Friday, December 26, 2014

The Next Two Years

Well, that was unpleasant.

So what does a Republican-dominated Congress and Supreme Court have in store for us?

One thing I think is highly likely: a slowdown in the recovery, or even a deepening of the depression. A period of deflation and an explosion of the national debt both seem possible.

This is likely to be an outcome of three Republican initiatives.

  1. Ending the health insurance tax credits in the 26 states that have not established their own health insurance exchanges. This would raise the health insurance prices of the approximately 10 million people enrolled via beyond the ability of most to pay. This, in turn, will cascade through the insurance industry, likely bankrupting insurance companies and affecting policies outside of the 26 Republican-dominated states.
  2. Cutting taxes on the very wealthy.
  3. Expanding military spending through borrowing.

At the personal level, further cuts in programs for people in economic distress are likely. The overall impact of this, and a slowing of the recovery, is likely also to affect the morale of the public. Some people will be further radicalized, and support further cuts. It seems likely, however, that much of the public will develop a hopeless hatred of the Republicans, which will be exploitable in a variety of ways, though it may ultimately lead to a successful opposition.

One of the most reliable markers of Republican politicians is their misogyny. Astonishingly for conservatives who claim to value women, children, and families, they are forever making excuses for rapists. This will manifest as more Congressional anti-abortion and even anti-contraception activism. A weakening, though probably not repeal, of the Violence Against Women Act seems possible.

Impeachment of Obama on false charges. Benghazi! Benghazi! Benghazi!

It’s a pretty ugly list, though some of it many not come to pass. Obama’s veto will have some effect. At the same time, this list is not comprehensive; there are more horrors I do not know about. I think the country is going to be miserable by 2016, and I am not at all sure the Republicans will lose power at that time.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Further into Hell: Fascism, Keynesianism, and Red States

The tax-cutting and anti-labor policies of Kansas are destroying jobs. During a time of modest recovery, employment in Kansas continues to fall.

One of the things I now grasp about 1930s fascism is that it had to be militarist, it had to encourage internal looting. It had no other way to create jobs and maintain the wealth of its would-be aristocracy. How will this play out in states like Kansas and Wisconsin? Do the paramilitaries of the far right merge with the state militias? That sounds disturbingly plausible, especially since the state Guards and national reserve forces are already are full of Sunday soldiers. What happens then?

Internal violence, for sure. More attacks on victimized groups—blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, Jews, and women of all ethnicities—seem likely. External violence? It is hard for me to imagine a successful revolt; the state forces are too corrupt and disorganized, and the Federal forces are very powerful indeed. So instead, I think, a radical states-rights agenda enabled by a complaisant Congress and the Roberts Court.

I don't see how it can work, without a successful revolt. These states will not be able to hold their citizens and, especially, their women. Poverty and sickness will be a hard sell, when neighboring states will be relatively prosperous and healthy. But it promises hard times for whole (dis-) United States for some years to come.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Torture Report: We Haven't Hit Bottom Yet

Well, that was unpleasant.

The revelations in the torture report are even worse than what we already knew. And that's not all—we have the people who ordered the torture on television saying, like Darren Wilson, that they have no regrets and did nothing wrong. There is no talk of prosecution from anyone with the power to do it, though I suspect that all the perpetrators would do well not to travel outside the USA.

And we haven't hit bottom yet. Until substantive changes are made (I am starting to wonder if John Brennan, former master of drone assassinations, now Director of the CIA, is blackmailing Barack Obama), this will continue.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Fascism by State

I think I get it. Some US states are fascist, the way some US states used to be slave states. Fascism, in the sense of that Paxton, Griffin, and Berlet defined it:
Fascism. Modern political ideology that seeks to regenerate the social, economic, and cultural life of a country by basing it on a heightened sense of national belonging or ethnic identity. Fascism rejects liberal ideas such as freedom and individual rights, and often presses for the destruction of elections, legislatures, and other elements of democracy. Despite the idealistic goals of fascism, attempts to build fascist societies have led to wars and persecutions that caused millions of deaths. As a result, fascism is strongly associated with right-wing fanaticism, racism, totalitarianism, and violence. (Griffin)

This, I think, explains a lot. It seems to the left, back in the 1950s, that fascism would come to America. Sinclair Lewis wrote a whole novel about it back in 1935. But it never took everywhere, and the federation recovered.

So we have a situation where places like Kansas and Wisconsin are dominated by rulers who their majorities hate, while California and New York are sort of getting along. The national government is still up for grabs, though we have two years of a fascist majority in the Congress and who knows how long in the Supreme Court.

So maybe it's time to dust off the old states rights rhetoric, and turn it against its inventors. Looks like the Roberts Court is going to bring it back; it's the way they will trash the ACA and drastically weaken marriage.

So we tough it out, and wait. It would help if some national leader or other would actually speak up. It would help if at least one national news outlet would admit that this is not politics as usual. (Well, maybe Comedy Central is doing that. But they're not news—are they?)

I'm not holding my breath.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

“The Rise of Pseudo-Fascism" revisited

"When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross," as Sinclair Lewis did not say. Or "wrapped up in the American flag and heralded as a plea for liberty and preservation of the constitution." Or even, "it will not be labeled 'made in Germany;' it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, 'Americanism.'"

David Neiwert, in his 2004 essay The Rise of Pseudo-Fascism, commented that this was not quite full fascism. yet: it was not openly revolutionary, not yet a dictatorship, did not yet rely on physical violence and gross intimidation, and that American democracy was not yet in the genuine crisis that the real thing requires. In the past election, we have had the openly revolutionary Joni Ernst elected to the Senate, we have the intimidating "open carry" firearms movement and government workers being shot in Utah, and we have multiple economic and constitutional crises. We are not a dictatorship yet, but we are very close, with Ted Cruz and Rand Paul vying for the iron scepter.

On the past election, Neiwert comments, “the mainstream press continues to treat this radicalization as normative politics.” We're almost there, and only the lefties like me seem to notice.

It’s not about racism…

(A short and bitter croak.)

…it’s about ethics in…

I think that’s the final word on what US conservatism has become. All the talk of independence, of responsibility, is in the end a cover for racism, sexism, and classism. Obama is conservative in every way but bigotry, and the reaction to Obama’s Presidency he has shown us is that, in the end, what calls itself conservatism is not about all its fine ideals, which just about everyone believes; in the end it is simply well-dressed authoritarianism. That’s the engine, that’s the drive wheel. Modern US conservatives are supremacists, that’s all: people who can’t live in a world in which all are equal.

Wotta revoltin' development.

(I know, I know, there's people who've been saying that all along. But I had hopes that conservatives might actually believe their high ideals. And in fact, some do. Those conservatives are no longer Republicans and are saying things like "my party left me.")

Taney Court II: the ACA and Marriage

The Roberts Court has taken a gay marriage case and an ACA case. The only reason anyone can see that they have taken the ACA case is to further chip away at the law.

I think the way this will works out is that the Taney Roberts Court renders decisions that allow states to opt out of the ACA and out of any constitutional requirement to acknowledge gay marriages made in other states. This "states rights" view is a plunge into antebellum law, and the conservative justices will probably have to revive pre-Civil War precedents to justify it; they may also revive the legal basis for racial segregation in doing so.

In the long term, I cannot imagine how the USA can survive with an early 19th-cenutry legal system. The antebellum system dissolved into civil war; I do not think the republic will fare any better under the legal regime the Roberts Court is creating.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Short Electoral Note: Peace, Prosperity, and Weed

Well, that was unpleasant. The Democrats not only lost the Senate, the votes went much more heavily against the Democratic Senatorial candidates than anyone expected.

There's a lot of discussion of how and why, and most of it focuses on messaging and propaganda. Both of these are real problems. David Neiwert comments, "I would be remiss in not pointing out one of the key dynamics that has been at play for some years, and really became a significant factor last night: Our failure to take right-wing extremism seriously." An excellent point, and one that has borne repeating for years now. Jim Wright points out that Democratic Senatorial candidates ran away from Obama, which was shameful and disloyal, and probably made their losses worse.

The last time the Republicans were in power, they started a war in Iraq, paid for it by borrowing money, further expanded the deficit by cutting taxes for the rich, and left us arguing that, no, torture is a Really Bad Idea. The Republicans have a history of doing their worst when they get the opportunity, and they're in a good position to do it now.

But I'd like to look back at something else. A while back, I wrote "To win the next election you have to deliver. Obama didn’t deliver on jobs, housing, and banking, and it’s pretty hard to message that away" and also "Faced with an election that is the crystallized result of essence of policy failure, Obama decides that he…sent the wrong message."

No, you idiots. You didn't send the wrong message. You bailed out the bankers and not the public. You let people be thrown out of their homes through rampant fraud. Six years after the crash, people are still out of work and you bargained away the unemployment insurance extension. Salaries have gone down. Most of us have gone through our savings and you have done nothing to help. Oh, you did create the Consumer Financial Protection Board, but this is a tiny bandage on a great gaping wound. And you did pass the Affordable Care Act, which at least means we can get medical care—in some states—while we're broke and wondering how to pay the rent. But these are nowhere near enough when set against the disaster of the past six years. And you have the gall to ask for our votes? Why would anyone vote for the party that did that?

Well, there is one reason. The Republicans are worse, lots worse. But, "Vote for us, we're not totally insane right-wing fanatics" is not much of a campaign slogan.

And, finally, that is why the Democrats are not popular. People have decided that "society" is not working for them, and they are trying to leave. Isn't that what the Tea Party Republicans are about? But that trick never works. There is no place to go, and there are people are all too ready to promise to take you there, but instead lead you into madness.

So what might the Democrats (or some new party) deliver on? The economy, obviously. There's infrastructure work to be done. The government could hire people to do it. There's hungry people who need to be fed, and homeless people to be housed. And ending the drug war would improve our lives.

As to the Republicans…they threw away the opportunity for a generation of peace and prosperity to fight pointless wars and line the pockets of the rich. They may yet drown human civilization.

But, "Vote for us, we bring peace, prosperity, and weed" — that just might go somewhere.

Added Nov 8: I see that Linkins and Carter over at the HuffPo have independently drawn similar but much more detailed conclusions about Obama's economic policies.

(Updated the day after the original posting; "houses" changed to "homes," bible quotes removed, and a bit about the modest achievements of the Democrats added.)

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Where To Phone Bank: Keeping the Senate Democratic

They need people to make calls, and you can do it from anywhere in the USA. Fight! Fight! Fight!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

On Cutting the Deficit in a Depression II

(The original version of this was ambiguous. This is the new! improved! version.)

When you're near-broke, and having money problems, do you pay your rent or pay down your credit card debt?

It's almost that simple.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Keeping in the vote

I wonder if Ebola is being kept in the news partly to distract the public from the election.
With lower voter attention comes lower turnout – and evidently, lower certainty about which voters will show up to vote. Other distractions take away from the important issue of Joni Ernst’s desire to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency…hey, pay attention, I’m talking to you! Ebola Ebola Ebola! There, now you’re back. Thank you."—Sam Wang, Princeton Election Consortium

Saturday, October 25, 2014

How You Know The Terrorists Have Won

When there are terrorists in charge of both sides of a fight.

Friday, October 24, 2014

GMRG8 and Law

As a result of difficulties explaining my previous remarks over at Balloon Juice, I have this thought:
I think what I am writing about in this context is law. We have, in GMRG8, one kind of law: the law of the jungle. In the response I fear, I see another kind of law: the law that suppresses visible conflict, while enforcing oppression. I would like to see a third kind of law: one that punishes the gmrg8rs, while protecting and encouraging freedom of expression and women's rights.
I think Brianna Wu agrees with me. Today she has written:
I also found this statement troubling. “Many at IGN feel additional visibility only encourages those who want to use the Movement as a means to stop rather than start discussions.” IGN prefers silence. They say they don’t want to “signal boost” [gmrg8].

What IGN doesn’t understand is ignoring these people isn’t working. They are going after any woman in the industry that speaks up about representation of women in the games industry. They went after Samantha Allen, they went after Jenn Frank, they went after Zoe Quinn and they went after me.—Brianna Wu, About IGN’s Statement…

Sure sounds like what I just called "the law that suppresses visible conflict, while enforcing oppression."

So, what kind of law and changes in legal practice do we need?

  1. To begin with, taking conduct on the internet seriously, and a matter for law enforcement. There is a huge amount of crime of all sorts that takes place on the internet. Most of it is fraud and theft-of-service (spam!) But there is also stalking, and something new that social media makes far easier: trolling for the violent, which is at the heart of GMRG8.
  2. Enforcing existing anti-stalking laws.
  3. Outlawing doxxing.
  4. Outlawing the practice of trolling for the violent.
  5. Finding a better compromise between the protections anonymity and pseudonimity provide, while at the same time, limiting their abuse.
Given our current crop of lawmakers, it doesn't sound like anything that is likely to be done soon. Still, let us at least pose the problem.

[Weasel phrase removed 2014.10.29]

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Social Security, Bankers, and Parasites

I recently wrote an exasperated reply to a libertarian friend some time back, explaining that Social Security and Medicare do not enrich the wealthy and powerful; that they pay out everything they take in, less the civil service salaries of the people who operate them, which are modest. The libertarian "alternatives" to the social insurance programs—annuities and health insurance—all require investment of money in large for-profit financial services organizations. Since these are for-profit organizations, they invariably cost more than the non-profit social insurance programs; one might as well be paying taxes. They also turn out to be more subject to control fraud than public organizations, which at least are subject to taxpayer scrutiny.

The social insurance programs show that we don't need the wealthy for income and health care in old age, and some of the wealthy hate that. The simple idea that we don't need the 1% is threatening to them, and that is why there is so much opposition to social insurance among the very wealthy. You get the likes of Mitt Romney who made a fortune by sending manufacturing businesses to China, you get the Walton family, who made a fortune by gutting small-town business, underpaying their employees, and, yes, by sending manufacturing business to China. These are not productive. Mitt Romney complains that he believes nearly half the country is parasitic on the rich, but I suspect he believes that anyone who works for a living is a parasite. The Walton family regards employees and pay for suppliers as necessary evils. It's the Waltons and the Romneys of the world who are the parasites. Walmart pays literal starvation wages; without government support, many of its employees would be starving. Even Amazon, which provides a genuinely valuable service, is vulnerable to this charge; would there be an Amazon without hellish working conditions in their warehouses and the factories of their suppliers? Perhaps, but it would be less profitable.

Parasites. We don't need parasites.

(one sentence clarified 2014.11.29)

Monday, October 20, 2014

GMRG8 and Censorship

The equation is simple: Those who have power get to censor, and those who lack power get silenced. If you find yourself in a position to demand and get censorship, you can be sure you are among those who have the power, and you are acting to oppress others.—Feminists Against Censorship

The GMRG8 activists, despite all denials, are acting to silence their targets. They are moderately successful in doing so, though they have not yet silenced Sarkeesian, Quinn, and Wu. But terrorists terrorize.

Every woman I know in the industry is scared. Many have thought about quitting. Three of us have been the victims of death threats, and some of this have been driven from our homes.—Brianna Wu

The GMRG8ers have persuaded Intel and ASUS to pull advertising from major sites which published pieces critical of the GMRG8 agenda, whatever that is. Part of the motivation here is the marketing aversion to association with controversy in any form. But if it were a plague of man-hatred instead, I doubt the marketing departments would have acted similarly.

GMRG8 has been recognized by the mass media now. There is a huge generational divide. Most people under age 35 have at least played computer games, over, not so much. And I fear a backlash; an expansion of the existing game ratings board that suppresses a broad range of sexual and violent content, making impossible engagement with these subjects. One may imagine something like the 1930s Motion Picture Production Code, which for many years prevented the showing, even, in movies distributed in the USA, of a married couple just sleeping together. Homosexuals were unpersonned in US movies of that period—they were never even shown. And all the while the enormous hypocrisy of the period, with all its covert sexual relations, conceived as evil, a source of pride for men, a reason to blame women.

Since that time, US culture has swung to another extreme, going from prudery to prurience in a generation, never stopping at a moderate place. What marks both positions is extremism. At one extreme, sex, sexuality, and women are things to be feared, suppressed, and associated with violence. At the other extreme, women are intensely sexualized, while violence against sexualized women is widely embraced. What there is not in either extreme is a rejection of violence, an acceptance of sexuality as a normal and healthy part of human life, and a recognition of women as people with their own needs and wants. When extreme and hateful voices dominate discourse, all moderate voices are silenced, yet it is the moderate voices which have the most to say to everyday life for, after all, who wants to go through life hating their sexuality, hating their sexual partners, or surrounded by violence?

I fear the the victory of one or another faction of extremists. We might end up in a place where women and girls are terrorized with images of violence directed at them, and all critical voices silenced. We might also end up in a place where sexual hypocrisy is again the norm, and sexuality and women's agency are again erased from popular discourse. Or we might end up in a place with the worst elements of both, where popular prudery suppresses all images of violence against "good" women, while at the same time threatening women with brutality if they step out of line, even a little bit.

I fear the terrorists are winning.

GMRG8: The Screwfly Solution

Contains spoilers for the 1977 Racoona Sheldon story, "The Screwfly Solution." If you want to avoid them, don't click on the link.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

In Which Open Political Terrorism Against Women in the USA Becomes A Thing

I've been saying for years that there are very few things in right-wing politics that cannot be explained, in whole or part, as an expression of threatened masculinity. And now we have GMRG8, which I am abbreviating in an effort to keep the trolls under their bridges for a little while. There's a WtF aspect to the whole thing. Yes, attacks on feminists online have been around for a long time, and attacks on feminist critiques of gaming have also been around for a long time. But this...? Extensive criminal attacks on the online resources of feminist gaming critic Anita Sarkeesian and game designers Zoe Quinn and Brianna Wu. Credible death threats against all three. Threats of a massacre of women at an award ceremony for Sarkeesian.

And it doesn't end. Usually these things just die out, but not GMRG8. It just keeps on going.

W. T. F. ‽

I suspect that there is some far-right activist group that is supporting and funding this effort. Breitbart is on board. The American Enterprise Institute is on board. Likely enough someone with real money and propaganda resources is participating. Like Kyle Wagner says, The Future Of The Culture Wars Is Here, And It's Gamergate.

And it is terrorist. I've been, for years, aware that open violence on the right was a possibility; when you talk revolution for this long, sooner or later, someone is going to start shooting, or at least threatening to shoot. But directed at women? Not at feminist firebrands, not at, oh, Catherine Mackinnon or Andrea Dworkin. At a critic and two game developers, none of them major figures. Never in my wildest nightmares did I expect this. It is like something out of a feminist dystopia.

There's a lot more to be said here, but I find I do not know what it is. I am stunned at that we are seeing right-wing terrorist threats directed at women in the USA as cruel and deadly as any made in an Islamic state. I wonder about the implications of this: misogyny has long been an undercurrent in reactionary violence, but this is the first time I have seen it explicit and direct. Is there something about the online environment that renders it more visible or more tempting? Or…?

Postscript: after writing this, I feel like I have looked into the mouth of hell. What kind of society makes war on its own mothers and daughters? That's the Taliban, that's ISIL. And a society that makes war on its women is a society with no future at all.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

New Party Watch

What intrigues me more is to speculate on what will happen if we have a closely divided Senate with four independent senators -- Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Angus King of Maine, Orman, and Pressler -- sitting there in the middle with some very real power in their hands, and no formal allegiance to either party. Then we'll have a show.—"Just South of North Dakota," Charles P. Pierce

Told ya.

Of course, it may not happen at all.

On Cutting the Deficit in a Depression

When you're near-broke, and having money problems, do you pay your rent or your creditors first? It's almost that simple.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

An Improving but Slack Labor Market

I interpret the current Bureau of Labor (BLS) statistics as meaning that people are returning to the workforce as work becomes available, and there is more work, but right now there is still not enough work; demand for labor is still slack.

I therefore see every reason to keep interest rates low and undertake whatever reasonable programs will be effective in raising aggregate demand. The labor market appears to be "normalizing," and by 2018 or so will, unless something throws it off track, be back to something like "full" employment, though I expect wages will be lower than pre-depression levels. As we approach full employment I expect major efforts from the right to reduce employment, so as to reduce labor costs. We already seem to be seeing some, in the form of pressure to raise interest rates, though so many people are still out of work, and more are struggling.

(This is a very simple reading of the statistics, and many economists do not agree with it. Paul Krugman, who started me looking at these data, says that no-one actually knows if the labor market is slack. As a bird on the ground, though, it sure looks slack to me, and a simple reading of the statistics seems to support my position.)

Supporting data

  • U-6, the unemployment measure that includes people who are sort-of working but can't find enough work, rose dramatically in 2008 and has been falling since the beginning of 2010. By 2018 or so, a straight-line projection will return it to its 2007 level.
  • The employment/population ratio remains poor.
  • The August 2014 BLS Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) found 2 job seekers for every job, which is a normal number; people are being hired at pre-depression rates.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Terrorists Are Winning

Recently, Jim Wright linked the obscene remarks of Todd Kincannon on appropriate control of ebola in Africa, which involves murdering patients and burning their homes and their neighbors homes. One wonders what he thinks is appropriate in Texas Health Presbyterian in Dallas, where Thomas Eric Duncan lies in critical condition, but it would not surprise me if he was willing to destroy the hospital, killing all its patients.

Kincannon is a lawyer and was, briefly, the head of the South Carolina Republican Party. He is, apparently, a racist homophobic sexual harasser. Given the power, it seems likely that he would, just as he says, commit mass murder.

Why is this man granted any authority at all? Why has he not been disbarred?

A while back I researched the founding and leadership of Likud, the radical Israel party that is making life hell on earth for the Gaza Palestinians. The first Likud Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, was the last commander of the Irgun, the brutal, but perhaps not terrorist, radical Zionist organization. The second, Yitzhak Shamir, was a senior Lehi leader—Lehi, which open modeled itself on the Irish Republican Army, and was actively terrorist. So: Likud is a terrorist party, the USA has been arming it, and the press does not seem to notice, or care. And Hamas is also a terrorist party. So in Israel/Palestine now, we have a terrorist-dominated Palestinian government fighting a terrorist-dominated Israeli government. In Gaza, now, it is terrorists fighting terrorists. The terrorists have won.

Are we to go down with our hands around each other's necks, strangling?

Thoughts on Keynes and Socialism

This is inspired, ultimately, by Simon Wren-Lewis's post, "Is Keynesian Economics Left Wing," which came to me via The Economists View. I do not feel confident that what I have written here is correct; it seems to me what one might think, after much more study.

As to the question of Keynesians being socialist, or not, I might call him a technocratic socialist, to distinguish his position from the labor socialism of Marx and his successors. Keynes argued that "a somewhat comprehensive socialization of investment" was sufficient to bring about full employment and maximum (or desired) productivity and offered methods for achieving that using existing financial and governmental structures. The goals he set out, I would say, were socialist, in the sense of governing the economy for the welfare of all, rather than a ruling class, but his methods were entirely different from those proposed by socialist parties, and in contradiction to those of communism. Rather than the minute planning of every aspect of the economy, which was popular among some socialists of his day, he proposed to eschew minute planning and instead govern investment in a way favorable to a broad middle class. He set out ways in which a democracy might accomplish goals of economic fairness without overturning the whole of society.

Because of this, socialist and communist parties opposed his ideas and, so far as I know, still do. The whole labor socialist project is called into question by Keynesian economics. Because of his advocacy of control of investment, he also has strong opposition on the part of the right, from the wealthy who do not wish to give up even partial control of their wealth and also from people who prefer an aristocratic social order.

And all of this is very much a shame, because it is not like labor activism would be unnecessary in an polity governed by Keynesian precepts, nor would leaders and rulers become unnecessary in such a society. If the various factions would see past their ideologies, Keynesianism has much to offer both sides. In such a society, labor need not fear impoverishment from arbitrary financial policies or random economic weather and rulers and leaders need not be authoritarians.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Senate candidate, talking revolution

"State Sen. Joni Ernst, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Iowa, once said she would support legislation that would allow 'local law enforcement to arrest federal officials attempting to implement' Obamacare."—Talking Points Memo

Right at the moment Ernst is ahead in polling, but only by 1%.

Exactly which Federal officials would be affected since, after all, they largely aren't located in Iowa, and whether she would also arrest people who applied for Obamacare and doctors who accepted it she doesn't say. It is hard to imagine local police arresting IRS officers, but that would seem be implied.

This may all be moot, however. The Supreme Court may get the opportunity to support these states rights advocates and may well do so, by siding with the plaintiff in Halbig and Halbig-like cases, making ACA care inaccessible to people not solidly middle-class in 36 states.

If so, my black-feathered brothers and sisters will feast.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Treason and Elections

It looks very much like the war hysteria is swinging the vote in favor of the Republicans. If you are tempted, remember that Republicans lose wars, and spend lots of money doing it.

It also looks to me very much like the "conservative" strategy is to put the country on a permanent war footing, and use that as an excuse to loot the savings of the public and cut as many social insurance programs as they can. And I wonder…the Nixon campaign sabotaged the Johnson peace talks, so Nixon could win the 1968 election. The, in the 1980s, the Reagan administration made illegal deals with Iran and Nicaragua, the infamous Iran-Contra scandal. So this is a pattern; conservative Republican administrations have twice broken the law, arguably treasonably, to advance their political goals. Could conservative Republicans be providing personnel and materiel to ISIL? Must we contemplate treason, again?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Links! Donate! Volunteer! Vote! The Senate is Balanced on a Knife Edge!

My favorite elections analysis site, Sam Wang's Princeton Electoral Consortium, informs us that the Senate is balanced on a knife edge. Five races, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, and Louisiana are most likely to tip the balance now, and possibly Georgia and North Carolina. So get out there. If you have money, donate. If you live in one of those states, volunteer. It's time, unless you really want to find out how much more damage the Republicans can do to the USA.

Alaska - Mark Begich

Arkansas - Mark Pryor

Colorado - Mark Udall

Georgia - Michelle Nunn


Iowa - Bruce Braley

Louisiana - Mary Landrieu

North Carolina - Kay Hagan

Act Blue provides fund-raising services to Democratic campaigns

  They need money, too

Friday, September 12, 2014

Chechens? Chechens? ISIL! ISIL!

Me, back in 2013:
These are people who have never known peace. I cannot see how the children of Chechnya could be anything war-traumatized. The surprise, perhaps, is that there have not been more international terrorists from Chechnya.

Dr. Adam L. Silverman, guest-blogging on Balloon Juice yesterday:

ISIL’s actual vanguard and some of their hardest core fighters are actually about 1,000 hardened Chechens who were radicalized and reactionized in their long rebellion and insurgency against the Russian Federation and Vladimir Putin.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Taney Court II: ...and here we go

In a potentially crippling blow to the new federal health care law, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday that the government may not provide subsidies to encourage people to health insurance on the new marketplaces run by the federal government. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, in a two-to-one decision, ruled that those subsidies are only available on “exchanges” run by state governments.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in a decision directly contrary to the D.C. Circuit decision discussed below, on Tuesday afternoon upheld the government rule that cleared the way for subsidies for those buying health insurance on exchanges run by the federal government. … The split in the appeals courts, if it remains after potential en banc reviews, would practically guarantee Supreme Court review. --SCOTUSblog

With luck the DC Circuit Court decision will fall under en banc review, and this will not go to the Supreme Court. Because if it does, a horrific decision seems likely.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Drone Law and the Possible End of the Nation State

(This is the result of some correspondence with Lt. Col. Robert Bateman over at the Esquire Politics Blog. He subscribes to the "just another weapon that won't change much" view of drones and I don't.)

Me, I worry that drones are preeminently a way of controlling and attacking a civilian population. They are an effective assassin's tool. I also worry that the most effective retaliation against drone warfare is probably assaults on the facilities and infrastructure of the drone system, which are usually deep within the borders of the nation that deploys the drones. Drone warfare makes assaults on civilians within a country a reasonable strategy. To get at enemy drones control stations and infrastructure, what general will scruple at also killing enemy civilians?

Because of their surveillance capabilities, they can see and hear, drones can be used for policing as well as military assault. That is both their potential and their nightmare. When drones seek out terrorist suspects within Yemen and Pakistan, both allies, that seems to me policing on the soil of allies. Our laws do not allow for summary execution of suspects and I doubt that Yemeni or Pakistani law does, yet that is what drone law is giving us.

It is possible that aerial drone warfare spells the end of the nation-state. Such things are hard to predict, but if war becomes a thing distributed throughout a region, rather than occurring at borders or fronts, there seems not much point in borders.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

A Radical Program for the 21ˢᵗ Century

Notes toward a program, not a coherent list.


  1. Impeach one or more of the conservative SC justices
  2. Repeal Taft-Hartley.
  3. Repeal the espionage act.
  4. Restore the anti-fascist media concentration and balance laws.


  1. Environment: act on climate change
  2. Economic policy: build Keynesian economic institutions
  3. Corporate law: amend the constitution to state that corporations have only the rights granted them by law, not the rights of natural persons.
  4. Women's rights: pass an Equal Rights Amendment.
  5. Establish national corporate law. End the race to the bottom in corporate law, so that the state with the least regulation on the power and formation of corporations (Delaware) no longer sets the law. Instead, make these laws nationally.
  6. Establish a right to unionize.

Crazies: Wrong And Right

(This started as a letter to Jim Wright, who writes extensively about right-wing crazies outside the centers of power. But I got to thinking that the picture was incomplete, and wondered about the crazies in the centers of power, and what to do about them. This is the result.)

I see a lot about the crazies of the radical right; people like Cliven Bundy and so on. But they're only one prong of a two-pronged movement. They're the outsiders, propagandized to support the insiders: the people who are in the government and, in turn, are put there by that shadowy political leadership that includes the Kochs, Scaife, Heritage, and so on.

There is a real and successful conspiracy.

We snicker at the right-wing nuts and their fear of government. Yet just a few weeks ago, one of the original Occupy Wall Street protesters was sent up for seven years. Her crime? Allegedly she was groped by a police officer (he groped hard enough to leave bruises on her breast) and she elbowed him. She was beaten, jailed, and given a trial presided over by a hostile judge. For her, it seems all the things the right-wing crazies say about the government came true. There was no outpouring of sentiment from the would-be defenders of freedom, no vast outpouring of media coverage from the people who are constantly reminding us of the threat of abused government power.

Police departments have gone hog-wild since 9/11. Homeland Security has funneled huge amounts of money to local police departments. The NYPD spent a huge amount building a surveillance unit to monitor Muslims in the NYC area — half a million people, most of whom are not terrorists. It was shut down this year, having accomplished nothing. It's not just New York City; towns now have tanks. In the Pacific Northwest, not a hotbed of illegal immigration from Mexico, Homeland Security agents were stopping brown people on buses, just because.

We have become accustomed to routine checking of papers by every employer and at every airport. In Washington State, papers are checked at every bar. Bizarrely, just last night my id was checked at Northwest Folklife, a hippie-fest of sorts.

It can't be anarchism if they're checking id.

The Supreme Court has declared that almost any political contribution except direct bribery is protected speech and breaking down the wall between church and state. The House majority has voted to repeal the ACA over 50 times. And it may get worse. Nate Silver gives the Republicans slightly more than an even chance of taking the Senate this year. If they succeed — it is possible they will shoot themselves in the foot again — we may be in for years of government abuse. Even if not, we are in for more years of legislative deadlock, when we face problems desperately in need of attention. Hundreds of thousands lost their homes and their life savings in the banking scams of the 2000s and not enough was been done. The securities markets have been fixed in favor of the very wealthiest traders and banks and are at risk of a second collapse and not enough has been done. We have the highest unemployment in two generations and not enough is being done. We direly need infrastructure work; our country is literally falling apart and not enough is being done. Environmental destruction continues unchecked and not enough is being done. The global balance of power changes and all Washington wants to do is cut the deficit and the civilian government and spend more money on the military.

Why are we so entranced with authority, if authority does not act on our behalf?

As citizens we are subject to an arbitrary and incompetent government, heavily influenced by wealthy minority which controls one house of Congress and has an international propaganda network. Some things the right-wing crazies say are true. They are wrong about which side is doing them. They are wrong about what to do about them. And yet in this the are right: we have lost control of our government and it is not representing our desires or acting in our interests.

We are too much afraid of "anarchism" — freedom — and too little afraid of plutocracy, aristocracy, theocracy, false demagoguery.

What is to be done? Oh, I'm not expecting the United States or the world to suddenly turn into perfect places. But surely democracy can be made to govern more-or-less on behalf of the demos, and not on behalf of wealthy cranks, religious madmen, and the violence-obsessed.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

In Which Ta-Nehisi Coates Makes the Case for Reparations for Slavery and Co-incidentally Told Me Why The Tea Party Is So Angry

Ta-Nehisi Coates has a great article on racism and a case for reparations for slavery. You should go read it. Now.

Have you read it? If not, you really should.

Read it yet? If not, here it is again.

And, in reading it, I understood the anger of the tea party. Historical racism has always been mostly corruption and terrorism, not simple bigotry. Not only were African-Americans directly mistreated, but also there was nowhere for them to turn for justice. The history of fraud, deceit, and terrorism is long and grim and few courts would ever grant relief, let alone punish the guilty.

And this, in the looting of the wealth of the US middle class, is what white middle-class Americans have experienced in the past 35 years. They thought they were the upper class, they thought they could victimize with impunity, and instead they are the victims. Somewhere, I think, there are people saying that they've been treated like niggers. Do they, in their anger, reject supremacy? No, instead they look for new victims.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Study: 1 in 25 People Condemned to Death in the USA Likely Innocent

This is just a "what he said" post, linking an AP article, but the subject seems important enough to make it worthwhile:
About one in 25 people imprisoned under a death sentence is likely innocent, according to a new statistical study appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And that means it is all but certain that at least several of the 1,320 defendants executed since 1977 were innocent, the study says.
About 60% of death sentences are changed to life imprisonment, and the convicts not executed. But innocent convicts sentenced to life also are rarely released; there is much more effort focused on wrongful death sentences than wrongful imprisonment.

Go read the whole thing.

The original article is here. The full text is available without charge.

The Killing Field on the Arizona Border

Me, five years ago:
Oh, you hominids could make the border into a killing field, make a feast for us corvids. That would stop them from coming, probably.
Todd Miller, now,
When you look at a map that shows where such bodies are recovered in southern Arizona -- journalist Margaret Regan has termed it a “killing field” — there is a thick red cluster of dots over the Tohono O’odham reservation. This area has the highest concentration of the more than 2,300 remains recovered in Arizona alone — approximately 6,000 have been found along the whole border -- since the Border Patrol began ramping up its “prevention by deterrence policy” in the 1990s. And as Kat Rodriguez of the Colibri Center for Human Rights points out, these numbers are at the low end of actual border deaths, due to the numbers of remains found that have been there for weeks, months, or even years.
Me again, five years ago:
The people who ran Abu Ghraib and run Gitmo, they'd be happy to do it for you. And then they'd do it to you.
When your policies, be their goals ever so noble, lead to monstrosities, it is time to change them.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

McCutcheon and the Roberts Court: a Radical Response

In its quest to become the worst US Supreme Court since the Taney Court, the Roberts Court rendered a 5-4 decision weakening yet again US campaign finance law, and allowing very wealthy donors to give even more money to political campaigns. (Case: McCutcheon v FEC.) And, as usual in this Court's split rulings, The Loser is the Law, as the Roberts Court creates yet more legal chaos.

In reaction, I have come to the conclusion that it is time to change the composition of the Court either by impeaching one or more of the conservative Justices, appointing a tenth justice, or in some other way. The Justices Oath says, "do equal right to the poor and to the rich" and this Court's conservatives are not doing that. Other reasons, I am sure, can be found. In any event, it is time to change the Court before it does even more harm. It seems to me that, as with the worst decisions of the Taney Court, it is going to take constitutional amendments to repair the damage this Court has done to American democracy.

Time to get started.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

An American Ukraine Expert, and His Blog

"Dr. Alexander Motyl is a scholar and an artist. By day he is a professor of political science at Rutgers-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia, and the USSR, and on nationalism, revolutions, empires, and theory, he is the author of 10 books of nonfiction, …"

His Ukraine blog is Ukraine's Orange Blues.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Putinism considered as an ideology

By way of comments in Ta-Nehisi Coates blog, we have this analysis from conservative commentator Anne Applebaum: video and PDF.

It fascinates me how the conflict between Ukraine and Russia has begun to shift alliances among Western intellectuals. I previously would have had no reason to quote Applebaum, and I am not sure I trust her (defender of child rapist Roman Polanski, adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute) even now. But she may have some good ideas.

More Ukraine and Multi-polar Global Politics

The Ukrainian Education Minister Serhiy Kvit The Ideology of the EuroMaidan Revolution. (Kiev post op-ed, 24 March 2014.) I am far more inclined to credit this than Putin's creepy neo-Stalinist rants.

On 2 May 1998, New York Times commentator Thomas Friedman, to my astonishment, did something sensible: for an op-ed piece he interviewed George F. Kennan, who was 94 at the time, on the expansion of NATO. I suppose it would be wrong to reproduce all of Kennan's remarks, but I will quote some bits:

I think it is the beginning of a new cold war. I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. … We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. … It shows so little understanding of Russian history and Soviet history. Of course there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia, and then [the NATO expanders] will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are -- but this is just wrong.
As was often the case, it seems that Kennan was right.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Why Hiring Prejudice Against the Long-term Unemployed?

Paul Krugman links to a study on long-term unemployment which finds: “it’s really hard to get employers to look at people who have been out of work for an extended period, so any sustained increase in long-term unemployment tends to become permanent.”

Which is interesting and important. But rather than look at the macroeconomic issues raised, I'd like to ask: why this is employer policy? It isn't random: hiring managers, HR managers, or both are choosing not to hire people who have been out of work for a long time. Why?

Global Environmental Disaster: It's Not Just Climate Change

This is the panic post.

Most greatly I fear environmental and biological catastrophe, not just climate change, but also the collapse of crop yields due to disease, the collapse of animal husbandry due to diseases we cannot manage, the collapse of fisheries, the obsolescence of all current antibiotics due to overuse and the emergence of new plagues.

When overpopulation is described in most older Western fiction, the vast growth of cities is the subject. To Robert Heinlein, all the towers of Manhattan were slums, regardless of how happy the residents were. (It's in Tramp Royale, if you want to read the man's own words on the subject.) But long before we feel the crowding, our vast population and use of resources will drive systemic disaster. Randall Munroe recently reminded us that our livestock outweigh us, and that all wild mammals are a tiny fraction of mammalian biomass. If human civilization collapses, from where will come the resources of a wild ecosystem, to rebuild the earth? If the salt shall lose its savor, from where will you resalt it?

And then there is nuclear power. Many scientists, most notably planetologist Jim Hansen, regard nuclear power as a solution to our current energy woes. But I do not believe we are competent to make effective use of it. As with overpopulation the dangers are different than those of the scare stories. It is true that most of the scare stories about nuclear power are wrong: power reactors cannot turn into nuclear bombs, waste can be disposed of if we are willing to undertake the effort and reactors can be designed that will produce fast-decaying radioisotopes that will become harmless in centuries rather than millenia. Yet the land around Chernobyl is so poisoned that even decay takes place more slowly. If we use nuclear power carelessly, over time, it will poison more and more of the earth and, as with fossil fuels, the temptation to misuse nuclear power will always be present. Better, I think, to start now, to reduce our population and develop sustainable non-nuclear energy technology. We would have done best to start decades ago, when the risks became apparent. By the time Al Gore published Earth in the Balance in 1992, it was old news: Gore was summarizing existing results. But we are stuck, and not acting. In some ways we are even making matters worse.

I look for hope from unexpected quarters. When Heinlein wrote Tramp Royale in 1954, he believed that population would continue to grow vastly, and this would lead to resource wars. Instead, contraception became widely accepted, which Heinlein couldn't imagine was possible, and the Green Revolution increased agricultural outputs sufficiently to prevent both these things. We are still not in a good way, but neither have we had global disaster. We may hope for more unexpected good news. Nonetheless we have much hard work before us, if our world and our civilization are to survive.

Books and articles

  1. Gore, Albert. Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1992.
  2. Heinlein, Robert A., Tramp Royale. Baen Books, 1996, ebook. (Original completion date 1954. If you're tempted to read this, be warned that that the book and Heinlein's prejudices have aged badly.)
  3. Munroe, Randall, "xkcd 1338: Land Mammals," self-published web comic.
  4. Nuwer, R., Forests Around Chernobyl Aren’t Decaying Properly. Smithsonian Magazine, March 2014.

Babes in the Multipolar Woods

Listening to US officials activists on Russia's conduct around the Black Sea is an exercise in depression. We have, on the one hand, the hawks, who want yet another open-ended intervention, on another the Putinists (who, astonishing to me, include several leftist sites and bloggers who really ought to know better), on yet a third the Ukrainianists, and on a fourth the European Union apologists.

What all of these have in common is a near-total disconnection from reality. These authors are flailing. What possible military response can the USA make? How can the EU respond without Russia freezing its own citizens? How can any military action be undertaken in Ukraine without jeopardizing the east-to-west flow of gas and oil?

As I foresaw, we are now again in a multipolar world, with regional superpowers and small states squeezed between them. No-one now alive has lived It has been 75 years since we lived in such a world. All the old wrong answers are being dragged out again. To not engage is to turn vast parts of the world over to tyranny. To engage as though each conflict has no wider implications is to be outmaneuvered. And there is something new, which the old multipolar world did not have: the threat of global environmental destruction. I fear a rebirth of Kissengerism, where lives by the hundreds of thousands and populations in the millions are spent for political purposes. I remember that the old multipolar world ended in global war and I hope that this one does not end in rising seas and mass starvation.

On 538 and Vox

538 (Nate Silver, editor-in-chief) and Vox (Ezra Klein, editor-in-chief) are turning out to be disappointments, with Silver hiring climate denialist Roger Pielke and Klein hiring Cato Institute crank technology policy commentator Ted B. Lee (no relation to Tim Berners-Lee.) Alas, I don't think these are going to fail, for the same reason that Fox News is not going to fail: these are funded propaganda operations, not honest news or commentary operations. Silver and Klein seem to be getting financial support because they’re thought safe centrists by the people who make the financial decisions. There’s plenty of that already in the media. So why should I care what these sites have to say?

"Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss."

Both Silver and Klein have excellent analysis skills. If they do this for a while they're going to turn themselves into hacks. And that would be a shame.

If someone was willing to do a reality-based site, do journalism, I’d subscribe in a heartbeat.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

MH370: Looking At The Possibilities

  1. Well-planned theft. Objection: there seems no way the craft could have been landed undetected. How could that have been the plan?
  2. Attack.
  3. Mechanical failure. Objection: it was awfully well timed.
  4. Pilot suicide. Objection: There seems no motive and no sense in the method. If suicide was the intention, surely the pilot could simply have crashed the plane in the Gulf of Thailand?
Only attack has no obvious objections. In this scenario, some sort of sabotage, perhaps a bomb placed to disable the ACARS system and depressurize the flight deck, leaving the craft to run out of fuel and crash. The attack was executed at just the right moment for the plane to be lost.

I suppose it could have been accident, but this is unlikely. Avionics do not usually fail in a way that also disables flight deck crews. The timing — just the right moment for the craft to be lost — is also unlikely. Still, unlikely things do somethings happen. (Since I wrote this article, but before I published it, Chris Goodfellow has proposed electrical fire as a possible accidental failure mode. I can see that as a possibility, but the timing is awfully suspicious.)

Why…? Now we go into cloud-cuckoo land. Provoking an international media event, raising anger and drawing attention to something — but what? —, seems the most likely motivation. Cui bono?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

In Which the Malaysia Air Theft Gets Real—Maybe

[Except that some of the pieces here have come apart, and the case for theft is weaker, though it is still strong. But it could also be that the plane flew unpiloted for hours before crashing. See CNN report.]

It has now been a week since Malaysia Airlines flight 370 disappeared. A miserable thing, but most of us assumed the plane would be found, and we could mourn the passengers and crew or, better, rejoice that they had survived. The conspiracy theorists theorized and the rest of us mocked, and the media had a field day.

Reading the news of the past day has been like a bath in ice-cold water. Why? What? This was so well planned. It was not Larry Hussein, Moe Begin, and Curly O'Dare--this was the real deal, a well-planned theft demanding a high level of technical skill, perhaps executed with help from a national intelligence agency. Was the plane stolen so that it could be used as a covert transport in parts of the world where it could be concealed? As a provocation? Are the passengers going to surface as hostages or are they all dead?

To which Frederick Leatherman comments, and says it better than me:

The person who hijacked MH 370 had figured out how to exploit radar vulnerabilities. We do not know why, but there is no question that whomever pulled off this sky jacking is a brilliant, fearless and ruthless person who knew how to fly a 777-200 ER, disable communication equipment and weave his way through radar defenses. I do not believe that person went to all of this trouble just to commit suicide in the Indian Ocean.

Friday, March 14, 2014

In Which The Raven Changes His Feathers

It's been pointed out to me that the white-on-black color scheme I have been using for this blog makes it harder for older people to read. So, I have changed it. If there are still legibility problems, please let me know!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Ukraine: Short Talking Points

This is a short summary of what I believe to be Russia's motivations, with a bit of analysis and commentary. For an extended discussion, see my post Ukraine: The Great Game, v2.0.

Russian motivations

  1. It's about natural gas: Russia sells and Europe buys. The Soviet natural gas industry began in Ukraine, and it is still a hub of the trade. Russia wants to control that hub and Europe would like to deny them that control.
  2. It's also about Russia's centuries-old desire to become a naval power in the Mediterranean.
  3. And, finally, it's about influence in the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and Central Asia: with Crimea in Russian hands and Syria and Iran Russian allies, Turkey is surrounded.

On the geopolitics

We seem to have returned to a 19th century multipolar world. That period ended in global war and we must work to avoid a similar outcome.

Ethnic conflict and morality in Ukraine

Ukrainians do not deserve to be ground between Russia and the EU. The Tatars in Crimea do not deserve further punishment for the crime of being in the way of Russian ambitions. A just settlement of conflicts in the region would forbid both these things.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Looking at the US health care system, and income levels

Here's a summary I put together.

Looking it over, I am struck by how much effort has been spent on preserving the inequities and corruption in the system. The working poor are hit exceptionally hard, both by the refusal to expand Medicaid in 25 states and by the transition from Medicaid to subsidized insurance. People over 50 who are relatively well off are also pressed by the too-low cutoff of subsidies. In both cases, there are levels of income where small increases in income put a family in a worse situation.

Medicare part A (the free part) covers hospitalization but not ambulances in emergencies. Medicaid puts most of its clients into managed care systems, which take a cut of the expenses and are often corrupt on top of that.

And I don't have a conclusion yet, but wow are we cheap-ass, here in the USA. And yet we spend more government money on health care than any other developed country. WtF?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ukraine: retracted

Original title: "Ukraine: In Which Obama Proves Yet Again He Is a Poor Negotiator"

"Obama spoke to [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel tonight about the situation in Ukraine and the possibility of Germany acting as a mediator."

Oh, very good. Try to get the other empire which invaded Ukraine (twice) to broker a deal.

"Can't anybody here play this game?"

But I cannot confirm the statement from the Telegraph, which I was reacting to. Other reports suggest that the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe is being proposed as broker, which makes a fair bit of sense.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Ukraine: The Great Game, v2.0

(My recent thoughts, organized and extended.)

The Game

The original Great Game was the conflict between the British and Russian empires, played out in the territories of Central Asia. The new Great Game seems to be between the European Union and Russia, with the rest of the world's great powers looking on: the USA, China, India. Fossil fuels are central.

I spent an hour online last night, discussing the geopolitics with a German-American, who is all for US intervention. She has a point: we don't want Russian imperialism—and it probably is that—to go unchecked. Juan Cole points out that Turkey is surrounded by Ukraine, Syria, and Iran. After reading that, and thinking some more about it, I spent time looking at the Google Earth globe and imagining a giant Go board, stretching from the Ukraine to Indonesia.

We seem to be back in the multipolar world, where great powers dream of empire and radicals dream of global federalism. I don't think we get to withdraw from the game without dire consequences. And climate change is the game timer.

Tug of Pipeline

Visualize a vast tug-of-war, with a whole crowd of creatures on the west and a bear on the east. Instead of rope, imagine natural gas pipelines, and most of those knotted together in the Ukraine.

Ukraine was the origin of the Soviet national gas industry in the 1920s. Ukraine's fossil fuel economy has grown hugely since then, and Ukraine into a nexus of pipelines and a home to refineries and gas storage facilities. The pipelines cross the country, carrying fuel from east to west.

Map of natural gas pipelines running through Ukraine
From Ukraine vs Russia: Tales of pipelines and dependence

Russia, because of this and because of its port on the Black Sea and its agricultural productivity, not unnaturally wants to control Ukraine. The European Union, fearing dependence on Russian gas supplies, not unnaturally wants to control Ukraine. There are some fine points, which Jerome a Paris (presumably a pseudonym) spells out in Ukraine vs Russia: Tales of pipelines and dependence.

Russia has twice forced genocidal famines on Ukraine, first in 1921-2 under Lenin and again in 1932-3 under Stalin. The Ukrainian people, because of this, and because of a longer history of oppression, hate Russia. Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych apparently sold out to Russia, and partly because of this Yanukovych is now a hunted man.

And, where does Russia fit in? It appears that stories of emergent fascism in Ukraine are Russian disinformation (in this connection, it is perhaps useful to remember that Vladimir Putin was for many years a KGB officer.) There is a fascist faction in Ukraine but, so far, it is not in charge. When asking about fascism, however, I ask where it is that the government has chosen a group to oppress, and put the full power of the state behind that oppression. And that is Russia, with its tormenting of gays.


And yet the geopolitics will not be denied. Europe wants gas. Russia has gas. Ukraine is in the middle. It seems to me that we are returning to the global order of the 19ᵗʰ century. The world is again multipolar, and we must again think both of the local struggles and how these influence the relations among the great powers, and states caught between the great powers must step carefully. Where now are the great statesmen? Who will step forward to play the great game again? How do we avoid the end of the first great game, which was global war, and the drowning of our civilization in the rising seas of a warming planet?

The Great Game, v2.0

(This post has been corrected and combined with two other posts, to create the more complete Ukraine: The Great Game, v2.0. I am leaving it here so that links and references stand.)

I spent an hour online last night, discussing the geopolitics with a German-American, who is all for US intervention. She has a point: we don't want Russian imperialism—and it probably is that—to go unchecked. Juan Cole points out that Turkey is surrounded by Ukraine, Syria, and Iran. After reading that, and thinking some more about it, I spent time looking at the Google Earth globe and imagining a giant Go board, stretching from the Ukraine to Indonesia.

I think we are back in the multipolar world, where great powers dream of empire and radicals dream of global federalism. I don't think we get to withdraw from the game without dire consequences. And climate change is the game timer.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Ukraine: That Tears It

Russia’s gone and taken over Crimea. If I were Turkey, I’d be scared. If I were Ukrainian I’d be absolutely terrified. So far as I can see Russia wants two things: control of the Black Sea and its warm-water port and control of the nexus of natural gas lines located in Ukraine and there isn’t going to be much left of Ukraine if Russia gets them. Is the EU willing to fight for that gas?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ukraine: Tug of Pipeline

(This post has been corrected and combined with two other posts, to create the more complete Ukraine: The Great Game, v2.0. I am leaving it here so that links and references stand.)

Visualize tug-of-pipeline, with a whole crowd of creatures on the west, a pipeline, and a bear on the east, and all of it taking place on Ukrainian soil.

Ukraine was the origin of the Soviet national gas industry in the 1920s. Ukraine's fossil fuel economy has grown hugely since then, and Ukraine into a nexus of pipelines and a home to refineries and gas storage facilities. The pipelines cross the country, carrying fuel from east to west.

From Ukraine vs Russia: Tales of pipelines and dependence, author Jerome a Paris. Full figure at link.

Russia, because of this, which is huge, and because of its port on the Black Sea and its agricultural productivity, not unnaturally wants to control Ukraine. The European Union, fearing dependence on Russian gas supplies, not unnaturally wants to control Ukraine. There are some fine points, which Jerome a Paris (presumably a pseudonym) spell out in Ukraine vs Russia: Tales of pipelines and dependence.

But the other point, which is not at all fine, is that Russia has twice forced genocidal famines in Ukraine, first in 1921-2 under Lenin and again in 1932-3 under Stalin. The Ukrainian people, because of this, and because of a longer history of oppression, for perfectly obvious reasons hate Russia. Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych apparently sold out to Russia, and party because of this Yanukovych is now a hunted man.

And, where does Russia fit in? It appears that stories of emergent fascism in Ukraine are Russian disinformation (in this connection, it is perhaps useful to remember that Vladimir Putin was for many years a KGB officer.) There is a fascist faction in Ukraine but, so far, it is not in charge. When asking about fascism, however, I ask where it is that the government has chosen a group to oppress, and put the full power of the state behind that oppression. And that, of course, is Russia, with it tormenting of gays.

And yet the geopolitics will not be denied. Europe wants gas. Russia has gas. Ukraine is in the middle. It is hard for this bird to see much hope of a positive outcome for Ukraine in this.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

More Bitcoin Snark

The smart cryptoanarchists took over the global banking system. It’s the wannabes that use Bitcoin.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Ukraine and Russia, a few notes

(This post has been corrected and combined with two other posts, to create the more complete Ukraine: The Great Game, v2.0. I am leaving it here so that links and references stand. I have struck out my exceptionally egregious errors so that misinformation is not spread, but am leaving them for completeness.)

Situation, as I so far understand it:

  1. Russia wants Ukraine firmly under control because of its agricultural productivity and its ports on the Black Sea.
  2. Ukraine wants out of the Russian sphere of influence because of over a century of oppression, culminating in a genocidal famine, the Holodomor, which was the work of Stalin.
  3. Ukraine is currently energy-dependent on Russia. Fuel shipments from Russia to the rest of Eastern Europe also pass through Ukraine. Pipelines from Russia to Milan and Frankfurt also run through Ukraine.
  4. Chernobyl is in Ukraine, making nuclear power an unlikely method for achieving Ukrainian energy independence.
A few links: There seems to me a risk of Russian invasion, or Russia simply cutting off the fuel next winter. How will the world react?

Friday, January 31, 2014

Belt-tightening, Screw-tightening, and Revolution

The whole cuts-cuts-cuts strategy strikes me as rather like balancing a family budget by deciding which members of the family to starve. And when the family has a rich uncle who is living high on the hog, and a survivalist who is spending huge amounts of money getting into fights, well, I don't think starving someone makes a whole lot of sense. 

If a family has an income shortfall, it has several options. It can find more pay work. Rich members of the family might contribute more of their personal wealth. And, yes, it can decide to spend less. But spending less by starving family members is a non-starter; there is no family after that.

The past two years have been an exercise is screw-tightening for conservatives. The unemployment insurance extensions are gone, making tight family budgets tighter. Now SNAP cuts are coming in, increasing food insecurity. The conservatives won't be satisfied until we have people starving in the streets, like we did in the 1930s depression.

Something is going to break. But what? Murdoch's Wall Street Journal recently published a piece by the very wealthy Thomas Perkins saying that he fears a kristallnacht from progressives directed at the very wealthy. A remarkably ill-thought-out idea: the comparison he wants is with Stalinism, not Naziism. But give the devil his due: he isn't entirely wrong. The very rich have been subjected to enormous and vehement criticism. It must get wearing and harsh words are sometimes followed by violent deeds. The rest of us, though, are subjected to poverty, and wondering how to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table, and this is the work of the very rich, who looted the banks, threw millions out of their homes with their real estate machinations, and have made it near-impossible for people of modest means to save. For the rest of us, the violent deeds have already started, backed by wealth and the power of the state.

I think the talk of an uprising is intended to justify a clamp-down. There is, I am sure, some faction of the rich, powerful, and foolish who would be delighted to put all those weapons they have bought the various police forces to work. The Journal is voicing their fears.

The years since 2008 have, I think, seen an exhaustion of options. As the Reagan Revolution reaches its culmination, the American people have been reacting through political channels. First, we changed the President. Then the House. Then we had a sit-down strike on Wall Street. Now we have exhausted simple politics, and so there is a confused time of considering choices.

What next?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Democratic Economic Policies Work

(In answer to one of these annoying forwards.)
Historically, the economy does better under Democratic Presidents than Republicans. Think about it. There was Hoover, who presided over the beginning of the 1930s depression, and then the two great borrow-and-spenders Reagan and Bush II. Bush II presided over the beginning of what is turning out to be the worst depression in US history. On the other hand, FDR presided over a decent recovery, and Truman, JFK, LBJ, and Clinton presided over prosperous times. Obama, embarrassingly, makes economic policy like a Republican, and we are now in a depression likely to dwarf that of the 1930s.

Democratic economic policies work better than Republican economic policies. I believe this is because they are closer to Keynesian macroeconomic reality.

(Reference, though not scholarly: Bulls, Bears, and the Ballot Box.)

Friday, January 17, 2014

Slogans of the Progressive Libertarian Party

(Which probably isn't either, but it sounds like a good name.)

We are for:
  Full employment!
  A broad middle class!
  Saving the Earth!
  Human rights!
  Health care!

We are against:
  Human rights for corporations!

And the only one of these for which there is no obvious method of accomplishment is full employment, which must be accomplished by a mix of fiscal and monetary policy—by Keynesian economic policies, in other words.

Right now there is no leadership or organized party with these goals, but everything here is possible.  We know how to do it.  Keynes once wrote of Trotsky, "He assumes that the moral and intellectual problems of the transformation of Society have been already solved—that a plan exists, and that nothing remains except to put it into operation." But this is no longer true.  We know how to do it.

Let's get started.

(This post may be updated at whim.)

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Aristocrats and the Party of the People

There's an attack on the public sector being readied:
State conservative groups plan US-wide assault on education, health and tax
Conservative groups across the US are planning a co-ordinated assault against public sector rights and services in the key areas of education, healthcare, income tax, workers' compensation and the environment, documents obtained by the Guardian reveal.—The Guardian, Dec 5, 2013.
Well, you see, we had to destroy the country in order to save it.

The actors are the usual suspects—the Koch-funded State Policy Network.

This lot won't stop until there is no security for anyone outside their circle: no way to save, no reliable health care, no way to defend yourself against the whims of the wealthy, and not even the knowledge that things might be better.

If there is an organized attack, why not an organized response? ALEC and the SPN form a shadowy aristocratic party. Why is there not a party of the people?

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Greater Depression

"WE R F*****. WE R F*****. WE ARE SO F*****. Household Employment Survey: 56-Months Straight of Awful"—Economist Brad Delong expresses dismay at long-term unemployment in somewhat less than academic language.

But Brad, what did you expect? There is no FDR to lead us into recovery, or at least palliate the disease. Instead, our leadership is either passive or actively making it worse.

Paul Krugman has called this the lesser depression. But he was wrong. This is the Greater Depression, and it promises to go on and on.

Thanks, leaders. Thanks to the Republican leadership, who seem to love nothing so much as pain, death, and destruction. Thanks to the Democrats, who didn't fight. And thanks to Obama, who passed up so many opportunities to improve matters.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Paul-Murray Budget: Centrism Made Visible

The Paul-Murray budget agreement is Centrism made visible.

"Centrism," in the sense defined by Stuart Zechman, is an ideology that claims to represent the moderate path between the extremes of US politics, but in fact is only the average of a far-right to right position. In Centrism, all political language is reinterpreted to make Wall Street conservatism the only logical, moderate, non-ideological course. In Centrism, no matter how far to the right a position is, no matter how destructive, it is the only reasonable compromise.

So let's look at the Paul-Murray budget. The claim is that, since it was negotiated by a Republican and a Democrat, it must be a moderate, reasonable compromise. Paul is far right, and Murray is a fairly conservative Democrat from a liberal state. A compromise between their two positions is necessarily to the right. But it's a compromise! It's a reasonable center position!

Ah, Centrism.

Let's take a closer look at this compromise.

The total amount of the Paul-Murray budget is less than Paul's original proposal.[1] The most important and popular single spending item, a further unemployment insurance extension, has been omitted. There is a little more non-defense discretionary spending than in the original Paul budget, and a little less defense spending, but that's about it. This is somehow a compromise between—between what, exactly? No. It is not a compromise. It is surrender to the right, with a few small concessions to the true center.[2] But it is presented to us as a victory, as a successful compromise. The more outrageous and irrational our politics becomes, the more we hear the Centrist rhetoric of moderate compromise.

With this deal, we see the end of liberal hopes for some years. Centrism is now policy. At least it is now out in the open. Conservatives can scarcely claim the throne does not exist when they are sitting on it. They can claim that the king can do no wrong. They can scream charges of lèse majesté. But even a cat can look at a king.

…or a raven.


[1]  O'Brien, "How Paul Ryan Won the Budget War—in 1 Chart," The Atlantic, Dec 13,2013.
[2]  Media Matters "The Progressive Majority."

[updated .01.10 to strengthen the language.]