Archive for April, 2019

Flying with migrating birds

April 27, 2019

Hat tip to kottke.org.

Why the Democrats shouldn’t nominate Joe Biden

April 26, 2019

Joe Biden Is a Disaster Waiting to Happen by Branko Marcetic for Jacobin.

Joe Biden Is Hillary Clinton 2.0 – Democrats Would Be Mad to Nominate Him by Medhi Hasan for The Intercept.

Joe Biden Is a Fraud, Pure and Simple by Norman Solomon for truthdig.

The ultimate threat to Wikileaks

April 25, 2019

The ultimate threat to Wikileaks is not that Julian Assange may be executed or imprisoned for life.  The ultimate threat is that the NSA, GCHQ, FSB or some other intelligence agency will crack the Wikileaks code.

If a government can commit crimes in secret, and can make it a crime to reveal that secret, there is no barrier to dictatorship and tyranny.

The greatness of Julian Assange was to create a program whereby whistleblowers could divulge secrets without revealing their identity, even to Wikileaks itself.

Assange is the founder and public face of Wikileaks, but there are other members who help keep it up and running, and who will continue even if Assange is put away.  If Wikileaks is shut down, the architecture of the system is available to anyone who wants to use it.  Most important news organizations have a Wikileaks-like system for receiving confidential information.

But this is not an achievement that will stand for once and for all.

I have no doubt that governments and corporations are working night and day to find ways to hack the Wikileaks system, and unmask the leakers and truth-tellers.  If and when they do, they will not announce it.

In 2010, Pvt Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning was caught sending unauthorized information to Wikileaks because she unwisely talked to an informer.  But now prosecutors have actual transcripts showing Manning conversed with Assange.

I wonder whether the authorities had these transcripts all along, or whether Assange and Manning used a secure communication system that the government only recently was able to crack.

I hope that the people who believe in disclosure are working just as hard to strengthen and protect the system as the government is to crack it.  This is a race that will not end until either all dissent is crushed or the veil of secrecy is removed from the crimes of governments—I say “governments” plural because it is not just the U.S. government that Wikileaks threatens.

LINKS

WIKILEAKS.

WIKILEAKS DEFENSE FUND

A novel of China between old and new

April 24, 2019

Ha Jin is a writer who immigrated to the United States in the 1980s and writes novels in English about China.  I liked his novel WAITING (1999), which I read after picking it up in the free book exchange at my local public library.

The novel is about life in China and about Lin Kong, a Chinese army doctor, who is torn between the old China of arranged marriages and subordination of the individual to the family and the new China of supervision of personal morality by the state.

Ha Jin depicted a China much more tranquil than I imagined.  The 1960s saw the tail-end of the Great Leap Forward and then the Cultural Revolution, but, in the novel, all this happens off-stage.

Nobody is forced into a collective farm at gunpoint, nobody is dragged off by the police, nobody is forced to confess their political sins at a mass meeting.  The worst thing that happens to Lin is that, during the Cultural Revolution, he turns in some of his books and puts covers on the others so that the titles don’t show.

He’s considered daring for owning a copy of the war memoirs of Marshall Zhukov in the original Russian.  Later on he encounters a high-ranking officer who is privileged enough to own a copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

Everybody in the novel enjoys a modest prosperity.  The characters, except for a few high-ranking officials, all lead austere lives, but nobody lacks food, clothing or shelter.  Lin’s parents own a small piece of farmland, which nobody challenges their right to have.

That doesn’t mean that critical accounts of China such as Simon Leys’ essays or Jasper Becker’s Hungry Ghosts  are wrong, or that, on the other hand, the novel gives a false picture.  It means that China is a vast country, and not all one thing.

In 1962, Lin’s parents pressure him into an arranged marriage with the good-hearted, but illiterate and unattractive Shuyu, so that someone will be available to take care of them in their declining years.  She is one of the last Chinese women to have bound feet.  Lin has no desire to marry her, but goes along rather than defy his parents.

His military duty keeps him far from home, except for 12 days leave a year.  An attractive educated army nurse, Mannu Wu, falls in love with him, and, after a struggle with his feelings, he returns her love.  His superiors tolerate the relationship to the extent of allowing the couple to take walks together in private, but not to the extent of allowing adultery..

Each year, for 18 years, he  returns to his home village to ask Shuyu for a divorce, and each year she refuses.  He waits for the 18th year, when he can legally obtain a divorce without her consent and marry his true love.

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Can you trust your dentist?

April 23, 2019

I  read an article in The Atlantic on-line about how dentistry is far less scientific, and more prone to unnecessary procedures, than the reader may think.

The author gave as an example a dentist who was sued by his patients, and by the dentist who bought his practice, for doing unnecessary dental work that in some cases cost tens of thousands of dollars.

His failings were brought to light by the successor to his practice, who wondered why his income was so much lower. .

I know from my own experience that things like this happen.  I’m satisfied with my present dentist, but my previous one got me to authorize a lot expensive and irreversible work I’m now convinced I shouldn’t have had done.  I blame myself for being overly trusting and insufficiently inquisitive.

The moral of the article is that, if you have doubts about your dentist’s recommendation for treatment, get a second opinion, just as you would do with a physician.

LINKS

Is Dentistry a Science? by Ferris Jabr for The Atlantic.

Tooth Extraction Markets in Everything by Tyler Cowen for Marginal Revolution.

The case Assange’s lawyers will try to make

April 22, 2019

John Helmer, an independent reporter who mostly writes about Russia, said that Julian Assange’s British lawyers will defend him by putting American justice on trial.

British courts have refused Russian requests to extradite Russians on corruption charges, on the grounds that the Russians would not get a fair trial.  They almost certainly would not extradite a Russian on charges of revealing state secrets.

Assange’s lawyers will argue that Assange cannot get a fair trial in the United States any more than an anti-government Russian could get a fair trial in Russia.

The U.S. government has charged Assange with conspiring with then-Pvt. Bradley Manning to gain unauthorized access to a government computer, a charge that carries a maximum five-year sentence.

Ecuador released Assange on the understanding that he would not be tried in a country with the death penalty.  The United States of course has the death penalty, just not on that particular charge.

Assange’s lawyers will argue that there is no guarantee that, once Assange is in U.S. custody, additional charges will not be added, including violation of the Espionage Act, which carries a possible penalty of death.

The computer tampering that Assange is accused of helping occurred in March, 2010.

Assange’s lawyers will argue that, if he was in London at that time, he should be tried on this charge in a British court, not an American one.

Overall, their strategy will be to try to put the United States government on trial rather than Assange.

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Debunking all the Assange smears

April 20, 2019

The Defense Department’s Cyber Counterintelligence Assessment Branch in 2008 called on the U.S. government to build a campaign to destroy Assange’s reputation and eradicate the feeling of trust the public had in Wikileaks.  It’s safe to say that his reputation now is not what it was then.

Caitlin Johnstone and her followers have compiled a comprehensive rebuttal to all the accusations against Julian Assange that have been spread over the past seven years.

Click on Debunking the Assange Smears to read it.

I recommend reading the article if you believe any of the following.

  1. He’s not a journalist.”
  2. “He’s a rapist.”
  3. “He was hiding from rape charges in the embassy.”
  4. He’s a Russian agent.”
  5. “He’s being prosecuted for hacking crimes, not journalism.”
  6. “He should just go to America and face the music. If he’s innocent he’s got nothing to fear.”
  7. “Well he jumped bail! Of course the UK had to arrest him.”
  8. “He’s a narcissist/megalomaniac/jerk.”
  9. “He’s a horrible awful monster for reasons X, Y and Z… but I don’t think he should be extradited.”
  10. Trump is going to rescue him and they’ll work together to end the Deep State. Relax and wait and see.”
  11. “He put poop on the walls. Poop poop poopie.”
  12. “He’s stinky.”
  13. “He was a bad houseguest.”
  14. “He conspired with Don Jr.”
  15. “He only publishes leaks about America.”
  16. “He’s an antisemite.”
  17. “He’s a fascist.”
  18. “He was a Trump supporter.”
  19. “I used to like him until he ruined the 2016 election” / “I used to hate him until he saved the 2016 election.”
  20. “He’s got blood on his hands.”
  21. “He published the details of millions of Turkish women voters.”
  22. “He supported right-wing political parties in Australia.”
  23. “He endangered the lives of gay Saudis.”
  24. “He’s a CIA agent/limited hangout.”
  25. “He mistreated his cat.”
  26. “He’s a pedophile.”
  27. “He lied about Seth Rich.”

Source: Debunking All The Assange Smears – Caitlin Johnstone

If you care about Assange, truth-telling and freedom of the press, I recommend you bookmark her article so you’ll have it for reference.  You ought to be able to use a search function to go directly to the item you want to see refuted.

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Oldest mountain chain ‘turned into rubble’

April 19, 2019

Hat tip to Lambert Strether.

“We took the oldest mountain chain in the world and turned it into rubble.”

Tarence Ray and Tom Sexton, known as The Trillbillies, or the Trillbilly Workers Party, are musicians and activists based in Whitesburg, Kentucky.

They talk about how mountaintop removal, a method of extracting coal in use since strip mining was outlawed about 30 years ago, completely destroys the land and makes it useless for any other purpose.

It has gone on under Democratic and Republican administrations alike, they said.

They said that since the coal industry started using mountaintop removal, coal production has increased 400 percent, but coal industry jobs have continued to decline.

LINKS

Whitesburg-based Trillbilly Workers’s Party podcast takes a left-wing view of Appalachian life by Cheryl Truman for the Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader.

The Trillbilly Workers Party by Lia Russell for Scalawag.  Free Listening on SoundCloud.

Get Real: What liberals like Paul Krugman still don’t understand about rural America by the Trillbillies’ Tarence Ray for The Baffler.

Iris Murdoch on love, justice and truth

April 19, 2019

I recently read Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature, a collection of philosophical writings by the late Iris Murdoch from 1951 to 1986.

I bought the book because I enjoyed her novels, although I admit don’t remember the plots of any of them clearly, and because of praise of her by Matthew Crawford, author of The World Beyond Your Head, which I admire and which I am re-reading as part of a reading group.

I admire Murdoch as a thinker, but there is much more in her thought than I could absorb in one reading.

What follows are ideas I took away from reading this book, which may or may not represent her thought.

One idea that, in order to perceive reality as it is, you must cleanse your mind of egotism and wish-fulfillment fantasy, which are the source of illusion.

This is true not only of scientists, writers, artists and religious mystics, but of everyday people.

She said, moreover, that those who look on life with a desire to be just and loving will comprehend the world in ways that the self-centered cannot.

Her example is a mother whose son marries a woman of a lower social class, whom she thinks is lacking in refinement.  She always behaves nicely, and never lets her opinion of her daughter-in-law show.

But then she thinks she may be unfair, and makes an effort to look for good qualities in the daughter-in-law.  She decides she is not vulgar but refreshingly simple, not undignified but spontaneous, not juvenile but youthful, and so on.

Her new perception changes her behavior not one whit.  Nevertheless it has moral significance.

I’m reminded of a remark by Bertrand Russell in The Scientific Outlook.  Russell said there are two motives for seeking knowledge.  One is to better understand something or someone you wish to control.   The other is to better appreciate something or someone that you love.  And, he added, the pleasures of the lover are greater than the pleasures of the tyrant.

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How to intelligently follow breaking news

April 17, 2019

For details, read the Breaking News Consumers Handbook from the On the Media blog.

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The burning of Notre Dame cathedral

April 16, 2019

Hat tip to Gavin Ashenden.

Notre Dame Cathedral took centuries to build.  One student estimated that it took more than 20 percent of the surrounding area’s resources for 150 years. Could we today commit to something that magnificent that would take even decades?  Yves Smith on her Naked Capitalism blog wrote—

Even if Notre Dame can be restored, the project is likely to take more than a generation, meaning even in best-case scenario, many people will never be able to see it properly again in their lives.  [snip]

The great medieval cathedrals, through their enormous scale and soaring vaults, with their narrow stained glass windows that help pull the eye upward, tell worshipers and later visitors of how small they are compared to God and his works. Yet their seeming solidity and scale also suggests the faithful can find refuge.

All of our technological prowess hasn’t found a way to create spaces that inspire the same sort of awe of these centuries-old houses of worship.

Modern visitors were further humbled by the audaciousness of its accomplishment: a project executed across generations, reaching heights that seem daunting even now, marshaling the skills and hard work of many artisans and laborers.

In other words, Notre Dame provided comfort and hope against that gnawing knowledge in the back of our heads of the certainty of death and the impermanence of human action.  Even though all those who built Notre Dame were long dead, something of them lived on through the cathedral….or did at least till yesterday.

Rod Dreher of The American Conservative recalled the beginning of Kenneth Clark’s famous TV series on Western civilization—

Standing in front of the Notre Dame cathedral, Clark asks, “What is civilization?”  He says he can’t define it in abstract terms, “but I think I can recognize it when I see it.”  He then turns to the cathedral, and says, “I’m looking at it right now.”

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Donald Trump’s threat to sanctuary cities

April 16, 2019

Donald Trump’s threat to send asylum-seeking immigrants to sanctuary cities is wrong on so many levels that it is hard to know where to begin to comment.  This is often the case with him.

It would be an abuse of power.  The duty of a President is to enforce the law impartially, not as a means of harming his enemies.  Trump treats the U.S. government like a company he has acquired in a hostile takeover.

It is vicious. Trump speaks of human beings as if they were a kind of vermin to be loosed on his enemies.  Whatever you may think about immigration policy, this is wrong.

It goes against his professed goals.  If you really think the United States is “full up” and has no room for additional people, it is stupid to direct unauthorized immigrants to places where they will be welcomed and helped.

It may well not amount to anything.  President Trump has a history of stirring up controversies, then walking away and pretending he never said what he said.

It keeps Trump in the spotlight.  Trump’s great talent is for focusing news coverage and political debate on whatever topic he chooses to raise at the moment.

It may be to his political advantage.  The big issues that helped Trump get elected were immigration and foreign trade.  So long as these issues are in the public eye, he benefits—at least so long as the opposition fails to come up with acceptable alternatives.

LINKS

Donald Trump Doubles Down on Plan to Release Migrants to Sanctuary Cities by Fernanda Echavarri for Mother Jones.

Trump Targets Legal, Illegal Immigrants in Latest Push by Jill Cohen and Coleen Long for NBC 5 in Dallas.

The Assange prosecutors’ clever strategy

April 12, 2019

The U.S. Department of Justice cleverly Julian Assange is conspiracy to commit computer hacking—not violation of the Espionage Act.

This means that he would not face the possibility of execution or life imprisonment, as would have been possible under the Espionage Act.  The maximum penalty he faces is five years in prison.  Also, he would get a trial in a civil court and not before a secret military tribunal.

But it also makes his extradition more certain.  UK prosecutors promised President Moreno of Ecuador that Assange wouldn’t be extradited to a country with the death penalty.  The United States has the death penalty, but extraditing him to be tried for computer hacking rather than espionage could be seen as a way to keep this promise.

It also means Assange’s lawyers wouldn’t be able to raise the issue of abuse of the Espionage Act as a vehicle for censorship..

I say all this conditionally because there is a strong possibility that additional charges will be added later.

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Did Assange go stir-crazy in embassy?

April 12, 2019

The conventional wisdom is that Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno booted Julian Assange from Ecuador’s London embassy because of pressure from Washington.

President Moreno agreed to Washington’s demands that he deny asylum to Assange and dropping claims against Chevron for environmental damage to Ecuador’s rain forest.

He then received $10.2 billion in rescue loans from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, both headquartered in Washington and dominated by the United States.

CNN and Vox reported claims of strange behavior by Assange—behavior characteristic of a prisoner in solitary confinement who has had a mental breakdown.  If true, Assange is in need of psychiatric help.

Now people who defy the powers-that-be are always targets of character assassination.  All this could well be a smear.  It should be noted that neither CNN nor Vox quotes embassy staff or anyone else who personally observed Assange’s behavior, nor shows any effort to get Assange’s side of the story.

But Assange’s friends say he has suffered a deterioration in physical and mental health and has been denied access to care.  I hope he gets whatever care he needs.

The CNN report said that the Ecuadorian government’s main complaint against Assange was that he interfered in Ecuador’s internal affairs and tried to destabilize the country.

Vox also wrote that Moreno’s main complaint against Assange is that he refused to cease political activity, even when embarrassing to his host country.  He wrote that Moreno blames him for a leak of documents to an anonymous web site showing that he and his family may have profited from offshore bank accounts in Panama.

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Julian Assange arrested, taken from embassy

April 11, 2019

Julian Assange removed from Ecuadorian embassy. Source: Ruptly

British police have arrested Julian Assange and taken him from the Ecuadorian embassy, where he was given political asylum nearly seven years ago.

He’ll stand trial on charges of breaking the agreement that allowed him to be released on bail while he was fighting extradition to Sweden to answer questions in regard to alleged rape.  That case was dropped several years ago.

But his case was never treated as a routine extradition case.  The U.S. government regards him as a one-man hostile foreign power because his WikiLeaks organization published secret documents and videos documenting U.S. crimes, notably in the Collateral Murder video.

The issue is not whether he is guilty of jumping bail.  The issue is whether someone can be sentenced to prison for publishing information that a government wants to keep secret.

The practice until now is that whistleblowers are charged as criminals, just like spies, but newspapers and broadcasters have not been charged for publishing the information they get from whistleblowers.

Admittedly this is not logical, but it has made possible a rough balance between government’s need to keep certain information confidential and the public’s right to know what government is doing behind its back.

If Assange is extradited to the United States and convicted of espionage, it will create a precedent by which the editors of the New York Times can be prosecuted for publishing leaked information.  In fact, in theory, the editors of The Guardian in London could be prosecuted by the U.S. government.

Assange is an Australian citizen and has never been based in the United States.   If he falls within U.S. jurisdiction, so does anyone on the planet.

He has a reputation for being a difficult person.  I wouldn’t know about that.  I don’t think anybody’s disposition would be improved by being cooped up in a couple of rooms and never going outside for nearly seven years.

He is a hero.  He has defied the world’s biggest superpower to make known the truth.  It will be a sad day if he goes to prison for revealing the truth.

LINKS

WIKILEAKS DEFENSE FUND

“Assange Is Not a Journalist”: Yes, He Is, Idiot by Caitlin Johnstone.

Julian Assange Has Been Arrested for U.S. Extradition | The Time to Act Is Now by Caitlin Johnstone.

Julian Assange Dragged Out of Ecuadorian Embassy and Arrested by British Police by Matt Novak for Gizmodo.

Julian Assange Arrested in London After Ecuador Withdraws Asylum; U.S. Requests Extradition by Robert Mackey for The Intercept.

Yes, You Should Fear the Arrest of Julian Assange by Kelley Beauchar Vlahos for The American Conservative.

Julian Assange Will Die Along With Your First Amendment Rights by Peter Van Buren on We Meant Well.

Chelsea Manning, Wikileaks and the Deepwater Horizon by Greg Palast.

Why the Assange Arrest Should Scare Reporters by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

Syrian Kurds attempt utopia in a war zone

April 11, 2019

Click to enlarge.  Source: edmaps.com.

The Kurds are among the few factions in the struggles in Iraq and Syria that I root for.  They fight not only for their own freedom, but they office refuge to other persecuted sects and ethnic groups as well.  They respect women’s rights.  They are stalwart fighters against the Islamic State (ISIS).  They do not practice terrorism themselves.

While all these things are true of the Kurdish leaders in both Iraq and Syria, the Kurds in northern Syria—Rojava—go further.  They are followers of the late Murray Bookchin, an American anarchist thinker, and have created a functioning society based on feminism, ecological awareness, minority rights and radical local democracy.

I first heard of Murray Bookchin when reading about the Kurds, and afterwards read and made many posts about Bookchin’s great work, The Ecology of Freedom.

Click to enlarge.  Source: infoshop.

The Kurds are a nation of about 30 million people who, after the 1919 Peace Conference, found themselves partitioned among Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.  About 15 million of them live in Turkey, where they are denied the right to use the Kurdish language or follow their national customs.  The breakdown of order in Iraq and Syria has enabled them to set up their own autonomous regional governments.

Debbie Bookchin, Murray Bookchin’s daughter, wrote in the New York Review of Books how Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the Kurdish Workers Party, read The Ecology of Freedom while in prison in Turkey.  Partly inspired by Bookchin, he adopted a philosophy he called “democratic confederalism.”

Kurds in northern Syria in 2014 adopted a Charter based on that philosophy.  It calls for “a society free from authoritarianism, militarism, centralism and the intervention of religious authority in public affairs.”

Communes of 30 to 200 families elect delegates to neighborhood or village councils, which elect delegates to municipal or district councils, which elect delegates to regional councils.

It is required that women comprise at least 40 percent of elected bodies.  Woman and non-Kurdish minorities are co-chairs of administrative bodies.

The Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, formerly known as Rojava, guarantees the right of citizens to teach and be taught in their own languages.  It ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and abolished the death penalty.

Debbie Bookchin acknowledged charges of child soldiers, uprooted Arab villagers and other human rights violations.  But she went on to say to point out that the Kurds are creating their new society while fighting a war, dealing with shortages caused by a blockage and taking in thousands of refugees.

The current threat, she wrote, comes not from the government of Turkey, which has long repressed its own Kurds and is determined to stamp out the autonomous Kurdish community along its southern border.

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How socialist is Bernie Sanders?

April 11, 2019

Young Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders has de-demonized the word “socialism” in American politics.  But what does his socialism consist of?

For him, it means being on the side of working people and poor people and opposed to big business and rich people, and not being worried if somebody calls what he does “socialism.”

He is no Jeremy Corbyn.  He does not plan the overthrow of capitalism.  There is nothing Sanders proposes to which an old-time New Deal Democrat of the 1930s and 1940s would object.  The New Deal’s purpose was to reform and tame capitalism, not replace it.

This is meant as an observation, not a criticism.  Sanders deserves credit for pushing the limit of acceptable radicalism.

Below is a link to an old article by Murray Bookchin, the anarchist thinker, questioning Sanders’ socialist credentials.

Bookchin lived in Vermont when Sanders was mayor of Burlington.  A friend of mine who knew both of them said they didn’t get along.  This isn’t surprising.  Anarchists have disliked socialists since the days of Karl Marx, Mikhail Bukharin and the First International.

LINK

The Bernie Sanders Paradox: When Socialism Grows Old by Murray Bookchin for Monthly Review (1886)

Three Democrats who shouldn’t be President

April 10, 2019

Joe Biden.

Pete Buttigieg.

Kamala Harris.

Click on the links for reasons why.

Is there a real peace candidate in the race?

April 8, 2019

The Black Agenda Report carried a good article evaluating the political records of all the announced Democratic candidates on issues of war and peace.

Peace activists Medea Benjamin and Nicholas J.S. Davies wrote that Senator Bernie Sanders’ record is by far the best.  He voted against military spending bills 16 out of 19 times since 2013.

He opposes a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and Syria and opposes military intervention in Venezuela.  He’s a leader is trying to get Congress to invoke the War Powers Act to stop U.S. support for the Saudi Arabian war against Yemen.

The biggest blot on his record is his support for the expensive and useless F-35 fighter project, in order to create jobs in Vermont.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a National Guard officer who served in Iraq, is an outspoken opponent of regime change wars and one of the few to oppose the new arms race with Russia.  But she voted in favor of military spending bills 19 out of 29 times, and has been a consistent supporter of expensive weapons systems.

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand deserve consideration.  Warren sponsored a resolution to renounce U.S. use of nuclear weapons except as retaliation for a nuclear attack.  Gillibrand has the second-best record of opposing proposed military budgets.

The spiritual writer Marianne Williamson is the only declared candidate who wants to dismantle the military-industrial complex and transition to a peace economy.  Politically, that is a fringe position.  It is realistic only in terms of what is actually needed.

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A joyous flash mob symphony In Spain

April 6, 2019

This performance of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy was sponsored by the Sabadell bank in Spain in honor of the 130th anniversary of its founding.  It is headquartered in Alicante, Spain, so that is probably the location of the performance.  The bank was founded Dec. 31, 1881.

White liberals more militant than average blacks

April 3, 2019

Americans are becoming more anti-racist, which is a good thing.  But this change is being driven by just one segment of the population—white liberal Democrats.

Public opinion polls show white liberals are more militantly anti-racist than black voters and also Hispanic voters on a whole range of topics.

The difference of opinion between white liberals and white conservatives is greater than the average difference of opinion between whites and blacks.

I gave additional examples in a previous post.  Here’s another.

Self-described liberals with positive feelings about Donald Trump

Matthew Yglesias called what’s going on a Great Awokening—comparable to the abolitionist fervor in the Great Awakening prior to the Civil War.  He didn’t have a good explanation as to why it’s happening now, except that use of social media makes the whole world aware of incidents such as the Trayvon Martin killing, which might have been ignored in an earlier era.

The New England Yankee abolitionists fought bravely against the evil of slavery, but many of them had a blind spot, and some of today’s white  liberals have the same blind spot.  The campaign for justice for the black slave in the distant South often went along with contempt for the Irish immigrants and other white working people in their midst.  They—not every single one of them, of course—had a strong sense of social superiority based not on race, but on education and social class.

I encounter similar attitudes when I was growing up in the 1940s in rural Maryland. Many educated white people back then would say things like, the Negroes were all right, it was the white trash you had to look out for.  Well-brought-up boys were taught that using the now-taboo words for black people was the same as swearing, cursing, using bad grammar, smoking cigarettes in the school lavatory or telling dirty joke.  It was something that marked you as a lower-class roughneck.

Don’t get me wrong.  The abolition of slavery was more important than getting rid of “No Irish Need Apply” signs.  My elders were right to teach me that the N-word is taboo.  Today’s white liberals are right to combat racist ideology and racial prejudice.  But they should think about how much they want to redefine racism upward.
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The opinion revolution in thinking about race

April 3, 2019

Matthew Yglesias, in an article called The Great Awokening, documents the revolution in white American thinking about race during the past five or so years, especially among Democrats.

Democratic presidential candidates, including those who call themselves centrists and moderates, are talking about reparations and systemic racism.  These issues would have been considered too hot to handle five years ago.

The charts he ran with the article tell the story.

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White Clinton voters and the racial divide

April 3, 2019

Public opinion polls indicate that white liberals feel more warmly toward other races than they do toward their own, which seems unusual.

Political scientist Eric Kaufmann cited the following survey data in an article in the New York Times.  It’s on a scale with 0 as completely unfavorable, 50 as neutral and 100 as completely favorable.

Black Clinton voters

85 percent favorable opinion about their own race

59 percent favorable opinion about other races.

White Trump voters

80 percent favorable opinion about their own race

69 percent favorable opinion about other races.

Black Trump voters

77 percent favorable opinion about their own race

72 percent favorable opinion about other races.

White Clinton voters

70 percent favorable opinion about their own race

80 percent favorable opinion about other races.

Now you can’t say that white Clinton voters are self-hating, because they have a favorable opinion about their own race.  And you can’t say that black Clinton voters are “reverse racists” because they have a favorable opinion of non-black races.

Note also that none of the four categories of voters has a net unfavorable view of other races. That’s important, because I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t have been true 50 or 60 years ago.

But it’s interesting that the white Clinton voters are the least favorable toward their own race and the most favorable toward other races, while black Clinton voters are the reverse.

Kaufmann wrote in his New York Times article—

Since 2012, white liberals have moved considerably left on questions related to race, reflecting both a campus- and online-driven cultural awakening that has accelerated in response to Mr. Trump.  

On the American National Election Study’s scale measuring how respondents feel about a group — white liberals are warmer toward minorities than their own racial group.

[snip] This has happened as liberal thought has changed its focus from class to identity issues since the 1960s.  

During the civil rights era, African-Americans rallied strongly behind racial liberalism, which was a communal issue.  But the connection between race and racial ideology has weakened considerably: People of color are not the driving force behind most of today’s forms of racial liberalism.

I think he underestimates the amount of both open racism and unconscious racial prejudice in the USA.  And I don’t think the change in white liberal thinking is a response to Donald Trump’s election.  If anything, Trump’s is a reaction against the change in white liberalism that began about five years ago.

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The USA could use a disaster response corps

April 2, 2019

Click to enlarge. Source: Climate.gov.

Click to enlarge. Source: Climate.gov.

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions down to zero is not enough.  Any Green New Deal needs a disaster relief component, because climate change is already bringing floods, fires and other emergencies.

The United States needs a Disaster Response Corps, organized along the lines of the original New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corps, to deal with climate emergencies.  Like the CCC, it also would be a jobs program.

Right now disaster response is the responsibility of state and local governments, and non-profit organizations.  The federal government’s role is limited to coordination and providing financial aid.

Commonly volunteer groups, such as the Cajun Navy or Occupy Sandy, have to step in when organized relief efforts fail.

The outlook is for more and worse climate- and weather-related disasters.  It won’t be just fires and floods.  As droughts become worse, we can expect internal climate refugees, like the “okies” who were driven off the land during the Dust Bowl disaster in the 1930s.

My idea is that virtually anyone would be able to enlist in the Disaster Relief Corps for a fixed amount of time.  Enlistees would agree to accept military-type discipline and go where they’re sent.  The time between emergencies would be spent in training or maybe taking on some of the tasks of the 1930s CCC..

Pay would be comparable, in inflation-adjusted terms, to what CCC workers or enlisted soldiers got in the 1930s.  Enlistees could be discharged for misconduct, neglect of duty or refusal to follow orders.

The Corps’ mission should not be assigned to the military.  The military is for warriors; the Corps would be for rescuers.

It would be tricky to set it up in a way that didn’t undermine existing efforts, programs and volunteer efforts, but I think it could be done.

Maybe in time the U.S. could help fund a United Nations International Disaster Relief Corps.  There would be plenty of work for it to do.

Climate change is already upon us.  Cutting back in greenhouse gasses will limit how much worse it gets, but that won’t make it go away.  We have to deal with what’s already happening.

LINKS

U.S. Disaster Relief at Home and Abroad by Rocio Cara Labrador for the Council on Foreign Relations.

34 Disaster Relief Organizations, a list by Raptim Humanitarian Travel.  They’re doing good work.  But should they be expected to do it all?

Flood control and the failure of maintenance

April 2, 2019

Lambert Strether of Naked Capitalism wrote two good posts about how the floods in the Midwest reflect not only a changing climate, but a failure of government to maintain and improve flood control systems.

After disastrous floods in 1936, Congress authorized a construction program of dams, and channels to prevent a recurrence.  These dams and levees have not been maintained, with disastrous results.

One was a breach of the levees around New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  Strether cited similar failures of infrastructure in the Midwest now.

In the 1930s, we Americans were capable of national efforts that served the common good.  Now we don’t seem to be able to maintain what we have, even when obviously necessary.

As Strether noted, a 21st century flood control program would be less about dams, levees and channels and more about protecting wetlands and moving development back from flood plains, so that flood waters can be soaked him instead of directed elsewhere.   But the principle is the same.  The nation needs to come together again.

LINKS

‘Breaking Everywhere’: Flooding Bursts Midwest Levees and Tough Questions Follow by Mitch Smith and John Schwartz for the New York Times.

The New Deal, the Green New Deal and Flood Control by Lambert Strether for Naked Capitalism.

More on Flood Control: The Missouri River, the Levees and the Gavins Point and Spencer Dams by Lambert Strether for Naked Capitalism.