Sunday, January 27, 2013
What’s wrong with our 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
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
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
- Mr. Hagel thinks that bombing or taking other military action against Iran would not achieve anything useful and would almost certainly cause a great deal of trouble for us. I agree with this thought. The neocons are hot to threaten to use military force against Iran. I think that such a threat would make the Iranians even less willing to negotiate with us than they are now. The neocons think that the American military establishment is so powerful that any nation threatened with it would decide to obey us and not oppose us.
- The neocons have an uncritical admiration for the conservative Likud regime in Israel. Mr. Hagel thinks, and I agree, that the continuing settlement activity in Israel/Palestine is not only illegal but actually hinders efforts to broker any kind of deal between the Palestinians and the Israeli government.
- Mr. Hagel thinks, and I agree, that the powerful AIPAC lobby, which provides electoral support for members of Congress who express unadulterated praise for Israel and the Likud government is itself a hindrance to achieving a foreign policy that serves our needs. Instead, this Congressional adoration of Mr. Netanyahu's government tends to spoil our relations with many other countries, particularly those with large Islamic populations.
Tuesday, January 01, 2013
Fiscal Cliff III
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.