Archive for the ‘World affairs’ Category

Make America America Again

October 29, 2018

When I wrote recently about the coming elections, I didn’t mention “health care.” Which Democrats pitch as their main issue. (Republicans respond by lying about their record.)

Columnist David Brooks thinks Democrats are missing the boat. In the remote past (pre-2016), health care might have been a great issue for them. They continue to think in materialist, transactional terms, trying to offer voters good policy. But Democrats could never fathom why many people voted against (what Dems saw as) their economic interests. And today, more than ever, many are voting not their wallets but their values, their souls.

This election is indeed not about material issues like health care. It’s about America’s soul.

In two ways. First, Trump offers a story: that America has been screwed by foreigners, both immigrants and other nations, and by corrupt elites. He offers an appeal to cultural identity; a raw nationalism, both economic (however misguided) and ethnic. Not all Trump supporters are racists; but all racists are Trump supporters. And now, gender chauvinism is added to the stew, as Trump bangs the Kavanaugh drum.

All this, as Brooks notes, reflects how today’s core ideological divide is no longer between traditional left and right, but between open and closed societal visions. Thus, on the international stage, Trump says he rejects “the ideology of globalism.” This has profound implications; a go-it-alone policy will produce a world America will find much less comfortable to live in. China’s outlook, notably, is the opposite, in terms of global engagement.

Secondly, as Brooks puts it, Trump has “overturned the traditional moral standards for how leaders are supposed to behave. He’s challenged basic norms of honesty, decency, compassion and moral conduct. He unabashedly exploits rifts in American society.”

Many Republicans say they don’t like Trump’s behavior but like his policies. Never mind how wrong they are about much of the policy picture. What they fail to grasp is how Trump’s conduct is of the essence. Especially the war on truth. He is methodically degrading our civic society, not just morally, but really destroying its whole underpinnings. We can’t have a democracy with debate unmoored from factual reality, and refusal to accept each other’s political legitimacy. This matters more than any particular policies.

All of this is why America’s soul really is on the line. As Brooks says, Trump and the Republicans have “thrown down a cultural, moral and ideological gauntlet.”

And Democrats respond with: better health insurance?

That’s not entirely fair. Many Democrats do push back against everything Trumpism represents. But not in a coherent, focused way, that really meets and answers the Trumpist threat with an alternative big-picture story. Part of the problem, according to Brooks, is that Democrats’ moral vision is of the “social justice warrior” sort, targeting how societal structures marginalize certain segments (the poor, women, blacks, gays). But “if your basic logic is that distinct identity groups are under threat from an oppressive society, it’s very hard to then turn around and defend that society from an authoritarian attack, or to articulate any notion of what even unites that society.”

It doesn’t help that Democrats don’t speak with a single voice, but a gaggle of them, that cannot really get heard in answering the huge Trump shout-a-thon. In 2016, the news media (far from working against him as Trump claims) gave him billions in free air time to blast his message. And they’re still doing it, having failed to learn their lesson, continuing to broadcast his every rally and tweet, becoming his enabler in spreading his poison. Indeed, by presenting it as news, they even give it a patina of legitimacy.

The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate must focus on articulating an American cultural identity different and better than what Trump appeals to. One that re-embraces the principles, ideals, and values that made America great. A vision of this nation as an open, confident and optimistic society, where all people are accorded equal dignity. A nation strengthened by its diversity. A nation that engages in the world to make it a better place, for our own benefit as well as others. In sum, an appeal (like Abraham Lincoln’s) to the better angels of our nature.

And at their convention let them reprise proudly the song they played in 1988 — what a different country it seems! — Neil Diamond’s They’re Coming to America.

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Jamal Khashoggi, and murderers we love

October 16, 2018

The rule used to be that you could murder all the people you liked within your own borders, but doing it elsewhere was a no-no.

Or was it?

Trotsky

In 1940, Stalin’s arch-nemesis Trotsky, having been thrown out of Russia, lived in exile in Mexico. But Stalin still wanted him dead, and an agent of the Soviet secret police killed him with an ice axe. Exiled Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov was killed in 1978 in London with a poison-tipped umbrella. Alexander Litvinienko, a defector from Russian Intelligence, was murdered in London in 2006 with radioactive poison. More recently a similar defector, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter survived a nerve agent attack that wound up killing a British woman. Iran’s regime has perpetrated the overseas murder of many opponents including a former prime minister, Shapur Bakhtiar, killed near Paris. North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un had his half-brother murdered in a foreign airport. Israel has done an overseas job on a Hamas terrorist. China has grabbed an inconvenient person in Thailand to whisk him back.

Khashoggi and fiancee

The latest, of course, is journalist Jamal Khashoggi, critic of the Saudi Arabian regime, who had left the country in 2017, relocating to America and writing for the Washington Post. On October 2, he went to a Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey for some routine paperwork relating to his upcoming marriage, while his fiancee waited outside. Apparently knowing of Khashoggi’s plans, the Saudis had flown in 15 operatives, on two private planes, arriving and leaving the same day. Inside the consulate, they tortured Khashoggi to death, chopped up his body, and somehow disposed of it. These facts are pretty much beyond dispute.

Saudi Arabia’s nominal king is Salman (the last of the numerous sons from the harem of the founding King Saud), but the real ruler is Salman’s 33-year-old son and crown prince Muhammad bin Salman (“MBS”).

MBS

This family’s rule has never been exactly benevolent. But MBS, under the guise of modernizing and reforming the Saudi state, is actually taking it to the next level of viciousness. (Women are now allowed to drive — while advocates for their driving are being locked up.) Apparently MBS’s model for a modern state is Putin’s Russia.

And apparently this young genius MBS either imagined nobody would notice 15 guys flown in and out and Khashoggi missing, or else imagined that the world would simply yawn and move on. As to the latter, he might yet turn out to be right.

With the fact of the murder no longer plausibly deniable — facts do actually still have a toehold in this world, imagine that! So retro!! — now the Plan B is the “rogue elements” line. That is, MBS had no knowledge of those 15 guys and two planes, of course he would never have countenanced such a horrible crime. Of course not. Or maybe they never intended to kill Khashoggi, just a little good-natured horseplay, and it got out of hand. Something like that.

Trump, with his usual eloquence, said what the Saudis did was “not good.” He said there would be “severe punishment” if it were proven true. Of course, in Trumpland, words don’t necessarily mean what you or I might think they mean. Especially the word “true.” But anyhow, the “severe punishment” would not include canceling our arms deal with the Saudi regime, because that might cost us money. So now we know exactly how much, in dollars, America’s morality, principles and ideals are worth. (And never mind that the Saudis use our weapons to commit horrendous atrocities in Yemen.)

But now Trump is himself mouthing the slimy “rogue elements” lie to get MBS off the hook. Trump is not going to smack MBS, because he loves dictators, bad guys, ruthless villains, and killers. Because looking at them is like looking in the mirror. At least he fancies himself in their tough guy image.

This is in fact the Trump who recently stated that he and Kim Jong-un “fell in love. (“No, really!” Trump added; “He wrote me beautiful letters.”) Yes, our president has fallen in love with the blood-soaked North Korean dictator who had his uncle killed with anti-aircraft guns and his half-brother poisoned in a Malaysian airport. Melania, asked recently about Trump’s affairs with porn stars, said that doesn’t faze her. But what about this thing with Kim Jong-un? This is different; Trump never said he’d fallen in love with any porn stars.

Is there a new “first lady” in our future?

(Note to readers: nothing in this blog post, unfortunately, is satire.)

Secular Rescue – saving lives, freedom, and open debate

October 10, 2018

Religion can inspire good deeds. Or killing people with machetes.

This is happening today, notably in Bangladesh, where organized vigilantes target and murder dissenters from Muslim religious orthodoxy, particularly secularist and atheist writers, bloggers, and activists. While the government hardly pretends to disapprove.

The West has its own history, of course, of religious intolerance, persecution, and violence. The Inquisition tortured people for God. Untold numbers were burned at the stake (including philosopher Giordano Bruno who, unlike Galileo, refused to recant his ideas contrary to church dogma). The Thirty Years War, a conflict over theology, killed a third of Europe’s population. Even in America, Mary Dyer was hanged in Boston Common for holding the wrong faith.

But in the West, religion finally calmed down, became domesticated, and nobody here any longer imagines burning people alive for God. My local humanist society meets openly, unmolested, even advertising its nonreligious orientation.

That would not be possible in most Muslim countries today. This actually represents retrogression, because in past epochs Muslims were much more tolerant of religious heterodoxy; but they’ve gone in the opposite direction from the Christian West. There’s no church/state separation. In many Muslim nations, “apostasy” carries a death sentence. (In Pakistan “blasphemy” does. Pakistan has not actually executed anyone for blasphemy, but over 60 people accused of it have been murdered.)

If you read the Koran (here’s my review), its number one theme is nonbelievers will be punished. Repeated on almost every page. But some Muslims today can’t wait for God to do the punishing. They think they’re doing his work for him. A small minority of Muslims, actually; but it doesn’t take many to perpetrate an awful lot of violence.

I am a fearless blogger. Not courageous — but literally fearless because I have nothing to fear in America’s paradise of free expression. I wouldn’t have the courage to do this in a place like Bangladesh, risking machetes.

Some show bravery in battle, for their country or comrades; some in defending their families. But the courage we’re talking about here — for an idea — is of a very special sort. I’m in awe of these noble heroes.

And I’m proud to support them, with money at least, by funding Secular Rescue, a program run by the Center for Inquiry (a leading organization promoting secular humanist values). The program assists, defends, and protects writers under threat for expressing viewpoints that challenge local religious orthodoxies, mainly in Muslim countries. It provides tangible help, such as legal services, and even relocating them to safer places — a kind of “underground railroad.” Secular Rescue works very hard to evaluate and verify cases, to make sure the people helped are truly in danger. All that work, and the help itself, costs money.

I will match contributions to Secular Rescue by any of my blog readers (click here).

This is not just a matter of freedom of expression — increasingly important though that is in today’s world. Open debate is crucial for moving any society forward. But it’s especially urgent for the nations in question because they do harbor the kinds of pernicious beliefs that bring forth the sort of violence described. These Muslim societies are in need of an Enlightenment, like the one in the West that ultimately tamed religious persecution, and opened the path for human progress in so many other manifold ways. That sort of progress requires people with the vision and courage to challenge reigning orthodoxies. That sort of progress cannot happen if such people are silenced, intimidated by violence, squelching free debate. Not only the lives of these brave individuals, but these societies’ futures, are at stake. That is the importance of Secular Rescue.

One nonbeliever in a Muslim country was not killed but was actually diagnosed as insane by its medical establishment, forcibly hospitalized and “treated” for his “affliction.” I was reminded of the Twilight Zone episode where a gal undergoes surgery for her ugly facial deformity. But when, in the hospital, the bandages come off, it’s a failure — she’s still (in our eyes) beautiful, in contrast to all the “normal” people around, only now revealed as (to us) grotesque.

Atheism is the sane, rational understanding of a cosmos whose observable reality is wholly at odds with religious ideas. Those ideas would be called insane, delusional, if held only by a few; but when held by the many, they are normal. But that nonbeliever may have been the only truly sane person in that Muslim nut house.

A non-ugly American in Somaliland: Jonathan Starr’s Abaarso school

September 30, 2018

Bad news abounds. Even efforts to improve the world often do the opposite — that’s the history of foreign aid and development initiatives. “Ugly American” overseas misadventures are legion.

In 1991, Somalia imploded, becoming the textbook “failed state.” But an isolated backwater area broke away, declaring independence as the Republic of Somaliland. It’s not an internationally recognized country, and no halcyon place. But at least (by local standards) relatively stable, peaceful, and even democratic.

Enter Jonathan Starr. Having made some bucks in finance, at 32 he wanted a better life mission. So in 2009 this American went to Somaliland to start a school.

Lousy education is a key factor impeding progress throughout Africa. Even where kids do attend school, teachers often don’t, they’re ill-equipped anyway, and lessons emphasize rote memorization, so little is really learned. Starr’s aim was to create not just a good school but a great one. With high academic standards, nurturing and character building, preparing students to go on to the world’s top universities, and come back to become Somaliland’s leaders.

Was he nuts? Many would have said so. I’d actually entertained African school fantasies myself — until realism dissuaded me. Starr was indeed extremely naive thinking he’d just walk into such a hardscrabble country and do this. It broke all the rules. He had no relevant expertise; didn’t even speak Somali.

Abaarso School

The story is told in his 2016 book, It Takes a School. It actually got built, and Starr got some Americans to come teach there (in English). Along the way, some big mistakes were made, and numerous setbacks and nail-biting crises occurred. The book is candid about this. One section is titled, “The Great Miscalculation.” (A later chapter: “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.”)

For one thing, the Abaarso School of Science and Technology was named for the locale — Starr didn’t realize “Abaarso” means “drought.” So water was an unforeseen problem. Then a local mover-and-shaker he teamed up with, named Khadar, turned into the partner from hell, exploiting his government and clan connections trying to take over the whole project himself. He even planted fake news stories accusing the school of anti-Islamic activities, and tried to get Starr thrown out of the country.

Starr realized he was up against the way things too often work in Africa — or, more accurately, don’t work, stymying progress. But by now he was far along the learning curve, and had built a network of local relationships enabling him to defeat Khadar’s efforts. Starr got the Somaliland government, finally, squarely in his own corner. A blue-ribbon Muslim religious council was summoned to give the school a stamp of approval. And it helped that Abaarso started showing spectacular results: graduates accepted, with scholarships, to leading U.S. universities. That was something unheard of in Somaliland, where those kids became national heroes.

Mubarik

One was Mubarik, a former nomad goat-herder; the first time he saw a truck he thought it was some kind of animal. Mubarik has now graduated from MIT.

We met Jonathan Starr at the Ingersoll event I wrote about; only because my wife happened to notice “Worcester MA” (where she went to college) on his mother’s name tag. That led to seating ourselves beside them at the dinner, and hearing a little of his story. Which also led to our spending some time with three female Abaarso alums, one of them starting at the nearby Emma Willard School. You couldn’t find more impressive, admirable young women. They rhapsodized about how Abaarso, and its founder, changed their lives.

Unlike many American kids who take for granted what they’re given, these Somalilanders realize they’re escaping what would otherwise be a life without hope (that’s led so many Africans into rickety boats), and they behave accordingly. The Emma Willard gal literally kissed the steps upon arrival. No slackers, these kids work very hard to make the most of their precious opportunities.

Cynics and pessimists always see problems as intractable. The road to hell, they say, is paved with good intentions. It’s sometimes true. But Starr was not deterred; was naive enough to make the effort, despite all the obvious handicaps he started with. This is a tremendous lesson for positive thinking. We humans have huge abilities to accomplish things — and often making the effort is the key. As the old line goes, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Starr, in a speech, said that once he’d started, failure just wasn’t an option. (I was reminded of Susan B. Anthony’s motto, “Failure is Impossible.”)

I also think about America’s own failing schools. Indeed, it’s been shown again and again that even in the worst circumstances, students can succeed in schools having positive-thinking leadership. No circumstances could be worse than what Starr faced in Somaliland. If his school could succeed there, ours can here.

Starr hasn’t stopped with Abaarso. His “Horn of Africa Education Development Fund” has started a second school, a teachers’ college for girls. The plan is for those girls to teach in a network of dozens of good K-12 schools, to be run by Abaarso grads; the first of those is slated to open in 2019. It would not be hyperbole to say the overall project bodes well to ultimately transform the country.

Click here to donate (I have made a significant contribution).

Starr and Abaarso have been profiled on 60 Minutes. Anderson Cooper ended the report by noting that Trump’s Muslim travel ban applies to Somaliland, making it harder for Abaarso grads to seek higher education in the U.S. So far, they’re still managing to get student visas. But staying after their education is another matter. A great self-inflicted loss for America.

Trump’s cruel war on refugees and immigrants intensifies

September 27, 2018

When, for this post, I googled “U.S. refugee admissions,” the very first thing that came up was this quote on the State Department’s website:

“The United States is proud of its history of welcoming immigrants and refugees. The U.S. refugee resettlement program reflects the United States’ highest values and aspirations to compassion, generosity and leadership.”

I thought this might be old — but no, strangely enough, it’s still on the website today.

U.S. refugee admissions have fallen steadily since 1994. The refugee cap for President Obama’s last year was 110,000. In his first year Trump slashed that to just 45,000 — the lowest ever (since Congress passed the 1980 Refugee Act). And the number actually admitted was far lower still — 21,000.

The administration has now announced that the cap will be slashed again, for the coming year, to only 30,000.

This at a time when worldwide refugee numbers are surging. There are now 68 million displaced people, including 25 million classified as refugees. Thus we are taking in about one tenth of one percent of the world’s refugees. One in a thousand. Is this the Trump administration’s idea of “compassion, generosity and leadership?”

In his UN speech (where his lying braggadocio was literally laughed at) Trump said the answer for refugees is for their own countries to be fine to live in. Yeah, right. As if he’s doing anything toward that end.

Trump demonizes refugees and migrants as a safety threat. Another of his big lies. In fact they commit fewer crimes than the average American. No refugee has ever committed an act of domestic terrorism. Nor are they an economic burden. Immigrants strengthen our economy and are net contributors. A recent article in The Economist said that if Silicon Valley fizzles out it will be because we’ve foolishly stopped up the immigration pipeline.

And indeed it’s not just refugees (and their children) Trump is targeting — and illegal immigrants — but legal immigrants too. He’s been pushing a set of proposals that would cut legal immigration by up to half. And as if that weren’t enough, now Trump proposes (Congressional action not needed) that receiving any sort of public benefit will disqualify an immigrant from a green card (which means legal residence).

The range of public benefits, that have become so much a part of American life, is vast, making it hard to imagine how anyone could comply with such an extreme rule. For example, suppose you, like most seniors, receive prescription drugs under Medicare Part D. That’s a “public benefit,” pursuant to Trump’s prospective rule.

Ostensibly the rule would apply only to new green card applicants (in order to reject many of them), but it seems unclear how it could affect people previously approved. Some may be caught out when reapplying or renewing their green cards. Some may feel compelled to stop using “public benefits” to protect their status. Anyhow, when all these benefit programs were enacted, they didn’t say “citizens only.” In some cases there’s a five-year waiting period. But otherwise, legislators knew these benefits would be available to legal residents, and nobody ever imagined it would make any kind of sense to exclude them entirely.

How many more times will I have to use this picture?

Nobody until Trump and his depraved administration. The vicious meanness of this latest atrocity takes away one’s breath and twists one’s stomach.

In a different country — Canada — it’s been reported that citizens brought folding chairs to queue up overnight to apply for the privilege of sponsoring a refugee.

Somebody ought to re-write that State Department website, now a cruel mockery of what America used to stand for.

Idlib: the coming holocaust

September 17, 2018

Idlib is the last part of Syria still holding out against the Assad regime. Which, together with its Russian, Iranian, and Hezbollah allies, is readying a final gotterdammerung bloodbath, against what will likely be equally ferocious resistance. This will not be good for the two to three million civilians there, who will be blasted, incinerated, poison-gassed, starved, and sucked into Assad’s vast torture-industrial complex. Survivors will be made homeless refugees. Where they can go is unclear.

The words “never again” ring ever more hollow.

It was President Obama’s worst mistake to fail to act at a time when there were actually still good options in Syria; compounding it by failing to act even when Assad crossed Obama’s own declared chemical weapons red line. Instead Obama let himself be snookered by a phony Putin-engineered deal. That itself crossed a red line that gave Assad and Putin a green light to act with impunity.

But after hundreds of thousands of deaths, and millions of refugees, even now it is actually not too late to do something right.

Trump, who conceives himself the total anti-Obama, did ding Assad with airstrikes for a chemical weapons attack. But it was just a pinprick and in reality Trump is actually following Obama’s policy — or non-policy. Indeed, only more so, because his Putin ensorcelment stops his pushing back on anything Russia does.

And Trump’s “policy” makes even less sense than Obama’s because at least Obama was pursuing an arguably desirable strategic objective of engagement with Iran. Trump trashed that, but doesn’t see how his anti-Iran efforts are at odds with his Syria behavior. His only aim in Syria is to defeat ISIS. But ISIS is fighting Iran, and Iran’s client Assad. If Trump really wanted to torpedo Iran, he’d act to stop the victory of the Iran-Assad axis.

And we could. We have the military capability. Some serious bombing could annihilate Assad’s air force and military command-and-control infrastructure. Also what Iran has deployed in Syria.

Trump did apparently, at one point, order Assad’s assassination. Defense Secretary Mattis ignored the order; it was in fact an illegal order (in a normal world, by itself grounds for impeachment). Nevertheless, bombing a presidential palace would be a nice thing to do. If Assad happened to be home, boo-hoo.

NEWS FLASH: Just as I was about to post this, I heard a news report of some kind of deal by Russia and Turkey to establish an Idlib “buffer zone” and put the offensive on hold. Both are bad actors who cannot be trusted.

The Trump Tax on cars

September 6, 2018

NAFTA was a bad deal, the worst deal ever, sending jobs to Mexico. Our imports exceed exports, a bad thing. Trump’s tough talk of tariffs against Mexico made them give us a better deal. A big win. So much winning!

That’s the Trump story. Every word is a lie, including “the” and “to.”

NAFTA reduced trade barriers among Canada, Mexico, and America. This enabled Mexico and Canada to produce and export more — thereby becoming richer, and hence a bigger market for stuff we produce. (After NAFTA we export more to Canada and Mexico than we import from them.) Low production costs in Mexico enable Americans to buy stuff cheaper, and thus to buy more. Which creates more jobs — more than the ones lost to Mexico. That’s how free trade makes everybody better off.

That’s Economics 101. Which Trump flunked. (He got rich as a con artist.)

But isn’t Trump’s new deal with Mexico better for America? No, it’s worse — and worse for Mexico as well. Mexico agreed to it because the Trumpian alternative of full punitive tariffs was worse still (and Mexico’s incoming and outgoing presidents both wanted this issue resolved before the handover).

Cars are the main target. Trump’s deal will make Mexican car production costlier, so more production will occur in America. Good, no? No, because North American car makers don’t compete just against each other, but against the whole rest of the world. Making North American car production more expensive makes it less competitive against cars from all those other countries. And Trump’s idiotic trade policy raises the costs of not only Mexico’s car production, but our own. Cars use a lot of metal, and tariffs on metal, like aluminum, raise prices for it. Surely a plan for killing both U.S. and Mexican jobs and making us all poorer.

We don’t know yet how things will wind up with Canada. But meantime it’s estimated that Trump’s “great deal” with Mexico will add over $2000 to the cost of your next car purchase. Call it the Trump MAGA tax. (But don’t forget the big tax cut he gave millionaires.)

The polygamy problem

August 17, 2018

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Or several, in many places in the world.

We don’t realize how common this is — men using wealth to get multiple wives (and more sex). But why buy cows if you can just buy the milk? Buying sex, in many places, is neither easy nor socially acceptable, whereas polygamy can be. It’s indeed widespread in Africa, the Arab world, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere.

Some men attract multiple partners through charisma. And it’s endemic among religious gurus. Joseph Smith may have concocted Mormonism just so he could one day announce God’s polygamy plan (for him). But mainly, it’s simply wife-buying. There’s typically a “bride price” (the converse of a dowry), paid to the girl’s family.

Where that’s practiced, it militates toward older husbands and younger wives. Men may need time to accumulate the required sum; and then will want to invest it in the youngest possible (most nubile and fertile) girl. And most families need to sell their daughters before they can afford wives for their sons.

Love and romance? Since when did that figure in marriage? Only since modern times, actually, and mainly in advanced societies.

Polygamy is a factor keeping societies from becoming advanced. It plays havoc with societal stability. There are only so many women to go around (especially in male-obsessed cultures that practice selective abortion and female infanticide). But even without that, for every man with three wives, two others will have none.

Did you ever wonder, regarding those Mormon sects with multiple wives, what happens with all the men necessarily left in the lurch? The answer is simple — they’re kicked out. The elders who call the shots use various pretexts to banish young men who don’t suck up enough, so they can monopolize the girls and build their harems.

But most polygamous societies can’t just make their excess males disappear — and that’s explosive. Young men barred from sex will do almost anything for it. This makes such societies hotbeds of violence and turbulence. They’re actually the ones most likely to spark wars. On one NGO’s list of the world’s 20 least stable countries, polygamy is practiced in every one.

Take South Sudan, embroiled in a horrific civil war. Ethnic antagonisms, weak institutions, and oil wealth for greedy politicians to grab, are all factors. But rampant polygamy is a big one too, with the rich and powerful able to hog much of the bride pool, leaving legions of poor young men decidedly uncheerful. Give them guns, and what happens?

South Sudan is cattle country. The bride price ranges between 30 and 300 cows — nearly impossible for most young galoots. Unless they steal cows. And consequently that too is rampant in South Sudan, with thousands killed annually in cattle raids.

A similar pathology explains the success of Boko Haram and Islamic State in recruiting. Not just in the next life are jihadists promised virgins. These organizations capture women and parcel them out to their fighters. Many are fighting for sex, not God.

But if for many men polygamy is bad, it isn’t good for women either. Though it’s easier to get husbands, being treated as a commodity is not conducive to a rewarding marital bond. A wife must compete with other wives for a husband’s good graces. Men who can just buy wives have little impetus to treat them well. And women get trapped in bad marriages because divorce requires refunding the bride price.

Further, having multiple sex partners detracts from a man’s parental devotion. A study of 240,000 children in 29 African countries found that those in polygamous families are far likelier to die prematurely.

Some people argued that allowing gay marriage is a slippery slope to polygamy as well. Libertarianism does say let people do what they want if no one is harmed. And maybe Western democracies with advanced legal protections can avoid polygamy’s harms. Bigamy is banned because it’s usually a kind of fraud, with a victim, but what about consensual polygamy, with women of course being allowed multiple spouses too (minimizing the surplus male problem)? However, consent in this sphere can be a very dicey proposition; and polygamy opens such a can of worms, societally and culturally, that prudence suggests great caution.

Or perhaps multiple marriage should be allowed only for gays — as a kind of affirmative action, compensating for all the time they couldn’t marry at all.

(This essay owes much (including, I confess, the opening) to an excellent feature article in The Economist.)

Bye Bye Britain

August 11, 2018

A parent’s decline and demise is a sad thing. Britain was our mother country.

The Brits turned a bad corner in voting for Brexit — that is, to leave the European Union. Voters bought a false bill of goods about its supposed benefits, including a much-ballyhooed and wholly bogus claim of gaining hundreds of millions of pounds weekly for the National Health Service. (In fact, Britain will have to pay the EU tens of extra billions.) Russia had a hand in this disinformation campaign (and was cheered on by its tool fool Trump); the aim was to weaken both Britain and Europe.

The Brexit vote did in Prime Minister David Cameron, who was then replaced by Theresa May — a hapless mediocrity devoid of Thatcherite intellectual strength.

Theresa May

She opposed Brexit during the referendum, but upon becoming prime minister decided it was her job to fulfill voters’ wishes. Indeed, her mantra became “Brexit means Brexit.”

This refers to the debate over “hard” versus “soft” Brexit — basically whether Britain remains in the European free trade system. Now, the raw truth is that Brexit voters were really mainly voting their hostility toward foreigners and immigrants. They were encouraged to imagine they could have their cake and eat it too — close the doors to migrants but not to trade.

May’s “Brexit means Brexit” catered to this fantasy that Britain could, outside the EU, gain trade terms just as advantageous as inside it. But it’s being punctured in actual negotiations with the EU; they insist that if Britain wants favorable access to the European market, it must accept the free movement of people, and other parts of the EU system.*

So May has been forced to backtrack, and her latest iteration of a negotiating plan looks much more like a soft than a hard Brexit. But hardline Brexiteers in her own Conservative party see this as “betraying the Brexit dream;” two top cabinet members have resigned over it. While the Europeans still don’t think it goes far enough.

Meanwhile the clock is ticking down to the March 29, 2019 deadline for Britain’s departure. It was another big mistake for May to have triggered the 2-year countdown in March 2017 before having clarity about the terms. Now there’s a growing possibility of Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal.

Another of May’s mantras has been “no deal is better than a bad deal.” Indeed, this slogan has been a rare success for her, with polls showing British voters agree by a two-to-one margin. Unfortunately, that actually makes things worse, because it’s really stupid and restricts May’s bargaining room.

It might sound like a tough negotiating stance, but the Europeans consider it an empty bluff because “no deal” would be disastrous for Britain. This is becoming very clear to people thinking seriously about it. There’s now much chatter about “stockpiling” goods against the prospect of big trade disruptions with a no-deal Brexit. But there’s no way Britain could really get prepared for such a dire eventuality.

So May has painted herself into a corner. Either she does slash Britain’s wrists with a no-deal Brexit, or else swallows a soft Brexit deal that’s bound to be pilloried as betraying both of her own key slogans. One that retains so much of the status quo ante that Britons must wonder what the point of Brexit is.

In June 2017, having insisted she wouldn’t call an early election, May reversed herself, aiming to strengthen her parliamentary majority and thus her Brexit negotiating hand. Instead, running an insipid campaign, she lost her majority and now runs a crippled government. It’s becoming hard to see how any Brexit deal, that May manages to negotiate, could pass parliament (especially if, as is likely, the Labour opposition wants to distance itself from her deal and sabotage May’s government).

Now there’s also talk of a second referendum, either to reverse the 2016 Brexit vote, or else between hard and soft Brexit plans. But there’s no sign that Brexit buyer’s remorse has really set in yet, especially with May still suborning the fantasy; nor that voters will now be equipped to make a responsible choice among options. And approving and organizing another referendum now is probably a non-starter.

Comrade Corbyn

Waiting in the wings is the Labour Party’s Jeremy Corbyn. His winning the next election is taken as almost a foregone conclusion. Young voters in particular seem gaga for him as something new, daring, and fresh. In fact he represents something very old and putrid — Stalinism. Literally; no hyperbole. Corbyn is the quintessential old-time morally blind extreme left hypocrite who’s always prating about the rights of downtrodden people while applauding regimes everywhere most guilty of trodding them down. And he wants to undo everything Thatcher achieved in the ’80s that set Britain on a path to prosperity. Coming on top of Brexit’s economic hit, a Corbyn government would be the coup de grace.

Brexit voters imagined they’d “Make Britain Great Again.” That’s working out as great as on the other side of the pond. It’s a sad decline into senescence for a nation that once indeed ruled the greatest empire in the world, and led it in intellectual and industrial advancement. The classically liberal principles that have guided humanity onward and upward originated in Britain. Now the Brits are losing the thread of all that.

Not so long ago, it might have been said that Britain had passed the torch to America. But America itself today is falling into its own similar political cul-de-sac. It seems the flame is flickering out.

* One vexing problem is that Britain has a land border with the E.U. — between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Everyone agrees that a hard customs border there would be highly undesirable. But no one seems able to figure out how to avoid that, if Britain exits the EU’s customs union.

Fact of the day

August 10, 2018

According to a June 28 article in The Economist, the number of people employed in China censoring internet content is estimated to exceed two million. (Nearly as many are believed to work for the Chinese government “injecting propaganda and misinformation into the social-media flow.”)