I have been staying silent for a while, as I work on what I view as a major work on Anti-Ideas, a very practical concept which explains a lot of human thinking. Or lack thereof.
I have also been silent, a bit by deference for the tragedy in Haiti. And also to think carefully about it. There is a lot to be said. After all, it’s a man made tragedy: prehistoric men rarely died when their caves fell in an earthquake. Caves are better built.
In this day and age, buildings can be made, which could resist any earthquake (they would have to withstand an acceleration of one g horizontally in the zones where plates slip along each other, but it can be done: after all, building withstand one g vertically all the time!)
Moreover, it is known where, and roughly when (up to a few centuries, sometimes), earthquakes occur: some have actually been predicted and mitigated (this happened in Turkey, as it became fairly obvious a strike and slip fault was going to slip again, in a quake as violent as the one in Haiti, and the Turkish government listened to its geophysicists, and evacuated the all too fragile schools).
To be as prosaic as possible, equally as nasty quakes in Japan as the one in Haiti recently killed nearly no one, because of tough building codes. That happened because Japan is equipped with something called an appropriate civilization. Haiti has a civilization all right, but it is entirely inappropriate to the tectonic activity at hand. Among other things. (And this is no accident, a subject for some other day.)
Now no hubris is to be had in the West about this: outside of Japan, building codes seem entirely inappropriate. Building codes in the USA, and especially on the all too moving West Coast, are not tough enough.
The Obama administration could order to toughen building codes up, and that would act as a powerful stimulus for the economy in general. (By re-launching construction as a worthy activity.)
Now, of course, to have tough building codes, and act accordingly, one needs a tough civilization. Something which was deliberately not chosen as the best option by Dessalines, the main -and venerated- founder of Haiti in its present decomposed state.
CIVILIZATION: DON’T LIVE HOME WITHOUT IT. This is the lesson for Haiti, and the rest of the world. (Building codes are also insufficient in Europe, where vicious quakes, complete with giant tsunamis have struck, even in the recent past, namely the 20C, for example in France (Aix quake) and Italy.
On December 28, 1908, an earthquake of Richter magnitude 7.5 occurred centered on Messina, a city in Sicily. Reggio Calabria on the Italian mainland also suffered. The ground shook for some 40 seconds within a 300 km radius. Moments after the earthquake, a 13 meters tsunami struck the coasts causing more devastation. 91% of structures in Messina were destroyed and some 70,000 residents were killed. The total number of people killed was between 100,000 and 200,000.
Mappa terremoto 1908.
Actually quakes and tsunamis are extremely frequent in that region.
So shall Obama order to beef up construction codes over the gigantic part of the USA threatened by earthquakes?
According to Paul Krugman, this sounds unlikely (NYT, January 17, 2010):
“President Obama’s troubles result from misjudgments: the stimulus was too small; banking policy wasn’t tough enough… Mr. Obama’s top economic and political advisers concluded that a bigger stimulus was not economically necessary… Whatever led to this misjudgment, however, it wasn’t failure to focus on the issue: in late 2008 and early 2009 the Obama team was focused on little else. The administration wasn’t distracted; it was just wrong.”
Right and wrong are important concepts allowing to survive, whereas the “politically correct”concept just amounts to propaganda, indeed.
Obama seems persuaded that cool is cool, and that it is all what a man has to do with his brain to excel: do what you are told, and look cool. Cool is the way. But Obama knows physics not. When you want to change things, you don’t wait, cool as a glacier, for the great melting of the minds. Heat is motion. If you want to move, you have to get hot.
Obama came in, he admired Reagan (an actor who got the plutocratic demolition of the USA on the way), and hired Larry Summers (Reagan’s internal affairs economic adviser, and the main DESTROYER OF ROOSEVELT’s financial SAFEGARDS, as Treasury Secretary under Clinton).
Obama was elected, it turned out, to pursue Larry Summers’ America: for thirty years going, and still collapsing. Then Obama talked as if all he had to do was to persuade the elders of the republican party: still dreaming of his father, apparently. How touching.
But one does not become the president of the USA because one needs public psychotherapy. Quite the opposite: the president is in charge of therapy. The presidents’ job is not to follow, but to lead in the forging of a new mentality, and that mentality better be right.
So, Godspeed America (as the actor Reagan would say). Even the pro-plutocratic magazine “The Economist” wants Obama to put on fighting gloves on (Jan 14, cover):
But, before putting the gloves on, maybe Obama should warm his brain enough to find who to beat up, and that his first enemies are in his own cabinet. As it is, Obama is surrounded by cool plutocrats whose only real ambition is to fill up their pockets some more, in tomorrow’s even cooler plutocracy, so they make US plutocracy the best it can be.
Obama should take heed from his tough predecessor FDR, instead of standing between Clinton and Bush, who are just studies in degeneracy.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was not a perfect president. Why? He was too cool by half, when he confronted Hitler. Instead of arguing with Hitler, and thus helping the dictator by considering him, de facto, a worthy interlocutor, a fact that Hitler famously played like a violin, Roosevelt should have used executive privilege, and forced the USA to declare war, right away. As did Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and many others which joined Britain and France, within days, in their war on the Nazis. Instead, an all too weak Roosevelt did nothing much, and outrageously let American plutocrats keep on helping Hitler some more (instead of trying them for high treason). This made the difference between a little war, and a major holocaust. (The German generals would have made a coup against Hitler, if the USA had fought him, instead of helping him, as was the case in 1933-1942 (!))
Nevertheless, Roosevelt, after he got slapped in the face hard (“a day that would live in infamy”) could be courageous, especially after Adolf Hitler also slapped him hard in the face, a few days later.
To be courageous means that Roosevelt could act decisively. After both militarized Japan and Nazi Germany declared war to the USA, Roosevelt went all out for total war, and transformed overnight the economy of the USA into a command economy. The military fascists in control of Japan had vaguely hoped that Roosevelt would keep on being cool, as he had been with Hitler, negotiate some more, and turn to business only, following what the plutocrats of the USA were doing with the Nazis.
But Roosevelt had seen enough: he knew all about Wall Street, and greed. After all, he had worked there as a corporate lawyer, and his family background in high finance extended for generations (including a grandfather who made a fortune with drug trafficking in China with the infamous opium trade). When faced with luminescent evil, Roosevelt knew how to get hot, and not just under the collar.
Roosevelt had taken tough, even violent decisions in 1933: the day he became president, he closed all the banks. Next, he domesticated the bankers, with the Banking Act (“Glass-Steagall”). The Great Depression had the same causes as the crash of 2008: banks had invested the public’s money in Wall Street, and lost it all. So Roosevelt ordered who he called the “banksters” to submit to new laws which prevented the banks to do this again. That was tough. Compare with now. Obama has turned into Roosevelt, in reverse.
Indeed, Obama named, and put in charge of the economy, the man who greatly destroyed Roosevelt’s oeuvre as his main adviser. Obama was probably told by the world’s richest men to do so, so he got really cool, and did as he was told. After all, “look where I am“, as he always say. But, as the proverb has it: “The higher the monkey climbs, the worst the fall”.
Roosevelt was not an arriviste. His was well beyond the greed of the small and ravenous: been there, done that. He lived at Harvard in luxurious quarters. Roosevelt’s family had long arrived, he was from luxury and privilege. A bold, very close relative had been US president, cracking successfully against an arrogant plutocracy that threatened to swallow the USA in its all consuming embrace. To boot, FDR was Assistant Secretary Of The Navy in World War One, pushing controversially for the submarine as a weapon. So Roosevelt knew how to make war, and had a taste for it. His four sons were decorated for bravery in WWII.
After Roosevelt cracked down on the thuggish bankers in 1933, he gave a speech shortly before the 1936 election. Here’s what he said:
“We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace — business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.
They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob. Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.”
Roosevelt was not cool, he was hot. He was a man who came back after being paralyzed from the waist down. A warrior, a doer. Not a carpet for bankers, and not someone who could not have drawn a lesson from the Haiti quake; don’t ask for whom the earth rolls, it rolls for thee.
Civilization is to fight for. Anything else short of this is just not cool.
P/S: So far, Obama acted well, and decisively, for a change, about Haiti. Thus showing Americans that the most important things, only the government can do. But troops from the USA and others (France, etc.) should slap United Nations flags on their helmets. Give the hoodlums no pretext.