Archive for April, 2018

Nobody could have beaten Trump (or Clinton)

April 30, 2018

Double click to enlarge.

Source: United States of Apathy by Philip Kearny Cartography.

Hat tip to Lambert Strether on naked capitalism.

Hillary Clinton received 28.4 percent of the votes of eligible voters, Donald Trump received 27.2 percent and 44.4 voted for nobody.   I wouldn’t assume that the 44.4 percent were apathetic.   I’m sure many of them (some of whom had voted in 2008 and 2012) had their reasons for rejecting both candidates.

Nobody got a majority of votes cast.  Hillary Clinton won 48 percent, Donald Trump 45.9 percent and the rest went to small-party candidates.

Fed keeps financial markets on life support

April 27, 2018

Ever since the 2008 crash, the Federal Reserve Board has had the U.S. financial markets on life support.

The Fed has used its influence on the banking system and bond market to drive interest rates down to near zero.  Taking inflation into account, many interest rates are less than zero.

This drives investors who want a return on their investment into the stock market, and the fact that we’re in the market helps keep prices up.   But the rise in stock prices is not based on profitability of underlying businesses.

The idea is that low interest rates and a rising stock market will encourage new investment and a growth in the real economy.  But when the Fed hints that it may allow interest rates to return to normal levels, investors panic and the market falls.

Another way the Fed has tried to stimulate the economy is by “qualitative easing”—buying up banks’ so-called toxic investments.   This is supposed to empower the bankers to find better investments, which would enable the economy to grow.   But this was never a requirement.

Right now wages are rising and unemployment is falling.   It would be great if this continued for a long period of time.

Artificially low interest rates cannot go on forever and, as Stein’s Law says, if something cannot go on forever, someday it will stop.

LINKS

Donald Trump and the Next Crash: Making the Fed an Instrument for Disaster by Nomi Prins for TomDispatch.

The mini crash and class warfare by Larry Beinart for Al Jazeera.

How excess debt stifles economies

April 26, 2018

Economist Michael Hudson had a good explanation of how excess private debt leads to economic stagnation.

If private debt grows faster than GDP, the debt/GDP ratio will rise.  This stifles markets, and hence employment.  Wages fall as a share of GDP.

This is precisely what is happening. But mainstream models ignore the overgrowth of debt, as if the economy operates on a barter basis. 

[Australian economist Steve] Keen calls this “the barter illusion,” and reviews his wonderful exchange with Paul Krugman (who plays the role of an intellectual Bambi to Keen’s Godzilla).

Krugman insists that banks do not create credit but merely recycle savings – as if they are savings banks, not commercial banks.

It is the old logic that debt doesn’t matter because “we” owe the debt to “ourselves.”  The “we” are the 99%, the “ourselves” are the 1%.

Krugman calls them “patient” savers vs “impatient” borrowers, blaming the malstructured economy on personal psychology of indebted victims having to work for a living and spend their working lives paying off the debt needed to obtain debt-leveraged homes of their own, debt-leveraged education and other basic living costs.

Hudson has written extensively about debt, and how unpayable debt leads to financial crises.   As he is fond of saying, debts that can’t be paid won’t be paid.

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Another financial crash is on the way

April 26, 2018

Another financial crash is coming and it will be as bad or worse than the 2008 recession.

The reason is that all the conditions that existed before the 2008 crash exist now:

  • Growing concentration of wealth, which depresses the mass consumer market.
  • Growing debt, which can’t be repaid.
  • Reckless financial speculation, encouraged by lack of regulation and the expectation of another bailout.
  • A negative balance of trade, and a continuing overall weakness of the U.S. economy.
  • Lack of sufficient firewalls and safety nets to prevent cascading bankruptcies and financial failures.

Rich people on average spend less of their incomes than middle-class or poor people.   Once you get above a certain level, spending more money on yourself doesn’t make you happier.  You instead reinvest it so as to become even richer.

Middle-class people spend most of what they earn in order to maintain a middle-class material standard of living.  They are the ones who sustain the mass consumer market, which is the engine of American prosperity.

Poor people need to spend all they have just to survive.

When incomes don’t rise, middle-class people maintain their material standard of living through borrowing.  But this has limits.

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Goldman Sachs says water may be wet

April 25, 2018

A Goldman Sachs report says that the way for biotech companies is through medical treatments, not medical cures.

Selling medical treatments provides a stream of income that continues indefinitely.   Selling medical cures provides one-time sources of income, and even these may dry up if the disease disappears.

The moral feelings of any normal person will be outraged by this, but the logic is watertight, obvious and, according to the report, supported by experience.

You can’t stop for-profit companies in a free enterprise economy from pursuing the course that is most profitable, and you can’t stop analysts for investment companies from noticing the most profitable course.

Since cures are better than treatments (although treatments are useful), how can resources be shifted to cures?

A free market fundamentalist would say that the solution is to raise prices of cures to equal the lifetime cost of a treatment, plus a premium.

A neoliberal would propose subsidizing biotech companies’ work on cures.  A left-wing liberal would propose requiring biotech companies to devote a certain percentage of their research budgets to working on cures.

A radical would say that for profit-companies operating in a free market cannot be counted on to produce cures, and we should look instead to government or philanthropic institutions if we want a cure for cancer, AIDS or other life-threatening diseases.

Historically few if any medical breakthroughs have come from for-profit companies.   Dr. Jonas Salk developed the Salk vaccine for polio as head of a research laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh.

Dr. Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin, was a professor of bacteriology at St. Mary’s Hospital in London.   Penicillin and other antibiotics came into widespread use through efforts of the U.S. military during World War Two.

Probably the most profitable and widespread drug developed by a private company was aspirin—a great example of a drug that generates a continuing revenue stream.  Aspirin of course is of great benefit.   It’s just not the same thing as the Salk vaccine or penicillin.

So here again, the supposedly radical policy is to adopt time-tested policies that have worked in the past, while the supposedly un-radical policies are justified by theory and not by experience.

LINKS

Goldman Sachs report asks: ‘Is curing patients a sustainable business model?’ by Tae Kim for CNBC.

When What’s Good for the World Is Bad for Business by Nathan J. Robinson for Current Affairs.

Jordan Peterson takes antidepressants

April 24, 2018

Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson, author of the best-selling 12 Rules for Life, said a 2012 interview (above) that he takes antidepressants and expects to take them for the rest of his life.

I don’t have any current information, but my guess is that this is still true.

His daughter Mikhaila, who was 20 back then, also said she takes antidepressants.  Peterson believes he is subject to a genetic flaw that his grandfather and father also had.

This runs counter to the argument of British journalist Johann Hari, whose new book, Lost Connections, was reviewed by me in my previous post.  Hari said people are depressed not because things are wrong in their brains, but because things are wrong in their lives, which is often due to things that are wrong with society in general.

All three generations of Peterson appeared to have everything that makes life living—meaningful work, friends, loving marriages, children and the respect of their communities.

Yet Jordan Peterson’s grandfather and father went to pieces in middle age, and Peterson himself thinks that he might have suffered the same fate if antidepressants hadn’t been available.

Mikhaila, the daughter, did go through a lot of suffering.  She suffered from rheumatoid arthritis from a young age and had to have hip and ankle replacements.  But she didn’t suffer alone.  She had the support of parents and friends.

So none of the Petersons fit the profile of typical depressed people as reported in Lost Connections.

Hari reported on clinical studies comparing patients who’ve been given antidepressants with patients who’ve been given placebos and patients who’ve been given nothing.

They indicate that 50 percent of the apparent benefit of antidepressants comes from the placebo effect and 25 percent from people simply getting better on their own.

That, of course, leaves a remaining 25 percent who actually were helped.  Hari said nobody understands how this works, because the effects of the various antidepressants are widely different.  Some increase serotonin, some decrease it, some increase or decrease dopamine and other biochemicals.  Also, many of them have bad side effects.

Peterson said that antidepressants work best for people who outwardly have great lives and are depressed for no apparent reason.   If you are depressed because you are unemployed, divorced or lonely, antidepressants won’t fix you, he said; you need to look for a job, a new mate and new friends.

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Antidepressants not a cure for lost connections

April 23, 2018

Journalist Johann Hari said in his new book that people who are depressed are not victims of bad brain chemistry.  They are depressed because they are disconnected from things that make life worth living.

They are disconnected from meaningful work, meaningful values and meaningful relationships with other people, from status and respect, the natural world and a secure or hopeful future.

In LOST CONNECTIONS: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—And the Unexpected Solutions (2018), Hari walks the reader through the scientific research that shows how people suffer when they are disconnected from the things they need, and how they can heal when they recover those connections.

Depression and anxiety are big problems.  Hari said psychiatric drugs are being taken by one in five American adults, one in three French adults and an even higher proportion in the UK.

The death rate in the United States is actually increasing, driven by “deaths of despair”—suicide, drug overdoses and alcohol-caused liver disease.   The World Health Organization reported in 2010 that depression is the world’s second leading cause of disability.

Hari said therapists can help, and gave examples.  He said there are ways people can help themselves, and gave examples.  Medication has its place, although often ineffective.  Hari deeply regrets the 13 years of his own life that he spent taking antidepressants.

But feelings of depression and anxiety are not the problem, according to Hari.   Pain, whether mental or physical, is a message that lets you know something is seriously wrong.   The rising rate of depression is a message telling us that something is wrong with our society.

∞∞∞

In organizations, you might think that the managers and decision makers would be under the most stress, while those with less responsibility would be the least stressed.  A study of the British civil service, among others, showed that the opposite is true.  The lower your rank, the higher the stress.

What causes stress is lack of control, Hari reported.   Employees are stressed when they have to produce results without being able to use their best judgment as to how to produce these results.

They are stressed when they don’t know the meaning or purpose of their work.  They are stressed when nobody notices whether they are doing a good job or not.  They are stressed when they’re on call even after the work day ends.   They are stressed when they don’t know whether they are going to have a job next week or next year.  Lost Connections gives examples of workers dealing with all these things.

Stressful working conditions are on the increase.  We the people were told that technological advances would result in all the routine work being done by machines, and more fulfilling, higher-level tasks being done by humans.  I believe such a path is possible, but it has not been the path chosen.

Instead we got Frederick W. Taylor’s scientific management, factory automation and computer numerically-controlled machines.  The purpose of these innovations was not to make workers more skilled.  It was to make them more replaceable.

High tech executives continue to push to eliminate the human factor from work, even when there is no need or demand for it, such as self-driving cars, and even when the public hates it, such as elimination of human interaction from customer service.

Workers do not suffer from a chemical imbalance, Hari wrote; they suffer from a power imbalance.

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Dems sue Russia, Wikileaks, Trump campaign

April 21, 2018

The Democratic National Committee is suing Wikileaks, along with the government of Russia, the Trump campaign and various Russians and Trump supporters, over the leaks of DNC e-mails during the 2016 election campaign.

They charge that, among other things, the leaks of the DNC e-mails violate laws protecting copyright and trade secrets.  If this was upheld, it would basically make a great deal of investigative reporting illegal—including much of the reporting on the Russiagate investigations.

The real crime of Wikileaks, now as in the past, has been to reveal inconvenient truths.

The Democratic party suing WikiLeaks for costing them the election is like an armed robbery convict suing a security camera company for getting him arrested.  The emails it published are 100 percent authentic and entirely undisputed, and they consist of nothing other than Democratic party big wigs talking to one another.

The documents published by WikiLeaks in 2016 showed an unquestionable violation of the DNC’s Impartiality Clause in the “us vs them” tone of the conversations in the more egregious DNC leaks, the Podesta emails showing that the DNC and the Clinton camp were colluding as early as 2014 to schedule debates and primaries in a way that favored her, and then-DNC Vice Chairwoman Donna Brazile acting as a mole against the Sanders campaign and passing Clinton questions in advance to prep her for debates with Sanders.

It also revealed more broadly incriminating facts about the Democratic party in general, including the Clintons taking bribes from Qatar and Morocco and knowingly accepting funds from political bodies that arm ISIS, an email showing how a CitiGroup executive was responsible for selecting Obama’s acceptable cabinet picks, and Clinton’s infamous “public position and a private position” statement.

Source: Caitlin Johnstone

Trying to reverse the outcome of the 2016 election is futile.  Democratic leaders would do better to concentrate on winning this year’s state and congressional elections, while meanwhile trying to curb President Trump’s unconstitutional use of executive power.

LINKS

Democratic Party sues Russia, WikiLeaks and Trump over election disruption by Sabrina Siddiqui for The Guardian.

Dems Sue WikiLeaks for Telling the Truth by Caitlin Johnstone.

The DNC’s Lawsuit Against Wikileaks Poses a Serious Threat to Press Freedom by Glenn Greenwald and Trevor Timm for The Intercept.  [Added Later]

Democratic National Committee’s Lawsuit Against Russia, WikiLeaks and Various Trump Associates Full of Legally Nutty Arguments by Mike Masnick for Techdirt.

Cure Worse Than Disease: Bill to Restrict Trump’s War Powers Actually “Endorse a Worldwide War on Terror” by Jon Schwarz for The Intercept.  [Added Later]

Senators Offer Up Unprecedented War Powers to President by Kelley Beaucar Vlahos for The American Conservative.

Four More Years: the Trump reelection nightmare and how we can stop it by Thomas Frank for Harper’s Magazine.

10 things teachers didn’t face 10 years ago

April 18, 2018

A California high school teacher named Jeremy S. Adams listed 10 things that teachers face now that they didn’t have to face 10 years ago:

#1: The Inability to Punish Students: This is a story in modern education that is big and is about to get much bigger. A hodge-podge of policies and euphemisms—restorative justice, social-emotional learning, banning punitive actions for defiant and vulgar students—has resulted in a toxic situation where many teachers feel they are no longer in control of their own classrooms and schools.  While many of these policies are instituted with just and well-meaning motivations such as trying to end the tragedy of the school-to-prison pipeline phenomenon and ensuring poor students are not disproportionately disciplined, as is often the case, the consequence has been a loss of control on many campuses across the country.  While suspension and expulsion should never be the first or even second option for discipline, there absolutely must be consequences to destructive student behaviors if for no better reason than to protect the vast majority of students who are well-behaved and want to learn.

#2: Cell Phone Addiction: The constant need for “dopamine baths,” to quote Andrew Sullivan, has produced a generation of endorphin junkies populating the modern American classroom.  The statistics are jarring by any account: teens are on their phones, on average, for nine hours a day and the heaviest cell phone addicts swipe, touch, or use their phones up to 5,427 times a day.  The correlation between cell phone addiction and youth levels of depression, isolation, anxiety and low academic performance is beyond question.

#3: Online Bullying: When I was a child, weekends and nighttime served as reprieves from the school bully and the general drama of school itself.  Nowadays there is no escape and the effects are daunting.  One in three children have been threatened online and most distressing of all, half of all children who are bullied fail to tell any adults about it.  It is not hyperbole or embellishment to state that young people live much of their lives in a cyberspace unregulated by adults.  We would never let our children play and wander in unfamiliar parts of town and yet that is precisely what they do when they engage in a cyberspace that is foreign to their own parents.  We cannot protect children if we do not know where they are being harmed.

#4: Pep Rallies for Standardized Testing: The era of high-stakes testing has done very little to improve student performance.  It has spawned cuts in the arts, less recess time for elementary school children, more rote memorization, and perpetuated the illusion that test-taking prowess is synonymous with academic achievement, not to mention the long-term effect of discouraging the brightest and most ambitious young people from entering the education profession.  On a deeper level, schools are told they must be held accountable, which requires analysis of student performance, which perpetuates an endless stream of gimmicks, cynical incentives, and activities to motivate students to do well on standardized tests.  Schools who do pep rallies are not at fault—the policies that make such activities necessary and even beneficial are the culprits of this new feature of the teaching landscape.

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Jordan Peterson and the dominant lobster

April 17, 2018

I forgot to mention the most striking metaphor in Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life—the struggle for dominance among lobsters.

Hierarchy is a law of nature, Peterson wrote; it is hard-wired in our brains by the evolutionary process.  It manifests itself not only as top dogs and pecking orders, but the struggle for dominance of our distant ancestor, the humble lobster.

Lobsters, it seems, compete for the best nesting places where they can be safe when they are shedding their shells.  The winners are lobsters with the biggest claws and a level of confidence produced by a substance called serotonin.   Sub-dominant lobsters not only fail to get good nesting places, but their level of serotonin drops so they can adjust to their lowly status.  Not only that, lobsters respond to Prozac.

So don’t be a loser lobster, Peterson says; stand up for yourself.

Illustration from 12 Rules for Life

It’s true, as he says, that human beings compete for dominance in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.  Everybody can see this.  I’ll never again observe a certain type of (usually) male behavior without forming a picture in my mind of a giant humanoid cartoon lobster, waving its claws.

And it’s also true that the human body produces serotonin.  But current thinking is that serotonin has little to do with mental states.  In human beings, its main function is to aid digestion.   Also, even though lobsters respond to Prozac, there is no evidence that it makes them happier.  Also, the lobster species is not the ancestor of the human species.

Peterson, to his credit, does not advocate being at the top of a dominance hierarcy as a life goal.   That way lies fascism by way of social Darwinism.  What he says is that life is tough and you need to be able to stand up for yourself.

Where he goes wrong is to claim dominance and hierarchy in the animal kingdom have any relevance to current arguments about economic inequality.

It is true that, within any group, there will be one or more persons who are more competent and confident than the others, and they will emerge as leaders.

But that has nothing to do with questions of the power of money in politics, the abuse of power by government or the growth of income inequality.  The current distribution of wealth and power in the USA and other countries does not reflect constants of human nature; it is the result of governmental and corporate policies during the past 35 years.

12 Rules for Life is inspirational, and Peterson mostly speaks good sense when he is dealing with matters of which he has personal experience or has studied deeply.   But on issues of economics and politics, he seems not to know what he doesn’t know.

LINKS

Psychologist Jordan Peterson says lobsters help to explain human hierarchies – do they? by Leonor Gonçalves for The Conversation.

Three More Reasons for Wealth-Deprived Americans to Take to the Streets by Paul Buchheit for AlterNet.  The real issues in the inequality debate.

 

Jordan Peterson’s 12 rules for life

April 17, 2018

Jordan Peterson’s new best-selling 12 Rules for Life: an Antidote to Chaos is different from most self-help books.   The author doesn’t promise happiness or success.  It is a manual for survival in a harsh, unforgiving world.

He teaches that suffering is inevitable, happiness is not a worthwhile goal, and the path of least resistance in life leads to failure, addiction, depression and hatred of oneself and ultimately of the human race.  But he says it also is possible to pull yourself together, listen to your best moral intuitions and live a life of meaning and integrity.

Peterson is a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, and also had a clinical psychology practice, which means that he had an opportunity to test his theories in practice.

He has been in the news for his opposition to his opposition to the revolution in thinking about gender and his defense of academic freedom.

12 Rules made a strong impression on me.  Peterson is the kind of writer with whom I hold imaginary conversations in my mind.  I think he has blind spots, which I will get to, but none that negate the value of the book.

Here are Peterson’s rules.

1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back.
2. Treat yourself like someone you were responsible for helping.
3. Make friends with people who want the best for you.
4. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not who someone else was today.
5. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.
6. Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.
7. Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient).
8. Tell the truth—or at least, don’t lie.
9. Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.
10. Be precise in your speech.
11. Do not bother children when they are skateboarding.
12. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.

The key fact about life is that it is suffering, Peterson wrote.  Even the most fortunate can expect to experience either serious illness or the illness of loved ones during our lifetimes and then old age and death.

Be grateful for whatever happiness and joy come your way, he says but make your life a quest for something meaningful, not for happiness.

Face with world standing straight with your shoulders back, he says, which is almost word-for-word something my mother told me when I was a boy.  This body language braces you to face the world and its challenges.  (A good breakfast also helps).

Making yourself strong isn’t everything, but it is the first step to anything.  Being weak and agreeable only sets you up to be a victim.

Look at what you do that hurts you.  Look at what you don’t do that you need to do.  If you are honest with yourself, you know what these things are.

Start with some improvement in your life that you know is within your power to make.  Don’t feel embarrassed if it seems trivial.  Just do it.  And then reward yourself for doing it.

Minor improvement day after day is like compound interest, Peterson wrote.  You’d be surprised how much you can change your life over time with tiny incremental changes.

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How to unsubscribe from Amazon

April 13, 2018

Tucker Carlson’s case against war in Syria

April 11, 2018

I don’t watch network television any more and, when I did, I hardly ever watched Fox News.  But in this clip, Tucker Carlson says almost everything that needs to be said about why going to war in Syria is a mistake.

The United States has no vital interests in Syria, the war has created terrible suffering to the Syrian people, and, while President Assad is a ruthless dictator, the radical jihadist fanatics being back by the U.S. would be worse, especially for the Christian minority in Syria.

The excuse for attacking Syria is the regime’s alleged use of poison gas against civilians, but there’s no proof of this, and, even if true, it would be no worse than atrocities by U.S. allies that the U.S. government ignores.

The only thing Carlson leaves out is the possibility of a clash with Russian forces in Syria, leading to a U.S-Russian war.   Invading small countries that do not endanger the U.S. is morally wrong as well as counterproductive.  Fighting a country with the power to bring about mutual assured destruction is not only wrong, but dangerous.

Congress should invoke the War Powers Act.  If President Trump starts a war without authorization by Congress, that would be grounds for impeachment.

LINKS

We All Need to Unite Against War in Syria, Regardless of Ideology by Caitlin Johnstone.

This Is How Russia and America Could Go to War in Syria by Dave Majundar for The National Interest.

With Latest Syria Threats, Trump Continues to be More Confrontational Towards Russia Than Obama Was by Glenn Greenwald and Zaid Jilani for The Intercept.  [Added 4/12/2018]

The US Empire Has Been Trying to Regime Change Syria Since Long Before 2011 by Caitlin Johnstone [Added 4/12/2018]

Tucker Carlson: The Populist Paladin of Primetime by Alan Pell Crawford for The American Conservative.

Blogging vs. TV and newspaper commentary

April 10, 2018

An old friend of mine made this comment on a previous blog post—

I have a question for regular readers of this blog. Do you have any theories about why we can’t get commentary like Phil’s on TV, or in the New York Times–let alone on Fox News? Respectfully, Steve Badrich, San Antonio, Texas.

To begin with, my friend gives me much too much credit.  Unlike when I worked on a newspaper, I do very little original reporting.

Most of what I write is based on facts and ideas I find on other, better blogs and on-line news sites. The best thing about many of my posts is my links to those blogs and news sites.  Go far enough upstream from those blogs and news sites, and you find the ultimate sources are in traditional journalism.

Blogging is very different from reporting, or even writing a newspaper column or appearing as a guest commentator on TV, which I have done.  As a reporter, I was accountable to an editor for being fair and accurate.   Editors were accountable to a publisher for producing a product that would appeal to readers and bring in advertising.

This discipline improved the quality of what I wrote, but it also made me think twice about going against conventional opinion.  When I wrote something, for example, that reflected favorable on Eastman Kodak Co., my community’s largest employer, it was accepted without question.  When I wrote something that Kodak executives didn’t like, I was usually called in to justify myself.

I usually was able to justify myself.  I was fortunate to have editors that stood behind reporters when they were right.  But the further my writing went deviated accepted opinion or the wishes of the powers that be (which was never very far), the higher the bar for justifying myself.  I was surrounded not by a barrier, but by a hill whose steepness increased the further I went.

As a blogger, I am not accountable to anyone except myself.   I don’t have to meet anybody’s standards of fairness and accuracy except my own.  No gatekeeper asks me to justify my conclusion, whether orthodox or unorthodox.

I am as free as anybody gets to be in 21st century America.  I am retired, and I’m not in the job market.  I have good medical insurance and a sufficient income for my needs and desires, which many people don’t.  I don’t belong to any organizations, associations or cliques that would kick me out because of my opinions.

If these things didn’t apply, I wouldn’t feel free to post under my own name, and I’d be more cautious about what I did say.

Since, in practice, I enjoy a greater amount of freedom of expression than many people do, I have a right and responsibility to exercise it.

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Happy cows jump for joy at spring’s arrival

April 8, 2018

Source: thefunkyfarmer.

This is pretty much the way I feel.

The fault lies not in Russia, but in ourselves

April 7, 2018

If I habitually leave my car with the doors unlocked and the car keys in the ignition, somebody is going to steal it.

That doesn’t mean that the person who steals it is any less a thief, or that the car thief does not deserve to be apprehended and punished.  It does mean that I am a fool if I look to law enforcement to give me total security against theft without taking action myself.

If electronic voting machines are vulnerable to tampering, somebody is going to tamper with them.   If you want a guarantee of an honest vote count, then have paper ballots that are hand-counted in public.

If the confidential files of political parties are vulnerable to hacking, somebody is going to hack them.   If you want to be safe from hacking, then you need good computer security.

If election campaigns can be swayed by social media using personal information to manipulate people psychologically, then someone is going to manipulate public opinion.   If you want to overcome this, then based your political campaign on supporters going door-to-door and talking to people face to face.

I think the American election process is vulnerable to manipulation by foreign powers, but even more so by special interests and political operatives on the home front.   I think the idea that you can safeguard the process by threatening Russia—even if Russians turn out to be guilty of everything they’re accused of—is as foolish as the idea that you can solve the U.S. drug addiction problem by threatening Mexico or Colombia.

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Truth, guesswork and Russiagate

April 7, 2018

The United States government claims we are under attack from Russia.  That is the justification for military buildup in Syria and along Russia’s borders, for waging economic war against Russia and sanctions against Russian individuals, and for a diplomatic campaign against Russia.

Before we blunder into a nuclear war, which would mean the end of the United States, the Russian Federation and much of the rest of humanity, we need to look at the basis for these claims.  Specifically, we need to assess the evidence for three claims: –

Ideally, I would advocate reserving judgement until the results of the Mueller investigation are in.  But official Washington, including the press corps and the top leaders of the Democratic Party, are acting as if the results are already in.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote that newspaper articles should be classified as truths, probabilities, possibilities and falsehoods.

Here is how I see the balance of truths, probabilities, possibilities and falsehoods:

∞∞∞

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin stated several times in 2016 that he would be pleased if Donald Trump was elected, because Trump advocated better relations with Russia.

Why would he not?  Russia in 2016 was hard-pressed by U.S.-led economic sanctions and a U.S. military buildup.   Hillary Clinton was and is an extreme war hawk.

Putin is a ruthless operator with few scruples.   There is credible circumstantial evidence that Russian intelligence sources engineered a false flag terror attack in order to rally public sentiment against the rebel province of Chechnya.  There is strong evidence that Russian intelligence services murdered the dissident and human rights advocate Alexander Litvinenko.

So it is possible that the Russian government penetrated the Democratic National Committee computer files and published e-mails that embarrassed Hillary Clinton, or that individual Russian hackers did so with the knowledge and encouragement of the Russian government.

The reasons I have doubts this happened are (1) the FBI has never conducted its own examination of the DNC computers and (2) the FBI has never interviewed Julian Assange about his claim that he received the information from a whistleblower.   Why would they not do this?  Were they afraid of what they might find out?

Maybe the DNC was hacked by more than one person or group, acting independently of each other.

In any case, the result of the DNC e-mail hacks was to disseminate truthful information, which is not an act of war.

It also is possible that Russians used social media to try to influence the election.  But I don’t see how the 13 Russians who were accused of distributing social media ads under fake names could have had any impact.  If they were Russian intelligence agents, they were decoys to divert attention from a secret real campaign that so far as not been discovered.

If Vladimir Putin did try to engineer Donald Trump’s election, he must feel buyer’s remorse.  President Trump has approved weapons shipments to Ukraine, which goes beyond what President Obama ever did.  He wants to keep U.S. troops in Syria indefinitely to undermine Russia’s ally, Syria.  He is continuing the nuclear arms race against Russia.

Like President Obama, Trump talks about improving relations with Russia.   But like Obama, he so far has done nothing to make this happen.  Putin, with all his ruthlessness, is a defender of the status quo.  It is the U.S. government that seeks regime change in targeted countries, and that seeks military dominance in every important region of the world.

∞∞∞

Donald Trump, like other authoritarian nationalists, has long expressed an affinity for the authoritarian nationalist Vladimir Putin.   He also made a lot of money in business dealings with Russian oligarchs and organized crime figures in the New York real estate market.

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Privilege and ‘white privilege’

April 4, 2018

All other things being equal, any white person in the USA is better off than if they were black.

That’s certainly true of me.  Nobody ever questioned me about a possible criminal record when I applied for a job.  Black acquaintances tell me that is routine for them.

And even if I did have a criminal record, testers have found that I would have a better chance of getting a job than a black person with a clear record.

I have never feared for my life when stopped by a police officer.  In fact, I have no complaints whatever about my interactions with law enforcement over my whole life.   That wouldn’t be true if I were black.

I can understand why black people feel angry.

It is true that, here and there, black people get something they’re not strictly entitled to through affirmative action or diversity programs.   But I don’t think that even the white people who are most indignant about such programs would really want to change places with blacks.

This used to be called “racial discrimination” or “racial prejudice” or “racial injustice”.   Now it is called “white privilege.”  I think the change is a mistake.

A privilege is something you have to which you’re not entitled.  The implication of the word “white privilege” is that the problem is not that black people are denied justice, but that white people are not.

White privilege” is part of a vocabulary intended to change the behavior of white people through shaming.  One problem with that is that the only white people who will be influenced by such words are those who are well-disposed toward black people to begin with.   Others will simply be angered and alienated.

It is also a way for educated, well-off white people to stigmatize poor and rural white people—to tell them that their struggles and problems don’t count because they enjoy “white privilege”.

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The language of white shaming

April 2, 2018

The word “racism” originally meant an ideology based on the claim that there were genetic differences between races, that justified domination by the supposedly superior race.

The phrase “white supremacy” originally meant the rule of white people over non-white people, as formerly in the U.S. Old South, apartheid South Africa and British, German and Dutch colonies with “color bar”.

The phrase “white privilege” meant legal rights that were granted to white people that were denied to black people—for example, the right to attend law school in Mississippi.

Now these words are being redefined so as to stigmatize well-meaning liberal white people for their  blind spots and unconscious prejudices.

Being made aware of my blind spots and unconscious prejudices is a good thing, not a bad thing.   But I do not accept being labeled by the same words that are used to describe the Ku Klux Klan.

Such use of language provides cover to the real racists.   It can be a recruiting tool for the real racists.  And it is used by affluent, urban white people as an excuse to ignore the interests of working America and rural America.

You can only get so far by using white guilt as a lever to change behavior.  Guilt is like everything else in the world.   Some people have much too much of it, some too little and those who need it most don’t have any at all.   The only people who can be influenced by manipulation of guilt are those who are on your side already.

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