Saturday, August 29, 2015

More on the refugee crisis

Okay, my post of a couple of weeks ago, in which I suggested the Greeks piss off the Germans by shipping masses of refugees directly to Bremerhaven, had more to do with annoyance at Schäuble's economic persecution of Greece than with the actual refugee crisis — and I have to give the Germans credit for accepting more refugees than any other European country, over the loud and frequently violent objections of their neo-Nazis and other xenophobes who would be cheering for the Donald if they were Americans.  The truth, though, is that Germany needs immigrants, and needs them very badly.

The average German woman today has 1.4 children, far below the number required for population replacement.  The German population is aging rapidly, and it is unlikely that young Germans will be able to maintain the admirable welfare state that provides their elders comfort and dignity if the trend continues.  There is no reason to believe the trend will not continue.

Syrian arrivals have the strongest claim to refugee status.  They are not economic migrants, but are fleeing years of brutal war.  Also, they are the products of a business oriented, entrepreneurial culture, and can make real contributions to German society.  Granted, there are obstacles to assimilating darker complected, Arabic speaking immigrants, many of whom are Muslim.  It will be worth the effort, though, even if it means transforming, to an extent, what it means to be German.

Another country that could use an influx of Syrians is the United States which, so far, has accepted scarcely more than one thousand refugees from a war US foreign policy helped to kindle.  I'm not sure how many of the Greek cruise liners are suitable for transatlantic crossings, but I wouldn't mind seeing a bunch of them arrive at the ports of New York, Norfolk, and Savannah.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Things fall apart?

China is not well known for its economists, despite having the world's second largest economy.  There are those inclined to blame the Chinese for the current round of economic turmoil, but really, it's a bum rap.  They're just caught up, like the rest of us, in a worldwide, probably inevitable fuckup.

China blooms with new housing complexes in various states of completion, most of which seem likely to crumble into decay before ever being occupied because the Chinese can't afford to buy them.  They were built (and continue to be built, in some areas) to provide employment for those losing jobs in the export industries that were the engine for China's rapid growth over the past few decades.

China's exports have suffered partly because of competitors who can pay even lower wages than Chinese manufacturers, but more because of decreased demand for cheap manufactured goods in the West.  It seems that the consumers of cheap manufactured goods just don't have as much money as they did in the past, and the Westerners with lots of money are too few in number to buy much — even if they were interested in cheap Chinese goods, which they're not.

Still, all that money accumulated in the bankrolls of the few had to go somewhere, and genuinely safe investments (like US bonds) were paying bupkis.  The result was a roughly seven per cent rise in US stock prices — which started to look a lot like bubble territory.  Another result was a rush to buy quite risky dollar denominated debt from developing countries.

Well, in recent days, stocks have lost almost everything they gained in the run-up, and those third-world borrowers look a lot like they're getting ready to default, no longer able to sell raw materials to contracting Chinese industry.  By the way, the main investors in that developing nation debt were mutual funds, so retirees depending on returns from such funds for survival may wish to start shopping for discounted cat food — just watch out for the stuff from China, which may not be especially safe.

I could go into a lot more detail, but you're already bored, so I'll just summarize:  the massive transfer of wealth from workers to oligarchs has fucked up the entire world.

Here's one thing I can say for China, though — Xi is going after the Chinese oligarchs and slapping them down for being the corrupt reptiles they are.  There is no reason to believe that our own oligarchs are any less corrupt or reptilian — but there's nobody in a position to swat them.  Pity.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Sexual Slavery

Having been a daily consumer of a vast amount of news reporting for half a century or so, I'm not easily horrified, but an article in the New York Times recently pushed my horror button about as hard as it's ever been pushed.  You should read the entire article, but, in brief, it describes how Islamist State has made the rape of Yazidi girls as young as 12 into a religious virtue.

First, the young warrior buys his sex slave from IS higher-ups.  (The Koran, it seems, fully endorses the enslavement of "heretics," especially apparent polytheists like the Yazidi.)  He is obliged to recite specific prayers before he rapes the girl, and others afterwards.  Thus, not only is the rape not sinful, it is transformed into a kind of religious duty.

Soldiers have been raping captured women and girls for millennia.  Often, rape is seen as serving the military purpose of demoralizing the enemy, while adding some extra motivation for the foot soldiers putting their own lives at risk.  Why do I find the religious component introduced by IS especially distasteful?  I'm not sure.

I suppose that IS fighters are meant to think of themselves as "holy warriors," pure in body and mind.  That sense of moral superiority might be threatened if they were left to run around raping whoever happened to be available, like your average soldier in your average war.  Ritualizing the inevitable rape keeps them "pure," and worthy of service to Allah and whoever is claiming to be caliph at the moment.  If they never doubt their purity, and eventual entrance into Paradise, they are better fighters.

Needless to say, selling sex slaves also generates some extra cash for the organization.  Do IS leaders actually believe what they're telling the rank and file?  I don't know.  Maybe.  Probably.  Humanity is an extremely fucked-up species, and organized religion is Exhibit A.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The European Refugee Crisis

Here's an idea.  Thousands of Syrian refugees have been showing up on the Greek island of Kos.  Greece, pretty much broke, can't afford to absorb them.  (By the way, they've been showing up from Turkey, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if Erdogan is arranging the boats to move them to Greece.)  The Greeks are sending a cruise ship to Kos, where the refugees will be processed.

It occurs to me that, once they're aboard the cruise ship, there's nothing to stop the ship from leaving port.  It can transport the refugees to a wealthier country, one that can afford to give them the services they need.  I'm suggesting Germany.

What will the Germans do if a cruise ship full of refugees arrives off the coast of Bremerhaven?  Will they sink it?  Not likely.  They'll just refuse to let it make port.  That's when the Greeks get out the rubber boats, and land the refugees on shore.

Merkel, of course, would be very unhappy — but she and her countrymen, who have been shafting Greece for years, deserve it.  This scenario won't happen, of course, but it's fun to think about.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The "Debate"

Q: Why is Barack Obama the worst president in the history of the United States, and why would Hillary Clinton be even worse?

Okay, they didn't ask that question — but Fox being Fox, there were questions galore inviting the contenders to dump on Democrats.  ClintonObama and ObamaClinton were condensed into single words.  The audience ate it up, of course.

Every candidate got a totally predictable "gotcha" question, by and large answered by totally predictable talking points.  Jeb Bush drew some audience disapproval for his failure to heartily endorse his brother's invasion of Iraq.  (Where do they get those people?)  Ben Carson deflected criticism of his abysmal knowledge of foreign policy by saying how smart he is.  John Kasich impressed me somewhat by actually defending his decision to expand Medicaid in Ohio.

Donald Trump was asked about his contributions to Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, and his answer was Trumpily brilliant.  First, he pointed out that he'd also contributed to every candidate on the stage.  (One, possibly Ted Cruz but it was hard to tell, whined "Not me!  Not me!")  Then Trump went on to explain that he'd merely been buying influence, not too subtly implying that all politicians are for sale.  Unstated, but understood, was that Trump is so rich he can't be bought.

Unfortunately, Trump didn't get to speak often enough to turn the alleged "debate" into the laughfest I anticipated, but there was one interesting go-round between Rand Paul and Chris Christie on the subject of government spying on citizens.  Christie, supporting the police state, was better received by the yahoos in attendance.

I don't believe that anybody "broke out" of the pack in this first unpacking of the clown car, but Trump, as Trumpy as ever, certainly didn't do himself any harm — despite the clear efforts of Fox to discredit him.  I won't be at all surprised if his poll numbers are up today.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Corporate Welfare?

The Export-Import Bank, according to far-right Republicans, is corporate welfare.  Well, if the Ex-Im Bank really were corporate welfare, would it be turning a profit?  Since when does welfare generate income for the government?  Ex-Im provides loan guarantees for foreign buyers who purchase American products, and the bank has been managed well enough so that loans very rarely go into default.  Hence, the insurance premiums Ex-Im collects always have exceeded payouts.

Eliminating the bank will result in fewer exports, further expanding America's negative balance of trade, and encouraging American companies to move manufacturing to countries that will offer loan guarantees.  (Boeing, the Bank's biggest customer, is threatening to do just that.)

Speaking of government enterprises that generate income, those same right-wingnuts who want to end the Export-Import Bank also want to re-privatize Fannie and Freddie, which currently are earning, on average, about $15 billion a year — money that goes straight into the Treasury.  As I've said in the past, why in hell should we nationalize all the losers and privatize the winners?

Fannie and Freddie were government enterprises until the Lyndon Johnson administration, and were privatized mostly to generate some fast cash to fight the Vietnam War.  During the housing bubble, Fannie and Freddie's shareholders demanded a chunk of the fast cash the banks were scooping in by buying up and securitizing high-risk mortgages, so many of which went unpaid.  The good sense Fannie and Freddy had shown in the past was thrown out the window.

Taken over and bailed out by government in response to the crisis of 2008, Fannie and Freddie were returned to responsible management.  Continuing under responsible (government) management, there is no reason they should not continue to generate profits and, in the event of another housing collapse, not be hurt so badly as to need another expensive bailout.

Let's see...  What else might we like to nationalize?  People who hate paying taxes should be happy if their government finds ways to turn a profit.