Sunday, April 13, 2014

McCutcheon and the Roberts Court: a Radical Response

In its quest to become the worst US Supreme Court since the Taney Court, the Roberts Court rendered a 5-4 decision weakening yet again US campaign finance law, and allowing very wealthy donors to give even more money to political campaigns. (Case: McCutcheon v FEC.) And, as usual in this Court's split rulings, The Loser is the Law, as the Roberts Court creates yet more legal chaos.

In reaction, I have come to the conclusion that it is time to change the composition of the Court either by impeaching one or more of the conservative Justices, appointing a tenth justice, or in some other way. The Justices Oath says, "do equal right to the poor and to the rich" and this Court's conservatives are not doing that. Other reasons, I am sure, can be found. In any event, it is time to change the Court before it does even more harm. It seems to me that, as with the worst decisions of the Taney Court, it is going to take constitutional amendments to repair the damage this Court has done to American democracy.

Time to get started.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

An American Ukraine Expert, and His Blog

"Dr. Alexander Motyl is a scholar and an artist. By day he is a professor of political science at Rutgers-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia, and the USSR, and on nationalism, revolutions, empires, and theory, he is the author of 10 books of nonfiction, …"

His Ukraine blog is Ukraine's Orange Blues.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Putinism considered as an ideology

By way of comments in Ta-Nehisi Coates blog, we have this analysis from conservative commentator Anne Applebaum: video and PDF.

It fascinates me how the conflict between Ukraine and Russia has begun to shift alliances among Western intellectuals. I previously would have had no reason to quote Applebaum, and I am not sure I trust her (defender of child rapist Roman Polanski, adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute) even now. But she may have some good ideas.

More Ukraine and Multi-polar Global Politics

The Ukrainian Education Minister Serhiy Kvit The Ideology of the EuroMaidan Revolution. (Kiev post op-ed, 24 March 2014.) I am far more inclined to credit this than Putin's creepy neo-Stalinist rants.

On 2 May 1998, New York Times commentator Thomas Friedman, to my astonishment, did something sensible: for an op-ed piece he interviewed George F. Kennan, who was 94 at the time, on the expansion of NATO. I suppose it would be wrong to reproduce all of Kennan's remarks, but I will quote some bits:

I think it is the beginning of a new cold war. I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. … We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. … It shows so little understanding of Russian history and Soviet history. Of course there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia, and then [the NATO expanders] will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are -- but this is just wrong.
As was often the case, it seems that Kennan was right.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Why Hiring Prejudice Against the Long-term Unemployed?

Paul Krugman links to a study on long-term unemployment which finds: “it’s really hard to get employers to look at people who have been out of work for an extended period, so any sustained increase in long-term unemployment tends to become permanent.”

Which is interesting and important. But rather than look at the macroeconomic issues raised, I'd like to ask: why this is employer policy? It isn't random: hiring managers, HR managers, or both are choosing not to hire people who have been out of work for a long time. Why?

Global Environmental Disaster: It's Not Just Climate Change

This is the panic post.

Most greatly I fear environmental and biological catastrophe, not just climate change, but also the collapse of crop yields due to disease, the collapse of animal husbandry due to diseases we cannot manage, the collapse of fisheries, the obsolescence of all current antibiotics due to overuse and the emergence of new plagues.

When overpopulation is described in most older Western fiction, the vast growth of cities is the subject. To Robert Heinlein, all the towers of Manhattan were slums, regardless of how happy the residents were. (It's in Tramp Royale, if you want to read the man's own words on the subject.) But long before we feel the crowding, our vast population and use of resources will drive systemic disaster. Randall Munroe recently reminded us that our livestock outweigh us, and that all wild mammals are a tiny fraction of mammalian biomass. If human civilization collapses, from where will come the resources of a wild ecosystem, to rebuild the earth? If the salt shall lose its savor, from where will you resalt it?

And then there is nuclear power. Many scientists, most notably planetologist Jim Hansen, regard nuclear power as a solution to our current energy woes. But I do not believe we are competent to make effective use of it. As with overpopulation the dangers are different than those of the scare stories. It is true that most of the scare stories about nuclear power are wrong: power reactors cannot turn into nuclear bombs, waste can be disposed of if we are willing to undertake the effort and reactors can be designed that will produce fast-decaying radioisotopes that will become harmless in centuries rather than millenia. Yet the land around Chernobyl is so poisoned that even decay takes place more slowly. If we use nuclear power carelessly, over time, it will poison more and more of the earth and, as with fossil fuels, the temptation to misuse nuclear power will always be present. Better, I think, to start now, to reduce our population and develop sustainable non-nuclear energy technology. We would have done best to start decades ago, when the risks became apparent. By the time Al Gore published Earth in the Balance in 1992, it was old news: Gore was summarizing existing results. But we are stuck, and not acting. In some ways we are even making matters worse.

I look for hope from unexpected quarters. When Heinlein wrote Tramp Royale in 1954, he believed that population would continue to grow vastly, and this would lead to resource wars. Instead, contraception became widely accepted, which Heinlein couldn't imagine was possible, and the Green Revolution increased agricultural outputs sufficiently to prevent both these things. We are still not in a good way, but neither have we had global disaster. We may hope for more unexpected good news. Nonetheless we have much hard work before us, if our world and our civilization are to survive.

Books and articles

  1. Gore, Albert. Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1992.
  2. Heinlein, Robert A., Tramp Royale. Baen Books, 1996, ebook. (Original completion date 1954. If you're tempted to read this, be warned that that the book and Heinlein's prejudices have aged badly.)
  3. Munroe, Randall, "xkcd 1338: Land Mammals," self-published web comic.
  4. Nuwer, R., Forests Around Chernobyl Aren’t Decaying Properly. Smithsonian Magazine, March 2014.