A baby hummingbird sips from a raspberry

September 23, 2022

Source: Owl at the Library.

Escalation in Ukraine

September 21, 2022

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin did two things today that escalate the war in Ukraine and make nuclear war a little more likely than it was before.

The first thing was to announce referenda in Russian-speaking, Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine on joining the Russian Federation.  It’s reasonable to think that the vote will be “yes.”

The second was to announce a partial mobilization, which will increase Russian troop strength by about 300,000.  This could double or triple the number of troops available to fight in Ukraine.

In other words, Russia has drawn a new red line and is increasing its war-fighting ability to maintain it.

.

For years, Putin’s demand was only that Ukraine grant autonomy to the Luhansk and Donetzk regions and respect the civil rights of Russian-speakers.  But early this year, he persuaded the Duma to recognize Luhansk and Donetsk as independent republics.

This provided a theoretical legal justification for the “special military operation.”  Russia was defending two sovereign nations from attack.

Annexation of the Luhansk, Donetzk, Marupol and Kherson means that Russia would say that any invasion of these regions was an attack on Russia itself.  According to stated Russian policy, Russia would retaliate by any means deemed necessary, including use of nuclear weapons.

It also means that Russia’s occupation of these lands is non-negotiable.  Russia cannot afford to give them up.

When Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, it had the advantage.  It had prepared arms production so that the Ukrainians were outgunned.  It also had bolstered its economy so as to be able to survive the sanctions war launched by the United States.

By supplying Ukraine with modern weapons, and by providing intelligence, training and possibly support by elite troops, the U.S. has changed the nature of the war.  Military analyst Scott Ritter says the war is no longer a Ukrainian war using NATO equipment; it has become a NATO war using Ukrainian troops.

Russia’s main weakness is that the Russian people themselves are not eager to go fight and die in Ukraine.  The bulk of the fighting has been done by militias of Russian-speakers in Luhansk and Donetzk, the Wagner Group (private mercenary soldiers), Chechens and fighters from the Syria and other foreign countries.

While Russia has a military draft, there is an understanding that draftees won’t be sent to fight in Ukraine.

Read the rest of this entry »

Book note: Regeneration by Pat Barker

September 20, 2022

REGENERATION by Pat Barker (1991)

I picked up this novel by chance at a neighborhood free book exchange.  It is a fascinating story, mostly true.

It is about the real-life encounter during World War One between Dr. W.H.R. Rivers, an Army psychologist, and Siegfried Sassoon, a poet and war hero turned war protester.

Sassoon had written a protest letter against continuation of the war.  He was not a pacifist.  He believed that the war had become a war of aggression and conquest, and that its original aims could be achieved through negotiation.

The letter was published in the London Times and read in the House of Commons.  Sassoon faced court-martial, but his friend Robert Graves, a fellow officer and fellow poet, arranged for his commitment to Craiglockhart war hospital to save him.

At the hospital, Sassoon met and mentored the war poet Wilfred Owen, another real-life patient of Rivers.  

Craiglockhart was for the treatment of shell shock (now known at PTSD).  Dr. Rivers before the war had been an expert on psychosomatic illness.  

His method of treatment, innovative at the time, began with convincing the patient that every man, no matter how brave, has a breaking point and the PTSD was not evidence of cowardice.  Then he helped the patient understand the cause of the trauma and so break its hold.

This was similar to Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis except that Rivers believed the fundamental repressed human drive was not sex, but self-preservation.  He perceived that the basic loyalty of most soldiers was not to king and country, but to their comrades on the battlefield. 

Rivers treated officers.  In the novel, he met the real-life character, Dr. Lewis Yealland, who treated enlisted men.  His method of treating PTSD was very different.  It consisted of subjecting the patient to a worse trauma than the trauma that caused the symptoms.  

Yealland put his patients into a locked room and subjected them to extremely powerful and painful electric shocks, which ceased only when, step by step, their symptoms went away.  He claimed to cure his patients with just one treatment and to have a 100 percent success rate.

Rivers was shaken by Yealland’s apparent effectiveness, but he couldn’t bring himself to torture his patients.

The main fictional characters are Billy Prior, an officer of working-class origins, and Sarah Lamb, a factory girl with whom he has a love affair.  Prior suffered from “mutism,” the inability to speak, which was commonly found among enlisted men but almost never among officers.

The moral problem for Rivers was that his mission as a healer was to restore men to mental health so they could return to the battlefield and get themselves killed.  The average life expectancy of a British officer on the front lines in France was three months.

Sassoon and Graves hated the war, but they deeply resented civilians, including pacifists.  All things considered, they preferred being at the front with their doomed comrades to being safe at home.

Read the rest of this entry »

Chemicals may be making people obese

September 15, 2022

Roughly 40 percent of American high school students were overweight by the time they started high school.  An estimated one-third of American youth age 17-24 are ineligible for military service because of obesity.

Worldwide, the incidence of obesity has tripled since the 1970s.  Experts estimate that by 2030, one billion people worldwide will be obese.

This matters.  Obesity is related to high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and other serious health problems.

Part of the reason for the obesity increase is that, compared to previous generations, people nowadays are more sedentary and eat more processed foods high in sugar, fat and salt.  But this can’t be the whole reason.

In the USA, the rise in obesity affects not only people, but their cats and dogs, and rats and mice in the wild.  It affects laboratory animals that are fed controlled diets.

Mark Buchanan of Bloomberg News reported that some scientists think obesity is caused by chemicals called “obesogens,” which, even in tiny amounts, boost the production of specific cell types and fatty tissue.

An example is a chemical called tributyltin, or TBT, which is found in wood preservatives.  In experiments exposing mice to low and supposedly safe levels of TBT, a scientist named Bruce Blumberg and his colleagues at the University of California, Irvine, found significantly increased fat accumulation not only in the exposed mice, but in the next three generations.

TBT and other obesogens trigger such effects by interfering directly with the normal biochemistry of the endocrine system, which regulates the storage and use of energy, as well as human eating behavior, Buchanan wrote.

Obesogen chemicals are found in plastic packaging, clothes and furniture, cosmetics, food additives, herbicides and pesticides.  Buchanan said nearly 1,000 obesogens have been identified in studies with animals or humans.  

That would explain why laboratory animals get fat.  There might be obesogens in their food or the structure of their cages.

If this is true, it is a big, big problem.  Fixing it would require a virtual revolution in testing and manufacturing.

LINKS

Plastic Might Be Making You Obese by Mark Buchanan for Bloomberg News.  Another version.

Plastic Might Be Making You Fat by Alex Tabbarok for Marginal Revolution.

The Animals Are Also Getting Fat by Alex Tabbarok for Marginal Revolution. (2013)

Why aren’t medical breakthroughs in obesity a bigger deal? by Matthew Yglesias for Grid.  [Added 09/17/2022]

Michael Hudson on the clash of capitalisms

September 14, 2022

THE DESTINY OF CIVILIZATION: Finance Capitalism, Industrial Capitalism or Socialism by Michael Hudson (2022)

When I studied economics as a college undergraduate, I was taught there are three factors of production – land, labor and capital. And three sources of income – the rent of land, the wages of labor and the profit or interest from capital.

Land includes not just the soil itself, but all natural resources.  Labor includes all productive effort, whether of brain or brawn.

Capital, as I was taught, is the force multiplier. It includes everything that increases the productivity of land or labor – farm tractors, railroads, computers, steam engines, electric power plants, research laboratories, anything that increases or improves production.

So the landlord is a parasite, the worker is a contributor to society, but the capitalist supposedly is the driving force for progress.

Here’s the rub.  Financial capital is productive only when it is used to create physical or human capital.

But there’s no law that says financial capital has to be used productively.  In fact, most so-called “investment” consists of buying assets and collecting the income, with no value added. 

Michael Hudson, in his brilliant new book, The Destiny of Civilization, says that’s what’s happening in the U.S. specifically and also the broader world today.  Industrial capitalism, which, for all its faults, is productive, is being replaced by finance capitalism, which is parasitic.   

So much of the world’s resources go to paying off debts—government debt, business debt, mortgage debt, student debt—that too little is left over to provide for the wants and needs of ordinary people.  

So much of the world’s income goes to holders of debt that too little is left for those who do the actual work of society.

According to Hudson, the classical economists, from Adam Smith to John Maynard Keynes and including Karl Marx, thought that the chief economic problem was the rentier – the person who draws income from ownership of assets, without producing anything of value themselves.

The French economist Thomas Piketty has written massive tomes that show how the income from ownership of assets – whether land, government bonds, corporate stocks or something else – over time exceeds the rate of economic growth.

This leads to an ever-growing concentration of wealth, which ends only when some event – usually revolution, war or an economic crash – wipes out the value of the assets. This is the process that the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter called “creative destruction.”

In the United States and countries that follow its lead, classical economics has been replaced by the so-called neoliberal economics.  Its guiding principle is that financial capital must be preserved at all costs.

This is why, just as one example, the Obama administration bailed out the banks following the 2008 financial crisis, but did not use authority granted by Congress to help the struggling mortgage-holders.

Karl Marx was fascinated by industrial capitalism’s power to increase productivity and increase wealth.  This form of capitalism, as he saw it, laid the foundation for a future utopian worker-ruled socialist state.  Finance capitalism, in Hudson’s view, leads nowhere.

Hudson says that today civilization is today at a fork in the road: 

  • one path leading to a neoliberal neo-feudalism dominated by a rentier oligarchy ruling over the indebted many.
  • the alternative path is broadly mixed-economy industrial capitalism leading to socialism.

Read the rest of this entry »

The passing scene: Links & comments 9/13/2022

September 13, 2022

Asia’s Future takes shape in Vladivostok, the Russian Pacific by Pepe Escobar for The Cradle.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Putin in Vladivostok

Pepe Escobar, reporting last week on the Russia-hosted Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, says the world’s center of economic gravity is shifting to Asia, with China as leader and Russia and India as its main partners.

 I have my doubts that the Chinese-led new order will be as utopian as Escobar predicts, but the Chinese magnetic pole is a more powerful attractor than the U.S. pole.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, led by China, now includes China, Russia, the Central Asian republics, India, Pakistan and Iran, while 11 more nations, including Turkey, seeking to join.  

The reason is not hard to see.  China promises benefits to its economic partners; the NATO alliance demands sacrifices.  As the old saying goes, you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.

The Specter of Germany Is Rising by Diana Johnstone for Consortium News.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Scholz meets Zelensky

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz advocates an expanded, militarized European Union with Germany as the dominant force.  

It would include all of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, plus Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.  It would have a common foreign policy, consisting of a permanent Cold War against Russia, and make decisions by majority vote, not by consensus as now.

Germany dominates the smaller Eastern European countries economically.  The further east the European Union goes, the greater the influence of Germany, the less the influence of France and the stronger the possibility of a war policy being adopted over French objections.

Read the rest of this entry »

Watch out for the coming oil shock in the USA

September 9, 2022

This just in from Ian Welsh.

Recently read a smart lad who noted a few simple things:

  1. Biden’s been releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR).

  2. The SPR has basically two types of oil: sour and sweet.

  3. Biden has been releasing almost all sour since that’s what most US refineries need.

  4. At the current rate of release, the SPR runs out of sour crude to release around March.

[snip]

Of course, when Biden stops releasing oil, either because he’s out or because he chooses to stop after the election or the holidays are over, then prices are going to spike if sanctions are still in place against Russia and/or Russia is unwilling to sell to the West.  As a bonus, the government will need to buy oil itself to stock the reserve back up.

[snip]

What this means for Americans is that there’s a very good chance of a big inflation spike after the election.  It might hold off for as long as spring, it might start a few weeks after the election.  It won’t just hit gas prices, oil is important for much more than driving cars, so it’ll rip through the entire economy.  Stock up on what you need before the election if you can.

And let this be a lesson that GDP means very little when the chips are down.  Who cares if you have Hollywood and lots of fast food stores and Google and FaceBook?  What matters is what you grow, dig up, refine and make.

Javier Blas of Bloomberg News suggested President Biden could make up the different by getting Saudi Arabia to pump more oil, but Biden’s attempts to get Middle Eastern “allies” to help out by increasing oil production have ended in failure.

LINKS

When Is the Next Oil-Driven Inflation Spike in the US?  December to March by Ian Welsh.

“We’re going to have to talk about oil again” on Quiz Chad Had a Rack Twitter thread.

The US Is Depleting Its Strategic Petroleum Petroleum Reserve Faster Than It Looks by Javier Blas for Bloomberg News.

Viktor Orban’s message to Europe

September 9, 2022

Viktor Orban

Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary, refuses to join in the proxy war and economic war against Russia.  He gave his reasons why in a speech last summer, which I’ve excerpted, because it sums up the situation so well.  

He is a contentious character, for reasons explained in the linked articles.  But I don’t see anything in this speech excerpt that isn’t true.

Western strategy in this war is based on four pillars.  It is a sensible strategy on paper, and perhaps even has numbers to back it up.  

The first was that Ukraine cannot win a war against Russia on its own, but it can do so with training from the Anglo-Saxons and with NATO weapons.  That was the first claim.

The second strategic claim was that sanctions would weaken Russia and destabilise the leadership in Moscow.

The third strategic element was that – although they would also affect us – we would be able to deal with the economic consequences of the sanctions, so that they would be hurt more and we would be hurt less.

And the fourth strategic consideration was that the world would line up behind us, because we were in the right.

As a result of this excellent strategy, however, today the situation is that we are sitting in a car with four flat tires.  

It is absolutely clear that the war cannot be won like this.  The Ukrainians will never win a war against Russia with American training and weapons.  This is simply because the Russian army has asymmetric superiority.

The second fact that we must face up to is that the sanctions are not destabilising Moscow.

The third is that Europe is in trouble: economic trouble, but also political trouble, with governments falling like dominoes.  Just since the outbreak of the war, the British, the Italian, the Bulgarian and the Estonian governments have fallen.  And autumn is still ahead of us.  The big price rise came in June, when energy prices doubled.  The effects of this on people’s lives, which are creating discontent, are only just beginning to arrive, and we have already lost four governments.

And finally, the world is not only not with us, it is demonstrably not with us.  Historically the Americans have had the ability to pick out what they identify as an evil empire and to call on the world to stand on the right side of history – a phrase which bothers us a little, as this is what the Communists always said.  This ability that the Americans used to have of getting everyone on the right side of the world and of history, and then the world obeying them, is something which has now disappeared.

Read the rest of this entry »

Europe faces self-imposed economic crash

September 7, 2022

Thousands in Prague protest energy crisis and NATO alliance

I’ve written about why I think Russia is likely to win its ground war in Ukraine and its sanctions war worldwide, and what I think the results of Russian victory might be.  This post is about one aspect of that war—how the sanctions war has brought about an economic crisis in Europe.

Six months ago, Europe’s leaders boasted they’d bring Russia to its knees through economic sanctions. Today their countries fact economic disaster because of blowback from those sanctions.

Many Germans are hunting through forests for firewood for the winter, because of the looming scarcity of oil and natural gas.  One report says there is a one-year waiting list for purchasers of wood stoves. Coal also is in great demand and short supply.

In Spain, the government is imposed rules forbidding air conditioning to be set below 80 degrees Fahrenheit. In the Netherlands, a campaign called Flip the Switch asks Dutch people to limit showers to five minutes and do without air conditioning and clothes dryers.

One expert says six in 10 British factories are in danger of closing as a result of higher energy bills. The average British household is expected to see its annual average energy bill rise to $4,180, a rise of $1,765, according to CNN Business.

Forward contracts for electricity in France and Germany are 10 times what they were this time last year.

It’s hard to see how Europe can escape a energy crisis and an economic recession this winter.  The initial reaction of Europe’s leaders has been to double down.  Germany’s foreign minister said Germany will never desert Ukraine, no matter what.

The European Union is reportedly planning to seek sweeping powers over businesses in member states that would basically allow Brussels to tell these companies what to produce, how much of it, and whom to sell it to in times of a crisis.

A public opinion poll indicates a majority of Germans would like to negotiate a peace.  Unfortunately a compromise peace is no longer being offered.  The Russians now say their terms are unconditional surrender.

Tens of thousands joined to protest against the sanctions war in Prague.  I think it is the first of many such protests.  They may lead to sweeping changes across Europe; they may lead to existing governments and the. EU itself invoking emergency powers to stay in power.

I sympathize with the European peoples who’ve been caught up in the global struggle of the USA vs. the Russian-Chinese alliance.  Europeans have a lot to lose and little to gain by joining in.

Read the rest of this entry »

The true, lethal story of leaded gasoline

September 7, 2022

Leaded gasoline may have killed more people than Hitler.   That’s not an exaggeration.

This video tells the true story of the man who created it, and the man who exposed the harm it did.

Book note: The Brothers Karamazov

September 6, 2022

THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV: A novel in four parts with epilogue by Feodor Dostoyevsky (1880) translated and annotated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (1990)

The Brothers Karamazov is one of the two or three greatest novels by a Russian, possibly one of the two or three greatest novels by anyone.  It will live as an example of the greatness of Russian culture long after current conflicts are forgotten.    

Dostoyevsky states in the first paragraph that the hero of the novel is Aloysha Karamazov, the youngest of the three legitimate sons of the depraved Feodor Karamazov.

He is a monk of the Russian Orthodox Church who tries to live by the literal teachings of Jesus—something that is unfamiliar to almost all respectable people, both now (myself included) and back then.

Aloysha forgives his enemies.  In fact, he doesn’t recognize the concept of enemy. He returns good for evil.  He thinks always of others and never of himself.  He cares nothing for success, possessions or personal gain.  He never argues and hardly ever criticizes, although he always states the truth as he sees it when asked.

He has been like this since his earliest youth.  No explanation is given of how he came to be this way.

He is very different not only from his elder brothers, the brilliant anti-religious intellectual Ivan and the passionate sensualist Dmitri, and from his depraved father, Feodor.

Feodor is as obnoxious as it is possible for a human being to be.  He is greedy, dishonest and malicious.  He openly embraces all the vices, and goes out of his way to be as offensive to others as possible, especially those with a claim to be virtuous.    

He despises his other two sons.  They in turn hate him and don’t like or trust each other.  Yet he trusts and confides in Aloysha.  Ivan and Dmitri, who despise their father and dislike each other, also trust Aloysha.

One day Ivan seeks out Aloysha, invites him to dinner and tries to probe the nature of his faith.

Ivan is an unbeliever, but not exactly an atheist.  “I long ago decided not to think about whether man created God or God created man,” he says.  “I declare that I accept God pure and simple.”  This is probably meant ironically or hypothetically.  But Ivan is full of rage at God, or at least the idea of God, whether or not God actually exists.  

He confronts Aloysha with horrifying accounts of savage cruelty to innocent children, in history and his present day, all based on fact.  He cannot worship the Creator of a world in which innocent children are tortured, and denounces Christian churches for justifying such a deity.  Nor can he apply the Christian idea of forgiveness to torturers of children.

He said he loves life, but he can’t endure the meaninglessness of life.  If he can’t find answers to his questions by the time he is 30 (he is 24 and Aloysha is 20), he will “return his ticket.”  

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Why losing things isn’t a worry in Japan

September 3, 2022

An excavator is not a toy, but…

September 2, 2022

I wonder how long these guys (I’m assuming they’re all guys) had to practice to develop these fine motor skills.  I wonder what the practice consisted of and how much breakage there was in the process.

Also, the precision of the machinery itself is as impressive as the skill of the operator.

Book note: Charlotte Bronte’s Villette

August 30, 2022

VILLETTE by Charlotte Bronte (1853)

Charlotte Bronte’s Villette is about a complicated young women who didn’t fit what was expected of women in the Victorian age.  It also is about the cultural clash of an English Protestant in a French Catholic environment.  I read it in a novel-reading group hosted by my friend Linda White.

The novel’s zig-zag plot has so many abrupt turns that I thought the author may have been making it up as she went along.  But, no, at the end, everything comes together like a solved Rubik’s cube.  I think it would make a good TV mini-series.   

Charlotte Bronte

Lucy Snowe, the narrator, is courageous, self-reliant, resourceful and also opinionated and judgmental.  She expects little of the world and much of herself.  Inside her stoic shell, she is highly sensitive and subject to mood swings.  A little thing can send her from the heights of ecstasy to the depths of despair, or vice versa.  Her greatest fear is exposing her emotional vulnerability.

She is left an orphan in her teens, and makes a living as a nurse-companion to an elderly invalid woman who needs 24-hour care.   This means, as my friend Judith observed, that she comes of age without having been socialized into how young ladies of her era should think and behave.

Her employer dies unexpectedly when Lucy is in her early twenties.  She is faced with the problem of earning a living and she has no network of family and friends to whom to turn.

She leaves for London, figuring job opportunities are greater there.  Somebody tells her there is good money to be made teaching English as girls’ schools in Belgium.  She immediately buys a boat ticket for Belgium.

She lands in the fictional city of Villette and heads for the nearest girls’ school.  She loses her way and arrives at the school at midnight in a pouring rain.  She talks her way into a bed for the night, and then into a job.

The owner of the girls’ school, Madame Beck, is herself an interesting character.  She is domineering, interfering, manipulative and utterly ruthless when it comes to upholding her own interests and the interests of the school.  But she is also sensible, fair-minded, a capable administrator and a good judge of character.

(Bronte, by the way, refers to Madame Beck and all the other Belgian characters as French.)

Lucy is set to work as Madame Beck’s personal servant and governess (tutor and nanny) of her children.  

 One day, on a few minutes notice, she is asked to teach a class of older teenage girls in place of an English teacher who failed to show up.  

The rowdy French girls are all set to make life miserable for the substitute teacher.  But Lucy quickly picks out the ringleaders and humiliates them.  She even locks one of them in a closet.  Her authority established, she goes on to teach the class.  

She notices Madame Beck watching through a keyhole.  From that day on, she leaves the nursery behind and is a full-fledged English teacher.

Read the rest of this entry »

Our changing earth

August 28, 2022

Hat tip to Notes and Comment.

Eastern Kentucky after region’s worst flooding

August 26, 2022

Eastern Kentucky, one of the poorest areas of the USA, has been devastated by the worst floods in the history of the region, the result of climate change and the wreckage of watersheds by strip mining.

Tarance Ray, one of the Trillbillies, wrote an article about it in The Baffler.

Will anything meaningful be done to help the flood victims?  Or prevent future floods? he asked.  Not likely, he answered; not by the present powers that be.

When several complexes of training thunderstorms established themselves over Eastern Kentucky on July 25, pounding the Kentucky River watershed with upwards of fourteen inches of rain over the next five days, the conditions were ripe for a catastrophically fatal outcome.

First of all, the Kentucky River watershed had been subjected to many decades of strip mining, which decreases the soil’s ability to retain water. So, when the rains came, the water was funneled into creeks—and peoples’ homes.

There’s a reason Knott County has had the highest number of flooding fatalities: its narrow valleys created virtual traps in the face of rushing water, pinning people to the ground at the exact moment they needed to be anywhere but.

Whitesburg, Kentucky

The … [town of]  Neon is the best example of what this looks like.  Just a few miles upstream from it is an old strip mine. When the water came through that area, it ran through the community like a stampede of bulls. Neon is now a wasteland of twisted metal. There are cars in houses, houses on top of houses, an entire building unmoored from its foundation. City Hall has had to set up in a muddy parking lot under a pop-up tent and a camper van.

Even further upstream from Neon, in a community called McRoberts, I saw something I’d never seen before: two cars freestanding end-to-end on a bridge rail, completely mangled and disassembled but perfectly preserved in their disassemblage, like they’d been pinned to something larger while the water stripped them apart, piece by piece. It now remains like a statue, a testament to the power of deluge.  [snip]

More than twenty-three thousand lost electricity.  Roads and bridges have collapsed, leaving entire communities inaccessible. Others, like Neon, are without running water and waste disposal, and it may be months before this can be fixed.

While President Joe Biden declared the flood a major disaster on July 29, it was another two days before the state’s first FEMA mobile registration center opened to help residents access relief; additional centers did not reach Knott, Breathitt, and other counties until August 2.

You can easily talk yourself out of criticizing this delay until you concede that, yes, OK, we do live in the wealthiest, most technologically advanced society in human history, so surely something else must be going on here.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Inflation Reduction Act won’t

August 26, 2022

The supporters of the Inflation Reduction Act claim it will raise $739 billion to fight inflation, reduce the deficit and pay for new investments in energy, but Benjamin Studebaker writes that it will do nothing of the kind.  First, it is spending over a 10 year period, so the true amount is $73.9 billion annually.

He said this is less than 10 percent of the Department of Defense budget, 1 percent of the overall federal budget and 0.3 of a percentage point of the U.S. annual gross domestic product.  

The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that it would cost $2.59 trillion to raise U.S. infrastructure—roads and bridges, dams and levees, water and sewerage systems and the electric power grid—to adequacy.

Daniel Hemel says the bill will do next to nothing to reduce inflation, and its provisions for fighting climate change are offset by giveaways to fossil fuel companies, but it does provide for price cuts for a handful of prescription drugs.  

“It’s a devil’s bargain, but it had to be,” he writes.

He could be right.  This could be the best that Congress is capable of, given current political reality.  If that’s true, Heaven help us.

LINKS

The Inflation Reduction Act Is Not Designed to Reduce Inflation by Benjamin Studebaker.

Inflation Reduction Act: A complete breakdown of what the bill will and won’t do by Daniel Hemel for Slate.

‘Why are we in Ukraine?’

August 24, 2022

The conservative writer Christopher Caldwell wrote an article in the latest Claremont Review of Books saying that even if the USA and its Ukrainian proxy win their ground war against Russia, the USA may well lose on the economic war front and the culture war front.

On March 24, a month after Russian tanks rolled across Ukraine’s borders, the Biden White House summoned America’s partners (as its allies are now called) to a civilizational crusade.  The administration proclaimed its commitment to those affected by Russia’s recent invasion—“especially vulnerable populations such as women, children, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons, and persons with disabilities.”

At noon that same day, Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted about the “massive, unprecedented consequences” American sanctions were wreaking on Russia, and claimed Russia’s economic “collapse” was imminent.

Never has an official non-belligerent been more implicated in a war.  Russia and its sympathizers assert that the U.S. attempt to turn Ukraine into an armed anti-Russian camp is what the war is about in the first place.  Even those who dismiss this view will agree that the United States has made itself a central player in the conflict.  

It is pursuing a three-pronged strategy to defeat Russia through every means short of entering the war—which, of course, raises the risk that the United States will enter the war.  

One prong is the state-of-the-art weaponry it is supplying to Ukraine. Since June, thousands of computer-guided artillery rockets have been wreaking havoc behind Russian lines.  

A second prong is sanctions.  With western European help, Washington has used its control of the choke points of the global marketplace to impoverish Russians, in hopes of punishing Russia.

Finally, the U.S. seeks to rally the world’s peoples to a culture war against an enemy whose traditionalism, even if it does not constitute the whole of his evil, is at least a symbol of it.

It would be foolish to bet against the United States, a mighty global hegemon with a military budget 12 times Russia’s. Yet something is going badly off track.  Russia’s military tenacity was to be expected—bloodying and defeating more technologically advanced armies has been a hallmark of Russian civilization for 600 years.  

But the economic sanctions, far from bringing about the collapse Blinken gloated over, have driven up the price of the energy Russia sells, strengthened the ruble, and threatened America’s western European allies with frostbite, shortages, and recession.  

The culture war has found few proponents outside of the West’s richest latte neighborhoods. Indeed, cultural self-defense may be part of the reason India, China, and other rising countries have conspicuously declined to cut economic ties with the Russians.

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Suppose Russia wins – what happens next?

August 22, 2022

 

Ukraine in 2021

We still cannot break the advantage of the Russian army in artillery and in manpower, and this is very felt in the battles, especially in the Donbass – Peski, Avdiivka, and other directions. It’s just hell. It can’t even be described in words.   ==Volodymyr Zelensky.

If a problem cannot be solved, it may not be a problem, but a fact.  ==Donald Rumsfeld.

I think the Russians have a good chance of winning their war in Ukraine, for reasons I’ve stated in previous posts.  You may disagree.  But suppose, for the sake of argument, I’m right.  What would happen next?

The first thing to understand is that, at this point, Russians are not interested in negotiation, only in terms of surrender.  And the terms offered at the outset of the war may not be enough.

Historical map of Ukraine

Before invading, the Russian leaders demanded that Ukraine recognize Russian sovereignty over Crimea and the independence of the secessionist Donbas republics, and renounce future membership in NATO.  But that is no longer enough to satisfy.

Russia is extending its operations to absorb the pink and blue areas on the map at the right, which are the areas with the heaviest concentrations of Russian speakers.  It is issuing passports to those who desire Russian citizenship.

This indicates a plan to carve out a “new Russia” from Ukrainian territory which would extend from Russia to Transnistria on the Moldovan border.

Russia’s demands go beyond Ukraine.  Russia’s goal is to push back all NATO bases and installations from which NATO forces could strike at Russia.  This includes missile sites in Poland and Rumania.  Presumably it would include Sweden, Finland or any other U.S. ally that becomes a site for NATO strike weapons.

The ultimate goal, which Russia shares with China, is to crack global U.S. military and financial domination and replace it with a balance of power that includes Russia, China, the USA and maybe other countries, such as India.

A vain hope

Compromise is no longer possible.  Vladimir Putin and Sergei Lavrov say that US American leaders are “not agreement-capable.”  They say the USA and NATO allies have ignored their red lines for years, and the time for talk is past.  A recent speech by General of the Army Sergei Shoigu, the Russian minister of defense, gives a good idea of the Russian point of view.

The main advantage Russia has in Ukraine is superior firepower.  The USA and its allies are drawing down their arsenals to supply Ukraine and will not be able to quickly replenish them.

Russia claims to be producing as much ammunition and armaments as it is expending.  If Russia wins, this claim will have been proved right.

Where does this leave Poland, Rumania and other NATO allies?  Their governments joined NATO because they believed the USA could protect them from Russia.  This belief will have been proved wrong.  The choices for Poland and Rumania will be to submit to Russia’s demands or to fight at a worse disadvantage than Ukraine had (except for being less corrupt than Ukraine).

The European nations would have to face the fact that they must either be willing to make peace with Russia or be prepared to depend on themselves for defense.  Ideally, they would do both, as Finland, Sweden and Switzerland did during the Cold War era.

At the same time, economic warfare against Russia is failing.  Economic sanctions have backfired.  The USA’s NATO allies are hurting much more than Russia is.

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Jumping rope as an extreme sport

August 21, 2022

It’s time for something cheerful.

Hat tip to kottke.org and The Kid Should See This.

Marriage in eclipse: international comparisons

August 20, 2022

There’s a lot of variation here.  I can’t think of any single factor that could explain it.  Can you?

I’d be interested to see the figures for the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) as well as Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, Nigeria and other representative non-Western nations.

How Covid-impaired is the US government?

August 19, 2022

This chart shows which Biden Cabinet members have had Covid.  Lloyd Austin, the Secretary of Defense, and Xavier Becerra, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, have each had it twice.

Joe Biden, Jill Biden and Kamala Harris have each had Covid.  Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have had it.

There is a non-trivial chance that a Covid infection will result in organ damage, including brain damage, even if you’re vaccinated.  Read Lambert Strether’s article for details.

 I don’t rule out the possibility that brain damage is already occurring at high levels of government.  This is not sarcasm (well, not completely).

LINK

Will “Living With Covid” Even Be Possible? (Because What About the Brain Fog)?  by ‘Lambert Strether’ for Naked Capitalism.  Strongly recommended.

Russia is winning, and here’s why

August 16, 2022

I never thought Russia would invade Ukraine. When it did, I thought President Putin had made a big mistake.

My reason was that I thought that if Russia invaded Ukraine, it would get bogged down in a quagmire war, as it did in Afghanistan in 1979-1989.

But it hasn’t turned out that way. Rather than being a quagmire for Russia, it has turned out to be a sinkhole for Ukrainian lives and NATO military equipment.

Russia has been preparing for this war since 2014, or maybe 2008. It has created war industries capable of supplying artillery shells and missiles as fast as they are being used up. It is using strategy based on leveraging its quantitative superiority in artillery and missiles to maximize Ukrainian casualties and minimize Russian casualties

The United States and other NATO allies are supplying expensive, high-tech weapons that are hard to use and in limited supply. They are stripping their own arsenals to prop up Ukraine.

The situation reminds me of an article written years ago by a management expert named Clayton Christiansen about disruptive innovation.  The idea was that high tech companies become so focused on the high-performance, high-margin and high priced end of the market  that they are disrupted by competitors who concentrate on the cheap and reliable.  Russia is using a disruptive military strategy.

A report by Britain’s Royal United Services Institute says that the United States and other NATO allies are depleting their stockpiles of munitions and do not have the manufacturing capability to quickly replace them.

It says annual U.S. artillery production would last only two weeks of combat in Ukraine.  In a recent war game involving U.S., U.K. and French forces, the U.K. forces exhausted national stockpiles of critical ammunition after eight days.

The United State shipped 7,000 Javelin missiles to Ukraine, about one-third of its stockpile, with more shipments to come.  Lockheed Martin produces about 2,100 missiles a year, although it might ramp up to 4,000 in a few years.  Ukraine claims to use 500 Javelin missiles every day.

A 2018 report for the U.S. Department of Defense described the weaknesses of the U.S. armaments industry.  These included a lack of skilled workers, a lack of manufacturing investment and dependence on foreign suppliers for crucial components and for raw materials.

The Russian superiority in firepower is devastating.  A writer for the Marine Corps Gazette, quoted in the previous post, say the barrages are equal to the most intense shelling in battles of the two world wars.  

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A U.S. Marine analyzes Russia’s Ukraine war

August 15, 2022

‘Lambert Strether’ of Naked Capitalism came across an article in the August issue of the Marine Corps Gazette analyzing the reasons why Russia is winning its war in Ukraine.

The anonymous author, whose pen name is Marinus, said the key to Russian victory was its use of artillery – surprisingly intense in some ways, surprising restrained in others.

The Russians took great pains to avoid hitting physical infrastructure such as electric power plants, water purification plants and railroad stations. There were civilian casualties, and, of course, it was Russia’s decision to start the war in the first place, but there was a real effort to avoid unnecessary death and destruction.

The first phase of the war was a raid, bypassing big cities and intended, in the author’s opinion, to pin down Ukrainian forces and keep them from being used elsewhere.  The second phase of the war, to install pro-Russian governing authorities in areas where there was a large Russian-speaking population. In both these phases, use of artillery and guided missiles was held to a minimum.

But third phase of the war consisted of trapping Ukrainian forces in “cauldrons,” where there were no Russian ground forces and they could be pounded with artillery and missiles without restraint.  The Russian bombardments, Marinus wrote, were equal to the most intense artillery bombardments of the two world wars.

Like certain French divisions in World War One, certain Ukrainian troops are saying that they will hold their ground, but they will not attack.  I don’t blame them.

“The program of missile strikes exploited a capability that was nothing short of revolutionary,” Marinus concluded.  “Whether new or old, however, these component efforts were conducted in a way that demonstrated profound appreciation of all those realms in which wars are waged.  That is, the Russians rarely forgot that, in addition to being a physical struggle, war is both a mental contest and a moral argument.”

The four-page article is behind a pay wall, but somebody posted a copy on Reddit.  I’ve taken the liberty of copying it in my turn. 

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From the Guantanamo Bay souvenir shop

August 15, 2022

Be Here Now is a famous book on spirituality published in 1971, which is still in print.  I understand the staff at the Guantanamo Bay detention center also celebrate Martin Luther King Day.  How could you satirize this?  A hat tip to Naked Capitalism for the coffee cup image.