Archive for August, 2022

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.

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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.

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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.

Richard Feynman and the rules of disclosure

August 14, 2022

I’m not sure Feynman ever said this.  Whatever.

Patrick Lawrence on truth, lies and propaganda

August 13, 2022

The news that most Americans are getting about Ukraine is war propaganda.  That doesn’t mean that it is all false.  What it does mean is that it is next to impossible for the ordinary busy person to separate truth from falsehood.  Patrick Lawrence, a respected retired foreign correspondent, gives examples.

Ten days into the Russian intervention, the propaganda coming out of Kiev was already so preposterous The New York Times felt compelled to publish a piece headlined, “In Ukraine’s Information War, a Blend of Fact and Fiction.” This was a baldly rendered apologia for the many “stories of questionable veracity,” as The Times put it, then in circulation. I do love The Times for its delicate phrasing when describing indelicate matters.

There was the “Ghost of Kiev” story, featuring an heroic fighter pilot who turned out to derive from a video game. There were the Snake Island heroes, 13 Ukrainian soldiers who held out to the death on some small speck in the Black Sea, except that it turned out they surrendered, though not before Zelensky awarded them posthumous medals of honor that were not posthumous.

After railing against disinformation for years, The Times wants us to know, disinformation is O.K. in Ukraine because the Ukrainians are our side and they are simply “boosting morale.”

We cannot say we weren’t warned. The Ghost of Kiev and Snake Island turn out now to be mere prelude, opening acts in the most extensive propaganda operation of the many I can recall.

There was the maternity ward the Russians supposedly bombed in Mariupol. And then the theater, and then the art school. All filled with huddling citizens the Russian air force cynically targeted because “this is genocide,” as the ever-intemperate Zelensky does not hesitate to assert.

All of this has been reported as fact in the Times and other major dailies and, of course, by the major broadcasters. There have been pictures. There have been videos, all very persuasive to the eye.

And then, as evidence mounts that these incidents were staged as propaganda to frame the Russians and draw NATO forces directly into the war, a silence worthy of a Catholic chapel descends. We read no more of the maternity ward that turned out to be an improvised Azov base, or the theater, where citizens were herded, photographed in raggedy blankets, and sent away.   Ditto the art school: Nothing more on this since the initial reports began to collapse. No body counts, no mention of the fact that Russian jets did not fly over Mariupol on the days in question.

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Some voices you’re not supposed to listen to

August 12, 2022

If you are Russian and read Tass and Pravda, my guess is that there are a lot of things you aren’t being told.  My guess is that you need to check dissident and foreign sources to learn things that don’t fit the Russian government’s propaganda version of reality.

I know – I don’t have to guess- that if you are a US American and read the so-called “mainstream media,” there are a lot of things you aren’t being told.  You need to check dissident and foreign sources to learn things that don’t fit the U.S. government’s propaganda version of reality.

Petal bombs

One of the things I wouldn’t know if I didn’t check alternative sources is that the Donbass is being sprinkled with “petal” or “butterfly” bombs, which are designed to injure and kill civilians.

Donetzk authorities say they are delivered via Hurricane MLRS rockets.  Each rocket has 12 cluster munitions, each cluster has 26 bombs.  Because of their shape, they float down without exploding and can land anywhere.  

They are the size of a cigarette lighter and hard to see. If your car runs over one, you will lose a wheel—or worse.  If you step on one, you will lose a foot—or worse.  

I learned about this by reading an article by Eva Bartlett, an independent Canadian journalist.  It first appeared on the RT News web site.  Maybe you think that fact discredits her reporting.  If you do, would you say the same thing about a Russian journalist quoted on BBC News or the Voice of America?

Bartlett is lucky.  She hasn’t been charged with a crime, nor has her bank account been closed down.  Not so  Alina Lipp and Graham Phillips, two other independent journalists reporting from the Donbass.

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These may be the last days of NATO

August 9, 2022

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.

∞∞∞

Back in December, Russia issued an ultimatum to the United States and NATO that consisted of the following demands:

  • No more NATO expansion towards Russia’s borders. Retraction of the 2008 NATO invitation to Ukraine and Georgia.
  • Legally binding guarantee that no strike systems which could target Moscow will be deployed in countries next to Russia.
  • No NATO or equivalent (UK, U.S., Pl.) ‘exercises’ near Russian borders.
  • NATO ships, planes to keep certain distances from Russian borders.
  • Regular military-to-military talks.
  • No intermediate-range nukes in Europe

At the time these were understood to be fighting words.  John Helmer has helpfully provided maps of NATO installations that are covered by the ultimatum.

NATO bases in Poland

NATO base near Kaliningrad

NATO installation in Rumania

The U.S. government can’t say it wasn’t warned.  Vladimir Putin had been complaining about the eastward expansion of NATO for decades, and his complaints were ignored.  

The result is that the Russian government is no longer interested in negotiating with the USA.   Putin is done complaining.  He has decided to impose his demands by force.

So far he is succeeding.  Ukraine is in retreat.  Its U.S.-trained and U.S.-equipped army is faring no better than U.S.-trained and U.S.-equipped armies in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and South Vietnam.

The Russian strategy is based on use of artillery.  Ukrainian forces, brave as they might be, are being annihilated by  constant bombardments.

The Russian army reportedly has fired more artillery shells than U.S. forces fired during the whole invasion and occupation of Iraq.  But Russians claim to be manufacturing them faster than they are being used up.

Russia is only using a fraction of its military manpower.  A rule of thumb is that an invading force suffers heavier casualties than a defending force, and needs a three to one advantage.  But the Russian force is only one-third the size of the Ukrainian force.  

The Russians are fighting and winning with, figuratively speaking, one hand tied behind their back.

This means Russia has forces in reserve to enforce the other parts of its ultimatum.  It also has the power to escalate if the U.S. steps up its support for Ukraine.

In the early stages of the conflict, President Biden expressed the hope that Russia’s might could be destroyed by sanctions.  But the sanctions war has backfired.  European nations now realize they need Russia’s oil and gas to get through the winter.  Even we in the USA see rising prices and empty store shelves (not all due to sanctions, to be sure).

We Americans face the possibility of a great national humiliation in Ukraine.  The longer the war goes on, the greater the humiliation will likely be.  The more the conflict expands, the greater the humiliation will be.

There is no honorable way out.  It is dishonorable to encourage Ukrainians, Poles and other allies to fight and then refuse to fight by their sides.  Abandonment is shameful.  Using allies as cannon fodder is shameful.  Directly fighting Russians in a ground war, aside from the danger of nuclear war, is something we Americans are not prepared to do.

Ukraine could have had peace up to the end of last year by agreeing to withdraw from NATO, accept Russian control of Crimea and recognize the autonomy of Luhansk and Donetsk.  Now the only agreement on offer is terms of surrender.

What comes after a Ukraine defeat?  Poland and Rumania may accept the ultimatum, or they may resist.  If they resist, there is no reason to think that the United States can do for them what it could not do for Ukraine.

Either way NATO will be shattered.  It may continue to exist, but its guarantees will have been shown to be meaningless.  

The whole point of joining NATO was to gain U.S. protection and deter invasion from Russia.  If NATO bases instead bring on an invasion, and the United States is helpless to protect you, what is the point?

I fear how my fellow Americans will react.  We’ve retreated before – from Vietnam and Afghanistan – but that was on a timetable of U.S. choosing after Americans had tired of carrying on these wars.  That’s different from being defeated on the battlefield.  In history, such defeats have been preludes to revolutions and coups.  I fear our morale and our political system are too weak to absorb  such a defeat.

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Graft, corruption and Vladimir Putin’s ex-wife

August 8, 2022

Alexei Navalny, the brave Russian truth-teller, is in prison, but the work of his Anti-Corruption Foundation goes on.  Its videos are great examples of investigative journalism, both in their detailed research and in their clear and interesting presentation.  

 Vladimir Putin and his inner circle are repeatedly exposed and mocked; I can understand why they hate the videos.  I especially enjoy presentations by Maria Pevchikh, with her sarcastic smile and the way she rolls her eyes when she brings out one more example of extreme corruption and hypocrisy. 

This latest video is about how Putin milked the Russian public sphere to provide millions of rubles in income for his ex-wife, Ludmilla, and her new husband—possibly out of affection, possibly to buy silence.  It’s a bit long, but you can get a lot out of it just by watching the first 10 minutes and the last 10 minutes.  It’s in Russian but with English subtitles.

Navalny left Russia for medical treatment after an attempt on his life, but voluntarily returned in order to show he was not intimidated.  He was promptly arrested and sentenced to nine years in prison for allegedly embezzling money from his own foundation, and may get an additional 15 years for alleged extremism.  Pevchikh and other members of his foundation are presumably operating from outside Russia.  

LINKS

Alexei Navalny’s YouTube videos.

Alexei Navalny Fast Facts by CNN.

Alexei Navalny Wikipedia page.

Anti-Corruption Foundation Wikipedia page.

A thunderstorm at sunset

August 6, 2022

Via Naked Capitalism.

West Texas storm chaser Laura Rowe took this picture of a mature supercell thunderstorm, illuminated at various heights by the setting sun.

LINKS

Laura Rowe home page.

West Texas Storm – photo for sale.

Laura Rowe on Instagram.

Amateur Photographer Shares the Story of Her Viral Storm Cloud Photo by Jessica Stewart for My Modern Met.

This Storm Photo Shot in West Texas Looks Like a Sky Explosion by Michael Zhang for PetaPixel.

The sleeping dragon awakens

August 5, 2022

The Chinese government, in response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, has scheduled military drills that effectively blockade the island.  The drills are in effect a blockade of the island a demonstration of China’s potential power to impose a blockade; some shipping is being allowed through.  No ship’s captain wants to enter an area where naval forces are firing live ammunition. 

China also cut off sales to Taiwan of construction-grade sand, essential for concrete, and stopped imports of fish and fruit products from Taiwan.

And it announced that the timetable for unification of Taiwan with the mainland will be speeded up.

The Chinese actions are a signal to the authorities on Taiwan that they are at the mercy of the Chinese government, and that China doesn’t have to invade with troops to exert its power.

What is the United States going to do about it?  President Biden said a U.S. naval task force, including the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, will remain in the area longer than planned, but what of it?  Does anybody think he would be reckless enough to order the  U.S. Navy to enter the area where the Chinese are conducting military exercises?

The status quo was acceptable to everyone.  The Chinese government claimed sovereignty over the island, and nobody directly denied it.  At the same time the Chinese on the island enjoyed self-government, without Beijing’s interference.  All that was required for this situation to continue was silence on the part of all concerned.

Now this has changed.  The government in Beijing might have tolerated home rule in Taiwan indefinitely.  It will never accept even the remote possibility of Taiwan becoming a base from which the United States or other foreign power could launch attacks on China, as the Japanese did during World War Two.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think the Chinese reaction was due to Pelosi’s statements alone.  It followed a number of statements and actions by U.S. officials and politicians that ramped up tensions.  Pelosi’s visit was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

There was a time when the United States had such overwhelming military superiority that American leaders could say and do whatever they liked without concern about what leaders of other nations thought or would do.  That time is gone.

Bear in mind that while the U.S. military sought full spectrum dominance everywhere in everything, the Chinese military has been working on the one very specific problem of how to counter U.S. power in the China seas.  (And the Russian military has spent at least 15 years working on the one very specific problem of how to counter U.S. power in Eastern Europe).

President Theodore Roosevelt liked to quote the alleged African proverb, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”  The most dangerous thing that an individual person or a national leader can do is to make idle threats.  That’s what our leaders have fallen into the habit of doing.

LINKS

Endgame Taiwan: US Plans Further China Eyepoking with Planned Military Transit of the Taiwan Strait by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.  A good assessment of the overall situation, with important background information.

‘Taiwan lockdown’ drills stun secessionists, external forces as precision strike, area denial capabilities proved by the staff of Global Times.  A Chinese report on Chinese power.

Biden will keep aircraft carrier in the South China Sea, but postpones missile test by Christina Wilkie for MSNBC.

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Nancy Pelosi promises U.S. support for Taiwan

August 2, 2022

As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi landed in Taiwan, an article was published under her byline in The Washington Post.  She wrote that the U.S. must “stand by” Taiwan, “America stands with Taiwan,” “We cannot stand by as the CCP proceeds to threaten Taiwan,” “we never give in to autocrats” and “the freedoms of Taiwan … must be respected.”

What does this mean?  Is she saying the United States would go to war with China to protect Taiwan’s independence?  If so, by what authority does she make that promise?

Or is she saying that the United States would stand by Taiwan in the same way it is standing by Ukraine?  Is she saying the U.S. is willing to fight to the last Taiwanese?   If I were a Chinese person living on Taiwan, I would find her language disturbingly vague.

I have sympathy and admiration for the Chinese on Taiwan.  They are one of the world’s most successful societies.  They are an asset and example to the world, in terms of democracy, individual freedom and material progress.

So far the Chinese government in Beijing have been willing to tolerate their self-rule so long as they are peaceful and don’t demand recognition as an independent country.

But I don’t think President Xi would tolerate a Taiwan that was the spearhead of a NATO-type anti-Chinese alliance, any more than Vladimir Putin was willing to tolerate a Ukraine in that rule.

Is the United States willing to go to war for Taiwan?  No.  Could the USA win a proxy war with China, fighting to the last Taiwanese?  No.  Could the USA actually win a war with China, using its own forces?  Doubtful.

China is a threat to U.S. economic and military supremacy, but the reason it is a threat is that it is overtaking the USA economically, technologically and, yes, militarily.  If we Americans want to have a strong and prosperous nation, we need to regroup and rebuild our strength at home, not provoke crises.

[Added 08/03/2022]  Some think President Xi has lost face because of his relatively weak response.  But that is assuming that his response has to be immediate.  President Putin waited eight years before responding to the U.S.-backed coup in Ukraine in 2014.  

It is true that, in Rep. Pelosi’s case, her visit is a symbolic action that does not, in and of itself, change anything.  But I do think that Xi, like Putin, has lost hope of improving relations with the United States.

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The case for letting sleeping dogs lie

August 2, 2022

Al Jazeera posted a good video explaining the background of the U.S.-China conflict over Taiwan. It’s a good argument for letting sleeping dogs lie.

The Chinese government says Taiwan is part of China. The U.S. government hasn’t said whether it is or isn’t, but says it is opposed to China using force to establish control of Taiwan.

The people in Taiwan have created one of the world’s better societies. They are free and democratic. They have progressively improved their material standard of living. They are leaders in high-tech industry, and supply advanced computer chips to both China and the USA.

Taiwan would be a great potential asset to China, but it would not be an asset that if there was a ruinous war that left China ruling a rebellious, conquered population. But China might invade if it thought that Taiwan was going to be incorporated into a U.S.-led anti-Chinese alliance.

If the U.S. government tries to do that, or gives the Chinese government the impression it is doing that, there is a real danger of war.

I think there are factions in the U.S. government that would welcome a war. But I do not think that it is given that the U.S. would win such a war. The U.S. military, including the Navy, is in decline. It can’t even keep ships from colliding with each other. The Chinese, on the other hand, have spent more than a decade figuring out how to defend the U.S. in their territorial waters.

The Taiwanese have not challenged the status quo.  If we Americans care about the well-being of the people of Taiwan, it should respect their wishes.  Let’s not create a crisis where none exists.  Let sleeping dogs lie.

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Let’s hope Nancy Pelosi doesn’t touch off a war

August 1, 2022

Nancy Pelosi is headed for Taiwan, and may arrive there tomorrow, despite Chinese objections and undefined threats of retaliation if she does.

Many in Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, say she should ignore the warnings.  The Chinese don’t get to determine where the U.S. Speaker of the House can travel, they say.

But the Chinese government says that Taiwan is part of China, and the U.S. government has never explicitly denied this. This is a red line for China.  For them, saying the Chinese government has no say over who visits Taiwan is like saying the U.S. government has no say over who visits Puerto Rico or Hawaii.

President Xi Jinping told President Biden on Thursday that, for China, this is a red line that must not be crossed. The Global Times, a semi-official Chinese newspaper, wrote this:

“Don’t say we didn’t warn you!” – a phrase that was used by the People’s Daily in 1962 before China was forced to fight the border war with India and ahead of the 1979 China-Vietnam War, was frequently mentioned during a forum held Friday by a high-level Chinese think tank, as analysts warned that open military options and comprehensive countermeasures ranging from the economy to diplomacy from China await if US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gambles with a visit to the Taiwan island during her Asia tour.

On Thursday night, Chinese President Xi Jinping held a phone conversation with US President Joe Biden, during which he once again warned the US about the seriousness and significance of the Taiwan question and said, “Public opinion cannot be defied. Those who play with fire will perish by it. It is hoped that the US will be clear-eyed about this.”

In the recent week, in response to Pelosi’s potential visit to the island of Taiwan, a string of warnings have also been made by different ministries and departments of China. On Friday, the Institute of Taiwan Studies in Chinese Academy of Social Sciences – the highest-level think tank – held a forum with analysts and discussed the damage of Pelosi’s possible Taiwan island visit to the China-US relations, cross-Straits stability and regional and global peace, and China’s countermeasures.

Sending fighter jets to intercept Pelosi’s plane, declaring air and maritime zones around the island of Taiwan as restriction zones for military exercises … China’s responses will be systematical and not limited to small scale given the severity of Pelosi’s move and the damage to the political trust of China-US relations, Yang Mingjie, head of the Institute of Taiwan Studies in Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times. [snip]

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Billionaire power in the 2022 election

August 1, 2022

The expected backlash against Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic leadership is well-deserved.  But it’s unlikely that the Republican leaders will do anything to improve the lot of ordinary Americans.  They are even more dependent than the Democrats on campaign contributions from the billionaire class.

Judd Legum wrote in Popular Information:

Are the 2022 midterm elections for sale? A handful of billionaires are trying to find out. 

Two primary super PACs seek to establish Republican majorities in the Senate and House — the Senate Leadership Fund (SLF) and the Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF). Those two groups, which can accept unlimited donations, collectively raised $188.3 million through March 2022. Nearly half of the money, $89.4 million, has come from just 27 billionaires, according to a new report from Americans for Tax Fairness. 

This figure understates the influence of billionaires pushing to restore Republican majorities in Congress. An additional $40 million in funding to the SLF and CLF has come directly from corporations. Some of these corporations are controlled by billionaires. Koch Industries, for example, has donated $1.75 million to the SLF and CLF and is controlled by billionaire Charles Koch. 

Another $35 million in donations to the SLF and CLF comes from entities organized as non-profits that do not disclose their donors. $18.7 million in funding comes from the American Action Network, a non-profit run by the same group of leaders, including former Republican Senator Norm Coleman, that run the CLF. The source of these funds is entirely opaque. 

The Democratic counterparts to the SLF and CLF, the House Majority PAC (HMP) and the Senate Majority PAC (SMP), raise significant funds from billionaires — but it is a smaller percentage of their total receipts. According to Americans for Tax Fairness, the HMP and SMP have collectively raised $154 million in the 2022 cycle. About $25 million, around 17%,  has come from billionaires. 

The reliance on billionaire dollars by Republicans and Democrats in 2022 reflects an acceleration of an alarming trend in American politics. Since the Supreme Court eliminated limits on so-called “independent” expenditures by corporations and the wealthy in Citizen’s United (2010), political spending by billionaires on federal races has exploded. 

During the first two years of the pandemic, the net worth of the 44 billionaires who donated this cycle to the main Democratic and Republican Super PACs increased by $168 billion. These billionaires are now using a small percentage of their extraordinary wealth to shape the federal government to meet their economic and ideological interests. 

LINKS

Bank of America Memo: “We Hope” Worker Power Worsens by Ken Klipperstein and Jon Schwartz for The Intercept.

Billionaires Buying Elections: How the Nation’s Wealthiest Translate Economic Power Into Political Clout by Americans for Tax Justice.

The billionaires buying the midterm elections by Judd Legum for Popular Information.

How corporate cash could make an extremist the next Governor of Pennsylvania by Judd Legum and Rebecca Crosby for Popular Information.