On Alliances

March 19, 2017

I was just thinking about Trumpsky’s comments. About how other countries should pay the US for defending them. About how much we pay for defense, and his rationale for spending more.
He’s a fool. You probably knew that, but maybe someone will explain.
The US, to the best of my knowledge, never spent a dime to benefit other nations.
Ponder that carefully.
The money was for our benefit primarily. If it also helped them, great.
Consider Germany; we spent quite a bit keeping folks like me there in the mid to late 20th Century, in my case on various hilltops waiting for the Soviets to roll across the border. So why did we do it?
Think how many men and women we had in the armed forces, how many machines we bought, and how much this nation spent fighting WWII. Just off the top of my head, I think we had around 7m people in the armed forces.
But not now. We don’t maintain a huge standing army, and that results in an enormous savings. I’ve seen it called the ‘peace dividend’.
Because we have allies. They have men and women in uniform, machines, ammunition, you name it. They maintain armies which allows us to keep ours relatively small.
Sure, we might want them to spend more, but even that has limits. If they expand their armed forces too much, the temptation is there to use them. Sort of what a number of American presidents have done, send troops to fight in wars against nations that had not attacked or even threatened the US.
What we’ve bought with our alliances (including NATO, whose nations are closest to our immediate threat, Russia) is peace and savings. Also security.
Someone should explain that to the guy who works more on his golf game than on governing.

On Treason

January 14, 2017

When is a Conspiracy Theory not a Theory?

Answer, when is is backed up by facts. It helps if the facts are widely known and from reliable sources. This is seldom true, which is why I’ve been skeptical of conspiracy theories in the past. This essay may, in fact, be no more than theory. I invite you to read it, think about it, fact-check it.

I begin with a question: Lacking military and economic assets to launch an external attack, how would an enemy destroy the United States?
Answer, from within. Use US institutions against it. Weaken or destroy links to friendly nations. Do so covertly so as to avoid the risk of open war. That has been tried before, unsuccessfully.

Do we have such an enemy?

Consider recent events in Eastern Europe, the Russo-Georgian War of 2008. Consider the annexation of Crimea. Consider the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Facts, easily verified.
Conclusion, Russia, directed by Vladimir Putin, is expansionist. It is actively engaged in an attempt to bring the former nations of the USSR under Russian control. There is no reason to suppose Putin’s ambitions will stop at that. Some conjecture, but based on fact.

How can Putin remove the greatest obstacle to his ambitions, the United States of America?

Consider American alliances, American trade partners, and American institutions. Consider American weakness. We destroyed the political system set up by the founders. We turned our government over to two political parties, which systematically set up procedures designed to hamper formation of others. Power was their goal, money was the means. Political professionals sold our government for money. Which they spent in the effort to gain political power, which would then be used to generate more money to gain more power. The cycle was endless. We knew, and did nothing.
Our economy was handed over to oligarchs and multi-national corporations, which did what capitalist entities always do: invest money and seek the greatest possible return on that investment. If cheap labor could not be brought in, jobs would be sent to where the cheap labor was. Socialism became a curse word. Capitalism ruled. No one questioned the false doctrine that competition always ensured more opportunity, more social mobility, more efficiency.
Competition could easily be blocked by payment to a Congressman, who would then slip an ‘amendment’ into an unrelated, must-pass bill. We knew, and did nothing.
We sheep prepared ourselves for slaughter.
Vladimir Putin recognized our weakness. Now we come to the recent national elections.

US and foreign intelligence agencies have evidence that has led them to conclude that Russia interfered in the election. Putin ordered the interference. It was carried out by hacking and disinformation, commonly called fake news, generated to aid Donald Trump and discredit Hillary Clinton. Information gathered from the hacks was released through Wikileaks, possibly others. It was furnished through a cutout to protect the source of the information, but hacking is based on code which includes information about where it originated. Intelligence agencies report the hacks were done by Russians and the campaign was directed by Vladimir Putin.
The effort was designed to defeat Hillary Clinton and elect Donald Trump. Clinton supporters considered him a joke at first, a boor, a bully, a clown. Others, victimized by our political parties and the people who control our economy, saw him as an outsider who would reset the stage. Already looking for a way to upset those in control, they were ready when Putin launched his covert effort to weaken the US from within.
The operation succeeded. We elected Donald Trump. Most of those who voted (many didn’t, or couldn’t) voted for Hillary Clinton. Nevertheless, Donald Trump won election.
We assumed his first official acts, nominations of persons to head departments or advise him, were based on foolishness.
But were they? Or were they part of an effort to attack American institutions, part of a covert attack on the nation? Consider the following:
Trump nominated a man to head the Energy Department who once promised, if elected, to shut it down. The Energy Department is responsible, among other things, for the nation’s nuclear stockpile.
He nominated a woman to head the Education Department whose expressed aim is to weaken public education by taking money from public schools and handing it over to for-profit charter schools.
He nominated a man for Secretary of State, fourth in line of succession to the presidency, who has never held public office, never served in the armed forces, but who holds an award given him by Vladimir Putin: the Russian Order of Friendship. This nominee still has deep economic ties to Russia and Russians. The award has been given to many, including George Blake, an espionage double agent from the UK. Fact.
He nominated a man to head the Department of Health and Human Services who once declined a similar position, citing lack of knowledge and experience. Fact.
He has surrounded himself with people who would not question his motives. These include a propagandist, formerly the head of an Alt-Right news organization. Another is a former intelligence director, removed for inability to lead a major agency. Whose ability to bend truth labeled his conclusions as ‘Flynn Facts’. Fact.
Foolish? Or something more?
Donald Trump has already acted to weaken our trading relationship with China. China has responded by pressing harder in the South China Sea, threatening US allies and some who may no longer be allies.
Donald Trump has disparaged NATO, threatening to not respond if, in his judgment, member nations had not ‘been paying their bills’. His remarks were made during an interview with a NY Times reporter. Facts. It is noteworthy that US troops just moved into Poland; their presence is intended to act as a deterrent to Russian pressure. Poland, formerly occupied by the USSR, is now a member of NATO.
Foolish? Or something more?
One more fact: The U.S. Constitution states, in Article Three, Section Three: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.”
The Russian Federation, with the knowledge of and at the order of Vladimir Putin, interfered with the American election in an effort to elect Donald Trump. Putin’s Russia is, by definition, an enemy.
Donald Trump has frequently expressed admiration for Putin and Russia. Fact.
Donald Trump, as President-elect, has acted and spoken in a manner designed to weaken American government institutions, including departments headed by nominees to become part of his cabinet.
His nominations include persons who have stated in the past that they intend to destroy such institutions. He has made statements designed to weaken American alliances and trade relationships. Fact.
I therefore consider the evidence clear,
that more than two ‘witnesses’ have observed overt acts by Donald Trump. He has ‘adhered to an enemy, has given an enemy aid and comfort’. Fact.
By his statements and his actions, Donald Trump has met the definition of treason. Fact.
Donald Trump is a traitor.

Conjecture: Donald Trump may be a fool, but he may also be part of a massive covert attack against the United States, an attack directed by Vladimir Putin. I have not included another conjecture in this essay, that Trump is being influenced by compromising information held in a dossier by Russians.
I wonder if essayists in the past have felt as nervous, even fearful, as I do now?


Turning the Economy Inward, Revisited

January 5, 2017

From an article in the NY Times:
“In a Nov. 15 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, (Steve) Bannon described the goal of the “entirely new political movement” he believes Trump is leading:
“It’s everything related to jobs. The conservatives are going to go crazy. I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it’s the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Shipyards, ironworks, get them all jacked up. We’re just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution — conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement.”
Bannon is explicit in his identification of the enemy:
“The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia. The issue now is about Americans looking to not get f—ed over. If we deliver, we’ll get 60 percent of the white vote, and 40 percent of the black and Hispanic vote and we’ll govern for 50 years.””
Financing this plan means borrowing, increasing the national debt, something Tea Partiers don’t want. The other option is raising taxes, which Republicans generally don’t want. Chance of passing such a plan, not good.
A third option, simply create money by fiat to finance up-front costs is what I believe would work best. Looked at like that, I could find a lot of common ground with Bannon. I’ve described a similar idea and called it ‘turning the economy inward’.
Instead of constantly pressing for exports, which many can’t afford, turn the nation’s attention inward, to fix our own problems. Highways, including the back roads. Power distribution systems, including measures making them less vulnerable to hacking. More wind and solar power. Things like that.
But will the Fed go along? They did, when creating money bailed out the banksters. But to bail out the economy? To bail out ordinary workers?
Will CONGRESS go along? A lot of congresscritters are invested in industries that Bannon’s plan will hurt. It’s like healthcare, if they rein in what Medicare is forced to pay pharma companies, they hurt their own pocketbook. Nope, can’t be doing THAT!
We’ll see.

Sports and the National Anthem

September 25, 2016
I’ve wondered for a long time why the national anthem should be played before for-profit entertainment venues. Would it be appropriate for every used-car dealer to announce his sale by playing the Star-Spangled Banner?
Are the two not essentially the same?
So should fake-patriotism somehow cloak the cheating that is rampant in professional sports? Consider only the NFL and the NBA, but if you’re familiar with the NHL I’m sure you’ve seen it there too. It’s not about sportsmanship, it’s about winning. Cheat? Penalty, free throws, time in the penalty box, 15 yards. Those are commonplace, so commonplace that no one even mentions that it runs counter to sportsmanship. The violations are deliberate for the most part.
So we allow our national anthem to be used to promote cheating?
And are  college games any less of a commercial enterprise? Are college athletics about sportsmanship, or winning?
You might make a case for playing the anthem before high school games, but too often those also fail to teach sportsmanship. They’re about winning, whatever the cost.
Now we’re seeing the national anthem being used as a venue for protesting the disgraceful state of our country, the racism, the divisions, the do nothing Congress, exploitation of the poor by the wealthiest. All those things are part of the resentment that fueled the protests several years ago. People then ‘occupied’ sidewalks, disrupted traffic, walked in public.
Now protesters have taken a different tactic, refusing to stand for the national anthem.
Protests are a public right. You’re not supposed to like them; they’re supposed to make you think.
So will the nation make a concerted effort to become what our founding documents claim we would be about?
Or should sports be about sport, not use the anthem to paper over the failures in sportsmanship with fake patriotism?
Should we ban playing the national anthem before sporting events?

On Climate Change, and Wringing of Hands

August 14, 2016

We’ve been changing the climate since we first crawled down from the trees.
And promptly began cutting them down.
Instead of shade, the sunlight went directly to the ground. Re-radiated heat was captured by water vapor, carbon dioxide, and methane. But there were still plenty of trees, billions of them, so no one noticed.
We built cities. No one knew there was a ‘heat island’ effect. After all, there were still hundreds of millions of trees. The heat island effect wouldn’t be discovered for a few thousand years. Why worry?
We paved over the ground. No one paid attention. Any fool knows better than to walk barefoot on a macadamized highway in the summer; if he forgets, there are blisters to remind him. But there were millions of trees still remaining, so no one noticed.
The deserts grew larger. There had once been trees there, but they had been cut. The rains no longer came. The forest became productive farmlands, which in time became a place called the Sahara. But no one understood, because there were still millions of other trees.
The fossilized remnants of billions of trees, of trillions of tiny plants, were mined and pumped out. Finally, people began paying attention.
There were still a few trees, after all.
But the forests are vanishing. More people need cars, which need more oil, gas, and coal to provide power for them and for the houses. Instead of billions of trees, we have billions of people.
Who are still doing precisely what that first ancestor did, put pressure on the climate.
We could begin planting trees. Trees take carbon from the atmosphere and shade the surface, meaning there’s less energy to be transferred by infrared radiation, which in turn means a reduced greenhouse effect.
But no, all those people need food. Food production takes a lot of land, so we can’t plant trees there. The food needs roads and highways to bring it to the cities where the people live. In their own heat island. Where trees have been cut down to make room for ever higher buildings. To make room for ever greater numbers of people. In an ever-growing heat island. Which is served by more and more highways that absorb solar energy and re-radiate it to the atmosphere, where carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor capture it. In the process we call the greenhouse effect.
How nice! We now know about the greenhouse effect, about heat islands. We have NAMES! Not solutions, but at least we know what’s threatening our world.
The simplest solution, long term, is to plant more trees and let them grow until they’re old. But no; poor people will cut them down and sell the wood for lumber,  or burn it to keep their houses warm and cook their food.
An almost-as-simple solution is to put reflectors alongside all those miles of highway and on all those heat-island roofs. Reflectors send incoming radiation directly back to space, instead of allowing it to be absorbed by the atmosphere.
But that’s ridiculous. Line highways with cheap reflector panels made from sheets of mirror-finished Mylar? Sure, the reflectors would be cheap, but that’s too simple. It would cut down on the greenhouse effect by preventing surface heating, BEFORE the heat is re-radiated and captured by the atmosphere.
Why don’t we wring our hands instead?

Recommended: An Amendment to the US Constitution

May 18, 2016
There’s a failure built in to our system of government. It’s lack of accountability of our federally-elected officials.
Part of this has to be laid at the feet of the two major political parties who control our government. But regardless of who’s to blame, it’s time for a change. It’s time to hold our national elected officials accountable to the populace they were elected to serve.
I suggest the following be added to every national election. Since that’s held every two years, holding officeholders to account after that period of time gives them time to do the job that the Constitution and their oath of office requires. If they aren’t doing the job, we, the taxpayers who pay them, can demand their resignation and if that isn’t offered, fire them.
Add the following at the end of the ballot every two years:
‘Shall Senator/Representative Blank be permitted to continue in elected office? _____ Yes _____ No.’
If a majority of voters choose ‘Yes’, then the Senator can continue to serve and the Representative can stand for reelection. If no, then he/she will resign or be fired after 30 days. If a politician loses this vote of confidence, that’s it; no running for the same office later on. Rationale: their activities affect the lives of all of us, but only a few from a limited geographical area get to decide whether they should continue in office. And that is controlled by a political party, which in turn is controlled by special interest groups with the money to hand over thinly-disguised bribes called ‘campaign contributions’.
Whether any party truly has
our interests at heart is questionable, but unquestionably both parties work for themselves first, the public a distant second. As for politicians in general, they  work for themselves first, for special-interest lobbyists second, parties third, and if that leaves room for the voters, they’re a distant fourth.
So what would happen if a politician is forced from office?
We already have a mechanism for that. The state governor appoints a replacement, who will face the same referendum in two years. If the one forced out is a Representative, the governor would be required to appoint a new Representative from the same congressional district.
Meantime, that new replacement and his/her party will be watching voter attitudes very carefully.
While you think this over and perhaps shake your head, consider this: the Congress has an approval rating overall that’s abysmal. It’s somewhere below the 20% rating and occasionally dips below into the single digits. And there’s not a thing we can do about it.
Instead of voters, politicians listen to the NRA or other special interest groups. The Senate Majority Leader has publicly said that he won’t hold hearings on the president’s nominee for the Supreme Court, despite having a Constitutional duty to do so, and he further stated that he wouldn’t hold hearings of any nominee who was not acceptable to the NRA. This shows the failure of the original Constitution, which was written before parties and special interests with money subverted the original intent.
It’s time for a peaceful revolution. This is one way of accomplishing that.

A Recommendation

February 5, 2016

I signed up yesterday with Delanceyplace.com. They send a nonfiction excerpt to your email every day. I got my first one this morning and I was very impressed.
Disclaimer: I am in no way associated with Delanceyplace.com, nor with the authors of any of their source documents.
As with any email, you’re free to read the excerpt or trash it. I read today’s short excerpt, an article about Thomas Jefferson and how he dealt with what he perceived to be corruption. You can find the excerpt here: http://delanceyplace.com/view-archives.php?p=2996&utm_source=Corruption+in+America+28-30&utm_campaign=2%2F05%2F16&utm_medium=email

I recommend you also keep an eye on the author of the book, Zephyr Teachout. You may one day get the chance to vote for her to be president of the USA. I won’t be around then, I doubt she’ll be ready in less than 20 years, but many of you will be. She may well turn out to be the philosophical successor to Bernie Sanders. Google the name, then think about it.

What do you think?

Good Ideas Gone Wrong

November 4, 2015

Any idea can be carried too far. When that happens, good ideas become bad ideas. As examples, consider the Veterans Administration and the American public school system. Neither institution does what it’s expected to do. How did they go wrong? And are there lessons in why they’ve failed?

In both cases, the failure is caused by believing that government programs can be operated like a business. Eliminating waste in business makes the business more competitive. If carried too far, market influence will force a correction. But schools and the VA aren’t businesses and they aren’t subjected to market forces. Instead, they’re controlled by politics. Politicians invariably cut too much, because claiming they’ve eliminated ‘waste’ appeals to voters.

But what happens when you cut too much? You make the programs ineffective at doing what they’re supposed to do.

In both of these systems, the operating budget controls everything that’s done. The focus should be on the outcome, on what the institutions do, but invariably it’s on the budget. As a result, underfunded institutions don’t do what they’re supposed to do, educate students in the case of the public school system and provide for the needs of veterans through the VA.

Both institutions must select between two choices: provide a quality product to the few, thereby rejecting others, or provide substandard services to the many. We’re seeing that now. Our public education system does not educate students, the VA does not provide adequate, timely care for veterans. Uneducated students can’t successfully operate their own businesses. They lack the qualifications needed to work for others, and there are few good middle-class jobs anyway. This leads directly to high rates of criminal activity and huge prison populations. As for the VA, veterans die while waiting for care.

Testing in schools highlights the system failure, but does nothing to solve the problem. And Mr. Trump plans to ‘reorganize’ the VA if he’s elected. It’s funding, not organization, that’s the real problem.

We can do better. We must, if we expect the American nation to endure.

War, Causes, and Winning

October 16, 2015

War, Causes, and Winning

There are two main causes for war in the modern world. One is simple territorial aggression, based on a lust for power. A nation’s leadership comes to believe that they are somehow entitled to expand their control of lands or people. In the past, this would have led to invasion and conquest; in the modern world, a different form of control is seen, that of the threat. When one power is so large that it’s secure from military action by its neighbors, rattling the sabers is usually enough to force those neighbors to allow the larger one to exert control. We’re seeing this around the edges of the new Russian Empire and also in China.

The danger here is when the saber-rattler misjudges its neighbors. Two regions of the world now face unrest because the two largest nations on Earth are attempting to expand. Russia is active around its European borders and has pushed into the Middle East. China, in addition to disputed Asian border regions, is expanding into the South China Sea, an area claimed by several other nations.

But territory can be lost as well as won, so it must be defended. That’s the weakness of a large nation. Defending those extensive borders is costly. What Russia has been doing, arming the disaffected around her borders to create instability, can be turned back on her and used to counter to further expansion. It’s a risky tactic, but so is what Russia is doing. A miscalculation can lead to world war three.

The second cause is religion, often allied with a kind of tribal identity. Once again, power is an underlying cause, but in this case national size is unimportant. A combatant need not even be a nation. People and their belief systems are the sources of power.

Unless governments understand this, their efforts can’t succeed. US and Western attempts to counter the ISIS and the Taliban treat the two ideologies as if they were nations. Russia is taking a slightly different approach; Putin intends to control Assad and let him deal with the IS ideology. Russia’s risks are moderate and Putin gains influence by having a presence in the Middle East that neighbor states cannot ignore. Will Russia succeed where others have failed?

I don’t think so. They’re directing their operations at territory, not ideology.

Simply put, in a war with religious overtones, you can only succeed if you counter the religious base. That means targeting the mosques and clerics. It means targeting the ‘caliph’ of the caliphate. That means targeting the people involved, without regard to territory.

I see a similarity between this type of war and the American Civil War. That one dragged on until Union commanders realized that destruction of the Confederate armies was the key to victory. Removing support from those armies was also necessary.

No nation or coalition has understood that the only way to destroy the Taliban or ISIS is to take the field with armies and pursue the enemy to destruction. No one has been willing to attack the source of their support, religion. So IS and the Taliban can afford losses among their soldiers; across the Middle East, religious leaders recruit replacements and send them across national borders to join the ‘armies’ of the Taliban and IS.

But that’s the key to winning.

Democrats, Economics, and Me

October 14, 2015

I noticed something last night. Hillary Clinton doesn’t even know what capitalism is. Really. When asked a question, she went on about small businesses. Those are entrepreneurs, not capitalists.
Bernie Sanders calls himself a ‘Democratic Socialist’, but to be honest, he favors the social safety net, not socialism.
As for me, you’re going to have to find a new description. I’m not socialist, I’m not capitalist. But at the same time, I’m not totally against either of these, so long as they’re only part of the economic system. Part, because there are advantages to be gained from those, and other systems.
Begin with private enterprise, AKA entrepreneurship. Someone sees a need, starts a business, begins making a living. Maybe they even hire an employee or two. Pretty much every candidate at least pays lip service to this, even if they don’t know what it is.
Toss in capitalism. If the opportunity is large enough, that entrepreneur can take in a partner who has money, or several thousand ‘partners’. They’re using surplus money to earn more money. Set up a means of selling or buying the shares they own in a company. Now you’re using ‘capital’, and this is ‘capitalism’. So far, so good; but like communism, unrestricted capitalism must be regulated lest it gain control of the entire system.
Restricted capitalism works fine. It earns money for investors, but isn’t allowed to damage the economy. We need more of that. When a capitalist company moves jobs offshore, because that way they make more profit, they damage the economy. We need a system of regulating this, but short of a major tax overhaul it won’t happen. We can’t keep a corporation from relocating to where it will, either to increase profits or to shelter income from taxes; what we can do is tax each corporation based on access to the American economy. You sell here, you pay taxes here, regardless of where you claim to be based. It’s called a gross-receipts tax system, and it can cancel the advantage that corporations currently have.
Meantime, regulated capitalism works well enough for domestic corporation that can’t offshore, things like the gas company.
Finally, there’s socialism. Socialism can be part of the social contract, part of the social safety net. Socialism is direct government ownership or investment in part of the economy. Socialism does what capitalism won’t do, it funds non-profit activities. Used properly, socialism can be the ‘governor’ that regulates the economy. Make the government the employer of last resort. Lose your job? Work for the government. Do what the CCC and WPA did during the 1930’s. All the money paid to workers is immediately spent, generating more economic activity. When the economy picks up, people take better-paying jobs. But no one has to fear going homeless because he/she can’t find a job. And we’ve surely got things that need to be done in this country.
Education and healthcare are two fields that are currently capitalist, but that need to be socialist. Simply put, they’re too important to be provided only to those with money.
So how do we pay for socialist enterprises and the social safety net? Simple: Quantitative Easing, the same system that was used to bail out the big banks at the end of the Bush presidency. It’s how the Fed creates money, electronically. No printing of currency, just an electronic message generating a balance that banks can use. Or, for that matter, the Social Security Administration can use. Or a new Civilian Conservation Corps. The only thing the Fed needs to keep an eye on is inflation. Economists such as Paul Krugman have written that we need MORE inflation to stimulate the economy.
Unlike efforts such as the Trans Pacific Trade Agreement, this doesn’t rely on any other country to help us keep our economy stable. We can do it ourselves.
So: I favor a balance of private enterprise, capitalism and regulated capitalism, socialism, and a social safety net for individuals.
Not socialist, not capitalist. I think you’ll need to come up with a better descriptive phrase for me.