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

Open Thread

Use to discuss topics unrelated to recent posts. (No Covid, no “truckers”.)


How to Keep Enforcers Like Police, the Military, and Spies Under Control


If Russia Invades


  1. different clue

    I have brought here from time to time videos by someone named Beau of the Fifth Column. I have found him to be level-headed and a clear and careful thinker so far as I can tell.

    So I found his recent video “Let’s talk about Ukraine warming up . . . ” to be unsettling because it advances a narrative at severe odds with the narrative I have come to believe.

    He thinks, for reasons he lays out, that the RussiaGov does indeed plan to either invade Ukraine or “incursionize” into Ukraine. And he also thinks he sees clear evidence of the RussiaGov indeed engineering a pretext-on-the-ground in Ukraine to justify an invasion or incursion. He also discusses what he thinks the Ukrainian-forces response would be and why. He also says that “everyone he knows and has asked” thinks the US will not commit any ground forces to any direct counter-Russian fighting in Ukraine.

    He has been right about other things some of the time. Could he be right about this? The most disturbing thing to me about his being right, if he is right, is what it says to me about my thought process in accepting-or-not the narrative coming from the DC narrative makers. And what it says to me is that the DC FedRegime and its NATO co-spokesfolk have lied so often about so much that I automatically give the the “boy who cried wolf” treatment. It would be unfortunate if the DC FedRegime and the Establishment Voices have destroyed citizen trust so thoroughly by lying so thoroughly and so often that we believe that any wolf we may actually see is a Disney Animatronic wolf-robot designed in the CIA Brain Control Laboratories at Langley, Virginia. And even more unfortunate if the wolf which appears, if it does appear, is the real thing this time. And that was the whole point of the fable.

    I suppose the next few weeks worth of time will tell.

    Anyway, here is the link.

  2. bruce wilder

    Would anyone like to discuss the unfolding international relations drama between the U.S., Russia and the European powers over Ukraine?

    The Russians have apparently instigated a “crisis” in symbiosis with the Blob, but American Media accounts and pundit analysis is remarkably shallow. Wasn’t Trump impeached over something to do with Bidens and Ukraine?

    Canada’s Chrystia Freedland, too, has a murky history with Ukraine and speaks fluent Ukrainian. Has Canada taken a stance officially?

    I am personally uninterested in cheerleading for any “side” but am intetested in what would lead anyone confidently casting the conflict in stark moral terms with good guys and bad guys.

  3. someofparts

    Interesting points from the linked article:

    “The format of the Daily Show and comparable shows (e.g., Last Week Tonight With John Oliver) makes it possible to deliver political commentary and news with plausible deniability about political viewpoints (“it’s only comedy”).”

    I guess this is something everyone knows, but the point is still worth stressing. These shows are intentionally political, and comedy is just a sly way to deliver political content. Of course the public is in on the joke and gets the last laugh by making Joe Rogan super popular and Trevor Noah a marginal nobody.

    Meanwhile, here’s another interesting point in the article:

    “Angola approached China in 2002, and the relationship has expanded since. Angola and China trade directly in oil. While most oil deals in the global economy are transacted in US dollars, China often makes “infrastructure for resources” deals, circumventing the US dollar altogether.”

    I did not realize that some of the infrastructure China builds for other countries are a direct trade for resources in order to sidestep using US Dollars.

    The longer I think about it the more it seems like maintaining dominance of the global financial system is the only power move left for the US and is really the key to everything the US does globally. Iraq and Libya were destroyed because their leaders made noise about trading oil in Euros or developing a pan-African currency. Yemen was targeted for destruction because of their UN vote against the invasion of Iraq.

    The rest of the world has to wean itself away from murderous US financial rule if it is to survive at all. Yet any direct attempt to do so is certain to bring utter appalling American destruction upon the unfortunate citizens of any nation that tries it.

    It is going to be interesting to see how the rest of the world manages to work around the problem. In this context, I guess the obvious complete inability of the American ruling class to govern effectively is good news. If we are lucky, the US will just get weaker and weaker until our ability to launch global carnage can be easily countered by superior cyber weapons wielded by countries who have not plundered their own economies.

    Once the greenback stops being the dominant global currency, the US economy is going to yo-yo down to the level appropriate to our actual productive capacity. Whatever emerges from that won’t be anything that those of us alive today will even recognize.

  4. Mark Pontin

    someofparts: ‘I did not realize that some of the infrastructure China builds for other countries are a direct trade for resources in order to sidestep using US Dollars.”

    Not only this. Alongside no longer buying US T-bills, all those US dollars China amassed as payments for goods manufactured in China and as foreign exchange reserves, they’re now using as downpayments to buy ports and other infrastructure elsewhere in Asia, Africa, and Europe (the latter where they can, like Greece). So Beijing is now moving very purposively to spend its dollars before the decline of the dollar as global reserve currency gets to be a factor.

    someofparts: “The longer I think about it the more it seems like maintaining dominance of the global financial system is the only power move left for the US and is really the key to everything the US does globally. ”

    Doh! Always has been. Except ….

    Bruce: “Would anyone like to discuss the unfolding international relations drama between the U.S., Russia and the European powers over Ukraine?”

    Sure. Almost invariably, what emerges from the exit chute of US foreign policy is not coherently formulated strategy, but the outcome of ongoing factional battles in Washington between various blocs within the Federal-level ruling class, notably the Pentagon and CIA and State, but not excluding smaller fiefdoms like DIA and the thirteen other intel agencies (when I last looked), industry lobbyist groups, etc., etc., as well as very small but powerful groups within those larger groups that most people will never hear about (forex, Andy Marshall’s Office of Net Assessment at the Pentagon played a giant role in defense procurement policy through fifteen presidential administration while Marshall was alive).

    You know all this, of course. But to repeat: in practice, this means that mostly NOBODY formulates a coherent US strategy — I know you didn’t think the Biden administration was doing it –and what the US state says and does is only the result of:

    [a] inertial trends and infighting in Washington that have served to justify the existence of a specific department/faction/fiefdom/ideological group over the decades (i.e. most obviously, anti-Russia policies so brain-dead that the US ignored Putin’s offers to join NATO a couple of decades ago);

    [b] US foreign policy formulated to enforce on the international order some set of rules that benefits some industrial group — US banks, energy companies, and such — and this often only in the short term, because specific persons stand to enrich themselves and then be gone (much like the 2008 GFC, in other words).

    Turning to the Ukraine and applying this shorthand analysis there: [a] is manifested in the whole mindless expansion of NATO and the US military-industrial complex into Eastern Europe till the Russians finally put their foot down forcefully and say you’re not basing missiles aimed at us on our borders, and everybody in the West acts outraged like Russia is the aggressor; and [b] the simultaneous drive to keep Nordstream 2 from opening up so as to maintain Germany and the EU in subaltern status to the US empire, while simultaneously selling the Europeans vastly-overpriced LNG from the US.

    And thereby the stupid short-termism of the whole project becomes apparent. I don’t know what Germany and the EU will choose to do. But should they obey the Empire when/if sanctions get applied on Russian energy exports, there simply isn’t enough LNG that the rest of the world can supply to keep Germany and much of Northern Europe running. The US energy companies that stand to benefit from selling a whole lot of vastly overpriced LNG could probably care less about that, but Germany and much of Europe will become deeply alienated by having complied with the US in their own self-screwing, and will part company with the US because of it. (And this isn’t even to reckon with the fact that Biden and co. have screwed the pooch so royally at home that the Republicans will probably be back in 2024.)
    It also strikes me that Putin’s stance regarding energy export sanctions has a little bit of the ‘Brer Rabbit’ about it, i.e. please, Massah, don’t force me to sell all Russia’s natural gas and oil and wheat (Russia is now the biggest global exporter of grain) to China, and switch from the dollar system. In the longer term, this analysis by Patrick Armstrong seems on the money —

  5. Ian Welsh

    Excellent comment Mark.

    I wouldn’t, if I were Putin, want to be selling all (or almost all) my grain and petro to China, just because if you’re locked into one buyer it’s bad for negotiations.

  6. StewartM

    My offering is about all the economic gloom-and-doom news reporting. We’re now seeing that

    a) a majority of Americans say that their personal finances are better, that most of the “Great Resignation” or “Great Quitting” is actually workers leaving crappy jobs for better jobs.

    b) At the same time, most Americans are gloomy about the state of the economy. Even though the majority say “economically, I’m better off”.

    This has always, to my mind, been the weakness of the American Left…the supposition that making the economic lives of ordinary Americans would translate to enthusiasm and votes and support. I support the left’s programs, but I think you have to consider the endless econo-babble from our elites about “inflation!” “stock market!” “Deficit!!” and other distractions control the narrative.

    I will go this far: the Biden economy so far, is actually the best I’ve participated in. Now, that’s damning with faint praise (my work life essentially started in the late 1970s) but I can damn well say that it’s better than Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” economy, Obama’s economy, the tenure of both Bushes, and perhaps Clinton’s as well. I am glad to see low-paying jobs begging for workers, and (horrors!) having to pay them more. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.

    As for inflation–I just came back from spending $70 on groceries. That will probably last me for at least a week, some of it maybe more. Yes, gas is up a bit, but it’s been way higher, and when purchasing vehicles (I’ve only had *two* my entire tenure working at my company) fuel economy is always a major driver of vehicle choice (along with reliability and vehicle safety). The two cars I have ever owned (I come from a family that drives cars until the give up the ghost) have gotten 35-40 mpg and 30-35 mpg, respectively.

    I make allowances for the very poor–they drive whatever they can get–but for my middle class peers who buy these god-awful full-sized pickup trucks (nearly all never actually use them as pickup trucks) which get 15 mpg and cost 2-3 times for what I paid for my cars–I have no sympathy whatsoever. Despite all the previous oil shocks, they paid a boatload of $$$ to buy a vehicle that will cost them a boatload of money to both fuel and repair….and for what?…to make a fashion statement? Similarly, you can tweak your grocery bill downwards, without sacrificing quality or healthiness, by buyer choice (plus, to be frank, I feel that most people overeat to boot, they eat ‘by a clock’, not by hunger). I still see no difference in my utility bills so far.

    And, to remind everyone, for people in debt, a higher inflation rate is a godsend, shrinking their effective debt. I won’t deny that there are costs (renters, especially are being hard hit) but some of that are due to trends that predate all this (the rich, and now private equity, buying up houses/rental properties). But this economy, while far from the economy I would want, and far as good as the economy when I was a kid (late 60s) is still possibly the best of my working adult life, as far as I can see.

    Rant over.

  7. someofparts

    “So Beijing is now moving very purposively to spend its dollars before the decline of the dollar as global reserve currency gets to be a factor.”

    Even though I understand that in the long run this will be better for the global community, I still get almost physically sick dreading the impact it will have on me personally.

  8. bruce wilder

    thanks for that comment, Mark

    the New York Times is full of shameless propaganda, which is pretty much all I learned there today.

  9. different clue


    I have watched Trevor Noah a few times, and he has earned every bit of his marginal nobodytude.

    About dollar decline if/when the Chinese Government-Business Industrial Complex spends its dollar hoard down to the point where it no longer has to worry about the value of the few dollars it ends up with . . . . a dollar decline would cause some very hard times for people within the Dollar Sphere who have only a limited number of dollars and a very fixed trickle of dollars coming in. It might be the kind of hard times which would merit some thoughtful preparation-suggestions on the Surviving Hard Times thread.

    On this thread, I would say in briefest, if you have space to stockpile consumer durables like toilet paper, multi-year-storable foodstuffs, etc., why not slowly patiently build up that multi-year stockpile? If the dollar declines deeply, foreign currencies, especially rising superpower currencies like the RenMinBi, will become worth more dollars than they are now. Which means they can be used to buy more America stuff per RenMinBi than they can now. It will be a great bargain hunting opportunity for China and a Great Depression for average Americans. In America a roll of toilet paper will cost a day’s wages if you are lucky enough to have a job, whereas a roll of American toilet paper will cost the average Chinese a few minute’s Chinese wages once that New Monetary Order is established. So the Chinese will buy up all our toilet paper and leave none for us. Won’t you be glad you put your bed up on a loft and stuffed the space under the bed with a lifetime supply of toilet paper?

    ( People living near large zones of deep shady woods will be able to figure out how to grow moss gardens in the woods and use moss for toilet paper. If they can grow a sustainable year’s supply of toilet moss every year, then the disappearance of toilet paper will not be a problem for them. It reminds me of a cartoon I saw once in the Haudenosaunee Newspaper Akwesasne Notes one time. It shows a fur trapper grinning at us-the-readers and saying ” its getting to where the only people who can afford fur are millionaires and trappers.”

  10. different clue


    Good point. The immediate short-term economy we actually swim in day-to-day is less bad than it has been for a few-couple decades now.

    This would be a fine time for those who can invest in “survivalness” to begin spending some of their money on “survivalness” preparations. Some people just can’t. But those who can, really should.

    The Overclass plans for those of us whom it deigns to allow to survive the Jackpot at all . . . . to live like Haitians. Perhaps we can beat them to the punch and end up living like Sardinians or Corsicans . . . . and keeping more of ourselves and eachother alive than what the Overclass wants to see.

  11. Astrid


    Maybe inflation doesn’t matter much to childless middle class people who own their homes (or have decent rent control protection) and drive relatively reliable vehicles. For people living on the financial edge, rent has gone up double digits YOY, ditto food, ditto gas prices and gods help you if you need a car. The stress of schooling and caring for kids seems pretty extreme these days.

    Life for me and my set is pretty good, basically a bunch of pampered people getting cabin fever and eager to return to flyaway vacations, our homes and retirement accounts have gone up 25+%, and grocery bills are a blip compared to everything else.

  12. NR

    And, to remind everyone, for people in debt, a higher inflation rate is a godsend, shrinking their effective debt.

    This is only true if their income goes up along with inflation, which seems to be true for some, but is rarely true for everyone.

  13. someofparts

    I was thinking about this passage from M. Pontin explaining the incoherent gibberish that passes for US foreign policy these days.

    “what emerges from the exit chute of US foreign policy is not coherently formulated strategy, but the outcome of ongoing factional battles in Washington between various blocs within the Federal-level ruling class, notably the Pentagon and CIA and State, but not excluding smaller fiefdoms like DIA and the thirteen other intel agencies (when I last looked), industry lobbyist groups, etc., etc., as well as very small but powerful groups within those larger groups that most people will never hear about ”

    I realized that this also explains the incompetence of our national response to covid, where we are literally just giving up on fighting the plague at all, but not before blocking access to any treatments that can’t be used by the overlords to hoover up extreme profits. Regan’s dictum that ‘government is the problem’ has guided the behavior of our misruling class for so many decades that we finally no longer have an effective government at the federal level.

  14. someofparts

    When it comes to economic hardship now or later, I don’t think it is much of a leap to point out that single mothers without robust social supports will always be the worst victims. To me this suggests that by focusing help and remedial measures on that part of the population, we will be taking the best first step possible to reverse engineer the economic death spiral all of us see ahead. If I get my own little economic lifeboat stabilized enough to be in a position to lend anyone else a helping hand, I guess that is where I will look for a chance to step up.

  15. StewartM


    For people living on the financial edge, rent has gone up double digits YOY, ditto food, ditto gas prices and gods help you if you need a car.

    I mentioned specifically people at the bottom who drive old gas-guzzlers because that’s all they could get hands on. (However, my car is now 17 years old; and I came from a family who drove vehicles quite literally for 30 years or more. One of the financial myths is that it’s better to buy another car than to fix your own; usually you just swap problems anyway).

    I know because many years ago I used to be poor, during Reagan. Let me tell you, the “Morning In America” economy crushed the poor–I know because I lived it. Most of the problems you list already preceded Biden; the current economy may not be better but insofar as I can see, it’s not worse or at least not terribly worse. For one thing, the labor shortage means your boss is now far, far, far less to lay you off on a whim (I’m seeing signs in front of low -wage establishments offering above-minimum wage pay to start!). And if you have any debt (student debt?) it’s being shrunk.

    Rent is more problematic. I agree that this is a bad time to find a house or apartment or condo. However, if you are already are renting, usually (knowing landlords) good tenants are such rare assets that a landlord will do whatever it takes to keep them, including forgoing rent increases. That’s because a small landlord values the constant reliable revenue stream, and appreciates tenants who don’t destroy the property.

    So the problem here once again has little to do with the current inflation, but arises from private equity taking over rental properties and they (being the usual short-sighted stupid capitalist crowd) WILL raise rents through the ceiling; anything for short-term profits baby!

    I could go one–computing devices have also skyrocket–but that’s because again not only of supply chain problems, but because of the damn bitcoin miners. Again, a pre-existing trend.

    I’m let to conclude why we have this econo-babble is that our elites are desperate to kick the poors again with austerity than anything else.

  16. different clue


    If one wistfully believes that the governmental response was ever meant to control covid, then one sadly considers that response to be incoherent and irrational, as M S Pontin described the government’s foreign policy output to be.

    If one believes ( as I do) that the governmental response to covid was secretly meant to spread covid everywhere in order to kill as many people as fast as possible short of being seen to be doing so, then the governmental response to covid appears deeply successful. And to me it does appear deeply successful in achieving its REAL aim, which is to make covid endemic and ubiquitous. Deliberately and on purpose.

    The government’s deepest long-range hope is that long-covid and after-covid will kill a hundred million Americans slowly enough that we will all live long enough to pay all of our FICA taxes and not die until we become just old enough to collect Social Security. I am trying my best to stay covid-free in the teeth of the government policy to give me covid over and over and over again in order to kill me when I reach the age of Social Security eligibility.

  17. someofparts

    diff clue – Doesn’t sound far-fetched to me at all.

  18. Astrid


    What you say about tenants is true for small landlords but not corporate ones. And even small landlords can jack up rent if they just bought the rental property for a heck of a more money and now want their pound of flesh from the tenant. I read about so many of these stories in the Collapse subreddit, people who just saw renewal notices asking for 25-50% rent increases, especially in PNW, mountain West, and all over Canada.

    As for cars, Obama’s cash for clunkers means there’s far fewer old cars that you can fix yourself. These days, most cars repairs require diagnostic software that car manufacturers charge thousands for every year. You can’t get around it. Given the constraints for car parts and new cars due chip and other logistics chain shortages, if you need a car now, you may be looking at paying MSRP for a 5 year old vehicle or waiting a year for a new one. I’ve been begging for the chance to buy a 20 year old F-150 from my father-in-law because new trucks are so ridiculously expensive to buy and to maintain.

    And just because the bads started with Reagan and accelerated under NAFTA Billy and Obama, doesn’t mean it can’t get worse. More and more people, who would have gotten by in earlier times, are slipping through the cracks. I lived through previous recessions, they were about lost careers and lost homes/savings. These days, for the precarity it is literally about people working multiple jobs forced to live in their cars/RVs/tents. For the precarity, things haven’t been this bad since the Great Depression (arguably much worse since we now have debt, high rent, totally broken political system, no unions, medical extraction complex, and COVID). Meanwhile, stocks and property value are still flying high for those clinging to the top 10% and hey, we can work from home and do video conferencing.

  19. Astrid

    Just to clarify, paying MSRP for the current model year, for that 5 year old car.

  20. Trinity

    Found this to share, from Contrary Brin.

    Following the announcement of 23 newly extinct species comes this:

    “== There is no lion king! ==

    There is absolutely no ‘lion king.’ It’s an important observation in light of 6000 years of propaganda that monarchy/oligarchy/aristocracy are ‘natural.’

    In fact, Nature herself does not like pyramids of power. In natural ecosystems, there is no lion king! Lions may be top predators, but they live in fear of roaming bands of young male cape buffalo, who hunt and corner and kill unwary lions and trample their cubs, an event that grows more common if lion populations rise too high.

    Now we see documented the same thing in the oceans. The ‘top predator’ orcas are often thwarted by big, tough humpback whales who smack orcas with their long pec fins to protect not only smaller humpbacks, but grays and even seals!

    That this pattern has been so persistent and consistent, across every past and present complex system for a billion years, is demonstrated time and again by Multilevel Selection (MLS) Theory, which partitions natural selection into within- and between-group components. It means that the universe is filled with realms that within seem fiercely competitive…

    …but when the competition has a chance to form complexities, higher orders appear that seem cooperative. And it is an observation that would be AI-lords would to well to note. ”

    So in one scenario, it’s a crowd (heavy, with hooves, deadly force) and the other it’s just bigger, pissed off smack downs.

    There’s probably a ton of other examples we might borrow from.

  21. StewartM


    But it this way: during the times that gas spiked up to $5 a gallon here, after Katrina, there was not a peep out of the press mentioning how this was economic gloom and doom, even though $5 a gallon was more hurtful to people driving gas-guzzlers than the $3 a gallon now. This says it all about the current media narrative wanting to re-institute austerity on the poors. They have it too good, ya know!

    (Even see the Dominoes ad now paying customers $3 if they pick up their pizzas? Can you say “we can’t find people desperate enough to destroy their vehicles by piling the miles on them, all for chump change?”)

    Let me also say that Reagan didn’t kill inflation immediately. The Carter economy had 10 % plus inflation, and I was poor then, but I kept up as the minimum wage was increased every year. Under Carter, even with 10 % inflation, I was able to *save money* and indeed had some dental work done myself with out-of-pocket money. Come Reagan, those increases stopped, and my rent went up from being 25 % of my monthly budget to almost 50 % of my monthly budget in the spate of a few years. Basically I survived off loans.

    Nor would I say the bads started with Reagan and accelerated, it did get a bit better under Clinton (well, unless you were under AFDC which went ‘poof’ in 1996; I still knew lots of people living and working at near minimum wages then). But the Reagan-Bush Morning-In-America economy was particularly toxic for the poors.

    I would also say that my experience living near-minimum wage jobs also gave the lie to Mitten’s “47 % comment” about how the poor ‘don’t pay taxes’. Well, let me tell you, working back then I paid not only Federal taxes, not only sales taxes but income taxes as well, even though (by the nature of my job) I rarely got a full 40 hours (small businesses avoid overtime like the plague).

    A big problem I see in the current economy is that, well, as much as I like seeing the low-wage workers get breaks, and seeing everyone get better job security, in the end we do need more workers. As Abraham Lincoln said, it’s work, not capital,. that creates wealth, and our aging population is why we need immigrants. The supply got largely cut off by Covid. We need the immigrants, we need the workers, but we also don’t need Daddy Warbucks making the decision on ‘how many workers are needed” and how much they get paid. One of the things that impresses me when I go to Taiwan is how woefully understaffed comparable US businesses are by comparison, to the detriment of customer service and product quality. Daddy Warbucks cuts everything to the bare minimum, in fact, sometimes more than the minimum as the businesses often sacrifice their future for short-term present profits.

  22. Astrid


    Respectfully, just because things were bad in the past doesn’t mean that reality can’t get worse. People can work around and survive temporary gas price increases and even food price increases, swallow up their pride and wait in the food pantry line. But many can’t deal with evictions and rent spikes and COVID ravaging their bodies. Previously productive citizens are ending up sleeping rough inn large numbers, I would say that’s a big step down for the have nots from previous crises.

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