Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A Bit On Acting CIA Director Michael Pompeo's Extremist Christian Ideology

This was a bit I added to the Wikipedia entry on Pompeo, current CIA director. Unsurprisingly, it has been removed. A video of Pompeo speaking on his own behalf is, according to some Wikipedia editor, not a sufficiently reliable source on Pompeo's views.

Wikipedia: misinforming the masses since the beginning of the millenium.

Pompeo is a Christian religious conservative whose beliefs inform his politics. He spoke at length of how religion informs his political ideals on video at the Summit Church God and Country Rally 2015. In that speech he approvingly quoted the Robert Russell/Joseph Wright prayer which contained "We have worshiped other gods and called it multiculturalism. We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle." In his own words, he said "We are engaged in a struggle against radical Islam, the kind of struggle that this country has not faced since its great wars."

There is a great deal more in that speech, but to flesh this out, I would have to listen to the speech in its entirety, take notes, and research them, which would be a considerable investment in time.

We are rightly afraid of John Bolton as National Security Advisor. Perhaps we ought also be afraid of Michael R. Pompeo as DCIA.

Friday, March 23, 2018

War: Cui Bono?

(A cry of despair.)

@neeratanden, a long-time Hillary Clinton supporter, tweets: “I know we need to unite. But having gone thru the twitter hazing of 2016 where folks regularly attacked Hillary as a warmonger (and me as her supporter) and lauded Trump as some pacifist and then to see Bolton … well I’m furious. These people need to own up.”

I thought about this and agreed. Maureen Dowd and many others owe the country some kind of penance. And then I thought more. Hillary Clinton never had Trump's father issues or masculinity doubts. She is in no way as huge a warmonger as Donald Trump. But the Obama administration, during her time as Secretary of State, did support the 2009 Honduras coup, which installed a brutal regime that has lasted to this day. In a Clinton administration we would not be fearing the start of World War III. We would probably, however, see support of authoritarian regimes, and smaller wars and coups.

John Bolton joined the Maryland Army National Guard, rather than risk being drafted and sent to Vietnam. He wrote: "I confess I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy. I considered the war in Vietnam already lost." And those who served, not because they hoped for victory, but out of loyalty? Chumps, I guess. For all his fine rhetoric, another white man who found his fine self to be more important than country. The attitude, if not yet the acts, of a traitor.

Why? Why do our elites think that war makes any sense at all? After Iran, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq, two losses, and two stalemates turning into losses, why? After Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras? And who are the hawks? It's not just Bolton. Even "moderate" US foreign policy is brutal, if not the complete madness that Bolton advocates. We are haunted by the shadow of Henry Kissinger, even when he is not directly making policy.

Cui bono? Quid est beneficium?

"I want to know who the men in the shadows are / I want to hear somebody asking them why / They can be counted on to tell us who our enemies are / But they're never the ones to fight or to die." – Jackson Browne, Lives in the Balance.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

A Note on the Austin Bombings

We are up to six, as of this writing. Six.

I don't think this is stochastic terrorism, some random crazy. This looks to me like organized and planned terrorism. Now, terrorism is violence for the purposes of political propaganda. So if I'm right, we will see other parts of the propaganda campaign emerge soon. Anything is possible. A "false flag" operation. A call for a white supremacist uprising. Or something even stranger and more brutal.

Monday, March 19, 2018

A Democratic Activist Asked for Concrete Policy Suggestions

So here's some concrete policy suggestions addressing three important areas. Such policies, if put in to practice, would garner huge support for the Democratic Party.
  1. Racial justice. Have the DOJ monitor state and local police departments for racist conduct, in particular deaths at the hands of officers.  Monitor local prosecutors.
  2. Labor. Make the NLRB work again; it has become nearly impossible to form a private-sector union in the USA. Repeal Taft-Hartley. Have the SEC go back to forbidding most leveraged buyouts, or at least require an evaluation of their effects on employment. 
  3. Housing. Enforce and extend the legal prohibitions on mortgage fraud and servicing abuse.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

On the Electric Twitter Machine

"Trump's rise has shown that purported principles of conservative ideology meant virtually NOTHING to the conservative masses. […] The NYT's commitment to "intellectual diversity" doesn't go THAT far -- not far enough to expose its readers to that reality"– vox.com blogger David Roberts (@drvox) link.

"I’ve interviewed countless journalists in dictatorships, from Belarus to Thailand, who risk their lives to bring a sliver of truth & accountability to their societies. They are heroes. Trump’s attacks on the press endanger them while endangering our democracy too." – Dr. Brian Klass (@brianklass), London School of Economics, link.

"You are lying. Marijuana is not a gateway drug." – Assistant Professor Joshua B. Grubbs (@JoshuaGrubbsPhD), link.

"Mercia has a 20000 pounds of silver deficit with North Sea kingdoms (mostly THE SNEAKY DANES). BAD AND WRONG. Just goes to show what bad leaders have done to undermine Mercia. We will bring that geld back!" –  Donaeld The Unready, (@donaeldunready), link.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Review: Blitzed!

Ohler, Norman. Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany. Translated by Shaun Whiteside. London: Penguin Books, 2017. Review also posted at Goodreads. Copies available at Powell's and other fine bookstores.

This book covers an area of historical research I had not even thought of before: the effects of psychoactive drugs on war.

The book is broken into four sections: “Methamphetamine, the Volksdroge,” a short history of the German pharmaceutical industry’s development and marketing of psychoactive drugs, “Sieg High,” on the use of methamphetamine as a battlefield performance enhancer during the Blitzkrieg, “High Hitler: Patient A and His Personal Physician,” about Hitler and his personal physician Theodor Morell, and “The Wonder Drug,” about the end of the war as an amphetamine crash, and desperate attempts to create new and more powerful drugs.

Every chapter covers something I had not heard of before. Giants of the pharmaceutical industry turn out to have been founded on psychoactive drugs – Merck on morphine, Bayer on heroin as well as aspirin, and the less-widely known but major Temmler (they are now part of Aenova Group) on the drug they called Pervitin, a methamphetamine-based pharmaceutical. “Sieg High” covers how the Blitzkrieg, where Guderian and Rommel raced through France to the sea, was fueled by sleepless soldiers relying on Pervitin. In passing, one thing this chapter makes clear – it is not news, I expect, to any historian, but I was not aware of it – was just how incompetent a military leader Hitler was. Guderian and Rommel were responsible for the success of the Blitz, and Hitler ordered Goering to change his strategy midway through the Battle of Britain, possibly losing the Battle. Popular English-language accounts of the Battle of Britain focus on Churchill’s determination, but it would have gone worse for Britain had it not been for Hitler’s foolish interventions; likely there would have been no Dunkrik boatlift.

“High Hitler” is a novelistic account of Hitler’s relation with his personal physician Theodor Morell. Morell was most of a crank, pushing various organic concoctions as medicine (vitamins! animal glands! bull’s testicles!) but as the war wore on, and Hitler’s health, energy, and mood deteriorated, Morell began injecting Eukodal, a Merck oxycodone-based drug, and, probably, later Pervitin. Ohler’s account of the deterioration of Hitler’s health, perhaps as a result of drug abuse, or perhaps for other reasons, is grim.

And, finally, “The Wonder Drug” covers the end of the war and the death of Hitler, as ever-more-desperate attempts are made to find drugs that will keep soldiers, sailors, and Der Fuehrer fighting in the face of defeat.

The book is a short and straightforward popular history; 368 pages, of which perhaps 25% are bibliography and notes. I judge it well-researched; the bibliography overwhelmingly cites primary sources. But, oh, the questions it raises! Surely the largest historical question is “To what extent are psychoactive pharmaceuticals factors in history and, especially, war?” I know vaguely about cocaine in World War I, heroin in Vietnam, and other drugs in Central America (the book brought to mind James Tiptree, Jr’s. savage “Yanqui Doodle”), but is there a broader story to be told? To what extent is this still being done?

Beyond that, it is an often-asked historical question: “How could the Nazis have been so cruel and crazy?” Part of the answer may be that they drove themselves crazy with methamphetamine, inducing rigid singleness of purpose and paranoid delusions.

A number of science fiction writers have incorporated technologically created super-soldiers in their stories: Heinlein most famously, but also Jack Kirby (Jacob Kurtzberg) & Joe Simon (Hymie Simon) created the superhero Captain America. Kirby and Simon had it that there was also a Nazi super-soldier project. I wonder if these authors were aware of the Nazi use of Pervitin during the Blitz? It certainly intimidated the French – they couldn’t imagine how the Germans kept going with no sleep. [Added: here is a 2013 William Saletan piece, "The War on Sleep," about military uses of Provigil (modafinil.)]

And, finally, the picture of Hitler himself. The English-language popular imagination of Hitler owes much to Nazi propaganda and the enormous efficacy of the drug-fueled Blitz, but H.G. Wells 1941 description of Hitler as “that screaming little defective in Berlin” turns out to be more accurate. I have no trouble seeing our modern fascist leaders as similar – racist, health cranks, more than a bit crazy. In a broader focus, I wonder if prescription drugs now widely prescribed as treatments for the conditions of old age are affecting the thinking of older voters.

So, an interesting and important book, which raises good questions. If you have the stomach for it, go read it.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Rohingya Genocide Background Links

This is outside my usual wheelhouse, but a friend asked for some research, so here are some English-language links on the Rohingya genocide.

For a historical overview, I found this Al-Jazeera article:
  Myanmar: Who are the Rohingya?

For an overview of the status of the genocide, Amnesty International's 2017/2018 report:
  Myanmar 2017/2018

The best in-depth English-language coverage seems to be at Juan Cole's web site, Informed Comment:
  Rohingya Genocide: Why isn’t the World Community Doing Something?
  Informed Comment Myanmar page
  Informed Comment Rohingya search

Birthright citizenship seems to me more and more one of the best ideas ever to come out of US history.