Thursday, August 10, 2017

NORTH KOREA



We just returned from a three-week Hawaiian vacation and I am happy to resume blogging.

When starting up again, the first question is, what shall I write about? The choice is always between something fun, like a travel story, or something grisly, like Trump or North Korea.

Unfortunately, I have to select the latter, since our blog is primarily about current affairs. So right now, I am going to talk about the most important issue in the world today. Next time I’ll tell you about some of our funny experiences on our recent trips. The most important thing in the world today is the face-off between two lunatics - Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un.

Now don’t misunderstand me: I am not engaging in moral equivalency between the US and North Korea, or between the two countries’ regimes. The US, despite its unhinged President, remains a functioning democracy. North Korea is an indescribably totalitarian, militarized insane asylum. 

However, the verbal exchanges between the two leaders are frightening. Trump’s ‘fire and fury” speech, far from making me feel more comfortable in the belief that our leader is strong, resolute and ready to fight back, appears to INCREASE the chance of a catastrophic nuclear conflagration. No one wants or anticipates such a conflagration, but miscalculations and stupidity have been known to lead to disaster before.

The best example of unexpected suicidal behavior on a global scale was World War One: When the Germans, the French, the British, the Austro-Hungarians and the Russians happily marched off to the front in the summer of 1914, they all believed that the conflict would be brief and mild. In the end, the war engulfed the entire planet. The catastrophe was essentially the result of idiocy and miscalculation (See for example Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August).

Those of us beyond a certain age remember the fifties vividly, as well as the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. I still lived in Europe at the time, but we were every bit as aware of the threat of nuclear annihilation as Americans were. My wife Anita is an air force brat. Her father flew B52s for SAC at Offutt AFB near Omaha. She remembers the absurd drills during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when she and her classmates were told to practice ducking underneath their desks when the nukes start raining down on them.

Hawaii is the first state to take the current threat seriously. Authorities there have begun to test the attack warning system, and they have broadcast instructions advising the population how and what type of shelter to seek in case of attack. After a North Korean nuclear launch, Hawaii would have fifteen minutes to protect itself. North Korea’s nuclear bombs yield roughly the same power as those that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Thus, a majority of the Hawaiians would survive, even though hundreds of thousands would die.

And imagining escalation of the nuclear exchange to the mainland of the US, Japan, South Korea and other parts of the world is too horrific to even contemplate.

So here you have it, folks. I join the vast majority of public opinion in saying that the likelihood of a nuclear exchange remains small. However, the fact that something has never happened in the past does not provide certainty that it will not happen in the future.

The world survived the Cold War. Most world leaders have always understood that the point of having nuclear bombs is precisely to make sure that they never get used. I hope that both Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump remember this.

Coincidentally, America is led by the least qualified man ever to occupy the White House, precisely at a moment of the gravest danger. I now find myself praying, even though I am an atheist.

© Tom Kando 2017;All Rights Reserved
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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Democracy in Chains: A True Horror Story

by Madeleine Kando

Preliminary Note: My knowledge of politics and economy is not adequate to give this book its full credit, but I felt it was important enough to write about. It describes the Far Right’s vision of a ‘good’ society, one that safeguards liberty for the few at the expense of elementary fairness and freedom for the many. Knowing that the majority of Americans do not share this vision, the billionaires backed Far Right has been working toward their goal by stealth. If you do not have time to read this 240-page masterpiece, just read the last chapter, the conclusion. It is horrifying.

‘Democracy in Chains: the Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America’ is so disturbing, that it takes a while to realize its full significance. Nancy MacLean, a professor of history and public policy at Duke University, suggests that James McGill Buchanan, a libertarian economist and Nobel laureate who taught at George Mason University and died in 2013, inspired the billionaire Charles Koch’s campaign to “save capitalism from democracy — permanently.”

Almost 70 years ago, Buchanan was already promoting the ideas that define libertarianism: Individual freedom, unfettered capitalism and minimal government intervention. In his view, the majority cannot dictate what the individual should do, especially when that individual is rich. He was against everything that a progressive society values: public education, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and of course progressive taxation, i.e. everything that is essential to making a society more fair and just.
Read more...

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Restorative or Retributive Justice: Which is better?

by Madeleine Kando

One of the most entertaining ways of getting a grip on the difference between ‘retributive justice’ and ‘restorative justice’, is by watching the TV series ‘Lilyhammer’, starring Steven Van Zandt, Bruce Springsteen’s lead guitarist. It is about a former New York gangster named Frank "The Fixer" Tagliano, who is placed in the Federal Witness Protection Program and sent to Norway to start a new life.

Frank becomes a respected (read ‘feared’) local citizen, mostly due to bribes and intimidation. His ‘American’ method of doling out justice soon finds fertile ground in this over-civilized, rules-bound society. Norwegians ‘talk’ to work through conflict, but Giovanni’s Maffia style methods often get faster and more effective results. Lilyhammer makes fun of Norway’s soft approach to crime and oddly enough the show is incredibly popular in Norway. It must give Norwegians an opportunity to satisfy their thwarted sense of ‘retributive justice’. We all seem to have a desire to take revenge on the ones that have wronged us, whether we live in Norway or somewhere else.

What is Justice?

One of the earliest versions of justice can be found in the Egyptian goddess named Maat. She has an ostrich feather in her hair and a lioness by her side. Cosmic harmony was achieved by correct public and ritual life. Maat weighed the heart of a dead person on a scale against her ostrich feather. If the heart was lighter than the feather, it passed the test and was granted eternal life. If If it was heavy with the weight of wrongdoings, the lioness by her side devoured it and the soul was set adrift into chaos.

But since Plato and Aristotle, there has been a constant battle amongst philosophers on what justice really is: is it God’s Devine Command? Is it something that has been agreed upon between members of society? Or is it a Natural Law, like the law of gravity? If justice is what is commanded by God, is it morally good because God commands it, or does God command it because it is morally good? In other words, does justice exist on a higher order than God, who just follows the rules of justice, or did God create justice, like pulling a rabbit out of magician’s hat? Read more...

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Gathering Storm



I’m reading a marvellous book - Sean Carroll’s Brave Genius. It’s about the French Resistance movement during World War Two.

I’m not going to review this entire book. I just mention it because its first chapter evoked a frightening parallel in my mind: That first chapter is about the so-called “Phony War” which took place in Europe from September 1939 to May 1040, when the shooting war actually began:

Officially, World War Two began on September 1, 1039, when Hitler invaded Poland and the allies (France and Britain) declared war on Germany. However, what followed was what the French came to call the “Drole de Guerre,” or the “Phony War.” For over eight months, there was practically no fighting between the Germans and the allies. The major shoot-out began on May 10, 1040, when Hitler invaded the Netherlands, Belgium and France. This phase lasted barely five weeks and ended with the defeat of France. Read more...

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Is Trump's America Increasingly isolated, and are Americans Exceptionally Stupid?



A Dutch friend just sent me an article by Mars van Grunsven in De Groene Amsterdammer (Make America Exceptional Again).

Its main thesis is that America is increasingly isolated from the rest of the world, and that Trump is speeding up this process. It also discusses, as so many have done in the past, the presumptuous belief of many Americans in “American exceptionalism.”

My comments:

1. Isolation? The assertion that America is increasingly isolated implies a dichotomous view of the world: America vs. the rest of the world. But this is nonsense. America is just one out of a couple of hundred countries, some friendly, some hostile, some indifferent. America may enter into new sorts of alliances, with nefarious dictators such as the Philippines’ president Duterte. It is best to see America as a primus inter pares, in the near future maybe secundus or even tertius...just one of the world’s relatively large countries, also a flawed country, as many other countries are. So, not all that exceptional.

2. The Future? If a small country like North Korea can insulate itself and persist in its insane ways for many decades, surely a huge place like America will be able to continue its idiosyncratic culture indefinitely (its attitudes towards guns, sex, race, the economy, science, religion, the environment and everything else). Read more...

Monday, June 19, 2017

With Trump’s Budget Cuts, Americans Should Worry About Their Health and Safety

By Morgan Statt **

We can spend all day taking a look at the way Trump behaves. The media loves to analyze his every move, so much so that it’s hard to forget when he essentially shoved the leader of Montenegro out of the way or that time he tweeted out “covfefe.” By the way, did you know an Illinois lawmaker is looking to turn into federal law a ‘COVFEFE’ bill focused on documenting Presidential activity?

There’s an understandable reason why the media wants to highlight his behavior. It enables us to find a bit of comical relief in the caricature of Trump as we cope with the realization that he’s actually our President. But, there comes a point when we need to remember that Trump isn’t just a dramatized photo we can marvel at. He’s our President, and the scope of changes he’s hoping to bring about could have a very damaging effect on our health and safety. For starters, his 2018 fiscal budget proposal should cause a high level of concern for American consumers. Read more...

Sunday, June 18, 2017

How Jared Kushner gets Rich off of the Backs of the Poor



You probably never heard of the ‘EB-5 Visa Investor Program’, but it is a favorite of real estate developers who are looking to fund their projects with low cost capital. The Program was created in 1990 and provides a method for Immigrant Investors (the majority are Chinese) to obtain to obtain United States visas as a path to permanent residence. By investing upwards of 1million dollars into a commercial enterprise, wealthy foreigners and their families are granted green cards, so long as the investor can prove that 10 U.S. jobs have been created as a result of his or her investment.

Originally intended to benefit poor and rural communities, called a Targeted Employment Area (TEA), where the jobless rate is 150% of the national average, it is now being used and abused by wealthy urban developers like Jared Kushner, the President’s son in law, as a way to finance real estate projects at a below market price. This is exactly how ‘Trump Bay Street’, on the Jersey City waterfront was financed at below market rates, through EB-5 investments. Kushner secured $50 million in funding from about 100 investors from China, South Korea and Vietnam.

That would already be cause for ethical concern, considering how Trump and hence his chief advisor, Jared Kushner, are railing against the Chinese takeover of our economy, but Kushner wanted to sweeten the deal. His investors, he announced, would only have to pay half of that million dollar to get a path to citizenship. Read more...