Three Crises — Any one of which can kill you

Three Crises

Any one of which can kill you

April 16th, 2022

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

There are three situations that are edging closer and closer to flash points that could create immense damage and in one instance, kill a sizable percentage of the human race.

The first is Putin and the Ukraine. The invasion and war has not gone well for Russia. Ukraine not only failed to fall in days to a Russian blitzkrieg, but the blitzkrieg itself flopped, something that was self evident the moment we saw that forty-file long convoy of tanks and other mechanized units along that two-lane highway. Poland and France didn’t fall because the Germans approached in single file. And at that, the Russians got off lightly; Ukraine could have turned it into a “highway of death.” As it stands, reports are that Russia has lost a full 10% of their overall military might in the seven weeks that they have tried to smash Ukraine.

Adding to Putin’s woes is the sinking of the Moskva, the flagship of the Russian navy. While the military impact is negligible (the Russian flotilla in the Black Sea was there to look intimidating, since there was little in the way of practical military applications to be brought to bear. Turns out you can’t sink a country) the morale damage was massive.

Additionally, and of far greater impact strategically and tactically, Putin’s declared aim of pushing back on perceived encroachment by NATO on Russian borders has backfired massively. Finland, historically a thorn in the side of the Russian bear, is expected to petition for membership in the pact in the next couple of weeks, and Sweden is likely to be not far behind. Putin has made it clear that nearby nations not servile to Russia that aren’t in NATO are targets.

So speculation that Putin may resort to nukes both as part of his campaign of terror against Ukraine and his efforts to intimidate the west is growing. There’s no doubt in my mind that Putin has the requisite viciousness. Is he that insane, though?

The west, including the US, must make it clear that nuclear strikes against Ukraine or anywhere else is a line that cannot be crossed without dire and immediate consequences. We’ve managed to avoid a nuclear holocaust partially through dumb luck (we’ve had some really scary close calls, and those are just the ones we know about) and partially through the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction. Any country that launches nukes dies. Much, and perhaps all of the world dies with it. Putin must be reminded of this, and be aware that a first strike will result in global nuclear war on the grounds that all is lost anyway. The last thing the world needs or can tolerate is a dictator that gets away with a nuclear strike. Perhaps, once again, we can step back from the abyss. Putin must know that we aren’t bluffing because we can’t afford to bluff.

The second is the behavior of the fascist right in America. Have you ever heard the term, “blood libel?” It’s a hateful story that first grew in medieval Britain and has spread throughout much of the world over the centuries. The most common variant is that Jews capture and kill a young Christian boy at Easter in order to put his blood in matzo balls. Supposedly, if Jews do this each year, in a different land, they will get the Holy Land back. If you’re thinking about 1947 and the State of Israel and how that might have diffused the libel then you don’t know conspiracy theorists very well. They still believe Jews drink the blood of virgin Christian boys. Who needs a reason when you’ve got a hobby?

The thing about conspiracy theorists is that they are gullible and easy to manipulate. To them, the world is a dark and dangerous place, filled with looming, sneering villains who stop at nothing to augment their power. Giving them “secret knowledge” of such horrors both allays and augments their fear and credulity.

All you need to do is invent an unspeakable act by a minority or adversarial group and then promote the hell out of it.

Claims that the Clintons and various other liberals run child sex rings have been making the rounds since about 2015, which was about when Trump and Putin decided America needed Trump. Supposedly, the sex ring was run in the basement of a pizza parlor. Never mind that the pizza place in question didn’t have a basement—weren’t you paying attention when I asked if you knew what conspiracy theorists were like? One guy even went in there with a semi-automatic and shot up the place.

Republicans have been deliberately electing—there’s no other phrase for it—the most vicious and stupid trash they can find to public office. People too stupid and too gullible to know they are being played, or the worse variant, the ones who know the truth and are part of the plan. That’s why the Jackson nominating process was smeared with political porn about how she was “soft on child pornographers” and why some of the louder specimens of the trash-American GOP have been calling teachers and supporters of Ukraine “child abusers.” Blood libels are great for the libelers, since they can pretend to a position of “protecting the children” while simply sinking to about the same level as a child molester.

The third flash point rapidly approaching is the climate. The physical climate. True to the models, as it gets warmer on average, it is also becoming wilder and more unpredictable. Antarctica saw temperatures last month that went a full SEVENTY DEGREES above normal. Yes, that’s Fahrenheit, but still… This time of year the normal day time high in New York City is 63 degrees. In order to replicate what happened in Antarctica, it would have to reach 133. In Mid April. Let’s not even think about July or August.

We all remember the heat dome that hit the Pacific Northwest last summer, sending temperatures as high as 118 in British Columbia. That was only 40 degrees above normal.

In addition to all the myriad problems we’re expecting in the near future, heat domes seem to be a New Thing, and a potentially hideous one. Few cities in the world are prepared for temperatures in summer that are 40 degrees above the local norm. The death toll could be in the millions. Kim Stanley Robinson, in his recent novel “Ministry of the Future” had a three week heat wave strike India that was only 15 degrees above normal, and resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths. Suddenly we have to consider possibilities like 145 in Los Angeles, 120 in London, 145 in Sydney. We aren’t prepared for it because we can’t prepare for it.

In the meantime, the oil plutocrats—many are the same people who underwrite the blood libel crowd and are profiteering off the Ukraine war—are doubling down on fighting any effort to reduce fossil fuel consumption. And yes, that includes the oil companies that run those expensive ads about how green and responsible they are. They’re corporations; they exist to lie to us for profit. They are what prop up the disgraceful anti-American whores in congress, and they have think tanks devoted to the nomenclature used by conspiracy theorists and Putin about how “woke” child molesters spread “fake news” and the press cannot be trusted.

They are authoritarians, and they are herding us towards the edge of some very large cliffs, thinking they can control the situations and profit from them at the same time.

But it’s all coming to a head, and no, they won’t be able to control it when it does.

Unfortunately, nobody will be able to.

Still in the Fog — War continues to Russia’s detriment

Still in the Fog

War continues to Russia’s detriment

March 29th 2022

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

While the usual caveats about “the fog of war” still apply (nothing said by either side is true until proven) there are some things we can determine from the actual evidence.

Putin’s dream of a quick blitzkrieg takeover of Ukraine is in tatters. The battle lines haven’t moved in over three weeks now, and there are reports that Ukraine has actually recovered small amounts of ground back in a couple of areas. While actual numbers are not available, it’s clear that the Russians have paid a very heavy price in terms of both personnel and materiel, and the Ukrainians have suffered large civilian losses, mostly from the wanton shelling and bombing of civilian centers.

Russia has lost at least ten thousand soldiers, including six generals. There are unconfirmed reports of large defections and desertions, and one confirmed report of a Russian colonel who was fragged by his own troops, apparently by being run over by a tank. Not subtle, these Russians.

Peace negotiations are expected to open in Istanbul in a couple of days, and it’s widely believed that Putin is seeking a compartmentalization of Ukraine, as was done in the 50s in Korea, or the 60s in Vietnam. DMZs, in other words, with Russia holding a strip of land linking them with Crimea, which they already stole. There’s no reason to suppose that would work out any better than previous DMZs did, unless Putin is prepared to following in the footsteps of the Kim dynasty of North Korea and inflict such horror and deprivation on the people in his region that they remain too weak and cowed to put up any real resistance. Granted, as we learned with the Chechnyans, Putin is quite willing to engage in ongoing domestic terrorism against the populace.

Putin claims Russian bombing and shelling campaigns against Kyiv and other cities in the north will abate, although neither the Ukrainian government nor the west are inclined to believe that. Putin has already suffered an embarrassing set-back; he may not want to risk looking weak in the bargain.

Biden came out and said of Putin, “This guy has to go.” He later explained that he meant exactly what he said, but that it did not reflect a formal change in policy. The media is trying to describe that as a backing away from the original statement and twittering about how undiplomatic it all is, as if America didn’t invent the expression “regime change” back in the 90s. Meanwhile, Donald Trump, the heart and soul of today’s GQP, suggested (and I’m not making this up) that America fly planes painted with Chinese markings into Russia and bomb them, in hopes of sparking a major war between the two major powers. Perhaps he’s hoping for lower land prices in both nations that he can exploit. And today—today!–he publicly asked Putin to drop whatever he was doing and dig up dirt on Hunter Biden. Aren’t you glad we got rid of that loon? One down, one to go.

Putin’s response? “It is time for us, for our people, to call on the people of the United States to change the regime in the U.S. early,” Russian TV host Evgeny Popov said, “And to again help our partner Trump to become president.” State TV being the bastion of independent journalism that it is, you know.

In the meantime, at least ten million civilians have been displaced in the Ukraine, with an estimated four to five million having fled the country altogether. The US has vowed to accept 100,000 refugees, and Canada has a three-year refugee status program with no limit on the number of refugees. The UK is offering £350/month to any household accepting refugees. While a welcome move, it’s unlikely to address the needs of more than about 10% of the refugees. Poland is taking the brunt of the exodus, and they are poorly equipped to handle it, and anti-Russian sentiment will only last so long as a buffer against Poland’s notoriously xenophobic culture.

And there’s also the possibility that the war will reduce one or both sides to pauperized failed states. Russia has been shown to be far weaker in terms of economy and morale than expected, and Ukraine is suffering bombardment the like of which Europe hasn’t seen since World War II. (American campaigns against Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq were far worse, of course, but the victims weren’t white, you know.)

One of the curious items is the reports that two negotiators in previous talks with Russia came down with symptoms consistent with novichok poisoning. The Guardian had a piece on this today, writing,

Guardian reporter based in Kyiv, Shaun Walker, brings us this analysis piece, asking: Why is Abramovich playing peacemaker after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?

Sanctioned billionaire Roman Abramovich is not officially part of the Russian delegation, but has apparently played a major role behind the scenes, jetting between Moscow, Kyiv and Istanbul since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Further questions about what role Abramovich was playing, and why, were raised on Monday, when the Wall Street Journal and investigative outlet Bellingcat claimed Abramovich and a Ukrainian MP were among three people to fall ill with symptoms consistent with chemical poisoning, during a round of negotiations in Kyiv in early March.

A source confirmed to the Guardian that Abramovich had fallen ill after the meeting, and had lost his sight for several hours. He soon recovered and was able to take part in later rounds of negotiations.

Aside from the poisoning claims, the emergence of the publicity-shy oligarch at the heart of peace negotiations has also surprised many.”

The West has brought many sanctions to bear, many aimed at Russia’s plutocrats. Perhaps they are having an effect. Certainly Putin uses kompromat and extortion to control his billionaires (including, it’s rumored, Donald Trump) but that can only carry him so far in the face of ruin.

Biden is right: no matter what happens in Ukraine, this guy needs to go. He won’t stop with an eastern partition of Ukraine. You can take that to the bank.

Smoke and Mirrors – The war in Ukraine

Smoke and Mirrors

The war in Ukraine

March 16th, 2022

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

I’ve been fairly quiet the past few weeks since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. One reason for that is “the fog of war”–I have no idea of what the actual situation is beyond the blatantly obvious that you can see for yourself just by tuning into any non-fascist news network. For me, that would be the BBC, the CBC, and the Guardian. The US commercial networks (and again, I am limiting myself to the non-fascist ones, which means I’m not wasting time watching Fox or Newsmax or OAN) are, in the confusion and uncertainty, substituting speculation and wishful thinking for actual factual reporting.

Non-factual reporting, no matter how well-intentioned and sincere, is only one step removed from propaganda, and when there is evident bias, then it IS propaganda.

Since none of us know what is going on in Putin’s head, or in the Kremlin at large, take reports that he is desperate, on the ropes, facing a possible coup, etc., with a large grain of salt. Some of it may prove to be true, but at this time consider it on the same level of defamation of the foe that we see in all wars.

Back when the Germans captured Paris, a video circulated showing Hitler doing an absurd little “dance of joy.” The video was fake, just an snippet of Hitler looped to make it appear he was dancing. The intent was to make him look absurd and petty, and while he in many ways was, it actually backfired in some ways in that it humanized him and made him look like he had a sense of humor, neither of which were particularly accurate.

The pictures of Putin at his absurdly long table also needs to be deprecated, even though the image is accurate. Pundits say it shows a dictator who is paranoid, estranged from everyone except a few sycophants, isolated, and out of touch. It may be true, but it’s also exactly what you might expect to hear of a adversarial leader in time of war. Nor does it prove weakness on Putin’s part: Russia has a long history of leaders, strong-arm dictators who were widely hated but who nonetheless held power for decades. Much as I would like to see Putin fall, I interpret the media analyses of his isolation and weakness as being wishful thinking. Kremlin watching has been a major US government pastime since 1920, but nearly every major development over that century has taken American strategists by surprise. Little has changed.

As to the military situation in Ukraine, some generalities can be made. It isn’t going well for the Russians, they have taken significant losses in personnel and materiel. All these are also standard wartime claims, made by both sides, but there is a wealth of evidence to support the three items mentioned. As for anything more specific, the military leaders on either side generally understand the tactical and strategic maps little more than the armchair generals watching CNN. There’s an old saying “All plans die at the start of battle,” and leaders on both sides are tearing their hair out trying to figure out the true situation on the ground. It’s almost always going to be chaotic.

Claims of losses are also good reason for skepticism. Both sides will inflate enemy losses and minimize own casualties. Remember Vietnam, when you might hears that half a dozen Marines were injured, one by a misfiring beer can opener, while killing 12,500 Viet Cong? And that was from a country that had a free press at the time.

Claims about morale should be weighed carefully. That the Ukrainians are courageous, determined, and largely united in defense of their homeland is almost a given. Anyone raised in post-war London knows nothing stiffens the backbone of the resident population than lobbing bombs at them. Claims of Russian morale are backed by the mass arrests for protest (including one case where a silent “protester” was arrested for waving A BLANK PROTEST sign. It’s also a fact that Putin has mandated 15 years in prison for calling his “special operation” a war. Claims about the state of morale in the Russian military are harder to evaluate. Few Russian soldiers are willing to grant ‘man in the street’ interviews, it seems. I think it’s safe to say they aren’t exuberant about the way this situation is developing, though.

Russians do seem to be targeting cities and the civilian population, a curious approach for a country that is simply trying to bring lost children back into the fold of Mother Russia, but it’s hard to get a sense of the true scale when the cable news is showing the same dozen over and over, either because they can’t or won’t show more. There’s little doubt that the maternity hospital in Mariupol was hit by a large rocket shell, and while the Russians deny it, Occam’s Razor says it was them, although intent is less clear. In the instance of the Mariupol Drama Theatre, where hundreds of civilians, half of them children, had sheltered, intent seems more obvious. The theater had the word “children” written in large letters in the grounds surrounding the theater, and even after reporting began of the atrocity, Russian air strikes continued. That’s why, over 24 hours later, we still have no idea of the death toll.

It is safe to say the Russian economy has taken massive damage. Their stock market has remained closed for over three weeks now, and the ruble is quite literally worth less than a square of American toilet paper. This won’t translate to a popular uprising—Russian history makes that fairly self-evident. Nor is a revolt by the oligarchs likely. Like Putin’s pet American oligarch, Trump, most are bound to Putin because he maintains control over their reputations, their families, and their ability to enjoy their wealth. If they couldn’t overthrow Putin when they had money, what are they going to do now?

Yes, Putin has bitten off more than he can chew, and yes, what he is doing is a crime against humanity. And it is costing Russia and the Russian people almost as dearly as it’s costing the Ukrainians.

But beyond that, it’s all smoke and mirror, wishful thinking, and propaganda. If you think you know how it ends, you are delusional.

But to quote a line I’m known for using, “Don’t lose hope. Never lose hope.”

Putin’s Gamble — Uneasy lies the head…

Putin’s Gamble

Uneasy lies the head…

February 25th 2022

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

Most of the discussion surrounding Putin’s move to invade and subjugate the Ukraine has been based on a realpolitik stance that Russia needs to have a “buffer zone”–a sphere of influence on its western flank that corresponds roughly to the Iron Curtain countries, the Warsaw Pact of the second half of the 20th century. The explanation goes that while Putin is never going to have Poland, half of Germany and the Czech and Slovenian areas under his control, he can subsume the Ukraine, possibly the Baltics, and in a fever dream, Romania and parts of Yugoslavia and rebuild much of the old Soviet empire.

The reality is a bit more complex. Russia is only a few bad harvests away from becoming a failed state. When the USSR collapsed, the economy collapsed with it, with the Ruble dropping to 2,500 to the dollar, about a 99.5% drop in value. Between 1991 and 1993, Russia lost nearly a third of its population—to starvation, to suicide, to drink. Boris Yeltsin took over the collapsed country in late 1991, inheriting a financial and social catastrophe that dwarfed the Great Depression of the 1930s.

By the end of 1993, Yeltsin had swept away the remaining pieces of the Soviet regime, including the Supreme Soviet and the Congress of People’s Deputies. He then issued a stock voucher program that permitted Russian citizens to invest in private businesses, part of a glowing image of a “free market reform” that would lead to wealth and plenty for all.

Didn’t happen. Russian plutocrats snapped up most of the vouchers, offering as little as 1% of face value in cash to desperate and starving citizens, which led to a vast concentration of wealth. And of course the “free market reform” was totally unregulated, which led to an economic gang-rape of Russia by the resident plutocrats—which already included the sinister and corrupt future trillionaire, Vladimir Putin—and western corporations.

Russia is a vast country, even now larger than the US and Canada combined. However, it only has 144 million people, and a GDP of $4.1 trillion. By way of comparison, California, with just under 40 million people, has a GDP of over $3 trillion.

But that’s misleading. A large percentage of that Russian GDP consists of money games amongst the plutocrats, and oil and gas alone make up a entire half of the Russian economy. In terms of what economists like to call “the Main Street economy” Russia’s economy is about the size of Romania’s. Russia never recovered from the 1990s, not in any meaningful way.

Russia under Putin is as viciously repressive as it was in the Soviet days, only under communism people at least got some food to eat and a roof over their heads. It was a shitty existence, no doubt of that, but it was better than what the average Russian faces now.

About the only other significant difference between the Soviet Union and Putin’s Russia is that the flow of information isn’t as absolute as it was in the 60s, before satellites and the internet. So the citizenry get to hear about how deeply they are being screwed.

Putin is deeply unpopular in Russia. Only election corruption on a level Trump can only dream of keeps him afloat. He’s had to imprison, poison and murder political dissidents and opponents. He managed to install a puppet president in America, but the puppet turned out to be too incompetent to be of any real use other than as a huge intelligence leak. He also had a puppet in Ukraine, but again, he was an incompetent and the citizenry replaced him with someone willing to stand up against Putin. Much of the American puppet’s regime was devoted to trying to overthrow the non-puppet president of Ukraine.

There’s no hope the Russian economy will improve because just by himself he’s stealing an estimated 10% of it every year. His buddies take over half.

Invading Ukraine will make him look strong, and while the Ukraine is also just a few steps removed from also being an economic basket case, it does have vast stretches of rich farmland and other resources. He can at least pretend he’s doing it to improve the lot of the Russian citizenry, and some of them may even believe it for a year or two before reality crashes in.

It raises the possibility that other former Soviet Republics might take the implied threat posed by the attack on the Ukraine seriously enough to question if they might not be better off rejoining Russia as opposed to being bombed. Some of the nations are badly enough run that they may be considering it, and if nothing else, Putin might believe they are considering it.

If his gamble pays off, Putin buys time. He’s shrewd enough to realize that Biden can only go so far in imposing economic sanctions, and that ones that hurt the Russian plutocracy the hardest will exact a financial toll on the American economy, and American support for Ukraine is like Lake Winnipeg—very broad but very shallow. And of course Putin’s puppet-in-exile is still effectively the head of a national political party and he and the GOP are already propagandizing on Putin’s behalf.

Which leads to the real threat: that between trying to occupy the Ukraine and the growing discontent at home, he might soon be facing an organized and widespread revolt.

A former KGB apparatchik, Putin has to know that no amount of repression and propaganda and military might can save a regime that has lost support. The mighty Soviet Union died with only a handful of shots being fired simply because enough of the citizenry turned their backs and walked away.

He has nothing to offer his people, and even before this winter’s mad gamble, his position was becoming more and more precarious. Even as the blitzkreig rages across the Ukraine with blinding speed, in what should have been a moment of glory, he finds himself making wild, if veiled threats of nuclear war, and the head of his space program even threatened to crash the International Space Station into the United States, exposing the desperate madness that lies behind Putin’s actions.

The best Putin can hope for is that Ukraine doesn’t form an organized guerrilla resistance, and the same doesn’t happen at home. Otherwise, he is likely to die at the hands of the mob.

And if that happens, he won’t have any sympathy from the rest of the world.

Other Truckers — Expect tactic deployed in Ottawa to spread

Other Truckers

Expect tactic deployed in Ottawa to spread

February 8th 2022

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

By now, people who thought Ottawa was an indigenous tribe in Kansas know of the Canadian capital. Ottawa in February is a bleak, gray place, buried in snow and still beset by temperatures well below freezing. It’s the second coldest national capital on Earth next only to Ulan Bator, Mongolia. Yes, it’s even colder than Moscow.

The place comes to life in the Spring, which is usually on a Tuesday. The world-famous tulips erupt, the forests are eye-searingly green, and the tourists arrive. Winter returns in November and the place goes back to a monotonal study in gray: gray skies, gray buildings, gray streets, gray slush. Even the residents get a bit gray as the tans wear off. Only night relieves the grayness.

So Ottawa doesn’t make the news very much, and even in the rest of Canada people don’t know much about the place outside of Parliament Hill. It has two seasons, really: Life is Wonderful, and Oh, God, Please Kill Me Now.

How is it I know so much about the place? It’s the city of my birth, and I spent a fair bit of my childhood there. Wonderful people, but not exactly the wildest place to grow up in.

The truckers rally/protest changed all that. It is, at its heart, an astroturf movement. Fully 90% of all licensed eighteen-wheel operators in Canada are fully vaccinated and can cross the border freely. And it’s a pretty safe bet that even amongst the unvaccinated drivers, only a small minority are willing to sign on to a movement that enrages most Canadians, paralyzes cities, and features such non-Canadian flags as the American rebel flag, Trump flags, and even swastikas. Nearly all the known funding underwriting this movement is coming from American sources. Most of the cheerleading of politicians are among the scummier Americans, such as Donald Trump, and some of the scummier American politicians who renounced their Canadian citizenships in hopes that people wouldn’t notice they can’t be president, such as Ted Cruz. Compare with actual Canadian politicians, where rabid dissent come in the form of “Well, they might have a point. Let’s listen to what they have to say.”

Canada has right wing extremists, but nothing like the neo-Nazi madness that has beset America for the past six years or so. Fascists haven’t been able to flood the population with propaganda the way they have in America. Canada has no equivalent to Faux News, or fascist propaganda pits such as the Heritage Society or the Federalist Society.

But it does have social media, which has been a boon for the extremists. They figured that out right away—even back in the 80s, when “on line” meant local privately owned networks called “BBSes” or Bulletin Board Systems, right wing extremists flooded the nets with neo-Nazi, KKK and Christian fascist propaganda. They began with a presence far out-sized to their actual numbers, and they do to this day. Coupled with financial and communication support from America’s fascist billionaires, they were able to transform a small and powerless fringe group into a force that has paralyzed several cities and as of today, the busiest single border crossing spot in North America, the bridge that connects Windsor with Detroit.

It’s an effective tactic. Ordering a fleet of 18-wheelers to disperse isn’t going to work if the drivers of the trucks don’t want to disperse. All they have to do is set their air brakes, and moving said truck will be nearly impossible.

But what little popularity the movement had is evaporating fast. Residents felt besieged by the endless sounding of air horns and fireworks, and a court finally did uphold an injunction against that tactic in Ottawa yesterday. A significant incident late last week is getting a lot of attention: two males ignited fire starter blocks in the lobby of a 400 unit apartment building near the wood panelling of the lobby, and then used duct tape to make the lobby doors impossible to open from the inside. If the parties responsible were associated with the truckers in any way, the events just slopped over from raucous demonstration and major annoyance into the realm of outright terrorism. Fortunately, the arson attempt failed, and nobody was hurt.

Ottawa authorities have already blocked fuel from entering the truck zone, leaving the truckers to deal with Ottawa’s marvelous February climate once the tanks run dry. I would advocate that the RCMP and other authorities go through the ranks of the trucks, demanding passports and/or licenses from the drivers, with the promise that they will get them back at the city limits, and if they try the same thing a second time, the papers would be confiscated. It probably wouldn’t hurt to let the citizenry of Ottawa to parade peacefully amongst the trucks, chanting, blowing whistles, and beating drums. After all, if the truckers don’t want people to get any sleep, then there’s no reason they should be able to enjoy a nice nap while they freeze.

Because Canadians did get vaccinated in large numbers (83% as opposed to America’s 61%) several provinces are already planning to drop mask and access provisions over the next couple of months, and barring any more surprises from this disease, can do so safely. But border crossings will still be problematic, particular since the Canadians aren’t the only ones who demand proof of vaccination at the border.

This tactic will spread rapidly to America, where the outcomes are much more likely to turn bloody.

If Canadians find a solution that doesn’t get people hurt and opens up the roads again, not only will it be good for Canadians, but it may save many lives in America.

Kabuling for Dollars — The end of the occupation

August 19th 2021

It’s hard not to feel horror at the events this week in Afghanistan. The awful scenes of panicking Afghanis clinging to the side of a C-19 as it took off and falling to their deaths would shake anyone up. Rachel Maddow was reduced to tears recounting the incredible tale of the efforts to get a translator (one of thousands) out of the country with his family. The only other time that happened was when the story broke of what the Trump administration was doing to refugee children.

But Afghanistan was always going to end this way. It didn’t matter if it was now, or 2020, or 2002. The end of the American occupation of Afghanistan was always going to be bloody and painful, because that’s how occupations almost always end. That’s why they are against international law.

And make no mistake—this was never “a war in Afghanistan” as people who should know better keep calling it. It was an occupation.

Remember how it began? Nine Eleven had just happened, and the Bush administration decided that Osama bin Laden was the mastermind behind it. Osama was hiding in Afghanistan (and he probably was) with the connivance of the Taliban government (probably not the case). So the US sent troops into Afghanistan to find and arrest him.

Even I didn’t have any problem with that. ObL was an obvious suspect because of his role in the previous attack on the Twin Towers, and I hated and despised the Taliban, cruel, corrupt and often insane, like all authoritarian religious regimes. If they were hiding Osama, then fuck them. Go in, get him, and get out.

Only it became obvious within weeks that Osama was long gone, flown the coop to Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, two countries the US didn’t invade searching for him. Instead, the US stayed in Afghanistan, setting up a puppet regime and pouring billions into the place. Supposedly the US was going to rebuild Afghanistan, new roads, new schools, new infrastructure, all the shit the government wasn’t doing in America. In reality, the money covered the costs of occupying the country, billions in bribes to the local warlords not to cause trouble, and maybe 5% which actually went to “rebuilding”. All told, some two trillion dollars got poured down a rat hole, nearly all of it wasted and in the pockets of people we didn’t want to help.

The US paid people to be their friends there, and that went about as well as paying people to be your friend usually goes. And Bush and Obama didn’t have a clue how to end it, especially since the neo-liberals who engineered the disasters in Afghanistan and Iraq were ready to pounce, and declare any administration willing to pull out “soft on terrorism.”

The US occupied Iraq on the insanely stupid excuse that Saddam Hussein, mortal enemy to the Taliban and Iran, was secretly helping them. They managed to end that one by surrendering well in advance and letting the Iraqis choose their own government first. So the people didn’t have to overthrow a puppet regime.

Remember “Vietnamization”? Nixon figured, correctly, that if they let the Vietnamese people choose their government, there would be less unrest when the Americans left. Only the people in North Vietnam didn’t get to vote, and so they considered the Saigon government a puppet regime. Weeks later, it was gone, and Saigon was now Ho Chi Minh City.

In Iraq, they surrendered to the people they invaded Iraq to rid the country of first, and then left.

Trump actually tried to do something like this, releasing some five thousand political prisoners, including much of the new government in Kabul and a lot of warlords who didn’t toe the line, in hopes that there wouldn’t be a bloody dumping of the Vichy regime in Kabul when US troops were pulled out, originally slated for May 1st 2021. But the planned talks at Camp David never happened, and Biden had too much on his plate to take it up. So there remained a puppet regime in Kabul, which lasted nearly a week.

The Taliban moved fast, and swept into power. But a lot of people hate and fear them, and not just American puppets and lackeys. As mentioned, they are a theocracy, the most vicious and hateful form of government known to man, and women and anyone who don’t want strict adherence to Sharia Law (which would be most Muslims) have every reason to fear them. Expect Afghanistan to be a bloody mess for some time to come.

To Republicans who say this is Biden’s fault: Fuck you. Bush began the occupation, and Trump set things up so it would end as badly as possible. For the human sewage who are shouting they don’t want Biden dumping refugees on them from Afghanistan: double fuck you. Biden should offer to trade you and your family to the Taliban for every decent person and his family in Afghanistan who tried to help and now needs to get out. America is far better off with them and without you.

Still, the US is out of there, and the hemorrhaging of money has slowed. Maybe some of you will learn from this—occupations are a waste of time and money and usually end with many people getting hurt. The only way an occupation will work is through centuries of attrition (the Norman invasion of England) or genocide (the Americas by Europe). As foreign policy, they never work and usually backfire. Don’t do it.

I doubt it will work. The UK, the USSR and the US have both tried occupying Afghanistan and all left weaker and poorer for it. The USSR tried occupying eastern Europe. History is full of failed occupations, or ones that ended in mass murder and social destruction.

For people who think America had any friends in Afghanistan, don’t be an ass. Most of the flunkies were paid, and America is doing a marvelous job of screwing over the few who honestly liked the Americans now. Like the Fox News/GOP filth who are saying NIMBY to refugees from Afghanistan.

Stop trying to run other people’s countries. They don’t like you and your values for pretty much the same reason you don’t like theirs, and you’re no better than them. Stay inside your own borders, and work on making life better for your own people. That will attract better responses from other countries than all the occupations in the world.

Biden’s Speech — Not the SOTU—better

Biden’s Speech

Not the SOTU—better

April 28th, 2021

After listening to Joe Biden’s address to some of Congress (COVID, don’t you know, but it was amusing watch the expressions on Boehler’s and Cruz’ faces as Biden spoke) I caught Tim Scott’s genial but largely delusional paean to America and how those nasty Democrats were preventing Republicans from rushing to embrace the policies that Biden would present to Congress if he had policies, which he didn’t, and proved it by presenting the policies to Congress.

I followed that by scrolling through the comments section on our local Sinclair Broadcast station, and encountered gems like, “I can’t believe this is America. No one is safe under the democratic regime of evil! We are all in terrible danger, you should be afraid, be very very afraid. Save yourself! Save democracy!” *

Well, OK, then. Tim Scott may have not sounded overly coherent, but at least I didn’t feel any need to shoot him with the tranquilizer dart. Typically of comments sections, nobody there seemed to have actually watched or even read about the speech. I think I could have posted something about Biden congratulating Mitch McConnell on their groundbreaking agreement to sell white babies to China, and nobody would have contradicted me. Those comments groups are bad for your mental health.

One of the most remarkable things about Biden’s speech was the sheer oratorical capacity the man showed. Any idiot can rile up an audience with stentorian exhortations to do Noble Things, and most do, but I watched Biden hold the House Chamber, and much of the nation, spellbound with just a friendly whisper. He spoke with an earnestness and compassion, qualities lost in the hoarse brays of self-pity and truculence we had to deal with for the previous four years.

The tone could be summed up in one anecdote, told late in the speech. “I spoke with Gianna Floyd, George Floyd’s young daughter. As I knelt down to talk to her so we could talk eye—to—eye, she said to me, Daddy changed the world.’” Politicians, with rare exceptions, like to be shown relating to children. But the line that caught my eye (and heart) was “…I knelt down to talk to her so we could talk eye-to-eye” That speaks to a humanity that transcends the usual political rhetoric. Joe is a good guy who genuinely cares about people. That’s not something I believe because I am a liberal; it something I feel because I am a human being.

As for content, the basic message was actually summed up in Biden’s opening remarks. “The worst pandemic in a century. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War. 

Now, after just 100 days, I can report to the nation: America is on the move again.  Turning peril into possibility. Crisis into opportunity. Setback into strength. Life can knock us down. But in America, we never stay down. In America, we always get up.

He then spoke of the progress America has made against the pandemic, and the early signs of an economic recovery that is likely to turn into a roaring boom. He talks about the vast, ambitious plans he has to ensure that we do come out of this stronger and better: child support, in the form of cash-back tax breaks, universal child care, universal health care. He spoke of the amazing results of the American Rescue Plan—well over 200 million vaccinations, and hunger greatly reduced just in the first few months. He spoke of the difference the child credits would make for working families by the millions. It has already created 1.3 million new jobs in the past 60 days, an amazing record.

He then spoke of his infrastructure plan, The American Jobs Plan, which he described as “a once-in-a-generation investment in America itself, the largest jobs plan since World War II.”

Sounding like FDR, he spoke of the millions of good paying jobs regular workers would see from this plan, and said, “Wall Street didn’t build this country. The middle class built this country. And unions build the middle class. “

Defending the plan further, he said, “I’m calling on Congress to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize Act – the PRO Act — and send it to my desk to support the right to unionize. 

By the way – let’s also pass the $15 minimum wage. No one should work 40 hours a week and still live below the poverty line. And we need to ensure greater equity and opportunity for women. Let’s get the Paycheck Fairness Act to my desk for equal pay. It’s long past time. 

Finally, the American Jobs Plan will be the biggest increase in non-defense research and development on record.  We will see more technological change in the next 10 years – than we saw in the last 50 years. “

He’s right, of course, and the Republicans are going to be twisting themselves in deep knots figuring out how to oppose Biden without opposing the plan.

My own takeaway, following the speech, is that Biden was his own best friend tonight in his goals of getting these policies enacted.

 

*Perhaps the comments “Save Democracy” reads better in Russian. “Я не могу поверить, что это Америка. Никто не находится в безопасности при демократическом режиме зла! Мы все в ужасной опасности, вы должны бояться, очень, очень бояться. Спаси себя! Спасите демократию!”

OK, maybe not.

DecPop — It’s been 70 years since 1950

DecPop

It’s been 70 years since 1950

April 27th 2021

Back in 1974, when the average number of births per woman was 3.65, Phillip José Farmer wrote a novella, “70 Years of DecPop”. The premise was that a mad scientist released an aerosol that rendered 99.999% of all humans sterile (world population was about 4.5 billion at that time) and from there studied the devastating effects the immense drop in population would have over the ensuring 70 years.

It was a bit of a gloomy read. Humans didn’t react well to forced sterilization, and few economies were equipped to deal with shrinking markets and less demand on resources.

At that point, the birthrate had already declined significantly from its peak in 1964, when it was at 4.65. Much of the decrease was credited to a decline in religious oppression, the increased availability of birth control, and in a rebuke to Malthus, improved living conditions with greater food and shelter security. People in poor nations no longer had 12 children in hopes that one of them might live to take care of them when they got old.

At that time, sociologists expected the birth rate to climb back up, and there was even a book by Paul and Anne Ehrlich, The Population Bomb, that forecast widespread famine and war as a result of population outstripping resources such as food and clean water.

Didn’t happen. Food production soared, outpacing population growth. And the Ehrlichs hadn’t realized that most famines aren’t the result of actual food shortages, but of politics. The rich stockpile and the poor starve. Nearly all famines were easily avoidable back then. They still are.

And the birth rate continued to decline, against all expectations. By 1993 it had dropped below 3.0. By 1997 it was at 2.5.

This year it’s expected to reach a magic number: 2.1 Two point one is the birthrate at which population stops growing, known as Zero Population Growth, or ZPG.

Many developed nations had already reached that mark in the 1990s and first decade of this millennium. Almost all of western Europe, Japan, and Canada had native birthrates below 2.1. Population growth came solely from immigration.

In the United States, immigration drove population growth until 2015, but since then immigration has dropped below the level of the birthrate, which means that the next decennial census might show a population drop for the first time in American history.

The preliminary results of the 2020 census show the second smallest rate of growth in American history, with only the 1930s being (slightly) lower. For ten years, population growth was just 7.4%.

A lot of reasons have been given for this. Trump and the Republicans actively messed with the census, hoping to undercount the poor, minorities and anyone else who might be a threat to Republican power. While there’s no doubt that they tried, it’s not clear that they were particularly effective at sabotaging the census. A 2017 projection claimed the 2020 census would show 332,639,000, The actual census was 331,500,00, a shortfall of 1.16 million. Further, the growth rate drop was part of a trend, 7.4 in the ‘10s from 9.7 in the noughts, and from 12.34 in the nineties. Republican buggery had an effect, but a relatively small one. Independent surveys show that the growth rate was under 0.6% for the past three years.

Sorry for all the numbers, but they make a case. Population growth has not only slowed, it has stopped. Even in the US, where population growth came mostly from immigration, is seeing a dramatic decline in immigration, despite the fearmongering from the Nazis on the far right. It’s well under half what it was twenty years ago, and the percentage of non-native-born in the general population has leveled off at 14%.

And it’s the same world wide. Japan is in the early stages of a population crash that may see their population drop by 60% by 2100. Russia had a massive population drop following the collapse of the USSR, brought about by initial chaos and followed by an Ayn Rand gangrape of the country by western corporations during the Yeltsin years. Then Putin came along and turned Russia into an autocratic and repressive nightmare. Russia’s population is down nearly 40% from 1990.

According to the BBC: “Japan’s population is projected to fall from a peak of 128 million in 2017 to less than 53 million by the end of the century. Italy is expected to see an equally dramatic population crash from 61 million to 28 million over the same timeframe. They are two of 23 countries – which also include Spain, Portugal, Thailand and South Korea – expected to see their population more than halve.”

It’s only a matter of time before capitalists, who depend endless unsustainable growth, will realize that their consumer base is both shrinking and aging. (One of the darker elements of that DecPop story is the small number of young people trying to cope with the billions of elders who outnumber them by hundreds to one). Capitalism is ill-equipped for this coming change.

Climate change, disease and war will accelerate the drop in population. Some people believe the population drop is propelled by pollutants—forever chemicals, micro plastics, and the like. If true, that could be an existential threat to humanity.

Remember, this census doesn’t even include the nearly 600,000 dead in America from Covid, and it’s becoming clear that this pandemic will have over 10 million dead before it runs its course world wide.

Population drop is a good thing—the Earth is able to sustain perhaps three billion people comfortably, assuming those billions aren’t as wasteful and foolish as we have been. But the economic and political repercussions led by people unwilling to take a hit in profits, also make it a risky time for humans. We normally spend all our efforts fighting greed and corruption, but capitalism celebrates greed and corruption, and is very willing to be very destructive in preserving such.

Our numbers will drop, but we’ll ensure that it won’t be pretty.

,

Biden Our Time — Good Trumps Evil

Biden Our Time

Good Trumps Evil

January 21st 2021

At 9:01am PST yesterday I posted a one-word post on Facebook.

The post said, “WHEW!”

It might be the only all-caps post I’ll ever make, since I regard people who post in all-caps to be total idiots. I am quite capable of attaining truly sublime levels of idiocy without artificial aids from my caps-lock key, thank you very much.

We all expected things to turn weird and disgusting between the election and inauguration day, and of course things did. And yes, there were a lot of grim things. COVID continued to explode, with the death toll now well over 400,000, and the Trump regime bungled the vaccine rollout. Trump gleefully sabotaged Open Skies and other treaties, giving a gleeful Vladimir Putin an entire basket of tactical Easter eggs. They had an insurrectionist attack on the Capitol and comprised, for the most part, of meth heads trying to play soldier and absolutely lunatic conspiracy theory freaks. Even more troubling, we discovered that much of the Republican party would rather destroy the United States than share power with those of the wrong race, or the wrong religion, or who were simply guilty of not being rich.

If one good thing came of the Trump regime, it was that he forced America to look in the mirror, and learn that it’s really no better than any other country, and can no longer pretend to be a shining beacon of reason and ethics. Not that it ever really could, but the facade had been torn away.

I don’t envy Joe Biden. He took office yesterday facing a national crisis every bit as great as the one Franklin Roosevelt faced in March of 1933. FDR only had to face the First Great Depression. Biden is facing the Second Great Depression, along with the pandemic, the worst since 1919, and an opposition that is anything but loyal; a large chunk of the GOP leadership are seditionists at best, traitors at worst.

I’m sure I’ll oppose Biden on some items, sometimes vehemently. But unlike his predecessor, I won’t be questioning his loyalty, his courage, or his good intentions. That’s a huge improvement right there. Trump is filth. Biden is not.

I’m having grim fun watching the GOP writhe and twist. The militias have come face to face with the fact that no coup can succeed without popular support. Power comes, not from the barrel of a gun, but the will of the people. It’s something the fairy-tale stories about overthrowing evil kings and the like often miss; no regime happens in a vacuum. You need, at the very least, the support of one third of the population, and at least another third willing to not take up arms against you. When 3/4s of the population are openly disgusted with you and want to throw you in jail (or under a guillotine) then your cause is lost. Most people hate the so-called militias, with their open embrace of Nazism and white superiority. Theirs is the philosophy of war, of death camps, of genocides. A large majority of Americans are better than that, and won’t fall to that level except under the circumstances that led to the French Revolution, the Soviet revolution, the Putsch and rise of Hitler, or the final disintegration of the USSR. We aren’t there yet, and with any luck, we won’t be.

The QAnon conspiracy nuts have to come to grips with the fact that Trump isn’t going to be a God-Emperor here to save us from the utterly imaginary depredations of the Clintons, Obama, or the lizard people. Quite a few of them hit a wall of reality beginning on the sixth of January and crashed and burned with the sight of Biden taking the oath of office. Q himself apparently stopped posting shortly after the election. Many will just find a new form of insanity to embrace, but quite a few are wailing that they were misled and lied to, and that their new religion failed them. I imagine Christianity must have faced a similar setback when Jesus’ prediction that many of those living would see his return failed to come to pass. In other words, don’t expect QAnon to just go away. The ability to rationalize is deep amongst the deluded and the insane.

The the ‘sane’ part of the GOP, the ‘good Germans’ are popping up all over the place. “Oh, I never supported Trump.” “I just went along because I was afraid.” “I was just following orders.” Suddenly, they want to talk about unity, negotiation, and compromise. There may even be some who are acting in good faith, but it’s a sure bet that most are just trying to salvage what they can for the ruins of their party, and are probing Biden and the Democratic Party for any signs of weakness. A favorite seems to be “Well, 74 million people voted for Trump and you can’t ignore them.” The reality is 81 million people voted for Biden, and unlike Trump won’t be out to viciously take revenge on the Trump voters. Biden isn’t going to refuse aid to red states, and he isn’t going to address the pandemic only in states that voted for him. He isn’t Trump. He isn’t a monster.

To the Trump voters I say, “Biden is here to govern, not rule. He isn’t going to make you second-class citizens because of how you voted. He isn’t going to turn America into a Soviet wasteland, no matter what the high-paid liars on the right wing media say. He is going to make changes, and you may not like all of them, but if you have any honesty, any decency, you’ll reserve judgment and see what the changes mean in your lives, your work, your schools, your health care and your country. You don’t own America, but America exists to serve you, and Biden seems to be totally aware of that.

“We tried your way, and it was a catastrophe. Trump was the worst president in our history. Expect better with Biden.”

It’s Here – Election time

It’s Here

Election time

10/30/20

There’s going to be an election next Tuesday.

People who read me are more woke and aware than the common rabble, so chances are many of you already knew that. Anyone who didn’t know that, drop everything and start doing a lot of reading over the weekend. Prepare for some nasty shocks. Yes, Donald Trump is the incumbent. Believe it or not, it goes downhill from there.

So, what should we expect from this election?

The signals from the polls are significantly stronger this time then they were in 2016. The polls are narrowing in the final days, but a) over half the population have already voted and b) it’s still over 8 points.

There’s been a lot of propaganda about how the polls are meaningless, and of course, polls taken more than a couple of weeks before an election generally are meaningless. And there are a lot of crap polls out there. Rasmussen is little more than a GOP cheering squad, and Zogby doesn’t even qualify as a bad joke. We all remember one poll that nobody had ever heard of before (or since) that showed McCain leading Obama a few weeks before the election by 20 points.

But the legitimate polls are accurate. Those showed Clinton winning the popular vote by 2-4 points, and she won by 2.5 points. Well within the range of error. The polls are narrowing in the final days, but a) over half the population have already voted and b) the Biden lead over Trump still over 8 points.
I’m expecting that come Wednesday morning, Trump may actually be leading in the electoral college count. The reason for that is that early voting has been mostly Democratic, and come election day, as many as 100 million people may have voted. That would be nearly as many who voted in total in 2016.

Now, if we wake up Wednesday morning and Trump is leading in all fifty states, then it’s safe to assume that Putin and/or the people conducting the cyberattack on hospitals this week have taken over counting the votes, in which case the question you have to ask yourself is not “Who won?” but rather, “Will I still be alive three months from now?” If Putin does scramble the election results, it won’t be because he has our best interests at heart. No, Donald, not even your best interests. He isn’t your buddy. He would find an America in chaos and severe civil strife most amusing as he started swallowing eastern European republics like they were popcorn.

But if you wake up that morning, and the electoral maps on the TV are similar to those of 2016 and show a Trump win, don’t panic.

There is a tidal wave of blue votes yet to be counted. Remember all those banana-republic type eight-hour lines to vote we’ve been seeing for the past month? That’s the early voters—85 million of them as of yesterday. Most of them are Democrats, and there’s a fair number of Republicans who are furious at the party for fucking up the mail service, messing with their ability to vote, and jamming their nasty little fascist theocrat down our throats that they decided to make a protest vote.

But all the early votes get counted—by hand—starting when the polls close. Those will take days, and even weeks to tabulate.

And that’s OK. It used to be that it was normal to have to wait a month or two to find out who won the presidential election, and it was the reason why the actual transfer of power took place four months after voting day. As recently as 1960, it wasn’t clear from the voting who the president was by New Years’. It may have taken a few weeks to determine who won the election in 2000, were it not for a decision by the Supreme Court that was so illegal they make the unique stipulation that Bush vs. Gore never be used as a precedent. (Kavanaugh the Klueless proceeded to try to do that just last week, of course.)

It may take a few weeks to know definitively who won. The Republicans will do everything to stop the counting, including trying to get their toy justices to rule that Trump is God because GOP. Those six clowns will have to decide whether they want to please Donald and lose their credibility and authority forever, or take a stand and prepare for a miserable couple of months compared to risking their lives betraying their country.

Oh–and even if you live in a state where the Presidential race is all but settled, such as California or Kansas, vote anyway.  The downticket races are a lot more fluid, and this year especially, more important.  Its a Census year, and your vote now determines the influence your vote will have over the next ten years.

There’s a lot of speculation about post election violence, but I don’t really see that happening while it’s still being decided who won. After that, well, we’ll just have to see. Hopefully the results will be clear enough, and have enough legitimacy, that the losing side will feel a patriotic duty to accept those results.

When the dust settles, probably around the 15th, Biden should have 350 of the 270 EVs needed to win. And the US will have taken its first big step back toward being a free and democratic republic.

Then we have the next nightmare to endure: a panicked, furious, frightened Trump. Let’s just hope he doesn’t decide the world must pay for failing to adore him.

 

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