Friday, November 24, 2017

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The Most Ignorant College Teacher of All Time

Benjamin Fong is on the faculty of the Barrett Honors College at Arizona State University (ASU), which means that this Arizonan helps to pay him through my state taxes.  But I’m more embarrassed than chagrined—embarrassed that such a dim bulb teaches at a public university.

Fong’s ignorance is on full display in his commentary pasted below this article, a commentary that was republished by the New York Times, which apparently likes dim bulbs.

Fong’s premise is that global warming is a worldwide crisis that can only be solved by doing away with capitalism and its profit motive.

Devoid of observational skills, Fong can’t see from his campus office the huge amount of energy wasted everyday by the nonprofit ASU.  Immense buildings are heated and cooled 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, but are occupied only a fraction of this time, unlike many 24/7 operations in the private sector.  Apparently, it hasn’t dawned on Fong and other faculty geniuses that the way to lower energy usage and reduce the cost of college is to offer classes year-round and around the clock.

Then there is the burning of fossil fuels for money-losing college sports, especially football and basketball, with their powerful floodlights, humongous TV screens, and chartered buses and airplanes.

Coincidentally I’m reading Red Famine, by Anne Applebaum, who details in this scholarly work of history the mass starvation inflicted on the Ukraine by Stalin and other Bolsheviks, who replaced the profit motive in agriculture with collectivization.  Today, Venezuelans are facing starvation at the hands of dictators who share Fong’s dislike of capitalism and enthusiasm for a centrally-planned economy.

If Fong would ever stroll over to the Economics department at ASU, he might learn about negative externalities.  A negative externality is created when businesses and other organizations shift costs to third parties or society as a whole.  Pollution generated by manufacturing companies becomes a negative externality if there are no consequences or costs incurred by the companies for fouling the environment.

As this former head of an environmental group knows, the most effective way of stopping the negative externality of pollution is to levy a stiff fine or tax on pollution.  That way, pollution costs are built into the cost of goods sold, which in turn reduces the demand for the goods and makes polluting firms less competitive.  By contrast, ending capitalism and the profit motive results in discarding the very economic system that excels at allocating scarce resources.

If global warming is indeed a crisis caused by the burning of fossil fuels, then a steep tax should be levied on fossil fuels.  But for heaven’s sake, don’t send any of the tax revenue to Fong and other polluters at ASU.

 

The Climate Crisis? It’s Capitalism, Stupid

Benjamin Y. Fong

THE STONE NOV. 20, 2017

Republished in the Nov. 22 New York Times

 

Even casual readers of the news know that the earth is probably going to look very different in 2100, and not in a good way.

A recent Times opinion piece included this quotation from the paleoclimatologist Lee Kump: “The rate at which we’re injecting CO2 into the atmosphere today, according to our best estimates, is 10 times faster than it was during the End-Permian.”

The End-Permian is a pre-dinosaurs era of mass extinction that killed 90 percent of the life in the ocean and 75 percent of it on land. It is also called the Great Dying. Although those who write about environmental change like to add notes of false personalization around this point — “My children will be x years old when catastrophe y happens” — there is really no good way of acclimating the mind to facts of this magnitude.

However, the cause of the disaster that, by all indications, we are already living through should be clearer. It is not the result of the failure of individuals to adopt the moralizing strictures of “green” consciousness, and it is a sign of just how far we have to go that some still believe reusable shopping bags and composting (perfectly fine in their own right) are ways out of this mess.

It is also not the deceit of specific immoral companies that is to blame: We like to pick out Volkswagen’s diesel scandal, but it is only one of many carmakers that “deliberately exploit lax emissions tests.” Nor does the onus fall on the foundering of Social Democratic reforms and international cooperation: Even before the United States backed out of the Paris Accord, we were well on our way to a 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit temperature rise by 2100, “a temperature that at times in the past has meant no ice at either pole.”

 

The real culprit of the climate crisis is not any particular form of consumption, production or regulation but rather the very way in which we globally produce, which is for profit rather than for sustainability. So long as this order is in place, the crisis will continue and, given its progressive nature, worsen. This is a hard fact to confront. But averting our eyes from a seemingly intractable problem does not make it any less a problem. It should be stated plainly: It’s capitalism that is at fault.

As an increasing number of environmental groups are emphasizing, it’s systemic change or bust. From a political standpoint, something interesting has occurred here: Climate change has made anticapitalist struggle, for the first time in history, a non-class-based issue.

Every weekday, get thought-provoking commentary from Op-Ed columnists, the Times editorial board and contributing writers from around the world.

There are many reasons we do not typically talk about climate change in this way. The wealthy are holding fast to theirs. Bought politicians and state violence are on their side. Eco-apartheid is not yet seen as full-on apartheid. Everyday people have plenty to keep up with, and they don’t want to devote their precious time off work to often tedious political meetings. The inertia, it is sad to say, makes enough sense.

Perhaps the most common belief about this problem is that it is caused by widespread ignorance — even outright “stupidity” — and that its solution lies in its opposite, intelligence. This belief is neatly expressed in progressive opposition to Donald Trump and his administration. Trump voters are often criticized for being unintelligent, for voting against their objective interests. Trump himself is regularly portrayed as unintelligent.

The basic idea is that if voters were intelligent, they would vote for an intelligent person who listened to intelligent people and all would be well. It is a staple of the liberal imaginary. Reflected here is the obtuse belief that the populist tide is simply mistaken, that it has gotten something wrong, which has the effect of veiling the real and justified dissatisfaction with the past 40 years of neoliberalism. Also reflected is the common view, which is not confined to one end of the political spectrum, that our biggest problems are essentially technical ones, and that the solution to them lies in the empowerment of intelligent people. The aura around Elon Musk is an extreme example of this kind of thinking.

The problem with the general view that intelligence will save us is that it involves pinning the failures of capitalist society on supposedly dumb people (them), who, so the logic goes, need to be replaced with supposedly smart ones (us). This is a spectacular delusion.

When a company makes a decision that is destructive to the environment, for instance, it is not because there are bad or unintelligent people in charge: Directors typically have a fiduciary responsibility that makes the bottom line their only priority. They serve a function, and if they don’t, others can take their place. If something goes wrong — which is to say, if something endangers profit making — they can serve as convenient scapegoats, but any stupid or dangerous decisions they make result from being personifications of capital.

The claim here is not that unintelligent people do not do unintelligent things, but rather that the overwhelming unintelligence involved in keeping the engines of production roaring when they are making the planet increasingly uninhabitable cannot be pinned on specific people. It is the system as a whole that is at issue, and every time we pick out bumbling morons to lament or fresh-faced geniuses to praise is a missed opportunity to see plainly the necessity of structural change.

Put differently, the hope that we can empower intelligent people to positions where they can design the perfect set of regulations, or that we can rely on scientists to take the carbon out of the atmosphere and engineer sources of renewable energy, serves to cover over the simple fact that the work of saving the planet is political, not technical. We have a much better chance of making it past the 22nd century if environmental regulations are designed by a team of people with no formal education in a democratic socialist society than we do if they are made by a team of the most esteemed scientific luminaries in a capitalist society. The intelligence of the brightest people around is no match for the rampant stupidity of capitalism.

On the defensive for centuries, socialists have become quite adept at responding to objections from people for whom the basic functions of life seem difficult to reproduce without the motive power of capital. There are real issues here, issues that point to the opacity of sociability, as Bini Adamczak’s recent book, “Communism for Kids,” playfully explores. But the burden of justification should not fall on the shoulders of those putting forward an alternative. For anyone who has really thought about the climate crisis, it is capitalism, and not its transcendence, that is in need of justification. And don’t be surprised, or fooled, when its defenders point to the tireless work of intelligent people.

______________

Benjamin Y. Fong is a faculty fellow at Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University, the author of “Death and Mastery: Psychoanalytic Drive Theory and the Subject of Late Capitalism,” and an editor at Damage Magazine.

Sexual Harassment: a Problem of Leadership, not HR

During much of my corporate career, I was a human resources executive for large companies, where I fired scores of jerks and creeps for sexual harassment, long before harassment became headline news.

I also was once falsely accused of sexual harassment by a nut-job of a woman.  Fortunately, her female manager knew that the allegation was totally false, because, unbeknownst to the accuser, the manager had observed the interaction in question and listened in on the conversation between me and her.  When the manager subsequently asked me what should be done about the accuser, I responded, “Get her psychiatric help.”

I later changed careers, because, among other reasons, the human resources profession was becoming just another bloated, ineffective staff function addicted to government regulations, in bed with big government, and clueless about human dynamics and organizational effectiveness.  I went on to publish a management book on the bureaucratization of HR and American business and wrote related commentaries for journals and newspapers.

One of my commentaries for the Wall Street Journal spoke about this problem of bureaucratization and caused a stir with the Society for Human Resources Management, which like so many professional associations, existed to further its own interests, to the detriment of workplace harmony and productivity.

My wife, who also is an atypical HR executive, retires in January after a career of dealing with jerks and creeps.   When she was a twenty-something early in her career before I met her, a middle-aged executive forcibly French-kissed her.   No, he was not a member of Congress or a noted media personality, but he was an obvious creep and jerk in many other ways.  And therein lies the root problem of sexual harassment.

In almost all cases, a harasser exhibits other bad behavior and bad judgment.  He is a blowhard, a bigshot wannabe, a bully, a ladies man in his own mind, a hypocrite who says all the right things but does all the wrong things, or a party-goer who drinks too much at company functions.

Speaking of company functions, a company that has alcohol and dancing at corporate gatherings is asking for trouble.  Likewise, trouble can be expected when men are allowed to behave like lotharios at company functions, and women are allowed to show up in slinky cocktail dresses with their cleavage showing.  That’s a commentary on human nature, not a prudish comment.

Women who make false accusations of sexual harassment also tend to have telltale signs of being unbalanced.  They are obsessed with their looks, they dress like female newscasters on Fox News, and they date or marry men who exhibit bad behavior and bad judgment.

Ultimately, however, sexual harassment is a problem of leadership—or, more accurately, a lack of leadership.  Leaders who are role models of proper decorum, who exhibit sensitivity to perceptions and feelings, and who swiftly deal with bad behavior will have far fewer claims of sexual harassment in their organizations than leaders who do the opposite or who delegate their leadership responsibilities to human resources.

What does leadership look like?  Here’s an example:  One time I was on a business trip with four male managers and one female manager of a department that I had recently begun managing for an old-line industrial company.  I later found out that after a group dinner, the four good ole boys had gone to a strip club instead of retiring to their rooms or finding a social activity that the female could participate in without feeling uncomfortable.  The next day I chewed out the men, put them on notice, and resolved to fire them if they couldn’t regain my trust.  They were shocked, because the previous senior management had always condoned or even modeled improper behavior.

Apparently, those in authority never had this kind of conversation early on with Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Roy Moore, Al Franken, and other creeps and jerks.  They should be fired for this egregious failure of leadership.

News Roundup 11/22/17

  • The FCC looks to roll back Obama-era net neutrality regulations. [Link]
  • Patrick Cockburn explains how the US and Saudi Arabia could cause war in the Middle East. [Link]
  • The US has added nearly 14,000 troops and contractors to the Middle East in the past four months. [Link]
  • The US closed the PLO office in DC. In response, Palestinian leadership cut communications with the US. [Link]
  • Trump labels North Korea a state sponsor of terror. [Link]
  • 50 have been killed in a suicide bombing in Nigeria. [Link]
  • Robert Mugabe steps down as Zimbabwe’s president. [Link]
  • Putin met with Assad in Russia. Putin announced plans to call Trump. [Link]
  • Lebanon’s Prime Minister returns to Lebanon. [Link]
  • Turkey banned all LBGT events in the counties capital. [Link]
  • The Pentagon now says the US has 14,000 troops in Afghanistan. [Link]
  • The US will now target the opium market in Afghanistan. [Link]
  • The Washington Post editorial board covered the war in Yemen without mentioning the US support for war crimes. [Link]

Yikes.

Yellen says Fed needs to avoid ‘boom-bust’cycle in economy — as she hikes rates at the top of the bubble …

News Roundup 11/20/17

  • Trump adds five names to list of potential Supreme Court nominees. [Link]
  • Trump threatens to close the Palestinian Liberation Organization office in DC if the Palestinians do not engage in talks with Israel. The PLO responded by saying they would end communications with the Trump administration if the PLO office in DC was closed. [Link]
  • Chicago had the countries first “mass exoneration” letting 15 men go free. Up to 500 cases are in question because a pack of police officers have been exposed for framing several people. [Link]
  • Representative John Duncan is covering the out of control military budget. [Link]
  • More US troops are dying in war zones for the first time in six years. [Link]
  • The US is beginning research into ground-based cruise missiles. A treaty bans with Russia bans the US from making ground-based cruise missiles. [Link]
  • US government financial incentives are causing Europeans to adopt Russia-gate narratives. [Link]
  • A Marine killed a Japanese citizen in a car crash. The US Marine was intoxicated. [Link]
  • US warship collides with Japanese tugboat. The 7th fleet has now had five incidents where US ships took damage this year. [Link]
  • Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe refuses to step down as president. [Link] Zimbabwe’s political leaders have united in calls for Mugabe to step down. [Link] Thousands of protesters marched against Mugabe. [Link] Mugabe has been removed as the leader of Zimbabwe’s ruling political party. [Link]
  • Moon of Alabama on Turkey’s questionable future in NATO. [Link]
  • Turkey’s president pulls Turkish troops from NATO exercises in Norway. [Link]
  • Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hariri made it to France on Saturday and meet with Marcon. Hariri’s three youngest children remain in Saudi Arabia. Hariri said he will return to Lebanon soon. [Link]
  • The Iraqi Kurdish government announce their support for a united Iraq. [Link]
  • US airstrikes are causing 31 times more civilian deaths than claimed by the US. [Link] One in every five airstrikes hits a civilian. [Link]
  • The Iraqi army has seized the last urban area held by ISIS. [Link]
  • An IS suicide bomber killed 20 near Deir Ezzor. [Link]
  • 130 children die every day in Yemen. [Link]
  • Saudi Arabia blocks ’60 Minutes’ from entering Yemen. The show was still about to get some footage on the horrifying conditions in Yemen. [Link]

News Roundup 11/17/17

  • The judge has declared a mistrial in Senator Bob Menendez’s corruption case. [Link]
  • The House passes a tax reform bill. [Link]
  • 5,000 barrels of oil have spilled from the Dakota Access Pipeline. [Link]
  • Dan McAdams explains how the US plans to influence Hungarian elections. [Link]
  • Daniel Davis argues war with North Korea is now “likely” but there is still a chance for diplomacy. [Link]
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies has been pushing the idea of putting THAAD missiles in South Korea. THAAS missiles are made by a top donor of CSIS, Lockheed Martian. [Link]
  • The Libyan economy is in a downslide since the US war in 2011. [Link]
  • African countries are attempting to peacefully transition President Mugabe from power. [Link]
  • Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hariri plans to leave Saudi Arabia Saturday for France. [Link]
  • Afghanistan 2017 opium crop sets records of land use and weight produced. The anti-opium effort destroyed a record amount of opium. [Link]
  • 14 people were killed in a suicide attack in Kabul. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility. [Link]
  • Inspector general report finds US troops were informally told to ignore child sex abuse. [Link]
  • Fighting is increasing in Syria near Damascus. The Syrian government is increasing airstrikes targeting rebels. The rebels have shelled Damascus. [Link]

News Roundup 11/16/17

  • The FDA announces they will begin seizing shipments of kratom. [Link]
  • Trump ends his Asia trip and skips the East Asia Summit. [Link]
  • China will send a high-level envoy to North Korea. [Link]
  • South Korea says the US needs their consent before attacking North Korea. [Link]
  • Zimbabwe’s president has been placed under house arrest. [Link]
  • A new House bill will provide oversight of US aid to Israel. The bill hopes to prevent US aid from going to abusing Palestinian children. [Link]
  • The EU calls on Lebanon’s Prime Minister to return to Lebanon. The prime minister is currently under house arrest in Saudi Arabia. [Link]
  • Saudi Arabia may be planning to replace Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri with his brother Bahaa. Bahaa made statement condemning Iran and Hezbollah. [Link]
  • Daniel Larison argues Saudi Arabia is a regional menace. [Link]
  • Islamic State snipers are using US weapons and equipment. [Link]
  • Mattis says the US will fight in Syria as long as IS is there to fight. [Link]
  • The spokesman of the SDF defects to Turkish backed Syrian rebels. [Link]
  • The US carried out three operations against IS in Yemen between November 10-12. [Link]

News Roundup 11/15/17

  • House votes 366-30 on a nonbinding resolution against supporting Saudi’s war in Yemen. [Link]
  • The ‘groundbreaking’ Atlantic article showing a conversation between WikiLeaks and Donald Trump Jr. was unethically edited. [Link]
  • 23 European countries sign an agreement to spend more on military and promote European military integration. [Link]
  • CNN exposes the slave trade in Libya. [Link]
  • In Libya, militants are cutting water to cities to negotiate with the governments. [Link]
  • Tanks of entered the capital city of Zimbabwe. Reports suggest that the military may attempt to remove the 93-year-old President Mugabe from power. [Link] The military declared they had control of the capital city but were not carrying out a coup. [Link]
  • Johnathan Marshall on the US Terror War expanding into Africa. [Link]
  • On Sunday night, the Taliban attacked 15 different Afghan police posts and killed 27 Afghan police. [Link]
  • In Syria, 53 people were killed in a market by airstrikes. Russia likely carried out the strikes. [Link]
  • Turkish President Erdogan suggests Turkey may attack the Syrian Kurds. [Link]
  • Russia’s Foreign Minister said Russia has not ensured Iranian backed forces will leave Syria. [Link]
  • Iraq/Iran earthquake death toll now at 530. [Link]
  • Saudi Arabia bombed the airport in Yemen. The destruction of the airport will make it more difficult to get starving people food. [Link]
  • 47 people were killed in a suicide attack in the southern Yemen. The last time this target was attacked, IS claimed responsibility. [Link]

News Roundup 11/14/17

  • Trump nominates Alex Azar to be Health and Human Services Secretary. Azar spent the past ten years working for Eli Lilly. [Link]
  • 140 Minnesota police officers have been convicted of crimes. Several officers who are still on the job have been convicted of violent crimes. [Link]
  • The State Department spends $480,000 on training one person to speak one language. [Link]
  • A Green Beret was killed in Mali by two Navy SEALs after the Green Beret uncovered the SEALs stealing money. [Link]
  • A breakaway region of Somalia, Somaliland, held presidential elections Monday. [Link]
  • A North Korean soldier defected to South Korea. The soldier was hit by gunfire from North Koreans as he fled. [Link]
  • North Korea sends a letter to the UN about US aggression. [Link]
  • Israel will destroy a Palestinian village and displace 300 people. [Link]
  • Alastair Crooke on Saudi Arabia’s Middle East gamble. [Link]
  • Paul Cochrane on the history of and split in the GCC. [Link]
  • BBC documents the deal cut between the US/SDF and ISIS. The deal allowed IS fighters, including foreign fighters, to escape the city of Raqqa. EHSANI22 claims IS allowed the SDF to take the Omar oil fields in exchange. [Link] [Link]
  • Saudi Arabia continues to block ports and airports in Northern Yemen. [Link]
  • House passes a non-binding resolution that declares the US role in Saudi’s war against Yemen is unauthorized. [Link]

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Tom Woods interviews me about the terror wars.

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