Mutually Assured Madness: Immunity to the 25th Amendment

When Ronald Reagan first arrived at the White House after his big electoral victory over President Jimmy Carter in November 1980, and was now cleared to see and know all the secrets and issue commands, he was asked what he wanted to do first. He asked to see the War Room. The aides, handlers, military and security people were puzzled, what War Room? Reagan described the one with the big circular table and circular-arc overhead light, and the big screen-map of the world that would show the progressive trajectories of B-52 bombers making a nuclear attack on Russia, in the event of such an attack. Reagan was told there was no such War Room. “But I saw it in a movie!” he protested. Indeed, we all saw it in Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 phenomenal cinema satire of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) nuclear war (Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb; https://youtu.be/vuP6KbIsNK4).

And so was displayed the lack of boundary between reality and fantasy, between fact and belief, in the mind of Ronald Reagan at the outset of his presidency in 1981, the new man with his finger on THE BUTTON. (The story about Reagan and the War Room was told by James B. Harris, a collaborator of Kubrick’s at the time, in later years for a documentary.)

Reagan would go on to bulldoze though American public affairs — to our detriment to this day — with the plow of his prejudices leading his way while the fog of his fantasies insulated him from accurate sensory feedback from reality. One of his cold-hearted policy directives was to have the Department of Agriculture classify ketchup as a “vegetable” as regards meeting the nutritional needs of children who were eligible for publicly funded school lunches (a.k.a., poor hungry kids). In the late 1990s poetry and spoken word events I attended in Berkeley, California, I would often hear poet Mark States regale us with his line: “Ronald Reagan told us ketchup was a vegetable, and now he is a vegetable.” Reagan’s mind had been lost to Alzheimer’s Disease, he had been diagnosed in 1994, five years after leaving office, and died in 2004. How much could creeping dementia have impaired (or improved?!) his performance as U.S. President during 1981 to 1988 is a matter of partisan argument.

How can we tell if a U.S. President is mentally incompetent, what would be unmistakeable signs of compromised rationality, and who is empowered to make such a determination and act on it?

Article II, Section 1, Clause 6 of the Constitution deals somewhat ambiguously with the the question of presidential succession in the cases of a sitting president’s removal from office (after conviction by the Senate in an impeachment trial), or of his/her death, or resignation (as with Richard M. Nixon), or “inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office.” The 25th Amendment was adopted in 1967 in an effort to clarify the ambiguities in Article II regarding presidential “inability” and succession.

Section 4 of the 25th Amendment reads as follows:

“Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

“Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.

“Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.”

So in effect, the removal of a president from office for “inability” would require a sustained mutiny by the Vice President and a majority of the 15 cabinet officers, who are the secretaries of: State, Treasury, Defense, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Energy, Education, Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, and the Attorney General. Congressional approval would undoubtedly also be required. Clearly, a president would have to bust out as a really scary looney for that many of the executive officers to sustain a mutiny, and for Congress to condone it.

People generally achieve high executive posts by having displayed years of obedient service (coupled with deft back-stabbing), so it is extremely unlikely that any Cabinet would rebel against their chief executive regardless of how disconcerting the President’s behavior had gotten. And, it is quite likely that Cabinet officers could be just as nutty as the President who appointed them, so why mutiny?

This theme of officers relieving their captain of his/her command was explored in Herman Wouk’s 1951 novel, The Caine Mutiny, which was made into a memorable 1954 movie with Humphrey Bogart cast as Captain Queeg, the paranoid, petty, ineffective and unpopular captain of a U.S. Navy mine-sweeper who has a mental breakdown during a typhoon that threatens to sink the ship, and so his first officer relieves him of command, without opposition from the other officers. In the subsequent court martial of the first officer, Captain Queeg on the witness stand descends into an incoherent rant under the pressure of the defense attorney’s questioning (https://youtu.be/KekChFdIe00).

The court turns against the captain, and the first officer is cleared (as are his pals, by association); but their post-trial celebration is quashed by their getting a tongue lashing from the defense attorney, who tells them their first duty was to support their captain, and make up for his deficiencies to ensure the success of assigned missions, rather than conspiring to undermine his command (https://youtu.be/Jw6gwGawbXA).

So: yes he’s nuts but your duty was to shield the rest of the world from any ill consequences of that while getting the ship’s job done without upsetting and disrupting the established chain of command. I have no doubt that every U.S. Cabinet officer since 1954 has seen and remembers this movie, and quakes at the thought of deviating from that injunction to loyalty, even to a crackpot president.

Now we come to Donald Trump. Some people have become very concerned that President Donald Trump has really become unhinged, and should be legally ineligible to stand trial in the Senate (after his impeachment in the House of Representatives) on the grounds of mental incompetence: insanity. They point to his televised interview on January 22 in which he seems to speak of Thomas Edison (1847-1931) and Elon Musk (1971-) as living contemporaries (https://youtu.be/gxEwTFJG1DQ). Is this really Trump’s “Queeg moment,” or is the twisted thread of his atrociously ungrammatical babble just offering sufficient ambiguity so as to allow for such an interpretation despite his potentially having a sound mind?

The non compos mentis interpretation was voiced by Maya Wiley, a former attorney for the ACLU and NAACP, and seconded by others as noted in an article in Salon about Trump’s maybe Queeg moment (https://www.salon.com/2020/01/24/trumps-fitness-to-stand-trial-questioned-by-professionals-serious-signs-of-deterioration/). That article notes that Yale psychiatry professor Bandy X. Lee had previously been joined by hundreds of psychiatrists from around the country in calling on Congress to convene a panel of mental health professionals to evaluate Trump’s mental state. Lee wrote a joint op-ed with former White House ethics chief Richard Painter warning that Trump should not be tried by the Senate, because he “may not be mentally competent,” and the law requires that only those who are mentally competent can be made to stand trial.

Perhaps Donald Trump is certifiably nuts but his Republican party mates are loyally shielding the country from his worst tendencies while conscientiously attending to the nation’s business; or perhaps they are just cynically keeping Trump — whether really unhinged or merely rabidly befuddled while yet legally sane — manageably distracted in his presidential and Mar-o-Lago playpens while they busy themselves with looting the country with their class war by the plutocrats against everybody else; or maybe Trump is completely sane and fully in command, but his critics cannot bring themselves to believe that a sane mind, as U.S. President, could pursue such a horrid, bigoted and self-aggrandizing agenda, with the faithful support of so many federal officials.

I suppose if we view the last three scenarios as possible quantum states of the Trump Administration, that the “real” situation could be a continuing and unpredictable evanescent flickering between these three states, as well as various superpositions of them. In any case, the invocation of Section 4 of the 25th Amendment seems well beyond the bounds of probability. Given the Republican majority in the Senate — and their loyalty to their own self-interests (clinging to power, getting rich, legalizing their bigotries), as well as peripherally to their own Captain Queeg — Trump’s acquittal in his Senate impeachment trial is a forgone conclusion. Removing Trump from office (before 2025) will require an electoral victory in November 2020 by an opposing presidential candidate.

I think we can conclude that the materialistic careerist power-hungry back-stabbing sycophants and ass-kissers, who scum up to the uppermost tiers of corrupted political bureaucracies, are allergic to enacting administrative procedures for the removal of high officials on the basis of incompetence and mental dysfunction however justified such individual cases might be, because the acceptability of using such removal procedures would threaten them all. In Trumpistan (at the very least): It’s not what you can do to the country, it’s what your country can do for you.

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Mutually Assured Madness: Immunity to the 25th Amendment
29 January 2019
https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/01/29/mutually-assured-madness-immunity-to-the-25th-amendment/

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Manuel García, Jr.’s Worldview, 2020

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Manuel García, Jr.’s Worldview, 2020

I am just over one-eighth of a billionth of humanity, and I think that the impact and value of my thoughts and ideas are about as significant. This year, 2020, I will be 70 years old, and I think that I have probably said everything original that I was capable of saying. I am sure that I will write more of my little essays, and put them out there, but they are more than likely to be repetitions and rehashes of what I have previously written. Right now I cannot imagine squeezing any new insights out of all the reading and studying (and living) I have done in physics, science, history, psychology, Buddhism, and literary fiction.

So, I have compiled a list of 20 of my essays (of recent years), which as a group I offer as representative of my “worldview,” as of 20 January 2020. I post that list here, “for the record,” and for the ‘benefit’ of people new to my web-pages. All of this represents my annual (in January) “state of the world” message.

I have no ego regarding my Internet publications; if they are useful and encouraging to you then great, if not then I think at least they have done no harm.

My plans are to continue absorbing things that interest me, learning as I can, and expressing myself as feels right and enjoyable. I am satisfied that at the very minimum I have improved just over one-eighth of a billionth of humanity.

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Eight Categories, and Numbers of Articles in Each:

1 TRANSFORMING U.S. AND WORLD SOCIETIES (3)
2 CLIMATE CHANGE ACTION VERSUS CAPITALISM AND MILITARISM (4)
3 THE PHYSICAL REALITY OF GLOBAL WARMING (2)
4 WAR IS A CRIME, AND THE FOLLY OF WAR WITH IRAN (2)
5 POPULATION GROWTH + CLIMATE CHANGE + ENERGY USE (3)
6 CLIMATE CHANGE FACTS AT THE MOVIES (2)
7 THE TRUE PURPOSE OF A HUMAN LIFE (2)
8 HOW TO FACE THE FUTURE: ENJOY, AND BE KIND (2)

3+4+2+2+3+2+2+2=20

Article titles are within their respective web-links

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TRANSFORMING U.S. AND WORLD SOCIETIES (1/3)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/04/09/whats-wrong-with-the-united-states/

TRANSFORMING U.S. AND WORLD SOCIETIES (2/3)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2018/10/16/the-inner-dimensions-of-socialist-revolution/

TRANSFORMING U.S. AND WORLD SOCIETIES (3/3)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/05/13/too-many-people-or-too-much-greed/

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CLIMATE CHANGE ACTION VERSUS CAPITALISM AND MILITARISM (1/4)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2018/11/19/climate-change-action-would-kill-imperialism/

CLIMATE CHANGE ACTION VERSUS CAPITALISM AND MILITARISM (2/4)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2017/09/09/climate-change-denial-is-murder/

CLIMATE CHANGE ACTION VERSUS CAPITALISM AND MILITARISM (3/4)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/06/27/american-climate-change-policy-you-dont-matter/

CLIMATE CHANGE ACTION VERSUS CAPITALISM AND MILITARISM (4/4)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/11/20/climate-change-is-a-war-crime/

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THE PHYSICAL REALITY OF GLOBAL WARMING (1/2)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/07/15/ye-cannot-swerve-me-moby-dick-and-climate-change/

THE PHYSICAL REALITY OF GLOBAL WARMING (2/2)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/12/20/co2-and-climate-change-old-and-new/

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WAR IS A CRIME, AND THE FOLLY OF WAR WITH IRAN (1/2)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2020/01/05/war-the-unending-theft/

WAR IS A CRIME, AND THE FOLLY OF WAR WITH IRAN (2/2)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2020/01/05/attacking-iran-will-save-the-world-redux/

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POPULATION GROWTH + CLIMATE CHANGE + ENERGY USE (1/3)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/06/02/our-globally-warming-civilization/

POPULATION GROWTH + CLIMATE CHANGE + ENERGY USE (2/3)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/06/09/oil-population-temperature-what-causes-what/

POPULATION GROWTH + CLIMATE CHANGE + ENERGY USE (3/3)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/06/09/linking-energy-use-and-human-development/

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CLIMATE CHANGE FACTS AT THE MOVIES (1/2)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/12/12/climate-from-catastrophe-to-cataclysm/

CLIMATE CHANGE FACTS AT THE MOVIES (2/2)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/12/31/climate-change-at-the-movies/

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THE TRUE PURPOSE OF A HUMAN LIFE (1/2)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2017/12/29/being-alive/

THE TRUE PURPOSE OF A HUMAN LIFE (2/2)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2017/08/04/what-is-the-purpose-of-life/

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HOW TO FACE THE FUTURE: ENJOY, AND BE KIND (1/2)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2015/12/11/living-confidently-in-times-of-climate-change/

HOW TO FACE THE FUTURE: ENJOY, AND BE KIND (2/2)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2017/05/04/what-can-i-do-about-climate-change/

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War, the Unending Theft

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The following is my response to an old friend about his fear and disgust with the new Iran War fever being stirred up by the Trump Administration.

 

Why Does War Exist?
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2017/09/05/why-does-war-exist/

Attacking Iran Will Save The World (redux)
5 January 2020 (26 March 2012)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2020/01/05/attacking-iran-will-save-the-world-redux/

 

The war is “a great big noisy rather stupid game that doesn’t make any sense at all. None of us know what it’s all about or why. Here we are going at it hammer and tongs, and I bet you those fellows over there feel exactly the same way about it, the enemy… Then one day I suppose it will all end as suddenly as it began. We’ll go home till some other bunch of criminalated* sitting around a large table shoves us into another war and we go at it again… Do you remember my father used to be a professor of biology at Queen’s? He always used to say: man is a savage animal who periodically to relieve his nervous tension tries to destroy himself.”

— Errol Flynn’s monologue in the 1938 film “The Dawn Patrol.”
[* origin of word described at https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/11/11/criminalated-warmongers/]

 

 

Iraq War protest SF 2003
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2016/04/10/iraq-war-protest-sf-2003/

An Iraq War Retrospective
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2012/01/05/an-iraq-war-retrospective/

Through My Lens, Clearly
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/08/11/through-my-lens-clearly/

What’s Wrong With The United States?
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/04/09/whats-wrong-with-the-united-states/

Civics 911
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2016/09/14/civics-911/

Heartrending Antiwar Songs
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/11/15/heartrending-antiwar-songs/

 

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Attacking Iran Will Save The World (redux)

(March 26, 2012, reposted unchanged)

A US-Israeli military attack on Iran will save the world. How?

The U.S. today is the world’s Polyphemus, a maddened Cyclops obsessed with chewing up a planet it seeks to control, and only recognizing this behavior by belching it into consciousness as “profits.” Such an attack would allow Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz by bombardment, instantly shutting off 40% of the world’s maritime traffic of oil exports, and rapidly collapsing the US economy along with many others around the globe. This would be the Mother Of All Oil Embargoes, the poke in the eye of a ravenous and myopic Cyclops by an Iran pushed into the role of Odysseus (Ulysses). As Uri Avnery persuasively argues, [1] it would not be a quick and simple matter for the U.S. to reverse the situation by a combined air and ground war aimed at controlling Iran’s vast territory to destroy all the missile sites capable of launching attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, and enemy military forces in the region and in Israel.

The subsequent economic collapse would be so swift and devastating that it would cut deeply into the ability of the U.S. to prolong the war, a mercy to Iran. The ensuing economic suffering by the US public would most likely fatally sour the popular view of Israel, and new American politicians would surf that tsunami of anger into successful careers untangling Israel’s political tentacles from the gears of the US policy-making machinery, a mercy to the Palestinians (Avnery argues that the entire purpose of the Israeli Likud government’s incessant war talk against Iran is to distract official and public attention in the U.S. from the continuing Israeli depredations against the Palestinians, a tactic that has succeeded).

Aside from the conjectural relief for the Palestinians, the consequences of a US-Israeli war on Iran would be an irredeemable global catastrophe except for one positive effect: it would prompt the U.S. to rapidly develop alternative sources of energy, probably breaking the psychological impasse of climate-change denial in the mentality of the decision-making and profit-making elite. [2]

The first US reaction to the Mother Of All Oil Embargoes would be to tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, but that only holds about five weeks’ supply at the current rate of consumption.

The second act of response would be to approve the Keystone XL pipeline to transport heat-softened and slurried Athabasca tar sands (strip-mined in Alberta, Canada) to US synfuels plants and oil refineries in Illinois, Oklahoma, and the Gulf Coast of Texas, for the production of liquid hydrocarbon fuels. However, significant quantities of refined Athabasca petroleum could not be expected until at least a year after the project secured government approval, all legal challenges were set aside, and construction began.

The third measure in response to a loss of Middle East oil would be to approve expanded oil exploration and extraction in the United States and along its continental shelves (“drill, baby, drill!”). As Michael Klare points out, [3] since most of the “easy oil” has already been extracted or found, it seems unlikely that domestic production can be increased sufficiently (and rapidly) to compensate for a loss of oil imported from the Middle East.

Coal can be converted to synthetic petroleum, but with greater effort than is needed with the Athabasca oil sands (“oil sands” is used by proponents of the Keystone XL project, and “tar sands” is used by opponents; the material itself is bitumen mixed with sand and gravel). Large diversions of industrial agriculture from food production to the growing of feedstock for the synthesis of biofuels would cruelly add to the economic misery by raising food prices. Building more nuclear power plants to compensate for a loss of petroleum-based electrical power would take years to realize, and in any case never supply liquid fuels for transportation.

Because of the conceptual simplicity of solar energy technologies, and the near universal accessibility to sunlight and wind, these methods of harvesting energy and converting it to electricity offer the quickest ways to greatly expand the generating capacity of the United States, without resorting to fossil fuels. [4] Electrical energy can be packed into rechargeable batteries to power ground transportation vehicles, but electric batteries do not yet provide for as long a range of travel between recharges (“fill ups”) as do liquid hydrocarbon fuels. However, all-electric ground transportation using today’s battery technology would not have to be significantly inferior to our present gasoline-powered auto-mobility if we increase the numbers and types of electrified public transportation networks (trains, light rail, trollies, streetcars, buses), design standardized “quick change” modular battery packs for electric automobiles, and convert gas stations into battery exchange and recharge stations.

The Mother Of All Oil Embargoes would also spark a US revival of energy conservation and the construction of energy-conserving and energy-generating buildings and towns. Given that the Iraq War lasted three months shy of nine years (March 2003 to December 2011), and the Afghanistan War continues after more than eleven years (since October 2001), one could guess that a war against Iran, which is larger, more populated, technologically advanced, and has its own highly-developed armaments industry, would take at least a few years to conclude, but might conceivably throttle the export of Persian Gulf oil for a decade.

Few nations are entirely self sufficient, and so most trade on their strengths to then import what they need to compensate for their deficiencies. It is the day-to-day business of diplomats and trade representatives to moderate the unending conflicts that arise from the spillover effects onto the rest of the global community of each nation’s economic activity. Much less tolerable is the spillover, or conscious displacement, of political violence arising from a nation’s internal conflicts. Israel is in a perpetual state of violent spillover where a war in Gaza, or the West Bank, or Lebanon, or now Iran is pursued as a necessary adjunct to the capturing and retention of power by a political party. Israeli war-making is a symptom of its pathological denial of the need to resolve its internal contradictions, [5] the ultimate source of its wars and occupations. The United States has also been a source of too much destructive spillover. Launching a war on Iran because of Israeli-prompted US objections to Iran’s development of nuclear technology (even if with nuclear bombs) would be another terrible spillover of unnecessary political violence.

The carbon dioxide emissions from the United States in 2010 were essentially the same as in 2008; they were 3.6% lower in 2009 during the period of deepest recession after the 2008 economic crash. From the perspective of reducing carbon dioxide emissions so as to limit climate change, an economic collapse is an environmental gain in the absence of conscious efforts to rebuild an economy to minimize the burning of fossil fuels.

If maladroit political managers (perhaps a 2013 Republican administration determined to impress Bibi Netanyahu) carry the Iran War posturing beyond a hysterical public distraction (from the continuing expansion of Israeli apartheid settlements in the West Bank, and the walling off of Palestinians from their own land) into an actual war against Iran, then the consequent economic catastrophes will motivate a popular trend of adopting solar energy technology and of conserving energy. After a significant portion of the US population has experienced the benefits of solar energy (reliable energy wherever the sun shines, conceptually simple and low-hazard technology, recovery from the Mother Of All Oil Embargoes) and adapted to its quirks and maintenance needs, then the psychological barrier of climate-change denial in the U.S. will have been ruptured and this mighty nation can become a leading contributor to a just and intelligent global response to climate change. And, that is what will save the world.

The switch in mentality from climate-change denial to climate-change acknowledgement would be consistent with an attitude of renovating the US economy to operate with as little petroleum and coal as possible, and of stopping the many political and military schemes, like the Iran War, that arise out of the obsession to control global access to fossil fuel resources. Of course, we could achieve the same ends without experiencing the agonies of an Iran War if we were willing to acknowledge facts and accept Nature’s message (global warming).

Notes

1.  Uri Avnery, Attacking Iran, CounterPunch, 12 March 2012.
https://www.counterpunch.org/2012/03/12/attacking-iran/

2.  Olga Bonfiglio, Some Sociological Explanations for Climate Change Denial, olgabonfiglio.blogspot.com, 16 March 2012. Thanks to Gerald Spezio for this reference.
http://olgabonfiglio.blogspot.com/2012/02/some-sordid-explanations-of-climate.html

3.  Michael T. Klare, Why High Gas Prices Are Here to Stay,
TomDispatch.com, 13 March 2012.
http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175515/tomgram%3A_michael_klare%2C_why_high_gas_prices_are_here_to_stay/

4.  Manuel García, Jr., Energy for Society in Balance with Nature,
[8 June 2015 (27 February 2012)]
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2015/06/08/energy-for-society-in-balance-with-nature/

5.  Gabriel Kolko, The Enigma Of Israel, CounterPunch, 16 March 2012.
https://www.counterpunch.org/2012/03/16/the-enigma-of-israel/
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This article originally appeared as:

Attacking Iran Will Save The World

26 March 2012
http://www.swans.com/library/art18/mgarci44.html
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A Measure of Societal Vitality

Figure 1, HDI vs. kWh/c, data points and statistical average,
linear plot, from 10 kWh/c to 29,247 kWh/c, (2002 data)

Figure 2, HDI vs. kWh/c, data points and statistical average,
logarithmic plot, from 10 kWh/c to 29,247 kWh/c, (2002 data)

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A Measure of Societal Vitality

Following is my response to Robert Hunziker’s article “Kill GDP to Help Save the Planet,” published in Counterpunch on 2 January 2020. [1]

Robert Hunziker describes why the economic statistical measure known as GDP — Gross Domestic Product — is a deeply flawed indicator of the actual economic health and societal wellbeing of the United States, and really of any nation. As Hunziker notes, it is based purely on “the monetary value of all finished goods and services,” and as Joseph Stiglitz has shown (as pointed out by Hunziker): “The world is facing three existential crises: (1) a climate crisis, (2) an inequality crisis and (3) a crisis in democracy… Yet the accepted ways by which we measure economic performance gives absolutely no hint that we might be facing a problem.” I agree.

Is there a statistical measure that overcomes these objections? Yes: the Energy-HDI Efficiency Number. Explanation follows.

The United Nations uses an economic parameter called the Human Development Index (HDI) to characterize the typical standard of living of every nation. [2]

It is observed that affluent nations have high HDI scores (they range from 0 to 1) and a high use of electrical energy per year per capita (in kilowatt-hours/year/person the range is from 0 to 30,000), while poor nations have relatively low values for both quantities. In 2006, I made a study of the correlation of national HDI to the electrical energy use per capita, for 177 nations. [3]

The Human Development Index

The UN Human Development Index (HDI) is a comparative measure of poverty, literacy, education, life expectancy, childbirth, and other factors for countries worldwide. It is a standard means of measuring well-being, especially child welfare.

The index was developed in 1990 by the Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq, and has been used since 1993 by the United Nations Development Programme in its annual report.

The HDI measures the average achievements in a country in three basic dimensions of human development:

1. A long and healthy life, as measured by life expectancy at birth.

2. Knowledge, as measured by the adult literacy rate (with two-thirds weight) and the combined primary, secondary, and tertiary gross enrolment ratio (with one-third weight).

3. A decent standard of living, as measured by gross domestic product (GDP) per capita at purchasing power parity (PPP) in USD.

Each year, UN member states are listed and ranked according to these measures. Those high on the list often advertise it, as a means of attracting talented immigrants (economically, individual capital) or discouraging emigration.

The Human Development Index is the average of three indices: the Life Expectancy Index (LEI), the Education Index (EI) and the GDP Index (GDPI).

The Education Index is itself a weighted sum of: the Adult Literacy Index (ALI, weight = 2/3) and the Gross Enrollment Index (GEI, weight = 1/3).

All of these measures have minimum and maximum values, which appear in the differences and normalizations used to construct the three major indices. The formulas are as follows:

LEI = (LE – 25)/(85 -25),
LE = life expectancy in years;

EI = (2/3)*ALI + (1/3)*GEI;

ALI = (ALR – 0)/(100 – 0),
ALR = adult literacy rate;

GEI = (CGER – 0)/(100 – 0),
CGER = combined gross enrolment ratio;

GDPI = [log(GDPpc) – log(100)]/[log(40000) – log(100)],
GDPpc = GDP per capita at PPP in USD;

HDI = [LEI + EI + GDPI]/3.

The Human Development Index is a measure that helps to capture the overall socio-economic health of a country, and a measure that allows for useful comparisons whether by international bodies like the UN or concerned individuals.

Linking Energy Use And Human Development

It is evident that a higher standard of living, as indicated by HDI, will obtain when a greater quantity of electrical energy per capita (kWh/c/yr) is available. Yet, in 2002 Ireland expended 6560 kWh/c/yr to provide its people with an HDI of 0.946, ranking 8th in the world; while Saudi Arabia expended 6620 kWh/c/yr (essentially the same as Ireland) to only provide its people — on average — with an HDI of 0.772, ranking 77th in the world.

It is obvious that Ireland made much more efficient use of the energy it expended in order to support the wellbeing of its people. That wellbeing must necessarily include caring for the natural environment within which the national population lives. The statistical measure that I propose for indicating the degree to which a nation’s energy consumption provides for a healthy society is the Energy-HDI Efficiency Number. In 2002, Ireland’s Energy-HDI Efficiency Number was +21 (the world leader), while Saudi Arabia’s was -50, ranking at best 38th in the world (in 2002, the year of the HDI data available for my 2006 study).

In 2002, the U.S.A. expended 13,456 kWh/c/yr to provide its people with an HDI of 0.944, ranking 10th in the world, with an Energy-HDI efficiency number of -1, a level of overall performance behind 21 other nations despite having the 9th highest per capita energy expenditure.

What makes for Energy-HDI efficiency?: low GDP waste on a military establishment, an arms industry, and unproductive government subsidies as with underwriting Wall Street bankster gambling losses; wide use of energy efficient equipment, methods and attitudes; minimal income and wealth inequality; robust national social welfare programs; and diligent stewardship of a healthy natural environment, which naturally contributes to healthy human longevity. [4]

Some nations do a great deal with very little, like Cuba, with an HDI of 0.817 and an HDI rank of 52 out of 177 with an expenditure of only 1395 kWh/c/yr (in 2002). In my study I found that, statistically, a nation would have had to use 2425 kWh/c/yr in order to provide an HDI of 0.817. It is as if Cuba had generated its social benefits with only 57.5% of the electrical energy one would expect. [3]

Societal Vitality

Regardless of what anyone says, all national economies are exercises in intentional social engineering, and as such their features and their degrees of success at providing popular wellbeing can be characterized numerically. GDP alone is a poor indicator of societal health and vigor, but HDI and the Energy-HDI Efficiency Number are much better indicators of societal vitality.

The value of any such indicator, like the temperature shown on an air thermometer outside your window, and the speedometer in your automobile, is to apprise you quantitatively of your current reality so that you can then go and do something intelligent and useful in dealing with it. That is what we have to do about the societal vitality of our national economies and the natural environments they reside within: characterize their overall performances truthfully, and then fix them.

Notes

[1] Kill GDP to Help Save the Planet
Robert Hunziker
https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/01/02/kill-gdp-to-help-save-the-planet/

[2] Human Development Index
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Development_Index

[3] An Introduction Linking Energy Use And Human Development
28 April 2006
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/06/09/linking-energy-use-and-human-development/

[4] TABLE: Country Ranking by Energy-HDI Efficiency Number
9 June 2019
https://manuelgarciajr.files.wordpress.com/2019/06/table-a.jpg
AND
https://manuelgarciajr.files.wordpress.com/2019/06/table-b.jpg

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