An EU in the Mideast

European history consists of century after century of horrible wars. These wars involved virtually every European nation. No century passed without wars, and some wars lasted decades. Nobody really wins a war because the loser recovers and much later goes to war against its former conquerer. The mightiest empires eventually fell.

But this ended with the post-World War II era.

The Marshall Plan rebuilt Europe and restored the basis for peaceful life. But Joseph Stalin, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War prevented a broader peace until its collapse in 1989. For many of us, it was only then that we fully appreciated how badly the USSR had failed, when we saw that cities destroyed by WWII were still rubble. In all that time the USSR had failed to help with recovery, and most citizens were poor.

But following the war, many European leaders realized that if the nations of Europe were linked by common economic interests the chances for peace and prosperity would be greatly enhanced. Warring against your trading partner is warring against yourself. The European Union was born, followed later by adoption of a common currency, the Euro.

No one would suggest that this process has been smooth, particularly following the global economic crash of 2008. Nor is there agreement on how to solve problems, some of which result from the failure to establish a central bank with sufficient authority.

But in general it worked. There has been no significant military violence in Europe since WWII. All the current violence emanates from the Middle East.

In the Middle East, the Turks commit violence against the Kurds. Iran and Iraq have waged horrible wars against each other. Yemen is an ongoing disaster. Arabs everywhere hate Israel. Endless war has plagued Afghanistan. Syria is ruled by a murderous tyrant. Tribal terrorists and religious zealots murder at random. And so on.

Overlying it all is the violent animosity between the various brands of Islam, and between militant Islam and practically everyone else, including peaceful citizens all over the Western world.

This would seem to be an unlikely setting in which an entity emulating the EU could arise, and yet, it may be the world’s best hope for Middle East peace in the longer term. With the violent animosities that have kept all these places at a fever pitch for so long, it would probably take much longer for them to be linked in such ways that would make violence too costly.

If such an organization should arise, it would be different from the EU. But suppose three of the more peaceful nations saw the advantages an agreement would have for just the three of them. If they were successful, and no longer had to waste money on unwinnable wars, in time other nations would recognize their advantages and want to join them. If that happened, time would make a regional economic union advantageous.

The biggest roadblock for such a union would doubtless be religious. Not that Europe was without religious conflict. Catholics, Protestants, and Jews, as well as minor religions all caused violent wars and upheavals—which even today have not vanished completely.

But the senseless violence between Sunni and Shia Islam has been going on for over a thousand years, and it will take a monumental effort to end it. All is not lost, however, because all such violence reduces the wealth, wellbeing, and safety of both parties, so there are advantages to peace here too.

Despite the flaws inherent in the European Union, particularly in the weak design of the banking system, which for example didn’t allow the EU to assist Greece by relieving its unpayable debt in spite of a common currency, the EU has provided tremendous strength for nations that were previously at constant war for many centuries.

The nations of the Middle East are markedly different from those of Europe, mostly because of religion, but there is reason to suppose that a long-term effort to build an economic union would make the Middle East less bellicose and more focussed on the quality of life for its citizens.

Two New Tools For Cops

Have you ever seen a video of a cop trying to handcuff a big guy who is face down and really doesn’t want to be cuffed? The crook wants his palms down so he can push up and fight, the cop wants his arm down, palm up, so he can’t. The cop gets his arm down, the guy gets it back up. The cop gets it down and tries to get a cuff on him. The guy doesn’t allow it, and so on and on. Eventually he gets a cuff on, and then there’s the other side.

This goes on for quite some time, often accompanied by several Taser shocks, until finally, at long last, the guy is cuffed behind his back, and the arrest can proceed. The cop is furious and exhausted.

Unfortunately, the guy sometimes gets shot or strangled in the process.

Here’s an idea for redesigned cuffs for wrists and ankles that largely does away with all the wrestling. The ankle cuffs may become the preferred ones.

Both upper and lower cuffs are constructed the same way. Both are constructed of tough but flexible material such as plastic or nylon. Their operation is similar to standard handcuffs: they may be tightened by squeezing the ratchets, but may only be released with a key.

These cuffs are different from standard cuffs in that they are connected by a tough tape whose end is attached to one cuff, passing through a bracket in the second, and ending at a handle that is used to pull the cuffs together. The tape is then locked to the second cuff with a ratchet device that is only unlocked with a key.

The tape between the handcuffs may be about four feet long, ending in a strong handle. The ankle cuff tape may be six feet or so, ending with the same handle. The ankle cuffs may prove more useful against a resisting prisoner because the ankles are in a weaker position when face down. In fact, if an ankle is raised, the leg is in its weakest position and is easily cuffed. The long tape puts the prisoner out of reach of the arresting officers once it’s on.

In either case, once the cuffs are tightened and pulled together the prisoner is easily controlled. The prisoner can be released and the arresting officers can back away. With ankle cuffs, the prisoner can roll over and sit up, but if he attempts to stand a quick jerk on the tape will seat him again. He can only get relief by accepting hand cuffs, so that the ankles can be released.

With the handcuffs on, the prisoner can easily be jerked into submission if need be with the handle at the end of the tape. It isn’t necessary to put hands on the prisoner except to prevent him from purposely injuring his head on the police car.

The cuffs construction, with a long tape connecting them, will easily overcome most of the resistance a prisoner might muster, and the safety of the arresting officers is more easily maintained.

Published in: on 2016/09/08 at 12:12 pm  Comments (1)  
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What is Patriotism?

Remember “freedom fries”? Remember the little flag in the lapel that all the politicians felt compelled to wear? Remember all the deification of the flag, the flaming rage if we don’t all worship it? That’s what Republicans think patriotism is?

A lot of people think anyone who doesn’t think “We’re Number One” is not a patriot.

And there are those who think an athlete who refuses to stand and put hand over heart when the national anthem plays cannot possibly be a patriot. Donald Trump thinks anyone like that should look for another country to live in. One sports exec called him a traitor. Does he say that about Jackie Robinson, because Jackie refused to rise and all that? Does he say that about all the other athletes, past and present, who support him? How about all the military people?

Oh, but Jackie is a national hero. Really? When Jackie joined the Brooklyn Dodgers not a single game went by without jeers and calls of “Go back home, nigger” from dozens of white “patriots”.

Here’s what I think. Patriotism has absolutely nothing to do with the kinds of superficial worship that so many US American citizens believe in.

The United States of America is an amazing and wonderful country, but we have a very bad habit of ignoring the many terrible parts of our history and our unending intolerance. Few of us, for example, appreciate what the terrible, terrible practice of slavery really meant for those who passed their entire lives enslaved, subject to brutal or fatal beatings, being sold to cruel masters, having one’s family torn apart, and so on.

Even after Emancipation, there was frequent murder by lynching with rope or fire, which didn’t end until well into the 20th century, and was gradually followed by Jim Crow laws designed to suppress every single right of black citizens, followed by unpunished murder of unarmed, peaceful black citizens, and practices designed to prevent blacks from practicing their legal right to vote—and that brings us right up to date. Certain states, having been chastised by federal officials for discriminatory voting laws, drummed up new laws to do exactly the same thing, keep blacks from voting.

So what should patriotism mean to people who have been treated like this? Are they supposed to stand with hand over heart and to feel a deep pride in what their country has meant to them?

But so far I’ve mentioned only the descendants of African slaves. My bet is that the great majority of US Americans fail to appreciate what their government has meant to so many others. How many really understand that the government sent gunmen into thousands of peaceful Indian villages where they killed every man, woman, and child? How many know that white bandits rode into the Southwest and drove all the Mexicans off the land they had managed for centuries, killing many of them.

How many know that President Jefferson, a slave owner, destroyed the economy of Haiti because  he feared a slave uprising in the US? And that this destruction lasted until the 1940s? How many patriotic Americans have heard of the Chinese Exclusion Act? How many realize that hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans were placed in desolate concentration camps for the duration of WWII, after which they lost everything they owned?

So I ask, Who is the patriot, the one who thinks everything has always been good and fair, or the one who knows all these things and more, and refuses to think we have lived up to our promise?

How about the ones who think We’re Number One!?

Number one at what? Here’s what we’re number one at among the advanced nations of the world: the greatest percentage of our citizens imprisoned; the highest poverty rate; the most children in poverty; the greatest income inequality; the worst infant mortality rate; the greatest prevalence of mental health problems; the highest percentage lacking health care due to cost; the shortest life expectancy; the most spent on military; the highest high school dropout rate (with a few exceptions for some of these; thank you Yes Magazine). In other words, as Number One we should be at the top of the list, but in fact we’re nearly at the bottom in most of the important ways.

So, is a patriot someone who understands the realism of these failings, or someone who pretends all is well?

There is no doubt where I stand. We live in a wonderful place, but the faults of our government over its entire history have been many and costly, and the hatreds among too many of our citizens make my heart sink. Until we understand how we have failed, until we realize that patriotism cannot rest on superficial things like flags, until we treat each other fairly, until all the items in the list above improve for everyone, patriotism rings hollow and pointless.

Anyone who doesn’t feel patriotic and refuses to pretend should be someone we listen to carefully.

How the GOP Can Rejoin the Real World

The Republican Party used to be reasonable. Worthy people used to be members, and leaders. The platform was reasonable. Now, in the age of Trump, and state parties built on deceit and sheer racism, all reason is gone, and the GOP has sunk to the bottom. If the party is to survive, it will have to jettison everything and rebuild based on real principles. Here are some things they might think about.

1. Quit your obstructionism and get to work. During the Obama administration you have devoted literally your entire effort to opposing everything President Obama promoted, and paid no attention to the welfare of the nation. That was your publicly stated goal, an anti-goal, and not what Congress members are elected to do.

You have been remarkably unproductive. You have refused to consider new laws. You have been on vacation for unprecedented periods. You have blocked hundreds of civil appointments, leaving dozens of departments severely shorthanded. This has cost the country hundreds of millions, contrary to your belief that it would save money. You have even failed to fulfill your constitutional mandate to consider the president’s non-controversial nomination for the vacant Supreme Court chair.

This obstructionism has made it necessary for the president to function mostly by executive authority during the past four years. The country is supposed to function by rational debate within Congress, but you have simply abdicated your responsibility and devoted full time to obstruction.

2. Create wealth for the poor, not the rich. Giving huge sums of wealth to the very wealthiest results in ever increasing inequality and poverty. The rich do not build factories and hire workers; they hoard their wealth and put it in financial manipulation investments that help no one.

The quality of democracy does not depend on how much wealth the richest have; it is determined by the quality of life for the poorest. Amazingly, the quality of life for the poorest depends most on equality of opportunity and the satisfaction of essential needs, including medical care, education, and old age security. High income is unimportant.

Several Republican governors have tried yet again to prove what has been disproven many times. Tax breaks for the rich in these states predictably resulted in reduced revenue, which then made it necessary to reduce crucial budgets such as education and public safety. It also resulted in job loss. The rich do not create jobs and economic equality. Better pay among low income folks does that.

This means that the GOP, if it is to adopt its own principles from just 70 years ago, will have to acknowledge that policies that work toward a just distribution of the national wealth will in fact create more equality, employment, and national wealth.

3. Embrace science. Science is nonpartisan. It is not necessary to “believe in” science, because science is completely independent of belief. We discover how the world works through the techniques of science.

Climate change is the best current illustration of discovering reality through science. We were warned by hundreds of scientists decades ago about the extreme danger that global warming would eventually create, because that’s what findings in their various fields indicated, and now all their predictions are coming to pass. Every year is hotter than the last, nearly every month is hotter than the previous year. Weather extremes of all sorts are creating increasingly expensive havoc and sending lives topsy-turvy.

The tragedy is that the GOP and corporations whose profit depends on climate change not happening have for decades denied what cannot be denied simply because to accept it would limit their greed. Corporations spent many millions to prove the climate wasn’t changing when it clearly was, and now we all will pay for this greed. The tragic fires and floods we are currently experiencing are two expensive ways we will pay, but far worse events are coming.

Science has something to say about religion too. Republicans can embrace the real parts of every religion that are important to people’s lives, but the Constitution forbids a state church, and we cannot conduct state business based on unsupportable beliefs.

Religion is very important to billions of people, but heaven and hell are not actual places that can be located. The GOP must accept what we know now: that the universe is 13.8 billion years old, that Earth is 4.5 billion years old, that human life evolved from the same life that everything else evolved from, resulting in the human species just 200,000 years ago, and much more.

4. Quit resisting restrictions on weapons of war. Nobody needs an assault weapon any more than they need a mortar or a flamethrower. There are very valid reasons to forbid certain persons from having any kind of gun at all. Don’t worry, the Second Amendment is not going away, but we have gotten ourselves in a hell of a fix because of so many millions of guns, too many in the hands of dangerous people.

There are plenty of other things the Republican Party can do to rejoin the real world, but these few suggestions will give you a good start. We need the GOP, but we cannot afford any more fantasy governing.

Hear the Hater Complaints

Donald Trump has done an excellent job of whipping up irrational hatreds, mostly of angry whites. He has taught them that hate is now acceptable, so they feel free to get in the faces of ordinary peaceful people and scream, their faces contorted with rage, that whatever person of color is currently in front of them has ruined everything and should go back where they came from. Some of them pull out a gun and shoot people dead, which of course Trump does not believe he is at all responsible for.

It’s really, really hard to see these people with anything but contempt, but I believe we must ignore the violence, the ignorance, the beliefs in conspiracy theories and all the rest, and ask, “Do these people have a real complaint, or is it all far right fringe irrational rage?” Certainly, their understanding of the economy is weak, and they would do well to learn how to evaluate reality.

We must realize we are not going to change these people into peaceful, tolerant folks. They have been bubbling with irrational hatreds all their lives. The only chance is with the next generation, or maybe the generation after that. Take college. Today’s haters are generally under-educated, and they may not care whether their kids learn anything, let alone go to college. They may feel that college is a waste of time and money—and for them that may be true. That belief may stem from the longstanding poverty and lack of opportunity that surrounds them. It’s a reality that college might not change.

Paul Theroux is a traveler and writer who studiously avoids the rich people in his extensive world travels, and spends all his time among the poor. In The Deep South he seeks out the many poor Americans, white and black, for whom centuries of deep poverty make life a daily struggle. These are the ones who often don’t make it into government statistics on unemployment. Some of them, black and white, are angry and racist. But they do have something to say, and they have an understanding about poverty and lack of opportunity that most of us don’t. In this book they point out several ways the government has failed them, some of them unnecessary failures.

The best thing that could happen at an angry Trump rally is a calm dialogue with some of the haters. By avoiding their prejudices and asking these persons about their lives, especially their economic history, we might learn some valuable things. We know little about them because we dismiss them after hearing their prejudices and hatreds, and because we believe they are hopeless.

There isn’t a chance in the world that a Trump presidency would be anything but a disaster for such people, because he would continue to give money to the very rich, following a roundly disproven belief that this will bring universal affluence. It does no such thing, as several Republican state governors have again proven when their state revenue crashed, making it necessary to drastically cut the budgets of crucial services such like schools. But that doesn’t deter Trumpsters, who hear only Trump’s anger and false accusations, and not the lack of rationality and the contradictions in what he says.

But Democratic presidencies also err in addressing poverty and unemployment. As I have remarked here previously, my belief is that we all fail to appreciate how much automation has taken over the work we used to do, a trend well documented by Martin Ford in The Rise of the Robots. The English economist John Maynard Keynes predicted way back about 1935 that we would reach the level of automation we now have within a century. We fulfilled his prediction, but we have done almost nothing to adjust for it.

It is time for the work week to be shortened again, as it has been several times in the past. Thirty hours is about the maximum it could be; twenty would be better. The effect of a shorter week is higher employment, lower unemployment, less homelessness, more government revenue. It’s not magic. Those who have lost control of their lives will still have great difficulty recovering, and getting a job is by itself unlikely to create tolerance. But it helps.

Trump is the creature grown from the seeds of intolerance, racism, and scientific ignorance that Republicans have cultivated for decades, a monster they can no longer control. Conditions are so extreme that it is even possible that the Republican party could actually collapse and die, since it consists of too many people who are simply ignorant of how the real world works, and who are poisoned by hatreds and racism. This would be unfortunate because even Democrats need a worthy opposition party to check excesses.

Republicans need a wise philosopher to re-evaluate what conservatism should be this century, to guide them so they can come up with policies based on reality and practicality, virtually the opposite of what they now pursue.

Meantime, it would be fruitful for Dems to find out what Trump’s Republican haters can tell us about their lives, especially their work. Better understanding of their legitimate complaints might be valuable in establishing more effective policy for all of us.

What the World Needs Now

This election sounds like a prelude to civil war, or at least martial law. Politicians speak of taming the Mideast by bombing Muslims. Trump rants, courting the NRA, villainizing everyone who isn’t white, calling for violence of all sorts. Domestic abusers buy guns easily. Angry armed white people kill innocents…

We can’t continue this way, and Trump makes it worse by the day.

As for Trump, I’m frankly worried about his mental stability. He’s obviously a raving narcissist, which is a mental health finding itself, but almost every day he says something new and alarming that goes well beyond narcissism, and even alarms his staff. On several occasions he’s asked his staff what’s wrong with using nuclear weapons, and his conspiracy claims are endless. His raving hatreds have inspired a number of threats and even fatal attacks against innocents, and he is looking very much like a similar personality in the past.

We don’t dare trust that Hillary Clinton will win without a huge effort. Trump’s angry white followers pay no attention to what he actually says, just his attitude, his blaming of practically everybody, and there are a lot of Trumpsters. Trump provides them with plenty of people of color to blame.

But if Hillary does win, aside from the many repairs of state needed from four decades of harmful Republican policy, particularly the fantasy belief that tax breaks for the rich will bring prosperity, the more important need is to cultivate a climate of tolerance and peacefulness at every level. While ending the many privileges that the very rich have devised to funnel more money to themselves is supremely important, it is the “softer” needs that will be more difficult, and probably more important.

Democrats must do a better job of listening to the Trumpsters, because they do have some legitimate complaints. However, domestic economic needs have nothing to do with the rich, and Trump’s plans would make it much worse. It is the poor who have suffered most, moreso than the middle class. And the solutions lie with helping the poor, not the rich or even the middle class, and certainly not with blaming an ethnic group for our problems.

We have a much worse problem with racism than most of us whites knew about until the Obama years, a racism that has been fully embraced by Republicans for many decades. Racism manifests in many ways, but of course the most obvious of them currently is the endless unpunished murder of unarmed African-Americans by violent police. My belief is that we finally understand what blacks have been saying all along, and the barest beginnings of improvement are being seen—I hope. If so, it may be the beginning of an improved national attitude.

Making our public attitude more calm depends greatly on the purposeful cultivation of tolerance. We must come to understand that we don’t have to like everyone, only to accept that everyone deserves everything we deserve, regardless of their color, sexual orientation, religion, or anything else.

Most people are peace-loving and law abiding, but also have legitimate complaints, even if they express them hatefully. It is unfair to judge people harshly for objecting to conditions they did not create themselves. Most people who hate being poor aren’t that interested in being rich. They just want to be treated fairly, to not be harassed because they are poor, to be reasonably paid for work, to benefit from things like a balanced education and medical care that a just democracy should provide.

Acceptance and tolerance are hard when society cheats us. So a good part of an improved attitude depends on improved justice and opportunity for everyone. If we believe we ourselves benefit from fair treatment, from equality, we are more inclined to champion justice for all. If we believe we are being mistreated, we look for someone to blame.

Trump plays to the latter, ginning up many scapegoats by race, religion, and citizenship status, and telling people he is the cure for all the problems created by his scapegoats. But the problems he claims are mostly imaginary, and he has no cure for the real ones. The great business empire and wealth he claims consists of bankruptcies and failures, and he is clueless about nearly everything else, including the Constitution. He cultivates demagoguery and understands human rights poorly.

Here are a few things we as a nation must come to understand: Refugees escaping from dangerous political situations are very rarely criminals of any sort. They must be welcomed and assisted. They have lost everything. Immigrants do not “take American jobs”. Rather, they create new jobs, pay important taxes, and improve the economy. Immigrants have always literally made the US.

It is important that Democrats adopt a persistent attitude of tolerance. We don’t have to like people in order to tolerate them. We might even dislike them, but we must protect their rights and equal treatment under the law.