Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Democrats and Non-white Voters

January 27, 2023

I wanted to scream, hearing a recent radio panel discussion about voting rights legislation. The talk was all about “politicians” not caring enough to pass it.

I’m so fed up hearing such stuff. It’s not generic “politicians” blocking that legislation. Or gun regulation. Or immigration reform. It’s Republicans.

In fact, for Democrats, voting rights legislation is life-or-death. While for Republicans, blocking it is life-or-death. Both sides understand that every vote counts, in this closely divided nation. The more Black, Hispanic, and poor people vote, the more Democrats will win. That’s why Republicans have striven to make voting harder for those demographics. That’s why Blacks often must wait hours on line; rarely do whites.

Those minorities do favor Democrats. But not as strongly as they once did. In 2022, the Black vote for Democrats was down to 86%. One in five Black males backed Trump in 2020. His Latino support was 38%. Given, again, the closeness of the overall national partisan split, that erosion of Democrats’ key voting base is ominous. If Republicans add enough non-whites to their white nationalist base, they can win.

And why do any non-whites vote for what is in essence the party of white nationalism? It seems perverse.

Part of the explanation is cultural. Of course, while the GOP used to be the fat-cat party, and Dems the party of the downtrodden, that has largely reversed. At least Republicans have conned “forgotten Americans” by talking a good game, though without doing much for them. Trump even claimed to love the uneducated.

While Democrats have become the party of the educated. I hesitate to say the party of the intelligent; though they are more planted on Planet Earth, whereas Republicans are in comprehensive denial toward reality. But anyhow, even while non-whites continue being crucial in the Democratic party’s base, its educated segment — heavily white — looms ever larger, and increasingly to the left of where non-whites are.

Non-whites actually tend to be more conservative, when it comes to politics and economics, but also, especially, culturally. More religious than the average Democrat. Maybe not exactly hostile to all things LGBTQ, but uncomfortable with it, and thinking it’s too much in their faces. They’re also receptive to Republican immigrant-bashing, feeling their own status precarious, and thus sensing some economic threat from newcomers. Hispanic voters cannot be assumed to feel solidarity with Hispanic migrants.

You might suppose on one key issue, policing, non-whites would be all-in with Democrats. But that’s not so simple either. Blacks do want less ill-treatment by police — but not less policing. Republicans’ harping on crime resonates with them, since Blacks in fact are crime’s biggest victims.

Education is another major issue, and here Democrats (captive of teacher unions) seem deaf to Black interests. Opposition to school choice, with the standard line about “draining” resources from public education must strike many Blacks as a cruel joke, because their public schools often stink. That’s a key reason why racial economic and quality-of-life gaps persist. Poor schools aggravate non-whites’ societal disadvantage. While many “woke” Democrats are bedazzled by the fraught nonstarter idea of paying reparations for slavery, the nation cries out for more practical reparation in the form of decent schooling for Black kids.

The party’s left keeps insisting it can win by unabashedly offering red-meat left-wing nostrums. But that, as all the foregoing suggests, is more the problem than the solution. This is basically a center-right country, repelled by wokism’s extremes. It’s not the left-wing firebrands who do best electorally, but Democrats in the sensible center. The left isn’t helping.

I keep wishing America will come to its senses and reject the extremes on both sides. (But especially the crazed, dishonest, racist, downright un-American Republicans.) What we really need is a strong responsible centrist party. Fat chance. Meantime, for me, the Democratic party will have to do. At least they’re sane.

China’s Covid Catastrophe

January 19, 2023

When Covid began three years ago in Wuhan, China’s regime acted ruthlessly to contain it, with draconian lockdown, testing, and quarantining rules. This did succeed — in China — but didn’t stop Covid from infecting the rest of the globe.

Most other countries initially tried to emulate China’s zero-Covid approach, but with less severity, so their disease rates were rather higher (especially in America, whose president repeatedly sabotaged anti-Covid efforts). China’s unelected regime preened that this proved its authoritarian model’s superiority, and indeed its civilizational superiority, over the supposedly dysfunctional, decadent, democratic West.

Which, eventually — armed with good vaccines, and medicines for treating the virus — evolved its approach to one of living with it, as a manageable chronic public health matter. While in contrast China’s approach crescendoed with its monster 2022 lockdowns in Shanghai and many other places.

But this sparked widespread protests, some even demanding President Xi Jinping’s ouster. He had postured as leading a “people’s war” against Covid. However, the great wall of lockdowns was crumbling in the face of Omicron’s much higher contagiousness, the virus breaking out all over. While the restrictions were crushing China’s economy. So in late 2022, the regime capitulated and abruptly ended virtually all anti-Covid controls.

Unfortunately, given Xi’s prior inflexible zero-Covid policy, China failed to prepare for transition to a different one. Failed to phase it in, to “flatten the curve” to avoid overwhelming medical infrastructure, which remains insufficient. Failed to stockpile medicines like Paxlovid, which were quickly running short even as the floodgates for the virus were suddenly opened.

And, mainly, failed to vaccinate enough people, especially the most vulnerable elderly; it was seen as unnecessary given the zero-Covid policy. Moreover, nationalistic pride limited the regime to using only Chinese-made vaccines, barring far more effective Western ones. So even those few Chinese who’ve been fully jabbed are not well protected.

Furthermore, the lockdowns meant most people never developed antibodies through exposure to the virus. Recalling the American aborigines wiped out by European diseases for which they lacked natural immunity.

So Covid is now horrifically raging through China. Initially the regime was reporting almost no deaths, but after criticism has fessed up to 60,000 in a month. Likely still a gross undercount. Independent estimates put the infection rate at 37 million daily, and a model constructed by The Economist projects up to 1-1/2 million deaths in the coming months. And note that this surge gives the virus more opportunity to mutate new, potentially more dangerous variations, threatening other countries.

The regime had previously justified the draconian lockdowns and prison-like quarantining by scaring people about Covid’s dangers. Now they’re pooh-poohing it as no worse than flu. Gone too is the “people’s war” rhetoric. Now it’s more like “You’re on your own.”

Prior to the reversal, China had ruthlessly censored any questioning of the government’s line. Now, in an Orwellian turnabout, anyone still mouthing the regime’s own prior talking points is branded a criminal traitor; while the previously banned viewpoint has become the approved one. The Chinese must feel whiplash.

So much for the superiority of their authoritarian system. The regime was happy to posture as devoted to its citizens’ health and safety — so long as that fit with contrasting itself against Western democracies. But when that ceased to be convenient they quickly jettisoned all concern about how many Chinese would sicken and die, while masking with lies their actual callous inhuman incompetence.

The only way to get a government that truly cares about people’s welfare is to have one accountable to them at the ballot box.

Political Double Standards, Whataboutism, and Classified Documents

January 16, 2023

Promoting my “Trump Shitstorm” book has been an interesting experience. When I show it to someone, the cover usually provokes a strong reaction. And most responses are positive, because of course most people I know are intelligent and right-thinking.

But there are surprises. Which shouldn’t be a surprise since, after all, the country is so divided, and there are — even now! — still plenty of Trump cult devotees. And also, what I sometimes get is, “Yeah, Trump was bad. But the other side is worse.”

One who gave me that line was a guy originally from Russia. Gave me a long diatribe in fact. Including the “What about Hillary” trope. Yes! What about Hillary! Still relitigating the 2016 election. Actually thinking Hillary more dishonest than Trump. (He finally did buy my book.)

I was no Hillary fan and didn’t vote for her. But here was (is) a classic case of double standards. Judging her by standards diametrically different from those applied to Trump — if one is predisposed to wallow in the mud flung at her while blinding oneself to Trump’s mountain of monstrosities.

Republicans have spent years hammering away at demonizing Democrats. While of course Democrats, and especially the hard left, can be criticized in many ways, portraying them as corrupt liars and traitors who want to destroy America, impose “socialism,” open borders, promote crime, etc., is just plain ridiculous.

Yet so relentless have Republicans been at flogging this dystopian nonsense that many people now have it ineradicably implanted in their brains.

Now they’re going wild over the Biden document matter. Which would be a total nothingburger, had it not been preceded by Trump’s truly criminal behavior — deliberately carting away masses of classified documents, and lying and stonewalling authorities about them. Biden merely forgot to return some documents, which were immediately handed over when found. Yet Republicans (like Kentucky Rep. James Comer) are screeching, with straight faces, that it’s the Justice Department applying a double standard, unfair to Trump. He himself even had the brass to send a mass email about Biden “caught red-handed.” (Also falsely asserting Biden “stole” the documents, and ordered the Mar-a-Lago raid.)

The DOJ, in self-defense, has now designated a special counsel to investigate the Biden situation, as it did regarding Trump’s.

House Republicans are launching their own investigation of what Biden did — and what the FBI and DOJ did — while blowing off what Trump did. Double standard indeed! One’s head explodes.

This episode epitomizes my bottom line answer to those saying “the other side is worse.” Trump Republicans are dishonest to the core. As with their absurd demonization of Democrats described above. A central party dogma is the big “Stolen Election” lie, which most GOP politicians cynically know is false. Whereas most Democrats are basically honest and sincere; their indictment of Republicans grounded in reality.

A former lifelong Republican, I see this clearly. Anyone who can’t is blinded by partisanship.

Judge LaSalle and the Left’s Performative Politics

January 13, 2023

Governor Hochul has nominated Brooklyn Judge Hector LaSalle for New York’s Chief Justice, headlining this as the first Latino in that post.

Such ethnicization is cringeworthy. It’s great that previously disadvantaged minorities have entered the mainstream. But that’s the point: a judge who happens to be Latino is mainstream now, it shouldn’t even be remarked upon. Hochul’s making this the appointment’s centerpiece is identity politics pandering that actually detracts from the judge’s capabilities and virtues. (BTW, I don’t say “Latinx.” Lefties made up that word as yet another way for them to posture as more advanced and with-it. No people to whom the word supposedly applies call themselves that. But maybe “Latinx” is already dropping out of use.)

I had the same problem with President Biden appointing Judge Jackson. A great choice, whose greatness was undermined by his having previously pledged to appoint a Black woman. Making it seem as though Jackson was merely the best available Black woman — not the best person, period.

Anyhow, LaSalle’s ethnicity is not enough to make “progressives” love his nomination; they are lining up in opposition, slamming him as anti-union, anti-abortion, anti due process, et cetera. Making this a cri de coeur of principle. Or so it might seem. What it really is is performative politics. The left just loves to posture as more advanced, enlightened, and indeed of course “progressive.” (That is the heart of “cancel culture,” trying to make themselves feel morally superior, by casting into outer darkness anyone not in lockstep with their catechism.)

But what really makes this LaSalle story one of performative politics is that there’s no there there. Ginned up to create the appearance of something to mount a high horse of umbrage about. They’ve combed through his hundreds of judicial decisions and picked out a few that went against unions, or abortion rights, or due process claimants — as if they should win every case — regardless of the law!

An Albany Law School professor has labelled this cherry-picking indictment of LaSalle’s record “absurd.” Former Chief Judge Lippman has chimed in based on a broad review of LaSalle’s extensive record of decisions, arguing that what really characterizes it is conscientious application of the law, precedent, and proper legal principles. Which is what a judge is supposed to do. Not be a warrior for a particular point of view.

I recall my own 1977 interview to be a PSC administrative law judge. The chief judge pointedly took note of my reputation as a particularly zealous advocate, as staff counsel, battling the utility companies in our proceedings. I responded that that was my job. And that I understood the ALJ position was different. That judges must be impartial, not letting personal opinions color their decisions.

I got the job.

(Note: Nothing here should be taken as saying the left is worse than the right. Today’s Republican right is vastly more reprehensible — their politics almost all performative.)

Biden at the Border: Democrats and Immigration

January 9, 2023

President Biden has now made a show of visiting the southern border. The one promise he made to me personally in 2020 was to end Trump’s cruel war on refugees and immigrants. “Immediately, immediately,” he told me.

He did swiftly reverse some of the worst of it, notably the child kidnapping. But we are far from restoring the status quo ante, leaving us actually still closer to the Trump regime than to what obtained before. Our refugee admissions remain way below pre-Trump levels. In fact, we continue to flout international and U.S. law concerning those who have a right to come here seeking asylum. The standard criteria — legitimate fears of home country maltreatment — are simply disregarded. People deported without even an opportunity to be heard.

The Biden administration also continued to enforce Trump’s notorious “Title 42,” a pandemic-inspired measure to turn back migrants on a public health pretext, long after that pretext had become plainly hollow. When the administration finally relented, (Republican) judges ruled it must continue applying Title 42. But surely it could choose to do so less zealously.

We’re now seeing a wave of refugees from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela — all viciously repressive human rights violators. Exactly what international principles for accepting refugees were conceived for. Yet Biden has now announced that migrants from these countries will instead be summarily ejected.

He did say we’d admit 30,000 of them monthly — provided they have a U.S. sponsor; pass background checks; go through bureaucratic hoops; and arrive by plane. Are you frickin’ kidding me? Arrive by plane? Yeah right; plenty will qualify.

Also terrible is our treatment of Afghan refugees, brought here in the wake of our shambolic surrender of the country. With many left behind. But many we took are now in bureaucratic limbo, in real danger of deportation.

For two decades we’ve been told what we really need is Congressional action on comprehensive immigration reform. We can’t even get legislation to regularize the status of “dreamers” brought here as children. But I’m fed up with hearing “politicians” and “dysfunctional Congress” faulted. No, it’s not generic “politicians.” As with so many other seemingly insoluble problems (notably guns), IT’S REPUBLICANS. They are the ones blocking action, with their absolutist hostility toward migrants (and worship of guns).

Democrats are called pussies for not standing up enough for the policies they believe in. President Biden does seem spooked by the “toxic” politics of immigration, toward which many Americans have fear and loathing. And yet those are actually a minority — indeed, a fairly small minority. For all the Republican shrillness on this issue (“open borders!”), a strong majority of voters embrace instead the ideals inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty.

They understand that we should take in refugees and immigrants not only because it is the right thing to do, noble and humane, but also because it benefits America. Rejuvenating our culture, making it richer and more vibrant. Migrants also make our economy richer — contributing more than they consume in resources.

And they replenish our labor force, as our population otherwise ages, with ever larger percentages in retirement. A key reason we see so many “help wanted” signs is because, since 2016, new arrivals to this country are way down. It’s a cliche that immigrants, rather than “taking jobs from Americans,” take the jobs that Americans don’t want to do. But they also fill many other gaps in our workforce. And our big labor shortage — forcing employers to offer higher wages to attract staff — is a major cause of inflation.

President Biden’s half-Trump measures to curtail immigration and refugee admissions won’t in any case gain him votes from migrant-haters. He, and the Democratic party, should stop being scared of their shadow when it comes to these issues. They know what’s right. They should do it, and loudly defend it.

My book talk, “The Trump Shitstorm,” SAT. JAN. 14, 3 PM

January 8, 2023

Hi,

You’re invited to a talk and open discussion on my new book, THE AMERICAN CRISIS: Chronicling and Confronting the TRUMP SHITSTORM — 3 PM, next SATURDAY, Jan. 14 — at Bookhouse of Stuyvesant Plaza, 1475 Western Ave., Albany. 

I aim to make it fun, informative, and entertaining! 

Please come, I’d love to see you there.

The book is an edited chronological selection of blog essays, trying to understand and analyze events as they were unfolding — echoing the notion of journalism as “the first draft of history.”

The American Crisis: Chronicling and Confronting the Trump Shitstorm, by Frank S. Robinson; Verity Press International; 247 pages; $12.95 (+ $4.50 shipping in USA). Payment by check, credit card, Paypal or Zelle; 518-482-2639 

Trumpery Recap

December 26, 2022

His tax returns have finally been made public, after a years-long legal battle. What was he hiding? The New York Times already reported in 2020 that he’d been paying almost no income tax, due mainly to business loss deductions. According to his tax returns, literally the nation’s losingest businessman.

If you believe the returns. Trump’s business has meantime been convicted of tax fraud in New York State.

And remember his claiming he couldn’t release his tax filings because they were under audit? A lie, because audit was no bar to disclosure. But it was was also a lie that he was under audit. In fact, we now learn the IRS even violated its rule requiring audit of every president’s tax returns. Only in Trump’s case did it skip auditing. And when they belatedly started, assigned only a single agent. Something smells very stinky there.

The Congressional January 6 committee has now formally recommended that Trump be prosecuted for four serious crimes, betraying his oath of office to uphold the constitution. Incontrovertible evidence makes clear his guilt for an attempted coup, in which police officers died.

The House GOP has produced its own rival report, saying — wait for it — the problem of January 6 was one of proper police oversight. Not a word about Trump’s criminal effort to overthrow the election.

The Justice Department had already appointed a special counsel, Jack Smith (a highly regarded veteran prosecutor), to investigate Trump’s January 6 related actions. Also his improperly taking White House documents to Mar-a-Lago. Both cases entail indisputable criminality, now likely to result in indictment and trial.

There’s also the grand jury investigating Trump’s attempt to corrupt the 2020 Georgia vote count, by pressuring officials to “find” him 11,780 phony ballots; and to send a slate of fake electoral votes to congress.

Lately Trump, never missing a chance to fleece his suckers, has been selling $99 “digital NFT trading cards” depicting him in various superhero guises. “NFT” means you don’t even actually get a card, it’s just digital. Trump’s video hawking these non-items was so puke-worthy that even Steve Bannon himself, watching it, reportedly moaned, “Make it stop!”

In September I noted a fellow at a Trump rally, interviewed by a TV reporter, saying “If the guy had done anything wrong, it would have come out by now.” So many otherwise sane, intelligent people so completely ensorceled by so obviously evil a character. I’ve mentioned a friend — with a masters degree in history! — spouting internet “alternative facts” whitewashing Trump and January 6. At a recent holiday party he waved away my Trump book — despite being told it quotes him — declaring “I do my own research.”

I do my own research. We started hearing this line, especially regarding Covid vaccines. It means marinating in whacko online nonsense while blocking out information from credible sources. It means having no concept of what’s credible.

Such true believer cultists cannot be reasoned with. A recent radio commentary (by Rex Smith, former Times Union editor) highlighted scientific research showing that human beings on average have less mental flexibility, less ability to change their thinking in light of new information, than monkeys.

Nevertheless, MAGA ranks are inexorably shrinking under the relentless assault of reality. But are they still numerous enough to gain Trump the 2024 nomination? Some polls have actually shown DeSantis ahead. However, primaries are dominated by small turnouts of zealots. And if a bunch of candidates divides the vote (why does Pence fantasize winning?), Trump could ride to nomination with 30% pluralities — as, indeed, he did in 2016.

Democrats might relish this, thinking Trump sure to lose in November — as, indeed, they did in 2016. Be careful what you wish for. Though Trump does seem to be a much more damaged candidate now, thoroughly repelling a big majority of voters. One might even hope he’d take down with him the whole rotten Republican party, once and for all.

A recent column by Ross Douthat warns against such dreams of final triumph. American politics doesn’t work that way. One might have wondered why the GOP — though not doing as well as widely expected in 2022 — actually paid scant electoral price for January 6 and all that. Voters simply do not hold parties accountable for past misdeeds absent obvious continuing effect. And Douthat doesn’t even foresee some kind of final comeuppance for Trump himself. He’ll “go out with a whimper,” says the column’s title. All the disgusting Republicans who so cowardly enabled Trump will merrily go on with their political careers.

Final vindication will have to come from the judgment of history. But history too can be a fickle judge.

I wish I could see how a 22nd century history book will treat all this. Assuming there’s even such a thing as “history” in the 22nd century.

Reunifications and Republicans

December 22, 2022

Germany had long been divided, by a physical wall. It was opened, on November 9, 1989, and I’ll never forget seeing East Germans literally whooping with joy to finally pass through those gates. Political reunification then took less than a year — because people on both sides wanted it.

Chinese talk with irredentist obsessiveness about “reunification” with Taiwan. I put it in quotes because there’s nothing in common with the German reunification. Taiwan was never truly “unified” with China in the first place. Long held by Japan, it was part of China only briefly in 1945-49. When Mao’s Communists conquered the country by force of arms, they were stopped at Taiwan.

But in any case, the key fact is that “reunification” would elicit no joyful Taiwanese whooping. Instead the islanders, enjoying prosperity, freedom and democracy, know those would be crushed by Chinese rule, and totally oppose it.

Yet their wishes enter not at all into China’s fevered “reunification” dream. As though it’s all about some barren uninhabited island. A bizarrely inhuman mind bug.

For a while, the Chinese imagined sweet-talking Taiwan into an anschluss. The putative model being Hong Kong, run by Great Britain until 1997, when China reabsorbed it with the “one country two systems” line. Promising preservation of Hong Kong’s democratic and rule-of-law culture — for fifty years at least. A pledge China spectacularly broke in less than half that time, unleashing brutal repression. So now we no longer hear “one country two systems” regarding Taiwan. No more pretense of amicable “reunification.”

Instead China unapologetically insists upon a right to seize Taiwan by military force. And by what right? A cooked up theory of historic ties, to clothe conquest in moralistic garb. In which the human element doesn’t even factor. A deranged moralism.

A rational China might say, why not have two countries, us and Taiwan? We can be good buddies. Better for both. Somehow that happy thought never occurs to them.

This story parallels Russia’s Ukraine invasion. Which Putin tries to justify similarly, by invoking some historic cultural ties or shared destiny between the two nations (and lies about fighting Nazis). To this messianic narrative, the actual human beings inhabiting Ukraine are irrelevant.

In fact it’s even worse than that. Ukrainians’ resistance to Putin’s fantasy is not just disregarded, it’s punished. With untold human suffering, a holocaust of pain at the altar of the idea of Ukraine-Russian cultural solidarity!

And the great irony is that the two countries did have strong historical cultural affinities — could have been good buddies — until that was throughly smashed by Russia’s cruel crimes. So that today, Ukrainians, including indeed most of its many Russian speakers, have acquired a justifiably intense hatred toward Russia.

In a spirit of whataboutism I’ll acknowledge America’s own record is stained, as with our “Manifest Destiny” treatment of indigenous peoples. But that was in an earlier time when such things were standard behavior everywhere. I had hoped humanity had progressed beyond such crude might-makes-right (im)morality. In many ways we actually have, but bad ideas are sadly persistent. As indeed are (a small minority of) bad people.

We see a similar syndrome among today’s Republicans. Many of them believing they have some sort of moralistic entitlement to rule regardless of the wishes of the people they seeks to rule over. The “stolen election” lie is only a veneer; what they really think is that elections are anyway illegitimate if they don’t win. They should rule regardless. God said so.

I believe people have a right to decide their own destinies. God or no god.

Ai Weiwei and Bono on Art and Capitalism

December 13, 2022

No word triggers more nonsense thinking than “capitalism.” For centuries, when Christianity reigned, the ubiquitous bogeyman was Satan. As that superstition wanes, now it’s capitalism. (At least capitalism exists.)

China’s economy is in some ways the world’s most free-market capitalist — while its political system is an Orwellian dictatorship. China’s most famous artist is Ai Weiwei, who often pushes a thumb in that regime’s eye. But not his essay in a recent publication of The Economist he titled “Reclaiming art from capitalism.” Which is the bogeyman here.

A Martian reading the essay would never guess at the global confrontation between tyrannies like China’s and open democratic societies. Not mentioned as something art should be concerned with. No — it’s capitalism!

Ai complains that today’s global culture, very much including art, forms a “complete system” which “reflects the values and aesthetic tendencies of capitalism in every respect.” Characterized “by capitalism’s fervent advocacy of individual freedom, its encouragement of so-called ‘creativity’ and the idealisation of unfettered personal development . . . observed in the overwhelming tendency to consider art from a purely commercial perspective, neglecting spiritual concerns in favor of wealth accumulation.” While “societal injustices, regional inequalities, exploitation of the weak and unsustainable use of natural resources are ignored. By dodging these questions, contemporary art has become just a form of entertainment, detached from spiritual life. Art’s power . . . has been compromised. The outlook is dim.”

In other words, artists are selling out, sacrificing social concerns for filthy capitalist lucre.

What planet is he talking about? Is he on Mars? It sure doesn’t sound like he’s been to any modern contemporary art shows. Ones I’ve attended have been chock full of work concerned with exactly the kinds of “socially relevant” subjects Ai deems ignored. If anything, overbearingly so, in-your-face.

Unsurprisingly, Ai asserts that his own art fills the void he claims to identify: “concerned with life and death, the bigger sociopolitical context . . . all connected with the human condition and human dignity.” Well, bully for him. But to cast himself as some unique hero in that regard smacks of “mankind’s exaggerated self-esteem, extreme arrogance” which he later decries.

Rarely do voices flaying “capitalism” ever seriously offer an alternative. Meantime, a recent Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial discussed an interview with pop icon Bono, known for his anti-poverty crusading. It “may give progressives vertigo.” Quoting Bono: “I thought that if we just redistributed resources, then we could solve every problem. Now I know that’s not true.” Rather, “the off-ramp out of extreme poverty is, ugh, commerce; it’s entrepreneurial capitalism.”

Because it enables people to keep the fruits of their efforts — an incentive to work harder, producing more goods and services. Businesses make profits by providing things other people want.

Adam Smith nailed the point: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

What we call capitalism (or a market economy) is not some concocted system, but simply the normal default mode for human interactions. A has something B wants or needs; B has something A wants; an object, or labor, or an intangible, etc. When A and B agree on its terms an exchange occurs. True, they don’t always have equal power. B may consent to work for A for pittance wages. But wouldn’t do so unless better off than not. Life is unfair; a market economy is how such unfairness is negotiated to maximize people’s aggregate welfare.

“Globalization has brought more people out of poverty than any other ism,” Bono said. “If somebody comes to me with a better idea, I’ll sign up.”

Myanmar’s Agony: “The Road Not Taken”

December 10, 2022

“The Road Not Taken” is a film (created on an iPhone) by Ko Pauk, of Myanmar (Burma), illustrating the country’s situation. My wife and I were invited to a screening at a local hotel, by Zaw Nay Myo, a gentle soul, poet, and former student leader in resistance to the military regime. He calls my wife his “teacher.” In the sizable audience, we seemed to be the only non-Burmese.

Backstory: Myanmar has been a military dictatorship since 1960. Ruling the country like Al Capone ruled Chicago. In 1990 they allowed an election, but were cluelessly shocked by an overwhelming victory by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy. They annulled the vote and put her under house arrest. Eventually a new military leader, Thein Sein, sought to start Myanmar on a path to democracy.

Suu Kyi was freed and her party again won elections; she became the country’s de facto head. But Thein Sein was apparently sidelined by harder men; and when the NLD won another huge election victory, they called it fraudulent, staged a coup, retook complete power, and imprisoned Suu Kyi, in February 2021.

The film (a basically true story) starts at a small military encampment out in the bush. Despite a false scare of an “enemy” attack, the soldiers seem to be leading a quiet, even dull life. But I was thinking about their actual mission. Myanmar has been beset with endless ethnic and separatist conflicts; and notably, the army has prosecuted a horrifically vicious pogrom against the Muslim Rohingyas, whom the Buddhist majority refuses to accept as fellow citizens. The violence belies Buddhism’s peaceful image.

Then we meet a young woman and her pre-teen daughter. Turns out she’s married to one of those soldiers, a Captain, a contemplative fellow, seen reading a philosophy book. When word of the coup comes, the troop is ordered back to the city. The Captain phones with the good news that he’s coming home. She asks if he’ll be shooting anti-coup protesters. He says yes, if so ordered. But what if she and their daughter are among them? Then of course he wouldn’t shoot. She upbraids him for a lack of human empathy. The call ends unsatisfactorily. The Captain has something to think about. (Apparently he will join the rebels.)

Meantime we do see something of the regime’s ferocity toward the massive protests. Accompanied by a repeated song about their being heroes, giving their lives for democracy. One couldn’t help wondering if things could come to that here in America.

As the wife and daughter of a soldier, the pair become outcasts. Vendors in the marketplace, previously very friendly, now put up signs saying they don’t sell to soldiers or police. Seems awfully brave if anyone actually did that, given the army’s murderous brutality to anyone not knuckling under. Which is most Burmese. In fact the coup, and the repression, plunged the country into full civil war, with the pro-democracy forces linking up with some of the pre-existing insurgencies to fight the national army. It’s wrecking the economy. The soldiers don’t care.

The film ends with another military encampment — this time a rebel force — spiritedly going into battle.

It wasn’t immediately obvious, in each case, what side the depicted soldiers were on. It almost seemed they could be interchangeable.

Mankind’s worst-ever invention was the gun. No guns, no dictatorships. Imagine how much better off the whole world would be if guns did not exist.