Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Is the Muslim Ban a "SHOCK EVENT"?

The Reichstag fire - Divide and conquer.
Reprinted below is a message from historian Heather Richardson, professor of History at Boston College. Many of you have seen it shared on Facebook.

I see a real value in this analysis. It is not saying "don't protest the Muslim ban" but pointing out that the we also have to oppose the societal division that Trump and Co. extremism is driving toward. Which may actually require us to talk with people in the "great out there" who don't see things exactly as we do (yet).

Related posts:

Have a Conversation with a Trump Supporter Today
4 Aids for Those Important, Difficult Conversations
IN THE AGE OF TRUMP: Learn from history ( ... or else ... )
The US Embrace of Torture: Can It Be Broken?

Important message from historian Heather Richardson, professor of History at Boston College:

I don't like to talk about politics on Facebook-- political history is my job, after all, and you are my friends-- but there is an important non-partisan point to make today.

What Bannon is doing, most dramatically with last night's ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries-- is creating what is known as a "shock event."

Such an event is unexpected and confusing and throws a society into chaos. People scramble to react to the event, usually along some fault line that those responsible for the event can widen by claiming that they alone know how to restore order.

When opponents speak out, the authors of the shock event call them enemies. As society reels and tempers run high, those responsible for the shock event perform a sleight of hand to achieve their real goal, a goal they know to be hugely unpopular, but from which everyone has been distracted as they fight over the initial event. There is no longer concerted opposition to the real goal; opposition divides along the partisan lines established by the shock event.

Last night's Executive Order has all the hallmarks of a shock event. It was not reviewed by any governmental agencies or lawyers before it was released, and counterterrorism experts insist they did not ask for it. People charged with enforcing it got no instructions about how to do so. Courts immediately have declared parts of it unconstitutional, but border police in some airports are refusing to stop enforcing it.

Predictably, chaos has followed and tempers are hot.

My point today is this: unless you are the person setting it up, it is in no one's interest to play the shock event game. It is designed explicitly to divide people who might otherwise come together so they cannot stand against something its authors think they won't like.

I don't know what Bannon is up to-- although I have some guesses-- but because I know Bannon's ideas well, I am positive that there is not a single person whom I consider a friend on either side of the aisle-- and my friends range pretty widely-- who will benefit from whatever it is.

If the shock event strategy works, though, many of you will blame each other, rather than Bannon, for the fallout. And the country will have been tricked into accepting their real goal.

But because shock events destabilize a society, they can also be used positively. We do not have to respond along old fault lines. We could just as easily reorganize into a different pattern that threatens the people who sparked the event.

A successful shock event depends on speed and chaos because it requires knee-jerk reactions so that people divide along established lines. This, for example, is how Confederate leaders railroaded the initial southern states out of the Union.

If people realize they are being played, though, they can reach across old lines and reorganize to challenge the leaders who are pulling the strings. This was Lincoln's strategy when he joined together Whigs, Democrats, Free-Soilers, anti-Nebraska voters, and nativists into the new Republican Party to stand against the Slave Power.

Five years before, such a coalition would have been unimaginable. Members of those groups agreed on very little other than that they wanted all Americans to have equal economic opportunity. Once they began to work together to promote a fair economic system, though, they found much common ground. They ended up rededicating the nation to a "government of the people, by the people, and for the people."

Confederate leaders and Lincoln both knew about the political potential of a shock event. As we are in the midst of one, it seems worth noting that Lincoln seemed to have the better idea about how to use it.

Monday, January 30, 2017

"Calls to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. are offensive and unconstitutional."

Over a year ago, when candidate Donald Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the US, I noticed the coincidence of the date with another great travesty in our history, and wrote December 7, 2015: A day that will live in ... [FILL IN THE BLANK].

The governor of Indiana went straight to the point. He tweeted: "Calls to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. are offensive and unconstitutional."

Governor Mike Pence @GovPenceIN:
"Calls to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. are offensive and unconstitutional."

Governor (now Vice President) Mike Pence was right.

Donald Trump can always find some people who agree with him; but he can't be bothered with those who deign to offer a different opinion. His path is littered with people he has disregarded.

With each hour that goes by, the contradictions within the US government are creating more and more strain.

How are we preparing for the moment when it cracks apart?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Nuclear Weapons: People Power Over Trump Power

What if each of these people picked up the phone?

Women's March - January 21, 2017

It's estimated that 3 to 4 million people or more took to the streets in the US on January 21 to protest the things Donald Trump has said in the past, and the things he might do in the future.

What about nuclear weapons?

Yesterday, legislation was re-introduced in Congress to take that unilateral control away from Donald Trump (or any president).

This isn't a "nice to have" that we're hoping some sympathetic ruler will grant us. This is a must, and it is within our power to obtain it. (You can read more about the idea behind the bill here.)

It's going to take votes. So: right now, everybody who got out into the streets last Saturday needs to get on the phone today. Every US citizen should be on the phone to their member of Congress and senator . . .  Go to Find Your Representative / Contact Your Senator to get contact information for your representative and/or senator. Call them and say . . .

"I am deeply concerned about the threat of nuclear weapons."

"I agree Congress must re-assert its authority over war, including nuclear weapons."

"I urge my representative to co-sponsor the 'Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017'"

Each person who acts participates in creating a new reality:

* we CAN get rid of nuclear weapons
* with nuclear weapons, the president alone DOESN'T get to call the shots
* ordinary people DO have a voice

Tell Congress to put the brakes on nuclear weapons.

(You can check the progress of cosponsors on HR 669 / S 200 "To prohibit the conduct of a first-use nuclear strike absent a declaration of war by Congress" here.)

"Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom" by Elaine Scarry
NEEDED: Heroes to Bring About Nuclear Disarmament

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Monday, January 23, 2017

Can Trump Drink the Pentagon's Milkshake?

Base data at Global Research
People who oppose war tend to notice two things.

First: the US has by far the biggest military in the world, spends the most money, has its forces and bases and weapons and technology spread out to every corner in the world, and is engaged in conflicts -- small and large, high-profile and clandestine -- everywhere.

Second: it's very difficult to arouse the general public in the US to want to change that.

We try moral arguments. We try economic arguments. People are really not interested.

*   *   *

So: it is intriguing to see the statement in Donald Trump's inaugural address, consistent with what he said in his campaign, about pulling back militarily:

We've defended other nations' borders while refusing to defend our own and spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while America's infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay. We've made other countries rich while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon.

I wonder what people think when they hear that "trillions and trillions of dollars." Does that make them want to see what would happen if money was taken away from the Pentagon and used in a way that they could actually see the benefit?

Let's not quibble for a moment with whether all that US military spending has really been directed at "defending other nations' borders." The immediate question for me is whether anyone -- Donald Trump or anyone else -- has the power to make any significant changes to the defense spending or any other aspect of the defense establishment in this country.

I'll be blunt: for the past eight years, we've seen what happens under the command of a nice, respectful person. Maybe we need to what a mean, disrespectful person can do.

I fully expect the defense establishment to seek to crush Trump if/when he attempts to make any changes. I frankly don't know how someone in his position manages to survive. And yet . . . .

Trump sent a signal with the bit about the F-35 spending. Of course, that was all theater. But I think the point we should not miss is that he does have a lot of support from people "out there" -- and the F-35 gambit was part of shoring up support as the buildup to something bigger.

A lot of us cringe at the "us vs. them" narrative, and the "disrepair and decay" narrative, and the "wealth = strength and confidence" narrative.  Although, to be honest, many of us have tried variations on these narratives -- we just found that they didn't work. So maybe what we find so cringe-worthy is that someone else has actually tweaked them into utility.

The Art of the Deal?

Make no mistake, Donald Trump isn't going to embark on a negative -- taking money away from the military -- without leveraging it into a much bigger positive:

We will build new roads and highways and bridges and airports and tunnels and railways all across our wonderful nation. We will get our people off of welfare and back to work rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.

Can you spend "trillions and trillions of dollars" on that? You bet you can.

If Donald Trump knows one thing, it is that when you embark on building stuff, it creates a lot of jobs for ordinary people, and that money enters the local economy in a way that has a big multiplier effect.

I keep remembering John Maynard Keynes saying something to the effect that, if you can't think of anything better to do, just have people dig a hole and then fill it up again. And we've got a lot better things to do than dig holes.

Vision for a nationwide rail system
(See An Infrastructural Alternative to Military Spending)
Just a few weeks ago, I wrote a piece about how, if we hope to move towards a world beyond war, we need to shift our infrastructure spending -- to something like a national high-speed rail network. I didn't take quite the same tack as Donald Trump. But what if his approach gets us to the same place?

Sure, the Republican establishment won't be thrilled with this kind of Rooseveltesque program. (Oh wait -- that's right -- the Republican establishment didn't elect Donald Trump.)

It becomes a lot harder for the military establishment to crush you when people are feeling really, really hopeful about what your infrastructure development plan is going to mean for them and their communities.

A clue to how important this is to Donald Trump, and what his strategy is, may lie in his appointment of Elaine Chao as Transportation Secretary. (How is this picture not like the others . . . ?)

Last week I wrote about what might possibly be motivating Donald Trump to cut nuclear weapons. (Hint: think about where hotels go.) When it comes to trading military bases abroad for urban transit hubs in the US, maybe we should ask the same question. Need a hotel with that, fella?

Please share this post . . . .

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Donald Trump and Nuclear Disarmament: What's In It For HIM?

Donald and Melania Trump land in DC (AP photo)
Yesterday, I wrote that "activists and advocates should be prepared to be agile in the face of sudden (and possibly surprising) developments" - particularly in the age of Trump.

I don't believe it's possible to predict what Trump will do. (That itself is a problem.)

I do think it's valuable to think about possible scenarios. Maybe thinking ahead can help us respond effectively to unpredictability.

I felt uncertain about sharing the thoughts below, because (a) they come nowhere close to addressing the Trump phenomenon overall; and (b) I felt unsure how providing these specific thoughts might be helpful. I was encouraged by an article by Kjølv Egeland: "You heard it here first: Donald Trump will set in motion a radical nuclear disarmament process." It helped remind me we're all trying to unpack this new situation with the best tools at our disposal, and that the question should never be, "How could you think that?" but rather "If it does turn out to be true . . .  what then?"

Trump's conflicts of interest

Following the Trump press conference last week, and the critique by Walter Shaub, the head of the Office of Government Ethics, I started to think about desirable divestment paths for Trump.

It seemed self-evident to me that, as Shaub said, the steps Trump offered last week are "meaningless from a conflicts of interest perspective." I think that's accurate.

Trump Tower Chicago
It also seemed to me that everything with the Trump name on it would have to be divested. Otherwise, how could a President Trump be "blind" to the the effects of his actions on his assets? It is conceivable that his company continue in business and be involved in some aspect of the real estate business in a way that shielded him from conflicts -- but certainly not by being the principal in high-profile real estate deals with his name on them.

Besides, is divestment so difficult? And how much money are we talking about, anyway? I had heard a lot about Trump's debt, and I thought maybe his net worth may not be all that high. (And I also wondered about whether the valuation of the Trump brand was a sore point . . . )

You can find estimates of Trump's finances online -- e.g. in Forbes and Bloomberg.  A quick review suggests that Trump has a lot of equity in his real estate empire . . . but inherently that empire involves a lot of debt, too. A skilled analyst could pretty quickly describe the risk scenarios he faces. (Maybe one should do that, and explain it to the rest of us.)

What surprised me is that the valuation that observers attach to Trump's brand is not very high, in the overall scheme of things. The Forbes survey puts the value at about $123 million. The Bloomberg survey assigns a much lower number. Donald Trump probably assigns it a much higher number. Much higher.

It's easy to understand how there could be significant differences of opinion about the future income streams that can be expected by licensing the Trump name. It's different than projecting the future income streams from buildings -- even fabulous buildings.

Donald Trump could probably find acceptable offers for all of his real estate -- right now, today. On the other hand, no one will pay him what he thinks his licensing business is worth.

Well . . . Donald Trump could conceivably unwind his real estate holdings, but hold onto the licensing. Where would that leave him . . . and us?

Mt. Rushmore is for suckers . . . 

It's not a secret that Donald Trump sees more and more of his wealth coming in the form of licensing fees:

"By the mid-2000s, Mr. Trump was transitioning to mostly licensing his name to hotel, condominium and commercial towers rather than building or investing in real estate himself. He discovered that his name was especially attractive in developing countries where the rising rich aspired to the type of ritzy glamour he personified." (New York Times, January 17, 2017, "For Trump, Three Decades of Chasing Deals in Russia")

It makes perfect sense, from a financial perspective. Walk away from all the risk attached to the real estate investments themselves, and instead participate purely in the revenue.

The problem of course, is to get the licensing business on the basis where it reliably produces income streams in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually, indefinitely. In other words, a problem of scale. It would practically require a Trump tower in every capital in the world.

Trump Tower Manila - licensing the Trump name
As Donald Trump enters his term (or terms?) as US president, he faces three risks/opportunities to this business strategy:

(1) Direction - Obviously, success in the presidency helps the brand. Failure or fiasco hurts the brand. (I'm betting that Donald Trump is banking on success.)

(2) Magnitude - Donald Trump is the first to recognize that just being president isn't enough. Being a so-so president could be worse for the brand that not even being president at all. (That tweet writes itself.) No, Trump is thinking big.

(3) Orientation - The peculiarity of Trump's business that it is global. As indicated above, the best scenario for the Trump brand would likely come in the form of five-star hotels in every world capital. So the challenge to Trump is that he doesn't just need to "make America great again" - he needs a home run of global proportions.

That's a lot to expect of oneself.  On the other hand, this is Donald Trump we're talking about. And I suspect his attitude is, "Presidents do great things. That's why they carve their faces into the sides of mountains. (Although, if they were smart like me . . . . ")

The more I think about it, the more I think (a) Donald Trump's presidency is inextricably tied up with his business interests -- no divestment is possible; and (b) we have not really begun to imagine the enormity of what he's got in mind.

What's the world peace equivalent of OPM?

Putin and Trump
My theory is that Donald Trump is aiming for a nuclear disarmament deal - a "yuge" one.


* A nuclear disarmament deal would satisfy the "magnitude" and "orientation" conditions above -- what better way to make generations to come in countries worldwide embrace the "Trump" name?

* It's consistent with the Trump orientation toward Russia. The US and Russia are the two countries driving the continued existence of nuclear weapons in the world. The obstacle to getting rid of those weapons is that the two governments can't seem to talk with each other.

* It's consistent with Trump's disdain for the US defense and intelligence establishments. There is a 70-year buildup of resistance to nuclear disarmament within the US establishment. Maybe it takes someone like Trump to bulldoze that resistance.

* It's consistent with Trump's misbehavior - towards the Left. To carry off a nuclear disarmament deal, Trump will need the continued support of the Right. (He'll have the support of the Left without asking for it.) Seeing the inauguration boycott by Democratic members of Congress, triggered by Trump's insult to John Lewis, you'd be forgiven for thinking, "He couldn't have stirred up a bigger hornet's nest if he tried." It feels similar to the way figure like Nixon could be the one to restore US relations with China.

* The bulk of the work has already been done by other people. The countries of the world are already involved in negotiations on a global ban on nuclear weapons. Yesterday, the president of China threw his weight behind global nuclear disarmament. The missing ingredient all along has been the US and Russia. Bringing a nuclear weapons ban to fruition after other people have teed the deal up for you is about as close as you can get to doing a real estate deal with OPM (other people's money).

Vote on resolution to negotiate a ban on nuclear weapons in 2017 (L-41)
Green - Yes (123, 76%)
Red - No (38, 24%)
Beige - Abstained
(For more, see nuclearban.org)

In other words, as big as any disarmament agreement with the Soviet Union would be, an agreement now has the potential to have a truly global and historic impact.

None of this proves that a nuclear disarmament deal is what Donald Trump has in mind, of course. It does suggest, however, that there are many ways in which it would be easy for a nuclear disarmament deal to be in his mind.

Two other things. First, much has been made of the fact that Donald Trump has a short attention span, doesn't have firm attachment to policies and positions, and is unpredictable. I'm not disagreeing with that. I simply think that it is also true that he's aiming for something.

Second, don't underestimate the human dimension. (Yes, even for Donald Trump.) I keep thinking about Donald Trump's Uncle John, and what he told Donald about nuclear weapons. I suspect Donald Trump keeps thinking about that, too.

As I said above, the question is, "If it does turn out to be true . . .  what then?" As we have witnessed for the past year, there is no shortage of people who have been lured into the same camera frame with Donald Trump, only to regret it later. (Billy Bush comes to mind.) How much conflict of interest should be tolerated in the pursuit of a policy one actually embraces?

Are supporters of a global nuclear weapons ban prepared for the day when Donald Trump makes it his cause?

Please share this post . . . .

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Network Power and the Movement to Ban Nuclear Weapons

The majority of the world's nations voted to bring about a ban on nuclear weapons through negotiations in 2017.

The negotiations will be happening at the United Nations. But make no mistake: the real action will need to be out among the people. Because if we sleep through this, the political will to get to the finish line may just evaporate.

Here's how you can dive in . . . .

Activists worldwide . . .

(1) It's all about the network(s).

We're really not alone in this!

You can instantly access the global network by going to #nuclearban on Twitter.

But our ability to achieve critical mass will depend upon how creatively and thoroughly we build and make use of multiple, intersecting networks of influence.

One small example: this list of activists worldwide helping to advance the cause of the nuclear ban.

Each person on the list connects you to their huge network of activists and thinkers.

Give them your attention for ten minutes a day: they'll give you phenomenal resources.

And then think: how can you add the leverage of your network to this effort?

(2) The central campaign.

Here are your core tools for working on the nuclear ban: nuclearban.org.

The site is provided by ICAN - the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

There's a rich stream of real-time updates on the campaign blog.

And be sure to sign up for the campaign updates and activities.

(3) Many threads.

George Takei on Twitter:
Trump wants to expand our nuclear arsenal.
I think of my aunt and baby cousin,
found burnt in a ditch in Hiroshima.
These weapons must go.
It may sound simple -- ban nuclear weapons -- but it is a massive problem and will call on people from all walks of life, in every country in the world to help get the message across.

 . . . and many, many more . . .

Don't wait for someone to tell you your role. Decide how you can help and dive in!

(4) Anything can happen.

Donald Trump becomes the US president shortly.

As it stands today, the US (together with Russia) is the principal obstacle to global nuclear disarmament. That must change.

Activists and advocates should be prepared to be agile in the face of sudden (and possibly surprising) developments.

(See Messrs. Trump and Putin: CHANGE THIS MAP!)

(5) Show up.

A lot of power is in the hands of a few political powerholders - unfortunately.

 . . . AND . . .

The ultimate power is in the hands of the people. A massive popular outpouring will be necessary to move the US (and Russia) forward.

New York City, Central Park:  No Nukes Mobilization, 1982

UPDATE January 24, 2017: It's on! June 17 in New York City . . . .

There's a #nuclearban on the horizon: let's take it to the streets!
(Please share this message on Twitter.)

Please share this post . . . .

Thursday, January 12, 2017

It's Time. (For a Demonstration Against Nukes.) (A YUGE One!)

Don't let it end with the Trump inauguration. The main event should be massive demonstrations of support for a global ban on nuclear weapons later in 2017 . . . .

It's encouraging that there will be demonstrations to coincide with the Trump inaugural.

It could be extremely productive to seize the opportunity and try to enlist the highly-energized protestors, many of whom will be newly-activated, to focus on the single most threatening problem we face, and one where they can make a difference just a few months from now.

Nuclear Ban Treaty Negotiations
United Nations, New York
27-31 March 2017
15 June - 7 July 2017
(For more information: ICAN)

Negotiations on a global nuclear weapons ban go forward in New York City during one week at the end of March, and then for three weeks in June/July.  Most of the rest of the world is urgently pressing for this ban. The US (together with Russia, and both countries' key allies) are the holdouts.

A massive demonstration in New York -- carefully programmed -- could give visible evidence that people in the US are serious about getting rid of nuclear weapons.  (A visible display is what's needed to override the Trump "virtual reality" show.)

Can such a thing be brought about in the few months between now and June?

One thing's for sure: people are waking up.

. . . and . . .

We have done this before ...

New York City, Central Park:  No Nukes Mobilization, 1982

MORE . . . 

Who might be asked to perform a No Nukes Concert?

Materials from No Nukes conference/march in NYC April 2016.

Materials on the upcoming negotiations at the UN - from Reaching Critical Will -- a project of Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.

The global campaign - International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

UPDATE January 24, 2017: It's on! June 17 in New York City . . . .

There's a #nuclearban on the horizon: let's take it to the streets!
(Please share this message on Twitter.)

Friday, January 6, 2017

Connect the Dots: Obama Drones Threat Capital Inequality

By perpetuating the idea that we live under threat of terrorism, and that drones are the answer, Obama has guaranteed the economic inequality engine will continue to function unimpeded for a very long time to come . . . .

"Obama's embrace of drone strikes will be a lasting legacy."
(Graphic: @pariewolf)

Barack Obama is scheduled to give his farewell speech in Chicago on January 10, 2017.

Over the past six years, I have written again and again about the expansion of drone killings under Obama. The graphic above reminded me that I should not let the occasion of Obama's "legacy" speech pass without saying what his real legacy will be.

As Mark Landler explained in The New York Times this past summer, Obama's legacy really does seem to be the use of military force by the US around the world in an uninterrupted way, while still operating beneath the notice of the vast majority of US people.

The use of drones perfectly encapsulates the Obama legacy: as long as you keep boots off the ground, you can assert US military power anywhere and everywhere without alarming the public. If a few spoilsports object, you can point out that drones are limited, cost-effective, high-tech. (And did we mention there are no boots on the ground?)

As someone who has called written about this phenomenon as "permawar" . . . and worked with drone warfare opponents throughout the country . . . and even tried revoking Obama's Nobel Prize . . . I enjoy a kind of satisfaction in seeing other voices affirm my reading of the situation.

 . . . HOWEVER . . .

I've come to the conclusion that it is not enough to simply protest drone warfare.

We need to connect the dots between this new way of war and the economic crisis that has brought Donald Trump to power.

Inequality: "Where's Mine?"

WHERE'S MINE? Inequality in the US
and the Military-Industrial Complex
About a year ago, I took a stab at connecting the problem of inequality in the US to the problem of military spending and war.

I shared data on the real extent of economic inequality in the US, and noted that this information is widely available. "I'm wondering when people are going to decide to do something about it," I wrote, "and when they're going to begin to ask about the connections between inequality and the military-industrial complex."

I think we got the answer to the first half of my query with the election of Donald Trump.

How US Military Spending Contributes to Economic Inequality

US government spending:
military vs "all other"
(More details here.)
To many of us, it seems obvious that the connection between the enormous levels of US military spending and economic inequality is that tax money is used for war instead of to make the lives of people in the US better. ("Money for jobs and education, not for war and occupation.")

As a very loyal but honest critic of the antiwar movement has said, "We just can't seem to get any traction with the money argument for opposing war."

We're not getting traction with the simple argument -- "Stop spending so much money!" -- and we're also not getting traction with the more sweeping argument that takes the form of a critique of "Neoliberalism."

In my opinion, the former argument fails because it is too simplistic: it's just too difficult for people to detach their idea of today's military spending from the idea of the "Good War" and the "arsenal of democracy" -- the notion of "security" validated for them by WWII. They know just enough about today's regional conflicts and militant activities -- i.e. the warlike ways of "those people" and their resort to "terrorism," but nothing about the role of the US and other countries in fomenting same -- to reinforce the idea that military spending is unavoidable. In-district military spending (jobs) seals the deal.

(Put another way: Eisenhower's warning about the military-industrial complex is too abstract to be helpful.)

The latter argument -- the critique of Neoliberalism -- is, in contrast, too wide-ranging and diffuse. At its core, it plays into exactly the psychology that perpetuates inequality, even in the face of grotesque inequities: people hear "freedom of opportunity" and they imagine it means "freedom of opportunity" for ordinary people. They imagine themselves, and people like themselves, getting a break.

No, we need a different argument.

Ideally, something with a conspiratorial edge to it.

Stacking the Deck

In my "Where's Mine?" post, I alluded to the work of Thomas Piketty. But it wasn't until I read Joseph Stiglitz's gloss on Piketty in his book The Great Divide that I was able to connect the dots.

Stiglitz explains that what Piketty is pointing out is that the 1% keeps getting richer and richer because something's out of whack. The wealth that they invest is able to keep earning super high returns, despite the normal expectation that, at some point, returns weaken. In particular, they have the ability to keep pumping money into emerging, high-growth economies, which will pay a higher return on capital, compared to older, low-growth, stable economies (read: the US).

Net Capital Flows to Emerging-Market Economies (1980-2015)
(Source: Advisor Perspectives)

(As the graph above shows, the past few years have seen phenomenally high levels of capital flow into emerging markets.)

Stiglitz says this can't go on indefinitely, but by the time it peters out, there is likely to be extreme inequality globally -- i.e. much worse than there is now.

What Stiglitz doesn't explain is this: what has prevented the market from correcting this situation?

In particular, I wondered about the risk of investing in those emerging markets. Having spent a large part of my career doing business in China (and other parts of Asia), I have always been very focused on the degree to which investments are put at risk by the absence of good information in those societies. (It has often seemed to me that there is a bubble in China, supported by perception that the overall market is growing so fast that the inability to monitor the true performance of individual investments is a minor concern.)

Stiglitz gives a clue that we should be looking in a different direction. He invites us to think about "rents." This refers to the idea of sources of assured returns -- think of an oil well or music royalties -- where the underlying asset is not involved in a complicated, risky operation like manufacturing or providing a service.

I think the answer to how the rate of return on capital all around the world can continue to remain high, despite the expectations of market theory, is that capital is able, in effect, to find unnatural ways to shield it from risk in those "other" countries. The returns are more like "rents" than they are like "dividends."

Moreover, I think the most important "unnatural way" involves the threat of military force to protect capital -- i.e. the investments of the 1% from the US (and the rest of the West).

"America's most elite troops deployed to 138 nations in 2016 . . . ."
(Source: Nick Turse in Truthout)

Conveniently, Nick Turse just published a piece with the updated map above of elite troops deployments and US military installations around the world.

To complete the picture, all you need to do is think about the fact that the places in-between are all covered (or coverable) by drone flights.

This picture is not keeping the world safe for democracy; it's keeping the world safe for capital.


As someone who has grown up in the US, it is not automatically possible for me to understand that the presence of US military forces around the world necessarily translates into the message: "No US financial losses allowed here." Do people in foreign countries really think that accepting US investment means they have to guarantee the returns of those US people? Shouldn't foreign investors have to face normal financial risk, just like everyone else?

By coincidence, I noticed a reference the other day by Howard Zinn to "Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad." A few of the examples Zinn cites:

1853-1854 - Japan. Commodore Matthew C. Perry and his naval expedition made a display of force leading to the “opening of Japan."

1859 - China. July 3 I to August 2. A naval force landed to protect American interests in Shanghai.

1860 - Angola, Portuguese West Africa. March I . American residents at Kissembo called upon American and British ships to protect lives and property during problems with natives.

1893 - Hawaii. January 16 to April 1. Marines were landed ostensibly to protect American lives and property, but many believed actually to promote a provisional government under Sanford B. Dole. This action was disavowed by the United States.

And the list continues . . .

1912 - Honduras. A small force landed to prevent seizure by the government of an American-owned railroad at Puerto Cortez. The forces were withdrawn after the United States disapproved the action.

1917-1922 - Cuba. U.S. forces protected American interests during an insurrection and subsequent unsettled conditions. . . .

1922 - Turkey. September and October. A landing force was sent ashore with consent of both Greek and Turkish authorities to protect American lives and property when the Turkish Nationalists entered Smyrna.

1965 - Dominican Republic. The United States intervened to protect lives and property during a Dominican revolt and sent more troops as fears grew that the revolutionary forces were coming increasingly under Communist control.

1988 Panama. In mid-March and April 1988, during a period of instability in Panama and as pressure grew for Panamanian military leader General Manuel Noriega to resign, the United States sent 1 ,000 troops to Panama, to “further safeguard the canal, U.S. lives, property and interests in the area.” The forces supplemented 1 0,000 U.S. military personnel already in Panama.

Don't take it from me. The official US history says that the US military intervenes again and again and again to protect US capital. ("Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798-2015" by the Congressional Record Service.) And that doesn't include CIA operations (e.g. 1953: Iraq, oil; 1961, Cuba; 1980s: Central America) or much of the post-WWII intervention in the name of "fighting Communism" (Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia), "humanitarian" purposes, or for fighting "terrorism" (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen) and "weapons of mass destruction" (2013: Iraq, oil).

Its easy to see why countries around the world understand that using the capital proffered from the US comes with a proviso: "You will guarantee that this cash injection brings nothing but upside. We expect rents in perpetuity."

Connecting the Dots: Obama - Drones - Threat - Capital - Inequality

I propose that the global movement against war should celebrate the departure of Barack Obama.

We should seize upon the recognition that the economic inequality that vast numbers of people in the US are angry about stems directly from the way the US military is used. (Including, in its newest form, the move toward drone warfare.)

If We the People have any gumption, we will see that the very reason we are becoming more and more impoverished, while the super-rich get richer and richer, is that our taxes are being used to stack the deck for the rich.

That giant sucking sound? It's the investment dollars that we need to refresh our productive economy fleeing to "rents" in distant parts of the world. And OUR tax dollars are paying for the military that guarantees the economic inequality engine will continue to function unimpeded for a very long time to come.

Please share this post . . .

Monday, January 2, 2017

2016: Why was everyone reading these posts?

Posts on nuclear disarmament, the global peace movement, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), social justice, and more.

Well, okay, not everyone . . . but a lot of people read an unusual combination of posts on Scarry Thoughts on 2016. Here's what I'm discovering . . . .

Can "Lutheran" Be a
#BlackLivesMatter Denomination?
Three Popular Posts

The post that lit up the most was a report on a letter about the need for anti-racism work, and for examining white privilege, within one of the mainline Protestant denominations in the US: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

(See below for two other ELCA-related posts in my 2016 top ten.)

Somewhat surprisingly, the second most frequently read post was from three years ago: "Ownlife" - A Notion Too Dangerous for the State to Tolerate? I think the reason it continues to strike a chord with people is that people feel life accelerating, and their personal space shrinking. This become terrifying in an age of big data and government surveillance.

Drones, 1984, and
Foucault's Panopticon
And in a related development . . . 

The third most frequently read post is even older: it was one of the first posts I ever wrote, back in 2010.

I'm not sure whether so many people read it because they're concerned about drones, or because they are disciples of Foucault, or because they are realizing we live in a surveillance state. Maybe all three.

Nuclear Disarmament

I have written a lot on the need for nuclear disarmament in recent years. Four posts attracted a lot of attention:

Meetings in DC in September, 2016, led me to write NUKES: Your Call to Your Congressman Matters.

What Would a Nuclear
Weapon Do to Chicago?
(Go ahead, guess . . . )
A post from 2 years continues to help people the grasp the terror of what nuclear weapons promise to do where they, themselves, live: What Would a Nuclear Weapon Do to Chicago? (Go ahead, guess . . . ).

And a post from my trip last year to the cities where atom bombs were used: Nagasaki: Impressions.

People continue to use this page to learn about my sister's book: Reviews of "Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom" by Elaine Scarry .

(A lot more to come on this in 2017.)

PEACE DAY 2016: What comes first?
Demilitarization? or Development?
Global Peace Movement

This past year, I wrote a number of posts related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the peace movement.

I have a lot of work to do in the coming year to develop ideas that will be helpful to the global peace movement.

More on Church and ELCA

In addition to the #BlackLivesMatter post mentioned above, people read two other posts a lot:

ELCA Resolution on Palestine / Israel: What Does It Mean for Us?

"Personal Success Story"? "White Privilege"? or Both?

I have high hopes that we are going to see exciting things in the ELCA and other denominations in 2017.

Please share this post with others . . . .