Mid-Term Diplomacy


Given all the publicity around our trade wars and the North Korean negotiations, it’s worth taking a step back to look at what’s going on.  Let’s check each one.

Why have we started the trade wars?

It’s a good question, since

– The steel and aluminum tariffs have nothing to do with the real issue.

– We gave up half our leverage with China by going it alone, and there have been no significant achievements beyond what China was prepared to do anyway.

Given those facts, there is only one conclusion here—it’s reality TV for the mid-term elections.  “I’ve fought for you like no one else has ever done.”  That way every single news story is a win.  Who cares about the details anyway?

That also fits with Wibur Ross’ explanation to the Europeans of the peculiar idea that the best path to negotiation is to declare war:

“China are paying their tariffs …. China hasn’t used that as an excuse not to negotiate… It’s only the EU that is insisting we can’t negotiate if there are tariffs.”

Otherwise stated:  why can’t you people be like the Chinese?  They let us play boss when we think it looks good.  You people just have to learn.

What’s going on with North Korea?

Trump needs a deal, and he’ll get one on Kim’s terms.   It will be just like all the other agreements with North Korea—phased (and easily reversed) build-down of nuclear weapons in exchange for benefits.  Except this time it will probably include phased withdrawal of US forces from the South—a bigger concession than any other American president has every made.

However, that will be enough for the Trump propaganda machine to get going, and the rest of the press will be so relieved that Trump’s worst impulses were contained that they’ll probably agree.  And so, for public consumption, Trump can be peacemaker for the mid-terms!


Back in the real world, though, there are two different questions worth asking:

What do these trade games mean for our future?

If there’s any policy, it’s that we’ve decided it’s no fun winning unless everyone else loses.  So we’re not interested in alliances or trade agreements.  Prosperity is only achieved at others’ expense, so conflict is good—a philosophy that is historically disastrous and particularly inapt today.

Where is the outcry about “national security”?

Our President’s “national security” trade wars are already a constitutional crisis—arbitrary control of trade is NOT an executive power.  And it’s just going to get worse until someone finally does scream.  Trump has been increasingly willing to make up a “national security” excuse for almost anything he wants to do.  Unless the Supreme Court (or public outcry) stops him, there is no limit to where that leads.


Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now


There haven’t been any book reviews on this site before, but Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now is something of a special case.  This is a political book with a message that doesn’t quite fit into the current political environment, and it includes a large body of relevant history.  Not surprisingly, Pinker finds Trump antithetical to the Enlightenment precepts he is defending.  But he also finds plenty of guilt to go around.

To start with, the book seems to have two competing objectives:

  1. Validating the fact of human progress and documenting how it has been achieved. This is really a call to action based on humanistic goals.
  2. Providing reasons for optimism about the future. This is different—good things that are going to happen for reasons such as demographics, outside the scope of specific human actors.

On the face of it, a reader expects the first subject to be primary, if only because (at this point in time) you expect any political book to end up with recommendations for what to do.  But that’s not quite where Pinker is going.  He’s trying to view history not just as a demonstration of what works, but also as a way to understand where things are going longer term.  Since the two objectives are different, it helps to treat them one-by-one.

On the first subject, Pinker does a remarkable job of demonstrating the successes that humanity has achieved—In the longer term, in the last century, and in the past few decades. This involves health, security, standard of living, and many other quantitative measures of human welfare.   Much of this is unfamiliar because, as he says, this kind of thing just doesn’t make news.  The book is worth reading for this part alone.  Pinker does a good job of demonstrating progress and what is responsible for that progress:  science, rationality, and a broad-based desire to create a better world for everyone.  It is hard to argue with the historical fact that prosperity is not a zero-sum game.

In passing Pinker tries to dispose of past arguments against enlightenment humanism.  As examples:  Humans are inherently irrational (except when they want to make a point).  Humanism is a white racist production (its advocates were on the anti-imperialist side).   Science ignores human values (just plain not true).

Predicting the future is harder, and overall I’d say that Pinker is not well-served by his desire to make things look positive.  He tries to say that nuclear war is improbable, but we know that just one outlier is bad enough.  He treats the climate change movement as a kind of hysteria, because science will just take care of it in time (based on mostly anecdotal evidence).  He views the populist phenomenon as a brief episode of backsliding until more liberal generations take over from the ones now on the verge of dying out.

So in the end it seems a shame that the future predictions tend to dominate discussions of the book, when it’s the first part—the defense of progress—that is its greatest contribution.

And then there is the question of the call to action.  What Pinker espouses is humanism—the broad-based, rational process that has delivered progress.  The problem is that humanism doesn’t have a political party.

Pinker points out that much of the political process just doesn’t work:  Issue-based movements systematically deny progress for fear of losing momentum (even though that means they frequently get caught in the bind of asking for more money to continue going nowhere).  Discussion of issues is based on faulty statistics and dishonest patterns of argument.  Democracy as a whole is not as rational or responsive as we would like to think (the chapter on that subject is well worth reading).  He gives plenty of examples of bad behavior on both the left and the right.  Both sides contributed to the grim view of reality that was instrumental in producing Trump.

So where do we go from here?  Individuals can learn to be more rational in their behavior and in their evaluation of what they see and read.  They can work with the flawed organizations that are fighting bad actors such as Trump.  They can involve themselves with specific issues and help to push them along.  All told—incremental change but no miracle solution.

That’s actually the optimism of the book.   There’s no silver bullet, but the process has worked thus far.  And hopefully we will keep it going.

Political Correctness, False News, and the Attack on Education


This is a tough time for colleges and universities.  Many of them—particularly the public ones—are being squeezed for money, and they’ve all got to deal with conflicting standards for sexual harassment, trigger warnings, and political polarization of the student body.

And then there’s “political correctness”.  It’s a difficult issue, with arguments on multiple sides, and with something quite sinister lurking in the background.

On one hand there is the classic liberal argument for universal openness.  Constraints on the intellectual environment are bad, because truth can be unpopular.   Furthermore, once you allow constraints you never know who is going to do the deciding.

It’s hard to argue with that position in an ideal world, but the real world makes the situation less clear.

First there is the question of safety or feelings of safety for the student body.   You can’t allow some people to attack others they don’t like, and the only question is how far that prohibition goes.  In the real world, the university must guarantee that every student is safe and valued.  That has to apply to all groups, religious beliefs, and sexual attitudes (liberal, Christian, or anything else).  That’s not a simple criterion to enforce, but universities cannot be faulted for setting such rules.

A second problem is harder.  Today we’re dealing with an environment where not all ideas have an equal chance, as more and more intellectual discourse is bought.  The prime example is the Koch organization, that has plowed hundreds of millions of dollars into institutes that promote their ideas.  Everyday examples are the American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, and the Mercatus Center at George Mason.  People working for these institutes (e.g. Charles Murray) can do legitimate research, but they are paid for reaching correct conclusions, and their ideas are heavily promoted to serve their masters.  This isn’t exactly false news, but any implication of unbiased research is certainly false.

In such cases it is understandable that some students feel that their ideas are being squashed by the power of money—a feeling that is particularly acute in a time of Citizens United and Trump.  But it’s also true that the student intellectual environments are prey to their own fads, with self-righteous acts directed at others. (I personally remember unbridled enthusiasm for Chinese communism and Mao’s little red book.  I also remember reading Simon Leys’ Chinese Shadows, with the comment that Western fascination with Mao was proof of how little anyone really cared about China!)

So there is some justice in decrying political correctness, but that doesn’t mean that student concerns about speakers are wrong.   Any opinions can be expressed (subject to valuing all students), but it also seems that sponsors of a speaker should be required to enforce standards for on-campus speech and also to make clear the nature of the institutions represented.  And it should be part of everyone’s education to understand how intellectual discourse is bought.  With the profusion of institutes and representatives, it’s not simple to keep track of all the Koch tentacles!  Even when the subject is government, people aren’t reminded frequently enough that Pence, Pruitt, and Pompeo are all Koch creations.

However, we have not yet reached the crux of the issue.  Thus far we have treated political correctness as a real issue where there can be legitimate areas of disagreement.   That’s true for some of the discussion, but certainly not all.  You have to go back to the core Koch motivations:  shrink government, shrink controls, and above all shrink taxes.  Colleges are expensive and turn out liberals.  The Koch’s attack on political correctness is actually just a pretext for a full-bore attack on college education overall.  The whole system has to go.

A recent best-seller on Amazon could not be more explicit—“The Case against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money”.  College education teaches nothing useful, it’s just a game to certify the capabilities of students to potential employers.  It teaches people things they don’t want to learn and will just forget anyway.  In particular nobody needs to know history, because no one is going to get a job as a historian.  Scrap the whole thing, save a fortune, and give people some useful vocational education to get a job!

The author is an academic from a reputable institution, nominally talking about what he as a teacher really thinks needs to be done.   Almost all reviews on Amazon take that at face value.  You have to know that he comes from the Mercatus Institute at George Mason, where Charles Koch sits on the board!

The argument is of course self-serving.  There’s no question about the value of education—both financial and personal—to those who complete it, and also no question about what kind of education people with money will chose for their own children.   The “just a game” story ignores the value of intellectual activity—the real goal of education—and focuses on memorized facts.  In the end the proposal comes down to a two-tiered educational model, where the world is wide open to children whose parents can afford the real thing, but not to the rest.   The Kochs are willing to pay for the basics needed to produce employees and nothing more.  Just like the good old days.

Nonetheless the argument has a scary amount of currency.  Mainstream Republicans are hostile to education in general and college education in particular (but richer ones send their kids to college anyway).  Identity politics and vilification of liberals have convinced some people against their interests to keep their kids from being corrupted by education.   Some state governments (Wisconsin, North Carolina) have deliberately attacked their state universities.  Trump’s State of the Union speech pointedly talked about “vocational education” only.  (A more recent NY Times college education overview is perhaps scariest of all in the amount of Republican rhetoric it swallows whole in its effort to be even-handed.)

We can’t claim all colleges have always paid enough attention to getting their students jobs, but the value of education has been undeniable and increasing.  Further, broad-based college education has always been one of the major strengths of this country, and the rest of the world has learned its value as well.  College at its best prepares students for a world where they will have to adapt continually to changes and opportunities, whatever those might be.  A two-tiered system would be a nightmarish step backward both for students and for the country.

Education is one of the most important battlegrounds where our collective future will be won or lost.



Despite all that has been written about guns and their consequences, there are still important topics that haven’t received much press.  This note is about two interrelated subjects:

  1. Why the NRA and the gun lobby are as powerful as they are.
  2. Why the pro-gun campaigns are as damaging as the guns themselves.

Both are important in thinking about what needs to happen with public policy.


  1. Why the NRA and the gun lobby are as powerful as they are.

The point here is that the usual stories explain influence but nothing like the absolute veto power wielded by the NRA.   Most articles describe NRA contributions to candidates and gun manufacturer contributions to the NRA.  The stories are compelling, but the money just isn’t there for absolute power.

A recent article clarifies the situation.  As with much of today’s politics, the real story is in the dark.   The vast majority of the money spent by the NRA actually doesn’t go directly to candidates but to political action committees.   And the source of that money is also dark and from far deeper pockets.  Specifically the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, and Political Victory Fund are supported by conservative Super PACs and the Koch brothers’ organization.

Nothing says that guns are necessarily close to the hearts of the Koch brothers, but the rhetoric around guns is.   The central argument of the Koch agenda is that governments can do nothing, so we need to shrink government, shrink controls, and above all shrink taxes.  We’ve talked about this before:

Government is corrupt and inept.   Sometimes, as with the EPA, it is actively malicious.  It makes laws that impinge on our freedoms.  It wastes money with social welfare programs for ungrateful non-white cheats.  Education is useless indoctrination.  Even the police cannot be trusted to do their job—we need more good people with guns.

In that context the Kochs have every reason to support the gun lobby, and the pro-gun movement has to viewed as just one more aspect of the Koch organization that has already delivered unimaginable tax cuts for the ultra-rich.

That leads to the next topic.

  1. Why the pro-gun campaigns are as damaging as the guns themselves.

The first point here is obvious but needs to be emphasized.   The whole notion of “good people with guns” is an attack on the rule of law. The Kochs may not have to care about it—they certainly have their own law enforcement—but for the rest of us this is terrible.   No one should be cheering for laws that say it is okay for people to go execute each other with only the vaguest notion of self-defense.

That gets us to the main point:  the pro-gun movement is not just supporting guns—it is supporting vigilante action.  This is important, because it undermines the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” argument.  We’re actually glorifying citizen executions.

And if there is anything that stands out in virtually all cases of mass shootings it’s that.


So now the question is what we can do about it.  Anything in this piece is of course pure speculation, but here goes.

Fighting the whole Koch agenda is impractical, so we have to separate this part out.   It seems that a first step is to go after the “good people with guns” notion explicitly and with support from law-enforcement and anyone else willing to stand up for rule of law.  Guns are for defense, not vigilantes.  Basic gun control (background checks and no assault weapons) is intrinsically part of the package.  Ideally that could be an acceptable compromise and could also make gun issue less productive for the Kochs.

It’s worth noting that nothing in the second amendment supports vigilante action, and no one can possibly believe that the eminently respectable founding fathers wanted to encourage it!

For the Economy—Stop the Tantrums and Look


To forestall expectations—this article is not about Trump’s daily antics.  It starts with a basic fact from Dani Rodrick (no cheerleader for globalization).  He talks about asking students a simple question: Would you rather be rich in a poor country or poor in a rich country?

…think of a rich person as someone in the top 10 percent of a country’s income distribution while a poor person is in the bottom 10 percent.   Similarly, a rich country is in the top decile of all countries ranked by average income per person while a poor country is in the bottom decile of that list.

The correct answer is “Poor in a rich country”—and it’s not even close.  The average poor person in a rich country, according to my parameters, earns three times more than the average rich person in the poor country ($9,400 versus $3,000 adjusted for differences in purchasing power across countries).  Disparities in other aspects of well-being, such as infant mortality, go the same way too.  The poor in a rich country have it much, much better than the rich in the poor country.

Students get it wrong because they don’t realize what a minute share of society those BMW-driving superrich represent—no larger perhaps than one hundredth of 1 percent of the total population.  When we expand the numbers to cover the full top 10 percent of a typical poor country, we have come down to income levels that are a fraction of what most poor people in rich countries make.

There’s a lot here that’s relevant, but the most basic message is that when you make the pot bigger, things ought to get better for everyone—even in the most extreme cases.

We live in time period where the pot is getting bigger all over the world, and especially in the hugely populated countries of China and India.  So the right question to ask is NOT “how can we stop those people from stealing from us?” but “why are we not making things better for everyone?”  As we’ll see it is a useful question to ask.

The major changes going on in the world are technological.  Technology has made production of many goods both cheaper and ever easier to locate anywhere.  There are good (and increasingly many) jobs in that world, but they are not the same jobs.   Some jobs get replaced by technology, some jobs get moved to places where labor is cheap enough to compete with the next level of automation.  In both cases they cease to be good jobs.   As with other such cases in the past, the social dislocations are enormous—but they are only as bad as we make them.  And the best way to make matters worse is to pretend the changes don’t exist!

In this country we have both the rhetoric and the policy of such delusion.  We’ve gotten out of the business of helping people who lose jobs in the blind belief that a happy private sector will take care of it.  In fact, people are going to lose jobs and find their skills devalued through no fault of their own.  Further, with the changing economy, education is for most people the necessary path to a good job and a viable financial future.  However we have become alarmingly hostile to it, underfunding it and looking for reasons to limit it to the targeted “vocational ed” that seems to be in the air.  And internationally our response to problems of dislocation has been a tantrum:  everyone is out to get us, so we’ll take our marbles and go home.

The rhetoric says that Mexico and China and …  have caused an epidemic of depression, joblessness, and despair.  That’s self-destructive blindness.  (The worst thing about globalization is all that can be blamed on it!)  We did it.  We refused to recognize the technological dislocation we’re living through, so we provided no help, blithely punting to the private sector.  However, private sector expansion and even tariffs are false hopes for jobs that aren’t economically viable.  We have to support people, and as much as possible get them on a new track.  And we particularly need to make sure that the next generation doesn’t suffer for it.

That takes money, but it’s not as if we don’t have any.   We’ve just devoted $1.4T to a corporate tax cut that is nothing more than a misguided subsidy to have the private sector solve this very same problem!  (We know now that the money is going instead to investors, primarily via stock buybacks.  Real tax reform is another subject and can be close to revenue-neutral.)  We have to spend it on the people who need it and on education and infrastructure.

And for the rest of the economy, things aren’t so bad out there in the real world.

First of all, even before the tax cuts, our corporations and our upper tier of incomes have been doing just fine.  There are problems for people, middle class and below.   But there’s no indication that the technology-driven side of American business is going anywhere but up.

Second this is a period of unprecedented geopolitical opportunity.   China has finally reached the point where it is a viable market for the West and with an incentive to act that way.   There has been so much rhetoric about China that even the basics get lost.  China has been a statistically poor country for a very long time.  Its economic development has been export-directed and they do have some shady practices, but China’s ability to absorb imports has been limited at best.  That is no longer true, and China recognizes that its economic interdependence with the West requires a new relationship.  Given China’s size, the opportunities are real—which is to say that if we play our cards right the pie should get bigger for everyone .  (A more recent NY Times piece also makes that point.)  And given the speed and magnitude of technological change, the pie should continue getting bigger for a long time.

In some ways you can compare our situation to the world in the 1950’s.  European countries had lost their colonies and their predominance, and they had to recover from the damage in the war.  It was a rough transition, but they ended up far better off than they had been before.

We are living through a time of major transition.  We are well-positioned, but we have to help some people through it.   And with more players we may not always be so overwhelmingly predominant as we are today.   But this is an extraordinary future for us and everyone else.  We just have to be willing to open our eyes and get it.

Illusion and Reality

238542495_21bb5b1747_oMuch has been made of the role of Trump as a divisive force in American politics.  While there is no question about Trump’s behavior, blaming Trump for divisiveness makes this seem like a one-of-a-kind personality problem.  That’s an all too common illusion.  The reality is a much bigger story.

Growing up in the post-war US it is easy to forget that democracy and rule of law are by nature fragile.  For most of human history the rich and powerful have just run things for their benefit.  Rule of law gets in the way, and those who expect to be in control tend to find that intolerable.  As has been carefully-documented, forces for oligarchy are more powerful now than they’ve been for quite some time in this country.  Growing inequality and the Citizens United decision show both the current power of those forces and their ability to get more of it.  That is today’s reality.

The facts in this piece are not new but haven’t gotten enough play.   The main reason is that the illusions in the foreground—Trump’s tweets or the Republican Party squabbles—drown out the rest.   It’s worth going through these basics, because otherwise (as with divisiveness) it’s too easy to believe nonsense.

The major players in the game are well-known, but their clout and goals are underappreciated.  The starting point is the Koch organization and its allies.   The Koch organization channels money from ultra-rich donors into a political organization with 1600 employees and a bigger budget than the Republican party itself.   Most of their money is “dark”, passed untraceably through nominally charitable (but tightly-controlled) think tanks into Political Action Committees.  The Kochs were responsible for the Republican takeover of Congress and of the state legislatures—they focused unheard-of money on the states prior to 2010, so as to be able to gerrymander based on the 2010 census.  Citizens United showed their power in the Supreme Court—Roberts and Alito were both named via the Koch-funded Federalist Society—and the Gorsuch relationship is even closer.  Finally all of that speaks through their primary propaganda channel—Rupert Murdoch (net worth $14.7 B) and Fox News.

The stated goal is to return the US to something like the 19th century Gilded Age, where a handful of rich individuals ran the country through money and influence.  The Progressive Era, which followed and limited their control, is viewed as the start of a national decline.  Any social welfare spending or constraint on business saps the strength of the country.  Overall, a robber-baron economy even Adam Smith wouldn’t endorse.

It was recognized early-on that such a program would not be popular, so it was necessary to provide a cover.  For that purpose (as documented) they systematically created an alternative reality, developed by the think tanks, promulgated by Fox News, and represented politically by front organizations—most notably the Tea Party and Donald Trump.

Strangely, it is still not common knowledge that the Tea Party was created and funded by the Kochs.  Trump is a different story.   He was not their first choice, but with their guy Pence in the background, he proved to be an almost ideal populist mask. It’s no accident that the one major legislative achievement of the Trump administration was the passing of their tax cut.   That was not AN issue—it was THE issue, and the achievement was not Trump’s but theirs.   It signified their full control of the Republican Party.

The features of the “alternative reality” are worth describing in more detail, as they cover a good bit of our daily cacophony.  This is less a system of beliefs than a framework for propaganda:

  1. The single most important goal has been to divide and conquer the electorate by creating divisions and mutual enmities among groups. Divisiveness is not a byproduct but an explicit goal.

Racism was one starting point.   Under Obama is was easy to claim that blacks were cheating to get more than their fair share.  Large fractions of the country still believe, quite incorrectly, that the whole social welfare system exists primarily for blacks.  Even the non-Fox press does a good job of reinforcing that misunderstanding.

It was only one step beyond that to go after the past alliance of liberals and the working class.  No message has been more enthusiastically repeated on Fox News than “they hate us and think we’re stupid”.  That message is neatly aligned with racism—they dress differently, they listen to different music, they’re not us—they’re the enemy.   They stole your jobs.  Cutting them down to size is at least as satisfying as actually getting a job.  What’s more education is bad:   It just turns your kids into people like them!

Finally this all gets reinforced with fear.  This is a very dangerous country.  Blacks and foreigners are all out to get you.   You need to know who your friends are.

So discussions of divisiveness or “polarization of the electorate” are missing the point.  While the left tries to figure out where they went wrong with the working class, Murdoch’s resources remain on-message, promoting hatred of “others” and everything they stand for.

  1. The other major message promotes the oligarchs themselves.

Job creators are god-like figures who dispense jobs as gifts.  Growth, produced by them, is the miracle solution to all problems.  You don’t need ideas or plans, just them.

Government is corrupt and inept.   Sometimes, as with the EPA, it is actively malicious.  It makes laws that impinge on our freedoms.  It wastes money with social welfare programs for ungrateful non-white cheats.  Education is useless indoctrination.  Even the police cannot be trusted to do their job—we need more good people with guns.  And everything government does is financed with money stolen at our peril from the job creators.

So we need to cut their taxes, eliminate constraints on their behavior, and make sure they get as much of the pie as possible.  Further it turns out that all government services they don’t need (healthcare, social security, education, …) are candidates for cuts.  We just need defense and self-funded infrastructure (to go where the money is).


That’s where we are.   Trump and the Republicans may get all the press, but the real powers know exactly what they’re worth:  Trump is a loose cannon but easily manipulated, and the Republicans are replaceable buffoons already scared of their next primaries.

The 2018 and 2020 elections will be fought against the Koch organization and Murdoch for control of the country.   Given that democracy is on the line, the rest of us had better win.

The Foreigners Threatening America

25700577124_b9b3d89b92_kRepublicans are good at hateful, manufactured stereotypes.  “Welfare queens” worked pretty well for a while.   Now we have snobbish, nose-in-the-air elitist liberals.  They’re all like that right?  Just like shiftless blacks and Mexican rapists.  Who needs reality when you can tell who to hate based on skin-color, clothing or even the music they listen to.

Let’s get some reality.  Maureen Dodd did us a service last week with her annual piece presenting her brother’s comments from the other side of the political fence.   There was surprisingly little of substance—just breezy support for Trump’s “delivering on his promises to shake things up” and dissatisfaction with the Republican Congress for not getting the job done.  Nothing on actual policy beyond a hint of racism with the kudos to Bannon for “holding Republicans’ feet to the fire”.  All told this was another confirmation that the Trump core will follow wherever he leads.  It wasn’t different from the content of the Trump rallies or from any of the many recorded interviews with Trump supporters.   Just a reminder that after a year of Trump sell-outs nothing has changed.

It’s time to get over the white racism of the left—that the core Trump supporters are ultimately our people who need to be brought back into the fold.  They may be perfectly okay in normal life, but so were the Nazis who saw the Jews being rounded up in their neighborhoods and thought it was okay.   Fascism will do that to people.  Financial reverses plus a skilled demagogue, and reasonable, intelligent people can succumb to it.  And it’s not going to change any time soon.

It’s also clear what Trump and his supporters are doing to this country.  In their assertion of ultimate white privilege, they are undermining what has made this country great—the opportunity for everyone to succeed.  The fascist denial of objective reality is undermining US economic success, denying educational opportunity, and crippling the worldwide response to climate change.  Like Britain, we are on the way to becoming a second-rate power.  However the dangers here are worse—from another economic crash, from a war, or from our uncritical buddy-buddy relations with the Russians.

Two books in particular have shaped ideas about Trump core supporters:   Hillbilly Elegy and Strangers in Their Own Land.   Both tried to be sympathetic, describing the people, their views, and their reasons.  But the second is particularly relevant because it described Louisiana—a state where they’d won.   It was a disaster of epic proportions:   an environmental catastrophe and an educational system gutted to provide tax breaks for oil companies.  The whole business kept running by tax revenues transferred from the north.

The Trump campaign liked to say the last election was the last chance to protect the country from a Latin American takeover.  We now know he may have been right—we are well underway to becoming a banana republic where the ultra-rich control everything (through Citizens United and the Koch Organization) including how little they are taxed.   Public services, including education, are not priorities.  Hannah Arendt (quoted by Michelle Goldberg) talked succinctly about the collusion between the Nazi economic elite and the fascist-inspired masses they controlled, “The temporary alliance between the elite and the mob rested largely on this genuine delight with which the former watched the latter destroy respectability.”

That is what is foreign to America.   That is what must be pushed back before it is too late.


Big Brother


The big story today is the Koch-financed purchase of Time Inc.  While this did make the NY Times—in a rather innocuous, long-winded article—you have to go to the Guardian to get a notion of what is going on.  There are three points:

– Most obviously this gives the Koch organization a direct mouthpiece in print media. To be clear—the Koch organization does not represent just Koch money.   It channels money from the richest people in the US and distributes untraceable billions of dollars through a political organization of 1600 staffers.   It quite literally owns the Republican party (Pence is their creation) and is the source (and explanation) for the current tax bill.

– Also this month, the FCC with its new Trump-appointed head, “eliminated protections against monopolies in local broadcast news, a move widely seen as clearing the way for the expansion of a Trump-friendly local broadcasting network”.  This is the Sinclair Media Group, which forces all local subsidiaries to broadcast centrally-prepared Trump agenda propaganda.

– Finally we have the much-discussed FCC ruling last week rolling back net neutrality.  This action has not gone unnoticed, but its impact has been discussed primarily in terms of network providers’ ability to block competitors for their own services.   In the current context however, it is equally important to recognize this amounts to oligarchic control of internet content.

So there you have it.  Print media, television, and internet all at risk of coming under control.  It can happen here.