Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Energy blues

Whiny Baby Donald promised millions of jobs by ending the war on coal. It takes a special kind of idiot to believe that, but meanwhile, Whiny Baby Donald shows no concern for the dying nuclear power sector.

Nor, to be clear, did any previous president. Combustion Engineering (where my grandfather worked for 20 years in the engineering drawing department about which I could tell management horror stories, disappeared into bankruptcy in 2003, brought down by asbestos claims.

Both Westinghouse and Combustion had ceased to be American-owned at the time of their deaths, Westinghouse is owned by Toshiba, Combustion was taken over by ABB. So when I hear talk about American industry's intellectual leadership, I am unimpressed.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Hawaii punches above its weight

Trump talks tough but Judge Walcott really is tough.

Some attorneys believe the Justice Department is intentionally dragging its feet in the Hawaii case because the 9th Circuit rotates the three-judge panels assigned to motions every month, with the next swap-out due Saturday. The 9th Circuit also announces the panels publicly, although not in advance. This month’s consists of two Obama-appointed judges — Morgan Christen and John Owens — along with George W. Bush appointee Milan Smith.

“Maybe they looked at the motions panel this month and felt it was maybe, 2-1 [against them] … at best and they didn’t see any percentage in that so they figured let’s see what’s up next month,” Tobias said.

“It does not bespeak a lot of confidence in the merits of their position if the strategy here really is waiting until the calendar flips over on Saturday,” University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck added. “It’s both a long shot and strange one.”

What is it the lawyers say? When the law is against you, argue the facts; when the facts are against you, argue the law. When both are against you, dither . . .

Monday, March 27, 2017

Meddling in elections

Some Americans are concerned about the possibility that Russia interfered with the 2016 United States elections, although virtually all of these people are liberals or moderates. You can count the Republicans who have shown any concern on your thumbs.

Count RtO among the concerned, but also puzzled. Foreigners observing the liberal concern must be thinking, what hypocrites those Americans are.

In all the reporting I  have seen over months about the electoral interference, I have not seen a single mention of the history of the United States' interference in the elections of other countries.

It began right after World War II, when the U.S. government was alarmed that the Communists, said to be largest parties in France and Italy, would gain power in the early postwar elections. So we meddled outrageously, funneling money to center-right parties and, no doubt, playing other dirty tricks.

The Soviets also were interfering in postwar European elections, and were the first, with their sponsorship of the "Lublin" government-in-exile of Poland in 1944 and, later, arrests of Polish liberals.

Interference in elections for other governments by the United States was subsequently epidemic and went far beyond merely fundng friendly politicians or otherwise putting the thumb on the scales.

The overthrow of the government of Iran and the conspiracy to murder the president of South Vietnam and his family were the most blatant examples, but a list of countris where the United States interfered, more or less openly, in the elections of other countries is a long one. The following list may not be complete:

Great Britain, Egypt, Congo, Southern Rhodesia, China, Philippines, Japan, West Germany, South Korea, Chile, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Lebanon, Spain, Portugal.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Trump comes through

Whiny Baby Donald promised I'd love his approach to health policy. And you know what? I kind of do.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Why you cannot trust cops

The Los Angeles Times follows up on the arrest of Wyclef John on suspicion of robbery. It was a case of operating on a vague description.

OK. That is inevitable in police work. Witnesses don't usually provide exact information and, besides, there are tens of thousands of men around Los Angeles wearing "dark hoodies."

The problem with cops is that 1. they don't really use the descriptions they have; and, 2., worse, they make stuff up:

 Sheriff's officials said that Jean was handcuffed "due to the violent nature of the call," because of the similarity of their cars, the time of day the incident was unfolding and "Mr. Jean’s furtive movements and demeanor."
Oh, furtive movements.

Not credible, even for a police agency with a clean record, which the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department has never had.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Book Review 384: Been in the Storm So Long

BEEN IN THE STORM SO LONG: The Aftermath of Slavery, by Leon F. Litwack. 651 pages. Vintage paperback

Although slaves had been freed in Latin America, Haiti and the British Empire within living memory of the Civil War generation, Americans came to their great emancipation without any settled ideas about what to do if you were a freed slave, or what the rest of the society ought to do. “Been in the Storm So Long” draws on an immense store of first-person accounts to tell how Americans reacted.

The story begins in 1862, when the Union Army occupied the Sea Islands, whose population was almost all black, and which became even blacker when the whites fled.

After great debate and with considerable misgivings, President Lincoln finally authorized raising troops from among the freedmen, but before that the army had adopted a hands-off attitude: the residents of the islands continued planting and harvesting cotton and food crops, fishing and raising hogs.

Had anyone seriously studied the results, a template could have been discerned for Reconstruction: a land to the tillers policy would have addressed the question of how 4 million freedmen who had had little chance of education were to support themselves.

But as the history proceeds, the picture darkens. Race war comes to the South, as whites begin murdering and terrorizing blacks. Once the Confederate army disbands, the Union officers side with the whites. Crimes against blacks are not punished. In many instances, Northern soldiers force freedmen to work on plantations, sometimes without remuneration.

Litwack is the not the kind of historian to psychoanalyze, or even psychologize, his subjects, but the mere quotation of white opinion reveals a population that can only be described as psychotic: cruel, greedy, corrupt, paranoid, crazy.

For black people — both freedmen and those of the small prewar free black population — emancipation brought a combination of joy, optimism, despair and resignation.

In his final chapter, Litwack tries to describe how southern blacks used religion, social organization and American ideals to crete a “people.”

This history ends in 1867, when the initial period of confusion had settled into a pattern: white southerners were not going to give up supremacy, and the Radical Republicans were going to counter with occupation and deprivation of civil rights to force the south to accept, at least, civil and political equality for all its citizens.

The South won that war.

“Been in the Storm so Long” was published in 1979 and was, even then, a somewhat old-fashioned history. Today, there would be some attempt to quantify the situation.

A modern historian would tell us how many acres blacks managed to acquire or how many were murdered  by vigilantes. If records are lacking for the whole South, then some representative sections would suffice.

But there is hardly a statistic in the book.

It is no less powerful for that. From among thousands of anecdotes, one stands out:

“As the Yankees neared the plantation, the mistress commanded the slaves to remain loyal. ‘If they find that trunk o’ money or silver plate,’ she asked Jule, ‘you’ll say it’s your’n, won’t you?’ The slave stood there, obviously unmoved by her mistress’s plea. ‘Mistress,’ she replied, ‘I can’t lie over that; you bo’t that silver plate when you sole my three children.’ “

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Bringing a gun to a car fight

Stories about guns are almost always tragic or stupid, often both, but sometimes funny, too.

The man had robbed four occupants of a parked car and was running to a waiting vehicle when one of his robbery victims hit him with the car, police said.
“We believe this impact caused the suspect to accidentally fire his gun, causing his own injuries,” police said in a statement. “It appears that the suspect’s accomplices initially attempted to assist him into their vehicle to escape, but eventually fled the scene without him.”
It's like a Coen brothers movie.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Picking rightwing scabs

1. Gun nuts say guns in the home are no more dangerous -- even less so -- than other common household amenities, like swimming pools.

However, I have never heard of two friends getting in an argument and drowning each other in their swimming pools.

I will go so far as to say this will never happen.

2. Rightwingers campaigned against Obamacare for 7 years because, among other things, it would lead to rationing of care.

So now Paul Ryan is bragging that the rightwing replacement law will put a hard cap on health care.

Expect rightwingers who voted for Republican candidates because they objected to rationing care to explode with indignation in 3, 2, 1 . . .

(That's a joke. Rightwing voters are too stupid to know when they've been given a noogie.)

Monday, March 6, 2017

A warning to Maui

Locals sometimes say Maui is like a Third World country. It isn't, but the airport is.

Yet for Nigerians living in the sleepy capital, Abuja, the airport with its more than 80 flights a day usually serves the purpose of getting them to their destinations, despite delays and cancellations that plague any busy airspace.

And so the government’s announcement that it plans to close the airport for six weeks starting early Wednesday to repair a runway has prompted fears about a major disruption to Abuja’s lifeline to the rest of the country and the world.
Sound familiar?

At least Abuja has ground connections to the rest of the world:

The government’s Plan B for the airport isn’t soothing concerns. Planes are to be rerouted to a tiny airport in Kaduna, where on a typical day only a handful of flights go in and out. A new terminal being built in Kaduna to handle the influx was still under construction.

Passengers will be ferried free of charge by bus on a roughly three-hour trip to Abuja along a road famous for kidnappings and banditry in a region where nomadic herdsmen and farmers engage in frequent deadly clashes. Officers from the air force, road safety corps and the secret police will be posted along the road linking the two cities, and officials have assured the public that everyone will be safe.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Book Review 383: Hitler's Heralds

HITLER'S HERALDS: The Story of the Freikorps 1918-1923, by Nigel H. Jones. 284 pages, illustrated. Dorset

Lots of people think Donald Trump is a neonazi, and they are correct; but there is a yuuge difference between Hitler or Mussolini and Trump: Trump does not have a private army of semi-disciplined goons to terrorize his opponents.

(He has the inclination to be sure. During the campaign he hired a private squad of goons and directed them to behave the way the American Nazi goons famously did at their big rally in 1938 at Madison Square Garden.)

Where did Hitler get his army of brownshirts? They were a natural growth from a spontaneous emergence of violent paramilitary bands following the end of the war and the disappearance of the empire. Millions of men went home, but tens of thousands of angry, disappointed men formed terrorist bands.

These were politically from the left and the right, but the rightist bands were more consequential.

They took their name from one of the most unsavory episodes of German history, the Freikorps of the wars of religion. (Not uniquely German, they resembled the “free companies” that ravaged France during the Hundred Year’s War.)

The Freikorps prevailed because they had money.  Businesses backed them, and sometimes they received money and weapons from secret funds of the army, or from civilian governments. Even some Socialist local governments, desperate for “order,” sometimes paid the Freikorps.

Except in the Baltic region, Freikorps fighting rarely resembled regular warfare. Usually a gang would roll into town (by train or sometimes in trucks, rarely as cavalry) and cow an unarmed citizenry or brawl in the streets with socialist or worker bands.

The fighting was seldom very bloody. The killing began when a Freikorps gained control and instituted a reign of White Terror.

Like condottiere of the Quattrocentro, Freikorps men enjoyed their work, since it was not very dangerous and allowed them to murder, rape, rob, booze and strut.

Nigel Jones provides a well-backgrounded history, popular rather than scholarly, but because there were so many Freikorps and their actions were local and uncoordinated, the story is choppy, episodic and rather hard to follow.

By 1923 Germany had calmed down enough that private armies were not wanted. The better organized Freikorps were absorbed into the army, the worse organized bands tended to break up and their drifting veterans were happy to find comradeship (often of a homosexual kind) and money in the Nazi Party, although by the time the Freikorps movement started to break up, few Germans outside Bavaria had yet heard from Hitler.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Nazi echoes

Well-dresssed nazi as the BBC envisions him (Richard Lintern as Charles Lucas)
Suppose I told you a politician gave a speech and that the principle themes were

1. economic autarky

2. huge expansion of armaments

3. denunciation of unfair treaties

4. hypernationalism and xenophobia

5. denunciation of 'enemies of the people'

Suppose further that I asked, was this speech given by Hitler or Trump? Could you decide which it was?

No, you couldn't, because Trump's speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference was a purely Nazi speech. And the brownshirts leapt to applaud as eagerly at the Gaylord National Center as they used to do at the Kroll Opera House.

I recommend an episode from the final season of the BBC series "Foyle's War," which was first shown in 2014. The writer, Anthony Horowitz, bases his plots on real events and they are carefully researched. The episode "Trespass," which concerns the British attempt to keep Jews out of Palestine in 1946, has a character called Charles Lucas who is based on Mosley, the British fascist.

Lucas gives a speech, which takes only 90 seconds or so,  which is a concentration of fascist rhetoric of the '30s and '40s. It is brilliantly done. And it sounds exactly like Donald Trump.