28 July 2015

The Difference

Robert “The Prince of Darkness” Novak says:

The difference between Democrats and Republicans is that Democrats truly believe in governing, and Republicans just want power.

Just putting it here so I have it handy.

15 July 2015

Local government often sucks

I've been meaning to write something about this American political canard for years, and Jonathan Chait has finally done it for me so I don't have to: Why the Worst Governments in America Are Local Governments

The myth of localism is rooted deep in our political psyche. Left and right alike use small and local as terms of approbation, big and bureaucratic as terms of abuse. None of us is equipped to see that the government that actually oppresses us is that which is closest to us.

Greece & the EU

So I've been trying to get up to speed on what's really happening with Greece and the EU. My man Paul Krugman says:

The European project — a project I have always praised and supported — has just been dealt a terrible, perhaps fatal blow. And whatever you think of Syriza, or Greece, it wasn’t the Greeks who did it.

My favorite article so far about the situation is from Interfluidity, which lays out Krugman's case in clarifying detail. If you read nothing else, read that. Here's the heart of it:

The choice Europe’s leaders faced was to preserve the union or preserve the wealth, prestige, and status of the community of people who were their acquaintances and friends and selves but who are entirely unrepresentative of the European public. They chose themselves. The formal institutions of the EU endure, but European community is now failing fast.

It is difficult to overstate how deeply Europe’s leaders betrayed the ideals of European integration in their handing of the Greek crisis. The first and most fundamental goal of European integration was to blur the lines of national feeling and interest through commerce and interdependence, in order to prevent the fractures along ethnonational lines that made a charnel house of the continent, twice. That is the first thing, the main rule, that anyone who claims to represent the European project must abide: We solve problems as Europeans together, not as nations in conflict. Note that in the tale as told so far, there really was no meaningful national dimension. Regulatory mistakes and agency issues within banks encouraged poor credit decisions. Spanish banks lent into overpriced real estate, and German banks lent to a state they knew to be weak. Current account imbalances within the Eurozone — persistent and unlikely to reverse without policy attention — implied as a matter of arithmetic that there would be loan flows on a scale that might encourage a certain indifference to credit quality. These were European problems, not national problems. But they were European problems that festered while the continent’s leaders gloated and took credit for a phantom prosperity. When the levee broke, instead of acknowledging errors and working to address them as a community, Europe’s elites — its politicians and civil servants, its bankers and financiers — deflected the blame in the worst possible way. They turned a systemic problem of financial architecture into a dispute between European nations. They brought back the very ghosts their predecessors spent half a century trying to dispell. Shame. Shame. Shame. Shame.


Gaius Publius writing at Hullabaloo, my favorite progressive blog, connects this to the neoliberal project of privatization of everything for the benefit of plutocrats, pointing to parallels between Greece and Ukraine.

The actual story is that the forces of privatization on the "liberal left" in Europe have found a nation in a great deal of economic trouble, thanks in large part to looting from outside, and they're offering a “helping” hand in order to further loot the country via those privatizing strings. In the minds of the looters (we'll call them “neo-liberals” below) every government-owned operation (Athens airport, say) is a missed profit opportunity for someone rich enough to buy it, and the world would be better if everything were made private.

But airports and other revenue opportunities don't privatize themselves; they have to be pried loose from government.

Greek journalist Michael Nevradakis and US investigative journalist Greg Palast make a similar case:

Here’s how it works. To join the Eurozone, nations must agree to keep their deficits to no more than 3% of GDP and total debt to no more than 60% of GDP. In a recession, that’s plain insane. By contrast, President Obama pulled the USA out of recession by increasing deficit spending to a staggering 9.8% of GDP, and he raised the nation’s debt to 101% from a pre-recession 62%. Republicans screamed, but it worked. The US has lower unemployment than any Eurozone nation.

As Obama scolded the European tormentors of Greece: “You cannot keep on squeezing countries that are in the midst of depression.” Cutting spending power only leads to less spending which leads to further cuts in spending power – a death spiral we see today in the Eurozone from Greece to Italy to Spain—but not in Germany.

“Not in Germany.” There’s the rub. Normally, a nation such as Greece can quickly recover from debt-induced recession by devaluing its currency. Greece would become a dirt cheap tourist destination once more and its lower-cost exports would zoom, instantly increasing competitiveness. And that’s what Germany can’t allow. Germany lured other European nations into the euro in order to keep them from undercutting Germany’s prices in export markets.

Restricted by the 3% deficit rule, the only recourse left for Eurozone debtors: pay the piper with “austerity” measures.

In Disinventing Democracy George Monbiot describes the anti-democratic, plutocratic nature of the process at work.

Consider the European Central Bank. Like most other central banks, it enjoys “political independence”. This does not mean that it is free from politics; only that it is free from democracy. It is ruled instead by the financial sector, whose interests it is constitutionally obliged to champion, through its inflation target of around 2%. Ever mindful of where power lies, it has exceeded this mandate, inflicting deflation and epic unemployment on poorer members of the eurozone.

The Maastricht treaty, establishing the European Union and the euro, was built on a lethal delusion: a belief that the ECB could provide the only common economic governance that monetary union required. It arose from an extreme version of market fundamentalism: if inflation was kept low, its authors imagined, the magic of the markets would resolve all other social and economic problems, making politics redundant. Those sober, suited, serious people, who now pronounce themselves the only adults in the room, turn out to be demented utopian fantasists, votaries of a fanatical economic cult.

The authors of this are not simply mustache-twirling villains. Ian Welsh outlines the cultures of the actors involved, and describes the architects of the EU this way:

In this worldview, it is only progress that national politics become increasingly devoid of content, and it is only necessary to build European-level democracy when the Europeans have finally, ironically, swallowed the medicine of their own mission civilisatrice. A case in point that is unfolding right now is the drama over refugees, specifically, how to settle them. Brussels had a perfectly reasonable and fair idea that refugees be allocated to countries in proportion to countries’ relative economic weight. This was met with absolute rejection, particularly by newer EU countries in Eastern Europe, who explicitly do not want even a small increase in the proportion of brown people who live there. Behind these countries hid some of the older, larger countries, whose national politics are already burdened by immigration-fatigue.

To EUians, this can only be confirmation that, at the national-political level, Europeans are only a hair’s breadth away from poking each other with sharp sticks in order to maintain ethnoreligious homogeneity. And they may be. But is it a sustainable solution to gradually dilute their democratic rights? To EUians, it is the only answer.

But as the Interfluidity article observes, these European elites have betrayed the good motivation of preventing European international conflict; in Welsh's words they have become functionally psychopathic.

I'll be adding more links and quotes here as I find them.

01 July 2015

Jane Austen's The Terminator

This may be my favorite literary mashup, and since the text is getting to be linkrotted away, I'm hosting it here.

“Indeed,” said the man (whom Patience could not help but think of as made of clockwork, though he manifestly was something far stranger), “I speak of these things not merely because of the way that I am made, though indeed a machine should do that which it is made to do, but because I have found that I have developed, through our many conversations, a feeling of that which is proper, both within the bounds of your society and without; and being that I am, here, a gentleman, I find that I am also bound to behave as a gentleman would, and indeed, Lady Patience, I must warn you that this Mr. Connor is a man of less than sterling character.”

Patience was quite taken aback by this sudden expression of personal concern, so unlike the measured rationality of the Mr. Terminus that she had come to know and depend upon, and so for several moments she sat quietly, simply looking upon his earnest, if overly regular, countenance, before she had quite decided upon her reply. “Sir, your concern for me is noted, and not entirely without my appreciation, but you are most forward and presumptuous to offer advice in such a matter, in which you cannot have any interest and which is, therefore, entirely between myself and Mr. Connor.”

At this moment the path through the shrubbery took a sharp dogleg to accommodate a stately lime tree. To Patience's discomfiture Mr. Connor was lounging on the bench around the bole, just striking a match on the sole of his boot. His glance at Mr. Terminus was distinctly cold. He drew on his pipe until the tobacco was well alight before saying, “My dear Patience, clockwork and machinery is properly the sphere of the lower orders. The delicately nurtured female can have no commerce with the denizen of a factory. May I escort you back to the terrace?”

Patience found this unexpected confrontation most distressing. Mr. Connor's wonted pleasant manner and courtesy were most shockingly lacking in this most recent speech. “Mr. Connor, I beg you, do not further ruin my heretofore pleasant impression of you by insulting my friend. Whatever lies between you and Mr. Terminus — for clearly there must be some further history than that of which I am aware — is not something which should be permitted to render impossible the simple courtesies of speech in front of a lady to which you but recently expressed several flattering pleasantries.”

Mr. Connor had smiled, in a way Patience did not find at all comforting, when in her speech she had mentioned “further history”. He rose, throwing back the unruly lock of wheat-colored hair which she had found so endearing, and turned his regard upon Mr. Terminus, whose expression was, if possible, more woodenly controlled than usual. “She knows something of what you are,” he began, almost entirely ignoring Patience in a manner which she found, if anything, even more annoying than his prior manner of address, “but it would seem, Mr. Terminus, that you have neglected at least some important aspects of ... history in your admissions. I confess to being somewhat at a loss to comprehend the precise reasoning behind your current course of action, yet even so you cannot deny the truth — that you were sent here to find Patience and to kill her.”

Patience felt the echoes of those last words pass through her as though they had, themselves, been fired from a pistol. She noted how very odd it was that she was turning towards Mr. Terminus to hear his reply, as though this were a simple conversation of the weather and doings about town. “Mr. Terminus?” she heard herself say, as though from a great distance. “Mr. Connor's words are so outré that I can scarce believe that I comprehend what is being said to me. Please tell me that my ears deceive me.”

Mr. Terminus' face seemed as controlled as ever, yet beneath it Patience could discern a great working of the emotion which the clockwork man had said were the great gift and curse of his time here. Then he bowed his head and said, “I would give anything to speak those words, Miss Patience, yet it is not in me to speak aught but truth in these matters. But believe also that I speak truth, when I say that I have come to know you in these weeks, and that any thought of harm to you is long gone, replaced by something of which I cannot even speak at this time." He stepped away, a slow movement that Patience realized was meant to keep from frightening her, as though she were a small animal which might flee if startled, and turned towards Mr. Connor. “Would you, then, risk everything for both of us, and have me explain all? The consequences to her if she is told the truth — the consequences to us — potentially we both face destruction even if we take this confrontation no farther. Yet a part of me says that she has the right to know the whole truth, as you have begun to reveal it.” Patience had understood his words until then, although they spoke implicitly of secrets yet unrevealed. She found his next sentence, however, quite opaque. “You could take no equipment with you, of course, while my CPU and auxiliary DPUs are fully functional; in truth, I can extrapolate the consequences on the spacetime continuum far more accurately than you would imagine, and they would surprise you.”

Patience did not understand, but as the initial shock wore off and she found — not without some surprise — that she had retained both her feet and her consciousness, Patience realized that something momentous was about to be decided, in this place, at this moment, and she turned towards Mr. Connor, to see what that decision would be. Little though she — as a properly raised young lady — knew of duels or the ways of soldiers — she still guessed, now, that both Mr. Terminus and Mr. Connor were capable of violence she had never before imagined, and she was not sure if, having had this realization, she would ever be the same again.

This work sometimes has been known to under the titles Terminators of Endearment or Pride and Extreme Prejudice. I would be indebted to any reader who can attribute its authorship.

Update: I find a significantly more complete version!