Government, religion, and the poor

I’m not terribly fond of folks invoking unknowable deities to support their favored political positions. In fact, I’d rather folks not speak on behalf of deities at all. To do so seems to me to represent a being beyond our comprehension, who, for reasons that remain unfathomable to me, chooses not to represent him- or herself, and to do so thus seems to me to be inherently blasphemous. More prosaically, it’s an appeal to an authority whose very existence is to be accepted on faith. Continue reading Government, religion, and the poor

Why should I care?

Nobody else cares. So why should I?

One of the deeply painful lessons of the last election is that it really is supposed to be just fine that I can be laid off in the dot-com crash (sixteen years ago), fail to find employment, return to school, finish a B.A., an M.A., and a Ph.D., and still, in all this time, hear only crickets in reply to my job applications. That was the message the left delivered loudly and clearly when in response to Donald Trump’s victory, my concerns were dismissed as unimportant. Continue reading Why should I care?

An apology

I guess I’ve been kind of oblivious. I hadn’t really noticed that Donald Trump’s inauguration is scheduled for next Friday (January 20, 2017).

But of course it is.

Richard Nixon was the first president I was really conscious of. I grew up believing him to be the epitome of evil. But since Nixon, it seems like each president (yes, that includes Jimmy Carter) has been worse than his (all men so far) predecessor. That was, of course, going to be true of whoever won last November, whether it was Trump or Hillary Clinton. Continue reading An apology

Vladimir Putin’s motives

This is the kind of topic I never really want to get into. I’m not a psychologist. But for me, claims that the Russian government interfered with the U.S. presidential election require a demonstration of evidence and motive.

The evidence is shaky at best. First, it’s all classified, which means we can’t examine it, the methods used to obtain it, or the reasoning used to reach its conclusions.[1] Then there’s the whole Cold War history, of which this smells too much like a continuation, of demonization of then, the Soviet Union, and now, Russia.[2] Then there’s the oddity that the claim is that the Russians “hacked” into Democratic National Committee servers, of which the National Security Agency should have hard evidence, when the evidence is reportedly circumstantial.[3] Continue reading Vladimir Putin’s motives

  1. [1]David Benfell, “Blaming the Russians,” Not Housebroken, December 15, 2016, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=9151
  2. [2]Andrew Cockburn, “The New Red Scare: Reviving the art of threat inflation,” Harper’s, December, 2016, http://harpers.org/archive/2016/12/the-new-red-scare/
  3. [3]William Binney, et al., “US Intel Vets Dispute Russia Hacking Claims,” Consortium News, December 12, 2016, https://consortiumnews.com/2016/12/12/us-intel-vets-dispute-russia-hacking-claims/

Blaming the Russians

Update, December 13, 2016: Six former intelligence agency employees have written an open letter offering substantive reason to doubt claims that Russians hacked into Democratic National Committee systems. In essence, they point out that “a key mystery is why U.S. intelligence would rely on ‘circumstantial evidence’ when it has the capability for hard evidence.”[1] In addition, while I barely allude to the original Cold War in what follows, the history of that Cold War and the propaganda that was integral to it offers additional considerable reason for doubt.[2] Given all this, it seems more likely than not that the accusations being made against Russia are substantively false.

Update, December 15, 2016: In what follows, I question not only the use of classified evidence—which remains deeply problematic—but the apparent absence of a motive for Russian President Vladmir Putin to interfere in U.S. elections. It turns out that Fiona Hill covered the question of Putin’s motive in Vox in July.[3] I have been distrustful of Vox in recent months on anything having to do with the U.S. presidential election because, like other outlets, it appeared to have degenerated to functioning as a propaganda organ for Hillary Clinton’s campaign,[4] and I am dissatisfied with some of Hill’s evidence, how she pulls it together, and with her reliance on innuendo with regard to Putin “still think[ing] and act[ing] like a KGB operative,”[5] but there is substance here. Is this substance compelling? I take this question on here.

Update, December 17, 2016: In what follows, I point out that classified information and the conclusions drawn from that information cannot be scrutinized. We do not know how this information was gotten because cannot know the methodology (and its strengths and weaknesses). We do not know the argumentation used to support these conclusions. George Beebe explores in magnitudes of order more depth that I ever could just what this means.[6] Meanwhile, Juan Cole notices a resemblance between the demonization of Putin and old Cold War techniques.[7]


Democrats have been blaming everyone but themselves for their election defeat last month, a behavior ought to be disqualifying. They are unwilling to accept that they have absolutely no one to blame but themselves for having chosen to nominate such a terrible candidate. So now they’re blaming Russia[8] and Juan Cole, who has commented on the Democrats’ defeat previously,[9] is back with a needed corrective.[10] Continue reading Blaming the Russians

  1. [1]William Binney, et al., “US Intel Vets Dispute Russia Hacking Claims,” Consortium News, December 12, 2016, https://consortiumnews.com/2016/12/12/us-intel-vets-dispute-russia-hacking-claims/
  2. [2]Andrew Cockburn, “The New Red Scare: Reviving the art of threat inflation,” Harper’s, December, 2016, http://harpers.org/archive/2016/12/the-new-red-scare/
  3. [3]Fiona Hill, “3 reasons Russia’s Vladimir Putin might want to interfere in the US presidential elections,” Vox, July 27, 2016, http://www.vox.com/2016/7/27/12304448/putin-elections-dnc-hack
  4. [4]Thomas Frank, “Donald Trump is moving to the White House, and liberals put him there,” Guardian, November 9, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/09/donald-trump-white-house-hillary-clinton-liberals
  5. [5]Fiona Hill, “3 reasons Russia’s Vladimir Putin might want to interfere in the US presidential elections,” Vox, July 27, 2016, http://www.vox.com/2016/7/27/12304448/putin-elections-dnc-hack
  6. [6]George Beebe, “Russia’s Role in the US Elections: The Case for Caution,” National Interest, December 16, 2016, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/russias-role-the-us-elections-the-case-caution-18756
  7. [7]Juan Cole, “Demonization of Putin as ‘Personally’ behind Clinton Hack is old Propaganda Technique,” Informed Comment, December 16, 2016, http://www.juancole.com/2016/12/demonization-personally-propaganda.html
  8. [8]Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima, and Greg Miller, “Secret CIA assessment says Russia was trying to help Trump win White House,” Washington Post, December 9, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/obama-orders-review-of-russian-hacking-during-presidential-campaign/2016/12/09/31d6b300-be2a-11e6-94ac-3d324840106c_story.html
  9. [9]Juan Cole, “Why the White Working Class Rebelled: Neoliberalism Is Killing Them (Literally),” Truthdig, November 9, 2016, http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/why_the_white_working_class_rebelled_neoliberalism_is_killing_20161109
  10. [10]Juan Cole, “No, America, It Wasn’t Russia: You Did This to Yourself,” Truthdig, December 10, 2016, http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/no_america_it_wasnt_russia_you_did_this_to_yourself_20161210

We have failed the test

A test that any species in an ecosystem must pass in order to survive is to successfully adapt to its ecosystem. Humans have, since the Neolithic, imagined we are different, that we can adapt the ecosystem to our needs instead.[1] This is very likely a deadly arrogance on our part as climate change is but one of several existential threats we now face.[2] Continue reading We have failed the test

  1. [1]John H. Bodley, Victims of Progress, 5th ed. (Lanham, MD: AltaMira, 2008); William J. Burroughs, Climate Change in Prehistory: The End of the Reign of Chaos (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University, 2008); Max Oelschlaeger, The Idea of Wilderness (New Haven, CT: Yale University, 1991).
  2. [2]Nathan Curry, “Humanity Is Getting Verrrrrrry Close to Extinction,” Vice, August 21, 2015, http://www.vice.com/read/near-term-extinctionists-believe-the-world-is-going-to-end-very-soon; Dahr Jamail, “Are We Falling Off the Climate Precipice? Scientists Consider Extinction,” TomDispatch, December 17, 2013, http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175785/tomgram%3A_dahr_jamail%2C_the_climate_change_scorecard/; Cheryl Jones, “Frank Fenner sees no hope for humans,” Australian, June 16, 2010, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/frank-fenner-sees-no-hope-for-humans/story-e6frgcjx-1225880091722; Edward “Rocky” Kolb et al., “Three minutes and counting,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January 19, 2015, http://thebulletin.org/three-minutes-and-counting7938; Rachel Roubein, “Doomsday Clock one minute closer to doom,” McClatchy, January 10, 2012, http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2012/01/10/135466/doomsday-clock-one-minute-closer.html?rh=1; Ian Simpson, “Doomsday Clock stays unchanged at three minutes to midnight,” Planet Ark, January 27, 2016, http://planetark.org/wen/74074; Robert Socolow et al., “An open letter to President Obama: The time on the Doomsday Clock is five minutes to midnight,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January 14, 2013, http://thebulletin.org/open-letter-president-obama-time-doomsday-clock-five-minutes-midnight; Phil Torres and Peter Boghossian, “The Looming Extinction of Humankind, Explained,” Vice, August 18, 2016, http://motherboard.vice.com/en_au/read/armageddon-comma-explained

Farewell to the left

Note: This post has been edited for clarity and to refine certain points.

First, I wish to express support for the Standing Rock protest against the construction of an oil pipeline that places American Indian cultural sites and water at risk. Second, I have little doubt that the following has occurred as I have witnessed similar behaviors in other contexts:

Concerns have been raised by protestors on social media, who claim that people are arriving at the Standing Rock demonstration for the “cultural experience” and treating it like Burning Man festival.

Protestor Alicia Smith wrote on Facebook: “On my way back from the camps. Need to get something off my chest that I witnessed and found very disturbing in my brief time there that I believe many others have started to speak up about as well.

“White people are colonizing the camps. I mean that seriously. Plymouth rock seriously. They are coming in, taking food, clothing and occupying space without any desire to participate in camp maintenance and without respect of tribal protocols.

“These people are treating it like it is Burning Man or The Rainbow Gathering and I even witnessed several wandering in and out of camps comparing it to those festivals.”

Ms Smith observed that many protestors appeared to be living off the native American community, and were taking advantage of donations sent in for the cause. Another Twitter user said they had witnessed a protestor turn down tap water to spend donations on ‘fluoride free’ water.[1]

Continue reading Farewell to the left

  1. [1]Roisin O’Connor, “Standing Rock: North Dakota access pipeline demonstrators say white people are ‘treating protest like Burning Man,'” Independent, November 28, 2016, http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/news/standing-rockth-dakota-access-pipeline-burning-man-festival-a7443266.html

Open letter to Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. David MacNaughton

David A. Benfell, Ph.D.
321 S. Main St. #12
Sebastopol, CA 95472
+1-707-824-1194

November 19, 2016

His Excellency, Ambassador David MacNaughton
Embassy of Canada
501 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20001-2114
Fax: (202) 682-7619

Your Excellency,

It reaches my attention that you believe that “Canadians have to do a better job selling Americans on the benefits of our interdependence on issues like trade and security.”[1]

Perhaps you would like to explain to me just how it is that fifteen years of unemployment benefits me. Or, alternatively, perhaps you would like to invite me to Canada to partake of the social safety net you offer your own citizens while so carefully raising barriers to immigration from the U.S.

During my fifteen years of unemployment, I have returned to school, completed a B.A., an M.A., and a Ph.D. I continue to be denied a right recognized in nearly every country in the world, including Canada, but conspicuously not by the United States, which is “the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts.”[2]

There are many in the United States with far less ability than I who are similarly denied this right. They have been increasingly resorting to suicide and drug abuse to ameliorate their pain.[3]

Perhaps you would like to explain to these people just how it is that so-called “free” trade, that is, trade that is free for the wealthy but not for the poor, benefits them. Perhaps you would like to open your doors to them, to guarantee them the rights that nearly the entire world recognizes, but not the United States.

I eagerly await your response.

Sincerely,

David Benfell, Ph.D.

  1. [1]Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, “Canada needs to do better job selling the U.S. on trade benefits, says ambassador,” November 19, 2016, http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/canada/nova-scotia/canada-ambassador-trade-benefits-with-u-s-1.3858829
  2. [2]International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, December 16, 1966, United Nations, General Assembly resolution 2200A (XXI), http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cescr.htm
  3. [3]Gina Kolata, “Death Rates Rising for Middle-Aged White Americans, Study Finds,” New York Times, November 2, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/03/health/death-rates-rising-for-middle-aged-white-americans-study-finds.html; Paul Krugman, “Heartland of Darkness,” New York Times, November 4, 2015, http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/11/04/heartland-of-darkness/; Paul Krugman, “Despair, American Style,” New York Times, November 9, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/09/opinion/despair-american-style.html; Josh Zumbrun, “The Economic Roots of the Climbing Death Rate for Middle-Aged Whites,” Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2015, http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2015/11/03/the-economic-roots-of-the-climbing-death-rate-for-middle-aged-whites/

Democrats must own Donald Trump

Note, November 14, 2016: This posting has been edited for clarity, grammar, and to add a footnote citing the article in the U.S. Constitution that establishes the electoral college.

Update, November 14, 2016: In the comments from cybernude.org, @VegOS posted a link to an Avaaz campaign with a bunch of question marks. Initially, I was as mystified as @VegOS and I’m still not sure it really makes sense.

The petition is addressed “[t]o state lawmakers in Oregon, Connecticut, New Mexico and across America.” It urges legislators to pass a National Popular Vote bill which would presumably allocate electors by popular vote rather than according to a winner-take-all system currently in place in all but a couple states. Apparently “it only needs the support of enough states to equal 270 electoral votes to pass. 10 states are on board, and 4 have pending legislation, so it’s already 3/4 of the way there!”[1] Oregon, Connecticut, and New Mexico all voted for Hillary Clinton under the winner-take-all system; there’s no way she can get more electoral votes from these states than she already has, but I guess the idea is that if all these states’ electoral votes and the electoral votes of the states that either have already adopted the plan or are considering it were allocated proportionally, that would push Clinton’s electoral college total to 270 or better. I don’t know if these numbers actually come out or not but it has the look of a “Hail Mary” pass.


The good and bad news is that “[Hillary] Clinton won the popular vote — the second time in 16 years that the Democratic candidate had gotten more votes than the Republican, but lost the electoral college. A switch in three states of only about 50,000 votes out of some 120 million cast nationwide would have been enough to give her the victory.”[2] I exaggerate a bit because there isn’t much good news here other than that neither of these awful candidates can claim a mandate. Continue reading Democrats must own Donald Trump

  1. [1]Avaaz, “Our last chance to stop Trump,” n.d., https://secure.avaaz.org/campaign/en/national_vote_full/
  2. [2]Cathleen Decker, “For reeling Democrats, now what?” Los Angeles Times, November 10, 2016, http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-clinton-democrats-20161109-story.html