Hiroshima

I got myself worked up following the media coverage of Obama’s visit to Hiroshima. After studying history and war in college, I developed a strong opinion about the American use of atomic weapons. I considered posting on my social media, but I remembered this is why I blog and can spare friends my periodic outbursts on controversial topics!

Here is America’s collective memory of Hiroshima/Nagasaki that frustrates me:

We could not have won the war without invading Japan (and losing one million soldiers in the process) without dropping the atomic bombs.

When the bombs were dropped in August 1945, Japan was not an existential military threat to the Allies. The massive USSR had just begun fighting Japan, ending a non-aggression pact. And Japan’s geography made it relatively easy to blockade them to secure better terms of surrender. Japan knew all of this.

While there were pro-war factions of Japan’s cabinet, the Emperor convened a meeting in June 1945 which he uncharacteristically opened with this statement: “I desire that concrete plans to end the war, unhampered by existing policy, be speedily studied and that efforts made to implement them.”

However, the U.S. demanded unconditional surrender, something that is rare in the history of warfare. Such a demand often drives adversaries to become even more resilient, since unconditional surrender means you won’t even agree that your troops won’t slaughter or enslave civilians. For context, the Union did not demand nor receive unconditional surrender of the Confederacy.

This was a bad policy for this situation, which is why the UK and USSR both strongly disagreed with the U.S. position.  It was worsened by the fact that the Japanese revered their Emperor, who was like a deity to them. The Emperor presided over the oldest continuous monarchy on the planet, dating back to 660 BC. So when the US would not even concede that it wouldn’t behead or torture this god-like figure in public, it prolonged the war and made Japanese surrender much more difficult to obtain.

And not only did the U.S. not execute the Emperor after the war, but they kept his position intact as they thought it would be a good bulwark against communist influence! So we prolonged the war and Japanese surrender for no reason.

I’m not a pacifist, and I think WWII was a rare war that met the standards of jus ad bellum (academic speak for the right to go to war,) even though there were morally questionable strategic choices like partnering with Stalin. But, like the intentional firebombing of civilians by the Allies when they were decisively winning the war, the dropping of atomic bombs was not a morally justifiable decision.

Re: Do Millennials Really Reject Capitalism?

What’s up with millennials and capitalism? A recent poll showed only 42% millennials support capitalism while 33% support socialism. A conservative millennial publication tackles the issue.

The author generally concludes that the numbers aren’t so bad upon closer examination, and besides, millennials don’t accurately understand the concept of ‘capitalism’.

I agree that these polls are less meaningful because definitions for capitalism and socialism vary wildly. It’d be helpful if the pollsters gave a definition of the terms along with the survey question.

The author defines capitalism as “a system of free enterprise and private exchange, based upon the principle of private property and guarded by the rule of law.”

However, he never defines “socialism” yet he inaccurately lumps in Bernie Sanders with that term. So let me provide the first full definition of socialism on Merriam-Webster:

“any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods”

As socialist political parties or magazines like Jacobin will tell you, Bernie is not a socialist. He supports a Scandinavian-style welfare state, but doesn’t think the government should own and operate the automobile or agricultural industries, for example. That’s why he calls himself a “Democratic Socialist” which advocates a model like Denmark and not Cuba.

As for my opinion as a millennial, I favor systems that demonstrate a record of positive outcomes and are able to adapt to challenges. I think free markets, adequately refereed by an competent government, are a great tool. But not always. Health care is an area where there’s significant information asymmetry in the market that makes it’s difficult for consumers to be informed and act rationally.

Look at hospital-acquired infections (HAI). They are a top causes of death in America with nearly 100,000 fatalities each year. When you go to a hospital, do you shop around looking at how many HAI deaths they have? Even if you wanted to before the Affordable Care Act, you couldn’t. Why would hospitals want to disclose that unpleasant number to consumers, even if they were savvy enough to care?

Even with that market failure, I don’t think it requires or justifies a government takeover of the industry. But we should find and address market failures like it. I also think the line gets blurred and it’s not helpful to be dogmatic. Consider social impact bonds. They work like this: a city is willing to pay for after school programs that increase literacy rates of K-12 students. They enter a deal with a non-governmental group (it can be JPMorgan or the Catholic Church) where the city pays $1 million for a big jump in literacy rates, $500,000 for a medium increase, and nothing if the rates don’t increase.

This is the government expanding the welfare state, but it’s harnessing the power of the market do so. Is that a capitalist policy or socialist one? I don’t think it really matters what you call it, I think what matters is if it delivers beneficial outcomes to society.

Re: North Carolina’s “Bathroom Bill”: What You Need To Know

A College Conservative author wrote about North Carolina’s House Bill 2 (HB2) that has been in the news lately.  I’ll try to fairly summarize their position:

HB2 is a reasonable remedy to the City of Charlotte’s troubling overreach where they dictated that businesses comply with a bathroom policy based on gender identity rather than biological sex. It has nothing to do with discrimination, and simply gives individual businesses the liberty to decide their own bathroom policy.

That sounds reasonable to many people. However, it’s not an accurate depiction of HB2, which does not limit itself to bathroom policies. It restricts cities from having ordinances that protect against discrimination in employment or public accommodations beyond the state’s existing protections.

This is a problem because North Carolina’s non-discrimination laws don’t include things like sexual orientation. So if Asheville wants to pass an ordinance prohibiting businesses from discriminating against customers or employees solely because they are gay, HB2 prevents them from doing so. Contrary to the author, HB2 very directly impacts discrimination.

And because minimum wage falls under the state non-discrimination laws, that means that the Town of Chapel Hill can’t set the minimum wage higher than the State’s $7.25 level.

This law is drawing a lot of ire for a lot reasons, but here are two large ones for me.

First, there is zero evidence that transgender individuals have committed a single crime in a public bathroom, even though right-wings groups have been searching for one. As conservatives like Charles Krauthammer have said, this is a solution in search of a problem. Conservatives are in charge of many states that have enormous backlogs of rape kits that are being ignored, yet they are pushing for this bill that comes at enormous expense (litigation and boycotts).

Second, conservatives supposedly believe that government closest to the people know best and should be given significant autonomy. This is why they prefer to delegate power from the federal level to more local government. Yet here they are in Raleigh, blocking the will of local voters from afar.

I really can’t even begin to explain why this is problematic, but I’ll end this with a good point someone made on Facebook:

Why DC has the Last Democratic Primary

Why does DC have the very last Democratic primary? Well, it turns out the DC Democratic Party is not the culprit.
I learned that primaries have dates and rules chosen by the state government, while caucuses and state nominating conventions are run by political parties. Some parties, like the DC Democrats, are happy to let the state run the primary because then the government pays for it. Other parties prefer to control the process at their own expense.
So why did DC’s City Council pick to be dead last in the primary calendar? Because they care more about saving money than influencing the presidential race. Combining the federal primary (Bernie vs Hillary) with the municipal primary (the mayoral race) purportedly saves $2 million.
Normally I’d rather spend $2 million on raises for teachers over partisan politics. But other states seem to think early federal primaries are worth it (they pay $400 million to do it), and I think 2008 illustrates why.
In 2008, DC had an early primary and it played an important role in Obama’s eventual nomination win. It was one of eleven contests he won in a row after Super Tuesday. Imagine if DC had swapped positions with a redder, pro-Clinton state like Kentucky that had voted near the end. Clinton would have broken Obama’s momentum, shorten his lead, and he might have lost the nomination.
Ultimately, I think the most liberal and pro-Democrat jurisdiction in the country should have a say in who the Democratic party nominates for president, even it’s expensive.

Frustration with the DC Democratic Party

In the chaos of the parties choosing their nominees, I keep coming back to one question: Why in the world is DC the last Democratic primary?

I’m a DC Democrat, so I am not pleased that my primary vote will almost certainly be irrelevant. I understand some state has to go last, but why not a place where Democrats have no relevance, like Wyoming?

DC is the bluest jurisdiction there is. It has the most voters who identify as liberal, easily beating out second place Vermont.

What is bizarre is that this isn’t the national political party neglecting DC. State parties get to decide, more or less, when they hold their primary. Our own local leaders have chosen to put us last!

If DC had an earlier primary, Bernie and Hillary would be fighting over who is a stauncher supporter of DC statehood. And given DC’s lack of democracy (“taxation without representation,”) why are the party leaders ruining a chance for residents to have a voice?

The DC State Democratic Party website is very well-designed. But you won’t find a phone number, email address, or headquarters location – only a PO Box. I’ve tweeted at and emailed DC Democratic officials and local leaders for weeks, but they’ve steadfastly ignored me.

I’ll update this post if I hear anything. But no matter what I learn, I’m disappointed that the DC Democratic party is so unresponsive and secretive.

UPDATE: It turns out the DC City Council, not the DC Democratic Party, chose to have the last primary because it wanted to combine its federal primary (Hillary v Bernie) and its local primary (mayoral race) in order to save $2 million. Now I can at least see why the choice was made, even though I disagree with it.

Re: Bernie’s Legislative Record

Charles Clymer, who I would describe as a feminist blogger and veteran, wrote on Facebook:

“Bernie sponsored three bills that were passed in 25 years. And two were to rename post offices. That’s not revolutionary.

And we’re supposed to expect that he’s going to reform the tax code with the House GOP?

Not buying it.”

Speaking as someone who likes both Hillary and Bernie, I think this narrow metric isn’t very helpful in evaluating the record of Senators.

By the same measure, Hillary only passed three similarly unknown bills in her eight years in the Senate. Does that mean she accomplished next to nothing while in the Senate? Not at all, because it excludes bills that get co-sponsored (Bernie and Hillary both co-sponsored the Lily Ledbetter legislation) and other important things Senators do. It is also critical to look at the amendments they sponsored that made it into law.

Primary voters also don’t typically seek a centrist who makes a lot of compromises with the other party. Especially not now given steady increases in political polarization. That is why Hillary and Bernie rank pretty low among Democrats in terms of passing bipartisan legislation.

I think a more biting criticism of Sanders would be that he was in charge of overseeing the VA and allowed huge problems to develop there for years before passing substantive reforms to address them. I don’t blame him for not being able to legislate and enact a political revolution as a single lawmaker out of 535, but I do know he could have done a better job listening to the VA OIG and overseeing the VA. But again, I’m still a fan of him and HRC, and will gladly vote for either in November.

Re: Scalia and Kindness

This is not a response to an article, just something I wanted to get out of my head.

I’ve seen some peers react to Antonin Scalia’s death by cheering it and disparaging him generally. If you think (as I do) that he has obstructed — or, at times, even reversed — social progress during his thirty years on the Supreme Court, I understand the sentiment. But I think it’s a bad idea to “dance on a grave” of any person, no matter how much you dislike them, for two reasons.

First, I truly believe in the philosophy of loving your enemies. It is expressed in the Bible and at the heart of this quote by MLK:

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.

This idea, embodied in thought and deed by Nelson Mandela, is what made Mandela such a legendary and transformative leader. And I think cheering for the death of any person is incompatible with the idea of loving your enemy.

The second reason is purely strategic. Even if you don’t support the idea I just described, I think it is still is a more powerful way to change hearts and minds than anger and hate. People are more receptive to changing when they feel the other side is fair and understanding rather than rude and mean-spirited.

I see this with animal rights. The tiny percentage of vegans who angrily berate meat-eaters, in my opinion, set back the movement far more than they advance it.

Scalia, despite his friendship with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, also had an issue with this. He often directed harsh words towards his fellow justices, even conservatives like Sandra O’Connor, that disagreed with him. Had he been more diplomatic, he may have been able to win crucial swing votes to have some of his dissents turned into legal precedent.

You don’t have to pretend Scalia was a wonderful jurist and memorialize him, instead, just think about how you would want your conservative friends to react after your favorite SCOTUS justice passes away.