Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Trump as a Fascist?

Historical illiteracy is so common here in USA that it is usually a good idea to just react like the Animal House brothers who listened as Bluto ranted, "Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?" Otter turns to Boon and asks incredulously, "Germans?" Boon's response was, "Forget it, he's rolling." And mostly I can do just that. I usually only get wound up for two subjects—the misuse of the word Populism and any thoroughly ridiculous statement about WW II and the German role in making it happen.

Lately I have gotten increasingly upset by the careless comparisons lefties are drawing between Trump and Hitler. Now President Trump has a multitude of flaws but Hitler he most certainly is not. For example, from the time Hitler assumed power on 30 JAN 1933 and the opening of the Dachau concentration camp on 22 MAR 1933 was only 51 days. My guess is that the Donald will not have a full cabinet 51 days into his administration. The Nazis were highly organized and had a wide-ranging political philosophy. Where's Trump's Mein Kampf? Where is his political experience? Where is his war-hero record? Where are his willing-to-die followers?

Calling Trump the next Hitler is just plain idiotic. I wish folks would stop it because it is not at all helpful.

First Two Months in Power: Hitler vs. Trump


With the hullabaloo about Trump and fascism, it is useful to review Hitler’s first months in power, to get a sense of a real fascist regime.

Hitler came to power January 30, 1933, Trump on January 20, making easy a chronological comparison of their lead ups to power and their first months in power. The comparison shows how silly and hysterical it is to claim Trump represents fascism.

Hitler did not take power by entering into the primaries of a German version of the Republican Party. In complete contrast to Trump, he built, controlled, and ran under the banner of his own fascist party. Hitler also created an armed thug operation, the Brownshirts, to bully progressive organizations. The Brownshirts numbered 500,000 organized men by late 1932, five times the size of the German army.

Four parties contended in the German elections in the summer of 1932: the Nazis, the National Party, the Social Democrats and the Communists all of which won millions of votes.

During this election, “In Prussia alone between June 1 and 20 there were 461 pitched battles in the streets which cost 82 lives and seriously wounded 400 men.” “In July, 38 Nazis and 30 Communists were among the 86 dead.” On July 10, 18 were killed, and on July 17, “when the Nazis, under police escort, staged a march through Altona, a working class suburb of Hamburg, 19 persons were shot dead and 285 wounded.”

A world of violence and murder between fascists and anti-fascists, just in the space of six weeks, bearing no similarity to the few fistfights and the shutting down of a Trump rally in Chicago during the more than yearlong US electoral season.

On January 30, 1933, Hitler was appointed Chancellor. Right after, in Prussia, with two-thirds of the German population, the police force was purged and Nazis replaced police chiefs. The police were then ordered not to interfere with the work of the Brownshirts. The February 17, 1933 Nazi police order stated:
“The activities of subversive organizations are … to be combatted with the most drastic methods. Communist terrorist acts are to be proceeded against with all severity, and weapons must be used ruthlessly when necessary. Police officers who in the execution of their duties use their firearms will be supported by us without regard for the effect of their shots….”
Little over two weeks in power, the Brownshirts had been handed the license to bully, beat, even kill leftists and Jews. In contrast, the two week old Trump presidency found its first anti-Muslim executive order blocked by a judge.

Three weeks in power, 50,000 Brownshirts were made part of the police. They began unauthorized arrests, broke into public building and homes and made nightly raids to seize anti-Hitler opponents. Those seized were typically put in newly set up “camps.”

On February 24 the Nazis took over the Communist Party headquarters. Communist meetings were banned, their press shut down, and their Reichstag (the German version of the US Congress) deputies arrested. Thus, less than a month in power, the Nazis had beheaded the militant left.

Here, hundreds of thousands had mobilized around the country to protest Trump’s actions, unchallenged by any sort of Trump thugs.

February 27, not a month in power, the Reichstag was torched, which the Nazis blamed on the Communists. A vast national witch-hunt ensued. The Nazi’s Emergency Degree declared:
“Restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press; on the rights of assembly and association; and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications and warrants for house searches, orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.”
Leaving aside that under Obama and before, the NSA already had eliminated our right to privacy, in US terms this decree would mean Trump had abolished the Bill of Rights and instituted imprisonment without trial before he had even been president for a month.

By the middle of March, Nazi thugs had rounded up tens of thousands of political opponents, liberals, Communists and Social Democrats, put them in camps, tortured them, and in many cases killed them. This even included outspoken religious leaders. In Prussia alone, 25,000 Communist, Social Democrat and liberal leaders were arrested and sent to Nazi camps.

Brownshirt thugs took over town halls, government offices, newspapers, trade union offices, businesses, department stores, banks, and courts, removing “unreliable” officials.

Here in the US, during the same time period, another judge blocked Trump’s revised anti-Muslim travel ban.

On March 21, Hitler was given a decree to arrest anyone criticizing the Nazi party, to be tried in military style courts with no jury and often with no right to defense.

On March 23, still before two months in power — as long as Trump has been President — the German Parliament approved the Enabling Act, allowing Hitler to enact laws by decree.

On April 7 all Jews were dismissed from civil service jobs.

On May 2, after the Nazis had cynically declared May Day a national holiday, all the trade union offices were occupied, with their property and funds confiscated, and trade union leaders arrested and beaten.

By June 1933, there were 2 million Brownshirts, twenty times the size of the German army, and these “brown-shirted gangs roamed the streets, arresting and beating up and sometimes murdering whomever they pleased while the police looked on without lifting a nightstick…. Judges were intimidated; they were afraid for their lives if they convicted and sentenced a storm-trooper even for cold-blooded murder.” [4]

July 14 all other political parties were prohibited, and the fascists could confiscate the property of any organization it considered anti-Nazi and could summarily revoke anyone’s citizenship.

That was fascism. Here, a great number of liberal-leftists call Trump a new Hitler, some even claiming that we live under a fascist regime. Yet Trump does not possess his own party, nor an armed fascist militia obedient to him, let alone one of hundreds of thousands. Trump has not thrown out the Bill of Rights, wiped out the AFL-CIO, sent his political opponents to concentration camps. He can’t even shut down Saturday Night Live. Trump is a billionaire racist, sexist war-monger out to salvage the US corporate empire, nothing more, nothing less.

What lies behind this hysteria about Trump fascism?

In almost every presidential election going back generations, liberal-left Democratic Party supporters label the Republican candidate with the political swearword “fascist.” Now it is more shrill. As the Democratic presidential candidates become more and more openly corporate stooges these liberal-left “lesser evil” voters must resort to painting the Republican in extreme terms to win support for their own candidate. We should just be very scared, vote Democrat, or we are doomed.

Leftists recognize corporate America owns the two parties, yet many still vote Democrat. Every four years, we must first defeat the so-called fascist, then build our movement. So is the story we are told. This strategy traps us in the Democratic Party. It has worked effectively for generations. Not only does it reinforce our domination by corporate America, but it seriously miseducates people about fascism.

Needless to say, so long as corporate America has the liberal-left tied to their two party system, they have no need for fascism. They need fascism only when their customary method of rule breaks down, and they face a very direct threat of losing control to revolutionary forces. The historic function of fascism is to smash the radicalized working class and its allies, destroy their organizations, and shut down political liberties when the corporate rulers find themselves unable to govern through their charade of democracy. No such problem here.

We do need to fight Trump, just as we would have with Clinton, and should have with Obama. But it miseducates people to paint Trump as qualitatively different. They all rule for corporate America, all have more or less the same program of controlling the 99% and making us pay for the decline of their system. more

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Limitations of Marginal Utility

Marginal Utility is an economic idea that unfortunately refuses to die—mostly because it does have some narrow applications where the theory works.

According to wikipedia, marginal utility is defined as:
In economics, utility is the satisfaction or benefit derived by consuming a product, thus the marginal utility of a good or service is the change in the utility from increase or decrease in the consumption of that good or service. Economists sometimes speak of a law of diminishing marginal utility, meaning that the first unit of consumption of a good or service yields more utility than the second and subsequent units, with a continuing reduction for greater amounts. Therefore, the fall in marginal utility as consumption increases is known as diminishing marginal utility.
The problem isn't that marginal utility has no useful applications, it's that there are those who believe the concept of marginal utility can be applied to everything from labor relations to romantic decisions. The first of the economists who believed that was, arguably, an academic named John Bates Clark. He became a favorite of the Gilded Age rich for these teachings. In 1947, they began to award an economic prize named for him.
The John Bates Clark Medal is awarded by the American Economic Association to "that American economist under the age of forty who is adjudged to have made a significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge".[1] According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, it "is widely regarded as one of the field’s most prestigious awards, perhaps second only to the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences."[2] The award was made biennially until 2007, but is being awarded every year from 2009 because many deserving went unawarded.  Named after the American economist John Bates Clark (1847–1938), it is considered one of the two most prestigious awards in the field of economics, along with the Nobel Prize.
A glance at the list of winners shows that not surprisingly most of them were conservative / reactionary when they won. Clark himself was a known reactionary so why not? A couple, like Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman have now evolved into something a bit more progressive and interesting but were doctrinaire neoliberals when they won in 1979 and 1991.

But there was one student of Clark who was appalled with his blatant misuse of marginal utility—Thorstein Veblen. Clark taught Veblen economics at Carleton College—so of course, Veblen decided to spend a lot of his intellectual horsepower attacking the problem of Clark and his really absurd ideas about marginal utility. Below is his most famous effort.

Clark and Veblen were said to have professionally cordial interactions throughout life but as you can see, Veblen thought him completely wrong. And the reason this is interesting is that Veblen was right about this. Even more interesting, the touch of spectacular error seem to fall on those who are awarded the Clark Medal—something to keep in mind when it becomes obvious that while a Krugman can occasionally sound quite progressive, deep down he is the neoliberal swine the folks at Clark Medal so highly prized.

The Limitations of Marginal Utility

Thorstein Veblen
Journal of Political Economy, volume 17. 1909

The limitations of the marginal-utility economics are sharp and characteristic. It is from first to last a doctrine of value, and in point of form and method it is a theory of valuation. The whole system, therefore, lies within the theoretical field of distribution, and it has but a secondary bearing on any other economic phenomena than those of distribution -- the term being taken in its accepted sense of pecuniary distribution, or distribution in point of ownership. Now and again an attempt is made to extend the use of the principle of marginal utility beyond this range, so as to apply it to questions of production, but hitherto without sensible effect, and necessarily so. The most ingenious and the most promising of such attempts have been those of Mr. Clark, whose work marks the extreme range of endeavor and the extreme degree of success in so seeking to turn a postulate of distribution to account for a theory of production. But the outcome has been a doctrine of the production of values, and value, in Mr. Clark's as in other utility systems, is a matter of valuation; which throws the whole excursion back into the field of distribution. Similarly, as regards attempts to make use of this principle in an analysis of the phenomena of consumption, the best results arrived at are some formulation of the pecuniary distribution of consumption goods.

Within this limited range marginal utility theory is of a wholly statical character. It offers no theory of a movement of any kind, being occupied with the adjustment of values to a given situation. Of this, again, no more convincing illustration need be had than is afforded by the work of Mr. Clark, which is not excelled in point of earnestness, perseverance, or insight. For all their use of the term "dynamic", neither Mr. Clark nor any of his associates in this line of research have yet contributed anything at all appreciable to a theory of genesis, growth, sequence, change, process, or the like, in economic life. They have had something to say as to the bearing which given economic changes, accepted as premises, may have on economic valuation, and so on distribution; but as to the causes of change or the unfolding sequence of the phenomena of economic life they have had nothing to say hitherto; nor can they, since their theory is not drawn in causal terms but in terms of teleology.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Better than the Li-Ion Battery?

Recently I tried to write a small survival guide for finding the good stuff on the internet. I called it Epistemology in the age of "fake news." Considering I spent most of my adult life composing that little essay, that was a remarkably lame title—I tend to forget that epistemology is not everyone's pet idea and to combine that with a trendy notion like "fake news" means that I am open to any better suggestions.

But the idea of fact-bricks is sound and I just found a pretty good example of how they can be used to evaluate a news story like the one below. Essentially the news is that one of the co-inventors of the lithium-ion battery has discovered (invented) a major improvement. The new battery will replace the li-ion's liquid / gel electrolyte with glass—which would be a major improvement in safety. Lithium would be replaced with sodium which is almost infinitely cheaper and easier to access.

Cheaper? safer? Wait there's more! The new batteries supposedly will charge much faster and be three times as energy dense. This means a car with a 200 mile range with Li-ion would have a 600 mile range with a similar-sized pack of the new batteries. This last claim is the most significant and also the one that triggered my BS sensors.

Here are the relevant fact-bricks as I see them.
  1. Historically, batteries have gotten better in small steps. A 300% improvement is an enormous leap. Show me. The producer class is about demonstration.
  2. 94 year-old guys tend to be well past their significant accomplishments in life.
  3. What works in theory or even in a lab is difficult to translate into a mass-produced consumer device. And even those products that make the leap take significant time to work out the kinks—17 years for the fluorescent bulb, for example.
On the plus side.
  1. This is an example of evolutionary improvement. Basically the only kind there is.
  2. It IS possible that someone who has devoted his life-energy to a subject just might have a final creative burst in his chosen field—even at 94.
  3. Storage is the key to making solar energy useful. If the funding is there, commercialization of this technology could happen in a much shorter time-frame than usual.
My conclusion: I will withhold judgment on the validity of the basic idea but because the chemistry is possible I will continue to follow the story. I don't expect to see these batteries for sale at Costco or Home Depot in less than five years even if everything goes right.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Mark Ames explains US / Russia relations

Around 1993, I met an interesting old codger who was living with his wife in a old converted one-room schoolhouse. Almost immediately he got on my good side by expressing his belief that the Vietnam War had been a vicious con on USA's young men. Not long after that, I discovered that in his younger days of employment, he had been a professor of Russian / USSR studies. Russian history is a favorite hobby but living in the middle of the North American continent, I don't meet many people who know anything about the subject. I was quite excited.

Soon the thrill of exchanging ideas was replaced by the disappointing realization that he thought USSR's conversion to "democracy" was going swimmingly, that Boris Yeltsin was a brave patriot who was doing everything in his power to prevent Russia from sliding back into Communism, and that reports of corruption could be easily dismissed as the growing pains of the new order. The fact that USA flew in 88 yo heart surgeon Dr. Michael DeBakey to manage Yeltsin's heart treatment was simply a sign of our willingness to help. About this time someone told me not to be shocked because virtually all Russian Studies profs in USA have significant links to CIA. I have NO idea if this is true in this case but he was pretty steadfast in defending that party line. We lost touch shortly thereafter.

Of course, none of his beliefs about Russia were remotely true. The neoliberals from Harvard who landed the fat contract to re-engineer the USSR were so corrupt that eventually they lost the contract and some were charged with corruption by the Justice Department. Jeffrey Sachs, the w√ľnderkind who had caused major disasters in Bolivia and Poland led their charge. The most serious results of this economics of Predation was that average male life expectancy dropped from 64 to 57 between 1990 and 1994.

Mark Ames, who was living in Moscow during this chaos, relates the story of what happened in the video below. The numbers of those in the USA who know this story is essentially zero. And yet, since the outcome was the rise to power of Vladimir Putin—the current public enemy #1—this is NOT a trivial story. It is also a story that virtually every Russian knows in great detail.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Epistemology in the age of "fake news"

Being accused of peddling fake news by the New York Times or the Washington Post is like being called smelly by a hog.

I love the internet. Never before in human history has it been so easy to access accurate and helpful information. And when folks assure me that 99% of what is on the internet is pure BS, I can only smile and say "but the good news is that the remaining 1% is so vast and comprehensive it defies meaningful comprehension." Of course that leads to the BIG PROBLEM: How does one tell the difference between the 99% BS and the 1% good stuff?

Not long ago a bright young man asked me that very question with a look of panic on his face. What good is an infinity of information without an accurate way to tell which factoid will lead to a lifetime of confusion and wasted effort, and which will assist in finding answers that make life's journey more understandable, fulfilling, and productive?

Quite honestly, I was taken aback by his excellent question. Mostly it's because I almost never think about it anymore. My "rules" for separating the wheat from the chaff were formulated one summer night over 35 years ago while driving a sports car on some moonlit back roads at extralegal speeds. A college roommate who had gotten a philosophy degree was along for the ride and we were discussing the essential failures of philosophic thought. His take was that the big-name philosophers all tried to create a huge, all-encompassing world-view. The problem with this approach is that as humanity acquired more information, these newly discovered details tended to rip huge holes in some grandiose descriptions of how the world works. Poor Aristotle—his sweeping philosophy that acted as a lodestar for the last 2300 years has been filled so full of factual holes that nothing is left. Even his logic, which is still taught, has been made hopelessly obsolete. So the question becomes, "when you cannot even trust Aristotle, how exactly do you find your way?"

Like a lightening bolt it came to me. Instead of searching for the big answers, why not concentrate on those little answers that cannot be refuted. Think like a builder! Treat your irrefutable facts like bricks or timber. They may be plain and simple yet with enough of them, you can build a beautiful and mighty structure. Even better, if you are sure about the quality of the parts, the likelihood increases dramatically that the final edifice built from those parts will be sound. Moreover, if someone comes to you with an idea that contradicts one or more of your fact-bricks, you can be certain that the whole idea is nonsense and will fail.