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

Month: November 2012 Page 1 of 2

Interview available for listening

My interview on Virtually Speaking is now up. If you missed it and would like to listen, it can be found here.

We talked about kindness in public policy and about the economics and politics of global warming.

Interview tonight at 9pm EST

I’ll be talking with Virtually Speaking’s Jay Ackroyd tonight at 9pm EST.  Current plan is to discuss kindness as the base prescription for policy and then talk about the implications of Bill McKibben’s 3 numbers on global warming, but if past episodes are any guide we’ll probably cover more ground.

You can listen here.

The Gaza Reminder

is about the value of human life.

When I was a child, my father once threw some Christian evangalists off our property.

They had said, “everyone who doesn’t believe in Christ will go to hell.”

Now my father had a temper, but the way his voice dropped to a whisper, and the step he took towards them screamed incipient violence and they virtually ran.

I didn’t ask why, but he told me.

“I lived in Bangladesh, Malaysia and other Muslim countries for years.  Anyone who tells me that the good people I knew are going to burn in hell, can go to hell.  I’ll have nothing to do with any God who does that or people who believe that.”

I always remembered that.  Truth be told my father was slightly racist himself, he was of that generation.  But he was ashamed of it, he knew better, and he fought it.  What he understood was something simple: every human life has the same value.  Any moral system which places one life above the other is not ethical, it is evil.

We in the developed world, and in America and Israel in particular, don’t believe that.  We don’t even, any more, give it lip service.  And we especially don’t believe that a Muslim life is worth the same as an American life, or an Israeli life, or well, pretty much any non-Muslim life.  When Madeline Albright can say that half a million dead Iraqi children is a price worth paying for the sanctions, even before 9/11, we’ve become inhumane.

Osama bin Laden once asked, rhetorically, if Muslim blood was red, and if Muslim children were worthy of life as much as American children.

Israel is doomed.  The generation of young American Jews do not have the loyalty to Israel, no matter what it does, that older American Jews, as a group, have.  The world is coming to see Israel as an apartheid state, which is what it is.  The demographics are against it, and at some point America will cut Israel off, and Israel’s economy is not sustainable without the US.

And more to the point, somewhere, alive today, is the person who believes that losing Jerusalem is an acceptable price for wiping out Tel Aviv.  That person has been created by Israeli policy, by Western policy and by Saudi policy.  Israel is a small country.  It will not exist in 50 years.  It may be destroyed in an apocalyptic terror attack, it may be destroyed in military action, it may be destroyed by demographics, it may fall apart economically.  Its military advantage is already going away.   Hezbollah took away Israel’s armor advantage, straight up defeating them in their last invasion of Lebanon.  The Israeli air force was unable to substantially dent Hezbollah’s missile force, despite complete air supremacy.  If Hezbollah had had the good missiles, it could have wreaked much more damage.

Right now Hamas has rockets.  They look like something out of the 15th century.  They are pathetic.  It won’t stay that way forever.

All this before we get to the fact that Israel’s military is incompetent.  They are no longer the Israeli military of 68, they are an occupation military, and occupation militaries are only good at fighting weaklings, they always become corrupt, brutal and weak themselves.

Israel faces a stark choice: the two-state solution is no longer viable, there is not enough water and arable land, and too much population.  It can no longer work.  Israel can either become a secular single state, giving a vote and rights to everyone, it can ethnically cleanse out all Palestinians and become a pariah state, or it can cease to exist (option 2 and 3 may both occur).  Its end, moral or physical, may occur through terror, demographics, war, economic collapse, military decline or more likely, some combination, but it is as close to any historical process comes to inevitability.

Israel is acting like a monster, killing vastly disproportionate numbers of Palestinians.  But the grave it is digging, in the not so long run, isn’t that of the Palestinians, it is its own.

W.H. Auden once wrote the line that applies to Israel, and to the Palestinians, for that matter: Those to whom evil is done, do evil in return.

I can find no joy in this, no happiness, but it is what it is.  If Israelis, not Israel the religious-ethnic state, want to avoid catastrophic destruction, their only solution is simple: stop doing evil, and start doing good.

People will dismiss that as naive, but it is the hardest of hard headed pragmatism, and as such, is advice unlikely to be taken.

Those to whom evil is done, do evil in return.

Another note on Republicans

They seem to be moving to change protected works (so called IP) laws, to make them less punitive.  I didn’t expect this, but it makes sense:

1) Hollywood is a Democratic bailiwick, and IP is how they make their money.

2) Libertarians took a couple percent in a lot of states, sometimes more.  Something that can peel back some of that support makes sense.

3) It’s something they can do which appeals to the young, who hate the current regime of protected works.

4) It is fairly populist, and when Dems vote against it, as they will, it will demoralize the Democratic base, again.

Republicans aren’t doing this for any good reasons, but if they do get serious about it, I’ll support them on the issue.

The Democratic party is so right wing now that left flanking the party on some issues makes sense for the Republicans.  And in a sense, this isn’t even all that left, 19th century conservatives hated patents and copyright, and for good reason.

Some Words on the Republican Party

Here’s what I expect from Republicans

1) Immigration reform.  They want it, they need it.  If Boehner is smart (and he’s not stupid, despite what people think), he’ll tie it to the Grand Bargain.  Some money for southern States and municipalities.  A hard lean on Republicans in states which have passed anti-immigrant bills, a sudden rediscovery of the freedom of immigration, and a lot of talk about farmers.  Latinos aren’t innately loyal to the Democrats, who have treated them awfully and Republicans need it to go back to a 60/40 split.  If they’re smart they’ll have Republican legislators stand up and start making statements about how America is land of immigrants, framing it as a matter of principle.

2) No more rape comments.  Many Americans don’t like people justifying rape, that much is clear.   They’ll still be anti-abortion, but not pro-rape (at least, not in public).

3) The presidential candidate in 4 years will be a tea-party type who isn’t connected to the nasty anti-immigrant stuff, and who hasn’t made really offensive comments about rape.  He will run on jobs, jobs, jobs (Romney tried, he wasn’t credible), and will be pushing fracking, while trying to reassure suburbanites that won’t mean flaming water for them.  He will be going after the working class, hard, who will be desperate for a good economy by then.

This will represent a move slightly to the left on social issues though they’ll still be so far to the right they’re in danger of going off stage.  It will not mean a move to the left on economic issues or security state issues.

Some Personal Thoughts

Recently I had a day where I burned out on anger.  Oh  yes, when it comes to public affairs I’ve been angry for years, though I think rage is the more applicable word.  I don’t think this rage was misplaced, and I still get spasms of it.

The reason for the rage is simple enough: we’re killing and making a lot of people suffer who don’t need to with our political policies, economic policies just being a subset of politics.  The financial collapse was forseen by many, myself included and we told the powers that be what to do to avoid it.  The rise of economic inequality, which is correlated with pretty much every bad thing you can imagine, from heart attacks to infant mortality to bad performance in school and crime (read the Spirit Level if you need this proved in tedious detail), has been going on since the mid 70s at the latest, and was clearly visible by the mid eighties.  It was, and is a clear policy choice.  It was chosen in response to a real problem, the end of cheap oil and the rise of the oilarchy rich, but it was a choice, there were other ways of dealing with the problem available.  First the Brits, then the Americans, then the Canadians and then various other nations chose the policy option which would lead to increased inequality.  This was combined with a concerted assault on civil liberties, in this case I believe starting in America with the War on Drugs.  Society became more totalitarian, whatever the trappings, and less free, not just in government, but in every part of our lives.  I find the way we treat our children today, with virtually no freedom, particularly odious (no your precious children are not in more danger than children in the 60s and 70s who were allowed to run free).  Police in schools are routine now, we imprison people in stunningly cruel prisons for minor crimes and so on.  Visiting Britain was like visiting a starter project for Orwell’s 1984, with CCTV cameras everywhere.

Our response to the financial crisis, a totally optional crisis which was based almost entirely on fraud, was to make the poor and the middle class pay through austerity, while bailing out the rich with trillions and trillions of dollars.  We gutted property rights completely so that banks could easily foreclose on homeowners and four years in, the economy, for ordinary people, has never recovered.  We are now in a depression, and if it’s not yet a Great Depression, it’s bad enough.  Now when I say pay, I mean suffer.  People died, wives and children were beaten, people became homeless, lost their jobs, their health and their self respect because of a completely optional crisis and the criminals who caused the crisis were not just let off, they were rewarded with a huge bailout.

This was done in a bipartisan manner, but it could not have happened in the form it did without Obama.  To give just one example, TARP was going to not pass the House.  Nancy Pelosi was going to let it fail if the Republicans wouldn’t vote for it in equal proportion to Democrats.  This is a fact, I was following it closely at the time as it was my job to do so.  Calls were running between a 100:1 to 1200:1 against TARP.  Obama got down and dirty and twisted arms, and I do mean twisted.  Serious threats were made.  TARP would not have passed without Obama.  This policy of bailing out criminals who caused death and suffering continued throughout Obama’s reign.

Meanwhile there is the drone program.  The drone program is not the worst thing Obama has ever done, not even close.  What it is is completely unnecessary and counterproductive evil.  Bombing weddings and funerals and killing innocent civilians, including women and children, is not making America safe, it is doing the exact opposite.  The next great terrorist attack on the US, and there will be one, will be done by someone outraged by the wanton murder of the drone program.

We could go on and on, the point is simple enough.  Evil has been done, and it is unnecessary evil. There were other options, I’ve written of them many times, and I’m not going to bother going over it again.  Obama and Dems in Congress could have instituted different policies if that’s what they wanted to do.  They didn’t.  Bush and his Congress could have if they wanted to, they didn’t.  Clinton, well, you get the idea.

Ok then, enough about politicians.  They are what they are, and with the amount of money they stand to earn in their post-political career from carrying financial interests water it would take significant incentives to change their actions.  Those incentives would be primarily social, and I believe they could be applied if Americans, or Brits, or Canadians really wanted to, but that’s neither here nor there, and not the subject of this post.

The people who sadden me are left-wingers who carried Obama’s water, who I know know better.  I know they know his record.  I know they know where this is all leading.  I know because I was a professional blogger for years.  I’ve met these people in person, I have corresponded with them, and I have talked to many of them.  I have worked with many of them.

They know what Obama is, and they lied about him.

I know of only one rule of writing, which is that you tell the truth as  you know it.  I may be wrong, I may be full of shit (many people think so), but I tell the truth as I know it at the time I write to my readers.

What I have seen, from many lefties, bloggers and non-bloggers, is that they have become compromised.  One needs the Supreme Court to stay as it is for his career, another works for a union think tank, and the policy is to carry Obama’s water, so he carries their water.  Another got the words on gay rights he wanted, so he carries Obama’s water as he did in 2008, acting as Obama’s outlet for rumors they couldn’t plant in the media directly.  A few are honest sellouts, admitting why they are carrying the water, others aren’t.  Some make the lesser evil argument honestly, most don’t.

And what I realized one sad day is that most of them are limited.  I am a left winger, and what academic training I have is in sociology.  I believe that people are, largely, a product of their environment.  If we want better people, we need a better environment.  To blame the poor as a group for their own travails is stupid, if they had richer parents, they would have different outcomes and be different people  The same is true of the rich, the middle class, and so on.  They are products of their environment, and most people are little more than that. Nothing is more pathetic than people acclaiming their identity through the TV shows they consume, the branded clothes they wear and so on.  They are simply choosing from a menu created by others.  They are limited people, products of their environment, claiming they are something more.

I thought many of my ex-colleagues were more.  I really did.  I believed that they had some ability to stand outside society, even a little bit, and see it for what it was, and that in that detachment they could find honesty and an ability to see the world beyond the lens of their own place and their own needs.  Upton Sinclair’s comment, “it is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” is the perfect description of a limited person, intellectually and morally.  If we cannot see beyond our own self-interest, or beyond our own need to feel good about ourselves, then we will never seen the world with anything even approaching clarity.  If we cannot separate our interests from the interests of other people and from the interests of society, we are not fit to play any role in running society or commenting on it.

The error, in the end, was mine, I realize.  I thought certain people were more than a product of their environment, more than a base need to do whatever it took to pay their bills and believe themselves still good people while doing so.  I was wrong.  The number is far fewer than I thought.  Far, far fewer.

The consequence of a debased class of influentials, which is what we are talking about, is a debased understanding of the world.  The more incorrect peoples understanding of the world, the more they will make incorrect decisions about what to do, and the more they do that the worse off they, and society, will be.  When even people who know Obama’s record lie for him, when even people who understand the glide path that America is on pretend Obama is going to fix that, Americans live in a world of delusion.  Of course they don’t make correct decisions, they are getting constant incorrect information.  This isn’t just about what used to be called the MSM, this about the alternatives, the people who are the outliers.

I was part of political blogging when it was new, and a big deal, and intellectually exciting.  When bloggers thought that their job was to tell truth both to power and to the masses.  That world is gone, and the people who remain, with a few exceptions, no longer do that, no longer even believe in doing that.

Some will say this is a very self-congratulatory post, and that I’m patting myself on the back as truth teller, and oh, there are so few of us.  Whatever.  This is the world I see, and it is a world I lived in, worked in, was a senior member of.  And this is not about self-congratulation, it is about sadness.  I am saddened at the way people I knew, people I had respect for, have debased themselves for so very, very little.

If society is to function again for the benefit of all a lot of things need to be done.  One of them is to fix the world of influentials, of whom bloggers are very minor members.  To be an influential should be to be an intellectual, and to be an intellectual is to be able to stand outside ones own society, to see it through the dual eyes of an outsider and a member, then report the truth of what one sees.

One must be, then, more than product of one’s circumstances, more than a function of one’s personal interests.

Perhaps there is no place for such people in society today, perhaps the audience doesn’t want those people.  But I don’t believe that, because I personally never had any problem generating traffic.  The problem is that at a certain point, in blogging, traffic stopped paying, because the amount advertisers paid to the content creators on the web dropped through the floor, in large part because Google figured out how be the middle man and take almost all the money.  So if you want to make money online you either need to exploit your contributors (not pay most of them) or you need to sell out.

But I’ve moved away from my main point.  People respond to incentives like Pavlov’s dogs.  If you want to be more than a dog, you have to train yourself to overcome your conditioning.  It’s hard, and you won’t be able to do it all the time (and if you did, you’d be thrown in an insane asylum or be so non functional in society you’d be ostracized), but it is what is required to be an honest, useful influential.  But knowing and believing something is only one part of it, you must then tell it.

A lot more people are going to suffer and die due to policies which are evil.  Part of what makes that happen are the people who know better and lie, part of that is due to the people who convince themselves that evil is necessary because it is in their interests.  They are not the most responsible, no.  But they are responsible.

And I really did think better of so many of them.

Become more than your background, more than a function of the incentives placed in front of you.  See the evil you yourself do, your society does, and stop needing to feel good about yourself.

Stop being someone else’s dog.

On Flanders Field

By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Reality about America’s Future

Now that the silly season is over, let’s be really clear where events are headed.

1) Obama is reelected.  He never needs your vote ever again. What he does need, to become as rich as Bill Clinton, is people to buy his speeches.  If you don’t have 500K or so hanging around to pay for an ex-POTUS speech, you are no longer part of his constituency.  Practically speaking, he needs to make sure people in the financial industry have the money and inclination to make him rich once he’s no longer President.

2) Idiot triumphalism aside, the electoral count was deceptive.  The Republicans didn’t lose by that much in key electoral states.  The Democrats are not cruising for 20 years of control of the Presidency.  There will be a Republican president again, that is an existential certainty.  The Republicans didn’t want this election very much, and did not really push for it.  There are good reasons for that.

3) The Republican party are reactionaries, who want to repeal the 20th century.  The Democrats are conservatives.  There is no major left wing party in the US.  Since avowed left-wingers won’t even vote for third parties in states where Democrats will win for sure, like New York, third parties can be written off for the time being, especially on the left.  If there is a third party which will rise, it will be on the right.

4) The Republicans and the Democrats agree on many issues, disagreeing mostly on social issues.  Even on social issues, the differences are in the margins.  Obama deported more Hispanics than Bush, but is ok with letting college educated young Hispanics stay, which was enough to buy the Hispanic vote, since they came here to build a better future for their children.  Obama overruled his drug administration’s scientists to make sure that Plan B did not become an OTC medication, because as a father he would want to know.  (Of course, if an underage female needs Plan B, in a lot of cases it will be because her father or other family member raped her.)  Obama signed an executive order saying that federal money could not be used for abortion.

5) On civil liberties, as opposed to social issues, there is no real space between the two parties.  Obama has increased surveillance, arrogated the right to kill American citizens without a trial, and instituted more cases against whistle blowers than any President in history.

6) Obama wants a Grand Bargain.  This will mean some nominal tax increases on the rich, and a pile of cuts to the middle class and the poor, especially the young.  SS & Medicare will be cut.

7) Bush tried to cut SS, he failed.  Obama will succeed, cutting SS and Medicare is something only a Democrat can do.  Moreover he will make Dems vote for it, and the Republicans will only give him enough votes to pass, most of them will vote against it, thus making Republicans the party of SS and Medicare.  There will also be massive cuts to the federal bureaucracy and even further cuts to programs like food stamps (which continues to exist only because farmers want it.)

8 ) Obama is, thus, moving to austerity. The economy will be ok till he gets what he wants, then it will crater.  Give it two years, after the mid-terms, you’re toast.

9) Americans have decided they want catastrophe.  There is NO significant force in US society pushing against having a disaster.

10) The US is trying to become a petro-state through fracking.  It won’t help most Americans, and it will do massive environmental damage.  It will also accelerate global warming.  Yes, Obama is better on global warming than Republicans, but he’s not enough better to matter, he is, in fact, making it worse.  Your grandchildren will ritually curse your very names.

11) America will have another major war within 10 years.  That’s what empires in decline do.  It could be with Saudi Arabia, it could be with China, it could be with someone else.  It will happen, because a President will be in a bind, and think “I’ve got this big military, why don’t I use it to solve my problems?”

12) Inequality will continue to increase, with dips during recessions.  Wages and wealth of ordinary Americans will continue to drop.  There will be a small housing recovery, due to massive Fed intervention, keeping homes off the market and deliberate destruction of homes, but it will not get back to a bubble.

13) The Fiscal Cliff will most likely be averted this time, but it will happen again after the next financial crash.  If that one is avoided, it will happen again.  At some point, it won’t be averted.  The US will have no choice at that point but to move to full war footing.  If you don’t get a big war before that point, you will then.

14) The fiscal cliffs won’t be avoided forever because the rich aren’t really going to tax themselves at the necessary rates. If they do that, they don’t get ahead.  Every collapse, they have to bailed out by someone else, if they aren’t, they’re destroyed.  They know this.  The key financial assets they held, at the depth of the crash, before the Fed started accepting them, were worth 10 cents on the dollar at best.

15) Europe is not going to fix its problems until the Euro collapses.  There will likely be civil wars, Spain is one obvious place it may happen.  Greece is almost certainly going to be taken over by the Golden Dawn, who aren’t even neo-Nazis, but rather the real thing: straight up Nazis.  The rich would rather deal with Nazis than with the left.  That isn’t going to work out for them, but they don’t realize that.

16) In the 20s the Europeans relied on America to be the engine of growth, that didn’t work out.  In the current day, the world is relying on China to be the engine of economic growth, and that isn’t going to work out either.

17) After the fiscal cliff that isn’t managed, and after the big war, the US will have a full fledged economic collapse, on the order of Russia after the USSR collapsed, but worse because most Americans don’t actually own their houses (they have mortgages), don’t have gardens where they can grow food, and don’t have good public transit.

18) History is mutable.  This is now the glide path.  It is most likely.  The details can change, but the endgame is virtually certain.  Since no one in the US wants to stop collapse and catastrophe, it will happen.

19) After it happens, the current generation in power will be thrown out on their asses by the young, who will have to fix America.  We’ll see if they have what it takes to do it.  Expect them to be very cruel to the old, who they will view as having screwed up everything and put the entire bill on them.  Among other things, expect an end to so-called intellectual property (a misnomer), expect the financial class to be gutted and expect a radical rewrite of bankruptcy laws.

20) This is an optimistic scenario.  The less optimistic (but possibly realistic) scenario has a “charismatic leader” of some variety take over and institute a dictatorship of some variety.  Many Americans will be begging for such a figure to arise, feeling that only a strong man can make the country work again.

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