Saturday, March 26, 2016

Two cheers for democracy

I borrowed my headline from E.M. Forster although I don't have anything as weighty to say about it as he did.

I am not a joiner so I don't belong to a political party. (Once, in Iowa,  I registered as a Republican because  a particularly repellent guy was running for a county office, and I wanted to see a normal person on the general election ballot. It didn't work, an early indication of the slide into bigotry and hatefulness and stupidity that is today's Iowa Republican Party.)

However, I ended up at Maui Waena school today because a friend whose car broke own asked for a lift. I discovered that the Hawaii caucuses are nothing of the sort, at least not for the presidential contest.

They are a preference poll.

It may be the down ticket races are handled caucus style. I didn't stay to find out. My friend dropped a vote for Sanders and we left.

The results are not out as I write this, except that on Facebook the Sanders people are being their usual detestable selves. I don't get it. Sanders is a mild-mannered, courteous campaigner.

His supporters -- at least the ones I know about on Maui -- are vitriolic slanderers, accusatory and conspiracy-minded. They'd fit in better at a Trump rally.

Speaking of Trump, we learned yesterday that Cruz does not want to have sex with him.

Good to know, although I hadn't been thinking he might.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Book Review 364: The Healing of America

THE HEALING OF AMERICA, by T.R. Reid. 290 pages. Penguin paperback, $16

In the 1950s and ‘60s (and earlier but my memories don’t go further back) it was usual to see people with unreconstructed cleft palates. So common that when I was in high school, mocking the speech of people with a harelip was a frequent theme.

I haven’t seen anyone with an unrepaired harelip in about 50 years. So I called a surgeon I know who repairs cleft palates and asked him, how do all these birth defects get fixed? Surely the same proportion of people without medical insurance (one in 6 before Obamacare) have babies with cleft palates as in the wider population.

He told me that no hospital will release a baby with a cleft palate any more. Even if the mother does not have insurance, Medicaid will take over.

In the same way that it is easier to raise conservation money for charismatic animals like pandas than for dull but equally declining animals like, say, snail darters, there are charismatic diseases that society no longer wishes to have to see. But should a baby have a less visible defect, it will escape the hospital untreated, unless the parent has good enough insurance.

In only one of the rich industrial countries is this allowed to happen. The brutality of the American health care system is unmatched anywhere else.

When newspaperman T.R. Reid set out to find out what health care is like in most rich countries, he came back with a general answer: at some point in their economic advance, each country decided that it was immoral to allow people to live sick or die when they could be healed.

The motive was not to save money, although the United States outspends any other country (per capita or as a percentage of national income) by a vast amount, while every other country provides care for all, while in America the luckless die in the street.

Reid had a bum shoulder, which he presented to physicians in America, France, Canada, Germany, Japan and Britain. He discovered that the way his shoulder would be treated varied considerably, from heroic (shoulder replacement in America) to mild. In each country, except America, he would have been treated no matter his income.

(For comparison, he tested India and ended up using ayurvedic therapy, which was gentle and somewhat effective.)

He also discovered that the lies Americans have been told for generations about socialized medicine were, indeed, lies. All countries ration care – the U.S. in the most brutal way – but in different fashions.

In Canada you wait for an appointment. In Japan no one bothers to make an appointment; they just walk in and get seen that day. In Britain, if you want a shoulder replacement, you will have to go through some rigmarole to get it. In Germany, if you ask for it, it will be scheduled in a couple of days.

In only one country do people die from rationing. The total is in the millions. The lowest estimate of the annual toll here is about 22,000.

Reid’s valuable, hands on survey is an excellent place to start thinking about health care, but it is limited. He does not inquire into drugs or medical engineering, and barely mentions long-term care. Nor does he say much about the medical education systems. And he says nothing about chiropractic and other forms of quackery that absorb lots of money.

He does note that for the vast majority of people, there is no health care at all.

They just die, after some mistreatment by root-doctors if the can afford it.

Just like Americans.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The problem with ditches

About 3 weeks ago ("Taro isn't Maui's future, either," February 27), I explained why restoring the streams of East Maui and Na Wai Eha will not produce much increase in taro production. The other end of that problem is the ditches.

Who will maintain them, and why?

Recently the debate over extending the leases of East Maui Irrigation has heated up in the Legislature. Whatever happens, EMI owns at least the parts of the ditches on its own land. If it loses the leases, what reason would it have to continue to maintain the ditches in the watershed which are on public land?

I suppose whoever obtains the water leases could contract EMI to look after the ditches. It is the only entity with knowledge to do so.

Where the money would come from is a puzzle. This puzzle will require solving soonest with Wailuku Water Delivery, which does own most of its ditches but has no income except delivering water.

It has 2 big customers, King Kamehameha Golf Courses and HC&S. HC&S will soon drop out.

In East Maui, the puzzle may lie unsolved for years but will someday have to be handled.

Money will be the least of the problems.

EMI can harvest 200 million gallons a day when it’s wet. (The total flow in a storm is 10 to 100 times bigger. This week I saw a taro farmer claim that a mixture of fresh with ocean water is necessary to the health of the nearshore ecosystem. Restoring stream flow will have very little effect on overall flow of freshwater into the ocean, although by raising the minimum amounts it might perhaps have some discernible effects on the limu.)

In the dry season, EMI gets as little as 7 to 8 mgd (back in the ‘70s), although since I have been on Maui the minimums have stayed above 12 mgd.

By contract, the Department of Water Supply can take 12 mgd, although (and Mayor Arakawa should be made to explain this), it physically can accept only about 8 mgd – 7 mgd for Makawao-Pukalani-Kula and 1 mgd for the Kula Ag Park.

After new farming ventures in the valley fail – as they all will – the total demand from EMI ditches will fall to some quite small figure. I don’t know exactly what, but let’s say 25 mgd.

Nobody is going to maintain a 200-mgd capacity system (that averages about 160 mgd) to supply a maximum of 25 mgd. The system will shrink to fit.

This will happen whether or not the water commission imposes returns to the streams. Which it will, eventually.

Let’s say the 200-mgd system shrinks to 50-mgd. In a drought, the minimum will no longer be 12 mgd. It will be less – maybe less than 7 mgd.

Then people at the farther ends of the mid-level system will turn their faucets and nothing will come out.

In the ‘70s, the county put tankers at spots in Kula and people could draw water, like in Flint today. The county no longer has tankers, and the population is much bigger.

So that won’t work again.

The same problem should not arise in Na Wai Eha since the water department is taking all the surface water it can get. The former Brewer ditches will not feel any pressure to contract through lack of demand.

The threat there is lack of management of the watershed, owned by Wailuku Water, which does not have the resources to protect it. If miconia gets loose there, then Maui is in trouble.

The watershed is for sale and should be in public hands. Arakawa outsmarted himself by trying to buy just the intakes and got nothing.

Again and again

I have been reading Richard Evans's "Death in Hamburg" (review coming eventually), which explains how the "most English" city in Imperial Germany -- the one governed according to what in America today we would call "Republican" and "conservative" values -- had the only cholera epidemic in all Germany in 1892.

It sounds like Flint.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Obama on international options

M. Ali Choudhury recommended this longish article by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic. It is well worth the time it takes.

Ever since it began in 2008, RtO has been quoting the Syro-German political scientist Bassam Tibi to the effect that Arabs do not care about democracy. Now, who can doubt it?

Obama appears to have reached a similar conclusion, by different arguments.

One of several piquant grafs:

The president also seems to believe that sharing leadership with other countries is a way to check America’s more unruly impulses. “One of the reasons I am so focused on taking action multilaterally where our direct interests are not at stake is that multilateralism regulates hubris,” he explained. He consistently invokes what he understands to be America’s past failures overseas as a means of checking American self-righteousness. “We have history,” he said. “We have history in Iran, we have history in Indonesia and Central America. So we have to be mindful of our history when we start talking about intervening, and understand the source of other people’s suspicions.”
That history includes sponsorship of two of our time's biggest genocides, in Indonesia and Guatemala. So there's that.

And another, aimed at the ignorant sabre-rattlers who lost 2 wars, and still haven't realized it:

 Obama didn’t much like my line of inquiry. “Look, this theory is so easily disposed of that I’m always puzzled by how people make the argument. I don’t think anybody thought that George W. Bush was overly rational or cautious in his use of military force. And as I recall, because apparently nobody in this town does, Putin went into Georgia on Bush’s watch, right smack dab in the middle of us having over 100,000 troops deployed in Iraq.” Obama was referring to Putin’s 2008 invasion of Georgia, a former Soviet republic, which was undertaken for many of the same reasons Putin later invaded Ukraine—to keep an ex–Soviet republic in Russia’s sphere of influence.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Book Review 363: 'Negro President'

‘NEGRO PRESIDENT’: Jefferson and the Slave Power, by Garry Wills. 274 pages. Houghton Mifflin, $25

When this book was written, America had never had an African-American president. Now we have. The term “Negro president” (and “Negro Congress”) meant something different 200 years ago.

It referred to the additional weight given to Southern votes by counting each 5 slaves as 3 persons for purposes of allocating seats in the House of Representatives.

In 1800, the presidency was decided in the House, but the 3/5ths ratio did not have any direct consequence there: Each of the 15 states had one vote. Thus Thomas Jefferson was a “Negro president” at one remove.

Garry Wills argues, though, that Jefferson – and every other Southern politician – had to accede to the “slave power” to have any chance of being elected at all. In the event, Jefferson was not just an easy rider of slave power.

And the slave power was maintained, forever, by the 3/5tsratio.

Jefferson worked tirelessly, and often deviously, to preserve and extend slavery. His highhandedness in managing the Louisiana Purchase is well known. Less known – and only alluded to here, not explicated in detail – were his plots to get East and West Florida into the Union.

His most consistent opponent from the antislavery side was Timothy Pickering of Massachusetts, an incorruptible and sometimes wily opponent.

Pickering is not well-remembered, and when he is it is mostly as a separationist behind the infamous Hartford Convention.

Wills, always drawn to correcting impressions, finds that Pickering was once a separationist, but by the time of the Hartford Convention had softened his approach.

Political junkies will love this book as Wills deftly traces the partisan undercurrents behind the maneuverings whose surface ripples are all we see in general histories.

Along the way we find out more about Hamilton and, especially, Burr. John Quincy Adams, who was a senator along with Pickering for a while, assumes a large place.

So m any things were going on – at cross purposes as politics always work out – that it is somewhat hard to summarize what Wills wants to say about Jefferson as a “Negro president.”

However, his overarching conclusion is easy enough to summarize: To get a Union, everyone had to submit to chattel slavery in perpetuity. If some thought they were making a tactical choice that would result, somehow, in an opposite strategic outcome, they were wrong.

The slave power swept all for 75 years and nothing in the Constitution did – or ever could have – restrained it.

When Lincoln died in April 1865, having fought and won a great war to preserve the Union and end slavery, and won re-election – his capital city was still a slave city.

Wills, a great ironist, explains how that bizarre result came about.

A committed unionist, he writes from the premise that a big union was a good thing, so he never addresses the alternative choice that the Founders rejected: To have formed 2 unions, one slave and one free.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Looking for a stupid leftist

RtO has been having some fun with stupid sayings by rightwingers. Commenter john gault objects that leftwingers also say stupid things.

I am sure they must, although the list he provided was all of crooks. They were not notably stupid. There’s a difference.

But fair’s fair. RtO should mock remarkably stupid quotations by leftwingers. But it is difficult to do.

I thought I had a live one in a story in The Washington Post about an assistantprofessor at liberal Oberlin who has been criticized for statements alleged to be anti-Semitic. Indeed they are, but are they leftwing?

Not really. At first glance they appear to be from the school of (alleged) left anti-Semitism in Europe, presented by its vendors as pro-Palestinian. But a look at the body of Professor Karega’s  statements reveals a different origin.

A compilation by Jewish Business News of “3 More Totally Crazy Things” Karega has spoken about includes a condemnation of Bernie Sanders as a tool of the interests, a surprising conclusion if Karega is a leftist.

She also believes storms are created by unnamed conspirators, which would put her more in the camp of plain nut.

In her social media posts (now mostly taken down, but the Internet never forgets), Karega shares and refers to other controversialists, and following those links does not lead into a morass of lefty paranoia and hate.

It leads to paranoia and hate, all right, but it’s mostly rightwing.  So far as it refers to Jews, it isn’t left anti-Semitism at all but the same old stuff I used to read in The Fiery Cross (the Ku Klux Klan newspaper) when I lived in Georgia.

This is odd, though not entirely surprising, since Karega appears to self-identify as African-American. So it goes – Frank Collin, the American nazi leader, was mischlinge.

I have doubts about Karega’s mental stability, but that’s no business of mine. The origins of political nonsense and hatred are my business, however, and clicking from site to site -- starting with Karega – may lead to a variety of veins of ore. In my case, it led to

Yes, Paul Craig Roberts, described thus at an admiring website (King World News):

“He served as an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan Administration earning fame as a co-founder of Reaganomics. He is a former editor and columnist for the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, and Scripps Howard News Service.”

No leftist cred there.

Fact is, he’s a notorious rightwing racist, sponsored by, among others, the white supremacist VDARE.

Strange company for an Oberlin professor to be keeping.

Well, I’ll just have to keep looking for stupid leftist commentary.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Stupidest quote

Man, the contest for stupidest rightwing quote from this campaign is intense, but it's going to be hard to out-stupid this one:
“The states that voted tonight are states that quite frankly some of my opponents just do better in; we recognized that going in,” Mr. Rubio told reporters

There is also non-partisan stupid. This is an actual quotation from  James Hohmann's daily news roundup in The Washington Post:

 --Psychologists and massage therapists have reported a spike in “Trump anxiety” – literally, anxiety that is caused by the political rise of Trump.
I guess he rubs some people the wrong way.

A very liberal friend from high school detests Trump so much she won't mention his name on social media for fear of enhancing his trend status. On the other hand, a very conservative niece is organizing an anybody-but-Trup turnout in the Utah caucuses.

But I cannot imagine either one saying to herself: Trump, he scares the bejeezus out of me. I need a massage.

Friday, March 4, 2016

What is Cliven Bundy?

Over several years in the 1990s, I reported on the operations of Perreira Ranch on Maui, and in the end most of it was shut down. The story is closely parallel to that of the so-called Bundy ranch in Nevada.

Perreira leased thousands of acres of sere, nearly rainless, nearly grassless land from the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands in Kahikinui and from the Department of Land and Natural Resources along the pali. Desperate cattle broke into state forests seeking food, and untold numbers that could not find forage or water died of starvation, thirst or neglect.

It had gone on for years until a persistent and courageous veterinarian, Dr. Diane Shepherd, started schooling me in what was going on. So I made it my business to publicize the situation in The Maui News. (My editors were not enthusiastic but published the stories, which was the key point: what Perreira was doing was known among those who knew but there was no public opinion formed.)

Testifying in one of several trials, Shepherd described what the Perreiras were doing as survival-of-the-fittest ranching. Cattle roamed and reproduced in the wild, and from time to time, the Perreiras would round up a few and sell them. There was no effort to supply water or feed, or to manage, care for, and provide veterinary services to the animals.

It was, therefore, extremely profitable, a near pefect capitalist enterprise. The leases cost next to nothing and there were no other costs either. My guess was that they took in over $100,000 a year, all profit.

Eventually ranch manager Annette Niles was convicted of animal cruelty and sent to prison. It was the first time in Hawaii anyone had ever gone behind bars for animal cruelty. Her father escaped prosecution because of his allegedly decrepit condition, which I thought was phony.

It was not possible to keep them from abusing animals on their private land. However, thanks to Dr. Shepherd, some improvement came about. (One consequence was that the state finally increased funding of DHHL.)

Here is what the government said in its petition to keep Cliven Bundy in custody:

While Bundy claims he is a cattle rancher, his ranching operation – to the extent it can be called that – is unconventional if not bizarre. Rather than manage and control his cattle, he lets them run wild on the public lands with little, if any, human interaction until such time when he traps them and hauls them off to be sold or slaughtered for his own consumption.

He does not vaccinate or treat his cattle for disease; does not employ cowboys to control and herd them; does not manage or control breeding; has no knowledge of where all the cattle are located at any given time; rarely brands them before he captures them; and has to bait them into traps in order to gather them.
Nor does he bring his cattle off the public lands in the off-season
to feed them when the already sparse food supply in the desert is even scarcer.

Raised in the wild, Bundy’s cattle are left to fend for themselves year-round, fighting off predators and scrounging for the meager amounts of food and water available in the difficult and arid terrain that comprises the public lands in that area of the country. Bereft of human interaction, his cattle that manage to survive are wild, mean and ornery.

At the time of the events giving rise to the charges, Bundy’s cattle numbered over 1,000 head, straying as far as 50 miles from his ranch and into the Lake Mead National Recreation Area (“LMNRA”), getting stuck in mud, wandering onto golf courses, straying onto the freeway (causing accidents on occasion) – foraging aimlessly and wildly, roaming in small groups over hundreds of thousands of acres.

So, rightwingers, there's your hero. Despite what newspapers call him, he is not a rancher or a cattleman.

He is a thoroughly disgusting, cruel, greedy and despicable person. I am pleased to say that, in part because of my reporting, you cannot do that in Hawaii any more. You go to prison, and it really does not matter whether you are also a political and religious kook, too.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016


I live in Hawaii, so it won't matter who I vote for for president. But I can watch. This is what I see:

It will be Clinton v. Trump.

For the Democrats who have been saying, for months, that they hope the Republicans nominate Trump, I have two words: Jesse Ventura

For the Republicans who have been saying for 7 years that Obama lacks class and is divisive, as you fall all over yourselves to endorse that classy unifier Trump,  you just fingered yourselves as racists. We understood that all along, but now you cannot even pretend to deny it.


Since posting this, I read Eric Wemple's blog at the Washington Post. He said:

Trusted Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly can vouch for him. Speaking on his show Monday night, O’Reilly dismissed this week’s hubbub over Trump’s moment on CNN as a “complete non-story,” a media-manufactured moment. “I’ve spoken with Trump hundreds of times and I’ve never heard him run down anyone because of race. He doesn’t care about that.” This, coming from the guy who heatedly denies any notion of white privilege in the United States.