Friday, February 21, 2014


It occurs to me that I don't know the first thing about those young men bouncing paving blocks off the heads of Ukrainian policemen.  Are they the same protestors who started the peaceful demonstrations months ago, upset by Viktor Yanakovych's backing away from closer ties with the rest of Europe; or are they, as Vladimir Putin suggested, "right-wing elements" — to wit, Nazis.

It wouldn't be the first time Ukraine had Nazis — and all of Europe is developing ultra-right parties who might  be described as Nazis.  There's the Front National in France, Golden Dawn in Greece, Geert Wilders' Freedom Party in the Netherlands and that other Freedom Party in Austria, the Northern League in Italy, the NPD in Germany, and more, even in socially liberal Scandinavia.  Just because Putin said it doesn't automatically make it a lie.

Okay, Putin is a truly terrible person.  So is Yanokovych, I suspect.  That doesn't mean the cop killers aren't truly terrible persons as well, escalating the violence.  They have guns, Molotov cocktails and, probably, too much testosterone.  The American media should not be carried away in a gush of hero worship.

As for the United States doing something about what's happening in Ukraine, I don't see the likelihood as any better than the United States doing something in Syria.  It's time to accept the fact that we can't just walk in someplace and do something.  The last time that worked was World War II.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


I don't imagine anybody is surprised that the Syrian "peace talks" failed.  Syria is a mess.

Now the Obama administration is being pressed to "do something," but it's very unclear whether anything at all can be done.  The Free Syrian Army is a joke; ISIS is operating across a completely porous Iraqi border; al Nusra, the al Qaeda affiliate al Qaeda still recognizes, is not up to defeating Assad's forces, especially if it has to simultaneously fight off ISIS; Assad has been strengthening his position, backed by Hezbollah, the Iranian QUDS force, and a lot of heavy armament from Russia.

Clearly, Americans have no stomach for military action after losing both in Iraq and, soon, Afghanistan.  We might give the Saudis the go-ahead to provide more advanced weapons to rebel groups, but knowing the Saudis, the weapons will wind up in the hands of jihadis.

The only positive contribution by the United States I can imagine is a broad increase in humanitarian aid for the vast numbers of refugees in Turkey, Iraqi Kurdistan, and Lebanon — but providing that aid should not involve any branch of the armed forces.  Given how the Agency for International Development has had close ties to the CIA throughout its history, AID also might be a bad choice.

The best bet would be to channel additional aid through organizations already on the ground, like the Red Crescent and Doctors Without Borders.  Nobody in the Middle East wants any more Americans wandering around.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Amazing Debt Ceiling Resolution?

I suppose we might say "thank you" to John Boehner for calling the vote on a "clean" bill to increase the debt ceiling, but that might be giving him a little too much credit.  Another bout of craziness certainly would not have helped Republicans in the midterm elections, and the Republicans who joined Democrats to give us a clean bill either were in super-safe seats or had announced their retirement at the end of this Congressional session.

In the meanwhile, the crazies can rant and rage against Boehner to whip up their even crazier base, but I don't expect the Speakership will be in danger.  Attention span among the true crazies is not all that long, and they are easily distracted (by Fox News.)

The evil Obama might have been happier with another threatened debt default and, perhaps, even another credit downgrade (by a different ratings agency.)  Am I a bit cynical?

You betcha.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Raising the Minimum Wage

Think of it like this: you own a business.  How many workers are you going to hire?  Too many?  Too few?  Of course not.  You'll go for the "Goldilocks" point.  You'll want "just right."  You don't want too few to keep the customers content, nor so may that they're out back smoking dope when you're not around.

Perhaps you own a fast food joint — a franchise.  The company tells you what to charge and what to pay.  The minimum wage goes up — so what does the company do?

It either lets you pay your workers the new minimum wage, raise your menu prices, and stay in business, or it lets you go out of business, and lose whatever profits you earn for it.  What's more likely?

So the dollar menu is up to a buck and a quarter.  Will you lose customers?  Maybe.  The ten-year-old's allowance hasn't gone up, but your own workers, and workers employed by other sleazebags, now can afford to pay the buck and a quarter.  They pay it.

You're still in business.  The only difference is American taxpayers might not be subsidizing you by giving your workers SNAP (Food Stamps), nor quite so large an Earned Income Tax Credit.

Why in hell should American taxpayers be subsidizing Mickey D's or Wal-Mart or any of the other low-wage employers living off the fat of your ass?

Nobody working a full-time job should need government subsidies.  Nobody working a full-time job should go hungry, or have to watch hungry children try to fall asleep.

$10.10 by whenever isn't enough.  It should be fifteen or sixteen right about now.  People should not go without heat, or food, or a roof over their heads.

Fuck the free markets.  Fuck the Libertarians.  Do the right thing.

Friday, February 7, 2014


Russia.  China.  Turkey. Guatamala. Etc.

Everywhere.  Human beings, especially those who acquire any sort of wealth or power, are almost inevitably corrupt.  Probably those without wealth or power have similar inclinations but far less opportunity.  Would I indulge in insider trading if I had the opportunity?

Okay, I'd be sorely tempted, especially if I thought I could get away with it.

The Martoma trial, and the actions against seven other SAC Capital traders, are just one example of corruption right here at home.  The unusual thing about the SAC situation is that a few actual criminal prosecutions are taking place, albeit, so far, Steven A. Cohen himself remains unscathed.  In this country, you just don't go after a multi-billionaire.

On those rare occasions when the SEC goes after a bank or a big shot, it "agrees to" an impressive sounding but essentially negligible fine with no admission of wrongdoing.


"But wait," you say, "here in the USofA, at the very least, our corruption doesn't involve human rights violations."

Yeah, right.  Abu Ghraib.  Guantánamo.  Secret sites all over.

Then there was Brooklyn, for example, during the long Charles Hynes years.  The new DA, Ken Thompson, is working very hard to undo false convictions from the 1980s and 1990s, but a lot of mostly innocent black men still will spend the rest of their lives in prison.

Mark Twain once said that the United States "has the best Congress money can buy."  Uh huh.

I've been too depressed to write a lot lately, but I'll try to get to Russia, China, Turkey, etc. later this month.