Wednesday, April 23, 2008

ELECTIONS - April 24, 2008

The defiance by Mugabe of the actual election results in Zimbabwe brings up the question of the ability of established power to falsify the outcome of any election unless the most scrupulous care is taken to keep them clean. And where there is any cause to believe otherwise, the burden is always assumed to be on the challengers to prove their case against the presumption of regularity. This presumption represents a flaw in the theory of democratic rule via elections. If the established power has control of the machinery of government, then they can often hide the traces of their machinations, if any, of the machinery of elections as well. That is an almost inescapable consequence of the meaning of government. However, there should be, and is not, an explicit and general understanding that wherever the process of election is not totally transparent, the presumption of regularity must be reversed, and the world opinion must stand against the owner of the election process. That rule would not negate the great advantage the sitting government has, but in view of that, it should be a recognized canon of rhetoric that any government that claims re-election in any process that is not exquisitely transparent and proper must have the case presumed against the incumbents unless they can prove their innocence under that burden. Such a rule should have been the verdict of the world in Mexico in 2005, in Florida in 2000, and in Ohio in 2004. It would not prevail against armed force, but nothing would. Meanwhile, it should be agreed that where the sitting government does not provide that transparency, they lose all legitimacy. How to promote this idea?

WATER - April 17, 2008

Script missing. Text to come. Sorry.

ZIMBABWE - April 10, 2008

As we all look in amazement and horror on the firestorm in Zimbabwe, some of the comments in UK revolve around adverse observations on the failure of democracy in Africa. My second thought is of the similarity to the Mexican election of July 06, in which the world went to bed that day on the news that Sr. Obrador had won, only to be met the next day by the announcement from Pres. Fox that his party’s candidate had won and his dogged refusal over the next months to submit to any verification of that assertion. His party had the army, & street protests made no difference. Not only was I not surprised to hear that Bush was supporting the coup, but I would be if it were proved to me that the CIA had no role in supporting his decision to effectively negate the election by fiat. We have seen it so often, and the level of outrage seems to rest solely on who was WH’s candidate. The capper to this is that the US, which pretends to be the paragon of democracy, has little to show in the matter of electoral integrity these last 10 years. In fact, the acid test of democracy is the willingness of someone who is running for election to play fairly by the rules and hand over power without deceptions, threats or a struggle if they lose. Against that, we have the Lombardian dogma that “winning is the only thing”. In the era of the Cold War, US has been the outstanding disciple of this Lombardianism. In 2006, Mexico played by those rules, and today it is Mugabe. And Condoleezza Rice, who no doubt knows better, fulminates as though butter would not melt in her mouth against him, while her government, and ours, supports equally crooked politicians around the world. Of course these,are like Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, who was in the words of FDR, “a son-of-a -bitch, but our son-of-a bitch.” And that’s where the body is buried. And Mugabe is a son-of-a-bitch, but not ours.

HILLARY, AGAIN - April 3, 2008

It has become clear that Sen. Clinton has painted herself into a corner with her venom directed at Sen. Obama. However understandable her disappointment at being upstaged by an upstart that will not wait his turn” to be President, the fact is that she has exhibited herself in such an awful light that there is no possibility that the People will flock to her support, & the disappointment of the wealthy and powerful forces that have invested in the dividends they hoped to have from her presidency will not turn the Democratic Party in her favor. What is less clear is how much damage she has managed to inflict upon Obama. He is a gifted orator & has managed to maintain his cool, for the most part, so as to deflect as much of her venom as is possible. However, she has devotedpartisans who might sink his election in November. These include not only the aforementioned investors, like the pharmaceutical industry and Rupert Murdoch, but also many so devoted to her personally that they would rather see McCain win than Obama. We saw something like that in Wisconsin when the partisans of the losing Democratic candidate for Attorney General failed to support the winner, thus giving us a Republican in that office for at least 4 years. There is at least some concern in that direction and no one knows how deep the split in the Democrats runs, fuelled by identity politics. If the Party must be healed, it is clear that Hillary would accept a non-allergenic candidate like John Edwards rather than lose to Sen. Obama. And it is just possible that Obama would accept that too, if party unity were at stake. No one knows. The ego of anyone who would run for President must be so swollen that it would be almost unthinkable. The unknown factor is the influence of the Party grandees, the “super- delegates” that Clinton thinks may yet pull her chestnuts out of the fire, as well as their own ideas about how hot that fire is for the Party itself. It has long been known that Edwards had the best chance of beating McCain, or any other GOP candidate. If he is called upon to heal the potential breach, he would likely take on the task, if Clinton and Obama agreed to it. Fat chance?

BLAIR, AGAIN - March 27, 2008

In last week’s news was a further incomprehensible payoff to Tony Blair. The Yale schools of Divinity and Management have appointed him to a professorship at a price that I have not seen published. I do not have an familiarity with the school of management, but mostly such beasts are the repository of the hateful doctrine out of the Univ. of Chicago. that greed and predation are the engines of progress and prosperity, so if he will be there to teach greedy students how to cheat the public, that is at least a subject on which he is an acknowledged expert. But on divinity he is about as knowledgeable as a street sweeper. His sudden revealing of his onversion to Catholicism, which was easily known to anyone who observed him during the 10 years of his premiership, is generally thought to have been hidden in order to preserve his standing in Anglican England. I guess this is what he perceives as giving his Christian witness to his faith, but I am no expert on the subtleties of Christian versions of hypocrisy. If that is what he will teach the students at the Yale Divinity School, then it is a much reduced college since I saw it last, 50 years ago. In addition to this wooden medal from Yale, he has been given a job, reportedly paying in the 7 figures, with the Morgan Chase bank. From his record in Britain, I would say that any reputable graduate of Cambridge U in the field of finance knows more about banking than Blair ever will, and Morgan is not even bothering to give him an office, since no one would waste valuable Wall Street space on someone who has nothing to give them. To top this, the Zurich insurance company has also “hired” him, at what figure I do not know. My students in undergraduate probability class probably know more about random risk than he does. My guess is that he is like a general at the Pentagon who has bought shoddy goods from an arms manufacturer and is rewarded after his retirement from that with a fat job in the office of that company. I don’t know who is putting up the money for Blair’s sinecures, but there is no reason to believe that he has any knowledge that they need except whom to go to for favors.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

WATER - March 20th, 2008

A recent program on BBC was concerned with the plague of bottled water, or more specifically the folly of paying more than the price of gasoline for it and the burden on the cities to dispose of the bottles. And that is with gas at nearly $8/gal. The water in question is hardly different from the tap water here, but there are clearly many thousands who think otherwise and are willing to bear the cost of the contrary delusion. In Madison, there are small problems with the water and lots of people who are buying water at scandalous prices, posing a major burden on our city for the disposal of the bottles. The difficulties with our water are minor, but real, and pure water is worth having, at a reasonable cost. And it is cheap to purify the mostly clean water that comes from our wells, but it would take an investment to create the cheapest way of delivering it, which is by a separate drinking water system. It could even pay for itself, at prices for the water far below the cost of bottled water and also saving the city large bills for nearly worthless bottles. In a real sense the realization that there is no reason why we need to flush our toilets, wash our cars & water our gardens with almost pure drinking water is nearly 50 years overdue. But we have never been willing to bear the cost of putting down a separate drinking water system. Most of that cost lies in tearing up the streets and laying the pipes. If we are willing to wait for it, then we can take advantage of the fact that we seem to be perennially tearing up the streets and repaving them. Every such project could lay pipes for pure water under the repaved street, linking them up over the course of time as the opportunity allows. Eventually the system would reach the site chosen for the purification plant. At that time we could start supplying the water to the places where the system already reached. Initially, we could charge the extortionate price of 10c/gal or so, reducing that price when more people were reached and more linked up. If that is too long to wait, we could accelerate the road repair schedule. The cost of the purification itself is trivial compared with the cost of the burden of the bottles.

UNIFORMS - March 13th, 2008

Here in Britain the commandant at an RAF base has instructed his troops that when they go into the local city they are not to wear their uniforms. He says that those who did were insulted and he does not want to subject them to that kind of treatment for “serving their country”. The story mirrors one that Reagan used about vets returning from Vietnam, and like that one no one knows what truth there is in it. The Observer newspaper sent a reporter in an RAF uniform to the most ethnically Arabic district in London and he was received more than civilly. But that is not the issue. There are certainly some people who will equate the troops with the mission on which they were sent and while many are supporters of their government’s action, that is far wide of the mark. One can feel only pity for the young people who are persuaded to entrust their lives (and the lives of others) to the adolescent fantasies of glory on the part of such seekers for sainthood as Bush and Blair, not to mention maniacs like Cheney and Wolfowitz. It is easy to take advantage of their starry-eyed devotion to fuel the imperial ambitions of their country’s rulers. In some cases, they come from families that have been doing their governments’ dirty work for generations and genuinely believe the lies by which governments create crises that will win them the leeway for other projects, using the appeal to support the troops. But these young people are being taken advantage of, not only on the battlefield but also by the callous indifference of those same leaders if their wounds are too great for them to be repaired and sent back to again kill and maybe be killed, or more thoroughly maimed the next time. On the battlefield, they have been the beneficiaries of wonderful new techniques of repair and reconstruction, but once discharged, they are treated like last week’s garbage. The GIs of WW II did not have the same surgery, but those who could come home were treated with all the benefits a grateful nation could bestow. I did my first two years of college with the veterans and it was two of the best years of my life. I was happy that our government would then do its duty by them.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

KOSOVO - March 6th, 2008

As Kosovo declares independence with the encouragement of the US and most of the EU, one can well wonder whether all these people (starting with the Kosovars themselves) know what they are doing. The last 50 years have been full of countries splitting and joining, and almost always with nasty consequences that no one had anticipated. On the world-wide scale, this includes the WTO, and its junior cousin, NAFTA. Both of these are disastrous to the longer-term interests of working people, but these have stood still for having this done to them, often on the promise of cheaper goods. More visible is the fate of India since partition and of USSR since the Asian republics have been “freed” of the yoke of Moscow. Then Yugoslavia was freed of the legacy of Tito, which was 40 years of peace and relative prosperity. And we see the benefits that freedom from Britain has given places in sub Saharan Africa. Now we can expect Kosovo to seek inclusion in EU, and unthinking supporters of their independence will surely accept that, given the penury that separation from Serbia will surely bring upon them, and that will open the door to the Albanians, who will exacerbate the flood of cheap labor from E Europe. I am reminded of the saga of German unification. In the 60s and 70s, it was said that in Europe everyone was against that except the people. When it came, everyone cheered, but it has not been easily digested in Germany, even though the people are as close together in heritage as, say, the Southern and Northern Irish. And there is no doubt that while the Albanians think of themselves as one people even across that border, they will soon discover that they are uncomfortable bedfellows, not to mention they and the French, who have still not assimilated the Corsicans. The madness we know as nationalism divides more than it unites, though it keeps uniting people into units that ignore the other forces that divide their underlying interests. The little bits of Yugoslavia now have their own flags and their own parliaments, but they lack the economic strength they had 40 years ago, and that might be more important to them in the long run than any number of national anthems.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

LACKEYS - February 28th, 2008

Just last week, the British Government was “shocked, shocked”, they said, to discover that American planes had used British air bases in the process of flying prisoners to obscure places where they could be tortured without any interference from obsolete rituals like those required by the US Constitution or the Magna Carta. I saw them on BBC, the picture of offended innocence, declaring that they had not been provided by the Cheney administration with any proof that the unmarked planes landing and taking off from their bases were engaged in any such enterprises. Living here this Winter surrounded by statues and monuments attesting to the glories of the great British Empire, it was hard to remember that this was once a serious nation, not some sort of Uzbekistan. The ministers of state were happy to be taken for idiots, as they were required to do by their masters in Washington. At least an idiot can take refuge in the fact that he was born that way, but a toady is nothing but a toady. The Prime Minister here knows that as soon as he no longer imagines that he has an influence in the greatest agglomeration of coercive power the world has ever seen, he can no longer pretend to himself or his voters that he is somehow superior to inferior nations like France or Germany, to say nothing of Sweden or Denmark. Of course, we know what happens when someone knows better than the idiots in the White House, and says so. Gen Shinseki had his career terminated right away, and Attorney General Mukasey could not admit to knowing that waterboarding is torture. Meanwhile UK, a poor country, spends billions of dollars in maintaining a huge army and navy for a nation their size in order to pretend that they are still a world power, and the “Labour” Party bankrupts the working people with ruinous taxes so as not to trouble the plutocrats with the costs of playing at war and subjecting even poorer peoples to yield up their labor and their natural resources to the monopolistic power of the robber barons represented by Wall Street. Talk about the Emperor having no clothes. The Mother of Parliaments joins all the nations of EU in slavish obedience to a regime that no one could possibly accept as a superior.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

TEXAS - February 21, 2008

I can hardly contain my dismay at hearing that Hillary now reposes her presidential hopes in the people of TX. It is a fitting sequel to her adoption late last year by Rupert Murdoch, the Hearst of the 21st Century. It is not quite like seeking campaign funding from Ossama Bin Liden, but it is hard to see how one can do such a thing without coming away with the taint appropriate to the chosen supporter. It is about 175 years since TX entered our national history as a consequence of an unjust war and an especially brutal eradication of the rights and claims of the indigenous people and the previous settlers. Since that time, and especially since the Civil War, TX has stood for the utmost in brutality, injustice, greed and predation. Just to look at W is to see that State’s vices spelled out in caricature: ignorance, laziness, stupidity and general inhumanity. No other State seems so in love with killing, whether settling arguments with sixguns or executing everyone who is so unfortunate as to require justice, or even due process, at the hands of its police and its courts. It represents the worst of what civilized people everywhere turn away from when looking a the U S these days. Of course, there are also fine people in TX. The names of Jim Hightower, Molly Ivins, and Bill Malone spring to mind, and there are no doubt hundreds of others among the millions who live there, but somehow the vicious animals in human form seem to shape the State to their brutal image. And to top it all off, it is the home of the most predatory force in the U S, the oil industry, which holds us all in thrall. It doesn’t actually mean that Hillary must be like them, but as they are famous for noting, “if you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.” What will she tell them to win their votes? How she worked for race equality and compassion for the poor and the weak? Not in TX, I believe. That is not the world that many Texans believe in. And what about OH, the home of the Diebold election-stealing machine and the heirs of the Taft tradition? What will she offer them that will win their indifferent little hearts? Not the imprimatur of Dennis Kucinich, I would think.

Friday, February 15, 2008

ELECTRIC CARS - February 14, 2008

Like Madison, London has a problem with the quality of the air, due in part to automotive pollution. Only London has it worse. In fact, London has worse air than any other city in W EU. But unlike Madison, London is not sitting on its hands waiting for a solution to be given it by the national government or a charitable benefactor, or to fall from the heavens. They are planning for it and are prepared to pay for it, within reason. So when the Socialist mayor of London decided that the only thing that could relieve the congestion there was a daily fee of £5 (now £8) to drive in the center of the city in the middle of the day, he also exempted low-pollution cars like the Toyota Prius from the fee. And now large trucks that have not been certified for low pollution must pay £200/day to enter the city. The commercial interests howled, but the additional fees go not into the city’s pocket but pay the cost of a huge expansion of bus service, including an expanded system of bus lanes. Now they have come up with another move to lower the pollution even further. They want to encourage people to drive electric cars, not just hybrids. Instead of waiting for it just to happen, they are moving proactively. They are starting to provide free parking for electric cars, and even free electricity, thus doubling the range of the battery-driven vehicles. And in response, the city is beginning to blossom with very small cars with essentially zero pollution. If Madison were able to follow a proactive philosophy, a portion of our cars would run without pollution and at very small cost per mile, even if the parking and electricity were not free. But adding a certain number of free parking spaces with free recharging could start the ball rolling. Of course, nothing like this happens unless it is promoted by professional lobbyists, and even then hardly ever. We can make our town into a more comfortable and greener place if someone could be found who could profit from the example of London, which is actually a poorer city per capita than Madison and less friendly to social engineering on this scale. Let’s learn from others and do well for ourselves.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

HUMAN RIGHTS - February 7, 2008

The accomplishments of the American Experiment are fading everywhere in the world. Not only in the US, but in every country where it has been taken up as a model. Even the Brits, who live with the illusion that we got it from them, are eroding the belief that a rigid adherence to a principled code of governmental restraint is less costly in human values than the temptation to yield to the exigencies of the moment, notably in the seductive search for absolute security. It is traditional in US to quote B. Franklin as the author of the adage that those who are willing to abandon the strictures of Liberty in the pursuit of security are unlikely to achieve much of either. I had always heard it attributed to Tom Paine. But the doctrine was always credited to the French Enlightenment in my high school, where Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu and others were the thinkers cited. In the days of the Cold War, Stalin’s USSR always attempted to excuse their police state by pointing to the assault on their attempt at Socialism by the powerful capitalist countries in the West but we, living on the supposed doctrine of rigid adherence to Liberty at whatever risk, scorned their alibis. But today the Cheney administration makes the same false claim for its new police state, and there is no longer an iconic libertarian state anywhere in the world to shame others into following the Torch of the Enlightenment. In Parliament this week, the mob spirit that lurks in the shadows of every constitutional government has risen to say that the interchange between citizens and their elected representatives should no longer carry a shield against police surveillance, even secret bugging. In this situation, the smarmy advocates of the police state use the supposed sanctity of the supposedly privileged relationship to tempt their quarries into behaving like free men & women instead of hiding their opinions from the thought police. They thus make the Constitution a bait for the unwary, a means of depriving them of the caution they should always exercise when they are under the gaze of the unprincipled, whether the agents of the Tsar, the special branch or W’s CIA.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

DEMOCRATS - January 31, 2008

There is a peculiar symmetry between certain aspects of the Democratic and Cheney parties. The GOP is supported by many people who wish that there were laws constraining things like abortion, same-sex marriage, & fornication, while allowing the quiet establishment of the forms of worship they themselves favour. GOP are said to retain the allegiance of these voters by displaying their own fealty to the same views, even while doing almost 0 to promote those ends. At least that is the burden of books like What’s the Matter with Kansas? On the other side of the aisle sit the Democrats, who allege they are deeply concerned with the welfare of US working people, but who do nothing, even when they are in the majority, to restore the protections of the New Deal. All that seems to be required in wooing their votes is a few words addressed to the generalized support for these principles. This last week the crisis in the economy moved the Congress to try to energize the market for consumer goods by putting $150 b or so into the hands of the working poor, people who would pretty certainly spend it about a fast as it came in. But W said that he wanted a big slice of it for corporations, & almost none for people who are poor enough not to pay income taxes. And so the Democrats, who are satisfied to take half a loaf or even less, caved in again and did as W said. They are very good at that, having had lots of practice. But at root perhaps is the fact that the divorce between the Democrats and the working class engineered by over 70 years of propaganda in the kept press of the plutocrats has borne fruit, so that even the unions, who are ostensibly the voice of that class, do not receive the support of that party, except lip service. And they do not even seem to mind, rather like the conservatives of Kansas on the other side. And they whimper and advertise their supposed discontent, but they also are supported by the plutocrats and don’t really mind. So a lot of the relief for the slow consumer market will go not to those who would spend it, but to people who already have more money than they can spend to buy true satisfaction.

WORKERS - January 24, 2008

While watching some of the Democratic candidates for president in the past few weeks, I took note of some of the good works they had been attributing to themselves and, I must admit, being a bit impressed by some of them. Hillary was proud of the time she had expended on civil rights, gender rights and human rights but I noticed, as before, no real attention to the rights of American workers as such. Obama had given attention to the needs of those workers who were desperately poor, but nothing noteworthy about the average workers, those in the middle of the wage scale, at about $12 - $20 an hour. As with Hillary, these workers were not poor enough, it seems, to have gained his pity, and thus were ignored. Indeed, except for Kucinich and Edwards, none of the candidates seem to have shown any concern for average working people, though all the GOP, and even some Democrats, showed interest in the needs of American corporations, banks, and the needs of the owners of our economy. And it occurred to me that was just fine with those owners and their friends and sponsors in the media, who largely find lordly concern with the crippled and discriminated tolerable and even commendable, so long as it is purchased by a stringent ignoring of the needs of those workers, once thought prosperous, who flourished in the age when the unions were still paying attention to the needs of the working class generally. So Hillary and Obama and all the GOP pass muster with Rupert Murdoch and those like him, while they pay no heed to the likes of Kucinich and Edwards, who do not worship at the altar of economics according to the U. of Chicago. And where are the workers themselves in all of this? It appears that they are too wrapped up in the horse-race aspects of the election, or even in the entertaining parts of the lives of the Packers and the Badgers, to pay attention to their own needs and those of their families. And their unions are too busy playing the game of politics and the strategies of power to have any time or effort left to protect the workers, their families, or their economic welfare.

TRIBAL LOYALTY - January 3, 2008

It is surprising how weak a reed similarity of principles or individual benefit is compared with the desire of people to “vote for someone who looks like me”. We see it today e.g. in Kenya, where being a Kikuyu counts for more that policy or performance in the votes of the largest tribe, that of the incumbent, against the Luo, the 2nd largest, and that of the challenger. And even so, it appears clear that the ballots have been tampered with. Perhaps we are seeing a repeat of the theft in Mexico, where the incumbent party went to bed on the last election day having lost and awoke the next morning to declare that they had won & would brook no recount. It seems that we now have the same scenario in Kenya. In Zimbabwe, the burden of the struggle against the white Smith regime in S Rhodesia was carried by Joshua Nkomo but when election time came his tribe was smaller than that of Mugabe, so Mugabe became president & has used every police state tactic he knows to remain in power. In UK, some people with weak links to the Labour Party voted for Margaret Thatcher, enchanted by the thought of a woman as Prime Minister. They learned to their cost that they should have looked more at the shape of her beliefs and less at the shape of her skin. So it was not only of the people whom some consider to be less evolved in their political thinking that people vote their identities instead of their principles or their interests. The British and Americans think of themselves as the most enlightened of peoples in political matters, & yet there are those who will vote for the candidate who looks like them rather than their needs or the needs of the Republic. There are, among the Democratic candidates, those who would give us an eight year repeat of LBJ’s struggle to redeem the Vietnam war with victory, and then not have the gonads to pull out when that was necessary. Be careful of the basis of your vote; it might not turn out to be what you had expected.