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

Month: January 2019 Page 1 of 2

World Poverty Is NOT Decreasing

I’ve said before that world poverty isn’t reducing, but let’s say it again.

The trend that the graph depicts is based on a poverty line of $1.90 (£1.44) per day, which is the equivalent of what $1.90 could buy in the US in 2011. It’s obscenely low by any standard, and we now have piles of evidence that people living just above this line have terrible levels of malnutrition and mortality. Earning $2 per day doesn’t mean that you’re somehow suddenly free of extreme poverty. Not by a long shot.

Scholars have been calling for a more reasonable poverty line for many years. Most agree that people need a minimum of about $7.40 per day to achieve basic nutrition and normal human life expectancy…

…So what happens if we measure global poverty at the low end of this more realistic spectrum – $7.40 per day, to be extra conservative? Well, we see that the number of people living under this line has increased dramatically since measurements began in 1981, reaching some 4.2 billion people today.

We also know, for example, that Indians have been eating less calories than 30 years ago (and having traveled in India in the 80s, I can tell you they weren’t overfed.)

As Hickel also points out about the earlier parts of the graph, and as I have pointed out previously, most of the “people are making more money” comes from “people were forced off their subsistence farms so that they had to use money to buy what they got from their own labor before.”

So, for example, when NAFTA went into place, millions of Mexican susbsistence farmers were forced off their land. This lead, directly, to the massive increases in immigration to the US that occurred in the 90s and early 2000s, by the way.

People miss the essential point: it’s not how much money you have. It’s whether or not you have enough food, shelter, clothes and so on. It’s whether you have what you need and some of what you want.

Only a moron (or someone as disconnected from the realities of life like Bill Gates) could think that being able to buy as much as $1.90 a day, in the United States of 2011, would qualify as enough money. I have been poor. I have been very poor, by first world standards. I can tell you that even back in the late 80s, $1.90 wasn’t enough (I could have barely eaten on that, I could not have saved up and paid rent.) Today it is completely inadequate, and the diet it would barely allow is basically starch and sugar.

(Which, again, anyone who actually has tried to shop cheaply would know. That won’t include Bill Gates.)

These people who say with certainty how poverty is massively decreasing make me sick. They are either ignorant, very stupid and disconnected from reality, or they are very evil.

Essentially all of the poverty reduction of the past 30 years comes from one source, and one source only. China. Which industrialized by classic protectionist policies which the IMF, World Bank and poverty ghouls do their best to make impossible.

And as for China, what is also clear from their experience, and in the data, is that the Chinese who moved to the cities to get those great new jobs are less happy than the people who stayed in the villages. Further, great amounts of force have had to be used to move peasants off the land, because they know the new factory jobs suck even worse than being a peasant. (As they did in Britain during the Industrial revolution.)

What made some parts of the world better wasn’t capitalism, per se. It was steam power and oil power. Those parts of the world then used that power, along with gunpowder and whatnot, to conquer most of the world and take what they wanted.

Today we do it different ways, but the bottom line is simple enough: measured by any semi-reasonable standard (would you want to try to live on $7.40 a day, including paying your rent?), poverty is not getting better. It is getting worse.

If you say poverty is decreasing, what you are saying is “it is ok to keep doing what we’re doing.”

If you’re wrong, you’re a monster, because you’re saying “we don’t really need to do more.”

And you’re wrong.

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The Problem with Banning Huawei 5G Tech

So, the Huawei saga rolls on. The executive arrested, the daughter of the CEO, will probably wind up released, as it’s been made clear this is a political arrest.  (Trump has said so, and it’s over Iran sanctions. Breaking Iran sanctions is clearly political, and probably even the ethical thing to do in many cases.)

But something else is more important to note. Huawei genuinely has the most advanced net tech in the world. It’s that simple.

America no longer manufacturers telecom equipment – Cisco got out of the business several years ago – and Huawei’s two Scandinavian competitors are too little, too late, and too expensive…

the Shenzhen firm is spending $20 billion a year on R&D, about four times as much as either Ericsson or Nokia, its only important challengers in the telecommunications equipment market.

Huawei’s internal assessment holds that its technological lead in 5G mobile broadband is so wide that the competition has no effective chance of catching up. In late February, Huawei will introduce its Balong phone, with a chipset that can handle downloads ten times faster than the best 4G LTE speeds, while operating with 4G networks as well.


“China’s largest tech company makes high-quality networking gear that it sells to rural telecommunications operators for 20 percent to 30 percent less than its competitors do, says Joseph Franell, chief executive officer and general manager of Eastern Oregon Telecom in Hermiston…”

This is hopeless. It’s probably true that Huawei stole a lot of technology, especially in the 90s and the 2000’s. One of its victims was Nortel, Canada’s telecom giant, which makes me angry.

So what?

They have the technology. It’s cheaper and more advanced than anyone else’s and, hilariously, the US doesn’t even compete in this type of telecom equipment any more.

If this is a strategic matter, then the US has fallen down completely. If an industry is strategic, a country must make sure it, or a trusted ally, stays in the lead. Not only did the US not do that, but US policies from the 80s onwards effectively off-shored this sort of production and research, as a deliberate policy choice.

Now they cry?

5G is lost. If the US, or the US and its allies, want a shot at 6E they’d better figure out how to do industrial policy. That might, indeed, mean banning Huawei, but only if they’re willing to put up with worse, more expensive internet for a decade or so. (But then US and Canadian internet is already not nearly as good as the best.)

One of the key tenets of neoliberal economic policy is that it doesn’t matter where something is manufactured, or done. Let the cheapest domicile do it, and everyone will benefit.

This is bullshit, and always was. Making and designing new things is where economic strength, the good life and military power all come from.

Nations which forget this wind up in the dustbin. Free trade, as an ideology, is the deathknell of great powers, including Great Britain, and likely to include the US. It does work for smaller powers, and should be the default policy mode for all city states, but great powers are not small powers, let alone city states.

So, if the US wants to ban Huawei, it’d better figure out how it’s going to support Huawei’s competitors enough so that they at least catch up, or even consider making sure the US has its own telecom manufacturers. If it can’t do that, this is a band-aid on a wound.

(Oh, and there’s a reason the US, whose technology is used in most of the older telecom equipment, especially cables, thinks that China might use that to listen in. Mmmmm. What would that be?)

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.

Best Posts

Last year, I promised to collect my most important posts, and write commentary on them.

I’m turning to that now, and I have some that’ll definitely be there.

But I’d like to know what readers think to help me choose others. Please let me know in the comments, or feel free to email me (admin-at-ianwelsh-dot-net.) If you want to add something extra, let me know why you think it was a post that mattered.

If you’ve been reading me for a long time, please think back a bit on older posts. I’ve been writing for a long time now…

The Coup Attempt in Venezuela

So, Juan Guaido has declared himself the President of Venezuela. (He wasn’t elected as such.)

The US and Canada have recognized him, along with Brazil, Argentina, and Peru, among others. (Freeland, the Canadian Foreign Minister did so while on stage with Brazil’s Bolsonaro, who won an election after his main opposition was locked up. The person responsible for that is now his Minister of Justice.)

All perfectly above board, I guess.

I’ve never been a huge fan of the Bolivaran revolution, mostly because it was mismanaged. But this is clearly a foreign-supported coup against an elected leader. Venezuela’s election was no more compromised than, say, the 2000 US election–or many other elections.

It’s probably just a coincidence that Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves.

The Venezuelan situation is complicated, but there appears to be no question that the opposition forces (pale, middle, and upper class) have done everything they could to sandbag the government, up to and including destroying consumer goods so they could enhance shortages. Meanwhile, Maduro has generally had the support of the darker-skinned, lower classes descended from Indians.

Meanwhile, the US, of course, has punitive sanctions on Venezuela.

The Bolivaran revolution has not been well managed, but the criticism that “socialism always fails, because the US always makes it fail” is looking more and more valid.

The US has said “all options” are possible if Maduro crushes the opposition, which is code for using military force.

Maduro, of course, is perfectly within his rights to use force to capture someone declaring themselves President without being elected.

This has been coming for some time.

So far, despite his various failings, Trump has not been as bad as Obama simply because he has not started a war. (Yes, yes, he has been nastier to various people in the US rather than people who live in other countries.)

If he starts a war here, this will no longer be the case.

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.

Two Lessons from France’s Yellow Vest Protests

So, the Yellow Vests in France have French President Macron scared, and he has given to some of their demands, including raising the monthly minimum wage and getting rid of the diesel tax which sparked the original protests.

Joe Penney at the Intercept has a good overview of the current state of play, which I encourage you to read.

What I want to discuss, however, is WHY they are having some success where unions, for example, could not stop Macron.

No Centralized Control

The great weakness of modern unions is leadership, bank accounts, and law. They are easy to break if the state cooperates with corporations, or even by the state alone. You can bribe the leadership, you can scare the leadership, or you can break the union.

Because unions have things like headquarters, leaders, and bank accounts, the state can simply take all of those things away any time it wants to if the unions don’t have enough internal support in the government to prevent it.

This matters because unions tend to have centralized leadership: Take out the leadership, get rid of the strike funds, and the union can be broken.

The Yellow Vests have none of this. What tiny leadership they have is exercised through some Facebook pages. They have no united bank account, no buildings, no strike funds, etc. They cannot be broken by a strike on a few people and some pooled resources.

Instead the, Yellow Vests are just whoever wants to show up for any given protest and put on a yellow vest. This causes some problems, yes, but it means that they cannot easily be taken out.

Scare The Opposition (State/Corporate) Leadership

Why is Macron giving in to some demands? Well, perhaps because he’s scared (and, I suspect, personally a coward, which he has struck me as from the first.)

During the January 5 edition, protesters commandeered a forklift and broke open the office door of Macron spokesperson Benjamin Griveaux, forcing him to flee through the back entrance, while an ex-professional boxer was filmed punching and kicking a gendarme. Some reports have stated that Macron is worried for his personal safety. In December, protesters attempted to break through police lines that were guarding his home in Touquet, and his wife’s family has voiced concerns that their chocolate shop in their hometown, Amiens, will be attacked.

Cue laughter, because I have no sympathy for Macron or his lackeys. (I have a little sympathy for his family, but not much. I’ll discuss this further in a bit.)

Here’s the thing: Most protests get nowhere because they threaten no one and nothing. The elite, being rich and powerful, can wait out those harmless protests they cannot buy, scare, or break. They know it.

This is why the union protests against Macron also failed. He just waited them out. Unions cannot tell their members to try to attack political leaders. (Though sometimes such things happen and are “regrettable” and a good union then makes sure the people who did it have good lawyers.)

Macron is scared. He is scared for himself. For his family. For his staff and probably for his friends.

There are people he cares about who could wind up catching a good beating or worse. (Given that the police have killed a number of protesters, please spare me any wringing of hands.)

Normally, no one a politician cares about is threatened. Protesters get beaten, maybe the occasional cop gets a beating (being a cop is NOT dangerous compared to most manual labor jobs so also spare me the hand wringing about people who beat people for a living, very occasionally getting beaten themselves).

But politicians and corporate leaders are safe. The protesters suffer, strikers lose money, etc, etc.

The Yellow Vests have threatened Macron. He is personally frightened, and he is giving in.

Always, always find a way to threaten your opponents directly if the stakes merit it. Find something or someone they care about and go after it.

Now, because many people are wringing their hands, let’s deal with that directly.

There is a great essay by Mark Twain called “The Two Reigns of Terror.” Please go read it.

Macron’s policies and those of France’s elites have made poor French and many middl-class French poorer for two generations now. Macron, in particular, has made it easier to fire people, raised regressive taxes, and broken unions. He is a neoliberal’s neoliberal who believes that a more precarious, poorer workforce will lead to prosperity. The fact that this ideology has been tried since 1979 and not worked does not stop ideologues like Macron. Clearly, they reason, if it hasn’t worked, it hasn’t been tried in a pure enough form.

Macron and the French elites’ policies KILL people. These deaths show up in the statistics. They don’t have dramatic pictures. But there are more suicides, poorer people die younger, people under financial stress drink more, beat their wives more, and so on.

Death and suffering is what neoliberalism causes. Macron is a murderer, in the name of an ideology which has never worked–despite being tried in most of the First World and much of the developing world.

So, if Macron is scared, and if a few of his relatives or friends or employees (all of whom are very well-looked after), happen to catch a bit of the violence flying around, so be it. It didn’t bother Macron that people were suffering and dying when they were people he didn’t care about.

The Future

The problem with the Yellow Vests, to my mind, is that while the protests include left, right, and the formerly apathetic, they seem to be resounding more to the benefit of the hard right than the left.

One of the things I have been watching carefully is where various countries are going to land as neoliberalism collapses.

There are three primary choices: populist left, populist right, or repressive surveillance/police state.

Right now, I think that the US and Britain have a good chance to land on the populist left. I thought France might, with Melenchon’s left-wing party being very close to LaPen in the last election.

But I am beginning to wonder.

One of the problems is that, fundamentally, if neoliberals are going down, they’d rather surrender to fascists than the left. The fascists will let them keep most of their money and power, and will break the unions for them, and so on. (The Nazis were not socialists, despite their name. Under their reign, worker wages dropped, and executive wages skyrocketed.)

So we’ll see how this all plays out. However it does, the lessons are clear enough.

Hit the “masters” where they hurt, and make sure you have no center to target that they can destroy or subvert.

And if you do get them on the ground, which the Yellow Vests have yet to do, keep kicking. Rest assured, they will keep kicking if they can get to you.

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What the Huawei Row Portends for the Future of America, China, and Canada

Huawei is a giant Chinese telecom company. It produces fifth-generation telecom equipment (5G), cell phones, and much more. Its 5G equipment is probably the most advanced in the world.

The US has accused it of espionage: Stealing commercial secrets. In the US, it is illegal for Huawei telecom equipment to be used for infrastructure, and the US is trying to convince other countries, especially European ones, to not use their equipment either. The rationale is that such equipment makes Chinese spying easier.

A while back, the US government asked the Canadian government to extradite a Chinese Huawei executive to the US. Her name is Meng Wanzhou, and she is the daughter of Huawei’s CEO.

Importantly, she was charged with fraud related to violating US-Iran sanctions, not espionage against American companies.

In response, China has mostly swung at Canada, arresting a number of Canadians and retrying a Canadian drug smuggler, increasing his penalty to death.

One of the US’s goals has been to separate the US and China: For example, the NAFTA rewrite, the USMCA, forbids any member from forming a trade deal with a “non-market economy” if either other member disagrees. (The US defines China as a “non-market economy.”)

It may or may not have been deliberate, but this request has made Canadian/Chinese relations much worse.

Note that the person being charged is pretty close to Chinese royalty. This is like if Steve Job’s daughter was a senior Apple executive and arrested. Imagine the furor.

But I want to highlight something else: This is about breaking Iran sanctions. (Which China did, though I have no insight into Meng’s involvement.)

The Iran sanctions were certainly legal under US law. They were not, however, in any way, shape or form, just. As with all economic sanctions they disproportionately hurt people not in the ruling class. They hit various medicines and caused a lot of suffering and death. The evidence that Iran had a nuclear weapon program was always dicey, and in any case, that America has the right to deny nuclear weapons to other countries is unclear.

So Meng is being prosecuted for a political crime. She is being prosecuted because her country decided not to obey US laws with respect to another country. US laws which are unjust on their face.

To me, at least, this is illegitimate. China’s counter-strikes are also illegitimate: Canadians should not be used as cats-paws in this, and China’s actual issue is with the United States, not Canada. That said, from a realpolitik point-of-view, I entirely understand China making the point that acting on behalf of the US in its near-cold war with China will have negative consequences.

This row has continued to accelerate. There is a fair bit of danger, in the medium-run, that the world is going to split into two economic blocs, and enter something close to a cold war again.

The US wants China to do what the US wants, which is for them to remain a regional power, not a great power, to not take control of its near abroad (as the US did in the 19th and early 20th century, in much more violent fashion than China has so far), and China, a rising Great Power (and potential superpower) will not be stifled in this way. No rising great power, certainly not the US, ever was or will be.

This road, though we are early on it, leads to war. There are things China does that are illegitimate, but its power will have to be accommodated, just as the US’s was. (Take a look at the map of the Canadian province of British Columbia, notice the Alaska panhandle: It is complete bullshit, and it was obtained because Theodore Roosevelt was willing to go to war to get it, and the British, preoccupied elsewhere, weren’t willing to fight him for it.)

As for Meng, she is clearly a political prisoner and pawn, as are all the Canadians that China has arrested in retaliation.

While it’s unlikely to happen, because Americans think they have the right to apply their law to anyone, anywhere and to kill anyone they want in most countries in the world, without even a trial, sensible politics would be to de-escalate this.

Locking up Meng, which is most likely (US prosecutors generally get their victims) will be a running sore. America is banking on Chinese fear outweighing Chinese anger. Maybe it will, for a time, but the Chinese strategic tradition also includes a hell of a lot of smiling at enemies until you can stomp them flat.

The US ought to think very carefully on that, and whether or not it really wants to go down this road, especially over such an unjust charge.

As for Canada, it is an American subject state, and, as the USMCA proved, when America gets serious, Canada does what it is told. I have explained this to Canadians for a couple decades now, including the need for an actual deterrent (it needn’t be nuclear), but Canadians think the US is Canada’s friend, not overlord.

This mistake, too, will continue to be punished.

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Drones Are a Weapon of the Weak, #2

So, I imagine how everyone heard how drones shut down Gatwick airport, and the police and military were helpless?

Then there is this nice thread from someone who fought ISIS in Iraq. His end conclusion is that trying to shoot down drones is hopeless, you have to find the drone operator and shoot them.

Though I could be wrong, it looks like right now the only technology which really works, is jamming. The problem is that wide-spectrum jamming shuts down more than just the drones. And jamming won’t work against autonomous drones.

Drones are too small and hard for humans to hit reliably. Real attacks involve swarms of fast moving drones.

And drones are cheap. I wrote back in 2012 that drones would be weapons of the weak, and in 2013 discussed how technology was changing the balance of power between weak and strong in war.

This trend continues. Governments may force drone registration and so on, but they are an easy, cheap tech to make with off-the-shelf parts. Currently, they can’t be stopped easily by conventional militaries, and it will be impossible to harden all targets against them in the perceivable future. They will make both terror attacks and assassinations quite simple.

I always thought the US was foolish for developing this technology. They made it happen much faster than it would have otherwise, and while initially it was (and still is) useful to them, in the end it will be a technology that terrorizes them and other powerful governments.

Combined with IEDs, drones make for a very potent insurgency/rebellion/area denial technology. The only real counter to them right now is indirect: Totalitarian surveillance states with the power to track the makers and users. Fear of this sort of thing is, in fact, part of what is driving the rise of surveillance states.

Especially, for the smarter leaders, the realization that drone assassinations are eventually going to be almost impossible to stop.

I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing in the long run. Scared leaders and militaries which aren’t invincible are a good thing. But there can be a lot of pain on the way to leaders learning that they can’t just ignore their followers without violent consequences, and a lot of that pain will hit ordinary people.

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Fight Over Something That Matters; “The Wall” Mostly Doesn’t

So, here’s something people tend to not mention.

A number of walls have already been built along the US-Mexico border.

The Mexico–United States barrier (Spanish: barrera México–Estados Unidos) is a series of vertical barriers along the Mexico–United States border aimed at preventing illegal crossings from Mexico into the United States. [1] The barrier is not one contiguous structure, but a discontinuous series of physical obstructions variously classified as “fences” or “walls.” In between these constructed obstacles, security is provided by a “virtual fence” consisting of sensors, cameras, and other surveillance equipment that is used to dispatch United States Border Patrol agents to suspected migrant crossings. [2] As of January 2009, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported that it had more than 580 miles (930 km) of barriers in place.[3] The total length of the continental border is 1,954 miles (3,145 km).

That cost, by the way, about six billion dollars. Trump wants seven billion dollars for his wall, which obviously wouldn’t cover the entire border.

The US has built walls along the border before.

What is more important, I think, is that the real problem isn’t a wall or walls. The real problem is that enforcement is extremely cruel. The problem is that this cruelty is mostly bipartisan: Trump has made it worse, but most of the high-profile cases which first came out happened under the Obama administration, which built plenty of camps; they just kept parents and children together in horribly inhumane circumstances.

What should be done is that responsibility for illegal immigrants should be handed back to a reconstituted “Immigration and Naturalization Service“, who ran it until 2003 (after the Homeland Security reorganization shoved through under 9/11 hysteria).

They were a lot less abusive, though the border patrol was still awful.

But the US wants para-militarized law-enforcement, and Americans believe that people should suffer and suffer bad, so we have the current regime. Again, a ton of abuses and cruelty happened under Obama, and the child separation, while a step too far for Democrats (at least in opposition), came on top of policies which were already disgustingly inhumane.

Seven billion is nothing. It isn’t even chump change in terms of the US budget. The wall is not particularly important in real terms of how it will affects people. It is a symbolic issue: Trump made it his centerpiece, so the Democrats oppose it.

Indeed, the Democratic compromise was to keep funding ICE, but not fund the wall.

This is symbolic politics. Trump’s signature campaign promise was “The Wall.” It doesn’t cost much, it won’t make immigration enforcement noticeably more cruel, but not funding it is a win.

Is it a win worth a government shutdown? Maybe. But crocodile tears about the suffering of civil servants from Dems fighting over a largely symbolic issue fail to impress. If they were actually fighting over stopping child separation, ending camps, or truly getting rid of the current regime and going back to something more humane, that would be worth some suffering, because it would end suffering.

Is this?

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