Russia is losing an economic war

September 26, 2016

The Russian Federation is in economic crisis.

The economy is shrinking.  Although unemployment is low, poverty is increasing,  Inflation is at double-digit rates.   The exchange rate for the ruble is falling.  Russia’s trade deficit is widening.  The Russian government is cutting spending on public services.

While Russia has serious internal economic problems, the immediate cause of the crisis is the economic war being waged by its foes.

  • The United States and European Union boycott many Russian individuals and institutions, including cutting off credit to Russian banks and cutting off sales of equipment to Russian oil companies.
  • Saudi Arabia has stepped up production of oil, driving down oil prices worldwide and hurting Russia’s oil exports.
  • The United States has begun a new arms race with Russia, forcing the Russian government to either divert resources from the civilian economy or admit inferiority.

03-bust-boom-bustIn waging economic war against Russia, the United States and its allies hurt themselves as a price of hurting Russia more.

  • Europe and Russia are natural trading partners, with Europeans buying Russian gas and oil and Russia buying Europe’s, especially Germany’s industrial products.   Cutting off this trade hurts both.
  • Saudi Arabia is using up a large but limited resource at a fast rate without getting the best price for it.
  • The United States, too, is diverting resources from our civilian economy and domestic needs.

In many ways, this is a replay of the economic war waged against the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

Read the rest of this entry »

If the USA and Russia could change places

September 26, 2016

2000px-russia_usa_locator-svg

My experience and knowledge of foreign countries is limited, but I try to understand foreign leaders by putting myself in their place, and imagining what I would do if I were them.

Peter Hitchens, a Briton who was a foreign correspondent in Moscow for many years, invites us to imagine how we would feel if we were Russians, a nation that, unlike the USA, has been invaded not once, but many times, and lost millions, not thousands, of lives to invaders within living memory.

Safety, for Russians, is something to be achieved by neutralizing a danger that is presumed to exist at all times.  From this follows a particular attitude to life and government.

If the U.S. had China on the 49th Parallel and Germany on the Rio Grande, and a long land border with the Islamic world where the Pacific Ocean now is, it might be a very different place.  There might even be a good excuse for the Patriot Act and the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI.

If Russia’s neighbors were Canada and Mexico, rather than Germany, China, Turkey, and Poland, and if its other flanks were guarded by thousands of miles of open ocean, it might have free institutions and long traditions of free speech and the rule of law. It might also be a lot richer.

As it is, Russia is a strong state with a country, rather than a country with a strong state.  If it were otherwise, it would have gone the way of the Lithuanian Empire or, come to that, the Golden Horde.

Source: Peter Hitchens | First Things

That is not to say that life in Vladimir Putin’s Russia is good, or that Putin is a benign ruler.  But he is no worse than many of the despots with whom the United States is allied, and life in the Russian Federation is infinitely preferable to live in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republicans.

Far from being a new Hitler, Hitchens wrote, his goal is to keep territories formerly controlled by the USSR from joining anti-Russian alliances.  Whatever you think of this, it is not a threat to the United States or any other Western nation.

Read the rest of this entry »

Vladimir Putin’s 9/11

September 26, 2016

In September, 1999, Russia was wracked by a series of explosions that President Vladimir Putin blamed on Chechen terrorists.

It solidified Putin’s power and popularity, and enable him to launch his own “war on terror” against the breakaway province of Chechnya.

But unlike with the 9/11 attacks on the United States two years later, there is strong circumstantial evidence that the explosions were a false flag carried out by Russian intelligence services.

russiancaucasus6c12bc2184e7943ba065218a5bfb947bDavid Satter, a former foreign correspondent in Moscow, summed up the evidence in a recent article in National Review.

The Chechens are a fierce Muslim warrior people whose homeland is in the Caucasus.   They were conquered by the Russian Empire in 1859 and declared independence in 1991 when the Soviet Union broke up.  The Russian Federation tried and failed to reconquer them in 1994-1996.

At the time of the explosions, Vladimir Putin, formerly head of the Russian Federal Security Services (FSB), had just become prime minister of Russia.   He used the explosions as a justification for starting a new war, in which Chechnya was defeated and reincorporated into Russia.

There were four apartment bombings in all, in which a total of 300 people were killed.   One was in an apartment building in Buinaksk in Dagestan in the Caucasus, two  in apartment buildings in Moscow (9/9 and 9/13) and one in Volgodonsk in Rostov province to the south (9/16).   All the explosions involved hundreds of pounds of an explosive called RDX.

Suspicious characters with traces of RDX on their persons were arrested in an apartment building in the southern Russian city of Ryazan.   They turned out to be FSB agents.    The FSB said they were conducting a training exercise.

Read the rest of this entry »

A giant statue of Chinese warrior hero Guan Yu

September 24, 2016

giant-war-god-statue-general-guan-yu-sculpture-china-9

This 190-foot tall, 1,450-ton [*] statue represents Guan Yu, a heroic general and warrior who lived during China’s Three Kingdoms period (220-280 AD).   His famous Green Crescent Dragon Blade weighs 150 tons [*].  For comparison, the Statue of Liberty is 111 feet tall and weighs 225 tons.

Guan Yu was so fierce and righteous that he is worshiped as a god.  This statue, one of many in China, was erected last summer in the Chinese city of Jingzhou in Hubei province.  There is an even larger statue, 292 feet high, in his home town of Changping in Shanxi province.

He was a character in the famous Chinese historical novel, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which became the basis of many a Chinese movie and video game and is said to be one of the favorite reading of Mao Zedong.

Read the rest of this entry »

What would a Trump presidency be like?

September 23, 2016

presidentdonaldtrump3

I’m coming to realize Donald Trump has a good chance of being elected President.  He at least promises to make things better.  Even though his ideas are mostly bad, a majority of voters may prefer him to the status quo.

If elected, he would face the opposition of Congress, the courts, the federal bureaucracy and the establishment press.  But precedents set by Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and their predecessors give the President considerable power to wage war, selectively enforce the law and suspend Constitutional rights in the name of fighting terror.

President Trump would have unilateral authority to put the USA on nuclear alert, ban immigration from majority-Muslim countries and order the Justice Department to give priority to certain offenses, and certain targets.

The Iran nuclear agreement was an agreement to suspend United Nations sanctions against Iran, and that is a done deal.  But President Trump would have authority to step up American sanctions against Iran, giving Iranian hard-liners an excuse to resume development of nuclear weapons capability.

Trump proposes tax cuts tilted toward the upper brackets, to which a Republican Congress probably would be sympathetic.

He proposes abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration, which they might not go along with.  But as President, he would have the power to render the EPA and FDA ineffective through policy and appointments.

Read the rest of this entry »

War, peace and absurdity: links 9/23/2016

September 23, 2016

An Obsolescent Military: Bombing Everything, Gaining Nothing by Fred Reed for Fred on Everything.

You Must Be Kidding! Adventures in an American world of frustration by Tom Englehardt for TomDispatch.

Deep State America: one explanation why U.S. policies serve no national interests by Philip Giraldi for the Unz Review.

Kevin Kelly’s technological determinism

September 22, 2016

Kevin Kelly is a smart and influential thinker who has good insight into the potential of advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality and data tracking.

He has written popular books on technology with titles such as Out of Control, What Technology Wants and his latest, The Inevitable.  I haven’t read them; they’re no doubt worth reading.  I quarrel with the assumptions reflected in the titles of the books.

His mistake, in my opinion, is in treating technology as an autonomous force to which human beings must adapt, whether they like it or not.

Technology is not out of control.  The fact that we the public don’t control it doesn’t mean that nobody does.   Technology didn’t develop itself.  It developed they way it did because it served the needs of corporations, governments and other institutions.

Technology doesn’t want anything because it isn’t sentient.    Only human beings want things.   Technology ought to exist to the wants and needs of people.   People do not exist in order to serve the requirements of technology

There is nothing inevitable about the path of technological change.   Which technologies are developed is a matter of choice—by somebody.   Devices such as the steam engine existed for centuries before they were put into us.

Ned Ludd would not have destroyed weaving machines if the weavers had owned the machines.  As a Marxist would say, it all depends on who owns the means of production.  Technology works to the benefit of those who own it.

Read the rest of this entry »

What I think about Donald Trump

September 21, 2016

20160909pettrgb

Source: Joel Pett, Lexington (Ky) Herald-Leader.

The passing scene: Deplorables, debt and Osama

September 21, 2016

Donald Trump Doesn’t Understand White People by Jason Johnson for The Root.

Progressives Are Targets of Hillary’s ‘Basket of Deplorables’ Speech by John V. Wash for Counterpunch.

Donald Trump tries to reassure supporters they’re not really racist.   Hillary Clinton tries to reassure supporters it’s okay to be elitist.

The Coming European Debt Wars by Michael Hudson for Defend Democracy Press.

The European Union is in crisis because it insists on repayment of debts that are too great to ever be repaid.

An Anniversary of Shame by Michael Hirsch for POLITICO.

Some in the CIA say the “war on terror” could have won in six months if the U.S. government had not given “regime change” priority over capturing or killing Osama bin Laden.

Who’s deplorable?

September 19, 2016

racialattitudes27452242753_e34540d556_c

Racism is the belief that certain races, such as black people, are genetically inferior or that they should not enjoy equal rights.   David Duke, a neo-Nazi and former Klan Wizard, is a racist.  Steve Bannon, Jared Taylor, and Richard B. Spencer, supporters of the Alt-Right movement, are racists.

It’s not just deplorable, but despicable, that Donald Trump has accepted their support, and even appointed Bannon to head his campaign.

Racial prejudice consists of judging an individual based on beliefs about average behavior of that person’s race.  That, too, is deplorable.   It is deplorable even if the belief has some basis.

The chart above shows that certain beliefs are common to white Americans across the political spectrum.  It is not a measure of racism.  It may or may not be a measure of prejudice.

For example, it is a statistical fact that violent crime is more common among black Americans than among white Americans.  It is not racist or racially prejudiced think that African-Americans are, on average, more violent than white Americans.

What would be deplorable would be to assume that assume that any African-American you encounter is a threat, possibly deserving a preemptive violent response.  What would be deplorable would be to ignore the fact that the vast majority of black people are peaceful and law-abiding.

The problem with being overly quick to charge racism is that it provides cover for the real racists.  If almost all white people are racists, then David Duke and Jared Taylor aren’t be so bad.

Read the rest of this entry »

Everybody needs a hug

September 17, 2016

00tigere931b69e-e89c-4bc2-8762-4cd548f91556

Hat tip for these to Elizabeth Mummert and Joyce Mummert Ireland.

7ac12d99-a693-4ff7-86a4-5a5cab2da84d

.

24dd7ebd-d797-4a4e-9723-7fdd20b7cd0b

Read the rest of this entry »

Hard choices and lesser evils: links 9/15/2016

September 15, 2016

The Clinton Foundation’s Problems Are Deeper Than You Think by Nathan J. Robinson for Current Affairs.

The Question No One’s Asking About the Clinton Foundation by David Corn for Mother Jones.  [Added 9/22/2016]

How Donald Trump retooled his charity to spend other people’s money by David A. Fahrenthold for The Washington Post.

Guess which candidate’s foundation was caught in illegal campaign funding by David A. Fahrenthold for The Washington Post.

Trump used $258,000 from his charity to settle legal problems by David A. Fahrenthold for The Washington Post.  [Added 9/20/2016]

American Greed: Trump’s Economic Team Is a Who’s Who of What’s Wrong by Richard Eskow for Campaign for America’s Future.

Hillary Clinton’s National Security Advisers Are a ‘Who’s Who’ of the Warfare State by Zaid Jilani, Alex Emmons and Naomi LaChance for The Intercept.

How The Trump Organization’s Foreign Business Ties Could Upend U.S. National Security by Kurt Eichenwald for Newsweek.

A graphic history of global climate change

September 14, 2016

Source: xkcd: Earth Temperature Timeline

How I became radicalized

September 14, 2016

For most of my life, I thought my country was fundamentally sound and moving in the right direction.

I knew there were serious problems and injustices in American life, but I thought that these were aberrations, contrary to our democratic ideals, which under our democratic system would be reformed over time.

radicalismstock-photo-fake-dictionary-dictionary-definition-of-the-word-radicalism-180290102I rejected the Communist belief that the crimes of capitalism are systemic, while the failures of Communism are failures to correctly understand or follow Marxist doctrine.

But my own beliefs were the mirror image of this.  I believed that the crimes of Communist countries were the inevitable result of a bad system, while the crimes of Western countries were aberrations that could be corrected.

The first step in my radicalization was the passage of the USA Patriot Act in October 2001.  I was shocked at how fundamental liberties, such as habeas corpus and trial by jury, could be simply wiped off the blackboard, and the majority of Americans would see nothing wrong with this.

I always thought of torture as the ultimate crime against humanity, because it destroys the mind and soul while leaving the body alive.   Torture became institutionalized, and even popular—possibly because of the illusion that it would be limited to people with brown skins and non-European names.

But I still thought of this as an aberration, part of a scheme by Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and others to restore executive power that had been lost after the Watergate hearings.  I voted for Barack Obama with great enthusiasm in 2008, not because I believed he would be a strong reformer, but because I thought he would restore the country to normal.

I soon learned that there was a new normal, one that was different from what I thought it was.

Read the rest of this entry »

How neoliberalism feeds political correctness

September 14, 2016

Maximillian Alvarez, a graduate student at the University of Michigan, wrote in the current issue of The Baffler that the real driver behind “political correctness” on American university campuses is the neoliberal idea that students are customers, and that the job of the university is to give the customers what they want.

education-in-liberal-artsThe traditional idea of the university was that the professors were the custodians of knowledge, that their job was to impart knowledge and wisdom to students and that their work should be judged by their peers.

The neoliberal idea of the university is that professors are vendors and students are customers, and that the measure of a university’s success is the ability to maximize enrollment and tuition.

Alvarez wrote that the conflict over “political correctness” is a conflict over which of the university’s customers are more important—the students and parents, or the wealthy donors.  (In the case of public colleges and universities, there is a third customer—the businesses that depend on public institutions to provide vocational training.}

Here’s what Alvarez had to say:

When professors today say they fear their students, they’re really saying that they’re afraid their students’ reviews and complaints will get them fired.

What professors fear are the changing administrative policies that have pinned the fate of their job security to the same unstable consumer logic behind Yelp reviews and the reputation economy.

The image of the wise, hard-nosed professor who upends her students’ assumptions about the world, who provokes and guides heated debates in class about subjects that may offend as much as they enlighten, rests on a whole host of factors that no longer enter into the crabbed, anxiety-driven working life of the casually employed academic.

Nor do such factors typically emerge in our debates about political correctness at universities.

Three in particular are worth highlighting.

First, tenure for faculty is disappearing—and along with it the sort of job security that once made university teaching an attractive long-term career.

Now the lion’s share of college teaching jobs goes to part-time (adjunct) instructors and non-tenure-track faculty.

Read the rest of this entry »

Hard choices and lesser evils: links 9/14/2016

September 14, 2016

These linked articles provide worthwhile information and food for thought.   I don’t necessarily agree with the writers in all respects.

If Libertarian Gary Johnson Was President, Here’s What Would Happen to the U.S. Economy by Emily Stewart for The Street.

If Donald Trump Was President, Here’s What Would Happen to the U.S. Economy by Emily Stewart for The Street.

If Hillary Clinton Is Elected President, Here’s What Will Happen to the U.S. Economy by Leon Lazaroff for The Street.

What Jill Stein, the Green presidential candidate, wants to do to America by Max Ehrenfreund for the Washington Post’s Wonkblog.

What Gary Johnson, the Libertarian nominee for president, wants to do to America by Max Ehrenfreund for the Washington Post’s Wonkblog.

What Donald Trump wants to do to America by Max Ehrenfrend and Jim Tankersley for the Washington Post’s Wonkblog.

What Hillary Clinton would do to America by Max Ehrenfreund and Jim Tankersley for the Washington Post’s Wonkblog.

Is Jill Stein Worth Voting For? by Robert Nielsen for Whistling in the Wind.

Could Gary Johnson Be Relevant in 2016? by Robert Nielsen for Whistling in the Wind.

Hard choices and lesser evils: links 9/13/2016

September 13, 2016

The Perfect G.O.P. Nominee by Maureen Dowd for The New York Times.   Hillary Clinton, the ideal Republican.

The Only Shocking Things Donald Trump Has Yet to Do by David Rees for The Baffler.

Here’s what happens if a presidential nominee has to drop out of the election by Jeff Stein for Vox.

9/11: the path not taken

September 11, 2016
Photo by National Park Service

Photo by National Park Service

After the 9/11 attacks, the whole world, including the Muslim world, sympathized with the United States.

The whole world, including the Muslim world, condemned the terrorist attacks that killed more than 3,000 innocent civilians.

The U.S. government had an opportunity to unite the world in bringing the Al Qaeda terrorists to justice.   This could have been a step to unite the international community behind a rule of law.

Instead the Bush administration chose to implement pre-existing plans to invade Iraq, whose leaders had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks.  The Obama administration has done likewise with Libya, Syria and other countries.

The result has been militarization of American life, eclipse of civil liberties and the deaths of many more innocent civilians in majority-Muslim countries than ever were killed in jihadist attacks on Americans and Europeans.

Even worse, a generation of Americans has grown up in which all these things are normal.

And jihadist terrorism, partly and maybe mainly as a result of U.S. policies, is stronger than ever before.

Read the rest of this entry »

The oldest written melody known

September 11, 2016

The Hurrian Hymn was recorded in Cuneiform notation 3,400 years ago in Ugerit, or New Canaan, in modern-day Syria.  It is dedicated to Nikkal, the Hurrian goddess of the orchards, and was discovered in the 1950s.

Read the rest of this entry »

Murray Bookchin: the ambiguities of freedom

September 8, 2016

This is part of a chapter-by-chapter review of THE ECOLOGY OF FREEDOM: The emergence and dissolution of hierarchy by Murray Bookchin (1982, 1991, 2005).  

chapter eleven – the ambiguities of freedom.

In this chapter, Murray Bookchin wrote about the philosophers of the Enlightenment, aka the Age of Reason, who hoped that reason, science and technology would lead to human liberation, and why this hasn’t happened.

This is a difficult chapter, and I’m not sure I fully understand it.   I’ll try.

murraybookchin.ecologyoffreedom512T99r4GjL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Early philosophers of science, such as Francis Bacon, emphasized an important truth, which is that reality is whatever it is, regardless of anybody’s desires.

They thought that if you want to know how things really are, you stick to logic and facts, particularly facts that can be measured, because these are the only things that are objectively true.

Fantasy, art, imagination, intuition, illumination and inspiration are merely subjective feelings, and can be ignored.

What’s left is what’s called “instrumental reason,” which tells you how to achieve goals, but does not tell you what goals to set.  “You can’t get from an ‘is’ to an ‘ought’,” as they saying goes.

By default, instrumental reason becomes a tool of government, business, the military and other structures of power.  Reason defeats itself.

Read the rest of this entry »

Ted Rall on the death of Uzbekistan’s tyrant

September 7, 2016

Ted Rall, who has traveled in Central Asia, had this to say about the death of Uzbekistan’s ruler Islam Karimov.

uzbekistan-C-Asia-MAPGiven Uzbekistan’s tremendous oil, gas and mineral wealth and its geographically and geopolitically strategic importance, its citizens ought to enjoy a high standard of living.  Instead, the average Uzbek subsists on $3 to $8 per day.

Where does all that energy wealth go? Karimov, his family and cronies steal it.  Gulnara Karimova, the deceased despot’s flamboyant chanteuse daughter, is accused of breaking in over $1 billion in bribes from telecommunications companies seeking permits to do business.  Another daughter, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, is linked to shell companies that own gaudy multimillion estates in the U.S.  [snip]

Uzbekistan is routinely awarded the world’s “Worst of the Worst” status for its extreme corruption and violations of fundamental human rights.  Phones are tapped and militsia goons shake down motorists at innumerable checkpoints.  Print and broadcast media are completely state-controlled. There’s a zero tolerance policy toward political opposition.  [snip]

At least 10,000 political prisoners are rotting in the nation’s prisons. Torture is standard and endemic; Team Karimov landed a rare spot in the news for boiling dissidents to death.  In 2005, President Karimov asked security forces confronting protesters in the southern city of Andijon to wait for his arrival from the capital of Tashkent so he could personally witness and coordinate their massacre.  An estimated 700 to 1200 Uzbeks were slaughtered.  “People have less freedom here than under Brezhnev,” a U.S. official admitted.  [snip]

Read the rest of this entry »

The world’s hardest languages

September 7, 2016

I got these video links from my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack, who actually speaks some of these languages fluently.

Read the rest of this entry »

Thoughts about the Free State of Jones

September 6, 2016

In the “Free State of Jones” movie, Newton Knight, a white Mississippi farmer who rebelled against the Confederacy, takes refuge in an inaccessible swamp and is helped by fugitive slaves.

Victoria Bynum

Victoria Bynum

Such things happened in real life.   Many fugitive slaves fled, not to the North, which many of them couldn’t reach, but to places such as the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia where their pursuers couldn’t follow.

The Seminole Indians were never defeated because they retreated deep into the Everglades where the U.S. military couldn’t follow, where they were joined by fleeing slaves.

And, yes, some of them did shelter white fugitives (fugitives for good and bad reasons).

∞∞∞

Jones County wasn’t unique as an example of white Southern unionism.  Victoria Bynum, author of The Free State of Jones, on which the movie was based, has written another book (which I haven’t read), The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies about white uprisings against the Confederacy in North Carolina, Mississippi and Texas.

I did know about Winston County, Alabama, and there were others.  The whole state of West Virginia was created out of a pro-Union section of Virginia.

Movies such as Glory remind us of the contribution of black troops to Union victory.  Loyal white Southerners also were important to Union victory,  Many of the Union’s best generals, such as George Thomas, were Southerners.

Read the rest of this entry »

Newton Knight and the free state of Jones

September 6, 2016

I read THE FREE STATE OF JONES: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War by Victoria Bynum after seeing the movie, “The Free State of Jones,” which I liked, in order to see how much of the movie is based on fact.

freestateofjones.bynum.amazon-fsojThe movie dramatized the true story of Newton Knight, a white Mississippi farmer led a guerrilla revolt against the Confederacy during the Civil War, and was never captured or defeated.

He took his grandfather’s slave as a lover and became the patriarch of an interracial community which continued to exist down tinto the middle of the 20th century.

Victoria Bynum’s book begins with the origins of the families who fought in the Knight Company.  In colonial times, they lived in the backwoods of the Carolinas, and opposed rich plantation owners in the political struggles of those times.

Racial lines were not drawn so strictly in those days as later, and some sons of poor white indentured servants felt they had more in common with black slaves than with slave owners..

During the American Revolution, many wealthy planters such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were rebels, and many poor backwoodsmen were Tories.

After the Revolution, many backwoodsmen migrated into the lawless frontier region that later became the states of Alabama and Mississippi.  They endured great danger, hardship and isolation, particularly the women, but rejoiced in being their own masters.

Slaveowners adopted, taught and enforced a rigid ideology of racism. to a degree previously unknown, Bynum wrote.

Anybody with “one drop” of Negro “blood” was considered black.  White men had a duty to preserve the chastity of white women, lest white “blood” be contaminated.  This was supported by a religious practice that condemned dancing, alcohol and sensuality.

No doubt the slaveowners sincerely believed in these things, but they served a function of keeping the black slaves isolated and preventing them from joining forces with whites.

But, according to Bynum, not all white people followed the accepted code.  Some enjoyed feasting, dancing and drinking, sometimes among black companions.  Some preferred charismatic, revival meetings, sometimes led by women, to the stricter and more authoritarian religion.  There were those who became lovers across the color line.

Read the rest of this entry »

How the GOP honored Labor Day 60 years ago

September 5, 2016

GOP Labor Day 1956