Archive for January, 2017

Trump’s Muslim decree versus the rule of law

January 31, 2017

The noteworthy things about President Trump’s decree on Muslim immigration were how unnecessarily cruel it was, how incompetently it was drawn and how it caught everyone by surprise.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

The other noteworthy thing was how mass protests against his decree pressured him to back down from one of the worst parts of it—the forbidding of Green card holders and other legal foreign residents from returning to the country if they are out of it.

I think these things will be hallmarks of his administration—that is, cruelty, stupidity and unpredictability, but also vulnerability to public opinion and public pressure.   Trump does not have the power of a dictator, although he would like to have it.

Even conservatives who strongly believe in keeping out unauthorized immigrants and immigrants from the Muslim world thought Trump handled this wrongly.

But the most dangerous trait that Trump revealed was unpredictability.

Being unpredictable is a strength when you’re fighting against adversaries, whether on the battlefield, the marketplace or an election campaign.  It also is a strength of a showman, which Trump most definitely is.

It is, however, a dangerous trait in the head of government of a great nation.   The most important defining characteristic of a free country is the rule of law.   People who live in a free country need to be able to know what the laws are, and to know that they are safe so long as they obey the law.

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Donald Trump and the Syrian refugees

January 30, 2017
Syrian refugees

Syrian refugees

President Donald Trump has banned Syrian refugees from coming to the USA.

But there wouldn’t be any refugees from Syria if the U.S. government hadn’t intentionally destabilized their country.

It is shameful to treat the refugees as if they themselves were to blame for being persecuted and homeless.

Ten years ago, Syria was a country where Middle East refugees fled to, not away from.  What changed it was the rebellion, instigated by the U.S. government and spearheaded by the Islamic State (aka ISIS) and the al-Nusra Front, the heirs to Al Qaeda, to overthrow Bashir al-Assad.

People who once led normal lives have been made homeless and exiles by warlords and armed religious fanatics.

_85412618_syrian_refugees_62regions

The saving grace of President Trump’s order is to make exceptions for religious minorities and Syrians in danger because they worked for Americans.

Christians comprise 10 percent of the population of Syria.  The Christian community there goes back to the time of St. Paul.   Although Christians are targeted by ISIS and other jihadists, they comprise fewer than 10 percent of refugees—possibly because they’re in danger from Muslim fanatics in the refugee camps.   It would be shameful for a nation that is more than 70 percent Christian to turn its back on them.

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A photographer who paints with light

January 28, 2017

North of the Arctic Circle in Finland, there is a period of about 50 days when the sun never rises above the horizon, known as the Polar Night.

Artist and photographer Hannu Huhtamo uses this period of darkness to paint with light.  He makes his strange and haunting works of art by making a long-exposure photograph of a moving bright light source against a dim background.

LINKS

Hannu Huhtamo Photography.  His website.

Light Painting Artist Hannu Huhtamo | Light Painting Photography.  An interview.

This Photographer Paints With Light in the Finnish Polar Night by Lisa Lanot for Konbini.

Polar Night and Midnight Sun articles on Wikipedia.

A joking Dutch message to Donald Trump

January 27, 2017

Update 2/14/2017.  You also can click on this to view the video.

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Why Trump’s staff tells obvious lies

January 26, 2017

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What needs explaining is not why Donald Trump and his staff tell lies.   Many recent leaders have lied.

What needs explaining is why Trump and his staff tell obvious and easily disprovable lies, such as the claim that record numbers of people came to see his inauguration.

My own thought was that it served two purposes.  One was to confuse the issue, because most people don’t have the time or resources to check facts.   As long as you stick to what you’re saying and never back down, a certain number of people will believe you.

The other purpose was to distract the attention of the press from more serious issues.   The time spent by reporters in covering arguments over crowd sizes is time spent not covering things such as Trump’s infrastructure plan.

But economist Tyler Cowen has a more sinister explanation.

By requiring subordinates to speak untruths, a leader can undercut their independent standing, including their standing with the public, with the media and with other members of the administration.  That makes those individuals grow more dependent on the leader and less likely to mount independent rebellions against the structure of command.  Promoting such chains of lies is a classic tactic when a leader distrusts his subordinates and expects to continue to distrust them in the future.

Another reason for promoting lying is what economists sometimes call loyalty filters.  If you want to ascertain if someone is truly loyal to you, ask them to do something outrageous or stupid.  If they balk, then you know right away they aren’t fully with you.  That too is a sign of incipient mistrust within the ruling clique, and it is part of the same worldview that leads Trump to rely so heavily on family members.

Source: Tyler Cowen – Bloomberg View

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Super-rich get ready for collapse of civilization

January 25, 2017

Some American hedge fund managers and Silicon Valley billionaires are preparing refuges so they have places to flee in the event of a revolution or economic collapse.

Evan Osnos, writing in the New Yorker, said they call this “apocalypse insurance.”

Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn and a prominent investor, recalls telling a friend that he was thinking of visiting New Zealand. “Oh, are you going to get apocalypse insurance?” the friend asked. “I’m, like, Huh?” Hoffman told me.

New Zealand, he discovered, is a favored refuge in the event of a cataclysm. Hoffman said, “Saying you’re ‘buying a house in New Zealand’ is kind of a wink, wink, say no more.  Once you’ve done the Masonic handshake, they’ll be, like, ‘Oh, you know, I have a broker who sells old ICBM silos, and they’re nuclear-hardened, and they kind of look like they would be interesting to live in.’ ”

I asked Hoffman to estimate what share of fellow Silicon Valley billionaires have acquired some level of “apocalypse insurance,” in the form of a hideaway in the U.S. or abroad.  “I would guess fifty-plus percent,” he said, “but that’s parallel with the decision to buy a vacation home.  Human motivation is complex, and I think people can say, ‘I now have a safety blanket for this thing that scares me.’ ”

The fears vary, but many worry that, as artificial intelligence takes away a growing share of jobs, there will be a backlash against Silicon Valley, America’s second-highest concentration of wealth. (Southwestern Connecticut is first.)

“I’ve heard this theme from a bunch of people,” Hoffman said. “Is the country going to turn against the wealthy?  Is it going to turn against technological innovation?  Is it going to turn into civil disorder?”

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The revolutionary power of early Christianity

January 25, 2017

QUO VADIS by Henryk Sienkiewicz (1896)  tells a story of the coming of Christianity to Rome in the time of Nero.  It depicts the discontinuity between Christianity and the Greco-Roman pagan world, and what happens when people actually live by the Sermon on the Mount.

This would be a revolutionary moral change today.   It was an even more revolutionary change then.

quovadis41daeylwxl-_ac_ul320_sr224320_Unlike in Christianity, worship of the Greco-Roman gods had nothing to do with morality nor with hope and heaven.   The pagan gods were regarded as powerful supernatural beings who had to be appeased with worship and animal sacrifice for the sake of one’s family or one’s city or nation, but who otherwise did not care about you.

Many of the Roman upper classes had come to believe that religion was a useful superstition for keeping the common people contented.

This had nothing to do with leading a virtuous life, which was the province of philosophy, and only a select few were followers of philosophy.

Christianity represented a moral revolution.  St. Paul, St. Peter and the Christians depicted in this novel practiced universal love, unconditional forgiveness and the sharing of all wealth and property—something unprecedented in any mass movement.

The Christian missionaries taught that in the Kingdom of God, there was no distinction between rich and poor, free and slave, man and woman or Roman, Greek or Jew.  They created communities whereby poor people could band together and provide for their own needs, independently of the oppressive and indifferent Roman state.   The collision of the pagan and Christian view of life is the subject of this novel.

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Donald Trump, Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon

January 23, 2017

During the past six or eight months, it seems as though every conversation on a general topic that I’ve engaged in has come around to the topic of Donald Trump.

Yesterday morning I led a discussion at First Universalist Church on the topic of spirituality.  It was a good discussion overall, but the conversation soon drifted to the lack of spirituality of Donald Trump and how people’s spirits were lifted by taking part in protest demonstrations against Trump.

donaldtrumpczeur4ixuaaryrYesterday evening I took part in a group that is reading and discussing Henryk Sienkiewicz’s Quo Vadis.  Sure enough, we soon started talking about the resemblances between Donald Trump and the Emperor Nero.

I don’t hang out with pro-Trump voters on a day-to-day basis, but my guess is that they also are talking about Trump and his opponents.

It is amazing to me how President Trump has managed to dominate public discourse, and on his own terms.

The Washington press yesterday was talking about estimates of crowd sizes.  It wasn’t talking about what Trump’s policies will be concerning the economy, the environment or foreign wars.  Still less was it talking about what we Americans ought to be doing concerning these issues.

No, the national press—as well as all my friends who get their information from network television—were reacting to Trump’s tweets and sound bites—that is, to an agenda set by Trump.   And so is most of the national press, even though in their own minds they are opposed to Trump.

I feel as if I am the target of psychological warfare, intended to induce despair and fear.

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Rod Dreher on evil as a spiritual force

January 22, 2017

Rod Dreher, a traditional Christian, summed up his beliefs about evil:

  1.  The world is not what we think it is. What is unseen is as real as what’s seen.
  2.  People are not who we think they are; they are not even who they think they are. People will go to extraordinary lengths — including telling themselves outlandish lies, accepting what ought to be unacceptable and making their own lives and the lives of others miserable — to avoid facing truths that would compromise the worldview upon which they’ve settled.
  3.  The battle lines between good and evil, and between order and chaos, are not drawn where we would like them to be. The front is everywhere, most particularly within our own hearts.
  4.  Be wary of the treachery of the good man who believes in his own goodness.
  5.  “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)

Source: The American Conservative

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Trump moves fast to strike at Obamacare

January 21, 2017

President Donald Trump, in his first day in office, issued an executive order to cripple the administration of the Affordable Care Act.

trumppositionThe order (1) forbids administrators to issue any new order or regulation that imposes new costs on states and (2) authorizes administrators to suspend any order or regulation that imposes undue costs on individuals or states.

The limitations are that the change has to be permitted by law and that there have to be advance note and public comment on the changes if the law requires it.

That may sound relatively harmless, but the ACA is so complicated that it is hard to make it work and easy to make it cease functioning—like removing a couple of bolts from a highly complex machine.

Here are some of the things reporters said could happen under Trump’s executive order:

  • Delay indefinitely enforcement of all the individual and state mandates to buy or provide health insurance.
  • Expand hardship exemptions under the individual requirement to buy health insurance so that they cover virtually everybody.
  • Extend the option of state governments to approve health insurance plans that don’t meet all the requirements of the ACA, including refusal to refuse insurance to people with pre-existing conditions.

Another thing the Trump administration could do is to stop defending a lawsuit by the House of Representatives challenging the legality of a program to reimburse insurers for providing subsidies for low-income patients.   The program was authorized by law, but no money was ever specifically appropriated for it.   The U.S. District Court agreed the program is illegal; the case is now on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

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What Donald Trump promised in his inaugural

January 21, 2017

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President Donald Trump made specific promises in his inaugural address.   He should be judged on whether or not he keeps these promises.  Here are the promises:

We will bring back our jobs.

We will bring back our borders.

We will bring back our wealth, and we will bring back our dreams.

We will build new roads and highways and bridges and airports and tunnels and railways all across our wonderful nation.

We will get our people off of welfare and back to work, rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.

We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and hire American.

We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world, but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.

We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example.

We will shine for everyone to follow.

We will re-enforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth.

At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country we will rediscover our loyalty to each other.

Source: Ian Welsh

If Donald Trump could accomplish these goals, he would go down in history as one of the great Presidents.

I will store this away and re-post it in 2020 if he runs again, and if this blog still exists.   I don’t think he will keep these promises and I don’t think he can keep them, but I would be pleased to be proved wrong.

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The secret of Big Ben

January 21, 2017

Hat tip to Naked Capitalism.

White people dying faster in Trump country

January 20, 2017

Angus Deaton, co-author with Anne Case of a study of a rising mortality rate among white American working people, has found an interesting correlation.

He told Business Insider in an interview at the World Economics Forum in Davos that there is a 0.4 correlation between US counties with elevated mortality rates for white people and counties that voted for Trump.

“If you take county-by-county in the US, and you look at what we call deaths of despair — suicides, opioids and liver disease — that it correlates by 0.4 with votes for Trump.  That’s a big correlation.  There are 3,000 counties in the US. 0.4 with these things is a very strong relationship,” Deaton told us.

In stats, 1 is a perfect correlation and 0 is no correlation at all; 0.4 is a fairly strong relationship in a dataset that size. The stats suggest that Trump somehow tapped into white despair among voters.

There are caveats, of course.

“You can put almost anything in that picture, smoking, lack of exercise … but I do think there is a lot of malaise going on here.  Whatever it is these people are unhappy, they’re left behind, some of their jobs have gone away, they’re worse off than their parents were, they’re worried about opportunities for their kids.”

Source: Business Insider

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Donald Trump to be the only President we’ve got

January 19, 2017

trumpweb21n-1-webPeople who say that Donald Trump is “illegitimate” are playing with fire.

That word has two possible meanings.  One is moral disapproval of the way in which Trump won the 2016 election.

The other is the claim that his election was literally illegal and that mass public demonstrations should be organized with the aim of turning Trump out of office—like the overthrow of President Yanukovich in Ukraine.

I don’t think anybody has a serious idea of overthrowing Trump, but I think a lot of people get pleasure out of taking part in a kind of psychodrama in which they act as if they do.

The danger of this is that it could provide give Trump an excuse to treat demonstrators as serious revolutionaries and use this as an excuse to clamp down on protest, maybe even exercise martial law.

James O’Keefe, a well-known right-wing dirty trickster, was caught trying to incite a riot at President Trump’s inauguration.

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Will the GOP repeal the Affordable Care Act?

January 18, 2017

Update 1/19/2017.  It seems that in fact the Congressional Republicans do have an alternative of sorts to Obamacare.  A link has been added to this article.

The top video from Vox is about Kathy Oller, who lives in southeastern Kentucky and has a job signing people up for the Affordable Care Act.  It tells why many people in her area think the cost of the ACA is too high, and why they voted for Donald Trump.

The bottom video is about an interview of President Barack Obama by Vox reporters on the topic of health care.  Kathy Oller came along.  Her question to President Obama and his answer begin at the 37th minute and take about eight minutes.

President Obama is right in saying Republican leaders are irresponsible in proposing to repeal the ACA without having a replacement plan in place, and in challenging them to come up with a better plan.

It’s apparent that the Republican leadership doesn’t have such a plan..

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Manning to be freed—in exchange for Assange?

January 17, 2017

Five days ago Julian Assange stated on Twitter that he would agree to be extradited to the United States if President Obama freed Chelsea Manning.   Today President Obama commuted Manning’s sentence, effective May 17.

Manning is the former U.S. Army Pvt. Bradley Manning who provided information to Wikileaks about military coverups.   He has served nearly seven years of a 35-year sentence, the longest term any American has served for leaking information to the public.

Among the information that he revealed were reports that civilian casualties in Iraq were higher than reported.  He also gave Wikileaks the video footage used below..

I don’t have any way of knowing whether President Obama’s decision to commute Manning’s sentence was done out of humanitarian feeling, or whether it was result of negotiations with Assange.

If it was Obama’s unconditional decision, he deserves credit for doing the right thing.

If it is part of an agreement to trade Assange for Manning, then all I can say is that Assange is a brave and honorable man, and Obama is not.

We’ll see what happens in May.  If Assange does surrender, we’ll see what President Trump does.

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What to think of the Trump dossier?

January 17, 2017

When I first heard the news of the Watergate break-in back in 1972, I thought it absurd to think that the President of the United States would be personally involved in the burglary of the Democratic National Committee.

It didn’t make sense to me that President Nixon would take such a big risk for something so small.

Since then I have learned not to say that someone wouldn’t have done something because it wouldn’t make sense.  People do things that don’t make sense all the time.

Sadly, in the case of the secret dossier on Donald Trump’s alleged dealings with Russia, I can’t say that it doesn’t make sense.   It does make sense.   But there’s no independent evidence that the report is true, and good reason to question it.

I can well imagine Trump borrowing money from Russian financiers, and I can imagine people on Trump’s campaign team exchanging information with Russians.   Secret intelligence agents have a way of forming relationships with people they target, and getting people to exchange favors in a way that seems harmless at first until the targets find themselves in too deep to get out.

Also, Trump doesn’t care about norms of human behavior that restrain most people.

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400 years of poor white people in America

January 17, 2017

When I was a boy in western Maryland in the 1940s, I sometimes heard people say things like, “The Negroes aren’t so bad, compared to the poor white trash.”

The underlying meaning was that it was part of the nature of things for black people to be poor and marginalized, but there was something deeply wrong with white people who let themselves sink to the same status.

9whitetrash-iisenberg780670785971I just finished reading a book, WHITE TRASH: the untold 400-year history of class in America by Nancy Isenberg (2016), that tells how these attitudes go back literally to the first settlements at Plymouth Rock, Jamestown and before, and persist today.

Today’s poor rural Southern white people of today may literally be lineal descendants of the convicts, debtors, beggars, orphans, homeless vagrants and unemployed vagrants who were shipped to England’s North American colonies in the 17th century.

Many were victims of the enclosure movement, in which wealthy landowners privatized common lands formerly used by small or tenant farmers, leaving them without an obvious means of livelihood.  These displaced poor people were regarded as useless—much as workers replaced by automation are regarded by economists and corporate executives today.

The prevailing attitude then was that families were “the better sort” or “the meaner sort,” that they were “well-bred” or “ill-bred”.   Today we think of “good breeding” as applied to individual persons as meaning the person has been taught the proper way to behave.   Back then, roughneck poor people were regarded as inherently inferior.

Our American tradition is that the seeds of our nation were planted by freedom-seeking New England Puritans and adventurous Virginia Cavaliers.  This is true, but only a half-truth.    The ships that brought them to the New World also brought penniless, landless English poor people, who were regarded as surplus population.

What set the English poor white colonists apart was that they were not given land.  They were intended to be servants and field workers.  When black African slaves turned out to be more efficient and exploitable workers than indentured English servants, they lost even this role.

Even so some of the poor whites acquired property and a measure of social status.   White Trash is about the descendants of the ones that didn’t.

They fled to the western frontier of settlement.   But the wealthy and well-connected had already obtained title to most of the frontier land.  Poor whites became squatters.  They contended that clearing, improving and planting land gave them the right to have it; title-holders disagreed.  This was the source of much conflict both in the colonies and the newly-independent United States.

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Still judged by the color of their skins

January 16, 2017

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his “I Have a Dream” speech said he hoped that his children would be judged by the content of their characters and not the colors of their skins.

martin.luther.king.jrMore than 53 years later, this is still a dream.

As Michelle Alexander has written, mass incarceration of black Americans, many of them for drug offenses and other victim-less crimes, has provided an excuse to disenfranchise black voters in some states and deprive them of protection of civil rights laws everywhere.

As Greg Palast has documented, Republican state governments systematically cancel black and Hispanic voter registrations for bogus reasons.   And as Black Lives Matter points out, black people are sometimes killed by police or gun-toting whites without justification, with no consequences to the shooter.

And, as I have written before, old-fashioned racial discrimination in jobs and housing, which supposedly was outlawed under the civil rights laws, still exists today.  That is the main subject of this post.

Testers find that sellers, lenders and employers will favor the less qualified white person over the more qualified black person.

With all the talk nowadays of government favoritism toward African-Americans, I don’t think there is any rational white American who would want to trade places with them

Statistical disparities between races may have some non-racist explanation.  But the examples I’m going to mention, and which I listed in a previous post, are set up so as to rule out any non-racist explanation for the biases.

  • A group of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania sent out 6,500 letters to professors at the top 250 universities in the USA.  The letters were identical except for the names of signers – Brad Anderson, LaToya Brown, Depak Patel, etc.  The white men got on average a 25 percent better response than white women or blacks, Hispanics or Asians, and that was true even when the professor was female, black, Hispanic or Asian.  Professors at private universities were more biased than those at public universities, the study found; the humanities professors showed the least bias; the business professors the most.
  • A sociologist at Northwestern University sent out four groups of testers in Milwaukee—whites and blacks, some of which listed criminal records on their job applications and some that didn’t, but otherwise were made to be as identical as possible.  The whites with criminal records had a higher chance of success than blacks with clean records.
  • racism-in-a-resume-92ebdafd521c4b23b83023db292f4f40Researchers for Abdul Lateef Jameel Poverty Action Lab sent out nearly 5,000 applications in response to more than 1,300 help-wanted ads.  They were divided into high- and low-quality applications, each with an equal number white- and black-sounding names.   The well-qualified whites got good responses, but the well-qualified blacks got 50 percent fewer.
  • Researchers at Harvard Business School found that white hosts were able to charge 12 percent more on average that black hosts for Airbnb rentals for virtually identical properties at similar locations.
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development sent out 8,000 pairs of testers, one white and one black, Hispanic or Asian, to look for places to rent or buy in 28 cities.   More than half the time, they were treated the same, which is good.   But in many cases, the minority potential renter or buyer was asked to pay more, shown fewer units and/or charged higher fees than the white renter who had come by a few hours before.
  • The Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston sent out pairs of testers to buy houses in eastern Massachusetts.  They, too, found that black and Hispanic buyers were on average charged more and offered less than white buyers.

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The guaranteed incomes of the top 0.1 percent

January 14, 2017

notwork11

Hat tip to occasional links and commentary.

Radicals propose a universal guaranteed income for all, regardless of whether you are gainfully employed or not.   But as Matt Breunig pointed out, it already exists in the top 1 percent and 0.1 percent income bracket.   They receive income from their financial assets regardless of whether they work or not.

There is a strong argument for a guaranteed.  It is that the reason that the national wealth today is greater than in the past is largely due to the inventiveness and effort of our ancestors, not to anyone living today, and that therefore all of us are equally entitled to the fruits of their effort.

This was the philosophy of the social credit reform movement, which provided the background for Robert A. Heinlein’s great utopian science fiction novel, Beyond This Horizon.

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Americans’ increasingly insecure twilight years

January 14, 2017

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Hat tip to occasional links and commentary.

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U.S. greenhouse emissions have fallen since 2000

January 14, 2017

gdp-ghg-and-co2-emissions

Emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses remained level during the administration of George W. Bush and actually fell during the administration of Barack Obama, even though economic output rose.

This means that economic growth doesn’t depend on making global warming worse.  It means that, to the contrary, it is feasible to do something about global climate change.

It won’t mean that the Greenland ice cap will stop melting or the American Southwest will stop suffering from drought or coastal cities such as Miami or Houston will be safe.  It took a long time to create the buildup of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, and it will be a long time before they go away.

The benefit of reducing greenhouse gasses will go to future generations, not to us.  But is good news, just the same.

Part of this is due to technological progress, which has made renewal energy competitive (or more nearly competitive) with fossil fuels.  But credit also is due to the actions of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy under President Bush and especially President Obama.

Sadly, this may all change for the worse under President Donald Trump, who denies the reality of human-made climate change and is filling his administration with climate change deniers.

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Why do Trump, the GOP oppose peace with Iran?

January 12, 2017

President-elect Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress say they want to cancel the agreement for controls on Iran’s nuclear program.

This would have two bad results.

Iran and its neighbors

Iran and its neighbors

It would strengthen the hard-liners in Iran who want their country to have nuclear weapons capability, and who opposed the agreement in the first-place.

It would undermine one of Trump’s announced goals, which is to form an alliance dedicated to fighting the Islamic  State (aka ISIS or ISIL), Al Qaeda and their offshoots.

Juan Cole, a historian of the Middle East, reported that many Iranians are happy about the election of Trump.  Trump is friendly with Iran’s ally, Russia, and wants to aid another Iranian ally, the Assad government in Syria, against its enemies, the Sunni extremist rebels fighting Syria.

So if the United States is an ally of Iran’s allies, and an enemy of its enemies, the U.S. should be an ally of Iran.  Isn’t that logical?

And, in any case, resuming sanctions against Iran would not produce a better deal.

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Can intelligence agencies overturn the election?

January 12, 2017

The following is by Lambert Strether on the Naked Capitalism web log.

Since November 8 we’ve had four crises of legitimacy of escalating intensity, each one pointing to a change in the Constitutional order.

  • First, we had Stein’s recount effort, justified in part by a(n unproven) theory that “Russian hacking” had affected the vote tallies.  (Recall that 50% of Clinton voters believe this, although no evidence has ever been produced for it, it’s technically infeasible at scale, and statistically improbable.)  Since the “Russian hacking” theory was derived from intelligence not shown to the public, the change to the Constitutional order would be that the Intelligence Community (IC) would gain a veto over the legitimacy of a President during a transfer of power; veto power that would be completely unaccountable, since IC sources and methods would not be disclosed.
  • Second, we had the (hilariously backfired) campaign to have “faithless electors” appoint somebody other than Trump to be President.  Here again, the change in the Constitutional order was exactly the same, as (Clintonite) electors clamored to be briefed by the IC on material that would not be shown to the public, giving the IC veto power over the appointment of a President after the vote tallies had been certified.
  • office_of_the_director_of_national_intelligence_seal_usaThird, we had the IC’s JAR report, which in essence accused the President-elect of treason (a capital offense).  Here again the publicly available evidence of that quite sloppy report has been shredded, so in essence we have an argument from IC authority that secret evidence they control disqualifies the President elect, so the change in the Constitutional order is the same.
  • Fourth, we have the “Golden Showers” report, which again is an argument from IC authority, and so again gives the IC veto power over a President appointed by the Electoral College. 

Needless to say, once we give the IC veto power over a President before the vote is tallied, and before the electoral college votes, and after the electoral college votes but before the oath of office and the Inaugural, we’re never going to be able to take it back.

This is a crossing the Rubicon moment.  Now, you can say this is unique, not normal, an exceptional case, but “sovereign is he who decides on the exception” (Nazi legal theorist Carl Schmidt).  And who then is the sovereign?  The IC.  Is that what liberals want?

Source: naked capitalism

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How much equality do we want?

January 9, 2017

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Grant that extreme economic inequality is a bad thing.  Grant that ever-increasing economic inequality is a bad thing.

Grant that complete equality of incomes is not feasible and maybe not desirable.  How much equality is enough?

The economist Friedrich Hayek wrote in The Road to Serfdom (as I recall) that it is impossible that people could reach a consensus on what each and every person deserves.   Once you reject complete equality, he  wrote, the only acceptable distribution of income is what results from the impersonal working of the free market.

A democratic government could never determine a distribution of income that is satisfactory to everyone, or even a majority, Hayek thought; if it tries, the result can only be gridlock and a breakdown of democracy.

But there are ways to reduce inequality that neither set limits on any individual’s aspirations nor give some group of bureaucrats the power to decide who gets what.   Some that come to mind immediately are:

  1. Prosecute those who get rich by lawbreaking.
  2. Set limits on unearned income.
  3. Break up monopolies.
  4. Empower labor unions and cooperatives.
  5. Provide good public services to all, regardless of income.
  6. Provide decent jobs for all who are willing and able to work.

What are your ideas?

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