Specifically, I am willing to bet anybody a reasonable amount that the following will be true four years after Trump is sworn in on January 20, 2017.

  • There will be fewer American manufacturing jobs.
  • The annual trade deficit will be greater than it is now.
  • The federal budget deficit will be greater than it is now.
  • The upper 1 percent, upper 0.1 percent and upper 0.01 percent will have a greater share of the national income than they do now.
  • The wages of American workers, measured in inflation-adjusted terms, will be less.

I think there will be fewer unauthorized immigrants in the United States than there are now, but this is part of a trend that has already begun.

Winners during a Trump administration will include:

  • The Trump Organization.
  • Creditors of The Trump Organization.
  • Wall Street.
  • The CIA, NSA and other intelligence organizations.
  • The Pentagon
  • Government contractors, especially military contractors.
  • The fossil fuel industry
  • The National Rifle Association
  • Torturers and war criminals
  • Abusive police officers.

Losers during a Trump administration will include:

  • Public schools
  • Higher education
  • Protesters (except for armed right-wing militias)
  • Whistle-blowers
  • Dissident journalists
  • Labor unions and wage-earners generally
  • Climate scientists and researchers of all kinds
  • Planned Parenthood and its clients
  • Immigrants
  • Muslims
  • Welfare recipients

The main good thing I hope to see in a Trump administration is a less confrontational policy toward Russia.   My great fear of a Clinton administration was the increased and very real possibility of nuclear war.   This possibility will not be zero under Trump, but I think it will be less than it would have been under Clinton.

Other good things I hope to see in a Trump administration is a refusal to sign bad trade treaties and an effort to renegotiate existing trade treaties.   NAFTA, the TPP and the like are not free trade treaties; they are corporate wish lists enacted into international law.  In today’s world, believers in democracy need to defend national sovereignty, because none of the international institutions are democratic.

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Why did Clinton lose? How did Trump win? Part 2

December 3, 2016

trumpclinton3Most of the election forecasters predicted a narrow win for Hillary Clinton, and, in a sense, they were right.

By the latest count, she won a popular vote majority of 2.5 million, or 1.8 percent, over Donald Trump.   That was less than President Obama’s margin of victory in 2012 (5 million, or 3.9 percent) and 2008 (9.5 million, or 7 percent).   It is safe to say that if her margin of victory was as great as Obama’s, Trump would not have been able to win the electoral vote.

So in order to explain the election result, there are two questions to be answered.  Why wasn’t Clinton able to hold on to the 2012 and 2008 Democratic vote?  And how was Donald Trump able to win the electoral vote without a nationwide popular vote majority?

I think Clinton lost ground because she took traditional Democratic constituencies for granted.   Working people—not just the “white” working class—saw less reason to vote for a candidate who took $625,000-an-hour speaking fees from Wall Street and other corporate interests, supported trade agreements that workers blame for job losses and declining living standards, and gave priority to college-educated liberals.

wsws-demcollapse-imageThey didn’t switch to Trump in large numbers.  They just stayed home.  Clinton meanwhile sought to peel off votes from college-educated suburban Republican women.

She still might have won if not for voter suppression aimed at Democratic constituencies such as African-Americans and college people.  As Greg Palast pointed out, voter registrations canceled through use of the bogus CrossCheck system were equal to Trump’s in key states.

The other was the Trump campaign’s success in using social media to target key Democratic voting blocs and persuade them to either support Trump or stay at home.

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Unions face hard struggle in the age of Trump

December 3, 2016

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Leaders of organized labor in the United States face in Donald Trump what may be the most anti-union administration since before Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.

The New Deal gave labor unions a legal right to bargain collectively and enter into binding contracts.   Subsequently so-called “right to work” laws imposed on unions the obligation to bargain collectively even for workers who choose not to join the union.

Many observers expect the Trump administration and Republican Congress to enact a national right to work law.  Under such a law, workers could join a company with a union contract, refuse to join the union or pay dues and enjoy all the benefits of the contract.   Why, union leaders ask, would anybody join a union if they could enjoy all the benefits of union membership without any of the obligations?

Trump’s likely choice for Secretary of Labor is said to be Andrew Puzder, head of the parent company of the Hardee’s and Carl Jr. restaurant chains.  He is an outspoken opponent of minimum wage increases and of Obamacare.

Other contenders who’ve been mentioned in the press are Victoria Lipnic, one of two Republican members of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; and  Scott Walker, the fiercely anti-union Governor of Wisconsin.

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Union worker support for Democrats is eroding

December 2, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump is an enemy of organized labor.

He favors “right to work” laws, by which employees can enjoy the benefits of a union contract without having to pay union dues.

He once said that the U.S. economy is un-competitive because wages are too high, although he later backtracked.

He promised to appoint a Supreme Court Justice with the same philosophy as the anti-union Antonin Scalia.

He promised to revoke every executive order issued by President Barack Obama, which presumably includes orders enforcing wage standards for federal contractors and new rules for overtime pay.

So it’s not surprising that American labor unions made an all-out effort to defeat him in the recent.  Labor unions donated $135 million to anti-Trump political action committees, and spent an additional $35 million to get out the vote and other political activities.  AFSCME, the NEA and other unions sent out nearly 4,000 canvassers, who knocked on an estimated 9.5 million doors.

Exit polls indicate that Hillary Clinton carried the vote of union families by an 8 percent margin.  But this is not as good as it seems.  Four years before, Barack Obama won the vote of union households by an 18 percent margin.  In other words, Clinton was down by 10 percentage points.

Donald Trump did better than Mitt Romney among union voters, but his gains were less than Clinton’s losses.  A large number of union families either didn’t vote or voted for small-party candidates.

What wasn’t Clinton able to hold more of the union vote?  First, Trump made a direct appeal to them for votes of union members, which Republicans haven’t done in recent elections.   Clinton tried to appeal to college-educated moderate Republicans, which she did with some success, but not enough to offset the erosion of majorities from traditional Democratic constituencies.

Second, Trump made an issue of the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, North American Free Trade Agreement and other trade agreements.  Clinton promoted the TPP as Secretary of State, but opposed it as a candidate.  Many factory workers blame the TPP, NAFTA and other trade agreements for loss of jobs to foreign countries.

I did not vote for Trump, but I think he is right about the TPP.  If he hopes to be re-elected, he’d better not break his word about opposing the TPP as he has so many other campaign promises.

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Can Trump make U.S. industry great again?

December 1, 2016

Donald Trump in his campaign promised to reverse the decline of American manufacturing.

Can he do it?  I’m willing to be pleasantly surprised, but I don’t think so.

President-elect Trump’s proposed economic policies are the same as what most Republicans and many Democrats have been advocating for 30 years or more—lower taxes, less regulation, fewer public services.

None of these things has stopped the increase in U.S. trade deficits or the increase in economic insecurity of American workers.

Trump did speak against the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, promised to renegotiate other trade agreements and threatened to impose punishing tariffs on China and Mexico in retaliation for their unfair trade policies.

I myself am in favor of rejecting the TPP and renegotiating trade treaties.  This would be a step forward.  But it would take more than this to rebuild the hollowed-out U.S. manufacturing economy.

China, Japan, South Korea and most nations with flourishing industrial economies use trade policy as a means of strengthening their economies.

Their leaders, like Alexander Hamilton in the early days of the United States, seek to build up their nations’ “infant industries” under those industries are strong enough to stand on their own feet.

When foreign companies seek to sell these nations their products, their governments demand that the foreign companies not only set up factories in their countries, but that they employ native workers and transfer their industrial know-how to the host countries.  The USA does nothing like this.

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