The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Month: January 2011 Page 1 of 2

Some Points About Egypt

1) the timing for Davos of both revolutions is… interesting.  One might think a message is being sent.

2) the Iranians have been putting money into the rural areas of Egypt.  Specifically into clinics.  Since the Egyptians are American clients, they can’t break drug patent laws, the Iranians are happy to do so.  Poor folks are happy for the children to live.

3) The Muslim Brotherhood is, in fact, the strongest opposition party.

4) Egypt has real hard currency problems.  Essentially all hard currency flows into the currency then right back out and the vast majority is used to buy weapons.

5) Egypt can’t feed its own population and the devaluation that is going on is hurting them badly.

6) Think of both revolutions as part of the cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia.  Notice who is winning.  Notice the price jump in oil.  Remember that this benefits Iran more than Saudi Arabia—Iran needs a much higher price for oil than SA does to keep its society on a more or less even keel (The Sauds have even noted that the best way to crush Iran is to reduce the price of oil).  Remember that high oil prices really hurt everyone who isn’t an oil state and that once you get around $110/barrel or so it is likely to lead to a huge spike and another crash out.

7) The army and the Muslim Brotherhood seem rather unlikely to allow a western style secular democracy.  And I wonder how much money the army is willing to give up so people can, y’know, eat.  A lot of the day laboring classes in Egypt basically spend ALL their daily money on food.

8 ) This is the end of the Gaza blockade in any meaningful fashion unless the Israelis want to fully reoccupy it, which I doubt they do.

9) Egypt has been strongly in the US camp now for a long time.  The ordinary people really haven’t gotten much out of it, have they?

10) The oilarchies spend much more money on a per capita basis on internal repression and subsidies than Egypt could ever afford to.  Assume that Saudi Arabia, for example, spends about 20% of GDP on military and security services combined.  The small oil states are very generous to their “citizens”, while using “guest workers” for most of the actual work.

11) Revolutions happen when people can’t reliably get enough food.  If they can revolt, they revolt.  If they can’t, there are famines. The green revolution is reaching its limits and the deliberate policy of turning nations into food dependencies so European and American farmers could make money is reaping bitter fruit.  So-called non core inflation (food and energy) is what matters most, not least.  Who cares if a toaster is cheap when you don’t have enough to eat, or you can’t stay warm, or the fuel to cook your food is too expensive?

Will the military join the people in Egypt?

The people of Egypt know the military is what matters, and it looks like they may win on this:

Unconfirmed reports of fights between military and police according to Al Jazeera now. Military are moving toward Ministry of Defense and Radio and Television Building – no word yet of their plans as those locations are site of massive protests. Egyptians flags seen being waved by soldiers.

12:48CNN reporting from the Information Ministry building that there are chants of “the Military and the People are one” and the military officers speaking calmly with them’

There are also reports that protests have spread to every major city in Egypt.

If the army turns, and I think it’s going to, Mubarak is toast.  Siun at FDL is doing excellent liveblogging on this and Sean-Paul at the Agonist has an excellent roundup he’s keeping updated as events change.

Update: Corrente is also doing a good job.

Egypt, Revolutions and Food

Zero Hedge notes something interesting about food prices post-Tunisia:

Dow Jones reports that wheat futures just hit a 29-month highs on “strong global demand.” Per the newswire, Algeria bought 800,000 tons of milling wheat, with traders estimating the nation’s purchases for January at about 1.8M. Turkey and Jordan bought wheat last week after rising food prices helped fuel unrest in Tunisia.

This is something Stirling Newberry predicted 10 years ago: that the end of the “great moderation”, 30 years of declining commodity prices, would lead to political instability.

Meanwhile Siun is reporting on the clashes in Egypt, in particular in Suez.  One part, from Egyptian blogger Zeinobia struck me in particular:

Again the people of Suez are suffering from terrible economic conditions as the factories owners there started to use cheap Asian labor instead of them creating a huge unemployment problem in the city.

That, as I have been discussing in the past is something very simple: betrayal of the ordinary citizens of a state (Egypt), by that state’s elites, for their own crash enrichment.  (I am for immigration, I am not for guest workers.  I am not for bringing in cheap labor to undercut one’s own labor.)

The future is as follows: decreased agricultural land, decreased water, decreased cheap oil (which is what our agricultural system rests on.)  The inflation figures say “there is no inflation”, but that’s a lie, pure and simple.  Food prices are up, energy is killing people and commodities are up.  So-called “core inflation” is mostly inflation in things people can do without (toasters, etc…) while fuel and food inflation is in what people MUST buy.  The same is true, btw, of health care inflation.  When you’re dying or in pain or crippled, you have to pay.

Virtually every oligopoly in the world is trying to grab as much money as it can by raising prices in collusion while not improving service or goods quality unless they absolutely much.  And if you can even buy the good stuff, it’ll cost your through the nose.  As one of my friends quips, “I buy organic meat and eggs and milk because when I was a kid, that’s just what we called meat and milk and eggs”.  Make the regular quality shit, charge for the stuff that isn’t crap.

Food and fuel are flashpoints, as will be water, but things like access to the credit economy (including the ability to pay by credit or debit card for things that can only be bought electronically, not with cash), reliable fast access to the internet, and so on, will also be crimped in any nation where the powers that be allow it.

Ireland: With left wing parties like these, who needs right wing parties?

Betrayal is ash in the mouth:

This followed successful negotiations this evening in Dublin between Ireland‘s finance minister Brian Lenihan and the finance spokespersons of the opposition parties to pass the finance bill by Saturday.

They agreed to a timetable to pass the crucial finance bill that will implement harsh austerity measures outlined in last December’s budget

It is also interesting to note that any party which had opposed it and run in the next election with a promise to either repeal it or put it to a referendum would have had a good shot at winning, but it appears none have chosen to do that.


And worse than betrayal, the politicians are such lapdogs of monied interests, so desirous of keeping their access to imported luxury goods and being treated nicely by European elities, that they won’t even seize the opportunity to be powerful, to win an election.  This is similar to what we have seen in Washington, where the checks and balances the Founders believed would keep everything on an even keel have failed because politicians are more interested in money and their post-electoral careers, more concerned with being buddies with the rich, than they are with protecting or advancing their own power.

With a left like this, who needs the right?

As I’ve said before, this entire generation in power, “left” or right, must be swept from power.  As a group they are either faithless or gutless, always willing to stand down or sell out, never willing to fight for the people they claim to serve.

Carl Safina’s “View From Lazy Point”: Expanding the circle of compassion ever out

There is a life lived within the rhythm of the seasons and the embrace of the land.  A life where the cry of the chickadee announces a new season, a world where the return of salmon, silver in the whitewater, is celebrated as much, or more, than any holiday.  In this life, the sheltered bend of the river where the trout linger, the trees where the red-tailed hawks live and the stubbled fields of water where the duck rest during their yearly pilgrimage are all known.

It is the world most of our ancestors lived in, the world, even, which many of our grandparents and great-grandparents lived in.

And it is the world that Oceanographer Carl Safina returns to in his striking book, The View From Lazy Point.  Buying an old, run-down cottage in Long Island, on a peninsula called, as you’d expect, Lazy point, he settles back into a life where the seasons provide the frame of his life, and within that frame, he witnesses the comings and goings of the animals who are his neighbors, from red-tailed hawks and bluefish to frogs and even lowly earthworms.  They great him in the morning or keep him awake at night, they feed him, and they announce to him, clearly, not just the changes of the seasons but the changes in our world.

And it is Safina’s meditations on those changes which move this book from a modern “Walden Pond”, as great as that would be, to something else.

For, really, this is a book about philosophy.  It is about what it means to be human, to be, as Safina puts it, “self-assembled stardust aware of the universe and the future”, a wonderous miracle we rarely every think on.  It is about what it means to be human in a world where the rhythms of life have been throw askew, indeed, burst asunder.

Long ago I remember reading accounts of the first explorers in the Grand Banks, off the Maritime coast of Canada.  They could dip a bucket into the sea and it would come back with cod in it.

Today there is no cod fishery and hardly any cod in the Grand Banks.  I remember, as a child, the warnings, again and again, that the cod fishery was in danger.  That it could collapse.

Then it did, and it has never come back.

I shant bore you with all the statistics about how many species are going extinct every day.   If you care, you’ve heard them a thousand times, if you don’t care, well, you’ve still heard them over and over again.

Those numbers are in Safina’s book, but they aren’t the heart of the book.  The heart of the book is living with nature, and seeing, as the months roll on, not just how much has been lost, but how much remains and how beautiful it is, how rich it is, and how much a part of that world we are.

For that’s ultimately Safina’s point, a point made with more grace than this bundle of starlight can, though he’s not the first to make it, nor will he be the last.  We are not separate from nature, we are a part of it.  The web of life, the rhythm of the seasons, supports us as much as it does any other animal, any other life.

The great philosophers, the great prophets, one by one, have extended the circle of self-feeling out—have expanded the circle of compassion from kin, to tribe, to creed, and ultimately to all of humanity.  If we fail often in this self-feeling, in this duty to love our neighbor as ourself, to treat all humans as means and not ends, well at least the great amongst us, whether Jesus or Socrates, have told us again and again that we are all one.

Another expansion of the circle, from all of humanity, to all of life, is now necessary.  Not only are we not as different from the rest of the creatures living in the world as we might think, for all that we can imagine the future better than any of them, including the disasters to come, but until we start treating their concerns as our concerns, well, those disasters will happen.  The world is great, the world is fecund, but the world is finite. There is only so much life it can support, and as with any other animal, if we put too much of a burden on the world, we shall pay the price in death and deprivation, in disaster and even catastrophe.  One day the species dying off may be ours.

This extra circle of inclusion, this extra step, however, need not be  feared as so many do, as if caring is some horrible burden.  Compassion is the truest beauty of the human spirit, and in embracing all life, we make of ourselves something greater, something bigger, something more beautiful than we are, even as embracing humanity as a whole has created our greatest souls and our most beautiful dreams and accomplishments.

This, ultimately, I think, is Safina’s message, and it is a message more beautifully told than I can do justice to.  Read his book and remember, or learn, what is to live in the embrace of the seasons and to see in all life oneself.

Independents Return to Obama…

… now that the election is over.  And I’m going to agree with Mandos, some people really do want “bipartisanship” of the sort Obama is now offering.  Or, more accurately, they like Obama now that he is moderating the governing party (the Republicans, who are actually driving policy now.)

The problem is (and this is a mirror of the warning I gave in early 2009) that the current most likely policies (as “compromised” with the House Pubs), which they think they approve of, are going to put the economy even further into a hole.  Give it a year to 18 months and the current economy is going to be a susperating wound, and it won’t matter that “independents” thought they wanted austerity, they’ll vote based on the results of the policies.

Or to put it another way, good for Obama for improving his poll ratings so close to an elec…


Thinking more than one move in advance=good.

And good policy=good politics.  Bleeding the patient when he’s anemic, even if that’s what he wants, won’t make the patient happy with you more than briefly.

You now have a year to a year and a half at most before the next economic meltdown

The RNC is asking for 2.5 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years. Assume Obama and Dems split the difference (remember, Obama wanted a freeze already, anyway).  1.25 trillion.

The effects of that on the US economy, such as it is, will be catastrophic.

If you can work right now, do.  Earn as much money as you can, reduce your costs as low as you can and get ready for the next downturn.  It’s going to be ugly.  Jobs will continue to be shifted out of the country, Americans will continue to be turned into debt-serfs with every relationship a revenue stream for some entity which provides a necessary service (whether internet, credit, food, or whatever).  Your house probably can’t be sold for what it’s worth, since the banks have a ton of houses they need to sell, so don’t assume you have an asset worth its face value, instead evaluate it as housing.

Times are bad, they will get worse, especially as this type of austerity is happening in virtually every western country.  Expect both high inflation in what you actually need (food, for example) and high unemployment (the return of stagflation), whatever the “official” rate of inflation says.

This is what Americans voted for.  Republicans were very clear that this is what they wanted, and Obama spent his campaign talking about tax cuts, not spending.  They’ll meet somewhere in the middle. “No, let’s amputate at the hip, not the neck.”

Stop treating monsters as reasonable people

Over the last few years, and in particular in the last couple, I’ve noticed something about myself: I’ve become a lot more rude in my political dealings, including with many people I used to consider allies.  At first this worried me a bit, because I couldn’t quite pin down why, beyond the fact that I was angry.

Now I’m not someone who believes anger is always a bad thing.  I think certain things should make you angry, and if they don’t, something’s wrong with you.  When people are dying, being raped, being tortured, being denied basic rights, being beaten and so on, you should get angry.  You should use that anger as a weapon and as fuel for the fight.

Still, anger isn’t a strategy, or even a tactic, and one has to be careful, because anger can blind you and turn you against those who should be your allies.

And that’s the crux.  Allies.

What I’ve come to realize lately is that I’m not on the same side as a lot of people.  If you’re for the Afghan war, aka. for eternal war, I’m not on your side.  If you believe in indefinite detention or the President’s right to assassinate whoever he wants, I’m not on your side.  If you believe that Wikileaks is evil and that citizens should be kept in the dark as to what their governments are doing, then I’m not on your side.

Through the Bush years opposition to Bush made a lot of people seem like friends, who weren’t.  Sure, we all hated Bush (yes, hated.  I hate people who torture and engage in aggressive war, and I think that’s the appropriate response), but that hatred, that opposition, concealed the fact that a lot of people didn’t really object to what Bush was doing, they just objected to the fact that it was being done by a Republican, or that it was being done incompetently.  They would have been ok with the same policies if they’d worked out, as with all the “liberals” and “progressives” who were pro-Iraq war until it turned into a clusterfuck.

The Wikileas imbroglio was a real turning point for me.  At least half the “progressives” I know revealed themselves as, simply, supporters of authoritarianism; revealed themselves as mushrooms who wanted daddy to keep them in the dark and feed them shit.  Revealed themselves as fools who didn’t either understand or, worse, believe that government exists to serve its citizens, who have a right to know what it’s doing in their name.

But while the watershed, it was merely the latest in a string of horrible behavior from the “left”.  Whether it was teacher’s unions stealing food stamp money to pay for their raises, unions selling out their own members to support Barack Obama’s health care bill, which was bad for most union members or whether it was the progressive caucus promising to vote against any HCR bill without the public option, then folding like wet cardboard, it was clear that there was no spine and no solidarity on the left.  Every little interest group was always willing to sell out everyone else, sometimes for their own interests, but often not even for that: the leadership of organizations was so corrupt that they would sell out their own members interests so they could feel like members of the DC Village.

I have no time for these people.  I have no politeness or kindness for them.  They are traitors and in many cases cowards, and their actions or lack of actions are, objectively, killing or impoverishing people, both in America or abroad.

So screw politeness, and screw reasonableness.  Reasonableness in the current political environment means “willing to sell out the people whose interests she or he is supposed to care about.”

So count me out.  I’m not interested in being reasonable, if reasonable means “a spineless sell out”.  I’m not interested in being pragmatic, if pragmatic means “understands that nothing can actually be done to fix any problem”, and I’m not interested in being polite to people who make their living by destroying lives or apologizing for those who destroy lives.

America is going down, and the world is spiraling into an age of war because everyone wants to be “reasonable” rather than do the right thing for their own people.  Everyone who matters wants to pander to the rich, rather than care for the masses.  And as for the masses, they have treated politics as a spectator sport, allowed themselves to be lied to and made fools of, and have and will continue to reap the bitter harvest.

You not only have only the rights you are willing to fight for, you have only the economic livelihood you are willing to fight for.  Americans, being unwilling to fight for either, will soon have neither.

And I have nothing but contempt for those who have led them to this impasse, and with them, much of the world.

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