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Jack is a graduate of Rutgers University where he majored in history. His career in the life and health insurance industry involved medical risk selection and brokerage management. Retired in Florida for over two decades after many years in NJ and NY, he occasionally writes, paints, plays poker, participates in play readings and is catching up on Shakespeare, Melville and Joyce, etc.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Bundy's Cattle and Hamas, CNN on Flight 370, Krugman's Take on Piketty and a Transparent Cocoon

The Farmer Bundy and Hamas Connection

Perhaps some of you have been following the saga of Nevada farmer Cliven Bundy who refuses to pay the United States Government for grazing his cattle on government land administered by the Federal Bureau of Land Management to which other farmers and ranchers routinely pay a fee for grazing rights.  Right wingers, including some armed militia, have rallied to his support.  Bundy is a extremist racist screwball who refuses to recognize the existence of the Federal Government and its authority.  However this matter is resolved, he is certain to lose.

Bundy with "militia" supporters in Nevada
The point, however, is that many right wingers, and some traditional conservatives as well, deep down believe in some of what Bundy is doing and saying.   Contrary to Farmer Bundy, of course, they have the wisdom to keep their words and actions within legal limits.  

But in their hearts, many of them are with him.  They will do their best to be his ally by supporting politicians who vote to minimize government involvement in our lives, reduce taxation, reduce regulation and of course, oppose immigration, the Affordable Care Act and gun control.   It’s the least they can do.

Half a world away, Hamas, considered a terrorist group by both Israel and the United States, continues to work for the destruction of the State of Israel whose very right to exist they deny.  They make no bones about this, and speak with the same clarity as does Farmer Bundy in defense of his refusal to pay the United States to graze his cattle on government land because of his denial of the right of  our Federal Government to exist.

Youthful Palestinian in anti-Israel Hamas demonstration in Gaza

Oddly, the West Bank Palestinians are about to try to form a joint government with Hamas, at the same time as they are willing to continue, in a half-hearted manner, to participate in peace negotiations with Israel.  It is no wonder, then, that Israel suspects that the Palestinians, deep down, have no desire for peace and are involved in peace negotiations with Israel only to see what they can “get” rather than what they must “give” as well.  They are like the conservatives who philosophically support Farmer Bundy, without overtly committing themselves to his extremism.  And this is why Israel is, for the moment, backing off from the negotiating table.

It is no wonder that more and more Israeli opinion, which never really was enthusiastic over the settlements in the West Bank, is swinging toward a more right wing position, opposing a “two state” solution because of the untrustworthiness of the Palestinians as negotiating partners.   This position means the future of Israel will include a large and growing Palestinian minority which will eventually threaten the continuance of the State of Israel as a Jewish state, unless it abandons its democratic institutions.  Is this a better choice than a “two state” solution, one in which the Palestinian versions of Cliven Bundy may be grazing their cattle (or their rocket launchers) not only in Gaza but in Ramallah as well?   

In this context, negotiations will eventually resume, aiming to reach a solution which today is nowhere in sight.  The task is a very difficult one.  The solution may await the appearance of leaders capable of dealing with it.

Jack Lippman


 Butterfly Update

Here is a practically transparent cocoon in my butterfly garden, containing a yet to be born Monarch butterfly.  (This is not the same developing cocoon shown in the last posting.  I think that particular caterpillar has given up and is on its last legs.)  This cocoon is already transparent and in a day or so, the bottom will burst and the butterfly will squeeze and wiggle its way out, drop to the ground and after a few  hours or so of wing flexing, fly away.



Curious CNN Coverage of Malaysian Air Flight 370


There is a lot of news to be covered on TV.  What’s happening in Ukraine, the Middle East, Afghanistan, the tragic Korean ferry disaster and of course, our economy are all top news deserving of thorough coverage.  Why then is CNN still devoting many hours every day to the story of the thus far futile attempts to locate Malaysian Air Flight 370 which disappeared over 50 days ago?  Other media outlets on TV, on line and in print are still covering this story but none with the intensity of CNN.  Why?

I suspect that this story will culminate in a dramatic ending.  When this happens, CNN wants to be there in the position of having been on top of it continuously from its inception and not reducing its coverage with the passage of time.  Why?

There are many theories as to what happened to Flight 370.  I proposed one on this blog on its March 25 posting.  Go back and read it.  It can be accessed by a few clicks on the Blog Archive off to the right.  

Could it be that my theory or other similar "outlandish" ones are closer to the truth about what happened to Flight 370 than what we have been seeing daily on TV?  Is someone at CNN thinking this way?  There are two reasons, however, why CNN may not be coming out and saying so.  First, they don’t want to look silly if they latch on to a theory which is later disproved and secondly, they may have been advised, tacitly or otherwise by our government, “not to go there” with the story.  So, they are just "hanging in there" with it.  

As CNN continues its almost hourly coverage of the disappearance of Flight 370, watch carefully for the appearance of inferences to these other “theories” in the words of the many “experts” CNN has on its programs daily.  Listen carefully to the way Wolf Blitzer and his colleagues pose questions to them. That may be a clue as to where this story is really going.
Krugman on Piketty's Book

If you followed the last two postings on the blog, you know about Thomas Piketty's book dealing not only with income inequality but with wealth (or asset) inequality.  There have been comments on it from all points of the economic spectrum since the book's publication.  Here is New York Times columnist Paul Krugman's take on the criticism from the right which the book has engendered.  Please, if you disagree with Krugman, or you have something contradicting his views, submit it for inclusion on the blog.  But here is his column from last Friday's New York Times, which you probably have not read.

“Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” the new book by the French economist Thomas Piketty, is a bona fide phenomenon. Other books on economics have been best sellers, but Mr. Piketty’s contribution is serious, discourse-changing scholarship in a way most best sellers aren’t. And conservatives are terrified. Thus James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute warns in the National Review that Mr. Piketty’s work must be refuted, because otherwise it “will spread among the clerisy and reshape the political economic landscape on which all future policy battles will be waged.”
Krugman                                     Pikatty

Well, good luck with that. The really striking thing about the debate so far is that the right seems unable to mount any kind of substantive counterattack to Mr. Piketty’s thesis. Instead, the response has been all about name-calling — in particular, claims that Mr. Piketty is a Marxist, and so is anyone who considers inequality of income and wealth an important issue.

I’ll come back to the name-calling in a moment. First, let’s talk about why “Capital” is having such an impact.

Mr. Piketty is hardly the first economist to point out that we are experiencing a sharp rise in inequality, or even to emphasize the contrast between slow income growth for most of the population and soaring incomes at the top. It’s true that Mr. Piketty and his colleagues have added a great deal of historical depth to our knowledge, demonstrating that we really are living in a new Gilded Age. But we’ve known that for a while.

No, what’s really new about “Capital” is the way it demolishes that most cherished of conservative myths, the insistence that we’re living in a meritocracy in which great wealth is earned and deserved.

For the past couple of decades, the conservative response to attempts to make soaring incomes at the top into a political issue has involved two lines of defense: first, denial that the rich are actually doing as well and the rest as badly as they are, but when denial fails, claims that those soaring incomes at the top are a justified reward for services rendered. Don’t call them the 1 percent, or the wealthy; call them “job creators.”

But how do you make that defense if the rich derive much of their income not from the work they do but from the assets they own? And what if great wealth comes increasingly not from enterprise but from inheritance?

What Mr. Piketty shows is that these are not idle questions. Western societies before World War I were indeed dominated by an oligarchy of inherited wealth — and his book makes a compelling case that we’re well on our way back toward that state.

So what’s a conservative, fearing that this diagnosis might be used to justify higher taxes on the wealthy, to do? He could try to refute Mr. Piketty in a substantive way, but, so far, I’ve seen no sign of that happening. Instead, as I said, it has been all about name-calling.

I guess this shouldn’t be surprising. I’ve been involved in debates over inequality for more than two decades, and have yet to see conservative “experts” manage to dispute the numbers without tripping over their own intellectual shoelaces. Why, it’s almost as if the facts are fundamentally not on their side. At the same time, red-baiting anyone who questions any aspect of free-market dogma has been standard right-wing operating procedure ever since the likes of William F. Buckley tried to block the teaching of Keynesian economics, not by showing that it was wrong, but by denouncing it as "collectivism."

Still, it has been amazing to watch conservatives, one after another, denounce Mr. Piketty as a Marxist. Even Mr. Pethokoukis, who is more sophisticated than the rest, calls “Capital” a work of “soft Marxism,” which only makes sense if the mere mention of unequal wealth makes you a Marxist. (And maybe that’s how they see it: recently former Senator Rick Santorum denouced the term "middle class" as “Marxism talk,” because, you see, we don’t have classes in America.)

And the Wall Street Journal's review, predictably, goes the whole distance, somehow segueing from Mr. Piketty’s call for progressive taxation as a way to limit the concentration of wealth — a remedy as American as apple pie, once advocated not just by leading economists but by mainstream politicians, up to and including Teddy Roosevelt — to the evils of Stalinism. Is that really the best the Journal can do? The answer, apparently, is yes.

Now, the fact that apologists for America’s oligarchs are evidently at a loss for coherent arguments doesn’t mean that they are on the run politically. Money still talks — indeed, thanks in part to the Roberts court, it talks louder than ever. Still, ideas matter too, shaping both how we talk about society and, eventually, what we do. And the Piketty panic shows that the right has run out of ideas.


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Jack Lippman