Saturday, February 24, 2024

In Alabama, embryos are now persons you see, imagine all the possibilities…


In Alabama, embryos are now persons you see, imagine all the possibilities…

If age be defined by the time of conception...

Will an embryo frozen five years ago be required to go to school.

Will be eligible for a driver's license if from 16 years ago it was frozen.

Will it be eligible vote if from 18 years ago it was frozen.

If 21 years ago it became a person, will be allowed to drink or smoke in Alabama today.

If more than 21 years ago it became a person, how might it affect the rule against perpetuities?

If the embryo is 18 and male and plans goes to college, will he have to register for the draft?

When will the embryo be eligible for Social Security and retirement?

Will it be referred to as he, she, it, or they?  What if  the embryo is the basis of twins, who will it be?

If the embryo turns out to be trans, how will we know what bathroom it can use?

Will it be a US citizen if frozen in Alabama, but birthed in Mexico?  

Will it be able to inherit?  When will it be required to pay taxes, look for a job, or be charged with a crime?

If it is Catholic when does it acquire original sin or be eligible for first communion?

Will it be considered an orphan if its parents were to die or will its parents be charged with abandonment if they failed to bring the embryo to birth? Could the government charge parents with abandon it if the parents opt not to bring the embryo to birth?

If the embryo were stolen, would it constitute kidnapping? Should an embryo at age 18 be able to attend  a senior prom?

If the age of marriage is as young as 16 in Alabama and it was frozen that long ago, will I be able to marry another  embryo, but only if it's of the opposite sex?

Will an embryo be charged with murder if implanted into a uterus and it forces a miscarriage?

These is what happens in Alabama  you see, if embryos are persons  Can you suggest to me other possibilities?

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Black Swans, unknown unknowns, and October surprises

 Black Swans, unknown unknowns, and October surprises.  These are the names of factors that could change the course of the 2024 presidential election.  And we may not even know what they are

According to political scientists there are models that predict winners in presidential elections. These models generally look at presidential approval rating and public attitudes towards the economy in the second quarter of an election year.  We know this based on past or “normal” elections. However, the 2024 election cycle is like no other election cycle in American history. There are a whole host of black swans, unknown unknowns, and potential October surprises that could change the course of the election. These are variables that we have not seen previously in presidential elections or events whose course could evolve and change in ways to impact the election.


What might be some of these unknown unknowns?   Here are ten possibilities.


Will Trump stand trial and be convicted of any crimes before the 2024 election? Going into the election, Donald Trump faces four criminal trials and 91 criminal indictments. His base is with him. However, the battle is for those few swing voters in those five or six swing states that will decide the election.   It is perhaps less than 150,000 voters. Polls indicate that among those swing or independent voters, a Trump conviction could sway and alter their vote, perhaps throwing the election to Joe Biden. If and when those trials occur, we do not know and their timing could very well affect the election.


Will the US Supreme Court allow the use of the insurrection clause to remove Trump from the ballot? The insurrection clause was drafted to address problems following the Civil War and to keep members of the Confederacy from serving in office.  States such as Colorado as well as many others are trying to use the insurrection clause as a way of keeping Donald Trump off the ballot. The Supreme Court will shortly be deciding whether or not that clause can be used for that purpose.


How will the conflicts in the Middle East Ukraine and possibly tensions with China in North Korea impact the election?   Matters of foreign affairs are always unpredictable. We don't know at this point if the evolution of the Middle East conflict could drag the United States into a full blown war. We don't know how the future progress of a Russian Ukraine fight will evolve. And while the US is distracted by the Middle East and Ukraine, will China or North Korea use this as an opportunity to make moves on Taiwan or to extend their zone of influence in Asia? Any in all of these variables matters of war and peace could impact the election.


What will happen to inflation at the gas pump or the grocery store?  The economy is always one of the biggest variables in an election. Last year with inflation running high, presidential approval for Biden was sinking.  Right now, inflation seems to be subsiding. The economy is doing well. However, gas prices are going up again. Inflation has not brought down the price of groceries. Will Americans continue to be disgruntled about the economy? And how will it evolve over the next few months and especially in the closing days of the election? With that, how might international conflict especially in the Middle East also impact gas prices?


Will young people or people of color show up and vote in 2024?  People of color and young people (under the age of thirty) showed up to vote in record numbers in 2020. Biden needs that record turnout again to be able to win. He also needs women to show up and to vote for him much in the same way that they showed up for him in 2020 and how they showed up for Democrats in 2022.  Enthusiasm for Biden is not great. What motivated these voters four years ago was opposition to Trump.  Can Biden find a key to get these voters to show up and vote for him, especially in those critical swing states?


Will abortion continue to be a major issue, especially for college educated women in 2024? What college educated suburban women do determines the outcome of elections.  If they show up, Democrats do well if they stay home Republicans do well. These women stayed home in 2016. They showed up in 2018, 2020, and 2022. They showed up mostly concerned about reproductive rights issues and the Democrats did well. Will they be motivated this year to show up and vote and  will abortion still be the issue?


Will the border crisis change in 2024? Donald Trump is running on the issue of the border crisis. Biden's reelection could very well rest upon whether Congress reaches a deal on securing the southern border and on public’s perceptions regarding how well the Biden administration is addressing the immigration issue.


Will there be any Supreme Court decisions in 2024 that could impact the election? Back in 2022, it was abortion and the repeal of Roe vs. Wade that changed the trajectory of the midterm elections. Could there be a similar vote this year such as on presidential immunity from prosecution or  the insurrection clause? Or could there be some other Supreme Court vote that suddenly grips America's attention and mobilizes voters?


Will there be any health problems that impact the 2024 presidential candidates? Both Donald Trump and Joe Biden are elderly candidates. It is not inconceivable that health problems by one or both of them could impact the election. The recent special counsel report on Joe Biden painted a devastating picture of his mental health. But what if one or both of the candidates is taken ill and has to leave the race and has to be replaced. How might that affect the trajectory of the election?


What is the Taylor Swift impact? Could Taylor Swift influence the impact of the 2024 election by her decision to endorse Joe Biden? Would it be enough to motivate her supporters, younger women, many of them who don't otherwise vote, and could that change the course of the election, especially in those critical swing states?


Overall, any or all of these factors could be the black swans, the unknown unknowns, or the October surprise that changes the course of the presidential election in 2024. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

The Politics of the 2024 Minnesota Legislative Session

            The DFL party in Minnesota has a trifecta. In 2023, they used that political Trifecta to go big

before they went home. With a $17 billion plus surplus, they had the money to enact and support all types of pet projects that they've been wanting to push for years. Such projects blew through the surplus and committed the state to structural increases in spending for years to come. Additionally, they used their Trifecta to push social legislation, including for abortion and other matters that were of interest to their constituents, especially the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

            But the politics and the constraints of the 2024 session are different.

The most recent fiscal forecast indicates while there is a surplus this biennium there'll be structural deficits in the future.  While that should be a note of caution for the Democrats, not to go on a spending spree. There are also many who view perhaps 2024 as a last opportunity.

While the Minnesota Senate is not up for reelection, the House is and there is a possibility that it  could fall to Republican control.  If it were to do so, the Democrats would lose their Trifecta and their ability to be able to do what they want in terms of fiscal spending or articulating their policy agenda.

For some then this means go big and go home again. Use the 2024 session as perhaps the last hurrah to enact future spending programs that will further the Democratic agenda and commit the State to specific programs.

On the other hand, assuming the Democrats hold control of the House, they will again have the trifecta in 2025, facing that structural deficit that they were warned about.  The dilemma—spend  or save now with the implications for how it plays out  waiting until 2025.

In 2024 the Trifecta was also the product of the political interest and alignment of the Governor, Senate, and House.  That same alignment does not exist this year. When looking at the interests of the House, the Senate and the governor, we get very different perspectives on what they would like to do.

Governor Waltz has indicated his support for a whole host of things including an abortion amendment. He said he supports legalizing sports gambling and supports perhaps other programs.

His interest is defined in part by the fact that he is going into the second year of his second term.  Unless he plans on running for a third term and wins after this term, he goes into lame duck status. In many ways for Waltz, this may be his last term to define his legacy, especially at a time when he fancies himself perhaps a future presidential candidate.

In the House Speaker Hortman’s  interests and her instincts are to make this a quick legislative session. Do perhaps the bonding bill and clean up some of the legislation from last time. But don't commit to new spending. Don't commit to any social legislation.

But she faces pressures from her Progressive Caucus to do both. And if she's able to impose fiscal restraint upon the Democrats, that will make it even harder for her to impose restraint upon the pushing of social programs. A tradeoff is certain to be made there.

In the Senate Kari Dziedzic was  skilled in the 2023 session in holding the Democrats together with the 34-33 majority.  She is no longer the Majority Leader, replaced by Erin Murphy, whose instincts take her further to the left, as opposed to restraining the impulses of the left wing of the party. Several years ago, she ran for governor as the progressive candidate, only to lose to Waltz in the primary.

The Senate is not up for election.  It faces different political pressures compared to the House in that it may not fear voter retribution. Murphy still would like to be governor and views this position as Majority Leader as perhaps as a springboard for that ambition. She faces the likely opposition from Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan. Both would be vying for support, trying to define themselves as the left candidates.  Were Murphy to caution fiscal restraint and restraint on pushing social issues in the Senate, she might cede the left to Peggy Flanagan, making it more difficult for her perhaps to be nominated in 2024 if she were to run for governor.  Pressures from her progressive wing and her natural instincts drive Murphy  to perhaps outflanking Peggy Flanagan on the left may make it difficult for her to be able to resist the push among some to move the Democratic Party further to the left.

In  2024 there is a different set of politics, with different personal ambitions among the governor, the Speaker of the House, and the Majority Leader in the Senate.  Even though in theory, there is still a trifecta, the interests of these three persons and the two different chambers offer a very different political dynamic than there was last year.

Friday, February 2, 2024

When college was male: Higher education and the war against women


It should come as no surprise that as higher education in America has become more dominated by women it is facing more disparagement and less support since World War II.

Prior to World War II higher ed was male. Most professors were male, as were most students. Women were generally excluded from higher education, most of the schools in the United States were for men only, including the most elite Ivy League schools such as Harvard and Yale.  Yes, there were the Seven Sisters female-only colleges  for women, but for the most part, college could be defined as white male. And at the same time, the vast majority of university professors also were male.

As late as the early 1970s, barely a quarter of the college faculty in the United States were female. Among some of the most elite coed schools, there were no female professors. Women comprised about 40% of college students, but many schools still excluded women. But over the past 50 years, the composition of higher education, both in terms of faculty and in terms of percentage of students who are female, has dramatically changed.

For example, what we now know is that in the past few years, especially since 2009, college enrollment has dropped dramatically. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2020 the total number of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in college was down by approximately 1.2 million from its peak in 2011.


Remember again in 1970, approximately 24% were female. According to more recent statistics from Zippia, for example, we’re now looking at approximately 49.8% of faculty being female, 50.2% male, essentially parity on the surface. An AAUP 2020 survey found that 43% of full-time faculty who were in tenure-track positions were female, but 54% of the faculty who were full-time, non tenure-track were female.

Additionally, female faculty members make 94 cents on the dollar compared to males. Over time, as higher education has become more dominated by female students and faculty, what we’re seeing is a backlash. According to the AAUP  in 2022 only about 26.5% of all faculty are tenured, 10.5% are tenure track, annual contracts are 18%, and part time contingent 45%. The vast majority of individuals now who are teaching in America are what are part-time contingent, no protections with tenure. They are mostly women. The road to equity in higher education is characterized by overall falling salaries and less secure positions for women compared to when colleges and universities were dominated by men.

As higher education feminized, states cut funding, forcing increasing numbers of female students to borrow to finance their schooling. Student loan debt in 2023 is $1.8 trillion, with 67% of it owed by women.

The feminization of higher education has  been accompanied by the disparagement of higher education in America. As males exit higher America higher education, we see increasing attacks upon college and college degrees. No surprise that governors such as Gov. Ron DeSantis have attacked higher education as it has diversified. The same is true in Texas and across the country. Attacking and defunding higher education is part of the new war against women.

The Corporate American Media Distortion of the ICJ Israel Genocide Case

 Today's blog appeared originally in Counterpunch.

Corporate American media distorted and dismissed the South African genocide case brought against Israel in the International Court of Justice (ICJ).  It did so both prior to the decision by the ICJ and afterward.

The Israeli-Hamas conflict is a tragedy on many scores.  But for many, the Israeli response was unwarranted, leading some to argue that perhaps it was a violation of the 1948 Treaty Against Genocide, of which Israel is a signatory.  South Africa filed a complaint with the ICJ alleging this claim, asking for both a ruling that Israel’s actions do amount to genocide and a preliminary decision demanding Israel halt any actions that might constitute such action.

Immediately much of mainstream American corporate media dismissed the complaint.  Bret Stephens of the New  York Times  labeled the genocide charge against Israel as “moral obscenity.”  Ruth Marcus  of the Washington Post described the ICJ preliminary ruling as a “perversion of justice.”   The Economist argued that the term genocide is being “misused” here.  The Los Angeles Times banned reporters who signed a letter condemning Israel’s action from covering the story in part, because they demanded that terms like genocide and apartheid be used in the coverage.  The Wall Street Journal described the case against Israel as “moral inversion.” For much of the mainstream corporate media, the South African case was simply a political stunt and the ICJ should dismiss the complaint.

Yet the ICJ did rule.  It did not dismiss the genocide complaint. Instead, it declared in part that: “In view of the fundamental values sought to be protected by the Genocide Convention, the Court considers that the plausible rights in question in these proceedings, namely the right of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to be protected from acts of genocide and related prohibited acts identified in Article III of the Genocide Convention.”   The ICJ also ordered Israel to “take all measures within its power to prevent the commission of all acts within the scope of Article II of this Convention,” including the killing of members of the Palestinians.

Yet for much of the mainstream American media, the story was not that there were plausible genocide violations on the part of Israel, but that instead the ICJ did not issue  a full order to it to halt all conflict.  The ICJ decision was twisted in its reporting.  While the ICJ did not say stop all military action because there might be some legitimate self-defense actions under international law, it did say stop all acts that might amount to genocide.  Effectively this might be all the actions Israel is engaged in.  Contrary to most  American media reports, this was a major loss for Israel.

So why the bias and skewed reporting?  Some will quickly jump to pro-Israeli and anti-Palestinian biases in the American corporate media.  Perhaps, but this is a simplistic answer.  The real answer is in at least three other forces.

One, is the tendency of the corporate media to heavily rely on the same official US government sources for its information and reporting.  There is an almost government-media industrial complex that forges a consensus, especially when it comes to foreign policy and national affairs.  This complex includes  Washington foreign policy think tanks, professors at prestigious universities, and government officials who form the foreign policy establishment and consensus.  This consensus reflects a bias that more often than not has led to major US foreign policy mistakes. The corporate media turns to them for  their news and reporting, reinforcing a tunnel vision when it comes to debate and discussion on foreign policy issues.

Two, the excessive media concentration in the hands of fewer and fewer for profit corporations excludes a diversity of opinions and alternative voices.  The corporate media reports what the Washington consensus is, excluding alternative and international voices or perspectives.  Not surprisingly, while US media accounts downplayed the ICJ litigation, much of the media across the world and outside the US gave it serious credence.

Three, and perhaps the most important, this bias is what is most profitable.  The days are long since gone when American journalism lived up to its ethos of reporting the news fairly and impartially, reflecting the truth. Instead of publishing “all the news that fit to print,” it may be more accurate to say it publishes “all the news that’s profitable to print.”  The readership of the corporate media lives in its news bubble and biases. Instead of challenging their beliefs,  the corporate media panders to it for profit.

Simply put, it was not profitable or in the interest of the corporate media to fairly report the ICJ genocide case. The biases were deeply imbued in the structure of the mainstream corporate media and a Washington foreign policy consensus that has repeatedly tilted the news.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Prickly Questions of International Law Amid the Gaza War

 This blog originally appeared in the International Policy Digest.

The war in Gaza presents a problem for international politics. But it also poses problems for international law. Specifically, if we were to evaluate the events that have transpired since October 7, from the perspective of international law to assess the legality of actions and determine liability, many questions need to be addressed foremost among those, whether the events here rise to a level that could be adjudicated in some international forum, such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) or the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The most complicated of all factors is about the status of Gaza—is it a state or not? The entire framework of post-1945 international law is premised upon a state-centric model. By that, nation-states or countries are the principal if not the sole actors in international public law. The United Nations is premised upon states as members of, not individuals or ethnic groups, for example. Non-governmental actors (NGOS) are not members of the UN, nor is the European Union, despite how important they are internationally.

Hamas is a terror group, not a state, and its legal standing under international law is unclear. The Gaza Strip, Jerusalem, and the West Bank are Palestinian territories. The Palestinian Liberation Organization proclaimed their territories a state in 1988. Palestine is recognized as a sovereign state by 138 of the 193 UN member states, but it is not a United Nations member itself. But neither Israel nor the U.S. recognizes it as a separate sovereign state, even though there is still lip service given to the idea of a two-state solution. While Gaza has some limited control and autonomy, it is effectively under the control of Israel.

On the one hand then, if Gaza is not a separate state, how does one characterize the attack against Israel by Hamas? The simple answer is that all the attacks were criminal acts and should be treated as such. This means the appropriate reaction by the Israeli government should have been to follow domestic criminal law, searching out the suspects who committed the crimes, prosecuting them, and putting them on trial. Israel instead chose an alternative approach and according to Gaza health officials, over 17,000 civilians, mostly women and children, have been killed as a result.

Instead, Israel formally declared war against Hamas. Under international law, one state cannot declare war against a non-state, let alone a group of individuals. First, aggression by states against another is supposed to be illegal against other states according to the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact, the UN Charter, and a 1974 UN resolution defining aggression. Second, while self-defense is recognized as legitimate by the UN Charter, the International Court of Justice has declared in a 2004 advisory opinion that states may not use force as a form of self-defense against non-state actors.

As far as international law is concerned, Israel’s war declaration and response are problematic. A formal declaration of war by Israel is tantamount to recognition of Gaza as a separate sovereign state against which it may be justified to use force as a form of self-defense. On the contrary, if Gaza is not a separate state but part of Israel, then its actions may violate international law.

No one should think what Hamas did was justified regardless of Israel’s policies in the Occupied Territories. However, with that said, how Israel treats Palestinians is possibly a form of genocide under international convention, or at the very least, it violates other international conventions such as the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Israel is a signatory to these treaties. Legal action to determine if Israel violated either should have been brought before the ICJ.

But assume that Gaza is a state. Israel does have a right to self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter. Still, international law encourages peaceful means to resolve conflicts, or at the very least, to use international tribunals to resolve disputes. One option is the International Criminal Court. Unfortunately, neither Palestine nor Israel recognizes its jurisdiction, thereby foreclosing or at least limiting that as an option to hold either Hamas or, as some claim, Israeli officials such as Benjamin Netanyahu responsible for possible war crimes.

Moreover, if Palestine is a state, there are questions regarding whether Israel’s use of self-defense is legal. Self-defense is limited to proportionality, and it cannot take on actions that might amount to genocide, in violation of the 1972 convention. These are questions that are proper matters for the ICJ to address.

It is possible that the ICJ could be involved in other ways too. The UN General Assembly has requested an advisory opinion from the ICJ, which is currently before the Court. Hamas and the Palestinian state should have waited for this advisory opinion. It is also possible that the current conflict could be brought to the Court, but the authority of the ICJ could be complicated by the issue of statehood.

However, for many, the argument will be that turning to these international forums is futile. On the one hand, Israel has arguably violated international law with impunity over the years when it comes to the Palestinians, and despite repeated UN resolutions little has changed or been accomplished to resolve the disputes that led up to the events of October 7. There is a lot of truth to many of these claims and this begs the question of whether the current regime of international law can resolve the conflict that started on October 7 if it failed to resolve the disputes that led up to it.

Inequality in America? Bah, Humbug!


Inequality in America?  Bah, Humbug!


This piece originally appeared in  Counterpunch on December 8, 2023.

If the US economy is in such great shape why are there so many poor in America and why is there such inequality in the country?

According to The Economist we are entering the golden years for American workers. After decades of  the closing of factories, the loss of blue-collar jobs, wage stagnation, and a buyers’ market for workers, we have entered a new era according to the latest issue of this magazine.  Its editors point to labor shortages, rising wages, and the trickling down of the benefits of the digital economy to the common worker.  The Economist also cites Gerald Auten of the Treasury Department and David Splinter of the Joint Committee on Taxation, a nonpartisan group in Congress, who similarly question whether inequality exists or is increasing.

They join former US Senator Phil Gramm (one of the congressional architects of the Reagan tax cuts back in 1981 and author of the 1999 Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act which overturned the 1933 Glass–Steagall Act which had separated commercial and mortgage banks and who repeal led to the 2008 economic crash) and his co-authors who penned the 2022 bestseller The Myth of American Inequality declaring the poverty and inequality in America has fallen since 1947.

Additionally, the mainstream press points to record low unemployment and high employment, failing inflation (including energy costs) as signs that we have never had better in America.  This too is the story Joe Biden wants to tell as he contemplates a second term as president.

But somewhere out there, there is a disconnect with the American people and reality. Ignore first the trendlines that The Economist picks are short term and there is no indication they will last, even if accurate.  For example, by the time the December 2, issue of this magazine came out there were signs of a tightening labor market as the number of job listings was rapidly dropping and also the support programs in place during the pandemic   lifted many out of poverty were ending or had ended. .  Ignore also that Gramm overlooks the fact that from the mid-1970s to the present many of the gains from 1947 were stalled, eroded, or reversed by the time he became a legislator.

Beyond these cheery discounts of inequality, consider a few hard facts.

 Based on Census data, Time Magazine reports that “the U.S. poverty rate saw its largest one-year increase in history. 12.4% of Americans now live in poverty according to new 2022 data from the U.S. census, an increase from 7.4% in 2021. Child poverty also more than doubled last year to 12.4% from 5.2% the year before.”  Poverty, for a single person, or for a family of three, is defined as living below $13,590 or $23,000 per year respectively. We have approximately thirty-eight million people living in poverty according to that standard.  But tell me what single person or family of three can live comfortably at those incomes or even at double that.  Real poverty, as measured by a reasonable income, is probably double that figure.  By comparison, Michael Harrington’ classic 1962 The Other America declared there to be forty million poor people in the US.  In real numbers, little has changed in sixty years in terms of the poor population.

In 2023, the top ten percent of earners controlled sixty-nine percent of the wealth in America, the bottom fifty percent controlled barely one percent of the wealth.  According to Statista,  there has been no discernible shift in these trend lines going back to 1990, and there is no indication that it will change in the future. In 2022, on average White Caucasian households had about six times as much wealth as a Black household and five times as much as a Hispanic household.

The ten richest Americans are worth one trillion dollars, more than the total assets of the bottom fifty percent. In the 1970s the CEO-to-typical worker pay ratio was approximately 30-to-1; in 2022 it was 344-to-1.  Since 1978 CEO pay has increased 1322%.

One could cite even more statistics countering the rosy picture painted by The Economist, Gramm, and other inequality deniers.  But the broadest point is that there is little evidence that inequality is abating and that we are entering a new golden age of capitalism for workers.  Talk to the average person on the street or in the grocery store who is struggling to make ends meet, they will tell you a different story.  For those, though, who disagree, Bah, humbug inequality.