The unpatriotic majority

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July 30, 2016 by AK

Come to think of it, Paul Krugman’s willingness to accuse America’s largest minority, the white Christians, of treason is not just an amplified, tables-turned version of the ancient charge leveled at the Jews.

Prof. Krugman vaguely suggests that “the tribe” – the white Christians in his idiolect – have never been patriotic. He writes:

The people who now seem to love America always did; the people who suddenly no longer sound like patriots never were.

Of course the master is merely painting with the broadest brush strokes possible, not bothering to make the obvious distinctions within the tribe when looking backward. Still, the thesis, however imprecisely worded – more hinted at than stated – is that the people descended from the nation’s founding stock and still making up the largest group of its citizenry might be acting treacherously, and might have acted so while still making up the majority of the nation.

As a statement of political philosophy, it would be worth investigating if expressed more clearly, which is unlikely.


This tribe – or that?

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July 30, 2016 by AK

Each person who thinks she loves America loves her own America so Paul Krugman’s question is not even rhetorically interesting.

The tribe he is referring to – the “white Christians” of America – is still by far the largest “tribe” in the country, and if it were unanimously fearing that its interests might run counter to the interests of other constituent “tribes,” that conflict could not be solved by naming, shaming and blaming.

But the outsized irony that probably escaped the great economist is not about that. Suppose “the tribe” were used in the Urban Dictionary sense, “Democrats” and “Republicans” reversed, and the article, with other obvious adjustments, had appeared in a right-wing publication some time before 1960.

It would have fit right in.


Still no decline in oil production

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July 30, 2016 by AK

Last September and October, I wrote about George Soros’ untimely announcement that Russian oil production was in decline. The data links in these posts seem to be working all right, providing updated information.

It indicates that the decline has so far failed to begin. In fact, the latest preliminary data puts the July 2016 output level at 10.8-10.9 mm bpd or 1.48-1.49 mm tons per day, a little higher than last years’ monthly averages. In fact, it looks like a 2% year-over-year increase for July 2016.


Peter Thiel follows Schumpeter, not Ayn Rand

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July 26, 2016 by AK

The Economist runs regular columns named after prominent figures from the past: Bagehot, Charlemagne, Babbage. Under “Schumpeter,” they wrote of Peter Thiel earlier this year:

In a book, “Zero to One”, published in 2014, he pooh-poohed competition and celebrated the power of “creative monopolists” who add “entirely new categories of abundance to the world”…

There are lots of reasons for Mr Thiel’s Nietzschean turn… Ayn Rand’s book, “Atlas Shrugged”, describes a world where the creative minority of business geniuses has retreated from the world, and left the masses to enjoy the fruits of socialism…

Bringing up Ayn Rand must be a reflex: “He’s rich? Libertarian (ex-)? Pro-business? He’s an effin’ Randian!” But it was not Ayn Rand but a real, and rather prominent, economist who argued that

some degree of monopoly is preferable to perfect competition. Competition from innovations, he argued, is an “ever-present threat” that “disciplines before it attacks.” He cited the Aluminum Company of America as an example of a monopoly that continuously innovated in order to retain its monopoly. By 1929, he noted, the price of its product, adjusted for inflation, had fallen to only 8.8 percent of its level in 1890, and its output had risen from 30 metric tons to 103,400.

[He] never made completely clear whether he believed innovation is sparked by monopoly per se or by the prospect of getting a monopoly as the reward for innovation. Most economists accept the latter argument and, on that basis, believe that companies should be able to keep their production processes secret, have their trademarks protected from infringement, and obtain patents.

[He] stands for (Joseph Alois) Schumpeter.

Compare this with The Business Insider‘s summary of Thiel’s ideas from the same book The Economist referenced:

Getting to a monopoly, then, is a matter of inventing something 10x better than any peer product, or discovering an entirely new category.

Society doesn’t need to be scared of monopolies, Thiel says, since upstarts will always come along to dethrone them, as Apple’s iOS did to Microsoft’s decades-long operating system dominance, and as Microsoft did to IBM before them. In this way, Thiel says, “monopolies drive progress.”

That’s why, the investor continues, businesses are successful to the extent that they do what others can’t, that they “escape competition” with other companies…

Thiel’s ideas, as presented in the media, seem rooted in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. They have a schumpeterian feel distinct enough to merit at least a mention of the Austrian-American economist in a column bearing his name.


Impossible – believable – but so what?

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July 26, 2016 by AK

Smart and sophisticated? Paranoid and deluded? Incompetent and occasionally dumb?

Looking at Team Kremlin, I can never be sure. I suppose that’s one of their strong sides: you can lose your mind trying to pin them down.

Now on to the DNC hack.

As I’ve said before, I cannot believe that dozens of Russian Weevs are gestating in secret FSB laboratories. Their schools can turn out competent cryptographers and data protectors, but great burglars grow up free-ranging. Hence Moscow must be outsourcing, which helps deniability (along with the fact that Russian speakers from ex-Soviet countries make up a healthy proportion of the global programming tribe). If the hackers were true aces, they may have left deliberately misleading traces.

On the other hand, my starting postulate may be incorrect. What if there is a state hacker academy in Russia after all, and what if it churns out so-so, second-rate pros – more hacks than hackers, – and what if they had the luck to break into that database but not the skill to clean up after themselves?

But the most tempting hypothesis is the most humanly plausible and the least politically possible. It comes from the mouths of babes like ambassador McFaul: settling personal accounts. Sounds petty and ludicrous – and could have been invented by Politico journos – but perfectly believable. Which is not a valid argument either for it or against it, not at all.


From the author of “Female Flesh Under Capitalism”

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July 25, 2016 by AK

British journalist Laurie Penny on herself and Milo Yiannopoulos:

I’m a radical queer feminist leftist writer burdened with actual principles. He thinks that’s funny and invites me to his parties.

And a good time was had by all.


Bluffing, perhaps, as one sometimes must

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July 25, 2016 by AK

I have argued that some of Trump’s views on allies, trade, and the USSR/Russia, can be traced to his opinions shared with the media 25-30 years back. He’s not as volatile as mainstream opinion has it but he can improvise moves to make the opposition freeze in resigned amazement. 

That could be a major foreign policy asset. Consider Trump’s recent NATO comments:

Sanger: Russia came over the border into Estonia or Latvia, Lithuania, places that Americans don’t think about all that often, would you come to their immediate military aid?

Trump: I don’t want to tell you what I’d do because I don’t want Putin to know what I’d do.

Which is a smart response considering that Moscow’s strategy is based on the assumption the West would mostly play by the rules known to both sides in advance. Its true meaning could have been, “We won’t start a conventional war against Russia but we have safer ways of retaliating that cannot be discussed at this point for obvious security reasons.” 

(Or, “I don’t really know but there must be a way out – there always is.”)

Regrettably, Trump then mounted one of his hobby horses, “some NATO members are free riders,” and muddled things up somewhat:

If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes [we’ll protect them]… Well, I’m not saying if not. I’m saying, right now there are many countries that have not fulfilled their obligations to us.

This bit is not particularly encouraging for the Baltics, but I doubt that Trump is concerned about Estonia not paying its fair share – last time he was concerned about Germany and Japan not doing that. If he gets hybrid war right, it would outweigh all his prior equivocations.


The Kremlin’s delusions?

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July 24, 2016 by AK

As far as Ukraine is concerned, the Kremlin’s propaganda has been surprisingly well-received in diverse quarters, as evidenced by comments both at the left-leaning Crooked Timber and on pro-Trump sites. The same probably applies to Moscow’s Syrian narrative, but I cannot estimate with acceptable precision how far it deviates from the truth, since the truth is evasive in that conflict. In the Ukrainian case, I simply know that the Ukrainian revolution of 2013-14 was not a bloody fascist coup, and that’s truth enough for me.

There must be still limits on how wide and deep that propaganda can reach into the minds of politically aware Americans and Europeans. I hear that RT is practically agitating for Donald Trump – and cannot believe it. If Moscow seriously thinks that shouting its support for Trump from the rooftops is going to help, rather than hurt, his electoral prospects, one wonders whether its preference for Trump is rooted in sound judgment.

It might well be that most Russians like Trump more than HRC and would still like him without the propaganda. If I understand correctly, most Russians – regardless of political views – mistrust and despise self-professed champions of ethics and would rather deal with honest cynics. Naturally, Trump comes across as a pravdorub, a man who tells it like it is and doesn’t preach and lecture. (Plus, his anti-immigrant stance resonates with the Russian masses.) In contrast, the average Russian pair of eyes perceive Secretary Clinton as a hypocritical old woman who has spent her life scrambling for the presidency – first for her husband, now for herself. She even tolerated her husband’s multiple affairs to keep him afloat as a politician, an unacceptable duplicity.

But whether most Russians trust Trump or not would have nothing to do with the actual stance of a hypothetical Trump administration on the global issues that matter to both countries.


I thought hackers were gut-level anarchists

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July 23, 2016 by AK

I’ve seen suggestions that “Russian government hackers” (sic) are responsible for the latest big digital break-in, that of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

I don’t know much about hackers, but how do you make one into a “government hacker” – don’t they mostly work pour l’amour de l’art? Isn’t hacking a viscerally libertarian, even anarchist, activity? Can you cultivate the requisite sort of destructive creativity at some secret FSB facility?

I’m sure that talented hackers are far from an endangered species in Russia, but how does one trick or force them into enthusiastically targeting what one (a spook? a Geopolitician?) wants broken into? And if there’s a know-how, how come the US hasn’t mastered it?


Losing by the rules vs. playing to win

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July 23, 2016 by AK

If one must play a game of “geopolitics” with Moscow, being able to make unpredictable moves could be the winner. So far, it’s worked like this:

“OK, I’ve broken the rules again. Whatcha gonna do?”

“Sanctions.”

“Go ahead. But if you cut Swift off, it will be a declaration of war.”

“Not touching Swift but slapping your oligarchs. They’ll get angry and kick out Putin.”

“Wow. You guys are clever.”

And so on. At every turn, Moscow knows broadly what to expect and braces up for it. Sanctions are hurting but feel like a manageable chronic disease.

Apart from the sanctions, the West must have made behind-the-scenes moves. We might have been able to glimpse some, such as corruption scandals and leaks from offshore. But has the US used much of the information it is supposed to have gleaned over years of global electronic surveillance? Has it ever broken the rules of the new global game in a big, nasty way, and hit the opponent below the belt?

In well-reared girls and boys, guilt and the instinct to obey the rules are reflexes, ineradicable ghosts in the machine.

(Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities.) One of the male characters in this unfolding tragicomedy grew up in the streets – or, rather, in the well-like yards – of Leningrad. On the other side of the stage, someone is getting called “the Bad Boy of US Foreign Policy.” Despite having been properly reared in his time, he seems remarkably free from the sense of guilt and the obedience instinct. Could he be the only antagonist with a chance for a fast win?


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