Friday, March 20, 2020

Dr GADFLY Advises

Gadfly generally finds plenty of people in public life, both political and corporate, who are in need of a satirist’s sharp pen. 

But, the coronavirus is in a separate category.  So, today’s column will be serious:  The human body is complex, made of many structures and functions, none more so than the immune system.  If you’re lucky enough to have been given a strong immune system, or live a lifestyle that will maintain a functionally resilient immune system — you can thumb your nose at viruses such as the common cold or the coronavirus. 

I have a heredity that offers heart disease, hypertension, and a lipid profile that includes high cholesterol.  My lifestyle, however, has been influenced by a liking for athletics (track and field) and a few folks who have a strong background in research.  I never submit to flu shots, nor do I ever get the flu.  I am out walking (aerobic walking) when I’m not splitting wood for an evening fire.  I have also come to know Dr Larry L who has introduced me to nicotinamide (Vitamin B3), which is much more than a vitamin. 

There is more detail to such a healthful lifestyle and immune system than aerobic walking and a glass of dry red wine with dinner.  A number of supplements from the health food store should be selected, and regular meditation (Ommm) are important. A varied diet that is rich in vegetables is basic of course.

The medical profession has had no answer to the coronavirus, nor will you catch them advocating for a strong immune system as a primary strategy.

The next column will see GADFLY returning to the much needed  traditions of Jonathan Swift.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Birds, Insects, People

Environmental disasters have been reported in scientific journals of all nations, even in news journals such as Fox (Faux) News.  Nature, and Nature Briefing, and Inside Climate News have monthly and weekly reports of the effects of overheating of the earth and oceans on plant life, animal life, and the life of microorganisms.

The global overheating has brought floods, wildfires, and heat waves to the whole continent of Australia.  The change in climate has affected the language as well. It is now called climate chaos, collapse, crisis, calamity, cacophony, apocalypse … 

Several human interest stories have been reported — if you can call such unfortunate “human interest.”  The flying foxes of Australia have suffered heat exhaustion leading to impairment of their mental and physical capacities.

Sea-bird die-offs have been reported among common murres and tufted puffins as the photo- and zoo-plankton has changed and the fish and birds have had to complete with each other for food. The birds died of starvation in droves.  At first the scientists looked for viral and bacterial toxins and for parasites, but, it was nothing so esoteric. It was simply starvation.

In the countries of east Africa and around the Red Sea, there have been incessant heavy rains and accompanying heat waves — favorite weather conditions for breeding of desert locusts. The insects can eat huge amounts of vegetation. A swarm of locusts the size of Paris can eat the same amount of food in a day as all of France does. Sorry, no French cuisine or Bordeaux wine.  

Also of human interest is what’s happening to people.  We’re the new kid on the block in geologic time. Homo sapiens gracilis is only 200,000 years old, and has been living in the Pleistocene Epoch. 

The last ice age ended only about 12,000 years ago, as we entered the Holocene, the Epoch of good weather. But the Holocene itself has been changing in the last few years, mostly because of our industrial activity and our use of fossil fuels coal, oil, and gas. The linguists are starting to use the term Anthropocene for the new climate Epoch.  Human interest, surely.

Also, the reasons may be different, but we seem to be entering the Time of the Sixth Mass Extinction.  Will we be going the way of the dinosaurs?

Monday, January 20, 2020

Money vs. Social Needs

In a recent GADFLY column, Goldman Sachs, the infamous investment bank was reported to have announced that it would decline to invest in drilling for oil In the National Wildlife Refuge. Was it Too Good To Be True? The column went into the Goldman Sachs Shenanigans of the 2007-2008 financial crisis and its sub-prime mortgage customs & habits. As well, there were credit default swaps and derivative trading that started under Lloyd Blankfein’s tutelage. With Artificial Intelligence (AI) and high speed computer trading, it is all still going on.

The column concluded with the accounting practices that go on today and the funds that would be available if a minuscule Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) were added to all purchases and sales of derivatives. Yes, Medicare For All and College for all could be financed.

In today’s GADFLY column, we look at another waste of money that is just waiting to be saved:  the cost of US military bases in foreign countries. The Pentagon admits to 800 such bases around the world. There are only 193 nations in the UN, a few of which have refused the Pentagon’s largesse, to make the math easy. You can bet that the real number of foreign military bases is well over a thousand.

These military bases have to be given something to do, so they often hold War Games. The environmental impact of tanks and planes moving at maximum velocity is (negatively) impressive and you may be sure that no one drives or flies at fuel-saving speed. 

No one complains about the waste of money in the enterprise — we have to support the troops. We hear only from the citizens of the host countries. The citizens of the US who do the financing also ought to do a little complaining when the schools have no budgets for art and music and the libraries are short on staff. 

Some free nutritious, organic food for school lunches, and creative physical education classes would add to the health and social well being of the students and their families. Let the defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and BlackWater Security et al fend for themselves and not be given any government (taxpayer) handouts.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

An Investment Bank, Too Good to be True?

Goldman Sachs announced that it will henceforth decline to finance Arctic oil drilling in the National Wildlife Preserve. [Pretty weak way to say “We won’t drill for oil in the Arctic Wildlife Preserve!”] They do get a little credit for the part of the announcement regarding mountain-top removal mining, where they will also decline that opportunity.

Before you applaud too loudly — Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland, and UniCredit were way ahead of Goldman Sachs in the investment responsibility line. As well, the (infamous) US investment house may still finance fracking and oil tar sands operations elsewhere. For them, fossil fuels are still alive.

You may remember Goldman Sachs from the 2007-2008 financial crisis which was precipitated by sub-prime mortgage financing and associated monkey business. That and the credit default swaps and exotic derivatives trading.

Lloyd Blankfein was the CEO of Goldman Sachs then. He took phone calls from and gave advice to the Secretary of the Treasury (and President?).  Lloyd B said he was just a banker doing God’s work.

If you think that the shenanagins of the sub-prime mortgages are over and Wall Street has turned over an ethical leaf, better think again. They are just more sophisticated and less transparent about it. Derivatives are still flying high. There are hedge funds and off-shore accounts. Now, with advanced computer technology and artificial intelligence, there is (very) high-frequency computer trading. There are still swaps, knock-out options, vulture options, and even plain vanilla options. The exchange of puts and calls is still on the basis of price agreement between buyer and seller which the SEC can’t keep records of, nor can the IRS can tax directly. 

It took all those years for the Securities and Exchange Commission to file a successful suit in federal court against Goldman Sachs and collect damages to the tune of $5 billion plus an admission that it defrauded its own investors in the process.

The players on Wall Street meanwhile are still playing games (but not with their own money). Even progressive Congress-people, both Democrats and Republicans, won’t propose that a tax be assessed on the exchange of money in these transactions. Yet, a tiniest Financial Transaction Tax [call it a Fee] would add up to enough money to pay for a) Medicare for All Without Deductibles and b) Totally Free CollegeBooks and All.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Just Practicing

Predictions of rising sea levels due to the melting of the Polar ice caps and the Greenland ice sheet have plenty of science and technology behind them. Not even Donald Trump can deny NASA’s S-D satellite images.

Well, according to an article in Nature Communications, the satellite images were at first misinterpreted, and the expected flooding will be far, far worse than anyone ever expected. Corrections in the new NASA data are now predicting extensive flooding around the World — Southeast Asia, Australia, Florida, and even the UK. 

One of the solutions proposed for the rapidly rising seas and the flooding of low-lying cities is to build massive walls around these cities and population centers.  Perhaps Donald Trump is showing great foresight when he is building a wall at our southern border. Practice makes perfect — for sooner than 2050. He also may be anticipating a large amount of climate-driven migration. Maybe the practice wall he is building will serve two purposes.

One of the mysteries in the Donald’s thinking is why his Southern White House is at Mar-a-Lago, where he often entertains foreign Heads of State.  Mar-a-Lago is on a barrier island at Palm Beach and so vulnerable to flooding that it can go underwater with the next hurricane.  Is his enigmatic nature the reason why he’s President?

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

More Ways to Doomsday

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has just reset the Doomsday Clock at Two Minutes to Midnight, having added Climate Chaos to the previous Nuclear Weapons danger to Mother Earth.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has been on a campaign interviewing presidential candidates on their support for a no-first-use nuclear policy. They have also polled the general public who have shown broad support for a no-first-use nuclear policy. [John Bolton and Mike Pompeo have refused to take part in any of the polls, but we know their policy.] The UCS have just printed the Fall issue of Catalyst which is self congratulatory concerning the land, sea, and air based ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles).

But, now a new class of new nuclear weapons has entered the picture, and the Two Minutes to Midnight may have to be further lowered to One Minute. The new danger is the Intermediate Range Nuclear Missiles — from 500 to 5500 kilometers. An INF treaty was signed in 1987 between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. Now, many nations have the missiles that can reach that shortened distance and are becoming capable of arming them with nuclear warheads. Except, there is no longer a U.S.S.R. and there is no sense of anything rational going on in the White House.

The Fall issue of UCS’s Catalyst has attracted readers with an interview of Richard Garwin whose illustrious life spans over 90 years and has more awards than anyone and everyone. How many people have worked with Enrico Fermi and with Hans Bethe? Garwin also collaborated with Edward Teller — not a proud moment in his career. But anything to attract readers.

So why are Russia and China refusing to enter an INF Treaty. The US is connected in both instances. With Russia it’s politics, and with China it involves dollars as well as politics. NATO has been playing footsie with Ukraine (historically, in Russia’s sphere of influence also the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s home base in the Crimea, which geographically is part of Ukraine. The bottom line was the election of President Zelensky, who is not a politician but an actor and comedian. Wonder what Ronald Reagan would have to say about a Slavic “acting president”.

So Russia agreed with the withdrawal of the US from the INF Treaty and in return started to arm its Middle Range Missiles.  Politics as ever since the 19th century Crimean War. 

China, with its long history of Opium Wars, never got over the withdrawal of Taiwan from Mainland China. [It was ceded to Britain as a Crown Colony in the mid 1800s.] It was eventually agreed that it would revert to Chinese rule in 1997. In between, other changes took place: It was declared part of the Qing Empire, and after the Sino-Japanese war was ruled by Japan. When Chaing Ki-shek fled the mainland in the face of overwhelming forces of Mao Tse-tung, Chaing established martial law, which was finally lifted after many years.

Taiwan is known as the Republic of China to many residents of the island; and is a province of Mainland China to The Peoples’ Republic. Chinese INF Nuclear Missiles don’t threaten the US but target every square meter of Taiwan. And, Walmart and the big Box stores do a brisk business with mainland China.

Americans generally support the military, but Supporting the Troops has little to do with paying millions and billions to military contractors who include the likes of: Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics (Major General?), Raytheon, Grumman, Boeing, BAE, and BlackWater Services.

Let’s stop calling it the “Defense” industry. Then, it’s high time for the US to take the lead and re-establish the INF Treaty. We can bribe and otherwise strong arm lesser powers to sign it also — UK, France, China, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iran [you can call them Persia], Brazil, Argentina, and the Seychelles Islands. It would be just like the Pact of Paris [or Kellogg Briand Treaty] when WILPF led the way through the Outlawry movement. [WILPF is still active, though Jane Addams its founder and Nobel Peace Laureate is not alive.]  Let WILPF nominate Gadfly for a Nobel Peace Prize for this latest essay.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Challenging Authority

Ever since Ancient Greece and Rome — perhaps Akkadian times, too, with the poetry of Enheduanna, the poet-daughter of Sargon the Great — authority has been blessed by challengers.

Even the name, Gadfly, originated with Socrates who corrupted the youth of Athens. Then, the playwright, Aristophanes, added that literary discipline to the compendium of satire.

Satire more recently crossed the Channel to Ireland and Britain with Jonathan Swift, and then in England (and the world) with Punch magazine. Political cartoons found a niche, and reached their height by making fun of JMW Turner, the pre-Impressionist British artist. Now, political cartoons appear on the editorial pages of many newspapers on both sides of the Pond.

GADFLY started recently in the US in the time of the Iraq War when the infamous liar called Curveball told Dick Cheney what he wanted to hear regarding weapons of mass destruction. As an add on, the (Vice) president told us that Saddam Hussein was friends with Al Qaeda. Neither was true.

A series of Letters to the Editor from Milanville followed, and soon after, The GADFLY column appeared in three different local newspapers in the Delaware Valley. Dick Cheney continued to supply raw material for GADFLY, and Donald Rumsfeld added a few select gems. More recently, GADFLY started its own blog:  

By the time The Donald assumed the Presidency, GADFLY held over 150 column with no end in sight, most of them as relevant as ever. GADFLY plans to continue to teach using the Socratic method of questioning, but has no plans to partake of hemlock