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

Month: April 2019 Page 1 of 3

USSR/Russia and America’s Record Interfering In Elections

So, who interferes in other countries’ elections more?

Sadly this database is from 1946 to 2000 (pdf), but it’s still interesting.

A total of 117 interventions were made by both countries.

The US made 81; 69 percent of total interventions.

the Russians interfered 36 times, for 31 percent of total interventions.

Overall, 11.9 percent of all elections during the period were interfered with.

Of course, most of this electoral interference happened before the fall of the USSR and before the internet, but I still think it’s interesting that back when the US was the “good guys” and “fighting for freedom,” they interfered in elections more than twice as often.

The same author has a study on whether these interventions were effective (pdf).

It turns out that, yes, in fact they often made the difference in who won. Percentage shifts of five or six percent were common.

I think people need to understand that, US hysteria over the last election aside, the US, since 2000, has also intervened in more foreign elections. Nor does the US always wait for elections, they heavily supported the Ukrainian Maidan protests which overthrew a government, they were behind the color revolutions, and so on.

This is why I always laugh when Americans get so upset about Russia interfering in the 2016 election. It’s like a bully who’s beaten up over a hundred people whining because a smaller bully gets in a good punch one day.

As I’ve said before, the action with integrity on this issue is not to scream, shout, or impose sanctions. It is to negotiate a peace treaty, where both sides promise (and mean) not to interfere in other countries’ elections.

If you think that’s absurd, or impossible, then the US has no standing except self-interest to complain about Russian electoral interference and there is no reason, except perceived self interest, for any non-American to care.

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Saudi Arabia’s Laughably Stupid Plan for the End of Oil

Image by Yuan2003

I’ve been predicting Saudi Arabia’s crackup for some time. Their society is completely dependent on oil revenues, and their rulers have no idea how to diversify off in time.

Couldn’t happen to a bigger bunch of jerks, though as usual, many innocents and powerless people will get dead, raped, and tortured as Saudi Arabia falls.

This piece by Jeff Spross, hasn’t changed my mind. It’s about how the Sauds are selling assets to get US dollars so they can pay for the changeover.

The expert Spross talks to has ideas on what the Sauds could use that money on:

Kaboub proposes the country use advanced aquaponics to build up its self-sufficiency in food — aquaponics can be done indoors for ten percent of the water used by traditional agriculture — and switch over to renewable energy. “It’s a prime location for wind and solar and geothermal,” he noted. Kaboub’s also a fan of a universal job guarantee, which he thinks can serve as a staging policy to lower unemployment and build up other domestic industries.

What does the royal family, lead by the Crown Prince bin Salman (of the Yemeni war and the chopping a journalist to pieces in the Istanbul embassy) think is a good plan?

For the moment, though, the Saudi government has a different vision. Their plan focuses somewhat on renewables and diversifying manufacturing, but the big initiative is on moving the economy more into high-end luxury tourism.

I am entirely sincere when I say that I never imagined they would be this stupid.

The Saud family’s days ruling Saudi Arabia are numbered. Praise God, because only he could have made them quite this imbecilic.

Lifted from the comments, by StewartM


As someone who knows someone who worked a stint in Saudi Arabia, this is gobsmacking. Let’s just name a few:

1) Want to go on a desert excursion? Oops, be careful, you may meet some religiously conservative armed Bedouins.

2) Hey, how about scuba diving along the coast? Well, don’t have an accident or the bends, because hospital services are limited to deal with it.

3) Public displays of affection are a no-no (we’re talking heterosexual husband and wife; don’t even thing same-gender). Mixing of the genders if they’re unrelated is a no-no too. The moral code is enforced by “volunteer” police zealots who have the power to detain you if they think you are breaking Islamic law.

Homosexuality and other violations of the Saudi Islamic moral code apply even in compounds exclusively for foreigners and are enforced in surprise raids.

4) Alcohol and pornography are banned. Mind you, the Saudis may deem your favorite character on the video game on your phone or laptop “pornographic” and seize your device, so their definition of “pornography” probably doesn’t match yours.

5) See something interesting? Want to take a photo? Don’t. You could be arrested for it, as a spy.

6) Don’t talk about politics, especially if it casts even the slightest detraction against the Saudi government or royal family.

7) Don’t wear any non-Islam religious emblems. Public observances of any other religious in a crime.

8) And let’s not talk about the difficulty in obtaining both an entry visa, and an exit visa, to boot. (I’d presume they’d fix that).

In short, Saudi Arabia would be a land where rich tourists would check into their $5,000-a-night hotel in a gated Western compound, and just stay there, not daring to go out. Oh, even then there might be a raid if immoral conduct is suspected.

Unless Crown Prince bin Salman’s plan involves remaking Saudi Arabia into a secular state, from stem to stern, Saudi Arabia will be a country where almost nobody wants to go visit. This is by design:

“My Kingdom will survive only insofar as it remains a country difficult to access, where the foreigner will have no other aim, with his task fulfilled, but to get out.” — King Abdul Aziz bin Saud, c. 1930

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.

Week-end Wrap – April 28, 2019

**By Tony Wikrent**

Strategic Political Economy

Share of Wealth Held by the Bottom 90 Percent by Country
[Real World Economics Review Blog, via Mike Norman Economics 4-24-19]

The Great Deformation: Why Income Inequality Has Become Intractable
Yves Smith, April 23, 2019 [Naked Capitalism]

Taylor’s talk last week focused on the drivers of the rise in inequality, which came about via a rise in profit share of GDP, something we first noted in 2005 in a Conference Board Review article. That has enabled the top one percent to pull away from everyone else. Investment as a proportion of GDP has also dropped while consumption has increased. The paper has more detail, but Taylor estimates it would take 40 years to reduce inequality to 1980 levels. He also warns that wealth concentration could increase from 40 percent held by the top one percent to 60 percent….

…advocates of workers have failed to take up the task of determining what a reasonable level of profit is. We’ve mentioned before that in the early 2000s, Warren Buffett deemed a profit share of six percent to be unsustainably high. Yet for the past three years, the profit share has been nearly twice this high.

Oddly, the left and labor supporters have not engaged with the question of what a fair profit might be. Modern cultures have deeply internalized the idea that the result of market forces is somehow virtuous, when markets sit both in a legal system and in a set of societal norms that play a large role in what supply and demand looks like.

[Below via, via Naked Capitalism 4-23-19]

I’m reading ‘s new book, “People, Power, & Profits.” Really appreciate this point about globalisation & wages:

“Pete Buttigieg Trivializes the Impact of Trade on US Job Losses”

Biden Declares: He’s Not Your Uncle Joe

So, Biden’s in the primary. Plenty of other people are chewing up his record, which is terrible, so I’ll pass on that. Just remember that he’s the representative for fucking over poor people and minorities.

I want to address something else: Uncle Joe.

See, the thing is that Joe seems like a great friend, and an even better family guy. I believe that’s true, I’ve seen Biden and this comes across as genuine. Minus being overly handsy, Biden just has a really friendly vibe to him.

He’d be a great friend, and a better father or uncle.

But he’s not your father or uncle (well, unless he is, which is not my expected blog demo) and he never will be.

People have weird relationships with politicians. I remember back in 2000, the poll that showed people wanted to have a drink with Bush, and not with Gore.

Great, except “drinking buddy” isn’t your relationship with the President or anyone important enough to be nominee for president.

Don’t have fantasy relationships with politicians.

A politician is someone with power, and your relationship with one is as someone they can either help or fuck up, whom they don’t care about personally.

What matters is not how they act towards friends and family, but how they act towards people they don’t care about.

How they’re going to act towards you.

Biden has a clear record. If he doesn’t know you, and you aren’t rich, he doesn’t care about you. If you’re poor, owe money, or a cop ever thinks you might have done something wrong, he wants you hurt, badly.

That’s his record.

If you’re rich, of course, Biden’s a good candidate if the only people you care about are you and your rich friends.

But Biden capability of being a great friend and family member doesn’t apply to you unless you are actually his friend or family member.

What’s his (or any other politician’s) record toward people like you?

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.

Disney Explains that the Reason Poor Working People Are Poor Is Executives

One of the most extraordinary threads I’ve read recently is Abigail Disney doing the math on how the Disney corporation could raise the income of its bottom tier workers.

The poor are poor because the rich are rich.

Disney was interviewed a while back, and these two questions and answers are germane to this conversation.

In what ways did your dad change, other than having a jet?Actually, having a jet is a really big deal. If I were queen of the world, I would pass a law against private jets, because they enable you to get around a certain reality. You don’t have to go through an airport terminal, you don’t have to interact, you don’t have to be patient, you don’t have to be uncomfortable. These are the things that remind us we’re human…

How did the jet change your dad? It wasn’t just the plane, but it’s not a small thing when you don’t have to be patient or be around other people. It creates this notion that you’re a little bit better than they are. And for the past 40 years, everything in American culture has been reinforcing that belief. We say, ‘Job creators, entrepreneurs, these are the people who make America great.’ So there are people walking around with substantial wealth who think that they have it because they’re better. It’s fundamental to remember that you’re just a member of the human race, like everybody else, and there’s nothing about your money that makes you better than anyone else. If you don’t know that and you have money, it’s the road to hell, no matter how much stuff you have around you…

See, here’s the thing, as I’ve pointed out in the past. Airport security is awful for one simple reason: No one who matters goes through it. They fly on private jets. On the rare occasion those people go first class, well, first class security is far less unpleasant than what the peons go through.

Any problem that does not affect elites, they do not act on, unless they can make money on it. (In which case, their solution is likely to make things worse.)

This is exacerbated by the fact that elites effectively live in bubbles: They don’t have ordinary people as friends. They don’t identify with the middle class or the poor, and if you don’t identify with someone, their pain doesn’t bother you. (This is why, in wartime, the enemy is demonized. It is also why slave owners mostly believed that blacks were were inferior, and subhuman.)

Iger is a bad, even evil man, for the same reason most high-level American executives are. He could easily make his employees lives better and give up nothing that matters (see Disney on what executives would sacrifice) but they don’t do it, because they don’t care about the pain of their “lessers.”

This is a matter of the structure of modern capitalist society, but it is also an affirmative choice by the executive class. In the 50s and 60s these sorts of executive excesses were both illegal and frowned on ethically. It was felt that earning so much more than regular people was actually immoral.

Later generations of executives didn’t see it that way. They felt that “greed was good,” that they “earned it” and that anyone who didn’t earn that much was a loser who was getting what they deserved. If they deserved more, the market would give it to them!

So they worked very hard to change corporate culture, buy government and change laws. For example, stock buy-backs, which are very good for executives with stock-option bonuses, used to be illegal. Then there’s the reduction in top marginal tax rates, the refusal to enforce antitrust laws and on and on.

It took a lot of work, by a couple generations of US executives and other rich people, to get here.

And now they’re rich, and  a lot of Americans are poor. And the reason other Americans are poor is that the rich are so rich. (Yeah, this isn’t the full argument, but the argument is easy enough: Buy the government and have it represent your class interests and everything else follows easily.)

And Bob Iger is evil, though I’m sure he thinks he’s a good person. But a lot of people are poor so he can be rich, and he and his executives could make their employees’ lives a lot better and give up nothing that matters to their own lives. When the situation is “I can help and I won’t even notice it” and you choose not to, well…

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.

Why Buttigieg Beats Harris and Beto to Be the DNC’s Champion

A lot of the candidates are running to the left in one way or the other, but the party itself is uneasy about that. Party insiders, (which 538 mislabels “activists”), dislike Harris most. Many people thought it would be Beto; charismatic, but policy- and conviction-empty.

But the best centrist candidate is like Obama: Comes from a minority, is charismatic, is not in any way actually left-wing, and is empty enough for people to project their hopes onto. Beto makes three of four; Harris has the problem that she has a terrible record as a prosecutor–i.e. she’s not empty enough for people to project their hopes onto.

Only Buttigiegg checks all four boxes: minority (gay), charismatic, not left-wing and empty enough for people to see what they want in him.

To defeat actual left-wingers the best play is to find someone with a non-white male identity, who wants to win badly and has no radical bones or record at all.

Hail, Buttigiegg, saviour, and soon-to-be favoured son of the DNC.

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.

Trump Will Leave and Will Not Launch a Coup

I keep seeing this talking point that “Trump will not leave voluntarily.”

How exactly would he stay?

Trump has not taken the steps necessary for a military coup: The man hasn’t even been filling all the vacancies properly. The military will not support him if he tries to stay after losing an election.

Trump doesn’t have the right personality or skill set for this. I’m not one of those who denies Trump all competency: The man stayed rich, slept with beautiful women, and won the US presidency. He’s good at getting what he wants.

But the man who will end US Democracy is not yet in the White House, and it isn’t Trump. He is not organized enough, he does not keep loyal lieutenants and he cannot delegate properly.

Trump will leave when his time is up. If for some reason he tries to stay, he will not have the support to do so.

The US is in the danger zone for a Caesar, no question. It may well happen. It just won’t be Trump.

Wait for the competent, genuinely charismatic authoritarian or demagogue.

Running around spewing nonsense about Trump makes people in “the boy who cried wolf mode,” and when or if the actual threat happens, they will not be taken seriously. Thanks to their spewing, no one may 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.

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – April 20, 2019

This post is by Tony Wikrent

I have been looking at the work of Cornell University law professor Robert Hockett, who is serving as an economics adviser to Representative Alexandria Occasio-Cortez. I have been delighted to find that Hockett has been working the same angle I have: applying the classical republicanism that informed the creation of USA, to today’s issues of political economy. Hockett’s contribution is the development of the concept of what he calls “the producers’ republic“:

….the United States actually has a distinguished tradition of what I am calling “productive republican” finance. It is a tradition pursuant to which productive assets were deliberately spread broadly among diligent citizens ready to better the lives of themselves, their families, and ultimately their communities through thoughtful, hard work.

Historically, the tradition is rooted in two complementary sources: first, an implicitly opportunity-egalitarian, “productive yeoman” colonial culture and subsequent national self-image, stemming in large measure from the Civic Republican and Classical Liberal ideological origins of the American republic; and second, an attendant suspicion of large aggregations of financial capital, stemming ultimately not only from the inconsistency of such aggregations with equal opportunity and productive yeomanry themselves, but also from many of the Founders’ and their forebears’ personal experiences, as agronomists, with exploitative absentee London banking concerns across the

This past January, Hockett was a participant in a small conference Money as a Democratic Medium, sponsored by Harvard University’s Program on the Study of Capitalism, Institute for Global Law and Policy:

Money, governance, and public welfare are intimately connected in the modern world. More particularly, the way political communities make money and allocate credit is an essential element of governance. It critically shapes economic processes – channeling liquidity, fueling productivity, and influencing distribution. At the same time, those decisions about money and credit define key political structures, locating in particular hands the authority to mobilize resources, determining access to funds, and delegating power and privileges to private actors and organizations.

Recognizing money and credit as public projects exposes issues of democratic purpose and possibility. In a novel focus, this conference makes those issues central. Scholars, policy makers, and students have often assumed that money and credit emerge from private exchange and entrepreneurial activity. Recent work, by contrast, emphasizes that modern currencies depend on collective orchestration. That approach resets the frame.

One of the participants was Jeffrey Sklansky, professor of history at the University of Illinois at Chicago and author of Sovereign of the Market: The Money Question in Early America (University of Chicago Press, 2017). Sklansky gave a brief but excellent overview of the career of Charles Macune, the head of the Southern Farmers’ Alliance from 1886 to December 1889 and editor of its periodical, the National Economist, until 1892. Macune developed the Sub-Treasury idea to break the stranglehold the big banks and grain trading firms had on finance and credit for agriculture. There is precious little information available on Macune, and Sklansky has earned my deep respect for what he is doing.

Hockett’s presentation is also in this video, as is that of Joseph R. Blasi of the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, “The Citizen’s Share: Reducing Inequality in the 21st Century”

This is only one of about a dozen YouTube videos of the Money as a Democratic Medium conference.

In Having a Stake: Evidence and Implications for Broad-based Employee Stock Ownership and Profit Sharing, Blasi writes about the federally mandated profit sharing the administration of George Washington imposed on the cod fishery to rebuild it, after the British had nearly destroyed it because it trained so many of the officers and sailors in the American navy.

….Jefferson, Washington, and the Congress chose to help the industry get back on its feet by what was essentially a tax cut (in lieu of tariffs paid for supplies coming from outside the U.S.) to the owners and workers of the cod fishery on the condition that the ship owners share the tax credits with all the workers…. they rejected outright subsidies to the wealthy owners who controlled the boats and warehouses on the basis that any government tax credits had to include workers. The law was explicit in its sharing criterion: owners had to share five-eighths of the credit with the crew, and additionally have a signed agreement with the captain and crew for broad-based profit sharing on the entire catch throughout the voyage. The tax credits were administered by the Treasury Department headed by Alexander Hamilton through the port Customs’ Houses. The arrangement helped rejuvenate the industry. Congress continued it for many decades. See The Citizen’s Share: Reducing Inequality in the 21st Century, Joseph R. Blasi, Richard B. Freeman, and Douglas L. Kruse. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 1-8. See also the Report on the American Fisheries by Secretary of State Jefferson.

[Public Banling Institute 4-20-19]

Thomas Marois, Senior Lecturer in Development Studies at the University of London and recent guest on It’s Our Money with Ellen Brown, argues that until people regain control of money and credit, we will not be able to stop economic and ecological crises.
“There’s really no option. We can’t simply relegate the question of money and finance and credit … We can’t do anything until we have control of money. And to leave that to the private sector is a strategic mistake because then they control that agenda. They control credit. They control access to credit.”

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