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Open Thread

2017 April 25
by Ian Welsh

Round two of shuddery-cold fever has me in its grip, so please use this threat to talk among yourselves, should you so wish.

Obama Starts Cashing In Directly For Bailing Out Wall Street

2017 April 24
by Ian Welsh

Not confirmed, at this point.

“What sources are telling FOX Business Network is that former President Obama, now less than 100 days out of office, has agreed to a speaking engagement during Cantor Fitzgerald’s healthcare conference in September,” FBN’s Gasparino said. “We understand that he is going to be the keynote speaker for the lunch, and he’s going to receive a fee of $400,000. We should point out that that’s in line with what Hilary Clinton got… we should point out that Cantor will neither confirm or deny.”

Politicians are owned, not because of campaign donations, but because once out of office they are taken care of, and for many (though not Obama) because while in office their friends and family are taken care of.

Other than being domestic bribery, and legal, I don’t see a great deal of difference between this and Trump’s conflicts of interest.  The bottom line is that Obama made sure the bailouts for Wall Street continued, and he is being rewarded for it.

This is corruption. It is evil. And millions of people suffered for it. Many died. Obama’s administration was very deliberate in not helping homeowners in any serious way (in fact harming them).  They didn’t help homeowners because they felt doing so would hurt banks. Millions lost their jobs, and the economy never fully recovered.

Obama wasn’t the worst president, because there is lots of competition. But he was a terrible wasted opportunity, is corrupt and did immense evil.  The inability of many to recognize that people like Obama (and Bush, and Clinton, and Trump, and Harry Reid and…), in real terms, are far more dangerous to them than someone like bin Laden, is a very real and proximate cause of vast suffering.

There will be many who defend him, but this is indefensible, as was much of his behaviour in office. If you hate Trump, understand that absent Obama’s failure to make enough Americans better off, there is no Trump as president.

And now, now he’s getting his pieces of silver.  I hope they are worth what he sold for them.

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Macron v. Le Pen in France

2017 April 23
by Ian Welsh

This is the final showdown. A reminder, Macron ran Hollande’s economic policy, and wants to do even more “liberalizing” of the French economy. AKA. more gutting of worker’s rights, wages and so on.

The polls show Macron winning, but given the reliability of polls lately, who knows.

What I do know is this, Macron will swiftly be as popular as Hollande (aka. in the doghouse), and the next election, if LePen doesn’t win this one, will be LePen’s to lose (and if she loses, it will be to someone like Melanchon—a left wing populist.)

Britain needs LaPen to win. LePen is willing to take the pain to Frexit, she won’t be slowed down by the EU’s promises of pain, she’ll pile it on.

This is what 37 years of international neoliberalism has brought, and bought, us.

(Oh, and Corbyn is Britain’s only chance to do Brexit in a way that isn’t an enema with a sledgehammer, but it looks like that’s what Brits want.)

Should be interesting, anyway.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

How To Think About Thoughts

2017 April 23
by Ian Welsh

I wanted to title this “the thoughts are a lie”, but it wouldn’t be true. Not entirely. Some thoughts are a lie, some thoughts aren’t, many are half-truths.

To mangle a pair of modern metaphors, thoughts are context sensitive help combined with auto-correct, and both are based on emotional charge and salience.

For example, my mind, on hearing or even thinking “my name is”, will automatically fill in “Inigo Montoya”.

In the 70s, when I was young dinosaurs still—I mean, scientists announced that cholesterol was bad, mmmmkay, and margarine became a thing. Not only was it “better for you” than butter, it was a heck of a lot cheaper.

The butter producers struck back with an ad, and as a result, whenever my brain hears “butter” it automatically fills in “tastes better, naturally!”  (My search engine fu has failed to find a copy online.)

Thanks, Brain. (Also, as best I can tell, margarine is probably worse for you than butter, just like most artificial sweeteners are worse for you than just chowing down on sugar.)

This same process is at work with all sorts of stuff for everyone. (The following examples aren’t necessarily personal.)

At the personal level we may see a friend’s face is cold as it passes over us and think he’s angry at us.  On inquiry, he’s just having a bad day.  A pack of boisterous young men may trigger non-verbal fear; or a black man. Or white men with buzz cuts, depending on our history and politics.

We may see someone with long hair and think “damn hippy”.  A man in a suit and think “fucking suit” or have feelings of deference (or both). If you think most people don’t defer to men in suits, you’re quite wrong, I used to amuse myself by dealing with the same person dressed up and dressed down.  Not only was the treatment almost always completely different, most of them didn’t even recognize they’d dealt with me before.

The  people who impressed me were the ones who treated me the same no matter how I was dressed.

Thoughts are conditioned. What has been impressed upon is in the past plays out in the present and the future, whether it is appropriate or useful.  The worst of this is when the original conditioning was mixed.  The word love is like this for most people.  Their parents told them they loved them, then punished them or mistreated them, sometimes horribly.

They love their parents, they also hate them, and they are scared, and love brings up all of these feelings and chains of thoughts which have nothing to do with the current relationship, and everything to do with the relationships where they learned to love.

Thoughts are, thus, best regarded as information before the senses, like any other information. The same is true of feelings.  They may be true and valid, or they may be crap, some prejudices or emotional battery from the past, completely inappropriate to the current situation.

The thoughts, and often the emotions, are a lie.

There’s a strain of modern “thought” which says that all emotions are valid. Well, they’re all real, they aren’t all appropriate or accurate. (That said, if you feel scared around someone, I’d generally obey that particular emotion and get the fuck away, especially if you aren’t sure you can take them in a fight.)

This is true on a personal level, and it is true on a political level. People’s political opinions are conditioned reflexes in almost all cases: they have not spent time carefully thinking them through. Someone they respect told them something, they identify with that person, they adopt that belief. Or they read it somewhere and never thought about it, or it’s the most common belief in their peer group, and if they want to be liked (and they do) they’d best say it; and after a while they believe it.

Heck, often immediately. If you like someone, you tend to accept their beliefs as valid unless you have strong reason not to. In fact one of the core functions of being a friend is validating the other person.  You may occasionally push back, but it tends to be occasional. (The sort of teasing relationships many people have don’t contradict this.)

Humans are bundles of conditioning, and we run with that conditioning most of the time, not thinking about it or challenging it.  That conditioning manifests as thoughts and emotions (which are just feelings in the body), and we take them as valid, even true, most of the time, because they are our feelings.

But very often they aren’t, and if they are it’s by chance, we sure haven’t validated them.

Most thoughts don’t require us to believe them, and we’re happier if we don’t. If we treat thoughts in most cases as if some random dude had just spewed them, we’d be more likely to judge them, or dismiss them, properly.

And, frankly, most people are happier that way.

One of the secrets of suffering is that you suffer for anything you identify with. If someone says “favorite politician is a corrupt bozo”, you only care if you identify with that politician. You’re only bothered.

You think thoughts are “yours” and you identify with them, and you suffer because of that identification, when if some random bozo said the same thing, you might well laugh it off.

Reduce your identification, don’t assume validity, and thoughts lose a lot of their power to harm you, to control you and to misdirect you, and given that most of your thoughts are just conditioned reflexes, from conditioning you did not choose, that is the correct way to treat them.

The same, in general, is true of feelings, with a partial exception for fear (if you fear someone in your life, you’re probably right and shouldn’t take the chance you aren’t, get out.)

Treat thoughts and emotions this way, and you’ll be far happier, too.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

British General Election Called for May 8th

2017 April 18
by Ian Welsh

Oh joy.

Makes sense, however, Prime  Minister May’s Conservative party is up 17 percent over Corbyn’s Labour and she must expect to increase her seat count. In addition, there’s a good chance Corbyn is out, if he doesn’t get a lot more seats than expected. He doesn’t have to win, but he does need to beat expectations. Expectations are low, at least.

Corbyn being out is good for May because standard centrist-Labour leader X will not undo most of what a Conservative government does even if it wins, whereas Corbyn will undo everything and then kick it into reverse.

I, of course, will be hoping Corbyn does well, but it doesn’t look good. Even if he does better than expected, Scotland appears to be a write-off.

I will remind you that an academic study found that 89 percent of all newspaper articles lied about Corbyn’s position. He’s an existential threat to the current establishment, after all.

This is an awkward election overall, as May is positioning it as a referendum on Brexit, but Labour doesn’t oppose Brexit, the SNP is Scottish and the Lib-Dems (who do oppose Brexit) are violently distrusted by anyone with sense after they helped the Conservatives push through some of the worst retrogressive policies in generations.

Should be fun. This is one I actually care about a bit, so I’ll be hoping the polls are off and that Corbyn gets some wind.

(Given how absolutely cruel the Conservatives are, I will judge Britons who vote Conservative harshly–not that there’s any reason for any such Briton to care…nonetheless.)

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

Open Thread

2017 April 17
by Ian Welsh

I’m rather under the weather, so please use this post to talk among yourselves, if you so desire.

Steve Bannon In (and Out?) of Donald Trump’s Imperial Court

2017 April 14
by Ian Welsh

Steve Bannon

When I wrote about the Trump administration before it existed, I noted that the Trump administration would be an Emperor’s Court. Because Trump has few firm ideas of his own and is extremely easily influenced, the best courtiers would rule the roost and determine policy.

Steve Bannon, by current reports, is out of favor and may well be on his way out.

Coincidentally, Trump has missiled a Syrian airbase and dropped “the mother of all bombs.” Coincidentally, word is coming out of the White House that, hey, maybe NAFTA isn’t so bad. Coincidentally, China is no longer considered a currency manipulator.

When people started mocking Trump by calling Bannon president, I noted that it was an attack which might work, and word has also come out that Trump hated that.

Trump is defined by little more than vanity, and he puts family first.

And so Kushner and Ivanka, backed by the deep state and more traditional Republicans (of the “tax cuts and bomb foreigners” variety), have the upper hand.

There is no question that Bannon is a piece of work, but him losing so much influence is not an unmitigated good.  Bannon is a nativist.

He was the guy, along with Trump on the campaign trail, who wanted the Muslim ban, aye. But he also favored rewriting trade deals, hitting China on manufacturing (it is true that China no longer keeps its currency low, but they did for ages and it gutted US manufacturing), bringing those jobs back to America, improving relations with Russia, and, oh yeah, not getting involved in stupid Middle Eastern wars (aside from fighting ISIS).

The comment section of Breitbart, when Trump hit the Syrian airfield was nearly 100 percent dismayed–as much as the most fiercely anti-war leftists.

The practical result of Bannon’s disempowerment is that brown Americans and visitors would be treated better, and that’s good, but most of what Trump wanted to do that wasn’t Republican standard, for the good as well as bad, goes out with Bannon.

Trump is being trained, well. Firing missiles and dropping bombs has gotten him the best media coverage of his presidency so far.  The “serious people” love killing (the right) foreigners, and the foreign policy elite which was threatened by Trump/Bannon nativism is rushing to praise Donald.

Not coincidentally, I think that Trump and Republicans will suffer for it electorally.

This version of Trump might be as bad as Hillary on foreign affairs (remembers she called for the missile attack, and watch North Korea), and while he lacks her saving graces on social affairs, as Kushner and Ivanka gain influence, they may make Trump a lot better on social civil liberties.

Though very competent in his way, Bannon was never quite a Svengali (as with his fumbling of the immigration order), but he is the only person in the administration genuinely angry about what happened to the working and middle class in America, and how the financial crisis was handled by bailing out banks and fucking ordinary people.

If Bannon loses this fight completely, Trump will be little more than an overly capricious, yet standard, Republican President.

And, folks, Trump was never going to be Hitler and not improving relations with Russia is a disaster, whatever the propaganda machine may tell you. (And that Syria attack would not have happened if improving relations with Russia were still important.)

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

Quick Hit: France Is Just a Giant Greece

2017 April 13
by Mandos


If you thought that France could elect a right- or left-wing populist and then dictate more favorable Eurozone terms in a manner qualitatively different from Greece, you should maybe hold off on making that judgement. Size ain’t everything: It’s the relative size of your interdependency that matters. And France is, to put it mildly, rather interdependent.

Seeing the rapid rise in popularity of a more left-wing alternative in the French presidential elections, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Olivier Blanchard (yes, that Olivier Blanchard) just published a fictional scenario of the first 100 days of a Mélenchon presidency. It’s in French in Le Nouvel Observateur, but there’s no need for me to translate it for you: It’s the summary of the instruction manual for Syrizifying France. It’s totally believable, starting with an absolute German rejection of Eurozone reform demands from Mélenchon, the intentional and perfectly designed Chinese finger trap of deliberate fiscal crisis will ensue. As the French are still not ready to accept mass immediate suffering for departing the Eurozone, Mélenchon will end up inevitably, not merely like Hollande, but like Tsipras. What Blanchard is telling you is that they’ve already charted out, in great detail, what to do to bring an anti-austerity French leader into line.

The heart of this problem resides in German politics. The German public was promised and continues to be promised that the goal of the Eurozone is to make orderly, competitive export-manufacturing economies out of Southern European Urlaubsländer (vacation countries), with the salutary side effect of costing the German taxpayer nothing (they think). A grand favour that can, in fact, only work if Germany pays (appears to pay) nothing for it.  Paying no transfer payments is the virtue, the moral soul, the charity in this deal. German politicians have invested too much in this illusion.

Or Blanchard could be wrong, and the French public is willing to endure the Chinese finger-trap. Merkel and Schäuble could have a change of heart? Again, my willingness to give the benefit of the doubt may be excessive.