Saturday, July 23, 2016

Donald vs. Hillary: the winner gets the atomic bomb

The festive celebration of elderly, white-American andropause held in Cleveland Ohio drew to its close without bloodshed. For this we can be truly thankful. Coming next, the coronation of Hillary Clinton in Philadelphia, the "city of brotherly love".   It has been commented that Donald Trump is the only Republican that Hillary Clinton could defeat and that Hillary Clinton is the only Democrat that Donald Trump could defeat. 

The winner gets the atomic bomb.

For me that is the decisive fact. Hillary Clinton is not very honest and her judgement is questionable, but she is not mentally ill. Donald Trump is neither honest nor trustworthy, either, but on top of that, I seriously doubt his sanity,   The idea of Donald Trump in possession of the atomic bomb is unacceptable. For me it is that simple.

This campaign for the presidency of the United States of America shows every sign of becoming the ugliest, dirtiest one in American history. With my mind already made up and as a matter of elementary mental hygiene, I don't want to follow it blow by blow, wading in the filth.  These coming months, not being able to retire to a cave in the Himalayas, I hope to find other things to write about. DS

Friday, July 15, 2016

Cleveland, America's "glasnost" moment?

Thoughts for the day:
“A Republic, if you can keep it.”
Benjamin Franklin
 "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
John 8:32 - King James Version
"Freedom? For whom? To do what?"
Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov
"To whom much was given, of him much will be required"
Luke 12:49 · ‎Luke 12:47 · ‎King James Bible

Understanding the world today would be much simpler if we conceded that gradually after WWII and picking up speed dramatically after 9-11, the United States has evolved into a corporate-military-security state... in short a "regime";  and like our old,  Cold War opponents, the Soviet Union, (which was also a corporate-military-security state-regime), we need to wrap our realpolitik in millenarian ideology... "We are building global democratic capitalism comrades". The "end of history" and all that... while we force-feed political prisoners in our Guantanamo gulag, kill American citizens without trial, etc, etc.
America’s post-September 11th national-security state has become so well financed, so divided into secret compartments, so technically capable, so self-perpetuating, and so captured by profit-seeking contractors bidding on the next big idea about big-data mining that intelligence leaders seem to have lost their facility to think independently. Who is deciding what spying projects matter most and why? The New Yorker 
Here are two examples of who we say we are: 
Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2006 "None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available pursuant to this act shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance to any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree."  109th Congress Public Law 102

So we face a historic opportunity.  We have the chance to show that America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator.  There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity.(...) And now we cannot hesitate to stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights, knowing that their success will bring about a world that is more peaceful, more stable, and more just. Barack Obama - May 19, 2011
Followed by an example of who we really are:
On 3 July 2013, Egyptian army chief General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi led a coalition to remove the only democratically elected President of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, from power and suspended the Egyptian constitution.(...) The US refused to describe the action as a coup.(...) Ensuing protests in favour of Morsi were violently suppressed with the dispersal and massacre of pro-Morsi sit-ins on 14 August 2013, amid ongoing unrest; journalists, and several hundred to a few thousand protestors were killed by police and military force. Wikipedia
A clear example of our reality might be the contrast between Obama's Cairo speech in 2009 or the public encouragement of the "Arab Spring" and then supporting the military coup d'état in Egypt, that soon followed their first free elections in history (while because of 109th Congress Public Law 102, denying it was a coup) where an army that literally lives off American aid (in exchange for not troubling Israel) massacres the supporters of a legitimate, democratically elected government that they have overthrown manu militari, without the White House even giving them a sharp tug on their leash... impossible for anyone, anywhere, to believe that the USA hadn't colluded in it...  Perfectly comparable to the Soviets invading Prague in 1968  to "defend 'real existing socialism'"... All of this brings us face to face with our hypocrisy... rubs our noses in it really.

Perhaps hypocrisy is to be preferred to cynicism though, because as La Rochefoucauld famously said, "Hypocrisy is the homage which vice pays to virtue", which means that if good didn't exist, bad people wouldn't have to pretend to be good... Which is probably the best you can say about America's present performance on the world stage.

Sort of the "Soviet Union Light".

What was it that brought the mastodonic Soviet superpower crashing to oblivion, the straw that broke the camel's back?

What finally caused the USSR to unravel was the simple free movement of information, it was merely allowing Soviet citizens full, free access to the ordinary photocopying machine. That is what brought down the Soviet system.

Could it be a vulnerability that both superpowers might have somehow in common?

What could be America's version of the USSR's Xerox-Achilles heel.

Today facing the security state we have the ubiquitous cellphone video camera connected to Facebook and Twitter, plus a population armed to the teeth, in a country where in many places "open carry" is legal. This is a combination whose dissolvent effects on public order we are just beginning to sample.

In Dallas, the police's use of an exploding robot also gives a sinister hint of the militarization of America's police forces that the establishment feels might be "necessary" if that public order were to be severely endangered. 

What sort of endangerment? Where could this be leading

We might find out very soon.

How about this for a possibly historic clusterfuck? Armed to the teeth Black Panther activists slipstreaming the Black Lives Matter movement go to the Republican convention is Cleveland Ohio, to protest Donald Trump's racism, where they will meet white power Trump supporters also armed to the teeth. This in a state (Ohio) where a black child carrying a toy rifle could be shot by the police. 
The New Black Panther Party, a "black power" movement, will carry firearms for self-defense during rallies in Cleveland ahead of next week's Republican convention (...) Several other groups, including some supporters of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, have said they will carry weapons in Cleveland.(...) Officials in Ohio have said it will be legal for protesters to carry weapons at demonstrations outside the convention under that state’s "open carry" law, which allows civilians to carry guns in public. Reuters
The ingredients for anarchy are all there. If not now, when?

If something dreadful doesn't happen, we might take it as a sign that America's famous luck has not quite run out... yet

Where could the combination of all of these ingredients be heading?

A wise old fellow once said something to the effect that the present cannot judge itself, anymore than we can judge a person by what he thinks of himself... that time alone will be the judge of our present affairs, but that old man also said that the present is always pregnant with the future and in time it will be clear that everything that is to come tomorrow was present in some form today, right now, under our noses waiting to come to fruition. 

Sobering thought that. DS

Thursday, July 07, 2016

November 2016... tick tock...tick tock

If you are an American living abroad, as I do, you are naturally very conscious of the world's opinion of the USA. The question now sometimes asked directly and often implied is: How can a country of over 300 million people, the richest and most powerful in the history of the world, one that, once upon a time, produced Jefferson, Lincoln, the two Roosevelts... even Truman, Eisenhower and LBJ, end up having nothing better to choose from now than Trump and Hillary?

Donald Trump appears like a nightmare product of a poorly digested meal... I find myself much more worried by the masses of people who would support him enthusiastically than by the Donald himself. When he has gone back to his golf courses these people will remain and perhaps, someone more subtle and even more evil than Trump will find many more effective ways to exploit them.

That leaves Hillary

I don't like Hillary Clinton, I never have... or Bill for that matter, although he may have been the most naturally gifted politician ever to sit in the White House, he may have also been the cheesiest too. That odor of ripe Camembert follows the Clintons wherever they go. 

Obama too has been quite a disappointment for me, I agree with Cornell West, that he is a "Rockefeller Republican", having said that, he and his family have had a very beneficial effect on America's image around the world. "Elegant" is the best word to describe Barack and Michelle Obama. As to his "legacy", he will probably be remembered as much for what he hasn't done, like not sending ground troops back to the Middle East, as for achievements like Obamacare, which is pitiful when compared to any European country's public health system.

For me the choice between Trump and Hillary is clear

Hillary Clinton may reek of Camembert, but Trump reeks of sulfur.  

The biggest danger now is that many of the supporters of Bernie Sanders, among whom I am numbered, dislike (loathe) Hillary even more than Trump supporters do and if, as is nearly certain, she is the Democratic candidate, many Sanderistas may either stay home on election day, or go out and vote for a third party candidate or... even vote for Trump.  In sufficient numbers this fugitive vote might end up putting a renegade villain escaped from a Marvel Comic into the White House.

The third-party option is the one that worries me most. Remember: this sort of bickering leading to Ralph Nader's votes in Florida was what brought us George W. Bush... and next to Trump, Dubya, is Joan of Arc. 

The American system has been so constructed as to be very resistant to change and it is a two party system. At this moment the Republican Party seems about to commit suicide and it would be a shame if the Bernie supporters did anything to impede their Trump-led, self-destruction. After the Republicans destroy themselves in November and the Democrats take back both houses of Congress... then would be the time to split the Democratic party to left and right, not now. DS

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Are Freedom and Democracy Incompatible? Peter Thiel thinks so

Peter Thiel is the creator of PayPal, also the first major investor in Facebook and he sits on the Facebook board.
Peter Thiel
Peter Thiel wrote, on April 13, 2009, in the Libertarian 'Cato Unbound' blog, “Most importantly, I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.” In the same article, he also wrote, "Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of “capitalist democracy” into an oxymoron. (emphasis mine) Wikipedia
How does Thiel define "freedom"?
"I remain committed to the faith of my teenage years: to authentic human freedom as a precondition for the highest good. I stand against confiscatory taxes, totalitarian collectives”   Peter Thiel - The Education of a Libertarian
Thiel thinks his freedom is incompatible with democracy. How is democracy normally defined?
democracy ‎(plural democracies)
  1. (uncountable) Rule by the people, especially as a form of government; either directly or through elected representatives (representative democracy).
  2. (countable, government) A government under the direct or representative rule of the people of its jurisdiction.
  3. (uncountable) Belief in political freedom and equality; the "spirit of democracy".
"Democracy" then, means the rule of the "demos". Who are the "demos"?
demos ‎(plural demoi)
  1. (political science) The common populace of a state, the people. Wiktiionary
Where and how is Democracy incompatible with Peter Thiel's freedom?

It's all quite simple, let Bernie Sanders explain:
This is an economic model developed by the economic elite to benefit the economic elite. We need real change.(...) We need to end the international scandal in which large corporations and the wealthy avoid paying trillions of dollars in taxes to their national governments. Bernie Sanders - New York Times
Where is Thiel-style freedom leading?
McAfee, associate director of the MIT Center for Digital Business at the Sloan School of Management, (...)despite his obvious enthusiasm for the technologies,  doesn’t see the recently vanished jobs coming back. The pressure on employment and the resulting inequality will only get worse, he suggests, as digital technologies—fueled with “enough computing power, data, and geeks”—continue their exponential advances over the next several decades. “I would like to be wrong,” he says, “but when all these science-fiction technologies are deployed, what will we need all the people for?” (emphasis mine) MIT Technology Review Magazine
Obviously. from Peter Thiel's personal point of view, democracy and his freedom are incompatible.

In Thiel's defense we should be grateful for his forthrightness, because Peter Thiel is rather innocent in his sincerity. The crafty Koch Brothers, for example, would never come right out and express themselves so frankly, but everything they actually do expresses the same view of democracy as Thiel's.

And they are not just sitting on their hands, they are up and doing something about it.
The House approved a bill Tuesday that would bar the IRS from collecting the names of donors to tax-exempt groups, prompting warnings from campaign-finance watchdogs that it could lead to foreign interests illegally infiltrating American elections. USA Today  
USA Today’s Fredreka Schouten reported that the bill is openly supported by Charles Koch, the older of the two “Koch Brothers,” fossil fuel billionaires whose deep pockets hold a notoriously outsized influence on American politics. Kit O'Connell - Mint Press
This is nothing new. The democratic state, (government of the people, by the people, for the people) has always been the only possible defense of "the People" facing the powerful, who wish to dominate and exploit them.

Again, knowing who the Thiels and the Kochs of this world are, who are "the People"?
The mass of a community as distinguished from a special class (elite); the commonalty; the populace; the vulgar; the common crowd; the citizens. Wiktionary
How long has this struggle between the "Thiels and Kochs" and "the People" been going on?
Aesop: A Lion used to prowl about a field in which Four Oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell a-quarreling among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field. Then the Lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four. Moral: United we stand, divided we fall.
This struggle is nothing new and it has no end. DS

Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit or the wages of frivolous stupidity

What an irony it would be if the Leave vote led the U.K. to break up before the E.U. does. But after a remarkable night and morning, that didn’t seem beyond the bounds of possibility. Very little did. John Cassidy - The New Yorker
British Prime Minister, David Cameron's totally gratuitous decision to convoke a referendum on Britain's remaining in the European Union, Brexit, is a perfectly amazing example of the effects of frivolous stupidity. The rest of us are to be helpless witnesses and perhaps direct victims of his decision for years to come. 
David Cameron, the British prime minister, has no one to blame but himself. In 2013, besieged by the increasingly assertive anti-European Union wing of his own Conservative Party, Mr. Cameron made a promise intended to keep a short-term peace among the Tories before the 2015 general election: If re-elected, he would hold an in-or-out referendum on continued British membership in the bloc. But what seemed then like a relatively low-risk ploy to deal with a short-term political problem has metastasized into an issue that could badly damage Britain’s economy, influence the country’s direction for generations — and determine Mr. Cameron’s political fate.  New York Times
If you like reading history, you'll come across many examples of such frivolity and stupidity doing massive harm to millions of people.  George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq is a textbook example. Millions of people have lost their homes or lives and one of the world's most critical regions is in the process of disintegrating.  

Could Cameron's Brexit have an effect in any way comparable to Bush's opening the gates of hell in the Middle East? 

Knock-on effects are about cascading disasters. The world's economy is still shaky after the crash of 2008 and in today's globalized finance everything is interconnected. How could Brexit set off a chain of disasters?

An example: UK capital, London, is today the world's most important financial center:
London has swapped places with New York to become the world’s leading financial centre, according to a detailed study of 86 cities. Financial Times
It is axiomatic that money hates uncertainty:
One of the only things we can say for sure after the Brexit decision is that the U.K. and Europe are entering a period of great uncertainty. The New Yorker 
It is easy to imagine the knock-on effects of a major disruption of the intricate and intertwined activities of a place where the good and the great of the entire world go to trade currencies, bonds, shares, privileged information, launder and store their money, you name it. 
One likely outcome of negotiations is that banks and financial firms in the City of London will be stripped of their lucrative EU “passports” that allow them to sell services to the rest of the EU. The Guardian
You can't imagine the knock-on effects of disrupting such a place? Think Lehman Brothers just for starters. If one major financial institution starts to unravel, the entire shaky recovery of the world economy could collapse.

Leaving Financial Armageddon behind, the ordinary human effects of  Britain's leaving Europe are worth describing: British young people will now find it difficult to reside or work in EU countries or study in their universities and talented young Europeans will find it difficult to do the same in the UK. This will have significantly negative effects on generations to come.

The future of  Britain's young people is finally the greatest victim of Brexit, but not just the young.

Here is an example of the sort of micro-tragedies that can befall elderly British people here in Spain, where I live. Thousands of British pensioners on retiring have sold their homes in grey and rainy Britain and with their life savings bought homes on the coasts of Sunny Spain, where as members (till now) of the EU, they have a right to residency, socialized medical care and even get to vote in municipal elections. Imagine their distress as they watch all of these rights disappear and even the value of their investment sink.

All this disruption because of what the President of the European Parliament Martin Schultz, calls "a whole continent (being) taken hostage because of an internal fight in the Tory party”. DS

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Muhammad Ali: An American Genius gone to waste

"Boxing is a lot of white men watching two black men beat each other up."

“They don’t look at fighters to have brains. They don’t look at fighters to be businessmen, or human, or intelligent. Fighters are just brutes that come to entertain the rich white people. Beat up on each other and break each other’s noses, and bleed, and show off like two little monkeys for the crowd, killing each other for the crowd. And half the crowd is white. We’re just like two slaves in that ring. The masters get two of us big old black slaves and let us fight it out while they bet: ‘My slave can whup your slave.’ That’s what I see when I see two black people fighting.”

"It's just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up."
Muhammad Ali

What modern athlete, much less one at Ali’s level, has ever talked with such political complexity, ambiguity, or engagement? David Remnick - The New Yorker

Muhammad Ali, a symbol of how racism wastes human potential

If I had to find one example to illustrate how deep racism and social injustice is in America's culture, it would have to be that someone as highly intelligent, brave, resourceful, serious and charismatic, with such a massive power of communication as Muhammad Ali, had to end up semi-illiterate with his brains beaten out in the prize ring... while a second rate, B-picture actor like Ronald Reagan or an immature blockhead like George W. Bush could end up as presidents of the United States or that today someone as weird, mean-spirited and grotesque as Donald Trump could be seriously considered for that job.

"But things are much better today for young African-American men than they were when Ali was a boy growing up in Jim Crow Louisville Kentucky in the 1940s and 50s", you say.

Are they? In the booming economy of the 1950s, Muhammad Ali like many young black people back then grew up in a stable two parent family, with a live-in father, where both parents worked, where his family lived in their own home in a safe, if segregated, neighborhood. How many young black men raised by a single mother in the ghetto neighborhoods of today's USA enjoy those privileges in our present leaky, creaky, drug and gun infested, economy. 

"But what about President Barack Obama?" you reply. To which I would humbly suggest that it is quite different to be raised in Hawaii, where there are practically no African-Americans, than to be raised in Jim-Crow Louisville; quite different to be raised in a prosperous, white, college educated, middle class family and attend an exclusive Hawaiian private school, than to attend a segregated school in Louisville Kentucky... or one on the South Side of Rahm Emanuel's Chicago today, for that matter. 

This is not a criticism of our president, he was fortunate of have his enormous potential recognized early and lovingly nurtured. When that happens, that is the result. Few Americans, white or black... certainly not many African-Americans had that opportunity then or have it now. Ideally, all children should receive that treatment

In short, if you wanted to analyze the dysfunction, injustice and waste of America's human resources, you could begin by meditating upon and answering at length the following riddle. 
Why could George W. Bush graduate with a C-average from Yale and a man who could say, "No Viet Cong ever called me nigger."”, someone who was that intelligent and amply talented enough, who under the right conditions, could have been or done anything, had to have his brains punched out of his head entertaining the "sports fans" he so lucidly described
I think you know why, so do I, but today I'm just too sad to answer that question. DS

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

To Explain Spain: Madrid - 2

To begin with, I have come to believe that simply learning why Madrid is where it is, is the key to understanding thousands of things about Spain, the key to understanding the past, present and future of one of the European Union's most important countries, with deep ties, linguistic, cultural, political and financial to all of the United States of America's southern neighbors.

There are masses of "facts" about Spain on the Internet: just reading what Wikipedia has to say about it could keep you busy for quite awhile. I'm not going regurgitate all of that here. What I'd like to do, within my limited abilities, is to give you some sort of feel for the place, a point of view to take with you before you get immersed in all the multitude of facts and cliches about Spain's culture and history. So if and when you really do begin to study, all that you learn might fall more easily into place.

What do I mean by the "feel" of the place?

When Spanish people who are going to the States ask me what they should see or do there, I tell them that the USA is more or less like it appears in the movies (except there are no subtitles), that American food is the same junk you can get on practically any street corner of the world and that the only thing they can't get from the films or McDonald's is the feeling of America's unbelievable size and distances. What I tell them to do is to spend a week or two in a Greyhound bus crossing "fly over America". The fatigue in their back muscles and the pain in their nether regions, combined with the conversations they will have with their continuously changing and almost always chatty seat mates... while crossing the Great Plains, day after day, will teach them more about America than reading dozens of books, or more correctly, help them make some sense of all that they read.

This, their own private "road movie", will make them "feel" America.

Short of that sort of direct experience of Spain, my readers will have to make do with what follows:

Getting Started

In the first chapter of this series we looked at a map of the population density of Europe, where we saw that the greater part of Spain and nearly all of its center is as sparsely populated as the outback of Sweden or Finland or the forests and western Steppes of Russia... or the Alps.  And we saw that floating in that emptiness, like an asteroid, is a city of over three million people with a population density comparable to London or Paris.

To put that emptiness into physical context, lets look at a relief map of Spain. Madrid being the tiny, red, dot in the middle of it all.
Relief map of Spain - Madrid, the Red Dot in the Middle                   

Looking at the relief map, the sparse population of the center of Spain makes sense, what is hard to understand is why there is this huge city in the middle of what looks like a moonscape. 

Also going there by land is uphill all the way. 

Examine this list of European cities by elevation over sea level.

1-Kruševo, Macedonia 1,350 m (4,430 ft)
2-Andorra la Vella 1,023 m (3,356 ft)
3-Madrid 667 m (2,188 ft)
4-Pristina 652 m (2,139 ft)
5-Sofia 580 m (1,900 ft)
6-Bern 542 m (1,778 ft)
7-Munich 519 m (1,703 ft)
Wikipedia - List of European Cities by Elevation 

Today's Spain is crisscrossed with modern superhighways and high speed trains, but this is a very, very recent development, even as late as the 1970s getting to Madrid from abroad or even from the Spanish periphery by car or even express train... any way except by air was a tedious ordeal.

Imagine during the centuries of Spain's imperial splendor, with no navigable river in sight, what it was like getting to Madrid on horseback, by stage coach or even on foot!

So then, the question arises: why is a city of over three million people and the political, cultural, communication and financial capital of a country of over forty million people and once the capital of one of history's largest empires, so high up in the middle of nowhereDS

(To be continued)