Category 6. Various Issues

Global Anti-Americanism, Considered

For one of my book clubs, I recently read The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid. It’s the tale of a Princeton-educated Pakistani who both falls in love with an American woman (who is emotionally wounded, and thereby doomed), and comes to detest if not America per se, our nation’s global footprint. For reasons that will be obvious from this post, the novel was far closer to home for me than most.

Apart from that gut reaction on my part, the question of general interest that arose from my reading of Hamid’s book is whether the acid conclusion by the novel’s narrator that America has a consistently baleful role in the world is correct...

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An American Dragon

Kanye West got it right: President Trump has dragon energy. He also has dragon breath, which he uses constantly, sometimes to the chagrin of natural allies like yours truly. And a dragon’s wiliness. 

My first instinct, on reading Trump’s “command” that American businesses that do business in China look for other places to produce their products, was to think “this time he’s finally lost it – no president has the authority to boss around private businesses like that.” I thought his words were a mere tantrum that made him look foolish and, ultimately, weak – that last ways that a president should allow himself to look. 

I was wrong. Apparently, under the International Emergency Powers Act (https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/50/chapter-35) if a president declares...

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Trump, China and India

We have come to expect – and, truth be told, hope for – false modesty and at least the appearance of self-restraint from our political leaders; President Trump turns these expectations on their heads. He has all the self-restraint of a junkyard dog. Feed him and he will love you; step onto what he sees as his territory and he will try to feed on you. In Freudian terms, he’s all id.

Those who have accused Trump of having committed crimes or of being something reprehensible – a racist, most commonly – he taunts. He doesn’t buy those theories, thinks the people who have propagated them are the worst and tells the world exactly that, often in vividly colorful and grammatically creative language. Our elites – and many ordinary people – see him as uncouth or worse.

He also exaggerat...

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The Less Frightening Alternative

In response to yesterday’s post, a CH reader who despises President Trump to a degree that I find remarkable emailed me a link to a Youtube video of Lawrence O’Donnell, Ron Klain and some guy from Mother Jones on MSNBC, telling us how terrible it is that Trump’s running up the national debt (https://youtu.be/Y_9GEEq8S_k). After watching the clip, I responded that I actually found the video kinda funny, in a painful sort of way – like listening to three drunks lecture the world about sobriety. I told him I would write a post about the experience – and, more substantively, about why I think Trump is the less frightening choice on deficit spending.

So here goes:

As soon as I saw Lawrence O’Donnell I knew what to expect: three Trump-haters, weeping and wailing and gnashing their ...

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Budgetary Nightmares

The former director of the Congressional Budget Office, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, recently estimated that implementing AOC’s Green New Deal would cost about 93 trillion dollars (https://www.foxnews.com/politics/green-new-deal-would-cost-93-trillion-or-600g-per-household-study-says). This figure is so absurd – more than 100 times our annual spending on defense and more than four times our total national debt – that the proposal has no chance of becoming law. Even so, its warm reception among leading Democrats shows that they believe that it is directionally correct, if maybe a little overeager. Given the power to do so, they would presumably enact something more moderate – maybe only doubling or tripling the national debt.

Here’s the thing, though: all such new programs – and, indeed...

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Responsibility to Others

Late this morning the wind was moderately strong and the river moody – perfect conditions for a much-needed workout. When under the protection of a windward shore the water was deceptively calm; just around the bend, whitecaps made for difficult, exciting progress. My little boat jumped and dove, split the waves and sometimes left my arms and chest soaked and briefly chilled.

I wear a life preserver, which has often been helpful for warmth, but thankfully never yet for flotation.

I have been kayaking once or twice a week lately – trying to prepare myself for what might be a grueling adventure with friends on the Maine coastline a month from now. That water will be much colder and maybe quite choppy.

This morning’s scene was stunningly beautiful...

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Election Interference

A close friend with whom I have recently been having distinctly adversarial conversations and email exchanges on political topics wrote to me a couple of days ago, effectively daring me to deny that Russia’s interference in our most recent presidential contest had taken place (and, it was implicit, thereby cast a pall over the election’s legitimacy), and asking whether I think our government is doing enough to prevent such acts in the future (the implication being that the Trump Administration, being too friendly with Russia, is not). A longer version of my off-the-cuff email response is presented below:      

Of course the Russians interfered with our election – as they have been doing since the revolution. They are not our friends...

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A Right to Privacy?

In writing these posts, I generally try to present myself as being both surer of my opinions and more eloquent than I actually am. I figure that expressing my thoughts boldly and as elegantly as I can makes them more worthy of your time than they would be if I simply tossed off random ideas. I will only keep half of that implicit bargain in this post, though, because while I’ll try to write it clearly, I’ll be more open about my own uncertainty as to what the right policy or personal responses should be to the dilemmas I’ll describe.

This https://www.the-american-interest.com/2019/05/06/the-new-face-of-tyranny/ article by historian Paul Rahe raises, and gives historical context to, a set of issues that I have been thinking about for some time: how the intersection of modern technology...

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The Killer Apps

Sometimes our inventions change us.

Last night, the Beloved Spouse told me about a talk she had heard in which a neuroscientist said that she believes that gathering news and following social media on the internet, and even reading books on electronic devices, all have meaningfully different effects on our brains than reading old-fashioned newspapers and books. As we process information in new ways, our brains develop new muscles, if you will, and don’t develop other muscles.

This all sounded right to me: it is perfectly consistent with ideas about neuroplasticity that I had heard before – including the colorful example of a study of London cab drivers’ brains that showed that in the laborious and challenging act of memorizing the street map of London for their licenses, they had changed...

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Leading from Behind?

Here’s hoping that Jair Bolsonaro’s first official act as president of Brazil is to invade Venezuela.

As a result of twenty years of Chavismo (a word that, like Juche in North Korea, signifies a locally-flavored brand of militant socialism) Venezuela’s economy is in a state of total collapse. As with North Korea in bad years, starvation and disease are rampant. Venezuela has been less adept at making itself a prison than North Korea, though: over 2 million Venezuelans – roughly 8% of its former population – have fled to neighboring countries. Presently, about 3,000 malnourished people, many of whom are also diseased, are making it out each day – and straining social services in neighboring countries.

While the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela grows ever worse, senior members of...

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