January 12, 2012

Military spending: USA vs. the world

Military expeditures 2010 (in billion 2009 USD, as % of 2009 GDP, and per capita) according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute:

Worldwide total:1,604b2.5%$229
Non-USA total:917b1.9%$137
Saudi Arabia:43b11.2%$1,587
South Korea:24b2.9%$494

The military expenditures of the next highest 22 countries after the USA, including the two most populous nations, China and India, all together equal those of the USA alone.

Military expenditures by the USA account for 43% of the worldwide total, are equal to 75% of the rest of the world's combined, and per capita are 16 times the average of the rest of the world.

Iran's military expenditures are one one-hundredth of the USA's, Venezuela's four-tenths of one one-hundredth. Per person, the USA spends 24 and 20 times more than Iran and Venezuela, respectively.

January 8, 2012

Obama's useful idiots on the left

Ron Paul certainly deserves criticism on many issues. So does Obama. That has been Glenn Greenwald's point. You can't avoid criticism of Obama by changing the subject. A more interesting article would have been "Obama's useful idiots on the left", since, as Greenwald notes, Obama has relentlessly attacked civil rights, entrenched executive secrecy and authoritarianism, and used war to further the economic misery of most Americans (not to mention the misery and demise of the people who happen to live in his "theatres").

I would go further and note that Obama has not been even center-left on almost all social and other domestic issues. The balance of good and bad in a candidate is one that must be weighed by each of us, but Paul's "positives" are transformative and Obama's are tepid (at best). There is no shortage of negatives from either of them.

The obvious worry of the Obamacrats is that they would actually have to answer to Ron Paul as the Republican nominee instead of one of the mainstream candidates, who, since Obama is already so far right, are easily dismissed as extremists in their efforts to outdo him.

Of course, if we had an actual democracy here in the U S of A, we could talk about Rocky Anderson, running in the Justice Party, who deserves our votes more than either Paul or Obama or anyone else spewed up for us by the two Wall St parties.

Would Romney treat America as he treated his dog?

Steve Nelson, "Sensibilities", Valley News (White River Junction, Vt.), Jan. 8, 2012:

It is nearly the eve of the New Hampshire primary and, despite the surprising Iowa results for Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney appears to be the man to beat. I suppose this is no great surprise, as Romney is a known quantity and seems relatively sensible despite his opportunistic lurch to the right during this campaign. While his reputation for flip-flopping is well deserved (health care, abortion rights, gay rights, etc.), there are few politicians who don't pander or at least play to the base (both meanings intended) during primary campaigns. Bill Clinton was, somewhat affectionately, dubbed Pander Bear by some during his presidential campaigns.

Ambition and opportunism are not qualities that should disqualify Romney. If they were disqualifiers, we'd have few if any candidates for high office. Romney is ill suited for the presidency because he once drove to Canada with the family's Irish setter on the roof of the car, as New York Times columnist Gail Collins never fails to humorously note in her Romney-related columns.

But unlike Collins, I'm quite serious. America is in trouble. Poverty is at the highest levels since the Great Depression. Unemployment is tenacious and debilitating for millions of families. The gap between rich and poor is shameful. Folks don't have access to decent health care. Schools are underfunded. As the Occupy Wall Street movement chaotically reminds us, life is better for 1 percent and decidedly worse for the other 99 percent. While this may be slight statistical hyperbole, the general point is indisputable.

Mitt Romney was and is among the 1 percent. He was born into privilege and, like too many others with this birthright, believes deeply in the myth of opportunity and meritocracy. There is not a shred of evidence in his personal, professional or political life that he is self-aware enough to recognize his own unearned privilege or empathic enough to understand the deep structural disadvantages that plague millions of Americans. He believes that decisions can be made by analyzing mounds of data and trusting the ethically blind mechanism of free markets.

He embraces his religious faith with the same uncritical certainty that he embraces the other "values" he learned in the privileged and exclusive confines of his private schools, his Mormon university and his gated communities. It's not that these things are necessarily bad. It's that they are his world, not the world.

It is not that wealth and privilege should disqualify anyone from public office either. Other privileged folks in American political history have shown great capacity for genuine empathy. The Kennedy family, despite imperfections among some family members, comes to mind. Their privilege was accompanied by a deep commitment to social justice that continues to play out in the lives of the current generation. The convictions of wealthy progressives may be a form of noblesse oblige, but noblesse oblige beats the heck out of no sense of obligation whatsoever, which is what Romney displays in word and deed.

Romney's treatment of the family dog during a road trip 25 years ago offers a clue to his political sensibilities. I am, quite admittedly, an unrepentant dog lover who mourned the loss of my last dog with intensity that surprised even me. But my excesses aside, I cannot imagine what would lead someone to put his dog in a carrier and strap it to the roof of the car. He claimed that the "dog liked it." The dog, of course, couldn't verify or deny that claim, but it was certainly put at significant risk compared with the human passengers who enjoyed relative safety and comfort inside the car. I can't know the dog's experience, either, but an empathetic person can reasonably deduce that it wasn't a joy ride up there with the roaring wind and isolation from family members.

But just like the struggling Americans that Romney doesn't seem to really see, he may have assumed the dog was lucky to be along for the ride. Romney has never been buffeted by the winds of misfortune or been at risk because of poverty, lack of health care or substandard housing. He's never felt the sting that comes with being denied basic human rights and dignity because of race or sexual identity.

Mitt Romney can't help that he's never had these experiences, but he can't be excused for failing to understand them.

Steve Nelson lives in Sharon (Vt.) and New York City, where he is the head of the Calhoun School.

Opportunity Knocks: Romney vs. Reality

Editorial, Valley News, White River Junction, Vt., Jan. 8, 2012:

As Mitt Romney tells it, the 2012 presidential campaign will be a titanic struggle for the very soul of America, in which the Republican hero (played by … Mitt Romney) seeks not only to unseat President Obama but also to rout the incumbent’s dark vision of transforming America into “an Entitlement Society.” By contrast, the shining Republican knight will fight under the banner of what Romney calls “the Opportunity Society.” We take it the candidate is Big on Capitalization, as well as Unfettered Capitalism.

“In an Entitlement Society,” Romney wrote last month in USA Today, “government provides every citizen the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort and willingness to innovate, pioneer or take risk. In an Opportunity Society, free people living under a limited government choose whether or not to pursue education, engage in hard work, and pursue the passion of their ideas and dreams. If they succeed, they merit the rewards they are able to enjoy.” What happens if they fail is not specified.

Anyway, it’s easy to understand why this fable appeals to Romney, with $200 million in the bank and houses from sea to shining sea. One might even say the former venture capitalist exudes a sense of entitlement. It has apparently escaped his attention that the average guy has approximately as much chance of succeeding in the Opportunity Society of Romney’s fantasy as he does of hitting the Powerball numbers.

The Opportunity Society as many Americans experience it consists primarily of the opportunity to switch careers in middle age because their job was hijacked and taken overseas by corporate buyout specialists; to run the risk of not carrying health insurance because it is literally unaffordable; to see their children graduate under a mountain of higher-education debt; to watch their savings flushed down Wall Street’s 401(k) sewer because traditional pensions hardly exist any more. These are the sorts of opportunities created over the past few decades not by Obama, but by a philosophy that very much mirrors Romney’s faith in the wisdom of the market.

For the moment at least, people can still fall back on “entitlements” like Social Security and Medicare, benefits to which they become “entitled” by a working lifetime of taxes borne by themselves and their employers. Perhaps if he’s elected, Romney will create the opportunity for people to forgo these debilitating obstacles to the entrepreneurial spirit.

And what of this Entitlement Society allegedly being constructed by the current president? In the Romney version, Obama seeks to transform a merit-based nation of natural-born strivers into one of those notorious European-style social democracies. As it turns out, that might not be as bad as Romney imagines. As The New York Times reported Thursday, many researchers have concluded in recent years that Americans enjoy far less economic mobility than their peers in Canada and much of Western Europe, where unionization remains strong, the social safety net is more robust, and income inequality is less sharp.

All this is not to say that creating an Opportunity Society in the United States is impossible or undesirable. The question is, opportunity for what? Our answer would be the chance to live a good life, however each person defines that; a chance to fulfill one’s potential and to use one’s abilities to their fullest. How to get there? The first prerequisite is a level playing field. In our opportunity society, no one would suffer a disadvantage by the circumstances of his or her birth, and educational opportunity would be equal. Inherited wealth would confer no permanent advantage. Talent and hard work would be valued and rewarded by society in proportion to how much they contribute to the commonweal. A sturdy safety net would prevent those who stumble on the way up from going into free-fall. Risk-taking would not be confused with recklessness. Access to affordable health care would be a given, and those nearing the finish line in the race of life would enjoy secure retirement. In short, constructing a true merit-based democracy requires providing opportunities starkly at odds with many of Romney’s priorities.

January 5, 2012

What is the alternative to wind power?

If you are against industrial-scale wind power, than what alternative do you support?

That question is in fact a means of changing the subject.

The alternative to erecting industrial wind turbines is obviously to not erect industrial wind turbines. The burden is on the developers and proponents to answer whether the benefits outweigh the costs — and not in theory, but in actual practice.

The first question above is an attempt to avoid answering the second question, which nobody should be tricked out of continuing to ask.

(Recognizing this rhetorical deception is helpful in many other situations as well, wherever the status quo or accepted wisdom or tribal consensus is being challenged: Keep the guilty and the hypocritical on the defensive!)

Nevertheless, even the theoretical benefits of industrial wind can be easily obtained by simply using a little less electricity, which would also save the planet and the neighbors from the impacts of wind development.

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism

Wind development math

The existing 6-MW wind energy facility in Searsburg, Vt., generates an average of 11,000 MWh per year.

Its proposed 30-MW expansion into the Green Mountain National Forest in Readsboro is projected to generate 92,506 MWh per year.

This figure has been blindly accepted by both the state Public Service Board and the USDA Forest Service, both of which have approved the project. (Spain's Iberdrola is the developer.)

The 30-MW expansion is 5 times larger than the original 6-MW project.

But nobody questions that its output will be 8.4 times more!

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, animal rights, Vermont