16 February 2017

The wretched miasma of politics

People keep presuming diversely on the net that Putin has compromising pictures of Trump.

I think this is unlikely.

Trump is reputed to have done this -- surreptitiously take compromising pictures of guests -- in Trump's own hotels, Trump has never lacked for low cunning, and it's about impossible to make pictures or video really stick these days. Any state actor can fake just about anything, and that possibility makes any kind of blackmail image doubtfully effective. It might work, but it might not.  It probably won't, given the GOP unwillingness to stop going La La La so long as they stay in power and get their tax breaks.

Really tight proof of Trump's economic misdeeds -- it's not like Putin needs to be especially concerned for being prosecuted for any financial misdeeds on his own part -- is a possibility, but that can be disclaimed, too.  "State actor" calls into a great deal of question just what can be false-flagged about financial fraud claims.

What Putin can have on Trump relies on it being something Trump's staff wouldn't think of guarding against, which generally means something that requires a state actor; either the capability before it would have been generally known as a risk or to get away with doing it.  (Or both.) To be useful, it has to be an inescapable demonstrable material fact that's nigh-guaranteed to revolt Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell beyond any question of political calculation.  (Plus a sufficient fraction of the right-wing media.)

So either Putin's kiting Trump with no actual kompromat -- not impossible, by any means; that appears to be what Bannon's doing -- or it's something that fits those two criteria.  It has to be a demonstrable material fact and it has to revolt Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan.   It also has to be something Putin could get, that Trump would believe Putin had, and that Trump can't correct, obscure, or dispose of once Trump knows Putin has it.

There really isn't much in that category.  The only obvious candidate is the paternity of Trump's grandchildren, which is a horrible thought to think.

14 February 2017

I think people miss the significance of the 1950s

The point to the fifties was that the 1940s -- and to a considerable extent the 1930s -- had seen a big upswing in women's agency, if not formal rights.  Running munitions factories lead to getting the vote after the Great War -- you just can't claim someone who handles picric acid isn't capable of political decisions, not if you have any self honesty at all -- but after Hitler's War, all the progress was undone.  Women were removed from jobs and financial independence; the collective child-care (utterly necessary to factories staffed by women) was abolished; a whole lot of "you must stay at home for your child" propaganda got produced.  And it worked, in that time and in that generation.

I think the American hard right; the supremacists, the fascists, the deplorable and demented and delusional with no just claim to the name of a man, are really really into the fifties as imagery because it is indescribably important to them to put "women, cattle, and slaves" back into operation.  An environment when women can tell them no hurts too much to live in, and they don't want it.  (Even the white supremacy has a whole lot of forced-birth nativism in the supremacist mix; it's white male supremacy.  White women aren't meant to be anything other than a particular class of chattel.)  The fifties were time when a long period of increase in women's agency and rights were reversed.  Perhaps that can be done again.

I don't think such a thing is possible this time; I think given the choice between being returned to a condition of reproductive slavery, and killing a lot of people until the demand ceases to be made, enough of the current generation of women are going to pick killing a lot of people.  (And a lot of the millennial men, too, but the politically crucial thing is what the middle aged women chose to do.)

I really, really hope this doesn't happen. (Though it would be a better thing than putting "women, cattle, and slaves" back into operation.)  I very much wish I could believe the Pence wing of the GOP (or pretty much any but perhaps two of the Canadian CPC leadership candidates) recognized this as a possibility.  (Or, if they do recognize it, could imagine losing.)

15 January 2017

Open water

There shouldn't be that much open water in Lake Ontario in January.  Only "should" has moved.

11 December 2016

The end

It's the end.

Well, it's the events of the end; we can count 2017-01-01 or 2016-12-19 or 2017-01-20 if we want, or
something in the past year, or just wait until whatever future historians there happen to be come to a consensus.

The precise moment doesn't really matter. What matters is, yeah, it's the end.

Not the end of the Enlightenment; the Enlightenment died with Progress in the deicide of the Great War. Not the end of capitalism, because capitalism either began with accounting or was always a lie.  Call it the end of the Century of the Common Man, if you like.

It's clear that the upper classes really don't believe in the consent of the governed. It's clear that the articulation of need by the citizenry is broken. It's clear that the common existential crisis -- climate -- isn't going to be addressed because it hinders the certainty of an existing profit. (This is the distinction between capitalism and aristocracy; the capitalist of myth expects they might lose. The aristocrat is certain God did not produce so defective a universe as that.)

So whatever future we get -- and however much of it -- it's not going to look like the past of living memory. 2016 was the Last Normal Year.

Me, I cope by accumulating hand tools. It's not likely to help but it involves feeling less helpless.

04 December 2016

So why was the TPP so important to Obama?

This has been bugging me for awhile; Obama is widely reputed to be a smart guy, and certainly has way better information sources than I do. So if they're strongly for something I think is an obvious bad idea, I tend to wonder what I've got wrong.  (The TPP is, or was, obviously a terrible idea; extra-national profit-guaranteeing tribunals?  Urgh.)

And then the clue hit.

About four-fifths of the value of the US economy is IP of some kind.  It's very hard to tell how much of that is the intangible output of creatives -- new music, new design, new chemistry, materials, medicine, and biology -- and how much is rents extracted by the power of the American empire.

So let's consider a piano.  A piano is nigh-useless unless you know how to play it -- which someone smart can figure out -- and without the music you play on it, which is an accumulation of skilled people over time.  If you lose the accumulation, you can't get it back; it's contingent on events.  (If you restart the universe, you don't even get humans; you certainly don't get Bach's music.  If in ten thousand years your rising civilization finds a pipe organ in a buried hockey arena and builds a reconstruction, no one is going to re-invent Bach at that remove, either.)

So there's a bunch of questions about what should be charged for the music (above and beyond the material costs of making copies) and who gets the money.  There's also the question about what you pay a performer and what you pay a composer of new music.  (What the piano tuner gets paid and whether it's worthwhile to make more pianos and how much effort you put into making better piano wire for strings are all defined by the answers to that first set of questions.)

Those answers are cultural.  Which means contingent; the answers we have now are not the answers we would get if we did it again.

The current answers greatly benefit the US and somewhat benefit the satellite states of the unofficial empire; that's for a lot of reasons but that state persisting in the present comes down to "change is risky and the current situation isn't intolerable".  (Establishing the current answers is some mix of a very strong economy, getting nuclear weapons first, and being the only non-devastated major combatant at the end of the Second World War.)

I think it's really hard to tell how much of that four-fifths-is-IP is rent extraction.  I very much doubt the people doing economic intelligence for the Obama White House cannot put a number on it, or that the number isn't tolerably accurate.  Is it half?  I could easily believe half.

Anything that forces change leaves the situation open to ending up who-knows-where.  And wherever that is, it's worse for the US.  The TPP was a means to make significant change more difficult so it was less likely.

Completely open change as the current trade arrangements -- which are certainly showing both economic and political strain -- fail is nigh-certainly going to be produce something systemically simpler.  The influence of the US will be greatly reduced.  (It's much much harder to recreate a position of military dominance without the empire's economic dominance than it is to have a historical condition of military dominance acknowledged as persisting while the economy which created it persists.  Guns don't turn into butter.)

The greenback ceasing to be the reserve currency with no replacement available isn't good.   Two fifths of the value in the US economy going away in a short period of time -- rents the empire is no longer able to exact -- doesn't have an adjective.  Even one-fifth, because the current long supply chain situation doesn't have a graceful way to shorten the supply chains or collapse into domestic production.  (Compare the US domestic production of shoes with demand, just as a for-example.)  A depression is what happens when the mechanism is all there and the price signals get messed up.  This would be what happens when the mechanism collapses and has no immediate replacement.

Obama's basically a conservative.  Given a choice between trying to create a new set of economic mechanisms, and trying very hard to be sure the current set will persist, of course Obama would pick "persist".

Trump's approach looks like it's going to be status-quo-by-autarky, aka the worst possible choice; the status quo depends on the empire (which autarky abandons unrecoverably) and the autarky removes anyone else's interest in the "mutually beneficial" part of any new trade structures.  (Trade is a good thing as a means to greater general prosperity.  The problem isn't the idea of trade, it's using the necessity of trade as a means to obtain a political guarantee of profit that's the problem.)

24 November 2016

Some thoughts on the TPP and CETA

Trade is not a just end.  It can be a just means.

(Just like profit; profit is a just means and a sound measure but it's not a just end.  Those who have enough can't justly seek to take more from those whose sufficiency of means is questionable, but that's just what profit as an end accomplishes.)

Long supply chains give much more effect to divisions of labour and regional specialization (and thus highly developed bodies of practice), but they also absorb a lot of capital.  This can be looked at as a nefarious attempt to extract more rents for capital; it can also be looked at as a sort of pre-savings-glut issue, where you have to do something with accumulated capital and making production more profitable (which is not very different from "more efficient") is the obvious thing to do with it.  (You know how Apple has to become a bank because once you've got a hundred billion dollars you can't really invest it?  Like that.  You have to become part of the system to make use of that pile of capital.)

Only here we are in the late period of the Oil Empire; well into the decline.  Once the long supply chains start failing due to capital insufficiency -- there's no controlling feedback; the pursuit of trade and profit as supposed distinct good things in and of themselves goes on until it breaks somewhere -- they can't be re-established because the smaller economy after the crash can't afford them.

It makes me wonder how many people it really takes to run the modern economy; I very much doubt it's less than a billion and it might be two.  So no one nation-state begins to have the option of autarky at this tech level.  It makes me wonder how you figure out what the optimal supply chain length is, too.

22 November 2016

While we have the Constitution open...

So there's some possibility the Trudeau government will move to enact some form of proportional voting.  This means opening the Constitution because Quebec has a guarantee of a quarter of the Commons seats and PEI has a guarantee of four seats (Senate and Commons), which is about three seats more than their population would warrant.

I loathe the proposal that proportional voting will solve the problem.  (For any value of solve, and any value of problem.)  It moves the area of contention from voting to control of political parties, which is probably a net loss because getting control of political parties is relatively easy; it's a small number of people and the idea that the system works anyway because people are unwilling to be bribed (whether with money or power or meeting their goals) is risible.  You also lose the connection to your MP and the House of Commons loses any connection to geographic concerns. That's bad; Saskatchewan grows half the food and should not be ignored.  (Etc.  There is a lot of etc. there and it gets worse as you head north.)

On the other hand, proportional voting does allow representation of a wider range of viewpoints and can tend to force coalitions which ought to help moderate government policy toward population preferences.  Downsides of this include coalition capture by tiny extremist parties with reliable voters (look at Israel) and indecision in the face of crisis.  (The next two generations are going to be a succession of crises as the rain shifts around, coastal cities start to drown, food gets scarce, and big populations move about looking for some place they can survive.  They're not going to be especially respectful of immigration laws.)

So, the Commons theoretically allocates 1 seat per 100,000 people, more or less.  Call it 350 at present.  PEI gets four; Quebec gets 88, everything is pure portion-of-the-vote and party list for Commons seats.

The Senate as it now exists ceases.

Clump up current ridings in groups of 10 or so; not exactly, because while want about a million people per Senate seat, but we also want to weight area in there so various northern but not populous regions are seriously overrepresented in strict population terms.  This process should ignore provincial boundaries completely.  A senate riding gets either two or three senators; "regions" get two, "cities" get three.  The difference is net flow of taxes; if you have net outflow of taxes, you're a city.  (ALL taxes, to discourage side effects of differing provincial tax laws.)  Senate terms are long, with a third up for election each third-of-term.  If we go with the new 5 year federal election schedule, a senate term would be fifteen years.  (The first time, the newly elected Senators will have to draw straws for who has a full term and who a fractional.)  Senate seats use single transferable vote *per seat*; you're running for Eastern Coastal North A, the specific seat, rather than a set of people running for all the seats in the Eastern Coastal North senate riding.

There'd be about 80 senators, I'd expect; maybe 90.

This new senate has to pass a bill for it to become law; the Commons does not get an override.  Bills originate in the Commons but the Senate can draft something and vote to send it to the Commons for consideration.  The Prime Minister cannot sit in the Senate and must command a majority in both houses.

So, geographic representation, check.  More northern representation than we have now, check.  Long terms leading to some continuity of government in almost all cases.  Check.  Direct representation if you really need someone ('s constituent office) to sort out your trouble with the federal bureaucracy for you.  Commons directly party-list proportional representation (so we hopefully get better policy) but the PM is going to be obliged to consider regional interests to hold a majority in the senate.  Hard to get small-party capture in the face of the geographic senate.  The Senate needs the Commons to agree to spend money, and vice-versa.  Potential ghastly deadlock but also potential good policy.  Starts to devalue provinces as political divisions, that unfortunate relic of early 19th century communications speeds.

(PEI would have to give up four Senate seats, though; guaranteeing them 1 senate riding with 1 seat would be roughly equivalent.)