Posts Tagged ‘Ian Welsh’

Ian Welsh on happiness

February 12, 2017

Blogger Ian Welsh says the first step to being happy is to stop making yourself unhappy.

I live in a single room, in a downscale neighborhood.  I sleep on some pads on the floor.  I am in debt, and I have a couple of serious health problems.

Yukon raven by gavatronI am also happy most of the time.

I’ll be sitting in my garret and thinking, “God, life is amazing.  This is wonderful.”

And I’ll laugh and mock myself, “What’s good about this?  You’re poor, sick, overweight, and broke.”  All that is true, but I’m happy (and my health is improving, no worries, I don’t expect to die soon, though who knows).

So I’m going to give some unsolicited advice on how to be happy even though your life sucks, because, well, I’m pretty good at it.

The first step is to not be unhappy.

(Insert head smacking motion from readers.)

Seriously, though, start there. Or, as I like to say: “The whole of the path is not giving a fuck.”

Run out of fucks.  Do not restock.  Life will seem a lot better.

Please don’t mistake Welsh’s philosophy for indifference to the world or other people.   He is engaged with the world through his excellent political blog.   He is concerned about world events.  He just doesn’t let world events make him miserable.

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Ian Welsh on the culture of meanness

February 23, 2016

One of the most striking things about much culture in America is the simple meanness of it.  The cruelty.  Most of this seems to come down to three feelings.

  • Yukon raven by gavatronMy life sucks.  I have to work a terrible job I hate in order to survive.  I have to bow and scrape and do shit I don’t want to do.  You should have to as well.
  • Anyone who doesn’t make it must not be willing to suffer as I do, therefore anyone who doesn’t make it deserves to be homeless, go without food and so on.
  • Anybody who is against us needs to be hurt and humiliated, because that’s how I see my superiors deal with people who go against them. [snip]

This appears to be a result of something simple: at every stage of American life, it’s a zero or negative sum game, and who gets ahead is decided by authority figures.

Source: Ian Welsh

Not 100 percent true, I know of many exceptions, but becoming more and more true.  Welsh’s whole post is well worth reading.

Greece and the new cold war

July 6, 2015

The big banks in Germany and other countries lent money to the Greek government that they had good reason to believe would never be repaid, with the understanding that they would be bailed out either by squeezing the people of Greece or at the expense of European taxpayers in general.

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Source: The Hindu newspaper in India

Their confidence was not misplaced.  As the chart shows, they have already been able to offload most of the Greek government debt.

The Greek leaders have spoken to the Russian government about a possible rescue.  The Russian government’s reply is that it won’t help as long as Greece is in the Euro currency zone—which, as Ian Welsh pointed out, is as good as saying it will help if Greece leaves.

Independent journalist John Helmer recalled that Victor Yanukovich, the president of Ukraine, accepted a similar bailout offer from Russia and was quickly removed from power.   Helmer reported that Victoria Nuland, the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, who engineered the regime change in Ukraine, is now working for regime change in Greece.

All this raises the question of just whose interests the U.S. government—and Germany’s—serve.

∞∞∞

Nuland’s Nemesis: Will Greece Be Destroyed to Save Her From Russia, Like Ukraine? by John Helmer for Dances With Bears.

Consequences of the Greek Oxi (No) Vote by Ian Welsh.

Greece Rejects the Troika by Michael Hudson for Counterpunch.

Behind the Greek Crisis by William R. Polk for Consortium News.

An excellent question

January 20, 2015

Why is it not OK to kill people in the name of a religion, but it is OK to kill people in the name of a nation?

via Ian Welsh.

How Ebola came to be a global problem

October 9, 2014
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Click to enlarge.

My local newspaper, the Democrat and Chronicle, from time to time runs a article on local history.  Some time back the topic was how the Rochester, N.Y., public water system came to be built.

The article said the construction of the water system was controversial, because the affluent section of the Rochester community already had plenty of clean water, and opposed having to pay to provide a public water supply for poor people.

But then it was pointed out to them that infectious diseases that originate from contaminated water did not stay in the slums.  They affected everybody, rich and poor.

I think many of us Americans thought the same way about lack of sanitation, good health care and nutritious food in West Africa.  It was sad, but not our problem.

Well, guess again.  Those conditions are the equivalent of a Petri dish for breeding infectious disease.  And disease, as we’re now learning once again, does not respect national boundaries.

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Click to enlarge.

I’ve heard Americans say it is the Africans’ own fault they are so poor, but, as Ian Welsh pointed out on his web log, many of the problems of Africa stems from the 1970s and 1980s when International Monetary Fund and international banks insisted that African governments cut back on education and health care in order to give priority to paying back their debts in full.

Southern Europe is a destination for unauthorized African immigrants, and Spain, Italy and Greece also are cutting back on spending for health care in order to give priority for debt service.

Here in the USA, there are still 40 million people without medical insurance, Welsh pointed out.  How many of them are going to go to a clinic for a diagnosis of an illness whose symptoms are the same as plain ‘flu.

The other day, a friend of mine asked me which I feared most, ISIS or the Ebola plague?  I replied that I’m not afraid of either one of them, but I think that in the long run, the world’s people are at greater risk from mutant killer diseases than they are from international terrorism.   And we’re all in Lifeboat Earth together.

LINK

 Why Africa Can’t Handle Ebola: the Destruction of the 3rd World by Ian Welsh.  [subsituted 10/11/14]

Ian Welsh on the benefits of meditation

July 6, 2014
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Ian Welsh

Ian Welsh wrote on his web log:

I’ve meditated, on and off, for years. The last couple months I meditated intensely. Five hours a day average. as much as 10 hours a day on occasion.

Meditation has a “woo” reputation, an idea that it’s peaceful and serene and lovely.  Now maybe that’s where you’re aiming to get, but meditation is a tool, a process, and it is hard bloody work and often unpleasant.

In general, in meditation, you’re trying to detach from your thoughts. To stop identifying with thoughts as yourself. You don’t exist because you think. Your thoughts are witnessed by something that is close to you.

As you detach from your thoughts a few things become clear: most of what you think is repetitive. You have a number of loops, a pile of triggers and you run through them incessantly. You think in cliches for you; you think other people’s thoughts, and you rarely think anything you haven’t thought before.

What this means is that you don’t, actually, think very much. You have thoughts but they are almost entirely event and loop driven, and not under conscious control.  One reason, as you meditate, that you come to desire less thoughts is that you becoming achingly aware that most of what you think is tediously, boringly repetitive.

Yukon raven by gavatronAs your thoughts die down, you find out that many of them were defense mechanism. Absent thoughts to occupy it, your mind hones in your fears, your lusts, the stuff you fear the most; the stuff you desire but find shameful: all of that comes to the fore.  Sexually explicit imagery (this is common, not just me) with completely inappropriate objects; terrifying fears you had buried; hatreds you thought you had gotten over years ago; trauma that was only half healed.

Meditation gives you a good hard look at your mental habit and fixations, and you probably won’t like what you see.

Meditation is, thus, hard.  A friend of mine who is an enlightened guru of “recognized lineage” says that when people come to him, interested, he tells them to meditate for an hour a day for six months: the minimum requirement for the lifestyle.  Almost no one does.

The thing is that if you face what meditation brings up, go through it, and learn to not care or judge, it loses its powers.  The fears, the lusts, the hates pale, and rust and blow away.  The repetitive thoughts slow and for some, go away completely, and if you engage in them, you tend to do so consciously, rather than unconsciously.

The fixations, the chatter, stops commanding you nearly so much.  You gain a certain amount of mental freedom: to think about what you want to think about, or nothing at all.  To truly put down the traumas of the past. To look clearly at lusts and desires and decide to act on them or not, but not care much either way.

But it’s hard work, and it hurts, and that’s why most people don’t get very far with it.

Oh, there are types of meditation which avoid the hard work for a time: chant mantras, for example, and keep your mind constantly occupied, and you can avoid your demons. But generally, still the mind, and your ring-fencing thoughts die away then your demons step through the gaps and face you with yourself

via Ian Welsh.

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Vanishing farmers and disposable workers

February 4, 2014

Yukon raven by gavatronIan Welsh on his web log pointed out the connection between the decline of farming and the growth of sweatshops.  He noted how the connection operated in England during the Industrial Revolution, in Mexico under NAFTA and also in the United States.

After World War II Americans flooded from the farms into the new cities. For this generation, the GI generation, it was a straight upgrade: their lives were better. They worked less hours, they had more food, they had access to power and indoor plumbing, and good jobs with good pay.

Those Americans were treated very well, and if you weren’t black, the 1950s and 1960s are looked back on as the heyday of American prosperity. Good jobs were plentiful and easy to find and they came with healthcare and good pensions. Life was good.

Today, millennials and Gen-Xers don’t have such a good deal. Unemployment is high, if you lose your job you will have a hard time finding as good one, or a job at all, and good pensions and healthcare plans are more and more uncommon, and increasingly restricted to the executive class.

Why? Well, one reason is this, the family farms are gone.  The first generation had to be treated well because they had options: they could go back to the family farm. So their jobs, and their lives as consumers had to be clearly superior to being on a farm.

Click on The Disposable Economy to read his whole post.

Why can’t world’s biggest military win wars?

January 27, 2014

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The United States has far and away the largest armed forces in the world.  We Americans spent more on our military than the 10 runner-up countries combined; we spend almost as much as the whole rest of the world.  The U.S. Navy rules the seas.  The U.S. Air Force has controlled the air in every U.S. war in the past 50 years.  Our armed forces have boots on the ground in 177 of the world’s 195 countries.  U.S. military commands encompass the whole world.

Yet, as Andrew J. Bacevich, Tom Englehardt and Ian Welsh have recently pointed out, we Americans can’t seem to win wars.

Why not?

The U.S. armed forces are well able to defend the United States and fulfill U.S. treaty obligations.  Few if any nations are capable of withstanding a U.S. attack.   But U.S. forces have consistently failed in what we call nation-building.  They have not been able to suppress insurrections in defeated nations against the governments that we put in power.

The Viet Cong, the Taliban, al Qaeda did not represent the forces of righteousness, any more than did the Ku Klux Klan in the American South following the Civil War, to mention an early failed attempt at nation-building.   That is not the point.

U.S. forces could have stayed in Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan, or, for that matter, the Reconstruction South, as long as we Americans were willing to pay the price.  They were, and are, highly skilled at exercising lethal force.  If they time came, they would, I am sure, exercise these skills with courage and professionalism in defense of their country.

What they couldn’t do, didn’t know how to do and still don’t know how to do, is to make the Vietnamese, Iraqis or Afghans submit to their rule.  It is not their fault.  It is the fault of those who send them into harm’s way with instructions to accomplish the impossible.

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Why do we discount the future?

January 7, 2014

Ian Welsh wrote on his blog (one of my favorites on my Blogs I Like page) that we Americans don’t care about the future any more.

The men and women who lived through the Great Depression always planned for the future. They built power plants which produced more power than needed, bridges which could handle more traffic, water purification plants which produced more water than needed. They made sure infrastructure would last for decades, and then built it so well it outlasted even their specifications.

Their heirs, the Silents and the Boomers, thought this was absurd.  Why not party now, and let the future take care of itself?

Call this the “death bet”. In its pure form, the death bet is just that, a bet that when the bill comes do, you’ll be dead.  If you live a good life and die owing millions, well, what do you care?

But someone will pay that bill.  Maybe it will be your creditors, who might even go out of business, unable to collect what they are owed.  Perhaps it will be your heirs, if the millions adhere to property.  Perhaps it will be someone you don’t even know.

But someone will pay.  The good life, bought by debt, is always paid for.

The death bet is why we are not dealing with climate change, even though we know that it is coming and we know it will kill hundreds of millions and might even destroy our entire society.  The death bet is why our governments make huge tax cuts today knowing that either taxes will have to be increased in the future or spending will have to be drastically cut because the spending is not used for investment.  But in the meantime the government can borrow, or print money, so who cares?  The politicians who make the tax cuts won’t be in power, and many of the people who receive the cuts will be dead, so what do they care?

The death bet is why America had a 2.4 trillion dollar infrastructure deficit as of 2009. It is why Californians voted in 1978 to disallow property tax increases of more than 2% per year. And it is why tuition rates have increased by hundreds of percentage points more than inflation in many countries.

A death bet always come due. It just isn’t always paid by those who made it.

via The Death Bet.

Why is this?  I think it is reinforced by a philosophy that says pursuit of self-interest in a free market is sufficient to produce a good society, and moral values just get in the way.  This is not a question of liberalism vs. conservativism per se.  You can believe in individual self-reliance and oppose the welfare state, and still be concerned about your neighbors and those who will come after you.   The house I live in was built in the 1920s, before anybody dreamed of a New Deal.  Yet it is more solidly built than many of the houses built in the 1950s and 1960s.

Another factor is that American society since its beginning has been continually transformed by rapid technological change.  Why make an automobile or a computer that will last 25 years when it will be replaced by a better model in five years?  We become habituated to focusing on the new at the expense of maintaining the old.

Some of our problems seem so intractable that it is easier to try to postpone the day of reckoning rather than to solve them.  While it would be perfectly feasible and economically beneficial to launch a public works problem to repair America’s crumbling bridges, dams and water and sewerage systems (what Welsh calls the infrastructure debt), it is much harder to face up to the need for sustainable energy and the problem of global warming.  These would require daunting transformations of society that I, for one, find it virtually impossible to face up to.

That is why apocalyptic religion, and apocalyptic fiction and movies are so popular.  If we are living in the End Times, if civilization is going to collapse anyway, why bother to invest in infrastructure, education or scientific research.

At age 77, I probably will win Welsh’s “death bet.”  I expect to fall apart before American society does.  I guess that makes me part of the problem.

Ian Welsh on the way of thinking we need

October 25, 2013
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Ian Welsh

Ian Welsh, whose blog link is on my Blogs I Like page, wrote four excellent posts this week on the current economic and political situation and how we should think about it.

They are all worth reading in their entirety, along with the comment threads, but here are some highlights, with links.

The preferred business model today is to make it so that no one owns anything: everything is unbundled, instead of owning it, you lease or rent it and the moment you can’t pay it all goes away.  This is what “cloud” computing is about: a revenue stream. Lose your revenue, lose everything.  Ownership of DNA sequences, ownership of seeds, effective ownership of your intellectual property because it appears in someone else’s pipe (like Google using people’s endorsements without compensating them), you will own nothing, and all surplus value you produce in excess of what you need to (barely) survive will be taken from you.

To put it another way, the current business model is value stripping.

via Baseline Predictions for the next Sixty Odd Years.

We’re going to hit the wall.  We’re going to have fight a dystopic panopticon police state in which ordinary people are not allowed to own anything of real value, let alone keep any of the real value they create.  We’re going to do this while the environment comes apart, while we get battered by “extreme weather events”, droughts, water shortages and hunger.

That’s the baseline scenario.  That’s what we have to be ready to deal with, to change as much as we can, to radically mitigate to save hundreds of millions or billions of lives, and to make billions of lives good, instead of meaningless existential hells.

via Baseline Predictions for the next Sixty Odd Years.

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The global elite and the surveillance state

June 10, 2013

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Ian Welsh on his web log made observations that I find hard to accept, but impossible to disprove.

Liberalism, classic and modern, believes that a properly functioning “freer” society is a more powerful society, all other things being equal.  This was, explicitly, Adam Smith’s argument.  Build a strong peacetime economy, and in wartime you will crush despotic nations into the dirt.

If you want despotism, as elites, if you want to treat everyone badly, so you personally become more powerful and rich, then, you’ve got two problems: an internal one (revolt) and an external one: war and being out-competed by other nations’ elites, who will come and take away your power, one way or the other (this isn’t always violently, though it can be.)

The solution is a transnational elite, in broad agreement on the issues, who do not believe in nationalism, and who play by the same rules and ideology.  If you’re all the same, if nations are just flags, if you feel more kinship for your fellow oligarchs, well then, you’re safe.  There’s still competition, to be sure, but as a class, you’re secure.

That leaves the internal problem, of revolt. The worse you treat people, the more you’re scared of them.  The more you clamp down.  This is really, really expensive and it breaks down over generations, causing internal rot, till you can’t get the system to do anything, no matter how many levers you push.

What is being run right now is a vast experiment to see if modern technology has fixed these problems with surveillance and oppressive states.   Is it cheap enough to go full Stasi, and with that level of surveillance can you keep control over the economy, keep the levers working, make people do what you want, and not all slack off and resist passively, by only going through the motions?

The oligarchs are betting that the technology has made that change.  With the end of serious war between primary nations (enforced by nukes, among other things), with the creation of a transnational ruling class, and with the ability to scale surveillance, it may be possible to take and keep control indefinitely, and bypass the well understood problems of oligarchy and police and surveillance states.

via Ian Welsh.

My gut reaction to this post is that it is paranoid, even though it fits all the facts.  But it certainly is true that there is a tiny and increasingly powerful global elite which feels increasingly connected with each other and decreasingly connected with the rest of us.  It is true that the rise of this global elite coincides with the rise of the secret and lawless power by governments.  It is true that, in the name of national security, there has been a crackdown on dissent of all kinds.   It is true that increasingly militarized local police forces act as if they expect some kind of revolutionary uprising.

What I find hard to accept is that all of this is intentional.  The reason I find it hard to believe is that I judge others by myself.   I have done bad things in my life, but, at the time I did them, I had to be able to justify them in my mind.   In my mind, I imagine the ruling class thinks the same way.   I imagine they honestly think that they are the creators of wealth and jobs, and that all the rest of us are parasites on them.   I imagine that members of the secret national security establishment honestly think they are making the nation more secure.

But maybe not.  Maybe they are aware of what they are doing and don’t care.   Maybe I should think about sociological and psychological studies that indicate that the holders of wealth and power on average have a sense of entitlement that makes them feel exempt from the rules that apply to everyone else.  Maybe I should think about the classic definition of the paranoid—one who lacks the normal person’s ability to diminish awareness of reality.

In the end, it doesn’t matter.   What goes on in the minds of the elite is unknowable and irrelevant.   All I can judge is the probable consequences of their actions, which I think Ian Welsh judges correctly.

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