Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Object Permanence


Did you happen to notice how quickly that gathering of neo-fascists in Charlottesville VA diverted public attention from the threat of nuclear annihilation?  America appears to have an ongoing problem with object permanence: the difficulty infants have in grasping the continued existence of an item after they stop looking at it.

Granted, the threat of American fascism is considerably greater than any threat from Kim Jong-un.  Historically, fascism has been one of the more disagreeable outgrowths of plutocracy — and our widening wealth gap, failure to enforce antitrust restrictions, and antidemocratic actions like the Citizens United decision all have broadened the powers of the megawealthy over the rest of us.

The fascist penchant for militarism has been characteristically American for at least a century, along with the propensity to demonize foreigners and scapegoat minorities.  True fascism in the United States has been countervailed more by cultural and regional disunity than by democratic institutions, but the growth of information technologies has broken down those barriers.  All that remains is a stubborn affection for civil liberties — and those are under systematic attack.

Next week, something new will happen: a venereal disease will be traced to avocados, or Tr*mp will declare war on the Moon.  Will America forget the threat of fascism?

Probably.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

North Korea


How do you deal with a leader who is unstable, immoral, and incompetent?  For starters, you can do your best to keep him from being reelected in 2020.  In the meanwhile, you can hope that the people around him won't let him do anything too stupid.

As for Kim Jong-un, he certainly is immoral, but he is neither unstable nor incompetent — and even a far less competent Dear Leader would recognize that a viable nuclear deterrent is the only real guarantee of national survival given the regime-changing proclivities of the world's foremost military superpower.  Kim saw what became of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi.

A nuclear deterrent works only if your adversaries know you have it; hence, the bomb and missile tests, and the pictures of Kim with that rocket-ready nuclear warhead.  When American experts conceded that the threat was real, our own Dear Leader and National Id reacted predictably.  Kim countered Tr*mp's dire warnings with a specific threat against the air base on Guam, demonstrating his superiority at the freak-em-out rhetoric game.

Having lived through decades of Mutually Assured Destruction, beginning with the times I hid from atom bombs under my elementary school desk, I find it hard to take the current situation all that seriously.  Rex Tillerson has been downplaying Tr*mp's bellicose pronouncements for all he's worth, and I'd like to think that even if Tr*mp did have a psychotic break and ordered a preemptive attack, "his" generals would not comply.  (You don't think they'd have given him the real nuclear suitcase, do you?)

Over the next couple of months, the world will settle down to a nuclear-armed North Korea, China will be ignoring the economic sanctions it approved last week, and the USofA will move on to its next crisis.  We all can put our old classroom desks back in storage.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Mess in Venezuela



Back in the early Seventies, I met a Venezuelan general named Felix at a bar overlooking the Orinoco River.  Hearing I was from New York, he wondered if I knew his friend Nelson.  Nelson?  Sí.  Nelson Rockefeller.

Now, Venezuela is falling back into militaristic authoritarianism, but this time without the domination of the USofA.  The American news media are presenting a simplistic, Manichean model of a socialistic "dictator" versus a "democratic opposition."  The situation is not nearly so simple.

President Nicolás Maduro is heir to the "Bolivarian Revolution" of Hugo Chávez, a program that nationalized Venezuela's oil fields and used the profits to better the lives of Venezuela's poor.  The program was understandably popular, and worked fairly well until oil prices collapsed.  Maduro's efforts to maintain benefits to satisfy his base voters made the inevitable economic disruption much worse that it would have been otherwise, multiplying government debt and stoking triple-digit inflation.  There was no money to pay for imports of food, medicine, and other essentials.

As beleaguered leaders are wont to do, Maduro makes sure that whatever goods are available go to his security forces.  Those forces, along with substantial numbers of poor Venezuelans still fiercely loyal to the memory of Chávez, have kept Maduro in power — but the Presidente has another important advantage: there is no unified opposition.

The two former mayors recently moved from house arrest to prison agree with each other on almost nothing.  Another opposition "leader" is Venezuela's Attorney General, a pro-democracy Bolivarian who is a member of Maduro's political party.  Then there are the business interests calling for libertarian free markets, allies of the multinational oil companies that want their oil fields back (including remnants of the failed US backed coup attempt of 2002), a vast splintering of student groups, and more.

Typical of such situations, the largest group consists of people who really don't care who is in charge so long as their families have access to food, clothing, shelter, and medical care.

The US sanctions against Maduro and his close associates will accomplish nothing: it appears that the Bolivarians, unlike most political leaders, failed to enrich themselves personally while in power.  An embargo on Venezuelan oil would make the lives of ordinary Venezuelans much worse (and elevate gasoline prices in the US.)  At this time, there's nothing to do but "wait and see."