Archive for the ‘International’ Category

What’s so great about democracy?

November 14, 2018

My core political beliefs are the ideals of American freedom and democracy I was taught as a schoolboy.  My belief in freedom as a political ideal was challenged by a book I read recently, Why Liberalism Failed, by Patrick J. Deneen (2018).

Now I have read another, Breaking Democracy’s Spell  by John Dunn (2014), a gift from an old friend of mine, which questions democracy as a political ideal.

Dunn believes that the idea of democracy—especially as understood by 21st century Americans—is incoherent.  Unlike Deneen with liberalism, he does not have a theory of democracy; he just criticizes the shallowness of American thinking on the topic.  Oddly, he deals with the experience of only three countries, the USA, India and China.

He maintains that most Americans fail to realize that—

  1. Democracy does not guarantee good government.
  2. Democracy does not guarantee human rights or the rule of law.
  3. Voting affects governmental decisions but little.  Its main purpose is to give the public the impression they are in control.
  4. Democracy has been in bad repute through most of Western history.  
  5. Democracy’s current popularity is a product of specific circumstances in the past few centuries and may not last.
  6. China’s authoritarian system may prove to be more lasting than democracy as practiced in the USA or India.

Here are my thoughts.

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A growing China reboots totalitarianism

October 22, 2018

Source: Dissident.

My great fear during the Cold War was that the totalitarian USSR would outlast the democratic USA.  I was afraid that a dictatorship would be able to take a longer view than a democracy, and would be better able to prioritize military and diplomatic power.

The philosopher Bertrand Russell, for one, scoffed at these fears.  He said that a democracy would always be able to outlast a dictatorship because dictators insulate themselves from bad news, while, in a democracy, contested elections and a free press provide a reality check.  The fall of Communism in Europe in 1989-1991 appeared to prove him right.

Now the Chinese government has created a new and more effective totalitarianism.  It uses social media and other new techniques to control the population more effectively than Mao ever dreamed of—while keeping the old Communist police state as backup.

When China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, Western leaders hoped that as China made economic progress, it would become more liberal and democratic.

China has made enormous economic progress.  Hundreds of millions of Chinese have been raised from poverty.  China is a major manufacturing nation.

Economic historian Adam Tooze said Chinese economic expansion was the main force pulling the world out of recession after 2008 and today contributes as much to world economic growth as the USA and Europe put together.

The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, aka the New Silk Road, involves investing more than $1 trillion over the next 10 years to create a railroad, highway, pipeline and electrical grid extending over the whole of the interior of Eurasia, creating an integrated economy centering on China.

But if there was a possibility that this would make China more liberal and democratic, President Xi Jinping has moved to head it off.  Since 2013, China has been cracking down not only on corruption, but also on human rights lawyers, religious believers and critics o the government.

Xi Jinping has abolished the term limits that bound his predecessors and encouraged a Mao-style cult of personality.  There are even Institutes for the Study of Xi Jinping Thought.

Social media in China are monitored, and the Chinese government is in the process of implementing a scheme by which every Chinese citizen will be given a social credit score, based on an algorithm that takes into account credit history and good citizenship, but also opinions and associations, which can determine access to education, health care, credit and even public transportation.  This is powerful, because there is no individual against whom you can protest or to whom you can appeal.

In Xinjiang, members of the native Muslim Uighur population can be sent to Mao-style reeducation camps for the least little thing, even wearing a beard.  Surveillance cameras using facial recognition technology are everywhere.

China’s leaders have found a way to harness capitalism to the service of a capitalist government—much as Lenin tried to do with his New Economic Policy in the 1920s, allowing limited private business but maintaining ultimate control.  Maybe the USSR would have become like today’s China if not for Stalin’s forced collectivization drives.

There is a possibility that much of the rest of the world may come to regard China as a better example to follow than the United States.  Unless things change, the Chinese totalitarian model may prevail not through subversion or military force, but by force of successful example and as a price of doing business with China.

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China’s geopolitical strategy is economic

October 17, 2018

There is an old saying, “You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.”  While U.S. government tries to impose its will through threats of military action, covert action and economic sanctions, the Chinese have a long-range strategy based on offering economic incentives.   These two videos from Caspian Report give a good idea of what that strategy is and how it works.

The key parts of the strategy are the Belt and Road Initiative (aka New Silk Road) for extending roads, rail lines and oil and gas pipelines across the interior of Asia to connect China with other Asian nations, Russia and Europe, and also for buying rights to key seaports in the Indian Ocean and beyond.  Another is to finance infrastructure projects to Asian and African nations that can’t get credit from European and U.S. banks.

This is not altruistic.  It is a means of making China more powerful and secure, and giving the Chinese access to the world’s natural resources.  In the long run, leaders of small Third World nations may regret having got into debt to China.  But what do the USA—or, for that matter, the European Union—have to offer as an alternative?

The new New World Order

October 16, 2018

Following the collapse of Communism in eastern Europe in 1989, the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the emergence of China as a capitalist nation, American leaders declared the United States the world’s sole superpower.

After nearly 30 years, the U.S. government is still struggling with Russia and still struggling with China.

Following the 9/11 attacks, American leaders declared a worldwide “war on terror.”  After going on 20 years, that war is still going on, with no clear goal that I can see except to not admit defeat.

It’s time for our leaders and also we, the people, to consider that we may have made a mistake, painful and shameful as it may be to admit that.  It’s time to face facts, which are that (1) the United States isn’t and can’t be the world’s sole superpower and (2) continuous economic warfare and actual warfare is not sustainable.

I read two good articles this morning about the current international situation.  One is a survey by Pepe Escobar, a Brazilian who’s a roving correspondent for Asia Times.  The other consists of constructive suggestions by Col. Andrew Bacevich, a career military officer who served in combat in Vietnam, who had a second career as a professor of history and international relations at Boston University.

Both articles will tell you things about the changing balance of power that, if you’re an American, you won’t find in your daily newspaper or evening network television broadcast.

LINKS

Welcome to the G-20 from Hell: World leaders wrestle with a maelstrom of complex, burning issues as they prepare for November 30 summit by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

Unsolicited Advice for an Undeclared Presidential Candidate: a Letter to Elizabeth Warren by Andrew Bacevich for TomDispatch.

Left-wing parties win college grads, lose workers

October 10, 2018

Click to enlarge

Left-wing parties in the UK and France, as well as the USA, are gaining support of the educated classes while losing support of blue-collar workers.

The French economist Thomas Piketty said politics in these three countries is a conflict between the “Merchant Right” and the “Brahmin Left,” a high-incom elite vs. a high-education elite.

I don’t know about the specific situation in France, but it’s clear to me that the leaders of Democratic Party in the USA and the Labour Party in the UK care more about the material interests of a professional class than they do about the material interests of workers.

LINKS

Brahmin Left vs. Merchant Right: Rising Inequality and the Changing Structure of Political Conflict by Thomas Piketty.

How the left stopped being a party of the working class by Simon Wren-Lewis for his Mainly Macro blog.

Most human beings live in Asia

September 19, 2018

Double click to enlarge or click on Our World in Data

Max Roser’s Our World in Data published a population cartogram map of the world that’s a good corrective to a Euro-centric or USA-centric view of the world.

Some highlights:

More people live in Asia than live in the rest of the world put together.

More people live in Africa than live in North and South America, with Australia, New Zealand and the islands of the Pacific thrown in.  But that’s fewer people than live in either India or China.

As many people live in the greater Tokyo metropolitan area (38.3m) as live in all of Canada (37m)

As many people live on the island of Java (145m) as live in all of Russia (144m).

More people live in Ethiopia (107.5m) or the Philippines (106.5m) than live in any European country except Russia.

More people by far live in Nigeria (195.9m) than in any European country including Russia.

More people live in the Indian state of Utter Pradesh (220m) than in any two European countries put together.

More people live in Thailand than live in France.

More people live in Uzbekistan (32.4m) as live in all the Scandinavian countries – Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland – put together (27m)

More people live in the Palestinian territories (5.1m) than live in Ireland (4.6m)

The USA, with 326.8 million inhabitants, is the largest non-Asian nation.  But the nation that declared independence in 1776 numbered only 2.5 million—fewer than today’s Puerto Rico (3.7m), New Zealand (4.7m), Liberia (3.9m) or Israel (8.5m)

Counting squares on the cartogram, the population of England is more than triple the combined population of the rest of the British Isles put together, including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland plus the Republic of Ireland.

Max Roser, using United Nations statistics, has data indicating that the world’s birth rates are falling and that at some point around the end of the century, world population will level off.

There’s a question as to whether that level of population will be sustainable, in the light of soil exhaustion, exhaustion of non-renewable resources and the disruptions caused by global climate change.

There’s an even bigger question as to whether that level of population can enjoy the same level of material comfort that I and other middle-class people in North America and Europe enjoy.

The great fear in 1968 when Paul Ehrlich wrote The Population Bomb was mass famine, which he at the time thought was imminent.  But even if that doesn’t happen, a world of greatly unequal populations combined with greatly unequal standards of living will not be a world at peace.

There was a time when we who live in rich countries had the choice of ignoring the more numerous people who lived in poor countries, because they were powerless.  This is no longer true, and will become even less true as time goes on.

LINKS

A Map of the World Where the Sizes of Countries are Determined by Population by Jason Kottke for kottke.org.

The map we need if we want to think about how global living standards are changing by Max Roser for Our World in Data.

World Population Growth by Max Roser and Esteban Ortiz-Espina for Our World in Data.

Future Population Growth by Max Roser for Our World in Data.

Adam Tooze on the global financial crisis

August 28, 2018

The great economic historian Adam Tooze, in his just-published book, CRASHED: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World, showed me things I hadn’t known, and made me rethink things I thought I understood.

Above all, he jolted me out of thinking of the 2008 financial crisis as primarily an American crisis.  It was global in nature, its consequences are still rippling through the world economy and its basic causes have not been dealt with

It is a kind of bookend to his earlier book, THE DELUGE: The Great War, America and the Remaking of Global Order, 1916-1931. 

In the earlier book, Tooze described the continuing debt crisis following World War One, with Germans unable to pay reparations and the Allies unable to pay their war loans, and how the ongoing debt crisis shaped international relations and governmental policy in that era.

The United States, as the world’s top industrial power and top creditor nation, dominated the world financial system, but American leaders lacked both the understanding and the political means to resolve the crisis.  All the United States could think to do was lend money to Germany to keep the system from crashing.  In the end the financial system crashed anyhow..

Prior to the 2008 crash, the United States was in the opposite situation.   U.S. industrial power had been hollowed out and the United States was the world’s top debtor nation.  Economists feared the “twin deficits”—the U.S. trade deficit and government budget deficit—would cause runaway inflation.

This didn’t happen.  The U.S. dollar continues to be the medium of world trade, and the financial markets continue to consider U.S. Treasury bonds the world’s safest financial asset.

American financial leaders such as Ben Bernanke, Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers acted boldly to meet the crisis. They bailed out banks, stabilized the financial system and averted a 1930s-type great depression, which was a real possibility.

That was no small achievement.  What they failed to do was to reform the system so as to reduce the possibility of a second crash.

∞∞∞

I had put the blame for the crash on Clinton-era deregulation, which gave free rein to speculation and to unethical and illegal (but unprosecuted) manipulation of the subprime mortgage market.   Financial markets have always been subject to cycles of expansion and recession, but removing the brakes made the crash a disaster instead of just a problem.

What I learned from Crashed is that deregulation was international.  Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government completely deregulated British financial markets in 1986, in what was called the “Big Bang.”  Her hope was to make the City of London, the British equivalent of Wall Street, the world financial center, and she succeeded.  American, European and Asian banks all made London their major hub, even though they did business in dollars.   The purpose of Clinton-era regulation was to enable Wall Street to catch up with the City of London.

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Reasons to be hopeful

June 16, 2018

I often feel discouraged about the state of the world.  But a lot of things seem to be improving behind my back.

This set of charts was created by the late Hans Rosling for his newly-published book, Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—And Why Things Are Better Than You Think, and are taken from Amazon’s listing for the book.

Rosling contended that people in Western Europe and North America underestimate the progress being made.  In his opinion, this was based partly on an underestimation of the capabilities of people in Third World countries.  He thought that the harmful effect of this mistaken pessimism is that it discourages continued efforts to make progress.

He created Gapminder software as a means of graphically illustrating progress over time.

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Who’s afraid of Julian Assange?

May 16, 2018

The Guardian reported that Ecuador has spent more than $5 million on closed-circuit TV cameras, 24-hour monitoring and other surveillance of Julian Assange, who took refuge in their London embassy in 2012.

Every communication by Assange with the outside world was monitored and recorded.  Guardian reporters were given access to this information.  I imagine British and U.S. intelligence services also have access to it.

The thrust of the articles is what a nuisance Assange has become to the Ecuadorian government and how understandable it is that they want to get rid of their unwelcome guest.  I am sure this is true.  If I were president of a small, vulnerable country such as Ecuador, I would not wish to antagonize the United States and other great powers.

What the articles also show is Assange’s uncompromising loyalty to his self-appointed mission.  The government of Ecuador expected him to refrain from “interfering” with other countries’ politics.  Assange’s publication of confidential e-mails embarrassing to Hillary Clinton was regarded as a violation of that, as was his protest against the arrest of a Catalan independen

Then Assange went on to destroy any hope of a pardon from the Trump administration by publishing more confidential CIA information.  He published new information about Russian intelligence surveillance.  Like him or not, you can’t reasonably say Wikileaks is a tool of any government or political faction.

All of this shows that the campaign against Assange is political.  It is not about criminal justice.  No routine bail bond case would ever result in the huge and expensive effort mounted by the British and Ecuadorian governments to bring Assange under control.  Only the naive would think that his only risk is punishment for bail bond violations.

He is a lone individual, standing up to the world’s most powerful governments and calling them to account.  He is hated and feared for telling inconvenient truths.  How can anyone who cares about political freedom not defend him?  It is Assange’s enemies, not him, who have to justify themselves.

LINKS

How Julian Assange became an unwelcome guest in Ecuador’s embassy by Luke Harding, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Dan Collyns for The Guardian.

Ecuador spent millions on spy operation for Julian Assange by Dan Collyns, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Luke Harding for The Guardian.

Why does Ecuador want Assange out of its London embassy? by Dan Collyns for The Guardian.

The Guardian Rejoices in the Silencing of Assange by Craig Murray.  [Added 5/17/2018]

Ecuador Under Lenin Moreno: an Interview With Andrez Arauz by Joe Emersberger for Counterpunch.

Ecuador’s Ex-President Rafael Correa Denounces Treatment of Julian Assange as “Torture” by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept.  [Added 5/17/2018]

JULIAN ASSANGE’S DEFENSE STATEMENT.  Statement to the Swedish prosecutor after questioning at the Ecuadorian embassy in November 14-15, 2017.

Understanding Julian Assange and US Media by Mike Swanson.  Good background on Wikileaks and older Wikileaks controversies up to early 2016.

The abandonment of Julian Assange

May 15, 2018

These may be the last days of Julian Assange.   He is under virtual solitary confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, cut off from contact with the outside world, while the Ecuadorian government is reportedly discussing handing him over to the British government.

He faces arrest jumping bail in a case in which no criminal charges were ever brought, but his real offense has been to publish information embarrassing to U.S. military and intelligence services.

You would think that liberals, progressives and war protestors would rally to the support of Assange, but, for the most part, they don’t.

I know people who in their youth protested the Vietnam War and supported the release of the Pentagon Papers, but can’t forgive Assange for publishing inconvenient truths about Hillary Clinton—as if Clinton were an advocate of peace!

It is not as if the Trump administration considers Assange a friend.  Attorney-General Jeff Sessions said arresting Assange is “a priority.”   Mike Pompeo, former CIA director and now Secretary of State, called Wikileaks a “hostile intelligence service”, as if it were equivalent to a foreign government.

Assange is not a perfect person.  Who is?  He is a lone wolf who is not aligned with any of the established political parties or movements.  He sometimes expresses himself in offensive ways.  He hangs out with doubtful people.  A relentless propaganda campaign has uncovered everything he has even done that might seem to be wrong.

Grant for the sake of argument that everything said against him is true (which I don’t believe).  Weigh that against the hundreds of thousands of innocent lives taken in the wars of the Bush and Obama administrations, and in the wars we can expect to be waged in the Trump administration.

In Wikileaks, he has created a technology by which whistle-blowers can expose crimes and abuses without being hunted down and jailed.  This technology will live on when Assange the individual has vanished from the scene.

Assange’s possible fate is to be turned over to U.S. authorities, followed by execution or life imprisonment.  But that hasn’t happened yet.  If you care about peace, or if you care about freedom of the press, demand freedom for Julian Assange.

LINKS

Being Julian Assange by Suzie Dawson.  This is a review and rebuttal of most or all the accusations that have been made against Assange.

On the Silencing of Julian Assange, interviews with John Pilger and Christine Assange (Julian’s mother) for Consortium News.

Ecuador hints it may hand over Julian Assange to Britain and the US by James Cogan for the World Socialist Web Site.

People Lie to Themselves About Julian Assange to Justify His Persecution by Caitlin Johnstone on her web page.

A day in the life of the world

February 4, 2018

Life in a Day is a documentary film consisting of YouTube videos from all around the world, all shot on July 24, 2010, which was a Saturday and a day of a full moon.   The video above is the trailer and the one below is the full 95-minute film.   It’s been around a long time, but I only just now came across it.   That’s true of a lot of my posts.

It’s consists of clips taken from 81,000 videos shot by volunteers in 192 countries, adding up to 4,500 hours of footage.

There are some remarkable episodes—a Slovak filmmaker in Kathmandu, Nepal, interviewing a Korean man who is bicycling around the world; a Peruvian shoeshine boy hustling to make a living, and confessing the thing he likes best is his laptop; an acrobatic Russian making Moscow his playground.

But most of it is people in different places living their everyday lives and answering one of three questions:  What do you love?  What do you fear?  What’s in your pockets?   The filmmaker doesn’t make any overall sociological or political point, except the diversity and unity of the human race.  It’s a joyful movie.  The musical score adds a lot to it.

Ninety-five minutes is a long time to watch a movie on a computer screen, but you don’t have to watch it all at one.  It took me about five or ten minutes to get into the film, but, when I did, I watched through till the end.

Part of the purpose of making the film was to celebrate the fifth anniversary of YouTube.   It was released on YouTube and, so far as I know, has never been shown in theaters.

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China tries to draw Afghanistan into its orbit

December 30, 2017

China’s ancient Silk Road

China’s modern Silk Road

The U.S. government for 15 years has been trying to pacify Afghanistan, without success.

During these same 15 years, the Chinese government has been extending its power and influence into the interior of Asia by investing in railroads, oil and gas pipelines and other infrastructure across the region at the invitation of local governments..

The Chinese call this the “Belts and Roads Initiative”—the belts being the oil and gas pipelines. Others call it the New Silk Road.

Recently China made an agreement with Pakistan to create an economic development corridor, culminating in a port giving China direct access to the Indian Ocean near the Persian Gulf.   Now China and Pakistan are trying to draw Afghanistan into their economic alliance.

I don’t know how all this will turn out.  Many things can go wrong.

But it seems clear that Beijing has been more effective in extending its power by offering material benefits than Washington has by means of military intervention and economic sanctions.

Furthermore China’s policies have made it economically stronger while U.S. policies have depleted U.S. strength.

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A new look at the secret hoards of the ultra-rich

November 6, 2017

Remember the Panama Papers?  That was a massive leak of documents from a Panama-based law firm called Mossack Fonsecka, revealing how the world’s richest and most powerful people hid billions of collars in investments from tax collectors and the public.

Now there is another big leak—called the Paradise Papers—from century-old Bermuda-based law firm called Appleby and its Singapore affiliate.

Like the Panama Papers, the anonymous leaker sent documents to a German newspaper called Süeddeutsche Zeitung, which teamed up with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and some of the world’s other top newspapers, and spent a year going through 13.4 million files.

Some of the highlights of what was found:

  • Queen Elizabeth II’s investment manager, the Duchy of Lancaster, invested millions of pounds in a Cayman Islands fund, whose investments included Bright House, a rent-to-own UK furniture company that charged interest rates of up to 99%
  • Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, who divested himself of ownership in 80 companies to avoid conflicts of interest, kept interests in nine offshore companies.  Four of them invested in a shipping company called Navigator Holdings, which did business with a Russian energy and chemical company called Sibur, whose key owners include Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law and a Russian oligarch under U.S. sanctions.
  • Stephen Bronfman, a key fund-raiser for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, teamed up with key Liberal Party figures to evade Canadian, U.S. and Isreali taxes.

Major companies shown to do business through tax havens are Apple, Nike, Uber Barclay’s Bank, Goldman Sachs, BNP Paribas and Glencore, the world’s largest commodity trader.

None of this is, in itself, illegal.  But hidden offshore investments provide a way for criminals to launder money and for individuals, companies and governments to evade economic sanctions by the U.S. and other governments.

As several people have remarked, the worst scandals are not how the law is broken, but what can be done that is perfectly legal.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think any of this is evidence that the Russian government or Russian interests manipulated the 2016 elections in favor of Donald Trump,

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The top 1 percent in Russia

October 6, 2017

I’ve posted many charts about the growing concentration of income and wealth in the United States in the hands of a tiny elite.   Here is a chart illustrating inequality in Russia.

You should take note about what this chart shows and doesn’t show.  The ruling elite in the old Soviet Union didn’t have large incomes, and they didn’t live like American millionaires and billionaires, but they did have special privileges, much like military officers compared to the rank and file or like American corporate executives with huge expense accounts.    They had special stories, special medical care, special schools for their children, etc.

Also, the chart indicates that relative equality isn’t everything.   I don’t think many Americans would have wanted to trade places with the average person in the old Soviet Union.

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Are we still getting smarter? Maybe not

October 3, 2017

Average I.Q. test scores rose decade by decade in most countries throughout the 20th century.   But now, in a few countries, the trend may be going into reverse.

By the standards of today, the average person in the late 19th century would be been on the verge of mental retardation.  By the standards of that era, the average person of today is on the verge of being highly gifted.

This is called the “Flynn effect,” for James R. Flynn, who discovered it.    He doesn’t believe that people today are biologically superior to people of an earlier era, even though they are better nourished and get better medical care.

He believes it is because people today are educated to reason abstractly and hypothetically, which is what I.Q. tests measure.   People in the earlier era weren’t stupid; they just focused on particular things and personal experience.

Higher I.Q., in other words, fits you to function in a civilization based on abstract reasoning.

Now there is some evidence of a “reverse Flynn effect”—I.Q. leveling off or declining in some countries.   This is based on tests of large numbers of British school children age 11-12 and 13-14 in selected years, of military conscripts in Denmark, Norway and Finland, of students in Estonia, of adults in France and the Netherlands.

It is hard for me to think of any reason why this would be so in those countries that would not apply in greater measure to the United States.

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Is Canada a nation?

August 3, 2017

In this post, I consider two authors who argue that Canada is not a nation.

Click to enlage. Source: Cyrus Dahmubed

Joel Garreau, a reporter for the Washington Post, wrote back in 1981 that the USA and Canada were not actually nations, only a collection of regional cultures.

He claimed that their territories were actually divided among The Nine Nations of North America (shown in the left map above), of which only Quebec was wholly contained within the jurisdiction of Canada and Dixie within the United States.

His conclusions were based on travels and interviews in the late 1970s, and he concluded that there really were six Canadian nations, all but one of which had a metropolis in the United States.  They were:

  • New England (Boston), the U.S. New England states and the Canadian maritime provinces.
  • Quebec (Montreal), the actual province of Quebec.
  • The Foundry (Detroit), the industrial region north and south of the Great Lakes and including the U.S. Middle Atlantic States.
  • The Breadbasket (Kansas City), the agricultural U.S. Great Plains and the Canadian prairie provinces.
  • The Empty Quarter (Denver), the thinly populated, mineral-rich Rocky Mountain states and provinces and the Canadian north.
  • Ecotopia (San Francisco), the Pacific-facing region from San Francisco to Juneau, Alaska.

Americans and Canadians within these areas, Garreau argued, had more in common with each other, economically and culturally, than they did with U.S. and Canadian citizens in other regions.

Colin Woodard made the same argument 30 years later in American Nations: a History of the Eleven Regional Cultures of North America, except that, unlike Garreau, he defined all of his “nations” except the Far West based on their cultural inheritance rather than economics and geography.

He divided Canada into six “nations”, at least four of which overlap with the United States.   They are:

  • First Nation, the newly autonomous American Indian nations in the Canadian North.
  • New France, the heirs of the original French settlers.
  • Yankeedom, roughly corresponding on the Canadian side to Garreau’s New England.
  • Midlands, which I will discuss below.
  • The Far West, roughly corresponding to Garreau’s Empty Quarter
  • The Left Coast, roughly corresponding to Garreau’s Ecotopia.

Woodard, who lives in Maine, described the sense of unity between New England and the Canadian Maritime provinces.  The Canadian Maritimes were settled from New England, he wrote, and Yankees and Maritimers were reluctant to fight each other during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

The provinces of Upper Canada (now Ontario) and New Brunswick were created after the Revolutionary War to provide a refuge for defeated Loyalists after the American Revolution.   Most of those Loyalists, according to Woodard, were pro-British fighters, neutral merchants and farmers and Quaker pacifists from the New York City and Philadelphia regions.

Some of them were loyal to the British crown.   Others were attracted by the offer of free land in Ontario—a forerunner of the U.S. Homestead Act.

British, Scots and Irish settlers came in larger numbers to the Maritimes and Ontario, but, according to Woodard, the settlers from the U.S. Midlands came first and it was they who set the tone for the culture.   That is why his hypothetical Midlands region has such a strange, looping shape.

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How the U.S. lags peer nations in health care 2

June 11, 2017

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I came across a 2015 study by The Commonwealth Fund that shows the Americans spend more on health care, use more medical technology and take more prescription drugs than citizens of most peer nations, but aren’t necessarily more healthy.

We’re not the worst in this respect, but we’re far from the best.

The charts above and below tell the story.   I doubt things have changed much since 2013.

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How the US lags peer nations in health care

June 10, 2017

Click to enlarge

Americans pay more for medical care than citizens of other advanced nations, and get less in return.  Our health outcomes are worse.   So far as I can tell, enactment of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 hasn’t changed this.

Health care spending per person

United Kingdom, $4,003

France, $4,407

Canada, $4,607

Germany, $5,267

United States, $9,451

Percentage of population without medical insurance

United Kingdom, 0.0%

Canada, 0.0%

France, 0.1%

Germany, 0.2%

United States, 9.1%

What patients pay to see a doctor

United Kingdom, free

Canada, free

Germany, $5 – $11

France, $25, most of which is reimbursed later

United States, $30 to $200, depending on insurance

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Book note: The Making of Global Capitalism

May 30, 2017

International financial organizations such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization have come to be a kind of world government, dictating policy to supposedly sovereign governments.

I recently read a book, The Making of Global Capitalism (2012) by two Canadian leftists named Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin, on how this came about.   I thank my friend Tim Mullins for recommending it.

It’s quite a story.  It is not well understood.

The first part of the story is the U.S. New Deal.   President Franklin Roosevelt and the Democratic Congress gave the U.S. Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve System the authority they needed to stabilize the crumbling U.S. financial and banking system.

The second part is the 30 years following World War Two.   Under the leadership of the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve, international financial institutions were created that duplicated the U.S. system.  They presided over the era of greatest peace and prosperity that North Americans and Europeans had ever since.

The third part is what happened after that.  The world’s financial system endures a series of ever-greater financial crises.   To deal with them, international financial  institutions demand the surrender of gains made by American and European workers and the middle class in the earlier era.

The irony is that a financial governing structure created by American power is now stronger than ever, while the actual American economy is rotting away beneath it.

Panitch and Gindin described in great detail how this happened, step-by-step,.

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Establishment’s Macron wins the French election

May 8, 2017

Emmanuel Macron, elected President of France yesterday with two-thirds of the vote, is a product of that country’s educational and financial establishment.

He will have an opportunity in the next five years to vindicate the establishment, by showing that it is possible to turn around the economy without changing France’s political or economic structure or withdrawing from the European Union.

Emmanuel Macron

I don’t expect that to happen.   First, he has not yet consolidated his power.  As President, he will be in charge of French foreign and military policy.    Domestic policy will be the responsibility of the Prime Minister, who is appointed by the President with the consent of the National Assembly.

The National Assembly will be elected June 11 and 18.   If Macron’s newly formed En Marche (On the Move) movement wins a majority, his power will be complete.   If not, the National Assembly may force him to accept a Prime Minister of a different party.

The President is something like a corporation’s chief executive officer and the Prime Minister is something like its chief operating officer.   If the CEO and COO were not in agreement and the CEO couldn’t remove him, then the CEO does not have the full powers of a CEO

Second, even if Macron’s power is complete, what solutions does he have to offer?   He campaigned on the basis of generalities and a winning personality, much like Barack Obama in the USA in 2008 and Justin Trudeau in Canada in 2015.

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Neoliberalism vs. nationalism in France

April 24, 2017

The French election on Sunday narrowed the field to two candidates—Emmanuel Macron, a neoliberal defender of globalization, and Marine Le Pen, a blood-and-soil nationalist, in the run-off election May 7.

Macron is an Obama-like outsider, who offers a vaguely-defined hope and change and, in fact, was endorsed by Barack Obama, but who actually represents France’s financial establishment.

Le Pen is usually described as the “far right” candidate.  She promises to protect France from what she calls the twin threats of globalization and Islam.

But she also is in favor of locking in France’s 35-hour work week, lowering the retirement age to 60, bolstering public services and reducing income taxes on low-income workers

Macron is in favor of flexibility on the 35-hour work week, industry deregulation, reduction of government spending and cutting corporate taxes.  So which is the right-winger?

He favors CETA—the Canadian-European Free Trade Agreement—which, like NAFTA and the defunct proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, would restrict business regulation in the name of protecting free trade.  So who is the left-winger here?

Le Pen would replace the Euro with a “nouveau franc,” reestablish border controls and repeal certain European Union laws.  If the EU refused to cooperate, she would call for a referendum on whether France should secede.  If the French voted to stay in the EU, she would resign.

Macron wants to strengthen the Euro and France’s ties with the EU.   He generally favors current French policy on immigration.  Le Pen would restrict immigration to 10,000 persons a year and kick out all unauthorized immigrants, as well as all Muslims on terrorist watch lists.

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Neoliberalism and its discontents (2)

April 13, 2017

What follows is notes for the second part of a talk for the Rochester Russell Forum scheduled at Writers & Books Literary Center, 740 University Ave., Rochester, NY, at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 13.

Neoliberalism has generated an antithesis—blood and soil nationalism, which holds that the supreme human value consists of the ties of loyalty and customs among people of common ancestry who live in the same place.

Blood and soil nationalism is not fascism, although it can fit very well with fascism.  It is not racism, although it can fit very well with racism.

The difference is that fascism and racism are international movements.  They are disconnected from the culture and heritage of any particular place.

Loyalty to a heritage and a way of life, to kindred who live in a particular place, is the most natural feeling in the world.   It is wrong to devalue this feeling.

The problem is that, for many people, local cultures and heritages have already been hollowed out by the consumer culture promoted by the mass media of entertainment and advertising.  What is left is a hollowed-out version of patriotism consisting of loyalty to your own group and hatred of some other group you see as a threat.

People embrace this hollow nationalism as a way of giving a meaning to their lives that the neoliberal consumer and advertising culture does not provide.

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Mike Whitney on U.S. anti-Russian policy

March 24, 2017

Will Washington Risk WW3 to Block an Emerging Russia-EU Superstate? by Mike Whitney for Counterpunch.

Map via Wikimedia

Who are willing to fight for their countries?

February 24, 2017

The darker the red, the greater the willingness to die for one's country

The darker the red, the greater the willingness to fight.

Only 44 percent of adult Americans are willing to tell pollsters they’d fight for their country.

The percentage is even less for some U.S. allies, such as Canada (30%), France (29%), the United Kingdom (27%), Italy (30%), Germany (18%) and Japan (11%).

In contrast, 71 percent of Chinese and 59 percent of Russians say they’d fight for their countries.

This is the result of a public opinion poll of more than 1,000 people in each of 64 countries in late 2014 by WIN / Gallup International.   The complete results are below.

I’m not sure what to make of this.  I think it partly depends on people mean by “fight for country”.

I think almost all Americans would be willing to fight to defend our nation from an invader.  I think only a minority are willing to go to some foreign country to fight to increase U.S. geopolitical power.

The problem for us Americans is that someday U.S. power will begin to slip, and countries that now fear to go against the United States will become our enemies.

When that backlash comes, our nation will need the patriotism that our leaders now exploit and abuse.

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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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