Sunday, September 24, 2017

Thoughts on Envy, Greed, and Evolution

Envy and greed. They are words with different meanings but they also both play varying roles in our perception of fairness and justice, particularly when it comes to things like finances.

Most people tend to feel that the super-rich have “too much” (material wealth, power, etc.) and that it’s unfair. Many think that those who have something to give are obliged to give it (this is even reflected in numerous religions). We are taught to share from a very early age and people who don’t share are typically shunned and attacked. These feelings seem to be rooted deep within and such moral outrage can pop up at just about time.

Envy is defined by Google as “a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else's possessions, qualities, or luck;” and “desire to have a quality, possession, or other desirable attribute belonging to (someone else).” The evolutionary advantage of envy is theorized to be that it aided in our efforts to achieve and gain more. It helped spur us on as a species.

Greed is defined as “intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food.” Greed is typically viewed as envy gone wrong, but it too played a role in our development and in that complex feeling of “unfairness” we so often experience.

My hypothesis (I say “my” but I doubt I’m the first to have the idea, however, it came to me recently during a 2 am internal dialogue) is that this unpleasant sensation, bordering on righteous anger, caused by the feeling of unfairness is an evolutionary throw back to when we lived more communally and depended on others more directly for our own survival.

While it’s true our modern world has never been more connected and interdependent, the distance between where your food comes from and your table has never been greater. Additionally, we rarely engage in trade or bartering without the same medium of exchange: cash (or some variation thereof). We can get food, shelter, entertainment, find mates, etc. from a vast number of places, but the labor we engage in to acquire those things is often completely unrelated to what it is we're tying to get. A plumber has little directly to do with growing food and a farmer has little to do with film making. This means that there are fewer direct and deep interrelationships on matters of survival than there had been in the past.

We experience “unfairness” whenever we see someone with too much (however subjective that may be). Be it too much money, power, land, food, too large a home, too much anything. Our higher reasoning and thinking skills seem to be placed on hold as we grumble to ourselves or amongst a group how that person doesn’t deserve what they have and why they should give much of it away. 
After all, there are certainly plenty of people in the world who have far less (often including ourselves). But I’m not so sure this feeling is a simple matter of immaturity or naked greed on our part; although, that is undoubtedly part of the puzzel.

I am starting to think that the fundamental reason why we feel that way, and feel it so reflexively at that, is because it is our brain telling us something doesn’t seem right (fair) with the situation. A part of our brain that evolved thousands of years ago when the world in which we lived was very different.

To help illustrate what I’m talking about, I will turn to the animal kingdom.

Scene from A Bug's Life, Disney, 1998.


Ants, as we all know, work and live communally. Despite being small, ants have a hierarchy and a fairly complicated system of communication and social structure. This structure only works when each member of an internal group (foragers, for example) does their job and shares their knowledge, gains, or other labors with the group. No one ant can amass a huge collection of leaves to eat. And even their “queen” dedicates her entire existence to the continuation of the colony.

Moving up the food chain, we encounter lions. Lions hunt together and then share their kill with the dominant male (who helps protect everyone but doesn't hunt), their cubs, and other members of the group (which may be subsets of the larger lion pride). As with ants, it's not really possible for individuals to get portions larger than most. The group structure and nature of their existence doesn't lend itself to that easily.

Finally, we come to primates. There are 16 families and around 200 individual species of primates around the world, all with different behaviors and social structures, so a simplistic and broad comparison to humans can be difficult. Instead of looking at all of them, I will mention a few that share behaviors most people associate with only humans, such as warfare (one was documented to last 4 years!). 

Even in primate species* that engage in more extreme behaviors like war, raids, and even murder - chimps, red-tail monkeys, apes, etc.- sharing the spoils of war with the group (even among those that didn't participate) still remains a core function that enables the group to survive. 

(*I'd like to point out that primates aren't the only group of animals that engage in killing.)

I am not trying to suggest that, absent humans, nature would exist as some perfectly balanced, Hippie love-fest. That concept is an entirely man-made fiction. "Natural life" is a never ending parade of horrors with brief moments of calm thrown in randomly. But I am trying to build the case (without writing an actual paper), that cooperation and sharing is fundamental to the development of any society (something that is well proven) and that our feelings of injustice towards those with far greater resources is at least partially rooted in our deep past. 

Abundance is rare in nature and it was rare for most of human history. Regular surpluses of food only became possible with the advent of agriculture. Modern humans have been around for 180,000 to 200,000 years. On the other hand,the ability to control food supplies via cultivation was only developed 11,000 years ago - meaning that for ~95% of our history, abundance wasn't really possible without someone stealing from others. 

It makes sense that we would still retain emotional echoes of that long history.

The moral of the story, if there is one here, isn't that we should all live communally and do away with private property. The essence of free markets and capitalism (despite not being formally a "thing" until a few centuries ago) has enabled us to go from subsistence farming and hunting and gathering, to a world that grows 2-3 times the needed amount of food to feed everyone. 

Plato said that many of the injustices we face were those imposed on our own souls by things like anger, fear, lust, and actual envy. We should overcome those and thus no longer be subjected to such injustices of our own creation.

That essence, the fundamental drive toward self preservation and improvement, gave us pretty much everything that wasn't already here when the world began. And I mean everything. The moral is that instead of lashing out and rioting in the streets, perhaps we should recognize that oftentimes this urge to indignation is an emotional relic. Greed, hoarding, theft, these things do exist. However, economics teaches us that the "pie" isn't limited; your not having an apple isn't because I have one.

Being the bigger brained, generally self-controlled primates that we are, perhaps we should stretch that self-control a little more to this arena. 

--Jacob Bogle, 9/23/2017

Friday, August 4, 2017

Thoughts on Dunkirk

Dunkirk during evacuation. Image source: Imperial War Museum.

I went to see Dunkirk last night, and it reminded me of why I support international cooperation, including things like NATO and the UN, and why the statements of Trump and others are so offensive to me.

World War II bound much of the planet together in blood. Over 60 million people died, including over 400,000 Americans. That war altered our history as a species. The efforts and lives of so many, including the lives of a full 13% of Soviet citizens and over half of all European Jews, went in to fighting against fascism, genocide, and territorial expansion at the point of a gun. It's easy to gloss over statistics, but those aren't just numbers. They represent individual lives. Individual acts of courage, fights for survival, countless children, and tales of horror and humanity.

The evacuation at Dunkirk, to me, represents more than a defeat that actually ended up saving the United Kingdom. It was allies fighting to save one another. At the end of the battle, it was the French - historically the arch rival of the English - who sacrificed many of their men after the battle was lost to ensure that at least some of the British troops could evacuate to carry on against tyranny.

And before the light of Western Civilization was snuffed out, the near unlimited might of the United States entered the conflict. We weren't just trying to save our British cousins, or the French to whom we owe much for our own successful Revolution. As we discovered, too, we weren't just trying to vanquish Japan for their attack on Pearl Harbor, either.

We soon learned that the Allied cause was the salvation of the enormous progress gained after ages of struggle against evil and small-minded men who would seek world domination or the obliteration of a people based on race or religion.

From small towns in Tunisia to the ancient capitals of Europe, from little known islands in the Pacific to the never-ending steppes of Russia, from defending New York Harbor against U-Boat attacks to sending a life line to the Chinese as millions were killed in cold blood. We all fought together, Americans and Russians, British and French, Nationalist and Communist Chinese, Muslims and Hindu. The new world that emerged (which included the end of colonialism and the independence of dozens of nations) is not something we should easily discard because the Germans or the Mexicans or the pesky French "stole" our industry -- and yet we have grown ever richer and more powerful.

For all the faults and rightful criticisms of organizations like the UN and NATO, the last 75 or so years since the end of the war have been the most peaceful in Europe since the days of Rome, and the most prosperous and innovative period in human history.

But for some reason, a relative few dollars is too high a price to help maintain that order? The relationships that were forged in blood and fire, and honed over generations should be discarded? There are real current and growing threats that we're all going to have to confront. Pretending like they don't exist or thinking we can achieve victory piecemeal or all alone is to ignore the lessons taught by those 60 million lives. It’s a pity the abundance of knowledge history affords us is forgotten so easily.

--Jacob Bogle, 8/4/17

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Links in a Chain and Eternal Memory

I rarely use this blog for overtly personal things, but the last few weeks have been difficult for me and - as the blog's title says - I feel I have something worth saying and worth reading.

My dad and mom divorced when I was two years old. He moved away to California and it wasn't until I was about nine that he came back into my life. After a while he left once again. Things were never antagonistic. He wasn't a bad man. He never hit me or my mom, and never was verbally abusive. He just wasn't sure how to raise a son and lived with that guilt his entire life. That guilt meant that I only had sporadic contact with him since he often vanished without warning.

Jerry Lynn Bogle. Picture courtesy of Scott Walker.
A few months ago I received a phone call from someone I barely knew. He said he knew my dad, knew where he was living, and that he had Stage IV cancer. He asked if I had any interest in being reunited with him. I said yes. That random phone call from a virtual stranger enabled me to reconnect with my dad and allowed us to understand and forgive. I learned that my dad had been homeless for several years due to disability, and as the cancer progressed he spent a lot of time in the hospital. Because of that we didn't get to see each other everyday even after being reunited, but the time we did have with each other was positive.

After a major bout of pneumonia he was taken to Hospice. Everyone thought he had a month or so left. Unfortunately, less than 72 hours later, on June 9, he was dead at age 59. I am his only child.


Margaret Joy Coakley Koch
As I write this, it has been four days since I learned by maternal grandmother was gravely ill. I went to see her at the nursing home on Monday (July 9) and on July 10 she, too, passed away. She was 87. In terms of her children and their descendants, I am one of 75 who survive her: 7 kids, 23 grandchildren, 37 great-grandchildren, and 8 great-great-grandchildren.

I have always been fascinated by ancestry. Discovering one's heritage helps build a bridge between the past and present that not only gives one a sense of belonging and place, but can help to inform and guide one's future as well. In reality, no family is more or less special. Go back far enough and we are all related. It doesn't need to be that far either. Still, a family tree is made up of individual people and everyone is unique in some way. One love lost or never found, one illness or injury, even turning right instead of left could mean the difference of entire branches of that tree.

I am the product of my mother and a salt of the earth man named Jerry who helped to build structures across the country. And because of my mother, I am also the product of a small lady who always wore heels just to go outside and check the mail.

I am the product of these two very different people, and they are also the product of others. I'd like to talk a little bit about that.


Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I have been able to trace my ancestry back many generations. On my dad's side, I descend from a Scottish man named John Bogle who was born in 1530. On my grandmother's, from a man also named John, John R. Byrd. He was born in 1669 in Virginia.

Looking through all the parents of parents and so forth, I have in my family tree Civil War veterans, Revolutionary War veterans, pastors, tenant farmers, and men and women who braved crossing oceans to start a new life.

It would be impossible to list the details of all of their lives. There are hundreds of names. There are people from the former British Colonies, Scotland, England, Wales, and even Germany - all that have come together to emerge as a tall, skinny, dark haired-blue eyed, blogger from Murfreesboro, TN. One way to view those names in a family tree is as links in a chain. One link never connects and *poof* not only am I not an only son, but I and my 74 other relatives aren't here either.


One of the few family photos with most everyone in it. Taken circa 1995.
All life is fleeting and there will come a day for nearly all of us when the only thing people know about us are names and dates. Entire lifetimes - love, hate, birth, accomplishments, everything - reduced to a few lines of text. Even when going over all of the different things I know and remember about my dad and grandmother, when held up to the totality of their lives, I come away more than a little saddened. How is it that so much can happen, that so much can matter, yet so little remain?

The truth is, no matter how badly I want to know all of the things my dad did in California, or what my grandmother's life was like as she lived through WWII, all that really matters is they lived their lives in such a way to create some pretty good people. I am my father's legacy. My scores of aunts and uncles and cousins and I are the legacy of a grandmother born in Chattanooga. We do our duty and we serve witness to their lives by following the path they tried to lay out for us; despite their flaws.

To not let guilt stand in the way of relationships. To work hard to care for your family, even if that means you have to sacrifice. To not let petty disagreements or hurt feelings from decades ago allow those 8 great-grand kids from knowing the other 67 people they share blood with. And whether or not we are able to forge another link in the chain by having children of our own, to do our best to help those around us and make our corner of the world a little brighter.  

My own father helped the world when he gave what little he had while living in a car to those who didn't even have that. My grandmother helped the world by teaching us all about God and sharing her love of music.

Families can be complicated. Sometimes real hurt and anger can cause lasting rifts. 

I come from a collection of individuals. I exist because of the lives of countless others. I live now in the midst of dozens who all share blood. But just like my dad and grandmother picked how they lived their adult lives, I pick how I live mine. I can't change what has happened, but I can certainly decide what will happen by heeding the lessons of those who came before.

We may all be links in a chain, but we and those who come after us are also their eternal memory. Let us all remember that.

--Jacob Bogle, 7/12/2017

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

How Much Did Each Vote Cost?

Without a doubt, 2016 will go down as one of the most unique and surprising elections in American history. With the votes now counted, we can start to ask the question, how much did each candidate pay for your vote?

(NOTE: the final financial reports won't be available until Jan. 31, 2017. As such, the figures for the 2016 election only represent what is known at this time, and the final amounts raised by each campaign will end up being higher. However, I don't foresee the proportion of cost-per-vote between candidates to vary much beyond what it already is.)

The billionaire won the election against a well entrenched establishment candidate, and both of them struggled to gain a few percentages over one another in scattered states while two lesser known candidates vied for the nation's top job as well. But before we look at the results of 2016, let's review the previous two election cycles.

In 2008, you had veteran politician (and military veteran) Republican Sen. John McCain go up against a relative new comer, Sen. Barack Obama. For the entire 2008 cycle, $1,681,000,000 was raised. The Democratic Party raised a little over $1 billion of that, while the Republican raised $606 million. In terms of the two nominees, Obama out-raised McCain, $748 million to $351 million.

Click for larger view.

This means that Obama spent $10.76 per vote and McCain spent $5.85 per vote. Overall, 32.5% of all funds came from donations of $200 or less. The top bracket of donations made up 22.2%.

The 2012 election was less expensive, with $1,325,000,000 raised. Once again, the Republican Party nominee was out-raised, $772 million to Romney's $450 million. The Libertarian and Green parties also raised millions. The Libertarian Party's candidate, Gary Johnson, raised $2.8 million and Jill Stein of the Green Party raised $1.2 million. Overall, 46.8% of all funds came from donations of $200 or less. The top bracket of donations made up 26%.

Click for larger view.

In terms of $ per vote: Obama spent $11.71/vote, Romney spent $7.38/vote, Johnson spent $2.19/vote, and Stein spent $2.55/vote.

This brings us to 2016.

2016 was the year of money, with both main candidates having a net worth of over $200 million for the first time in American history. This year's election was supposed to be the most expensive ever, with over $2 billion raised through direct campaign and party channels. The reality was a bit different. While there were countless millions (some say billions) worth of "free media" spent on Hillary and Trump (in terms of covering their full speeches, campaign stops etc.), the real figure will likely never be known. What is known is what the law requires. According to the FEC, $1.3 billion was raised by all candidates by the end of the October reporting quarter. (Remember, the total amounts won't be released until 2017)

Hillary Clinton raised $498 million, while billionaire Donald Trump raised $248 million (of that, $56 million came from Trump himself). Gary Johnson raised $11.2 million (the most for a 3rd party candidate since Ross Perot in 1992) and Jill Stein raised $3.5 million. Overall, 55.4% of all funds came from donations of $200 or less. The top bracket of donations made up 23%.

Click for larger view.

The cost-per-votes are: $7.97 for Clinton, $4.04 for Trump, $2.61 for Johnson, and $2.67 for Stein. 

I also want to look at the primaries. Clinton raised $328.6 million by the end of July while Bernie Sanders raised $236.5 million. Clinton received 16.9 million primary votes, Sanders 13.2 million. This equals $19.44/vote for Hillary and $17.91/vote for Sanders.

On the Republican side, Trump's main rival was Sen. Ted Cruz. By the end of July, Trump had raised $128 million and Cruz raised $92.8 million. Trump won slightly over 14 million votes for a cost-per-vote of $9.14, and Cruz had a cost of $11.98/vote with 7.8 million votes.

This election had a turnout rate of 53.6% which was the lowest voter turnout since the 2000 Bush/Gore election (which also resulted in the winner losing the popular vote). In terms of overall vote count, it's similar to the 2004 election of Bush/Kerry.

What does all of this mean? Simply spending huge sums of money is no guarantee of winning an election. I think it definitely goes a long way towards dispelling the notion that you can "buy" a place in the Oval Office.

--Jacob Bogle, Nov. 16, 2016

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Are You Broken, Am I?

Having dealt with depression and dark periods off and on for many years, I have a special place in my heart for those who feel broken inside. People often ask, especially when dealing with younger people, “how can one so young be so broken?” It’s easy to write off moodiness or depression in teens as just a “phase” or simply being immature and seeking attention. Even I have off-handedly discounted the feelings of others. This was and is wrong.

The truth is, we are not born whole people. We’re born as basically blank slates. Sure, genetics will form a scaffolding, but it’s our environment and our internal search for identity and meaning that will ultimately form what we consider “whole” human beings. The reality is, when someone’s young and having strong emotional issues, it isn’t necessarily that they’re “broken,” they were never whole to begin with. And unless addressed, unless their lives and their reality are respected, that partially formed psyche will turn into an adult with a malformed sense of self; they will likely carry those scars and develop deeper problems.

The search for who we are can be relatively quick and easy, or it might never form into a coherent and satisfying identity. Of course we never stop growing and changing, but those original seeds – the scaffolding and early development in childhood and adolescence – lingers on, coloring every aspect of ourselves until addressed and redressed. Whether the eventual outcome is positive or disastrous, we have to remember that the bulk of our self-identity, the source fount of confidence and strength, all have their roots in our youth. Both biologically and environmentally, whether we consciously recognize it or not, that period is what enables us to become healthy and whole adults, or stunts us long into old age. 

The reason teens, in particular, seem to be never endingly sullen while also having periods of wildly positive energy followed by a desire to crawl under rocks and disappear, is due to the fact that their mental ability to properly categorize feelings, assess correct responses, react to stimulus, etc., is still being developed. There’s an almost Autistic quality to life during this period, where you feel everything but don’t always know how to deal with it, and so you either overreact or you shut down. And this period of life, where one’s mind and emotions are caught up in some vortex with occasional times of being becalmed, is the time in which our lasting selves are forged. 

You are being formed but you are not yet fully formed. Within those cracks lie the seeds of depression that can sprout at any time. Absent trauma, the person isn’t broken, they’re struggling to become whole. But, without proper respect and assistance, those pieces may not find each other and can go on to be the roots of any number of problems. 

--Jacob Bogle, 7/3/2016

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Movie Review - Independence Day Resurgence


After 20 years, the long awaited sequel to Independence Day has arrived! Unfortunately, 20 years is also more than enough time to come up with tons of new ideas and then have to squeeze them into a single film.

There are a lot of different story lines and the audience doesn't get enough time with each one to actually become attached to the new characters nor to get swept up in the subplots. I feel it would have been better if Independence Day Resurgence had been a two-part film, giving us all the insights and action needed to understand the horrors and victories of the preceding twenty years, and making the set up for the alien's return much more easily understood - and its full implications more frightening. Additionally, the film tries too hard to be funny. It shouldn't be funny. We're all about to die! Some of the jokes are funny, and even the original had its share of comic relief, but Resurgence could have done with fewer.

Sadly, many of the cast members from the original film that appear in Resurgence only get brief on-screen time, making their scenes pointless to the film. Even more pointless was Judd Hirsch's ("Julius Levinson" - the father of Jeff Goldblum's character) role in the movie. While he added to the original film, his role in Resurgence is meaningless and does nothing to move the plot along (same goes for the rag-tag band of kids), although, perhaps the nice old Jewish guy Mr. Levinson does bring with him some pleasant nostalgia. 

The good news? The CGI is wonderful and the alien queen does bring to mind the original creepy feeling we all got the first time we laid eyes on her species. I'm always pleased whenever a sci-fi or fantasy film allows us to see the wider universe in which the story is being told, and we definitely get to see more of the alien's world and learn that there's a much wider tale behind the scenes. I was also glad that we got to see more of our own planet than just Washigton DC and Area 51. Oh, and considering the recent Brexit vote, I think more than a few Europeans will get a kick out of seeing the Burj Khalifa harpooning London.

Emmerich left the door wide-open for a further movie or two. Hopefully, we won't have to wait another 20 years and that 20th Century Fox learns from their mistakes. In the end, Independence Day Resurgence is a lot like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it is both a sequel and a remake trying to introduce a new generation to a wider universe while praying to god that the original fans latch on and help carry the franchise forward. And as one of those original fans who saw Independence Day on the big screen back in 1997 (well, what parts my mother wasn't desperately trying to cover my eyes for), I do think Resurgence is a fun excursion, both back into memory and perhaps forward to a renewed franchise.

The Science Behind the Events - WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD

(Click image for larger view)

First, yes, I know this is a science fiction movie. I know they all play fast and lose with physics, but it's still fun to think about, especially in this case. In the case of this movie, reality would be far, far worse than what the filmmakers had in store.

I'm one of those annoying people who, when I see something off, think (or say aloud), "it wouldn't happen like that!" So what really would happen if an alien harvester ship, 3,000 miles in diameter, came and landed on Earth?

In the movie, the aliens return with vengeance. They send one of their "harvester ships" to finally destroy life on the planet and suck out Earth's core. These vessels are massive. And in the movie, as the ship plows through the atmosphere and collides with mountains you do get to see a lot of really cool, er... terrible destruction, as well as some likely real-world consequences. A ship that size (wider than the Moon!) really would have its own gravitational pull and once it got close enough, the oceans would rise to meet it, ships and cars would fly through the air, and you would have a really bad day.

Side note. While I really did like seeing the Burj Khalifa smack into downtown London, there's zero way it would have survived the 3,400 mile journey - but I'm just nitpicking.

However. While it may be wider than the Moon, the ship isn't a 3,000 mile diameter sphere. It's a disk, maybe 50-60 miles high. Its gravity would be less than that of the Moon's, which as we recall from seeing the fake moon landings, is pretty easy to overcome. During the ship's intro to our world, we find Jeff Goldblum and Liam Hemsworth flying a "space-tug," trying to retrieve an object from a spacecraft we blew up from a totally different alien species. The giant harvester is bearing down, skidding across the Moon's surface and the little-tug-that-could finds itself unable to escape the craft's gravity. Wrong. 

We see these tugs flying back and forth from Moon to Earth, and Earth is definitely bigger than the harvester. If the tugs can escape Earth's gravity, they can certainly escape the alien ubercraft.

Next, we see the ship mowing down mountains and catching the atmosphere on fire. As we all know, when NASA's puny spacecraft re-enter the atmosphere, they glow and leave a trail of flame and smoke. The heat upon re-entry is enormous. So that's all correct. My problem is that as it manages to land, taking ever so much care not to crush our new White House, the fiery winds just seem to go away. Wrong.

We just had a small moon smack into the planet and turn Asia into a skid mark in a matter of moments. Our atmosphere is usually stacked up in nice layers: troposphere, stratosphere, that pesky ozone. The harvester has turned all of that into goop. Not only that, but it was plunging down on us at really high speeds. In reality, a massive pressure wave with insanely violent and tortured winds would have enveloped the planet. The ozone layer would have been dispersed, leaving us vulnerable to deadly radiation, and our otherwise breathable air would be turned into a toxic cloud of debris. The aliens wouldn't even have needed to fight us. Just land. We're all dead.

Additionally, the spaceship would need to be curved so that it could actually sit on the round surface of our dying world. This means that as it landed, the center of the ship that sat over the Atlantic with it's giant plasma drill, would have pushed all the air out from beneath it (along with a lot of water too from the air pressure) - so there wouldn't be any drunken treasure seekers left alive to help report on the alien's progress.

Side note. The equipment used on treasure hunting ships aren't exactly sensitive enough to be able to follow the progress of the "plasma drill" as it bore through tens of miles of crust.

Finally, I'm going back to gravity and weight. While it may not have the gravitational pull of the Moon, the ship does have some. It's also really fat. Once it landed it would have set off pretty much every fault line and volcano the world has to offer. The weight pushing down on its giant landing feet might likewise crack the crust beneath them. 

You may have heard that large earthquakes can alter the rotation of the Earth? Smacking that much weight onto the globe would also destabilize Earth's rotation. Not only would it slow us down, but it would knock us off balance. Given enough time, it would drag the Earth upside down. It would also screw with the Earth-Moon system causing all kinds of madness down the road.

Finally P.S. - even though we win in the end (at least 3 billion are dead so "win" is a relative term here), the harvester wouldn't have just slunk off back into space as it did in the movie. If it came roaring down, it would go roaring back up, causing another set of those winds from hell. 

This was one flick where physics makes for a much more horrifying end than the sci-fi writers. 

--Jacob Bogle, 6/26/2016

Monday, April 4, 2016

Trump, NATO, and Nuclear Proliferation

Let Them Have Nukes!

Once again Donald Trump has sparked debate and controversy over his policy ideas. A few days ago Trump suggested that NATO was obsolete in its current form and needed to be reorganized in a way that better suited the threats of today. And that other countries need to take care of their own defense without America paying for it, and besides Europe, he mentioned Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia.

And while there is some truth to his assertions, as usual, he went a bit too far and ignored some key facts. He continued by suggesting that Japan, South Korea, and anyone else should be allowed to develop their own nuclear weapons. What makes this kind of talk even more worrisome is the fact that Trump wasn’t aware of what our own nuclear triad even was (our ability to project our nuclear forces via land, air, and sea).

First, I’d like to take on the subject of joint security treaties and funding.

NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, was founded in 1949 on the heels of World War II and in the face of a growingly aggressive Soviet Union. Today it has 28 member states between North America and in Europe. NATO was founded to ensure peace in the North Atlantic region and is a joint-security organization. The main stipulation of the NATO agreement is Article 5 which states that, if any one NATO member is attacked by a non-NATO country, all of the other NATO countries will come to the defense of the other.

Trump has said that NATO is out of date, particularly when it comes to dealing with international terrorism, and he’s practically blamed them for not stopping the attack in Brussels. His criticism continues, saying that the United States is basically subsidizing the defense of the other NATO countries, which hurts our economy.

For the record, NATO is not some internal police force. It doesn’t have the authority to search homes, bust up gangs, and arrest people – that’s what law enforcement does. NATO, like every other military organization in the world, was founded to defend against invasions by another state. Of course, like any other military force, it also needs to adapt to become useful against terrorism. But it must do so within an existing foundation. NATO came about after two shattering world wars, and the lessons of a militarized “police” force and even letting the regular army engage in domestic matters, those lessons that we learned after the terror of fascism need to be remembered.

NATO has been involved in the fight against terror since 9/11. NATO even led the 42-nation coalition in the War in Afghanistan. At its height, NATO commanded 130,000 soldiers in that theater. It’s true that NATO needs to be modernized and intelligence sharing definitely needs to be increased, but ever since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (which is not a NATO member), the organization has been doing these things.

The only thought about NATO that Trump had that might have some validity was on funding.

The US contributes around 22% of NATO’s operational budget. Combined, the UK, Germany, and France contribute another 39%. And while these figures may sound like America is paying too much, when you look at our economy and the amount of money we spend each year on our own military, we far exceed the capabilities of the other countries. When you take all NATO members combined, America accounts for 35% of the total population, 48% of total GPD, and over 65% of military spending.

The US spends around $700 million on NATO, that equals 0.003% of our GDP, or 0.11% of our national defense budget. If you were to insist that each of the 28 member states paid an equal share, for a country like Albania, that would consume 1.6% of their GDP or a whopping 200% of their defense budget – JUST for NATO! And if you wanted to make things truly proportional, America would have to double or triple the amount we send to NATO.

Look, it’s certain that some countries can and should pay more, but NATO helps America too. The US received $3.2 billion in NATO funded projects during the course of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. NATO has also funded hundreds of millions in military base expansions and improvements throughout Europe; bases the United States use.

Organizations like NATO are incredibly important. These types of cost-sharing and security guaranteeing organizations help to maintain over-all peace. Believe it or not, the world is far more peaceful today than it was in the past. NATO helped save West Germany from Soviet occupation, allowed the former European states of the Soviet Union to keep their independence, and, despite what Trump says, has played a role in defeating terrorism.

So while the US may pay more, we also spend more on our own military than any other country, we make more money than any other country, and we get stuff in return. The European Union accounts for $700 billion in annual trade for America, keeping Europe stable IS a great deal.

Next, I want to look at security arrangements with Japan and South Korea.

Trump makes it sound like all America does is give those countries money, men, and machines, while we get nothing in return.

The origins of all of this goes back to World War II and the Korean War. During WWII we had to occupy Japan and had a moral obligation to keep the civilians safe until a new, stable government could be formed. And since we occupied southern Korea after WWII, we needed to help keep them safe too, particularly since the Soviet Union was keen on taking all of Korea.

Then a little thing called the Korean War happened which resulted in the deaths of over 2 million civilians, and 128,000 American casualties. The southern half of the Korean Peninsula, the Republic of Korea, was our ally in that war and was nearly destroyed by the Soviet and Chinese backed Democratic Republic of Korea – otherwise known as North Korea.
Today, South Korea has a numerically smaller army than North Korea, and North Korea tests nuclear weapons every few years. North Korea has also violated the terms of the 1953 Armistice hundreds of times over years, including two separate attempts to assassinate presidents of South Korea.

Japan is also a mortal enemy of North Korea. And while Japan was definitely the aggressor during the early 20th Century, Japan lost the war and has tried to make many reparations to both North & South Korea. Japan also has territorial disputes with Russia and China. And in accordance with their surrender after World War II, Japan doesn’t have a normal military capability, only a small self-defense force. So, the US helps to provide some additional backbone for these two countries.

We maintain 50,000 soldiers in Japan and 28,000 in South Korea. It’s important to remember, just like with Europe, that American trade with Japan and South Korea equals nearly $310 billion annually.

North Korea’s primary reason, they claim, for developing nuclear weapons is because South Korea is under America’s “nuclear umbrella”. However, North Korea’s nuclear program dates back to the founding of the country and has become an integral part of the country’s identity.

Trump seems to think that America is just handing over everything to South Korea. That’s simply wrong. In 2014 South Korea agreed to pay us $866 million to help maintain our presence. That was 5.8% more than 2013 and it’s on track to grow by 4% each year. This doesn’t pay the full bill, but it’s definitely more than “practically nothing” as Trump claims. Additionally, the size of America’s military presence in South Korea has remained quite stable since 2006 and the number of soldiers stationed there is at its lowest level since the Korean War – 63 years ago.

As I stated earlier, North Korea has attacked the South many times and regularly threatens to destroy their capital, Seoul, which has a population of 10 million. In fact, North Korea has thousands of artillery pieces aimed at South Korea and has hundreds of thousands of soldiers deployed along the border. North Korea has even dug three massive tunnels into the South to enable a rapid invasion if war broke out. There is no doubt that having a defense treaty with South Korea has saved many lives and help to avert war.

I want to tie this in with Japan, which has territory within 350 miles of North Korea. North Korea regularly fires short and medium range rockets into the sea, and this activity has been increasing under Kim Jong Un. Many of these launches are aimed in the direction of Japan. North Korea has 3 types of missile that could reach Japan if launched from the Korean Peninsula. North Korea also has a submarine fleet that could help extend the range of other rockets and missiles. Regarding cost, just like every other country, Japan pays America – for the last 5 years Japan agreed to pay us $2 billion annually.

Besides North Korea, which remains the most pressing threat to the two countries, there are also continuing concerns when you look at China and Russia. It’s definitely in America’s interest to maintain our alliances and trade status. Both Russia and China have sought to extend their influence around the world and neither country is afraid to simply take territory. But having a strong and stable American presence acts as a very real deterrent and buffer.

The specific figures of how much we get paid is always up for renegotiation, but Trump continues to say that we need to be ready to “walk away” from anyone if they don’t do what we want. If Trump is such a business and economic expert, he should understand very well that even sending signals – regardless of how real they are – can send the markets crashing. Likewise, with foreign policy, when we tell our closest allies that we’d be willing to leave, even if we really aren’t going to, but by putting that out there we risk severely damaging our alliances.

Let’s not forget that both South Korea and Japan are not only our trading partners and allies against North Korea, but they’re also our allies when it comes to dealing with Russia and China. Telling them it’s possible we’d break our relationship with them, only serves to get them to reconsider their relations with other countries, like China, and drive them closer to our enemies.

Finally, I want to address the nuclear question. Trump’s suggestion that nuclear weapons should be spread to even more countries really blows my mind.

One of the problems with igniting an arms race is that neither country involved ends up better off – both countries have increased their military ability and have spent huge sums of money, so neither has gained a tangible advantage over the other. The goal is to come to a mutual agreement that leaves both countries in a better position and stops the weapons buildup. And promoting nuclear proliferation would create an arms race far more dangerous than the one between the US and the Soviet Union.

For many years the key tenant of global nuclear policy has been and is disarmament. From a high of 68,000 nuclear warheads in 1985, there has been an 83% decrease in the number of weapons today. The only people who want more weapons, or who think it might be a good idea, are those who have never seen their devastation. Even nuclear testing causes harm to people, never mind dropping a bomb on a city and killing a million lives.

America just finished a contentious agreement with Iran to prevent them from developing atomic bombs and we have been struggling to slow down North Korea’s weapons program for decades. Every few years, tensions rise between India and Pakistan, both of whom have nuclear weapons but aren’t members of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Why would anyone suggest other countries should get their own bomb?

Donald Trump likes to give ideas. He likes to use all of those great words he knows, but he rarely seems to think about their impact or the broader implications of such policies. So, allow me to elucidate what the likely outcome of his idea would be.

If South Korea developed their own bomb, North Korea would be compelled to put every last resource they had into expanding their own program. They would also improve their delivery systems and finally produce a miniaturized warhead that could not only hit South Korea, but the United States mainland. ‘The Donald’ seems to have forgotten that South Korea is Kim Jong Un’s arch enemy and it would verify every bit of Communist propaganda that they have been force feeding their population for half a century. This would lead to an arms race very similar to the one between America and the Soviets. But unlike having a Kennedy or even a Khrushchev in power, we have Kim Jong Un. Is Trump really willing to bet the lives of millions that this trajectory would not lead to an actual war?

The ability to restrain oneself, even in the face of possible annihilation, is paramount when it comes to being a good leader, as is the ability to say “no” to advisers who urge you to push the big red button. The Soviets considered using nukes to kick us out of Germany during the Cold War. And even some American generals during the Korean War debated using nuclear bombs to create a radioactive wasteland along the Chinese-Korean border to knock China out of the war. I praise God cooler heads prevailed.

The point of that history lesson is that even after being responsible for and witnessing the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, even some American generals decided to go full crazy and propose using them again. Therefore, can we be certain that others who have no direct knowledge of the destruction these weapons can cause, and who talk about genocide as a matter of national priority, can we really be certain that these rogue regimes wouldn’t use this incredibly powerful weapon to accomplish whatever twisted goals they might have?

A South Korea with a bomb would also make Japan less than comfortable. And if both Japan and South Korea had them, China would feel it absolutely necessary to further expand their nuclear arsenal. Once China did that, India would feel compelled to do the same because India and China have territorial disputes and they have had three major military conflicts since India’s independence. 
You also have to consider that India is wary of China’s relations with Pakistan, and that Pakistan, another nuclear armed country, has had very strained ties with India since the creation of the modern Pakistani state.

Obviously, with India growing their own nuclear abilities, Pakistan would do the same. By the way, India and Pakistan have also fought 3 wars since independence. And unlike the US, Russia, or even China, both India and Pakistan have had widespread troubles with home-grown terrorism. Hell, Pakistan has even admitted to helping the Taliban! (Check out this interesting article about India & Pakistan.)

So now we would have North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China, India, and Pakistan in an ever spreading arms race. The nuclear genie would never be able to be contained. Russia would be forced to adjust its military strategy to prepare for possible conflicts with Japan, China, South Korea, and India. Iran could then demand nuclear weapons for legitimate national security reasons. That in turn would mean Saudi Arabia would have to get the bomb. Israel might very well attack Iran in that case, leading to the largest conflagration since World War II.

And it’s not just these major countries either. Burma, also known as Myanmar, has been suspected of wanting nuclear weapons for many years. Burma has had nuclear conversations with Russia and has helped North Korea avoid sanctions as well as assisted them with arms and drug trading. Then there’s also groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda who have made their intentions clear. Trump even said in the same debate in which he made it clear he didn’t know what the nuclear triad was that, “The biggest problem this world has today…is nuclear – nuclear proliferation and having some maniac, having some madman go out and get a nuclear weapon. That's in my opinion, that is the single biggest problem that our country faces right now.”

You see, this is one area where controlling proliferation would become all but impossible. The more countries that have atomic weapons and the more places involved in manufacturing, transporting, and storing nuclear materials means that you have that many more potential places for security failure. It becomes far easier for a terrorist group to steal or buy needed materials, or for some disgruntled scientist to walk away with technology and products and have it windup in the marketplace.

Donald Trump’s suggestions do not make America secure, they make us far less safe – they make the planet less safe.

NATO is the linchpin of our strategy in Europe and it’s a cornerstone that enables trade, security, and stability on the continent. It has served as a bulwark against Russian aggression toward Finland and in the Baltic. Our treaties with Japan and South Korea have kept North Korea contained and has kept the seas open across the Asian-Pacific region. It has also served to stand against Chinese, as well as Russian, incursions, and has been key toward sustaining our relationships with other partners like the Philippines and Taiwan. We need a Commander-in-Chief who understands this. 

--Jacob Bogle, 4/4/2016