Thursday, February 23, 2012

Iran, Israel, and the Bomb

For fifty years of my life (yes, I'm a kind of a geezer), I lived with something referred to as MAD — a very apt acronym for mutually assured destruction. Both the United States and the Soviet Union were sufficiently supplied with nuclear weapons to destroy each other. Neither was stupid enough to attempt a first strike, so the many times they made me duck under my desk (TAKE COVER!!!) in elementary school were a waste of time.

Mind you, we were led to believe that Soviet leaders were crazy, and that the bombs could fall at any moment. Well, nobody is that crazy, including the leaders of Iran. Considering that Israel has well over 200 nuclear weapons, many of which are submarine based, the Iranian leadership must understand that launching an atomic bomb would result in the total annihilation of Iran.

The only reason an Israeli leader would support a "preemptive" attack on Iran at this time is for the sake of internal Israeli politics. The only reason a US leader (or would-be leader) would support such an attack at this time is for the sake in internal US politics.

Face it — North Korea has the bomb, delivery systems, and some of the most bat-shit crazy leaders in all history. Even they know that a nuclear attack on, say, South Korea or Japan would result in a very severe response from those two nations' most powerful ally — the good old US of A. Even if Israel didn't have its own nukes, Israel would be safe.

In the meanwhile, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, has proclaimed nuclear weapons a sin; and both US intelligence sources and the IAEA say that Iran has not yet decided whether or not to produce a nuclear weapon. Granted, it wouldn't hurt them to have one, to counterbalance Israel in that good old MAD protocol.

Also in the meanwhile, the cold war style conflict between the US and Iran has inflated oil prices to a point where they threaten the US economic recovery. It's nothing but idiotic.

Politics notwithstanding, it's time to pull back and talk.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Santorum??? Surely you jest!

Needless to say, I wouldn't mind at all if Rick Santorum won the Republican nomination — having declared war on women (possibly forgetting that they now are allowed to vote), I honestly don't see how he could win the presidency. Yes, America has moved distressingly far to the right over the past thirty years, but that far?

Listening to Santorum, Romney, Gingrich, and Paul, I'm starting to believe that when Nixon inaugurated his "southern strategy" and Reagan brought the social conservatives into the Republican coalition (bigots, Luddites, and the super-rich, all working together to benefit the super-rich), they unknowingly strapped their party into a suicide vest. The Republican base has moved so far to the right, it risks falling off the edge of its flat earth.

The more states Santorum wins, the harder it will be for the Republican super-delegates to hand Romney the nomination at the convention. Going against the base to that extent would risk splitting the party. If it's a toss-up, though, they still could "draft" somebody who hasn't had a chance to disgrace himself in the endless debates. The last I heard, the real Republican favorite was "none of the above."

But who could it be? Jeb Bush seems to want to wait for 2016; Chris Christie, despite having such a Christlike name, still might be too fat and too northeastern; Tim Pawlenty comes over as a total wimp; even John McCain is not so senile that he doesn't realize he's too senile to run again; Eric Cantor wants John Boehner's job, not Obama's, and anyway he's still kind of Jewish for the traditionalist Catholics and Evangelicals.

Paul Ryan? He's presentable and articulate, and it might be possible, with enough money spent, to conceal the fact that he's a really mean son-of-a-bitch. At the moment, though, I think he's looking for Cantor's job when Cantor pushes out Boehner. As far as the presidency goes, he's still young enough to wait for 2020 or 2024.

Well, as you know, I don't make predictions anymore — but I'm guessing that Obama will get his second term. If he does, I only can hope he might turn out to be less of a "New Democrat" and more of a liberal.

Friday, February 10, 2012

My big fat Greek... bailout?

Those of us who are not Greek ought to be pretty happy today, relatively speaking. Two out of three leaders of the Greek coalition government seems to have approved the German diktat requiring concentration camp style austerity, and the Parliament will either accept it or reject it on Sunday. It could be close.

A lot of people out on the streets of Athens and other Greek cities seem to think Parliament should reject it. I'm emotionally inclined to agree with the angry mobs. Honestly, I don't know what will happen to the Greek people if there is a disorderly default, but I'm pretty sure about what will happen if they do accept Auswitch austerity.

Greece will be totally fucked for many years.

Most important, it is not Greece that will be bailed out by the current plan — the plan provides for a bailout of European banks. The IMF, ECB, and European Commission will pay into an escrow fund for the new Greek bonds, which will pay the banks first. Should there happen to be anything left after the banks are sated, that remainder goes to the Greeks.

In the meanwhile, Greece is in the fifth year of what is being called a recession but really is a depression, and that depression continues to be made worse by austerity imposed from outside. The new measures require Greece to reduce its minimum wage by 22%, and all wages are likely to fall as a result. 20% of the government jobs that have driven the Greek economy in the past will be eliminated, elevating the current 20% unemployment rate. Nobody expects a drop in the prices of things like food, fuel, and rent.

Personally, I'd be inclined to go with the drachma. Greeks who still have savings in Euros, I'm sure, will get them out of the country. Those who have Euro denominated debt can default along with their country.

Screw the banks.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

What about the fifty-somethings?

Better employment numbers are shining a ray of hope on our economy (and, to be sure, the Obama presidency), but it's still, pretty much, a catastrophe. You hear a lot about recent college graduates living in their parents' basements because they can't find jobs — and it's true that their lifetime earnings are likely to be considerably lower than those of their classmates who found work right away. Nevertheless, eventually they'll find jobs (albeit they still may not move out of their parents' basements.)

Romney is "not concerned about the poor," perhaps, but personally, I'm not all that concerned about the very young. The people having the hardest time finding jobs right now, and a big segment of the long-term unemployed, are workers over the age of fifty. Many of them will never work again.

Think about it. Why should an employer hire a fifty-something when there are so many younger workers available? Younger workers provide a much longer-term return on training. Employers who provide health insurance save money by avoiding those who, statistically, are more likely to get sick. Fifty-somethings who once earned decent salaries probably will find it entirely too depressing to take jobs as Wal-Mart greeters. The longer the period of unemployment, the harder it is to find a job.

So, how do the fifty-somethings survive? (Remember, thanks to New Democrat Bill Clinton, lifetime welfare payments are limited to five years.)

The permanently unemployed who are, let's say, fifty-two today can't collect Social Security for ten years — and can't collect a full benefit for fifteen years. Congress is not about to extend unemployment insurance to ten years, so we have to think about what a long-term unemployed fifty-two-year-old can do to survive the interim. Here are some possibilities:

  • Find a sympathetic doctor who will help the fifty-something get on Social Security disability. (This happens pretty frequently.)
  • Move in with and be supported by the kids, if they can afford (and tolerate) it.
  • Live on the streets.
I know that just getting more people, of whatever age, back to work is the focus right now. Just the same, I believe plans have to be made for dealing with those of late middle age who will be permanently exiled from the labor force.

Monday, February 6, 2012

"Democracy" marches on

Democracy, as we've all been taught (whether we learned it or not), depends on an educated demos. As one of the people who tried to teach you that, watched your drooping eyelids, and read the essays you wrote for your state mandated tests, I understand that that Jeffersonian ideal is kind of a pipe dream (which is an appropriate metaphor for a bunch of you who sat in the back row.)

Nevertheless, given the impossibility of finding Plato's philosopher king and forcing him to rule against his will, democracy will have to do. It has the advantage of forcing the evil overlords to work hard at persuading the mob that they are well ruled. That makes it much harder for the rulers to be blatantly repressive — democracy tends to make essential civil and human rights better respected, and the exercise of those rights by the demos helps to hold the rulers in check. Sometimes.

It wasn't that long ago that we were supposed to be entering a New Age of Democracy — the Soviet Union had fallen, making it possible for American administrations to allow increasing democratization of Latin America. It looked like there might be real progress in Africa. Granted that China, a major portion of Earth's land area, was not even remotely democratic, but it was moving quickly towards capitalism! Could democracy be far behind?

It was around then we got into nation building. Damn, did that turn out to be a bad idea.

So, let's review. Yeltsin corruption led directly to Putin autocracy, and Putin is not especially distressed by bourgeois protests. Bye bye, bourgeoisie. The outside-of-Moscow handlers have everything under control. Corruption continues apace. Yeltsin, you see, has successfully kept the demos terrified of change. Life is hard, and it might get harder. Why take the risk?

China, recently, seems to have been softening — but don't bet on it continuing. That little rebel village was allowed to elect a new Communist Party leader and labor unions are getting a smidgen more assertive, but critics of the system still have a way of remaining behind bars for many years at a time, and corruption among regional and local party leaders is rampant.

Freely elected left-wing governments in Latin America are starting to slide toward the same kinds of authoritarianism as the old right-wing governments — slowly enough so that there still is hope of reversal, but troubling nevertheless. In much of sub-Saharan Africa, elections have a way of turning into civil wars, and the Union of South Africa's one-party system is increasingly corrupt and dysfunctional.

While there may be rays of hope for the Middle East arising from the "Arab Spring," it may be because the Muslim Brotherhood affiliates winning elections there probably will do more to help the masses of poor than the old monarchs and dictators did. On the other hand, I still don't see the Egyptian army giving up political power and thereby losing its tight grip on the Egyptian economy — and anywhere the Salafists gain power may as well be Saudi Arabia as far as human rights go.

European democracies — especially those in the Eurozone – are giving up more and more sovereignty to the European Union. Nobody elected the technocrats now installed in Italy and Greece.

Then there's the United States. Yes, it looks like a democracy, but the plutocrats are stronger than ever before; the only viable political parties are center-right and far-right; and civil liberties have taken a nosedive since 9/11. Can Americans "vote" to change this? Ideally, we can, but this is not an ideal world. The politicians, the media, and even the leading charitable foundations are firmly controlled by corporate interests, and Citizens United was just another straw on the camel's back. The plutocrats will not be satisfied until they have all the wealth.

Sadly, the only thing I can think of powerful enough to bring about major change is a worldwide economic disaster which will flush away the old and bring on the new — but then the new might turn out to be significantly worse than what it replaces.