Friday, December 19, 2014

Denying the first essential lesson of history

Denying history is probably the most prominent American habit of thought.  Gore Vidal would talk about The United States of Amnesia.  I was once scolded on this very blog by a reader for discussing Marriner Eccles so casually asking, "Who except you, me, and the lamppost knows anything about Eccles?"  Guy had a good point.  When it comes to history, there are a lot of blank slates out there.

This means that anyone with a plausible story of history can go on record claiming almost anything.  Yes it is true that with the Internet, we have reached a sort of historical nirvana because for millions of issues, we can now access the original documents and read the contemporary accounts.  Satisfying historical curiosity has become the ultimate manifestation of the core Protestant mandate—find out for yourself.  But just as the Reformation did not destroy the market for professional clergy, the Internet will probably not eliminate the need for historians—if only to combat the rampant sort of fraud like in the example below.

Which leads back to the greatest con in the USA's historical description of self.  The Cold War required a really scary enemy.  USSR was first on the list—even though it became the scary enemy while struggling to recover from a calamity that destroyed over 1000 cities and killed well over 20,000,000 including whole age cohorts of young men.  It was like being threatened by a burned out building.  So to make USSR a threat, they had to make up serious lies.  A whole professional class of "Russian experts" like Marshal Goldman and the Pipes made prosperous careers out of peddling bullshit.  Unfortunately when the Warsaw pact went out of business and the Cold War could no longer be sustained by any rational means, the professional liars didn't just go away.  They had cushy careers to maintain.  And so now we read incredible, unbelievable lies about Russia that are almost identical to the old lies about USSR.  And why would they be different.  After all, the old lies were so effective that the VAST majority in USA don't even know USSR fought Germany in WW II.

Spooky, isn't it. (ht to JL)

The Most Essential Lesson of History That No One Wants To Admit

December 7, 2014

Ron Paul wrote an eye opening article recently about some legislation that was just signed in Congress, namely H. Res. 758. In the article Dr. Paul explains the purpose of the resolution. It’s not a new law but provides a basis of facts that will be relied on for future action. So essentially the resolution purports that Russia behaved badly in various ways and by way of signing H. Res. 758 each congressman was indicating their agreement that the propositions contained therein are factual. Now just because a group of obnoxiously arrogant A-holes stand around in a tax-revenue financed chamber and say “yeah” to several assertions does not make those assertions factual, but here in the United Orwellian States of America it kinda does. Because those assertions that were voted to be fact (similar to the First Council of Nicaea) will now be written as factual history and taught to our children as having happened that way. The very same way we all attained our ideas of American superiority.

The dishonesty and ignorance it creates is reason enough not to do such things, however, the real stinker of it is, as Dr. Paul so clearly points out, the sole purpose of H. Res. 758 is simply a pouring of the legal foundation for something much more substantive. You see this is how wars begin. And the wheels for this particular war have been in motion for many years now. We’ve been told our actions heretofore are simply a necessary response to the Ukraine situation. However, those who can objectively look at the Ukraine situation will realize the US sponsored coup in Ukraine was simply a spark to light the fuse of a much larger detonation.

Now I understand many at this point are thinking “yep another conspiracy theory, why can’t it ever just be the US government thinks what they are doing is best for Americans”? And it can, it just never is anymore and perhaps ever was. Lies are told and public opinion is manipulated. For war must be every bit good theatre in the press, as good strategy on the ground. It is the theatre that makes war so ugly. Fighting a war for what one believes in is unfortunate and brutal but fighting for lies and deceit to an end that benefits only those telling the lies is a type of ugliness most of us cannot comprehend. It is only in the world ruled by sociopaths where such things can happen. Allow me to offer some facts many don’t know about how it came to be that we invaded Iraq and Syria as the truth is still very much hidden from common knowledge.

We had a tragic start within the first two years of the new millennium. That event actually seemed to bring the world together. However, very quickly it turned into a launching pad for war. One might think well that’s reasonable to expect given the tragedy that took place in New York. A mighty nation like America is going to bring retribution to those responsible. And I agree with that. I was one of the many who wanted to see retribution brought to those responsible. However, we abandoned the attack on those responsible to initiate a war that had been in the works for many years.

It is pretty common knowledge at this point we pulled out of Afghanistan to push our forces and objectives toward Iraq. Now to get the world onboard with this, as we now know, the US created incredible lies about Iraq not only having some connection to 9/11 but that they were also building enormous stockpiles of ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ and that they were hell bent on using those against western nations. Again, we now know that none of these assertions were true. And we know our legislators were aware that no credible evidence existed to support such views. And we know that despite knowing those assertions were false they still made the decision to lie not only to the American people but to the world. The lies were told in an effort to build support so that parents around the world would see a righteous cause that they were sending their sons and daughters to their potential deaths or to be maimed in unimaginably horrifying circumstances.

Now I want you to think about that for a moment and don’t just read over that and move on. Because this is the essence of what our government has become in America today. They knowingly lied to the world so that the world would be willing to sacrifice their children, believing it was a necessary and righteous cause to do so. And in the end the truth came to light that there was no righteous cause. That all these young men and women from around the world had been used as pawns to fulfill the ambitions of a few. It is truly one of the ugliest atrocities to ever have been carried out by an elected government against its own citizens. And yet today because of our state edited media, most will not acknowledge that such an atrocity took place.

So I want to make very clear that Iraq was not a consequence of poor intelligence or bad decisions in the wake of post 9/11 emotions. The invasions of both Iraq and Syria were being planned and discussed for many years before 9/11. It is imperative to understand such things. Because while we cannot change history, we must use history to change the future. And I will add a note here because of the complexities of discussing Israel in a public forum. The immediately following should not be misconstrued as an indictment of Israel for it is America that is responsible for America’s actions. Now please carry on.

In 1996 the Prime Minister of Israel, Netanyahu, sponsored an ad hoc think tank called The Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies’ “Study Group on a New Israeli Strategy Toward 2000.” From this think tank came a report that was the beginning of a powerful lobby movement. Let’s take a close look at a few main points that come from the 1996 report.

Israel’s quest for peace emerges from, and does not replace, the pursuit of its ideals. The Jewish people’s hunger for human rights — burned into their identity by a 2000-year old dream to live free in their own land — informs the concept of peace and reflects continuity of values with Western and Jewish tradition.

Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq — an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right — as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions.

Syria challenges Israel on Lebanese soil. An effective approach, and one with which American can sympathize, would be if Israel seized the strategic initiative along its northern borders by engaging Hizballah, Syria, and Iran, as the principal agents of aggression in Lebanon, including by:
  • striking Syria’s drug-money and counterfeiting infrastructure in Lebanon, all of which focuses on Razi Qanan.
  • paralleling Syria’s behavior by establishing the precedent that Syrian territory is not immune to attacks emanating from Lebanon by Israeli proxy forces.
  • striking Syrian military targets in Lebanon, and should that prove insufficient, striking at select targets in Syria proper.
To anticipate U.S. reactions and plan ways to manage and constrain those reactions, Prime Minister Netanyahu can formulate the policies and stress themes he favors in language familiar to the Americans by tapping into themes of American administrations during the Cold War which apply well to Israel. If Israel wants to test certain propositions that require a benign American reaction, then the best time to do so is before November, 1996.

But who would have authored such a report? A report that seems to promote the idea of constraining, manipulating and achieving a benign American reaction. Well have a look at the list of authors/signatories of that report, below. They should be familiar to most of you as they are US not Israeli policymakers, which is odd because again this is an Israeli state sponsored project with objectives that are clearly focused on the well being of Israel, not the US or the American people.
  • Richard Perle, American Enterprise Institute, Study Group Leader
  • James Colbert, Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs
  • Charles Fairbanks, Jr., Johns Hopkins University/SAIS
  • Douglas Feith, Feith and Zell Associates
  • Robert Loewenberg, President, Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies
  • Jonathan Torop, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • David Wurmser, Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies
  • Meyrav Wurmser, Johns Hopkins University
Now subsequent to that 1996 report being released there was a letter drafted and sent to President Clinton in January 1998 that provides us some additional clarity on the war policies of the new millennium. Let’s have a look at that.

Letter link

Again we see a very explicit and aggressive lobby effort to persuade the US to invade Iraq. Now I’m sure you’ll find these authors even more interesting. Many of the same authors of the 1996 recommendation are also authors of this lobby effort. Only this time they are acting as benefactors of America. Odd though that they are pushing the very same agenda that just 18 months earlier these same folks were pushing as benefactors to a foreign nation. It almost seems as though the authors are indeed attempting to manage and constrain the American people’s reaction, as discussed in the first report, to their desired recommendations that US use its military to engage various nations in war. I’ve attached the list of authors here as well.

Letter link

Let’s think about this rationally for a moment. In 1996 we had a foreign government sponsor a think tank staffed by very prominent US policymakers with the objective to strengthen that foreign sponsor nation. And then 18 months later we see a follow on letter to the President from many of the same US policymakers that authored the 1996 report and some additional prominent US policymakers. The recommendation of both the ’96 report and ’98 letter to the President were lobbying for the US to invade and overthrow Iraq and Syria. However the original recommendation was for the benefit of Israel and the latter recommendation was being sold as necessary for America. And remember, 9/11 had not happened yet but we already see these very powerful, very prominent policymakers pushing very hard to invade Iraq and Syria.

The problem is Americans didn’t want another Iraqi war. Times were good in the late 1990′s. People were happy. The cold war was over, jobs were a plenty and the world felt safer than it had for decades. And as such, there was no way Americans were going to war for the benefit of a foreign nation. The US had decided Hussein was actually a stabilizing force there in the middle east and as such we wanted him there. But then an election happened and little Bush was elected President. Along with him came all those names we just saw authoring the two dossiers recommending the US invade Iraq and Syria. The authors were given titles such as Chair of the Defense Policy Board (Richard Perle) and Secretary of Defense (Donald Rumsfeld), etc. And so all of a sudden the same group of people who were championing the invasion of Iraq and Syria back in the late 1990′s were now in a position to make it happen by way of their own authority. What luck! Shortly thereafter the worst attack on US soil took place in New York and the rest is, as they say, history.

To believe we went into Iraq because our fearless and integrity driven leaders truly and honestly believed it was the morally and justifiable thing to do based on the tragedy of 9/11 is just ignorance because it does not align with the facts. There was a small group of men, called Neocons, that had derived these military actions some 10 years prior to operations themselves and some 5 years prior to the events that were used to sell these war efforts to the American people and the world. None of that can we change. And so my ultimate point here is to learn from what happened with Syria and Iraq and to show you it is exactly what is happening with Russia today.

Let me introduce a letter written by Bill Kristol and Donald Kagan to the Heads of State and Government Of the European Union and NATO. The letter was signed by many but of particular interest are many of the same names from the 1996 report and 1998 letter to President Clinton pushing for war against Iraq and Syria. This 2004 letter does not mince its words. It is very much pushing for European support of what would obviously be a US led military stand off with Russia. The letter is sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, which is a neoconservative think tank. In fact, one of the prestigious awards handed out by the AEI is called the Irving Kristol award. Irving Kristol (father to Bill Kristol) is known as the godfather of the neocon movement in the US. So again this is essentially the same crowd from ’96 an ’98, pushing for support of a US military operation, this time with Russia. This is back in 2004 mind you before the current events in Ukraine had even been imagined (signatories of the attached letter can be found here).

Letter link

Again we see the aggressive recommendations to back a military operation many years before the catalyst event takes place. That is the event that is being sold as the moral justification for a military operation. But this letter tells us that this military objective against Russia has been promoted for many many years now, far before Ukraine was an issue. This is again, a push from the same folks that lied to us about Iraq and then trained, equipped and funded ISIS in order to get into Syria and are now working hard to create a catalyst for an offensive with Russia.

For years before 9/11 it was determined by those warmongering policymakers that we would be invading Iraq and Syria. All we needed was a catalyst. 9/11 provided that for Iraq. ISIS provided that for Syria and now Ukraine has provided that for Russia. I’m not saying these folks had anything to do with 9/11 because I have no idea. What we do know is that 9/11 was used as a catalyst to lie to the American people about the need to invade Iraq. It has also been fully admitted by our government that we did in fact, train, equip and fund ISIS, ‘mistakenly though’. And finally we have recordings of senior US diplomats discussing our involvement in the coup in Ukraine.

And so one can only conclude here that again Americans are being manipulated to accept the recommendations from a powerful group of warmongering policymakers to go to war with a nation that has posed absolutely no threat to the American people in more than 25 years. And we are being led down this path by lies and propaganda. Quite specifically things like H. Res. 758. And if we do not make a stand against these policymakers we are most certainly headed for what could very well be the war to end all wars.

For the West is clearly looking to fortify its power hold over the world by destroying Russia economically to disable them militarily in an effort to prevent a Sino-Soviet alliance. I recently watched a presentation by former World Bank President, James Wolfensohn, to a political science class at Stanford University. The moral to his story (and I use that ironically) was to challenge them to figure out a way, in the face of a rising East soon to control a higher share of the worlds assets than the West, to retain the West’s global control. He stressed it was something his generation did not have to deal with but that today’s Western up and coming political class must consider. You see China is a powerful nation but without an alliance with Russia, China can be contained due its lack of energy. Because China is both a more difficult opponent and one that has much more trade with the US, Russia is the obvious target to prevent a fully formed Sino-Soviet alliance.

However, I cannot imagine a scenario where China does not clearly identify such a strategy being played out. And so they will come to the defense of Russian energy, as we’ve already seen with the signings of the world’s largest energy deals between those two nations. The Chinese defense will not be limited to economic if push comes to shove. And we will be put in the midst of the most powerful nations in the history of the world fighting for ultimate power. This small group of horrible people are willing to put the world on the line so their lineage can continue to rule the world while the rest of us struggle to simply stop the financial bleeding that has become a 15 year epidemic.

This all sounds like the stuff of fiction novels but unfortunately the facts tell us this is all too real. What is hard for me to believe is that we so readily ignore and deny the most essential lessons of history. Perhaps the foremost being that the political class will always be willing to sacrifice the working class in order to retain its power. And so we find ourselves again on the precipice of being asked by our political class to offer our young men and women up to be sacrificed for the ‘greater cause’. However, while the political class is trying to convince you the cause is one of morals and righteousness, in the end, it is the same cause it has been since post WWII and some will argue the same cause it has always been, which is for their interests and their victories, not ours. more

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Gloating over the ruble's fall

A guy by the name of Jason Bordoff was on The Colbert Report last night gloating over the economic problems facing Russia because of the crash in oil prices and the speculative run on the ruble.  He seemed overjoyed that Putin was finally in big trouble.  Colbert was mostly happy that gasoline prices were heading below the $2 per gallon mark.

Small problem.  Even though Bordoff has an impressive CV that includes as gig as one of Obama's energy advisors, he has been sucked in by the fracking BS.  He talks casually about how Peak Oil was wrong and that fracking only proves that innovation will become more effective and widespread as oil prices go up.  In other words, a typical neoliberal fool who seems to think what is obviously a speculative attack on the Russian ruble is really a sign that history is changing.  Wow!

Recently, I was working on a post dealing with the rituals of remembering Pearl Harbor (never completed) when I uncovered this photograph.  It was also taken in that first week of December, 1941.  Since the invasion in June, the German blitzkrieg had roared across USSR and were now just a few miles from Moscow.  The occupation forces were incredibly brutal, had inflicted millions of deaths, and had leveled hundreds of cities.  The people of Moscow had a really good idea what they faced.  So an army of 250,000 women went out and dug tanks traps.  They moved 3 million cubic meters of dirt by hand!  The weather was horrible.  This was not exactly people being caught by surprise while relaxing in an island paradise.

The people of Russia have survived crises almost infinitely worse than a run on their currency.  They have followed leaders like Stalin during these crises who were far more brutal than Putin will ever be on his worst day.  And people should never forget that Putin's mother survived the Siege of Leningrad—which means she was at least as tough as any of the women pictured below.  My guess is that Russia is in FAR less trouble than that smirking Jason Bordoff could ever imagine.




Of course, just because Russia is taking this opportunity to reenforce her economic independence does not mean she won't be making some serious mis-steps.  They just made one when they raised interest rates to 17%.  Someone in Moscow seems to believe that Paul Volcker successfully broke the back of inflation in 1981 by introducing gangster-levels of usury.  Well he night have actually killed off inflation but he did it at enormous costs including the destruction of middle-class agriculture and the massive de-industrialization of USA.  This destruction is felt to this day.  There were dozens of ways to have fought the global inflation of the early 1980s but a central banker settled on usury.  Who would have thunk?

In the very interesting piece below, Sergei Glazyev blasts the actions of Russia's Central Bank.  Glazyev is an interesting guy.  If I heard he was a friend of Michael Hudson, I would not be the least surprised.  He has also made considerable noise about running Russia's Central Bank so we can take this as his plans for what he would do.  Historically, he would probably have enjoyed the company of Marriner Eccles.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

More bad news for the frackers

It takes two tons of tar sands in Alberta to yield a barrel of oil (300 pounds or 13+:1 by weight).  That's a lot of strip mining to get a low-grade crude that probably sells for less than $50.  Yes there are some serious pieces of mining equipment that move 100 tons per shovelful into trucks that haul 400 tons a trip, but this seems like a pretty risky proposition.  But compared to shale oil, this is an economic slam dunk.  Even so, major players like Norway's Statoil and France's Total are pulling out of tar sand oil.

Which leads to the sicker sister—fracking.  The whole idea is insane.  The energy it takes to fracture underground rock formations is stupendous.  And the the tiny cells of oil and gas that are released by this process are very quickly extracted—the average first year decline is 70%.  In the Bakken field of North Dakota, 14,000' (4300 meter) deep wells are not uncommon.  So the idea is to drill this hideously expensive hole in the ground with horizontal branches over two miles below the surface, pump a bunch of expensive mixture at crazy pressures into some very hard rock to crack it, and three years later the show is mostly over.  Sounds like a good idea to me—NOT!

Crazy ideas don't get built without the financial backing of some very gullible money folks.  Junk bonds to the rescue.  Oh this could get ugly.  And when you think of the promises the fracking boosters have made over the years, the investors who got burned will probably resort to lynch-mob behavior.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Russia and economic experimentation

As someone who has marveled over the staying power of neoliberalism, I am far from convinced that some new day has dawned for the global economy even though Putin occasionally says something encouraging / enlightened about his plans to steer his country through the economic sanctions imposed for his "crimes" (real or imagined) in the Ukraine.

Below are two essays on how Putin's economic judo is rewriting the global economic map.  Kaletsky points at the treaties and agreements he has signed recently that may enable the folks who have been plundered by the worst manifestations of neoliberalism like India and Brazil to join together to create a BRICS alternative.  Only one problem here—the BRICS development bank is still a starry-eyed dream.  Meanwhile, Brazil's new administration of Dilma Rousseff has just appointed a neoliberal extremist named Joaquin Levy as finance minister while India elected a new Prime Minister named Narendra Modi, a real creature of high finance.  And to bring it all home, Russia's Central Bank just raised its prime interest rate to 17%.  Yes indeed, neoliberalism is far from dead even in places that have incredible incentives to find another economic path.

Michael Hudson points out that Putin is being forced by the economic sanctions to abandon many of neoliberalism's key elements.  Putin has very little choice in the matter (other than rolling over and playing dead which doesn't seem to be part of his DNA.)  The argument for shelving most of the neoliberalism that was forced on Russia during the Yeltsin years actually makes a lot of sense.  Unless the neoliberals who run the big institutions of global finance actually want to permanently throw Putin's Russia out of their club, they may want to rethink their current strategy.  As it stands, their sanctions will almost inevitably force Russia to try an alternative economic game plan.  This is bad news for the neoliberals because almost any version of industrial capitalism is superior to their voodoo economics.

If Putin actually can transform Russia into a Producer State with the best ideas of industrial capitalism, his good example will do some serious damage to neoliberalism as an ideology.  Virtually anyone whose lives have been destroyed by neoliberalism would cheer such an outcome. But first, Russia really needs some new central bank leadership.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The disappointing Lima climate change meetings reviewed

It must be really odd to cover the global climate change debate for German state television.  You live in a country where climate change has been settled science for decades.  Virtually all politicians accept the climate facts no matter their other differences.  The Germans have spent billions of Euros building solar and wind installations in a country almost totally north on the 48th parallel.  These things had to be invented, designed, and engineered and integrated into an existing power grid.  So such people understand that going green is MUCH more than wanting or agreeing to do it, it is a lot of hard, risky, and often frustrating work.

Yet here is Ms. Quaile of DW TV explaining why the meager outcomes of the climate change meeting in Lima isn't SO bad. Of course, she is right, it really doesn't matter what happens in such meetings—whether climate change is meaningfully addressed will only happen when better hardware is installed.  But it must also be painfully frustrating to watch folks argue about matters the Germans settled for themselves decades ago.

It is interesting to note that third world nations are beginning to agree that they should limit their carbon outputs too.  My guess is that the only reason this is happening now is because solar panels have become so cheap, they are the only way these countries can modernize anyway.  And almost all of these countries have better solar sites than Germany.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Fracking go broke

Because of its cost structure, the fracking industry is extremely vulnerable to an organized attack.  Now there is no way for me to know who, if anyone, is coordinating an attack on fracking but the collapse in oil prices has already claimed its first victim.  Keep in mind here that fracking has been funded by some high-rollers who expected hedge-fund sorts of returns.  Many actually believed the fracking hype—that it was a game-changer that would usher in a new era of oil plenty and USA energy independence.  How hyper-expensive wells that lose half their output in less than five years would accomplish that is a mystery that no one has ever explained to me.

What OPEC can accomplish with their low-price strategy is significant.  Not only can they drive those pesky frackers out of business, they can cause them to inflict such major losses on the investment community that the high-rollers will never return.  Of course, it isn't just the frackers that will lose out when oil heads below $60 / barrel.  Lots of producing nations will be losing money at that level.  So my guess is that these low prices won't last very long.

Yesterday, I was filling up at the local Costco.  The exit checker who stands near the gasoline price sign in the main store told me that prices had gone down twice just yesterday.  It was $2.29 for a gallon of unleaded at 5 pm.  After a nasty cold start to winter around here, temps had climbed well over freezing and there were patches of ground fog developing.  Between the low gas prices and the unseasonable warmth, it felt like I had fallen into an old movie.  Because low oil prices could also trigger another financial meltdown, I have seen this old movie before and am not crazy to see the rerun.  I did notice that the banksters were in Washington last week covering their butts in case of another 2008-style meltdown.  So enjoy the low gas prices because you probably will get nicked by the bailout.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Deming on education reform

Perhaps the most significant difference between the Leisure Class and Producer Class management styles is the subject of motivation.  The best example of Leisure Class management is the football coach who screams at his players, "You've got to want it more."  How anyone can claim to be able to measure "wanting it more" is one of life's eternal mysteries.  But millions of people believe motivation is critically important so we don't openly scoff at folks who seem to believe that it is the only important factor in getting to successful outcomes.

The Producer Classes tend to believe there is a great deal more to successful outcomes than merely wanting something.  That might work for simple tasks like sport, but if the project is difficult and complex like say, the construction of a high-powered, fuel-efficient, utterly reliable, yet affordable high-altitude aircraft engine, then a host of other factors become WAY more important than motivation.  These factors include: excellent tools, clear instructions in how those tools can be best operated, a safe and well-lit work environment, intelligent, problem-solving management, and a financial structure that supports long-term projects of improvement. Etc.

Interestingly, even in sport, the management that views their games as a complex puzzle to be solved through attention to detail, clear communication of plans, or intense concern about the health of the employees, almost always wins against the cursing, screaming motivators.  The guys who insist that their players "give 110% on every play" tend to have 3-13 seasons.

W. Edwards Deming was the pluperfect example of a Producer Class management guru.  In fact, one could argue he invented and defined the category.  His most enthusiastic admirers over the years have come from the automobile industry—which makes sense because the automobile is an intensely complex assemblage of parts from computerized engine management to supple seat upholstery.  Add to this complexity the requirement that these products must be produced inexpensively enough to mass market, and the argument that automobiles are the MOST difficult manufacturing problem turns into a slam dunk.  Toyota embraced Deming and his teachings and went on to become the largest car manufacturer in the world—a success story built almost completely on their dedication to build excellence.

So here we have a woman who believes we should embrace some Deming in the operations of our educational system.  Sounds like a good idea to me.  Producing an informed and well-educated individual sounds like a task at least as complex as building a quality car.  And goodness knows, the motivators in education reform are only making things worse.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Hudson on the end of empire

Arguably, the most successful exercise of "soft" power is the intellectual triumph of neoliberalism.  The best current example is that while the West has managed to provoke hostilities to the level of the Cold War, the Russian Central Bank just raised their prime rate to 10.5%.  Seriously!  Now it can be argued that the neoliberals who made this decision are some of the leftover traitors from the Yeltsin years.  But it is just as likely that many who voted to raise rates were loyal Putin supporters who consider themselves serious nationalists who decided to raise rates because they believe it was the right thing to do.  Now THAT is "soft" power!

Interestingly, TASS has reported that there are serious voices who are arguing that this rate hike won't help the ruble and will cause serious problems in the real economy.  This is a small sign that neoliberalism doesn't quite hold the power in Russia as it does in USA—we had a high-interest-rate strategy in USA for decades and I don't remember the mainstream organs of the press criticizing it or claiming it was unlikely to work.  On the other hand, they have a 10.5% prime and we do not, so it can be argued that the neoliberals in Russia's Central Bank are much more enthusiastic than ours.

Of course, part of the reason that the neoliberal impulse has grown weaker in USA is that after 35 years of this madness, there isn't a whole lot left to plunder and destroy.  The middle class, long the envy of much of the world, has been reduced to a shadow of its former glory.  And because neoliberalism has been shown to be mainly a destructive force, its failure in USA will most certainly lead to a failure to project "soft" power.  This is a very big deal because without soft power, all that hyperexpensive military superiority will be shown to be nothing more than another way to wreck things.  It turns out that empires without "soft" power don't last long.  Hudson points out below just how futile USA militarism has become.  It is so clumsy, it has turned Putin into a global celebrity-hero.

Turns out standing up to the USA State department and the small-bore thinkers who designed the absurdities that are the foreign policy plans of the neocons is easy.  Putin will demonstrate he is really a tough guy if he stands up to central bankers who believe that 10.5% prime is a good idea.  Until that happens, his country is still under the spell of neoliberal voodoo.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Lima climate change conference's record carbon footprint

The first of these conferences, held in Berlin, was actually both promising and exciting.  The German manufacturers of green tech threw a trade show across from the venue.  Helmut Kohl, the Thatcherite conservative PM of Germany showed up to move things along demonstrating that cranky right-wingers could be excellent environmentalists.  But most of these gatherings have been demonstrations of the utter futility of trying to change carbon consumption patterns by holding meetings.  It would be hard to imagine how they could be more useless without turning them into prayer meetings.

The problem, of course, is that you cannot change the machinery that supports life by voting.  You CAN vote to replace this machinery.  You CAN vote to install economic leaders who will figure out how to fund this replacement.  But even if this enlightenment happens and favorable votes occur, the new and greener support mechanisms must be designed and built—and then they have to work!  So at best, a society can only vote to TRY to create a world that doesn't spew thousands of tons of carbon emissions.  So while the world screams at the environmental movement to solve climate change, these guys cannot imagine doing anything more meaningful than holding another gathering.

It may be time to make Leisure Class environmentalism a capital crime.  Because these clowns intend to hold their high-carbon-footprint meetings until the ice of Antarctica has melted and the world's great cities have sunk beneath the waves.  I am reminded of the story Veblen would tell about the king who found his chair too close to the fire.  Rather than suffer the indignity of moving the chair himself and with the help failing to respond to his summons, he actually sat there and allowed himself to roast to death.  Today's kings gather to proclaim that the climate is changing and the change is due to human wickedness.  They then decide how much the people must suffer in order to lower carbon emissions and after much fussy negotiations, proclaim that all people of good will agree to sacrifice to save the planet.  Of course, they personally won't have to sacrifice, because they know how to "offset" their carbon consumption.

One of the definitions of evil must certainly be the transformation of uselessness into a "virtue."

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Germany and their anti-Russian madness

James Petras is a known commodity.  He has written over 60 books so it is easy to figure out where he stands on things.  In the last few years, he has grown critical of Israel's role in the world so there have been some serious efforts to smear him out of existence.  Even though we are roughly the same age, I have read him only occasionally because he keeps reminding us that his world-view was heavily influenced by Marx.  But anyone who can write 60+ books is at least diligent and so Petras can be counted on to have found important background information.  In the case of a subject like German Imperialism, almost any background information is helpful because what we as Americans are taught about Germany is little more than the detritus of two rounds of war propaganda.

Considering how warlike the Prussians were, Germany has been a bit player when it comes to imperialism.  Their colonial holdings were always pretty meager—it can be argued that tiny Holland was much more successful at long-range plunder.  They spent most of their war-like animus against their neighbors in central Europe.  And when they finally got into the serious business of imperial plunder in 1941 when they invaded the USSR, this decision nearly cost Germany her Leisure Classes.  Prussia was for all intents wiped out—Danzig became Gdansk, Koenigsberg became Kaliningrad, etc.

But in the Western zones, the German ruling classes held onto their power and possessions remarkably well.  So when they grew rich enough to get back their old arrogance, they reverted to form.  The Nazis didn't invent the idea that the Slavs are untermenschen (subhuman).  And it very unlikely that the idea died out so completely during post WW II new Germany that it cannot be easily resurrected.  But I know, this insane Russkie / Putin bashing by German news sources like Der Spiegel certainly caught me by surprise.  I was so caught up in the latest manifestations of the Catherine-the Great model of German-Russian cooperation, I was blindsided by the naked ugliness of this new Barbarossa-level propaganda.

So while I could certainly do without Petras' Marxian historicism, it was good to be reminded that the Germans have coveted their neighbor's resources before in history.  There are still some pretty good reasons why Germany is hated and feared in many corners of Europe.  Old habits die hard.  Frau Merkel may be the most hated woman on the planet but she still is quite beloved in Germany.  Even so, there were 6200 enterprises that thought the Catherine-the-Great model of Russian-German cooperation was the way to go.  The rest of us can only hope they have enough firepower to win the battle that finally defeats Barbarossa.

Oh, and Petras is very right about one thing—the Russians are not about to roll over and play dead.  And by standing up to USA hegemony, Russia is about to become the most admired nation on earth—count on it.  (The bold-face below was chosen by Petras.)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

$50 oil?

Energy prices present an perfect example of a Producer-Producer conflict.  While the people who produce energy naturally want prices (at least) high enough to cover the costs of production, the rest of a society's producers want energy costs to be as close to zero as possible.  Over the years, attempts to resolve this dilemma have been tried such as publicly-owned non-profit power generation and treating energy companies as natural monopolies subject to regulation.

Whatever the causes, the dramatic drop in oil prices is coming as an unexpected joy to the overwhelming majority.  It is hardly a stretch to assume that for quite a few, the choice every month is between energy and food.  And because energy is a significant fraction of food prices, lower energy prices will probably translate into lower food costs.  Merry Christmas!

Couple of things to keep in mind:
  1. It is quite possible to lower prices below the costs of production.  Oil companies tend not to tolerate losses for long so low costs will translate into production cutbacks—and sooner rather than later.  
  2. Energy companies still have pricing power—at least as much as anyone has pricing power.  I'll only believe that oil prices have really fallen when they don't go back up again next spring.
My best guess is that this fall in energy prices will be brief and any windfall would best be invested in energy efficiency because the long-term trend is definitely up.  See below.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Chile and neoliberalism

As someone who believes that neoliberalism is one of history's more impressive examples of collective insanity, I tend to look for signs that the era when otherwise respectable and sane people who believe this nonsense is coming to an end.  Unfortunately, I tend to forget that neoliberalism is NOT a set of ideas that won the day because it described reality better than the alternatives—rather it is a set of strategies designed by greedy psychopaths to suck up the humanity's loose (and not so loose) change.  Neoliberalism "won" the day at the point of a gun and the twisted expressions of torturers as they inflicted intense pain.

Chile was neoliberalism's first big "coming out party."  Thousands of people were brutally murdered to bring this stunning new manifestation of reactionary economics to power in what had been an otherwise pretty stable South American democracy.  The University of Chicago has been intensely proud of this "accomplishment" ever since.  So it is with one more glimmer of hope that after 40 years of crackpot neoliberalism, even the Chileans want to rid themselves of this poisonous madness.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Losing our precious topsoil

These days, I am working on a video that deals with the subject of agricultural runoff.  Not surprisingly since only a tiny minority of the population is directly involved with agriculture any more, the big concerns of the urban populations of USA are mainly about water quality.  Because whatever runs off a field eventually becomes part of the water supplies downstream, folks mainly worry about how many poisons from herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers are making their way into this absolute necessity of life.  As for soil erosion, this tends to be a worry most leave to the farmers.  After all, this is only mud we are talking about and soil erosion is a phenomenon as old as recorded history.  Lots of interesting cities and civilizations have been built around river deltas.

Turns out that soil erosion may be the biggest problem of them all.  Between row crop practices and the more intense rains from global warming, the problem has gotten dramatically worse in recent decades.  The following was a brief reminder for me that while climate change is by far the biggest problem facing humanity, there are plenty of other extremely serious problems we should not forget.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

New banking laws—the casino gets more brazen

Most of the time, the financial casinos are harmless.  It is mostly a zero-sum game where the winners equal the losers in a high-stakes video game.  But when things go wrong and the losers cannot cover their bets, the criminal strategy is to force the rest of us into making up their losses.  Now these big crashes happen on a semi-regular basis.  The reasons are simple—the players believe neoliberal horse shit and since they gamble on computers, their losses can be essentially infinite.  So there has to be some plan to keep the casino open.

The gamblers have pretty much exhausted the patience and bank accounts of the world's governments and the scheme to get the central banks to roll presses to cover their losses has provoked organized opposition.  So now they have decided to make it possible to cover the losses by raiding their depositor's bank accounts.  This was first tried in Cyprus where the opposition was muted due to the fact that the guys losing their deposits were mostly Russian criminals.  But now the backers of "bail-ins" have managed to get this nefarious scheme approved at the G20 meeting in Brisbane.  Look out, pension funds.