Tulsi Gabbard is more of an anti-war candidate

January 15, 2019

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii, is more of an anti-war candidate than Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren or any other presidential candidate who has announced so far.

She opposes “regime change wars” on principle, which no other high-profile politician has been willing to say since Rep. Ron Paul left Congress.  Such wars, as she pointed out in the interview, have caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and enormous suffering to ordinary people in the Middle East and elsewhere without making Americans safer or better off.

Ending regime change wars would be a big change for the better, but it wouldn’t necessarily mean giving up the U.S. empire of bases and cutting back the U.S. military mission to defense of the homeland and fulfilling treaty obligations to allies.  If you really want to crush Al Qaeda’s successors and imitators, the first step would be to stop arming them to so as to bring about regime change.

Most of the commentary on Gabbard’s announcement ignored all of this.  Instead it focused on her opposition to gay rights moe than 15 years ago..

She is one of a number of people who was raised as a social conservative, and changed their minds over a period of years.  I can understand this, because my own opinions, including on LGBT issues, have changed in the past 15 years.  But some commentators think this will sink her campaign before it gets started.

Gabbard comes from an unusual background.  According to her Wikipedia page, her father is part Samoan and a Catholic; her mother is a convert to Hinduism.  She was elected to the Hawaii state legislature at the age of 21, then was deployed to Iraq as a member of the Hawaii National Guard.  She is now serving her fourth term in Congress.

In 2016, she resigned from the Democratic National Committee in order to support Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president.

The video of of an interview with Joe Rogan gives a good overview of what she believes.  It runs an hour and 43 minutes, a little long to watch on a small screen.  Here are starting points of the highlights:

  • 7mn.  Why North Korea has nuclear weapons
  • 9mn.  Regime change wars (the key segment)
  • 22mn.  Authorizing war with Iran
  • 30mn.  Russian troll farms.
  • 32mn.  Why she supported Bernie Sanders
  • 49mn.  Paper ballots and electronic voting
  • 1hr4mn  Pros and cons of universal basic income
  • 1hr13mn  Affordable higher education and health care
  • 1hr22mn  Threats to civil liberties
  • 1hr33mn  Legalizing marijuana

I agree with everything she said in the Joe Rogan interview and most of her views as given on her Wikipedia page.

My main concern about her is her praise of the authoritarian nationalist government of President Narendra Modi of India and her alignment with  Hindu nationalists in the Indian-American community, which is reportedly a large source of her funding.  I also object to her statement in a 2014 interview that torture may be justified under certain circumstances.

Aside from this, I’m favorably impressed with her, not only because I think she is right on policy, but because of her calm, self-assured and well-informed way of answering questions.  Also, that she was not afraid to say “I don’t know.”

Win or lose, she will force the Democrats to debate war and peace issues on a more fundamental level than before.

LINKS

Tulsi Gabbard Wikipedia page.

Five Reasons I’m Excited About Tulsi Gabbard’s Candidacy by Caitlin Johnstone.  Lots of good links with this.

Tulsi Gabbard’s 2020 Campaign May Be Over Before It Starts by Ryan Bort for Rolling Stone.

Tulsi Gabbard Is a Rising Progressive Star, Despite Her Ties to Hindu Nationalists by Soumya Shankar for The Intercept.  Why her ties to right-wing Hindu nationalists are troubling.

Donald Trump and the power of sociopathy

January 15, 2019

Donald Trump is what I call a sociopath.

This not a psychiatric diagnosis, but an observation that he cares nothing for moral and ethical rules, for the law, for his pledged word, for objective facts or for the consequences of his actions to other people.

The power of a sociopath is that normal people have norms of behavior—at least to some extent—and don’t know how to deal with people who don’t recognize norms.

President Trump’s signature pledge during the 2016 presidential campaign was that he would solve the problem of unauthorized immigration by building a wall along the southern border, and make Mexico pay for it.

The cost of building a physical barrier along the entire 1,900-mile border with Mexico would be enormous.  The idea that Mexico can be compelled to pay for it is absurd.

Yet he is willing to close down the government and threaten to declare a national emergency in order to build a barrier along a relatively small portion of the border.  It is more important to him to win this symbolic victory than to have a functioning government.   He doesn’t really care whether the United States has a functioning government at all.

But the fact that establishment Washington politicians and journalists put up so little resistance to Trump shows how little these supposed norms have come to mean.

During the Bush and Obama administrations, the “norms” included invasions and proxy wars against countries that did not threaten us Americans, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, maybe a million all told, who never harmed us.  It meant prosecution of whistleblowers for telling the truth about abuse of governmental power.  It meant refusal to prosecute financial fraud and other crimes committed by members of the financial elite.

There is little that the Trump administration is doing, including governmental shutdowns, that does not have some sort of precedent.  What the Trump administration shows us is how acceptable sociopathy has become.

LINKS

What Is a Government Shutdown? by Kimberly Amadeo for The Balance.

Government shutdown: the border wall fight explained by Dara Lind for Vox.

Biggest Effects of the Government Shutdown by Ryan Bort for Rolling Stone.

Here’s What’s Really Happening at the Border by Kevin Drum for Mother Jones.

The Wall May Be a Waste, But It Is not a Crisis by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.

Wall B.S. and the Politics of 2020 by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.

Why Pelosi and Schumer Should Back Down Now by Joseph Cannon for Cannonfire.

Top Democrats once voted for a border fence

January 14, 2019

This photo, published in 2011, shows a section of the border barrier built under the Secure Fence Act of 2006.

In the debate over a southern border wall, we might remember that 650 miles of “fence” already has been built along the border with Mexico, and many top Democrats voted to authorize it.

The barrier was built under the Secure Fencing Act of 2006, which was proposed by President George W. Bush and supported by a majority of Democrats, including Senators Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Joe Biden and Dianne Feinstein, and also by then-Rep. Sherrod Brown.

Admittedly there’s a difference between a wall and a fence—although what President Trump means by a wall isn’t completely clear.

And, to be sure, some Democrats opposed the 2006 law, including Rps. Bernie Sanders and Nancy Pelosi and Senators Ted Kennedy, Harry Reid and John Kerry.

Even so, with this history, it’s hard for me to see why the Democratic leadership chose this particular issue to go to the wall over (so to speak).

The bill was part of a package that included a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants already in the United States and stricter controls on new unauthorized immigration, including the border fence.

In 2011, President Obama declared the fence had been completed, but his opponents claimed the result wasn’t what Congress intended.

The original bill called for a double row of fencing, but it also gave the Secretary of Homeland Security authority to choose alternatives if deemed more suitable for the location.  Only 36 miles were built as double fencing.  Federal officials said the fence includes 299 miles of vehicle barriers and 350 miles of pedestrian fence.

The U.S.-Mexican border in its entirety is about 1,950 miles long.

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The mirage of “electability”

January 11, 2019
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I don’t think much or have much to say about “electability.”   If I were a politician considering who to support, I’d have to think about it.
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As a mere voter, I just vote for the candidates I think would be best, based on their platform, record and proposals.  Voting “strategically” means voting based on a guess as to how others will vote.  We who vote our own minds have some influence, however small, on who are and who are not electable.
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My litmus test for who I’d support is twofold:
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  • Would they try to break the financial and corporate oligarchy’s lock on public policy and are they willing to do without donations from financial and corporate interests?
  • Would they try to break the military-intelligence complex’s lock on foreign and military policy and give up the goal of world military domination.
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The only prospective candidates I know who meet the first test are Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, in that order.  Neither Bernie Sanders nor Elizabeth Warren is a real peace candidate, although they are less militaristic that the Democratic leadership as a whole, which nowadays is even more hawkish than Republicans.
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The odds are against any truly progressive candidate.  Any progressive candidate will have to fight the power of big money, a political system rigged against them and a mainstream press aligned against them.
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Any progressive candidate is going to be under attack for irrelevant reasons, such as the BernieBros smear and the Pocahontas smear.  If someone else occupied the same niche as Sanders or Warren, something equivalent would a tagged to them.  Right now there’s a frantic search going on for something to hang on Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.
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If you’re a progressive, there are two reasons to support a candidate who stands for what you believe in.  The first is that the candidate might just win.  The second is help to shift public opinion by raising questions and presenting fact that the public doesn’t usually hear.  Hammer away at public opinion long enough, and winning follows.
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The Green Party is widely regarded as the lunatic fringe.  But its idea of a Green New Deal has become mainstream.  Bernie Sanders was regarded as a crackpot for proposing Medicare for all.  Now this idea is mainstream, too.
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The current discussion as to which Democratic politician is “electable” is like a discussion of who should play the lead role in a movie or TV mini-series like the West Wing.  Do we want a likable old white guy with a working-class background (Joe Biden)?  Or a hard-nosed prosecutor who happens to be a black woman (Kamala Harris)?  Or maybe a sophisticated younger black man at home in the worlds of politics and finance (Corey Booker, Deval Patrick)?  Or maybe an appealing Kennedyesque young guy from Texas (Beto O’Rourke)?  Or an actual Mexican-American from the Southwest (Julian Castro)?
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None of these candidates is being promoted on the basis of their record or their platform
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News coverage of elections is largely based on who can win or who is likely to win.  It should be based on giving the public enough information that they can judge who should win.
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LINKS
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What Does Electability Mean in 2020? by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.
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Thoughts on Warren and Sanders: How Much Change Is Needed in 2021? by Thomas Neuberger for Down With Tyranny!
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Should the Left Unite Behind Elizabeth Warren? by Eric Levitz for New York magazine.

Behind the BernieBros smear

January 11, 2019

[Introduction revised 1/15/2019]

Bernie Sanders supporters been dogged by the “BernieBros” tag, the idea that they opposed Hillary Clinton because they’re prejudiced against women.

Lambert Strether, writing on the Naked Capitalism web log, noted a recent charge of sexual harassment within the Sanders campaign and pointed out how easy these charges are to make and how hard to refute.

He predicted that the Sanders campaign is going to be singled out for such charges because supporters of the status quo regard him as a threat.  Here is what he wrote—

“Top Bernie Sanders 2016 adviser accused of forcibly kissing subordinate” [Politico]. “The woman did not report the incident at the time because the campaign was over. But over the past several months, [convention floor leader Robert Becker], who is not on Sanders’ payroll, has been calling potential staffers and traveling to early primary states to prepare for another presidential run — activities that Sanders’ top aides did not endorse, but did not disavow, either.”

• Apparently, nobody seems to have written Sanders a letter.  Odd.

Lambert here: Since the story will be weaponized, I’m going to put questions of truth or falsity aside.  A few comments:

(1) It was inevitable that #MeToo would merge with oppo. Now it has. A narrative initially framed as applying to a toxic campaign culture generally (whatever “toxic” means) has oddly, or not, been applied, at least in national venues, only to the Sanders campaign. (Contrast the two sex and meth deaths at Clinton donor Ed Buck’s house, where coverage has remained local to Los Angeles.)

(2) If Sanders and his campaign-in-waiting think this line of attack will go away, or can be dealt either by pointing to improvements made in the Sanders Senate 2018 campaign or by keeping relentlessly on-message regarding policy, they are naïve in the extreme.

(3) There will be more. That’s what Operation Mockingbird and Cointelpro tell us.  From today’s post on the “Integrity Initiative“: “[Simon Bracey-Lane] appeared on the American political scene as a field worker for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential primary run, earning media write-ups as the “Brit for Bernie.”   Now, the young operator was back in the US as the advance man for a military-intelligence cut-out that specialized in smearing left-wing political figures like Jeremy Corbyn.” Anybody who thinks Bracey-Lane was the only sleeper in the Sanders campaign — or Democratic Socialists of America, for that matter — is also naïve in the extreme.  There were surely more.  Some of them will be anxious to share their stories (and then go on book tours).  The same will be true of political mercenaries generally.

(4) The Clinton operation dealt successfully with respected party elder Bill Clinton’s workplace abuse issues and rapes by attacking the women The Big Dog abused and assaulted. (James Carville: “Drag a hundred-dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you’ll find.”)  Hopefully the Sanders campaign can do better.

(5) Doing better than the Clintons would imply not counter-attacking the accusers.  If it were possible, I’d “shoot the messengers” (“#MeTools”) doing the weaponizing.  I think that’s the recommendation 2016 Sanders advisor Adolph Reed has been working up to (see this important article from Reed I flagged yesterday: “There’s no point trying to communicate with those whose resistance stems from such material investment; no matter what their specific content, their responses to class critique always amount to the orderly Turkle’s lament to McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—’This is my f*cking job!’”)  It’s not clear to me that shooting the messengers will work, though it would be interesting to know how trusted the press is by the Sanders base.

(6) It’s also not clear to me what Sanders should do, other than hire somebody to deal with the matter, ideally a person both identitarian-proof and ruthlessly effective.  Sanders also needs to get the idea firmly fixed in his mind that he is not in the Senate now, and there is no comity.

Source: 2:00PM Water Cooler 1/10/2019 | naked capitalism

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Are police shootings only a race issue?

January 9, 2019

African-American men are shot dead by American police at a much higher rate than white men.  Almost everybody knows this, or should.

In 2012, according to FBI data, African-Americans were 13 percent of the population, but 31 percent of those were shot dead by police, and 39 percent of those shot dead who weren’t attacking.   

But what about shootings of white men?  Are they all justified?  Should we be worried about them?

The World Socialist Web Site pointed out that in some areas of the USA, poor white men are at just as much risk of being killed by police, or even greater risk, as black men.

[There is a] vast and rising death toll among working-class white men in rural and small-town America, who are being killed by police at rates that approach those of black men in urban areas.

Police violence is focused overwhelmingly on men lowest on the socio-economic ladder: in rural areas outside the South, predominately white men; in the Southwest, disproportionately Hispanic men; in mid-size and major cities, disproportionately black men.

Significantly, in the rural South, where the population is racially mixed, white men and black men are killed by police at nearly identical rates. What unites these victims of police violence is not their race, but their class status (as well as, of course, their gender).

Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore police officer who now teaches criminal justice at CUNY, reported that the states with the highest-rates of police killings have lower-than-average black populations, and the states with the higher percentages of black people have lower-than-average rates of police killings.

Utah has a murder and violence rate below the national average, a low poverty rate, and is 90 percent white. And yet people in Utah are almost five times as likely an in New York to be killed by a cop.  Utah has murder rate lower than NYC, 1/5 the poverty rate, far fewer cops, and Utah is 90% white.  In 2018, the rate of people shot and killed by police in Utah is multiple times higher than NYC.

I’d speculate significant variables are (in no particular order) training, fewer cops per capita, fewer cops per mile (no backup), one-person patrol, more guns, gun culture, more meth, more booze, and race (with more white states having more police-involved shootings).

The ten leading states — as in cops most shootingest states — in rank order, are New Mexico, Alaska, Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Wyoming, West Virginia, Montana and Idaho.  It certainly seems like if we were to focus on the states that have the highest rates of police-involved shootings (and by far), we could find some low-hanging fruit to reduce the number of said shootings.  But to do this we’d have stop thinking of police-involved shootings as primarily related to race.

Collectively the top-10 states are 4.9 percent African-American (compared to 13 percent nationally). These are the cowboy states out west. The 10 states with the highest percentage of black population (collectively 25%) have a rate of police-involved homicide (0.24) that is below the national average.

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Why do we whites refuse to admit we’re racists?

January 5, 2019

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Robin DiAngelo has spent more than 20 years conducting diversity workshops in which she tries to explain to white people that they are intrinsically racist.

By her own account, she has been unsuccessful.  But she does not see this as an example of doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

She maintains in her new book, WHITE FRAGILITY: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (2018), the the stubborn refusal of white people to admit their racism just goes to show how racist they are.

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Historically, racism was an ideology that said that humanity was divided into races, and that the white race was superior to the black race.  It came into existence to justify slavery and colonialism.  

Woodrow Wilson and Winston Churchill, among others, were proud racists.

Racist ideology fell into disfavor after the war against Nazi Germany and the 1960s struggle against segregation.  

DiAngelo says racist attitudes persist in the form of unconscious prejudice, even among liberal white people who think we’re anti-racist.

She says a white person can have black friends, be nice to black people and oppose to racial discrimination in any form and still have false derogatory opinions about black people and behave in ways that make black people feel uncomfortable and stressed.

This is true—as far as it goes.  

It is true of me.  

White people, myself included, ought to welcome feedback on how we are perceived by black people and what we may be assuming that isn’t true.  To the extent that she provides this, she is doing a good thing.

The book’s main value consists of DiAngelo’s many stories of ways in which white people unknowingly insult or condescend to black people, and the lessons to be learned from this.

∞∞∞

Why do liberal white people resist her message?

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One problem is her vocabulary.

When you accuse white people of being “racist,” you are putting them in the same category as the leaders of the Ku Klux Klan and the Aryan Brotherhood.  I don’t react well to that, and neither do most white people.

DiAngelo says this is a misunderstanding.  When she calls people “racist,” she says, she does not intent to imply that we are bad people, and she we shouldn’t react as if she was.

But it is her choice to use such highly-charged words as “racism” and “white supremacy” rather than milder words such as “implicit bias” or “racial insensitivity.”  Such language puts people on the moral defensive, and I’m pretty sure that’s her intent.

She says she is not making a moral statement, but she is saying is that (1) whites—all whites—harbor attitudes that produce great evils in the world, (2) we need to change, but (3) in fact we never can—not completely.  

This is akin to the theological doctrine of original sin.  For her, being a racist, like being a sinner, is something you are, not something you do.  In the Christian context, awareness of sin and repentance is followed by redemption.  But for DiAngelo, there is no redemption.  Whites can diminish, but never eliminate their inherent racist sinfulness.

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Welcome to 2019

December 31, 2018

Source: xkcd

When 2019 Starts Around the World

Which country has New Year first and which celebrates it last? 

A choice of superpowers

December 29, 2018

I enjoyed the following on-line story, and maybe you will, too.

And I Show You How Deep the Rabbit Hole Goes by Scott Alexander on Slate Star Codex.

Another experiment in educational reform

December 26, 2018


Source: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

Hat tip to Physicist at Large.

Merry Christmas 2018

December 24, 2018

Santa Claus in the 21st century

December 23, 2018

An interview with Santa’s lawyer by John Scalzi.   Hat tip to the Weekly Sift.

From the Big Bang to the origin of humanity

December 22, 2018

This 10-minute history of the universe shows all the amazing things that had to happen in order for the human race—that is, for you and me—to exist.

It’s quite a story.  My question is: Where are we in the story?  Are we near the end?  Or at the beginning?  Or somewhere in the middle?

I grew up reading science fiction, and envisioned the human race spreading out to the planets, then to other solar systems and perhaps other galaxies.  I now realize this can’t be taken for granted, but I also know I don’t have the knowledge to set limits on the future.  If life is a rare event in the universe, could it be the destiny of humanity to spread life beyond its point of origin?

Or are we at the end of the story?  Is it the destiny of the human race to use its intelligence to wipe itself out—through nuclear war, through plague, through runaway global warming or just through loss of the will to live.

Or is the history of civilization is just a blip in the life of a species evolved to be hunter-gatherers?

Cutting U.S. losses in the Mideast

December 21, 2018

If President Donald Trump intends to pull back U.S. military intervention in the Middle East, this would be the least bad thing he could do.  The only point of continuing the present policies that I can see is to not be the one that has to admit failure. 

LINK

Establishment Will Never Say No to War by Andrew Sullivan for New York magazine.

How advertisers make food look appetizing

December 19, 2018

Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South

December 18, 2018

England during the reign of Queen Victoria was the world’s first and greatest industrial power and the center of a global empire that governed a quarter of the world’s population.

Yet you would hardly know this from reading most Victorian novels.  They’re typically set in London or in rural southern England, often the most backward parts.  Industry and empire are offstage.

One exception to this is Elisabeth Gaskell’s North and South (1855), which I recently read as part of a novel-reading group hosted by my friends Linda and David White.

Mrs. Gaskell did not just lament slums and poverty.  She took the trouble to try to understand newly-industrializing England—how the textile mills operated, the economics of the textile industry and the Issues at stake in the conflict between capital and labor.

Her viewpoint character is 20-year-old Margaret Hale, who is forced to relocate with her family from the sunny agricultural and aristocratic South of England to the grimy, slum-ridden town of Milton (Manchester) in Darkshire (Lancashire) in the North.

There she encounters John Thornton, a self-made industrialist who, at the age of 30, has risen from low-paid employment as a draper’s assistant to the owner of a manufacturing business that does business worldwide, and Nicholas Higgins, a worker in Thornton’s factory, who is driven by poverty and need to organize a strike.

Thornton is handsome, energetic and articulate.  He could easily be a character in an Ayn Rand novel.  He feels beholden to no one, asks nothing of anyone and refuses to accept dictation or advice from anyone, including the workers in his factory, whom he regards as antagonists.

Competition from American factories causes him to cut wages—but he does not feel he needs to justify this to his workers or anybody else.

Inspired by Nicholas Higgins, the workers go on strike.  Most of the major strikes in the 19th century UK and US were, like this one, in response to wage cuts, not demands for wage increases.

Thornton imports strikebreakers from Ireland, with a priest to keep them under control and guards to prevent them from communicating with the strikers.

The strikers probably would have lost anyway, but some of the workers disregard Higgins’ advice to remain nonviolent and stage a riot in front of Thornton’s house, which gives him an excuse to call in the police.

The textile mill owners hire the strikers back, if they pledge not to join a union.  Higgins refuses to do this.

He asks Margaret to help him move to the South and get a job as an agricultural labor.  But she tells him this is not realistic.  Bad as conditions in the factories are, the plight of agricultural workers is worse.  They do nothing but eat, sleep and work, she says; they are incapable of the comradeship of the workers in the North.

The same is true of the servant class in the South.  The Hales find it difficult to hire servants in Milton.  Factory girls would rather work 10 hours a day and have the rest of their time free than endure the life of a servant, which means being on duty 24/7 with maybe one Saturday afternoon off every couple of weeks.

In the South, some servants find this endurable because they regard themselves as members of their families.  But this is not the spirit of the go-getting North, where everyone is out for themselves.

So far, so realistic.

But Mrs. Gaskell then veers from her realism in order to bring about a happy ending.

Read the rest of this entry »

A fly-through of the International Space Station

December 15, 2018

This is a great relaxation video.

The Yellow Vest revolt in France

December 12, 2018

I’m not well-informed about French politics, but I think the “Yellow Vest” revolt is (1) important and (2) an example of ordinary people rising up against a government and political system that does not represent them.

LINKS

Yellow Fever in France by Bernard Dreano for openDemocracy.

The Indiscreet Charm of the Gilets Jaunes by C.J. Hopkins for The Unz Review.

Le Giles Jaunes – A Bright Yellow Sign of Distress by Diana Johnstone for Global Research.

Two Roads for the New French Right by Mark Lilla for the New York Review of Books.  Not directly related to the protests, but interesting.

U.S. claims jurisdiction over Chinese biz exec

December 11, 2018

Meng Wenzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, a giant Chinese telecommunications company, was arrested while passing through Vancouver on charges related to U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.

Meng Wenzhou

She is the daughter of Ren Zhengfei, the company’s founder.

She reportedly is accused of concealing the fact that a company called Skycom, which does business with Iran, is a subsidiary of Huawei, and thereby causing Huawei clients to unknowingly violate U.S. sanctions against Iran.

In other words, a foreign business executive has been arrested on foreign soil for breaking U.S. domestic law.  This is a power grab that the U.S. would not tolerate if a foreign government did it to a U.S. executive.

It is a slap in the face at China as a time when Presidents Trump and Xi were trying to resolve trade disputes.  It could raise hostilities between China and the U.S. to a new level.

I can think of four possible explanations for the U.S. action, all of them bad—

  1. President Trump arranged this deliberately as a way of putting pressure on President Xi.
  2. President Trump knew about the charges, but didn’t think they would affect trade negotiations.
  3. American officials proceeded without notifying President Trump because they didn’t understand the significance of their actions.
  4. American officials proceeding without notifying President Trump because they saw Huawei as a security threat or wanted to undermine the Trump-Xi negotiations.

Huawei sells telecommunications equipment and networks.  It reportedly has more than 180,000 employees and does business in more than 100 countries.  It is reportedly the world’s second largest manufacturer of smartphones.

Many Western countries and companies in recent months have stopped doing business with Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese telecom company, because they fear their equipment could be used for cyber-espionage by the Chinese government.  I think that is a reasonable fear.  The arrest of Ms. Meng is not reasonable.

LINKS

The War on Huawei by Jeffrey Sachs for Project Syndicate.

How Huawei’s CFO ended up in a jail in Canada by Julia Horowitz for CNN Business.

What’s going on with Huawei? by BBC News.

Meng’s arrest could plunge US, China into high-tech Cold War by Gordon Watts for Asia Times.

Huawei’s amazing global rise shrouded in controversy by Gordon Watts for Asia Times.

How Meng Wanzhou’s Arrest Might Backfire by Tyler Cowen for Bloomberg Opinion.

The sad legacy of George H.W. Bush

December 10, 2018

George H.W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States, is being mourned as if he were a great and beloved figure.  But when he was in office, and running for office, he was widely mocked as an out-of-touch New England blueblood and as a wimp.

He tried to over-compensate for this and present himself as something he wasn’t.  Matt Taibbi wrote a fine article about this.

George H.W. Bush

He was an Episcopalian, but he tried to re-invent himself as a member of the religious right.  He had been a supporter of Planned Parenthood, but after he ran for national office, he opposed it. He opposed Planned Parenthood, AIDS research and drug legalization.  But the members of the real religious right never trusted him, no matter how well he served their agenda.

There is no reason to think that he personally was a racist, but his henchman Lee Atwater used the image of convicted rapist Willie Horton to stir up racial fears in order to defeat Michael Dukakis.  The political tactics of Atwater and his successor Karl Rove, in the younger George Bush’s administration, set the stage for Donald Trump.

In foreign affairs, the elder Bush’s goal was to end the so-called Vietnam syndrome, which was the reluctance of Americans to go to war with small nations that do not threaten us.  President Reagan took a baby step in this direction with the invasion of the tiny island nation of Grenada.  Bush took it a step further with the invasion of Panama, and then the first Gulf War against Iraq.

The real Vietnam syndrome is the desire of U.S. militarists to fight another Vietnam-like war and this time win.

I admit I was caught up in the propaganda for the first Gulf War.  I only later learned that the U.S. ambassador to Iraq had virtually invited Saddam to invade.  But we Americans learned that is it possible to kill large numbers of foreigners, have the thrill of a victory and not suffer any consequences—no immediate consequences, anyhow.

I can think of at least three good things about the elder George Bush.

He was a gentleman of the old school who treated people around him with courtesy and consideration.  He was famous for hand-written thank-you notes, a small thing, but not nothing.

He was a genuine hero in World War Two—at least as much so as John F. Kennedy.  He flew 58 combat missions and was shot down over the Pacific.

He had the wisdom to stand aside when the Soviet Union was losing control of eastern Europe and then breaking up itself.  If his administration had tried to take advantage of the situation in any obvious way, there might have been war.

I think his vision of a “new world order” was a kind of council of the stronger nations, like Prince Metternich’s Council of Europe after the defeat of Napoleon.  That’s not my ideal, but it is better than the idea of the U.S. be the world’s sole superpower, which took hold in the Clinton administration and after.

I hope that when U.S. hegemony collapses, we have a leader as rational as Gorbachev and leaders of other great powers are as restrained as Bush and Secretary of State James Baker.

That’s not nothing.  And then, in many people’s eyes, Bush had the merit of not being Donald Trump.  But his policies helped pave the way for Trump.

LINKS

George W. Bush’s Wimpy Image Had Consequences by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

I’m Sorry But This is Sheer Propaganda by Nathan J. Robinson for Current Affairs.

The Ignored Legacy of George H.W. Bush: War Crimes, Racism and Obstruction of Justice by Mehdi Hasan for The Intercept.

Matthew Crawford on cultural “jigs”

December 7, 2018

I’m currently re-reading Matthew Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head, this time as part of a reading group.  In the following passage, Crawford compares “jigs” used by skilled craft workers to simplify their tasks to cultural constraints that simplify moral choices.

In the boom after World War II, the [American] left lost interest in economics and shifted its focus from labor issues to a more wide-ranging project of liberation, to be achieved by unmasking and discrediting various forms of cultural authority.

In retrospect, this seems to have prepared the way for a new right, no less committed to the ideal of the unencumbered self (that ideal actor of the free market), whose freedom could be realized only in a public space cleared of distorting influence—through deregulation.

Few institutions or sites of cultural authority were left untouched by the left’s critiques.  Parents, teachers, priests, elected officials—there was little that seemed defensible.

Looking around in stunned silence, left and right eventually discovered common ground: a neoliberal consensus in which we have agreed to let the market quietly work its solvent action on all impediments to the natural chooser within.

Another way to put this is that the left’s project of liberation led us to dismantle inherited cultural jigs that once imposed a certain coherence (for better or worse) on individual lives.  [snip]

The combined effects of these liberating and deregulating effects of the right and left has been to ratchet up the burden of self-regulation.

Some indication of how well we are bearing this burden can be found in the fact that we [Americans] are now very fat, very much in debt and very prone to divorce.

Marie Colvin and the face of war

December 5, 2018

Marie Colvin was one of the outstanding war correspondents of our time.  She was killed in 2012 while reporting on the Syrian government’s bombardment of the city of Homs.

I never read her work when she was alive, partly because it was behind the paywall of the London Sunday Times, but I got some idea of her work by seeing a docudrama of her life with a couple of friends.  I also read samples of her work collected by the Marie Colvin Center for International Reporting at Stony Brook (NY) State University.

The movie is outstanding in its depiction of the human cost of war. which was the focus of Marie Colvin’s reporting.  It shows her willingness to risk her life to see what was happening first hand.

The first scenes of the movie show her losing her left eye while reporting on the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka in 1999.  Later scenes show her struggling with post-traumatic stress syndrome, and the last scene shows her death.

The movie understandably neglects the other part of her achievement, which was her ability to make contacts and win trust so that she could get to the scene of events and talk to the people.

I have misgivings about docudramas about the lives of contemporary people.  Even when they don’t distort the facts, I feel that I am being invited to invade privacy and learn things that are none of my business

Rosamund Pike gives an outstanding performance, showing Colvin’s compassion, anger, toughness and vulnerability in a convincing way. and it is roughly true to the known facts.  But every time I see a photo of Marie Colvin, I’ll think of the scenes of Pike in the nude.

The movie uses a quote by Marie Colvin that her goal was to make newspaper readers care about the suffering of civilians in war as much as she did.  She wrote once that she was more concerned about the human impact of war and less about the geopolitical implications.

The first episode of the move shows Marie Colvin drawing attention to the suffering of civilians, who were deprived of food and medicine in the Sri Lanka government’s war with the Tamil Tigers separatists.

Well and good, but what could have been done to help the suffering Sri Lankan people?  Air drops of food and medical supplies?  Sanctions against the Sri Lankan government?  Occupation of Sri Lanka by a UN peacekeeping force?

In the American Civil War, the Union forces imposed a blockade of the Southern states and the Union army destroyed crops and livestock.  General Sherman said that war is hell, and the most humane way to wage war is that way that ended it most quickly.

Maybe there was a way to help the Sri Lankan civilians without prolonging the war and the suffering, but it is not obvious to me.

Read the rest of this entry »

Who’s listening?

December 5, 2018

Source: XKCD.

Jill Stein wins a battle for paper ballots

December 3, 2018

Back in 2016, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein filed lawsuits after complaints that tens of thousands of votes had gone uncounted on touch-screen voting machines in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

She lost in Wisconsin and Michigan, but recently won a decision that Pennsylvania must use paper ballots.  The state government, along with a number of others, already had decided to use paper ballots, so Stein won after all.

Stein is regarded by many as a fringe candidate, but she jumped in at a time the Democratic Party leaders couldn’t be bothered.  Now the nation is coming around to her way of thinking on this one issue.

Never dismiss anybody as unimportant if they happen to be right!

LINKS

Pennsylvania commits to new voting machines, election audits by Marc Levy for the Associated Press.

Jill Stein wins election reform in PA by David Schwab for OpEd News.  [Added 12/4/2018]

Jill Stein Lawsuit Forces Adoption of Paper Ballots and Election Audits in Pennsylvania by Bruce A. Dixon for the Black Agenda Report.

Fourteen states can’t guarantee accurate election results by Shannon Vavra for Axios (from August 2018)

The younger generation’s new normal

December 3, 2018

No one under the age of 32 has ever experienced a cooler-than-average month on this planet.

LINK

The Earth has been warmer than average for 406 months in a row by Andrew Freedman for Axios.  Hat tip to kottke.org.