Category Archives: politics

Corporate Dems are not the same as Republicans when it comes to the environment

There is a tendency on the left to equate corporate Democrats and Republicans, and to say that they are all the same. In some regards, they do cater to the same interests and have the same foreign policy, but it is important to not overstate the case. One of the areas where I do see a real difference is in terms of the environment.

I don’t care for commentators on the left who seem to just be on team blue, which is what the Young Turks have become. However, I find myself increasingly at odds with the other extreme, which equates the corporate Dems and Republicans as being the same. One of the commentators who often makes this mistake is Kim Iversen. I appreciate Iversen, because she is independent in her thinking and willing to buck conventional wisdom, but she often opines on subjects where she doesn’t know much and that is clear in her recent YouTube video, where she says that there is no difference between carbon emissions between Democratic and Republican administrations.

Here is a comment that I posted in response to this video to set Iversen straight:
——
Kim, There has been a major difference between the Democrats and Republicans in terms of energy policy, and just looking at total carbon emissions is a very poor way to capture that difference

First of all, roughly half of the US reduction in GHG emissions by the has been caused by the switch from coal to natural gas in electricity generation energy plants. However, those numbers are deceptive, because the majority of domestic oil and gas production now comes from fracking, and there is a lot of scientific debate about how much methane is leaking into the atmosphere from fracking. If more than 2.6% of natural gas leaks into the atmosphere, then it has a higher global warming potential over 100 years than coal, and many scientists believe that to be the case, so the official GHG emissions numbers are probably wrong.

The rest of the reduction in US GHG emissions have been caused by the rise of alternative energy and greater fuel efficiency, and that is mostly due to the activity of Democratic legislation and administrations, whereas the Republicans have generally resisted that. The CAFE fuel standards were mostly passed by Democrats in 1975, with the bill being cosponsored by 14 Democratic Senators. It was the Carter administration that turned fuel efficiency into a major issue, with measures such as the 1978 Gas Guzzlers Tax on particularly inefficient vehicle models. It was the Dems in California who jump started the US solar and wind turbine industry in the late 70s and early 80s, with their big subsidies for alternative energy. Carter put solar panels on the roof of the White House, whereas Reagan dismantled the panels, and fuel efficiency stalled under Reagan’s watch.

It was Bill Clinton’s USCAR ‘Clean Car’ research subsidy plan in Feb. 1993 which created hybrid car technology and got the heads of GM, Ford and Chrysler to come to Washington to promise to develop cars based on it. The Big Three reneged on their promises, but Toyota and Honda took USCAR’s hybrid tech to develop the Prius and Insight. It was the Dems in California who passed the bill requiring 2% of vehicles be zero emissions vehicles, which forced GM to make the EV1. Tesla was created because the founders of the company saw GM destroy the EV1. Tesla has literally pushed the entire auto industry to start making electric cars, but Tesla probably couldn’t have gotten the private capital investment in Dec 2008 that saved the company if investors hadn’t been looking at the guaranteed market caused by California’s zero emissions vehicle mandates which were passed by the Dems.

It was Bush’s 2005 bill which gutted environmental regulations on fracking, which helped create the fracking boom. That boom created a glut of natural gas, which lowered the price of gas and convinced energy utilities to switch from coal to gas. This had real benefits in terms of particulate and mercury emissions, but it is debatable if it really reduced total GHG emissions.

It was the Democratic majority that took control of congress in 2007 that passed the new CAFE standards and the $25 billion loan program to reduce vehicle emissions. Obama’s Dept. of Energy loaned $5.9 billion, $1.6 billion and $465 million to Ford, Nissan and Tesla in 2009-10. Without that money, it is unlikely that Nissan would have produced any Leafs in the US and it would have taken Tesla a lot longer to produce the Model S, which literally revolutionized the auto industry.

The Dems and Obama kept the Investment Tax Credit and Production Tax Credit alive for wind and solar energy, which made alternative energy viable in the early years. It was the Dems in 2015 that pushed through the bill that set a stable ITC and PTC for wind and solar throughout the Trump years. If they hadn’t done that, we would have seen a massive reduction in new wind and solar energy under Trump.

Trump’s anti-China trade war has massively hurt solar deployment in the US. Trump also gutted the Obama’s Clean Power Plan and his new rules to protect waterways which would have effectively ended mountaintop removal. It you compare Biden’s climate plan (https://joebiden.com/climate-plan/) to what Trump would do as president, there is no way that you can say that the Dems are the same as the Repubs. Even if Biden has a Republican-controlled Senate and can’t pass his proposed $400 billion climate plan, what he promises to do with executive orders is significant.

What the MAS victory means for Bolivia

With the election yesterday in Bolivia, the ongoing political crisis that has griped the country for the last year since the “coup” of October 2019 finally seems to have been resolved. While the official results have not been announced from the election, the exit polls say that the Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement to Socialism) decisively won the election in the first round with 52.4% of the vote, compared to the Comunidad Cuidadana (Civic Community) which garnered 31.5% and Creemos (We Believe) with 14,1%. I expected that the MAS would either barely win the election with the required 10% margin over nearest competitor in the first round, or it would lose in the second round, because all the other parties would unite against the MAS to form a majority.

Either way, I expected that 25% of Bolivians on one side or the other of the political spectrum would refuse to accept the results of the election, and we would have another round of protests and marches with the highways being shut down and no food in the markets, just like happened last October in the previous election. Before this election, I noticed that the price of food was rising in the markets and some people were stocking up in anticipation of a crisis.

With the MAS winning so convincingly in the first round, everyone basically has to accept the results, especially since the opposition is in charge, so it is hard for people to claim that the MAS committed fraud to win. This is an enormous relief for me because it means that we won’t suffer through months of political turmoil that I fully expected based on what happened in the previous election.

What most bothered me about last year’s election is the fact that the Organization of American States (which is heavily stacked with representatives that are opposed to the MAS) declared that election fraud had been committed without presenting clear proof to back up its claims. Four different groups (an NGO in Washington and 3 academic studies) analyzed the election and said that they couldn’t find statistical evidence of fraud. Inside Bolivia, many MAS supporters were convinced that the US conspired to overthrow the government of Bolivia, whereas many supporters of the opposition were equally convinced that the MAS committed massive election fraud. Nobody could come to any consensus about what had actually happened, and there was no reliable investigation to determine the facts of the matter. The interim government had an entire year to investigate the supposed election fraud, but it didn’t bother, so people were free to imagine whatever fit their preconceived notions about what actually happened.

My personal belief is that the MAS did commit some fraud, but it was localized and not systematic and not directed from the top of the party, and certainly not enough to swing the election. What bothered me the most, however, is that the interim government actually took down the website with the election data, making it difficult to investigate whether fraud had occurred and there was no published data on the internet of previous elections to do a comparison over time.

As for the theory that the US plotted to overthrow the MAS, I think it is likely that the US government officials did work through the OAS to produce an unsubstantiated report claiming election fraud when they didn’t have the clear evidence to prove it, which is similar to the role that the OAS previously played in overturning a Haitian election when the US didn’t like the election results.

There is some evidence of the opposition meeting with US government officials before the election, but I suspect this was just normal lobbying in case they won the election, rather than coup plotting. I say this because I haven’t seen any evidence of clear US involvement before the October 2019 election, so this is not like the coup attempts where we have good evidence that the US was involved in Venezuela in 2002, 2003 and 2020, Honduras in 2009, and Haiti in 1991 and 2004. As far as I can tell, the US doesn’t have a compelling reason to want to overthrow the government of Bolivia, but the neocons in the Trump administration are hardly careful planners or rational actors (as shown by their ludicrous actions against Venezuela), so it isn’t outside the realm of possibility. Nonetheless, I suspect this is simply a case of US government officials in the OAS taking advantage of an opportunity rather than anything that was pre-planned. Academics are still arguing over whether the US government helped overthrow the government of Brazil in 1964 or not, so we may never have a definitive answer as to what exactly happened.

What I can say for certain is that the OAS report that led to Evo Morales being ousted was extremely light in evidence and long in its conclusions. The OAS never even released the names of the 34 so-called “experts” who were sent to Bolivia to investigate the election or even what countries they were from. In my opinion, their “clear statistical evidence of fraud” was basically non-existent.

All of that being said, I also think that Evo was violating the Bolivian Constitution by running for a third full term in office. The MAS had stacked Bolivia’s supreme court, which used highly dubious grounds to rule that Evo was allowed to run for another term, so I can see why the opposition felt justified in declaring his election illegitimate. Furthermore, a plebiscite vote before the court ruling found that the majority of Bolivians were against Evo being allowed to run for another term.

On the other hand, Evo won the election even though people knew that he was violating the constitution that prohibits 3 consecutive terms for the president. Regardless of what people think about Evo’s actions, I think it is clear that this needed to be handled internally, through the traditional means of organizing popular protests inside the country to throw Evo from power, which is normally how presidents are kicked out of office in Bolivia. It should not have been done through an external body like the OAS producing a report claiming election fraud when there wasn’t much corroborating evidence. Furthermore, the police and the military should not have taken part in forcing Evo, his vice-president and head of the senate from power, in what in my opinion fits the technical definition of a “coup.”

Two of my closest friends in Bolivia lost their jobs due to the change of government and endured a year of unemployment, so maybe this effects my thinking on the matter, because people who I care about were harmed by what happened. At the end of the day, however, the coup did prevent Evo from violating the constitution, and did give the opposition the ability to investigate any fraud that MAS party officials committed while in office, so it wasn’t an unmitigated disaster for Bolivian democracy.

I personally feel very conflicted about this whole situation, because on the one hand, I am deeply opposed to the MAS’s environmental and energy policies and its plans for development based on environmental destruction. Basically, the MAS gave Bolivia 14 years of economic stability and economic growth predicated on a massive increase in the extraction and exportation of natural gas and minerals and promoted massive deforestation. Bolivia got more years of stability and growth under the MAS than it has ever enjoyed before in its entire tumultuous history. It also got redistributive policies that benefited a large portion of the population, and massive investment in education, roads, rural health centers, etc.

On the other hand, that growth is totally unsustainable, and is now coming to an end as the gas reserves now only have about 8-10 years left and the deforestation is provoking changes to the Amazonian water cycle that are leading to massive forest fires. Some climatologists believe that the Amazonian basin is hitting a tipping point from the combined effects of deforestation, climate change and forest fires that could irreversibly change the water cycle and lead to the gradual die-off of the entire Amazonian rainforest. The largest source of biodiversity on the planet is under threat due to the policies of governments that care more about short-term growth than long-term sustainability.

Almost every one of my friends who is an urban professional voted for Civic Community, except my friends who had jobs in the MAS government or are promoters of indigenous rights. My fiance who is a veterinarian and all of my friends who are environmental activists voted for Civic Community. Given that I think climate change is the greatest existential threat to humanity, I should have wanted Civic Community to win. One of my personal friends is running as a senator for Civic Community and I very much wanted her to win, since she clearly understands the environmental threats facing Bolivia. However, I’m closer ideologically to the MAS than the CC, so I felt very conflicted this election.

As I see it, Bolivia faces some major structural challenges, and regardless of which party got elected, I don’t think any of the parties are prepared to face them. Because Bolivian gas reserves are running out, its economy and political system are facing major crises.

At this point, the Bolivian state is essentially bankrupt, and many of the redistributive programs that earned the MAS so much popular political support will no longer be possible in the future. The major problem is that not only are gas prices depressed for Bolivia’s exports to Argentina and Brazil, but Bolivia’s gas reserves are rapidly running out. Roughly 40% of Bolivia’s exports are natural gas, 25% are minerals and 10% are soybeans, and all three of those exports will be dramatically reduced in the future.

The natural gas exports are financing many of the government’s benefits (bonos) that are widely distributed among the population, plus the schools, which have enjoyed a massive increase in their budgets. The popularity and political support that the MAS party enjoys largely depend on the largess and social programs that the party was able to finance through natural gas exports. Those same exports were also able to pay for massive subsidies for fossil fuels. Before the coronavirus caused a drop in fuel prices, roughly 90% of the price of natural gas in Bolivia was subsidized and 60% of the price of gasoline and diesel was subsidized. Bolivia’s cheap energy helped fuel the growth of the Bolivian economy for the last decade and a half, but it is totally unsustainable. Roughly 80% of Bolivia’s electricity is generated by burning gas and the number of private automobiles in the country tripled in 12 years, partly due to the gasoline subsidies.

As Bolivia’s gas and oil reserves run out, the state will have to eliminate these subsidies, which will generate massive social protests, because they will cause the price of everything to rise, from food to bus fares. The biggest single expense in the extraction of minerals and the production of agroindustry and beef is diesel fuel, which means that when the fuel subsidies are cut, these industries will become much less competitive with international prices and their exports and profits will fall.

In other words, Bolivia will suffer a massive cut in the majority of its exports at the same time that the state has to cut back its social spending. By winning the election, the MAS party has been handed a poison pill and its current popularity in the polls probably won’t last long once it starts cutting the fuel subsidies.

More problematic is the fact that the Bolivian state and its private sector won’t have the resources to deal with the major structural problems in the economy that absolutely must be addressed. Bolivia simply has to stop its policy of deforestation to stimulate the production of agroindustry and cattle raising if it wants to have a stable water cycle in the Amazonian basin and avoid the ever increasing forest fires that are decimated larger and larger portions of its land every year.

The soybean producers, coca growers and large-scale cattle ranchers are all potent political forces inside of Bolivia and newly-elected President Luis Arce Catacora is unlikely to confront any one of these groups to detain the deforestation and chaqueo (the practice of burning agricultural fields before planting) that are changing the water cycle in the Bolivian lowlands. Because President Jair Bolsonaro unleashed a massive wave of deforestation in Brazil, Bolivia is now particularly vulnerable to dramatic changes in precipitation and drought in the Amazonian basin.

The second structural problem that Bolivia faces is a looming energy crisis. When the Bolivian state was flush with cash from its natural gas exports, it wasted its profits on new hydrocarbon exploration and the building of massive gas thermoelectric generation plants, instead of investing in alternative energy. Now that the Bolivian state is bankrupt and the economy is in a recession, Bolivia has to find the funds to transition its economy to renewable energy, because its fossil fuel reserves are running out and it won’t have the exports to pay for importing fossil fuels when it can no longer export gas to Argentina and Brazil. 80% of Bolivia’s electricity, which currently comes from burning natural gas, will have to be replaced with wind, solar, hydroelectric and geothermal over the next decade, but it is unclear where Bolivia will get the funds for such a massive investment. Likewise, Bolivia will have to massively reduce its consumption of gasoline and diesel if it expects to have any balance of payments, as its exports fall in the future. Investing in the electrification of transport will be very difficult in a country whose economy is contracting.

Bolivians love to spin fantasies that they will find the next extractive boom to continue fueling their economy just like silver, tin and natural gas financed their economy in the past. Many Bolivians believe that lithium will be the next extractive cycle that will revive their economy after the gas wells run dry, but that is a fairy tale that the MAS party has been peddling for the last decade. Bolivia has 60% of the world’s lithium reserves according to some estimates. Nonetheless, lithium from Bolivia’s Salares de Uyuni and Coipasa will never be competitive with the lithium extracted from the salt flats of Chile and Argentina, because its lithium concentrations are much lower, it has much higher levels of contaminants like magnesium that are expensive to remove, its evaporation rates are much lower requiring more energy consumption, and its transportation costs are higher. Even if new extraction techniques can be invented that take less of a toll on the environment, it is hard to see why international mining companies would choose Bolivia, when Chile and Argentina offer better prospects, and lithium extraction is increasingly moving to spodumene mining in places like Australia.

Once Bolivia’s gas reserves run out, it will no longer have the foreign currency to keep importing gasoline and diesel, and it will have to eliminate its subsidies for fossil fuels. Since diesel fuel is the largest single input for the mining industry and agroindustry, and Bolivia’s geography imposes high transportation costs, a 60% price rise in diesel will make minerals and soybeans much less competitive in international markets. In the long term, the world will face a shortage of the minerals that Bolivia produces, but Bolivia is going to be much less competitive in the short term due to its higher production costs than other countries. What this means is that Bolivia will suffer a massive decrease in its exports of natural gas, minerals and soybeans in the next decade. For a nation accustomed to 15 years of a rising standard of living based on increasing imports, the new economy based on limited exports and imports will be a bitter pill to swallow for many to swallow.

Many Bolivians voted for the MAS, believing that that it would return the country to the good times with over 5 percent annual economic growth since 2005, but no political party will be able to recreate that growth. Bolivia is facing a looming energy crisis that demands massive investment in alternative energy and an ecological crisis which demands a ban on all future deforestation. At the same time, the country’s economy will be contracting and the state will have less revenue from gas exports to meet these demands.

Sadly, the Bolivian press has done a very poor job of covering these issues, and there was virtually no discussion of the structural problems facing Bolivia in the recent election. None of the parties really have plans to address the serious issues facing Bolivia, nor the political will to implement the measures that are needed. Trying to stop deforestation and raise the price of fossil fuels are paths to political suicide for Bolivian politicians, but they are necessary for the long-term sustainability of the country.

All of that being said, the recent election has at least gained Bolivia some needed political stability for the next couple years and a government that will resist IMF structural readjustment policies and neoliberalism that have destroyed the economies of so many developing nations around the world. I don’t see much new thinking in the MAS party, so I’m not very optimistic that it will address the structural problems that plague the country.

On the other hand, the MAS party now has such a large majority in the legislature and is so unassailable politically, that it can afford to consider politically-risky measures like confronting the deforestation caused by the largest cattle and soybean producers and fining their activities. Sadly, I don’t foresee Bolivian civil society forcing the MAS party to consider these sorts of measures, but 1.6 million hectares of Bolivia just went up in flames and the forest fires were even worse last year. At some point, the Bolivian people are going to start questioning the MAS Party’s development plans based on increasing deforestation, and hopefully that will happen sooner rather than later.

Wondering if my vote for president should be the lesser evil or a pointless protest

I’m staring at my absentee ballot and trying to decide how to vote. Since 1992 when I was 18 years old, I’ve been following the Molly Ivins strategy of voting. I vote Democrat when the vote is close, but I vote third party when the race isn’t close to register my protest against a party that seems to have little interest in representing me.

In Indiana, where Trump is guaranteed to win, my vote for the president is effectively meaningless, so I might as well vote my conscience. My choices, however, are a corporate Democrat, an insane Republican, or a nutty Libertarian, which means there is no real choice for me.

I’ve done a deep dive into Biden’s record, and frankly it makes me feel dirty to vote for the man. As head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden was a cheerleader for military intervention to overthrow Saddam Hussein since 1998 and backed the murderous sanctions that killed half a million Iraqi children according to the UN. Biden then helped railroad the nation into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I keep thinking about the 4.7 million Iraqi refugees that were caused by a war that Biden was uniquely placed to have stopped, if he had called for Senate hearings to question Bush’s assertions that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Instead, Biden packed the Senate hearings with sycophants to American militarism to pave the road for endless war in the MiddleEast.

Let’s not talk about how Biden was one of the chief Democrats in the Senate who helped usher through NAFTA and Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China, and the other free trade deals that destroyed 6 million American manufacturing jobs. Biden was one of the people that helped transform the Democratic Party to represent the interests of multinational corporations at the expense of the working class.

Biden spend his career in the Senate as a lackey for the financial industry and was a major promoter of the financial deregulation in the late 1990s that led to the crash of 2008-10. Part of the reason why Biden was chosen to be Obama’s VP was because he was the favorite lickspittle of the big banks. As we found out from Wikileaks, Obama’s entire cabinet was chosen by a Citigroup executive in 2008. Selecting Biden to be his VP was Obama giving thanks to the financial industry, which dumped more money on his 2008 election campaign than any other group. It isn’t an accident that no Wall Street executives went to jail after committing massive fraud that wrecked the global economy in 2008-10, and that Obama did nothing to stop the banks from foreclosing on 4.6 million American homes after the government bailed out the big banks.

On top of all that Biden has a history of lying about his 40 year record of trying to cut Social Security and he regularly spouts misinformation about Medicare for All, which he promises to veto if Congress ever passes it. Finally, let’s not forget Biden’s despicable role in leading the charge to pass the 1994 Crime Bill and his role in helping to put Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court by undermining Anita Hill’s testimony.

All that history goes through my head as I stare at the ballot. I know that if I write Howie Hawkins’ name on the ballot, it will never be totaled, so my vote becomes effectively meaningless, because officials in the Democratic party won’t pay a bit of attention to the fact that I voted Green as a protest vote. If the voting were close, I’d hold my nose and vote for Biden, but the vote isn’t close, so I have the luxury of indulging my conscience.

The only thing that makes me hesitate is the fact that I have looked at Kamala Harris’ plan to fight climate change. She actually had some solid policy proposals for the existential threat that faces humanity. Of course, good plans are meaningless if the politician has no gumption for standing up to special interests, and Harris has demonstrated repeatedly that she has no spine throughout her career.

Nonetheless, I have spent enough time reading climate science that I have basically become a single-issue voter. I have perused most of James Hansen’s papers that he has published over the last 10 years and I’m frankly terrified about the long-term future of humanity. It took me 7 hours to plow through Hansen et al (2016) and by the time I was done, I was convinced that 5 meters of sea level rise over the course of a century is a real possibility. I read Peter Ward’s book about how hydrogen sulfide has caused a number of mass extinctions in the history of the planet and how another extinction is probably in the offing. I spent a couple weeks reading several dozen articles about past extinction events, until I couldn’t take it any more.

At this point, I would vote for the devil himself if he would give the US sane climate policy. What goes through my head is the question whether Biden will do anything meaningful about climate change. It is the one policy area, where Biden actually improved his position after negotiating with the Sanders campaign. Sanders was planning serious executive orders that had real teeth on climate change, but I doubt that Biden will do diddly. We won’t get a ban on new arctic drilling, new off-shore drilling, new extraction of fossil fuels on federal lands or EPA enforcement to stop mountaintop removal, like we would have gotten with Bernie Sanders as President. However, I hold out hope that Harris might be the point person in the administration on this issue, and we just might get some good executive policy, even if the Democrats don’t take the senate.

So I’m in a quandary about how to vote this election. I think about ocean acidification, and I reflect, “well doing something is better than nothing, and the ecosystem doesn’t care about my feelings about the Democratic Party.”

Then, I think about how Biden has made it very clear that he will continue the sadistic policy of economic warfare against Venezuela, which is part of the reason why there are now 5 million Venezuelan refugees. Yes, I know Maduro’s own economic policies caused Venezuelan farmers to stop producing food, but the US has a deliberate foreign policy of forcing millions of Venezuelans to starve. I see Venezuelans begging on the streets of La Paz, Bolivia every day where I live. I know that Biden will be just as callous as Trump toward the Venezuelan people. Every time I see a Venezuelan woman with baby in her arms begging on the side of the street, I will have to think about the fact that I voted for the heartless monster who wants that baby to be malnourished as a matter of US policy. I also know that Biden will continue waging war in 8 different countries and dropping 30,000 bombs on the Middle East every year.

Voting against the hope for better climate policy feels wrong, but putting my mark next to Biden’s name means that I am endorsing his long history of corporate centrism that is slowly destroying the US as a nation. The Democratic Party is supposed to be the party that stood up for working people. Joe Biden was one of the people that helped dismantle the party of FDR and turn it into a party of that panders to the professional class and Wall Street. One of the reasons why the US is a country where 0.1% of the population own 92% of the wealth is because the Democratic Party stopped representing working Americans. When Bill Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council moved the party to a position of centrist triangulation to pander to the rich and powerful, it displaced the traditional role of the Republicans. The Republicans in turn were pushed to become the party of the lunatic fringe that catered to the darker currents of xenophobia, racism and religious extremism.

The worst part is that I know that millions of Americans have deluded themselves into believing that getting rid of Donald Trump will some how save America. Despite what Joe Biden’s web site may claim, he isn’t running on any policy except returning the United States to the days before Trump, which were exactly the conditions which gave rise to Trump in the first time. Because Biden promises to do nothing to address the structural problems that gave birth to Trump, the Republican Party will be primed to vomit up another right-wing populist in another 4 years, who is far smarter and more disciplined than Trump. For all the damage that Trump has done, a strategic right-wing populist like Tom Cotton or Josh Hawley will likely be far more effective at undermining democratic institutions than a lazy bumbler like Trump.

In all likelihood, Biden will end up winning, simply because he got lucky enough to be nominated in a year where Trump’s own incompetence finally caught up with him when he failed to deal with the coronavirus. Biden’s win will serve to cement the belief in the leadership of the Democratic Party that they can go on giving the middle finger to the progressives that form the base of the party. They will continue believing erroneously that they can afford to keep ignoring all the people that have been marginalized and alienated by their neoliberal policies. Screw the youth, screw the Latin@s, screw the working class, and screw the progressive left in general. All that matters is winning suburban swing voters who are alienated by Trump’s uncouth behavior. That strategy will only further convince an entire generation of youth that there is no point in wasting their time with electoral politics when both of the parties have shown them the door.

Yes, the Democrats probably will win this election with a strategy of courting suburban Republican voters, but it means that Joe Biden has no policy agenda aside from reverting Trump’s executive orders and his ludicrous tax bill that gave 83% of the tax cuts to the top 10%. He will do nothing to address the structural problems that plague America and have led to a nation of extreme inequality. In 2022, Democratic voters will see no reason to turn up in the polls, because just like in 1996 and 2010, they will see how little the Democrats have done to fight for their interests when they control the government, so why bother turning out for them? By 2024, after 4 years of meaningless centrist triangulation, many voters will be so disgusted that they will be ready to turn to the next right-wing populist who promises to throw a brick at the system, just like in 2016.

I wouldn’t feel so bitter about being forced to vote for a corporate sellout like Biden who spent his legislative career catering to the big banks and who lied repeated about his record on the debate stage, if he had legitimately won the hearts and minds of his voters. The worst indictment of the system is the fact that poll after poll showed that Democratic voters favored the agenda of Bernie Sanders over Joe Biden. The CNN exit polls on Super Tuesday which set Biden on the path to victory found that the majority of Democratic voters in every state supported Medicare for All, even in conservative southern states. In the last poll I saw, only 9% of the voters who support Joe Biden in the general election say they are voting for him for his policy positions.

The exit polls showed that Super Tuesday voters believed that Joe Biden was the candidate with the best chance of beating Trump, yet that belief was not grounded in anything measurable. The matchup polling at the time showed that Sanders would beat Trump by the same margin as Biden and it had been that way for months. Democratic voters favored the policies of Sanders over all other candidates, but their overwhelming concern in the exit polling was getting Trump out of office, so they voted for the candidate who the media touted as a winner after South Carolina. If the media had done its job and properly informed the voters that Sanders had just as good of a chance of beating Trump as Biden, then the voting would have likely been very different. After Sanders won Nevada, he received three times more negative coverage at CNN than Biden after he won South Carolina by a similar margin. Just before Super Tuesday, the media relentlessly pumped the narrative that Biden was a winner and he was the best candidate to beat Trump.

What the media didn’t cover was the repeated lies that Biden told about himself:
* he was against the war in Iraq when he voted for it,
* he hadn’t tried to cut social security 3 different times,
* he had been against the surge in Afghanistan when he was advocating for it,
* he had been against NAFTA before he voted for it,
* he had marched in the civil rights movement,
* he was arrested in South Africa trying to visit Nelson Mandela,
* he had worked as a coal miner,
* he was shot at in the Green Zone in Iraq,
* his helicopter was “forced down” into “the superhighway of terror” between Afghanistan and Pakistan,
* he knew where bin Laden was hiding in the mountains of Afghanistan,
* he pinned a metal on a solder in the “godforsaken country” of Konar province, Afghanistan,
* he was the only one in his class to go to law school on a full academic scholarship (he didn’t get any academic scholarship),
* he graduated in the top half of his law class (he was 76th in a class of 85),
* he got three degrees in undergrad (he only got two degrees),
* he claimed that the New York Times concluded that the incident with Tara Reade hadn’t happened (which isn’t what the Times concluded)
* he claimed that Medicare for All would provide worse coverage and cost more than his health care plan (Biden’s plan will cost $50-$80 billion more per year and kill 13,000 more Americans per year than Medicare for All)

It is baffling that a man would win the primaries who has numerous corruption scandals involving his son and brother, has a history of being a serial liar, has a damning legislative record, and promotes policies which don’t match the views of the majority of voters in his own party. Yet, it becomes clear how it could happen when examining how little the press covered any of these issues. Biden probably would not have won if the media had done its job and actually informed the voters who they were voting for on Super Tuesday, instead of pumping a particular candidate as a winner to beat Trump. Maybe people would not have been more hesitant to vote for Biden as the man to beat Trump if the media had explained how poorly he appealed to Latino voters and the youth in general and how little blue-collar white workers identified with “working-class Joe” from Scranton during the early primary races.

It is hard to feel anything but disgust for an election system where people vote against their professed beliefs because the media not only failed to adequately cover the candidate’s record, but consistently downplayed and undermined the electoral chances of another candidate whose policies better aligned with people’s policy preferences. The most disgusting aspect is watching the media misinform the voters about the very policies that they favor.

It makes me feel sick inside to think about my choices this election, but at least I know that whatever name gets marked on my ballot is essentially meaningless, because my vote for the president doesn’t count. I don’t vote in one of the few swing states that will decide the election, so my anguish about which name to mark on the ballot is little better than mental masturbation.

Herd immunity may be the least worst option, but we won’t consider it

It seems that the world has a collective inability to think long-term about the COVID-19. Everybody seems to assume that after the first quarantine is lifted, that life will go back to normal, but that is not very likely. It will take 1 to 2 years to develop a vaccine and probably another year to mass produce it and vaccinate most people on the planet, so we are facing 2 to 3 years of dealing with the coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV-2.

A few countries have developed more effective strategies to deal with the coronavirus. South Korea is the only country which has managed to stop the number of COVID-19 cases from growing. It uses wide-spread testing, rapid response and contact tracing, which is expensive and requires an effective government to hunt down every case and test every person who came into contact with the infected. Japan has kept its number of cases low, through social norms based on cleaniness, hand washing, mask wearing and people following the rules when authorities impose quarantines in an area, but its number of cases is still growing. Singapore has imposes strict quarantine rules and contact tracing. Hong Kong has basically shut down, by closing the schools and imposing a strict quarantine, and closing the border with China. A number of countries like Taiwan and Vietnam have so far managed to keep the coronavirus out of their country by catching the cases at the border.

Nonetheless, I doubt that these tactics will contain the virus for the next 2 to 3 years. Once businesses start operating normally and social gatherings take place, it is likely that many of the countries that have been able to do rapid response and border catching will have to go into quarantine and start shutting down their economies just like other countries are doing.
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The bitter lot of the establishment Dems

Oh, the wailing and gnashing of teeth by the establishment Democrats! For aeons they have ruled their party, but now they see the horde coming. They are caught between a dragon and a smelly, unwashed horde. The dragon is detestable, but he is corrupt enough to be bribed and lazy and incompetent enough that he isn’t a real threat to their way of life. The horde, however, is filled with cries to take away their power and privilege, and they fear it more than anything.

They declaim the barbarian ruffians and their low-born ways, and rend their garments in dismay at what their beloved party has become.

They turn seeking a champion to fight off the horde, but alas, they find no champion to defend them from the ravages of the horde.

The blade of their former white knight has grown old and rusty. It is almost sad how much he has declined mentally, so he can barely take to the field any more.

Their savior in the wings turned out to be nearly as bad as the dragon that they need to defeat on the field of battle, but without any of the dragon’s populist appeal.

Their bright young page, so good looking and clean cut, turned out to be devious and untrustworthy. The upper crust of polite society liked him, but the unwashed masses, especially the browner folk, refused to give him the time of day.

Their stalwart, who was the backup to carry their standard when their white night fell, proved to be sharp tongued and quick witted in her public banter, but the browner folk barely paid her any mind.

They used to detest their final option, but she was far less of a threat than the horde that they see coming. They were ready to give her their blessing as a last ditch effort to prevent the horde from taking over. However, once her supporters figured out how little spine she had, they abandoned her and joined the horde.

Oh alas, oh dismay! How cruel to accept the bitter fate set before them. They must either join the horde or bow before the evil dragon. They will lie about it, but deep down they know that they have only themselves to blame for their bitter lot in life, so we cannot join them in their tears.

Whether you believe Bernie or Warren, this dispute harms the progressive cause

At this point, it is impossible for us to know exactly what was said in that private meeting between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in 2018, and it frankly shouldn’t matter, since it has nothing to do with the policies that either Sanders or Warren will try to enact as president.

My personal belief is that Bernie told Warren bluntly that Trump will employ sexism against her, and she interpreted that as meaning that no woman could win the US presidency. Given the fact that Bernie wanted Warren to run for president in 2015 and there are a number of indications that he would have chosen Warren as his VP if he had won the nomination in 2016, Bernie was probably trying to warn Warren, and she took that warning in a different light to mean that no woman could win.

I’m afraid that the current dispute between Bernie and Warren means that the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is going to lose. My best guess is that Bernie will win Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and California, and Biden will win South Carolina and a bunch of Super Tuesday states, but it is unlikely that any of these will be run-away victories, so there will be no clear front runner. Warren, Yang, Buttigeig, Steyer and Bloomberg will have enough money to stay in the race till the bitter end, so it will be very hard for any candidate to get over 50% of the delegates before the convention. If Bernie is going to win, he needs Warren’s delegates, but I’m afraid that they have created a rift that will make if very difficult for Bernie to come to an agreement with Warren, such as offering her a position as his VP.

Likewise, there is the possibility that Bernie will need to throw his delegates to Warren in order to prevent Joe Biden or another establishment candidate from winning the nomination. In order for that to happen, Bernie will need Warren to commit to certain policies, but this dispute will make it harder for Bernie and Warren to come to any agreement at the convention.

Before this dispute, I was pretty sure that both Bernie and Warren would be willing to put personal considerations aside and act for the greater good of the progressive causes that they champion. However, if they can’t act as a united front in the convention, it becomes more likely that the establishment Democrats will consolidate their delegates around one candidate and win, which is why these recent events make me sick.

Whether you believe Bernie or Warren, this dispute helps no progressive. Many of Bernie’s working-class and minority voters are considering Biden and many of Warren’s white liberal supporters are considering Buttigeig, so if voters change their mind after watching this dispute, they are likely switching to establishment candidates. According to a recent Morning Consult poll, Bernie and Warren have the first and third highest favorability ratings among Democratic voters, respectively, and this dustup is likely to damage the reputations of both the progressive candidates in the race.

The real villain in this dispute in my opinion is CNN. According to Cenk Uygur, CNN sat on this story for months before releasing it right before the CNN debate, which seems like a transparent ploy to drive up its ratings, as Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone points out.

CNN didn’t even try to be objective in how it reported on the story or how it asked the questions during the debate. In my opinion, something Bernie said in a private conversation to Warren is not an appropriate topic in a debate, but if CNN decided to ask a question about it, the CNN moderator should have asked both candidates to tell us what words they recall from that meeting, rather than simply assuming that Warren’s telling was correct. CNN was clearly more interested in generating sensational sound bites and pushing its own political agenda during the debate, rather than trying to inform the public. The CNN commentators on the debate failed entirely to discuss what Nathan Robinson at Current Affairs calls Warren’s “credibility gap” and examine her “long history of saying untrue and distorted things for politically opportunistic reasons.”

America at a fork between two diverging paths where the status quo won’t hold

America will either go populist left or populist right, but it won’t stay the same. The old neoliberal paradigm which has governed American politics for the last 4 decades holds very little appeal for the majority of voters in the U.S. who are growing increasingly alienated from the current system that governs in the interests of the wealthy and powerful. Sooner or later, the American people who the polls show to be thoroughly disgusted with the current system will vote out the corporate centrists in both parties who have spent their careers promoting it.

I am both more hopeful and more fearful about American politics than I have ever been in my entire life. America might become a progressive European-style social democracy that leads the world in tackling social inequality and climate change and reducing militarism around the globe, or it might devolve into a dangerous right-wing dystopia, filled with inequality, racism, sexism, zenophobia and religious bigotry which oppresses minorities and walls out the rest of the world. It appears to me that the US is standing at the fork in the road, and is teetering between two fundamentally different paths.

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Problemas serios en el informe preliminar de la OEA acerca de la elección boliviana

He leído las 13 páginas de los “Hallazgos Preliminares” de la OEA acerca de la elección del 20 de octubre en Bolivia. En la primera lectura creo que demuestra que hay muchas evidencias de fraude electoral. Sin embargo, yo veo varios problemas en el informe después de la segunda lectura del mismo.

El primer problema es que la OEA no es un organización adecuado para juzgar la evidencia electoral porque la OEA tiene un historial que apoya la posición de los EEUU y sus acciones en las elecciones de 2000 y 2010 en Haití demuestra que la OEA no es una organización fiable en cuestiones de análisis electoral. Se necesita un análisis por otro grupo que tenga un pasado de independencia política. Continue reading

Bolivians are divided in opinion, which will only complicate the painful path forward

Bolivia recently witnessed the dramatic end of Evo Morales’ presidency. From what I have been able to gather, I would guesstimate that roughly a fourth of Bolivians are convinced that Evo Morales was forced out of office by a coup d’etat. A larger percentage between a third and a half of Bolivians are convinced that Evo was forced to resign, because the MAS Party committed widespread election fraud.

I am struck by how passionately both sides believe that they were wronged. The MAS partisans believe that it was possible that the MAS improved its winning margin from 7% to 10% after the unofficial quick count stopped reporting results, because most of the late tallies were coming from rural areas which heavily favor the MAS. Many of the Masistas that I have talked to believe that it was just a few bad apples who committed election fraud, but not the result of a systematic campaign directed from the top of the party. MAS partisans are convinced that the Organization of American States is not a neutral party, and the US and its surrogates in Latin America have long conspired to overthrow Evo. If asked how they explain the finding of widespread election fraud by the OAS, they will say that the OAS took a few isolated incidents of fraud and projected that to have occurred everywhere in the country.
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Conservatives have only themselves to blame for the Green New Deal

American conservatives are finally starting to acknowledge that climate change is a real problem, and not just some dastardly liberal plot to raise their taxes and control their lives. Even though the majority of Republican voters now say that they believe that climate change is happening and humans are the cause, they are still engaged in a type of denialism about the kinds of solutions which are required to tackle the problem. Continue reading

Responding to a critic of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)

Kim Iversen is a progressive YouTube commentator who I generally respect, but I profoundly disagree with one of her recent videos discussing why a number of progressives in the US House of Representatives, such as Tulsi Gabbard, Ro Khanna and Ayanna Pressley, voted for a resolution condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against the state of Israel.

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Trump’s counterproductive ban of Huawei

When the Trump Administration decided to ban Huawei, it displayed a shocking level of ignorance about how the global tech industry operates. It is not surprising that the US government sees Huawei as a threat. Huawei is the now the second largest smartphone maker in the world, growing from 5% of smartphone shipments in Q1 2015 to 17% in Q1 2019. Likewise, Huawei has become the largest maker of telecom equipment in the world, growing from 8% of the market in 2013 to 29% in 2018.

The problem is that banning Huawei from using tech from American companies will have widespread consequences in the American tech industry and the economy as a whole. One out of four of Huawei’s 263 suppliers last year were American companies, and I suspect that those companies (Flex, Broadcom, Western Digital, Qualcomm, Micron, Seagate, Intel, etc.) will be lobbying like mad to reverse this decision, because they know that Huawei, unlike ZTE, has the resources to either make their own chips or to use Chinese suppliers, so they will be cut out of Huawei’s supply chain. For example, Huawei’s Kirin processor is already competitive with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon and Huawei will no longer be selling to the American cellular market, so it can stop using Qualcomm’s modems. Continue reading

We should be grateful that Mueller just made Trump unimpeachable

I always thought that the Russian collusion story was improbable and largely a distraction pushed by the establishment Democrats to deflect from the fact that they ran such a horrible presidential campaign in 2016 that alienated their base and the working class. Rather than reform the party, the establishment Democrats used Russia as their excuse for why they lost and most of the media ran with that story.

What bothers me is that the media invested so much time in the Russia story which was always sketchy when we have much clearer cases of Trump doing specific policies in favor of Saudi Arabia, Israel and China and receiving personal financial benefit in violation of the emoluments clause of the constitution. However, what most bothers me is the fact that the Russia story sucked up so much oxygen that the media didn’t focus on Trump’s policies, which is what matters. The other thing that bothers me is that the Russian collusion story has helped push the US into a new cold war with Russia.
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Ranking the Democratic candidates for the US presidency

It is deeply depressing that the US presidential race started in late December 2018, which is 14 months before the Iowa primaries and 23 months before the general election. In order to maintain my sanity, I have decided to ignore all the coming drama over the next 2 years. Instead, I decided to sit down and rank the Democratic candidates in my order of preference, based on the issues that matter, not the soap opera that plays out in the news media. Now I can safely ignore the daily news for the next two years, but I decided to share my list, just in case it helps others who don’t feel like following all the silliness that passes for news now-a-days.

1. Bernie Sanders
Bernie is the best candidate on the economic issues and he is the best in his ability to speak to working-class people to rally their support. Bernie is not eloquent, but he has a way of speaking that makes you believe it in your bones that he will fight for you and he won’t give up, come hell or high water.

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Why calling Bernie Sanders a “sellout” is missing the point

Anyone who follows the progressive left in the US has probably encountered a lot of criticism of Bernie Sanders ever since he endorsed Hillary Clinton for president and campaigned for her to beat Donald Trump in 2016. Some of Sanders’ biggest supporters during the 2016 primaries, such as Jimmy Dore and Debbie Lusignan, the host of Youtube’s the Sane Progressive, have now become his biggest critics.

I was disappointed by Bernie’s reaction to many of the obvious attempts to manipulate the vote in the 2016 Democratic primaries. In my opinion, he should have publicly criticized the Democratic Party for engaging in this skulduggery, but I also understand why he didn’t. He saw his candidacy as a way to raise important issues in the Democratic party and force them to be discussed on the national stage. He knew enough about the machinations inside the Democratic Party to know that he would not be allowed to win the nomination for president, which is why he was able to keep campaigning with such passion on the issues even when he knew that he would loose.

At the end of the day, he wanted the Democrats to win the presidency no matter what because he has spent the last 3 decades in congress watching the Republicans gut the policies he cares about. He knew exactly how evil Trump would be as president, because he had seen what past Republican presidents did to the environment, labor rights, market regulation, etc. He has no illusions about corporate Democrats like Obama and the Clintons, but he knew that he could still push on important issues under a Hillary presidency, whereas that would be impossible under Trump.

Bernie was afraid that if he raised the issue of election fraud and all the dirty tricks of the Hillary campaign, that it would discredit her in the general election and the Republicans would win. With hindsight, many of us on the left wished that he had, since Hillary ended up loosing anyway. Basically, Bernie decided that the short term political impact of denouncing the dirty practices in the Democratic Party would be worse than the long-term good that it might cause in pushing the party to reform.

Bernie has always been a politician who values small, but tangible gains, which is why he spent so many years fighting for amendments in Congress. Maybe Bernie’s decisions were too short-term in scope, but we should also realize the long-term strategy that Bernie is playing. First of all, he is now angling to really win the presidency in 2020 and he thinks that the party might allow it to happen, whereas it wouldn’t in 2016. This means that he has to play a delicate game where he doesn’t totally alienate the bigwigs in the party, but tries to show them that the best way to win is a populist left strategy not based on corporate and big-money donations.

He founded Our Revolution so that progressive activists could work to reform the Democratic Party from within, while he pretends that he is not involved. This means that Our Revolution can work to get elected progressive candidates, but they generally don’t primary sitting establishment Democrats in congress, and they leave that work to Brand New Congress, the Justice Democrats and the Democratic Socialists of America. This means that Out Revolution can work on changing the rules of the DNC, but Bernie has to pretend that he doesn’t have a dog in that fight. He can publicly criticize the party, but he has to keep that criticism within certain acceptable bounds, and one of those limits is not talking publicly about the dirty tricks that were played against him.

These strategies have disenchanted many former supporters like Jimmy Dore, who want Bernie to found a third party that will force the Democratic Party to either coopt their issues or risk loosing elections. I understand the third party strategy and historically it has worked. Almost every progressive idea that was adopted by the Democratic and Republican Parties between 1870 and 1940 first came to the fore under a third party. Reformers like Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt basically adopted the ideas of the third parties and implemented them. Without the Populist, Progressive and Socialist Parties laying the groundwork, the ideas that became anti-trust law and the New Deal probably never would have been enacted in public policy.

The thing that the third-party advocates fail to acknowledge, however, is that the Democrats and Republicans have spent over a century laying down rules to prevent third parties from arising after witnessing the threat posed by the Populist, Progressive, and Bull Moose parties. Bernie is a practical politician and he has looked closely at the tangled thicket of rules that are designed to hinder a third party.  He sees little chance of a third party succeeding on a national level, whereas he sees a viable path for success in taking over the Democratic Party from within. So far the empirical evidence suggests that he is right. His agenda is taking over the party.

However, as Jimmy Dore loves to point out in his Youtube videos, the leadership of the party is still playing all sorts of tricks to resist reform as well, so there is no guarantee that Bernie’s strategy will work. The only sitting corporate Democrat in the US congress who has lost a primary so far has been Joseph Crowley, so reforming the Democratic Party is hardly a sure bet at this point. Dore argues that the leadership of the Democratic Party is going to make sure that Bernie won’t win the presidential nomination, and he is wasting his time trying to play ball with the Democratic Party leadership, when he should be attacking them publicly. Dore believes that Sanders is “sheepdogging” progressives into a corrupt party that doesn’t want to reform itself, when he should be using his political capital to build a third party that can challenge the Democrats from the outside.

On the other hand, the polling shows that Bernie is the front-runner to be the next Democratic nominee for president, although the mainstream press will never acknowledge it. The other potential presidential candidates know it, which is why Kristen Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker sound more and more like Bernie every day. Even if Bernie doesn’t win the nomination, whoever does win will have to adopt much of Bernie’s agenda at least in their public discourse. The problem is that a candidate like Gillibrand, Harris or Booker will probably pull from the Obama playbook, and run as a progressive, but govern as a centrist and a corporatist.

More important, in my opinion, is the work to replace the corporate Democrats in congress and the state houses with enough populist left politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, so that a Bernie-style president can push through Medicare for All, free tuition at public universities, a public infrastructure bill, ending the wars, etc. FDR was a great president because he had a Democratic Party in control of congress. He not only had progressive leaders in congress who were pushing the New Deal, but he was able to work in coordination with them to pressure recalcitrant congressmen into voting the right way.

I wish that progressive activists would understand Bernie’s strategy, rather than posting asinine comments online like “Bernie’s a sellout” or “we can’t trust Bernie after he endorsed Hillary.” Leftist activists seem to take a special kind of delight in leaving these sorts of comments on Youtube.  It is fine to disagree with Bernie’s strategy and to work on a different one, but at least have the maturity to acknowledge what he is trying to do, rather than engage in pointless character assassination and failing to acknowledge the political realities of the US. Bernie may be pursuing the wrong strategy and reform of the Democratic Party might not work in the long-term, but we would all be better off if we stopped trying to see this as the moral failing of Bernie as an individual, but rather understanding it as long-term strategy to achieve a set of progressive policy goals.

Personally, I believe that we need both an inside and an outside strategy to eventually be successful. Working for reform within the Democratic Party and third-party activism are both useful, because both strategies help to push the Party to the right place and these two strategies are not mutually exclusive. In fact, doing one helps reenforce the other. Helping the Green Party get 5% of the vote and primarying corporate Democrats both help to push the Party to the left and adopt a progressive agenda. If a third party is ever going to successful in the US which is a winner-takes-all system, then we are going to need Democrats in office who are sympathetic to rule changes such as ranked-choice voting. At the same time, working in the DSA and the Green Parties is certainly not a waste of time, because they pose a credible threat to Democrats who are forced to coopt their agenda. Even if we chose to work through a third party, we shouldn’t disparage progressive politician like Bernie who have chosen a different path to achieve the same policy goals.

I follow the Molly Ivin’s strategy when voting. Vote for the third party as a protest when the vote is not close in your district, but vote for the Democrat when the vote is close. I voted for the Green Party candidate in 1992 and 1996 against Bill Clinton, but I held my nose and voted for Obama in 2008, because I thought that the race would be close in Indiana, where I was voting. I voted for Bernie in the Democratic primaries in 2016, but didn’t bother to vote in the general election, because Indiana was going to go overwhelming to Trump, so my vote was effectively meaningless. If I were able to vote in a place like Pennsylvania, Florida or Ohio, where the vote was expected to be close, I would have held my nose and voted for Hillary, despite her patently corrupt practices as a politician.

Given the kind of damage that Republicans are wont to inflict on the nation, progressives need to be strategically smart and not be ruled by simple passions in our voting. Part of that strategy can be third party voting, but it makes no sense to disparage the moral character of people like Bernie who are pursuing a different strategy. If you feel that Bernie’s strategy is wrong, than attack the strategy, not the man. At the very least, acknowledge that we share many of the same goals on the left, if not the same way of getting to those goals.

A short summary of the facts why a boycott of Israel is necessary

I have come to the conclusion that the only moral response to Israel’s version of Apartheid for Palestinians is to boycott Israel and its products and to encourage others to do the same. It seems to be a waste of my time to keep demanding that the US government stop giving Israel $3 billion per year in military aid and stop vetoing resolutions in the UN Security Council that would hold Israel accountable for its actions.

Many others have examined the moral implications and the philosophical rationale of a boycott. However, I haven’t been able to find a short summary of the facts about Israel’s occupation of Palestine, so I have written one, to help people understand why a boycott is necessary: Continue reading

The response to Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez

The primary election of 28 year old Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) to represent the Bronx and Queens in congress has been a lightning rod for the passions and fears of so many Americans. Partly because AOC represents so many segments of the population which have so little voice and her win as an underdog was so dramatic, she was instantly catapulted to the national stage. There aren’t many leaders on the left who are young, female, Latina, boldly progressive and telegenic like her. She has gained over 800k Twitter followers in just a matter of months. For the 58 million Latinos in the US and the millions of urban youth, they don’t have many heroes on the national stage, so she has became the symbol to channel their energy.

Because she was so pretty and passionate and her story of overthrowing the man angling to be the next Speaker of the House was so compelling, AOC got a ton of media coverage both on television and in social media in the weeks following her primary win. Her use of the taboo phrase “democratic socialist” to describe herself and her call to abolish ICE made her the newest object of fascination in the public eye.

AOC carries the energy and passion of the grassroots left, but she also excites the lizard brain of conservatives, that seems to dwell in perpetual fear of the other. They love to attack her, characterizing her as both an airheaded dunce of the radical left and a dastardly mastermind who plots to turn the US into a Venezuelan failed state.

Anyone who listens to AOC talk knows she is hardly stupid, and most of the things that conservative pundits pounce on to demonstrate her lack of knowledge actually demonstrate their own stupidity. For example, when they criticized her for saying that Israel is “occupying” Palestine, they showed their own misunderstanding of the true situation on the ground in the Middle East by repeating the propaganda of the Israeli government. AOC paused when questioned and naively admitted, “I am not the expert on geopolitics on this issue,” but what she said demonstrated far more knowledge than the right-wing pundits who have criticized her for her response.

The 1948 war ended with Israel occupying 78% of historic Palestine and expelling 750,000 Palestinians from their homes. The 1967 war resulted in Israel taking over the remaining 22% and expelling 300,000 Palestinians. Today, 600,000 Israelis live in illegal settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and Israel has a policy of stealing more Palestinian land which it calls “facts on the ground” in its campaign to reclaim the historic Israel. Today, Israel controls 63% of the land in the West Bank and has joint control over another 22%, so Palestinians only control 18% and their movement within that 18% is restricted by walls, roads and checkpoints.

As a political novice suddenly thrust into the national spotlight, I suspect that AOC was trying to find a way to frame her response in a way that would not offend Jewish voters and she didn’t have enough experience to know that she should never admit not being an expert or being unsure how to respond. An experienced politician like Bernie Sanders who has been handling these sorts of gotcha questions for decades would have anticipated the question and prepared response or would have known how to insist on the basic point that an injustice is occurring in Palestine, without getting tripped up by the details.

AOC hasn’t always figured out the best way to frame her issues and how to avoid saying things that allow the right-wing attack machine to sharpen its knives, but it is precisely the fact that she doesn’t artfully avoid the issue of Palestine and she speaks so passionately about the injustice of the current Capitalist system that makes her so refreshing. AOC reacted with the natural outrage an ordinary person watching the home demolitions in Palestine and the evictions of working-class people by banks and land developers in the Bronx. What makes her so attractive is that she didn’t poll test her message before she called for the abolishment of ICE when she sees immigrants being deported and children being separated from their parents.   

Fortunately, AOC now has a safe congressional seat, where she doesn’t have to worry about being driven from office for giving voice to an ordinary person’s natural empathy and moral outrage in the face of injustice. In time, I expect that she will get better at anticipating the gotchas and have formulated her responses beforehand, but it will deeply sadden me if she becomes another poll-tested, anodyne slogan machine who becomes so gun shy from the political fray that she is beaten into conformity with the status quo. 

The right-wing talking heads have made AOC their newest public boogey to excite the fear of the right and rally the base. Just watch what Liz Wheeler says about her:

Liz Wheeler seems to be incapable of reading Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s platform. Nowhere does AOC talk about the government taking over the means of production. Medicare for All means that the hospitals are still privately run, but the government provides insurance. When Bernie Sanders and AOC say “democratic socialism,” they are talking about policies from European social democracies, not from Stalin, Mao, Kim, Castro, Chavez or Maduro.

Why does Wheeler think that Medicare for All and free tuition at public universities will turn the US into a Stalinist state? Every developed country in the world except the US has universal health care and it hasn’t led to authoritarian dictatorship. The US used to have free tuition at many of its public universities in the 1950s, and it didn’t lead to Communism. My parents attended the University of Texas in the 1960s, where tuition was basically free, and they didn’t think that it led to the destruction of American values. By every measure (GDP per capita, life expectancy, surveys of happiness, education levels, etc.), Scandinavian countries have a higher standard of living that the US, plus they have lower levels of corruption (as measured by Transparency International) and are more democratic.

As for Wheeler’s argument about the cost of AOC’s proposed policies, Medicare for All will save the US between $300 billion and $1.7 billion per year (depending on the study). Free tuition at public universities will cost about $70 billion per year. Even when you add in free tuition at trade schools, it will be less than $100 billion per year. The US congress just approved a $100 billion increase to the military budget, taking it to $716 billion in 2019 and the new tax cuts will cause a $1.9 trillion deficit over the next 10 years, so the US could easily afford it. I haven’t seen a cost estimate of AOC’s federal jobs guarantee, but I doubt that it will be over $150 billion per year currently or $400 billion per year during times of economic depression. The US government employed 13 million people during the Great Depression and the massive investment in infrastructure in the 1930s helped the US grow economically over the long run.

The Trump tax cuts gave 83% of the cuts to the top 1%, while raising taxes on 72% of taxpayers over a 10 year period. Most rational people would say that America should have been spent that money on health care, education and infrastructure, rather than helping the wealthiest and most powerful Americans grow even more wealthy and powerful.

Three Americans (Gates, Bezos and Buffet) now own as much wealth as the bottom 56% of Americans. The best way to change the current situation where the rich get richer and everyone else gets poorer is to implement the kind of policies being proposed by AOC. Many countries have tried it, including the US in the past, and it hasn’t created the kind of dystopia that Wheeler imagines. People like Wheeler seem to be incapable of rationally analyzing AOC’s proposals and can only engage in fear-mongering and smearing because they don’t have a rational response.

The ludicrous response from the right is almost expected at this point, given how many on the right called Obama a secret Muslim Socialist born in Kenya. AOC ticks all the boxes to ignite their fears. She is a socialist, a Puerto Rican, a feminist, a millennial and a product of the immoral inner-city–all categories that the right loves to denigrate and castigate as destroying America.

What is more interesting has been the conflict within the Democratic Party around AOC. The Democratic leadership has offered her a mixed response in public ranging from Nancy Pelosi dismissing her as a irrelevant sideshow in an unusual district and a cautious attempt to jump on her popular bandwagon by Tom Perez. However, behind the scenes, there are rumors that they are taking steps to marginalize her. It is unclear at this point how many Democrats will support Joe Crowley’s attempt to dislodge her by running on the Working Families ticket against her in the general election, but is is clear that a number of the traditional party operatives would prefer to keep interlopers like AOC out of power.

AOC has become a lightning rod for much of the grassroots energy in the party that is pushing for real, progressive change, rather than the timid half-steps that have characterized the Party since the election of Bill Clinton in 1992. Although Bernie Sanders and AOC and most of the others who call themselves “democratic socialists” aren’t real socialists according to the definition taught in economics class. When AOC calls for a federal jobs guarantee, you might call that socialism, since the state will be hiring millions of people, but when you balance that with AOC’s calls to reduce military spending, the net effect might be that the state controls less of the national economy.

In an interview with Vogue, AOC said that socialism to her means “democratic participation in our economic dignity, and our economic, social and racial dignity.” She continued: “To me, what socialism means is to guarantee a basic level of dignity. It’s asserting the value of saying that the America we want and America we are proud of is one in which all children can access a dignified education. It’s one in which no person is too poor to have the medicines they need to live.”

I suspect that AOC calls herself a “democratic socialist” because she was inspired working on the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders and met people who shared her passion for social justice in the Democratic Socialists of America. Democratic Socialism for people like AOC means less about how to organize economic production and more about how people participate in the political system and how ordinary people live their lives. In this understanding of her political label, AOC is not a disciple of 20th century socialists like Britain’s Clement Attlee who wanted the state to run the health care system and nationalize the railroads, mines and utilities. Instead, she is a follower of Bernie Sanders, in the way she talks about grassroots organizing to build a popular mass movement for change, and the state guaranteeing basic necessities for all people. The word “democratic” is fundamental to that understanding since it is based on popular movements rising up from below to achieve a non-violent revolution of the political process. The “socialism” part means working for a more just society where working class people aren’t marginalized and the government takes care of people in need.

Political scientists will throw up their hands in disgust at the way that AOC and Bernie Sanders use the word “socialism,” but most people who call themselves socialists today in Europe aren’t that different from social democrats in their policy agenda. Even in a country like Bolivia, where the Movement toward Socialism (MAS) has controlled the country for over a decade, socialism ended up meaning more taxation, rather than the government taking over the natural gas fields that provide half of the country’s exports.

Maybe you can call Bernie Sanders a socialist in his advocacy of worker-owned co-ops, but that was a minor plank in his platform that was hardly mentioned in his standard stump speeches on the campaign trail. Italy has had a policy of helping to support worker-owned co-ops for decades and nobody calls the country socialist. If Sanders is a socialist, he is one who hearkens back to the 19th century when Robert Owens was setting up factories run by workers and Karl Marx was theorizing about how workers would run the workplace in order to no longer be alienated from the product of their labor. In some ways, however, Sanders is more up-to-date than his critics in his understanding of the word “socialism.” The economist, Richard Wolff, who is arguably the most famous Marxist in America today, is a passionate advocate of worker-owned co-ops. Wolff repeatedly points out in his lectures that socialism today doesn’t mean what it meant in the 1950s.

At the end of the day, the label “democratic socialist” is less about a formal socio-economic definition, and more about signaling a radical change in values and the style of political organizing. People are sick of listening to smooth-talking, poll-tested politicians who do the bidding of wealthy donors and don’t seem to care about the welfare of ordinary people. Perhaps it is the rise of Youtube, Twitter, Facebook and social media in general which allows ordinary people to talk more directly to each other in the political sphere, but people expect more unvarnished bluntness. Working longer hours at lower wages and struggling to pay the rent, the student loans and the health care bills have made ordinary people angry and frustrated with the status quo.

When a politician like Bernie Sanders publicly states, “I’m a democratic socialist,” it tells ordinary people that he is just at mad at the status quo as they are and he can’t be bought off or dissuaded from trying to change the system. For the youth in the audience who didn’t grow up with the propaganda of the Cold War, socialism is what they heard the right say about Obama for years, so it has lost its capacity to scare them. The label has more negative connotations for older generations who were inculcated with decades of anti-Communism, but it does not necessarily mean that they negatively view a politician who willingly adopts the label. Some portion of the audience will shut down and dismiss everything a democratic socialist says as the words of a deluded lunatic. Another portion of the audience, however, will conclude that the politician is honest, since nobody calls herself a socialist if she is trying to manipulate or appease people just to get elected. Millions of Democrats walked from hearing a Sanders’ speech in the 2016 presidential primary, thinking to themselves that he was sincere and unbought, which is far more important than ideology in today’s context. People know that they can trust Sanders to fight like hell for their health care and a higher minimum wage, and all the money and backroom deals in the world won’t be able to deter him from fighting on their behalf.

After years of hearing politicians say pretty things in public, the blunt honesty of politicians who call themselves “democratic socialists” is a breath of fresh air for many voters who are fed up with the current system. The majority of voters don’t need convincing since what Sanders and AOC are saying on economic issues is what they already believe, according to the public opinion polls. It is mostly a matter of closing the trust gap, which they do very effectively by using a politically-incorrect label like socialism and by refusing to take donations from corporations and employ SuperPACs.

Socialism in America has given expression to the leftist desire for meaningful change, but it is hardly the kind of revolution that its critics imagine. The right wing is using it as a means to fear-monger about the left and rally its base. Establishment Democrats rightly see is as a challenge to their way of doing politics, which is based on middle of the road centrism and milking money from wealthy donors. The leadership of the Democratic Party is waking up to the unpleasant reality that Bernie Sander’s surprising popularity in his 2016 presidential campaign was hardly a fluke. He has inspired a whole new generation of similar politicians who are challenging them to either take bold stances on the issues or face grueling primary challenges.

According to Gallup, 57% of Democrats now have a positive view of socialism, which is down one point from 2016, but up 4 points since 2012, so the Democratic base hasn’t substantially changed its views, but they now have a whole new class of political leaders to give voice to their sense of frustration with the existing Capitalist system. Democratic leaders who criticize “democratic socialism” need to understand what it represents and why it appeals to American voters who are hardly socialist in the traditional sense, but are embracing its promise to confront the status quo and improve their lives.

Most establishment Democrats aren’t as out of touch with their base as Joseph Crowley, so they will probably be savvy enough to not offend their base and survive primary challenges from democratic socialists. The progressive candidates endorsed by Our Revolution, Justice Democrats, Brand New Congress and the Democratic Socialists of America have won roughly half of their races so far in the primary season, but they generally don’t win against entrenched Democratic incumbents, especially on a state-wide level. Alison Hartson lost to Dianne Feinstein and Kevin de Leon in California, Paula Jean Swearengin lost to Joe Manchin in West Virginia, Kaniela Ing lost to Ed Case in Hawaii, and Cori Bush lost to Lacy Clay in Missouri. Where the races were close, as in Abdul El-Sayed’s loss in Michigan’s gubernatorial primary and Brent Welder’s loss to Sharice Davids in Kansas, they weren’t running against Democratic incumbents, so wins like AOC’s are likely to be rare. AOC won in part because it depended on which candidate had the most loyal base which would show up to vote, since it was a primary designed to limit the turnout to the party faithful. Ordinarily this kind of limited primary helps the incumbent, but the number of institutional loyalists tied to Crowley weren’t that many, whereas AOC managed to build a base of supporters outside the traditional party structure that overwhelmed the institutional voters.

Nonetheless, the very fact that entrenched politicians like Feinstein and Manchin are facing credible challenges from the left will inevitably change the dynamic in the party. Just like the way that Republicans were forced to cater to the demands of the Tea Party activists, establishment Democrats will stop being so dismissive of the demands of their grassroots activists, knowing that they could be knocked out by that same base in the next election.

Democratic socialism will be less of a threat to America than its critics imagine, since in many ways it represents a return to the politics of FDR and the party of the 1930s-60s which responds to the demands of its chief voting blocks. Today, voters are no longer as organized into institutions like unions and voting leagues, but social media, alternative media, progressive organizations and intersectional movement building are gaining the ability to bring voters to the polls in similar ways. Most of the political pundits and the leadership of the party continues to delude themselves about the power and potency of the movement.

It is unlikely that democratic socialism will present much a challenge to the Democratic establishment in the 2018 primaries, despite all the attention that AOC’s win has garnered. The real challenge to the establishment will come when Bernie Sanders runs for president again in 2020. Almost all the presidential contenders except Joe Biden on the Democratic side have already embracing Sander’s policy agenda to some degree by publicly supporting Medicare for All and vowing to take no corporate donations. In an effort to co-opt Sanders and win over his voters, Gillibrand, Warren, Harris and Booker are likely to start sounding very similar to Sanders on the campaign trail.

It is hard to predict the future, but it is likely that Bernie Sanders will be the front-runner in a crowded field if he runs in 2020 and his brand of democratic socialism has a good chance of winning, since it best answers the aspirations of the Democratic rank-and-file. No other candidate will have the kind of passionate and committed supporters like Bernie Sanders. Nobody in the party dislikes Biden, but the base of the party isn’t willing to go to bat for him like it will for Sanders.

Even if Sanders doesn’t run, it is clear that anyone who hopes to represent the base has to run on his agenda in 2020. Whether his brand of “democratic socialism” becomes the message of the party or not, his agenda if not his style of politics will inevitably come to the fore. The leadership of the Democratic Party had better make its peace with what democratic socialism represents, whether they call choose to adopt its label or not, because it is the future of American politics.

 

Jordan Peterson ignores the importance of social policy in addressing societal problems

Jordan Peterson was recently interviewed in San Francisco by Simulation, which is a series of talks and interviews with interesting people. As one of the “radical leftists” and “cultural Marxists” that Jordan Peterson loves to mock, I actually enjoyed listening to this talk and I learned some interesting things from Peterson. I can’t say the same about Sam Harris, Ben Shapiro or most other conservative commentators, so I definitely recommend watching the whole interview on YouTube:

The interview was a wide ranging conversation on a whole slew of topics and the interviewer wasn’t very well prepared in my opinion on the academic topics that were discussed, so Peterson was able to opine freely with little push back. I suspect that Peterson would have been taken to task on a number of his arguments in an academic convention, but he is playing in the court of public opinion, which is much less knowledgeable on these topics.

On the question of wealth redistribution, Peterson argues that wealth and achievement naturally accumulates toward the top in all societies, even in prehistoric societies. In making the argument that overaccumulation of wealth at the top is feature of all societies, he throws up his hands and says “nobody knows what to do about it”. He ignores all the ways that societies thorough out history have alleviated overaccumulation of wealth at the top.

Peterson even argues that wealth will accumulate naturally in the hands of the people with the most intellectual ability, which is better for society, since they will use that wealth in the most productive fashion. In making this argument, he ignores all the empirical evidence showing that wealth redistribution has a lot of benefits for society as a whole. Redistributing wealth toward the bottom causes more economic growth than distributing wealth toward the top, because it causes money recirculation in the national economy. Also, the studies of a universal basic income, providing apartments to homeless people, investing in low-income schools, guaranteed retirement funds, and raising the minimum wage all show economic and social benefits to the society as a whole. Peterson uses the example of the cocaine addict who misuses extra wealth and ends up overdosing, but Peterson uses the example of a few outliers and generalizes for all of society. There is a great deal of academic literature to showing the benefits and efficacy of redistributing wealth toward the bottom of society.

Peterson pretends that the most productive thing to do with wealth is to let the richest people keep it and uses the example of Bill Gates using his wealth to cure malaria, polio, sleeping sickness and other diseases. Yes, there are people like Gates and Musk who use their wealth productively, but there are many more like the Koch Bros, Sheldon Adelson, etc. who use their wealth to corrupt the economic system and destroy democracy. The economic literature supports some wealth inequality to promote growth, but it is clear that the level of wealth inequality that we currently have actually depresses economic growth because it destroys demand in the economy and reduces the recirculation of money.

On an individual basis, I think Peterson has a lot of insightful advise for how people can improve their lives, but he is a psychologist treating individuals who are generally outliers. A sociologist who does statistical analysis on society as a whole comes to opposite conclusions about what is good public policy. For example, individuals should think that working hard leads to success and there is some evidence for that. But, it is also true that society investing in schools and training, especially for the underprivileged has huge benefits, which Peterson seems to ignore. He looks at the lowest 10% and says that it is pointless to provide training to them. However, he ignores the 90% who would benefit from extra schooling and training. I work as a computer programmer and I can tell you that there are some people who simply don’t have the mind to be good programmers, but there are roughly 25% who do, but only 1% every get the training to do it. For those 24% of society who have the mental ability but not the training to be programmers, they would really benefit from free or subsidized education programs, as any sociologist would tell you. Peterson has nothing so say about the “radical left” proposals about how to better fund education for the disadvantaged.

Another major hole in Peterson’s argument is the fact that he ignores how IQ is influenced by environment and he ignores all the proposals of the “radical left” to improve the environment for the disadvantaged. For example, Peterson has nothing to say about proposals to improve the nutrition of people living in food ghettos and how to give people economic security to create the kind of stable and secure environments which produce children of high IQ. I appreciate all of Peterson’s insight into the importance of play, but otherwise he is remarkably silent on the kind of social policies that are needed to help the development of children and raise their IQs.

Peterson is right to point out how wealth and success accumulates to the few at the top, but he has zero to say about how to alleviate that overdistribution towards the top. He basically pretends that that it is a natural function and we don’t have any idea how to alleviate it. Many societies have features which mitigate the overaccumulation of wealth at the top, whereas unregulated Capitalism promotes it. There is a major difference between today’s neoliberal Capitalism that concentrates wealth and the giving away of wealth in order to gain social status among the Native Americans of the Pacific NorthWest. Peterson pretends that there is no social policy to address the overaccumulation at the top (other than making war and promoting plague), whereas any sociologist or historian could point to dozens of ways to address this problem (including changing Capitalism, which Peterson refuses to consider).

Peterson talks about the studies among animals showing that reciprocity arises naturally from play and is essential for development. Based on those studies, he concludes that morality is universal and a natural development from play. Strangely, he doesn’t use those same studies to advocate for good social policy. For example, he discusses the studies that show that stable hierarchies occur among chimpanzees when the dominant males establish friendships with the lesser males and look out for the welfare of the baby chimpanzees. In contrast, instability and violence occurs in chimpanzee society, when the males at the top of the hierarchy use physical domination and treat the lower chimpanzees badly, which leads to short reigns of power which are quickly overthrown.

Peterson is strangely silent on the social policy implications of the very studies he cites. The “radical leftists” who Peterson derides would look at those studies and conclude that it is a bad public policy to spend huge amounts on the police and military budgets. They would advocate against domestic policy based on police violence and a foreign policy that tries to physically dominate other nations.

Peterson also talks about the studies where $100 is shared between two people and Peterson noted that the people who are generous and share over 50% will do better in the long run. He doesn’t use those studies, however, to conclude that the wealthy should be forced to share their wealth with the lower classes and treat then better if we want a stable and prosperous society.

Peterson is correct to point out that women on average are more interested in people and men are more interested in things, but that doesn’t mean that sexism doesn’t exist in the STEM fields or that we shouldn’t have social policies to encourage women and minorities to pursue those fields, just like we should have social policies to encourage men to become nurses and teachers. Sexist attitudes do exist in these fields of work and it helps society as a whole to overcome them. Men who find childhood development fascinating shouldn’t feel belittled and their masculinity challenged when they become kindergarten teachers, just like women shouldn’t be steered away from using math. We need social policies to fight against sexist attitudes in society rather than pretending that is entirely the natural interests of the sexes that lead to gender disparities in jobs. Peterson is right that there are different interests on average in the sexes, so some of the gender disparities are not socially constructed, but some of the disparity is also socially constructed. We have both biological and social and cultural factors that lead to gender disparities and he refuses to talk about the policies that are needed to address the social and cultural factors.

Peterson became famous last year when he argued against rules banning gender discrimination in speech in Canadian universities. Peterson derides the social construction of gender as having no basis in the scientific literature and dismisses it as a form of “cultural Marxism” promoted by leftist academics. It seems rather bizarre to me to call the social construction of gender a Marxist idea, since Marx believed that culture was arose from material production and was rooted in materialist interests of the classes. Marxian analysis of culture is diametrically opposed to the postmodern analysis used by many feminists, especially when it is rooted in language. What people like Peterson call “cultural Marxism” did arise from leftist academics, who were often sympathetic to Marxist movements, but it is downright disingenuous for Peterson to tar them as Marxists if you know anything about the philosophical basis of Marx’s arguments.

Peterson criticizes Silicon Valley companies for trying to hire more women and people from diverse backgrounds. He seems oblivious to the studies showing that businesses which have more women, more racial minorities and more diverse backgrounds of their employees tend to function better and are more successful.

In conclusion, there is some truth to Peterson’s arguments about a competence hierarchy rather than a domination hierarchy and the natural distribution of rewards toward the top, but he is strangely silent on all the academic studies about how racial and class bias make a difference in success and promotion (as well as religious bias in some countries). He is right to criticize many academics for failing to acknowledge that biology and natural tendencies play a role in many of society’s problems, but he fails to acknowledge that there are also social and cultural factors at play and that social policy can play a important role in addressing these factors.

Review of David Talbot’s Devils Chessboard

I just finished reading David Talbot’s Devil’s Chessboard, which is a history of Allen Dulles, the head of the CIA under Eisenhower. I already knew some of the sordid details such as the CIA plots to overthrow the governments of Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran in 1953 and Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954 and murder Patrice Lumumba in the DRC in 1960, but Talbot put these despicable acts in a fuller context. Talbot shows how an elite clique of men in government and the business world operated to carry out these operations.

He also added many details which aren’t well known. According to Talbot, Dulles actively tried to undermine FDR’s war policy in Europe and he protected many of the Nazi intelligence officials from being prosecuted after WWII, so they could be reused in European intelligence. Talbot shows how the OSS/CIA carried out actions against the wishes of FDR, Truman and JFK and essentially made its own foreign policy. According to Talbot the CIA illegally directed funds toward the 1960 Nixon campaign for president. He also posits that the groups that tried to assassinate Charles de Gaulle probably had received CIA funding.

The book concludes by alleging that Allen Dulles masterminded the murder of JFK. When I first picked up the book, I thought the book must be the work of a crackpot, but Talbot lays out a plausible theory and adduces quite a bit of indirect evidence to support his theory. It is hard for me to judge whether Talbot is right in his theory, but he shows a clear pattern of behavior in the CIA that is deeply disturbing for anyone who believes in democracy.

Even if Talbot is wrong in his theory about who colluded to assassinate JFK, he digs up so much information about Dulles and the deep state that his book is still worth reading. As a student of Latin American history, I knew how deeply the US had meddled in the politics of its southern neighbors, but I never realized that the US was just as deeply enmeshed in European politics. The manipulation of the 1948 Italian elections to keep the Communists out of power is well known, but I didn’t realize that the US was still financing the Italian Christian Democrats in the 1960s and the US kept the Italian Socialists out of the ruling coalition of the Italian government for decades. The US looks utterly hypocritical to criticize Russia for meddling in its elections, when examining its own history of meddling in foreign elections.

The inescapable conclusion after reading the book is that the CIA was fundamentally a threat to democracy, which worked to undermined the policies of several US presidents. The other conclusion that I draw is that Truman and JFK were weakened by their anti-Communism, which opened the doors for the CIA to carry out their own secret agenda. They could have reined in the CIA, but they were too worried about being red-baited by the right-wing and short-term political considerations were more important for them than controlling the CIA.

In Talbot’s account, JFK comes off as a heroic figure who wanted to reorient the intransigent cold war stance of Eisenhower’s administration, but he couldn’t control the deep state. This is a portrayal of JFK that I have never read before, and I find it intriguing, but it isn’t the full story in my opinion. JFK engaged in his own cold warrior rhetoric at times and his sending troops to Vietnam doesn’t fit the image that Talbot paints of him as the peacemaker. The conclusion I draw is that JFK was trying to walk a middle course, that fundamentally weakened his position and led him to half measures like sending troops to Vietnam to appease the deep state and appointing Republicans to key positions to head off criticism from the right. I don’t think JFK is as much of a Liberal hero as Talbot portrays him, but it is startling how much more backbone he had compared to the today’s weak Democratic leaders.

Questioning the benefits of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies in general

When I first learned how Bitcoin worked, I thought it was a marvelous technology. Today, I am growing increasingly pessimistic about Bitcoin. The environmental costs of Bitcoin mining are very high when we consider the resources to fabricate millions of specialized chips and circuit boards and energy to run them. Moreover, Bitcoin can’t adjust its money supply, so it is highly prone to inflation. Although the number of Bitcoin transactions has stayed the same over the last year, the price of Bitcoin has skyrocketed, which makes it an unacceptable currency in my opinion.

Like many new technologies, it takes a while to find all the potential problems and design a blockchain technology that is capable of serving as a stable, widely-accepted cryptocurrency. Unfortunately, Bitcoin is stuck in the first iteration of the technology and it can’t evolve. I have no doubt that it will continue being used, but better cryptocurrencies are being designed and one of them will eventually take Bitcoin’s place as the premier cryptocurrency. Continue reading