Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Thousand Here, a Thousand There

Ok, Mr. Adams, I'll bite.

What price do I put on religious tolerance? How many dead Americans am I willing to accept?

322,305,386. And counting.

Ok, yeah, I'm being glib here. Guilty as charged. But Trump's “keep 'em all out” solution is pretty much like every other “solution” to this sort of thing you see coming from DC: it won't actually do anything to solve the problem, but it doesn't inconvenience the DC crowd directly and makes the government look busy and concerned. I do completely agree with Mr. Adams when he says this bit of nonsense is likely to lift Trump rather than damage him, and I think that says a lot about what we expect to get out of DC these days.

There are just too many ways to get around this sort of thing: lying about where you came from, for instance, or sneaking into the country. I've seen parts of the Rio Grande where the “border crossing” is an old guy with a raft of lashed-together milk cartons and some 2x4s. Even Rick Perry has said a border fence between the US and Mexico is unworkable. He's mostly right. I think it could work, but it would be hideously expensive. Until we're ready to pay that price, saying we're going to keep anybody out who's really dedicated and wants to kill us is laughable.

And what about all the routes by sea into this country? We have two massive coastlines. Are we gonna put watch-stations every five miles along the coast and stop every boat that comes within a mile of shore? Remember, we're not talking about an impoverished family that's maybe scraped together US $100 to pay a coyote to smuggle them across the border. We're talking about a “two-billion dollar war machine.” Drug-smuggling submarines are only just the beginning of what these folks could do if they were serious about hitting us.

And right now, believe it or not, they're not. They've got bigger fish to fry: Iran and Assad, Putin and the House of Saud. The attacks in the west are inspired by Daesh, but they're not planned, organized, or funded by them. It's not correct to call these “lone wolf” attacks, but they're not part of a well-coordinated plan. They're the result of effective propaganda and little more.

Mr. Adams says he's willing to accept a thousand dead over ten years before he'll want to impose religious quotas on immigration. I wonder if he's being glib or simply not counting the nearly three thousand who died on 9/11? I suspect he means counting from now. Regardless, when Daesh gets serious about us, we'll be seeing death tolls in the four figures (or five or even seven) for a single day once more. In the meantime, expect to see more “solutions” like Trump's while the people we made responsible for this sort of thing concentrate on more important matters.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

An Open Letter From Generation X to Generation X on the Occupy Movement

There’s been some pixels slung, purportedly from GenX (though how anyone can claim to speak for a generation as diverse, divisive, and individualistic as GenX is beyond me) to the Millenials, on the Occupy Movement its aims, etc. Most of it’s been kinda embarrassing to read.

Listen, going on and on about, “in my day, by gawd, we knew we had to earn what we wanted” sounds like so much BS. If you find yourself saying anything like that, stop and listen to yourself. Cast your mind back to those heady days of yesteryear, just out of college, when our elders were lecturing us about corporate loyalty. “In our day,” they’d tell us, “you had to earn a nice benefits and retirement package through many years of loyal service to a big company!”

But we knew the score. We’d seen the layoffs, seen Grandfather’s pension get cut or even cancelled. Corporate loyalty was dead, and we weren’t the ones who’d killed it. So we hopped from company to company and were better off for it.

These kids these days, they ain’t dumb. They look around, and they can see what’s happening. Doesn’t matter if the guys in Washington wear red or blue, Bush or Obama, it’s the Age of the Plundering. Bailouts, TARP, rent seeking, all of that. They see the CEO of GE being lauded by POTUS even as his company, awash in cash, pays nothing in federal income tax. They see the Wall Street bailouts, the way the bondholders got screwed in the GM deal, and they know what SOPA’s really about. They can see how much money Hollywood pumps into DC, money that isn’t going to making movies or developing the next generation of entertainment tech, and they know the folks calling the shots in Tinsel Town ain’t stupid.

Like us, the Millenials know the score. They know there’s going to be another round at the trough, and they’re just trying to elbow their way in for a few mouthfulls with the big hogs. They want a piece of the action and they know that government largess is the biggest game in town.

Now, they’re a bit behind the curve in thinking that marches and rallies and sit-ins are going to change much. They can be forgiven for thinking otherwise; after all, the story they’ve heard is how the Civil Rights Movement won through marches and rallies and sit-ins (with short shrift being given to President Eisenhower and the 101st Airborne). They’re starting to wake up as they see how the Dems are content to ignore them on SOPA and PIPA, the same way the Dems ignored marches and rallies and polls on the Affordable Care Act. Sure, POTUS will throw them some sops (promise to veto SOPA, and probably some sort of “aid” on college debt), but his past performance (failure to close Gitmo, lack of much actual aid for folks in underwater mortgages) implies they shouldn’t really expect much.

Have they had enough of Hope-n-Change? Or will they rally to Obama in the hopes of being tossed a few crumbs from the next great plundering? The media may have abandoned the Occupy Movement, but it ain’t dead yet. Like the Tea Party, they’re licking their wounds and looking for a new tactic to achieve their goals. Yeah, I too would prefer to see them building new enterprises or devoting their energies and imaginations to new creations that will make the world a better place. But when you see the direction the winds are blowing, can you blame them for wanting a taste of that big, oozing government pie?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Why Wall Street?

I've been struggling to wrap my brain around the Occupy Wall Street folks for a while now. This is partly because I originally viewed them as a variation on the Tea Party's themes. It seemed to make sense; both are angry about the bailouts and how Washington has embraced privatizing gains and socializing losses. The Tea Party's long-term solution is to drain the swamp by cutting off the flow of money. That isn't what occupy Wall Street is about at all, though.

The striking difference is most easily seen in the 99% photos. The central theme of the Tea Parties is clearly "government should do less with less" (and then argue about where and how much). This is just as clearly not something Occupy Wall Street is interested in. Their concerns and anger are much more personal, and they want something done, even if they can't quite articulate what.

For me, this was confusing. On the one hand, they don't want government doing less, and on the other hand they clearly see that government spending is boosting the bank accounts of the already wealthy and not actually solving problems. Why not occupy Pennsylvania Avenue? After all, it was the President and Congress who choose to pay the bailouts, even over the objections of Wall Street in some cases.

It didn't make sense to me. The easy answer would be to say that the Occupy Wall Street folks were stupid, but generally saying that misses the more interesting reality on the ground. So I kept asking questions and came across a few things that fit rather neatly into the puzzle. Mostly, I think it boils down to there being two completely independent conversations about the role of our government going on simultaneously in this country.

Jesse Jackson Junior recently "called for full government employment of the 15 million unemployed" in America. Some, especially conservatives and libertarians, are going to argue that we can't spend the money. JJ Junior, however, isn't talking to them, and he's not alone. A sizable chunks of the voices in the American conversation have already decided the money is going to be spent. The big argument, for them, is how it is to be spent.

JJ Junior wants the federal government to employ 15 million people. Obama wants to spend 447 billion on a new stimulus plan. He doesn't have the money yet, but the assumption is that this ball is in play and the Occupy Wall Street crowd is tired of not getting their share. Even some of my most liberal friends have batted around the size of the checks Obama could have cut for every man, woman, and child in the country if he'd simply disbursed the money equally across the entire nation. But they don't say this to refute the notion that the money should be spent; instead, they argue about how it should be spent.

From this perspective, the Occupy Wall Street movement and the 99% pictures are understandable. If you start from the assumption that we're going to spend almost 4.5 hundred billion dollars, then it is perfectly reasonable to ask why we appear poised to spend this money to support the jobs of people who are incredibly rich instead of those who are struggling. It also makes sense to vilify Wall Street and the banking industry while giving government a pass. Pennsylvania Avenue isn't the focus of Occupy Wall Street ire because they recognize that Washington picks the winners in this game. Their enemies are Wall Street because Wall Street has done a much better job in securing for itself a larger share of a finite pie of government largess. The struggle is likely to turn vicious (though probably not violent) because it is very much a zero-sum game with very short-term goals.

So far, conservatives have failed to jump into this fight. I think that's wise. The dangers of wide-spread federal employment should be fairly obvious by now, and time and math seem to support the Tea Party argument.

The danger for the Tea Parties, of course, is in being sidelined from the argument. For the Tea Party, the risk is probably worth it, and it should help them refocus their efforts on gaining control of the party apparatus used to select candidates for legislative positions. Executive offices are sexier, but the money flows through congressional assemblies. Choking off the money, and draining the swamp, will render the argument between Wall Street and its occupiers moot.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Egypt vs. Sudan?

This guy says Egypt may have serious issues by February. The country imports nearly half its food (by calories) and according to the CIA factbook its overall imports are nearly double its exports in US dollars. So they’re not facing an uncomfortable economic contraction; they’re facing mass starvation in the streets. With the rest of the world still wallowing in the economic doldrums (which Greece, or China, or California could suddenly turn into another crisis), tourism is unlikely to surge to the rescue.

Goldman and Totten take some comfort in pointing out how unlikely Egypt is to start a war with Israel over this. Frankly, I have no idea why they would. Israel is only one of Egypt’s neighbors, and two among them are richer in terms of natural resources and currently still recovering from internal conflict. To the west, Libya is still trying to pull itself together from the ousting of Kaddafi. There’s no guarantee the country isn’t going to fall further into civil war as the victorious tribes vie for top spot. Egypt could potentially shave off a few of the eastern provinces and enrich itself significantly.

However, the EU has a strong interest in a stable Libya pumping lots of oil. They’ll likely only welcome Egyptian interference as a last resort. Obama also has some interest in a stable, peaceful Libya as well, and Egypt probably doesn’t want to piss off the US (according to the CIA factbook, Egypt gets 10% of its imports from the US, and I suspect a lot of that is food). So Libya is a slightly less likely target of Egyptian aggression than Israel.

On Egypt’s southern border, however, is Sudan. Nobody likes Sudan on account of them engaging in a genocidal civil war against the populations of their southern territories, still in the process of separating from the northern part of the country. While the south got 80% of the oil reserves in the armistice, the north still retains other rich minerals and the primary port for shipping the south’s oil out to the world, as well as most of the refining capacity.

Animosity between Sudan and Egypt is literally ancient. Sudan doesn’t have many friends in the world. The nations most likely to protest are China and Japan, Sudan’s biggest customers for their oil. China, with but one aircraft carrier that’s not yet combat-ready, doesn’t have the physical means to intervene, and Japan almost certainly lacks the political will to do so. Even southern Sudan is likely to cheer Egypt putting its foot on its genocidal neighbor’s neck.

According to Wikipedia, Egypt’s army is four times larger than Sudan’s was before the country was divided, and Egypt’s only rival in the number of modern battle tanks is Israel. If Egypt can master the logistical difficulties of marching south across the desert, they could conceivably win both wealth, renown, and a boost to the nation’s moral and the prestige of the army in a short, victorious war against Sudan.

The alternatives appear to be returning hat-in-hand to the IMF, which maybe they’re willing to do after the elections in November? Also, the US could possibly placate Egypt by offering a lend-lease kind of deal on grain, though that may be less likely now that the summer's proven so brutal to our corn crop that the EPA is easing demands on ethanol use at American gas pumps.

Finally, while China may not be able to intervene militarily, they can do so financially. If Egypt only makes noises about invading Sudan, that might convince the Chinese that all the money they've sunk into the country is at risk. That could convince them to make low-interest loans to Egypt, possibly in exchange for preferential treatment for Chinese ships moving through the Suez Canal.

So the real question is, why did Egypt turn down an offer of assistance from the IMF? Was it pride, or politics, or were the IMF's terms unacceptable? How much will that change, if at all, after the elections in November? Will Egypt be more willing to accept aid from China or the US? Right now, if pushed to the wall, I'd peg the chances of Egypt going to war with one of it's neighbors at something like 20%, which isn't huge, but is a far cry from zero.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The World Turned Upside Down?

Some folks, I think, are thinking too hard about government agents committing acts of looting in Egypt:

How much of the looting is bona fide grassroots rioting and how much is false-flag activity by the cops? I don't know, and neither do you... But government agents are clearly involved with the spree, and it's very possible that they're stoking and spearheading it; defense of person and property, meanwhile, has fallen not just on the Army but on civil society, as neighbors form informal protective associations. If Robb's scenario turns out to be true, Egypt has inverted the Hobbesian story of the state: The police are spreading disorder and the voluntary sector is containing it.

What a wonderful world we would live in, if Hobb's theories had been true! But the truth is, for most of the world, the state is not a defense against predation, but merely the biggest of the predators. When it defends its citizens, it is not to keep them safe from predation, but merely to insure that it reaps the largest harvest. Those of us who live in nations where this is not true are blessed. As for the rest of the world, they hope only that the state will not take too much, and that they will be allowed a tiny portion of what it is they have earned.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Are You In The Game? Or Under It?

There’s a lot of disgust out there with our political parties. Both sides feel angry and betrayed. Eight years ago (and even not so long ago as that) conservatives and libertarians decried “compassionate conservatism” as a betrayal. Today, liberals are saying the same thing about the Democrats and their policies. And the mantra for both is that they will abandon the party; they won’t donate money or time, they won’t support their candidates, and they won’t vote.

Which, quite frankly, is stupid.

In our two-party system you do have choices. One choice is to support the other party. “But I can’t do that,” you cry. “The other side is EEEEEEEVIL!!1!!eleven!!!”

No, they’re not. They’re your colleagues, your neighbors, and often your relatives. If they are, in fact, evil, then you need to move to a part of the world that is less evil than here. Good luck, and don’t let the door whack your bottom on the way out.

Your other choice is to stick with your party. Because a political party is like a car. It’s not so much an end in itself as a tool to perform certain tasks. When your car breaks down, do you just throw up your hands, abandon it, and not go to work anymore? Of course not. That’s stupid. You get it fixed.

If your party is broken, do you throw up your hands, abandon it, and let the country slide into disaster?

“But they don’t have any candidates I can support,” you cry. “They’re all a bunch of weasels.”

Then get new candidates. Where do you think candidates come from? There are these things called primaries, where a bunch of people toss their hat in the ring and vie for your party’s endorsement. They each have a different vision of what you party should be doing. If you don’t like these candidates, you need to find one you do like, or run yourself.

Waiting until the primaries are over and then complaining that you don’t like the final candidate is exactly like waiting until everyone else gets on the bus and then bitching that you can’t find a window seat.

Sometimes (perhaps even frequently) your candidate in the primaries will lose. Then you’ve got to figure out why and fix the problems. Maybe you need a new candidate. Maybe you need to spend more time explaining why your candidate’s ideas were better. Maybe you needed to raise more money. Learn, retool, and do better next time.

In the meantime, is the candidate your party chose better than the opposition? Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We’re all human and nobody is going to be perfect. Do the best with what you have.

And if your candidate is so odious that you can’t bear to vote for them, then perhaps you’re using the wrong party. Seriously.

Getting tied down to one party is often a mistake for any group. If they feel they can take you for granted, they will. There are only two cures for this. The first is to jump ship and vote for the other side. The second is to fix your party so it doesn’t take you for granted anymore.

In America, folks, politics ain’t a spectator sport. You’re either in the game or your getting trampled by it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

“Raising a daughter is like watering your neighbours’ garden.”

Stupidity is self-reinforcing. The more you do a stupid thing, the more "normal" and "rational" it looks. It also becomes harder to discern the pattern of cause and effect. Take the infamous gender gap in China as an example. It's easy to blame such things on China's one-child policy, enacted to get a handle of their massive population.

The problem is, apparently, that's only a mitigating factor. A culture in which daughters (and their husbands) are seen having no social or fiscal responsibility to their parents makes girls a financial liability. That's a disaster to peasant families living on the edge.

And because this stupidity is seen as the natural way of things, it persists when families rise out of poverty. According to the same article in The Economist:

So modernisation and rising incomes make it easier and more desirable to select the sex of your children. And on top of that smaller families combine with greater wealth to reinforce the imperative to produce a son. When families are large, at least one male child will doubtless come along to maintain the family line. But if you have only one or two children, the birth of a daughter may be at a son’s expense. So, with rising incomes and falling fertility, more and more people live in the smaller, richer families that are under the most pressure to produce a son.

The only cure for such stupidity is changing the attitudes that perpetuate it. The article gives us a glimmer of hope at the end, pointing out how the trend seems to have reversed itself in South Korea, and the discrepancies have plateaued in China and India. So hopefully things are turning around.

But in the meantime, Asia has a surplus of guys, and it's not going to be easy to live with. The same culture that values boys over girls also attaches status to marriage and raising a family. (Yes, I know that doesn't make sense. That's my point.)

So within ten years, China faces the prospect of having the equivalent of the whole young male population of America, or almost twice that of Europe’s three largest countries, with little prospect of marriage, untethered to a home of their own and without the stake in society that marriage and children provide.

Let that sink in. Society flourishes largely on the eagerness of young men to produce surpluses of wealth with which they attempt to attract mates. Among humans, it's our chief version of bright plumage. The trend is well known from past societies that have faced such discrepancies: as these men reach young adulthood, they compete fiercely for the women available. But as it becomes clear to the losers that they are not going to win a wife, they drop out. Crime rises, productivity drops, unrest and anti-social behavior of all sorts (but especially the kidnap and rape of women) shoots up. According to this article, China and India may have already reached, or even passed, this cusp.

Medieval Europe solved a similar problem by starting the Crusades. They shipped their excess young men to the Middle East to die or win new lands and brides there. The historical model, in short, does not predict a stable, peaceful Asia in this century.

Photos by lanchongzi and Tony the Misfit.