Sunday, January 27, 2013


What’s wrong with our Foreign Policy?

Recently I watched an episode of the TV program “Meet the Press.” One of the segments dealt with American Foreign Policy and the problems the Obama Administration will soon face. The commentators that the host had gathered to discuss the problems expressed concern that some of the revolutionaries that we are supporting or considering supporting are sympathetic to and contain members of Al Qaeda. They agreed that we must stay involved in many parts of the world and that we must not appear weak. The implication is that we must maintain a credible military force and appear to be ready to use it if matters get out of hand. There were clips of President Obama and Mrs. Clinton, our Secretary of State, commenting on the need for a strong, consistent foreign policy.

This is all well and good. I won’t argue in favor of weakness. I wish that some of these foreign policy experts would read a book that I recently read. It’s called “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man,” by John Perkins. In the book Mr. Perkins tells how he prepared wild and unrealistic economic estimates for various projects to be undertaken in small countries. The estimate would be given to the leaders of the country to convince them that if their resource (e.g., petroleum) were exploited, or if a new power system were built and installed their country would experience great prosperity and economic growth. Of course, they would have to borrow money from the World Bank or some similar institution to pay a capable American contractor (e.g., Bechtel or Halliburton) to carry out the project. The excess income resulting from the promised economic growth would provide funds to pay back the loan.

The project is built. If the purpose is to extract petroleum, indigenous people have to be moved out of the way. Heavy equipment is brought in. The extraction process pollutes the area, pollutes rivers, kills some native species, makes the native people angry, and does not produce the promised economic growth. If the project is a power grid, the local people do not get access to the power, and again the promised economic boom never occurs. The leaders of the country are happy with their bribe money. The natives are unhappy and angry at the Americans. The country is stuck with a big debt that it can not possibly repay.

Read the book for more details. I wish that President Obama would read the book. I have a dream in which he appoints John Perkins to be our Secretary of State. Then I wake up and I’m sad and worried.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Improving Social Security

I get a lot of information and inspiration from reading the morning newspaper.  I am lucky to live in Los Angeles and to be able to subscribe to the Los Angeles Times.  The LA Times is one of the best newspapers in the country.  I can remember an occasion in 1961 when I was puzzled by a public comment of the new President, John Kennedy.  He had just learned about the training camps in Nicaragua where the CIA was sponsoring the training of Cuban emigres to invade their homeland and overthrow the Communist regime of Fidel Castro.  I was puzzled because I had been reading about those training camps for months in the LA Times and in The Nation  magazine.  Later I learned that the LA Times was the only newspaper and The Nation was the only magazine that published any information about those training camps.  It was obvious then that Mr. Kennedy did not read either publication.

There was a nice story in the LA Times this morning about a new opera house in Oslo, Norway.  At one point in the story it was reported that dancers in the national ballet retire at age 41 on pensions and that singers retire at 51 on pensions.  I thought, what a nice idea.  Perhaps Social Security can be changed so that people can retire at ages consisted with their occupations.  Dancers and football players are worn out at 41.  Singers and many construction workers are worn out at 51.  Physicists like me, for instance, never seem to wear out and we could keep working until we reach 75 or older.

Of course I don't expect this proposal to go anywhere soon.  The urge to change Social Security comes from people who are afraid that their taxes may be increased to help pay for it, not from people who would like to retire either earlier or later than at 65 years.

Monday, January 21, 2013



Two or three days ago I learned that although the Republican Party had elected a majority of Representatives to the House, in fact the total popular vote for the House was majority Democratic.  The Republicans achieved victory in 2010 and 2012 because many State legislatures were dominated by Republicans and they arranged the district boundaries, after the Census of 2010, to achieve Republican electoral victories.  It's interesting to compare the results of the election on the make-up of the Senate with that of the House.  The Senate can not be gerrymandered by State legislatures, even though the representation in the Senate gives preference to voters living in small States, such as Vermont and Alaska.  (Small here refers to population, not area.)

In a few States voters have gotten rid of legislative gerrymandering by putting the setting of district boundaries in the hands of non-partisan citizen commissions.  This reform is not easy to achieve in many States.  The reform has to be accomplished either by an act of the legislature itself (very unlikely!) or by initiative (difficult in many States).  Some gerrymanders are so blatent that federal courts have voided them because they violate the federal laws regarding boundaries of Representative districts.  However, these remedies are based on the idea of creating districts in which "minorities" will be able to elect members of their own group.

A better remedy would be a federal law - perhaps an amendment to the Voting Rights Act or perhaps an Amendment to the Constitution - that requires that an acceptable scheme for electing Representatives is one in which the partisan make-up of each State delegation is close to the partisan vote in the most recent election.  This result can be accomplished either by a non-partisan commission to establish boundaries or by electing the entire State delegation at large by proportional representation.

In the mean time, let us not hesitate to remind the majority leaders of the House that their majority is based on a rotten borough system of representation, and that they do not have a moral mandate to carry out some of their more egregious changes, such as replacing Social Security and Medicare with voucher or private savings plans.

I welcome your comments.

Monday, January 07, 2013


Chuck Hagel for Defense Secretary

I've decided that I'm an "anti-neocon."  For the past week or so I've been reading about the objections the neocons have to appointing former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense.  Some of these objections relate to public positions Mr. Hagel has taken regarding the use of our armed forces to get our way in the world, the probability that we will have to drop bombs on Iran to get them to stop their progress toward making a nuclear weapon, the actions of the Likud government in Israel, and the American-Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC).  To be more specific:

I applaud the President's decision to appoint Mr. Hagel to the position of Secretary of Defense.  I think it is high time that we have at least one important member of our government who is willing to express criticism of AIPAC, the Likud government of Israel, the continuing settlement activity, and other activities of Israel that show that some members of the Likud government have no interest in any sort of peaceful settlement of the conflict with the Palestinians.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013


Fiscal Cliff III

Congress and the President reached a compromise that doesn't increase MY  taxes.  Spending cuts, etc., are to be postponed until the new Congress takes office on January 5.  (Or is it January 4?)  Am I happy?  Yes, for a while.  There's another cliff (aka fight) coming: extension of the debt limit.  Regarding the debt limit, I've wondered why the President couldn't change it unilaterally.  He could simply issue an executive order to enlarge the debt limit for, say, one year or until Congress approves the enlargement.  I'm sure he could get away with it for a year.  On balance, it's probably not a good idea.

It's going to take at least one more election to get rid of the dysfunction in our federal government.  The "small government" faction still has a majority in the House.  This faction will continue to try every tactic, every strategy, every dirty little trick to force the federal government to start dismembering the "entitlement programs" also known as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  This same faction will also try to paralyze the agencies charged with regulating industries with regard to worker safety, environmental pollution, etc.

Finally, some fatherly advice for my fellow lefties:  Recognize that Barack is the President of all the people, not just of us.  He recognizes, and we should recognize too, the limits of the power of the Presidency.  His greatest source of influence is the "bully pulpit."  By making statements in timely manner he can influence public opinion.  Change can come about only with the support of public opinion.

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