Wednesday, January 29, 2020

On Uber and the TNCs, on our sister blog

I was going to write a post critical of Uber and the other transportation network companies (TNCs), but I have so much material and didn't want to spend all the time needed to make a thorough job of it. Instead, I wrote a short summary, listing my criticisms and citing links. It's over here, under the title Uber/Unter.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Give the South to African-Americans

A few days ago, I snarkily tweeted, “Give the southern states to African-Americans as part of reparations.” I was not proposing a separate African-American republic, but Doug1943 took my remark that way and commented that this was a 1930s Comintern position. I did not know that, but it turns out to be true. An extended history of the matter, “The Communist Party and Black Liberation in the 1930s” with a map, even, was published in the now-defunct International Socialist Review in 1997. (That archive may not last. If you care about such things, download a copy.) The idea of a black country, which turns out to be called black separatism, was not only a Communist one. It has a long history and survives to this day as part of the ideology of the Nation of Islam. The broader idea of black nationalism – that African-Americans ought to see themselves as one people, and organize to support each other – has a history that goes to the founding of the USA and, in some sense, is part of the thinking of most African-Americans.
Doug goes on to object to what he calls “identity politics,” complains it is a destructive project, and goes on to complain that the left is using it to attack patriotism. To which I say that most powerful identity politics in the USA has always been white identity politics, that it has been present in the USA from the very beginning, and that what the left can do and say has been nowhere near as destructive of US patriotism than white supremacism and the treason of the Republican Presidents Nixon, Reagan, and Trump, all strongly supported by their party.
So, back to the South.
My original remark was sarcasm, but I would like to take it seriously, at least for the purposes of this post. Ta-Nehisi Coates, the current leading advocate of reparations (his 2014 article in The Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations,” is important, and you should read it) argues for financial compensation for acts against African-Americans. There are fortunes and estates in the South surviving from the times of slavery. These could be confiscated and offered to African-Americans. It would be difficult. There would be enormous practical problems with doing so – who gets this property, who administers this property? Coates addresses some of these in a subsequent article, “The Radical Practicality of Reparations” but it would not be an easy project.
The project also raises broader questions. If African-Americans are owed reparations, what about Native Americans? What reparation even is possible to Natives? So much of history is expropriation of one people’s land by another people. So many peoples have claims and counterclaims. Still, studying the question and proposing solutions would be worthwhile. If the whole of the injustice cannot be remedied, which I think is probably the case, what remedies are possible?

And, actual news: Trump is a poo-flinging monkey, and racism

Parnas attorney just released the entire recording of that dinner party where Trump said that something must be done about Yovanovitch. Wow. Wow.
Washington lawyer Susan Simpson listens to it, so you don't have to:

Also, over at Daily Kos, David Neiwert on the primacy of racism over economic considerations in voter behavior:

Reiterating my take on Sanders and racism: Sanders does speak of racism, but obliquely, in the context of 1930s Germany, where economics was a factor. The only candidate to have spoken of racism directly was Hillary Clinton, in her "Two Baskets" speech, and she was blasted for it. While racism was preexisting, the massive economic losses of the crash of 2008 were used to help raise the demon, but I do not believe that ameliorating them will lay it. One cannot unsow the wind.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020


Trump has shown us how much hidden racism there is. I wonder how much hidden antisemitism there is. –

Give the southern states to African-Americans as part of reparations. –

The Democratic Party, for all its faults, has people with consciences. As we are seeing right now on display in the Senate, the Republican Party does not. Doesn't make the Democrats great, but makes them reachable. That's better than the fascists running the Republican Party. –

Monday, January 20, 2020

Fascism, Poverty, Racism, Economics

(This piece, on the relationship of supremacism and classism, was completed, appropriately, on Martin Luther King, Jr's birthday. It was updated eight days afterwards to emphasize that racism comes before reactions to economic oppression and to add an omitted word.)

One of the on-going ideological disputes during recent US elections has been over the relationship between racism and economics, with some factions claiming racism precedes economic oppression, other factions claiming economic oppression precedes racism, and yet other factions claiming that racism and economic oppression are intertwined. I have spent more than a little time (yet not enough) researching and meditating on this and have the following thoughts.
The Great Depression helped sweep the Nazis into power in Germany, but fascism existed prior to the Great Depression. The original Fascists came to power in Italy in the early 1920s. World War I debt was a factor in the rise of the Italian Fascists, but more important seems to have been nationalism and revanchism, resentment at being shorted at Versailles. A parallel can be drawn with the racist terrorist movement that followed the US Civil War, leading to the establishment of segregation in the USA. So, also in Germany, and throughout Europe. We can also draw a parallel with the suppression of Islam in India and China, both experiencing unprecedented prosperity and yet with reactionary authoritarian governments.
One of the many ironies of fascism is that, while it claims to bring prosperity, it actually impoverishes, even most of the people who support it. One thinks of the US South, dominated by segregation and yet direly poor. To the rulers of the South, maintaining white supremacism was more important than raising the region out of poverty. The elite Southern planters were poor compared to the Northern industrialists of the Gilded Age, and most Southern whites were only marginally better-off than Southern blacks, and it was the effort of maintaining the system of segregation that kept the South poor. This was true in interwar Italy and Germany as well: fascism raised up new ruling elites, but only a little above the mass of society, and left the whole of society far worse off than it could otherwise have been. I doubt matters were better in the other 1930s fascist states or are better in current India and China. Oppression is expensive.
So what is one to think? It is true that the impulse to fascism is pre-existing, and reactionary authoritarianism can break out in prosperity as well as poverty. India and China have never before been so rich, and yet they are dominated by reactionary authoritarians. In interwar Europe, on the other hand, bad economic conditions empowered reactionary authoritarians. So I conclude that racism and economic oppression may be, but are not always, intertwined, and that racism precedes economic oppression. In the current USA, which after all sparked this post, I would say also they are intertwined. The current US reactionary movement saw its rise with the election of Ronald Reagan as President, and both racism and class warfare were the motivations. There was and is a clear desire to reestablish a class system in the USA and at the same time a desire to wipe out the gains women and African-Americans had made in the 1960s and 1970s. The program is on-going, with the Trump administration, the Republican leadership, and the Supreme Court majority continuing to further its goals.
What is to be done? In the USA, no major party or Presidential candidate is addressing racism directly. It is impossible for a politician on the national stage to do so without a cost in credibility. When Hillary Clinton spoke of the matter in her “Two Baskets” speech, she was roundly pilloried. The rise of the Nazis and their racist violence in 1930s Germany informs Bernard Sanders’s speeches, yet he speaks subtly, and he does so because directness is impossible. None of the current crop of Presidential hopefuls have done well at this; perhaps Juli├ín Castro did best. He has dropped out of the race and endorsed Elizabeth Warren. Perhaps he will yet influence her campaign and Presidency.
I am reminded yet again of how slavery could not be mentioned in public political discourse during the antebellum period. To mention the issue on the floor of the House of Representatives was to invite censure, if not a challenge to a duel. In like manner, we now cannot publicly speak of the radical right, white supremacism, racism, or sexism without challenge, harassment, and perhaps even violence. The wealthy and powerful, partly out of racism and partly out of greed, have sown the wind and are now reaping the whirlwind. I think we are in a time similar to the end of the Reconstruction, when the vast gains African-Americans made were largely wiped away by terrorism and the failure of the Federal government to protect their civil rights. Chattel slavery was outlawed, but the brutal class system of segregation replaced it.
The loss is not yet complete. Women, African-Americans, and other marginalized groups are not willingly ceding the civil rights gained in the 1960s and 1970s. People are fighting to preserve the social insurance programs developed in that period, as well as the Affordable Care Act. The outcome remains in doubt, and there is a new factor: the consequences of environmental destruction, especially global warming.
It is important, therefore, to protect ourselves and preserve what we can. If we lose the Federal government, we must claim states rights. If we regain the Federal government, we must work to retake lost ground. I do not believe we will be able to buy off the whirlwind; the racists are not going to be satisfied with better economic conditions. We must fight, for the consequences of loss are too awful to contemplate.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Race and Class in the Current Election

Sanders says that economic pain - fk anxiety, when people are committing suicide that's not anxiety any more - makes racist scapegoating easy. That doesn't mean there's not racism at other times, that doesn't mean it's not a problem. It means when times are hard it's easy to use racism to persuade people to fight each other, rather than the people who made the times hard. This is obviously historically true.

Sometimes racism is used as a tool to create customary disparities of wealth - a class system. Again, obvious. Look at the segregated South. Were most white people rich there? No. So all this machinery of oppression and racism was
deployed to oppress not only blacks, but most whites, and to get the poor whites to oppress the even poorer blacks. LBJ knew: If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you.This is also obviously historically true.

Immiseration fuels fascism. Hitler would have had a much harder struggle without the great depression. One cannot, however, unsow the wind. We need methods of creating peace and justice within our societies and no candidate is talking very much about this. (Except for Marianne Williamson, and she was otherwise a dangerous crank.) It is, in fact, nearly impossible to even speak of it; Hillary Clinton was roundly lambasted for bringing up deplorables.” It is like talking about slavery in the pre-Civil War USA. Everyone knew it was a problem, knew it was the problem, but there was no way to discuss it.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

In Answer to a Trumper

I'm a poor straight white man. Why should I support your party's class warfare schemes when come the revolution I will be shoved to the bottom of the intersectional dung heap? – @AndrewStallard8 on Twitter
Because Trump and the Republican leadership have the utmost contempt for you and will take everything you have left. 

Look it up. Trump routinely stiffed people like you. 

If you're willing to be in the middle, not at the top or the bottom, we have a place for you.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Second Thoughts

What the USA might do about the war with Iran: sit tight, remove Trump, apologize, negotiate. 
What the USA will probably do instead: escalate.
Fkity fkity fkity fk.

First Thoughts On Iranian Missile Attacks On US Bases

Feathered brothers and sisters, we eat tonight!
(There, got that done. As to the politics…)

I've been thinking over how the USA might best respond, if de-escalation is the goal. These are first thoughts based on very little research:

  1. To begin with, stand our ground. The Iraqi Sunnis do not want to be part of Iran in all but name. I wonder if most of the Iraqi Shia do.
  2. Iran is not likely to attack Israel with missiles; they know the Israelis will respond with overwhelming force. Hezbollah might undertake terrorist acts. I don't know if Iran is willing to target Dubai.
  3. If a counterattack is to be mounted, it would be best to target the Iranian missile bases, but it must be a well-planned one; no bases can be left functional.

Do I think Donald Trump is likely to do the sensible thing? Nah. I think he will either escalate, or cower.

And a long loud series of raspberryish croaks to all the armchair warriors who were certain Iran would not respond, and another one to all the US politicians who didn’t grasp that Trump’s assassination of Soleimani was a de facto declaration of war.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Further Notes On The Assassination Of Qassem Suleimani

  1. Soleimani was more of a general than a terrorist. He was a hero to many Iranians. He is now a martyr.
  2. Many Americans writing about this war assume that Iran can do no harm to the United States. In this they are wrong.
  3. Many Americans are believe that this war will end at the discretion of the United States. This is false.
  4. The next US President will inherit a war. Any domestic policy agenda will be subordinated to the need to, at least, defend the USA.
World War I started because a tiny faction of the German leadership wanted a war. (See, for instance, David Fromkin's account in Europe’s Last Summer.) The German leadership most likely believed that their war would lead to a rapid victory over France, similar to that in the Franco-Prussian war. As Josh Marshall comments (paywall), “The one lesson that shines through most vividly from these events a century ago is the immense danger caused when one power believes it is running out of time to secure the advantages it believes it can secure only or most easily through war.” US hawks are now in that position, trying to consolidate foreign policy gains made during the Trump administration.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Cohen the Barbarian on a Proper King

“Look at history. Whenever you come across a king where everyone says, ‘Oo, he was a good king all right,’ you can bet your sandals he was a great big bearded bastard who broke heads a lot and laughed about it.

"But some king who just passed decent little laws and read books and tried to look intelligent…‘Oh,’ they say, ‘oh, he was all right, a bit wet, not what I'd call a proper king.’ That's people for you.” – Terry Pratchett, Interesting Times

Initial Notes On The Assassination Of Qassem Suleimani

  1. The assassination of Qassem Suleimani is a de facto declaration of war on Iran.
  2. Trump does not understand Iran well enough to know who to target, so who told him to target Qassem Suleimani?
  3. The Senate now faces a choice: impeach Donald Trump or abdicate its constitutional authority to declare war to the Presidency.
  4. The House now may impeach Donald Trump for declaring war without the consent of the Senate.
  5. “Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and I discussed the decisive defensive action @realDonaldTrump employed in Baghdad to protect American lives. I emphasized that de-escalation is the United States’ principal goal.” – Secretary of State Pompeo, tweet.
  6. People are talking about preventing war with Iran. It's too late. There is going to be a response, probably not a conventional military response, but something brutal. At best, we can prevent escalation.
  7. It is not clear to me that any peace with Iran can be remade. It may be Trump has entangled us in war for years to come.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The Best Green Future May Be Socialist

Writing the last two posts has been a wrenching experience. I knew, abstractly, just how big a task we face in decarbonizing the US economy, let alone the global economy, but laying out the problem with natural gas in the USA – only one fuel in only one country – brought home the scale of the problem. Hundreds of millions affected. 30 trillion cubic feet of natural gas consumed in 2018. (Or, if you like, 850 billion cubic meters.) 7.5 billion barrels of petroleum. And we are to make a significant dent in this in just ten years?
Just dropping fossil fuel subsidies and eliminating hydraulic fracturing (fracking) within the USA would raise the price of natural gas significantly. Before fracking became a routine practice, natural gas cost roughly 2.75 times its current price. Abandoning fracking and subsidies would perhaps raise the price to 5 times its current level. There would be knock-on effects. Roughly 35% of US electric power comes from natural-gas fueled plants. But doing that alone would simply lead to a shift to petroleum, which is priced on an international market. So there have to be other changes: tariffs on imported petroleum to maintain parity with still-subsidized imported fuels as a start. This would raise energy prices overall. Plastics are made from natural gas and petroleum byproducts and those prices would also be affected. In turn, the prices of products made from plastics will rise.
Wind and solar energy might, if brought online fast enough, fill much of the gap in energy production, but those technologies have their limits. (I’ve written about this before, in several posts. Start with The Green New Deal: Running the Numbers.) And there are sure to be problems, because there are always problems.
The cascading changes and the need to respond to unexpected consequences demand a managed economy. Not managed in minute detail, no, there is no need to pre-calculate exactly the number of each type of widget a factory is to produce, but management that responds to gross systemic needs as they emerge. This is exactly what conservatives have been fighting against, all these years. In their fight, they rejected every moderate solution, until a managed economy is the best hope that remains.
If this is not quite the moneyless planned economy of communism, it is at least Keynes’ “somewhat comprehensive socialization of investment” and nearer to planned state socialism than anything that has previously been attempted.
The best green future may be socialist.