Thursday, October 19, 2017


Former President George W. Bush, who stayed away from the limelight, and from criticizing his successor, just went after Donald Trump and what he's doing to America's civic virtues. Via the Washington Post, here's a sampling of what President Bush had to say today (Oct. 19) at a George W. Bush Institute held in New York:

  • “Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.”
  • “We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism.”
  • “We’ve seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. . . . Argument turns too easily into animosity.”
  • “It means that bigotry and white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed, and it means the very identity of our nation depends on passing along civic ideals.”
  • “Bullying and prejudice in our public life … provides permission for cruelty and bigotry.”
  • “The only way to pass along civic values is to live up to them.”
As someone who was a regular critic of President George W. Bush while he was in office, you can count me as impressed with our former president. The Washington Post has a 3 minute clip of former President Bush's speech here.

You can read the entire WP article by clicking here.

- Mark 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


The Washington Post discusses Donald Trump's late response to the death of 4 U.S. soldiers in Niger, and his subsequent bungling of the "narrative" during his phone calls to a soldiers' family. 


Trump's now accusing the dead soldiers family and a sitting member of Congress of lying about his comments to Sgt. La David T. Johnson's widow ("He knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyways").


Oh, and Trump also took the time to take a swipe at President Obama, and previous presidents, for how they handled the return of fallen soldiers. Classy.

And the cascade of embarrassments continue.

- Mark

Tuesday, October 17, 2017


Donald Trump doesn't understand what multilateral treaties mean, nor does he understand why the Iranian nuclear deal is actually working. And, yeah, it's embarrassing to watch as an American.

Below is a quick 3-minute overview of what the Iranian nuclear deal was designed to do. This clip came out when the multilateral treaty was signed (2015), but before it was implemented (2016).

The British government thought so much of Donald Trump's comments this week, and his rejection of the treaty, that their Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) took the time out to explain why the Iranian nuclear deal has worked in this post.

"Now This" picked up on FCO's media piece, and incorporated it into the clip below. In very simple terms, it explains why Trump is wrong, again.

And spare me the "Iran is playing geo-strategic games with Saudi Arabia in the Middle East" slapstick. The Iran treaty is about a nuclear weapons program, not a diplomacy or a "peace" treaty.

If you need the difference explained, stop reading my stuff and go work for Trump. Seriously.

- Mark


- Mark


One of my faculty colleagues asked about showing Eminem's free style criticism of President Trump in class. Students had been asking about it. The hesitation from my colleague is less about the medium and style of Eminem's presentation, and more about the language. My response, and reasoning, follows below.

I suspect this is for your ****** class, right? If so, absolutely. 
 For those who might feel offended by the accusations and language from Eminem, you might remind everyone of Trump's baseless Birther Moments, his "son of a bitches" comment (with reference to the NFL's kneelers), his Billy Bush-Access Hollywood comments, and how he's exposed the presidency to this level of discourse. No president should be able to engage an audience at the level that Trump has, and expect to walk away unscathed because they expect the trappings of the office to protect them from push back and ridicule. 
 Perhaps more importantly, Eminem is addressing substantive policy and social issues. In her day, Harriet Beecher Stowe did pretty much the same thing. Trump made the decision to bring these issues - in the manner that he did - to forefront of America's political scene. The messenger and the medium shouldn't matter, given our current environment. 
 Have fun with it.

For the two people left in the world who haven't seen Eminem's piece, I'm posting it below, or click here. Fair warning: language content might offend a few people.

- Mark

Monday, October 16, 2017


Tulipmania. It's often invoked by economists and historians as a warning against avarice and manias run amok. The setting is the Netherlands in the front half of the 17th century.

As economist John Kenneth Galbraith writes in A Short History of Financial Euphoria, what started as the acquisition of prestige and status, for those who possessed the then novel tulip bulbs, in 1636, turned into wild speculation over successive price increases. Specifically, competition over tulips turned into mania, with single bulbs trading for new carriages and homes, or fetching as much as $25-50,000 each.

Demand reached such heights that the Amsterdam Stock Exchange developed a futures market for the bulb.

The market, as well as the dreams of many speculators, would collapse under the weight of its own nonsense, and spectacular avarice. As sellers demanded that their tulip contracts be enforced, they were disappointed when their petitions fell on the deaf ears of the courts. Because the speculation in Tulips market had little to do with the production of actual goods and services, the courts viewed Tulipmania as little more than a gambling operation. 

As is the case throughout these histories, panic, default, and bankruptcy followed. “No one knows for what reason” the speculation and mania ended, Galbraith wrote, but there’s little doubt common sense finally prevailed in a market spun out of control by deluded buyers and sellers.

I liked the story so much, I included it in my book, The Myth of the Free Market

While the stories that emerged after Tulipmania are often filled with tales of economic destruction and chaos, historian Anne Goldgar has another take on the series of events. As the Smithsonian points out, in Goldgar's Tulipmania: Money, Honor, and Knowledge in the Dutch Golden Age, we're told that "there weren't that many people involved and the economic repercussions were pretty minor." 

Goldgar goes on to point out that she "couldn't find anybody that went bankrupt" and that "a wholesale destruction of the economy" didn't happen.

If this is true, then why do we speak of Tulipmania as some kind of Aesop's fable warning us about the dangers of avarice and manias merged together? According to the Smithsonian, for this "we have tetchy Christian moralists to blame ...". The idea "that God punishes people who are overreaching" resonated with early Dutch Calvinists who were worried about societal decay after Tulipmania. 

Interesting, to say the least.

For more on the story of Tulipmania (that never happened?), click here.

- Mark 


While this message has been done several different ways, this clip does a pretty good job of explaining the concept of privilege.

- Mark

Sunday, October 15, 2017


This coming Thursday evening (October 19), beginning at 6 pm, we will premiere the documentary "American Migrant Stories" at California State University, Bakersfield's Walter W. Stiern Library.

We started working on this documentary almost immediately after Donald Trump was declared the winner of the 2016 presidential election. Understanding that things were going to take a turn for the worse for America's migrant communities, about 26 attorneys from Bakersfield came together to put on a series of "legal clinics" designed specifically for Kern County's undocumented population.

The goal was to go to local communities across Kern County and advise the undocumented populations of their legal rights and responsibilities. The group of attorneys doing this work, without compensation of any type, is called the Immigration Justice Collaborative.

As the director of the Center for Social Justice I was able to secure a grant from The California Endowment, and hired a film crew from the Los Angeles area to document the legal clinics. During spring 2017 we determined that we should move beyond simply filming these legal clinics and decided to create a documentary on the broader issue of migration in America, while focusing on events in Kern County.

The film runs about 32 minutes. Light hors d'oeuvres and refreshments will be served at the showing. The event is time certain, and will start immediately at 6 pm.

- Mark

Thursday, October 12, 2017


From The Intercept, we get the following ...

This past Friday morning, at 12:39 a.m., security footage from the Asheville Regional Airport in North Carolina showed a man walking through the front doors wearing black clothing and a black cap, while carrying a bag. “Based on a review of the video, the individual walked near the entrance to the terminal, went out of sight momentarily, and was then seen departing the area without the bag,” according to the criminal complaint.

With TSA agents following procedures, a bomb sniffing dog was brought in and alerted authorities. Explosives used in criminal activities around the world were found in the bag, along with nails and bullets. In a few words, the device was created to do maximum damage, and set to go off at 6 am that morning, when new travelers were scheduled to arrive for their morning flights.

So, why haven't you heard about this, especially given our endless terror-driven news cycle? The Intercepts Shaun King has a few thoughts on the topic.

The story didn’t go viral and Trump didn’t tweet about it because the bomb was not placed by an immigrant, or a Muslim, or a Mexican. It was placed there by a good ol’ white man, Michael Christopher Estes. Unlike the Las Vegas shooter, Stephen Paddock, whose motive is still hard to discern, Estes wanted to be very clear that his ultimate goal was to accelerate a war on American soil.

Think about it. Here you have a criminal terrorist act, designed to do maximum harm to innocent Americans, with the broader goal of instigating a domestic war scenario, and no one hears about it on the evening news. Donald Trump said nothing, which is strange since his terror instincts allowed him to see and speak about Muslims dancing in the streets of New York after 9/11.

What's more worrisome is that this event occurred (Oct. 6) after the Las Vegas shooting spree, when America's sensibilities about terrorism, violence and mass destruction were supposed to be heightened.

So, I guess we're back to "normal" now. The silence surrounding this case seems to make that clear.

Normalcy. In Trump's America. I know I feel safer.

Sigh ...

- Mark 


Global financial aid comes in two forms. The first type of aid is tied development, and generally focuses on developing general programs, health projects, infrastructure, and other categories designed to assist state "development" goals. 

The second form of aid arrives in the shape of loans at market or near market rates, and is provided with the idea of developing resources that will be sold to the country providing aid. This is precisely the type of aid Russia is receiving from China.

According to Foreign Policy, Chinese foreign aid to Russia is almost exclusively for "commercial consideration" and "mostly about getting the thirsty Chinese economy access to Russia's huge reserves of oil."

Recipients of global financial aid from China (in red) ... Russia tops the list.
Between 2000 and 2014, Russia was the recipient of $36.6 billion in loans, grants, and other agreements from China (Pakistan is second with $24.3 billion). Over this same period, China provided some kind of financial assistance to 140 countries and territories. 

Total financial aid from China between 200 and 2014 was $354.3 billion, which places it just behind what the United States provided during the same period, $394.6 billion. Of this amount, North Korea "officially" received $272 million from China.

You can read the details by clicking here.

- Mark