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

Month: May 2011 Page 1 of 2

Virtually Speaking with Stirling Newberry and Ian Welsh

Last night, starting hour 2.  More Stirling than me, though as I was sick last night, I was even more straightforward than usual.  A lot of talk about political and cultural dysfunction.

Illness and the price of prosperity

One of the pathologies of American, and to a lesser extent, Western society, which really stands out yet is rarely remarked on, is the absolute epidemic of chronic diseases we suffer from.  From historically apocalyptic rates of cancer to asthma, to heart and stroke disease, we’re one sick bunch.  We walk around, not dead yet, but chronically sick.

This is a direct result of our economic arrangements.  We dump huge amounts of carcinogens into the air, water and the food chain.  We pollute the air in so many ways they’re uncountable.  We build our residential areas to actively discourage exercise.  We subsidize food that is bad for us, especially corn derived foods, and we eat so much sugar it’s surprising we aren’t all crazed.  We dump such massive amounts of hormones into the water and food chain that our children are experiencing record early puberty.  And this is the short list.

All of these are what economists call “negative externalities”, which is to say, the cost of someone’s profits is paid in illness and chronic bad health, which also has a monetary cost.  But, y’know, forget the monetary cost for a moment.  If you or someone you know has a chronic health condition, let alone cancer, do you care how many rich people the US has?  If you’re one of the few doing well out of this system, does it matter to you when someone you love is suffering from cancer or chemo, or has diabetes, or struggles to breathe?

A society which makes itself sick and unhealthy the way we do can’t be said to be a good society to live in.  Human welfare is about how enjoyable it is to be alive, and there’s nothing enjoyable about illness, or watching someone you love puking from chemotherapy.

So next time someone talks about pollution, or additives, or “negative externalities”, remember, what they’re talking about is making you or someone you care about unhealthy or downright sick.  Your suffering, or the pain of your fatther, mother, lover, son, or daughter is what makes other people rich and enables the “lifestyle” of various other folks.  The poorer you are, the sicker you are, as a rule, because all you can afford is the highly subsidized crap food, but even if you’re rich and you eat straight organic, hire a trainer, and so on, you can’t avoid all the water, air and food pollution. You or someone you know is still likely to wind up sick, who shouldn’t have.

The suffering of sickness and ill health is one of the prices of what passes, less and less, for prosperity.

Looting Greece while the Greeks Riot

So, apparently EU finance ministers are encouraging Greece to speed up privatization.  Which is to say, let themselves be looted faster, and transfer public goods into private hands at firesale prices.  Meanwhile, the Greeks themselves continue to riot in all the wrong places.  Folks, if you’re going to riot, go riot where the politicians and bankers are.  March on their mansions, and have your fights with the cops there. As long as it’s you fighting the cops someplace else, they don’t care.  Your master class, who refuse to pay their taxes or to tax each other, will not get serious about anything else other than paying themselves and their foreign friends by looting your country until something more important than money is on the line.

In governmental terms, yes, Greece should restructure.  Roll it all over into 100 year bonds at 1%, and refloat your own currency.  If investors don’t like that, tell them they can have that or nothing.  Slap on capital controls and let everyone know that you will hunt to the ends of the earth any of your rich who try and take capital out of the country.  Start actually taxing the rich.  If they can’t take it, they can leave, without their capital.

Why The Assassination Strategy Doesn’t Work

So, Osama is dead.  Which is to say, he’s a martyr.  Of the many gifts the US gave him in his life, and they were many, this may be the last one.  Some say he didn’t want to be martyred, at least not right this moment, and no doubt that’s true.  But the difference between seeking martyrdom and not minding that much exists.  He didn’t really go that far out of his way to avoid death.  He could have shaved the beard, had some plastic surgery and disappeared into Indonesia.  He would never have been found.  His compound was not heavily guarded.  Bin Laden need never have been in the line of fire.

And remember, unlike most recent American presidents, Bin Laden did lead troops from the front line.  He didn’t dodge combat.

Westerners and global elites tend to think that everyone is like them.  They aren’t.  Leaders of organizations like al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah and Hamas (and I conflate them only in the sense that they are all subject to assassination campaigns by their enemies, not because they are the same type of organization or desire the same things) know that the job comes with a good chance of getting very dead.

Until westerners get this through their soft heads, they will continue to make major strategic errors.  The assassination program against the Taliban may be something they hate, may be something they fear, but it has not stopped them.  The assassination programs run by Israel have as often made their situation worse as better.

In healthy organizations leadership is far less important than western leaders think it is.  Western leaders think they’re indispensable.  They aren’t, and neither is the enemy leadership in most cases.  There are some exceptions, but they are rare in properly operating organizations.  The death of the previous leader makes him a martyr, and the next man in line steps up.  The dead leader, rather than one more reason to quit fighting is one more reason to keep fighting.  The basic policies continue, and the assassination is more likely to make the organization stronger ideologically than to weaken it.

Shorter post: just because for most Western elites nothing is worth dying for, and any price is acceptable to live, doesn’t mean everyone thinks the same way.

More Concrete Bin Laden #’s

60% is certainly better than 87%, but it doesn’t change the fundamental argument.  Go to it.

What Americans Think of Bin Laden's death

Click on the image for full size and more legible.

Our Depravity

Apparently 86% of Americans think that shooting an unarmed bin Laden was ok.

Yeah.  Once up on a time, a different country in a different time, put on trial men who had been complicit, not just in killing a few thousand people, but millions.  They gave those people, known as Nazis, a trial.  But that was a different country, and a different time, when America still at least tried to do the right thing, and when Americans thought doing the right thing was, well, the right thing.

Back then over 50% of Americans didn’t approve of torture, either.  They understood that people who torture are evil.  Period.

Osama bin Laden and the prisoners at Guantanmo are either:

  • Prisoners of war, in which chase they should receive full Geneva convention rights, or;
  • Common Criminals, in which case they have the right to a speedy trial, to face their accusers and to see the evidence against them.

A majority, possibly a vast majority, of Americans, are now morally depraved as a people.  This wasn’t quite true even four years ago.  A slight majority of Americans, at that time, were against torture.  Now they are for it.

End of the line.

This is paralleled by something I see in fiction all the time.  The rise of the cult of the family.  The idea is that anything you do for your family is morally ok.  The first time I noticed that this was out of hand was the movie Patriot.  In that move Mel Gibson refuses for fight for the rebels against England until his family is harmed.

That may be many things, but it is not patriotic.  The deaths of Iraqis killed by the American war criminal George Bush are not less real than Bin Laden’s, they do not matter less, and they are far far more numerous.

The rest of the West is marching down this route of moral depravity as well.  In country after country, recession caused by the outright fraudulent and illegal actions of the rich is responded to by cutting services to the poor, who had nothing to do with it in any way, shape, or form, while billions to trillions are spent making sure the rich are bailed out.  And, say what you will, but populations keep voting these governments in.  Sure, they aren’t as depraved as Americans, but they’re working on it.

We live in a depraved time.  Yes, our elites are evil. Virtually to a man or woman they are monsters.  But we are complicit in this.  Whether in pluralities or outright majorities or in our own depraved indifference we enable them.

Conservatives Win Majority

And with a fairly decent margin.  The collapse of the Liberals in Ontario, and the choice of BC to go largely Conservative seem to have been the key. Looking closely at the results, I don’t think the robocalls were the deciding factor in enough ridings to have changed the overall result.  Hopefully the courts will show their independence and investigate this question aggressively, but with a majority government, Harper will be in a position to shut down such investigations and has show in the past that he has no qualms using such power.

Southern Ontario, outside the city cores, went hard Conservative, in most cases over 50% (call them Alberta South).  This continues the trend of Ontario suburbs thinking that the man who has presided over the destruction of Canadian manufacturing is going to save them by keeping their housing values high and driving Toronto into the ground, because suburbs don’t need healthy cities.  This bet on the part of Canadian suburbanites will work out as well for them as it has for American suburbanites.

Going forward this is probably good for the NDP.  Their job now is to be a good opposition, and to make the case that everything Harper does is wrong, destructive and will be rolled back by an NDP government.  As for the Liberals, job 1 is to ditch Ignatieff, job 2 is to make the case to Ontario that they are the party that can actually run government properly, and make the economy work again.  “You had it pretty good in the 90s, didn’t you?” should be their mantra.  Especially as it looks to me like Canada is about to go into recession, certainly it’s in danger of doing so.  Of course, Harper has 4 to 5 years to try and ride it out, but I’m going to say that now that he has full power, he will screw it up.  He’s that sort of guy.

For Canada?  Not so good.  But, under the rules as they exist (minus the robocalls), the Conservatives won.  Even if Harper did cheat (and I would be highly surprised if the Conservatives weren’t behind the robocalls), it’s highly unlikely that the Courts will call him to account, since he will be in a position to shut down police investigations.  Still, there is nothing he can do that can’t be undone by another majority government, and apparently Canadians need to learn what happens when you let someone like Harper have a majority.  That learning will be unpleasant, but I guess it’s necessary.  In particular for Ontarians, who have voted against their own self interest.  It’s one thing for the Prairies to vote for “loot now, worry about the hangover later”, it’s another for Ontario to vote “make Dutch disease permanent and destroy our industrial base.”

The Canadian Election

Canadian Flag by Joe Sullivan

Photo by Joe Sullivan

Ok, on to what actually matters, today’s Canadian election.  This is going to be a nail biter, and will almost certainly come down to BC.  Over the weekend the Liberals collapsed in Ontario.  Oddly that gives the Conservatives an outside chance at their majority, since it may actually mean that some Conservatives win who otherwise wouldn’t have been viable.  The Liberals are going to be squished back into their safe seats and nothing else.
However this goes, credit to the Quebecois for turning the election upside-down.  Their rush to the NDP, making them front runners in Quebec made everyone else take the NDP seriously.

In America the establishment does everything it can to make what you’re about to witness not happen, by making sure there is no one viable to vote for who is actually left wing.

In the meantime, I am comforted to know that no matter what happens, Michal Ignatieff, the torture apologizing putz who has led Canada’s ruling party to absolute disaster, will soon be out of a job.  The possible outcomes here are so variable, from coalitions to minority governments, to majority governments of either the left or the right that it’s hard to say much about what should be done after the election, till after the election.  I will only note that I hope the NDP has transition teams in place already, because the other parties are going to be waiting for them to stumble.

I doubt I’ll live blog the results, but feel free to use this post during the results countdown, and I may pop in to say a thing or two.  The places to watch are Ontario and BC.  Ontario because the extent of the collapse there means Ontario will determine the very outside possibility of a majority for the Cons or NDP, BC because that’s where it’s going to come down to.

Update: Note that it is illegal to report election results before the close of the last polls, which is 9:30 Pacific time.  This is a law I agree with, and I’m Canadian, so I won’t be posting results before then (and I may be asleep by then.)  Many people on Twitter have said they’ll break the law but I won’t be one of them.

Update 2: Automated phone calls are going out with false statements that residents polling stations have changed.  These calls are happening in Ontario and BC.  Could be Liberal, but I’m betting it’s Conservative as they’ve been big into voter suppression ever since elcted.  It’s a pity that doing this isn’t an offense with a life sentence.  I would suggest that if/when the NDP gets in, they make it so.  These sort of American tactics are not acceptable in Canadian elections.  I’d even consider making it a capital offense, and yes, I’ll be part of the firing squad.

Update 3: In violation of the elections Act, Stephen Harper asked for votes today.  The ridings where the false information is going out seem to be ridings where the Conservatives are in danger of losing the seat.  The Canada Elections Act gives the following as the penalties:

If a judge finds a person guilty of an offence, the person may receive a fine or a period of imprisonment, or both. Under section 501 of the Act, the Court may also impose additional penalties, such as:

  • performing community service
  • performing the obligation that gave rise to the offence
  • compensating for damages, or any other reasonable measure the Court considers appropriate
  • a fine of up to five times the election advertising expenses limit exceeded by a third party
  • with respect to certain offences, the deregistration of a party and liquidation of its assets, and the liquidation of the assets of the party’s registered associations
Deregistration of the party and liquidation of its assets seems appropriate if they’ve been doing the robocalls.  Otherwise I’d be happy to see Harper doing some community service.  Saying helping pick up trash, or clean out a sewer.  The man’s constant disrespect for the law is tiresome.
Update 4: CBC is projecting a Conservative majority.  If so, a moderate disaster, but so be it.  There’s nothing they do that the next government can’t undo, and starting tomorrow that should be Jack Layton’s constant promise.
Update 5: Ontario and BC were indeed the key, especially southern Ontario, which went hard Conservative.  This continues the trend of Ontario suburbs thinking that the man who has presided over the destruction of Canadian manufacturing is going to save them by keeping their housing values high and driving Toronto into the ground, because suburbs don’t need healthy cities.  This bet on the part of Canadian suburbanites will work out as well for them as it has for American suburbanites.

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