How do Putin’s Russia and Trump’s USA Compare?

A screenwriter whom I knew back in junior high school here in DC, and who, like me, was an anti-war activist back during Vietnam, and with whom I sometimes agree and sometimes disagree, wrote:

Retweeted Doug Henwood (@DougHenwood):

Anyone left of center who took the Russia paranoia seriously, look where it’s taking us. This is extremely bad news. https://t.co/64ZUUe4p9K

I replied as follows (edited by me for clarity and accuracy):

======================================

I cannot find any actual facts in that tweet. (And yes, I followed the link)

On the other hand, here are a few things that I think are objectively true, and a few that are my own opinion:*

the Russian government is… (1) oligarchical,

(2) a kleptocracy on every level,

(3) steals from its own people and rapes its environment for the benefit of a small group of billionaires,

(4) murders, muzzles, or imprisons people who dissent,

(5) supports friendly dictators abroad,

(6) builds and sells military weapons all over the world, and

(7) meddles in the internal affairs of foreign countries.

By contrast, the American government has recently been adjudged by experts (not me) as

(1) an oligarchy that systematically works for the benefit of a small wealthy class of businessmen to thwart the wishes of the majority,

(2) assassinates lots of people (mostly overseas; the murders of black men by police seems to be a local, not an explicitly national, policy),

(3) while the billionaires have been quite successful in breaking labor unions in the US and reducing wages for working people, we have had over time all sorts of vigorous [and sometimes somewhat successful] movements [which are now under hard attack from the current party in power] to preserve the rights of workers, consumers, and the environment,

(4) the US does in fact allow critics [for example, I’ve been to any number of anti-government demonstrations over the past 50 years and have only been arrested a couple of times for it, never beaten up by police; however, there have been plenty of times when the power of the State lined up firmly on the side of corporations to help break labor unions],

(5) supports friendly dictators abroad [of course proclaiming them to be lovers of freedom,

(6) builds and sells more weapons than anybody, and

(7) meddles in foreign elections and so forth [I recently saw a very long list of countries where the US had interfered with internal affairs or overthrew the government since WW1].

There are a couple of differences, though:

In many countries, you can’t get ANYTHING done at any level of government (from the head of state down to dog-catcher) without bribing somebody. That is not (yet) true in the US. However, it looks to me like Trump and his family are working hard to bring the US up to the level where our corruption is even higher than in Russia, China, India, the Philippines, or Nigeria. And 45 has certainly called for beating up protesters like myself, and praised corrupt, murderous foreign dictators like Putin and Duterte. However, there is still a lot more freedom of the press and assembly here than in the four countries I named!

Vive la resistance!

===

* which statements are fact, which are opinion? I type – you decide.

Trump, Finance, and Outsourcing

I listened to Trump talking about the Chinese and Mexicans ‘stealing our jobs’. In fact, it’s American companies who shed American jobs either by automating the production (so that 1 worker today can do about the same amount of work as 10 workers back when I had summer jobs in factories making automobile parts and clamps and such, 40 or 50 years ago) or else by closing the entire American branch of the firm down and selling off all its assets and machines and renegotiating for suppliers of its raw materials and for customers, and generally stiffing the workers who had oftentimes accumulated a promise to some sort of a pension and life long health care plan after working a set number of years. So after working in a factory or mine for their entire able-bodied adult life, they end up with almost nothing.
 
(Trump would have a bit more credibility on this topic if he hadn’t for years had almost all of his branded products made in China, Vietnam, Mexico and so on. ‘Makes him smart’ to do an end-run around American wages, worker protections, and taxes. While he complains to American supporters about other corporations like Ford and Caterpillar doing exactly the same thing.)
 
When I went to school and worked for about 6-7 years in NH, MA, NY and VT during my ‘teens and 20’s, I knew older workers (like at my college) who lost had lost multiple fingers in the textile mills — which had already closed because the corporate heads were chasing cheaper labor in the American South. The janitor in my college dorm was a really nice older fellow. I think he still had a majority of his fingers, but I vividly remember that he was unable to go up a flight of stairs without immediately sitting down for 10 minutes at an oxygen tank, because he had contracted ‘white lung’ from years working around whirring machinery and breathing hot, moist air filled with cotton dust. [The hot, moist air and high levels of cotton dust made for better production levels and thus, higher profits for the company, workers’ long-term health be damned.] Despite his advanced age, he clearly still needed to work at the College because his Social Security and whatever pension he may or may not have had wasn’t enough.] He had an oxygen tank on the second and third floors of our dorm, IIRC.
 
Extremely highly-skilled tool and die workers in Springfield, VT, which was once the very center of precision machine manufacturing of the United States, have seen the entire industry in that so-called ‘precision valley’ get shipped overseas. All of those factories are now empty shells, it’s true.
 
I talked to coal miners in West Virginia in the 1970s and 1980s who were similarly scarred for life by black lung disease; they were upset 35 years ago that their lifetime health care plans would be taken away or dramatically reduced.
But it’s not immigrant workers who sneak across our borders with secret plans to remoove all those machines in the dead of night, with the open or hush-hush agreements of state and local and federal governments, banks & other financial institutions, lawyers, and other companies that supply them with spare parts, raw materials, and markets. It’s not illegal aliens doing this. It’s sleaze bag financiers and businessmen like Donald Trump, Goldman Sachs, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, the Walton family, and the Koch brothers who do this. Not desperate workers looking for a life but who can’t afford the fees, bribes, lawyers and connections needed to get official, legitimate, visas and green cards.
In fact, one can make the argument that it’s the Walton family itself that has nearly single-handedly made China the manufacturing center of the entire world. David Stockman among many others has shown that Walmart’s relentless pressure to reduce prices forced American companies to lay off almost all of their American workers and to outsource production to countries where workers are killed by goons and their bodies bnurned or fed to crocodiles if they try to organize unions (as opposed to simply being fired, bankrupted and disgraced, which is the American way) to try to get better than starvation wages, some personal privacy and respect, shorter hours, and safer working conditions. So that’s why if you visit places like Rochester, Phoenixville, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Springfield (VT), Detroit, or Indianapolis you won’t see the factories that gave employment to (and also maimed and wore out) millions of American workers. We also don’t have the smog or severe air and water pollution of yesteryear. The heavily-polluting coke mills of Gary or Weirton WV are (I think?) all closed too, thanks both to EPA rules and the impersonal dictates of the ‘invisible hand’ and the Walton family fortune.
But all is not so wonderful in China (or India, Thailand or Vietnam) for those peasants-turned-factory workers who are no longer spending their lives hoeing rice, millet, or sorghum but instead making toys, clothing, textiles, electronics, cars, and anything else for 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, all $100/month (Vietnam) see this for US, Germany, China comparisons
For one thing, the air pollution in India and China reminds me of the similar and famous problems of London or Pittsburgh back in the 1950’s (see London 1953 and Beijing 60 years later, below)
London during the Great Smog  
In addition, China is itself in a completely unsustainable bubble, where the financiers and Party heads command enormous empty modern cities to be built in the middle of nowhere, in which nobody works or lives except for a few security guards and custodians, and there are no open businesses or shops – as a way of making jobs, but nobody appears to be able to afford to buy the apartments and condos there. I don’t pretend to understand how that makes any sense, nor do I comprehend, high finance, but some people say they do, and their predictions for the Chinese economy make for pretty alarming reading.
And of course, the fact that nearly all Trump products are made overseas is a pretty good indication that he’s just pandering to an easily-fooled section of the electorate. It’s divide-and-rule: make American workers (who have been screwed by the 1/10 of 1% who rule this country) hate and blame workers overseas, especially if them furriners come here looking to make a better life and don’t have the right papers or might have some funny ideas or aren’t Baptists or Methodists …
Published in: on September 29, 2016 at 11:48 am  Leave a Comment  
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Education in India and China

Perhaps you recall the alarming ads from a few years ago about the millions of Chinese and Indian students who weren getting better educations from their system’s schools and wildly out-performing American students. The threat, of course, is that these Asians were about to eat the collective lunches of American students, and that we evil, lazy, stupid, unionized American teachers were to blame.

Lloyd Lofthouse has a column about how lousy the Chinese and Indian school systems are, in fact. I recommend reading it, but, unfortunately, he didn’t cite any of his sources, so I decided to dig around a bit to try to verify his figures.

So far, so good, and let me share a few things I discovered:

education in india

Take a glance at this table that I copied and pasted from a survey of Indian education by some group called CLSA. Notice that by  the high school level (grades 9-12), only thirty-two percent of the children in India are still in school. 

That means that 68% of the children in India have dropped out of school by the time they reach high school.

Wow.

And according to Hindu Business Online, not probably a hotbed of wild-eyed Marxists, the typical Indian child only spends about 5.1 years in school. Five years!

And while it is true that China has done an amazing job of opening up opportunities for its youth and reducing the illiteracy rates from about 80% to about 5% (mostly the aged), and while it is true that many Chinese students study very hard and do very well on tests, this should be taken with some grains of salt. According to James Fallows in the Atlantic,

“it is certainly arguable the Chinese educational system and culture leads the world in training students how to take tests. But it is not clear whether this type of training prepares students for much else other than taking tests. Certainly I have seen much evidence for this proposition in the Chinese graduate students that I have worked with. My favorite examples were the Chinese students with perfect TOEFL scores who could neither read nor write English in any meaningful way.”

[TOEFL used to mean Test of English as a Foreign Language]

I have not yet been able to nail down figures for what percentage of Chinese students actually make it to middle school or to high school or to college. But from what I see so far, you can rest assured that these numbers are much, much less than 100%!!

Apparently it doesn’t matter to that nearly every other nation has close to 100% union membership among its teachers, notably Finland — another nation whose students appear to be eating our lunch, too, according to the same international tests. It also doesn’t matter that in the USA, states where teacher union membership is high tend to have higher test scores than states where union membership is low.

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