Category Archives: Socio-political

An Open Letter to Bernie: May 1, 2016

Dear Bernie,

I have given to your campaign multiple times, I have petitioned and canvassed for you in my local area. I have even written letters to the editor promoting you and finally, I worked on the GOTV operation in my local district until after the polls opened.
When you averred, in a CNN town hall, that you couldn’t tell your followers what to do vis a vis Hillary, you committed a major tactical blunder.
You can endorse Hillary. And, if you don’t get the nomination—given delegate rules, I don’t see how you can—you owe it to all of us who will have to live with the outcome of this election, to consider what effect a non-endorsement would have.
You know as well as I do, the results of the Carter-Reagan election when people like me couldn’t vote for Carter, so we voted for Barry Commoner, or John Anderson. And then there was Bush, Gore and Nader. You would have much more influence than either of these marginal candidates, of course.
In both the Reagan and W elections, the resulting disasters would probably have been averted if we hadn’t insisted on what we thought was a purer vote. That’s a steep cost for ideological purity: the breaching of the walls in the counterrevolution: the increasing inequality you inveigh against, and then a disastrous war created by the man who shouldn’t have been elected. Millions dead, the Mideast in chaos. Tally up the lives, the dollars, think about it.
That’s why, as much as I agree with virtually all your proposed policies, as much as I’m a part of your movement for a political revolution, which we sorely need, that’s why I’m asking you to be positive about Hillary; better her than Trump.
I know you shouldn’t endorse Clinton until the last delegate is won, pledged, etc., but then, unless some political earthquake happens and you win the nomination, you should make very clear, that you are not only endorsing Hillary, but, given she’s a Democrat, a party that should stand for the People, you are endorsing her and the party’s attempts to carry out as much of our political revolution as they can. And, you should make crystal clear that the Republicans, and Trump are simply beyond what any reasonable American should support, certainly anyone who’s followed you (I assume he’ll win the nomination, but all of the alternatives, even Ryan, are as awful).
I should point out that in my local incarnation as a Bernie volunteer and meeting participant, I met many Berniers who declared they couldn’t consider voting for Hillary. Some, even said they’d prefer Trump. And many of the Trump supporters I spoke to, said they’d vote for you, if you ran as a Democrat in the general election.
You really do have to spell it out in the general election campaign, that Hillary is far, far better than the Republican, who would in fact make things far worse for them, than they are now. With her, the revolution won’t be dead; it will be a sub-Presidential movement, and Hillary would be committed to responding to it. Trump wouldn’t listen, nor would he respond to demonstrations or letters. Trump isn’t about helping people; he’s about helping himself. Hillary is committed to governing and succeeding as President, at very least.

Here’s a line I offer you when you talk about Single Payer: “Paying taxes for health care will be so much cheaper than paying billionaires for health care.”

Sincerely

Douglas C. Smyth
Ph.D. in Social Science (Political Science, Economics and Anthropology)
Retired college teacher in the above
Novelist

A History Lesson: the recent Middle East

France&Tunisia0304 049

The first misstep the US took in the Middle East was to get involved in it, at all.

Oil and competition with Britain for it in Iran, and our continual maneuvering against the USSR on its periphery, led our CIA to overthrow a nationalist government led by Prime Minister Mossadeq in 1953, because he advocated nationalization of foreign oil operations (British and US). The US backed the Shah, who gave them oil fields for their efforts on his behalf. However, luxury at the top didn’t improve the lot of those on Iran’s lower rungs; it got worse, but the Shah’s American and British supporters didn’t notice: they were making money.

The Islamic Revolution was the inevitable result of the Shah’s repression, his overreaching and his attempts to keep the lid clamped down tight: Iran exploded.

The Shah was the first to go probably because his reemergence was a foreign creation to begin with.

After that, the Middle East became a lot less stable. It was held together by strongmen: Nasser’s successors in Egypt, the Assad’s, the Saudi monarchy and Saddam.

Iran’s Islamic Revolution?

Arabs and Persians (Iranians) rarely get along, and neither do Sunnis and Shiites; they fought a bloody war between Iran and Iraq, in which the US allied with Saddam!

We drove out Saddam Hussain, who had been CIA’s man until he got too ambitious and tried to take over Kuwait, and then the unforgivable: plotting to assassinate George HW Bush. By overthrowing Saddam and his whole Baathist organization we turned Iraqi society upside down by empowering the majority Shiites. They promptly began discriminating and abusing their former rulers, the Sunnis, probably what they had learned from them. The Sunnis, therefore, were fertile ground for Daesh (also known as ISIS).  American bad judgement gave Daesh its professional military—Saddam’s army dissolved by American forces: soldiers and officers were eagerly recruited by Daesh. Fitting, when they captured so many of the successor Iraqi “Army’s” US-supplied weapons.

I doubt Obama thinks the Libyan strategy (a coalition under his leadership) was a success. Qaddafi was summarily executed by his militia captors and the whole nation-state fell apart. Now, Libya has no functioning state. There are two regional governments, each claiming to be the legitimate government, while the vast majority of the country is controlled by militias of all stripes, often fighting each other. Qaddafi’s collapse, despite vast caches of arms, also armed Islamic militants as far away as Nigeria. And 150 miles of Libyan coast (on the Mediterranean) is controlled by a Daesh offshoot. We’re bombing them, so far with little success.

When Reagan sent aid and training to the “Freedom Fighters” in Afghanistan, they were the mujahedin, but some of them, the non-Afghans, morphed into al Qaeda and many of the Afghan mujahedin formed the Taliban.

So, our military interventions in the Middle East since 1953, created: an enemy Iran, a Shiite Iraq informally allied with it, al Qaeda, the Taliban, and then, Daesh in Iraq and Syria, as a result of Shiite arrogance and American stupidity, chaos in Libya and a Daesh foothold, still chaos in Afghanistan and a ferocious rebellion in nuclear armed Pakistan.

We still count on our “friends,” including the Saudi monarchy, the monarchies of the Gulf plus Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, but some of our “friends” are much more concerned with stopping Shiite (Iranian) gains, than with stopping Daesh. They’re bombing rebels and civilians in Yemen and have locked down Bahrain. Iran, of course, is aiding the rebels in both places.

And Turkey, our longest, closest military ally, is bombing our most effective fighting force against Daesh, Kurdish allies in Iraq and Syria.

Quite a mess, isn’t it.

We should get out of the Middle East and leave it to its own chaos. Islamic radicalism, was fomented by our interventions—and our support of the Saudis, the core of Wahabist radicalism.
We should create a cordon sanitaire and announce a non-interventionist position. Then, the US and Europe would be less likely targets, and non-radicals among both Shiites and Sunnis would realize they were going to have to handle the radicals themselves, or be exterminated. We’d sell them weapons, but what gives both the US and Europe long-term leverage: we don’t need their oil, especially since we should be converting to non-fossil fuel energy sources as rapidly as possible.

In Europe, not only is Germany leading the way with solar and wind, Norway is reconfiguring its hydropower system, so it can become the battery for all the solar and wind energy collected above current daytime use.

Refugees generated from Mideast chaos should be seen for what they can be: dynamic replacements for aging populations in both Europe and North America. If we are no longer intervening in their region, we should have much less to fear from them.

Even when we were dependent on Mideast oil, we simply could have purchased it (it’s fungible), instead of thinking we had to control it. That’s especially true now. If American oil companies are scared of losing their investments, that’s their business, not ours.

As for Israel, from my perspective, they’re making the same mistake the Iraqi government is making: alienating their Muslim population, and squeezing it, instead of attempting to peacefully separate, or peacefully integrate (two states, or one unified state with citizens of different faiths). One or the other must happen, but the US cannot and should not attempt, anymore, to interfere.

On the other hand, it should not support Israel if it oppresses its non-citizen subjects, and that includes military aid. To do so, continues to make us anti-Muslim, in the eyes of most of the Middle East, and therefore involved and a target, perhaps the primary target, of the dispossessed.

Chaos creates more and more of the latter.

Sweet Spot For Seniors!

Older in Sweet Spot In ref to NYT 6/15/15

The older generation is better off than any other age group, in large part because the stability of Social Security has given us all a floor upon which to float, rather than sink, in the economic tides.

The extremely wealthy gained almost all of the recovery; seniors hardly. So, a class, the billionaire part of it, especially, siphoned off the good times, while the rest of Americans, with the exception of seniors, were the losers: flat or declining earnings, increased demands at work, including having no time of your own—the “flexible” labor market.

Seniors are not to blame for the declining standard of living of nearly everyone else—except for the very rich. We are only lucky that we have Social Security, and for many of us, yes, we were lucky in real estate, perhaps in investments, possibly in finding a part-time job to supplement Social Security and make possible a moderately middle class lifestyle.

We did not fund the “think tanks” that created the “conservative” agenda, although a regrettable number of seniors may have joined the resulting reactionary counter-revolution.
That money came from the same place as the money now flowing into the electoral system, through superpacs and all sorts of other “legal” ways to buy elections for their own interests.
One of those interests is to somehow persuade people they don’t really want Social Security any longer: it’s Government Tyranny.

Huge majorities of Americans want to inherit it, however; they don’t want to jettison it; they want to expand it.

So, what does the the NYTimes article illustrate: “American Seniors Find a Middle-class Sweet Spot?
It isn’t that seniors have been greedy. So far, we’ve been lucky, Social Security and Medicare now and stable jobs in the past, and maybe even retirement pensions. That is what everyone should be getting. But everyone, not either very wealthy or a senior, took the brunt of the losses of the Great Recession and only the very wealthy gained far more than they’d lost, in the recovery. Flat incomes (in buying power) and loss of job security for the many, stability and modest gains for my generation, wildly inflated incomes engorging a very few.

Bernie Sanders is hitting chords of discontent, and well he might. Most people, even the many who are gulled by Fox and Rush, can see only worse times ahead, not better, and yet we’re still a growing economy—one of the few in the developed world.

I once taught a political science course on Revolution. The dominant theme of all the revolution scholars was relative deprivation: good times followed by the immiseration of most, especially from the middle class, combined with a sharpening class divide from the very rich, was the proximate cause for many revolutions in the past.
It could happen here. I hope not. Radical reform is better than manning the barricades.

The Peculiar Gardener

I long ago stopped following planting “directions, and started planting the way I thought it would work. For example, seed packets advise that you plant the tiny lettuce seeds one or two inches apart and 10” to a foot from the next row. I plant lettuce—I collect my own seeds—in clumps, thickly clustered, so that the lettuce crowds each other, stays tender and molts long after single plants. I extend my lettuce crop into July, without watering and I have an abundance of lettuce.

I have a book from the 70’s that I consult about “companion planting.” Peas dislike onions, for example; basil and tomatoes like each other. Or, at least, they supplement each other, enrich each other.

I planted one crop of potatoes in November, under a layer of fallen leaves. It was something people did up in a little Gunk’s hamlet not far from here, in the 19th century, people who lived close to the land. The potatoes are doing well, and may have benefited from the plenitude of rain in the early part of summer.

We’re now in a moderate drought that has impacted my bees most of all. I can water vegetables a little bit, and start fall peas and lettuce, because we have a well whose water is not potable. Apparently, bees can’t extract nectar from all the abundance of flowers in my yard and in two large fields with bee balm flanking me, because it’s too dry—baked, really. I’ve fed one hive about two and a half gallons of bee tea (highly sugared water with some herbal infusions). I may feed them more. Right now, the feeding bottles just hold water. I’m hoping they can tolerate municipal water.

I’m also watering by drip hose, the big, 300 year old Oak on my cover; I give it a couple of hours an evening, and it seems to be doing better. Something attacked its spring foliage, probably gypsy moth, and it has an incurable fungal coating (according to an arborist) on one hip, but watering seems to be helping flesh out its thin upper foliage.

I have a philosophy of gardening, not a dogma, but I do shy away from chemicals, from fertilizers to pesticides. Since it’s my garden, I want it free of poisons, if possible, but I do water it with the “bad” water we have in our well.

Our “bad” water is the result of an industrial cleaning plant on a nearby hill; ending more than a decade ago, it dumped its toxic waste on the ground, without safeguards. Anyway, the “plume” of trace toxics reached ground water up to a few houses beyond ours on our sparsely populated exurban road. So, Superfund/EPA cleaned up the toxics and built a municipal water plant and water lines to all of us (our predecessor here), but were able to keep existing wells, for other uses. Our plumbing was all connected, courtesy of Superfund, to the municipal water system.

I should test my well water, to see how bad it is, but I’d rather have the municipal water: there’s no cutoff if the power goes off, whereas with a well, you’re out of luck: the electric pump won’t pump. Our water comes from the same source as New York City, but is treated locally. It tastes good, although I worry about the small amount of chlorine if I want to make wine or beer.

More later.

Apres Nous, Le Deluge

Apres Nous, Le Deluge: In ref to NYT 6/15/15

The older generation is better off than any other age group, in large part because the stability of Social Security has given us all a floor upon which to float, rather than sink, in the economic tides. The extremely wealthy gained almost all of the recovery; seniors hardly. So, a class, the billionaire part of it, especially, siphoned off the good times, while the rest of Americans, with the exception of seniors, were the losers: flat or declining earnings, increased demands at work, including having no time of your own—the “flexible” labor market.

Seniors are not to blame for the declining standard of living of nearly everyone else—except for the very rich. We are only lucky that we have Social Security, and for many of us, yes, we were lucky in real estate, perhaps in investments, possibly in finding a part-time job to supplement Social Security and make possible a moderately middle class lifestyle.

We did not fund the “think tanks” that created the “conservative” agenda, although a regrettable number of seniors may have joined the resulting reactionary counter-revolution.

That money came from the same place as the money now flowing into the electoral system, through superpacs and all sorts of other “legal” ways to buy elections for elite interests.

One of those interests is to somehow persuade people they don’t really want Social Security any longer: it’s Government Tyranny. Huge majorities of Americans want to inherit it, however; they don’t want to jettison it; they want to expand it.

So, what does the the NYTimes article illustrate: “American Seniors Find a Middle-class Sweet Spot?
It isn’t that seniors have been greedy. So far, we’ve been lucky, Social Security and Medicare now and stable jobs in the past, and maybe even retirement pensions. That is what everyone should be getting. But everyone, not either very wealthy or a senior, took the brunt of the losses of the Great Recession and only the very wealthy gained far more than they’d lost, in the recovery. Flat incomes (in buying power) and loss of job security for the many, stability and modest gains for my generation, wildly inflated windfalls engorging a very few.

Bernie Sanders is hitting chords of discontent, and well he might. Most people, even the many who are gulled by Fox and Rush, can see only worse times ahead, not better, and yet we’re still a growing economy—one of the few in the developed world.

I once taught a political science course on Revolution. The dominant theme of all the revolution scholars was relative deprivation: good times followed by the immiseration of most, especially from the middle class, combined with a sharpening class divide from the very rich, was the proximate cause for many revolutions in the past.

It could happen here. I hope not. Radical reform is better than manning the barricades.