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The Writ Is Dropped and the Canadian Election Is On!

2015 August 2

Prime Minister Harper has dropped the writ. The campaign is about twice normal length, with the election on October 19th, a bet on Harper’s part that his money advantage and superiority in third party money will matter more in a longer campaign.

Harper’s been PM for ten years, though only since the last election has he had a majority government. He’s changed Canada significantly. Economically, he ended the mixed economy policy which had been Canada’s strategy for well over 100 years, letting manufacturing wither on the vine, while doubling down on resources. He invited in record numbers of guest workers, and his government underwrote residential mortgages, leading to a housing bubble which is now, in relative terms, almost twice as large as America’s was when it popped.

The result of all of this is the worst economic showing of any Prime Minister in post-WWII history. Tying the Canadian economy so heavily to oil and other resources turns out to have been a bad bet.

Harper has also instituted what might be called the “paranoid style” of governing. Ministers are on a short leash, and scientists and bureaucrats are not allowed to speak to the press without going through the government.

All of the Conservative Party’s victories have seen cheating by the Conservative Party, with multiple criminal investigations. In response to this, Harper removed Election Canada’s mandate to investigate electoral fraud, and its mandate to encourage turnout.

In civil liberties, Harper has annulled about half of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, with the aid of Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, the son of the late Pierre Trudeau, who ran Canada in the ’70s and into the early ’80s.

Justin was leading in the polls from the moment he was selected Liberal leader until he had his party vote for bill-C51, the bill which gutted Canadians’ civil liberties. That decision saw the New Democratic Party, the only one of the big three parties to oppose the bill, swing into first place, a lead it has kept in most (but not all) polls, marginally, since then.

Traditionally, the NDP has been the third party. In the last election, under the charismatic Jack Layton, it surged to second place, but after Layton’s death from cancer and the coronation of Trudeau, it has been solidly in the third place.

This is an important election for Canada. If the NDP wins, and especially if it forms a majority government, there will be changes that matter. One shouldn’t overstate them; Mulcair, the NDP’s leader, has gone out of his way to reassure the business community. But Mulcair has also been consistent in his attachment to the environment, in his dislike of the tar sands, in his understanding of Dutch Disease, and the mixed economy. He has promised not to raise the retirement age, and on a variety of other neo-liberal agenda items, he has been in opposition. He has also promised to abolish Canada’s unelected Senate, and to move to some form of mixed-representative government (some geographic seats, some party list seats.)

Canadians, overall, are tired of Harper, mostly because of the economic news but also in part due to his paranoid style of ruling (and it is ruling). However, Harper’s support is concentrated geographically in the West and southern Ontario, and it is certainly possible he could still win.

The current dynamic is mostly about Trudeau’s liberals shooting at the NDP, the NDP shooting at the Conservatives with a few shots back at the liberals, and the Conservatives mostly concentrating fire on Mulcair.

For as long as I’ve been alive, the Liberals have always told people to vote strategically: to vote Liberal to keep Conservatives out, because Liberals had the best chance of winning. It is delightful to see the shoe on the other foot now.

We’ll see how it plays out. I think the odds slightly favor the NDP, but there’s a long campaign ahead, and I expect the Conservative party to cheat. If it comes down to only a few seats, as it probably will, that cheating could make the difference.


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US Corruption vs. World Corruption

2015 July 31
by Ian Welsh

One of the most hilarious things to me is Americans whacking other countries for being corrupt.  Russia is a favorite target, but the US abuses virtually every non-Western country for “corruption.”

I’ve pointed out before that this is absurd. There is no more corrupt country in the world than the US. The bank bailouts were pure corruption, performed even though a supermajority of the population was against them, even though the banks had broken the law systematically, and even though the banks were bankrupt due to decisions they knew were corrupt, illegal, and (yes), stupid.

The US election system is flagrantly corrupt, with billions of dollars of direct and indirect donations from the rich. You buy supper with a candidate for thousands of dollars a plate. You buy White House access with much larger donations. Third party PACs spend hundreds of millions.

The bribery in the US is legal. Legal. That does not mean it is not bribery. That does not mean it is not corruption. This system was arranged by the monied classes to ensure that politicians owe them and do not harm them, and that they continue to pass laws and take actions which help them.

The regulatory class is completely owned. There is a revolving door between Wall Street and the Treasury and Federal Reserve, for example, and Wall Street pays far better. When senior officials leave, they get jobs from those whom they regulated, or give speeches for six figures a pop. Politicians are treated the same, receiving lobbying jobs worth six to seven figures, board positions, and so on.

This is all legal, but it is corruption.

Jimmy Carter recently said this, with respect to Citizen’s United:

an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery

But don’t be deceived, Citizen’s United was just the final capstone: The US was already a completely corrupt, bought, and owned regulatory state before Citizen’s United.  Citizen’s United just made it much easier.

I repeat, in absolute terms, there is no more corrupt country in the world than the US. In relative terms? Who knows, but the US being corrupt matters more than corruption in any other country.  (Though China is coming on strong.) US financial law is essentially extra-territorial: The US is capable of crippling other countries’ economies almost entirely with simple Treasury orders. The US has the world’s largest military and regularly intervenes in other countries with air strikes, assassinations, and general terror.

What is unique about America is not its corruption, many countries are corrupt, it is the sheer hypocrisy the pretense that America is not corrupt, because Americans have made their corruption legal.

Corruption is the inevitable consequence of concentrated wealth.  It always occurs when you have great inequality, it cannot be avoided.

You want corruption back to reasonable levels? You want it illegal again? Take the oligarchs’ wealth away from them and break the great monopolistic and oligopolistic companies or bridle them with uncorrupted regulators who will crawl up their backside and tax the hell out of them.

Nothing else works (and the second solution works for a while). Nothing else has ever worked.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you.

You want you country back, and your children and yourselves to have a future?

It’s you or them. So far Americans keep choosing them.


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The Role of Character and Ideology in Prosperity

2015 July 28

I want to take readers through some of my previous writing on ideology and character, and how they help form the societies we live in.  Taking the time to read these articles (a short book’s worth), should vastly improve your understanding of the world and the articles to come. It should be worth your time even if you read the articles when they were published, as, at the time, they lacked both context and commentary, and were not collated to be read together so that the connections were obvious.

Baseline Predictions for the Next 60 Years

While not an article about ideology, this is an article about where our current ideology and character are going to take us: to the brink of disaster and possibly beyond, while continuing to impoverish and disempower larger and larger segments of the human race. This might be a slightly optimistic piece; there’s some reason to believe our actions in the world’s oceans could destroy the oxygen cycle, and if this is so, events will be much, much worse.

What an Ideology Is and Why We Need a New One

Too many people think ideologies are some airy-fairy nonsense, while they themselves are pragmatic men and women operating on common sense and facts. Such people are amongst the greatest of all fools: Our entire society is based on interlocking ideologies; the primary of which are neo-liberalism, capitalism, human rights and socialism. It is not obvious, nor was it obvious to most societies that have ever existed, for example, that food should be distributed based on money; nor that ideas could be property. How we organize things, our particular ideas about markets and their role, and our ideas about who should lead us, are ideological. If we want to change society, we need to be able to control markets so they aren’t producing a world that makes us sick, unhappy, and, in increasing numbers, dead.

How to Create a Viable Ideology

We may look at current trends and realize that if we don’t reverse them, and reverse them fast, billions will suffer or die; but creating an ideology which can reverse these trends requires us to understand what makes an ideology viable and powerful. An ideology which does not create believers willing to die, and to kill, on its behalf, will lose to those that do. An ideology which cannot prevent people from selling out, from betraying, will definitely lose in the current world, where there is so much money available at the top to simply buy out (for billions) those who create something new, so that anything new can be neutralized into nothing but a monetization scheme.

Our Theory of Human Nature Predicts Our Policies

The ideas of an ideology determine how our society is run, and, of those ideas, none is more important than what we make of human nature.

A Theory of Human Nature Suited to Prosperity and Freedom

If we are trying to create a prosperous, free world, our policies must be based in a theory of human nature that is both true (enough) and which leads to policies which create widespread affluence and human freedom.

Character Is Destiny

Ideology and character are intertwined. Character determines what we do, what we don’t do, and how we do it. The character of large numbers of people determines the destinies of nations and of the world itself.  If we want to make the world better (or worse), we must change our own characters. Those who fail to understand how character is created (and changed) will never change the world–except accidentally.

How Everyday Life Creates Our Character

Along with, as noted, our destiny. I always laugh at radicals who want more schooling, because schooling is where people learn to sit down, shut up, give the approved answers, and do what they’re told. Working life, as an adult, continues this process of learned powerlessness and acquiescence and even in our consumptive and political lives we continue the trend; choosing from the choices offered, rather than producing what we actually need for ourselves.

How Everyday Life Creates Sociopathic Corporate Leaders

Those who lead our corporations control most of our lives, even more so than the government, because they set the terms by which we live, die, and can afford the good things in life. Our daily lives are prescribed by these people, from how we work to what we eat, to what we entertain ourselves with. We need, therefore, to understand the character traits for which our leaders are chosen, and how the process of choosing works. If we can’t learn to create and choose better leaders, we will never have a better world.

The Difference Between Ethics and Morals

If we want an ideology that tells us how to create both a better world and the people with the character to create that world, we must understand what sort of people they should be. To accomplish this, we must first understand how they treat other people–the people they know, and more importantly, the people they don’t.

The Fundamental Feedback Loop for a Better World

The shortest article on this list, this is also one of the most important and speaks directly to how money directs behaviour and how that directs our choice in leaders.

Living in a Rich Society

It’s been so long since parts of the West were truly prosperous that people forget what it’s like, and forget that it creates a different type of person than a scarcity society.

Late 19th and Early 20th Century Intellectual Roots

Lived experience creates character and character feeds into ideology. It’s worth looking at how various themes of the Victorian era were created by those who lived through that time and the time that came before it.

What Confucius Teaches Those Who Want a Better World

Amongst those who have created powerful ideologies, Confucius is in the first rank; Confucianism has been the most important ideology of the most populous and advanced region of the world for most of the last two thousand years–or more. Confucius was very aware of what he was trying to do, had a theory of human nature, and a theory of character. We would be fools not to learn from him.

Concluding Remarks

I hope that those who are interested in creating a better world will read the articles linked above. What I’ve written amounts to a short book, and the ideas are interrelated. If you have read a few of my posts, or even read all of them, but not thought of or read them with each other in mind, you cannot have the full picture of how these ideas work together, and why the different parts are necessary.

Ideas are often destroyed in practice by those who do not understand the reasons for the various pieces of the puzzle and prescriptions. These people feel they can pick and choose without that understanding. Character and ideology and ethics and every day life are all intertwined; you cannot pick one and say ,”This is supreme. They create each other.

Of course, the above is not a complete intellectual package. Large chunks are missing. My next piece will be a review of some key economic articles specifically concerning why the world is as it is today: Why we lost post-war liberalism, why we have austerity and neo-liberalism and so-called free trade. That piece comes after this one because without understanding our own characters and the characters of our leaders and how ideology works, we cannot understand our current circumstances.

I will then be moving on to new articles on technology, geography, and environment, and their effect on societies though the ages, with an emphasis on those technologies and environments which create prosperity, freedom, and egalitarian cultures and exploring why they do so. There is a great trend today, an argument, about changing our tech to improve society, but it will only work if we understand how technology changes society.

Originally published Oct 2, 2014.  Republished July 28, 2015


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Charlie Hebdo Will No Longer Publish Cartoons Showing the Prophet

2015 July 26
by Ian Welsh

Yes, violence often gets people what they want.

Also, France is passing increasingly draconian surveillance laws.

Freedom. It was a nice dream.


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Tsipras: “Now that I Have Unconditionally Surrendered, I Promise to Lead the Fight.”

2015 July 24
by Ian Welsh

Yeah, ok:

As far as my own code of values is concerned, the presence of the Left in the government is not in order to seek high office. It is the stronghold of the interests of our people! A stronghold for the protection of those who have been wronged! A stronghold for the large class fights against vested interests within the country!

As far as I am concerned, I have no intention of abandoning this stronghold. We will not become cowards, nor will we ignore our responsibilities, nor will we become apologists for lost fights. Because the only lost fights are those which never took place!

The fights lying ahead will be given with the same fighting spirit, the same faith in our strength, the same dignity and they will be fights which will be won.”

The same lack of planning and willingness to fold when faced by strong opposition? The same ability to create a worse situation than would have existed if you’d just accepted the first deal on the table?

Not just contemptible but delusional, and Greeks who are anti-austerity and still support him are fools. (Of course, given the pollsters got the results of referendum wrong by 20 percent, who’s to say that 60 percent of Greeks do still support Tsipras?  More likely he’s got the support of a little more than the 40 percent who voted Yes.)


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What Sandra Bland Illustrates About the “Right to Abuse”

2015 July 22

If you haven’t seen it already, here is a (doctored, but still damning), video of Sandra Bland’s arrest.

Note that she did nothing which would warrant arrest and was taken into custody on what amounts to a freestanding “resisting arrest” warrant.

Her real crime was “disrespect of cop,” of course. She didn’t put out her cigarette when asked, she was annoyed to be stopped.

Racism appears to have been operative here, but I want to point out something else. Being black is also a proxy for “no one important.” “No one important” is proxy for “as a cop or other authority figure, I can do what I want to you.”

Sandra Bland clearly knew her rights. Sandra Bland is dead. (Sandra Bland may well be dead because she knew her rights and the cop didn’t want to go to trial over that arrest. Or it may have been punishment for an “uppity black.”)

You have precisely and only the rights that you can enforce, the rights that you have the power to enforce. You have no other rights, and you never did.

“You” can be a group. If a group of citizens is strong enough, it can insist upon being treated according to what the law actually requires (or even better than the law requires, as in the case of, say, bankers). Such a group has rights. But they have those rights only because they can hold anyone who violates those rights accountable and that ability is well-known.

People don’t like when powerful individuals say “Do you know who I am?” but that’s a simple assertion of rights. It’s a way of saying, “You can’t do certain things to me, because I can retaliate.”

We have an ideology that everyone should be treated the same before the law. In America, and indeed every country, it is untrue. Some people are always more equal before the law. Of course, that it is always untrue does not mean that in some places and times it is more true than others.

Here in Toronto, the man who filmed former mayor Rob Ford doing crack was sentenced to jail. Ford was followed by police for months, so in addition to the crack video, they have plenty of other evidence of his drug use. Rob Ford has never seen the inside of a courtroom, let alone a jail cell. He never will.

But a message has been sent: Dare to try and blackmail someone important like Ford for committing a crime, and you will go to jail, and the “important” criminal will not.

Some animals are more equal than others.

The Black Lives Matter movement is an attempt to notify police that blacks are no longer fair game for abusers; that you can’t get your rocks off killing them; that there are consequences. It is an attempt to say, “Blacks have rights.” They aren’t even really trying to stop the sort of abuse in the arrest video; they’re just trying to stop it from turning into the final abuse: murder by cop.

This is America. And this is your lesson in power. Real power.


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The Iranian Nuclear Deal

2015 July 18
by Ian Welsh

This is a Good Thing™.

I suspect, however, that one of the main reasons for it is to bring Iranian oil back online fully, thus pushing down the price of oil further, which will damage many countries the US wants damaged and will help the US economy (no, the US is not yet an oilarchy itself, low oil prices are still better).


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When Will Greek Looting and Austerity End?

2015 July 15
by Ian Welsh

Back in 2010 a friend predicted it would end when Greeks stormed parliament and beat or hung members of parliament.

It seems that, while that may or may not be literally the case, in general terms it is one of three possible end states. Since there are always enough MPs willing to sign any deal, no matter how bad, because they personally do not suffer the consequences of said deals, bringing the consequences home will be necessary.

The second possibility is the Schauble plan. It is odd that Schauble, though extraordinarily punitive, is willing to offer a pretty good deal for Grexit. He’s worked hard for it, and maybe he’ll be able to force it through yet. So far he has been stymied primarily by the fact that the Greeks will accept any deal, no matter how bad. You can imagine Schauble thinking:

“I want the Greeks out, so I’ll offer bad deals, surely they’ll leave.”

“Hmmm, that didn’t work, I’ll offer a worse deal!”

“No!?  A terrible deal, then?”

“Ah, ha, finally, a NO vote in the referendum.”  (Rubs hands together with glee.)

“Now, an apocalyptically catastrophic deal on one hand, countered with a reasonably generous plan for support if they leave!”

“No? No!?”

So, Schauble, having realized that Greece will not leave no matter how terrible the deal inflicted on them, must now convince not Greeks, but other key European decision makers.

The third possibility is that a truly radical government takes over in Greece: Likely Fascists or Communists. Someone who actually says what they mean about austerity and will do whatever it takes to end it.

Remember, Hitler did turn the German economy around. Mussolini turned around the Italian one.

One can hope it will be a slightly nicer set of people, but we are definitely in a period where the “decent” people mostly don’t have the necessary courage to stand up for anything that matters; certainly not the courage to actually face down neo-liberalism.

This isn’t a joke post, though I wish it was. I want everyone to remember the rule of prosperity and rights.

You have exactly and only the rights and prosperity which are useful to your lords and masters or those you are able to secure from them with force or the credible threat of force.

Any rights or prosperity you have beyond that will always be taken away from you.

Always.


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Syriza Wins in Greece: What It Must Do

2015 July 13

(Given the way Greek financial negotiations have played out, I think my first take is timely/relevant, and have restored it to the top. Originally published in January. -Ian)

It would have been better if they won last time, Greece is pretty fully looted now. But Greeks thought they were Europeans, and didn’t realize the contempt that French and Germans had for them, nor how willing they were to kill and impoverish large numbers of them.

There is a great deal of hand-wringing in conventional circles over the Syriza win. They are worried about the Greeks exiting the Euro (Grexit) and defaulting on their debt.

Greece should do both of these things, or something close to it. (Rolling the debt over into 100 year bonds at 1 percent, for example.) Greek debt is at a level which is effectively impossible to pay off and has been made much, much worse by all the “aid packages” and “bailouts” given by their “fellow” Europeans. (a.k.a., they should have defaulted years ago.)

As for the Euro, Greece can’t print it, and Greece will need to print money.

I worry that Syriza is serious about negotiating on the debt. There is essentially no chance the Troika (well, really, Germany) will give them acceptable terms on a write-down. Negotiations should be intended only to go on long enough to demonstrate that a good deal is not possible. While they are ongoing, the Greeks should be preparing for Grexit and repatriating all the resources they can. Since Greek debt is under foreign law, debt vultures will go to the courts to seize all foreign Greek assets once Greece does default or restructure its debt.

Greece needs to recognize that it will effectively be a financial pariah, unable to access Western money markets. It will have almost no hard currency, and no ability to buy goods which require hard currency.

This is a huge problem for Greece because it has neither oil nor the ability to feed itself. Syriza MUST have a plan to deal with both these problems. Neither is insurmountable.

For oil, Greece will simply have to make a deal with Russia, Venezuela and/or Iran. Greece will be a pariah state just like them, and they have oil. What does Greece have to offer? Well, sub voce, access to Greece. Greece will be out of the Euro, but it will still have borders with Europe. Once whatever you want into Europe is in Greece, it’s easy enough to get it into Europe. And anything those countries want from Europe, the Greeks can obtain and ship to them. Grey market, baby, and grey market finance, as well.

In terms of food, a deal must be made with a food surplus nation. I would suggest Argentina, which has plenty of food. (This is incorrect, Greece can feed itself, Greeks will just have to eat less imported foods.-Ian)

Remember that Greece has one of the largest merchant marines in the world. It has that to trade, and it has access to Europe to trade.

In addition, currency controls must be put on immediately and the borders must be secured against those trying to move goods out of the country (a.k.a., Greece’s useless rich).

Given that all this will cause Greece to be completely loathed in Washington, London, Berlin, and Paris, they may also wish to consider seizing much of whatever means of production remain in the country. If they want a reason, simply use the Lagarde list of Greek oligarchs who haven’t paid their taxes, and seize their back taxes—with plenty of interest.

The media is playing this as an anti-austerity vote, and it is. But voting anti-austerity for a country like Greece, which can’t feed itself, has no oil, and doesn’t have a lot of industry, is one thing, not being austere is another. If the Greeks want a decent life again, they will have to take on some of the most powerful nations in the world and at least fight to a draw.

Many nations are in the same boat as Greece: Russia, Iran, Venezuela, Argentina. Greece needs to make the necessary alliances with such countries and it needs to align with the rising Chinese block.

Doing this requires a psychological step that many Greeks may be unwilling to take: A recognition that their interests do not lie with Europe and an understanding that Europeans are willing to see them impoverished, homeless and dead. Greeks who are living in the past and think the EU is about prosperity for everyone in the EU need to learn otherwise.

If the Greeks are unwilling to be coldly pragmatic and give up their illusions about who they are, what their fellow Europeans are willing to do to them, and what their actual assets are, then Syriza will fail, and Greece will continue on their path of impoverishment.

I wish the Greeks all the best.

(26/01/15 – There is some dispute over whether the Greeks can leave the Euro and not the EU.  See this paper for a discussion — pp 26-29.)


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Yet Another Deal

2015 July 13
by Ian Welsh

So, Tsirpas has agreed on a deal. It includes 50 billion in collateral to be managed by a fund controlled by Juncker.

We’ll see if the Greek parliament will pass it.

I have yet to see a single indication that Syriza ever made the necessary moves to allow for an orderly Grexit, though the EU has. They went into this fight relying on the good will of, yes, their enemies. (That they did not realize they were negotiating with their enemies was their first mistake.)

This is yet another step necessary for the end of the neo-liberal era. A tragedy, cruel beyond any justification, but that’s rather the point. Westerners, not just the rest of the world, need to understand who they are ruled by, and that no one is immune to their cruelty.

The EU’s leaders, however, have most likely done what is in their personal self-interest. They are either the people who inflicted austerity, or the politicians who accepted it. Under no circumstances could it be shown that there was another choice with better outcomes. If so, they would be fools or criminals, having inflicted unnecessary pain.

I am particularly amused by the Finnish government’s ferocity towards Greece, since Finland, now that Nokia is dying and lumber prices are down, needs to devalue its currency. Being in the Euro, it cannot, and must instead suffer.

In time, everything the Finns value about their country’s social network will be sacrificed to stay in the Euro.

I don’t believe in people getting what they “deserve,” because we’d all be fools to want that. So let’s just say that the Gods enjoy using our most fervent desires to destroy us.

I’ll keep covering Greece as necessary, but the topic is beginning to become tedious. Horrible people doing horrible things to incompetent fools who refuse to resist, but simply lie there taking kick after kick to the nads while saying, “But we love you, we want to be one of you, do anything to us, so we can prove our devotion.”

I no longer have much preference for how this turns out. It is clear that, while Grexit would be preferable in principle, Tsipras and Syriza could not so much as manage a lemonade stand, let alone handle something as difficult as leaving the Euro under hostile fire and then rebuilding prosperity with Europe opposing them every step.


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