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

Month: April 2018 Page 1 of 2

Peace in Korea and the Trump Paradox

So, North Korea and South Korea are discussing an official peace treaty to end the Korean war; the two countries have only been under an armistice. Kim Jong Un has met with his South Korean counterpart and has made noises about ending North Korea’s nuclear program in exchange for guarantees of peace.

It appears that the move to meet with Trump is still on and will probably happen.

When I wrote about this previously, a lot of people thought it was impossible because Trump is incompetent.

But it’s steaming ahead, though not yet guaranteed.

Which leads us to the Trump paradox: He won the primary and the election, yet he’s incompetent? He lived like a very rich man, even if his business is deeply dubious. He got most of what he wanted from life.

And he may get a Korean peace deal, something no President since the Korean war has been able to achieve (or perhaps didn’t want to achieve–in which they were wrong).

So what is competence? If you crush all your primary opponents and win the Presidency are you incompetent?

Well, yeah, about some things. Clearly Trump is incompetent in a lot of ways. But I recall an interview I read with Bannon (behind a paywall I can’t get past right now) in which the interviewer said to Bannon: “If you could get even Trump elected, could you get me elected,” and Bannon said (paraphrased): “No dude. Trump was a blunt instrument. He was able to do rally after rally, speech after speech, like a machine, far more than Clinton could do. For that sort of thing he had endless energy.”

In other words, at rallies and in whipping up crowds, Trump was the amazing energizer bunny of presidential candidates.

People keep underestimating Trump. The Clinton campaign went so far as to do their best to help him win the primary, assuming that he’d be easy to crush in the general.


If a Korean peace treaty is signed while Trump is President, let alone if Kim gives up his nukes, that will be a great accomplishment.

Of course it could well be bullshit. It could fall apart. But we’re now closer than we have been in almost 70 years.

We could use a little more incompetence like this.

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Why the “If You Don’t Work, You Don’t Eat” Is a Hell Ethic

Once upon a time, most of humanity lived in a condition of scarcity.

There was a lot of work to do, and unless you were disabled, you could do it.

When a farm needs work done, it needs to be done. In hunter-gatherer societies, one can usually step away from the campfire and look for food.

There is work to be done, and you can do it.

It is not fair, reasonable, or adaptive, for someone who can work, in such societies, to not work.

This has been true for virtually all of human history, but it stopped being true some time during the industrial revolution.

We gained the ability to make more stuff than we needed AND we gained the ability to do more damage than whatever we made.

Well, strictly speaking we’ve always been able to do more damage than the work was worth, but the industrial revolution increased that potential by some orders of magnitude.

Right now, probably about a third of all the work done in the world is harmful. We would be better off if it wasn’t done–most of the carbon extraction industry, most of the airline industry…practically all of what amounts to deciding who owns what, is harmful, because it involves people using carbon to go places and do things that really don’t need to be done.

Our lives include vast amounts of environmental and human pollution. This extends far beyond where it’s obvious, and it’s obvious everywhere.

For example, there appear to be no studies which don’t show a correlation between time spent on social media and lowered happiness and mood, and yet social media is one of the flagship industries of our era.

We work like dogs at jobs that either don’t need to be done, or are harmful, and thus can’t care for our children, so we hire strangers to care for our children. We fly on jets we hate, after going through airport security that is dehumanizing, dumping huge amounts of carbon into the air.

And we build items, like the old lightbulbs, which could last almost forever, with death switches so we can sell even more of them.

And yeah, we’re destroying the biosphere, choking it with plastic, and causing runaway climate change. We know we’re doing it, and we keep doing it.

So, jobs. There’s a lot of talk about a job guarantee. And that might be great, if those jobs would be ones that added to human welfare beyond giving some people some money, but under current governments and corporations, they won’t. What we need to do is give people the food, housing, and other resources they need, and giving them a job is a roundabout way to do it.

While a guaranteed income has its own issues, at least it doesn’t create jobs that probably aren’t necessary. We already have excess capacity–more food than we can eat, more manufacturing than we use. We don’t need more. We need less, and less in ways that feel like the same: items that aren’t engineered to fail, food that isn’t unhealthy for us, jobs that involve less work, and more time with our families and friends.

One of the great problems with culture is that ethics that were once mostly adaptive, like “work or don’t eat” linger on even after they become maladaptive. (Another example is “have lots of children.”)

But we’re emotionally attached to them: We take our self worth and self-image from them, and thus we cling to them even as they harm us both individually and as a civilization.

Time to stop. The problem isn’t that we don’t have enough jobs–or even that we don’t work hard enough. The problem is that we distribute resources primarily through jobs, when too many jobs add little or negative welfare to the world (for instance virtually every job in finance, sadly).

People don’t need jobs. They need the resources jobs allow them to buy.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

Centrist Elites: Please Save Democracy from Democracy

Yeah, I’m going to generalize from this, but it fits a long-time pattern.

In other words, to protect democracy, there must not be internal party democracy.

This is similar to what the lawyer said when defending the DNC against a suit charging them with interfering in the primary:

‘“There’s no right to not have your candidate disadvantaged or have another candidate advantaged. There’s no contractual obligation here . . . it’s not a situation where a promise has been made that is an enforceable promise,” Spiva noted. “We could have voluntarily decided that, ‘Look, we’re gonna go into back rooms like they used to and smoke cigars and pick the candidate that way.’”

In a state with two major parties, being frozen out of the primaries is being frozen out of democracy; having primaries fixed is fixing the election.

Democracy is terribly inconvenient in that people often do things their “betters” would rather they didn’t. However, not having a democracy is embarrassing, so folks like Spiva & Alter want the appearance of democracy without the reality.

For most of their lives, this more or less worked: They got the neoliberal drones of their dreams–Reagan, the Bushes, Clinton, Obama. Despite some protests otherwise, they weren’t unhappy with Bush, Jr.; they supported him massively, including the NYT covering up his spying program until after the 2004 election so that he wouldn’t be hurt. They certainly supported his key programs like the Iraq war.

But they haven’t understood that something changed after 2008; for a lot of Americans, the economy rolled off the cliff. Despite endless whinging, the fact is racism, anxiety, and the economy are all related, and Trump doesn’t happen if 2008 doesn’t happen and if the “recovery” isn’t bungled. It also doesn’t happen if the media sector is still functional, has a fairness doctrine, and isn’t 90 percent owned by six big players.

The elites created Trump: He is the end result of neo-conservatism, its apex product. He cannot happen in the post-war liberal regime; that mode of failure looks more like Nixon.

As for Cuomo, he’s a horrible, right-wing person who deliberately spiked Democrats when they were about to take control of the New York legislature, and is otherwise scum almost all the way down the line. No one actually left-wing likes him, some cooperate with him out of fear, as they should, because he’s a vindictive bastard.

But that doesn’t apply to Alter, because he’s not left-wing. He’s a neoliberal, anti-democratic member of the media elite.

And democracy is something they hate.

Message to elites: Citizens will more or less let you run democracies without much interference as long as you run them, substantially, for the citizen’s benefits. When you drive the economy off a cliff and laugh when it crashes, then say “Hey, the economy has recovered,” when it hasn’t, they get uppity.

Either double-down on your real desire, a police state, or live with the fact that democracy means people you don’t like get to run for office. Horrors: They might even win. I’ve had to accept this all my adult life and I have done so because I believe people have the right to choose. Even when they make choices I abhor.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.


Assange, Wikileaks, and Shooting the Messenger

Julian Assange

So, as you have probably heard, Ecuador, which is housing Julian Assange in its London embassy, has restricted all communication by him to outsiders, save his lawyers. No visitors, no phone, no email.

They have even gone so far as to install radio jammers.

The proximate cause of this is that Assange supported Catalan independence and Spain is furious.

The Intercept has a long piece on Assange’s silencing by Ecuador, and I’d appreciate it if you read it. (The debunking of the “Catalan independence is caused by Russia” is particularly necessary in these hysterical days.)

I’m aware that a lot of people, and especially these days, a lot of left-wingers who loved him when he was goring right-wingers other than Hillary Clinton, hate him, but this is ludicrous.

Catalan independence has a long history in Spain.

And, more to the point, it is legitimate to support people’s right to vote themselves out of countries they don’t want to be in. You may not agree with that, you may think people shouldn’t have the right of self-determination, but it’s a strongly ethical position with a lot of support.

To silence someone for speaking such an opinion is pathetic, and that it is done due to obvious political pressure doubly so.

Wikileaks has been a net positive for the world. A lot of people don’t believe this, but in almost all cases that comes down to disliking WHO Wikileaks has hurt with particular revelations.

Like it or not, the DNC leaks were legitimate news: The DNC interfered in the Democratic primaries to help one candidate, and people should know that–that information is in the public interest.

If you don’t want to be outed for doing shitty things against the public interest, don’t do them. And if doing shitty things against the public interest helps you lose an election you should have won, well, Jesus, do I have to spell this out further?

Meanwhile, the DNC has decided to sue Wikileaks for publishing the DNC material–material that was clearly in the public interest. (Also the Russian government, Trump, yadda, yadda).

Again, hate Wikileaks or not, publishing the material in question (and the DNC does not claim that Wikileaks participated in the hack) is a legitimate journalistic enterprise, well-covered by the freedom of the press.

Folks, rights do not belong only to people you like for ends with which you agree. That’s why they are rights.

As for the DNC and the Democratic party, their continued desire to blame everyone but themselves for their loss in 2016 bodes ill. Oh, they’ll be back in power in this years mid-terms, and possibly in 2020, but that will remain all they can do: Win when Republicans shoot themselves in the foot.

Remember that 2008 was Democrats to lose, Republicans were reviled. (And, though people forget it, for over a month towards the end of the campaign, Obama was behind. He did his best to lose it.) Then, while Obama stayed in power, Republicans took most State houses, governorships, and both the House and Senate.

Now I hear squealing about how Sanders shouldn’t run in 2020. The reason given is rarely just his age (which is a legitimate concern), it’s usually something like “some of his followers say nasty things” and “he’s divisive.” This is amusing, because he’s the most popular politician in the country; he regularly polls as beating Trump by the largest margin of any likely 2020 Democratic candidate, and yeah, if you care, he is more popular with blacks and women than he is with white males.

Assange is a side-issue. A bogeyman. And for all that Russia did some stuff, so is Russia. US pathologies originate in the US–at most they are taken advantage of by outsiders. The same is true of Spain.

Shoot the messenger, if you must, the message remains the same. Clean your house.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

Open Thread

I’ve been spending most of my time lately either praying to the porcelain God or wishing I felt other than I do. Nausea being bad for writing (at least for my writing, perhaps you write great while sick to your stomach), please use this thread to talk among yourselves.

I devoutly hope to return to writing soon!

Gulf Stream Likely to Reverse Sooner than Expected

Yeah, so this is bad news.

“I think we’re close to a tipping point,” climatologist Michael Mann told ThinkProgress in an email. The AMOC slow down “is without precedent” in more than a millennium he said, adding, “It’s happening about a century ahead of schedule relative to what the models predict.”

The impacts of such a slowdown include much faster sea level rise — and much warmer sea surface temperatures — for much of the US East Coast.


A slow-down in deepwater ocean circulation “would accelerate sea level rise off the northeastern United States, while a full collapse could result in as much as approximately 1.6 feet of regional sea level rise,” as the authors of the U.S. National Climate Assessment (NCA) explained in November.

If we actually do hit the tipping point, then Europe gets a lot colder (remember, most of Europe is farther north than most of Canada’s population and is kept warmer by the Gulf Stream), and the Eastern Coast of North America gets sea level rises.

All bad. Of course, it may not happen, we’ll see. But that’s the issue. We are playing with systems we don’t fully understand. Natural systems tend to change slowly, then suddenly flip over towards new norms. If we get hit by such a flip, it could damage our civilization far more than most people seem to think.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

The Unemployment Rate Isn’t Used to Keep Unemployment Low (with Graph)

Years ago, I complained to my friend Stirling Newberry that the unemployment rate didn’t seem to track how good the economy felt, or how many people were in desperate need of employment.

The unemployment rate was, then, and is now, taken as a proxy for the health of the economy for ordinary people. However, I could see and feel that the economy was getting worse for ordinary people, and that fact was showing up in other statistics. Plus, unemployment rates that were considered a crisis when I was young in the 70s, were now considered acceptable.

(See: The Economy Has Not Recovered, With Graphs)

Stirling said, “You need to know who an economic statistic is designed for, and what they use it for.”

A little history is necessary here, about inflation. In the 70s, due to the oil crisis and other mishandled economic problems, inflation got out of control in the West. Very high interest rates were used to bring it down, by Chairman Volcker at the Fed. Western policy makers became obsessed with inflation. It was considered Enemy Number One. They decided that the worst cause of inflation was wage increases and called this “wage push inflation.”

To track this, they turned to a statistic called the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment (NAIRU). NAIRU was the rate below which the unemployment rate was assumed to cause inflation.

The unemployment figure measures the number of people actively looking for jobs, compared to those who have jobs, remember. Thus it measures the active demand, in the market, for a job. Therefore, theoretically, if there are too few people looking for jobs, employers are expected to have to raise wages to attract workers.

(This is, to be clear, when wages rise the most, which is something non-economists and non-oligarchs want to happen.)

If you are old enough, you will remember that during the 80s and 90s, and even into the 00s, when the unemployment rate would drop, the stock market would take losses. This is because stock investors expected the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates, which is bad for the economy and bad for stocks.

So, the unemployment rate from late 70s and on, has been used to determine if wages should cause inflation, and to then raise interest rates to make sure they don’t.

Not incidentally, the result is also to crush wages, because, essentially, wages that improve are nothing more than wages that increase faster than non-wage inflation.

The unemployment rate not only doesn’t measure how good the economy feels for ordinary people, it was actually used, with purposeful action, to crush wages.

You’ve all been waiting patiently for your pretty graph, so here it is.

NAIRU vs Unemployment vs Fed Funds

NAIRU (Civilian Unemployment Rate) vs Unemployment (Natural Rate of Unemployment) vs Effective Federal Funds Rate

You’ll notice that while effective federal funds rates (the green line) increase during low unemployment periods (the red line) before Volcker, it is after Volcker that they correlate strongly to whether the unemployment rate is approaching or below NAIRU. Before Volcker, the unemployment rate is often below NAIRU and people get a lot of raises.

Note, in particular, and with amusement, that the flat, blue line rate (the natural rate of unemployment) in recent years shows a period where unemployment has stayed above NAIRU. Note that Yellen started talking about increasing rates as the unemployment rate came closer to NAIRU.

Your wages were crushed, deliberately, supposedly to crush wage inflation.

And this is why unemployment doesn’t have very much to do with how the economy feels for ordinary people, especially not now (it effects how the economy feels some, but not much). Unemployment has to get below NAIRU and stay there for you to get real wages.

I will point out, for completeness, that the idea that wages are the most important source of inflation is questionable, but I’ll deal with that at a later date.

(Read: A More Detailed Look at the End of the Post-war Liberal Era)

Originally published Feb 17, 2006. Back to the top because it is an actually important post. We just recently had another case of the stock market declining due to low unemployment rate figures. This is why.

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The Push for War with Syria (and Russia?)

So, we have another allegation that Assad has used chemical weapons. I’ll be straight: The guy has everything to lose by doing so, and nothing important to gain, so I doubt it.

Virtually all the pundits are crying for war; Marcon is onside (and claims to have proof of the chemical attack), Tony Blair is onside, and so on.

Trump, having learned from past attacks that the only thing the media almost-universally likes that he does is bombing people, seems to be considering attacking, despite his past avowals that America shouldn’t be in Syria. For example:

Attacking Syria is insanity. Even if chemical weapons were used, it’s none of the US’s business, and yeah, as noted many times before, Russia is there, and war with Russia should be avoided.

The main reason that I didn’t endorse Clinton was that she was deranged on Syria and Russia, wanting a no-fly zone after the Russians intervened, appearing to personally hate Putin, and so on.

The Republicans and Trump, of course, are deranged on Iran instead.


So, it’d be nice if the US would not overreact here. Syria’s been a nasty, unpleasant war, which is almost over now. Let’s keep it that way. The US should never have been involved in the first place, as they have no important interests in Syria and, well, war is bad and should be avoided in most cases.

Perhaps Americans could, in general, learn to mind their own goddamn business? The world, and the US, would both be better places.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

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