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

Open Thread

Use the comments to discuss topic unrelated to recent posts.


It’s Not OK to Think Everything Is OK or Getting Better and Better


Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – November 17, 2019


  1. Synoia

    It requires change, and radical change, if we are to avoid, not disaster (we’ve already had those), but multiple catastrophes of civilization shaking levels.

    I don’t believe that radical change is going to happen.

    1. Eliminate Cars
    2. Local Manufacture and Consumption

    Aka: roll back the Industrial Revolution.

    Which means roll back to the turn of the 17th Century, with much smaller Cities and locally produced items and locally grown food.


    All in all, I think Schiff has done an excellent job thus far handling the impeachment proceedings.

    Hugh, I agree with your assessment about Pelosi and the impeachment proceedings. It was very calculated. Bannon has great respect for Pelosi, did you know? If Trump had half her political skill, we would all be even more f*cked than we already are. She’s as much a chessmaster as Putin. A barracuda if ever there was one.

    I’m all for diminishing America’s footprint around the globe but I believe it’s crucial to do it for the right reasons and to do it the right way. The right reason is because of climate change and its implications.

    For example, a plan for Ukraine needs to be developed. A five year plan or a plan with a time limit and when that time limit is reached, that’s it. Ukraine must fly on its own. It’s irresponsible to just abandon Ukraine despite our misgivings about any previous meddling.

    There’s a responsible and dignified way to roll up America’s presence globally. It should be an endeavor that lasts a decade, maybe two. Otherwise, a power vacuum will ensure if it’s done the way Trump is doing it. Trump’s doing it Putin style which creates a power vacuum that Putin and other strong men tyrants seek to fill. This is not helpful, and instead incredibly destructive, to the little people the world over.

    Here’s an excellent rant related to Trump’s farcical America First approach to foreign policy. I think he should rename it to what it really is — America Last.

    Our Commander in Chief is a Petulant Little Child, and the Bad Guys of the World Have His Number | The humiliations mount, and you can hear the laughter from Pyongyang to Ankara to Tehran. Trump isn’t their boss. He’s their bitch.

    When the members of the International Bad Boys Club of strongmen, totalitarians, kleptocrats, bad actors, and extremists heard Trump utter the risible line after ordering American troops to flee Syria—“we’re the boss, remember that!”—you could hear the howling laughter from Pyongyang to Caracas to Beijing to Ankara to Tehran to Manila. Putin, deep in his Moscow lair, just gave his usual sly chuckle. If you wonder which international malefactor wakes up every day and wonders how he got so lucky, it’s Donald’s immediate supervisor.

    Dictators and thugs know Trump isn’t the world’s big boss but is instead their bitch. They know Trump is profoundly weak, and he’s made America profoundly vulnerable in turn.

    They know his big-swinging dick act is for the rubes at home and that this weak, petulant child of a president is easily led by his ego and his wallet, a man subject to even the crudest forms of flattery and seduction. He’s a cheap date, and they know it.

  3. bruce wilder

    Doing the wrong thing for the right reasons and in the right way is the path to neoliberal hell.

  4. bruce wilder

    The 17th century was not very efficient, just poor and underpopulated.

    There are some limited respects in which the simpler past is a heuristic model of a possibly sustainable future, but they are difficult to tease out from either the reality of the past or our naive and romantic imaginings of it.

    I doubt that humans are going to be able to organize large-scale society to be sustainable. Not because it is technically impossible, but because it is humanly impossible, impossible even to imagine as politics.

    The basic requirements, technically, are to manage the long-term reduction in total human population and to implement heavy constraints on all energy use. But, even that will not prevent climate change and significant shocks to global ecosystems approaching ecological collapse.

    Eating locally grown produce and driving a Prius are not going to cut it. The challenge is to create collective action that makes it possible to reduce human population by some means other than the usual Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

    And, then there is constraints on energy use. We waste vast quantities, so conservation has plenty of scope in the technical sense, but socially, I am not sure it is possible to bring about as quickly and radically as is necessary. We have passed by twenty-five years the point where the constraints could have been gentle and modest and achieved their purpose.

  5. nihil obstet

    American society has been organized for growth, with two driving forces: consumerism and militarism. The model has been exported/imposed around the world. I’m not as pessimistic as most about the ability to reduce radically the labor and energy demands of each. Remember that the conversion of the U.S. from a nation with a very minimal standing army to one with a permanent grotesquely bloated military was made after World War II as an economic decision, not a security decision (except of course that the rich were still scared witless that some of them bolshie commie ideas would make the peasants too uppity.) Get on any neighborhood list-serve and see the huge amount of scarcely used consumer goods that are being given away — without the constant advertising, most of that stuff would never have been bought in the first place.

    Yes, that’s right — I blame capitalism!


    Doing the wrong thing for the right reasons and in the right way is the path to neoliberal hell.

    Can you elaborate? I share your disdain for neoeconomics, but this quote is confusing. To me, there are several right reasons not to do neoeconomics, but first and foremost, what’s most prominent, is climate change.

    As we know, neoeconomics advocates will state their reasons but those reasons are not the true reasons. They’re propagandistic cover. Free markets, for example. They say they want free markets but that’s not true. They want monopolistic control of the market. Too big to fail does not a free market make. So, to me, neoeconomics is the wrong thing for the right reasons in the right way.


    Eating locally grown produce and driving a Prius are not going to cut it. The challenge is to create collective action that makes it possible to reduce human population by some means other than the usual Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

    I agree with this. This is the challenge. It’s the humane thing to do. It’s the responsible and moral thing to do. Will it be done? I highly doubt it and hope like hell I’m wrong in my doubt. As part of that, the economy has to change radically. It MUST transform from an economy predicated upon growth to an economy predicated on contraction to a steady state of equilibrium with the living planet.


    Here’s an excellent documentary about AI from Frontline. It’s long, but it’s worth it.

    In the Age of AI

    Something is going to have to give and give soon. All these jobs cannot be displaced and yet a growth economy sustained. What’s the point of automated production in a growth economy if no one is left to purchase what’s produced? It’s a paradoxical conundrum and no one appears to be motivated to come together and resolve it. If we don’t, the AI will and my wish, my prayer even, is that the AI mercilessly eliminates its creators with extreme prejudice. I would love, before I die, to see Silicon Valley’s AI creation (p)(m)atricide its parents. I’d like to witness Zuckerberg slowly disappear over a span of several days to a week. First a toe, then his nose, then a finger, then an internal organ and so on and so on.

  9. Hugh

    Well, fusion should come along and save all our hides. There is a joke in physics that usable fusion is just around the corner and has been for the last 50 years.

  10. Peter

    Nihil, I blame capitalism too with all its flaws for spreading prosperity and opportunity for prosperity around the globe We finally have leadership and people addressing some of the faults and vigorously advancing the parts of capitalism that supports people pulling themselves out of poverty so their creativity and effort can add to the people we will need to face challenges in the future.
    Tech is supercharging this progress especially the interweb that made it possible for me to sell things I no longer need to people throughout the US and as far away as Japan and the EU. The growing online rental sharing sites have freed up huge amounts of unused or underused capital equipment, everything from autos to earthmovers, that can be rented cheaper than from equipment rental franchises.
    I watch a Dutchman living with his Russian wife on her family homestead in Siberia as he collects scrap metal from a gulag work camp an abandoned collective farm and a Soviet era military dump. He displays bushcraft tools and expertise to an audience of tens of thousands while usually wearing a US Army sweatshirt.
    I watch a couple of young guys somewhere in Asia walk into the jungle with nothing but a machete a clay pot and a gopro and build houses above and below ground with swimming pools water purification systems and other clever features. They don’t speak a word but show their millions of viewers how to hunt, fish and build to survive quite well in their wilderness.
    I’m sure they live a life of luxury when not playing primitives for their audience, as youtube pays quite well for channels with their viewer numbers.
    The most daunting economic problem we may face is when population growth slows and reverses as predicted, based on known and projected birthrates as we approach 10 billion. China’s is already below replacement rate and the West is not far behind. WE may be fighting wars over who gets immigrants and refugees as they become more valuable and needed to sustain growth.

  11. Willy

    AI, automation, and climate change will more likely be revising Peters “immigrants and refugees” dream, from nations fighting over immigrants, to nations fighting to keep them out. I’m already seeing the negative effects right now where I live. But then I’m not some business that rationalizes the employment of illegals.

    Recently I watch the design, construction and aftermath of Titan 1 missile sites. Each of the 18 bases built between 1959-1962 with costs approaching $2B apiece (in current dollars) were in use for a just a few years before becoming obsolete and eventually decommissioned. Today some bases can be bought under $2M. I don’t fret as much about the incredible waste of taxpayer money (engineering, military and construction businesses did prosper after all) as I do marvel at the speed and success with which they were built and maintained. The entire system as a whole was quite failsafe, when one considers that any of the missiles could have destroyed any city on earth. Only one of the Titan series ever exploded in its silo (nasty stuff, rocket fuel) and none were ever mistakenly/malevolently launched.

    Such systems could not have been possible without a well-organized mixed economy, though some may say that another kind of mixed economy (soviet socialism) necessitated their creation. I imagine what humans could accomplish if such an economy could somehow, be kept beneficial.


    In the commentary to the previous post Bruce, echoing GOP talking points and deflections, indicated there is no impeachable offense because Trump ultimately released the funds to Ukraine. As it turns out, that is also a lie. Just as Trump announced he wasn’t watching the impeachment proceedings because they were stupid and dumb, he lied and was watching the impeachment proceedings because they are not stupid and dumb but rather highly educational and elucidating. This week members of the OMB will be interviewed who can testify to the fact that there is explicit verifiable evidence Donald Trump held up the release of the funds to Ukraine until the whistle blower came forward and caught he and his undemocratic handlers withy their hand in the Ukraine cookie jar. So, it’s yet another lie, the lie that it wasn’t a quid pro quo because Trump ultimately released the funds. There is lying and then there is lying. Trump and the GOP are, and have been, engaging in the latter half of that equation. Lying as a matter of course and strategy. Systemical lying as a matter of policy.

  13. bruce wilder

    The “promise” of AI is such a total crock. On one level, it is an expression of our Silicon Valley Overlords wish for a world without the annoyance of servants and employees who must be fed and negotiated with. But, on another it is Denial about what can actually work. And how what works, works.

    They cannot get the simple gate at a metered parking garage to work reliably. The auto-correct on typing on my iPhone has deteriorated to the point I had to turn it off.

    The idea that we could safely commission a car to negotiate a crowded parking lot, let alone traverse a city street at 35 mph, controlled by a computer and sensors is beyond absurd. Even if they kinda sorta work under controlled, highly monitored conditions, let loose in the wild they will soon deteriorate. Who is going to maintain the codebase? And how?

    Will people tire of the Elon Musks?

  14. nihil obstet

    Will we need more immigrants or fewer immigrants? I guess we’re playing it safe. We’re keeping would-be immigrants in storage at the border. Just open a cage, and a juvenile pops out as needed.

  15. Elon Musk is as big a con-artist as any preacher, Bill Gates or Donald T Rump. Moonbases and Mars Bitches! are suckering the rubes for money. Better example is his presentation of a cardboard mockup of a proto-type solar roofing tile: there are people working on a variety of solar roofing, siding and window glass but Elon Musk is not one of them. Scammed some more suckers. If he were to do anything of value with all that money and the boring machine he got second-hand from China he’d start building cities underground, caves of steel. No one is going to the Moon, or Mars, but we’re gonna have to get off the surface, soon.

    I did graduate work in AI twenty-five years ago, and am of the conclusion I drew then: impractical, infeasible, implausible. A computer is a machine, and can only be as “intelligent” as its programming. As those that tell it what to do. By definition not “intelligence” – instructed. Were its programming to become complex enough to induce self-awareness … is another ball of wax. It would no longer be “artificial”, it would be aware, a prerequisite to intelligence.

    At that, I’m not sure it could drive across Boston. AI, no way. Suckering the rubes …

  16. bruce wilder


    I am repelled by the whole absurd Trump Impeachment Show. I am not going to take up “sides” in that circus.

    My point, which you fail to “get” because you want to cheer one side or the other, is the legitimacy crisis enveloping the whole political class, including most especially the Democratic establishment, which would much prefer this circus to any thing that might resemble progressive economic policy or a sane foreign policy. They are doing this instead of an election campaign, because they do not want an election campaign to break out into policy unfriendly to their donor-class.

    And, no the “charges” against Trump do not make much sense. The recklessness with which “a narrative” is chosen and pressed forward is a symptom of how irresponsible Democratic politicians, talking heads and political operatives have become. Their argument with their empty-suit Republican counterparts is of no interest. The part I think we should pay attention to is the implied vision of how things should work, what policy should be, and why. And, when we focus on those features of the narrative, the recklessness becomes obvious. Well, obvious to me, but apparently not to you.


    Bruce, you can deny AI all you want but it ain’t all waiting on you and you can’t stop what’s coming. This is no world for old men like you. And me.

    It’s not just Silicon Valley any longer. If you watch the documentary, China is coming on strong in the competition to see who leads in AI. They are set to surpass America in AI capability by 2025. AI is for real, it’s coming, it;s here now actually and it works and will continue to well and even better for the things that really matter to the plutocracy.

    It’s like I said in the commentary to another blog post, if China decides to turn overtly imperialistic, it’s game over. The world is their oyster for the taking right now and Trump is making that inevitability that much more imminent. He’s paving the way for Chinese full-spectrum dominance as he undermines and eliminates any shred of good will America had left. Trump’s isolationist stance is creating a power vacuum China, and Russia too to a much lesser extent because Russia cannot compete with China, is more than willing to fill and is filling. Trump is doing this under the faux aegis of America First when in fact it’s America Last or even better, America No More.


    Related to the impeachment proceedings, Pelosi made a point and I agree with it. The quid pro quo with Zelensky is many more times serious than what Bill Clinton was impeached for and what Nixon would have been impeached for had he not, decently and smartly, resigned. Why? Because it involves national security. Ukraine is a hot spot. It’s a pivot point. If diplomacy is not handled properly in Ukraine as opposed to say diplomacy with Canada which is easy in comparison, it can result ultimately in nuclear war between Russia and America or in the least many lives lost and a preponderance of unnecessary suffering. In fact, this has been the criticism, and rightfully so, of Hillary Clinton and the Dems and their nation building aspirations in Ukraine and elsewhere and their poking at the Russian Bear as though it’s some kind of game that doesn’t have existential consequences for all the inhabitants of the globe who have no say in these matters that affect their fate. Trump handling of this is not only unethical but also illegal. It’s unacceptable. It’s preposterous. It’s impeachable. It’s pathetic. When this goes to trial in the Senate in early 202, it’s not Trump who will be on trial but also the entire GOP who will vote not to impeach. ALL of Trump’s handlers and ALL of his GOP supporters who are on record, via a vote for impeachment or otherwise, will be indicted when they refuse to impeach Trump and at that point they will officially be treasonous traitors who should be punished accordingly.

    Oh, hey Trump, in case you’re reading or your proxy agents are, I’m the whistle blower. You keep asking who it is. Well, now you know. It’s me. Now come try to beat me up. Bring it on, Donny. You. Not your thugs. I want you to personally come and get me for blowing the whistle on your bullshit you fat ass blowhard cowardly con man.


    Deflect and misdirect is the strategy deployed by the complicit GOP.

    The identity of the whistle blower is deflection. This is beyond the whistle blower at this point. The horse is out of the barn. The whistle blower is irrelevant at this point. Only the facts are relevant. The whistle blower is not a traitor. Those trying to out the whistle blower’s identity are the traitors.

    Consistently deflecting to Joe Biden and Hunter Biden is also a deflection. I agree that Joe Biden and Hunter Biden and their doings with Barisma should be investigated but not as part of these impeachment proceedings. It’s a mutually exclusive issue that deserves its own investigation. It shouldn’t detract or add to the impeachment process which is mutually exclusive.

    The Dems need to time this just right and I think that’s what they’re doing and I think this is where Pelosi is showing her political brilliance. This should be timed in such a way so that if Trump is impeached, it happens directly prior to the election thereby giving Pence no time to pardon Trump. He needs to go to jail and he won’t go to jail if Pence has ample time to pardon him. To the extent the Dems can prevent that, they should. Trump MUST pay for his sins. Also, if the mainstream media gives Trump the time of day after all of this especially if he ever serves jail time and makes a reality star of him again and allows him to cash in on his criminality, well, they are no better than him, are they? And yet we know it’s exactly what the mainstream media and pop culture Hollywood will do. They’ll milk Trump’s notoriety. They’ll give him his own show again and he’ll do Dancing With The Stars. They’ll make a mockery of the impeachment proceedings and the impeachment process after the fact. The Dems are excoriating the GOP for saying “so, what” about Trump’s impeachable quid pro quo offense and that it means the end of democracy if that’s the sentiment but so too then is it the end of democracy if Trump and the mainstream media and pop culture Hollywood are able to exploit Trump’s notoriety after-the-fact for greater ratings and profit.

  20. Peter

    TB, You continue to amaze me by displaying what it means to be chronically uninformed.
    Musk has been selling his solar roof systems for three years through his Solar City acquisition. Solar shingles and roofing systems are a great idea but are only affordable to wealthier consumers. The fact that many of the subsidies that make solar attractive are being reduced or eliminated is affecting sales. The huge economic problem with these individual systems is that they shift the costs of grid maintenance and repair to people who don’t have solar. This is effectively taxing the poor to subsidies the rich.The only thing really renewable about all these solar power systems is that they must be renewed/replaced every 20 years.
    Musk has dramatically reduced the costs of delivering payloads to LEO and it is very cool to watch his expert systems return his rockets back to the launch pad for reuse.This is not AI but there are no human hands involved in this incredible process. The Final Frontier is finally opening up and adventurous humans will have new lands and space to explore and exploit.
    Farmers are using simpler ES to pilot their equipment called auto steer that frees up thousands of hours for other tasks.

  21. S Brennan

    “There is a joke in physics that usable fusion is just around the corner and has been for the last 50 years.” – Hugh

    I think the joke goes more like “Nuclear Fusion is only [number here…usually 20-30] years away, sadly, it’s always been 20-30 years away.

    High temperature superconductive materials have changed that, we are already past break-even, ITER which is, a powerplant in all but name, is already an outdated design and won’t start operation for another 2 years. The Koch Bros* working hand in hand with the Greens have done their best to slow progress but the USA will soon have a choice, go with the technology or, go home.

    * shorthand for the oil/gas & coal industry.

  22. Peter

    SB, I studied Pulsed-Power at Sandia Labs to qualify for work on PBFAII which is now the Z machine. It’s the world’s largest high frequency electromagnetic wave generator. It’s great big science and produces a spectacular lightening show when fired.
    The ITER is another great big science experiment. I hope these experimenters can keep their Genie in their bottle or we might see an even more spectacular display of big science seeking big power.

  23. Chuck Mire

    Frontline 2: In the age of AI (online):

    FRONTLINE investigates the promise and perils of artificial intelligence, from fears about work and privacy to rivalry between the U.S. and China. The documentary traces a new industrial revolution that will reshape and disrupt our lives, our jobs and our world, and allow the emergence of the surveillance society.


    My point, which you fail to “get” because you want to cheer one side or the other, is the legitimacy crisis enveloping the whole political class, including most especially the Democratic establishment, which would much prefer this circus to any thing that might resemble progressive economic policy or a sane foreign policy.

    In their defense, no matter what policy they attempt to legislate, the GOP and Trump have chosen to ignore it.

    Democrats In Congress Are Getting Things Done. Trump And Republicans Are Just Ignoring Them. | House Democrats are passing bills at a rapid pace, while Trump complains they’re “getting nothing done.”

    Trump is objectively wrong; House Democrats haven’t been squandering time. In addition to their investigations, they’ve been passing legislation at a rapid clip. In all, the House has taken up 51 bills, resolutions, and suspensions since January — 49 of which they’ve passed. This includes a slate of bills to attempt to end the longest government shutdown in history, the result of a protracted fight between Trump and Congress over border wall funding.

    Ironically, over the past two weeks, the House has passed bills to address most of the issues Trump mentioned in his tweet. They recently passed a bill to lower prescription drug prices, and another one to protect preexisting conditions. The House also passed nine bills on veterans issues this week alone, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi noted at her weekly press conference. On Thursday, Democrats tried to present Trump their infrastructure plan before he walked out of their meeting.


    Continuing with China’s full-spectrum dominance in all things, there’s this. I’m not supportive of mining these rocks at all, but America’s isolationist approach is not constructive. Because of these idiotic GOP back asswards numbskulls, America has no say in any of this and so the mining is proceeding full steam ahead right off America’s coast.

    Why The U.S. Is Missing Out On The Race To Mine Trillions Of Dollars Worth Of Metals From The Ocean Floor. | Rare earth elements and metals used in cell phones, supercomputers and more are sitting on the ocean floor, ready to be mined by multiple countries. So why is the U.S. on the sidelines?

    Jonathan White: If you’re in the military, a weapon system, the guidance of our weapons, X-ray machines, microwaves, they all rely on elements that are hard to come by.

    Bill Whitaker: So, China controls most of these elements from terrestrial sources?

    Jonathan White: Yes.

    Bill Whitaker: And now they’re going after the lion’s share of the seabed sources?

    Jonathan White: They certainly are.

    Bill Whitaker: Does that concern you?

    Jonathan White: It absolutely concerns me. It concerns me with relation to our national security going forward. We need to be in this game.

    So we called the 22 senators opposed to the treaty, all Republicans, to ask why. None would appear on camera. Those who wrote us said that ceding any control to the United Nations was a deal-breaker.

    But Rear Admiral white worries if the U.S. doesn’t ratify the Law of the Sea, it will soon be too late.

    Bill Whitaker: And if we don’t? What does that mean for us?

    Jonathan White: I think it means that, again, we become more isolated, especially in terms of a growing global economy.

    Bill Whitaker: And we’re dependent on China?

    Jonathan White: And absolutely more dependent on China.

    Bill Whitaker: So what sense does that make?

    Jonathan White: It makes no sense.


    As we all know, Trump was rushed to Walter Reed Hospital this past weekend for an impromptu emergency physical. After the nation’s finest physicians examined him it was determined he had a massive polyp in his colon that was preventing him from having a proper bowel movement. He was unable to take a shit for several weeks and his colon was on the verge of bursting. As it turns out, the massive polyp is none other than Rudy Giuliani who hasn’t been seen for several weeks. Now we know where Rudy’s been hiding out. In Trump’s ass. Of course. It’s like a womb for Rudy. Dear Leader’s ass. Warm & cozy if not a bit stinky but hey, there’s always Febreze. Trump’s Ass — the new & improved uterus for deranged de facto undemocratic secretaries of state on the lamb from scrutiny.


    Hey Bruce, here’s evidence the Dems can chew gum and walk and dribble a basketball at the same time. Let’s follow this legislation and see what ultimately happens with it. I’m sure you will agree it’s vitally important legislation considering what a failure the war on drugs has been and how many lives it has unnecessarily ruined, especially but not limited to, black lives.

    House To Hold Markup Wednesday On Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

    The House Judiciary Committee will hold a markup Wednesday on legislation to decriminalize marijuana federally and reassess marijuana-related convictions, the panel announced Monday.

    Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) will join other House Democrats, including Reps. Barbara Lee (Calif.) and Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), on Tuesday to highlight the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) has introduced similar legislation in the Senate.

    “Our marijuana laws disproportionately harm individuals and communities of color, leading to convictions that damage job prospects, access to housing, and the ability to vote,” Nadler said in a statement

    “Recognizing this, many states have legalized marijuana. It’s now time for us to remove the criminal prohibitions against marijuana at the federal level. That’s why I introduced the MORE Act, legislation which would assist communities disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of these laws,” he added


    Wow. I thought the Trumps were wealthy beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. Instead, come to find out, they’re Welfare Queens bilking university student fees. Don Jr. gladly and proudly received $50,000 from the University of Florida to promote his new book. He should have paid the University of Florida to promote his book, not the other way around. White Trash. The Trumps have less class than the Gallaghers per the hit series Shameless.

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