Reflections On War And Reality

Carl von Clausewitz, the author of On War witnessed the brutality of modern warfare. He was present at some of the most critical battles of the Napoleonic Wars and saw first-hand the carnage large groups of armed men and artillery can inflict on one another.

He fought on the side of the Russians at Borodino (1812) where approximately 80,000 men on both sides were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. Clausewitz saw the horrific slaughter of French Infantry at the Raevsky Redoubt – a series of earthworks from which a rain of cannon and musket fire scythed down the advancing French troops in grim a precursor to the trench warfare later played out at disparate locations such as Sebastopol (1854-55),Cold Harbour (1864) and the Marne (1914). Later he fought at the lesser known but equally significant battle of Wavre where the Prussian Army blocked French reinforcements from joining Napoleon at Waterloo (1815).

On War, which was published after his death in 1832 is both a theoretical treatise on warfare and rational summary of Clausewitz’s experience of combat. Typically, as in the case of all great thinkers, later academics both military and non-military have misinterpreted or misunderstood Clausewitz in order to justify their various ideological agendas. His most famous aphorism that “war is a continuation of politics through other means” has been removed from its context and used to justify massive public spending on armaments.

Yet one of the most significant and relevant passages from On War is probably the least famous [italics are mine].

Wars must vary with the nature of their motives and of the situation which gives rise to them. The first, the supreme, the most far reaching act of judgement that the statesman and the commander have to make is to establish by that test the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something alien to its nature. This is the first of all strategic questions and the most comprehensive.

Here Clausewitz is talking about the reality of motivation for war rather than the ideological convictions behind those motivations and how that reality should shape the tactics for the successful completion of a war. A further extrapolation being that the resolution of any conflict is dependent on what is real not what its actors desire it to be.

Yet since the end of World War II both the public and western militaries have dwelt in a bubble of non-reality. Since the conclusion of World War II one thousand soldiers and five thousand civilians have been killed per day in regional wars across the world. This is approximately the same number of deaths per diem as during World War II.

There is a public disconnection between the perception of this ongoing death and destruction and the reality of why it is occurring. Part of the blame for this lies with the unofficial covert status of modern warfare as practiced by Western powers. At the time of writing, French troops are embroiled in Mali while American military advisers in Kenya are assisting Kenyan troops in an ongoing fight with Al-Shabbab in Somaliland.

At the same time, troops from Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Nigeria with the backing of the American CIA and Britain are pursuing a war with Boko Haram in Nigeria and surrounding states.

In the Middle East, both Saudi Arabia and the United States are locked in a dirty war in Yemen while to the north, Palestinian opposition to US-supported Israeli occupation continues its violent cycle, a conflict that has since 1948 spilled over into Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Syria.

The Syrian Civil War that erupted in 2011 has drawn outside forces into that conflict. There are parallels with the Syrian Civil War and the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 in that outside powers are working to influence the outcome of that conflict. In Syria, Russian, American and Turkish forces and their proxies are vying for control of an area crucial to oil exports and regional trade.

In each of these cases, the root causes of each conflict are environmental and nationalist. Each of the countries listed has suffered from climate change, most notably Syria where a series of failed harvests and the failure of the Assad regime to address food shortages ignited the popular revolt that triggered the recent Civil War.

The nationalist aspects of each conflict are visible in the manifestos of the groups involved. The organisations have different names – ISIS, Boko Haram, Al-Quaeda, Al-Shabbab- and while their Islamist principles have been made evident through their many pronouncements on social issues, these groups are at the core, nationalist movements. Just as communism served as a legitimising ideology for nationalist movements in China and Vietnam, and Korea in post-World War II era, Islamism is being used by nationalist groups in Africa and the Middle East to create a sense of philosophical legitimacy.

None of this is to condone the methods employed by ISIS and other groups. It is merely an effort to provide an accurate portrait of these groups that is untainted by the jingoistic descriptions emanating from the Western powers.

Moreover, when the situation is looked at without an ideological lens, what is apparent is that all of the above conflicts are connected. In each case, Western powers and their proxies are fighting to maintain control over regions containing strategic resources.

Leaving aside the dubious ethical reason for the fighting, the ideological convictions at play on all sides are rooted in fantasy. The United States claims to be fighting a war against “terrorism” and against Islamist forces that want to control the world. The reality is that the groups they are fighting are local nationalist movements with an Islamist philosophy. The reality of geopolitics is that even if a group like Al-Shabbab came to power in its locale, it would be limited by both physical geography and ethnic geography. The latter is of crucial importance.

Consider Afghanistan and Vietnam. Even at the height of its power, the Afghan Taliban only controlled eighty percent of the Afghan landmass. They were limited by topography and the ethnic divisions that coalesced around the Northern Alliance, including the Tajiks and the Pamiris.

Similarly, the Domino Theory behind French and US intervention in Vietnam did not stand up to reality when in 1979 the Vietnamese defeated the invading Chinese forces during the Third Indochina War. American assumptions that China would absorb Vietnam ignored the centuries of ethnic rivalries between the two powers that predated Western colonialism.

Regardless of the reader’s stance on the so-call War on Terror, any sensible resolution to the above conflicts can only occur when reality is acknowledged and accepted over ideological agendas. To do otherwise is to deny Clausewitz’s correct assertion that statesmen and commanders neither mistake this war for, nor try to turn it into, something alien to its nature.

Failure to acknowledge that reality will result in the geopolitical, military, economic and political defeat of the West.

There are many reasons why militaries (and the societies that produce them) fail to come to terms with reality and all of these are rooted in ideology. In the case of the United States there exists at a tactical level, an obsession with military technology and equipment. Yet as defeat in Vietnam attested, technology alone does not ensure victory.

Second, there exists a moral dimension to America’s failure to grasp military realities; that being the contradiction of spreading democracy and free markets by armed force. Like the Athenians of the Classical Era, there is a dishonesty at the core of American foreign policy that denies the brutality and larceny that occurs when its military is unleashed against a foreign population.

Third and of primary importance is a religious ideology at entirely at odds with reality. US support for Israel, while ostensibly serving as a pillar of regional control is rooted in a fundamentalist Christian belief that the Final Conflict between the Messiah and the Anti-Christ will occur in Israel. That this belief (best described by the term dispensationalism) is not derived from the Gospel but from the Book of Revelations, – which in itself is derived from the pre-Christian Book of Daniel – and has no basis in physical reality is beside the point. The fact is believers in such abstract nonsense have influenced Western policy towards the Middle East for the last two hundred years. Most notably in the twentieth century was Prime Minister Lloyd George and his colleague Lord Balfour from whose foreign policy helped create the modern state of Israel. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair subscribed to dispensationalism and those beliefs influenced his determination to draw Britain into Gulf War II.

In the United States, dispensationalists have included former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W Bush. Donald Trump’s current energy secretary, former Texas Governor Rick Perry is a member of the Dominionist Church, a militant Christian grouping that seeks to set-up a Christian nation governed by biblical law. A planned consequence of this would be the criminalization of homosexuality, adultery and public blasphemy to name but a few “biblical crimes”, all of which would carry a death sentence.

That such beliefs are predicated on abstract nonsense does not diminish the fact that these beliefs have profoundly influenced American foreign and domestic policy since the end of World War II. In turn, these beliefs have hindered effective foreign and domestic policy during the same time period. The hardline Anti-Soviet stance adopted by the Christian Right helped precipitate the Cold War.

The dispensationalist support for “regime change” in the Middle East has cost the lives of millions of people and bankrupted the US treasury. These beliefs have had a deleterious effect on the effectiveness of the US military in foreign operations. The US military operates under the illusion that it is a crusading force for good, rather than an occupying army. The inability of US forces to handle the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan was evident in its conduct towards civilians, its many war-crimes (Abu Ghraib being the most notorious) and the contrasting success of British forces operating in Basra.

Before these issues can be addressed, there first needs to be a widespread acknowledgement of reality among the citizenry. A capable president with the backing of popular support could do much to deal with these problems. Doing so would not be easy and it would require a great deal of personal courage. However, these issues are not insurmountable. Precedent can be found with former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Faced with opposition to the policy of Glasnost and Détente with the US in the 1980’s Gorbachev was able to outmaneuver his critics and his own generals. After Mathias Rust flew his plane over Red Square, Gorbachev used the incident to marginalise the army generals who opposed his reform policies. The result for the world was the aversion of nuclear conflict with the US and the end of the Cold War.

War is as Plato noted, a reality “that exists as if by nature between every city-state.” However a constant state of war as exists in the Western World today undermines the foundations of civilisation. Wars, then while an occasional and unpleasant necessity should therefore be ended as quickly as possible. Instead, the dominant ideologies behind modern Western militarism persist in perpetuating unlimited, endless warfare. These forces must be stopped and controlled through democratic means otherwise they will continue to undermine the moral and economic well-being of society.

Carl von Clausewitz

Doing so will not be easy. The journalist Chris Hedges compared war to an addictive drug and like addicts western militarists are unable to perceive the damage they are doing to society. There is no easy solution to that addiction but the first step is the acceptance of reality. That requires an informed citizenry rejecting the nonsensical views of ideologues like Karl Rove who once said of the Republican Party “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”

Regardless of the cognitive dissonance of Rove and others, the most important lesson of war was best stated by Sun-Tzu: There is no instance of a nation benefiting from prolonged warfare.

Election Reflection

The pain is not so much from the horrible mess that Trump could produce, but the recognition that so much of this country is so fearful, greedy, and hateful… But some observations and some reflection on the terrors that await are in order, so here are my thoughts, disordered by events as they may be.

You can blame the DNC all you want, but the fact is that even without the superdelegates, Bernie did not win the primary, and in states where they voted (as opposed to caucused) he rarely polled as well, so while we may have some problems with “elites”, we have bigger problems with couch potatoes.

While the number of votes cast for GOP Presidential candidates has remained relatively stable over the last 3 cycles, the number of people casting ballots for Dem candidates has plummeted. This suggests that Trump was not elected by the people voting for him so much as he was elected by the people who refused to vote.

HRC’s electoral “failure” was razor slim and she won the popular vote. This suggests that it is the “hopeandchangey” crowd whose nonfeasance resulted in a Trump election, and we have to ask, “What did this crowd actually want?” Would Bernie magic have brought those voters to the polls, and if so, why didn’t it bring them to the polls during the primaries.

While, as Frank argues, more could have been done by the Obama Administration, we have to face the fact that people do not come out and vote for redistribution… We are in the grip of a virulent strain of possessive narcissism where everyone seems to think they simply don’t have enough. Scaif and Kochs have been buying up our academic and political institutions for half a century now, and it shows.

While I can’t disagree that the DNC was Democrats’ worst enemy, with respect to Dem voters I think you need to recognize that Dem success has often been based on smoke and mirrors. There is no way Obama could have possibly done what the surge of hopeandchangey voters expected of him, and the rancor, fed by 8 years of Rovian vitriol, was a player in this election that no one wants to acknowledge. Frankly, I am tired to death of hearing people making $150,000 whining about how they are suffering, so my question remains the same…. What specific policies could a Democrat in good conscience represent were achievable such that s/he would garner 70,000,000 votes?

As much as I pushed for Bernie, his campaign did not garner the majority of Dems. I think this is in no small part because the Dems who do vote are largely DLC neo-libs, whether they want to admit it or not. Even if Obama had tried harder, the incremental policy results would not have satisfied the hopeandchange crowd. Obama had a 58% turnout in 2008. He garnered almost 70,000,000 votes and won by a 7% margin! Turnout dropped 3.5% in 2012 as did the margin. And this election I believe turnout dropped another 3.5% and that same bit of Dem margin slipped away. While the RSLC has been successful in gerrymandering most of the country (which is in itself evidence of Democrats asleep at the wheel)  just look at the Congress! For crying out loud, look at Alaska’s federal Senators and Representative! Can you spell “obstruction?”

I have to argue that this election has shown we have issues with delayed gratification more than the narrative of Trumpers that the media has been blaring. In a polarized country nothing is going to happen overnight, and I see the rather inane behavior of Dem Berniecrats over Stock as symptomatic of the problems endemic to our political system… change requires political work, and I think it is difficult to get consensus about a progressive agenda, and difficult to keep people committed to working towards such an agenda. I am not trying to mimimize the horror that 60,000,000 proud morons presents – I am just trying to note that it is within the power of the electorate to put those people back in their box, and we apparently want them running amok for a bit.

I don’t follow the narrative being peddled about the Dems not connecting with the country. The rank and file are delusional. They have been fed a hateful gruel for almost a decade in preparation for this moment, and have been roused by someone I can only call Il Gialo, ilducea jaundiced ape of Mussolini. This election was NOT about more Republicans coming out to vote for Il Gialo; it was about millions of Democrats who felt they would not be bothered to vote. This is not about Trumpers, it’s about shallow, useless, patina ‘liberals’ whose commitment to the republic is epidermal. It was about people who wanted to be molly-coddled and promised, and snuggled. And now they are going to howl for years because the big bad hairy Cheetoh got elected by the moronic brutes… It was the Dems who did not vote that elected Trump (Dems had half the showing they had 8 years ago) and while I am deeply offended by the crass ignorance and cruelty of the Trumpers, the narrative has been that Derms “know better”, and we expect those that know better to do better, it is “liberal” mantra, and Dems took a pass and the maroons screamed, “OLE!”

I think one of then points Frank makes is that while the sector driving politics may have changed, the fact that industry is driving politics has not changed in almost 100 years. What I think Kochs found most troubling about Trump is the caprice and the willingness to use the Administration to punish “enemies”.  Our legal system has opposed the arbitrary and capricious as a central tenet, but now we have the legally unwashed, the folk who would as soon as follow the Dick the Butcher’s suggestion and hang all the lawyers, putting Il Gialo in charge. Caprice will reign, and all those chanting “federal over reach” will be sobbing in their nasty corporate ersatz beer.

And I don’t mean this as a part of some blame game, but as a tool for looking at candidates for 2020. The point is that a vibrant candidate who moves the left will win, despite all the nasty trash that the right can muster. I had hoped for a seasoned executive, such as Jerry Brown, but we have to look at a Senate leader like Elizabeth Warren, who has the chops, the gumption, and the cred. But,  the double entendre of our times is still, to my mind, “What is left?” Sorry, but I don’t see progressivism as part and parcel of neonicotinoid hysteria, GMO mania, or circuses on the Cannonball…  Bernie tried to define left, and there are many who will continue to argue that the wave of optimism he generated in so doing was (or would have been) the equivalent of the hopeandchange army.  We will never know because the neolibs (no, I am not talking about DWS, but about the millions, so comfortable in their homes, that allowed the DLC to become the DNC) took the wind out of his sails. What we do know, is faced with horrific prospects, almost 8% of our registered voters decided it was better that they stay home then vote against Trump.

Yes, I suppose the shambles that are left may well produce another surge against the right in 2020. But such a surge will require both ideals AND discipline, and I honestly think we are hopelessly short there, though I will continue to paddle upstream…


Wikipedia has some nicely done data on voting:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_Party_presidential_primaries,_2016

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_presidential_elections_by_popular_vote_margin

Dystopia 2016

Dystopia 2016
November 4. 2016
Allen D. Blume

In four days, Americans will head to the polls to select the next putative leader of the “Free World,” Members of Congress, governors, state legislatures, judges, and local government leadership. They will also render opinions on ballot propositions, bond initiatives, and state constitutional amendments. In past tumultuous times, pollsters and pundits held forth on potential outcomes where there appeared to be clear and distinct choices between the candidates and political parties. I suppose you could make the argument that in 2016 those choices still exist, but in the eyes of many – perhaps all – voters, the choices are perilous if not openly menacing.

At the top of the ticket the choice is between a capricious if not openly unstable faux biblical con artiste extraordinaire and robber baron and a flinty-eyed corporatist whose liberal credentials are more than a little suspect. Down ballot are more careerists, ideologues, and forum seekers who seem to have little interest in the overarching needs of the nation and the rest of the planet; and overspreading the entirety is a suspicion that the election process is in some way “rigged” to deny people their choice of “true” leaders. In a very real sense the 2016 Election is a striking example of why “None of the Above” should be considered as a voting option; but the overarching question remains “How did we get to this state of affairs?”

As a liberal, I can readily point fingers at conservative practices that have kept fraught and emotional anti-choice and gun-control and “jobs, any jobs” arguments in the forefront of political debate while deftly concealing increasing oligarchic control of the levers of government by multinational corporations and conservative billionaires and shifting greater wealth to the “Masters of the Universe” and their minions – a miniscule number of people who control more than ninety-five percent of the world’s wealth. But those are easy targets if your worldview posits republican democracy, social justice and equality of opportunities for all, an end to violence (by terrorist perpetrators, common thugs, and the police), an end to America’s perpetual state of international warfare (a form of corporatist terrorism), and the urgent need for binding global action to stem the planet killing effects of environmental change.

However, one-sided finger pointing and scapegoating miss the point if Democrats and liberals fail to consider their own shortcomings and outright failures: The principal issue being our indifference to our own fragmentation into separate communities of interest and unwillingness to work towards a common agenda and common goals. For me, one of the more egregious examples of our failure is the entrenchment of liberal “Five Percent” voting blocs who will abandon qualified candidates because they fail special interest litmus tests. It is the fragmentation of our own skills in building consensus and centrist positions that has cost us countless voters and elections; encouraged the growth of corporatist “Iron Triangle” special interests; fostered the high-jacking of our liberal, democratic values; and allowed the kind of right-wing political extremism we see today.

Of course, I have my own sense of schadenfreude (i.e., a delighted appreciation of another’s misery) at the rise of the GOP’s Donald Trump, having seen over forty years of right-wing race baiting, blatant gerrymandering, a conspicuous anti-union “dumbing down” of rural and urban workers, and political pandering to fundamentalist religious communities. The Republican Party’s practice of fostering divisiveness and anger has spawned in their midst a corrupt buffoon as heir to their mendacity, and they act like it’s a surprise. On this one point I’m quite happy to let them “stew in their own juices.” But I’m as equally concerned over the rise of Hillary Clinton in breaking the political “glass ceiling” to gain the White House. I have long believed that a woman can and should be President of the United States of America, but, unfortunately, not this one.

I believe that Hillary Clinton’s corporatist leanings have effectively excluded younger and more liberal voters, and since her nomination she has moved increasingly to the right of center in appealing to GOP voters and heavyweight business interests. I will not denigrate her effectiveness on behalf of women world-wide during her tenure as Secretary of State, but those were noble gains that came along with the hubris of her husband’s pseudo-foundation buying off of state Democratic Party organizations and politicians to pad her path to the White House, her own self-dealing with moneyed interests while ostensibly acting as the fair-minded international face of the United States of America, and her wind-vane attitude on international trade agreements and energy pipelines that will allow her to “rethink” her campaign positions when her incoming political advisors become cabinet secretaries and other policy mavens.

What should be of overarching concern to all Americans is whether the coming election has, in fact, been “rigged” against their interests, after all. While I don’t share Mr. Trump’s shrill fearmongering, it is worthwhile looking at the continuing disclosures from the Clinton camp in the form of WikiLeaks, FBI intermeddling, and wholesale disclosures by Democratic Party apparatchiki on every aspect to Ms. Clinton’s questionable behavior and political practices. Last summer’s disclosure of the Democratic Party’s national leadership conspiring to deny Bernie Sanders any visibility in challenging Secretary Clinton should be enough for those of us on the left to understand the visceral nature of Trump follower’s responses to the rigging charge. The Clinton Campaign threw a few of her party operatives under the bus, where they landed in sinecure positions that will allow their “rehabilitation” and re-entry into her administration.

And there’s this: In the absence of any sensible debates on policy and long term solutions for increasingly intractable problems – refugees, corporate monopolization of resources, sustained religious and racial warfare, care for the planet’s poorest people, and foremost the issues surrounding global environmental change that will only fester and spread more fear, Donald Trump’s blather about building walls on our southern border beggars the question of when individual American states will begin drafting laws limiting the mobility of our own climate change refugees? The last decade of hurricanes striking New Orleans and northern Atlantic coastal states, the increasing desertification of western and deep southern states, rising global sea levels and the attendant loss of arable lands is already pushing new immigration patterns in the USA, let alone on a global scale, and all are demonstrating our utter inability to respond to these gathering crises. We can be quite certain that the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security have already begun drafting their own policy memoranda for monitoring Americans on the move, and it won’t be all that long before we start seeing state governments following in their wake.

What is also virtually certain with this election is that the American electorate will be increasingly marginalized by dyspeptic right-wing anger and threats of violence, and by timid, milk toast responses by liberals on virtually every issue, and all of us will be drowned out by the blaring billion-dollar megaphones of global corporatism (see also, “fascism”).

What has become increasingly clear is that unseen and unreported, there are pitched battles going on between global interests to seize control of the American national agenda at the expense of ordinary citizens. Next Tuesday the open question is whether Americans will find their voices to repudiate this rising fascism and fear-mongering? I doubt that they will, and at this stage, I doubt that they can.

ADB

When is Racism Not Racism?

Recently I read where a friend argued that “voluntary racism” was not problematic:

It’s the Hegelian dialectic. Thesis (Forced Association); Antithesis (Free Association); Synthesis (Elective Affinities). What people voluntarily do as a matter of choice is infinitely preferable to compliant submission to authoritarian order. The first produces ontological dynamism; the second, ontological stasis. Adaptation requires a dynamic selection process and is essential to survival. Voluntary segregation is only superficially analogous to forced segregation. Therefore, while you assert a circular deconstruction of civil rights because of voluntary segregation, your assertion is invalid for the reasons outlined above.

This was sparked by the news that “California State University Los Angeles recently rolled out segregated housing for black students.”

But I have to ask whether your “voluntary segregation” isn’t tantamount to forcing segregation on me, because when all of you decide to be segregated, it means there are none of you with whom I may exist, which is forced segregation on me.

In essence it would appear that you deny the existence of de facto segregation, arguing a binary of involuntary versus voluntary segregation, the involuntary segregation being sole a matter of de jure segregation which is unrelated to the whims of the population. Of course, the reality of the situation is that de jure segregation is simply a reflection of de facto (voluntary) segregation, i. e. practices established by a group “voluntarily” segregating themselves such that others know where they cannot be 😉

To put it another way, if “whites”, whatever that is, decide to voluntarily segregate, then you are suggesting that they may in fact bar “others” from participating. Otherwise, how does one argue for the “voluntary segregation” of one group, and against the “voluntary segregation” of another?

It seems to me that this boils down to what in common parlance is known as the “have your cake and eat it too” fallacy, named after the famed statement that Marie Antoinette never made…. But perhaps more important it begs the definition of racism and segregation. Both terms focus on discriminating among people based on their race, race being a rather loose and bizarre term that, when all is said and done, is often argued to really mean “different than us”.  In other words, segregation is ALWAYS going to run up against the concept of “voluntary association”, and practically speaking if government represents the will of the people there is little practical difference between voluntary segregation and governmental segregation.

Of course, we should not single out universities looking to safeguard student psyches. screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-3-11-27-pmHere in Alaska we have an entire medical industry that is limited to serving only one race (Senator Stevens wanted to provide insurance for Natives instead of racially discrete services, but was shot down over his views by Natives).  In fact, signs at the entrance to the Native Hospital state that they are only for Native Elders (apparently non-Native Elders aren’t allowed to park there.) And don’t the same concerns arise with respect to voluntary segregation as to sex, creed, and national origin?

No, this is not going to end in an attack on Affirmative Action. Nor is it an attempt to delegitimize the perspectives of Cornell West’s Race Matters or the Black Panthers’ Manifesto. But I am concerned that in our desperation to be different, we are actually promoting racism, and that we can do without.

In 1954 Justice Warren stated in Brown vs Board of Education,

We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. This disposition makes unnecessary any discussion whether such segregation also violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Segregation, the Court found  “generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.” And someday, some day soon, a white child is going to ask, “Why can’t I go to that school?”

#DemExit to #DemEnter to #DemUnder or Belay Those Millennials?

Facebook can be an incredible tool, but more often than not it becomes a playground for cyber-bullies and echo chamber for the self-involved. Recently I was “targeted” by persons who apparently identified themselves as abused Stock supporters.  I am going to wallow through it for you as I think it eventually underscores my point.  Stick with me, and watch the slippery bits.

The complaint: “If you want to know how a group is run, you should check out [specific reference deleted] … btw largest Bernie and progressive group in Alaska 😉 … We have 3 admins, not one dictator who attacks it members….. We actually have discussions and debates that are lively. People are engaged and stay up to date… You want this group to be an anti – Jill, Pro – Ray then that’s fine that is your decision… but watch your group die in the process! Good luck!

The apparent reason for the complaint: As a result of complaints by group members regarding use of the group by one campaign (Stock) to solicit funding for their candidate (promoted by, you guessed it, the complainer), I suggested that while I try not to limit discussion, probably one campaign fund solicitation by another campaign was plenty.

But, ever open to suggestion, I took the opportunity to peruse the “other” group (where, don’t you know, the complainer was an admin) and what did I find?

In the interest of transparency, I would like to point out that certain people are blocked from this group that I think should be included. People who have been unfairly characterized as “trolls” when they shouldn’t be. I think that needs to be said since the designation of this group is ‘public’ and it gives a false sense that this group is open for all to see. It most definitely is not public in terms of all the Alaskan Berners being allowed in to the discussion. Some are being labeled and divided away from the discussion unfairly, in my opinion. Just like the Alaskan Democratic Progressive Caucus says it’s ‘public’, it’s most certainly NOT because I am blocked from even being able to see that page. This needs to be known.

What was that bit about people in glass houses?

And then this exchange in the Group I administer:

Merwyn Ambrose: is still wondering why we have not heard about any Revolution Watch Events in Fairbanks!?! Fairbanks, where are you?

Jill Yordy: There’s at least one up here. Go to Bernie’s website to find all the ones throughout Alaska. Not many from Fbx on this group, FYI

Merwyn Ambrose: Of course I checked for Fairbanks groups this morning and twice yesterday and found nothing. I double checked just now and you will find the results below.

BTW, one has to put in a zip code or location to get venues, and the app will only search within a 200 mile radius. Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 10.58.28 AM[Screen shot]

Merwyn Ambrose: There IS an event in Ft Yukon: [screen shot of Ft Yukon event]

Merwyn Ambrose: And there are people from all over the State in this group, as the discussion of venues for District caucuses made clear 😉

Jill Yordy: Merwyn you are a remarkably contentious individual who seems to enjoy arguing for the heck of it. I was only trying to help because I got emailed by our revolution directly with an invite to the events in Fairbanks. I think the time has come for me to leave this group.

Merwyn Ambrose: rofl – “remarkably contentious”? You made a statement that anyone could find an event in Fairbanks by simply using the Bernie website. I checked to make sure that was the case since I would not have posted about this if there were an event listed, and provided specifics that SHOULD have suggested to you that someone SHOULD post the event in the Bernie web site. You can come or go as you wish, Jill, but it seems that you are extremely emotional about nothing.

Let me see if I can help Jill out. This could be seen as contentious:

Jill Yordy: “Since I will not be allowed to say this once the primary votes are certified if I want to keep my position as a district chair (because of language in the Democratic Party Plan): I denounce Ray Metcalfe as a candidate for US Senate. He is using the Bernie label to gain power and has been since well before the Democratic Caucus. I encourage all voters to thoroughly research him and his history with the Republican Party and the “Republican Moderate Party” before November if you are tempted to vote for him as a “Berniecrat.” He did nothing to help Bernie’s campaign in this state, and many times actively impeded it. Talk to people who have been involved in politics in this state, on either side, for the last decade or more before making your decision.”

As might be Jill’s failure to respond to questions her points raised:

Merwyn Ambrose: I am curious about the statement, “He did nothing to help Bernie’s campaign in this state, and many times actively impeded it.” I have correspondence dating back to mid-July in which Ray tried to help find office space, tried to organize supporters by District etc. It is one thing to say that you don’t agree with someone, another to say he did nothing to support the campaign. You a the district Chair of a party whose candidate you have now denounced. Helluva start

Merwyn Ambrose: I am also curious about your statement, ” If I were a legislator under the language that Ray wants in the Party Platform, and subsequently as legislation, I would have to recuse myself on any vote that gave education money since my husband is a teacher.” This would not appear to be the case under the language that proffered at one time, so I would appreciate it if you provided the specific current language you reference, and any legal opinions you have obtained which support your claim.” [my questions, and as has been noted elsewhere, I have not endorsed any US Senate candidate]

But clarifying that your recommendation that Fairbanksans find an event not listed through the Sanders web site is problematic at present because none are listed… that is not contentious, lol.

So why the long ramble?  Just a few months ago Sanders “insurgents” essentially took over the Alaska Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 9.21.56 AMDemocratic Party. The young turks #DemExited  at the National Convention, and thereupon spoke of #DemEnter (perhaps not a well thought out hashtag, but spur of the moment etc…) staking out, apparently, the high ground, and their willingness to engage.  And, in probably one of the most important Alaska elections we will see, in which the candidate of this revitalized party would be selected to combat and defeat Lisa Murkowski, the winner, beating Edgar Blatchford by some 20 points, is Ray Metcalf.

One would perhaps been excused for supposing that the insurgents were ecstatic with the results. Apparently, however, the #DemEnters had already abandoned the party candidate (as well as the runner up, it would seem) for a centrist with zero experience because Dems weren’t nice and were past Republicans.  While I had yet to decide what to do, it became apparent to me immediately, and ever more so since, that our band of intrepid millennials has done what Murky herself could not, and that is ensure that she will get re-elected.

In politics, you always lose when you don’t play ball. When anyone argues that compromise is unacceptable, they have become Goldwater extremists, and extremism is what truly endangers us.

HillHooey, and Not Innovative at That

Having seen the fanfare, perhaps it’s best if we have a look at under the hood at what little Clinton has actually published regarding her latest “bold” attempt to “help” the college student. For example:

A smaller proportion of millennials today are starting new ventures as compared to their predecessors.[12] This is not for a lack of desire—more than half of America’s millennials say they want to start a business—but barriers like student debt and a lack of access to credit are holding young people back.[13] Hillary is committed to breaking down barriers and leveling the playing field for entrepreneurs and innovators who are launching their own start-ups. Hillary will allow entrepreneurs to put their federal student loans into a special status while they get their new ventures off the ground. For millions of young Americans, this would mean deferment from having to make any payments on their student loans for up to three years—zero interest and zero principal—as they work through the critical start-up phase of new enterprises. Hillary will explore a similar deferment incentive not just to founders of enterprises, but to early joiners – such as the first 10 or 20 employees. Additionally, for young innovators who decide to launch either new businesses that operate in distressed communities, or social enterprises that provide measurable social impact and benefit, she will offer forgiveness of up to $17,500 of their student loans after five years. https://www.hillaryclinton.com/briefing/factsheets/2016/06/27/hillary-clintons-initiative-on-technology-innovation/

In fact, most federal student borrowers are already eligible for income based payments, minimal payments are always preferable collection-wise to deferment, and the plan is for a deferment of payment, not a suspension of accrual of interest. Moreover, such a plan does nothing to assist in capitalizing any business, especially as the loans render the borrower (and likely his family) unable to borrow any further funding.

Can I run a lemonade stand and get a 1/10 of the cost of my Bachelor’s degree forgiven? That would be a great question, but you won’t find any answers from the candidate, because the whole scheme is largely just lemon meringue pie (I won’t say “in the sky” because there is nothing really grand or elevating about the comments).

I think most “innovative” and “entrepreneurial” business initiative is simply cannibalistic, as I suggest above, much like the finance sector really does NOT increase our domestic production. The mass of Americans can’t do Algebra, their core problem being the inability moldy-peachesto understand use of symbols, which would likewise preclude them from becoming effective programmers. We don’t need high tech jobs… we need jobs sweeping streets, and growing food. We need more doctors and engineers. We need more manufacturing jobs.

We are well on our way to the future that H. G. Wells described.  Fruit, anyone?

Protect This…

Recently I have been hearing another radical refrain, that being that the U. S. Constitution (as opposed to a scramble of Marines) protect my rights. Apparently small minds are working overtime…

Frankly, the Constitution has never protected anyone’s “rights”. The Constitution embodies a rather terrible bargain that was supposed to give voice to the conscience of a new people. As it was flawed, so were the consciences of its people. Waxing more and more selfish, as possessive narcissists are want to do, they pushed harder and harder until the fabric of consensus was simply too brittle to serve, to calcified to persevere.

The U. S. Constitution is essentially a side of mutton (that being the nature of parchment); it lays around like a dead sheep and doesn’t do much at all. Tough to do much when you are housed in a bullet proof glass case, after all.

Courts have very little enforcement power, and rely almost entirely on the executive branch, while legislatures, well, they legislate….. they have no muscle (and perhaps collectively show little to recommend them much of the time. The Supreme Court simply ignores the Constitution when it serves their purpose, as do the Congress and the Administration. So who or what does protect our rights?

Setting aside for another time the substantial question of whether we have any “rights”, the real answer to that question is to be found above, where we started.  It is found in the willingness of the polity NOT to push things to the braking point.

I teach my students that the crux of the U. S. Constitution is, “Give a little to get a little” (as much an understatement I suppose, as Hillel’s description of Torah) and while that brings smiles to their faces, I am very serious.  Literalists, in a sense, can’t be taken serious because there has never been a word written which was read the same way twice.  The essence of man is fractiousness, and the genius, if any, of western jurisprudence is the vagary of the “law” not its specificity. As with matter, it is the space between that is remarkable, and forbearance is as much the space between as mystical volume between nucleus and electron…

When we abuse the social fabric (the delicate consensus that allows us to live together in some remote semblance of peace) the disturbance ripples through our reality. Ignorance begets ignorance, hate begets hate, violence begets violence. Social behavior is not managed by a sharp, “NO!”, hurled by a two year old. It is managed by “moral suasion” (and Winthrop advises that moral suasion may be as ineffectual as legislation when it comes to wives).

What secures our rights is no more, nor any less, than Hillel’s prescription: “What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbor; this is the whole law. All the rest is a commentary, go and study it.”


http://www.sefaria.org/Shabbat.31a.82?lang=en&with=Rashi&lang2=en

Winthrop, John, and James Kendall Hosmer. Winthrop’s Journal : “History of New England”, 1630-1649. Volume 1. New York : Scribner, 1908. Accessed June 16, 2016. https://archive.org/stream/winthropsjournal00wint#page/278/mode/2up .

 

Taxing Alaskans: An Open Letter To Commissioner Hoffbeck

Dear Commissioner,

I sent the material below to a number of Anchorage legislators earlier this week, and Andy Josephson asked me if I would share it with you. My point in sending this to the legislators was that while it seems that one and all in Juneau talk about wanting to hear from the public, the public statements of those asking for input seem to reflect little of what passes for what is discussed on the street. In the meantime, we are bombarded by schemes that most see as dubious at best, and all lacking much in the way of documentation, modeling, etc. If you want to make an impression on concrete learners, you have to come up with some manipulables…

Folk on the street elected our Governor because they had had enough of Parnell. I think they would have elected a gorilla if they had to, meaning no disrespect to Governor Walker. And now, the Governor has another chance to repudiate the policies that Parnell championed, and the people of this State are ready to rally around the Governor, as they rallied round him with respect to Medicaid Expansion.

The fact is that most Alaskan make no net payment for any State or Local service. Period. Moreover, those who do pay a little something are 1%ers, and frankly can afford paying their way. Alaskans can afford MORE than a 15% nominal tax and we insist, across the board, on our willingness to raise taxes on ourselves to maintain the quality of life we enjoy as long as the taxes are not wasted. Let’s get to taxing!

Thanks for reading,

Marc Grober

_____________________________________________________________

Dear Legislator,

Please review this Google Doc spreadsheet  . It provides a brief examination of the revenue that a 15% nominal graduated income tax might generate on its own. [the spreadsheet has been embedded below to make it easier for the reader]

As State Income Taxes and Local Realty Taxes are deductible from Federal Tax, the total tax burden on “middle class” Alaskans would rise only a few points. As noted this basic analysis uses SOI brackets for ease of gross computation; actual brackets could be significantly skewed placing a greater burden on those itemizing.

Additionally, however, if we use a State Income Tax as a tool by which we can leverage other taxes we can also look at half a billion gallons of fuel used on the highway annually (about half gasoline and half diesel), and if we impose a $6/gallon tax, and then exempt first 100 gallons per household for 261,000 households we get another half a billion in revenue (yes, prices of shipped goods will rise across the board, which makes it more economical to buy local….) AND then we need to add the tax to private non-commercial airplane fuel

Lastly, removing the booze excise tax and replacing it with a retail tax starting at a dime per mL of actual ethanol, as in a 750 ml bottle of liquor at 100 proof might produce .48 (ABV)* 750 (mL) *$1 (tax) * .1 (multiplier) = $36 for a fifth of booze. Likewise a 750 ml bottle of wine would produce .13*750*$1*.1=$9.75 on a bottle of wine, and even after a modest exemption for a gallon a month, we have added another chunk of change and a real complement to a marijuana tax.

Now, repeal SB21 and dump all industry subsidies, and we are pretty close to being self-sufficient

Let’s put an end to the whine of the middle class welfare queens. Let’s put an end to the silly chatter about economic deportation of seniors, and let’s recognize that the median income in Alaska is over $70K (over $80K in urban Alaska), and Alaskans not only can pay their way, they have repeatedly told the focus group held by far right ideologues that they are WILLING to pay the taxes necessary to maintain their quality of life.

Stop talking about playing with the PFD: that is simply a shell game as any economist will tell you. The PFD – except in the Unorganized Borough, which is another matter altogether – is simply an in lieu transfer; PFD’s, while they provide an interim multiplier effect, also underwrite most of Municipal taxation on resident populations.

Stop talk about tapping reserves, as we all know legislators can’t be trusted in the hen house.

Promote a comprehensive tax regime that will meet Alaska’s real budget requirements.

Marc

That Is the Whole of the Law

שוב מעשה בנכרי אחד שבא לפני שמאי, אמר לו: גיירני על מנת שתלמדני כל התורה כולה כשאני עומד על רגל אחת. דחפו באמת הבנין שבידו. בא לפני הלל, גייריה. אמר לו: דעלך סני לחברך לא תעביד – זו היא כל התורה כולה, ואידך – פירושה הוא, זיל גמור.
 
I posted the above to Facebook as it cuts through all manner of bon mot about charity and pierces to the heart the matter of refugees Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 2.58.51 PM(to employ an Aristotelian view, it must be an expression of “good” as it appears in almost every human culture in one form or another). Some “Liked” the post (I can only hope they read Hebrew….) but I am sure most had no idea what it was (but didn’t ask). So what does that make me?  Harrrummmppphhhhh…..
 
The quote is from the Mishna, the first part of the Babylonia Talmud, Seder Moed, Tractate Shabbat, Folio 31a (translation and URL for source below). The Babylonia Talmud contains the ethical principles laid down by the rabbis, and it is the feed stock for the parables of the New Testament gospel canon. There is a generation between Hillel and his arrival from Babylonia, and the ministry of the person purportedly known as Yeshua, and some argue Yeshua was an inlaw of Hillel’s. Yeshua, who was born and who died a Jew, would have been steeped in the dynamics of Judaism of the time and the tensions between form and substance, and between assimilation and tradition. Suffice it to say, that much of the gospels are lifted from the Mishna. In fact Joseph McCabe argues that, “we are then compelled to conclude that the writers of the Gospels borrowed from the Jewish Schools most of the parables they ascribed to Jesus, and in most cases lowered or destroyed the ethical value of the parables in so doing..”

Do not allow another to be treated in a manner in which you would not want to be treated. That’s it.  That’s “good”.  Everywhere you go, throughout history. Except among Christians in the United States in the 20th and 21st Centuries.

We put Emma Lazarus’ poem (New Colossus, written as a donation for the auction to support the funding of the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal) front and center so as to avoid the shame of our behavior:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
But we have long ago slammed the golden door in the faces of the wretched victims of our blind self-interest. And thinking of these self-righteous Christians, I come to think of Jonathan Edwards terrifying sermon on the text “Their foot shall slide in due time. Deuteronomy 32:35″ . They are condemned, by their own faith, as sinners in the hands of an angry god, and their foot shall slide in due time.
Hypocrisy is no foundation for any tomorrow.  Garrison Keillor is oft lampooned by the snobs of the Thinkeries, but I would like to borrow his closing and tweak it, just a bit — ‘Be well, do good, and keep in touch.’
______________

On another occasion it happened that a certain heathen came before Shammai and said to him, ‘Make me a proselyte, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.’ Thereupon he repulsed him with the builder’s cubit which was in his hand. When he went before Hillel, he said to him, ‘What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbour: that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it.’ [footnotes deleted]

Feingold, Henry L. Bearing Witness: How America and Its Jews Responded to the Holocaust. Syracuse University Press, 1995. See Chapter 6 for a comparative discussion https://books.google.com/books?id=ts5lKWho2YwC&pg=PA94#v=onepage&q&f=false

Casting the First Stone

How IS a niqab like a gay wedding?

That is my take on the furor going on in Canada right now (more on that later) but first let’s talk scarves and stuff. The Q’uran does not require Muslim women to wear any specific type of garb; it only mandates modesty (and it mandates that of men AND women) and makes oblique reference to scarves and outer garments. It is the fundamentalist interpretations of verses in an-Nur and al-Ahzab that results in some male Islamic leaders insisting on niqab, burqa, etc.  But it IS clear from the Q’uran that the underlying purpose here is modesty – the expressed intent is to avoid inflaming “base” desire.  This may be all well and good until the proscriptions are employed as a tool a) to demean/denigrate, or b) to make unidentifiable (the Q’uran specifically states that women should be known and thereby not abused.)

But the discussion above focuses on the purpose of this dress for Muslims. We can increase the social coScreen Shot 2015-10-09 at 1.56.47 PMmplexity of such proscriptions by adding cross-cultural interpretation. While one may see a specific act as an act of modesty, another may see it as an act of defiance, secretiveness, a token of second class status, etc. Hijab and yoga pants? Can you say form over substance? Frightened yet?

Now fundamentalist Christians are no strangers to ignorance and foolishness, knowing little both as to their own religious history and theology, and as to anyone else’s. They by and large subscribe to a ‘my way or the highway’ philosophy, a policy even more extreme than Islam. And the more ignorant the Christian, the more extreme the position.  Just consider the cross which arguably symbolizes victory over death, in the kind of twisted ass-backwards logic of Paul et al (and Paul was one whacked out nutter….) In other words, the cross is a symbol for many of a categorical rejection of reality, despite the fact that such a position was not historically or theologically present in their religion until long after the alleged Yeshu was dead and gone (as he apparently was born and died a Jew.)

And so, the French look to ban both in secular space because both could be seen as acts of civil violence much as Romans saw Jewish refusal to abide by Roman civil religion (which was not,  in today’s sense, religious at all.) Culture warriors like Scalia, talk about American civil religion; Scalia dreams of being a Roman patrician, and sees the United States through the same kind of rose colored glasses that some of our propounding pops did.  Meanwhile the French, who brought religious liberty to most of the world at the end sharp end of Napolean’s legions, are the ones who argue that the only real way to address religion in a secular state is to ban it from the public square.

I was reading a thread based on a piece by Paula Simons in the Edmonton Journal,  (and the Facebook commentary on that piece) and the thought occurred to me that in as much as the burqa etc are interpretations by fundamentalist clerics of the scriptural prescriptions intended to avoid inflammation of passions, how would the Court address the possibility that the burqa wearer might inflame the passions of another woman by exposing herself to a female Court staffer?  Not what the Q’uran said, but surely closer to what it meant than shrouding all women from head to toe?

At the core all have to realize that we are rapidly approaching, as the battle over rights for LGBT in the US evidence, a time when “religious belief” will equate to whatever any group of bigots decides upon at any given time. The modern state can neither function nor co-exist with such personal freedom. So yes, what is sauce for the goose comes with the gander, but that works both ways, and the arguments in Canada ring strangely similar to those in the US where “liberals” get snarky about “anti-science climate deniers” and then without batting an eye talk bloody jihad on Monsanto. It would be wholly inappropriate to promote any policy without exploring the eventual impact of that policy. And while I would not want to aid and abet a racist, even racists can stumble on something important from time to time (even if they do so for the wrong reasons.)

Neoliberals ignore the fact that Locke was fundamentally inconsistent, but did make it clear that while individuals should be free to elect whether to become a member of some polity on reaching some age of majority, once a member, that individual was subject to the tyranny of the majority. It is the Leviathan or anarchy, says Hobbes, and I think he is correct… Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 1.53.40 PM No line is required until a line is demanded, and as we discussed before, the genius of Canada, if you will, is that Canadians have been able to get by with greater vagary than their cousins to the South. The bigger question for Canada is not where the line will be, but whether they can manage to avoid drawing it…. and avoiding a line is the responsibility of EVERYONE.   Harper and his crowd may well be xenophobic racists twits (I think the evidence in support of such a claim mounts every time one of his crowd opens their mouth) but every bright line drawn renders the system a little more brittle, until the social contract shatters under the strain. Am I entitled to a law that says that I can marry a Doberman (as opposed to a Poodle?)

 

Surah Al-Ahzab – The Noble Qur’an – القرآن الكريم

Surah An-Nur – The Noble Qur’an – القرآن الكريم

The Qur’an and Hijab | Hijab, The Muslim Womens Dress,Islamic or Cultural? | Books on Islam and Muslims | Al-Islam.org