7 January 2022   Leave a comment

A humorous take on one of the darkest days in American history.

Posted January 7, 2022 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

6 January 2022   1 comment

US President Biden delivered a speech today on the anniversary of the assault on the Capitol Building last year. It was a speech that should have been given a long time ago, but Biden has been overly scrupulous in avoiding overt political speeches in a bootless attempt to foster bipartisanship. Under most circumstances I would applaud Biden’s early strategy, but there is absolutely no evidence that most members of the Republican Party are interested in anything other than tax cuts. Indeed, there were only two Republicans present in the House of Representatives as Biden delivered the speech.

But the speech was not merely political; it was tailored to nettle the former President. Again, I really do not like personal attacks in politics, but I am clearly out of touch on that matter. And the former President made his living on personal insults so I am willing to let Karma rule in this case. I will admit that I found the barbs deeply satisfying. The best lines in the speech will endure in the annals of American politics:

“He’s not just a former president.  He’s a defeated former president — defeated by a margin of over 7 million of your votes in a full and free and fair election.”

Writing for The Guardian, David Smith penned a brilliant analysis of Biden’s approach:

“Biden could have used Thursday’s anniversary to offer olive branches, finding comfort in the traditional role as head of state as an excuse to rise above political battles of the day. His instinct may have been to be as apolitical and anodyne as a monarch.

“But this was the moment that the commander-in-chief realised the clear and present danger posed to American democracy by one of its major parties and former leader gone rogue. The alarmed voices of fellow Democrats, activists, journalists and historians about the state of emergency finally seemed to have got through to him.

“He understood that platitudes and prayers for a miraculous Kumbaya moment will no longer do. You cannot reason with extremists whose premise about a stolen election and the insurrection being the will of the people – wrapped up in the cult of Trump – is fundamentally irrational.

“You cannot debate Fox News or fascism-curious Facebook users. Instead, the threat must be looked squarely in the eye.”

I have no illusions about what effect the speech may have on members of the Republican Party, but I am long past believing that anything will change the minds of those who are unwilling to challenge the former President. President Biden said it best:

“To me, the true patriots were the more than 150 [million] Americans who peacefully expressed their vote at the ballot box, the election workers who protected the integrity of the vote, and the heroes who defended this Capitol.

“You can’t love your country only when you win.

“You can’t obey the law only when it’s convenient.

“You can’t be patriotic when you embrace and enable lies.

“Those who stormed this Capitol and those who instigated and incited and those who called on them to do so held a dagger at the throat of America — at American democracy.

“They didn’t come here out of patriotism or principle.  They came here in rage — not in service of America, but rather in service of one man.”

“My hate is general, I detest all men;
Some because they are wicked and do evil,
Others because they tolerate the wicked,
Refusing them the active vigorous scorn
Which vice should stimulate in virtuous minds.”
― Moliere, The Misanthrope

Posted January 6, 2022 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

31 December 2021   2 comments

One of the wonderful aspects of living in New England is that the region experiences four very different seasons, ranging from hot and humid summers (which I hate) to bitter cold and snowy winters (my favorite season is the fall). Recent research, published in the journal, Climate, suggests that the New England climate may lose that distinctiveness.

“New England appears to be warming faster than the world as a whole. It is clear from the research that New England has warmed past the 1.5 °C level, which the IPCC has set as a do-not-pass threshold for the world [5], and New England is close to passing the 2 °C level. Regions in the higher latitudes, such as New England, are generally warming faster than the world as a whole. It is also clear from the research that, over the past few decades, the colder temperatures (minimum temperatures and winter temperatures) are warming the fastest. This might be a reason why people in New England are not as aware, or are not as concerned, about the warming temperatures, as they would be if the hottest (maximum and summer season) temperatures were warming the fastest….

“New England’s rising temperatures are diminishing the distinct seasonality of the region by vastly reducing winter’s cold temperatures as well as increasing temperatures in all of the other seasons. The differences between the four seasons is decreasing. Rising temperatures have resulted in a change in snow cover in the winter. Every decade between 1965 and 2005, New England has lost nine snow-cover days due to less precipitation falling as snow and from the snow melting faster…”

The Boston Globe outlines the significance of the changes:

“The warming in the region already has exceeded a threshold set by the Paris Climate Accord, in which nearly 200 nations agreed to cut their emissions in an effort to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. If global temperatures exceed that amount, the damage from intensifying storms, rising sea levels, droughts, forest fires, and other natural disasters is likely to be catastrophic, scientists say.

“With New England’s annual temperatures expected to rise sharply in the coming decades, the authors of the study said the region should expect major disruptions to its economy, including coastal waters that will become increasingly inhospitable to iconic species such as cod and lobster; fewer days when skiing and other winter recreation will be possible; less maple syrup and other agricultural products produced; and a range of other consequences.”

Fortunately, New England does not yet display some of the more catastrophic dimensions of climate change such as large, uncontrollable wildfires as seen in the American West or the flooding experienced in the American South and Southeast. But the trend is unmistakably clear that the New England climate is changing dramatically and it is difficult to predict what those changes might entail.

Posted December 31, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

16 December 2021   Leave a comment

Balance of Power politics is one of the most enduring patterns in international relations. Its roots go far back to Kautilya, an Indian teacher who wrote one of the first political treatise in the 4th century BCE called the Arthashastra. Few now know about Kautilya, but he introduced some of the more well-known aphorisms in world politics: “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and “the friend of my enemy is my enemy” are examples of how we formulate balance of power statecraft. It is a political system motivated solely by the desire to maintain and accrete power, totally devoid of principle or morality. There are a very large number of examples of the balance of power throughout history, and the one that underpins contemporary international relations theory is the European balance of power that lasted from the Congress of Vienna in 1815 (ending the Napoleonic Wars) to the outbreak of World War I in 1914.

That balance of power ultimately failed, largely because it failed to accommodate the growing power of Germany which was a late comer to the balance of power game (a united Germany only became real after Bismarck’s Zollverein was completed in 1871). Great Britain, France, and Russia refused to make any concessions to the emerging great power smack dab in the middle of Europe. As German power grew, the world witnessed the construction of military alliances. One one side was the Triple Entente comprised of Great Britain, France, and Russia which was dedicated to preserving the status quo in Europe. On the Other side was the Triple Alliance, comprised of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy which was dedicated to changing the status quo which would give Germany, in the words of Bernhard von Bülow (1849-1929), who served as Reich chancellor from 1900 to 1909, a “place in the sun”.

The world is now witnessing the same dynamic. China is rapidly developing from a humiliating century at the hands of other powers only to find that those powers seem to be dedicated to preventing China’s “place in the sun”. The Chinese and the Russians are moving closer together and are forging a loose alliance with Iran and other countries to confront the US, Europe, and Japan. According to Nadia Helmy:

“And here, we find that there is an alliance already existing between (China, Iran and Russia), which seeks to make a (coalition at the United Nations to confront US sanctions and set fair standards for the use of force).  A number of other founding members of the United Nations joined the Russian-Chinese alliance, namely: (Algeria, Angola, Belarus, Bolivia, Cambodia, Cuba, Eritrea, Laos, Nicaragua, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Syria and Venezuela). All of them are allies of China and Russia and have strong military, economic and political relations with them.

“Indications point out that (China, Russia, North Korea and Iran), as well as some other countries seek to (mobilize support for an alliance to defend the Charter of the United Nations), by addressing the use or threat of use of force, and unilateral sanctions, especially those American sanctions imposed on certain countries  away from the international community and international legitimacy.

“”These new Russian-Chinese efforts with the participation of 16 countries – in addition to Palestine – come to establish this group at the United Nations, in the face of the ‘multilateral approach’ of the US administration of President ‘Joe Biden’ with its allies to confront Chinese and Russian influence, in abandoning the unilateral approach that he was following the former President (Donald Trump), who was focused on the ‘America First’ policy.”

The Russians, Chinese, and Iran are conducting joint naval drills in the Persian Gulf. The Chinese have been cultivating a strong relationship with Iran over the last 40 years and the sanctions that the US and Europe have imposed on Iran have made it much easier for China to cooperate with Iran.

On the other side, US allies have been more active in asserting their role in Indo-Pacific affairs. For the first time in many years, the Germans are sending naval vessels into the South China Sea, contesting China’s unilateral claims of sovereignty. Great Britain has made a stronger commitment to a naval presence in the region, as reported by Reuters: “Britain said on Tuesday it would permanently deploy two warships in Asian waters after its Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier and escort ships sail to Japan in September through seas where China is vying for influence with the United States and Japan.”

Japan is also stepping up its military presence in the region, particularly as Chinese rhetoric toward Taiwan continues to ratchet up. The New York Times reports that Japan is building a missile base only 200 miles from Taiwan on the island of Ishigaki.

The parallels between the alliance-building prior to World War I and the current situation are suggestive of the difficulties of adjusting to the emergence of a great power. Some IR theorists have termed this dynamic as “The Thucydides Trap” (a reference to Sparta’s reaction to the emergence of Athens as the dominant power on the Peloponnese), but those theorists need to read Thucydides more closely.

Posted December 21, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

12 December 2021   2 comments

US President Biden kicked off a two-day “Summit for Democracy” on 9 December. The conference was designed to showcase democratic rule as a counterpoint to the authoritarian states such as China and Russia. But it also highlighted the trend toward anti-democratic sentiments in the US which have been developing since 2000 as President Biden acknowledged: “Here in the United States, we know as well as anyone that renewing our democracy and strengthening our democratic institutions requires constant effort.” The long-term trend away from liberal democracy was summarized by Freedom House:

“The impact of the long-term democratic decline has become increasingly global in nature, broad enough to be felt by those living under the cruelest dictatorships, as well as by citizens of long-standing democracies. Nearly 75 percent of the world’s population lived in a country that faced deterioration last year. The ongoing decline has given rise to claims of democracy’s inherent inferiority. Proponents of this idea include official Chinese and Russian commentators seeking to strengthen their international influence while escaping accountability for abuses, as well as antidemocratic actors within democratic states who see an opportunity to consolidate power. They are both cheering the breakdown of democracy and exacerbating it, pitting themselves against the brave groups and individuals who have set out to reverse the damage.”

The US commitment to liberal democracy has always been compromised by perceived imperatives imposed on the US by balance of power considerations. Thus, for example, the US found itself during the Cold War with the Soviet Union supporting authoritarian dictators such as Somoza in Nicaragua or Diem in South Vietnam in order to forestall totalitarian rule by surrogates of the USSR. The perceived distinction between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes was popularized by Jeanne Kirkpatrick in 1979 in an essay entitled “Dictatorships and Double Standards“. But the most dramatic erosion of the US commitment to liberal democracy began after the attacks on 11 September 2001 and the misbegotten “Global War of Terrorism”. The US passed the Patriot Act which circumscribed individual liberties, engaged in torture to secure information from combatants, and ignored fundamental tenets of international law to overthrow governments it found unacceptable (the overthrow of the Iraqi government in 2003 ranks among the most profound diplomatic errors of all time).

Finally, the Trump Administration shredded America’s role as a defender of liberal democracy in the eyes of many in the world. Paul Pillar describes the damage done:

“What has to be considered the most glaring issue as President Joe Biden calls the summit meeting to order is that the convening nation is seeing its own democracy badly deteriorating. Among other deficiencies in the American political system, one of the two major political parties in the United States doesn’t believe in democracy anymore. For some time it has been trying to suppress citizens’ exercise of their right to vote. Now it is turning its back on one of the central tenets of democracy, which is respect for the outcome of free elections. The party is led by a defeated ex-president who still rejects the outcome of the most recent national election, making fraudulent claims of fraud. Most of the party’s representatives in the lower house of the national legislature voted to reject that outcome as well.

“The sad state of American democracy is partly reflected in the Freedom House scorecard, where the United States ranks behind sixty-nine other countries on political rights. In other words, it barely makes it into the top third, on a list that includes not only every sovereign state in the world but also some disputed territories such as Crimea and the Gaza Strip. Moreover, the trajectory of American democracy is grim, with multiple developments especially since Trump came into power being the sort of warning flags that mark a democracy that is dying.”

In response to Biden’s Summit, the Chinese have insisted on an alternative definition of democracy which is hardly based on liberal principles, but probably deserves careful attention. Writing for The Diplomat, Brian Wong gives a good summary of the Chinese position. But many disagree, notably Simon Tisdall writing for The Guardian:

“It’s difficult to regard Xi – with his unassailable dictatorial powers, his techno-fascist surveillance state that stifles dissent and oppresses minorities, and his aggressively expansionist foreign policy – as anything other than a totalitarian control freak with imperial fantasies.

“Empires, especially Britain’s, get a bad press nowadays. Their close association with colonialism, racism, slavery and other evils is reason enough. But the assumption that such abuses have been banished ignores what is happening in today’s world, right under our noses.

“Imperialism, in all its awful forms, still poses a threat. But it is no longer the imperialism of the west, rightly execrated and self-condemned. Today’s threat emanates from the east. Just as objectionable, and potentially more dangerous, it’s the prospect of a totalitarian 21st-century Chinese global empire.”

One can hope that President Biden can restore the US commitment to democracy, but, reviewing current politics in the US, it is difficult to imagine how he may be able to do so. Particularly since the American people seem willing to elect legislators who have no commitment to the ideas of liberal democracy.

Posted December 12, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

2 December 2021   Leave a comment

US Secretary of State Blinken met with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in Stockholm and a good part of their discussion centered on Russian intentions toward Ukraine. The discussion takes place in the context of a Russian build-up of troops (estimated at about 90,000) which seems similar to the build-up that preceded the Russian invasion, and ultimate annexation, of Crimea in 2014. The rhetoric continues to be somewhat heated, although Blinken was careful to only mention economic sanctions in case of a Russian invasion, but hinted at possible stronger measures.

“So as we’ve been in recent days, in recent weeks, in the meeting with the foreign minister, I was very clear that there would be serious consequences for Russian aggression toward Ukraine, including, as I said, high-impact economic measures that we’ve refrained from taking in the past.  We’ve been, will continue to be, very clear about those consequences.  I think Moscow knows very well the universe of what’s possible.  And we had a detailed conversation as well about the concerns that we have, and these include both the potential for renewed aggression with military forces, as well as some of the efforts that we see Russia taking to try to destabilize Ukraine from within.  Both are cause for concern.”

The Russians are worried that Ukraine will fall further into the orbit of powers hostile to Russian interests, and are particularly unnerved by the possibility that Ukraine will be invited to join NATO. Even though there are no current efforts of which I am aware of inviting Ukraine to join the alliance, that fear motivated Russian action in Georgia in 2008 and resulted in the Russian seizure of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. But there is little question that Ukraine and NATO have been moving closer since the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014. The New York Times reports: “The United States provides Ukrainian forces with training and antitank weaponry in Ukraine’s fight against Russian-backed separatists in the country’s east. Six thousand Ukrainian and NATO troops held joint exercises in September. Mr. Putin has expressed particular irritation at NATO activity in the Black Sea region, including what he said were approaches as close as 12 miles to Russian borders by Western nuclear-capable bombers.”

But there is a deeper motive behind Russian activities and it is worth reading the article President Putin published in July 2021 on the historical relationship between Russia and Ukraine entitled “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians“. In that article, Putin asserted:

“Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians are all descendants of Ancient Rus, which was the largest state in Europe. Slavic and other tribes across the vast territory – from Ladoga, Novgorod, and Pskov to Kiev and Chernigov – were bound together by one language (which we now refer to as Old Russian), economic ties, the rule of the princes of the Rurik dynasty, and – after the baptism of Rus – the Orthodox faith. The spiritual choice made by St. Vladimir, who was both Prince of Novgorod and Grand Prince of Kiev, still largely determines our affinity today….

“In essence, Ukraine’s ruling circles decided to justify their country’s independence through the denial of its past, however, except for border issues. They began to mythologize and rewrite history, edit out everything that united us, and refer to the period when Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union as an occupation. The common tragedy of collectivization and famine of the early 1930s was portrayed as the genocide of the Ukrainian people….

“Step by step, Ukraine was dragged into a dangerous geopolitical game aimed at turning Ukraine into a barrier between Europe and Russia, a springboard against Russia. Inevitably, there came a time when the concept of ‘Ukraine is not Russia’ was no longer an option. There was a need for the ‘anti-Russia’ concept which we will never accept.”

Given Putin’s obsession with Ukraine, every statement by the US and its European allies about Ukrainian sovereignty is bound to heighten Russian fears. The Guardian outlines the risk of Blinken’s rhetoric:

“In confronting Putin over Ukraine, every policy option available to Biden is fraught with risk.

“In a statement on Wednesday commemorating the Holodomor famine in Ukraine of the early 1930s, Biden restated ‘our unwavering support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine’. Such statements of support are meant as a deterrent, but each time they are repeated they heighten the dilemma that Biden will face if Putin calls his bluff.

“’What I am worried about, frankly, is that if we, the United States, continue to make ironclad commitments to Ukraine and get ourselves in a position where we are obliged to defend it, or not to defend it and look completely weak, we will be putting ourselves in a very difficult position,’ said Rajan Menon, a professor of political science at the City University of New York.”

Both sides should tamp down the rhetoric and try to create conditions which can preserve Ukrainian independence but also addresses Russian fears. The West should simply say that Ukraine will not be invited to join NATO if the Russian military build-up is scaled back considerably.

Posted December 2, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

29 November 2021   Leave a comment

Got the Omicron blues? Think how Nu and Xi feel at being left out.

The camera focuses on Bergman’s face for 26 seconds. She shows a whole range on emotions without saying a word.

Posted November 29, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

27 November 2021   Leave a comment

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has claimed that Russia is planning a coup attempt against him on 1 December. Russia invaded the Crimea in March 2014 and has supported separatist forces in eastern Ukraine in an area the separatists call Donbas but known as Luhansk and Donetsk by Ukraine. Since that time there has been a low-level conflict between Ukrainian forces and the separatist forces supported by Russia. Zelensky claimed that one of Ukraine’s richest people, Rinat Akhmetov, has been pulled into the coup machinations, a claim that Akhmetov, a fierce critic of Zelensky, has denied. Russia also denies any involvement in the Donbas.

Zelensky’s assertion comes at a time when Western intelligence agencies are concerned about a Russian military buildup along Ukraine’s eastern border. Bloomberg reports:

“The U.S. has shared intelligence including maps with European allies that shows a buildup of Russian troops and artillery to prepare for a rapid, large-scale push into Ukraine from multiple locations if President Vladimir Putin decided to invade, according to people familiar with the conversations.

“That intelligence has been conveyed to some NATO members over the past week to back up U.S. concerns about Putin’s possible intentions and an increasingly frantic diplomatic effort to deter him from any incursion, with European leaders engaging directly with the Russian president. The diplomacy is informed by an American assessment that Putin could be weighing an invasion early next year as his troops again mass near the border.

“The information lays out a scenario where troops would cross into Ukraine from Crimea, the Russian border and via Belarus, with about 100 battalion tactical groups — potentially around 100,000 soldiers — deployed for what the people described as an operation in rough terrain and freezing conditions, covering extensive territory and prepared for a potentially prolonged occupation.”

The US and Ukraine signed a “U.S.-Ukraine Charter on Strategic Partnership” on 10 November which committed the US to the defense of Ukrainian sovereignty but did not formally commit the US to military action in the case of an invasion. Instead, the Charter merely asserts that “The United States and Ukraine share a vital national interest in a strong, independent, and democratic Ukraine. Bolstering Ukraine’s ability to defend itself against threats to its territorial integrity and deepening Ukraine’s integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions are concurrent priorities.”

Whether the Russians intend to support a coup is something known to only Russian President Putin. The annexation of Crimea, a region, like the Donbas, populated by Russian-speaking people, was a big boost to Putin’s popularity in 2014. President Putin has often used the status of Russian-speaking peoples outside of Russia, for example, as in Estonia, as an effective propaganda tool to mobilize domestic support. But his tactics on Ukraine have not achieved the desired outcomes:

“The Russian leader is also notorious for his frequent and often highly emotional public statements on the topic of Ukraine. This includes Putin’s remarkable July 2021 essay in which he openly questioned Ukrainian statehood and argued that ‘true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia.’

“While Putin’s ultimate goal is relatively clear, Russia is having difficulty achieving its aims. Moscow has used military force in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. It has sought to destabilize Ukraine from within via a range of disinformation campaigns and pro-Russian political projects. It has attempted to pressure President Zelensky into implementing a Russian interpretation of the Minsk Agreements which would undermine Ukrainian sovereignty.

“None of these tactics has produced the desired result. On the contrary, Russia’s hostile actions have proved counter-productive, greatly boosting Ukrainian public support for Euro-Atlantic integration while strengthening the country’s resolve to geopolitically distance itself from the Kremlin. Clear majorities of Ukrainians now back the idea of joining the EU and NATO, while the alliance last year upgraded Ukraine to Enhanced Opportunities Partner status and has since reiterated its commitment to future Ukrainian NATO membership.”

If a coup or an invasion occurs, it would place the US in a very difficult position. The US has made it clear that Ukrainian sovereignty is an important national interest, but defending that sovereignty against a committed Russian force would be impossible. Thus far, the US has made some very strong statements defending Ukraine, as reported by Reuters:

“All options are on the table in how to respond to Russia’s ‘large and unusual’ troop buildup near Ukraine’s border, and the NATO alliance will decide on the next move following consultations next week, the State Department’s top U.S. diplomat for European affairs said on Friday.

“‘As you can appreciate, all options are on the table and there’s a toolkit that includes a whole range of options,’ Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Karen Donfried told reporters in a telephone briefing.

The US has promised a great deal of military assistance and apparently has sent some military advisers to Ukraine. In addition, there have been high level discussions within NATO about collective action in the case of an invasion, but those discussions seem to be focused on additional sanctions in the case of an invasion. Any talk of sending troops to Ukraine should be completely shut down: fighting Russia so close to its borders is a lesson learned by Charles XII of Sweden, Napoleon, and Hitler and the lesson is clear–do not do it.

Posted November 27, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

20 November 2021   2 comments

The debate in the US over the “Build Back Better” proposals of the Biden Administration which are designed to bolster the social safety net in the US. The proposal was scored by the Congressional Budget Office as of 3 November 2021. Spending was estimated as follows over the ten-year program as follows, in millions of dollars:

Year202220232024202520262027202820292030203122-2627-31
Total Changes in Direct Spending860,10689,54287,339174,313129,600117,91743,09255,04457,40663,5641,340,9001,677,924
Budget Authority117,474143,968193,539252,667233,285206,122176,256133,42191,95787,298940,9331,635,988
Estimated Outlays117,464143,930193,395252,298232,573204,982174,619131,18489,02783,571939,6601,623,044

The media consistently report the ten-year cost of the proposal which is $2,562,704,000, averaging about $256 billion a year. To put this figure in context, the US Defense Department budget for proposed FY2022 defense budget is $753 billion, a figure which does not include a number of budgets, such as the Central Intelligence Agency, which also should count toward national security expenditures. Fareed Zakaria notes: “U.S. military spending remains larger than the defense budgets of the next 10 countries put together, most of which are Washington’s close allies. The United States’ intelligence budget alone — around $85 billion — is larger than Russia’s total defense spending.” If Defense Department spending were reported in the same manner as the social spending proposals, the we would be talking about $7.5 trillion over 10 years.

Moreover, we know that a good percentage of the defense department spending is wasted. Fareed Zakaria notes in The Washington Post:

“It spends money on a scale that is almost unimaginable — and the waste is, too. Every government agency is required to audit its accounts, but for decades, the Pentagon simply flouted this law. In 2018, it finally obeyed, paying $400 million for 1,200 auditors to examine its books, yet it still could not get a clean bill of health. As writer Matt Taibbi noted in a brilliant 2019 exposé of Pentagon accounting, the auditors ‘were unable to pass the Pentagon or flunk it. They could only offer no opinion, explaining the military’s empire of hundreds of acronymic accounting silos was too illogical to penetrate.’ The Defense Department has failed to pass two more audits since then.

It is also misleading to talk about the Defense Department budget as necessary to support the troops in the field.  Most of the money is spent on military hardware and the specialists required to maintain the high-end technologies. The ordinary soldier gets very little of this money:

“About 14% of enlisted active-duty families reported “low” or “very low” food security in an annual 2020 survey, according to Denise Hollywood, the chief community and programs officer for Blue Star Families

“Enlisted troops appear to be suffering the most. A total of 29% of the most junior enlisted ranks of E1-E4, a segment that includes more than 570,000 people and more than half of all enlisted in the military, reported facing hunger over the past year, according to the advocacy group Feeding America, the largest hunger relief organization in the U.S.

“In all, 160,000 service members struggled to provide food for themselves or their families, the group recently reported. A pair of Army studies found the problem was made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. One of those studies found that on one Army base, one in three reported being food insecure in 2019. The second study, done at a different Army base, saw that out of a sample of nearly 5,000 soldiers, the COVID-19 pandemic caused the percentage of food-insecure troops to almost double from 16% to 31%.”                              

The criticisms levelled against the “Build Back Better” proposals are incredibly distorted. At the same time that some in Congress argue that the money is not well spent, those same voices lament the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. And yet, after 20 years in Afghanistan, the loss of thousands of US soldiers and many, many civilians, as well as the expenditure of $3 trillion, the US did not realize its objectives in the country. Would those voices think that the money and lives in Afghanistan were well spent? Would they use the same criteria for success that makes them think that spending more in Afghanistan was a good investment as they do for a family leave program? Or pre-K education for our children? Or money spent to avert a climate crisis?

Posted November 20, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

18 November 2021   2 comments

We tend to believe that social media is responsible for the wave of misinformation and disinformation that plagues discourse about politics in the US and about the COVID pandemic and vaccinations. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are well aware of the publicity campaigns launched by tobacco companies downplaying the dangers of cigarette smoking. In fact there is a website completely devoted to documents that provide evidence of the duplicity of the tobacco companies.

Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes have written an article for The Guardian which documents, in considerable detail, the efforts of the fossil fuel industry to confuse and misdirect the debates about global warming. This campaign of disinformation started long before awareness of climate change became widespread in recent years. The authors summarize the article as follows:

“The fossil fuel industry has perpetrated a multi-decade, multibillion dollar disinformation, propaganda and lobbying campaign to delay climate action by confusing the public and policymakers about the climate crisis and its solutions. This has involved a remarkable array of advertisements – with headlines ranging from “Lies they tell our children” to “Oil pumps life” – seeking to convince the public that the climate crisis is not real, not human-made, not serious and not solvable. The campaign continues to this day.

“As recently as last month, six big oil CEOs were summoned to US Congress to answer for the industry’s history of discrediting climate science – yet they lied under oath about it. In other words, the fossil fuel industry is now misleading the public about its history of misleading the public.

“We are experts in the history of climate disinformation, and we want to set the record straight. So here, in black and white (and color), is a selection of big oil’s thousands of deceptive climate ads from 1984 to 2021. This isn’t an exhaustive analysis, of which we have published several, but a brief, illustrated history – like the “sizzle reels” that creatives use to highlight their best work – of the 30-plus year evolution of fossil fuel industry propaganda. This is big oil’s PR sizzle reel.”

Robert Proctor, a science historian from Stanford University, has studied this process of disinformation and has developed a field of study which he calls agnotology. The BBC reports:

“Proctor had found that the cigarette industry did not want consumers to know the harms of its product, and it spent billions obscuring the facts of the health effects of smoking. This search led him to create a word for the study of deliberate propagation of ignorance: agnotology.

“It comes from agnosis, the neoclassical Greek word for ignorance or ‘not knowing’, and ontology, the branch of metaphysics which deals with the nature of being. Agnotology is the study of wilful acts to spread confusion and deceit, usually to sell a product or win favour.”

Agnotology is an awkward term and I doubt that it will achieve widespread usage. But it deserves greater attention given the ways publics have been manipulated by the tobacco, fossil fuel, and anti-science The efforts of the fossil fuel industry has not abated. In President Biden’s recent proposals on social infrastructure there was an important measure, called the “Clean Electricity Performance Program” (CEPP), which was designed to create incentives for cleaner alternatives to the production of electricity. But, as of now, that program has been excised from Biden’s agenda, dues largely to the success of the fossil fuel industry in getting Senators to block it. According to National Public Radio:

“But despite months of negotiation with the White House, Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, a coal and natural gas state, said he was against the program. Manchin told CNN recently that energy companies already invested in clean energy and asked why the federal government should be the one paying for it.

“Utilities, in fact, are making the transition to carbon-free energy, but far too slowly to stave off the worst effects of climate change. The CEPP’s carrot-and-stick approach is aimed at hastening the transition so that emissions levels get closer to what climate science says we need right now.

“The coal industry has been shrinking in West Virginia for decades. But Manchin himself made nearly $500,000 last year from investments in the state’s coal sector. He also raised $400,000 in campaign contributions from fossil fuel companies in the third quarter of this year, as he questioned the need for the CEPP. Manchin is the top recipient in Congress of donations from the oil and gas industry.”

It is difficult to address these tactics. Freedom of speech is a protected right in the US and I believe firmly in that right. But those who support disinformation often have access to large sums of money to spread obfuscation and outright lies since the industries involved are well-established and highly profitable. Agnotology is a destructive and corrosive process and incompatible with a thriving and functioning democracy.

Posted November 18, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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