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

Month: June 2018 Page 1 of 2

Is Ocasio-Cortez the Start of a Movement?

Most of you have, probably, by now, heard of Ocasio-Cortez, the insurgent Democratic Socialist candidate who defeated incumbent Joseph Crowley in a New York House Primary–and by a large margin.

Ocasio-Cortez is, for the US, quite radical: free tuition, true universal health care, re-instating Glass-Steagall and he out-and-out called Israelis shooting Palestinians a massacre when it was, in fact, a massacre.

Ocasio-Cortez is not the only such candidate to win in this cycle, but she is the most visible and Crowley was touted by many as Nancy Pelosi’s likely heir in the House Leadership. The New York Times barely even covered her, they just assumed Crowley would win.

Now it has been observed by many that the reason the Republicans are very right-wing is that they are scared of their base: An incumbent is more likely to lose in a primary than a general.

The Netroots movement that ran from about 2003 to 2010 had as its goal “more and better Democrats,” and tried repeatedly to take down Democrats from the left. By and large it failed and so the Democrats continued to be what they’ve always been; a party which agrees with 80 percent of what Republicans do, but wants to be a little nicer about it.

What matters about Ocasio-Cortez and her small cohort is whether they are precursors of a larger change. Will Democrats challenging from the left win, and win often? Will incumbent Democrats have to move left to try and hold their seats? (Crowley tried, but he wasn’t credible.)

I have long agreed with my friend Stirling Newberry that 2020-24 is the change-point in the US. It is at the point where, simply due to age, Boomer politicians will have to give up power, and younger politicians (Millenials and GenZ or whatever we call it now) will take over. A few leaders may come from GenX, but not many, because we are too few, and anyway, as a generation, we have awful politics.

If this first wave turns out to have what it takes, and have a decent ideology they stick to, then the US stands a chance at a sharp turn towards becoming a kinder, more equal nation which is better to live in. (And Ocasio-Cortez’s plan for environmental change is stunningly good: a massive green build-out which many have suggested for decades.)

I am simultaneously optimistic and pessimistic. While Millenials overall have fairly good politics according to polls, the generation after that is more questionable. Further, as with Boomers, it may not be those with good politics who win most (no, the hippies did not storm Congress in the 70s.)

But this is the early movement of the hinge. The door opens fully between 2020 to 2024 and that will determine the future of the US.

If you wish to see a precursor, watch Corbyn in Britain. Just as Britain preceded the US into neoliberalism with Thatcher, it may precede the US during this turn of the hegemonic sub-ideology.

(Oh, and Ocasio-Cortez? She uses the phrase “For the many, not the few,” which is Labour’s motto under Corbyn.)

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The Supreme Court Replacement of Justice Kennedy

So, Kennedy is standing down, and Trump will get to choose his replacement. A few points.

  1. Of course Democrats should not allow a vote until after the next election, since that’s what the Republicans did with Scalia’s replacement, which should have been Obama’s to make.
  2. This is not about the principle of people getting to vote (they did.) Republicans did not stop Obama replacing Scalia out of principle “the American people should have their say”, they did it because they had the power to do it and were willing to use that power.
  3. Democrats have the power, but will not use it, even though they should because they don’t really mind a conservative justice on the court: they agree with such a person on more important issues than they disagree with them on, and they value civility more than ethics.
  4. And yes, this is the Roe v. Wade loss point. That’s what Senate Dems will not sincerely fight for.

I hope I am wrong on 3 and 4, but Democrats do not have a record of fighting against the right, only against the left.

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Why Free Trade Isn’t Efficient

For the past few weeks, I’ve been reading a raft of literature by lawyers, economists, and bureaucrats involved with the World Trade Organization (WTO) and other free traders. It’s been a fascinating journey into an alternate world, one in which frictionless trade and money flows, and unified regulations and laws are considered to be a good thing.

The reasoning behind this virtually unquestioned acceptance is as follows: If there are no barriers to trade, whether financial or regulatory, goods and services will be created (or done) wherever they cost the least. If they are done in the lowest-cost place, they are being done in the most efficient way, and that means more is created and consumers also pay less.

It is thus a good thing, virtually always, to reduce barriers to trade and services. If it can be done for cheaper somewhere, it should be. Some people may lose, but overall more (or the same) is created for less, and this is good.

This is basically an article of faith in everything I’ve been reading from people who make their living around the WTO.

But you may have caught the error in the thinking: It assumes the lowest cost is equivalent to the most efficient.

But it isn’t. When manufacturing moved from the US to China, it cost less to do in China, yes, but it produced more carbon (climate change); it took more people to produce the same amount of goods, and it generally used more materials, as well.

In other words, it is less efficient in every way except the monetary cost.

The rejoinder to this might be that those people who were manufacturing those goods would be better employed elsewhere; people were being wasted. If it can be done for a few dollars an hour, rather than $20 or more (if labor was unionized), then the higher-paid workers should do something else.

But everyone knows now, and trade advocates admit, that the people who lose the jobs to offshoring and outsourcing were mostly not employed again, or never had as good a job again. People are not fungible, they don’t just fit into any spot.

Moreover, as those jobs moved away, those people earned less money, and local businesses got less money from them as consumers. Everyone’s employees are someone else’s customers: When everyone cuts wage “costs,” they’re also cutting demand.

The core problem with capitalism is that it assumes that money measures benefit: If someone is willing and able to buy something (is in “demand”), then that something is good.

But the cheapest cost and the highest profit don’t take into account actual efficiency or actual good in the world. Producing less climate change gases to produce the same stuff is more important than saving five or ten percent manufacturing cost, or making five percent or ten percent profit. Using less resources that are limited is more important than the lowest cost. And good wages are also important, because they measure good lives. (There is an argument that China’s industrialization required America’s de-industrialization. I don’t think that’s true, but that subject is too large for this piece.)

The core assumptions of capitalism are wrong. They are simply wrong. But that doesn’t mean they don’t create a very effective system, where effective means “good at sustaining itself” and “good at telling people what to do.”

Capitalism is really very simple. It’s an algorithm for directing human behavior, and it works because it makes sure that the people who obey the algorithm are the people who have power.

Until they run the world off a cliff.

More later, but for now the point is simple: Neither the lowest price nor the highest profit automatically equal the most efficient thing to do in any way except with respect to money.

And money, while it’s lovely, is not actually food, water, or a livable environment, nor will it be able to buy those things for everyone (or perhaps anyone) when there just isn’t enough of it to go around.

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The Class War: The Rich Won and the End of NeoLiberal Capitalism

Many years ago now, I wrote a post called “There Was a Class War and the Rich Won.”

Ironically, after the financial meltdown of 07/8, and thanks to Bush, Obama, Bernanke, and Geithner both bailing the rich out and immunizing them from their crimes, that victory has accelerated. This chart, from Harvard, tells the story of the last 30 years.


What this chart doesn’t show is that the those gains went primarily to the top one percent, and in the top one percent to the top 0.1 percent and in the top 0.1 percent to the top .01 percent.

What happened was a vast centralization of wealth, and therefore of power. This power was used to buy the government: the presidency (Obama acted in the interests of the rich in every important way–so has every President since Carter); congress and definitely the courts, both of which have, ruled, time and time again, in favor of capital and for large and larger concentrations of wealth and power, culminating with “Citizens United,” which classified money as speech and sharply limited government’s power to regulate money in elections. This legislation was the crowning glory of the rich’s victory in the class war.

One of the problems with capitalism is that its benefits rest largely on having competitive (free) markets. But the first thing capitalists do when they “win” the markets is take their profits and use them to buy government so that they can end free markets (our markets are nowhere near competitive or free). Free markets, to anyone who has won, are a threat.

You can see this in the march of so-called “intellectual property.” There is no such thing in anything close to a state of nature: Intellectual property is entirely the product of government. Ideas are free, in nature, and can be used by anyone, and one person using an idea doesn’t mean someone else can’t use it. There is no natural property of ideas.

But we have extended intellectual property well beyond the life, even, of creators. Walt Disney is dead, long dead, and Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse are still the intellectual property of a company.

Competitive markets require that other people be able to compete. They must be able you use your technology, your ideas, etc… to bring down the price of goods. If you want to keep charging a premium, you have to keep coming up with new ideas. But when key technologies and ideas are locked behind patents and copyrights forever, this isn’t possible. (I can’t see any argument for most patents beneficially owned by companies to last more than five years, and even that is questionable. There is an argument for longer copyrights, if they are beneficially owned by individuals, but even in such cases, not long beyond the life of the copyright owner.)

All of this is putting aside other vast barriers to entry and laws and subsidies which benefit incumbents and which push hard towards monopolization.

So we don’t have free markets, and we do have vastly rich rich, and those rich own the government, without question (the events of 2007/2008 proved it).

Capitalism without free markets doesn’t provide most of the benefits of capitalism, and democracy which has been captured by oligarchy doesn’t provide most of the benefits of democracy.

And so both are being discredited, and fascism rises and non-market alternatives become more and more popular. You see it in Corbyn, you see it in the challenge to so-called free trade epitomized by Trump, and you see it in the fact that, for most young Americans, socialism is no longer a four-letter word.

Corbyn’s program includes a vast swathe of straight up de-privatization. It includes rent-controls and a program for the government to just build housing. It isn’t radical from a 60s point of view, but to a neoliberal capitalist, it is terror indeed. And if Corbyn was elected by just those under 40, he’d win in a landslide.

The days of our form of capitalism are nearly over. It is done, and that it is done is concealed by an overhang of older people in the developed world. What will replace it remains to be seen: there are alternatives on the right and left, and the right-wing alternatives are pretty ugly.

But that neoliberal capitalism is nearly done, that is obvious.

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The Roots of Trump’s Policy of Separating Children from Parents

So, you’ve all heard about this by now.

It is, obviously, a terrible crime. And yeah, evil.

It is an extension of Obama’s policy of holding families (without splitting them up, but still in terrible conditions). If you want to understand the link, read this Twitter thread.

It is also not worse than what the US did to Libya or Iraq, or is helping do, right now, to Yemen, because all of those war crimes include plenty of family separation (by killing the parents) in addition to other crimes.

However, I am gratified to see that for many Americans, there is a crime too evil, if it is shoved in their face at a close enough distance.

For those who wish to oppose this, the blockades of ICE facilities (not letting anyone in or out) are most likely to work, in my opinion. Also most likely to get you beaten and arrested, of course.

I think there’s a decent chance of reversal on this, because it’s getting through the Republican media bubble and actually bothering many of Trump’s core supporters. Even Evangelical churches and pastors are coming out against it.

But the problem with the US isn’t that bad policies have never been defeated, it’s that the trend towards worse and worse has never ended.

And the problem with the #Resistance is that its theory of how Trump happened amounts to freestanding racism because these people are just bad people. It wasn’t caused by anything, oh no, because to explain by, say, pointing out its economic roots would be to excuse it. And they just want a bunch of neoliberals back in.

If Democrats win, and start actually heading in a good direction, rather than slowing some things down and accelerating others (like Obama, who made immigration handling worse, ramped up drone murders, and was the most harsh President on whistleblowers in US history, and far worse on civil liberties overall than Bush) then any Republican defeat doesn’t really matter, except in terms of moving from the fast escalator to hell to the slow one.

But this requires acknowledging that Obama was a bad President who oversaw shitty policies and did tons of evil. And so was Bill Clinton. And Hillary was the prime motivating force convincing Obama to destroy Libya, among other crimes.

The inability to see the road that got the US to where it is, means that it will be hard to turn the US around, and start moving towards a better, by which I mean morally “gooder” US.

More on this later. In the meantime, if you want to stop this, this is a body on the gears moment. But don’t do it unless you understand the risk to yourself and your loved ones.

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Visiting the Hospital in Canada

So, last night, after a few days of illness, getting worse, I took some codeine and a sleeping pill, lay myself down to sleep, and couldn’t.

Right then, it was obviously serious enough that I needed to go the hospital.

I arrived at one of Toronto’s largest hospitals (Toronto is Canada’s largest city). There was no one else in the waiting room. I was processed and given a bed in a corridor within 20 minutes There were other people, but it wasn’t terribly crowded (I’ve seen terribly crowded). I had my initial evaluation by another nurse about 20 minutes after that. Then I waited two hours, and no one came by, so I flagged a nurse. Oops.

A doctor saw me about, yes, 20 minutes later, got me some pain relief (Thank God) and about ten minutes after that did a manual exam to try and find out what was wrong. Half an hour later I had a referral to a specialist (it not being possible to get said specialist to look on the weekend unless the situation is deemed life threatening), three prescriptions, and detailed instructions on what to do if things improved (not much) and if they didn’t.

I did have to pay for the prescription medicine, which put me back about $40. Fortunately, I was downtown and there was a nearby 24 hour drug store, which also filled the pain prescription (not always a given).

Overall, the experience wasn’t perfect, but it was a sight better than what I rarely hear about from American friends, and not as good as the better European system stories I tend to hear.

I hate going to hospitals, as I spent a lot of time in hospital in my 20s. I think most people who have spent a lot of time in hospitals as a patient hate them. But the nurses and doctors were kind, and other than being briefly misplaced, the experience was fine. I left in better shape than I went in.

This seems to me to the be the basic minimum any prosperous society should expect.

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Rate of Antarctic Ice Loss Has Increased Three Times Since 2007

So, yeah. Again, as I have said for a long time, the consensus reports are always wrong and when new data comes in it is almost always worse than predicted. There appear to be self-reinforcing cycles involved. I expect that we will see significant rises in sea level well before 2100.

We will also see widespread droughts, large areas around the equator that are uninhabitable for months at a time due to being too hot for humans to cool down and entire current breadbasket regions no longer producing significant food.

This will be exacerbated by how much we have drained and poisoned our aquifers.

This will effect, among others, the United States, China and India, all of whom will take huge hits. I expect the death of hundreds of millions of Indians before the century’s end, in massive famines and droughts.

This will also lead to waves of migration like we’ve never seen–exceeding even the migration from Europe to the New World in the last half of the 19th century. There will be wars. I fully expect a war between Russia and China, over Siberia, because much of China’s cropland will become defunct.

Nothing we are doing is more effective than a spit into a hurricane. The Paris Accord is a joke: It wouldn’t be enough even if implemented, it’s not mandatory, and most countries won’t make their voluntary targets.

There are a lot of moving parts, the most important of which will be the arctic methane release (once that starts, it will self-reinforce and the game will be over), but for people on the ground it’s going to be about heat, rainfall, and water. Also, about water. And water.

This can no longer be stopped, in any meaningful sense, but we could prepare and try to mitigate. We aren’t even doing that.

If you have children, or if you’re young, you need to factor this stuff into your life plan. I’m 50 and unhealthy, I’ll probably miss most of it. But if you’re 20 or even 30, probably not.

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The North Korea Summit

So, again, this is good. The US and North Korea have never signed a peace treaty to end the Korean war, and they should. It is unclear what, exactly, hawkish critics are scared Trump is going to “give away” to Kim.

China has tightened sanctions (not sure I like this, but if it lead to the talks, fine). North Korea has suspended its tests and released prisoners.

As for all the hand-wringers whining about human rights, what can be said about North Korea is that it is not aiding a multimillion person genocide in Yemen, and the US is. Shut up, you flaming hypocrites.

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