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

Month: June 2020 Page 1 of 4

Time to Derail Nuclear Treaty Talks?

So, the kerfuffle of the moment is the claim that Russia paid a bounty to the Taliban for each killed American GI.

The sources are unnamed intelligence community members. No proof is provided beyond their anonymous word.

Intelligence communities never lie and certainly never anonymously and with no proof.


Meanwhile, the US and Russia had just begun talks to extend the New Start nuclear treaty. That treaty was to reduce the number of active nuclear launchers by half. Presumably, an extended treaty would reduce nuclear launchers or weapons further.

This is a good thing.

But it is not what a lot of people in the US military industrial complex want. Nor do they want Trump to leave Afghanistan, which he keeps talking about doing (though I doubt he will, even the possibility is anathema to the permanent state).

I think it is unlikely that Russia offered a bounty for US soldiers, but I don’t much care. US soldiers shouldn’t still be in Afghanistan, and if you want to talk hard realpolitik, Russia has interests in Afghanistan which far exceed those of the US. The US, which funded the Mujahideen to kill Russian soldiers (whether there was a bounty or not), is in no position to get all high and mighty about their occupying troops coming under attack by insurgents supported by another Great Power.

Whatever happened, further decreases in nuclear weapons, which are capable of wiping out all life on Earth, matter more.

Russia is a state which has done many evil things and is doing evil things today. Likewise, the US is a state which has done many evil things and is doing evil things today. Putin is a bad man (though, a competent one). Trump is a bad man (though largely incompetent–except not at campaigning).

Irrespective of the fact that both states have done bad things, including to each other, it is paramount that they reduce nuclear weapons, and that we avoid a nuclear war between these two states. We are not substantially safer than we were in the Cold War; they still have enough nukes to kill us all.

But also, don’t believe US intelligence agencies without hard proof, and certainly don’t believe anonymous sources.

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Being Held Hostage by the Cost of Insurrection

The US is in the middle of a low-grade civil insurrection; that’s what all these protests and riots are. (When you torch an entire police station, that counts as insurrection.)

When a civil insurrection happens, riots and protests, and bad stuff will also occur. People will be hurt and killed, property will be damaged. Some of it will be done by the police or military, but some of it will be done by those rising. People will be hurt or killed who don’t deserve it. Property will be torched whose owners didn’t deserve it.

That’s a given. An insurrection is like war: Bad shit will happen to innocents.

This is why the bar for insurrection is high. It’s higher than for war, because, in war, the population and elites think the damage will be done to the other country. (They may turn out wrong, but that’s what they believe.)

So, yeah, bad things have happened during this US insurrection. That was a given, and anyone who thought it would be otherwise is a fool.

This is, however, what elites count on: That the costs of insurrection will be high, and made higher by the elite reaction. Most violent protests were started by riot cops being violent with protesters who were peaceful.

Because the cost is so high, people put up with terrible situations for a long time. The damage drips and is spread out over time and the community, whereas the costs of insurrection are immediate and hit a lot of people more or less at the same time.

The death and casualty count from the US not having universal health care is far higher than any possible casualty count from these riots. Nor have as many people been killed during this insurrection as are killed by cops in the US every year (a number in excess of 1,000).

By the pure math, a very high cost should be acceptable to tear down the current order. If all that did was move police violence to a European number (1k), enact universal health care (26k), end wars (slightly under 1k), and allow the US to deal with a pandemic properly, the saved lives would be 28K yearly, plus a few hundred thousand from the pandemic.

This leaves out people committing suicide, the highest incarceration rate in the world, the epidemic of drug abuse, the death and suffering from inflated drug prices, and all the suffering caused by massive income inequality.

At the most conservative estimate, if you overthrew the current order at the cost of 100,000 lives, it would pay back in five to six years.

The argument for all out revolt, replacing the current system with Nordic style social democracy (Finland/Norway, not Sweden) is airtight if you think you can succeed. (I know many people, observing the US military lose almost every war since WWII, think it is undefeatable in a country far better suited to guerilla warfare even than Afghanistan, but of course, there is a very good chance it would not come to military vs. population.)

No one condones violence that hurts the innocent or destroys the property of innocents. But if you take violence entirely off the menu, and won’t do full social-solidarity general strikes, then a depraved elite (which the US has) will simply ignore you and outwait you.

Minneapolis City council just approved, with every councilor voting for it, a motion to end the Minneapolis police department.

Clutch pearls all you want, but insurrections are always going to be at least somewhat nasty.

But the question isn’t the hurt of the insurrection, the question is whether the status quo after it is better enough to swamp that harm.

Don’t target innocents. Also don’t allow yourself to be held hostage by those who are hurting even more innocents right now, “We can kill tens of thousands and impoverish millions while destroying entire countries, but if you add even one more innocent life to the total opposing us, you are the bad ones.”


(Also, ignore scaremongering about Stalin and Mao. Communism of that variety is long dead and NO ONE is trying to re-impose it.)

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Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – June 28, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – June 28, 2020
by Tony Wikrent

The Epidemic

What To Look For In A Face Mask, According To Science
[, via Naked Capitalism 6-25-20]

Different researchers have set up devices that spray tiny droplets at fabric and then measured how much of it comes through the other side, while also measuring air flow to determine breathability. What they’ve found is that it’s less about the type of fabric — cotton, linen, silk — and more about the quality of fabric, according to Segal. Higher quality fabrics have a tighter weave and thicker thread that do a better job of blocking droplets from passing through.

But you also want the fabric to be breathable, according to Taher Saif, a mechanical engineer at the University of Illinois who has been researching face mask material. Saif said if breath can’t get through the mask, it will find another way out, allowing respiratory droplets to spread.

…. Segal offered a rule of thumb: hold the material up to a bright light. “Look at the light coming through the fabric,” Segal said. “If it outlines individual fibers and you can see the light through fabric, it’s probably not as effective. The less of that you can see, the better the filter.”

“Data map reveals the 23% of US counties that are currently seeing an uncontrollable growth in COVID-19 – as new model predicts Phoenix alone could see 28,000 new infections a DAY by July 18” [Daily Mail, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-26-20]

“Twenty three percent of counties across the United States are now seeing an uncontrollable growth in new COVID-19 infections, according to a data map… Phoenix could see 28,000 new cases a day by July 18…. large parts of the South and Southwest are showing an ‘epidemic trend’ or ‘spreading trend’ for new coronavirus infections…. Of the 3,141 counties across the country, 745 are currently experiencing an epidemic outbreak and 1,232 are seeing spreading trends, according to the data map. Nearly 670 counties are currently seeing a controlled trend in new coronavirus cases. According to the map, the entire state of Arizona is seeing either epidemic or spreading trends. ”

A link to the map

The unintended impact of COVID-19 on cancer
[The Hill, via Naked Capitalism 6-21-20]

In April 2020, the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science published a report that shined a light on the unintended impact of our response to the treat of COVID-19. According to the report, it is estimated that the delay in 22 million cancer screening tests will result in an increased risk of delayed or missed diagnoses for 80,000 patients.

Strategic Political Economy

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 6-26-20]

Open Thread

As usual, feel free to use the comments to this post to discuss topics unrelated to recent posts.

Do Not Ask Western Leadership to Fix Anything

References to Corbyn aside, this is as true as it was when I first published in, Nov 16, 2015. I was going to write a new article on trust in leadership, and I will, but I want to emphasize the basics first.

Why are people calling for Western leaders to “fight terrorism”?

Global deaths from terrorism:

2002: 725

2010: 13,186

2014: 32,727

Those attacks mostly weren’t hitting the West. Now, a tiny fraction are.


Without the US arming and organizing the Afghani Mujahideen in the eighties there is no Al-Qaeda.

Without the US and British invasion of Iraq, there is no ISIS.

Understand this: Widespread global terrorism exists because of the US’s actions specifically and the West’s generally.

Let us turn now to economics. Inequality has been increasing since the 1970s. It has become worse every decade, with only minor reversals. After the financial crisis, it became so bad that more than all the productivity gains in the environment went to the top three percent.

This happened in large part due to various financial, economic, and legislative “reforms.” It was deliberate, in other words. Inequality is a result of deliberate action by US leadership.

Austerity is, likewise, the result of deliberate action by Western elites, generally. They decided to deliberately impoverish their citizens and have done so.

This is not unique to the West. India claims much economic progress, but the average number of calories eaten per capita has gone down over the last thirty years. The average Indian is worse off than they were when India was run on frankly socialist principles.

The leadership classes are chosen for their ability and desire to become leaders. If that overlaps with an ability and desire to make their society good for the majority of the population, that’s great, but in most countries right now, that’s not how or why they are selected.

These people are selected by oligarchs, for oligarchs, and their skillset is pleasing oligarchs. This is done through a system that selects candidates before they get to voters, even primary voters or the equivalent. In most cases, you do not get a choice of a leader who will put ordinary people’s interests first.

To see what happens when someone does slip through, take a look at how UK Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn has been treated by the Press. I have never seen such libelous coverage of a political leader. One UK headline yesterday read “Corbyn and his friends must choose what side they are on” with respect to the Paris attacks.

Here is what Corbyn said, by the way:

“Today, all our thoughts and sympathy are with the people of Paris.

“What took place in the French capital yesterday was horrific and immoral.

“We stand in solidarity with the people of France – as with all victims of terror and violence.

“I have cancelled my engagements today to hold discussions on events in France with shadow cabinet colleagues and be briefed by Downing Street security officials.

“It’s vital at a time of such tragedy and outrage not to be drawn into responses which feed a cycle of violence and hatred.

“We are proud to live in a multicultural and multi-faith society, and we stand for the unity of all communities.”

This is an eminently sane, statesmanlike statement that simply says our response should not make the situation worse, but Corbyn is being vilified for it.

This sort of propaganda works, Corbyn took over the Labour leadership with negative favorability ratings, virtually unheard of. He did so because he had been endlessly smeared by the Press.

Let me blunt. Anyone who wants our leadership to “fix” terrorism has either not been paying attention, is a fool, or is a tool who knows they’ll make it worse but expects to personally benefit in some way.

This situation is similar to the Iraq war in the sense that anyone stupid and immoral enough to invade Iraq could not be expected to run the war in a way which would lead to good results.  One can make a  theoretical case that an invasion of Iraq could have worked out well, but that can’t happen in the real world because no one who would invade Iraq in the first place would be competent or just enough to actually implement improvements.

Note, however, that the Iraq war was an immense profit opportunity and that a great deal of money was funneled to the right people. Again, this is one of our leaders’ core competencies, this is what they do well.

Years ago, Stirling Newberry told me that the job of modern politicians was to wrangle the masses for oligarchs. He was right. That is what they do. They are good at manipulating enough of the population, and they are good at giving money and power to those who already have both.

They are not good at anything else, and expecting them to do anything else is insane.

You do not want Hollande, Obama, and Cameron (let alone Erdogan) trying to fix the Middle East. You do not want the people who report to them trying to do so. You do not want western militaries trying to do so.

At least not if you want a reduction, rather than an increase, in terrorism.

The first rule of holes applies. The first thing you want the leadership to do is stop digging. Other than criminal investigations, you should want them to do nothing. No military action, no legislative changes. Military action hasn’t worked, legislative changes will just be more gutting of civil liberties, and that hasn’t worked either.

This is true of virtually everything. They cannot and will not fix inequality, because their raison d’etre is to create inquality. They cannot fix the financial system or the economy because it exists as it is to increase inequality. They cannot run a war because they were not chosen for that sort of competence.

If you want to fix any problem in the West, or have the West be helpful for fixing any global problem, you need to fix the Western leadership class. That means fixing Western media, education, corporations, etc, etc. The list is long, because they have deliberately broken virtually everything to turn it into an opportunity for a very few people to become richer.

If you are British, you have a decent, honorable man who actually wants to do almost all the right things: Corbyn. Get to work supporting him, however you can. If he goes down, the political class will take it as a lesson that trying to help ordinary people is a really bad idea. (Well, they have already decided this, so work to prove them wrong.)

But, in general, you need to retake control of the system which creates leaders, you need to restructure, bypass, or break the media conglomerates (or all three), and you will need to restructure society from the ground up so that it does not produce either such corrupt leaders or the people who enable them.

This is a goddamn big job. It is far harder than dropping some bombs on the Middle East, or sending in the troops again. But it is an actual solution to a whole series of problems.

In the meantime, don’t ask your leadership to “fix” anything. That’s not what they are there for. Whenever they want to do anything, your default position should be to oppose it–unless you are 100 percent certain it’s in your interest and have done the hard, cold research and thinking to support that conclusion. Sure, sometimes you’ll be wrong, but most of the time you’ll be right, because they are not in power to make your lives better, but to enrich a small class of people and impoverish the majority.

Any knock-on effects, like terrorism, are secondary to them, and even if they had the desire to fix such problems, they cannot–they do not have the ability. They will simply make them worse, even if it was possible they were sincerely trying to do good.

If you live in the West, the great danger to your life, health, and prosperity is your leadership. It is how your society is run. This is cold, hard, and true.

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As The Next Wave Of Covid Hits

And so, what has happened is that the (mostly) blue states which got hit hard at the start got Covid-19 numbers down (in a fumbling, incompetent and delayed fashion which cost tens of thousands of lives.) Meanwhile other states reopened early or never properly closed and a new wave is hitting.

On April 21st I wrote:

So, right now we have five states in the US that never bothered to self-isolate.

We have the Governor of Georgia announcing he will allow gyms, barbers, and fitness clubs, among others, to reopen on the 24th.

We have the Governor of Florida reopening Florida’s beaches. Good thing Florida doesn’t have a lot of old people!

There are astroturf protests asking for an end to isolation. “Let us die, let us die, let us DIE!” (Also, let us kill others.)

Then on May 11th:

So, the numbers seem to be in decline, and there will be removal of restrictions, and then the numbers will start increasing again in two to six weeks. Because infection rates will be moving off a larger base, they will create a second wave where people start dropping like flies–much larger than the first wave.

Well, that’s where we are now. Enjoy. Multiple states, including Florida (always obviously going to be a problem) have increasing numbers and no sign they intend to reimpose social distancing, let alone track and trace and mandatory mask use.

This is going to go on and on and on, made worse by the fact that the Federal Reserve and Congress have chosen to bail out the rich and give peanuts to everyone else. Riots and protests will continue, because why not? People don’t have enough money, are going to lose their housing, the jobs to go back to don’t exist. Provocations which before were barely tolerable now set off firestorms.

The rich don’t care: they were scared at first, because a lot of them got infected in the first wave. Rich people have a lot of social contacts and travel a lot, BUT now that they know there’s a problem, they can self-isolate and protect themselves, and if they do get sick they receive the best care. Most poor people can’t self-isolate: they live in group housing, their jobs are often physical and usually put them around other people.

So there’s little incentive for Covid-19 to be handled properly: the rich are fine and pretty much safe, they just have to stay home a lot, in their big houses and multi-bedroom condominiums. They’re fine financially. What happens to other Americans is of little concern to them, so why not make them go back to work?

Something like a quarter to a third of small businesses are likely to be destroyed by this crisis. Whatever’s worth buying will be bought up for cents on the dollar by the rich, and they’ll consolidate further control over US real-estate.

Crises are good if you have cash money, and the rich are salivating. Let this drag out, let them take further advantage.

So, the second wave is starting.

If those states which did, in their fumbling and laggardly way, manage to reduce numbers want to keep those numbers down, they will need to find a way to close their borders to all non-essential visitors from out of state. That’s probably unconstitutional, but do it anyway to buy time while it winds thru the courts.

As for everyone else, just know that the second wave is here: it’s a second wave in states other than the ones that were hit hardest the first time BUT it will mean that no states will be able to actually eliminate Covid, because there will be out of state people constantly re-spreading the disease.

It’s going to be a long hot summer and autumn won’t be any better.

Understand that this is a chosen fiasco. All that was required was reasonable subsidies, a moratorium on rent, mortgage and other loan payments, track and trace, mandatory masks and shelter in place orders.

Once your lords and masters realized they were mostly safe, they stopped caring about the crisis. Some states dealt with it acceptably, but on a national level, this is a totally forseeable, and thus essentially planned clusterfuck.

Sorry if you lost or lose people you care about. Or even people you don’t know, but since you aren’t a sociopath, think shouldn’t die.

It’s you, or your elites. Until you remove them from power, by whatever means necessary, they will kill you and let you die whenever it is convenient to them, or just inconvenient to keep you around. (You may have thought it was only brown foreigners like Iraqis they were willing to kill hundreds of thousands of. Wrong.)

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Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – June 21, 2020

by Tony Wikrent

Countering the surveillance state

IF YOU’RE TAKING to the streets to demand justice for the victims of police brutality and homicide, you may want to leave your phone at home. No matter how peaceful your behavior, you are at risk of getting arrested or assaulted by police. Cops might confiscate your phone and search it regardless of whether or not they’re legally allowed to, or they might try to break it, especially if it contains photos or video of their violent or illegal actions.\

At the same time, it’s a good idea to bring a phone to a protest so you can record what’s happening and get the message out on social media. Filming police is completely legal and within your rights, and it’s one of the few tools citizens have against police brutality. It’s also important to be able to communicate with others in real time or to find your friends in case you get separated….

If this is too expensive for you, you may have other options: If you have an old phone collecting dust in a drawer, as long as it still works and the battery still holds a charge, you can use this as your burner phone rather than buying a new one. You just need a new SIM card, like one that comes with prepaid cell service. Make sure to factory reset the phone before getting ready to protest….

The Markup published some good steps to take before bringing your primary phone into a protest, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation has a good guide as well.

How Police Infiltrate, Create Violence and Target Journalists

Lee Camp [via Naked Capitalism 6-20-20]

Where most of the world’s people live…

After Violent Clash, China Claims Sovereignty Over Galwan Valley for First Time in Decades

[The Diplomat, via Naked Capitalism 6-17-20]The writer of the New York Times article on this clash (which I do not link to) made no attempt to explain why this remote area with hardly any inhabitants would be disputed by the India and China. First, the glaciers of the Tibetan Plateau are the source of Asia’s major rivers: Indus and Satluj of Indus river water system, Arun, Ghaghra and Gandak of Ganges river water system, Manas and Brahmaputra of Brahmaputra river water system, Yellow River, Yangtze, Mekong and Salween rivers.

China suspends debt repayment for 77 developing nations, regions
[DefendDemocracy.Press 6-20-20]

China has announced the suspension of debt repayment for 77 developing countries and regions as the nation is working with other G20 members to carry out the G20 debt relief initiative for low-income countries, Chinese officials said at a press briefing at the State Council Information Office on Sunday…. China announced in May that it would provide $2 billion over two years to help other countries respond to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic…..

China has made multilateral donations to the World Health Organization (WHO) of $50 million, and has provided assistance to global organizations including the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization. China also actively assisted in the fundraising event organized by the Solidarity Response Fund of the WHO in China.

Zero Hedge — Beijing Sounds Alarm About Dollar’s Reserve Status
[via Mike Norman Economics 6-19-20]

Guo Shuqing, chairman of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission, delivered a strong warning on the U.S. currency this week. He made four points in a speech at the Lujiazhui Forum in Shanghai:

  • A. The Fed is the de facto central bank of the world. When its policy targets its own economy without considering the spillover effect, the Fed is “very likely to overdraft the credit of the dollar and the U.S.”
  • B. The pandemic may persist for a long period of time, and countries keep throwing money at the problem with a diminished impact. “It is recommended that you think twice and reserve some policy space for the future.”
  • C. There is no free lunch. Watch out for inflation.
  • D. Financial markets are disconnected from the real economy, and such distortions are “unprecedented.” It’s going to be “really painful,” when the policy withdrawal starts….

The Epidemic

Open Thread

Use the comments to discuss topics unrelated to recent posts.

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