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

Month: October 2018 Page 1 of 2

Fat, Unhealthy, and Poor

So, I’ve been poor a lot in my life. (I’ve also been well-off a few times. It comes, it goes.)

Today, I was at a supermarket and I noticed that the two-liter bottles of pop were $1 Canadian.

In the old days the rich were fat, the poor were skinny. Now it’s the other way around.

A large part of the issue is that the cheapest foods are things like pop, pasta, rice, potatoes, and various baked goods.

If you want the most calories for the least money, cheap is often the way to go.

Now it’s also true that you can cook relatively healthy meals for not too much money. BUT, the problem is that good, cheap food is also food that takes quite a bit of time to cook. Slow cooking is the rule for cheap food.

Meanwhile, the working poor are often employed at multiple jobs. To put it simply, they’re tired and overworked virtually all the time. And, so, labor- and time-intensive cooking tends to go out the window.

And even good, cheap cooking doesn’t have the calories/$ ratio of two liters of pop for $1.

You eat this sort of cheap food, which is a nutritional wasteland, and you put on weight and you become unhealthy. Pasty, unhealthy looking skin is one of the results, along with a general feeling of malaise.

It’s a nasty trap, and hard to get out of. Your job takes up all your time, you have little ability to eat well or take care of yourself in other ways (like exercise), and as a result the work and energy it takes to get out poverty often seems insurmountable.

All of this leaves aside that in many other ways, it’s very expensive to be poor (which is another article).

True poverty breeds despair. It’s one of the things that those who do poverty challenges, even long term ones, never really experience. It’s one thing to live on a small amount of money for a couple weeks, or even work for some months at a shitty job, living on the wages. It’s another thing for it to be your life.

The tourists know that if things go bad (they get seriously sick, for example), they have an out.

The natives know they are one problem away from disaster and the street and that their life is probably never going to be better.

There was a time in America (and Canada) where there was a good chance–a reasonable expectation–that poverty wasn’t for life.

But the stats now show that class mobility has collapsed. Where you are is probably where you are going to stay, and indeed, downward mobility has increased significantly as well.

There’s not much reasonable hope. And when people have no hope, when they’re desperate, when their entire future looks dismal, well, they become willing to do almost anything.

Politically, of course, they become demagogue bait.

Those who want a lovely country should remember this: People who have real expectations of a better future don’t vote for demagogues or to fuck the system. Those who have no real hope, on the other hand, do.

As you sow, so you reap. The American (and Canadian) middle class was down with the immiseration of the poor and the closing of hope. Then the upper class and rich turned on them, and now they squeal.

So it is.

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What Jair Bolsonaro’s Unfortunate Brazilian Victory Means

As you may have heard, Jair Bolsonaro has won election in Brazil.

Here are some direct quotes:

“I am in favor of a dictatorship, a regime of exception.”

“The pau-de-arara [a torture technique] works. I’m in favor of torture, you know that. And the people are in favor as well.”

“Through the vote you will not change anything in this country, nothing, absolutely nothing! It will only change, unfortunately, when, one day, we start a civil war here and do the work that the military regime did not do. Killing some 30,000, starting with FHC [then-president Fernando Henrique Cardoso], not kicking them out, killing! If some innocent people are going to die, fine, in any war innocents die.”

“I would not employ [a woman] with the same salary [of a man]. But there are many women who are competent.”

“I’ll give carte blanche for the police to kill.”

‘We are going to gun down all these Workers Party supporters,’ [Bolsonaro] shouted at a later rally, using a tripod to mimic shooting a rifle….

In addition Bolsanaro has:

  • Promised to cut down the Amazon jungle (source of 20 percent of the world’s oxygen) as fast as possible
  • To destroy the remaining indigenous tribes of the Amazon
  • To either send left-wingers into exile or to jail them

Evangelicals, as a group, remain a putrescent abscess wherever they are.

Perhaps even more decisive was the backing Bolsonaro enjoyed among evangelical voters, who account for up to a quarter of the electorate. They proved to be a soft target for the “fake news” spread by his social media campaign, most notably the preposterous claim that Haddad planned to distribute “gay kits” in primary schools instructing teachers to encourage homosexuality.

Jair Bolsonaro

I will remind readers that there was a legislative coup that threw out the left-wing President for corruption (the idea that she was more corrupt than most of the people voting to get rid of her is hilarious). Then the most popular politician in Brazil, Lula, was sent to prison (again, ostensibly on corruption charges) and not allowed to run.

In other words, first the field was cleared of politicians who were almost certainly less corrupt than most Brazilian politicians (and almost certainly no more corrupt), then the right-wing brought in the most extreme politician possible. That politician will now purge the left, in an attempt to ensure right-wing rule for at least a generation, and probably two. (The same thing is currently happening in Argentina.)

The best parallel for Bolsanoro is probably the Phillipines’ Duterte. Lots of extra-judicial murder, lots of corruption for the “right” people, lots of boot in the face for the “wrong” people.

For those outside Brazil, the main issue is the Amazon. If its destruction is significantly sped up (and I see no reason to doubt that it will be), it will make our environmental problems much, much worse.

I’m not a believer, generally speaking, of interfering in other nations’ internal business–and that includes sanctions. But I would support a carrot-and-stick approach with regards to the Amazon: Stop cutting it down and be rewarded (with cold hard cash if necessary); Cut it down, and be brutally cut off from the outside world.

This is because such environmental issues are not just internal political matters.

Finally, I will note that much of what is happening in South America can be explained most simply as “the left was in charge when commodity prices were high, and when they dropped, and economies suffered, the left was blamed.”

That is not all that is happening, of course, but without this, neither Bolsonaro and other similar would-be, bloody-handed authoritarians, nor those who cleared the way for him, like Brazil’s right-wing judges, would have had the social sanction to act.

Those who would run left-wing governments cannot tie their economy’s health to the fickleness of commodity markets. Commodity prices are cyclical and always have been.

It can also be laid at Dilma, being the sort of technocrat left-wing moron who accepted IMF advice and engaged in austerity. The IMF is not your friend if you are left-wing. Ever. Do not accept their advice. (It’s not quite never good, but it’s over 90 percent bad. Bet the odds.)

Bolsonaro will be a disaster for Brazil and a disaster for the world. That is not to say that some Brazilians will not do well under him, some will. Most of those who voted for him, will, however, find that it was not a good, longer-term bet.

(Aside: Merkel has stood down as leader of her party. She was a terrible person, who did great evil (something her cheerleaders constantly elide). She’s still Chancellor, but her days are now numbered. Sadly, Germany will probably replace her with someone worse.)

Update: This is an excellent summary of the history that led to Bolsonaro’s election.

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The Criteria for Forgiveness of Public Policy Mistakes

So, a while back, the noted NeoConservative, Max Boot (what a name), wrote the following:

What does it take to atone for a mistake in public policy?

Let me suggest the following:

  1. Admit the mistake?
  2. Reassess the reasoning and argument that led to your support, so that you won’t make the same mistake again?

There are major public intellectuals who are wrong about, well, everything. (Thomas Friedman, take a bow.)

One of the largest mistakes of the past twenty years was supporting the Iraq War. It accomplished none of what it was supposed to, killed a pile of people, and weakened the United States. (I’m OK with it weakening the US, but American pundits who believe in a strong US probably shouldn’t be.)

It was, also, yes, a massive war crime–exactly the same war crime for which most Nazis were hung at Nuremburg (no, they mostly weren’t hung for the Holocaust).

So if you were foolish enough, or evil enough, or stupid enough to advocate for the war, and you want to be taken seriously in the future, you need to show that you now know you were wrong AND that you wouldn’t make the same mistake again.

This, by the way, is why I was unwilling to endorse Hilary Clinton in 2016: Because Libya showed that, even though she said she knew the Iraq war was a mistake, she hadn’t actually learned. She went and did it again, though fortunately at a somewhat lesser scale (not that that’s any comfort to those Libyans whose lives were destroyed, or the people being sold in Libyan slave markets today).

But let’s leave aside Iraq, Clinton, and the wonderfully-named Mr. Max Boot.

This rule works for all mistakes. It isn’t enough to admit you made a mistake, you have to understand why you made the mistake and be determined not to make that same mistake.

Merely apologizing, or knowing you made a mistake is worthless if you would do the same thing again.

This is true in our small personal lives, as well as in the big, public mistakes important people make.

None of this should be controversial: This is kindergarten-level ethics. This is the sort of thing children are taught: To understand why they made a mistake and to change their thinking so they won’t make it again.

Iraq was more than a mistake, of course, and the best way to make sure it wouldn’t happen again would be to try the war criminals who made the decisions (including voting for it) and either putting them in prison or hanging them from the neck. Because I generally oppose the death penalty, I’ll settle for sending them to maximum-security prison to do hard time, as is appropriate for people as dangerous as mass murderers.

But because, instead, the people behind the Iraq War and other horrible decisions (like all the decisions leading up to catastrophic climate change) have been rewarded, they, of course, have kept committing crimes and “mistakes.”

Not sending everyone involved in Watergate to prison was a mistake, with the pardoning of Nixon being the original sin here. The same people involved in Watergate (minus Nixon, of course) were involved in Iran/Contra, and then they were the people involved in Iraq.

Hilary Clinton and George W. Bush (whom, I notice, Democrats have rehabilitated) are monstrous war criminals who should be in prison. Max Boot is an enabler of war crimes.

At the very least such people need to show that they understand what they did was wrong, and that they have changed and won’t do it again.

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Shun the Climate Change Deniers

Guest Post by *Eric A. Anderson* Guest Post

I have a little boy. He is my first, and most likely, only child — and he is everything to me.

I once thought that I knew what love is. I am still learning that I had no idea I could love anyone so deeply. I would lay my life down for him in a heartbeat, and will viciously attack any who dare threaten it.

There are those that threaten it every day.

Those that, in the past, I have professed to love and who, in turn, profess to love my son:

They are my parents.
They are my older sisters.
They are my Aunt, and my Uncle.

They move their mouths as they profess their love for my son, but I know in my heart that it’s not true. They are lying to both him and themselves.

They are lying because they are climate change deniers.

Because they vote for people, parties, policies and platforms that are actively contributing to the destruction of the planet my son depends on for his future survival. Or, they don’t vote at all.

When I confront them on this fact, they argue with me. They cajole and threaten. They scoff at the precautionary principle. Throughout, I am left dumbfounded. I ask them, “If there were even the tiniest chance you could be wrong, why would you risk the future of your family?” To which, they consistently reply in some manner of, “Well, it doesn’t matter anyway. I’m so old I’ll be long gone.” And so, their words of love are hollow. They are selfish. They are hypocrites. They are killers.

They care more about their ideology, than they care for my son. I have to call them what they are.

Therefore, if I continue to profess my love for both them, and my son, what does that make me? What does that make the man who professes that he is willing to go to any lengths to try and ensure that his son has a future that doesn’t read like a dystopian novel? A future wherein, my son doesn’t look at me and say “Daddy, why didn’t you do something???”

To do both makes me the hypocrite. But I’m not a hypocrite.

Which is why I have made the decision to shun them all.

They need to feel the repercussions of their actions.

Everyone one of them do. Immediately. There is simply no time to lose.

I would be lying if I told you this isn’t the most difficult decision of my life.

However, I believe this drastic act of protest is the only thing that will bring them to their senses about how deadly serious I am about the risk that their climate change denying poses to my son’s future.

We live in desperate times. And desperate times, call for desperate measures.
I’ve told them all that they are welcome to join my family again upon photographic proof that they have voted for political candidates who will work to ensure ecologically sane policies.

I exhort you to do the same, if indeed, the love you profess for your children is true.

We all must shun the climate change denying hypocrites that profess to love us from one side of their face, while they sell our future down the road with the other. Enough is enough.

Please think hard about joining me in shunning them all.

Bend Over and Kiss Your Ass Goodbye: IPCC Report Version

Read, and weep.

Once more: Climate change is settled science. Climate change is past the point of no return. (If you believe that nations are even going to keep the Paris agreement targets, you’re such a fool you’ll be sold all the world’s bridges.)

These numbers are catastrophic, and the IPCC reports are always over-optimistic. Always.

There are quite a number of scenarios where this stuff happens faster. You’ll notice that this chart has straight line assumptions. That’s almost certainly wrong. What will actually happen is that we’ll get some feedback loop like arctic or permafrost methane release and that will lead to parabolic increases. When it breaks, it will break hard.

At that point, a lot of other problems could also blow up, the most serious of which would be the oceans losing their ability produce oxygen. If that happens, well, we’re dead.

Even if it doesn’t, things like the thermohaline currents flipping or shutting off are possible. Europe could, in the middle of everyone else getting hot, have a mini-ice age.

People don’t realize how far north Europe is. If it didn’t have warm currents, it would be like parts of Canada that are, well, almost uninhabited, and for damn good reasons.

This will also, certainly, screw with weather systems. Imagine Indian monsoons failing for even three years in a row. Can you say hundreds of millions of deaths. Move your lips.

And it isn’t that we are decelerating, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, who will likely win election, has essentially promised to chop down what remains of the Amazon jungle as fast as possible (and also, to commit genocide on the remaining indigenous tribes. No, don’t pretend, that’s what he means.)

We are so far up shit creek we are never seeing clear waters again.

Be very clear on this, and if you want to survive (deciding to not bother is a legitimate decision and if you’re old you may die before the worst of it) start doing what you can for yourself.

We are long past (a good ten years past, at a minimum) any possibility of stopping this.

This is triage time. Are you going to survive? Your family, friends, and loved ones?

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.

Putin’s Control of Trump and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty

There is a meme in the resistance that Trump is Putin’s “puppet.”

This meme’s explanatory power is weak.

Take Trump’s announcement that he will pull the US out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty: This isn’t something Russia, or Putin, wants.

Trump admires Putin, and Putin provided some support for Trump’s election, hoping that would lead to the reduction or removal of sanctions (spoiler: it didn’t), but Trump doesn’t do everything Putin wants, or not do everything Putin doesn’t want.

What Russia wants, simply put, is a sphere of influence and to feel secure within that sphere of influence. This desire isn’t a particularly comfy desire if you’re near Russia (and weak–Europe is not weak). But it is no worse the US’s desire to have a sphere, as any Caribbean, Latin American, South American, many Asian, European, African, Middle Eastern nations have learned.

In fact, it’s a lot less scary unless you’re close by.

Russia doesn’t have 800 bases around the world. It has invaded, sanctioned, and overthrown less countries than the US in the last 30 years, and so on.

That doesn’t mean Putin is a good guy, or Russia is a “good” nation, but it’s certainly less evil, in terms of external body count and, heck, even internal numbers of people locked up, than the United States.

“Lesser Evil” isn’t much of a rallying cry, as the Democrats refuse to learn, but it does mean that when the US treats Russia as the horrible evil enemy, it falls flat.

The US is in what looks like serious decline. Rather than interfering in every one else’s business, it should mind its own business. If there is a formal defensive alliance: Live up to it. Otherwise, butt out. A great deal of evil in the world would be weakened and likely defeated, if the US would simply stop propping it up. This is true of Saudi Arabia and Israeli apartheid (and yeah, it is now formally apartheid whatever pretense otherwise) as well as many other evils.

A “good” country in the world helps other nations, doesn’t injure other nations and doesn’t support evil nations, but does not, as Adams said, go looking for monsters to slay.

Grant to others the right of self-determination. Do not support evil. Do not interfere in internal affairs. Do defend actual allies. That is all.

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Open Thread

Yet another. If you wish to discuss off-topic issues or events, please do it here.

Trump’s Continued Collision with the Federal Reserve

Back around Trump’s election, I said that there would be a collision between him and the Federal Reserve. At the time, it was run by Yellen.

The fact is that the people who elected Trump aren’t feeling good. To make them feel good, Trump is going to have get the official unemployment rate lower than it is now, at least under four percent, and hopefully to three percent or lower and hold it there for some time, at least two or three years.

This stuff takes time to ripple through the economy, and it takes time for a tight labor market to push employers to both raise wages and to hire people who they consider marginal.

If the Federal Reserve raises rates if/when Trump’s policies (“fiscal,” in the above) start to work, they will be making sure he can’t deliver to his constituency.

This is a direct collision course.

Now let me say something simple. The Federal Reserve, for over 30 years, has deliberately crushed wages. This was policy. Policy.

So, Trump hired Powell, and Powell is doing what Yellen would have done. Trump, on October 11th, said that he wouldn’t fire Powell, but was only disappointed.

It’s unclear whether or not Trump can fire Powell, however he can fire all other members of the Federal Reserve board for non-performance of duties. The case isn’t as clear as back in, say, 2009, but the economy still isn’t good for large parts of America, a case can certainly be made.

More to the point, Trump should.

Yes, Trump is the source of all evil and anything and everything he does should be opposed, I know, but bear with me: The Federal Reserve should not be insulated from pressure from elected officials.

I know that orthodoxy says it should, but the fact is that, since 1979, the Federal Reserve has raised interest rates whenever it looked like wages were going to rise faster than inflation. The Federal Reserve, in other words, has crushed wages.

This is bad. It is at the heart of why we have the rise of the right, and so many other problems. Vast inequality, in democracies, always leads to political instability, and in democracies the purpose of the economy should be to create a good life for everyone, anyway.

Trump ain’t a good guy, but wages aren’t increasing for ordinary people. That means that whatever the nominal unemployment rate is, the US isn’t actually at full employment. If it was, there would be rising wages. It is that simple. To raise interest rates before there are even significant wage increases is malpractice, even by the usual standards of monetary policy–and the usual standards are already malpractice.

Just because one despises Trump, one should not allow the major part of economic management be run by people who despise ordinary people receiving wage increases, or, indeed, by “independent bodies.” Democracy means elected officials having control over real policy.

So, I hope Trump fires a bunch of Federal reserve members, I hope it goes to the Supreme Court, and I hope that those firings are upheld.

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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