Writing!

My blog output will remain low for awhile because I’m doing a lot of writing.  Just not blog writing.

I hope within two years to publish a manuscript that will reflect my life’s work beyond just the focus on the European Union and Germany that has been my research specialization.  It involves information far outside my discipline, connecting with history, psychology, philosophy, religion, and economics.

The argument is rather straight forward.   Western enlightenment thought, while enabling massive material prosperity and progress, has a dark side.  The West has also given us colonialism, destruction of cultures across the globe, environmental crises, the holocaust, communism, fascism, WWI and WWII, social darwinism, and nuclear weapons.   There has never been a civilization as destructive, violent…yet progressive and successful…as the West.

The era of globalization will challenge western dominance, and if we don’t change how we think about the world, the “dark side” of the enlightenment will doom us to crisis and even collapse in the coming century.

So the research I’m doing has to deal with questions like – what is the “West” and how can we speak of “Western” civilization?   What are the roots of how we think about the world, meaning to trace the development of western thought through its history really from Roman times, but definitely through the era from 1300 to the present, with a strong focus on how enlightenment values took root.

From there I work on distinguishing what about western thought spurred on the violence and exploitation, vs. what pushed for freedom, progress and human liberation.  This involves a close look at the 20th Century crises of the West, in particular the first half century, but also the “hidden crises” 0f the last sixty years (environmental, economic exploitation of third world states, etc.)

Beyond that, I have to demonstrate how globalization is changing the nature of politics.  For instance, most economic theory is based on state policies.  The globalization of international capital makes traditional economic policy theory if not obsolete, at least in need of considerable reform.  Connecting to the earlier argument, I make a case that unless we change how we think and act in the West, globalization means crises and perhaps collapse.

From there, working through what it is about this culture that has such a Jekyll and Hyde nature, I turn to the EU and ask whether the development of the EU in Europe – the place that give us the most violence in the early 20th Century – is a sign of how we could progress.  This involves looking at the EU in historic, institutional and theoretical contexts, with an eye on the thinking behind it.

Then I’ll attempt to bring it all together.  First, look at Eastern intellectual traditions, spiritual thought, and other ways of thinking out there that could be useful to consider.  Then using the EU as a pragmatic starting point (they’ve started the journey to a new organization and way of thinking, even if it’s only been baby steps) start to chart how there might be a path forward, donning first a new way of conceptualizing politics and the world.  The key is to show what the “new thinking” might look like, how it practically can manifest itself, and why it would lead to a more successful future.

Needless to say, this is not just another academic project.  I’m at the stage in my career where I want to write something meaningful, reflecting my core values and beliefs.  If it never gets published, that’s OK.  I still need to write it.  The work required on top of my normal work is daunting.   But this is my focus now – and probably the next year or two.  I’ve been reading and working on the ideas, but now I have to write, revise, rewrite, rethink, get feedback, and really throw myself into this (while trying to learn Italian on top of that!)

I’ll still blog – maybe about that writing, or if an issue comes up that I feel I need to write something about.  For a break I might do something fun and continue my Quantum Life series now and then.  But if you’re wondering why my output is down, well, I’m throwing myself into a project I believe in!

1 Comment

Obama: the Jackie Robinson of Politics

potus44

“But no president in our nation’s history has ever been castigated, condemned, mocked, insulted, derided, and degraded on a scale even close to the constantly ugly attacks on President Obama. From the day he assumed office — indeed, even before he assumed office — he was subjected to unprecedented insults in often the most hateful terms.

He has been accused of being born in Kenya, of being a “secret Muslim,” of being complicit with the Muslim Brotherhood, of wearing a ring bearing a secret verse from the Koran, of having once been a Black Panther, of refusing to recite the pledge of allegiance, of seeking to confiscate all guns, of lying about just about everything he has ever said, ranging from Benghazi to the Affordable Care Act to immigration, of faking bin Laden’s death, and of funding his campaigns with drug money. It goes on and on and on. Even the President’s family is treated by his political enemies with disrespect and disdain.”Geoffrey Stone, in the Huffington Post

President Obama has been a successful President by almost every measure.  The economy has moved from the deepest point in the recession to sustained job growth.  He has legislative triumphs, foreign policy success, and a relatively scandal-free Presidency.  He was elected twice by relatively large margins.   Yes, his party lost the midterms twice, but this last time had voting turn out at only 36%, meaning probably about 19% voted for the Republicans, hardly enough to counter his victories with a much larger turnout.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t reason to criticize him.  The right certainly disagrees with him on many issues, and the left has been frustrated by his centrism unwillingness to really push on liberal causes.   That goes with the territory of being a pragmatic centrist.

But given the clear racial divide still existing in the US, evidenced by the reaction to numerous cases of unarmed blacks being killed by police with no legal consequence, I believe the response to Obama is motivated in part by enduring racism.

Although nothing in reality supports it, the far right has created a caricature of Obama to ridicule and demean him.

Although nothing in reality supports it, the far right has created a caricature of Obama to ridicule and demean him.

That charge generates yelps of indignant “how dare you call me a racist” from Obama foes.   No.  You aren’t a racist if you oppose Obama.   People left and right will oppose the “other side” all the time – that isn’t racism.  What is racist is the way in which some critics of Obama attack his person, trying to denigrate the man, making it seem like he is unfit for the position he holds.

The causes of this are complex.   To some it’s not overtly race, at least consciously.  They see Obama as “different.”  He’s not the kind of person we usually see as President.  Not the wood splitting cowboy Ronald Reagan, or even the good old boy Bill Clinton.  He’s urbane, intelligent, cosmopolitan, and doesn’t seem the type who would split wood or go to the corner bar to scream at the screen while watching football on a Sunday afternoon.

He’s also not a wealthy, respected businessman like Mitt Romney, nor is he even the southern moralist former Navy submarine commander like Jimmy Carter.  He’s different.  He’s black – but that isn’t all of it.

It is, however, part of it.

Obama symbolizes the changing nature of US politics and demographics.  The future will have more Obamas and less Reagans.  White males no longer determine who leads the country, or who sets its values.  And just as many whites fear the rage from inner city youth and who thus try to blame the media and so-called ‘race baiters’ for the protests, they also fear the America that Obama symbolizes.

Robinson had to endure massive abuse, but baseball was never the same afterwards.

Robinson had to endure massive abuse, but baseball was never the same afterwards.

In many ways, Obama is like Jackie Robinson, the man who broke the color barrier in baseball.  He is doing a good job, but subject to unprecedented hate, vitriol and ridicule.  He cannot respond in kind – that would be to play into the low level gutter politics of his opponents.  He just has to do his job and let history make the call.   And he is doing it very well.

2 Comments

Benghazi: Another Faux Scandal Falls

mccaingraham

There are two realities.  In one, President Obama has had a relatively scandal free Presidency.   No major investigations or revelations have dogged him like they did his predecessors.  No Whitewater, Monica, Iran-Contra, Iraq, etc.   In another, Obama has been awash with scandals involving the IRS, Benghazi, where Obama was really born, gun running, etc.  That second reality, however, is built on a house of cards.  There is no real evidence, just suspicions drummed up by Obama’s opponents trying to do what they can to undercut the President.

For awhile the biggest and most threatening to Obama was the aftermath of the terror attack on Benghazi on September 11, 2012.  Led by Senator Lindsey Graham, Republicans claimed that the US muffed the reaction, covered it up, didn’t do what could have been done to prevent or respond to the attack, and as late as March this year Graham claimed that Obama’s response to Benghazi was the reason Russia took Crimea.

Graham was adamant on Benghazi.   It was symbolic of Obama’s “inability to lead,” “lies the administration told,” and ultimately “proof Hillary Clinton (Secretary of State at the time) is unqualified to be President.”   He called the people at the White House “scumbags” who were “telling lies,” full of venomous accusations that we now all know were utterly baseless.

Saturday a Congressional report from a Republican led committee finally give the last word on Benghazi and guess what: the Obama Administration did nothing wrong.   There was no evidence of anything close to a scandal, or that there is some trove of evidence that isn’t being released.  In short, Graham was always just grandstanding.

A tragedy like the attack on the US embassy in Benghazi in 2012 should have brought us together to counter terror; instead petty politicians tried to turn it into a scandal to serve their personal needs.

A tragedy like the attack on the US embassy in Benghazi in 2012 should have brought us together to counter terror; instead petty politicians tried to turn it into a scandal to serve their personal needs.

That has caused me to lose all respect for Lindsey Graham and John McCain.  To use a national tragedy like that not to unify the country but to try to undermine the President and manipulate the media is sick.   When the US was attacked on 9-11, the US rallied behind President Bush.  Even though the 9-11 Commission found plenty to fault the Bush Administration on in the run up to 9-11, it was deemed wrong to try to use that to politically attack the President.  In crises things are fast moving and hindsight has 2020 vision.  Alas, Graham and McCain were guided by neither ethics nor honesty.

The report drew no fanfare.  Certainly the two did not apologize or admit defeat.  Graham used attacks on Obama over Benghazi to shore up his conservative bona fides before his re-election, and has tried to use it to attack Obama’s foreign policy — one that is much more successful than the Bush foreign policy Graham supported.

In a just world Graham and McCain would stand on the Senate floor as rotten eggs were hurled at them, humiliated and ashamed.  But they’ll move on.  They are politicians.  They’ll be shameless in attacking the President, and will probably wink and dance to avoid having to admit being wrong about Benghazi.  I find it disgusting.

1 Comment

Obama, the Republicans and Immigration

Obama addresses the nation on November 20, 2014

Obama addresses the nation on November 20, 2014

The politics behind President Obama’s executive order on immigration are fascinating, so I’ll quickly dispense with the policy stuff.  Yes, what he did is legal.  It probably should have been earlier, and it comes after he tried to work with Congress for six years to get a legislative solution.  No, this doesn’t go as far as comprehensive immigration reform – we’ll still need Congress to do that (and I suspect they will – but only in 2017) – but it definitely gives the US a more humane, compassionate and reasonable approach to immigration.

And the politics, well…as Spock would say, fascinating.

One theory is Obama is purposefully “trolling the Republican party.”  Not so much by the policy – Obama was going to do this anyway – but by not waiting until a bill was passed in December to continue government spending.   The logic goes like this:  the Republicans do not benefit politically when they try to shut down the government.   Most Republicans do not want a government shut down.   Already 2016 looks difficult for them, wounding themselves politically is something they want to avoid.

Moreover, the GOP remains divided.  They want to create the impression they are united and can be responsible, but the divisions are intense.   If those divisions can be brought into the open and be shown to bring chaos into Republican ranks, then the Democrats not only have a better shot to perhaps win back both houses in 2016, but Obama will benefit politically, giving him more leeway.  Already talk radio hosts, tea party activists and many in the House and Senate are calling for a government shut down.

One probable result of these changes in immigration is improved economic growth

One probable result of these changes in immigration is improved economic growth

This would, however, be a major shift of tone from a President who has been criticized for being too nice with Republicans, too unwilling to take unilateral action.  He is by nature a consensus builder and he has tried to use pressure and persuasion with Republican leaders who make ultimatums and refuse to compromise.   It’s not that they don’t want to compromise, but they don’t have their House caucus under control.  To make significant compromises would be to face a rebellion, and Speaker Boehner would prefer to lead a “do-nothing” Congress with at least the illusion of party unity than one gets things done, but further divides and weakens the GOP.

So the White House may believe: a) there is nothing to gain by trying to work with this Congress – it’ll be no different than the last one; b) it’s now or never, we have two years to continue our agenda; and c) if we act now and inspire anger in the GOP base, then the  party will be divided, play with the fire of a government shut down, and ultimately be weakened going into 2016.

On top of that, Latinos will be thankful, will see and get angry at the rhetoric coming from the right, and turn out in record numbers to vote in Democrats in 2016.   The Republicans will claim the Democrats are “bribing Hispanics,” but that will be even more insulting.  The result: a weakened GOP and a revived Democratic party, already recovering from the 2014 election and realizing that overall the direction of the country still favors the Democrats.

To be sure, Obama wouldn’t have done this if he thought it was bad policy.  This could be another aspect of his legacy that one day shines brightly, despite the controversy now.  It could also make it easier for the GOP to actually decide to pass a bi-partisan immigration policy that has more of what they want, realizing they get nothing if they just complain.  If the Republicans did that, they might find it easier to win over Latino voters in the future.

Too harsh a response and Republicans could help push record numbers of Latinos to vote Democratic in 2016

Too harsh a response and Republicans could help push record numbers of Latinos to vote Democratic in 2016

To Boehner and McConnell, they have to somehow satisfy their right wing (Boehner calling Obama ‘the most lawless President in history’ shows at least he’ll use their rhetoric) but chart a path that shows the country that the Republicans aren’t a bunch of angry whackos who can’t be trusted with the steering wheel.  This is a real test of whether or not the GOP can actually use their new majority effectively.

Clearly Obama is still very relevant and willing to use his power.   Senator McConnell said the President is ignoring the will of the voters (the relatively small number of voters who voted in the midterm), but the Majority Leader should be reminded that Obama won elections with significant majorities twice.   That means he has been entrusted to follow his best judgment.

It’s also interesting how fickle politics can be.  Just over two weeks ago Republicans were overjoyed and Democrats demoralized by the 2014 Midterm elections.   Between the defeat of the Keystone pipeline, the China-US climate deal and now bold leadership from the President on immigration, it’s the Republicans feeling angry and upset, and liberals light on their feet.   But that could change just as quickly.

12 Comments

Obama’s China Breakthrough

chinaobama

Today the United States and China reached a landmark agreement on battling climate change.   This is a major breakthrough and reflects in part the fact China’s scientists are alarmed about global warming and what it could do to China’s coastal cities.

China and the US are the top two polluters in the world.  Together they produce almost 50% of the world’s carbon dioxide.  With the EU having met the Kyoto targets (without harming their economy in the process – quite the contrary!), the battle against climate change depends on these two states being able to cooperate.  Until now it’s appeared almost impossible.

Unfortunately, the onus will be on the US to resist political opposition.  Global warming deniers are disappearing as the science becomes overwhelming.  In fact, outside the US it’s accepted as settled that climate change is happening, with CO2 emissions the driving force.  Only in the US, where a well funded lobby churns out disinformation and uses ideological fervor to distort the science, is there powerful opposition.  The good news is young people overwhelmingly agree something needs to be done (it’s their future after all) and climate change deniers will die out.  The bad news is that we don’t have the luxury to wait that long.

Climate change denial is irrational - doing nothing means a lot more death and economic damage

Climate change denial is irrational – doing nothing means a lot more death and economic damage

China now sees itself as a major economic power, a force behind the emerging global economic system.   As such, it recognizes that its citizens deserve clean air and water, and decent wages.   China’s leaders can no longer justify ignoring the potential devastating impact on China that climate change could have.

The deal says that the US will emit 26-28% less carbon in 2025 than it did in 2005.  China will peak at about 2030.  China has a much more difficult time altering its economy, which is growing much faster than the US.  The key point in this agreement is a signal to the world that a new Climate change treaty is do-able in 2015.

The US Senate will not ratify it at first.  But if in 2016 the Democrats take back the Senate (likely, given that the GOP will be defending 24 seats and the Democrats only 10) and a Democrat is elected President, I would bet that such a treaty including China could be ratified.  Many GOP moderates only tolerate the deniers in their party, most of them realize the science is overwhelming.

A Canadian expresses the shock many of us have that Obama gets so much criticism - when he's been doing a solid job!

A Canadian expresses the shock many of us have that Obama gets so much criticism – when he’s been doing a solid job!

This is also another reason why I’m convinced Obama will be remembered as a great President – one that oversaw a recovery from the horrific recession he inherited and who managed to end two wars.   Now it looks like his plan to weaken ISIS is working better than most expected, without using US combat troops and instead increasing local cooperation.

If this US-Chinese agreement can jump start climate change negotiations and lead to global unity to address the greatest threat facing the world — far more dangerous than ISIS or Ebola — it might be the most important act of Obama’s presidency.    It also shows that the stories of his political irrelevancy are premature.

11 Comments

An American Hero: Alayne Fleischmann

fleischmann

Alayne Fleischmann is risking her career and all her assets by going public with information about the fraud perpetuated by JP Morgan Chase, a Wall Street bank.

If you really want to read about how dirty the big banks are, take the time to read through this piece, published in Rolling Stone by Matt Taibbi.  Here’s a very condensed version.   Everyone knows that the 2008 economic crisis was caused not by the real estate market or sub prime loans, but by a nearly $700 trillion dollar per year market in unregulated derivative bonds.

The banks were making so much money with these bonds that they got in bed with dirty mortgage brokers (i.e., the biggest ones) who engaged in inflating the incomes of people applying for loans, approving without documentation, and creating wild mortgage packages that would have payments low the first two years then kick in to incredibly high rates.   All of this created a massive bubble, as people saw prices rising and wanted in.  The banks then doubled down and made more money.   By 2005 these bonds were backed by mortgages that would never be repaid.

Note how fast over the counter (unregulated) derivative trade increased after 2000 - it was the motor of the economic crisis, and still could be hiding financial shenanigans.

Note how fast over the counter (unregulated) derivative trade increased after 2000 – it was the motor of the economic crisis, and still could be hiding financial shenanigans.

In short, the crisis of 2008 was a free market creation, caused by unregulated big Wall Street banks selling bonds they knew were bad – leaving investors from schools, fire departments, retirement accounts and the like holding the bag.  Moreover it caused a massive recession and structurally weakened the world economy.   Never has there been a more convincing case that proves capitalism does not work without regulation, and that big money will game the system thinking only of itself if allowed the opportunity.

Yet there is more.   Once the collapse hit, the US was faced with the real possibility of a credit crunch that would not only hit banks and the mortgage market, but also even the ability of consumers to buy cars or use credit cards.   That was a looming threat in October 2008, and the immediacy of that threat was handled through TARP – the so called bail out.

So act one: bail out the players who gamed the system, whose executives made billions, leaving both investors and the world poorer.  Yet not to bail them out would have intensified the crisis to the point of causing a great depression.

Act two: the Justice Department of the new Obama Administration would work with the banks to try to avoid them having to pay massive fines, or have the extent of their corruption made public.   That’s what Fleischmann’s case shows.   Rather than go after the big banks for their fraud and crimes, Attorney General Eric Holder choose to get in bed with them and help them cover their tracks.   Why?

Again, to avoid a credit crunch and not to gum up the recovery.   With the big banks on the ropes, the recovery could fade.  If trust in the remaining financial institutions started to fail, we again would risk depression.   The big banks were not only too big to fail, but too big to even hold accountable.

Consider this brief monologue from the film Syriana in which corruption is defended – it’s a more common view than we might want to believe:

In Syriana the government wants the merger of two oil companies to go through, despite clear corruption.   “We’re looking for the illusion of due diligence,” one attorney declares.  But because increasing access to oil is so important, they really don’t want to dig.  In this case, the settlements with Chase and other banks created only the illusion that the Justice Department wanted to keep the banks accountable.  Fleischmann’s revelations we know how deep and thorough the corruption had become.

So what next?   Will JP Morgan Chase set out to destroy Fleischmann as an example for anyone else who might want to come forward?  Will others come forward to give her cover and tell the full story?  Will her courage create a desire to really dig to the bottom of what happened?

Alas, this stuff is complex.  That’s why so many people don’t get the reality of what caused the crisis, and find it easy to blame things like government policy on home loans.   Yet the more we learn, the more we see that Wall Street has immense control over US policy, in part because of their dominance of the economy.  If the banks fail, the world economy is in peril.

Yet this is unsustainable.   As the big banks again gain record profits, with only a meager effort to regulate them after the collapse, we’re setting up the next big crisis – perhaps worse than the last one.  One can only hope that heroes like Alayne Fleischmann show the courage to tell the world what’s really going on, and how whether Republican or Democrat, no one has the guts to take on Wall Street.

 

2 Comments

Liberals – Chillax!

McConnell and Boehner, the leaders of the Senate and House

McConnell and Boehner will lead the Senate and House in the next Congress

Although I held out hope, the result of the election was not a surprise.  The Republicans had a good night – the map was on their side, it’s the six year curse on the President’s party, and the Democrats ran a strategically bad campaign.  Rather than arguing for policy and supporting the President, they ran scared.  The result?  Moderates figured they didn’t stand for anything, and the base was repulsed.  Especially Black and Latino voters stayed home.   Even then so many states stayed very close until the end, it clearly wasn’t a massive GOP wave.

Yet to hear people on the left talk, the election was a disaster.   The Republicans hold the House and Senate!  Scott, Walker and LePage were re-elected as tea party governors!   The country is going the wrong way, people are ignorant, big money is warping our system, and the media is shilling for the right, etc.

My response to that?  Chill people!  The sky isn’t falling, and there are a lot of reasons for optimism.  Don’t make yesterday’s Republican victory out to be more than it is.  Here’s why:

1.  The House has always led Republican obstructionism, with Senate Republicans able to say that they can’t do more because the Democrats were in control.  Now the Senate has no excuse – if they are willing to compromise, real progress can be made.

2.  Obama has no incentive to capitulate.  He’s not running again.  Especially the first year, look for him to be aggressive with the use of executive orders and other unilateral actions.   Obama may do more to make liberals happy this coming year than the last six put together – in part because if he doesn’t do it now, he’ll never have the chance, and in part to pressure the GOP: If you don’t compromise, I’ll act!

3.  In 2016 the Democrats will have the map on their side, unlike this year.   In many ways, the surprise of the election was that the Democrats were able to keep so many states so close.   Of the 34 Senate seats up in 2016, 24 will be Republican, only 10 Democratic.  Of the ten Democratic seats, only Nevada and Colorado are likely to be in danger, and those are both states that voted for Obama in 2012.   Of the Republican seats, nine are in states won by Obama in 2012, and many others could be in play.  In other words, 2016 might be a mirror image of 2014.  Remember: Democrats do much better in Presidential election years.

4.  It’s not outside the realm of possibility that the Democrats could retake the House in 2014.  They’d need to win forty seats, something difficult to do – but if the GOP doesn’t compromise and gets seen as obstructionist, it’ll be possible.

obamaveto

5.  The President has veto power.  He’s a firewall against a Republican agenda.   With the Republicans in control – the onus is on them to prove they can provide a productive legislative branch.  If they don’t, they’ll be that much more likely to have a devastating year in 2016.

6.  The Republicans are moving away from the tea party.  If you look at the candidates they choose, the effort to control the message, and the anger about, say Thad Cochran, it looks like the GOP recognizes that the tea party has no staying power.   I don’t think the GOP is there yet, but they’re in the process of moving away from ideological dogma towards true conservatism.

7.   The country’s culture and demographics still point to a progressive future.  It was virtually a non-story yesterday that a Federal Judge ruled Missouri’s ban on same sex marriages illegal.  The culture has changed that much.   In the grand scheme of things, the trajectory of the country has not changed.

Not convinced?

Try this:  there is nothing you can do to change the election result anyway!   Unless you invent a time machine and can go back and tell Democrats that their timid strategy of ignoring Obama rather than embracing him hurt more than helped, what’s done is done.  Why waste energy by feeling depressed and angry?   It not only doesn’t help, but that energy could better be directed in a positive way.  Practice pragmatism:  Accept what you can’t change, change what you can.  And there is a lot we can do!

3 Comments

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,214 other followers