Monday, February 28, 2011

More Republican Lies - Part Two

By Tom Kando

This is the second half of an analysis of the mendacious arguments used by ultra-conservatives such as columnist Charles Krauthammer (see his “Wisconsin GOP sees the debt and crosses the Rubicon,” Sacramento Bee, February 25, 2011):

1. Falsehood: Krauthammer and his acolytes define the problem as a “deficit” and “debt” problem, and the solution as “entitlement reform.” They have successfully brainwashed the populace into accepting this definition.
    Truth: Yes, there is a deficit problem, but no, the solution is not “entitlement reform.” “Entitlement reform” is a euphemism to take away the rights gained by the people over the past century. The solution is to raise taxes on millionaires (about 3 million of them in the US).

2. Falsehood: The solution to the deficit problem is also “Tax Reform.”
    Truth: by “tax reform,” Republicans mean tax cuts for the rich, for example reducing the top tax rate from 35 % to 29%.

3. Falsehood: Public Unions are a privileged special interest group.
    Truth: Their wealth and influence pale in comparison with those of business and corporations. Business enjoys a vast advantage in campaign financing through its PACs, and in its influence upon public opinion. As Rachel Maddow noted recently, 70% of major political contributors are private businesses.

4. Falsehood: Republicans in Wisconsin and elsewhere just want a requirement that unions be re-certified every year, and that dues become voluntary.
    Truth: This will mean the death of unions. Unions - for example the National Educational Association - are the last remaining bastion against the full take-over of the government by private corporate interests.

Clearly, Krauthammer is a spokesman for and a member of the Kleptocracy. The Sacramento Bee, desperate to avoid going under as its readership evaporates, thinks that presenting such crypto-fascist views represents “balance.” But the balance we find in the media is increasingly a balance between the Right and the Extreme Right. As Rachel Maddow said, year after year this country keeps moving further to the right.

The US has always had the potential to be either good or evil. It is now in danger of fulfilling its potential for evil. This often happens to countries on their way down.

We, at the European-American blog, may be the voice of Cassandra. But readers ignore us at their peril. leave comment here

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Republican Lies - Part One

By Tom Kando

So the Republicans are trying to bust the unions in Wisconsin and elsewhere. A recent article by Charles Krauthammer (“Wisconsin GOP sees the debt and crosses the Rubicon,Sacramento Bee, February 25, 2011) expresses all the evil and stupidity of this effort. Every one of Krauthammer’s arguments is easily refutable, yet the likes of him have managed to bamboozle half of the American public.

Krauthammer’s worn-out and false argument is that, in the private sector, the capitalist can’t afford to give away the store, but in the public sector, politicians always make sweetheart deals with lazy public employees, because it’s not their own money.

The truth: Without Unions, America would still be a Social-Darwinist society, with no middle class. Union membership is down to 7% of the private labor force, from close to 40% half a century ago. The only significantly unionized sector remaining, are teachers and other public employees. Without them, America would lapse back into a primitive and cruel society.

The reactionary hatred of unions, especially those which represent teachers and other public employees is (1) jealousy of a perceived advantage (more about this is a moment) and (2) a race to the bottom, to make sure that all of the labor force is paid less and lose its benefits. Let’s look at the facts:

1. Unemployment rates:There is a belief that the Great Recession has hit the private sector harder than the public sector. But what about the 800,000 public employees who have lost their jobs so far, with another half million predicted to follow?

There is a perception that public employees, who are more often unionized, enjoy greater job security. Temporarily, perhaps, since the start of the recession. And if so, this has long been the trade-off they have accepted in exchange for lower income.

But I don’t even concede this point. I am not sure that unemployment among (former) public employees is significantly lower than the 10% among the labor force at large.
And by the way, wasn’t it the private sector - the Wall Street and banking gamblers - which caused the collapse of the economy?

2. Income: Public employees make less than private employees. Look at the “big three” professions - teachers, lawyers and physicians. In America, teachers are underpaid, while lawyers and physicians are not. In Europe, teachers enjoy a status and an income that are much closer to those of lawyers and physicians.

While most lawyers are not public workers in Europe either, many physicians are. At any rate, it is surely not a coincidence that in America, the profession which earns the least - teachers - is the one that is largely public? (Those few lawyers who are public servants, e.g. public defenders and prosecutors, also earn less their private colleagues).
I was told many years ago: “If you want to make good money, don’t become a teacher.” To which I add: “...or a public servant.”

The government-haters and union- busters tell us that public employees have not suffered enough during the current recession. But what about the furloughs, which have reduced hundreds of thousands of state employees’ already small paychecks up to 25% - not to mention the million who have been laid off altogether?

3. Pensions: Reactionaries like Krauthammer froth at the mouth about “defined benefits.” Public employees’ pension systems still provide many of their members with a predictable monthly income in retirement. In the private sector, retirement benefits have been largely privatized, made into “defined contributions.” Now Wall Street can gamble with retirees’ money.

So the push is on to deny everyone the benefits of a small, but at least fixed and predictable income in old age.
The fat cats, with their golden parachutes and multimillion-dollar severance pays, want everyone else to rely on the stock market as well. But we have seen what happens to the small investor over the past 3 years: Same thing as in Las Vegas!

4. Health coverage: May public employees pay lower health insurance premiums than private employees, because the state picks up more of the premium.
So instead of trying to emulate this positive model in the private sector, there is now a race to the bottom. If I can’t have it, neither should you!

Premiums would not be astronomical for anyone if we only understood that medicine and health insurance should not be a for-profit business, but a public service. After all, the nation’s health is called “public health” isn’t it? (To be continued). leave comment here

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Incredible Shrinking Woman

by Madeleine Kando

I heard on the news the other day that 'walking six miles a day might improve memory in the elderly'. Because the brain has to cope with a lot of different inputs as you walk, the way you place your foot on the ground, the sounds you hear and the things you see, all have to be processed and this keeps brain cells active. It prevents the brain from shrinking.

So, why is meditation so good for you? Isn't the goal of meditation to 'empty' your mind of thought? Wouldn't a meditator's brain eventually shrink to the size of a peanut? Maybe that's why gurus and other idols of the art of meditation are so 'nice', so 'at peace'. They have emptied their mind of all the disturbing thoughts that living in this cruel world generates in any normal sized brain.

If you are honest with yourself, you have to admit that most human functions shrink as you age. I won't go into too many depressing details, but everyone knows that as you age you lose some of your height, vision, hearing, muscle mass etc. The only thing that doesn't seem to shrink with age is your waist size.

Ok, so I can look forward to turning deaf, blind and becoming a midget. But if walking helps brain cells, why not devise a method to exercise your eyes, your ears and your stature to stop their functions from shrinking?

I tried to enroll in a 'eye yoga' class but couldn't find one, so I started my own 'eye exercises'. I take my eyes for a 'walk' every day. I sit in front of the mirror and make big circles with my eyeballs, look left and right, up and down, squeeze them, look cross eyed, the whole shebang. I cannot really tell if my eyes are rejuvenating though. I might just end up looking cross eyed as I get older.

Ears are pretty sedentary things, so you cannot really exercise them, but I have tried to turn music down to a point where I have to strain to hear it. I turn on the television and sit in another room to see if I recognize any of the familiar anchormens' voices.

To stop myself from shrinking I hang upside down on my gravity invertor at least twice a day. When my husband comes home after work, I unobtrusively inch my way close to him to see if I have gained any height. So far, I haven't noticed any difference, but you never know. Better safe than sorry, I always say.

On the other hand, part of me thinks that shrinking as you age might not be such a bad idea. Nature has been kind enough to give us humans time to adjust to growing into adults. Can you imagine how traumatic it would be if you were born an adult?

Shrinking with age might be nature's way to make it easier for us to ultimately completely disappear when we die. Who knows, if we could live to be two hundred years, we would all shrink to the size of a little clump of clay and it wouldn't be so hard to say farewell. leave comment here

Monday, February 21, 2011

Deficit, Schmeficit

By Madeleine Kando and Tom Kando

Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker and his Republican minions are now trying to take away most collective bargaining rights from public employees (shrewdly excluding police, firefighters and state troopers). Other Midwestern states are moving in the same direction. The purported objective is to help close the state’s $3.6 billion budget deficit. Most states have a budget deficit these days. Wisconsin’s is by no means the worst.

We propose a much better plan, one that would keep public workers from demonstrating and still satisfy the Republican governor and his supporters:

Wisconsin has about 30,000 households making over $1 million a year (It also has 100,000 millionaires, measured by NET WORTH). (Source: Wealth, Income and Power by Sociology Professor William Domhoff).

People who make over a million a year don't get taxed more than someone who makes $380,000. It's all the same to Uncle Sam, whether you earn $380,000 or $10 million, you get taxed at 35% max. Does that seem logical to you?

In addition, most states also levy income taxes. For example, Wisconsin’s rates range from under 5% to nearly 7.75% of income over approximately $300,000.

Why not tax those who make over a million dollars a year a few percent more? Note that we are talking about INCOME, not just being a mere “millionaire,” which many of us approach by just owning a relatively nice house and a few investments.

If 30,000 Wisconsinites would each pay 5% more on each million they make, this would yield $1.5 billion on just their first million! Add to this a 5% tax on the additional millions earned by the super-rich, and presto, your budget deficit is gone. End of story. All these people need to do is forego a few trips to the Bahamas.

You may say that we are mixing apples and oranges - state and federal taxes - and that we are proposing to raise federal taxes to remedy state deficits. But how revenue is increased is irrelevant. There are plenty of mechanisms for the different levels of government to share revenue with each other. The federal government already rebates billions to the states all the time.

We can hear you say: 'Oh, that reeks of socialism. That's not what America is about'. Really? Did you know that in Holland the highest tax rate is 52%? Compare that to the highest bracket of 35% in America, which only kicks in if you make more than $380 thousand! And of course, they also have additional levels of taxation over there, just as we do.

This brilliant plan would not only solve many states' budget deficits, but it would also make this country more equal. On this list of countries by income equality, you can see where America ranks on the 'Gini index'. The Gini index is a measure of income inequality. A country that scores 0.0 on the Gini scale has perfect equality in income distribution. A score of 100 indicates total inequality where only one person corners all the income.

The most equal countries on the list are Denmark and Japan. Holland ranks fairly high in terms of equality. America, as you can see, ranks about the same as some very underdeveloped countries in Africa, like Sierra Leone and Senegal. We are not suggesting bringing back proscriptions. This was the method used by Roman dictator Sulla and emperors such as Julius Caesar to solve their budget deficit. They declared a list of the richest citizens - many of them senators - to be criminals, chopped off their heads and appropriated ALL their assets. We don’t favor this method, even though our own average senator’s net worth is $14 million, and Congress’ total net worth is $2.5 billion. (Source:Your Senator Is (Probably) a Millionaire).

We suggest a more civilized form of redistribution (another taboo word in America, along with “socialism.”). Redistribution based on a more progressive and therefore more just tax system, one more similar to the one in Europe, Japan, Canada and the rest of the Western world.

What is so abominable about the current fiscal debate in this country is that there is a near consensus that the problem is just one thing, namely overspending at the public level. Anyone who dares to suggest that there are two sides to the issue - too much spending and insufficient revenue - gets tarred and feathered. So it’s open season on Unions, on teachers and on the entire public sector. No matter that spending by the states is already way, way down.

As a society, we are driving in the wrong lane, in the wrong direction. We are trying hard to emulate the enormous inequalities of banana republics. Not content to have a top tax rate of 35% for millionaires, the Republicans want to reduce the rate to 29%! The 2010 elections prove that the brainwashing of the public is now complete. leave comment here

Friday, February 18, 2011

Delayed Gratification

by Madeleine Kando

I am not very good at delayed gratification. When I wake up in the morning, half dead, I cannot wait for my first cup of coffee. If the gratification of caffeine rushing through my veins gets delayed, I become intolerable to the people around me.

But sometimes delayed gratification pays off. A man yelled at me in the therapy pool yesterday, because I had positioned myself in his ‘lane’ (how you can swim laps in a therapy pool the size of a large bathtub is beyond me). He became loud and verbally abusive and my instinct was to kick him in the you know what. But I called the manager and revel in the knowledge that this man will pay for his crime by being officially reprimanded. Delaying my gratification will make my revenge taste that much sweeter.

However, when it comes to one of our shower cells, my capacity for delaying gratification knows no limits. It needs so much work that it looks like a bomb exploded in it. My husband and I talk a lot about our shower cell project. Every month or so we go over the details of the soon to be installed tiles, the color of the curtain, etc. Discussing our new non-existent shower has given us great satisfaction for the past five years. So why not just delay indefinitely and forget about the gratification? This way it doesn’t cost us a penny.

Do you suppose some climates are more conducive to a culture of delayed gratification than others? For people who live in a gorgeous, warm place with palm trees, delicious fruits and vegetables growing abundantly and beautiful, half naked girls strolling down the pristine beaches, delaying gratification doesn't make sense. Why would they want to delay the gratification of eating, drinking and having sex all day?

Compare that to where I live in New England. As I write this I am looking out on my backyard where the squirrels are scrambling to get a grip on the huge piles of snow. It is so cold that I don’t go outside unless it is an absolute emergency. I am delaying gratification on almost everything right now. I cannot go for walks, so I write. I cannot relax in the sun, so I clean the house. I cannot meet my friends for coffee, so I do my bookkeeping instead. Does delaying pleasure make you work harder? Is there a hidden advantage to spending my life in this frozen inferno?

Many studies have been conducted on the subject of delayed gratification. It’s tied in to things like ‘temporal myopia’ which, in turn, leads to ‘hyperbolic discounting’. ‘Temporal myopia’, means that clarity decreases the further things are in the future. People's view of global warming is a good example. Because we are myopic to future events, we discount their importance in the present, which is called ‘Hyperbolic discounting’.

In the famous Stanford Marshmallow Experiment (1972), four year old children were offered a marshmallow and told that if they waited fifteen minutes without eating it, they would get another one. Eighty percent of the children ate their marshmallow, but the twenty percent that waited turned out to be more successful in adult life.

Ah, but were they happier? Did they ever regret having missed the opportunity to feel that wonderful sense of instant gratification?

I am sure hyperbolic discounting is just as useful as delayed gratification. There is a risk attached to all that waiting. If you don’t survive today there is not much point to the delay, is there? Someone else will be eating your marshmallows and you'll be cursing yourself for eternity. leave comment here

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Passing the Buck

by Gene Barnes
Professor Emeritus of Physics
California State University

Former U.S. President Harry S. Truman was reported to have had a sign on his desk reading: “The Buck Stops Here.”. The sign was intended to mean that he—as the top executive in the U.S. Government—was willing to take the final responsibility for the decisions made by his administration.

Today, at the highest levels of our government and of our industrial and financial corporate enterprises, almost no one is willing to accept any responsibility for anything. Passing the buck has become our national pastime, instead of baseball. I believe that passing the buck is truly bi-partisan, practiced by both Republicans and Democrats alike. Let’s look at some of the evidence of this during the last decade or so.

In 2000, George W. Bush was elected President. After the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the responsibility for the attack was attributed to al- Qaeda on the basis of intelligence reports gathered from the CIA and the FBI. As it turned out, quite a lot of the information concerning the conspirators had been obtained prior to 9/11, but it had never been taken seriously enough by the senior officials in these organizations. Even when information on the possibility of “attacks involving airplanes” was given to then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice by Security Advisor Richard Clarke, she chose not to pay much attention. On the day of the attack, President Bush had no immediate response, preferring to finish reading a story to school children. The order to scramble U.S. fighter jets was not given until it was too late to stop even the second plane from hitting the other twin tower nearly an hour later. To my knowledge, none of the members of the Bush administration have accepted any responsibility for their failures to provide an adequate defensive response to these attacks. For example, George Tenet, who was the Head of the CIA from 1997 until Robert Mueller’s confirmation 7 days before 9/11, never accepted the responsibility for the mismanagement of the information by his agency. Later, President Bush awarded the Medal of Freedom to him.

In contrast, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in1941, hearings were held to establish the responsibility for the inadequate defense of the Naval Base. Some of the senior Navy officers in command were reduced in rank as a result. Historians still argue as to whether President Roosevelt himself could (or should) have foreseen the possibility of an attack and strengthened the Pearl Harbor defenses. He was, after all, a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

Fast-forward to the financial crisis of 2007-2010, resulting in the bailout. A recent editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle entitled, “Why did the economy sink?” describes the verdict of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission’s 545-page report on the causes of the crisis. Apparently, this bi-partisan Report dealt rather heavily in generalizations, rather than specific accusations of individual misconduct—an ideal way to pass the buck. Phrases such as “the crisis was the result of human action and inaction,” and the Chronicle’s suggestion that “plenty of smart people did stupid things” are not very enlightening. One of those so-called “smart people” was probably Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board under both President Clinton and President Bush. But when Greenspan testified before Congress, he seemed confused and not especially intelligent. He didn’t seem to understand the simple fact that self-regulation in government or industry does not work, and has never worked, something that really can be learned in kindergarten, if you are paying attention. Still, he managed to pass the buck. Apparently, however, this was a lesson that President Clinton had also failed to learn, because he signed the Gramm Leach Bliley Act in 1999, which repealed the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933. According to Wikipedia, this repeal “removed the separation that had previously existed between the Wall Street investment banks and the depository banks and may have caused the collapse of the subprime mortgage market that led to the financial collapse of 2007-2010.” Neither President Clinton nor President Bush have assumed any responsibility for the financial crisis, to my knowledge.

Among the many other Wall Street investment ploys that contributed to the crisis was the now-infamous Credit Default Swap. Basically, to create a CDS, you sell an investment to a buyer who can insure the investment so that if it fails the insurance will pay him a certain par value. However, this insurance (the CDS) is not subject to the same regulations as casualty or life insurance, and can be traded or sold to someone else. Thus, you can buy insurance on someone else’s investment that seems likely to fail—such as a mortgage loan to someone who can’t afford to keep up the payments. You might wonder who would be foolish enough to insure something like that. AIG would, if you were careful enough to pay the investment rating services such a Moody’s or Standard & Poor’s to give it a AAA rating. Most of the largest banks and investment firms in America sold the packaged mortgages all over the world, and profited from their demise—until AIG ran out of money and had to be bailed out. None of the CEOs of these banks have been charged with criminal misconduct, though a few have resigned—with golden parachutes. One of these firms, Goldman Sachs, seems to have done especially well. President Obama appointed Tim Geithner, Larry Summers, and Ben Bernanke—all former “smart people” from Goldman Sachs—to top economic posts in his administration. They all passed the buck, with the help of President Obama.

This is a very long blog already, so I’ll stop here—even though I haven’t mentioned Monica Lewinski, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Torture, or Healthcare. I’m sure that the leaders of other countries are also very good at passing the Buck, or the Franc, or the Deutsche Mark, etc. Why not send some of your own favorite examples. I welcome both Liberal and Conservative contributions, though I reserve the right not to respond unless it seems worthwhile. leave comment here

Sunday, February 13, 2011


By Tom Kando

I tried to post this as a comment. Too long. Won’t accept it. Hence, a separate post:

We are honored to post Prof. Ten Have’s excellent article. It raises the level of scholarship and the quality of our blog.

The piece is called 'On the use of collectivity nouns.' I take this to mean that it is essentially a critique of certain kinds of “generalizations,”- and their moral or judgmental usage. Sorry, I now generalize about Ten Have’s article.

Ten Have ‘deconstructs’ a recent exchange between Johnny and me, triggered by events in Egypt. (In the old days, we used the word ‘analysis,’ but ‘deconstruct’ sounds nicer and more post-modern).

Regarding the use of collectivity nouns, I am now going to comment about generalizations. This is not a straw man, but an attempt to grapple with Ten Have’s argument.

Obviously, generalizations can be bad. We all know about the evils of stereotyping, racism, nationalism. Furthermore, many generalizations, even when containing some truth, are shallow and do not do justice to reality.

BUT: Isn’t Sociology foremost in the business of generalizing? Without generalizations, there is no Sociology.

The first thing freshmen are told is that Sociology is about group patterns, not individuals. For example, the instructor asks the students in Sociology One: “Who are you likely to marry?”

They reply: “Whoever I fall in love with; it all depends on the individual.”

And then the instructor lectures about assortative mating, that tall people are more likely to marry tall people, etc. Patterns; generalizations.

Surely we can agree that the question is not whether to use generalizations, but which ones, and for what purpose. A generalization can be good or bad. I can think of at least 3 criteria:

1) is it true or false?
2) is it shallow, does it do violence to important details?
3) Is it used for a nefarious purpose, when combined with moral judgment? This last point is central to Ten Have’s argument.

Examples of generalizations:

A.“Jews are miserly.”
B. “American children are more overweight than Japanese children.”
C. “The US has a high crime rate.”
D. “Americans are more optimistic than Frenchmen.”

Generalization #A fails all three tests. It is false and it is malicious.

Generalization #B passes the first test, maybe not the second, but it does pass the third test: Moral judgment embedded in a generalization does not automatically disqualify the generalization. For example, this generalization could be a call for positive social action.

Generalization #C: same as Generalization #B. Someone might say:

“Don’t generalize; Where I live, in Iowa, we have very little crime.” True.

Generalization #D: This is the sort of generalization which has become problematic - generalizations about the psychological characteristics of groups and nationalities.
Years ago, the Adorno group, Kurt Lewin, the study of national character, the “authoritarian personality,” the Culture and Personality school in Anthropology - these all made the study of such things respectable.
But because of the horrors of nationalism and racism, we now agree that one should tread very carefully in this area of research - if going there at all...

Still, what are we to do with the social sciences’ central concept - culture?

If I say, “Americans are more optimistic than Frenchmen.” (Generalization #D), and this is based on surveys, and it is NOT meant to force Frenchmen to become more optimistic, does it not pass my 3 tests?

There IS such a thing as “American Culture,” and maybe even a European Culture, or at least a Western European Culture. In statistical parlance, maybe “between-group” variations are greater than within-group variations...

Granted, the great weakness of most generalizations is criterion #2 - shallowness. To this, I plead guilty. This is a blog. Our average post has 600 words.

Finally: Prof. Ten Have is defensive about my discussion of possible European anti-Semitism. After all, it’s been over 60 years since the Holocaust.

I am only preaching caution. Nothing dies harder than Culture (remember Ogburn?). A century and a half after the abolition of slavery and after decades of Civil Rights enforcement, the South remains America’s most racist region.
I have no evidence that Europe is more anti-Semitic than America. But 60 years is historically not very long. Caution in criticizing Israel is still a good idea for Europeans, who should be as aware as possible of their motives.
Is the criticism rooted in anti-Zionism, and the fact that the creation of Israel has caused a great deal of Palestinian suffering, or in a general feeling that Jews are still a problem? (As in the not uncommon allegation that US foreign policy, Hollywood, etc. have been hijacked by Jews).

How anti-Semitic Europeans are, is an empirical question. I am just saying: make sure you continue to be vigilant about its potential reoccurrence. leave comment here

Saturday, February 12, 2011

On the Use of 'Collectivity Nouns'

by Paul ten Have
retired Associate Professor, Sociology,
University of Amsterdam

This is an invitation to (re-)consider the use of what I will call ‘collectivity nouns’. What I mean is nouns like ‘America’, ‘Europe’, etc, as well as their derivatives like ‘American’, and even pronouns such as ‘we’, when used to denote a collectivity such as ‘the American people’, or ‘Europeans’. I will in particular examine and criticize occasions in which such collectivities are discussed as if they were moral actors. My critique is intended to stay on the level of discourse. Its target is discursive practices rather than material ones.

My reflections were triggered by my reading of recent posts on the events in Egypt, by Tom Kando and reactions under the name of ‘Johnny’. I was at times a bit confused, or at least slightly irritated, by the terms and phrases they used.

I can, of course in the context of its use disambiguate ‘America’ as referring to the U.S.A., and Tom’s ‘we’ and ‘our’ as showing his identification with that same object. ‘Europe’ is more difficult; does that refer to the western part of the Eurasian continent, or to the EU or to a loosely defined cultural unity? For me, as a European, what strikes me most is the immense variety within Europe, socially, culturally, politically. It is only in a global contrast with other areas or countries, like ‘America’, that a semblance of a unitary object is created.

A rather different semantic problem concerns the events in Egypt: is what is happening there rightly called a revolution? I would say it is a ‘revolt’ or an uprising. The possibilities of a crack-down of the revolt, or a marginally adapted but firm restoration of the ancien regime do still exist.

Here are quotes concerning the America/Europe contrast in relation to Israel, which is a key factor in the further development of the events in the international arena. Kando and his opponent are in agreement that the issue of Israel is ‘complicated’.

Kando writes: “Europe is more critical of Israel than America is. America is more involved in the Middle Eastern Peace Process. It is not clear who is more right, and where anti-Zionism ebbs over into anti-Semitism. In light of 20th century history, Europe should not be too vocally anti-Israel.”

His opponent says: “Another reason you (that is the US) are spending so much in the middle east is to protect Israel. The resources it costs the US is immense and the moral justness of supporting this regime can be more and more questioned. (Especially from a Palestinian point of view.)”

And: “Europeans indeed have a lot of guilt for the genocide and atrocities practised by the Germans in WWII. However, I believe that you don't gain a right to practice atrocities by receiving them. Even atrocities on a different scale and certainly not against people who did not have anything to do with it.”

These densely formulated quotes seem to hint at a variety of reasonings that one needs to ‘unpack’ in order to understand and evaluate what is going on there. The first sentence in the Kando quote, ‘Europe is more critical of Israel than America is’, seems at first sight clear enough, and as a summary statement quite correct. It is not too clear however what the actual, concrete objects are of the terms “Europe’, ‘America’ and ‘Israel’. Tom probably meant to refer to a general trend in the public opinion of people in ‘Europe’ versus those in ‘America’. But what about the object ‘Israel’? This could include the very existence of ‘Israel’ as a state, the current or recent overall policy of the state, the general situation of ‘Israel’ (including the occupied territories and the settlements), and/or specific recent actions like the wars in Lebanon and Gaza. In the second part of his third sentence, ‘ It is not clear who is more right, and where anti-Zionism ebbs over into anti-Semitism’, Kando suggests that there are two basic attitudes, which he calls ‘anti-Zionism’ and ‘anti-Semitism’, which are hard to distinguish. The first can be defined as a negative attitude towards the Zionist project in toto, i.e the very existence of ‘Israel’, while the second refers to a general negative attitude towards Jews as Jews. His ‘punch line’ is: ‘In light of 20th century history, Europe should not be too vocally anti-Israel’. It is not hard to understand which part of ‘20th century history’ is meant here, the Shoah. And this is indeed what the opponent reads in it, as can be seen in his quotes above. What is suggested, then, is that because the Shoah happened in Europe, more than 60 years ago, Europeans should still not be openly critical of (any?, some? which?) aspects of 21st Century ‘Israel’.

The Shoah was undoubtedly one of the most unjust and terrible events in human history, inflicted on innocent individuals by the perverted Nazi regime in Germany. In many European countries they were assisted in their misdeeds by individual collaborators. But there were others, some in Germany, more in some other countries who resisted the Nazi pursuit, although most Europeans passively stood by (and were informed about the event and its scale only afterwards). The Nazi regime was defeated in 1945 and many things happened in the years following, both in Germany and elsewhere. One of these was the establishment of the State of Israel in Palestine in 1948. This certainly had lots to do with the Shoah, but it was also a culmination of the Zionist project which started much earlier.

Now I want to return to the words of Tom’s opponent. From the first quote above: “The resources it costs the US is immense and the moral justness of supporting this regime (the Israeli one) can be more and more questioned. (Especially from a Palestinian point of view.)” So he suggests that supporting the current Israeli regime is becoming more and more morally questionable. In the second quote he makes two separate statements. In the first he seems to agree with Tom: “Europeans indeed have a lot of guilt for the genocide and atrocities practised by the Germans in WWII.” But he adds: “However, I believe that you don't gain a right to practice atrocities by receiving them. Even atrocities on a different scale and certainly not against people who did not have anything to do with it.”

So both Tom and his opponent argue in terms of a collective European responsibility and guilt of Europeans for the Shoah, although they draw different consequences from it.

I disagree with this extended responsibility, extended first from the perpetrators and collaborators to all individuals living in the same part of the world, and second from those active in WW2 to the present population of Europe. Should I, a child during the war, refrain from criticising, say, phosphor bombing in Gaza, or olive tree destruction by settlers in the Occupied Territories, Tom? And should I feel ‘a lot of guilt for the genocide and atrocities practised by the Germans in WWII’, Johnny?

What I oppose, then, is the use of collectivity nouns in moral arguments. And I also oppose generalized moral statements on the qualities, positive or negative, of large scale population categories, whether based on nationality, race, religion and/or ethnicity. Nationalism and other ‘groupisms’ are a major pest in the history of humanity.

Over to you, whatever the category you identify with. leave comment here

Prime Numbers, Large Numbers

By Tom Kando

Although I am totally a non-mathematician, I have long been fascinated by prime numbers. I don’t know why. Here are some random thoughts about this subject: A prime number is a whole number that can only be divided by 1 and by itself. Or put differently, prime numbers cannot be divided by any other whole number without leaving a fraction. The smallest 25 prime numbers (those under 100) are:

2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37, 41, 43, 47, 53, 59, 61, 67, 71,73, 79, 83, 89, 97.

As you move up the scale of natural numbers, prime numbers become less and less frequent, but there is no largest prime number. There is an infinite number of prime numbers. Euclid was the first to prove this.

The only practical use of prime numbers, so far, is in encryption and secret codes for the safety and protection of sensitive materials in the military, commerce, etc. It’s not clear whether nature and the physical world have any use for prime numbers, although some say that timing their life cycle through the use of prime numbers (e.g. emerging from the ground after 7, 11, 13, etc, years) gives some insects certain survival advantages...

One fascinating characteristic of prime numbers is that they seem to obey no other law than that of chance, and that nobody can predict what the next higher - and not yet discovered - prime number will be!

Over the centuries, mathematicians have discovered larger and larger prime numbers, and now with computers, the search has reached astronomical levels.

The unfathomable magnitude of the prime numbers which current researchers are looking for - and finding - totally blew my mind:

On October 22, 2009, the Greater Internet Mersenne Prime Search Research Project was awarded a $100,000 prize for discovering the largest known prime: 2 to the power: 43,112,609, minus 1

This is a number with almost 13 million decimal digits. I calculated that writing it out would require about 4 ½ thousand pages, or fourteen 300- page long books.

Researchers are currently looking for primes with 1 billion digits. If they discover one, writing out that number would require 350 thousand pages, or 1,200 books. (One average book page has about 3000 characters).

Years ago my children and I were bantering at the dinner table, and I told them what a Googol was: it is a “1" followed by one hundred zeros. There are other names for Googol, for example “ten thousand sexdecillion.” Whatever you call it, my children and I agreed, back then, that this was a lot.

But now? My God, a Googol is nothing, compared to a prime number that has a billion decimal digits! Wouldn’t such a number far exceed the total number of atoms in the Universe? Isn’t this dizzying? leave comment here

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Egypt's Dilemma

by Madeleine Kando

In a Wall Street Journal article by Hernando de Soto entitled 'Egypt's Economic Apartheid', the Peruvian economist explains one of the reasons why so many people in Egypt feel marginalized and have taken to the streets to protest their government.

Revolutions are a first step to changing a system that doesn't benefit the majority of a people. That is the message, loud and clear. Not so much the political system, but the economic system.

As I watch this mass of young demonstrators, cell phones and camcorders in one hand and a wooden club in the other, things makes more sense to me after reading De Soto’s article. They want to remove Mubarak, they want democracy, but what is democracy without economic opportunity? An empty concept.

Many of the demonstrators are young, educated and unemployed and have no prospects of improving their lives. Why? Because the legal system does not allow for the majority of the population to legalize their property or their business. Egypt's underground economy is the nation's biggest employer. The legal private sector employs 6.8 million people and the public sector employs 5.9 million, while 9.6 million people work in the extralegal sector. As far as real estate is concerned, 92% of Egyptians hold their property without normal legal title!

If you don't have the rights to your home, your business, your land, anyone can take it away anytime, including the government. There is no way you can get a mortgage, a loan, you cannot increase your capital, it's a dead end situation. De Soto calls it 'dead capital'. You cannot have economic opportunity without property rights. How can you have a healthy economy when the majority of it is outside the law?

In developing nations like Egypt, capitalism only works for the upper class because they have the ability to function within the legal system. But people forget that capitalism is the tool of the poor, not the rich. People have forgotten that capitalism was invented to oppose the aristocracy who had all the wealth.

But if it doesn't do the job for which it was designed, i.e. help the poor create better lives for themselves, it will be thrown in the wastebasket and people will find an alternative system. Hopefully this will not happen in Egypt where there is the danger of it becoming a fundamentalist regime.

The US was lucky in that its 'elite' (the founding fathers) helped create an egalitarian system where everyone has a chance to succeed. The ruling class did the right thing and rebelled against the status quo (England). Unfortunately in many developing countries (including Egypt) the elite is not doing that. It is NOT advancing capitalism, but trying to protect their own interests. Revolts are the result of this.

Egypt's economy is a shadow economy that does not give its participants a chance to grow, to survive. It is bad for everyone. It is bad for the West AND for Egypt. Rather than spending all that money on propping up the military in Egypt, why not invest in changing the system that prevents those demonstrators from making a decent living? If you have a job, you don't have time for revolution.

I have often heard say that the problems in the Middle East can not be solved from the outside. That is now quite obvious. We are witnessing history in the making.

Having a right to your property (which includes yourself) allows one to participate in the political decision making. If there is no protection of property, the only solution for the individual is to rebel outside of the political process: revolution.

* To find out more about the importance of property rights please read ‘The Mystery of Capital’ by Hernando de Soto
leave comment here

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Evil America, or Victim America?

By Tom Kando


Thank you for taking the trouble to react in such detail. Because you raise many familiar issues, this warrants a separate post:

I have riled you up, because I have disturbed some long-established assumptions, namely that American foreign policies are (1) uniquely immoral and (2) beneficial to America.

Many people have a deeply ingrained need to believe this, as evidenced by your comments (and Tomi’s). Anti-Americanism is understandable, because for a century, the US presence in the world has been irritatingly large. The big guy is never popular.

I agree that US foreign policy has sometimes been destructive, and self-serving, although no more so than that of other countries. No sane country acts consistently against its self-interest. It has not been more self-serving than that of the Netherlands or other European countries, and much less so than many others.

I didn’t say that American foreign policy was particularly philanthropic. I believe that it has at times been stupid, but at other times enlightened.

You are too young to remember what America did for Europe and the world 60 years ago: World War Two, the Marshall Plan, the creation of the UN, these are all enormous deeds, they are primarily American deeds, and they made the world infinitely better than it would be otherwise.

The US rebuilt the world and created a global economy which is now so competitive that it threatens America’s own economy. If this is not altruistic, I don’t know what is.

I know the worn-out argument - that America did this out of self-interest. Even so, it surely beats the plundering of the defeated by the victors, as has been the rule from ancient Rome to the Versailles Treaties after World War One, and the USSR’s behavior after World War Two.

Your problem is that you cannot disagree with me: Here is what I said:

1) America should pull back, get out of other countries. You disagree?
2) America should stop squandering billions to support other regimes - dictatorial or otherwise. You disagree?
3) America should never have invaded Iraq. You disagree?
4) America should get out of Iraq and Afghanistan now. You disagree?

5) Oil? The Dutch don’t use oil? I experience your traffic “files” every year. Is Shell not a Dutch company? Do AMRO, RABO and the other giants of Dutch Capitalism - and indirectly you - not benefit from the existing “Pax Americana”?

6) One difference is that America pays more of the bills, and American soldiers die by the thousands, so that the Dutch can continue to drive their spic-and-span cars on their super-modern turnpikes, while our infrastructure here crumbles.

7) Israel? Way too complicated of an issue. I do know this: Israel is the only Middle Eastern country without oil, so it is difficult to argue that we are there for $$$. Europe is more critical of Israel than America is. America is more involved in the Middle Eastern Peace Process. It is not clear who is more right, and where anti-Zionism ebbs over into anti-Semitism. In light of 20th century history, Europe should not be too vocally anti-Israel.

8) Revolutions? Some are good, some are bad: Yes, the Easter European “velvet revolution” was a good revolution, and so was the non-violent downfall of Apartheid. Other good revolutions were the American Revolution in 1776, and the counterculture of the 1960s. But some revolutions lead to terror, the dictatorship of the proletariat, theocracy, genocide and bloody “Cultural Revolutions.”

9) So far, I support the Egyptian revolution. I hope that it does not turn into another fundamentalist, Iranian-style, revolution.

But my focus was on America’s role. I see, again, an immediate worldwide perception that the US has a special responsibility in this crisis. Yet as Madeleine explains in her post, one thing we know for sure: “The problems of the Middle East cannot be solved from the outside.” Do you disagree?

And to this I add that reducing US involvement in the Middle East is not only to Egypt’s advantage, but also to America’s.

You want to disagree.

Unlike you, I am sympathetic to the current plight of the American people. I happen to live here. Have you seen our slums, our poverty, our 14% unemployment, the countless homeless on street corners, the millions who have lost their homes, the cutbacks in education and social services, the violence which takes thousands of lives every year, and which has everything to do with poverty, not gun laws, as is easily proven by the fact that 90% of the violence occurs in the lower class?

10) The transfer of wealth from the US is real: Our dual deficit dwarfs that of any other country. We owe ten trillion dollars to the rest of the world. In one generation, we have morphed from the world’s greatest creditor to its greatest debtor.

So I say, let’s stop the insanity, let’s stop spending ourselves into oblivion by trying to police the world. You disagree?

It’s time to cultivate our own garden, as Holland and other shrewder countries have done for many years.

I don’t understand what this has to do with being “proud of my dear USA.” I happen to live here, and I don’t want my country to collapse. Don’t you feel the same about “your beloved Holland”?

I’m sorry if you have a general dislike for America. You cannot imagine that America does things which do not benefit her. You have to believe that somehow our misguided foreign policies are rational and beneficial to us. They are not.

Our goals are the same: America must stop trying to run the world. Our analyses and sympathies differ.leave comment here

Thursday, February 3, 2011


By Tom Kando

So now Egypt is starting its revolution. I hope that I am wrong, but the scenario is likely to be familiar:

Revolutions tend to evolve from moderate to radical. In France, moderates such as Mirabeau, Danton and the Girondins were followed by Robespierre, the Jacobins and the Terreur. In Russia, Kerensky and the Mensheviks were eventually beaten by Lenin and the Bolsheviks. In China, Chiang Kai-Shek and the nationalists were defeated by Mao Zedong and the Communists. In Iran, the moderate BaniSadr made way for Khomeini’s Theocracy.

In our day and age, the eventual outcome of many revolutions are ferociously anti-American regimes. America becomes the fall guy, because it had been holding up the previous regime, which was overturned.

I worry that this is also going to be the story in Egypt. One more country where the US will become “Satan America,” after having spent hundreds of billions of dollars to buttress its ancien regime.

And then, my question becomes: why on earth do we do this? The conventional wisdom is that:

(1) the US is the number-one imperialist, and that

(2) it is the US’ responsibility to hold up the world. The first of these beliefs is held by anti-Americans and the second one by our government.

They are both wrong:

1) For several decades now, the relationship between America and the rest of the world has been a massive transfer of wealth from the US to the rest of the world, a transfer which is now accelerating. If you ask me, this is imperialism in reverse.

2) Who anointed this country to police the world, to protect world commerce and to guarantee global stability? Why do we perform this costly job, with little assistance but much criticism from everyone else?

Is President Obama a captive of the Military-Industrial Complex? Why on earth did he escalate the war in Afghanistan, instead of getting out? Why are we still in Iraq?

The responsibility to hold up the world should be shared. It should be shared by the other giants of the planet - Europe, Japan, Russia - other emerging mega-states such as India and Brazil, and above all the country which will soon dwarf the US - China.

But is India desperately trying, as we are, to stabilize Pakistan and Afghanistan - countries which are far greater threats to it than to us? No.

Is Brazil trying to do anything about the drug wars in Latin America, which are making countries such as Mexico and Colombia near-failed states? No.

Above all, is China doing anything, devoting any resources, to make the world a safer place, or is it doing one thing and one thing only: that which benefits China?

Why is it America’s unique responsibility to hold up the world?

For this country, only two things make sense: (1) a drastic pull-back from world commitments, and (2) cooperation with others, if possible, in international affairs. But if others are not interested in cooperation, so be it.

Yes, what I am talking about here is that dreaded word - isolationism. So be it. America may need the world, but by virtue of history, size, resources and geography, it is still less vulnerable than most. Do China, Europe and Japan not need oil?

This essay will disappoint my liberal friends. Sorry. But to be in places where we are not wanted, where we don’t like to be, and which cost us lives and treasure, is called insanity. leave comment here