Posts tagged ‘Cold War’

Why I Go Back and Forth On Issues of Forced Psychiatric Institutionalization

A few months ago I wrote:

I was among those who has opposed forced institutionalization.  The practice used to be rife with abuse, and when it was really being challenged in the 1970's it was with recent knowledge of how institutionalization for supposed mental health issues had been used in the Soviet Union as a tool against dissent.  And in a world where political partisans still routinely assign negative mental health diagnoses to their political enemies and have even suggested using mental health diagnosis-from-a-distance to unseat the current President, there is still a lot of possibility for abuse.  But seeing that most of those who would have been in state mental hospitals are now in prison or living (and dying) on the streets, I am open to having made a mistake.   I am still not sure, though, who advocates for such people who are without friends and family and would help guard against their abuse.

I understand that the general media explanation of homelessness is to blame it on the cold heart of whoever was the last Republican President in office, but it is hard for me to correlate national policy with trends in homelessness.  I am maybe 70% convinced that the closing of mental health facilities in the 70's and 80's across most cities and states was the main cause, a hypothesis born out by the high rates of mental illness recorded in most homeless populations.  This is why I think so much government spending for the homeless is wasted -- it all focuses on creating homes, I guess just because of our word choice of "homeless".  If we called them the mentally ill, or perhaps "helpless" rather than "homeless" we might investigate other approaches.

I see a number of sources nowadays trying to pin these closures entirely on tight-fisted Republican governors, and I am sure this is partly true.  But this misses an important element -- that civil libertarians had real issues with both the conduct of these institutions (e.g. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest) and the fairness of the forced-institutionalization process.  Also tied up in all this were Cold War stories of Soviet Russia using institutionalization in mental hospitals as a way to dispose of dissidents.  After all, it is a short step from the totalitarian view of ideology (ie that everyone must believe, not just comply) to declaring that any deviation from the official orthodoxy constitutes mental illness.

Which leads me to this story, which got me started thinking about this again:

Marine Le Pen, the leader of the French far right has been left shocked and furious after a court ordered her to be examined by a psychiatrist to determine if she "is capable of understanding remarks and answering questions".

Le Pen, who is head of the former National Front party - now National Rally (Rassemblement National) revealed on Twitter her shock and anger at being ordered to undertake a psychiatric assessment.

The unusual summoning is in relation to Le Pen having tweeted out gruesome propaganda images from terror group Isis that showed the bodies of people having been executed by the so-called Islamic State.

In March Le Pen was charged with circulating "violent messages that incite terrorism or pornography or seriously harm human dignity" and that can be viewed by a minor.

And as part of their investigation it appears magistrates in Nanterre near Paris have ordered Le Pen to visit a psychiatrist for an expert assessment.

"I thought I had been through it all: well, no! For denouncing the horrors of Daesh (Isis) by tweets the "justice system" has referred me for a psychiatric assessment. How far will they go?!" she said on Thursday.

Ms. Le Pen is not really my cup of tea, but this strikes me as a creepily totalitarian action, oddly similar to certain groups in the US that want to take on Trump with mental health claims.  If you are imitating strategies used by Soviet Russia to suppress dissidents, you are probably doing Democracy wrong.

 

 

The Terrorists Have Won

Security wall going up around the Eiffel Tower

The city of Paris is planning to build a permanent barrier around the Eiffel Tower and its two adjacent ponds in order to beef up security, replacing temporary protective structures that had been up as a result of recent terror attacks. It’s estimated that the structure, which will be bulletproof and able to stop vehicles, will cost the city 20 million euros (about $22 million). ...

Work on the perimeter is scheduled to start this fall, although plans are subject to approval. Once the project is complete, you’ll no longer be able to stroll leisurely under the massive steel tower, as you’ll first have to pass through a security checkpoint involving a metal detector and ID check before you can get up close to the base.

Nothing more romantic than a moonlight stroll under the Eiffel tower... and getting frisked by the French equivalent of the TSA.

By the way, if the Conservatives in this country need a better euphemism for their Mexican wall, here is a suggestion from the French:

While reports have said the wall be made of glass, Paris‘ deputy mayor Jean-François Martins wouldn’t confirm that to be true in a press conference last week — however, Martins did say, “It’s not a wall, it’s an aesthetic perimeter,”

If only the East Germans had been so clever with words, they might have won the Cold War.

Berlin, 1945, In Color

Pretty amazing footage.  Having been to the Brandenburg Gate during the height of the Cold War, it is jarring to see someone driving easily from the British to the Soviet sector (the wall ran right by the Gate, with it just in the Soviet sector).

A Question for Immigration Restrictionists

The current refugee surge into Europe has caused a lot of my friends who are immigration restrictionists to say this proves that I am naive.

During the Cold War, we (including most Conservatives) considered it immoral that Communist countries would not let their people leave (Berlin Wall, etc.).  Now, however, it is argued by many of these same folks that it is imperative that the Western democracies build walls to keep people out.

So here is a question -- not of practical consequences, but of pure morality.  Consider this picture of people being prevented from crossing the border.

Explain to me why this scene is immoral if the wall and police forces were put there by the country at the right (the leaving country) but suddenly moral if the same wall with the same police force were put there by the country on the left (the receiving country).  Don't they have exactly the same effect?  Same wall -- How are they different?

The Worst New Idea of the 20th Century

I wanted to add something to my post on Hiroshima the other day.  The point of the post was not to argue for any comfort with atomic weapons or the killing of tens of thousands of civilians (mutual assured destruction has got to be the dumbest, scariest, craziest basis for international relations ever conceived).  The point was to argue that most arguments about Hiroshima are stripped of historical context, colored by our experience of the Cold War, and based on increasingly popular but incorrect assumptions about the rulers of Japan at the end of the war.

So as an adjunct to that post, I wanted to emphasize that I think civilian bombing (whether conventional or nuclear) to be the worst single new idea of the 20th century.  The absolute worst ideas of the 20th century were likely Marxism and genocide, but these were not new to the 2oth century.  But strategic bombing of civilian populations far to the rear of the front lines, whether convention or nuclear, by airplane or missile, was almost entirely new.  It was an awful, terrible idea that haunts us to this day.

It is in this context that I don't single out Hiroshima for particular opprobrium.  It was a change in technology in a horrendous program.  The worst of the lot in my mind was Arthur Harris.  Harris, head of the British strategic bombing effort through most of the war, did not even pretend to be targeting industries or factories.  He thought such precision bombing to be madness.  His very specific goal was to kill and "unhouse" as many civilians as possible, and he measured the British bombing effort in those terms.

Hiroshima in Historical Context

Well, its that time of year again and folks on the Left are out there with their annual rants against the bombing of Hiroshima as a great crime against humanity.

All war is a crime against humanity by those who start them.  And I am certainly uncomfortable that we let the atomic genie out of the steel casing in August of 1945.  But I think much of what is written about Hiroshima strips the decision to drop the bomb from its historical context.  A few thoughts:

  1. We loath the Hiroshima bombing because we in 2015 know of the nuclear proliferation that was to follow and the  resulting cloud of fear that hung over the globe for decades as most everyone was forced to think about our new ability to destroy humanity.  But all that was in the realm of science fiction in 1945.  And even if they knew something of the Cold War and fear of the Bomb, would many have had sympathy, living as they were through a real war that represented possibly the worst self-inflicted catastrophe man has ever faced?
  2. Several other bombing raids, notably the fire-bombing of Tokyo, took more lives than Hiroshima.  Again, we differentiate the two because we experienced the Cold War that came after and thus developed a special fear and loathing for atomic weapons, but people in 1945 did not have that experience.
  3. The ex post facto mistake many folks make on Hiroshima is similar to the mistake many of us make on Yalta.  Lots of folks, particularly on the Right, criticize FDR for being soft on Stalin and letting him get away with Eastern Europe.  But really,what were they going to do?  Realistically, Russia's armies were already in Eastern Europe and were not going to leave unless we sent armies to throw them out.  Which we were not, because folks were absolutely exhausted by the war.  This war exhaustion also plays a big part in the decision at Hiroshima.  Flip the decision around.  What would have happened if a war-weary public later found out that the government had a secret weapon that might have ended the war but refused to use it?  They would have been run out of office.
  4. I once heard a government official of the time say that it was odd to hear people talking about the "decision" to bomb Hiroshima because there was not a decision to make.  We were in a long, horrible, bloody war.  We had a new weapon.  It was going to be used.
  5. The Japanese were not showing a willingness to negotiate.  Yes, some members of the Japanese state department were making peaceful overtures before Hiroshima, but they had no power.  None of the military ruling clique was anywhere in the ballpark of surrendering.  Even after Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, and the Russian declaration of war, the government STILL would not have voted for surrender except for the absolutely extraordinary and unprecedented  intervention of the Emperor.  And even then, the military rulers were still trying to figure out how to suppress the Emperor or even take him hostage to stop any peace process.
  6. It is argued sometimes that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs were irrelevant and that the Japanese surrendered when the Russians declared war.  The Russian declaration was certainly an important part of the mix, but I find it hard to believe the Emperor would have taken his unprecedented actions without the atomic bomb attacks.  Besides, even if the Russian declaration was critical, it could be argued the bombs played a huge role in that declaration.  After all, we had tried to get the Russians to make such a declaration for years, and it suddenly came coincidentally a couple of days after the atomic bombs start dropping?  I doubt it.  A better theory is that the Russians were waiting for signs that the war was nearly won so they could jump in and grab some costless booty from defeated Japan, and the bombs were that sign.
  7. It is argued that the invasion of Japan would have cost fewer lives than the bomb.  This is a crock.  Sorry.  There is absolutely no way to look at military and civilian casualty figures from Iwo Jima and Okinawa and come to any conclusion other than the fact that the invasion of Japan would have been a bloodbath.
  8. It is argued that we could have blockaded Japan to death.  This is possible, but it would have 1. Taken a lot of time, for which no one had any patience; 2. exposed US ships to relentless Kamikaze attacks and 3.  likely have cost more Japanese civilian lives to continued conventional bombing and starvation than the atomic bombs did.
  9. It is argued that we dropped the bombs on Japan out of some sort of racial hatred.  We can't really test this since by the time the bombs were ready, Japan was our only enemy left in the field.  Certainly, as a minimum, we had developed a deep hatred of Japanese culture that seemed so alien to us and led to atrocities that naturally generated a lot of hatred.  For the soldier, the best simple description of this culture clash I ever heard (I can't remember the source) was a guy who said something like "for us, the war was about winning and going home.  For the Japanese, the war just seemed to be about dying."   In a time where racism was much more normal and accepted, I would say that yes, this cultural hatred became real racism.  But I would add that it was not like we entered the war with some sort of deep, long hatred of Asians.  If anything, we stumbled into the Pacific War in large part because Americans felt a special friendship and sympathy with China and would not accept Japan's military interventions there.

Soviet Spy Harry Dexter White

I thought this was an interesting article on Harry Dexter White, an important American architect of the post-war monetary system who spied for the Soviets for over a decade.  The one disconnect I had was this:

Over the course of 11 years, beginning in the mid-1930s, White acted as a Soviet mole, giving the Soviets secret information and advice on how to negotiate with the Roosevelt administration and advocating for them during internal policy debates. White was arguably more important to Soviet intelligence than Alger Hiss, the U.S. State Department official who was the most famous spy of the early Cold War.

The truth about White's actions has been clear for at least 15 years now, yet historians remain deeply divided over his intentions and his legacy, puzzled by the chasm between White's public views on political economy, which were mainstream progressive and Keynesian, and his clandestine behavior on behalf of the Soviets. Until recently, the White case has resembled a murder mystery with witnesses and a weapon but no clear motive.

Only in academia could folks see a "chasm" between admiration for the Soviets and an American progressive who grew up a supporter of Robert La Follette and later of the New Deal.  The problem, I think, is that White seems to have shared the gauzy positive view of Soviet economic progress and success that was also rooted deeply in American academia (not to mention the NY Times).  I don't know what the academic situation is like today, but as recently as 1983, for example, I had a professor at Princeton who went nuts at the mere mention of Hannah Arendt's name, apparently for the crime of lumping Stalin's communism in with Hitler's fascism as two sides of the same totalitarian coin.

Worst Law That I Can Remember

This is simply an awful law.  If you had asked me ten years ago if we would see the President (a Democrat yet) claiming the right to assasinate Americans and the Congress threatening to pass a bill requiring the indefinite detention, without trial, of people within our borders, I would never have believed it.  At first I was excited to see that Obama was threatening a veto, but then I read that he was not upset about indefinite detention, but only that Congress was threatening to tie his hands and proscribe certain options.  Obama wants to have the choice of whether to offer certain individuals due process or indefinite decision.

For more, see Rand Paul v. John McCain

Postscript:  As usual, I am left flat by the debate over whether certain injustices, like indefinite detention, apply to all humanity or just foreigners.  I have yet to parse anything in our founder's national rights arguments behind the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution that justify why folks born outside our borders have fewer rights than those born inside them.

Update:  More here, including a lot from the ACLU.  We are supposed to feel better because John McCain says that this only applied to Al Qaeda.  But how in the hell do we know with any confidence that the folks the President locks up are Al Qaeda?  Its bad enough to declare a whole new crime, that of being a member of a certain organization.  The US, through its history, has been much better than most nations in avoiding banning certain parties and organizations.  But even if we accept this law, doesn't there need to be some due process?

I suppose I understand that if I captured a guy in an SS uniform in WWII who 10 seconds ago was shooting at me, locking him up as a POW might not require a ton of due process.  Last I checked, the AQ folks didn't have a uniform or anything.  And most of them are not routinely shooting at us.

We didn't even pass this kind of horrible law at the height of Cold War anti-communist hysteria.  Can you see Johnson or Nixon (or Hoover) being able to indefinitely detain anyone they thought was a member of the Communist Party?

Post Office: Mail Delivery or Welfare?

The management of the Post Office is a joke, and it is hardly worth the electrons to write more about it.   But I did find this factoid in Tad DeHaven's commentary on the Post Office's hopeless efforts at cost reduction interesting.

Traditional post offices, which number about 27,000, cannot be closed “for solely operating at a deficit” and the closure process is burdensome.

Wow, that is a bad law (though no worse than 10,000 others like it).  This sounds similar to the military base problem, where every facility that needs closure has a Congressperson desperately trying to keep it open against all economic reality, merely as a jobs/welfare program once its true utility is over.   Apparently, the Post Office has an overcapacity problem that rivals the US Military's after the Cold War (and really to be honest after WWII)

Full post offices are more costly to operate than other means of serving customers. The average post office transaction cost 23 cents per dollar of revenue in 2009 while the average transaction at a contract postal unit cost just 13 cents. Post offices used to generate almost all postal retail revenue, but 29 percent is now generated online through usps.com and other alternative channels.

In 2009 post offices recorded 117 million fewer transactions than in 2008. Four out of five post offices are operating at a loss. However, the postal network’s overcapacity has drawn little corrective action from Congress. In fact, legislation introduced in the House with 102 cosponsors would apply the burdensome procedures for closing post offices to other postal outlets as well. Congress is actively working against the modernization of the U.S. postal system.

The amazing thing is that they have tons of extra capacity and still provide poor service.  Just compare the process of mailing a package UPS vs. USPS.  I have a UPS account, I can print my own labels, I get billed automatically, I get package tracking, and I can send the package from the drop box downstairs in my building.

It is almost impossible to do this with the USPS.  To mail anything larger than 13 ounces, to buy postage without an expensive meter, to get a greatly inferior sort of tracking -- all require a grim trek to the post office.

My guess is that just like Pemex is not longer really about producing oil, the USPS mission is no longer primarily about delivering mail, its a welfare program.

PS - my USPS delivery guy is great.  Nicest guy in the world.  The mistake for years in criticizing the USPS has always been about criticizing the people.  Not only is that wrong, but it distracts from the problem.  By implying the problem is bad, surly people, it implies the problem is fixable with new people.  But in fact, the problem, as with all government, is information and incentives .... and in this case Congressional meddling in their mission.

Taking Krugman to the Woodshed

My friend Brink Lindsey is usually pretty measured in his writing.  So it was entertaining to see him take Paul Krugman out to the woodshed:

How can someone as intelligent and informed as Krugman
concoct an interpretation of the post-World War II era that does such
violence to the facts? How can someone so familiar with the intricate
complexities of social processes convince himself that history is a
simple matter of good guys versus bad guys? Because, for whatever
reason, he has swapped disinterested analysis and scholarship for
ideological partisanship. Here,
in a revealing choice of phrase, he paraphrases Barry Goldwater's
notorious line: "Partisanship in the defense of liberty is no vice."

To be a partisan is, by definition, to see the world partially
rather than objectively: to identify wholeheartedly with the
perspectives of one particular group and, at the extreme, to discount
all rival perspectives as symptoms of intellectual or moral corruption.
And the perspective Krugman has chosen to identify with is the
philosophically incoherent, historically contingent grab bag of
intellectual, interest group, and regional perspectives known as
postwar American liberalism.

Of course, over the period that Krugman is addressing, the contents
of that grab bag have changed fairly dramatically: from
internationalist hawkishness in World War II and the early Cold War to
a profound discomfort with American power in the '70s and '80s to a
jumble of rival views today; from cynical acquiescence in Jim Crow to
heroic embrace of the civil rights movement to the excesses of identity
group politics to a more centrist line today; from sympathy for
working-class economic hardship to hostility to working-class culture
and back again. Yet with a naive zeal that leaves even Cuomo visibly
nonplussed at several points in the interview, Krugman embraces the
shifting contents of this grab bag as the one true path of virtue.