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

Month: March 2017 Page 1 of 3

Punishing People in Pain

So, now reliable pain relief is only available from illegal sources?

The Ohio governor unveiled a plan Thursday that targets the place where experts say many opioid addictions begin — the doctor’s office.

Gov. John Kasich’s order limits the amount of opiates primary care physicians and dentists can prescribe to no more than seven days for adults and five days for minors…

…The new limits, which have gotten the blessing of the Ohio Board of Pharmacy, the State Medical Board, and the state’s dental and nursing boards, do not apply to patients who take prescription painkillers for cancer treatment or to dying patients who are already receiving hospice care, Kasich said.

There are plenty of reasons other than cancer and hospice care. It’s a little unclear how strict this will be,

“Health care providers can prescribe opiates in excess of the new limits only if they provide a specific reason in the patient’s medical record,” the state said in a statement.

Nonetheless, I find this crazy and punitive to people who actually need pain medication. Many doctors are already reluctant to prescribe painkillers due to crackdowns, and this will drive people even further towards buying illegal drugs. You certainly want people on codeine or morphine in preference to various synthetic opioids, which can be far more dangerous.

Ohio doesn’t have an opioid addiction problem because of availability; it has one because of deep socioeconomic problems which manifest as personal despair and breakdown. Some people will always use drugs, but “epidemics” of drug use happen when people don’t have better options.

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Trump Signals He’s About to Blow His Foot Off

As Matt says:

The people who care about this include the marginal voters who put Trump over the edge to victory. If this is true? Wow.

I thought Obama’s bungling of the economy and breaking promises would cost him re-election and it didn’t, instead it cost Democrats 1,000 state seats, multiple Governorships, and the House and Senate. So perhaps Trump will slide on this and download the damage to Republicans.

Mexico threatened to hit American corn, which some think is what caused Trump’s retrograde action to the rear. The funny and sad thing is that American corn devastated the Mexican economy after NAFTA. Millions of farmers lost their land and had to go to the slums (and cross the border to America.) Meanwhile American companies bought up the tortilla manufacturers, downgraded the nutrition of the corn based foods and increased the prices: The result was that Mexico had fewer farmers, more slum dwellers, and worse food that cost more. (GDP might have increased.Forcing subsistence farmers into slums can show up as increased GDP as they have to pay for what they used to grow.)

Mexico would be better off out of NAFTA, quite specifically because of corn. Rolling back the clock on agriculture would be hard, but not impossible, and breaking up foreign owned companies would be good for Mexico if done correctly.

If Donald bails on a big NAFTA renegotiation, he’s not just screwing his supporters, he might well be hurting Mexicans too.

Funny. Sad, but funny.

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Britain Starts the Process for Leaving the EU

Article 50, which starts a two-year negotiating period, has been triggered. In principle, this is irrevocable, in practice, perhaps not so, but it’s hard to see May changing her mind.

The EU negotiators primary goal will be to make sure that Britain is worse off after leaving than before. It’s not that this has to be the case, but the EU doesn’t want other nations leaving, and, as when Greece tried to resist European austerity, an example will be made.

May suggested, in her letter, that security cooperation: criminal and defense, might be on the block if a deal can not be made on other concerns. EU negotiators sneered that they would not trade security for anything else.  Obviously, however, it should be on the block, that’s what negotiations are about.

One should point out that the UK, despite all the doom and gloom, is still the world’s fifth largest economy, even if a lot of that is bullshit (inflated by money flows through the city that most Brits never touch and the government hardly taxes.) It is not Greece.

Nonetheless, May’s position is weaker than Brussels’s. As I have noted before, what May really needs is for LaPen to win in France. If both France and the UK are leaving the EU, Brussels will have to buckle; between them they are too large to bully.

I am not a fan of how the EU has developed, but leaving the EU with May in charge of negotiations, with her emphasis on immigration, leaving the European Court of Justice, and intending to take advantage of the withdrawal to gut labor and environmental laws is certainly not the way to do it.

Bottom line, ordinary Britons will get it in the neck on this, not because it has to be that way, but because both May and Brussels want it that way. I do hope that among the EU’s vindictiveness are specific measures intended to hurt the elites who wanted Brexit, and not just vindictiveness aimed at the weakest in society as has largely been the case in Greece.

There is some talk of Scotland and Ireland leaving, but we shall see. Both May and Corbyn have said they don’t support another referendum. As for Ireland, the primary issue will be free border movement, I suspect. It will be difficult to give Northern Ireland what it wants, and still “take control of immigration,” which is the one thing May will be giving to populist concerns.

A sorry show all around, and those Labour MPs screaming about Corbyn should be ashamed of themselves; it being their constant attacks, combined with the media’s straight up lies, which have weakened Labour at this turn.

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Jeremy Corbyn’s Electile Dysfunction

(POST BY MANDOS, just in case you didn’t notice)

I have a theory about why Jeremy Corbyn seems so unpopular in the UK, despite the fact that he represents a lot of policy positions that are in themselves popular. My theory is that, deep down, in their collective subconscious (if not their actual consciousness), the British public doesn’t think that Corbyn will send fighter jets to bomb people in foreign countries on under-substantiated suspicions.

Oh, to be sure, there are lots of other problems faced by Corbyn worth discussing, like an extremely disloyal caucus (although disloyalty is probably not the right word as it presumes that they had once been loyal, and they’d made it clear from the beginning how little they thought of him). But the antiwar thing is basically a deep psychological show-stopper in terms of the electability of leader in any medium-to-major military power.  People may not precisely articulate this discomfort with a leader who doesn’t seem like he’d attack small countries on a small suspicion when world politics suggests that said lethal use of military force is a diplomatic, strategic thing to do.

Now there are actually other things you can do to satisfy this urge. For example, Theresa May already proved her willingness to harm innocents with a pathologically, maniacally, cruel immigration policy, for which she was responsible. That policy has made her credible, governmental. You know that May will send fighter jets to foreign countries when the media requires it.

Now, you may ask, why is being bombing-credible, or at least cruelty-capable so important for the election of a leader? The reason why is that the leader is supposed to Protect Our Children. (I’m using “our” figuratively here, since I’m not British.) You’d do anything for your child, right? If you’re an upstanding, caring parent, that is.  So consider the very slim chance that someone in a foreign country may concoct a successful global takeover plot when you’re dead and your children are old people.  Surely avoidance of such demands a low threshold for long-distance war. After all, it’s either your children or theirs, right?

But Corbyn is perceived as a repudiation of Blair. And there’s nothing that defined Tony Blair more as a politician, nothing that placed him more in history than his willingness to go to war on thin evidence. Corbyn and his core support base are visibly angry at that. And that is, at a ground, atavistic level, killing Corbyn’s candidacy. (As I said, among other things.) Blair may be unpopular now, but most people are willing to issue negative judgements after the fact, having voted for the man before the fact. Blair already Protected Our Children, was believed to be credible on this front, and won elections.

You may protest: There are lots of other things that threaten people’s children, like lack of health care, unemployment, impending global enviropocalypse, and other very real but rather imperceptible problems like those. My experience of watching how the European refugee crisis unfolded, particularly in anglophone media and public opinion watching from outside, is that people perceive threats very differently, and react more viscerally to a low-probability threat from other individual humans than they do from higher-probability things like their own potential poverty or workplace safety and suchlike. An incident of lawlessness in Cologne, perpetrated by a tiny fraction of the refugees and not only them, overshadowed in Western media all of the other things that humans, including refugees, face. Because we have to Protect Our Children.

To be sure, lest someone object, a lot of this attitude descends and is transmitted by certain sorts of elite opinion-makers like newspaper columnists and so on. Yes, that is so. But they are working with a public that is highly primed for this visceral syllogism.

Does my theory about Corbyn’s unpopularity demand that this situation remain so forever? No: I don’t counsel despair. My theory is about explaining what has happened so far. People always have the possibility to choose otherwise. Maybe even in time for the next British elections. You never know.

If Trumpcare Fails

Update: And, they have pulled the bill. Now Trump needs to get a win. (Note: This would have been a loss if it had actually passed, though Trump may not realize that.)

It will be for the best for both America and Trump. The original deal was bad, and the deal that Ryan and Trump have negotiated would have been disastrous–literally worse than no bill at all.

This is true for Americans, who would have worse quality care, along with less, more expensive coverage; and it is true for Trump, who promised something better and whose marginal followers will know he betrayed them. Indeed, polls have shown a collapse of Trump’s approval ratings since the first viewing of the draft bill.

If Trump is pushing for a vote when he knows he doesn’t have the vote, perhaps there’s some dim idea of that fact in there. A bad deal, as Trump knew in the 1980s, is worse than no deal at all.

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Ideology Precedes Policy Which Determines Outcomes

Ok, so…

The results are rather worse than that, actually, and anyone who reads this blog regularly is aware that, for example, working class white male wages peaked in 1968, in real terms. It’s not as if every other demographic has gotten off, either. Slowly the scourge has worked its way thru the demographic and socioeconomic classes, till practically everyone but the top 5% or so is being hit to some extent or another, even if they haven’t lost lifespan—yet.

Marcy Wheeler asks:

Which got me wondering: to the extent this is driven by a failure in ideology — by the failure of the American dream — which comes first, the failed ideology or the rising mortality rates?

. But as we try to figure it out, we ought to be focusing at least as much on how to roll out life and meaning that can sustain Americans again as we are on blaming Putin for our recent failures to do that.

Ideology tells tells you how the world works, what to do, how to do it and why you’re doing it. For example, NeoLiberal ideology has an axiom that “jobs are created by those who have money.”  On the face of it, this seems obvious: nobody without the ability to pay you has ever given you a job, I’d bet.

The corollary of this is “the more money that rich people have, the more jobs there will be”. So, under Neoliberal ideology, you funnel money to the rich and corporations and they create jobs.

Doesn’t actually work, mind you, but that’s what the ideology says.

The ideology also says “money is earned by people because they fill the needs indicated by the market, which represent what people and society want.”

Which means “if you have a lot of money, you deserve to have it because you got it filling other people’s needs”.  It also then follows that people with a lot of money are the sort of people who are good at providing what other people want, so therefore they should have more money so they can provide even more.

Poor people, by this ideology, do not deserve to have much money, because if they were doing something that other people wanted a lot of they’d have a lot of money.

Etc, etc…

Ideology tells people what policies to pursue. Those policies then create results.  With different ideologies, you get very different results.  FDR’s New Deal and the Keynesian consensus after WWII had as its thesis “the more money ordinary people have, the more they will buy, creating demand for products, which will create more jobs.” It also had “money in the hands of rich people doesn’t create demand and does create political problems which damage markets, therefore we should keep them from having too much money.”

The result of those propositions was the best economy in American (and European history), with growth rates higher in the middle and lower classes than in the upper and the rich classes (rich is not upper class, it is beyond.)

Ideology Determines Policy.

Policy Determines Outcomes.

(One might ask “what determines ideology”. Part of the answer will be in the upcoming “Creation of Inequality booklet” I’m about three-quarters finished.)

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The Basic Psychological Structure of Our Society Does Not Work

The Course of Empire by Thomas Cole

The Course of Empire by Thomas Cole

Here’s the thing. Our society only works after generational crises which don’t destroy it. After the Napoleonic Wars, the survivors made Europe more or less work. They got a good long run out of it–a surprisingly long one–but it began going south starting around 1870, and it blew up with WWII.

It went south in ways that are recognizable, by the way. For example, the British Empire pushed laissez-faire trade policies which made the rich richer, but gutted the British manufacturing base over time, moving much of it, ironically, to America.

The system went into crisis from 1914 to 1945, and the Americans took it over and ran it basically well up until the early 70s, about 25 years. Then it went into decline. It’s hard to tell exactly when the end-game crisis start(ed) until we can look back, but if we aren’t in it right now, we’re close.

1945 to 2008 is 63 years. If you count up through to today, it’s 71 years. If the crisis isn’t seen to have started for another ten years, it will be 81.

But the core point here is that it’s very hard to create people who can run a system.

A common refrain is that prosperity destroys character. But that’s not quite right: The people who created the good post-war economy were the FDR types, mostly. People who were adults in the 20s and 30s, who saw what went wrong.

People have a hard time learning from other people’s experiences. They have to see it themselves. So, in the early 70s there is an attempt to get rid of the short-sale uptick rule (you can only short a stock on an uptick of the stock) and it dies in the face of massive backlash. A couple decades later, those people are dead, and even more wholesale revisions to the rules are put in place to prevent another Depression. Finally, Clinton kills Glass-Steagall, the main spar, wholesale, something entirely unthinkable in 1960 when the population had lived through and remembered the reasons Glass-Steagall existed in the first place.

But the rot goes deeper than just, “It’s hard to learn what you didn’t experience.” It goes to the core of how we raise ourselves and our children.

School, as we do it, is a terrible way to raise people. What it actually teaches us is to, “Do what you’re told, when you’re told. Wait to be told how to do things, don’t figure out things for yourself, and give the approved answer, not one you came up  with  yourself.”

It trains drones. It trains people who are meant to spend their adult lives under supervision, doing what they are told, when they are told, and giving their bosses the answers their bosses want.

Those people make fine wage slaves, yes, but they don’t make good citizens. They have been failed to be taught how to think for themselves. Even worse, they have been taught that if a thought of their own should come up, they should keep it to themselves.

Meanwhile, school interactions with peers are terrible. When we call something “high school” we mean horrible peer pressure bullshit. A few people remember high school fondly, but most people remember it as one of the worst times of their lives.

Wage slavery, and I use the term slavery very deliberately, is a terrible system if you want a democracy or a Republic. Mass production consumer societies, in which we choose from menus rather than creating anything ourselves, are terrible for democracies or Republics.

The ways we school people, the jobs most people work at, and the methods through which we distribute goods to people (through money gained by sitting down, shutting up, and doing what you are told) are antithetical to free, egalitarian societies. Only a crisis which forces people to think for themselves and where they have to be trusted for a while can briefly create people suited to political freedom.

But we can’t have world wars and depressions all the time, for what I assume are obvious reasons. So we stagger along, brief good periods sliding into shit periods, regularly.

Of course there is more to it than this, such as cycles of destruction of capital and labor and so on, but much of that is manageable–in theory. It isn’t manageable in practice, not because it couldn’t be done, but because our society–we, ourselves–don’t create the people who can do it.

Freedom, democracy, equality: these things are not compatible with how we order our economic affairs, how we raise our children, or how we condition our adults.

We will not reverse course, this cycle; that doesn’t happen and it won’t. It’s too late. But there is always another cycle. If we don’t want the next cycle to be as disastrous as this one, we must figure out a better way to run our economy, to educate our children, and to live as adults. A way suited to people fit to be free.

This doesn’t mean “work or starve” as many libertarian morons would think; it means allowing real choices to be made, which requires an absence of existential fear while still including consequences. It means teaching children to to be something other than “good workers.” It means jobs that aren’t “you’re a kneepad for the boss or you lose everything.” It means a power structure that does not concentrate wealth and power in the hands of a few and create a gate around access to the good life, which fosters outside of it a subservience born of the desperate knowledge that the good life comes from good jobs, which are in scarce supply.

All of this is do-able. In some sense, most of it isn’t even all that complicated. But that doesn’t mean any of it is easy, and it is hardest because we have been trained to exist in a poverty of imagination, an inability to imagine worlds that are much better than the one in which we live.

We have the technology. What we don’t have is the people. We aren’t the people who can run a good society (this is obvious, as we haven’t).

But as people, we can re-create ourselves and our descendants. Biology is only half destiny, the rest is in our hands.

So far, we’ve been acting like bacteria in a petri dish, rushing to destroy our environment through unchecked, stupid growth.

Let us hope we can prove ourselves wiser than that. Or, instead of us instructing ourselves, Nature will instruct, and her lessons will be harsh.

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Trump Is Now Breaking His Core Promises

On January 26th, I wrote that Trump had yet to break his core promises; that his actions at that point were consistent with the major promises he had made during the election. He had ended TPP, was moving on the immigration bill, was working on the wall, and so on.

He might have lied about a lot of things, but he had yet to lie about what mattered.

However Trump made promises that lay at the core of his ur-promise, which was to make things better for those who the old economy had failed. He is now making those promises into a lie.

Trumpcare is clearly worse than Obamacare. It will not cover things Obamacare covered, will cover fewer people and will cost more.

The budget is a direct strike at the poorest and weakest and at people who voted for Trump in regions whose support he needed, like the Rust Belt. It’s one thing to “cut the state,” it’s another to cut programs that feed hungry adults and children. The extra money to the police state and military will help his people, but not as much as the cuts and the Trumpcare failure will cost them.

He has yet to move on NAFTA, a core promise.

It’s not possible for me to look at what Trump is doing and say, “This will really make a difference to his core supporters.” It won’t.

It’s quite possible than Trumpcare won’t pass, and it’s almost certain that Trump’s budget will take some huge hits before passage as well. But both indicate a failure by Trump to take his promises, and his ur-promises seriously.

Course correction is possible but unlikely. It is rare for Presidents to change from who they are during their first year: Obama never changed from the man who bailed out bankers and the rich, and fucked over small people, for example.

In one sense, this changes little. It will continue the loss of faith in the political system, continue America’s decline and continue on the glide path to the age of war and revolution our world is in. It will happen faster than it would have under Clinton, and more Americans will suffer sooner, but the trend lines remain intact.

In another sense, this is a lost opportunity, not to do the right thing, though some of what Trump promised was the right thing, but to restore some faith. Trump failing, but doing what he promised would be quite a bit different than Trump not even trying to keep his ur-promise, the same as Obama (Change!) or Bush.

So it has been, and it looks like, so it shall be.

So be it.

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