The new normal: Links & comments 7/29/14

July 29, 2014

Soak the Rich: An exchange on capital, debt and the future by David Graeber and Thomas Piketty, translated and reprinted by The Baffler.

David Graeber is an anthropologist and radical anarchist known for his book, Debt: the First 5,000 Years, which looks at the origins of money, taxes and debt.   Thomas Piketty is a politically moderate economist known for his book, Capital in the 21st Century, which looks at the persistence of gross inequality during the past few centuries.

I admire them for their opposite virtues—Graeber for his bold and original speculation, Piketty for his research and his refusal to assert anything that can’t be backed up by data.

Graeber believes the capitalist system is doomed.  Once it goes away, people will have a chance to create a new system without fear of bosses or police, and Graber does not see any point in trying to describe the specifics of what that new system will be.

Piketty says history indicates that capitalism has proved amazingly resilient in the face of change, and that there is no reason to think this time is different.  Furthermore, he said, any society has a need for capital, the means to invest accumulated wealth into the means of creating new wealth.  (This is a different definition of capital from the one in his book).  His attitude toward capitalism is: Mend it, don’t end it.

One thing they do agree on is the centuries-old tendency for wealth to be concentrated in a few hands, and the danger this poses to a democratic society.

On the Causes of Investment Decline in the U.S. Economy by Dr. Jack Rasmus, the Green Party’s shadow Federal Reserve chair.  Hat tip to Bill Harvey.

I have long thought that increasing the earning power of average Americans would make many things fall into place.  If people had more money to buy stuff, merchants would sell more stuff and manufacturers would make more stuff, and this would be to everybody’s benefit.

Jack Rasmus suggests that maybe this isn’t so.  Maybe getting people into debt and putting the squeeze on them is more profitable that creating useful goods and services.  If that’s so, we can’t look to private enterprise to recreate a high-wage, full-employment economy.

His solution is a massive public works program, which I agree is needed, but doesn’t address the problem he describes.

Defending Trade Unions While the Justices Are Away by David Coates.  Hat tip to Labor News in Rochester, NY.

Labor unions helped maintain American prosperity in the mid-20th century by fighting for good wages and job security.  But the union movement is handicapped by laws and court decisions that increasingly restrict unions while freeing corporations of responsibility.

In Harris v. Quinn, the Supreme Court ruled that home health-care workers in Illinois could not be required to pay dues the Service Employees International Union, but they were still entitled the benefits of the SEIU contract and to SEIU representation.  It is as if the Supreme Court ruled that I could not be required to pay my Rochester Gas and Electric bill, but RG&E is still obligated to supply me with gas and electricity.

Chris Dodd Warns of Coalition Between Populist Democrats and Republicans by Zach Carter for the Huffington Post.

Ex-Senator Chris Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, gave a speech warning against trying to strengthen the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill.   He said in a speech to the Bipartisan Policy Center that opening up the bill to amendments would open a “Pandora’s box” that would be dangerous the financial services industry.

He said warned against right-wing Republicans and left-wing Democrats teaming up against Wall Street.   He probably was thinking of a bill co-sponsored by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and David Vitter (R-Louisiana) to break up the “too big to fail” banks, an unacceptable type of bipartisanship.  Dodd said breaking up big banks is unnecessary.

As Court Fees Rise, The Poor Are Paying the Price by Joseph Shapiro for National Public Radio.

The criminalization of poverty by Radley Balko for the Washington Post.

A majority of U.S. states have recreated the equivalent of debtors’ prisons.  They are trying to make their criminal justice system self-financing by charging fees for public defenders, the cost of a jury trial, room and board for jail and prison time, and parole and probation costs.   Poor people who can’t pay these fees go to jail, even though this has been ruled unconstitutional.

 

A wise Navajo saying

July 29, 2014

You can’t wake someone up who is just pretending to sleep.

The interdependence of Russia and Europe

July 28, 2014

Europe Russia oil gas pipelines map chart

More Signs of Doubt in Europe About the Costs of Siding With Ukraine by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.

The Beginning of an End of the Trans-Atlantic Alliance by Mark from Ireland for Ian Welsh.

Hat tip for the map to Vox.

Denial won’t stop the world from getting hotter

July 28, 2014

hottestJune

If you want to understand how things are changing, you should not be content with comparing the current month or year with the previous month.  You should look at the data as far back in time as it goes.

The data on global warming and climate change shows ups and downs, but a long-range trend toward a hotter planet.  You could argue (although I don’t) that the change is due to a mysterious X factor rather than human-caused greenhouse gasses.   I don’t think any rational person can argue against the reality of the change.

That’s why it is important to prepare for the change, and that’s why it’s crazy for Republican congressman to try to forbid government agencies to take the long-range trend into account.

Here is one way the two political parties differ.  Most Democrats are willing to at least acknowledge that global climate change exists and will have consequences.  The dominant group in the Republican Party is unwilling to do even that much.

I think it was the SF writer Philip K. Dick who said that reality is that which exists whether you believe in it or not.  The global warming trend is real, whether you believe it or not.

Read the rest of this entry »

The case of the paranoid sheep

July 28, 2014

everything-is-a-conspiracy

Dmitry Orlov’s greatest hits

July 27, 2014
Dmitry Orlov ClubOrlov collapse

Dmitry Orlov

DMITRY ORLOV, author of Communities that Abide, is a Russian-born American citizen and blogger who posts about the coming collapse of civilization and other topics about once a week on his ClubOrlov web log, which is one of the Blogs I Like.

Here are my favorite Orlov posts.

Post-Soviet Lessons for a Post-American Century

Thriving in an Age of Collapse

Our Village

Closing the ‘Collapse Gap': the USSR was better prepared for collapse than the US

The Despotism of the Image

Dead Souls

The Five Stages of Collapse

Understanding Organizational Stupidity

The Sixth Stage of Collapse

Exodus to Yellowknife

I’m not certain Orlov is right about the future, at least not about the immediate future.  Neither can I dismiss what he says as foolishness.

The one thing about which I feel certain is that things cannot continue as they are, but I do not know what comes next, and in what ways it will be better or worse.

Three philosophies for hard times ahead

July 27, 2014

John Michael Greer, author of several books about the consequences of peaking of world oil supplies, thinks progress is a consoling illusion.  He does not believe there is anything about the nature of things that guarantees that this generation will be better off than the previous one, or that future generations will be better off than this one.

John Michael Greer

John Michael Greer

He writes a weekly web log, The Archdruid Report, which is one of the Blogs I Like.  In a recent post, he points to better and more enduring philosophies.

There is the Epicurean philosophy, which teaches you to be grateful for life’s blessings and not to wish for more than you have.  Epicurus did not teach the Playboy Philosophy.  He was a laborer who worked hard to support his aged parents, and who only enjoyed leisure late in life when his followers bought him a house and garden.

There is the Stoic philosophy, which doesn’t bother about happiness at all, but only acting constructively and with integrity no matter what the circumstances.   A Stoic would agree with one of my mother’s favorite sayings, “Expect nothing and you’ll never be disappointed.”  Stoicism provides a grim satisfaction that comes from not having expectations and from not basing happiness or self-respect on anything that someone else can take away from him.

The third philosophy, to which Greer adheres, is the Platonist philosophy, which is that our world is a a shadow of a divine order, which, when glimpsed and understood, makes everything make sense.

I am more of an Epicurean than a Stoic, and not a Platonist at all.  That is not to say I deny the truth of Platonism and other religious philosophies.  It is that I have not had the religious and spiritual experiences that I read about, and that people I know tell me about, and I cannot say anything one way or the other.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rewiring America: Links & comments 7/26/14

July 26, 2014

How America’s Internet can become the fastest on earth by John Aziz for The Week.

Americans created the Internet, and the United States has some of the fastest commercially-available Internet connections on earth.   But the USA as a whole is only No. 31 in average speed of Internet connections, behind such nations as Uruguay and Romania and barely equal to Russia, which is far from being a technology leader.

Digital-MediaJohn Aziz says the reason is the balkanized U.S. Internet system, in which, unlike in other countries, companies with broadband service don’t have to open up their service to other broadband companies.

Rather than try to force corporate owners to do something that is not in their interest, Aziz advocates spending $140 billion to build a nationwide fiber optic new with bandwidth equal to Google Fiber, which provides 1Gbps—50 times faster than the average U.S. Internet connection now.   That would be only 1/5th the cost of the TARP Wall Street bailout and less than 1/25th the cost of U.S. interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I think this is a good idea.  What makes a community, or a nation, a good place for entrepreneurs is to provide a benefit that is unique to their place or better than anyplace else.

Hundred of Cities Are Wired With Fiber—But Telecom Lobbying Keeps It Unused by Jacob Koerber for Motherboard.

life before the internetWell, maybe the USA is no longer capable of carrying out ambitious large-scale projects.  The least that could be done is to allow American municipal governments to wire their cities with fiber optic.  Current state laws forbid this in most places in order to protect private companies from competition.

The Server Needs to Die to Save the Internet by Natasha Lomas for TechCrunch.

A Scottish company named MaidSafe has a plan to protect privacy by creating a network without servers or data centers.  To be honest, I don’t completely understand what they’re doing, but it sounds as if it could be important.

Here Is How Google Works by Andrew Smales for Medium.

The Smales piece is satire—I guess.

Older Ladies by Donnalou Stevens

July 26, 2014

Hat tip to Jack Clontz and his friend Marty.

The passing scene: Links and comments 7/25/14

July 25, 2014

Why America is duty bound to help Iraqi Christians by Michael Brendan Dougherty for The Week.

Christians inhabited Mosul long before the Prophet Mohammed was born.  Now ISIS fanatics have given Christians, as well as Shia Muslims, the choice of convert, flee or die.   Iraqi Christians would still be living peacefully under the cruel but nonsectarian rule of Saddam Hussein if the United States hadn’t invaded the country and reduced it to chaos.  Since reconquering Iraq is not feasible, we Americans have an obligation offer refuge to Iraq’s Christians.

Who Bled Detroit Dry? by Peter Rugh for Vice.

The federal government rescued the banks and auto companies, but poor people in Detroit who can’t pay their bills have their water shut off by the non-elected emergency government.   It is too bad that a previous municipal government was suckered into buying credit default swaps, which quadrupled the city’s debt, or that so many of the city’s residents were suckered into buying sub-prime mortgages, but that’s not a justification for denying people a necessity of life.   Is it possible that citizens of a 21st century American city could die of thirst because they have no money?

Why You Should Not Take Pictures of the Seven Ugliest Buildings In D.C. by Benny Johnson of Buzzfeed.

Border Patrol agents hold Iowa Boy Scouts at gunpoint for taking a picture of them by Arturo Gracia for The Real Story.

I can remember when we Americans used to mock the old Soviet Union for the way police would interfere with tourists photographing the most ordinary and innocuous things.  The USA is a long way from being like the USSR, but there are too many of us with the same paranoid authoritarian mentality.

Why the modern bathroom is a wasteful, unhealthy design by Lloyd Alter of The Guardian.

As a result of reading this article, I resolved to keep the lid on my toilet down at all times and to keep my toothbrushes in a Ziplock bag instead of an open jar.

 


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