Foreign Legions 13 January 2020.

A bunch of historical examples can be offered of peoples hiring foreigners to do their fighting for them.  The Roman Empire came to rely upon foreigners to fill up the ranks of the army once citizenship became de-linked from soldiering.  The Arabs recruited large numbers of Turks driven off the steppe by the Mongols.  The little Crusader states in the Holy Land depended upon the military religious orders to aggregate individual European Christian volunteers into formidable props to their survival.  The Englishmen John Smith and Guy Fawkes fought for foreign rulers.  The French and Spanish armies included regiments of Irish Catholic refugees from English Protestant oppression.  In the 19th Century both France and Spain created “Foreign Legions,” while Britain came to prize the Gurkhas.  During the Spanish Civil War, the Comintern created the “International Brigades” to fight against the Nationalists.  Muslims from many countries fought against the Soviet in Afghanistan.  Most recently, the Islamic State marshalled thousands of foreign volunteers under its black flag.[1]

The death of Qassim Suleimani brought some peripheral notice of his reliance upon “foreign legions” to fight as Iranian proxies.[2]  Suleimani adroitly used both Shi’ite and—less frequently–Sunni militias on behalf of his government’s long-term effort to expand Iran’s influence in the Middle East.  Suleimani deployed these militias in the civil wars in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, while Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza are closely linked to Iran.  This policy brought so much success that Iran is unlikely to abandon it just because its original architect is dead.

Foreign volunteers have reasons for signing-up.  Some come for adventure; some are inspired by religious or ideological commitment; some are veteran soldier seeking something that civilian life can’t provide.  The motives for governments that recruit foreign volunteers are less varied.  Where military service has become socially undesirable or where the native population possesses skills too great to be wasted on the battlefield, foreign troops allow a country to punch above its weight.  Foreign soldiers cost only money.  No one cares if they die.

Only about one percent of Americans do military service.  Most of those who do serve come from the South and from military families living close to bases scattered through the South and West.[3]  Over three-quarters (79 percent) of Army enlistees have a family member who has served in the military; almost a third (30 percent) have a parent who has served.  Inevitably, that means that casualties are similarly distributed.  This trend has been developing ever since the military became All Volunteer in 1973.  There’s a political element to this as well.  Politically liberal areas often resist military recruiters in the schools and universities, while liberal parents rarely have done military service.  Young people have few models of military service.

Is this one reason for the “forever wars”?

No, I’ve never been a soldier.

[1] See: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2015/02/24/the-islamic-brigades-1/; https://waroftheworldblog.com/2015/05/08/the-islamic-brigades-ii/; and https://waroftheworldblog.com/2016/06/17/the-islamic-brigades-iii/

[2] Karim Sadjadpour, “The Sinister Genius of Soleimani,” WSJ, 11-12 January 2020; Dion Nissenbaum and Isabel Coles, “Iraqi Militias Remain a Wild Card,” WSJ, 10 January 2020.

[3] David Philipps and Tim Arango, “The Call to Serve Is Being Unevenly Embraced,” NYT, 11 January 2020.

Taking It to the Streets 6 August 2019.

When I’m in Easton, Pennsylvania on weekends, I take the dog for a walk.  He’s intrepid, so sometimes we go down to “The Circle.” From there up Northampton Avenue, there’s a lot of public assistance housing.  Nice—if unhealthy-looking—people to talk to on a Sunday morning.[1]

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that 550,000 people are “homeless” in America.[2]  Geographically, the homeless are not evenly distributed.  About 25 percent (137,000) live in California, which has about 12 percent of the nation’s  population.  Another 65,000 people (or about 6 percent) live in New York City.  Even within California, the homeless are not evenly distributed.  About 45 percent (59,000 out of 137,000) live in the Los Angeles area, while 8,000 live in San Francisco.  However, the homeless population in Los Angeles has grown by 12 percent since 2018 and the homeless population in San Francisco has grown by 17 percent since 2017.

Economists point to a steep rise in prices for a limited housing stock in California.  Since 2013, the median rent in Los Angeles rose almost three times faster than did median income.[3]  Now, one-third of renters pay at least half their monthly income for housing.[4]  What is implied is that the “marginal” people get forced out of whatever ramshackle accommodations (called “flop-houses” in a less-enlightened time) they have found by rising property values/rents.

Substance abuse is a major contributor to homelessness and other things.  Among the Seattle’s homeless, for example, an estimated 80 percent have drug or alcohol problems.

Apparently, the “homeless” don’t want to be in city-provided “homes.”  New York City—with the abominable winter and summer climates (and delightful springs and falls) of the Mid-Atlantic states–provides shelter accommodation for 61,000 people, about 95 percent of its approximately 65,000 homeless population.  In contrast, Los Angeles—which has a temperate climate—has only 25 percent of its homeless population in shelters.  Building shelters or low-income housing may not appeal to the homeless.  Freeway underpasses are good enough for them.  Perhaps, what they’re after—other than getting high—isn’t offered by America?

Do cities entice homeless people to move there?  In 2007, Los Angeles announced that the city would no longer enforce a law against sleeping on the sidewalk in the 50-block “Skid Row” area.   Perhaps 10,000 people now live there.  So, IDK.

[1] Kris Kristofferson, “Sunday Morning Sidewalk.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbqGWTxwZEA

[2] “Living on the Streets,” The Week, 9 August 2019, p. 11.  How many of them are illegal immigrants or “asylum-seekers” from Central America?  My money would be on none.  If I am correct, that might—or might not—say something about the nature of the problem.

[3] 67 percent v. 23 percent.

[4] In areas around Boston in the 1980s, rents were high.  Low-income graduate students had to scramble.  I shared a one-bedroom apartment with a South Korean couple; I shared a two bedroom house in Somerville  with another graduate student; and then I shared a three bedroom apartment above Oak Square with two other friends.  My then-future wife shared an apartment with a couple of friends, then moved to a big group house.  So, being “poor” doesn’t have to mean being “homeless.”  None of this has anything to do with the actual homeless.  “Homeless” people aren’t grad students.  My question is what “life-style” do the poor have a right to expect?  This is a poorly-articulated political dispute between Democrats and Republicans.  Part of the problem seems to be that Republicans admit that society isn’t fair, but believe that human ability can overcome those problems, while Democrats claim that society is so unfair that no amount of human ability can overcome these barriers.  IDK where I stand on this exactly.  Just being a jerk here, I realize.

The News 6 August 2019.

Pro-Trump News.

The Supreme Court (5-4) allowed the administration to—temporarily–shift $2.5 million from the defense budget to building border walls.[1]

Anti-Trump News.

During the first segment of the second round of the Democratic debates, rivals–of most of whom no one has ever heard–heaped abuse on Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders for their “radical” proposals—like “VA for All.”[2]  According to the critics, their plans are too extreme for many Democratic voters and for all “swing” voters.  So, in sports terms, “Go Big AND Go Home.”  “Mayor Pete”—what were the Immigration clerks on Ellis Island thinking that day?—tried to sell a more middle-of-the-road plan: “Medicare for all who want it.”[3]

There was a strong backlash against President Trump’s criticism of Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD).[4]  Congressman Cummings had criticized the treatment of the large numbers of people being held in border detention facilities.  As with his criticism of “The Squad,” the president basically said “Go back where you came from [Baltimore] and fix that before you criticize me!”  The president described Baltimore as a “disgusting rat and rodent infested mess.”

As with his criticism of “The Squad,” Democrats denounced Trump’s attack as “racist.”[5]  So, what is “racism” in the liberal understanding?  Slavery was racist.  Jim Crow was racist.  “Red-lining” was racist.  Racial and religious real-estate “covenants” are racist.  Employment discrimination is racist.  Is “white flight” racist?  Are “bourgeois values” racist?  Is affirmative action racist?  Is criticism of individual persons of color, on whatever grounds, racist?

Still, is Donald Trump a “racist”?  Very likely.[6]  Michael Cohen, once his attorney, recalled riding through Chicago with Trump.  Not-yet-President Trump remarked that “only blacks could live like this.”  For how many American voters does Donald Trump speak?

[1] “Supreme Court accepts wall construction,” The Week, 9 August 2019, p. 6.

[2] Petty self-interest prompts a question.  If you wipe out all private health insurance, what will happen to the stock value of the companies that provide health insurance?  About half of American workers have 401k retirement plans.  Most of these include health insurance company stocks in their portfolios in various mixes.

[3] “Moderates vs. progressives in Democratic debates,” The Week, 9 August 2019, p. 5.

[4] “Baltimore: Why Trump called it ‘disgusting’ and ‘infested’,” The Week, 9 August 2019, p.6.  My guess would be that he took a break from “Fox and Friends” to binge-watch “The Wire.”  I can’t imagine him in a limo going north on I-95, then suddenly telling his Secret Service driver to “Get off here, go west on Pulaski Highway, and then look for a sign for “The Gold Club.”  Wait.  What am I saying?  Yes, I can.  See: https://www.yelp.com/biz/the-gold-club-baltimore?osq=Full+Nude+Strip+Club

[5] Prominent denouncifiers included Charles Blow, a columnist for the New York Times.  Apparently, Blow does not read the Times.  Back in March 2019, the NYT Magazine ran a scalding piece on the collapse of city government and public order in Baltimore after Freddy Grey got arrested-to-death by the BPD.  Meanwhile, the Baltimore Sun confessed that Baltimore does have a problem with rodents.

[6] At least he is anti-African-American, anti-African, and anti-mestizo.  It isn’t clear what are his views on East Asian and South Asian people.  Trump pretty clearly isn’t an anti-Semite.  But is Philo-Semitism “racist”?  If so, a bunch of Americans are in trouble.  Does one have to think all races are inferior to one’s own race to be a racist, or is it enough to think that one race is inferior to all other races to be a racist?  On the other hand, the attack by both Mayor Bill DiBlasio and the Editorial Board of the New York Times on Asian students attending the elite high schools in New York City might strike some people as racist.

The Worst President Ever 5 July 2019.

Typically, the popular understanding of American history is that the Revolution gave rise to the Articles of Confederation (the first government of the United States); then that ramshackle arrangement soon proved unsatisfactory to many people; and then the present Constitution created the legal framework for subsequent American history.  In fact, there existed deep divide over several issues.  First, federalism (a union of sovereign stares) versus nationalism (a union of states under a strong central government).  Second, the divide—which would only grow until our own time—over who got to be a full “American.”  Those arguments had to be fought out over many presidential administrations.

Many of the contentious issues that would shape American society down to the present day became evident in the administration of Andrew Jackson (1767-1845).  Jackson served as the seventh president of the United States (1830-1838)

He believed that the final interpreter of the Constitution was the President, not the Supreme Court or the individual states.  It is in this light that one must see his opposition to John Calhoun’s doctrine of “interposition,[1] rather than in some doctrine of general federal supremacy.

He believed in the forced removal of the Native Americans to lands west of the Mississippi.  In 1830, he signed a federal law, the Indian Removal Act, which ordered the rapid evacuation of Native Americans from the Southeastern United States.[2]  He defied the Supreme Court to do so.

He opposed the Second Bank of the United States.  The Bank sold government bonds to finance the deficit; it issued a “sound” paper currency that allowed the economy to expand; and it provided credit for business.  In this sense, it served as a predecessor for the Federal Reserve System.  He believed that the Bank endangered American democracy and prosperity by concentrating excessive wealth and power in a few hands.  He vetoed the renewal of its government charter.

Jackson then began shifting federal funds from the Bank to a number of “pet” banks in the state.  Many of the “pet” banks were located in the West.  The principal use of credit in the West was land speculation.  This led to easy credit from the “pet” banks and much speculation in land.  At the same time, Eastern banks found themselves with declining reserves, so they raised interest rates.  In 1836, in an effort to rein-in speculation, Jackson issued a requirement that federal lands sold to the public be paid for in gold or silver, rather than in the inflated paper currency issued by state banks.  This “Specie Circular” was one, important, factor among several causes of the “Panic of 1837.”   The resulting recession dragged on into the 1840s.

A pre-Keynesian, he eliminated the deficit and paid off the national debt.

He appointed Roger B. Taney to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  In the “Dred Scott Decision” (1857), Taney and the majority held that a) African-Americans could not be citizens, and b) that slavery could not be prohibited in the territories.

So, arguably, America’s worst president.

[1] “Interposition” meant that individual states could block the local enforcement of federal laws which the state government considered to be unconstitutional.

[2] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_Removal_Act.  Enforcement of the Act resulted in the “Trail of Tears.”  See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trail_of_Tears

My Weekly Reader A 19 June 2019.

In traditional societies, people found their identity within and as members of groups.  In the Medieval and Early Modern West, for example, the Christian churches taught morality and sponsored religious confraternities.  The peasant agricultural societies portrayed by Pieter Breughel involved much group labor and existed within the framework of village life.  European cities were governed by professional groups (guilds) and had purchased various group “privileges” from local lords or more distant kings.  People belonged to hereditary “orders” like Commoners and Aristocrats.  These societies existed within belief systems and economic systems that offered little individual choice.

Then things changed.  It took hundreds of years, but intellectual, political, and economic systems all changed.  The Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment created a skepticism about all received wisdom.  The Voyages of Discovery and the Agricultural Revolution began an economic revolution that spurred rapid growth in both population and wealth.  Rising distrust of received beliefs, an absolute confidence in the power of human Reason,[1] and the growth of a complex middle class then rocked the political system with an Age of Revolutions.[2]

A central feature of all these changes was the rise of Individualism.  Essentially, people aren’t Lego blocks.  Each person is different—if only in subtle and minor ways–from every other person.  Only the Individual person knows what is best for that person: strength and weaknesses, and hopes and fears.  Hence, society and government should seek to maximize the opportunity for Individual fulfillment.  This Individual freedom should be limited only by the requirement that one Individual’s freedom do no harm to the freedom of other Individuals.

This belief system gave rise to Nineteenth Century Liberalism and, by way of reaction, to Nineteenth Century Socialism.  Political Liberalism espoused individual equality before the law, individual rights guaranteed by law, governments answering to elected legislature, and freedom of the press and of thought.  Economic Liberalism espoused economic individualism, free markets, competition, free trade within and between nations, and a small government that concentrated on the essential functions of law and order and national defense.  What Liberals didn’t believe in was either equality or democracy.  Competition—between producers, political parties, and ideas—produced both winners and losers according to the informed choices of consumers.  The whole of society benefitted from competition even when individuals lost.  Similarly, people without the education necessary to understand the competition of ideas and parties, and people with no material stake (property) in the outcome of the debates should have no voice (vote) in the outcome.

Reacting against this position, Nineteenth Century Socialism called for co-operation over competition, planning instead of the market, collective ownership of the “means of production” in place of private property, and democracy with vote for all adult males.  After a while, revolutionary Marxism dominated Socialist thought.

The success of industrialization created immense wealth and immense numbers of industrial workers who were excluded from the political system while living in misery.  Something had to give.  Beginning in the late Nineteenth Century, it did.

[1] See Carl Becker, The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth Century Philosophers (1932).  Hilarious.

[2] I stole that from Eric Hobsbawm, Age of Revolutions: Europe, 1789-1848 (1962).  Remarkable.

Just typing out loud here 12 June 2019.

You challenged me on my enthusiasm for Joe Hill’s “Rebel Girl.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_tz3wPgLUw  Didn’t have a good response at the moment, but it got me thinking.  My mind works slower than do those of most people.  Hence the delay.

To my mind, the Democrats are generically anti-business.  Sure, they talk about income inequality and anti-monopoly and this, that, and another New Deals.  But what they mean to apply is an anti-business policy that will fall on all businesses, great and small.  Taxes.  Regulations by decree.  You never see Democrat candidates who have ever worked in/for a business.  You never see ones who have had their own business.  Barack Obama was a “community organizer.”   (George McGovern’s post-presidential experience is instructive here.)  They’ve all spent their lives as lawyers or “in public service.”  Public service is just another way of saying “public employment.”  You don’t get laid off in a recession and you get good benefits.  For following an elaborate set of rules.

They have a fantasy of returning to the Fifties: a few big industries that don’t have any global competition; high wages and good benefits achieved through government-sponsored union-bargaining; owners who inherited their wealth from their rough-and-ready ancestors who actually created it; and a horde of professional managers who deploy B-School-certified skills in return for a generous, but socially-acceptable, salary.  That—at best—is what the Democrats want to recreate.  Basically, Rudolf Hilferding seventy years on.   (See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolf_Hilferding )

None of this has anything to do with contemporary reality.  It has been one, but only one, of the factors that have driven the American economy—and society—into the ground over the last fifty years.

Yes, there is a lot to criticize in Republican policies.  Mostly, to my mind, it is the starving/shrinking of the necessary regulatory functions of the Federal bureaucracy.  To take some examples: the IRS can’t audit; the FAA has shifted airline safety to the plane manufacturer (singular); the FDA can’t keep up with the companies trying to poison us for fun and profit.  Theodore Roosevelt theorized that only a strong government could mediate the conflicting demands of Capital and Labor.  Republicans are gutting the system projected by their second-greatest president.  The reduction of the corporation tax to international (i.e. Canada) norms seems to me a good idea.  All the tax cut-spend-elect stuff to counter Democrats’ tax-spend-elect stuff is wrong, but wrong for both parties.  And wrong for the American voters who gobbled it up.   Maybe “snorted” would be better?

As for “bigness,” see Ellis Hawley, The New Deal and the Problem of Monopoly.  Yes, we’ve been down this road before.

In the end, what I’m fighting for is my Dad and all the people like him.  He didn’t want to work for the government and he didn’t want to work for a giant business.  He had done both (Army, Shell Oil).  He just wanted his own show.  Win or lose, it was on him.   What’s wrong with that?  He provided a service that people wanted.  He paid his employees the best he could.  Wasn’t great money, but it was the same deal for them that he made.  They weren’t working for the government or big business.  There weren’t procedures to deal with.  Just people.  He and my Mom did a lot of unpaid work to make the business run.  I guess I don’t see much difference between my Dad and an artist: they’re both self-actualizing and creative.  Along the way, he put a roof over our head and food in our mouths and paid his taxes.  Some of those taxes went to pay for public competition with his private business.  Why?  Because not all high-school teachers wanted to coach, so some of them would rather work extra as driving instructors.  Teachers had a union, but private business did not.