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A White House of Lies

2017-11-17

According to an op-ed in (what else?) the New York Times, we have become unable to distinguish truth from lies.  The Russian disinformation campaign that upset our presidential election was only possible because Americans cannot tell what is true and what is not.  Here is a  quote from the NYT article:

We have a White House of lies because a huge percentage of the population can’t tell fact from fiction. But a huge percentage is also clueless about the basic laws of the land. In a democracy, we the people are supposed to understand our role in this power-sharing thing.  Nearly one in three Americans cannot name a single branch of government. When NPR tweeted out sections of the Declaration of Independence last year, many people were outraged. They mistook Thomas Jefferson’s fighting words for anti-Trump propaganda.

This is the capper, a seriously political question that is a principal cause of most white people’s inability to understand the status of black people:

A related concern is historical ignorance. By a 48 percent to 38 percent margin Americans think states’ rights, rather than slavery, caused the Civil War. So Trump’s chief of staff, John F. Kelly, can say something demonstrably false about the war, because most people are just as clueless as he is.

When not just Don the Con, but his entire executive staff can lie with impunity, there is something seriously wrong with US, the intended audience for this deliberate obfuscation.

Here is a comment attached to the op-ed that describes how complex and deeply rooted the problem is (and it’s not of recent origin either):

William

Manchester, CT 5 hours ago

Good essay, with which I agree. The educational system has collapsed to the point where it is now impossible to produce an educated citizenry.

But there was no golden age either. I went to school in the Midwest in the 1950s when the high school curriculum was laced with civics and history lessons. At least 90% of my classmates, despite that, voted for Trump in 2016. I presumed that they might have remembered and acted on some of what we were all taught. I was wrong.

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It’s True: Don the Con Could Start World War III on His Own Authority Alone

2017-11-14

According to a Snopes.com post, President Don could, on his own authority, could order a nuclear strike using as many missiles as he wished on whatever country he wished.  He is supposed to consult with the Secretary of Defense and the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but he carries a card that has codes on it that he can use to orally identify himself and order an immediate launch of nuclear missiles without fear of contradiction.  Here is what Snopes says:

If the president decided to order a strike, he would identify himself to military officials at the Pentagon with codes unique to him. These codes are recorded on a card known as the biscuit that is carried by the president at all times. He would then transmit the launch order to the Pentagon and Strategic Command.

Blair, the former missile launch officer, said there is no way to reverse the president’s order. And there would be no recalling missiles once launched.

Although fielded and assigned for use by the military, the nuclear bomb is inherently a political weapon, given its almost unimaginable destructive capacity. That explains why the system for controlling the use of U.S. nuclear weapons has been designed to concentrate decision-making power in the ultimate political office: the presidency.

I hope that helps you to sleep better tonight.

Comment of the Day: Renewable Energy As a Threat to Saudi Arabian Dominance

2017-11-06

This comment was posted about a visit on a jet by Jared Kushner to the Saudi Arabian crown prince, who has just arrested a dozen of his closest relatives:

“Died in the Wool” to “Peter Hug” on November 6 at 9:35:00 AM:

Yes, the weak link here is the premise that Kushner has anything of value to offer. Lately all Kushner seems to be good for is begging for cash and grimacing awkwardly at the camera as he recites some platitude or other.

It seems more likely to me that the purpose of Kushner’s visit was to kiss ass with the new power guy. Surely the Saudis are cognizant of the very shaky position currently occupied by the Trump swamp.

Saudi Arabia has the strategic advantage in our relationship. Geographically, geologically and financially, they are extremely strong. It is interesting that renewable energy is the greatest threat to Saudi power — and thus the key to gaining the strategic advantage over the Saudis – yet Republican “patriots” fight with fanatical intensity to suppress renewable energy.

Of course, the simple explanation is that our own fossil fuel corporations and their pet Republicans are so consumed by greed that national security is just not an issue (let alone the future of the planet). I still wonder, though, what would turn up if Mueller were investigating Saudi collusion with the GOP.

Understand that this is a Democratic web site that promotes left-wing theories about these issues, but also understand that the price of solar-electric power panels has dropped so far that they are now competitive with natural gas and cheaper than coal.  Solar-electric power panels are projected to be cheaper than any other form of power within twenty years.  

Article of the Day: Tax Cuts for the Wealthy and Corporations Are Unpopular

2017-11-03

This quote is from an op-ed by Paul Krugman in the New York Times, decrying the Republican tax plan:

And why should tax cuts even be on the table? We have budget deficits, not surpluses, and lots of unmet needs for future spending. U.S. taxes are low, not high, compared with other wealthy countries. Predictions that tax cuts will lead to rapid economic growth have been wrong time and again. And by large margins, voters want taxes on corporations and the wealthy to go up, not down.

The bill currently in the House would raise the deficit significantly and could not pass the Senate under supermajority rules and possibly not even raise a simple majority.  It cuts taxes on the wealthy and corporations and eliminates deductions and tax breaks used by middle-income taxpayers.

Quote of the Day: McCain Decries Republican Budget Cuts for Navy

2017-11-01

This from the New York Times today, in an article about the conclusions of  a Navy enquiry into two collisions in two months between Navy destroyers and large civilian cargo vessels that killed a total of 17 sailors:

Mr. McCain, Republican of Arizona and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, on Tuesday also pointed to the automatic budget cuts on the Pentagon since 2013, known as sequestration, as one of the primary culprits behind the combined 17 deaths aboard the two destroyers.

“We’ve deprived them of the funds to do it,” Mr. McCain said of the continuous operations in the Pacific. “We’re putting those men and women in harm’s way to be wounded or killed because we refuse to give them the sufficient training and equipment and readiness. It’s a failure of Congress. It’s on us.”

The budget cuts he referred to, known as sequestration, were put in force when bipartisan committees failed to agree on budgets each year and the cuts affected all of government.  They were a clause insisted upon by Republicans that was not supposed to happen but did anyway because of Republican intransigence when it came to negotiating a budget that met the restrictions imposed by law.

As it happens, McCain was treated for brain cancer recently, and it is not known generally what his short-term prognosis may be.  Fantasists on the left suggest that he will turn on Don the Con and annihilate him with the truth.  They can continue to dream…

Democracy, Capitalism, Socialism, Communism, Fascism: A Definition of Terms

2017-10-31

A user’s comment about Mussolini’s preferred system of government and its origin in Giovanni Gentile’s political theories has led me to consider a definition of terms and to offer any interested party an opportunity to argue about these definitions.  The terms with which I concern myself are listed in the title: capitalism, socialism, communism, fascism, democracy.  These are words loaded with heavy connotations.  These words are often used entirely contrary to their meanings as ordinarily understood.

Definitions

First, capitalism.  This is not a system of government, but ” and economic system (and an ideology) based on private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit.  Characteristics central to capitalism include private property, capital accumulation, wage labor, “voluntary” exchange, a price system, and competitive markets.  In a capitalist “market economy” decision-making and investment are determined by the owners of the factors of production in financial and capital markets, whereas prices and the distribution of goods are mainly determined by competition in the market.” (Wikipedia; fourteen of the terms used in this definition are discussed in separate Wikipedia articles but the links have been removed to reduce confusion.  Emphasis has been added for clarity.)

Second, socialism.  This is “a range of economic and social systems characterised by social ownership and democratic control of the means of production, as well as the political theories and movements associated with them. Social ownership may refer to forms of public, collective, or cooperative ownership, or to citizen ownership of equity.  There are many varieties of socialism and there is no single definition encapsulating all of them, though social ownership is the common element shared by its various forms.”  (Wikipedia again.)

Third, communism.   This is “the philosophical, social, political and economic ideology and movement whose ultimate goal is the establishment of the communist society, which is a socioeconomic order structured upon the common ownership of the means of production and the absence of social classes, money, and the state.

Communism includes a variety of schools of thought, which broadly include Marxism, anarchism (anarchist communism) and the political ideologies grouped around both. All of these share the analysis that the current order of society stems from its economic system, capitalism; that in this system there are two major social classes: the working class—who must work to survive and who make up the majority within society—and the capitalist class—a minority who derives profit from employing the working class, through private ownership of the means of production—and that conflict between these two classes will trigger a revolution. The revolution will in turn establish social ownership of the means of production, which according to this analysis is the primary element in the transformation of society towards communism.”  (Wikipedia.)

Finally, fascism.   This is “a form of radical authoritarian nationalism characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition and control of industry and commerce.”  (Wikipedia.)  This is the shortest definition, possibly because fascism is the least popular or justifiable form of government.

Oh, yes.  Democracy.  This is “a system of government in which the citizens exercise power directly or elect representatives from among themselves to form a governing body, such as a parliament. Democracy is sometimes referred to as “rule of the majority”. Democracy is a system of processing conflicts in which outcomes depend on what participants do, but no single force controls what occurs and its outcomes.The uncertainty of outcomes is inherent in democracy, which makes all forces struggle repeatedly for the realization of their interests, being the devolution of power from a group of people to a set of rules.”  (Wikipedia; oddly, this definition only includes one link, to an article about parliaments.)

Discussion: Mischaracterizations

So far, this is just copied from Wikipedia.  Where it gets controversial is when we go to defining the actual forms of government in existence around the world.  Many countries call themselves “democratic” or “democratic socialist” but obviously are not.  There is instead usually a degree of fascism, characterized by various levels of authoritarian or autocratic control, use of secret police techniques to suppress opposition, and autocratic direction of industry and commercial policy.

In fact, the United States of America is an example of this mischaracterization of real societal structures.  The leaders call themselves “democratically elected” yet try to suppress democratic opposition and demonstrations with retaliatory measures announced on social media; they even give directions to industries to build their factories within the borders of the country.  The minions try to suppress democratic rights and limit the ability of working class people to vote by reducing voting hours and opportunities and enhancing prerequisites for voting, using gerrymandering to distort election results in their favor.  The leader consorts with and endorses the leaders of other countries that use similar methods or are even more extreme in their tactics.  Another example is the Philippines with a “democratic” government and elections but the current leader is a demagogue with autocratic tendencies who has initiated a brutal crackdown on all users of “illegal drugs” of any sort; he openly advocates the murder of anyone even suspected of involvement in drugs.  The leader of our country has praised the leader of the Philippines and other autocrats while denigrating countries with more democratic governments.

Problems with Democracy

The problem with democracy as practiced in these countries is that the people, lacking education, are susceptible to the blandishments of demagogues who offer simple solutions to complex problems.  Once in power, these leaders institute fascist systems that fail to improve the lot of those who have elected them, in fact actively destroying the stability of the system they  were elected to support.

Another recent publication referred to the American tendency to fetishize self-determination as a contributing factor in our gullibility in the face of propaganda and fake news.

The solution to the problems of government that we face is universal education that prepares the youth for critical analysis of claims by political demagogues.  The current federal government in the US is actively seeking to destroy the objective educational systems that have been developed since universal free education was decreed to be a responsibility of local government.  The secretary of the federal department of education has no experience of school-based educational systems and is devoted to a “home school” fantasy that would place the responsibility for education in the hands of parents.  She ignores the fact that most parents of working-class children have to work all day and have no time to educate their children, much less ability or experience.

The Role of Capitalism

Capitalism is a natural method of producing and distributing goods.  It is the most efficient system for valuing and providing goods that are in demand.  Capitalism is not efficient at serving the needs of society as a whole when emergent situations distort markets or when markets are not free because of power or knowledge imbalances between the parties to transactions.  Capitalism allows ambitious and unscrupulous people to unfairly take advantage of market conditions or the ignorance of the consumer.  Capitalism also allows some people to amass fortunes while others have nothing; in fact, unregulated capitalism is the source of the vast inequalities that exist in most countries.

The sense of fairness impels some governments to institute rules that protect the weaker members of society from exploitation by stronger members.  Regulation of capitalism is necessary to ensure distribution of needed goods and services to all members of society, regardless of their ability to contribute work or capital.  Rules that prohibit deceptive advertising, inspectors to evaluate performance of good manufacturing practices, speed limits, regulation of capital markets, the requirement that banks reserve adequate capital to prevent “liquidity crises”, control of monopolies, and so on– the regulation of markets is a never-ending process attempting to maintain a balance between free markets and the ruthless exploitation of human capital.

The Difference Between Capitalism and Communism and their relation to Socialism

Communism is an ideology that fantasizes a future in which money and governments can be dispensed with.  The attainment of this future always involves revolutionary action that destroys both the bad aspects of present society and the good aspects.  People who endorse communism always want to destroy the current system and replace it with something “better” in a constant effort to reach towards that ideal future system.  The problem with communism is that it fails to allow the good parts of the present to persist– destruction of the bad parts always comes with collateral damage.  The “pushback” against destruction always forces the revolutionary elements to resort to force and coercion to obtain the re-distribution of inequalities.

Capitalism is a natural tendency for selfish people, which includes most of us.  We naturally wish to own things and exercise control over them, to the extent that we are able.  The trouble with capitalism is the development of vast inequalities of property and the consequent suffering of those who have little or nothing.  Socialism is, colloquially,  a way of distributing things in a fairer manner with the use of social structures such as health insurance, unemployment insurance, old age pensions, welfare, and so on.  This soft socialism has the advantage that it can be administered democratically, through parliamentary structures; the more democratic a society is ( that is, the more the voting franchise is extended to all people ), the greater the demand for this sort of socialism.

“True” socialism, involving the common ownership of the means of production, is unwieldy because historically ownership is concentrated in the hands of a few individuals and corporations who wish to maintain their position and the status quo.  Even an extreme democracy in which all people have voting rights (and do vote in their own enlightened interests) will face resistance from entrenched ownership interests when they are threatened.  The isolation of government power from the power of ownership interests who use money to abuse political contests will be necessary to prevent reversion to primitive capitalism.

Large Countries Have Mixed Economic and Political Systems

The systems of the two largest countries in the world, India and China, can be taken as examples.  India nominally has a democratic government, but there are numerous socialist aspects.  China nominally has a communist government, but it falls short in numerous respects (particularly in the provision of health care) and had “liberalized” its economy since 1982, allowing numerous capitalist features and sponsoring many wealthy and powerful individuals.  China also has many features of fascist governments, such as a vast secret police and censorship apparatus and overt nationalism.  Overall, Chinese people have seen tremendous improvement in their material welfare, but they still suffer under an authoritarian/fascist apparatus in their government.

Conclusion

Capitalism is probably a precursor to all social systems.  Democracy in small groups is an early improvement on the strong man system of government.  Capitalism and democracy in small groups is compatible.  Capitalism, democracy, and socialism are also compatible; socialist systems that are democratically imposed are stable and minimally coercive (imposing market regulations, a graduated income tax, and an estate tax are not in the same category as forcing people to relocate in order to correct population imbalances.)   Democracy is not compatible with fascism or communism because of the large element of coercion required to shape society to idealistic or narcissistic ends.

Article of the Day: Trumpism and Proof of Don’s Collusion With Russia

2017-10-30

These statements, in a New Yorker article about Don the Con and his theatrical “release” of the final batch of secret JFK assassination files, struck me as unusually clear and sinister:

But Trump acts in his own interest, and his pursuit of apparent openness has as its real end the undermining of public institutions and practices which depend on professionalism, independence, and trust.

Then there is this explanation of Don’s disdain for the “deep state”:

As David Frum has pointed out, what Trump’s surrogates really mean by “the deep state” is the rule of law. The idea that there are civil servants or functionaries within the government whose chief trait is loyalty to the Constitution and to the ongoing administration of the state is intolerable to the autocratic mind.

And this statement, in the last paragraph, even more sinister:

The effort today is not to get at the truth but to make the truth look unobtainable. By damaging people’s confidence not just in good government but in the separation of powers, which allows one part of the government to investigate another, you create an illusion of powerlessness that can only produce rage and despair, the two emotions that Trumpism profits from.

“Trumpism”– as if Don could produce a coherent, unified policy rather than simply skittering from one obsession to another and one lie to another– is not a coherent doctrine.  It is a melange of talking points directed at the fears and anxieties of the raging white racist underclass, intended to increase their despair and alienation from their own government.  The purpose of this blather is to distract his audience while he deconstructs the government as Obama left it and appoints his rich businessmen friends to high policy positions about which they know nothing– or absolutely the wrong thing.

The indictments of Manafort and his business partner are one thing, but the guilty plea of George Papadapoulos is another.  Papadapoulos has admitted to contacts with Russian government officials starting in March 2016, when he became a Trump campaign worker.  He tried to conceal these contacts from the FBI, but his emails showed that he was lying and he had no choice but to plead guilty.  In addition, he was being supervised by higher members of the campaign staff, and even met with the candidate himself.  He has admitted to acts that amount to collusion with the Russian government and the news media doesn’t appear to realize this.  Mueller has already proven, by this guilty plea, that the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russian government in an attempt to gain partisan advantage in the presidential election.  It’s all over except for the impeaching, and now they’ll have to impeach Pence, too, because he was directly involved.